A few days after Draco and Blaise moved into their new London home, Blaise received an owl. He opened the letter and read it. Draco watched as a smile edged onto his face.
“What in Merlin’s name are you so cheerful about?” he finally asked, annoyed.
Blaise looked up with a grin.
“Why shouldn’t I be cheerful? I just started an excellent job, moved into a very handsome house, and you and I have just received an invitation to a party. What’s not to be cheerful about?”
“We’ve what? What party?”
“The party that that Lavender chick invited us to last week. Remember: the one that her good friends, the two witches who just moved into the neighborhood, are going to be attending?”
“There is no way that I’m going to that party, Blaise,” Draco said with a grimace. “You know that. Can’t understand why on earth you’d want to go --”
“To let everyone know that two handsome – and available - young bachelors have moved into the neighborhood; why else?” Blaise smirked.
Draco couldn’t resist a small smirk. “You forgot fabulously rich; handsome and fabulously rich available young bachelors.” Then he frowned. “You’re trying to change the subject, aren’t you? Nice try; now tell me: what’s wrong with you that you want to go to this Gryffindor party?”
“Honestly? When that Lavender woman mentioned that she had two friends who’d just moved into the neighborhood, I remembered what our real estate wizard said – about two ‘very pretty witches’ who he’d just found a flat for. I don’t think it could hurt to meet the beautiful ladies of the neighborhood, do you?”
“That real estate wizard was an old codger, Blaise. He’d probably think that Pansy was pretty.”
Blaise snorted back a laugh. “Now that’s not a very nice way to talk about a friend, Draco.”
“Who ever said I was nice?”
“In any case, I’m not going to this party, pretty witches or not. I’m not interested in being pointed at and whispered about, thank you very much.”
“Yeah, pointed at and whispered about, Draco. And if you’re lucky, some of your admirers might even talk to you. You’ll be the envy of every guy there,” Blaise grinned.
“That’s not what I meant, Blaise, and you know it,” snapped Draco.
Blaise glared at his friend. “You know what Draco? I am sick and tired of you feeling sorry for yourself and wallowing away your life, hiding from anyone who might criticize you – ”
“ – I’m not hiding! – ”
“ – afraid that someone might call you a Death Eater – ”
“ – I’m not afraid – ”
“Like hell you’re not!” snapped Blaise. “It’s time to get over it, Draco! You’re DRACO MALFOY, for goodness sake! You’re not supposed to worry about what people think!”
“I’m not worried about what people think! I’m worried about the hexes and curses that they’re going to throw at me,” barked Draco. “I may have been officially been declared innocent, Blaise, but that doesn’t mean that people believe it! If Potter’s at the party, he’ll probably try to kill me!”
“Potter, and everyone else, knows the real story now, Draco. He may not like you, but he won’t attack you.”
“The whole story?” Draco said coldly. “And what exactly would that be? They know I tried to kill Dumbledore; they know I let that creature into Hogwarts. Do you think they care what the background story is?”
“They’ve forgiven the man who actually did kill Dumbledore; they’ve even made him a war hero, Draco. After the War, people finally started to realize that you can’t always judge a person by their appearance and they’ve accepted people who they’d never have trusted before. They’ve accepted me! Yes,” Blaise said, holding up his hands to halt Draco’s protests, “I know that I’m in a different situation than you since I never actually became a Death Eater. Still, I was a racist bigot back at Hogwarts, but they’ve accepted me because they know I’ve changed. I know it will be harder for you than it was for me, but the fact is, you’ve changed too, and eventually people will recognize that. But only if you let them.”
“How do you know that I’ve changed?” Draco asked, looking at Blaise unblinkingly.
Draco was aware that the question was eerily close to the one that he’d asked Dumbledore so many years before. “How do you know I’m not a killer?”
“Why are you so convinced that you’re a bad person, Draco?” Blaise asked quietly, interrupting his thoughts. “You’re not the same person you were when you took the Dark Mark; you couldn’t be the same person after everything that has happened since that day. And you know that you’re not.”
Wordlessly, Draco turned away from Blaise and folded his arms. Blaise was right; he had changed since he’d eagerly allowed the Dark Lord to brand him nine years ago.
With his back still turned Draco said, “All right, I admit that in essence, I have changed. But I haven’t in persona. I’m not a Death Eater at heart, but I am still a Slytherin. That’s not going to change, and as long as it doesn’t change, people won’t believe that I’ve changed.”
“Then make your comeback in the wizarding world as a Slytherin, and the hell with what people say about you. You never used to care what they thought of you before! Why let it stop you now?”
Draco stared at Blaise for a good long minute. Then he narrowed his eyes and hardened his jaw and said, “As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right, Blaise. I shouldn’t give a damn what people say to or think about me. I’ll go to this… party,” he spat, “even if it kills me, because I’m not going to allow the wagging tongues of a bunch of pathetic Gryffindors dictate my life.”
