Pairings: Draco/Astoria, Lucius/Narcissa, assorted Greengrasses
Summary: Through hardship to the stars. The months and years post-Aftermath.
“Explain to me again how we are related to these people,” Draco said as he and his mother climbed into the carriage that would take them from the Portkey arrival point up to Chateau Malfoy.
“The late Étienne Malfoy was your grandfather’s distant cousin. Abraxas and Étienne were quite friendly; well, whatever counts for friendliness with Malfoys. They did business together.” Narcissa took out a small mirror and began to fuss with her hat. The mourning veil covered her face, as was custom, but not the massive diamond necklace she’d put on in defiance of all propriety. Draco wondered why she would come to France with her wand blazing; there had to be a story there.
He looked out at the long rows of tidy hedges cut in some sort of geometrical pattern. The French had made landscaping an art form; this here was the motherland, the home of the Malfoy family, and it was all very impressive, but he thought preferred the rolling hills and abandoned henges of Wiltshire. “And then they had a falling-out?”
Narcissa smiled at herself in the mirror. “They planned to reunite the Malfoy estates on the continent with those in England. Étienne had no sons at the time, only a daughter, Eugenie. He wanted an heir, a Malfoy heir, and after Eugenie was left widowed with three young daughters, he wished to see her taken care of. He and Abraxas concocted a plan to marry Eugenie to Lucius. Your father wouldn’t have her. Étienne took this personally.”
“Can’t imagine why.” Draco was surprised there hadn’t been any deaths-by-duel. “What happened? Father had the chance to join the estates and...refused?”
“What do you mean, ‘what happened’? I happened, thank you very much.” His mother gave him the evil eye. “I hadn’t chipped away at that block for ten years just to cede to Eugenie! We laugh about it now – well, I do – but it was really rather embarrassing at the time for all involved. Étienne never forgave Lucius, Abraxas or his own daughter. He dedicated all his energy to fathering a son late in life, the dusty old fart. I believe he held on as long as he did only to see Aristide grow up and snub Eugenie. People whisper that Étienne had her care for him in his invalid old age only to strike her from his will soon before he died. Ha ha!”
“Aristide – his son – is around my age? And he’s the sole heir to the French estate now?” Perhaps there was an opening there. Draco had never known much about his French relatives or their shared history. If Aristide was the same way, they might strike up a mutually beneficial relationship unburdened by old enmity. It would be advantageous to have business partners on the continent – Draco thought of the expansion of Firebolt across the global market – and besides, his interest in his French family was piqued.
“Yes. Aristide is who you want. We’ll have to see what his preconceived notions of our family are, but he’s young and has no personal upset with us. Eugenie might poison his mind with her opinions, but they are not likely to be close now that she must stand by and watch her much younger brother ascend to the throne. Leave her to me.”
Narcissa looked far too cheerful for a funeral as Draco helped her from the carriage in the courtyard. Chateau Malfoy was an ancient castle that sat on a small island surrounded by a moat. Spires and turrets stretched towards the sky, added on to the medieval keep in the Gothic fashion. It was the true Malfoy way to never be satisfied, and so the owners had fussed with the house through the centuries, expanding and improving and refining until the whole thing was carved to perfection as if from alabaster, rising before a magnificent landscape of deep blue sky and expansive gardens.
Curiously, Draco looked around as they were shown into the house by a jittery house elf who greeted them in rapid French. The interiors were all stucco and gilded ceilings, high crystal mirrors and candles everywhere. It was a bit fussy; he wondered what the place had looked like when the first Malfoys lived here.
“All of this could’ve been mine,” he told his mother, who walked beside him wrinkling her nose at the pink-cheeked cherubs painted on the walls. “Do you realise the English and French estates combined would have made the Malfoys the most powerful family in Europe? You ruined it for me, Mother.”
“You wouldn’t be you if Eugenie was your mother,” she sniffed, and that was probably true.
“She must be hideous for father to pass on all this,” he chortled, nudging his mother a little with his elbow. “Or was there another reason?”
