"It's not better to have loved and lost, Weasley. No matter what they tell you."
Categories: Completed Short Stories Characters:
Blaise Zabini (boy), Draco Malfoy, Ginny Weasley, Pansy Parkinson
All but epilogueEra:
May 15, 2008 Updated:
May 15, 2008
Written for water_jade in the 2008 DG Fic Exchange. Disclaimer: I don't own HP. Don't sue.
1. Chapter 1 by LadyRhiyana
Trust and Betrayal
The Mediterranean was wine-dark, blood-warm in the moonlight. The salt-laden breeze tugged at her long hair, tangling and knotting it, but Pansy had no care for such things – she stood silent, waiting, as Draco Malfoy walked along the sand towards them, the waves shushing gently over his bare white feet –
For a moment, she remembered a younger, more innocent boy laughing; a golden summer afternoon. But that had been a long, long time ago.
“So,” Blaise said quietly, tugging her back against him, wrapping his arms around her, “he has found us.”
Pansy leaned into his solid strength, his warm, tangible presence. “I always knew he would. But I just didn’t believe it would be so soon.”
Blaise did not reply to that, but his arms tightened around her, an unspoken promise of protection. She knew that he would kill to protect her, but she had never thought it would come to this.
Finally, the ghostly-pale figure reached them, and he stood before them, barefoot, his eyes shadowed and unreadable.
“Why did you do it?” Draco asked finally.
There was a small measure of silence. There did not seem much to say – Draco, more tolerant than his father, would forgive many things, but not such a blatant betrayal by the two people in the world he trusted the most.
“Love,” Blaise said simply. “We tried to fight it, but…” he shrugged. “Some things are beyond our control.”
“And the money?”
Pansy winced. “The Ministry took everything –”
Blaise squeezed her, once, in warning. She fell silent.
“We knew you would weather the investigation,” Blaise dared.
They were Slytherin. They would do anything – anything – to further their interests, to protect their loved ones. They had gambled everything on Draco’s reaction, hoping that he would not follow in Lucius’ footsteps and kill them both just to prove a point.
For a long, long while, Draco stood very still, and Pansy shivered in Blaise’s arms, the enormity of what they had done threatening to overwhelm her.
“No doubt I should take it as a compliment,” Draco murmured, half to himself. He held up his hand, a whispered word casting a small pool of light, illuminating his face and his eyes. All the weight of their long friendship, their unspoken trust, and all the words they would not, could not say lay between them, silent and accusing. Still, Pansy lifted her chin, drew herself up, and felt Blaise straighten behind her. She refused to regret her actions, or apologise for them – given the choice, she would do it over again.
And Draco recognised it, a strange, sardonic smile darkening his eyes.
“Don’t expect me to congratulate you,” was all he said.
As she watched him walk away, Pansy felt a low, strange feeling of guilt stir.
And then, drawing in a deep breath, she deliberately dispelled it.
Two weeks later
For more than three hundred years, the same old, age-darkened portrait had graced the mantelpiece in the member’s lounge of the Enchanter’s club. In it, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin sat in a crowded, dusty study, filled with books, scrolls and fascinating oddities, their easy companionship clear for all to see.
Draco sat in his favourite worn, comfortable armchair, sipping at his fifth glass of aged Firewhisky, and wondered bitterly where the two Founders went wrong, how such trust and friendship had turned to enmity. The soft rushing sound of the sea was still loud in his ears, the taste of empty hatred like ashes in his mouth.
“I’ve always wondered,” a warm, rich voice spoke, jarring him out of his self-pity. “Why that portrait? I mean, this club must be the last haven of Slytherin privilege and prejudice.”
Ginny Weasley sat down in the chair opposite him, her bright copper hair a stark contrast to her Auror’s robes. He drew in his breath, drew in the faint scent of her perfume. Something in him stirred, and he squashed it ruthlessly. Whatever they might once have had, it was over, long years ago.
“The artist was one of the 18th century Malfoy wives,” Draco answered, deliberately diverting himself. “When her husband established the club – using her money, mind you – she insisted that her paintings hang on the walls in perpetuity.”
“Huh. I should have guessed this would be a Malfoy stronghold. Is there anything you don’t own or have a major share in?”
His eyes flicked to hers. He said nothing.
She winced. “Right. I’m sorry. I heard about the raid. Sometimes Harry and Ron can be a little overzealous…”
The Ministry searchers had turned the manor upside down and inside out, destroying priceless antiquities, terrorising the house elves, all but tearing out the walls and ceiling in their eagerness to find the evidence that would incriminate him. They had found absolutely nothing, of course – there had been nothing to find, because Blaise and Pansy were long gone, taking one hundred million of the Ministry’s galleons with them.
