Framed by MichiganMuggle



Summary: With Voldemort dead, Harry Potter is training to be an Auror and is finally back together with Ginny Weasley. But when a young woman dies of poisoning at the Ministry’s Midsummer Ball, Harry is the first suspect, and he can only uncover the true murderer by working with his childhood rival, Draco Malfoy.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2018.01.21
Updated: 2018.05.08


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1: The Midsummer Ball
Chapter 2: Chapter 2: Ghosts
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Dangerous Scribbles
Chapter 4: Chapter 4: We Were Malfoys
Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Romilda
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Apologies for Breakfast
Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Lost and Found
Chapter 8: Chapter 8: The Artist


Chapter 1: Chapter 1: The Midsummer Ball

Chapter 1: The Midsummer Ball

June 20, 1998, 9:00 p.m.
The Ministry of Magic

Flash! Flash! Flash!

Harry Potter could hardly see with all of the photographers around him, snapping pictures. The world was an explosion of light, and he was vaguely aware of questions being tossed at him. The only real, dependable thing was Ginny Weasley on his arm.

Finally, the photographs ceased and the world came back into focus. He was in the entryway of the ballroom at the Ministry of Magic, and his and Ginny’s entrance had just been announced to the room. The press had immediately swooped in, and they formed a half-circle around them, effectively walling them away from the other guests. Ginny looked calm and elegant in her gold gown, as if she did this every day, while Harry had to remind himself not to cause a scandal by hexing all of the reporters out of their way.

“Mr. Potter! Are you happy with the appointment of Kingsley Shacklebolt as Minister of Magic?”

“Mr. Potter! You are the youngest person to ever be awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class. How does this make you feel?”

“Miss Weasley! Who designed your gown?”

“Mr. Potter! You are the first person allowed into the Auror training program without earning any N.E.W.T.s. Do you feel this special treatment was justified?”

“Miss Weasley! Mr. Potter has allegedly left a long-term relationship with a Miss Romilda Vane to pursue a relationship with you. Were you involved in breaking up Mr. Potter and Miss Vane?”

“Mr. Potter. Miss Weasley is not yet seventeen. Are you keeping your relationship age appropriate?”

“Mr. Potter. Do you feel that Dumbledore would be proud of your defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”

Harry forced himself to uncurl his hand from his wand and smile at the reporters. He had spent a five-hour training session with Patricia Willoughby, the Ministry press secretary, earlier this month, learning how to deal with situations like this.

“I am very sorry, but Miss Weasley and I are not taking questions at this time. There will be a brief press conference in the Atrium at eleven o’clock, following the Order of Merlin ceremony. I will be happy to address any appropriate questions at that time. I will not be answering any questions of a personal nature.”

After that statement, the security guards steered Harry and Ginny away from the press, and Ginny squeezed his arm. She knew how much he hated dealing with the reporters. It was like the Tri-Wizard tournament over again, only worse because they wanted his opinion on everything Ministry related, even the things he hadn’t formed opinions on yet. And they were no longer interested in learning who he was kissing, but trying to figure out if there were any women sharing his bed. He didn’t know where they came up with half their material. Long term relationship with Romilda Vane? He had never heard anything more absurd.

This was the first time that he and Ginny were out in public together even though they had become a couple again immediately after the battle. While they had gone to Diagon Alley for ice cream once, it had been a short-lived outing as they had spotted Rita Skeeter coming out of Flourish and Blotts and had Apparated back to the Burrow with ice cream cones still in their hands. And they had gone into the Muggle world with Ron and Hermione on dinner-and-a-movie double dates that were as much a novelty to Harry as they were to Ginny and Ron. Being out in the wizarding world, especially with press around, was new to them, and Harry knew he would have to get used to it.

The Midsummer Ball was exactly what Harry expected it to be: lavish, glittering, and overcrowded. He hated everything about it. The wizarding world had spent all of May burying their loved ones until it felt like all of the earth in Great Britain had been disturbed, and now they were expected to dance and drink champagne like nothing had ever happened? The award he was to receive in an hour felt inappropriate too, and he had only agreed to accept it because Kingsley had insisted it was needed for the morale for the wizarding world.

“The world needs a hero right now, Harry,” Kingsley said. “We can’t recover without visible hope.”

Harry wished they would find a different hope. He didn’t want to be anyone’s hero, and in his apathy, he had allowed Hermione to write his acceptance speech.

He looked over at his girlfriend by his side. So he didn’t hate everything about the ball. Ginny looked beautiful. She wore the gold gown she had worn for Bill’s wedding--it was a shame to let a French designer dress to go to waste, she’d said, but Harry knew her decision to wear the dress again was due to money--but it had been modified. A train had been added to make it more formal. Ginny had said it needed some alterations because she had grown. She blushed while saying this, making Harry wonder if it wasn’t the extra inch or two of height that had been the problem but the distracting curves she’d developed.

Around her neck, Ginny wore a simple gold necklace with a heart pendant, an impromptu gift from Harry from one of their Muggle outings. Her long red hair was in waves around her shoulders, which was how Harry liked it best. She wasn’t the fanciest woman there, but she was definitely the most beautiful.

While Harry would never admit it, he had also loved Ginny’s attempts to teach him how to dance. They had practiced in the garden of the Burrow, barefoot because Harry kept stepping on Ginny’s feet in the beginning. At some point, after many a misstep, it had clicked, and Harry no longer felt like he had to concentrate so intently on the individual steps, and his body began moving easily with Ginny’s. He had enjoyed dancing while no one was watching, but he wasn’t so sure he’d enjoy it in a crowd.

“There’s Ron and Hermione,” Ginny said.

They moved through the crowd towards their friends. It was strange being here, seeing so many people from different parts of his life, all in the same ballroom, wearing dress robes. There was Mafalda Hopkirk in pink dress robes who, until Hermione had impersonated her last fall, had only been a signature on Harry’s warnings from the Improper Use of Magic Office. There was Hagrid towering over everyone in his rustic brown suit. Draco Malfoy sat at a table with a pretty blond girl who was definitely not Pansy Parkinson. His fellow Auror trainees were there, trying to figure out how much alcohol they could drink while at the same party as their bosses.

“That was quite a welcome,” Ron said when they reached him.

“What can I say?” Harry said. “Rita missed me. Did the reporters get you on the way in too?”

“Yes, but they mostly asked us questions about you,” Hermione said, as Ron scowled.

Harry wished he hadn’t asked, as his fame was usually a sore topic with Ron, even though Ron and Hermione were now also famous. “So, where does one get a beverage?” he asked.

“Waiters are circulating with champagne, and there is a bartender making cocktails and pouring firewhiskies somewhere over there,” Hermione gestured in the direction of the far wall.

As if on cue, a black-robed waiter appeared with champagne. Harry grabbed glasses for himself and Ginny, as Ron and Hermione already had drinks.

“Cheers,” Ginny said, and the four friends clinked glasses.

Cheers. It felt so hollow to Harry.

“Are you being melancholy?” Ginny elbowed him gently in the ribs.

“We just buried our dead, and here we are drinking and dancing. And about to receive medals,” Harry said.

Ginny put her free arm around Harry’s waist. On cue, a photographer snapped a picture, but from a distance.

“We need to go on with life. If we don’t, Voldemort wins. Some of the people in this ballroom wouldn’t be alive if you hadn’t defeated Voldemort when you did. Drink to that,” Ginny said.

Harry kissed the top of her head. He knew she was right, and he didn’t want to dampen her evening. Unlike him, she had been looking forward to tonight, especially as she was more than a month from her seventeenth birthday, making her one of the youngest people there. He also knew how deeply she was still mourning Fred, so if she could still find joy in the evening, he could as well.

“You know what the Death Eaters would hate?” he asked Ginny.

“What?”

“A photo of us dancing in the Ministry they once had control of.”

They left their glasses on a nearby table and joined the couples on the dance floor. It was nothing like the Yule Ball at Hogwarts. This time he had exactly the date he wanted. There would be no sitting on the sidelines with Ron, jealous of everyone who knew how to have fun.

“What was the Yule Ball like for you?” Harry asked. “I know you went with Neville, but did you have fun?”

“I did. Neville was very sweet and very nervous. I felt like a bad date at some points because the Ravenclaw boys kept asking me to dance. I later found out it was because Michael Corner had a crush on me, so his friends kept asking me to dance to annoy him. You didn’t enjoy yourself, I recall.”

It wasn’t a question, but Harry responded. “No. I was a bit of an idiot. I think Parvati forgave me eventually.”

Ginny laughed. “I doubt it. These things are a big deal for teenage girls. Sorry Harry, but Parvati will one day tell her daughters that she went on a date with the Boy-Who-Lived. And that it was awful.”

“Well, at least it wasn’t your night I ruined.”

Harry had a history of being a bad date in his Hogwarts days. He had ignored Parvati Patil at the Yule Ball, and he’d once taken Cho Chang to Hogsmeade and made her cry. Perhaps Cho would also tell her daughters about it. Yikes. Hopefully, that was all in the past. Over the summer, he had gone a few dates and many double dates with Ginny, which had mercifully all gone well.

The summer had been odd so far, full of both the saddest and the happiest days of Harry’s life. Harry Potter had had many strange summers in his life. When he was eleven, a half-giant told him he was a wizard and that he had been famous his whole life without knowing it. At twelve, he had ruined his uncle’s dinner party due to a rogue house elf. At thirteen, he had blown up his aunt. Every year, something happened that would never happen to anyone other than him.

This summer might be the strangest yet. It began with an endless string of funerals, followed by his first separation from Ron and Hermione in a long time. His best friends had traveled to Australia to locate Hermione’s parents. He had wanted the break, as it had allowed him to spend time with Ginny without Ron hovering over them, but it was a reminder that their relationships were evolving. After years of shared classes, shared adventures, and shared enemies, they would no longer be living in the same place and following the same schedules. They weren’t even a trio anymore. They were, with the inclusion of Ginny, two couples, which felt strangely adult.

Mere days after Ron and Hermione’s return with Mr. and Mrs. Granger, Ron and Harry began Auror training. It was a lot of ten-hour days, with studying to do after hours. As neither Harry nor Ron had earned their N.E.W.T.s, they had more coursework than the others. Harry missed the lazy days he had spent with Ginny in May and regretted starting his training in June rather than September as Kingsley had originally suggested.

While Harry was living at the Burrow and would continue to do so until the decontaminators and decorators both finished working on 12 Grimmauld Place, he felt like he barely saw Ginny anymore. He would get an hour or two with her in the evenings, and they had the weekends, but the Burrow was so busy and full that they rarely had any privacy. Even at the ball, they were always in eyesight of Molly Weasley, as well as every reporter in wizarding Britain.

“Well, I am enjoying this ball much more than the Yule Ball,” Ginny said.

“So am I. The perfect date makes all the difference,” Harry said.

He expected her to say something flirtatious in response, but she was staring in the far corner of the ballroom. “What’s going on over there? Did someone pass out?”

He turned to look, and sure enough, there appeared to be a disturbance in the corner. In moments, the ballroom would be in chaos, the scene of a murder.

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2: Ghosts

Author's Notes: This story is not chronological, so it helps to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter.


Chapter 2: Ghosts

May 10, 1998
The Burrow

She was a ghost, Ginny Weasley thought as she snuck up to the room under the attic. She had always been stealthy. As a child, she had fit into the smallest nooks and crannies and spied on her brothers, gathering up all useful information. She had snuck into the broom shed, often in the middle of the night, and borrowed her brother’s brooms, riding through the air in lovely stolen moments.

Tiptoeing through the Burrow at night was no difficulty. She knew all the steps that creaked and she knew who slept lightly and who slept like the dead. As she moved past the room that Fred and George had shared growing up, she felt she wasn’t the only ghost present. Memories of Fred lingered in every corner.

She was sneaking into her brother Ron’s room. Ron wasn’t there, of course. He had gone to Australia with Hermione to find her parents. His room wasn’t vacant though.

Harry Potter slept there.

Harry had not gone to Australia, and that had caused many a fight between Molly Weasley and Ron. Her mother had been happy to let Ron help Hermione as long as Harry was also there, but she did not approve of Ron traveling halfway around the world alone with his girlfriend.

Harry had been willing to go if that was the only way Ron was permitted to go. Ron, Hermione, Harry, and Ginny had not felt it necessary to let Molly know that. Ron and Hermione needed alone time after spending months in a tent with Harry, and Harry and Ginny had needed time to reconnect. Finally, Hermione had announced that she would just go alone, and Molly’s maternal instinct kicked in, and she agreed to allow Ron to accompany her.

This left Harry Potter deliciously unattended. At least during the hours that her mother was asleep.

