Catherine began preparing herself for The Birthday Ball at noon. Though the ball itself wouldn’t be starting until 7:31 P.M., the exact moment of Harry Potter’s birth, Catherine knew this occasion would most likely set the tone for the remainder of her holiday in Hidden Springs, determining whether she would return home a smashing success or a wilted wallflower. She dithered for hours, completely unable to choose between her two best party frocks; the modest dress robes her mother had insisted she pack for formal events were not the slightest bit considered and lay forgotten in a crumpled heap at the bottom of Catherine’s wardrobe. Upon her vanity, several scrolls of parchment were being crushed under a pile of jewellery, hairbands, Rudolpho, and the novel Isabella had promised to lend Catherine; apparently the story was so gripping that Isabella had stayed up late last night to read the last five-hundred pages and had immediately sent it over to Catherine by way of her owl at three o’clock in the morning. Catherine did not begrudge the late hour of the parcel’s arrival nor the asthmatic state the owl was in due to the weight of its delivery since sacrifices must be made for the sake of quality entertainment.
The collection of scrolls was the result of multiple correspondences with Isabella that Catherine had been engaging in since she awoke. Isabella was desperate to know details of exactly what Catherine would be wearing to her first grand social event. Catherine hated to leave her friend is suspense and kept writing short notes begging her patience since she simply could not decide between the short blue dress with the sequins and the long green dress with the frills and train. Isabella replied after lunch that her young protégé should opt for the green since she herself was planning on wearing a green ensemble, and they were bound to attract even more notice from gentlemen should they be a matched pair. Though Catherine secretly enjoyed how the blue dress accented her long legs, she finally decided at five o’clock that Isabella was right, and the green would be more suitable.
After spending two hours dressing her hair and applying her make-up with painstaking perfection, Catherine declared herself finally ready for inspection by Mrs Allen. The woman had been dying to assist Catherine prepare all afternoon but had restrained herself, knowing that it was very important for young ladies to have opportunities to discover their own personal style. When Catherine floated down the stairs to the grand foyer, her train trailing three steps behind her before rushing to pool itself around her green satin dancing shoes at the bottom, Mrs Allen pronounced the young lady an absolute picture and assured her that her gown rivalled even those sold in the Rue de la Magie in Paris. Mrs Allen sighed slightly wistfully, knowing her days of wearing such delightful frippery were long past. She and Mr Allen were attired in simple, yet very dignified dress robes cut in a style to assure onlookers of Mr Allen’s high position in the Ministry and Mrs Allen’s high level of taste.
Holding her breath in hopes of suffocating the butterflies in her stomach, Catherine stepped into the green flames of the Floo. The flickering fire, a similar viridian as her gown, soon whooshed her from her holiday home into the long entryway of Beech Hall, Hidden Spring’s premier assembly rooms. She could not help herself taking a deep gasp of air when confronted with the spectacle suddenly before her. The long hallway was positively packed with incoming wizards and witches, some exiting from fireplaces with a flash of sparks, others checking luxury brooms with their cloaks at a counter, and yet even more suddenly Apparating into designated golden hoops set on the floor to prevent accidental tackles. All the new arrivals were making their way slowly to the far end of the gilded hallway, where Catherine could just make out through the sea of extravagant hats a set of towering double doors. She was very relieved when Mr Allen soon appeared beside her and gallantly offered her his arm. It would not have been unthinkable for such a young, inexperienced girl to be completely swept up and carried away in the tide of hurrying strangers, never to be seen again. Mrs Allen was the last of the trio to arrive and took her husband’s other presented arm while unfolding her fan with a brisk wrist snap and setting it fluttering around her face to help dispel some of the hallway’s stuffiness.
Gently guided by Mr Allen’s expert evasive manoeuvres, the party soon crossed through the far doors to enter the main assembly hall itself. The room was cavernous, yet still filled nearly to capacity with celebrating people. Nearly a quarter of the party guests were currently traversing a large section of parquetted dance floor with intricate, crisscrossing steps in time with the allemandes being played by what looked like a full orchestra, complete with conductor, situated on a raised platform at the far back of the room. The decorations were stunning with enchanted, silent white and silver fireworks shooting off high above in the rafters, which showered the dancing couples with glittering confetti every few seconds. Silver and gold silk-draped tables, nearly indiscernible under enough platters of refreshments to feed a small army, took up another entire wall of the room. Catherine and the Allens hesitated on the threshold for a moment, all three taking in the wondrous sights while other new arrivals pushed politely past them. Catherine noted with glee that only about half of the conversations she overheard she could understand. It appeared that a great number of the party goers were foreign, and the much of the English she did hear was accented by the cadences of Ireland, America, and even Australia!
