He had an important financial report sitting on his desk waiting to be reviewed but his mind kept wandering. He stared at the grounds visible from his study windows at the extended curving grassland, rising into lush hills in the distance, and absently reflected on how taking up Blaise's offer would mean that he would no longer have such scenery to zone out on when he was supposed to be focusing on his work. Not that he couldn't come back whenever he wanted; the estate would still be his. But he wouldn't be living there anymore, which meant that he wouldn't be there very often.
His mind wandered to that day a month earlier when Blaise had introduced his idea. He and Pansy had come for dinner and when dessert was served, Blaise had made his announcement.
"I've applied for a job at St. Mungo's and I think I have a very good chance of getting it."
"Well, that's exciting; isn't it Draco?" Pansy said, looking eagerly at Draco.
"If you like hanging around people who are suffering from dragon pox or werewolf bites then, yes, it's exciting," Draco replied.
"Oh come off it," Blaise rolled his eyes. "I didn't spend two years in training in order to get a job managing a factory. Not all of us are cut out for business, Draco."
"To each his own," Draco said with a shrug, digging his spoon into a piece of chocolate cake.
"I'll be moving to London," Blaise said, watching Draco carefully. "And I've been thinking… You should move with me."
Draco looked up in surprise. "Who, me?"
"No, Pansy," Blaise said sarcastically. "Of course you!"
"I wouldn't mind moving in with you two," Pansy said, glancing at Draco with a glint in her eye. Draco ignored her.
"Why would I want to move to London when I've got this magnificent estate here in Scotland?" Draco asked casually.
"You've got an even more magnificent estate in Wiltshire and you don't live there," Blaise pointed out. "So it's obviously not the estate that's keeping you here.
"Blaise, you know why I don't live in Malfoy Manor," Draco said testily. "Living in London would be even worse."
"It's been six years, Draco. Don't you think that it's about time that you got over the War and went home?"
"I'm not the one who needs to get over it," Draco said coldly.
"If you got over it, you wouldn't care about people pointing at and whispering about you. Draco, London is the center of Britain's wizarding world and you're one of the most important businesswizards in Britain; do you really think that you're going to be able to avoid it for the rest of your life?"
Draco knew that Blaise was right. Over the last year, when he'd finally taken over full responsibility for his companies and properties, he'd realized that if he wanted to keep them flourishing then he'd have to stop relying on middle-men to take care of business. That meant that he would have to return to England.
"Muggles and mudbloods," Draco thought darkly. "London's full of them, and Blaise expects me to live there?"
It was a weak excuse and Draco knew it. If he let his prejudice get in the way of his responsibilities he'd be risking the success of his fortune and when it came to that, Draco knew that he would even suffer muggles and mudbloods.
In any case, Draco was less concerned about having to live amongst such filth than he was worried about how the wizarding world would react to the reappearance of Draco Malfoy. It was one thing for other businesswizards to work with him – they could scarcely avoid it since he had so many businesses and money invested in a fairly large portion of the wizarding business world. Being accepted into the wizarding world socially, however, was a completely different story. People would tolerate him, certainly, but he doubted that they would accept the son of war-criminal Lucius Malfoy, regardless of his Wizengamot pardon.
Maybe it was worth losing money as long as he didn't have to face all the people who hated him.
Draco narrowed his eyes at this thought and sat up straight in his chair. Who was he fooling? He was a Malfoy; he wouldn't allow any sappy feelings get in the way of his fortune. What did he need the respect of the wizarding world for anyways?
Draco snatched up a quill, took out a piece of parchment, and began to write:
I give in; if it makes you happy, I'll come and look at this bloody house in London. I'm through worrying about what people think of me.
Without bothering to read it over, Draco sealed the letter, stood up, gave it to his owl, and told the bird to take it to Blaise.
After the owl disappeared over the green landscape, Draco collapsed into his tall leather chair and poured himself a glass of Firewhiskey Gold.
He was going to get smashed.
"So how do you like it Draco?" Blaise sounded very pleased with himself.
They had just finished a tour of a house in Kensington, London, and though Draco was loath to admit it, it was a very nice house, even if it was tiny compared to what he was accustomed to.
"It's small," Draco said gruffly.
"Compared to what you're used to, yes, but when you live in the city you can't expect to have 20 bedrooms, Draco," Blaise said, undisturbed by Draco's tone.
Draco glanced out the front windows. Blaise caught the glance.
"It's one of the most popular neighborhoods in London; one of the most expensive," Blaise emphasized the word 'expensive.'
"Packed full of muggles, I suppose," Draco said.
"Draco, you've got to get over your muggle-phobia," Blaise frowned. "And anyways, there are a fair number of wizards and witches living in the neighborhood as well."
Draco wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Mudbloods, the lot of them, I'm sure."
"Get over it, Malfoy."
"Alright! Let's take the bloody place and be over with it!" Draco said disdainfully.
"Thank you; I will!" Blaise said, lips twitching as he turned around and strode over to the real estate wizard who was watching them anxiously from a respectful distance.
