She took a long bath, listened to soothing music, did breathing exercises, and read Quidditch through the Ages. Nothing helped. She eventually set the book aside and closed her eyes, resigned to willing herself to sleep.
Then someone called her name.
Rose turned her head in the direction of the voice and stared into the eyes of a silvery Patronus. The animal's small face leaned towards hers. Rose heard in her mind, I had a dream you were in danger. Tell me you're all right. I need to know you're safe.
She recognised Scorpius' voice instantly. It took a few seconds longer to recognise the animal that stood so close they were practically nose-to-nose. "Oh my God," Rose whispered. A Patronus was the embodiment of a caster's thoughts, and when corporeal, an animal personification of self. For Scorpius to send his to her—
Rose scrambled out of bed and threw open the door. She ran downstairs, speeding through familiar rooms until she reached the kitchen and crashed into a warm body.
Arms wrapped around to hold her steady. "You're okay. I won't have to yell up the stairs."
Scorpius wasn't wearing a shirt, and Rose's heart was beating like crazy. "How'd you know it was me?"
The darkness wasn't total. She could see a glimpse of smile. "You're pretty unmistakable."
She looked down at her white t-shirt painted with the Cheshire cat’s toothy, glow in the dark smile. "I guess so," she said, fighting the temptation to turn on an orb to see his face. It was more important to keep him at ease. "What did you dream?" she asked. Rose felt his body tense.
"It doesn't matter."
"Was it your grandfather?"
Scorpius' tone was cool. He didn't like being questioned, but she couldn't stop. "Does he know about your Patronus?"
"No. Dad taught me the spell."
"Summer before fifth-year."
"And you've kept it secret all this time?"
He gave a mirthless laugh. "It's not something I'm proud of."
"You should be. The charm is simple only in theory. It's impressive that you mastered it at that age, and your animal is special, it gives protection—"
"Against snakes!" His hands came up to grip her shoulders. "What kind of Slytherin has a damned mongoose for a Patronus? If anyone at school found out, I'd be a laughingstock. My housemates would call me a traitor and my grandfather would have a stroke." His arms fell to his side. "I shouldn't have sent it. You don't understand."
"Yes, I do!" She stepped forward when he took a step back. "You're not who people think you are. I understand completely." The dark made it easier to confess, "I'm not like my mother, I'm not the brightest witch of our age. I only revise more."
"No, you're smart."
"Not like you. I can't brew a potion without instructions, I don't have your memory. Why aren't you top of the class?"
"I don't want it."
He was so confusing. And fascinating. "What do you want?"
Scorpius kissed her.
How he zeroed in on her mouth was a mystery Rose didn't puzzle over for long. There was passion in the kiss that made her brain go fuzzy. It was as though getting close to her was all that mattered to Scorpius. No one else ever kissed her with such persuasive intensity. As she had in the common room, she responded, this time determined to make him feel the same—that no other kiss compared.
She parted her lips and pressed closer. The rasp of denim against her legs was as arousing as the glide of hands and tongues. His hands caressed her back while her fingertips traced the smooth muscles of his shoulders and arms.
"Yes," Scorpius whispered, when she hesitantly placed a hand on his abdomen.
Rose held her breath and slid her palms upward.
She froze when the kitchen flooded with light.
"What the hell's going on, Rosie? I heard the stairs creak, waited for you to come back up, and when you didn't, I come down to find you in the dark doing . . . that!"
Rose lowered her hands and got an unobstructed view of Scorpius' chest. "Wow—I mean, sorry, I just wanted to see if he had everything he needed." She closed her eyes, wishing the house didn't have Anti-Apparating security wards inside and out. She would Apparate to her room and pull the covers over her head. For a week.
"Thank you," Scorpius said with no trace of irony. "I'm fine."
It was impossible not to look at the body she'd been touching. He was incredibly fit.
Her father continued the list of transgressions. "You're not wearing a robe," he said. "You're not even wearing trousers! And he's not wearing a shirt—"
"Dad!" Rose turned on her heel to beg him to shout at her in private and almost died of embarrassment on the spot. He was wearing plaid boxers! "You're yelling at us? At least we have clothes on!"
"Boxers are clothes." Her dad crossed his arms.
He didn't have a beer gut or a hairy chest, but that didn't mean she—or anyone except Mum—fancied the sight of Dad in his underwear! "Did you hear that?" she asked Scorpius. "You can wear boxers around the house. They're clothes."
"I don't have boxers." Scorpius' eyes smiled.
Rose said, "What—"
"Rose Nymphadora Weasley! Go to your room!"
