Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: I know it's been a while. I am at university now, have been for a while, and it turns out that's quite hard.
Ginny had spent a long time debating whether to dress up for her meeting with Narcissa and her army. She didn't want to give the impression that she was eager to please, but still less did she want to indicate that she was worthy of their contempt. She had accepted the invitation reluctantly but she had accepted it voluntarily and that did mean she owed them some courtesy. She had settled for all black, but nice black.
Narcissa had written that they met at Pansy Lodge, so it was to that house that Ginny came on the first Sunday after her move to Cardiff. She had to Apparate a mile away because of the wards. Fortunately, the massive iron gates swung open to admit her. She walked up the long drive in silence and saw no other soul; she was a little early. The last thing she desired was to spend more time than was necessary in the company of Dame Parkinson who was, by all accounts, a nasty piece of work, but she needed to arrive before Hermione. Her friend should on no account be left alone with any of these women.
The house was large, but no manor, and it was surprisingly cheery. The paint was white and the trim was dark purple. Ginny took the doorknocker in hand gingerly, as though it might bite her. It was in the shape of a pansy. A house elf opened the door and showed her into a sitting room richly furnished. An open door in the opposite wall led into a room evidently filled with food.
A movement from the corner caught her attention and an elegantly attired young woman emerged from the shadows. She had Pansy's dark hair and pug nose, but she carried herself with more assurance and less arrogance at the same time. "Miss Weasley," she said crisply. "I am very glad you have seen fit to join us." She introduced herself as Harrietta Parkinson, Pansy's older sister. She and not her mother would evidently be hosting the gathering.
The next woman to sweep into the room was Pansy herself, and she acknowledged Ginny only with a jerky, disinterested nod. Hermione was next, which made Ginny very glad she had had the foresight to be early.
Over the next half hour, the room gradually filled until there were about forty women present. Ginny recognized several but knew only a handful even by name. Some were as old as Narcissa, who came into the room sixth, or even older. Besides the adults, there were eight girls, five of whom were old enough to attend Hogwarts. One woman had a baby. Many of all ages were wearing black. None wore green.
Seeing them flitting about in dark clothing like a murder of crows made Ginny feel exposed. She wished she had worn any other colour, because although she had suffered losses of her own, she recognised war widows and orphans when she saw them. They were not of her kind and she felt disrespectful.
In the end, it was Harrietta Parkinson who approached Hermione and Ginny first. They were standing in an awkward bubble-no one seemed to want to get too close and they certainly couldn't make the first move. Hermione looked as though she might have tried, but wasn't even sure where to begin.
The hostess floated over in a cloud of the same smell that followed all of them. It was a queer mixture of cedar and rose, like old furniture and immaculately kept gardens. It proclaimed old money, but not necessarily that the bearer had any money left. Ginny decided that if you could smell breeding, this was how. Harrietta had it in spades.
She rubbed her hands together in a show of relaxed warmth. "I hope your family is well."
"Yes, very," Ginny said. Hermione wisely kept silent about her own parents, who had just returned from Australia and were living a reclusive life in their old home.
"I understand your brother has just taken off for his Auror training."
"Yes," Ginny said. She tried to act as though the conversation topic didn't bother her.
"Has he said where he's going?"
"I could hardly say if he had," Ginny said coolly.
Her smile not faltering, Harrietta said, "I'm sure he'll do your family proud."
"No doubt." This came from a different woman, one with smooth grey hair. "Him and Mr. Potter, too." She stood tall with her hands folded on a silver cane. The air became tense when she said Harry's name, but she did not appear to notice or care that the conversations around her had gone quiet.
"No doubt." This from a third woman. Ginny's eyes moved rapidly from Harrietta to the older woman to the third speaker, a girl of about fourteen. Her voice was clear and steady. "Miss Granger, excuse me." Seeing Hermione's startled eyes on her, the girl continued. "My name is Amicia Lissitra and I claim a mutual acquaintance."
