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Winner Takes All by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 6: The Loser Has to Fall
chapter image by amour.toujours
The Loser Has to Fall
Her eyes opened and she realised that lying to her father would be the worst thing of all. First, she was an awful liar. He’d been able to see through her evasions pretty quick when she’d started going out with Scorpius. For all that she was his favourite, he wasn’t blind to anything. Perhaps it was another consequence of the war, learning not to trust anyone. Not that her dad didn’t trust her, though there had been times–
No, she had to stop thinking about herself. It was her mother that was the problem now. Mum and Mr. Malfoy... somehow the image wasn’t that disgusting, but it wasn’t particularly nice either. It made Rose’s whole thing with Scorpius seem rather... incestuous. Not that it was. Really. Not at all.
She turned over, smothering her face in the pillow. Damn damn damn damn.
The second reason why she couldn’t lie to her father? She had a guilt complex the size of the ocean. The lie, no matter how small, would eat away at her slowly, slowly, starting as a loss of appetite, then cascading into a lovely Victorian-esque brain fever.
Rose shifted and put a hand to her forehead. Not hot. Not yet.
She looked toward the window. The light was dull, telling of a dull day. She had to go visit Lily today, which would be bad enough except that Uncle Harry was going to tag along too. She would have to keep her mother’s secret from him, and he was even sharper than her dad. However skilled Hermione was at hiding something, she had made a big mistake in revealing that secret to her daughter. Rose was the last person anyone should tell a secret to. She hated carrying around other people’s baggage.
Someone was running down the stairs, then came the sound of the kitchen sink being filled with water, the pots being scrubbed while Grandmum put her mind to lunch (and was likely wondering why Rose hadn’t yet come down). Rose squinted toward the clock. Already past ten. Wonderful. Uncle Harry had written that he’d be here around eleven. Just enough time to get ready.
If she bothered to get out of bed at all. It was the second day in a row when she had lingered longer in bed than she usually did. Perhaps that was a sign. More than perhaps. This was one of those times when being an ostrich would be quite convenient.
She hoped her father would not come to the Burrow today. Her mother too. If both of them stayed away, maybe she’d make it through the day. There was indeed something perfect about living a few thousand miles away. No family to bother one and lay their problems on your shoulders when really you were quite laden with your own problems already–
“Rose? Are you awake?”
Aunt Ginny. Just think, it could be worse.
A small laugh came from the other side of the door. “Your uncle will be here soon. Better get ready. He wants to get this over with.”
And I don’t? Rose asked herself.
“Yeah, I’ll be down in a minute.”
A bit longer than that, seeing that she was going to visit Lily. Ugh, simpering little hyper-feminine witch. Scorpius would have been far better off with Roxanne, who was not only funny, but clever, not to mention stunning. Or even Lucy, who was quiet and sweet, just the way that Scorpius would have liked. But Lily. Lily! Rose had never liked her. She was sure of that now, her memories coloured by the present situation.
She would have to work on her appearance today. To appear anything less before Lily would make Rose into the pauper, the girl in the cinders, the one who deserved to be deserted for her pretty petite cousin.
Thirty-three-and-a-half minutes later, she tumbled into the kitchen, blue robes neatly pressed (patched only at the underarms – hidden as long as Rose did not move her arms) and hair arranged in the most artful way one could arrange the cabbage-chopped strands. Ginny smiled at her from behind a cup of coffee while Grandmum let out a loud exclamation.
“How can you expect to eat in those robes! This will never do, not with the way you eat.”
Thanks, Grandmum. Rose sniffed, plucking a large handkerchief from her pocket to wipe her nose. Just because she tended to be a bit messy....
“But it is a lovely colour on you, dear.”
When Grandmum had turned toward the stove, Ginny sneaked a wink at Rose. Yes, she knew the reasoning behind Rose’s appearance. Had to, having raised and lived with the befrilled Lily Luna Potter. Rose wondered how any combination of Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny, the results of which had been extraordinary to that point, could have produced someone like Lily.
Then again, her father had always hinted that, back in the day, Harry could be a bit puffed up. Even Aunt Ginny joked about Harry’s hero-complex. In Lily, that complex had taken on a different form.
“Do remember to breathe, Rose.” Ginny raised a sceptical eyebrow. “It won’t do to have you explode in front of your cousin.”
Shoulders hunching over the breakfast plate Grandmum had put before her, Rose took very delicate bites of her food. She wasn’t that hungry anyway. Had she mentioned that Lily was the only person who made her feel fat?
“The two of you used to get along.”
