A/N GAHHHH I know it's been an uncharasterically long time and…I'm really really sorry. If you're wondering, yes, this story WILL be finished. And no, I haven't forgotten about it at all. Hopefully it's not going to happen again, but I've got college applications and stuff and absolutely NO TIME in the world. Anyways. Accept my apologies and a slightly more D/G chapter in place, oui? grins endearingly And remember the review!
Chapter 5. A Ride on the Wild Side
Ginny Weasley stalked down the cobblestone path to the stables with her heart beating so erratically it overwhelmed her in the quiet. That was terrible, and risky, and you could've gotten caught by bloody Malfoy, she told herself angrily as she approached, replaying the scenes from a moment earlier in her head – shuffling through Malfoy's private drawers, reading his letters, getting nearly caught by his house elf. Thankfully she'd stuffed the letters back and slammed the drawer shut behind her as the elf had opened the door, and was able to convince him with a good deal of acting that she'd gotten lost in the twisting hallways.
"Master is waiting for you," the elf had said after a few moments of long, deliberate silence, and Ginny had nearly hugged him in joy. "Down by the stables, he is waiting for you."
So she went, determined that she could retrieve the letters later, and begged the elf not to tell Malfoy, claiming it was her first day on the job and she needed the money. Back at Hogwarts when Hermione had started S.P.E.W, she'd been told that the way to house elf's heart, or at least the way to get them to do your bidding, was to appeal to the ones with the cruel masters. Demote yourself to gain sympathy, and therefore earn their trust. This advice, of course, had not been related by the ever-avenging Hermione, but instead Neville, who she'd turned to when the trio had left her by herself.
That, though, was all a different story.
Malfoy was standing just within her frame of view as she approached the barn, turned slightly so that his profile was visible to her. Ginny paused at the bottom of the hill, ducking behind one of the nearing bushes to observe him for a moment. She'd expected him to be annoyed or at least impatient with the time she was taking to appear, but he had the same mask of indifference on as he always wore – apparently, she thought wryly, it wasn't much of a mask but instead a face that seemed to never leave.
How can anyone go through life never showing emotion? Ginny found herself wondering. Then again, Malfoy wasn't just anyone. He was one of the wealthiest and most privileged of society – the elite, whether she would want to classify him as so or not – and she could assume that keeping cool was just another home lesson which came with his family upbringing. For a moment, she felt a fleeting sympathy of sorts, remembering Snape's words and thinking that truly, she never would be able to understand how Draco Malfoy had been as a child. There would be no comparison, she realized, because while she hadn't the new brooms and fascinating toys, she did have a family who loved her, and she doubted that Lucius Malfoy could've been one to often provide love. She wondered if toys were enough substitue for a young boy, and then decided that nothing could replace love – that maybe, just maybe, Draco was as cold as he was because all he really wanted was somebody to love him.
Ginny let out a sharp exhalation of breath. As if, she thought darkly. Draco Malfoy is a terrible, evil person because he just is. And the only person he would ever want to love him is himself. Thought of the letter she had just heard flew into her mind, and she further proved her own point with the knowledge that he did have his mother. But even Narcissa can't possibly undo what Lucius must've taught his child…
As Draco lifted a hand to brush against the beautiful white unicorn, however, she was suddenly struck with an image of another Draco Malfoy – a Draco who posessed the same skills and talents but had an entirely different surrounding. Her lips parted slightly involuntarily as she was propelled into an alternate universe of her own, mentally replacing his expensive black robe with a pair of scruffy trousers and a worn sweater. The resulting Draco, she found, was not entirely unpleasant.
"Master, your saddle is ready," said one of the house-elves, interrupting Ginny's train of thought. He was acknowledged with a curt nod, and then Draco turned a little more so she caught the entirety of his face, the aristocratic air that had somewhat lessened without the coldness of his eyes, a coldness now fully in view. The sweater-wearing Draco returned to her minds, and the idea that they could be one person seemed more ludicrous by the moment. That Draco doesn't exist, Ginny reminded herself quickly, stepping out as if to shake whatever thoughts she'd been having along with their implications.
He had sharp reflexes, and spotted her immediately. Keeping his sharp eyes focused on her as she neared him, no doubt taking in the plainness of her clothes, he used his other hand to casually loosen the clasps of his robe. Even when she had come to a full stop before him, he said nothing, simply staring with raised eyebrows and continuing to fiddle with his clasp. As if she had no control of her own body, she felt her cheeks warm under his scrutinizing gaze. Somehow, Ginny thought wryly, he always managed to make her feel three centimeters tall, and somehow she always looked grossly underdressed beside him.
