Well they all got away from me a little bit in this one. Dionne's ongoing tale was requested by someone who identified with her and as I had no other plans for her it worked in... and while I was doing that other characters, especially Lucius, slipped around behind my back and developed a whole plotline that I'd never considered. However as it gave me some very interesting people to play with, I forgave Lucius... So now I have a new major character in the school to follow. It's a slightly anarchic one, but then Hogwarts is a slightly anarchic sort of place...
The main plotline I DID intend, involving House Elf compulsions did not get disrupted, but Willow did take advantage of my preoccupation with it to do some of her own advantage taking...
Charlotte Malfoy – as everyone now styled her, accepting her as Lucius' other wife – felt much more confident now in the wizarding world; and next term her little girl Erica was due to start at Hogwarts!
Charlotte even had a wand that Lucius had taken her to buy; willow, thirteen inches, with a phoenix feather core. Charlotte thought it very suitable; her new life with Lucius was as great a rebirth as any phoenix arising from the ashes and she had learned how to bend, like willow, without breaking. Her abilities might not be great, but she was more than a pure muggle. Erica's father had obviously had an instinct for picking girls with some ability even if it was not high. And would never have been, enough – and Charlotte accepted this happily – to get her past a WOMBAT to even pass for education in the wizarding world. Before the institution of Rowan House that is of course.
Charlotte however did possess a single talent in the wizarding world which would have given her a job – with training – had she not been busy being the other Madam Malfoy; she was a talented artist and she had readily picked up the concept of using magical paints to bring paintings to life. And she had studied enough potioneering to permit her to grind and make her own paints with that touch of magic. She had just finished a second painting of Cosmo Malfoy, the long dead part goblin whose primary portrait she had painted for the Marauders who had found his body and wanted a painting of him for their secret room. Charlotte still found it amazing that portraits of dead people had a connection to their souls and would wander from portrait to portrait; so that this picture of Cosmo could take a message to the Marauders via their painting, or just tell them how things were going in Malfoy Manor. Equally he could ask for Lucius to lend aid – or a few Galleons, which was more likely for teenage boys – to the group.
She was also busy painting a picture of a vase full of the new flower 'Severia' that had been created by Lucius' talented niece Krait for her then guardian, now husband, Severus; its scent was soothing and healing and Charlotte intended it as a gift to St Mungo's hospital's ward for the incurably insane. Having suffered depression after the tribulations of her own life, before Lucius had rescued her, Charlotte had every sympathy for those with severe mental disorders and had painted a window behind the vase, to waft the scent into the room. She absently added a small herd of unicorns, guaranteed to lift the spirit, to gallop past in the distance, manes flying and hooves making a noise like gentle rain on the soft turf. That was the main talent in painting magical pictures; imagination. And Knowledge; she had smelled Severia flowers and kept them by her for days before even starting. As with painting portraits, it helped to know the subject; and she had read Cosmo's diary before painting him to get to know him.
She put down her brush.
"Seffy, you can clean up now, thank you" she said to the hovering house elf. Having servants – slaves really – had taken some getting used to; but with Lucius' freedom from control the elves preferred safe slavery to scary freedom. Lucius was working on that; though pushing them to accept freedom was in part, Charlotte suspected, the snob value of having all his elves in paid employment and clad in livery rather than wearing, according to the custom of house elves, monogrammed tea towels.
"Mistress Charlotte is a VERY good artist!" squeaked Seffy admiringly. "The pretty flowers make Seffy feel very good!"
"Thank you Seffy" said Charlotte. "I've nearly finished now; just some details when that layer dries. But I have to go up to town now for the master."
Lucius had asked her if she felt confident to check a property of his in the rather insalubrious Obscura Alley. The apartment block was as the better end of the road so Charlotte felt no qualms. She was to take Erica and also Nathan, their adopted son who was Erica's half brother by some other unfortunate girl, now dead: and Bella. Bella was Narcissa's sister and from what little Charlotte knew had been seduced in the cruellest fashion by Voldemort and made into a monster before Krait ripped away all her memories from after the age of about three and she and Severus had brewed a potion to match the girl's body to her mind. Narcissa had seen the memories Krait had placed in the Pensieve and had withdrawn all objections to what Krait had done; and had never spoken of it save to say viciously that she was glad even more that Voldemort was dead. Bella called them all by their first names; but was essentially a daughter to them all. Bella – properly, Bellatrix – was apparently a year younger than Erica and a couple of years older than Nathan.
