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Play the Devil by Lululuna
Chapter 2 : Rose
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9

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chapter image by magnifique. @ TDA

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I imagined as a child. But as soon as I was a man, I put away childishness.
-Corinthians 13, William Tyndale's Translation of the English Bible

Back to the beginning of it all.

It was an early morning, a July Wednesday, and Mum was making breakfast for those of us obliged to be up at this early hour. Hugo, lucky bugger, was merely on holiday from school and most likely wouldn’t begin his readings until halfway through the last week of August. I, the long-suffering eldest child, wasn’t so lucky.

Being an adult is bloody hard, I thought to myself, scuffling into the kitchen and plopping down on one of the chairs. It was a misty, rainy day in Barnet in Greater London, not that I would be forced to deal with the weather unless I chose. The Ministry of Magic was all indoors, and the Floo network would deposit me straight into the lobby without worrying about the damp air messing up my hair.

Mum had banned any of us from Apparating in the house and had even set up wards around the confines of the garden. There were several reasons for this: first, to keep away any unwanted visitors from appearing in our living room unannounced; and secondly, to keep my careless (her word, not mine) mates from Apparating into the front garden and shocking the neighbors and creating a nasty mess that she would have to cover up. The third reason was that she didn’t want Hugo and I popping around the house and frightening people once we came of age: she claimed to have been present when this happy moment had arrived for my twin uncles and said it nearly drove Nan madder than she already was. So Floo powder it was, though we had a shaded corner of the garden where the wards were lifted if absolutely necessary.

I looked up at Mum, tilting my head forward. I had secured my long, thick red hair in a sloppy ponytail on top of my head, and as I looked at her it fell forward, my eyes obscured by curls.

“Toast, please, Mummy dear.”

Mum rolled her eyes a little but obliged by depositing two buttered slices in front of me. She smiled, amused, and smoothed the hair back from my eyes, tightening the ponytail like she used to do when I was a little child and still needed her to fix my hair.

“I like it when I can see your eyes, Rose,” she said thoughtfully, depositing two mugs of tea on the table and pushing one gently towards me. “You have too pretty a face to be obscured by all that hair.”

“You will be the only one who thinks so,” I inform her through a mouthful of toast. “It’s common knowledge that everyone- blokes, girls- look better with a fringe, with some hair covering their foreheads. It helps hide this bloody conker of mine that silly Dad just had to pass on.” I myself had a sideways fringe. Mum’s complaint that she couldn’t see my eyes was a common one.

“Your nose is perfectly fine, Rose,” Mum tutted, rolling her eyes ever so subtly. She pushed a couple letters across the table in front of me and turned to her newspaper, which I subconsciously identified as being a Muggle one as the pictures weren’t moving. Being Muggleborn and having a foot in both worlds meant our family knew far more about Muggle affairs than the average wizarding family. Well, Mum, Hugo and I did, at least. Dad was hopeless and mildly terrified by Muggle customs and especially technology. It got Mum all sorts of mad. She thought wizarding parents were doing their children a huge disservice to isolate them from the dominant Muggle society. All it took was seeing my friend Lysander Scamander freak out at a revolving door in King’s Cross to confirm her theory.

We Granger-Weasleys lived in a predominantly Muggle neighborhood, and had Muggle friends. Our kitchen had some Muggle appliances which Mum swore she would never give up: both parents had Muggle drivers licenses, though admittedly Dad’s had been revoked after the pigeon incident in June.

“You have to say that, you’re my mother,” I retorted, and rubbed my nose self-consciously. I had recently developed a nasty spot on the end of it, which made me resemble a certain festive reindeer, and I had been covering up before work every day with some quite expensive liquid foundation bought from the magical beauty supply store in Diagon Alley.

“Yes, yes, I know everything,” Mum muttered, turning her attention back to the paper. I glanced at the open second page again and recoiled: a large photo of a skull attacked to a knobby spine grinned back at me in black and white. The skull was brown with age, with a slightly crooked spine, and it peeked out from a tomb of dirt.

