The afternoon weather was thick and sluggish, the air heavy and expectant – lightning flashed, and thunder growled in muted response. There would be a storm soon, and something in Draco Malfoy reveled in it. Standing almost naked at the window, feeling the rising wind on his chest and his face, he watched the black clouds mass and gather with frank enjoyment.
There had been a woman, once, who had laughed and twirled madly in summer thunderstorms, her eyes shining as she turned her face up to the rain.
Turning his thoughts firmly away from her, Draco sighed and slid the glass window shut.
Hours later, when the storm had moved away and the pounding rain had become a misty drizzle, he took out the old, much-creased letter and carefully eased it open, smoothing out the worn folds as if it were the most precious thing in the world. So many times he’d been on the brink of destroying it: burning it, ripping it to pieces, somehow banishing the news contained therein, but every time he’d tried, something inside him pulled back.
Mr. Malfoy, the letter read, in exquisite, old-fashioned penmanship, as instructed, I have maintained very close, discreet surveillance on Mlle. Weasley. It is my pleasure to inform you that Mlle. Weasley was today delivered of an infant daughter, whom she has named Julia…
Twelve long years he’d carried that letter with him, the last, honest post-script to a summer of mind-games and deception. And then one day, less than two months ago, he’d received another, very different letter, and his whole world changed in the reading of it.
Mr. Malfoy, read the same exquisite, copperplate script, I regret to inform you that Mlle. Weasley’s young daughter, Julia, has been admitted to St. Mungo’s with what appears to be a rare bone disease. There is little information available regarding such an unusual sickness, although some experts believe that the cure may lie in the patient’s paternal bone marrow…
There comes a time in every man’s life, his father had once said, when he can no longer run from his responsibilities. Their affair might have been an elaborate, madly extravagant lie, but this daughter of his was not.
Quietly, he made arrangements for his return to England.
Ginny Weasley sat by her daughter’s bedside, holding tightly to her hand, as if she could somehow will her back to health. Looking down at her tired, fine-drawn face, the pale skin – devoid of any of the Weasley freckles – and the white-fair hair, shorn to within an inch of her scalp, Ginny marveled at Julia’s resemblance to her father.
Those cool, Malfoy grey eyes were unmistakable.
“Mum,” Julia whispered, shifting restlessly on the bed, opening her eyes slowly and painfully. “I’m not really going to die, am I…?”
“Of course not,” Ginny scolded, swallowing her own grief and doubts. “The doctors are sure that they can cure you.”
“Yes, but we don’t know where he is. What if we can’t…?” Nervously, she clutched at the old, tattered stuffed pig Fred and George had given her for her fifth birthday. Though it had long since ceased to sing, and the wings flapped only spasmodically, it was still a beloved, familiar toy – even for a schoolgirl who thought herself too old for such things.
“No buts,” Ginny interrupted, torn between love and irony. “If there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s that your father – wherever he is, and whatever he’s doing – is constantly aware of everything that could possibly affect his precious House. He will come back.”
Julia stared at her, eyes widening at the unusual bitterness in her tone. “You sound like Uncle Ron. You know, whenever he gets drunk and starts calling my dad a murdering, opportunistic bastard.”
Ginny only sighed. “No, darling. Only a Malfoy.”
Ginny’s experiences with the ghost of Tom Riddle had led her down the slippery, fascinating road to wizarding psychology. During the war, she’d specialized in analyzing and debriefing – and occasionally interrogating – those Death Eaters who defected to the Ministry in hopes of profit, or advancement, or sometimes simple sanctuary.
Draco Malfoy, the bright, vicious young hope of the new generation of Death Eaters, had jumped ship in early 2006, and the highly suspicious Ministry had assigned Ginny to supervise and debrief him. Twenty-six years old, a natural-born killer, he’d been one of the most fascinating subjects Ginny had ever studied – until she began to see him as a man, and not as a Death Eater.
That was when the trouble began, when she lost her objectivity and could no longer distinguish between truth and deception, between what he said, and what he meant. And when he killed his guards and disappeared into the night, never to be heard from again, it spelled the end of both her career and of any hope that she might ever trust him again.
A soft, silent movement stirred the air behind her, alerting her to a new arrival in the doorway.
She kept her eyes fixed on Julia’s sleeping form, and did not turn around.
“So,” she said. “It’s you.”
“Yes,” he answered simply. His voice was smooth, cultured, and utterly impassive; it was his most dangerous tone, his killing voice, and it sent a shocking thrill down her spine. “But then, you always knew, didn’t you.”
Her heart began to pound. She had always had a primal awareness of him, of his presence; she could feel him behind her, feel him draw closer and closer, until he stood right behind her with his hand hovering over the nape of her neck.
“Or was that a lie too?” he murmured.
She swallowed. Slowly, so very slowly, his white, elegant hand settled on her neck, cupping, caressing, possessing it. A killer’s hand. A murderer’s.
