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 starstarstarstarhalf-star
Categories: Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2018.01.21
Updated: 2018.09.13


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 9: Chapter 9: The Report
Chapter 10: Chapter 10: Difficult Girls, Part 1
Chapter 11: Chapter 11: Difficult Girls, Part 2
Chapter 12: Chapter 12: Investigating In Vane

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.


“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.


__ __ __ __ __ __
__ __ __ __

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.

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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?”


“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.”


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.


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?”


“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?”


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.

Back to index

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.

Back to index

Chapter 9: Chapter 9: The Report

Author's Notes: This is the beginning of Part II of this story. While Part I alternated between a May timeline and a June timeline, this will alternate between a June-July timeline, which will follow the investigation (mostly from Harry’s POV and occasionally Astoria’s) and a 1997-1998 school year timeline, which will cover Death Eater Hogwarts from Ginny’s and Draco’s POVs.

While writing this chapter, I Googled English pub closing times. Is it true that English pubs typically close at eleven unless they have a special license? What? Why so early? What do people do after eleven on weekends? I’m usually home by eleven on a Saturday, but I’m also nearly forty and starting to fall apart. When I Googled it, I was mostly trying to figure how late pub kitchens would serve food, I wasn’t expecting pubs to close early.

So my apologies to the pub staff of Ottery St. Catchpole. I needed to have George Confund you to have this chapter work.

Part 2
Chapter 9: The Report

June 20, 1998, 9:15 p.m.
Ministry of Magic

When it became apparent that Romilda Vane was dead, Harry Potter’s wild first thought was of a Muggle board game his cousin Dudley had once owned. Harry never had the opportunity to play Cluedo, but he had seen the three Dursleys play often enough to have an understanding of how the game worked. But instead of suspecting Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick, it could be Narcissa Malfoy in the ladies room with the poisoned hairbrush, or Cornelius Turpin at the bar with the untraceable potion, or Zacharias Smith in the doorway with a stolen wand.

He dismissed the thought as quickly as he had entertained it. As Harry was now an Auror trainee, this was officially his problem, and he knew he shouldn’t dwell on fictional scenarios when the murderer could very well still be in the ballroom. In fact, the killer would be almost certainly still around, as he or she would need to know if their plan worked, plus a hasty exit would only draw unnecessary attention.

He looked around the ballroom, even as he was aware of Ginny breathing in tiny gasps beside him. All of his early training was focused on the power of observation, of learning to know what to look for, but even so, Harry did not feel prepared for this. He found himself wishing that he was more like John Dawlish, whom everyone said had a photographic memory. Of course, Dawlish also had quite the CV of epic fuck ups over the last few years, and Harry did not want to follow in his footsteps in that regard, but a photographic memory would be nice. As Harry scanned the ballroom, he wished that he had given into his urge to a buy a Pensieve–a very expensive investment–at Diagon Alley the other day.

Most people wore expressions of shock and curiosity. There weren’t too many breaks in this pattern to arouse Harry’s curiosity. Previously dancing couples were frozen in place. He saw Draco’s pretty date standing alone and looking as though she might pass out. He noted a server who had started downing the champagne that she was meant to be serving. He focused on an old man who wore a look of extreme concentration. He noticed a beautiful young woman who seemed familiar, but whom he was unable to place.

His training also had some cautions regarding observation. While he was to note unusual behavior, he was also to be aware that some people respond to crime and other tragedies in unconventional manners, which could lead to innocent people being perceived as guilty or to victims not being believed when they did not seem traumatized enough.

He was also to be aware of the unreliability of memory itself. During a workshop on Harry’s and Ron’s first week, one of the few led by Gawain Robards himself, the Head Auror had handed each trainee an account of a crime, which they were ordered to study, before returning them and then coming together to compare stories to the best of their memory. Each trainee at some point confused the details of the accounts they had personally read with the details their colleagues had reported, proving that people tend to create a shared story in a group, even when it means dismissing that which they know to be true.

Adding additional uncertainty to uncertainty, Robards had warned them that people tend to remember the details which confirm their own experiences and forget the ones they cannot explain. He had asked if any of them had witnessed a Muggle either forget or rationalize an experience with magic. Harry and a couple others had raised a hand. Robards went to say that witches and wizards were as guilty of that as Muggles.

Harry was aware of all this as he watched Gawain Robards kneel by Romilda’s body, along with his wife, who Harry knew to be a healer at St. Mungo’s. Dawlish was also heading towards the body, as was Harry’s fellow trainee, Terry Boot. As Harry led Ginny back towards Hermione, he tried to comfort her and failed miserably. Feeling useless, Harry left with Ron and joined the investigation.

“Potter.” Gawain noticed him. “I’ll need you to record this.”

Harry summoned parchment, ink, and quill. As a very new trainee, he wouldn’t be expected to examine the body; he lacked the knowledge. But he was to observe and record.

As Gawain waved a wand over Romilda’s still body, he began speaking, “Female, aged sixteen, with no visible signs of trauma. Time of death is 9:13, but the body temperature is dropping rapidly. Too rapidly for natural causes to be cause of death. No odors are detected, but there is a substance coating her tongue. Sparkling wine mixed with something else. We’ll need to scrape her tongue and send a sample to the DMLE potions analysis team. There does not appear to be any food in the victim’s digestive system.”

Harry’s transcription charm ensured that nothing would be missed. With half his attention on the parchment and half elsewhere, Harry noted that Dawlish was doing privacy and silencing charms around the Auror team, which now included seven other qualified Aurors and the rest of the trainees including Ron. Three other Aurors were focusing on Mr. and Mrs. Vane, keeping them away from their daughter’s body, urging the couple into chairs that looked more decorative than practical. He had not heard a word from either parent and suspected they were in shock.

Ministry officials outside of the Auror office seemed to be directing people out of the ballroom, to give the Aurors and the Vanes privacy, but Harry suspected that no one would be allowed out of the Ministry itself. Ginny and Hermione, along with Molly and Arthur Weasley, were among those being directed into the Atrium.

“No traces of known curses are being detected nor do any dark objects seem to be on or near the victim.”

The last time Harry had been this close to Romilda Vane was well over a year ago when she had pressed love potion laced chocolates into his hand in the Gryffindor common room. He looked closely at the girl for the first time that evening. Someone had closed her eyes, and she had the expression of someone having an unpleasant dream.

She looked different than he remembered. At fourteen, she had been tall and gangly with the promise of future beauty. Her most notable attributes had been large, dark eyes, the sharp angles of her body, and her commanding personality. At sixteen, she had a disturbing beauty. She was still very slender, but her body had softened into a more willowy and womanly figure. She had also grown into her facial features. She had met and surpassed the beauty that had been promised in her younger self.

If this beauty had given him love potion chocolates, would he have eaten them? Most boys would. Was he any different?

“Oh!” Gawain’s wand paused over Romilda’s abdomen. He repeated the movement, as if wanting to confirm something. “That is interesting.”


11:25 p.m.
The Drunken Otter, Ottery St. Catchpole

A couple hours later, Harry and Ron were at Ottery St. Catchpole’s best pub, along with Ginny, Hermione, and George. Technically, the pub should have been closed given the late hour, but thanks to George’s Confundus Charm, they were not only open but still serving food. The group had settled into their favorite corner, and made their usual orders. Everyone had a pint of either ale or cider, Harry and Ginny split an order of fish and chips, George and Ron each had an order of shepherd’s pie, and Hermione ordered a salad and stole chips off of Harry’s and Ginny’s plate.

The more senior Aurors were still at the Ministry and would likely remain there until the early morning hours. They were running tests that were well beyond the trainee’s skill level, and although the trainees had wished to observe, Samuel Williamson had informed them they would only be in the way, slowing things down. When the trainees had protested, Williamson had flexed his overdeveloped muscles, which were visible even through his dress robes, but it wasn’t until Gawain Robards had come over and confirmed that they were no longer needed for the evening that they had reluctantly left.

While Harry wished he could be watching the fully qualified Aurors work, he couldn’t regret an opportunity to go to his favorite Muggle pub with his friends. He had never set foot in the Drunken Otter before this summer. The first few summers he had stayed with the Weasleys, he had been too young to go, and when he and Ron had reached an age where it was reasonable to go to a pub, Voldemort had returned and normal teenage outings were not an option. After spending his first year of adulthood in hiding, Harry loved the normalcy of being out with his favorite people for a pint, and he always felt a rush of affection seeing them around the table, even before he took the first sip of his drink.

“Any leads?” Hermione asked after Harry did a Muffliato charm.

None of them had changed since leaving the Ministry, but Hermione had transfigured their clothing to allow them to blend into a Muggle establishment. Harry, Ron, and George’s dress robes had been modified into smart Muggle suits, while Hermione and Ginny’s dress robes had been shortened until they became what Hermione called “cocktail dresses.”

“Not that the trainees have been told about,” Harry said. “An expert potions maker? Or purchaser? Romilda was poisoned.”

He wasn’t supposed to tell them that, of course, but he considered anyone with the surname Weasley and Granger to be beyond confidentiality agreements. And the Muffliato charm ensured that no other person, magical or Muggle, would be able to overhear them.

“That’s definite?” Ginny asked. She grabbed a chip from the platter she was sharing with Harry.

“It’s probable. No signs of curses or dark objects near her body. A substance was mixed with the sparkling wine she had been drinking.” As he spoke, Harry noted a curious look forming on Ginny’s face, and it reminded him of the time she had attempted to work up the courage to tell him and Ron about Riddle’s diary. “You know something.”

“I don’t know anything, but I overheard something curious. It’s probably nothing,” she said.

“Yet the flip side of ‘probably nothing’ is ‘possibly something,’” Harry said.

She sighed and began recounting a conversation she’d heard between two blond girls, one of whom had been Draco’s date.

“You are sure she said she drew Romilda’s fate?” Hermione asked.

Ginny shrugged. “It’s what it sounded like to me. I think maybe it had something to do with divination. Maybe drawing from a deck of tarot cards. Could that be it?”

“Possibly,” Hermione said, “but tarot cards aren’t overly specific. Even Trelawney predictions had some vagueness to them.”

“Her predictions all involved my upcoming funeral.” Harry grinned. “Nothing vague about that.”

Ginny elbowed him. “You aren’t allowed to talk about your funeral. None of us has gotten over nearly losing you.”

George grinned at Harry, as if to suggest that he had gotten over it.

“So, Draco’s date knew that Romilda was going to die,” Ron said, his expression hard, which Harry knew had more to do with Draco than his date. Ron hadn’t quite forgiven Harry for testifying in the Malfoy’s defense, given that Hermione had been tortured under the Malfoys’ hospitality.

“I don’t know what she knew, but she had nothing to do with it. She was as shocked as anyone, and she wanted to help, but her sister stopped her, seeming to think it would place suspicion on her, knowing too much,” Ginny said. She took a gulp of her cider and then continued, “I consider myself to be a pretty good judge of character, and I think this girl is innocent.”

“Does anyone know Draco’s date?” Harry asked.

Ron and George shook their heads.

“No,” Hermione said. “She looks familiar, but given that she’s most likely a Hogwarts student, that doesn’t narrow it down. A Slytherin a year or two behind us, I suppose? You said she was called Tori?”

“Yes, and she called her sister Daph.”

“Of course!” Hermione slapped a hand down on the wood table. Harry hoped it wasn’t one of those times when Hermione indulged in half a dozen utterances of I should have seen it! before enlightening the rest of them to the substance of her epiphany. Luckily, she did not leave them in suspense. “Daphne Greengrass! She’s the older sister. No wonder that girl looked familiar. She looks like her sister!”

“Who?” Harry and Ron demanded at the same time.

“Honestly! We had Potions with her for six years.” Hermione waved a hand around as she spoke. “She’s a Slytherin. Blonde, friends with Pansy Parkinson.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Her. The pretty Slytherin.”

He had never spoken to the girl, but she didn’t have the mean expression that most of the Slytherins had perfected before they even reached Hogwarts. He recalled she had occasionally spoken up in class to answer a question from Snape, but was otherwise quiet.

“The pretty Slytherin is all you needed to say,” Ron said. “It narrows things down considerably.”

“So, we’re looking for a Tori Greengrass then,” Harry said. He supposed she would be reasonably easy to find in Ministry records.

“She didn’t do it, Harry,” Ginny said quietly.

“I just need to talk to her, Gin. If she knew that Romilda had been poisoned, it makes her a very interesting person. There was something in her sparkling wine that had nothing to do with grapes. And the sparkling wine was the only thing in her stomach, which indicates the poisoning had occurred at the Ministry, not in a meal she’d had at home earlier.”

Hermione frowned. “There was no food at all in her stomach? She was only sixteen, and she was drinking alcohol.”

“That bothered me too,” Harry said. “She landed in a plate of cheese, but she hadn’t seemed to have eaten any of it. When we asked her mother if Romilda had any dinner, she looked at us as if feeding growing teenage girls was a questionable practice. She told us her ‘Romi’s’ robes were very form fitting and all of the wizarding photographers were present, and, of course, she hadn’t had any food. ‘Photographs are forever.’ What kind of parent denies their child dinner because of her clothes?”

Harry had been denied dinner several times in his life, and it was always because his aunt and uncle were punishing him. Food, sunlight, and occasionally even water were all tools that the Dursleys used to control Harry.

“It’s shitty parenting,” Ginny said, “but I don’t think it’s ominous if you take Mrs. Vane’s day job into consideration. I don’t think she was trying to punish Romilda or ensure that her belly was empty so that a poison would work quickly. It’s probably just what she said, she wanted Romilda to look her best in photos.”

“But Romilda was very thin,” Harry protested. “How much could a bit of dinner affect her appearance? If she had passed out because of drinking on an empty stomach, that would have made more of an impression than her figure ever could.”

“What is Mrs. Vane’s job, anyway?” Ron asked.

“She’s the beauty director of Witch Weekly,” Ginny replied. “But before that, she was a fashion model. She made the cover of nearly every fashion magazine in the late seventies and early eighties. She literally set the beauty standards for our mums. She was famous for her ultra-thin figure, and I’ve heard use of unsafe dieting potions skyrocketed among witches while she was modeling. Then one day she eloped with one of the most powerful wizards in Gringotts, and Romilda came along within the year.”

“Didn’t Rita write an exposé on the modeling industry and Witch Weekly in particular a couple years ago?” Hermione asked.

“Yes! Sharon Vane wasn’t permitting any models shorter than 5’11” or heavier than 125 pounds to appear in it. The models were getting weighed before every shoot and if they were even an ounce over, they were out of a job.”

Harry knew very little about Witch Weekly other than it was particularly fond of Gilderoy Lockhart’s smile. He had a feeling he would be learning more about women’s magazines in coming days.

“That sounds very unreasonable. I have no idea what girls weigh, but I weighed that in fourth year, and I was only five four,” Harry said.

“Five foot four in stilts maybe.” George laughed. “You were a full head shorter than any of the other Tri-Wiz champions.”

“You’ll always be our favorite runt, Harry.” Ron grinned.

“I’m not a runt anymore,” Harry complained. “I’m taller than George.”

By half an inch. But he was still taller.

“That’s just it,” Hermione said. “That rule is insane. I weigh 118 and I’m nearly half a foot too short to be a model. I’m not saying that body type never occurs in nature, but it’s rare. By those standards, even Fleur is short and chubby. Rita’s article talked about the extremes models went to in order to make the coveted Witch Weekly cover. It wasn’t until a model died from overdosing on a dieting potion that people started paying attention.”

“In trying to understand Romilda, I think one needs to start with her mother and her magazine,” Ginny said. “Witch Weekly is full of fashion tips, diet advice, and quizzes on how to tell if a man is into you. It’s no wonder Romilda has always been boy crazy and fashion obsessed. In her world, that’s the measure of a woman’s worth.”

