And She Shines Just Like a Star
By the end of dinner that night, Janis Belby and Nicole MacMillan were gone. Rose sat in her room, tapping away at her keyboard, preparing the next article for her mother. She was struggling with the word count, and found herself sinking so low as to describe their dresses in detail, the food in detail, and Narcissa Malfoy’s deportment training in detail. Rose had found an email from Hermione waiting for her – she was happy with the first article but wanted Rose to include more of a ‘human element’ in her work. Which meant, in plain terms, Rose had to socialise more.
Narcissa did not stay past dinner; once the announcements had been made, she swept from the house. Rose had wondered where she and her husband lived now that Draco and his family occupied the Manor, and it was Hugo who filled her in. Her brother came to her room just as Rose was closing down her laptop.
“Lucius is in St Mungoes,” he said, picking up Rose’s pillow and wedging it under his head. Rose stood near the window while her brother lounged on her bed, putting his dirty feet all over her doona.
“What’s wrong with him?” she asked, coming over and pushing Hugo’s feet away. He rolled his eyes, but did as she indicated and removed his stinky socks from her bed.
“Not sure; all I know is he’s been there a while, and he isn’t getting any better. Narcissa stays with him most of the time, and she has a small house not far from the hospital,” Hugo said. “He’s in a coma, Scorpius says.”
“That’s awful,” Rose whispered. “Poor Draco and Scorpius.”
“Yeah, poor Scorpius,” Hugo repeated. “Regret not competing?”
Rose hit him, scowling as he laughed and jumped off the bed, crossing the room to pick up her bikini top, which was dangling from the back of a chair.
“Did you seriously wear this?” He raised his eyebrows.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s probably a good thing you didn’t decide to compete – these are way out of fashion,” Hugo said seriously. Rose burst out laughing, and was still laughing when she shut the door on his surprised face. The next two days were uneventful – the competition moved along, with Elinor Montague, Melanie Finnigan, Amelia Davies and Nia Goldstein being eliminated. Rose did her job; she photographed, interviewed, observed and wrote her articles. She socialised as much as was possible; it seemed that, with the exception of a few, Scorpius had gotten rid of the most intelligent from the bunch. Rose did not want to have another conversation about fashion, hair, or Scorpius’ body.
At breakfast on the sixth day of the competition, Scorpius looked ill. He did not offer her toast, or speak and during a moment of chatter, Hugo leant close.
“Fine,” the blonde ground out. “Just a little stressed.”
Rose chuckled. “It must be stressful,” she said tartly, “having to spend your day’s sunbaking and looking at women.”
“Shut up,” Scorpius muttered, turning his face away. “You don’t know anything.”
“Hey,” Hugo said firmly, causing Rose to glance at him in surprise. If she didn’t know better, she’d say her brother had just jumped to her defence. She was feeling a little put out. Scorpius had been many things to her throughout school, throughout life so far, but he had never been short with her. Even though he drove her insane with his comments, it was always light-hearted, things designed just to get under her skin.
“Sorry.” His voice was flat; Rose and Hugo exchanged a glance, and she could see her brother was worried about his friend. Scorpius was acting not at all like his usual self and he looked terrible.
“Are you okay?” Rose asked, feeling useless, knowing he’d been asked that question less than two minutes ago.
“Nothing for you to worry about, Rose,” he said quietly.
The biggest piece of news came once their plates had been cleared away. Instead of Draco’s usual announcement at breakfast, about what the day would entail, he cleared his throat and told those still remaining that his wife was returning home (there was a buzz of excited and nervous chatter at this) and that his parents were also returning home to the Manor. Rose glanced up, quill poised above her parchment. She looked from Draco to his son; Scorpius was pale, his eyes shadowed and Rose wasn’t sure which piece of news worried him the most.
Lucius Malfoy was, Draco said in clear and steady voice, very ill and wished to spend his last days in the house where he had forged a life for himself and his family. He would see no one; Lucius and his wife were to be left alone, and would be staying in the family wing. After breakfast had ended and the contestants filed out to prepare for the day’s events (an academic competition, nothing more than standard spells and potions, plus a little bit of history of magic), Draco asked Rose, Scorpius and Hugo to come to him in his study.
