FIC: "Tale as Old as Time" for myownmuggle Recipient: myownmuggle Author: ??? Title: Tale as Old as Time Rating: hard R Pairings: Gregory Goyle/Padma Patil Word Count: 8700 Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *[ none]*. Summary: After the death of his parents, Greg decides to turn antique-filled Goyle House over to the magical division at the British Museum. Padma arrives to assess the inventory and discovers much more than she ever expected. Author's Notes: I was inspired by your prompts of old houses, antiquities, secrets, and magical history; I very much hope you enjoy this. I've taken some liberties with historical "facts" in order to fit this story. Many thanks to my amazing betas S1, S2, and T —this story is much better thanks to them and all remaining errors are my own.
That first step back into his childhood home should have been more impressive; he'd not stepped foot inside Goyle House since leaving for his seventh year at Hogwarts. It had felt good—staying away, turning his back, rebelling against his family for once.
His absence had been made simpler due to most of his family being imprisoned after the war, but he chose to take his moments of pride wherever he could. There weren't many, after all.
Crossing the threshold was a disappointingly anticlimactic event. There were no alarms, no swinging axes or poison darts, no Inferi assassins, no bright flashes of curses. In a way it was almost insulting. Despite his attempts at separation, his lack of acknowledgment of his mother's letters, his refusal to visit his father or uncle in prison, his very real attempt to shun them in every way, they still didn't consider him a threat. Entry into Goyle House had always been a dangerous and challenging affair. His family prided themselves on keeping tight security, more than just simple wards or hexes. Many Pureblooded families used blood magic and ancient rituals to protect themselves, but the Goyles would never have stooped to something so high-handed. Many of their peers assumed that was due to inability rather than choice, a belief that the Goyle family both encouraged and exploited.
It's always easier to take advantage if your adversary underestimates you.
The best way not to get caught is to be invisible. The second best: make sure no one believes you could possibly be capable.
Life lessons from Harmon Goyle.
The house appeared more or less the same as the last time he'd been here: the spectacular Tibetan tapestry in the drawing room off the foyer, the matching set of ancient Chinese urns flanking the entry, each as tall as Gregory.
The ability to showcase so many incredible pieces of artwork without drawing attention to the fact that they were there in the first place was a Goyle family specialty. It was remarkable what people assumed when they figured you were too dim-witted to bother with.
He walked through the house slowly. It was silent as a tomb and a thin layer of dust covered the rooms. His mother had been dead for two weeks. Amazing how quickly the signs of abandonment manifest themselves.
His mother had died mysteriously a mere month after his father and uncle had been killed in an ill-fated prison break. Gregory was sure that his family would much rather have left the estate to someone more deserving—they'd never quite understood why he had gone away in the first place, considered it weakness—but he was the only Goyle left. The idea of Goyle House transferring to someone without Goyle blood, who didn't appreciate their hidden in plain sight genius, well, that would be more unbearable than a misfit son.
That knowledge simmered inside him as he made his rounds, the house as familiar, terrifying, and awe-inspiring as ever. The portraits winked and the stories behind various artefacts bubbled up inside him. Secret stories, hushed and haunting. He passed the East Wing quickly, shuddering as the malicious murmurs that always echoed from that corner of the house seeped into his skin, and returned to the primary sitting room on the main floor.
Sinking into a lush chair with gold embroidery on its rich red cushions, he pondered what to do with the place. He'd noticed a few new acquisitions since he'd last seen the house, but it was more or less the same as he remembered. Too tidy, full of incredible architecture and amazing history but devoid of soul.
"It is just like a museum," he muttered, his quiet realisation lost in the empty house. Perhaps it was time to make it official, to get rid of this place and all its memories once and for all. Surely a real museum would leap at the opportunity to showcase the secret cache of Goyle House treasures.
The next morning he arrived at the British Museum promptly at nine. Checking his watch, he decided to grab a cup of coffee at the cafe in the Muggle section before proceeding to the offices. Sure enough, there were at least two wizards he recognised in the queue waiting for a cuppa and a bacon sandwich.
After slowly drinking his cup of watery coffee, making it last a full twenty minutes, he stood and walked over to the portrait on the other side of the gift shop. It was a rather abstract painting as far as portraits go; the wizard's ears were one atop his head and one meandering up his arm, and the eyes were disturbingly large and cartoonish. Greg was pretty sure there was a Do-Not-Notice charm on the section, because Muggles paid no attention to the somewhat out-of-place artwork that seemed so incongruous against its backdrop of fancy staircases and vast, otherwise unadorned, walls.
The portrait's odd eyes never seemed to focus on him, but with a bored sounding Wait, please, its lips wandered off the face and out of the frame. Greg could only hope they were telling someone that he was here.
Finally, the portrait swung open and he stepped through into a typical office setting. A woman with an elaborate black plait all the way down to her waist was telling a distracted-looking man with a wild mess of white hair and crooked spectacles that someone named Hanley had called in sick. Greg waited patiently until the witch turned around, and she offered him a tired smile.
"How can I help you?"
"I'd like to donate my house to you. Erm, to the museum commission that is."
