Author's Note: This was written for a fic exchange over on LiveJournal. Go check out smrw_ficafest and read the marvelous submissions!

Thanks as ever to Maggie and H, my faithful betas. This story would be miles more confusing without them.

To clear up one point of that confusion here, Rose and Scorpius are in different houses in this story, but exactly which houses they are each in is left deliberately vague, for you the reader to fill in as you will.

PrincessGilly, this one's for you. I give you Rose and Scorpius as Head Boy and Girl, a secret passage, and the portrait of a deceased wizard. And a couple of Nerdfighter references, which I hope will make you smile.

Year One

She talked to the portraits.

It was the first thing he noticed about her. It was also the first and last thing he tried to ridicule her about.

She was one of those girls who Scorpius Malfoy and the kids he hung out with were supposed to ridicule by unspoken rule, and so, when they caught her walking alone down a corridor one Saturday afternoon early in the year, he could feel the eyes of all the other boys on him, and he knew he was supposed to shout something after her.

"Rose Weasley talks to the portraits because she doesn't have any real friends to talk to!" His friends all laughed at the jibe, and so, even though yelling it out had been a little uncomfortable, he was able, for about five seconds, to smirk at her back and feel pretty proud of himself for living up to his friends' expectations. Then she turned around.

He'd expected her to be angry, but she wasn't. She held him with a level and even gaze, her face showing nothing more than mild curiosity. "That's the best you can do?" she asked him. He was taken aback. "If you're gonna make fun of me, you should at least try a little harder. I talk to portraits because I don't have any friends? It isn't even true, and I know it, so where's that put you? Take the time to come up with something that's clever, wait for the right moment to say it, and be confident, for Merlin's sake." She looked him up and down then, looking a little disappointed. "I don't mind being insulted," she said. "But I do mind being insulted so poorly. Try to do better next time." And with a little smile, she turned and continued away down the corridor.

There was silence, then one of the boys behind him sniggered. Flushing and furious, he rounded on them. "Shut up!" he said angrily. "You're all so stupid; I don't know why I even bother with you!"

And he likewise walked away from them. A few corridors later, he came upon Rose Weasley again, truly unaware that he had been following her. He stopped short upon seeing her, his cheeks burning with shame. He tried to turn quietly and sneak away, but the portrait Rose was talking to gave him away.

"And who's this, lurking in the shadows?" the painted man shouted. He was quite rotund and had the most ridiculous mustache Scorpius had ever seen. "Trying to eavesdrop, are you?" It was all too much for Scorpius. He turned sharply, an angry retort on his lips, but Rose spoke first.

"It's okay, Porthos," she said to the painting and then turned to Scorpius expectantly as the painted man 'harrumphed' and turned his back in his frame.

Belatedly, Scorpius realized she was waiting for him to say something. So he asked, angrily, "Why did you do that?" She looked taken aback by his anger.

"I stood up for myself," she said, crossing her arms.

"You were supposed to yell," he complained, taking out his frustration with his worthless friends on her. She gave him a withering look.

"If I'd yelled, I wouldn't have beaten you," she pointed out, infuriatingly.

"Yeah, but you weren't supposed to know that," he said sullenly. Her eyes narrowed as she frowned.

"Why do you say what you did?" she demanded suddenly. "I never thought you were a bully."

"I'm not a bully!" he said immediately, stung.

"You tried to be," she sent back. "You made fun of me when I've never done a thing to you."

"I had to say something," Scorpius said in an angry effort to defend himself. "They were all watching!"

"That's a bully," Rose said without missing a beat, a hard edge in her voice now. "And I can take it," she said, her eyes narrowing. "But I better not hear you've tried it on anyone else, or I will get angry, Scorpius Malfoy, and you do not want to see me angry." Scorpius swallowed, all thoughts of further argument fleeing under the steely look in her eyes. He believed her. "Lose those friends," she said once she knew she had his attention, and then she took a moment to consider him. "You're not like them," she said finally.

"You don't even know me," he said even as she turned away, unwilling to let that be the last word.

But all she said was, "I know enough," and continued walking away.

Frantic now for something to say to make the situation less humiliating, he shouted after her, "Rose!" She turned. "Why do you talk to the portraits?"

He should have known that twinkle in her eye didn't mean anything good.

"Because I don't have any real friends to talk to," she said, infuriatingly superior, and as she left for good this time, he sighed angrily and kicked the wall. Rose Weasley was certainly not someone he was interested in getting to know any better.

Year Two

She wasn't very good at Potions.

Normally for Rose Weasley, Scorpius had learned, not being as good at something meant having to work at it a little before it came to her as naturally as breathing, but in Potions she really seemed to struggle.

Scorpius watched her out of the corner of his eye. His potion was already simmering, the exact shade of purple the textbook described, and there was nothing more for him to do with it except wait for Professor Applebaum to come around and check it. Rose, however, was still several steps behind him, methodically counting turns with her wand and frowning into her cauldron.

It was when she was about to add the wrong ingredient for the third time that he finally stepped in. Reaching across the aisle, he grabbed her hand around the wrist just before she could drop the unicorn hairs into her cauldron. She glared at him, looking affronted, but he just hissed, "If you add those before the leech juice, you'll undo your last five steps."

