Disclaimer: I don't own HP or any character you recognize.
"Harry, did you read the paper today?" Hermione Granger asked her friend.
"Which one? Quibbler or Prophet?"
"He didn't read the Quibbler, either, Hermione," Ginny Potter said, throwing her husband an amused look. "If it's not printed in Snitch, he doesn't read it."
"Really, Harry, you should extend your reading materials beyond Quidditch rags," Hermione scolded her friend. "There are important things that go on in the world, and the Prophet's much better than it used to be, you know."
"Isn't Rita Skeeter still writing for them?" asked Ron Weasley. "It can't be that good." He leaned over and grabbed a roll off Hermione's plate and was rewarded with a slapped hand. "OW! You weren't going to eat it."
"I was saving it, Ronald," she said. "And yes, our least favorite beetle does still write for the Prophet, but if you skip her articles it's usually okay. There is actual news in there, after all."
"She's right," Ginny agreed. "Madam Malkin's two-for-one sale advertisement is always hidden in the Prophet, and if you don't look closely you'll miss it. She won't honor the sale without the coupon, and she can always tell a fake."
"Honestly, Ginny, as if you need any new clothes," Hermione scoffed. "You wear a uniform to work!"
"That's precisely why I need lots of new robes," Ginny countered. "I wear a Quidditch uniform all the time; you can't expect me to want to look like that on my off time."
"Well, the Prophet has more than just clothing sales," said Ron. "It also advertises Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, you know; not one of you has commented on our new ad. Dean Thomas designed it for us, and it's quite good."
"I'm sorry, Ron, I did notice it, and I meant to say something," said Hermione. "It was very good; you should hire Dean permanently. Doesn't he freelance now? You should snatch him up before someone else does. I especially liked the animated giant running from the scrawny first year with the Weasley's Dueling for Dummies book in his pocket, but you better make sure people know you can't really fight a giant like that. That wasn't actually what I was talking about, though; I was a bit distracted by some other things in the Prophet."
"Hermione, does any of this have a point?" Harry asked. "Was there some of that 'actual news' you wanted to tell us about?"
The four friends had a weekly dinner date, and he and Ginny were hosting that night. Harry much preferred the evenings when Hermione or Ron were in charge of the festivities, because Ron could always be counted on providing lots of firewhiskey, and Hermione usually had Mrs. Weasley cook for her - she had little talent in the kitchen. When it was his and Ginny's turn, he was expected to help, and where was the fun in that? Tonight, Ginny had tasked him with making dessert, and she had forbidden him from choosing treacle tarts. And really, what good was dessert without them? It had put him off the whole meal, and Ginny was doing her best to ignore his sulking, which made it even worse. So were Ron and Hermione, for that matter, the latter of whom apparently had something so important to tell them she hadn't managed to spit it out in the last ten minutes.
"Oh yes," said Hermione. She didn't elaborate.
"Well?" snapped Harry. "Out with it!"
"I was going for a dramatic pause," she declared, "but maybe that's not appropriate. Here's the big news: Lucius Malfoy died."
"What?" Harry, Ron and Ginny shrieked at her.
"You're just now telling us this?" Harry stuttered. "What in the hell were you waiting for?"
"Well, I asked you if you read the paper," Hermione reminded him. "I was trying to get there."
"It should have been the first thing out of your mouth," proclaimed Harry indignantly. "When did this happen? Why wasn't the Auror Office notified?"
"I think it's been rather hush-hush," said Hermione. "It must have been quite recent, although the Prophet didn't have too many details. They just said it was accidental."
"Accidental my bum," Ron snorted. "I guarantee Ferret-boy offed him to get the inheritance."
"Ron!" Hermione said, shocked. "That's a terrible thing to say."
"We all know Draco can't get a job," said Ron. "His name's mud; if it weren't for dear old dad's money he'd be begging in Knockturn Alley. He probably got sick of waiting around to become Lord of the Manor."
"Yes, well," said Ginny, frowning at her brother. "The less said about him the better. Still, you would think we'd have heard about this before now. It's not like he was some random, unknown person; it was Lucius effing Malfoy! Really, Harry, I can't imagine why the aurors weren't notified that a well-known dark wizard had passed."
