The Broken Road, Chapter 11 :: Hubris
Draco turned the diamond necklace over in his hands, studying the design intently. He recognized the craftsmanship, of that there was no doubt. He'd had plenty of fine jewelry commissioned for his mother over the years, and he knew that his Father had even used the same jeweler for his mistresses, so he was familiar with the work.
It was the who of the matter that bothered him. Who else could afford this sort of bauble? He knew all of the wealthiest Wizards, and he knew that none of them would ever even give the redhead a second glance, let alone send her such an expensive gift anonymously. Anyone who had sent the necklace would have spent enough money on it that they would want to be recognized and thanked profusely for doing so.
He frowned as he turned it over again, and ran his fingers lightly over the hard stones. They were wrapped in gold. His frown deepened as he replaced the necklace in the box and rose from the overstuffed armchair that he'd been sitting in for the better half of the morning. Suspicion had planted itself firmly in the back of his mind, but he had to be sure.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Ginny remained curled up in a ball on her bed, her body shaking with the force of her sobs as her mother smoothed the hair back from her face.
"It wasn't something you could have prevented," Molly murmured gently, trying to soothe her daughter. "Sometimes when people get what they think they want, they find out that it wasn't really what they wanted at all."
"So you're saying that Harry didn't want me?" Ginny managed brokenly.
"No, sweet. What I'm saying is that Harry has had a hard life – harder than we know, since he would never tell any of us the whole story of what he suffered through at that wretched woman's house. He doesn't know what he wants; he's confused."
"So I'm just supposed to sit here and wait for him to figure it out?"
"Absolutely not," Molly said firmly, giving Ginny a watery smile. "You made the decision for him, poppet. You loved him enough to marry him and devote yourself to him, and it wasn't enough. There's no woman in the world who would fault you for leaving him and reclaiming something of who you used to be before him."
"You don't think any less of me because I gave up, then?"
"You didn't give up, darling! He gave up, not you. He's the one who sought comfort in someone else's arms – so why shouldn't you be allowed to do the same?"
"Because the someone else I went to isn't something I'm proud of."
"It can't be that bad," Molly reassured her. She was surprised when Ginny broke into fresh sobs.
"It can, and it is," Ginny wailed.
"Anyone who can take your mind off of the problems you're having right now can't be that bad," Molly said, her tone not allowing argument. "I don't care who it is – if he gives you comfort, then you shouldn't feel guilty about going to him to get it. As long as you're using precautions, that is," she added delicately.
"I've been taking the potion every day," Ginny replied automatically. "Trust me, I don't want to have this man's children."
"If you're so upset about your relations with him, then why do you keep going back to him?"
"I don't know!" Ginny howled, shoving her face into her pillow. "It's like I can't control myself when I'm around him! He makes me so mad I just want to spit!"
"And this anger is what-"
"Yes!" she said, cutting her Mum off.
"Well that's not so strange," Molly said, shrugging her shoulders. "Your father and I have had many an argument that ended in the bedroom."
"Mum!" Ginny screeched, scandalized. "I do not need to hear this!"
"I'm just saying that physical activity can help purge the anger. Why don't you try talking to your young man after you've-"
"MUM!" Ginny sat straight up and shot her mother a warning look, which Molly smiled at.
"There's my girl. Feeling better now? At least you're not crying anymore."
"No, now I'm too nauseated to cry!"
"Why don't you get dressed, and the two of us can go and pick up some lunch?" Molly suggested. "My treat."
"Mum, I'm not sure that that's such a good-"
"Hush, and get dressed," Molly said, rising to her feet. "We haven't had a Mother-daughter day in a long time, and I think we need one." Ginny smiled at her Mum before throwing her arms around the older woman and squeezing with all of her might.
"I love you, Mum."
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
"Mister Malfoy!" Draco turned as the shop owner boomed his name, pleasant surprise obvious in his voice. "I'm so glad to see you again! What can I do for you?"
"For starters, Tantalus, you can tell me who commissioned this," Draco said, holding the black box out. The balding man took the box from him and stepped behind the counter before opening it.
"Oh. Oh, my. May I ask how it came to be in your possession, and not the young woman for whom it was made?"