Flushing angrily, she snatched her wrist away.

"You don't have to be so mean about it," she hissed back, dropping the hairs onto her table and dumping a vial of green liquid into her cauldron instead. Scorpius glared at her.

"I was trying to help," Scorpius said through clenched teeth.

"I didn't ask for your help!" she retorted angrily. Scorpius had had enough.

"Fine," he said, glaring. "Next time, I'll let you screw it up. I don't even know how you do it. All it is is reading a recipe out of a book and adding things to a cauldron." Her eyes blazed.

"And all Charms is is waving your wand around and saying a little Latin, but that didn't stop you from setting your desk on fire yesterday, or so I heard," she hissed vindictively.

Scorpius's cheeks burned.

"It's not my fault you can't get it," he whispered fiercely. "I don't know why I even bothered. It really bugs you to be bad at something, doesn't it?" he taunted.

"Yeah, it does," she growled through clenched teeth. "Anything else you'd like to know?"

"Why do you talk to the portraits?"

"Because the suits of armor are lousy conversationalists," she snapped. Needing to get away from her, Scorpius bottled his potion with more force than was strictly necessary and stalked up to Professor Applebaum's desk to turn it in. Returning to his table, he refused to even look in her direction. Rose Weasley was far more trouble than she was worth.

Year Three

She knew the castle better than anyone he'd ever met.

Even if they left the same classroom at the same time, and he traveled the fastest way he knew, she still always beat him to wherever it was they were going.

He had no idea how she did it.

After three years of living in the castle, he had successfully mastered the twisting passages, the trick staircases, and the disappearing doorways, but the knowledge Rose had to have of shortcuts, secret passages, and the inner workings of the castle went beyond mastery. They pointed to some sort of inside knowledge, and it wasn't fair.

Finally, one day when she'd beaten him to the Arithmancy classroom yet again, when he knew he'd left the Great Hall before she had, he'd had enough.

"How do you get here so fast?" he demanded. She looked up from her book, startled, but when she saw who had asked, she smiled.

"You can't expect a girl to reveal all her secrets," she said sweetly.

"Well, just one would be nice," he grumbled as he slid into a nearby desk.

"Then ask," she said innocently. His eyes narrowed, but warily, he did.

"Why do you talk to the portraits?" he asked.

"They keep me from getting lost," she answered promptly and went back to her book. Scorpius glared at the side of her head, but she refused to notice.

Rather than confront her about it again, he began to haunt her steps, discreetly, cautiously, so that no one, least of all she, would figure out what he was doing, vowing that he would keep at it until he knew every inch of the castle as well as she did. Rose Weasley was not going to beat him that easily.

Year Four

She meant the things she said.

Much to the chagrin of both of them, they'd gotten paired together on a fourth year Arithmancy assignment, and the Professor in question had required a number of, in Scorpius' opinion, completely unnecessary steps. He could tell by the look on Rose's face when they'd gotten the assignment that she felt the same.

But I still expected her to show up, he thought with a frown as he scanned the library and checked his watch yet again.

He'd been waiting for a good fifteen minutes, and she hadn't yet arrived. He was slightly irritated by it, but he was also mildly concerned because Rose Weasley didn't blow off schoolwork and she wasn't late for meetings, no matter who she was working with or how pointless the assignment. The more time that went by, the more concern replaced his irritation.

When their scheduled meeting time was twenty minutes in the past, Scorpius made the decision to go in search of her. He tried to tell himself that he'd find her in her Common Room or the Great Hall, maybe, so completely immersed in something else that she'd lost track of time, and that once he'd found her, he'd be able to be irritated with her to his heart's content and able to say that he'd known this pairing was a bad idea. He tried, but somehow, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.

He was on his way toward Rose's Common Room when he heard the shouting.

"Come on! Face me like men, you cowards!" Scorpius froze, recognizing her voice immediately. It was Rose, and she sounded angrier than he'd ever heard her. It was followed by the sound of some spell or another whizzing through the air before Rose's voice rang out once more. "Try that again, Blake, and I'll send you straight back to Madame Pomfrey!" Another spell, a muffled curse, and Scorpius's feet had carried him swiftly around the corner.

Rose was backed against a wall while four boys showing various degrees of spell damage surrounded her – boys, Scorpius was pained to note, he had once associated himself with. Rose was holding her own, but Scorpius knew it would take just one distraction, just one well-placed spell to take her out.

Scorpius knew immediately what had to have happened. Two days previously, Rose had come upon one of these boys bullying a first year student. Taking matters into her own hands, she had sent the bully to the Hospital Wing with a hex she shouldn't technically have known, and reported him to the Headmistress. Now, quite clearly, he had rallied his lackeys and ambushed Rose.

How can no one hear this? he thought frantically. Why doesn't anyone come? And then, even as he watched, a spell came so close to Rose's head that she only dodged out of the way in time by diving to the floor with reflexes born of her Quidditch training. "You're going to have to do better than that!" she taunted, but Scorpius could hear the rising panic in her voice, and he acted without thinking.