"I wasn't aware people got dollied up for riding," she flushed hotly before he had chance to say anything and refusing to be embarassed.
Draco looked at her for a long, deriding moment. "Is that why you were hiding behind the vegetation?" He asked calmly, and returned to a stubborn silver clasp which refused to loosen.
Ginny ignored him. "I don't see how we'd go riding in full robes anyhow," she went on confidently. "It's highly impractical."
"I realize," He retorted, and her eyebrows flew up in alarm. She hadn't expected him to agree. "That's why I'm removing my robe," he gestured to the garmet he was currently struggling with. "So we can go riding in a practical manner."
"Why are we riding anyways?" she demanded, folding her arms pertinently across her chest. "Because at breakfast, I was somehow not given the impression you wanted to spend time with me. Not that I want to spend time with you, either."
At her words, Draco paused and flashed her a cool smirk. "Ginny," he told her rather amusedly, "Your job is to spend time with me. Though it should be the other way around, especially with your kind. Not that I'd ever really need to work for money, of course."
"My kind?" Her voice was unnaturally high. "And exactly what are you trying to imply with that?"
"I mean the kind," he replied in what almost seemed an exasperated voice, "That doesn't even know how to ride unicorns. Which is why we're here, Ginny, whether you think or not I like to spend time with common people, because to be in my presence and in the presence of the public, unicorns are often involved. And it would not fare well for you to appear in affiliation with anything Malfoy and not know how to mount a bloody unicorn properly, would it?"
She felt a sharp wave of anger knife through her, and she glared at him furiously, despite the fact that his eyes were concentrated with a good deal of frustration on his clasp still. "I can't believe we're having this discussion again," she seethed. "You calling me a bloody commoner like you bloody even know me, you bloody prat."
"Bloody true," he agreed mockingly.
"For all you know," she continued, "I could be a professional unicorn rider. I could teach you some things about riding unicorns." It infuriated her even more that he didn't seem to be paying her mind at all, and in one swift motion she reached out and flicked open the clasp, jumping as her hand brushed against his own cool one. Stepping back quickly, she spat, "And if you're so high above me, why can't you undo your own sodding robe?"
Draco said nothing to this, only sweeping off his robe easily to reveal an equally expensive-looking pair of pressed charcoal trousers and a pristine white collared shirt, both of which seemed to Ginny grossly inappropriate for riding still. He slung the robe carelessly across one of the stable doors, and then turned sharply on his heel, gesturing for her to follow him. "We of the non-common folk haven't much knowledge of clothes except that they should be rightly more than fifty galleons," he said over his shoulder after a brief second, and there was something about the way he said it which suggested to her that he was not entirely serious.
Still, she felt her temper boiling. "Yet you spend time with the common," she muttered, glowering at his back.
Draco whirled around so quickly she almost ran into him. Her instincts still in tact from dodging quaffles back in her quidditch days, however, Ginny stopped just centimeters from his chest, cheeks pinking as she raised her eyes to meet his. To her surprise, he was staring at her with an odd sort of intensity flickering in the mercury of his eyes, an indecipherable gleam appearing within them as he studied her. "I do," he finally said in a soft, dangerous voice, "But only to break them."
There was such seriousness in his words that Ginny felt a shudder run through her. But before she had chance to reply or even further contemplate their conversation, however, he had turned once more, reaching out his hand as a house-elf approached with a stunning black unicorn behind him.
"My unicorn," said Draco shortly, and her eyes grew wide.
"I thought they were always white," she breathed, for she had rarely been in such close proximity with a unicorn. The thought flitted through her head then that since childhood, she'd always fantasized of owning a unicorn. But that dream had long diminished, if not by the realities of maturing at Hogwarts then by the dreary hopelessness of the war. Yet here I am, living on Draco Malfoy's estate, preparing to ride unicorns with him. Ironic.
"They usually are," He answered, and his voice lost its biting quality. "The one you'll be riding is. The female ones most always are white, actually. And since they're much more common, they're also the ones most commonly marketed. Black unicorns are a rarity, a treasure."