“Ew! They should be banned from printing horrible things like that, and springing them on innocent bystanders!” I cried. Mum glanced up from the article.

“It’s just a skeleton,” she said rationally, in that typical Hermione Granger matter of fact way. “Really, Rose, you’re incredibly squeamish, you’re as bad as your father. Don’t think I didn’t see how you both cowered in the back and kept your eyes down at your Auntie Muriel’s funeral.”

I remembered that horrid day vividly.

“Well, it’s archaic and disgusting to have open caskets at these things,” I retorted. “Maybe in the olden days, when they wanted to keep the body out and keep an eye on it in case it came back to life or whatever. But nobody wants to see that.”

“It’s comforting for the close family and friends,” Mum replied. She took a dainty bite of her own toast and flicked her wand at the windowsill to open the curtains for the window plants, all while turning back to her article.

I wrinkled my nose, remembering how I had accidentally caught a glimpse of Aunt Muriel’s wrinkled, cold face, as stern and judgemental in death as it had been in life. I had worked really hard not to have to look at her corpse: I didn’t do so well with these things. The old bat had arranged her own funeral to the details of the appetizers which would be served and to having my Nan swear that she would prevent Uncle George from making a speech. It was mad, although it wouldn’t surprise me if Mum also had her own funeral arrangements planned to the seating arrangements. She’s only grown more organized with age.

I looked at the paper and recoiled. The skeleton was still staring at me. “Er, do you mind not flashing that at me while I’m eating?” I brandished my toast like a shield. The skeleton grinned, cheeky bastard that it was.

Mum rolled her eyes: an honest to Merlin, 360 degree eye roll this time- but turned the page anyway. “It’s a fascinating bit of news,” she told me earnestly. “They found him buried in-”

I didn’t get to hear the tale of the grisly thing because Dad came in at that moment, yawning, his thinning rusty hair sticking up straight. Unlike Mum, who was already neatly garbed in her smart set of robes for work as befits a top official of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Dad was wearing a ratty T-shirt and pair of sweatpants with a suspicious stain on the right pant leg. He swiped a piece of toast off my plate- ignoring my outraged complaint and attempt to grab it back - and flicked his wand at the coffeemaker. With his typical luck and grace, the coffeemaker decided it didn’t like magic today and exploded, soaking the counter and kitchen tiles with hot black liquid.

“No!” Dad cried. Mum quickly sorted the mess with a smooth wave of her wand and, rising, poured Dad a cup of the salvaged coffee by hand.

“You can’t wave your wand so aggressively, Ron,” she scolded, grabbing his wand hand in her own and demonstrating the correct movement. “It’s a twist and nudge, not a wiggle and jab.” She released him and turned away, leaving Dad to glance at me behind her back and then scowl comically. I giggled.

“You tell him, Mum. You tell that old coot who's boss.”

“I’m not old,” Dad pouted, sitting down and dropping his wand rather clumsily on the table in front of him. “Though it’s sometimes hard to believe I have a daughter old enough to have a paying position at the Ministry.”

“Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty-seven,” I reassured him, patting his arm amicably. “And I don’t get paid much.”

Dad and I always got on wickedly, while Hugo often frustrated him with his moodiness and laziness and ability to hold a grudge. Mum has said they’re too much alike, though it would infuriate either to hear that.

“I’m only making minimum wage,” I continued, driving the point home. “It’s more of an internship in which they bribe us with five Sickles an hour to get us out of the house while we figure out what we really want to do with life, as Cecelia says.” I slit open one of the letters, which had little marks on it, doubtlessly from owl claws. It was from my best friend Maude, asking me to drop by for tea sometime in the week, and the other was a note from my boss reminding me to pick up a bar of his favorite treacle tart from Diagon Alley before daring to show my face in his office, though not in so many words. I sighed and shoved the letter at Dad.

“See the nonsense I have to put up with?”