Stepping forward, he raised his wand and thought Expelliarmus! as powerfully as he could. Rose wasn't the only one who could do magic beyond her year level. Five wands came soaring through the air, and he caught them all deftly, even as their owners turned toward him in confusion. He pointed his own wand threateningly at the boy he knew to be the ringleader. "Get out of here," he said in a voice as hard as any he'd ever assumed.

"You have our wands," was the sullen response.

"These have been confiscated," Scorpius said without breaking eye contact.

"You can't do that."

"Maybe not," he agreed. "But I still have your wands. Now, go. And maybe you'll get them back without being reported." When the boys made no move to leave, he said in a dangerous warning voice, "I've only disarmed you so far. If you stick around, you won't like what I do next." And so, with black and angry glares back at him, they retreated. He waited a moment or two longer to make sure they were gone before crossing to Rose and offering her his hand.

She looked up at him for a long moment before taking it and rising. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut off the remark he was sure was coming.

"I know," he said. "You didn't ask for my help. I'm sorry for interfering." And he turned to leave.

"No, I –" He looked back over his shoulder. She was looking at the ground. "I appreciate it," she said to the floor.

"Well, I hardly had to do anything," he admitted warily. "You were doing fine on your own, all things considered. Impressively so."

"You're the one who was impressive," she admittedly grudgingly. "I mean, that was nonverbal, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," Scorpius admitted, looking down himself, slightly embarrassed. "My dad taught me over the summer. Said I should know how. Just in case."

"Well – thanks," she said. Scorpius frowned slightly. Something was different between them. Gone were Rose's biting remarks and sarcastic defenses, and without them, Scorpius didn't quite know how to act with her.

"Like I said, I didn't really do anything," he pointed out. "I don't know how you held out against four of them like you did."

"Well, I had warning," she admitted, gesturing at a portrait hanging on the wall in the corridor. Its occupant nodded once at Scorpius. Scorpius couldn't help but smile. He was fairly sure it was the same portrait who'd accused him of eavesdropping his first year.

"So that's why you talk to the portraits?" he said, and earned a quirked smile from her in return.

"No," she said. "That's just one of the perks."

"Then why?" he asked, because he couldn't help himself. And a very peculiar thing happened then. She opened her mouth to speak and then visibly changed her mind before any words came out. Her mouth closed and she looked down briefly before meeting his eye again.

"Because someone ought to," she said softly. There was a long pause, then she cleared her throat and asked, "So, are you going to return their wands?" Scorpius snorted.

"No," he said immediately. "I'm going straight to the Headmistress and turning them in." Rose tilted her head and considered him.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because ambushing someone four against one is unacceptable and inexcusable, no matter how skilled the opponent," he said simply.

Rose spoke then, but not in relation to his comment. "I missed our meeting," she said. Scorpius shook his head.

"No," he said and looked at his watch. "Our meeting isn't for another half hour," and he turned and started walking away.

"Scorpius?" she called after him. He looked back at her. She looked, he noted with surprise, slightly nervous. "I'm glad you weren't with them," she said softly but sincerely. Scorpius was taken aback by the comment, and all he could think to say in response was, "Me too."

There was another slightly awkward pause until Rose said, "Library in half an hour, then?" and at Scorpius's nod, they headed their separate ways. Scorpius shook his head briefly, slightly unsettled by what had just happened, though not in a bad way.

I'm glad you weren't with them.

He couldn't help but smile. Rose Weasley, somehow, had just become an almost friend.

Year Five

She took her responsibilities very seriously.

The first thing Scorpius noticed at the third Prefect meeting of the year was that Rose wasn't there. He frowned, realizing this, even as he focused on the Head Girl's information. Rose had taken being named Prefect more seriously than anyone Scorpius had ever known. Being late to their monthly meetings was uncharacteristic in the extreme.

Ten minutes later, she walked in, apologized for her tardiness, and staunchly refused to meet Scorpius' questioning look.

He hung back at the end of the meeting, taking more time than was strictly necessary to pack up his bag so that he might catch a word or two of Rose's conversation with the Heads.

"Again, I want to apologize," she said, but the Head Girl cut her off.

"And again, I say it's not a problem," she said. "I know you wouldn't be late without a good reason, Rose, so don't worry over it."

"Thank you. And, so you know, my conflicts have cleared up a little, and I no longer have obligations on Wednesday and Saturday nights." Scorpius frowned and almost gave himself away by looking sharply at her. He covered by taking great interest in the clasp on his bag, and then, Rose having left the room, he swung the bag onto his shoulder and hurried out after her.

"Wednesday and Saturday are your Quidditch nights," he called after her once in the hall. Slowly, she stopped and looked back over her shoulder.

"Were my Quidditch nights," she said, before continuing down the hall. Scorpius took a few longer strides and caught up with her.

"Richardson changed your practices?" he asked, determined to find out what was going on. Rose pursed her lips slightly before answering.

"No," she said shortly. "Richardson ripped me a new one when he found out I was leaving practice early for the meeting, though he's known for weeks. He accused me of considering being a Prefect more important than being his Keeper."

"And?" Scorpius prompted when it became clear she didn't intend to go on.

