Chapter 1 : Mild Burning Sensation
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Ginny careened out of the Floo terminal in a breathless rush, racing up the stairs of her apartment in order to get to the flat that she shared with her flat mate, Mandy Brocklehurst. They’d attended school together and their parents had been good friends, it seemed only natural to flat together almost straight out of graduation. Ginny hoped faintly that they hadn’t been burgled as she stumbled up another flight of stairs.
Other thoughts flew through her mind as she trampled up to the door and fumbled for her key. One of her family may be violently ill, or worse, something may have happened to Oliver. She’d been frantic with worry ever since she’d gotten Mandy’s message at work.
“A message came for you, Miss Weasley,” the undersecretary had said as she poked her head around Ginny’s office door. “It was your flat mate, she said it was imperative that you get home as quickly as possible.”
“Did she say--”
“She wouldn’t even let me put the call through, she said it was urgent,” she stressed, and then disappeared again.
Finally hearing the lock click as it gave way, Ginny threw open the door and rushed into the apartment. Looking around, she couldn’t see Mandy at all. Loud music was coming from the kitchen, where the WWN was blasting heavily through the doorway. Some rendition of the Weird Sisters was screeching out lyrics as Ginny looked around, puzzled. It was hardly the scene of some great disaster.
Mandy’s magazines were cast haphazardly on the couch as they had been this morning when Ginny had left for work, and as far as Ginny could muster, the only change was the discarded pink stiletto heel sitting and looking forlorn in the middle of the carpet.
“Mandy?” Ginny called, ducking her head through the kitchen door and finding no one. “Mandy, are you home?”
She peeked into the empty bathroom and toilet, laundry and Ginny’s room, and still there was no sign of Mandy. She moved to the back of the hall, where Mandy’s bedroom was. The door was closed, which was unusual. Ginny walked up to it and knocked, calling “Mandy,” loudly in hopes of rousing her friend.
“Is that you, Ginny?” came the reply.
“Yes. Is everything all right?”
Ginny heard rustling and banging as Mandy made her way over to the door. She yanked it open a fraction, and a very tousled Mandy stared out of the small space at Ginny. “Everything’s fine,” she told her, and smiled.
“Oh,” Ginny said, frowning. Then why had she called?
“Uhm, what are you doing home so early?” Mandy asked, casting a glance over her shoulder at something on the other side of the room before turning to look back at Ginny.
Ginny’s frown deepened. If Mandy hadn’t left the urgent message, then who had? “I, well I got a call.” Ginny paused, thinking. “So you… there’s nothing wrong?”
Mandy smiled and shook her head. “No, I’m fine. It’s nice that you came to check on me though,” she told her, laughing a little. “Hadn’t you better get back to work before your boss chews your ear off or something?”
Ginny nodded dumbly before smiling wanly back at Mandy. “Yeah, you’re right. Okay, if you’re sure everything’s fine…”
At the nod of assurance, Ginny turned around and walked back down the hallway, listening to the final click of Mandy’s closing door.
Who had called her and left such a frantic message? And to what purpose?
Ginny blinked hard and shook her head, disregarding the call and turning to leave. As she turned, she caught her eye on something familiar hanging arbitrarily off the back of the couch. It was an orange sock.
Ginny frowned. She’d given that exact sock to her boyfriend for his birthday last month. He must have left it here the last time he’d been over – but no, he couldn’t have! Ginny had dropped a load of his clothes off at his place the day before last, for washing, those socks included.
Ginny picked up the offending garment and turned it over, watching the name she’d had embroidered on it fly along the rim of the sock.
Cruel, cold fingers were beginning to clutch at her gut as she watched the name move round and round the rim of the sock. She breathed deeply into her air-restricted lungs and turned back around to face Mandy’s door. She just wanted to ask why he’d dropped off his socks. She wanted to know when he’d been here, so she could effectively tell him off for thinking she was some kind of maid.
She turned the handle of the door and pushed it open, revealing a half-naked Mandy wrapped in tangled sheets with an equally naked male.
“Oh!” Ginny cried, and dropped the sock. “Shit, I’m so sorry!” Ginny bent over and fumbled around for the sock she’d dropped, at the same time reaching for the door handle so she could close the door and pretend she hadn’t just walked in on one of her closest friends having sex. How embarrassing.
“Ginny!” Mandy cried, sounding horrified as she covered her exposed self with the sheet. “I thought you’d gone back to work!”
“I had – I mean, I was, I just – it doesn’t matter!” Ginny found the sock and held it to her chest as she turned to retreat.
“We can explain, Ginny…”
She stopped in her tracks, frozen to the ground with the orange sock clutched to her. She knew that voice. Petrified, Ginny turned around to look at the couple staring back at her. The name embroidered on the sock was flying around in her head, just as it did on its orange rim.
