Lucrezia awoke the next morning to the unpleasant sensation of the morning sun stabbing into her eyes. She groaned and rolled over, burying her head in her pillows. It was no use; she was awake. She sent her house-elf, Mignonette, downstairs for some tea and a headache remedy. A few minutes later, the elf returned with tea and a large glass containing a sparkling, gold-green liquid. She felt immensely better after drinking it; putting on her robe, she took her tea to her chair by the windows.
Their house was in a fashionable district of Wizarding London. The front of the house let out onto Merlin's Way, one of the few places left in London that were unknown to Muggles. The back of the house, however, was on an ordinary Muggle street. On this side, their house was made to resemble the offices of an accountancy firm; it was charmed so that no one would ever notice it beyond a glance. Lucrezia's rooms were at the back of the house to take advantage of this view of Muggle life.
She loved to watch the women promenading up and down the street in their ridiculous costumes. The bodices of their dresses were quite tight; their waists were unnaturally small and their bosoms seemed to rise as if trying to escape the confines of the gown. Below the waist, the skirts puffed and billowed hugely; the whole effect was that of a woman's upper body placed on an enormous pillow. The men's suits were no less flamboyant; they were brightly colored and contained as much embroidery, lace and ribbon bows as the women's gowns.
As amused as she was by the outrageous costumes, she often found herself wondering how they achieved such unnatural shapes. She had heard that underneath their clothes, Muggles wore all sorts of strange things: close-fitting shifts made out of wire and bone that could be tightened to squash the waist and raise the bosom, frameworks of the same materials that attached to the waist and held the skirts in their voluminous shape. She had even heard that some Muggles had shaven heads, which they covered with strange caps of hair, made to resemble various hairstyles!
Lucrezia sighed. Pleasant as it was to study the Muggles and speculate about what their lives were like, there was really no way for her to know for sure. Her fascination would be considered unseemly at best, if not downright libertine. Besides, such thoughts were keeping her from her breakfast.
She removed her robe and nightdress, washed quickly, and pulled the fine silk shift over her head. Next came a heavier silk under robe, the bodice was fitted to her by tiny pleats which released into the skirt. It was closed with tiny, invisible hooks up the front from waist to neck. These took some time to do up; there seemed to be a hundred of them this morning. Lastly, there was a fine woolen over-robe; it was a pearly gray edged with pale green velvet. It had only two fastenings of pale green soutache buttons at the waist.
She sat at her dressing table to let Mignonette do her hair. She didn't really like all the fuss, but Mignonette was so skilled, and was so hurt when she refused, that she had been letting the elf do her hair every day. Gazing into her mirror, she decided that she might as well become used to looking like a fashionable young lady; it wouldn't hurt, and it might improve her prospects.
After breakfast, the Gaunt family adjourned to the front sitting room to pass the rest of the morning. Mr. Gaunt read the paper; he looked more than ever like a stork, folded up in a side chair, his gray head bent forward intently studying the news. Mrs. Gaunt was planning the menu for that evening's dinner party. Even frowning in concentration, she was pretty, with her eyes crinkling at the corners and her mouth drawn up like a rosebud.
Lucrezia's brother, Constantine, and her sister, Edwilda, were playing chess. Constantine was thirteen, and was an utterly charming example of young manhood. He ordered his sisters around as if he were lord of the manor, yet he still whined to his mother if he didn't get his way. His skin was spotty, and his hands, feet and nose were over-large, as if they had reached adult size before the rest of him. Utterly charming.
Edwilda was ten, and a perfect miniature of her mother. She was rosy and dimpled, with merry brown eyes and dancing, glossy brown curls. She loved jokes and games; she was altogether as much fun as a spaniel puppy, and about as intelligent as one. She would make someone a good wife someday, Lucrezia reflected wryly.
Lucrezia picked up the old book she had been reading. She had found it in a trunk in the attic: Tyrone Bastarche's Flight Unaided. It contained a fascinating history of those who had actually achieved unaided flight, but what she really wanted to know was how they had done it. She had been trying to discover that for some time, but all the modern texts treated unassisted flight as a sort of mythology; she had thought this ancient book might have more answers, and it did, in a way. It explained the lack of information in other texts, for all the people whom Mr. Bastarche claimed had achieved unaided flight had had one thing in common: they had all been Necromancers.
Necromancy had been made illegal in the last century; Lucrezia had a vague memory of studying the treaty that made it so in History of Magic. It had been frowned upon before that; many in the Wizarding world had been loath to practice magic that required corpses as ingredients. Lucrezia was a bit puzzled at this; the little she had read on the subject seemed to indicate that the remains of a Muggle would be sufficient. Logically, it was no different than preparing a haunch for the table. She supposed that some wizards would scruple to do that, as well.
Her reading was interrupted by the arrival of the mail. It was brought into the room on a large silver tray by one of the house-elves; only those who were completely uncouth would allow a post-owl into their house beyond the kitchen. Surprisingly, the largest and most important-looking package was for Lucrezia. It was a large, shiny red tube sealed in gold with her mother's family crest.
"Oooo, what is that?" Edwilda was exceedingly curious, for someone who was otherwise so stupid. "Open it, open it!" Lucrezia could practically read her thoughts: anything that came packaged like that must be a present.
