Timeline (reminder): This is an AU, in the sense that Draco Malfoy doesn't really have a brother in the books, nor is there a Professor Jacqueline Pierce at Hogwarts. In all other ways, it follows canon through "Goblet of Fire," with hints at, but no strict adherence to canon in books five through seven.
A/N: Another updated chapter. I'm sorry this update is taking me so long. Grad school is a can of worms I wasn't prepared for when I opened it – that's this update's lame excuse. Anyway, hope you all enjoy!
Disclaimer: Characters, canon plots, etc. are the property of J.K. Rowling. I am making no money from this work and intend it only for publication on, with no other intended distribution and absolutely no sales. Thanks, J.K., for giving amateur writers like myself a chance to frolic in a fabulous fictional world!
~ Chapter 3~
Standing on a darkened stage
Stumbling through the lines
Others have excuses
But I have my reasons why
We get distracted by the dreams of our own
But nobody's happy while feeling alone
And knowing how hard it hurts when we fall
We lean another ladder against the wrong wall
Draco knew he shouldn't be on the floor.
Floors were cold and hard and not for sleeping on. Floors were for house-elves and Weasleys and, apparently, people from East Asia (he'd heard about it from Blaise Zabini, who traveled a lot, but he wasn't sure he believed it).
He peeled open self-heavy eyes and squinted around. He lay on the floor beside his bed in a tangle of sheets and a few pillows. Stiff and sore, as though he'd just come from Quidditch practice instead of a night's rest, he sat up and peered over the side of his bed.
Ginny Weasely lay sprawled in center of the mattress, shifting restlessly. Her eyelids fluttered, as though she were dreaming. She hummed a little and rolled over, pressing her face into the pillows. Her hair lay in a sun-burnt mess across the pale blue sheets. Sometime during the night, she had thrown her large jumper to the floor. The scrap of Holyhead Harpies shirt slid like an indecent reminder up her stomach.
Draco bit back a groan. Wincing at the knot in his shoulder, he climbed to his feet, pulling his dislodged bedding with him.
"Stay out, Malfoy."
One of Ginny's bright eyes popped open and she glared at him. "You've been banned." She stretched a bit, the Harpies shirt riding up another inch. Draco licked his lips.
"This is my bed, Weasely," he pointed out, sitting down on the edge of it and cracking his back.
"I'm the guest," she retorted, tugging absently at the end of her shirt.
Draco had to look away or he was going to have the shirt off her. "Do you happen to know," he asked slowly, "how I ended up on the floor?"
"How should I?" Ginny said, closing her eyes and rolling onto her stomach. She pulled the blankets up over her head. "You kick," came her muffled voice a moment later. "I expect I pushed you out sometime during the night so I wouldn't get a black eye."
"You expect you pushed me out?" Draco repeated, glaring at the lump under his blankets.
"Possibly I did," Ginny admitted, peeking at him from under the duvet. "As I said, I don't specifically remember. I do remember you kicking, though. Call it self-defense on my part."
"I don't give a toss what you want to call it," Draco told her grouchily. "Move over, Weasley. I'm cold and, thanks to you, I feel like a Beater took a bat to me."
"No," Ginny said, pulling the blankets back over her head. "You'll only kick me again." She rolled away from him onto her side.
Draco dropped his blankets and pillows back onto the bed. Then he crawled into the middle and yanked Ginny's blanket off her head. She blinked up at him, probably surprised at how close he suddenly was.
"Get this, Weasel," Draco said, slowly and clearly in case she was as daft as she seemed. "You can share my bed. You can't steal it. If you don't like the kicking, find yourself another bed. Or a sofa."
"Steady on. Don't get your pants in a twist," she muttered. Her lip stuck out and she glared at something over Draco's shoulder. Draco could feel her breath on his cheek and suddenly felt very nervous.
To relieve his feelings, he flipped Ginny over twice, cocooning her in blankets, and rolled her neatly off the bed. She shrieked, taking most of the bed clothes with her. Draco's little pile remained and he curled up comfortably in them.
