Chapter Rating: PG
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein Draco can't study for Ancient Runes, Blaise is annoyed, Draco receives an unexpected invitation, an old woman rains on Draco's parade, but Draco is nothing if not persistent. Right?
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 12 - Choice and Change
"Don't you look happy."
Draco looked up at Zabini from his Ancient Runes textbook. "I see you've finally decided to grace us with your presence." Since Zabini had spent the night with Lolita the barmaid at the weekend, he had been an infrequent visitor to the common room in the evenings.
"Lolita says I distract her from her work," muttered Zabini, flopping down onto the sofa.
"Mrow?" That was the feline Lolita, lifting her head from her paws to gaze at her wayward master.
"Not you," Zabini told her. The kitten gave him a reproachful look.
Draco marked the line he'd been reading with his finger and looked over at Zabini. "You ought to be careful," he said. "Putting all sorts of things into that poor woman's head."
"And not just into her head," supplied Millicent, who was sitting in the armchair opposite. Draco snorted.
"Don't be so disgusting," Zabini snapped. "A lady ought to know better--"
Draco scowled at him. "You're shagging the innkeeper's simpleton daughter and Millicent is disgusting?"
"She isn't a simpleton," said Zabini with a frown. "Just because she never went to school--"
"--she's a paragon of genius, of course," Draco finished for him. "So much so that she no doubt believes it when you tell her you'll marry her someday."
"I've told her no such thing," Zabini protested.
"You will eventually," said Millicent, sounding as though it were a matter of fact.
Draco grimaced. "I'm sure your mother would heartily approve."
"Between the two of you, it's like my mother's here already," said Zabini with a scowl. "You're just jealous," he concluded, attempting to look smug. Draco rolled his eyes.
Millicent arched an eyebrow. "Oh yes, me especially. So jealous."
Despite his sulking, Zabini guffawed, and Draco felt a little queasy. Joking about such thing was all well and good, but he was fairly certain that if either of them knew about Potter--
No. That's over. Potter gave me his word.
And yet, Draco had to catch himself as his hand strayed to his lips, where he thought he could still feel Potter's last kiss, like an invisible brand.
There was a burst of laughter outside of the common room and then Daphne climbed in through the portrait hole, looking furious. She made an elaborate show of not looking at Draco or the others as she passed them, instead heading over to the empty sofa at the other end of the room. It was rapidly becoming known as the "Gryffindor sofa", just as the sofa Draco and Zabini were currently occupying was called the "Slytherin sofa". The Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had to make do with the tables and chairs, but that was just the natural order of things.
"Why don't you sit with us, Daphne?" called Draco. She ignored him as she set her books down next to Finnigan's legs.
Finnigan looked up from his crossword puzzle. "Maybe she prefers our company."
"Maybe I do," said Daphne, not looking at Draco, but favouring Finnigan with a bright smile. Finnigan's face took on a healthy pink glow.
Draco shrugged. If Daphne thought he was going to run after her, she was mistaken. "Suit yourself." He turned back to his book and resumed reading, but a loud oath fit for a fisherman distracted him. Ginny Weasley climbed into the common room, her red hair hanging about her face in untidy strings. She tracked mud through the common room and into the girls' dormitories without a word to anyone. At any rate, no one looked inclined to speak to her as she held her broomstick like a Beater's Bat.
Once Ginny disappeared from sight, Millicent muttered, "I suppose practise didn't go well for the sixth-years." A thunderclap rolled across the sky outside as if to answer her, and Lolita leapt up into Zabini's lap.
"Ouch, you beast," Zabini scolded as the kitten dug her claws into his stomach. But he stroked the fur between her ears nonetheless.
Draco, who was still staring at the curtain that hid the girls' dormitory staircase, said nothing. He wondered if Ginny's ill temper had anything to do with Potter. Had Potter told her already? What could a girl say to something like that? What was Draco doing, wondering about Potter's doings? That was finished. He had to move past it.
The rest of the sixth-year Quidditch team piled into the common room not long after Ginny; all of them looked just as miserable. Potter and Longbottom were among them, looking as though they'd practised, too. Draco looked away quickly and discovered that he'd lost his place in the book. He could feel Potter walk by him; it sent a shiver up his back, but he searched for the paragraph he'd been reading and tried to pretend engrossed in his book.
Ginny came downstairs a short while later, looking fresh-faced and dry. It became apparent that all was still well in the Weasley/Potter household as she sat in Potter's lap rather than on the sofa. Draco thought Potter looked uncomfortable, but he didn't risk watching Potter for too long. Wouldn't want to give him ideas.
The common room filled up, grew noisier with gossip, complaints about teachers and the occasional ill-timed joke. Draco's eyes kept cutting to Potter and he kept wondering if last night -- that kiss -- had been real. It didn't feel that way here, surrounded by their classmates. He wondered if Potter remembered it, too. But Potter didn't even glance in his direction, and Draco wasn't sure why he found that so very irksome.
