Chapter 1: Dresses and A Ball
(With A Hearty Helping of Exposition)

White Dresses

Louisa Greengrass was fourteen years old. Standing nearly as tall as Thalia's five feet seven inches, and already two inches taller than the comparatively short Lara, she viewed her height as a marker that she was not that much younger than her sisters. Her form was smooth, slender, and rounded in all the right places, mature beyond its age. Her face had more natural colour than her pale sisters'. Her hair, too, was warmer, caramel tones bringing out the soft edges of her features. She had blue eyes. Lara's eyes were light brown and flat (empty, Louisa thought). Thalia's were dark and striking, but cold. Louisa's eyes were filled with something that her sisters' so conspicuously lacked: fire.

Louisa Greengrass was the only one of her sisters to carry true fire in her heart. It bled through to her face, her mannerisms, and her very aura, causing her to stand out from her domesticated sisters. Her face, though warmer than Lara and Thalia's, was also fiercer. Her mouth was redder and quicker and sharper. When she walked, she didn't float like Lara or calculate the most efficient path like Thalia. She didn't need to look pretty or circumvent people. She walked with power. Her step was quick, but not harried. She never tripped or stumbled. She was never lost. She walked with assurance, as though the world was hers, and everyone else was merely allowed to live in it. Louisa Greengrass was strong and powerful and fiery. Her sisters were not.

It made her, she thought, the best.

"Stop fidgeting," Thalia told her evenly, with a sideways glance. They were in a small bridal shop, bound by their clothing to remain standing on the little platforms in front of their respective, adjacent mirrors. Both were covered in slippery white fabric, vaguely in the outline of a dress, but held together by so many pins that it made the both of them look rather ridiculous.

"Yes, Miss Perfect," Louisa replied sarcastically. Thalia's lips thinned dangerously. Louisa, she thought, was behaving like an immature brat.

"If you keep fidgeting, you'll pull your pins loose," Thalia reprimanded in an annoyingly superior voice.

"Whatever," Louisa replied, with as much contempt and indifference as she could possibly pour into those three syllables.

"Behave yourself, Louisa," Thalia commanded with quiet power. "Today is Lara's day. You need to respect that."

Louisa rolled her eyes. "Every single day this summer will be Lara's day. The entire bloody Wizarding world will look back on this summer as 'The Summer of Lara Greengrass's Wedding.'"

"It's important to Lara that everything be perfect." Thalia pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

Louisa glared over to where Lara was trying on her magnificently lavish dress, surrounded by half a dozen people – including the girls' mother – who gasped and sighed as the bride smoothed her dress, beaming and blushing with pride. Her thoughts turned darker as she remembered the last time Evianna Greengrass had stood that close to her.

"Disgrace upon this family."

"Mum's the one who's about to wet herself with glee." Louisa said vindictively.

"Act your age, Louisa."

"I am. You lot are the bloody robots."

Marriage at eighteen – it made Louisa's stomach curl. But apparently she was the only one who thought that two months out of Hogwarts was a bit too soon to sign your life away. Evianna Greengrass was absolutely ecstatic. Her eldest daughter – her pet, her pride and joy, the one child who was always perfect – was going to marry a proper, rich pureblood without scandal or drama. She was to be Mrs. Malcolm Gamp, live in the largest of the Gamp's manors, and raise lots of beautiful and poised little pureblood girls and strong, intelligent little pureblood boys. It was Evianna Greengrass's dream come true. But then, her eldest was always very good at pleasing her. Thalia and Louisa were the troublesome ones.

"Doesn't it disgust you?" Louisa asked her older sister.


That Lara's about to enter a horrible and loveless marriage? Thalia thought.

"The fact that that's going to be you in two years." Louisa said simply, but with the intent of eliciting an entertaining response.

It terrifies me.

"Not really."

"Really?" Louisa said tauntingly, her ill-controlled boredom driving her to nastiness. "It doesn't scare you even a little, the fact that Mum's planned out your entire life and there's nothing at all you can do to stop it? You're just a puppet, allowing yourself to be pulled in any direction Mum chooses, even if you end up spending the rest of your life trapped in a horrible cage of duty?"

"Oh, don't be so dramatic, Louisa. Mum hasn't planned our lives." Thalia scoffed, her tone perfectly indifferent. She brushed an eyelash off her cheek.

"Yeah. Sure. Just you wait. This is the summer before your sixth year. Isn't that the year Lara just happened to end up dating Malcolm the Prat?" Louisa asked innocently, tipping her head to the side with a mocking smile. It twisted to something malicious as she added with finality: "Mum will have paired you up with your future husband by Christmas."

