Paranoia is in Bloom
Isobelle Thomas, the Medi-Witch concluded, had been Stunned, and possibly repeatedly within a short time frame. The stout woman stood in the hall, talking quietly to Draco and Astoria. Scorpius was standing a little way back from them, his eyes on the front door; Isobelle had been wheeled out the mouth of the Manor less than ten minutes ago, her face pale and her breathing shallow. Rose was lingering near the stairs with Hugo, the other girls clustered together not far away, whispering and wondering. They looked frightened, timid now, all their glamour shrugged away.
Rose could feel shock creeping over her; she was cold, her skin clammy and her head a whirlwind of questions and worry. She knew Isobelle; they were not friends as such, but more acquaintances, children pushed together by their parents. She had not spoken to her in a long time and she experienced a pang of regret at that realisation. Rose chastised herself immediately – Isobelle wasn’t dead; there was no need for such dark regrets.
Astoria came away and led the girls outside into the garden, saying that a nice walk would do them all good and that there was no need to worry, Isobelle would be fine and she was in the best of care at St Mungo’s. Rose chewed her lip, puzzled. No one had come forward and claimed responsibility for the act, but she didn’t really expect them too. She recalled Dominique’s words, before she left, about how seriously some of the girls were taking this competition and Rose began to wonder just who was serious enough to turn their wand on another person in such a way.
“Do you think we should tell mum and dad?” Hugo was saying.
“What for?” Rose muttered. “Draco would have notified Dean by now. And anyway,” Rose added quietly, “there is no need.”
The Weasley siblings watched as their father strode through the front door, the Ministry insignia blazing upon his robes. He had his wand out, clutched in his right hand, as if he expected the culprit to just come marching towards him. Ron acknowledged his children with a nod and a look that Rose knew meant he wanted to speak with them before he left. She watched as her father crossed the hall towards Draco and Scorpius; she was close enough to hear him say all wands would need to be examined.
“All?” Draco’s eyebrows lifted in apparent disdain.
Ron sighed. “Yes, all, Malfoy: yours, your son’s, wife’s, your mother’s, and my children’s...everyone who was in this house in the last twelve hours. We’ll start with the family. An Auror is on their way to St Mungo’s to examine Isobelle. We must rule our Dark magic before anything else.”
Draco sighed, and raised his wand; Ron caught at his hand.
“No magic until I’ve performed-”
“Fine,” Draco said stonily, shaking his arm loose. “I shall fetch my wife the ordinary way then.” He stalked out of the house, his footfall heavy. He looked tired, exhausted even, Scorpius too. Rose had the overwhelming desire to put her arms around Scorpius, to comfort, but she didn’t move. Fragments of her dreams, strange, twisted things, still lurked in her head. It had started out as the same dream as before, with her trying to warn Scorpius, and then, the dream had warped, flying sideways and sending Rose into a tailspin of naked flesh and fierce longing. It left her shaken, and, in light of what had happened in the Manor overnight, she wasn’t sure which aspect of the dream bothered her the most.
She looked over at Scorpius again and sighed. With Draco and Astoria both outdoors, he was standing alone, obviously puzzled and frightened and slowly, she crossed the tiled floor to his side, dragging Hugo with her for good measure.
“Are you alright?” Her voice was soft, tentative and he would not look at her.
She saw him swallow. “Yes, no: not at all, actually. What just happened?”
Rose could only shake her head; Hugo put his hand on Scorpius’ shoulder in that way men did. She supposed it was meant to be a comforting gesture. Draco returned, Astoria in tow, and marched upstairs to collect his mother. No one spoke until they were gathered in Dracos’ study; Rose and Hugo had been ushered through the heavy timber doors by their father, who said he may as well do them now too. Ron had a small frown between his brows.
“Does mum know about this?” Rose whispered.
“Not yet,” Ron answered grimly. They waited patiently as Ron performed prior incantato on each of their wands; Rose blushed when her last spell was revealed as the canary transfiguration hex. Her father raised his eyebrows. “Your uncle would be proud,” he muttered, trying not to smile. “Who was the intended recipient?”
“Hugo,” Rose mumbled, hot in the face.
“Are we done, Weasley?” Draco asked. He was pacing the floor behind his desk like a caged animal, nervous and agitated. There was sweat on his brow and his skin was ashen. Astoria was standing with Narcissa, the two blonde women gripping each other for support. Both looked tired and ill, and Rose felt a stab of pity flood her.
“I need to return to my husband.” Narcissa Malfoy’s voice was high and firm, her face drawn and pinched.
Ron nodded. “Of course,” and Narcissa left the room without another word, dismissing Astoria’s offer to accompany her. Ron sighed, rubbing at his face. “I need the girls now.”