"Neither can I," agreed Harry. "I mean, he's kept his nose clean since the war. Just like last time, we haven't been able to pin anything on him in years. For all we know, he may have legitimately given up the Dark Arts. He still has a pretty big file, though; Draco, too, but nothing new. We're not really allowed to classify them as Dark Wizards any more, but I can't believe Kingsley didn't tell me after everything we've been through with him."
"Maybe he didn't know either," Ron suggested. "Maybe no one was supposed to know; Skeeter was probably bugging around the Manor and leaked the story. I wouldn't put it past her."
"It's possible," Hermione mused. "I think there's little chance, though, that The Prophet would print the story without our Minister of Magic knowing. It's not like it's Fudge. Kingsley's on top of things."
"I know this is horrible to say," said Ginny, "but I'm not sad to see him go. Maybe he repented, who knows? But he was a bad man for a long time, and if his side had won, we'd all be bowing to the Malfoys. I believe in second chances, but I can never really forgive him for what he did to me."
"He was rather awful," Hermione agreed. "I'll guess we'll hear more about it soon. You all should really read the newspaper."
X X X X
"Merlin, can we get on with this?" Draco Malfoy barked to his father's lawyer. It had been two weeks since his father had been killed by a rogue manticore on a hunting trip, and they were just now getting ready to read his will. Two weeks! His father would never have allowed such a wait; when Lucius Malfoy snapped his fingers, he got results. Or at least he did before the war. Now apparently, he had sunk so low he couldn't even get a quick executor to handle his affairs.
Draco was upset about his father, of course; he had idolized the man and was grieving seriously. His mother was a mess, and the countless howlers they had received since his passing did nothing to alleviate her stress. Most of the owls had sentiments like "Good riddance," "Finally!" or "See you in hell!" There had been a few condolences, but for the most part the wizarding world had greeted his father's death with scorn and derision. It wasn't helping his mother's nerves, and it wasn't helping his temper. On top of everything, they'd had limited access to his father's bank account since his death. Draco knew his father had left them both a fortune, but he would feel better when he actually had it. He hated to feel like he was gaining from his father's death, but in truth, he was about to become a very wealthy man.
It wasn't fair. The Malfoys used to be one of the most respected wizarding families in Britain. Sure, there had been that little problem with following Voldemort, but couldn't people forgive and forget? Since the war, Draco had to eat a lot of dung. Despite turning from the Dark Lord at the last minute, his family was still treated like Death Eaters. Draco had been unable to secure any type of meaningful job, and his father refused to bankroll him based on some ridiculous, brand-new principle. Where his father had gotten that sudden change of heart was anyone's guess, since Draco had always been spoiled rotten by both of his parents when he was younger. While at Hogwarts, Draco had always expected to coast into a cushy Ministry job or a top-rated Quidditch team; the closest he had come was selling broomsticks in America for three months. Despite his sincere sadness, Draco wanted very much to get that money. It was his ticket to a new life.
"I'm sorry, sir," the lawyer said stiffly. "But your father left a rather complicated will. There was much that had to verified."
"How complicated is it to give me and my mother our money?" he asked.
"Draco!" his mother snapped. "Please remember why we are here. We are not grubbing after your father's fortune like common muggles."
"Sorry, Mother," he said. His mother looked close to tears; he put an arm around her and gave her a crooked grin to try to calm her. She gave him a watery smile in response and he kissed her forehead. "I just want this over with. It seems crazy that we have to jump through hoops like this. It's your money, too." And mine.
"Yes, well," the lawyer started. "I'm afraid this isn't a simple will. Your father left some rather unusual instructions."
"Such as?" Draco asked. His father had probably left a load of money to St. Mungo's under the stipulation that a statue of him be erected, or something equally gauche. Lord knew the man was vain. Maybe Lucius was planning on restoring their credibility with his death.
"Mrs. Malfoy," the lawyer said. "Your husband left you half of his considerable fortune as well as your home, Malfoy Manor. The amount is seventy-five million galleons."
Draco whistled, both shocked and impressed. He had no idea his father had that much money, and this was after he'd lost quite a bit of it during and after the Dark Lord's reign of terror. Woo-whee, he could do quite a bit with seventy-five million. Even if his father left some to charity, he'd still be rolling in the house elves from here on out.
"And me?" he asked.
"Well, here's the complicated part," said the lawyer, visibly cringing. "The rest of the money is divided into two equal shares."
Thirty-two and half million, then. Well, he could still cause some damage with that.
