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Chapter 8 : Frivolity and Friendship
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Frivolity and Friendship
As the days passed, Rose frequently met with Miss Zabini, who always took care to never make reference to her cousin, and little time passed before they found themselves to be friends. Rose soon found herself sinking into a new world, changing subtly under the influence of London society. She rarely missed her life in the country but for the time it had given her to write and imagine places forever beyond her reach. Now she had no time at all, and when she did, she was far too fatigued to make proper use of it.
It was from Miss Zabini, and not Lily, that Rose came to know more of the ways and whims of society, how there were many witches who could not embroider or dance, but could weave charms in elaborate designs or brew potions unrivalled by the best of stillroom maids. Yet as she glanced over the shoulders of the once-Misses Patil, whose talents with silk and thread were ever the talk of well-bred witches, Rose felt the absence of her younger cousin, who ought to have accompanied them. It was not as though Lily demonstrated any animosity toward her cousin and she appeared to have forgiven Rose for her past transgressions now that she saw how her cousin was capable of demonstrating fine taste. Despite this, Lily made no effort to join Rose and Miss Zabini when they went calling. Indeed she seemed largely disinterested in the magical arts, but as no one else in the Potter residence appeared to be concerned, Rose said nothing to the Potters, leaving Lily to her handiwork and pianoforte.
Once, however, when Miss Zabini had come to tea one afternoon, Rose voiced her concern in the form of a seemingly innocent question.
“Is it usual for witches to learn the Muggle arts? Beyond the usual sewing and cooking, of course.”
Miss Zabini tilted her head to one side. “Of course? I can assure you, Miss Weasley, that most witches here hardly know how to boil an egg, much less how to darn a stocking. Even when they do not have house-elves to perform these tasks, they use magic.”
“That is true.” Rose bit her tongue before she could add, “I had forgotten.”
It was at times such as this that Rose was reminded of the differences between herself and Miss Zabini, not to mention much of London magical society. She blushed a little and strove to turn the conversation away from her ignorance.
“I was merely curious because Lily continues to work on her embroidery, yet it doesn’t seem a popular pastime.”
Miss Zabini looked up, but her gaze was toward the window. “It was more popular during the war. My mother was very good at it. My aunt kept as much as she could, considering.”
Rose set down her teacup rather too quickly. “You mean you–”
She stopped before she could commit a grave indiscretion, but Miss Zabini did not appear troubled by the half-asked question.
“My parents died when I was very young.” She paused, neither face nor voice betraying emotion. “My aunt and uncle have cared for me since, even though they already had a child of their own.”
Rose did not think it wise to remain silent after this statement. Some would, believing themselves to be merely polite in the face of an awkward situation, but Rose was never ‘merely’ anything. She was drawn to Miss Zabini, perhaps because she was the first real friend Rose had known, someone who was refreshingly not a relation. Yet there was something more, some softer hint of the Malfoy glamour, untainted by their cruel pride.
“I’m sorry.” Rose leaned forward as far as was possible so that her fingers could brush those of Miss Zabini. “I’m glad to hear that it is something your mother excelled at.”
Miss Zabini patted Rose’s hand to acknowledge her offer of sympathy. “It is rather out-of-date, but perhaps Miss Potter will bring it back into fashion.”
She laughed, but it held a forced note.
They soon prepared to take one of their customary walks through the park, which would end at the Malfoy’s residence on the opposite side. Just as they were putting on their bonnets, Mrs. Potter entered the foyer in her Quidditch robes, younger son in tow.
“If you don’t mind, Albus will accompany you today.”
Albus stepped out from behind his mother, doing his best not to appear displeased at the prospect, though the mask of the polite gentlewizard suited him ill that afternoon. He had not been long in St. Mungo’s and seemed much improved in health, but Rose could detect hints of disquiet in his moods, and it was odd to see him wearing his spectacles with greater regularity. She suspected that Aunt Ginny had similarly taken note of this alteration in his habits and encouraged him in much the same manner as she had Rose, biding him to take some air and exercise despite his claims that he was in perfect health.
“Shall we, ladies?”
