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Chapter 1: A Tortured Brow
This is a sequel, and while it isn't necessary for you to have read "Winner Takes All", there will be certain details tossed in that only make sense if you've read that previous story. Additionally, the general structure of this story will echo its predecessor, such as the use of flashbacks in the first chapter. This time, however, the musical inspiration comes from Bowie's "Life on Mars".
Otherwise, this is my foray into the fluffy drama, in which plot is always secondary and nothing in particular is primary. Enjoy!
chapter image by Clara Oswald
A Tortured Brow
It was one of the quieter parts of London in the middle of the week, a suburb populated by that generation of individuals who live as far as possible from their places of work, preferring a long ride on the tube to a cramped existence in an impossibly expensive, yet impossibly minuscule, flat that cost the equivalent of a minor country house, one of those abbeys or manors that bankrupt purebloods were always trying to offload onto up-and-up halfbloods. Being one of the halfbloods in question, Rose Weasley had gone against the grain, shunning the grandiose for the boringly normal. She was, after all, now an adult, and had to act as such, whatever that meant.
Not that being an adult necessitated maturity. Take her neurotic family, for example.
There were many times when Rose believed that she was the only adult in this dismal weekday ghost town, but that was an illogical thought. What about those foreign stock traders who crept out to collect the newspaper in their pyjamas? The nannies who pushed prams up and down the pavement while chatting on their mobiles? Or the old ladies like herself who hung up shop signs, praying for business of any sort?
Rather like herself, when she came to think about it.
Except for the old ladies part. Pulling at some loose strands of her hair, she checked that they hadn’t turned white when she wasn't looking.
Nope. Not yet. Still plenty of time for that.
She stood on the pavement outside a row of shops that once marked the centre of a quaint English village, the kind with little stone cottages and tea houses that tourists absolutely adored as they snapped endless photos. There was a flock of them exiting the tea house across the street. They brushed the crumbs off their gaudy clothes with one hand while wielding technological masterpieces of photography in the other. She watched them for a minute before turning back to her own problem.
Her eyes rose to regard a newly-painted sign hanging outside of the closest shop, also newly-painted, red trim setting off the blue door to perfection. Teddy would be pleased that she had been capable of doing something without his assistance.
R. Weasley, Registered Herbalist. The words were surrounded by colourful, though heavily-stylized dragons, flames bursting from their mouths. She wasn’t entirely sure that dragons and fire would be particularly reassuring to customers, but it did give away the origins of her training. Teddy told her that it was also an accurate representation of her personality; most everyone has had agreed, though she personally didn’t like such a comparison. She, a dragon? It would have better-suited Lily, and Rose had the scars the prove it.
The sign spelled out her name in bright red letters, followed by the initials to which she was now entitled. They were a rather impressive collection of letters, even if the majority of people would have no idea what they stood for. She supposed that it only made her sound more impressive, and she needed all of the impressing power she could get. Chinese herbology and alternative medicine was a rather narrow field, but it was also refreshingly popular amongst these thirty-and-forty-somethings who were obsessed with good health and green living.
She kicked at a bit of discarded rubbish; it seemed that putting things in the bins had not yet made the list of current trends.
She checked her watch. Three. Still too early.
Glancing back up at the sign, she could have sworn that the letters of the last name had transformed themselves on their own volition into L U P I N.
It was just the sort of thing she couldn’t let herself think about. Marriage was one of those sticky topics for a girl whose ex-boyfriend had married one cousin while her current boyfriend had gotten divorced from another cousin. It was all a big mess, which was typically why she preferred not to think about it.
She blinked and the illusion faded. Her heart couldn’t take that kind of scare, and a scare it was, because some twisted part of her imagination actually liked the sound of it. Rose Lupin. Like two flowers conjoined, sprouting alongside one another in a glorious English garden, red and purple flowers mingling amongst the twisted undergrowth... which was a ridiculous image because they didn’t flower at the same time.
Rose gave her head a shake to clear her foggy brain. Perhaps those potions she’d brewed that morning had given off some hallucinogenic fumes, or worse, whether Teddy’s poetry was starting to go her head.
She pushed open the door and disregarded the carefully-polished brass handle, knowing that everyone else would do the same.
