France was not, by any stretch of the imagination, England.
If you could ignore the people, the language and even the food—vast improvement, though it was—one can’t escape that fact that France was nothing like England. Maybe it was just me, but I knew something was missing from my life here; and I wasn’t a big enough twit not to know what it was.
Rose wasn’t here, she was my wife and I missed her. Desperately.
A sense of loneliness had enveloped me since she had left; as clichéd as it sounds, the world was less bright, sounds less musical, people less friendly. My whole world for the past two years had been shaped by my relationship with her and to lose her was like losing a vital part of myself.
Truthfully, I hadn’t expected her to leave me like she did in Rome—we’d been in that situation a hundred times before and never had she’d actually gone through with it. I had had more nightmares about that red coat she left in than I cared to remember—it was a constant threat on our already fragile relationship. Since she’d left, I had owled her every week for the whole six months but had heard nothing in return but silence. It had been the longest I had gone without hearing from her—in a letter, a hurried Floo call, anything—since we had been together.
I took a long drag of my cigarette—a horrible habit I had picked up in my months’ stay—quietly surveying the café I was currently sitting in. In the centre of Paris, just a short walk from the Seine, it was horribly overpriced and packed almost to the point of suffocation. Small iron cast tables and chairs littered the small space, groaning under the weight of an almost full house, and the café was mostly occupied by a large counter and barista area, which was a flurry of movement, both of employees and hungry tourists and locals.
I really had no clue why I had chosen this café of all the ones in Paris—the din was deafening, the multitude of languages was driving me mad and, added with my near constant sense of loneliness and growing irritation at the slow service, it was enough to make me want to run screaming from the premises.
“Qu'est-ce que vous voulez, monsieur?” The waitress appeared out of nowhere, her voice brisk and foreign. I blinked up at her, her rapid French dazzling me for a moment. “Monsieur?” she questioned, her expression growing agitated.
I blinked again, feeling like a twit. “Oh, sorry, I don’t speak French,” I said dumbly, my posh accent a testament to that.
The woman clicked her tongue, rolling her eyes impatiently, appearing frazzled. “What can I get for yoo today, zer?” she asked, her voice coloured with distaste and an accent thick with all that was French.
I felt a spur of irritation at her tone, but squashed it down—it wasn’t worth getting upset over, I figured. The entire bleeding city acted like they were miles above the rest us so it really shouldn’t have surprised me that this woman was the same. “I’ll have, er…a chocolate croissant and a latte—strong, please.”
She shot me a withering look. “Slower,” she growled, tapping her pen against her pad.
I raised an eyebrow again at her tone but repeated my order politely, accentuating each word. I even added a polite “merci” to try and have her warm to me but she grunted in disgust at my horrid attempt, slammed her pad shut and flounced away in irritation.
I had half a mind to send a little hex her way—just Confund her a bit. My fingers brushed against my wand as I considered the venture. But I resisted, dragging my fingers away with a sigh. I was agitated, lonely and in a place I completely despised; the noise around me seemed to grow louder and louder, making the room seem smaller and smaller. I knew well enough that I shouldn’t take my pathetic frustrations out on that horrible twit of a girl, no matter how badly she deserved it.
However, just to irritate her further and to satisfy my need for everyone to be as miserable as myself, I settled to call her back over and asked if I could have my order to take-away; if looks could kill I would have exploded on the spot. With a twitch of her nose and a curl of her lip, she snarled a, “Oui,” and I smiled back blankly as she turned on her heel and stomped behind the counter. In my privileged position near the barista, I could hear her over the din, moaning to her co-worker about “anglais stupides”.
I smiled contentedly at her reaction, stretching out in my chair; as completely malicious as it was, it was oddly satisfying. Moments later she returned, scowl still etched across her forehead as she thrust the coffee and the paper bag into my hands. I smiled, thanking her profusely in the most British way I could—“Cheers, love!”—before squeezing out of the café, feeling obnoxiously satisfied. The café was a quick walk to the Seine, on the banks of which I was staying, so I began the slow walk back to the hotel. My coffee had grown lukewarm from being moved from cup to cup but a quick wave of my hand over the lid and it was hot once more beneath my fingers.
The pathway by the River Seine was picturesque, sure, but hardly perfect once you were close. The water was murky and polluted, and a thin layer of dark grime coated the walls of the waterway. The putrid smell of dead things mixed with damp lingered faintly in the air only stopped from being truly rank from the bitter cold that breezed through. Very few people seemed to have ventured out on such an icy day and the walkway was almost free of pedestrians. Had I not needed to clear my head, I would have Apparated back to the hotel—as it was, the walk, coupled with the biting wind, let me think more clearly than in the crowded café.
