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Pride & Pestilence by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 7 : A Promise Given
 
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Chapter Seven
A Promise Given

Rose was not sure what to expect when she returned to London’s streets, the morning long spent. She hoped that as soon as possible she could change her costume for something more appropriate – and more comfortable – than wizard’s robes with their tight waistcoats and woolen stockings. Although she had replaced her hat on re-entering the city, she had felt as though every eye was upon her, cognisant of her disguise. But Roxanne’s skills could not be exceeded, and even after the exertions of the duel, Rose’s identity remained undetectable except by those who knew her face, and there were few such individuals in London.

Her aunt was one of them.

As Rose and Roxanne burst into the living chambers above the great theatrical arts emporium, Rose already pulling out the pins that imprisoned her hair, they were greeted by the sight of Mrs. Potter, sitting at tea with Roxanne’s mother. Neither of the young witches had expected to find her here; they had sent word to the Potter residence that Albus had been taken to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Rose experienced a pang of guilt that she had not remained with him, having placed her own discomfort over his.

“Aunt Ginny!” The pins fell from her hand. “It’s not–”

Mrs. Potter rose from a chair, the gauzy folds of her gown settling around her feet. “It is exactly what I think, Rose.”

“I didn’t do it to disobey you, Aunt.”

“No, you did it because you believed it to be right. I have heard those words too often.” She rested her hand against the table.

Any trace of exhilaration that had remained after her victory fled while the apprehension that had begun to drag at her consciousness came to fruition. Rose coloured under her aunt’s gaze, wishing that she could sink through the floorboards and out of sight. She was not certain just how her aunt had so quickly learned of the duel’s result, but it did not surprise her that the Potters should have eyes and ears across the city, even upon the Heath.

“You have resurrected ghosts that ought to have remained at rest.” Mrs. Potter’s voice dropped and it seemed that a gloom had fallen over her. “There is no telling what trouble this may cause.”

“You should have been there, Aunt,” Roxanne said, stepping forward. “Rose was incredible, and it seemed that Mr. Malfoy was unperturbed by the duel’s results.” Her gaze flicked back toward Rose. “In fact, his words were that he could not have met with a worthier opponent.”

Mrs. Potter’s expression remained unchanged. “I neither doubt Rose’s abilities nor Malfoy’s potential for gallantry. What I dread is the outcome for all of you, should people find this an excuse against all that we have worked to achieve.”

Rose struggled to swallow before daring to speak. “But how will anyone even know about the duel? I don’t believe that Mr. Malfoy’s friends would place him at a disadvantage by spreading the news of his defeat.” It was a long-winded sentence, and she took a deep breath in consequence.

“No matter what precautions you may have taken, you can be certain that by the end of today, most of wizarding London will have heard of your victory.” A frown deepened the lines on Mrs. Potter’s brow. “There has been little else of late to occupy the gossips, I’m afraid”

Word of a duel between a wizard and a witch would be a note of interest in society circles, but a duel between a Malfoy and a Weasley, particularly the heir of the Malfoys and the daughter of Mr. Ronald Weasley, retired Auror, would prove a greater novelty than the Prince Regent’s latest affair. It would, as Mrs. Potter feared, recall the duel between their fathers and thus the Revolution itself, the old ways and prejudices.

How many of those prejudices return if it was the Weasley who had won? Not merely any Weasley, but the half-blood witch from the country. It was unseemly.

Rose had not come to London to fight a duel. Her purpose was to win an engagement of another sort, and it was only beginning to strike her that she may have ruined herself beyond repair. Ruined before she had even begun. It was what she had wished from the beginning, yet she could not help but feel as though she had disappointed her family. Rose knew that her cousins – excepting, perhaps, Lily – would stand with her, but none of her uncles and aunts would be pleased. Her father might be proud for a short time, but what use was a single victorious duel to the remainder of one’s life?