“So, it was Mrs. Vane’s influence that nearly got me killed on my seventeenth birthday,” Ron said.

“Sort of, but it was Harry she wanted as Witch Weekly approved arm candy, not you.” Ginny grinned at her brother, but then she frowned suddenly. “Last February, we were all in the Room of Requirement, working on a project. Our newspaper, maybe. I don’t remember. Lavender’s mum had sent her some chocolates so we were eating them as we worked. Lavender offered some to Romilda, and she told us her mum didn’t allow her to eat sweets anymore because her hips were about to grow. Romilda was never terribly big on following rules, but it didn’t even occur to her to break her mum’s diet rules. As for the rest of us, our only rule last year was to never say no to sweets or alcohol. Self medication was big.”

They went quiet for a moment, and Harry suspected they were all thinking of the other girl in that story. Over one month after the battle, Lavender Brown was still in St. Mungo’s in critical condition. Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron had visited her once, and she hadn’t seemed to know they were there, although her mother–a middle-aged version of Lavender herself–had been touched that they had brought flowers.

Finally, Hermione broke the silence. “How did you get either sweets or alcohol in the castle?”

Ginny shrugged. “It wasn’t that hard, honestly. It was a bit like Umbridge’s year with Filch checking the post. Care packages made it through okay, but non-food items had to undergo additional inspection by the Carrows.”

George nodded. “Fred and I quickly realized that the only way to send shipments to Hogwarts last year was hidden in a cake from grandma.”

He had started bringing up Fred in casual conversation lately, Harry had noticed. A crease would appear in his forehead when he would do so, but his voice remained steady now.

“Frederika and Georgiana were everyone’s favorite grandparents last year,” Ginny agreed.

George laughed suddenly. “The best part was Mum baked the cakes. She had no idea, of course. Fred kept raving about her cakes, so she’d send over two a week. We’d magically duplicate them and off to Hogwarts they would go.”

Ginny smiled sadly. “Fred could talk anyone into anything.”

“Mum loved it. You know how she just wants to feed everyone whenever things get difficult. She baked all of her anxiety over you lot into those cakes. Mind you, I have no intention of telling her what we used them for until I am at least forty.”

“The cakes were almost as popular as the products hidden inside. If Mum ever wished to start up a bakery, she’d be surprised to find she already has a following,” Ginny said.

Harry shook off his amusement at the twins’ antics. “Let’s get back to Romilda. Is it safe to say her mum is controlling and obsessed with appearances?”

“Oh come on, Harry,” Ron said. “You can’t possibly suspect her mum. Did you see her grief? She looked like my mum did after, well . . .” He stopped, shooting a guilty look at George.

“After Fred,” George finished, his mouth set in a grim line.

Harry leaned across the table. “Emotion can be faked. She was a model. She understands the importance of appearances.”

“Harry, yes, Mrs. Vane is controlling and obsessed with appearances,” Ginny said. “That hardly makes her a murderer. It just makes her a mum. Do you remember how controlling my mum was when the twins wanted to open their shop? Or when she found out the three of you weren’t going back to Hogwarts?”

“But that’s just because she wanted us all to be successful, which to her means finishing school and working for the Ministry. Nothing sinister in that.”

“Nothing sinister in the Vane family either,” Ginny said. “Well, the conditions are ideal for the development of eating disorders, maybe, but not murder. To a former model, beauty would be important to her daughter’s success.”

An idea was forming in Harry’s mind. “What if she was trying to hide something about Romilda? Something she felt would permanently ruin her family’s image?”

“You think Romilda’s mum killed her because she was knocked up?” Ron demanded.

“Because she was what?!” Ginny shrieked.

“When Gawain examined the body, he found that she was at least two months pregnant,” Harry said.

“Ginny, you need to tell them what you told me,” Hermione said quietly.

Harry looked at his girlfriend. She stuck her chin out defiantly. It was an expression he was becoming accustomed to, as she wore it every time he pressed her too far on the topic of Hogwarts.

“I was going to tell you,” she said.

“Tell me what?”

“Romilda was assaulted last year. She was restrained, raped by several people, and there were signs that they may have used Cruciatus against her, as well.” She rattled this off quietly, but she kept her eyes on the table. “She was in the hospital for a full month. She didn’t talk for the first two weeks. When someone tried to ask her about the assault, she would choke. Literally. Madam Pomfrey suspected that the Fidelius Charm might have been used by the boys, so no one could speak of it.”

Harry felt ill, and he wanted to block out the images in his head. He had never liked Romilda for his own selfish reasons, but no one deserved what happened to her at Hogwarts or tonight at the Ministry. He could tell by the expressions on Ron, Hermione, and George’s faces that they too felt ill.

“Madam Pomfrey told you this?” Harry couldn’t picture that, but everything about Hogwarts last year was impossible.

“Of course not! The staff didn’t tell us anything last year. Every now and then, McGonagall would give us cryptic warnings, and we quickly learned to obey them without question. No, I had Luna break into the hospital wing and make a copy of Madam Pomfrey’s records. She’s good at breaking through secrecy charms.”

Luna would be a good choice for an office break in. If she got caught, she would be able to convince Madam Pomfrey that she had only been leaving her a medicinal Gurdyroot. Then Harry remembered something.

“But Luna was only at Hogwarts until Christmas,” Harry said. “Romilda would have conceived in April.”

“She was assaulted in October. Demelza and I found her when we were going down to breakfast on Halloween.”

You found her?” Harry asked.

“Yes. I’d rather not describe it. Let’s just say, it’s not how I want to remember her,” Ginny said, her voice small.

“So, the pregnancy is not from the rape,” Ron said.

“I don’t see how it could be,” Ginny said. “She certainly never looked pregnant at any point last year.”

“So no suspects, then?” Harry asked.

“Oh, there were plenty of suspects, just no proof. One simply did not go about accusing the Carrows’ pets of rape.” Ginny paused, her eyes widening. “Blaise Zabini! I completely forgot about him.”

“Zabini was one of them?” Ron asked.

“No, no! But he knows who is, I’m positive of it. He gave me cryptic warnings several times last year. ‘Avoid the Muggle studies corridor, you might want to stay in your common room this evening.’ That sort of thing.”

“Why was he warning you? Did you think they were after you?” George asked.

“I know they were after me; they just didn’t get me. It wasn’t just Romilda. First, it was Aimee Cartwright. She’s in Ravenclaw, my year. Then it was Romilda. And nothing until Mandy Brocklehurst, another Ravenclaw, just before the Christmas holiday. There was a list, you see. I was on it. I was number five.”

Ginny took a deep breath. Harry knew that she was going to tell them everything then, all of the things she had been keeping bottled up. He just hoped he was ready to hear it.

Back to index

Chapter 10: Chapter 10: Difficult Girls, Part 1

Author's Notes: Please note the date on this chapter. We’ve gone back nearly a year to Romilda’s last year at Hogwarts. Also, I have decided to break this chapter into two. Partly because it’s been over a month since I’ve updated. Partly because it was simply getting too long. Part I will focus on September, while Part II will cover October, and both chapters will be from Ginny’s POV.

Also, a thank you to melindaleo for teaching me, through her own fic, that rubber johnnys are the preferred term for condoms in Britain. At the time I read that, I thought it was random knowledge I would never, ever use, but here I am, using the term in a fanfic. And I hope I never use it again.

Chapter 10: Difficult Girls, Part I
September 1, 1997
The Hogwarts Express

For the first time in her life, Ginny hated the very sight of the Hogwarts Express. She stood on the platform with both of her parents, arms crossed over her chest, eyeing the train warily, displeased about where it was about to take her. She wasn’t alone. It was the quietest she had ever seen Platform 9 ¾. Normally, kids were shaking off clingy parents to join their friends, but today, kids were staying close to their families. There was a power shift as well. Slytherin parents, as well as some other pureblood parents, had booming voices while others spoke in whispers.

Then there were those who were not seeing children off, but merely vultures observing the changes in the wizarding world. Ginny recognized one of the wizards who had crashed Bill and Fleur’s wedding, and she could tell he recognized her too. She remembered how he had said to her, “Well, we wouldn’t want a pretty little thing like you getting hurt,” while looking like he wanted precisely that. He had tried to corner her behind a tent, but Bill, Charlie, and Fred had formed a blockade between them. Seeing him again, she met his eyes coolly, suppressing a shudder.

“We should have said Ginny has Dragon Pox,” Ginny heard her mother say to her father in a low voice. “Severus Snape running a school. Who knows what will happen?”

Her parents had argued all summer about her going back to Hogwarts. Legally, she had to return due to new Ministry decrees. Her mother said if they could pull off convincing people the ghoul was Ron, they could convince people that Ginny was deathly ill as well. Ginny had worried that her mother would get her way. As much as she dreaded returning to Hogwarts, staying at the Burrow was still a worse option.

August had been a nightmare. Once the Death Eaters had abandoned the Burrow, leaving no small amount of property damage behind, the Weasleys had lived as quietly as mice hiding from a prowling cat, unsure of how much surveillance was on them. They had managed to get the Delacours back to France. Bill and Fleur had missed the Portkey to their honeymoon in Portugal due to the chaos. They were about to give up on their honeymoon and simply head to Shell Cottage and spend their first couple of weeks as a married couple there, but Arthur convinced them to resume their original plan. It was best to keep things normal, he urged them, and also they would regret missing out on their honeymoon, especially as there was no guarantee of a return to normalcy. As a wealthy Hogwarts friend of Bill’s had been able to get the newlyweds a new Portkey, they started their honeymoon only two days later than originally planned.

Once the Delacours were gone, Bill and Fleur were on their honeymoon, and the twins returned to their flat, Ginny’s world contracted. She felt like she could no longer breathe in her own home. She was terrified for Harry, slightly ashamed that she wasn’t nearly as worried for her own brother or for Hermione, and she was smothered by her mother, who focused all of her many anxieties on Ginny. During the day, she helped her mother in the house, garden, and kitchen. In the evenings, Order members visited, speaking in a code so cryptic not even Ginny could decipher it.

She regretted not seducing Harry when she had the chance. She’d made an attempt the morning of his birthday, but it was half-hearted given that it was only a matter of time before Ron burst in or her mother found some object that still hadn’t been adorned with lace, ribbons, or flowers. But still, her hands had been tied. It couldn’t have happened before his seventeenth birthday as neither one of them would have been able to cast a contraceptive charm without alerting the Ministry, and on his birthday, the house had been so full with guests that sneaking around with Harry would have been impossible.

Or was that an excuse? She knew from her Muggleborn friend, Holly, that Muggles had non-magical and easily accessible forms of contraception. Last spring, Holly had explained rubber johnnys to a dormitory of horrified witches. “It’s like a penis glove,” she said matter-of-factly, ignoring the shrieks of disgust around her. “Keeps sperm from doing their job. There are used ones all over the bushes in my neighborhood park.”

While Ginny thought Muggle birth control sounded rather messy, Harry would be worth it. Her mother would have never let her into the village alone to make those key purchases, of course, but she had enough blackmail on Fred and George to bury them. Certainly enough for the twins to buy them for her and buy their silence. And Harry was Muggle raised. Surely, he would know about rubber johnnys. Or so she hoped, as she really did not want to explain their use to him. Still, now it was too late.

The boy simply had to return to her. They had too much unfinished business. And in the meantime, she had to keep things together while he did . . . whatever he was doing.

“Mum, Dad, I’ll be fine,” Ginny said. “Dad, if you’ll help me get my trunk on the train, I’d like to join my friends.”

She didn’t actually need help with her trunk, of course, having been able handle it herself since first year. But she knew her parents had felt helpless ever since they had been unable to protect their family at the wedding. She didn’t actually want to find her friends either. More to the point, she did not want to find out which of her friends were not returning. But she wanted her parents to see her brave and determined. They did not need one more thing to worry about.

Arthur lifted Ginny’s trunk unto the train. “What do you have in there, sweetheart? Bricks?”

“Just the usual. Clothes. Makeup. A couple dozen bludgers.” She kissed her father on the cheek. “Thank you, Daddy.”

She turned to say goodbye to her mother. Ginny initiated the hug, but her mother squeezed her so hard, she thought she might pass out.

“Mum! Mind the ribs!”

“Oh Ginny, I’m going to miss you so much.”

“Mum, I’m not going into battle. It’s just school. And Christmas will be here before we know it.”

“I hope so. Write home whenever you get an opportunity.”

“I will. I need to go. The train will be leaving soon.” She gave her parents a second, much quicker hug. “Bye! Love you!”

Ginny boarded the train. She did not dare look back.

All of the students seemed to be scurrying into the compartments without much socializing. She peered into compartments as she moved down the train. Third year Hufflepuff girls. The Ravenclaw Quidditch team. Fifth year Gryffindors with Romilda Vane holding court. In the fourth compartment was . . .


Her friend was reading The Quibbler, but the publication was right side up for once. The cover proclaimed the issue was devoted to “The Rise and Fall of the U.K.’s Ministry of Magic.” Ginny raised her eyebrows. Had the Lovegoods left Crumple Horned Snorkacks behind?

“Wait,” Ginny said. She transfigured the cover to look like Witch Weekly.

Annoyance on Luna looked a bit like a grumpy toddler waking from a nap. Ginny thought it was adorable.

“Hello Ginny. I would have thought you of all people would know the importance of telling the truth in dark times.”

Ginny felt a sting. It had been many years since Luna expressed disapproval of her. In fact, it had only happened the one other time.

“Just keeping you safe so you can keep telling the truth,” she said lightly.

“I should be keeping you safe. It’s what Harry would want.”

“Harry’s not my boyfriend anymore, so he doesn’t get a say,” Ginny said.

“But he loves you. Everyone knows it, which is why you need the rest of us to protect you.”

“Really?” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Everyone knows that? I must be out of the loop because I know no such thing.”

Luna gave her a disgusted look and muttered something under her breath about Ginny being more stubborn than a herd of snorkacks, but Ginny had not been fishing for reassurance. She hoped Harry loved her, she even had some evidence to that effect, but was she certain? No, she was not. She sometimes wondered if her desire to seduce Harry before he left was nothing but a pathetic attempt to make sure he did not forget her.

“I don’t want to talk about Harry,” she said. “Tell me about your summer. Mine was all housework.”

Just then, the compartment door slid open, and Neville Longbottom entered, accompanied by Seamus Finnegan. It was strange seeing Seamus without his best friend, Dean. Of course, Dean would not be there. He was a Muggleborn, and he no longer had the Trace. Ginny felt unease churning in her stomach. She had not given this particular ex-boyfriend a thought, and until that moment, she had completely forgot that his blood status placed him in danger. She hoped Dean was all right. He had a mother and sisters. Would his Muggle family be safe?

“We are so glad to see you two. It’s like the Junior League of Death Eaters decided to hold a meeting in the corridor. Not even the trolley witch is able to get through,” Seamus said before stuffing his trunk into an overhead compartment.

“Malfoy’s doing?” Ginny asked.

Seamus paused. “You know, I don’t think I saw him out there. Grabbe and Coyle, yes.”

“He wasn’t out there,” Neville said. “But I’m sure he’s in on whatever they are planning. Malfoy likes to be in on things.”

Ginny thought of what she’d learned of Malfoy’s involvement in Dumbledore’s death. Harry felt confident that Draco would not have killed the headmaster had it been left solely his responsibility. Did he regret his involvement, or had he come back meaner and stronger than ever? She suspected the latter. A humiliated Draco was a dangerous Draco.

The compartment door opened again, and Ginny braced herself to confront Slytherins. But it was just Parvati Patil and Ron’s ex, Lavender Brown. Ginny had never sat with the older girls on the train, but she knew they were following Seamus, not her.

“Did the Slytherins multiply?” Parvati asked crossly. “I am fairly certain there have never been so many.”