"Pride will be your downfall, Malfoy," said Zabini. "Instead of mooning like you are, why don't you go and talk to her?"
Draco started, then gave Zabini a contemptuous glare. "I'm not mooning," he snapped.
"Oh, really? Then who is it that you keep staring at? Weasley?"
Draco remembered his conversation with Luna at the Owlery. "Maybe I am."
Zabini snorted. "She's practically married to the boy hero--"
"Things change," said Draco absent-mindedly.
"And she's a blood traitor besides--" Zabini cut himself off sharply, and looked away.
"Then we'd make a perfect match, wouldn't we?" said Draco lightly. Let everyone think he was interested in Ginny. As long as nobody thought he was interested in Potter. Which he wasn't, of course. He found his fingers pressing against his lower lip and pretended to scratch his chin.
After the second Auror Fast Track session that week, Draco and Millicent were making his way up the marble staircase in the Entrance Hall when they saw Potter and Longbottom, who'd been walking ahead of them, stopped by a tiny third-year.
"I wonder if she's asking them directions," said Draco.
"She might be, at that, if she used to be Ravenclaw," replied Millicent.
The third-year was approaching them now, looking purposeful. She must've really been looking for directions.
"Draco Malfoy? Millicent Bulstrode?" she asked with an air of authority.
"Yeah," said Millicent. "You're going the right way if you're looking for the dungeons."
The girl gave Millicent a bewildered stare. "I was told to give you this." She handed each of them a folded piece of parchment and hurried past.
Draco unfolded the parchment, frowning.
I am planning an informal little get-together this Friday evening, in my old office -- nothing fancy, just a wee bit of supper and some conversation. I would be delighted if you could join us.
Sincerely, Professor H.E.F. Slughorn
Draco peered over at Millicent's parchment and saw that it contained much the same words. He felt a trickle of resentment in his chest: two years ago, Slughorn hadn't thought him worthy of his little parties. Nor Millicent. Now that they both had Orders of Merlin, though, they were suddenly interesting. What was even worse, Potter would be there. Draco scoffed and stuffed the parchment into his pocket.
"You're not going to go?" asked Millicent.
Draco began to shake his head, but then Potter's voice floated down to them. "Of course I'm not going. I hated those parties in sixth year and now with Hermione gone--" Potter's voice faded.
"I might go just to see what the fuss is about," said Draco quickly. "Zabini had said that there were sometimes interesting people at these parties. You?"
Millicent shrugged. "Couldn't hurt."
"Ah, Draco! What a pleasant surprise!" Slughorn roared when Draco and Millicent walked into his old office. Zabini hadn't accompanied them because he had better things to do in Hogsmeade. "And Miss Bulstrode! I shouldn't tell you this, but your essay on rare potions got full marks, my dear. Full marks!"
Draco wanted to ask about his own essay, but there was a burst of lightning in the middle of the room, and then a giant puff of smoke. When the smoke cleared, Draco saw a round table with piles of herbs, Tarot cards, fantastical statues and a large crystal ball. Next to the table was a three-legged stool occupied by the tiniest old lady Draco had ever seen. She wore a brightly coloured shawl over a black dress; her hair was covered by a kerchief that seemed to change colour in the flickering light.
"Our guest of honour this evening," said Slughorn, twirling the ends of his moustache. "Wisdom Nastase."
"You're joking," gasped someone Draco couldn't see -- a sixth-year, he thought.
"He are not," said the old woman. "But I surprised you know who I is." Her voice was like the whisper of dry reeds by a pond.
"Wisdom, it is truly an honour," said Slughorn, bowing. "Wisdom Nastase is a Seer."
"Like Trelawney?" muttered Draco to himself. He'd been hoping for someone more interesting -- like a Quidditch star or someone else useful. Slughorn was losing his touch.
The old woman's dark eyes found Draco's. "I remembers Sybill. She are nice lady, but too hasty."
Draco looked down at his shoes. Swindler or not, she looked about five hundred years old, and he'd been taught to respect his elders. Unless they were Dumbledore. Draco winced at the thought.
"Madame Trelawney, one of our Divination professors, studied with the Wisdom for some time," said Slughorn inconsequentially.
The Wisdom peered up at Slughorn. "One? Who the other one?"
"He's a centaur, Wisdom," said the 'you're joking' voice, and Draco saw that it was not a sixth-year; it was Hannah Abbott. He could almost see the stars in her eyes as she gazed at the old woman.
"Oo-ha!" said the Wisdom. "Horace, why you no tell me? I wants to meet he."
Slughorn blinked rapidly for a few moments, then recovered. "I beg everyone's pardon," he said. "Please acquaint yourselves with our guest whilst I fetch Firenze!" That last was almost an echo as Slughorn hurried out the door.
