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Welcome to Mars by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 3: The Uncertainty Principle
chapter image by Clara Oswald
The Uncertainty Principle
No one remarked upon any change in Rose. She was largely left to herself, except for the usual annoying questions about her housekeeping and eating habits. Her older relatives, cousins included, still seemed to think she was still a teenager, as awkward and ignorant as ever, so they showered her with advice every moment they could. She sunk lower and lower in her chair as time passed, staring at the cake in wonder, unwilling to reach for a slice when she really wanted to down the hole thing in one go.
Most assumed that she was once again on a diet, and Teddy was too far down the table to refute this belief. Rose sat on in silent misery as the cake was dully distributed, consumed, and the plate removed. It would have been worse if one lonely slice had remained, its crumbs calling her name, but some greedy cousin took more than his share.
“Now that was cake,” James said too loudly, licking his fork with relish.
Rose held her breath, counting down from one hundred.
“Yes, yes it was. Were you expecting something else?” Albus didn’t bother with subtlety. He received an elbow in the ribs for his pains.
“It’s wonderful, Dom.” Vinny offered a bright smile even as her elbow found its mark. “I’m surprised you haven’t taken over Fortescue’s yet.”
Dominique did not smile in return. Smiling was against some very un-Weasley portion of her constitution. Every ounce of sweetness she should have possessed went into her famous baked goods, which were as delectable as they were unhealthy, and Rose couldn’t shake the suspicion that Dom reserved an extra-special ounce of sourness for herself.
She found herself once more falling into a round of not-so-logcal thought, her special brand of philosophical enquiry. Things had seemed easier at the beginning, before Rose had settled down, though she was loathe to use that term. It didn’t sound right, mostly because things were as far from being settled as they had ever been. She had left for China brimming with optimism, only to return to a reality that fit her ill. It was like that horrible jumper her Muggle grandparents had given for Christmas one year; nothing could make it sit right no matter how many charms her mother used.
Was it that she found England boring? When others complained about hills, she thought of climbing to the roof of the world to pick some rare flower. When they talked about politics, her mind drifted to the potion she’d left on slow boil or the new herb she wanted to try and grow, even if the climate wasn’t right. She looked at them and saw adults. Boring old grown-ups who seemed to have tossed their youth aside in favour of... what? She saw no benefit; she saw only what she didn’t want for herself.
“One might almost think you’ve forgotten how to be a Weasley.”
Andromeda dropped herself into the chair beside Rose, balancing her walking stick against the table’s edge.
Rose shook her head to clear her cobwebbed thoughts. “Sorry?”
“You were very deep in thought. Even my grandson dared not approach you.”
Blinking, Rose surveyed the table and chairs, emptied of their contents. She heard voices from the other room while, from the kitchen, plates and cutlery clashed in mighty battle.
“Was I asleep?”
“Not that I could see.”
Rose let out a breath, but found it incredibly difficult to release the tension in her nerves.
“I’m sorry for... for...” What? Not being more sociable? There was a feeble apology if she’d ever heard one. It wasn’t as though she’d ever been a social butterfly.
Andromeda waved Rose’s words away. “You have nothing to apologise for. If anything, you have the advantage over most of us here tonight. We haven’t seen the other side of the world. Many have not even ventured beyond the English Channel.” A spasm in her leg interrupted this speech, but only for a moment. “You have seen the world, and I suppose that it makes this place seem less than interesting.” Her eyes roamed the familiar room with its low ceiling and careworn furniture.
Rose followed her gaze, knowing every detail and the story behind it. The chip on the table. The darned holes in the curtains. The ticking of the old clock, its hands still arranged from “home” to “mortal peril”. Somehow, none of it had changed. She was the thing that was different. She was the thing that no longer belonged.
But Andromeda was shaking her head. “I’ve seen that look too many times on too many faces. You may change, Rose, but your home will always be here.”