"I told you you'd have to share," he said, burrowing into the sheets. He grinned as he heard a stream of expletives from the floor. Out of the goodness of his heart, he left her enough room to crawl back onto the bed, which was looking more and more like a nest. She scooted in but didn't try to push Draco out again.
"Fine," she muttered. "But you get to explain all the bruises to the adults."
"I'm not worried," Draco said, his eyes closed. "My brother won't kill me."
"It's Pierce I'd worry about," Ginny retorted, kicking the bedding around until it suited her. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to try to go back to sleep before she turns up and kills us both."
"Don't let me stop you," Draco grumbled, pulling his blankets up to his chin.
But he couldn't sleep. Stupid Weasely. Stupid bed. Stupid fantasies involving Weasley in the bed, covered in chocolate. He tossed and turned for a while, keeping as far from Ginny as he could. Eventually, he gave up and went for a book he'd left on the bedside table. He propped pillows up behind his back and snapped his fingers.
His house-elf appeared, poured him a mug of black coffee, and vanished again.
Ginny glared at him over the bedspread.
"What now, Weasley?"
She opened her mouth, closed it, and then said, "Is that coffee?"
He cradled it to his chest. "Don't even think about it."
She pouted and Draco hastily turned his attention to his book.
He jumped and nearly upset the coffee everywhere when he felt a breath against his ear.
"Weasley!" he snarled.
"What?" she whined, sticking out her lip again. Draco almost fell out of bed without her help.
"Get away from me," he managed, holding his coffee as far away as he could.
"Please?" she said. "Please, just a little?"
"What," came a dark and foreboding voice from the doorway, "is going on in here?"
Draco jumped, fell out of bed, and spilled his precious coffee everywhere. Ginny shrieked and yanked all the bedclothes over her head. Aden leaned on the door jam, laughing his stupid head off, and Professor Pierce glowered at Draco across the room.
"Now look what you've done!" Draco howled, staring sorrowfully at his broken coffee mug. He snapped his fingers and the house-elf reappeared.
"Sir – " she began, staring at the mess.
"This time, just bring the pot!" he snapped, and she vanished with a squeak of terror.
"Again, I ask," Pierce said, in a tone that could cut steel. "What is going on in here?"
"I was just – I just wanted some coffee, Professor," came a small voice from under the bedclothes. "I was just trying to have it off Malfoy, that's all."
Aden had the hiccups now. "Oh, shut up," Draco muttered at his brother. When the house-elf reappeared a moment later, Draco grabbed the coffee pot and took three large gulps. The elf stared at him until he snarled at her. Then she squealed again and fled with a snap that dispersed the spilled coffee and remains of the mug.
"Are you lying to me, Miss Weasley?" Pierce asked the lump under the covers, advancing further into the room.
"No," came the quavering voice of the lump. "I swear, Professor," she said, "I have not and will never shag Malfoy!"
"Now see what you've done, Jackie?" Aden said, at last able to catch his breath. He wandered into the room and sat down on the edge of Draco's bed. "Miss Weasley, no one is going to hex you. Are they, Jackie?"
"Come out, Miss Weasley," Pierce ordered.
"I'm cold," Ginny said, staying where she was (she had survival instincts, Draco noticed with some surprise).
"For Merlin's sake, I'm not a monster," Pierce snapped. "Miss Weasley, stop cowering this minute!"
"I'm fine where I am," Ginny insisted pitifully.
"Go on, kid, aren't you hungry?" Aden coaxed. "Why don't you come out and have some breakfast?"
"That's right, she's a Weasley," Draco mumbled, still on the floor with his precious coffee pot. "Appeal to her stomach."
"Oy!" Ginny peered out at Draco from the covers, glowering.
"Ginevra, please come out of there," Pierce said wearily. "We have a lot to do today. Among other things, I'd like my breakfast."
"And I'd like my parents to see us eat our breakfast," Aden put in. "And you, Draco," he added as Draco tried to sink out of sight between his bed and night table with his coffee. "You're already top of the dungeon-bound list around here. I want you properly on Mum's good side for the wedding."
