bChapter 13 - Cats and Mountains/b Ginny Weasley was alone in the crisp morning sunlight that marginally warmed the low stone wall where she perched, a mug of swiftly cooling coffee in one hand, the society pages of The Daily Prophet in the other. Her freckled face was creased with worried sorrow as they lingered over the moving black and white photo before reading the accompanying article.
biMalfoy and Parkinson - "Let's Just Be Friends?"/i/b iIn a surprise announcement late yesterday, Malfoy spokeswizard, Basil Pennyroyal, released an official statement on behalf of his clients. Speaking exclusively to The Daily Prophet, Mr. Pennyworth read aloud from a prepared document. "Lucius Darius Malfoy and Narcissa Malfoy, nee Black, announce the dissolution of the formal engagement of their son, Draco Black Malfoy to Pansy Andromeda Parkinson, daughter of Ambrose "Sharky" Parkinson and his wife Hyacinth Marie Parkinson, nee Ethelred"
When questioned about the suddenness of the breakup, Mr. Pennyroyal replied, saying, "Both young people have expressed their sincere appreciation for one another, but feel that the union of marriage could only bring damage to their longstanding friendship. Miss Parkinson spoke to me just this morning and through tears expressed her regret at 'not loving Draco Malfoy in the manner in which he so richly deserves"
Mr. Pennyworth refused all other questions and disapparated when pressed for further details.
Attempts to contact other members of the bridal party have not met with success. All Prophet owls to bridesmaids and groomsmen have been returned to this office unopened.
For further information on the estranged couple see, "Draco Malfoy, The Hogwarts Years," page 2C and "Pansy Parkinson, A Discarded Flower," page 2D.
In a side note, chaos has erupted as those individuals who purchased tickets for prime viewing spots along the 'Bride's Route' seek refunds. See page 3C for information on how you may return your unused ticket./i "Oh Draco," Ginny sighed in compassion. "How is this going to effect your hostile takeover"
Setting her cup aside, Ginny stroked her fingers lightly over the cool, patrician features of the blond wizard in the photo. At her touch, the achromatic figure seemed to relax, his eyes shutting for the briefest moment, before once more assuming the arrogant stance and aloof expression. The 'official' portrait was classical, with the bride seated upon a throne-like chair, the folds of her sumptuous robes falling to the floor in a graceful spill of white satin and lace,and the groom standing erect and resplendent behind, and slightly to the right, of his intended.
Ginny admitted grudgingly that Pansy Parkinson looked beautiful, with the low neckline of her empire style gown emphasising the delicate length of her pale neck and the swell of her full breasts.
" 'S one hell of a sticking charm there, Panz," the freckled witch remarked snidely. Ginny was amused by Pansy's expression, which was one of artfully concealed ire, as the action in the photo repeated itself over and over, and the gray toned witch persisted in her attempts at placing Draco's left hand upon her bare shoulder. Ginny watched as, each time, the photo Draco would sneer slightly in disgust before returning his hand to the large wooden knob adorning the back of Pansy's throne.
"How in the world you believed you could bed the cow is beyond belief, Draco," Ginny admonished the glaring wizard. She snorted and reached for her drink, her brown eyes never leaving the animated newsprint. She swallowed a lukewarm mouthful of the bitter brew then screwed her eyes tight as something else in the image captured her attention.
There it was again!
And again!
Her coffee forgotten, Ginny brought the page closer to her face, a faint, sad smile forming on her lips and tears pooling in her umber eyes.
Each time Pansy would bring Draco's hand to her shoulder, her fingers would lift, revealing a distinctive, dark herringbone band. Every time, the wizard would sneer and return his hand to tightly grip the knob, as if it were an anchor, the foil band prominently displayed upon the third finger of that hand.
i"An excellent piece. I will treasure it."/i A throbbing sweetness sealed Ginny's throat as she studied the blond wizard more closely, noting the harsh lines of his cheeks, the frigid glare of his pewter eyes, so unlike the Draco she had experienced at Snape Manor. Here was the Draco Malfoy of Hogwarts, cold, autocratic, and filled with disdain for the world at large, except.
Except for those precious moments when he hurled a well calculated hex and was rewarded with a startled squeal or a shriek of anger. In those moments he had lowered his glacial wards and Ginny had been allowed to see the boy inside, the boy who longed to play, to have friends who had not been purchased, the boy who wanted so much to trust and be trusted. She had unknowing, even then, recognized their shared need.
The witch started then quickly folded the paper and scooped up her now chilled coffee. "Ron," she addressed her older sibling. Lifting the cup to her lips, she grimaced then poured the liquid upon the ground.
Ron Weasley ducked his freckled face shyly as he sidled over to his sister and sat uncomfortably at her side.
The silence stretched, the wizard uncertain where to begin, the witch, unwilling to allow him direction.
After what seemed an age, Ron nudged his sister's shoulder and inquired with false briskness, "So, you doing okay"
Ginny sighed. Gods, how she wished they would just STOP! "Yes, Ron, I'm ifine./i I was fine yesterday, I was fine last night, and I am fine right now," she stated with barely controlled patience. She took a deep calming breath, staring out over the neighbouring field where she could see garden gnomes crawling sleepily from their snug holes.
Ron shoved his hands into his robe pockets and hunkered down while nodding at his sister. "Good," he muttered.
Birdsong filled the chill air, flitting over the basal belches and booming farts of the waking gnomes. Following hard upon a particularly explosive, flatulent burst, the lanky wizard nudged his sister once more. "So, how are you ireally/i doing?" he mumbled.
Ginny snorted through a reluctant smile and turned her head to glare at her brother. "Did Mum send you out here?" she asked.
His rust coloured head snapped back as he rolled his blue eyes. "Are you barmey, Gin? She'd kill me if she even thought I was out here 'pestering her poor angel'," he concluded in a fair imitation of their mother.
Ginny's brown eyes widened slightly. "Then, why iare/i you here"
Ron's expression was one of shocked hurt, his face mottling while his lips worked soundlessly. Finally he rallied. "Bloody hell, Ginny, you're my sister!" he blurted. "I love you, and believe it or not, I bloody well care about what happens to you"
The witch managed a tight smile that stopped before reaching her guarded eyes. "I appreciate that, Ron, I really do, but like I have already told you and everyone else, I'm fine," she stated with a firmness that refused any argument to the contrary.
"Did... Malfoy," he bit the name off spitefully, "treat you well? I mean, he didn't try anything with you..." He fumbled to a halt when his sister surged to her feet and whirled to face him, her eyes now blazing in anger, her lips compressed into a tight line.
"Try anything with me?" she murmured as her hands clenched at her sides.
"Yeah," her brother replied, "you know...itry anything./i He was always at you at Hogwarts." Warming to the topic, Ron continued, "You never put the bastard off properly, and you two were alone for three days, Gin"
"So," she spat, causing Ron to lean away from her apprehensively, "what you ireally/i want to know is whether Draco Malfoy shagged me or not!" she stated with heat.
"You're damn right that's what I want to know!" he declared, his voice equally hot. He came to his feet as well, towering over his smaller sibling. He was surprised when his action did not cause her to back down or step away. She remained fixed, her feet firmly planted on the damp grass.
"Well, Ronald Weasley," Ginny snapped, "you can go on iwanting,/i because whatever happened between me and Draco is just that, between me and Draco!" She emphasised her point by jabbing the tall wizard firmly in the chest.