He was all solicitude to the two witches as they strolled down tree-lined paths, relating stories of the Viennese court, its figures, and its fashions. Nearly a year had passed since his visit, yet his memory did not falter over the slightest of details. His words surrounded them with grand salons and ballrooms filled with the strains of that latest and most scandalous dance, the waltz. He spoke of the ladies’ gowns, right down to the placement of each ribbon, and the way they used their fans to pass along messages of assignations, sometimes even of love.
“And were you the recipient of such messages, Mr. Potter?” Miss Zabini asked.
Albus called forth a smile. “I am afraid not, Miss Zabini. The Viennese ladies did not think me worthy of notice, but a poor younger son. An Englishman, no less.”
Rose preferred to avoid such talk of worth and marriage. “They must still blame us for the death of the Queen of France. We had the power to prevent it.”
“The Muggles did,” Albus said, his voice turning sharp before he recalled himself. “It was a very complicated time. Many of the records contradict one another, each side wishing to excuse itself from the worst of the horrors.”
Their conversation darkened as though a dense cloud had passed over only they three. Miss Zabini’s lips tightened and Albus’s brow lowered as he glared at the toes of his boots where they had been scuffed by the curb stones. Rose did not avert her eyes from the distance where she could see the park gates and the carriages that passed along the street beyond.
“That is why I wish to write a proper history of it.”
The others turned to her.
“Someone must, and I do not see why I should not be the one to do it.” She was pleased at the strength of her assertion.
“Indeed,” Miss Zabini exclaimed. “It would be a worthy thing, though you must take into account the perspective from which you’d tell it.”
Rose nodded slowly. “Yes, of course. I hoped to consult as many records as I can. Uncle Potter’s library only offers so much.”
Albus looked up, scepticism in his eyes. “Worthy as it may be, the effort would be well beyond your means, cousin.” At the sound of Rose’s sharp intake of breath, he rushed to clarify his meaning. “Not because you are a witch, but because one person alone could not do it in a lifetime.”
Amusement lit Miss Zabini’s features. “Did the Great Wizard Dumbledore not possess the Elixir of Life? We could brew some for Miss Weasley’s benefit.”
Even one who had mistaken Mr. Albus Potter’s smile as genuine would fail to do the same at the sight of Rose’s mildly twitching lips. She would never master the art of dissembling; honesty was inscribed upon her face as surely as were her freckles.
“Anything is possible. The war did end, in spite of everyone saying it wouldn’t.”
Silence fell over the trio. Rose was the first to begin walking again, and Miss Zabini fell into place beside her, visibly distressed by the way that the conversation had turned. Albus followed some paces behind, hands clasped behind his back, lost in thought, though Rose could perceive red patches on his cheeks. Whether they were out of anger or shame, she could not tell.
He soon approached her, adjusting his spectacles with one hand. “I understand why you wish to write this history, but you must keep in mind that people will resent it no matter how much care you take to present it fairly.”
The logic of his argument was sound, and Rose sighed, though not quite in defeat. It was a problem that, in her enthusiasm, she had pushed to the margins. There was also much that Albus had not said, likely due to Miss Zabini’s presence. Those who would resent Rose’s proposed History would do so because it was compiled by the daughter of Mr. Ronald Weasley, not because it was too honest or biassed; they would see that name and make their judgement. The very thing that Rose sought to remedy would prove an impediment.
The question would then be how to avoid such prejudice. The answer came to her in a moment as she remembered the title page of the novel she was currently reading.
By a Lady.
“Then I shall make the work anonymous, Albus. It will be by ‘a witch,’ not a Weasley.”
She might as well have said this with a proud toss of her head and galloped off into the sunset on a unicorn for all the heed that Albus paid her words. His face was inscrutable as he stood stiffly beside her, offering neither support nor further disapproval.
Miss Zabini took Rose’s arm. “Please let me speak to my uncle on your behalf. It would save you much time to consult the Mal– I mean his family’s records.”
The sound of the name, even that single syllable, caused Rose to start. It was a name too often on her mind, though those around her were wise enough to not say it in her presence, affording her the same courtesy as they did her parents. To Rose this courtesy was little more than annoyance, serving to more thoroughly remind her of things she would much rather forget.
At first it appeared that she would refuse, but after a moment, she placed her hand on Miss Zabini’s arm.
“Thank you. It is a very kind offer.” She said nothing more.