With the reduction in Muggleborn students in the other houses, the ratio of Slytherins to other houses had become skewed. Muggleborns were rarely Sorted into Slytherin, even though they were as ambitious as anyone. Perhaps they were more so, having to find their way in an entirely new world, but they tended to be placed in other houses. Ginny did not know if thinking caps were capable of compassion, but if they were, she suspected that might be the Sorting Hat’s motivation.

As the afternoon went on, Ginny acquired the knowledge she had been dreading, as people commented on who was and was not on the train. There were nine sixth year Gryffindors. Aside from Ginny, five had returned. Demelza Robins, Martin MacGregor, Chris Benson, Gemma Barclay, and Pippa Preston were all on the train. The three Muggleborns–Colin Creevey, Holly Griffith, and Ritchie Coote–were not present. Ginny did not know if she had been hoping to see her Muggleborn classmates, so she would know they were fine, or if she was grateful they were not there so they would not be in Snape’s clutches.

As alarming as the shrinking of her own class was, Ginny was aware that the Gryffindor seventh years had reduced to four people: Neville, Seamus, Parvati, and Lavender. The seventh years were not populous in any of the houses. Slytherin, of course, had the most, but even they were down one student she heard.

While Ginny enjoyed catching up with her classmates, she couldn’t help but miss those who weren’t there. She missed Colin rushing into her compartment to tell her something about his summer, his voice getting higher each time he got excited. She missed sitting next to Holly and leafing through the Muggle fashion magazines she always brought on the train. Most of all, she missed Harry and her traditional train game of seeing how many times she could “accidentally” brush against him.

She reminded herself that most of her Gryffindor friends had returned, and she was always grateful to have Luna around. Childhood friends, Ginny and Luna had drifted apart during their first year of Hogwarts–Ginny distancing herself from everyone because of her possession by Tom Riddle and Luna dealing with her first experiences with peer bullying–only to renew their once strong friendship in fourth year.

Most of Ginny’s life had been spent surrounded by males. Growing up, the Burrow had smelled like sweaty socks and fireworks. The exception was the year that Ron first went off to Hogwarts. For the first and only time, Weasley females outnumbered Weasley males in the home, which left Arthur looking bewildered as he kissed his wife and daughter goodbye every morning. Ginny had been dreading that year ever since the twins went off to Hogwarts, but it ended up being one of the best years of her life. Because it was the year of Luna.

Throughout childhood, Ginny had played with Luna Lovegood on and off. The Lovegoods had moved to a home just outside Ottery St. Catchpole when the girls had been five, and they quickly became friends as the only underage witches in the area. They played at Luna’s, as the Burrow’s pranks and loud bangs were overwhelming to the blond girl, who was accustomed to spending time around adults. Ginny had been in awe of Pandora Lovegood, a blond beauty in flowing dresses.

When Ginny was nine, Pandora died. She had been inventing a new potion, and she had included the wrong herb, mistaking a poisonous plant for its medicinal lookalike. Mrs. Lovegood’s funeral was the first Ginny had ever attended, and seven years later, she could still recall the family’s grief. Mr. Lovegood and Luna disappeared for a full year. Xenophilius shuttered The Quibbler, and father and daughter went off in search of new adventures.

One week after Ron boarded the Hogwarts Express for the first time, the Lovegoods returned. They were different. Quieter. A little stranger. The Quibbler reopened, but it was no longer the quirky, intellectual publication it had once been, but a home for conspiracy theories. Ginny was just happy to have her friend back, and she was thrilled when her mother offered to tutor Luna for the year in order to allow Mr. Lovegood the opportunity to focus on reopening his paper.

Every weekday for nine months, Luna Flooed to the Burrow in the morning. As Xenophilius was not known for his cooking skill, Luna ate breakfast with the Weasleys. After the last plate was washed and dried, they began their school day. There had been pranks, explosions, and giggles when Ginny had lessons with her brothers, and oftentimes lessons were still incomplete at dinner time. When Ginny saw Luna’s silvery strands falling in her face as she intently worked on her maths, she knew that year would be different. From her dreamy friend, Ginny learned the simple pleasure of pure concentration, of losing herself in an essay or a maths problem.

They usually managed to complete their work by lunchtime, so Mrs. Weasley began giving them cooking lessons in the afternoon or letting them have free time to read books of their own choosing. When Ginny thought of that year, she remembered the smells of cinnamon and apples, as there was always something sweet coming out of the oven. She thought of the adventure novels that Luna had found in her mother’s locked trunk, which both girls had sighed over, loving the stories of soul bonds, household curses, brave princesses, and dastardly villains. She remembered their giggles as they played games of pretend in the Burrow’s treehouse during their free afternoons.

It was the first sisterhood Ginny had ever known. Later, she would know a similar warmth when she would stay up late, talking and laughing with the girls in her dormitory or when Hermione spent summers at the Burrow and they kept secrets from the boys. But back then it was new, and it was her first experience with female bonding.

Ginny and Luna wrote a novel together–a novella, really–based on the dramatic stories they both favored. Inspired by Charlies’s new job, they wrote about an intelligent and passionate young woman who roamed the Romanian countryside on her pet dragon, rescuing witches and wizards in distress. They were very proud of it until the twins came home for the summer and found the copy. Fred and George never missed an opportunity to quote from The Adventures of Daniela Dimitriu, Dragon Princess.

When Harry came to stay with them in August, the twins thought Princess Daniela was every bit as funny as they did in June. Luckily, Harry never asked why Fred and George kept saying things like, “My dragon and I will save the day!” and “His kisses are like tickling charms!” He just seemed to accept that the twins were eccentric. When they toasted her on her eleventh birthday with “May your dragons be swift, your rainbows bright, and your enemies stupid”–a classic blessing of Princess Daniela’s land–he still didn’t comment. She now knew Harry had been overwhelmed being in a wizarding home for the first time, and everything had been odd to him so the things that would be odd to a Weasley wouldn’t necessarily be the things he noticed first.

Ginny felt a fresh rush of affection for her blond friend, remembering their Princess Daniela days. At ten, they had been certain they would conquer the world, as little girls who knew nothing of the world were always certain. Since then, the world had done all it could to crush them–nearly succeeding in first year for both of them–but they had both become stronger. Impulsively, she grabbed Luna’s hand, remembering how she used to hold her friend’s hand when they ran across fields as a child. Luna squeezed her hand, and Ginny knew her friend was remembering too.

She found she enjoyed sharing Luna with the other Gryffindors. Neville was used to Luna, but Seamus, Lavender, and Parvati had no experience with the Ravenclaw aside from a handful of D.A. meetings two years before. When Luna went on a long (and rather gross) explanation of the mating habits of Crumple Horned Snorkacks, which no one had asked for, Ginny exchanged a glance with Neville, and they enjoyed the horrified expressions on their housemates’ faces. However, when Luna announced that there were nargles in the compartment, Ginny grew concerned, as she had begun to suspect that Luna’s “nargles” were actually Luna’s acute sense of when they were being spied on.

Later in the afternoon, after the talk had been exhausted and the sweets long since consumed, she looked up to see Vincent Crabbe staring at her from just outside the compartment. She was startled. She had never seen Crabbe by himself and had never thought of him as an individual, merely a thuggish extension of Malfoy rather than a human being with plans, hopes, and thoughts of his own. He had always seemed more like a villain from the silly novels she and Luna had once read, menacing but without motive or personal history.

But here he was in all his personhood, his attention solely on her. Their eyes met. He had blue eyes so cold she could not believe she had never noticed them before. Keeping eye contact, he licked his lips. Then he smiled and walked away.


The Great Hall, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
7:15 p.m.

Ginny had not anticipated the wrongness of having Severus Snape sitting in Dumbledore’s seat and welcoming the students back. Even the headmaster’s dark billowing robes gave the Great Hall a bleakness that contrasted with the clear night sky above. For the first time, she was grateful Harry was not here to see this.

She had not been certain of what she would find at the staff table. She had heard Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Slughorn, Vector, and Sinistra would still be there, but she did not truly believe it until she saw their grimly determined faces. Hagrid was there, but it appeared Snape had not permitted him at the staff table, instead creating a separate table for him to the left of the staff table. She supposed You Know Who had been unwilling to spare too many Death Eaters to fully staff Hogwarts. She knew Professor Burbage was missing and presumed dead. She didn’t see Filch. She wasn’t sure what she expected in his case. As a Squib, the Death Eaters would consider him vermin, yet he had always been friendly with Snape.

There were two new faces, and she was alarmed to recognize one of them. The stout, doughy malicious-eyed wizard who had shot curses at her on the night of Dumbledore’s murder was sitting at the staff table. Next to him was a female version of him. Death Eater twins or siblings? Ginny couldn’t imagine the Death Eater she’d fought last spring teaching a class. Or reading a book. Or anything that required brain power.

“Welcome to Hogwarts,” Snape said in a silky voice, as if what he really meant was, Pour yourself a glass of poison. His voice was soft, compared to Dumbledore’s more enthusiastic speeches. “I am Professor Snape, your newly appointed headmaster. A new headmaster means a new era, and those of you capable of thought will be wondering what that will mean for you. As headmaster, I have three goals for Hogwarts. The first is to strive for excellence. The second is the cultivation of discipline. The third and final goal is to honor our magical heritage.

“I say ‘strive for excellence’ rather than excellence itself, as the pursuit of excellence is a never ending quest. It requires dedication and talent in both teacher and student, and not everyone is capable of meeting the challenge. But even the lowliest of dunderheads will be expected to aspire to more.”

Snape talked on, confirming Ginny’s suspicion that this year would be all about power and blood purity. He eventually introduced the doughy Death Eaters as Professor Amycus Carrow, Professor of Dark Arts and Deputy Headmaster and Professor Alecto Carrow, Professor of Muggle Studies.

The grotesque books she’d had to purchase in Flourish and Blotts, An Illustrated Guide to the Dark Arts and The Brutality of Muggle Civilizations, an Illustrated History, suddenly made more sense. She had wondered why her textbooks resembled grim comic books solely devoted to the topic of torture, but now she suspected the Carrows were barely literate and heavily dependent upon pictures. She’d once read that 75% of British wizards never opened a book after leaving Hogwarts, and she supposed the Carrows were the poster children for that.

A few minutes later, Snape wrapped up what was the longest welcome speech since the year of the Tri-wizard Tournament, and announced the feast would begin. The feast looked as delicious as it ever had–roast chicken, ham, beef, potatoes, and roasted vegetables–but for the first time, Ginny did not feel as though she could eat a bit of everything.

She sat with the girls from her dormitory, Demelza to her right and Gemma and Pippa across the table, and only tiny Pippa appeared to have much of an appetite. Normally, she would have had Holly to her left and Demelza to her right, but they had shifted with the circumstances. She knew already that she would miss Holly greatly.

Of the five girls, Ginny and Holly had been the ones gifted with impersonation, and it had been their role to entertain the others in their dormitory. On dull nights, they had acted out scenarios for the other girls. The plots had been basic: Severus Snape is introduced to shampoo; Dolores Umbridge meets the Muggle Queen and informs her of all the Ministry decrees she is violating; the Weird Sisters go deaf; Gilderoy Lockhart loses his hair. Ginny hoped she would not be expected to be court jester all by herself.

Ginny placed some carrots and roast beef on her plate and forced herself to chew. Normally she talked so much at the start of term feast that she struggled to complete her dinner before the dishes disappeared and pudding appeared, but tonight everyone was so quiet that Ginny realized she could hear people chewing and swallowing. The munching sounds did nothing to encourage her appetite.

She felt as though someone was staring at her and looking up from her plate. Amycus Carrow was looking straight at her. He gave her a wink.


September 22, 1997

Three weeks had passed, and Ginny’s statement to her mother about merely going off to school, not battle, was being tested.

The Carrows were awful. Alecto Carrow seemed to have a comprehensive list of every terrible act ever committed by a Muggle throughout the course of human history. There was even an Adolf Hitler fellow who sounded like a Muggle Voldemort, not that Ginny thought the She Carrow would appreciate the comparison. Sitting in her class, one would think that Muggles had no technological, artistic, or intellectual achievements, only wars, genocide, witchcraft trials, and crime.

But Alecto was still preferable to Amycus, who was an extra special blend of dim witted and pure evil. He would talk about dark spells and torture and then giggle. He had giggled the entire time he had aimed curses at her in the tower last June. His idea of a practical class was making the students practice dark curses on each other. The worst thing about the He Carrow was the way he looked at Ginny and several of the other girls. She had quickly decided she would avoid detention with him at cost.

Like Umbridge before him, Snape would show up in classrooms, sit in the back and observe. Unlike Umbridge, he never interrupted or corrected the teachers. Ginny had no idea what he was looking for. Even when he wasn’t there, their long term professors did not behave any differently than in previous years, as if that was the only normalcy they had to offer their students. Aside from that curious habit, Ginny saw very little of the headmaster. After his very conspicuous speech, he had gone into the background. She did note that he was often missing in the evenings, and she wondered if You Know Who was summoning him.

Filch, in spite of his Squib status, had some of his wishes fulfilled. He was now permitted to paddle students who broke rules, including students who were of age. Ever since the first days, the Carrows had threatened severe punishment, even use of the Cruciatus. They had not used this, and Ginny suspected they had not received authorization to do so. But whose permission did they need? Snape’s? Or You Know Who’s?

It was lunchtime in the castle. Ginny sat with her friends, her Transfiguration book propped in front of her so she could get a bit of studying in before the He Carrow began his weekly propaganda report. Every Monday, Hogwarts received a “communications update” from “the Ministry.” Sometimes, Snape presented it. Most often, he let Amycus Carrow do the honors, reading from a roll of parchment and stumbling over any word longer than two syllables. Today, Snape was nowhere to be found, so it would be the He Carrow.

“Did you hear about Terry Boot?” Pippa asked. The small blond girl was sitting directly across from Ginny.

“No. What happened?” she asked, her attention still on her studying.

“He stood up to the He Carrow in class, refused to practice a curse. Told him that the use of the curse was outside the scope of a proper magical education. Carrow promised to make an example of him.”

“He’s been promising that for weeks now,” Gemma added in. Gemma and Pippa had been best friends since their first day of Hogwarts, but they couldn’t be more different in looks or personality. Gemma was tall, black, slender, and calm, while Pippa was tiny, dimpled, blonde, with an excitable personality. It was Pippa’s job to stir things up in their dormitory, and Gemma settled them all down. “So it could be more hot air, but the Ravenclaws seem to think a line has been crossed.”

Amycus Carrow entered the Great Hall, dragging Terry Boot behind him. It wasn’t that he physically dragged him. The Ravenclaw was at least five inches taller than the Death Eater and in much better physical condition. But he had Terry by the elbow, and the seventh year wasn’t resisting.

“This student,” Carrow announced to the school, gesturing behind him at Terry, “has refused to participate in class, has not shown the discipline we expect in students, and er . . .” Here he glanced at his sister, having evidently forget Snape’s third Hogwarts goal. She mouthed something to him. “And he is dishonoring our magical heritage. And so he must be punished.”

“Wait just a moment.” Professor McGonagall had stood. “The headmaster is not here! Professor Snape is in charge of discipline in the castle.”

Carrow’s lips curled. “Yes, the headmaster isn’t here. That means the authority is mine as deputy headmaster. Surely, you remember that from the days when you used to be deputy headmistress.”

His sister chuckled.

The head of Gryffindor House continued to stand tall. “We have rules of conduct here at Hogwarts.”

“Those rules are being fixed,” the He-Carrow said. He then sighed, a highly exasperated sound. “Eff it!” He shot a stunning spell at the Transfiguration teacher, and she crumpled to the floor, with several teachers coming to her aid. “As I mentioned before that interruption, there will be punished for insu. . inspir. . .” Again, the She-Carrow mouthed something to her brother. “Insupordination.” He frowned, squinted his eyes. “Insubordination.”

He turned towards Terry. “Crucio!”