"And," she said, slightly irritable, "I told him he was right, and if he wasn't willing to accept that and compromise, I was quitting. He thought I was bluffing; I proved to him that I wasn't."

Scorpius stopped walking. "You quit the team?" he asked, shocked. She stopped, a few paces further down the hall, and sighed.

"I did," she said without turning around.

"But . . ." Scorpius found himself at a loss for words. "You love Quidditch," he finally said. He watched her take a deep, steadying breath before she turned, shrugging.

"Yeah," she agreed. "But this is more important. Besides. I've been on the team three years. It's time someone else had a shot." Still slightly disbelieving and not entirely satisfied with her explanation, Scorpius looked away, frowning. "What?" she said pointedly. "I'd have thought you'd be ecstatic. Your team actually stands a chance now." Scorpius shook his head, ignoring the jibe.

"I just . . . I never thought, if it came down to a choice, that this would be your choice." She considered him for a long moment before she answered.

"Quidditch is, and has only ever been, a game," she said simply. "Not everyone in my family sees it that way, and my Dad'll likely be right miffed when he finds out, but it's true for me. Being a Prefect is more important to me than being a Keeper. I'm sorry it came to the choice, but, to be honest, I'd had about all I could stand of Richardson." He had to laugh at the tone of her voice then. She smiled.

He started to walk away then, but she stopped him. "You didn't ask me," she said, a smile in her voice.
He turned back, slightly confused.

"I'm sorry?" he asked.

"What you always ask me," she clarified. "You didn't ask, and I'm rather disappointed."

Scorpius raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms, unable to hide a smile of his own. "You want me to ask?" he questioned.

"Well, you see, I have an answer prepared," she told him. "And I'm rather proud of it."

"All right then," he said, a slow smile forming on his face. "Why do you talk to the portraits, Rose?" She grinned.

"I'm amassing an army," she told him, leaning closer conspiratorially. "The portraits help me gather recruits."

"Ah," Scorpius said, nodding deeply. "Of course. And what is it you aim to take over hostilely?"

"Well, no firm decisions have been made yet," she admitted, "but I've got my eye on the American Congress if I can solve the trans-Atlantic issue. Luckily, I've got a group of 18th century Spanish monks on the seventh floor working on just that problem, so I like our chances."

Scorpius grinned. "See you at rounds," he said before taking his leave. Rose Weasley, it seemed, would never run out of ways to surprise him.

Year Six

She was willing to admit when she'd lost.

"You're really dating Goldstein?" he called after her to get her attention. They hadn't even made it to the school yet. She paused outside a compartment of her friends to consider him.

"Yeah," she finally said. "I am. Not a problem is it, Malfoy?" she asked with a quirked eyebrow. Scorpius met her suggestion with nonchalance.

"No," he said airily. "Just . . . he doesn't seem your type." Her eyebrows raised at that.

"How so?" she asked slowly, and there was a challenge in the question, but there was also a hint of expectation as well. She was waiting to see where he was going with this.

Scorpius hid his smile and shrugged instead, as if the conversation didn't matter to him in the slightest.

"Oh, I hadn't really thought about a reason," he said, hands in his pockets. "And now that I consider it, I guess you do have a thing or two in common. Like Quidditch. Except – oh, wait. You're not on the team anymore, are you? Guess you don't have that in common." She pursed her lips at him then, eyes narrowed, but he could tell she was trying not to smile.

"For your information," she said primly, "Robbie and I have plenty in common. And he happens to be very sweet."

"Well, that's one word for it," Scorpius said immediately.

"Is there a purpose to this conversation, or are you just here to mock my boyfriend?" she asked pointedly then. He gave a small laugh.

"No, actually, Lance sent me with a question he forgot to ask you during the meeting."

"And that would be?" she asked, holding up one finger to her friends looking at her in question through the compartment window.

"He wants to know if you'd be willing to co-head getting the Wizarding Academic Bowl back on its feet this year." Rose made a face.

"Does it have to be co?" she asked him. "That's something I'd really prefer to head on my own." Scorpius smirked.

"Why's that?" he asked. "Scared of being outwitted?"

"Not if you're my only challenger," she said smoothly. He just smiled.

"And who would you use to sharpen your wit if you didn't have me?" he asked.

"Believe it or not, Malfoy, I have plenty of people to talk to besides you," she informed him.

"Yeah, castle's full of portraits, after all," he said, with a carefully innocent face. "That's why you talk to them, then? To keep your wit sharpened in centuries' worth of archaic English?

"Well, actually," she said in a sultry, conspiratorial voice, leaning toward him, "I'm carrying on a secret love affair with Sir Engleton the Enigmatic on the fifth floor," she said immediately, her voice sultry. "The portraits help us arrange meeting times for our trysts."

"So that's the kind of man that attracts you?" Scorpius asked. "Two dimensional with no more depth than paint on canvas?"

"Absolutely," she said, her voice full of suggestion.

"Well, that explains Goldstein," he said, grabbing the opening he'd been certain she'd never give him.

There was a slight pause, then Rose laughed.