They finally entered the room itself. Still finding the general atmosphere quite warm and oppressive, Mrs Allen suggested to Catherine that they wander over to the refreshment tables for a cool drink. She knew Mr Allen would want to be left to his own devices, and indeed he almost instantly was hailed by several older male acquaintances and crossed the hall to join their game of cards. As she and Mrs Allen threaded their way slowly to the other side of the room, Catherine searched around excitedly for Isabella, studying the face above each green dress she noticed in the crowd. The sight of Isabella did not immediately present itself, so Catherine figured either she had not arrived yet, or the other girl was simply hidden behind a wall of potential suitors.
Each clasping a skinny flute of pink champagne, Mrs Allen and Catherine strolled idly throughout the room. Mrs Allen immediately started up with her heavy sighing and wishes that she recognised anyone at all. If only Mrs Burke were here already! Certainly her old schoolmate would be able to make some introductions for them. Catherine nodded politely and tried to not let the sight of countless paired-off couples get her spirits down too much.
When she was just about resigned to the fact that she appeared to be the only single person in the entire room, Catherine noticed a solitary young man leaning against the wall near to where she sat eating ices with Mrs Allen by the card tables. He appeared to be several years older than Catherine and very handsome with dishevelled reddish brown hair and eyes that appeared almost golden in the flash of the magical lights from above. Though he did not have the correct colouring to be the sort of man Catherine usually found herself attracted to in novels, his strangely melancholic expression, so out of place with the jubilant atmosphere, instantly intrigued her. As though sensing her gaze weighing down on him, the young man glanced over in her direction. Catherine instantly felt herself flush as a small smile crept over his well-shaped lips. Mrs Allen, usually rather obtuse and unobservant in situations such as these, fortunately had a moment of complete clarity and excused herself from her young companion, citing her need to search out the facilities.
Though she longed to introduce herself to the young man, who was still smiling at her, Catherine found herself suddenly shy. Fortunately the object of her obvious admiration was of a more gregarious personality, for as soon as he saw Mrs Allen vanish into the crowd, he left his comfortable patch of wall behind to walk straight up to Catherine.
“Hello!” he said jovially, his smile making his eyes, which Catherine could see now were merely a light brown, crinkle a bit around the edges. “Would you care to dance?” he asked. Catherine’s heart swelled at the invitation, her first formal one since arriving in Hidden Springs and offered by a man not at all unpleasing to the eye.
“I would love to! Mr …?”
The man clapped himself on the forehead. “Oh, of course. There I go again. My father is constantly telling me I have the social graces of a drunk walrus. Forgive me, I’m Remus Lupin. How do you do?” he asked politely with a small bow of his head.
“Catherine Macmillan,” she replied, holding out a gloved hand, which Remus shook enthusiastically.
“Shall we?” he asked, still holding Catherine’s hand in his and gesturing to the dance floor with his other arm. Catherine nodded enthusiastically, allowed Remus to help her stand (not that Catherine needed the help, but it was still very gentlemanly of him), then followed him to the dance floor just as the orchestra began a new waltz. They spent the first few measures simply concentrating with all of their might on not crashing into other sets of partners, Catherine, with an annoyed huff at herself, wishing that her last dance lesson hadn’t been nearly ten years ago. Remus was more skilled than her, but only just, and apologised profusely with a laugh each time he nearly trod on her toe.
Finally they found the rhythm and got into the flow of things. Once he seemed certain that he could lead Catherine without conjuring a map, Remus said, “Well, I’ve certainly been very rude. Blame it on my astonishment at finding myself with such a lovely partner, or at least just not on my complete inability to dance, but I’ve been completely neglecting my duty of launching our conversation. I haven’t yet asked you how long you’ve been in Hidden Springs; if you’ve been here before; where you’re from and what your family does; if you’ve gone swimming yet or indulged in a trip to the spa or visited the theatre. Since I seem to be able to finally count the music in sets of three without needing to mouth the integers, I’m more than ready to hear your answers now.”
Catherine hesitated, not quite sure how to respond to his compliment or his inundation of curiosity. “I’m sorry, which did you wish to know first?” she asked. She was, however, glad that Remus seemed able to keep time with the music since she herself was constantly losing her place and relying heavily on Remus’s hand on her waist to steer her in the appropriate direction.
“I believe I first wished to know how long you’ve been here,” Remus said with a grin.
“About a week,” Catherine replied.
“Have you ever visited Hidden Springs before? Though I’m certain I would have recalled seeing you in the past.”
“No, this is my first time.”
“And your home is?” Remus fired off instantly.
“In Berkshire. My father owns a shop in Diagon Alley.”
“And the swimming, relaxing, play-going?”
“Er … no, yes, and not yet, though I believe my hosts have plans on bringing me tomorrow night. I’m currently staying with my neighbours from home.”