Rose sighed, but she could not dispute it. Yes, she and Lily had been okay with one another once upon a time. Like, when Rose was six and Lily four. Or when Rose went through that girly phase after going to visit Paris with Aunt Fleur. That was about it. Rose liked plants. Lily liked fashion. Rose worked for her grades. Lily never bothered to. She was pretty and a Potter, and that was all that mattered.
“You have no need to be jealous of her, Rose.”
Ginny’s eyes were serious. Too serious. There was that dangerous note in her voice, too.
“I’m not.” Rose knew she didn’t sound convincing. Acceptance is the first step, and she couldn’t even make it that far.
“Now Ginny, don’t be too hard on her,” Grandmum said, putting her hand on Rose’s shoulder. “I remember when you pinned after Harry for years, turning green at any girl he set his eyes on.”
Ginny flared red. “Mum–”
The chickens set to squawking and flapping their wings.
Grandmum smiled. “Now that will be Harry.”
Impeccable timing. Rose couldn’t help but grin as Aunt Ginny busied herself with the coffee pot, checking too thoroughly whether there was enough for another cup. As Harry came through the door, Ginny leapt toward the kettle, keeping her still-scarlet face hidden from sight.
He had all the confidence of the Boy Who Lived, saviour of the wizarding world, and the head of a Ministry department. Some said he was slotted for the next Minister of Magic, though most of the family supposed that he’d never take the post, following the inspiration of his beloved Professor Dumbledore. But in Harry’s case, it would be a useless post; he already ruled the world.
Yes, Rose felt more than a little veneration for her uncle.
But at the moment, his hair was sticking up in all directions, his glasses were somewhat askew, and his robes creased, as though he had slept in them. Dark circles around his eyes told of all the work he’d been doing lately. Worrying about his daughter’s impending marriage (until otherwise noted) was certainly not helping things. Babysitting his adult niece only added to the burden, Rose was sure.
Harry stared at Ginny’s back, puzzled, before he was swept into a chair by his mother-in-law and served the full English breakfast. He hadn’t even had time to bid them good morning.
“Hullo, uncle,” Rose said, raising her fork in greeting.
He blinked. “Rose, yes, hello. Sorry I’m late. The flight here was terrible.”
Ginny came to sit at the table, her face calmed to a rather bright pink.
“How were things over there?”
He shook his head, whether in answer or as a warning not to speak of political business at the breakfast table, Rose wasn’t sure. Ginny only nodded in return. They were doing that nonverbal communication thing. Rose wondered where they offered classes in that language.
Harry turned to her. “So, are you ready to go?”
Grandmum passed by, wand in hand to scour the cooking pots.
“Not until you’ve eaten, Harry. Now finish up.”
He rolled his eyes and poked his toast into the drippy egg.
Fourteen minutes later, he and Rose were stepping outside. He carefully shut the door before speaking.
“I hope you don’t mind me coming along, Rose. I haven’t spoken properly to Lily since it all happened.” He glanced back at the door for a moment.
Rose bit her lower lip. So he was either coming to mediate in case she tried to crucio Lily to death or he actually hadn’t seen his daughter since going to talk to Mr. Malfoy about it all (Rose blocked out the image of Mr. Malfoy because it would make her think of her mother and... ugh). If that was the case, then Rose might end up in the place of mediator. Politics be damned, Uncle Harry would not be able to set aside his ancient rivalry with Mr. Malfoy.
Rose was glad that she had been able to come to such a conclusion. She was able to breath easier at the thought that Uncle Harry could waltz into Molly’s flat and tell Lily straight out that he refused to let her marry that scumbag of a Malfoy.
“What are you smiling at?”
Eyes widening in realisation, Rose immediately lied. “Nothing.”
Harry saw through it, his brow furrowing. “I can’t stop her from doing this, Rose. Even if I wanted to, I won’t be a tyrant, not to my own daughter.”
Too soft. The greatest Auror in the history of wizardkind was a pushover. Wonderful.
“I know that your father wasn’t happy when you were seeing Scorpius...”
A slight understatement. Slight as in her father had raged for a week, was depressed the following week, and whined about it for a whole month after that. While he had threatened to lock her in the deepest darkest dungeon rather than hear of her snogging Scorpius Malfoy, he had actually handled things fairly well. After those six weeks of being intolerable, he was much more open to the whole idea.
Now, Rose had to question how much of that change was due to her mother’s influence, the need to see her daughter live out what she herself could not.
Stop thinking about it, Rose. Not healthy to ponder such things for too long. For any time at all.
