That very same day, Narcissa went out to the Ministry to apply for an at-home nurse. The crisp fall air stung at her pallid, sunken cheeks, just visible from an untidy bun that spilled her tight mousy brown curls down her shoulders and onto her black shawl. She wore her nice dress, of ghastly gray crushed velvet, and her brown leather gloves. Stepping inside the office of the Ministry, she unwrapped her shawl and shook it free of the leaves that settled on it. The room was abask in a faint golden glow from the lighted candles in the tall golden candleholders that lined the room.
From the ceiling hung a massive chandelier that reflected a gigantic frail golden orb in the poorly waxed floor. Narcissa cast a dark shadow across the sunny mirage in the ground as she made her way across the room to the front desk. It was buried in papers, and beside it sat dozens of completely plain men, all of them probably over sixty. They dealt with the smaller affairs - setting up appointments and handing out paperwork to people in the waiting room. An ancient man with a mane of silver hair spanning his shoulders glanced up at her and immediately fiddled with his eyeglasses.
" Blessed be! Mrs. Malfoy." He said, finally, standing himself up and giving her his hand. She stared at the bony appendage he was offering her and then shook it with a disgruntled expression on her face.
" I'm here on important business."
" Why, haven't seen you or the young man for ages." The old man's nametag caught the light of the chandelier - Samuel R. So this was the Samuel that Lucius had spoken of, who was his errand runner. Looking at him now, though, would give anyone the impression that Samuel had been the prestigious front-desk man for as many years as the position existed. He had this posh smugness to him that only elderly people could develop after years on a job.
" How is Draco anyhow?"
" Doing just fine." Narcissa replied, then added: " He works here, I figured you'd see him daily? Surely visiting the paper-sorting room isn't below you all of a sudden, Samuel?" She struggled to stifle her bitterness.
" Ah, the sorting room." Samuel murmured, embarrassed. A few co-workers looked up at him with concerned frowns, for they too had been convinced that Samuel had been in possession of the front-desk job for ages. " Yes, yes. What help could I offer you, madam?"
Narcissa wrung her mouth into a miserable smile. " Draco thinks we could use the help of a nurse."
" A nurse?" Samuel exclaimed. " Why, I waited for you to apply for months now!"
" Have you?" She snapped. " I'll have you know that the Malfoys are holding up quite well without needing some old busybody to hide in our shadows and clean up after us."
" I'm sorry." He stumbled over his words. " I meant no offense. We've had dozens of offers flying in. Lots of young girls feel it to be their patriotic duty to the wizard world, to help out after the downfall of... Voldemort." Everyone still had to pause and take a deep breath before uttering the word, even now.
Narcissa slapped her hand down on the table and jerked an application form towards herself. The action spoke louder than her words could. " I need a reliable girl." She said threateningly. " And a young one! I don't need some old hen! I need a lively girl. Yes, a lively girl..." She murmured, filling the form out.
" Why, most of our girls are excellent young ladies." Samuel explained.
" Isn't that grand for them?" Narcissa spoke hotly. " How are they educated? All through wizarding school, I hope? I need someone with reliable bloodline. I want no Mudbloods gracing the Malfoy premises."
Samuel reddened. " Madam, you shouldn't worry about that, our ladies are all educated. I'll - ah - just put you on the waiting list..."
" Don't you dare squeeze me in on a list, for I'll never see the damn girl. I demand that you have one knocking on my door by tonight!" Narcissa hissed.
" To - tonight, Mrs. Malfoy?" Samuel exclaimed, jiggling his glasses again with such nervousness that for a minute he could have been mistaken for a seizure-ridden hospital patient. " Isn't that just a tad hasty?"
" I'm sure the Ministry is as efficient as it was when Lucius left it?" Narcissa questioned.
" Oh, oh no doubt it is - - well, of course we had serious losses when he departed, but... yes, it is fine... well..." Samuel felt unsure of how to answer best, for he didn't know which answer would be taken as less of an insult by the bitter Narcissa.
" If it functions correctly then I assume that there are nurses just waiting to depart. If that is so, then I expect to open my door seventeen in the afternoon, on the dot, and find a nurse on the doorstep." Narcissa added to the list of desired qualities, mouthing it to herself: " Punctual. Yes, a truly English virtue."
" I'll file the report and send it to Mr. Potter, madam." Samuel managed, taking the form from Narcissa and jamming it on the very top of the "Out" pile on his desk. He looked up, but Narcissa was already leaving, her black scarf fluttering behind her in the wind.
"Good day!" Samuel shouted after her miserably.
Draco paced the corridor worriedly. The Ghost was shuffling in his room, grumbling angrily through a headache-induced fury. He didn't know what to do, though he knew the nurse should arrive any minute now. Sitting himself down on his bed, he allowed to reminisce in the past.
