"Mr. Malfoy, what can I do for you?"
He nodded awkwardly, rising from the steps. His 6 ft. 3 stance loomed over me in its full effect. I wasn't a particularly short girl, but it struck me how much he had grown since I last saw him. And he had changed in other ways too. His face had gotten even bonier, his high cheekbones defined with no inch of boyish puppy fat. He was lean, but not buff. In fact, I was sure I had more meat on me.
"Daphne told me you'd be here. How did the interview go?"
"It didn't really"
He smiled, but the light didn't reach his eyes. It was uncomfortable. I didn't know where we stood, besides outside my apartment in the freezing London air. We hadn't left things very well the last time we saw each other. I was dealing with the aftermath of the spell, the little matter of having my whole identity changed and the revelation that I was a direct descendant of the Wizarding World's worst wizard to exist. Obviously, it was all a very confusing time. The fact that Draco knew about all this made it all that much harder to forget.
"Do you want to come in?" I asked, my awkwardness in the situation actually making me resort to quoting socially acceptable phrases that I knew neither of us saw any sincerity in. Thankfully, we were on the same page.
"No, no, I won't keep you. I just wanted to give you this"
I took the envelope from him. It was cream parchment, with black cursive writing on it. 'Ministry' was the first word that came to mind.
"It's an invitation" He said in response to my puzzled expression. "The ministry is having a dinner"
"Yes. Details are inside"
I nodded. There was an awkward silence. I wanted to ask him how he was doing, where he was working, did he move out of his house, had he a loved one? But I couldn't. Too many questions about the past prevented me from inquiring about his present. So I didn't say anything.
"Well, I better be off."
He nodded and turned around.
"Maybe it's best to use an owl next time"
Daphne wrinkled her nose at the red dress I was parading around barefoot in our living room.
"No, Tegan. You're going to a formal dinner hosted by the Minister of Magic. Not clubbing"
I rolled my eyes. Daphne was such a stick in the mud. She wore cardigans, for Merlin's sake. Her job at the Ministry seemed to transform her from a semi-trendily dressed young woman into, well, what she was now. She wore pencil skirts and white shirts she spent a ridiculous amount of time ironing and black tights when it wasn't cold and...
"Do I really have to go?"
She looked at me with contempt.
"What about this?" She held up a midi-length black dress with absolutely no shape or style. I didn't remember buying it, and questioned what state of mind I was in when I had.
"When did I get this?"
"You didn't, it's mine"
That made a lot more sense.
"Try it on"
After changing into the sack and after making an unsuccessful attempt to glam up the look with lipstick and heels, I decided I was done with getting ready. I glanced at the Ministry letter on my dresser.
Dear Ms. Astoria Greengrass,
You are cordially invited to the Ministry's Monthly Moonlight Monday Meeting, hosted by myself. The aim of the board is to improve economic and cultural circumstance within the Wizarding World and further the recovery from the Second Wizarding World. You have been chosen to attend this dinner because we feel that you, as an individual, have something to contribute to this act.
Please send an owl if you are unable to attend.
Minister for Magic.
Daphne was watching me from the door. Her lips were pursed and her eyes were narrowed. "Spit it out, Daphne" I said, raising my eyebrows.
She walked across the room and stopped at the letter, fingering it cautiously.
"'You have been chosen to attend this dinner'" She recited, a hint of something in her voice. "Chosen? Chosen by who?"
"The Minister of Magic?" I suggested, because that was the name signed off on the letter. This didn't please Daphne at all and her frown only deepened.
"Any particular reason?"
I turned to her, aware that I was smirking. Was Daphne really jealous of some stupid invitation to an hour long meeting that I had no interest in?
"Maybe they have finally decided to recognise extreme laziness as a valuable contribution to society"
She gave a small smile.
"Look, don't worry about it. They probably just want a representative from the WWC. If they wanted the better Greengrass, they would have asked you."
She looked slightly ashamed at this point, as she should be. It made me question what kind of things happened to my cousin (or sister, if you knew me as Astoria) to make her this unsure of herself.
