Chapter Rating: PG
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein gossip rules the day, Millicent is pissed off, Blaise turns Draco into an owl, Ginny is regretful, Draco is resourceful, and Harry assumes the worst.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 13 - You Can't Unring a Bell
Draco spent the weekend cloistered in the library, trying to finish researching his Arithmancy and Defence Against the Dark Arts essays. He cast occasional longing gazes at the Memory Section, but with the library as full as it was these days, and the unit on Memory Charms over, he didn't dare go near those books.
Across from him, Millicent was copying notes from one book into another: her own version of studying. Occasionally, she would lift her head and gaze at the library doors, as though expecting someone to walk in. She'd been acting somewhat strangely ever since her audience with the charlatan fortune-teller.
"What did that woman tell you?" whispered Draco, setting his quill aside.
Millicent turned to face him, slowly. "You would only laugh," she said.
"Try me," said Draco. "I might not."
"Only if you tell me what she told you," said Millicent.
"Just some vague rubbish about repeating the same mistakes," said Draco. "Don't tell me you're actually going to listen to her, whatever it was."
Millicent shrugged. "It won't hurt me if I do."
A suppressed giggle sounded from behind a bookshelf on their left; Draco narrowed his eyes and glanced at Pince, who was supervising as a few third-years sorted books on the opposite end of the main hall.
"Did you see it?" whispered a voice on the other side of the giggling bookshelf.
"No, but he told me himself," said another voice. "In detail," it added.
"I know, isn't it just? I can hardly believe it."
Draco pulled a piece of parchment towards himself and wrote:
What are they talking about?
He pushed the parchment towards Millicent, who glanced at it and shrugged. "Don't know," she said. "Probably just gossip."
"Probably just gossip" turned out to be a lot more than that over the week that followed.
By Friday, it seemed that everyone knew that Harry Potter had sucked off Zacharias Smith in Hogsmeade last weekend. The thought of Smith going around and telling people about it filled Draco with rage -- not on Potter's behalf, of course, but because Smith was a pure-blood wizard boasting about being a freak. It certainly had nothing to do with the idea of Potter on his knees in front of Smith being infuriating in itself. Pure-blood or no, Smith was merely a jeweller's son, a commoner. It certainly did not rankle that Potter made no distinction between Draco and that-- that... jumped-up, self-important, dull prat.
The only people who seemed blissfully unaware of the gossip were Potter himself and his Gryffindor friends. Of those who sneered and laughed behind his back -- and there were not a few of them -- none dared mock him to his face, or the faces of his friends.
At dinner, Draco watched Potter leave, giving the sixth-years' table a wide berth, and waited for the gossip to begin. He didn't know why he wanted to hear it again and again; all it did was make him seethe in rage and jealousy far more potent than what he'd felt the night Potter had told him about his so-called conquest.
"It has nothing to do with me," Smith said snidely to Cornfoot. "I'm not gay. He practically begged me to take my dick out so he could suck it. Told me it was all he thought about."
It's all I think about. Making you come. Like this.
Draco's stomach lurched, and he regretted his second helping of roast chicken. So that had been a... line that Potter used? He hadn't meant it?
I pretended he was you, at first...
Draco cast a surreptitious glance at Smith. He did have blond hair, but he looked nothing like Draco. His face was broader, his nose larger, his eyes a murky hazel. It pissed Draco off beyond all else that he was even wondering about any of this, that he was sitting here listening to this rot, that he was mentally comparing himself to Smith as though they were rivals for Potter's attentions.
There was a burst of derisive laughter from the people around Smith, and Draco looked up in surprise as Millicent threw her fork down with a loud clang.
"D'you remember," she said too-loudly, turning to Draco, "how the Dark Lord tortured every Muggle-born before killing them?"
Draco blinked at her. "Yeah, but Millicent--"
She ignored him and pressed on, her usual calm demeanour gone. "He pulled out their fingernails and teeth one by one, put them back in, then did it again. Don't you think that was just hilarious?"
"Those Mudbloods got what they deserved, didn't they? I personally found it very amusing."
Draco stared at her, uncomprehending. Millicent was as close to a Mudblood as one could get without being one, why was she--?