"Touche, Mr. Malfoy," she said then with a nod to acknowledge defeat. "Touche." And with a look of pleased surprise and, he dared say, a tiny bit of pride, she slipped into the compartment. With a pleased and satisfied smile of his own, he continued his way down the train, whistling. Rose Weasley had, for once at least, been beaten at her own game.

Year Seven

She enjoyed being a mystery.

She was named Head Girl to no one's surprise, and he was named Head Boy to the surprise of some. He himself was surprised, but pleasantly so, and not just because something in him jumped a little at the thought of working so closely with her for an entire year. He thought that now, maybe, he might be able to get to the bottom of what she was.

"Now we have to get to know one another," he told her as they walked away from the Headmistress's office, "as we'll be working together all year." He couldn't read her sideways glance.

"You think we haven't spent the past six years doing just that?" she asked him. "You think, after six years, we really don't know each other?"

"I don't know you," he said immediately. "After six years, I know a few things about you and I know who you are, more or less, but I don't know you." He could have sworn he saw her smile.

"And that really bothers you, doesn't it?" she asked.

"Only because I think you enjoy it," he said, maybe a little darkly.

"Enjoy what?" This time, he was sure of the smile.

"Being a mystery," he said simply.

"Well, surely, I can't be all that mysterious, if you've figured that much out. Also, I'm sure those few things you know about me lend more insight to my character than you –"

"I know your name is Rose Weasley," he said, interrupting her as he so seldom did, halting in the middle of the corridor to emphasize his words, as well as the fact that, this time, he wasn't playing around. "I know you're the daughter of Ron and Hermione Weasley, and that your parents are war heroes, but I have no idea how you feel about that. I know that your best subject is Transfiguration and your worst is Potions and that you know the castle like the back of your hand, but I don't know what your favorite subject is or how you discovered every secret passage the Founders built. I know that when you joke, Merlin only knows what will come out of your mouth, but when you're serious, Merlin help anyone who tries to get in the way of you keeping your word, but I have no idea where you get your tongue or your sense of honor. I know you gave up Quidditch to be a Prefect, but I don't know if you regret it; I know that, since starting Hogwarts, you've dated four boys, each for less than a month, but I don't know if you've loved any of them; and I know you talk to the portraits, but I cannot for the life of me, find out why."

He stared at her then, breathless, waiting for an answer he was certain wouldn't come. He'd never said so much to her at once, and he wanted some reaction, some answer, but he got nothing. She'd watched him passively throughout his tirade, and once he'd finished, she continued to behold him with nothing more than mild curiosity. It was all too reminiscent of a certain scene six years ago. He was about to wash his hands of the whole affair and walk away in a mess of frustration, but then she began to speak, calm and straightforward.

"I was eight years old before I found out my parents were war heroes. Up until then, they'd only ever been my parents. I'm incredibly grateful for that. Even now, knowing their past, I hardly think about it. It's in the past, it's done, it's contributed to who I am. But beyond that, it's not important. My favorite subject is History of Magic, believe it or not, and I know the castle as well as I do because my cousin James stole his dad's magical map and then left himself open to blackmail. I get my mouth and my sense of honor from the same place I get my hair – I'm a Weasley. I don't regret giving up Quidditch, though I do miss flying, I have never been in love, and I talk to the portraits because I like their stories." She peered at him then, maybe a little sadly. "There's a certain allure in being a mystery, Scorpius, but all you ever had to do to diffuse the mystery was ask." She held his gaze for a moment longer, then began to walk away.

He watched her go for a heartbeat or two, processing all he'd just heard, searching for something to say. Then he called after her. "Rose?" She turned. "Is that really the reason?" She gave a slow smile.

"It's a reason," was all she said, and then she continued on her way.

Scorpius watched her go, shaking his head. He started to make his way to his Common Room, but was stopped by a voice on the wall.

"Do you really wish to know that question's answer, or do you wish merely to discover what she will say?" The speaker was a portrait he was startled to realize he recognized. It was the painting of the man Porthos, and once Scorpius realized he recognized him, he also realized that this was the third time the painting had heard Scoripus ask Rose that question.

"It's a little of both, I think," he answered, awkwardly aware that he was doing something he'd sworn at the age of eleven he would never do. Porthos continued to hold him under a steady and firm gaze, and Scorpius had the strong feeling he was being measured.

"I could tell you, if you like," he said finally, and the off-handedness didn't match the intensity of his look just moments before. Scorpius was wary. "Meet me here tonight at seven."

"And you'll tell me?" Scorpius asked.

"Likely not," was the startlingly straightforward answer. "But if you do not meet me tonight, you will never know for certain." And before Scorpius could say anything in response, he had walked sideways out of his frame and was gone.

Scorpius sighed. Rose Weasley had taken control of his life in ways he didn't want to think about.

Year Seven, Revisited

She never ran out of ways to surprise him.

It took four months' worth of meetings and conversations, but just after the new term started, he finally got a straight answer out of Porthos. The answer shocked him, appalled him, and, once he'd had a few seconds to let it set in, angered him. Porthos, who had become a sort of friend – not that Scorpius would ever admit it out loud – sensed his anger and tried to head it off with a, "Now, Scorpius," but Scorpius stopped him with a single raised hand.

"Where is she?" he asked, his voice dangerously soft.

