A Marriage Most Convenient

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Chapter 41: Courage! Everyone claims she needs Courage!


May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?” – Jane Austen


I notice everything she does, every hour of every day that I’m with her.” – James Potter.


James Potter doesn’t even know I’m alive.” – Alice Malfoy.


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Alice needed time to think. She sat down on the narrow stairs that led from the second to the third floor of Whitehall to take a moment to think about what she had just heard her father say to her mother.


Her father’s words kept ringing in her head… “I was a coward,”… “I knew it was you, but I was afraid of looking like a fool,”… “I was stupid.” Alice was a stupid fool, too, but Alice wasn’t a coward. She was often cautious, but never a true coward. She had to find James before this party started and tell him how she felt about him, even if he no longer loved her in return.


Wait…maybe she was a coward. If not a coward, than insecure, because she had to be certain that he still loved her before she told him how she felt. After all, he finally had a girlfriend. If he loved Alice, would he have a girlfriend? Was he bringing her tonight?


As if reading her mind, he appeared right in front of her.


She gasped, startled, and said, “You scared me.”

“Really? All I did was walk up to you, I didn’t even say boo,” he jested. He knocked her knees with his hand and sat down next to her.


“What can I say, you’re a scary person, JP,” she joked back.


“You grew up with a former Death Eater for a Grandfather, and I’m scary,” he said, more to himself. She smiled, and hugged her knees. He smiled back, leaned his face into hers and said, “Boo.”


She laughed and playfully hit his forearm. He smiled at her and said, “This should scare you though. Your grandmother Malfoy sent me up here to find you, and she said, and I quote, ‘Tell her that she simply must come downstairs and greet her guests because she’s a Malfoy, after all,’ unquote.”


She nodded, placed her cheek against the ruffles of her skirt and closed her eyes, not paying any attention to a word he was saying to her. She was trying to find the courage to ask him THE QUESTION, when he placed his hand on her bare back, and he rubbed it up and down. She almost melted under his touch. There was a time, when they were merely friends, and he would touch her, and she didn’t feel this way, did she?


“Is something wrong, my sweet Alice?” he asked softly. He leaned down, too, to stare directly into her face.


She turned her face toward the wall. She couldn’t just ask him outright, damn her! She cursed her ‘coward Malfoy’ genes! Where was her mother’s courage when she needed it? She felt his breath on her bare shoulder and she shivered. “You smell wonderful, and you look very nice, from what I can tell. What’s that smell?”


“Gardenias,” she answered briefly. “My mother had a perfume made just for me.” She turned to look at him again, and sat upright.


His eyes went from her eyes, down her dress, and back up again. “Well, from what I can see now, you do look very beautiful and it’s a wonderful smell. It reminds me of this place, Whitehall, and summers here, playing in the garden, climbing the rocks by the sea. It’s definitely an ‘Alice’ smell. I love it.”


She could only nod. In her head she was screaming, ‘Do you love me?’ Aloud, she asked, “Did you come by yourself tonight?” His hand was still on her bare back. Now that she was sitting upright, her long hair was covering his hand. His hand left her back and began to play with her hair.


He looked confused by her question and he said, “My parents and my brother and sister are coming a bit later, and I suppose most of the Weasleys are due to arrive, too.”


She moaned a bit, and reached up for his hand to remove it from her hair. She kept it in her hands. She looked at his large hand in both of hers. His hand had character. It had long fingers, large knuckles, and nice nails. She kept it in both of hers and looked back up at his face. He was smiling. “What I meant was, did you bring a date.”

He laughed. “Well, I do have a girlfriend now, as you know.”


“Right, everyone knows that!” she snapped. She dropped his hand and stood up abruptly. “Well, you should get to her then, instead of lollygagging around here with me.”


“Lollygagging?” he asked, also standing.


She stomped her foot and said, “It’s a word! It means to have fun or waste time in a lazy idle way. I can’t help it if your small, uninformed brain doesn’t know these types of things!”


He laughed and said, “I know it’s a word, and I even know what it means, but it’s a word I would expect someone the age of my great-aunt Muriel to use, not you. Anyway, ask me what you really want to know, my sweet girl. Ask me if Cassandra came to your only nineteenth birthday party.”


She walked down the few steps from where she sat, swished her skirt and said, “I could hardly care. I might find my own Cassandra tonight.” She leaned against the wall, her hands behind her back, and she smiled sweetly at him.


“Are you trying to tell me something, sweetheart?” he asked with a sly smile. He walked up to her, pushing her toward the wall with his chest. He didn’t touch her with his hands. He stood in front of her, looked down, and smiled wider.