The Malfoys had done so grandly! His father had risen to high prestige with Voldemort, and the plan was going excellently. Draco was to take his inductive ceremony at seventeen and become a sworn protector of the Dark Lord. Instead, shortly after Harry Potter started to stick his twiggy nose into the Malfoy business. He had done his fair share of eavesdropping and spying, and as always in the end he managed to come out the hero. Only this time, he had to have his final battle.
So it was the seventh year, and everyone was taking sides. The school had an invisible line dividing it - Pro- Voldemort and Con-Voldemort. It grew so bad that the school was on the verge of becoming dysfunctional. Harry had come through though, he had the devil's luck. When he ended up finally reaching the man-to-man, last battle with Voldemort, none of the Death Eaters would ever allow their Lord to face Harry and the other leading "good" wizards alone. Lucius had been a truly courageous hero then - he led a rebellion of Death Eaters against Potter and Dumbledore and the others. It had ended horribly for the Dark Side - Voldemort had been completely vanquished by Potter. Something had happened - Potter had reached some sort of magical climax.
A literally blinding flash erupted from his wand and the Dark Lord was killed instantly. Before Draco could have gathered his wits, Lucius had been hit and paralyzed almost entirely – or so were the reports. The worst effects were on Lucius's mind, though. Even if he could move, his brain would surely not allow him, for he had gone into a stage of such post-traumatic shock that he was unable to function. Lucius had been left a hollow ghost with nothing to live for. He could no longer work, he had lost his esteemed position in society, and the one thing he ever believed in - Voldemort - was gone.
Hence, Lucius went mad, stark raving mad, and he was no longer himself but The Ghost in the Malfoy manor. Before Draco could begin to drown in his self-pity, the doorbell rang.
" Open the door!" Narcissa shouted angrily. " That better be the nurse, or I'll..." It had been the nurse, thankfully.
He ran down the stairs and opened the door and there she stood, a figure huddled in a tan trenchcoat and a bright yellow scarf that tumbled cheerfully all the way to the ground. There were little yellow and white pompoms at the ends of the scarf. The nurse's face was completely shielded other than her chocolate warm eyes, as if they were burning embers that were magically embedded inside her pupils. " Hello." Draco said, uncertainly. "Are you the nurse?"
The nurse nodded gaily and said, in a voice muffled by her thick scarf: " I'm your nurse, alright." She seemed to brighten the room immediately, a bustle of plump and warmth and energy, like fresh piping-hot pudding. She turned around, shaking off her coat, and a fiery red pigtail stumbled from beneath the dropping collar of her coat. Then, the second pigtail, both to her waist, appeared as she slid her scarf back.
" Let me take your things…" Draco began, then felt his words get cut off as he saw her face.
She wasn't gorgeous, not in as much a startling way as he reacted. Her face was round and cheerful, her nose was slightly upturned and still sprinkled with faint freckles that reminisced of her early childhood, and her red soft hair fell in loosely crimped waves on the sides of her face. The young nurse looked positively aglow, like a blazing piece of iron, heated until it had the unusual, piercing orange color to it. It was the familiarity of the face, like a slightly altered blueprint of an entire family line, that made Draco jump back for a second. His thoughts spun backwards and he could only remember brief instances in the Hogwarts halls where he might have walked by this girl.
" You – you're Ronald Weasley's sister, aren't you?" Draco exclaimed. " Jennifer, isn't it?"
" Ginny." She corrected with a smile. " I'm sorry, you're of this household, right?"
" Yes, yes." He managed, quickly, before continuing: " Why are you here?"
" Did they deliver me to the wrong house?" She exclaimed. " Oh, goodness, if they did…" She stumbled backwards, her hand falling on the doorknob, ready to burst out the door and race down the street in a panic. " I'd be ever so embarrassed if I botched up my first assignment!"
" No, this is the right house." He said. " I just didn't think they'd send a Weasley, of all people."
" Is this entire house prejudiced against Weasleys?" Ginny huffed. She tossed her scarf carelessly into Draco's arms, where it seemed to pale immediately against the grayish, plain splendor of his suit. He was a tall man, well over six feet, but he carried himself as if he were dwarfed, humbled completely. The gay yellow scarf looked terribly out of place in his hands, but thankfully he immediately rolled it into a tight ball and pressed it under his arm.
" I'm sorry, it's just… I don't know if Mother would approve." Draco explained. " She's very picky about who gets to help our family, and…" Draco himself looked slightly put out of taste.
Ginny blinked, and then exclaimed: " Why! You're Draco! I'm so sorry, I thought you were a butler, or something!" She snatched her scarf from his hands immediately and then gasped out, turning red again: " I've really messed up this time, haven't I? Not even two meters into the house, and already in trouble…"
" Butler?" Draco managed.
" You're all in gray, a fancy suit and all, I just…" She paused. " I'm sorry."
" It's fine, just as long as you don't cross my Mother's path." Draco warned. " She could really take offense to the slightest things." Draco then added: " I'll show you to your room first, get you set up."