“What do you suggest I do, Aunt Ginny? Apologise to Mr. Malfoy for unladylike conduct? Or disappear into the country until the scandal disperses?” Rose’s voice heightened in pitch and she began to fear that her aunt would recommend quite the opposite.

Mrs. Potter’s brows raised for a moment. “Certainly not. However, I suggest that, in the future, you take your uncle’s advice with a grain of salt.” At last her sang-froid diminished and she shook her head with a long sigh. “Really, he’s no better than your father. Encouraging you in such a scheme as this...”

Roxanne let out a long breath, the hand she had laid on Rose’s arm loosening its grip.

“What’s needed is encouragement, Aunt.” With a shake of her head, Roxanne’s let loose her curls. “Rose is well-worthy of joining the Guard, and it would be a terrible waste to–”

“The Minister's Guard! I couldn’t!” She pulled away.

“Why not? If your duelling skills–”

“It’s not what I want to do.” Rose took a breath and looked toward her aunt. “You were right that duelling is little more than a crude spectacle. As noble as it is to be an officer, I– I– I simply would not do it.”

She moved to the door, her legs stiff, her shoulders beginning to droop, more than ready to return the Potters’ townhouse. Perhaps if she was fortunate, she could go straight to bed and forget the existence of the outside world, of the clamour of society and the press of Scorpius Malfoy’s hand against her own.

Whatever Rose’s intentions for the remainder of the day, she found herself no longer mistress of her own time. Once dressed once more in her own clothes, she was bustled out of the theatrical shop and into the Potters’ carriage to cross London in silence under the keen surveillance of her aunt. Ginevra Potter had softened toward her niece in the intervening moments, having caught a glimpse of something troubling in Rose’s face that did not fade as their journey ended. It seemed that there had been more to Rose’s involvement in the duel than mere youthful rebellion, and Mrs. Potter was determined to discover the truth of it.

Before Rose had the opportunity to retire to her room, Mrs. Potter swept her outside to take an airing in the park, claiming that it was to prove to London society that she was not ashamed of what she had done.

“Ashamed? Of course I’m not ashamed.”

They walked along the gravel path, side-by-side, but Rose could not see Mrs. Potter’s face beyond the reach of her considerable bonnet.

“That gives me hope.”

Rose looked down and was seemingly mesmerised by the trim of her dress bouncing against her legs. The words made very little sense to her. She ought to have been sorry for disobeying her aunt, even going so far as to take part in an intrigue, right out of the most scandalous of fiction. There would have been better ways, honest ways–

“Because you are not ashamed of defeating Mr. Malfoy, nor of your skills.” Mrs. Potter paused to greet a passing couple. “For my own sake, I will believe that you are ashamed of the deception, though instinct warns me that you enjoyed that as well.” She smiled and nodded to a young man who raised his hat in return.

“Only for a moment,” Rose admitted, wondering at all the people, magic and Muggle alike, congregating on these manicured grounds.

Did that pair of Muggles know they walked beside a curse breaker and her husband? Did they see the Healers and the Witch Watchers, the Arithmancers and the Obliviators? Never had she seen so many Muggles alongside her own kind, both arrayed in similar costumes, but with the subtlest of differences: a sneakoscope hanging at a witch’s throat, magical runes embroidered on the cuffs of a wizard’s coat. Mrs. Potter seemed not to notice any of this, but Rose examined every person in turn, taking note of each detail, paying little heed as her aunt continued speaking.

“– and just like your father, you do not listen when someone offers you good advice.”

A flush crept up Rose’s throat as she struggled not to wince. “I’ve never seen such a thing, with Muggles and... people like us walking about. It’s as though no one worries about being caught.”

Mrs. Potter slowed to a stop, nodding to another group as they passed by. “The best place to hide is in plain sight. As long as we seem to appear the same, they cannot see that we are different. Is that not what you did this morning with your disguise?”

“But why do it at all? Surely the risk is too great.”