And it was four years since Voldemort had been killed by Harry Potter and Narcissa's oldest son Draco had helped him; and they had a nursery full of children who one day would be at Hogwarts with Draco's own son – for it was possible that his wife Grace might never carry another child to term after the troubles she had over Edward.
Charlotte went to kiss her younger children goodbye, Drogo at three and a half a little snippy that he was not to come, fifteen month old twins Honor and Hope too busy playing some complex game with their half sister Lucasta, at nearly three busy bossing them into being winged horses for her to drive, and firmly ignoring the only recently mobile Andromeda who paradoxically would be in the same school year with them. There was a bigger difference between eight months and fifteen months than between fifteen months and nearly three; the main difference being communication.
It was nice that Andromeda was named as a gesture of reconciliation to Narcissa's own sister who had been struck off the family tree for marrying a muggleborn wizard.
Charlotte dislodged Drogo from where he clung to her leg.
"Daddy will expect you to learn when you're a bit older" she said "But it is Nathan's turn to be the man of the family to take care of mummy. Why don't you play nicely with your sisters?"
"'cos I said we ought to have a nice whip to crack to make them go faster an' Casta hit me" said Drogo.
"A trifle drastic but I'm sure she was just afraid you'd accidentally hit them" said Charlotte.
Narcissa gave a dry smile.
"If I know little boys it wouldn't have been by accident but 'just to see what would happen' she said "I told Lucasta off for hitting her brother but Drogo doesn't think it's a manly enough game. He's sulking because the clock doesn't go fast enough until Draco promised to play with him."
"Oh is that why you're being stroppy is it?" said Charlotte to her son. "And asking to go with me when you've already promised to play with Draco? Do I have to be ashamed of my boy being so rude as to cry off a previous engagement?"
"I'll go and build a castle" he said and took himself over to the box of building blocks.
The Madams Malfoy caught each others' eye and grinned conspiratorially.
They were strictly impartial with each other's children; because Lucius wished it and because they had learned to love each other too.
Nathan held Charlotte's hand tight as they disembarked from the silver Rolls Royce and walked firmly through the railway bridge wall in Dalling Road to get into Obscura Alley. Jark the goblin had driven them; their muggle driver, Dudley Dursley had compassionate leave as his wife Valerie had just given birth a little early to their first son Marius – named for Val's squib grandfather – one reason Dudley's older son Harry was not around to play with Drogo. Harry was going to be in Lucasta's year at school but Drogo was old enough to prefer a boy to play with. Nathan had to put up with older sisters; there were no boys around his age unless cousins were staying.
He was pretending hard to himself, Charlotte thought, that he was taking care of mummy – and he had been young enough when they had acquired him to think of her as mummy – so he did not feel nervous.
No fears of nervousness for Erica and Bella dancing ahead, hand in hand, both self-contained and self confident little girls.
Obscura Alley had an air of greyness, of not being ever quite clean. There were several large houses on the left before the even larger apartment building; the ones on the right were smaller but seemed impressed with themselves over their own self conscious respectability.
The largest house on the left had grounds too and Charlotte had been told by Lucius that it was owned by the Goblin crime lord Kordach, who was trying to establish himself as respectable.
A small girl about Erica's age was swinging on the gate and jumped down at the approach of the two; she was rather on the small and slight side, but then she appeared to be a half goblin, a pretty child, as David Fraser's half goblin fiancée was pretty.
"Hello!" she said to Erica and Bella "Are you going to be starting Hogwarts in September?"
"I am" said Erica "Bella's not up 'til next year. Are you?"
The girl nodded.
"Yes, I'm Anastasia Preston, mum says I'm to use her name. Most people call me Stacey."
"Well it's less of a mouthful" said Erica "I'm Erica Malfoy and this is my cousin Bella Black. We have another cousin called Nymphadora so Anastasia really isn't that bad."
"How old's she?"
"Oh she's grown up! Everyone calls her Tonks, and she has a little boy the same age as our Drogo and a baby girl who leaks a lot."
