A Dragon and a Phoenix

Chapter 25

Today, the heavy snowfall kept us inside. We had exhausted all of the hidden places within the manor that Draco knew of, and we had spent the last two days reading through books about the construction and renovations that had been done over the years. Occasionally, one of us would come across something and drag the other off to a mysterious room or corridor to inspect some newfound hiding place. Apparently, the lifestyles of the Malfoys had led to the need for a lot of secrecy over the years. There were some interesting things hidden here, not a few of which neither of us was interested in learning more about.

For the moment, we lounged on the couch by the fire, my legs draped across his lap, his book propped up on them. We spent hours searching for something helpful and still found nothing. Time passed quickly and as we were leaving to dress for dinner, Poppy appeared.

"S-Sir, m-m-miss, Poppy is coming to tell you that Mistress Malfoy has left for the evening. She wanted Poppy to tell you that she will be back tomorrow afternoon," she stammered.

I raised an eyebrow at Draco. He shrugged and directed his attention back to the quivering house elf. "Very well, we will have dinner in half an hour then. That will be all, Poppy," he dismissed her.

"Since mother isn't here, there'll be no need for a formal dinner. It's stopped snowing so we can go outside and stretch our legs a bit," he added.

We left the library and stopped on our way down to grab our cloaks before heading to the entrance hall. With gloves and scarves and warm winter cloaks, we ventured out into the cold winter evening. The last rays of sunlight glinted off of the fresh, untouched snow. Despite the wintry chill, I was happy to be outside for a while.

While walking past a rather large snow drift, I was overcome with a mischievous inspiration. Before he knew what had happened, I launched a fat snowball at him and began a war. Initially, he sputtered in indignation at what I had done, but he quickly realized that it was only the first of many. He quickly adjusted and began to return fire.

Shrieking with delight at the frivolity, I charmed several snowballs to pelt him relentlessly and attempted to dash for the door. Just when I thought I was going to make it, he came out of nowhere, throwing us both into the huge drift.

I sat up laughing, calling for mercy. "Truce! Truce!" I begged.

"Not until you admit that I'm clearly better at snowball fights," he insisted.

Tossing a handful of snow into his face I answered, "Fine then, you're better at snowball fights."

"Why thank you," he smirked.

"But only because you play dirty," I added.

"Ah now, don't be a sore loser," he teased.

I giggled, accepted the offered hand and allowed him to pull me to my feet. We made it back to the manor dripping wet but laughing. Once inside, I used a drying charm to put an end to our soggy state and we went to the dining room in high spirits.

Dinner was a much more relaxed affair, and I actually felt like eating for a change. I hadn't felt this relaxed in months. When we finished eating, he took me back up to the observatory and we conjured blankets and pillows and made ourselves comfortable on the floor. Lying there looking up at the night sky, watching a far off meteor shower closer than I had ever imagined, I was happy.

My head on his chest and his arm wrapped around me, Draco's steady, even heartbeat lulled me to sleep. What must have been several hours passed and I woke to find his arms still wrapped around me and our legs entwined. He looked different when he slept. The guarded façade was gone. Relaxed and vulnerable, he looked innocent. Barely even wondering why, I kissed him lightly.

Unintentionally, my movement woke him up. He peered at me through sleepy eyes. Looking a bit confused when he realized what he was seeing, he asked, "Did we fall asleep in the observatory?"

I nodded. "Yes, so it would seem. Maybe we should go back downstairs."

"Yeah, we probably should," he confirmed.

Although we had agreed, neither of us moved to get up. And soon, his steady, rhythmic breathing told me that he had fallen back to sleep. It seemed silly to wake him up and insist that we leave the observatory. It was perfect here and I was comfortable. Before long, sleep had recaptured me and I fell into a deep and dreamless slumber.

The bright sunlight glinting into the observatory woke me the next morning. Blinking and rubbing my eyes, I looked up into the clear morning sky. Draco hugged me closer in his sleep, and I called his name softly to wake him.

"Good morning," he mumbled groggily.

"Good morning," I echoed.

"I forgot how bright it is in here during the day," he remarked, squinting against the glare.

