Chapter 1 : Chapter 1
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DISCLAIMER: Not mine. I’m merely borrowing these wonderful characters.
When several young wizards broke the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in their rather boisterous celebration of All Hallows Eve, it resulted in a muggle-media explosion not seen since the Ilfracombe Incident of 1832. The incident hit wizarding headlines within hours of occurring; however, when it emerged that one of the young wizards involved had been the son of a U.S. Councillor pushing for re-election, the story had swept worldwide.
Rycharde's scandal hit during the height of the U.S. quarterly elections. Held every three years, the quarts served as the platform where the 19 U.S. electoral districts would elect their representatives for the National Assembly and Council. The fourth quart was what pundits affectionately called the Salem Clusterfuck, and was historically the busiest time of the year for powerhouse political consulting and PR firm, Gallows Consulting.
As a Gallows employee of five years, Astoria Greengrass had seen the successful appointment of 5 of the 19 members of Council and just under 20 of the 80 National Assembly seats. Unfortunately, Gallows also had the ill fate of holding the retainer in Rycharde's re-election.
American media scrutiny and increased pressure by Rycharde's opponents was attributed to the eventual withdrawal of Rycharde. With her nominee out of the running and the quarts drawing to a close, Astoria and her team found themselves with a brief respite, having been contracted for six months of work that had lasted only for two.
The turmoil in America caused by Rycharde happened to coincide with another kind of turmoil in Astoria's home country of Britain. Kingsley Shacklebolt, having served his first seven year term as Minister for Magic, had declined to run for re-election. Five candidates for the Ministership put themselves forward: Hadrian Corvus, a pureblood traditionalist; Mark Lyndon, former Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Thersander Rhodes, advocate for blood equality; Lucella Miremont, a populist and successful businesswoman; and Art Warin, Auror-cum-media personality.
In the first election since the Second Wizarding War, blood supremacy was at the fore of political argument. The controversial undercurrents of this particular election would devolve into what the Daily Prophet would come to bill as "the nastiest campaign in two centuries".
The Greengrass Estate was in the New Forest in Hampshire, Southern England. The manor itself was the namesake of the Whitehouse Copse, for its distinctive white limestone facade. As sole male heir after their father's death during the Second Wizar, Tristan Greengrass had inherited the Estate. He had kept it much as it had been - perfectly manicured lawns and holly hedges encompassing the entirety of the Estate, which was set amongst the broad-leaf woodland.
The Gatekeeper permitted Astoria's entrance with a cheery 'Welcome back, Ms Greengrass!' and her brother's house-elf hurried her into the sitting room in the east wing, clutching at the side of her robes and sobbing and laughing in turn. The house-elf disappeared with a pop, presumably to fetch her brother.
The choice for Astoria to spend the remaining months of Rycharde's empty retainer with her brother and sister, Daphne, had been simple, given that she had seen them infrequently since their father's funeral. Her migration from England to America almost eight years ago had been facilitated by her maternal grandfather, Gallien Merrimac, who - troubled by the situation in Britain caused by Lord Voldemort - had petitioned the British Ministry for guardianship of all three siblings. Tristan and Daphne both had reached the age of majority, however, and Astoria alone had gone to live with her grandfather at his rambling estate, just North-West of Salem.
Astoria jumped, her musings interrupted as her brother apparated into the sitting room.
"Tristan," she said, and was enveloped in a hug.
She was held at arms length and given an appraising look, which she returned. Tall and rangy, her brother had made a name for himself during the War as an Auror, although he had resigned from the post at the conclusion of the war to enter private enterprise. Apart from looking older, her brother looked well. She wondered if it had anything to do with the distinctly female touch she had noticed on her way through the house; but if he had found a female who he might have allowed to redecorate, he hadn't written of her in any of his letters.
"I heard the news about Rycharde," Tristan said, by way of greeting.
"I'm not surprised," Astoria said. "Grandfather says he's been approached by newspapers all over."
