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Chapter 4 : Of the Prejudiced and Proud
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Of the Prejudiced and Proud
In what she thought to be a rare thoughtful gesture, Rose left Lily to improve her cousin’s chances of finding a suitable partner. At least, that is what she convinced herself was the true reason she had abandoned the underage Lily in the ballroom. After all, the room contained a great number of family members, making it impossible that Lily should be left entirely unchaperoned.
Approaching one group of these blood relatives, Rose felt herself blush under the discerning gaze of her eldest cousin who was, by far, also the most well-adorned witch to be seen that night. Her husband, the ward of Lily’s father, had become very well-to-do thanks to the generosity and influence of his guardian, though it was well-known that Mr. Lupin’s own abilities were quite impressive. It was even rumoured in some circles that he was a popular choice for the next Minister of Magic. That is, if the current Minister would be willing to relinquish his position to one of such youth.
“Well, well, Rose, it is a pleasure to see you here tonight!” Victoire Lupin’s voice contained the slightest hint of a French accent.
Rose managed a small smile in reply.
“Am I correct to suppose that Lily chose this for you?” A set of long, ivory fingers gestured toward the modern design of Rose’s new gown. “It does suit you well, ma chérie.”
Looking down at the flounces and lace, Rose knew that she could not possibly agree with this sentiment. “If you say so, cousin.”
The laugh that rippled from Victoire’s lips was like a siren song to the nearby wizards, who drank in the sound with parched ears, their eyes soon following. It brought as much attention to Rose as to Victoire, and once more she felt that unflattering flush upon her freckled cheeks.
“There are sacrifices we must make to our pride to achieve our desires, think you not?” Victoire continued, wisdom creeping into her voice. “If only things had been different for you, dear Rose, but perhaps you will have the good fortune my sister did not.”
It was enough to send the flush away in a hurry. Rose had never heard the complete story of Dominique’s disappointment, but she knew enough to remain respectfully silent on the matter. The young wizard to whom Dominique had given her heart was long lost amidst the high seas of some distant southern clime, devoured, many said, by the treacherous kraken of the Pacific, and she, having lost her heart, refused to make any further attempts at matrimony, throwing herself into work within the bowels of the Ministry. Now as much an Unspeakable as her past, Dominique was rarely seen, though rather less rarely spoken of.
Rose wanted things to be simple, even straight-forward if she was to possess good fortune, and when she cast her wandering eye across the crowd of gentle witches and wizards, perhaps it was with a touch more suspicion. She thought back to Lily, left alone at the edge of the dance, but a flicker of red curls glimpsed through the mingling crowd assured her that Lily had just as easily found a partner as Rose had expected. It lifted a weight, albeit a small one, from Rose’s mind.
“Do you believe there can be hope?” she found herself asking Victoire.
“For you, chérie? Of course. You are a pretty girl, and as long as any potential husband is made to believe that you do not have more brains than he, you will easily make a good match.”
So that was it. In all of these proceedings, these matches and pairings that were required of their society as much for social standing as for the propagation of their kind, there would always be an unpleasant compromise. Whether this compromise, or sacrifice if the gentle reader prefers to use a more potent term, would be required of the witch or the wizard varied greatly, but in Rose’s case, as the one with only her powerful family connections to recommend her, it would mean disguising, even repressing what many would call her deficiencies.
These deficiencies were sadly obvious. Rose could see it as she watched the witches coquettishly smile at handsomer or wealthier of wizards who were present and how only the prettiest or wealthiest witches were the ones led to the floor to dance. Among them was Lily, who was not only pretty, but equally adorned in wealth and status. All the world would court her, fawn over her, throw proposals at her dainty feet. They may still have if she had not been the daughter of Harry Potter for when she smiled with gratitude in the face of the young wizard with whom she had danced, he nearly fainted away in the light of her glow. But for the daughter of Ronald Weasley, outspoken dissenter from the Auror ranks, there could be no such glow.