Ron's already frayed emotions snapped by a few more threads. "Oi, it's 'Draco' now, is it?" he sneered, his freckles vanishing as his face turned purple. "You were always odd about that bastard even at school, letting him use you as his private hex-toy," he growled. He looked his sister up and down with something close to distaste in his blue eyes.
Ginny felt as if she had been hit with iIncendio/i so quickly did her body flame into rage. "You STUPID...CLUELESS," she shrieked, putting her hands on Ron's shoulders and pushing - hard.
His center of balance suddenly off kilter, Ron tumbled backwards over the stone wall to land with a wet THUD. In the distance, gnomes giggled.
"You don't have any idea of what I've been through!" Ginny screamed as she clambered atop the wall in preparation for body slamming her brother. "You don't know what it was like! You never bothered to even check on me!" She coiled her muscles to spring as Ron fearfully crab walked on his elbows, attempting to distance himself from the wrath he had unleashed. Her hands were clenched into tight fists, eager to begin pounding her cowering sibling's spotted nose to a pulp. Spittle flew from her lips as she snarled, "You were so wrapped up in your precious ifriends!/i Draco was the only one who saw ME!" She was leaning into her leap when a strong arm clamped itself around her waist and plucked her, shrieking and struggling from the wall. Ginny found herself crushed against a solid, warm chest and a burned scarred hand was stroking calmingly over her flaming hair.
"Shhh, Gingersnap," Charlie's low, soothing voice entered her ear and she immediately relaxed into his embrace. "There, that's my girl," Charlie crooned as he turned his sister in his arms until her face was pressed into the scales of his dragon hide vest.
"They just don't understand," Ginny wailed. "Nobody understands what he means to me. They just don't want to hear," she sobbed as Charlie rocked her slowly.
"Well, yeah," Ron groused, gaining his feet and brushing grass and mud from his robes, "who wants to listen to you defend that Death Eater scum. For all we know, your little abduction could have been staged just so you and Malfoy could have an uninterrupted shag-fest"
"Ron," Charlie growled in fury, "if I didn't know you were my brother, I would say you are a right bastard." He looked away from Ron's expression of dismay and laying a palm to Ginny's cheek, tilted her face upwards. "C'mon, sweetheart. You and me need to go somewhere quiet, and if you want to talk, I am willing to listen.
Sniffling, Ginny nodded and then, hand in hand, the pair crossed the yard and passed through the garden gate.
It was nearly midnight when Charles returned to the Burrow, his brother, Bill, Apparating close on his robe hem. The pair entered the homely sitting room to find the rest of the Weasley clan gathered, just has he had requested. "Charlie?" Molly inquired anxiously, rising from her place beside Arthur. "Where's Ginny?" The matron's face was heavy and lined with worry.
"Gin is with Fleur," Bill answered for Charlie as they both made themselves as comfortable as possible in the crowded room. "She is spending the night at our place," he informed Molly.
"But why?" Molly asked, he fingers going to her throat even as she felt the comforting pressure of Arthur's hand on her lower back. "Is - is she alright"
"That's what we are here to discuss," Charlie stated in a hard voice, his blue eyes scanning each face in the room, resting with particular heat on Ron's, who coloured and sank deeper into his chair.
And then Charles Weasley began to speak.

It was nearly three hours before Charlie allowed the group to break up. He had told them the story as he received it from his weeping baby sister, slightly amended to exclude the more intimate details of Ginny and Draco Malfoy's time together. That was for her to share as she felt necessary. His voice harsh with over use, the dragon tramer advised them all one last time, "Give her some room and by gods, when she is ready to talk, LISTEN!" He rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly. "Just listen to her, okay"
Numb from his earlier revelations, they nodded, except for Arthur, who looked at his tall son with deep pride and love. Catching Charlie's eye, Arthur smiled broadly. Leaning forward, he clapped his son on the thigh. Charlie grasped his father's hand firmly. They stared at each other, wizard to wizard.
"Thank you, Charles," the elder Weasley said with sincerity, while Molly wept quietly at his side.
"Anytime, Da," Charlie responded, then addressed his mother. "Mum, Ginny doesn't want your tears. She just wants to know that you still love her - in spite of everything," he finished.
"Of course I still love her!" Molly protested with a loud sniff. "How could she even think that"
"Because that's what you, all of us, made her believe. Everyone was only too willing to put aside what happened to Gin in the Chamber, sweep it under the rug and hope it would just go away. I guess we were all too frightened to hear the truth, to accept the pain, and yes - our own culpability," he concluded with a grimace.
"Thank Merlin she had Professor Snape," Bill interjected after the silence became too deep.
"Yes, dear Severus," Molly sighed in agreement.
Arthur nodded. "We owe him a debt we can never repay and I, for one, am honored to be obliged to him," he said, his normally cheerful voice quiet, yet urgent.
"Let's not forget Draco Malfoy," Charlie was quick to remind the group. He saw Percy's shudder and Ron's body stiffen in anger.
"Yeah," Ron sneered, "let's not forget the baby Death Eater"
"Ron!" Molly gasped, outraged with her youngest son's behavior, "he rescued you sister from a crowd of those monsters"
"Well, what was he doing with that 'crowd of monsters' in the first place? Seems pretty dicey to me, all too convenient," he finished, nodding in agreement with himself. "He doesn't wear the Mark, Ron!" Charlie insisted. "Ginny told me herself that he doesn't have the Dark brand"
Ron huffed and drew himself up taller in his chair. "So she got a peek at Malfoy then, huh"
Bill launched himself from his chair with a roar. "It would be his arm, you arse, not his ruddy"
Molly screamed while Arthur attempted to scramble from his seat.
Charlie latched onto his older brother's robe, holding him back. Glaring at Ron, Charlie spoke, his voice sounding very much like the dragons he tamed, "Ginny is not lying, and if you iever/i speak to her like you did this morning I will beat the shit out of you with my bare fists." He watched as Ron blanched. "I will then turn you over to Professor Snape for further instruction." He stabbed a finger in his brother's direction as he concluded his promise.
Ron gulped and nodded. "I was only worried about her," he stated lamely.
"Damn sorry way of expressing your concern," Charlie snapped. "You should have stood up for her at school! Did you never see the way those other kids treated her?" Ron winced from the truth of his brother's words. Charlie continued, "What have you done for her lately, Ron? Hell, you could have offered to help her find another job." The wizard puffed a heavy sigh. "I can understand Fortescue letting her go, not wanting all the publicity and all, but loosing her job was a big blow for Ginny"
The family sat in silence for a moment before Arthur spoke. "While we cannot change the past there is something that each of us can be doing for Ginny now, to make her lot easier. We need to think about it"
In the corner where they crouched, Fred and George shared an evil grin.

Ginny spent two days with her brother and sister-in-law, their small but beautifully appointed cottage an oasis of peace for the distraught witch. Fleur provided Ginny's greatest need, a young, female ear. She listened to the redhaired witch's story without judgment, offering support and a shoulder in equal amounts. When her brother, Bill, first told the family of his attraction for the Veela, Ginny had gagged in disgust with his choice. However, with the passing of time, she discovered the French witch to be highly intelligent, compassionate, and to Ginny's shock, downright funny. When Bill's wife presented Ginny with the carefully clipped and framed photo of Draco from the Daily Prophet, Ginny was touched beyond words.