"Ah, Old Merrimac's been given the honour of handling the fallout, has he? I bet that’s put Fire Crabs up his robes."
She snorted. "You have no idea.” As senior partner at Gallows Consulting, her grandfather was none too happy to find the task fallen on his desk. “You know he had the nerve to say he wanted me to take on the nominee for Hartford after Rycharde’s bid failed. I told him I had four months left on Rycharde's contract and I was taking a holiday."
"That would've improved his mood." Tristan let his hands drop from her shoulders. "On the subject - Daphne's still miffed you're staying with me rather than in her town house." He shrugged. "She misses you. I'm paraphrasing, but it probably has something to do with you having lived over in that backwater for too long."
Astoria laughed. "Only a Brit would call the largest wizarding settlement on the planet a backwater."
"Size in no way precludes a country from being a backwater. I can see I'll have to re-educate you on how the English are inherently more civilised than Americans."
"Well good luck convincing me of British civility during election year. I see Poor Warin's already been given a backhand by it." Warin was one of the five witches and wizards running for the British Ministership. The story that Warin was half-vampire had managed to make its way to the American newspaper, The Pundit, in the 'What in the Weird' section, after Warin's political opponents had festooned the outside of his house and campaign headquarters with garlic. "I read about his ousting in one of our papers last week," she said, taking a seat in a comfortable armchair. "Tail between his legs and off to France, is it?"
"No one's actually sure if he's left due to the garlic or the hugely embarrassing public reaction," Tristan said, amused. "He probably should have cleared that up before he ran away. Of course it doesn't matter if he's a half-breed or not. The inference alone has been enough to get the public in an uproar."
While Astoria felt a twinge of sympathy for the poor man, she had professionally admired the speed and efficacy of the ruin of Warin's reputation. The story had gained her interest immediately. "And the responsible party? Don’t tell me it was your camp?"
"God, no,” Tristan said, his face expressing affront at the very suggestion. “My side had nothing to do with it. You can bet that it was Lucius Malfoy's work - though we'll never pin it to him. The bugger's slipperier than snake oil."
"Mmm. It did have a certain beauty to it, though.”
Tristan gave her a sideways look. "In this house we are Lyndon supporters. Any maneuvers made by Malfoy for Hadrian Corvus' campaign are half-baked and silly."
"In saying that, obviously I support Lyndon," she said mildly. "I hear they have the best campaign merchandise."
"Well that's a relief. I'll make sure I pick you up a wand-holster from headquarters. Not only is it practical, it also shouts 'Lyndon for Minister!' each time a wand is inserted."
"Shit. I can't believe Americans have been making do with those little shouting campaign buttons."
"What did I tell you?" Tristan said. "Backwater."
Daphne arrived a half-hour later and the three siblings sat down for dinner. When the house-elf appeared as they were finishing up on dessert, Daphne huffed at the interruption. The poor house-elf apologised profusely, then announced the arrival of Edward Cortewalle, and could Sir come to the lobby please?
"Sorry, Daph. I'd better see what he wants."
“Off you go then,” Daphne said. As Tristan made his way from the room she added, quite intentionally, "He’s got Catalonian Brandy in the library.”
“Christ,” they heard him say from the hallway.
Catalonian Brandy was so rare due to the Catalonian Fireball's status as a protected species, and the only way to procure the increasingly elusive beverage was through illegal trade. Daphne filled their glasses to the brim, and they sat down to gossip about their brother's love life.
As Daphne poured their second helping, she burst out, “What could possibly be taking him so long?"
"He and Cortewalle will be up to no good," Astoria said. "I’d say it has something to do with having Warin withdraw."
Daphne was unimpressed. "Cortewalle's so old he can barely withdraw a wet teabag from a cup.”
"My ears are burning," came the thin voice from behind them.
Astoria and Daphne turned at the unfamiliar voice - Edward Cortewalle standing in the open doorway, with a steadying hand on Tristan’s arm.