“We can explain, love,” he implored, getting up from the bed and walking towards her, regardless of his naked form. “We didn’t mean to--”
“You didn’t mean to jump into bed with each other?” Ginny cried incredulously. “You didn’t mean to fuck my flat mate? Is that what you didn’t mean to do?”
Ginny’s breath was suddenly laboured, the icicle threads that were barely touching her gut out in the lounge room were now practically squeezing it to death. Her heartbeat fluttered and tripped as she came to terms with the tousled image of her boyfriend of two years. She thought he loved her! How could he do this?
She turned to Mandy, the betrayal shining through the anger as she glared at her. “You phoned my work, told me I had to come home, that it was urgent!” Ginny’s lips were numb, bloodless, she could hardly form a coherent word, let alone a sentence.
“You set this up?” Oliver screeched, suddenly angry himself. “You made her come here to catch us!”
“Don’t be stupid!” Mandy hissed at Oliver. “Why the hell would I do that? She wasn’t--”
“I wasn’t supposed to find out at all!” Ginny shrieked as she backed out of the door. “You would have kept on going, you would have let me think we were fine,” she spat at Oliver, whirling around and going out into the lounge room.
Oliver followed close behind, dogging her steps. “Come on, Ginny, we’ve both been tricked. Can’t you see that?”
“What I can see,” Ginny snapped as she snatched her bag up from beside the pink stiletto heel, “is that you think I’m stupid. And that I’ve been a fool.” Ginny turned her back on Oliver and fled the apartment, ignoring Oliver’s calls as her followed her out onto the stairs, stark naked.
He almost came after her as she ran down the flights, but his state of dress prevented him from doing so, much to Ginny’s relief. Running full belt, Ginny finally reached the bottom of the stairs and collapsed at the bottom. Partly because she was exhausted and emotionally drained, but mainly because her legs simply wouldn’t hold her any longer. They’d been threatening to fold beneath her like little more than jelly ever since she’d seen Oliver in Mandy’s bedroom.
Ginny lay there for a few minutes, taking deep breaths and embracing the numb feeling that was creeping over her. It seemed to block out the pain she was supposed to be feeling, the betrayal.
Ginny sat up and looked at the simple wedding ring on her finger for a moment before she slipped it off and placed it carefully in her bag. It was small, and light, but at that moment it had felt like a gold bullion weighing her arm down like she were carrying lead and not a profession of hers and Oliver’s love.
Ginny got up and walked out of the apartment building and down the street, paying absolutely no attention at all to where she was going. She paused at an intersection, waiting for a break in the traffic so that she might cross the road. Her reflection in a shop window showed a timid redhead dressed in an off-cream suit jacket and skirt, with matching court shoes.
She was too lean, her hair too red, her face too freckly, and her eyes too tired; it all amounted to making her look pallid and washed out. Absolutely no competition for a buxom blonde with her father’s inheritance keeping her looking relaxed and glamorous.
Ginny sighed as she crossed the road. She didn’t know where to go, or what to do. She turned the corner and saw a bus pulling into a stop further up the road, and on impulse started to run. Her distant eyes passed over a man standing in a nearby doorway as she made for the bus who snapped his head around to watch her. It made her wonder if she looked as strange as she felt. She didn’t notice as he promptly fell into a saunter behind her and got on the same bus.
She got off at a familiar stop; in front of the Leaky Cauldron. She passed through the bar, waving a quick hello to the innkeeper before continuing on and through the brick wall into Diagon Alley. She was quite unaware of the man from bus who was still following her, and so continued on her way, marking out a route straight to the large headquarters of Malfoy Industries.
She made her way through the doors to the elaborate building, and was oblivious to the greeting of the floor secretary, as well as several other staff members as she made her way to the interior Floo service and went straight to her office.
She moved over to her desk, ignoring the empty space on the other side of the room that was usually occupied by Tracey Davis. Tracey wasn’t going to be in for the rest of the day, his wife had just that morning gone into labour. It felt like the call from the hospital and Tracey’s harried exit had been a lifetime ago.
Ginny massaged her forehead as she clasped at the angrily ringing phone on her desk.
“Yes, hello. It’s Maria Vance here, I wanted to speak to Draco,” said the haughty female voice. Ginny rolled her eyes, suddenly too annoyed to bother with decorum. She’d dealt with enough of Malfoy’s stinted lovers to last her more than a lifetime.
“He’s not in,” she snapped. It was true, from one look at her boss’ office door she could ascertain that Draco Malfoy was, in fact, not in. That didn’t change the fact that he was very rarely “available” to his lovers during office hours, whether he’d ended it or not. Ginny had been dealing with his women admirers ever since she’d taken up the well-paying secretarial job, degrading as it was to be one of Malfoy’s minions.