"You're not getting married," Draco growled after another swallow of coffee. "And no one's sending me to the dungeons."
"See if they don't," Aden retorted. "Go on, get dressed, you two." He patted Ginny's blanket-covered head and left.
"And don't think that just because we're leaving you alone again," Pierce began.
"We're not shagging!" Draco and Ginny bellowed at the same time. They shared a horrified look and Draco was relieved that Ginny went as red as he did.
Pierce rolled her eyes but left when Aden's voice said, "Come on, Jack, while I'm young."
Ginny slowly pulled the blankets off her head. "How many more days until we go back to Hogwarts?"
"Too, too many," Draco mumbled, downing the last of his coffee and struggling to untangle himself from his bedding. He left it in a heap by his bed and made for his wardrobe.
"At least your life's not in danger," Ginny muttered. "Whether Pierce kills me or your dad does, what're the odds I'll survive the bleeding holiday?"
"You obviously have no idea what my father's opinion of me is," Draco bit out. "And I'm not lucky enough to have a Secret Keeper."
Draco could feel Ginny's gaze on his back. "Cheer up," she said at last. "You've got two beautiful women living with you for the holidays."
"I've got one homicidal woman living with me," he corrected, "and a schoolgirl who makes me spill my coffee."
"Nice to feel appreciated," Ginny grumbled, shoving passed him into the wardrobe. "I know you've got your own loo. Where is it, then?"
"Over here," said Draco as he walked into it and shut the door. He dressed and reentered the room, half hoping to find her running about in her knickers. Sadly, she was dressed and slumped in the armchair by the fire. "You could have done down already," Draco pointed out, checking his hair in the wardrobe mirror.
"I'm terrified to go anywhere around here without one of you about," she admitted. "If you're done making yourself beautiful …"
"You could do with a little of that, Weasley," he sneered, sweeping past her. "Come on, then."
She called him something under her breath but followed him out the door.
They made it through the rest of the day without quarreling, or, in fact, talking. Ginny seemed distracted and edgy but she looked as though she were adjusting to being talked around and overlooked by everyone.
Jackie (who quietly threatened Draco with the rack if he didn't get used to calling her that for the sake of convincing his parents they got on) was doing a bang-up job of pretending to be mad about Aden. It was all a bit sickening, Draco thought grumpily over lunch. Every chance they got in front of Draco's parents, they were murmuring in each other's ears or holding hands or kissing. Ginny's expression any time she caught Draco's eye told him she was feeling basically the same way – eww.
And all the lovey-dovey showing off for Lucius and Narcissa made Jackie especially grumpy when the four young people were alone.
"I'm not sure I can take much more of this," Jackie muttered, when the four of them were heading up from dinner.
"Why?" Aden asked innocently. He still had his arm around her waist.
"Why?" she snapped. She waited until they were in the upper hall to shrug his arm off and move so Ginny was between them. Ginny didn't look happy to be there. "You're actually enjoying this, aren't you?"
"Oh, I bleeding am." Aden rolled his eyes. "It's absolute magic to have you tearing into me every time we're alone."
"Or, you know, with anyone who isn't Mum and Dad," Draco mumbled. Jackie threw a nasty look over her shoulder and Draco shut his mouth.
"Um," said Ginny. Draco could see her shoulders tense. "What are you going to do about Professor Pierce's lack of family, Aden?"
He blinked, turning raised eyebrows on Ginny. "What?"
"Her family," Ginny said, chewing her lip. "Won't your dad be suspicious, even if the wedding is called off, if he never meets anyone from her family?"
"Dumbledore lined up a couple of Aurors to play parents, if necessary," Aden told her. "That also gives the Ministry a way into Malfoy Manor to spy." He gave her shoulders a squeeze. "Worried?"
Ginny smiled a little at him. Draco glared at his brother's back. "No, I'm not worried."
"We did prepare for this, Miss Weasley." Jackie sighed, rubbing a hand across her eyes. "I expect we'll have to pull out our decoys at Narcissa's little party next week."
