It Takes a Thief
The museum gala had barely begun, but Draco Malfoy was already impatient to leave. When his date returned from 'powdering her nose,' he would make their excuses and go.
He glanced around the candlelit gallery. The jewellery adorning the Wizarding elite paled in comparison to the wealth of ancient Egypt on display. An amulet behind protective glass caught his eye. The red disk on a straight line of gold represented the sun on the horizon.
"Are you going to steal that?"
The challenging, slightly husky voice did not belong to his date. Draco kept his eyes on the charm while he replied, "Some would consider the Shen worth stealing. It was associated with the sun god and thought to bring long life to the wearer."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the young woman's brows draw together. "Some. Not you?"
He turned to face her. "No. The amulet is made of carnelian."
It was amusing to watch her fight the impulse to ask about the stone. She lost the inner battle. "So?"
Draco repressed a smile. "Carnelian is ill-omened."
"Not particularly. Egyptians were, however, especially about colour."
The flat disbelief in her voice triggered a fleeting smile. "Yes." He trailed a finger across the ends of her long hair. "Red was the colour of fire, the colour of Set, god of storms."
Her head jerked back. "What about white?"
Was she referring to his hair or skin tone? Draco smirked. "They revered it." He rubbed a fingertip against the thin strap of her ivory gown. "That's why it was used to portray clothing."
When his finger touched creamy skin, she sidestepped, verbally and physically. "How do you know so much about this stuff?"
"I'm a patron of the museum. They send me brochures."
Brown eyes flashed. "Then you are planning to steal the amulet."
"No, I am not." He lifted a brow. "What makes you accuse me of such a thing? Weasley prejudice?"
She blinked. "You recognised me?"
Draco almost did something he had not done in a long time: laugh. "Freckles, red hair, disposition to match…even if I didn't remember that Bat Bogey Hex, I would still recognise you, Ginevra Weasley."
"It's Ginny," she said, "and I'm not prejudiced. I'm an Auror who's onto you, Malfoy."
He stepped closer, thinking her soft, floral scent did not match her bold personality. "It's Draco. You're trying to get on with me? I'm flattered, but what would your brothers say?"
Pretty cheeks flushed deep pink. "That isn't what I meant!" She leaned forward, eyes snapping. "I'll call you Malfoy, because I'm not on a first-name basis with criminals."
"I'm not a criminal. I am a businessman who has left past associations behind." Draco saw uncertainty flicker in her eyes. He said, "What would your superiors say if I filed a charge of harassment against you?"
Her voice trembled. "One day they'll see I'm right. One day—" She broke off her impassioned speech when the museum director scurried over.
Brent's double chin jiggled like a turkey's wattle. "I hired you to patrol the exhibits, Miss, not socialise."
Draco, prompted by some bizarre impulse, drawled, "Socialise? Hardly. Auror Weasley was reassuring me that every artefact will be zealously safeguarded."
Brent fingered his thin beard. "Is that right? Very well. Carry on, Weasley."
She shot Draco an 'I didn't need your help' look as she stalked away.
Giselle returned from her trip to the loo. "I ran into a photographer from the Daily Prophet," she said excitedly. "He wants a picture of us for the society page."
Draco's eyes followed Ginny Weasley. "Don't you get enough photos taken on the job?"
The willowy model giggled. "Draco, darling, it's not the same thing." She slipped her arm through his. "Please?"
Weasley glanced his way and saw Giselle clinging like a leech. She curled her lip. He smiled knowingly. She had her eye on him for more than professional reasons.
It was in Draco's interest to humour his date. He nodded. "Fine. Then we're leaving."
Although he left the gallery without looking back, the conversation with Ginny replayed in his mind for the rest of the evening. Even back at Hogwarts, she had been a girl to reckon with. Now, with her bright Auror badge and dark suspicions, she was more so.
At the end of the date, Giselle leapt at the opportunity to come home with him. In the bedroom, he handed her a glass of champagne, thinking her auburn hair seemed dull compared to a more fiery shade of red. When she fell asleep in the middle of her second toast, Draco took the glass from her fingers.
Methodically, he stripped his date, contrasting her tall, angular body to a shorter, curvier one. He frowned. Imagining Ginny naked was counterproductive. He needed all his wits about him when he returned to the museum in a few hours.
