Special Note: I've had so much fun writing this fic, that it's definitely 'sweet sorrow' to post the final chapter. Even so, if readers have enjoyed the journey our characters have taken to reach their happy endings, then I'm a happy writer! The quotes within this chap are from Patricia C. Wrede. If you haven't read her 'Enchanted Forest Chronicles', you should! The quotes at the beginning and end of the chapter are from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The chapter title is from an old Raymond Chandler mystery with the kind of visual prose and intense characters that I've always loved but I always thought needed more romance. :D It seemed to fit.
Chapter 50- The Long Goodbye
So shall all the couples three
Ever true in loving be….
The Visitor's Tearoom was not warm and inviting, but the six young people sitting around a corner table at the far end didn't care about the lack of atmosphere. They were focused on something much more important—solving a mystery. Sitting next to Wesley, wearing the lime green shirt that distinguished volunteers, Luna took a sip of her tea. She listened serenely as the members of their little 'Scooby Gang' discussed strategy.
"Bindy and I will visit my parents and keep a sharp eye on the ward," said Neville.
Colin nodded. "Mindy and I can stake out the ground floor, patrol the front and back exits."
Beside the slim boy, his girlfriend asked, "Who exactly are we on the lookout for, again?"
Neville looked at Mindy and shrugged. His brown eyes were dark with frustration. "I wish I could tell you more than average height, weight, looks, but the bastard was so bloody damned ordinary…."
"Of course!" Bindy grabbed Neville's arm excitedly. "How many people really and truly have no distinguishing features? A mole, a big nose, something…. This wizard blends in so well that even though we both saw him, we can't decide if his hair was light brown or sandy, or what colour his eyes were…so that's what we should look for!"
"Yes," Neville said thoughtfully. "Look for someone our eyes slide right past, who you wouldn't notice, usually."
Wesley said, "Luna and I will be roaming all the floors, helping wherever they ask us to. Should we be on the lookout for someone pretending to be a Healer?"
The other boy nodded solemnly. "Yeah. Over Easter holiday, he walked right past us using that disguise."
Luna waited for a lull in the conversation to say, "I looked up Droobles Best Blowing Gum in the Quibbler Archives. Daddy ran an article on Droobles last year." Her lips curved. "It seems that Wonka's sued and won a hefty sum. They proved that the rival company used information obtained illegally to create the bluebell-coloured bubble formula." Everyone but Wesley was looking at her with 'what does that have to do with anything?' expressions. She said, "One of the largest shareholders in Droobles is Malfoy Enterprises. Isn't that interesting?"
"Very interesting, Bella Luna." Wesley's hand squeezed hers. She beamed.
Colin smirked. "Death Eaters going round blowing bubbles that don't pop for days. Interesting? Maybe. Helpful? I don't see how."
Mindy smacked the top of her boyfriend's head, presumably to help his thought processes function better. "It's a distinguishing feature, you gorgeous dummy!"
"Oh," Colin replied sheepishly, rubbing his head. Looking into his girl's eyes, he smiled, "So you think I'm gorgeous?"
Amused by Creevey's vanity, and how Mindy fed it by kissing him soundly in answer, Luna turned to her boyfriend. "He's not half as gorgeous as you are."
Adorable dimples flashed. Turning her hand over, blue eyes twinkled while Wesley traced a line on her palm. "See this line?" She nodded. He winked. "It tells me that your day will lead—" His fingertip continued down to her wrist. "—to a linen cupboard on the fourth floor."
Luna widened her eyes. "All alone?"
He traced a delicate vein that led to another one, rubbing the soft underside of her wrist. "Never alone."
A discreet cough brought their attention back to Neville, who looked a bit uncomfortable with all the public displays of affection. The boy asked, "How will we keep in touch with each other?"
Wesley placed a bag onto the table. After a quick look around to make sure no one was watching, he said, "I'd wondered about that myself." Opening the sack and handing each of the gang a small, black rectangular object with curious buttons, he grinned. "These are Muggle two-way radios. The security office at my mum's work has loads of these. I asked if there were any old ones they were planning on getting rid of. They gave me a half dozen, after a small monetary show of appreciation."
Colin laughed. "You bribed Muggles and then enchanted these to work in a wizard building? Isn't there an inconvenient little law against that?"
Wesley said, "Yes, if you intend to use them, which I interpret to mean on a regular basis. Which we don't."
Neville held up his radio. "If we get caught, I'll help pay the fine."
"Me too." Bindy nodded.
Mindy prodded Colin after saying, "I will as well. It was a brilliant idea."
Crying out in exaggerated pain, Creevey said plaintively, "Why am I always abused?" After receiving no sympathy, he chuckled. "I never said I didn't like the notion." He gazed down at his radio. "What's the range?"
"Well, these are old, so only ten floors, but we don't need more than six, and there'll be no interference on our frequency," Wesley replied.
Neville looked amazed. "We can talk through walls and floors?" Receiving a nod, he smiled. "Ace."
Luna took the tiny wireless earpiece that would enable them to hide the radio in their pockets while keeping in contact and placed it in her ear, feeling like a Hit Wizard or something equally thrilling. After they had set their radios and agreed to meet back at the tearoom for lunch if no progress had been made, the group split up.
A mediwitch headed to the lift noticed Luna and Wesley. She said, "I could use some help in my ward."
They followed her down to the third floor. Patients recovering from potion and plant poisoning called out for water, for a book, for someone to help adjust the bed or assist them in some other way. Feeling much less the dashing operative, Luna waved to Wesley and went into a private room to help a woman moaning for assistance. Once inside, she gasped. "Professor Trelawney!"
The teacher squinted without her glasses. "Who is it? Come closer." When she recognised the girl's face, the woman gave a weak smile. "Why my stars, its Miss Lovegood. You…you're a volunteer?"
"Yes, ma'am." Luna hurried to fetch the older witch a pitcher of water and inquired for her as to when the Healer would make his rounds. After she conveyed that the wizard would be there shortly, the girl asked, "Forgive me for prying, but what brings you to St. Mungo's?"
"That's what I want to know, Sybil." The wizard striding into the room looked undecided whether to be worried or put out. Smoothing his mustache with curving steel, James Hook demanded, "Why didn't you tell me before I left that you were coming here? I would've escorted you. Instead, I was informed by that surly welcomewitch downstairs that you'd checked in."
The woman bit her lip. "I left you a note, James."
He laughed shortly. "A note. Saying you didn't want to trouble me, I expect." When she nodded, he sat on the bed and took her hand. "I would've been far more troubled to come home to an empty flat and that ridiculous note, m'dear."
Luna gazed curiously at Hook's tied back hair and black robes. She asked, "What are you doing at St. Mungo's, Professor Hook, and how would the welcomewitch know to tell you that Professor Trelawney was here?"
A dark brow lifted. "None of your business, Miss Lovegood…now go find some other patient to bother."
Before the girl could react to that statement, a Healer stepped into the room. Lime green robes swirled as the wizard held up a chart. "Hello James. Back with another Auror trainee? Those students of yours keep us busy, by Merlin." He shifted to smile genially at the woman waiting anxiously. "Good news, Professor Trelawney, you were not poisoned by one of the exotic houseplants Professor Sprout gave you. You are merely experiencing a malady common to expectant women." He rattled on about finding a midwitch, prescribed a potion for nausea, and said that a mediwitch would come by with discharge papers soon before he left to see another patient.
Luna stood, riveted, as the couple stared at each other.
Trelawney said faintly, "Students…do you teach at the Auror Academy too, James?"
Hook nodded. "Curse and spell breaking, full time, before…Stuart." He said, "I'm just filling in while another instructor's on holiday." It was his turn to ask hesitantly, "Are we really having a child?" She nodded. He smiled. "Then you'll have to make an honest man out of me."
Backing away from the embracing pair, Luna halted when Professor Hook called, "Not one word of this to your little friends, Miss Lovegood. Savvy?"
How piratical he sounded. With a bright smile, she said "Aye-aye, Captain." Luna saluted before leaving the professor to explain to his expectant fiancée about a pirate named Captain Hook.
She met Wesley in the corridor. "Any sight of you-know-who?"
Golden brows rose in alarm. "Voldemort?" he whispered in an undertone.
Luna giggled. "No, the Death Eater, or whatever he is. I refuse to call him 'gum wrapper bloke.'"
Wesley escorted her to the lift. He shook his head. "I've seen several things that make eating an unattractive prospect, but no incredible average bloke."
Inside the lift, she leaned close to whisper what she had seen and heard in Trelawney's room.
"I thought you weren't supposed to say a word to your little friends." Wesley said humorously after hearing about the professors.
