Draco lounged against the polished, oak-paneled wall of the auction house, watching in amusement as the wealthy and privileged of the Wizarding world threw away their Galleons on rubbish. The post-war economy didn't seem to be as bad as all the politicians would have the average wizard believe, though most of the pieces that had moved on and off the dais that night were worth roughly a quarter of what they sold for, if that. He shook his head. People were always looking for the biggest - what they thought looked like the obvious best. Experience had taught Draco long ago that the shiniest jewels were not always the most valuable.
For instance, the reason that Draco had deigned to grace this particular auction hall with his presence was that the entire estate of renowned Italian Potions master, Vitorre Giordano, was up for bid. Draco wasn't interested in a bunch of rusty scales, potions vials that had the remains of Merlin knew what in them and cauldrons that had definitely seen better days, but he was focused on only one item: a portrait that the old man had kept in his private quarters. A magical portrait that everyone seemed to think was mute.
Draco had done his research on Giordano. The man was certifiably insane, but like so many of the truly crazy, the old Italian was also terrifically brilliant. He'd invented hundreds of potions that Draco's counterparts in magic took for granted every day: Beautification Potion, Blood-Replenishing Potion, and Everlasting Elixir. But the one that intrigued Draco was not the Draught of Living Death, it was the one that everyone else thought was a myth, a mere rumor which people surmised that Giordano had begun himself, to keep people from interfering with his real work of the time, Amortentia.
Draco Malfoy, however, cared nothing for a love potion. He wanted to get his hands on the myth. The potion to make gold.
Why? It wasn't as if the Malfoy vaults were suffering. In fact, the war and rebuilding Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley had done wonders for the family's finances. The Malfoys had more money than ever they'd had.
And that was saying something.
And yet Draco found having merely adequate wealth terribly unsatisfying. He'd watched during the war as his father drained the family's coffers for the whims of a madman, and he vowed that when he was in charge, such a thing would not happen again, at least not while he was running things. He wanted the gold potion for one reason and one reason alone: to be incredibly, insanely, more money than Merlin, filthy rich. He was not interested in philanthropy, boosting the economy or helping the blind learn how to play Quidditch. Draco wanted to be on top. He wanted to be looked up to. And his father had all but ruined the family name before following the leadership of the Dark Lord had killed him. After clawing his way back to the top, he decided that this was how he could achieve his goals. He needed the instructions for the potion to make gold.
After months and months of reading, where his eyes glazed over and crossed, Draco had discovered that Giordano had imparted the knowledge of the components and steps with his apprentice, a man named Paolo Marconi. With a little more research and a few well placed bribes, he found out that after the younger man had died, that the old master kept a portrait of his apprentice in his living quarters. Even Draco, who was as open-minded as the next bloke, found that to be a bit... odd. However, if the portrait had lived and worked with the master he would have definitely known exactly how it was done.
And Draco was going to get it. He'd do just about anything to assure that portrait made its way into his possession and stayed there. To do that, he had to make sure that he won the portrait at this auction.
Draco just managed to hold back a sneer as he looked around the room. There was some old money, wizards only interested in objects d'art that would add to the aesthetics of their homes, new money, who certainly wouldn't be interested in the shabby looking portrait that he had his eye on, and then there were the 'collectors,' an older woman whose devotion to late Victorian erotica Draco found to be at the very least disturbing, and an odd looking fellow who snapped up every blade, sword, dagger, knife and sabre at every auction he went to. Draco always made sure to give him a wide berth.
He was about to go find a seat in the gallery when he noticed a familiar face attached to other familiar bits walk through the door. Ginny Weasley stopped in the entrance as if trying to get a feel of the room; he watched as her eyes moved about the crowd speculatively, and he wondered idly if she'd come into some money. Surely she couldn't afford anything in the auction.
But Draco pushed himself off the wall and strode toward her. Ginny Weasley was one of those rare exceptions to his rule about dating only the wealthy, privileged and monied; the time he'd spent with her was unforgettable; her indefinable allure was what held his attention at school and even for a time after he left Hogwarts. The corner of his lips turned up in the barest smile imaginable as his memory drifted to slim, toned legs wrapped around his hips, and the white column of her throat arched backward, the pale expanse of skin a contrast to the dark auburn tresses, her arms encircling his neck as she cried out his name.