Stephen Cornfoot rose to his feet and gave Millicent a withering stare. "Take that back," he growled. Cornfoot's parents were Muggles. "I can't believe they gave you an Order of Merlin--"
Millicent rose as well and faced him. They were of a height, and both were Beaters. If this escalated, it would be quite ugly. "I'll take it back when you take back everything you just said about Potter," Millicent barked, eyes flashing. "The lot of you. If it's wrong for me to judge people for things they can't help, it's just as wrong for you to do it."
Smith snorted. "Oh, he can help it, all right--"
"SHUT UP!" Millicent bellowed, pointing a finger at him. "Sooner or later he'll find out about the disgusting things you've said about him, Smith. I wager you won't be laughing then."
She stalked out of the Great Hall, scowling. Draco gazed after her. A hysterical thought bubbled up inside his mind: At least I know she'd be on my side if--
If nothing. There would be no if.
Draco caught up to Millicent on one of the upper-floor staircases. "What was that all about?"
Millicent moved her shoulder as if to ward off a bee. "Nothing. I just got tired of them carrying on like they were so much better than him. If they were all pure-bloods, I'd at least understand. I know how you lot are about... things. But Cornfoot has no place--"
"Smith is a pure-blood," Draco pointed out.
Millicent's eyes were dark as a winter morning. "All the less reason for him to tell everyone."
"Agreed," said a voice behind them. Zabini.
"What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be running off to your charming wife?" asked Draco. If Zabini didn't stop spending nearly all his time with that barmaid, he'd fail his N.E.W.T.s and be held back a year. Then again, maybe that was exactly what he was trying to do.
"She's working tonight," said Zabini. "And I need to finish my Transfiguration essay."
"That was due yesterday," said Millicent.
"Hagen gave me an extension until Monday," said Zabini with an impatient shrug. "I'll get it done. But anyway, you're right about Smith. He ought to have kept it a secret. I would have."
Draco stared straight ahead of himself. "Are you saying you would've let Potter--"
"Of course not," said Zabini, scandalised. "I'm not a freak--"
"Neither is Potter," barked Millicent. She picked up her pace and strode away without looking back.
"Half-bloods," muttered Zabini with a casual shrug and a disbelieving glance in Millicent's direction. "She doesn't understand."
"Yeah," said Draco, nodding. He felt sick to his stomach.
Zabini clapped him on the back suddenly. "See, I was right that time. Potter must have a crush on you."
"Don't say that," said Draco. "That's just wrong."
"I won't tell Millicent you said that," said Zabini with a laugh.
Draco couldn't sit still in the common room. Between Millicent glowering at Cornfoot, Zabini moaning about his essay, and the racket the sixth-years were making, he couldn't concentrate on a word of his Charms textbook. The rest of the seventh-years were in Hogsmeade, most likely. Draco wouldn't have been surprised if they'd gone further this time; he'd overheard Finnigan talking about Apparating to Edinburgh. Daphne had gone with them, too. Draco couldn't decide if this pleased him or made him feel inadequate.
"I'm going for a walk," he told no one in particular.
Millicent raised a quizzical eyebrow. Outside, the wind howled like a lost dog. "In this weather?"
Luna Lovegood looked up from that month's issue of The Quibbler, her watery eyes wide. "The Grey Lady told me it might snow."
"In October? Don't be silly," Draco told her. "Anyway, I'll be back soon."
"If you go to the Three Broomsticks, tell Lolita I said hello," called Zabini as Draco climbed through the portrait hole. Draco ignored him. He had no intentions of going to Hogsmeade.
And yet, instead of heading towards the courtyard and the greenhouses, Draco walked out the castle's front doors and Apparated to the railroad tracks as soon as he was past the gates. The bitter wind stung his cheeks as he walked towards the village. He didn't know why he was here. A part of him insisted it was because he had an image to maintain -- he was Draco Malfoy, after all. War hero of sorts, Order of Merlin recipient, Seeker. It would not do for him to sit in the common room on a Friday night when everyone else was here. He needed to see and be seen. He just wished he could stop thinking about seeing Potter with someone else. Would Smith let Potter do it again? What if Draco could watch them...?
He clamped down on the thought harshly. He wasn't here because of Potter, and he certainly didn't want to watch any of the sick things Potter did with anyone else.
