The next day, Ginny decided on a trip into the village of Capro. Like Hogsmeade, it was an all-wizard one. That was why so many of the wealthy wizarding families had holiday homes on Capro – the entire island was warded off from Muggles, thereby affording the rich a pleasant haven safe from prying eyes, where they could indulge themselves in using magic publicly.
Aunt Muriel declared it was still too hot for her to venture outside, but sent Ginny off with a few parting words of wisdom. (‘Do watch out for those Italian men, Ginny. I dare say they look handsome, but you can never trust them!’)
Ginny spent a nice, but tiring, morning window-shopping at the finest Italian fashion stores and wishing that she had money. Even Muriel could not have found fault with her style of dressing if she could afford clothes like the ones she was currently looking at.
She was just stopping one last time to admire a dress, after having eaten lunch at a cozy bistro, when she could hear that all-too-familiar drawl behind her.
‘Looking for a job, Weasley? You must be, because surely you can’t afford to shop here?’
Groaning, but not quite angry, she turned around (a week with Aunt Muriel hardened even the most easily offended, and Ginny never really had been easy to goad). Malfoy was wearing an outfit she was sure had come from one of these places, and he looked infuriatingly good in it. Those bruises and scrapes were healed, too. His tailored trousers and short sleeved shirt drew her eye. Black had to be warm in the sun, but she guessed he always wore black.
‘Not tumbling down cliffs today?’ she retaliated.
He snorted, and actually smiled faintly. ‘Friendly game of Quidditch,’ he said offhandedly. ‘Accidents are prone to happen. You should know that; you play for one of those – er – lesser known teams.’
After Muriel’s comment (’A girl shouldn’t play Quidditch, but I guess it gives you a hobby until you get married’), that was positively a compliment.
‘Will you be here for long, Malfoy?’ Ginny asked. ‘I don’t want my holiday ruined.’
He narrowed his eyes maliciously. ‘I’m here for the summer; but trust me, spending time around you is the last thing I want.’
‘You are the one stopping to chat,’ she said, smiling sweetly at him. Unsurprisingly, that made his eyes spark in anger. He always had been easy to offend.
‘Just wanted to let you know that there’s a used clothes market down the road,’ he sneered. ‘But seeing that outfit, I guess you’ve already been there.’ With that he sauntered away, leaving Ginny fuming in anger. Would she have to listen to Malfoy seconding all of Muriel’s comments? This had to be a nightmare!
The next morning, Aunt Muriel suddenly decided on a two-day trip to Rome, insisting that it was time she introduced Ginny to some ancient culture. (‘You’re brighter than that lummox, Ron, but that’s true for most people. I’m sure there’s room for a lot more inside your head.’)
They followed an official tour to the ancient wizarding Rome, and, for once, Ginny was pleased to be with Muriel. The tour-guide droned on in a sleep-inducing voice about the catacombs and a wizarding temple in the middle of the Tiber, but suddenly Aunt Muriel would whisper (and, as she was quite deaf, the entire group could hear it) that she had heard an entirely different version involving two werewolves founding Rome. By the time the tour ended, the tour guide had turned a bright purple, and Ginny had to excuse herself and run behind an old temple before she doubled up with laughter.
‘Insufferable fool! Why they would give us a guide that has that little knowledge about ancient Rome, I have no idea,’ Muriel yelled to a witch standing next to her.
After the second day, they returned to the château, Aunt Muriel still cackling contentedly over the stupidity of the tour-guide. As this gave Ginny a much-needed break from being criticised, she did her best to encourage it by inserting comments like, ‘What about his statement about the Coliseum? That sounded true?’ which would ensure that Muriel presented her own version of events. Aunt Muriel’s take on history sounded like a worst-case scenario cooked up by evil tongues, but it was far more entertaining than History of Magic ever had been.
The next day, Aunt Muriel opened her copy of ‘Capro Daily’ (the translator spell ensured she could read it in her native tongue) and let out a cackle that made Ginny jump. Aunt Muriel’s cackles usually meant she had found some gossip story of an unusually malicious nature, but, this time, the cackle was one so gleeful that Ginny suspected nothing short of the Minister of Magic himself being engaged to Voldemort’s unknown daughter could have induced it.
‘This is wonderful,’ she announced to a startled Ginny, who rarely could remember Aunt Muriel using such a positive word before. ‘Look at this, Ginny!’ She brandished the paper happily, and started reading out loud:
‘Annual Summer Ball.