"Hullo, little Greengrass," Cortewalle said. Astoria had put down her glass of Dragon Brandy to greet the man, and he clasped her hands in his, holding them for a time. "Naturally when I heard you were home, I had to come and see for myself. I'd almost forgotten there were three of you, you've been away that long."
Edward Cortewalle was probably old enough to have lived twice. He walked with a cane and had very little hair, but he was a wily old fox, make no mistake of it. Cortewalle had taught their father everything he knew, and had taken an interest in Tristan's professional life after their father had died - a mentor of sorts. Astoria credited him for her brother leaving the Auror Corps for a suit and tie.
"You're looking well," Astoria said.
"Being up to no good always puts a spring in my step,” he said, then added, pointedly, “for someone so old.”
Daphne had the grace to look ashamed.
"Good news, then?" Astoria asked.
Cortewalle gave a slight smile. "As of one hour ago, Art Warin has officially withdrawn from his bid for Ministership.”
"Ah - that's great news," Astoria said, sending the two men a smile. Warin's withdrawal was a major coup for the remaining candidates; although there would be a bit of a scuffle in the next few days as they fought for Warin's share of votes. "One down, three to go?"
"Something like that," Tristan said.
Astoria felt her eyebrows draw together. "Aren't I allowed to be included in these sorts of discussions?" While she hadn't specifically asked Tristan, she had assumed that the candour of her brother’s letters would continue into the behind-the-scenes of Lyndon's campaign - if not as someone to bounce ideas off, at least as a confidant. It was part of the reason she had been so keen to stay with her brother over Daphne.
"We can't have any meddling," Tristan said, then back-peddled as he saw the look on his sister's face. "What I mean is, too many cooks spoil the - shit. We'll talk about it later."
Cortewalle grabbed her hands again, and Astoria fought the annoyed look off her face. She could understand their reasoning, of course - if the situation were reversed, she'd tell him far more bluntly to piss off.
"What your brother meant to say, is we have no objection to sharing our thoughts with you. But you won't be included in the war room." Cortewalle gave her hands a pat before letting them go again.
"Well, that's all you had to say, Tristan, you dolt,” she said. “Of course I don't expect to be making any decisions. This isn’t my election and I wouldn't force my way in. I don't want to step on any toes."
Her brother ran his hand through his hair. "Thank you, Cort. Thought I saw a basilisk staring back at me for a moment."
"You'll find Lyndon a treat," Cortewalle continued. "He's not the usual blackguard. He has a good mind for strategy and a wicked tongue in the debates. If you're interested in our humble British politics I wouldn't mind showing you around the campaign trail."
"Thank you." Being shown around the campaign trail by Lyndon's campaign manager himself would certainly be a treat, and she was interested to meet this Lyndon she had heard so much about. Ordinarily the candidates strengths lay in public speaking, and not in strategy - which was why they hired people like Cortewalle to run their campaigns, or firms like Gallows Consulting.
"We have another fundraiser next week. Not as showy as your American events, but you're welcome along. Your sister as well."
"Not more bloody politics," came from Daphne’s direction.
"Now I must be off," Cortewalle said, continuing over the top of Daphne. "There’s so much to do. Malfoy's turned it into a dirty run, and we've got these pro-pureblood laws to contend with."
Astoria kissed the man's cheek, and Tristan said he'd walk Cortewalle out. They disappeared back down the hallway.
When Astoria turned back around to Daphne, she found her sister started on her third glass of the Catalonian.
"I'm not going to any of Lyndon's boring parties," Daphne said. "Tristan can take you."
The Malfoy involvement in Hadrian Corvus' campaign for Ministership was ostensibly a monetary one. Given that Draco had obtained a 4% stock ownership of the Floo powder production company, Wildsmith & Co, it was generally understood that Draco supported Corvus on the back of his plan to loosen restrictions in the Floo Network Authority. This together with his quarter control of the family Holdings had lent legitimacy to the media's reports of financial support.