"Sorry, Tegan. I guess I've just been waiting a bit longer than I expected for a promotion at work" She regained her composure, a smile fixed back on her face. "But I'm sure it will come any day now"
I knew she worked hard. There were long days, long nights. She needed to be back at the Ministry for this, needed to write up this, send this, do this. Sometimes her shades didn't come up in her room, because the only time she spent in there was sleeping. It was taking a toll on her attitude as well. She constantly was getting mood swings, agitated more times than not. The only thing that rivalled the dark circles under her eyes were her dark moods.
"Don't stress, Daph. Things are hard for everyone"
She looked weary.
"Not everyone, Tegan"
Before I could question exactly what she meant by that, she grabbed my arm.
We delved into the blur of colours. I felt like I was being pulled in all directions. I was dragged to the right, then to the left. I felt both like I was drowning and like I was flying. I had only recently started learning to apparate so the odd sensation that came with it still threw me. A scene began to come into focus and mumbled conversation became clearer.
"Ah, and here's Ms. Greengrass!"
I stumbled forward blindly, the vision of elegance and grace I usually was. I looked around the room, if you could call it that. It was more like a grand hall than a room. It was like a scene out of Downton Abbey. High ceiling, diamond chandeliers, tapestries, Romanesque columns. I felt underdressed in my midi-length sack, especially when I saw the gathering of people before me.
I recognised a few among the small group. There was Professor McGonagall in the corner, a teacher who I did not have the best relationship with throughout the years. She just never seemed to warm to my charms, although perhaps her coldness was justified by the lack of effort I made in her class. I made a mental note to avoid her for the night.
The Minister of Magic stood in the middle, wearing a long emerald velvet cloak and what appeared to be throw made out of some animal fur. He looked right at home in among the grandeur and luxury of the place. It struck me how well-off all these people looked, all wearing the finest of cloaks. Daphne's words came into my mind, 'not everyone, Tegan'.
"Ms. Greengrass, lovely to see you!" The Minister said, smiling. "I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Clayton McCabe, head of the Muggle Affairs department, and Mr. Harold Olivers, head of the Education department. Men, this is Astoria Greengrass"
The two men nodded, the first not paying any attention and the second paying too much attention.
"So, Ms. Greengrass..." the rounder of the two leaned in more than I felt necessary. I could smell Butterbeer on his breath. I wrinkled my nose. "What do you do so well that brings your here tonight?"
"I'm a representative from WWC" I replied, ducking slightly back. The tall, slender man had his eyes narrowed, as if he couldn't figure out what on earth I was doing there. But no, he was in fact pondering what on earth he was doing there.
"Why am I standing here talking to a drunk and a cheerleader?" He muttered, obviously thinking that the man's alcohol intake and my 'apparent' low IQ prohibited us from hearing such statements said at what one could only call an audible volume.
"I don't know, sir. Any conversation beyond pom-poms, spirit-instilling chants and peppy dance routines and I'm lost!"
He scowled. I had offended one person at this intimate gathering, only a handful left to go. The fat man was fighting to keep his eyes open, rocking backwards and forwards. I didn’t know which one disgusted me more.
"You're one of the loveliest..." His head lolled to the side. "...one of the loveliest faces I've..."
"Mr. Olivers, I think it’s time to go for a little lie down in the kitchen"
I turned on hearing the familiar voice.
His eyes widened slightly in surprise. Because of course, he does not know me. I am merely the younger sister of a Slytherin girl in his year. He doesn't know the real me.
"I'm sorry, I don't know your name"
"Astoria" I said, shaking his hand. I was disappointed that there was no recognition there, which was surprising to me. I had gotten used to the side-effects of the spell. So why did it hurt?
"Well, Mr. Olivers, do you think we should leave Astoria and Mr. McCabe continue their conversation in peace?"
Yes, please do leave me to deal with this bitter, insufferable old man.
Harry Potter, always the hero.