"School robes: check. Potion supplies: check. Now we're left with your schoolbooks at Flourish and Blotts, and then your wand at Ollivanders—"
"Mum, stop," said an exasperated Rose Weasley. "I'm not a baby anymore. I'm already eleven."
"But you're still a child—my child," Hermione had no intention of letting the matter go, her shrill voice filled with worry. "Of course I'm anxious! There's no way I'd let you go to Hogwarts unprepared!"
Rose rolled her eyes at her mother. While she was happy that Hermione had taken a day off from her busy Ministry work to spend more time with the family, the unnecessary fussing was turning the supposedly joyful shopping trip sour for the young girl.
Even her father, Ron, seemed to agree with her. "Hermione, calm down," he sighed, shaking Rose's new cauldron before his wife's bulging eyes. "It's Rosie who's going to Hogwarts, not you." Rose's little brother, Hugo, watched their parents with wide eyes, appearing to enjoy the rising drama between his older family members.
Rose had enough of it. Throwing an annoyed look at her mother, she snatched the coin pouch off her father's belt and stormed away, leaving a furious Hermione and an amused Ron behind her.
She ducked into the nearest shop she could reach, where she was greeted by a chorus of hoots and screeches the moment she stepped into the darkness inside. Pairs of yellow eyes turned their attention to the surprised girl, who only pulled out of the shock when a strong, pungent smell hit her nose. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dim lighting, a realization struck her: she had ended up in Eeylops Owl Emporium. Among the mess of ruffled feathers stood a boy of her age, who was staring at her curiously.
The boy had short, neatly combed white-blond hair, wearing a black (or was it dark green? It was hard to tell in the ill-lit shop) robe that seemed to be a size too small for him, for the cuffs didn't cover his wrists and the hems didn't reach to his ankles. On his shoulder was a screech owl with a queer-shaped brow around its eyes, nibbling away at the boy's ear. It took every ounce of Rose's willpower not to laugh out loud at his comical, feather-covered appearance.
Something about this stranger felt familiar to the young redhead—she had a vague feeling of seeing him somewhere before—but she just couldn't recall where from the top of her head. Shrugging, she flashed an awkward smile at the boy. "Um… hi."
The boy seemed to freeze momentarily when she called out to him, still oblivious to the owl on his shoulder, which had now proceeded to poke the back of his sleek hair with its beak. His lips trembled in a silent struggle trying to find a word to say, only managing to blurt out a grunt that sounded like he was trying to choke himself with his own tongue.
Rose turned away, pretending to be interested in a minuscule owl flapping happily in its cage to hide the smirk on her face. "Are you a Hogwarts first-year like me? I'm Rose Weasley, by the way."
"S-Scorpius. Scorpius Malfoy," the boy stammered. "And… yeah, I guess we're both the same age."
Rose looked up to face the boy again. The sound of his name rang a bell in her head, but why? Her eyebrow arched with amusement at his flushed cheeks, which pushed the nagging thought to the back of her mind. Now that her head had cooled off from the irritation at her mother, maybe it was time for her to return and reconcile with Hermione. "Pleasure. I'll see you in school then."
"W-Wai—" Scorpius raised his voice trying to stop the pretty girl, but she had already turned on her heels and left the shop in a blur of scarlet.
It was the first time Rose came to the platform this early, without breaking a single sweat from the usual mad rush and chaotic din over forgotten possessions. All thanks to Miyu Kisaragi and his family, whom the former was best friends with her older (not to mention, "Undesirable Number One") cousin, James Potter. The Kisaragi wasted no time dragging the Potters and Rose's family out of their rooms at Leaky Cauldron at five in the morning when it was still dark outside. Miyu's mother, Yuko Kisaragi, also went the extra mile to make sure all the kids had finished packing their trunks the day before, under her stern supervision.
Trust the Japanese for their no-nonsense attitude towards punctuality.
