His reaction to seeing the owl was a mix of dread and relief—heavier on the dread—although Grandfather's determination to reach him was oddly comforting. Lucius Malfoy kept his promises.
"I don't have a treat," Scorpius told the owl. "My apologies."
Maleficus snapped his beak in displeasure.
"He's very expressive," Rose said. "Who does he belong to?"
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure," Scorpius said. "I don't have the toadstone to give warning." He'd left it in his rucksack.
Rose kept calm when another girl would run screaming. "Do you think there might be a locator spell on the message case?"
He shook his head. "The owl's special magic nulls any other. If it didn't, there would be no Most Wanted list at the Owl Post Office. Aurors would simply send Dark wizards letters and follow. I'm concerned about what's inside."
"What he wrote in the letter?" Her shoulder brushed the arm not holding the owl. "Do you think there might be a Compulsion Charm to make you go home?" Rose immediately answered her own question. "No, if that would work magical law enforcement and Aurors would bespell letters to make criminals turn themselves in."
"True." He touched one of the clamps holding the case to the owl's leg. Both clamps released. The silvery cylinder fell into his hand.
Maleficus launched into the air.
"Where's he going?" Rose asked. "Doesn't your grandfather expect a reply?"
Scorpius watched the owl fly above the grove and out of sight. "It seems not." He fixed his eyes on the case. It was aluminium and plain instead of silver engraved with the Malfoy crest. Untraceable?
"Are you going to open it?"
He said, "If you'll keep your wand ready."
She drew her wand and gave an encouraging smile. "It's probably only a letter."
The case was made of two pieces, one that fit over the other like a cap. Scorpius slid them apart. Inside, where a message normally went, was something else. It looked like a large marble. When he tilted the case, whatever spell held the sphere in place was broken. The marble rolled out onto his palm. It was jade—and beginning to glow.
Scorpius dropped it to the ground. "It's a Trackingbrall. Burn it!"
"Incendio!" Rose cried.
Grass blackened to ash. The unblemished jade continued to pulse with light from within. Scorpius aimed a Vanishing Spell. The Trackingbrall didn't disappear.
Rose cast a Banishing Charm. The sphere didn't move. "Nothing's working and this grove isn't Unplottable," she said. "We have to get help!"
"Keep trying." He backed up a few steps to blow the thing up with Expulso. The device not only continued to be impervious, it rolled forward. He sidestepped. It followed. "Merlin! What bastard made this thing?" Scorpius stomped it into the ground.
"Uncle George, I think," Rose said. "He and Dad invent special Trackingbralls for the Auror Office. At Christmas they discussed a new prototype." She bit her lip as the jade popped up from the dirt and rolled toward Scorpius. "Tiny Terminator isn't on the market. How would your grandfather get hold of one?"
"When he wills, there's a way, and what do you mean by Terminator?"
Rose said, "It isn't deadly, just virtually indestructible and relentless."
He cast a Stunning Charm and a Freezing Spell in rapid succession to no effect. He kicked the Trackingbrall and cried, "Repello marmor!" The sphere shot through the air. He imagined it landing in the grass and starting its journey back. "And they never considered what the bloody thing could do in the wrong hands?"
"It seems not."
Scorpius wondered if he was cracking up to smile over Rose tossing his words back at him. He said, "Virtually means almost, not completely. How can we stop it?"
Rose's brows drew together in concentration. "Water!" she cried. "Submersion in water!"
He conjured a goblet and pointed his wand. "Aguamenti." He used Accio to summon the Trackingbrall and put it into the cup. "It's still glowing," he said.
"It must have to be submerged in a body of water."
Right. Make things difficult as possible. Par for the course. Scorpius asked, "Is there a lake or pond nearby?"
"The neighbours have a duck pond."
He plucked the Trackingbrall out of the goblet. "You Apparate us there and I'll throw it in." He wrapped a hand around her arm and braced himself to endure black nothingness and the pressure that squeezed the breath out of his body.