"You're not the only wizards who're taking a place in Kensington," the man said, having overheard Draco's complaint about muggles and mudbloods. "I just closed on a flat for two young witches last week – very pretty ones, I might add," he said with a grin. "It's getting to be a very popular neighborhood, Kensington."
Blaise looked interested. "Really? Are they living nearby?"
"A few blocks," the man replied, taking out some paperwork and starting on it as he spoke. "Not quite as grand as this block, but a nice area. And they're not the first ones to be moving over there. It sounded as though they wanted to move closer to some friends. Or maybe it was family; I'm not sure."
Blaise smirked over at Draco. "Hear that, Drake? A nice neighborhood and lovely witches; can't say as much for your Scottish estate, can you?"
Draco shrugged morosely. Blaise, who had managed to stay out of the War, might be able to have a good time with the witches, but he was sure that they wouldn't look at him twice once they knew who he was.
Ginny Weasley glanced around her new flat with a smile.
"Glad you like it," Luna said with an answering smile.
"I'm still having a hard time believing it's true," Ginny admitted, joining her on the couch. "Ginny Weasley living in Kensington? Doesn't sound very likely, does it?"
"It does when Ginny Weasley has just received a charming promotion from her already good job. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Ginny; you've come a long way since you were poor little Ginny Weasley."
"You've come a long way yourself," Ginny replied with a grin. "Still not quite down to earth, but you're sensible enough… What are you staring at?" Ginny asked, following Luna's gaze to the ceiling.
"I'm trying to visualize what the ceiling would look like painted with a sky pattern," Luna said, squinting. "Would you mind, Ginny?"
"No, go ahead. It's your flat too. Won't the landlord mind you painting his ceiling, though?"
"I asked him whether I could decorate and he said that we could do whatever we wanted with the place as long as we got the rent in on time," Luna said, taking her eyes off the ceiling and smiling at Ginny.
"Hope he doesn't come to regret that statement," Ginny smirked.
"Why would he?" Luna asked, widening her eyes. "My designs are very popular among yuppie wizards and witches."
"I know Luna; I was just teasing," Ginny answered with a small laugh. Luna was what some people called a flighty artist: artsy to the point of distraction. But she'd managed to channel that nature into a fairly successful career. "I love your designs as well; you have my permission to do whatever you want with the flat and I'm sure I'll love whatever you do. Are you thinking a night sky or a day sky for the ceiling?" Ginny asked, glancing back up at it.
"Sunset, I think," Luna replied. "The purples and pinks have such a sweet calming affect."
"Have fun," Ginny said, getting up and walking over to the kitchen to get a drink. "You up for dinner at Lavender's and Parvati's tonight?" she called from the adjacent room.
"Oh dear, I'd forgot about that," Luna sighed. "Can't they come here or something? I'm so wiped out from moving…"
"We don't exactly have any food, Luna."
"Then let's all go out for dinner somewhere near here. I really don't want to have to travel right now."
"I'll floo-call them and ask," Ginny said. "Not that we know any places to eat around here."
"We'll find one," Luna said confidently. "Tell them to meet us here and we'll find one together. I think I saw a pizza place somewhere."
"You're lucky we've had our floo system set up already. You'd better thank me for taking care of it," Ginny grumbled, coming into the room and walking over to the fireplace.
"No need to thank you twice; I'll thank you when you tell me Lavender and Parvati are on their way." Luna smiled as she heard Ginny grunt in reply as she threw some floo powder into the fire and stuck her red head into the green flames.
"Green's a good color for her," Luna thought absently as she watched Ginny with her head in the flames for a good two minutes. Finally, Ginny pulled her head out.
"They said they'll be here in a half hour," Ginny informed Luna. "And I'm waiting for a very big 'thank you.'"
"Thank you Ginny!" Luna said brightly, standing up from the couch and giving her slightly wet kiss on her cheek.
Ginny rolled her eyes and turned around toward her room.
"I'm going to take a quick shower and change," she called over her shoulder. "You might want to consider doing the same."
"I'll go into the shower as soon as you're out," Luna said, picking up a book from the coffee table.
40 minutes later, Ginny and Luna were sitting in their living room waiting for their friends to show up and Ginny was getting annoyed.
"They said a half hour," she grumbled, glancing at her watch.
"They're Lavender and Parvati, Ginny," Luna answered, not looking up from her book. "They probably got sidetracked by some people of the male persuasion."
Ginny snorted derisively.
It was another fifteen minutes before there was finally a knock at the door. Ginny jumped up to open it.
"I am so sorry we're late!" Lavender gushed, throwing her arms around an irritated Ginny. "How are you honey? We really were planning on being here on time, but you'll never guess who we bumped into!"
"You'll really never guess," Parvati echoed from behind her.
"Some really handsome guy," Luna's voice floated from behind her book.
"Two of them, actually!" Lavender said, beaming over at Luna. "But you'll still never guess who! You two are so lucky to be living in this neighborhood! They just closed on a seriously gorgeous house a few blocks from here. Come on, take a wild guess!"