"I've got four brothers and sisters, two of each" said Stacey "well, half siblings" she added a little defensively.
"Yes, I've got lots of half siblings" said Erica "My dad has two wives."
"Oh my dad has one wife and a succession of mistresses" said Stacey.
"Well I guess the important thing is that he keeps track of his kids" said Erica.
An expensive looking woman came up the alley, her honey gold hair neatly coiffured. Erica noted her clothing was expensive, but the robe just a trifle vulgar in its cut, and trimmed with figured velvet more than was tasteful.
"Stacey! What are you doing talking to children you don't know? You don't know where they might have been!" she said.
Charlotte narrowed her eyes and came forward.
"Ah, Miss Preston I believe, one of Kordach's….ladies aren't you?"
The woman looked haughty.
"And who might you be?"
"Your landlord's other wife" said Charlotte coldly. "But I take it you don't care for your daughter to have a friendship with a Malfoy child? It is not her illegitimate status I presume, for people in glass houses should not cast stones."
Miss Preston was rapidly looking for a way to backpeddle.
She tried to pass it off with a laugh.
"Oh but now I know who your dear little girl is and her friend obviously of equal status I have no objections! But one never knows who one might meet…"
Charlotte gave her a look of dislike.
"Quite" she said.
Charlotte was the discarded mistress of the unpleasant Jonathon Malfoy, Erica's and Nathan's father: who had not treated his ex mistresses well. Kordach by all accounts pampered any of his women who had given him a child – and this witch's attire confirmed this – but Charlotte did NOT like her manner.
"I'm sure the girls will be such good friends!" gushed Miss Preston. Stacey was looking acutely uncomfortable.
"I expect they will all make up their minds who will be friends with whom on their own without interference one way or the other from their elders" said Charlotte. "Whoever my Erica decides to be friends with is quite all right with me; it's so vulgar, is it not, to judge on first appearances or blood status or wealth; the sort of thing the Parkinsons and Burkes and other such low life do."
"I don't like Dympna Burke" said Stacey "She lives in Obscura Alley too. She's a real Blood snob."
"My cousin Jade's in her class" said Erica "And she says the only thing Burke is good for is jinx-targeting practice."
They looked at each other and smiled thoughtful smiles.
"And I don't get to make a nuisance of myself on the express for a whole 'nother year" said Bella mournfully.
In point of fact, Jade and her sister Lydia were actually Erica's and Nathan's half sisters too, Jonathon Malfoy having got about rather; but being the adopted daughters of Severus and Krait Snape, most people had forgotten this fact and though Erica had been told when first she became Lucius' daughter she had long since firmly forgotten anything but that her daddy was Lucius Malfoy.
"Well. I have to inspect the building for my husband" said Charlotte brightly "Have you any complaints Miss Preston? We think our agent is quite honest but these little checks from time to time keep him in line."
"I – no, everything is perfectly to my satisfaction. Er, thank you" she added belatedly.
"Excellent" said Charlotte. "You children may play with Stacey, if her mother is willing, once you have been with me to a few apartments, and I will give you money to go to the ice cream stall."
"I'm not allowed to play in the street" said Stacey.
"Oh well, in the company of nice girls I'm sure there can be no objection" said Miss Preston. Stacey nearly fell over in surprise!
"Please, ma'am, may your son play with us?" Stacey's next oldest half brother asked. He was older than Nathan but with two younger sisters and his little brother no older than Drogo, Charlotte could see why he was eager.
"If Nathan would like; and if your father does not mind" said Charlotte.
"I'll go and ask" said the boy, running off.
He was soon back with permission – Charlotte was NOT surprised – and Nathan was very happy to run off to play!
Charlotte just wanted the girls to get a feel for what to look for before she let them leave looking for cracked plaster or any air of desolation in the stairwell.
Then she relented.
Erica found the alley fascinating; and not a bit like the cleaner though still bustling Diagon Alley. There was an air of prosperity in Diagon Alley, even in the smaller shops. The shops here, some of them, looked as though the proprietors hung on to business by the skin of their teeth. Except the pawnbroker. He was a big, expansive looking man with a big, expansive looking shop.