“Wonderful! No trip to Hidden Springs is complete without a chance to throw rotten gurdyroots at the worst company of actors this side of the North Sea. Now let me indulge in one more smirk, and your account of tonight’s events will be practically written for you when you sit down to your diary tomorrow: Went to ball, wore smashing green dress, and was accosted by strange man who forced me to dance with him, making me leave half of my pudding uneaten before commencing to stomp brutishly on my toes and harass me with inane questions.”
Catherine could not keep a laugh from bursting from her and was relieved when Remus laughed even more jovially as well. She hadn’t wanted to offend him, but she simply couldn’t help herself. “I don’t keep a diary, but if I did, I’m sure my recording of our dancing would be cast in a much more favourable light.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it, though I find it hard to believe you don’t keep a diary. I thought all young ladies did! If you don’t, how will you ever recall years from now exactly what kind of eggs you had for breakfast this morning?”
“I’ve never been able to keep up with one past a week in the past, so I’ve long considered a diary a lost cause. I may not remember the details of every meal in the future, but I’m sure I certainly won’t forget this evening.” The dance ended, fortunately for Catherine because she had been half distracted the entire time with worries about someone stepping on the train of her dress and ripping it clean off. The last thing she needed was something so horribly embarrassing ruining Remus’s apparent high opinion of her.
“I don’t think I’ll have a difficult time remembering tonight, either,” Remus said with a wink before bowing to his partner. He held out his arm and Catherine took it so the pair could slowly wander back over to where she had been sitting before, so Mrs Allen would be able to find her. Mrs Allen wasn’t in sight, though Catherine did finally spot Isabella through the crowd, surrounded with men like expected. However, the blockade of young wizards did not completely conceal a flash of bright cobalt from catching Catherine’s notice when Isabella turned to whisper in one of her admirer’s ears. Apparently Isabella had decided a short blue dress would suit her better after all, Catherine realised with a little bit of annoyance. But this momentary irritation was soon forgotten as Remus sat beside her to keep her company until her chaperone returned.
“You said your name was Macmillan, did you not? That sounds so familiar to me …” Remus mused as he pulled off his own gloves and loosened his formal cravat. Apparently Cooling Charms were not being utilised since the temperature of the room seemed to be rising by the moment with the multitudes of people still flocking into the hall.
“Perhaps you went to Hogwarts with my eldest brother, James?” Catherine asked. At the mention of her brother’s name, a grimace of pain shot across Remus’s handsome face.
“Are you all right?” she asked in alarm.
“What? Oh, yes. I don’t think the oysters I sampled earlier are agreeing with me. I thought they looked a bit dodgy, but I can never resist ridiculous hors d’oeuvres.” Catherine silently agreed that Remus did not actually look well at all. She hadn’t noticed before, being so flattered by his attentions to her, but now looking closely at him, she could see that he had the beginnings of some dark circles under his hazel eyes. His complexion also looked a bit sallow and clammy, though she had at first attributed this to the exertion of dancing. However, all of these mild afflictions merely increased Remus’s attractiveness to Catherine. They reminded her of a consumptive poet she read about once, who languished away to nothingness on a fainting sofa, quill discarded and forgotten beside his painfully beautiful dead body.
Yet the pallor hovering over his features vanished as he seemingly recovered from his brief lapse in perfect health with a grin and asked, “James Macmillan? Yes, he was two years below me, also a Gryffindor prefect, I believe. I was often quite busy at school and didn’t know many of the other students who were not in my year very well.”
So if Remus was two years older than James, then that made him around twenty-five years old. Perhaps a little older than Catherine’s mother would undoubtedly like, but honestly, boys Catherine’s own age were all complete children. This was, Catherine had convinced herself a while back, the reason why she had never had a single boyfriend.
“That really is a lovely colour on you,” Remus said, gesturing lazily to her gown as he reclined slightly in his chair with one leg crossed over the other.
“Thank you!” Catherine replied, thoughts of berating Isabella later for her palette faithlessness evaporating instantly.
“I do wish bright hues were in fashion for men right now. It’s very tiresome looking like a dementor all the time,” Remus said and rolled his eyes in reference to his charcoal grey waistcoat and tails. “But I am, unfortunately, relying slightly on my father at present with regards to financial provision so am therefore forced to attire myself in a way that reflects well on his own respectable sensibilities. If I had things my way, I’d have attracted your esteemed notice much sooner with a frockcoat of scarlet and mustard yellow breeches.”
Catherine wondered if Remus was serious or just larking about again. Before she could formulate a polite response that would suit either case, Mrs Allen bustled up to her side.
The woman’s discretion with regards to Catherine’s desire to speak with Remus alone was apparently already forgotten, for she immediately pointed to a seemingly random spot on her own shoulder and said, “Would you look at that!”
“Look at what, Mrs Allen?” Catherine asked in confusion.