“Hm,” Narcissa made, shrugging, but she breezed into the parlour with a smile that would probably frighten many a hapless cousin. Draco followed, amused, and the introductions were made.
His mother refused to speak French on principle although Draco suspected she understood more than she let on, so the burden of conversation fell to him. They were greeted by a trio of sisters, the daughters that Eugenie Lacroix, Lucius’s would-be bride, had had by her late husband. The three women entertained a growing crowd of visitors who had come to pay their respects to the recently deceased Étienne; they were skilful enough hostesses, conversing pleasantly and ensuring every guest was taken care of, but they shrunk into a corner as soon as their mother arrived.
Eugenie swept into the room in a flutter of elaborate mourning veils that gave her the appearance of an elderly bat. She was a dour-looking woman who had to be in her sixties, attractive enough if not for the scowl she wore, which deepened as her gaze swept over the room and settled on Draco and Narcissa. Perhaps they should be flattered to be singled out, but Draco had a feeling one wouldn’t enjoy being the object of this woman’s attention as she stomped towards them with purpose.
His mother, on the other hand, seemed to welcome the overtures. “Oh là là,” she said under her breath, causing Draco to have to bite his cheek to suppress a smirk. “She got old.”
Eugenie’s face folded up like a prune as if to prove Narcissa right. “Narcissa. I cannot believe you came,” she said in French.
“Eugenie. Long time, no see,” Narcissa replied in English.
After a moment of suspenseful silence, Draco stepped forward. “Cousin.” He bent over the woman’s lace-clad hand, wondering if it wasn’t more prudent to defer to her on her turf than to challenge her.
His mother was undeterred, of course. “This is my son, Draco. Draco, Eugenie Lacroix.”
She raised a golden lorgnette to look him up and down. “Well. No one could ever mistake you for anything but a Malfoy.”
Draco inclined his head, supposing that he should take this as a compliment. “I am pleased to meet my French family at last, although it is sad circumstances that brought us here. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Eugenie shrugged. “Pretty words. Your French is decent, I suppose. Welcome, cousin.”
“We’ve already met your daughters; charming,” Narcissa said now, not one to be left out of a conversation. “Are any of them married?”
Eugenie squinted back at her irritably. “No, not yet.”
“Oh.” Narcissa let that hang there for a moment as they all looked over at the trio of aging spinsters huddling in a corner. “You only ever had the three girls, didn’t you. I would’ve thought you’d marry again.”
Eugenie turned a dull red. “I simply didn’t have time to pursue a private life. My father required a lot of care.”
“It was good of you to provide that. Still, it’s a pity; I’d imagine a husband would be a great comfort to you now.”
The constant back and forth between English and French was giving Draco whiplash, especially when Eugenie said, “I see you’ve come without yours. The least he could have done is pay his respects! Remind me why Lucius isn’t here?”
Narcissa smiled. “I’m afraid I’ve reached the limits of my French. Draco, please translate.”
Eugenie was left to fume silently while Draco took his time translating. Then Narcissa said, “Lucius was loath to miss your dear father’s send-off, he so wished to pay his respects. Alas, he is bound up at home. He’s taking care of our young daughter, you see.”
This took Eugenie by surprise. Draco dutifully began to translate to French, but she waved her hand to silence him, frowning. “You had another? And a girl? That hasn’t happened in the English branch of the family in centuries, has it. One might wonder where she sprung from.”
Narcissa smiled in the manner of a cobra baring its fangs. “Well. It is the Malfoy way to have more children later in life, isn’t it. By the by, would you introduce us to your brother? We’ve heard so much about him, and he is the head of your family now. We should extend our condolences.”
Without a reply, Eugenie turned and swept off. The crowd parted before her. Draco and his mother followed her over to the next salon, where a crowd of dusty old men had gathered and was talking politics. Eugenie brushed right past their bowing and scraping, towards an arrangement of tall potted plants, which she indicated with a sharp flick of her wrist.