With an uncertain heart, Rose turned back to Victoire, who waited with all the patience of one who has known and experienced, but who is also unafraid to speak the truth.
“You are the one with good fortune, Victoire. You were assured all along–”
Victoire rested a hand on Rose’s arm. “Fortunate, yes. To say also assured is to be too certain of something which, perhaps, is not deserving.”
This cryptic response was soon lost among the circle of admirers who had come to surround the cousins to make much of the society queen and her rural relative, though had Rose not been in Victoire’s presence, it is doubtful that much would have been made of her at all, it being too well-known just who her parents were.
Rose smiled and smiled, and while she failed to simper to fawn in quite the same manner as the others, she believed that she was learning the ways of these fashionable crowds, however much those ways disgusted her. It was beginning to seem as though all rational thought within her head would disintegrate into the ether when a finger tapped her shoulder.
“Victoire said you might prefer to dance.” Mr. Lupin’s relaxed smile was a genuine one, a rare sight in particular crowd, even rarer amongst the politicians of the time. “I’ve heard that you had been practising, or may I say, I heard you practising this afternoon.” There was an impish glint within his eyes, the sort of glint that often sent young witches swooning.
Rose did not hesitate to accept for all that she blushed at his reference to that afternoon; he could not have known of her meeting with Mr. Malfoy, but this could not prevent her thoughts from returning to that painful moment of the day. Although she did not wish to dance and further humiliate herself, she could no longer withstand the banalities of the current line of conversation. Victoire was trying her best, but when the average level of intelligence in the room was painfully low, even the greatest society ladies will have difficulty inspiring rational speech. The act of remembering each step in the correct order would effectively occupy her mind until she could either find someone with as many brains as she or until she was able to return home.
From what she had thus far observed, the latter was the far more likely result.
The dancers whirled across the floor as though they imagined that becoming as dazed as possible was the only way they would enjoy themselves. The latest fashions were certainly ideal for the latest dances, the wider-bottomed skirts swishing around one’s legs in grand sweeps of silk, muslin, and lace. There was even a witch in taffeta, a most extraordinary fabric for its stiff set and shimmering colours, accentuated by a glamour spell.
As Mr. Lupin led her into the dance, bowing over her hand with all the deference he would show his esteemed grandmother, the flash of Lily’s red hair once more caught her eye.
It was then, and only then, that Rose took note of her cousin’s partner.
Dressed in robes of subtly-patterned grey, he was a vision of London’s deepest fog, his hair a flash of pale gold like the light of a hinkypunk leading unfortunate travellers astray. In this case, leading her cousin astray....
“Is there a problem, Rose?”
Mr. Lupin had the grace to appear worried rather than annoyed at Rose’s misstep, which had landed her foot ungraciously upon his. His shoes were strong, but she was a not insignificant weight, and the fact that he neither winced nor made mention of any pain was a great testament to his forbearance with the unruly Weasleys.
She rushed to collect her scattered wits. “I am merely surprised to see Lily dancing with Mr. Malfoy. He is a most unpleasant wizard.”
Mr. Lupin arched one eyebrow in response to her candid remark and turned his head in the direction of the other couple. Rose followed his gaze, careful to maintain the utmost concentration on the placement of her feet through the complex movements of the dance. These movements were second nature to the well-practised Lily, who conversed with Mr. Malfoy as though they had not met on uncertain terms only hours before. The only thing lacking in their partnership was a smile on either of their faces. Such gravity was hardly a surprise from Mr. Malfoy, but not from Lily, whose pretty face was the light of the Potter household.
Rose would have given all she had to know of what they spoke. If it was of her–
“They do make a handsome pair, don’t you think?”
Unable to imagine an appropriate, much less polite, response, Rose gave none.
“I would not say that such a match would bring great pleasure to her parents, but I daren’t think that it would be an unwelcome one–”
“They’re just dancing, Teddy! It does not immediately leap to marriage from that.” She snapped out her words with force. “And Lily will likely dance with all eligible wizards tonight. It is her first ball, remember.”