The three of them stood waiting outside the study door; Hugo seemed relaxed, his usual carefree and slightly indifferent self, but his eyes kept straying to Scorpius, who Rose noted was paler than he had been half an hour earlier.
“I’m sorry about your grandfather,” Rose told him, feeling completely inadequate and ashamed about what she had said earlier. She would not admit that, not to him, and hoped her vague apology would be enough. Scorpius simply shrugged in acceptance and pushed open the heavy wooden doors.
Draco was, as in the last occasion Rose had entered this room, sitting with his head in his hands. Rose let the boys in first, sinking in to a seat next to her brother. Scorpius remained standing, leaning against one of the many towering bookshelves along the wall. He didn’t speak and kept his eyes on the ground.
“Astoria will be arriving this afternoon,” Draco told them, his eyes flicking to his son before he turned his attention to Rose and Hugo. “We are considering stopping the competition, in light of my father’s condition.”
“Is that necessary?” Scorpius asked, his voice tight.
“It’s for the best,” Draco said firmly.
“No,” Scorpius pushed himself away from the books and moved to stand by his father. “I want to see the end of this.”
Draco sighed irritably. “I hardly think this is the time to be searching for your bride,” he snapped, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear.
Scorpius shook his head. “It’s the perfect time; grandfather can know I am happy before he...”
Rose shifted in her seat, feeling incredibly embarrassed. This was not the sort of conversation she and Hugo needed to be privy too – this was family business, and she knew just how sticky and complex that could be. She cleared her throat and stood up; both Malfoy men looked at her in surprise.
“Hugo and I can wait outside,” she said.
Draco shook his head. “Scorpius, you can go. I want to talk to these two alone.”
“Out,” Draco ordered, and with a heavy sigh, his son obeyed, closing the door with finality. Rose felt her palms begin to sweat and she wiped them on her shorts, taking a deep breath. Hugo, she noticed, was sprawled in his chair looking completely at ease. “Hugo, since you are here - often enough - I need you to keep Scorpius occupied. I don’t want him worrying about his grandfather.”
Hugo grinned. “Easy. Have you seen
Rose groaned at her brother’s lack of tact and respect but Draco merely smiled, as if he knew that was what Hugo would say, before turning to Rose.
“As a member of the press, I have given you full access to the going’s on of this house, but I do not, under any circumstances, want any mention of my father’s illness, or of him being here, ending up in the paper.”
“Of course,” she whispered. “You have my word.”
He nodded, obviously relieved. Rose was stunned that he seemed to think she would argue with him over such a serious matter. “Thank you. Now, I have to make sure everything is ready for my wife’s return, and check that my parent’s rooms are in order.”
Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy arrived within the hour. Rose stood at her window and watched as the tall, still beautiful blonde woman helped the medi-witches adjust the blankets around her husband, smoothing back his long hair and kissing his forehead. As he was carried inside, Rose felt a prickling of tears behind her lids. Lucius Malfoy did not have a glowing reputation amongst her family, even though he and his wife, Draco too, renounced Voldemort in the end, but he was still human and his family were suffering.
“Scorpius has more strength than I give him credit for,” Rose muttered, biting her nails. She knew that if it were her, and Lucius was her grandfather, she would be in her room, howling.
Rose could not help feeling compassion towards the man who tormented her kin, and her Uncle Harry, for so many years. He looked so helpless, laying there, his hair spread out around his head like Sleeping Beauty, the character in a muggle fairytale her mother had read her as a child. Moment later, she heard footsteps and assumed the sleeping Lucius and his escort were passing her door. She waited a moment, before opening it and glancing out.
Scorpius was standing in the hall, his arms folded across his chest, watching as his grandfather was wheeled away. Rose slipped out into the hall and stood beside him.
“What’s wrong with him?” she asked softly, following Scorpius’ gaze down the hall.
