Disclaimer: Anything you recognise isn't mine.
This was written for Rowan (rowan_greenleaf) as a birthday gift from me. I hope you like it, Rowan, and I hope you have a great birthday. ^_^
We sat and stared through those trembling moments,
The key was kept on the back of my hand,
But little did we know,
Once the door was open,
We'd be humming songs so many longed for.
~~ Stream of Passion ~~
"Would you like to explain to me what this is, Ginevra?"
The redhead winced at the iciness of her husband's voice. She could see the slip of parchment that he was holding from of the corner of her eye, and her heart sunk even more. She didn't need to look to know what that letter contained. It was the reason why she could not look the blond in the eye at that moment, the same reason why she could never look him in the eye.
"Well?" prompted her husband. "Do you have an explanation as to why you neglected to pay for the dress robes that you ordered from Madam Tuntherstill's? Why I am receiving impertinent letters from that same woman requesting that you pay the overdue sum?"
"I―" Ginny swallowed hard. "I couldn't afford it."
"And why couldn't you afford it?"
"Because you spent all of your allowance before the dress was to be paid for," finished her husband smoothly. "Isn't that right?"
Ginny nodded, still keeping her face lowered, though there was no mistaking the dark crimson now staining her cheeks.
Her husband stood up from his desk and walked towards her, gently tilting her chin up so that she had no choice but to meet his cool grey eyes. There was nothing forgiving about his expression. He was as cold and hard as the marble walls surrounding them.
"This is the third time this has happened, Ginevra."
"Yes," responded her husband mockingly. "You're always sorry, aren't you?"
Ginny winced again. He abruptly released her face, his grey eyes flickering with an unreadable expression. For a moment she thought that he might forgive her, but then the shutters came down, and he was once again regarding her coolly.
"I will pay for the dress robes, but I suggest that you learn some economy. Even my vaults are not inexhaustible."
"I won't do it again."
He laughed, if a little cruelly. "Won't you?"
Ginny didn't know what to say to that, but then he didn't seem to expect a response from her and simply walked out of the room without a further word. She remained frozen on the spot, staring at the empty space where he had stood and feeling, strangely enough, as if she had just lost something very precious. An odd stinging sensation prickled at her eyes, and then she felt a tear slowly roll down her cheek followed by another and then another.
She didn't know how long she stood there like that, feeling her world crumble around her as she realised the magnitude of what had just happened. It had only been a year since the wedding. Had things really deteriorated so quickly? Did he―did he even care for her any more?
A house-elf suddenly appeared in the room and reported that she had guests, asking her if she wished to receive them. Ginny blinked past her tears and stared at the little creature with the bat-like ears as if only just realising that she was no longer alone.
"Mistress has guests," repeated the house-elf. "Sooky wishes to know if Mistress will receive the guests now."
"Oh. Tell them I'll be down in a minute."
Sooky bowed and then vanished with a small pop. Ginny quickly wiped the tears away from her cheeks and then glanced in the mirror to make sure that her appearance was fit to be seen. A young woman with puffy, red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks stared back at her. It was obvious that she had been crying. It was also obvious, even to most unexacting of judges, that she looked a mess.
The redhead sighed and cast a quick Glamour Charm to disguise some of the more overt signs of her tears, though there was no disguising the sadness that lingered at the corner of her lips or that crept into the lines wrinkling her brow. Unlike her husband, she could not mask her emotions with a simple snap of her fingers. She was all heart and emotion, and he―he was impenetrable.
She smiled sadly to herself. How true that had become. He was far beyond her reach now – that much he had made clear. He had always been reserved, but this―this was different. This was the indifference of a man who no longer cared about nor even wished to care for his wife.
Ginny turned away from the mirror and made her way down to the parlour. She thanked Sooky, who had been waiting by the door, and then entered the room, pausing in faint surprise when she recognised the two raven-haired witches that stood up to greet her.
"Mrs Parkinson; Pansy," said Ginny, staring from one witch to the next. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Mrs Parkinson smiled rather like one who had just set her eyes her on a delectable treat. Ginny knew immediately that she was not going to enjoy this conversation.
"Pansy and I were just in the neighbourhood and thought we would come visit," explained that hawk-eyed woman.
Ginny did not believe this, but she kept her less-than-charitable reflections to herself and sat down on one of the chairs.
