Chapter 10 : Equals and Opposites
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Equals and Opposites
The corridors seemed much longer than Rose remembered, the weight of Miss Zabini, while far from substantial, still heavy upon her arm. The noise of the Assembly Hall continued to resound in Rose’s ears, and she took comfort in the increasing distance from the crush and press of people, voices raised and glasses clinking.
As they reached a darker corridor, they were met by a cool breeze from an open window in the larger salon, bringing with it the scent of the garden, and it lead them into a room lit by a set of glowing baubles in every colour, the sort popular with society witches that season. The freshness of the room somewhat revived Miss Zabini, and as they settled her onto a couch, she asserted that she was not unwell. However, there was some unspoken agreement between her rescuers that she must rest.
Only once they released her, bending forward to ensure her comfort, did they take note of their proximity, the front of Mr. Malfoy’s coat brushing against Rose’s arm, her gown wafting against his knees.
Rose held her breath, not daring to raise her eyes, but neither could she compel herself to pull away. The air that fled his lungs was soft against the curls of hair that hung over her temples
Her voice emerged a croak. “Some water, perhaps?”
Mr. Malfoy was gone before Rose dared breathe again. She caught Miss Zabini’s curious gaze, but shook her head in reply to the unasked question.
“It is for you that we worry, Adčla.”
Miss Zabini’s laughter was muted, almost sad. “I’d be pleased for the distraction matchmaking would bring, and to have you always near, dearest Rose.”
Rose shook her head a second time and reached down to adjust her skirts, hiding her face – and its revealing expression – in a convenient shadow.
“You haven’t yet asked why I experienced a... moment of weakness.”
Apart from the minor hesitation, there seemed to be nothing untoward in Miss Zabini’s voice, but Rose, despite the brief period of their friendship, knew otherwise.
“You should say nothing until you’re certain that it is a story that must be told.”
A hand circled Rose’s wrist, firm and warm.
“It must.” Miss Zabini’s voice lowered. “But not yet. I am... fatigued.”
The baubles shifted position, casting Rose in an emerald light. She did not want to imagine what Miss Zabini would see in her face. Gratitude, perhaps. Or at the very worst, curiosity. There was fear in her friend’s face, a spark of horror firmly rooted in the young witch’s dark eyes.
Mr. Malfoy then appeared with a goblet of not water, but pumpkin juice. He handed it to his cousin and remained standing over her, eyes narrowed as he ensured that she consumed every drop. Displeasure radiated from every fibre of his being, positively dripping from his voice.
“Maman has called for the carriage, if you are fit to go.”
Miss Zabini set the empty goblet aside, but made no attempt to rise. “I do not see that I have a choice, cousin.”
“Do you require a healer?”
“No. It was only a momentary weakness.”
Somehow his frown deepened even further. “It hardly seems momentary. Would you not agree, Miss Weasley?”
Rose, thus addressed for the first time, turned to appraise Mr. Malfoy’s expression, but it revealed nothing.
“It was most likely the heat of the room, Mr. Malfoy. That is all.” Her words left the taste of a lie in her mouth. A line appeared on Miss Zabini's brow; she was also aware of it.
There was a twitch at the corner of his left eye. “Yes. That is likely it.”
A meeting of eyes. Perhaps of more. Rose stiffened. The lights around them brightened, feeding on the strange electrick currents that surged through the air. His face was little more than marble, bearing resemblance to the wizard of the duelling grounds only in form. But his eyes held something of that other Scorpius Malfoy, uninhibited by restraint, a man governed, nay overwhelmed, by feeling.
She refused to be the first to look away, though within she quailed at one glimpse of his steady gaze.
“But I think that Adčla will need to rest. We have, I suppose, exerted ourselves too much these last few days.”
Miss Zabini’s hand tightened on her wrist. “Yes, I suppose.”
Rose could only deduce that Mr. Malfoy had not seen Mr. Fitzgerald, or perhaps he did not know of the connexion between his cousin and that gentleman. She met Miss Zabini’s eyes, her nerves constricting at the sight of so much confused and tortured emotion on the face of someone who could, she thought, quite easily become dearer than a sister.
These cousins were drowning in their passions. Varied as these passions were, they still consumed with unsatiable hunger, threatening all in their path.