“Don’t know. A coma, dad says. Grandfather is trapped in his own head, trapped in his memories and they don’t think he will come out. They can’t wake him up; magic can’t help him, Rose, how absurd is that? He will die in there, in his head. They know that much, but they don’t know when. Might be weeks, might be years.”
“Oh Scorpius,” Rose breathed. “I’m so terribly sorry.”
He flashed her a look filled with quick gratitude, before his father called him and he disappeared down the hall. Rose stood looking after him, until Hugo came racing down the hall, panting. He held up a hand for pause, leaning forward, his other hand clutching his side as he caught his breath.
“Are you really that unfit?” Rose laughed, and he scowled at her through his fringe. “All those cocktails and late nights must be catching up with you.”
Hugo shook his head frantically. “They’re going to kill one another!”
“Roxie and Dom; come on.” He grabbed Rose’s hand and dragged her down the hall, almost pushed her down the staircase and into the drawing room. It was not a pretty sight; Roxanne and Dominique were on the ground, screeching like banshee’s, while the other competitors stood and looked on, not making a single move to intercede; probably didn’t want to ruin their dresses. Rose rolled her eyes, glared at them and turned her attention to her cousins, who were know clawing at each other like feral cats. Roxanne had a nasty welt across one cheek and was doing her best to stay out of reach of Dominique’s talons. Dominique, on the other hand, was showing the first signs of a black eye, and the strap of her sundress was torn. If it hadn’t have been so serious, it would have been hilarious. Rose could see Hugo biting his lip, his eyes shining with suppressed laughter.
“This is ridiculous!” Rose snapped, stepping forward. “You’re family; stop it.”
“She’s stabbed me in the back!” Roxanne hissed, grabbing a handful of Dominique’s hair. Dominique snarled, her beautiful face flushed and blotchy with rage. Rose looked at Hugo, who nodded and pretended to roll up his sleeves. He stepped forward, grabbed Roxanne around the waist and lifted her into the air, swinging her away from Dominique. Rose wrapped her arms around Dominique, who had jumped to her feet and lunged towards Roxanne the moment Hugo set her down.
“Get lost, the rest of you,” Rose shouted at the other girls. Muttering and smiling smugly, they marched out, all but Heidi Krum and Lucinda Parker. “We’re fine; thank you,” Rose panted. Dominique was stronger than she looked.
When the Weasley’s were finally alone, Hugo and Rose released their quarry. “Kill each other for all I care,” Rose said stonily. “You’ve chosen the perfect moment to do it. I’m sure the Malfoy’s would appreciate cleaning up your bodies in the middle of their own problems.”
“She kissed him!” Roxanne bellowed ferociously and Rose looked at her in surprise. Dominique was standing with her arms folded, her chin high, and her expression proud.
“He kissed me,” she retorted.
“Dominique,” Rose groaned. “Don’t mess with him. I know you don’t like him, Roxanne knows you don’t like him so why did you do that?”
“Because she could,” Roxanne spat. She was standing slightly behind Hugo, looking murderous, her face and neck glowing red. “Because she is a low, two-faced cow who always wants what other people have, isn’t that right, Dominique?”
Dominique tossed her head, saying nothing. Rose knew what was coming next but Roxanne spoke before she could intervene.
“Teddy Lupin,” Roxanne stated, and Rose sighed. Not this again. Everyone knew Dominique was in love with Teddy, and everyone knew that she had nursed a broken heart for years. Now that Victoire was Teddy’s wife, the family hoped things would calm down, but the crushed expression on Dominique’s face told Rose nothing had changed for her love-struck cousin. Ever since they were children, Dominique had harboured feelings for Teddy, and Rose had overheard the adults discussing it one night, years ago, when things became serious between Teddy and Victoire. They had all hoped that Dominique would realise it was the other sister he loved; what they did not count on was the fierce competition that existed between the two sisters. At one stage, for almost a year, Victoire and Dominique did not speak, and that standoff only came to an end when Victoire had begged her sister to be her bridesmaid. Dominique had agreed, perhaps hoping to show people she was strong enough to deal with it.
