Rose was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. September had come quickly, and the once abstract idea of accompanying Harold Prendergast to the social event of the season had become a daunting reality. She still wasn't sure how she had gotten herself into this thoroughly ridiculous situation. Here she was going to a fancy ball with a handsome man, and yet the occasion wasn't even a romantic one. Instead, she was going on a mission of reconnaissance, hoping to help Harold uncover the truth about his missing wife, Sylvia.
She was rather afraid she would stick out like a sore thumb. The Bannatyne Ball was mostly frequented by pureblooded, rich or famous people. She didn't fit into any of these categories. In fact, a couple of years ago she'd looked at being employed as a server for one of these occasions. Even then, there had been other witches and wizards who made for better suited candidates. She'd never felt so unwanted in a place in her entire life, but she was determined to make this evening a success. She could do it. Her muggle family was quite well to do. She knew how to navigate in muggle society. How hard could it be to apply that knowledge to the upper echelons of wizarding society.
It didn't help that Rose knew the wife of their host, Bradford Bannatyne, in person. Verity and she had worked together at the ministry; well before Rose dropped out and Verity had gotten married to Bradford. They weren't the best of friends anymore, but apparently still close enough for Rose to ask for a favour. Rose had ended up fibbing a little to secure her and Harold's invitation to the ball. The story she'd told Verity wasn't miles and miles from the truth, but just thinking about it again made her uncomfortable. She'd said that there was a gentleman she was trying to impress. She could only pray this story wouldn't come back to haunt her today. Rose was also worried that if she made a mistake, she would not only embarrass herself, but potentially also Verity. The thought of it sent her stomach somersaulting.
In an effort to distinguish this event from going on a date, Rose had insisted that Harold and she should travel to the venue separately. It was a decision she rather regretted now. Standing in front of her bedroom mirror she felt ridiculous. Her corset was laced so tightly she was struggling for air and she was still worried that her cream-coloured organza gown wouldn't fit her, or worse that maybe it wouldn't fit the occasion. Well, it was too late to get a different dress now. With the help of one of the house elves she put on the strapless sheath dress with a jet-beaded bodice and the matching long overskirt, fanning out behind her like a peacock's tail.
Yes, it was a pretty dress. She liked it. If she was going down tonight, she supposed she was going down in style. The gown had taken her the best part of two weeks to put together and she was sure that if it weren't for the three house elf girls that worked in the kitchens helping her out, she would have never finished it in time. They'd embroidered the overskirt with her all night every night for the last week. Rose supposed she should consider herself lucky. Most women didn't even have one fairy godmother to help them get ready for a ball and here she was being supported by three. She wanted to gift each of the elves something to wear out of sheer gratitude, though she figured such a gift wouldn't be appreciated.
Her heels felt awkward to walk in even with a cushioning charm and a rune of stability on them for good measure. Rose tentatively negotiated her way through Hogwarts castle, hoping that none of the students would see her. She didn't fancy having to explain what she was doing. Thankfully, her evening cloak covered most of the gown or she would have felt even more self-conscious. She still hadn't come up with a story to tell Grace, should she find out about this evening.
When Rose finally stepped outside the castle, she was pleasantly surprised at how warm the weather was for an evening in early September. She placed a couple of quick charms on her gown, making sure the hemline would float behind her for a little bit rather than dragging on the dirt. The last thing she wanted was to arrive at the venue looking like she had marched through a field.
Thankfully, the walk to the apparition point wasn't long. She paused, took a deep breath, and tried to remember where she was going. Verity had told her the address of course, but Rose had never been to her new home in Mayfair. She tried to picture it in her mind's eye, but her nerves were playing up. When the materialised in London she found herself in Park Lane, rather than in Grosvenor Square as intended. Great. Appearing into the middle of a busy muggle area was exactly what she needed. A little boy walking along Park Lane with his parents was pointing at her, but thankfully the muggles didn't pay her any mind. This was not how she had pictured her Cinderella story going.
She had to ask a muggle concierge standing in front of one of Mayfair's fancy hotels for directions. She earned a raised eyebrow for wearing a cloak, but at least the man was polite enough to not question her further. As luck would have it, her apparition hadn't been too far off the mark and she could easily reach the venue on foot. Only a five-minute walk. Normally, she wouldn't have minded at all, but walking through a muggle residential area in an evening cloak and gown seemed less than pleasant.
At long last she found the Bannatyne residence near the newly opened Britannia Hotel. Even the entrance area and cloak room were breath-taking. Decorated in white marble and with golden columns, Rose wasn't sure if she would have described the place as beautiful or ostentatious. She wondered how Verity could live in a house like this. When there weren't a couple of hundred guests to entertain, didn't the place just seem woefully empty?
She could see a small crowd congregating around a few tall drink tables near a gigantic double door, painted with a pair of loved up black peacocks perched in a tree surrounded by spring florals and other colourful birds and butterflies. Rose supposed that this had to be the way to the ballroom. Apparently, she was also still early judging by the door being closed.
She felt herself struggling to navigate the situation, but thankfully the house staff was immediately there to help, asking to take her cloak and informing her about the drinks on the menu. Rose had no idea what an absinthe frappé, peach shrub or gillywater sunrise were, but the first sounded so intriguing she settled on that option hoping it would be something tasty. Part of her rather longed for a strong fire whiskey, but she supposed that was not a very ladylike choice to make. There was also that she didn't want to be drunk by the time she found Harold.
Looking around she took in the few people in attendance she recognised. There were tonight's hosts, Bradford, and Verity Bannatyne happily chatting with Blythe Bannatyne and a pale gentleman with an Irish accent. Rose didn't recognise him. Next to them a couple of faces Rose was certain she had seen in the paper. One of the ladies was Lavinia Lockwood, the famous fashion designer. Rose had seen her robes for sale in Diagon Alley - not that she'd ever be able to afford anything like it. Unfortunately, still no trace of Harold.
Her drink arrived, which seemed to be a highly alcoholic, aniseed-flavoured slushie and Rose has a little sip from the straw, happy to just stand at her table and watch people. One of the staff members slipped into the ballroom and she caught a brief glimpse of what was to come. The ballroom was spectacular. A high ceiling, tall windows framed in dusky lavender curtains, a highly polished wooden floor displaying the Bannatyne family crest, heavy, sparkling chandeliers: in short perfect. She could just catch a glimpse of the doors to the adjoining gardens being open as well. Roses, wisteria flowers, bluish glowing will-o'-the-wisps, and... the door shut again leaving Rose to her drink and people watching.
Where in the name of Merlin was Hal? Her gaze got stuck on a gentleman she recognised, but it was not Professor Prendergast. Instead, she found herself looking at Marlowe and Hecate Winterbourne. She quickly turned away taking another sip from her drink. Oh Merlin, what now?