Chapter Ten: Pizzicato
The rest of the afternoon was fairly uneventful. Scully met up with Mulder and Liangru for a late lunch; it seems they'd lost track of time, too. They touched briefly on the case (Scully figured that divulging details of the postmortem over lunch would be in questionable taste), but then turned to talking about safe topics: old cases, current events, and families. Scully found herself wondering about Liangru's experiences as a Muggle with a Magical wife and child. How much was he allowed to know about their world? To what extent could he participate in it? Would he be able to guess that she was a witch? She knew better than to ask; there was no telling who knew what, and she wasn't about to tip her hand any more than she had to.
Lunch ended, and she and Mulder were granted a reprieve for the rest of the afternoon. Apparently, Mulder had explained to Liangru that their hours tended to be irregular when working on a case. As they stood to shake hands and leave, Liangru grinned at Scully.
"Cho mentioned that she was lending you a 'date' outfit tonight. I hope you have a wonderful time."
Scully blushed slightly. "Thank you. Your daughter has excellent taste in clothes."
"I take it she didn't lend you the red thing, then?"
"No." How well did he know his daughter's magical wardrobe? She didn't want to find out. Scully smiled inwardly at the thought of clothes being an unsafe topic of discussion. Oh well, a closed mouth gathers no foot. "It's been a pleasure, Mr. Chang--Liangru."
Mulder shot her a curious glance before he extended his hand to Liangru. "I'll see that she's not out until the wee hours. Thank you for all your help."
"If there are things you wish to discuss further, Mr. Mulder, don't hesitate to call me."
They took their leave of Liangru and made their way to the street, where Scully hailed a cab. During the ride back to the hotel, Scully briefed Mulder on the things she'd noticed during the autopsy. Mulder asked no questions, merely nodding at her observations. She had to prod him to get any information about his meeting with Liangru out of him.
She tsked in exasperation. "What is wrong with you, Mulder?"
He didn't look at her. "It doesn't add up."
"What in this case DOES add up? People are deliberately withholding evidence, not just from us, but from Liangru and from Cho. Physical evidence on the body is sketchy at best. The only thing we're doing is obfuscating any kind of wrongful death claims against the Brisbin Institute. Anything we learn is what they wanted us to learn. They planned everything to the letter and we can't do anything but follow their lead at this point."
They lapsed into silence.
"They didn't plan for everything, Scully. We've still got one very large ace in the hole."
A fat lot of good her magic was going to do. "How is an untrained--" she glanced the cabbie warily. "--individual such as myself going to be of any assistance on this case, other than in my usual capacity?"
"I guess we're going to have to hit the--" he smirked, "--individual books pretty hard tonight and find out. Or we can enlist the help of the lovely Dr. Wei or Chang, whatever she goes by."
"I'll ask Percy if he has any ideas."
"If you're lucky, he may be as good at individual investigational techniques as he is at tailing." Mulder's voice had a nasty edge.
Scully surprised herself by snapping. "That was uncalled for. He's had experience with--" she paused, "--individuality his entire life. You think an evening of studying books can compete with that?"
"So you think an evening of flouncing around in your shopping center will be more productive than studying?"
Flouncing!? "If 'flouncing' around a shopping center is what Mr. White recommends, I'm going to do it. I'm sure you can find something to entertain yourself while I'm gone. It's not as if your studying individuality will benefit you, after all."
Had he not already been agitated, Scully would have missed the flicker of hurt in Mulder's eyes. It was quickly replaced by anger. "So is that how it's going to be? I stay at the hotel and twiddle my thumbs while you run around with the individualist community? You have no idea what you're getting into, Scully. Recklessly jumping into some individualist crusade without thinking about anyone else?"
She smiled without humor. He was worried about her. His heart was in the right place, but he was acting like a child. "I doubt anybody in the big scary shopping center will bother me, Mulder. I promise to look both ways before crossing the street and not to talk to any strangers. Now if you're finished lecturing me in the art of calling the kettle black, I'd like to go over some of my notes from this morning." She pulled out her notebook and began flipping noisily through her notes. Hopefully he would take the hint.