Ginny thought that Terry screamed, but he wasn’t the only one. Throughout the Great Hall, there were shrieks and screams. She realized belatedly that she was responsible for one of those screams.

“Stop! You can’t do this to him!” A blond girl that Ginny would later know to be Mandy Brocklehurst was standing up at the Ravenclaw table.

“Sit down, you slag!” someone called from the Slytherin table.

“Do you want to join him, girly?” the He Carrow asked.

For a moment, Ginny thought she was going to remain standing, but then Mandy’s lip trembled and she sat down. She had no idea if she was relieved or disappointed in the girl.

“Good choice,” the He Carrow stated. “I have made my point. Now, you all know the cost of insuportination. Now, get to class.”

Silently, they all did.

Back to index

Chapter 11: Chapter 11: Difficult Girls, Part 2

Author's Notes: Life is crazy. My stepchild is flying to another continent BY HERSELF today. As she is sixteen, I am very nervous about this. And I’m actually somewhat surprised this chapter did not take me as long as the previous two to complete. Even though, it did take me longer to edit. The word count on this indicates I made a good decision in splitting “Difficult Girls” into two parts. Chapter 10 had a lot of exposition, as I felt it was needed to introduce readers to Death Eater Hogwarts, but this chapter definitely has much more happening. And yes, we finally get back to Romilda. I know you have all missed her.

Chapter 11: Difficult Girls, Part II

October 3, 1997, 8:10 p.m.
Room of Requirement, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Ginny lounged in the Room of Requirement with Luna and Neville after dinner on an unusually quiet Friday evening. The room was decorated with soft couches and end tables, with a fire in an ornate fireplace. If Ginny ignored the radish garlands and Atlantis travel posters that had no doubt been Luna’s doing, it was perfect. Luna was creating an intricate series of plaits in Ginny’s hair while Ginny and Neville helped themselves to the ginger biscuits that Mrs. Weasley had sent her in the morning post.

It was the most peaceful moment she’d had since before Bill’s wedding. At first, the school year had been tense due to fear of the unknown. It then it became more fearful when the unknown became the known. Terry Boot may have been the first of the Carrows’ victims, but he was far from the last. Even after Snape’s return, the use of the Unforgiveables in student discipline had continued. Ginny who was doing her best to remain unnoticed by the Carrows, or as unnoticed as it is possible for a redhead to be, had only experienced it once. She had asked the She Carrow a question on an assignment and her request for clarification had been interpreted as sarcasm by the older witch. The Death Eater had only used the Cruciatus for a moment, making a point before moving back to her lesson, but Ginny had still felt as if each nerve in her body was on fire.

But at the moment, things were fine, or as good as they could be under the circumstances. No one had experienced unusual punishments that day. The house elves had made Ginny’s favorite roast chicken for dinner, and when most of the students had gone back to their common rooms for the evenings, Ginny and her friends had headed to the Room of Requirement. Ginny liked the feeling of breaking rules when she was actually not breaking any rules at all by being in this secret room. Curfew was more than two hours away, but most students rarely strayed from their common rooms when not in classes, the library, or the Great Hall these days. The Carrows, while sloppy as teachers, were diligent in patrolling the corridors and inventing new rules for students to unknowingly break.

Ginny was sick of her common room. She’d previously loved the Gryffindor Common Room, as it gave her a place to chat with her friends and to celebrate Quidditch wins, but once people found themselves crammed in there due to necessity rather than choice, it had lost its charm. Everyone was sick of each other and fights were frequent. Parvati Patil and Seamus Finnegan had gotten together and broken up a record three times in the past month. Pippa and Martin were in competition with two break ups in the same time frame. Ginny wished they would date people in other houses. Then they would never get sick of their significant others because they would never be able to see them.

“What did you want to talk to us about, Ginny?” Neville said, pushing the plate of biscuits away.

The seventh year had lost quite a bit of weight over the last year, and Ginny had noticed he now physically pushed food away when he was done eating, as if removing temptation. With the loss of weight and shyness, Neville was getting hopeful glances from girls these days, but he hadn’t seemed to notice the effect he had on females. While Ginny hoped her friend would get a girlfriend, she had to admit there were few girls she would consider worthy of him. Neville was a bit like Luna. He had been bullied and excluded, but Ginny had never known him to plan revenge or even hold grudges. To Ginny, who thought of her temper as a family pet that habitually ran away from home, this was the attitude of a saint.

While she knew Neville was resilient, she worried the wrong girl might take advantage of his kind nature. Lately, she had noted that Lavender Brown had been eyeing Neville, which could only be a disaster. Even Ron, who lacked Neville’s consideration of female feelings, had nearly drowned in Lavender’s neediness. The sweet-faced Hannah Abbott, on the other hand, would be a perfect complement to Nev. She would do something to encourage that, she decided.

“Can’t I just enjoy an evening spent with good friends?” Ginny asked.

“Demelza, Pippa, and Gemma are your good friends,” Neville said. Ginny noted that he did not mention Holly, even though she had always been her closest friend at school. “We are the people you get into trouble with.”

“Oh, nonsense. I adore you both,” Ginny said.

“But there is something you want to tell us,” Luna said, fastening the plaits into a crown on Ginny’s head.

She hoped whatever Luna was doing to her hair was not too Guinevere in nature, and as soon as she thought it, a hand mirror appeared on the end table to her right. She picked it up and was surprised to find the twisted hairstyle was flattering.

“Thanks, Luna. That’s really pretty.”

“My mum used to do my hair like that. Sometimes, she would put daisies from our garden in the plaits. It’s too hard to do with my own hair,” Luna said, waving her now-free hands over her blond head. “Does it have to do with Harry?”

“My hair?” She wondered for a moment if they thought Harry was breaking into the school to see her.

“No. The thing you are being so mysterious about,” Neville said. “I too suspected it has something to do with Harry and his equally missing friends. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy spending my evening with you two. Especially when the alternative is watching Seamus and Parvati fight and snog. But I wish you would spit it out.”

She sighed. “There is nothing to spit out. Or, at least, I am not sure I should involve anyone else.”

“Does it have to do Harry?”


“Does it involve you doing something dangerous?”

“Most likely.”

“Then you need to tell us. When doing something stupid and reckless, there is safety in numbers. Luna and I can handle it. It can’t possibly be worse than breaking into the Ministry, can it?”

“I don’t know.”

Theoretically, it shouldn’t be worse. It did not even involve leaving Hogwarts, but if they got caught, she didn’t know what Snape might do to her. Or to them, if Luna and Neville helped. Would they be punished by the Carrows? Or handed over to You-Know-Who? She knew Harry would want her to keep out of You-Know-Who’s notice. It was why he had broken up with her. But she couldn’t avoid every situation that might attract his notice, especially if it might possibly help Harry.

“Tell us,” Neville said.

“I don’t want to put anyone else in danger.”

“We would be putting ourselves in danger,” Luna said.

“It would put you in danger. But it might put others in danger too.”

She had fixated on the Sword of Gryffindor ever since Harry’s birthday. Harry said he had no idea why Dumbledore had wanted to leave it to him, and Ginny knew he was telling the truth. Harry was a good liar. Like her, he could look someone in the face and lie, but while he kept his face and voice composed, his body went rigid. She had observed him enough to know when he was telling the truth and when he was lying, and he was telling the truth about the sword.

A sword, a children’s book, a snitch, and a deluminator. A sword and a snitch. A deluminator and a book. A snitch and a deluminator. A book and a sword. A sword and a deluminator. A book and a snitch. A deluminator. A sword. A book. And a snitch.

She had pondered all of these items individually, as a group, and in various combinations, but she could not work out their purpose. At the time the sword was forged, Beedle the Bard had not yet been born, the deluminator had not been invented (in fact, it might have been an invention of Dumbledore’s), and Quidditch did not yet exist in its current form. The Tales of Beedle the Bard did mention a sword, the sword of Sir Luckless in The Fountain of Fair Fortune, but not snitches or deluminators. It was like a puzzle with a trick answer. Or a very obvious answer that was hiding in plain sight.

The more she thought about it, the more certain she felt that the deluminator, the book, and the snitch would not serve their purpose without the sword. The sword somehow brought it all together, and they did not have it. Ginny knew it was most likely still in the headmaster’s office, but she did not know how to get in there. If she did manage to get the sword, she still had no idea how to get it to Harry.

She’d spent most of her library visits researching the sword rather than studying for her classes. As a result, her grades were slipping but so were everyone else’s so she blended in with the crowd. The sword was forged by Ragnuk the First specifically for Godric Gryffindor in 972. It was made of pure goblin silver, decorated with large rubies and an engraving of Gryffindor’s name. It was mostly a reflection of wizarding honor, as wizards dueled with wands and not swords, but it had been used to slay two dangerous beasts. In 1159, a descendent of Gryffindor used it to save a village from a manticore, and in 1993, Harry had used it to slay the Basilisk of Hogwarts. It had gone missing for most of the 14th century, stolen from Gryffindor’s descendents who were at that time living in Godric’s Hollow, but it was later purchased on the black market in 1398 by a famous alchemist who gave it to Hogwarts where it had been ever since.

She didn’t know if the sword’s significance was due to its ownership by Gryffindor, or because it was made of goblin silver, or because of its history. She suspected it had powers that were still unknown. Perhaps You-Know-Who could only be killed with goblin silver? His appearance could only be the result of Dark experiments he had done on himself, and perhaps they had left him only partially mortal, and she knew goblin silver was an unusually pure substance.

“But is he more in danger if you don’t get help?” Neville pressed, bringing Ginny back to the present.

“He’s at a disadvantage,” Ginny said. “Or so I suspect. I don’t know if he’ll be in more danger than he currently is.”

“I don’t know what is going on with Harry, Hermione, and Ron,” Neville said. “No one does, right? They live and breathe secrets. But I am pretty sure Harry is the key to everything, chosen one or not. And I am positive that I don’t want him at any type of disadvantage.”

“Neville is right. If we lose Harry, we lose our greatest hope” Luna said, but she said it as dreamily as if she had been discussing types of chocolate.

Ginny knew deep down that Harry’s mission had to remain as secret as possible. But, as she didn’t know any details, could she possibly endanger him? She trusted Luna and Neville both. Surely, it wasn’t any more dangerous for them to know about the sword than it was for her.

And it was possible that Dumbledore’s will wasn’t even all that secret. A sizeable portion of the Magical Law department must have known that he had left the sword to Harry, and most likely, any curious and resourceful Ministry official could uncover that information.

“All right.” She sighed. “I don’t know much, but what I do know, I will tell you.”

She explained about Dumbledore’s will, the ownership dispute over the Sword of Gryffindor, and her plan to steal the sword from Snape’s office.

“Supposing we work out how to make this happen,” Neville said. “How will we get it to Harry?”

“That might be more difficult than getting it out of Snape’s office, which, in and of itself, is near impossible,” Ginny admitted. “I think the twins might be our best bet. They don’t know where Harry and the others are any more than I do, but they have a network available that I lack.”

Or at least, she hoped they did. Before she went to Hogwarts, George told her of a secret radio program that he and Fred, along with Lee Jordan and some members of the Order, hoped to start. If they managed it, surely they could share some message that only Harry and the others would understand.

She had a favorite daydream in which she gave the sword to Harry himself over the Christmas holiday, with the help of the twins. While dreaming about this reunion got her through many a Carrow class, she knew the possibility was unlikely and that Harry might even be unwilling to meet her, as he had thoroughly avoided her ever since Ron had caught him kissing her in her bedroom. He had not acknowledged her in any way at Bill’s wedding, even though she did catch him staring at her a few times. Also, she knew he needed the sword now, not two months from now.

Ginny and her friends discussed the matter of getting into the headmaster’s office. There would be a password. Likely either a rare potions ingredient or some term only a Death Eater would know. They all agreed that while a password would have been sufficient for Dumbledore, Snape would never stop there.

They brainstormed some ideas, discarding most of them. Finally, it was settled that Luna, a Ravenclaw through and through, would get the book work and she would research wards and other security spells. She would need to do all of her research in the library, without checking books out, since it was suspected that Madam Pince supplied the headmaster with a list of books checked out by students, flagging anything suspicious. Meanwhile Ginny and Neville would practice Disillusionment Charms and take turns skipping class to stand guard outside the headmaster’s office, waiting to hear someone say the password.

Once they had the information needed, they would break into Snape’s office, again Disillusioned, on the first evening he was away from the castle. They would duplicate the sword, taking and hiding the real sword in the Room until they could pass it along to the twins. It was far from a perfect plan, but it was far better than some of the crazy schemes Ginny had thought up on sleepless nights.

“We have a good plan,” Luna said. “This calls for a toast.” Three small glasses appeared next to her, and Luna reached for a bottle that had been next to her all evening.

Ginny and Neville exchanged a glance, and Ginny could see that Neville too had read the bottle’s label earlier that evening.

“Luna, my beautiful friend, you aren’t really proposing a toast with earring cleaner, are you?” Ginny asked. She didn’t care if it was some harmless herbal concoction from the Lovegood’s garden, essence of chamomile or some such; she wasn’t drinking it. She wasn’t sure why the Ravenclaw had brought it to their gathering, but she figured her radish earrings must have caused a minor infection and that Luna needed to reapply frequently.

Luna stared. “Why would I give you earring cleaner? That would be poisonous.”

“That’s what’s in your little bottle,” Ginny reminded her.

Luna continued to look puzzled. “No, it’s not.”

“Luna, I can read it from here. It says ‘Earring Cleaner,’” Neville said.

She blinked. “Yes, it does. Is that why you thought it had earring cleaner in it?”

“Doesn’t it?” Ginny asked.

“No, it doesn’t. I would never drink earring cleaner. It’s most unhealthful. This is Gurdy Whisky.”

“Gurdy Whisky?” Neville asked. “Why doesn’t it say so? Otherwise, someone might clean their jewelry with it.”

“I didn’t think Filch would let my trunk pass inspection if it said ‘Gurdy Whisky.’ Do you think Filch would let me have Gurdy Whisky? It would make things much simpler if I didn’t have to mislabel my things.”

“So, let’s get this straight,” Ginny said. “You smuggled in whisky at the start of term by disguising it as earring cleaner?”

Luna nodded. “I thought Filch might not know what earring cleaner smells like. He’s very devoted to his job, but he is easily confused, isn’t he? We don’t think much of Mr. Filch in Ravenclaw.”

Neville grabbed the bottle from Luna’s hand and sniffed at it. “You could get drunk just by smelling this!”

“You drink it, Neville,” Luna said. “I don’t know what happens if you inhale it, but I don’t recommend it. It’s much more pleasant if you sip it.”

Ginny suppressed a laugh. “So, we’re 100% sure this is alcohol and not jewelry cleaner?”

“I don’t know if anyone can ever be 100% certain unless they have never left their Gurdy Whisky unattended,” Luna said. “I do leave this in my dormitory during classes. I suppose someone could come into my dormitory, pour my whisky into another bottle and pour earring cleaner in this one. But why would someone do that? Did they find out this isn’t earring cleaner?”

Ginny did laugh that time. “One way to find out, Luna. Let’s drink it.”

Luna poured them all a glass, all the while muttering about how if someone did break into her dormitory and switch out the contents, they would have to be both female and a current Ravenclaw, which would narrow things down considerably.

Ginny’s first thought was that Gurdy Whisky was the worst thing she had ever put in her mouth, tasting a bit like sauerkraut infused firewhisky. Then the buzz started, and she decided she had judged it too harshly. The second sip was much smoother than the first. By sip number three, she didn’t have a care in the world.

“Luna, where did you get this? This is the most alcoholic thing I have ever had in my life, and my Great Uncle Algie is terrible at keeping track of his firewhisky bottles,” Neville said.

“You steal your uncle’s whisky, Neville?” Ginny asked, unable to process the idea of Neville Longbottom, Whisky Thief.