“Could you believe that only moments ago, this sleeve was ripped nearly clean off when I caught it on a cloak peg? Those dratted things are always installed in the most inconvenient places. But as luck would have it, I ran into our dear Mrs Burke in the powdering room, and she mended it quick as anything! I had forgotten what a dab hand she was at Charms. I am so relieved, for I am hopeless at mending spells myself. The material for these robes cost nearly four Galleons a yard, and that is not even including Madam Malkin’s tailoring fees.”
“Yes, that does seem a fair price,” Remus commented with an appraising eye at Mrs Allen’s jacquard.
“Indeed? You are then knowledgeable of textiles, sir?” Mrs Allen asked in delighted surprise.
“Only a smattering here or there. My sister often asks my opinion when she needs a new set of dress robes; the previously perfect ones seem to somehow spoil after one wearing,” Remus replied. Catherine thought Remus’s sister must be very fashionable to have such a delightfully cavalier attitude towards dress repeats. She did not notice the slightly ironic twist of Remus’s smile since she was staring down at her own gown and wondering if the fact that Remus liked it so much meant that he would want to see her in it again sometime or that he’d be disdainful should she dare try to make a go of it once more after he had already declared it very pretty once.
“Most men wouldn’t be able to tell a satin from a stain! You must be of a great help to your sister,” Mrs Allen gushed while taking her seat on Catherine’s other side.
“I hope I am. I find the topic of fashion very diverting. I was just remarking to my sister the other day how I long to see corsets come back in style.”
“Oh, certainly not!” Catherine declared, slightly scandalised. “How could you wish for something that practically deformed so many women in the hopes of creating a simply unobtainable figure!”
“Oh, not for women!” Remus said hurriedly, raising his hands in mock defence at Catherine’s sudden, slightly surprisingly feminist, outburst. “I want them to be appropriate for men to wear once again! I can’t think of anything much more wonderful than eating all the pumpkin pasties you could ever want and then being able to simply tighten a few stays to completely mask the aftereffects with only the tiniest discomfort of not being able to draw a full breath.”
Both Catherine and Mrs Allen stared at Remus, completely nonplussed. Remus burst out laughing at their wide eyes, sending the two ladies into stitches as well once it became apparent he was not actually in earnest.
“Why, you might just be the most singular young man I have ever met. Pray, what is your name, sir?” Mrs Allen asked, when she herself was able to draw a complete lungful of air once more.
“Remus Lupin, ma’am,” he replied with a charming grin.
Mrs Allen then commenced to grill Lupin on every aspect of fashion she could think of. He replied with a mixture of informed opinion and complete nonsense, switching between the two with such rapidity and seriousness of countenance that Catherine was quite unable to tell for certain whether or not Remus might just be a tad bit mad. However, she determined he must at least be an utter saint, for he sat and listened courteously to her neighbour’s treatise on the slowly lessening originality of Parisian hat designs for a full twenty minutes before the woman exhausted even herself on the subject. Fortunately right then the orchestra struck up another dance, and Remus and Catherine were able to make polite excuses and escape to whirl around the room together once more.
Catherine shared two more dances with Remus before he admitted that he really needed to be on his way, having another prior engagement that evening elsewhere in town. She thought maybe he was simply still not feeling well and didn’t want to alarm her, for in truth even his constant joking couldn’t completely distract her from how much more sickly his face was growing with every passing half-hour. With a final bow and a kiss on her gloved hand that made Catherine blush as scarlet as Remus’s dream coat, he left her behind with Mrs Allen to Apparate out of the hall.
It was not until Catherine had travelled home herself that she realised she had never actually spoken with Isabella the entire night. She felt slightly guilty about abandoning her friend, but she figured Isabella would completely understand when Catherine described Remus to her. She and Mrs Allen shared a small nightcap in their drawing room with Mr Allen, who was in a very jovial mood from winning a good bit of gold off of his Ministry friends at cards. He listened with complete affability to Mrs Allen’s glowing account of Remus’s many virtues, though she still stood by her earlier affirmation that he was a rather eccentric young man. Mr Allen confirmed Catherine’s private hope that Remus did indeed come from a very respectable family, his father, Sir Lupin, being the current overseer of the Auror Department at the Ministry and even more wealthy than Mr Allen himself. He didn’t know any other details about the family other than his belief that Remus had an elder brother who worked for their father, a man who held a reputation at work for being a bit of a hardliner, even for a department head.
The hour grew late, and the Allens bade goodnight to their very sleepy guest. Alone in her room, Catherine was relieved to finally be able to take off her dancing slippers and massage her sore feet. But the pinched toes had been worth every blister. He might not be quite as dashing as Count Rudolpho, but Remus Lupin was still the most dreamy person Catherine had ever met. As she waltzed off to sleep, the light of the nearly full moon casting her skin in a perfectly pale hue, she hoped it wouldn’t be long until she saw the enigmatic young wizard again.
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