The tension thickened even more and Ginny wondered what she was missing. Hermione looked as though she got the joke but wasn't sure yet if she thought it was funny.
Amicia elaborated. "You helped my brother in Potions a few times, when you were in fifth year. He spoke highly of you."
Hermione's brow crinkled. "I remember. Walden, wasn't it? Walden Lissitra. Erm, wasn't he a Hufflepuff?"
"Yes," the girl said without elaboration. "May I introduce you to my mother?" Hermione nodded and the girl led her off to a different corner of the room. The crowd closed around them, leaving Ginny with Harrietta and the older woman staring at her. She stared back.
After that, most of the afternoon was a blur. Ginny was introduced to most of the women in the gathering and they were uniformly courteous. One or two made faces as though they'd swallowed lemons but none said anything that could be construed as rude by any stretch of the imagination. It was more...bland. A lot of the talk was about the weather, about rising prices for magical books, or about fashion. It was almost a parody of how Ginny had pictured the assembly.
Ginny spent most of her time with Harrietta and, to her great surprise, Pansy. Pansy stood at her sister's side in silence while the older woman murmured pleasantries. She did not appear to be guiding the conversation, but whenever she spoke the words seemed to flow back to something in which Ginny could be expected to display an interest: Quidditch.
Harrietta: "Ah, Memmius Pinkle. I do remember him, indeed. He's married to, oh, help me, darling. One of Cecile's girls."
Whatever hapless woman was meant by "darling": "I think you mean Lucille Warwick."
Harrietta: "Oh, yes. Dearest Lucille. You know, I believe her brother plays for the Cannons. Is that correct, Miss Weasley?"
Harrietta: "Fascinating. What position does he play?"
When Ginny went back over the conversations in her head, she could see how artfully it had been done, but at the time she was always taken aback. It was like watching a magic trick. You knew the coin was coming out of your ear, you could look back later and see when he'd palmed it, but when it happened you were still surprised.
As somebody whose brothers rivaled Bludgers for force of impact, Ginny was not one for subtleties of conversation, but she knew enough to know that Quidditch was not likely to be a usual topic in this room. It would have made her smile, had it not been so irritating. They knew exactly one thing about her, it appeared. No doubt they prided themselves on knowing that.
She hated herself for caring.
The only time Ginny caught someone deliberately steering the conversation, it wasn't Harrietta, but Pansy. An older woman had wandered over and announced, "Lovely place you have here." Harrietta bowed her head in gracious acknowledgment, but the witch continued. "It has an entirely different feel from Malfoy Manor."
Pansy almost committed the unpardonable sin of interruption as she said quickly, "Mother did the decoration herself as a girl. The garden is father's design."
Hermione might have let it go, but Ginny was a battering ram among women. "Malfoy Manor?" she asked before the conversation could swing too far away from the intriguing reference.
"Where we usually meet." Pansy shot her a nasty look. Harrietta's face was blank.
It was at this exact moment that the Malfoy matriarch herself floated over. "Miss Weasley, you look parched. May I offer you a glass of elderflower cordial?" She held it up and Ginny took it with a tight smile as her only thanks.
Direct though she was, Ginny wasn't stupid. She highly doubted that the switch from Malfoy Manor to this humbler establishment had just happened to coincide with her invitation. Yet she couldn't think of a motive for the change, at least not until she heard distinctive tones giving a surprisingly lighthearted account of the effects of animal Polyjuice potions.
How would Hermione have felt about going back to Malfoy Manor? Would she have done that, even for the sake of encouraging reconciliation?
Yes. But she would have hated it.
With that realisation, Ginny looked over to Mrs. Malfoy in surprise, only to find the woman staring back at her. She jerked her head away petulantly, and a minute later the older woman drifted away. Harrietta and the random other woman followed her, leaving Ginny alone with Pansy.
The two stared at each other in sullen silence. Pansy finally said, "Long time, no see."
The nervous tension she had been feeling all day made Ginny snap. "That is odd. Huh. Do you think that might have been related to the fact that you walked out of Hogwarts right before some of us fought a battle to save the world?"