She pressed kisses along his jaw. "You're not my little friend, you're my love." She kissed his smiling lips, happy that they were alone in the lift. His hands slid down to her hips, turning and pressing her against the wall while they exchanged deep, soft, wet kisses. She moaned.
"Uh…Lovegood…I hate to tell you…but you pushed a button…and we can all hear you two snogging…or whatever." Colin's voice was filled with glee, not regret. She gasped.
Wesley chuckled. "Creevey, remind me to give you a hex later, but right now, tell us if you've seen anything."
"No luck here." Neville's voice was low, whether embarrassed by the inadvertent eavesdropping or depressed over lack of progress, she couldn't tell. They signed off. Luna pushed her tee back down to cover her abdomen and tried to look innocent when she and Wesley exited on the first floor.
A mediwitch smiled brightly to see them. "Volunteers! How nice. There's a burn patient two beds down who wants someone to read the Daily Prophet to him, and I need assistance with embedded spiders."
Luna smiled at the shudder Wesley gave when the mediwitch mentioned spiders. She said, "Why don't you go read. I'll help the mediwitch."
He smiled gratefully and hurried off. Soon, his pleasant voice could be heard reading an article about the misuse of Muggle artefacts.
The patient Luna assisted with, a young boy who had thought the species of spider 'harmless' said, "He makes the news sound fun. I wish my dad did. My family falls asleep at table when he reads us an article."
After finishing with several other small tasks, Wesley and Luna were heading to another floor when they heard Mindy say, "Oh my gods, I think I just saw Mr. Ordinary waltz in the front door. He's holding a set of Healer robes!"
Neville ordered, "Follow him to the lifts. Find out which floor he stops on!"
Colin shouted, "The fourth!"
Wesley urged, "Neville, Bindy, find someplace to hide. We'll be right up." He hit the button for the fourth floor, asking, "Creevey, you two on your way?"
"Yeah, we'll block the stairs and lift."
Wands ready, Luna and Wesley exited the lift and headed for the Janus Thickey Ward for long-term, spell-damaged patients.
Inside, they heard Neville shouting, "Tell me who sent you, tell me what you've done to my parents, or I'll show you how it feels to experience an Unforgivable Curse!"
She and Wesley froze when the man behind the Longbottoms' screened area laughed. "You know who it was…You-Know-Who, and he'll never allow your parents to escape his judgment, boy. Curse me if you choose, but it won't stop their well-deserved suffering."
Scuffling sounds were heard.
They rushed forward and yanked back the curtain. Neville was holding an armful of clothing.
Bindy yelled, "There! There he is, headed for the door!" Luna's mouth dropped open. A ferret with strange markings was running across the room.
Before she or Wesley could hex or jinx it, a man in a lilac dressing gown scooped up the Animagus and cooed, "Well, aren't you a cute little fellow?" Gilderoy Lockhart displayed a dazzling white smile while he carried the wriggling animal over to his bed. "I don't remember as much as I should, but I do know that animals, like women and children, adore me. I'm almost sure I'd have hundreds of pets if I didn't have to feed them, or give them any attention."
When the ferret bit him, Lockhart cried out and dropped the creature onto the bed. It scrambled up onto the windowsill.
Neville said, "Don't let him go! He's an Animagus!" Before he could push his former professor out of the way, the ferret jumped out the window.
Lockhart grabbed Bindy's wand. "Don't worry," he said patronisingly, "I know the transformation spell to help your friend."
The spell caused the ferret, which had shifted mid-fall into a wizard, to transform into an animal again. When the ferret hit the ground, it didn't bounce, the way a wizard's body would have. Instead, unable to claim magical protection, it hit the ground with a heavy thud and lay still. The friends crowded around the window, watching to see if the ferret would rise.
Colin and Mindy rushed into the ward. "What happened?" Colin said.
Luna pointed to the window.
They all saw a St. Mungo's security wizard hurry out and pick up the animal whose neck was clearly broken. The man looked up.
Glad that they had stepped back out of sight, Luna said, "I think we should leave."
Bindy hugged Neville. "Are you okay?"
He said solemnly, "Yeah. I'm glad he's dead, and maybe the Ministry will do a proper investigation now that I can prove I'm not just some meddling kid." He asked his girlfriend, "Will you come with me? I'm going downstairs to tell security what happened."
She smiled and kissed his cheek. "I'd be proud to."
Colin and Mindy volunteered to come along too.
Luna said honestly, "I don't think that Wesley or I, with our fathers' connection to the Quibbler, would help you make your case, Neville."
He replied with a glimpse of a smile, "No, probably not."
When the boy tried to hand back his radio, Wesley shook his head. "Keep it. You never know when the Scooby Gang will ride again."
Neville said, "Okay, Freddy." He clasped Bindy's hand. Together they walked past his silently staring parents toward the door.
Colin bowed to Mindy. "After you, Scrappy."
She smirked. "Just for calling me that, no Scooby snogs for you."
They waved goodbye and followed the other couple. Wesley slipped his arm around Luna's waist and steered her out of the ward. Inside the linen cupboard that she found quite comfortable, he held her tight and admitted, "That's not the way I thought our mystery would end."
She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, glad to be alive, and in his arms. "I wanted life to be like one of those cartoons you told me about, the ones where the kids unmask the villain and he goes to prison while the people he harmed are free to live a happy life." A tear rolled down her cheek. "It didn't turn out that way."
Wesley kissed the tear away. "I know it didn't, Buttercup, but Neville will bash on, and maybe now he'll get the authorities to help." He smiled. "If they don't, he's got friends who will."
Luna stood on tiptoes to press a kiss to his lips, using her fingers' grip in his hair to hold his mouth fused to hers. Wesley's hands stroked up her back, sifted through her hair, and cradled her face while he slowly and thoroughly returned the sensuous caress of lips and tongue. Long, sweet, kisses made her cheeks flush and her heart pound. She could feel his heart pounding too. Lifting her hand to his cheek, Luna said with a catch in her voice, "I love you, Wesley."
He kissed her again after looking into her eyes and smiling tenderly. "I love you, too, my Bella Luna."
When his lips lifted to trail kisses down her throat, she took a shaky breath and asked, "Will you come to dinner tonight, so my father can get to know you?"
His dimples deepened. "Anything for you, love."
He placed his lips on hers, gently coaxing her mouth to open and deepening the kiss. She shifted closer. He moaned. Colin's voice said laughingly, "Uh…you forgot to turn off your radio, and, well, a couple of us did too, and we thought you'd like to know we can hear you snogging…or whatever."
She giggled. Wesley groaned. Colin yelped.
Mindy said tartly, "Don't mind him, we didn't hear…much…." After a pause, the girl asked, "Do you two want to go get some lunch? Bindy's offered to treat at her parents' restaurant. Neville's done with security, and from his expression needs cheering up."
Luna looked at Wesley. He smiled. She said, "Sure, we'll be down in just a few minutes." After turning off her radio, she twined her arms around his neck and murmured, "Where were we?"
Wesley laughed huskily, "Right…" He brushed his lips over hers. "Here." He took possession of her mouth the way he had her heart, like a bold pirate.
She sighed and returned his kiss joyfully.
Blaise opened the tent flap to walk outside and watch the sunrise, reflecting that Romania was nothing like she'd expected. It was so much more.
They had travelled by Port-key. A large, horse-drawn cart had transported them from Quidditch pitch to mountain meadow within moments. After experiencing the unique sensation of being pulled forward by her navel through a swirling band of colour that rushed by like roaring wind, the cart had pulled to a stop in a field carpeted by sweet-smelling grasses and flowers.
She had climbed down with Terry's help, and held his hand while she'd gazed at the main structure of the research centre. She admired the clean lines of the two-storied building. It blended into the nearby forest with its wooden construction and steeply sloped roof. Several smaller wooden homes clustered behind it, like a small village.
Blaise remembered the way their driver, Dimitrie, had waved to the man striding toward them from the lodge-like building.
"Charlie is in charge of volunteers, he will tell you what you need to know." The large, gruff-voiced man waved goodbye to his passengers. Clucking to the horses, he said, "Succes atunci…la revedere!" Booming with laughter, the Romanian guided the cart toward a narrow forest road.
"What did he say? Or do I not want to know?" Draco asked in an undertone.
Niles, a volunteer who had introduced himself as an Obliviator re-thinking his career of erasing Muggle memories of the Wizarding world, said in his crisp tones, "Dimitrie said good luck, and goodbye." When the rest of the group stared, the wizard smoothed down his precisely arranged blond hair and admitted, "I'm good with languages."