"Please, take a seat," offered Ginny politely, and then she conjured a kettle and three cups with her wand. "Tea?"
"Yes, thank you."
Mrs Parkinson accepted the proffered cup and settled down on a chair, her daughter reluctantly following suit. Ginny had to bite back a smile. She knew that Pansy detested her, but the code of manners dictated that the snobbish girl be all smiles, at least while she was under the Malfoys' roof.
Still, Ginny was at a loss as to why the Parkinsons had come to visit her. Mrs Parkinson may not be as overt with her dislike as her daughter was, but it was no secret that she thought the redheaded girl a designing hussy. As the conversation continued, however, the reason for their visit was soon made apparent. The sharp-eyed woman was all sympathetic smiles as she explained to Ginny that she couldn't help but overhear of a certain dispute that had occurred between the redhead and Madam Tuntherstill while she was last at the dress shop.
"Of course, I would never dream of eavesdropping on you, dear," said Mrs Parkinson, oozing false sweetness with every word that she spoke, "but one can't help but hear these things."
Ginny smiled tightly. "Of course."
"I do hope that you and your husband are not facing any financial difficulties."
"I can assure you, Mrs Parkinson, the Malfoy vaults are in no danger of being depleted. It was all just a misunderstanding."
"I'm glad to hear it."
The redhead inwardly fumed. The Parkinsons were her husband's biggest rivals in terms of business. They would have had a field day had it been true that the Malfoy coffers were not doing so well, but it was not the Malfoy vaults that were suffering, it was the marriage itself. Ginny knew that Mrs Parkinson would have been all too pleased to take advantage of this fact had she not been so concerned with her greed and missed the subtle implications behind the argument in the dressmaker's shop.
Ginny suddenly had the absurd desire to throw her teacup at the woman's face. She would have done so, too, for she was in no mood to deal with two-faced pleasantries, when Pansy suddenly distracted her from her wild impulse.
"Oh," said Pansy, staring out the large window that faced the gardens. "I think I see Draco."
Ginny paled at this observation and followed the raven-haired witch's line of vision. Sure enough, the handsome blond was leisurely making his way up to the house, and it seemed that he was coming directly towards the sliding door that connected the garden with the parlour.
She shifted nervously in her seat, not really knowing if she wanted to see him or not. Draco saved her the trouble of coming to a decision by throwing the door open with careless grace and smiling charmingly at her.
"Hello, Mother," drawled the blond, if a little mockingly. He paused when he spotted the Parkinsons. "I see I'm interrupting a women's gathering. Perhaps I should come back later?"
"We were just leaving," said Mrs Parkinson, who was not quite so fond of the young blond as she had once professed herself to be now that he was no longer dating her daughter. "Come along, Pansy."
Pansy looked like she was going to protest—she still cherished hopes that Draco would one day realise that he was, in fact, madly in love with her—but a significant look from her mother soon had the raven-haired girl standing up and bidding the Malfoys goodbye.
"You know, Ginevra," remarked Draco, once the door had shut behind the unwanted guests. "I don't think I approve of your choice of visitors."
Ginny looked at Draco with a not-at-all-amused expression on her face. "Why do you always have to do that?"
"Do what?" asked the blond with feigned innocence.
"Call me 'mother' in public?"
"Because I know it annoys you, and I happen to find it amusing to annoy you."
Ginny could only scowl at that. Sometimes she really hated her son.
"Is Father in?" asked Draco, changing the subject.
"I don't know. I think he may have gone out."
"That's a shame. I was going to ask him if he could lend me a couple of hundred Galleons so I can get the new Firebolt 3000. They say it's three-times faster than the last model."
"Oh, Draco, don't!" implored the redhead. "Please don't ask him for any money at the moment."
Ginny hung her head in shame. "I overspent my allowance again."
"Of all the silly wenches!" exclaimed Draco, looking half-exasperated, half-amused. "I've never come across a woman more harebrained than you when it comes to dealing with money—and that's saying something."
She sniffed pathetically at this, already feeling very high-strung from the disastrous meeting with her husband earlier that day as well as Mrs Parkinson's tactless comments.
"I know I'm terrible with money" – her lip quivered pathetically – "but I have been trying to learn how to budget better. Not that it matters. He" – sniff – "hates me" – sniff – "now."
