In which Druella loses a very important argument. This is a new and unpleasant experience. The first of many, unfortunately.

"Elladora puts forth a good argument, Druella," might be the single most awful sentence in the entire French language, Druella thought, especially when spoken by the Head of her House, whose word she was ultimately obliged to obey. "You undoubtedly could stand to spend more time socialising with other children."

"No, Uncle, I really couldn't," Druella objected, as evenly as she could with furious, frustrated tears already pricking at her eyes — because if he was saying that Elladora had a good point this argument was already lost. "If you recall the previous occasion you attempted to send me to school, I categorically cannot stand socialising with children." Not with other children — Dru might only be eleven, but she was quite certain she'd never truly had anything in common with "other" children. Even among her own cousins, she could count on one hand those she could stand socialising with for more than a few minutes, the youngest of whom was now fifteen. She certainly didn't think of herself as one of them. "Please, I beg of you, don't make me do this!"

"Sometimes, Druella, you have to do things you don't like," Elladora said smugly. Druella glared daggers at her. The only good part of being sent away to school was that she wouldn't have to live in the same house as the woman who was supposedly her biological mother and the infestation of younger siblings who existed, Dru suspected, simply to make her life a misery. That didn't mean that she wanted to be sent to Scotland to live with hundreds of the awful things! "It will be good for you to interact with other people, rather than burying yourself in your room with your books all day."

No, it wouldn't. Dru hated talking to people just for the sake of talking to them. She had had several tutors over the years, charged with educating her (and often several of her cousins) in the etiquette and various fine arts a young lady must know the basics of to be considered accomplished. She hadn't minded leaving her room for lessons and talking to them, specifically about the subject at least at first. In her experience, they inevitably grew uncomfortable with her, either because she resisted their attempts to draw her into more personal conversation and/or convince her to devote herself more fully to their subject or (more bafflingly) because she...learned whatever they were trying to teach her too well.

With the exception of Madame Blanchet — the ageing ballet mistress was by far Dru's favourite tutor. She'd never given the slightest indication that she found Dru's obsessive perfectionism anything other than perfectly reasonable and indeed expected, and while she had mentioned that she would like to see Dru on stage one day, she respected that Dru didn't appreciate the sort of attention public performance would almost certainly garner. As such, Dru had continued dancing well after all of her cousins had quit, and quite a few years longer than she'd studied any other art.

Most recently, she'd dismissed her painting master after a frankly incomprehensible conversation which began with uncomfortable compliments on the technical progress she'd made over the past year and the question of whether she might consider pursuing art more seriously as Monsieur Du Lac's apprentice; meandered through even more uncomfortable but you have such a gift, how can you not choose to develop it more fully? and I'm good at many things, Monsieur Du Lac, many of which I enjoy a good deal more than painting territory; and ended with accusations of Druella being inhuman, both in her cold dismissal of both the art form and the opportunity Monsieur Du Lac had been offering and perhaps literally.

It wasn't the first time such implications had been made (far from it, in fact), but it still hurt to hear that yet another teacher, for whom she held — had held — immense respect, in fact believed that the only way Dru could be so promising a student was that she was somehow cheating, or that she was clearly unnatural in some way. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with having an eye for detail or her willingness to spend dozens of hours practising to perfect the fundamentals of whatever discipline she happened to be studying.

That — Druella informing Elladora that she would no longer be attending painting lessons, because she'd had a falling out with Monsieur Du Lac — might actually have been the inciting incident for this most recent bout of insistence that Dru needed to practise interacting with people more. Elladora's concern that Dru was going to grow up a social incompetant was a subject which had arisen every six months to a year since Dru had abandoned her formal education after a single disastrous term at Beauxbatons.

On every previous occasion, when Ella dragged Dru to Uncle Luc to try to enlist his assistance in forcing Dru to go out and make friends or something, Dru had successfully argued that she was perfectly capable of socialising in formal settings, even making conversation on inconsequential topics when it was absolutely unavoidable, and what did it really matter if she had less than no interest in getting to know people? She could point to at least two-dozen other Rosiers who also preferred to hide in the library rather than try to make friends at social events, and no one insisted that they needed to get out more. Uncle Luc would be at the very top of the list.