Blaise said, "I'm good with shopping phrases." She winked at Ginny. "Cat costa asta? How much is this? That's all you need to know, except maybe ati accepta—would you take—if you like to bargain."
"Excepting the nearby village, there won't be many opportunities for you to shop during your stay, Miss…" Charlie Weasley had reached the group. Scanning the list of names written on the parchment held by the clipboard in his hand, he said perplexedly, "I don't have any females listed. Ginny, I was aware of as a late addition, but no one told me you were coming Miss…." Steady brown eyes in a ruggedly attractive face glanced at her in friendly inquiry.
She raised her left hand. "It's Mrs. actually…Mrs. Boot, but please, call me…Sophia."
Ginny giggled, Draco coughed, and Terry smiled, sliding his arm around her waist as a few disappointed volunteers muttered, 'Damn.'
With a look of concern, Charlie reminded, "The tents aren't exactly honeymoon suites, Mrs…Sophia." He made eye contact with the ten young men and two young women making up the group of volunteers and said frankly, "Right over there, beside the centre, are your quarters for the next several weeks. They aren't posh, by any stretch of the word, so if you're used to finer things…." He gave Blaise's designer clothes and pretty sandals a sceptical look. "I hope you're prepared to rough it."
Once more proving his pleasant disposition, Charlie didn't raise a brow when she promised cheerfully along with the others that she was. He merely shrugged and escorted them to the tents she hadn't noticed before. Tall and roomy-looking, the tents were the exact colour of the grasses they were spaced across to the side of the research centre.
The dragon-chaser pointed to a wooden structure painted the same camouflaging green located behind the tents. He said, "Each tent has a toilet, but shares a bath-house." The freckles that made his face look tanned became more prominent when the wizard blushed. "Uh…be sure to have your husband keep watch for you, Sophia. They're open showers."
Nodded earnestly, she said, "That won't be a problem." Out of the corner of her eye, Blaise caught sight of Minky lurking behind the tent on the far end and asked, "May we have the tent closest to the houses, so I can be close to Ginny?"
Amiably, Charlie agreed, and assigned the others to share, leaving the tent next to Blaise and Terry's empty.
Draco frowned. "Don't you want me to stay there?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, I've got plenty of room at my place. You'll stay where I can keep an eye on—" Clearing his throat, Charlie raised his voice. "Get settled in, everyone and then head over to the centre for lunch. There's a dining hall inside. At one o'clock, we'll have an orientation meeting." With a smile that faded when he saw Ginny slip her hand into Draco's, the man led the young couple towards his home.
Blaise called, "Pa, pa!" and laughed when Ginny turned to her brother questioningly before echoing the Romanian 'Bye, Bye!' back to her.
Terry picked up their bags. "Why did you really pick that tent?"
She grinned. "Minky was there, working her magic."
He chuckled. "Let me guess, we won't be roughing it."
Slanting a teasing sideways look, Blaise said, "No, and you won't have be deprived of sharing a shower, either." Her husband—how wonderful that sounded—gave her a smouldering look that made her unconsciously walk faster. They reached the tent and entered to see Minky fluffing a sofa pillow in the lounge.
The house-elf's large round eyes glowed with zeal. "Minky is glad she is deciding to look after you here. There was no bathtub, nothing but an old illumination orb, a couple of camp chairs and a rickety table for the lounge, and in the bedroom, only two cots and a tiny wardrobe. Shameful!"
Gaze drifting across the colourful sofa upholstered in a traditional Romanian print, the oriental rug, low table, cosy club chairs and the small round table with chairs in a corner, Blaise said, "You've done a wonderful job! This is so much better than a honeymoon suite."
Terry dropped the bags. "Yes, it is, thank you."
Tips of her ears turning pink, Minky ducked her head modestly and told them she would return to 'see to things' the next morning. After the elf had Apparated, Blaise watched Terry silently taking in the furnishings and bit her lip in anxiety.
He noticed and hugged her, asking, "What's wrong?"
Her lips trembled. "You hate it, don't you? You wanted to camp out in a rustic tent and now you'll have to live in luxury." She wailed, "I've ruined our holiday!"
His smile grew until he was chuckling. Lifting her up and carrying her over the bedroom threshold in classic bridal fashion, Terry placed her gently on the bed. He kissed her lingeringly before looking around the space transformed into something out of Arabian Nights.
"Why would I want a musty narrow cot when I could share this with you?" Blue eyes darkened while he slipped off his shoes, socks, and shirt. "I was a bit overwhelmed, sure, but I wasn't unhappy." He leaned down to take off her sandals before gliding his hands up her long, bare legs. "I love you, baby, and I like your style." His fingers unfastened the button on her shorts.
She returned the favour with his denims, smiling. "Show me how much."
Due to Terry showing her so well, both in the bedroom, and in the bathroom later, they were late to lunch. Slipping onto the bench beside Ginny, Blaise said in an effort to distract attention from their tardiness, "I really like how we all sit at one long table. Makes it seem like we're part of the same team, even though some of us are only temporary." She pushed her hair back over her shoulder and smiled across the table at Charlie, who promptly choked on his soup.
The brunette serving lunch pounded him on the back rather forcefully. The Romanian girl then wiped her hands on her embroidered apron and flounced out of the room with her nose in the air. Mystified, Blaise turned to Ginny. Her friend gasped before dissolving into giggles.
On the laughing girl's other side, Draco leaned forward and snapped while raising his wand. "You forgot to dry your hair, Hufflepuff."
Startled, Blaise looked down and saw that her Siren's Secret 'Barely-There Bra' looked not-at-all-there due to being soaked by her bloody, long, wet hair. In an instant, Draco's spell had dried her tank top and returned her to decency. She smiled ruefully at Terry, who fingered his own wet hair.
Draco said, "Hufflepuffs in love," and used the spell once more.
Charlie, recovered from his shock, grinned at them. "So you're Hufflepuffs, eh?" He winked, looking uncannily like his twin brothers. "You sure uphold your House reputation."
Blaise played with a strand of Terry's hair, before brushing it back from his handsome face. She ignored the suppressed mirth from her friends to say sincerely, "Thanks."
Terry's arms sliding around her waist and pulling her back against his chest brought the newlywed out of her reverie. She turned her head to look up into his face. "I love to watch the sun rise over the meadow. The butterflies, the flowers, the mountains, everything is so beautiful. I'm glad Minky added a back entrance so I could enjoy the view every morning."
He smiled wryly. "Do you know the name of every flower now? Last night around the bonfire, Poindexter sure attempted to teach every ruddy one of them."
She giggled. "Arnold doesn't get to talk to someone who allows him to share his interest in flora very often." Disregarding his dry 'Arnold doesn't get to talk to a girl very often', she informed, Granger-like, "I now know that all those purple flowers in the grass are Crocus heuffelianus, and the others are—" Blaise broke off, shrieking with laughter, when he began tickling her. Turning, she said, "I can't help being friendly. Poor blokes, this is the adventure they'll be bragging about when they go back to desk jobs at the Ministry."
He kissed her in a way that warmed better than the pale morning rays.
Terry broke away to nuzzle her neck and ask in a low, insinuating voice, "What adventure do I get to brag about? Over the last few days, Malfoy and I are dead even on barrels of dragon shite shovelled, but that's not what I call exciting."
Blaise took a quick look around. At this early hour, no one was up. Emboldened, she untied her belt and let her robe fall to the ground. When Terry's jaw dropped, she darted out of his slack embrace and ran toward the tent, laughing when he slung her over his shoulder and carried her inside, playfully slapping her backside.
Languidly stroking his chest later, she said, "I've never been this happy in my life. I don't ever want to take my ring off."
Terry rolled onto his side to look into her eyes. "What are you saying? You don't want to go back to Hogwarts?"
She took a deep breath and shook her head. "I've tried to pretend that I wouldn't mind keeping our marriage a secret, but…I want to cry your name each night and smile into your eyes each morning…and I can't do that if you're in Ravenclaw Tower and I'm in Slytherin."
He smiled. "I don't want to be separated either. I'm tired of lying to my parents and the thought of living that way for another year—" Terry said, "Barry showed his coach the flight patterns I came up with for Ravenclaw, and he said he'd make me an assistant coach in a heartbeat." Ruefully, he acknowledged, "The Cannons aren't the best, but it would be a start."
Blaise nodded eagerly. "That's all we need." She kissed him. "Nobody's loved me the way you love me." Feeling his heartbeat quicken beneath her palm, she pushed him onto his back and vowed, "And I'm going to make sure that you know nobody will ever love you as much as I do."