“Voilá, my half-brother, Aristide.” She emphasized the ‘half’.
Draco didn’t know what he was looking at, but then a lanky young man emerged from behind the potted plants. He peeked out through the palms like a frightened deer from the forest, everywhere suspecting predators.
“What are you doing? This is your house now, you have guests. Stop hiding,” Eugenie hissed at him in an undertone. “Aristide, our dear cousin from England, Draco.”
Draco glanced at the older woman, who was baring her teeth in a sneer, and with her greying hair under all the black veils looked rather like a rabid badger. He could make a friend today, Draco decided, and smoothly stepped past her through a gap between the plants, joining his cousin in the corner. He held out his hand to Aristide, biting back a grin. “Pleasure. Aristide, is it?”
Aristide was lanky and blond like all Malfoys, but he had a lazy eye that Draco was glad to say had bypassed the English bloodline. He sort of slumped in the shoulders, making himself smaller than he was, but now he looked out hopefully at Draco through a curtain of long hair.
“I am sorry. I tought I saw...” He gestured helplessly at his hiding place. “An ‘ouse elf trying to get my attention. Yes.”
Narcissa broke through the palm frond behind Draco. “Yes, I’m sure I saw it too. The silly creatures are always in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Aristide started as if he expected mockery, but when Draco glanced at his mother, he realised her smile was genuine. Here was an excellent way of annoying Eugenie and allying themselves with the right person in the family, but Narcissa actually looked kindly at the young man as he bent over her hand with a flourish.
“Eet ees good to meet you.”
“Aristide, I am so sorry for your loss. But I am very pleased to meet you.” She studied his face. “I can see the family resemblance. You and Draco share ancestors on your mother’s side too, don’t you. She was related to the Beaulieus, like Draco’s grandmother?”
“Indeed, her own great-grandmother was a Beaulieu. That would have been your grandmother’s...great-aunt, I suppose? So my mother would have been your cousin several times removed, no? Which makes us third...no, fourth cousins on the Beaulieu side. It’s a closer relationship than on the Malfoy side, actually. Now that one is complicated.” He had switched to French for the untangling of the branches of the family tree. “Forgive me, I don’t have the opportunity to speak English often.”
“That is quite all right. I’ll leave you two to it. Eugenie, would you show me to the refreshments,” Narcissa said in a tone that allowed no resistance. She grasped Eugenie’s elbow to turn her back to the other room, and Eugenie could hardly refuse without making a scene at her father’s funeral.
The woman’s face shrivelled up in disapproval, but she had no choice but to leave Draco with her half-brother and entertain her mortal enemy over coffee and biscuits. Draco sincerely hoped no one would end up poisoned.
He switched to French once his mother was gone, knowing it was more likely for Aristide to talk freely when he wasn’t hampered by the language, and frankly, Draco felt that his French was better than Aristide’s English. “I’ve long wanted to see where the family came from. I’m glad we’ve finally made it over.”
“Have you had a look around yet? I would be happy to show you the house,” Aristide said only too gladly.
“That would be nice.” Draco gestured at the baroque splendour around them. “Does any of the original dwelling remain? I understand Malfoys have lived here since the early Middle Ages?”
“Only the kitchen. The old house was built around it, but most of it burned down in the thirteen hundreds.” Aristide glanced at the cluster of stuffy old men hovering just on the other side of the plants, no doubt straining their ears. Suddenly he started towards the door. “Would you like to see it?”
“Now?” Draco got the sense that his cousin needed a break, so he shrugged. “Sure.”
In the hallway, Aristide let out a deep breath. He ran a hand through his sandy hair, which hung in his face floppy and limp. “I am sorry. It is all a bit...overwhelming. My father was ill for a long time, his demise didn’t come as a surprise. It gave me time to prepare, but them as well. Vultures.” He jerked his head in the direction of the salon. “I’ve had no less than five people come up asking for favours, and we haven’t even interred the old man yet. It’s distasteful. And my sister is no better. This morning, I caught her counting the silver spoons.” He glanced at Draco, startled. “I shouldn’t be telling you this. But it is good to have someone my own age to talk to. Someone unrelated to this whole...situation.”