On the bed, Giselle started to snore. Draco grimaced. He wondered if a Muting Charm on top of sleeping potion would have any side effects. With a shrug, he decided that since this was the one and only time the woman would sleep in his bed, he could put up with it. After all, he put up with worse imposition on a regular basis.
He strolled to the wardrobe and slid aside the concealed panel. A bitter smile crossed his face. Draco lifted out a rucksack, feeling grim satisfaction, as he thought not for much longer.
The day after the museum gala, Ginny Weasley shook the Daily Prophet before tossing it onto her Auror partner's desk. "I told you he'd strike again!"
Megan Jones looked the paper over and then glanced up, blue eyes twinkling. "The weatherman? I agree. Bloke's addicted to alliteration."
Ginny stared blankly at the headline Surprise Sunny Spell for Second Week of September. She turned the paper over. "No. Draco Malfoy!"
"Merlin, he is on a roll. How many models has he dated in the last month?"
"Four, but that's not important. Look at the caption beneath the photograph."
"Draco Malfoy and guest attend museum gala." Megan tucked a strand of wavy brown hair behind her ear. "Bet the model's in a nark because her name isn't mentioned."
Ginny found an article at the back page of the newspaper and stabbed her finger at it. "I volunteered to work security and confronted Malfoy when I saw him staring at the amulet." She shook her head. "He almost convinced me he wasn't going to steal it."
"It wasn't an amulet that was stolen."
Megan read aloud, "Museum officials are baffled over the theft of a statue from the Egyptian gallery. In an interview, Director Gervais Brent praised 'top-notch security' for vigilance that limited the theft to a single item."
Ginny picked up the paper. "Okay. He stole a statue instead of an amulet, and broke into a museum instead of a house this time, but he's still a cat burglar!" When her partner failed to respond, she said, "Do you want me to get my file?"
"No. I don't want to see the same old clippings from the Prophet and hear the same old conspiracy allegations." Megan held up her hand when Ginny opened her mouth to speak. "The only evidence you have is circumstantial."
"He was at every place that was burgled."
"My cousin Gwenog went to a few of those parties. D'you think she's a cat burglar when she's not a Beater for the Harpies?" Megan exhaled heavily. "Look, a year ago I was like you, eager to prove myself. I bided my time and arrested a Dark wizard. You will too, but it won't be Draco Malfoy."
Ginny's fingers crumpled the paper in frustration. "I know he's a thief!"
"You can't even link the items you say he stole or offer a motive. All you have is opportunity, and last I heard, having a social life isn't a crime." Megan said dryly, "You could do with one yourself."
"I have friends."
"But no boyfriend."
No boyfriend since Harry told me for the final time that there were things he had to do alone, Ginny thought wistfully. Since the selfless hero kissed me goodbye and went off to fight evil that did not end with Voldemort. She sighed. Harry Potter was the kind of man that made it impossible to settle for someone ordinary.
Her partner sighed too. "I didn't want to bring this up, but there are two words for your obsession with Draco Malfoy."
"Pansy Parkinson," Megan cut in. "They say after he ended the engagement she started following him around, making unfounded accusations."
Ginny surged to her feet. "I'm not mental and I won't end up in St. Mungo's!"
"I hope not."
Screaming was not the way to convince anyone that she was mentally healthy. Ginny sat down and calmly folded her hands in her lap. "Why don't we make a deal? I won't talk about Malfoy anymore, and you won't try to convince me to date when I'm not ready."
Megan smiled a little. "Deal."
After work, Ginny stopped by Auror Training. A witch with a heart-shaped face stood laughing with a couple of young men. "Wotcher, Ginny!" she called. "Go on, you two," she said to the trainees. "And next time, don't let your guard down just because a witch cries that she's in labour!" She pointed to her extended stomach. "This could be padding!"
"That could be triplets," Ginny said teasingly, giving her friend a hug.
Tonks Lupin rolled her eyes. "A litter? Merlin, if I had a Galleon for every multicoloured werepups joke."
"You'd be rich?"
"Nah. Remus would give it away."
Ginny smiled. "He would, wouldn't he? I remember how nice he was at school. Professor Lupin was everyone's favourite teacher."
"Especially with the girls, I'll bet."
"Well," said Ginny, "compared to Flitwick and Snape, he was rather dreamy."