"And what happens if a white and black unicorn mate?" asked Ginny with great curiosity, eyes growing even wider as Draco unhooked the stable door and gently ushered out a beautiful white specimen. In that moment, all thought of her assignment, of bringing down Malfoy suddenly flew out of her head, and she was awed by the sight of the magestic beast before her.
"Ah," Draco nodded. "That's an even greater rarity. In the history of the wizarding world, there have only been five cases of such breedings, none of which were recent enough to be photographed, and rumor has it that they turn out silver."
"Silver, really?" Ginny echoed in unsupressed delight.
An expression of surprise briefly settled in his features, but then it was gone and he nodded once more. "A rumor, of course," he reminded most unexcitedly
"Of course," she agreed, and gently stroked the side of her unicorn, a small smile curling her lips involuntarily. "What's her name?"
"Ariadne," He said, and Ginny was oblivious to the fact that he was watching her under lidded eyes as she gently ran her fingers through the unicorn's mane.
"Ariadne," she repeated softly, grinning as the creature let out a content sort of sound. "Well aren't you just the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." She turned quickly, gaze focusing on the great black unicorn and seemingly forgetting where she was, who she was with. "And what's his name?"
He glanced at the woods for a brief moment before replying. "Theseus."
"Theseus and Ariadne," Ginny mulled over this in thought. "Wanted them to mate, did you? Well I suppose a silver unicorn would've brought your family great money. Of course, make the wealthy wealthier, the selfish selfisher."
Draco frowned at her. "Selfisher is not a word," he told her rather icily. "And what's this about wanting them to mate?"
Whatever spell Ginny had been under at the introduction of the unicorns suddenly disappated at the sudden chill of his voice, because the world around her seemed to settle in suddenly, and realization flitted across her face, followed briefly by horror. "Theseus and Ariadne," she said again, slightly helplessly as her face reddened. How could I have allowed myself to get so carried away by two unicorns? And is it possible that he named these two after a Greek mythological couple by coincedence? That would be far to great of a coincidence, surely…
"What in the devil's name are you gabbing on about?" He demanded, and now he sounded slightly annoyed.
She only shook her head, and it dawned on her then. "You didn't name them."
He scowled. "Of course not, you daft bint. Now come on, we're not getting younger. Get on your bloody animal. Let's see if you're half as professional as you claim to be, mmm?"
I don't know how. Ginny swallowed audibly, eyes darting to the ground as her own words from moments prior floated into her head. She wished direly now she hadn't lost her head with him and gone on about commoners and unicorn-riding, because now admitting that she really had no clue how to go about mounting the damn thing, let alone riding, would cost her pride quite a few blows. "Um," she stalled.
Draco narrowed his eyes, obviously suspicious. "What."
She exhaled sharply, forcing herself to meet his gaze with as much dignity as she could force into her posture. "Idon'tknowhow," she blurted out, and cringed, waiting for the torrent of smug words to come. He stared at her with a cross of disbelief and frustration, and she added a meek, "My Lord", hoping it would soften the blow.
If he was anything other than annoyed, Draco made no indication. "I don't have time for this," he muttered under his breath, and she crossed her arms uncertainly, because now it certainly didn't seem right to reprimand him. He moved behind her suddenly, to her utter surprise, and circled one arm around her waist. Ginny stiffened in alarm, letting out a yelp, but before she had a chance to pull away or even protest, he had looped the other around her lower body and hoisted her up swiftly onto the animal with the ease of someone who had done so thousands of times before.
Without another word, he strolled away from her and mounted his own unicorn gracefully, leaving her speechless on Ariadne, face beet red with mortification and body tingling from the soft pressure of where his fingers had touched her.
For the first time in her entire life, Hermione was late to work. It was, perhaps, the most mortifying day of her career, as she walked in sans flowers and sans pride, head down and avoiding Snape's scrutinizing gaze at all costs and shuffled to her office. Most people who heard about the Freedom League imagined men and women in leather pantsuits and high-tech wands, who met in an underground cave and talked in code. In reality, it was not nearly as glamorous, and not all that different from the Ministry of Magic. As all organizations went, there was paperwork to be done and as the League only accepted the most elite of aurors, those elite were the only ones privileged enough to handle such information. The offices, of course, had no windows, being in an alternative dimension and all. Hermione herself was not sure where she was after she entered the iron-grid doors, and never thought to wonder. The whole concepts of other dimensions was a bit much for anyone to handle, even her. It was one of those things most left unquestioned and unexplained, because there was no other choice.