Draco groaned. "What's wrong with you?" Aden asked.
"Oh, not a bloody thing," Draco retorted. "Other than Mum trotting out eight or ten girls for me to marry. Hope Pansy gets out of it again or we're going to have to put a real show."
Ginny giggled. He glared at her. "Sod right off, Weasley, Pansy's my friend."
"Is she?" Ginny put her hand over her mouth. For some reason, she looked up at Aden. He winked at her and another giggle escaped her hand.
"Good thing I'm getting married," Aden said. "Otherwise, it would be me and Parkinson. Spare me."
"About you being married and all," Jackie growled as they rounded a corner that led to their respective bedrooms. "You won't be, Malfoy."
Ginny backed quickly out from between them as the professor rounded on Aden.
Aden looked surprised.
"Of course we will," he said finally, grinning at her. "We're in looooove, Jackie."
"Oh, for – " and Jackie looked like she might slap him. "It's a charade, Malfoy. It's never going to happen."
"Sorry I'm so hideously offensive to you, madam," Aden muttered, grin curling into a grimace. "You could do worse than a rich heir, you know."
"A rich heir whose father worships the devil and whose entire family will descend upon me with wands a-blazing if they get even a hint I'm not who I'm supposed to be!" Jackie snapped, massaging her temples. "I really don't need your cheek, Malfoy."
"You sure?" he asked, brightening mischievously.
"I'm very tired!" Ginny said so suddenly and loudly that Draco jumped. "Good night." She turned quickly and walked away.
"Um, me too?" Draco managed.
"Don't you try anything, Malfoy," came Jackie's usual invective.
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered.
"You work with teenagers and yet you know so little about them," he heard Aden say, amusement back in his voice. "The more you bring it up, the more likely they'll be shagging like rabbits by week's end. You're putting the idea in their heads, Jack."
"I assure you, Malfoy, it's already occurred to your brother," Jackie said. "I know enough about teenage boys to be sure of that. And Miss Weasley isn't an innocent little schoolgirl, according to school gossip."
"Gossip, eh?" Aden sounded gleeful. "Do tell."
Draco slammed his bedroom door and leaned back against it to stop himself eavesdropping. Ginny, not an innocent schoolgirl? How many blokes could she possibly have gone through? She was only sixteen.
"Malfoy, you okay?"
Ginny was curled up in the armchair with A History of Magic propped open on her knees.
"Fine!" he ground out.
"Oh, that I believe," Ginny mumbled, her eyes wide as she watched him stalk to his desk and throw himself into the chair.
"You know what I don't believe," Draco said before he could stop himself, "all the rumors about you and blokes at Hogwarts."
"What rumors?" she demanded.
"What rumors indeed," Draco said with a sneer, turning back to his work.
"What the hell are you on about?" she demanded. "There shouldn't be any rumors. There's nothing to gossip about, Malfoy."
"How many blokes then, Weasley?" He wouldn't look at her when he asked. Somehow, he couldn't stand it if she saw his reaction.
"That's my bloody business, isn't it?" she snapped, her voice trembling.
"Oh, I don't know." Draco knew he was on one of those warpaths from which he really should turn back before he was hit or cursed, but he just couldn't stop. "Seems like it might be a lot of people's business. Anyway, you're sharing my bed so I reckon I've a right to know."
He didn't turn until he heard the door to the loo slam and lock. He slumped back in his chair and glowered at the ceiling.
It was passed midnight when Draco was jolted awake. For a moment, he couldn't tell exactly what it was that had awoken him, but after a moment, he saw that it was the handle on the bedroom door jiggling. He glanced quickly around. Ginny was sleeping on the couch, curled into a tiny ball under the blankets she had stolen from Draco's bed while he was in the shower. She didn't wake but turned onto her back, moaning a little. The shaft of moonlight illuminated her face and Draco saw tears glittering on her cheeks.
Grabbing his wand from his nightstand and ignoring the lurch in his chest, he turned his attention to the door.
Aden came creeping into the room. He looked carefully around, his eyes coming to rest on his brother.
