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Chapter 17 : Snake-Cooties and Frostbitten Noses
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Disclaimer: No, Harry Potter isn’t mine. Neither is Ginny Weasley. Negotiation regarding the ownership of a certain blond Slytherin are in the process, but meantime the results aren’t favorable… *broods*
Author's Notes: Hey people! Did you miss me? I guess some of you - the more fanatical ones - did. I apologize for the brutal lack of updating, but as some of you might know I’ve started my army service the other month and now not only do I have the time for posting, I don’t even have time for writing. It is all very sad actually…
Enjoy what you get and know that it is not in my intention to leave this story at its very end. Besides this one, two other chapters has been written previously and are being betaed as you read, so I hope I would be able to post them soon. Meanwhile, I am trying to write the last two chapters of this monstrosity and failing miserably, for I am too tired to allow a single creative line into my mind. Emotional exhaustion blows chunks.
Anyway, read, enjoy and please review. Remind me why I’m still doing this =)
Ginny entered the colossal lobby of Malfoy Incorporated early Monday morning, charming the persistent raindrops out of her clothing and hair. Once the clothes dried out completely and her hair resettled with an unfortunate frizz to it, she allowed her eyes to wander and take in the lavish décor. The high ceilings with their graceful arches towered above her; the walls bore the paintings of ancient men - Malfoy men - who watched the scurrying people about them in amusement or discontent or simple disinterest. The floors wove a particularly meticulous pattern, showing the Malfoy crest with emerald and white mosaic in the center of the hall. The place was indeed awesome, but what else could she expect from a Malfoy.
She smiled at the thought and headed to the elevators, mentally steeling herself for another encounter with the Malfoy heir. She didn’t know why exactly she felt the need to steel herself, or why her hands were sweating slightly, while her stomach churned unpleasantly as if there were doxies fluttering inside of her. Neither could she explain why exactly she'd spent the morning choosing the right outfit, applying light but becoming touches of make-up, and frankly dreading the meeting. It wasn’t as if anything important was going to be discussed today. It was just agreed Saturday in the Tea Room that Ginny would drop by Draco’s office before starting working on the article, to discuss the way she was going to go about it or something of the sort, Ginny didn’t know exactly.
By the time she reached the top floor of the enormous building - the only structure in Diagon Alley that bypassed the four-story maximum - Ginny considered turning back and forsaking the idea all together. However, the thought was too ridiculous and too unjustified to consider, so she just rolled her shoulders nervously and stepped into the waiting area of Draco’s office. The same emerald motif reigned the design there as well, but it was calmer here in some odd sense, as if it didn’t need the same extravagant lavishness to impress the visitors. The air was enough.
Trying to steady her thumping heart, Ginny headed towards the secretary at the door. She cleared her throat loudly to draw attention to herself and smiled at the young witch once the attention was granted.
“Good morning,” the secretary smiled stoically, steepling her fingers atop of the stock of papers on her desk. “How may I help you?”
“Good morning,” Ginny returned with the same stoic greeting. “Miss Weasley, Daily Prophet reporter. I believe Mr. Malfoy is expecting me.”
“Oh yes, of course,” the younger witch smiled brightly and pushed herself away from the table, standing up, and walking over to the enormous double doors.
Ginny followed her compliantly and once the doors were open stepped inside. She scanned the office for the familiar white-blond head and noticed Draco behind the black lacquered desk just as he raised his head to glare down the intrusion. She smiled brightly when the glare melted away and was replaced by some oddly expressed greeting. He would accept her presence. He would even allow a shadow of a smile for her.
Once the doors were closed behind her, Draco gestured at one of the empty visitors’ chair, offering her a seat. “Good morning. I take it you didn’t have too much trouble finding the building.”
“No, not at all,” Ginny assured him, taking a seat in front of the desk. “I just followed the great black shadow looming over the Alley.”
Draco shot her a look, not quite bordering on a glare, but not so casual either.
The issue of the altitude of the Malfoy Incorporated building had been on the table for quite some time now. On one hand, there weren't any laws or regulations that forbade private entrepreneurs from building structures higher than the majority of buildings in the Alley, and the construction of said building was approved legally and supervised by the Ministry officials. On the other hand, after the erection of Malfoy Incorporated’s new headquarters, letters of complaints and censure flooded the Public Complaints Committee of the Ministry, claiming that the building - or more specifically, the shadow it created from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon - was disrupting the everyday way of life of the Alley dwellers.
The Daily Prophet had been informed that Ministry officials had approached Draco regarding the issue and advised him to charm the stories underground, like the Ministry itself was built. However, Draco claimed that such an action would involve superfluous amounts of money and if the Ministry was interested in donating it he would happily oblige, if not than he was forced to reject the advice. On this note though the issue didn’t settle and the London wizarding community was divided between two major opinions - some attacked Draco for refusing to comply with the request, while the majority attacked the Ministry for not examining the issue more thoroughly before it arose in the first place.
It was understandable why it was a bit of a touchy issue for Draco, especially in the presence of a newspaper reporter, as he must’ve suddenly remembered she was.
“And let that be my first question for the day,” she added, pulling out a black leather-bound notebook and a quill. “What does Malfoy Incorporated plan to do about the continuous letters of complaints?”
“Let it not, “ Draco countered slightly irritably. “I did not invite you here so you could prod the same boring issues.”
“I was under a different impression from my editor.” Ginny beamed cheekily, flipping the notebook shut again.
He shot her yet another bordering look, but was appeased when the notebook was closed. “How is your niece? Olivia Perdita, is it?”
Ginny narrowed her eyes at Draco’s intentionally obvious attempt to stifle the amusement in his voice. “Very well, thanks. And you didn’t have to make fun of the name in front of Hermione, you know.”
