(1938-11-24) Imbalance
Details for Imbalance
Summary: Two women who haven't spoken in weeks, speak.
Date: November 24th, 1938
Location: A music shop in Verdic Alley
Related: Ismene and Rhyeline's last not-quite-meeting was in The Journeyman's Ambition. The root of the problem between them may best be divined from Master of His Domain.

Pureblooded ladies of a certain age drive their owls to exhaustion, keeping up a broad correspondence with school friends, relations, enemies — often all embodied in the same person. Naturally Severine Moreau, the divorced mother of Rhyeline Diderot, wrote when she had a moment a pleasant little missive to Ismene Malfoy, inquiring after her daughter's health, and the progress of whatever treatments her old acquaintance had seen fit to inflict upon the curse-ridden girl after being so eloquently pleaded with to take an interest in her case. What a shock, then, for the concerned mother to receive a brief reply on Madam Malfoy's severely plain black-edged writing-paper, explaining that, "Your daughter has made it impossible for me to see her again."

Severine's very next letter was to Rhyeline — informing her that she might expect to be in receipt of a howler every single morning with her breakfast, until she, Severine, has had word from Ismene Malfoy that Rhyeline has begged her pardon with sufficient humility and sincerity to be granted it.

Twice Rhyeline has presented herself at the door of Madam Malfoy's townhouse, and twice been informed that the woman she'd hoped to see was Not At Home.

This, then, is the state of affairs; and another worry on the little one's mind, as though the riots in Diagon Alley, Grindelwald's appalling manifesto, and being courted by Cassius Malfoy weren't enough to unsettle a girl.

A delicate sonata drifts though the small music shop. Tucked into a corner of Verdic Alley, the narrow shop smells of wood and parchment. Polished instruments line many of the walls, except for others where hundreds of little square drawers hold sheets of music, rolled up and tucked away.

The chime of a single, low bell rings through the shop as a creature as delicate as the sonata steps inside. The shop keeper is accustomed only to the highest calibre of clientele. At once he recognizes the girl, consort of Cassius Malfoy and heiress of Magnus Troy's small fortune. "Good afternoon, my dear."

Pulling down the scarf from over her nose, Rhyeline nods with respect. "Good afternoon…" The bell chimes through the shop a second time as one of Rhyeline's guards, a short woman with frizzy red curls, steps in a few moments after her.

This afternoon, the little one is just browsing for a new sheet of music, and was wondering if she might wander through the shop to search for a sheet of music. He guesses at once, a gift for Mr. Malfoy. Turning rather pink, the little one nods. With a pleased smile, the shop keeper makes suggestions for where she might look- music in accordance with his previous tastes.

The shop is a narrow labyrinth of several levels, accessible through twisting iron stairs. It is too cramped for the guard to follow the girl with ease, and thus, she waits near the only entrance, leaving her little charge to search for a gift.

After Rhyeline climbs the first wrought-iron stair, all is quieter; she can hear still the sonata, but muted, as though she has stepped out of the concert-hall to take a walk in air redolent not of flowers and grass, but parchment and ink and old, polished maple, ebony, and rosewood. How much more to her liking! How utterly to her liking. A little dust doesn't spoil it, not at all.

There, perhaps at the other end of this crooked passageway, is the cabinet described to her by the helpful shopkeeper as containing several rare and newly-acquired pieces of music which might suit the palate of a discerning master cellist. It's just below the next stair, which leads upward… and, perforce, also downward. And what drifts downward, once Rhyeline is just below it, reaching for the handle of a drawer, is the highly-bred soprano voice of Ismene Malfoy. It sounds as though she is indulging in one of her favourite sporting activities: berating shop assistants for things they can't help.

"I think it absurd and highly irresponsible that you haven't the third movement for violin; what use to me are the first and second without the third?"

"I'm so terribly sorry, Madam Malfoy, but as you see it isn't…

"Are you sure you haven't simply put it away incorrectly?"

"I really can't apologise enough, Madam Malfoy, but I'm afraid I recollect very well selling it to another customer just the day before yesterday…"

"How long will it take you to get it in for me?" she demands.

"Of course I'll write at once, Madam Malfoy, but it may be two or three-"


It's unnecessary to see the young man, to know how he must be trying to sink through the floor to avoid this chilly and suspicious interrogation. "Possibly— possibly weeks, Madam Malfoy—"

A scornful sound; footsteps on the stairs, and swishing black robes.

Closing her eyes, a sweet little smile of such peace touches Rhyeline's lips. Her fingertips brush against the drawers of music on either side of her, guiding her steps through the twisting corridors. In this refuge, she inhales deep the scent of the parchment and polished maple.

At the end of the corridor where she discovers the cabinet inlaid with golden filigree, the mouse feels safe at last, hidden away inside this wonderful little shop. She hopes to spend the better part of an hour, reading through the different sheets of music, letting their melodies play in her mind. What joy her gift will bring Cassius. What bliss it will be to listen to him play.

The moment her fingertips touch the cabinet, the sound of Ismene Malfoy's distinct soprano makes her freeze. In utter silence, breath caught in her throat, the girl listens to the older witch berating the hapless shop keeper. She can see it in her mind- as if Ismene were pulling the wings off a little fairy to grind up and mix in one of her potions.