Tonks put her hands on her hips. "Remus is dreamy compared to any man!"
"I'm not arguing with a pregnant woman."
"And they call Granger the brightest witch of your age." Tonks patted her belly. "Did you come to feel the baby kick, or was there another reason?"
"Is the baby moving now?"
A tender expression came into dark eyes. "Yeah. Here." She took Ginny's hand and pressed it to a spot on her abdomen.
It was the most amazing thing Ginny had ever felt. A little heel or elbow pushed against her palm.
"A miracle, isn't it—but not the reason you dropped by, I think. What's wrong, mate?"
Every suspicion and frustration came spilling out.
"Go get that file," Tonks said when Ginny finished. "You're coming home with me. After dinner, we'll put our heads together and try to figure out your puzzle."
Tonks and Remus did not treat her theory as if it was crackpot: they immediately began trying to find a connection between the burglaries.
After dinner, Tonks spread the clippings out on a coffee table in the lounge while Ginny carried in mugs of tea. Remus crouched down in front of a wide shelving unit, searching for a book. "Aha, here it is. Ancient Civilisations." He frowned to see his wife's ungainly attempt to rise from her knees. "Let me help you, love."
Tonks grinned. "It's worth feeling like a hippopotamic land mass to be coddled."
Remus assisted her to the sofa. "I am only giving you the care you deserve, and your form was worshipped by ancient civilisations as a symbol of fertility."
Sprawled on the sofa, Tonks patted the red velvet cushions on either side of her. "Did they worship by rubbing feet? I can't even see mine, much less rub them."
"I promise to massage them later," said Remus. He opened the heavy volume and began to sift through the pages.
Ginny sat beside Tonks, sipping tea while her eyes flickered over the photographs on the table. Malfoy's image smirked at her. Obsessed with me, are you? Look at my pictures late at night, when you're all alone...
She jumped when Tonks said, "Turned out good-looking, didn't he? Got the best genes from his parents, I s'pose."
"If you like gorgeous albino ferrets."
Tonks snorted. "Gorgeous?"
It took Ginny a second to realise what she had said. Her face burned. "I was just repeating something I heard...somewhere...from someone." She could not believe the word had slipped out of her mouth. Draco Malfoy was not gorgeous! He was tall, with a lean, muscular body and a face that was less pointy than it used to be, but gorgeous he was not.
Remus cleared his throat. "Ginny, you said a statue was the last object stolen. What was the statue of?"
She reached for the latest clipping. "Seth."
"Seth, the symbol of darkness and chaos." A faint line creased his brow. "At the party, Malfoy told you red was the colour of Set, god of storms?"
Remus showed the women a picture of a statue with a jackal-like head. "Set, also called Seth, became known as a god of evil. Egyptians associated him with their enemies and the colour red with foreigners."
Ginny felt a thrill of excitement. "That's our link? The god Set?"
"Hand me the list of stolen items," said Remus, "and we'll find out."
Almost a week after his encounter with Ginny Weasley, Draco still could not get her out of his mind. It was annoying. He did not like remembering the expressions on her face or the sound of her voice. Especially not in meetings, when he was supposed to be focused on business. Yesterday, an accountant thought his slight smile meant the lower profits earned by a subsidiary company was acceptable. He had quickly disabused the man of the idea.
Although Draco managed to keep his preoccupation with Ginny from affecting business, his personal life was another matter. He had turned down three dinner invitations and one offer to make a meal of something besides food. The women had been appealing, but he had not been interested.
The only woman he did not refuse was his mother. When Narcissa owled asking him to tea on Friday, he agreed immediately. On his way to her flat, he stopped to pick up a bouquet of white orchids.
"They're lovely, dear." She took the flowers with a pensive smile. "Your father always brought me Paper-white Narcissus. He said it was our little joke."
Draco followed her through the lounge. "I don't know where he got the flowers out of season." He noticed dust on the polished floor and magazines scattered across the sofa. When he sniffed, the air smelled stale. "Did you dismiss the housekeeper?"
His mother led the way into the Scandinavian-styled kitchen. "No. Magda will be back next Saturday." She brought a crystal vase down from a cupboard. "Unlike house-elves, witches require time off."
Her motions were smooth and graceful as she filled the vase with water, placed it on the stone countertop, and began adding orchid branches. He had watched her arrange flowers at the mansion numerous times before his father died, but not after. She could not bear to live in Wiltshire anymore. There were too many memories.
