Disclaimer – I don’t own any of the canon characters or concepts. I’m not making any money out of this. Don’t sue.
“I believe you’re already acquainted with most of the guests tonight, Malfoy,” Blaise said blandly.
“Hmm,” Draco agreed.
He made all the appropriate noises, but Blaise knew him well enough to tell that he was not attending, that his entire focus fixed on the sleek, sophisticated copper hair of his nominal wife. Ginevra Malfoy, extravagantly dressed, was at the centre of an adoring male circle – as they watched, Draco unconsciously intent and Blaise in amused interest, she threw back her head and laughed, a rich, throaty laugh that drew male attention and stirred the blood. It certainly made an impact: out of the corner of his eye, Blaise could see Draco stiffen momentarily, an instinctive, tell tale movement that gave away far too much.
“What the fuck is going on, Malfoy?” Nott demanded, his voice cracking as his nerves, wound far too tightly, threatened to betray him. “The attack should have begun five minutes ago – you know how vital perfect timing is!”
Draco was extremely pale in his black Death Eater robes, his movements too deliberate to be natural. “I don’t know. Something’s gone wrong.” The hand holding the white, ivory mask was trembling and white-knuckled, but he had hidden it below the table – projecting the illusion of calm, of control, even if it was far from the truth.
He turned to Blaise. “I think,” he said, ignoring Nott’s growing hysteria, “that we had best burn these robes. The attack is not coming, or has already been thwarted, and they will soon come to check if there were any inside supporters…”
He had always known when to abandon a lost and useless cause.
“Oh, the attack was more than thwarted,” said Pansy Parkinson, responding to her cue, entering the room and announcing, with more venom than anyone had heard from her before, “It was betrayed. And can you guess by whom?”
“Oh, stop your bloody stupid games and get on with it,” Draco had snarled impatiently, and then Pansy had smiled – only smiled, nothing else, but it had been so vicious that he had known then, even without words…
For one terrible moment, the glass mask of his composure shattered, and everything he felt and everything he thought had been written in and across his face – Blaise, shaken, had turned away from the hideous vulnerability, but when he glanced back it was gone.
As they came further into the room, and the guests began to notice the newcomer’s presence, the whispering began.
“…Is it? Is that…?”
“…Malfoy. …Show his face after what he did…”
“…both sides, then pureblood leader… A mercenary, now – they say he was the one who finally got Nott…”
“…doing here, though?”
“…married the Weasley girl in Russia – saved her life, accepted a six figure reward for it too…”
“…Surprised her family allow him to come anywhere near her.”
“…Allow? Who’s going to stop him from doing anything he wants?”
“…valid and legal marriage, anyway – you know, let no man come between…”
Through it all Draco moved on with superb indifference, much as he had always done, even at Hogwarts, even after two disastrous blows.
And then, finally, after four years, he came face to face with his wife.
There was no warning at all, no mysterious inner foreboding or frisson, no instinctive awareness – nothing other than the whispered conversations around her, and the sudden tension in the men surrounding her, and the way their eyes slid behind her, and then quickly away.
But when she turned around, she didn’t expect to see him.
‘Why, Mr. Malfoy,’ Scarlett O’Hara trilled breathlessly.
But here was no rakish smile, no sardonic amusement – here was high intensity and something too strong, too overwhelming to be successfully hidden; his eyes were anything but cool, and she could see his hands were carefully, deliberately controlled.
“Oh,” she said, as nonchalantly as she could, aware of their audience. “So you’ve returned, have you? – not, I should imagine, to see me.”
Automatically, the lips curved. “No,” he said agreeably. “It was not my intention. But, however, now that it is unavoidable…”
The tension level decreased, and others around them relaxed, deprived of their scene but not disappointed, and Ginny could only marvel at his skill. She smiled blandly, talked of nothing for a little while longer, and then held out a hand to him – much as she had seen his mother do, years ago – and he bowed over it, and it was done.