The scene in the café, however, was not new to me; irritating these people had so far been delightfully easy, I had noticed. If I smiled blankly and put on the most English accent I could muster then I was sure to be tossed out of any restaurant at their earliest convenience; it had become a sort of hobby. Seeing as I wasn’t working or doing anything productive, I had taken to timing how fast I could be thrown out of sophisticated eateries.
I snorted, taking a sip of coffee. Rose would be proud.
Though in all seriousness, as entertaining as it was, I had never pictured my first visit to Paris this way—I thought it would be with Rose, at Christmas. I had been even planning for us to come here at Christmas—just a month away, now—for a surprise. But then she’d left; back to her family, to spend Christmas with them.
She could spend forever with them, if she wanted to.
My heart clenched painfully at the thought but it made it no less true. However, Rose had become part of my life in such a way I really couldn’t picture it without her. I had long given up hope she would come home anytime soon—I still wrote to her each week but with a six month silence, I was starting to wonder if she wasn’t just happier where she was now. I could feel my hand tighten around the paper bag I was holding at the thought and I struggled to relax; I hated that I wanted her miserable but it was the only way I could see her coming back to me.
It was sad but I knew it was true—there would be no reason for her to come back except for me. And she made it clear that that wasn’t enough. She needed a steady lifestyle I couldn’t possibly provide while I was still lying to my father.
As I walked along the cobbled pathway by the edge of the Seine, with the sun setting and the chill enveloping the city, it was hard to concentrate on the bad memories of Rose. The orange glow and warm coffee made it easy to remember the best things about her; the times when she was completely at ease.
It was strange the things you remembered about the people you missed; she loved chocolate croissants, I knew. Her eyes would light up like Christmas every time I bought her one. In fact, I realized as I bit into the soft chocolaty bread and gagged, I didn’t even like chocolate croissants. I just missed her. Scowling at my completely pathetic display, I threw the croissant in the bin, pulling my coat tighter around me as the wind picked up.
Despite my banishing thoughts, however, I could feel her breath brushing my cheek as she leaned in for a kiss but I couldn’t see her smile. I could hear her laugh as clear as the bells of Notre Dame but I couldn’t remember what it was like to hold her hand.
I hated myself for losing such precious memories.
I shook my head, trying to clear out the thoughts from my head; everyday I thought of her, each day more often than the last. I focussed my thoughts on the scenery, taking a long sip of the latte in my hand. I could see the hotel now: a majestic sandstone building with curving façade and ornate balconies jutting out from the front. As I approached the building, the smartly dressed man smiled at me brightly—the only friendly encounter of the day, I smiled back and slipped him a generous tip as he opened the door.
With Rose gone, I really had no reason to stay in the magical districts—while she was with me, she had loved staying near them to hear news of her family, despite the risks of running into a contact of my father's. Since her departure, I had taken to transfiguring vast amounts of stray things into Muggle Euros and setting myself up in lavish hotels all over Europe. Rose strongly, er, disapproved when I had suggested this years ago—in fact, no matter how well I argued my case, she had just levelled a glare so scathing I had trailed off harmlessly, eyeing her warily. She had then simply smiled at me brightly and continued stirring the pot of soup we were having for dinner.
I smiled fondly at the memory as I trotted up the stairs to the main lobby. It was just as extravagant and ornate as the building with gilded mirrors, golden walls and elaborate furniture. Made up of pale golds, silvers and whites, it screamed everything that was associated French decadence.
“Monsieur Malfoy?” the man at front desk called, moving out from behind the counter holding a small envelope. He smiled as he approached and I returned it, somewhat hesitantly. “An urgent letter for you. From London.”
My heart thudded in my chest as I reached for the package, my smile becoming strained. It was Rose, I was certain—she was the only one who knew I was here, the only one I had told. A million possibilities ran through my mind, each one more promising than the last. The glimmering chance she might be coming home made my fingers tremble with anticipation as I opened the letter.
But my hope was extinguished as the writing burned with awful familiarity.
Enough of this nonsense—I shouldn’t have to resort to Muggle methods to contact you. Your mother is ill. I want you at St. Mungo’s tomorrow or consider yourself disinherited.
My heart was somewhere in my throat by the time I finished the letter. Brushing past the maître d’ without a word, I walked as quickly as I could up the stairs, already picturing what I needed to gather up before I left.