Something must have gotten into Rose’s eyes. She rubbed them harder than she should before looking into the old witch’s eyes. There was so much there, a long life filled with things that Rose didn’t want to imagine, and yet Andromeda had survived it all, the loss and pain, the fleeting bits of happiness. It made all of Rose’s cares pitiful in comparison.
Whatever expression came into Rose’s face, it was enough to satisfy Andromeda. With a sharp nod, she launched into an interrogation that touched upon all aspects of Rose’s work, and the struggle to not only keep up, but provide definitive answers to one who had little knowledge of the subject, kept Rose from dwelling on sorrier subjects. There was actual colour in her cheeks by the time that Teddy re-entered the room, holding his grandmother’s wrap.
“...to explore additional uses of Dragon’s Blood, but that’s far beyond my area of expertise. At most I could hope to do is find a way to tame a Chomping Cabbage–”
She broke off upon observing the intruder, who took the opportunity to step forward, a smile on his lips, if not in his eyes..
“But I don’t want to take the chance that she’ll lose a hand to one of those things. If the stories are true, one consumed most of her hair in a single bite.”
With a roll of her eyes, Rose leaned back in her chair. “Those stories were exaggerated.”
“That’s what makes them interesting.”
He winked, but Rose could still sense a certain wrongness about him. What had changed? His artistic temperament made him so goddamned difficult to read sometimes. No, make that most of the time. Rose watched him with a furrowed brow, her flood of pleasure at finally having someone ask about her work receding into the desert of trepidation.
His efforts to help Andromeda to rise were waved aside with a gnarled, corded hand, but she did not refuse his assistance in donning her woolen wrap. Rose could not mistake the tension in his jaw and the pained twist of his lips, but both vanished as soon as his grandmother turned to face him with a playful tilt of her head.
“So I’ll allow you to see me safely home, but don’t think for a moment that you’ll be staying for a nightcap, young man.”
Even his smile contained a touch of sadness, but to look at his eyes was worst of all. “I wouldn’t dream of it, Granny. Don’t forget that I’m a kept man now. No wild parties for me these days.”
“Ever, I think you mean.” Granny was disturbingly perceptive.
Teddy screwed up his face in thought and his hair turned a frightful shade of green. “You’ll ruin my reputation at this rate. Definitely time to go home.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Tonks.” Rose hesitated as she stood and rearranged the folds of her dress robes, then added, “Thank you. Not many... listen.” She flushed, biting her lip, feeling like a silly, awkward child.
Andromeda offered Rose an outstretched hand, a smile cracking the wrinkled porcelain face. “It is their loss, not yours. Anyway, it is you I should thank. I’m pleased to leave my grandson in good hands.”
It took Rose too long to realise the true meaning of that statement. Teddy’s face remained inscrutable. He understood. He had heard it. His grandmother was preparing him, but Rose, practical as a Granger at times, knew that you could only lead a horse to water; you couldn’t make him drink.
He bent to plant his lips on whatever portion of Rose’s head happened to be within reach. She reached up to catch his hand, fingers running along his arm until they twined with his.
“I’ll be back–”
“It’s not necessary. I can find my own way home.”
Andromeda had drifted into the other room to bid her good nights, the warm, bubbling sound of voices contrasting with the confused silence in the dining room.
“It’s not that, Rose.” Teddy turned to face her, but refused to relinquish her hand, his hair fading to dull brown.
Rose let out a breath. “I know, but I don’t care what everyone thinks. We are what we are. Why should they interfere?”
Taking her hand in both of his, he leaned forward. “What are we?”
There it was. The question that had no answer, no simple one at least. Rose stared at him, open-mouthed, half-expecting him to kneel and ask the next, terrible, inevitable question. It must have been on the tip of his tongue. She could see it in his eyes, in the tension of his jaw, the increasing dullness of his hair. There was no part of her body that did not quaver, every nerve alive and pulsating until she thought she would never take another breath.