“Old habits die hard,” Draco commented, not feeling the need to apologize or excuse his rude behavior.
“At this rate they will never die.”
“Quite frankly, I find it difficult to be all that bothered by the possibility,” he stated, keeping the noncommittal air about him.
Ginny couldn’t stop the small smile that crept onto her lips, curling tentatively and glowing bashfully on her face.
For a minute it seemed Draco had lost his train of thought and was on a verge of stutter, but he quickly recomposed himself, clearing his throat distractedly. “So, what are you planning for the article? Should I expect the usual mud lashing?”
Ginny laughed, feeling not actual resentment behind the words, but mere jesting. “Of course not. I plan on writing only the truth,” she berated semi-seriously. “And if the article is going to be biased, let me assure you it will be in your favor.”
“Oh? You will compromise your journalistic integrity for the sake of a Malfoy?”
“First of all, there will be no compromise whatsoever,” Ginny clarified, fixing her brown stare on the boring gray eyes. “And second of all… some things worth doing for the sake of a friend.”
Draco cocked an eyebrow as his lips quirked into an amused smirk. “So you’ve decided that I’m a friend?”
“Yes, I have and there’s nothing you can do to dishearten my decision, so hush.” She furrowed her brows at him warningly, before slipping into a more mild composure. “Now… about the building, Mr. Malfoy?”
The amusement remained in his eyes while the smirk frittered away and Draco resettled into his usual work mode. “An agreement has been reached with the Ministry - they provide the Spell-casters and I take care of all the necessary research. You can inform your readers to expect a standard four-story building by the end of this year.”
Ginny grinned into her notebook, scribbling the information down. “Excellent. So what were you talking about yesterday, at the hospital with my brother yesterday?”
The question didn’t catch him off guard as was hoped, but it did cause an edgy look to be fixated at her.
“Nothing that would be necessary for the article,” Draco guaranteed calmly.
“Then I don’t ask as a reporter,” Ginny countered, staring at him evenly. She was simply curious, why did his shoulders tense and a sudden vague air erect about him?
Draco’s composure suddenly slacked and the air around him shifted. “Nothing interesting, really. I just found out that he’s acquainted with the manager of the Chudley Cannons and needed him to introduce us.”
Ginny couldn’t help the skeptic brow that quirked upwards. “He left his wife and newborn in favor of a Quidditch team manager?”
For a moment Draco seemed to understand the impracticality of his story, but seemed to have no choice but to go on with it. “Not just a Quidditch team, Ginny. The Cannons. Even I know how fanatical Weasley is about them.”
Ginny should’ve continued the interrogation further. She should’ve slipped into her reporter mode and continue pressing questions that would’ve made him fidgety and uncomfortable and forced him tell the truth eventually. She shouldn’t have let the obvious lie be dangled so bluntly in front of her face and should’ve taught Draco, for future reference, not to attempt such mindless antics as lying to her ever again.
But she didn’t. Because her brain was quite effectively tuned out by the sound of her name uttered in his cold drawl. It sounded odd and incongruous, and for a moment Ginny wanted to tell him that she decided against the first name basis and he can go back to calling her ‘Weasley’. But something deeper inside of her told her there was no way back now. She was Ginny and he was Draco and-- why did her heart just skipped a beat?
Draco seemed to notice something in her demeanor, because he suddenly coughed into his fist, shaking his head, and averted his eyes from her onto the windows. “So, umm… how are you?”
The question should’ve sounded random and out of place, and if it was anyone else asking it in the middle of a conversation, Ginny would’ve glanced at them perplexedly. However, when asked by Draco after a stretch of loaded silence, the question attained a different meaning.
“I’m… okay,” she replied, forcing herself out of her dazed stupor. “Good, even. I just have to start doing things… like getting an apartment and a new Gringott’s vault. Which reminds me, do I have to have an appointment with the manager or can I just open a new vault with one of the clerks?”
“One of the clerks could help you with the creating of a private vault,” Draco stated, the stoic air reassembling around him. “Business vaults require the interference of the manager.”
“And an apartment…? Where would I be looking for one of those?” Ginny asked absently, her eyes shiftily looking away.
“Didn’t I tell you that I am not about to provide you with all the answers?” Draco mused out loud, as the sides of his mouth quirked up.
“I’m not asking for all the answers,” Ginny protested feebly. “Just… a singular educated guess… perhaps?”
Draco laughed, which sent a jolt of satisfaction through the redhead sitting across him.
“I’m afraid my educated guesses about accommodations concludes on inheriting my parents’ house,” Draco replied, pulling himself back under control. “I don’t think it would work in your case, though.”
Ginny sighed in defeat. “Yes, I guess you’re right. I’ll ask someone else then.”
Draco laughed once more at the lighthearted tone of her last statement and shook his head. Then, as if remembering something, he spoke again, his voice laced with something new. “Are you planning to go to the Ministry?”
“What for?” Ginny blinked. “You think they would want to tell where I could get an apartment?”
He closed his eyes for a brief moment, before opening them and looking at her again. “No,” he replied. His eyes slipped to her hand that was holding the closed notebook, settling on the silver band around her finger. “Are you planning to file an appeal for the separation?”
Ginny’s eyes followed Draco’s, slipping onto the wedding band as well. A pale scarlet blush touched her ears, creeping down towards her cheeks, when she grasped that the ring was still on her left ring finger and hadn’t been removed yet. Her right hand instantly moved to remove it, but instead began turning it this way and that, absently rubbing the skin beneath it.
“I-- umm-- well-- I-- yes-- yes,” she concluded finally, the fingers of her right hand still fidgeting around the ring. “Yes, I was going to… tomorrow.”
Draco watched her cautiously, not saying a thing, but taking notice to the insistent twirling and rolling of the ring. This was going to be difficult. “Do you know where Potter is now?”