"I 'ave removed zat offensive person. Your Draco looks much 'appier, non"
Ginny stroked the photo, replying sadly, "He is not my Draco"
With a Gallic shrug and a flounce of robes, the blond witch joined her sister-in-law on the sofa, toying with Ginny's flaming hair. "E is free of zee Parkinson wench. You say 'e 'as admitted to a certain...tendre for you." Fleur lingered over her words, whispering softly into the younger witch's ear. Ginny shivered and in her brown eyes, there was a spark. "E is rich and very 'andsome," the part Veela added.
"Yessss, he is," Ginny purred, before shaking her head. "The family would have a total cow!" she informed her grinning companion.
"Well, zen you will never be without butter, cream or 'zose ozer cowy sings"
Both witches collapsed in laughter. As they caught their breaths, Fleur prodded, "So, are you go-weeng after your wizard"
Ginny huffed a cloud of red from her eyes, "Fleur, you don't understand," she explained softly.
Fleur waved a hand in dismissal. "What is zere to understand? "E likes you, you like eem"
"He rides, Fleur!" Ginny whispered in dismay.
"So, you are afraid of 'orses"
Ginny's mouth hung open in embarrassed shock before she blurted, "You know what it means, the riding"
"Of course!" Fleur exclaimed as she arranged her robes into a more demure display, "I am from zee Pureblood"
"That's just it, don't you see?" Ginny argued, "I didn't know that 'riding' meant horses. Our worlds don't even speak the same language. I don't have different robes for every hour of the day and I live in a drafty house with a ghoul in the attic." She jumped from the sofa and began to pace, her fingers curled into fist and punching the air. "He lives in a frigging castle with servants and that is as close as he ever intends to get to employment." Ignoring Fleur's snort of laughter, she continued presenting her argument. "The clothes on his back at any one point in time are probably worth more than my dad's monthly pay packet!" she finished in a hurt tone.
Fleur observed her sister-in-law as she stood fingering the frayed edges of her robe pocket. "Eet is about zee Galleons?" the blond witch asked softly, surprised that any Weasley would put such stock in monetary gain.
"No!" Ginny wailed to the ceiling, "It is about the entire lifestyle and mindset that millions and millions of Galleons provides." Her shoulders slumped as Fleur nodded her understanding. "Draco just about broke out in spots when I talked to him about getting a job, but he has this iincredible talent/i"
"Malfoy is broke?" Fleur asked, her slender brows climbing into her fringe.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "I am making a real hash of explaining this, but let's just say that if he were, he would rather starve than lower himself to actually get a job," she complained. Raking her nails along her scalp she added, "Besides being as different as silver and rust, how can I even be sure what he may have felt for me was real? Severus took me away before we could even say good-bye"
"Well," Fleur countered coyly, "you will just 'ave to inquire of 'eem, non"
Ginny furrowed her brow. "Ask Draco just what, if anything, he might feel for me?" she murmured in disbelief. The very thought of doing such a thing.
"Where ees zee vaulted Greefindoor cooraage 'Ogwarts ees so famous foor, Zhinnee?" the Veela inquired coolly, her blue eyes hooded beneath her translucent lids. "What 'ave you to loose?" she added, watching as her words worked on her young friend. "If 'ee is open to a relationship, zee ozour problems will, poof. Vanish on zee winds"
The redheaded Gryffindor was once more pacing the rug, this time slowly, her mind stirring the idea carefully, like a well-brewed potion. "It's not like I can just pop over to Malfoy Manor and ring the bloody bell," Ginny muttered under her breath as her thoughts churned. "Maybe an owl? No, anyone with eyes would recognize Errol, and Pig is itotally/i out of the question." Suddenly, she froze, her amber eyes shooting to the lounging Veela, whose own eyes lit up in mutual agreement.
"Professor Snape!" the witches crowed as one.

Fred and George Apparated to Bill and Fleur's cottage forty-eight hours after Charlie's impromptu family meeting. The duel POP that announced their arrival nearly caused the lounging Ginny to capsize the large hammock where she lay, dreaming and plotting the capture of one Draco Malfoy.
"While the rest of us poor sods labor and toil, our baby sister cools her heels," George moaned, flopping bonelessly down at his sister's side and causing the hammock to sway madly.
"Too true," Fred agreed mournfully, adding his bulk to Ginny's net bed and nearly smothering her as the wizard's bodies rolled towards the center. The witch panted and wriggled as she struggled to reach the top of the pile.
"Idle hands," George intoned.
"Are the tools of evil," Fred concluded sagely.
"What our dear sister needs"
"... is to be occupied at all times"
"and we just happed to know"
"... of a full time occupation"
As the twins ping-ponged their words back and forth, Ginny managed to work free of her freckled blanket. She scooted to the opposite end of the hammock where she could rest her shoulders between her brother's feet. She glared at them as two sets of identical eyes sparkled with mischievous mirth.
"I don't care how much you are paying," she informed the pair, "I am not drinking, sucking, chewing, licking, inhaling, applying to any area of skin, or inserting into the various orifices of my body, anything you two have created"
Matching hands mirrored one another as they flew to press themselves against duplicate breasts which, most likely, housed equally insincere hearts.
"Ginny!" Fred cried in shock.
"You wound us by your unreasonable..." George continued.
"...yet historically accurate..." Fred was quick to point out.
"...portrayals of our intent," George wrapped up for the pair, his blue eyes innocently wide.
Ginny snorted in disbelief, her hand edging closer to her wand, just in case the two felt it necessary to impress her into their nefarious service.
Fred clucked his tongue at their sister's overly cautious attitude. "It would seem, brother mine, that our baby sister is unwilling to accept our word that we have nothing but her best interest at heart," he pointed out needlessly.
"So young and already so bitter," George agreed, his voice oozing pain.
"It saddens me," Fred began.
"To the core, Fred-o, to the very core," his twin concluded with an aggrieved sigh.
"There's nothing for it then, Forge"
"But that we offer our disillusioned sibling," George said while reaching into his pocket. Ginny's hand was instantly around her wand.
"Tangible proof of our pure-hearted intent," Fred finished for George.
Ginny's brown eyes narrowed to slits as she watched her brother pull a narrow cylinder from his pocket. He held it pinched between his thumb and forefinger, smiling smugly as he caused the tube to wobble enticingly.
"Why, Forge," Fred gasped in mock surprise, his eyes impossibly wide, "what have you there"
"This, my dear Gred, is occupation for idle hands." This said he tossed the object to his sister, who caught it easily. She looked at her brothers suspiciously, but they only grinned and nodded their encouragement. Studying the cylinder, Ginny recognized it as a document case. She rolled the tube, and finding the label, gasped.
"It's from uni! What have you two done?" she demanded in alarm.
The pair replied in tandem, "Open it, Gin"
With rising trepidation, she did as they instructed. Several rolls of creamy parchment slid into her waiting hand. With disbelief growing on her face, Ginny read the entire contents before she looked up at her brothers.
"This says I am registered with a full course load," she whispered. "I... I could be finished in"
"Three semesters," Fred interrupted gleefully.
"Not including the internship," George added. "Ruddy chap at the Registrar's wouldn't let us book that far ahead," he complained as Fred nodded his agreement. "You'd think having full tuition paid up front would have made the chap a bit more reasonable," George finished with a whine.