She remembered that Uncle Harry was still speaking.
“...and from what I’ve heard, Lily is happy about her new prospects. And she deserves to be happy, just as much as you do, Rose. So please don’t blame her for any of this.” He paused, removing his glasses to polish one lens. Not until he had finished that (a total of one whole minute), did he continue. “At least, not out loud. Be nice.”
Nice. A nice word for a not-so-nice situation. Nice to Lily. By not cursing her on the spot, or by sipping tea and giggling over Scorpius’s strange habits (he did have a few) like the best of friends?
“I’ll try.” A bland smile. The blandest she could muster.
He gave a sharp nod, then disappeared with a POP. Rose took one look at the overgrown lawn and garden. Without gnomes at the moment, but who knew how long that would last? She held her breath and disapparated.
The corridor outside of Molly’s flat was narrow, but only from age, not dodginess. Uncle Percy had set up his eldest daughter very well in the best of London neighbourhoods, perfect for the up-and-coming Undersecretary to the Undersecretary of the Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic himself. She was, for the age of twenty-five-and-three-quarters, very well-placed and probably set to become the next big thing, if she didn’t lose herself in scandal, corruption, or marriage. In that order.
Molly herself opened the door, had probably been waiting for them to come. She was like her father in that way, living by the ticking of a clock.
“Uncle Harry, Rose, come in.”
And like her father, she was decidedly flat (until teased about her weakness for vampire fiction). How she and Lily came to be housemates, Rose could hardly guess. They were nothing alike, and perhaps in that, they found common ground.
Rose’s eyes widened as she entered the lofty flat, its floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto a view of the Thames to the south. The city was spread out below, everything in miniature. One could sit at the window all day, watching the city change from hour to hour, minute to minute. It was a decidedly inappropriate view for someone like Molly, who never stopped for anything.
However, the being sprawled across the couch was enjoying the view, though from behind closed eyelids. Lily appeared more like a swooning Victorian lady than a still-teenaged witch just out of Hogwarts. Her robes were of a blinding yellow that suited her auburn locks, curling around her lilywhite throat. Neither freckle nor pimple marred her perfect face, with etched cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes and crimson lips. Only the latter was a result of carefully applied makeup.
Rose felt completely justified in her jealousy. It was, at this point, much easier to blame Lily for having been so beautiful than Scorpius for having been tempted by that beauty. Few wizards would have resisted. And Malfoys were always connoisseurs of the finest things.
“Lily.” Uncle Harry had stepped between his daughter and the window, casting a shadow over her prone form.
As if on cue, Lily’s eyes flickered open. Yes, flickered, with all the batting of eyelashes (all naturally long, she was that lucky) of a melodramatic heroine.
“Daddy! What are you doing here?”
She sat up rather quickly. Rose smirked at the flush that marred her cousin’s skin.
Harry’s mouth was in a firm line, his eyes unamused.
“We’re here to discuss things, as planned. I hope you didn’t forget.”
Was he being sarcastic with that question?
“‘We’?” Lily raised herself from the cushions and turned her head. “Rose!”
Was that just a little bit of guilt in her voice? Rose hoped so.
“Hey, Lily. Nice to see you again.”
There was that word again. Nice. The most perfect word to lie with, as it meant nothing at all. Rose put on the best smile she could muster when she moved to stand beside Uncle Harry. There was something rather off about Lily; she only noticed this when looking at her straight on. Something in her eyes? Or the trembling lips, seemingly painted to mask their dryness? Was this what Uncle Harry was seeing?
“You look different, Rose.” Lily’s voice was flat, neither here nor there.
Rose crossed her arms, needing some sort of protection. “So do you.”
Molly came up, holding a tray of tea things. “Lily, you haven’t offered them to sit down yet?” The hiss of breath that followed this statement gave away rather too much. She balanced the tray on a tiny sidetable and conjured the chairs herself.
Lily looked on, expressionless.
Harry was still watching her through narrowed eyes.
Rose thanked Molly for the tea. “Are these fresh biscuits? They’re wonderful.”
Molly remained standing, loathe to remain for long. “There’s a bakery down the street.”
“I’ll have to stop in later.”
After a wan smile, Molly scooted out of there, the front door soon closing behind her (on her way to work an extra shift. Anything to be out of the house).
“We need to talk about this, Lily. All of us.” Harry had leaned forward, elbows on knees. He hadn’t even looked at the tea things. “I’m not leaving until you can assure me that nothing is the matter.”
