Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 18 - The Matter With Ginny
Hermione and Malfoy, Harry noted, were remarkably subdued when they rejoined the group for dinner. They barely exchanged two words from then on, if one disregarded their lines.
Malfoy plastered himself to Ginny's side almost as soon as dinner was over, and, earning mystified glances, they talked their way through the rehearsal, oblivious to all. They were still talking on the way up to the dormitories. Ron and Neville took Malfoy's place with the Slytherins.
Harry briefly entertained the thought of going with them, but he had no plausible excuse to make a detour to Snape's office, and he wanted to talk to Hermione. Trailing behind the others, he greeted her with a sheepish grin.
'Well, what?' she replied, the smallest of smiles tugging at her lips.
'Well?!' he repeated, as though it were self-explanatory.
'Is there anything tickling your curiosity, Mr Potter?' She smiled openly.
'Yeah,' he said bluntly. 'Did you...?'
'She cleared her throat, flushing deeply. 'Shh. He's looking at us.'
'And... that's it?' Harry gestured emphatically.
'What else do you want to know?' She covered her mouth with her hand, stifling a giggle.
A giggling Hermione was an extraordinary sight, Harry thought. 'Why is he with Ginny, then?'
Her smile faded and her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. 'Unfinished business, he said. I know I should trust him, but...'
Harry generously refrained from voicing his opinion on that matter. 'She hasn't shown any interest at all in him. They could just be talking.'
Hermione agreed absentmindedly.
'And I can always kill him,' he added casually. 'Oh, look, Ginny's gone.'
Indeed, Malfoy stood alone on The Slytherin Flight of Stairs. Harry winked at Hermione and hurried to catch up with Dean and Seamus.
It soon became clear that the relationship between two of the school's most fervent archenemies had changed. They met discreetly, under the pretext of their demanding workload, and they pretended that Malfoy was acting as a bridge between the yet-uncomfortable Hermione and Blaise, but Hogwarts' population wasn't quite as thick as they made it out to be.
The blossoming affair wasn't a popular one, though. Blaise was dignifiedly uncomfortable, Ron and Pansy were rabid and Harry couldn't pretend that he wasn't concerned, in spite of Hermione's surer stance. And somebody else seemed to disapprove of it -- Snape constantly glared daggers in their direction. Harry fortunately couldn't overanalyse the reasons behind his distaste, for Ron's rants about the 'albino vulture' took up most of his free time.
Blaise, who oddly hadn't cut ties with them upon realising that Hermione had really moved on, was a welcome aid in improving Ron's mood. They talked about Quidditch for hours.
'You and Blaise seem to be very friendly now, Ron,' Hermione commented one day, as they made their way to the common room.
'He's cool,' Ron replied, somewhat laconically. He and Harry were still in shock at the amount of homework that McGonagall and Flitwick had assigned them.
'Funny that you should say that, you used to hate him...' she added offhandedly.
'Rubbish. I never hated him.'
'Good, I don't need to bring my earmuffs in my bag any more,' Harry muttered, earning a whack on the back on his head and almost colliding with Hermione, who had frozen under the doorframe. Inside the common room sat another trio.
Dean leant against the sideboard, looking awfully sour, as the pair in front of him, with their backs to the door, gestured emphatically. They all looked around to face the newcomers.
'What are you doing here?' they asked in unison, their intonations differing wildly.
Draco raised a silent eyebrow at them.
'I invited him,' Ginny explained. Behind her, Dean snorted.
'Why?' Ron snapped, as Hermione's brow furrowed.
'It's come to my attention,' Malfoy informed them smugly, 'that Ginny has been having a few problems on my account. I'm here to clarify things.'
'But we're done, now,' Dean added sulkily, sitting up.
'Sit,' Malfoy clipped out, pushing him down again.
'In case you haven't noticed, this is my common room, and you have no authority here,' Dean replied with a glower.
'You've been slandering me all over the school. I can do whatever I want.' Malfoy said cooly.
Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged glances. She had a quick look at Malfoy and silently retired to the girls' dormitories.
Ron remained rooted to the spot, glowering at Malfoy, who seemed more incensed now that Hermione had left.
'Where's the boys' dormitory?' Malfoy growled. She pointed him in the right direction, and he left the common room, dragging Dean by his tie.
'Ginny,' Harry said in a carefully blank tone, 'what's going on?'
'Why was Malfoy in our common room?' Ron added loudly. 'And why is he in our dormitory?!'
'He's just clearing a few things up with Dean,' Ginny said simply.
'So, what happened, after all?' Harry asked, before Ron had a chance to retort.
There was a short silence, broken only by Ron's impatient huff. Ginny sat on a armchair, pushing a cushion onto her lap. They, too, sat, looking at her expectantly.
'You'll have noticed that Dean broke up with me,' she finally began.
'We might have overheard something,' Harry pointed out with a shrug. Ginny smiled faintly at him, not at all bothered with his attempt at a joke.
'Because of Draco,' she added.
'We noticed,' Ron grumbled.
'But he had no reason for that.'
'Because nothing ever happened between us.'
Harry had an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. Both he and Ron eyed her sceptically.
Ginny rolled her eyes at their faces. 'In short, we were doing each other a favour. Draco wanted to break up with Pansy. I think the phrase he used was "to fucking get rid of her, already". And he wanted my help.'
