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Chapter 2: An Awfully Small Affair
chapter image by Clara Oswald
An Awfully Small Affair
It did not begin well. Therefore, it could not end well.
Rose was cornered by her cousin James even before she’d had the proper chance to say hello to her parents (she caught her father going slack-jawed at the sight of her dress robes before her mother had elbowed him and placed another glass of wine in his hand). Thinking herself safe, Rose had made a beeline to the dessert table, only to be stopped in her tracks by an already-slightly inebriated Chaser who wasn’t steady on his feet at the best of times. She supposed that, in some ways, it was preferable to the sleekly suited Victoire who stood on the other side of the room, staring off into space, muttering political nothings to herself.
“Godric’s girdle, Rose! Not wearing black for once. I was starting to think that you were in mourning for your sex life or something.”
Rose wondered if foot-in-mouth disease had become an epidemic.
James was preening himself behind a glass that had, until a moment before, been filled with the best champagne this side of the Channel, courtesy of Aunt Fleur. It was always the best for the great Quidditch player of the family, whose ego was large enough to withstand everything the gossip column printed about his off-and-on again stardom.
From his mood, it was definitely off-again. That fumble during the last game....
“You’re disgusting, James. All you think about is sex.” Albus shoved aside his brother with a belligerent elbow.
This failed to divert James. Once he was on a roll, he would never stop unless someone hexed him, or, as more often happened, smacked a bludger in his direction. The latter tended to be the most effective because they silenced him, too. For quite some time, if one was lucky.
“What’s the world coming to? My little brother saying the s-word!”
“Have you ever considered growing up?” Albus’s scowl did nothing to support his point, rather, if anything, undermining it completely.
The impossibility of being a Potter and “mature” must have been a result of having parents who had grown up too quickly; the evolution of the Potter species could not withstand such an accelerated rate of change, and thus chose to make up for it with a trio of siblings who found maturation absurdly difficult.
Nigh on impossible, in fact.
Rose rolled her eyes at the sight of them, who were for all their differences two peas in a pod.
“You sound like an old married couple.”
She had never been particularly imaginative. Thankfully, she had Teddy to deal with that sort of thing.
When they both turned to stare at her, it was as though someone had placed a mirror between them, their fish-like mouths and eyes gaping in equal measures. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, Rose asked herself why these two were so bloody insistent that they were nothing alike.
They quickly returned to their usual banter, a thing unfortunately lacking in any wit whatsoever, thereby making it of no interest to readers.
Standing a few steps away so that no one would think she was actually involved in this conversation, Rose surveyed the room, trying to be the distanced observer from the people she had known all her life. They had infiltrated every level of the Ministry, not to mention most other locations of power within the wizarding establishment The Weasleys were everywhere, involved in everything, which generally made them the bane of the wizarding world’s existence.
It explained why Rose had chosen to do something completely different. She watched them, knowing that while she knew most everything about these people, too much of her mind was still half a world away in China. She was like them, but she found herself disliking them.
Damn paradoxes. It was Teddy’s fault that she thought things like that, and her own fault that she listened so much to him.
He hadn’t yet arrived. Perhaps that was why he kept coming to mind.
Time passed. She waited. The party continued.
The notion of an engagement party was beyond Rose’s understanding. In her mind, such things celebrated a stage of in-betweenness rather than any real achievement. Engagements were easily made and just as easily broken, though she supposed, the more she thought about it, that marriages were not much better.
Was her problem that engagements had become as great an achievement as the marriage itself? It depended on the two individuals in question. Take, for instance, Albus and Vinny. Although there was no question regarding the state of their relationship, they would never, to put it bluntly, "take the plunge". They simply liked their independence too much.
“Al, your mum wants to speak with you.”
Vinny had come to Albus’s rescue, sweeping him away from James’s company before both Potter boys could launch into the kind of argument that Albus would regret. James regretted nothing. It was, many said, part of his charm.
One arm latching onto Rose’s as they passed, Vinny ensured that they were safely away from James. The remaining liquid in Rose’s glass sloshed from side to side and Albus’s spectacles were knocked askew, but neither complained. If anything, Albus looked more than a little grateful as he put himself back in order.