There was a long pause as Mrs. Potter frowned at the horizon, where the smoke from the mills blurred chimney tops into church spires, the sky’s edge marred with a brown haze. She seemed struck by a memory, perhaps of the old war, where magic and Muggle blood had mingled in the streets. To Madame Guillotine they were one and the same.

She turned back to her niece. “There is still much for you to learn.”

They continued down the gravelly path between the beeches, where a group of young witches and wizards was gathered, their costume and behaviour marking them as purebloods of the old families. There was no towheaded young wizard amongst them, but Rose recognised some of them from the Ministry Ball, and her steps slowed. What she would not give to pass by them unnoticed! To be cut by them, ignored entirely, would be preferred to their stares and whispers, their laughter ill-concealed by elegant hands.

“Might we go another way?” Her voice was low, the breath too heavy in her lungs.

Mrs. Potter’s gaze shifted between her niece and the obstruction on the path ahead, then she took hold of Rose’s elbow and diverted their course without comment. As they retraced their steps across the park, Rose’s composure returned. How could she have been filled with so much courage at the duel? She had stepped forward without a thought for the future, and now that that future had come, she seemed to have no courage left.

She did not need to ask herself what in her mind had altered, and it was not merely her aunt’s persuasion that had influenced this change. On the man’s field, the only question had been that of honour, and honour is forbidden to lie. But here in the park, Rose felt surrounded by lies. The emphasis on appearances was overwhelming to Rose’s senses. To these people, it mattered not what passed through her mind. What she wore, how she spoke, and how others spoke of her were of far greater importance. This was no place for her, and even if she were to marry and possess all the comforts in the world, she could never be happy.

An expression of anguished distaste became rooted in her face, an expression that, to Mrs. Potter, bespoke of danger.

“Do promise me one thing, Rose.” She at last said as they neared the park’s entrance.

“What, Aunt?” Rose bit at her lip, unbecoming an act as it was, particularly while the Duchess of Somewhere-or-Another passed by with her retinue.

“That you will make an attempt to avoid trouble in the future.”

It was rather like asking the flowers to not bloom in spring for fear they would be picked. However many times Rose could make this promise, she could not avoid the predisposition for trouble ingrained into her very bones. Whatever the world may have dictated for Rose’s future, it could not alter who and what she was. It would be of great surprise to the author if Trouble was not Miss Weasley’s middle name.

They returned to the Potters’ landau in silence and were soon consumed by the city The Muggle season may have been over, but their absence made little difference to the number of vehicles packed into the streets, king and commoner alike caught beneath the rays of the summer sun. Mrs. Potter filled appeared tempted to use her wand to clear their passage, but she refrained from that temptation to instead fill their carriage with the effects of a calming spell. It sufficed to also calm Rose’s nerves. She did not wish to admit how much Mrs. Potter’s attitude had disturbed her, nor how much she wished to be alone.

When they at last arrived at the Potters’s home, Rose was prepared to flee her aunt’s grasp and bury herself in the latest work by the author of Pride and Prejudice to distract herself from the troubles of the outside world. The misadventures of Miss Woodhouse were said to be of great interest, and Rose had long been tired of the craze for sensation and scintillation in fiction. It was clear that the so-called Gothic novels were intended for Muggles with naive imaginations. Devils and damnation indeed!

However, once again Rose’s plans were foiled by Kreacher’s continued presence in the foyer..

“There is a visitor for the– Miss Weasley.” Kreacher glowered in Rose’s direction.

“Did this visitor present a card?” Mrs. Potter asked while untying her bonnet.

Kreacher bowed. “No, Mistress. But she is a witch my old– That anyone of rank would like to receive.”

Mrs. Potter searched Rose’s face for any signs of returned anxiety, but Rose had squared her shoulders and turned toward the door of the nearest reception room. Kreacher only just opened it in time, muttering all the while about impudent mudbloods. That word brought a flush to Rose’s cheeks, and she could never be certain of how she must have appeared to her visitor in that first moment. As she entered, the witch looked up from her perusal of Lily’s discarded embroidery, lips twisted in amusement, yet it was not of a mocking sort. She set down the ill-proportioned parrot and turned her gaze on Rose.

