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Pride & Pestilence by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 9 : Miss Potter's Observations
 
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Chapter Nine
Miss Potter’s Observations

Although she had once been so excited for Rose to join her in London, Lily was only too glad to see her cousin be whisked away by Miss Zabini. Lily was simply not willing to subject herself to more potential scandal now that Rose had made an exhibition of herself in all the wrong ways. Imagine, one’s cousin duelling in parks with gentlemen! The situation was only made worse by the fact that Mr. Malfoy was one of the most eligible bachelors of their age. Now that Rose had embarrassed him before all of London society, there seemed to be little chance that he should ever glance in Lily’s direction again. To think that she had been so pleased to dance with him that evening, even if he had proven to be a proud, disagreeable wizard. Yet he was due to inherit a considerable estate, was not painfully old, and was decently handsome. What more could a young witch desire in a husband?

These thoughts tumbled over one another in Lily’s mind as she laboured over her embroidery, and it did indeed prove a Herculean labour. To get all of those stitches in neat rows was difficult enough, but to put said stitches in said rows while also following a pattern was well-beyond her patience. If she was not so much of a lady, she’d have thrown the preposterous thing on the floor. Certainly Rose would have done this, and that thought kept Lily firmly in her seat for the remainder of the afternoon.

Very few people came to call that day. Her mother was out again at the pitch, and her father was somewhere in the Ministry, speaking on behalf of a candidate for some position or another. Miss Molly and Miss Lucy came every day to offer Lily all sorts of invitations to tea parties, garden parties, picnic parties, riding parties, but Lily declined far more than of them than would be expected from a young witch in her first Season.

“I wish,” she stated with a little sniff. “To reserve my strength for the Assembly Rooms.”

“For dancing, you mean,” Molly said, unable to contain a small laugh.

Lucy was shaking her head. “But you’d see the same wizards at the parties. Do say you’ll come out more, Lily. It really won’t be the same without you.”

“And you have no reason to worry. Rose has already refused.” There was a strange smile lurking at the corner of Molly’s lips. She was too perceptive, leaving Lily to frown into her cup of tea.

She set down her cup and placed her hands in her lap. “I would only be concerned by Rose’s presence if she felt the need to duel with the gentlemen.”

“Mr. Malfoy will not be there either,” Lucy added, leaning forward conspiratorially. “He has been refusing everyone’s invitations. It’s causing quite a scandal.”

Lily’s frown deepened. “Surely he has not left for the country?”

“Apparently not.” Molly leaned back, musing over a biscuit. “He was seen going into his club a few days ago, though Daddy will tell me nothing of use about what he does there. It’s infuriating.” There was nothing in her manner that betrayed any particular emotion approaching infuriation, but one must be lenient with the Miss Weasleys of the world.

Lucy took in a sharp breath. “Do you think that he and Rose–”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” Lily’s hands tightened in her lap. “If she had any designs on him, she would not have duelled with him. It is as simple as that. Anyway, if you had witnessed their first encounter in this very house, you would never think to make such an accusation.”

‘Accusation’ was a rather strong word to use in these circumstances, yet Lucy’s suggestion struck Lily a little too deeply. Having avoided all conversations regarding the duel, she could only imagine how much Rose’s behaviour had disgraced the entire family. To have been seen in trousers by a group of wizards! To have held her wand to Mr. Malfoy’s throat without a single ounce of feminine modesty! It was more terrifying than anything in Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels, to be sure. She could not help but shudder.

Molly and Lucy merely looked at one another. They hardly needed Divination to read their young cousin’s behaviour.

In the end, Lily presented herself as guest of honour at one picnic and two garden parties. She made every attempt to appear the most charming witch of London society, donning the latest fashionable robes and speaking of the latest fashionable topics. She smiled, but never laughed. She was polite, but none would ever call her kind. Gentlemen were only too pleased to hand her delicate pastries and cups of tea, but if one had pressed them, they would have claimed that the name of Potter held more sway than the beauty and charms of Miss Potter.

It was something Lily had understood for a very long time, and perhaps it was that knowledge which had silenced her laughter and dulled her sensibility.

“And will you be attending the assembly tomorrow, Miss Potter?” the young Mr. Wood asked as he bowed over her hand.

“Indeed, Miss Potter,” added Mr. Abbott as he took Mr. Wood’s place. “We would not know what to do with ourselves should you not be there.”

Mr. Finch-Fletchley gallantly shoved them aside. “Should you grace us with your presence, Miss Potter, please allow me the honour of the first dance.” He bent to kiss her hand, but she slipped out of reach.

