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Chapter 2: The Pestilence Comes Forth
The Pestilence Comes Forth
Their arrival in London could not go without notice among their fellow wizardkind, and it did not take long before the Potter’s townhouse was filled with the sound of knocked doors and buzzing state secrets. The great Harry Potter may have refused the title of Minister of Magic a total of three times thus far in his short career, but that never prevented a great many people of equally great importance from constantly asking his advice in all matters of state, and he, with all his humble politeness, was never able to refuse, however much he may have wished to.
Rose watched them come and go from a shadowy place upon the stair, seeing faces and hearing names announced by the Free Elf Kreacher, who had never quite gotten himself over slinking about and muttering rather offensive things under his breath as he led guests into the drawing room or library. He caught sight of Rose once or twice and nodded his head in due respect, though she distinctly heard him mutter something about mudbloods and blood traitors. That was, however, merely his way. They were, after all, only words.
Her parents would, of course, disagree. But then again, they always did.
“Oh Rose, you’ll ruin that dress!”
She had heard herself referred to as “Oh Rose” so many times in the last few days that she was sure that, need she write her name in full, she would append an “Oh” where most would write “Miss”.
Glancing down at the dress, a new thing of profuse petticoats, embroidery, and ruffles that made her earn for her old sprigged muslins and light cotton prints, Rose barely disguised a grimmace. The ballgowns that Lily had ordered for them both, to the raised eyebrows of her mother, who was herself not known as a conservative witch, were daringly at the height of fashion with waists higher than Rose thought possible and even more decoration than adorned the suffocating promenade dress.
“It should hold up,” was all she could think to say.
The shape of “Oh Rose” was forming on Lily’s lips, but her mother was kind enough to interrupt, bursting out of her boudoir, broomstick in hand.
“Oh Rose” now became “Oh Mother, you can’t expect to go flying today!”
Mrs Potter was well-prepared to go flying at the Hampstead Heath Quidditch grounds, her flying robes of scarlet and gold clashing elegantly with her flame-coloured hair, tied back with a matching gold ribbon like the men once did until fashion dictated otherwise.
“Why not, Lily? There’s little else to do while you’re father is busy.” She stared down at the two girls, confusion on her face. She was a Weasley, through and through, which meant that she found Lily a perplexing creature. “Perhaps you and Rose would like to come along? Albus wrote that he would try to come, if they gave him leave.”
Rose was not particularly enthusiastic about Quidditch, the sport tending to make her dizzy as she watched the players speed about the pitch. Nor was the presence of cousin Albus an attraction, for all he could speak of was the Aurors and their glorious deeds against the French. She heard far too much of that from her father.
Most thankfully, Lily was present to rescue her, a very rare moment indeed.
“I really must teach Rose to dance. She’s quite hopeless, you know.”
Mrs Potter offered a pitying glance, but Rose managed to hide her embarrassment behind Lily’s headdress and lace and beads. Lily’s height, most unfeminine in a witch, could have its benefits, if not for Lily, then certainly for Rose.
“I can’t say that I envy you.” Mrs Potter stepped past them to make her escape. “Things were far easier in my day. Your father–”
“Yes, yes, I know, Mother. Everyone knows.” Lily rolled her eyes and waved the handkerchief she kept perpetually clenched in one hand, all the better for dropping should a particularly well-dressed gentleman come into view.
At the top of the staircase, Mrs Potter halted, a stray thought coming to rest on her brow. She was still a handsome woman, her ivory skin only half-covered by the family’s shared array of freckles, perhaps the one constant among the varied Weasley clan. Tall like her daughter, she stood like a towering queen atop the marble steps, one dragon-hide-clad hand gripping the balustrade while the other gripped her broom with equal strength.
There were few witches who could act as Mrs Potter did and maintain her position as the highest society witch in the land. It was, perhaps, her eccentricities that prevented scandal from tarnishing the perfect surface of her virtue.
“The best of luck, Rose. I hope dancing becomes your new-found talent.”
Rose had not even bothered to reach the stage of hoping that she could become a skilled dancer, but she thanked her aunt with a genuine smile that, if she was truly fortunate, did not reveal too much of the trepidation she felt.
It did not take long before she was pulled into an empty sitting room to endure nearly an hour of quadrilles and Boulangeres and Espagnuole that made her head spin nearly off her spine. Perhaps she would join Sir Nicholas, the Nearly Headless, if she was to continue to turn herself around and around and around again. Her patience wore thin, but it was Lily’s that first broke. In her defence, Lily had been forced to take the male role, and that had quickly grown tiresome.
“How can you expect to make an impression if you have two left feet?”
She flicked her wand to retrieve one of the chairs they had set aside to make room in the centre of the floor, and threw herself into it with more theatricality than Rose thought possible for one who seemed half-faint with exertion.
Rose glanced down at the offending appendages, which were themselves much offended by the dancing, as the red pulsing veins and throbbing pain informed her. She staggered to the nearest chair and kicked off her pinching shoes, no longer caring whether it creased the fabric of her dress or mussed the fine curls of her hair. With all that spinning and leaping, there was not much more damage one could inflict upon her appearance.
“I don’t see how it can be the only way to attract a man’s attention. Surely they’re not so superficial as to marry a girl simply because she can dance?”
The expression on Lily’s face needed no accompaniment.
