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Winner Takes All by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 2: Why Should I Complain?
chapter image by LadyMalfoy
Two Years Later
Why Should I Complain?
It was the letter that brought her back to that moment in the garden. Two years of work – almost slave labour – and learning had hardened her up a bit, made her think that she was ready to handle anything the world could throw at her. But the world took the bait and threw at her all the crap it could get its hands on.
Talking to herself helped. “Perfect. Just what I needed. Old mail.”
Not that a simple letter should have bothered her. It was the monthly letter from Lily, a rambling discussion of every bit of gossip she could collect, and Merlin knew she was good at it. It didn’t help that, after spending six months in Tibet, gathering herbs from the tops of the Himalayan mountains, there were more than one of these letters to peruse. Rose flipped through the pile.
“My own parents don’t write to me this much.”
Yes, six months alternating between freezing half to death in little mountain caves and watching tourists laze about by the pools of Shangrila while she mixed their potions and cordials. And all she was getting paid for was the knowledge, and her room and board. The board was the most literal of things, too.
So this letter, along with its companions for the last six months, did not reach her in the best of moods. Her skin was an unpleasant nut brown (too many self-tested cordials gone wrong), her hair a hastily cropped mess, and her hands stained green around the fingernails from those blasted plants.
She looked down at the neatly written address on each envelope, half-obscured by the many air mail stamps. Owls wouldn’t come this far, which made her mother and Uncle Harry’s knowledge of the Muggle way quite handy.
It was the third letter that made her suspicious, so thin that it could have only held one sheet, and there was no possible way that Lily would have relegated her gossip to only a single piece of paper. No, there had to be something wrong here. Something very wrong.
Ignoring the rest of her pile, Rose zipped a knife through the envelope, her heart beat quickening in anticipation.
Ugh, why did they all have to keep calling her that?
I’ve got big news! And I mean BIG. So big that Albus refused to let me tell you, but since when do I listen to him?
Never. She never listened to him. Lily never listened to anyone, for that matter.
Brothers are all the same, you know. At least you only have one of them to bother you, and there’s halfway around the world between you at the moment. I’m kind of jealous of that. Both of them have been absolute prigs lately, practically dogging my footsteps. It’s been like this ever since I graduated, you know, like they think I need a permanent set of bodyguards day and night. It’s just too much of a relief to get away from them.
Rose hoped that Lily would get to the point before the end of the page. It wouldn’t be the first time her cousin had forgotten to actually include the so-called big news, thanks to her rambling ways.
They were SO angry when I told them my news. None of them expected it, Mum, Dad, my brothers, even your parents. I’d only told Hugo and he wouldn’t talk to me for a week! That was horrible of him, you know. I thought that, of any of them, he’d understand most.
Hugo, her Quidditch-obsessed nerd of a brother, understanding? Rose wasn’t aware that such a classification was possible.
But I’ve kept it from you longest of all.
“Thanks for that honesty, Lils.”
Al said you’d be upset, but I don’t think so. After all, you did refuse him, so it’s not like he can’t look to see what else is to offer. There’s a lot of girls who wouldn’t say no to him.
Lily’s pronouns were getting confused. So was Rose.
I’m engaged now! Can you believe it! I’ve been seeing him for months (secretly, of course), but I never thought he’d ask me that question, of all things! I was so excited that I couldn’t speak for five full minutes, can you imagine that?
Rose wished she had been there to see that miracle take place. Hopefully whoever it was had managed to record the silence, or even photograph Lily’s speechless face.
Whoever it was.
She was getting a strange feeling about this. Why had Lily not wanted to tell her?
And you’d never guess who “he” is, I’m sure you won’t. But all the girls said that he was available now, and he wasn’t too hard to convince. I think he was lonely, poor guy, after you left him like that.
Rose held her breath, suddenly feeling cold.
You’ve probably guessed by now (and if you haven’t, then you’re not half as smart as everyone says), but yes! He asked me to marry him! And I said yes! Scorpius Malfoy, of all people! I didn’t even know he’d ever noticed me, not when you were around, but there were some parties last year, and I think that’s when he must have seen me. It was those new dress robes, I’m sure.