“Is there to be a ball? I have heard nothing of it.” Lily positioned herself at equal distance from each of the three wizards.

Mr. Wood may not have been as interested in Quidditch as his father, but he was still too interested for Lily’s sake, and she noted with distaste the way his clothes strained at the seams. He could not even stand in a way she thought proper, his whole manner was too informal, his grip on her hand too tight.

“It’s tomorrow at the Assembly Rooms,” he told her with a smile someone had once unfortunately called captivating, and so he used it on every occasion. “And as for the reason, I confess I neither know nor care to know. One never needs a reason to attend a ball, particularly in your company, Miss Potter.”

Lily caught Mr. Abbot rolling his eyes. As the shortest, plumpest, and poorest of the three, he was often overlooked, yet there was word that he had prospects. What kind of prospects, however, no one was sure.

“It is in honour of the new appointments to the Ministry,” he said, standing a little straighter at the knowledge that he knew more than his rivals. “I believe, Miss Potter, that your father was instrumental in these appointments.” As they included his own father’s appointment to the Committee on Experimental Charms, he had even more reason to be patient with the ignorance of his fellows.

“How nice.” Lily looked over their shoulders to see who else was arriving. Was it possible that these were the only gentlemen to be present at the garden party? Her cousin Lucy’s promises had quickly worn thin; there seemed to be few gentlemen of their age to be had in all of London society.

“But it does mean that you’ll be there, certainly?” Mr. Finch-Fletchley asked, gazing ardently at Lily’s lips.

She attempted to smile. Her mind told her smile and laugh and act exactly as she should, but she took a step back instead, anything to be beyond their reach. How they simpered and bowed, silly as coxcombs, brainless and boring. They were the perfect husbands, who would spend their days and nights in cardrooms, spending their wives’ money until, their limbs stiff with gout, they would wither before the fire, as brainless and boring as ever.

It was enough to make her pause, uncertain of from where these images had arisen, unbidden. Was this Rose’s doing? Or was this the result of Lily’s recent musings?

“Oh, Lily, there you are!” Molly swept up to them with another gentleman in tow.

Lily prepared herself for the usual introduction, gathering her skirts around her before dropping into a suitable curtsey. It was not until this action was complete that she looked up at the wizard’s face and experienced a Moment of Significance. The very air closed in around her.

“Is something wrong, Miss Potter?”

“Have you taken ill?”

She blinked, struggling to collect her scattered thoughts. “Not at all. Forgive me, Mr... I do not think I heard your name correctly.”

Mr. Wood was staring open-mouthed, and Mr. Finch-Fletchley was hardly able to conceal his surprise at Lily’s reaction to this new arrival. Or should the author be so bold as to say ‘new rival’? Only Mr. Abbott retained his composure, amusement pulling at the corners of lips, both at his friends’ consternation and Miss Potter’s shocking lack of composure. There was something in the new wizard’s blue-black hair and almond eyes that would have witches across the city sending for Amortentia.

“This is Mr. Fitzgerald.” Molly spoke slowly, her eyes narrowing as she surveyed the peculiar expression on Lily’s face.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Potter, gentlemen.” Mr. Fitzgerald’s accent suggested great northern crags and wild moors even as his appearance revealed origins in the distant Orient. “Hopefully you can forgive a poor fellow his ignorance, but I’ve not been in London before.”

“Where have you been ‘till now, Mr. Fitzgerald?” Lily asked, her voice uneven.

“In Edinburgh at the university.” His shoulders straightened. “To study the Healer’s art, Miss Potter.”

Mr. Abbot nodded appreciatively. “A noble profession.”

“Thank you, sir.” Mr. Fitzgerald’s heels clicked together as he gave a little bow.

No similar compliments were to be had from the other two wizards. Even the appearance of Miss Molly and Miss Lucy had no effect upon them. Mr. Wood was nothing short of crestfallen, his entire face drooping as he observed Miss Potter’s brightened eyes and flushed cheeks, neither of which had lit her face at the sight of him. Of the two, Mr. Finch-Fletchley was the more offended, first at having had his advances resisted, and now at this disgusting scene. He checked his watch with a sniff, half-turning away to seek out other acquaintances.

Lily was far from capable of noticing his ungentlemanly attitude. Her mind was still preoccupied by the particular curve of Mr. Fitzgerald’s eyebrows.

“And will you be staying with us long?”

He offered a smile whose warmth could not be denied. “As long as the city will have me, Miss Potter.”