Ginny’s poise instinctively tautened at the mention of Harry, sending cold tendrils down her spine. “Umm, work, I guess. Or home. I don’t know, I haven’t seen him since… Thursday.”
“You know you will have to request a Warding Charm against him as well, right?”
She allowed the hesitance to shine through in her eyes only for a moment, before clenching her jaw in a stubborn line and nodding. “Yes, I know. And I will, don’t look so worried. Tomorrow.”
Draco nodded as well, appeased by her words. “The ring will have to come off sometime, too,” he added in a voice that could’ve been considered even, if not for the strained emotion in its undercurrent.
Ginny pursed her lips, locking her eyes with his defiantly. Don’t act like you deem me that stupid. I know what happened and I know what I have to do. And I will do it. “Tomorrow.”
Weaving her way through the busy bustle that reigned the permanently overcrowded streets of the Diagon Alley, Ginny made her steady way to the small café at the end of the Chestbourn Street, where Ron usually spent his lunchtime. She had it set in her mind to extract the real reason for Draco’s visit to the hospital the previous day. She knew her brother well enough to know exactly what to ask and how to speak so he would let the answer slip. For Ron was never quite capable at keeping secrets in the family, and Ginny was always the most proficient in extorting information out of unsuspecting simpletons.
She had spent the morning prowling the countless halls, the grand antechambers and the busy offices, disrupting the usual flow of work all over the building with questions about the company, its atmosphere, their bosses and so forth. Draco of course approved everything and memos had been sent to each and every department, notifying the workers of Miss Weasley’s expected arrival. They were advised to answer truthfully any and all of her enquiries. The latter advice has been embellished by an addition from Mr. Malfoy himself, claiming that though the reporter was disciplined he would not exclude the possibility of Miss Weasley gravely injuring those who would didn't oblige.
Draco’s attempt of a joke was promptly retaliated by Ginny when she managed to persuade Sheila, his secretary, to send the rest of the memos out with a mild alternation to the usual Malfoy signature. At the bottom of the page, instead of the words ‘Head of Malfoy Incorporated, Draco Malfoy’, a more amiable ‘Sincerely yours, Mikul Drakushor’ was scribbled in a perfect imitation of Draco’s cursive handwriting.
Sheila however, feeling uncomfortable at ribbing her boss in such a manner, brought the alternation to Draco’s attention a few hours later. Which caused the simultaneous combustion of every single copy of the memo in the twelve-story building, and a very disgruntled apparition of Draco’s head to appear in the fireplace of the office where Ginny currently was. He reminded her somberly that it was still a place of work and such childish pranks are frowned upon. She agreed with a synonymous somberness, promising to never repeat the brute expression of joviality at his expense ever again. After such a promise, it was all she could do not to divulge to her current subject; Mr. Malfoy took ballet lessons in his childhood.
The morning thus passed rather enjoyably, as Ginny spent it talking to people and patrolling one of the most lush and sophisticated buildings in the whole of London wizarding premises. She was once again doing something she found great exhilaration in - working on a story for the Daily Prophet and digging deeper than any other journalist was allowed or simply cared to dig. That is also why when she stepped out of the building that afternoon in hopes of getting some lunch and discovered that she was only a few minutes walk away from Ron’s favorite café, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interrogate him.
She entered the small establishment and was attacked by the strong smell of black coffee dominating the air, and the loud conversation bursting from the numerous overcrowded tables, at which Aurors, Hit Wizards and other magical enforcement officers settled themselves in for the hour or so of their lunch break. Ginny remembered spending time here almost everyday, back when she still dreamt of becoming an Auror. That was before the permanent patrons’ almost indecent affinity for gossip drew her attention away from one dream and allowed it to blossom into another. Ron used to scoff the Aurors’ never-ending interest in the latest scandals of the wizarding world, until he himself became engrossed with the common tales. He dismissed it as an understandable occupational hazard.
Ginny scanned the crowd for the familiar mop of violently copper hair and wasn’t disappointed to find her brother seated at one of the loudest tables, conversing animatedly with his coworkers. She tried to catch his attention, waving at him once, twice, finally succeeding when a loud “Ronniekins!” was unceremoniously barked across the room, which succeeded in drawing everyone’s attention. At once the table erupted in thunderous guffaws while Ron, smacking as many heads upside down as he could reach on his way, walked over to his sister.
“Oi, what are you doing here, Gin-bug?” he enquired, leading her to an empty table near a window. “Shouldn’t you be out, hunting down the truth and punishing the wrong-doers?”
“Why, are you meddling with other people’s affairs and then advising everyone of your findings?” she asked back, meaning it to be a joke, but finding the irony of her words amusing at the last.
“Actually.” Ron laughed at her words, sharing the joke about the Aurors’ rumor-addiction. “Davies just informed me of your current assignment,” he told her, his voice somewhat undecided in its teasing tone. “How convenient.”
“Just a coincidence, I assure you, Ronniekins,” Ginny retorted, narrowing her eyes at him warningly.
“I said nothing!” Ron hurried to withdraw his implies in mock surrender. “However…”
“Look, I know what your warped mind imagines in that tiny space of your head,” she scolded, irked by the words that were left to hang in the air and their inclinations. “But Draco is nothing more than a friend” She squashed ruthlessly the tiny yelp of objection at the back of her head and continued to stare at her brother. “He is helpful and practical and, despite how unbelievable it may sound to you, actually is quite nice, once you get past the Malfoy exterior and--“
“Whoa, whoa, Ginny, slow down.” Ron stared at her through surprised eyes, his lips widening into a grin. “I didn’t say a word about Malfoy. Though it is interesting to discover he is a ‘Draco’ now.”