"Well, well, well. One night out in society and suddenly you're important." Constantine was also curious, and tried to cover it up with disdain. Lucrezia thought it would be worth getting married just to get away from him. She hoped that he didn't grow out of his spots and lumpy nose.
"Do open it, dear." Her mother had a strange …knowing …expression on her face, and her father, in his curiosity, was ignoring his own mail.
She picked up the tube and broke the seal. Inside was a large scroll of fine, heavy vellum; it was also sealed. Lucrezia opened it, wondering what it could possibly be. She unrolled the scroll to find a very official document, replete with more seals and ribbons. It stated that, having been presented to society and thus becoming eligible for marriage, she was to be given an income of 10,000 Galleons per annum, dependent upon her being married within the year. It was signed and sealed by her mother's parents. Stunned, she read it again, aloud. She looked at her parents; they both beamed at her.
"Since I have no brothers," said her mother, " my parents set aside a legacy for you and your sister. That way, you can both marry well, and not impinge on the Gaunt family fortune, which can go entirely to Constantine." Her mother gazed around lovingly at them all. Constantine smirked at her.
"Not that you would have any trouble finding a husband," Father beamed at her, "You are one of the loveliest, most talented, wittiest girls of your age. But 10,000 Galleons assures it." Father beamed a few seconds more, and then turned to his mail.
"We each get 10,000 Galleons a year?" Finally, realization dawned in Edwilda's eyes. A present, after all.
"Yes, but not until you are of age to marry." Mother scolded fondly, "In fact, not until you are married, darling." Edwilda pouted. "Oh, your time will come, soon enough. You have much to learn before you can run a household. For instance: what to serve for dinner?" And mother went back to her menu. Constantine and Edwilda went back to their game.
Lucrezia's mind raced. Here was the means by which she might become independent; her wildest dream. Yet it would disappear unless she married. Quickly. She went to the desk in the corner and scribbled a quick note. She summoned Mignonette, and told her to send the note as quickly as possible to Artemisa. She tried to read while she waited for Artemisa's answer, but it was no use; she ended up pacing by the windows instead. Finally, Mignonette brought her the reply.
Fascinating. Come to lunch, we can have a nice talk.
"Mother, Artemisa has asked me to lunch. May I go?" Lucrezia held her breath.
"Of course, child. Be home by five o'clock; the dinner guests will be arriving around seven and you need time to get ready." Lucrezia suspected her mother wanted plenty of time to dress her; she was sure there would be at least one or two eligible men at dinner.
After a wonderful lunch with the Malfoys, Artemisa and Lucrezia took their tea to Artemisa's own small sitting room.
"So. What is this 'amazing development' that you had to tell me about, in person, today?"
Instead of answering, Lucrezia handed Artemisa the red tube.
"My, this is pretty." Artemisa studied the seal. "This is the crest of the house Peverell -your mother's family." Artemisa withdrew the document, read it, and read it again. When she looked up at Lucrezia, she could not hide her surprise. "Well, well. It seems that you can be as choosy as I in selecting a husband. Provided you don't dawdle." She went to Lucrezia and embraced her. "This is wonderful news! If you are careful, and choose wisely, you will be a very independent woman."
"Yes," said Lucrezia, frowning, "but I've been away at school; I am not well acquainted with many of the eligible men. I met George Weasley, Dominick Longbottom, and Bartholemew Crouch at the ball. I don't know what to think of them really; they all seemed very eager to please, and very fearful of offending. In fact, they were all quite boring. And they don't seem to be that much older than us; even though they had all left Hogwarts by the time we arrived there.
"I've known Roget Lestrange my whole life; I could not marry him; it would be like marrying Constantine." Both girls shuddered at the thought and gulped their tea.
"I don't know much more than you," Artemisa mused, "I have heard that George Weasley is very involved in developing some experimental charm for flying carpets or something. Dominick Longbottom and Bartholemew Crouch seem inseparable; I have never seen one, even on private business, without the other."
Lucrezia giggled. "We should marry them; then we could be together always, too!" Lucrezia grew thoughtful. "Anywise, we will have plenty of time to know them better. I suspect that, whenever we turn around, there they will all be. Whomever I marry, you will always be welcome in my home; no invitation is necessary. You are an immensely better sister than Edwilda; sometimes I wonder if the Nursery-elf didn't drop her on her head when she was a baby, she is so …slow to understand. And Constantine..." Lucrezia made a disgusted face.
"Two unsavory siblings are better than five brothers. I will be very glad to have my own house; I've had my fill of tripping over Quaffles and toy brooms. We will stay close, even if our husbands hate each other." Artemisa rolled the legacy document, and inserted it back into the tube. "Your independence, miss. Congratulations." She raised her teacup to Lucrezia. "May no man ever replace one of us in the other's affections."
Lucrezia raised her own cup. "Hear, hear! An unruly husband can be …done away with. A true friend can never be replaced." The mantle clock struck four. Lucrezia sighed. "I really must go home, now; mother has some important people coming to dinner tonight and she will want to groom me."
Artemisa laughed. "Good afternoon, dear. Give my love to Constantine; if he is mooning over me tonight perhaps he will be halfway civil. Good luck, have a lovely dinner. You may not be dining at home again for quite a while." Lucrezia kissed her on both cheeks and left for home.