Mulder's lips were pursed, but he didn't say anything for the rest of the ride.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Scully let the tension drain from her mind as expert fingers massaged shampoo into her scalp. She had meant to get her hair cut for the past few weeks, but had never really had the chance to make an appointment with her usual stylist before packing off to England. The salon in the hotel was overpriced but well equipped. Since she was going for the evening, why not just have them style it after cutting it? Besides, she needed a break from Mulder's pouting. The rush of water through her hair was as soothing mentally as it was physically. She was almost sorry when the towel came, rubbing her ears and neck dry and twisting her wet hair up.
She allowed herself to be ushered into a chair and swathed in plastic by the man with the drifting accent (it was Spanish now, though it had sounded vaguely Russian while he was washing her hair). When he had finished snipping and drying, he moved her to another chair where he began curling and spraying. While the stylist was working, a second man began fussing over her nails, scolding her for neglecting her cuticles. The manicurist cajoled her into letting him shape her nails and push back her cuticles, though she drew the line at the acrylic nails he wanted to affix. She couldn't imagine working in the lab or doing field work with claws. When a third beautician showed her their line of organic purifying facial masks, she began to giggle. This was too much. She shooed the mask man away and took a sip of the water (with a lemon slice, naturally) that someone had provided for her and chatted with her stylist about her date. Undeterred, the mask man came back later with an enormous box of cosmetics and asked her to describe her gown. She didn't even have the opportunity to look at her hair when it was finished before the he wiped her face clean and began to meticulously apply her makeup.
When her entourage had finished, they spun her toward the mirror to admire their work. Her hair had been pulled back and arranged in a twist to give the illusion of length. Artful curls around her face softened the look- her face. Her cheekbones were more defined, the rosy undertones were more visible and her skin seemed subtly pearlescent. He had done something with light and shadow that made her eyes the focal point of her face. They appeared vividly blue, not pale the way they looked to her every morning in the mirror. Before that moment, she believed her lips were her best feature--and they looked lovely, but the eyes had it. Scully was very pragmatic about her beauty regimen, but this gave her pause. She saw possibilities in her face she'd never thought to explore. Not that she planned to do this to herself every day, but the shading on the eyes, the shape of her lips... those were attainable. She realized that the men were watching her expectantly and allowed her internal smile to spread to her face.
She had just finished charging the services to her room and tipping the trio generously when she realized it was nearly a quarter after five. She hurried to her room and pulled the robe out of the Harrod's bag. She realized with irritation that it fastened with a series of tiny buttons down the back. She slipped it over her head and fastened as many as she could before giving up with an exasperated sigh. The doors between her and Mulder's room were both closed, and she could hear his television. Was he still sulking? She knocked on his door.
"Mulder, can you give me a hand in here?"
She heard him grumble - yep, still sulking - to the door. When he opened it, he faced her bare back. He smiled at the freckles on her shoulders; evidence that she hadn't always been cooped up indoors.
"Well, are you going to help me with the buttons or not? I have seven minutes to finish getting ready."
"You missed a few near the bottom. I have to start over."
While he worked on the tiny buttons, she removed her "work" watch and glanced across the room at her purse. It was a khaki, utilitarian affair; completely unsuitable for an evening out. She decided that the pockets of her jacket would have to do. They were not designed to hold much, but they were better than nothing.
Mulder patted her waist when he'd finished with the buttons. "All right, let's have a look."
She turned to face him and he had to swallow a remark about spending two and-a-half hours in a salon. The robe she wore had a low, square neckline that showed a tantalizing amount of décolletage. It was made of midnight blue silk jacquard and accented at the Empire waist, neckline, and cap sleeves with subtle silver trim. The small cross she always wore glittered at her collarbone. Her hair, her eyes- it was all ... exquisite.
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Well?"
His face was grave. "You look beautiful, Scully." Then he clasped his hands together melodramatically. "My baby is all grown up! And going off on dates with wizards!"
"Mulder, this is just a shopping date, not a date-date. Cho said I should dress up, so I dressed up. It's her robe. Apparently the place we're going it a little nicer than Target." She crossed the room and grabbed her suit jacket, unsure of why she felt the need to explain to Mulder. She stuffed all the paper money she could into her pockets and threw the jacket over her arm.
