The roses were blooming. The warm summer air brushed Cecilia Fletcher's skin as she selected a beautiful pink rose and, holding the secateurs at a careful angle, snipped it from its branch. Stowing the rose in the basket dangling from her arm, she moved to the next bush. Her mother had carefully cultivated the extensive rose garden for the past twenty years, since before Cecilia had even been born, and they were now Mrs. Fletcher's pride and joy. Cecilia loved the roses. The scent always reminded her of home.
She had just selected a lovely orange rose when she heard the crack of someone Apparating. She jumped, mangling the rose stem she'd been cutting. Reid Akins stood in front of her, grinning.
“You startled me,” she scolded him, and he shrugged.
“I didn't mean to. What happened to that poor rose?”
She gave him a dirty look and cut off the damaged end, trying to salvage enough of the stem to fit in a vase. He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.
“I thought you weren't coming over until tomorrow,” Cecilia said, putting the rose in her basket and reaching for another.
“I missed you,” he said, and she smiled tenderly.
“Go away, you idiot.”
Reid took the secateurs out of her hand and drew her behind the row of rosebushes.
“My mother is right inside,” she said warningly, though she went with him willingly enough.
“Don't care,” he said, kissing her soundly on the lips.
She smiled and kissed him back, then pushed him away. “You said tomorrow we'd go out. Tonight I'm going out with my friends.”
He leered at her. “I could be your friend.”
Cecilia laughed. “Go home, Reid.”
“All right, I'm going. Get all dolled up tomorrow, I have something... particular I want to ask you.” He wrapped an arm around her waist, drawing her close against his chest. “Have fun with the girls.” He bent down and kissed her again, and she kissed him back happily.
“I love you,” she said as they broke apart.
Reid gave her that familiar cocky grin that both annoyed her and made her heart flip. “I love you too. Here-” He took the secateurs out of her hand and cut a blood-red rose from a bush that wrapped around a white trellis, presenting it to her with a bow.
“Those are my favourite,” she said, smiling at him as she took the rose. It was an old-fashioned English climbing rose, with a sweet scent that she'd always loved.
“They're nearly as beautiful as you.” He returned the secateurs and she kissed him again.
“I'll see you tomorrow.”
He backed up a pace, blew her a kiss, then turned on the spot and disappeared. Cecilia let out her breath slowly, grinning, wondering if it ever got better than this.
She knew what he wanted to ask her, had been waiting for him to ask ever since they'd left school. She'd thought about asking him herself if he didn't do it soon enough. The words had been circling her head for days.
Run away with me...
She couldn't wait.
He'd better ask her soon, or she really would have to do it herself. She'd put his address down to receive her N.E.W.T. results, sure that they would be living together by then. If her results came to his house while she was still living at home, she'd be in not a small amount of hot water with her mother.
She finished cutting the roses, and brought the bouquet inside, bubbling over with happiness.
Her mother was waiting in the kitchen, supervising the saucepot that stirred itself over the stove and a knife chopping vegetables next to it on the counter.
“Thank you,” she said as Cecilia set the roses on the countertop. “There's a vase in the cupboard over the sink, would you get it?”
Cecilia reached it easily. She was quite a bit taller than her mother and had never understood why she put objects up out of her reach and then had to use a Summoning Charm to get them down. Why magic them down when one could simply keep them lower?
She set the vase next to the roses and leaned against the cabinets as her mother arranged the roses in the vase.
“Are you still going out tonight?” her mother asked, not looking up from the flowers.
“Yes. We're only going to the Leaky Cauldron, don't be concerned.”
“And what time will you be home?” her mother asked mildly.
Cecilia was not fooled by the tone of voice. Of age she may be, but as long as she was still living at home, she knew her mother's rules still applied. Her mother had an amazing ability to make Cecilia feel that she was still only twelve years old and a disobedient child. Sighing, she answered, “Shortly after midnight?”
Her mother surveyed her for a moment with one eyebrow raised, and Cecilia held her breath.
“Do you swear all your girlfriends will be with you all night?”
“Yes, it's just a girl's night. Reid's not coming along, I promise.” She gave her mother a hopeful smile.
Her mother pursed her lips, then heaved a sigh and said, “Two a.m. No later.”
Cecilia grinned and bounced over to give her mother a hug. “Thanks Mum!”
“You behave yourselves tonight. Don't drink too much. Conduct yourselves as ladies.”
Highly bloody unlikely, except on Hattie's part. Hattie was always a lady. “Yes, Mum.”
The sound of the locks turning on the front door drew her attention, and she ran to the foyer, leaving her mother alone in the kitchen, still working on the vase of roses.
Her father was just closing the door behind him, and Cecilia waited until he had hung his cloak on the tall, polished stand before reaching up to kiss him on the cheek.
“Hi Dad,” she said brightly.
“Hello, my little one.” He patted her rather absently on the head as if she were still a little girl, and she smiled up at him. Her father had been very distracted lately with work. He often was. She didn't mind his frequent bouts of distraction, as he always came back to his family, to his only daughter.
She followed him back to the kitchen and watched her parents exchange a quick kiss.
“I think I've finally got enough support to pass this legislation,” her father said tiredly, collapsing into a chair. Her mother handed him a glass of lemonade, and he accepted it with a grateful smile.
“I was starting to think I'd never get to this point,” he continued. “Cranmer was determined not to be involved, but I've got him convinced that it's necessary for our world. I only hope he doesn't change his mind before the Wizengamot votes.”
“He won't,” her mother said reassuringly.