Ginny blinked somewhat owlishly, realizing she had automatically jumped into defending Draco in front of her brother’s nonexistent accusations. The subject of Draco’s affability was becoming a touchy issue with her, and she had to watch herself for future references, before she drew unnecessary misconceptions.
“Bah. I’m tired.” She dismissed her own tirade with a wave of a hand. “All I had for breakfast was a cup of coffee. Have you ever known how tiresome wandering about twelve stories and talking to random people could be? Well, a lot.”
Ron laughed at her disgruntled expression and beckoned the waitress to their table. After ordering for both of them and watching the waitress leave, he turned back to his sister with a shadow of a smirk on his lips. “Have you at least slept last night? Had any gruesome nightmares lately?”
Ginny shot him a playful glare and shook her head. “No, slept just fine, thank you. What is it? Is that a smirk on your lips, Ronald Bilius Weasley? Have you been spending time with Draco?”
Ginny had to give credit to her older brother. He had made some profound progress from the sheepishly awkward boy he once had been, who would’ve burst into a fidgeting fit accompanied with a heavy curtain of crimson blush if cornered by a question or a situation. This Ron however, has simply paused himself for an imperceptible moment, his muscles strained in readiness out of educated instinct, clearly sensing a trap, before drawing onwards like nothing compromising had been entailed.
“What would I have to do with Ferret-face,” he responded simply. “Nah, it’s your department as of lately. Which reminds me, how is Brooks? We’ve received some troubling information about his father, which was proved to be untrue, but required a visit to the senior’s house anyway, and Tomas didn’t seem to take it all that well…”
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” confessed Ginny, sensing the deliberate change of subject. “He seemed fine when I last spoke to him. Why? What about his father?”
“We got an anonymous tip that Victor Brooks was back to practicing Dark Arts again,” Ron said. He smiled broadly at the waitress that returned with their orders and waited until she served everything and left, wishing them bon apetit, before speaking again. “But the man is confined mostly to a hospital bed and no traces of magic were detected in his surrounding, so the information was false. The funny part is that the lead came from the inside.” He scrunched his nose in confusion, starting to eat.
“What do you mean from the inside?” Ginny couldn’t help but ask, her journalistic senses tingling.
“I mean, it was received from one of the inside channels,” Ron explained as if it was completely understandable. “Someone from the Department left the folder on Dickinson’s desk, cause it had no outside or inside stamps and no transformation spells or anything. Someone had to drop it off manually where no visitors are allowed, so the only ones who could do it are our own. Which makes even less sense, because our people have better things to do than try to frame past Dark practitioners based on bogus information.”
“I thought it was one of the Auror commandments to leave all the old hens’ characteristics here and not drag them back to the headquarters,” Ginny commented, stealing some of Ron’s salad.
“It is,” he countered, retaliating by taking hostage a piece of her chicken. “It was too stupid thing to do by anyone from the inside. And if it wasn’t someone of ours, it doesn’t make me feel better, because it means some punk was able to sneak in and out unnoticed. And that’s just unacceptable.”
“Put Identifying Charms on the entrances,” Ginny suggested. “And try to trace back the paper. I think I heard different squads use different parchments?”
Ron blinked at her for a moment, chewing thoughtfully. Then, breaking the silence with a groan of agreement, he nodded. “Yeah, that’s right. That’s actually a good idea, you know?”
“I try help.” Ginny dismissed his praise with a noncommittal shrug and glanced out onto the street. “Umm, so what exactly are you doing here now? Aren’t you supposed to be with Hermione?”
“Heh.” Ron shook his head, suppressing a laugh that would definitely spray his meal over the table. “She told me if I’m not going to leave her for a while, she was going to chuck the baby crib at me. Considering the fact that my daughter was still in it, I saw it best to retreat-- whoa…”
Ginny’s gaze snapped up from her plate to fixate on her brother, who was staring at space with the most dumbfounded expression. “What is it?”
He blinked twice, refocusing his stare on the redhead in front of him, and a small sheepish smile crept onto his lips. “My daughter. That just sounds odd.”
Ginny rolled her eyes, exhaling in relief and threw a noodle at him for scaring her. “Why was she so disposed for physical violence? Did you spend all of yesterday sitting by her bed and annoying the living spirits out of her?”
Ron paused slightly again, sensing the ambushing questions once more. Deciding it was better to proceed with utmost caution, he sighed subtly into his tea and replied in the same casual tone. “No, actually, I was out yesterday. But I spent the night there and I guess after the hundredth time I asked her if she wanted another pillow or a blanket, she cracked. Maybe I shouldn’t have woken her several times in the middle of the night to ask her that, though…”
“You were out? The whole day?” Ginny enquired with the necessary incredulity in her voice. “What could’ve been so important as to drag you away from your wife and daughter?”
“Oh, well.” Ron furrowed his brows thoughtfully, taking a sip of tea to prolong the silence and when finished, spoke with the same ease as previously. “Ferret-face found out that I knew the manager of Chudley Cannons and begged for an introduction. When I think about it, I really shouldn’t have done that because I heard some talk of purchase going on that evening and I really wouldn’t like it if the Cannons were owned by Malfoy.”
Ginny was struck with disappointment to discover Ron’s story matching Draco’s so perfectly. She almost frowned and let on of her dissatisfaction, but caught herself in time and instead pressed the issue further. “You wanted to tell me you’ve abandoned Hermione and Olivia Perdita for a day with Draco and a manager of some Quidditch team?” Her voice was carefully laced with disbelief and vague traces of abhorrence.
“Now, Gin, not some Quidditch team, the Cannons,” Ron excused himself evenly. “Plus, I couldn’t forfeit the opportunity to have the upper hand on Malfoy and showing off my connections in the real world, now could I?”