"No, you may not," Draco said perfunctorily. "Just tell me who paid for it."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Mister Malfoy. All of my customers are entitled to their privacy, and this one was adamant that no one know he'd ordered it."
"You're kidding, right? He really told you not to tell anyone?"
"I'm sorry, Sir. I do not joke about something this expensive. It took a very long time to craft."
"And if I were looking into having the piece duplicated, how long would it take, and at what cost to me, hmm?"
"All of our pieces are one of a kind, Mister Malfoy, you know that. I could make another one that was similar, but not the same."
"Time and cost?" Draco repeated, starting to lose his patience.
"Well… if you wanted the same number of diamonds, and the same grade of gold, it would run you somewhere in the area of fifteen thousand galleons."
Draco's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"And it would take approximately one month to complete."
Draco did some quick math in his head, and the dates just didn't seem to add up – unless the purchaser had meant the necklace for someone other than Ginny.
"Would you like to purchase one?" Tantalus asked hopefully. Draco shook his head and retrieved the box from the counter, snapping the lid closed.
"Not today - some other time, perhaps. For now, I have to get this back to its rightful owner."
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
"This was a good idea. I'm glad I came," Ginny said, smiling at her Mum. She reached for another roll and slathered it with butter.
"Occasionally your Mum has been known to have a good idea or two," Molly teased, smiling.
"Well, chalk this up as one of those times," Ginny said, before sinking her teeth into the buttered bread. Molly shook her head.
"You shouldn't eat that much butter, it'll go straight to your hips." Ginny snorted.
"As if I care how big my hips get."
"How about your rear?" Molly asked, reaching for her napkin. "It'll make your bum spread, too." Ginny nearly choked on the mouthful she'd been about to swallow, and reached for her glass of butterbeer.
"Merlin, Mum! Don't do that to me when I'm eating," she laughed. Molly shrugged and smiled again.
"So, tell me about this mysterious man that you're shagging." Ginny spit some of the liquid out of her mouth, and then gaped at her mother in surprise.
"Tell me all about him. It's been a while since I've had any good gossip. Is he handsome?"
A faint blush stained Ginny's cheeks as she wiped her mouth with her napkin, and Molly suppressed her grin. So her daughter was emotionally involved – whether she wanted to admit it or not.
"Well … he's not Harry," she said tentatively.
"Thank the heavens for that," Molly rejoined, shaking her head.
"Actually," she said, feeling somewhat emboldened by her mother's gentle acceptance, "he's the complete opposite of Harry."
"As in? Give me some examples. The devil's in the details, you know."
"He's fair headed. His eyes are light," Ginny said, trying to give details and still be ambiguous about them. "His skin is pale, not tanned like Harry's."
"So the young man's work must keep him inside," Molly mused thoughtfully. "What does he do?"
"You know, I haven't the foggiest idea," Ginny replied, surprised that she didn't actually know what Draco Malfoy did for a living.
"Interesting. Is he as quiet as Harry?"
"Hardly," Ginny said, giving her mother a wry smile. "He never shuts up."
"Well then, I'd say the two of you are well matched," Molly teased. Ginny giggled. "I always thought your mannerisms were too much for Harry to handle, anyway. You've got a sparkling, outgoing personality, and he's more of a homebody."
"That's just a nice way of saying that I'm demanding, isn't it?"
"You always did have to be the center of attention," Molly laughed. "But then again, you had to fight for the limelight, with brothers like Fred and George. You share a lot of the same personality traits, you know."
Ginny groaned. "Well, I suppose that's better than being compared to old stick-in-the-mud Percy," she grumbled. Molly laughed again.
"You shouldn't talk that way about your brother," she chastised gently, though her eyes sparkled as she spoke.
And from opposite corners of the restaurant, two pairs of eyes watched and waited.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Hermione paced the floor of the living room for the umpteenth time that night. Harry hadn't gotten home at his usual time, and he hadn't flooed or owled her to let her know if he was all right, which was very unlike him.
She forced herself to settle down and take several deep, calming breaths, before she let out a scream of frustration. It wasn't like her to get so emotional, but when it came to Harry… well, she thought, sinking miserably down onto the sofa, when it came to Harry, she made exceptions for just about everything, didn't she?
