The Lewis House 87
That night, back at her flat, Bill lay in bed with Fleur and looked at pictures. He read letters. He listened to stories. She spoke of Gabrielle and he spoke of Percy - all night they traded memories that seemed to flow effortlessly into one another, almost untouched by the burden of grief. When they fell asleep hours later among the keepsakes, Bill was not sure if he had asked her to stay with him forever, or if had been she who had asked him. He only knew that the exchange had been made for good.
Twenty-eight days. Four weeks. Almost an entire month. And not a word from Harry - not even when he'd showed up to the pub on her birthday. He'd spent all his time in the corner, and Ginny had tried to ignore him but it had hurt more than she had been able to hide. Hermione had taken her aside and told her that Harry really did care for her, but it hadn't helped. It didn't matter what Hermione said. Ginny flicked her wand at the wireless and turned off the music that had been playing while she studied - she couldn't listen to another sappy love song. She went back to stirring the Wolfsbane Potion, hardly caring what she was doing.
She supposed it was over. Not that she would ever be over Harry, in her heart - she'd love him even if he never spoke another word to her - but nothing worked between them. She'd been in pain, one way or another, since the very beginning and so had he. Perhaps it wasn't worth it. She wasn't sure what she wanted anymore. She wished she wouldn't dream about him so much, but, short of taking a potion to keep dreams away altogether, she didn't think that she would ever stop.
She absently ladled a dose of potion into a goblet, and went to find Remus so that he could drink it right away.
"You're preoccupied," he said, when she found him at the dining room table poring over an open file that looked like official Ministry business.
She shrugged. "Go on," she said, and held out a peppermint imp. Remus swallowed the potion and quickly took the imp.
"Is that stuff for Sirius?" She pointed to the papers, and Remus glanced up at her.
"No, it's the Culparrat employee proposal."
Ginny had never heard of it. "Oh. Are you working on it for my dad, or something?"
Remus gave her a worried look. "No… Hermione asked me to look over it because it's about possibly employing werewolves in the Ministry. Ginny, you were sitting at the table last night when she handed it to me. You participated in the discussion."
"Oh… right." She only vaguely remembered. "Sorry, I'm…"
"Exhausted. And at the risk of sending you flying out of the house in tears, I'll tell you again -"
"I won't fly out." Ginny sat down across from him and propped her chin in her hand to keep her head up. She was tired, but she tried not to let Remus see it. "I know what you're going to say, and you're right, but I just don't know which thing to give up. It's all too important."
He shook his head. "The dragons are nearly well."
"But not perfectly."
"But they're not about to throw their riders, and that was the main point. And if you won't stop with that, then at least I can take this potion at the apothecary."
"No!" Ginny stared at him. "No."
"Cut down the amount of time you spend at St. Mungo's. Do that only on the weekends -"
"It's her parents."
Remus sighed. "Then at least stop working privately on other people."
Ginny bristled. "I only worked on Malfoy once," she said. And it was true. Remus didn't need to know that she had consented to go to Malfoy Manor this afternoon. It was the best day for it; on Sundays she had no school, no dragon work, and she could split her time between studying and St. Mungo's - and on the Wolfsbane Potion, since Remus's transformation would occur on Wednesday. It would mark the second blue moon in a year, and two transformations in a month made for more time standing over a cauldron than Ginny had ever bargained for. Still she'd made the potion several times now, and hardly had to concentrate on it any more.
"I'm sure it tires you out just to be near him so often. Perhaps you could do less work on the dragons, if you're not willing to stop working on them altogether. They hardly need two hours of your time every afternoon. Once a week should suffice."
Ginny bit her tongue. She wasn't about to abandon Charlie and Harry and the rest of the riders to work with dragons that would get sick again if she wasn't there, but she knew it was no good to explain that to Remus. He'd just give her another speech on maturity and priorities and decisions and learning to say no, and she wasn't in the mood. Besides, she had an appointment.
She made herself smile a little. "I'll think about it," she said lightly, and stood.
"Off to St. Mungo's?" Remus looked back down at his papers.
"I was already there this morning. I'm going to go outside for a while."
Remus glanced up again, looking surprised. "That's good. Have a nice walk."
Ginny nodded and left the house. She didn't bother checking her reflection or changing out of her work robes - it wasn't that sort of appointment - and she didn't even need to grab a cloak, now that the weather had grown mild. She walked for a little while so that her excuse for leaving the house would not technically be a lie, and then she shut her eyes and concentrated on a place she couldn't believe she was going to visit. When she opened her eyes again she stood on wide, black marble steps, as impressive as the entrance to Gringotts.
