Chapter 1 : THE EMPIRE.
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A/N: Hello, and welcome to The Gilded Ones, my something-something on the side, if you will. This is just a chance for me to experiment and try something new, so we'll see how you guys like it. If you get the chance, please drop a review letting me know what you think. Thanks for reading, and i hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
introducing: the gilded ones.
That was the first thing Albus Potter heard as he walked into the ornately decorated, marble foyer of his aunt’s mansion.
The first thing he saw was a pair of shoes. Vanilla suede, Circe & Gabana peep-toed pumps, to be exact, complete with a six-inch, authentic dragonhide heel. Animal cruelty at its chicest.
Traveling up, Albus’s famed emerald irises flicked over a pair of taut, creamy-smooth legs (which were, coincidentally, the very same pair currently pictured on the front page of about sixteen different wizarding tabloids), followed by an impeccable silhouette clad in the finest black silk, a tight waist cinched even tighter by a unicorn-hair-and-gold-filigree belt, and a pair of protruding, aristocratic collarbones.
Lastly, there was the perfectly coiffed auburn hair—glossy, not a strand out of place, and currently clashing rather awfully with Rose Weasley’s famously fickle complexion, which was now blooming crimson in poorly-suppressed fury.
Albus Potter’s cousin, rival and all around thorn in his side (quite ironic, considering her name), stood at the top of her manor’s grand staircase—posture rigid, expertly-glossed lips pressed thinner than a French Vogue model, and looking fit to murder.
A perfectly manicured hand clenched tightly at the polished mahogany handrail. One of her elegant suede pumps was rapping harshly against the decadent, golden marble floor, creating a staccato beat that no doubt added a fine soundtrack to the frustration welling inside of her.
“Rose, darling,” Albus drawled, completely unfazed by the fact that his cousin currently resembled a very bloodthirsty, very pissed off Hungarian Horntail. But in a dress. “An inconvenience, as always.”
The suede staccato tapping came to a sharp halt. If possible, Rose Weasley turned even redder.
“I swear to Merlin, Albus.” Her voice was curt and reigned in, but he could still hear the curdling tone of shrillness riding underneath, just begging to rupture out to the surface. All it needed was a little egging on, a little provocation... and Albus was the perfect man for the job.
“I have a meeting at eleven with mum’s publicist, an appointment with the florist for tonight’s gala, and a rendezvous with Witch Weekly’s people for lunch,” she paused, sucking in a deep breath. “Not to mention, I haven’t slept in two days and my bloodstream is mostly caffeine right now. You do not want to fuck with me.”
Albus listened to his cousin’s hysterical ranting with a polite look of interest toying on his handsome face. Leaning languidly against the doorway, those notorious, jewelled eyes of his glimmering demurely in the light... He waited attentively, patiently, until she was done.
Then, he smiled.
Rose might have the cameras and papers fooled with her untouchable, sugary sweet exterior, but he knew better. Albus always knew better. Because behind all the fake smiles and cooing compliments, behind the squeaky-clean reputation and the meticulously constructed facade of goody-goody perfection, Rose Weasley had a dangerous temper.
And Albus, personally, found it quite endearing.
“Rosie, how about you calm down for a minute?” He was still smiling, green eyes gleaming in an almost lunar manner as he pushed himself off the wall. “Maybe practice your deep breathing exercises? You know what Hr. Oberman says, if you don’t watch your temper—“
“Fuck watching my temper,” Rose snarled, voice as sharp as the viciously filed, shiny french-nails pressed on her porcelain fingers. It was obvious to both parties in the room that Albus was not going to come up to her level anytime soon, so she began descending the staircase, dragonhide heels snapping angrily against marble.
Albus watched her, head tilted slightly to the side, obviously enjoying himself. Rose had tried to maintain some semblance of grace while still displaying her fury to its fullest, and the result was an awkward mix between her gliding and stomping down the steps. It was quite amusing... To Albus, at least.
“Do you realize how much work I’ve been putting into this gala tonight? It is imperative that everything runs smoothly.” There was frustration simmering in Rose’s famous cerulean eyes. It was evident that she was trying to relax herself, but to no avail. She could do as many deep-breathing exercises as her little heart desired, but Rose’s true, high-strung nature always revealed itself sometime or another. Albus brought out the worst in her, after all. “There is so much riding on this—mum’s election, my reputation, the family’s reputation.”
“Oh, the family. That’s what this is about? I thought this was just a chance for you to schmooze ministry officials and get a little face time with the paparazzi,” Albus mused. There was no malice in his words. They simply fell from his lips with the same nonchalant ease that they always did. Syllables like drops of dew, a voice like silken sunshine. “But now that I know it’s about the family—“
“You know what I’ll do, Rose? I’ll call everyone up. Even Lily—I mean, she just got out of rehab so I’m sure she’ll be tickled pink to help out with the fam and our reputation. We can all arrive to your little gala together—“
“Watch it, Potter.” A wayward curl of red hair fell from its usual place of perfection, streaking across Rose’s flawless skin like a gash of fire. A burn.
“Maybe bring along our old photo albums—“
“I’m serious.” She was flushing again. Fists clenched. Chin quivering.
“—sing some campfire songs—“
“Albus!” She was going up in flames.
“—hey, did you ever think about making this gala thing a pajama party? Wouldn’t that be fun, Rose? Wouldn’t that just be a blast?”
“Stop!” Rose’s punctured shriek echoed loudly in the foyer, slapping off the cold marble and reverberating, trembling through the air.
There was a silence.
Albus leaned back, a look of quenched satisfaction gleaming in his jeweled eyes. It was moments like these that he lived for. The moments when he could peel back the clinging, shiny layer of plastic, the glossy armour that coated Rose Weasley like a second skin, and expose her for what she really was: just another weak, trembling human being.
It had always been obvious that Albus and Rose were different. When they were younger, they were constantly thrown together at family gatherings, at the boring galas and extravagant ministry benefits their parents dragged them to. They grew up in a luxurious whirlwind of taffeta ballgowns and bubbly champagne, violin quartets and diamond smiles set against crème brûlée skin. Neither of them truly had real childhoods. After all, there wasn’t a kiddy table at the Minister of Magic’s two-story, Victorian style ballroom.
So together, the two would fidget in their uncomfortable ‘party’ clothes as the adults spun off into their own world, drinking and dancing themselves giddy. Albus and Rose were always the little ‘darlings’ of the public, the children of the precious War Heroes, and for that, they were set apart from the rest. Their only consolation being each other, they were friends.
But as the two grew older, things changed. Rose remained her uptight, holier-than-thou self, ever the perfect Gryffindor, but Albus strayed. And while Little Miss Prim and Proper was batting sooty, impeccably-mascaraed eyelashes at professors and parents, already worming her way into the limelight, Albus made himself comfortable in the shadows of the Slytherin house.
Yes, Slytherin. He had been sorted in the first-year, and while his family members convinced themselves it had been a fluke, Albus knew. Those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends... This was where he belonged.
He formed alliances, gained prominence, slowly glided his way up the social ladder. It didn’t take much. Already, whispers and rumors trailed behind like smoke wherever the Golden Boy went. His sharp, all knowing-eyes took in things others ignored. He stood out, with his effortless brilliance and his silky charm. Albus was special. And so was Rose, yes, but Albus was more.
They both got the same results on their NEWTS—eleven OWLS—but Rose worked for it, burying herself in color-coded flashcards and clever memorization techniques, while Albus simply breezed by. He was quick. Clever. He surpassed his peers in all his classes without even an ounce of effort.
Both Rose and Albus craved power, and while Rose became prefect and eventually Head Girl, she lacked the charisma Albus had, the ability to turn something out of thin air with nothing but a velvet smile and some words made of ash. Albus didn’t get a shiny badge or a special seat at Slug Club meetings, but he had a voice of golden thread—a voice that could get rules and people to bend at his will.
He was respected, adored, even feared by his peers. There was constantly a group of followers orbiting around him—a group that he toyed with, sometimes, for his own amusement.
He always enjoyed watching people squirm.
By the time he graduated, Albus had the majority of the students and teachers at Hogwarts eating out of the palm of his hands, and the rest wrapped securely around his pinky finger.
Rose might have shone at Hogwarts, but Albus was iridescent. He was always shifting, a flickering smokescreen of silver and starbursts, of smouldering glances and persuasive, suggestive smirks—dazzling, always dazzling. He was untouchable; nobody could pin him down. And he stood above the rest of the world, looking down on the commoners, the normal ones, with that same, cruel indifference.
And yes, maybe he was like Rose in some ways, but they had two fundamental differences:
One—he never showed weakness. Never. Not a smudge of emotion, a blotch of feeling. He was always cool, impassive and...most importantly, in control.
Two—Rose sat primly, one famously long leg crossed over the other, on a pearly-white pedestal made of virtue and goodness. She never broke the rules. In fact, she wrote the rules. And although she wouldn’t admit it to anyone, she was too scared to do otherwise.
But Albus wasn’t afraid to venture out to the unknown, to do whatever it took to get what he wanted. He loved power, and he knew just how to obtain it. Not by going to go around, schmoozing people and rolling out the red-carpet whenever someone important walked by. He knew that things could be achieved in a faster, easier way. Manipulation. Persuasion. Subterfuge.
And if getting what he wanted meant viewing people as playthings rather than human beings, then so be it. After all, it was their fault for making it so easy, for carving themselves open and being stupid enough to fall for his tricks.
Really, Albus was just taking advantage of what was given to him. Plus, playing dirty could be fun.
“Rose, how about you sit down for a minute.” Albus finally spoke. There was cruel, brutal amusement in his voice—and that was what made Rose wince. Her face—perfectly sculpted and painted in the finest cosmetics society had to offer—twisted into itself. She was done.
Breathing rather heavily, she allowed Albus to lead her into the living room. It was sumptuously decorated, high ceilinged and painted a golden-cream colour with ivory crown molding and the finest, authentic oak wood flooring available. Plush love-seats scattered the area, along with bookshelves proudly groaning under the weight of heavy, ancient tomes. Ming vases from China, paintings from Rome, tapestries from Persia—all circa the late 18th century, of course—were draped lavishly over every surface.
There was a huge, gaping fireplace on one side, a gleaming, grand piano tucked in a corner and on the other end, a hand-carved, antique ivory wooden table, imported straight from Italy and currently laden with Rose’s untouched breakfast. Above it, an iron-leaf chandelier dripping with crystals glinted in the morning light, which was spilling out from floor-to-ceiling windows (framed by gold-applique curtains, of course) in dazzling, radiant spirals.
Albus led his cousin towards the table, his movements lithe and fluid, almost cat-like, and sat her down in front of her breakfast. One of the house-elves must have served it earlier. There was everything—french croissants, baked madeleines, toasted brioche, smoked salmon and poached eggs... But Rose shifted uncomfortably on her plush-cushioned seat, looking at everything with a queasy scowl on her face, refusing to touch even a single buttery pastry.
Albus sighed, giving her small shoulders a rough squeeze. “Come on, Rosie dear. You have to relax.” His voice was sultry and teasing. He was obviously enjoying himself.
He grabbed a crystal pitcher of freshly-squeezed orange juice and poured some into her goblet, ignoring her protests that she wasn’t thirsty. Albus knew better, after all.
He always knew better.
He didn’t hand the goblet over to her though, and Rose watched with a mixture of curiosity and wariness as her cousin weaved his way over to her mother’s liquor cabinet. “Captain Morgana should do the trick,” his words were a slick murmur, a persuasive lilt tugging at his tone.
He took out the bottle, unscrewing the cap, and gracefully sloshed some of the honey-amber liquid into her cup. Then, he made his way towards Rose and shoved the concoction unceremoniously into her dainty hands.
“For Merlin’s sakes, Albus, it’s not even eleven o’clock yet.” But never the less, Rose took the apple from her snake. She thirstily gulped down every last drop, grimacing at the warm mix of bitter and tart aftertaste. Rose was fully aware that later, when she had her publicist jabbering in her ears and camera flashes blinding her vision, she’d regret this. But for once she found herself not caring.
Albus sat himself down across from her, folding his hands together and observing his cousin with light, teasing eyes. It was times like these—with her hair less-than-perfect, the morning sun glancing off the freckles she normally hid with make-up and beauty potions—when Rose looked young. She seemed, for a moment, swaddled in her luxurious clothes. Her features were too small, too delicate. Her bird-bone wrists seemed to be breaking underneath the weight of all that ridiculous jewelery. She was drowning, going up in flames, all at once.
And he watched her destruction, hungry for more.
“Do you need to break something?” Albus asked, still smiling. He was egging her on—they both knew—and yet the idea was so appealing. He gestured to the vase of drooping orchids (Brazilian, of course) sitting on the table, glimmering innocently in the light, and Rose’s hand twitched.
Her temper was her vice, her greedy weakness...And the urge to feed it was overwhelming. For a moment she imagined it, hurling the vase at the wall with all the anger in her petite body, watching it all splinter into blades of sunlight and crystal... But then she shook it out of her head. She was grown up now. She couldn’t.
“I’m fine.” Inhaling a sharp breath through her aristocratic, ski-slope nose, Rose stood up, and dusted herself off, her Salazar McQueen peach and ivory bangles jangling noisily. “I should go. There’s the Witch Weekly thing I have to attend to, not to mention Ajax is taking me out later—”
Albus, who had been casually spreading raspberry jam on a croissant, suddenly froze. His expression did not flicker, but it seemed to harden. Clench, almost. “What?”
“Ajax,” Rose murmured absentmindedly, fiddling with her jewelled cocktail rings. “You know. Ajax Finnegan. You best friend. My boyfriend—”
All of a sudden, there was a change in the atmosphere. The air around them seemed to tighten, coalesce together. Albus set down the croissant and his knife and leaned back languidly in his chair, crossing his arms.
“I thought you said you were going to be done with him.” Albus spoke calmly, but there was an emerald spark of fire flaring in his eyes. He was not happy. Ajax and Rose—his best friend and his cousin? No. He wouldn’t allow it. Not again. Not after what happened last time. “Rose, I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to see hi—”
But his cousin wasn’t listening. Instead, she was absorbed in her own thoughts as she prepared to leave, fussing with her hair and slicking on some lipstick. He paused and watched her glide on the silky color, using a silver spoon as some temporary mirror, and he gritted his teeth. Her lips glimmered, pearly and luminous, a ballet-slipper shade of pink.
Albus wasn’t a fan of the color.
It was far too innocent, and Rose Weasley wasn’t fooling anyone.
“Rose,” he demanded quietly, his voice suddenly too dark and too heavy for the wispy lightness of the room. “I told you it wasn’t a good idea.”
“I know.” Rose popped the gleaming lipstick tube shut, giving herself one last glance-over in her makeshift mirror. “But I don’t think it is. And I can make my own decisions, thank you very much.” She set down the spoon and gave him a long, hard look, small chin quivering in defiance.
“Obviously not, seeing as you can barely get through the morning without hyperventilating at least twice,” Albus shot back. There was an edge in his voice that broke through the calm surface. He stood up, planting his two hands on the table, and leaned forwards. With his eyes spitting emerald sparks, his hair tousled into it’s usual disheveled perfection—there was no doubt Albus was handsome. And frighteningly so.
The image of Ajax Finnegan, his best friend from childhood, swam to the forefront of his mindseye. With his honey gold, ‘pretty boy’ hair and his easy, booming laugh, Ajax liked to have fun. And not the kind of "fun" parents would approve of—or Rose, come to think of it.
For some reason, the two had clicked the very first time they met on the Hogwarts Express nine years ago, despite their contrasting personalities. Ajax didn’t mind letting Albus call the shots. He trusted easily—perhaps a little too easily. Extremely impressionable, he was willing to do almost anything for a friend. Whether that meant streaking down through the Great Hall on Graduation Day or something a little more...illegal, Ajax was there with an eager smile and some cheerful quips at hand. He was a throw-caution-to-the-wind kind of guy.
The life of the party, Ajax gambled a lot—with money, hearts, reputations—which was why he needed some direction in life. Someone to guide him. Albus.
What he didn’t need was Rose Weasley, the Succubus herself, whispering nagging thoughts in his ear and slowly sucking the energy and fun out of life. Ajax was the type who fell too easily in love. Once she had him in her hands, there was no doubt that she would crush him.