Even though she thought it odd, she didn't turn him away after he and Ginny were married, and he came to her for support after their volatile fights. He would sometimes crash on her couch for a bit, and other nights they would go out for dinner or drinks. After a while, even though it felt strange at first, he would hug her or hold her as he told her about their fight. She grew to accept that, and to even cherish those times, since that was as close to Harry as she ever thought she'd get.
Then, nearly four months ago, he'd kissed her for the first time.
She'd been too surprised to respond, and he'd taken it as rejection, leaving quickly. She'd caught up to him after she'd had a few days to think, and she'd told him that she didn't want to lose him – and she'd meant it. She'd loved Harry from the moment they'd met, and she didn't want to risk losing him over anything – especially not something as small as a kiss shared between friends. After all, that's how she'd reasoned it out in her mind – the only logical explanation for the kiss was a combination of his frustration and his friendly affection for her.
Logic had come to a crashing halt the next time he'd kissed her, however – it had hit the brakes sometime between the point where his tongue separated her lips and his hand had cupped a breast.
Her face burned with shame any time she thought of that first time with him; her the shy, blushing virgin, and he the experienced, married man. But really, once he'd touched her, she'd melted, and it had never occurred to her to deny him what he wanted. She loved him that much, that she would give of herself, no matter how much he took without giving in return.
When he'd made it a habit of sleeping with her more than once a week, she began to wonder what he was telling Ginny. He would cancel his lunches with his other friends and his wife, so that he could spend his lunch hour with his mistress. In three months, not two solid days had passed without a visit from him.
Now it had been nearly twenty four hours since she'd even had word from him, and she was starting to worry. She knew that he had a difficult, dangerous job that required him to be secretive at times, but still. Where was he, and what was he doing? She couldn't send him an owl, in case he was doing Auror work, and she had no idea where he'd be in order to floo him. He had some sort of cloaking spell on at all times, so no one could find out where he was.
All she could do now was wait.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Ginny parted ways with her Mum and headed down the street, strolling leisurely as she looked into store windows. She stopped in front of one and admired the dress that the mannequin in the window wore – it was a sheer sort of lime-green colored material, layered over a satiny material that had white polka dots on it.
"You'd look terrible in that," a voice drawled behind her. She turned slowly and eyed him from head to toe before replying with a shrug.
"And your opinion should matter to me why?"
"Obviously I am the only person you've ever met with any taste," he responded dryly, taking in her current attire. She was wearing a pair of somewhat baggy jeans and a brilliant blue long-sleeved t-shirt.
"That's debatable." She turned and resumed her leisurely stroll, ignoring his presence at her back.
"It's very rude to walk away when someone's speaking to you, I'll have you know."
She glanced sideways at him. He'd fallen into step beside her. "I don't have any manners anyway, remember? Why should the lack of them bother you now?"
"Strangely, it doesn't," he retorted, taking in her look of mild surprise. "I'm wondering, though, how it is that you can be so calm to me today after what happened between us last night."
"Last night is last night," she answered enigmatically, pausing to look into another store window.
"That's much more suited to you," he said, nodding curtly. Her eyebrows shot up.
"Do you really think so?" She examined the pantsuit, admiring the cut of the sleeveless top and the slightly flared pants legs. "It looks like it might show a bit of skin there, in the middle," she said, pointing.
"And? Since when have you had a problem showing your skin?"
"I don't," she said, shrugging. "So, what brings you here? Because I know you're not here just to enjoy my company."
"I think I may know who sent you that gift." She turned sharply and eyed him.
"I told you it wasn't me, you pigheaded woman," he said, rolling his eyes. He pulled the box out of his pocket and handed it to her.
"I don't want it."
"I told you, it's not from me," he said exasperatedly.
"I don't care who it's from, I don't want it."
"Why not? It's worth thousands of galleons. You could sell it."
"I don't need the money. I don't want it."
"Don't you want to know who it's from?"
"Well… if it's not from you, it can only be from one other person, and he's not someone that I want to accept a gift from ever again."
"Throw it back in his face, then."
"You speak as though I'd ever willingly put myself in close proximity to him again," she sneered.
