Chapter 1 : Chapter One
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There are flashbulbs everywhere and Rose cannot hide from them. Her scalp hurts where her mother has tied her red hair in a bun, too tight, as usual. She blinks, brown lashes feathering her eyes, and then again. Hermione gives her a stern look. No picture of her daughter with her eyes half-open will hit the papers. Above, dark clouds gather as though for a storm, and lightning plays around the edges of the rearing thunderheads.
Rose has just graduated Hogwarts. She has just stepped out from the Ministry courtroom where her mother has tried her father for assault, and the press were waiting. Hugo, ramrod straight on the other side of the courtroom door, next to their father, glances sideways at her and looks away. Through the white light Rose thinks she sees a familiar figure, lean, with a panther walk and overgrown hair. But it’s not; another man with a trench coat on, notebook in hand. Rose turns her head back to the cameras.
Rose is drowning.
“Come on, Hugo,” Rose’s mother says impatiently. She tugs at Rose’s long, tangled hair, trying to wrench it into a plait. “We’re going to be late.”
“I can’t find my broom, Mum,” Hugo whines.
“It’s in the broom shed, isn’t it?” Hermione scowls, pulling Rose’s hair by accident.
“No,” Hugo moans.
“Ask Dad,” Hermione advises, finally succeeding in cajoling Rose’s locks into a slightly wild-looking plait. Hugo runs out of the kitchen, calling for their father.
Rose can hear her brother and father in the garden, muttering about the women in their family and broomsticks and bloody rose gardens. She knows her father will have just walked into the bush they’d planted on Rose’s first birthday, and Hugo will be copying what he says, as he always does.
“Come on, Rosie,” Hermione says, patting her daughter’s head. Rose’s mother smells as she has almost every day of Rose’s life; of subtle perfume and shampoo and flowery fabric conditioner. Rose smiles at her, pulling her jacket on over her Muggle clothes, a smile which goes unseen as Hermione peers through the window.
“Come on!” Hermione bawls through the back door.
“Coming!” Ron shouts from the end of the garden.
“I’m going to wait in the car, Mum,” Rose says, taking the keys from the hook by the fridge.
“Okay, darling,” Hermione says absently.
Rose sits in the car and slowly unplaits her hair. Hermione won’t notice. She never does. The brightest witch of her age? Sometimes Rose doubts it. Hermione is more wrapped up in herself than anything.
Rose pets the tail-twigs of her broomstick gently. It’s Auntie Ginny’s old Firebolt, the one she won the league on in 2002.Ginny gave it to Rose when Rose was accepted onto the team at Hogwarts. It’s her prized possession, and the innocent gatherer of much envy and admiration.
It is Rose’s seventh year at Hogwarts. Although Ron likes to joke that his Rosie is the brightest witch of her age, Rose has let her schoolwork suffer recently. Her father has lately become irascible and withdrawn and spends more time in his shed at the bottom of the garden than ever. Her mother is as she always had been, career-driven and obsessed with house elves. And Rose mostly just ignores Hugo because he is the bane of her life, but it occurs to her that he can’t be feeling any better than she is about all this.
Hermione hurries out of the house, her hair – as it always does when she is stressed – rising around her pink face in a hundred bushy tendrils. Hugo trails behind her, clutching his broom sulkily. Ron locks the house and claps Hugo on the shoulder, leading him to the car as Hermione slides into the driver’s seat.
“I thought I was driving,” Ron says, stowing Hugo’s broom in the boot.
“Well I’m driving now,” Hermione snaps, magicking her mascara to apply itself as Ron gets in. She pulls away, not even blinking as the brush swipes again and again. Once it is finished, Rose knows, the lipstick will go on, and then the curling and smoothing spell on the hair, and then Hermione will look round to assess the state of her offspring, and pull over for Ron to drive so she can spell and primp and straighten Rose and Hugo.
By the time they arrive at London, Rose is ready for the horrors of a new term. At least they’d be better than her family.
Hugo has a neat parting in his crinkly hair, which looks so weird, and Hermione has made him give her his robes to press and then folded them and instructed him not to put them away. As usual, she’d forgotten she’d even tried with Rose, and charmed her hair into a smooth bun. And because Rose is seventeen she is also allowed a little mascara. Even Ron has had his shirt pressed and his hair parted. Hermione herself looks as she always does in public; beautiful, severe, a career woman, surrounded by her loving family.
“Okay,” Hermione says brightly as they got out of the car. “Ron, are you taking the trunks?”
“Of course,” Rose’s father mutters. “I have for the last seven years, why break the habit now?”
He stumps round to the back of the car while Hermione rubs a bit of dirt off Hugo’s ear and checks her makeup. She is wearing a burgundy trouser suit that brings out auburn in her hair and the amber jewellery Ron had bought her for their fifteenth wedding anniversary.
Rose stares glumly up at the ceiling of King’s Cross and wishes herself anywhere but here. Because she knows what will happen the second they step through that barrier.
And indeed it does. Ron goes first, pushing the trolley with the trunks on, and Rose’s owl Remus, and Hugo’s owl Slasher. Hermione and the children emerge to find him standing helplessly in front of several cameramen, all snapping away. Hermione immediately steps up beside Ron and puts her arm around his waist. Rose knows what is expected – that she and Hugo move to their mother and father’s sides respectively, and smile warmly for the cameras, like they enjoy the attention.
She is sick of it. She is sick of being the focus of everything, at least until Uncle Harry and Auntie Ginny get here and the press are side-tracked. She hates the way Hermione encourages the attention to further her career, while James and Albus and Lily have parents who actually love them and had told the Prophet they’d take them to court if they didn’t back off.
“Ro,” Hugo hisses. Rose starts, realising she’s been staring into space. Her family are waiting for her to face the cameras with them, smiles fixed and toothy.
Rose turns around and runs. All the way to the train, while her mother calls her name and her brother gawps. People stare as she runs through them, away from the whole sad desperate ruin that is her family, away from all the mistakes and bad feelings and everything. She doesn’t stop until she’s jumped onto the very last carriage in the train.
There is already someone there. As Rose turns the corner to go into the corridor, she runs full pelt into someone and is knocked to the floor.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the person says, sounding anything but. Rose looks up from tear-blurred eyes. The boy is just a white and black smudge, but he holds his hand out to help her up. Gratefully, she takes it and he pulls her upright. She dashes the tears from her eyes and turns away.
“Thanks,” she says, already halfway into the nearest compartment.
“Wait,” the boy calls. “Aren’t you Rose Weasley?”
“So what if I am?” Rose demands, wheeling to face him. “I’m sick of people thinking I should be something special because my parents were! I hate the cameras and I hate the people and I hate everything!” She slams the compartment door so hard it shatters.
“Reparo,” the boy says calmly, stepping into her compartment and neatly fixing the door. When he turns to face her, she looks into the face of Scorpius Malfoy. He looks at her intently.
“Do you really hate it that much?” he asks. She nods, feeling more tears sting her nose. “Then why don’t you just stop?”
“Stop what?” she doesn’t understand.
“Just stop hating it. You can’t stop it happening, but you can stop your reaction to it.”
“No, I can’t,” she counters. “I can’t make myself feel something different.”
He laughs. “Okay, then. I’ll see you on the Quidditch pitch, Weasley.”
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