"I was going to ask what he wanted for breakfast," Rose said. She left with what as much dignity as possible, walking upstairs when she wanted to stomp.
Her mum stood on the first floor landing. "Your father was all for going downstairs immediately. I persuaded him to wait."
Dad would've stopped her before she reached the kitchen. She would never have talked with Scorpius or shared the kiss. "Thank you, Mum." Rose gave her a hug.
"If you ever want to talk I promise to listen and not judge." Mum kissed her forehead.
Rose nodded and went up the stairs. She heard Hugo's door open.
"What's going on?" he asked sleepily.
"Dad's eating the leftover pizza."
"Not without me!" Hugo marched downstairs in striped boxers.
Rose went into her room and flopped on the bed. She hoped Hugo would meet Dad on the stairs. If he didn't, she hoped he'd break up whatever conversation was going on in the kitchen.
She rolled onto her side and stared at the bedside clock. Ivory and dainty, the arch top was hand-painted with pink rosebuds to match the rest of the furniture in her garden-themed room. After a few minutes, she stared at the floral wallpaper and then at the green border around the skirting boards in an attempt to clear her mind of distractions and concentrate on one of her happiest memories. Eventually, Rose succeeded.
It was the first night of Christmas holiday and her family was sleeping in the lounge. Her parents and Hugo had went out and bought a tree, but they didn't decorate it. It stood green and bare of anything except the magical candles Mum arranged on the branches just before bedtime. The next day they would add ornaments.
"Christmas isn't fun without you, Rosie," Hugo said, placing his pillow on the floor beside hers. "I missed you."
"We all did," Mum said.
Dad arranged Rose's blanket around her, although she was eleven and didn't need tucking in. "You're the only Christmas Angel we need," he said and kissed her cheek.
Rose smiled as she cast the Patronus Charm and a silvery raccoon scurried off to deliver her message to Scorpius.
Are you all right? I told you my family was insane.
Within minutes, an ethereal mongoose scampered onto her bed.
I would rather have seen your knickers, but I'm sure my eyes will stop burning by morning. I'll make omelettes if you like.
Rose sighed. "I like."
She awoke early and hunted through her wardrobe for something that would coordinate with Scorpius' clothes. Not matching, but not clashing. Her floral prints were out. She searched for a dress that was pretty and casual, yet elegant. What she found was the holiday dress Lily had badgered her into purchasing.
Thin straps, v-neck, above the knee—it was the kind of dress Lily adored and Rose thought was too sexy. She'd never worn it.
She tried it on.
Embroidered details on the bodice and frill trim of the skirt gave the dress a touch of elegance. The contrast between the lighter fabric of the dress and the dark embroidery was pretty. She tied her hair back and slipped on casual sandals.
In the kitchen, Scorpius stood by the worktable cutting a peeled orange into thin slices. "You didn't have the right sort of pan so I made a frittata instead of omelettes," he said, glancing up.
He did a double take that brought a flush to her cheeks. "Scrambled eggs and streaky bacon is about the best we do around here," she said. "A frittata sounds delicious."
"I took it out from under the grill a few minutes ago. It's still hot."
Was he eyeing her legs? Unexpectedly, she had no urge to tug down her skirt. She asked, "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I need a dish for the oranges."
She handed him one of their white, everyday plates. "We don't normally use china and crystal."
"Neither do we," he said, arranging the slices in concentric circles like a chef on one of Nana's cooking programmes. "At least not when my grandparents dine elsewhere."
Her family would be downstairs any moment. Rose felt safe enough to tease. "What happens then? You let down your hair and eat in the kitchen?"
"With our fingers." Scorpius removed the elasticised band holding back his hair. It framed his face in a way that accentuated his masculinity. He held out a slice of orange.
And heard a groan. "Bad enough you two wear matching clothes, d'you have to feed each other?" Hugo snagged a piece of fruit.
Rose said, "His shirt is grey, my dress is blue."
"Blue-grey, and his trousers are black and so's that stuff on your dress. You match."
"No, it isn't." Rose looked at Scorpius.
He shrugged. "We're not wearing identical t-shirts."
"That means you don't care 'cause you like her skimpy dress," Hugo said.
Scorpius' gaze travelled over Rose. "She's lovely."
Hugo made gagging sounds until their mum came into the room and told him to behave or go without breakfast. Nothing kept him from eating, or Dad, either. They sat at the table and ate two helpings. Dad grudgingly agreed the bacon and asparagus frittata was "decent."
While the rest of her family did the washing up, Rose showed Scorpius the library.