She pointed her finger at him and said, “You know what I meant! I might find a boyfriend tonight! According to most of my sources, this is a ball to show me off to prospective husbands! I might find a husband tonight, JP! How about that!”


He smiled a predatory smile. She would be hard pressed to describe it otherwise. He placed one hand beside her head, his fingers splayed out on the wall beside her, and then the other one. He leaned close enough that his chest pressed into hers and he whispered in her ear, “You won’t find a husband here tonight, sweet little Alice. It’s not your destiny to find a husband tonight. You’ll find a husband sometime, don’t worry, but not from this crowd of clowns tonight.” His breath was hot on her neck.


His mouth was almost moist against her ear. She was breathing hard. She tried not to touch him, but she found her hands idle, so they came up to press on his chest. His hands stayed on the wall, and with the utmost restraint, and he moved his cheek across hers, and then looked down into her eyes. “Oh, and to answer your question from earlier, yes, my father invited Cassandra. My father invited her. I told her she didn’t have to come, but I think she’ll be arriving later with them, since he invited her.”


He pushed away from the wall and said, “Was there anything else you wanted to say to me, Alice?”


“Not at all,” she said stubbornly.


“Then I have to tell you that you really must come downstairs now, your grandmother insists.” He placed his index finger on her jaw line, near her ear, traced it down to her chin, only to trace his fingertips back upwards, placing a strand of hair behind her ear. He leaned forward again and said, “Find me later. I have to give you a very special gift for your birthday, oh, and a piece of advice, my sweet Alice.”


She waited for his advice, nervously, his hand in her hair.


“Courage,” he said. He leaned forward once more and placed a swift kiss on her cheek. He laughed, that irritating laugh of his, and he walked toward the stairs, and then she heard him run down them.


Damn him! What did he mean by any of that? Courage? And why did he kiss her? And why did she have butterflies in her stomach? And why did he bring his girlfriend to her party? Wait…didn’t he say his FATHER asked her to come. Did that mean that he didn’t want her there? Damn Uncle Harry, anyway.


Alice was more confused than ever, but more determined, too. She would show James Potter that she wasn’t just a Malfoy, but for the first five years of her life she was all Granger, and she still was part Granger, and Courage and Granger were synonymous with each other!


Courage, indeed! If only she knew what he meant by that! If only she knew if he still loved her! She walked partway down the stairs and stopped. Looking over the banister from the second floor landing to the foyer below, Alice Malfoy could see that her family was beginning to line up, in a receiving line, to greet the early arrivals to her birthday ball. Her grandmother took that moment to look upwards, pointed her finger at her, and said in hushed tones, “Get down here now, young lady. It will never do for you to be late to your own coming out ball.”


Alice’s bottom lip went out in a pout as she looked over the railing and she said, “I thought this was a birthday ball!”


“Birthday ball, coming out ball, what’s the difference?” Narcissa said, more to her husband beside her than to her granddaughter staring daggers at her from above.


“I’m sure to Alice there is a difference. One means presents, and one means she’s the present,” he joked.


Narcissa slapped his arm.


Alice shook her head no. “I need to speak to Grandfather.”


Her grandfather looked up at the mention of his name. He smiled at his only granddaughter, the light of his life, the only person he would ever allow to talk back to him and live to tell the tale, and he smiled. He whispered something to his wife, got out of his place in line, and started up the stairs. He took Alice’s hands in his and guided her toward a large window that flanked the landing of the stairs.


He leaned against the windowsill and asked, “What is it, dear?”


“Grandfather, something’s been bothering me,” Alice began.


“Yes, yes, I know, I know, that will,” he interrupted. “Your father already spoke to me. First thing tomorrow morning we’ll get our lawyers on it again. I truly never thought it would present another problem, but now I know that between your grandmother’s persistence with showing you off to all the single wizards in England, and your fragile childhood memories of what your father and mother went through, it’s causing you a true concern.”


“Yes, it is,” she said back, glad that he understood.


“Truthfully, I never thought we would even have to worry about the will. I always thought you would marry young, because you’re such a catch,” he said offhanded, as if he was talking about the weather.


“Wait,” Alice now interrupted him. “Marry young? I’m only nineteen today!”


“I know. I thought you would marry right out of school,” he offered.


She rolled her eyes. “Never mind,” he interjected. “Even though you still have plenty of time until you’re twenty-five, I don’t want you to spend the next few years worrying, so we’ll think of something, dear one.” He let go of her hand and cupped her cheek.