Two adult goblins with wives and families were shouting at each other in an unrestrained way; a little girl about their own age with a terrible squint looked at Stacey and pulled a rueful face. A lad who seemed to be her little brother threw in the occasional comment that seemed to be fuelling the fire.
"Little horror, right little Mercutio" said Erica.
"That's Danzo; the girl with the squint is Jazka, and Dad is sponsoring her to go to Hogwarts so there's someone I know" said Stacey. "Her family and Eregar's have been feuding forever."
Erica wandered over.
"Hello, I'm Erica, and this is Bella; Stacey says you're coming with us – well not Bella, she's too young – to Hogwarts?"
"May I try something to help your eye?" said Erica "I don't have a wand yet but I do some stuff by other means."
"Can you? They said at St Mungo's that it wasn't worth doing as I see all right."
"I wonder if that was true, or just casual racism again?" she said. "Well, if I try and it doesn't work we'll see what happens if my DAD takes you there. Hold on."
Erica got out her sketch pad and started drawing.
"How's that going to help?" said Jazka.
"It's painting magic" said Erica "I found I could change the colours of flowers by painting them as they were, then changing things and concentrating in a certain way; so I have to draw you with your eye on the huh, then change it a bit at a time to make it straight."
"Oh, all right" said Jazka.
The grown ups rowing were ignoring them; but the boy Danzo came over.
"Cor, that's good" he said "But if you're mocking my sister I'll hang one on you."
"I'm trying to help. Shh" said Erica.
"Erica's awfully clever" said Bella "Her mum's a brilliant artist, and Erica is going to be as good. Or better!"
Erica completed the portrait; then, tongue protruding with effort, started changing the eye. Jazka cried out and put her hand up to her eye.
"Am I hurting?" asked Erica.
"N- no, but it feels queer."
"Well it would if I'm pulling it back into shape, wouldn't it?" said Erica, practically "Tell me if it hurts."
Jazka nodded obediently; and tried not to squeak.
"Jazka is one of the people mummy doesn't like me playing with" said Stacey conversationally "But she can't stop daddy having the family over to play. But Tokar saved his life once so he likes to look out for the family. That's Jazzy's dad."
"Kordach's good to us" said Danzo "Dad can't get work because he was in the riot that flared up after Tobak was killed."
"What happened?" said Erica, curious despite her concentration.
"There was a protest – peaceful too – after Voldemort died" said Jazka "And Tobak was making the demands to the ministry man, who told him to go away and the crowd to disperse; and Tobak said that they had every right to ask and the ministry man killed him, right there in front of his son. He's our age is Gorbrin gan Tobak; his mum's never had anything to do with Kordach, and he sells potions to help keep her and the younger ones. She's got a job but I guess they're poorer than us."
"That's all wrong" said Erica. "Is he any good at making potions? Uncle Severus always likes to check out promising potioneers."
"Well you get better after his pepperup potion" said Jazka. "I say… the world looks a little queer but…."
"Crumbs!" said Stacey peering at her "I say, Jazzy, you're really rather pretty now!"
"COOL!" said Danzo. "Hey, Erica, you're something else!"
"Oh, let's look in the mirror in the pawnbroker's!" said Jazka, dragging Erica by one hand and Stacey by the other.
And she peered with straight eyes at her symmetrical reflection; then burst into tears and wrapped her arms round Erica's neck.
"I say" said Erica, hugging her decorously back "It's no big deal – for me. I mean, I find it easy. Shall we go have an ice-cream?"
And so they did.
"There's Dympna Burke" said Stacey in disgust "With a minder too, since she got beaten up by kids last year. A half troll minder against kids, that's overkill."
"Oh I thought that was her father" qipped Bella.
They fell about laughing.
"You rotten guttersnipes!" shouted Dympna "If you were at school with me I'd show you a thing or two but you're all too poor!"
"Ya reckon, do ya, trollface?" called Bella.
"Hah, if oiks like YOU ever go to Hogwarts, I'M leaving!" said Dympna "It should be for good families only!"
"Ya hear that, Erica?" said Bella "She doesn't think much of our families!"