“You must admit you do make a tempting target, Malfoy.”
“Because I refuse to keep my head down and present a low profile, Weasley?” His voice was sharp, but with none of the venom of his teens. He was twenty-eight years old, and he was tired: tired of fighting public opinion and prejudice, tired of constantly striving to prove himself trustworthy and acceptable, and tired of apologising for his name and his blood.
“Old hatreds die hard.”
He sighed, tossed back the rest of his Firewhisky, revelling in the burn. “And so, it seems, do old loyalties.” He was drunk, not quite in control, and his tongue was far too loose. He should have handed Blaise and Pansy over to the Ministry, and taken vindictive satisfaction in Potter’s and Weasley’s strangled apologies. He should have got up and left, the moment Ginny sat down.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he said, standing with great dignity and gathering up his cloak, “it’s not better to have loved and lost. No matter what they tell you.”
And with that, he made his exit.
She followed him outside to the street.
“Malfoy!” she called, watching his tall, black-robed figure walk away, only slightly unsteady.
He turned to face her, one eyebrow slightly raised. She refused to be intimidated. She knew him too well to be intimidated. “If you didn’t take the money, then who did? What do you mean, old loyalties? You know, don’t you?”
The air was cold and biting, a dramatic change from the stuffy, smoke-filled club, and Malfoy’s slightly glazed eyes began to clear as the Firewhisky haze wore off. He shook his head, no doubt trying to clear his mind. But it was too late – once Ginny latched her teeth into a puzzle, she did not let go.
Her eyes narrowed. “Is this about the Death Eaters? Are they planning a revival?”
“Merlin, no!” The exclamation burst out of him. He dragged his hands through his hair, the sleeves of his robes riding up his forearms, revealing the old, faded outline of his Mark. “That’s over and done, finished.”
“Then why are you protecting them?”
But this time he only shook his head and turned away.
Refusing to admit defeat, she grabbed onto his arm –
And felt the tearing dislocation as he began his Apparation. She gripped desperately at his robes, trying simply to hold on, to keep herself oriented as the world turned inside out and back again, folding in on itself and taking them with it. Her stomach twisted, her vision blurred, and with a dim sense of panic she realised that she was in danger of splinching herself. She opened her mouth to cry out, and as the thick cloth of his robes slipped through her fingers, she felt his hands grasp her wrists, his grip vice-like, anchoring her to flesh-and-blood reality.
And then the universe righted itself, slowed, and spat them out. When she finally opened her eyes, they stood outside the wrought-iron gates of Malfoy Manor, the moon high in the sky, the stars – far from any kind of Muggle settlement or pollution – the brightest she had ever seen.
Or perhaps it was only relief that she was still alive.
Suddenly, her heart beating double-time, she was very aware of Draco beside her, the warmth of his body, the brush of his robes, the smell of alcohol on his breath, the sheer vitality of his presence. She turned to face him, her breath coming too quickly, her composure shaken and entirely vulnerable. Her eyes were wide, she knew, and this was completely, utterly foolish –
His eyes narrowed slightly, and then dropped to their joined hands, his fingers still wrapped, white-knuckled, around her wrists. Slowly, one finger at a time, he released his grip. The blood rushed back to her hands, leaving the marks of his fingers to stand out stark, unhealthy white – there would be bruises later, she knew, deep and ugly.
She had never been more thankful for it.
“I have to say, Weasley,” Draco said, his voice slightly unsteady, “that was one of the stupidest stunts I’ve ever seen. And believe me, I’ve witnessed quite a few.”
She swallowed. “I don’t – I didn’t…” She couldn’t quite make the words come out right.
He sighed, swore under his breath. “I know. Come on.” Reaching out to the enchanted gates, he placed his palm against one of the twisting, decorative knots of iron-work and whispered something she couldn’t catch. Instantly, the gates swung open, and Ginny felt the hair-raising feeling of powerful wards parting to let them through.
Dazed, her system still flooded with adrenaline, she trailed after him, their footsteps crunching on the long gravel drive. Slowly, they crested a slight rise, and suddenly the entirety of the estate lay spread out before them: the centuries-old manor house, wreathed in a complex web of spells, curses and enchantments, surrounded by formal gardens that had been left untended and were now going to seed.
It was far from what it once was. The Malfoy fortunes had taken a steep dive after the war, and Lucius Malfoy had barely managed to hold onto the estate – in the years since, Draco had done what he could to build up the family coffers, but post-war wizarding Britain had not been healthy for repentant Death Eaters and former Slytherins.