Thankfully, her pregnant coworker had drawn most of the fellow leaguers into her own office, and Hermione was able to slip inside unnoticed. A part of her felt happy for the woman – Sophie Kingsley was her name – but another bitter part of her felt it was unreasonable to have a child in the middle of all this war, felt that no such child could have the normal or happy upbringing they deserved. That part, Hermione knew deep down, came from knowing that she had miscarried the baby growing inside her the day Ron died. She had never told anyone this, of course, as they all seemed to blame her for Ron's death already – she couldn't imagine what Mrs. Weasley would've done had she known that the last living piece of Ron too had been killed.
With a sigh, Hermione put such jealousies out of her mind and opened her cabinet. "Accio parchments," she murmured softly, and a sheath of thick papers flew into her hands. Rubbing her forehead and willing herself not think of Ron or the Weasleys or Harry Potter, she picked up a quill, and bowed her head to skim over the work before her.
The case she'd been assigned was one she'd picked through to no end, and yet there seemed no leads. Three weeks ago, the Freedom League had accepted their first non-English officer – a twenty-four-year old auror with an impressive resume from the Ministry in Italy, where Voldemort had recently attacked. Young but legendary, she was Jezebel Giani, a vibrant, beautiful raven-haired witch with sultry violet eyes and a thick accent who had most of the League's male counterparts on their knees when she smiled. She was the kind of beauty Hermione had always wished herself to be – striking and unique, and yet not some demure pageant queen who let men put her on a pedastal. Well, the last part wasn't entirely true – Jezebel was more than willing to be put on a pedastal, but she was still intelligent and headstrong, and all in all a valuble asset to the League.
One week ago, Jezebel had disappeared.
Hermione had issued all the disapparation tracers in the country, had stepped through Jezebel's plush suite time and time again, and in the end she had no leads. It was as if one morning, Jezebel Giani had vanished from the face of the earth. She was in her bed, and then she wasn't, and there was no accounting for what had happened during or after.
"Late, were we?" came a voice from above her, and Hermione glanced up to see Severus Snape staring at her with a slightly amused expression on his face.
She grimaced. "It won't happen again," she said in her most polite and respectful voice, and suddenly she felt as if she were sixteen and in Potions at Hogwarts.
For a moment, it seemed as if Snape was going to berate her, but then he seemed to change his mind, instead directing his attention to the paper before her. "I see you're still stymied over the Giani disappearance."
"Yes," she groaned, burying her head in her arms. "I just don't understand what could've happened to her. She knew a lot of our information in the two weeks we briefed her here, didn't she?"
Snape pursed his lips and gave her a long, searching stare. "You think she was a double agent?"
Hermione let out another frustrated sigh. "I've considered it. But she was a good auror, wasn't she?"
"Italy's best," he confirmed.
"So she couldn't have run off," she concluded. "It couldn't have been her double-timing us. She was too good of an auror and too loyal to Italy's ministry to do that. And I mean, with the League's standards and background checks and truth potions…no, if she was a double there's no possible way she would've infiltrated us. There's no possible way we would've given her so much information."
"You're certain, then," Snape asked.
She nodded, and went on. "That means somebody must have gotten to her, kidnapped her or…I'm thinking coerced her into leaving. But where? Nobody saw her leave. She didn't disapparate. She didn't even floo, for chrissakes. And if she traveled like a bloody muggle, then some muggle would've seen her. And believe me, I've questioned. They haven't. Furthermore, I've checked with the Italian Ministry, and she didn't come to England with a permit for an Invisibility Cloak, so she would have to be seen, wouldn't she?"
He raised an eyebrow in a prompt for her to continue.
"It just confuses me," Hermione said tiredly, "How someone like Jezebel can vanish, how all traces of her and life can just…disappear. She's not the type to go unnoticed, Severus, even you're male enough to realize that, and yet nobody, nobody has spotted her. It's like she's invisible."
They stared at the parchment together in befuddled silence for a moment, and then Snape patted her shoulder in a comforting sort of gesture she'd never seen him do before. "Maybe," he said slowly, "The reason why she seems to have vanished is because she really isn't here anymore."
Hermione sent him a confused glance.
"Maybe," Snape shrugged, his words slow and deliberate, "We're looking for a corpse. Maybe Jezebel Giani is dead."
