Rose's heart skipped a beat when Scorpius moved her hand up and pressed it against his thigh.
"Do you feel it?" he asked.
Heat radiated through denim. The toadstone!
"Get your hands off my sister!"
Rose cast a Pretrificus Totalus just as Hugo launched himself across the compartment. He froze in place, fist upraised.
"He's like a statue of a Muggle dueller," Lily said. "I vote we prop him in the corner until London."
"We can't do that." There was a touch of regret in Albus' voice.
Lily sighed. "Then can I at least use my coloured quills to draw him a beard and moustache?"
Rose dimly heard Albus' resounding no. The toadstone still felt hot. If it wasn't magical she'd expect to see smoke. "Should you take it out?” she whispered. “Maybe it glows or something."
Scorpius released her hand. "Potter's the danger," he said, so low she had to strain to hear.
Albus and Meredith were dragging Hugo's rigid body back to his seat.
"He wouldn't hurt you," Rose said with conviction.
"There's more than one kind of danger."
Scorpius' breath tickled her ear. A shiver travelled down Rose's spine. "What do you mean?"
He didn't get a chance to answer. Hugo, freed from the body-bind, ground out, "It's rude to whisper when others are present."
Rose snuck a peek at Scorpius. One corner of his lips tilted upward; he remembered her saying that to him. Merlin, she had to stop quoting her mother.
Lily said, "It's ruder to point out someone else's rudeness."
"Stop bickering." Albus' tone implied "or else." He sat facing Scorpius. "We've grown up hearing stories about your family. Rose may trust you, but Hugo doesn't, and I can't either—not without answers." He pulled a small flagon and a teaspoon out of his robe pocket. "Truthful answers."
Rose tensed. Scorpius was right about the danger! Similar to Veritaserum, Verisimilitude Potion compelled truthfulness. One teaspoon would ensure a single, honest answer. She said, "Verisimilitude is to be administered by the Head Boy or Head Girl as a last resort in disciplinary cases."
"This is a potential disciplinary case. How do I know Malfoy actually took his name off the list?"
"Give me the potion," Scorpius said. He scanned the fine print etched into the glass on the back. "Five teaspoons in a twenty-four-hour period is the maximum dosage. I'll answer five questions."
Even surrounded by Gryffindors he was self-assured and commanding. Rose envied that. Her poise was surface deep. She said, "You don't have to do this."
"I want to." He poured out the dose and drank it with a grimace.
"What's it taste like?" Rose asked.
"Don't answer!" Hugo said sharply. "The first question is did you take your name off the list?"
"No. Professor Blackwell did—or will—after the Express reaches King's Cross." As Scorpius poured another dose, he said, "It tastes like medicine without flavour added."
"Yuck," Rose said.
Scorpius took the potion. "My sentiment exactly."
"Look at her smiling at him! It's not natural," Hugo said. "What enchantment did you use, Malfoy? Potion? Spell? Tell us!"
"Rose is acting of her own free will."
She glared at Hugo. "Yes, I am."
He returned her angry look. "Then you're a fool. He's using you!" Hugo jabbed a finger at Scorpius. "Admit it, Malfoy!"
Scorpius swallowed another teaspoon of Verisimilitude Potion. "Is that your question? Am I using her?"
"Wait!" Albus said. "That's not specific enough, Hugo. Let me ask." He leaned forward. "Are you using Rose to spy or act against our family in any way?"
"His family doesn't know about us—they won't find out until an owl delivers his letter this afternoon." Rose turned to Scorpius. "I'm sorry, I should've made him ask that as one of your questions."
"Don't worry about it."
"What about you, aren't you worried?" Lily asked, scooting to the edge of the bench to see around Rose. "Your family is pure-blood."
Scorpius lifted a brow. "Is that an official question?"
"Drink the potion and answer, Malfoy," Hugo said.
Rose watched the play of muscles in Scorpius' throat as he swallowed.
"I'd be more worried if your house wasn't Unplottable," he said.
The tone was light, but she could see the shadow in his eyes. It brought out her protectiveness. "He won't find you."
Lily overheard. "Who won't find you?"
Rose wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. She asked, "Is that the final question?"
"That's too easy," said Albus. "It's Lucius Malfoy. A Death Eater would never accept a girl who wasn't pure-blooded."
"I'm not asking him to," Scorpius said, "and I'm not asking you to accept me."
Rose almost jumped out of her skin when Scorpius laced his fingers with hers. He'd grabbed her hand a time or two to yank her from one place to another. That was different from reaching for her hand to hold it. It was as though he was showing that she accepted him, and her feelings were the only ones that mattered.
She stared at their entwined fingers. Top of the class. Head Girl. All she'd ever cared about was her family's approval. To keep it she'd made the deal that was guaranteed to lose it. Strangely, she could smile at the irony.
"She's doing it again, Albus," Hugo said. "Make her stop!"
Rose was tired of her brother's attitude. "Go find another compartment if you don't like the view."
"Not until Malfoy finishes answering our questions."
"Don't include me," Albus said. "He isn't plotting against our family. That's all I needed to hear."