"Scorpius," he started, but Scorpius cut him off again.

"Where is she?" he repeated. Porthos sighed and looked away, frowning sadly.

"She just left her Common Room. She is on her way to dinner," he said with the air of one betraying a fellow.

"Thank you," Scorpius said darkly, and left.

He knew the route she took. He knew the secret passage she used as a shortcut. It was at the end of that passage that he waited for her. And sure enough, a few minutes after his arrival, she rounded the corner and stopped short at the sight of him.

"Scorpius," she said, bewildered. "What–"

"You've been using the portraits to spy on me?" he demanded.

"Ah," she said, her eyes flitting all around the narrow passageway as she tried to buy time and find an escape. But Scorpius knew there wasn't one, and Rose came to that same unfortunate conclusion a few moments later. "Yes," she said simply, and if anything, her admittance just fueled Scorpius's incredulity and anger.

"For six and a half years, you've been using them to spy on me. That's how you know so much about me. That's why you talk to them." It was no longer a question.

"What exactly is it you want me to say?" she asked, a dangerous edge to her voice.

"I don't know where you get the nerve," he told her. "And I don't know what game you're playing, but I'm not interested in being a part of it, got that? I really don't believe you, Rose Weasley. Telling me that all I had to do to get to know you was ask, when all the while, you've been – been –" He searched for strong enough words. "– masterminding this subterfuge!"

She laughed harshly. "Subterfuge?" she repeated derisively. "I've never hidden it from you, Scorpius; if you'd ever paid attention to the world around you for more than two seconds together, it might not have taken you six and a half years to realize what was going on!" Her eyes blazed with an anger that both echoed and further fueled his own. "Are you honestly going to stand there and tell me you haven't been doing the same thing yourself?"

He sputtered for a moment in indignant outrage before he managed to say, "Me?! I have never used other people–"

"No, you've done your stalking personally," she said immediately. "I notice you have a pretty decent handle on the castle's secret passages," she threw at him then. "Not to mention my most common dinner route. I'd be flattered if it wasn't just a little creepy." He glared at her, seething.

"Forget it," he growled, turning on his heel and stalking away. She wasn't worth it.

"What? Giving up?" she sneered after him. He forced himself not to reply, though he could feel the vein in his temple pulsing. "That's what you always do, isn't it? You walk away rather than take the chance that someone might force you to admit that you've got flaws of your own!"

"You are not going to do that," he said, turning and pointing an angry finger at her as he advanced. "I have every right to be angry with you, Rose; I have every right to be pissed as hell at you, and you are not going to make me forget that. Do you really think that standing here and insulting me is going to change my mind in any way? You think that by taunting me, you can get me to ignore the fact that you have spent seven years manipulating me?" They were inches apart now.

"Everyone manipulates everyone else all of the time," she growled up at him, her cheeks flushed with anger and heat.

"We're not talking about everyone else!" he yelled. "We're talking about you and me! And if you can't –"

"I am talking about you and me!" she shouted back. "I'm talking about you doing exactly what you've spent the last seven years doing!"

"And what might that be?" he demanded.

"Anything and everything in your power to keep from seeing what is right in front of your face! That I'm as fascinated with you as you are with me, so are you going to kiss me or what?"

He could, he realized, and that realization was powerful enough to chase away any shock he might have had at the suddenness of the very idea. He couldn't really be shocked at it, as he might have been under other circumstances, because kissing her was suddenly a very real possibility. Their faces were centimeters apart, if that. It would be the easiest thing in the world, as easy as leaning forward. And he wanted to, he realized next. More than almost anything else in the world, he wanted to kiss her.

He could hear the rapid breath from her slightly open mouth and feel the heat from the closeness of her body. She looked up at him with eyes blazing, part anger, part anticipation, and part unmasked desire. He leaned toward her then, until their lips were almost touching and the tension between them almost palpable. And he whispered, through clenched teeth, "Or what."

And with one fierce, hard look, he straightened and strode away down the passage, leaving her pressed against the wall. He clenched and unclenched his fingers to control his shaking, and tried to ignore his own rapid breathing and heightened temperature, trying to pretend that he was completely unaffected by what had just happened.

He was almost out the hidden entrance when he heard, "I've completely messed this up, haven't I?"

The only reason he stopped was because the tone of voice was nothing he'd ever heard from Rose Weasley before. He stopped but did not answer, waiting, every part of him on edge and tense. He didn't know what she meant, but he'd be damned if he'd let her manipulate him again. But the silence went on too long, and Scorpius chanced a glance back over his shoulder.

She stood against the wall still, just where he had left her, but her face was turned away from him, angled down toward the floor so that he couldn't see her expression.

"I – you fascinated me," she said in a small voice, and it was almost an apology. She glanced over to where he was standing and seemed almost surprised to find him still there and looking at her. She looked away quickly, as if she'd been burned. She continued speaking, her words directed once more toward the floor. "You stood in front of me and told me that the reason you'd made fun of me was because other people had been watching. You're an incredibly honest person, Scorpius, and half the time, you don't even realize how much." There was a heavy silence then, and she seemed to be waiting to see if he would say anything. But he waited, instead, to hear what more she would say. Eventually, she continued, awkward and a little defensive.