He had, on every previous occasion, agreed with Druella, privately admonished her to find a way to at least seem more interested in informal socialisation — write letters to Felix while he was at school, or some of her older cousins (he didn't care about what); perhaps attend a social outing with Louis (Madame Blanchet's adopted son and Druella's regular dance partner) or one of Madame's other ballet students — and dismissed the so-called problem until the next time Ella brought it up.

This time, though, Elladora had gone straight to Uncle Luc behind Dru's back, and somehow convinced him in Druella's absence that Druella should be enrolled at Hogwarts, her alma mater, to make a second attempt at formal schooling. It probably didn't hurt that Elladora had a specific request this time (rather than simply trying to convince Uncle Luc to make Dru do something which would force her into contact with children in her age-cohort — he had no interest in finding a way to do this), and Dru was now of an age to enrol in the incoming class.

They had apparently decided that the easiest way to break the news of her impending exile to Druella was to present it as a fait accompli, and so had sent off the enrollment paperwork without so much as asking Druella's thoughts on the matter. Hardly surprising behaviour coming from Elladora, but Dru couldn't help feeling that Uncle Luc had abruptly betrayed her by going along with it.

"Uncle, I thought we had an understanding! When I came home from Beauxbatons, you told me, and I quote, 'If you won't agree to attend some other school, you will have to learn everything to take your Competencies all alone,' and I said, 'That sounds like a much better alternative to me. Thank you, Uncle.' I've done exactly that!"

"Yes, and so far as I can tell, you've done a perfectly adequate job. I intended, however, for you to take one look at the collected curricula and find the project intimidating enough to agree to attend another school."

"Well, I didn't — and by your own admission, I've done a perfectly adequate job! If you didn't really intend for me to do so, you should have said something at any point in the past three and a half years! Why would you agree to send me to a school for children, to study concepts I mastered when I was eight?"

At least, she presumed that the first-year Hogwarts curriculum was more or less equivalent to Beauxbatons's Level Five courses. Beauxbatons did allow students to test into higher level courses. They'd considered advancing her to Level Five (at which point students began practising introductory wizardry) when she'd started there, but Ella had refused on the grounds that even if Dru was academically and magically prepared to attend more advanced lessons she would be out of place among the older students, and her social development would surely suffer. (Ha. As if she wasn't equally out of place among the seven-year-olds.) But it was expected for students to progress through one level per year, with most eleven-year-olds just entering Level Five.

Working at her own pace, not even particularly pushing herself, she'd finished the first six levels in every subject Beauxbatons offered before her ninth birthday. She didn't consider this to be terribly impressive, given that she was already familiar with the material covered in the first four levels. She'd only revised the assigned topics to be sure there was nothing she'd missed which subsequent levels might build on.

There were more subjects offered beginning at Level Seven, and the spells were more difficult since they required more magic to initialise (or much greater precision in casting) and nine-year-old Dru didn't have the channelling capacity of the average thirteen-year-old, so Seven, Eight, and Nine had been slower going. But she was confident she could have passed her Competencies a year and a half ago, when she finished with the curricula Uncle Luc had obtained for her.

For the past year and a half, she'd just been studying anything she found interesting — because if Elladora hadn't wanted her to take Level Five lessons at the age of seven, Dru was fairly certain she would object to Dru taking her Competencies just a few months after she turned ten. Her plan, at the moment, was to continue studying whatever she liked until she turned fourteen, then ask to take her Competencies. Taking them two years 'early' would probably seem much more reasonable than six years 'early'. Except as far as she could tell, there was no reason she couldn't sign up for Proficiency exams (four years 'early') instead of Competencies; apply to the University or file for emancipation on the strength of her qualifications; and finally get out of her parents' household.

"Druella, please be reasonable," Uncle Luc requested, his tone suggesting he had no idea how entirely unreasonable that request was. "Your mother is right. You need to learn to function independently outside of your own household. You will eventually be expected to do your duty to the House—" Get married, he meant. Dru had no interest in marriage, and negative interest in bearing children for her husband's House, which was a contributing factor in her determination to escape into an academic career or leave the House entirely before she was old enough to be betrothed. "—which will necessitate leaving your household and interacting with other people in casual settings. Consider this practice for that day."

