A Dragon and a Phoenix

Chapter 23

Just as I was getting into the story, there was a knock on the door. Maybe if I just stayed quiet, he would think I was taking a nap and leave. Another knock followed by a frustrated sigh.

"I know you hear me, Kim. I just wanted to say that you were right. We're not going to accomplish anything unless you're properly prepared for what we're facing. If we have to look into something else like the safe, I'll tell you everything beforehand."

I opened the door and eyed him suspiciously. "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"

"What? I'll tell you everything beforehand?" he asked, looking puzzled.

"No, that bit about me being right," I smirked.

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, that would be the only part in which you were interested. And no, I will not repeat that. You should be impressed that I managed to say it once."

"I suppose I am a little shocked that you actually managed to get the words out without choking on them. Apology accepted," I replied.

"Since we're not going to search for those contracts anymore today, I was thinking I could show you the rest of the grounds. There are, gardens, greenhouses, and even a labyrinth. We can start wherever you'd like," he offered.

Raising a suspicious eyebrow, I asked, "Anywhere I like?" A labyrinth sounded like fun.

"Yes. You can choose," he confirmed.

"Well, in that case, let me get my cloak. I want to see this labyrinth," I smiled before dashing to the bedroom. Grabbing my cloak and scarf, I returned to find him leaning casually against the doorway.

"I'm ready when you are. It'll be nice to go outside for a bit," I commented.

As we walked across the grounds, I snuck glances at Draco. He looked fine. At least there seemed to be no lasting effects from this morning's encounter with the safe. Satisfied that everything seemed alright, I took the opportunity to inspect our surroundings.

The lawn was blanketed with a layer of fresh snow. The air was crisp, cold and exhilarating. The walls of the labyrinth were high, and I could feel the excitement at the challenge of navigating it building.

I stole a glance at her and smiled inwardly at the excited gleam in her eyes. Her cheeks were flushed with the cold and she looked happier than I had seen her in some time. This thought darkened my mood considerably. It was my fault that she had been so miserable all the time. If not for me, then she would be carefree and with her own family.

We reached the entrance and I turned to find Draco staring at me. His expression was bland and guarded, as always, giving nothing of his thoughts away. It was absolutely maddening to always have to guess at what he was thinking.

"It will take us a little while to walk through the whole thing. There are, of course a few shortcuts, but I'm guessing you'd like to see it in its entirety," he remarked.

"You're right. There's no fun in taking the shortcuts. There's no Minotaur lurking in here, is there?" I inquired.

He shook his head. "There's nothing dangerous in here anymore. Originally, this was created by an ancestor for a witch that he wished to marry. She refused him and he turned her love of puzzles and mazes and such things against her. He made it so that she could wander in here forever and never find her way out. Eventually, she accepted his proposal in exchange for her freedom from its walls. Later, there were several traps and dangerous creatures put here to keep prisoners busy, but it hasn't been used for that in generations. Since then, it has been turned into part of the gardens. There are many rare and exotic plants within that don't typically grow in Britain; all of which are ingredients in some of the harder to find potions." he explained as we walked.

"You mean illegal," I interjected.

He shrugged his shoulders noncommittally, but stopped, turning to face me. "You already know that my family has embraced the dark arts for generations. There's no use in all of the condescending remarks. It's not going to change anything, and I'm not going to beg for forgiveness because you find it distasteful."

As he turned to continue walking, I grabbed his arm stopping him. He stood half turned, looking at me guardedly over his shoulder. "You're right. I shouldn't be rude about it. You're not the one that locked someone away in here, and you didn't create the traps that were used. Some things we can't control and who our families are is one of them. It's not fair for me to hold you accountable for their transgressions. I was actually enjoying myself, and I'd really like to go back to that," I apologized.

He nodded somewhat curtly, but I could see his posture relax a bit. Perhaps he would be different if I stopped goading him into reacting a certain way. I had boxed him into the behavior pattern of his ancestors and then berated him for reacting the way I had forced, and even assumed, he would react. I felt ashamed and sorry for what I had done and resolved to give him a chance to be himself, not just the Malfoy heir that I expected.