"I can't imagine," Ginny said carelessly. "I'm starving, can we go?"
"Oh, sure!" said Lavender. "I'll tell you on the way. Where are we going anyway? Maybe we can catch up with them and try to have dinner with them," she said, grinning mischievously over at Parvati, who responded with an airy giggle.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Sorry, I'm not in the mood to chase a bunch of guys tonight. I'm starving. Come on Luna, let's go already."
"Coming," Luna said, putting down her book and standing up quickly. "Let's find that pizza place."
Ginny locked the door behind them and they all sauntered out onto the street.
"So don't you girls want to know who we met?" Lavender asked impatiently.
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it," Ginny said indifferently.
That was invitation enough.
"Well," Lavender said conspiratorially, "we were passing a block of beautiful houses on the way to your flat and I was telling Parvati that whoever lived in those houses must be seriously loaded."
"Rich as the Queen, she said," Parvati put in.
"Yeah, well, just as I said it, three men came out of one of the houses and I seriously thought I was seeing things! One of the men I didn't recognize – he must have been the real estate wizard. But I recognized the other ones, even if I haven't seen one of them in years."
"Are you going to tell us who it was?" Ginny asked moodily, her stomach giving a low grumble.
"Patience, Ginny!" Lavender exclaimed. "The first one I recognized pretty quickly because I've seen him around a few times. It was Blaise Zabini!" she crowed, looking triumphant.
Ginny looked disdainful.
"Who?" Luna asked?
"Oh for goodness sake," Lavender said impatiently. "Even Parvati knows who he is!"
"Hey!" Parvati cried, affronted. "What do you mean by 'even Parvati,' aye? He was in our year at Hogwarts – of course I know who he is."
"Your year at Hogwarts?" Luna asked. "What house was he in? He wasn't in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, or I'd recognize his name."
"Slytherin," Lavender said with a gleam in her eye. "You must have seen him around school; the tall black guy with the incredible cheek bones and hazel eyes? He's seriously hot."
"Forgive me for not jumping up and down in excitement, but I don't really take kindly to Slytherins." Ginny said as they turned into a Pizza Hut that they'd just come across.
"Oh come on, Ginny," Parvati said eagerly. "You know Zabini wasn't a Death Eater. And he's a medi-wizard, so he can't be that bad. Anyways, when you see him," she said with a smirk, "you won't be so quick to dismiss him."
"Fat chance," Ginny mumbled as they went over to the counter to make their order and had to cease all talk of Death Eaters lest a muggle hear them.
When they were finally seated, Lavender leaned forward, eager to continue the conversation.
"And who do you think is moving into that splendid house with him?"
"Draco Malfoy, I presume," Ginny answered sarcastically.
Lavender and Parvati looked at each other in surprise.
"How'd you know?" Parvati asked, looking disappointed.
"I was joking!" Ginny said, looking alarmed. "You're not serious, are you? Draco Malfoy? Back in England?"
"And we were the first ones to see him!" Lavender said, looking extremely proud of herself.
"Why are you looking so happy about that?" Ginny scoffed. "Of all Slytherins, he's the last one I'd be excited to see. Maybe Zabini wasn't a Death Eater, but we all know for a fact that Malfoy was involved with them."
"Ginny, he was pardoned by the Wizengamot – you know that," Parvati said calmly.
"Yeah, yeah, he was underage; under an unhealthy influence; only did what he did out of fear, yada yada yada," said Ginny. "But that doesn't change the things he did in his sixth year."
"But Harry testified for him, Ginny!" exclaimed Lavender. "He said Dumbledore believed that he hadn't done any real harm and the harm that he did was only because was threatened and coerced by the Dark Lord – you know that!"
"Yeah, well, I still don't think any better of him. Any son of Lucius Malfoy couldn't be anything but evil."
"It's been six years since the war ended!" Lavender interrupted. "Can't we just let bygones be bygones?"
"No," said Ginny, biting into her crust.
Lavender and Parvati shot annoyed looks at each other.
"Well it's your loss," said Lavender. "Those guys are both seriously dreamy and if you want to be a snob about it, you're the one who'll lose out. Guess you'll just have to ignore them at my party."
Ginny stared at her.
"You invited them to your party?" she exclaimed. "And you actually expect them to come?"
"I'm not going to allow prejudice to get in the way of two really hot guys," Lavender said, sounded annoyed. "Blaise looked pleased about coming. I'm not sure about Malfoy. He was quiet throughout the conversation."
"I think I'll be sick the night of your party," said Ginny.
Lavender glared at her. "Don't even think about it Ginny Weasley! You're going to let guys get in the way of our friendship? What kind of friend are you?"
Ginny sighed. She wasn't going to win this round.
"Just don't expect me to be nice to them," she said finally.
"That means more for me!" giggled Parvati.
Ginny rolled her eyes.
Anyone recognize any of Austen's lines?