And so when one hundred million galleons disappeared from the Ministry books, suspicion naturally fell on him.
A thought belatedly occurred to her. She stopped walking, wrapped her arms tightly around herself. “Where are we going?” she whispered hoarsely. “Is this about…”
He turned. “Having just saved your life, Weasley,” he drawled, “I’m damned sure not planning to bury your body in the gardens. You were willing to kill yourself to learn about your bloody missing galleons, so I think it’s time we talk. Yes?”
And then, as she hesitated, he continued impatiently: “If I’d wanted revenge, Weasley, I’d have let you fall away in-between. On what honour I have left, I swear that no harm will come to you tonight. Is that good enough?”
Slowly, warily, she nodded.
The house elves brought them tea in the library, where they sat in old, comfortable chairs before the fireplace. The small fire threw shadows over the opulent décor, his Victorian great-grandfather’s preference for mahogany and dark red velvet somewhat overpowering.
Draco watched colour and warmth flood back into Ginny’s cheeks. She had been alarmingly white after her almost-splinching, shaken and confused; still, she was a Gryffindor, and therefore naturally stubborn and resilient. He could almost see the wheels turning in her mind, weighing the sincerity of his offer to talk, her cool suspicion flooding back now that the first wild flush of adrenaline – and its inevitable side-effects – had subsided.
“So,” she began finally, after she had finished her tea, “you said we would talk about the missing galleons.”
He made an open gesture with his hand. “Ask.”
She frowned, as if she couldn’t believe it would be so easy. “Did you steal them?”
“Then you know who did.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she made a dangerous hissing sound. With her copper-red hair, she looked amazingly like a cat that had been stroked the wrong way. “Who stole the Ministry’s galleons, Malfoy?”
For a long, timeless moment, he struggled against an old, ingrained sense of Slytherin loyalty. For so long, they had had no one but their fellow housemates, trapped between the Dark Lord’s demands and the rest of the world’s distrust. Trust, reliance, love, safety, what little they had was found within their own circle –
But the Dark Lord was dead, the war was over, and they had all left Hogwarts long ago.
“Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini needed the money to elope,” he said. “The Ministry took everything from them; they thought it fitting. They cast the blame on me, and then left the country as quickly as they could.”
“Whatever happened to Slytherin honour?” Clicking her tongue, she shook her head in mock-disappointment. “Some friends you have there, Malfoy.”
But he was utterly serious. “They betrayed me.” And suddenly he knew it, knew that he had loved them, trusted them, and they had deliberately played on that. He was not his father, but nor would he forgive the betrayal, allow it to go unpunished. “I owe them no loyalty. Not anymore.”
Something in his manner sobered her. Slowly, tentatively, she reached out and laid her hand on his arm. He stiffened, but then took her hand in his, turning it over to see the bruises forming on her wrist. His eyes flew to hers, unsure what to say.
Her lips parted. She swallowed. “I’m…ah, I’m sorry, Malfoy. About your friends.”
But his mind was no longer on treacherous friends or the Ministry’s pardon. Her voice was hoarse, and the pulse in her neck was beating rapidly. He was suddenly very aware that she was very near, very warm, and that her scent was suddenly wreathing all about him, dizzying and intoxicating. And then she was in his arms, her mouth soft and sweet under his, his hands in her hair releasing that glorious copper-red silk, and for the first time in years he knew that this was what he wanted, what he needed –
His hands slid down her back, gripping the black Auror robes, dragging her closer, closer, until they were locked against each other and straining, the kiss turned hot and savage. Her nails dug into his shoulders, demanding, and they tumbled onto the thick Persian carpet, Ginny underneath him, gloriously soft and open.
And then he dragged himself away, untangled himself, physically stepped back from her and the maddening temptation of her willingness.
“No,” he panted, “no, stop. This isn’t…” he thrust his hand through his hair, tugged, and tried to bring himself back to sanity.
Her eyes were dark, confused, betrayed. “What…? Don’t you want to –?”
“Of course I want –” he cut himself off savagely. “You almost died, Ginny, not two hours ago. You’re still riding the adrenaline rush.”
She drew herself up, indignant, but he held up his hand. “It would be taking advantage. And I swore that no harm would come to you tonight.”
She stood up slowly, straightened her robes with unnecessary force. Her eyes met his squarely, her lips thinned and a look of great determination came over her face. “You swore that no harm would come to me tonight.”
Warily, Draco nodded. He had a feeling he knew exactly where this was headed.
“Well then,” she said, smiling dangerously. “Ask me in the morning.”
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