Did Lily even know what she was saying? Could she not even recognize what these words could mean to her cousin?
We’re getting married in the summer. The best time of year, he says, because the roses at Malfoy Manor are flowering. How romantic! Was he ever like this with you, because I think if he was, you’d have never refused him.
Rose was going numb. Her fingers could barely hold the paper, but her eyes kept pursuing the lines, unable to look away.
I really want you to be there, Rosie. It would mean so much to have all the cousins there. How long has it been since we saw everyone together? It’s so horrible here with only my brothers for company. Why couldn’t they have been the ones to leave? I wish you were here to tell me everything about Scorpius.
Anyway, I have to go. Please come back, if you can!
There was a postscript scrunched against the bottom edge.
P. S. Please don’t hate us, Rosie. It all happened so fast, but I do love him!
Rose thought that once, too.
If she didn’t want to strangle every last breath out of her cousin, she might have felt sorry for her. This letter was the worst piece of writing in the existence of mankind, so excruciatingly painful to read. Rose wanted to burn it, many times, over and over again, watching the inky words shrivel up into nothingness.
But she did nothing, just sat there, holding the letter, wondering why she was feeling so much, why this news should affect her.
After all, you did refuse him...
Except she hadn’t, had she? She’d asked him to wait. That was different.
It was betrayal, plain and simple: Lily for being an imbecile and Scorpius for being a back-stabbing, manipulative prig. Together, they’d ruin the world. If they managed to have children – Merlin forbid! Rose was disgusted by the thought – they’d have the most whiny, bratty, stupid children in history. She couldn’t let that happen, not to the unsuspecting world.
She re-read that mindless postscript.
Please don’t hate us, Rosie....
Hate was a strong world, but not strong enough. Rose wanted to slaughter them both.
Her employer wouldn’t be too enthusiastic to hear her muttering death threats. Peace, harmony, and happiness, that was his mantra, and until now, Rose was in complete agreement with it. But now... now... she saw her hands around Scorpius Malfoy’s throat, squeezing tighter and tighter....
It was old Zhang’s nephew, Cheng, his usually wide smile now replaced by worry. He stood in the doorway, watching her for Merlin knows how long before making his presence known. She looked at him, but remained silent, the letter clutched tightly in her hands, as though she planned to strangle it.
He tried a second question. “Were you talking to yourself again?” She nodded a reply, and some of his smile appeared. “What they say about you English being mad, I’m thinking it’s very true. And you are the maddest of all, Rose.”
The best she could do was stick out her tongue at him. Now here was a nice boy, always considerate and free with the compliments, just the sort that she should have associated with.
Scorpius was getting married. To her own bloody cousin.
She wasn’t going to get over that news any time soon.
“Definitely mad, but normal’s hardly interesting.” Her voice wavered, the joking tone she’d tried to adopt failing miserably.
Cheng stepped into the room, hands behind his back.
“I am sorry to bother you if you’re busy.”
She folded up the letter, shaking her head. “Only catching up on the mail. Lots of news from home.” Lots of bitter, painful, disgusting news, but he didn’t need to know that. She still required verification, and would write to Albus as soon as possible. He was the only one who would be honest.
And perhaps he would also hex Lily for her.
“Is something the matter, Cheng?”
He took another step forward. “No, no, nothing wrong. My aunt only wishes to speak with you.”
Zhang’s mother, then. An expert at Divination, far better than that old fraud Trelawney, however famous she was for coming up with Uncle Harry’s prophecy. Meanwhile, Ming could read tea leaves and actually get a correct reading. No death portents every three minutes.
“Right now?” It didn’t help that Ming was a Legilimens. Polite, but still, even the most polite can’t stop being curious.
Cheng was nodding, the worried expression intensifying.
“Rose, if bad news has come–”
Bad news? Only bad?
She gritted her teeth. “Everything is fine. Fine. Nothing is wrong.”
It was the kind of statement that was an obvious lie. She wished that she had more self-control. The ability to lie wouldn’t have been bad either. Damn those honest genes.
He was staring at her, mouth slightly open. Such a sweet, innocent boy. It was like he’d never seen a girl angry before.
“I shouldn’t keep your aunt waiting.” She swept up the letters, stuffing them into her various pockets, then turned back to stare at him.