"You want to give us your house?" she asked, her eyebrows shooting up in surprise. Her face was lovely, with clever brown eyes and dark skin that seemed to glow from within. There was a scar running from her left cheekbone down her neck and disappearing into her neatly pressed pink blouse, probably her own souvenir from the war. No one their age had escaped unscathed, it seemed.
"Yes. My parents recently passed on and I've inherited it. It's a monstrously large place full of some amazing antiquities and artwork. It's practically a museum itself."
"You know that if you want to receive the tax benefit, you have to sign over all shares to our organisation and you can no longer occupy the residence."
"That's fine," he said patiently, used to people talking to him as if he were quite dim.
She looked at him more closely. "Wait, do I know you?"
He looked at her again and realised she was right. "We were at Hogwarts together. Were you in Gryffindor?"
"No, actually, that was my twin sister. I was in Ravenclaw. Padma," she said, offering her hand.
Greg took it, surprised at her friendly gesture. Very few people even bothered with pleasantries for someone like him.
"Wait—you're donating Goyle House?" she exclaimed, the face and facts finally clicking into place.
"I've heard stories, but it's said to be amazing. The architecture alone! I mean, how many private homes incorporate flying buttresses? It should be overkill but the way they're so seamlessly integrated into the structure and the grandness of the whole – I've seen a picture," she explained breathlessly.
"Yes, it's quite nicely built," he agreed without much enthusiasm.
She eyed him strangely, as if offended that he didn't find his home as impressive as he ought to.
"We'll arrange for one of our people to come and do an acquisitions assessment and inventory, probably either myself or my colleague Hanley. First I'm going to send an owl to our main office and make sure we're able to accept officially. I can't imagine they'd say no to such a treasure trove, though! You say there are antiquities inside?"
"Yes, some pretty impressive pieces, actually. My family's been collecting for years."
Padma smiled politely, clearly doubting his ability to judge the rarity of antiques. "Do you have any idea of what sort or how much they're worth?"
Greg just shook his head. "These are not the sort of artefacts that you measure in Galleons. It's quite a special sort of collection." He didn't bother to defend it further—she'd see when the assessment came in.
They agreed upon ten o'clock the next day, and Greg walked out of the office feeling better than he had in years. He couldn't help a bit of a chuckle as he remembered Padma's naive idea that the assessment would probably be finished by dinner time. Feeling light-hearted and rather cheerful, he elected to wander around the British Museum for a few hours.
They had some brilliant collections, and he lost himself in the imported ruins of the Parthenon and the perfect hieroglyphs carved so faultlessly and precisely onto slabs of rock taller and broader than himself. He shook his head as tourists snapped photographs of pieces he knew to be magical replicas (his grandmother had gone through a phase where she was quite keen on museum heists) He dodged clusters of little boys in rumpled school uniforms as they darted between priceless artefacts and spent the rest of the morning exploring his old favourites and the recent acquisitions.
The next morning, Padma arrived promptly at ten and Greg had the front door swinging open before she'd even let go of the knocker. Her eyes were giant as she walked inside the house, and her neck craned back trying to take it all in.
He let her marvel for a moment, recognising how awe-inspiring a sight Goyle House could be on first glance.
"Are these Ming?" she gasped, circling one of the matched set of urns that flanked the front door.
"Just for show or did you use them for something else?" She seemed to remember that she was in the home of convicted Death Eaters for the first time since arriving and looked at him warily.
"We used them to store the hands of unwanted visitors ..." he dead-panned, shaking his head at her expression. "No, I know what people say about my family. Much of it is untrue. I won't deny that they were selfish and narcissistic, and that they committed all manner of horrid crimes. But my family was a bit cleverer than everyone seems to think. Antiquities and rarities, they lived for them. Those urns are worth hundreds of thousands of galleons. They were originally given as a gift from the Chenghua Emperor to his favourite concubine Lady Wan. The unofficial head of the royal harem, she carried a lot of power in the palace and over the Emperor. She influenced many of his policies, but she was also a bit mad. She was old enough to be his mother and insanely jealous of all his other consorts—so jealous that she tried to prevent any of his offspring from being born by killing off the mothers. Quite sordid, actually, the whole thing. Anyway, my family worshipped that sort of history. They always said that it's better to pretend you have no idea what you have—people won't expect it and will often overlook it."
"I don't believe I've ever heard you say so much before!"
He shrugged and she shot him a newly curious smile. "You just don't bother unless you've got a good reason, do you?"
"Erm, do you want to see something other than just the foyer?"
She gave the urns one more close look, jotted down something in a little black notebook, and eagerly followed him. Her short legs were almost skipping, taking at least two strides for every one of his. He tried awkwardly to slow his gait, feeling suddenly self-conscious as he lumbered in a shuffling half-step down the corridor.
They paused by a Greek sculpture that had been nicked from the British Museum on a lark by his grandfather and Greg gestured at an enormous indigo tapestry that dominated the corridor, sparkling in the muted sunlight.
"This, uh, this is a tapestry that my grandparents had created."
"It's beautiful," said Padma politely with an air of concealed disinterest.
"It is," Greg agreed quietly, taking in the glorious midnight blue and purple woven through the background and the brilliant constellation glittering from the intricate indigo backdrop.
