Author's Note: Wow, writing this chapter was like pulling teeth for me, and I don't even know why. It took me all morning to finish it...which you needed to know. Thanks for sticking with me, ya'll, and reading this bit of nonsense. :)
Rose Weasley meant something to him. It was an unavoidable truth, a truth that he knew had been building for some time. Thankfully, Scorpius was well-tuned to his emotions (for his gender, or so his mother had always told him), and he hadn't been bludgeoned over the head with his obvious affection for her. He could only imagine how unpleasant it would be to simply realize that one liked Rose Weasley one day.
It had started, predictably, with the initiation of their game, and began to crystallize in his brain as he watched her snigger over Rafe Thomas reciting a sonnet at her cousin Lily. Initially he had been confused because Rose was not the one at the receiving end of the iambic pentameter, but then he sat back and watched in appreciation. It was one thing to concoct a nefarious plot, and entirely another thing to see it to fruition. Scorpius recognized Rose's genius and even surprised her with a thank you Owl for the week's entertainment. It had been a curious feeling, having an inside joke with a person from a different house.
He reckoned that she knew how he felt. It wasn't that he was open with his feelings, in fact he took extra measures to be careful around her, but it would be unwise to take her powers of perception for granted. Rose was a clever girl; even without overt behavior, she had to think that he cared for her, if only a little. Hadn't they visited each other like regularly chums over that summer before their last year at Hogwarts? People who had adversarial relationships (like they were meant to have) did not actively spend time together.
"Do you take sugar, Scorpius?" asked Mrs. Weasley.
He favored her with a tentative smile. It was a smile that he'd practiced before coming over, making sure that it bore no trace of a smirk. "No thank you. I take my tea plain."
The older woman smiled back, handing him a double-walled glass tea cup. He brought the cup to his nose and inhaled deeply. It smelled of fresh fields and orchids. "Is this Iron Goddess, ma'am?"
"Yes," she smiled again. "I like it over Earl Grey, though we have that too if you prefer."
He met Rose's surprised eyes, but then turned to his hostess and shook his head. "No, I prefer oolongs and greens…"
Scorpius might have said more, might have gone on to discuss his experience visiting the tea plantations in Hangzhou, but his vocal chords abandoned him as he caught Mr. Weasley's thunderous expression. Instead, he cleared his throat and took a sip of his tea.
The exchange was not lost on the two Weasley females. "Ron."
With the censorious syllable from his wife, Ron Weasley eased his frown into something resembling a slight grimace. "What? You two are acting as though I've hexed the boy."
"Don't be silly, Ronald; you promised you wouldn't, and I believe you…"
Scorpius almost spit out his tea. She'd had to exact a promise?
"However, must you look so…hostile? It's not every day Rose has someone round for afternoon tea," Mrs. Weasley hissed, as though she weren't speaking in a stage whisper.
Rose rolled her eyes.
"Oh, so first I can't hex him, and now I can't even look at him funny? Unbloodylikely. He's…"
"Don't you dare say what I think you're about to say…"
"…a boy! He's a boy sniffing around my Rosie!" Mr. Weasley shouted, getting to his feet. At this point, Scorpius was too busy watching how quickly Rose's father's face was changing from white to rhubarb to be scared of the man, or considered the implications of his words.
"Honestly, Dad, you're jumping to conclusions. Scorpius and I only stopped calling each other by our surnames this year," Rose reasoned. "He's not really A Boy."
"I beg your pardon," Scorpius tried to interject.
"He's not a boy, Rosie? Is that the best that you can come up with? Then what is he?" her father asked.
Rose shrugged. "He's…we're…"
"Friends," Scorpius said.
Mr. Weasley sat down with a thump. "Friends? How do a Gryffindor and a Slytherin become friends?"
Scorpius figured that he would allow Rose to answer the question. After all, she would know best how to handle her own parent. "By a very stupid accident."
"Rose…" he began.
She raised her hand. "A stupid accident, but a good one. And that's why he's over for tea."
From the corner of his eye, Scorpius could see Hermione Weasley beaming. "And we're happy to have you, Scorpius. It is truly a testament to how far our society has come since the Second War."
Mr. Weasley snorted, but he seemed much less volatile than before. "Yes, we've all changed loads. Next thing you know, Malfoy the Elder will be inviting us over for dinner."
"Now that's an idea, Dad. Perhaps I'll ask him about it when I go over next week."
If Rose had timed that bit of news to make her father choke on one of her mother's crumpets, it indeed achieved the desire effect. Thank goodness she was on his side.
After that day, they never really discussed that word again: friends. They'd used it again to explain her presence at Malfoy Manor, but it clearly wasn't something she was comfortable with. It was true that their relationship bore many of the same attributes of friendship, but it wasn't truly one by its strict definition.
He could easily list the ways he could tell she was lying, but he didn't know what her favorite color was. He knew that she skipped into Potions every week with barely contained excitement, but he didn't know if she preferred butter beer to pumpkin juice. He could tell when she was agitated and wanted to be left alone, but he didn't know who comforted her in spite of all her protests.