"It's a good thing the party's here and not in the Tower," remarked Millicent. "At least the centaur won't need to climb any stairs."
Hannah Abbott approached the old woman, who was sitting primly with her lips pursed and her hands folded in her lap. "Wisdom, I--"
Another three-legged stool materialised right next to Hannah's legs. "Sit," said the Wisdom. "What you want to know?"
Flushing, Hannah sat down and bent forward, whispering something. Suddenly, Draco realised there was a silvery dome around the table and the two women, and no sound escaped it. The Wisdom rubbed her palms against one another and pulled a deck of cards from her table and handed it to the girl. Hannah pulled out a card and held it close to her chest. The old woman began to speak and Hannah just kept nodding, her eyes growing wider and wider. All other conversation in the room slowly died down as more and more people turned to look at what was going on.
Abruptly, the silvery dome vanished. "You listen to your mother, girl," said the Wisdom, and paid Hannah no further heed. Her eyes searched the crowd that had gathered.
"Can you really tell fortunes?" asked Millicent. "Predict the future?"
"No," said the Wisdom. "The future, it is not for predict. You can predict ending, but tomorrow, it never ends."
Draco stared at her. "You wouldn't happen to know Luna Lovegood, would you?" he blurted.
"I do not knows this moon. Tell me about it."
Someone sniggered. "Luna is a girl, Wisdom," said Hannah Abbott in a tiny voice. "At this school."
"Oh. Good mother, name her daughter after moon. Why you ask if I know her?"
Draco felt all eyes on him, including the Wisdom's hawk-like ones, and felt his face burn. "She once said that tomorrow never ends, that's all."
"Smart girl, like her mother," said the Wisdom dismissively, and turned to Millicent. "I no predicts future. I sees -- what you call it? -- pattern. Choice. I can tell about choices. No predict."
"What about prophecy, then?" asked Longbottom. He looked serious.
"Prophecy still depend on choice," said the Wisdom. "Your Dark Master made choice between you and the other one, yes?"
Longbottom's eyes widened, but he nodded wordlessly. Draco frowned. What choice? What Dark Master? He looked at Millicent, who appeared hesitant. It didn't suit her. He nudged her toward the table, hissing, "Go on, then!"
"Oo-ha! You push your friend? You go next," cackled the Wisdom. "Sit," she said to Millicent, and the silvery dome reappeared as Millicent lowered herself to the stool.
There were no cards this time; the Wisdom plucked a pouch off the table and offered it to Millicent, who frowned, and then pulled out a round, smooth stone the size of a quail's egg. The Wisdom took the stone from Millicent and tossed it into the air; it hit the edge of the dome and bounced back into the old woman's outstretched palm. The Wisdom pointed at it and said something to Millicent, whose mouth fell open. Draco wished he could lip-read.
When Milicent emerged from underneath the dome, there was a strange light in her eyes. "What did she tell you?" Draco whispered, but he suddenly felt a compelling desire to walk towards the Wisdom. Wordlessly, he complied, not even realising what he was doing until he was seated next to her.
"I told you you was next," said the Wisdom. "Is not a good idea to meddle," she added, her tone scolding. Draco just stared at her. How had she compelled him? It hadn't been Imperius; he knew what that felt like. She didn't even have a wand! "How did you--"
"I learn magic the old way," she said dismissively, and picked up the crystal ball. It looked far too heavy for her frail, leathery hands, but it did not fall. She spat into her palm and wiped the surface of the ball, leaving but a smear in the dust. Draco was revolted.
Then the ball began to glow.
"I see you likes to meddle," the Wisdom said happily, eyes on the white glow. Her thin eyebrows drew together. "Bad idea to meddle with past, boy. Very bad."
"What are you talking about?" asked Draco.
"You know what. You cannot change past! Cannot unmake your choices!"
Draco felt an icy trickle near the base of his spine. She knew what he planned with the memories. She knew.
"Of course I knows. I knows what was." Damn it, he'd spoken out loud again. Or could the old woman hear his thoughts...?
She stared at him, and Draco realised with horror that it was not his own reflection in her eyes. It was he and Potter, back in Grimmauld Place. The reflection was coming from the accursed crystal ball! She could see…!
"Not easy," said the Wisdom with quiet understanding in her voice. "But you make same mistake hundred times. And when you no learns? You is stupid!"
She spoke with such force that Draco leant back slightly, unnerved.
"What am I supposed to learn?" he heard himself ask. He didn't want to hear the answer.
"No ask when you no want answer," she snapped. "When you is stupid, you run out of choices. Then you is really fucked." There was a sound like dice rattling in a cup, and Draco realised she was laughing, and it echoed off the silvery dome's walls.
Then the dome vanished, the sound of conversation filled Draco's ears again, and he fled.