"Total wanker," Fred solidly agreed.
"You paid my tuition in full?" Ginny screamed, her breathing coming hard and fast.
"Yes!" the twins piped, their eyes twinkling as they enjoyed her shocked response to their efforts.
"Oh, and the books," Fred added, almost as an afterthought. "You bought my books?" Ginny asked, beginning to feel lightheaded.
"You'd think with her good grades, she would be a more proficient listener," Fred informed his brother sagely.
"Must be the result of all this lying about," George reasoned. "Her brain has started to atrophy"
"Why?" the quiet whisper captured their attention.
Ginny was flushed with excitement, her fingers trembling as they held desperately, hopefully, at the curling parchments. "Why," she repeated, "have you done this?" There was no doubt in her mind the documents were real. For all their pranking, the twins were never cruel.
"Ginny," George's tone was gentle as he wrapped an arm about her legs and kissed a shin, "you're our sister"
Ginny's eyes welled as Fred nodded his agreement, his long finger tracing up and down her calf.
"It must have cost loads," she gulped, gratitude flooding her chest.
"Loads," the twins acknowledged, and then Fred added, "Business is good. What's a cauldron full of gold between family members?" He laughed when Ginny poked him with her foot.
"Anyway," George said, "not everyone in our family has been blessed with our natural good business sense and must therefore be trained for some menial task or some such"
Rolling her eyes, the witch chuckled, "Now you sound like Draco." Glancing at her brothers, she felt her face go red.
The twins settled deeper into the hammock. "How is that poncy ferret anyway?" George inquired casually.
Fred rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Did he tell you any juicy secrets"
Grinning, she replied, "He did make mention of a pair of spinster sisters"
"The lovely..." said Fred "... and lucrative..." George modified quickly.
"Misses St.Catchpole" they finished in concert with each other.
"If they weren't us..." Fred started the thought.
"...we'd marry them," George said with enthusiasm, then his brow furrowed. "There is that nasty age thing"
"Ah yes," Fred added. "You know how society looks down on trophy wizards. Think of the scandal," he mused, wiggling his brows suggestively.
Ginny burst out in laughter.
They spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, laughing and planning. When suppertime rolled around, the twins escorted their happier, and much encouraged sister home.

Fall danced into Ottery St. Catchpole wearing robes of rustling scarlet and yellow, a frosty wind whistling through the denuded trees her snappy accompaniment. Many mornings found window panes and garden walls glittering with a fairy mural of ice as the fields grew brown and crisp, their roots settling in for winter's sleep. In the weeks following the twin's unexpected gift, Ginny immersed herself in her studies and her plans for approaching the dour Potions Master. Friend he may be, Ginny acknowledged, Severus could be as difficult to approach as a poked badger when the topic under discussion was not to his liking. From their long conversations over the years, Ginny knew that Severus valued her education and secure future over the "Unproductive pursuits of hormonal urges", and that he would likely frown on any continued interest in Draco Malfoy while a war escalated in their very midst. Equally vexing was the wording for the message she intended Severus to deliver on her behalf. Piles of ash decorated the floor of the youngest Weasley's bedroom, the smoke of their demise rising from the smoldering white lumps like confused wraiths, as she struggled to express the desire to meet with the silver-eyed goal of her heart without sounding too needy or too cool. Molly bit her tongue as the aroma of burnt parchment filled the ramshackle home, and kept her curiosity in severe check. The good matron simply made it a point to pick up extra writing materials for her daughter each time she popped into Diagon Alley, placing them into the girl's bulging book pack. Ginny acknowledged her mum's contribution with a kiss and a loving squeeze as she departed from the Burrow each day, hoping beyond hope that the woman took her manic attraction to quill and parchment as dedicated classwork.
Ginny finally settled for the direct approach:
I need to meet with you.
G/i The meeting with Severus was surprisingly easy to accomplish, coming as it did in the form of an ailing Kneazle named Phobus. The creature suffered from a vile infestation of Doxyticks, the much smaller cousins of the poisonous, drapery dwelling variety. While the venom of the Doxytick was not venomous, their voracious appetite for blood left many magical animals weak and dying. The typical application of Doxicide was useless against the tiny, black arachnids, since the potion was lethal to warm-blooded creatures. Normal treatments for the removal of common ticks and fleas proved ineffective as Doxyticks, once locating a host, released a tracking pheromone, allowing others of their kind to join the feast. No sooner had the original pests been removed then a new swarm moved in and settled down. Unless the Potions Master could develop a cure, Phobos was doomed to a long and agonizing demise.
"I appreciate you taking this case on, Severus," Ginny said as she stroked the tortoise-shell fur of the now anesthetized Kneazle. "His mistress is desperate for a cure"
"Yes, yes," Severus snarked, going over the witch's school notes while wearing a furrowed brow, "I am sure she is quite beside herself. Now, IF you don't mind?" he concluded in a clipped tone.
"Sure," Ginny stated calmly, "never mind me." She grinned up at her friend, daring him to snarl.
Using his best glare, Severus fixed the little redheaded healer to her seat then strode to one of the many book shelves that lined his study. Ginny watched as he stood, the hands yet holding her notes, folded behind his back as he stared balefully at the neatly arranged tomes. iIf I were the book he sought with such a look, I would be right quick to jump into his hands!/i she thought, biting back a snort of laughter.
"The age of the creature, Miss Weasley!" Severus snapped, causing Ginny to jump on her stool.
"Five, just a baby, really," she promptly answered, regaining her balance.
The wizard huffed through his prominent nose. "A baby, indeed! You have grown maudlin on me, Miss Weasley, if you are becoming soft for your charges so soon in your career. He is a familiar, nothing more. I cannot abide how some people allow themselves to become attached to an animal, magical or no," he groused, finally selecting a thick potions text and returning to his own seat. "It speaks of a distinct weakness in character"
Ginny cut her brown eyes to where a massive gray and white tabby lay on his back before the fire, the jewels of his collar flashing with the flickering of the flames, his white tummy rising and falling as he slept in well-fed bliss.
"Not a word from you, witch," Snape warned menacingly, "Vincent is a valuable familiar. He more than earns his keep," he concluded.
"Sure, Severus. Whatever you say, though I have never seen a familiar wearing a jeweled collar in Slytherin House colors," Ginny said glibly, her voice filled with mirth.
A peeved grunt was her only reward as Severus quickly turned the pages of his book, his black eyes flying over the text. After a moment, he closed the tome with a satisfied smirk riding his lips. Laying the volume aside, he poured himself a cup of tea and took an appreciative sip. Ginny fidgeted,and knowing that Severus was enjoying her impatience, tried to still her bouncing knee and drumming fingers. Finally she relented and pleaded, just as he intended. "So?" she hissed with exasperation. "What have you found"
Severus waggled a long finger. "Forbearance, young witch. Forbearance is a virtue to be prized and practiced," he teased.
Ginny huffed at her fringe before gritting her teeth. "I am going to pound you with your own pestle, you great git, if you don't answer me right now"
Ignoring the threat and the slur, Severus deposited his cup upon the table and leaned forward to whisper, "Pheromones"
"Great Merlin, Snape!" the witch blustered. "We already know about the bloody pheromones! They'er what's buggering up any treatment we have administered"
"Ah!" Snape was on his feet in triumph, leaning over his young companion. "But have you tried the ucorrect/u pheromones?" he inquired with a wicked grin.