She raised a hand to her mouth to hide an unladylike yawn. When the three families had reached King's Cross station, it was only a quarter to ten—which meant that they had slightly more than an hour to spare, to kill the free time around the platform before they board the gleaming red train for another year at Hogwarts.
Rose never had the opportunity to stroll down platform nine and three-quarters so casually like this, watching her schoolmates and their families chatting idly on the benches or leaning against the walls. Catching the train always felt like a race against time to her, so she really welcomed this change of pace. There was even a little shop at the end of the long platform, selling an assortment of goods ranging from the same snacks and sweets that they could buy from the trolley lady on the Hogwarts Express, to last-minute school supplies such as emergency inks and quills.
Exiting the said shop was her Slytherin schoolmate, Scorpius Malfoy. Still blond and pale as ever, with his beloved screech owl sitting on his shoulder. It reminded Rose of the first time she had met him at Diagon Alley the year before, except that this time his feathered friend was unusually quiet.
"Hey, Scorpion," she called out to the boy in a joking tone. "Fancy bumping into you here."
"Hello Rose," Scorpius greeted back in a soft voice, his ears went pink at the affectionate way the girl had uttered his nickname. "Ssh, Cassie is sleeping."
Rose still couldn't help feeling amused at the name Scorpius had picked for his pet owl. "But why 'Cassiopeia'?" she asked, walking up to him so that she could stroke the bird. "Is it because of the W-shaped brows around her eyes?"
Scorpius looked away; he always seemed uncomfortable whenever Rose tried to close the physical distance between them. "Something like that, yeah…"
"—I like the name, though," Rose went on, ignoring his almost inaudible mumble as she patted the owl's head. Cassiopeia made a soft click and puffed her feathers lazily, clearly enjoying the touch. "It's beautiful just like her."
Out of the corner of her eye, Rose caught a strange look flashing across Scorpius' face. "What are you smirking at?"
Scorpius went rigid, his nervous eyes looking everywhere but the frowning redhead before him. "N-Nothing," his voice sounded higher than normal, and he coughed to cover the embarrassing slip.
"Oh, really." Rose continued to stare at the blond boy for another minute, then she straightened up, shrugging. "Stop with that creepy smile. Otherwise, people would think you're up to something."
That did wipe the grin off Scorpius' face. "Sorry—ow!"
Cassiopeia was awake, and she nibbled hard on the boy's ear. Scorpius tilted his head to his owl as he was about to give her a piece of his mind, but it also made him notice two approaching figures—his parents.
His father, Draco, didn't seem pleased with his son talking to the red-haired girl. "Scorpius, come here," he drawled to the boy, glaring between the two children with his cold, gray eyes. "We don't have time to waste on the Weasleys. It's time to board the train."
Scorpius hung his head as he dragged himself to his father's side. Cassiopeia screeched at Draco, and Rose thought she saw the owl's oddly shaped brows furrowing with anger at the man.
Her own dad, Ron, was right. The Malfoy family was as shady as their reputation… or at least the parents seemed that way to her. She didn't find Scorpius as awful as his father; on the contrary, she felt that the boy need to grow some backbones of his own.
Enough to have more self-confidence.
She would come to regret making that wish the following year.
The Three Broomsticks Inn was lively as usual. Though Christmas was still a month away, Madam Rosmerta wasted no time decking out the cosy interior with colorful lights and merry bells magicked to synchronize to the beat of the songs played in the store, and a real coniferous tree that was shrunk to fit indoors, decorated with sparkling fairies greeting every customer who entered the doors in a high-pitched, melodic chorus.
Even so, the joy didn't reach a table situated at the far end of the bar—where Rose was seated, with a crestfallen Scorpius across the third-year girl.
"Cheer up," she said, sighing over her almost-finished Butterbeer. "Cassie will be fine. Have more faith in her."
"I can't help it," Scorpius groaned, covering his face with his gloved hands. "She's been away for weeks, and I really missed her."