"Does the constellation have some sort of familial meaning?" Padma asked, clearly wondering why they were stopping at something with so little historical value.
"It does, actually. It's Taurus and a reminder how brute strength can be harnessed. According to the Scriptures of the Delphi, the mighty bull Cerus wandered the earth destroying everything he came across, not because he hated it or anything, but because he didn't know how to control himself. For years he caused mayhem, unable to speak, frustrated, and irritable. One day in the midst of a rampage he came across the goddess Persephone. She spoke to him and, even though he couldn't speak, they communicated. He was entranced by her beauty and the magical tales she told him and became calm. I think my family thought it was a good way to represent that sometimes there's more to the big, angry bull than meets the eye."
"Oh, that's nice."
"Yes, well, that's not really why I stopped. The real reason this tapestry was created was to display these stones." He ran his hand in front of the fabric almost reverently, not quite touching.
"Oh! Are those real diamonds?" Padma gasped.
"Yes, but you should know that my family had no interest in ostentatious displays of wealth for wealth's sake."
"There's a story behind it," she said, her eyes lighting up.
"Of course," Greg said. A warm glow coursed through him at the fascinated expression on her face. She got it—the love of the story, not just the price tag on the piece. Encouraged, he decided to share the sordid history with her.
"So you know the part during the French Revolution where there was nowhere left to run and Marie Antoinette was begging her brother, the Austrian Emperor, to protect her and her husband. Well, they were planning to escape and make a run for the Abbey of Orval, which was just across the border. From there, they could find safe passage under her brother's protection. For some inexplicable reason, they decided to entrust the fortune of the Bourbons— we're talking the good stuff, things like the King's coronation cloak and Marie Antoinette's diamonds—to a rather daft and snooty hairdresser named Leonard. He was the one who created those horrific fruit bowl hairstyles for the Queen and other rich women who paid handsomely to look like utter morons. So he took their treasure and set off to the rendezvous point.
"Meanwhile back home, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were captured and it got quite bloody—you know the story. Leonard the Hairdresser had no idea that anything had happened so he showed up to the rendezvous strutting about and carrying on like a damn fool. The official story says that he was questioned and turned the casket of diamonds and the rest of the royal loot over to the inquiring General. However, the next day the guard was found beaten, the treasure was gone, and Leonard had vanished.
"There are hundreds of theories and various accounts on what happened to Leonard. He wasn't that bright to begin with and people claimed he turned up in various towns all over Europe with no recollection of the location of the jewels or even that he'd been involved. The history books make it sound a bit blurry, but the truth is much simpler. A wizard named Azari was part of the General's staff and he wasn't the most scrupulous of gentlemen. After the jewels were turned in, he stunned the guard, hexed him to make it look like a Muggle attack, and stole the casket of diamonds. When he found Leonard in a pub shooting off at the mouth, Azari cast a nasty memory charm on the poor sod.
"No one was the wiser for years and the diamonds stayed hidden in Azari's family home for two centuries until a rumour reached my grandparents, who tracked them down."
"That is unbelievable!" Padma said, eyes wide. "I can't believe they got away with it."
Greg stared silently at the great tapestry that had hung prominently in this hallway for as long as he had been alive. After a long pause, he replied,
"They may have gotten away with it, but truth will out. It can't stay hidden here forever."
She gave him a piercing look and he clammed up. With a furiously fast hand she made her notes and they moved on to a dented but meticulously polished suit of armour.
Several hours later Greg's stomach growled loudly and Padma laughed at the interruption. He couldn't help but stare in wonder—he was quite sure such a pure and unmalicious laugh had not been heard in Goyle House in longer than he could remember.
"Do you have any food here?"
He shook his head, feeling a bit ashamed. "I don't really live here. At least, I hadn't been."
"There's a cafe on the corner in the town just down the way. Fancy getting some tea and a sandwich ... or quite a lot of sandwiches?" she teased. He felt his face flush but nodded.
They shared a large pot of tea and delighted in discovering that they both took their tea the same way—quite milky with just the tiniest touch of sugar.
"Mum always confuses my tea with my sister's. She still mixes me a cup with only a splash of milk and a huge heaping spoonful of sugar, so sweet you think it might melt your tongue right off!" Padma said.
"My mum had tea time down to an art form. You should see her collection of tea sets. There's one—white with pink roses and gold trim—that used to belong to Queen Alexandra. My great grandfather, erm, procured it from her kitchens."
"He broke into Buckingham Palace?"
"Not exactly broke in," explained Greg with a small smile. "More like he managed to trick his way into being invited as an honoured guest. The exact details about how he got in changed every time someone told the story, so I'm not quite sure. This was after King Edward had died and George had been on the throne for long enough that he didn't need so much coddling, so I imagine she was a bit bored and hosting a lot of teas. After chatting with her for an hour or so, my great grandfather excused himself to the loo and took a detour through the kitchens. Did you know they've got an entire room full of dishes? Just dishes—sets and sets and sets. He spied that pink tea set, which was surprisingly simple compared to some of the grander ones next to it, and nicked it as a gift for my great grandmother who was home with a nasty case of dragon pox."