Deep in thought, he accidentally bumped into a passer-by and was about to tell them to watch where they were going, but then he realised it was no passer-by. Ginny's flame-red hair was difficult to mistake even in the scant light of the nearby streetlamp. She stood across the street from the Three Broomsticks and watched the doors as though hypnotised. She didn't even seem to notice Draco having walked into her.
"What are you doing here?" asked Draco stepping up in front of her. "If a teacher finds out, you'll be expelled. You're not eighteen--"
Ginny sniffed. "Do I look like I care?"
"You shouldn't be here," said Draco. Ginny made no reply.
The feeling of commiseration returned just as strongly as it had first come to him. In a too-soft voice, he said, "He can't help it, you know."
"Don't you think I know that?" Ginny sniffed again, louder this time.
Draco crossed his arms. "So why are you here?"
"I don't know," said Ginny. She laughed, low and hollow. "I've been standing here for twenty minutes, telling myself to go inside."
"Why?" Draco stared at her. "What would that accomplish?"
"I heard Millicent, earlier tonight, and she's right," said Ginny in a miserable voice.. "When Harry told me, I--" She broke off and drew the back of her hand across her eyes. "I said things I shouldn't have. Called him names."
So did I, thought Draco, looking away with a scowl.
Ginny didn't seem to notice the expression on his face; she just kept talking. "And then he went to Hogsmeade and got drunk and now he's the laughingstock of half the school, and he doesn't even know..."
"It's not your fault Potter can't cope with his emotions," Draco pointed out, still looking down at his feet.
Ginny lifted her chin. "He's been through too much, Malfoy. He doesn't deserve anyone turning on him like that. Least of all me. We were friends before we started going out."
Draco put his hands up with a frustrated sigh. "Oh, very well," he said, and grabbed her arm. "I have a message to give to the barmaid, and you're going to help me deliver it." He dragged her towards the doors before she had a chance to protest.
As they walked into the pub, Draco's hearing was assaulted by shouting and laughter, drunken voices drowning out the music from the wizard's wireless. The seventh-years occupied several round tables near the booths at the back. He saw Potter with Finnigan and Thomas, playing cards. Longbottom sat next to Finnigan, saying something to Daphne -- Daphne??? -- who looked interminably bored. No one seemed to notice the new arrivals.
"There he is," said Draco to Ginny. "Go on, then."
Ginny shook her head. "I don't think--"
"Just do it, Weasley, don't be such a coward."
"I'm not a coward," said Ginny indignantly. "I just--"
Draco realised he was still holding Ginny by the arm. He released her quickly and looked up. Dean Thomas was staring at them with a mixture of surprise and hurt on his face. The poor sod had probably drawn all the wrong conclusions. Now that Ginny Weasley was a free woman once more, he'd surely thought he would have a chance again, and there she was, holding hands with Draco. Draco tried to mimic extreme disinterest, but that seemed to enrage Thomas even further -- his face morphed into a full-on glower.
Potter hadn't even looked up from his cards.
"He knows you're here now, so there's nothing for it," Draco muttered to Ginny.
"But he won't even look at me!" protested Ginny, but Draco nudged her forward, gently. He was grateful that Ginny didn't seem to have noticed that Harry had ignored him, too.
Ginny took a deep breath, probably reaching into that esoteric reserve where Gryffindors kept their courage, and started to walk towards Potter's table.
Draco had no interest in watching any of it unfold, so he looked around the room for Lolita. She was unloading a tray full of glasses onto a table at the other end of the pub. Draco turned and headed towards her.
"I have a message for you," he told her when he reached the table.
Lolita tucked the tray under her arm and looked at him. "Oh, I remember you. You were the rude one."
"Right," muttered Draco. "Well, Zabini says hello."
Draco blinked in speechless astonishment. "You don't know Blaise Zabini?"
"Oh!" Lolita blushed to the roots of her hair. "I never knew his surname."
Draco wondered if Zabini had kept his surname from her deliberately. He probably had, but this wasn't Draco's problem. "He said hello," he repeated. "He can't make it in today because of--" he thought for a moment; this woman probably didn't know what an essay was, "-- school things."
Lolita sighed in obvious disappointment. "Will you tell him I said hello back?"
"I will," said Draco. Somehow, he would make Zabini pay for turning Draco into an owl, if only for one night.