Meredith, who had silently watched, said, "I'd like to ask something." She waited for Scorpius to drink the potion. "When did you first know you liked Rose?"
Scorpius didn't answer right away. His jaw clenched. Through gritted teeth he said, "Fifth-year."
Rose could hear the blood pounding in her veins. "When you caught me stealing pumpkins?" Scorpius had arranged for a wagonload for Slytherins to practice on for the first annual inter-House contest. Inexperienced with carving, she had slipped down to the kitchen to do some practicing of her own. "I never guessed."
"I'm not Hufflepuff." Scorpius glanced at Meredith. "No offence."
"None taken. Puffs are known for wearing their hearts on their sleeves. We never make you waste time wondering if we like you." She bit her lip. "Oh, stars, that didn't come out right."
"You were only telling the truth," Albus said.
"Without being forced," Hugo added.
Scorpius handed the flagon and teaspoon to Albus and then slipped his hand from Rose's to unzip his rucksack. "Anyone else want a Butterbeer?" He withdrew a small wicker picnic basket.
"I'd love one," Lily said.
He handed her a bottle.
"Is that a Cornucopia?" Rose asked, peering into what appeared to be an ordinary basket.
"No. Slinky used a capacious enchantment and filled it with everything he thought I might require on the train."
Hugo glowered. "Personal house-elves aren't allowed at Hogwarts."
"Scorpius is a Prefect, he knows the rules better than you. Slinky's assigned to Slytherin House." Rose spoke with assurance, but asked Scorpius a question with her eyes. Isn't he?
He gave her a Butterbeer and a slight nod.
Hugo wasn't appeased. "Hogwarts' elves are free. They serve the school, not the students. That goes against everything Mum works for."
The memory of enormous brown eyes swimming with tears of gratitude flashed into Rose's mind. She said, "Freedom means the right to choose. If she finds happiness in serving others, what right have you or Mum to dictate to Winky or any other elf?"
"He said Slinky, not Winky. Is your hearing as messed up as your taste in blokes?"
"Silencio Hugo! I'm tired of listening to you. Get out!" Rose was so upset—at her slip and her brother—that her voice shook.
Hugo's face went beet red. He stabbed a finger toward her and Scorpius and then pointed toward the door.
"Why should they leave?" Lily asked. "You're the one being a git."
Hugo showed her the back of two fingers.
Lily returned the gesture.
"That's enough," Albus said. "There's no reason for anyone to leave—unless they can't be civil." He gave Hugo a warning look.
Rose countered the charm.
A stomach gurgle broke the silence that fell.
"I didn't eat breakfast," Scorpius said.
Rose splayed a hand across her stomach as it rumbled at the mention of food. "I couldn't eat," she said. "I was afraid it might come back up."
Scorpius drew a chocolate-drizzled croissant on a china plate out of the basket.
Rose said thanks and pinched off a bite. It was soft and warm. "Slinky thought you'd need this?"
"I told him you loved chocolate."
"I love chocolate too," Lily said.
Hugo frowned. "You ate breakfast."
"Hours ago." Lily smiled when Scorpius handed her a plate. "Thank you for being a gentleman unlike some people."
Hugo made a scoffing noise.
Lily stuck her tongue out at him.
To prevent an all-out squabble, Rose asked Albus and Meredith, "Are you hungry?"
"The bacon and tomato quiche is excellent," Scorpius said.
"To die for?" Hugo sneered. "You probably poisoned it."
"I'm not hungry, thanks," Albus said. He shifted his gaze to Hugo. "You're not being civil."
"Because I'm not a hypocrite. I don't care what he said, Malfoy's a snake, and I don't trust him." Hugo wrenched open the door and stomped out of the compartment.
Lily sighed. "You should've let me give him a pink goatee, Al."
"Matters are bad enough. I'll go talk to him."
After Albus left, Lily sat next to Meredith to ask her opinion on Witch Weekly articles. Rose suspected the motive was to give her a bit of privacy.
"There's plenty of food if you want something else," Scorpius said.
Rose used a vanishing spell on what was left of her croissant. "My stomach's queasy again."
He put the basket into the rucksack and took out parchment and a self-inking quill. "We'll write notes until it settles."
She wanted to write What did you like about me fifth year, but she didn't have the nerve. She wrote Why haven't you participated in the carving contest the last two years? His dragon design was the unanimous winner of the first annual contest.
Scorpius read the question and answered, My housemates didn't value my input.
He wrote back I found out Gryffindor was carving Snape's portrait and proposed carving Voldemort's.
Rose looked at Scorpius. "That would've won."
"So I told them."
She could imagine the reaction that got. Rose had been called a know-it-all more than a few times over the years. "Before or after the contest?" she asked.
His lips curved in a way that caused a fluttery sensation in Rose's middle. "Both."
"I think I could eat now," she said. "Do you have any fruit?"
The green apple tasted better than the first one he'd given her. She ate two.
The trip went smoothly, all things considered. Hugo didn't return to the compartment, but people constantly dropped by to say hello or ask a question, staring avidly at Rose and Scorpius. While Albus wasn't thrilled to perform "guard duty," accompanying Scorpius to the toilet, he admitted on their return that a number of Slytherins had been loitering in the corridor as if waiting to catch Scorpius alone.