"Scully, wait a minute." Mulder went back to his room and brought back a small black bag. "I usually carry my binoculars in here. You can borrow it for the night, if you want."
"Why would I want to borrow your binoculars?"
"The bag, silly. If you tuck the strap in, it looks just like a purse. Except for the word 'Canon' written on the side."
"They'll probably think it's a new designer name, anyway." She took the bag and transferred the contents of her pockets into it. He was being decent, sweet even, in spite of the things she'd said in the cab. "I'm sorry about yelling at you earlier, I'm just a little nervous about tonight."
He raised his hand to cut off any further apologies. "I wasn't Mr. Merry Sunshine either. It's fine. Now get out there and learn something. You have forty-five seconds to get to the lobby before Percy turns into a pumpkin."
"I'll see you later, then."
She closed the door gently behind her, relieved to be over with her spat with Mulder. Besides, she had a date. She straightened her shoulders and walked to the elevator, head held high. Besides, she thought as the doors closed, how often did she look good enough to elicit a serious compliment from Mulder?
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Percy glanced at the clock behind the desk before returning to his newspaper. She had four minutes. He sincerely hoped that Dr. Scully was punctual. Though tardiness was something he had grown to tolerate in others, it was a trait that spoke volumes about a person's character, in his opinion. An elevator dinged its arrival, but a cursory glance told him that she wasn't in it. Back to the paper. Today's Times was full of speculation on the museum robbery, even though Scotland Yard had very little physical evidence to go on. In spite of its occasionally inflammatory tone, he preferred the Times to its magical counterpart, the Daily Prophet. The Prophet's coverage of the robbery consisted of a small blurb in the "Muggle World" section (the section was usually buried behind the classified ads) reporting that no magic was used and that none of the artifacts taken had any magical value. Percy shook his head. The paper's myopic Magicentricity was depressing. Didn't anyone else realize the value of everyday items--even nonmagical items--in understanding Magic in Ancient Egypt? Then again, not everyone was fortunate enough to have an Egyptophile brother.
He impatiently checked his watch. One minute to go. He hoped he'd been right to enlist Cho's assistance in outfitting Dana for the night. His youngest brother still blushed when Cho's name came up. Both of them remembered all too vividly what the annals of Hogwarts lore deemed "the red thing." Versions of "the red thing" still turned up at Hogwarts on holidays and at graduation, according to his sister who was in her final year.
The elevator dinged again, and she was there, exactly on time and resplendent in dark blue. Did she really borrow that robe from Cho? It seemed that Dr. Chang's- or whatever she was calling herself nowadays- sense of fashion propriety had improved since their school days. She saw him and smiled. He rose and folded the newspaper under his arm. Time to get in to character. Hopefully, she'd follow his lead. He swept to her side and kissed her formally on the cheek.
"You look radiant, Cousin."
Surprise showed for only a split second before she replaced it with a serene veneer. "And you as well, Cousin. I trust you are well?"
Ooh, she was good. "Very well, thank you. I trust your family are in good health."
"Indeed, they send their regards."
"Cousin Daphne, would you do me the honour of taking a turn with me?"
Her lips quirked at his chosen epithet, but she took his proffered her his arm as if she'd been doing it all her life.
"The honor is mine, Cousin Percival."
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Scully didn't drop her Elizabeth Bennett act when they got into the cab, for which Percy was grateful. The rules for the evening had been clearly laid out without any need for extraneous discussion. He didn't even have to instruct her how to behave. All that he had to worry about was the Magic. Good. It was decidedly strange that she was taking this as seriously as he was. His coworkers called him "the worrywart," and his younger brothers had a similar but less polite phrase for it. If he was to deal with the evening crowd at Diagon Alley, he was glad to have like-minded company. Percy gave the driver terse directions, then turned to face his "cousin" for the evening.