“How did I end up with two trolls for siblings?”
Vinny’s ruse had been well-played, since the only person in the world James Potter gave reverence to, apart from himself of course, was his mother. To say that Ginny Potter wanted to speak to anyone was, in James’s point of view, like saying that one had been summoned for an audience with the queen.
“It must be the celebrity curse.” Vinny was painfully matter-of-fact about these things. “One hailed as the Potter heir, the other as the living image of a fabled grandmother. It was bound to lead to disappointment.”
Albus’s eyebrow arched over the rim of his spectacles. “And me?”
She gave his arm a squeeze. “The curse of your namesakes cancelled the other out.”
“At least they’re useful for something.”
“Apart from being wonderful to say aloud?”
He flashed a smile. “Of course.”
They made that face at one another which made Rose awkwardly shuffle aside, averting her eyes from the profound fluff that was sprouting in front of her, threatening to engulf her helpless form.
“Rose! I was meaning to ask you....” Vinny’s voice trailed off ominously, her smarmy smile fading as she leaned toward Rose.
Furrowing her brow, Rose set down her still-not-yet-empty glass on the nearest table. “About?”
“You and Teddy.” Vinny lowered her voice. “Is everything alright?”
Rose blinked. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
It was Albus who answered. They were well into that annoying stage of relationships when. Rose could speak to either and have the other reply without any discernible difference. She hoped to Godric that it would never happen to her.
“You’re never out together anymore, not since you opened the shop.”
“And we thought for sure he’d come with you tonight.”
Rose shook her head, not understanding one bit. “But you of all people know what we’re like. We... we...” She couldn’t think of how to say it. There was no single word or phrase that would suffice.
“Have an understanding?” Vinny supplied with a skeptical eyebrow.
Albus was no help. “Do people even say that anymore?”
“I just did.”
Not about to let them fly into one of their famous verbal tennis matches, Rose made an impudent volley that was destined to hit the net.
“It’s mostly platonic, you see.”
There was a moment of silence between the three, though the room itself was a buzz of activity and noise, chattering voices of every pitch raising a chorus against the clattering of dishware and pans emerging from the kitchen joined by the clinking of glasses as various groups wished each other congratulations for anything and everything that came to mind. The gathering together of nearly every Weasley clan member outside of Christmas was certainly a call for celebration, and no one was begrudging it one bit.
Except for Rose.
She stood between her friends, trying to surreptitiously glance toward the door every so often just in case her whi– no, multi-coloured knight should burst through to rescue her from the trials that were family gatherings and the tortures that were uncomfortably personal questions.
“That would explain things.” Albus adjusted his spectacles in a way that he thought made him appear discriminating and ever-observant. “Lots of things, actually.”
Rose did not like the sound of that, nor could she appreciate the expression on Vinny’s face.
“I think it’s best to change the subject.” Vinny said in that matter-of-fact voice that she reserved for particularly obtuse Ministry employees.
Albus was easily distracted into a more agreeable conversational direction, but Rose met Vinny’s gaze with uncertainty only to see that same uncertainty reflected back. She was going to hear about this later, just how much later depended on how the rest of this horrible evening continued.
Impudent, unwise, or otherwise, Rose could not help but wonder if she had unwittingly spoken the truth. And so what if she had?
She let her thoughts be lead astray by Vinny’s next purposefully-banal comment, finding safety, if not comfort, in talk of the Ministry’s latest shufflings and how the window images never worked as well as they should, showing rain everyday for the past week, making everyone exceedingly depressed to the point that they sobbed over cracks in the coffee cups.
Had Rose cared to say, she could have told Vinny that a person could be depressed in any weather or situation, no matter how sunny or wet, but instead, she returned to the dessert table to drown her sorrows in whatever punch there still remained. Rose didn’t like much the taste of foot-in-mouth.