Such passion had destroyed her mother’s mind and had nearly torn their world apart.
She moved away too quickly, tearing her arm from Miss Zabini’s grasp, nearly falling against Mr. Malfoy in her eagerness to divide herself from them, to have air of her own to breathe. The scent of summer roses remained heavy in the room, the light from the baubles casting eerie shadows across the walls.
“If you are sufficiently recovered,” she said, her voice high and strained. “Then I shall return to the Assembly. Good night, Miss Zabini, Mr. Malfoy.”
“Good night, Miss Weasley.” Mr. Malfoy stepped forward before she could make her escape, extending his hand, palm turned upward.
Rose stared at that hand, the neatly-trimmed nails and the heavy signet ring upon the smallest finger. The white sleeve of his shirt extended beyond the elegantly-turned cuff of his jacket, disguising the arms of a duellist, a wizard with near-perfect form, polished until no longer quite human.
“Is it that repulsive to you?” he asked in a voice too low to reach his cousin’s ears.
Her jaw tensed. A small vein above her eye pulsed beneath freckled skin.
And then she placed her hand upon his, their fingers sliding together, hers cool, his fevered and damp. His thumb wrapped over her knuckles, his grasp unyielding. A pair of dry lips brushed across the back of her hand and she stood, frozen in place, though whether by horror or fury, it is impossible to say. She retained only the sensation of his breath against her skin and the stillness in the room around them.
“Thank you for your kindness to my cousin, Miss Weasley.” His voice remained low.
Her hand dropped to her side, closing into a fist that was hidden in the folds of her gown.
“It is the very least I can do for a friend.”
“Then your friends are fortunate indeed.”
She raised her eyes to regard him, but there were footsteps in the corridor, bringing news of the carriage. Mr. Malfoy returned to the sofa to assist Miss Zabini. If there had been anything of note in his face, any hint of irony or admiration, they were erased by the time the house elf entered with an eager bow.
“Your carriage is ready, sir!”
They soon parted, but not before Miss Zabini, leaning heavily on Mr. Malfoy’s arm, extracted a promise that Rose would visit on the morrow, her hand lingering a moment too long in Rose's. The house elf displayed more life than Mr. Malfoy, who gave not a second glance as he sailed down the corridor, his cousin at his side, leaving Rose in the salon, the baubles’ light growing dim around her.
When her cousins asked for an explanation of her absence from the assembly, she could only beg fatigue. Poor health was a near impossibility, her country upbringing having had too beneficial an effect on her constitution, but she was capable of growing tired, particularly of society’s ways and whims. Those of Mr. Malfoy were the most tiring of all.
Even as she sat in bed that night, book open on her lap, she found herself staring into the facing wall, attempting to make sense of what had occurred. She would have to face him again, far sooner than she might have wished. It would be remiss to not call upon Miss Zabini the following day to ensure that she was fully recovered, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid another inhabitant of that household, particularly if he should remain persistent in his odd behaviour toward her.
What had he meant by asking whether she found “it” repulsive? The “it” could have referred to his hand, his name, or himself. It might even have encompassed all three. But how strange that he should have thought her repulsed by these things! His behaviour, erratic at best, could be described by that term, but she did not think it entirely accurate. He had not yet repeated the abuses of their first meeting, and indeed he had since the duel treated her with a degree of civility of which she had not believed him capable.
It was possible that he had misinterpreted her hesitation to place her hand in his. Twice she had done this, but it was a result of her ignorance and apprehension rather than any particular feeling of repulsion. Mr. Malfoy seemed to believe that she was prejudiced against him, that everything he did would be wrong in her eyes.
“Surely I’m not so bad as that,” she said out loud, the book falling from her lap.
The room did not reply. Perhaps it was for the best.
She replaced the book on the counterpane, carefully pressing back a folded page.
There was another question that pestered her, and she freely gave herself over to it, setting aside all thoughts of Mr. Malfoy in favour of the gentleman whose presence had so distressed Miss Zabini. Rose had only caught the barest glimpse of him through the crowd. Taller than the average, he had a head crowned with hair even darker than her Uncle Potter’s and a taste in fashion that rivalled Rose’s own for indifference to the latest modes. She supposed he might be handsome. Certainly Lily had thought so. Rose had all-too-clearly observed her cousin’s awe-struck expression during the dance.