"I was eleven years old," she said. "And my family hated yours. I couldn't just go up to you and say I wanted to get to know you better!" She looked at him then, again, silently imploring him to say something, but still, he remained silent, wary even yet. So he held her gaze without moving until she looked away, wringing her hands.

"Look," she said finally, getting more and more agitated the longer he went without speaking. "I didn't even ask them to do it! Porthos offered! And it was just the first couple of years, just little things, here and there and –" She broke off abruptly, biting her lip, seeming to sense that she was saying too much. Scorpius just stared at her. He'd never seen her so flustered. After a few deep breaths, she spoke again, in a voice of forced calm. "I just wanted to get to know you better and I didn't know how to ask. And yes, I know that makes me a hypocrite, but I had people watching too, Scorpius. And I didn't know how you'd react if I stopped being the mystery you'd come to expect." She said the last to her shoes. The statement stung him. What did she think he was, anyway? Completely dependent on her and her opinions?

But doesn't she have some part of it right? a nasty little voice in the back of his head asked. How would you have reacted? Do you even know?

"It's just – Look, it was easier for me to be who you expected, okay? I mean, easier than to try and actually be –" She broke off abuptly with an angry sigh. "Damn it, Scorpius, I am pouring my heart out here; could you please give me something?" He stared at her, at her outburst and her frustration, marveling at it. A heartbeat or two of silence followed, after which she buried her hands in her hair and turned away, letting out a frustrated growl. So he said the first thing that came into his head.

"So you were talking to the portraits before you sent them to spy on me?"

She turned her face to him slowly, looking positively incredulous. Then she bent forward, her face in her hands, and gave a moan that Scorpius could have sworn included the words, "The portraits." Then, just as abruptly, she straightened, a tight, slightly beleaguered smile on her face.

"Yes, Scorpius," she said as if she was just barely refraining herself from saying what she actually wanted to say. "You've spent the last six years determined to believe that I was going to lie every time I answered that question. I talk to the portraits because someone ought to. I talk to them because I like the stories, and I talk to them because they're my friends, okay?" She was practically pleading with him by the end, but it was with a condescension that didn't sit quite right with him, if only because he knew she still wasn't being entirely truthful. Instead of responding, he just kept eye contact, silently demanding the truth. After another few moments, she caved. She closed her eyes and sighed, seeming to wilt in on herself just a little bit.

"There's a portrait of my uncle Fred in the back of the shop," she said very softly. "He died in the war. Growing up . . . I could ask him things I couldn't ask anyone else. He talked about the things that my family doesn't talk about. He became my confidant when I was little. When I left for school, he said he was really going to miss me. Said being a portrait could get somewhat lonely. And I just thought . . . maybe it was the same up here, even though there are more of them. And I thought the least I could do was talk to them. There are centuries' worth of history on these walls if we're willing to pay attention. And they do get lonely. And they're grateful for the interaction." She met his eyes, much more subdued than he'd seen her in a long time. "And that's it. That's the reason. So there you go." She gestured helplessly. "Mystery solved." And she held his eyes, waiting once more for him to say something, to give her some kind of response. When he didn't, she gave one, awkward nod and turned and walked haltingly away.

Scorpius focused on the ground, frowning, and watched her feet leave his line of vision. He didn't know what to think about everything she'd just told him. There were certain parts of it sitting uncomfortably, almost mockingly, in the back of his mind, and as she walked away, he couldn't help but feel as if he'd been unfair with her somehow.

Before he could begin to tell himself that this was ridiculous, however, her feet were back in his line of vision. Bewildered, he looked to her face, his mouth half-open to ask the most obvious question but she didn't give him the chance.

"I like you, okay?" she said in a rush, and this was the most shocking of anything she'd revealed so far that day. His mind froze at those words, and he couldn't have put together a coherent reply even if she'd given him the chance. But, perhaps luckily for him, it seemed she was no longer interested in a response. She looked more like she was interested in getting all this out before she lost the nerve, and so, barely pausing for breath, she barreled ahead, the words tumbling out in a rush.

"If my father were dead, he'd be rolling in his grave to hear that, and as it is, he probably just got this huge premonitory feeling that something in the world has gone horribly wrong, but I – like you. I like you, Scorpius, and I think, given just a little time and really very little effort –" she forced herself to meet his eyes, though she looked terrified to do so "– I think I could very easily fall in love with you."

The silence after this pronouncement was staggering. Rose waited, watching him almost fearfully, but Scorpius could only stare. The longer the silence went on, the more Scorpius became aware that he needed to say something, but he couldn't find the words. He had no idea how to process what he'd just been told, let along respond to it.

After the silence had gone on for a long few moments, Rose ducked her head, but the look Scorpius glimpsed on her face before it was masked by her hair went straight to her heart. He opened his mouth to say her name at the very least, though he still had no idea what might follow it, but almost as if she knew, she cut him off. "I'm sorry," she said. "I should go." And, head still to the ground, she walked past him and rounded the corner.