Her bearing, even while seated, was that of a queen. Being as composed as she was, each subtle movement was a riddle in itself, and Percy loved riddles. The tilt of her chin indicated confidence, while the blush at her cheeks meant that she was excited. Or wearing makeup. But the tiny curve of her lips fascinated him the most. They seemed to flicker between anticipation and amusement. Now confusion. Confusion? Oh. He realized he was staring and pretended to pick a piece of fluff from her hair.
"I apologize for the pedestrian mode of travel, Daphne, but it's really the fastest way to get where we're going."
"It could be far more pedestrian, Cousin. We could be walking."
"I trust my cousin Bill is well?"
"Indeed, he and his wife have been stationed near Seattle. She is expecting her first child in January. I trust my cousin Bill is also well?"
"He has returned to Ottery-St.-Catchpole for a short time, though he will be returning to Egypt when he has convinced my mother that she needn't introduce him to every eligible lady in the neighborhood. I assume he'll be staying for the rest of the season."
Scully's smile broadened. "After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Percy felt his ears turn slightly pink at the mention of money, though he kept his expression neutral. He inconspicuously made sure that the section of his cloak that had frayed slightly was tucked firmly underneath him.
They continued learning about one another under the pretext of inquiring after their respective families. Dana revealed that she had lost a sister recently, but refused to discuss the circumstances under which it happened. Percy did not pry. Fortunately, the awkward silence following the conversation's abrupt end was broken by their arrival.
Scully paid the cabbie and joined Percy on the curb.
"May I ask why you wished to come to the National Portrait Gallery?"
"Of course. In the last stall of the second floor restroom, you will find a portrait. Say the password for the evening aloud, and you will be allowed entrance to Diagon Alley. I will meet you on the other side, since it is in poor taste to invade the other sex's restroom."
"How does one obtain the passwords?"
"A friend at the Ministry owed me a favor. Your password 'orchid.' Mine is 'bracken.' But we should hurry, the Gallery will be closing very soon."
"How may one access Diagon Alley if the Portrait Gallery is closed?"
"The other street entrance is several blocks away in a pub called The Leaky Cauldron, which is open at all hours. I've heard tell that Tom, the owner, hasn't slept for over fifteen years because he can't bear to be away from the bar. The Cauldron is popular for those who shop during the day, but for the evenings it is considered a trifle rustic. Arrival by fire, broomstick, or apparation is also, though out of the question for members of polite society."
He ushered her into the Gallery, stopping a moment to exchange pleasantries with the curator before speeding through the exhibits to the stairs. Scully wished she could have stopped to look at more of the portraits. One of a woman wearing an ensemble very similar to hers caught her eye, but she didn't want to risk losing Percy. He escorted her up the stairs and showed her to the door of the ladies' restroom.
"If you would be so kind as to wait a few minutes before entering Diagon Alley. I would much prefer not to leave you stranded in case my password proves to be ineffective. My associate at the Ministry has a rather dubious sense of humor."
"Very well. I shall see you on the other side."
Percy made a slight bow and took off toward the men's room down the hall. Scully took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
There were, unsurprisingly, many portraits of ladies on the walls of the bathroom. Scully wondered how the subjects of the paintings would feel about their likenesses being hung in a restroom. She looked in the mirror to check for makeup smudges or loose hairpins, but found none. She adjusted her robe, though the sizing charms made it unnecessary. While she checked her appearance, the door burst open and a woman burst in. She might have been lovely but for a sharp frown crease between her eyebrows and a distasteful expression. She looked Scully up and down and sighed impatiently.
"Are you going through, or are you just going to stand there and expect me to give you password?" Like her face, her voice was attractive except for a sharp edge.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm not going to tell you the password if that's what you're waiting for."
Scully smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes. "Thank you for your concern for my well-being. If you will excuse me, I must meet my cousin." She strode toward the end stall with as much dignity as she could muster.
Inside the stall were the typical accoutrements of such a space, but over the toilet hung a portrait of a formidable-looking lady. She wore a lavender gown, pince-nez and a sprig of lilac in her steel-grey hair. The brass plaque identified her as Lady Augusta Bracknell. Feeling slightly silly, Scully whispered the password. The lady in the portrait blinked.