Transported to the grassy bank of a clear, well-kept pond, Scorpius hurled the jade as far as he could into the centre. It bobbed to the surface.
Rose said, "That's a horrible feature. Dad and Uncle George should change it immediately!"
Scorpius bent to untie his shoes.
"What are you doing?"
"These can't be spell dried." He took off his socks. "These can, but I'd feel ridiculous swimming in them."
Rose removed the boots she'd borrowed from her grandmother. "You're going to use a Bubble-Head Charm and submerge the Trackingbrall? I'm coming with you." She took off her cloak.
He cast the spell to create a bubble of air around his head and waded out into the pond. Even with a warming charm, the water made his teeth chatter. It had to be spring fed. Scorpius reached the floating sphere and took it down.
When Rose swam toward him, she looked like a water nymph. He held the jade out and watched her lips form words.
An enormous pale fish glided between them.
Rose mouthed Ghost carp.
Scorpius nodded, although he was more interested in the way she kicked her legs to tread the water and remain vertical. Rose had amazing legs. Long, toned, and smooth. Her dress clung to her body. The rest of her was lovely, too, and the way she moved her arms forward and back emphasised the water nymph image.
As though she was truly beckoning, he swam closer.
She took his hand.
He pulled her to him.
Her lips parted.
Did she want him to kiss her? He didn't know if two bubbles could become one, but he was willing to experiment.
Blue eyes widened. Rose shook his hand.
Scorpius finally understood. The Trackingbrall had deactivated! He swam upward, bringing Rose with him. When they reached the surface, he pressed his bubble against hers. They popped.
"Rose! Rose!" voices shouted.
Scorpius was tempted to duck back underwater. A gaggle of Weasleys stood beside the pond. Rose's father and uncles looked on the verge of diving in. Rose's mother had her wand out. Scorpius found himself lifted into the air and transported to the shore—down the bank from Rose.
"Let me see her! I have to see she's all right!" Granny Weasley edged her way through the others. "The clock said you were in mortal peril. My sweet little Rosie in mortal peril!" She hugged Rose, sobbing.
"Granny checked the family clock on the way back from the loo," Hermione Weasley said. "She was frantic with worry."
"We all were," Ron Weasley said grimly, holding up a Trackingbrall the size of a Snitch. "If I hadn't had this . . ." He pressed his lips together and then burst out, "What were you thinking, Rosie?" He turned to Scorpius. "And what the hell were you doing with my daughter?"
Scorpius' fist clenched the jade.
Rose said, "I'm sorry, Granny, I didn't mean to upset anyone. It all happened so fast." She walked over to Scorpius. "We need to tell them."
Scorpius slowly uncurled his fingers. "In the grove an owl delivered a message," he said.
Rose picked it up the Trackingbrall. "Recognise this, Dad? Uncle George? We had to deactivate it in the pond."
"It's our new model," George Weasley said. "Supposed be under lock and key until the Ministry approves the patent."
"I hope they never do," Rose said. "It's a terrible design!"
"I wouldn't go that far. Glitches can be fixed."
"Not all," said Rose's dad. "Maybe we were the ones who didn't think." He asked Scorpius, "Who sent you the Trackingbrall?"
"It came in a plain aluminium case with no note."
"But you have your suspicions," Harry Potter said.
"Yes." Scorpius kept his eyes on Rose. Would she tell them about Maleficus?
Hermione Weasley said, "We all know who sent it. What we need to discover is who gave Lucius the Trackingbrall. There's a breach in Ministry security."
Granny Weasley bustled over. "That can wait. These children will catch their death of cold!"
Within minutes, Scorpius was dry and sitting beside Rose at the Burrow's kitchen table. After making tea for the entire brood, Granny Weasley ordered everyone to take their cups and biscuits outside or into the lounge and allow the "poor things" to recover. She then went upstairs to fetch Pepperup Potions.
Even though the hum of voices travelled from the lounge, Scorpius appreciated the break from questions and scrutiny.