"No way," Padma said before leaning in hesitantly. "Is that a true story?"
"Yes, you can see the tea set sometime if you'd like. They say the Queen was a bit upset. Apparently it had been a gift from a cousin back in Denmark or something."
"That is unbelievable!"
"That is my family."
"Interesting," she murmured, giving him a curious look before focusing on her egg sandwich.
She returned early the next morning while Greg was still bleary-eyed. She handed him an extra large cup of coffee and two bacon sandwiches wrapped in paper.
"I know I'm early," she said, her cheeks flushed as if ashamed at her over-eagerness but trying to hide it with a no-nonsense let's get to it attitude.
Greg just grunted and waved her in, appreciatively sipping at the coffee and watching as she immediately dug out her black notebook and pen and looked at him expectantly. He silently led her down a hallway past the kitchens to a large glass cabinet that housed a variety of fancy tea sets.
"Ooh, is this the one?" she asked, pointing excitedly to the pink with gold trim set that his great grandfather had nicked from Queen Alexandra. He nodded, pleased that she was so interested. She asked questions about the other sets, also antiques, many owned by famous figures in British history. She was particularly fascinated by the gold and black set that was prominently missing one of its two cups.
"Do you recognise that?" he asked, wondering how many of the details had been leaked. "It was Helga Hufflepuff's personal set. The pieces were separated over the years and the other cup had been purchased by a prominent collector—discreetly, of course—many years ago, before the Dark Lord became interested in them."
"Your father was a supporter of He Who Must Not Be Named. I read that."
"Yes, he was a Death Eater. So was my uncle. They did all sorts of awful, cruel, and terrible things. My father was a selfish, arrogant bastard who cared more about a painting or lamp than any human being, his family included. I hated him."
Shrugging, Greg continued. "But very few of the Dark Lord's followers supported him because of any genuine belief in his cause or actual devotion to him. They followed him out of fear or a desire for prestige or out of vain, selfish ambition. My father was no different."
His face darkened for a moment. "Even the Dark Lord thought my father and uncle a bit dim—brutes and oafs. That never made much sense to me, though who am I to try to understand the mind of someone like him? My father was also one of the Dark Lord's foremost advisors on antiquities and authenticity. The Dark Lord liked the idea of historically significant artefacts but knew nothing about them. He only cared about the name connected to the piece, not the beauty of it or the story behind it." Disdain dripped from his words.
"Father offered his knowledge in a limited capacity and kept his mind full of simplistic thoughts and obvious ambitions and desires. Even the Dark Lord, who was famous for his skill at breaking into even the most complex and guarded minds, could be tricked by something so simple. Appearances can be deceiving."
"Yes, yes, they can," Padma mused, watching him intently. "Quite deceiving."
Greg shrugged again and let the topic drop, but his words hung in the air, breathing new life into black-and-white issues that Padma had once thought so clear. Her mind continued to ponder but she let herself smile and move on to the next item of interest, a trio of tiny portraits by Renoir.
"Really early stuff," explained Greg. "You can tell that he hadn't settled into his style yet."
Greg spoke only when prompted and remained quiet unless he was actively telling a tale, at which time his entire demeanour changed. The detached, sullen broodiness that normally clouded his face vanished, and his guarded eyes lit up and shone with the intensity of inquisitive intelligence and intrigue. It was a shocking change and Padma continually marvelled at the difference.
Wondering if perhaps it was the house itself that caused him to keep his silence, Padma proposed that they have tea in the village again. It was a wise suggestion. There was a brightness to him that she only saw when they were away from Goyle House, and she noted the difference over the course of the week with a keen researcher's eye. It became more and more painful to watch it dim the closer they got to the house and flicker out as they entered, back to the bleak and suffocating air of his childhood home.
He was a curiosity, seemingly simple but wonderfully multi-faceted, and Padma had always been fascinated by the mysterious. Every day she would hear stories about the house, its artefacts, their histories: convoluted, complex, fascinating. And each afternoon when they'd escape the heaviness of Goyle House for a cup of tea in the village, she would listen with rapt attention as he told her tales—far-fetched and truthful, full of crazy surprises and lurid twists.
"So, you know the story of King John, right? How he lost the crown jewels and the royal treasure while crossing the Wash?"
"Every schoolchild knows that story."
"Well, you know that he was crossing at Wisbech and the baggage train was swept away by a whirlpool that sprung up unexpectedly. There are plenty of theories on what really happened, but it was a wizard that caused the whirlpool and spirited the treasure away. He was working for a Muggle named Tiptoft who was coveting a spot in the peerage and thought a large amount of money would ensure his place. Tiptoft promised to pay this wizard back with treasure, but upon receiving the baggage train full of riches, Tiptoft reneged on the deal. The wizard—no one's been able to figure out who exactly he was or what his name was—was furious. He allegedly took what he considered his fair price and cast a curse on the rest of the treasure. It sat in the cellar of the Tiptoft home for a century, completely invisible. A hundred years later the curse faded and the treasure was found by another Tiptoft, this one called John. John was as greedy and wily as his forefather had been, and rumours raged about how he'd become so inexplicably wealthy, seemingly overnight. He was created First Lord Tiptoft soon after that."