"Eh? What was that?" She looked down her nose at Scully and sniffed. "You'll have to speak up my dear. Can't be mumbling like a mouse."
"I said 'orchid,' Lady Bracknell."
The lady nodded. "Good." She peered at Scully once more. "I don't believe we have been properly introduced."
"No, my lady, though I shall speak to my cousin about doing so this evening."
"See that you do. Pray, what is your cousin."
"Weasley, my lady."
"The fashionable side or the unfashionable side."
"They are the Weasleys of Ottery-St.-Catchpole."
"Oh, the unfashionable side. Well, all that can be fixed."
"What, the side or the fashion?"
"Both if necessary." Lady Bracknell nodded appraisingly at Scully. "I think she'll do," she remarked seemingly to herself before her portrait swung open to reveal a small, red-curtained room. A liveried footman came forward and quickly transfigured the toilet into a small set of steps and escorted her into the room. Before Scully had a chance to take in her surroundings, the footman positioned her, and drew the curtains. Scully fought to keep her amazement from showing on her face.
Below her was a grand marble staircase leading to an immense room filled with well-dressed people. Every surface in the room was covered flocked velvet wallpaper, gold leaf, more marble, or ceiling-high mirrors. Impossibly large chandeliers flickered with real fire overhead. She could see Percy standing at the top of a similar staircase on the other side, looking slightly nervous.
"MISS DAPHNE DE WINTER AND MISTER PERCIVAL WEASLEY!"
A booming voice filled the room, and everyone below turned to look. Percy caught her eye, and they both began descending their respective staircases to where they met halfway down. As if in a dream, she took Percy's arm and they descended the rest of the way together.
When they reached the main floor, Scully was anxious to find a seat away from the giant staircase. Her knees were beginning to shake.
"MRS. NARCISSA MALFOY, MR. LUCIUS MALFOY, AND MASTER DRACO MALFOY!"
The voice echoed through the grand hall once again, and Percy groaned softly.
"Malfoys. Just what I need tonight."
"I met Narcissa in the powder room. Her name suits her very well." Scully glanced at the painfully attractive family as they descended the stair. Their surname sounded slightly familiar.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Their son Draco made my little brother's life miserable when they were in school together. I didn't know him that well, fortunately."
"What did he do to your brother?"
"Cruel, childish things like tease him about things he couldn't help, like having red hair, such stuff and nonsense."
When the three Malfoys had reached the foot of the stair, Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy began chatting with people in the crowd whom they obviously knew. Despite Percy's valiant attempt to sink into the floor, the youngest Malfoy noticed him and smiled nastily. He strutted over to Percy.
"I never thought I'd see the day when a Weasley would have the stones to come in here. Did you win a raffle or something?" His voice was cultivatedly bored, but was slightly nasal.
Percy nodded curtly, but did not respond in kind. "Draco." He turned to Scully. "Cousin, may I present Draco Malfoy?"
"How do you do, Mr. Malfoy. I was fortunate enough to meet your mother only re-" she cut off abruptly and her eyes widened. It was Liangru's bratty secretary! What was he doing here? "Recently," she finished lamely. Damn. Had she given herself away?
Both Percy and Draco had noticed her slip. Percy was slightly alarmed, but Draco had a plainly calculating look on his face.
"Have we met, Miss--?"
"Du Winter. If you will excuse us Draco, Daphne wanted to meet the Clearwaters." He led her hastily away from Draco. When they were out of earshot, he asked, "What's wrong?"
"Draco," Scully whispered frantically. "He works for the Brisbin Institute. He's a secretary. His father is Cho's father's boss. I had no idea he was magical. You don't suppose..." she trailed off, a horrible thought coming to mind. "Percy, I think I've compromised us. If he remembers where he saw me, it's all over."
She didn't need to explain further. Percy pulled a wand from inside his robe and put it up his sleeve. "Will you be all right alone for a few minutes?"
She rolled her eyes. "I'll be fine, just go."
Percy smiled. "If this ever becomes declassified information, my brother's children and grandchildren will beg me on cold winter nights to tell them about the night that I hexed and Obliviated Draco Malfoy." He kissed her cheek and disappeared into the crowd.
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