"We should probably get out of here and head back downstairs," I suggested.

"You're probably right. I could use some breakfast," he agreed.

He released me and extricated himself from the tangle of blankets to stand offer a hand to assist me. Accepting his help, I allowed myself to be pulled up from our makeshift bed, which he removed with a wave of his wand.

As usual, we parted ways at my door, and agreed to meet in the library in an hour. After a shower and a change of clothes, I felt considerably more awake. Now it was time to get to work. There were only three days left until my parents would arrive and we wouldn't have a lot of free time to search for contracts then.

I hurried into the library to find that I had actually gotten there first. The heavy, plum colored velvet drapes were pulled back, and I could see the snow covered grounds stretching out below. I wandered over to see several thestrals circling the treetops of the nearby forest. Their skeletal forms swooped gracefully about; some of them diving down toward the forest floor. I could only imagine the kind of freedom that they felt.

I didn't expect her to be here before me, but the stood. In front of the vast expanse of floor to ceiling windows that extended up to the vaulted ceiling, she looked impossibly small and vulnerable. Her raven colored hair tumbled over the cowl neck of her oversized sweater and down her back. The light, dove grey material draped over black leggings, tucked neatly into knee high suede boots. She wrapped her arms around herself as she watched the thestrals wistfully. Quietly crossing the space that separated us, I covered her arms with my own and pulled her against me.

Lost in thought, I was a little startled when I felt his arms wrap around me. I leaned my head back against his shoulder and relaxed against him. We stood in silence for a few minutes before he spun me around to face him.

"We should resume the search. Your parents will be here in a couple of days and I'm sure Mother will keep us all busy until after Christmas, and we won't have a chance to look then," he reminded me.

Sighing, I nodded in agreement and went to the ever shrinking stack of books that we had found to search through. Our time was running out, and I was without a doubt feeling the impending deadline breathing down my neck. Sliding the topmost one off the pile, I trudged over and slumped down into the corner of the couch. The warm fire was no comfort to the chill deep within my bones.

If we didn't find the contracts and figure out how to get around them, then we would be forced to marry next summer after returning from school. But we couldn't leave school and stay here to look for them, or Narcissa would insist that we go ahead and get married. Either way, we only had this one opportunity to change our futures. It was stressful to say the least and the pressure to succeed was exhausting.

By early afternoon, we had made no progress on opening the mantle over the fireplace. It loomed over us like a taunt. Tearing my gaze away, I shifted my focus to Draco only to find that he was already looking at me.

"I know. It's frustrating. We're nearing the point where we're either going to find the answer we've been looking for, or discover that there is no answer to be found. I know that you don't want to consider it, but it's possible that the key to opening the mantelpiece is only passed down verbally and not written anywhere," he said, acknowledging my fears.

"You're right; I don't want to consider it. You and I both know that we can't stay to keep looking after the holidays, and that if we don't find them now, we'll never get the contracts in time to find a way to nullify them," I stated with abject desperation.

"I- We… We'll find them. Let's just keep looking," he finished, turning his attention back to the book in front of him.

By the time we went to dinner, we had found nothing new. Narcissa was back and that meant that dinner was going to be sheer misery again. She just has a way of getting under my skin. I know that she's not my biggest fan, and that she would rather just keep me under lock and key until her plan is complete, but she's refrained for the time being. I'm beginning to wonder if Draco doesn't have something to do with that.

"You're not enjoying the quail?" Narcissa demanded.

Her piercing gaze struck me from across the table. It was clear that she had once been beautiful, and still could be at times, but her crueler nature had given her a hard edge that diminished her classic good looks. I had only ever seen her soften when she addressed Draco; she truly did love her son. She had no such care for me, and it was obvious in her tone.

"It's delicious. I'm just feeling a bit under the weather," I replied.

"Perhaps you should retire to your room for the evening, then. I'm sure you don't want to share your illness with myself or Draco," she imperiously insisted.

This was the most appealing thing that she had ever said to me. Relief flooded my limbs as I rose from the table and gratefully excused myself from the room. Holding my dress so I wouldn't trip over the trailing fabric, I hurried upstairs.

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