When the train neared King's Cross, they put on their jackets and took down the luggage. Albus, Meredith, and Lily went to oversee the students disembarking.
Cousin Lucy, arms wrapped around her toad cage, waited for Rose to slide open the door and rushed inside, her eyes on Scorpius. "Molly says Uncle Ron won't let a Malfoy stay under his roof. She says you'll have to sleep outside in the cold." Her lips trembled. "You saved Sigyn's husband. I don't want you to sleep on the street."
"He won't," Rose said. "I promise."
"Is Sigyn's husband a trickster named Loki?" Scorpius asked.
Lucy's face brightened. She nodded. "And when we're bigger Lysander and I will marry and bring them to Norway to study trolls."
"Lucy!" Molly hollered from somewhere out of sight. "It's time to go!"
"Bye," said Lucy. In the corridor, she yelled, "You're wrong, Malfoy's sleeping with Rose. She promised!"
Rose groaned. "The holiday from Hades, that's what you're getting. My family's insane."
"They're not boring." Scorpius hooked his rucksack over a shoulder and held her carryall in one hand.
She held his hand without thought. "Stay out of hexing range and let me do the talking."
"I'd planned to."
Rose led the way off the train. The platform was a lot more crowded than usual. She heard an ominous click-click of cameras and walked as quickly as possible toward the circle of family waiting off to the side, plain-clothed Auror "courtesy escorts" surveying the crowd and keeping them at a distance.
It was easy to see her dad. He, Uncle Bill, and Uncle Percy were the tall ones in the family. He smiled when she came into sight. Obviously, no one had told him who her "friend" was. Rose watched his eyes slide past her and Scorpius. His brows drew together. He craned his neck, searching for the girl he expected. Abruptly, his gaze swivelled back. His face turned the exact shade of red Hugo's skin had on the train.
"Hold tight to my arm," Rose said to Scorpius before calling out, "We'll meet you at home," and Disapparating.
"This is Thornhill Square," she said, when they stood on the pavement in front of Victorian, four storey terraces. Self-conscious about the graceful house that appeared between its neighbours, Rose explained, "My parents bought it when the garden looked nothing like the famous one at 36, it didn't have more than overgrown roses and rough grass. The seller practically gave it to them because she was well off and had no family and they were war heroes. It's still un-modernised—"
"It's nice. May we go inside?"
"Oh. Right. Sorry." He was worried about being followed and she was concerned he'd think they were nouveau riche when they weren't.
The entrance was on the raised ground floor. "Our guest bedroom is on the lower ground floor past the kitchen. Here's the guest cloakroom," she said, indicating a door to the right when they moved into the corridor past the reception hall. "Study, library—" Rose waved a hand at doorways on the left. "And this is the lounge," she said, leading him into the space filled with large windows, ornate cornicing, and comfortable, durable furniture.
"Is that where you read?" Scorpius asked, looking at a gold velvet chaise in a secluded corner. Beside it was a stack of books.
"Yes." She heard the front door open and said, "Here they come. Do you think it's better to face them sitting or standing?"
"Standing," Scorpius said, as her dad's long strides pounded against wood floors.
Rose didn't get in trouble often, so her father's blazing eyes and wrathful expression were intimidating. She tried not to let it show. "Hullo, Daddy. You—you said I was welcome to bring home a friend."
"He can't be a friend. He's a Malfoy!"
That was so prejudiced. "He's my boyfriend!"
"The hell he is!"
"Ronald!" Rose's mother entered the room. "You agreed, after we talked to the children, that a display of temper will not improve the situation."
"Nothing could make it worse," said Hugo, joining them.
Rose made a show of gazing past him. "Are other relatives coming to give unwanted opinions?"
"We'll see them tomorrow at Sunday dinner," her mum said. "It was decided—"
"You decided, Hermione."
Rose's dad received a no-arguing-in-front-of-the-children look. "I suggested, and everyone agreed, that this was better handled in private by those directly involved, so why don't we all sit down." She sat on the sofa.
Scorpius took one of the leather chairs flanking the sofa. Instead of sitting with her parents, Rose chose the ottoman in front of Scorpius' chair.
A muscle twitched in her dad's jaw.
"Let's start with introductions," Mum said. "I'm Hermione Weasley, Rose's mother."
"He knows who we are." Dad narrowed his eyes at Scorpius. "What I want to know is what are your intentions toward my daughter."
A/N: Finally, they're off the bloody train! I couldn't see Albus and Hugo not asking questions (it would be like the scene in Lion King when Timon says, And everyone's okay with that? DID I MISS SOMETHING?), and when the cameras started clicking I realised Rose would not stand around the platform when her dad was about to explode. She's savvy enough not to want to give the papers any more juicy gossip than they already have.
After I did the research to find the Weasleys a nice place to live near King's Cross, I found out that Thornhill Square is where Four Weddings and a Funeral was shot. Serendipity, I think, and I hope readers will find it serendipitous that Tale of the Pumpkin Thief is posted on my author page, so they can go read the story of when Scorpius first saw Rose as more than just another Weasley.
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