“Not now, Teddy, please....”
The pathetic note in her voice made him straighten and release her hand.
“Of course. I’m sorry. I–”
Rose shook her head, eyes widening. “It’s not– No, I mean– I’ve something else to tell you. Later. When we’re–” It sounded more ominous than she’d intended, and she shut herself up before she could fall into a deeper linguistic hole.
His brow was furrowed, but he nodded and patted her arm. “Alone, yes. I understand.” The tone of his voice made it clear that he did not. “See you at home, then.”
It was the sound of that word – “home” – that made Rose choke on her goodbye. If they were anywhere else, she would have thrown herself at him and probably strangled him in a loving embrace, the likes of which neither had seen since her return from China. But within earshot of her family, she hesitated, shrinking at the thought that they would see sentimentality and weakness where there was neither, only strength, or something like it.
Her face had to do all of the work, and she tried the most comfortingly reassuring type of expression possible. The result must have been horrifying, but Teddy didn’t seem to care. He even managed an answering smile that bled into his hair, transforming it to a brilliant auburn.
Rose followed him into the sitting room where the remaining family was gathered, sitting or standing, talking or silent, excited or bored. Chorus after chorus of farewells rounded the room, and Rose did her best to ignore the curious looks sent her way by Hermione and Vinny. She wasn’t sure which of the two would be worse to face, and strategically, the only remaining place for her to spend the next quarter hour was beside Dominique, whose straight back and piercing gaze did nothing to inspire Rose’s confidence. It seemed like a miracle had fallen out of some absent-minded god’s pocket when Lysander began to ask about rare tropical plants.
To say the least, it was the kind of innocuous conversation that Rose needed just then. It gave her time to think, always a troublesome process, painstaking and time-consuming. Ideas did not just magically appear, fully-formed; they stewed over days, if not weeks, like germinating seeds. What she had seen and heard that evening were taking root in her mind, and she had a feeling that she wouldn’t like the colour of the blooms.
She rushed though her goodbyes, pausing only when it came to her grandparents. Andromeda’s words and that strange hint of finality they contained perhaps bothered her most. If she were to die, Teddy would be alone, or as good as. The Malfoys would then be his closest family, and Rose knew for certain that the Malfoys were not the kind of people one liked to call “family.” She could not imagine what it would be like to have no parents, no siblings, no cousins, no uncles or aunts. Teddy had never had any of those things.
“Stop looking so serious, Rose!” Grandmum gave her a tight squeeze. “It has been so good to see you again”
Rose nodded, her throat tight, before turning to Grandad, and exiting into the yard. Before she could reach the usual apparation point, she heard her mother calling after her.
“You really shouldn’t be going alone. You can’t be sure that it’s safe–”
“I’ll be fine, Mum! I’ve done it before.”
“You did much worse things when you were years younger.” Rose hadn’t meant to sound so judgmental, as though saving the world from evil was a potentially bad thing. It was like hearing her mother’s voice emerging from her own mouth, and she couldn’t help but feel terror in the pit of her stomach at the thought of it.
Hermione’s face was inscrutable in the darkness. “No, you’re right.”
There was a strange silence between them. “It’s easy to forget that you’ve grown up.”
After giving Rose a quick hug, she disappeared, her footsteps making no sound on the thick, overgrown lawn. Once again, Rose was left with the feeling that she had made some fatal error, that she was making one blunder after another. Perhaps one day, she would wake up, and no one would be bothering over her. There would be no one who cared.
She wanted to go back and say something, but what? She had no words, only a mess of emotion that no language could describe.
With one last long glance toward the Burrow, she closed her eyes and went home.
