Lucius lifted a trembling finger, curled tightly like an eagle talon, and then extended it towards her, as if he were trying to point at something. Ginny turned around and saw that there was nothing behind her, and immediately continued tending to Lucius. He had to be fed, which was a terrible task, since she had to strain everything past his lips, and he was very uncooperative with holding his lips open.
She couldn't believe how cold Lucius's hands were when her fingers brushed over them. Ginny took out her wand and cast a Warming Spell on the room, then settled into the rocker and held on to the half-empty oatmeal bowl. She could hear Lucius breathing softly, his eyelids closed but his eyes fluttering beneath.
" Do you want to hear a story?" She began. She knew better than to expect a response, but she did pause as if he were replying anyway, out of respect for the man's dignity. " Well, this is an old story, about a little girl that found a diary." Ginny began the story, explaining about the tricky evil force that took over the small girl.
Halfway into the introduction of the story she felt a presence in the room. Draco had slipped inside and was listening intently, waiting for her to finish but not wanting to interrupt. Ginny didn't allow this to bother her. She continued on with the story until she reached the part about how the girl opened a terrible chamber.
Draco interrupted her at this point: " So it was you that did it."
Ginny nodded, embarrassed.
He looked slightly disappointed. " I wish I had the opportunity to speak in person with the Dark Lord."
" Why do you think he's so great? How do you know that he wouldn't turn on you, once he reached the top?"
" The goal was to make Muggles workers for us, our slaves in a sense. Mudbloods would be pruned away and then we'd try to replenish the wizard race as pureblood." Draco spoke as if it were a practiced speech.
Ginny was horrified. " So when you were four years old, your father would tell you about how great it would be to butcher out a race of people and enslave another? Whatever happened to bedtime stories?"
Draco looked so cold, like a puppet, when he replied: " He was our savior and hero."
" All the followers were just vessels. The Dark Lord would reach the top and turn on them. Do you think he'd share his power?"
" He would not turn on us."
" He was evil enough to." Ginny retorted. Draco couldn't argue with that.
Dinner that night was finally eaten as a family of sorts. Narcissa had joined them and Draco was early from work so he had time to dine with his mother and Ginny. Ginny let Draco and Narcissa sit at the small table and she herself ate perched at the corner of it, trying to make as little noise as possible. Narcissa looked tired and upset and Draco seemed to have had another troubling day at work.
" I saw the canvas you prepared, Draco." Narcissa said.
There was a silence, and Narcissa continued: " What will you call it, Weasley – A Peasant's Wife?"
Draco's ears burned in humility but as always he had the gift to reply in a steady tone: "It was just a warm up painting, mother."
" You could have done another family portrait. Painting some stranger, when we both know she'll be gone soon enough. Just as soon as Lucius gets better." Narcissa told him. Her eyes were a different color than Draco's, something that Ginny was beginning to notice. They were also gray, but hers were cruel eyes. Draco had sad eyes, but Narcissa's eyes looked mean and as if gray fog had clouded them.
" He won't get better." Draco's voice was paper-thin, almost as if he feared saying it.
" Nonsense." Narcissa exclaimed, and then turned her head towards Ginny, her loathing eyes looking at the air slightly above Ginny's head, just as British royalty never looked a servant in the eye. " Did you fill my son with this garbage?"
" No, madam, I…"
" Chances are, you did." Narcissa placed her knife down on the plate, aiming the tip towards her as she did. With a sniffle of undisguised distaste, she added: " I'll have you know that ever since you came here, you've had a poor influence on this household. You've replaced the healthful breakfasts with these horrid, greasy meals…" She pushed her plate aside to emphasize. " You've pushed Draco into painting again, despite the personal trauma it causes him…"
" Mother…" Draco began.
Narcissa thumped her hand down on the table. " And you've pushed him into a complete rut, making me the enemy in this household. Do you think I don't see the way you're trying to turn him onto your side? With your silly headed ideas? My grandfather's white silk sheets are a family heirloom, my dear, and you've gotten rid of them and armed Draco's bed with those awful lavender and red ones."
" I'll dispose of them right away!" Ginny blurted out.
" No!" Narcissa hissed. " There's more. The windows, open and shut, open and shut, all over this home. Don't think I don't notice how you like your room nice and airy." She made fluttering hand motions with her fingers.
" Mother, please, this is absolutely off base…" Draco said, standing.
" Sit down!" Narcissa said to her son, her voice for the first time sharp towards him. " I've lived in this house for many a year, and we've never had a servant that so deliberately disobeyed the rules. This household was fine without you, and now it's filled with chaos."
" I was only trying to help." Ginny was in tears.
" The best help you can do is keep your mouth shut and stay in your room until we need you." Narcissa said. " Now go!"
Ginny rose from her seat, crying with her hands pulled up to her face, wiping angrily at the hot tears that were springing from her eyes. She turned, ready to leave.
" Mother - - Ginny, listen, you're both just angry right now…" Draco was completely caught in between.
" One more thing." Narcissa said, seeing Ginny already wavering in the doorway.
" Yes?" Ginny whispered.
" Stay away from my son, you strumpet."
Ginny didn't know how long it had been since she fell onto her bed in her room, sobbing, but already the sky outside was black and the moon was vividly round between the trees. She felt her head throbbing and she sat up momentarily to grasp another clean handkerchief from the open desk drawer. Her stomach growled, she hadn't eaten, and she was also completely tuckered out.
She hadn't meant to make anyone angry. She was in fact convinced she was helping them out, but instead she had alienated herself to them. Her colorful wardrobe, cheery assortment of meals and personal preferences had been offensive to everyone and she hadn't even realized it.