She obviously wasn’t; Rose was worried her cousin was about to cry and Rose did not deal well with tearful women, cousins or not.
“Don’t be mean,” Hugo hissed at Roxanne, who sighed and muttered what Rose knew was a false apology.
“Just what is going on here?”
Rose spun around at the new voice. In the doorway was a slight, dainty woman with fine blonde hair, dressed in rich blue travelling robes. Astoria Malfoy swept into the room, looking cross. Roxanne’s blush deepened and Dominique did her best to hide her shattered expression.
“Perhaps you can shed some light on the matter, Hugo,” Mrs Malfoy said and Hugo rubbed at his face. “Well?”
Hugo’s words tumbled out on top of one another, and within seconds, Astoria had dismissed Roxanne and Dominique, telling them sternly their behaviour was unacceptable and she would need to seriously consider their remaining in the competition. She then marched out of the room, robes swishing, leaving Rose staring after her in shock.
“Mother of the groom,” Hugo said faintly. “She’s something, isn’t she?”
“Something alright,” Rose murmured. She felt sorry for both Roxanne and Dominique if they had to deal with Astoria. The woman radiated power and strength from the tips of her pointed shoes to the top of her well-coiffed head, and Rose knew then with certainty it was the Lady of the Manor who ruled the roost. She sighed. “I should talk to her.”
“For your articles?”
“No,” she snapped, “for our cousins. For Roxanne in particular, who actually wants to be here.”
After checking her cousins were in different parts of the Manor (Dominique was by the pool, sunbaking and acting like nothing had ever happened, and Roxanne was sulking in her room) Rose went looking for Astoria Malfoy. She wasn’t sure where Astoria’s rooms were, and walked slowly along the long halls of the family wing. Scorpius found her lingering outside a door, and she told him quickly what had happened.
“Mother will call the whole thing off,” he said shortly, playing with his hair. If he liked the idea of two women coming to blows over him, he didn't show it, and Rose was quietly impressed. “Darn it.”
“Where can I find her?” Rose asked quietly. “I need to speak with her,” she added, ignoring Scorpius’ raised eyebrows. He directed her to Astoria, muttered a ‘good luck’ and disappeared again.
Astoria’s rooms were down the hall to Rose’s and she took a deep breath before knocking on the door. A cool voice called for her to enter, and Rose found Astoria sitting at her dresser, combing out her long blonde hair. If Rose thought her room was richly furnished, it was nothing compared to Astoria’s. White flowers dripped from every surface and their scent permeated the air. The wall paper was covered in small red flowers with deep green petals and large panels of soft gold. The carpet was rich red, blood-like, and the large four-poster bed was draped in luxurious cream linen, edged with red and gold. A large mahogany wardrobe with claw feet and gold trimming stood to one side of the enormous chamber; a matching dresser, writing desk and chair, and set of draws completed the scene. There was even an antique and elaborately patterned dressing screen in one corner of the room.
Nervous, Rose cleared her throat, aware that Astoria was watching her in the mirror, her blue eyes scraping across Rose’s body, noticing everything, from her crumpled shirt to her hair, which was wild and possessed of a mind of its own following the skirmish with her cousins.
“Rose Weasley,” Astoria said finally, turning sinuously in her seat. Her dressing gown slipped from her knees, showing pale slender legs. She was the most stunning creature Rose had ever seen; those girls downstairs had a long road to travel if they believed they could be one inch the woman Astoria Malfoy was. Her long, slightly curled blonde hair hung down her back and over her slim shoulders, and her sharp eyes pierced through Rose like darts, seeing everything, commenting on nothing. Her skin was as pale and creamy as milk, her fingernails long and painted deep red. “Draco tells me you are doing a good job. I’ve not have a chance to read the paper, being abroad, but he has kept them for me, and I shall read your work after dinner tonight.”
Rose nodded her thanks, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She wasn’t sure where to begin. “Mrs Malfoy...”
“No need to be so formal,” Astoria smiled quickly, waving a slim hand through the air indifferently. “You are here for your cousins, I am guessing? Sent as their advocate?”