“Do you think this will work out?” she had asked while they searched for an appropriate location to establish the business.
Her feet took her through the building that was hers from top to bottom. At least, the majority of it was hers, other sources having done their part to ensure her place as the next best thing in the world of healing. She supposed that she was lucky to have support, albeit a begrudging sort from certain corners, but they were just another thing her thoughts preferred to avoid.
After all, she was going to spend the evening in their company.
The engagement party. It was supposed to be a brilliant event, filled with fine wine and discordant song, certainly two of the worst excuses to bring the Weasley family together. Rose felt a whole flock of butterflies soar around her stomach at the very thought of being hemmed in on all sides by relatives, well-meaning and otherwise. The otherwises would be easy to deal with; it was the well-meaning ones that worried her most.
They were the ones who constantly told her that she should do this or that or something completely different from what everyone else said. Or, better yet, something in opposition to what she herself wanted.
Yes. She was capable of doing her own thing. At twenty... was it three or four now? She tended to forget. All of the years were blurring together, just like all of the days and all of the weeks and months. It was difficult to keep track of time now that she no longer had to count the days until she completed her education.
It had been the better part of a year (she was sure) since her return from China, and that time had been primarily spent deciding on a place to live while, in the remainder of her “free time”, she worked part-time for the St. Mungo’s apothecary. This job had marked the first time in her life that she had met people more insane than either herself or any of her family members. Now that had been an experience....
Twenty-five, that was it. What a disconcerting age. One whole quarter century. It seemed like an eternity.
When she thought about it, it was an eternity.
The topic of age was an inevitable one. They could not avoid it completely. Everyone else certainly spoke of it enough, from her parents to her grandparents to her cousins to his grandmother to... well... you get the idea.
The memory of his highly effective methods made her cheeks flare red. Her eyes drifted toward the clock on the wall, patiently ticking the seconds, to redirect her thoughts onto a safer train of thought. The last thing she needed was a customer to arrive just as she was thinking about how–
Yes, yes, remember to look at the clock, note the position of its hands... his hands... No, no, no!
Four. Still too early.
She did not want to arrive first. That would mean being sucked into the kitchen to assist in whatever endeavours on which her grandmother and culinary cousins had embarked. It would be a quest into the heart of domesticity that Rose would much prefer to avoid. The last time she’d been in Grandmum’s kitchen, she had caused at least three bubbling pots to explode, permanently staining the ceiling with tomato soup. Dominique refused to let Rose live that one down. "Dom" of course being short for "domestic goddess."
It probably didn’t help that Rose was currently living with Dom’s sister’s ex-husband. Those sort of things always led to awkward family dinners. Speaking of which, she would have to spend three times as long to prepare herself for the engagement party.
Victoire would be there.
She would have to venture into the furthest reaches of her wardrobe for something that was neither out-of-date nor patched, stained, or in any state of disrepair. Those silky blue dress robes were long-ruined by mud and hexes, though she still kept them. She didn’t like throwing things away, and of course she’d never thought of buying something new.
Stupid, stupid. She should have thought of this sooner.
Her eyes flickered toward that damned clock. Four-thirty. Too early to close, but too late to run out to Madam Malkin’s.
Teddy would be no help. He never cared about what he wore, much less how he looked. Metamorphmagi never had to worry about those sorts of things; they could become anyone else at the squish of a nose and a wink of an eye. She also knew what he would say. They had, after all, had this discussion before.
“Victoire won’t be a problem.” His face was unusually grim. “If she had cared, perhaps I would worry, but–”
She remained certain of that as time passed, even as things between them developed. Changed. Transformed. She couldn't hope to keep up.
Instead of being here, managing the counter from the hoards of customers streaming through the door – which remained as shut today as on most days – Teddy was with his grandmother. Andromeda may have only been seventy-six, but she was also a Black. A family without any luck whatsoever. A family that had died out in name, but had left two very different specimens of wizardkind. Rose could attest to that difference, having been romantically involved with both of them...
Ugh. It was a morbid thought.
But it did remind her that she had work to do. As a licensed practitioner, she provided for her not-official-grandmother-in-law’s medical needs, which was hardly a confidence-booster because, if the tiniest thing went wrong, she...