The older witch's voice is coming from above, through the twisting iron stairwell leading down just behind her. She is cornered at the end of the little hallway.

This is how Ismene encounters the little one. Her eyes shine as such an exquisite edge of fear presses into her heart like a blade of ice. Hands hidden behind her back, she stands pressed against the cabinet. Her heart pounds in her chest. In this place where she'd felt so safe a moment ago, the delicate creature looks so vulnerable and trapped.

The small, erect figure of Ismene Malfoy, her black gown shrouded in sensible woolen robes of the same hue, her black pointed hat doing well in what may possibly be its twentieth year of life, stalks determinedly down the curving iron staircase. Four steps from the floor her gaze falls upon Rhyeline's shrinking figure; she stops stock still, steel-toed boots together, one gloved hand upon the bannister and the other clasping a rolled-up sheaf of music.

She doesn't say a word. She only stares down at the girl — unflinching black eyes, pale lips pressed together, a breath drawn sharply into her lungs.

The shrill sound of her mother's voice sent through that morning's howler echoes in Rhyeline's mind. Her sharp command to beg this woman's pardon pushes the girl to step forward. Bowing her head, she dips into the deepest, most respectful of cursties. "Madam Malfoy…" she murmurs in a faint squeak before peeking back up at her.

Rhyeline's eyes rising, meet Madam Malfoy's still boring implacably down into her. The shop assistant who was dancing attendance upon the elder witch has prudently remained above, in a place of concealment; and but for the two women's breath the only sound on this intermediate level of the shop is the sheet music in Madam Malfoy's right hand, slowly crumpling within her black leather grip.

Her expression doesn't shift. Will she unbend enough to acknowledge the girl's presence below her, or will she cut her with the same knife-edge precision as that day in Cafe Tasseo? … And then it comes. "Miss Diderot," she drawls, shaping the words as though they were the most tiresome of necessities.

Rhyeline parts her lips to speak, but no words come. Nor at her second attempt. Wringing her hands behind her back, the little one almost seems to tremble as she struggles to summon the courage to speak up. Again the shrill echo of her mother's voice rings in her ears. Demander pardon! Sur vos genoux si ncessaire! "Please, I-" whispers the girl. "I wanted to- to beg your forgiveness, Madam…"

The strains of the sonata ceased a short while ago to filter up via the other stair; it is now replaced by a sharper, more urgent piece, played upon solo violin. Rhyeline is granted a second or two (no more) to recover herself, as Madam Malfoy's head inclines toward the source of it — but then her eyes snap back to the young woman standing expectantly almost at her feet. It's not unlike the slamming-down of an iron drawbridge. They both know Rhyeline will be unable to move, unable to depart, until that gaze lifts from her long enough.

"Then beg it," Madam Malfoy utters coolly.

Alone. No one watching. Both a blessing and a terrible twist. Rhyeline sinks to her knees with the fragility and grace of a ballet dancer. Head tilted back, her young, dark gaze is held in Ismene's cold, imperious stare. "Please… please Madam… Forgive this foolish child? I… I need your help…" she whispers.

"How unfortunate for you, Miss Diderot—" How long has it been since she has heard that familiar, almost fond diminutive, 'child'? "—To have destroyed the trust of one you now find you may require after all," Madam Malfoy drawls, twisting her lips into a smile which taunts, rather than granting any comfort. Her hand rises from the bannister and she rests it lightly upon her hip.

"I… I know I do not deserve your forgiveness… It- it is my greatest shame that- that I did not keep your secrets… but- from him, I- I couldn't… he- he holds the key to- to my whole world…" Gazing up at the older witch, her eyes plead for her forgiveness, shining with such pain and fear.

One step down, closer to Rhyeline's kneeling figure; and then another. Madam Malfoy remains high above her, yet has brought within reach of her senses the astringent, herbal scent she carries, compounded of who knows what substances she has handled this day, might even now be carrying concealed within her heavy dark robes. Her voice is quieter now, though not a whit softer.

"You think…?" And she laughs mirthlessly. "Beg my pardon again, Miss Diderot, when you have come to understand what you are begging it for."

The weight of her gaze lifts away from Rhyeline and doesn't return. She conquers the last two steps, her footfalls matching two notes in the increasingly frantic violin solo; her robes, her skirts, brush against the girl as she passes by.

"Ah, Mr Ashmole," she drawls to the shop-keeper whose head has just popped up through the stairway from the ground floor. "Miss Diderot appears to have lost her balance," she informs him as he rises further into view, "I'm sure you'll see that she regains it." Then she passes him, too, and is gone.

Rhyeline blinks with such confusion. The little one looks lost when told she does not yet know what she is begging pardon for. Telling Cassius- that was her crime. Though she had not known it was a secret that needed to be kept. Not from him. The little one's cheeks burn with shame as Mr Ashmole hurries to her side. Of course it is an easy story to accept. Rumors of the girl's curse are as wide-spread as those of her inheritance of the dark wizard's fortune.

Head bowed, she rises to her feet with the assistance of the shop-keeper and watches in silence as Madam Malfoy vanishes from sight.

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