After sending her satisfied husband off to challenge Draco to yet another contest of magical shovelling skill, Blaise walked to Charlie's house to see Ginny. The girls helped out at the centre whenever they could, but aside from sorting dragon scales and doing a little filing or other minor paperwork, there was nothing for them to do. This left the friends a lot of time for hikes to the village to shop.
Blaise knocked on the door with a Romanian Longhorn intricately carved upon its surface, looking forward to the walk through the ancient forest of gigantic fir, spruce and beech trees. The door opened. She said, "Buna dimineata!"
Charlie smiled in return. "Good morning to you too! Come in, Ginny's almost ready."
She followed him through the lounge, toward the kitchen, inhaling with pleasure. "Your home always smells so good!"
He picked a wooden trivet off the counter. "It's the Juniper wood. It releases a nice aroma when hot things are placed on it. It's an old Romanian custom." Looking toward the girl wiping off the table, his smile widened. "Anika gave it to me."
The same young woman who had pounded him on the back that first day now said without looking up, "I refuse to keep house for a bachelor without fresheners of all kinds."
Charlie ran a hand over his red hair, laughing self-consciously. "Are my socks that bad? Imi pare rau." He looked at Blaise and shrugged. "I am sorry. I guess I sweat a lot, chasing dragons."
Anika wiped her hands on yet another colourfully embroidered apron, this one orange and white. She spared her employer a quick glance. "You do important work, tracking the dragons, preventing them from breaking the boundary wards, keeping them safe." With a hint of a smile in her green eyes, the pretty housekeeper said, "I do not mind your sweaty socks."
Blaise watched with interest as Anika and Charlie stared at each other. Matchmaking instincts flaring to life, she asked, "Are you two dating?" They both blushed and looked everywhere except at each other.
Charlie was speechless, but Anika denied vehemently, "No, no we are not." Cheeks red, she practically tore off the apron, saying, "I am done here. I will see you at lunch, Da?"
The man's hand reached out to touch the woman's arm. "Mersi…I…appreciate you taking care of me."
"Cu placere, you are welcome, but it is only my job." Anika stepped back and left the kitchen.
Watching Charlie listen to soft footsteps head for the front door, Blaise said after it closed with a quiet snap, "You really like her, don't you?"
The freckle-highlighting blush returned. Endearingly, he half-smiled. "Da, not that a beautiful girl like Anika Christinel would ever like me. Bill, now, she'd fall for in a heartbeat, the jammy bastard…pardon my language."
"Who'd fall for Bill in a heartbeat?" Ginny asked as she entered the warm, yellow-painted room.
Her brother replied wryly, "Anika."
"No she wouldn't," Ginny said. "She goes for a more rugged, outdoor type. I can tell."
Charlie picked up a pair of dragon hide gloves. "Well, I have to fly up to the peaks to check on dragon eggs today, so I can't stay and gossip about people's love lives. Buna ziua."
Ginny hugged her brother and wished him good day in return before she said, "I bet girls love it when you talk Romanian."
He pulled away, shaking his head and giving a single response in English on his way out the door. "Loony."
Sharing a smile over the term, they now considered a compliment, Ginny and Blaise each took a honey and walnut fritter off a plate on the table and hungrily consumed the pastries. Red eyebrows arched. "Why are you so hungry? Didn't you already have breakfast?"
Blaise knew her blush rivalled Charlie's. "I forgot."
"I wonder why." Ginny grabbed another pastry. After swallowing a huge bite, the girl smiled impishly. "Let's talk about Charlie and Anika, and how we can do a spot of matchmaking."
In the village later, Ginny stayed behind in the dress shop when the owner Lelga offered to demonstrate embroidery. Blaise teased, "It's the custom to give the man you fancy an embroidered handkerchief to display your wifely skills, so you'd better work fast before some other fair young maiden offers Draco her handiwork."
Ginny looked to the motherly Lelga for confirmation. A scowl appeared on her face. "Fine. I'll embroider the fanciest handkerchief he ever saw, but if another girl tries to wave some scrap in his face, I'll bloody well make her eat it!"
The women around them, who were pretending to shop while listening avidly, burst into delighted laughter.
Blaise waved goodbye and headed for the small jewellery shop. Lucian was a superb artisan. His unique dragon and wolf designs had instantly captured her eye and made her long to contact her father. Finding new artists, and gaining exclusive rights to their work, was one of the aspects of Zabini Jewellers that she had enjoyed as much as Enrique. The few times he had brought her along on a 'hunting expedition'; Blaise had loved the thrill of discovering an artisan whose work would become justly renowned and well recompensed.
She picked up a pendant depicting a Chinese Fireball after perusing the other wares. The red-gold dragon with golden spikes would be perfect for Luna. Impulsively, she asked the man's wife Nadia, who handled the sale, "Would you like your husband to become rich and famous?" The plump woman adjusted her traditional kerchief. She looked at her thin husband creating a ring on the other side of the shop and said, "Rich? Da. Famous? Nu…I would not wish him to get a, how you say, big head." When assured that the fame would be in jeweller circles only, the woman nodded vigorously. "Then da, we have six expensive children!" Nadia pinched Blaise on the cheek. "You find a fancy Jeweller who makes my family rich and I introduce you to Emil, our eldest."
Lucian looked up with a frown. "She's a married woman. Leave her be!" He winked. "But if she wasn't, Emil would be a lucky man!"
Bidding them a smiling farewell, Blaise checked in with Ginny, found her hard at work embroidering a handkerchief, and told her she'd come back in an hour. She started down the path that led to the centre, stopping to stare at the man walking toward her.
His stride halted while he searched her face. With a small smile, he greeted, "Hola, hija." Her father's quiet tone made her heart leap in hope. Jingling the change in his pocket in a nervous gesture, Enrique said, "I came home to an empty house, and realised that it was what I deserved. I have worked so hard, for so long, and for what? To drive away my wife and child." He said sadly, "I have become my grandfather."
She shook her head. "No, Papa, I wasn't planning on running off never to return. I just wanted to prove…." Blaise bit her lip. "I guess I acted just like you." When he inclined his head in rueful acknowledgment, she took a step forward. "How did you find me? Through Minky?"
Her father nodded. "Drinky coaxed enough information—I did not ask how, and I pray he never tells—for me to know this is where you ran." He looked around at the virgin forest and smiled. "I wouldn't want to build a summer house here, but the trees are actually quite lovely. Are you happy?"
Blaise stepped closer, smiling mistily. "Yes."
Enrique embraced her and said emotionally, "You look like mi abuela Sophia with your long hair. No longer my little niña…forgive me, hija."
"I'll always forgive…and love you, Papa." In an effort to stop acting like the Hufflepuff she was masquerading as, Blaise stepped back and slipped her hand into the crook of her father's arm. "You've got to come to the village with me. I've found a craftsman named Lucian who makes the most unique—and potentially lucrative—jewellery."
Dark eyes alight with anticipation; Enrique strode with her to the shop. He held up a finger. "Now let me do the talking." He grinned. "You will see the master at work."
Later, on the walk back to the centre, their excited chatter about the upcoming 'Romanian Collection' amused Ginny. Blaise caught her smirking and asked, "How did your handkerchief turn out?"
A white square embroidered with a traditional blue-grey diamond within diamond design was displayed. The girl accepted their compliments graciously before she noticed a boy waiting on the steps ahead and ran off to give the young man she fancied his token.
Enrique caught sight of the man standing beside Draco and smiling in their direction. He asked, "Who is that young man waiting for?"
Blaise's gaze softened revealingly, even before she said, "He's waiting for his wife to introduce him to her father." With a heart overflowing with happiness, she pulled her speechless companion forward and said, "Papa, this is my husband Terry."
Ginny watched Terry and Blaise escort her father to their tent. She sniffed and looked down, blinking away sentimental tears.
Draco lifted her chin. "Are Hufflepuff tendencies contagious, or did you have them all along?" He mock-frowned, "If they're contagious, perhaps we'd best quarantine those two."
She giggled. "They'd enjoy that too much, and then you'd never beat Terry at shovelling."
He gave a huff of amusement and steered her toward the dining hall, saying triumphantly, "I already beat him." At her surprise, he said, "I'll concede, I took advantage of Boot's distraction this morning to shift his barrel while he stared off after remarking that the 'morning sunlight turns Blaise's skin golden all over.' His brow furrowed. Long, platinum strands shook as he said firmly, "No, I refuse to wonder how he knows."
Draco returned to his tale of that morning's victory, grinning like a naughty little boy. "His shovel kept dumping dragon dung beside the barrel for a good five minutes before he snapped out of his daze and corrected the mistake." He twirled her around in a victory dance. "Afterwards, I retired, undefeated, as shovelling champion."
