Another Girl’s Paradise
They began arriving at ten. From her second storey window, Rose watched them march like a conquering army down the drive. There were twenty of them, the poor desperate wretches; they walked with their heads held high, in their best clothes, hair immaculate and Rose knew instantly, with that strange sense of intuition that comes from being a woman that this particular show was not for Scorpius – it was for the other competitors. It meant, back off. I’m here to win it and you will not get a look in.
It made her laugh, to see them swanning about on the wide expanse of white gravel before the house. She could hear them talking, exclaiming over the loveliness of the garden and the grandness of the Manor. She scanned the crowd, searching for her cousins, but could only see one with hair the colour of hers. She recognised a few of the girls, but most were strangers.
Rose moved away from the window, letting the curtain fall, and checked her reflection. She didn’t look as fine as any of those creatures outside, but then, she was not on show. Still, she touched a hand to her head to smooth away any loose strands, re-touched her lip gloss and made sure there were no creases in her shorts. She collected her notepad and pen, her camera, and took a deep breath, before flinging open the door and heading downstairs. She may as well go and immerse herself in the atmosphere.
She hoped that the contestants would be more forthcoming, and more eloquent, than Scorpius had been. Rose had sat for three long and frustrating hours with him after dinner last night. He had floated around the pool, splashed water at her and urged her to get in. He had not answered one question with anything worth printing and he seemed to be going out of his way to goad her. It had worked, she was ashamed to admit. The night ended with Rose dumping his dry clothes and towel in the pool and storming inside. She had run into Draco Malfoy in the hall, who took one look at her thunderous face and smiled almost knowingly.
At least, Rose had thought as she descended the grand staircase, he knew his son was an idiot.
According to Scorpius, this competition would lead him to the love of his life. Rose had rolled her eyes, saying she didn’t think that anyone worth anything would search for love in this way. That had caused Scorpius to scowl at her, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell him she meant the contestants, not him. The whole ordeal was not his doing, she knew that and she felt the tiniest bit sorry for him, but if he’d only grow up and start acting like an adult his father wouldn’t see the need to create meaningless competitions and throw away a thousand galleons. Rose had said that to Scorpius; he’d simply laughed, splashed her and swam away.
Scorpius and his father were standing in the entrance hall. The front door was still closed. From the other side of the door came a series of shouts and impatient noises.
“Are you building up suspense?” Rose asked quietly.
“What are you talking about?” Scorpius muttered. He was pale and looked like he wanted to be sick. Rose snickered, hiding her amusement behind her hand.
“I think you should let them in before one of them decides you’re worth cursing instead of kissing,” she quipped, earning a smirk from Draco and a scowl from Scorpius. For a long moment, no one moved, and Rose sighed. “Look, is there a back door or something? I want to go out there, see what’s happening.”
Draco called Clara, who came and lead Rose away. She could hear the Malfoy men arguing softly as she went. Clara was muttering again.
“Silly, silly idea. This is not the way to do things. Master Scorpius is a nice boy, a decent boy. Master Draco is wrong to do this.”
“Clara,” Rose asked gently; the elf turned and glanced at her indifferently. “You like Scorpius, don’t you?”
“Oh yes,” she replied, giving Rose the briefest of smiles. “He is very kind to Clara; Master is kind too, but the young master...it is cruel of Mistress to go away and leave him like this, in the middle of this...”
“Zoo?” Rose supplied. The little elf grunted but said nothing; Rose surmised she did not know what a zoo was. Clara led her through the kitchen to a door tucked away at the side of the house. It was once for the servants, Clara said, a long time ago. The door opened up to a small courtyard, filled with fragrant flowers and herbs. The ground was paved with large cobblestones and Rose stepped outside, enjoying the kiss of the sun.
“This is very pretty,” she said amicably to the elf, who was watching her with what Rose thought was suspicion.
“It is Clara’s favourite place,” she answered eventually, in a soft, small voice. “I like to come here and sit. Master gives me time to myself. Once, it was not always so. Once, elves had to work and work and work with no time.”
“It must be nice, to be here,” Rose said gently. “I like time to myself, too.”
Clara said nothing; just nodded and went back inside, shutting the door firmly behind her. Rose sighed, pulled her notepad and pen from her pocket and snuck around through the garden to the front of the Manor.
The contestants were all cluttered around together, their trunks floating behind them, like strange pets. The atmosphere was electric and she felt a tug of sympathy for Scorpius – if given the chance, this lot would eat him alive. It was easy to imagine it, to see the beautiful faces turn nasty, the fingernails turn into claws.