“I sincerely hope you're right. With him on my side, I've also got the votes of his cronies. Kersey always votes with him. I can just win this.”
“Well done, Dad,” Cecilia said, smiling at him fondly. He was a wonderful man. She'd always admired her father greatly, but never more so than now, seeing him work to bring legal protection to Muggle-borns like her best friend.
“I know some said it was unnecessary, all wizards are the same, but there are others who would never see a Muggle-born have the same rights as a pure-blood. The principle is important. This is the first step to putting in legal protections for Muggles as well.”
“You're giving a voice to those who have none,” her mother said fiercely. “And we're very proud of you.”
“Thank you, dear,” her father murmured, looking both pleased and embarrassed.
“Dinner will be ready soon, my dear,” her mother said. “Go wash up, if you please. Cecilia, help me set the table.”
Her father went off to wash up, and Cecilia took a small handful of cutlery from the sideboard in one hand and three goblets in the other, and followed her mother into the large dining room. She followed behind as her mother set out plates, adding the goblets and cutlery to each setting, and thought about what it would be like to do this in her own home, with Reid washing up for dinner. Just the two of them.
It sounded wonderful.
She watched her mother bustle off to the kitchen to fetch the vase of roses and wondered what her parents would think. They had met Reid several times, and surely must know she was serious about him. She thought her father rather liked Reid, though her mother always seemed a little suspicious of him.
Her mother put the roses in the centre of the table, on an antique scrap of lace that had belonged to Cecilia's great-grandmother. “There,” she said, smiling proudly. “Don't they look lovely?”
“Yes, Mum.” Cecilia reached out to touch the petals of the red rose that Reid had cut.
“Ah, this looks cozy,” said her father from the doorway.
Cecilia looked up at him with a smile and hoped he wouldn't kill Reid when she eloped with him.
“I'll be right back with the roast,” her mother said, laying a hand on her husband's arm as she passed him. Cecilia smiled at them. Her parents obviously still loved each other very deeply. She wanted that in twenty years.
Her father took his wand out of his pocket and set it down next to his plate as he sat down. “How was your day, my dear?” he asked as Cecilia took her seat.
“Very relaxing,” she said cheerfully, setting her own wand on the table just as her father had done. “It's nice to have a day off.”
“You'll be back at my office on Monday, won't you?”
“Of course.” She'd been working a few days a week as part of her father's staff. It was exciting, feeling very in the thick of things at the Ministry, but she wasn't sure it was what she wanted to do forever. Her father would like nothing better than to see her follow his footsteps into Magical Law, and encouraged her at every turn. She hated to disappoint him, and was starting to think maybe she could stick with the job, become just like him. Reid was going to work for his own father – he was taking a break to recover from his gruelling N.E.W.T.s before beginning his career. She rather thought taking a break sounded a good idea as well, and wondered how to break it to her father. But he had Arthur now to pin his hopes on as a successor. Maybe she'd be off the hook.
“Here we go,” Cecilia's mother sang out as she entered the room, a platter enchanted to float along in front of her with three silver bowls floating behind it, filled with vegetables. There was far too much food for only three people, but that was how Mrs. Fletcher always cooked. Cecilia's father sometimes said he had eaten nothing but leftovers for lunch the entirety of his marriage.
The serving dishes had just alighted gently on the table when a loud klaxon shrieked to life. Cecilia's heart dropped into the pit of her stomach. Someone was trying to break through the protective enchantments around the Fletcher house.
Cecilia's father leaped from his chair, grabbing his wand, and ran to the front door. Cecilia was on her feet, her wand in her hand, right behind him, but her mother stopped her.
“Go to the attic. Get out a window, you can Apparate from the roof. Don't let them find you!”
“What about you and Dad?”
“Don't worry about us, we'll be fine, now go!” Her mother gave her a push, and Cecilia ran.
She was at the top of the stairs when the doors burst in, one of them hanging off its hinges from the force of the spell thrown at it. Hooded, masked figures were rushing down the front hallway, their wands drawn and shooting curses. She knew she should obey her mother, should hide, but she stood transfixed at the top of the stairs, standing in the dark upper floor of the house as her parents defended themselves.
Her father was wonderful. She could see him casting spell after spell, driving two of them back down the hall toward the ravaged front door. A sudden trickle of hope slid through Cecilia's terror; maybe he outmatched all of them.
Her mother was fighting to the best of her abilities: Cecilia had never seen quite that look of fierce concentration from her mother before. Her mother was not as fast as her father was, but she was fast, until quite suddenly she wasn't fast enough.
A flash of green light flew from the wand of one of the hooded figures, and Eleanor Fletcher fell backward into the dining room.
Cecilia stood frozen at the top of the stairs, watching with horror as the next moment seemed to stretch out endlessly, as her father lunged forward, his face suddenly filled with panic and anguish, and then another flash of green lit the hallway.
She was at the bottom of the stairs before she was aware of having moved, and her rush seemed to have taken them by surprise. She blasted one of them up against the wall before they could recover, cracking the plaster where the Death Eater's back hit the wall, and then she was inside the dining room.
Asmund Fletcher lay on the dining room floor next to his wife, his eyes open and unseeing, staring up at the ceiling, his wand on the floor next to his outstretched hand.
Cecilia screamed and threw a curse blindly behind her. Someone was laughing, but she couldn't see – the room was suddenly full of bursts of light again, and the tears were streaming down her face. Everything seemed to be fading, so that the only real thing she could see was her father's face.
The last thing she heard was a rushing sound, like wind in a tunnel, as a green light flared in her damp eyes, and then there was nothing more.