“My apologies for intruding unannounced, Miss Weasley, but I believed that you would not see me if you first heard my name.”

She was not at all familiar to Rose, but her posture and attitude bespoke of excellent breeding. There could be no doubt that she was a pureblood, even if she did not exactly appear as such, with a face too wide and mouth too small, a nose too short and hair too thick. She lowered into a respectful curtsy, the elaborate lace hem of her dress brushing against the floor.

“I am here so that I may ensure my cousin that you are well.”

She spoke with haste, and it took Rose some moments to comprehend the meaning of these words. Bulging eyes were added to her flushed cheeks to produce a most unsatisfactory effect. Suffice it to say that she had a sense of foreboding.

“Your cousin?”

The witch’s brow furrowed a moment before she shook her head with a sigh. “Oh, I think I’ve started the wrong way around. My name is Adčla Zabini, and my cousin–”

“Is Mr. Malfoy.” Rose felt her face grow even warmer.

Miss Zabini nodded, dark eyes brightening in spite of her reserved manner. “He did not think it appropriate to come himself, and...” As she paused, the last vestiges of formality fell away. “Would it be horrible of me to admit that I wanted very much to meet you?”

Rose sat down on the nearest chair, taking no care with her skirts, and waved Miss Zabini toward another.

“Why is that, Miss Zabini?” She let out a breath. “What I mean to say is that it’s peculiar in light of my defeat of Mr. Malfoy.”

Miss Zabini took her seat with the utmost of grace.

“But that is exactly why, Miss Weasley.” Her small laugh, while slightly off-key, was pleasant enough to the ear. “It is a rare thing indeed when someone ventures to best my cousin at anything. He is usually so particular on the subject.”

“Usually?”

Eyebrows raised, Miss Zabini met Rose’s eyes. “How perceptive of you, Miss Weasley. Mr. Malfoy is eager for you to know that he regards the matter of honour satisfactorily resolved, and it is not at all like him to admit such a thing.”

Rose looked down at her hands where they lay clenched in her lap. She unfurled them, finger by finger. What was she to think of this intelligence? Was he normally this thorough in the aftermath of a duel? She was not at all certain of what occurred after the opponents exited the field of the honour. Did it mean that he had also assured himself of Albus’s health?

She had far too many questions and far too few answers, but she hesitated to communicate them to Miss Zabini. Her curiosity was not of sufficient strength to overcome her anxieties regarding her ignorance of society’s ways.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked instead with a smile that only just succeeded.

Miss Zabini got to her feet. “I’m very sorry, Miss Weasley, but like you, my time in London is largely spent catering to the whims of my relations.” There was perhaps a wistful note to her sigh, though it was quickly lost in the smile, nearly a grin, that spread across her face. “It would, however, be an honour to better make your acquaintance. If I may be so bold, I think you are the most fascinating person in London.”

Rose’s smile wavered. “I would not go so far as that.”

It looked for a moment as though Miss Zabini would throw her arms about Rose in kindly embrace, but she restrained herself and patted Rose’s arm.

“You may be surprised, Miss Weasley. Even my cousin agreed with that claim.”

She offered her goodbye without another word on the subject of her cousin although it meant that she neglected to mention something else her cousin had told her that day. From the expression on Miss Weasley’s face, and the flush that simply wouldn’t go away, Miss Zabini deemed it wise to no longer refer to Scorpius Malfoy in Miss Weasley’s presence. Yet it was rather a misfortune because she thought that the one thing she had not said was by far the most interesting.

“And what do you think of Miss Weasley, cousin?” she had asked upon his return from the duelling field.

The firm line of his mouth had softened, if only a touch.

“There is no greater pleasure than to admire a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman.”

He said nothing more, and Miss Zabini thought it best for the moment to do the same.




Author's Note: The line "a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman" is quoted from Chapter 6 of Pride and Prejudice.


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