She opened the door as she heard a loud snore coming from George’s room below. Ron’s door creaked so timing was everything. She slid through and closed the door behind her. Moonlight slanted through the large window, allowing her to see her boyfriend on the camp bed, curled on his side.

It was a tiny bed. Harry had slept in it nearly every summer for the last six years, but he was no longer a boy. At one inch shy of six feet, he had to curl up somewhat to keep his feet from dangling over the edge.

Ginny lifted up the covers on one side so she could get in the bed with him. He woke, stretched slightly.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” she said, sliding in the bed.

He pulled her close to him. His body was always so warm. Was sleeping next to a boy always like cuddling up to a dragon, or was it just Harry? She liked his warmth. After those terrible moments when she had thought he was dead, she took pleasure in his every reminder of his aliveness. She touched him at every opportunity, to her mother’s annoyance, sitting with her knee against his at dinner or brushing his hair from his face with her fingers. If he was tangible, then surely he had to be real.

She felt better already, feeling his body curve around her. The nightmares that had led her up the flights of stairs seemed far away, and the feeling of ghostliness, cold and hollow, was gone. She was once again warm and solid.

She hadn’t told him about Hogwarts yet. He knew that Death Eater Hogwarts had been bad. Neville had told him about the Carrows’ use of Unforgiveables, and she was sure his imagination had filled in some of the gaps, but she wasn’t ready to put words to the experience. She had told him some things, safe things, like the DA forming again, this time under her leadership, and the underground newspaper she and Luna had started.

He knew there were things that she hadn’t told him. He said he would listen when she was ready.

“Bad dream?” he asked.

“Pretty bad.” She didn’t mind admitting it. She knew his dreams were as bad as hers. Sometimes, he told her about his. She didn’t offer any detail about hers, and he was being patient.

“Is it the Carrows you have nightmares about?” he asked.

Okay. Maybe his patience was running out.

“No,” she said honestly. “The Carrows were awful, don’t get me wrong, but the other students were the worst--and in some cases, the best--part of last year. When Unforgiveables become a normal part of school discipline, you get to see everyone’s real faces.”

“I heard the Slytherins were out of control,” Harry said.

“It wasn’t just the Slytherins. If it had, it would have been 3 to 1, which are decent odds, even with Death Eater control.”

He was silent a moment and then he said, “Sometimes, I wish we had brought you along.”

“I had the Trace.”

“So did a lot of Muggleborns who were on the run.”

She’d wondered too, what would have happened if she had gone chasing Horcruxes with them. Would she have exposed them? Or could she have been a help, a fourth mind in brainstorming objects and locations. She probably would have been hurt, but she’d been hurt so many times at Hogwarts that she’d lost count. Would sharing a tent with Harry and his friends brought her closer to him or would it have torn them apart?

Things were good between them now, but also slightly strange. The honesty from Harry was new. The day after Voldemort’s death, Harry, Ron, and Hermione had told a select group of Order members (Kingsley, McGonagall, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Bill and Fleur, and George) and also Ginny about the Horcruxes, and they’d asked for advice on how much to make public with the Ministry and with the wizarding world in general.

Two days after that, Harry confessed to her the Horcruxes weren’t the full story and he told her about the Hallows, which filled in the more random gaps in the story, like why they had visited Mr. Lovegood and why Dumbledore gave Hermione the gift of Tales of Beedle the Bard. He also talked about life in the tent, of all the times the friendship strained to the breaking point, and of the lonely nights he spent finding her dot on the Marauder’s Map. He said it had been comforting, as he hadn’t known how bad things were at Hogwarts, and he imagined her doing ordinary stuff like studying in the common room or going to Quidditch practice.

Harry was very affectionate these days. As she could not stop touching him, he was the same as if he too needed to confirm that she was alive. He did things for her--small things, like make her tea just how she liked it or he would polish her broom for her--but things she noticed and appreciated.

But he was hesitant too, and very quick to apologize for things. He was definitely aware of what he had put her through in the last year and during the battle, and he seemed afraid that if he messed up one more thing, he would lose her for good. She wasn’t sure how to address it. She wanted him to relax and stop walking on eggshells, but at the same time, she wanted to make it clear that she would accept no more heroic bullshit from him.

“I wish you had brought me along too.”

He ran a hand along her side, and she took it for what it was: an apology. She kissed him so he knew it was accepted.

“We should get some sleep,” she said quietly.

They had now shared a bed at least half a dozen times, but they hadn’t done anything except cuddle, kiss, and on occasion, tentatively explore each other’s bodies.

The first time had been right after the battle. She’d woken in the middle of the night, and she couldn’t recall if it had been a dream, if Harry had really gone into the forest and if he had really come back. She had left her dormitory and snuck into the boys’ seventh year dormitory. She’d pulled back the curtains on Harry’s bed, relieved to find him there asleep. He had woken quickly, grabbing his wand. When he saw it was just her, he’d pushed back the covers in invitation. She’d climbed in, knowing that he was hers again, and she fell asleep in his arms.

Before summer was over and she returned to Hogwarts, Ginny planned to take full advantage of having bedroom access to Harry Potter, but for now, she was okay with the slow pace of their physical relationship. She was still learning Harry’s body, and she enjoyed how alive her body felt with every one of Harry’s caresses. Part of her longed for completion, but she liked knowing they still had many firsts ahead of them, and she didn’t want any of those firsts to blur together, preferring to keep them spaced and distinct.

And there were some fears. Fears of being naked with the only man she wanted to think her beautiful. Fears of pain. Fears of unexpected babies.

But honestly, she was more excited at the idea of giving Harry her virginity than she was fearful. She definitely had no intention of returning to Hogwarts a virgin.

She shifted a bit in the bed, and as she did so, she caught sight of an owl in the tree outside the window.

“Harry, there’s an owl,” she said. “I’m going to let it in.” She figured it must have a message for Harry.

She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. As she did so, the owl rose in flight instead of moving towards the window.

“It’s gone,” she said. “It’s like it was watching us.”

“Owls don’t spy, Gin. It was probably just Errol hunting. Maybe the tree is a good lookout spot for mice,” Harry said.

But the owl hadn’t been Errol, and it definitely hadn’t been Pigwidgeon. It was a larger owl, possibly a tawny. She knew Harry’s explanation of a hunting owl made sense, but she couldn’t help but feel uneasy. The owl hadn’t been looking over the grounds.

It had been peering into the room.

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Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Dangerous Scribbles

Chapter 3: Dangerous Scribbles

June 20, 1998, 8:45 p.m.
The Ministry of Magic

Whenever Astoria Greengrass would first meet a person, she would think about how she would paint them. Her beautiful and mysterious sister Daphne belonged in a forest scene, like a fairy tale maiden on the brink of an adventure. Her Aunt Caresse enjoyed entertaining and having overnight guests. She would be painted in the kitchen, making her famous croissants, with paint colors as warm as her personality. Her great-grandmother was the most beautiful and dignified person she knew. She was meant for a formal full-length portrait, dressed in her midnight blue dress robes, standing next to a staircase with her perfect posture. Some people were meant to be part of action scenes, like her friend Daisy who was on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. Other people looked as though they should be painted nude. Astoria had never painted a nude, but she wanted to.

She suspected this habit of hers was part of the reason she did not have any close friends, except for her sister. No one enjoyed being treated like an interesting specimen, reduced to paint shades and artistic style. The problem was, if she found a person really intriguing, her artistic fascination only grew, making it hard for her to concentrate on what that person was saying to her. Boring people she could focus on.

She approached events in a similar fashion. When she entered the Ministry ballroom, she was not thinking about dancing, or starting up a conversation with someone, or finding a glass of champagne. Her first thought was, this would make an amazing mural, and she mentally recreated the scene with swirls of paint. The dance floor would be central in her painting, and it would be a swirl of color and motion, a bit like some Muggle paintings she’d once seen portraying dancers in colorful tutus. The edges of the mural would be darker, more fanciful, with ghosts hovering over the dancers. The scene in front of her looked festive, but she knew that everyone present had thoughts of the recent war and people lost.

Even with her thoughts of murals, she was excited to be entering the ballroom. She was attending a ball at the Ministry of Magic. At sixteen! With Draco Malfoy, of all people. Two months ago, if someone had told her that tonight she would be attending a ball with Draco, she would have laughed. She had known of Draco at Hogwarts, everyone had, but he had never seemed like someone she could ever have anything in common with. He was too loud, too arrogant to ever be her type, and she figured she certainly would not have been his type, timid and introverted as she was.

It was also a small miracle that her parents had permitted her to go, partly because she was only sixteen and mostly because it was an open secret that Draco had been a Death Eater. Given the lengths her parents had gone to in order to distance themselves from both Voldemort and the Order of the Phoenix, allowing her to go on a very visible date with the Malfoy heir had been politically dangerous.

In the end, they gave in because she had insisted, and Astoria rarely insisted on anything. She had always been the obedient daughter while Daphne had been the headstrong one. She supposed it came from being sickly since her infancy. She was used to following orders without question. Drink this potion. Bed rest for a week. Take this note from the healers to your head of house so they don’t make you take flying lessons. Wear this sweater; it’s chilly today. A burst of stubborness from her had been unprecedented.

She wasn’t sure why she had wanted to go so badly. Draco had asked her on a whim, she knew, and she hadn’t yet made up her mind about him. He had proved to be less arrogant than she had remembered, but she sensed a darkness in him, and she didn’t think she wanted to know about the things he had done in the war. Perhaps it was nothing more than that he was a mystery to her, and Astoria, like any good Ravenclaw, couldn’t leave a riddle unsolved.

When she looked over at her date, she was surprised to find Draco looked as nervous as she felt. The Draco she remembered from Hogwarts had been cocky and cool, even under pressure. She knew he had not ventured out of Malfoy Manor since he had been released from the Ministry in May. Theodore Nott had come to visit him at Malfoy Manor, and she knew he was the only person he’d seen socially apart from her. She’d received the impression that the visit from Theodore had not gone well.

She smiled encouragingly at him, and he seemed to snap back into Malfoy form. “Would you like to dance?” he asked.

“Very much.”

This at least was comfortable territory. When she had attended Beauxbatons last year, she had been surprised that the French magical students learned subjects other than magic. She had taken ballroom dancing, cooking lessons, and she had even had a weekly class in the arts, where they studied magical literature, painting, music, and theatre. Beauxbatons staged one school play per year and held two balls, one at Christmas and the other at Valentines Day. She found she was dreading going back to Hogwarts, as she had felt more comfortable at Beauxbatons, even if she had found that she wasn’t quite as fluent in French as she had thought.

“You are an excellent dancer, Mr. Malfoy,” she said. “Tell me, did your mother make you take lessons?”

“Of course,” he said. “I am a Malfoy after all. I have had dancing lessons, fencing lessons, dueling lessons, hunting lessons, and bizarrely enough, poetry lessons.”

Draco was clearly more at ease on the dance floor, and he looked every inch a Malfoy. He was handsome, with an understated elegance. She felt lucky to have him as a date, even with the rumors that surrounded him.

“There is a story behind that?”

“There always is. You are a good dancer yourself. Lessons?”

She nodded. “Not private lessons, though Daph had some when she was thirteen. Beauxbatons. They liked to make sure everyone leaves with a very cultured education. They even made sure that we knew our wines. Do you know how depressing it will be to go back to pumpkin juice at Hogwarts next year?”

“I know this is heresy for a pureblood, but I really hate pumpkin juice,” Draco said.

“I agree,” Astoria said. “Whoever looked at a pumpkin first and thought, ‘I could juice that’?”

The photographers were excited. There was a series of flashes behind them. Astoria looked over her shoulder. Had the Minister arrived?

Draco was scowling. “Potter. And his girlfriend.”

Astoria was madly curious about the relationship between Draco and Harry Potter. She knew they were hostile rivals at Hogwarts, but like everyone else, she knew that Potter’s testimony was the only reason he and Narcissa had escaped Azkaban.

The chaos died down a little, and she and Draco saw security guards escort Harry and Ginny past the reporters. “She looks really lovely.”

She had always admired the Gryffindor girl, who was a year ahead of her in Hogwarts. Like her, Ginny was small, but her body was strong and athletic while Astoria’s was delicate. She’d always thought the red-haired girl to be smart and witty, with a confidence around boys that Astoria had always lacked. She would love to paint Ginny who was as vibrant as a phoenix.

Harry, she had sketched on many occasions although he was unaware of it. At Hogwarts, she had been infamous for her overnight stays in the hospital wing due to a lifelong blood condition, and some of her stays had overlapped with Harry’s. At curfew, Harry’s friends would leave, and she would sketch him as he slept. He had been her favorite subject at Hogwarts, as there had always been so much uncertainty around him.