“He once dangled me out of a two-story window,” Neville said. “He owes me. Plus Christmas dinner is really dull at Gran’s house.”

They didn’t talk much about the Longbottom family, but Ginny had always suspected Neville had it almost as difficult at home as Harry did at the Dursleys. Even his gran, who was his guardian, hadn’t given him much attention until he broke into the Ministry at the end of his fifth year.

“Daddy distills it,” Luna said. “We give all of our friends a bottle at Christmas.”

“Better than a Weasley family Christmas card,” Ginny said, as Luna refilled their glasses.

There was a series of drunken toasts, where they drank to their plan, to their health, to Harry’s success, to Mrs. Weasley’s baking and Mr. Lovegood’s distilling, and then finally Ginny decided she had the perfect toast.

“May our dragons be swift, our rainbows bright, and our enemies stupid,” she declared, raising her glass. The whisky sloshed down her hand as she did so. Oops.

“Inside joke?” Neville asked, as both girls went into giggles. Normally, Luna was the last person to stop laughing at any joke, but Ginny didn’t couldn’t stop giggling, even after her sides hurt. He stared at the girls a moment, and then said, “I hate to break this up when you are both so happy, but curfew is in fifteen minutes. We really should leave now.”

After leaving the room, they parted ways. Luna headed west to Ravenclaw Tower with the Gurdy Whisky tucked under her arm, while the Gryffindors went in the direction of the Fat Lady’s portrait, with Ginny swaying the entire way back.

October 20, 1997, 2:13 p.m.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, just outside the headmaster’s office

This was just as interesting as History of Magic class, Ginny thought from her place behind a statue on the seventh floor, where she had a clear view of the gargoyle that guarded Snape’s office. She had Disillusioned herself after relieving Neville of his post, so unless someone also hid behind the statue, bumping into her, she could remain undetected as she stared at the stone wall for the next two hours.

Luna’s preparation for the break in had gone well. She said she had identified 40 possible protective charms Snape could have put on his office, and she felt confident she could get past 38 of them.

Ginny and Neville’s job of spying on Snape’s office to learn the password had not gone well. After they developed their plan, Snape had left the castle for eight days, returned for two days, then left for another four. They figured it was unlikely anyone would dare enter his quarters in his absence, so they hadn’t bothered to stand guard. When he returned, either Ginny or Neville had stood guard at all times when they thought Snape likely to be going to and from his office: during class periods, immediately after meals. They hadn’t caught him once, but they had missed seven classes between the two of them.

Ginny was beginning to suspect that Snape knew another way into the office. Perhaps the entrance with the gargoyle was strictly a visitor’s entrance, and the headmaster had his own way of accessing his office and living quarters.

Fearing she might fall asleep staring at the grey stone wall, she began mentally reviewing for her upcoming Muggle Studies examination.

When the Holocaust began, Adolf Hitler was the Muggle leader of Germany. He created concentration camps in 1933, the first of which was in the town of Dachau, to house the types of Muggles he did not approve of. These included the homeless, disabled, Gypsies, and most famously Jews. The concentration camps were work camps, but the Muggles who ran them also conducted grotesque medical experiments.

“You need to get your house under control, Amycus!”

Ginny started, forgetting all about Muggle Studies and World War II. That was definitely Snape’s voice around the corner.

“The girl was asking for it, Severus. And boys will be boys.”

“I may need to send Miss Cartwright to St. Mungo’s if she fails to make any progress in the hospital wing. Was she asking for that? Do you think her pureblood parents will be happy when they find out what happened?”

“It is too bad they picked a pureblood,” Amycus said.

“This will not happen to any other student, pureblood or otherwise. If it does, I will hold you–bezoar–personally responsible.”

The entrance opened, and Ginny could hear Amycus say, “We don’t know that they were Slytherins. It could have . . .” before the entrance closed again.

What had that been about? Aimee Cartwright had been in the hospital wing for a week, and it was well known that she was unconscious. There were whispers that the He Carrow had gone too far in a detention, but no one could work out how she had gotten into detention as Aimee was quiet, studious, and rule abiding.

Aimee had only been in trouble once, having been caught in the Astronomy Tower with her boyfriend last year, if one believed the rumors. Given there were also many rumors about her and Harry in that same Astronomy Tower (and the Quidditch pitch and various broom closets and even Hagrid’s hut), Ginny wasn’t sure she did.

Perhaps there was no detention. If she correctly understood Snape’s and Carrow’s conversation, some boys–most likely Slytherins–had injured Aimee. But what had happened to her, and why couldn’t she wake?

Oh, Merlin. She had missed the password. She hadn’t heard a password while they were talking, and she had no idea how to tell Neville she’d failed.


Bezoar. Bezoar was the password.

October 30, 1997, 11:38 p.m.
Gryffindor Common Room

Of all of the frustrating things about Professor Severus Snape–and the things were numerous enough to fill a book–Ginny found she was most annoyed by his timing. When she and Neville needed him to be there so they could learn his password, he was gone for nearly two full weeks. And once they had his password, he seemed settled in for the term.

She’d tried to tell herself that it was a good sign. If Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been caught, Snape would have been summoned to the Dark Lord. Plus the delay had allowed Luna to work out how to get past the 39th of the 40 possible protective charms. But Harry was stalled as long as he didn’t have the sword. She knew it, even as she didn’t know how she knew it.

Finally, Snape had been absent at both lunch and dinner that day, indicating he was out of the castle. She just hoped his absence did not mean anything had happened to Harry or to any members of the Order. Taking immediate advantage of the situation, she, Neville, and Luna all agreed to meet in front of Snape’s office at midnight.

She wished she felt more confident about it. Conditions couldn’t have been better. Setting off a dungbomb had effectively cleared out the common room. Ginny made a mental note to thank Fred and George for their new alternative packaging for dungbombs; the package labeled Madam Florence’s Magically Sanitary Napkins had not enticed Filch to investigate any further. Professor Sprout was on duty for patrolling the corridors that evening, and Ginny felt certain the Herbology teacher would merely send them back to their dormitories with a verbal warning if she caught them out of bounds. The original Hogwarts teachers were no longer reporting discipline matters back to the headmaster.

“Ready?” Neville asked her.

They had both done Bubble-Head charms as the dungbomb Ginny selected had been a particularly large and powerful one.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Ginny said.

“Let’s meet Luna then.”

Ginny didn’t have Harry’s experience with being out of bed after curfew, or that of Ron or Hermione. It often amazed Ginny that Hermione Granger had more experience with breaking school rules than she did. As a Weasley, she should have broken twice as many rules as Hermione had.

But it was only her third time sneaking out at night. The first time, she had done a late night kitchen run with Fred and George in her third year. And she and Dean had once snuck out in her fifth year. But those had been very different times. Although she was Disillusioned, she felt exposed and noisy as she tiptoed through the dark castle. She regretted the dinner she’d had that evening, as it was threatening to come back up. She reminded herself that she was a Gryffindor and a Weasley, and no greasy haired Potions Master turned Dark Headmaster was a match for her. How many bad schemes had Harry pulled off through sheer nerve? She could do this.

As they neared a staircase, Ginny heard a female shriek from a floor or two below them. She grabbed Neville’s arm. Luna.

“I don’t think that’s her, Ginny,” he whispered. “It didn’t sound like her, and Ravenclaw Tower is to the west. I doubt she took the scenic route.”

Ginny knew it wasn’t likely, but if Luna had encountered someone on her walk to the headmaster’s office, she could have taken a circuitous route. Or she might have done so if she thought a specific path was good luck or something Luna-ish like that. She didn’t loosen her grip on Neville’s arm. Someone was in trouble, she felt certain of that, and she worried it might be Luna.

“It’s someone else caught by Professor Sprout,” Neville whispered. “You know Sprout; she’s reasonable. She’s probably giving her a lecture and then sending her back to bed. I don’t even hear anything anymore.”

Ginny listened. Neville was right. It was silent. If the Carrows had caught someone, they would have made a lot of noise about it.

“Okay, let’s go, but if Luna isn’t there, I am heading down there,” Ginny whispered.

They walked on, Ginny worrying that they might have made a terrible mistake. The corridor seemed endless in the dark, and she felt as if she had already been walking so long that she could have made it back to England already.

When they neared Snape’s office, she walked into an invisible wall.

The wall sounded strangely like Luna in pain, and Ginny realized she had walked directly into her Disillusioned friend.

“Shhhh!” Neville said behind.

“Sorry,” both Ginny and Luna whispered at the same time. Ginny rubbed her nose, which had collided with Luna’s chin. Yet another disadvantage of being short. The wetness on her hand confirmed her suspicion that her nose was bleeding. She’d worry about that later. She was so grateful it had not been Luna who was caught.

And whoever it was, she would be fine. As Neville said, Professor Sprout was fair, and she’d want to protect the girl from Snape and the Carrows. The girl’s capture would mean Professor Sprout would be less likely to come down this particular corridor, as she would probably accompany the girl back to her house to make sure she stayed there.

But that didn’t mean it was wise to linger here.

“Bezoar,” she whispered.

For a moment, she thought that Snape had changed the password, which was a fear that had plagued her ever since she learned the password. But then the entrance behind the gargoyle opened. The three of them did not hesitate to climb the staircase, which instantly began moving. The moment the entrance closed behind them, they risked some light and then removed their Disillusionment charms.


The staircase brought them to a large door.

”Alohomora,” Ginny said, and she was amazed when it worked.

Her relief was short lived. As soon as they entered the headmaster’s circular office, books flew off the shelves and began pelting them.

”Immobulus! Oww!” Ginny had been struck in the face with 40th anniversary edition of A History of Magic, one of the book’s fattest editions, before it stilled and then dropped on her foot in slow motion.

Luna uttered a few incantations, and the books all zoomed back to their original position on the shelves.

“That wasn’t one of the forty,” Luna said, rubbing her arm where she had assaulted by half a dozen potions books. “It turned out all right, though.”

Neville who had also been hit in the head with a heavy book looked as though he wanted to disagree.

Taking advantage of a moment of quiet, Ginny looked around the office. She had been in this office twice before, once after the opening of the Chamber of Secrets and once when her father had been attacked by Voldemort’s snake. As a result, she had never been fond of this room, associating it with tragedies, but she had never found it to be frightening before because it had always been Dumbledore’s place.

In some ways, it looked the same: lots of books, lots of portraits of dead headmasters and headmistresses. But there was a new darkness. The large window that looked over the Quidditch pitch now had heavy, dark curtains. Fawkes, of course, was gone. In place of Dumbledore’s pretty silver instruments, Snape had brought up his jars of pickled potions ingredients. Like having Snape at the center of the high table in the Great Hall, it was quietly wrong.

She spotted the sword. It was being kept in a glass case, and it looked just as grand as it did when she was a first year. She took a step forward, and for the second time that night, she had the feeling of walking into an invisible wall.

This time the wall was not solid, like Luna. It was like walking into a rubbery barrier that propelled her backwards. Once she regained her balance, she extended an arm in front of her, trying to determine where the barrier began. She prodded it with her finger. It was cold and kind of jiggly like jelly, but it was strong. She couldn’t break past it.

“I think it’s a Shield charm,” Neville whispered.

Fortunately, that was one of the 39 enchantments that Luna knew how to get past. Next was a humming noise that made them all sleepy, and her dreamy friend was prepared for that, as well. Then the last challenge was to acquire and duplicate the sword.

“Get it, Ginny,” Neville said. “This is your moment, not mine or Luna’s.”

The case opened with a simple Alohamora..

Accio, sword!”

The sword came to her, but not in the manner she had expected. She had to jump to the side, to avoid getting jabbed in the stomach. The sword went for a new attack, this time at neck level. She dodged it again.


Nothing happened, and the sword continued its attack. And then Ginny remembered something she had read in her research. The sword required an act of bravery from a true Gryffindor before it could be yielded.

She stepped directly in the path of the sword, causing Luna to shriek, and grabbed the hilt. It was hers.

She placed the sword in front of Luna, who said, "Geminio.”

Luna’s duplication charm had been so successful that Ginny would not have known which sword was real and which was fake if she had not had one hand still on the hilt.

“Let’s get out of here.”

Luna placed the fake in the case and closed it back up.

After a glance around the office to make sure they were leaving it as they found it, they headed down the stairs, Ginny in the lead with the sword. Her mind was so fixed on getting the sword to the Room for concealment that it did not immediately occur to her that the gargoyle entrance should have been closed until she walked directly into Amycus Carrow just outside the entrance. The Carrow was accompanied by Severus Snape.

The He-Carrow grinned at Ginny. “Headmaster, if I may, I have some ideas of what to do with these Undesirables.”

Looking at his pleased, doughy face, Ginny’s stomach turned. His hands were like steel in their grip, even though he did not give the impression of being a particularly strong man.

“Thank you, Professor Carrow,” Snape said in his driest tone. “But I am perfectly capable of deciding appropriate punishments in my own school. Accio, sword.”

The Sword of Gryffindor zoomed out of Ginny’s hands and into the headmaster’s. She was displeased that it did not try to attack him as it did her.

“See you in the morning, Amycus.” The headmaster’s tone was stern, but the Carrow did not move. “Kindly let go of Miss Weasley, Amycus.”

Once he let go of her, Ginny let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

“Up!” Snape made a gesture towards the staircase, and the three students scrambled up to his office.

With the He-Carrow dismissed and everyone assembled in the headmaster’s office, Snape just stared at them. Ginny was all too aware of how bloody, bruised, and frightened she was. Her hair was falling out of its hasty ponytail and she had never felt smaller. She almost wished the He-Carrow was still there. His glee for pain was ghoulish, but he added a certain level of absurdity to the situation that would have dulled the fear somewhat.

“You made it further than I would have thought. Your work, I am guessing, Miss Lovegood? Longbottom here is not known for his intelligence, and Miss Weasley, while more clever than her brothers, lacks the subtlety and patience to learn how to get past protective charms.”

Ginny stole a glance at Luna, pale, still, and innocent, and she blurted out, “It was my idea. All of it. Neville and Luna only came along to protect me. The only rule they broke was being out of bed.”

Neville and Luna protested, but Snape kept all of his attention on Ginny.

“Just a nighttime stroll, Miss Weasley? It seems like an unusual destination. And you just happened to pick up a priceless school artifact along the way? What, may I ask, were you planning to do with the Sword of Gryffindor?”

She knew he had to be aware of Dumbledore’s will and what she would want with the sword, but she was determined not to give him the satisfaction of telling him. She raised her chin. “Fencing, sir.”

“Fencing?” He said the word as if it was something truly distasteful. It probably was to him, as it was a Muggle sport.

“It’s what one does with swords, is it not?”

Snape swooped bat-like to his desk and pulled a small vial out of a drawer. He raised the vial so they could all see it. “Do you know what one does with this?”

“Make someone drink it?”

“Ah, the legendary subtlety of Gryffindor House. Yes, this recently deregulated potion is meant to be drunk and generally either force or stealth is involved as very few drink it willingly. I trust you’ve heard of Veritaserum?”

She didn’t answer.

“You can tell me the truth, or I can administer this to you. And to your friends.”

He stared at her, and she suddenly remembered that Snape was an Occulumens. Between his ability and his knowledge of the situation, she knew further evasion or lying was pointless.

“We wanted the sword because Dumbledore had left it to a friend in his will. The Ministry did not heed his wishes.”

“And how were you going to get this item to your friend? Is he here in this castle?”

“No. I hadn’t figured out that part yet,” she admitted.

He continued to gaze at her, as if drinking in her knowledge–or lack thereof–of Harry’s whereabouts.

“So, if I were to search this castle, I wouldn’t find your friend?”

“No. I don’t know where he is.”

“Details, details, Miss Weasley. Traditionally one plans a crime before committing it.”