Ginny couldn't help kidding, "So the Prince of Slytherin is King of the dung heap?" His unrestrained laughter made her giggle. She asked curiously, "Why are you the retired champion?"
His gleaming smile made classic features even more Fae and beautiful. Masculine satisfaction rang in his voice. "Because, Queen of my heart, word of my and Terry-boy's flying skills got round, and your brother begged us to lend the research team a hand."
"Funny, I seem to recall hearing that you complained volunteers who could fly rings around anyone else at this centre shouldn't have their skill wasted shovelling shite." Charlie's tone was dryly amused. He clapped Draco on the shoulder and told his sister, "Wallace and Grommitt, who were overseeing collection for the Diagon Alley order, heard and challenged your boyfriend and his mate to a race. They lost, so Draco and Terry join the flyers and the losers get to shovel."
Draco tried to look abashed, but Ginny saw his lips quirking and unconsciously lifted her face to kiss those irresistible lips. Charlie cleared his throat. She snapped, "Do you need a throat lozenge?"
Her brother grinned like the twins. "No, but you should take a look around and notice we're in the dining hall now." With fake innocence that Gred or Forge would admire, he said, "If you're comfortable snogging with an audience, go right ahead." When she swayed toward Draco, he added, "It'll give me something to write about in the letter I'm owling Mum today."
Frustrated, she promised, "Just you wait, Charlie, just you wait." She tossed her hair huffily, ignoring the nosy people watching to stomp over to her place at the table.
Ginny shook off her temper when Anika smiled sympathetically and served lunch. It was hard to stay in a bad mood when eating mushroom soup, a bread mixed with nuts and poppy seed called bobalky, and stewed fruits. She tried out her meagre language skills by saying, "A fost delicios," to the girl serving Charlie another helping of soup before he was done with the first.
Anika smiled widely. Ginny noticed her brother's moony-eyed look of admiration and quickly asked, "Does the village ever hold dances?"
The young woman straightened her kerchief in a nervous gesture. "Da, in the village square, but not many from the centre come to our celebrations."
The jovial older couple in charge of public relations and fund raising chimed in that they never missed a dance, and didn't know why every year, all the single volunteers stayed huddled around their bonfire when they could be dancing.
Across from them, Niles straightened his already impeccable posture and asked, "Are we invited?" When Anika assured him that they were more than welcome, he said doubtfully, "Yes, well, that's very polite, but would any girls actually want to dance with us?"
Anika put a hand to her mouth, probably to hide a smile, before she said, "Yes. There are many more women than men in our village."
The atmosphere in the hall became electric as single young men envisioned dancing with single young women. Beside Ginny, Draco said, "I don't think any young maidens will lack partners at the next dance."
She pretended to scowl. "I don't care how beautifully they embroider. You tell any girl who asks that you already have a partner."
Grey eyes darkened. "You're the only partner I want…in every way."
Ginny was falling forward, into his eyes and tantalisingly closer to his lips when her brother started that annoying 'hem, hem' that reminded her of former professor and High Inquisitor, Umbridge. The sound made her want to take umbrage with Charlie. Determined to snog her boyfriend silly at the first opportunity, she glared across the table. Curtly, she said, "What?"
He jumped, saying awkwardly, "I was…just…trying to ask Anika when the next dance would be held."
From the corner of her eye, Ginny saw Draco shaking with repressed laughter and surreptitiously elbowed him before muttering, "Oh." She looked at Anika, whose cheeks were as rosy as hers were.
Green eyes transfixed by Charlie's intent gaze, the girl murmured, "There is a dance this upcoming Saturday. Will…will you come?" When he continued to stare at her in silence, Anika said hurriedly, "Perhaps I will see you there. You are finished? I will take your bowl." Picking up his almost-full bowl of soup, she marched out of the room.
Charlie's wide mouth turned down. "I think I just missed out."
Ginny smirked, taking pleasure in little sister status. "In more ways than one." When he threw her a warning look, she threw him a piece of bobalky. "Cheer up! You can still ask her to the dance, and at least bread's filling."
Draco snorted, as if trying not to laugh.
Charlie told him sourly, "You won't be laughing later, Malfoy. Flying volcanic ridges is no jaunt across the Quidditch pitch." When no further comments were thrown his way, the disgruntled man bit off a hunk of bread and said pragmatically, "Bobalky is filling. Pass me the fruit."
The moment the first couple left the table, Ginny sprang to her feet. "Draco, I want to show you what I found in the village today. Come on."
He set down his serviette with a knowing smile, nodding when Charlie reminded grimly that they would need to leave in a half hour.
Outside, she headed for the woods. The thought of him as a wolf, padding along and tracking her, made butterflies flutter madly in her middle. Once inside the sheltering forest, she whirled around and said, "That handkerchief I gave you…."
He retrieved the item in question from his pocket. "What about it?"
Ginny said, "I embroidered it. It's custom for maidens to give the man they fancy a token."
He smiled in a slow, wolfish grin that made him look predatory. Instead of feeling alarmed, her fingers to twitched to pet him. She began to breathe faster, imagining stroking his white-blond hair. Draco captured her gaze, moved close enough to brush her body with his, and lifted a lock of her hair. Rubbing the bright strand between his fingers, he said silkily, "Fancy me, do you?"
She nodded, unable to speak.
He bent to whisper in her ear, "What big eyes you have, Red."
Ginny shivered. "The better to see you with," she replied huskily, allowing her gaze to travel down his gorgeous body before meeting his eyes. Heavy lidded and hot, his gaze drifted over her possessively before focusing on her mouth.
Draco rasped, "What beautiful lips you have."
She stood on tiptoes to seek his kiss. "The better to snog you with, love." Her big beautiful wolf didn't gobble her up, although he consumed her mouth with kisses, nibbled her neck, and dropped to his knees to push up her shirt and lick her bellybutton before blowing across it and kissing her abdomen. Ginny drew her tee up and off.
"Malfoy, if I have to come in there and find you, I'm bringing an axe!"
Draco stood, raking his fingers through disordered hair and breathing harshly. He laughed shortly. "Seems your brother knows his Muggle tales, Little Red."
She scrambled to pull on her shirt, yelling, "Don't you dare, Charlie Weasley!" Storming through the underbrush, she said once she cleared the forest, "If I go off into the woods with my big bad wolf, it's none of your business, brother. He gave Dad a Wizard's Handshake, and that should be good enough for you too!"
Charlie calling after her ruined the dramatic exit towards the house. "Put your shirt on right next time, and maybe it will be!"
She looked down and cringed. Her shirt was on backwards. She had thought she was choked with anger! "Ahhh!" she yelled, as she ran across the flower-strewn grass to the house. She slammed the door upon entering. Still aggravated, she opened the door and slammed it again.
Frustration vented, she went upstairs. In the bathroom, Ginny looked in the mirror and started laughing hysterically. Her hair was sticking out wildly. She closed her eyes in mortification until she remembered Draco's kisses. She sighed and decided to take a cold shower instead of a long, hot bath.
Draco and Charlie returned while she was reading a book in the lounge. Her brother had a wide assortment of dragon-related books, from the practical From Egg to Inferno, A Dragon Keeper's Guide to the whimsical, Dealing with Dragons.
The moment Ginny had read the title among the many crammed onto shelves filled with novels, collections of myths and drawings, and non-fiction, she'd been intrigued. The author had written about a princess who wanted more from life than the stereotypical prince. Ginny had instantly related when she read, Cimorene was the youngest daughter of the King of Linderwall, and her parents found her very trying.
Diving into the novel with enthusiasm she hadn't displayed diving into her cold shower, she had just got to the chapter titled In Which the Wizards Try to Make Trouble, and Cimorene Does Something about It and read "The door to the cottage opened," when the front door was flung open.
Charlie strode into the room. "We're home!"
Ginny marked her place in the book, slid it under a cushion and slid her legs off the sofa. She stood and smiled. "Have fun dragon chasing?" From the men's windblown hair and wide smiles, she could tell that they had. She put her hands on her hips. "Tomorrow, you're taking me with you." They looked at each other in alarm. Typical males, they began reasoning with her, trying to keep the little woman safe while they had all the fun.
"Now Ginny," Charlie began in his older, wiser brother tone of voice. "Haven't you enjoyed walking into the village, going shopping…."
When the other man floundered and looked to him for help, Draco said, "Learning embroidery…."
She shook her head stubbornly. "It was all right for a few days, but now it's boring."
"Boring!" they exclaimed in unison.