Ginny winced. "Uhh..." she began.
"I thought not!" Severus snapped, pleased with himself beyond all measure. Erect once more, he began pacing back and forth before his former student in full lecture mode. Ginny was quick to recognize the moment for what it was and scrambled for quill and parchment. "It is a little known fact that Doxies," Severus barked, "release more than one type of chemical marker." The sound of a quill frantically scratching over parchment was his reward for this shocking declaration. "Since the majority of academics possess minds unencumbered with independent thought, I am unsurprised that they have failed to follow the existence of the 'dinner bell' scent to its logical conclusion. THAT being?" He stabbed a slender finger at Ginny as she busily scribbling like a sycophantic scribe.
Pausing in her labor, Ginny gazed upwards, her eyes captured by the hovering digit. "Uh..." she began, "that where one pheromone exists, there could possibly be others?" Warming to the thought, she continued, "If there is a 'dinner bell', then why not an 'Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here' scent?" Ginny finished, tapping her quill against her lips as her brain churned with probabilities.
Lowering his hand, Severus fixed the witch with his piercing, black eyes. "I am relieved that your brother's gold is not going to waste, Miss Weasley," he said with mocking severity.
"Thank you,sir," Ginny replied, her cheeks tinting pink from her friend's rare praise. "So, you believe that we can produce a strong enough reaction from the Doxyticks..." she broke off as Severus interrupted her rudely.
"We, Miss Weasley?" he drawled. "I was under the impression that the salvation of this creature was your assignment, not mine. iI/i already possess the necessary degrees for my current state of employment. You, however," he paused dramatically, one black brow arching, "do not," the wizard concluded with a sniff of disdain.
Ginny's forehead hit the worktop with a THUD. "Alright already!" she wailed from beneath her thick curtain of red hair. Sitting upright, she gingerly rubbed at the sore spot above her freckled nose. "Thank you, Severus, for putting me on the correct track. I will be sure to give you credit when I write up my research," she advised him sweetly, though the sugar of her tone failed to reach her flashing brown eyes.
Severus nodded curtly, but the corners of his thin lips were trembling slightly as he fought to rein in his smile. "See that you do, Miss Weasley," he told the feisty witch.
Ginny returned her attention to her notes. "I will need to come up with some strategies for alarming the little bastards, though," she confessed softly. Looking up at her former teacher with wide, wet eyes, she blinked slowly. "Any suggestions"
"Static electricity," Severus began, only to slam his fisted hand down hard on the table. "DAMN! You beguiling, conniving thing!" he thundered.
"You fall for that one every time," Ginny chuckled as she jotted his suggestion down on her parchment. "You'd think you would have learned by now"
A tinkling alarm robbed Severus of his response to her jab, and he flowed swiftly to a nearby workstation where he gently removed the cover from a softly simmering cauldron. Holding his hair from his face, the Potions Master leaned over the brew and peered intently into its depths. Ginny stared with bated breath for verdict and released a grateful sigh when Severus' features relaxed somewhat in satisfaction. Replacing the lid carefully and extinguishing the flame, he turned to an attentive Ginny and folded his arms over his chest. On his face was an expression of gloating repletion. Rising from her stool, Ginny approached the covered brew. "You are looking pretty smug about something, Severus," she acknowledged. "Want to share"
Snape canted his head slightly, as if pondering her request, his eyes never leaving her own. "First," he whispered, "I think a test is in order. What do you remember of the potion that renewed The Dark Lord's body?" His gaze bore through Ginny and she drew away with a slight shiver.
"Th - the one with Harry's blood?" she inquired in a small voice.
"The very one," the Potions Master replied quietly, his tone a gently rumble that did little to settle the young redhead's nerves.
Ginny stroked her hands up her suddenly chilled arms, thinking hard at remembering word for word the horrible spell Harry had spoke of those many years ago. "Uh -," she began, "bone of the father, unknowingly taken, you will renew your son"
"Yessss," Severus purred and motioned for her to continue.
Ginny shuddered but cleared her throat and spoke in a firmer voice, "Flesh of the servant, willingly given, you will revive your master"
Snape slowly closed his eyes as she uttered the words. "Now," he commanded her in a breathless whisper, "tell me the last"
Remembering the bloody mess of Harry's arm, Ginny gulped before finishing, "Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe"
Severus nodded slowly, his black eyes still shielded behind pale lids. "Now, Miss Weasley, tell me, who, besides Potter, has survived a death curse cast by Voldemort? Who to your knowledge has been marked by that foul creature and walked away with their life?" The obsidian eyes opened wide and Ginny gasped from the intensity, the fire, burning deeply within the dark orbs.
"Me?" Ginny peeped.
Reaching out a pale hand, Severus gently stroked her hair, comforting her now as he had many times in the past. "Indeed, you Ginny"
Brown eyes darted to the innocently crouching cauldron. "You have re-created the regeneration potion? Why?" she insisted, her voice tinged with disbelief.
To her surprise, Severus chuckled and pulled her into his arms. "To destroy the bastard, what other reason would there be for such a potion"
Drawing back, she peered intently into the Potions Master's face. "But how?" Ginny queried. "It's not like the ingredients are just laying about the house, you know"
Taking her by the hand, Severus returned Ginny to her stool. "Sit," he instructed while he poured them both a cup of tea. The witch listened in rapt attention as the dark wizard began his explanation. "The bone of the father was simple to locate, as you can imagine. Mr. Riddle is, after all, just laying there waiting to be harvested," Severus advised dryly. "Flesh of the servant, now that proved a bit stickier, but I was finally able to convince a low-ranking Death Eater of the benefits of contributing to a worthy cause"
"You talked some poor sod into giving up a body part?" Ginny shrieked. "That's horrible, Severus"
Snape had the grace to appear abashed as he shrugged elegantly. "It was only a toe, Miss Weasley," he defended, "and I iObliviated/i him afterward. He now believes to have suffered the loss during a drunken Quidditch brawl. I fail to understand why you are being so squeamish when we could possibly be on the verge of winning this bloody war," Snape concluded self-righteously.
"It's just - gross, that's why!" Ginny fought back a gag.
Severus rolled his brilliant black eyes with a huff of annoyance. "Do you wish to hear the rest of this or not?" he snapped.
Keeping one hand tightly over her mouth, Ginny waved him on with the other and nodded for him to proceed.
Rubbing his hands together briskly, Severus grinned an evil grin that set the witch's skin to crawling on her frame. "Like Harry Potter, you have been touched by Riddle's evil. He failed in his attempt to kill you in the Chamber, and in doing so, marked you as a true enemy." His gaze traveled to the covered cauldron. "When you offered up your blood, your ivirgin/i blood, you presented me with a rare opportunity, Miss Weasley," he told her reverently. Turning once more to his companion he added, "You may have very well placed in my hands, the weapon that will allow Potter to actually fulfill the Prophesy"
He watched as Ginny's expression changed from confusion to one of incredulous shock. "Get outta here!" she whispered in awe.
Snape's grin widened. "Indeed," he purred.
"What exactly will this stuff do?" she inquired, breathless with amazement.
