chapter image by Sarah_Bee

The Return
The Game is on Again

“There she is!”

The cry went up as soon as Rose cleared through customs, stumbling through the final gate while her personal welcoming committee swarmed toward her. Others from the same red-eye flight smiled as a collection of mostly red-haired individuals surrounded her, smothering her beneath hugs, salutations, and affection.

Her own smile was weak. “Hey everyone. Nice to be back.”

“It’s a relief to see you again, Rose." Her mother gave her a hug, failing to hide her surprise at seeing Rose’s cropped hair and green-tinged fingers. But, thanks to Merlin, she said nothing about it. “How was the flight?”

Truthfully, Rose had no idea how some Muggles managed to do these long flights across the world so often. Her legs were sore, her neck stiff, her throat dry, and her stomach empty. The food had been inedible, the company annoying, and the novel she’d bought at the airport absolutely boring.

“Fine, just fine.” She was happy just to be on solid ground again. “Though I’m glad I don’t do it too often.”

Roxanne laughed, patting Rose on the back. “Bet you’re ready for Grandmum’s cooking. Ever since she heard you were coming back, she hasn’t left the kitchen.”

Her stomach rumbled in reply, making everyone laugh.

Rose looked around, taking note of the strange gaps in the welcoming committee.

“Where’s dad? And Hugo?”

A crease appeared between her mother’s brows. “Emergency Ministry meeting. And your brother deemed the Cannons match more important than welcoming home his own sister.” She sniffed with disapproval.

Rose knew when to let a subject drop. “Oh.”

Among the cousins present were Roxanne and Fred, arguing whether or not Grandmum Weasley would also extend long-term invitations to them, as well as a quiet Lucy and her equally-quiet boyfriend Lorcan Scamander. The only representative of the Potters in sight was Aunt Ginny, who’d hugged her far more tightly than was necessary. She caught Rose’s wandering gaze.

“Albus has gone for your trunk. He can clear it faster, being an Auror.”

Rose fell into step between her aunt and mother, realising that she was taller than both of them. Since when had that happened? “So he’s official now?”

Ginny nodded, a spark of pride lighting up her face. “Most definitely. Passed all his tests, not that it’s a such a surprise.”

Hermione leaned forward to look around Rose. “And not just because of his illustrious father being Head of the department?” She was smiling; perhaps this was some sort of joke between them. After all, Uncle Harry himself had gotten into the Aurors by the sheer power of his name.

Crossing her arms, Ginny glared back. “Not at all. If anything, Harry was tougher on him than any of the other recruits.”

“And so speaks the proud mother.” Albus appeared from behind, dragging Rose’s trunk on its wheels. “I didn’t realise you’d be leading me on the run-around, Mum. Rose isn’t exactly one for packing light.”

“Nice to see you, too, Al.” Rose took control of her own trunk, letting their mothers pull ahead. “Congrats on making Auror. When did it happen?”

He shrugged. “That’s old news now, but it works to distract Mum from... other things.”

Rose didn’t think the trunk was that heavy. Then again, Albus had never been one for brute strength. He left that to James. Not that it made Albus any less frightening to come across in a dark alley way. He hadn’t inherited both his parents’ tempers for nothing. It wasn’t a wonder that Lily was staying away.

“So no changes then?”

There must have been some note of desperation in her voice. He narrowed his eyes, emeralds piercing into her skull.

“Little Molly is the only one in contact with her.”

Hearing her sister’s name, Lucy abandoned Lorcan and slipped between Albus and Rose. “It helps that Molls has her own place now, lucky witch. Dad thinks it’s a good alliance for Lily, you know.”

Albus was still watching Rose. “Don’t let Mum hear he said that.”

Lucy grinned. “Don’t worry. He said it to her face. You were off at work.”

Both Albus and Rose grimaced, knowing exactly how unpopular Uncle Percy was with his only sister already. The present situation certainly wouldn’t help with things.

“Oh Merlin, you’re still like twins.” Fred slung an arm around Rose’s shoulders. “Uncle Percy may be a pompous idiot most of the time, but you know, a marriage between the Potters and Malfoys would be front page news.”

Albus was watching her more closely than ever, but she couldn’t bite back her response.