"And the wizard? And King John?"
"The wizard vanished. Like I said, not even my family could find out anything more about him, so I assume he lived a quiet life after that. King John was given poisoned wine at the monastery right after the incident at Wisbech and died of the effects. However, that was completely unrelated to the baggage train heist. He wasn't terribly popular, that one."
"So much better than the storybooks!" Padma exclaimed to Greg, who beamed at her enthusiasm and began another tale.
She began to see through the blank face, recognise it as Greg's own sort of protection from the world. Sometimes it would slip and, just for a moment, his face would clear and he'd laugh and she'd see something that she never would have expected from Gregory Goyle. Then he'd catch himself, flush and fumble with a cup or his shirt, as if trying to remind her or prove to himself that he was just as slow and oafish as everyone imagined.
In turn, Greg found himself intrigued by her. His appreciation of her was founded on her interest in history and antiquities, interest in them for their own intrinsic value and not merely their "worth", but it was furthered when she cared about what he had to say. Never before had anyone listened to him so closely, actually interested in him. Never before had anyone looked at him, really looked at him and seen anything worthwhile. He'd never wanted to share so much with anyone.
On Friday when they came back from tea he asked her if she'd like to see something rather special. They stopped outside a very plain looking door in the middle of a grand hallway, and he motioned for her to step inside. It was dark but tiny spheres of glowing magical light flickered on as they stepped further in, illuminating a room full of gems, necklaces, crowns, and a glorious golden sceptre.
Padma spun around in awe. Greg shrugged self-consciously.
"We call it the gem room."
"I should say so!" she said. "Are those all authentic? Really?"
"Please see for yourself to be sure, but yes, they're genuine. My family had no interest in replicas. It's not the jewels we care about ..."
"It's the story behind them!" Padma finished, interrupted him with a fond smile.
"Exactly. I mean, my father was more impressed by a chipped copper perfume burner that was supposedly commissioned by a twelfth-century Persian Empress than all the jewels on Tower Hill."
Padma gave him a curious look. "It's never been about the money or the power for you either, has it?"
Greg didn't answer with words but his eyes spoke volumes. Padma shook her head in wonder.
He gave her plenty of time to examine each piece carefully and jot down notes in her tiny script. She was lovely to behold, her long dark hair tightly plaited and glistening where the blue light hit it. She had a tendency to purse her lips and narrow her eyes when she studied something and Greg was amazed by her cleverness and beauty.
Never the smartest of wizards when it came to academics, Greg had barely scraped by at Hogwarts, just managing OWLs in History of Magic, Herbology, and Astronomy. He was good at the theories and understood the history and reason, but practical application of those principles was a real struggle. His professors had bemoaned his atrocious essays; his ability to transfigure silly things pointlessly into sillier things was nonexistent, and his skill with a cauldron was dangerous and often downright terrifying.
The only thing he was really good at was telling stories. As a small child Greg had entertained himself, the only boy in a quiet, severe home, by whispering tales of grand adventures and heroic rescues. He repeated stories he'd heard his family tell and discovered more of his own. Inside someone else's world, someone else's story, Greg had always felt more comfortable.
It was late afternoon on Friday when she bid him farewell.
"I have plans with my family this weekend and won't be by, but I'll see you bright and early on Monday morning to look through that next room—the Russians? I'm fascinated already." She gave a comfortable and easy smile, the type of smile that Greg wasn't used to having levelled at him, and moved towards the Floo.
"Wait!" he managed just as she was about to toss the powder into the flames. She looked at him quizzically.
"If you want to see, that is you're not too busy, I doubt you've got time, but if you do …"
"Yes?" She prompted, her expression amused and curious.
"Come back tonight just before midnight. The garden, well, you've never seen anything like it, I swear."
"The garden at midnight?" She looked a bit sceptical.
"I promise! It's perfectly safe and you can leave at any point, but you can only see it at midnight on a full moon. It's probably one of the most amazing things at Goyle House."
"Which is saying something," Padma said. "I'll think about it, all right?"
"Yes, of course." Greg stumbled over his words and stepped back, allowing her full and unhindered access to the Floo. He was crazy for inviting her, but he couldn't stop himself. Though it was a surprise he knew Padma would adore, he could not possibly expect her to come back here, to the home of someone she barely knew, in the middle of the night. Could he?
She narrowed her eyes at him in the same curious way she did when examining an interesting or peculiar artefact and gave a minute shake of her head.
"I'll see you later, Greg," she said and disappeared into a swirl of green flames. Greg sank into a nearby wing-backed chair (a former occupant of King George V's private sitting room) and buried his face in his large hands.
What on earth had he done?
At five minutes to midnight, Greg stood outside staring at the magnificence of the Goyle House gardens. Repeatedly warning himself that she'd never come, he tried to lose himself in the heady scent of night-blooming jasmine and the sweet tang of the apricot tree.
The true splendour of the garden would reveal itself in a few minutes' time. He hadn't been here for it in years, but he couldn't imagine his mother, avid gardener and Herbologist that she'd been, would have let something so precious die out.