“No,” she whispered, her voice hoarse and shaking with desire. And then again, in a much stronger tone, “No.”
Immediately, he took his hand away and the spell was broken. She heard his footsteps behind her, the soft swishing of the traditional black robes he so favoured; gripping her hands together with desperate force, she turned around to face him.
She looked haunted, he thought. Her eyes were dark and vulnerable, her fire and bristle dampened by worry and fear.
“You know about Julia’s illness,” she murmured.
“I heard.” For the first time, he looked down at his daughter, asleep in her hospital bed, and saw the unmistakable stamp of Malfoy blood. And, because he was looking for it, he saw the resemblance to Ginny, in the wide, generous mouth and stubborn chin.
“She’s beautiful,” he said, surprised.
Ginny only shook her head. “She was, once. Before.”
His eyes flew up to hers, locked; for a moment, he felt the old electricity, the clash of wills and minds that had so excited him during his debriefing. But then she looked away, and the moment was lost.
“But now that you’ve come back,” she continued, her voice formal and impersonal, “the mediwitches say she has a 98% chance of recovery. I’d like to thank you –”
“Don’t thank me,” he cut her off. “I don’t want your gratitude.”
Her nostrils flared, an old, familiar sign of temper. Fascinated, he watched her conquer it.
“No. I don’t run from my responsibilities. Not anymore.”
She drew in her breath. “Your responsibilities?”
“After the operation, I’ll take her down to the Manor. She can recover in peace, there, on Malfoy land.”
That did it. Her copper-bright hair bristled and sparked, and she stepped forwards until she faced him, toe-to-toe, almost nose-to-nose. She was tall, Ginny Weasley, and strong; for a moment he thought she might actually attack him.
“You listen to me, Malfoy,” she hissed. “If it wasn’t for this disease, I would never have let you come within a hundred miles of my daughter. You are not going to take her anywhere without me, do you understand?” She stopped, thought. “How did you get back into England? I thought there was a warrant still outstanding for your arrest.”
He only smiled. “The war is over, Weasley. And old sins and indiscretions can be made to go away – for a price.”
One hundred thousand galleons, it had cost him to buy that pardon. An outrageous sum, but he had paid it willingly – the war was over, and it had been time to return home.
A small, painful whimper drew both their gazes and rendered their argument irrelevant. Julia stirred restlessly in her drugged sleep, disturbed by the tension and conflict, one thin, fragile hand half-lifting off the bed. Ginny hurried to her side, catching the restless hand and lifting it to her cheek. Watching her, his eyes falling on the old, battered toy, Draco felt a sudden surge of protectiveness, for the first time in his life glimpsing what it might mean to care for someone else’s welfare, over and above his own.
Two weeks later Julia Weasley, newly cured and slowly recovering, stepped carefully into the great stone fortress that was Malfoy Manor. Leaning heavily on her father’s arm – solid and strong, under the rich, expensive robes – she looked about her in absolute awe.
This was the great stronghold of the oldest, most powerful pureblooded House in Britain. For two and a half thousand years it had stood, the symbol of absolute and often iron-fisted Malfoy power, a monument to a past and a history that the Ministry, in their new political correctness, was currently trying to rewrite.
“Of course,” her father continued, in his dry, urbane voice, “it’s still bloody cold in winter, though.”
Julia laughed. Her mother did not, simply watched her father with dark, almost wary eyes, as if she was still not sure of him, even now. He had donated his very blood and bone to cure Julia’s disease, had returned to England as soon as he heard that she was ill – what more did her mother want?
Ignoring the awkward tension, her father took them on a condensed tour of the main rooms and corridors, commenting as they passed on the various paintings, tapestries and trophies lining the walls. Julia found it all fascinating, but most especially she loved the living, moving paintings of her ancestors, all fair-haired and with unmistakable grey Malfoy eyes. For the first time, she felt as though she belonged, instead of being the odd one out, a quiet, pale ghost beside her vivid, flamboyant cousins.
Right then and there, Julia – quiet, deep-thinking Julia, who had horrified her mother and the entire Weasley family by being sorted into Slytherin – made up her mind. She wasn’t going back to the Burrow.
She was going to stay here forever.
That night, she found her father on the battlements, his face unguarded as he looked out across the expanse of his land. Panting slightly – for she was not as recovered as she would like to be – she made her slow way towards him, testing this new relationship, so recently discovered.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” he said, when she finally got to his side. “The air is too cold.”
His voice was smooth and confident, his accent cut glass – with his sleek sophistication, he was so very different from her uncles and from every other father figure she’d ever known. When he slipped off his thick black cloak and swung it awkwardly around her shoulders, she looked up at him in absolute awe.
“I wanted to thank you,” she said, turning her nose into his cloak, enjoying the warmth and feel of the rich cashmere. “You saved my life.”