Ginny nodded and took out her wand. She waved it around and two tiny bags levitated from her sweater pocket and then settled on the floor like specks of fairy dust, where they immediately began to swell until they were normal size. Ginny picked them up gingerly, for she looked rather sturdy for a girl her age. " Is it upstairs or down?" She asked.
" Upstairs, near the gho—near my father's room." Draco replied, and then put a lone finger to his lips. " Shh, it's best to stay quiet from this point onwards."
The corona of cheer and light that seemed to move along with Ginny seemed to deaden immediately with her fading smile. " My, isn't this place drab?" She whispered softly, as they made their way down the dark hallway and to the staircase.
It was truly beautiful to her, and she paused and exclaimed: " It's like in a palace!"
Draco didn't reply, but he could almost feel his mind absorbing the praise, giving his ego a tiny boost. It was good to have someone still marvel at the extravagance of the Malfoy household. " You don't talk much, right?" Ginny ventured.
He looked at her over his shoulder, and his eerie penetrating eyes, the color of sun-tarnished blue lace, held hers for a long and unbending moment. Then, he replied, shielding his eyes again with his long blonde eyelashes: " I see no need to."
They moved up the staircase in an uncomfortable silence. Ginny seemed to have been expecting Draco to offer to carry her bags, for she made soft grunts as she dragged them up the stairs to remind him that she was holding them. Draco seemed to make no obvious move to help her out, though. Ginny groaned in frustration and then made the rest of the journey up the stairs in silence. Once they were on the second level, she was surprised to see a span of hallways that looked like an intricate, limit-less maze.
" The servant's quarters are to the left." Draco said curtly. " The residents – that is, me and my mom, are to the right. My dad's right in between." He seemed to pause just then, at the awkwardness of referring to The Shell as his dad. It was a nobody, not a father, not a husband, and most certainly not Lucius.
Ginny nodded and then saw the large stone gargoyle, probably made of onyx or dark marble, standing right in the center of the path. It blocked the north wing entirely. She turned - to the south was the staircase, then. Feeling oddly disoriented, she placed her hand on top of the gargoyle. It came alive immediately, at least as alive as an enchanted stone could be. It's large jaws gnashed tightly in the air just where her hand had been seconds ago. Draco grasped her hand, roughly, spinning her around so she was facing him.
A sudden indescribable fury filled his gray eyes, giving them a spark of passion that hadn't existed there for very long now. He whispered hotly: " Don't touch the gargoyle."
" What's in the north wing?" She asked.
" Nothing." He replied. " Just stay out of there." Then, he tapped his knuckles on the statuette and it fell into a stony sleep once more. He released Ginny's wrist from his tight grasp. He had held her so tightly that his fingers left red painful marks in her skin. She pulled the sleeves of her sweater down low to cover the painful blotches and then followed him to her room.
It was just a few doors down the hall, and they had gone through the trouble of posting a brass knocker on the door, so as to respect her privacy. Draco pushed the door open and they stepped inside. There wasn't really anything bad about the contents of the room on their own, but all together it had a frightfully morbid sense drenching through it and into the two figures standing inside. The bed had been hastily made, the ivory sheets and the fragile lace pillows tossed on carelessly, leaving creases and furrows. A navy blue towel was on top of the night stand, and also a porcelain night lamp. It had a faded yellow shade over it.
There was also a desk, but it was small and pushed awkwardly into a dark corner of the room, where the light from the single window (right over the bed) didn't quite hit. The desk was a dark cherry wood color, but it had lost any natural polish through it after years of tarnish and wear. A common kitchen stool accompanied it.
" We had a few of our items put in storage." Draco said, coldly. " I apologize for lack of seating."
" It's alright, I can write in my diary at the kitchen table." Ginny replied cheerily. She pulled the tender white bed covering right off and pushed a rosy pink blanket on instead, which she had managed to yank free from the holds of her suitcase. Draco watched as she wrapped her yellow scarf over the window, so it made some makeshift yellow curtains. The light wafting through the scarf took on a golden color and seemed to give the room a much warmer appeal. He couldn't seem to watch for very long.
He stepped out into the hall, waiting impatiently. The real reason that they didn't have any proper chairs in the rooms were because their items had been repossessed until the Malfoys could afford to pay for them. Ginny appeared in the doorway again, having removed her sweater, and she was only in a melon-orange sleeveless dress, with a long row of buttons down the front. She looked like a little girl, but it suited her, oddly.
" You can stay up here if you'd like." Draco said, coldly. " Once Mother wakes up, I'll start dinner and come get you."
" Oh." Ginny looked disappointed – she had been hoping to have some time to wander around and get acquainted with the house.
" When my father will… will need assistance, you'll hear it. Believe me." A somewhat humorous expression crossed his face, but before his lips could even curl up in a smile, he immediately scowled again, feigning nonchalance.
" Well, until dinner then." Ginny said, gently.