At one minute prior to midnight, he sighed and accepted that she wasn't coming. Then he heard quiet footfalls, and a light floral scent unconnected to the array of flowers teased at his nose. Spinning around, he saw her walking toward him. Unlike every other time she'd been here, she was not wearing her work robes and her usually plaited hair was twisted into a loose bun on the side of her neck. This was Padma, the real Padma. He gawked at the sight of her in her ankle-length pink dress, not flashy, perfectly modest, and yet more alluring than anything he could have possibly imagined.
As she stepped nearer, the cover of heavy clouds parted and a swath of sparkling silver moonlight covered them. Suddenly, the heavy green buds that had hung hidden on thick, thorny vines split open and the glorious flowers bloomed to life before their eyes.
Padma gasped as hundreds of brilliant blossoms appeared as if from nowhere. Palest pink, they glowed an ethereal silver borne of the moonlight itself that illuminated the entire garden. Greg watched the glow of the Midnight Roses reflected in Padma's eyes and vowed he'd never seen anything more lovely in his entire life.
Snapping off one of the roses, Greg tucked it into her hair. With one hand she lightly touched the flower in her hair and tore her eyes away from the luminescent garden to look at him. Somehow, the omnipresent whisper of the house felt like a song, and, without much conscious thought, Greg found himself stepping closer and pulling her into a quiet dance. Neither was quite sure what was happening as they spun in slow, silent circles, the magical light of the Midnight Roses on their faces. Greg couldn't tear his eyes away from her, the moonlight dancing across her skin and making her dress glow. Surely she realised that she was more beautiful than a world full of ever-blooming Midnight Roses?
The Midnight Roses lasted only a short time, and as the midnight moon faded into earliest morning, the glowing blooms began to fade and slowly closed their sepals, all evidence of their previous glory hidden away. The rose in Padma's hair, however, remained; its silver glow faded but the flower itself stayed open, fragrant, and perfect.
They stood for a moment, no longer dancing, no longer touching, but not moving apart. Seeming a bit unnerved, she looked at him as if she had never really seen him before. With a whisper almost too quiet for him to hear, she thanked him. Then she backed slowly away with her eyes lowered before walking as quickly as she could possibly move without running out of the garden, away from Goyle House.
Greg stood there watching her go. An odd feeling of disquiet twisted his belly in a way that he had never felt before, and he found himself unsure as to what had just happened.
The weekend passed with excruciating slowness, and Greg wondered more than once if she would even return on Monday. Perhaps she would simply send another curator or forgo Goyle House altogether. Just in case she hadn't changed her mind, Greg woke early on Monday. He showered, shaved, failed spectacularly at brewing a pot of coffee, ran into town to retrieve coffee and several pastries, and set them out on his rarely-used dining room table—all of this before he usually rolled out of bed.
Padma arrived precisely when she always did, and Greg let out a giant sigh of relief, rushing to offer her the recently procured coffee. She accepted a cup and thanked him politely, but the air was heavy and there was a tension there that hadn't been present since she'd first set foot into his ancestral home worried she'd find stores of dead bodies and dark magic.
As they had done the week before, they spent a few minutes sipping at coffee and eating a spot of breakfast before continuing their tour of Goyle House. Unlike the previous week, however, today they sat in awkward silence until Padma finally said,
"So, the Russian Room, then?"
Greg nodded, swallowed the last of his coffee, and led her towards the south wing. The walk was slow and painfully, awkwardly silent. Finally she stopped in her tracks, forcing Greg, who walked half a step behind her, to side step in order to avoid running into her. She spun around and looked at him. "What was that the other night? I've never seen anything like it—I've never even heard of anything like it! And I got an O on my Herbology NEWT."
"Midnight Roses," he said softly.
"Midnight Roses? They're magic, clearly."
"Yes," he said simply and she stared at him with pursed lips and curious narrowed eyes until he continued.
"They were a gift to Cleopatra from her closest advisor. Nebit was one of the most powerful sorceresses in history, especially considering she lived in a time before there were schools to teach control and many who had magic were consumed by their own powers. We now have methods of identifying witches and wizards at birth, but they weren't developed until Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin created the technique a thousand years later. Anyway, Nebit was an advisor and aide in the palace and she worshipped the ground that Cleopatra walked on. Utterly devoted to the queen, she was the perfect subject."
"I've never heard of her," Padma said, her brow furrowed as if she was upset that History had failed her.
"No, you wouldn't have. Nebit cast a memory charm net after being dismissed by her mistress. You see, she was powerful and obsessed with the queen. Cleopatra was quite clever, and she recognised the value of such devotion. At first she used it to her advantage—Nebit helped her escape when Ptolemic forces were after the Queen, identified traitors, and dealt with assassins. But Nebit eventually became hugely jealous of Marc Antony when she realised that Cleopatra's love affair with him was more than a just brief dalliance like the one with Caesar had been.
