|SIYE Time:3:20 on 24th February 2018|
Genres: Action/Adventure, Romance
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mild Language, Negative Alcohol Use, Rape, Spouse/Adult/Child Abuse, Violence/Physical Abuse
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.
Hitcount: Story Total: 1438; Chapter Total: 176
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.
This at least was comfortable territory. When she had attended Beauxbatons last year, she had been surprised that the French magical students learned subjects other than magic. She had taken ballroom dancing, cooking lessons, and she had even had a weekly class in the arts, where they studied magical literature, painting, music, and theatre. Beauxbatons staged one school play per year and held two balls, one at Christmas and the other at Valentines Day. She found she was dreading going back to Hogwarts, as she had felt more comfortable at Beauxbatons, even if she had found that she wasn’t quite as fluent in French as she had thought.
“You are an excellent dancer, Mr. Malfoy,” she said. “Tell me, did your mother make you take lessons?”
“Of course,” he said. “I am a Malfoy after all. I have had dancing lessons, fencing lessons, dueling lessons, hunting lessons, and bizarrely enough, poetry lessons.”
Draco was clearly more at ease on the dance floor, and he looked every inch a Malfoy. He was handsome, with an understated elegance. She felt lucky to have him as a date, even with the rumors that surrounded him.
“There is a story behind that?”
“There always is. You are a good dancer yourself. Lessons?”
She nodded. “Not private lessons, though Daph had some when she was thirteen. Beauxbatons. They liked to make sure everyone leaves with a very cultured education. They even made sure that we knew our wines. Do you know how depressing it will be to go back to pumpkin juice at Hogwarts next year?”
“I know this is heresy for a pureblood, but I really hate pumpkin juice,” Draco said.
“I agree,” Astoria said. “Whoever looked at a pumpkin first and thought, ‘I could juice that’?”
The photographers were excited. There was a series of flashes behind them. Astoria looked over her shoulder. Had the Minister arrived?
Draco was scowling. “Potter. And his girlfriend.”
Astoria was madly curious about the relationship between Draco and Harry Potter. She knew they were hostile rivals at Hogwarts, but like everyone else, she knew that Potter’s testimony was the only reason he and Narcissa had escaped Azkaban.
The chaos died down a little, and she and Draco saw security guards escort Harry and Ginny past the reporters. “She looks really lovely.”
She had always admired the Gryffindor girl, who was a year ahead of her in Hogwarts. Like her, Ginny was small, but her body was strong and athletic while Astoria’s was delicate. She’d always thought the red-haired girl to be smart and witty, with a confidence around boys that Astoria had always lacked. She would love to paint Ginny who was as vibrant as a phoenix.
Harry, she had sketched on many occasions although he was unaware of it. At Hogwarts, she had been infamous for her overnight stays in the hospital wing due to a lifelong blood condition, and some of her stays had overlapped with Harry’s. At curfew, Harry’s friends would leave, and she would sketch him as he slept. He had been her favorite subject at Hogwarts, as there had always been so much uncertainty around him.
“She’s all right, I suppose,” Draco drawled, “if you like red hair and freckles.”
“I think she’s beautiful and strong. I admire her.” The song had ended. “Do you want to get champagne? Or circulate?”
They moved away from the dance floor, grabbing glasses of champagne as they did so. The wine wasn’t very good. Aunt Caresse would have never served it. She knew that the Ministry had not purchased its wine from her father, selecting a different distributor. Still, it was alcohol, and alcohol was what Astoria needed to interact with more sophisticated adults with any level of confidence.
Following Narcissa’s lead, Draco and Astoria attempted to strike up conversations with various Ministry officials. It didn’t go well. Each time, they exchanged polite small talk for approximately one minute before each person “remembered” there was someone they urgently needed to speak with. It would be the Malfoys’ new normal, but neither mother nor son was accustomed to it yet. She could practically feel annoyance radiating from Draco.
At least, Narcissa seemed to be having somewhat better luck. She’d been talking to the same lady for quite some time. When Astoria caught a glance at the lady’s face, she rapidly revised her opinion. Muriel Prewitt. A gossip and all around horrible person. Astoria had met the older lady at a charity event once, and she instantly knew Mrs. Prewitt’s painting would be a formal portrait. She would be seated with an angry pug in her lap, surrounded by doilies and fussy knickknacks of the sort women began collecting after they turned sixty.
Draco grabbed two more glasses of champagne and led her to one of the tables.
“Do you have quill and parchment?”
Astoria wasn’t sure what was more odd: That Draco expected her to have a quill, ink, or parchment at a ball or that she actually had those items in her clutch.
She pulled the items out and slid them over to Draco. She expected him to jot down some notes, perhaps something he needed to do later, but he surprised her.