Draco took in her white satin robe and slippers, wondering how long it had been since she had left the flat. "Let's go out," he said.
Narcissa waved a hand at the cupboards. "No, no, I'm sure I can find a tin of biscuits for tea."
Her wrist looked painfully thin. He fell back on an old ploy to get his way. "Please, Mother? Biscuits won't fill me up. I'm famished."
His slight pout worked its old magic. She reached out and caressed his cheek. "You have always loved sweets. Very well, I'll change and we'll go out, anywhere you like." Her smile turned mischievous. "I have a generous allowance I hardly ever spend. It will be my treat."
Draco waited until his mother left the kitchen to check the state of her pantry. As he had feared, the shelves were almost bare. His stomach twisted with guilt. He had to take better care of her.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Narcissa entered the lounge. She looked like the mother he remembered from childhood with her upswept hair and white wizard robes. "Forgive me for the wait, dearest. With age it takes longer to achieve a semblance of beauty."
"Rubbish. You're the most beautiful woman I know."
His mother smiled. "The answer of a devoted son. Come, now, isn't there a young lady you find beautiful?"
"Not particularly." He might find Ginny Weasley sexually attractive in some baffling way, but she was hardly beautiful. Uncomfortable with the little voice in the back of his mind that would like to see her naked and make a more informed judgment, Draco changed the subject. "Shall we try a new tea shop? My personal assistant recommended Madam Potts."
Later, he returned to Diagon Alley. The Gourmet Grocer was a shop he was familiar with only through the name on ready meal packaging. If his assistant ordered for him, surely he could order for his mother.
Inside the crowded, aromatic shop, he strode directly to the Customer Service Desk. He left an hour later, convinced Miss Greengrass deserved a pay rise. The array of Italian, French, Indian, Japanese, Thai and traditional English food available in 'restaurant quality ready meals' was extensive. He had ended up choosing a variety of dishes from mixed mushroom and ale pie to Thai green curry. Mother would have food for a month.
The contentment Draco felt vanished when he returned home. An owl waited to deliver a message. The sight removed all appetite for the baked figs with brandy he had picked up at the grocer. Reluctantly, he opened the kitchen window.
After reading the note, he gave the owl a treat and sent it on its way. Anger burned like fire in his veins as he re-read the tiny scroll of parchment.
You have until midnight tomorrow to retrieve the final object.
The bastard did not care if another theft so soon would make law enforcement suspicious. He had an agenda. Draco was a tool pressed into service, useful but expendable.
Expendable...with a mother who needed him, employees who depended on their salaries, he was expendable. It was galling. He put away the figs and went to search for brandy, determined to rinse away the taste of bitterness.
The next morning, it took three potions and a hot shower to recover from the hangover. While he dried his hair with a charm, Draco felt a pang of sympathy for Muggles. They had no magic to diminish the consequences of drinking. In the bathroom mirror, his reflection smiled wryly. Had someone in Department of Ministries heard Lucius shout 'NO!' beyond the veil?
"Just think," he told grey eyes narrowed in imitation of his father. "If we'd buried you in Muggle fashion, you could be rolling over in your grave right now. Wouldn't that be more satisfying than floating about in impotent rage?"
He turned away from the sneer mirrored in glass. Compassion, even the faintest trace, was weakness to Lucius. Draco had long since given up trying to win his father's approval. It came at too high a price.
Unaccountably, Ginny's face flashed before his eyes. Irritated, he threw the towel on the floor for his housecleaner to pick up. He did not care what anyone thought of him.
After a breakfast of coffee and toast, Draco shut the draperies in the lounge and strode into his bedroom to open the secret compartment. He retrieved a map and blueprint along with notes taken weeks ago. Meticulous preparation ensured flawless execution. Before leaving the room to finalise plans, he muttered a spell to return the Egyptian cotton to the proper rack. He was not currying favour with the help. He merely disliked the smell of damp towels.
That night, he stood outside the London home of a banker with an interest in Egyptology. A Disillusionment Charm kept his presence concealed from any who might pass by. The banker and his wife had gone to Paris for the weekend. The maid-of-all-work was out for the evening.