“She’s all right, I suppose,” Draco drawled, “if you like red hair and freckles.”

“I think she’s beautiful and strong. I admire her.” The song had ended. “Do you want to get champagne? Or circulate?”

They moved away from the dance floor, grabbing glasses of champagne as they did so. The wine wasn’t very good. Aunt Caresse would have never served it. She knew that the Ministry had not purchased its wine from her father, selecting a different distributor. Still, it was alcohol, and alcohol was what Astoria needed to interact with more sophisticated adults with any level of confidence.

Following Narcissa’s lead, Draco and Astoria attempted to strike up conversations with various Ministry officials. It didn’t go well. Each time, they exchanged polite small talk for approximately one minute before each person “remembered” there was someone they urgently needed to speak with. It would be the Malfoys’ new normal, but neither mother nor son was accustomed to it yet. She could practically feel annoyance radiating from Draco.

At least, Narcissa seemed to be having somewhat better luck. She’d been talking to the same lady for quite some time. When Astoria caught a glance at the lady’s face, she rapidly revised her opinion. Muriel Prewitt. A gossip and all around horrible person. Astoria had met the older lady at a charity event once, and she instantly knew Mrs. Prewitt’s painting would be a formal portrait. She would be seated with an angry pug in her lap, surrounded by doilies and fussy knickknacks of the sort women began collecting after they turned sixty.

Draco grabbed two more glasses of champagne and led her to one of the tables.

“Do you have quill and parchment?”

Astoria wasn’t sure what was more odd: That Draco expected her to have a quill, ink, or parchment at a ball or that she actually had those items in her clutch.

She pulled the items out and slid them over to Draco. She expected him to jot down some notes, perhaps something he needed to do later, but he surprised her.

___
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|
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__ __ __ __ __ __
__ __ __ __

She very much hoped Narcissa did not catch them playing hangman, as she sensed the matriarch would be scandalized, but she was eager to play as she had exhausted her small talk abilities for the evening. After a few tries she worked it out: dragon fire.

When Draco excused himself to visit the restroom, Astoria began to feel even more awkward sitting by herself. She told herself to get up and socialize. There were a few people she recognized from Ravenclaw, all older than herself of course, but she couldn’t bring herself to stand up and mingle. She wanted to talk to Daphne, but she knew how excited her sister had been about her date, and she did not wish to interrupt.

As a voracious reader, Astoria loved the idea of balls. In many of her favorite novels, a naive young woman went to a ball where she met rich and mysterious men, and there were often cases of mistaken identity, usually on a dark balcony. When she was in second year, and Daphne had stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas break to attend the Yule Ball with Blaise Zabini, she’d thought her sister the luckiest girl in the world, dreaming of her own first ball.

Now her first ball was here. Her dress was pretty and flattering to her figure, and she knew she looked nice. She even had a rich and witty young man for a date. But, as was the case was whenever Astoria had an actual adventure, she wished she was at home, merely dreaming of adventures, as imaginary scenarios were usually the most satisfying kind. She felt so very young. At sixteen, she was probably the youngest one at the ball. Ginny Weasley was only a year older, but Ginny had no idea who Astoria was.

Or maybe she wasn’t the youngest one there. She spotted Romilda Vane seated at a table just off the dance floor. Romilda was in her year, but in Gryffindor. As Ravenclaw and Gryffindor only had Charms together, she didn’t know the dark-haired girl very well, and she preferred to keep it that way. The Gryffindor girl had always struck her as being very aggressive and conceited.

Tonight, Romilda was looking neither aggressive nor conceited. In fact, her expression was very difficult to read. A prickle went down Astoria’s back, and she found herself reaching for the quill and ink she and Draco had used to play hangman. It was a mini-quill she kept in her evening clutch out of habit. She never knew where the urge to sketch would strike, so she was always prepared.

She began with a rough sketch of Romilda. The other girl leaned back in her chair, looking like a disappointed princess. Her legs were crossed and a sparkly gold shoe poked out from under her crimson satin dress robes. Her toenails were painted red. While most of the women in the ballroom wore elaborate updos, Romilda’s dark hair curled around her shoulders, an untamed contrast to her otherwise polished appearance.

It was her face that had Astoria interested. Her lips, full lower lip, thin upper were in a slight pout. Her thin straight eyebrows were drawn together. She looked like she was sulking, except for her eyes. Her dark brown eyes were melancholy. Astoria tried to figure out what Romilda was staring at it.

Harry Potter?

She saw Romilda get up and head in Harry’s direction. The dark-haired girl moved like a panther on the hunt. She picked up a champagne glass from a waiter’s tray at the same time Harry grabbed two glasses. He didn’t notice Romilda inches away from him. His attention was on his girlfriend and his two best friends. Romilda hovered a bit, swirling her wine around in her glass, looking as if she were about to say something.

Before she could do so, Harry led Ginny to the dance floor, still having not glanced in Romilda’s direction.

Romilda had managed to catch Hermione’s attention. She mockingly raised a glass in the older girl’s direction and swished off to the table where she had been sitting with an older couple who were most likely Mr. and Mrs. Vane. As she sat, her eyes remained fixed on Harry.

Astoria’s sketch grew more and more detailed, adding every drape of Romilda’s beautiful gown. After a while, her quill began moving in ways her hand had not directed. She normally enjoyed this part, but tonight it felt wrong somehow. Her mother had always said Astoria had a gift. When she drew, she saw people’s true nature. She also saw other things. Future events, choices they would need to make, forks in their paths.

What she saw around Romilda frightened her. She had drawn a box around the Gryffindor girl, and she sensed it was about to close in. Random doodles appeared on the edges of her sketch: bottles, vials, champagne glasses. Astoria had no idea what any of this meant, but she knew had to warn her and time was not on her side.

“Astoria? What’s wrong?” Draco was back at her side, and Astoria realized what she must look like, sketching like a person possessed.

She stood. “I need to talk to Romilda. It’s urgent.”

She left a startled Draco behind her as she walked quickly in Romilda’s direction. She had no idea what she would say to the other girl, but she felt like if she could just reach her, it would be all right.

But then Romilda held a hand to her throat. She looked as though she was choking. It was mere seconds, but it felt as though time was moving in slow motion to Astoria. Just as Mrs. Vane noticed her daughter’s distress, Romilda flopped over the table, her head landing in a small plate of cheese and crackers.

Astoria knew immediately that she was dead.

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Chapter 4: Chapter 4: We Were Malfoys

Author's Notes: We're moving back to May again, and we'll back to June 1998 and the Ministry ball (and Ginny's POV) in chapter 5.


Chapter 4: We Were Malfoys

May 12, 1998
Malfoy Manor


The Malfoys were home. Narcissa had been permitted to stop by on a couple occasions--escorted, of course--but this was the first time that all three Malfoys were home since they had experienced the Ministry’s “hospitality” for nearly two weeks following the battle. It was strange to be in Malfoy Manor, Draco thought. It was home, or at least it should be. It was where he had spent his childhood, walking the corridors with his father, as Lucius talked to him of the accomplishments of the Malfoys in the fifteen foot portraits.

“We are Malfoys, son.”

And it had been a wonderful thing to be a Malfoy. Many wizards didn’t understand grandeur until they arrived at Hogwarts with the trick staircases, the enchanted ceiling, and the cavernous chambers. But Draco had grown up with the extraordinary. Malfoy Manor had a library with books on anything you could ever wish to learn. There were secret passageways. There were doors that you could only see and pass through if you had Malfoy blood and not even Malfoy wives were allowed access. There were family ghosts, who had stories of battles and curses and long forgotten magic. There were two ballrooms, an armoury, four greenhouses, a potions lab stocked with rare ingredients, a maze, a summer house, and a lake.

“Malfoys are leaders, son. We are descended from Merlin himself. And this is our castle. There were always be a Malfoy here.”

He was home. But his home wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same estate where he had run the grounds with Crabbe and Goyle as boys, reenacting the famous duel between Slytherin and Gryffindor. Blood had been spilt here. It hadn’t been glamorous like the ghosts’ stories of dueling scheming Mudbl . . . Muggleborns. It had been shameful, the kind of stain that never washes away. They had been the hosts, but there had no honor in the hosting.The estate had fallen to Voldemort.

It was theirs again in theory, but it seemed to still belong to him.

Draco walked the corridors he had once loved so well. The paintings were there and the statues and the candle lit chandeliers, but it felt so empty. He was lucky to be alive. He knew it. Narcissa and Draco had been cleared of criminal charges, but were to be on probation for five years for assisting known terrorists. Draco was known to be a Death Eater, of course, but technically being a Death Eater was not illegal, only the darker activities one performed as a Death Eater. As much as he hated to admit, it was Potter’s testimony that Draco had once told Dumbledore that he didn’t have a choice, that he had to do the Dark Lord’s bidding to keep himself and his family alive that kept him out of Azkaban.

Narcissa, of course, had never been a Death Eater and was only guilty of feeding and housing Death Eaters, and no one questioned that if she had refused to do so, it would have resulted in her death and that of her family.

Lucius was on house arrest, pending trial. The Ministry had no idea what to do with Lucius Malfoy, but they had decided he was not a flight risk with so many runaway Death Eaters eager to kill him. He was also considered unlikely to commit any further crimes in the near future, as his interest in saving his own skin was legendary. He was simply to stay put, like a good boy, until the Ministry sorted out the fates of the more threatening Death Eaters and could bring their attention back to him. There were protections on the manor, both to make certain he did not leave and also to make certain others did not get in. Aurors were assigned to the manor, and they would be sleeping in their guest quarters and eating off their china for as long as pleased the Ministry.

Draco hoped they had better table manners than the average Death Eater. The Dark Lord, he had to admit, had very graceful table manners, but he had enjoyed the most pungent foods. It was the lack of a nose, Narcissa guessed. Then there was his habit of letting his snake slither all over the dining room table, finishing off his enemies in the place where Draco had eaten his pudding growing up.

Draco opened the double doors that led to his bedroom. Everything looked exactly the same. He had the same row of windows overlooking the lake. The same four-poster bed that Pansy had snuck into when they were both fifteen. The same pale green velvet drapes with a small scorch mark, a souvenir of accidental magic performed when he was nine.

He tossed his cloak on the bed and moved to his bathroom to start a bath in the large tub. He turned on the faucets that gave him warm water, bubbles, and his favorite woodsy scent. He had missed this tub most of all while at the Ministry. While there, he had always had the paranoid feeling that there was someone watching him bathe. He stripped down quickly, banishing his clothes to the laundry room, and settled into his bath.

Could they have done anything differently? Could they have avoided falling into the Dark Lord’s service a second time? Draco didn’t think so. He wasn’t an idealist. There were times in one’s life when the only thing to do was to stay alive.

He was certainly alive. But he wasn’t much more. His future would be strange and lonely. His old friends were no more. By betraying the Dark Lord, they could never return to the pureblood social circles. It wasn’t like the first time when the Malfoys and other families could claim to have been under the Imperius Curse. But the new order would hardly welcome him either. As a Malfoy, he was used to being admired, but now he would have to be the one to reach out to others if he wished to have any social life.

He thought of becoming a recluse. He could tinker with potions all day. Or learn dueling techniques. Or read all eighty-four volumes of A History of Wizardkind in Britain. He could become a wine expert and spend his time looking down on people who couldn’t taste the difference between 1989 Bordeaux and a 1989 Burgundy. He could write poetry. Or be one of those cranky people who wrote letters to the editor for The Daily Prophet. He could become a collector of random items, like 17th century Quidditch brooms.

He was exhausted at the idea of having all the time in the world and no one to share it with. In five years time, he could leave England. He could travel to places where no one knew the name Malfoy. He could sleep with beautiful witches, learn about other magical cultures, and journal about his adventures. But five years was a long time away.

Oh, to be twenty-three.

Until then, he would be alone in Malfoy Manor, making potions, surrounded by a collection of rare brooms, with all of his volumes of history stained by wine and a wadded up letter of complaint in his left fist. His hair would be wild, because who is concerned with grooming when all he has is an assortment of odd hobbies?

Draco reluctantly got out of his bath and towelled dry. He was expected downstairs for lunch with his parents. His mother had let him know that they had very important things to discuss. He had no idea what their plans for him were, but he already disagreed with those plans 100%. He dressed casually and dried his hair with a wave of his wand.

As he walked in the direction of the dining room, he had to admit that it was not the manor that had changed, but him. He had grown up in love with tradition and honor. His life had been refreshingly simple, like the Basil Brothers mysteries he used to read as a child, where the clever pureblood boys always foiled the plans of scheming Muggleborns. It never occurred to him in childhood that a day would come when he would no longer be the hero of his own story.