...didn’t want to think about that sort of thing.
Nonetheless, work. Now. Those nice black robes with the green plaid scarf would do nicely. Screw Victoire. Rose only had one person to impress.
Two, actually, because Mrs. Tonks would also be there. She would probably be wanting more of that stomach elixir. Merlin knew that the Weasleys ate some of the most ridiculously unhealthy food in all of Britain, and Mrs. Tonk’s gall bladder would be sacrificed at the altar of Mrs. Weasley’s cooking, especially her preference for lard.
Glancing down at her hips, inherited from said grandmother, Rose grimaced and set to busying herself with the mortar and pestle, grinding down some ginger root Teddy had brought that morning from his grandmother's garden. There was far more room there than on the tiny rooftop of the shop, not that it had stopped him from creating a miniature Oriental garden complete with pagodas, neatly-arranged stones, and a koi pond. It was very pretty, she had to admit, and a sweet gesture intended to assist her transition into suburban English life. If only it wasn’t quite so English-looking. It was like something out of a storybook rather than her memories of Ming’s garden, where the wise old woman would serve tiny cups of tea by the roses she so lovingly tended....
In the background, a bell tingled.
But Teddy had never been there. He had asked to come, but she had always refused. Too independent, too selfish, wanting to keep China for herself, that whole big country and its millions of people. It was the one thing that she had entirely to herself. Even Teddy had been Victoire’s first. She could never forget that.
The front door to the shop closed.
It was a very pretty garden, after all.
A bespectacled woman of some indeterminate age thrust her aquiline nose into Rose’s range of vision, the nostrils flaring in disgust.
“I want an appointment with this Dr. Weasley.”
So she was going to be one of those kind of customers. There had been a few Muggles entering the shop. They were the kind who imagined she was some great doctor of medicine that could heal all their aches and pains, but not only were their suppositions entirely incorrect, they were not in the least ill. As far as Rose knew, there weren’t any great herbal cures for psychosomatic pains, other than opium, and Rose’s business didn’t lean in that direction.
The fact that her father was an officer of the law had probably influenced that decision to a large degree. Possibly.
“I don’t offer appointments” – she paused to glance down at the woman’s hand, where a ring solidly gleamed from her fourth finger – “Ma’am. I take prescriptions and offer medicine just like any other chemist.”
The woman stared over the rims of her spectacles as though she hadn’t quite seen something like Rose before in her life. Perhaps she hadn’t.
“You? Are you trying to make me believe that you’re this Dr. Weasley person?”
Rose bit her lip, knowing that it would appear like an absence of confidence and surety, but for the life of her, she didn’t know what to say to this woman – unfortunately for those who continued to complain about the perpetuation of stereotypes, a Muggle – without somehow losing her temper and snapping like a pond turtle.
In cases like this, sarcasm, albeit in a watered-down form, was necessary. She could not imagine getting herself through this conversation using any other means, not without disastrous results for both parties involved.
“I’m afraid that I’ll have to disappoint you by saying yes.”
The woman, instead of stepping back, leaned further forward until Rose could smell the tea and scones on her breath. Fresh from the experience of a “traditional” English tea of weak tea and papery scones, this woman had deemed it necessary to deal with whatever indigestion came from heaping too much clotted cream on her scones. She narrowed her eyes as she stared into Rose’s face, her lips twisted in disbelief.
“Now that’s a strange thing because–”
Rose gripped the edge of the counter, bracing for impact as would the pilot of a crashing plane. She was going down in flames.
“–you don’t look Chinese to me.”
There was a long pause.
Rose could not imagine how she was meant to reply to such a statement. Was it even humanly possible?
It was just ridiculous. There was no other way to describe it. This woman must have been sent by some of Rose’s more nefarious cousins to confuse her to bits before the party for their own amusement. That could be the only rational explanation behind it.
The woman continued to stare at Rose, not so much waiting for a reply as searching her person for any sign of Asian ancestry. All that red hair was the real problem. Unless it was dyed. So many people were doing that sort of thing these days. Then there was the height... goodness! If this girl stood up, she’d be nearly six feet! Perhaps there was something fantastic in all of these herbal thingymabobs after all–
“I studied in China, madam, but I’m not fortunate enough to be from there.”