Even if it sounded stupid in her mind, Rose couldn't help feeling a pang of jealousy. To think that a mere pet was far more important to him than herself… What kind of blasphemy is this?
"Scorp, please." She was feeling tired at the waves of negativity emitting from the boy before her. "I'm sorry to say this, but Cassiopeia is worth twelve of you."
The Gryffindor redhead rolled her eyes at him. Her initial excitement at Scorpius' invitation to spend their weekend together around Hogsmeade was ruined by his owl-sickness. What's more, today was a very special day to her.
She drained whatever Butterbeer was left in her mug and slammed down the empty glass. "Whatever. I'm leaving."
"Rose!" If she wasn't feeling so annoyed, the ridiculous look on Scorpius' face would have been a hilarious sight to her. "Please don't leave me! I'm sorry!"
Ignoring Scorpius' pleas behind her, the furious redhead walked out of the bar. The colder air outside on the street did nothing to quell her frustration at the Slytherin boy. In all the heat of her anger, she was completely oblivious to the pointed stares and gossips around her.
"Rose!" Scorpius' voice sounded far away against the whistling wind. "Please, don't do this! It wasn't meant to happen this way!"
"Tell me about it!" the Gryffindor girl turned around and yelled back, the arms crossed before her as a silent message to the boy that she wasn't about to forgive him just yet. "You're worse than James when it comes to sensitivity. I'm really disappointed with you right now."
"Please forgive me," Scorpius panted, running up to Rose and grabbed her hand. "I beg you. Just wait for a bit longer."
"And why should I?"
Scorpius's face turned scarlet at the question. "Not here," he muttered, keeping his head down as he dragged a surprised Rose down Hogsmeade. "Let's go somewhere quieter."
Rose didn't object and allowed herself to be led away from the crowd towards the Shrieking Shack. "Well, what is it?" she finally asked once they were alone before the deserted building far from the packed street. "Why so mysterious?"
Scorpius only looked up at the sky. "Soon," he murmured. His anxiousness only made Rose even more curious… Then she realized she wasn't angry with him anymore.
A moment later, Rose heard a screech she knew so well—Cassie's call. Exhaling slowly, she gave her Slytherin friend a sideways glance. "See? I told you that she'd be fine. She's—"
Wait, what? The fiery-haired girl widened her eyes when the screech owl dropped a package into her open palms before landing gracefully on her shoulder. "What's going on?" She was bewildered at the blur of emotions on Scorpius's face: of relief, excitement, nervousness, embarrassment…
Cassiopeia nudged her beak against the side of Rose's head and hooted softly. The Gryffindor girl looked between the owl and her owner. "It's… for me?"
The package was small and squarish, wrapped in some kind of silver paper with a gold ribbon. Peeling off the wrapping revealed a maroon velvet box. Something about it made Rose narrowed her eyes at Scorpius.
"…Is this what I think it is?"
Scorpius merely replied with a knowing smile. "Just open it."
Rose opened the box… and her jaw dropped at what was inside.
"Scorp," she breathed, not believing her eyes. "What— Why—"
"Happy birthday," Scorpius beamed at her, the happiness seemed to brighten his usually pale face. "I hope you'll like it."
It was a gold coin with an owl-shaped imprint on the head side of its face. The owl seemed very familiar, with odd-colored eyes—the left was a red ruby, and the right a green emerald.
"Took a while to get this made," Scorpius explained sheepishly, scratching his cheek with a finger. "Had to keep this a secret from my dad and all."
"It's gorgeous," Rose gasped at the unexpected present. "But…" She glanced sideways at the owl again. "What's the meaning of this?"
"You know how you always talked about Cassie's weird eyebrow feathers?" said Scorpius, his eyes still trained on Rose. "And you always asked why I named her 'Cassiopeia'?"
Rose turned to stare at him, then back at the owl next to her face.
"Because she reminds me of you."
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