When he arrived in one of the smaller dining rooms that the Malfoys used for breakfast and lunch, he found both of his parents already seated. There were plates with roast chicken, potatoes, and salad and a half-glass of white wine at each of the three settings. A large bottle of water was in the center of the round table.

He wondered who had prepared the meal. After losing Dobby, they had employed a couple of half-blood maids, who had quit when Lucius had been sent to Azkaban. When the Lestranges had moved in, and Voldemort with them, Aunt Bella’s two house elves had taken over the cooking and housework.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Mother, Father.” He sat down and arranged a white linen napkin on his lap. He gestured at his plate. “Who did the cooking?”

“It’s from my sister, oddly enough,” Narcissa sounded amazed.

Draco wasn’t sure how to respond to that, given that Aunt Bella had been buried in an unmarked grave while they had been at the Ministry. “From her elves?”

“No. My other sister. She left a basket of food for us.”

There was nothing more to be said after that, for the Malfoys never spoke of the Tonks family. In fact, Draco had been thirteen before he learned that his mother had a sister named Andromeda Tonks. At Malfoy Manor, having a sister married to a Muggleborn was more shameful than having a sister sent to Azkaban for torturing Aurors.

The food was simple but delicious. Draco was surprised to have an appetite. He had eaten little at the Ministry, and neither had his father who had shared his cell.

“Draco, we wanted to discuss your future,” his father began. Draco sighed, but his father ignored it. “Your mother and I are finished socially and politically, but you are not. Our fortunes are diminished, but not gone. You won’t need to pursue a career, but it may be helpful to your reputation if you do.”

“I really don’t think the Ministry would hire me, Father.”

“No, not right now, but there are other things you could do. You are a fine potion maker. You could work in St. Mungo’s.”

“And people would accuse me of poisoning Muggleborns.”

His appetite disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Draco pushed potatoes around his plate and forced himself to take a bite.

“Or do something more scholarly. I know the editor of the Journal of Modern Potion Making. She owes me a favor, actually, and I’m sure she could find a job for a promising young wizard. Or you could write a history. Gentlemen scholars have done that through the ages. Your great-grandfather won an award for his history of the Goblin Wars.”

Draco wasn’t sure where his father got the idea that he was eloquent enough to be a writer or editor. Of course, he had read the history his father spoke of and he wasn’t convinced of his great-grandfather’s eloquence either.

“This doesn’t need to be decided immediately,” Narcissa broke in. “Like your father said, a career isn’t essential. We do need to do something to immediately improve your reputation. You could read storybooks to orphans. Or give a large donation to the Hogwarts scholarship fund.”

“All right.” He couldn’t imagine himself reading Beedle the Bard to war orphans and doing all the voices like a proper storyteller, but he knew his mother’s suggestion made sense. It would be fine as long as the children didn’t sneeze on him. Or climb on his lap. Or touch his hair. Or breathe too close to him.

Actually, storytime was probably out. A puppet show, maybe? A little distance between him and the brats would probably be good.

“And we’ll need to have your portrait painted this summer,” she continued.

“What?” He put his fork down and glared at his parents.

“It’s tradition, Draco. Every Malfoy male has their portrait painted at seventeen. We’re a year late, but with everything that happened last year . . .”

“I know it’s tradition, but we’re practically prisoners in our own home, Mother. It doesn’t seem quite the time for pomp.”

“It’s exactly the time, Draco,” his father broke in. “Having your portrait painted and added to the family galleries is an important experience. It really makes you feel the responsibility of being a man.”

That, Draco thought, was precisely why he had no interest in it. He was an adult at last, and he had never been less certain of he was or what he wanted. He amused himself by thinking of titles for his portrait. Wizard in Limbo. The Fall of Pureblood Wizardry. Existential Crisis in the Family Estate.

“It will be good for you, Draco,” his mother added. “Once your portrait is up, you’ll be able to see yourself again. I think I know just the painter.”

“Who is he?” Draco asked. He hoped it wasn’t one of those fellows who would insist on painting him with all sorts of awkward props, like medieval staffs or a falcon perched on his shoulder.

“She. Astoria Greengrass is young.Younger than you, actually, but she has some very unique skills as an artist that make her a perfect portraitist for you.”

“There was a Daphne Greengrass in my year. Any relation?”

“Her younger sister. A Ravenclaw, unfortunately, but the family is quite honorable. To the best of my knowledge, the Greengrasses took no sides in the war, which is ideal.”

Draco wondered how anyone could have possibly managed that. He vaguely recalled that Daphne’s family had something to do with wine. Surely, the Dark Lord would have been interested in that. The opportunities for poisoning would have been plentiful.

“You’re having a kid paint my portrait? Will finger paints be involved?”

“We won’t hire her until we’ve reviewed her body of work.” Something in Lucius’s face indicated he too had concerns about a teenager painting an official Malfoy portrait. “If her work is found to be acceptable, we will offer her the job.”

“I assume this is your idea, Mother? The Greengrass girl?”

“I first became aware of Miss Greengrass a couple of years ago,” Narcissa said. “It was a charity luncheon and some of her paintings were being auctioned for the maternity ward at St. Mungo’s. She was merely fourteen, but her work was extraordinary. I think a portrait by her would be different from the others in the gallery. I don’t think she would paint you wearing brocade cloaks like your father did or that you’d be painted on horseback like your grandfather. What I think she could do is create a Malfoy painting for a new age.”

Draco had to admit he was now curious about the girl’s work, even though he was still uninterested in being the subject. “So no portrayal of ancient glory in my portrait? What would I find in a painting by . . .” he had already forgot her first name, “Daphne’s baby sister?”

“Humanity,” Narcissa replied.

“All my weaknesses on display for the public? What a treat, Mother.”

“I said humanity, not weaknesses, Draco. We are perceived to be monsters. That perception is what we must battle.”

“And sometimes perception is reality.”

Just then, a tawny owl swooped in through the window and deposited a letter in front of Draco. It did not stay and demand a treat. Instead, it circled the room and left the way it had come.

“I thought the Aurors were going to be bringing our mail once the Ministry ‘screens’ it?” he drawled.

“They are.” Narcissa’s eyes narrowed. “It’s possible that’s the only one that made it through so they forwarded it on.”

“I don’t know who would be writing to me.” Draco went to pick it up.

“Wait!” His mother said. She waved her wand over the letter. “No traces of dark magic. It should be safe to open it.”

Draco opened it quickly. It was a short length of parchment. Instead of someone’s writing, there were letters cut out of a newspaper or magazine. The message they formed was short.

We are hunting you.

Back to index


Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Romilda

Chapter 5: Romilda

June 20, 1998
The Ministry of Magic

Once upon a time, Ginny had hated Romilda Vane. At Hogwarts, Romilda had an army of well-groomed girls whose job was to agree with everything Romilda said. As the daughter of the senior beauty director of Witch Weekly, Romilda received weekly shipments of perfumes, makeup, beauty potions, and designer clothes, all perks of Mrs. Vane’s job. She was captain of the Gobstones Team and used her position to terrorize first years. She’d once referred to Demelza and Ginny as manly for being on the Quidditch team, and she had made remarks about Ginny’s secondhand robes on more than one occasion. All of which could be forgiven. But she was also very obsessed with Harry, and that Ginny had been unable to forgive her for.

That was fifth year.

Last year, all the girls of Hogwarts had looked out for each other, protected each other. But they hadn’t been able to protect Romilda in time. She remembered the morning they’d found her on the fourth floor, bleeding and unconscious. The younger girl had been in the hospital wing for a month, but she’d pulled through. She was stronger than Aimee Cartwright, who had a breakdown and had to be sent home when she’d gone through what Romilda had.

Ginny was vaguely aware of Harry beside her. Her boyfriend had slipped into Auror mode. He had one hand protectively behind her back, but he was also scanning the ballroom, as if trying to memorize every detail and every person, imprinting the scene in his mind. But Ginny only had eyes for Romilda whose limp body was being cradled by her sobbing mother, while her father stood by in shock. She couldn't blame him. Teenagers didn’t just drop dead at balls. Even during the war, there were curses and flashes of green light, and obvious signs that something terrible was about to happen.

“Oh, Harry. It’s too terrible.”

“It’ll be all right,” Harry said, as he guided her back towards Hermione.

“All right? She’s dead, Harry!”

A healer who had been one table over from Romilda had declared her to be so.

Just two hours ago, Romilda had been just another girl getting ready for the ball. She had picked out the lipstick that went best with her gown. Perhaps her mother had helped her with her hair, using a curling charm to get her dark tresses to fall into perfect waves. Romilda would have looked into a full length mirror before leaving to make sure her knickers didn’t have visible lines beneath her satin gown. Her father had likely made some comment about her growing up too fast just like Arthur had done when Ginny came down the stairs. Romilda would have felt very adult entering the ballroom, grabbing a glass of champagne, catching the eye of grown men.

Now, she would never dance again. Never finish Hogwarts, hold a job, or have her father walk her down the aisle. Ginny realized just how badly she had wanted Romilda to move on with life, to thrive. Because if Romilda had recovered from the war, if Romilda was happy, then there was hope for all of the lost girls.

“Sorry, Gin. I just meant . . . I don’t know what I meant. Were you friends?”

She glared at him. “Everyone at Hogwarts grew closer last year. All we had was each other.You wouldn’t know about that.”

Even as she said that, she knew it was an unfair comment. Harry couldn’t have been at Hogwarts last year. He had been Undesirable Number One. And was she honestly blaming Harry for Romilda’s death? Harry, who blamed already blamed himself for every premature death.

“You’re right. I wouldn’t know. Gin, I’m sorry, but Ron and I have to go. Report to Gawain.” He gestured towards a group of gathering Aurors.

She tried to smile at him. “Go. Be an Auror. I’ll be okay. And sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

He squeezed her hand, then moved to join his colleagues.

Hermione gave Ginny a quick side hug. “I thought we were done with this. Do you think it could have been natural causes?”

Ginny shrugged. She didn’t think there was anything natural about a sixteen-year-old dropping into a plate of Stilton. She watched Harry summon parchment and a quill and begin writing whatever Gawain Robards was dictating. An annoyed junior Auror, likely two or three years older than Harry, was refusing to allow the reporters to take photos of Romilda’s body, and he was being completely ignored as flashes erupted all around him.

“Romilda had a terrible year last year, Hermione. I don’t know how she survived it.”

Ministry officials began herding everyone out of the ballroom and into the Atrium. It was made clear that absolutely no one was permitted to leave the building. Beside her, Hermione was murmuring comforting things in a Hermione-ish fashion. Ginny, who normally liked Hermione’s motherly nature, had no interest in being comforted and shook her off by pointing out a Ministry official who had recently drafted a law Hermione was interested in. Ginny disappeared as soon as Hermione spotted the woman in question.

She headed toward the half-completed statue in the middle of Atrium, pretending to be examining it, but instead she was wrapped in her own thoughts. As she adjusted her wrap around her shoulders, she heard an alarming ripping noise that immediately drove Romilda from her mind.

Damnit! Her dress had ripped along a side seam. She had known she was on borrowed time with this dress. When she had been measured for it during Christmas break her fifth year, she had been five feet tall, ninety-five pounds soaking wet, and a B-cup. Madame Fortier, the famous French dressmaker, had been told that Ginny and Gabrielle were both still growing and to make the dresses slightly big.

Therefore, it was not a big deal when she grew an inch by the time of Bill’s wedding, and the dress was a perfect length. What Madame Fortier had not anticipated was Prewitt woman genes that allowed a teenage girl to gain a full cup size in seven months. Evidently, French breasts were better mannered and not permitted to grow in such a reckless fashion.

By late July, Molly had been in hysterics over the amount of cleavage Ginny showed in her bridesmaid dress, and she attempted to bring the neckline up until it even covered Ginny’s throat. If not for Fleur’s intervention, it would have stayed that way. After many a fight between Fleur and Molly, the dress was made more modest but still showed a hint of cleavage, which Ginny was pleased to note caught Harry’s attention. Of course, once middle-aged Death Eaters showed up at the wedding and began looking down her dress, Ginny began to wish her mother had got her way.

Now, nearly a full year later, Ginny was another inch taller and curvier still. She had let Fleur and Hermione do the alteration charms on her dress so Molly didn’t leave her with fabric up to her chin again. It seemed fabric only allowed so much magical adjustment. Hermione had warned her this could happen, but Ginny had been unwilling to purchase a secondhand ball gown when she had such a lovely designer dress in her closet.

Ginny carefully held her bodice in place and adjusted her wrap so no one could see her exposed bra. She began walking down a corridor where she knew from previous visits to the Ministry that she would find a restroom. When she heard raised voices, she ducked behind a large potted plant. She could just imagine what kind of stories Rita Skeeter would write if she spotted her with ripped clothing.