"It's much larger than it seems from the corridor," he said.
"Small compared to yours, though?"
"To the formal library, but my parents' personal one is much the same size." Scorpius wandered over to a shelf. "We don't display photographs." He examined a picture. "How old were you in this?"
"Eight. I'm smiling like that because I didn't know the gaps on either side of my front teeth made me look like a demented chipmunk."
"You look happy."
She was curious. "Do your photographs smile?"
"Some." He pointed to a group photo taken at The Burrow. "Will all these people be at dinner today?"
He said, "So I'm here for Weasley flash cards."
"It seemed like a good idea."
Scorpius' smile revealed the dimple in his cheek. "Almost Slytherin." He walked over, held out the photograph, and proceeded to correctly guess the identity of every person except Auntie Muriel, although he didn't know the first names of her Granger grandparents or Aunts Audrey and Angelina. "They've never been listed in the Prophet," he said.
"And you remember everything you read."
"I never said that. Don't tell anyone I did."
The seriousness of his tone took Rose aback. She'd been facetious. "I wouldn't even if it was true," she said.
Scorpius dropped his eyes to photo in his hands. To avoid looking at her? He said quietly, "I'm not used to trusting, and I've told you more secrets than anyone else in my life." His mouth curved in a half-smile. "Than everyone else put together."
Her heart turned over. "I won't betray you. I'll give a witch's handshake."
He shook his head. "I'm trying to explain—"
"There's no need."
Scorpius returned the photograph to its shelf and reached for a book. "Pride and Prejudice. I remember the title from the Muggle Studies suggested reading list. I've never read it." He scanned a page and handed her the book. "It is a truth universally acknowledged," he said, "that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."
Rose listened in awe as he quoted the first page word for word. "Who else knows you can do this?"
But not his grandparents. Rose had so many questions. Why was Scorpius afraid to go home? Her father said, "Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater." Was Lucius Malfoy plotting something? How could she find out? She wasn't a Legilimens.
Was Scorpius? She stared into his eyes. Trust me a little more.
No memories surfaced. No images ran through her mind like a silent film, only a random thought. She said, "When you gave me an apple, you knew it symbolised more than knowledge."
He'd tempted and she'd fallen. A few weeks ago, she would've been wound up. Her outlook had changed. Rose could admit, "My life wasn't paradise anyway."
They spent the rest of their time in the library discussing the books, which ones they'd read and liked or didn't enjoy. Scorpius shared that he'd read a few of the Scamanders' The Believers series chronicling searches for magical creatures like the Blibbering Humdinger, yet preferred the L.L. Scamander novel Night of the Nargles.
"I couldn't sleep after reading that!" Rose cried. "I kept dreaming Nargles were trying to crawl into my ears and control my mind."
"My mother cast an anti-Nargle spell." Scorpius ran the tip of his finger around her ear.
"That's how you know it's working," he said.
When it was time to leave, Rose had an attack of nerves. "Perhaps it would be better if Scorpius and I stayed here," she said.
"Get in the car." Dad's tone was final.
Outside, Scorpius opened the door of the Bentley Flying Spur luxury sedan for Rose. "I've never ridden in Muggle transportation," he said. "Nice colour."
It was dark sapphire. "The car's enchanted." She made a face. "The Flying Spur that flies, Dad and Hugo say that every time." Rose sat in the middle of the back seat. Although the interior was roomy, she scooted towards Scorpius so they could talk without raising their voices.
Her dad engaged the audio system. One of the Whomping Willows Greatest Hits blared from the fifteen speakers. Rose smiled at Scorpius. The song was "I believe in Nargles."
The ride/flight to Devon was too short for Rose. She adored her grandparents and their delightfully ramshackle house. She loved spending time with her cousins and extended family. She just dreaded their reaction to her "boyfriend." She whispered, "If anyone's rude to you—"
"I'll ignore them the way I do my Greengrass relatives."
Hugo tugged her arm. "We're here. Get out of the car, Rosie."
She said, "You're turning into Dad, are you aware of that?"
"I am? Thanks!"
Scorpius chuckled and opened the door.
"Rosie! Rosie!" Lily ran toward them from the side garden, Albus following more sedately.
Rose hugged Lily, who looked like spring in a daffodil-yellow sundress. "It's so warm. Did Granddad cast a Weather Charm?"
"Along with my dad and the uncles," Lily said. "The breeze gets chilly again when you reach the edge of the back garden, so if you go up in the tree house, use a Warming Charm."