It took him a full minute before he blinked.
“Oh, forgive me. She is having tea in the garden.” He paused and took a breath. “Beside the roses.”
Beside the roses in the garden, such a lovely place. The sort of place where romance happened, or should have happened. Where she had made what could have just become the worst mistake in her life.
Her footsteps took her to the garden on their own. She let them do their thing as she thought, and remembered.
Was it a mistake, though? That was the question which had plagued her spare moments. Not that there were many of those. In her dreams, she had seen herself as mistress of Malfoy Manor, attending splendid parties and being the most celebrated witch in all of Britain. Young witches would try to imitate her fashion styles, the way she held her drink, the way she laughed. Young wizards would dream of her at night.
Or maybe that was taking things a bit far.
She would, at the very least, be Mrs. Malfoy the Younger. Perhaps she would have gotten herself a job, even against Scorpius’s wishes if necessary. Just a small job, maybe in Diagon Alley. Uncle George would have given her a place, or helped her find one at one of the other shops. That would be nice.
Nice? Did she like “nice” things?
Passing a mirror, she slowed, glancing at the reflection it offered. If she had stayed behind, her skin would still be a delicate, if freckled, white. She would not be wearing old robes patched up with mismatched fabrics. She would not have had her hair chomped off by a Chinese Chomping Cabbage. She would, in other words, not look like an ugly hag.
But her mind would still have been mostly empty. All the things she’d learned here, surely they meant something?
Damn, damn, damn. It was all too bloody complicated.
As she stepped out into the garden, she wondered what Scorpius would think of her now, of her looks, her acquired knowledge. What would he say when they met again?
She stopped, fists clenching. Why would she go back? What would be the point in returning? All she’d be if she went back was the ex-girlfriend, expected to be petty and jealous at every turn. Some would pity her, others would say she deserved it for not accepting him right away. No, going home was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Ah, so that useless boy has finally done something right.” The voice emerged from behind the largest of the rose bushes, vacant of blooms. “He did not even take too long in doing it. Quite a miracle.”
Rose circumvented the bush, eyeing the thorns. Sometimes, it liked to bite.
“Do hurry up, child. The old never have much time to give.”
It was a surprisingly low voice, with a depth to it that Rose would never have attributed to a woman, even one as old as Ming. To call her Cheng’s “aunt” wasn’t entirely accurate; she was more like his great-great-aunt, possibly even more great-ed than that.
“Sit down there, where I can see you. The tea is already poured. If it has gone cold, that your own fault for taking so long.”
Rose sat and took the tea, sniffing it first. Just orange. Nothing fancy.
“Thank you for the tea.”
Ming sat cross-legged on a thick cushion, her favoured sitting position. Rose liked to imagine how Grandmum Weasley would look sitting like that. Not that Grandmum ever sat, not with twelve grandchildren running about.
“You have received bad news from home.”
Rose tried not to betray any sign that this statement bothered her. “Yes. Was it the tea leaves again?”
An omniscient smile crossed Ming’s face. “It is considered rude to look into the minds of others, child.” Not that rudeness had ever stopped her from looking into Rose’s. Rose may have had nothing to hide, but that did not excuse anyone from flipping through her mind like the pages of a book.
“Your pain was strong, child. Anyone with the Sight could have felt it.” Ming cradled her own cup in warty, mangled hands. “I foresaw that you would be leaving us soon.”
Leaving? Rose choked on her tea. Between the coughs, she managed to croak, “I’m. Not. Leaving. At all.”
“The leaves do not lie, child.” Ming poured more tea into her cup. “You may not believe in them, but you know in your heart that they are always correct.”
Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Rose focussed on keeping her eyes from meeting Ming’s. Divination had never been a pleasant subject at Hogwarts, but still she’d taken it until seventh year, maybe just to irritate her mother. It wasn’t as though she actually enjoyed crystal balls, the cracked tea cups, and the smell of cooking sherry. It was definitely better than Arithmancy or whatever other insane subject her mother had suggested.
She had actually learned something in Divination: that she didn’t like it.
“I don’t like the idea that the future isn’t mine to control,” she said grudgingly.