It was an ambiguous relationship. Both of them would agree to that much. They discussed and chatted about loads of things – lectures, other students, quidditch – but almost never about personal things unless it was accidental. Scorpius wasn't sure who fought the familiarity more, but the fact remained: the resistance was there. She happily invited him over for a visit, but she wasn't comfortable with the desire to see him. Rose didn't want to like him. Interestingly, that was almost certainly why he liked her so well.
"Is Windsor actually the midpoint between London and Wiltshire?"
Scorpius sliced into his meat. "Not really, but I thought I'd be nice."
"Why? Because of my dad? You afraid he'll act on the violence he promised last time if I stray too far from home?" she asked with an amused smile.
"Only an idiot wouldn't be a little afraid of your father, but that's not why."
He frowned at her through a mouthful of lamb and garlic mash. "Can you ever eat quietly? I haven't eaten all day woman. Let a guy eat in peace."
"I can't help that I'm a chatty eater. Don't act like you didn't know," she sniffed, savagely stabbing at her dauphinoise.
"Have you never heard of a rhetorical question? Of course I know, just like I know you like a good soup. Hence, this place," he said, gesturing at their ill-lit surroundings. "Besides, I don't know a good place to eat in Crookham."
He watched her face contort into a series of expressions and animations that were oddly endearing. She was definitely having trouble articulating or retorting, he wasn't sure which though.
"Eat up. It's a clear night, but it won't be clear forever."
"So where are we going anyway?"
"I didn't tell you? You don't know?"
"If I knew, why would I waste time asking?"
"Rose Weasley, I'm shocked. You mean to tell me that you agreed to meet me here without asking why? It's positively reckless of you," he teased, finishing up the last of his plate.
"I think it's less a reflection of my recklessness and more of a reflection of your innocuousness," she shot back, not even bothering to make eye contact.
He grinned in spite of the sting of the direct hit. "Touché mademoiselle."
Rose shrugged. "It's hardly worth praise; you opened yourself up to that one. But seriously, where are we going?"
"Why to a field 300 meters from here. I've found it an excellent place to observe the stars."
A look of genuine surprise passed over her face. "Stars?"
He held up his rucksack. "Yes, stars. Why else would I bring a blanket and hot chocolate?"
"Hot chocolate, even in the summer?"
Scorpius nodded. "Unconventional, I'll grant you, but it's what my father always brought with us when we went stargazing."
"You go stargazing with your father?"
Clearly Rose was finding the Draco Malfoy of Scorpius' memories very different from the stories she'd always been told, even after having met the man not three weeks prior. Scorpius did not speak often of his father, but it was less out of shame and more out of habit. One did not reveal personal anecdotes to just anyone.
"Not often, but I was quite interested as a child and he was indulgent," Scorpius explained. "But it doesn't really signify. You don't have to drink the chocolate if you don't like it."
"Of course I like chocolate," she said quickly.
Scorpius bit back a smile. "Perhaps I'll cast a cooling spell around the field so you'll better feel the need for a warm beverage?"
"Har har," she snorted.
They lapsed into silence as he paid for their meal – Rose narrowed her eyes at him, but wisely said nothing – and she continued to pick at her potatoes. He almost felt grateful for the silence, because he knew it was something that was earned. Rose, like many people, often felt the desire to fill all the empty spaces with chatter when she was uncomfortable. Did she know her silence spoke volumes about their relationship?
"So why the sudden desire to observe the night sky?" she asked.
"Wasn't that the pretense of our visits during the holiday? Or have you forgotten the night up at the Astronomy Tower? Did you think I had another reason for asking you out?"
"Er, no, of course not," she stammered. He had the pleasure of watching her cheeks and then her ears go red.
"Perhaps we should be on our way?" he asked.
She sighed. "That is an excellent idea."
Her discomfit caused Rose to ramble the entire walk to the field. Scorpius let her continue to talk alone, not helping her in the least; it was much more fun guessing how long it would take her to tire. Incidentally, she didn't stop talking until he'd spread the blanket out and invited her to lie down beside him. She did so, but managed it with so much tension that even he felt awkward.
"Stop," he drawled.
"Acting funny. I didn't mean anything by it," he told her, wanting to say anything – do anything – to put her at ease.
"Didn't mean what by…?"
"Please, Rose, you're above petty evasion," he said. "Or at the very least, you should know better than to use it on me."
Rose nodded in the dark. "I should, shouldn't I?"
"How did we get here, Scorpius?"
"Er, well, I took the floo to the Central Rail and…"
"Really? And you're accusing me of being dodgy?"
He chuckled softly. "Isn't it telling that we're both dancing around the issue?"
"Right. Directness has never been our thing, has it? Unless it's about what we dislike about each other. We're very good about that."
Rose seemed to consider her next words. "Honestly, if I were to really think about it, this entire summer has been kind of wonky. I never expected to be here."