Draco, although a young man that was more than happy to take pleasure in crushing the last spark of life in a downtrodden spirit, was still, nevertheless, carelessly fond of his stepmother. He sighed and sat down on one of the long sofas where he considered her through shrewd, grey eyes.
"I told you. I overspent my allowance."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Ginevra, I have been living with my father for twenty-one-years. He has never cared about how I've spent his money—at least not enough to turn miserly. There's something you're not telling me."
Ginny fidgeted with her hands, her eyes looking anywhere but at the blond in front of her.
"You might as well just tell me," said Draco bluntly. "I'm bound to find out sooner or later."
She sighed in defeat, knowing that he was right. He may not have the frustrating omniscience of his father, but he was still unnervingly perceptive and had a habit of discovering all of her secrets.
"I think he feels that I married him only for his money," confessed Ginny in a small voice.
"And did you?"
"Of course not!" cried the redhead indignantly.
"Then what's the problem?"
"You know, as amusing as it is to see you stammering like a blushing schoolgirl, I would rather not try to decipher your disjointed sentences. Get to the point, why don't you?"
Ginny's eyes flashed. "I am trying to tell you what's been going on. It's not easy opening my heart to you of all people. Merlin, I don't even know why I'm telling you this. You're his son, for goodness' sake."
Draco quickly reached out and grasped her by the wrist before she could run away.
"I'm sorry, Ginevra. That was wrong of me."
The redhead gave a defiant sniff.
"Come on, love. Don't cry. You know I'm terrible with crying woman. Weren't you the one who said that I would make a female go into hysterics with the way I try to give comfort to people?"
Ginny gave a watery laugh. "You would."
He gave her an apologetic smile, one that never failed to charm people into forgiving him. It had the desired effect on her now, even winning a small smile in return, but then the redhead thought of everything that had happened that day and a weary sigh escaped her lips.
"I just don't know what to do any more, Draco. I can't seem to do anything right, and now Lucius hates me."
"I'm sure he doesn't hate you."
"But he does! If you had seen his face today." She shuddered at the memory. "It was terrible."
Draco gently tugged her towards him by her wrist and pulled her down onto the seat next to him. He placed a brotherly arm around her shoulders, and Ginny immediately moved closer to him for comfort. Of course, the Malfoy in question would be horrified to know that he was almost hugging her. In his opinion, hugs were like the plague and should be avoided at all costs. However, it would have taken a man of stone to ignore the pitiful appearance of the woman before him, and Draco, whatever he may be, was not made of stone.
He let out a small sigh of his own as he stared ahead, still with his arm loosely wrapped around her.
"Do you know that when Father told me he was going to marry you, I told him he was insane?"
Ginny shook her head.
"It seemed like the kind of thing that would happen in a farce," continued Draco. "The ex-Death Eater marrying the blood-traitor—a Weasley at that. I wanted to laugh, but deep down I was just angry. Mother had died only three years before, and you were so different from her. I couldn't understand why Father would want to marry you."
"What did he say?"
Draco shifted slightly so that he was facing her. His grey eyes, so like his father's and yet somehow not, met hers calmly.
"He didn't say anything, at least not as an explanation for why he wanted to marry you. He actually just told me that I had no say in the matter—that he had only told me of his proposed marriage out of respect for the fact that I am his son, and that my impertinent remarks did nothing to my credit, or some such rubbish."
"That sounds like him."
Draco laughed. "I felt like a right fool after that, I can tell you, but what really struck me was the look in his eyes. You know what he's like: trying to read him is like trying to decipher a blank slate. But I had seen the anger in his eyes, and I knew that he was not angry with me because I had dared to tell him that he was crazy for wanting to marry you; he was angry because I was objecting to you. You, Ginevra Malfoy, who, Merlin knows how, somehow got my father to fall in love with you."
"But he doesn't love me, Draco," said the redhead sadly, unable to shake the feelings of self-doubt that troubled her even with the blond's confession. "And, somehow, I don't think he ever really did."
"What makes you think that?"
"If he really loved me, don't you think he would have been with me and only me?"
"I don't understand," said Draco cautiously.
"Do you think I'm stupid? I knew after a week of being married to him that he was keeping a mistress. Your little friend Astoria let it slip one day. Of course, I don't blame Lucius," continued Ginny, if a little bitterly. "Valeria Golding is very beautiful, and she is so much older and more experienced than myself."