“I understand,” Draco said, oddly finding that he meant it.
Aristide straightened up, brushing down the front of his robes with dignity. “Well. This way, please.”
They walked down a maze of marble hallways for a while, Aristide pointing out a painting or family heirloom here or there, but otherwise remaining quiet. He led Draco deeper into the private parts of the house, down staircases and through hidden doorways, and just when Draco was beginning to wonder if perhaps he shouldn’t have followed this stranger into the hidden parts of his house, Aristide opened a heavy oak door and they stepped into the kitchen.
House elves came scurrying, startled. “Master? How can we serve you?”
“Leave us,” Aristide said, and they all vanished instantly. He gestured at the cavernous room. “Voilá, the heart of Chateau Malfoy. This is where it all began; with a cauldron over this hearth and the family rooming together in a loft above, where it was warm. Imagine that. I don’t even want to know how batty they drove each other in such confined spaces.”
Draco laughed. “There is such a thing as being too close to one’s family, isn’t there.” He looked around at the high brick walls, which stretched up into darkness under a vaulted ceiling. Small windows only provided a little light; most of the illumination came from the fire in the enormous brick hearth, which was built in the centre of the room. An ancient cauldron hung there, steam uncurling from it. The kitchen smelled pleasantly of soup.
“Indeed,” Aristide said. He stared very hard at the cauldron like the soup cooking was extremely interesting.
“A watched cauldron never boils,” Draco said carefully, and then, when Aristide turned to look at him in confusion, “It’s an English saying. It doesn’t translate exactly.” There was a pregnant pause; Draco wondered if probing would get him anywhere. In the end, his curiosity won out. “Were you and your father close?”
Aristide started slightly. “I don’t know that you could say that. He took a great interest in my upbringing, I wasn’t left to nannies and tutors even though my father was getting on in age. But he was strict, and he never forgot, never forgave. I think he grew too rigid in his old age.” Sighing, he sat down on the edge of the brick hearth. “Eugenie is the same way. She’s very...uncompromising. And now we’re in a predicament. I mean, have you met her?”
“Only briefly. My mother knew her, back in the day.” Draco wondered if that was saying too much, but he wanted to feel out where Aristide’s loyalties lay.
Aristide nodded. “I know what happened between your father and my sister, the story is legend among my sister’s tittering acquaintances.”
“Really?” Draco asked with relish. “I’d be extremely interested to hear it again. The whole affair was news to me when I heard about it this morning.”
“A sordid tale,” Aristide said, but he was smiling slightly. “Just the sort of thing one loves to hear about one’s distant relatives. I think Eugenie would have adored that piece of gossip if it hadn’t involved her. But one shouldn’t be hypocritical, I think. Personally, I adore stories of my sister’s embarrassment.”
They enjoyed a good chuckle together. Then Aristide said, “My father impressed on me that I should never fraternise with our English relatives.” Suddenly he looked straight at Draco, lazy eye notwithstanding, and then he cracked a grin. “But I wouldn’t want to marry Eugenie either, so I’ve always thought your father had to be extremely sensible. And if he hadn’t refused her, I likely wouldn’t be here, so I thank him for that.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him,” Draco said, chortling.
“But now it falls to me to decide what to do with Eugenie and my half nieces, which is really very inconvenient.”
“Banish her to a convent?” Draco suggested, grinning lopsidedly. “Or perhaps a belltower?”
“Good ideas both.” Aristide pushed off the hearth and went over to a cupboard. He rummaged around until he found a bottle of spirits and brought it over along with two glasses. Draco was surprised the man knew his way around the kitchen so well, but it seemed like a good hiding place from the rest of the family, and he saw Aristide’s point when he began to pour them generous drinks.
“I don’t think my father acted in the Malfoys’ best interest when he imposed the separation of the French and English families. I’m planning to travel now that I’m free of other obligations. I’m looking forward to visiting you in England.”