"They're not going up in the tree house," said Albus. "They're here for Rose to introduce Malfoy to the family."
"You make it sound like she's throwing him to the lions. We're not that bad." Lily rolled her eyes.
Rose took Scorpius' hand. They began walking.
In the back garden, family members and friends gathered around picnic tables covered with bright cloths and laden with food.
"Scorpius! Rose! "Lucy ran over to greet them. She held an empty jam pot in her hand. "I'm glad you're here," she said.
Rose took in the grass stains on her cousin's white dress. "Did you lose your toad?"
"Uh-uh, she's in the tree house with Loki."
"What are they doing up there?" Scorpius asked.
Lucy said, "Kissing."
Rose tried to distract her cousin from sharing the family tree house's long history of use by snogging couples. "How'd your dress get so dirty?"
"Wrestling with Lysander. Rose, will you please conjure a Bluebell Flame?" She held out the jam pot.
Rose complied and asked, "What's this for?"
"Lysander. It's cold in the tree house. Bye!"
Lily giggled. "If you're lucky she'll leave it for you." Her expression turned flinty. "Look out, there's a pack of testosterone headed this way."
The "pack" consisted of James, Fred, Lorcan, Louis, and Hugo. Lorcan, the "honorary" cousin, was the only one whose hair lacked a tint of red.
"Oh, stars, now Granddad and the uncles are prowling over." Lily made an exasperated sound. "What's next, the aunties get up and everybody fights over who gets to hex first?"
Rose noticed several absences she hadn't before. "Where are the rest of the girls and Aunt Angelina?"
"Roxy, Dom, and Molly are inside helping Granny, and Vicky and Teddy are late as usual."
"Maybe you should go inside and say hello to Granny," said Albus.
"Yes, let's!" Lily hooked her arms through Rose and Scorpius' and marched to the back door. "Have I mentioned how cute you two are in those matching outfits?"
"We coordinate," Scorpius said, pulling away.
Rose took his hand. "We're not wearing identical t-shirts."
Lily opened the door. "Granny! Rose is here."
Around the far end of the table, Granny, Dominique, and Molly sat icing fairy cakes. Granny, ginger spell-perm curls bobbing, rose to envelop Rose in a hug. "My little Rosie's all grown up!" she cried, before whispering, "If he's coercing you in any way I'll—"
"I love you, too," Rose cut in before Granny pulled out her wand. "I'd like to introduce you to my boyfriend, Scorpius."
"A pleasure to meet you, ma'am."
Rose introduced him to her other cousins and then asked, "Where's Roxanne?"
"Upstairs," Granny said. "She's, ah, not feeling well."
Rose saw Scorpius' brow wing upward. He could tell something was wrong too. She asked, "Is Aunt Angelina with her?"
"Why don't you go up and have a natter." Granny patted Rose's hand. "We'll keep your . . . friend . . . company."
Scorpius said, "Take as long as you need."
She went into the lounge and navigated the maze of overstuffed furniture to reach the stairs. On the second floor, in Uncle George's childhood room, Rose found her cousin standing at the window overlooking the back garden.
Roxanne was a part of the older cousin set along with Victoire, Dominique, James, and Fred, but she and Rose were good friends. They were both studious and determined to excel. Roxanne had passed the Auror Office character and aptitude tests after leaving Hogwarts and was in her first year of training.
"I'm not coming downstairs," Roxanne said. "I showed my face, I made the rounds, gave the hugs. Dad can't guilt me into doing more than that."
"What are you talking about? Granny said you weren't feeling well."
Roxanne turned away from the window. "I feel like crap," she said bitterly. "Wouldn't you if your parents were getting a divorce?"
A/N: The Whomping Willows are an actual (if Muggle) wizard rock band. Anyone interested can go to the youtube site and watch "A tribute to Luna-I believe in Nargles" video that uses clips from OotP. I thought the sound quality was better than in the live concert bits. I couldn't find a better book for Scorpius' eidetic demonstration than the first two sentences of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (page 1, :D). If there are any George/Angelina shippers reading, I am sorry. Jo said they got married and had kids, but that doesn't mean they stay married until death do them part. I've always felt it was a mentally unhealthy match likely to be unmade once they hit bottom and went to therapy. The mention of the divorce is as far as it affects this story. It’s to show Scorpius that even the Weasleys, who seem like the ideal family, are normal people dealing with issues like couples splitting up.
I want to give special thanks to everyone who read the Ron pov one-shot of the train station moment, Crouching Father, Hidden Terror. Anyone who hasn't read it is cordially invited to go see what you missed!
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