Rose knew the contestants all had to apply for the competition. She knew, from Scorpius, that he and his father had then chosen the most eligible, narrowing down the list of almost one hundred (Rose had been quietly stunned at hearing that particular piece of information – she didn’t realise there were so many desperate and dateless young women around) to a final twenty girls. She had initially been told it would be twelve, and no one had filled her in on the reason why the number was increased; perhaps Scorpius had been unable to make up his mind. The girls would have to compete in tasks from deportment (as a lady of Malfoy Manor they needed to be skilled in conversation, fine dining and how to walk right!), knowledge and academics, to their magical abilities. There was also their physical appearance; that was the part that made Rose mad. Wasn’t it about what a person was like on the inside?
Rose approached the nearest girl, who studied her from head to toe, decided she was not a threat, and then smiled when Rose said she was from the newspaper. The girl, Melody, was “so excited to be here! The Manor is just amazing! Scorpius is such a hottie, don’t you think?”
Rose did not think but she did not say so, moving away to interview another girl. She could see a familiar head of strawberry blonde hair across the crowd and pushed her way through the giggling melee, camera clutched to her chest lest it be ripped from her body by some Scorpius-loving freak.
“Oh Dominique,” Rose sighed. Her cousin spun around, blushed beet-red, and then sighed.
“A thousand galleons is a thousand galleons. Plus,” she continued before Rose could open her mouth, “I’ve decided I want to be an actress.”
“Yes, or something just as glamorous. I’m practicing here, see? Trying it all out on Scorpius,” Dominique said off-handedly.
“Right. And Lucy?”
“Not here. I’m not sure why – I think perhaps Roxanne warned her off. Jealously is a horrible thing, don’t you think? Personally, I don’t care about winning, or Scorpius. I just want to be famous. Do you think you could write an expose on me or something? I photograph best from the left, by the way.” Dominique winked and marched away, going to join the other girls, who were now screaming Scorpius’ name. Rose could only stand and stare, until someone bumped into her, knocking her out of her trance.
The front door was suddenly flung wide; the screams intensified and then died down, when the girls realised they were looking at the father, not the son.
“Thank you all for coming. In a moment, you will be shown to your rooms by our Head house elf, Clara. Anything you need, just ask her and you shall have it. The official part of the competition will begin tonight, at six.”
“Where is Scorpius?” one girl asked rather longingly; Rose rolled her eyes, busy scribbling in her note pad.
Draco hesitated briefly, before smiling. “You will see Scorpius tonight. Dinner is a formal affair,” he added, and all around her, Rose heard girls begin whispering what they would wear, and she realised with a jolt she had not brought any formal clothing. Oh well, she decided quickly, she was here to work, not socialise.
Clara appeared and gestured for the girls to follow her; there was much pushing to be the first one to step over the Manor’s threshold. Rose lingered on the gravel, watching them file inside in quite amazement. She had to admit, she admired their courage; she doubted she’d be able to put herself on the line like they had chosen to do. She knew that one girl would be sent home tomorrow, if they failed to please at dinner tonight. Draco had had a copy of the rules of the competition sent to her room last night, which Rose had read before bed.
Perhaps many were here with the same aims as Dominique – fame. They were sure to get that, regardless of what Rose wrote in her articles. She had planned on remaining distant, professional, not wanting her work to look like a gossip column. There would be no mention of hair and who was wearing what – she didn’t consider it important. She didn’t consider anything about the competition important but she was determined to do her job right.
Rose followed the last girl, a tall, statuesque brunette, inside. Draco Malfoy was standing in the hall, not far from his study door. He caught her eye and gave her a brief nod, before turning and disappearing inside his study, the heavy wooden doors closing with finality. Rose wondered where Scorpius was, and wondered quickly if he’d had a change of heart. She had expected him to fling open the doors, smiling and perfectly playing the role he’d been assigned. His absence made her curious and she decided to ask Clara where he might be.
Rose did not go upstairs. She wanted to give the girls’ time to settle in; she would talk to them all in more detail at lunch. She had noticed Clara lead them in the opposite direction to her room; what she assumed was the guest wing. It vexed her for a moment to realise she’d been purposefully set apart from the others, before she relaxed, deciding it was probably better for her sanity.
She went through the house, outside to the pool area. She’d not taken the time to really notice it last night, being too frustrated with a floating Scorpius. Now, Rose paused, her eyes slowly soaking up the greenery that tumbled from pots and trailed their long arms in the water; the ornate stone fountain at one end, spewing water gently from its lips; the natural stone of the base and sides of the pool; the clear, crisp appearance of the water and the flowers that dripped from everywhere. The pool area was covered with a roof of glass – sunlight danced down towards the water, before hitting the surface and pirouetting away into nothing. She crept to the water’s edge and slipped her shoes off, dipping her toe in. The water was cool and smooth and she desperately wanted to go for a swim.