Ming’s laugh was like the rumbling of thunder on a distant horizon.
“But what is important about knowing, child, is that you can control what is to come. Knowledge is a dangerous, but great, possession.”
Rose narrowed her eyes. “And what knowledge do you possess of my future, Ming?”
The old woman waved her hand. “Finish your tea. Then I will tell you.”
Did she even want to know what was to come? Ming had never offered to actually tell her future before. It was a business she did on the side for the wealthy and curious of the area, though there were few of either out here. Perhaps Ming was just getting bored.
She swallowed the rest of her tea, making sure to leave the dregs in the cup, just as Trelawney had always said to. A light breeze stirred the air, its coolness making Rose shiver. Winter wasn’t that long behind them, and the mountains weren’t all that distant. She held the cup in her now-shaking hands, wondering what was to come. Ming was an expert at this, after all, but Rose only knew that from reputation, not experience.
Her future. What could there be now? Returning home to be bridesmaid at her cousin’s wedding, watching Lily marry the wizard that almost was hers? She didn’t want to call Scorpius “hers” since it was all too obvious that he didn’t consider himself belonging to her. It was all his fault, it had to be. He was doing this to hurt her, to make her pay for refusing him. Lily wasn’t the sort of girl to interest him in the least bit.
“Your cup, child.”
Rose blinked. “Right.” She handed it across the low table.
Ming squinted into its shallow depths, slowly turning the cup clockwise, then counterclockwise, later switching direction a third time. She hemmed and hawed over whatever it was she saw in there. Rose leaned forward, elbows on her knees, waiting. Thinking, too, and remembering him. Damn him.
To go home....
In a year, she would have gone back anyway, having completed her apprenticeship. Already St. Mungo’s had offered a tentative position on the completion of her training, and the apothecary in Diagon Alley had expressed an interest in her skill. But those were all based on completing things here. If she left early, there would be none of that. No one wanted to hire someone who couldn’t finish anything.
Ming turned the cup again, still saying nothing conclusive.
Yet, if she took a leave of absence from Zhang, she could go back, stop Lily from making more of an ass of herself than she already had, then return to China to complete her studies. After those six months in the Himalayas, she deserved a break, right? A month or two was all she’d need.
She stopped, biting her lip. Was she really convincing herself to go home?
Was there another reason behind stopping the wedding? If it was even real (she still required verification, Lily being utterly untrustworthy).
Could she be jealous? Did she think that she should be the one getting married, not Lily?
Did she still want Scorpius?
Two years since she’d seen him or heard from him. Albus and Hugo had mentioned him once or twice in their letters, but Hugo barely wrote at all and Albus knew better than to mention the thorn in her side any more than was necessary.
And until now, Lily had never mentioned him at all. Rose wasn’t aware that Scorpius even knew her beyond being Albus’s bratty younger sister.
Had she ever really believed that he would wait for her? That nothing could ever come between their glorious love?
Except something had come between them.
Her. Not Lily, but Rose. Rose had decided that her ambitions were more important than her love for him – a love that could not be measured simply because she did not know what love meant. It had been forbidden, or at least looked down upon, and that was why they did it.
“The future is in your favour, child,” Ming was saying. “The sun shines brightly upon you, though a cross lies in the way. There is a wolf–”
“The Grimm?” Rose’s voice quavered. Just what she needed, those good old portents of death. What had her father said about that uncle of his?
Ming was looking at her, dark eyes boring into her skull. “No. A wolf.”
It was impossible. “But there is no wolf symbol. You know that. There’s the Grimm and that’s the only dog.”
Shaking her head, Ming set down the cup. “There is more to the leaves than your books can tell you, child. How long until you understand that?”
That’s what Trelawney had once told her mother, but while Hermione Granger had stormed from the classroom, never to return, Rose Weasley remained in place, chin on her hands, elbows on her knees, working through this problem in her mind.
“But what does the wolf mean?”
Ming reached up to touch the rose bush, caressing the infant leaves. “Whatever you want it to mean, child. There is only so much the leaves can suggest, the rest is of your own making.”
It was the usual sort of mumbo-jumbo Rose had come to expect from Divination. No great prophecies, no signs of tall, dark, and handsome men with significant fortunes come to sweep her off her feet.