Like everything else important in this world, Hermione thought.
Thirty minutes passed in silence between Ginny and Draco as they rode out into the thick woods adjacent to the manor. He spoke nothing to her, and she did not feel the need to interrupt the delicate peace they had somewhat established despite her occasional (quelched) wonder as to whether they were still on his grounds. For the most part, Ginny was content to revel in the woodsy scents and delightful sounds of the woods, as there was something oddly relaxing about riding, which she supposed was because she'd never before ridden a unicorn. At this she felt a strange and unwarranted twinge of embarassment for her delight, as he'd not said anything degrading to her. Come to think of it, he'd not even given her one of his trademark degrading sneers. The embarassment, she decided then, was attributed to the fact that the path he took her on was only wide enough to contain one unicorn at a time, and thus she ended up behind him, staring now and then at the back of his perfectly groomed head. Had he been at her side, he would've surely commented by now.
Unwillingly, her thoughts went to him once more. Though she wanted to temporarily forget where she was and why she was there, the inevitability of her task still loomed overhead. Still, the more she thought about it, the more she felt as if all this – the job, Hermione, Viane – was all a dream. Or a terrible, horrible nightmare she wanted to wake up from right now. It just didn't seem real, Ginny rationalized, being here in a crisp black helmet emblazoned Malfoy and riding on one of her worst enemy's beautiful unicorns, making small talk.
Okay, scratch the small talk part.
And here she was, with a good deal of evidence in her hands, surely able to put Malfoy away for life and earn more of the fame she truly deserved. Maybe, just maybe, Harry would return to her – just as a friend, of course – and maybe she could feel at least some closure to the overwhelming guilt which had stayed by her side since Ron's death. But that was all too easy, too conveniant. She felt that perhaps there was some master plan in all of this, some catch or some glitch.
But then again, when had fame solved anything for Ginny Weasley? It certainly hadn't when Ron had died – no, she'd always been plenty reknowned at the workplace. First division auror, though certainly no Freedom Leaguer, she was quick and intelligent and…and what? Ginny sighed despite herself, for she knew the answer to this question. And utterly devoid of hope.
This was no time to feel sorry for herself though, Ginny reminded herself bitterly. She was here for a job, and she would finish that job.
"My lord," she said then, breaking the heavy quiet between them.
Draco looked up sharply, as if surprised to find her there. "Yes?" He demanded a bit snippily, though not entirely unkindly.
She bit her lip. "How was your childhood?" Ginny blurted out.
He narrowed those intimidating silver eyes at her, seeming put off and rather unsure he'd heard her correctly. "Excuse me? My childhood?"
Seeing he hadn't yet ordered her to shut her mouth, she pressed on daringly. "Yes, my lord, tell me about your childhood. Please."
"I haven't anything to tell," he replied, setting his mouth into a firm line and looking straight ahead, a blunt signal that their conversation was finished.
How about why you feel attached enough to your mother to save her letters? How about whether you loved your parents enough to follow them into Voldemort's plan without question? "You have to have something," she said instead, aware she was treading on dangerously thin ice. "Everyone has a childhood, my lord." Draco glanced at her with a flicker of displeasure written upon his aristocratic features, and she added, "Even a pompous, unfeeling snit as yourself."
Ginny could swear there was a tiny smile at the corner of his lips, but it must have been an illusion because then it was gone, and up again came the stony indifference. "I never said I didn't have a childhood," He retorted. "I just said that I haven't anything to tell you. Which I don't. I hired you for certain public affairs, and yes, then you are my alleged 'companion', but until then, don't try to get personal with me. I don't need a bloody therapist, Ginny, and a certainly don't need someone like you in my business."
"Someone like me?" she repeated incredulously. "Oh wait, you mean a commoner."
"No," he snapped, "I mean a nosy bint who doesn't know what's good for her."
"And you know what's good for me?" scoffed Ginny.
He sighed in an almost tired way. "I didn't say that either," Draco answered impatiently. "I said you don't. Do stop putting words in my mouth, Ginny."
Biting back her cheeky retort, Ginny glared at him for a moment and then pretended to be highly fascinated by Ariadne's beautiful mane. "You know," she burst out after a moment, unable to suppress the words any longer. "I just don't understand you."
"What makes you think you're meant to understand me, hmm?" he replied smoothly without hesitating once. "What makes you think that anyone understands me? And what makes you think I care if people understand me?"
