A/N: This story is written for 2011 SSHG Exchange and is complete. I'll post a chapter a day. I'd like to thank the ever-awesome Melusin for betaing this for me. All mistakes are mine, since I've tinkered with the story a bit. I would also like to thank Linlawless for her amazing prompts (this story was created after one of them - "Hermione is a woman with a plan. What plan is it and how does Snape figure into it?").
I would aldo like to thank all my amazing readers and reviewers. Please know, even if I don't get to you personally, every line you drop to me is precious.
Now, on to the story!
The swarthy, stockily built jeweller had been examining her possession with disturbing zeal for at least ten minutes already and had yet to say a word. The way his fluffy brows were knitting together was making her more and more uneasy.
She coughed, trying to put as much meaning as possible into the sound. It seemed to work because, suddenly, the jeweller looked up at her, eyebrows looking like two furry roof slopes over his keen eyes.
"So, how long, are you saying, has this stone been owned by your family?" he said, a hint of some Mediterranean accent in his voice.
This was pronounced with so much scepticism that she mentally slapped herself. Damn and hell. She should have read up on the subject of gemstones more before rushing in to have it looked at.
But there was no backing out now.
"I only know for sure that my great-grandmother on my father's side owned it," she lied smoothly about the first thing that came to mind.
"And you have not... made an effort to trace its history back before that time?"
"No, not really. In fact, this is my starting point to do exactly that. You see, I have only recently come into... possession of this... stone."
Watching the jeweller's brows lose their rooftop likeness to form a giant uni-brow that dominated his face, she understood that she'd said the wrong thing.
"You see, ma'am..." The jeweller suddenly looked her over, as if seeing her in some kind of a new light. "... Stones like this... they don't traverse through history unnoticed. They all usually go by a name. They are numbered. And most of them only change owners when something... drastic happens to them. The owners, I mean. Wars... murders... falls of dynasties. Do you understand?"
Shit. He thought she'd stolen it and was naïve enough to have it checked out like this. Chances were, at the moment, he was mentally recounting recent big-scale jewel thefts. She really, really should have read up on it. And there she was, hoping she'd manage without magical interference.
Having decided that there was no way out of Obliviating the poor sod, she resolved to get as much as possible out of the man and be more careful in future. It gave her tone the necessary sharpness of surety as she spoke next.
"I see you are a great expert, sir. Maybe you recognize this stone?" she asked with a brittle smile.
"Maybe I do, m'dear; maybe I'm mistaken. But you have to understand, considering its size... and quality... It is one of a kind, really, and I—"
"And you have trouble believing a woman like me could own it?"
"...Yes, basically. Own it legally."
"But you have no trouble thinking I'm stupid enough to bring it to you, like I'm some poor tramp who wants to sell her grandmother's trophy half-carat diamond?"
The jeweller's mouth twitched, and his expression was screaming that, no, that idea, he had absolutely no trouble believing. But then something else registered in his brain, and his eyes glinted scarily.
"And you want to sell it?"
"Maybe." Another lie. Let him go with it. Let him think she'd be an easy touch. After all, this was what ladies came to him for often. But if he had known that she'd rather sell her kidney at the moment, he'd never share his observations with her. "Though, don't underestimate me, sir. I do realize that you may not have enough money to buy it," she added hastily, trying to counteract his pre-conceived image of an unfortunate ignoramus with no knowledge of what treasure belonged to her.
"My dear," the jeweller finally said, having taken another long look at his visitor. "Let me be frank with you. Whatever business brought you here, it is not mine to judge. I will make you a deal. If you tell me, in all honesty, everything there is in that pretty little head of yours, concerning this gem, I will offer you a price you could never have hoped for. And this shall be our little secret."
And this secret was going to lose its confidential status even before she'd left the building, she had no doubt of it. One didn't need to be a Legilimens to see how all the little gears in the man's head had started spinning, images of all the people he was going to call 'as soon as' popping into his brain. It wasn't what she'd hoped for, exactly, but working with what she had was one of her principles, and if she had to piece together some story to spike his interest, in order to get his opinion in return, so be it. After all,Obliviate was already out on the platter. She willed her features into a meek expression.
"My great-grandmother was... an adventurous woman," she started, laying a meaningful stress on 'adventurous', as if after all these years, her family still frowned upon their ancestor's bolder side.
"She hauled herself around the world quite a bit, going after one man after another. She kept her fair share of secrets."
Hopefully, it sounded conspiratorial. At least the jeweller seemed pleased.
"Granny, you see, she lived to see her hundredth birthday, and even when there wasn't a single tooth left in her head, she'd still ogle men's arses. She had a thing for uniforms."
Who would have thought she could be such an inspired liar! But now that she was cooking quite a meal out of her newly-found ability, the words flowed like a smooth river.
"I was her favourite great-grand daughter, sir. Because I was the only one who'd listen to all her wild-spun fairy-tales, about places she'd been to, men she—"
"I hear you, my dear, but about this stone, remember?"
Damn, she was almost disappointed that her pretty lie wasn't doomed to spin to its end.
"Yes, that. Forgive me, sir. I got carried away. So, before granny died, a little over a few months ago, she gave me this stone." She tried to look sad and wished she was able to cry at will. "She said that one of her... men gave it to her. I don't know who he was. She said she was very young and wild, and... even during her hardest times, she'd never had any intentions of selling it as she'd developed a very strong connection to the stone."
"Any hint of this stone's... origins?" the jeweller asked. He was looking bored stiff with her babbling.
She wracked her brains for any scraps of knowledge about precious gems and picked the first one that seemed feasible.
"I'm not sure, but my grandmother did spend some of her younger years in India," she said tentatively, hoping she'd stepped on the right spot in the swamp that was this man.
The jeweller held the stone up against a beam of sunlight streaking through a small, arched window.
"Yes, it does look like it could come from the mines of Golkonda. Not even one tenth of Shah Jahan's treasure has surfaced so far. However, black diamonds are not typical Indian riches, so—"
"So, it's a diamond?" she intercepted quickly. Finally, something. Though she had been pretty sure exactly what she'd stumbled upon, a Muggle perspective could come of use. Maybe, this very man could give her a hint without knowing it. Any sliver of information mattered now, considering how she was going to use her find.
"It is indeed. A black diamond. I thought you knew that. Its structure is rather spongy for a diamond and has quite a few impurities, but that's how diamonds get their colours."
The man snapped his mouth shut suddenly as if trying to catch the words crowding on his tongue, and it dawned on her. He was so eager to follow her false trace to India. And so reluctant to share details. A good businessman, he simply wanted to bargain for a better price, but when it came to the expertise, he was as clueless about the stone as she was. Well, at least she'd learnt something, even though the information had all the value of a bucket of water in the garden on a rainy day. Diamond: black, spongy, impurities. Not much. Nothing she couldn't have gathered on her own, in fact.
But if the stone was what she thought it was, seeking help from specialists in the Magical world was absolutely out of question.
Somewhere at the outskirts of her mind, she'd registered that the man's lips were moving, and his face took up an expectant set. She didn't care to even be polite and pretend that she'd misheard. An overwhelming feeling of tiredness and finality swept over her.
Pulling out a wand under the table, she cast a mild Stupefy, aiming at the man's knee, and then carefully obliterated any trace of her visit from his mind.