Dad scanned the letter. “Hey, these blokes use interns to run lazy man errands? Hermione, look, Hazlehurst is using Rose to fetch him treats!” He looked thoughtful. “I should have snagged Molly as an assistant before the Minister’s office got to her.”

“Molly would drive you mad in minutes,” I informed him. “Trust me, I spent a lot of time with her sister this past year from prefect duties, and she’s a terror with a superiority complex. Molly is much, much worse.” It was true. My Uncle Percy’s daughters, despite one being a sixth year Slytherin and the other a graduated Minister’s assistant, seemed to spend a lot of time annoying me, whether it was Lucy tattling on me to the Head Boy or Molly making snide comments about my work etiquette whenever we crossed paths at the Ministry.

“Rose,” Mum said warningly. I gaped at her.

“Well, it’s true! You’re not even related to them by blood, what does it matter?” Mum, being the only child of two only children, had grown up cousin-less and therefore blissfully unaware of the fact that while I was forced to always love my cousins, I wouldn’t always like them. She got angry with me when she caught me snickering to Albus during one of Victoire’s radical feminist rants, or making fun of James’ shoddy haircut.

“Now, now, ladies,” Dad said, leaning back in his chair. I had to admit, he was in a remarkably good mood for Ron Weasley on a Wednesday morning. “Rosie, why don’t you go get ready for work now you’ve finished your tea: let’s leave at half eight, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said, and stood up without clearing my plate, which I knew Mum would take in stride. She was always cleaning up after us lot. As I plodded up the stairs I heard her chiding Dad that I would never learn to be a self-sufficient adult if he kept babying me. I smirked. Whenever I was home from Hogwarts both parents suddenly forgot that I had survived for the past ten months at school, though admittedly there, up until sixth year at least, I had Maude to guide me and make sure I made it to class and meals and such.

Tying my long hair into a tidy high ponytail and pulling on a neat dress with a very high neckline (though I did allow myself a naughty pair of lacy pants), I tied my favorite necklace round my neck, the silver locket on its long chain dangling below the top of my dress which I paired with most outfits. It was my good luck charm. I ran back downstairs, banging on Hugo’s closed and locked door as I passed and shouting that we were leaving. When I got downstairs, Dad, dressed at last though with his shirt un-tucked, and Mum were waiting by the fireplace, and we all Floo’d to Ministry headquarters one after the other, the two parents and their almost adult daughter, as we had every day that summer.

It was shortly after arriving in the atrium, watching Mum brush fireplace soot off Dad’s trousers as he groaned (“leave it alone, Hermione!”) that I realized something was wrong and this day at work wouldn’t be as relaxed and boring as it usually was. Though we Weasleys had gotten through in the nick of time, several of the Floo fireplaces meant to be delivering employees were making strange crackling noises and smoking heavily, beginning to fill the Ministry atrium with heavy green smog.

Mum sighed. “You better run off to the office and get Creevey and Hazlehurst down here, Rose.” She checked her watch. “I have a hearing to sit in on in ten, I’ll see you tonight.” She blew a quick kiss to Dad and took off down the hall, her sensible leather shoes making snapping noises as they hit the rich marble of the atrium. She disappeared into one of the lifts, dodging around a specky wizard carrying a very large potted fern. Several wizards and witches nodded to her as she passed.

Dad shrugged. “Shall we, Rosie?” I linked my arm with his, stepping skillfully around a wizard who was colourfully cursing at one of the malfunctioning Floo fireplaces. I waved smoke away from my eyes. Though Mum was a big figure at the Ministry due to her status in the department and well-known and well liked for her inter-disciplinary work, Dad was a self-proclaimed dead weight. In his younger days he had enjoyed chasing after occasional the dark wizard or two, though now he was mostly resigned to paperwork. Since Mum had kept her maiden name for work purposes, a surprising few made the connection that the clever Hermione Granger was married to a Weasley. The connection to my famous Uncle Harry was there too, of course, but in general Dad was happy enough to hide donuts under his desk and sign things which made him feel important. Being an Auror in times of peace tended to mean a quiet life and an easy paycheque, and Dad claimed that was enough for him.