“That’s my boy!” Blaise beamed, slapping Draco on the back.
Ginny Weasley was busy at her desk finishing up some paperwork before it was time to leave for the day when a graying head poked through her office doorway.
“Ms. Weasley? Mister Ragnok would like to see you in his office before you leave,” the middle aged woman said.
Ginny nodded without looking up to show that she’d heard the message. She finished up her paperwork, straightened up her desk, grabbed her cloak and purse, and made her way to her boss’s office down the hall. The door was open.
“Come right in, Ms. Weasley,” said a cracking voice. “Take a seat, this won’t be long.”
Ginny sat down and looked at the Goblin behind the desk expectantly.
“Ms. Weasley,” he began, “you’ve been working in your new position as Gringotts of Diagon Alley’s most senior banking consultant for a month now and I’m glad to say that your performance has been everything that I expected.”
“Thank you, sir,” Ginny said, pleased.
“However,” the goblin continued, “you have not yet had the opportunity to perform the most important duty of a senior banking consultant, namely, working with our most valuable clients. I wanted you to first get settled in to your other duties before I had you start on this one. Besides,” he said, almost as an afterthought, “we haven’t had any new valuable clients in all the time since you took over your position. In any case, I called you here to inform you that I expect you to take over that particular duty starting tomorrow.”
“Of course, sir,” Ginny said with a smile. Working with clients was Ginny’s forte, and Gringotts knew it. It was why she’d received two huge promotions since she’d first been employed at the bank four years earlier.
“Of course, as of now, I have no idea when the next one of our top clients might come to the bank,” Ragnok said with a grunt, “but I wanted you to know that I’m sending out a memo that will say that all clients dealing in a million galleons or more are to be sent to you. You might not see such a client for months, for all I know, but I want you to be prepared. It is your responsibility to do everything possible to get them to open accounts with Gringotts. I’m sure that you’ll do admirably, as you have done in the past with our lower profile clients.”
“I look forward to it sir.”
“Very good. That’s all, Ms. Weasley. Good evening.”
“Good evening, sir.”
Ginny got up and left the office. As she walked into Gringotts’ entrance hall and out the front door, she swung her purse happily. She loved her job.
“Hey, Ginny!” a voice called from behind her. She spun around and came face to face with her brother and his two closest friends.
“Hey Ron!” she grinned as he hugged her. “Harry, Hermione,” she said over his shoulder “ – how are you all doing?”
“Great, Ginny!” Hermione said enthusiastically. “I heard you got a promotion; congratulations!”
“Thanks,” Ginny answered as Ron released her, smiling more broadly.
“And a new place,” Harry added. “Decided to join the neighborhood, have you? We’ll have to come check it out some time.”
Before Ginny could reply, a voice behind her called, “Yoohoo! Ginny, is that you?”
She glanced over her shoulder and saw Lavender rushing towards her. She’d obviously just finished up at work too.
“Who else?” Ginny asked, knowing full well that Lavender wouldn’t be interested in whether it was her or not once she saw the aurors near her. Sure enough, as soon as Lavender reached them, she threw on a dazzling smile.
“Harry! Ron! How are you? How’s the auror business? And Hermione too? It’s been much too long!”
Harry, Ron, and Hermione greeted her with smiles. Ron’s and Harry’s were a bit more enthusiastic than Hermione’s. Ginny rolled her eyes at Hermione behind Lavender’s back. Hermione shook her head with a sigh.
“So, have you had any exciting cases lately?” Lavender asked, batting her eyelashes.
“Actually we’re not supposed to talk about it,” Hermione said.
“Kind of a, ‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,’ sort of thing,” Harry added. He and Ron started laughing. Lavender tried to laugh along. Ginny looked on in confusion.
“It’s a muggle thing,” Hermione muttered as Lavender continued her conversation with Harry and Ron. “Harry’s getting Ron addicted to the things.”
“What things?” Ginny frowned.
“Movies; they especially like spy thrillers.”
“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about, Hermione.”
“You’ll have to come over some time so I can show you, I guess. You should come over anyways! It’s been way too long since you’ve visited our flat.”
Ginny smiled weakly. She didn’t really enjoy going over to the flat that Harry, Ron, and Hermione shared. It was a large one but Ginny always felt like there wasn’t quite enough room for her when she was there. And while she and Harry had broken up years ago, they still weren’t quite back to their pre-relationship friendship.
“Yeah, we’ll have to do that sometime,” said Ginny. “Look, I really have to go; I told Luna I’d be back by 5:30. I don’t want her to worry about me.”
“No problem,” Hermione said cheerfully. “Take care of yourself Ginny.”
“Bye,” Ginny called to the others loudly.
“Wait a second, Ginny!” Lavender cried. “Don’t forget about my party Saturday night; I’m calling it for 8pm. Tell Luna, alright? And you guys have to come to!” she trilled at Harry and Ron.