It wasn’t Rita. There were two blond girls, possibly sisters, who were arguing. Ginny recognized one of them as Draco Malfoy’s date. The girl appeared very distressed, and Ginny’s first thought was to hope that Draco had not tried anything inappropriate with her.

She was an extremely pretty girl and as unlike Pansy Parkinson as it was possible to be. Pansy’s hard prettiness was a combination of overgrooming and a fierce personality and had little to do with nature. This girl had a wildflower beauty. She had a delicate bone structure, and her brown eyes were large and doe-like. She was small, maybe an inch or two taller than Ginny. Her hair was a golden blond, different from Draco’s silvery blond. She wore a rose silk dress and its low neckline was the only thing saving her from looking too young and innocent to attend a Ministry ball.

“Tori, you can’t tell anyone about this,” the older girl was saying. Her features were nearly identical to her sister’s, but she lacked Tori’s fragility and appeared to be a year or two older.

“But Daph, she was poisoned!” Draco’s date said. “I saw it when I was sketching her.”

Ginny leaned closer. Were they talking about Romilda?

Daph lowered her voice. “And what would the Aurors think if you told them you drew Romilda Vane’s fate before it happened? Best case scenario, they would think you were crazy. Most wizards don’t put a lot of faith in Divination. But they might think you did it. Or they might try to use you. You know why we left England last year.”

“We left because Grand-père was dying,” Tori said.

“No, that was our excuse. Astoria, we left England because of you. Maman was frantic that You-Know-Who would find out about your gift and decide you could be useful to him.”

“No, she would have told me if she thought I was in danger. We had to help Grand-père and then help Tante Caresse take over the vineyard once he was gone.”

Ginny had the impression that the younger girl didn’t really believe this. Or if she once had, she did not anymore.

“Tori, we left in the middle of the night. You’re old enough to know that isn’t normal.”

“Okay, let’s say you are right about why we spent a year in France. It’s over now. You-Know-Who is dead.”

“I’m not convinced the Ministry is much better. And let’s not forget who you came with. Draco’s bad news. Not even Pansy Parkinson could control him. Does he know anything about your abilities?”

“No.”

“Let’s keep it that way. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. Your makeup is all smudged. Then you’ll go back to Draco and act neither more nor less shocked than anyone else here.”

As the girls turned the corner in the direction of the women’s bathroom, Ginny tried to make sense of what she had just heard. What did that Daph girl mean when she said Tori drew Romilda’s fate. Like drawing cards? Had she been consulting a Tarot deck? Ginny had never taken a Divination class in her life. After hearing Ron and Hermione’s complaints about Professor Trelawney her second year, she had signed up for Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures for her third year electives. She supposed she could ask Harry. He’d had three years of Divination, although she had the impression that he hadn’t learned anything in the class.

She decided to avoid the loo until they came out. The young blond girl would need a moment of privacy to pull herself together. She sighed and looked down at her dress. A simple Reparo would fix the problem. One tiny underage spell would be undetectable in a building full of qualified wizards, and she had her wand tucked into the side of her corset style bra. But if anyone came around the corner and caught her, her father would be in so much trouble at work.

She saw a familiar head of red hair turn the corner, heading in the direction of the women’s room, and she sighed in relief.

“Mum! Quick! Over here!”

“Ginny? What are you doing in the bushes?”

“Avoiding public nudity, Mum. When I was three, you told me I wasn’t allowed to take off my clothes in public, and I took it to heart.”

“Oh, Ginny! Your dress! Reparo!

Her mother fussed over her, adjusting a strand of Ginny’s hair and smoothing down her dress. Ginny realized she was taller than her mother at that moment. It was strictly her high heels, she knew, as both mother and daughter stood an even five feet and two inches in bare feet, but it was strange to look down at her mother and realize her brothers had been doing just that for many years now.

“Thanks, Mum. I will be so glad when I no longer have the Trace.”

“I could move the neckline up a little.”

“Mum!”

The corners of Molly’s mouth twitched slightly. “Well, I think it should hold. You should get back. Harry will be looking for you when they release him from the ballroom.”

“The Aurors are still in there?”

“I believe so. Did you know that girl?”

“Yes. She was a Gryffindor. She would have been about to start her sixth year.”

“What a shame! So young! I cannot imagine what her mother must be going through.” Molly sighed. “Well, maybe I can.”

“I’m not ready to go back, Mum.” Ginny wanted to see Harry, but he was still in the ballroom, and she had little desire to mingle with other people. “I’ll visit the loo with you, and then we can go back together.”

In the women’s room, Ginny took her time, adding lipstick and adjusting her hair. She didn’t cry, but she worried that might change once she was in a crowd.

When Ginny and Molly returned to the Atrium, the Aurors were still investigating inside.

“Where did you go?” Hermione asked.

“I had a mishap with my dress,” Ginny said. “Mum fixed it.”

“What did you mean earlier? When you talked of Romilda having a harder time than most? Did the Carrows single her out?”

“No, I don’t think they did,” Ginny said.

They might have, but if they did, it would hardly been the worst thing that had happened to her. Ginny remembered when Romilda got out of the hospital wing after a month’s stay. She had been pale and unsteady, physically a shadow of her former self. But her dark eyes had been determined, and she had told Ginny that she wanted to join the D.A., that she would do anything to fight the dark side. Looking at her, Ginny had known the Slytherins and their allies had messed with the wrong girl, turning a beauty queen into a warrior.

Ginny checked to see if her mother was listening and seeing her in conversation with Arthur, she continued in a shaky voice, “Romilda was gang-raped. She was raped, tortured, then left for dead.”

Damnit. There was no stopping the tears this time.

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Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Apologies for Breakfast

Chapter 6: Apologies for Breakfast

May 13, 1998
The Burrow

Crack. I’m sorry about the year of worry. Crack. I’m sorry I took Ron and Hermione with me. Crack. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you what we were doing. Crack. I’m sorry I hurt Ginny. Crack. I’m sorry that the break-up wasn’t enough to protect her. Crack. I’m sorry we put you into hiding too. Crack. I’m sorry Teddy will have to grow up as parentless as me. Crack. Above all, I’m sorry about Fred. And Tonks. And Lupin. And Mad-Eye. Crack. Bloody hell, I’m even sorry about Snape.

Harry Potter was cracking eggs. At almost eighteen, he could have prepared breakfast with magic. He was of age, and necessity had forced him to learn many cooking and household spells over the last year. Today, he wanted to prepare the meal slowly in the Muggle fashion. In every crack of an egg, or swirl of a whisk, or flip of bacon, he was telling the Weasley family everything he could not bear to say out loud.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t say the things out loud, but he knew everyone would talk over him. It’s not your fault. Voldemort is the cause of everything. You did all you could. No one could expect more from you. But he had to say all of the things that churned in his belly, so he said it by cooking breakfast, by de-gnoming the garden, by fixing the broken porch step, by keeping a pot of tea brewing. Finding absolution in these acts, Harry now understood why Molly cooked so much. It was an apology for all the things that could not be fixed, for protection that did not go far enough. It was more than that. It was an offering.

It was seven, and Molly was not up yet. Clearly, she would be having one of her days. Some days, she was the Mrs. Weasley he had always known: warm, loving, and quick to spoon a third helping on your plate when you’re weren’t looking. Other days she was a ghost Molly. She stayed in her bedroom, wearing a dressing gown so ancient she had probably had it when she nursed Fred and George. Either Ginny or Mr. Weasley would bring food up to her, which she did eat. Even the most depressed Weasleys rarely said no to food.

Harry could hear Mr. Weasley moving about in the bathroom upstairs. Arthur was dependable as clockwork, and Harry knew he’d leave for the Ministry at precisely seven-twenty-five. He had been the strong one for everyone in the family, but Harry noticed he had started drinking an extra glass of wine in the evenings, the only sign that all was not well with Arthur Weasley.

Even with Bill and Fleur back at Shell Cottage and Ron and Hermione in Australia, the Burrow was full. George wasn’t ready to go back to the flat he’d shared with his twin and was sleeping in his childhood room. Percy was also back in his childhood room, and Harry, guilt recognizing guilt, knew he would stay at the Burrow as long as George was there. Charlie was in England for one more week before returning to Romania. Once Charlie left, Harry would move out of Ron’s room and into Bill and Charlie’s childhood room. Ginny, of course, was at home.

“Ah, Harry. I thought I smelled breakfast.” Arthur entered the kitchen.

Sorry I put my hand down your daughter’s knickers while you slept last night. Sorry I am not actually sorry I put my hand down your daughter’s knickers.

“Morning, Mr. Weasley. I was up early.”

“Are you the only one up? Is Ginny up?”

Harry frowned. “I don’t think so. Her door was closed.”

He knew that much because he had closed Ginny’s door behind him when he had left her room that morning, but he wasn’t about to tell Arthur that. He did wonder, at times, exactly what Mr. Weasley knew or suspected about his relationship with Ginny.

Both Molly and Arthur approved of Ginny dating Harry. Molly did watch them a bit more closely than she had in the past, but they were also both still children in Molly’s mind, and Harry felt certain she did not know that Harry and Ginny frequently slept in the same bed. With Arthur, Harry had no idea what the older man did or didn’t know. He knew Arthur to be a thoughtful observer who was not easily fooled.

“It may be a late start for everyone this morning,” Mr. Weasley said, his expression unreadable. “Are you off to the Ministry this morning?”

“I am, but not for a few more hours. My meeting with Kingsley is at ten, and then I’ll meet Ginny at the Leaky Cauldron for lunch at one, and then we’ll both go to Andromeda’s to see Teddy.”

“Do you have an answer for Kingsley?”

“I do. I am joining the Aurors.”

“Ah,” Arthur said, and Harry could not tell if the older man approved or disapproved of his decision.

Harry had known what he wanted to do as soon as Kingsley had issued the invitation, but he had known the decision was no longer his alone to make. Ginny had been very supportive of the idea, and he almost wished she had been otherwise, even though she didn’t like the idea of a year’s separation any more than he did.

“They’ll need you to help rebuild the Ministry,” she’d said. “Otherwise, they’ll muck it up like they always do.”

While Harry had wanted to be an Auror since he was fourteen, he was reluctant to sign the paperwork. That would mean he could no longer spend lazy evenings in the common room with Ginny, or play their favorite game of seeing how long they could snog in a private corner of the library before Madam Pince caught them, or watch Ginny’s long red hair whip behind her in Quidditch practice.

His boyhood would be officially over.

Of course, it had ended long ago, perhaps when Dumbledore had fallen off the tower. Things like sitting in Charms class, or making curfew, or dodging Peeves seemed childish now, like things from someone else’s life. He would be restless in Gryffindor tower, longing to be out, catching Death Eaters.

He would miss Ginny terribly though. They had rationalized this in their talks. He would need to put his full focus on his training this year, and she would need to be without distractions in her last year. She was taking all of the classes needed to become a healer, but Harry knew that was her back up choice. Ginny was hoping to become a professional Quidditch player, preferably for the Holyhead Harpies.

Harry knew it would benefit Ginny if he was no longer at Hogwarts, as that would leave her to be captain of the Gryffindor team, which she would need to be to catch the eye of Gwenog Jones of the Holyhead Harpies. To Harry’s amusement, Ginny had decided she would attend all of the Slug Club parties this year, as she had missed the one Gwenog had attended in her fifth year.

“Kingsley will be pleased,” Arthur remarked.

“I think so,” Harry said. “I’ll have to be careful though. He’ll never hear the end of it if an Auror trainee without any N.E.W.T.s mucks things up.”

“Harry, you will be an excellent Auror. No one doubts that.”

“Thank you.”

He wished he was as confident. His lack of N.E.W.T.s did worry him. He would have them eventually. To make certain there would no gaps in necessary knowledge, he, Ron, and other Auror trainees who had not completed Hogwarts would have additional studies on top of their Auror coursework, and in June of the next year, they would take their N.E.W.T. examinations at Hogwarts along with the seventh years. The shame would be unbearable if he did not pass.

Mr. Weasley poured himself a strong cup of tea and loaded his plate with toast, eggs, and bacon. After putting a warming charm on the rest of the breakfast, Harry joined him with his own plate and tea. They talked of the Ministry and of Teddy Lupin until Arthur had to leave.

Once he was alone again, Harry’s pensive mood returned. He washed the dishes by hand, once again feeling that the Muggle chore was an offering or maybe an act of penance.