But he only shook his head. “You are my daughter. There is no need.”
She frowned. “You know, you’re very different from what I thought you would be. I mean, Uncle Ron said you were a Death Eater assassin…”
She lifted her eyes to his, and they stared at each other, two pairs of grey Malfoy eyes.
“Yes,” he said frankly, “I was. I liked my life, and had no desire to become a martyr to principle. When there was no longer any profit in it, I defected.”
“But then why did you leave? Mum said you just killed your guards and disappeared into the night.”
He did not – quite – smile. It was not a pleasant expression. “Ah. Now that is quite another matter. The Ministry saw no further profit in my continued existence.”
“B-but…” she frowned. “ Are you saying the Ministry tried to kill you? But that’s… Mum says those men were your guards. She said they were there to guard you from Death Eater assassins.”
Rapid, angry footsteps woke Ginny up out of a sound sleep. Shocked and disoriented, she sat up, drawing the sheets about her, waiting for Draco’s arrival. It did not take long: in seconds, the locking charm she had so carefully placed on the door had been blasted into smithereens, and he stormed into the bedroom, looming over her, his eyes hot and angry.
“What did you tell her?” he snarled, running a shaking hand through his hair.
She stared at him, her eyes absorbed by the sight of his bare forearm, uncovered when the sleeve of his robe slipped backwards up to his elbow. The black, malignant Mark was distinctive against his white skin.
“I haven’t told her anything,” she snapped in return. “How could I? I don’t know why you left.”
He whirled around, turning on her. “Bullshit, Weasley! You knew me better than anyone else ever has. You played me like a master –”
“I played you?” She laughed, wildly, cruelly, almost hysterically. “If anything, it was the other way around!”
“No.” He shook his head. “No, Weasley. You pried open my soul. You strung me along, playing the innocent, allowing me tastes and tidbits until I would have done anything for you – and then you betrayed me.”
“I didn’t betray you!” she shrieked, her fists clenched. “I loved you, you fool!”
He went white. “Love?” he repeated. “You loved me? Was that why you met with Lupin in secret and gave him weekly reports on my progress? Was that why you rushed off the night I left, leaving me alone to be attacked by Ministry assassins? You say you loved me, but it could only have been your recommendation –”
“You conceited, paranoid…arsehole! I was appointed to debrief you, no more, no less! Falling into bed with you was not part of the job description. I took a risk on you, Malfoy – I was emotionally involved, but I stood up for you anyway. You should have trusted me!”
“But I did trust you,” he said, his voice very quiet. “I loved you, Ginny, as I have never loved anyone else before or since. Which is why it hurt so much when you betrayed me…”
She only sighed. “Why did you come back, then, if you thought I’d betrayed you?” Shivering in the cool night air, she drew the blankets closer around her, huddling into their warmth.
He said nothing, merely watched her. Slowly, as if coming to some incredibly difficult internal decision, he sat down on the edge of her bed, reaching out to take her hand in his.
“I could not stay away,” he admitted finally.
They stayed like that for a long, long time, neither quite trusting the other yet, their only link a tenuous connection – a passionate past, a wary, vulnerable present, and an uncertain future. But still, their hands clasped and held tightly, as if neither truly wished to let go.
“My father is an Unspeakable,” said Julia Malfoy, tossing her long white-fair hair over her shoulder. “He goes on important missions for the Ministry all the time. That’s why he was always away when I was young; to protect me and my mother while he was pretending to be a Death Eater.”
Helena Nott grinned maliciously, showing off her perfect white teeth. “Oh, really? My mother says that he ran off at the height of the war, leaving your mother pregnant and alone.”
Julia’s eyes narrowed dangerously. All around her, her fellow Slytherins watched avidly, waiting to see how she would handle this blatant provocation – her temper was notorious, and she had been involved in four fights already this term, fighting to establish a position of strength in the Serpent House.
“Take that back,” Julia said quietly, fingering her wand.
Helena smirked. “Make me.”
They stared at each other a while longer, their eyes narrowing, and then they drew.
Julia was faster.
“Well, really, Julia,” her mother said, “you can’t just go ‘round turning other girls into hideous, ugly hags.”
Julia sniffed. “She deserved it.”
Ginny Malfoy did not look impressed. Julia looked to her father, then, standing behind her mother’s chair, his hand on her shoulder, all his protective instincts focused on his wife and the baby she carried – conceived in love, trust, and joy, after twelve long years of emptiness.
Draco Malfoy looked at Julia and winked. “Be more subtle, next time,” he said.
Her mother sighed and cast her eyes up at him, smiling; an exasperated, laughing smile that made Julia sigh with envy. Then, with her father’s help, she heaved herself out of the chair and opened her arms wide. Julia hugged her, gently, feeling the baby between them, and felt her father’s strong, sure arms enfold them all.
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