She glowered at him. "If that's the justification you're using, I would be more than willing to take my Competencies and apply to integrated Proficiency–Mastery programmes." Please.

She knew before Ella opened her mouth that she wasn't going to let him so much as consider Dru's much more reasonable suggestion. Yes, she had missed the spring exam season, since no one had bothered telling her about this mad scheme before nowLammas, they weren't even giving her a full month to mentally prepare herself to withstand the torture Hogwarts would undoubtedly be — and it was far too late to apply for September enrollment, but she could keep studying independently until next spring. Other people would still exist a year from now (unfortunately).

"No! Absolutely not! I know you like to pretend you're all grown up, but you are a child, Druella Annette! The point is for you to go and learn how to deal with your peers! There is more to adulthood than magical competence! Hogwarts is a safe environment where you will hopefully be able to develop the necessary skills to eventually care for yourself independently! You will begin your first year in September, end of debate. And don't even think about trying to get yourself expelled again!"

"I didn't get myself expelled on purpose, Elladora." She'd been overwhelmed by the chaos of interacting with her nominal peers in large numbers, with no respite for months on end, and constantly bored to tears because someone insisted that she remain in lessons where she could not possibly learn anything because Father had taught her to meditate when she was three, and she'd been studying elementary witchcraft and doing basic charms nearly as long! Most of the reason they'd sent her home was that she'd been caught researching painless methods of suicide. "I was literally being bored to death, and I have no reason to think that Hogwarts will be any different!"

Except this time, she already knew how to brew half a dozen different painless, fast-acting poisons, and wouldn't get caught if she decided that life had simply become intolerable. Honestly, it wouldn't take much. She never had understood why people were so enamoured with living.

"Don't be so dramatic, Druella."

Uncle Luc winced. The school had told him exactly why she was being sent home — there had been some debate about whether it was really for the best to do so, given that she had explained when she'd been caught that she simply couldn't withstand the torture of attending Level One lessons, wasting countless hours she could be doing anything more productive, on top of the unrelenting interaction with her 'peers', and it had been Elladora who insisted that she should be forced to do so. Alerting her Head of House to the fact that Druella was entirely willing to kill herself to escape an intolerable situation was really the least they could do when they suspected that they might be returning her to one. She was also reasonably certain that Uncle Luc hadn't told Elladora precisely why she'd been expelled. She'd asked him not to, for fear Ella would never let her out of her sight again, which was even worse than the idea of being constantly surrounded by children.

The school authorities had certainly been reluctant to do so, once they realised that she had been absolutely serious when she'd told her Housemistress that she was miserable and couldn't stand the lack of privacy and solitude which were inherent to living in a dormitory. It wasn't as though she hadn't tried to find a less drastic solution before exploring the option of suicide, but apparently she hadn't been clear enough that, when she said I'm bored and I hate my dormmates, what she meant was forcing me to waste my time with useless 'lessons' and refusing to allow me any respite from the company of five other seven-year-olds is literally torture. Though she did have to wonder how much clearer she could possibly have been. She'd entirely lost her composure, crying and begging to leave — "Please, let me go home, I can't do this— Not I don't want to, I can'tPlease, I tried, but I can't live like this, you have to let me go—"

She pushed the memory away, focusing on Elladora. "And if you don't think you can handle attending formal lessons at an age-appropriate level, I don't know how you think you would be able to handle more advanced lessons!"

"Do you deliberately ignore everything I say?" Druella had to ask. "The problem was that I was bored out of my mind and surrounded by children — maddeningly chaotic, loud, messy children — twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for three months! If you want me to prove I can take care of myself in the real world, I will, but a boarding school isn't the real world! Why does it matter if I can get along with eleven-year-old idiots? After I find a way to escape your household, I see no reason I should ever have to interact with another child ever again!"

"Druella!" Ella snapped, appalled. "You know better than to imply that your siblings are stupid!" They were, comparatively. Felix was only a year younger than Dru and almost tolerable most of the time, but the twins were only seven, and they took after Ella rather than the Rosiers. Cassius and Augustus were too young to tell whether they might grow up to be tolerable. At the moment, they certainly weren't. "And you will eventually have children of your own, you know!"