It would certainly be beneficial to consult the elder Mr. Malfoy’s archive, but there was the unfortunate problem of the younger Mr. Malfoy’s presence. Although he had returned to society, he had done so with more haughtiness than ever, refusing to dance with any witch and setting a stony glare upon anyone who dared express enjoyment in his presence. There was general wonder at why he should continue to remain in London if he found so little to amuse him, much less why he should attend parties merely to offer insult.
“I do understand, Rose, and I hope that you can forgive my jest. It was in poor taste, I see.” Miss Zabini leaned forward to look into Rose’s face.
The greater wonder for Rose was how much Miss Zabini differed from her cousin. There were indeed the signs of a pureblood upbringing in Miss Zabini’s manner, a haughtiness that could not entirely be shaken from her being, but unlike her cousin, she was incapable of looking down her nose at anyone. Much of this was due to her diminutive size, but there was also her seemingly boundless optimism, a surprising attribute for one orphaned so young and who had been out for three seasons without any hint of an attachment.
Rose nodded and made another attempt to smile. “Please don’t worry yourself, Miss Zabini. Your jest did not bother me in the least.”
Little time passed before they had regained their amity by dissecting the finer points of modern magical theory. They strolled arm-in-arm through the tree-lined walks, Albus wandering behind them, seeming to find more of interest in a blade of grass than in the ladies’ conversation. Yet Rose was certain that he listened to every word. After one of her more wild hypotheses regarding wand mechanics, she glanced back to see him leaning forward, open-mouthed, as though to argue a point. He just as soon snapped his mouth shut and bent to adjust the buckle of his left shoe.
With a shake of her head, Rose returned to attend to Miss Zabini’s opinions on the affect of accents on the effectiveness of spells. Their walk soon ended by the entrance nearest to the Malfoy’s city residence, an imposing stone edifice that faced the park. The former residence of the Selwyn family was one of the most desirable residences in magical society, famous for its collection of spectres and moving staircases. The Malfoys had occupied it for the last two seasons without shewing any desire to live elsewhere to the disappointment of others who wished to proudly display that address on their cards.
Miss Zabini bid farewell to the cousins, then added, “I will also make arrangements with Uncle so that you can view the library. It is an impressive place. Perhaps your cousin would like to join you?”
Albus shook his head and bowed.
With a movement of her shoulders that betrayed her French origins, Miss Zabini looked back at Rose, mild amusement in her eyes.
“I shall send out an owl as soon as I know.” She squeezed Rose’s arm and leapt into the street, which was mercifully quiet that day.
Rose and Albus remained in place to ensure Miss Zabini’s safe entry to Selwyn House. Albus was the first to leave, eager for his afternoon tea, but just as Rose prepared to leave, she glimpsed something out of the corner of her eye. Perhaps it was merely one of the famous spectres, though this spectre seemed a little too alive. To Rose’s dismay, he was also too familiar. His light-hair and even lighter skin were stark against the darkness of the room beyond. Even from this distance, Rose could discern the sharp nose and the strong brow under which his eyes stared outward into the street. She could not say for certain whether he actually saw her, but it did not prevent the heat from rising to her cheeks as she at last turned away.
She struggled to regain her composure, but the moment, insignificant as it had been, had somehow left a deep impression on her consciousness. If only she could have exclaimed how strange a man he was, to stare at people from windows, but it was hardly a strange thing at all. Surely one could look out of one’s own front window, particularly when a relative was making her return. Perhaps he was checking the sky for rain, or perhaps he sought an ordered carriage, or perhaps he had observed the presence of his fellow duellists: the one he had defeated, and the one who had defeated him.
Rose knew that must look back, though she did not know why. There was no way in which she could comprehend her emotions or the rapid drumming of her heart against the inside of her wrists.
It was not until they reached the park gate that Rose glanced over her shoulder.
The window was empty, the fluttering curtain offering the only sign that anyone had been there at all.
Author's Note: Many thanks to everyone who has supported this story thus far! It means a lot to hear from you and I hope that you continue to enjoy the misadventures of Miss Weasley and Mr. Malfoy.
It wasn't until I finished this chapter that I realized nothing much happens in it. Therefore, I want to assure you that the next few chapters will contain more interesting material, including dancing, awkward interactions, and serious literary pursuits.
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