For the next twenty minutes, Snape insulted their intelligence, their planning, and their loyalties.

And then he sent them to bed.

The three of them exchanged glances.

“What is our punishment?” Ginny demanded.

Snape gave her an evil smile, “Come and see me after breakfast tomorrow. I need to reflect and decide what would be most appropriate for the crime.”

October 31, 1997, 6:42 a.m.
Gryffindor Girls’ Dormitories

In spite of not making it to her bed until 2:00 a.m., Ginny was awake early. She’d had strange dreams. In one, she was on trial for stealing a school thestral in her fourth year. Vincent Crabbe was the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and he’d had the Dark Mark on his Ministry robes. In another, she was hiking through the Forbidden Forest with a teenaged Snape and a young Filch, and Snape was gently instructing her on how to tell poisonous mushrooms from edible ones. In the final dream, she was telling Harry she had failed in stealing the sword, and he told her that was fine and everything was occurring as prophesied. He said all this in a dreamy voice and then he asked her if she had tried the Gurdy Whisky.

Then she was awake, and early morning light was streaming through the windows. Around her, girls were sleeping peacefully and she wondered if they had noticed that she had been gone last night. She tried to go back to sleep but kept fretting over the events of the previous night, until she decided she would prefer to fret while standing upright.

In the light of morning, she knew Snape’s delay tactic had been effective. He had known what their punishment would be all along; he just wanted to extend the punishment with a sleepless night. She just hoped he gave them to the She-Carrow rather than the He-Carrow. Alecto was equally vicious, but Ginny was more concerned about the way the He-Carrow looked at her body and she remembered his hands on her shoulders last night.

She got up and began gathering her things for the shower. Snape would not see her looking scared or defeated. She was going to look amazing at breakfast and walk into the Great Hall with her head held high. Once in the shower, she began to relax and feel like herself again. It was very possible that Snape might try to keep the events of last night quiet. He wouldn’t want to draw attention to the sword any more than she did.

She spent considerable time on her hair and makeup, realizing the irony of making herself pretty for a man who could not be bothered to wash his hair. Ginny didn’t normally wear much makeup. Mascara and cherry-flavored lip gloss were all she typically bothered with, but she pulled out the shadows, blushes, and eyeliners she typically reserved for special occasions. Gemma and Pippa would be proud, she thought, as she applied blush.

Finally, she stepped back. Perfect. The dark circles under her eyes were hidden, and her cheeks glowed. No one would ever know how little sleep she’d had, yet she didn’t look conspicuously made up either.

“Morning,” Demelza said, yawning as she entered the bathroom. “Where were you last night? Pippa was very curious. She was speculating that you and Chris had become an item, so I told her you were in Lavender and Parvati’s dormitory.”

“Me and Chris?”

“He fancies you, in case you didn’t notice. That’s why he’s always hovering over your shoulder.”

“Oh, shit. I thought he was just lonely, with Ritchie not coming back and Martin ignoring him to hang all over Pippa.”

“You really didn’t notice?” Demelza leaned against the wall, studying Ginny closely.

She shook her head. “I haven’t been noticing boys lately.”

Thinking about a specific boy, yes, but she was less interested in the boys who were around her.

“So, I am guessing you weren’t snogging a cute boy last night?”

“Definitely not.” She hesitated, and then added, “Mel, I did something really stupid last night. And I’m in trouble.”

“In trouble with who?”


“Shit, Ginny.”

“I know. I really need some coffee. I barely slept last night. Will you go down to the Great Hall with me?”

Demelza nodded. “Sure. Just give me ten minutes.”

The nice thing about Quidditch girls was when they said ten minutes, they meant ten minutes. Pippa would have been in the bathroom primping all morning, but Demelza quickly showered, dressed, and put her long dark hair into a plait.

“So, what happened?” Demelza asked as they swiftly walked down the stairs to the common room.

“Neville, Luna, and I broke into Snape’s office. We thought he was out of the castle, but then he and the He Carrow caught us.”

“Ginny, I knew you had nerve, but breaking into Snape’s office? What were you looking for? Wait, were you,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “spying for the Order of the Phoenix?”

“No, no, my mother would kill me if I did that. Can you keep a secret?”

“You know I can.”

“Dumbledore left Harry something in his will, but Harry never got it. I was going to retrieve it for him.”

They walked through the common room and out the portrait hole.

“What did Snape do when he caught you?”

“Nothing yet. There was a series of insults, ranging from the subtle to the ridiculous, but he said he would let us know what our punishment is after breakfast.”

“Is that why you are up so early? To get it over with?”


They were quiet down the next few flights of stairs. When Ginny reached the fourth floor, she turned around the corner and immediately tripped over something large, landing on the ground.

At first, she thought there was a dead body. Dark hair completely covered the girl’s face. Crawling toward her, Ginny gently moved the long dark curls back. She gasped when she saw the girl was Romilda. She placed two fingers on the side of her neck and was relieved to find a pulse.

“She’s alive. Mel, will you get Professor McGonagall? Madam Pomfrey too.”

As Demelza ran back up the stairs, Ginny took in Romilda’s torn clothing and knew it indicated rape. She also knew that you were supposed to leave a crime scene intact and not touch anything. But Romilda in that moment, with her pale skin and shallow breathing, was the most vulnerable thing Ginny had ever seen in her life, and she could not just leave her like that.

She adjusted Romilda’s clothing to cover her fully. Her skirt had been flipped up, and there were no knickers underneath. She had seen Romilda traipse around the girls’ dormitory in her expensive bra and knicker sets often enough to know that Romilda loved her lingerie and she would have never left Gryffindor Tower without her knickers. She had been proud of her beauty and her new womanliness.

Someone had stolen her knickers as a trophy. Someone who wanted to take away Romilda’s pride in her own body and sexuality. In that moment, Ginny could not think of a more terrible thing to take away from someone than ownership of her own body and sexual choices.

Ginny pulled her cloak out of her bag and covered Romilda with it, thinking she must be cold on the stone floor. How long had she been there? She suddenly remembered the feminine shriek she had heard the night before. Could she and Neville have saved Romilda? They had been so intent on getting the sword–the sword that they had failed to steal–that they had refused to believe someone was in danger.

She lifted Romilda’s head slightly to put her book bag underneath as a pillow and wondered what she could do to make the girl more comfortable. She knew all of the feminine gentleness in the world could not undo the brutality she had suffered at the hands of a boy, but gentleness was all she had to offer Romilda.

“Who did this to you, Romilda?” she whispered as she moved herself into a sitting position next to the unconscious girl.

She didn’t have to question what had been done to her. But why was she unconscious?

And had this also happened to Aimee Cartwright?

Author’s note #2: In Deathly Hallows, Griphook says that Ginny and her friends smashed the case when they stole the sword. As the story is third or fourth hand at that point, it is possible that the goblin just liked the idea of the case being smashed. Personally, I feel Ginny and her friends would have tried to cover their tracks, not wanting Snape to know the sword was going to be given to Harry. I also like the idea that Luna might have made a copy so excellent, that even Snape was impressed and had it put into Gringotts.

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Chapter 12: Chapter 12: Investigating In Vane

Author's Notes: Hello all. So this chapter took forever. Thanks to everyone who is still reading this.

I’m excited to introduce you all to my idea of the Auror department. I’ve tried to limit the number of characters I introduce and just keep it to the people already listed in canon, so it’s not overwhelming, but I’ll eventually add more characters. In my head, Framed is the first in a series of Auror mysteries. All of them will have a Harry/Ginny romance, but each fic will have a different secondary romance. Like this one has a Draco/Astoria love story, this second mystery will, tentatively, have a Neville/Hannah love story. I probably should have started with N/H given how grossed out some of you seem by Draco as romantic hero, but Cursed Child left me curious about our favorite ferret. What is fanfic for, if not to write out our fascinations?

I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 12: Investigating In Vane

June 21, 1998, 8:43 a.m.
Conference Room 4, Auror Department, Ministry of Magic

It was a Sunday, but every Auror not on international assignment was assembled in C4, the only conference room that could hold them all. Kingsley Shacklebolt, who had recently moved from temporary Minister for Magic to permanent Minister, had rejoined his former department for the meeting, sitting with Gawain Robards at the head of the long table.

Harry, who was beginning his third week as an Auror trainee, had just reached the point where the department no longer looked like foreign territory. The large main office space no longer looked like a maze of cubicles, but was a series of familiar paths where work spaces were assigned due to hierarchies and skill sets that Harry was beginning to understand. He knew the desk with photos of a dark-haired young woman belonged to Daniel Savage, who lost his much younger wife at the Battle of Hogwarts. The desk that was barely visible under stacks of books written in dozens of languages was that of Dawlish. Williamson’s workspace could be identified by the dumbbells stacked underneath, and the Auror often did bicep curls while he read the reports the Junior Aurors submitted.

This conference room was also a familiar space as Harry, along with the rest of the department, reported here at 8:45 every weekday morning. In addition to the usual pots of tea and coffee on the side table, there was a selection of breakfast foods available. Harry knew the Senior Aurors had remained in the Ministry until 4:00 a.m., because they had been quick to tell the trainees so, as they did every time they wanted to emphasize that the Auror role wasn’t all fun and games. He supposed the food was there because most of the Aurors had likely not had time for a proper breakfast.

Harry sat in his usual space about two-thirds down the table on the right side, between his trainer Kelly Proudfoot and Ron. Kelly was enjoying toast and tea and examining some parchment. Ron, who had eaten a full breakfast at the Burrow, still took a full plate of toast and bacon. Harry, who was full but sleepy, merely had a black coffee. He didn’t particularly like his coffee black, but he had noticed that the Aurors considered those who used sugar and cream in either coffee or tea as weak, and he was not above attempting to change his palate to appear convincingly adult.

“There is a chance you might get to go out on assignment,” Kelly murmured to him. “Gawain wants a few of the trainees to get on this case, but he hasn’t told us which ones.”

“Really?” Harry murmured. He and Ron had exchanged excited glances.

They had not yet left the Ministry on Auror business yet. After each morning’s departmental meeting, the trainees went to the Ministry classrooms. On Mondays and Wednesdays, they took Introduction to Magical Law, which they shared with trainees in other DMLE departments, such as Ernie Macmillan, Michael Corner, and Padma Patil in Wizengamot Administration Services or Seamus Finnegan who was training to be a Hit Wizard. Tuesdays were for Criminology class, which was also shared with fellow DMLE trainees. Thursday was a review morning, which addressed gaps in their Hogwarts education, based on the skills tests they all took coming in. Harry’s customized plan for the next few months consisted of mostly Potions, with an occasional Charms or Transfiguration lesson thrown in. Friday mornings, they went to St. Mungo’s where they took Poisons and Their Antidotes along with the healer trainees. In the afternoons, they were in the hands of their trainers who usually had them do research, review case reports, or work on dueling practice.

Having spent so much time with books, reports, and lectures, Harry and Ron were both eager to see an investigation in progress.

“Good morning, or good second half of this morning to those of you who just left four hours ago,” Gawain said. “We have a lot to cover before we begin interviews this morning, so take a seat if you haven’t already done so. As you can see, the Minister has joined us, so we need to start this meeting on time, as he is a very busy man.”

With a wave of his wand, Gawain moved pots of coffee and tea to the conference table, removing all excuses to be up and about.

Gawain Robards was a man who could blend into any crowd. He was of medium height and average weight. His hair was medium brown and his eyes blue. Harry had never seen him in robes that weren’t a conservative navy blue. With his coloring and his trimmed mustache, he looked like he should be the proud owner of no fewer than three “World’s Best Dad” mugs, and Harry occasionally found himself glancing at Gawain’s coffee mugs to see if they did say this. While his appearance could not get more fatherly, the Aurors knew Gawain to be the best. He was an excellent strategizer, an unbeaten dueller, and even a black belt in the Muggle martial art of Judo.

“John led the examination of Miss Vane’s body last night.” Gawain nodded at John Dawlish, who was seated towards the head of the table as a Senior Auror. “We will begin with his team’s findings. John?”

John cleared his throat. “A full examination of the victim confirmed the original hypothesis of poisoning to be correct. We were able to extract poison from the victim’s digestive system, and it has been identified as celeri morte as the active ingredients–fluxweed, scurvy-grass, eye of a horned toad, acromantula venom–were all present. Since Miss Vane had no food in her system at the time of death, the team is confident in the accuracy of these results.

Harry studied Dawlish. He was greyer than when Harry first met him in Dumbledore’s office nearly three years ago. His short thick hair had been a golden brown then. Kelly had described him as someone who shouldn’t be underestimated. He was a mediocre dueler, she admitted, but he was brilliant, often solving cases on very few clues. Harry wasn’t sure what he thought of him, but he had survived the purge that had reduced the Aurors to less than half of their original ranks.

“The potion is merely moderately difficult to brew; anyone who earned an N.E.W.T. in Potions could manage it. The ingredients can all be found in Diagon Alley, and most of them are quite mundane. The exception is acromantula venom. While it too can be purchased in Diagon Alley, it is both unusual and expensive enough that we may be able to track recent purchasers.”

John skimmed through his parchment before continuing. “Celeri morte is a poison that works quickly. There is only one recorded case of an antidote–a bezoar, in that instance–being given in time to save the drinker’s life. Despite being deadly effective, this poison is rarely used. Some of you may remember our last case involving this poison was several years ago.”

Judging by the glances exchanged around the table, the seasoned Aurors all remembered the case and recalled it being very difficult.

“While it is not difficult to brew, it is time consuming. It requires six months to mature, so it would never be used in a crime of passion, and sales of this potion have been outlawed in most countries since the sixteenth century. However, once the potion is brewed, it remains effective for three years, if stored at the correct temperature.”

“We did some calculations to determine the time the poison would have likely been consumed. Based strictly on Miss Vane’s weight of 122 lbs and the lack of food in her stomach, the poison should have taken 1 minute and 45 seconds to kill her. However since the examination at the Ministry revealed that Miss Vane was at least 2 months pregnant, an estimate we have been able to narrow down to ten weeks, we can no longer depend on a 1 minute, 45 second estimate as a pregnant body fights poison longer than a non-pregnant body will. Therefore based on Miss Vane’s size, the lack of food in digestion, and stage of pregnancy, we have estimated the potion was consumed 3 minutes and 5 seconds prior to the time of death, which would be 9:10. Room for error is give or take 30 seconds.

“To summarize the findings of our team’s investigation, Romilda Vane was murdered by celeri morte, a poisoning process that took place between 9:10 and 9:13. The poisoner may have planned this for 6 months, or the length of time needed to brew the potion, or else he or she had brewed the potion some time in the past three years, or this individual knew where to purchase the potion and had adequate funds to do so.”

“Thank you, John,” Gawain said. “That was most thorough. Any questions for the examination team?”

After some questions regarding where potions ingredients could be purchased in Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, and Hogsmeade, Gawain asked Harry’s trainer, Kelly Proudfoot, to give her report on the killer’s profile.

Kelly was a compact woman, a mere five feet tall and less than 100 lbs, but she was powerful. She had a tiny nose ring and kept her dark hair in a pixie cut, which hinted at time spent in the Muggle world, even though she was a pureblood. Harry liked her. She had a blunt yet friendly personality that had instantly reminded him of Tonks, and he wasn’t surprised when he learned the two had been best friends. Once when he had gone to visit Teddy, he had found Kelly was already there, giving him a bottle.

At 26, she was young to be a Senior Auror, but she was a war hero and had been promoted just after the Battle of Hogwarts. Recruited to the Order of the Phoenix a few months before the fall of the Ministry, she had conducted Order business within the Ministry along with Kingsley, Tonks, and Savage. Once Kingsley and Tonks were forced into hiding, she and Savage had kept up the resistance in the Auror Department. Harry knew that Kingsley had depended on Kelly and Savage to advise him on which Aurors could be trusted to remain in their roles and which had been corrupted.