He crossed the street and circled around to the back of the house. Unlike Muggle cat burglars, Draco was not dependent on an assortment of tools to accomplish a burglary. He used spells—not the kind learnt at school—and taught by more exacting teachers than Mad-Eye Moody. Ironically, higher praise came from criminals than any professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
A series of detection spells revealed wards set to go off if anyone tried to pick the lock or remove the exterior door. He smiled. The banker was either cheap or unimaginative to leave the glass panes of the door unprotected.
Sublevare was the spell used to prise wooden moulding from the glass, which he carefully removed and stacked. He would reassemble the door later. Different spells ensured he left no fingerprint or other trace of his presence behind. Carefully, he stepped through the rectangular hole in the door. With luck, the homeowner would be unaware of the theft until the item was discovered missing.
Ginny's heart rate skyrocketed when she heard the library door creak open. After a night of fruitless surveillance, her perseverance had paid off. Malfoy was here to steal the Amulet of Ashtart!
Concealed by a Disillusionment Charm, she smiled in anticipation. Finally, she would catch him red-handed. Everyone who had doubted would soon owe her an apology.
After they had verified each of the stolen objects had an association to Set, Remus suggested investigating the provenance of the items, the history of ownership, to determine whether there was a deeper link—one she could use to determine Malfoy's next target.
Ginny had discovered that all the stolen objects once belonged to a wizard whose heirs liquidated his estate, including a small collection of artefacts.
The Rod of Teshub, used to worship a brutal Hittite storm god, was the first item stolen. After that, the theft of an ancient Persian bronze bracelet, a Babylonian scarab carved from limestone and an iron dagger with a serpent handle representing the Greek monster Typhon followed. The only artefact of the original group that remained in its current, rightful owner's possession was the Amulet of Ashtart. The pendant depicted a star within a circle, signifying the deity worshipped as a war goddess and given in marriage to the god Set.
She did not know what was so important about the artefacts, but Ginny planned to find out. She would insist on being part of the interrogation team. However long it took, she would keep hammering questions at Malfoy until he cracked.
The mental image of staring into his eyes, demanding he tell her what she wanted to hear, made her cheeks feel hot. The heat instantly chilled when she realised he had entered the room, and like herself, used a Disillusionment Charm.
She watched a false section of books swing out, revealing a safe. Wand held ready beneath a concealing fold of robe, she hesitated. Was he opening the safe by hand or using a wand? In what direction should she cast her spell?
A blue velvet pouch 'floated' out of the safe. The drawstring opened. When Ginny saw a pendant dangle mid-air, by an unseen hand, she silently cast a Stunning Spell.
A red light shot out from her wand. The golden amulet that had swayed slightly no longer moved. She got him! Ginny became visible, and chanted a spell to cause Malfoy to do the same. She walked toward him, despising the way her heart skipped a beat.
She began to pat him down. The procedure was supposed to be impersonal. She had never blushed while touching a suspect before. It was routine to search arms, torso, and legs. Physical touch revealed wands charmed against Accio spells. She scowled, patting down Malfoy's black trousers. They felt silky and expensive. The muscle beneath the fabric was firm. Oh gods, she thought, my hands are shaking! "Where's your damn wand?" she muttered.
"I don't need one," she heard the 'immobilised' man say, right before he murmured, "Dormire."
Ginny awoke groggily, with an odd taste in her mouth.
The man who had cast a spell on her bent down to stroke her cheek. "Awake now? Time to answer questions. How did you know I'd steal the amulet?"
"It was the only object from the Romer collection left for you to steal." Ginny drew in a sharp breath. Part of her reaction was because the answer had burst forth. The rest was due to her inability to move. He had tied her to a chair! It was not a library chair. The lines were sleek and modern, not Victorian. Her stomach dropped. Malfoy had kidnapped her! Frantically, she tried to remember a spell to free herself. It was impossible. He must have used some variation of Confundus Charm to fog her mind. "Let me go, you bastard!" she yelled.
He crouched down to look her in the eye. "I can't," he said. "Not until I've delivered the amulet."
"To who? Death Eaters? Why do they want the objects?"
He smiled a little. "To whom," he said, "And you wouldn't believe me if I told you." His expression hardened. "Why didn't you have backup tonight? Are you working alone? Who have you told about me?"