Lily’s lips trembled a little harder. “People are saying things, Daddy, and I don’t like them at all. What they’re saying, I mean.”
Rose choked on her third biscuit. Uncle Harry turned his gaze on her.
“Perhaps you should take things from here.”
Thank you very much for that, uncle. Rose set down her tea cup with a loud clink and swallowed, trying to think of something to say that would not turn into a very large rant followed by a loudly uttered curse.
“It was a surprise to hear that he was engaged to you, Lily. You have to understand what sort of shock it must have been.” She was pleased at how mature she sounded. Perhaps this would go well after all.
Lily frowned. “But it was over. He told me it was over!”
Rose bit her tongue. People lie, little Lily, especially when their last name is Malfoy.
“You were gone for so long without anyone saying anything about you two ever getting back together, and he certainly didn’t say anything about it to me for all that time, those three whole months we were together.”
Three months. That was it? After the three years Rose had dated Scorpius?
Uncle Harry’s expression was most unhelpful. It was of the “well, she does have a point” sort that Rose did not need to see at the moment.
“That’s not very long, Lily. Are you sure that–” Rose knew that she sounded like an old prude, but really–
The noise that erupted from Lily’s throat was similar to that of the baboon at the London Zoo. “Why does everyone have to ask me that? Daddy, please tell her. I know you understand, you always do.”
Mush, mush. Rose didn’t think that Harry Potter would fall for such empty flattery.
“Lily, it is something both your mother and I are still worried about, you know that.”
She sniffed in such a beautiful way, eyes growing large and moist.
“Yes, Daddy, but I know he loves me.”
It was unbelievable. Completely and utterly unbelievable that any human being on the face of the planet in the twenty-first century could possibly speak in that way. Rose tried to remember if Lily had been this bad back in the day, but could not come up with any solid examples of such behaviour. Lily had always been a bit of a spoiled brat, but this was taking things too far.
“I thought the same thing too, Lily. I think that’s what you’re missing here.”
Harry cringed, his face scrunching into an expression of intense pain. Rose had a feeling that she wasn’t supposed to have said what she did. He really should have said something if he’d wanted her to stay mum about anything in particular.
Lily shot up from the sofa. She was taller than Rose, which hurt a bit. More than a bit. Thinner, too. Rose put down the biscuit she was holding (her fourth). The robes were expensive ones, fitting her like a glove. No off-the-rack for her, especially with the combined power of the Potter and Malfoy pursestrings at her disposal.
“Rose, perhaps you should–” Uncle Harry began.
“You broke his heart! You left him and now you’re complaining! It’s not my fault you wanted to go off to China and make yourself,” she looked Rose up and down, “look like that when instead you could have married him. You made the choice, Rose Weasley, and now ever since you came back, everyone’s been saying how you and him are still something. Saying that I stole him from you! It’s not true!”
Rose swallowed. Speechlessness was her only reply.
Even Uncle Harry was cowed by his daughter’s outburst. Perhaps he had never seen her in such a state; she was distraught beyond compare, and of course, it only enhanced her appearance. No swollen and red-eyed blotchiness for this girl.
“Scorpius and I are perfect for each other. He understands me like no one else – except you, Daddy – and he likes the same things I do and we’ve talked a lot together and I feel that I really really know him.” She clasped her hands together, staring up at the ceiling. “We will be so happy together!”
More silence followed this speech. And in that silence, Rose started thinking.
What if it was hopeless? The whole thing, wanting to stop the marriage? It was a horrible thing to have to ask herself, especially after the last few days, wanting so badly to end all this madness before it consumed her entire family and herself as well. She was clinging too much to the old memories of her and Scorpius, happy in love, but she couldn’t even be sure if they were memories or some dream she had conjured up to the fill the gap that no real memory could fill.
Scorpius, Scorpius, had she ever really enjoyed being with him? Apart from the physical side of things, that is. She was attracted to him, that she could not deny one bit, but neither could half the girls in her year at Hogwarts. He was a gorgeous specimen of wizardkind and that was that. But what lay beneath that exterior? Rose thought she knew, had thought so deeply that, even after all this time, she still wanted some of him.
But the immediate problem was that Lily was being too emotional for it to be an act, and even if she had been brainwashed by Scorpius into this whole marriage business, surely it would do no good to stop them from marrying. Scorpius looked more and more like a very disreputable and manipulative sort. He was up to something, but what? And why? And how? Would he himself try to ruin the wedding? But why?
As always, Albus was proving to be right. It was only the second day since Rose had gotten back, and already she was being convinced against what she had set out to do. It was undeniably frustrating, but at the same time....
