Chapter Seven:

After spending several minutes contemplating the new and expensive turn her life had taken, Ginny tried to shake off the melancholy and the strong sense that she belonged anywhere but where she was. Thinking that she might feel less out of place in the rooms if she at least familiarized herself with them, she set about exploring.

Starting in the sitting room, she opened the drawers of the small writing desk and fingered the thick parchment, slim quills, and pallet of ink hues. She tested the firmness of chairs and settees, and admired the view of the back lawns. She even slipped off her shoes and felt the rich carpets and smooth wood floors beneath her feet. Unlike the slightly rough flooring at the Burrow, or the hard stones that chilled even the rugs in the castle, her toes felt no nip of cold or scratch of unpolished pine.

She didn't bother to re-shod herself before heading back into the bedroom, where the carpets increased in size and thickness, covering more than two thirds of the dark cherry boards. The redhead curled her toes in the colourful rugs and wandered over to draw a hand along the smooth marble surrounding the fireplace. She idly wondered if one of the decorative vases held Floo powder before turning her attention to the large window seat that took up almost half of the left-hand wall. Situated beneath a wide bay window, the seat was covered with cushions and pillows of rich coffee and dark amber and afforded a sweeping view of well-maintained gardens.

Resisting the urge to lay down on the four-poster bed she guessed to be at least twice the size of the one she enjoyed at Hogwarts, Ginny continued on to the bathroom which she found done in a lighter but similar scheme to the rest of the suite. Where the sitting room was bright copper, bronze, and chestnut, and the bedroom deep chocolate, gold, and amber, the bathroom was light tan, brown, and cream with subtle accents of the different metals found in the other rooms.

The counters, which spread out from a wide sink, were marble, veined in gold; the floor was a surprisingly smooth stone, and the raised section that housed the large sunken tub was tiled in a complicated solar motif. She almost missed the toilet, hidden as it was by a cream and tan curtain trimmed with bronze beads. It was in keeping with the opulence evident in the rest of the rooms, and did nothing for her comfort level. Nor did the fact that a cursory glance in the cabinets and drawers around the sink revealed a wide arrange of toiletries and cosmetics.

Following a hunch, the youngest Weasley left the bathroom and opened the closet. Just as she feared, the spacious, walk-in closet was not empty and barren, waiting for her small collection of clothing as she'd first expected, but half-filled with garments of various colours and styles. Casual, dress, and formal robes, gowns, and even suits were arranged neatly on racks. There were even drawers of undergarments, shelves of shoes, and a few boxes of accessories. Her stomach, which had begun its downward journey as soon as she'd entered the suite, and had resided temporarily in her knees when she'd seen the items in the bathroom, dropped heavily to her feet.

How much time, effort, and money had Narcissa Malfoy used putting these rooms together? And how could she ever repay her? Surely she would she expect to be repaid, wouldn't she? The questions and doubts rebounded on one another, making her relieved in some ways, as it all showed that she was indeed welcome, and guilty in others. She had turned their lives completely upside down, dashed all the hopes and plans either Malfoy might have had for Draco's future; how did she deserve any of this? And what was she supposed to do with it?

Ginny was a simple girl, by design and preference as much as necessity, and the kind of easy wealth evident around her was anything but easy for her to adopt. Yet that was apparently what she was supposed to do. She would be a Malfoy soon, after all. The discomfort she felt didn't ebb at that thought, though, and she let her head fall back on a sigh as she tried to think of some way to speak with her future mother-in-law about the situation.

That was when she saw the trunks.

They were as much out of place next to the toffee coloured walls and brass fittings as her hand-me-down robes were next to the rich fabrics on the racks. Perhaps that was why they had been placed on the highest shelves, well above the line of sight. Perhaps, however, it was their contents, and their meaning, that warranted them that spot. When and how they had made their way here from the school, where she had heard her father tell Dumbledore they'd be sent, she didn't know. But she knew without a doubt that they were the same ones as her parents had sent the Headmaster after cleaning her things out of the Burrow.