Rose, Hugo and Scorpius were asked to leave; the latter protested but Hugo dragged him out. As the first girl, Heidi Krum, passed through into the study, Roxanne hurried up to them, her face distressed, her fiery hair everywhere.
“Rose, this is awful!” Roxanne was wringing her hands, her bottom lip plump from chewing. She looked like she had been crying; she was pale and her freckles were vivid against her skin, her eyes rimmed with red.
“I know, but dad will sort it out,” Rose promised. There was still no sign of Elspeth Avery, and no one knew where she may be. Her family had been contacted; Rose knew Draco had been sending and receiving Owls throughout the morning. Elspeth’s family had alerted the authorities. It was out of character, they said.
Rose found she could not even recall Elspeth’s face.
Ron ordered the girls to come in one at a time. Nobody spoke – the air was thick with tension, fear and suspicion. There were glances cast askew, eyes shifted sideways and unsaid things swirled around them. Rose took a seat as far away from everyone as she could get, yet near enough to still know what was going on. She accio-ed her writing equipment from the dining room where she had left it after breakfast and settled into the chair, one eye on her page and the other, the doors to Draco Malfoy’s study. She chewed her lip a moment, and started to write.
Tragedy has fallen on Malfoy Manor, as this morning, one contestant was found missing and the other injured. Elspeth Avery, twenty-four, last seen at dinner the previous night, is believed to have left the Manor of her own accord, but no one is ruling out foul play. Isobelle Thomas, also twenty-four, was found unconscious in her room, and Medi-Witches confirmed she...
“What are you doing?”
Rose jumped, flipping the pages of her notepad over, feeling immediately guilty. Scorpius was staring at her, his expression a mixture of anger and sorrow, and he gestured impatiently at the items in Rose’s lap. She swallowed, nervous.
“I’m just...in case mum wants me...it is why I am here,” she finished lamely.
“No, you’re here to report on the competition, which is well and truly over now,” Scorpius snapped in a low voice. “My parents don’t need this, Rose. I don’t need this.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything with it until I had spoken to my mother, and your parents,” she said as gently as she could. “I don’t want to cause scandal for your family, Scorpius; believe me.”
He sighed and rubbed at his face, some of the tension fleeing his body. “I know.”
“I will continue to write my stories, just in case,” Rose warned him and he sighed again, giving her a crooked grin.
They smiled at one another hesitantly, almost pleasantly. Rose opened her mouth to tell him not to worry, that everything will be all right, when a shriek from behind the study doors split the morning. Silence fell, dreadful and heavy, and Rose and Scorpius shared a look filled with alarm. Rose climbed to her feet, stashing her notepad and pushing her way to her brother, who was standing with a terrified Roxanne. Scorpius threw open the doors and charged inside; they swung closed behind him and Rose experienced a moment of sharp fear.
“Who’s in there?” she asked her brother and cousin.
“Portia, or Penelope, both I think - I can’t tell them apart,” Roxanne whispered. She clutched Rose’s arm. “Does this mean one of them did it?”
Rose shook her head. “I don’t know; don’t jump to conclusions, alright?”
Theodore Nott arrived within the hour; he looked ready to murder someone, sweeping into the house with an expression of iron. Such was his anger that those milling outside Draco’s study stepped hastily aside as the tall, dark man tossed the doors open without invitation. Clara was hovering behind him, reminding him sternly to be respectful to master, that this was not master’s fault and Mr Nott would do to remember that.
“What’s the meaning of this, Malfoy? I let my girls come here for your silly competition and this is what happens?” he raged. Rose could see him, standing with his hands on his hips. As she watched through the open doors, Portia and Penelope went to their father, and he put an arm around each of them. One of them, Portia, Rose thought, was sobbing.
Draco sighed deeply, glanced up and Rose jumped as his eyes met hers. Guilt spread through her body; she knew she should not be eavesdropping. Real reporters did not hide around corners or linger outside doors. With a small nod of apology, Rose flicked her wand and the heavy doors swung shut.
“Hey!” Hugo protested. Her brother was standing directly behind her; Rose hadn’t even noticed him there, but now, she dug her elbow into his ribs. Gossip spread like wildfire and soon, everyone was convinced they’d heard Portia talking about how much she disliked Isobelle, and how she was certain she would be the next one sent home. Rose sighed, not bothering to tell them to shut up. Roxanne, she noticed, was in the thick of it and Rose felt a spurt of supreme dislike for her cousin. It was unlike her, to be so catty, and Rose could not help but think the competition was to blame. She had never known Roxanne had so many gowns and dresses in her wardrobe, and that she cared so much about her hair and figure that she had started eating smaller meals. Roxanne was changing, and Rose did not like it. Maybe it had already happened; Rose did not spend a huge amount of time with Roxanne, but she knew that this competition, whether to blame or not, was a contributing factor.