"A shame" said Erica "But she's already got so many of our cousins at Hogwarts, I wonder she survived the shame of being taught by your cousin Sirius or my aunt Krait or having to be in a class with my cousins Jade and Aurelia. It must be so hard for the noble berks to have to rough it with Malfoys and Blacks and Yaxleys. Poor little darling, and her living in the BEST part of the city too, not some rough slum like Bayswater where cousin Jade lives."
"You're lying!" she said "You've found information out is all you little guttersnipe, no Malfoy or Black would be here!"
"Well, apart from when we're inspecting daddy's apartment, or my brother Draco in his capacity as an auror, or my cousins Hawke and Abraxus setting up the free school for those who have more academic merit than filthy lucre from whatever grubby practices made your father rich" said Erica scornfully "Is that your brother with you? I fancy I see a resemblance."
"'Ere, you lay off my bosses girl" growled the half troll.
"Or what? You'll attack me out of hand? What do you think you are? You're a body guard; and I'm not touching her body – yet. On the Express, that's different. And you won't be there anyway, Mr Troll. WE didn't ask to talk to Babyface Burke; she made remarks at us. And if you ask me, it's awf'ly childish for a girl who'll be in the middle school to be offensive to weevils, and if she had any kind of dignity it'd be below it. Now here's my mummy Burke so go away before you irritate her too."
Dympna Burke retreated – annoying either one of Lucius Malfoy's women, muggle or witch, would not be healthy from the point of view of having Lucius Malfoy annoyed.
Erica poured out the story of the killing of Tobak. Charlotte listened in horror.
"What, he just killed him without this Tobak lifting a wand or hand against him?" she said.
"Wand? People won't sell us goblins WANDS" said Jazka.
"Well how are you supposed to do spells then?" said Charlotte "It's been law for years that Goblins can own wands, regardless of whether they've been through Hogwarts, it was one of the first pronouncements made by the new government! All right, allowing for him not having a wand, then, without raising a hand?"
"Tobak, they say, put out a hand – palm up – to emphasise a point" put in Stacey "And the guy blasted him with his wand, big green flash and he's dead."
"And in front of his child? That's disgusting!" said Charlotte. "Erica, we can't do anything just now, but we'll talk to daddy. Where do er, Gorbrin and his family live?"
"In a tenement in Umbrous Place North. It's rather a rough neighbourhood; we live there too" volunteered Jazka. "Kordach'd pay for us to move, but dad likes the neighbours, and Eregar moved out and that's one thing they quarrel about 'cos Eregar got snotty for going more up market and dad reckons he got the money doing jobs for the Grubbe brothers what are in Azkaban."
"I can see why your father takes issues with him then" said Charlotte gravely. "I think I like your family's integrity. I'll ask my husband to come and give a WOMBAT test to Gorbrin if he's your age; after all, Lucius IS a school governor and is entitled to do so. And if he thinks it worthwhile he'll sponsor him to Hogwarts; and if not, he'll see he goes to Rowan House instead. And he'll look into the killing of the boy's father too."
Charlotte knew that if the boy could brew competent potions he had a good chance of being accepted at Hogwarts by Severus; but she would not hold out any promises. This was on the assessment of a little girl only; and Charlotte knew too how little she herself knew.
Lucius too was inclined to be cautious.
"Without being racist, it is a story told about an outrage against a goblin by goblins" he said "It seems a trifle far fetched that this Tobak was entirely in the right; but I will look into it. It is, in any case, a shame for the blameless boy – as it is for this child Jazka's father to be without work – and when I have found out all I may I shall do my best to redress wrongs. Suit you, pumpkin?" he said to Erica.
Erica nodded solemnly.
"My daddy is the best in the world at sorting things out!" she said, hugging him.
Lucius laughed and hugged her back.
"He does his best!" he said.
A couple of days later, Lucius returned from the ministry looking grim.
"The report filed by Samuel Block is entirely at odds with the goblin story" he said "For he says that Tobak went to attack him."
"Is he telling the truth though?" said Erica.
"That's what I'm not certain about" said Lucius "And for the stories to differ so much, to put down Tobak as 'viciously going for me and trying to wrench my wand away' seems too….well, from making demands, to suddenly attacking seems unlikely. Block writes that he asked the crowd to disperse then the goblin subsequently identified as being named Tobak went berserk."