It was troubling to think that Lily might entangle herself with a gentleman of ill-repute. And what else was Rose to believe after witnessing her friend’s sufferings at the bare sight of the man? Whatever lay in their shared past, it could not have ended well.
Rose was not one to dwell in speculation, and therefore, after a restless sleep, haunted by her curiosity, she sought relief in the interrogation of Albus Severus over breakfast.
He was picking at his food in his usual way, a row of toast soldiers arranged on one side of his place to be sacrificed, one by one, to the golden pool of his soft-boiled egg. He seemed to take great pleasure in the act, no matter how often his mother commanded that his troops be consumed with less pomp and circumstance.
Rose took the seat across from him, her plate piled with plum cake. “Who was that gentleman at the assembly? The one who was dancing with Lily.”
Albus glanced up from his plate. “A good morning to you as well, dear cousin.”
“Yes, yes, good morning, Albus.” She poured herself some tea, brushing aside the eager sugar bowl that slid toward her. “But you do know something about everyone.”
His eyes narrowed. “I believe I should take offense to that.”
“And yet you blush at the compliment.”
Albus busied himself with another piece of toast, his cheeks a becoming shade of pink.
“You exaggerate the scope of my knowledge, but yes, I will gladly accept your compliment.” He carefully dipped the toast into his egg. “The gentleman to whom you refer is known to me.”
His words were perhaps too deliberate for Rose’s taste. She frowned, crumbling a slice of plum cake with the back of her fork.
“Will I have to provide something in exchange for information? Or will you be more forthcoming than that?”
Albus swallowed, pausing to relish the flavour before he replied. “His name is Fitzgerald. His mother fought alongside our parents in the revolution. Miss Chang, she was then.”
Rose dropped her fork. “The Miss Chang? The one once engaged to Mr. Diggory?”
It was a story that had reached near-legend after more than a quarter century: the death of Mr. Cedric Diggory, a young wizard of good family, at the hands of Voldemort himself. Along with Albus’s father, Mr. Diggory had been lured into the most impoverished district of Paris, where the Mangemorts waited for the revolution to begin.
It had that night.
Albus was watching her face, as though assessing every thought that passed through her mind.
“Indeed. She married a Muggle physician not long afterward, a Scotsman studying in Paris at the time. Frightfully intelligent sort. Wrote books and things. Young Fitz wouldn’t be much older than Roxy, if I my arithmetic is correct.”
With a levitation spell, Albus poured himself a cup of tea.
“Do you know anything about a scandal he may have been involved with?” Rose asked, leaning forward.
He added two heaping spoonfuls of sugar to his cup. Once again, his eyes narrowed. “One that might also involve Miss Zabini, I presume you mean?”
There was a very long pause, Albus ignoring tea and toast alike as he stared holes through the wall above Rose’s head. It was possible that he had not been in London, or even England, at the time of any such scandal, but surely he still would have heard of something in relation to it.
“If there was, then it did not occur in London.” He leaned back in his chair, gaze dropping to his cooling tea. “But you know of the many watering holes where such incidents occur on a regular basis. I’ve heard that Bath is a particularly dangerous place.”
Rose refused to take up that bait, tempting though it was.
“Do you know what branch of Healing Mr. Fitzgerald specializes in?”
He watched her from behind the rim of his cup. “Try to resist the urge to end your sentences with prepositions, cousin.”
The only urge she sought to resist was to not transfigure his cravat into a serpent.
“As far as I could understand from Abbot’s garbled description, Fitzgerald’s work involves electricity.” Albus shook his head, mouth twisted in a grimace. “I prefer to not imagine how he chuses to employ it.”
The possibilities of electricity were extraordinary, but Rose, despite her so-called country breeding, understood that it also had darker associations, none of which would be appropriate for this Author to describe. Our heroine, failing to possess the same standards of propriety, had in her boundless curiosity done some reading on this illustrious subject, thinking that it may serve well as the subject of a story. If Mr. Fitzgerald had attempted to–
Rose could blame Miss Zabini for being alarmed at the sight of this student of the unhallowed arts, if indeed his studies had brought him to the margins of the Healer’s art. She suppressed a shiver and left Albus to complete the ambush of his toast army.