"Granny believes in dosing us with potions before we sniffle," Rose said.
"My father calls it preventative medicine." Scorpius politely sipped tea that was too sugary. "I didn't know the potion treated actual colds until I went to Hogwarts."
Rose didn't smile as expected. She said, "He sounds so different from everything I've ever heard about him."
"My father?" That was no surprise, considering her source of information.
"Yes. It's as if he's a different person."
"He is." War sometimes changed people.
"And your grandfather?"
Scorpius studied the pattern of roses on the teacup. "He isn't."
Rose laid her hand over his.
They sat in silence, Scorpius contemplating the difference between this sympathetic touch and their earlier handholding. Before, the back of his hand had rubbed her bare leg whereas now her palm simply rested on top of the hand he'd placed on his thigh. He enjoyed both types of contact.
Granny Weasley returned. "Here we go, these will make things right as rain."
"Whatever that's supposed to mean," Rose said, smiling.
Scorpius drank his potion. "Expressions starting with 'right as' have been used since the middle ages to convey a sense of being satisfactory or correct," he said. "Right as a line; right as a trivet—"
"A trivet?" Rose asked. Smoke trickled from her ears. She waved it away from her face.
"A stand for a cooking over an open fire. Charles Dickens used it in the Pickwick Papers. 'Right as a trivet, sir, replied Bob Sawyer'."
"My," Granny Weasley said. "You must read as much as our Rosie."
Her marvelling tone made Scorpius uneasy. Was she planning to tell the others? He said, "I doubt that."
"We'll have to compare reading lists," Rose said.
Couldn't she tell he'd prefer to drop the subject? "I don't have one."
"I'll make one for you. It's my forte."
He refused to stay in the room any longer. "Is there a toilet nearby?"
"Yes, upstairs," Rose said. "I'll show you."
The trek through the lounge reminded him of the stroll on the Hogwarts Express. The staring, mostly. Once they reached the first floor, Rose escorted him to the toilet and stood waiting when he came out.
"In here." She opened the door of a bedroom overlooking the front drive.
He went in. "This isn't the best time to talk."
"It never is. What's wrong?"
"Don't tell me that," Rose said. "You suddenly acted cold. Why?"
Scorpius almost asked why she cared and bit it back. Rose wasn't in the lounge earlier. He should explain, not take his frustration out on her. He briefly summarised the conversation, how her uncles goaded him. "I quoted Pride and Prejudice to prove I'd read it. If you grandmother tells everyone what I said—"
"It will confirm what they already learned. You read. Nothing more. I'm the only one who knows how impressive you are."
She meant his memory, but he couldn't resist saying, "You didn't seem impressed in the pond. I got a handshake instead of a kiss."
Rose blushed. "I thought you were pulling me closer to tell me something."
"I was." He reached out to cup her cheek. When she lifted her face, he kissed her. Syrupy tea tasted much better on her lips. It went with the sweetness of her mouth. Scorpius closed his eyes and imagined sinking to the bottom of the pond as they exchanged slow, wet kisses.
A/N: This chapter came as such a surprise. I originally planned for a romantic middle of the night chat, and then Scorpius opened the owl's message case and I was rolling in a different direction. :D
I invented Trackingbralls off Remembralls back in the days when I wrote about Scorpius' father and couldn't resist putting a new spin on them. At first, I was going to have Rose send a Patronus for help, but as I wrote, the characters decided they could handle the situation. Tiny Terminator is indeed based on James Cameron's film cyborgs (kick them away and they'll be back!). It was sad to imagine Molly compulsively checking her clock to make sure the family's okay, but after Fred, I think she wouldn't be able to have any peace of mind if she didn't. As for the hand with Fred's name on it, since the battle it permanently stays with George's, wherever he goes. (sniff)
The "right as rain" info, although not directly quoted, came from the e-magazine World Wide Words, which describes itself as "international English from a British Viewpoint." The “Right as a trivet” quote came from Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, chapter sixteen.
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