When I arrived at the Department of Magical Transportation, Faulty Floo and Portkey Regulation Office, Larry Hazlehurst was sitting on his desk making a spitball. His creation was no doubt intended for the nearby screen which slightly separated the other half of the office, and where Dennis Creevey reveled in his privacy. Upon hearing the door open, Hazlehurst scrambled to seize a book and make it look like he was engaged in thoughtful reflection, which was a very rare event indeed.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said, packing the spitball into a round lump and taking aim for Creevey’s cubicle. Hazlehurst was a forty-something man with the most boring job in the world, thus making me official intern to the most boring department in the Ministry. He had a round, bald head, small beady brown eyes, and a nose that looked like it was constantly sniffing out some trouble. His days, when not spent tinkering about in fireplaces, fishing dead birds and mice and such out of said fireplaces, and being frazzled by rogue Portkeys, were spent trying to rattle his ever-earnest colleague Creevey into snapping at last.

Dennis Creevey, a little slip of a man with sandy hair and an un-supposing, friendly smile, was one of the most jittery and excitable men I had ever met, yet his long-standing good faith in the human race kept him from giving Hazlehurst the good kick in the behind he was always asking for, in my humble opinion.

“Did you fetch my treacle tart, Weasley?” he asked, swinging his legs over the side of the desk.

“No, sir, they were all out and I knew you wouldn’t want to settle for a cupcake,” I lied through my teeth. “Sorry ‘bout that. Oh, and just so you know, a bunch of the Floo fireplaces are going mad in the atrium- you lads may want to go and have a look.” I helped myself to a Fizzing Whizbee from the large bowl on his desk.

Hazlehurst swore violently. “Very well Weasley, the office is yours for the hour.” He clapped his hands fervently. “Creevey, your expertise is needed. Our time to save the day has finally come!” He sighed. I knew that Hazlehurst was more of a sitting around the office twiddling his thumbs type than a heroic type. Most days, this was a quality I admired and appreciated in him: we were quite the kindred spirits. In convincing me to take this job Mum had done me a favor, really.

Creevey smiled brightly. “Hallo, Weasley! How’re your Mum and Dad doing then?”

“They’re well, thank you, Mr. Creevey. Good luck with the Floo!” I deposited my purse onto the motheaten armchair and sat myself down at Hazlehurst’s desk.

“Ta, Weasley,” Hazlehurst called. Then he stuck his head back in and scowled. “And Weasley, no more inviting that tall brunette friend of yours to drink whiskey from a flask when we’re out. This is a respectable office, not a nightclub.”

I raised an imaginary glass to him. “Touche, my good fellow.” His scowl deepened, as if trying to figure out if his authority had been undermined, then disappeared. I heard his hollering after Creevey halfway down the hall to the lift.

The office was small, like most small yet incredibly underrated departments in the Ministry. I had once complained to Dad that for a structure that existed primarily underground, expanding the offices really should not be this big of a problem. He had shrugged and said that was the Ministry for me, and I should have seen the size of Grandad’s office before he got promoted during the war.

Hearing the faint sound of the lift doors closing, I swung my feet up onto the desk (crushing an empty milk carton in the process), cast a quick spell so that lights like those from a fifties Muggle disco began to light up the walls, and tapped the ancient wireless as a song from the ironic yet wildly popular wizarding band The Younger Wand creaked out. I then proceeded to scribble a few notes on the available enchanted paper to my friend Cecelia and my cousins Louis and Albus, my three favorite fellow underemployed Ministry workers, informing them that the bosses were going to be downstairs for a little while and that they should come visit, and that whiskey and all other alcoholic substances were welcome. I folded the bits of paper into little airplanes and tapped them with my wand, sending the memos on their way. They would ride the elevator and find their subjects: I barely had to do anything at all. So thus began a typical day at the most boring and useless summer job of youthful existence.