“The profiling team, at this time, has more questions than answers, but we are confident that the questions can be resolved with additional investigation. As we all know, the Ministry underwent new security last fall so that people disguised under Polyjuice Potion will set off building alarms.”

Harry tried to look innocent, but several people shot glances at him and at Ron.

“Due to this, the killer either arrived either under his own appearance–and I use the masculine pronoun strictly for convenience–or with minor transfigurations that wouldn’t set off security charms. Everyone present last evening was either an invited guest with an invitation that was inspected by security wizards before admittance to the ballroom or else they were staff of Magical Feasts Catering, all of whom had passed Ministry security clearance. However, there is a possibility that a guest or a staff member had been Imperiused by the killer. In that case, he would not have to be on the premises.

“We attempted to ascertain the age or the sex of the killer, but the information was too incomplete. We all know, statistically speaking, that murdered pregnant women are usually killed by an intimate partner. However, we do not know if Romilda or her baby’s father knew of her condition. She was only two months along, and she was drinking, suggesting she was either unaware or hoping for a miscarriage. If this potion was brewed six months ago with Romilda as the intended victim, she would not have been pregnant yet. Also, statistics tell us that killers who use poison are almost always female. In addition to being uncertain of the killer’s gender, we do not know if there has been more than one person involved.

“The time and location of the murder is curious. To murder a young girl in such a public circumstance, with trained Aurors and Hit Wizards on the premises, could mean that our killer was sending a specific message to the wizarding world. Yet it could also mean that this was the only way he could gain access to Miss Vane. Our killer is either very bold or very desperate. While the murder was bold, it was not impulsive or committed in a rage. This was carefully planned. He knows how to blend in, knows how the Ministry works.

“So as a summary of what we know. The killer did not use a Polyjuice potion, he was either permitted in the building as either invited guest or staff or he Imperiused someone who had legitimate access. He likely is familiar with the Ministry. He planned the crime in advance, possibly six months in advance. In all probability, our killer is not a violent person, as poisoning is the preferred form of murder for the squeamish.

“The things we need to learn include, but are not limited to the following: Where did Miss Vane get her wine–from a waiter, from a fellow guest, or did she swipe one of her parents’ glasses when they weren’t looking, and the poison was actually intended for them? Was she–or anyone around her–aware of her condition? Even if Romilda was aware of her condition, it does not mean anyone else was. It is not uncommon for pregnant teenagers to attempt to hide their condition for as long as possible. She may have hoped to make it back to Hogwarts without her parents finding out.

“If this proves unrelated to the pregnancy, we need to learn if Romilda had any enemies. Did Mr. or Mrs. Vane have any enemies who might use their daughter to make a point? Have there been any unusual financial transactions in the family that would indicate problems? If we can get these questions answered, we may be able to identify some suspects.”

“Thank you, Kelly,” Gawain said. “Any questions?”

To Harry’s surprise, Neville Longbottom raised a hand.

“Yes, Neville?”

“This isn’t so much a question as it is a comment. To those of us who were at Hogwarts last year, it was common knowledge that Romilda was raped by a serial rapist who was targeting several of the older girls in the school. This happened in the fall, so the pregnancy couldn’t have been a result, but in criminology class last Tuesday, it was mentioned that victims of crimes are more likely to be victimized in the future.”

Harry remembered Ginny’s comment: “I know they were after me; they just didn’t get me.” How many had they got?

Gawain looked thoughtful. “Thank you, Neville. Kelly, we will need to send an owl to Minerva McGonagall requesting the release of all of Romilda Vane’s records–medical records, school records, any records of her time at Hogwarts.” He gave a glance in Kingsley’s direction, and the Minister murmured that he would be willing to sign and seal the release of information request.

“Today, we begin interviews. Williamson, your team will go to Magical Feasts Catering. Interview everyone who was there, with particular emphasis on servers and bartenders.

“Dawlish, your team will be in the Hall of Records. I will need you to compare the list of people security checked into the ball against the list of people who signed out. Once that is done, look up each attendee for any connections to Romilda or other members of the Vane family.”

Normally Harry would be delighted that he wasn’t part of the team that would be cooped up in the Hall of Records, which was deep in the bowels of the Ministry, but he was still curious about Tori Greengrass and had been hoping for a chance to go the records room himself.

“Savage and Proudfoot, your teams will be needed at the Vane residence. Kelly’s list of questions is an excellent starting place, but don’t forget to find out if Romilda spent the Easter holidays at school or home in London. If Dawlish’s calculations are correct, she either conceived at Hogwarts in the last few days before the break or she conceived over the holiday, when she might have been in her parents’ home.

“I will be in my office if anyone needs me. Do good work today. I don’t need to remind anyone here that the wizarding world has lost too many young lives. Romilda’s killer must be brought to justice. And quickly.”


Before they went to the Vane home, Kelly had her team–Team Green–meet at her desk.

They had learned the significance of the Auror teams very early on in their training. On the day they were first assigned trainers and by extension teams, Kelly had said to them, “Welcome! As Gawain informed informed you, we are divided into four investigative teams–Red, Blue, Green, Purple–and you have been assigned to Green.” The “you” referred to Harry and Ron who would be trained by the Green Aurors with Kelly taking primary responsibility for them. “As Gawain is locked up in his little office, allow me to tell you what we really call them.”

She had gestured over to where Dawlish was huddled with Anthony Goldstein and Terry Boot, showing them his books. “Those are the Brains, a.k.a. Team Purple, experts in dead languages and possessors of arcane knowledge. They are nerds who were too sexy to end up in the Office of International Cooperation so we got them.”

Harry could sense Ron plotting an opportunity to tell Percy that.

“Over there, we have the Blue Bloods.” Apparently, Daniel Savage, Susan Bones, and Neville Longbottom qualified as aristocrats in this department. “Also known as Team Blue. These are second, third, and fourth generation Aurors. Sometimes, their parents were in other DMLE departments, but most of them have at least one Auror as a parent. They grew up living and breathing DMLE. It’s an open secret that Blue Blood families are lax with confidentiality at home, so they often come into the department with decades worth of top secret knowledge.”

Harry supposed Neville was there as a courtesy. His parents had both been Aurors and extremely brave ones, but neither Longbottom was in any condition to mentor Neville in Auror ways, having been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix and her friends when Neville was still an infant.

She drew their attention to Williamson, talking to sandy haired boy Harry remembered as a Hufflepuff beater a year older than him. “Any guess what we call Team Red?”

“The muscles?” Harry had guessed.

“What gave it away? Team Red is Team Brawn, or the team that wastes perfectly good lunch hour in the Ministry gym and likes it. If you are ever interrogating a reluctant witness, just bring a Red in. They tend to scare the truth out of people.”

“So, what are we Greens if we are not brainy, brawny, or heirs to the department?” Ron had asked.

“We are the best team. Misfits and Secret Weapons.”

Kelly had said this with a great deal of relish, but Harry could not help but feel that he had been Sorted into Auror Hufflepuff. Which he supposed was better than Portkey Office Slytherin or Office of Misinformation Gryffindor.

“Misfits?” he had said.

“And secret weapons!” She said this, as if they were completely missing the honor of their classification. “Though I suspect you are a bit of both, Potter.”

“Lucky me. Okay, I am guessing Tonks and Moody were fellow Greens, but I can’t place Kingsley. What was his team?”

“Kingsley is a bit of a mystery, isn’t he? He was terribly misplaced. They grouped him into Brawn because of his physique, but within a month, it became obvious that he was actually a Brain and more of a Secret Weapon than our actual Secret Weapons.”

“Why aren’t the teams more diverse?” Harry had asked. “When investigating, it seems like it would be beneficial to have brains, brawn, experience, and whatever we are all grouped together so they can take advantage of each other’s strengths.”

“We do all work together. The Aurors are definitely a family, but we tend to get assignments that play to our strengths. You’ll see.”

It had seemed very strange to Harry initially, but he had learned over the last two weeks that being a Green had its advantages. The Purples spent all their time in the library. Anthony Goldstein’s inglorious first injury on the job was an excess of parchment cuts when he summoned a record, only to get pummeled by a large amount of books and parchment rolls rather than the single record he had been anticipating. Blue trainees always looked stressed as they were expected to know things that they hadn’t yet been trained in, and the Red trainee was forced to do push ups and obstacle courses daily. All the while, he and Ron practiced their dueling or else did independent study on topics that interested them.

That morning would be the first time the Blue and Green trainees would work together, and Kelly had some instructions for her Misfits before they joined the Blue Bloods.

“Okay, for those of you who are trainees, you’ll be there strictly to observe. I know this is your first time, and I know you are eager after spending so much time in lecture, but you will need to leave the questioning to fully qualified Aurors. I am hoping to let you do some questioning later in the investigation, but you aren’t ready today, and questioning the family of a murder victim is the most delicate task an Auror can perform. If there is a question you think Savage or I failed to ask, by all means let us know, but don’t ask the questions yourselves.”

She studied Harry and Ron carefully, and Harry sensed that she had been warned that they both had a reputation for recklessness.

“Any questions, trainees? No? How about my other Misfits? No? Okay, let’s meet Daniel and his team in the Atrium.”


10:00 a.m.
The Vane townhouse, London

When a butler let the Aurors into the entrance hall of the Vane townhouse, Harry thought they had stepped into Gilderoy Lockhart’s home by accident. But then his setting came into focus and he saw that the framed photos–six foot tall magazine covers, actually–did not depict a wizard with golden curls but an extremely thin brunette woman. Sharon Macmillan Vane winked in bikinis, moodily posed in elegant dress robes, and perched on desks while dressed in jewel-toned career robes. The covers belonged to Teen Witch, Corsets and Cauldrons, and primarily Witch Weekly.

She looked like her daughter. Harry supposed it was the other way around, that Romilda looked like her mother, but in the young Sharon Vane of the late 1970s and early 1980s, he could only see the daughter. They had the same wide black eyes, the same full lips, and the same short straight nose.

In most of the covers, she stood alone, like a Grecian statue brought to life, but in a few she posed with a handsome young wizard or with a group of carefree young witches. Harry found himself staring at the October 1978 cover of Corsets and Cauldrons where Mrs. Vane posed with another beautiful woman, both of them in dress robes with necklines that plunged in a very daring fashion.

“That one is Blaise Zabini’s mum,” Susan Bones whispered, following his gaze.

Harry had been studying the other woman, trying to figure out why she looked so familiar until Susan’s words made him realize she had many features in common with Blaise.

“The one that killed all of her husbands?” Harry whispered back.

“Seven of them,” Susan said. “She was Sharon Vane’s best friend back in their single days. They were the It Girls of the late seventies.”

“Ah, you found the Enemy Number One of the Auror Department,” Kelly said, glaring at the image of Mrs. Zabini. “Seven murders and we cannot prove a single one. We once passed legislation that said anyone with more than five marriages had to get their marriage licenses pre-approved by the Ministry before anyone was allowed to officiate. She responded by holding her next two weddings in Fiji where different laws applied.”

“What a resourceful woman,” Harry said, studying the photograph. The young Mrs. Zabini winked at him in response.

He moved on to the next photo, which had Mrs. Vane striking a pose in a gold bikini held in place with mere strings. Her ribs could be counted and her hip bones protruded. He thought of Ginny’s strong limbs and soft curves and the way her warm body felt in his hands. He clearly had a different idea of female beauty than Witch Weekly, preferring a woman who lived in her body as opposed to starving in her body.

The butler returned to the entrance hall with Mrs. Vane. She wore some black satin garment, and Harry had no idea if these were witches robes meant to be worn outside the house or if it was more an indoor garment. The tall woman was fully covered, but the garment had a slight lingerie look to it, even though he could not quite pinpoint what made it look slightly inappropriate.

“I am so sorry to keep you gentleman waiting,” she said. Harry noticed that Kelly and Susan exchanged a quick glance. “It has been a morning that no mother should ever have to face, as I had to tell Sara and Emilia what happened to their older sister. Mortimer and I couldn’t bear to do it last night. We got home, and they were sleeping like angels. How could we possibly wake them?

“It’s strange, but all I could think about, watching them sleep, was the first time I brought each of my babies home from St. Mungo’s. With each baby, I wanted them to stay asleep until well after I placed them in their cribs. I had this bizarre conviction that transitioning from womb to hospital to home within 48 hours was too much change for a new human to deal with. I had this idea that once they were a little older–maybe half a day older–they would understand they were home.

“Last night was a little like that. I didn’t want to move my girls into a world without their big sister until I absolutely had to. And then today they woke up and of course the first thing they wanted to know was how Romilda’s first ball was, and there is no avoiding that, is there?”

She teared up, and Daniel gave her a handkerchief.

Harry glanced sideways at Ron to see if his best mate was finding this as rehearsed as he did–the attire, the speech, the dramatic pauses. Ron was looking quite stricken, and Harry smothered a sigh. Ron always did have a thing for beautiful older women, he thought, recalling his friend’s crush on Madam Rosmerta. No wonder he would be caught up in Mrs. Vane’s theatrical distress.

A glance around assured Harry that Ron wasn’t alone. All of the Aurors looked stricken by Mrs. Vane, even Kelly and Susan who had just been referred to as gentlemen. Was he cynical for suspecting Romilda’s mother? Was she a mourning parent who deserved nothing but Harry’s compassion?

“We are so sorry for your loss, Mrs. Vane, and we will do everything in our power to see justice for Romilda,” Kelly said quietly. “And we do hate to intrude on your earliest mourning, but we find that time is of the essence in these investigations, and it is best to ask questions while recollections are fresh. Of course, if you require some time, we would like to ask to search Romilda’s room, see if we can evidence that someone was focusing on her.”

Mrs. Vane was sobbing openly, a curiously attractive cry that would have not looked misplaced in a Muggle film. “What could you possibly find there? She was barely sixteen. What enemies could she have possibly had? What kind of monster kills a child?”

“It is our job to find that out. Now, you have some options in how we proceed. We can talk to you, we can talk to your husband, we can talk to you and Mr. Vane together, or we can–with your permission–examine Romilda’s bedroom. We will eventually need to speak to your daughters, but that does not need to occur today.”

Mrs. Vane dabbed at her eyes. “Why don’t you go to Romi’s room, although I cannot imagine how that could help you. I will check on Mortimer. Perhaps he will be ready to speak with you. I will show you upstairs.”

Sharon led them up a grand staircase and into a spacious second floor. The Vane townhouse made Grimmauld Place look like a broom cupboard. There were no magazine covers up here, but instead several giant portraits of three young girls. Romilda, clearly the family favorite, was front and center in all of them. The Vane girls all had their mother’s dark hair and eyes and fair skin, three Snow Whites. Harry looked at one portrait. Romilda had her arm around the youngest sister, both of them beaming, while the chubby middle sister tried to back out of the frame.

Mrs. Vane opened some double doors on the left, and the Aurors found themselves in a bedroom larger than the first floor of the Burrow. Romilda’s furniture was clearly expensive, but it was the crystal chandelier, marble fireplace, and the five foot portrait of Romilda twirling in dress robes with clouds of tulle that made it clear that this was the bedroom of a modern day princess.

Why would anyone kill Romilda Vane? Could this girl with an endless collection of nail polish on her vanity table and unicorn figurines pacing her bookshelves have been any sort of threat to anyone?

She had been pregnant, and therefore a potential embarrassment to her appearance obsessed parents. She was also a victim of rape who knew the identity of the Hogwarts Rapists. Ginny mentioned that Madam Pomfrey suspected use of the Fidelius Charm, but what if the secret keeper had died during the Battle of Hogwarts?

He thought of Vincent Crabbe, killed by his own Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement. He couldn’t quite picture anyone electing Crabbe as secret keeper, but that could have been the point. His parents had believed Peter Pettigrew to be an excellent choice because he had been an unexpected choice. If Crabbe had been secret keeper, all of the boys and Romilda would now be secret keepers. Were they seeking to prevent the day she realized she could now speak of it?