Draco rolled his eyes. "You're right, Ginevra. I do think you're stupid."
"Valeria Golding may have been my father's mistress, but he certainly didn't keep her after his engagement to you."
"But—but Astoria said—"
"Astoria is a gossiping little fool, and I intend to tell her that the next time I see her," said Draco bluntly. "I can't believe you thought that my father would keep a mistress when he is married to you! A man doesn't go and bring the world laughing down on his head by marrying a girl twenty-seven years his junior only to then push her aside for the pleasures of an expensive whore."
"Do you really think so?" asked Ginny wistfully, pondering on the logic of his statement.
"Isn't that just what I said? Merlin, I'm beginning to wonder if you're even listening to me. Of all the stupid females I've met, you certainly put the icing on the cake."
Ginny took this rebuke meekly enough. If Draco was right, and she had good reason to believe that he was, then she had indeed been behaving very foolishly, not to mention ruined any chance of happiness that she may have had with the older blond.
Draco seemed to follow her train of thought and stared at her rather suspiciously.
"Just why would my father think you only married him for money, anyway? Surely he would have realised that you married him for love? Anyone short of an idiot could see how besotted you are with him."
"Oh, Draco, that's just it," cried the redhead in a rush, as if saying it quickly would somehow make it less embarrassing to confess. "I thought that he had only married me for convenience because I was young and a pureblood. I didn't want to be a nuisance to him by being overly affectionate so I―I just did my duty as his wife and nothing more."
"And here I thought you couldn't get any stupider," said Draco in open astonishment. "Being a nuisance, indeed. My father married you because he loved you, not because he wanted some silly, dutiful wife."
Ginny shook her head. "I realise that now, and, oh, you don't know how happy that makes me. But, Draco, how am I ever going to get him to believe that I really do love him? I've ruined everything—everything, and it's all because of that stupid dress."
She let out a small sob and buried her face into his chest. Draco, looking very alarmed at having a sobbing girl clutching him, tentatively patted her back.
"It can't be that bad," said the blond in what he hoped was a soothing voice.
"It is that bad!" came the muffled response, which was then followed by even louder sobs.
Draco looked more alarmed than ever. He could handle his stepmother when she was angry, but he could not handle her when she was crying. He suddenly felt very uncharitable towards his father for putting him in this situation. It shouldn't have to fall on him to comfort the emotional redhead, especially as he had no idea how to do so.
Just then, the door opened and Lucius Malfoy strode into the room. The older blond checked on the threshold, grey eyes taking in the scene before him with faint, and not at all pleasant, surprise.
"Am I interrupting something?" asked Lucius, painfully polite.
Ginny sprang up at the sound of her husband's voice, her face as white as a sheet.
"Don't trouble yourself with coming up with an excuse, my dear," interposed her husband smoothly. "I know how difficult it is for you."
Ginny flushed at the barb, but it did not wound her as intended. She was more concerned with the fact that he was actually showing emotion, however minuscule and unpleasant that emotion may be.
Could it be that he was jealous?
"Well, I think I should go," said Draco, standing up from the chair and looking very uncomfortable under his father's narrowed gaze.
"Yes, I think you should," responded Lucius icily.
Draco knew a threat when he saw one and gave a quick, apologetic glance at Ginny before he hurriedly left the room. The sound of the door clicking shut seemed extra loud to the redhead's ears, the tension sharpening her senses to a state of hyperawareness now that it was just the two of them alone.
Neither said a word. For Ginny, she didn't think that she could. Everything she had hoped for in her marriage was resting on this moment, and it frightened her to think that she could lose him now. She had always known that the odds were against her, always known that it made no sense for him to love her. What was she, after all? She was just a silly, young, pureblood girl that had nothing to offer but herself. There was no reason why a man like him should care for her, especially when she thought of the regal blonde who had once stood by his side, so poised and graceful in her icy beauty.
"Well, Ginevra, you have surprised me," said Lucius, his voice deceptively pleasant. "I did wonder if you had a lover, but it never occurred to me that you would go with my own son."
"It's not like that at all," said the unhappy redhead, realising that this was going to be more difficult than she had thought. "He was simply comforting me. You must know that I would never do that to you."
Ginny's eyes flashed with a mixture of anger and hurt. "How can you even ask that? Whatever you may think of me, I have never broken the vows we made to each other."
