(1938-09-09) Tea and Kindness
Details for Tea and Kindness
Summary: Months after accidentally receiving the brunt of a curse intended for someone else, Rhyeline Diderot is still unwell. Her mother has written to an old connection, the potions expert Ismene Malfoy, to ask if there's anything she can do…
Date: September 9th, 1938
Location: Rhyeline's Flat
Related: The two characters involved almost met in the Leaky Cauldron the previous day.

Rhyeline's Flat

A door with stained glass window panels reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's water lilies distinguishes this red-brick flat from the others on either side.

The mudroom opens onto a foyer with stairs leading to a second floor. A long hallway runs alongside the stairs through to the back door. The foyer opens to the right onto the parlor with an adjoining dining room. From the dining room, the kitchen hides tucked into the back of the house. Upstairs, a master bedroom and a guest bedroom allow for guests or even a flat mate. Outside behind the flat, surrounded by tall brick walls, sits a small garden.

The scent of an ever crackling fireplace intermingles with that of brewing coffee and the pure white roses in the bay window facing the street. Gentle lighting lends the flat a warm and cozy atmosphere.

The hour is at afternoon tea. Though the wizarding world may not adhere to such a custom, such is the hour that Rhyeline expects a visitor. Butterflies flicker in her belly as she straightens her sitting room. A tea set and little cakes sit neatly arranged on the coffee table.

Rhyeline lets her hair flow down her back, tying it at the small of her back with a thick ivory ribbon. Another such ribbon ties tight around her waist. Her dress of ivory silk is long and flowing, well made and of more classic fashion in the hopes her expected guest will approve.

Punctual to the minute is Ismene Malfoy, her humour somewhat soured by the necessity of walking through an unfamiliar part of London in order to reach this rendezvous arranged by letter with the daughter of an old acquaintance.

She has left off her black robes today and replaced her pointed hat with a chapeau chosen to cause less comment among the Muggles — some comment, of course, being unavoidable, given that her gown is twenty years old if it's a day, and that at no point in the past two hundred years has a silver pomander been a common accoutrement of a lady's wardrobe. Still, she's very neat, very clean, very dignified as she accepts Rhyeline's welcome with a small bow.

"Good afternoon," she echoes. And then, studying the young witch in white with a calculating eye, "I believe I saw you in the Cauldron yesterday. You are getting about fairly well, I take it? Your mother said little that was specific with regards to your present state of health, only that the curse lingers with you."

Rhyeline matches the small bow with a deep, respectful curtsy of her own. Though she makes it with slow, careful grace, it shows the extent of her good education, if not breeding.

At the abrupt mention of the curse and her health, the little mouse bites her lower lip and a subtle, rosy warmth emerges in her cheeks. But, with a nod, she murmurs, "Yes, Madam Malfoy. I have improved a great deal this past month. Though- I am still not to return to work for your nephew." Her voice, at last, comes soft and sweet.

At her sides, her hands cling a bit to the fabric of her skirt.

Such a nicely-behaved girl. And — the little cakes look just as appealing in their own way… Ismene's gaze wanders across to them for a moment, before returning to Rhyeline's face. She takes hold of the girl's chin in her firm, bony fingers, looking deeply into her eyes, as though by the force of her attention she might divine something that was missed by St Mungo's finest.

"Hmm," she says at last, releasing her. "Tell me what happened when you were cursed, as it seemed to you; and so on from there. Everything you can recall, no matter how insignificant. You must be tired of telling the tale, but as you'll remember from school potion-making is a delicate business: without the fullest information, I might unintentionally harm rather than heal you."

A soft, involuntary little squeak of surprise escapes the girl as Ismene takes hold of her chin. Rhyeline gazes back up at her. An examination of the windows to her soul show a certain wide-eyed innocence in those dark, expressive eyes. Instructed to recount recieving the curse, Rhyeline blinks, but nods. Showing the woman into the sitting room, the girl pulls out her supple wand and flicks it at the elegant tea set which comes to life and serves each of them a warm cup of tea.

"In Berlin, there were a number of assassination attempts on-" she pauses, as if the mention of Ambassador Troy's name pains her a bit. Pressing on, she speaks his name and describes how she lurked in the shadows one night. The cloaked figure hadn't noticed her. And when her voice failed her, she stepped forward.

"I- I woke up at St. Mungo's. They often kept me asleep- in stasis, they said, to keep the curse from working deeper. Afterwards, they told me the curse would have killed the Ambassador, but I was younger and stronger. Though- later, Healer Keenan thought the curse might- well, it might draw strength from darker emotions. I don't have much inclination towards anger and the like- and so, he suspected the curse had little effect for that reason."