“Could you leave her things in order?” Mrs. Vane asked. “Her belongings are what we have to remember her by.”

“Of course. It is our policy to leave things as we found them,” Kelly said.

Once Mrs. Vane had left and they heard her footsteps heading towards the stairs, Kelly and Daniel consulted quickly before giving the other Aurors orders.

“Okay, Team Green. Potter and Weasley, you get the bookshelf. MacLeod, the vanity table. Simmons, the bed. I’ll check her wardrobe,” Kelly said.

After the Blues finished their own huddle, Harry saw Susan begin sorting through Romilda’s dressers while Neville checked the floorboards and under the rug, Savage took the desk, while the other Blue Senior Auror checked under the sofa upholstered in violet velvet and in its cushions.

Harry began with the bookshelf itself, looking behind and under it for hidden objects and using his wand to look for hidden compartments. With nothing unusual found, he and Ron resigned themselves to pulling out Romilda’s textbooks and novels one by one and examining them.

“What are you looking for?” A young girl had come into the room and was looking at Harry and Ron, sitting on the floor and sorting through volumes. Harry recognized her as the middle sister who had tried to tiptoe out of the family portraits in the hallway. She was still in pajamas, a silky green pair in some Asian looking print. He guessed she had entered through the bathroom, which likely linked her room with Romilda’s.

“We don’t know,” Harry said. “Anything that might indicate someone wanted to hurt Romilda. I’m Harry and this is Ron. We’re Auror trainees.”

She rolled her eyes. “Everyone knows who you two are. I’m Sara. Did you like my sister?”

Harry paused, seeking something diplomatic to say. “Of course. She was very brave.”

“That’s okay. I didn’t like her either,” she said. “I loved her, of course. She was my big sister, but she took all the air in the room.”

Sara was about fourteen, Harry guessed. She was tall, pudgy, and curvy for her age. She was a very pretty girl, prettier in person than in her portraits, but her statuesque older sister had likely received all of the attention.

“Did she confide in you?” Harry asked.

He noticed that the other Aurors were no longer focused on their tasks, but listening to his conversation with Sara. Susan had frozen with a handful of Romilda’s lacy knickers in her hand. Neville was absentmindedly prodding at a floorboard with his wand. Daniel Savage was more subtle, continuing to sort through the desk drawers, but there was a tenseness to his back that indicated he was listening.

“Romilda didn’t confide in anyone, especially not after last fall. I always knew what color nail polish she was wearing, but nothing important.”

“She didn’t talk anyone about what happened? Not even her closest friends?”

“Romilda didn’t have friends. She had followers. It might have been easier for her if she’d had some friends.”

“Friends make everything more bearable,” Harry agreed. “I would do anything for mine. Did you notice any changes in Romilda over the summer?”

“Like her throwing up every single day?” Sara asked, studying Harry.

“Exactly like that.”

Harry had remembered that he wasn’t supposed to be questioning anyone, but Daniel hadn’t stopped him, and even Kelly had emerged from the wardrobe to listen.

“So, she was pregnant,” Sara said, almost to herself. “I don’t know who the father is. As far as I know, Romilda didn’t have a boyfriend.”

“Did she keep her . . . condition hidden?”

“I dunno. I shared a bathroom with her, so it was impossible not to notice. Emilia’s too young, and Dad doesn’t pay much attention to us. Mum had a fit when Romi’s dress robes didn’t fit on the evening of the ball and she laced her up in some medieval looking corset until her waist was 22 inches and told her not to eat anything, but I don’t know if she knew why Romi had gained a couple pounds.”

Harry raised his brows, but the tight corset did not seem to be news to the Senior Aurors. Of course, they had been there for the examination of Romilda’s body, and he had not. “Did she object to being laced up? The dress robes could have been magically altered.”

“If she did, she knew better than to voice it. Mum had just signed Romilda up with her old modeling agency, and she seemed to indicate Romi had put on weight to spite her. Which is what she normally says to me, but never to Romi.” She gestured at her figure, in case no one had noticed she looked different from the rest of the females in her family.

“Was Romilda happy about becoming a model?”

“She was really excited at first. Mum started modeling at sixteen too, just summers and holidays until she finished Hogwarts. Romilda always said that she wanted to do the same, and she got a really good contract with Teen Witch. Then things, er, changed for her, and she started telling Mum it might be better if she waited until she finished school.”

“And how did your mother take this?”

“Let’s just say Mum won that fight.”

Harry thought Ginny may have been right in that the worst of Romilda being the result of her mother’s influence.

“What else was going on with Romilda? Did you know if her having problems with anyone other than your mum? Boys, maybe?” Harry asked.

“Mum would have never killed Romi! She was always the favorite, the beautiful one, Mum’s obvious heir.”

“I’m sorry, Sara. I wasn’t suggesting your mother had hurt her.” Although lacing up a pregnant girl in a corset is hardly harmless, he thought. “I worded that badly. But she did capture the attention of someone dangerous. It sounds like she was under a lot of pressure, getting a modeling contract at the very time she couldn’t possibly model. But could something else have been going on with her?”

Sara looked smaller than she had since coming into the room. “I don’t know. She didn’t tell me anything.”

“Would you be able to tell me who her friends were at Hogwarts? Even if they were more followers than friends?”

She nodded, and then flipped her long black hair over her shoulder. “Start with Rachael Reynolds. And then Rosemarie Walker and Raven King. They’re Gryffindors. They used to call them the Four R’s. And try Flora Clearwater. She’s Romi’s Ravenclaw friend.”

“Thank you, Sara.” Harry quickly wrote down the names. “We’re going to find out who did this to your sister.”

Sara studied the floorboards. “She wasn’t a bad person. People treated her like royalty, and sometimes it went to her head, but Romi was funny and smart and she could be really silly when it was just the three of us sisters.”

“Sara!” Mrs. Vane came back into the room. “What are you doing in here? And in your pajamas! The Aurors are working.”

“I heard voices,” Sara said. Her tone was more quiet than when she had been talking to Harry.

“Go to your room and get dressed. There is some Dexameal in the dining room for you when you are ready.”

Harry knew Dexameal was a drink with weight loss potion in it. Mrs. Weasley had drank it every morning in the days leading up to Bill and Fleur’s wedding, and the lack of calories had made her grumpy. He felt certain the Dexameal was not Sara’s idea, and his dislike of Mrs. Vane increased. He hoped Sara ate a cupcake just to spite her.

When Sara left, Mrs. Vane turned towards the Aurors. “Mortimer and I will see you in his study when you are done here.”

The examination of Romilda’s bedroom took another 20 minutes. There was little noteworthy in her bookshelf. Harry found notes to and from her friends jammed in her History of Magic textbook, but could find nothing relevant in them. They were typical notes passed between kids during a boring class. Ron had the only good find of the bookshelf; one of Romilda’s unicorn figurines was hollow and held a mystery powder inside.

Susan found a WWW love potion in her underwear drawer. Daniel found years worth of correspondence in her desk. Kelly found skimpy Muggle clothes hidden in the very back of her closet, speculating that it could indicate a double life her parents were unaware of. But Neville had the big discovery.

Underneath a loose floorboard were five years worth of diaries.


1:30 p.m.
The Hidden Pumpkin, London

“She was lying,” Daniel said to Kelly. “She knew Romilda was pregnant.”

They had finished with interviews for the day. Questioning Sharon and Mortimer Vane had taken nearly two hours, and it had yielded very little new information.. With the workday over, the Blues and the Misfits had decided a long, boozy Sunday lunch was needed.

Harry had quickly learned that the Aurors hated The Leaky Cauldron as much as they despised cream and sugar in their tea, considering it to be the domain of knitting grandmothers and excited schoolchildren. Their pub of choice was The Hidden Pumpkin, which was located near the Ministry and favored by all departments within the DMLE. And when the Aurors were interested in serious drinking and food was not a consideration, they went to Felix Felicis, which was a bar that hid in plain sight on Diagon Alley and served 213 different types of firewhisky.

“What makes you say that?” Kelly asked.

“She was just a little too shocked. Her reaction was a little too perfect, like something out of a play.”

“Mortimer Vane also seemed shocked. Do you also think he too was lying?”

Daniel shook his head. “It’s not the same thing. You know how you sometimes know someone is lying to you? You don’t know how or why. They are saying all the right things, putting on a good show, but you just know. Ask Potter. He didn’t believe her either.”

Harry looked up from his menu, startled. Was he so transparent?

“Harry thinks the mum did it,” Ron said, then put down his own menu. “I think I’ll get the fish and chips.”

Harry turned red. He tried to kick Ron under the table, but it was Susan who yelped in response. He gave her an apologetic look. “I never said I thought she was the murderer. I just thought there was something off about her. And she’s definitely controlling.”

“Controlling how?” Kelly asked.

Harry quickly went over the points he had explained to Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and George the previous night and told them Ginny’s story about Romilda being put on a strict diet even while at Hogwarts, which Susan confirmed having also been in the Room of Requirement the evening it came up.

“I don’t think anyone thinks Sharon Vane is a model parent,” Kelly said. “But the world has a lot of bad mothers, and most of them do not murder their children.

“I still think she was lying to us,” Daniel commented. “I don’t think she killed her daughter, but she didn’t want us to think she had been aware of the pregnancy. I think she might be hiding something else from us, as well.”

A server came along and took their orders. Once, they all had pints of ale, the talk moved away from the investigation. Kelly pulled out a copy of The Daily Prophet. Harry and Ron were talking about playing a game of Quidditch in the orchard that evening, when Harry looked up to find Kelly looking at him.

“Potter, have you read The Daily Prophet today?”

Fuck. What was it this time? He shook his head.

“Well, you might want to read this.”

He exchanged a glance with Ron and then opened the paper. He did not need to scour the pages. The article Kelly referenced was on the front page.

Harry Potter’s Ex-Girlfriend Murdered at Ministry Ball
By Rita Skeeter

The photograph that accompanied the story showed him and Romilda selecting champagne glasses from the same tray. Had he really been so close to her in those final moments? He had no recollection of seeing her until the time of her death. The angle of photo was curious, as it made his hand look huge. As the movement stopped before he picked up his and Ginny’s glasses, it looked as though he was waving his hands over the glasses, possibly even sprinkling something in them. With unease churning in his stomach, he began to read.

Yesterday evening, longtime girlfriend of The Man Who Triumphed, sixteen-year-old Romilda Vane died of seemingly unnatural causes at the Ministry of Magic’s Midsummer Ball and Order of Merlin Awards ceremony. Shortly before her untimely death, Miss Vane was found hovering near her ex-boyfriend, looking as though she had something urgent to tell him, but Harry Potter, 17, did not even spare her a glance.

“He devoted his attention to a tray of champagne glasses, so that he would not have to look up at Romilda,” said Amanda Merryweather, of the Department of Magical Transportation. “In fact, one could say his hands lingered over the selection of glasses for a suspiciously long time. You could tell Romilda was upset, and who could blame her? She had supported him through difficult times in his sixth year of Hogwarts and during his year on the run, and he left her for the first girl to flutter her eyelashes at him after the Battle of Hogwarts.”

Harry Potter’s latest fling is Ginevra Weasley, 16, the youngest of impoverished family and notorious flirt. “She collected boys at Hogwarts,” said Zacharias Smith, seventh year Hogwarts student and member of a respected Hufflepuff family.

Apparently Miss Weasley’s charms were sufficient to steal young Potter’s affections from Miss Vane, who had been his girlfriend of a year and a half. Potter and Vane’s relationship began in the Gryffindor Common Room following a Quidditch win when Mr. Potter kissed Miss Vane in front of all of their classmates. Members of Gryffindor House described the kiss as “madly romantic” and the couple’s relationship as “fast and passionate.” Miss Vane is reportedly the only person in Hogwarts who Harry Potter kept in contact with during his year on the run.

“After poor Romilda died, Potter was surprisingly cold. He seemed every inch the hardened Auror, accustomed to seeing corpses, in spite of still being in training,” said a Ministry official who refused to be named. “He was there calmly doing the transcription. You would never know that this was a girl had claimed to love once.”

And had Potter’s once famous love turned to hate in the midst of his success?

“I hate to think it,” said Miss Merryweather. “I especially hate to say it out loud, but did Harry Potter do something to Romilda’s glass? It seems impossible that anyone could be that evil to kill a young girl whose life was just beginning, but her death wasn’t an accident. Someone is responsible.”

[See “Political Turmoil and Domestic Abuse: Correlation and Causation,” page 10]

Harry Potter may be innocent of his ex-girlfriend’s death, but appearances reveal too many suspicious coincidences.

The amazing thing about Rita Skeeter was what she wrote was always reliably worse than even Harry expected of her. Harry pushed his steak and kidney pie away, no longer interested in eating. Ron, who had read the article over Harry’s shoulder and had made a sound of disgust when he read Zacharias’ comment about Ginny, did not suffer Harry’s loss of appetite. He eagerly moved Harry’s plate closer to him.

“Harry,” Kelly said, “I hate to ask, especially as I know 98% of what Skeeter writes is bullshit, but were you ever romantically involved with Romilda Vane? If you were, you can’t work on this case. It’s a very clear conflict of interest. Even an innocent date at Hogsmeade a couple years ago would look really bad.”

“No!” Harry said. “We never dated. I think I had two or three conversations with her in the course of my life, and one of them involved me yelling at her to get off the Quidditch pitch if she wasn’t going to take Gryffindor tryouts seriously.”

“It’s the truth,” Ron said. “Harry and Romilda were never together, in spite of Romilda’s best attempts.”

Kelly looked stern. “In spite of her best attempts? Explain.”

Harry sighed. “Professor Slughorn had an invitation only Christmas party a couple years ago. It was a really big deal to go as the guest list was so limited. It was well known that I had an invite, and a lot of the younger girls kept hinting that they wanted to go as my date. Romilda went a step further. She gave me some chocolates laced with love potion.”

“Did you eat them?”

“No, Hermione warned me that she’d overheard some girls giggling about love potions and, well, me in the girls’ bathroom. When she gave me the chocolates, I had a pretty good suspicion that there was more than just chocolate in them.”

“But they could have been mere chocolates,” Kelly pointed out. “You could have missed out on a really good snack.”

“No, I said I never ate them,” Harry said, “but they did get eaten. Ron ate them by accident. And let’s just say the love potion wasn’t weak or diluted.”

Kelly looked over at Ron, eating Harry’s food. “Only you would ‘accidentally’ eat someone else’s food. So, do you have a conflict of interest?”

Harry answered for him as his best mate had a mouthful of food, which he would not hesitate to spew all over the table. “Nah, I took Ron to Slughorn’s office before he had an opportunity to serenade Romilda in the Great Hall.”

Kelly put her head in her hands. “You two are going to be really fun trainees. I can feel it.”

“That’s not the posture that indicates a successful interview.” Gawain Robards had arrived.

“Everyone went smoothly at the Vane house, boss,” Kelly said. “My current irritation is all Rita Skeeter.”

Gawain sighed. “What now?”

Kelly took the paper out of Harry’s hands and gave it to their boss. Harry squirmed as Gawain read it.

“This is fabulous!” Gawain said.

Kelly, Harry, and Ron just stared at each other. There was no sarcasm in Gawain’s voice. He sounded genuinely delighted.

“Sir?” Kelly said. “Did we read the same article?”

“We did. Potter, do you have a conflict of interest?” Gawain asked.

“No. Romilda was never my girlfriend.”

“Glad to hear it.” Gawain gave the paper back to Kelly. “Take a good look at the photo. Then tell me what is cropped out of this photo.”

“A server,” Harry said quietly.

“Exactly. The Daily Prophet will need to surrender all of their photos to us. Some of them are bound to contain the person who gave Romilda that fatal glass.”

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