" Oh, shoot." Her finger had found a hole in the front of her pastel yellow dress. Suddenly she despised it, the pretty little dress that made her hips look narrow and helped humble her bust. It was so flattering, she had worn it every chance she had, and now she wanted to rip it off and throw it out. Ginny began to tug at it and felt the buttons pop and shower down to the ground, golden little tears on the hardwood floor.
She stumbled around the room, just in her white slip and brassiere, trying to find her nightgown. It was her least cheery outfit, just a dreamy cotton candy blue, but even it was too festive for her mood. Ginny pulled it on anyway and then sat down on her bed, pulling her knees to her chest.
She was eighteen, she had always had an ambition to help people. She was good at giving advice, Hermione had often confided in her about all the little problems and errors that occurred with Harry. Perhaps that was why Ginny was so attracted to Harry in the first place – Harry was such a heroic figure, with so many problems and twists in his life. He would have always had a need for a girl that could set him right.
That girl turned out to be Hermione though, with her levelheaded no-nonsense thinking. Ginny had always been popular with boys, because she was so bright and cheery. Before she could get over Harry though it was almost too late, Harry had graduated, and she had only her seventh year. She had dated a bit, but nobody seemed right. Everything seemed like a candy land, with Voldemort gone thanks to Harry Potter, and everyone's lives back to perfect.
At least, that was what it seemed like. Then the devastating things occurred – all the followers of Voldemort were displaced, destroyed, and abandoned by the wizard society. Massive suicide tolls spiked in wizards. Other people locked themselves away, because hermits. Suddenly there was a need for nurses for the wounded. It seemed like the perfect job. By the time the year was over, everything had died down. Ginny had applied for a nurse job, but by then there were so many girls and so little jobs that a good job was impossible to find.
She thought it was a blessing in disguise when she had to come to the Malfoys. It was a challenge, a world she hadn't explored. She had her silly romantic ideas about reforming Draco, something a lot of girls had fantasized about. He was the cruel, rebellious handsome boy that always stood in the background, but it was difficult not to notice him. Yet it was all so stupid, now that she thought about it. The Malfoys were unchangeable. She could stir up some life in them, but Draco would always side with his mother in the end.
Ginny could feel the tears that she had already shed going cold on her cheeks. She had stopped crying. She laid down slowly and faced the wall, wondering what to do. Narcissa would probably lay her off sooner or later, the moment she was in a bad mood. Draco was going to get laid off from work and he and his mother would face a honorable end instead of going out and begging. They'd probably move away, or even steal, but they'd never ask for help.
She'd simply have to keep her chin up and do her work, whatever was required of her. They couldn't break her spirit. Narcissa would like to think she had snapped Ginny in half, but Ginny felt twice as determined as ever. This was her dream – to finally truly and honestly help someone, or even a whole family, get their lives on track.
She'd have to be more careful now. No more obvious changes, instead she'd have to work in an underhanded, underground way. She'd have to talk more with Harry and find a way to mooch some more time, just to delay the inevitable.
There was work to do, and Ginny was ready for action.
Someone knocked on the door. She was already lulling into a sleep. She stood and opened it and saw that Draco was there, a good few inches taller than her. He had Ginny's dinner plate in his hands, and he had heated it up for her. " I had to wait until Mother went to sleep." He apologized.
Ginny was taken aback. " Why are you doing this?" She asked. " Oh, who cares." She took the plate from him and ate a chip from the pile on it.
He stepped inside and flicked on the light. He squinted and waited until his eyes adjusted before telling her: " I think she was just angry. She didn't really mean the things she said."
" I think she did." Ginny replied. " Thank you anyway. Unless you just came here to check out where the alcohol is?"
Draco shook his head, amused. " No, don't worry, I'm not going to lose the bet that easily."
" Hmm." Ginny looked down at her plate, remembering Narcissa's words.
" Hey. Don't take it too hard, all right? I think the food's wonderful."
" Really? No complaints at all?"
" Okay, maybe less bacon at breakfast. It's a little too hard on the stomach."
She nodded. " Of course."
" Anyway, I think airing the place out isn't such a bad idea. I'm tired of breathing the same air my great grandfathers probably breathed."
Ginny nodded, feeling her face warming.
" Plus, as I said, you bring life and color into the place. You're a good servant."
" I'm flattered."
" I won't let Mother lay you off anytime soon. I'm a terrible cook." Draco told her. " Even if you are half Weasley, and half stubborn goat."
" It's good to know." Ginny told him.
" Now for important business. Would a glass of wine count?" Draco asked. " I always have a glass after dinner."
" You're too young to be drinking." Ginny scolded. " And yes, it does count."
He shrugged. " Your loss. If you get me drunk we might end up eloping or something." He winked and left the room.
Ginny stared at the empty doorway for a minute and felt her heart thudding. It felt like a line out of her Witches in Love series. It seemed to be as if he were flirting with her. Then again, at the same time he kept referring to her, in a derogatory way, as a servant and a Weasley. 'What a character', she thought, 'Draco is a complete joker. He's probably in his room laughing at the very moment.' Or maybe he was hinting that she was developing a crush on him?
Now she felt butterflies in her stomach. 'That's absurd, I hope he's not accusing me of something like that. Above all, it's rude to tease me about it. But I don't like him, so he's just teasing me for nothing.'
Suddenly it was like Hogwarts all over again, and she could hear all the girls in the Gryffindor room giggling and whispering, discussing who liked who and who'd make a good couple. It was all too much for one evening and she decided to sleep and pay no mind to the voices nagging on in her head.
She'd figure things out tomorrow.