"In order to win back Cleopatra's heart, which Nebit truly believed had been hers, Nebit created the Midnight Roses. They were a spectacular bit of magic and Cleopatra loved them. Just not enough to leave her new lover for a palace aide. Nebit felt betrayed and demanded that Cleopatra leave him for her. Cleopatra refused and dismissed Nebit, telling her to leave the city. It was a crushing blow for someone as in love as Nebit was, and she left like Cleopatra asked, but not before casting that memory net. She didn't have a wand or anything like that so the charms were not as focused as we can manage today. But just think about how powerful a wizard would have to be to cast a wandless memory charm over essentially an entire country."
"And the roses?"
"The roses remained in Cleopatra's garden, though she had no idea where they'd come from after the memory charm and she couldn't see the real magic of them. They were just really pretty roses that bloomed once a month. One of Marc Antony's own advisors was a wizard. He was able to break through the memory charm, and he was also the one who recognised the true nature of the Midnight Roses. It's assumed that he discovered the roses in Cleopatra's garden and took the seeds back to Europe. His journals were passed down through his descendents, and that secret chronicle was sniffed out by my grandfather, after he heard a rumour and became obsessed with the origin of a mysterious night-blooming rose."
"How sad," Padma said softly. "What a beautiful story though. Thank you for sharing that with me, the flowers that is. It was incredible and I feel honoured to have seen it—like I was let in on a magical secret."
"You're welcome in the garden any time."
"Thank you," she said sincerely and his heart felt as if it might break at her gentle gaze.
It took two weeks to finish the assessment. Two weeks of long days and late hours, of story-filled tea times and incredible discoveries. It took two weeks for Greg to realize that he'd fallen in love with someone whose affections he had no hope of winning.
That Friday evening after she scratched out her final notes on a set of Mesopotamian cutlery, they realised they had finished.
"Well, thank you for showing me around personally, Greg," she said. "It made everything so much simpler and I quite enjoyed it."
"Oh, erm, good. I'm glad to help," he muttered, the reality that he would not being seeing this woman again—not like he had been seeing her, at least—looming heavily in his mind.
"Well, I suppose that's it. I'll give my notes to the commissioner and he should be in touch within a few weeks to finalise."
"So, erm, I guess that's it," she repeated awkwardly and Greg's heart slammed painfully in his chest.
Before this moment, he had never understood what people meant by painful good-byes. The revelation left a bittersweet taste in his mouth.
"I should go," she said, shifting uncomfortably and they walked silently to the Floo. She waved as the green flames spun her away from him.
The weeks passed slowly and painfully.
For the first week Greg did nothing save walk around the house, glare at everything, and take long flies in the courtyard, slamming Bludgers with as much force as he could muster. He growled at the solicitor who came for his signature, and he swore at the coffee for being too hot (and then again five minutes later for being too cold). He was miserable, grouchy, and in a perpetually foul mood that no one (save the poor solicitor and the lady at the coffee shop on the corner) was even around to notice.
Annoyed at himself for getting emotionally invested, his ire only worsened. He stomped around the house, hating its existence, and yet remaining there on the slightest, tiniest, most remote chance that she would come looking for him.
The second week passed and nothing changed. The dust grew heavier at Goyle House, as did the loneliness gnawing inside his heart.
He ventured into London twice. The first time he got only as far as the gate outside of the British Museum. The second time he managed to reach the portrait outside her office before turning back despondently. It was no use.
As the third week drew to a close, Greg felt his frustration shift into despair. There was nothing to be done. He knew stories and fairy tale lore, and what he longed for? Well, that was too far-fetched for even him to believe. Real life stories never work quite like fairy tales. In the real world, his world, Beauty doesn't fall in love with the Beast. It was high time he accepted that. It wouldn't do him any good to yearn after a dream, an unattainable fantasy.
Heart brittle and eyes dry, Greg stood outside with his arms crossed tightly across his chest and head held high, waiting for the full moon to peek out from its cloudy hiding spot and bring the garden to life. The heavy clouds threatened to spill over and the air tasted like rain.
"Greg," came the voice, her voice, and he spun around.
"Padma," he breathed, the word barely audible.
She stood before him, her long hair waving loosely down her back, and he stared in amazement. He was dreaming, hallucinating, gone mad—but she was here. No matter how his mind argued the impossibility, his heart recognised the truth. Her eyes were soft, gentle, and just a touch unsure, and her scent rose up on the breeze, unique in the fragrant garden.
"Padma," he said again. Then she smiled and the world burst into light. The Midnight Roses emerged from their slumber and covered the garden with their silver glow. They were as incredible as ever, but somehow they were less compared to her, and Greg couldn't take his eyes off of the radiant woman in front of him.
Powerless to stop himself, he reached out and touched her, his thumb tracing her cheekbone. When she leaned into his palm, he let his other hand venture out and pull her closer. Their lips met and Greg wasn't sure if it was the roses or the whisper of the house or simply his heart bursting with joy, but the world lit up and he swore that the wind was singing. The air was humid and swirled around them with sizzles of magic. So lost were they in the wet slip-slide of mouths and fiery dance of tongues, teasing and touching, they barely noticed when the rain began, warm, light, and quiet, and the Roses' glow slipped away.
She sank into him, her tall frame seeming delicate against his own bulk, and he clutched at her hip, his fingers tightening in involuntary pulses against the silky fabric of her dress. His mouth dipped lower, sucking lightly across her jaw and then slowly, lazily down, pausing to nibble at the point where the peach-coloured strap of her dress traced around her neck. He felt her tiny moan echo through him like it had been a scream, and a powerful sense of pride tore through him.
