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Chapter 1 : I: Dead Roses
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We were ever so careful when we put her down, gently resting her pretty head on the cold stone floor in a pool of silver moonlight. She would be cold, we thought, but she had been dancing all evening at the new year’s eve party and the heat of movement would have kept her muscles burning long enough for the caretaker to find her, and by that time she’d be flying high and wouldn’t notice. Is the air in heaven cold? We hoped not.
We left her eyes open in case she wanted to see and started to retrace our steps, dropping handfuls of fresh red rose petals in a trail down the corridor. We scattered them on stone and then meticulously arranged them around her limbs and in her hair, watching the dark liquid roll silently over them.
The caretaker would be there any minute, and if we were anywhere near the scene he’d sniff us out and we’d be through. We had to hurry.
Taking one last admiring and proud look at our masterpeice, we stepped back into the shadows and vanished, barely ten seconds before the grey-haired caretaker rounded the corner and set eyes on the pool of moonlight containing the body of Rose Weasley.
The roses were flourishing. Professor Grace Dahlia was particularly proud of how well they were doing, because introducing non-magical plants into the Herbology gardens had been her idea.
The roses gave off a beautiful, serene ambience around the greenhouses, and even the students seemed to appreciate the gardens for more than just a place to have their lessons. They had become a regular place to meander and enjoy the tranquillity if you needed some time to yourself or just wanted to bask in the good weather.
Some people were appreciating it a little too much, in her opinion. Just recently she had been entering the gardens in the morning and finding one or two of the bushes lacking a great deal of petals.
The Headmistress sat in silence, the events of the past three hours spinning around her mind like a twisted and perplexing web. Her eyes were closed. Her fingers were laced together beneath her chin, and for the first time in what must have been years her hair had been allowed to come loose of it’s bun.
She took a long breath that caught in her throat and sent a shudder down her spine. When this got out, as it unquestionably would, there would be chaos in her school; she would be bombarded with letters from parents demanding she sent their children home, the students would erput into bedlamic chaos, the teachers would shower her with questions…
She had no answers for them. And in a few minutes when the Potter and Weasley children appeared in her office wanting to know why they had been pulled out of their common room so early, she was going to have to think of something other than ‘I don’t know’ to tell them.
Malfoy was being little help. He was slouched in the chair opposite her desk, face in shadow, and he hadn’t moved an inch in the seven hours he had been there.
The basic facts were thus: Rose Weasley had left the party at five minutes to midnight for reasons unknown. Scorpius Malfoy noticed she was missing when the clock chimed twelve and stepped outside to do a small search, presuming that she had headed back to her dormitory, his exit followed by a prompt collision with a screaming second-year.
At three minutes past midnight, it was established that Rose Weasley was dead.
And now, at seven thirty the following morning, Headmistress Minerva McGonagall had to inform her close family of the night‘s dark events. Ronald and Hermione Weasley had been owled of course, but as of yet there had been no reply and Minerva was forced to assume that they were either deep in shock or hadn’t received the message.
A knock at the door broke the deafening silence of the office and Minerva raised her head. “Enter.” she called, her voice hoarse.
The door opened and the Weasley and Potter children trooped in, some in their pyjamas and all wearing the same curious expression. A few of them glanced in confusion in Scorpius Malfoy’s direction, but he didn’t raise his head in acknowledgement of their arrival and Minerva gestured to the chairs she had charmed into existence, waiting for them to settle before she opened her mouth to speak.
She told them, in no uncertain terms, that Rose was dead. She told them that she had been found with a head injury surrounded by petals from the rose garden, and she told them that the presumed verdict was that the girl had been walking in the dark, slipped on the flora and hit her head.
What she didn’t tell them was that she wasn’t entirely sure that Rose’s death was that innocent.
They sat in disbelieving silence through her grave oration, staring between their Headmistress and the motionless form of Malfoy as though wondering if it was some kind of cruel new year’s joke. The truth sank in when they realised that McGonagall was very serious and Hugo made a choking sound that could have been a sob.
“I’m sorry.” Minerva said quietly. “I’ve written to your parents, Hugo.”
Hugo burried his face in his hands and Albus hurried to his side, tears rolling down his cheeks. Lily gave a wretched howl and latched onto her eldest brother’s neck; James himself was still staring at McGonagall as though silently pleading her to be joking.
She wished she was, but the delicate corpse of his cousin currently isolated in the Sanitarium begged to differ.
The door opened again and the Headmistress looked up, finding comfort in the presence of Grace Dahlia, the new Herbology teacher. Dahlia was young but wise, and Minerva had been thinking of her as a guidance counsellor for the past few hours when she herself had been unable to calm Scorpius Malfoy. And for the first time in all her years as Headmistress, the portrait of Albus Dumbledore had remained silent and empty when she truly needed his support.
“Grace.” she said, nodding to the other woman, more of a way of alerting the children to her presence than greeting her.
“Headmistress. I’ve just come back from the Sanitarium.” Dahlia said, looking a little flushed and out of breath; presumably she had run most of the way. “I received an owl from the Weasley’s housekeeper while I was there; Ronald and… Hermione was it?… are in Albania at the moment and didn’t get the message. She doesn’t know how to contact them, but they‘ll be back late tomorrow evening.”
Minerva nodded curtly. “Thankyou Grace. Sit down?”
She was relieved when the woman inclined her head and sat close to the Potter and Weasley children. Lily, whom Minerva suspected to be an enthusiastic Herbology student, broke away from her brother and flung her arms around Dahlia’s neck with a dramatic wail.
The Headmistress turned her head to glance at her old friend’s portrait, her heart sinking at the sight of a motionless frame. He had never before let her down and he had always been close by should she need any advice, but now… when she needed his guidance more than ever before, when the life of a student had been taken, he had vanished.
She heaved a long, world-weary sigh and raised her gaze heavenward. Was this a test? Was this to assess her ability as Head of the school; did someone somewhere think she wasn’t worthy to take Dumbledore’s place?
“I suggest you all remain in my office for the rest of the day.” she said in a voice of controlled calm. “I will inform your teachers that you won’t be in lessons for a while… for the… for the purpose of keeping your attendance levels up…”
It was highly unlikely that any of the children in her office were dwindling on thoughts of attendance at that point, but she had to fill the silence. Well… fill it further than Lily’s muffled wails and Hugo’s snivelling. The Ministry would be arriving to examine the body in four or five hours; naturally it would have been sooner but there had been some incident involving a mass genocide somewhere in Cornwall and a lot of their specialists were having trouble getting back.
The air in the room was heavy: Lily’s racking sobs had been reduced to sniffing and the occasional whimper as she joined her brothers and cousin in a mournful and smothering silence.
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