“You’re lying!” the voice at the other end accused, becoming high pitched and angry. “I got a tulip and a necklace with a dragon charm on it in the mail this morning,” the woman continued. “He’s ended it, hasn’t he?”
“Oh, you’re better off without him anyway,” Ginny snapped. She dropped the handset back into the cradle on her desk and looked morosely about the dull office.
Deciding that now was a better time than ever, probably better than any other time in her life thus far, she walked over to Tracey’s desk and rummaged through the drawers until she found his hidden bottle of fire whiskey.
She poured herself a generous amount into the burgundy cup she kept handy for coffee and gulped some of it down. It burned as it made its way down her throat, but she didn’t mind. She topped up the cup again before she put it back in its resting place, promising herself she’d buy Tracey a new bottle when she next got the chance.
The phones were buzzing angrily again, and Ginny swallowed some more of the whiskey before picking up the receiver again.
“Hello Ginny, love, it’s your Aunt Doreen,” came the voice on the line. “We needed to know what you and Oliver had decided about the flowers to have?”
Ginny swallowed loudly and quietly told her aunt that the wedding was cancelled. It was off. She wasn’t going to marry Oliver.
“Don’t be silly, Ginevra Weasley!” her aunt admonished. “What on earth are you on about?”
“I – well he – we’ve broken up. I’m terribly sorry for the fuss,” Ginny told her, and promptly hung up. How was she supposed to tell people what happened? How was she supposed to say that the love of her life and one of her closest friends had had an affair? Were having an affair, possibly right now even.
Ginny remembered bitterly when Mandy had been offered the chance to model for the Malfoy Industries charity calendar in nothing more than her scanty bathing suit. She’d jumped at the opportunity, and at the time Ginny had thought nothing of it. Now, however, she was bitterly twisting it into a character profile of Mandy’s morals. Maybe unfairly. But then, she’d slept with Ginny’s fiancé, Ginny rather felt it was justified.
Ginny herself had been offered the same opportunity, but had deftly declined to lower herself to that standard. It seemed the offer was hardly exclusive, as Blaise Zabini, in charge of the publicity arena of Malfoy Enterprises, has found someone to replace her only minutes later.
“You’ve got something the rest of them don’t have,” he’d told her in front of a highly amused audience. “You’re shorter, sure, but you’re also sexy. And you have class.”
The minute Zabini had seen her blush red with embarrassment it had become a running joke. He found it highly enjoyable to offer her more and more expansive amounts of money to get her to pose in anything even slightly revealing. It seemed that both Zabini and everyone else in the office considered Ginny to be a prude, and wished to strip her of that title as fast as they could.
Ginny shouldn’t have cared. She hadn’t cared a whit for their misconceptions, and enjoyed going home to find Oliver ready to shatter their presumptions with his heated kisses and gentle caresses.
She’d never wanted to be a secretary, for Merlin’s sake, never mind a secretary to the schoolyard bully that had plagued her brother for almost a decade, son of the other schoolyard bully who had been causing her father trouble for near on thirty years. No, becoming a secretary certainly had never been Ginny’s dream, but Oliver had been. He’d become her dream, and now that it was shattered she wasn’t sure she would be able to find another.
Out of the corner of her eye Ginny noticed a shadow over the entrance to her office. She lifted her head to tell whoever it was that they could leave, only to find two emotionless grey eyes gazing back at her. Ginny panicked at seeing who was there, her brown eyes flicking from one phone to the other, both of which were ringing off the hook.
“Coffee break?” he asked in a calm, quiet voice, not at all like the annoyed and angry murmur she expected of him. The phones stopped then, suddenly, as if the sound of his voice had scared the callers away. It left them in a silence that Ginny wasn’t sure she could bear.
Despite any negative bias towards his personality, Draco Malfoy was six feet of lithe, virile male, with light blonde hair that looked as if it would be soft to touch, soft pale skin, an aristocratic straight nose and cold grey eyes that seemed to look straight through most people. The only time Ginny had ever seen anything other than boredom or contempt in those eyes was when he was with Tracey or Blaise.
Ginny hated being near him. She hated being near him because he was a Malfoy, and as a rule Malfoy were intolerable. But aside from that, he had an overwhelming physical presence and a specific was of looking at her, speaking to her, as if she were no more than the dirt on the bottom of his shoe. He didn’t need to get angry at her for not answering the phones, she realised, because she wasn’t worth it.
She would have left the job if she’d had the means to, but despite all the negative allures, it paid very well, and she got dental. He made her feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, but she could take his sardonic glances in exchange for the paycheck.
“Finish your coffee,” he told her as he picked up her coffee mug. The colour of the mug itself gave the amber liquid a look of coffee, and he extended his arm towards her, urging her to drink it. Oblivious to the fact that he could probably smell that it was extremely far from coffee in any case, Ginny gulped down the last of the whiskey and tried not to grimace as it burnt.