“And it wouldn’t have been the same with a Weasley?”

The words emerged so bitter and harsh that Fred backed away in a hurry. Lucy let out a gasp so loud that both Hermione and Ginny turned on their heels. Everyone was staring at Rose, who stared back with more defiance than she thought she could muster.

She focussed on her mother’s face. There was pain there, in Hermione’s eyes. Knowledge of something, perhaps, or the memory of something in her own past. Rose knew all the stories about her parents’ youth, even the embarrassing ones. Yes, her mother had known the touch of the green-eyed monster.

“Rose, I–” Albus had grabbed her free hand, but Rose pulled hers away.

“Well, are we going, then? I’m famished.” With an absurdly fake smile, she rushed forward, past her varied relatives, thankful for the excuse of the Weasley appetite.

Stupid, stupid. Not even out of the airport and she had given herself away. Now they’d all know that she still might actually like Scorpius. No, that she was still in love with him. All her thoughts on the flight about coming back the strong one, stoically handling the whole situation, were for naught.

Even she hadn’t realised just how jealous she was, how much anger was bubbling within her, how, like a poorly mixed Potion, she could exploded at any moment. She kept walking toward the car park, back ramrod straight and legs moving at lightning pace. That is, until she realised that she didn’t know what colour her mother’s car was. The others quickly rectified the situation, pointing her to the most boring-looking car in sight. Definitely not her father’s choice.

She sat by the window, having shoved Albus in first.

“Rose! I’m an officer of the law!”

“Unless you want me to throw up on you...”

“Okay, okay, fine.”

It was one of those cars their grandfather had magically altered to fit as many people as necessary. It definitely helped to save on petrol, as two, even three, vehicles would be needed to cart around the entire Weasley family at one time.

“You realise how juvenile you two sound?” Fred elbowed Albus over to get himself some additional space. “Growing up never occurred to either of you, has it?”

Rose managed a grin, feeling herself relaxing. The moment of anxiety had passed without comment, though she knew the others would not forget her words, nor the emotion behind them. They knew the truth, and there was nothing she could do about it. She actually felt a bit relieved that it was out.

Maybe they’d help her squish Scorpius down to a pulp.

That image in her mind, Rose was able to withstand the long ride to the Burrow. Her eyes would just start to droop when they would hit a bump, or someone would talk to her, or her mind would refuse to shut up. The latter happened the most, distracting thoughts pummelling against the side of her skull without mercy.

She realised too late that her mother was speaking to her.

“... you to the Burrow because your Grandmum wouldn’t have it any other way. Apparently, she doesn’t think me capable of looking after you, not after such a long time away. Your father will be meeting us there.”

At least it meant she’d be seeing her father soon.

“Stop looking so glum, Rose,” Albus said, nudging her elbow. “Anyone would think that you didn’t want to be back.”

She made sure that Fred was deep in conversation with Lorcan before answering.

“We’ll talk later. You’ll be staying the night, right?”

“Yes, Grandmum thinks I’m hopeless on my own.” He shrugged. “Not that I mind. Her cooking is far better than take-away every night.” Shifting in the seat to face her, he lowered his voice. “I get the feeling that we have much to discuss.”

Damn, he was looking at her in that under-the-microscope sort of way again.

“And I get the feeling that–” She paused, eyes checking that the others weren’t listening in. “Scorpius wasn’t entirely truthful about our parting.”

Albus raised an eyebrow. “So you didn’t refuse him.”

When Rose shook her head, Albus flushed, eyes hardening. “Bastard.”

The car turned down the long driveway toward the Burrow.

“More later,” she whispered to him, turning back to look out the window. She wanted to see their approach to the Burrow, watch all the familiar sights of her childhood appear out of the fields surrounding Ottery St. Catchpole. This place was home, her actual home. Her parents’ house in Godric’s Hollow couldn’t compare.

The Burrow appeared and Rose felt a fluttering in her stomach. Not a grumbling, but a fluttering. Grandmum. She hadn’t thought of it until this moment. She was prepared for the feeding and the fussing, but not for the talk she would get. She’d already gotten it once, after she had announced her relationship with Scorpius, but now....