"Boring! I want to do things, not sit around all day." She ran to the sofa and grabbed the book, thrusting it into Charlie's hands and shouting, "Oh my gods, I've just quoted from this book, when they tried to tell the princess to stop doing things that weren't proper!"
Charlie looked at the Dealing with Dragons cover, saying uneasily, "I remember this. You wouldn't rather be eaten by a dragon, though…would you?"
Her gaze locked onto a grey-eyed dragon who smiled while giving her such a steamy look, she could almost feel the fine hairs at the back of her neck curling…along with her toes. Moistening lips that were suddenly very, very dry, Ginny said with conviction, "Oh, yes I would!" Her brother didn't have to know she meant devoured lovingly by a dragon, who was also a wolf, sometimes a black knight, and always the man she loved.
"You could send us to check on eggs. None of them are scheduled to hatch anytime soon, right?" Draco said reasonably.
She thought of Ron telling her not to go begging to hold a dragon egg and smiled.
Charlie said, "That's right. Probably not for weeks yet. No harm in Ginny flying the mountain ridges. You could take her along the slopes, show her the waterfalls." The freckled face turned serious. "Stay concealed when you check the eggs. Brooding dragonesses don't always scream a warning before they strike."
Excited by the prospect of flying, and seeing dragon habitats—maybe even dragons themselves—Ginny promised to be good as gold, whatever that meant.
Charlie laughed and headed upstairs to take a shower.
Draco stayed behind. After a long, sweet kiss, he said, "You've got to stop tempting me to gobble you up." He put his arms around her and chuckled, "At least until you finish school, when that bloody damned Wizard's Handshake is no longer valid."
She said "okay" and rested her head against his chest for a few moments. Peering up at him, Ginny asked, "You'll still nibble, won't you?"
His gaze became smoky. Laughter rumbled up from his chest, making her smile even before he growled, "Every day, Red"
At dinner that evening, Blaise shared that she and her father had reconciled, Enrique had accepted Terry after a few thinly veiled threats, and the sharp businessman even agreed to put a local craftsman under contract to Zabini Jewellers. The girl was so bubbly and radiant that Ginny realised how quiet and withdrawn Draco was in contrast. She asked how he liked the goulash. He shrugged. She then asked if he had seen any dragons that day.
He said succinctly, "Yes, two Longhorns and a Horntail," and went back to picking at his food.
Not even his favourite clatite cu ciocolata si frisca, chocolate and cream fritters, could bring Draco out of his dark mood. He refused the dessert, failing to smirk and make his standard 'is there anything Romanians won't turn into a fritter' comment. The brooding started to worry Ginny when her boyfriend didn't curl a lip at botanist Poindexter's enthusing over discovering some rare orchids called Corallorrhiza trifida.
Finally, when the couple sat side by side on a fallen log watching the flames of the small bonfire, she leaned against him and said, "You still worry about your father. What he plans to do. Don't you?"
He continued to stare at the burning logs. In a toneless voice, he said, "I wish my father would see the error of his ways like Zabini did. Even knowing him the way I do. When you told me about Enrique, I wasn't happy for my mate. I was envious." Smiling bitterly, he confessed, "Blaise has a happy family, gets to sleep beside the one she loves every night, while I watch for ravens and get threatened if I get up for a bloody glass of water."
Ginny tried to distract him from bleak thoughts. "Were you really getting up for a glass of water?"
In the darkness, platinum hair looked like starlight when he shook his head. "No, I was going to check on you, to make sure the wards were working properly."
"What were you threatened with?"
The tiniest of smiles tugged at the corners of his mouth. "The hex affecting private areas…."
"No!" she cried.
Draco lips turned upwards at her unfeigned distress. "Yes. It made me thankful that I know the counter curse, and lessened my regret that I rescinded Montague's hex."
The silence that fell was comfortable instead of tense. Across the fire, Blaise and Terry were putting on their nightly display of what Niles had termed 'smug marrieds snogging.' Ginny watched interestedly as Terry got up and strolled towards the couple's tent while Blaise walked around the fire talking to volunteers and staff. "I wonder what she's asking?" Ginny mused aloud.
"Whatever it is, the answer's no so far," Draco said. When she reached them, the girl the others called 'Sophia' asked urgently, "Do you have a scarf I could borrow?" Dark eyes lit up when the answer was 'yes.' She pulled Ginny to her feet and grabbed her best mate's arm as well. "Come on, let's go get it!"
Ginny walked briskly to match Blaise's long strides, wondering the other girl wanted a scarf so desperately. Her face heated when a couple of reasons came to mind. She decided it was better not to know as she climbed the front steps, calling, "I'll run up and get it!"
When she returned, Draco was laughing softly. When Blaise hugged her and ran off with the scarf, he shook his head. "That's got to be the most Hufflepuff girl in the history of Slytherin House."
Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, Ginny said, "Do you know why she wants the scarf? Stop laughing and tell me, before my imagination gets more lurid!"
His flashing smile lifted her spirits. "She needs it to transfigure a seventh veil. It seems one fell out when she was packing." When Ginny repeated the word 'veil' disbelievingly, he moved in a way that made her jaw drop. "Yes, veil…as in dance of…a little belly dancing and a lot of dropping veils. Get it?"
Ginny got it. She determined to have Blaise teach it to her, so one day she could perform it for Draco. Trying desperately to get the image of Draco, bare-chested, leaning back against colourful pillows watching her veils drop one by one out of her over-stimulated brain, the girl said, "I didn't get to brush your hair today."
He gave her the same look he had in her imagination when she'd dropped the seventh veil. She immediately turned and led the way upstairs. In his room, Draco sat on the end of the bed. After she'd run the brush down his shoulder-blade length strands a few times, he caught her wrist. "Tonight, I'm going to brush your hair."
Her lungs were screaming for oxygen by the time she had regained the ability to breathe. Trusting him with more than her hair, Ginny released the brush.
He had never brushed a girlfriend's hair before Ginny, or allowed one to touch his. Ironically, he had preferred not to be that intimate with someone he didn't truly care about.
When Draco was a child, his mother had allowed him to brush her hair once. He still remembered her pleased smile and the rare kiss she had bestowed on his cheek. He'd run a comb through Blaise's curls a few times on holidays when she was feeling wonky and complaining of looking like crap. She'd kissed his cheek too, smiling in pleasure and gratitude.
In the back of his mind, he'd thought that brushing Ginny's hair would be like his other experiences, something he did for someone else, a rare unselfish gift, not something he did for his own pleasure.
As he slid the brush down silken hair, Draco felt satisfaction in hearing the small sounds of enjoyment Ginny made in response to the repetitive strokes, but he also felt something else. Pleasure—her dreamy smile and heavy eyelids made him happy. He set aside the brush, using his fingers to comb through strands that gleamed brightly in the soft light of enchanted candles. It was like plunging his hands into a river of fire that didn't burn.
"Mmm…that feels so good," she said breathily.
Draco changed his mind about her fiery hair not burning. He was definitely feeling the heat. A sudden thought caused his fingers to still their massage of her scalp. He asked with feigned nonchalance, "Has…anyone else…ever brushed your hair?"
She tilted her head back to gaze up into his face while he knelt behind her. "Do my parents, or my brothers yanking a brush through my hair because Mum told them to count?"
He smiled. "No."
"Then no, unless you count Blaise, who has this weird thing for long hair." She giggled when he gave her a speaking look. "Okay, maybe it's not so weird, but I've only got a thing for your long hair."
His fingers resumed their circling massage as he enjoyed the warm glow her words gave. Her head lolled back, tempting his fingertips…and lips…to skim down her gracefully arched throat. Mindful that they were in a bedroom with an open door, Draco lifted her hair and rubbed its softness against his cheek before brushing the ends across his lips.
Ginny fell back, sighing. "Kiss me."
Obligingly, he complied. "Your lips are perfect from every angle too."
Downstairs, the front door banged open and closed just as forcefully. "Ginny!" Charlie hollered.
She sat up, looking at her boyfriend in alarm. Draco put a finger to his lips and snatched up the brush, rapidly smoothing the strands his fingers had run through. They could hear Weasley taking the stairs two at a time.
Charlie halted in the doorway. "Why didn't you answer me, Ginny, and what the hell are you doing to my sister, Malfoy?"
"Mum always said yelling was rude, and we should go to the person we want to talk with and do just that—talk." Ginny crossed her arms and nodded in a way that made her brother grind his teeth.
"You're not my mother, Ginevra."
Draco tried to avert a sibling spat. "Good thing she's not, since I doubt your father wants me brushing his wife's hair." Ginny leaned back against him, giggling. Her brother scowled. Grey eyes rolled. "Humour, Weasley, or don't you recognise it?"