She ignored him. "I don't understand why you would hire me if you hate me so much. I don't understand why you have to hire anyone at all."
His eyes glinted, and now she was certain there was slight amusement in them. "Why I have to hire anyone at all?" He repeated silkily. "Do explain."
"Stop," Ginny snapped. "You know perfectly well what I mean. As much as I think you're a lousy human being and a total asshole – which, I might add, is an entirely accurate assessment – let's not forget that you're worth more than most of England put together. And that, to plenty of women, is more than enough reward to put up with you."
"Put up with me?" Draco said incredulously."Put up with me? Women are lucky if I even as much give them a seconds consideration. Women fight over one another to fill a spot that's not in my will, or in my trust fund, but in my bed."
"Then why," she near shouted, triumphant he had fallen right into her trap, "if you have so many beautiful and available women, would you dish out money to make me, a lowly commoner, your bloody companion?"
He looked at her for one long, scrutinizing moment. In which everything around her seemed to slow, in which probing silver bored into her from under heavy lids, in which she felt her own world spinning around for reasons unknown. And then, as abruptly as he'd turned towards her, he turned away, staring out into the trail before them.
"My lord?" she asked in a calmer voice after a few seconds of quiet.
"My mother was a companion for my father," he said finally, flatly. She blinked in surprise, and darted a quick glance at him, but he was still staring straight ahead with an impassive face. "She was a trophy wife, but not your typical trophy wife. I mean, she was beautiful of course – all the women in this society really are, except maybe the Bulstrodes. But she was more than that, she was the sort of woman that most men are drawn to in one glance, the sort of woman that passes someone on the street and leaves them thinking about her for hours later. Not house-wife frumpy like you." Ginny, for her part, was too riveted to retort, and too afraid to disturb whatever had propelled Draco Malfoy to talk so openly about his parents. "And she was so different from my father."
"It didn't seem like it," Ginny said softly. He gave her a sharp look, and she added, "I just mean that whenever they were seen in public they appeared bred of one bloodline. I've read the journals, you know." And, of course, that letter in your room which certainly indicates she followed his causes.
"Of course they seemed like it," Draco replied, still not looking at her. "That's what made her such a trophy wife. In the papers, they were Lucius and Narcissa, this couple of beauty and wealth and elegance who lived a charmed, if somewhat hidden life. She was rich, he was richer, and together they could've bought Hogwarts. But you have to understand that beyond the papers they were people." He seemed lost in thought for a moment, but continued in a voice with such a quality it didn't seem he was talking about his own parents. "Lucius Malfoy – my father – people were afraid of him. And rightly so. He carried two wands with him at all time, one minimized out of sight. And a sword, dipped in Hydra poison, charmed to stay conspicuous with his clothing. He distrusted the public, his friends, most things in general."
"And you?" Ginny asked. "Did he distrust you?"
Draco ignored her. Obviously, she noted, he was willing to share as long as he didn't share anything about himself. Yet wasn't this himself, his childhood, his parents?
"He was, in one word, paranoid. And you could see it in his eyes. Eyes tell you so much about a person, you know that? You look into someone's eyes, and you can see their pains, their fears, their past." Draco paused again, as if conjuring the image of his father in his mind. "But not my father. Everything was hidden with my father. You could see something, alright, but you never knew exactly what. You could see coldness and ruthlessness and a lot of distrust and hatred, but you could never, ever tell if it was aimed at you. Mostly, you looked into his eyes and you saw your reflection, and not much else."
I saw that hatred, thought Ginny. I saw that hatred, and it terrified me.
"My mother, though, he trusted her. Most people did, despite her reputation in the days before she died. She had this charm, this aura, which drew people in. Generally she was a closed person, kept away from the public eye and other people, but when she was around them – she was…bubbly. Kind. Stubborn in her own beliefs but a good person, had a good heart." A small semblance of a smile came to Draco's lips, and in that moment Ginny wondered if he even knew she was there, if he was even talking to her anymore.
"The Black family," Draco said, "they have blue eyes. My mother was a Black, and she had those blue eyes. They weren't the kind of blue that turned grey at times, but a pale, iridescent blue that twinkled when she laughed and became dark when she cried. My sister had her eyes."