Ginny tried to stay silent, but her resolve broke under the compulsion of whatever spell or serum he had used. "I was on my own. People at Headquarters think I'm obsessed like Parkinson, and that my accusations are unfounded. I told Tonks and Remus about my suspicions, but not that I planned to bring you in myself." She wanted to sink through the floor the moment the words left her mouth. She was practically asking him to kill her and telling him he would get away with it!
He rose to his feet, shaking his head. "Unbelievable. You take on someone you think is involved with Death Eaters all by yourself, with a spell any amplified Protego Charm would ward off." He curled a lip. "You shouldn't be allowed out of the house."
She cast her eyes down, trying not to reveal her excitement. He had given her an idea. If she concentrated hard enough, maybe she could Apparate! Ginny scrunched her eyes shut, imagining the street outside Auror Headquarters.
"One of the wards on my home is an Anti-Disapparation spell, in case you're making that face for a reason other than having to use the toilet."
Her eyes snapped open. "Will you allow me to use the toilet? I have to go real bad." She bit her lip in feigned distress.
"Do you really?"
"No." Ginny kicked out at her captor in frustration. "Damn you! I'm going to see you rot in Azkaban, Malfoy. You wait." She tried to force her muzzy brain to remember how to cast a wandless spell, any spell.
Golden bubbles appeared. They floated around the room. Malfoy flicked his fingers and popped one. Her lips turned down at the hopelessness of the situation. She said dully, "All I ask is that if you plan to kill me, please return my body to my parents so they can have a funeral."
"Complete with a white marble tomb and Potter sobbing that he was a fool to let you go?"
She looked up to see Malfoy sneering. "I don't think Harry would say that."
"Then he's doubly a fool."
"Does that mean you're not going to kill me?"
He considered her in silence for a moment. "What do you think?"
Words rushed from of Ginny's mouth like water released from a dam. "I think if you wanted to kill me, you would've done it back at the banker's house. I think that since you haven't hurt me or molested me, you can't be all bad, even if you are a cat burglar."
One corner of his lips tilted upward. "Why do you think I became a cat burglar, Ginny?"
"I don't know, Malfoy. The money? The challenge?"
He snorted. "I have everything Galleons can buy, and running my company is enough challenge for two wizards. Guess again."
She looked around the room. All the furnishings were neutral or black. He needed to spend some of that money on colourful throw pillows. Glancing at the man waiting impatiently, she said, "Not until you sit down. You're giving me a crick in my neck."
Instead of sitting in the chair next to hers, he stood behind her, rubbing small circles on the back of her neck with the pads of his fingers. After a minute, he said, "You would never guess, so I'll tell you straight out. I didn't have a choice."
He was massaging her scalp now. It felt good, his fingers sliding through her hair. Her head sagged forward. "Death Eaters forced you?"
"No. The Ministry did."
Her head jerked back. "No!"
In a shocking motion, he yanked her chair around to face him.
Ginny swallowed hard to see the anger in his eyes. She said the first thing that came to mind. "You scratched your wood floor."
"I don't care. I wanted to get your attention. Do I have your full attention?"
He braced his hands on the arms of her chair, leaning down to say with quiet intensity, "I don't receive brochures about new exhibitions. I write them. Scoff if you like, but I take an active interest in the museum, and that includes examining the provenance of new acquisitions."
"Like the statue of Set?"
"Yes." Grey eyes were stormy. "Alasdair Romer was a Dark wizard. He boasted to my father about his collection of ancient, undetectable Dark objects. When Brent went against my advice and purchased the statue of Set, I went to the Ministry." His lips pulled back in a bitter smile. "Father always said no good deed goes unpunished. Scrimgeour told me the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office cannot confiscate objects they are unable to prove Dark, but if someone appropriated them, he would see them properly disposed of."
Ginny shook her head. "I know that the Minister can be ruthless, but I still can't believe Rufus Scrimgeour forced you to steal."
"He thinks he's doing me a favour. Full pardon for my war crimes in exchange for, how did he put it? Oh yes—my cooperation."
"What war crimes?"
Malfoy said bluntly, "Pansy's accusations weren't unfounded. The Ministry simply chose not to attempt prosecuting a man who donates so generously to Ministry and civic causes." He laughed shortly. "Where do you think I learnt the skills necessary to become a cat burglar? While Potter was hunting down Horcruxes, I was acquiring skills to convince the Dark Lord that my life was worth sparing." His lips twisted. "I didn't hesitate to put those newfound abilities to use in his service."