Letting go of his arm, I fell in step beside him as we continued through the maze of passages. No snow covered the ground inside these walls, and the air felt warmer as we traveled further in. As we walked, he identified some of the rarer plants for me. Several others were common and I recognized larkspur, yellow jasmine, and digitalis among them. All three of these were beautiful, but definitely deadly.

Pointing to a random plant behind him, I asked, "What about that one?"

Draco turned to see what I was pointing at and I took the opportunity to dart around the corner, deeper into the labyrinth. He turned back to answer and found himself alone.

"Oh, that one is…" he trailed off. "Kim? Kim!" he called.

Hearing him, I laughed and called back, "Catch me if you can!"

I didn't fear getting lost. Even if I had to stop and wait for him, he would find me eventually. I kept walking the general direction that he had been taking me in and carefully avoided touching any of the lethal flora.

I can't believe I fell for that. I knew there was no way that she didn't know that was wolfsbane. Damn it, she'd better have a bloody good sense of direction. Suppose I'd better get a move on or I'll never catch up to her.

I moved quickly to stay ahead of him, although there was no way he could be sure of what direction I had even gone in, I sensed that he would have no trouble tracking me down. After several minutes of glancing over my shoulder, I noticed that it felt warmer, almost like late spring. I loosened my scarf and pulled my gloves off. The greenery surrounding me had become almost tropical in appearance. A few turns later, I found myself in what was undoubtedly the center of the labyrinth. Brightly colored flowers blossomed all around me and I could hear the musical sounds of running water as it cascaded over stone. In the center, there was a large tree with what appeared to be small green apples hanging from it. Although I was feeling a bit hungry, it just didn't seem wise to eat anything I found in here. I decided to wait here for Draco and made my way over to a large cushioned bench that was near the tree, but not under it. Taking the opportunity to enjoy the unexpected warmth, I made myself comfortable, lying down for a bit.

While I was waiting I dozed off, still listening to the sounds of the garden around me, but not quite fully awake. Then, suddenly, Draco was shaking there; shaking me roughly and calling my name. My eyes flew open and I pushed against his shoulders to stop him.

"What on earth is wrong with you?! You honestly can't be this angry that I left you!" I exclaimed.

"You're alright? You didn't eat any of those apples?" he demanded.

Giving him a confused look, I calmly replied, "No. I didn't touch them. I thought it best not to handle anything in here all things considered."

Sighing, he sank down onto the bench next to me. "I wasn't mad that you left at all. I looked around on the way here, making sure that you had gone the right way, but I forgot about the Manchineel tree. Then I saw you lying here, and for a moment I thought you were dead. The entire tree is lethal, but the fruit is called the 'Death Apple'," he explained.

"Oh," I mumbled weakly. "I didn't mean to worry you. I just got comfortable while I was waiting on you to catch up and drifted off a bit."

Still holding my right hand in his, he wrapped his left arm around me and pulled me against his shoulder. We sat like this for a while. It was almost easy to forget everything that was going on and just enjoy the quiet moment.

Finally, he stood, pulling me up along with him. "We should get back to the manor. I'll show you the rest of the grounds another day," he promised.

"Alright," I agreed. "I need to get dressed for dinner anyway." As I stepped past him, he grabbed my hand. I paused and looked back at him questioningly.

"Precautionary measure," he insisted. "I don't want you disappearing and getting into any trouble."

Smiling, I shook my head. "I've no intention of going anywhere. I wouldn't want to have my head shaken off my shoulders again when you find me," I assured him.

"Still," he muttered. And refusing to let go, he led me back out of the labyrinth. This time we took all of the shortcuts and were standing in the snow in no time. It seemed colder now than before after the warmth of the maze's central garden. Despite the chill, neither of us seemed in any hurry to get back inside.

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