“She won’t eat you, Rosie.” Fred leaned across Albus, a grin plastered on his face. “Everyone knows you’re her favourite.”

Which immediately meant that she would be smothered with grandmotherly affection for however long she ended up here. Never a moment alone. Tiptoeing around the unmentionable subjects of weddings, romance, and flowers (particularly lilies and roses). Never referring to either Lily or any Malfoy by name. Being fed all her favourite dishes, no matter how much everyone else hated them.

Actually, that sort of treatment sounded quite nice.

Nice, bah. She hated that word, but it suited well enough in this circumstance.

“You’re muttering to yourself again, Rose,” Albus warned. “And please open the door. I’d like to get out.”

They had stopped in front of the Burrow and it seemed that she and Albus were the only ones not yet out of the car. Face going red, Rose fumbled with the latch until Albus reached around her to unlock the door. She pushed it open, neither making comment. By the time they got out, the kitchen door was wide open and more relatives spilled out, her grandparents in the front, both beaming. The return of Rose Weasley evidently was an Event.

Her trunk already whisked away by her mother, Rose walked up to the door, Albus by her side. He averted his eyes as both Granddad and Grandmum Weasley greeted her with more affection than was probably necessary. To make it fair, Rose greeted both of them with almost as much enthusiasm.

Of course, the first thing her Granddad asked was not how she she’d been, but what it was like in the aeroplane. Typical.

“Look at you!” Grandmum held Rose back at arm’s length. “So tall, just like your father. It’s wonderful to have you back, Rose!”

“With her hair like that, she could pass for Dad, too.” Hugo stepped around them, wearing his usual Cannons colours.

Gradmum wheeled on him faster than he could dance aside. “Is that how you greet your sister after two years?”

“Especially since you kindly chose to not go meet her at the airport.” Hermione came to stand beside Grandmum, arms crossed.

Hugo’s face crumpled the way it always had when he was about to whine. “But Mum, the game–”

Hermione raised her hand for silence. “How old are you, Hugo? Nineteen or five?”

“I don’t think he’s ever gotten past five,” Rose said, glaring at her brother. Getting along well had never been their mantra. Two years between them, and one would think it was really two centuries.

Hugo responded, but Rose didn’t hear him. The tiredness was sinking in. Even whatever rest she’d managed in the car wasn’t enough to keep her on her feet. In her present state, she didn’t think she’d last through dinner. She barely had enough energy to hide her yawn behind a hand. Of course, Gradnmum caught her in the act.

“Oh Rose, you must be exhausted! I’ve cooked up a bit of treacle pudding just for you...”

Rose began to wonder why she hadn’t wanted to come home sooner.

~ * * * ~

She woke in the night. It must have been the time difference; it might already be morning back in China. Squinting, she looked toward the clock: just after midnight. How long would it take for her to get used to Greenwich time again? How many nights would she lie awake?

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and surveyed the room. She couldn’t quite remember which one she’d been assigned this time. It was always a different room, just for fairness’s sake. All the cousins wanted to use the Twins’s old room, while no one wanted to sleep in the attic with the Ghoul. The new addition should have resolved the issue, but the cousins just couldn’t be satisfied.

Old habits die hard.

She could still taste the treacle pudding. Wonderful stuff. Good thing Uncle Harry hadn’t been here, otherwise she would have been made to share. But it did leave her thirsty.

Extracting herself from the bed, Rose pulled on her dressing gown – it had been neatly folded on the chair by the bed – and stumbled toward the door. The room was disturbingly tidy. They must have given her Uncle Percy’s old room. Perfect.

The house was quiet. The other cousins there must have all been in the other rooms, following the same old curfew that Grandmum had set in place all those years ago. They might not be asleep, though with their jobs, they may have to leave early in the morning.

Rose realised that all of them, including herself, were grown up. She and all her cousins were adults, and it seemed so strange. Ten years ago – ten whole years – she’d been preparing herself to go to Hogwarts, so happy now that she could go and see what the fuss was about. All that was a long way away. They all had jobs, making lives of their own.