He might have let her go. He might have let her go and given himself time to regroup, but for one thing. Out of the corner of his eye as she passed him, he saw her reach up with one hand and wipe away a tear. Something inside him gave way then, and he took a moment to kick himself mentally as his brain started to function again. Sometimes, he thought, he could be a monumental idiot.

"Rose," he said, calling after her with little expectation that it would actually bring her back. So he turned on his heel and followed her. He rounded the corner at a run, his arm stretched out to open the hidden entrance, her name once more on his lips, ready to be spoken.

But belatedly, he realized she hadn't left the passage. She was behind him, pressed against the wall. And when he turned, he saw that she was crying, tears now streaming down a red and blotchy face. And she looked absolutely furious with herself for being caught.

She turned toward the wall upon confirmation that he had noticed her, one hand shielding her face, the other waving him away as she choked out, "I'm fine, just go!" But he had no intention of listening to her. Instead, he crossed to her with purpose just as she turned slightly more to him, mouth half open to perhaps try and convince him more emphatically that she was all right.

It was all the opening he needed. Reaching her, he didn't let her say a single word, but took her face gently in both his hands and kissed her.

She jerked and gave a small mew of surprise, and Scorpius knew if he opened his eyes, she'd be staring at him in shock. But he didn't let the knowledge deter him. Instead, he began to kiss her gently, slowly. It didn't take her long to respond, her hands reaching up to tangle in his hair as he moved his own down to her waist, pulling her tighter against him.

Kissing her was incredible. The touch of her hands on his skin, the feeling of her mouth moving with his, it was overpowering. Kissing Rose Weasley was like nothing he'd ever experienced before, and he would have gladly continued indefinitely, but abruptly and without warning, she pulled sharply away.

"I don't want your pity," she said sharply, but he noticed she didn't move out of the circle of his arms.

"Then it's a good thing I'm not foolish enough to offer it," he said calmly.

"Then what is this?" she demanded, not without right, he had to grudgingly admit.

"This is –" He sighed, closing his eyes briefly to steady himself. "I like you, too, Rose," he said then, looking down at her. She glared up at him, accusatory, and not at all the response he'd expected.

"And you couldn't have mentioned that a few minutes ago when I was blathering like an idiot?" she demanded harshly.

"You caught me a little off-guard!" he snapped, then caught himself. Releasing her, he sighed and took a few steps away from her, running a hand through his hair. "I wasn't expecting . . . all that," he said, quieter.

"What were you expecting?" The question was quiet, and when he turned back to her, she was watching him with a steady, if curious and maybe slightly nervous, gaze.

"I don't know," he answered honestly. "There's still so much I don't know about you."

She nodded and glanced down. "I know the feeling," she said softly. He wasn't sure if he was meant to hear the comment or not. "How'd you find out?" she asked then, and even without elaboration, he knew what she was asking.

"Porthos," he admitted. Her eyebrows went up and she smiled.

"Porthos?" she repeated. "And how long have you been talking to Porthos?"

"Few months," was his quiet reply, but he couldn't keep from smiling himself.

"Ah," she said with a glint in her eye as she crossed slowly to him. "And . . . why do you talk to the portraits, Scorpius?" He sighed with good humor.

"To find out more about you." She smiled sweetly up at him.

"Well, that makes you a little bit of a hypocrite, doesn't it?" she asked, but there was no anger or censure in her voice, he was relieved to hear. Just quiet amusement.

"A little bit," he agreed with a smile. Then he turned serious, looking down at her. "No more secrets, okay?" he asked softly, gently placing a strand of hair behind her ear. "I want to try and make this work, but no more secrets. From either of us. No more mysteries."

"Deal," she agreed softly, then stood on tiptoe to kiss him. Moments later, she was once more the one to break the kiss off abruptly. "You do realize there will be hell to pay when my dad finds out," she said in a tone of voice more like the Rose he was familiar with and less like the soft-spoken version who'd emerged in the passage. "And yours too, probably. And the rest of my family." He dismissed the notion.

"Like our parents didn't do far worse when they were at school than bring home the offspring of the enemy." She laughed at that.

"I suppose you're right," she said. She kissed him once, quickly, then held out her hand. "Come on," she said.


"Come to dinner with me. Walk in with me," she said, hand still extended toward him. He looked at it for a long moment.

"In front of everyone?" She nodded. "What will we tell them?" She shrugged.

"I hadn't planned on telling them anything," she said in a straightforward way he knew well and was glad to hear her regain. "It's not really any of their business." When he made no reply, she tilted her head to one side and said, "You can't expect me to stop being a mystery altogether."

He gave her a slow smile. "No," he said. "I don't suppose I can." And he laced his fingers through hers.

"So, you started talking to the portraits because you thought they might be lonely?" he asked as they turned into the main corridor. "Lame reason, Weasley," he said with a grin. "Can't believe I waited seven years for that."

She elbowed him in the side. "Lame?" she repeated incredulously. "Haven't you learned anything from me? What kind of an insult is 'lame'? Saying 'you're lame' is like saying 'you walk with a limp,' and I know you can do better than that!"

Scorpius Malfoy was unsure of many things as he walked hand in hand with her to the Great Hall that evening, but of one thing he was absolutely certain.

Rose Weasley was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

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