Sister? Ginny thought, alarmed as she racked her brains to remember a female Malfoy. "You have a sister?" she asked aloud, and then inwardly winced. He's a stranger, she reminded herself. Of course he could have a sister. You aren't supposed to know anything about him.
There was a hint of what could've been suspicion in his eyes when he looked at her, but it was gone as quickly as it'd appeared. "We called her Vie" Draco said, and even now there was no emotion in his voice. "In French, it means 'life'. I was five when she was born, and nine when she died. My father wanted a daughter, actually. Never really recovered from it."
He wanted daughter to terrorize, Ginny mentally added despite a small, involuntary glimmer of sympathy for the Malfoys. She'd seen the effects of death on her parents when Ron had died, and couldn't imagine what her own family would do if they lost a child so young.
"How did she die?" she asked, masking her curiosity by mimicking his dry, flat inflection.
There was a silence. "Carriage accident," Draco finally said, clearly not planning to elaborate.
"My father started seeing other women after that," He went on as if he really didn't care. "They both became different. She rarely went out before, but now she was confined to her rooms. Had tempermental mood swings, and I guess my father didn't want to be around her too much. She stayed faithful, though. I don't think she had it in her. And despite the other women, he'd always come back to her. Those eyes of hers, they drew him in, the way they drew everyone in. Even when they're empty."
Ginny was, as ever, silent.
He paused, and then glanced at her. "I have my father's eyes."
They dismounted a good four hours later, when the air had started to thin a bit and Ginny had seen just about all the landscape Malfoy Manor and the surrounding forests could offer. She had also come to realize that if someone was trapped in the Manor against their own will, there was literally no possible way for them to escape.
Draco helped her down. He had not said much since his odd burst about his parents, at least not much beyond the mandatory grunt and acknowledgement of her presence. She had the good mind to conclude that he was not about to reveal anything else, either, and thus was content to keep her mouth shut and use the peace and quiet to mull over what she'd learned about him.
"Well," He said as one of the house elves led the unicorns away, "at least one of your many commoner flaws is now covered."
Somehow, his words were different than before, and somehow she didn't feel the need to lash when he called her common.
Draco nodded at her curtly, flung his black robe over one arm, and then began to saunter towards the mansion. The thought which had been nagging at her all day suddenly seemed unbearable, and as she stared blankly at his lean legs, she knew that she needed an answer. "Wait," Ginny called before she could stop herself, and jogged a little to catch up with him.
He pivoted gracefully, stopped and watched her near with expectance in his eyes.
"You never answered my question," she said breathlessly when she was at his side.
"Your question," he repeated, folding his arms across his chest.
"I still don't understand, Mal—my lord, why you've hired me," Ginny said. "You said it yourself, you don't need to pay women to have them. And you certainly don't need to pay a woman just for companionship. And even if you did, why in the world would you pick me? You've done all you can to be hostile and create animosity, and no doubt you think you're all high and mighty and so much better than a commoner. So answer me that, hmm? Why?"
The smirk he gave her then was so cold she felt a tremor of a chill run through her body. He said nothing at first, simply stared at her with the same unfathomable steel in his eyes as the sounds of nature and her own labored breathing grew louder to her own ears. He stared as she met his eyes with defiance and fury, stared as some sort of calculation or response formulated in that cryptic mind of his.
"You'll understand in time," he finally said, and this time a chill did run through her, because beneath that ice and malevolence and threat in his voice there was a tint of glee, a tint of suggestion that he would enjoy whatever ill fate he planned to bestow upon her.
She shuddered, and Draco laughed. It was a most unpleasant sound.
"You should know," he said, leaning a little closer to her and lowering his voice, "that I'm a planner. Everything I do is calculated, every response you make can be predicted. Ever play Wizard's chess, Ginny?"
She nodded mutely, her mouth suddenly dry.
"You have your strategies," he continued, "You win little battles. Make little steps. But I, I have the advantage." He stepped towards her, looked down into brown pools of angered confusion, and grinned leeringly. "For I can see the entire board. I have the master plan, the end move, I have the victory where it counts. You might not be able to see it now, no I'm sure you can't see it right now, but—you will. In time. When it counts, when it's too late for you, when everything I've calculated falls into place."
Ginny swallowed audibly, feeling cold and angry and regretful she'd asked all at the same time, but even then she couldn't bring herself to pull away from him.
"Life is all just a game, Ginny," he said, and then strolled away.
End of Chapter 5