Charlie leaned heavily against the doorframe. He exhaled heavily. "I recognise humour, but I doubt my father would be amused to know I allowed you two to spend time alone in a bedroom."
Ginny said, "Don't tell him. We weren't doing anything wrong."
"I won't, this time, so keep it that way." Shaggy red hair flopped into his eyes when Charlie nodded vehemently. He shook his fringe back, sounding exasperated when he said, "I need to get this mess trimmed."
Draco felt Ginny tense before she relaxed and suggested with feigned nonchalance worthy of a Slytherin, "Why don't you ask Anika to cut it tomorrow morning?"
"No, I couldn't."
Dismissively, Draco said, "You're right. Sitting in a chair, letting someone lean over you, while running a comb and her fingers through your hair, trusting her not to cut your ear with the scissors—it takes a lot of courage."
"Are you calling me a coward, Malfoy?"
"No, I was thinking more…Slytherin." For an instant, when the man's face turned the shade of red his sister's had right before she kicked Bill, Draco felt just the smallest trace of concern. On Ginny's behalf, of course—she might get hurt if her brother started trying to Muggle duel.
After opening and closing his mouth several times, Charlie choked out, "I…am…a…Gryffindor, and I'll ask Anika to trim my hair first thing in the morning, because Gryffindors aren't cowards like others I could name!"
Ginny jumped off the bed after her brother stormed off. She did a fetching little victory dance. "You're brilliant, and cunning and Charlie will thank you when Anika is leaning over him and running her fingers through his hair." Sexy and cute at the same time, she sat beside him on the side of the bed and bounced in excitement. "Isn't matchmaking fun?"
He smirked. "Thrilling."
His lips were a breath away from hers when Charlie returned. "Go to bed, Ginny." Pointing to the corridor he stressed, "Your bed."
She stuck her tongue out before defiantly kissing her boyfriend and strutting out of the room. Draco laughed silently when she blew him a kiss in the doorway and cooed, "Good night, my love."
Charlie pushed her down the corridor. "Noapte buna to you too, brat." He pointed his wand at Draco when she'd gone, waving the rod in an intricate pattern. "I've put an extra ward on this doorway. If you take one step out of here, I'll know, Malfoy, so don't even try."
Once his girl's overprotective brother had left, Draco listened to the sounds of the Weasleys getting ready for bed. When the house was quiet, he headed into the bathroom to take a shower. He stood beneath the hot spray for a long time, attempting to relax. It wasn't the physical tension that came from closeness with Ginny that had him on edge. It was the faint, gnawing concern that something bad was going to happen.
He could hear his father drawling mockingly, Worry is for those without the power to take action. Lucius had taught his son many things, most of which the boy had tried to forget. There was one lesson, however, that he had learnt eagerly and still practiced regularly.
In bed, Draco closed his eyes, took slow, calming breaths, and remembered sitting beside his father in the dark library…
Do you know why we're here?
Draco had just turned ten, and didn't like the dark. He was proud that his father would ask, however, so he shook off his childish fears. "You want to teach me something, I expect."
His father's pale eyes gleamed in the shadows. "Very good. I want to share with you something I only learned a few years ago, when the Dark Lord was gracious enough to impart the knowledge."
Straining, the boy could just make out his father's hand gesturing to the darkness surrounding them.
"I'm aware that you have trouble sleeping in the dark. Your mother told me that you worry that someone, or something, could attack when you're most vulnerable." Lucius cut off his son's protest with a wave of his hand. "I'm not angry, I'm impressed that you realise that at such a young age."
Grateful for the rare approval, Draco asked, "What can I do, Father, to make sure I'm safe?"
"Close your eyes and I'll teach you."
Forcing himself to take deep, deliberate breaths, Draco tensed and then relaxed every muscle in his body, opening his mind and doing what his father had taught long ago. He fell into darkness.
His spirit became a shadow, floating above the bed and drifting through the wall. In the next bedroom, Charlie was tossing and turning. Ginny sighed in her sleep in the room beyond. The wraith-like soul lingered as a smile curved pink lips before the girl turned on her side, hugging a pillow and murmuring, "Mmm, Draco."
Eventually, the shadow resumed its journey, floating through every space, distantly observing that the wards were strong, and the house was safe. Drifting upstairs to return to its body, the spirit became aware of a soft fluttering that was more a disturbance of air than a sound. Flying toward the source, the shadow halted at the barrier of a windowpane. Once outside the protection of the wards, the soul was vulnerable. A murmur brought the spirit's attention to the girl slumbering upon the bed nearby. The fluttering sound came again…it sounded like wings beating.
Draco's spirit returned so abruptly to his body that he jack-knifed in bed, gasping for breath. He raked his hair back with shaking fingers, trying to calm his racing heart. What if Marisol was here in Romania, looking for a way in to harm Ginny?
He threw off the covers and strode toward the door, about to damn the wards and go to her anyway, until he was halted by the realisation that he couldn't tell Charlie about shadow walking and sensing…something…that might be a threat to Ginny. Even if Weasley wouldn't think him mental, Draco had taken vows of silence that were bound with blood.
He rubbed a hand across his face, wishing there was some way he could bypass the wards.
You know a way.
He ignored the inner voice that was a memory of Lucius and picked up his wand to attempt a counter spell. Red sparks lit up the space in the doorway. Draco tried another spell, and another, and another.
The others took the Dark Mark before they were given such power, but you are my son, and with this knowledge, you will be the ideal spy if ever the Dark Lord has need of one at Hogwarts.
Shudders wracked his body as Draco remembered what he had learnt summer holiday after second year, while the women slept upstairs in the Malfoy Mansion. The complicated spells, the agonising pain inflicted by his father when he misspoke, the agony his body experienced, until he knew and performed the spells perfectly.
He had never used his hard-earned skill for the Dark Lord, but he had used it, secretly, for himself. He was tempted to use it now.
Will you stand by and do nothing while Marisol acts? You might as well have opened the window for her.
"No!" Draco's tormented whisper reverberated in the quiet room, silencing the mocking echo of his father. His face hardened with resolve. Hands held out, palms up, Draco closed his eyes and began to chant the spell that would transform him.
Where a boy once stood, a white ferret poked his head out of the pooling fabric and squirmed out of silken confinement before heading toward the door. The wards didn't affect the animal, which ran down the hallway and into Ginny's room. Scampering to the window, he stood on hind legs and sniffed, searching for any trace of a scent that did not belong. Nothing, except the scent of the girl's warm, clean skin.
Cautiously, the ferret slinked closer. He halted when a pillow fell off the bed as the sleeper rolled onto her back. Hopping onto the pillow, the animal leapt onto the bed and padded over to observe the girl's sleeping face.
Instinctively, he froze when her eyelashes fluttered and she opened her eyes to say in a thick, sleepy voice, "I'm dreaming that Draco turned into a ferret and came to watch over me." Her hands scooped him up and held his face close to hers. "Aw, tha's so sweet." Her lips brushed his whiskers, making him sneeze. She smiled as her eyes began to close. "You're sooo beautiful, even as a lil' ferret."
She hugged him to her chest; her fingers stroked his fur as she drifted off to sleep. Wriggling forward until his head rested upon soft skin, he decided to wait until he knew for sure that Ginny was safe before returning to his room. Soon, the sound of her heartbeat combined with the warmth of her body lulled him to sleep.
When morning sunlight entered the room, Draco was dreaming the strangest dream. He was licking the salt off a peanut, but for some reason wasn't supposed to bite it. Still licking, he heard a sleepy giggle. Opening his eyes in shock, Draco saw that his 'peanut' was the side of Ginny's—and it was enormous! Lifting his head to peer at the face which in his current state looked like that of a beautiful giantess, the boy who had become a ferret rolled off Gerd's—Ginny's—body and lay stunned for a moment after hitting the floor.
He shook off the impact, his paws scrambling for traction as he scurried for the door and ran back down the corridor toward his room. His ears detected the unmistakable sound of a door handle turning. Propelling his small body forward, Draco ran into his room and kept on scampering until he reached the bathroom.
Towelling off after he had performed the spell to transform back to his natural form and showered, Draco stepped into his room and came face to face with a visitor. Following a hasty glance to make sure the towel around his waist was securely fastened, he asked in a voice sharper than he had intended, "What are you doing in here, Ginny?"
She held up his discarded silk pyjama bottoms. "I came to tell you about a strange dream I had." Her soft brown eyes were large in her delicate face. "Was it a dream?"