Everything she'd left at home - all the clothes and toys and books from her childhood - was in those trunks. Everything her parents had saved as she grew up, everything she'd painstakingly accumulated to fill and decorate her small bedroom, was stuffed inside them. A dull pain spread through her chest. Her life was in those trunks, her connection to her family.

A family that had turned her out, turned away from her. A life she could no longer live. Ginny squeezed her eyes shut and wiped roughly at the tear that spilled out. Those trunks were no longer her life, but her past, just like her family was now. She was no longer Ginny Weasley, but Ginny soon-to-be-Malfoy. She may have felt out of place now, but she'd be damned if she felt that way for long. This place was the only place she was welcome; the people in it, the only people who would have her. It was painful, and it was scary, but it was her life; her baby's life. Besides, she was a Gryffindor, even if many of the other lions refused to acknowledge it anymore. She had more than enough guts to make herself fit in here. And she would, she decided, do just that.

Her stomach seemed to agree with her as it slowly climbed back up into its rightful place, and promptly growled at her. With a tired smile, the redhead exited the closet, resolutely keeping her gaze from drifting upwards, and re-entered the sitting room to locate and don her shoes. As luck would have it, she had barely finished the task when a small house elf, who identified himself as Doc, appeared to announce dinner.

She followed the creature through the tastefully decorated halls, down the carpeted stairs and across the entrance hall. Her hunger was strong enough to keep her from gawking too much as she traipsed through a side hall and into an elegantly appointed dinning room that featured a gleaming wood table that would have fit five times as many people as would be sitting there tonight.

She felt a moment's discomfort as she stood there beside the table, still in her ratty school robe, wondering if she should have changed before coming down. High-bred families dressed for dinner, didn't they? Would she be expected to do the same? Her doubts were quieted at least somewhat when the Malfoys entered the room from another door. Draco had shed his robes, but she still recognized the slacks and shirt he wore as those he'd had on earlier that day, and Narcissa had opened her expertly tailored robes to show the straight-lined dress she had on beneath it. Maybe the evening meal wouldn't be so formal after all.

That thought was a reassuring one, and allowed her to sink into the chair Doc was pulling out for her, even let her smile almost convincingly at both blonds, though it didn't hide the grimace that twisted her features as she sat. For all the wonderful scenery, the trek through the manor had been a long one, and long treks were something she hadn't been able to do comfortably for over a week.

"Do you need a potion for your back?" Draco asked with a frown at the circles under her eyes, ones that appeared to have darkened in the mere hour they'd left her alone.

Ginny shook her head. "No, it'll feel better once I'm off my feet for a while." She refrained from mentioning the fact that her feet, swollen as they were becoming, might need more time and a bit of elevation to feel better.

The wizard pretended he didn't know what she'd left out, and initiated some small talk as their first course was served. Conversation, as it was wont to do when people had not seen each other for a while, or had not ever truly met, flowed steadily though superficially for the duration of the meal. Ginny found the perfect opening to thank her future mother-in-law for the idea that had let her order special foods at school, for the skirts she had sent, and for the rooms and their contents. All were done with a shy, self-conscious genuineness, but were brushed off with a smile and wave of the blonde's hand, as Draco knew they would be.

The fact that Narcissa seemed unconcerned with the effort and money she'd expended on Ginny's behalf made the young woman feel a little better about accepting and not being able to pay back any of that expense. The fact that the elder witch appeared pleased with the thanks and practically preened at the compliments the redhead gave the design, decoration, and color schemes of the rooms made her feel much better. For his part, Draco enjoyed watching the byplay between the witches in his life, especially the look that his future wife gave the plate that appeared before her with each course. Narcissa enjoyed it as well, though more for the reactions Ginny's reactions garnered from her son, especially when the most strange and unappetizing combinations of cravings were served and quickly eaten by the redhead.

"Feel free to make any requests of the house elves that you wish, Ginny dear," the Malfoy matriarch stated over desert. "They have full access to anything you might feel a proclivity for. And will respond at any time such a penchant may strike."