Watching the woman’s face was rather like witnessing the popping of a child’s balloon.
“Well, then,” the woman huffed before turning on her heel and exiting the shop. The door smacked shut behind her, the bells clanging against the glass, though whether it was in victory or defeat, Rose could not be certain.
Come to think of it, she wasn’t even certain that these last five minutes had been real.
She sniffed the air, thinking that some of those potion fumes were still hanging about. Nothing. Nothing at all.
It still wasn’t yet five o’clock, but Rose no longer cared. If those were the kinds of customers she was going to get, she wanted nothing of them. She was beginning to understand her mother’s general impatience with the world, the exasperated sighs and rolled eyes that signalled another tirade complaints regarding the degenerative state of the world.
With a wave of her wand, the door locked and the little sign halfheartedly flipped from “open” to “closed” as though chastising her for giving up this soon.
She pursed her lips and stalked into the back room, passing various cauldrons, vials, powders, cordials, and jars of ingredients, all in various stages of use and abuse without any logical form of organisation. Logical only to Rose, perhaps one could say, if necessary. Each article seemed to protest her retreat from the front lines, the jars and vials rattling together with each footstep she took, the buzzing of the fly caught in the window echoing the whispers of “coward” she heard in her ears.
Vanity. It was all vanity. Not Rose Weasley at all.
Maybe it was that Rose Lupin person who dogged her steps. It was always easier to blame someone who didn’t exist.
No... stop it, Rose. She shook her head, hair falling loose in flat, lanky strands.
Her state of denial didn’t stop her stomach from being attacked by fluttery butterflies of a most vicious sort.
Sometime later, the lavatory mirror was thoroughly fogged up, the floor littered with robes and hangers adding up to her complete wardrobe. Rose heard a gentle knock on the bedroom door before it squeaked open and a single brown eye, appropriately accompanied by the surrounding portions of his face, peeked around the corner.
“I didn’t realise that the weather called for tornadoes this afternoon.”
Rose stuck her head out from behind the lavatory door, holding a towel to her chest while her hair dripped over her bare shoulders onto the floor.
“It wasn’t my cousin the Tornado, either.” She hoped that James wouldn’t bring half the team along as his “date” like he had last Christmas. The Burrow was full enough with just the family present, much less half a team of bulky, burly Quidditch players.
“Never fear, I’ve brought what you couldn’t unearth from the deepest, darkest corners of your wardrobe.” As he stepped into the room, he held out a set of robes, the sight of which made Rose’s eyes widen to their furthest extent, the towel half-dropping from her hands.
Now it was turn for Teddy’s eyes to widen, but he caught himself, his mouth twitching upwards as he gingerly laid the robes across the bed.
“They’re your grandmother’s?” Rose took half a step forward.
He nodded. “She insisted that you’d have nothing better.” His eyes appraised the state of the room and pulled out his wand. “It looks as though you came to the same conclusion.”
A simple string of spells sent the clothes flying back onto their hangers and into the closet, even deigning to remove the worst of the creases along the way. Amidst the rustling of fabric, Teddy glanced back at Rose, who examined the robes from afar.
“Give her my thanks. They’re far nicer than anything I’d have picked.”
“I know. It’s why I picked them.”
Rose’s eyes moved from the robes to him, and back and forth again, but no matter how many times she looked back and forth, she couldn’t quite see how one had led to the other, nor why this particular set of robes had caught his eye.
Hidden depths. With him, it was always hidden depths.
“Would you like me to come back for you? Or would it be safe to meet you there?”
She let out a breath and tried to keep a level face.
“I should be fine, unless those end up inciting a riot in the streets.”
His laugh was somewhat forced. Perhaps he was as worried as her, maybe even a little disappointed, too.
“Out here? Though with you in them they will.” There was a glint in his eye that made Rose feel as though her insides were tying in knots. “Now cover up before you incite me to riot.”
His eyes drifted downward and hers followed suit, a blush burning across her cheeks and more as she tucked the towel more firmly around her chest. She opened her mouth to awkwardly respond, but when she looked up again, he had gone, the squeaking door belatedly announcing his departure.