"What did she tell you?" asked Millicent in a loud whisper.
Draco hid his eyes. "Nothing. Why?"
"No reason," she said with a snort. "Only you looked like the Dark Lord was coming for you."
"She's just a clever manipulator, that's all," Draco said. She had to be. He could and he would change his past, and none of this made him stupid.
After the party, Draco bolted straight for the South Tower, without bothering to wait for Millicent, who was deep in conversation with Longbottom. As he climbed through the portrait hole, he expected to find the common room empty save for sixth-years; all the seventh-years would be in Hogsmeade, and Potter would surely be prowling the castle in his Invisibility Cloak.
He was surprised to see Ginny sitting on the Gryffindor sofa, her legs drawn up to her chest, clutching the ginger Crookshanks tightly to her chest, her face streaked with tears.
He'd done it, thought Draco. He'd bloody well told her.
He began to walk towards the boys' dormitories, but Ginny called his name, her voice hoarse.
Draco turned to her. "Are you well?"
"Did you know?" she asked, her eyes suddenly brighter with fresh tears. "You knew, didn't you? You and Harry were thick as thieves--"
Draco frowned. "I don't know what you're talking about, but if you need a Cheering Charm--"
"I don't need a fucking Cheering Charm, Malfoy! I just want to know if you've been laughing at me behind my back--"
"I've laughed at you behind your back countless times when we were children," said Draco smoothly. "But I don't see how this is of any import."
Ginny hid her face in her hands and her shoulders shook violently. Her elbows dug into Crookshanks, who -- uncharacteristically, for a cat -- merely swished his tail in annoyance but stayed put. Draco just stood there, awkwardly, for a few minutes, then quietly crept upstairs to the dormitories.
Even as he climbed into his bed, the image of Ginny, who seemed so strong, coming apart on that sofa with nothing but a cat for company, pursued Draco. He wondered if he ought to have said something to comfort her, but what could he have said, without giving himself away? And besides, if he'd been caught sobbing, he would've wanted whomever found him to make a hasty departure. Not that he'd ever sob over a man. Woman. Whatever.
And yet, the scene pursued him even as he tried to put it out of his mind. Perhaps he ought to have stayed. She wasn't his girlfriend, but he could've offered her some tea. His mother always had tea when she cried, though his mother didn't cry very often. Neither did Ginny Weasley, for that matter, at least not that Draco knew of.
Draco didn't understand why he felt so miserable -- Potter hadn't done anything to him. But remembering Ginny's tear-streaked face and the desperate look of anguish in her eyes made his heart tighten. It was pity, he realised suddenly. He felt sorry for Ginny. It was a foreign feeling, foreign because it was sincere.
He'd said he pitied people before, but those words had always been flung with contempt, in an effort to wound. Draco had never known that pitying another felt even worse than pitying oneself. His father had always said that pity was for the weak, that it made you weak. A man of power had no need for pity -- mercy, perhaps, but never pity. Not only was Draco turning into a flaming fairy, he was also going soft.
There was a burst of laughter in the common room, and then another. The Hogsmeade revellers had returned. Draco wondered if Ginny was still in the common room. The dormitory door burst open and Draco shut his eyes quickly, cursing himself for not having drawn the curtains around his bed. He didn't know how he knew it was Potter at the door, but he knew.
"You asleep?" Potter was drunk, and that meant terrible things. Draco made no reply, just made his face slacken and forced his breathing to deepen.
He heard Potter's footsteps approach him. There was more laughter downstairs, then a girl's protestation to "be quiet, Slughorn might hear!", and a male voice replying, "to hell with Slughorn. Where'd Harry go?"
Potter had gone to Hogsmeade?
"I don't need you," Potter slurred above him. "You--" He hiccoughed, and Draco's bed rattled slightly as Potter braced himself against a post. "You're not the only one."
Draco wished his chest wouldn't have turned to ice like that. What was Potter on about? He didn't risk "waking up" and asking, though. Not this time.
"I pretended he was you, at first," Potter continued. "But then I didn't need to."
Oh. Potter had not only gone to Hogsmeade, he'd got off with someone. Draco riffled through all the other seventh-years in his head. Who else could be...? Maybe it was a local...
"I don't need you," Potter concluded, and Draco heard him stumble away.
He knew he ought to have been relieved. He knew this was supposed to be wonderful news. So why did fire rage in his belly like that? Why did he want to find the other one, whoever he was, and hex his bits off? It was nothing but madness, it had to be. Potter didn't belong to him; he wanted no claim to Potter. It was ridiculous to feel like he had one.
Draco screwed his eyes shut and realised that his pity for Ginny Weasley had turned to commiseration in just a few breaths. There was hollow comfort in it: he'd rather have pitied her. To commiserate betrayed a greater weakness, in this case. What was he going to do?