Ginny looked up and took an unbalanced step back. The gray stone walls stretched several stories high, making her feel dizzy. Dozens of massive windows glinted in the midmorning light. The front doors were twice her height and as wide as the ones at Hogwarts. Did people really live like this?
She raised the heavy, silver knocker and pounded it three times against the polished black doors. The door swung silently open and a female house-elf, looking terrified and dejected, appeared in the foyer.
"Your name?" the elf squeaked.
"Ginny Weasley." Ginny couldn't believe the Malfoys' nerve. "You're free, you know," she told the elf. "It's illegal for them to keep you here. You can go whenever you like."
The elf only cringed. She gestured Ginny into the first entryway of the manor, and shut the doors. "If Miss would follow me."
Furious that she'd agreed to come on terms of complete confidentiality, Ginny followed the poor little elf through another set of black doors and into a second entry chamber. Sconces flared to life as they walked into the high, dark room, and the carved double doors gleamed at either end. They had been intricately carved with what looked like thousands of coiling, writhing serpents. They were really moving. Ginny shivered and tried to imagine being a child in a house where even the doors were terrifying. She looked up and shivered again; someone had mounted trophies of dead things. Not even whole bodies, but wings, talons, fangs and scales - even very rare horns. It seemed so heartless.
"You have no cloak?" the elf asked, stopping at the far doors. "No bag?"
Ginny shook her head and stayed still while the elf raised her knobbly hands. The air around them crackled and Ginny knew that she was being searched for weapons.
"Your wand." The elf held out her hand.
"Nice try," Ginny said.
"But the rules, Miss -"
"Tell Mr. Malfoy he'll have to relax his rules. I'm not giving up my wand."
The elf, looking frightened, disappeared into thin air with a crack!
While Ginny waited, she tried the doors at either end of the windowless chamber, and found them locked. "Alohomora!" she whispered, but found herself knocked back several steps by the force of an invisible ward. She steadied herself and tried to Apparate into the next chamber, but found that Apparition was also impossible. It would be difficult to break out of here, and Ron's words were suddenly loud in Ginny's mind, telling her not to be alone with Malfoy, for whatever reason. No one even knew she was here. That had been extremely stupid.
Just as she was about to panic, the door opened before her, and the elf showed a very shaky Ginny into the drawing room.
"Wait here." She left Ginny alone.
The room was bigger and higher than the entire Burrow, and Ginny walked around it, awed. On either side of the room, fires snapped in twin fireplaces, both large enough to comfortably hold a dozen people, both flanked by giant stone hydras, their fangs bared, their heads expertly detailed - Ginny was sure they were going to strike at her. The walls of the room were stone, so highly polished that they seemed to be made of silver. She weaved her way across a soft, silent carpet, between gilded chairs with velvet seats, beneath flickering chandeliers…
She was amazed. This wasn't a home at all; it was a museum. Everything was perfectly arranged and obviously valuable - and tremendously cold. Nothing showed signs of wear or age, or even use. It seemed like a very big dollhouse to Ginny, who had a strong urge to mess something up and make it more real. The room was empty in every real way; alive as it looked, it was very much dead - recently dead, as if the life force had just gone out of it and left it a shell.
Disturbed, Ginny let her eyes stray to the portrait on the far wall. It was an elegant life-sized painting of all three Malfoys, beautifully lit - a wizard painting, obviously. So the people in it should have moved. But they all sat still and stared down at the room. Only Lucius Malfoy smiled, just barely, his lips curving up at her as if to say Yes. All this is mine. Including you.
Mesmerized, Ginny walked towards it, but when she got to the center of the room, she felt as if her insides had suddenly collapsed. Gravity gave way - she pressed her hands to her stomach and tried to breathe. She couldn't see. It was as if she had fallen through the floor and into a tank of ice water; Malfoy Manor disappeared, and around her, in her powerful mind's eye, rose the Chamber of Secrets. Whispers filled her mind, seductive and irresistible. Riddle's whispers, his words. Riddle's handwriting unraveled across the blackness around her, page upon page of it, glowing and perfect. He had been here. Lived here, dormant, for many years. Things belonging to him were still very nearby. He was gone, and yet he remained, and Ginny felt him take root in her before she could do anything to stop it. She moaned, her heart hammering so hard that she knew it would kill her if she couldn't make it stop -
"So good of you to be on time, Weasley."
Ginny gasped for breath as if she'd just been pulled from drowning. She wrenched her eyes open.