“Infantile,” Ginny blurted upon hearing his little confession.
“Alas,” Ron sighed gravely in agreement. “And, you know, I tried to be nice to him for your sake, seeing as he’s your… friend, and all.”
Ginny almost grunted with despair. The easy tone, the reasonable explanations and the lack of other information, made Ron’s words sound so sincere and impossible to doubt, that Ginny couldn’t help but feel the seeds of skepticism bloom at high speed. Everything was too reasonable and too understandable, and honestly not at all like Ron. So she had every right to suspect deception, which caused her even more grief to think he would so openly lie to her.
Ron, not Draco, she reminded herself.
“Hey, Gin?” Ron’s voice interrupted her inner frowning, drawing her attention back to her conversant. “How good a friend do you think Malfoy is to you?”
Ginny blinked in surprised at the unexpected question and paused. Then, taking a moment to consider his question, she glanced out of the window. Finally sighing, she turned back to her brother’s questioning stare and smiled, shrugging nonchalantly. “Quite.”
It seemed to appease him and he nodded, returning to his food. “Because from what I’ve seen, the feeling is mutual.”
Ginny’s eyes widened fractionally at her brother’s words. “Umm, well…”
The need to say something was cut off by Ron himself, when he added absentmindedly, “And I have to say, the thought is very disturbing. I really don’t want his visits to the Burrow to become more frequent than ‘never’, because Merlin only knows what way those Slytherins reproduce! What if he lays eggs and leaves his general Snake-cooties indoors?”
Ginny snorted in laughter, throwing a noodle at her chuckling brother, before resuming her own meal now that the solemn air had lifted. She couldn’t help but appreciate her brother even more at that moment, because he was always infinitely different and yet luckily dependable regarding some issues.
She will still have to find out what exactly was the going on between him and Draco, but for now she could simply enjoy the meal in the company of her beloved brother without any further troubling. The occurrence was somewhat rare and thusly had to be cherished.
The rest of the day was spent in the similar manner as the morning, just as every other first day of her researches. She wandered about the colossal building, pausing occasionally when the senses told her to inquire deeper into a certain piece of information she came across or simply a seemingly interesting subject for the story. However she couldn’t stop herself from befriending anyone who looked valuable nor could she help extracting the necessary information out of them, using her charm, wit and often Weasleys’ beguile.
So it happened that by the end of the working day, she had enough knowledge to start outlining the main point of her article, enough leads to follow to dig out the most interesting facts, and enough dirt on Draco to keep him uncomfortable for half a decade. The latter however, was for her own personal - somewhat perverse, she had to admit - interest and had no use for the article, but was just too amusing and precious to forfeit. So she sweet-talked some of the most useful employees - such as Wally in the Owling Room, Francisca in the Budgeting Committee and Patrick the Head Maintenance Wizard, who was unbeknownst to anyone, one of the most resourceful and knowledgeable workers at Malfoy Incorporated - and got a few very interesting pieces of information that would allow hours of priceless ribbing and taunting.
When the day passed by and the last traces of light frittered into the night, Ginny was surprised to discover the lateness of the hour during her lengthy and animated conversation with Sheila Randall, Draco’s personal assistance and secretary. The younger witch was discovered to be just as useful an ally as Patrick was, even if she was oddly loyal to her boss. When Ginny dropped by every couple of hours, after encountering a stopper in her leads, she never failed to redirect her to some other branch or department of the firm that proved to be very promising. At the end of the day, Ginny found herself at the chestnut desk once again, chatting with the secretary over two cups of mediocre coffee, and absently glancing at the pair of closed wooden doors every now and then.
When her unconscious wish finally came true and one of the doors was pulled soundlessly to reveal a tired-looking Draco Malfoy just stepping outside, Ginny couldn’t help but notice an odd hitching sensation in her throat. She trailed off her conversation with Sheila, and dug into her purse aimlessly, thoroughly searching through it for something, all the while waiting for him to notice her presence.
“Sheila.” He nodded curtly in mild greeting, calling the attention of both witches. “Miss Weasley, I was sure you'd already left.”
Ginny glanced up at him, renouncing the search of her purse. “I was just on my way out actually,” Ginny stated, glancing at the clock and breaking into a sheepish smile. “About an hour ago.”
“What can I say?” Sheila chirped in, as her gaze wandered over the piece of parchment she deserted an hour ago. “I’m an excellent conversationalist.”
“Indeed you are,” Draco agreed drably, fixing Ginny with a somewhat stern look. “However it is not in Miss Weasley’s best interests to be returning home this late.”
“It is, however, in the best interest of my article for me to research the subject,” Ginny countered calmly. “Crazy notion, I agree, but quite useful with the whole journalist thing.”
Draco narrowed his eyes subtly and chanced a glance at Sheila, who was seemingly engrossed by some document on her table to pay them any attention, before replying. “That is not what I meant,” he said, stifling an irritated growl. “I meant you shouldn’t waste your time so then you’re forced to walk home alone. The streets aren’t as safe as they once were. Especially not for a young g-- w-- female.”
“Ooh, ‘female’,” Sheila quipped dryly, her eyes locked on the parchment as she scratched something out with her red quill-pen. “He must really like you.”
Ginny broke into a smile, which was hurriedly hid at the sight of Draco’s cold glare directed at his secretary. “Sheila, you don’t have enough work as it is? Would you like me to double your hassle?”
“No, no, Mr. Malfoy,” the young witch assured him in a singsong voice. “I am quite satisfied with my current amount of work. By the way, I received an owl from the Honeyduke’s and apparently there has been a delay in the shipment of this month’s package, so they apologize in advance for the inconvenience and promise to add some extra Saccharine Blood Drops,” she informed him, tearing her eyes from the document and smiling up at him almost cheekily.