Rose suddenly wanted to go home. She was tired of it all; of Scorpius, of the girls, her brother, the tasks, the reporting...the whole thing. It was foolish, and now, someone was hurt. She could hear shouting from the study, and recognised her father’s voice, as well as Draco’s and then Scorpius’. The doors opened and the latter stalked out, fire splashed across his face. People moved hastily out of his way and Rose realised she’d never seen Scorpius in a temper before. He appeared older, more a man than a boy, as he strode down the hall, his shoulders tight and his back straight. She watched him go and bit her lip.
“Shouldn’t you go and talk to him?” Rose asked her brother quietly after a moment.
“I guess,” Hugo answered and Rose sighed.
“You men have no idea how to conduct a friendship, do you? It’s not always about partying and girls, you know. It’s about compassion and support,” Rose fumed, angry for reasons she couldn’t understand.
“Alright,” Hugo sighed, grabbing Rose by the arm. “Come and show me how it’s done, O Master of Friends. That’s probably why you have so many.” He gestured in the direction Scorpius had gone and Rose glared, shook her arm free and walked away. She noticed Lucinda Parker peel from the group and follow. Rose and the dark-haired girl shared a quick look, and they found a pacing, muttering Scorpius in the entrance hall.
“Come on,” Hugo ordered, linking his arm through Scorpius’. Startled at the onslaught, he allowed himself to be manhandled as Rose threw open the front door. Sunlight streamed across their faces and Rose noted suddenly that their little group now numbered five. Heidi had joined them.
“I can’t stand all that,” she said quietly to Rose. “I don’t think either of those girls did it; they’re too sweet.”
“Just because somebody is sweet is doesn’t mean we should under-estimate them,” Lucinda warned, overhearing. She led the way into the garden, the white of her sundress glowing in the deep shade of the trees. “You don’t know what another person is capable of, not really.”
“Anyway,” Heidi said when they were all seated on the grass beneath the trees. Rose had a clear view of the front door of the Manor. She wanted to see her father before he left. “I’m going to ask dad to come and get me. Sorry, Scorpius, but I want to go home.”
Scorpius was not listening. He was sitting with his back against the trunk of a tree, his eyes fixed firmly on his house, his face still set in lines of anger. Rose noticed that Lucinda was sitting as close to him as she could and the hot spurt of emotion that shot through her chest surprised her. Rose forced it away, taking a deep breath.
“I think its best we all go home, considering,” she said quietly.
Scorpius looked at her then, his eyes shadowed, before shifting his gaze to Hugo. “You staying?” he asked.
Hugo nodded seriously. “Sure.”
No one said anything for a long moment. A peacock called in the distance, lonely and forlorn and Rose shifted, crossing her legs in front of her. “Did anyone see Elspeth go?”
“I didn’t, and her room is next to mine,” Heidi answered, twirling a piece of hair around her fingertip contemplatively. “I didn’t hear anything through the night either. Did you, Lucinda?”
“No, not at all,” the other girl answered. “I went to bed early and must have slept like the dead.”
Rose glanced at her quickly and then away again, floored by how smooth the lie was. She opened her mouth to say she was certain it was just a misunderstanding, that maybe Elspeth just needed some time alone, when Scorpius jumped to his feet. Alarmed, Rose followed suit, noticing the other’s get to their feet also. Hugo had his wand out, and Rose hissed at him to put it away.
Theodore Nott stormed from the Manor, his daughters in tow. “You will see us at the Ministry, Weasley, you can be sure of that! My girls will not be saying anything without representation!”
Portia and Penelope, faces red and streaked with tears, were led down the white gravel path; their father had one hand in the small of each of their backs and was all but pushing them away from the Manor. Their trunks floated behind them, almost struggling to keep up. Scorpius sighed, lifted a hand in a wave, which Penelope tried to return without her father’s knowledge. Theodore Nott glanced over and gave Scorpius a look of such intense anger Rose was surprised.
“This isn’t your fault, you know that, right?” she said quietly to Scorpius, who nodded glumly. Rose wanted to squeeze his hand, or pat him on the shoulder like Hugo did, but she didn’t move until her father appeared on the landing and beckoned his children.
“Well, that was messy,” Ron said when the Weasley’s were alone. Ron had led them away from the front door, were Draco was standing with his arms folded. “Theodore is not very happy with the accusation, although I told him it wasn’t really an accusation and that no one was being charged with anything. We’ll clear it all up at the Ministry. There’s Hit Wizards looking for Elspeth as we speak.”