"You've pulled out your pins."

The Nott's Ball

Tabitha Flint

Tabitha Flint was hopelessly in love.

It was painfully obvious, standing here in his foyer, that she was head over heels in love with Theodore Nott. As she waited in line to greet him and his parents, her heart thumped wildly in her chest, her frail little hands becoming horribly sweaty. Casting a sidelong glance at her mother, she tried to subtly wipe the excess moisture off onto her peach dress without creating a dark streak.

The silky black material of his waistcoat caught the candlelight, creating a flickering pattern of reflected light that was mesmerizing if one looked at it for long enough. Tabitha's knees went weak when she noticed how golden his light brown eyes looked under the same magical light. Her breathing quickened, despite her efforts to calm her nerves. Perhaps this would be it – perhaps this would be the moment. Perhaps when she made it to the front of the line, he would see her. With a gasp and quickly widening eyes, he would be taken aback by how beautiful she looked tonight. He would stutter and stammer just as she did when speaking to him. He would see her as though she was entirely new, not just the same girl he'd seen at pureblood functions since they were children. He wouldn't waste any time. As soon as the dancing started, he'd be there, asking her to dance. He would be nervous, but determined. It would be a slow song. They would get closer throughout the song, and soon…

The bubble was popped.

"Good evening Mr and Mrs Nott, thank you so very much for inviting us here this evening." The words spilled out of her mouth due to a lifetime of social training, but her consciousness barely tuned into what she was saying. She tried with all her might not to cast a glance at their son. She didn't hear their greeting. Everything between her and Theodore was merely an obstacle – but also, she acknowledged – a shield.

She had meticulously planned this interaction. But, all her plans for a new impression flew from her head the moment she was actually standing in front of the bulky boy. Her rehearsed, smooth greeting was gone, leaving nothing but blank and empty white panic. She stood in front of him, mouth half-open like a gaping fish. She tried to kick her brain into action, hating herself and wanting to burst into tears simultaneously.

Why? Why now? Say something! Say anything!

But she did what she always did when she lacked confidence: she stayed quiet.

Theodore broke the silence after what seemed like an eternity.

"Welcome, I hope you enjoy the party." He smiled slightly, but there was something off in his eyes.

All Tabitha could do was nod. She walked away, mentally berating herself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid…

"Tabitha Carlie Flint." Her mother hissed reproachfully as soon as they were out of hearing range of their hosts. "I did not raise you to be so rude as to not greet your hosts properly. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

She was ashamed, but not quite in the way her mother was hoping for.

The party had kicked off with a bang, but the first hour seemed to trudge by with excruciating slowness. Tabitha wanted to roll in a ball and die. There was no point to her being here now, she thought. The only reason she was excited for tonight was for her chance to start over, to cast aside the insecure, shy part of her and capture Theodore with her confidence and charisma, like Cynthia did with her male interests.

Tabitha stood, uncomfortable, between Cynthia and Thalia, pretending to observe the dance floor as they were. They were talking about something – Nathaniel Zabini, she thought – but she couldn't bring herself to participate in the conversation. They were her best friends, but at that moment, she felt a sudden surge of jealousy and hatred. She'd tried so hard, so hard, to try to be equal with them tonight. She'd spent more time dressing that afternoon than she'd ever spent preparing for a ball. Her light brown hair was perfectly curled and her makeup was impeccable and tasteful, making it look as though her face were naturally flawless. She'd even performed an illegal colour-changing charm on her shoes so she could wear her tallest heels and try to look more like Thalia, who had four inches of height on her. But it doesn't matter, she thought darkly, I still look homeless next to Thalia. It's not fair.

Her thoughts turned dark and vicious in a snap, her attitude plunging downwards along with the rest of the night. How was it fair that she could look good without doing anything? With her dark hair and dark eyes, she bet that Theodore would droll over Thalia if she was sick with the flu and vomiting on his shoes.

But he didn't even look at me twice when I'm at my most beautiful.

Tabitha looked down at her fancy new dress, chosen specifically for this occasion. She felt the telling prickle of tears in her eyes as she ran her fingers over the slick fabric. She didn't have as much money as Thalia and Cynthia. She'd had to beg her mum for a new dress. For what? It's not as though it mattered what she looked like. She'd made her mum spend all that money for nothing. She would never look anything but pathetic next to Thalia, she thought.

And it's not as though Cynthia has anything to complain about, either.