The young witch's eyes widened ever so much at the offer, imagining the midnight cravings she could satisfy as she had not been able to do while restricted to the dining schedule at Hogwarts. "Thank you, Narcissa that is a most generous offer. I'm quite sure I'll put it to good use."

She had stumbled over the use of her given name just a touch, but the blonde witch couldn't help but feel overly pleased with the sophisticated phrasing. Maybe she hadn't had the proper training, but the girl was smart and apparently learned quickly. Yes, she thought, Ginevra would fit in quite well at the Manor. The thought caused the sides of her mouth to turn up ever-so-slightly as the last of the plates disappeared from the table and she rose.

"Shall we retire to the parlour?"

Ginny nodded and started to rise from her chair only to find Draco beside her, one arm reaching out to help her to feet. He'd done the same thing on the train that morning, had in fact been doing much the same whenever they'd been alone at school for at least a week. It was as if he could tell when she needed help and when she didn't, as he hadn't started until her growing belly began making such things difficult. It rubbed against her independent streak to need his help, even in little ways, but she was growing accustomed to his being there, and his constant offer of aide, and she didn't even think to turn down the arm he extended to her once she was on her feet.

Neither noticed the grin flash across Narcissa's face as Draco led his future wife into the parlour. They did notice it, however, once they had settled and the elder witch began to pull out several white albums filled with announcement designs, flowers, and fabric swatches. The young wizard visibly resisted the urge to squirm when his mother announced her intentions.

"Just because you didn't have a choice in scheduling the ceremony doesn't mean you can't make the best of the circumstances. A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and every witch should have one as close to her dream as possible."

The witches smiled at one another, in sympathy, in thanks, and then, as blue and brown caught the expression almost hidden beneath his neutral mask, in amusement. "You needn't concern yourself with the details, Draco; leave it all to us girls."

The look of relief on his face and the speed with which he excused himself turned smiles to grins and filled the parlour with soft laughter.

"For all his finer points, my son is still a man; you'll have to excuse him the inherent flaws, dear."

Ginny nodded noncommittally with just a hint of defensiveness in her voice. "He's been ... well, I expected a wizard faced with such circumstances would run as far as he could, but Draco never even tried. He's been... great. Before all this I thought he was... well, he's shown himself to be a lot more than I'd ever suspected."

This time, Narcissa managed to hide the grin that threatened to emerge as she looked at the young witch before her, watching the redhead as she spoke. There was more than just her opinion of Draco that exceeded her suspicions, the blonde was sure. There was certainly more there, beneath her gratitude, that Ginny hadn't become aware of yet.

"Yes, he's always had a way of exceeding one's expectations," Mrs. Malfoy stated quietly, her gaze remaining fixed on the freckled features for a moment longer before she opened an album and brought the conversation back to the topic at hand. They had a wedding to plan, after all, and only a little over a week to do so, if they wanted the ceremony to occur while it was still possible to hide Ginny's rounding belly. As it stood, they'd need a few well-placed beauty charms and some creative tailoring to accomplish the task.

Yet accomplish it they did. The days following the redhead's arrival at the Manor were filled with all manner of tastings, viewings, and deliberations. The preparations kept her too busy to think about what they were actually planning, and what it meant. No, those thoughts were left to wash over her as she stood before the assembled guests in the sweeping gardens behind the Manor ten days later.

Surprisingly enough, the full realization that she was officially Mrs. Ginevra Malfoy, forever linked to the blond Slytherin for the entirety of her life, as well as that of their baby, wasn't quite as daunting as she had expected it to be. It was just as overwhelming, however, and she felt as if surrounded by a clear but heavy fog as she received the congratulations of their guests.

Professor McGonagall had looked pinched but hopeful as she wished them well, Hagrid had been crying, and Professor Snape scowling. The Headmaster, as the presiding Ministry official, had been privy to the expressions of the bride and groom as they had conducted the hand-fasting, and so he looked much more optimistic than any of his staff as he shook her hand. That of course, could have just been the seemingly permanent twinkle in his eyes, or so the new couple told themselves.

End Chapter Seven
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