He froze, just like a ferret. Defensively, he said, "I don't know what you're talking about, but I don't think you're brother would like finding you here with me, so why don't you go back, get dressed and I'll see you downstairs."
Ginny's hand rose to the bodice of her nightgown. "I dreamt that you became a ferret to look after me and that you…well…licked me."
Unable to meet her gaze, he scoffed, "So now I'm demoted from amazing fighting ferret to pervy ferret? What a flattering dream. Thanks a lot."
Silence stretched out uncomfortably. He broke down and looked at her. She gave him the same stubbornly defiant stare she had given her brother last night. "So it was just a dream?" Ginny stepped around him and marched toward the bathroom. "Then you won't mind me looking for traces of white fur, will you?" His hand shot out and captured her wrist. She wrenched out of his grip. "Why are you trying to hide this from me? Why won't you just tell me that you're an Ani—"
"I can't," he interrupted desperately. "Some secrets are kept due to honouring a promise, but others are never spoken because the person has been bound by spell—with blood magic—and they literally…can't…tell anyone."
She hurled herself into his arms. "I'm sorry, I should've known. It's just that you were acting so cold."
He kissed her and stopped the stumbling apology, showing her without words that his feelings for her were anything but cold. Her hands slid over his chest and up to his shoulders, before trailing down to his hips, loosening his towel.
A crash downstairs made them spring apart. Draco felt his towel sliding and clutched it in a fist. Ginny backed slowly away, looking torn between alarm and disappointment. Another crashing sound caused her to blow him a kiss and run for her room. He dressed in the outfit Charlie had recommended, dragon hide pants, boots, and a cotton tee to wear under a dragon hide jacket because the air was decidedly cooler at higher altitudes.
Downstairs, there was no sign of Weasley in the kitchen. The housekeeper was sweeping up broken crockery along with bits of red hair. Resisting the urge to back out of the room and let Ginny speak to the woman, he strode forward and inquired awkwardly, "Are you all right?"
Dark hair swung forward to hide the Romanian's tear streaked face. "Nu…my virtue has been besmirched!"
Good gods, what the hell did that mean? Charlie had assaulted her against the counter? He didn't believe it. Icily, he said, "Could you speak English, please?"
She glared, "I cut his hair, I do nice thing, tell him his hair is pleasing, and he kissed me!"
He stared incredulously. "What a bastard! Was throwing crockery at his head punishment enough, or should I go curse him into oblivion?"
She didn't catch the sarcasm. "Do not speak of cursing! Charlie is a wonderful man, worth ten of you, and if you dare harm him I will do much more than throw crockery!" Red faced, the wench shouted, "Do you understand my English now?"
Draco allowed the man who had walked up behind him to step into the kitchen. "Perfectly," he drawled.
He left the two to kill or kiss each other, pulling Ginny out the front door when she rushed down the stairs. "Your brother is working things out with your future sister-in-law. Let's go get Blaise to feed us."
She slipped her arm around his waist. "But what if they're not awake, or worse, busy."
He gave a low chuckle. "All the better."
Hours later, flying with Ginny on brooms that had been top of the line a long, long time ago, Draco kept to the sharp ridges although his bold girlfriend wanted to explore the conical peaks. The pungent pine fragrance was faint at this altitude even though the air was intoxicatingly fresh—or maybe he was intoxicated by the sense of freedom from fear, and from the burden of not being able to share that he was an Animagus.
On the flight up from base camp, they had seen brown bears, wolves, and even a lynx. Ginny had been excited to see an Imperial eagle, but he had instinctively recoiled, hoping with dark humour that he wasn't developing an antipathy for birds as well as spiders. He had preferred the scenery to the wildlife, admiring the Alpine lakes, streams, and cascading waterfalls.
His partner zoomed ahead, taking a detour through vertical limestone walls toward Vihorlat peak. The name meant burnt, and the Hungarian Horntails had marked the shallow caves there as part of their territory. The couple had been sent to verify that the cement-coloured eggs had yet to hatch and leave, using a Disillusionment Charm to conceal their presence.
When they touched down on the sandstone slope beneath the peak, Ginny engaged the charm to blend into her surroundings. Before Draco could do the same, he heard a caw and turned to see a raven alight on a boulder. While the bird morphed into a Spanish woman, he seized on a desperate plan. Silently, he began reciting the transformation spell.
Marisol said mockingly, "Did you think I would not find you? I listened at the kitchen window of that hovel belonging to your puta's family and heard them speak of how they hoped their little girl was safe in Romania." Black eyes glittered as she looked around. "I will deal with her and when I am through, you will be mine, lover."
Draco concentrated harder than he ever had before, stripping off his clothes to her delight and his chagrin. He had never been able to transform with clothing on—something about being too comfortable in his own skin. He held out his arms tauntingly just before the spell took effect. "If you want me, you'll have to catch me!" He heard her manic laughter while his world changed drastically.
As a ferret, he darted his way up the slope, zigzagging to avoid predatory talons. He scuttled between boulders, squeezed beneath ledges, and used every bush clinging to the volcanic mountainside to evade capture while climbing steadily upward.
The raven beat its wings furiously against the last spindly bush keeping her from her prize. He scrambled from cover and ran full out for the egg left to bask in the warmth of the sun. Leaping atop the grey oblong, Draco made every ferret howl and chattering noise he could while rising up on his hind legs.
Intent on her prey, the raven failed to notice yellow eyes glowing angrily in the cave behind him. The black-scaled dragoness lunged as he slipped off the egg and Marisol grasped empty air. A squawk and a terrible crunching sound propelled him forward in an adrenaline-boosted rush of speed.
Suddenly, he was snatched up. His furious wriggling, scratching and biting halted when he heard, "Damn it, you can stop being an amazing fighting ferret now! The Horntail, it ate her! Marisol is dead. She won't hurt you, or anyone else, ever again."
His frantic heartbeat slowed as Ginny landed beside a waterfall and disengaged the charm to become visible once more. She pressed kisses to his furry face, laughing and crying. He licked her scratched cheek. She kept petting and kissing him. Trying to give her a hint, he nipped her chin. Ginny gave a watery giggle and finally set him down.
He slid into the small pool and transformed back into a form that was better suited to returning affection. She reached into her pack and threw him his black briefs. He almost dropped them when Ginny began to strip.
"It's like a bikini, Malfoy. Don't go prudish on me."
Pulling his briefs on before she jumped in, he pulled her into his arms and hugged her tight, thankful to be alive. He would've stayed that way indefinitely, raining kisses over her face in between holding her close if she hadn't gasped that she needed air. Looking down, he laughed and said, "Would you mind if I started calling you Peanut? I had a dream this morning that I was licking the salt off one and…." He rubbed the spot meaningfully.
Delicate red brows arched. "If you don't mind me calling you Ferret whenever you do."
He tried to reply lightly, "You can call me Ferret, but I'd rather you call me your love, because you're mine, and I'm so damned happy that you're safe." His hands rose to cup her cheeks as he kissed her tenderly before shifting her closer and kissing her passionately.
Ginny asked dreamily after passion gentled, "What did you just whisper?"
Draco smiled, "Te iubesc…I love you… I do, you know, in Romanian or any other language." He kissed her again and asked, "Now that you're safe, do you want to go home, or do you want to stay here and spend the summer with me?"
Ginny's smile, and her love, made him truly free when she said, "I'm staying with you. We're going to that dance, and we're going to celebrate. I love my family, but you…." Her arms twined around his neck while she lifted her lips to his. "Te ador."
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Review, not 'reprehend.'
A/N: The Long Goodbye had a double meaning. The chap was long, and the finish, but not quite the end of the story. Dealing with Dragons is the story of that dance, and Draco discovering dragons are easy to deal with compared to Weasleys! As in almost every other chapter, I snuck a few things in, like names and bits of quotes. In Luna's pov was my fave Bull Durham quote because "I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet, kisses that last three days." and as with the Princess Bride reference in Blaise's pov (the 'summer house' quote you may remember Westley saying in the fire swamp, heh), I like to get my faves in when I can. ; )
I couldn't put it in the disclaimer, 'cause that would've been telling, but I don't advocate teen marriage or doing a Fred and George and leaving school early, unless you're a fictional character with skills, maturity, and loads of money. :D I do advocate falling in love and snogging. LOL.
A Tale of Two Matchmakers: Christmas Reunion is posted as well. Seven years later... Blaise fears Terry wants a divorce, Luna is hiding a secret from Wesley, and Draco is tired of idiots saying his son has pink hair! Ginny's solution? Call the curls reddish blond and invite their friends to Malfoy Manor for Christmas.
Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed!