The Flowers of London
It is not necessary to say that Miss Lily Potter told no one, living or dead, of their inauspicious encounter with the young Mr Malfoy. The poor girl was too mortified to imagine acknowledging him – or worse, having him acknowledge her – after her cruel, cruel cousin treated him with such unladylike rudeness. It did not matter that Mr Malfoy himself had not been particularly polite; Rose’s behaviour was simply inexcusable, particularly for one in her most unfortunate social position.
Lily hardly spoke to her cousin for the rest of the day, whisking past her in the hallways and busying herself with serving at tea so that she would not have to mortify her delicate sensibilities any further, at least until it was time to prepare for the ball.
The very thought of her cousin’s behaviour before Mr Malfoy brought a painful flush to Lily’s cheeks, clashing terribly with her carrot-red hair. She caught sight of herself in a nearby mirror and hid her face from view.
Oh, to have been born with the looks of a Weasley!
It was indeed the greatest curse in wizarding society. She dreamt of possessing the lush, black locks of a Potter, preferably with those green eyes that had made her grandmother so famed among all the beauties of England. That combination of colouring well-suited her father, so why should it have been wasted on that silly brother of hers? He certainly never needed looks to win himself a place in the world. What he did need was intelligence, and the poor boy had been born with nearly none. It would have been more befitting if Albus had been born a witch.
When the brother in question arrived to supervise their family’s transport to the ball, Lily found herself taking an inventory of Albus’s appearance that was more critical than admiring. He was, some would say, more of a fop than the honourable Mr Malfoy and rather more lacking in taste, pairing stripes with polka dots and paisley in an ensemble that outdid any the fair Beau Brummell would attempt in reasonable society. Even the Prince Regent could not surpass the brilliance of Albus Severus Potter’s ostentatious appearance.
Mr Potter winced when he caught sight of his younger son, his own robes of black relieved only by the gold phoenix cufflinks he wore in remembrance of battles won and lives lost. He adjusted his plain-wire spectacles and tried to focus on his daughter, who stood beside him in slightly more conservative, if still painfully fashionable, attire, only to observe that she was perhaps more afflicted than he at the sight of her brother.
“He could show Rose a thing or two about dressing up,” Lily thought to herself, unwilling to say such a thing aloud in her distinguished father’s presence.
Lily was not the first of her family to wonder how Rose could have been born with all the brains while Albus was born with all the looks. He was a handsome wizard somewhere beneath all those layers of clothes, all of those collars and numerous cravat folds overshadowing the finely-sculpted nose and cheekbones set in contrast to his deep-set eyes of emerald green and the curls of raven hair that splayed across his ivory forehead. It seemed a waste that this beauty had been granted to a wizard, but it was his singular appearance that made him useful throughout the courts of Europe, a popular figure of fashion never suspected of being anything other than an empty-headed dandy whose wealth and family reputation had given him the key to hidden rooms and secrets of a sort Lily could not begin to imagine.
If only he had the brains to make use of the information he required at these courts rather than passively hand it over to the Ministry via his father. Then, Lily thought, he could have been the most powerful wizard in Europe, but unfortunately he possessed too much of their father’s fortitude, of all things, and it made him impossibly incorruptible. It was but another feature of Albus Severus Potter that he kept safely tucked away behind his mask of fine foppery.
“How ravishing our cousin looks tonight, don’t you think?” His whisper echoed through the entry hall. “Whatever you did to her was brilliant, Lils.”
The informality of that childhood name riled Lily, but the compliment, so genuinely given, could not be ignored.
“Many thanks, brother, and I hope that she’s capable of matching her actions to her looks tonight. Our futures count on it.”
For all that her words contained notes of ill-fated conjecture, she could not help but have optimism in mind when she first viewed her cousin carefully making her way down the winding marble staircase in the thin dancing slippers that were a half-size too small for her oddly-shaped country feet. Their surprising length had lead to a considerable scramble about the city for suitable footwear, which had soon been followed by another scramble – equally considerable – for silk stockings to replace the numerous pairs that Rose had managed to tear to shreds with her clumsy, ignorant ways.
Now, however, Rose Weasley appeared more than satisfactory for introduction to the Minister himself, should the need arise, her gown and hair arranged to the latest styles. Although, during the dressing process, Rose had made endless complaints of discomfort and displeasure at having to undergo such tortures as Lily and her maid forced upon her, she had grown quiet, probably with fatigue. Rose was not a great conversationalist at the best of times.
She came down the final step with a heavier foot than was required. Mr Malfoy was not far from the mark when he compared the sound of her dancing to a hippogriff.
“How are we expected to move in these things, much less manoeuver ourselves across a dance floor? I can hardly move under all this weight!” She was about to add something more, but the sight of Albus and his costume caused her to snap her mouth shut, her eyes betraying all the meaning necessary.
If Albus had read that meaning, he gave no sign of it. “I do say, Rose, you look a fair sight! Ravishing was the word I used, was it not, Lils? Simply ravishing.”
Lily gave him a withering glance that he could not help but notice.
“What, dear sister? Does my language disturb you?” He peered down on her with squinting eyes, having refused long ago to wear spectacles of any sort lest they pollute his pristine image of the highest fashion.
It was rare for Lily to venture a criticism out loud in so public place as her family’s own entry hall, but there are certain occasions when such hazards are deemed acceptable.
“There isn’t a day that passes when you don’t fail to disturb me, brother.”
Albus blinked, but was otherwise immobile as though Lily had used locomotor mortis
upon him. He did waver slightly from side to side and was, perhaps, in danger of falling over due to the shock of his sister’s comment.
“That was clever, Lily. I didn’t think you had it in you.” Rose’s appreciative tone did nothing to soothe Lily’s growing nervous disorder, the sense that, with these two in tow, the whole evening would be nothing short of a disaster, ruining all her hopes for the future.
“Oh, please leave me alone, both of you!”
She hurried ahead to catch up with her father, who was already holding open the door of the carriage, one that had, she noticed with pleasure, horses rather than the threstals her father preferred to use. They were, then, going to drive through the Muggle parts of London, a rare treat, to be sure.
“Not the carriage again, Father!” Albus stood framed in the doorway, Rose beside him. How the two of them withstood one another’s company, Lily could never understand.
“Flooing would get us dirty,” Lily complained, turning to Mr Potter.
“Nor have you yet passed your apparition test, my dear.” Mr Potter added with a smile. He looked up the stairs. “Which leaves us with only this option. It would not be fair to let Lily arrive alone, not when it is her first event.”
“But what about Aunt Ginny? Isn’t she coming, too?” Rose asked, plucking at her skirts to settle the petticoats into a more comfortable position, an attempt made purely in vain.
Mr Potter took out his watch, a thing of many hands and many sets of numbers that no one seemed able to read but himself. It was said that he had received it from his mentor, the great wizard Dumbledore, after that wizard had succumbed to the revolution’s lust for the lives of the brave and good, though many had said that Dumbledore was no better than Danton or Robespierre. Yet still Mr Potter remained unfailingly loyal to his memory, and no one dared argue with him.
“If I’m correct–” he began, holding out one hand, only to be interrupted by a loud crack, his hand suddenly taken up by that of Mrs Potter who had apparated into position fully-dressed for the ball as though she had not spent most of the day at the Quidditch pitch. The number of spells required for so drastic an alteration in appearance would be far more than this poor author has time to list.
“Just in time, it seems,” Mrs Potter said with a smile. “I hope you’re ready, children.”
They may have appeared prepared for the ball, but Lily did not at all feel that way. For all that she loved to see all the Muggle sites, she could not help but spend much of the journey through London’s streets imagining various ways that the ball could end in disaster. She had a terrible feeling that, for all her preparations, it would, and it would be entirely out of her hands, however much it could affect her reputation, even destroy it. It was the kind of problem that could never be expected to cross Rose’s mind.
As they drew near to their destination, Mrs Potter took up Lily’s hand.
“You mustn’t worry about tonight.” She followed Lily’s gaze to the opposite corner of the carriage. “And especially not about Rose. She knows what she’s getting into.”
“Does she?” Lily whispered, clutching at her mother’s hand. “I really don’t know, Mama. You haven’t heard how she talks.”
Mrs Potter leaned closer. “But I do know.”
“They are the same words I would say if I was in her situation.”
Lily wanted to release her mother’s hand in distaste, but lacked the strength to so do. She instead fell silent, staring out the window, wondering where she belonged in this strange family of hers. Too many times she appeared to be its only conventional member, a witch who wanted nothing more than to secure her future through marriage. Surely that was not too great a thing to ask, or was there more to be expected of a Potter than mere convention?
“Here we are.” With another squeeze to Lily’s hand, Mrs Potter let herself be handed out of the carriage by her husband, soon followed by the three cousins.
The Muggle entrance to the Ministry assembly rooms appeared to be a discomfiting location, well-hidden from the eyes of the more observant Muggles, who, in a previous decade of suspicion and distrust, had become more dangerous to their wizarding allies, constantly fearing invasion from any quarter, even from within. It was an old, rusting gate into what appeared to be an overgrown garden near Regents Park. Rose seemed quite pleased with the prospect of entering such a place, but Lily balked at the sight of towering trees and thick vines adorned not with luscious blooms, but with long thorns like swords and hoary warts that oozed a repugnant slime. It was meant to keep the Muggles away, but, in Lily’s mind, it must have equally repelled any witches or wizards of gentle breeding.
“What a place!” Rose gasped in wonder at the untamed garden while Mr and Mrs Potter walked into the gate and vanished through it.
Lily knew better than to gasp like a child at the sight, yet still she did, covering her mouth with both hands. Rose grabbed her arm to escort her through, gaping like the country cousin she was, eyes as wide as her mouth. As soon as they and Albus crossed the illusory boundary, she wisely closed it and both witches hurriedly rearranged their facial expressions upon observing the retinue that had gathered to greet the Potters.
The Minister himself leapt forward to grab Mr Potter’s hand and wring it as though it was the rusty pump lever on his country estate. Mrs Potter barely escaped the potential injury to her throwing arm with a elegant curtsy and polite smile. The cousins were stared at as though they were the results of some significant magical experiment before they were swept off into the main assembly hall, a towering room of gilt columns and red velvet curtains. It was, to the modern eye, a hideously opulent space, though Albus expressed his appreciation before leading the two witches toward the strains of a dance.
It took Lily some effort to keep her own jaw from dropping in an ill-bred manner. The gowns, the fashions, the grace of the dancers as they turned and twisted across the floor, the slippers of the witches making no sound upon the floor. It was perhaps the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, but would any–?
She mustn’t think such things. She was the daughter of Harry Potter.
When she turned to speak to Rose, she found herself alone on the edge of the dance-floor. Rose was nowhere to be seen.