"What're you doing?" Draco hissed, lowering his wand.
"Sorry to bother you," Aden whispered, still sweeping the room with a sharp gaze. "Don't suppose you've seen Jackie, have you?"
"Not since we said goodnight earlier," Draco returned. "Why?"
"I can't find her," Aden said tersely. "I've been all over the bleeding manor and she's not anywhere in it. Even the elves don't know where she is."
"Aden?" Ginny mumbled, her tousled head rising a few inches off the sofa. "What's wrong?" She fumbled on the floor and Draco realized she was looking for her wand.
"Nothing, Gin," Aden assured her. He went and sat on the edge of the couch. "Go back to sleep."
"Jackie's gone?" she asked, but she relaxed back into the cushions again.
"Not to worry," Aden said, running a hand over her hair. "We'll find her. Sleep now."
"Don't … patronize me, Malfoy," but her words trailed off and soon she was breathing deeply again.
"What'd you make her cry for?" Aden asked, staring at Draco across the room.
"I didn't," he snapped.
"She's your guest, Draco," Aden said firmly. "And I thought you fancied her."
"Shut up," Draco hissed, glaring at the wall.
"Come on, mate, don't be like that." Aden stood. "I've got to find Jackie."
"I'll help," Draco offered grudgingly, letting out a long breath. He owed it to his brother for not taking the piss about Ginny or lecturing him about her. He did that sometimes and it was dead annoying.
"I just can't imagine where she's gone." Aden sat down at the end of Draco's bed and leaned against one of the bedposts.
"Floo?" Draco wondered.
"Why leave? Why not tell me where she's going?"
Draco stared. His brother's forehead was wrinkled and he kept running a hand through his pale hair, which was standing up all over his head now.
"Aden," Draco said slowly, "could you have scared her off? I mean, all that stuff about the wedding …"
"Drake, you remember when Dad sent me off to Durmstrang?" Aden said suddenly.
"I – kind of," Draco said, confused.
"I loved it there," Aden told him. "I mean, the Dark Arts stuff scared me, I won't lie, but the competition and the impressive masters and Viktor Krum. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven." He sighed. "And then Jackie turned up out of nowhere my third year. She hated Dark Arts, even then, and she let everyone know it. She was always in detention – and, Drake, our Durmstrang detentions make your stints with Professor Snape look like happy adventures at the seaside." He shook his head. "Jackie never gave up. She never stopped saying that learning Dark Arts implicated all of us, made us all abusers of magic that shouldn't be abused. She never stopped standing up for what she thought was right. She was the bravest person I'd ever seen. She's the reason I'm not blindly following Dad into his Dark Arts mania. She sorted me out, whether she knew it or not." He pinned Draco with a look. "Someone with that kind of backbone doesn't just run off."
They glanced at the couch. Ginny was sitting up, pulling on her house boots. "I'll go looking. No one can see me. It wouldn't be a risk."
"Absolutely not!" Aden shook his head. "No one can see you but that doesn't stop you be susceptible to my father's spells and curses. You don't know the wards or where not to go."
"I'm willing to risk it."
"I'm not." Aden smiled at her. "Brave girl. Bet you give your brothers a scare every couple weeks or so."
"I have a reputation to maintain." But Ginny smiled a little as she sat down and pulled off her boots. "And I'll tell you what I tell them. Don't underestimate me."
"I wouldn't dare."
Draco didn't see why she was smiling at Aden like that but when she looked at Draco her face went funny and empty.
"I'll go search the house again," Aden decided, frown returning. "Draco, will you go sit in my room just in case – "
"Aden." Ginny's head was on one side. She stood and moved toward the window. "What's the sound?"
Aden got up and went to join her. He paused, frowning. Then Draco heard it, too.
Aden's wand appeared in his hand and he nudged Ginny behind him. She pulled her wand out of her pyjama pocket and crept behind him to the window. Draco picked his wand up off the nightstand and went to join them.
When Aden had reached the window, he held out a hand, gesturing for them to stop. He dropped to his knees and shuffled to the window, pulling himself up just high enough to see out. Draco was about to laugh – his brother looked a little stupid scuttling around – when Aden swore.