My cousin Louis was two years my senior, having turned nineteen at the beginning of May. Louis was a tall, slim thing, with sandy-blond hair that he had grown in following my recommendation that everyone, male or female, looked their best with a fringe. It was undisputed that he was the favorite Weasley grandkid of Nan, his parents, and possibly even me, on days when Al was being particularly twatty and thus lost his spot of most beloved cousin. Louis was nothing less than a good guy: he was clever, kind, and sensitive. Cecelia, in typical friend-fashion, swooned over Louis’ pretty-boy looks and charm, though in my opinion she was too aggressive and bold to win him over. He was one of the best behaved of all of us and also the most successful, if success is counted by annual income. Louis had surprised us all by entering into the Unspeakable program, forcing Dad to bite his tongue about his rather vocal lifelong opinion that the Department of Mysteries was ‘a well-perfumed load of dragon dung’ and Unspeakables were ‘overpaid hysterics with a penchant for poor bodily hygiene.’

But Louis’ work interested me greatly. A few weeks ago, there had been a leak to the Quibbler that the Department of Mysteries had created something revolutionary and fascinating. All the Time-Turners had been smashed over twenty years ago (something about my parents, my aunt and uncle, my mate Lysander’s Mum and my old Herbology professor fighting You-Know-Who), but the Department had been slowly rebuilding their stash, and at the same time developing something bigger, something mightier. The eccentric paper had gone wild with the idea, professing that this was the end of time as we knew it, that time was to become something easily trifled with.

A source from the Department of Mysteries has confirmed that the infamously impenetrable department has succeeded in its long goal of creating long-distance time-travel. The source, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims that with this technology the Department of Mysteries would be able to send an individual backwards in time to a specific date, as far back or farther than the year 1500. The source was uncertain about the Ministry’s intentions for this revolutionary device.

I loved this story, animated with a suggestive picture of the door leading to the Department. Shortly after this story had been released, the Minister himself had released a hasty statement that the article was there to incite public excitement and that no such device had been created in the Ministry, that such a thing was preposterous and impossible, and that the Quibbler was obnoxiously unreliable. Most people trusted the Ministry over the anonymous source and the seedy and unreliable publication, which was known for publishing ridiculous and far-fetched stories, though my uncle Harry always professed a fondness for it.

The article had emitted instant excitement among my friends and I. Cecelia had glowed and said she would have used the device to go back to the 1990s and make poor Uncle Harry fall in love with her before he was snagged and snogged by my aunt, Ginny, to whom he had been happily married for the better part of two decades. Albus, after frowning down his thin nose at Cecelia for talking about his parents so disrespectfully, had claimed that he would love to travel to the early twentieth century and meet his namesake, the white-bearded enigma whose eyes twinkled upwards from half my collection chocolate frog cards. Maude, in her thoughtful way, had decided that she would want to travel to the early 1500s and see if Anne Boleyn was ugly, like historical records said she was, or if she was pretty, like contemporary historical fiction claimed her to be, and to see if she was really a witch. As for me, I had no stake or curiosity in any particular part of the past, though I did point out that I wouldn’t mind meeting a handsome prince with a real sword and a warhorse, and to wear a long dress like a lady in a fairytale and swoon and cry out over things (Victoire would be turning in her metaphorical grave). But soon the story was revealed as a hoax and we all split up to go home for the summer and became over-worked (in the case of the others) and under-paid and the excitement was forgotten. Or so I had assumed.

It had taken several pints leaving my stomach all rumbly, and a great deal of threatening and pleading for my cousin Louis to admit that there might be more to the story than the public knew. That was all the damned boy would tell me, and part of the reason why I was so desperate to find out more. My friends wanted to learn about the past, about their own pasts: I mostly just craved adventure. My life had turned into a series of comfortable routines, of breakfast with the parents and lounging around the office and watching Hazlehurst and Creevey irritate each other and fumble over cursed Portkeys. This time in my life was static, so unchanging. So, naturally, I rather wanted something to happen to force change into it.