"Keep it up and you'll earn your wage."
She barely heard him. She was so glad to hear someone that it didn't matter what he said. Ginny stumbled back until she leaned against a sofa, and she gripped its back with both hands, staring wide-eyed at the empty space in front of her. Her mind was clear. Her vision was restored. It was as if nothing had ever happened, except that her mouth was very dry and she knew she would have nightmares, tonight.
"Are you ill?"
She glanced at Draco, who stood poised in one of the doorways. His hair and skin stood apart in this dark vault of a room, and seemed to float above his sweeping black robes. It was an unsettling contrast.
"Do you… want to work in this room?" she asked in return.
As if he knew and liked what the room was doing to her, Draco smirked. "Did you expect another room, perhaps?"
"I don't know." Ginny let go of the sofa and straightened. "It's a big house."
"You're used to something smaller, I know." Draco walked through the room and waved a careless hand at the fire. It dimmed, just slightly. "I wouldn't want you to get lost. This room will serve." He sat in a huge, throne-like chair and sprawled out. But it was a collected sprawl, as if he'd practiced relaxing in front of a mirror. One knee was bent, the other extended; one arm dangled over the arm of the chair and the other forearm rested, fingers playing on the wood. He rested his head on the dark green velvet and swept his eyes from her head to her feet. A look of mild distaste crossed his expression.
Ginny got the distinct impression that he felt she cheapened the house, by standing in it. It bothered her, but she waited for him to finish pretending that he was relaxed and then pulled a much smaller chair over to him. She sat facing him, so close that their knees almost touched.
Draco snapped up. He pulled his legs in and glared at her. "Have a care the way you drag my furniture about, Weasley."
Ginny stayed quiet and still. His poise was shattered, his mask was gone, and it would be much simpler to work, this way. The air around him was full of awkward anger, and that, at least, was something. She put out a hand and shut her eyes.
Ginny felt her hand knocked away. Draco had barely touched her, but for some reason the contact was acutely painful. "Ow!" She opened her eyes and shook her burning fingers, not sure what had just happened.
"Don't whimper, I hardly touched you." Draco sat well back. "Now listen to me. I have employed you, and this is what I want - I want to sleep."
Ginny raised her eyebrows. Did he mean here, in front of her? Or just in general?
"I… don't sleep well," he went on, not looking at her now. "Minimal assistance from a Healer should make it easier to sleep… well."
Ginny worked not to show her surprise. That had been an honest beginning. "All right," she said. "Can you tell me a bit more? How do you normally sleep?"
He glanced at her. "Badly." The word dripped with sarcasm.
"Yes, but specifically? Do you wake up often, or do you have trouble getting to sleep in the first place?"
He sighed, obviously irritated that he had to talk about it. "I wake up often. I'm restless. I…" He paused and nailed her with a look. "Don’t you ever have nightmares, Weasley?"
She wondered how he knew. "Yes," she said. "All right." She understood nightmares. She could help with nightmares. "I'm going to put out my hands again, if you'd kindly not hit them."
"Don't put them where they don't belong and we won't have a problem," Draco muttered. He fell back against the velvet chair, turned his head away, and shut his eyes.
Ginny gazed at him, and mixed with her annoyance was pity. Now that she knew what she was looking for, he did seem exhausted - and it was no wonder he suffered from nightmares, living in this house. She wondered why there were no sleepless shadows under his eyes. He was so naturally pale that she would have expected telltale smudges. She raised a careful hand before his face, and knew her answer.
"I'm going to have to take this… spell… off of you," she said hesitantly. And when he did not protest, she pulled her wand and repealed his Glamour.
Draco flinched, but kept his eyes firmly shut, and Ginny was glad that he couldn't see her jaw drop. He was haggard. His skin was not icy pale after all, but ash gray and sweating. His forehead was lined. The corners of his mouth turned down. His nose was chapped, the skin under his eyes was puffed and bluish, and his eyelids were swollen and pink. Ginny tucked away her wand and held her hands out again, aware that it wasn't only sleeplessness, but grief that made him look like this. Grief and a ruined psyche.