"Well, I have to get back to work now," said Lolita. "Thank you," she added over her shoulder.
Draco stared after her, concentrating on her swaying hips, willing himself to feel something -- anything resembling arousal or even mild interest. There was nothing, though; all he wanted was to turn right around and watch Potter frown at the cards in his hand.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and Draco turned around to find Daphne glaring at him as though he'd just murdered her family pet.
"What?" asked Draco, somewhat awkwardly. The two of them still hadn't spoken since their falling-out.
"First you run after Millicent bloody Bulstrode, then you walk in here with Ginny bloody Weasley, and now you're making cow eyes at the bloody barmaid?"
Draco blinked several times, then recovered. "I didn't realise you were watching me quite that closely. First of all, I didn't run after Millicent. I happened to leave right after her."
"Right. After that scene she caused? It looked like you were bloody well running off to comfort her--"
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Uh, Daphne? When was the last time you saw Millicent needing to be comforted?"
"This isn't about her," insisted Daphne. "I don't understand why you suddenly started acting like I don't exist!"
"That's a bit rich, coming from you," said Draco. His eyes cut towards the table where she'd sat -- Potter's table. "You've been all over Finnigan--" He trailed off, realising that Potter was no longer at that table. He looked around for Ginny, but didn't see her, either. The boys at Smith's table roared with laughter; now that Potter was gone, they were undoubtedly back to discussing him, obviously unmoved by Millicent's earlier outburst.
"I haven't been all over Seamus," said Daphne, and Draco turned to her, startled. He'd forgotten all about her. Daphne cast a quick glance at Finnigan, and whispered, "More like the other way around."
"Seamus, is he?" said Draco distractedly. "You know what? I don't care. I don't even know why I'm talking to you. My mother doesn't approve of you, see." It wasn't exactly untrue. His mother had encouraged him to seek a younger bride, and Daphne didn't qualify.
Daphne put her hands on her hips. "Oh, really? And of whom does she approve? Millicent? Weasley? Blaise's little barmaid?"
"Neither," said Draco. "She doesn't want me to marry yet." That much was true. "And I don't want to lead you on."
Now there was a save worthy of a Malfoy. Draco wished his father could've been there and heard him.
Daphne's eyes widened, and then she laughed, a bit high-pitched. "I don't know if I should be furious or grateful," she said.
Draco furrowed his brow. "Well, considering that Millicent, Smith, and Cornfoot are at each other's throats, it would probably be better for team morale if the two of us weren't. We've got practice tomorrow, or have you forgotten?"
At breakfast on Saturday, Draco felt as though life were almost back to normal. Pansy did not seem best pleased that he and Daphne were chatting amicably once more, but Draco didn't care. He'd found a perfect excuse not to moon after girls, and once he had a chance to spread it about that his mother didn't want him to marry yet, no one would think twice about it. It was really a genius move that would buy him all the time he needed to rid himself of his unfortunate... fascination with Potter.
The owls dropped the morning post, and Draco unfolded the Saturday issue of the Daily Prophet, scanning the headlines with mild interest. His breath caught suddenly, and he heard a gasp from someone on his left.
Harry Potter: Hero or Zero?
by Rita Skeeter, staff reporter
Harry Potter needs no introduction, but is there more to this man than meets the eye? As everyone well knows, Potter is currently completing his final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, because even heroes aren't exempt from the rules of wizarding society. Potter seems to think differently: there have been numerous reports from concerned Hogsmeade citizens who have seen Potter drink and gamble at the local pub. It seems like our hero is not content with waiting another year for adult life to begin.
A Hogwarts source tells us that Potter has taken sexual advantage of a fellow classmate, who happens to be male. Of course, despite what some members of our community would say, there isn't anything wrong with homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. But is it really necessary to expose other students to this sort of behaviour? If I were a parent of a Hogwarts student, I would insist that the staff keep a much closer eye on students who are troubled enough to inflict their private lives onto the rest of the school. [continued on page 4]
Draco lowered the newspaper and glanced over at Potter. As though sensing Draco's gaze, Potter looked up with eyes so full of loathing that Draco nearly shrank back in his seat.
He thinks I'm the "fellow classmate", realised Draco, his mind numb. He thinks I'm the one who talked to Skeeter.