The morning passed without anything much happening. I ate an apple, threw it at the bin, and missed, and then had to get up and put it in the bin. I ate three lollipops off Hazlehurst’s desk and stopped when my teeth started to feel sensitive and my tongue to turn blue. I conjured a disco ball, though it was a sad, faded little thing, and danced around the office to a mopey The Younger Wand song called Won’t You Whomp my Willow. I answered a memo about a faulty Portkey found in Derbyshire and by promising Mssrs. Hazlehurst and Creevey would be on it as soon as they were finished with their current task.

The problem with working in this office was that I lacked the proper training to do anything useful. Transportation devices, such as Floo and Portkeys, took months of training to understand, and as I was only here on a summer contract there was no point in teaching me how to do their work. Also, though I’d never tell my employers this out loud, this office was kind of the runt of the Department of Magical Transportation. The offices that had all the power were the ones who actually created, registered, and delivered licenses and items. Hazlehurst and Creevey were just damage control, the bottom of the food chain, the ones who had to get their hands dirty and got the blame when things went wrong.

Whenever I complained about the job, Mum snottily pointed out that had I not taken so long to apply, I could have worked in any department I wished: Foreign Affairs, like Albus, or the Minister’s office, like bloody Molly, or even Magical Law Enforcement, like Cecelia. But the truth was, they were all bored too (well I don’t know about Molly, she’d never admit it). There were simply too many Hogwarts graduates and not enough positions of actual worth. In this economy, we had to create our own paths, like Maude, who was attending Muggle university and hoping to work for wizard-Muggle relations, something she’d be brilliant at. But Maude was clever and brave and creative. I was just Rose. I went where the flood took me. I tried not to drown on the way.

Not to mention the dismal fact of my NEWT results. They had arrived shortly after the term ended. Mum was so excited when she saw the Hogwarts owls approaching: I couldn’t help but wonder how she’d managed to keep from weeing her pants when her own results had come back in the olden days. It was my fault for getting her hopes up, really. I’d told her all my exams went fine.

I hadn’t told my perfect, genius mother how Ambrosia Zabini had insulted my cousin Lily and made her cry in front of me right before my Transfiguration practical, and then I’d had to go into the exam tired and in disgrace from dueling the wretched cow and comforting Lil. I hadn’t informed my parents how Cecelia and I had snuck into Hogsmeade the night before the Potions examination and one pint had led to seven pints and three Jaegerbombs and one Firewhiskey and a great many toasts to being an adult, and how after the barman at the Hog’s Head smelled a rat and kicked us out I’d spent half the night curled over the toilet in the girls’ dorm and the other half holding Cecelia’s hair as she took her turn. Needless to say, brewing the Draught of Living Death was too much for both of us the next morning, and the examiner got more than he bargained for when we handed in the flask at the end of the exam. I hadn’t told Mum how Scorpius Malfoy, my obnoxious ex-boyfriend, had purposefully snagged the seat in front of me during the History of Magic written examination with the words ‘I’m sorry’ sewn into the back. I had never known he could sew, though it wouldn’t shock me if his mum helped him out. I spent the whole exam guilt-ridden and angry and staring at Scorpius’ scrawny shoulders and cursing his Malfoy name, though the tips of his blond hair turned up and curled adorably at the nape of his neck.

So let’s just say poor Hermione Granger was unpleasantly surprised when she tore open her daughter’s results letter before I could spirit it away. Ah well, I’d told her cheerfully when she finally stopped poring over it and handed it over. Maybe Hugo will turn out better. Dad had looked doubtfully over at Hugo, who had just missed the bowl of cereal, and quickly cleared up the spreading milk with his wand. And I, under-achieving, flailing Rose, had ended up spending my summer in a job I knew nothing about, under the guidance of two men who didn’t care to teach me, with no desirable career prospects or clue about where I wanted to go.

I was restless. I was bored. And I think that’s why all the trouble started.