“Oh, yes,” Ginny nodded solemnly, her lips melting into a blissful grin. “The lifetime subscription to Honeyduke’s Chocolate Ecstasy Deluxe package… I would’ve never guessed you had such a terribly sweet tooth. But this actually explains where my mother’s chocolate truffles have gone.”
“Thank you, Miss Randall.” Draco bristled, shifting his glare from the secretary to Ginny. “Perhaps I shouldn’t rely so much on your confidence, as it seems you’re quite ready dislodge information to complete strangers.”
“Oh, no, no, no, no!” Ginny hurried to interject, suddenly fearing she might cause trouble for the young witch. “My information came from a completely unrelated sources,” she assured him firmly. “Which will remain anonymous.”
Draco surveyed Ginny through bleak eyes, an eyebrow quirked slightly, completely unfazed by her glaring. Tearing his eyes from her, he glanced at Sheila over her shoulder, conveying some silent enquiry through his blank features.
“The reports from the Sneakzims will be on your desk first thing in the morning, sir,” the secretary replied unquestioningly, returning to the parchment.
Ginny’s face reflected first her confusion, then disbelief and finally settled with mild irritation. “You’ve sent Sneakzims after me?”
Sneakzims were furry little magical creatures of dark colors, with tiny fuzzy wings and flat reflective surfaces for their faces. By nature, very mischievous, these small creatures have an exceptional memory that allow them to store long stretches of events within them and replay them at will over their mirroring features. When trained, some enforcement squads use them for spying.
Apparently Draco had his own flock of Sneakzims that he used for exactly the same purposes. His lips curled into an indulgent smirk and he couldn’t hold back a short chuckle at her indignation. “Please, Miss Weasley, did you really believe I’d allow a reporter to snoop around unsupervised all over my company?” he asked tauntingly, his voice laced faintly with incredulity. “I’m still a Malfoy.”
Ginny narrowed her eyes at him, folding her arms across her chest crossly. “I do not appreciate being chaperoned, Mr. Malfoy, and find your antics quite unacceptable.”
“I apologize, Miss Weasley.” Draco humored her with a short curtsy. “Next time I’ll make sure not to inform you of their existence.”
Ginny growled inwardly and was about to reply quite cuttingly, when Draco dismissed the issue by speaking up again. “I am heading out, would you like to join me or would you rather stay here and continue the conversation?”
“Go, go,” Sheila interrupted before Ginny could reply. “I’ve got to finish this and head home or else…”
“Mr. Randall still gives your grief over your working hours?” Draco inquired pleasantly.
An act that made Ginny pause and blink at him with slight traces of surprise and disbelief on her face. A thought that Draco Malfoy inquired after his employees’ personal affairs was quite shocking for her, even after everything.
“Yes,” chortled Sheila, rolling up the parchment and setting it aside before taking up the last roll of parchment in the formerly abundant pile. “It’s absolutely hilarious the way he grumbles about me cheating on him with you, Mr. Malfoy.”
Draco joined the laughter, shaking his head at the notion. “Tell him it means nothing to me and I’m in it only for the money.”
Sheila laughed again, resuming the spell checking of the last document. “Will do. Would you like me to schedule the funeral for a weekday?”
Draco replied in laughter and bid farewell to his secretary. He guided Ginny away to the elevators.
Ginny smiled to herself during the stretch of silence that befallen them, appeased by the thought that Draco was still capable of lightheartedness. She immensely enjoyed seeing him laugh, or smile, or casually converse with whomever, allowing himself to waive the usual callous Malfoy air about him, if only for the short while. She liked the way his skin lit up when the immaculate composure was shattered by bursts of laughter; and the way his eyes creased at their corners, creating subtly shorn wrinkles that gave character and mirth to his features; and that brilliant sound that made its way from the depths of his chest with undulating rumbles of explicit amusement.
She was caught unguarded, though, by the fleeting thought that she would like to always partake these sparse magical moments, and swiftly forced herself to look away, realizing she had been staring.
“So, do you approve?” The silence in the empty elevator was interrupted by Draco’s voice, loaded with glee and taunting.
“What?” Ginny quickly blurted, snapping her eyes at him, mortified at the prospect of him noticing her staring.
Draco glanced down at her, his air casual still present even if slightly surprised. “The company, Weasley. Do you approve of Malfoy Incorporated?”
“Oh,” Ginny breathed a sigh of relief, sensing her cheeks retained their accursed bright hot sheen, and feeling utterly grateful for the dim illumination of the elevator. “Umm—” She stalled to recompose her strangely scattered thoughts, and released a small chuckle when the train of musing was finally established. “Oh yes, definitely. I was pleasantly surprised almost every hour.”
“Oh?” Draco arched both brows inquiringly, leaning back against the elevator wall. “How so?”
Ginny turned to face him and followed his lead, leaning against a wall. “Well, first of all I was amused to discover you give out paid maternity and paternity leave. Draco, I never knew you were so for equality.”
“It looks good on paper,” Draco quirked his brows cockily. “Meanwhile, only one single worker took the paternity leave and that’s only because his wife ran off with the milkman.”
Ginny smiled, but she didn’t look at it the way he did. It didn’t matter if people took it or not. What mattered was the fact that he was offering it.
“Umm, oh and I was told about your secret chamber too,” she informed him cheekily, nodding sagely at his questioning expression. “Yes, yes. The one you’ve designed to be built into your office and warded against detection? I was told Malfoy men have a tendency to build in such chambers in all the structures they fund. What do you use it for?”
“Ah,” Draco smirked in understanding. “No comment.”
“Oh, come on, Draco,” Ginny cajoled, instantly trying to smother the whining undertones in her voice. “I’ll find out anyway, you know.”
“We’ll see,” Draco drawled, his smirk widening at the mere thought of her annoyance.