No. Better without the fortune. Scorpius was rich, and look how he turned out. Arrogant, cheating toe-rag. Dad had been right about him all along. That was another mark against going back: the “I told you so” look on her father’s face. He’d really love rubbing that one in, if her Mum would let him, that is.
“So that’s it?” she asked, drawing herself out of her thoughts once again. Too much time alone had done this to her, made her think too much. “There’s nothing else?”
Against her better judgement, she felt desperate for more, something that would, at the very least, point her in the right direction. Just a little bump. That’s all she would need. So what if she would struggle and suffer for a bit before finding true happiness (whatever that was)? The wolf meant nothing to her. This had all been a waste of time.
Ming continued to watch her, taking in the rising colour in Rose’s cheeks, the way her eyes darted from side to side, as though seeking escape, the way her hands clenched and unclenched, despairing and powerless.
“The leaves have spoken, child. You must decide if you wish to listen.”
Rose nodded, her shoulders slumping. She didn’t know what to think anymore. Her thoughts twisted round and around, but led nowhere, like her fortune. Always leading nowhere.
“But how do you know I need to return home?” she asked softly. “The leaves–”
Ming was nodding, looking generally pleased at the question.
“There is far more to Seeing than looking into a cup. One day, you will understand.” She made to rise, arms and legs shaking under her weight. “But first, we must prepare for your departure. It must be quick.”
Why quick? Lily hadn’t mentioned that they’d be marrying that quickly. Right now, Aunt Ginny was probably still at the bat-bogey hexing stage, chasing Scorpius around on her broomstick, Uncle Harry cheering her on. No, the roses would have to be in bloom when Scorpius married. That was part of his plan, and Lily the Romantic was going to go right along with it, desperate for any attention at all.
But Rose didn’t stop Ming from trudging inside, nor did she move at all. She stared into the rose bush, searching for the buds of flowers that hadn’t yet emerged. If she had been the weepy type, she might have begun to cry. But she wasn’t, and instead she had to suffer the hard way, silent and still.
It was the last stillness she would know for some time to come.
Ten days passed before Albus’s reply to her letter finally arrived. Her trunk was long packed and her transportation already booked. All she’d waited for was this.
Rose, it began, Albus not being one for dears and dearests.
I have to begin by apologising for Lily’s utter and complete stupidity. Both James and I have decided that she must have been adopted, and Mum and Dad are in agreement. All she’s done so far is make a fool of herself and the rest of us get tagged for fools along the way.
So I guess by this you can see that she wasn’t lying or playing an evil trick on you. She is getting married to that git and, as she’s of age now, there’s nothing any of us can do about it. She’s staying with some of her friends, Mum not wanting anything to do with her anymore. Dad’s furious and went to speak with Mr. Malfoy, who isn’t too happy himself. He says it was bad enough his son wanted to marry you, but at least it was honourable. Not that I get what that means. Was it because your mum helped him with that house elf problem?
Mr. Malfoy wasn’t that bad of a person. He only wanted the best for his son. (The little voice in Rose’s head rejoiced that he was displeased by Scorpius’s new choice.)
I’ve heard from Little Molly that the wedding won’t be for another month or so, some mad thing about flowers blooming. Scorpius did always have a weakness for flowers. First you, now Lily. If any Violets or Irises come along, I’ll be sure to warn them.
Looking forward to seeing you again. Hopefully I’ll be in the welcoming party.
These words were followed by his flourish of a signature, marred only by the giant blot at the end of the S. There was anger and frustration in his writing, not like him at all. When Albus Severus Potter got angry, the world better beware.
Rose folded up the letter, slipping it into the rubbish bin that was her trunk. Still unsure of exactly why she was returning home and what purpose it would serve, she nevertheless felt the need to go back, to look Scorpius in the eye and ask him why he was such a dirty bastard. Or at the very least, keep her family from ripping itself to shreds in fury.
This was not going to be pretty.
Author's Note: thank you very much for the reviews so far! This chapter feels a little slow to me, yet it was necessary to set up how Rose has changed and what will happen when she does return. There is a bit of foreshadowing here, and if you catch it, lucky you. ;)