__ __ __ __ __ __
__ __ __ __
She very much hoped Narcissa did not catch them playing hangman, as she sensed the matriarch would be scandalized, but she was eager to play as she had exhausted her small talk abilities for the evening. After a few tries she worked it out: dragon fire.
When Draco excused himself to visit the restroom, Astoria began to feel even more awkward sitting by herself. She told herself to get up and socialize. There were a few people she recognized from Ravenclaw, all older than herself of course, but she couldn’t bring herself to stand up and mingle. She wanted to talk to Daphne, but she knew how excited her sister had been about her date, and she did not wish to interrupt.
As a voracious reader, Astoria loved the idea of balls. In many of her favorite novels, a naive young woman went to a ball where she met rich and mysterious men, and there were often cases of mistaken identity, usually on a dark balcony. When she was in second year, and Daphne had stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas break to attend the Yule Ball with Blaise Zabini, she’d thought her sister the luckiest girl in the world, dreaming of her own first ball.
Now her first ball was here. Her dress was pretty and flattering to her figure, and she knew she looked nice. She even had a rich and witty young man for a date. But, as was the case was whenever Astoria had an actual adventure, she wished she was at home, merely dreaming of adventures, as imaginary scenarios were usually the most satisfying kind. She felt so very young. At sixteen, she was probably the youngest one at the ball. Ginny Weasley was only a year older, but Ginny had no idea who Astoria was.
Or maybe she wasn’t the youngest one there. She spotted Romilda Vane seated at a table just off the dance floor. Romilda was in her year, but in Gryffindor. As Ravenclaw and Gryffindor only had Charms together, she didn’t know the dark-haired girl very well, and she preferred to keep it that way. The Gryffindor girl had always struck her as being very aggressive and conceited.
Tonight, Romilda was looking neither aggressive nor conceited. In fact, her expression was very difficult to read. A prickle went down Astoria’s back, and she found herself reaching for the quill and ink she and Draco had used to play hangman. It was a mini-quill she kept in her evening clutch out of habit. She never knew where the urge to sketch would strike, so she was always prepared.
She began with a rough sketch of Romilda. The other girl leaned back in her chair, looking like a disappointed princess. Her legs were crossed and a sparkly gold shoe poked out from under her crimson satin dress robes. Her toenails were painted red. While most of the women in the ballroom wore elaborate updos, Romilda’s dark hair curled around her shoulders, an untamed contrast to her otherwise polished appearance.
It was her face that had Astoria interested. Her lips, full lower lip, thin upper were in a slight pout. Her thin straight eyebrows were drawn together. She looked like she was sulking, except for her eyes. Her dark brown eyes were melancholy. Astoria tried to figure out what Romilda was staring at it.
She saw Romilda get up and head in Harry’s direction. The dark-haired girl moved like a panther on the hunt. She picked up a champagne glass from a waiter’s tray at the same time Harry grabbed two glasses. He didn’t notice Romilda inches away from him. His attention was on his girlfriend and his two best friends. Romilda hovered a bit, swirling her wine around in her glass, looking as if she were about to say something.
Before she could do so, Harry led Ginny to the dance floor, still having not glanced in Romilda’s direction.
Romilda had managed to catch Hermione’s attention. She mockingly raised a glass in the older girl’s direction and swished off to the table where she had been sitting with an older couple who were most likely Mr. and Mrs. Vane. As she sat, her eyes remained fixed on Harry.
Astoria’s sketch grew more and more detailed, adding every drape of Romilda’s beautiful gown. After a while, her quill began moving in ways her hand had not directed. She normally enjoyed this part, but tonight it felt wrong somehow. Her mother had always said Astoria had a gift. When she drew, she saw people’s true nature. She also saw other things. Future events, choices they would need to make, forks in their paths.
What she saw around Romilda frightened her. She had drawn a box around the Gryffindor girl, and she sensed it was about to close in. Random doodles appeared on the edges of her sketch: bottles, vials, champagne glasses. Astoria had no idea what any of this meant, but she knew had to warn her and time was not on her side.
“Astoria? What’s wrong?” Draco was back at her side, and Astoria realized what she must look like, sketching like a person possessed.
She stood. “I need to talk to Romilda. It’s urgent.”
She left a startled Draco behind her as she walked quickly in Romilda’s direction. She had no idea what she would say to the other girl, but she felt like if she could just reach her, it would be all right.
But then Romilda held a hand to her throat. She looked as though she was choking. It was mere seconds, but it felt as though time was moving in slow motion to Astoria. Just as Mrs. Vane noticed her daughter’s distress, Romilda flopped over the table, her head landing in a small plate of cheese and crackers.
Astoria knew immediately that she was dead.
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