"He still didn't have to kill him" said Charlotte "He could have tied him up, or knocked him out. And I thought the spell with the big green flash was one people weren't supposed to use?"
"Big green flash? Are you sure?" Lucius' eyes went narrow.
"It was a hearsay description" said Charlotte "But why would it be made up?"
"Yeeees" said Lucius "Why indeed. Block claims to have used a blasting curse and claims that Tobak must have had a weak heart or something. Suddenly I think I'm starting to really disbelieve Samuel Block. This Tokar was there you say? I'll have someone have a word with him. In fact… I'll go and see him myself."
Lucius found Tokar truculent and unwilling to talk at first.
"Tokar" said Lucius bluntly "Your little girl and my little girl will be at school together; being civil seems therefore to be a nice idea from their point of view, quarrels between parents disturb the friendships of children. And it is over something they were discussing that I want your testimony. With which, if what I think happened did happen, your taking part in a fight would be excusable – even laudable – and would enable me to have you removed from the ministry blacklist and anyone you know from the same incident. All I want is for you to describe the immediate facts of what led up to Tobak's death and any physical manifestations of the spell that caused it."
Tokar regarded Lucius thoughtfully.
"That was your little girl then what cured my Jazzy's squint?"
"I don't know; she was too upset about the murder of a father of eight to mention that" said Lucius. "If so, I didn't realise she was so talented; she doesn't even have a wand yet."
"Jazzy said she did it by drawing. She drew it like it was, then she made the drawing right and it made the eye right."
"Erica is a very talented artist; I've never heard of such a thing. Thank you for telling me this; I was already proud of her but – well! It's like hearing she's won the Triwizard or something!" Lucius beamed.
"Ar, our little girls are precious to us… Tobak's no less to him. All right. He was telling this ministry fool that with goblins at Hogwarts fighting Voldemort, and with promises that we should have more rights, we didn't ought to have been kicked out of Diagon Alley when some of us went to buy wands. And the ministry man said that it was preposterous and that nobody had ever meant goblins to have wands as a general thing."
"That was a lie" said Lucius "Goblins were declared wand carriers in council. I was there. Actually I proposed the bill; and it carried very successfully, only a few voted against it and they were people I shouldn't mind kicking anyway. One has to accept a few idiots if one sets up the rules to try to be fair."
"Well, that's what he said. And Tobak said he was wrong. And he went purple and said he's not stand for cheek like that and he hit Tobak. And we all muttered and Tobak said 'why do that if you know you have the right of it?' and the ministry man told us to go home, get out and go away. He was pretty shrill and hysterical, I think us muttering had scared him. And Tobak reached out a hand and said 'look, shake and we'll forget the blow, we don't have to be at odds' and he stepped back and pointed his wand and there was this green flash and Tobak fell down dead."
"I see" said Lucius, grimly. "Would you be prepared to put that in writing and sign your name to it?"
Tokar looked wary.
"Look, I have some protection from Kordach, but the way that ministry fellow is always down here finding regulations he can make out Tanjela – that's Tobak's widow – is breaking, on account of her filing a complaint that her husband's killing was unlawful, I don't want to have the same thing happen."
"My young friend David Fraser is often quoting the saying that for evil to triumph, all it needs is for good men to remain silent. If you will not write an account, and try to persuade others you know to write an account, I will not have enough proof to put this man in Azkaban."
The goblin's long ears came up.
"AZKABAN? You reckon you can? That – that the wizgamot will care about the murder of a goblin? They sent people to say it was a tragic accident that Tobak must of had a weak heart!"
"There are reasons that I do not believe that" said Lucius "But only by telling your story as fully as you told me with others who can corroborate a certain particular fact in it can I get the little creep put away. Even the wizgamot is not without its prejudice though I doubt they realise it."
"Well, I'll talk to people" said Tokar, cautiously "If YOU take charge of the depositions. Mr Malfoy, and see the wizgamot gets them direct, not through channels that are cronies of this fellow."
"That I can guarantee" said Lucius, who had also done a little legilimensy – Draco had taught him – to verify this goblin's story.
Had Samuel Block confessed to losing it, panicking and striking to kill he might have been harder to tie down. But with his story a whole tissue of lies, Lucius had him.
He had just to talk to the widow and the boy Gorbrin.