"We have got to capture ourselves one of these blokes. We'll look like ugly old hags if we don't." Cynthia proclaimed, so perfectly timed with Tabitha's thoughts that it caused the tiny girl to start a little. Cynthia paid this motion no mind as she swirled her glass of champagne, her eyes roaming the dance floor like a hunting ground. Short, stubby, and rather pug-like, Cynthia Yaxley was not fortunate enough to be naturally beautiful. But beauty can be manufactured with potions and spells, and Cynthia Yaxley made it perfectly well in the world without being genetically blessed.

Cynthia Yaxley had power. She could weave words like silk, causing everyone under her rule to be playthings to her whims. Jealous, manipulative, and petty, she could rip apart relationships with ease. Despite her short stature, Cynthia had the rare ability to project dominance and leadership. She had what – in the animal world – would be referred to as the "Alpha Scent". And she was perfectly aware of this fact. She knew she could get anything she wanted, and right now, she wanted a boyfriend.

Unconsciously, Tabitha scooted a bit father away from the plotting blonde beside her. The last thing she needed was Cynthia catching Theodore's scent. She wouldn't let up until she'd either gotten them together (likely in a manner that would be completely embarrassing for Tabitha) or she had completely eradicated even the slightest chance that they would ever be together through her antics and interference. And that was even assuming that she approved of the match. No, Tabitha thought, far better for her to remain occupied with Thalia. This would be the perfect time for Thalia to get a boyfriend, not her. With Thalia's mother bearing down, her sister getting married, and sixth year approaching, surely Thalia would be Cynthia's priority.

Yes, Tabitha assured herself, she would be perfectly safe from Cynthia.

Safe for about five seconds, anyway.

"So, Tabitha? How about you? Do you have some secret gentleman lover that we don't know about?"

"No, of course not," Tabitha responded quickly. A little too quickly. Cynthia's eyes snapped to Tabitha's face, her previously teasing question now one of actual interest. She opened her lipstick cover lips to pose an undoubtedly revealing question, but she was interrupted by the very timely (in Tabitha's opinion) arrival of Nathaniel Zabini.

"May I have the next dance?" He asked, bowing smoothly and holding his hand out to Thalia. Mr Tall, Dark, and Handsome – as he was officially named by the trio of friends – sent a charming smile towards the girl in the sapphire dress. Tabitha looked almost instinctively across the room, where Nathaniel's recently-made-ex-girlfriend Alicia Avery was glaring daggers at them. She shivered slightly.

Thalia opened her mouth to respond to his invitation.

Nothing came out.

With her perfectly manicured nails, Cynthia gave the frozen girl a none-too-gentle push towards the dashing boy. Falling towards him, Thalia managed to catch herself just in time to give him a small, pained looking smile and weave her arm through her new partner's.

"Of course, I'd love to dance," Thalia said evenly, surprisingly recovered from her forced proximity.

It's not as though she could have said no after that little manoeuvre, Tabitha reflected, admiring Cynthia's skill.

Thalia turned back to look at them as Nathaniel led her away, a look of barely concealed panic in her eyes. Tabitha gave a small, encouraging smile. Cynthia grinned and sent her a little wave, twiddling her fingers in obvious enjoyment. With a squeal and a single, victorious clap, Cynthia turned to Tabitha after the couple had moved into the centre of the floor and began to dance.

"Now," Cynthia said with finality. Tabitha's blood ran cold, her thoughts immediately turning to the undesired line of questioning that Cynthia had been on pre-Nathaniel.

"We've got a lot of work to do if we're going to sell this." Cynthia continued, scanning the room once more, oblivious to the relief of the girl beside her. "Aha!" Cynthia proclaimed, fixing on a table some twenty feet away. "Let's start with the Rosiers."

Scorpius Malfoy

Scorpius Malfoy didn't know what in the hell was wrong with him.

He shouldn't notice. He shouldn't notice how her strawberry blonde hair swished across her shoulders. He shouldn't notice how her smile lit up her face. He shouldn't notice the way she tilted her head to the side slightly when she was interested in what someone was saying.

I'm too young for this, he grumbled, downing his glass of champagne in one.

He shouldn't care that he couldn't run his fingers through that hair. He shouldn't care that she wasn't smiling at him. He shouldn't care that she wasn't interested in him.

Screw this, he decided, slamming his glass down with a bit too much force. Without stopping to so much as check if his bowtie was straight, he marched across the room, set on his goal.

Thalia Greengrass

Thalia Greengrass was determined not to blush. She was not some silly little schoolgirl who could be whisked off her feet by a smile and a bit of charming conversation. She didn't care how handsome, engaging, and conveniently single Nathaniel Zabini was; she was not going to fall that easily.