“Dad, should you be telling us this?” Hugo asked. “Isn’t this confidential or something?”
Ron smiled mildly. “In any case, those girls won’t be returning and Malfoy has called the competition off. You should think about going home, both of you, but I would like it if you’d stay until Roxanne leaves.”
“I’m staying longer,” Hugo announced and Ron nodded.
“Yes, I imagined you would be,” he said. “Just stay out of trouble. Merlin knows, the Malfoy’s have enough going on without you getting in their way. Rose, keep an eye on your cousin.”
“Well come on, Weasley; let’s get this over with.” Draco appeared at Ron’s elbow, and Ron jumped.
“...sneak up on a man...typical Malfoy...” he muttered. “I’ll Owl your mother from work and let her know what’s going on,” Ron told his children, before hurrying to catch up to Draco, who had already started walking off to the left of the Manor, where Rose supposed the car was kept. The protective wards that surrounded the Manor prevented direction apparition from within the grounds to the outside world and vice versa.
Inside, Astoria Malfoy was trying to take charge of the remaining girls, who were all still milling about like lost sheep, frightened and scared. Astoria herself looked worried and her voice lacked the conviction it needed; the girls were not listening to her and Rose watched her face as she gave up, throwing her hands in the air and turning and slipping up the stairs. In the end, it was Hugo who suggested they stay together, and why not join him out in the pool area for a drink? Rose was impressed; she had never known her brother to take charge of any situation, and seeing him stand halfway up the great staircase and speak in such a clear, authoritative voice made her oddly proud.
Rose was left standing in the hall, wondering what to do with herself, when she decided on making sure Astoria and Draco had nothing else to worry about. She squared her shoulders and marched to the kitchen, asking the house elves politely if everything was in order for lunch, and then that evening’s meal. Next, she scooped up the mail that had multiplied in the last half an hour, collecting near the fireplace in the drawing room. Breakfast had been cleared away, so she didn’t have to worry about that, but Rose needed something else to do.
Back in the kitchens, she didn’t want to bother the house elves, who were rushing around cooking and chopping and carrying platters of food towards the dining room, so she set about preparing a tray of food for Astoria, and one for Narcissa, who she knew would be with Lucius.
“Merlin, I’m turning into my mother,” Rose muttered, arranging tea-cakes and sandwiches on a plate that fancy Hermione would have called it ‘decadent’, but Rose could find nothing simple. Whenever things were stressed at home, Hermione cleaned, or fed everyone, filling the kitchen with copious amounts of food that no one would eat.
With the two silver trays floating behind her, Rose descended the staircase, realising her next dilemma. She didn’t know exactly where Narcissa would be, and wasn’t sure if the older woman would appreciate being disturbed. Narcissa had barely spoken to anyone since her arrival at the Manor with her husband, but Rose couldn’t blame her. She had more important things to worry about than a bunch of gold-digging witches.
She turned towards Astoria’s chambers instead, deciding to start there.
“What are you doing?” The question came from behind her and slowly, Rose turned. Scorpius was leaning against the wall, watching her with considerable interest.
Rose sighed. “How do you always find me?”
“Maybe you find me.”
“I don’t think it’s the time for games,” she snapped, suddenly weary, and then she sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“So what are you doing?” he asked again, after nodding in acceptance of her measly apology.
“I thought maybe your mother and grandmother might like something to eat.”
“Possibly, but why are you bringing them food? We have staff, you know,” he replied. Rose pursed her lips.
“Because it’s the sort of thing you do when people have had a shock, or when tragic things happen, Scorpius,” she said impatiently, taking a deep breath and forcing herself not to lash out at him. It would do no good at the moment, and besides, it wasn’t his fault he had no manners. He considered her words, his head tipped to one side, the corner of his bottom lip pulled between his teeth. He pushed himself off the wall and moved to take one of the trays out of the air, holding it firmly between his pale, smooth hands.
“What are you doing?”
“I’ll take grandmothers then,” he said, and before Rose could utter a single word, he turned and walked away, the tray between his hands. Rose blinked, shook her head, and continued on her way to Astoria’s rooms. A tiny smile played at the corners of her mouth and she wondered had she just taught him a lesson. It would be nice, to have him act like a human, to be a little more humble, instead of so...Scorpius.
The rest of the day was uneventful. A deep silence had fallen over everyone in the Manor and there was no silly conversation over lunch. The girls spent the rest of the day in their rooms, whispering and talking to one another, doing as Hugo suggested and not being alone.
Rose slept through the warmth of the afternoon, and when she woke, the sense that something dreadful was about to happen had settled in like a disease.
Chapter title from the song, Uprising, by Muse.
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