Druella wasn't stupid, she knew Father and Uncle Luc intended to marry her off to one of the British Noble Houses. She was conventionally pretty and possibly the most 'accomplished' daughter of the House, and apparently very good at magic as well as academically advanced compared to her age-cohort. It had been kept quiet that she'd had a mental breakdown after only a few months at school and it generally took at least a few weeks of regular interaction for people to decide she couldn't possibly be human, so, rumours aside, it seemed likely that at least some of the other Houses would be interested.

If she really were a changeling, she might actually be pleased to know it, since not being human would almost certainly exempt her from any expectations to bear children. Since she wasn't — she hadn't seen a blood test, but Father had assured her that she was human, so she presumed one must have been performed at some point — and she was objectively talented in any number of arenas (if not with people), they were planning on marrying her to the heir of another House. Producing legitimate children would be non-negotiable.

Assuming she couldn't find some way to avoid marriage entirely, Druella's only hope was that upon actually meeting her, prospective buyers would realise that it was a terrible idea to risk the children of their heir inheriting Druella's neurotic disposition and antisocial tendencies, to say nothing of her other peculiarities, and offer a younger son or cousin instead — one she could convince to father bastards on a mistress or something, leave her out of it entirely. Either that or that the Lestranges would take an interest. They were somewhat notorious for their use of blood alchemy regardless of British law on the matter, and would probably be willing to let her use a surrogate. She would be willing to donate blood to the project of making a child, as long as she wasn't required to have any further involvement until it was capable of rational thought. But Aunt Caelia's marriage to Uncle Luc had fulfilled an intergenerational reciprocal contract between their Houses, so both Houses would probably want to strengthen their ties to other Houses for at least another generation.

"You can't honestly think that me having children is a good idea, Elladora."

"I'm sure you'll change your mind when you're more...mature," her mother said, entirely oblivious to the absurdity of that statement.

"You don't understand me, and you never have. I'm never going to like children, and I don't need to learn how to interact with them. Uncle Luc, please don't make me do this. Have you asked Aunt Caelia what she thinks of this plan?" she asked desperately.

Aunt Caelia wasn't quite as clever as Uncle Luc, but she was much better with people than any of the Rosiers and more sympathetic to Druella's situation than anyone else in the House. She'd suggested on multiple occasions that Druella should be allowed to move in with her and Uncle Luc. Their own children had long-since married and moved away to start their own households, and Dru spent at least two afternoons a week studying politics and household management with Aunt Caelia and law and financial matters with Uncle Luc anyway.

Unfortunately, Elladora hated her. She sniffed dismissively. "It doesn't matter what Caelia thinks, Druella! She's not your mother! You're going and that's that!"

Before Druella could work up the nerve to say I wish she were, Uncle Luc frowned. "She is Lady Rosier, however, and yes, Druella, I have spoken to her about this plan. She has expressed certain concerns and suggested that I request the Headmaster allow you to attend Level Nine or Ten lessons — whatever the absurdly-named British equivalent is—"

"But Luc," Ella objected. "The point is for her to—"

He cut her off with a glare and a silent, wandless charm. "I would appreciate it, Ella, if you would refrain from interrupting me, as well as from disparaging the value of my Lady's input on any matter relating to the smooth operation of this House, up to and including your daughter's future. I happen to agree with Caelia that it would have been better to allow Druella to attempt more advanced lessons at Beauxbatons, and that she might well have been better able to manage the difficulties of adjusting to a much more complex social environment if she had been suitably challenged and thereby given something to focus on aside from how utterly miserable it is to constantly be forced to interact with dozens of infuriatingly slow individuals with whom one shares no interests to speak of."

...Druella didn't think he was wrong, honestly. The idea of attending a proper school was much less awful if there was a chance she might actually learn something there. She couldn't truly say whether the boredom or the constant social interaction had been worse at Beauxbatons, but she could say that attempting to deal with only one or the other would have been better than facing both at once. And she was sure that if she were tested now, she would be placed in proficiency-level lessons.