~ * * * ~
The significance of that word did not hit her until she stood outside her own front door. A single light blazed from the first floor window, and she half-imagined that she saw a delicate tendril of smoke twist away from the rooftop garden. No doubt that he was lying beneath the stars, ordering and reordering words until he landed on the perfect sound. He would say it once or twice aloud to taste it, then he would–
Oh Rose, you’re such an idiot. There she was, standing in the middle of the pavement in a ridiculous dress, staring up at her own house like a homeless puppy with an appropriately pathetic expression on her face. What had her life become?
Better yet, what had it ever been?
She took out her key, a small, light thing she was sure to lose quite often, and let herself in. It was still an alien thing, to lock one’s doors, but with her collection of herbs and potions, she had to take the necessary precautions. The real surprise was that Teddy had remembered to lock up behind him.
He had neglected to shut the door to the roof, though, and a group of moths had gathered to worship their goddess of light.
“If you would turn off that light, I’d be very appreciative.” His voice drifted over from the darkest corner of the garden.
“In what way?”
There was a pause, followed by a soft chuckle. “Need you ask?”
She felt too weary to attempt a witty reply. “Just be careful on the stairs.”
If he spoke again, the words were lost to the night.
A slight chill of night air had drifted into the flat. Perhaps some would have found it refreshing, but Rose shivered and wrapped her shawl more closely about her throat. It was difficult to believe that this could be a summer’s night, but August was waning. Rose could feel the slightest pang that she ought to be preparing for her return to school though she was eight years out of Hogwarts. Nearly a decade! It was at once so long and so short a time. What would she say once ten years had passed? Fifteen? Twenty?
When she shivered again, it was not from the air.
She moved through the flat, setting out the kettle and tea, turning on the lights, sending her discarded clothes back into the wardrobe with a flick of her wand.
Oh, Rose, how domestic you’ve become! With a roll of her eyes, she shut the bathroom door behind her.
When she later emerged in a cloud of lavender steam, there was no sign that Teddy had climbed down from his lofty perch. She would not put it past him to fall asleep in the arms of her Algerian aloe, but it was equally likely that he was merely staring up at the stars, in love with their endlessness. He did not think of distant planets and strange beings; he liked the colour and spaces between the pinpricks of light. Teddy saw the sky as a giant work of art.
Wrapped tightly in her dressing gown, Rose pushed open the door, eyes trained upward.
Yes, she saw the endlessness of it. A gaping hole above her head, a place with no lines, no paths, no sense of order. It was a terrifying sight, even with the comforting red glow of London hanging to the southern horizon.
“How did you like the dress?”
She followed the sound of his voice to find him lying on the stone bench, one long arm trailing to the ground.
“It gave me the strangest feeling of wearing nothing at all.”
“Not ideal for a family gathering, then?”
She snorted. “No, but it was worth it to see the looks on their faces.”
“Most definitely.” Teddy gave a quiet laugh, swinging his legs off the bench.
Before taking the offered seat, Rose turned to her nightflowers, so white that they seemed to cast their own light. They smelled like fresh lemons, a sharp contrast to the acrid smell of cigarette smoke that still lingered around Teddy. Not for the first time she bit her tongue. It was not the time for complaints. Their after-dinner conversation left her on uncertain ground. Was it for her to breach the silence?
She had climbed the highest mountains in the world to collect sprigs of rare herbs, braving grumpy Yetis and even grumpier Sherpas. She had ventured into the wizarding markets of foreign lands where dragon’s blood flowed freely and no one batted an eye at the trade of illegal beasts. She had seen and done things that her cousins could only dream of, yet now she quavering on the edge of a cold stone bench, thinking of every way possible to take the coward’s way out.
It was no wonder that Victorian ladies had cases of the vapours. It saved them from having to face unpleasant situations, be they offensive suitors or awkward discussions with one’s spouse... partner... whatever.
Why had she become an adult? Every day brought innumerable new difficulties. Some would call them challenges, but Rose held on to the hope that she would, one day, find herself happy and successful, with nothing more to prove to the world.
But that would be boring, wouldn’t it?
“What was that?”
She blinked. “Sorry, what?”