"Neither did I."
"That's just the thing, isn't it? It's not…we're not natural, you and I. The whole thing is incomprehensible. The fact that I'm even considering you…"
…a friend, he thought. Yes, there was that taboo word again.
"It's probably best that we not talk about it, because honestly, I'll just pick a fight."
"Pick a fight?"
"Yes, pick a fight. So then you'll finally be ruffled for a change, instead of inhumanly calm all the time, and I can finally write you off as Just Like Everyone Else, and stop being so bloody intrigued by you even though I ought not to be because you're bloody Scorpius Malfoy, and the world can stop spinning off its axis because somehow we found common ground and can spend time together without committing murder or at the very least grave injury, and everything will be put to rights."
Most of what she said made sense, but he was certain that it would have made more sense had she spoken with pauses and inflections. However, the fact still remained: she'd divulged too much and would probably plant him a facer if he teased her about it.
Rose had effectively painted him into a corner. Pursue the topic and risk her storming off in a completely irrational (and completely feminine) rage. Or drop the topic and let the questions fester in his brain and eventually drive himself mad. Pure evil, that one.
"Right," he sighed, sitting up. He reached for his rucksack and the silver thermos he knew to be inside. "Chocolate?"
If there was ambiguity, he was half to blame.
If he was going to wait for Rose to sort herself out, he'd have better luck waiting for the third-coming of the Dark Lord.
If he wanted her to answer questions, he would have to be the one to push.
If he was going to be the one to push, then he would have to come up with a plan.
They had agreed to meet after checking their respective train cars. Scorpius had finished early because he'd drawn the long straw and had the easy task of checking up on the car occupied primarily by Hufflepuffs. There were definitely benefits to being a Malfoy and a Slytherin: all he needed was one menacing look for absolute intimidation. Rose had drawn the Gryffindor car, so there was no telling how long she'd be.
But he didn't have to wait long. She slammed the door behind her, slightly out of breath.
"Did you run the en tire way here?" he asked, amused.
"I had Weasley cousins after me. You'd run too," she coughed. He handed her a freshly transfigured cup full of aguamenti-ed water. "Thanks."
"So you were under attack, then?"
She shrugged. "Fred and Louis are trying out Uncle George's newest inventions. What better target than a perfect who's also a relative?"
"You don't think you could take on two fourth years?"
Rose slanted him a look. "I do not underestimate jokes that come out of my Uncle George's shop, especially not ones he hasn't even determined safe for public consumption. I had to learn that the hard way."
He grinned. "I'll have to take your word for it. I don't have a lot of people pranking me."
"I could change that if you like," she offered.
Scorpius shook his head. "Tempting, but I'll pass."
She flexed her fingers on the polished iron rail. "So…this conversation is pleasant and all, but I get the feeling that you want to discuss something more substantial."
Scorpius turned to look at her then, meeting her huge, dark eyes. If anyone had asked him two years ago what color they were, he'd ask them to point out which Weasley they were referring to exactly. If they had asked him one year ago, he would have said they looked black because he could barely see anything but her pupils through her narrow-eyed glare. Now could he say that they were the color of toasted almonds or something equally fanciful. They were…pretty eyes.
"I think we should call an end to our game, Rose," he said carefully.
She was confused. She looked hurt. "What?"
He felt a moment of hesitation, but pushed the feeling out of his head. A plan was a plan. "It's our last year after all, and we should be focusing on our studies, not childish games, don't you agree?"
"Oh," she sighed, gazing down at her hands. "I suppose."
"This is not to say we can't continue to be on good terms."
He waited a beat. "Are you mad at me?"
Her head shot up. "Why would I be mad?"
"You don't seem like yourself. Did you want to continue?"
"Of course not. We'd always agreed that it would end when one of us wanted it to end, didn't we?" she asked softly, but her expression had shuttered.
"Yes, we did."
"Good. Then we understand each other."
He almost smiled. How had she turned it around so that it seemed like she was the one ending it? "We do."
"Right. Then I should be getting back to my car. My cousins are waiting," she said turning around. Her hand was on the door handle, but she paused. "This is goodbye, then."
Had she always been this melodramatic?
"Not at all. We're bound to be in classes together, not to mention patrols."
"Oh, er, right. Well, see you when we get to Hogwarts."
If he had been a better spawn of an evil family, he would have rubbed his hands together and cackled as soon as the door slid shut behind her. As it was, Scorpius contented himself with a self-satisfied grin.
On triangulating Wiltshire and London and Windsor eats – Yes, I really am a huge geek and I had to Google!Maps the stupid distance and figure out a reasonable meeting point. Crookham or Winchfield would probably be better approximations, but I'd only experienced them on the road, so I couldn't say what's in them. Conversely, I've been to Windsor, and have eaten at the Cornucopia Bistro – they have amazing soup – so I could see the location in my head and taste the food in my memory, which makes me happy.
And Scorpius can tell when Rose is speaking in first-caps, which is why I type it so. :D