She really, really wasn't.

Louisa Greengrass

Louisa Greengrass was completely and utterly sloshed.

"So wha' you're sayin' hic is tha' you're some kind of … superstar?" The world around Louisa was pleasantly fuzzy. She was out in the labyrinth that was the Nott's garden, one hand occupied with bringing the bottle of firewhisky to her lips and the other hand resting on Wes Roberts' knee for balance. She burst into giggles at her own question.

"Well, yeah, kinda," Wes replied with a cheeky grin and a wink. His own bottle of firewhisky was significantly less depleted than Louisa's, but he'd certainly consumed enough that he was feeling quite buzzed.

"Isn', like, every athlete in 'Merica a superstar, though?" Louisa grinned teasingly, the rim of her firewhisky bottle hovering half an inch from her lips.

"Ooh, looks like I've got myself a cheeky one here!" Wes proclaimed loudly, laughing. Louisa laughed too, taking another gulp of the burning liquid.

Tabitha Flint

Tabitha Flint turned, stunned.

"Er, hello," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Cynthia Yaxley

Cynthia Yaxley watched the couple like a hawk.

"Aren't you in the least bit jealous?"

"Oh, don't worry. If I want it, I'll get it." She assured her companion.

Scorpius Malfoy

Scorpius Malfoy couldn't believe his luck. He touched his cheek in bewilderment. Her lips left a burning imprint on his skin. He watched her leave, his heart thudding in his chest. He felt like he was living in a haze, like that last few hours had simply been a dream, a beautiful, wonderful, magical dream. He returned to the party, but everything was a bit hazy now: He found he couldn't focus on anyone's face in the thinning crowd. All his brain seemed capable of doing was replaying her glorious departure scene and sweet, lemony scent of her hair.

Get a grip. He commanded himself.

It didn't work.

Merlin help me.

Thalia Greengrass

Thalia Greengrass was completely and naively swept off her feet. The night was still fairly young, but she could already feel the glow of positive attention colouring her cheeks. He was smooth and charming and clever. He talked to her. He listened to her.

It was heaven.

Indeed, it wasn't until some of his friends appeared and dragged his protesting form away that she was separated from Nathaniel Zabini. As she watched the older boy get carted across the room towards where his mates seemed to have set up a game of cards, she felt a ridiculous smile threaten to break out across her face.

She didn't get much time to lavish in her bubble of happiness, however, before her mother swooped down on her, furious. "Where is your sister?" She hissed venomously, with a terrifying, forced smile plastered on her face. She looked positively murderous. Wild and murderous was never a good combination for Evianna Greengrass.

"Lara?" Thalia said stupidly, more scared by her mother than she would admit. Her euphoric mood of just a few minutes ago was completely pushed aside by her mother's presence.

"Not your older sister." The matron snapped. "She's engaged; I'm not worried about her. Where. Is. Louisa." Every word hit Thalia like a slap, and the sixteen year old fumbled for words in a way only her mother could induce. Her mother's face looked completely calm to passerby, but her words and eyes conveyed her true emotions.

"I...I don't know. But I can – I can go find her?" Thalia said like a question, wondering if that was what her mother wanted her to do. Evianna Greengrass's hand floated forward slowly and landed on her daughter's arm with a seemingly innocent and light hold, but one that allowed her claw-like nails to dig in.

"What do you think?"

Thalia scurried out of the ballroom like the fires of hell were licking her heels. Her first stop on her search for her missing fourteen-year-old sister was the women's lavatory. Then she tried the kitchens and the coat closet. She went through every room conceivably open to the public and a few of the more debatable ones, too. She spent nearly a half hour scouring the outside gardens, all with no sign of the missing Louisa.

Mum's going to murder you, and rightfully so. Thalia thought as she returned, exhausted, to the ballroom. Despite the Cushioning Charms she placed on her strappy, silver heels, her feet were still throbbing horribly and she had to muster all her self-control to keep from limping. She noticed, with no slight astonishment, that Scorpius was sitting at an otherwise empty table with Natalie Dearborn. The two seemed to be talking quite amiably. Natalie's eyes were bright and she seemed to talk with spirit. As Thalia watched, Scorpius leaned closer and seemed to say as much with his hands as with his mouth.

Coming up to her mother's table, Thalia greeted her mother's friends politely. She didn't need to tell her mother the outcome of her search. The lack of her younger sister's presence told her just as well as words.