For the first time in his life, Harry James Potter had everything he wanted. He never had to return to Privet Drive. He had the most loyal friends a man could ask for. He loved a beautiful woman and was loved in return. He had been offered his dream job, even though he technically wasn’t qualified for it. He had a house in London, even if it did look as though it had been decorated by a gothic novelist. He even had a family, for it became apparent in the days after the battle that he wasn’t merely a regular guest at the Burrow; he was now considered one of them.

He even had Teddy. It had never occurred to Harry to want to have a child in his life, but he had loved Remus and Tonks’ baby from the moment he first held him.

It just didn’t feel right that he got everything he ever wanted, practically overnight, while George would never get to share another birthday with his best friend. Or that Harry could be possibly be present for Teddy’s first steps while Tonks and Remus would not. Harry knew it wasn’t his place to decide who deserved what fate, but he felt guilty when he enjoyed his life and he also felt guilty when he wasn’t enjoying his life when so many people had died so he could do just that.

A tawny owl swooped through an open window, and Harry’s stomach churned with unease. The tawny was not a Weasley owl, it wasn’t Neville’s barn owl, nor was it the Scops owl that always brought their mail after the Ministry screened it.

Due to all the Death Eaters on the loose, all of Harry’s mail was being searched for security. Kingsley himself had taken time out of running the wizarding world to place protective charms on the Burrow to ensure no unauthorized owls could fly through the wards. After Kingsley was done, Bill had checked the Minister’s work. There was no reason this tawny should have been able to fly through the kitchen window, drop parchment on the counter, and casually fly back out again.

He remembered Ginny’s insistence that an owl was spying on them a few nights before. Was this the bird she had seen? He had not thought much of her suspicion at the time. She had woken from a nightmare, and Harry figured it had left on her edge, seeing threats that were not there. But Ginny wasn’t one to frighten easily, and she was one of the most perceptive people Harry knew.

He approached the parchment with his wand out. At eleven or twelve, he would have simply snatched it up, but seven years in the wizarding world had taught him that the most dangerous items were often the most innocent looking. He waved his wand over it, murmuring some incantations for detecting dark magic that he had learned from Hermione during their year on the run.

Nothing.

He hesitated another moment and then untied the string wrapped around the parchment, smoothing out the letter.

Dear Harry,

I know you are back with her. Some part of me isn’t even surprised. I wanted to believe you when you said you were over her and in love with me, but I think I always knew.

I am surprised that you don’t feel any responsibility after what happened, that you could just walk away from us. Is this is the behavior the wizarding world expects of its “hero”?

You can’t hide it forever. You know I definitely can’t.


There was a scrawled initial that could have been a B, an R, a P, or an F. The writer had clearly flunked penmanship in primary school.

As far as jokes went, it was a weird one. Not only was it not funny, it didn’t make any sense. The only girl that Harry had ever been romantically linked with aside from Ginny had been Cho Chang. But Cho had been before Ginny, not after. Harry knew Cho’s tidy, feminine script from their D.A. days, and this large slanted scrawl was not it.

And why would anyone work out how to get an owl through ridiculously complicated magic just to send him a nonsensical message? Where was the pay off?

“Mmm, breakfast.” Ginny was in the kitchen, still dressed in her short nightgown. “This looks amazing, Harry.” She filled up her plate, then gestured at the parchment that Harry hadn’t realized he was crumpling in his right hand.

“So, what’s that?”

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Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Lost and Found

Author's Notes: Well, this certainly took a while. My apologies for the delay, and thank you to everyone who is still reading, even with the month+ break. This was meant to be a short chapter. It still is, I suppose. Just longer than the previous six, and much longer than my original intent. I was going to tie up some loose ends here and drop a clue there, and then, Draco Malfoy happened and he kept demanding the spotlight for just a little longer. As he tends to do.


Chapter 7: Lost and Found

June 20, 1998
The Ministry of Magic


The Ministry of Magic ballroom was now a crime scene, and Draco Malfoy had no idea what happened to his date. The former should have been more unsettling than the latter, but Draco had lived at Malfoy Manor for part of the Death Eater occupation. He had witnessed both tortures and murders, and in comparison, the murder of Romilda Vane was almost gentle. Whoever did it had wanted her out of the way quickly, as it happened too quickly for anyone to produce a bezoar or an antidote, but they did not seem to have interest in making her suffer either.

Draco’s first thought had been, ‘What poor bastard did that, just as we were all given a chance to live normal lives again?’ He supposed it wasn’t normal that his first instinct was sympathy for the murderer, but he could hardly expect to make it out of Death Eater ranks unscathed. The justice system may have been kind to him, but he was still warped from his wartime experiences, and he knew he wasn’t so different from whoever killed Romilda Vane. He too could have been a murderer. And if not saving people at Malfoy Manor made one a murderer, then he supposed he already was.

He wondered what Astoria would think if she knew he had once plotted to kill Professor Dumbledore. She came from a Slytherin family, and undoubtedly knew a thing or two about self preservation, but she struck him as someone who would have liked the headmaster. Astoria, being a little quirky herself, might have found his eccentricities to be endearing. As a Ravenclaw, she would have admired his sharp mind. Draco sensed that Astoria was a person who felt deeply and understood many things, but she would not understand the necessity of a murder. It would be foreign to her.

****


Draco’s entire sixth year had been dominated by thoughts of murder. It hadn’t seemed so complicated when the Dark Lord had initially given him the mission. He had been grateful at the time, even though he knew it was a deadly test and he hadn’t been naive enough to believe Voldemort wanted him to succeed. However, it had been an opportunity to prove himself, to bring honor back to his family. Dumbledore was there, then he would no longer be. Simple. Nothing more than a move back to the natural order of things. Those things always came at a cost.

The first few weeks were strangely empowering. He had walked the corridors of the castle, drunk on his little secret. The headmaster was going to die, and no one knew about it except for him. The other students were just going to class, getting into fights in the common room, all stuck in the ordinariness of their lives, while Draco was part of something bigger. The entire world was full of possibilities. And ever since he “accidentally” let his Dark Mark show in the compartment of the Hogwarts Express, his fellow Slytherins had treated him like a dangerous man. Even Blaise, who was normally coldly courteous towards Draco, had seemed impressed. It hadn’t yet occurred to him that he might fail.

Draco had watched Dumbledore for a full school year. His father had always impressed upon him the importance of knowing one’s enemy. Spying on Potter had always proved useful in the past. But watching Dumbledore was a mistake, as Draco became aware of the impossibility of knowing your enemy and still killing him. Death and causing death was not terribly disturbing as an abstract notion. Even killing someone you knew was not that disturbing as an abstract notion.

And up until sixth year, Dumbledore had been more of an idea than a person to Draco. He had been an old man, swooping around, saying witty yet peculiar things and playing favorites. He did things like let Slytherin believe they won the House Cup after a year of hard work, only to give it to Gryffindor on what seemed like a whim. To Draco, he had been like a hideous antique prominently displayed in the family china cabinet–revolting but too much of a crowd pleaser to be disposed of.

But when you watch someone closely enough, you become as aware of them as you are of yourself. As Draco observed Dumbledore and his mysterious comings and goings, he became obsessed with the inner workings of Albus Dumbledore’s mind. What did the headmaster do in that tower office that Draco had never set foot in? Did he think of lofty magical theories all day, or did he dream of lunch like everyone else? Was he planning intricate strategies for the Order of the Phoenix? Or was he merely micromanaging Draco’s professors, telling Snape to work on his people skills or urging Sprout to wash the dirt off her forehead?

Whatever he did all day, Dumbledore was fighting a war, same as Draco was, no matter how calm he might seem, walking throughout the castle in his violet robes. He had seen Voldemort giving his orders with threats behind every request. Dumbledore, he was sure, was quite different, but he suspected he shared the Dark Lord’s preference for keeping the big picture to himself and only letting his followers know bits and pieces.

Draco had obsessed over Dumbledore’s blackened hand. Had he failed to block a hex? Or had he mistakenly handled a cursed object? Most importantly, did it mean he was in decline, which would be good for Draco, or did indicate he was fearless, which was not good for Draco? He thought of that hand so often, he sometimes thought his own hand was black when it hovered on the edge of his vision. He began imagining a loss of feeling in his right hand. He would be writing his Charms essay, and all of a sudden, it would be like his writing hand no longer obeyed him as it normally did. It was the beginning of Draco’s sense that he and Dumbledore were becoming joined, like the headmaster was a Siamese twin that Draco had to destroy.

He began to sense him, his comings and goings. When the headmaster left the castle, sometimes for days at a time, Draco could feel it. It either felt like loneliness or relief, he could never decide which. When Dumbledore returned, Draco felt it before he saw him. Even when Draco was in the Room of Requirement, far removed from all the hustle of castle, he could sense the change in the air. When he would pass the old wizard in the corridors, he had to fight the urge to nod at him, reminding himself Dumbledore didn’t know their fates were linked.

He knew so many things about the man, random things, as if the headmaster was the subject of one of his school reports. Dumbledore had been published in Transfiguration Today 142 times, more than any other modern wizard. He owned four pairs of high heeled boots, one pair–his favorite, Draco suspected–he only wore on Fridays. He had an impressive sweet tooth for a thin man and could put away more pudding than even Hagrid. He didn’t like to be away from Hogwarts for more than three days at a time, but rarely remained in the castle for more than four successive days.

Time moved both too slowly and too quickly that year. Before he knew it, Draco was in the tallest tower facing Dumbledore, with the headmaster’s wand in his hand. The conditions were perfect yet impossible. He was surprised at Dumbledore’s response. The headmaster knew all about his task and he regarded Draco with compassion rather than judgment. And, unless Draco was very much mistaken, Dumbledore felt the connection between them as well, the linking of their lives. They both knew he couldn’t murder Dumbledore–it would be killing himself too–even as his fellow Death Eaters closed in on the tower.

Then Snape was there. He did it so easily, so quickly as if he did not understand the weight of a life.

*******


Draco wondered about Romilda’s murderer. And he didn’t doubt there was a murderer. After the war, Draco no longer believed in accidents. Had he felt connected to Romilda? Did he feel the loss of her life? How had he been able to go through with it? Why had he done it in the first place?

Draco didn’t know Romilda personally. She was in another house and younger than him. They would have passed each other in the corridors and on Hogsmeade trips, but he had never had to talk to her in class or pass the carrots to her at dinner or ask her if she was saving those chairs in the common room. But it was impossible not to know who she was given the events of last year. Even before her assault, talk had been buzzing about her, as it did whenever a girl developed over the summer holidays. The boys of Hogwarts hadn’t been so excited since Fleur Delacour.

Had it been one of the boys who had assaulted her? Draco thought he had a pretty decent guess who the perpetrators were. It was difficult not to, given the appearance of Romilda’s knickers, a lacy trophy of war, in the Slytherin seventh year boys’ bathroom the morning after. But all of them were dead, or being questioned by the Ministry, or keeping an extremely low profile. He certainly didn’t see any of them here tonight. If not them, then who?

He noticed something pale out of the corner of his eye. On the table next to him was the parchment that he and Astoria had played hangman on, but now it was covered with a sketch. He picked it up, his grey eyes widening as he recognized the subject as Romilda Vane. When Romilda had collapsed, Draco had completely forgotten his date’s peculiar behavior in the chaos. She had wanted to talk to Romilda and urgently.

Had she known what was going to happen?

Draco noticed a beautiful young woman standing very close to him, close enough to look over his shoulder. Had she seen the sketch? He folded it up and placed it in the pocket of his dress robes. While it made him uneasy, he certainly didn’t want anyone else seeing it.

Ministry officials began herding all of the guests into the Atrium so the Aurors could conduct their investigation. He permitted himself to be herded without comment. He was still uncertain of Astoria’s whereabouts, although he did spot his mother, but his date would be guided into the Atrium as well.

“We should have listened to your father and stayed home,” Narcissa said when they caught up with each other in the Atrium.

“I doubt Father sensed anything like this would happen,” Draco drawled. “Terrible luck.”

“It’s worse than bad luck. They’ll go straight for the purebloods.” Narcissa sniffed.

Draco shifted uneasily, as he thought of what was in his pocket. He had no intention of sharing it with his mother. She’d probably point the Aurors in Astoria’s direction just to make sure they didn’t go after the Malfoys. And whatever happened with his date, Draco knew Astoria had not killed Romilda.

He was mostly sure of it anyway.

The fact was he knew nothing about Astoria or the Greengrass family. He had been at Hogwarts with Daphne Greengrass, of course, sharing classes and the Slytherin common room with her, but Daphne had always kept a distance from him. She had been friends with Pansy, Tracey, and Nott. She was cordial with Millicent and occasionally tutored the burly girl in Transfiguration. He remembered her being friendly with Blaise the first few years, but they later grew apart. She had disliked him, Crabbe, and Goyle from the beginning and never made an attempt to disguise it.