For Lucius Malfoy's part, he had been careful to distance himself publicly from Corvus' campaign to avoid the bad publicity his presence would invite.
This, of course, could never foil the older and wiser members of the Ministry and media. Lucius Malfoy had been one of the notorious favour lenders during the 70s and 80s, infamous for carrying out the more unpleasant side of negative campaigning - in short, pulling every underhanded trick in the book to lift Ministers to power. Lucius could boast of having a direct hand in the appointment of Fudge to Minister, and an indirect hand in the downfall of a number of previous Ministers - but that was a matter of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Witnesses tended to be hard to track down, back then.
Lucius had been sanctioned as unofficial consultant by his old colleague and Corvus' campaign manager, Thurkell. However, removed from the campaign in public, Lucius relied on his son as his eyes and ears on the ground and as proxy during the occasions when Lucius could not be present. It was a task that Draco had gladly taken on. His boyhood worship of his father had been tainted by the War, but he had found a fresh respect for his father in the machinery of Corvus' campaign. While the father and son relationship would never be the same, the dynamic had changed, based on mutual respect and the task his father had entrusted him.
Sharing a dinner with his old school friend, Theodore Nott, Draco had been made aware of Astoria Greengrass' arrival in Britain when Nott had made passing mention of it. Upon further questioning, Draco learned that she had completed her last three years of school at the Salem Witches' Institute and from there had gone on to work as an American political consultant under her grandfather's tutelage.
Apart from the perfunctory enquiries and a short discussion with his father, there was, however, no further action beyond noting that the chit had arrived in Britain. Neither Malfoy could see how a Greengrass from America of all places would cause them any undue stress. While the Greengrass family was of great political lineage, this one was no more than a spectator. If she were to begin throwing her weight around in Britain - well, that would be an entirely different matter.
Of more pressing concern to Draco and his father was the battering Hadrian Corvus was taking in the Daily Prophet of late. As a Ministry employee and pureblood, Corvus was known as the Ministry's choice candidate, and was therefore being quite negatively associated with the pro-pureblood laws.
Media reports of public anger toward the Ministry and its apparent complacency toward blood equality had ramped up in the past fortnight, fuelled by Ministerial candidate Thersander Rhodes and his lackey, Spontin. Rhodes was focusing on the remaining 415 pro-pureblood laws that the Ministry was yet to repeal. The delay hadn't been for lack of trying, however, as the most unjust laws had been dissolved by the Wizengamot in the first weeks of Shacklebolt taking Office; slipped through in the initial chaos following the expulsion of the Death Eaters from the Ministry. The kicker was that the laws Rhodes referred to were the vague and archaic laws found in handwritten records. Shacklebolt had ordered a review of the law in his first year of Office, but the task had proven a frustrating and lengthy one, with each record to be manually reviewed and catalogued, each proposed change drafted and then voted upon unanimously by the Wizengamot. While Shacklebolt had only good intentions, the Wizengamot had still been chaired by several purebloods of the old blood lines who had thrown up roadblocks at every turn. The main problem was that the absence of a single member of the Wizengamot meant any change in policy would be delayed until the Wizengamot next convened, in full. Lobby groups had found some success in cutting the red tape on the most pressing issues by taking it to the media, but the result had been a raised public awareness of the Ministry's apparent delay in legislating blood equality.
In the wake of the seven-year anniversary of Voldemort's death and in the midst of the first Ministerial election since the War, the Daily Prophet had drawn on Rhodes' rhetoric and created a 12-page spread on the progress that had been made - or hadn't been, was the slant the article had taken - toward blood equality. The Daily Prophet's editor-in-chief, a half-blood who had taken control of the paper following Voldemort's murder of his father, had given Rhodes' most recent speech the honour of being published on page 3.
It was all about perceived knowledge, really. What the public thought they knew, was very simply a media construct. And the Daily Prophet was leading the hunt.