If he was startled by her outburst, he gave no sign. “Just as it is yours.”
They turned again in the dance, her skirts sweeping outwards and her hair dangerously approaching a perilous angle.
“But you must know that they have been acquainted for some time through their fathers,” Mr. Lupin continued, his voice remaining light and content. “Even today the elder Mr. Malfoy was present during discussion of the latest trade agreements, his son accompanying him so that he might learn the new system of things.”
Rose released a mutter beneath her breath.
“What was that, Rose? I could not quite hear you.” The glint appeared once more in Mr. Lupin’s eyes. Perhaps he half-expected the words that were to come.
“He was busy invading our dance practice! Hardly a gentleman in his ways, too.”
She glanced over at Lily, not a hair out of place, not a smile on her face. The younger witch seemed ready to end this dance, no longer willing even to speak with Mr. Malfoy, whose grey appearance was only matched by his black mood. It gave Rose significant comfort to see them so ill-at-ease with one another; her cousin was safe from the clutches of “bad faith” and Rose would likely not be forced to hear of Malfoy’s charms from dawn until dusk.
The dance ended and Mr. Lupin bowed himself away, gently admonishing Rose on her prejudices toward the younger Malfoy who was, he claimed, “Not a bad sort. He is very clever, incidentally. I think you would like him, Rose, should you attempt to know him better. You are very much alike.”
Biting her lip so that she could prevent herself from uttering an unforgivable reply, Rose gave a wobbling curtsy and, with a spinning head, took herself to a row of empty chairs along one side of the room. Most of the ball would be in view, and thus she could take up her old habit of observing those around her while appearing, outwardly, as though she were passively seeking a new partner in the dance.
It was, at first, difficult to regain full operation of her senses, fatigue having set in, both from the dizzying dance and from the odiously extended process of preparing oneself to attend a ball, particularly one of such fashionable magnitude. Not long after she had sat, Mr. Lupin returned with a glass of punch then vanished again into the crowd. Rose caught Victoire’s wink from across the room and felt her spirits improve.
But as time passed and the ball continued around her, Rose began to lose heart. There was an obvious imbalance in the number of witches to wizards, the former well out-numbering the latter, as was unsurprising so soon after a war. But even so, not a single wizard approached her that was not in some way related, and while the witches came and went, greeting her with smiles real and imagined, Rose could not help but feel shaken, reaching up to touch her face as though it had become covered in warts.
The music grew in volume as the night drew on, but there was one conversation that Rose heard all too clearly.
“–to dance, Malfoy. You neglect your duty as a gentleman.”
“It would help if I cared a whit for duty.”
Although the first voice was unfamiliar, the second unfortunately was not, its sneering tone raising the blood to Rose’s cheeks.
“But look at all these witches, all beautified for our sake, Malfoy, hardly their own. Surely–”
An inelegant short interrupted the beginnings of that optimistic statement and thus it was hastily abandoned by its speaker. Rose dared not turn around to see his face; she did not even dare move lest her spying ears be noted.
“What of that one, then? She has been sitting there this last half-hour without a single offer, and if I am not mistaken, she is a Weasley. It would not hurt your fam–”
“But it would hurt my pride,” came the lashing reply, his voice hardening to stone. “I would not dance with that Weasley for all the status and power her family could offer.”
Rose felt each drop within her veins freeze in place, the room swimming across her vision, the close air in the room strangling her throat, her ears roaring with those hateful words as her fists clenched, crushing the fabric of her dress, each cell in her body screaming with rage as she swore to despise the proud, irascible Scorpius Malfoy until the end of time.
Author's Note: so it ends with a scene drawn from Austen's novel, something that will be actually rare in this story. For all that I'm basing this on "Pride and Prejudice", the rest will have only a passing similarity to that novel. I just couldn't resist including this scene in some sort of way.
Thank you to everyone who has read and enjoyed this story so far, and even more thanks to the wonderful reviewers! I look forward to hearing your opinions on this chapter! ^_^
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