He walked off, lingered a while longer to chat politely to other guests, but made his way as courteously as he could to the door. When, watching out of the corner of her eye, she saw him leave, she was conscious of strong relief – and, strangely enough, of a sense of deprivation, that she would never see what lay beneath the fragile fašade…
Later that night, Blaise brought her a glass of champagne and deftly separated her from her circle of admirers.
“Your father summoned him, you know,” he said quietly, without preamble, startling her.
“Who?” she asked, and then flushed, cursing herself, when he only looked at her. In the last four years she had gained poise, composure and confidence, and was now at home in the brilliant, accomplished circles of influence and power into which her impromptu marriage had pitched her – but there were times when she reverted to Ginny Weasley, who had six blunt brothers and who had thought Slytherins the height of wickedness.
“Your father had him brought to Britain, with a choice of in chains or of his own will. The official talk is that they’re considering revoking his exile, if he agrees to a chain.”
Ginny stared. Leaving aside the question of her father taking such drastic actions – against a Malfoy or not – there were a number of things she did not understand in that statement. Not wishing to seem even more foolish, she only raised her eyebrows at Blaise and looked enquiring.
“For more than ten years,” he answered, “Malfoy’s been the most notorious free agent in Europe, flitting from one side to the other without check, control or any kind of true loyalty. There are a great many people who would like to be able to control him, to have that kind of brilliance at their exclusive disposal, but he’s always eluded them and there’s never been anything that could permanently bind him.”
She had a terrible idea that she knew where this was going.
“And then, four years ago, he married me,” she said flatly.
“Yes,” he agreed. “He married you, the daughter of Arthur Weasley, who two years ago became the Minister of Magic. That could be a very powerful chain, if he submits to it…”
“Why would he want to? Why did he come back, if he knows what my father intends, and he doesn’t want to be bound? I’m not that powerful an inducement.”
Blaise’s eyelids fell for a moment, shuttering, censoring some thought that he couldn’t have hidden from her – when he looked up again, straight into her eyes, the remnants of heat remained, and a strength of resolve that was quite frightening.
“Aren’t you?” he said softly. “Didn’t you see the way he looked at you?”
“I have never, ever seen him that far gone before. He wants you, Ginevra – but with you come Britain, and obligations, and indissoluble claims on him and his services…”
She didn’t like where this was going, either, or the look in Blaise Zabini’s suddenly Slytherin eyes. “What are you saying, Blaise? Say it openly, so that we all understand what it is you want.”
He sighed. “Very well.” He walked out onto the terrace, so no one could possibly overhear, and said, “I, and several others, want to see Draco Malfoy’s particular skills and verve used for Britain’s exclusive benefit. We had been searching for a way to do this for years, until he so unexpectedly married you…”
She opened her mouth to voice an unpardonable thought, but he beat her to it. “No, Ginevra, no one could have predicted that your capture and his presence in Russia would coincide, or that he would act as he did. It was a completely random and wholly unexpected surprise.”
“But a remarkably fortuitous one, to be sure,” she said acidly.
He only nodded. “Indeed. But, once we saw what he had done, we did not hesitate to take advantage of it. Even though he may not have thought it at the time, you’ve become his responsibility – and from what I saw when he first noticed you inside, you’ve become far more than that.”
Shaken, indignant, she lashed out. “And you know him so well, do you? How the hell do you know what he’s thinking?”
His smile was remarkably cynical. “Oh, I know Draco Malfoy…”
No, she thought, still shocked by the calculating callousness of it all, I don’t think you do. Of course he doesn’t feel anything for me – how could he? It was only one night...
Surely he won’t give in to this blatant attempt at manipulation?
“And so, Lady Malfoy,” he said, smooth, urbane, and with none of the hard determination of a moment before, “persuade him to stay, to accept his obligations and responsibilities. Give him a worthy purpose – Britain’s purpose – and save him from a life that will ultimately lead to nothing and nowhere.”
He looked at her, there, in her sleek dress and her smooth sophistication, at the poise and confidence of four years of association with the brightest minds, the smoothest tongues, the most gifted artists – and the most ruthless intriguers. “I won’t tell you,” he said softly, “that he’ll give in easily. But you have far more of a chance than the rest of us ever will. Please – don’t let him waste his life.”
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