This Saturday, at Capro Grand Hall.
This traditional gathering has through the times been a favoured meeting place for the select young witch and wizard. As late as last summer, Frances Miles DuFin met his wife, Pansy DuFin, whose maiden name was Parkinson, at this very gathering. Among notable names…’
Ginny zoned out, inwardly groaning. She could picture Muriel happily attempting to marry her off to some rich wizard at this very ball.
‘We will attend, of course,’ Muriel announced. ‘You’ll have to buy a dress. I’ve seen your usual clothes – it won’t do. Thankfully, you have a nice posture. That red hair can’t be helped, I suppose, but some people do like red hair.’
Ginny forced a smile, while telling herself that she really did want a new dress. She would not mind dressing up and going to a dance either, it was this matchmaking scheme that spooked her.
Ginny walked into the ballroom, feeling like a horse up for display. She was glad this horrid tradition of balls was on its way out of fashion – at least outside the rich and powerful families. How you could actually be expected to meet someone you would like to marry in a setting like this, she had no idea.
Every man in the room was in dress robes; most of them looked desperately uncomfortable and kept casting glances at their neighbours for moral support. The girls all seemed to be in groups of three or four, giggling madly and eyeing the men. The sight sent chills down Ginny’s spine.
‘Ah. Finally some eligible bachelors,’ Aunt Muriel said, uncharacteristically cheerful. ‘These are the rich and powerful, Ginny, so do try to behave properly.’ Her voice was one you would normally use at a child who was prone to pulling off all the tablecloths and running around screaming madly. Even after the past weeks, Ginny had to close her eyes and swallow the retort she had on the tip of her tongue.
‘Yes, Aunt Muriel,’ she forced out, instead – agreeing meant she could get away faster.
‘Well?’ Muriel asked pointedly. ‘No need to stand around here! But do remember, Ginny – they might be rich, but they still look like spineless fools to me.’
Ginny happily grasped the opportunity to walk away and circled the room, looking for somewhere she could sit down without anyone noticing her, or preferably a door leading outside so that she could slip away for a bit. It was a large hall, the sides partially hid from her view by columns and the middle intended to be used as a dance-floor.
While looking around, she kept an eye on the people surrounding her – wanting to know just who all these so called ‘eligible bachelors’ were. To her, they looked like nothing more than spoilt rich boys trying to impress. For once, she had to agree with her aunt – they did look a little spineless.
Just as she contemplated this, she saw a streak of pale blond hair across the room. Great, she groaned inwardly, of course Malfoy had to be here! Despite groaning, she followed him with her eyes. It was best not to turn your back on the enemy, after all. And even she had to admit he stood out. It had nothing to do with the paleness of his skin, the blond hair, or even the black, almost sombre, dress robes.
It was his attitude. Or, rather, his lack of attitude. In a room where everyone was trying their hardest to impress, Malfoy merely walked across the room. He did not saunter, or strut. He walked. Calmly, assuredly, like he had done it a hundred times before. He let his eyes sweep the room with a look of disinterest, not pausing at the groups of girls who were suddenly not giggling any more, but rather tossing their hair over their shoulders, sending long glances after him. It wasn’t that he was so handsome – there were several men present who were obviously much better looking. It might have been his money, that Malfoy fortune beckoning the unhitched. Or, it might just have been that lack of attitude, that way he wore his robes like he was used to them – not like many of the others, who looked like little boys forced into formal attire by their mums.
He walked over to a man standing not far from Ginny, but on the other side of a wide column.
‘Didn’t think you’d show, Malfoy,’ greeted the man.
‘Mother decided to send one of her letters to remind me that I’m not getting any younger and that the Malfoy family needs an heir. If I didn’t make an appearance tonight, she would make a fuss,’ Malfoy replied, sounding bored. ‘The way she talks, you’d think I was turning thirty this fall, not twenty-one.’
Ginny grinned to herself, moving away. It didn’t particularly sound like Malfoy was too eager to be here, either. She kept circling the room. If nothing else, she could at least make sure to avoid meeting Malfoy face to face. As she paused, deciding she must have put a safe distance between them, a man walked up to her. Well, to be honest, he almost jumped, seeming to hesitate for a moment, then gaining courage to leap the final three steps. His appearance took Ginny completely by surprise.
‘I … May I claim the first dance?’ he stuttered. He had too-big ears and curly brown hair. Somehow, it made him look a little elfish, almost like he belonged in stories from Roman mythology.