“You said something. I rather liked the sound of it.” It was too dark to see his expression.
A cat in the alleyway gave an ear-piercing yowl.
“Only that things would be boring if we had nothing left to prove.” She tried to sound like she didn’t care, but her voice wavered all the same, exhausted from a long day of pretending.
He did not reply for some time, his head thrown back to watch a airplane cross the sky.
“But sometimes, one wishes for respite. Just a single moment of peace.”
Rose shut her eyes. Had she ever experienced such a thing? Even if she had, did she know what it was, how precious it was?
A set of cold fingers touched her own. Here it was. Now he would ask, Are you ready to talk? or something similarly delicate and polite and absolutely disarming.
“Granny enjoyed your conversation. She was adamant that I tell you.”
Rose let out a breath. “It was very nice of her.”
He looked at her over his shoulder. How much could he see? Apparently, enough.
“She had more than mere politeness in mind. You impressed her so much that she said you were the most practical Weasley she had ever met.”
Rose gave a snort in response.
“I would have liked to see her face when she said that.”
“So would I.” His voice lowered with what sounded like amusement.
Had he experienced another – what did he like to call them? – existential crisis? That would not surprise her in the least. His creative abilities seemed to rely on seeing the world outside of himself; he could leave himself behind, like an actor, to take on the voice of an old woman in Spain, a smuggler of dragon’s blood, or even a tree.
“What do you mean?”
He ran a hand through his hair and gave the answer she least expected.
“She shut the door in my face and promptly ordered me home to you.”
It was a ridiculous image. Rose put her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with ill-repressed laughter. But through it all, she could not help but smile inwardly at the sound of that word on his lips: home.
“Ah, at last.” He said, drawing circles with a finger on the back of her hand. “I was worried they’d cursed you into a perpetual state of gloom.”
If she furrowed her brow any deeper, she’d end up with more wrinkles than the portrait of Dumbledore. He at least had the excuse of being more than a century old; she only had an unfortunate gene pool.
“It was Victoire.”
There were things that Rose would keep from him, but not this.
She expected some quip in reply, perhaps even a dramatic sigh, but his silence chilled her more than the night air. He had gone still, hands gripping the side of the bench.
“What did she say?”
When she looked toward him, she could only see his profile with its gentle, rounded chin and forehead. She could never depend on the shape of his nose.
“That you had no luck.”
He pondered over the words. “That was it?”
“All she had time for, at least. She seemed to think that we were the ones... you know.”
“She wasn’t the only one to believe that.”
He must have known all along what plagued her mind. How long had he waited for the right opportunity to arrive? She was glad that the darkness masked her expression when she, at last, breached the wall she herself had built around the question she feared most.
“Do you think that it’s a problem?”
There was the sound of a slowly-released breath, then the slight scuff of shoes against stone before his knees knocked into her own and he took her hands in his. Some portion of her stomach fell to earth.
“Only if you do.”
Rose squeezed her eyes shut.
“Don’t be so damned polite.”
His grip loosened, but she pulled him closer, peering into his face.
“If you want to do it, just say so.”
“Is that a yes?” His eyes opened wide.
For a moment, she felt as though she’d kicked a puppy, but his startled expression disappeared so fast that she wasn’t sure it’d even existed. It must have only been a trick of the light, or rather of the night.
“I mean that we shouldn’t do it just because everyone else wants it.”
There was so much feeling in her voice that she almost convinced herself that she was right, that they should wait longer, longer, but how long? Would she wake up one day and know that the time was finally right? Did it even work that way? How did one decide such things?
“You like things the way they are.”
He smiled while he said it, but she still felt a twinge of uncertainty.
In answer, he leaned forward to catch her lips with his. As they entwined on the bench, Rose could not help but wonder why one so well-practised in the art of words would prefer an alternate form of communication, particularly when all the moment called for was a simple yes.
Or a not-so-simple no.
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