The Greengrasses were one of the few pureblood families who had been notably absent from England last year. Nigel Greengrass had been in Slytherin like his eldest daughter, and he was friendly with all of the old families. He was a wealthy man, the owner of the oldest wine shop in Diagon Alley, passed from father to son for three centuries. His wife, Sophie, was French and an heiress to a wine fortune. Nigel was a philanthropist, a collector of rare art, and popular at parties.

But he was a mystery too. No one knew his political beliefs, which Draco knew Lucius had tried to puzzle out over the years. Dumbledore’s supporters whispered that he was a Death Eater, while Death Eaters whispered that he was a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. In all likelihood, Nigel was probably neither. He probably found politics to be bad for business.

Whatever Nigel was, his youngest daughter was her own person, and Draco did not think Astoria capable of murder. Some people said anyone was capable of murder under the right circumstances, but Draco wasn’t so sure.

He chatted with his mother for a while, both of them avoiding the topic of the body in the next room until he saw Astoria enter the Atrium with her sister. She looked pale and was nodding in response to whatever Daphne was saying. Their eyes met, and she gave him a small smile.

“Excuse me, Mother.”

He crossed the Atrium to join the sisters.

“Hello,” he said to Daphne, then turned toward Astoria. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, thank you. It’s a shock. Romilda was in my year, and I thought this sort of thing was over. But I am fine.”

Her polite response seemed a bit rehearsed to him. “Were you friends?”

“I honestly don’t know if we ever spoke. We only had one class together. But she was a girl you couldn’t help but notice.”

“Yes, I think everyone knew of her.”

“Well, I should get back to Roger,” Daphne said. “Good evening, Draco. See you at home, Tori.”

“Good evening, Daphne.”

Astoria gave him a small smile, but her large brown eyes were watery. This girl had not killed anyone. He knew it suddenly and certainly, and he was glad he had taken the parchment before the Aurors could find it.

Draco had always thought that he preferred blue eyes in a woman. He had always liked the gleam in Pansy’s light blue eyes when she formed a new scheme. He noted the way his mother’s darker blue eyes sparkled when she laughed at something his father said, and he figured that grey-eyed Malfoy men were drawn to blue-eyed women. But here was this brown-eyed girl before him, a curious blend of mystery and innocence, and she couldn’t be more different from either of Draco’s ex-girlfriends.

He reached for her hand. “Let’s a walk a bit. Some movement will make you feel better.”

“I’m fine,” she said, but she followed him in walking the perimeter of the Atrium. “I didn’t really know her.”

“Neither did I, but no one here is likely to forget her. We don’t have to talk about Romilda. Tell me about your trip to Brighton with your cousins.”

They kept walking hand in hand, and Astoria’s voice grew stronger as they talked. They briefly stopped to speak to Astoria’s parents, who both seemed wary of Draco, by the unfinished statue and then they continued their circular stroll. When they grew weary, they sat in silence in the chairs that had been conjured.

At a quarter to eleven, the Minister left the ballroom where he had been consulting with the Aurors. He announced that to give Mr. and Mrs. Vane some privacy in this difficult time, the Ministry would be vacated. Before leaving, each person was to sign out so the Aurors would have a complete list of everyone in attendance. The Order of Merlin ceremony would be rescheduled for late summer, and the press conference was to be cancelled. He led them in a moment of silence for Romilda before releasing them.

“Ready to go?” Draco asked Astoria once the moment of silence was over.

“Merlin, yes. I’m surprised they are letting us leave, honestly.”

“So am I. I would have thought everyone would be questioned by the Aurors.”

“Unless they believe the murderer has already left.”

“What do you think?” he asked, remembering her sketch.

She shrugged. “What do I know?”

After signing out, they used the Ministry fireplaces to Floo to the Greengrass townhouse in London, as Astoria was not old enough to Apparate and he did not think Mr. and Mrs. Greengrass would approve of an eighteen-year-old side-apparating their daughter. It did not appear that Daphne or Mr. and Mrs. Greengrass had returned yet.

While the Greengrasses were one of the wealthier wizarding families, they had a very different sort of wealth than the Malfoys. The Malfoys, along with the Macmillan, Nott, and Bones families, were one of the rare magical families that still had vast ancestral estates. The Lestranges had also been landed gentry until their first imprisonment in Azkaban. The Goyles had been selling off family heirlooms for more than a century, and Draco heard they were selling Goyle Hall to pay for legal expenses. The Greengrasses were more typical of wizarding wealth. Their primary residence was their London townhouse, which was large and expensively furnished, and Draco knew there was also another Greengrass property, a cottage somewhere in the Lake District.

Draco had only seen the townhouse briefly when he had picked Astoria up, but he had immediately liked it. The Greengrass family certainly enjoyed luxury. There were huge paintings everywhere, but it was modern art, not the historical pieces and portraits common to Malfoy Manor. He had noted stacks of books everywhere–on the table in the entryway, strewn across sofas, even one book left open on the dining room table as if someone had just wandered off mid-chapter. A large bar cart was a prominent feature in the parlor, which Draco supposed was appropriate for a family that made their living by selling wine. There were large vases of flowers everywhere, exotic blooms rather than the white roses in Draco’s home.

“Would you like a drink?” Astoria asked him, surveying the bar cart. “We have port, brandy, firewhiskey, various cordials?”

“Are you allowed to drink that?” Draco asked. At sixteen, he had been permitted a glass of wine or two at nice dinners, but nothing harder. He had seen Astoria drink three glasses of wine at the Ministry, the last of which had been consumed while talking to her mother. She appeared perfectly sober, but given her small size, it was only a matter of time. Pansy Parkinson was at least two inches taller than her, and she generally became unsteady on her feet at around drink three.

Astoria laughed. “My mother grew up in a vineyard, and my father has been training both me and Daphne in the family business since we were small. My parents are strict, but not about alcohol. Oh! I know!” She held up a bottle of red wine. “Not a nightcap, I know, but it’s from my family’s estate. It’s the wine I associate with my grandfather’s–now my aunt’s–house.”

Gone was the forced cheerfulness he had noted in the Atrium. The blond girl seemed genuinely at ease and in good spirits. He wasn’t sure what to make of the change other than that they had escaped the grim atmosphere of the Ministry.

“What region is the vineyard?”

“Burgundy.”

“So your mother’s family is from the Burgundy region. Where is Beauxbatons?”

“It is just outside of Angers. That’s in the Loire Valley. Loire wines are crisp and light. Burgundies are more complex and emotional.”

“Is that true of the people as well as the wine?”

“I think all of the French classify as complex and emotional. At least they do in my family.”

“If there was a wine similar in personality to my family, it would definitely be an acquired taste,” Draco said.

Astoria laughed and handed him a glass with a generous pour. “You seem to enjoy your parents’ company, though.”

“I do,” Draco admitted. He sipped at the wine, which was both fruity and earthy at once. “Do you like your parents? If you turned out like them, would you pleased or disappointed?”

“Pleased, I suppose. My parents are good people. They aren’t the heroic types, likely to earn an Order of Merlin, which is all anyone cares about these days. But they are kind and generous, and Daphne and I have always been loved.”

“Your family also makes good wine.”

“Thank you. The soil is good on the vineyard. Good earth makes all the difference. And you? Would you be disappointed if you turned out like your parents?”

“I am already like them.”

“Are you? You strike me as being quite different, particularly from your father.”

That was something no one had ever said to him. From the youngest age, everyone had always told him how like Lucius he was. You look like your father. You laugh just like your father. You fly like your father. You argue just like your father. When he was a child, his parents’ friends would refer to him as “Little Lucius” when they dropped by the house. He was fairly certain that none of them realized he had a name of his own until he was at least thirteen.

The funny thing was he had liked it. In the pause between the Dark Lord’s two reigns, Lucius had been the unofficial leader of the purebloods. His wealth had been the greatest, his influence the strongest, and his charm undeniable. Draco had wanted to be like his father until he no longer did. He didn’t love his father any less, but he loved him differently.

If Astoria didn’t see Lucius in him, what did she see? She was attracted to him; he had sensed that the first day she had shown up at Malfoy Manor with her paints and canvas. He also sensed she was unsettled by this, which likely meant she had not had many boyfriends. But did she like him as a person? If yes, what did she like?

He knew there were girls who liked his bad reputation. They had lined up outside his courtroom during his trail, looking him over with interest and giving him a wink. And most of them not been daughters of Death Eaters or sympathizers–those girls thought him a traitor–they were just girls from all families, classes, and Hogwarts houses. He found them to be ghoulish. Astoria wasn’t one of those, he felt certain.

“I think I am most like my father.”

“Physically, yes. But you seem more like your mother in personality.”

Draco pondered that for a moment. Narcissa was shrewd, practical and utterly unsentimental, and fiercely protective of her family. She also lacked her husband’s cruelty. Lucius would have killed Dumbledore, or at least attempted it. Narcissa wouldn’t have. He would not mind being like his mother.

“Astoria?” called a feminine voice from the front hallway.

“In the parlor, Mum.”

“Did you have a nice . . . Oh! Draco!”

Mrs. Greengrass did not look happy to see him. He wondered if she and Hermione Granger practiced that expression of disapproval together. Perhaps they had a standing lunch date every Wednesday.

“Hello, Mrs. Greengrass. I did not realize it was getting so late. I’ll say goodnight.”

She gave him a sharp look and then nodded. “Astoria, I will see you upstairs.”

When they heard her footsteps move in the direction of the stairs, she gave him an apologetic look. “I am sorry. She can be a bit overprotective.”

“She was fine.” Perhaps not fine, but most mothers would have been worse.

Astoria rolled her eyes. “Daphne isn’t even home yet.”

Given the reputation of Daphne’s date, Roger Davies, Draco would be very surprised if Daphne made it home to mummy and daddy tonight.

“Perhaps your mum just likes you best,” Draco said as he got up.

“Well, I am a fun girl,” Astoria said, also rising from her chair. “I had a good time tonight. Not the murder aspect of the evening, but I enjoyed spending time with you outside the Malfoy library and away from paint fumes.”

Draco laughed. “You love my library.”

“I do. One day, you’ll wake up and find all of the books have been stolen. They’ll all be in my bedroom. I’ll no longer be able to locate my bed, but it’ll be all right as I’ll have too many books to bother with sleep.”

“You officially have more ambition than me,” Draco said.

His shy girl had definitely become more talkative over the last few weeks. He imagined her in her cave of stolen books, and he imagined moving in there with her and living in their literary refuge together.

“More ambition than a Slytherin? No wonder the Sorting Hat tried to put me there.”

“Really?” He raised his eyebrows. “Too bad it didn’t. I had a great time tonight, Astoria.”

He shouldn’t kiss her. She was too young, too sweet, too virginal. All things he wasn’t. She would even be better off with a bloody D.A. member than with him. Of course, she didn’t seem terribly impressed with their heroics, but still, he was too tainted to date a sixth year who had not even seen the war.

He kissed her.

He meant for it to be a sweet, innocent kiss but once Astoria opened her mouth and pressed her body to his, his willpower disappeared. They snogged until they heard footsteps on the stairs and they sprang apart. Her cheeks were as flushed as on the day they first met.

“Er, I’ll walk you to the door. Were you Apparating home?”

“Yes.”

In the front hall, Draco remembered what he had in his pocket. He waited until Nigel Greengrass, who had just come down the stairs, went into his study before he pulled it out.

“Er, I wanted to make sure you got this back.”

Confusion was the first emotion he saw on her face. It was quickly followed by realization, and then horror.

“Draco, I . . .er, that is . . .”

“It’s okay. I didn’t show it to anyone, and I am not going to tell anyone.”

“I had nothing to do with . . .”

“I know. Really, I believe you. I wasn’t trying to upset you. I just thought you should have it back.”

They stared at each other.

“Well, good night, Astoria.”

He walked out the door, and on the top step, he Apparated away.

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Chapter 8: Chapter 8: The Artist

Author's Notes: This chapter is the last in what I consider to be part 1 of this fic. You’ve stuck with me through all of the introductory stuff, and in chapter 9, we’ll get into the murder investigation.


Chapter 8: The Artist

June 8, 1998
Malfoy Manor

Narcissa Malfoy had arranged for Astoria to Floo directly into Malfoy Manor. She supposed that was considerate of Mrs. Malfoy, but Astoria would have preferred to have one of her parents Side-Apparate her to the Malfoy’s front door. That way she wouldn’t have arrived alone, and it seemed far less intrusive to show up on the doorstep as opposed to materializing directly in someone’s house.

She arrived in the parlor and barely registered her surroundings when a voice drawled, “You must be the painteress.”