Breaking away from his ministrations, Padma leaned back at the waist, Greg's arms still holding her carefully. Her eyes were a heady swirl of smoky desire and Greg's belly twisted sharply; no one had ever looked at him like that before. He opened his mouth, wanting to say something profound, to tell her how much he cared, how beautiful, how amazing she was, but she brought one long slender finger up to his lips and pressed. She knew; it was written all over her face.
Her hands came up and pushed against him lightly. At first he thought she was pushing him away but instead she stayed right with him and, at her command, he let himself sink to the ground. Damp from the rain, the earth was cool beneath his back, and Padma was warm and soft as her weight settled on top of him. His fingers traced over her rain-sprinkled arm from her bare shoulder all the way down to her graceful wrists.
Leaning down, she kissed him deeply, her lips moving slowly and deliberately over his. She rose up for a moment and gave him a long, meaningful look. Then her lips quirked and his eyes widened as she pulled the wet dress over her head and tossed it aside. Greg stared in awe, his eyes wandering up and down as he took her in. She sat on top of him, one long leg bent on either side of him. Her skin was the colour of tea with just a touch of milk and it seemed to somehow glow from within. Long thick waves of damp, black hair draped over her shoulders, and he couldn't tear his eyes from the silky peach-coloured material covering just the most intimate parts of her. The undergarments were almost transparent from the drizzling rain and he could see her nipples through the damp silk. Transfixed, he reached up and brushed the pads of his first two fingers ever-so-lightly across the tip of her silk-covered breast, and she let out a soft, breathy moan.
He leaned up and placed a wet kiss on each of her breasts before reaching behind her for the clasp of her bra. The closing mechanism was absurdly complex for such a pretty scrap of material and he cursed quietly as he fumbled with it, his large fingers unable to operate the tiny eye hook. Padma giggled as he continued to struggle, before she reached back, stilled his hands, and popped open the clasp with one deft twist of her fingers. He flushed brightly and she smiled, leaning in further to kiss him as he slowly pulled the bra down her arms and set it aside.
They continued to kiss, slowly, languidly, as the rain dripped down and their skin became slick. Greg wasn't entirely sure how Padma divested him of his shirt and trousers, too distracted by the sensation of her tongue playing against the roof of his mouth and the way her cool hands brushed against his skin to notice anything else. But soon she was palming at the bulge in his pants and licking her way down his chest, pausing to bite lightly at his nipples.
He was worried that if she went any further he'd be finished before they even started and tugged at her shoulders, pulling her body back up until his questing fingers could reach the tiny bit of peach silk between her legs. As he brushed his fingers lightly over her knickers, he felt her shiver. He let them slip under the fabric and trace her folds, teasing her before parting them and dipping into a pool of liquid fire. They both let out little groans as he brushed against her, his callused fingers gliding through her slippery heat and finding the hidden places that made her whimper above him. She ground down on his hand trying to increase the friction and he fumbled, trying desperately to continue the pressure but fighting against an awkward angle.
Then she pushed his hand away and, wriggling against him while she worked, she unbuttoned his pants, pulling him free from the cotton confines. She rubbed him up against her, slick and hot, and they let out matching gasps of pleasure. She pulled on him lightly a few times and positioned herself over him, hovering above him. The look she gave him was indescribably warm and made his chest feel heavy and hot.
"I ... I love you," he stammered, entranced by the sight of her above him.
"I know," she whispered with a tiny, secret smile. "I know." Then she sank down onto him and began moving, slow and steady. Her breasts swayed and his eyes, slightly glazed from pleasure, watched them move, small and perfect. Blindly, he reached out and grasped at her hips, pushing and pulling according to the pace she set. With a breathy gasp she came, her mouth slack, her eyes shut, and Greg was quite sure he had never seen anything so beautiful or so sexy in his entire life. Her eyes flickered back open, still half-lidded, and she gave him a sexy, sated, smirk of a smile. She leaned back and forth slightly trying to find a good angle, settling into a steady pace when she saw his mouth part with pleasure. Already almost there just from the sight of her, gorgeous and sweaty and rain-soaked above him, he slipped easily over the edge. His hands dropped heavily from her hipbones, falling into the mud, and he grinned.
She pulled off of him and settled on top of him again, her thin fingers tracing over his collarbones and up over his cheeks and across his eyebrows.
"I love you too, Greg," she said softly.
When he gave her a look of disbelief, she shrugged and smiled at him. "I didn't mean to, but I do. You remind me that there is so much more to the world than what I read in books or hear from the experts. You inspire me and make me want to know everything. I feel safe around you, but I also feel like I'm needed—like I keep you safe from your own head and this place. I just ... I love you."
"Best story ever," Greg mumbled, reaching up to cup her cheek and meet her eyes.
"Yeah, it's a good one," she said with a little laugh. She leaned her forehead against his, both of them smiling, the drizzle on the garden a soft symphony behind them, and the smell of rain, sex, mud, and roses surrounding them. Greg had never felt so at home.