Ginny had already started plotting how she could obtain the key to this room from Patrick. Postponing the musing to a later hour, she looked onwards and absentmindedly noted to herself that they were walking down the Wiltings Street and that her feet were carrying her automatically down the route towards the nearest Apparition point. Vaguely amused by the thought, she couldn’t help but wonder why didn’t Draco install an Apparition point within the Malfoy Incorporated building itself, to save his workers the hassle of bustling up and down the streets.
Shrugging off the thought, she resumed the conversation at hand. “Oh, I’ve visited the daycare on the second floor, and frankly, was surprised by its existence. The décor was slightly biased though, I have to say.” She laughed at the memory of serpentine greens and silver, watching Draco’s break into a lazy grin, admitting to her undercurrent accusations.
“House pride, Ginny,” he stated noncommittally, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Don’t tell me you’re not planning on brainwashing your children with all that Gryffindor nonsense about honor and valor.”
“Of course I will, but they would be my children. Not the children of my employees.”
“Ah well, that is where we divert, I say convert as many as you can.”
“Well, I still believe you can’t convert a true Gryffindor,” she stated firmly. “The same with Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs.”
“Yes, I have to agree,” he said with exaggeratedly sorrow. “I've seen countless of brilliant childish minds sorted into the lesser houses after the fine education of the Malfoy Incorporated daycare. You can’t win them all.”
“Hey!” Ginny frowned irately. “Who are you calling lesser houses?”
“Hufflepuff,” Draco instantly replied, blinking in embellished innocence with obvious mocking in his voice.
Ginny shook a reproving finger at him. “It would serve you right to have one of your children in Hufflepuff, Draco Malfoy.”
“Gods, please no,” Draco grunted dreadfully. “I’d rather have a Gryff-- a Rav--” He stopped, staring blankly before shaking his head. “I’d rather not have any children at all.”
Ginny laughed again, unable to take his House-related grief seriously enough to contain her mirth. “You will have to get over yourself. What are the chances all the children would be in Slytherin?”
“All Malfoys go to Slytherin,” Draco reasoned evenly, as if it would completely settle the matter. “Besides, every Malfoy generation is raised in a certain way that will eventually guarantee their place in Slytherin.”
“That’s sad.” She screwed up her nose, glancing up at him. “To have such a thing decided for you before you’re even born or without your opinion taken into consideration.”
Draco didn’t reply to that at first and Ginny began to fear that perhaps she hit a sore spot she shouldn’t have reached. But when he spoke again his voice was as casual as before and her worries were put to rest.
“It’s not like they can ask the fetus how it would like to be raised,” he reasoned evenly.
“I guess… it depends on the parents really.”
“I guess,” he agreed, nodding slowly. “Two Slytherins would raise their child in a way that would imprint a sense of superiority and privilege into him. Combined with the ambitious nature of his parents, the child will grow into a little replica of them, sharing the same strive for power.”
Ginny wavered again, wondering whether she should feel uncomfortable and why exactly she didn’t. “But the child grows up to be his own person, and though the first decisions of his life are made by his parents, most of the later important decisions are made by him.”
Draco pursed his lips in musing and fixed her with a long stare. He appeared to consider her words seriously and for a moment she thought he might continue to press the subject, however he promptly shook his head and dismissed it with a casual chuckle. “Thank Merlin for free will.”
She laughed, accepting his dismissal of the subject. “Oh, do you know what I found?” she exclaimed suddenly, her eyes gleaming and her voice full of thrill.
He obviously didn’t expect her to burst in such excitement suddenly and he couldn’t suppress the instinctive jerk of alarm on his part. She laughed at his reaction and he stared at her for a moment, before relaxing the tension in his shoulders and rolling them easily. “What?”
“Did you know we have advertisements for apartments for rent at the back of Daily Prophet?”
Draco couldn’t help the jolt of laughter that erupted before he could hold it back, and one glance at Ginny’s indignant expression rejuvenated it with new vigor. Both stopped on their way when Draco doubled over holding his stomach, he was only able to smother the residues of his mirth by biting his palm. When he recomposed himself he turned to Ginny with a newly casual expression and nodded lightly. “Yes, I was aware of that. However, I--“ he stifled a chortle again and continued. “I was sure you knew that. You’re working there for what? Seven years now?”
Ginny rolled her eyes irritably and crossed her arms at her chest again, resuming her walk to the Apparation point. “Yes, well… it’s not like I read anything besides the articles.”
Draco chuckled again, freezing guiltily only when Ginny fixed him with a seething glare. “Umm, well, you should. There are some interesting columns there, and obviously some useful sections as well.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she droned briskly, fighting against the urge to stick her tongue out at him. “Anyway, I’ve responded to some of the ads there and go to check some apartments this Tuesday.”
“Good,” he nodded, smiling at her remaining annoyance. “Somewhere near?”
“One in Fulham and one in Soho, but I’m not quite sure about the first one,” Ginny said musingly, furrowing her brows in thought.
“Why not look for a place here in the Alley? I heard there’s someone selling an apartment on Chestbourn Street,” Draco offered, gesturing in the general direction of said street. “One of the safest streets in Diagon Alley with the Auror infestation going on there in one of the establishments.”
“Really? Oh, I’d love to live on Chestbourn’s,” Ginny gushed and paused in her walk, wondering if she could make a small detour to see if an apartment was really available there.
“Not now,” Draco said cutting into her train of thought suddenly, and pulling her sleeve further down the street.
