Lonely Reign, Part 10
Monday, 5:13 pm March 3, Great Hall
Draco was able to avoid too many questions posed by his subjects in the weeks that followed, making sure they were always somewhere too public to engage in the interrogation he knew they longed to put to him and curtly refusing to discuss anything of substance when they were in private. He still felt dazed by the events of that night, but now just as then the familiar numbness engaged his brain and he sailed through the days only a little more remote-seeming than usual.
Even though she still spent a lot of time on her own, Pansy was almost to the point where she only twitched once every few minutes in Goyle’s presence. It was a marked improvement over the weeping fits she’d suffered initially, and she was very proud of her progress. She still wasn’t primping like she had before, however, in spite of Millicent’s gruff pleas.
“Just a little lipstick, then, Pans?” the tall girl would offer. “Or a bit a hairspray?” But nothing they did would entice her—she seemed convinced that it had been her attention to personal aesthetics that had gained Goyle’s attention on that fateful day, and that foreswearing all artifice was the only way to protect her chastity.
“Hmph,” Blaise grunted one evening at dinner. “It could have just as easily been Draco or me that Goyle started humping. It was just her rotten luck that she was closest.”
“And our good fortune,” Draco murmured. “Where is Pansy, anyway?”
Millicent peered at him, startled at this rare show of life from her liege. “Said she was going to skip dinner to study in the library,” she answered at last. “Still has a lot of make-up work from when she was out.” Fiddling with her silverware, she seemed to come to a decision and placed the utensils resolutely on either side of her plate. “Draco, what’s going on with the Hufflepuffs?” she asked bluntly.
“I have no idea,” he lied blithely. “Why do you ask?”
“Because Laura’s been acting like a zombie, and Abbott and Bones keep shooting you death glares,” Blaise replied. “Laura hasn’t spoken to any of us in weeks, even in class. She didn’t even get the house elves to make a tiramisu for my birthday.” His tone was just the tiniest bit petulant. “What did you do?”
Draco laughed, a harsh and unpleasant sound that rang out in the large hall, attracting attention from the neighbouring tables. “Just what Malfoys do best,” he replied at last, and sipped at his pumpkin juice. His laughter drew the notice of Laura Madley, and before he was entirely sure how it happened, they engaged in a staring contest. It wasn’t challenging so much as… weary, Draco thought. As if neither of them had the strength to look away. She was pale, and heartrendingly sad with those big greeny-gold eyes that could somehow make him feel angry and guilty at the same time.
“Oh, bloody hell,” he snapped impatiently, unaware he’d spoken aloud as a wave of pain swept over him once more. When would this nonsense be over? He couldn’t recall ever feeling such… discomfort… in the past when he’d suffered other disappointments. Buggering things up with Laura was just another in life’s long line of kicks up the arse. So why did it feel as if his heart was being squeezed by a cruel, possibly spike-lined, vice?
Draco pressed his hand to the centre of his chest where that stubborn ache refused to reside and looked around him at his court, who were all staring at him in varying degrees of interest and concern. Millicent and Blaise were smart enough to keep their mouths shut, and turned their attention back to their half-eaten meals, and Goyle’s focus had never wandered from his food in the first place, but Crabbe was both a) finished with his dinner and b) too witless to realize that discretion was the better part of valour, especially when dealing with Draco.
“Huh?” he asked, propping his elbow in the butter dish, but Draco had no chance to release his ire upon the hapless idiot because at that moment the doors to the Great Hall burst open with a resounding crash. Pansy Parkinson stood there, chest heaving from exertion. Eyes wide and frightened, hair wild, she was the very picture of panicked agitation, and Draco stood to address the situation.
He was very startled, therefore, when she darted not to the Slytherin table, but toward the House of the Badger. “Laura!” she shrieked. “It’s time! It’s coming!”
Ignoring the expressions of alarm on the faces of her housemates, Laura was on her feet in a flash, tossing down her napkin. “Calm down, luv,” she said soothingly, putting an arm around the quivering girl’s waist. “I’ll be right there with you.”
Millicent had started to make her way over upon Pansy’s dramatic entrance, and she clapped a large, mannish hand on her housemate’s shoulder. “Me, too,” she said. Together they led Pansy from the hall, utterly oblivious to the way every eye in the room was clapped on them.
“All right,” Draco roared, his voice very loud indeed in the complete and flummoxed silence that had fallen in their wake, “What the bloody hell was that all about?”
“Didn’t know you were in on this, Madley,” Millicent muttered as they jogged after Pansy, who’d broken into another run once outside the hall. The girl was in quite a state, mumbling to herself and wringing her hands as she stumbled across the stone-floored corridors. “Thought you were persona non grata with the Slytherins.”
“That hasn’t changed,” Laura replied, and Millicent was surprised to hear the tinge of bitterness in her voice. “But it’s not like Pansy has anyone else she can go to, is it? Draco—“ she said his voice like a sob, and quickly cleared her throat—“has informed her that the egg is going to be studied by scientists, and she can’t very well go against her prince, can she?”
“Laura…” Millicent said warningly, and the Hufflepuff laughed.
It wasn’t a pretty laugh. “Don’t worry, Mil, I won’t talk dirt about him. I don’t want to say his name ever again,” she finished in a whisper, her face stricken.
Millicent felt very uncomfortable indeed, outnumbered as she was by both Pansy (who was acting even kookier than Luna Lovegood) and a this-close-to-weeping Laura. Perhaps a change of subject was in order… “How long have you known Pansy was visiting her egg?”
“From the very beginning,” Laura replied, quickening her pace when Pansy shrilled “Hurry!” from the end of the corridor and flapped her hands at them to speed up. “She was afraid to tell anyone else, she thought they’d make fun of her.” Her face was very determined, as if she’d pound the daylights out of anyone who dared laugh at the maternal feelings of a schoolgirl for her avian offspring.
Millicent only grunted as they followed Pansy into the infirmary. The girl was already hovering over the soft nest Millicent suspected was due more to Laura’s homemaking instincts than Pansy’s maternal ones—a low wooden box lined with a soft, fluffy blanket in a soothing shade of butter-yellow. “There’s ducks on it,” she said, blinking to make sure her eyes were working properly.
“It was the closest I could find to a dodo,” Laura sniffed, and gently patted the egg. It was the size of a honeydew melon, tapering slightly at one end of its pale grey shell, and a fine spiderweb of cracks had already made its appearance over the surface. She sat beside Pansy, whose gaze locked on the egg with the zeal of the recently converted, and took the girl’s hand. “It’ll be soon, Pans, don’t worry.”
And then there was silence, awkward and thick. Until, that is, Draco stalked into the room followed closely by the rest of the Slytherin sixth-years. Behind them Madam Pomfrey was ushering Professor Dumbledore into the room, chattering excitedly.
“—such an exciting event, a real live example of an extinct species, and to happen at Hogwarts! It’s absolutely—“ her words jangled to a stop at the sight of so many students gathered in the infirmary, and she ran the most gimlet of eyes over Draco in particular. “Every man jack of you’d better have an injury, or it’s detentions for the lot of you!” she declared.