She let the words sink in. It made sense, and yet, she had to ask, "How can I know for sure that you're telling the truth?"
"Stay here until Scrimgeour picks up the amulet."
The cords binding her dropped to the floor. She watched him pick up her wand and mini Recordbrall from a side table, feeling the cloudiness leave her mind. If she wanted to, she could hit Malfoy with a Bat Bogey Hex no Shielding Charm could deflect.
It felt like he was balancing on a knife's edge. Draco silently offered Ginny her things, unsure what he would do if she snatched them and ran for the door. Let her go, he supposed. Tell Scrimgeour what had happened and then deny everything if she managed to convince an Auror or Law Enforcement officer to haul him in for questioning.
She slowly rose to her feet. When her lips parted, he felt a strong urge to kiss her. It was not the first time he had wanted to close his mouth over hers and discover if her lips were as supple as they looked or if her kiss would make him catch fire.
"I'll stay," she said.
Was it his imagination, or was she swaying toward him? Did she want him to take her into his arms? Would her lips move under his, returning his kiss before parting to encourage him to caress her with his tongue?
"I think I sat too long." She gave a small laugh as she regained her equilibrium.
The breathy sound made him want to reach for her, take a chance that she would melt against him, surrendering to the attraction that flared between them. He briefly regretted being too Slytherin to boldly act on impulse. He said, "May I offer you something to drink?"
Draco frowned. "I don't want to chance even a small amount of alcohol interacting with the truth serum."
"You mean Veritaserum?"
"No. A black market version I had on hand."
Her eyes widened. "You keep truth serum on hand like a Pepperup Potion?"
"Old habit." In the silence that followed, he said, "I could make you a cup of tea."
"You don't have a housekeeper to do that for you?"
"Live-in help would interfere with my criminal activities." He could not stop his mouth from curving. "Such as kidnapping beautiful Aurors."
He immediately turned on his heel and stalked toward the stairs leading down to the kitchen. He had meant to say 'such as kidnapping.' Where the last two words came from, he did not know.
I do. Got a good look down that blouse of hers, didn't you?
Ignoring the little voice at the back his mind, he entered the basement kitchen and searched through cupboards until he found the makings for tea. Ginny walked in and looked around the utilitarian space, with its mahogany cupboards and black granite countertops. "You eat a lot of ready meals," she said matter-of-fact.
He shut an open cupboard door with a snap. "They're gourmet."
She had very expressive eyes. He could tell his defensiveness amused her. "I suppose you conjure every meal from scratch?"
"No. Aside from toasted cheese sandwiches and tinned beans on toast, I eat take-away."
He nodded. "I eat take-away too. There's this Chinese place off of Diagon Alley..."
"Happy Pang's!" She grinned. "It's misnamed. Mr. Pang never smiles."
"He should. The place always has a line out the door."
He engaged the Heating Charm on the kettle. It started to whistle.
Draco, slightly disconcerted by her intent regard, tried to remember if he was supposed to pour the water into the cups first, and then add tea, or if it was the other way around. He reached for the kettle. Slender fingers brushed his aside.
"I'll make the tea, shall I?" said Ginny.
Relieved, he shrugged. "If you like."
She was giving him that 'I'm secretly laughing' look again. The tiny smirk made her lips even more tempting. He wanted to kiss that sexy mouth until her eyes grew heavy and her arms slid around his neck.
As before, he did not act on his desire. He only took the cup of tea she offered. "Thank you." When silence stretched out, he said, "So...what other take-away shops do you frequent?"
The doorbell halted their conversation. Scrimgeour had arrived. Draco placed his cup in a cupboard. "I'll do the washing up later," he said in response to her questioning expression. "I don't plan to offer the man tea, but I have to prepare for all contingencies." He made a face. "Constant vigilance—isn't that what loony old Moody was always going on about?"
"He wasn't loony, but yes, he did, or rather his impostor did." She lifted her wand. "I'll be vigilant too." She cast a Disillusionment Charm and 'disappeared.'
He climbed the stairs to open the front door. A cloaked and hooded figure stood on the doorstep. Draco stepped back to allow the man to enter, but did not greet the visitor. He shut the door and pivoted to lead the way into the lounge. After he handed over the pouch, he said, "You promised me a full pardon."