‘Sure,’ Ginny blurted out. It was a dance, after all, and the evening was sure to pass faster if she danced. It might even be fun, if Muriel did not find her a potential husband. At least, by dancing, she would get to refresh all those lessons her mother had given her.
But the first dance proved her wrong. The man with the curly hair seemed to step on her toes as often as not; and finally, Ginny had to steer to avoid him making a total fool of himself. She desperately hoped the rest of the evening would not prove to be as challenging.
After a few dances, she decided on a break. Formal dancing might look calm enough, but with toe-stepping wizards, heavy flirting, giggling girls, and the warm Italian night, it was anything but relaxing.
No sooner than had the next dance started, before Muriel caught her by the arm, leaning heavily on her.
‘I must say, Ginevra, at least you know how to dance,’ Aunt Muriel said. Ginny was stunned to hear Muriel actually complimenting her on anything. ‘But you do seem to pick out the most gormless partners in the room.’
‘I’m going back to the château,’ Muriel continued. ‘A lady my age needs a good night’s rest. I’m a hundred and ten, after all!’ She cackled a little. ‘Do stay longer, but at least try to dance with someone with a backbone!’ With that, Muriel ambled up the stairs towards the exit. Ginny let out a relieved breath. At least Muriel had not suggested she married anyone.
She walked over to the punch, helping herself to a goblet, and watched as Malfoy danced with a pretty girl in a pink dress that stood out vividly against his black robes. Not even now did he look happy; he still had an arrogant bored look that didn’t at all seem to discourage the girl, who appeared to be talking away rapidly. What on earth does she see in him? Ginny wondered to herself. She never would comprehend how some girls could marry for money. There were so many things in life of much greater importance, after all.
As the dance ended, she tried to snap out of her thoughts. It would not do to be caught staring at Malfoy. She rose and put the goblet aside, determined to dance some more. If the man only knew how to move his feet, it was quite fun.
She turned back to the dance-floor only to find Malfoy right in front of her. The girl dressed in pink looked dotingly at him, but he seemed to ignore her.
‘Malfoy,’ Ginny snapped. What did he want now, then?
‘Ginny. Care to dance?’ he asked, taking her completely off guard. ‘You do know how to dance, right?’ he continued in that intolerably arrogant voice of his.
‘Yes, Malfoy. I’m the only girl in a family with six brothers. Of course my mother taught me how to dance!’ she replied impatiently.
‘You better not be lying!’ he snapped, and grabbed her hand and waist firmly, pressing her a little closer than she would have liked.
She snapped for breath, making him leer at her, while he made a condescending noise.
‘Try not to faint at being close to a man, Ginny,’ he mocked, steering her surprisingly skillfully. There was nothing hesitant what so ever about his movements, and he seemed to know his steps well enough to keep his attention on the room around them.
‘Is that what you call yourself, then?’ she retorted.
He merely smiled, as if amused. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘Surely you can do better than that? If you’re going to offend me, at least do it properly.’
‘I’d almost think you have a crush on me, the way you act,’ she said offhandedly. ‘First, you ‘accidentally’ tumble down at my feet, then you stop for a pleasant chat in the village, and now you invite me to dance?’
He did react to that one. She knew it should possibly upset her that he got so very offended at any allusion to him liking her, but it really didn‘t. She detested him, too, so it hardly mattered.
‘Like that could ever happen!’ he snapped. ‘In case you haven’t noticed, I have plenty of more attractive offers.’
Okay. So that one stung a little. There was no need for him to comment on her appearance. ‘I’ll let you get back to them, then,’ she replied coldly, trying to pull her hand out of his.
But he merely held her back, and twirled her around. ‘No, you don’t,’ he sneered. ‘If you run away now there’ll be all kinds of rumours. I do not want to hear talk about how we’re having a lovers’ quarrel!’
The notion was enough to keep Ginny where she was. Rumours about her and Malfoy? Ugh!
To her great disconcert she enjoyed the dance. It might have been Malfoy’s obvious skill, or it might have been the fact that he actually stayed silent for the rest of the dance. The absence of leering made a nice change from what she was used to.
Aunt Muriel had gone to bed by the time Ginny got back to the château, so Ginny merely went to bed. As she fell asleep her last thought was: ‘Oh, I really hope Muriel doesn’t hear of me dancing with Malfoy!’
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