She had spoken louder than she realised, and the room went dead silent.
Pansy cleared her throat. "That is true. Excuse me, I am being rude. Have you met my cousin, Elinor?"
Ginny's stomach felt as though it had serpents writhing around in it. Her cheeks burned, and she wondered why, in a room full of bigots and snobs, she was the one who felt ashamed. She barely made it through the rest of the afternoon without running from the room.
When the clock struck five, someone clapped her hands. All eyes turned and Ginny saw Narcissa Malfoy standing in the door leading to the dining room. "Ladies," she said, "thank you for coming. Please have a drink before you go." She made a controlled gesture to her right and Ginny looked over to the hearth. At some point during the proceedings, three of the girls of Hogwarts age had fetched trays, which they carried in two hands, carefully, as they stood before the fireplace.
On the trays were tiny crystal goblets. In each goblet was a swallow of pale green liquid-the first green thing Ginny had seen all day. Somehow she doubted it was a coincidence. She doubted it even more as she saw the solemnity with which each woman took her glass. Daphne Greengrass took two cups and handed one down to her little sister, who couldn't have been more than eight. The girl accepted it with a gravity at odds with her sweet, merry features.
One of the serving girls, a brunette, approached Ginny and Hermione. As the smell of liquorice wafted over to them, the girl picked up a glass and offered it to Ginny. Ginny hesitated for a moment and in that second Narcissa Malfoy materialised at the girl's elbow. She touched the rim of the cup with one firm index finger, pushing it back to the tray. The message was clear.
Ginny stood numbly as the rest of the absinthe was distributed. As though cued by a hand invisible to outsiders, the women all raised the glasses to their lips at once and downed the liquid. Then, without further ado, they turned and began to file out into the atrium. Ginny and Hermione followed in silence. While the other women loaded themselves into carriages pulled by winged horses, they walked down the drive on foot. Coaches thundered past as the horses sped into a gallop and then lifted off the ground.
When all the carriages had taken off and they were nearly to the gate, Ginny asked, "Were you all right?"
Hermione nodded. "They were surprisingly civil, actually. Were you?"
"Why would I not be?"
Hermione got an odd, mystic look on her face and Ginny wondered how Ron and Harry had managed not to kill her yet. "You and Narcissa Malfoy were a bit terse with each other. Not as civil as she was with me."
"Her son made our lives miserable. Her husband chucked a book at me and nearly got me killed. Is that not some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil?"
After a beat of silence, Hermione said abruptly, "And Narcissa?"
"And Narcissa what?"
"What did Narcissa do? Herself, not her husband or son."
Ginny stared at her. "Hermione, it's Narcissa Malfoy."
"That's not an answer," Hermione muttered, but she seemed content to let the subject drop. The conversation turned to the absinthe, and Hermione frowned. "It was strange. It wasn't very subtle, as far as cultic rituals go. They went to a lot of trouble to get us there, only to risk alienating us with that little display of Slytherin vitality."
"Yeah, it was kind of a giant 'fuck off', wasn't it?"
Hermione looked for a moment as though she wanted to comment on the language, but then her frown deepened. "Maybe," she said slowly. "But maybe it's not quite that simple."
"Something... more delicate."
"Liiiike?" Ginny motioned with her hand for Hermione to expand.
"Something they want from us, but aren't sure about."
Ginny had thought Ron was exaggerating when he had said that Hermione in a wise and mysterious mood made you want to scream and rip out all your hair. He wasn't known for his patience, after all. Now she decided that, if anything, he had understated the frustration. "Like what?"
"Oh, I don't know." Hermione's voice was soft. She sounded as though she had almost forgotten Ginny was with her. "I suppose we'll see..."
Knowing a lost cause when she saw one, Ginny gave up.
A/N: This chapter was heavy on women. The story will necessarily be heavy on women, too, because it's femmeslash... And my most important secondary character is female... But I promise there will be men involved! Eventually. Sometimes.