His eyebrow rose a fraction of an inch as what ran through his imagination didn't exactly match up with reality at the moment. Her tone was far from welcoming and the glare that graced her visage told him right away that Ginny Weasley would not be making a trip down memory lane with him, tonight, or any other night in the foreseeable future.
Ginny raised her eyebrows as she pursed her lips. "What are you doing here?" she hissed, angry at feeling a flush creep up her cheeks under his scrutiny. She lowered her voice a touch so as not to be heard by the older witches and wizards around them. "Kitschy potions memorabilia and the artwork collection of a man who preferred robust nudes hardly seems your style."
"That just goes to show that you may not know as much about me as you seem to think," Draco answered, leaning back and smoothing the lapel of his suit-coat, trying to maintain an air of mystery.
Ginny snorted, much to the dismay of the pigeon-breasted woman to her right. "You're a lot of things, Draco Malfoy, but an enigma is definitely not one of them," she said. "You're here to a gather more fussy 'things' to put in that mouldering ruin you call a house."
"I resent that," Draco said testily. "It called a manor."
"It's stuffy, though. Just like it's master," she challenged.
Draco leaned close to the redhead, a lazy smile replacing the irritated demeanor of just a moment before. "You didn't always find me stuffy, Ginny," he said, with added emphasis on her given name as he draped an arm on the back of her chair.
Ginny gazed steadily back at him. "Seriously, Draco," she said with a practiced expression. "Do you really think I'm that easy?"
He shrugged. "I haven't completely given up hope," he said, flashing a charming grin.
"It's time, then," she retorted, stiffening in her chair. After a moment she peeked at him out of the corner of her eye. "Why are you here, anyway?" she asked.
"I might ask you the same question."
Ginny rolled her eyes at the familiar back and forth that always happened between them. It was futile, though; he was clever and handsome, but it never went anywhere, any of the times they tried. It didn't mean she wasn't attracted to him, but she wasn't going to give in to her body's urges. Not this time. Subconsciously, she leaned in the tiniest bit. Her eyes drifted to his lips briefly, and she wondered if they were still as soft as she remembered.
Shaking her head to clear it, she stiffened. "I'm here for St. Mungo's," she replied. "In an official capacity."
"Ah, yes." Draco leaned back into his chair. "The hospital." He met her unwavering, challenging gaze. St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, or more specifically, Ginny's employment there, had been a bone of contention for him during their short lived relationship, if you could call what they had a relationship. The physical part had never been a problem; that had worked perfectly fine. It was Draco's reluctance to share her time with all the people - children, no less - in that disease-infested building. Draco didn't settle for being second to anything, much less ill children. He'd asked her repeatedly to quit, told her that working was unseemly for a lady, but she'd steadfastly refused.
"Still there, are you?" he asked, not quite able to conceal his disdainful tone.
"Still making the magical world a better place by touching the lives of sick children?" she replied haughtily. "Yes."
Draco continued to remain unimpressed. "It must be a chore to be a martyr. I wouldn't have the strength," he replied blandly.
"I am not a martyr!" she exclaimed.
"If you say so." He paused, a line marring the smooth skin on his forehead. "So St. Mungo's has sent you here to buy used potions vials, then? Are straits really all that dire?" He'd heard things were bad in some areas of the wizarding community, but he hadn't heard that Mungo's had been hit hard by the post-war economy.
"Not exactly," she answered evasively, smoothing her skirt over her knees.
Ginny looked genuinely interested. "Why the twenty questions?"
"Curious, is all."
"Curiosity killed the cat."
A lone eyebrow raised in question. "Did it? Well I don't believe that anyone ever died from being inquisitive."
"I should be so lucky," she quipped. "Why are you here, then?"
Draco smiled enigmatically. It couldn't hurt to tell her. After all, no one else had the knowledge that he did about Marconi. He's paid a hefty price for that information.
"I'm here to buy a portrait," he said smoothly.
"So am I," Ginny said cautiously. No way. No bloody way, she thought desperately. There is no way on Merlin's green giddy Earth that my luck is that bad.
"A portrait of a distant relative," Draco amended, the lie rolling off his tongue easily.
"Oh," she said, audibly breathing a sigh of relief. "I've been sent to buy a portrait for the children's wing. Giordano's apprentice, actually. He invented the cure for Kneazle Pox," she said, smiling tentatively.