“They didn’t ask me to come,” Rose said quietly.
“Why did you not compete?” Astoria asked mildly. “Is my son not worthy?”
Rose gaped. “I’m sure he is,” she managed to stammer. “But I don’t believe this is the way to find your future...partner.”
Astoria’s laugh was rich and melodious. “My dear, neither do I. This whole contest was my husband’s idea; silly, if you ask me. Scorpius...is still young. There is no hurry for him to settle down with one girl, although I do wish he wouldn’t spend so much time with those...” she sniffed, a gesture of disdain. Rose could find nothing to say; she had not envisaged such a candid conversation. “So what should we do about your cousins?”
“Are you really going to send them home?” Rose asked. “I agree that they behaved...recklessly, but this whole competition...breeds feelings like that. They are hot-headed, and as it is getting near to the end...”
“Yes, yes, I completely agree,” Astoria sighed delicately. “One will have to go then. Which one should stay?”
“Roxanne,” Rose said automatically. “She really likes Scorpius.”
“She shouldn’t have let him go then, should she?” Astoria answered sharply and Rose nodded.
“Possibly not, but everyone makes mistakes.”
Astoria narrowed her eyes, watching Rose carefully. “You’re a sensible woman, Rose Weasley. Very well. Clara!”
Rose nearly fell over in fright as the little house elf apparated into the room with a loud crack.
“Yes, Mistress?” she squeaked, giving a little curtsey.
“Fetch my son for me, please; he has not been to see me yet and I am annoyed.”
With an “of course Mistress,” Clara vanished, and reappeared moments later with a wary looking Scorpius on her arm. His eyes widened at the sight of Rose standing by his mother. Rose waited to be dismissed, but when that didn’t happen she understood she was here to play witness to whatever happened next.
“Scorpius, dear,” Astoria began, holding out her arms. He crossed the room and embraced his mother, kissing the pale, perfumed cheek she offered. She reached up and smoothed his hair from his forehead, saying he needed a hair cut and she could fix it after dinner. Rose shifted, again uncomfortable. Why was she always witness to Malfoy family moments? “Rose has convinced me to let Roxanne stay in the competition. You must choose Dominique to go home tonight.”
“Yes, Mother,” Scorpius muttered, pulling away from her arms. He looked at Rose again, and sighed. “Thanks.”
“No problem; I did it for her,” Rose answered curtly. “For some reason, she likes you.” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, fleeing from her lips like prisoners from jail. Astoria laughed in delight and Scorpius scowled, giving Rose a dirty look. Rose was embarrassed; whenever she was uncomfortable, she said the first thing that entered her mind, without pause for thought.
Astoria dismissed them both, and out in the hall, Rose tried to apologise.
“Forget it,” he mumbled. “I have a swimwear contest to judge.” Rose made a face; and he smirked. “Not too late to enter, you know. I rather liked that bikini of yours.”
“Get lost,” she told him, turning and stalking away down the hall to collect her camera, her cheeks burning. Why did he have to say things like that to her? What we he trying to achieve? Rose sighed, knowing it was nothing new. Scorpius had always gotten under her skin, had always known just how to tease her and she had taken the bait every time. Rose shook her head, not understanding why her hackles were still jumping to attention every time he opened his mouth. He’s just irritating, that’s all, she decided, reaching her room.
She chewed her lip, finding her camera and notepad and taking a moment to force her hair to behave itself. First Draco, now Astoria. Rose didn’t understand it – she didn’t believe for a moment that, had she have chosen to enter this stupid contest, she would have gotten past the front door. She was not nearly as pretty as her cousins.
Rose looked at her bikini, still hanging from the back of a chair where she had tossed it. Maybe she should, just to stir. It would be the last thing Scorpius expected of her. She didn’t want to enter the contest – that would be going too far – but perhaps, since they were near the pool, she should look the part.
Taking a deep breath and a moment to check her sanity, Rose shed her clothes.
Chapter title from the song, Closer
big thanks to everyone who has reviewed/read this story so far! thanks for the support - I'm glad this is being so well received!