Ginny still didn’t think that she’d be going to a party that Draco Malfoy might be attending but she definitely did not want to talk about it in front of her brother and his friends who were looking annoyingly interested.
“Uh, sure Lavender. I’ll see you then.” And with a quick wave, Ginny turned away from the group and began to make her way to the apparition port.
With a sigh of relief at having avoided promising Lavender that she’d attend the party, Ginny walked up to the port, went through security, and apparated home.
“Luna? I’m back!” she called into the apartment.
“Hello,” Luna’s voice was coming from above her. Ginny looked up. Luna was standing on a ladder, painting the ceiling. Ginny grinned.
“Having fun, Luna?”
“Oh yes,” Luna answered, not looking down from her painting.
“I have a message from Lavender. She said that the party’s Saturday night at 8pm. I’m not planning on going, of course, but you can if you want.”
“Why aren’t you planning on going?” Luna asked vaguely.
“Oh gee, I wonder,” Ginny said sarcastically. “Maybe I don’t want to hang out with Slytherins?”
Luna sighed and finally tore her eyes away from her painting. “Ginny, you shouldn’t judge people by their school houses. Even if they were defined by their houses when they were at Hogwarts, so much time has passed that you can hardly expect that people haven’t changed. I say we go, check out the scene, and if we don’t like it, we leave as fast as we came. What do you say?”
Ginny looked at Luna thoughtfully. “Doubt they’ve changed, but I suppose I could go for a few minutes. Like you said, if not, we’ll just leave.”
“That’s the spirit,” Luna said, turning back to the ceiling.
“I wonder what sort of party it’s going to be,” Ginny said as she walked out of the room. “Lavender invited Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and if the Slytherins are there too… It’ll be quite a scene.”
Late Saturday afternoon found Draco Malfoy regretting that he’d agreed to attend the party.
“I cannot believe that you’re going to this thing,” Pansy said from her relaxed position in one of the love seats in the parlor. “
“Why not?” Blaise asked, not looking up from the game of wizard’s chess he was playing with himself. “A party’s a party, right?”
“Well, I think that you’ll need someone to keep the Gryffindors away from you,” Pansy said snootily.
Draco rolled his eyes, “That was a thinly veiled plea for an invitation if I ever heard one.” Not that he was surprised. Pansy always tried to push her way into Blaise’s and Draco’s –mostly Draco’s – lives, as was clear by her appearance at their house that day without any warning.
“Are you saying that you’d rather hang out with Gryffindor girls, Draco?” Pansy raised an eyebrow.
“Did you hear me say that? I don’t need you to protect me; I can take care of myself fine. If you want to come, just say so.”
“I don’t want to come,” Pansy protested. “I’m just offering to help!”
“Eh, just come, Pansy. The more the merrier,” Blaise said absently, concentrating on his game with himself a bit too much for comfort.
“You mean the more Slytherins, the merrier,” Pansy said with a smirk.
“Yeah, that,” Blaise replied.
“Well then, I’d better come. Don’t you think so Draco?” she asked, eyes glinting mischievously. “Won’t I make the party much more fun?”
“Sure, Pansy,” Draco said, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. He liked Pansy a lot better when she treated him like a friend, rather than a potential boyfriend.
“Ha!” Blaise suddenly shouted. “I won!”
“Which one of you?” Draco asked.
“Oh, shut up, Draco. I think we should go get dressed, don’t you?”
“Whatever,” Draco muttered. But he appreciated the excuse to get away from a flirting Pansy so he stood up and strolled out of the room.
“Make sure you look presentable when you come back,” Blaise shouted after him.
“I always look presentable,” Draco called back as he marched up the stairs, down the hall, into his bedroom, and slammed the door behind him.
Despite his claims that he always looked presentable, Draco sneaked a glance into the mirror. He examined his reflection, wondering what people would see when they saw him after all these years.
His gray eyes and white blonde hair were the same as ever. But his facial structure and haircut showed that he wasn’t a young teenager anymore. His face had filled out since Hogwarts; it was less thin and pointed and more squared and muscular. His hair wasn’t as long as it had been back at school. He had what his personal barber had called, “a contemporary version of the Ivy League cut.” His hair was cut to the form of his head, except for in the front where it was a bit longer and softly spiked. He was more filled out as well. He hadn’t grown any taller than the six feet he’d been at 17, but with more time with himself than with friends for so many years, he’d spent a lot of it working out, and it showed.
Draco narrowed his eyes at the image in the mirror and turned away.
“Who cares what people think?” he told himself for what felt like the tenth time that day. “I’m Draco Malfoy; I don’t care what people think.” If he repeated it, maybe it would be true.
He walked over to his closet and pulled out a set of black robes with a cut that would emphasize his height and make him look imposing. He’d look presentable alright.