"Where'd the rest of it go, charity?" he asked. "Even in death, Father's influencing people."
"It goes to one specific charity," the lawyer said. "In point of fact, the money is going to the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare."
"And the rest of the money goes into a trust fund," the lawyer said, expecting to get hexed at any moment. "Unless you work for said society for one year, you will forfeit the trust fund and the money will go to, er...S.P.E.W."
"MY MONEY IS GOING TO GRANGER?"
"Unless you work for her for a year, yes."
"Sweet Merlin," Draco whispered. He took a deep breath, steadied himself - and fell onto the chair behind him, completely speechless for the first time in his life.
X X X X
"This has got to be a joke," Hermione said to the man before her. She was sitting in a rather uncomfortable armchair in Silas Pembroke's office, having collapsed into the chair by the man's words. She had no way of knowing that Draco's reaction had been exactly the same, but the man before wisely omitted that information.
The lawyer had summoned her that morning with a vague message about S.P.E.W. rules and regulations. Hermione had never spoken to the man before; S.P.E.W. was handled by a different firm, one not tarnished by years of serving dark wizards. "Who paid you to bring me here - Malfoy? Honestly, has he nothing better to do?"
"I assure you, this isn't a joke, Miss Granger," Mr. Pembroke said, rubbing his forehead. Merlin, but this was turning out to be a debacle. He'd fled Malfoy Manor the previous evening after listening to young Malfoy rant and rave for three straight hours. Mrs. Malfoy had said little - she appeared to be in shock. Young Malfoy had tried desperately to see a way around his father's will, but it was rock solid; wizarding contracts, of which a last will and testament was one, were impossible to circumspect. The conditions were clear: work for Miss Granger's elf society or wind up broke.
In truth, Mr. Pembroke thought the whole thing ridiculous. What respectable pureblood wizard cared about sniveling little house elves? What could Lucius Malfoy have been thinking with such an idea? And wouldn't Mrs. Malfoy simply share her fortune with her son? Why on earth was the young man throwing such a fit? Ah well, perhaps young Malfoy thought his mother as tricky as his father had evidently been.
"I don't believe you," said Hermione. "I know this is some elaborate ruse. Well, listen here, sir, the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare is not to be trifled with. We are a legitimate agency with legitimate contributors. I have many people and elves counting on me, and little time to be running around for Draco Malfoy's amusement. Good day." She rose from her chair, but the lawyer stilled her.
"Miss Granger, I myself have no time to spare for jokes and games, either," he said. "I would not have brought you here under false pretenses. The terms of Mr. Lucius Malfoy's will were clear: your little elf society is now thirty-two million galleons richer."
"Dear Lord," she breathed, collapsing back into a heap on the chair. "It can't be true."
"It is," he said shortly.
"What do I have to do to get the money?" Hermione asked suspiciously. There had to be a catch. Lucius Malfoy - give money to house elves? What did she have to do, murder them all and hang their heads on the wall?
"There's one slight condition," Mr. Pembroke began.
"Of course there is."
"Mr. Lucius Malfoy wanted his son Draco to become a contributing member of society. He wants Draco to work for S.P.E.W. as your assistant."
"Now I know you're joking," Hermione scoffed. "Draco, work for me? It's impossible. We hate each other."
"Yes, well, those were Mr. Malfoy's wishes," said the lawyer. "I would think that one who had just been awarded such a generous donation would be willing to do anything her benefactor asked of her."
Hermione blushed, but stood her ground. "Mr. Pembroke, allow me to be frank. I do not have a nice history with Draco Malfoy, or his father. As a muggleborn, I was the target of Draco's ridicule all through school. During the war I was tortured by Lucius's sister-in-law in his own house. They stand for everything I hate, and I stand for everything they hate."
"And yet these were Mr. Malfoy's wishes," said the lawyer, unmoved. "Think of the good this money could do for your cause, Miss Granger. You have one day to decide. If you refuse to employ Mr. Malfoy, all the money goes to Lucius's widow."
What could she do? Hermione could tell the man was not, indeed, joking. What on earth had Lucius Malfoy been thinking? Would she be cursed upon acceptance? Was this a way for Draco to sabotage her from the inside? Everything in her was screaming at her to walk out of the office and never look back. Could she really accept blood money? Yet thirty-two million...
She took a deep breath. "I'm in."