Her body once again betrayed her and she returned his smile in full. “Then may you find something in this great city that catches your interest, Mr. Fitzgerald.”

Their eyes met, and when he at last turned away to speak with Mr. Abbot, Lily found that she had been holding her breath. It was extraordinary how it had happened, as though the world had fallen out from beneath her feet. He was easily the most handsome gentleman she had ever seen, his hair even darker than her father’s, his eyes black and bright, his face so pleasing to the eye. Mr. Fitzgerald’s appearance had a degree of carelessness about it that fascinated her. He was clean and presentable, but unlike her brother, who could spend hours upon hours preparing every detail of his costume, Mr. Fitzgerald, but it looked as though he had chosen whatever clothes were nearest to hand. To Lily, it implied that he cared for more than mere appearances, that his mind was occupied by topics of greater importance.

“What was it you said about a ball, Mr. Finch-Fletchley?” she asked, eyes still upon Mr. Fitzgerald.

At the sound of his name, the gentleman turned to her with too great a speed and nearly found himself horizontal with the ground.

“Tomorrow night, Miss Potter.” Unfortunately, spluttered in the only word that can describe Mr. Finch-Fletchley’s dialogue at this moment. “At the Assembly Rooms. Everyone in the Ministry will be there.”

An event for Ministry officials hardly sounded like a ball, and some part of Lily’s mind was certain that it was, in actuality, to be an assembly meeting, intended for conversation rather than dancing. But there were always ways for young people to persuade their elders than dancing was an absolutely necessary part of any gathering at the Assembly Rooms.

“Perhaps you should like to come, Mr. Fitzgerald. It would be the perfect way for you to settle into Society.”

It hardly mattered that she interrupted Mr. Abbott in mid-sentence, that the other gentlemen were staring, or that Molly was choking on a biscuit. She could see only Mr. Fitzgerald.

At first he appeared confused, but then Mr. Abbott offered a muttered explanation, and his face became suffused with pleasure.

“It’d be a great honour, Miss Potter. My gratitude knows no bounds.”

As he bowed, Mr. Wood and Mr. Finch-Fletchley exchanged glances over his bent form, no hint of gratitude in their eyes.

~ * * * ~

Tomorrow would arrive just when it was expected, though it could not come soon enough for Lily. She sat in her room, arranging and rearranging the contents of her vanity before making attempt after attempt to complete her latest effort of needlework. But her hands would not be still. Her mind would not settle on anything but daydreams. Her father had returned late from the Wizengamot, and she had immediately obtained his promise that she should attend the next day’s assembly. The only difficulty was that both Rose and Albus would accompany them, and they were to be chaperoned by Mrs. Lupin in the absence of Mrs. Potter, who had left for Ottery St. Catchpole that morning. No one had imagined that a young lady in her first Season would want to attend a gathering in her mother’s absence, and for that reason, Lily had not been informed of the assembly.

But of course her father did not tell her so. He frowned and pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose as he regarded his daughter. She, to her credit, did not flinch beneath his gaze, but pressed her lips together and awaited his acquiescence.

As the day of the assembly made its aching course through the hours, Lily felt her father’s eyes on her as she passed from room to room, picking up this and putting down that. She could see the questions etched across his face, and this knowledge did nothing to improve her nerves. She had not informed Mr. Potter of the reason why she so desired to attend the Ministry assembly, having shewn no prior interest in the political mechanisms of her world, and he seemed to believe that she was, shall I say, up to something.

When they arrived at the Assembly Rooms, Albus was perhaps rather too quick in joining his particular friend Mr. Abbott, who hovered near the refreshments table. Mr. Potter guided his daughter and niece through the vast hall, greeting and nodding to all who acknowledged him, some by halting in mid-sentence to scrape and bow. Lily peered into the crowds, but they were too thick, and she too easily overwhelmed.

In a quieter corner, from which one could view the entire room in safety, Mrs. Lupin waited with her sister, one awash in colour and the other quite devoid of it.

“Oh, mes chéries! I am so glad that you have come.” Mrs. Lupin stepped forward to take her cousins’ hands.

Miss Dominique offered a demure greeting. Her robes of unrelieved black were in sharp contrast with her pale face and even paler hair, but there was such a neatness and refinement in her appearance that none could think to criticize her ways. She remained behind to converse Mr. Potter as Mrs. Lupin lead her younger cousins into the crowd of dignified witches and wizards, some of whom bowed, others who curtsied, and others who were too engaged in conversation to take note of the young witches. All the while, Lily paid close attention to every passing face, but to no avail. Mr. Fitzgerald was not yet present.