Draco glanced at Ginny and then two of them crawled to Aden's side as fast as they could.
Draco peered over the windowsill and his breath caught in his throat. Ginny gasped.
Narcissa's rose garden glowed in moonlight that shown too brightly. Every flower twinkled in a mesmerizing synchronized throb, as though a million individual drops of water coated each petal. The music Ginny had first heard – sweet and soft, like a lover's whisper – drifted up with the glowing garden.
It took Draco a minute to see Jackie. She stood alone in the middle of the garden, amid Narcissa's prize roses. Her back was to the house. Her golden hair billowed around her in a cloud that throbbed in time to the glittering flowers. The red of her dressing gown seemed too bright, like blood from a new cut dripping off her tall frame.
Draco didn't realize he was climbing up toward the open window until a rough hand yanked him to the ground. The same hand slammed and bolted the window.
Draco found himself sprawled on the floor beside Ginny, who was blinking slowly, as though she'd been stunned and someone had just performed the counter curse. They glanced at each other, and then at Aden. His wand trembled in his clenched fist and he sat with his back against the wall.
"Damn," he whispered, staring not at but through them. "Oh, Jackie …"
"Aden, what happened?" Ginny whispered, staring at him with wide eyes.
"What was that?" Draco demanded.
"She's - she's a dryad," Aden murmured. "How could I not know … ?" He trailed off, eyes still on the far wall.
"A what?" Ginny asked.
"A dark creature," Aden said distantly. His eyes sharpened and he raised himself high enough to see out the window. He ducked hastily down a moment later. "I don't understand how she hid this for so long …" He shook his head, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead. "How the hell did I not know about this? Honestly, call myself smart!"
"But what do they do?" Draco asked urgently. "Aden, how is she supposed to protect Weasley if she's a bloody monster?"
"It's only once a month," Aden said. "Just like – " He glanced at Ginny, frowned and said, "Like other things women go through. They're tied to the lunar cycle, like werewolves. Female dryads are the strongest, by far. The males are sort of there to … amuse them."
Ginny frowned and then went so red Draco could see her in the dark. "That makes sense," she said, not looking at either of them. "Women's magical abilities shift a little bit based on the lunar cycle."
"But I don't understand how I've never heard of a dryad," Draco cut in.
"The ministry doesn't know where to classify them so they aren't studied in many magical schools," Aden told him. "Because of the … sexuality inherent to their skills, most parents don't want their children knowing about dryads."
"Are you born a dryad?" Ginny asked.
"No." Aden gave her a long look. "You're seduced."
"Excuse me?" Ginny was practically glowing red now.
"To turn a human into a dryad, a female dryad has to seduce that person," Aden said slowly.
"What, shag them?" Draco wrinkled his nose.
"Not necessarily," Aden said. He paused, glancing at Ginny. "Seduction means different things to different people. It's complicated," he said, shaking his head. "The point is what a human does as a dryad."
"What?" Ginny's color faded with her voice.
"They seduce humans and they kill them," Aden said quietly. "They only turn a few of their victims. The ones they don't turn … they consume."
Ginny made a faint sound in her throat. "How long will Jackie be like this?"
"Just one night." Aden raked a hand through his hair. "Normally, she would seek out her kind and feed with them for a week or so, but I know there aren't any dryads near the manor. Finding them would take her too long. She'll wake up tomorrow … recovered." He chewed his lip. "Until next month."
"But she never missed a day of classes back at school," Ginny argued. "And I bet there were loads of dryads living in the Forbidden Forest - it's this forest next to the school that's stuffed with dark beings."
"There are potions that can make the condition manageable," Aden told her, eyes distant again. "I don't know why she wouldn't have taken one tonight, in fact. She knew this was going to happen …"
"So I'm guessing," Ginny said, her voice small, "that we have a problem?"
"A big one," Aden said, his voice hollow.
This time, Ginny didn't look at Aden. She looked up at Draco. He looked helplessly back.
What were they going to do?