Draco swore a blue streak inwardly. Of all the people to have to bid against, it would have to be the most stubborn woman on the planet.
The lights dimmed, signaling the start of the new session, and the auctioneer started his quick, cadenced speech, the lots moving so slowly that Draco thought his patience might snap. He thought Ginny seemed very collected sitting next to him, intently watching the items move across the dais.
When the portrait of Paolo Marconi, apprentice of the esteemed Potions master Vitorre Giordano came up of the block, the relief Draco felt that the majority of the people in the room turned their attention away from the shabby, ill-framed portrait was short-lived, in that Ginny's back straightened, and her complete and total attention was riveted to the painting.
The painting he wanted.
The painting he needed, if you wanted to get right down to it. There was no way he was going to let her have it, only to have it hang in a sticky children's ward, not when the bloody thing had the instructions to what could be the most lucrative potion that had ever been created. She wasn't going to get it. It didn't matter how great her arse was; that portrait was going to be his.
The auctioneer started the bidding at a ridiculously low price, and Draco raised his marker. Ginny shot him a meaningful look and raised the bid by a hundred galleons.
Draco tried for a bland expression, and nodded at the auctioneer. The price increased another hundred galleons.
"Listen," she said as she raised her marker again. "I know it's your ancestor or whatever, but St. Mungos needs this painting, Draco. Back off."
"Like hell I will. What do a bunch of children need with a portrait? It's rather poor motivation for them to get better, I'd think," Draco retorted, nodding to raise the bid five hundred galleons.
"Buying this portrait is part of a plan to help raise money for the pediatric wing," Ginny whispered desperately. Please. We need this." She gave a curt nod to the auctioneer, her expression tense.
Draco upped the amount again. "Sorry, Ginny. I'm going to walk out of here with this portrait. And I'll make a donation to your wing, maybe."
"Maybe?" she said incredulously. "There's more at stake here than you think."
Draco and the auctioneer, along with all of the most of the other eyes in the room, looked intently at the redhead who in turn glared at Draco. She raised her marker stubbornly, her jaw jutting in his direction.
"You don't have enough," Draco warned with a bid increasing nod.
"You don't know that. You can't."
"You think you can outbid a Malfoy?"
"I can out-anything a Malfoy, you supercilious prat."
"I sincerely doubt that, Ginny," he said, his gaze drifting appreciatively to her heaving chest. "I always win."
The argumentative conversation stopped and the bidding started in earnest. With the exception of the bloke who usually reserved his money for weaponry, Draco and Ginny were the only bidders for the shabby, unrestored painting, its gilded frame scuffed and dirty, the colors faded. Much to the amusement of the crowd, they out bid each other for nearly twenty minutes, until finally, Ginny rested her marker in her lap, defeated.
For a split second, Draco wished that he wasn't so single-minded, that he could let things go, that he could be more easygoing and relaxed. She looked so very sad, almost as if she were fighting back tears, and he nearly berated himself for being such an arse.
Nearly. He really, really wanted it, after all. A potion to make unlimited amounts of gold? He could buy her some happy with that.
Draco glanced at her a few more times during the remaining lots, but instead of crying or getting hotheaded and letting her temper get the better of her as he expected, she merely sat back and watched the rest of the auction. She looked relaxed. Carefree. Smug, even.
It did not give Draco a good feeling.
After the auctioneer had banged the gavel one final time, he rose as the people around him began milling about, the winners going to the claim window to get their prizes. He extended a hand to Ginny, giving her a jaunty smile. "It was a well-fought contest."
She took his hand, that same, self-satisfied smile on her face. "Mmmhm," she replied noncommittally. "It was good to see you again, Draco."
Of course! he thought to himself. Even though I outbid her, she still wants me.. The Malfoy charm wins again. He leaned in close and murmured, "We definitely shouldn't let it go so long before we see each other again."
To his surprise, Ginny let out a snort of laughter. "Oh, it won't be," she predicted. "I expect your owl before the week is out."
Draco's eyebrow rose involuntarily. Thinks a lot of herself, doesn't she? He leered, bringing her hand to his lips. "Will it now?"
Ginny rolled her eyes and nodded her head in the affirmative, taking back her hand and slinging her bag over her shoulder. "Undoubtedly. Talk to you soon, Draco." she said breezily, leaving the tall, blond man looking uncharacteristically dumbfounded as his gaze followed her out the door.
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