"Wormtail's original potion enabled the Dark Lord to speed the growth and strength of his existing body; this new brew will reverse the process. How long it will take?" He paused to shrug. "I do not know"
Ginny shook her head, trying to take it all in. Her brain had slowed to crawl and breathing was becoming difficult. When she was finally able to speak, she stunned the Potions Master with the directness of her thinking. "Now that we have a possible weapon, Severus, how do we intend to get it into him"
Snape leaned back against the hard edge of his worktable and steepled his long fingers against his lips. "Therein lies the rub, Miss Weasley," he admitted wryly. "We have ammunition, but no device for delivering the blow." The two sat in silence, ruminating over the possibilities.
"Will you show me the potion, Severus?" she bid her restrained accomplice. With a nod he complied. Ginny slowly followed the wizard to the cauldron that steamed and bubbled over its unlit burner. Holding Ginny's brown eyes with his own, Severus lifted the heavy lid.
Silver and gold spirals of smoke roped their way into the air above the open cauldron. He jerked his head in agreement at her wordless inquiry and Ginny leaned closer, her eyes peering into the shimmering depths. The colorless potion rolled silently within its black, cast iron prison, occasionally sending up bright twinkles of light that reminded the observing witch of the fireflies that decorated the summer nights of her country home. She looked up at her former teacher, taking in his furling brow, a sure sign of his discomfort.
"This is really great, Severus!" Ginny crowed, proud for her dear friend's sake. "We can't let something like this go to waste. Have you informed the Order? Does Professor Dumbledore know?" she pressed, gripping Severus tightly by the upper arm after he had once more covered the sparkling substance.
Now it was Snape's turn to appear shocked. "Of course I have not informed the Order," he stated angrily, "nor have I spoke of this to Albus"
Ginny's attempt to shake his tall frame met with little success so she settled for pushing hard against his broad shoulders and crying, "For Merlin's sake, why not"
Attempting to mask his sheepish expression behind a curtain of hair, Severus muttered, "It was your blood. I thought it only proper you should be the first to know"
"You sweetie, you!" Ginny gushed, throwing her arms around his neck and planting a wet kiss upon his cheek.
"Ach!" Severus gagged, pushing his exuberant assaulter away. "I am NOT sweet!" he protested. "After all I have done for you and yet you dare attach that disgusting appellation to my person!" Swatting at her hands, he defended himself from further kisses. "Calm yourself, woman"
With a laugh, Ginny fell back onto her stool, her hair spilling around her face in a flaming riot of curls. "You are the most brilliant wizard in the world, Severus Snape," she declared. "I don't tell you that nearly often enough." She watched, smiling, as the surly wizard pulled a pristine handkerchief from his pocket and scrubbed vigorously at his cheek. "When this crap is finally over, I am going to make sure that every witch and wizard in Great Britain knows about your efforts," she informed the growling wizard stoutly.
"They will more than likely tuck you away in St. Mungos for your efforts," Severus grunted, checking his handkerchief for tell-tell stains. "And please refrain from further physical outbursts. They are most unbecoming"
Ginny grinned before asking, "When are you going to tell Draco"
Tucking the cloth back into his pocket, Severus cocked an irritated brow. "Pray, why would I be telling Mr. Malfoy anything concerning this potion?" he sneered.
Ginny blinked. "Well," she began slowly, "he kinda, sorta played a part in the 'blood freely given' thingie"
Severus raised a stalling hand. "You gave the blood freely to ME, not to Mr. Malfoy," he challenged peevishly."You are playing with words"
"You know what I am talking about, Severus," she retorted with a pout. "I think Draco has a very good right to know about this development," the witch informed her doubtful audience of one. "You could very well have some of his very personal property in there, you know!" she finished wiggling her index finger suggestively in Snape's direction.
"Now I shall truly be ill," Severus complained, blanching. "Must you draw such a vivid picture"
Cocking her hip outward, Ginny leaned her elbows on the marble top and nudged Severus with her shoulder. "So," she pried carefully, "you see much of Draco lately"
Severus pursed his lips and shrugged. "A bit," he admitted.
Ginny considered this scrap of information then asked, "Is he well"
The Potions Master recalled the battered and bloody Slytherin that lay upon his lawn just two weeks prior. Even though Severus had healed the wounds he had inflicted upon Draco's body following their little 'Come to Merlin' meeting, he had allowed the black eye and the split lip to remain as discouragements against further obliquity. "Fairly well, yes," the wizard prevaricated.
With a huff, Ginny turned on Severus. "Fairly well?" she asked, incensed. "That's it, 'fairly well"
Sighing, Severus inquired, "What would you have of me, Miss Weasley?" From the stubborn poke of her bottom lip, Severus knew he already had his answer.
"I want to see him, Severus," she responded without hesitation.
Severus' lip curled, this time in derision. "You iwant/i to see him," he whined mockingly. "Some of the things that we bwant/b are ill-advised at best, deadly at their worst." Pushing past the startled witch, the now fuming wizard grabbed the still snoozing Kneazle by his limp tail and with angry swipes, began cleaning the work surface with the animal's plush body. "What assurances do you have that Mr. Malfoy wishes to make contact with you?" he demanded through pinched lips. Oh, he did not want to be the one to inform Ginny Weasley of Draco Malfoy's choice!
Ginny, alarmed by Severus' sudden change stepped close and laid a freckled hand upon his upper arm. "Why are you so angry?" she inquired plaintively.
Severus continued to swing the slumbering feline over the marble surface, the wizard's expression flat and tight. He had already experienced this very same conversation with Draco not a fortnight before! That he had to finally resort to wand and fists to dissuade the young wizard from his foolishness gave Severus little pleasure. The same tactics could hardly be applied to Miss Weasley!
When Severus failed to respond, Ginny shrugged and said, "Never mind, I will just find him myself"
Internally, the laboring wizard flinched. A similar attitude from Draco had earned the blond a broken jaw.
"If you have finished dusting, I will just take Phobus and go," Ginny advised with a dispirited voice. Severus released the Kneazle, allowing the animal to glide over the slick black top into Ginny's hands. She quickly scooped the limp Phobus into her arms and turning, bent to place him in his wicker carrier.
"Draco has taken the Dark Mark." Severus's cold statement reached Ginny's ears, causing the witch to flinch mightily. Biting her lip against the pain rising in her chest, Ginny gently settled the Kneazle, closed the woven lid and buckled the fastening straps. Pushing herself to her feet, she fought the wave of vertigo that threatened to sweep her into blackness. She reached blindly for support and gripped the table's edge with fingers that throbbed from the strain. The chamber whirled crazily as the stones beneath her feet canted and heaved. "Here," Severus said, gripping both of her elbows from behind and pulling the gulping witch flush with his chest. "Steady now, Ginny," he murmured soothingly. "Slowly, through your nose, just as I taught you. Keep your eyes open. Breath"
Ginny clung to the anchor of Severus' voice, her back pressed securely to his chest. Her eyes remained open and fixed upon the cherry carriage clock that had been her last Christmas gift to the saturnine dungeon master as she once more allowed herself to rest upon the rock that was their friendship, trusting in the resolute support he offered. The thin, gold second hand swept smoothly over the clock's cream face, erasing time as Ginny painfully, slowly labored to expand her lungs by way of the small opening above her mouth. She fought the desire to open her tightly compressed lips and drink in great gulps of air.