The Minister for Magic pushed back his hood, revealing a mane of grey-streaked, tawny hair. His eyes were yellowish, accentuating the lion-like image. "I am a man of my word."
Draco took the scroll proffered and unrolled it, his eyes scanning the parchment. When he found the seal that proved the document officially entered into Ministry record, his stance relaxed. "I would say it's been a pleasure, but it hasn't. Since I'm no longer at your beck and call, feel free to show yourself out."
"What makes you think you aren't still at my beck and call?" Scrimgeour said with a thin smile. "If I find a use for your talents in the future, you would be advised to volunteer your services." He dropped the amiable facade. "I can send you to Azkaban, pardon or no pardon."
Ginny 'appeared' beside Draco, face set in indignation. "You were the Head of Aurors. How could you stoop so low?" She jabbed a finger toward Scrimgeour. "You made a deal. He held up his end of the bargain. It's over. Leave." When the older wizard made to speak, she cut him off. "If you try to coerce him again, I'll be contacting the papers."
"No one would believe you." Scrimgeour's tone was patronising.
"They'd believe Harry Potter, who would be happy to hold a press conference the moment I ask."
Draco thought Ginny rivalled Ashtart as a war goddess. He also thought if he were Set, he would never want another consort with such a goddess by his side.
Scrimgeour said, "Harry Potter isn't front page news anymore. I think even he would find it impossible to discredit me."
She lifted a tiny, glowing sphere out of her pocket. "I've been recording our conversation. You will discredit yourself."
Scrimgeour's eyes were cold. "Not if I turn that Recordbrall to ash."
"It's protected with Charms." Ginny lifted her chin. "You once told Harry that in dangerous times, certain measures need to be taken." She deactivated the orb and slipped it into her pocket. "Beg pardon, sir, but the war is over. The times aren't that dangerous."
After a few moments of tense silence, Scrimgeour said, "It seems our dealings are at an end, Mr. Malfoy." He inclined his head in an old-fashioned gesture of courtesy to Ginny. "Miss Weasley."
When the Minister left and the two of them were alone once more, Draco said, "Would Potter really hold a conference the moment you asked?"
"No. I'd probably have to cry and guilt him into it."
"Guilt because he broke your heart?"
"Dented it, more like."
Draco smiled to see her smile. "Thank you for speaking on my behalf." He looked at the clock on the mantel. "I don't know about you, but I haven't eaten anything tonight. It's only ten o'clock. An Indian place nearby is open until eleven. May I buy you a Sheekh kebab?"
She was biting her lip again. This time, he could tell she was not feigning emotion. He was asking her out, and she was struggling to decide how to answer. Finally, she said, "Are the lamb chops good?"
"Brilliant." He strode to open the front door before she changed her mind. "You won't be disappointed." His gaze locked with hers.
Ginny's smile dazzled when she said, "I'll take your word for it, Draco."
Two months after the gala held in the Egyptian gallery, Draco returned to the museum in order to view two newly acquired pieces chosen to replace the stolen one. He stood in front of the protective glass, admiring the voluptuous form of the goddess Ashtart, thinking the statue of Set had good cause to turn his jackal head her way.
"Are you going to steal them?"
The laughing, slightly husky voice belonged to his date. He turned to face her. "No. Beyond the fact that I donated the statues, I find a lifeless image cannot compare to the radiant beauty of my own, personal goddess."
His impulsive Gryffindor twined her arms around his neck, pressing her body against him in a way that made Draco glad they were the only patrons in the gallery. When she lifted her face, he kissed her with a passion imbued with a promise. He would never betray the trust she gave as generously as her kisses and caresses.
They clung together until the gallery echoed with the footsteps of a patrolling Security Troll. When they were alone once more, Draco tried to find a way to tell Ginny how much she meant to him. Across the chamber, a display of jewellery caught his eye. He said, "Did you know that because Egyptians considered red and white to be opposite in meaning, the colours, when placed together, symbolised completeness?"
If waiting for her to decide whether to stay or run had been like being poised on a knife's blade, this moment felt like a razor's edge. Did she understand what he was trying to say? How would she respond?
Ginny threw herself into his arms and hugged him tightly. "I believe it," she said, boldly claiming his mouth in a kiss.