Astoria wasn’t sure why a perfectly gender neutral word like “painter” needed feminizing. She was always annoyed when people--almost always purebloods--said things like “poetess” or “authoress.” It was like men were true painters, poets, and authors, and women merely dabbled in artistic endeavors between needlework projects and charity luncheons.

“Good morning, Mr. Malfoy,” she said to the blond man who had risen from a leather chair in the corner. “ Yes, I am Astoria Greengrass, the portraitist.”

Try feminizing that. Portraitistess. Pretty portraitistesses paint pictures portraying princesses pouring pitchers of punch.

He looked her over, taking a bit more time to do so than could be considered polite. She felt certain that even a Malfoy wouldn’t find fault with her lavender robes. Her clothing was ladylike without being too formal, flattering to her figure yet modest. It was the sort of thing she would wear to a summer brunch at her grandmother’s house when she’d be under the sharp eyes of several older ladies. She had counted on the Malfoy family being well dressed even while lounging about their over large house.

True to expectation, Lucius’s attire would be appropriate for a meeting with the Minister, even though Astoria knew he was not permitted to leave his house. She had recognized the elder Malfoy from his photos in The Daily Prophet, both before and after the fall of the house of Malfoy, but even if he had not been so well known, there would have been no doubt who he was given how strongly Draco resembled his father. Lucius’s long blond hair was pulled back, which she suspected was due to a need to disguise some thinning.

“I am Lucius Malfoy.” He took a pocket watch out of an embroidered waistcoat. “You’re right on time. My son should be downstairs any moment. I understand you have done portraits in the past.”

“A few.”

She knew Mr. Malfoy was familiar with her work, both its style and scope. After her school term had ended at Beauxbatons last week, the entire Greengrass family had returned to England. In the post that had piled up in their absence, they had found a request from the Malfoys to view Astoria’s artwork with the possibility of offering her a commission. Her mother had met with both Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy, bringing along a portfolio of her work, and Astoria knew that they knew perfectly well that she had done dozens of portraits on commission.

“Excellent, excellent.”

He was like the gatekeeper to hell. Astoria began to wonder where the rest of the family was. While she found Narcissa Malfoy to be intimidating, she at least would be cordial. As for Draco, she didn’t know what to expect. She knew Daphne thought him to be all swagger and no substance, but Astoria had never said a word to him at Hogwarts. Still, she would much rather deal with him than with his father who gave off a distinctly slimy vibe.

It wasn’t a pervy vibe, mercifully enough. It was something sadder. He was seeking to intimidate her by making her out to be some youthful hobbyist who liked to play with her paints. He had been brought so low that it would take making a sixteen-year-old cower to make him feel big again. And although she was aware of what he was doing, she was annoyed that it was working. If he kept blatantly studying her, she felt like she might start rambling in typical Nervous Astoria fashion. Which was never good.

“Ah, Astoria,” Narcissa strolled into the room. “I did not realize you had arrived. Welcome to Malfoy Manor.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Malfoy. Your home is lovely. It will undoubtedly make a lovely backdrop for Draco’s portrait.”

It was a beautiful house, or at least, the room she currently occupied was lovely with its tall ceilings and large windows and delicate, antique furniture.

“Thank you. Draco will be on his way shortly. Have you met my son?”

“We have never been introduced, but I know of him, of course.”

“Well, you certainly resemble your sister,” came a new voice from the doorway.

Draco had appeared and was lounging against the doorframe. Like his father, he looked her over, but his gaze was merely curious. He was more attractive in person. From a distance, Draco was all angles, with a pointed chin and nose to match his sharp words. Up close, his eyes were soft and grey, and his hair looked silky and touchable. He was tall like his father, at least six feet tall, and Astoria felt shorter than normal. His all-black attire was simple but clearly expensive, making his silver-blond hair look even lighter in contrast.

“Daphne and I both take after our mother in looks,” Astoria explained.

“Sophie is a lovely woman,” Astoria said. “I have always found her to be very kind and gracious. Draco, this is Astoria Greengrass. She is a very talented young lady. Astoria, this my only child, Draco.”

That was an odd way of putting it. Like Astoria had to be careful with him because there were no spares about.

“Pleased to meet you,” Astoria said.

“Likewise,” Draco said.

After an awkward pause, Astoria spoke up, “Could you tell me a bit more about what you want in the portrait? Will this be an indoor or outdoor scene? Will it be formal or more candid?”

She had addressed this to the room at large, not knowing who had set the expectations. She found Draco looked to his mother for an answer.

“Astoria dear, you will have some license with that. Draco can give you a tour of the house, and you can see the Malfoy family portraits throughout the centuries. They are all of them very formal. However, we are not certain that is what we want in Draco’s portrait. We are interested to know what your vision is.”

Astoria wasn’t too crazy about the sound of that. The elder Malfoys were easy. If she were to paint Lucius, he would be in a high-backed chair, a dissatisfied prince in his throne. Narcissa would be a lady in a garden. Draco eluded her, perhaps because he seemed quite different than she had expected. Less arrogant, more uncertain. But he seemed to be a person in transition, caught in limbo, which is exactly the sort of thing the Malfoys wouldn’t want her to capture on canvas.

“Well, I can certainly generate some ideas. The best portraits are generally painted somewhere or with something that is meaningful to the subject. Like under a favorite tree.” She paused a moment, realizing the Malfoys were not the type of people to have a favorite tree or understand why anyone would ever be fond of plant life. She searched for an example they might be better able to relate to. “Or in a favorite chair or room. When a person is at ease, you can see it in the portrait.”

“Draco, why don’t you show Astoria the house and the grounds and perhaps you’ll have some ideas by the time you return.”

“Yes, Mother.”

Astoria wasn’t at all sure that she wanted to be alone with him, and she nervously followed Draco out of the room, undoubtedly the Malfoy’s third semi-formal parlor or the summer morning room or some such nonsense. She searched for something to say, but “Having a nice summer?” didn’t seem appropriate given that Draco had spent most of the previous month in trials at the Ministry.

“Daphne wasn’t at school this past year. Were you?” he asked when they were alone in the long corridor.

“No, we were both at Beauxbatons,” she said. “My grandfather--my mum’s family is French--was ill. It was pretty sudden, and he needed a lot of help, especially as his finances weren’t in order. My parents spent the year at the family vineyard, first helping my grandfather and then my aunt after he passed away.”

The explanation was becoming routine. Everyone she had seen in the last week had been extremely curious as to where the Greengrasses had been for the last year.

“I’m sorry about your grandfather,” he said. “Was it difficult going to school in another country? My parents considered sending me to a different school when I was eleven, but it would have been odd to have lessons in another language.”

“Yes and no. I was raised bilingual. In the Paris shops, people don’t realize I’m English and sometimes they complain to me about the stupid stuff English tourists do. Academics are a bit different though. Charms and Transfiguration are easy enough, so much of it is in Latin. But I lacked a lot of language for gardening tools and protective clothing in Herbology in the beginning. History of Magic was the worst. I had to use so many translation spells on my notes. Let’s just say my family doesn’t speak enough of wars, weaponry, and treaties over the dinner table.”

He laughed. “I’m sorry your meal time conversations are so dull. Want to start with the grounds?”

Malfoy Manor was like something out of a storybook. The grounds were green and sprawling. There were woods, a lake, and a lakehouse. One of the greenhouses was dedicated solely to exotic flowers. A tall maze was set behind the house. Astoria had never seen an English maze aside from the one that grown at Hogwarts during the Tri-Wizard Tournament her second year, and she found herself longing to wander its cool shadowy tunnels. Peacocks strutted about, which seemed appropriate as peacocks were nothing if not the Malfoys of the bird world. It was so peaceful that one would think the war had never happened and that the dark side had certainly never had headquarters here.

The house was a thing of beauty. Marble floors, giant colorful rugs, crystal chandeliers, elaborate carved fireplaces in every room, paintings bigger than her bedroom walls. The Malfoys had the best private library she had ever seen, complete with ladders to help you reach books on the taller shelves. She hoped the Malfoys were readers. If not, such a beautiful room was wasted on them. If she had not been with Draco, Astoria would have given into the urge to go into the center of one of the larger rooms of the Manor and just twirl.

“How many ghosts do you have?” she asked.

“Five,” he said. “No, six. The sixth one is pretty shy. I’ve only seen her twice, and I think I surprised her both times.”

“And they all stay in the north wing?”

“I suppose they do. Wait, how did you know that?”

“You know, just the feeling you have when there are ghosts about.” He was staring at her, and she felt her cheeks redden. “You don’t feel ghosts?”

She had always assumed all magical people could sense when there were ghosts in a building. She knew Daphne could. The sisters had always referred to the feeling as “ghostbumps” rather than “goosebumps.”

“Yes, when they are a few feet away. The north wing is the original house, so most of the ghosts would have lived there. The east wing is a bit later; it’s Elizabethan. Then the west wing is pretty modern. I think it was only built in the 1790s.”

Clearly, the Malfoy definition of “modern” was more liberal than most.

What surprised Astoria most about Malfoy Manor was the lack of dark objects. When Daphne would visit one of her Slytherin friends over the summers, she would report back on her creepiest findings when she returned home. Astoria knew there were skulls in Millicent Bulstrode’s home. Pansy Parkinson’s had bloody and violent artwork on every wall. Blaise Zabini’s posh townhouse had a gruesome potions lab, where Daph insisted she had seen human body parts in jars. Tracey Davis had what Daphne called a “dementor’s parlor” where she felt uneasy the moment she stepped over the threshold. Theodore Nott had a full torture chamber in his cellar, which he cheerfully described as being “in regular use all the way through the eighteenth century.”

The darkest thing in Draco’s home was the stares of some of his ancestors from their portraits, a few of whom had inquired about her blood status. She supposed there were some dark objects hidden, but given that there were two Aurors in residence, one of which they had passed in a corridor, they could hardly keep them in the parlor. Even before He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s second rise, the Malfoys had done a lot of entertaining and they would have had to be careful when permitting Ministry officials into their home.

Conversation with Draco was less awkward than she had anticipated. She realized she had expected him to be dismissive of her. Draco Malfoy was one of those people who seemed to smell people’s weaknesses, both social and physical. She had heard him mock Harry Potter for his injuries and multiple hospital stays, and the hospital wing was pretty much Astoria’s second home at Hogwarts. Well, third. The library was her second Hogwarts home. But he didn’t seem to be seeking out reasons to be disdainful of her. If anything he seemed lonely, and she noted that he always used the past tense when he spoke of his friends. He made occasional snide remarks, but none of them were directed at her, and she suspected that was just his sense of humor.

They spoke of the teachers at Hogwarts. They talked of Paris when Draco said that he had visited the city with his parents at the ages of 10 and 13, and she told him a little of France’s wine country. When Astoria mentioned his lake house reminded her of a favorite scene in a novel, she found out Draco was a reader after all, and they even had some favorite books in common.

Even as Astoria was completely charmed by Malfoy Manor, she couldn’t help but worry about the portrait. There were a few times when she thought she had it. When Draco had been looking over the lake with a look of distinct pride on his face. A moment at the bottom of the curved stairway, when he had looked up as if he were seeing his home for the first time. When he had laughed at something in a gazebo. But none of these were just right. They were good moments, but they didn’t define Draco Malfoy, but she had no better idea of who Draco was than when she’d first arrived that morning.

They had completed their tour, finished their conversation about Graeme Weatherby, the adventurer and novelist who wrote the most celebrated works of modern wizarding literature, and were returning to the elder Malfoys in a semi-comfortable silence. Astoria was painfully aware that she didn’t have a single suggestion to offer Narcissa Malfoy. She didn’t even know what paint colors she wanted to use, which was typically the first thing she understood about a painting.

“What is your favorite place in the house?” she asked him.

A crease appeared in his forehead. “I don’t know. It’s a big house. I have a lot of favorite places. The potions lab; I spend hours in there. I spend most of my summers by the lake, and I ice skate there in winter. There is the terrace where I tried my first firewhisky, the spot on the lawn where my father taught me how to set off fireworks. I wouldn’t really know how to narrow it down.”

“All right, let’s pretend you’ve had a terrible day,” she said and noted that his lips twitched slightly at that. “So bad that you don’t even want to talk to anyone. Where do you go?”

“Follow me.”

Draco led her back to the library that had charmed her more than any other place in the manor. He went straight to the window seat that she had previously noted made a perfect reading nook. It had the perfect lakeside view of the grounds. He sat back in the window seat, one leg propped up on the seat with the knee bent, and the other leg dangling. His face was in profile as he looked over the grounds, and his expression was undeniably wistful.

It was then Astoria knew she had it: the essence of Draco Malfoy, stuck between a troubled past and uncertain future, a privileged young man who could be anything he wanted if only he could work out what that was.

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