“You love him?”
She had to ask it. She could only know for certain by the way that Lily answered.
There was a note of warning in Uncle Harry’s voice, but Rose shook her head.
“No, uncle. I have to know. I have to hear it from her.”
Hands on knees, whole body taunt with expectation, Rose stared at Lily. Harry stared at Rose, then Lily, then back again, appearing more curious than worried, which said very little for either Rose’s or Lily’s magical abilities. They were not likely to whip out their wands, no matter how often Rose threatened it in her mind. When she really thought about it, she could not remember the incantation to any curse at all beyond Avada Kevadra, and killing Lily in front of Uncle Harry simply was not an option.
No, she did not even want to kill Lily. Her cousin wasn’t stupid (though slightly lesser in intelligence), she was just...
“Of course I love him! What a ridiculous question, Rose!”
...melodramatic, and according to her father, Uncle Harry had been the same way at times. So it was a family thing, that’s all. She couldn’t exactly blame Lily for inheriting the shallow end of the gene pool.
“Alright then,” she said with a very fake, but hopefully hopeful smile. “At least I know that your feelings are genuine.”
Oops. That slipped out rather unintentionally.
Uncle Harry rose too quickly, making his chair squeal as he pushed it back.
“That’s settled. Excellent. Now let’s go, Rose. Your father–”
“Oh Daddy, won’t you stay? Scorpius is coming this afternoon.”
Just what Rose did not want to hear. She coloured from head to toe, hands clenching into fists (thankfully, she had not picked up another biscuit).
“He’s coming here?”
Lily blinked, eyes narrowed in a lack of comprehension.
“Yes. He is my fiancé, Rose. Do get over it.”
Genuine in her adoration for Scorpius and equally genuine in her utter lack of understanding for everyone in the world but herself.
Uncle Harry gave Lily the look that froze dark wizards in their tracks and made them give up flight without a single spell uttered.
“Lily, you’re not seeing the problem here.”
Lily paled a touch.
“There is an issue with Scorpius not only being a Malfoy, but also having been involved with your cousin very closely,” Uncle Harry continued, his voice even. Too even. “She made the intelligent decision of putting her future before marriage, just as both her parents and your mother and I did when we were your age. Tell me, Lily, what is your future?”
That was a harsh question. Rose had left before Lily had finished Hogwarts, and she didn’t remember ever hearing Lily talk about what she wanted to be, not in any definitive way. Albus and James had known from the beginning what they wanted to do, but Lily talked about working for the fashion industry, or jewellery, or something pretty like that. Unless...
“I’m going to be the next Mrs. Malfoy, Daddy. I won’t need a job. I’m not like Rose.”
...she had meant for this to happen all along. If that was the case–
Wait. What did she mean by not being like Rose? It could be taken both as an insult or a compliment, that somehow Rose possessed something that Lily did not.
What did one do when you were the daughter of the Boy Who Lived, the youngest child of two famous parents, the sister of two wizards who had risen quickly to notoriety and success? Add to the equation the many cousins, of which Lily was second youngest. There wasn’t anything left for her to do that wouldn’t somehow always be compared to something they had done. She couldn’t be independent; she didn’t have her mother’s excuse of being the only girl in the family. She wanted to find her own place, but the only way she saw of doing that was to...
Marry rich and not need to make a name for herself at all – she’d let her new married name do that for her.
It seemed like a very old fashioned way of going about things. Rose was reminded of the slight repulsion she had felt in the rose garden with Scorpius two years before. No, she was not like Lily; she could not subject herself to the status of trophy wife, the model of fashion, the queen of society. It was not a role that would suit her.
But, perhaps, it would suit Lily.
Oh Merlin, was she starting to like the sound of this whole wedding thing?
Albus would never let her forget this. Better not to tell him.
She had, apparently, stood in a daze for some moments. Lily had stared, but said nothing while Uncle Harry steered Rose out of the flat.
She looked up at him and shook her head.
“I don’t know anymore, Uncle.”
He seemed on the verge of saying something. He had not yet closed the door behind them, but Lily was not visible. She was probably still languishing on the sofa, dreaming of her fiancé, Rose already gone from her petty mind. Uncle Harry opened his mouth, his lips forming the shape of a word.
Then he stopped and closed his mouth. Only after a long minute did he open it again.
“I’ll take you home.”
She had missed something or he was trying to protect her. Neither would be a great surprise, not from him.
“I’m okay, uncle. If you want to stay–”
His face darkened. “No. I don’t.”