Rose pounded her fist against the chair’s arm. “Blo–”
“Rose!” Lily sat up, eyes wide, her face paling beneath her rosy cheeks. “Don’t even think of using such language. It’s not at all ladylike.”
The act of rising caused her beleaguered feet to protest, but Rose was indignant.
“I don’t care at all to be ladylike.” She crossed her arms, teetering against the chair. “I’ll take your advice about dresses and hats and fans, but none of it will change who I am!”
“Which is what, may I ask?”
The voice came from the doorway, most unexpected, sending Lily to her feet, smoothing out her skirts, and Rose into the chair, clutching at her elbow. Both stared toward the door, which, when they had begun their trials, had been modestly kept shut, but now it stood wide open onto the landing, the long shadow of a man casting across the floor of the room.
“May I help you, sir?” Lily was all sweetness and delicacy, coming forward to greet him.
He took one step into the room, but the light from the windows did not hit his face.
“I only wondered what all the noise was about. It sounded as though a herd of hippogriffs was pounding overhead.”
His voice had depth, but it was not the voice of an old man. There was a distinctly quarrelsome note to it that jarred within Rose’s ears, and she prepared herself to dislike no matter whose voice it proved to be. She had no patience for the quarrelsome type.
Perhaps it was a petty thing to choose to dislike someone purely based on the sound of their voice, but when one has been referred to as a hippogriff, however much this reference was framed as a simile rather than a metaphor, one cannot possibly be expected to react with absolute politeness. And being a person of principle, Rose could not even manage partial politeness.
“We were–” Lily began.
“– practising a new dance, and what do you know! It’s called the Hippogriff. Surely you’ve heard of it, Mr–” She paused, ignoring the way that Lily’s eyes were filling with tears of shame to glare at the man, who soon took a final step into the light so that he could obtain a clearer view of his adversary.
“I regret that I haven’t been long enough in London to know all the latest dances.” He looked back and forth between the two witches, nodding his head to Lily. “You must be Miss Potter. And you,” he added turning to look once more at Rose. “Must be one of the Miss Weasleys.” He nodded, though a touch more stiffly than before. “Charmed.”
The word fell flat. As silence reigned, Rose made careful observations regarding the man’s appearance, each one contributing further to her now deeply rooted disapproval for such a one as he. A dandy. A fop, or possibly worse from the looks of the yellow hair that hung too low over his too-high collar that set his chin at a permanent angle of snobbery, the garish emerald silk of his necktie fiercely complimented by the silver trim of his coat. All of his appearance was extravagant, right down to the over-polished buckles of his soft leather shoes.
“And you, sir? There is no one present to properly introduce us.”
Lily recovered herself with the classic act of pretending that Rose did not exist, and therefore could not possibly have insulted their guest with her impulsive speech. Denial is well-known to be a most effective tool against relatives were genetically unable to keep their mouths shut in the presence of civilized company.
Watching the man – a young wizard, perhaps around their age – Rose took in the details of his appearance, both the natural and the ornamental. Wealthy, most certainly; the cut of his jacket and expensive silk at his throat made that an all-too-obvious fact His arrogance, or what, at least, could be referred to as a strong sense of self-assurance, seen not only in the tilt of his chin, but also in the way he looked down his nose, even at Lily, his hostess, was an equal certainty. If he was to be the image of civilized company, then Rose had more than half a mind to run off to join her Uncle Charles in Romania. The society of dragons would be far simpler to deal with, for if one did not like a person, they could merely burn them to a crisp and eat them for dinner. A literal roasting was much preferred to the metaphorical roasts that would likely occur in the company of this man, this....
She knew him already. It would be impossible not to properly recognize a Malfoy when one heaved into view from whatever moral void in which they existed. She had heard so much about the family from her father, who minced no words in outlining their treachery during the war, how they had sent so many innocents to the guillotine only to find themselves swallowed by the Revolution’s unending greed for blood in payment for centuries of oppression and waste.
The Malfoys, then known as the Malfois, barely escaped to England with their lives, becoming the very émigrés they had mercilessly persecuted. But the misfortune of Lucius Malfoy had led to the fortune of his son, once more restoring the changed family to its former glory, albeit with the sacrifice of their pureblood honour. Draco Malfoy had become a tradesman, but it made his son the wealthiest of pureblood heirs.
And now this heir stood before them now in his brilliant clothes with his brilliant smile, under which Lily seemed to melt.
Rose, however, could only smoulder. She rose from the chair, tilting her head as she regarded him.
“This, my dear cousin, is Mr Scorpius Malfoy, lately arrived in London to, I think, obtain a wife. Is that not correct?”
He turned toward her, his smile not fading one iota as he looked her up and down. In fact, it seemed to brighten toward a most ungentleman-like smirk.
“Yes, Miss Weasley. That is indeed the case.”
For a long moment, the only sound in the room was that of Lily’s laboured breathing and the rustle of silk as she attempted to surreptitiously adjust the appearance of her skirts. Rose and Mr Malfoy merely stared at one another, knowing too-well the opinions of their fathers toward the family of the other.
The silence was snapped in two by a voice calling Mr Malfoy’s name from down below.
“It has been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Potter.”
With a gracious nod of his head to Lily, he turned on his heel and left the room, taking the care to gently shut the door behind him, leaving the two witches once more to themselves.