~ * * * ~
As she washed down her third glass, a hand patted her shoulder, nearly sending her half-filled glass flying out of her hand. It would have indeed been a sad thing to break one of her Grandmum’s best glasses, especially when Rose had worked so hard to gain that privilege. Neither of the Potter boys had it yet and for good reason: they were too likely to throw them at one another.
Rose found herself staring into Uncle Charlie’s tanned face, which was, due to his deficient height on the same level as her own, though he more than made up for it in the width of his shoulders. He wrung her hand with all the strength of one more used to wringing the tails of vicious dragons.
“I wish you plenty of luck, but you don’t need it.” His eyes flickered to another corner of the room. “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
As though his feet were affixed with dragon wings, he moved on before Rose had the chance to take breath much less absorb his words. Blinking, she set down her glass with a suspicious glance at its contents and turned toward the door and the newest arrivals. Uncle Charlie had already stepped away to greet Teddy with a solid shake of the hand even before the younger wizard had put his foot in the door. Rose could see Teddy wince from across the room.
No one was quite certain why Charlie Weasley was quite so enthusiastic about Teddy’s general existence. It did not matter what Teddy did: Uncle Charlie was there to offer praise, support, or, alternately, a clear honest opinion when it was needed most. Perhaps it was something to do with Teddy’s mother. But perhaps Uncle Charlie simply liked him. Sometimes that was a possibility.
“What for?” Teddy was asking with a tilt of his head. “It’s Rose’s success, not mine.”
Why was it the more that one tried not to eavesdrop, the easier it was to hear everything that was being said? This problem only seemed to worsen when one’s own name was mentioned. It frustrated her to no end. Ignorance is a very happy thing indeed.
Eyes turned in her direction. Unable to bask in such a light and sorrily regretting that she had not worn her usual minimalist attire (a fancy word to describe what was, in all reality, merely boring), Rose thought it prudent to go speak with her parents.
Rose was aware of one particular pair of eyes that followed her steps around the various pieces of furniture and between the groups of friends and relatives in various states of conversation from the serious to the drunken and disorderly. The latter were found furthest from the kitchen, attempting to escape the long range of Grandmother Weasley’s ears. One inappropriate word would land one the washing up and inebriated laughter would send one out into the gardens to clear out whatever creatures had dared make their home in those hallowed grounds.
Yes, those eyes. She believed that she could guess at their colour and shape, even which head in which they belonged. His voice was silent now. Did he wonder why she had turned the other way at his arrival? Had others seen?
He was somehow standing not far away. There were questions in his eyes, but his mouth remained silent, gently pressed in a pensive line.
“I haven’t even said hello to my parents yet. Can you believe it?” Rose felt herself babbling without knowing why. It must have been that expression on his face, or the crisp white of the shirt in contrast with the impossible darkness of his robes, or the way that these plain shades were set off by the particular shade of chestnut he had chosen for his hair. The very sight of him made her flustered, increasingly so when he drew her arm through his.
“Then we can greet them together.”
As they passed one of the hovering trays of drinks, he whisked two off with a single hand, offering her the second.
“They seem to have noticed your oversight. You’ll need this for certain, Pinky.”
That name always brought the corresponding shade to her cheeks. “Quiet, Moonbeam, they’ll hear you.”
His reply was a somewhat clumsy kiss that nearly got her in the eye. A whisper met her ear, tickling it with a most inappropriate comment that induced Rose to extricate her arm so that she could give him a proper punch in the shoulder.
“You’re insufferable!” She made sure not to say it with too great a volume.
One corner of his lips twisted upwards. “Somehow you manage.”
She took his arm again. “No thanks to you.”
They soon stood in the presence of her esteemed parents. Only a touch of the old awkwardness that had flourished whenever Rose had returned to England for various holidays still remained. Those days had been the worst, when her parents, particularly her mother, seemed uncertain (to put it mildly) that a future with Teddy was a wise choice. Her father had been suspiciously supportive at first, but that was waning as no progress seemed to be made.
Progress of course referring to marriage. Children. The usual things that terrified Rose.
“I said ‘how are things at the shop?’”
