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.
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 1: Chapter 1: The Midsummer BallChapter 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.
“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
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 ScribblesChapter 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.
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.
__ __ __ __ __ __
__ __ __ __
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.
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
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.
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