Draco toasted him with his glass. “Anytime.”
Aristide took a long drink, which made him cough. “I’ll only have to see about Eugenie. I don’t think I want to leave her in charge of the estate what with recent...developments. She cared for my father for a long time, and she is quite used to this household running on her command, but I think it’d be unfair to burden her with it now that she isn’t mistress of the house any longer.”
Draco understood completely. “You are unmarried?”
“Alas, yes,” Aristide said. “I’m afraid finding a wife has not been a priority these last few years. I always was too busy with my studies, and then, when my father began to decline, with managing the estate. Now I’m quite unsure where to start looking. It isn’t difficult for a wealthy man to find female company, is it, but it’s quite a different matter to find a wife who could handle the challenges of managing this household. Are you married?”
“But soon, eh?” Aristide said wryly, winking, and Draco found that he wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of personal insight, too.
“I’ve been carrying the ring around for months.”
“Waiting for the right moment? Or for your nerves to strengthen?” Aristide laughed. “I envy you. It must be nice to have a partner, a helpmeet.”
Draco nodded, sort of wishing he had brought Astoria along. She was so good at smoothing ruffled feathers, which was what they needed here. “I’ll introduce you when you visit us in England. And...” he trailed off, suddenly experiencing a stroke of genius. “As for now, we should go out together,” he said, improvising wildly. He clapped the other man’s back. “Get some drinks, get you out of the house and mingling. I haven’t been to Paris since I was a boy.”
Aristide looked cheered. “Yes, why not. I’d be happy to show you around. There is an excellent wizards’ bar up in the hidden part of Montmartre. I’ll introduce you to my old school mates. I hear you’re expanding into the broomstick business? Well, a few of them might be interested in that.”
They made plans for a tour of the city and a dinner with Aristide’s friends, all of whom were French businessmen that it wouldn’t hurt to know. Eventually, they were obligated to return to the parlour, and Draco left to find his mother, who was sitting in the best chair in the salon as if she owned the place, conversing with Eugenie’s daughters about Parisian fashion in a mix of terrible English and equally terrible French.
“I thought you didn’t speak French,” Draco said to her as they all strolled out in procession to go to the cemetery, where the late Étienne was to be interred. Grinning, Draco offered her his arm. It was a beautiful summer day; the stroll was more like a pleasant walk in the park than a funeral, and everyone seemed entirely too cheery, laughing and chatting as they followed behind the urn, which was carried by a particularly ancient house elf.
“I couldn’t sit by and listen to Lucius and Ally talk without picking up a few things,” Narcissa said. “You look pleased.”
“I am. You know, Mother, I think I’ll be staying for a few days. Aristide can use a friend to support him in these trying times.”
“That’s nice of you, darling.” Narcissa arched an eyebrow at him. “Do you like him? I was surprised at the family resemblance; I didn’t realise Lucius got so much from his mother’s side of the family. But that’s where the similarities end. Aristide is as skittish as a mouse.”
“I don’t mind him. And I do like his connections.” Draco shrugged. “He promised he’d show me the Malfoy vineyards and give me a tour of Paris. We have plans for dinner in the city tomorrow. I have a feeling we will become fast friends, especially when I introduce him to his future wife.”
His mother considered this for a moment, then squeezed his arm, startled. “No! You can’t mean to unleash that beast on the poor boy.”
Draco laughed to himself. “He’ll need a wife who can frighten off his terrible sister. It’s perfect, isn’t it. I’ll have an ally over here. And poor Eugenie will be relieved of the burden of responsibility when a new mistress takes charge of the household.”
“You think you’re very clever,” Narcissa said, but she laughed too.
They were passing by the owlery. “Go on,” Draco said, slipping away to put his plan into action. “I’ll catch up.”
He ran off, cackling, to send off an urgent missive to Pansy Parkinson. ‘Pierre’s’ on Montmartre, tomorrow at nine. I have an unmarried cousin I want you to meet.