There was a large tree in one corner of the room, a willow that spread its branches protectively over a bench seat and part of the water. The glass of the roof stopped here, letting the tree push through to the open air. It was here that Rose moved, to sit on the seat and enjoy the silence.
“I told you the water was nice.”
Rose spun around, finding no one there. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and she knew he was watching her. She sighed. “Why aren’t you with your fan club?”
His voice came from above her. “They freak me out. One girl I can handle, maybe even two, but not twenty of them.”
Rose glanced up as a pile of leaves descended on her shoulder. A twig fell into her hair and she brushed it out. Scorpius was sitting in the willow; the slender branches were straining under his weight and she snickered. “Of all the places to hide...”
“I like it here,” he declared. “The pool area was mother’s design; she loves flowers.”
Rose watched as he swung himself out of the tree, sliding down the trunk before sneaking onto the seat beside her. He looked scared, and ill. His skin was pale and there was sweat on his forehead. His eyes swung around, scanning the area before he visibly relaxed. Rose said nothing, although she itched to grill him, to reach for her notepad and pen, or to snap a shot of his frightened face, but something stopped her.
“Don’t worry,” she told him, “You can get rid of one tonight, and that will only be nineteen to go.”
He groaned and put his head in his hands. “Are you coming to dinner?” he asked, his voice muffled.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Rose grinned, and he scowled at her. They sat awhile in silence, looking out at the water, before Rose sighed. “Look, I can call Hugo.”
“Because you look like you need a friend right now, that’s all.”
Scorpius considered this, his lip pulled between his teeth. “Yeah, might be good. You never know, he might find the love of his life while he’s here.”
“Just what we all need,” she sighed, making his lips twitch at the corners. Rose went inside and up to her room, drawing out her laptop and sending her mother an email. Yes, everything was fine, the Malfoy’s had been perfectly pleasant, the contestants had all arrived, Lucy was not here, Dominique was and she hadn’t had a chance to speak with Roxanne. Rose added that her first article was coming along (it really wasn’t) and that she’d email it through tomorrow morning, with news of who had been eliminated first.
Next, she sent Hugo a text. As he usually ignored all forms of communication (especially from his sister), the invitation to come to the Manor was too tempting and his reply was swift and contained only two words: hell yes!
Rose was vaguely surprised to find her muggle technology worked in Malfoy Manor, but then again, she guessed it had never crossed Draco’s mind to block their use. She decided she may as well start working on her article, but did not wish to stay cooped up inside. There was an hour until lunch and the sun was shining brightly outside, so Rose padded downstairs and slipped out through the kitchen, into the small garden Clara was so fond of. Here, she found a quiet spot and sat down, opening her laptop and spreading her notepad, the rules for the competition and the parchment from her interview with Draco on the ground beside it. Chewing her lip, she began sifting through her notes, her fingers tapping away quickly on the keypad.
Malfoy Manor has been besieged. Twenty of the wizarding world’s most eligible young women have arrived to try their luck and their charms on Scorpius Malfoy, the bachelor son of Draco and Astoria. The Manor has put on its finest face for the occasion. The grounds are immaculate, with all manner of trees and flowers, and the...
Here, Rose paused. Someone was watching her again; her muscles tensed, her ears strained and she held perfectly still. When nobody announced themselves, she shrugged, thinking it was probably just a bird, perhaps a peacock, but she could see nothing. Turning back to her laptop, Rose nearly jumped out of her skin when a hand shot out of the bushes behind her and touched the keypad.
“What is this thing?”
“Scorpius! You scared me half to death!”
An arm, then body, followed the hand and he appeared looking mildly guilty. His eyes were still apprehensive and he was looking at her laptop warily. Rose sighed.
“It’s called a laptop; it’s a portable computer.” His expression was still blank. “I don’t have time to explain it properly. I’m using it to write my articles for the paper, and I can send emails to my mother on it.” Hermione had correctly guessed that there would be no wireless connection within miles, so she had charmed the laptop into providing its own, no matter where Rose was.
“Electronic mail,” she explained. “Get Hugo to tell you all about it.”
Scorpius sat back, still looking at the laptop. “He took me to a movie, once. In London. It was amazing.”