"But- recently it got worse. After Ambassador Troy was arrested and sentenced to Azkaban for-" her voice catches and she averts her gaze. Around her china tea cup, her delicate hands tighten a bit. "He took violent action in my defense," she murmurs, looking into her teacup. "And- a short time after that, the curse no longer responded to the healer's spells. But-" she peeks up at Ismene. "I have been improving the last month or so. A new remedy. Though- I do not know the details. You would need to speak to Healer Keenan."

Sitting straight-backed upon the edge of the chair to which she has been shown, Ismene sweetens her tea liberally, and listens with a perhaps disquietingly intense focus to the story her hostess retells. It is familiar already in its outlines; she draws out detail after detail, encouraging Rhyeline to talk on and on about her recovery so far, about the various treatments tried, about what this healer and that had to say of her reactions to them and her progress. She gives markedly little in return: only a shift of this eyebrow or that, in surprise that the girl isn't more closely acquainted with certain details of her case, or another small, "Hmm," as she spoons honey into her next cup of tea.

"Well," she says at last, "I may be able to do something. I shall think upon it, and consult your healer." She sips her tea, and tilts her head. "Burning itself out for lack of fuel — and yet, had it found the fuel it required… Elegant."

Rhyeline falls silent, listening to Ismene's response. Under such an intense gaze, the warmth in the little one's cheeks deepen, a sign of health as well as shyness. "It hasn't burned itself out. Not fading. But- not enough to kill me either. Not yet. I expect my mother wrote to you because she, like some of the healers, worry that the curse will mean the end of me before long."

"Slow and steady, you said," Ismene murmurs, "bringing death step by step, that all might see it coming… Though more slowly to you than it would have been to your— previous employer," she avoids uttering his name, "and giving… much extra time to see." She helps herself to a toothsome little cake; dreadful curses draining the life from sweet, pretty young witches don't spoil her appetite.

"I was told that he would have been killed in a matter of days, or even hours," murmurs Rhyeline before taking a small sip of tea. Despite her shy manner, the little one doesn't seem to waver at the thought of her curse. There is hidden strength behind that shyness. The cakes are magnificent. Moist dark chocolate that melts upon the tongue.

… Ismene transfer a second cake to her plate, in preparation. "Cypress, I think I saw in your hand," she mentions. "I might have expected to see willow. A strength which bends tremendously without breaking. Though some varieties of cypress have a similar quality."

The warmth in Rhyeline's cheeks deepens at the compliment mentioning her wand. Nodding, she murmurs, "My wand is rather pliant. Supple is what Ollivander said."

And a very old-fashioned sort of vanishing magic is performed upon the second cake, whilst Ismene considers this. She thinks, always, rather more than she speaks.

"You have a look of your mother about you," she mentions eventually, "and something of her manner, inasmuch as I recall it. The child I met might have grown into the young woman you are."

Rhyeline sips her tea with delicate grace, letting the silence grow. Upon hearing the resemblence she bears to her mother, a soft smile emerges upon the young one's expression. "That is kind of you to say."

"Simple truth," Ismene points out brusquely. She has her eye on another cake, and now her dainty little fork too. Her lips retreat from her teeth in — well, yes, that qualifies as a smile, for as long as it lasts, which it doesn't much. "You will find, child, that I am not wantonly, unnecessarily kind. If I say a thing I mean it."

Rhyeline nods before taking another sip of tea, watching Ismene with a subtle touch of caution. "I understand. But- when kindness is rare, it grows even more precious. Thank you, Madam Malfoy."

Instead of a 'hmm', this time Ismene emits a slight and very dry 'mmm'. One as preternaturally sensitive as Rhyeline might sense that she is perhaps — pleased, by how she has been received here, and by whom, and with what lavishness of confectionery. It is in the main an intellectual pleasure, though. A puzzle to solve, a potion to brew. These things mean more to Ismene Malfoy than a human creature in need, no matter her charm.

"I have another appointment to get to," the older witch utters, now that her plate has been quite cleared of interesting chocolatey objects, "but I shall, as I said, think upon your situation, and be in touch with you as soon as I can discover some means of alleviating it."

Nodding, Rhyeline rises with care to her feet. Though her cheeks are warm, her movements possess an occasional care not usual in one so young. "Thank you so much for coming, Madam Malfoy. Anything you find time to do for me will be most appreciated."

After one last sip of tea Ismene returns cup to saucer and saucer to table; and rises with a faint sigh of black bombazine. "You're welcome, child," she replies, studying Rhyeline close-to one more time as the girl shows her to the door. "After all, my nephew has need of you, and what won't one Malfoy do for another?"

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