Lucius considered her through his impenetrable grey eyes and realised that she was indeed telling the truth.
"I see," said the blond after a moment's pause, straightening his back. "Apparently I misjudged the situation."
Ginny just shook her head. It infuriated her that he could stand there so poised and cold while she felt like she was about to burst into tears. Didn't he care at all? Did nothing move that untouchable heart of his?
"How can you be so calm?" demanded the redhead, her eyes oddly bright with unshed tears. "Our marriage is falling apart, and here you are acting like we're discussing the weather."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know, but some show of emotion would be nice."
"So you would prefer me to shout at you?" asked Lucius, advancing towards her with slow, purposeful steps. "Would you prefer me to rant and rave, and act like some passionate fool with no self-control?"
"I just want to know you care," said Ginny with a pitiful sob.
"Why should I care?" asked Lucius in a deadly soft voice as he stopped directly in front of her. "We both know that you would not have married me had I not been wealthy."
"That's not true," whispered Ginny, hot tears spilling down her cheeks.
Her heart plummeted at his scepticism, but she knew that she couldn't give up now. She had to make him see the truth.
"I never cared about your money," said Ginny in a low voice. "I know it doesn't look that way, and I don't deny that I have been a fool, but you must believe me when I say that I've only ever cared about you. I―I love you."
Something flickered in the grey eyes that watched her. It was difficult to say what he was thinking; he was always so indecipherable. She wished that he would just say something, anything to bridge the silence and stop her from feeling so foolish. It had been hard enough confessing that she loved him and not knowing if he felt the same, but it was so much worse when he said nothing in reply.
"I've always wondered if I made a mistake in marrying you," said Lucius, finally.
His voice was soft, but the words seemed to cut right through her heart. She wanted to protest, wanted to tell him how happy she was when he had asked her to marry him, but the look in his eyes made her falter. He needed to discover the answer for himself.
Lucius raised his hand and almost hesitantly reached out to brush the soft strands of red away from her face. His touch was so warm and comforting that she couldn't help but instinctively lean into his caress.
He frowned, staring into her mocha-coloured eyes, the very same that had first caught his attention with the spark that seemed to constantly infuse them. Ginny could see the barely perceptible emotions conflict on his otherwise impassive features. She knew that her husband was a man who prided himself on his ability to control his feelings, to rid himself of emotional traps. This lack of empathy hadn't previously troubled her for she knew that he was this way with everyone. But it was only with her that he had recently begun to make himself completely and emotionally unavailable to her—his wife. Was it because he loved her and believed that she could not return the same selfless devotion? Was it this insecurity that made him so inaccessible to her?
A sigh escaped his lips, and he let his hand drop from her face.
"You are so young," said the blond, almost regretfully.
Ginny saw his grey eyes flicker momentarily, and in that split second she could see the man that she had married, the man who, despite his questionable past, had inspired her to love him. The walls had been lowered, if only for the briefest of moments, and she knew she had to react quickly.
She took an impulsive step towards him, her eyes fixed earnestly on his.
"I know what you're going to say, but it's not true. I may be young, yes, but I love you, and that's all that matters to me. I know I may not be the ideal wife, but I'm trying, and I can get better. I will get better."
Lucius' lips twitched. "Does that mean I will no longer have to deal with toad-eating shopkeepers that you owe money to?"
She laughed nervously, afraid that the light change in mood would be easily dashed.
"You have my solemn promise that I will never overspend my allowance again."
"Absurd child," said Lucius softly, yet a small smile lingered on his lips.
Ginny felt her heart warm at the affectionate rejoinder, knowing that it was as close to an "I love you" as she was going to get.
He stepped closer to her, drawing her into his arms that had so long been denied to her and gracefully lowered his face to capture her lips with his. She sighed into his embrace, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him back with a passion that took even her by surprise. It had been so long, so very long, and yet here they were, right back to where they had started: just two people in love, trying to begin a life together.
She was not so naïve as to think that everything would be perfect from now on. They were too different to always coincide harmoniously, but it didn't worry her now as it might have done once. He was hers to hold again, hers to love. It was all she needed.
The lyrics are taken from Stream of Passion's Breathing Again, which is also where the title comes from.
Many thanks go to Lia for her endless patience and help. I couldn't have done it without you! ^_^