With a sigh, Rose went down the stairs, stepping lightly and in the right spots so that she wouldn’t make a sound. Entering into the kitchen, she grabbed a glass from the cupboard and went to fill it at the sink, stopping only when she heard voices in the next room.

“– like you and Harry. Just as close, too.” It was her mother’s voice.

“She seemed alright, though?” Her father. He must have just arrived.

“How could she be alright, Ron? Think of it, he told everyone that she’d refused him, and obviously that wasn’t the case.” Hermione was pacing the room.

“But she’s brave about it.” Ginny was there, too. “She doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s hurt her with this.”

“Next time I see him I’ll–”

“Ron, don’t.” Hermione had stopped her pacing. “Rose has to handle this herself, to talk to him and–”

“Hex him to bits.”

The loud sigh must have been Hermione’s. “You’re hopeless.”

“Harry spoke to Malfoy a few days ago,” Ginny said. “The wedding will be at Malfoy Manor after all. Astoria’s doing, of course.”

Ron gave a bitter laugh. “Because Malfoy still doesn’t want his boy marrying one of ours. An absolute embarrassment for him. Old Lucius would be turning over in his grave.”

“What will we do with Rose until then?” Hermione sounded worried. “You know her temper.”

Ginny’s laugh was kinder. “Almost as bad as Al’s. The two of them against Scorpius, ha! What do you think the odds would be?”

There was a pause, her father’s softening laughter filling the silence.

Finally, Hermione spoke. “Will you be going, Ginny, to the wedding?”

An awkward silence ensued. Rose leaned closer to the door.

“Not sure yet, but Harry’s already feeling guilty. You know how he is. It is our daughter’s wedding, after all.” From the sound of Ginny’s voice, Rose wondered if the mother-of-the-bride’s gift would be the famous bat-bogey hex.

“What gets me is that Scorpius is so desperate to get married,” Ron said. “He’s been rushing the whole thing. Louis told me he’d heard that the date was moved forward a month.”

A month? But how long ago was that change made? Rose held her breath.

“How long does that leave?” Hermione’s voice was strained.

“One week.”

Rose stepped back, heart going cold. One week. Seven days. No. He couldn’t be doing this. She closed her eyes, chest heaving as she tried to control herself. It didn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter. But it did.

She didn’t want to cry, but it was there, waiting for the first moment of weakness.

“Is it worth stopping it from happening?” Hermione was asking.

“You think he’s doing this for the wrong reasons?” Ginny asked, sounding somewhat impatient. “That he wants only to make Rose jealous.” Her voice rose. “That he doesn’t care anything for Lily at all? My daughter!”

Rose trembled, biting her lip. She knew what was going to be said next.

“Two years can change a person,” Hermione was saying, always the reasonable one. “But if Scorpius hasn’t done this just to get revenge on Rose...”

Someone had jumped from their chair. Most likely Ron. “Revenge!”

Ginny also spoke. “You can’t be serious, Hermione.”

“But it’s possible! You know how he lied to everyone, claiming that Rose rejected him.”

“And now it’s obviously not the case,” Ginny sighed. “This is just great.”

“That bloody Malfoy!” Ron said, only just managing to keep his voice down. “I told her not to get involved with him–”

“It’s too late for that, Ron,” Hermione snapped. “What we have to ensure is that Rose maintains her sanity for the next week.” She moved, probably toward Ginny. “Rose cannot know when the wedding takes place.”

Rose felt her stomach drop. It was too late. She already knew.

She backed away from the doorway. If they caught her here... if they knew she’d been listening in.... They wouldn’t be angry, of course, but all the guilty looks and pity, all the bad feelings that would arise from them knowing that she now knew.

One week.

She had a choice to make. It could be one week of hiding in the Burrow, a coward, ignorant and smothered by her family. Or she could fight.

In one week, she could put an end to the wedding, the pain, the uncertainties.

Whether it was because she’d murdered Scorpius or stolen him back, that would depend on how things went. She had to see him, had to be sure that it wasn’t all a stupid revenge plot, that he wasn’t using her silly cousin for his own ends.

But if he loved Lily, then what?

“Any word when Harry’s getting back?” Hermione asked, cutting into Rose’s thoughts. She was still listening, even as she moved closer to the stair.