"Your opportunity is presenting itself as we speak. I don't think he likes me speaking to you – not that I care, really." He smirked.
"What are you talking about?"
"Look behind you." Ginny turned and felt the blood rushing away from her head. Harry was striding towards them from the direction they'd just come, and he was looking fit to be tied.
"Uhm, Malfoy – maybe you'd better go."
"Nonsense. We're not doing anything wrong – yet, anyway." She turned back to him and tried her damnedest not to look amused.
"Are you insinuating that you want to do something wrong with me?" She arched an eyebrow, and he shrugged, though his smirk grew.
"Ginny!" Harry called out. Thrown into a panic, Ginny grabbed Draco's arm and began to run away from Harry. Caught by surprise, Draco ran along with her, and the box containing the diamond necklace became airborne. Harry stopped following them long enough to dive for the box, and upon catching it, looked for all the world as though he'd just caught the golden snitch.
Ginny dragged Draco down the sidewalk several blocks before his senses returned to him, and he stopped, jerking her to a stop beside him.
"What in the bloody fucking hell was that all about?" he panted, trying to catch his breath. Her chest was heaving, and he ignored it temporarily to focus on her flushed cheeks.
"I just couldn't do it," she gasped, shaking her head. "The thought of another confrontation with Harry literally makes me sick to my stomach."
"The thought of confronting him, or the thought of doing it with me around?" Draco asked angrily.
"What?" She asked, bewildered. "Come on, Malfoy – surely you're not jealous, are you?"
"Of what?" he sneered, straightening his back. "I'm the one fucking you, not him, remember?"
Her jaw dropped, and she stared at him. "You say that like it's an ongoing thing. It's only happened twice."
"Three times," he corrected her, arching an eyebrow. "Or are you trying to forget?"
"As if you'd let me," she said, her temper rising. "Is that why you're upset now? Because I didn't stay back there and let you rub it in to Harry that we've slept together?"
"Sleeping together," he said, correcting her again. "Present tense."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you wanted people to know we'd been together," she said incredulously. "But you were so intent on protecting yourself with that photo – what the hell is going on?"
"I like pissing Potter off, remember? And if I'm not mistaken, you do too, or you would never have shown your face at my parties." He knew he'd struck a nerve when her cheeks turned red.
"I went for Neville," she said defensively. "Not for Harry. I didn't even know photographers were going to be at those stupid parties!"
"The first one, maybe not – but after you saw your picture in the Prophet after that, you knew."
"How was I to know they'd focus on me?" she raged, throwing her arms into the air. "There were plenty of rich and famous people there, so why would they notice me?"
"You dressed to make sure they noticed you," he observed.
"You have got to be kidding me," she mumbled, rubbing her face with her hands. "I dressed the same way that every other woman there was dressed! Besides, what do you care? It's not like you had some sort of vested interest in me, anyway! I was just another party guest to you!"
His silence made her look up, and she frowned when he wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Wasn't I?" she repeated softly. He looked up, his expression masked.
"Well then, what's the point of arguing about this?"
"The point is that currently we are carrying on an affair, and I'll have you know that I have no interest in keeping it secret any longer."
"We are not carrying on an affair!" she seethed. "An affair would imply something ongoing!"
"If it weren't ongoing, you would have stopped after the first time it happened," he said matter-of-factly. She averted her eyes as she thought of their second encounter. He had been so needy and open that she would not have refused him, not for all of the gold in Gringott's. He tilted his head to the side, eyeing her thoughtfully.
"What happened that night?" he ventured. The blush on her cheeks deepened.
"I don't want to talk about it – and I'm surprised that you do." She glanced around to make sure that Harry wasn't approaching, and sighed. "It's been a long day. I'm – I'll –" She wasn't quite sure what to say, so she chose something simple.
She started to walk away, but he reached out and grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face him.
"You're not getting away that easily, kitten."
“And just why not?” she demanded wearily. “Look, I don’t know what you want from me. I can’t – I can’t give you anything that you haven’t had before.”
He covered his surprise by scowling. “And who says I want anything from you?”
“If you didn’t, you’d let me go.”
He released her abruptly, and watched as she disappeared down the street.
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