Rose stared, quietly stunned. He sounded genuinely impressed and she wondered what other muggle technology Hugo had exposed him too. “Hugo is coming; I don’t know when but he is coming.”
Rose continued to work on her article, ignoring Scorpius, grateful when he said nothing and left her alone. They sat in companionable silence until Clara opened the secret little door, looking cross. She was wearing an apron and Rose was astonished to notice a string of pearls around her neck.
“There you are, Miss. Master Malfoy needs you in his study. It is almost lunch. Master Scorpius, I will have a plate sent to you...”
“In my room, thanks,” Scorpius said, standing up. “Can you get Heathrow to send it? I feel like seeing him today.”
“Who’s Heathrow?” Rose asked when Clara had gone, reminding her once again that ‘Master Malfoy does not to be kept waiting.’
“Another elf; you didn’t think Clara did everything by herself? And before you ask, he is also a free elf who wants to be here,” Scorpius answered lightly. “You’d better go see father.” With that, he was gone, vanished back into the bushes. Rose heard his footfall as he moved away. She collected her things and soon found herself standing in Draco’s study. He had not opened the drapes and the room was dark and slightly stuffy. He was sitting with his head in his hands but when she came in, he quickly composed himself.
“Lunch will be a good time to interview the contestants,” he said.
“Yes, I know,” Rose replied.
He didn’t say anything else and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, turning to go when he spoke, sounding tired.
“Does Scorpius seem...alright to you?”
“Is there anyone else here?”
Rose ignored his tone and considered her answer. “He’s scared, I think. Those girls are rather terrifying.”
“Your cousins included?” Draco asked with a raised eyebrow. Rose laughed.
“My cousins in particular,” she said with a grin. “I asked Hugo to come.”
Draco frowned and Rose wondered whether she’d made a mistake, but then he sighed. “Maybe Scorpius will be more himself with your brother here.”
Rose did not bother changing her clothes for lunch. She tidied her hair and cleaned her face, and as soon as she had set foot in the dining room, wished she had gone to a little more effort. All the contestants were so glamorous they sparkled. Dominique was sitting across the table from Roxanne, looking ridiculously radiant, and Roxanne was glaring, her temper ruining her otherwise elegant appearance. Looking around the table, she saw Isobelle Thomas, Melanie Finnigan and Heidi Krum. They were all children of her parent’s friends and therefore sort-of friends of Rose’s. She had believed they all had more sense.
After lunch, the girls retired to the sitting room, where Rose found out all their names. At first, she could get no one to listen to her, until Dominique had stood, yelled at them all to shut up, and if they wanted their names and faces in the paper they had to talk to Rose. She took their names: Melody Baddock, a pretty blonde; Nicole MacMillan, a small, brunette with nervous eyes; Elspeth Avery, tall and willowy, with striking black hair that tumbled down her back and eyes that smouldered; Aurora Abercrombie, a rather plain looking girl who Rose immediately felt sorry for and wondered why she was there; Raven Lestrange, slim, with hair the colour of chocolate and a warm smile; Janis Belby, another blonde with not much sense; Selina Goyle, “close friend of Scorpius’ – our father’s are great friends,”; Elinor Montague, a brunette who also claimed close acquaintance with the Malfoy family; twins Portia and Penelope Nott, both mousey brown with rather large noses; Nia Goldstein and Amila Davies, both also blonde. The only girl not accounted for was very pretty, with large blue eyes and a shock of dark hair that fell over her shoulders like velvet. Her name, she told Rose solemnly, was Lucinda Parker.
All of the surnames, except for Parker, were familiar to Rose but she didn’t have time to ponder it. After the introductions, and after Rose made it plainly clear she was not competing, she took several group photographs, inside the sitting room, out by the pool and out in the garden beneath the trees. She collected quotes from each and every girl, finding out why they were there, what they hoped to achieve (which, as Elspeth Avery so bluntly told her was obvious) and how they would feel if they were the one to be sent home tonight (devastated!). She then decided to take portrait shots of each girl, to be published as they were eliminated. She had to ask them to look sad, choosing to remind them of how they would feel if Scorpius did not pick them.
It was draining. The interviews took over an hour; by the time Rose was finished, she was ready to quit this whole job. Hugo arrived as the last girl went inside to get ready for dinner (it was only two o’clock!) and moaned that he’d missed them.
“They’re not here for you,” Rose unnecessarily reminded her brother, who simply shrugged and went searching for Scorpius. She sighed, rubbing at her temples, hoping to dispel the headache that was beginning to rest there.
Chapter title from the song Another Girl’s Paradise, by Tori Amos.
Edited 18.10 with new chapter image
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