Uncle Luc sneered at Ella's (still silent) expression of furious outrage. Dru felt her eyes go wide. She'd never seen Uncle Luc lose his composure enough to give any indication that he understood how awful other people were. (Though she had rather suspected as much. He left most of the external politicking involved in being Lord Rosier to Father and the internal politics of the House to Aunt Caelia, focusing himself on law and policy matters.)

"Did you honestly think I don't find most people just as insufferable as your daughter does? She'll still be living with them, there's no need to force her to suffer through lessons which move at the pace of the slowest of them as well.

"Unfortunately, however, you do need to learn to interact with other people, Druella, and these children will be your peers when you collectively enter legal adulthood. They should at the very least become accustomed to your presence. Caelia elected not to be present for this meeting so as not to exacerbate your mother's jealousy, but she asked me to remind you that if you genuinely give Hogwarts your best effort and simply cannot manage, you may write to us and she will withdraw you immediately."

It was almost shocking how great a relief it was to hear that. She could easily imagine Elladora promising that Dru could come home if she really wanted to and then ignoring her pleading to be rescued (again), but Aunt Caelia wouldn't break her word. She did tend to manage people, manipulating them (apparently effortlessly) into doing whatever she thought was best for them, but she was also very good at recognising what people wanted and needed, and balancing the needs of the members of the House against the needs of the House itself.

She'd been appalled when she learned that Dru had been left at Beauxbatons after making it very clear to both her parents and her housemistress that she needed to leave (unfortunately, it hadn't occurred to seven-year-old Dru to write to her Head of House for help — she'd only met Uncle Luc twice at the time, and found him distant and intimidating), and had made Dru promise to come to her if she found herself in another position so intolerable that suicide seemed like a reasonable option. Because Aunt Caelia was Lady Rosier, and it is the duty of a Lady to assure the wellbeing of her people. She would do whatever she needed to do to help Druella out of said position.

(Dru was positive that she would never be as competent a Lady of a House as Aunt Caelia, but it was good to have an ideal to strive toward.)

"Though she does ask that you at least try to stick it out through Mabon, give the other children a chance to adjust to their new circumstances as well and settle into some semblance of routine. I understand the first few weeks are the most chaotic."

That...might be true. By the second week at Beauxbatons, Druella had already written to her parents begging to come home. She hadn't really been paying attention to how anyone else was settling in, but she supposed it was possible they'd calmed down to some small degree over the course of the term.

And honestly, just knowing that she could come home if Hogwarts was too much made the prospect of at least a few weeks surrounded by children more tolerable. Hogwarts was also much smaller than Beauxbatons, its castle rather famously too large for its current use. Even if she weren't allowed her own room there, either (her cousins who attended the British school had said they weren't), there would surely be somewhere she could go to be alone outside of lessons. If she was really to be allowed to attend appropriate lessons this time, she might be able to do it.

Still, "Is there nothing I can say which will change your mind, Uncle?" There wasn't. She knew there wasn't. But she still had to ask. (Sometimes she really wanted to be wrong about things.)

He shook his head, with an expression which said he knew exactly what he was asking of her, and he didn't want to, but it was a necessary trial which she must at least attempt to endure. "I'm sorry, Druella, but no. It is traditional for Hogwarts students to take a train up from London on the Saturday before lessons begin." She knew that, her cousins had told her as much. It was absurd and unnecessary. There was no reason they shouldn't floo or apparate up to Hogsmeade over the course of the day. "In the meanwhile, you have leave to draw on House funds to outfit yourself—" He slid a supply list across his desk. Elladora snatched it up, apparently having no intention of allowing Druella any input on her provisioning. Dru would ask for another copy at their next lesson, just to ensure that her mother didn't leave anything out. "—and four weeks to resign yourself to the situation, notify your tutors and so on."

Druella nodded, fighting back tears. "May I be excused, Uncle?"

"Of course." She might have been imagining it, but she thought there was something like pity in his tone. "Not you, Elladora," he snapped, as her mother made to follow her from the office. "There are other matters we still need to discuss."

Whether there actually were, Dru didn't know, but she was still grateful for the reprieve from her mother's company. Otherwise, she was certain Ella would have followed her to the Family Library to gloat over her victory.

I feel like I should have notes, but TBH, LOTR is on in the background, and I can't really focus.

There are currently twelve chapters written. I'll be posting M/W/F for the next few weeks.