"Relax against me," Severus crooned. Strong arms encircled Ginny's shoulders and waist, and she wrapped her fingers about his forearm, holding on for all she was worth as the twilight gloom faded from before her eyes and calm begin to fill her once again. The carriage clock announced the quarter-hour with a disgustingly cheery chime and Ginny shivered against Snape's black-clad chest. "Are you better?" he inquired as the chime faded upon the chill dungeon air.
She responded by holding to him tighter, "A moment or two more, just to be safe," she wheezed.
"As you wish," he complied easily.
With a tired nod, Ginny relaxed further into his embrace, her head now lying within the valley formed by the curve of his upper arm and chest. When she spoke, Severus had to listen hard to hear her whispered words.
"He meant it, Severus. Every word of his stupid, ridiculously brave pledge"
"Yes," he admitted. "So it seems"
Ginny pivoted softly in the circle of Snape's arms, resting her cheek upon his lapel. "He is just going to get himself killed"
Severus snorted before saying, "Most likely, yes"
"Am I cursed to always love foolish, suicidal, over-achieving wizards?" Ginny wailed into the broadcloth beneath her face.
"You do have a disturbing habit of choosing the wrong men in your life," Severus snarked gently.
Ginny pulled back to peer up at his pale face, her brow now creased with irritation. "That is a cauldron of Fang shit, and you know it, Severus!" She paused, thinking. "Well, definitely that thing with Tom, but don't you dare go and equate yourself or Draco with that monster," she concluded firmly.
Severus shrugged as if saying 'whatever', allowing the tiny witch her own misguided opinion. "Now that you have once more decorated my waist-coat with your excretions, your work here is complete. I suggest you sit, drink another cup of tea and then be on your way. It will dark soon and you do not need to be flying with only moonlight to guide you." Despite his cool words, he led her gently to a chair and placed the still shaking witch upon the seat.
Swiping a tangle of rust colored hair from her eyes, Ginny spoke solemnly. "I need to see Draco more now than ever, Severus. I can talk him out of this foolishness." She peered up at Severus, her brown eyes filled with passionate intent.
"Miss Weasley," he released in an aggrieved sigh as he placed a steaming mug into her hands, "iI/i attempted to beat the foolishness out of his ungrateful arse, but he would not budge in his decision to end his worthless life in a blaze of misguided glory, so I fail to see how you could possible be success"
"Because he iloves/i me, Severus!" she interrupted boldly, her eyes sparking with conviction, hope beginning to fill her face.
"How do you know this?" he snapped back quickly.
"Because he told me so, that's how!" she was just a swift to respond.
Severus scowled blackly. "And you swallowed that bit of tripe, did you?" he ejaculated snidely.
Ginny's face collapsed and Severus felt his heart sting with remorse.
"You told me to trust him, Severus," she said in a broken whisper.
Throwing his arms wide, the Potions Master declared loudly, "For that one moment, not your entire lifetime, woman!"

"If I could trust him in that one terrible moment, why inot/i for my entire lifetime," she cried hotly, setting her cup aside and coming to her feet. "You asked me to trust him with my life, and I did. I still do, you infuriating man, you!" Sweeping around the chamber, Ginny collected her cloak and broom. "You kept me sane as a student, Severus. You gave me a reason for life when everyone else was willing to let me fade into nothing. Do you think I would stand by and let harm come to you when there was even the smallest chance to help you"
The wizard turned his face from the snarling, stalking lioness, pinching the bridge of his protruding nose between his finger and thumb. Her words rolled over him like scalding water, melting the flesh from his bones and leaving him bare.
"It is the same with Draco," she panted, shrugging into her faded cloak. "He saved me in the same way. Like you, he actually took the time to isee/i me! I am NOT going to abandon him to some foolhardy quest when there is the slightest chance my words may sway him!" Swooping to a halt at the wizard's side, she added, "You thought I was worthy of saving, why not Draco"
Severus' fingers left the cleaving of his septum to snap imperiously in her face.
"What?" Ginny demanded.
"The parchment, the parchment, you troublesome sprite," he snarled. "Surely you have already prepared some missive you would have me deliver to your brooding inamorato"
Stunned into inactivity, Ginny could only stand, open-mouthed at Severus's sudden capitulation.
Severus leaned close to Ginny's startled face, a nasty leer upon his pale features. "Your message, IF you please, Miss Weasley," he sneered.
"Oh, yes, of course!" she stuttered, fumbling in her bag before finally extracting a much wrinkled bit of parchment and handing it over.
Fingering the battered bit of material, Severus drawled, "New stationary, Miss Weasley? How provincial"
Ignoring his jibe, Ginny grinned happily and gaining her tiptoes, quickly kissed the nose that hovered so near. "Thank you, Severus. I won't let you down"
Severus attempted a frown as he once more pulled his handkerchief from a pocket. "You never have before, Miss Weasley"

Seveurs Snape entered the grounds of his wager-won estate from the rear of the property. The icy wind of late autumn carried the sound of a dull staccato thud to the dark wizard's ears and he followed the constant dry rhythm until he spotted the source.
Draco Malfoy, bare chested and sweating, wielded the ax he swung over his head with practiced determination. Severus observed as each blow met its sylvan target in precise, deadly strokes, felling the young tree in one mighty sweep. With a grunt, the blond wrenched his fallen foe fro the ground and whirled it behind him where it landed in a prickly pile of its brethren. Judging from the height of the pile, Draco had been at his assigned task for some time, and Severus smiled with dark satisfaction. Nothing like hard, physical labor to keep idiots out to trouble, he beamed internally.
"I see yo have managed to clear the side parcel," Severus called, announcing his presence to the young ax swinger.
This elicited another grunt from Draco as he attacked the next tree, sweat pouring down his chest despite the chill of the evening. "I have also managed to clear the refuse from the formal gardens as well," he responded with a petulant sneer, "as per your orders"
Striding forward, Severus paused by the impressive pile of dead wood, admiring its height and breadth. "Excellent," he proclaimed, then added, "When you are finished, you will need to burn the pile." He whirled on his exhausted. perspiring companion. "A smokeless fire, mind you. The vapors play hell with my sinuses"
Panting heavily, Draco tossed his ax aside and sketched a mocking bow. "Will there be anything else you desire, Severus?" The bruises around the wizard's eyes had faded to an unbecoming blend of green and yellow, and the gash to his lips remained scabbed and swollen, but Draco retained his air of indulged superiority. He glared across the short expanse of lawn at his former instructor.
Unrepentant, Severus cocked a brow. "Careful, my young apprentice," he intoned darkly, "lest you discover how vast are my desires concerning you." Nodding to the discarded ax, Severus informed the panting Slytherin, "You will want to clean and sharpen the blade before returning it to the garden shed. Meet me in the library when you have completed your chores." So saying, the wizard whirled in a cloud of dark material and strode purposely towards the waiting manor.
Watching the retreating form, Draco whinged a high pitched, "You will want to clean and sharpen that blade!" Snatching the tool from the ground, he shook it in the direction of the departed Potions Master. "I will clean it on your carcass you black-hearted, son-of-a"
"My hearing is quite excellent, Mr. Malfoy," Severus's called from the rising gloom of the night.
Draco froze. "Bugger that," he sighed, turning to make his way to the garden shed.