She moved her hands across the cold ring of air that made up the surface of his aura; it felt like the stone walls of his house. Polished. Freezing. It stood out around him in a wide, impenetrable arc, much further from his body than Hermione's or Ron's. Gingerly, she pushed her fingertips forward and felt them absorbed into the innards of his energy. And underneath the polish, closer to his head, Ginny felt a mass of writhing undercurrents. She felt she'd plunged her hands into a river of snakes. It was revolting, but she marshaled every scrap of will power and kept her hands where they were. She eased her fingers along the serpentine coils of energy, smoothing them flat as she caught them and curled her palms around them, warming them. Making them fluid and human. It was slow, painstaking work, but it absorbed her so completely that she barely felt the time pass. She felt instinctively that it was right to work here, near his head, where the sleeplessness was centered. But to be perfectly sure that she had targeted him correctly, she dropped her hands lower and felt the air around his heart.
It was like another aura altogether. Ginny was shocked to feel a hard, gnarled undercrust to the frozen ring. Nothing slithered or moved here; it only ached and burned, throbbing hot and dry against her hands like something parched. She wanted to give it water. She didn't know how to help it. She stretched her fingers deeply into its roots as if she were something cool and liquid, and willed the anguish to abate.
Abruptly, there was nothing. No aura. No temperature. Ginny gasped and opened her eyes to see that Draco had shot out of his chair and was striding to the far door, his back to her.
"That's enough," he said, his voice unsteady, and disappeared into a corridor.
Seconds later, the elf appeared in the same doorway. "Master is collecting your wage," she said, and retreated into shadow.
Ginny stood, and fell back down again at once. Her knees were weak and her head pounded. She had no idea how long she'd been working, but it had taken the life out of her for today. She couldn't imagine Apparating any time soon, especially since, now that she was fully open and there was nothing else to concentrate on, she could feel this house to its depths. Ron had been held and tortured here, somewhere in this perfect manor. She could feel the shadow of his experience; it lingered, mingling with a thousand other tortures, somewhere deep beneath this showcase of a house.
"This should be adequate pay." Draco had returned with his Glamour back in place. He came straight to her chair holding an exquisitely embroidered coin pouch, which he thrust into her face.
Ginny looked at the money and knew she couldn't take it. She had no idea where it really came from. She ignored the pouch and looked up at Draco instead. "You're not what you think you are," she told him, clasping her hands in her lap. "I know what truly bad people are capable of, and you're not that." Her voice came from somewhere far away; she wasn't sure why she was saying it. But she knew it was the truth. He was not Riddle. He was not his father. He was vicious, but mostly he was lost, and she felt so sorry for him.
Draco's eyes glassed over. His hand, holding the pouch, trembled a fraction. She reached up to take it from him, and her fingers brushed his hand.
"Ow!" she cried, and snatched her hand away. The pouch crashed to the floor and coins rolled in all directions. It was like fire - something about his hand - Ginny had felt the same thing an hour ago, when he had pushed her hand away. "What was that?"
Draco looked blankly at his fingers, then yanked his hand back. Something on it flashed gold.
"What is that - a ring?" Ginny demanded. "The one with the M on it?" She'd heard about it from Ron. She'd seen the M marked on Ron's temple.
Draco glanced at his hand, making a show of nonchalance. "It was my father's," he said, his voice full of disdain.
Ginny reached out for it and managed to touch it again - but the shock that went up her arm was not physical, as she had previously thought. It burned, but in a deeper, more familiar way. It was a shock of pure power. Controlling power. Dark power. Ginny knew just what to compare it to.
"Let me see it."
Draco stepped back and pulled his hand close to his body. "What do you think you're doing?" he snapped, when she stood and lunged to touch the ring again. There was something about it - something she had to know. "Your work here is finished."
"Hold out your hand," Ginny said, her voice very low. "I mean it."
"Your work here," Draco repeated cuttingly, " is finished. You have your pay. If you will not leave, I will see you escorted out."
"And don't expect my assistance with the dragons any longer." He sneered at her. "You've had more than enough time to Heal them. Though after your little display this afternoon, I can see that your gifts are practically a sham - I feel no different - it's no surprise that you haven't managed to get your job done."
Ginny gritted her teeth. "I bet you'll sleep tonight," she said angrily. "Let me know how that goes, and then tell me my work's a sham."
"Weasley," he said, his voice full of derision, "if I ever speak to you again, it won't be by choice. Now get out before I throw you out."
"Is that a threat?"
He drew his wand.
Ginny wondered if she was strong enough to fight, but it seemed she had no choice. She put her hand to her own weapon a second too late - Draco twisted his wand and she flinched -
But he only vanished. At the same moment, the room plunged into total darkness. Ginny was terrified. But almost immediately, the foyer doors flew open, and a shaft of light spilled into the massive drawing room. The house-elf scurried into the light and beckoned to her.
"This way, Miss."