She did, however, observe Mr. Malfoy and Miss Zabini entering the rooms in the company of his parents. There was nothing in particular to distinguish them, neither fanfare nor disapproving silence, as there once had been. Lily thought that Miss Zabini’s dress was very pretty, but she did not give a second glance to the witch’s escort.

“Ah, Lily, Rose, you must let me introduce you to–”

This continued on for some time, and Lily could not keep straight all the names and faces of the Ministry officials that passed before her eyes, some bowing over her hand, others merely bowing or curtsying as the occasion required.

“Fleur, would you mind if I joined Miss Zabini for a short while?” Rose asked, one hand plucking at her overskirt which Lily could see was refusing to lay flat.

Mrs. Lupin nodded her acceptance, and Lily was left to be introduced to a dozen more officials until she felt quite violently angry that she had put forth the effort to attend this assembly. By this point, it should be evident that Lily was blaming everyone else but herself for what seemed to be a most spoiled evening. The assembly was dull. The young gentlemen had mislead her. Her father ought to have given greater warning. There was as yet no sign that there would be dancing. With a sigh, Lily stood behind Mrs. Lupin, smiling when required, her cheeks flushed, but neither with the heat nor the compliments showered upon her.

There was, at last, a ripple of excitement from the younger members of assembly when the musicians began to play a country dace. Mrs. Lupin lead Lily to the edge of the space relegated for dancing, and Lily observed Rose taking up with Mr. Wood, while Miss Zabini allowed herself to be drawn forward by Mr. Finch-Fletchley, and Mr. Abbott appeared with Molly in tow. Lily found herself very much neglected, but gave no outward sign of disappointment, even when she saw Mr. Malfoy take up a place to one side of the floor, his eyes focussed on... on...

But Lily was given no time to react. A black-clad shape loomed before her.

“Miss Potter. Do forgive me my tardiness. Is this one of your charming cousins?”

Mr. Fitzgerald had indeed arrived and was bowing to Mrs. Lupin.

“Yes,” Lily said, all thoughts of Mr. Malfoy flying from her head. “Mrs. Lupin may I present Mr. Fitzgerald? Molly was kind enough to introduce us yesterday.”

Mrs. Lupin smiled in response, her face betraying none of the curiosity and awe that Lily thought should be present in those first casting their eyes upon Mr. Fitzgerald’s fine form.

“I think there’s still a chance for us to join the dance, Miss Potter.” Mr. Fitzgerald now held out his hand to Lily. “If you should like to, of course.”

She took his offered hand, relishing the warmth she could feel through her gloves and the tightness of his fingers around hers. The flush on her cheeks softened, and there came to be a brightness in her eyes that made some exclaim that she had something of her namesake in her after all. They joined with two other couples newly arrived to the floor.

“It’s a great pleasure to see you again, Miss Potter, if you don’t mind my saying so,” he said as they took each others’ hands to promenade around the set.

“It is very kind of you to say so, Mr. Fitzgerald,” she replied.

It was not until the second promenade that Lily caught a glimpse of Miss Zabini’s face as she passed with Mr. Finch-Fletchley. Miss Zabini stared straight at Mr. Fitzgerald as one would regard a spectre, or perhaps even a Dementor. Lily’s step faltered and her partner reached to prevent a fall, his arm wrapping around her waist. But it was not Lily who lost her balance to crash to the floor.

Miss Zabini had not fainted, but her face was of a dreadful pallor, her breath coming in great gasps as she sat upon the floor, shivering. She pointedly gazed at her feet, even when Rose knelt beside her.

“Adèla! Are you hurt?”

Lily could not hear Miss Zabini’s reply. Others had crowded around, obscuring the two figures on the floor. Lily felt Mr. Fitzgerald’s arm still around her waist, and she shrank back against him as more came forward to view the scene. She hardly knew what to think of her observations, nor of Miss Zabini’s strange stare.

Miss Zabini had recognized Mr. Fitzgerald, but what of that? Why should he be one to look upon with such horror?

Mrs. Lupin soon plucked Lily from Mr. Fitzgerald’s grasp, and the young witch was given no time to bid him farewell. As she was lead by the arm through the crowd, she saw Miss Zabini being lead toward one of the salons. On her left was Mr. Malfoy, his hand clasped around his cousin’s arm. And on her right was a flash of red hair, half-come down, its bearer watching closely the face of her friend. Then the three disappeared: the wizard, his cousin, and Rose Weasley.


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