& After a quick shower, Draco entered the library to find Severus sipping cognac from a crystal tumbler and going over his most recently arrived owls. Waving a dismissive hand in the direction of the new arrival, he indicated that Draco pour himself a similar libation. Glass in hand, Draco eased himself into a chair before the fire, recalling a comparable night, just a fortnight prior, when after drinks, Severus had proceeded to beat the shit out of the pewter-eyed Slytherin for being so foolhardy as to take on the Dark Lord. The pair sat now in companionable silence. Draco imbibed the burning liquid and was pondering the ifs and whens of Severus's addressing him, when a crumbled bit of parchment landed unceremoniously in his wool-clad lap.
"Once more I have been commissioned to act as your news bearer," Severus snarked from behind the rim of his tumbler. "It is becoming tiresome"
Draco wordlessly opened the missive, his eyes widening and his face paling with it's brevity. After a moment, he swallowed. "She wants to see me"
A roll of black eyes was all the response the blond received. "Did she give a reason for this, ah... meeting?" Draco pressed, panic rising in his chest.
Tossing back the last of his drink, Severus purred sourly, "She wants to isee/i you Mr. Malfoy. I imagine she does not time me capable of caring for you in an appropriate manner." With a lazy beckoning of his fingers, the cognac bottle floated gently to the Potions Master's hand.
Folding the parchment, Draco tucked it into his robe pocket, mindful of his still healing ribs. "So, you saw her today then. Is - is she well"
"What is this penchant young people have for inquiring about the 'wellness' of the other?" Severus groused before giving in. "She had the required allotment of fingers and facial appendages. There were no bald spots that I noted and as her figure is as stick-thin as ever, your fears of impending fatherhood can be laid aside"
Spitting liquor, Draco exploded from his chair. "Bloody hell, Severus, that was uncalled for!" he bellowed hotly. Pulling his wand, Draco muttered a quick iScourgify/i to his soaked shirt, while looking angrily at the seated Severus.
"That was the question uppermost in your mind, was it not?" he inquired politely, while his tone indicated that he was anything by pleased about the acts that had led up to Draco's musings.
Seated once more, his tumbler refilled, Draco snorted, "Well, yes, that thought did ioccasionally/i rear its vexing head, but to spring such a thing on a wizard! Damn you man, have you no tact?" he demanded.
"Not a whit," was Snape's dry rejoinder. The wizards sat in morose silence, the sharp popping of the flames, the only sound. The dark Master of Potions was in fact surprised by Draco's seeming brown study. Surely, the blackeyed wizard mused, the pup should be over the moon at finally hearing from the girl! Finally Severus, tired of the gloom, took a deep pull from his cup and waved the drink mockingly. "This is ludicrous, Draco. We sit here brooding over our liquor like doddering old greybeards. Even Dumbledore is better company than you at present," he groused, frowning at the younger wizard. "Although to your credit, you have better taste in robes and lack that infernal itwinkle/i," he snarled.
Draco rolled his head on the cushion so that he now faced his friend. "Would you have me speak of happy things, Severus?" he quired softly. "Forgive me, for I have none to share"
"What of your time with Miss Weasley? What of your planned 'trist'", Severus insisted, sitting forward and resting his forearms upon his thighs. If anyone could talk the young Slytherin from his present course, it would be the titian Weasley. Even more so than before, Severus wanted the pair to speak. He jerked his face towards Draco, the firelight reflecting back sharp and hot from his onyx gaze. "You will be pleased to know she was most anxious to see you." he added.
Draco shrugged and absentmindedly rubbed the concealed parchment. "I have not yet decided if I will be seeing Ginny," he said.
Severus winced internally but keeping his voice calm, said, "You owe her"
"Yes, I know," Draco admitted after sipping from his glass. "More than I could ever repay"
"Then you will contact her," Severus prodded. "Either give her hope or set her free, Draco"
Draco came to his feet and running his fingers through his moonlight hair, groaned, "Hope? Hope of what, Severus"
"That she matters to you, you gormless twit!" Severus snarled. "If she matters not, then set her free"
Draco grasped his cup with blanching fingers, forcing himself not to break the piece. The idea of turning Ginny away, the thought of her eternal absence, caused his stomach and its contents to roll. "I - I cannot. Gods damn me for a coward, but I cannot give her up," he finally growled.
"It is the brave wizard that stands by and for his witch, Draco," Severus advised. "While this - thing - you and Miss Weasley share is ill advised at this time, adversity is better faced with a companion." Stunned by his own insight, Severus downed the last of his drink and glared at the empty tumbler. "This batch must be off, I sound like Albus-Bloody-Dumbledore"
Equally amazed Draco flopped back into his chair, extending his glass to his host. "I never took you for an agony aunt, Cousin, but your words are well placed and I will think on them. Now, be a mate and top me off." Severus complied and filled his own vessel as well. The pair returned to their study of the crackling flames.
Draco wriggled further into his chair, his feet nearly resting on the hob. "Have you any pleasant news, any happy note to fill our evening?" he applied of his drinking partner.
The dark, slender wizard pondered the question for a moment, then a sly grin curled the corners of his thin lips. "I hear Miss Weasley has enrolled full time in Edinburgh," he supplied neatly.
Draco felt his heart smile with the news, then he sat up, wincing, a puzzled frown on his face. "I am pleased to hear, but where did she obtain the gold? Last I heard, Fortescue sacked her for fear of more attacks upon his business"
iAhh, keeping tabs on her, are we?/i Severus smirked mentally as he spoke, "Yes, she was released by Fortescue, but it would seem the matchless marvels, Fred and George Weasley have finally come across an outlet for their excess of funds. They have paid her tuition in full, right up to her graduation," he finished by toasting the absent twins with his cup.
Draco was not so forgiving. "They should have done that long ago," he insisted.
"I agree, but we cannot force the hands of others," Severus stated dryly. "They must be able to see the need before meeting the same"
"I bloody well saw her need," Draco snapped. "I did not live in her dormitory, nor was I counted as friend, but I could see that she needed something, someone"
"And you became that 'someone' for her," the older wizard stated.
Draco shrugged, once more causing himself to wince. "She was disappearing right before our eyes, her light was fading, and I - I could not allow that to happen," he insisted plainly.
"Very commendable on your part, Draco, though I must say, your choice of therapy left a great deal to be desired, at least by the staff," Severus said, hiding a smile behind his glass.
"We always repaired the damage," the blond defended. "Well, sometimes." He chuckled and said, "Do you remember when I got her with that Diricawl jinx? Every time she got the least bit anxious, she would vanish in a burst of feathers? POOF!" He held his hand over his tender ribs.
Severus nodded. As I recall, it took her several days to figure out that particular spell. She disappeared quite a few times during Potions," he stated. "Her revenge was masterful," he added slyly.
"Well yeah, " Draco sighed, "So, okay, iSmirking Flatulence/i was a brilliant move on her part. I never knew how often I wore that particular expression"
Severus chuckled as he remembered. "Your house mates were more than taken with that jinx. It took days to get the smell out of the dungeons"
"Yeah, but I paid her back real good for that one! Planned it for days"
The voices of the men faded into the night as memories and future plans became intertwined.

bBig thanks to Wolfey for her excellent beta skills and her brutal sacking of unnecessary commas and crap like that. She is such a dear to do this monster of a chapter and get it back to me so quickly. I know there ain't much going on in this chappie, but I only have two left before we are done. You have waited long enough for an update. I couldn't make you wait longer. Let me know what you think. Love ya! gotsnape/b