“He still thinks he can save the bloody world.” Ginny sounded bitter. “And work is a good distraction. He’s not as upset about Lily marrying a Malfoy as he is about her keeping the whole thing a secret for so long.”

Rose turned away, leaving the adults to their conversation. She’d heard too much already.

Merlin. There was too much to this.

It seemed impossible that Lily, notorious for being unable to keep any secret, could stay silent about her relationship with Scorpius. That would be the thing to make her famous, to make her stand out against her glorious cousins. She had always lagged behind a bit, lost in the shadows of her parents and brothers, the shadows of the elder cousins, including Rose.

Had she brought this upon herself?

She slipped up the stairs, hurrying when she hit a creaky step. There was a pause in the murmur from the sitting room, but that was hit. Thank Merlin, they must have thought that the house was just settling.

Her destination was not her own room. She had to speak to Albus. He might know something or be able to advise her in some way. He was good at that sort of thing. Some may have said she relied too much on him, but he was the only one she could trust with this. Who knew where her other friends from Hogwarts had gotten to. They’d lost touch since she’d gone to China. A few letters here and there, that was it. What would they think of her now?

Bugger that thought. She stopped on the first landing, touching her ear to the door. No, not that one.

Each Potter was notorious for something. It was part of being a Potter.

James was a notorious prankster, taught at the knee of Uncle George.

Lily was a notorious gossip, unable to keep a secret, especially if it made a good story.

Albus, on the other hand, was notorious for snoring.

It wasn’t until she reached her dad’s old room that she heard Albus’s signature snore. Poor Albus, being tossed up into the attic room, though it meant that they would have absolute privacy while they spoke.

She tapped on the door once, then waited.

Nothing. And to think that he was supposed to be an Auror.

She tapped again and waited. This time, there was a sound from within the room. He opened the door, a blurry-eyed face peering out.

“Flipping Hades, Rose. You know how late it is?”

Pushing at the door with her foot, she forced her way past. “This is important. Anyway, this didn’t used to be late for us, Al.”

After shutting the door, he turned and glared. “I knew you wanted to talk, but now, in the middle of the night? I do have to work tomorrow.”

“Lucky you.” She settled herself onto the floor against the bed. “I overheard our parents downstairs. They were talking about the wedding.” She said the word like she didn’t care. It was easier than she thought. “It’s in one week, apparently.”

“What?!” His glare turned into an open-mouthed stare.

Rose examined her nails. “Yes, isn’t that just fantastic?”

“No, it’s dreadful.” He sat across from her, leaning against the wall. “James and I have been trying to talk to Lily, but she refuses to see us. Out of revenge, I guess, for mum refusing to see her.”

Revenge. That word again. Rose wondered at it, wondered why so many of her family were using it in relation to the present circumstances. It was such a violent word. Rose may have thought to herself about “murdering” Scorpius and “strangling” Lily, but she never actually meant those things. Maybe it was the same with all this revenge business.

She realised too late that Albus had asked a question.

“Are you asleep again, Rose? Because, dammit, if you are, I’m throwing you out.”

Shaking herself out of the reverie, she shifted to make herself sit up a little straighter.

“No, no. Sorry. Just thinking.”

“And what is the great mind of Rose Weasley thinking now? Any brilliant plans?”

She wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not. With Albus, one could never tell.

“I was thinking earlier that perhaps we should stop the wedding.” The ‘we’ part hadn’t been in her thoughts while in the kitchen, but it seemed like the right thing to include. She certainly couldn’t put an end to it on her own.

If she wanted to end it at all.

Albus leaned forward, eyes widening. “Rose, you realise what you’re suggesting, right?”

She nodded, starting to worry about her sanity. Did she want to stop Scorpius from marrying Lily? And did that mean she still wanted him for herself?

Did she love Scorpius enough for this?

“I think so. At least for Lily’s sake, so that she’s not stuck with the bastard.”

Albus tilted his head. “There’s always divorce.”

Her lip twisted upward. “Ha! Can you imagine either of them in court?”

“Not really, but still, Rose, think of it.” His voice lowered unnecessarily into a whisper. “Is that what you want?”

It was a question Rose could not yet answer.

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