And Ajax, with his carelessness and his complete disregard for consequences, would eventually drive Rose mad. They were just too different. Surely, he would end up pushing Rose off the brink of insanity that she was already teetering precariously on.
They were terrible for each other, Albus knew.
And he had to put an end to it.
“I am telling you, Rose, to forget about him. Right now. At this very instant.” It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. Towering over her by at least a head, Albus looked down upon his cousin with a haughty, fierce authority that dared to be defied.
But Rose didn’t flinch. After all, she was the only person who would stand up to him. She always had been.
“Albus,” she sighed sadly, “when are you finally going to accept that you can’t control everything?” And it was the pity in her voice that made his fingers—long and nimble and noble—clench around the table. Vice-like.
No one spoke to him like that. Ever.
“Break up with him, Rose. Or you will regret it.” There was a tone of finality in his voice that shook the air. Made it quake and tremble, like jelly, in his palms. And the two cousins—the two darling, golden children—stared daggers at each other from across the breakfast table. Clear, lucid green crashing with crystalline, glacial blue.
There had been a time when things were simpler. When Rose and Albus actually got along—when there was no such thing as money or secrets or lies. They’d been best friends, confidants, partners-in-crime in all their magical, imaginary adventures.
But that time was long gone, faded away with the withered summer nights of childhoods’ past, and this was now.
This was war.
“He’s my best friend—don’t for one second think that you know him better than I do,” Albus said, almost conversationally. But there was a venomous undertone riding underneath. “I know his flaws. I know his faults. I know what he wants... And it definitely isn’t a fairytale-type love with you, of all people.”
He watched as the words soaked into her, making her flinch. He could see the twinge of hurt in her eyes and the way she desperately tried to conceal it, and it made him happy. He watched with satisfaction as she tried to smooth herself over, tried to hide that he’d hurt her. But it was no use. If there was anything Albus excelled at, it was finding someone’s weakness and picking at it—scratching and itching and scraping—until it bled.
There was a silence, and he waited patiently for her rebuttal. It was like a war and a chess game at the same time—all strategy, Albus always five moves ahead of his opponent and Rose on the defensive, protecting her king (or prince, more like it) and struggling to catch up.
“I know what you do,” she said finally, quietly. “You manipulate people, twist them, make them your puppets. But you won’t do that with me and Ajax, Al. You won’t destroy us.”
“No, I won’t.” Albus’s voice was a choking, sweet haze. It crept into Rose’s ears, snaking it’s way through her bloodstream like poisonous smoke, and each word he spoke seemed to reverberate through her bones, through her very own being. It haunted her. “I’ll leave that job to you.”
There was a taut silence. Painted lips jammed and meshed together, Rose had nothing to say. She could feel the heat, the embarrassment, slinking its way up her face. She had lost this fight, she knew, but she wasn’t about to lose the war.
And yet, right now, there was nothing left for her. Albus had delivered the final bomb—she and her precious marble chessboard had gone up in flames—and left the battleground smouldering with its fumes and hate. If there was anything she had to do, it was get away. From his knowing eyes, from the sweet haze his words choked her in. From him.
She had to leave.
“I must go.” She announced suddenly. He watched as she straightened to her normally rigid posture, smoothing back the red flames of hair that sat, licking against her shoulders. Albus said nothing, his gaze cold, hard fire. She might try and pretend that this argument never happened, but he knew better.
Albus always knew better.
“You and the rest have to be at the gala tonight,” she declared loudly, as if there were other people hiding in the room who might hear her. “And no tricks. No mischief. Or else.”
And with that, she turned on her heel and strode out of the room, dignity quivering but intact.
His gaze trailing after her, Albus stood and watched, impassively, as his cousin abandoned him.
There was one thing he knew, and that was this: Rose and Ajax could not be together. Because it would be disastrous. Because they would shatter each other.
It had to stop. There would have to be an end to this.
He would make sure of it.
A/N: So... Thoughts? What do you think of Albus? Is he creepy/brilliant/insane? And how about Rose? I'm interested to hear your guys' opinions. If you get the chance, please leave a review. Oh, and I know that this chapter was short, but they get longer (and juicier) as we go on, promise. Also, other characters will be featured as well; this isn't just centered on Albus and Rose. Ha, now that'd be interesting.
Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you liked!