“What? Oh. Right. Sorry. Fine.” She wiped a sweaty palm against her hip. “The usual silence broken only by crazy Mu–” A slightly raised eyebrow from her mother sent her tongue scrambling for a new word. “People. I’m a magnet for them.”
Speaking openly to her parents had never been a habit of hers. Verbal diarrhea was, however, slowly becoming a chronic condition.
“I shouldn’t think so.” Teddy was not at all helpful.
“It’ll improve once you settle into the place more.” Her mother was being conciliatory, and that also proved unhelpful.
She hoped that her father would not disappoint.
“You’d never have those problems in Diagon Alley. Not with the Mu–” He cut himself off at the same syllable of the Unmentionable Word.
Unmentionable for Rose because she was technically half-Muggle. But spending most of her time among the Weasleys allowed her to frequently forget the fact of her mixed heritage and the pair of dentists who had happily retired to a cosy house overlooking the Great Barrier Reef. It was said that the strength of Hermione’s memory charm had made it very, very difficult to reverse, and there were, of course, always aftereffects.
There were rather too many times when Rose wondered what would happen if she did the same to her parents.
“People will get used to Rose’s line of work soon enough,” Teddy was saying with his usual grace and tact. “There have already been a few successful cases.”
He made her sound like a seedy private detective, though that would have been a more lucrative career choice; certainly her father would have better appreciated it. She could see it now, Rose Weasley, PI. She could be on the telly or something, fighting crime and generally kicking some–
“–went well, didn’t it Rose?”
“Oh yes, of course.” Hopefully it was something she was meant to agree with.
Her parents were nodding, so she seemed safe. For the moment, at least. It was inevitable that they would eventually put into words the question that was always lurking just behind their eyes. They did not need to speak it; perhaps that was Rose’s problem. With Hugo run off to America on an impressive Quidditch deal, Rose was their primary worry. She may have always been their primary worry, now that she thought about it. Clumsy, silly, slow Rose. Her end of the gene pool was somewhat shallow.
“Is everything alright at the new house? No problems?”
Her mother was being polite. Never a good sign. Rose’s ears rang with the question she knew her mother must have wanted to ask instead: “So when will you settle things with Teddy?” It would be preferable to her father’s version of the question: “Aren’t you two going to get married soon? It’s been long enough, hasn’t it?”
Years ago, people had asked that same last question of her endlessly bickering parents, but all adults have painfully short memories when it comes to their own misguided adolescence.
“It seems okay. I haven’t really noticed.”
Rose glanced over at Teddy, who was also shaking his head.
“It is still summer. When the winter comes, we’ll know for certain how things are.”
There was too much potential for double entendre in what could have been a perfectly banal statement. Rose felt herself dissecting in against her will, imagining the various ways in which her parents could interpret the meaning of Teddy’s words.
But Rose’s parents proved to be rather flat that evening. This ought to have worried her more, but she was so tired of worrying; she seemed to do it all of the time these days, as though she feared that everything in her life she had worked so hard for could slip away from her in the slightest breeze. She had already found white among the carroty strands of her hair, and when she looked at her mother, she found the source of that particular attribute in the streaks of grey that ran through the wild curls.
It was not until Ron had led Teddy off to discuss... well, Rose wasn’t quite sure what, but it didn’t bode well if her father had his arm conspiratorially draped about Teddy’s shoulders. Once they were out of earshot, Hermione stepped closer to her daughter. Rose’s sense of foreboding increased exponentially. So this was how they were setting to achieve things: divide and conquer. If it worked for emperors, it must work for scheming parents.
“You nearly gave your poor father a heart attack.”
Ron Weasley, poor? Only his wife could get away with making such a statement.
“Because of the dress?” Rose’s hand unconsciously reached for the flowing fabric that poured around her like a striped waterfall.
The smile on Hermione’s face was nostalgic in its hue. “I did the same to him once at the Yule Ball.”
Rose frowned. “That’s strange.”
A crooked line deepened on her mother’s brow. “Why?”
That dreaded blush was creeping up Rose’s throat again and that part of her body was as good as naked. Under her mother’s sharp gaze, those chocolate brown eyes only capable of softness when it was certain that no one was looking, Rose shifted from one foot to the other, her eyes cast downwards.