The road to London, 1483

The man was riding against a sea of misty rain, rocking and rolling with the wind. He gritted his teeth and ground his heels into the sides of his horse. Around him, loyal men rode strong and fierce against the tide of the weather, swords at their waists. The man’s own sword was heavy against his hip: he rode with one hand clutching the reins so the other would float slowly to the hilt, as if to reassure him that he was worthy to carry it.

It was 1480, his thirtieth year, and everything had changed with a single, short message. The messenger had ridden hard from London, his horse white with foam, and had handed the lord the message personally. He would give it to nobody else, the messenger said, he was under order from Lord Hastings himself that only the duke would read the message.

The letter in question was tucked into the man’s doublet, where no moisture in the air could reach it. He could not bring himself to part with it. He was nervous, yet hid his fear from his men with the grace of a practiced courtier and trained commander, hardened by grit and resolve. These men had ridden under his command out to the great slaughters of Tewkesbury and Barnet when he was but a boy of seventeen. They had followed him into exile, guarded him while he slept – but he never truly slept, nor relaxed, not really. He had been born into an age of warfare, where brothers turned on brothers- had not his own brother been killed by their kin? Were not the enemies cousins, brothers, friends?

His wife would ride out the next morning, in a litter befitting her weak condition, her ladies gossiping excitedly all aflutter about her. But the duke spared little time in thinking about that lady. They had become more and more estranged over the past years, trapped in a loveless marriage that was undeniably beneficial for the both of them. No, it was not his wife who haunted his thoughts, but she. The witch, his wife called her, and while perhaps it was so she was so much more than a witch. His dearest companion, his teacher and his lover. His lady. She came to him in the times when he needed her most, she beckoned to him to stay and live a little. He knew she came from a different world; he pined for that world. He trod its mystical paths in his dreams.

As a boy, his nurse had told him tales of Faerieland, where nymphs and sprites danced until the dawn tickled them, where fairies drank mead from acorn cups and reveled, drawing mortals into their bowers and dens. He had thought sometimes, as a small child, looking at his elder sisters, famous beauties, and his elder brothers, strong and strong-hearted golden young men, that he himself was a changeling child, a fairy child, dark-haired and sallow and small and weak of limb, brought from Faerieland while his mother’s own babe, golden and mighty like his brothers, had been spirited away to join the revels and be a pet to the Faerie queen.

He was the runt of the litter, but once he had forgotten these foolish tales, once he had known the horror of the death of those earthly men, his brother and his father, the boy had known that there was no Faerieland, no faerie parents to reclaim him. He had simply worked harder until he could wield a sword as well as his elder brothers, his sword arm strong. He had studied late into the night by the light of a waning candle, learning policy and law and languages and religion until he could prove himself a wise advisor to his brother the king at the mere age of fifteen. He had learned battle, he had killed and known death, and exhibited a fortitude of character and solemnity that made him great at the court of the Yorks, subject only to the king. He had raised himself to be a mighty duke, a perfect prince.

It was only she, his Faerie lady, who could make him truly laugh. Just thinking about her softened the hard shell around his heart, reminding him of the goodliness and mirth she brought to him. She was the only force in this world who could distract and sway him from his princely duty, who reminded him of the joys of being alive and in love. But he feared she was finally lost to him; he thought of the last time they had met, in the fields and forests, how he had kissed her confused lips and she had not pushed him away, though he thought she did not know him. He was no magician, nor did he wish to be: he was no child of Faerie, nor a magical knight errant from a romance. Yet he accepted that about her, that she was something more than mortal, that the confines of time and place yielded beneath her for reasons he could not quite divine. He was a holy man, a dutiful man, yet she had urged him to forget all that, filled his mind with tales of other lands and worlds and magics which he could not help but long to understand. She was a woman like no other he had ever met, nor was likely to encounter again.

Now, riding in the mist, his dark hair damp and lank about his face, he urged himself angrily to forget her. Everything had changed in England. He had not seen her for years, surely she had forsaken him. That part of his life was finished, and he was ready to move forwards to a magnificent destiny. Nothing could ever be the same.

There was one mistake Rose did not make. She did not tell him of his fate, and in that exists all the difference.

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