Ginny blinked down at his hands as his fingers accidentally brushed against hers when he let go, and tried to steady the galloping in her chest along with the rabid insane thoughts. “Umm, right… no, wait… oh, right… wait, ‘selling’ you said?” she asked, finally able to complete a thought. To his affirming nod, she frowned sulkily and sighed in defeat. “I can’t buy an apartment right now. I barely know my regional from government bills…”
“Asked someone?” Draco interjected, his voice heavy with amusement at the sound of her using the different types of bills so casually, when he knew she most probably didn’t know the difference.
“Yes, Ron,” she admitted, this time succumbing to the childish desire to stick her tongue out at him, which only prompted more laughter. “Anyway, I don’t have enough money to buy an apartment.”
“I can loan you some,” came the carelessly amused drawl.
“I’m not taking your money.”
“I’m not giving it away,” Draco countered evenly, his eyes reflecting the total nonchalance. “You’ll pay me back. With interest, if you will.”
Ginny frowned at him, suddenly doubting whether it was a joke. She cast suspicious glances at him from the corner of her eye. “What? No, I can’t!”
“Weasley,” Draco uttered in a subtle growl of annoyance and rolled his eyes. “Don’t make me practice my chivalry, it causes me physical pain. Either you accept a loan for the apartment, or I’m paying its owner a visit and closing a deal behind your back. You know it would appear he’s selling the flat for an eighth of its value, so you could afford it.”
“Or perhaps I’ll just take one of the other apartments,” Ginny added, rolling her eyes at his annoying confidence.
“No, you won’t,” he assured her plainly, glancing up at the looming skies. “Not when you could have an apartment in the nicest part of Diagon Alley.”
She frowned and smacked him with her purse. “Prat.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Draco informed her flatly, not even noticing the subtle whack. “So where were you at lunchtime? I was told you left.”
“Oh yes, I had lunch with Ron,” Ginny said almost evenly, watching Draco for any betraying reaction.
However none appeared as the casual air about him remained. “Oh? In that Auror infested café on Chestbourn’s, right?”
Ginny scowled inwardly, wondering why couldn’t he just drop the act and confess or at least act obviously guilty. “Yeah, Ron spends his lunchtimes there.”
“Suits him,” Draco stated offhandedly, glancing up at the nearing Apparition point.
“What is that suppose to mean?” Ginny frowned at the sudden statement, instinctively preparing to quarrel and defend her brother.
Draco arched a brow at her abrupt shift of demeanor, smirking at the image of an irked cat ready to attack. “It means he did well by not following Potter to the Auror training. He would’ve never crawled out of that shadow as long as he was permanently attached to that arse.”
“Oh,” Ginny responded, releasing the tension in her shoulders and nodding. “Yeah… yeah, I think so too.”
Silence fell between them. Ginny used the quiet interlude to attempt to chase the fluttering in her stomach away and to ease the beating of her heart. Those were odd bodily reactions to a peaceful nighttime walk on the streets and she wondered if perhaps she was coming down with something. Not wanting to be ill now that so much work lay ahead of her, she decided on going to bed early tonight with a cup of steaming cocoa and a good book.
The thought of steaming cocoa somehow drew her attention back to her companion and she caught the strange sight of light, barely perceptible dusting of pale pink across his cheeks. He was biting down and clenching his jaw rhythmically, as he always did when feeling nervous or uncomfortable, and one of his hands was gripping tightly to the insides of his cloak pocket, while the other gripped the handle of his briefcase with the same ferocity.
A sudden wave of worry washed over her at the thought that perhaps he was coming down with something as well and she had inadvertently made him traipse the streets of Diagon Alley on such cold night just because she got caught up in a silly conversation. Frowning at herself, she quickened her pace and decided to cut the evening short for both their sakes.
Draco caught up easily and leveled his step to hers once again. Accidentally bumping into her on their silent way, he hurried to resound a hastened apology as the mild pink on his cheeks deepened involuntarily, and for a moment Ginny thought that she should be troubled by that immensely.
However she found it simply amusing and smiled to herself at his excessively polite antics as they rounded into the small one-story building that was the public Apparition point. The place was mostly deserted, as always, at such an hour and Ginny moved to stand in the queue, turning to face Draco, who followed her smartly.
“So tomorrow… Want to buy me lunch?”
Draco cocked an eyebrow at her question and his lips curled into a smile. “Want me to go to the Ministry with you?”
Ginny pursed her lips in irritation and scrunched up her nose. “Damn your attentiveness,” she bristled sulkily, turning to glance at the person who stepped onto the Apparition lot. “Don’t you have better things to do than pay attention to what I said hours ago?”
“I do,” he admitted, nodding. “But you’re more amusing. And I can go with you, as long as you don’t expect me to actually do anything.”
“Wonderful,” she chirped, turning away. Glancing over her shoulder, she added with uncertainty, “You’re still buying lunch, right?”
Draco laughed in response, nodding, and watched another person disappear from the Apparating lot with a distinct popping sound. Ginny was next.
“You know, you should install an Apparition point in that monstrosity of a building of yours,” Ginny commented as she stepped onto the Apparition lot. “What good is paid paternity leave, if you can’t reach your home without freezing your fingers off on the way to the nearest Apparition point?”
Draco’s smirk obtained a delicately underhanded sheen to it when he replied, “There is an Apparition point there. On the ground floor.”
Ginny blinked, then frowned at him, propping her wand-holding hand onto her fist. “Why didn’t you say anything before we left?”
“What, and deprive myself of the pleasure of your company?” His lips curled deeper and a vibrant sly aura shrouded him suddenly in her eyes.
She fixed him with an irritated glare, trying to shut out the voices of the people behind Draco. “I have a frostbitten nose because you-- oh…”
Her expression froze. All of a sudden she felt her heart erupt in a painful swashbuckling within her chest. She blinked once, twice, but found no satisfactory way of continuing her train of thought. Rather than continue gaping at him, Ginny bid a short goodbye to Draco, and Apparated to the Burrow.
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