“How did you know that you wanted to marry Grandmother at such a young age?” she inquired.


He shrugged with one shoulder and said, “Sometimes you just always know, and sometimes, it takes fate intervening, as in the case of your parents. For me, there was never anyone but Narcissa.”

She looked down. “Didn’t you ever think of dating anyone else?”


“Why would I? She was perfect for me in every way, and I loved her from almost childhood on. Why are you asking all of these asinine questions?” He took a step back and stared at her.


“Grandmother isn’t seriously planning on playing matchmaker with me, is she?” she asked, instead of answering his question.


Lucius paused, opened his mouth, paused again, and said, “If there are a few single men invited tonight, where’s the harm?”


“Oh, Grandfather!” Alice huffed. She sat down on the stairs, moving the full skirt of her dress outwards and smoothing it down.


“You look beautiful, by the way,” he said. She looked up at him and smiled. “And I know there’s only one person you ever wish to marry, and you fear it’s too late, because you assume he’s finally given up on you, now that he has a girlfriend. Am I right?”


Now it was Alice’s turn to open her mouth with no words coming out. She closed it, frowned, and then nodded.


“Give an old man room to sit down.” He urged her body over with his cane. He sat down beside her and said, “As much as I would hate you to marry James Potter, the truth is, you could do worse, and he has loved you forever. My only question is, why has it taken you this long to realize it?”


“How do you know he loves me?” she asked. “I have a confession,” she added, before he could answer her unanswerable question. “He confessed that he loved me last year when he graduated from Hogwarts, but he had spent the better part of four or five years before that treating me as if I was a wart on his arse, so I told him it was too late.”


“As if you would ever be an arse wart,” he said.


She laughed at her grandfather saying the words, ‘arse wart’ and said, “You know what I mean.”


He laughed as well and asked, “And it wasn’t too late, was it?”


She shook her head no.


“And now you think it’s too late?” he asked again.


She nodded.


“And you don’t want to wait until you’re twenty five, and on the eve of losing Whitehall and your entire inheritance, and have to marry someone for the mere convenience of it, when you could always marry now, for love, because you’re a proud sort, being your mother’s daughter and all,” he concluded.


She smirked and cocked her head. “Or because I’m a Malfoy, may chance?”

He smirked right back and said, “May chance, and if that’s the case, it would be that you’re afraid of looking like a fool, by professing your love, if he doesn’t feel the same.” He laughed and took her hand. He kissed her knuckles and asked, “What would I have done all these years without you? No, don’t answer. Your mother gave your father my old Pensieve for a wedding present, and she added memories of when you were a baby and a toddler. He let your grandmother and me look at the memories as well, did you know?”


She did. “It’s still up in his office.”


He smiled and shook his head and said, “Yes, a Pensieve works sort of like that old book Ingrid gave you before she died.”


“The time-turner book? The Alice through the looking glass book?” she asked.


“You don’t know about the additional magic of the book, do you?” he asked. “Hmm,” he regarded. He stood back up and said, “Best to go have a look at that book, my dear one, and look over some old memories, and perhaps you’ll be able to find out for yourself if James Potter loves you. Take a close look, and see if perhaps he hasn’t always loved you. Tap the book with your wand twice, and say the title three times. I think that will work. I can’t believe you didn’t know it was more than a mere time turner…and you, supposedly so smart.”

He stood up and started back down stairs. “Hurry though,” he added. “We’ll greet your guests for now, but you really must make an eventual appearance at this thing, since it is your coming out ball, I mean, your birthday ball.”


He laughed at his intentional misnomer and she hit his chest with her hand, coming to stand beside him. She hugged him around the waist. He kissed the top of her head and said, “I think you should make a grand entrance in about an hour, when all the guests have arrived. Go on, now. That old book should be upstairs in the former nursery.”


“Thank you, Grandfather.” She let him go, and started to skip up the stairs. She turned back and said, “And I don’t know what I would have done all these years if I hadn’t had my Grandfather Malfoy in my life. You’ve meant the world to me. I love you more than words can express.”


He stoically nodded at her and watched as she turned on her heel and ran up the stairs. Then he swallowed the knot in his throat, straightened his robes, and went down the stairs. He passed James Potter on the bottom step. He glared at the younger man and said, “You had better be good enough for her.”


“Haven’t you heard?” James asked. “No one’s good enough for our Alice, sir.” Then he smiled at the older man and shook his head. He asked, “Where did she go?”


“Third floor, nursery,” Lucius answered.


James started back up the stairs. He had a few more things he wanted to say to Alice Malfoy.

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