Frustrated, frightened and very tired, Ginny gathered what was left of her strength. She left the spilled coins on the floor and went quickly out of the manor.
When the front doors had shut her out for good, she slumped back against them, squinting in the dying light that glared across the statue-studded lawns. Her heart raced, yet her blood seemed to be pumping slowly, like something dark and thick and tainted, and she knew that she would never come back here. She never wanted to work on Draco Malfoy again.
And she would no longer have an escort when she got to work on Monday.
"Damn," she said softly. But there was no way around it; she would simply have to do what she could from afar. She certainly couldn't ask Harry to take her up. And he would have been hurt trying, anyway.
Ginny rested against the stones of Malfoy Manor until she believed she wouldn't splinch, and then she gathered her wits and Apparated right into her bedroom at Lupin Lodge, so exhausted that she didn't even undress before falling into bed. The moment her head hit the pillow, her eyes fell shut. Her thoughts were messy and out of order - Remus's worried face, the froth of a brewing potion, the Grangers in their beds, the dragons' giant eyes, her father in the Minister's office, Riddle's beautiful handwriting, the way Draco Malfoy really looked, the splash of coins on plush green carpet, the way houses felt when there was no love in them, the way Harry's voice felt when it was just behind her ear, the way his eyes smiled when it was just for her, the way he laughed… She rolled over and buried her face in the pillow.
Her last clear thought, as the darkness tumbled over her, was that she wished she had never signed a confidentiality contract with Draco Malfoy. She wished she could tell someone that there was something funny about that ring…
A/N: Thanks to Moey, for helping to brainstorm Dark materials. Thanks to the SIMS for the heads in the jars. Thanks to the gorgeous beta readers: Cap'n Kathy, Caroline, CoKerry, Doctor Aicha and Firelox.
Huge writing credit to Jedi Boadicea who - yet again - is responsible for much of Draco's dialogue and behavior. She scares us sometimes.
And thanks to everyone who has been defending us lately.
The noise of Sirius placing Locking Charms on the shack behind Lupin Lodge had become almost pleasant to Remus since Ginny had first made the Wolfsbane Potion. There had been some discussion, back in Autumn, of Padfoot staying inside with Moony, but Remus had firmly insisted that the wolf be isolated… just in case. At first, Sirius had wanted him to stay inside Lupin Lodge, but Remus simply would not risk it. A missed dose or an improper preparation would render the potion's effects useless, and the last thing Remus wanted was to be free to roam through Stagsden as a fully-fledged werewolf.
So Sirius locked him in each month and then settled outside the shack as Padfoot, no matter what the weather, checking in occasionally until the transformation was complete. Remus surveyed the little room with some amusement; it was lit by a floating lantern and, with each moon, more and more pillows appeared on the floor – even though the wolf would have been perfectly comfortable to lie on the hard surface. In one corner, there was also a dinner tray.
"Thanks for supper," Remus called through the door.
"It's your favorite," said Sirius. "Steak."
"Be nice if it was cooked," said Remus, eyeing the plate of red meat in the corner.
"It's for later. If I cooked it, you'd only eat it all now," said Sirius.
Remus arranged some of the pillows so that he could lean against a wall, and closed his eyes. He knew what pain to expect now when the Wolfsbane Potion took effect, and it wasn't as bad as a full transformation, but it wasn't pleasant either. His stomach twisted into a knot, and he tried to think about anything other than what was about to happen to him. The flowers that were already blooming in his garden, his lesson plans for Ginny next week, Lupin Lodge when his parents were alive…
A loud, barking noise made him open his eyes. "What's going on, Padfoot?"
It was another minute before he received an answer. "A rat! You've got rats, Moony. Disgusting."
"Don't blame me, blame Crookshanks. He's supposed to be looking out for them, but he seems to be a vegetarian."
There were a few country rats around Lupin Lodge. As a child, he'd found them cute. But since Peter, he'd never been able to look at rats objectively.
Remus's skin grew suddenly and unnaturally warm, and he felt a pang of apprehension. The sun had almost set, and the transformation was coming; he was less nervous about it now than he used to be, but it was still an unhappy experience. Partly because the physical sensations were so jarring, and partly because his mind wandered to dark, forbidden places when the wolf began to set in. He couldn't help it; when he transformed, he always thought about the night of Peter's death. He had used to think of James and Lily, or of the day that Sirius had been thrown in Azkaban. But since the end of the war, he had repeatedly seen Peter's frightened face, and Snape's impassive one. Now was no exception, and he heard Sirius's raw voice inside his head as the scene replayed itself.
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