“He told me that there was another time.” The words emerged in an unintelligible mass.
“What was that?”
A hand took hold of Rose’s arm. Rose shook it off and met her mother’s gaze.
“Oh, Mum, you know when. Your wedding!”
Certain untamable curls leapt outwards as though jolted by electric shocks. “Impossible!” However, for all of the impossibility, a slight flush still crept up Hermione’s cheeks, but unlike Rose’s flushes of mortification, this one expressed pleasure.
“It’ll be the same for you, Rose, just you see.”
The bright smile on her mother’s lips did nothing to keep Rose from feeling the pit of her stomach take a sharp dive, the gallons of punch she'd consumed dangerously bubbling within, threatening to overflow at any moment. Her good deed for the day had backfired, returning her to the very subject she wished to avoid.
Her mother left her on that note with an encouraging pat on the shoulder. Rose watched her go, taking note of her mother’s careful walk, of the way her unadorned blue dress robes complimented her shape. If she could grow up to be that way, she wouldn’t mind. No, more than that; she’d be happy about it. Things may not have gone perfectly for Hermione Granger, but the way they’d gone was more than satisfactory under the circumstances.
“You look nice, Rose.”
She startled, blinking, and looked down at Lucy, whose tiny voice made her almost impossible to hear over the rampaging Weasleys.
It was not hard to smile at the sight of the delicate girl whose white taffeta robes only heightened her resemblance to a witchy Cinderella, just arrived at the ball, her wide blue eyes surveying the crowd with a rabbit-like trepidation.
“Thanks. So do you, Luce.”
Lucy’s lips quavered. “I feel like a fairy cake. You at least look comfortable.”
Rose looked down at her robes with a snort.
“They feel like they’ll slither off at any moment. Why do we do this to ourselves?”
Their laughter – genuine in Lucy’s case, merely nervous in Rose’s – caught the attention of many in the room, parents who managed minor degrees of admiration for the now-fully-grown young witches, cousins who hid their reactions behind half-filled glasses or rolled their eyes quite openly, and one cannot neglect to mention the devout boyfriends whose minds, at the sight of their objects of worship, limit themselves to a single train of thought.
But Rose had one other pair of eyes upon her, hardly admiring, though it was difficult to say for certain, those plain grey eyes as washed out as the rest of the face, clothes, and hair, the traits of the Veela having little affect upon one who no longer cared to display them. Victoire came forward at last.
“I don't have much to say.” She held out her hand to Rose, who took it with trepidation. “But do know that I wish you all the luck I can offer, which may not be much–”
“–though I think it’s more than–”
There was a long pause, in which Rose found herself closely scrutinised by those grey eyes as though she was a very menial clerk who had said something very annoying.
“It’s not Teddy and I who are...” Rose couldn’t say it. “You know. It’s Lucy and Lorcan.” She halted again, watching as the news sunk into Victoire’s obviously distracted brain. “You don’t have to worry. Not yet. Not ever. Maybe.”
Time slowed to the point that Rose could hear the individual glugs of liquor pouring out of emptying bottles into empty glasses. She took in the scents of the room, the bodies, the desserts, the dinner that seemed so long overdue to be served. The Burrow pulsated with the life of its inhabitants, the bustling family that overflowed through its rooms and doors. Her words washed through her ears and she wondered how she ever could have spoken them aloud to the one person she wanted least to know them.
Rose and Victoire stood silent, their eyes locked together in mutual perplexity, Rose having forgotten that she still held Victoire’s hand between her fingers and thumb as one will hold an unsavoury item while Victoire held on more firmly without knowing why.
“We’re ready!” came Dominique’s cry from the kitchen door.
The roar that accompanied the commencement of dinner leapt up about them, and only then did Victoire make her move.
“You’ll need the luck no matter what you do, Rose. Because he has none.”
Once again, Rose was cast adrift in the tide of her own passive uncertainty, watching the flow of Weasleys pass into the other room, feeling the distant observer and only wishing that it was all she was expected to be.