Casting another glance around the room, Thalia saw Cynthia standing in the opposite corner with Andrew Davies and Arturo Avery. Tabitha was nowhere to be seen. Thalia saw her sister, Lara, sitting with her fiancé and their friends, all just a year or two out of Hogwarts. Nathaniel Zabini was notably absent, as was Alicia Avery (not that she was looking, she just happened to notice.) And she noted that, though there were a few acquaintance friends scattered about, there was no one that she really wanted to talk to. Deciding that now was as good a time as any to fulfil her adult mingling requirements, she settled down next to her mother, nearly sighing in relief as her weight was transferred off her feet, and prepared herself for at least an hour of small talk.

"It seems you've been around Nathaniel Zabini for most of the night," her Aunt Astoria said, not wasting any time in getting to the point. She tilted her head to the side slightly. It wasn't a question.

"We were..." Thalia hesitated for half a second, "just dancing."

"Ah, I see," Astoria Malfoy said. And from the knowing, teasing twinkle in her eye, Thalia got the uncomfortable feeling that her aunt saw a little bit too much.

Time passed slowly at the adult's table for Thalia. The only topic of interest seemed to be her O.W.L. marks, which she hadn't yet received. She was forced to devise increasingly creative responses to their increasingly creative questions. But time passes, as it always does. Despite the incredibly promising beginning to the night, it ended in a rather dull manner. But such is life – sometimes the night ends with a kiss on the cheek, sometimes it ends at your mother's friends' table, bored out of your skull.

Louisa wasn't seen until the rest of her family was preparing to leave. Then, wordlessly, she appeared, alone, and looking rather more dishevelled and irritated and significantly more intoxicated than when they'd arrived. The moment they'd Flooed home, Evianna Greengrass started in on her youngest daughter. Lara went to bed. Thalia took a shower and then lay under the canopy of her bed hangings, listening to the angry voices of her mother and sister. Eventually they both yelled themselves dry and disappeared into their respective rooms.

The wetness of her hair soaked into Thalia's emerald bedspread. A chill crept up her arms, causing goose bumps to pop out, but she was too tired to get under the covers. Her brain, however, was awake. She thought of everything and nothing. She thought of the feel of her carved wooden bedpost against her toe, and the way she used to long to be tall enough to reach it without wriggling down to the middle of the bed. She thought of Nathaniel, of his smile, of his voice. She thought of Alicia Avery. Pulling her fingers through her moist hair, she remembered the days when Miss Marie, their nanny, would braid it before bed. You'll catch a cold if you wear it loose, Miss Marie would say. She thought about marriage and O.W.L. results and the inevitability of her future. She could see the stars out her window, bright and twinkling in the pitch black sky. The stars seemed alive tonight.

The night called to her.

Rolling off her bed, she wrapped her dressing gown around her loosely, slipping her feet into her soft slippers, a welcome change from the uncomfortable heels she'd worn for the ball. Shuffling down dark corridor after dark corridor, her intent was to head out to the back garden, sit on one of the wooden chairs there, and watch the sky. But on the second floor, she saw light glowing from behind a closed doorframe and knew immediately that she wasn't the only one still awake in the colossal house.

She padded silently towards to the door and knocked quietly three times in quick secession. Without waiting for a reply, she pushed the heavy door open and slid her head through the crack, the rest of her body soon following.

"You were missed at the party tonight," Thalia said to the tired, aging man sitting behind the massive mahogany desk.

"The Mandel case starts Monday," father said to daughter by way of explanation. Augustus Greengrass was the most in demand prosecution lawyer in all of Wizarding Britain. His daughter nodded. She stood hesitantly in front of the door for a moment before coming up to the edge of his desk.

"Do you need help with anything?" She asked, eyeing the teetering piles of paperwork on his desk. He cast a quick glance at the clock.

"It's nearly two in the morning. Shouldn't you be in bed?" He ignored the implication that, he, too, should be in bed.

"I couldn't sleep." She said, also ignoring his state of consciousness.

"Well, if you want to, you can look through this stack," he began, lifting a sizeable pile of parchment and placing it on the portion of the desk that his daughter was leaning against, "and mark anytime a purchase was made under the name 'Marcus Halloway'."

"Alright," the daughter said, grateful for some menial task to take her mind off of her scattered thoughts. She sat down in one of the chairs facing the father and scooted it closer to the desk. The wooden legs screeched against the floor. Dipping their quills in synchronization, father and daughter began to work.

And that's how the summer began.

AN: Thanks for reading! Please leave a review if you have any questions/comments/suggestions, I reply to all reviews!