The household was quiet in Mrs. Potter’s absence. Mr. Potter had left for the Ministry hours before while Lily would remain closeted in her room for some hours yet.
Rose was not at all certain how Lily had become acquainted with Mr. Fitzgerald, but it could not have been for long, and it was therefore unlikely that Lily would be in possession of any pertinent information regarding that gentleman. No, she would have to hear the complete story from Miss Zabini and Miss Zabini alone.
It was not until she was about to exit the Potters’ townhouse that she realised how easily she had allowed her thoughts to become occupied by the mysterious Mr. Fitzgerald. She could not escape this notion as she strode across the park, paying no attention to the impropriety of walking out unaccompanied, nor as she stood on the doorstep of the Malfoy’s residence, card in hand.
The large, lacquered door was opened by a nondescript house elf who gave a little bow before taking Rose’s card and disappearing into a nearby room.
She pulled at the fingers of her gloves, trying not to stare, for there was much to stare at. Despite the horrors of the revolution, the Malfoys had maintained much of their wealth and they did not hesitate to display it. Furnishings of the highest quality, scarlet and gold rugs imported from the distant East, paintings from all the masters of Europe, it was beyond anything Rose had ever seen before. The walls were the blue of the sky, reaching upward from black and white marble tiles arranged in the manner of a chessboard.
A little smile tugged at Rose’s lips. How her father would love to have such a floor! In a space of the necessary size, with the pieces charmed to a larger size–
How long had he been watching her from the stairs? There she had been, smiling at the floor like a befuddled pixie, an entirely inappropriate expression to wear when calling upon an indisposed acquaintance. She shoved back the rim of her bonnet and winced as strands of hair came loose from the knot at the back of her head.
“Mr. Malfoy.” Rose dipped in a shaking curtsey. “I pray that your cousin is feeling better, and wish to offer whatever services I can to speed her recovery.”
He came down the final steps before offering a curt bow. “Thank you for your offer. Adčla has asked after you, but Maman thinks it best that she not entertain callers today.”
Rose felt a flush creep up her throat at the tone of his final words. She ought to have owled first, but in her haste and distraction, she had not even considered it. Her presence here would appear presumptuous, the country girl taking advantage of Miss Zabini’s kindness.
Some sign of her distress must have shewn upon her face, but Mr. Malfoy stepped toward her, his habitual frown increasing in severity.
“I know what she intends to tell you, and I have done my best to advise against it.”
He seemed to tower over her, sharp grey eyes glaring down his long, straight nose.
“You have been her friend, and for that we are grateful. She has had too few.” His voice hardened. “But there should limits to any friendship. And this, Miss Weasley, is where the line must be drawn. You cannot seek to pry–”
“Pry?” Rose turned a darker shade of red. “Mr. Malfoy, you are much mistaken. I asked her to say nothing of the matter. If she chuses to do so, it is not from any desire of mine to pry.”
A flash of uncertainty crossed his face, but once it passed, he squared his shoulders and tilted his chin, just in the way he had at their first meeting. Rose knew then that if there was any aspect of his character she found repulsive, it was his insufferable pride.
Her fists clenched so tightly that it gave her pain. “As you have informed me of all I came to hear, I will now take my leave. Good day, sir.”
She did not even attempt a curtsey, nor did she wait for the house elf to reappear. With a flourish that would surprise all but the wizard she had duelled, she pointed her wand at the door and it burst open, startling a cat that rested on the sun-drenched stoop. It raced between her legs and up the stairs behind Mr. Malfoy, but he paid it no heed. Faint pink spots had flared upon his cheeks, and his fists too were clenched, hanging at his sides.
“Your curiosity benefits no one, Miss Weasley. You least of all.”
The sounds of the London street threatened to drown out his words as Rose stood on the threshold. She turned, her face hidden in shadow while her hair blazed in the summer light, only partially covered by her bonnet, its ribbons flapping against her throat.
“If that is what you believe, Mr. Malfoy, then you have never known the burden of the past. You cannot understand...”
She put a hand to her mouth, cutting off whatever words were next on her mind, and then she was gone.
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