'It... doesn't really take more than five minutes to break up with someone. And you don't usually need help...!' Harry frowned.
Ginny smirked. 'Do you really think that would have been enough for Pansy? No, I get his point. He wanted to do it in a way that led her to break up with him, and... well, you know that the Slytherins have all these twisted codes of honour. Apparently, if she was the one to take the initiative, she'd be too proud to go back on her word, or somesuch. So, my job was to plant the doubt in Pansy's mind. Basically, she had to believe that Malfoy and I were having an affair.' Harry and Ron's eyes widened. 'Don't ask. It wasn't my plan.'
'And none of the Slytherins could have done that?'
Ginny took her time in aswering this. 'I don't think they were as easy to blackmail as I was.'
'What?!' Ron bellowed, verging apoplexia.
'How could he blackmail you?' Harry hesitantly joined in.
'May I speak?' Ginny asked crossly. They quieted down.
'He didn't do anything, Ron, calm down,' she informed him dismissively. 'You still remember what happened in the Chamber of Secrets, don't you, Harry?'
He nodded. 'But the whole school knows what happened...'
'The whole school knows that I was kidnapped and that you faced You-know-who,' Ginny corrected him politely. 'They don't know the details.'
Her gaze was darker now, and unfocused. Harry knew that she, too, couldn't quite remember what had happened to her.
'But you do,' she continued, snapping out of her reverie. 'And so does Draco. He always did.'
'And if you didn't help him, Dean would know, too.' Harry guessed. She nodded somberly.
'That's why he broke up with you?' Ron snapped, apparently ready to kill both Dean and Malfoy.
'No,' she answered firmly. 'He broke up with me because he's a cretin. Draco didn't blackmail me at all. He skirted the issue once, but I talked him out of it.'
There was just a hint of pride in her voice.Ron gestured fiercely, prompting her to elaborate.
'I made him tell me why he wanted to break up with the one girl in this school who puts up with him, and then I convinced him that I would be much more useful to him if he helped me in return.'
'Helped you with what?'
'In hindsight, with a silly waste of time,' Ginny said testily. 'There's this girl, you might have seen her during Quidditch practice... she's dating one of the Slytherin chasers... how can I put it? She... refused to understand that Dean had a girlfriend. And that the girlfriend in question doesn't really like to share.'
Harry had to suppress a chuckle. The blood ties between Ginny and Ron were suddenly patent.
'Anyway,' she went on, 'She's always surrounded, so I never had the chance to as much as talk to her.' Harry recalled the giggling groups parading in the corridor. It hadn't occurred to him that that plague extended to Slytherin. 'So, Draco agreed to help me see her in private, and to, er, have a little talk with her, before I did. Believe it or not, the Slytherins actually tend to stay out of his way, so, having him on my side was rather useful.'
They nodded their understaning, and she continued, 'And it worked. She finally left Dean alone. I think Draco might have, er, steered her attention elsewhere, at some point, too.'
Harry suddenly recalled their cryptic meeting in the garden, and the solitary girl in the corridor where Ginny was supposedly meeting Draco. He opened his mouth to comment on it, but a sharp prod on the back from Ron shut him up.
'But then,' Ginny went on acidly, 'Dean was convinced that something was going on between us. Complete nonsense, of course, given--' she quickly cut herself off.
'And posing next to Malfoy was all you had to do in return?' Harry asked pointedly.
'Well, there was something else,' she admitted reluctantly. It was nothing special, Ron. He just needed some advice.'
'About what?' he grumbled.
Ginny looked very seriously at him. 'I promised him I wouldn't tell until he let me. He's kept his word with me. I owe him that much.' With that, the matter was closed.
That very instant, Malfoy and Dean emerged from the boys' dormitories, both sullen, but alive.
'Well, he doesn't think I'm the lowest life form on Earth any more,' Malfoy told Ginny without preamble. 'I hope this helped.'
'Thanks, Draco,' she replied quietly. 'But I don't think I'm terribly interested in the opinion of someone who claims to care for me, but needs your word, of all people's, to actually trust me. I really just wanted to clear this up.'
'Well, that's not my department.' He shrugged, as Dean fidgeted uncomfortably. Harry, who was quite familiar with insane jealousy, felt sorry for him. 'Where's your friend?'
'Hermione? Still in the dormitory,' Ginny informed him in a perfectly casual, friendly tone.
Harry picked up the book that he needed for his Charms essay and took pity on Dean, inviting him for a snack in the Great Hall.
'I'll meet you downstairs,' Ron mumbled, his eyes still trained on Ginny.
'Ron,' Ginny crossed her arms warningly, 'if you think Draco's going to...'
'I need to talk to you,' he said flatly. 'Alone.'
Harry and Dean exchanged glances and sprinted downstairs. Malfoy made his way to the girls' dormitories. Ginny wanted to warn him about the trap in the stairs, but Ron cut her off with a loud rant about a recent Quidditch match. She stared at him in confusion.
Ron stopped raving as soon as Malfoy disappeared beyond the door. With a large grin, he hugged her tightly. The sound of the stone steps moving smoothly to form a slide, the thud of a body against the floor was all the revenge he needed. Ron smiled into Ginny's shoulder and nuzzled her neck affectionately.
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