Chapter Five – Here Be Dragons
It had only taken a month for Rose to fall into a routine.
Rose woke up, went to work, and had breakfast and a morning chat with Bangs at her desk. She spent the better part of her mornings trailing after Healer Brown and her afternoons catching up on paperwork while her boss went to security meetings. Before she left, Rose attended another meeting where Aurors updated the staff on the ongoing investigation into the unexplained deaths where the words 'constant vigilance' were used at least twice before they were released.
Her uncle would be proud.
Rose had some semblance of a social life that mainly involved her inner circle and sometimes the newcomer, Bangs. And after her social obligations were complete, she usually went home, collapsed on her new sofa for a bit of telly time, but always ended up dragging herself off to bed before she could finish catching up on her shows.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
After the first week and a glowing report from Healer Brown, her mother seemed much more confident about Rose's forced life choices. The second week, Mum laughed her way through each of her work stories and Dad beamed at her proudly when she told them of the freedoms Lavender had given her because she'd proven to be quite the asset.
By the third week, the diatribes on the evils of ennui and the Chicken Soup for the Witch's Soul books that follow her from room to room had vanished, so had the morning wake-up calls, and the vegetables. Well, some of them. Rose still took it as a victory. And this week – the fourth – came with a Free Pass from the usual mandatory Friday night dinners.
"Go have fun," Mum had said earlier when Rose had dropped by her office during her lunch hour bearing gifts in the form of her dad's famous sandwiches. Her mother was deeply focused on the St. Mungo's case file on her desk, but she had sounded sincere when she told Rose, "You deserve it. We'll see you at family brunch on Sunday. Thanks for bringing me dinner, love."
Rose couldn't remember whose idea it had been to go to a Muggle-themed rave in Knockturn Alley, but as soon as she remembered, she would turn them into a bog roll and leave them in a the dirtiest lavatory in London.
She couldn't talk herself out of it and, Merlin, had she tried.
"We're doing this to celebrate you," James had said pleasantly with Albus pulling a pouty, puppy dog face over his shoulder. Scorpius had only yawned and grumbled that they'd already convinced – read: forced – him to come along. When Rose continued to decline the invite, Lily had harped on for a solid hour until Rose's will to live had broken and crumbled.
She hated all of them. Stupid Potters. And stupid Scorpius, too. Just for good measure.
So that night, instead of rotting her brain in front of the telly like she'd planned, Rose found herself dressed in clothes she had no idea she even owned. She suspected Lily had something to do with the form-fitting additions to her wardrobe.
And then, someone knocked on her door.
It was half-past ten and thirty minutes before she had to meet everyone at the corner of Knockturn Alley. She made sure her wand was within summoning distance because no one knocked on her door. No one. Muggles forgot what they wanted whenever they approached her door and anyone with magic knew better.
So with one pink-laced shoe on, Rose cautiously crept to the door and called out, "This building has a no solicitation policy!"
There was something that sounded like a chuckle, followed by a somewhat familiar voice that said, "Not selling anything, Rose. It's Quincy."
"From the New Year's party."
Like that was supposed to mean anything. "Drawing a blank, sorry."
"I'm the model, remember?"
Rose considered her appearance – the lack of a shoe and wild hair mainly – and shrugged. She didn't have a care left to give tonight. Not one. Rose opened the door.
And well. She definitely remembered him now.
Tall, blue-eyed, sandy-haired. The Playwitch model. The model that was ridiculously not on her level. And a model. He looked like one in his white shirt, Muggle denims, and dragon skin jacket. Stupidly attractive. All he needed was a cig and a tortured soul and he'd be the—Rose refused to finish that thought.
Back on track.
How did he even know where she lived? Rose had completely ditched him at the party and hadn't spared him one thought since. Instinct almost had her shut the door in his face, but common sense stopped her. There was a first time for everything, it would seem. However, it didn't stop her from sticking her foot in her cake hole. "Lily says that stalking is a higher form of flattery than imitation, but I don't agree."
"Oh," his smile faltered a bit and his cheeks flushed. "No. I'm not."
"Go on, tell me why you're here then." Rose encouraged dryly.
Quincy seemed to visibly relax as he flashed a boyish grin. "I see you haven't lost your sense of humour."
"It's the ying to my yang. And you still haven't told me why you're here. I'm going to think you're lying about the stalking if you don't speak up soon. I have a wand, as you know." She looked over at the Muggle sporting equipment Lily had left in her apartment. "And a tennis racket. I'll just pretend your head is the ball, which is exactly what I did during Lily's lesson last weekend. Not your head, but hers. She thinks I have a strong serve, but the truth is that I was properly motivated. I'm sure I can channel that particular brand of motivation again if necessary."
He just laughed and laughed. She wanted to be threatening, not funny, but apparently Rose wasn't getting her way today. Just great.
"No need for violent tangents. I'm not stalking you." Quincy told her once he'd caught his breath. "I was actually coming to pick you up for the rave. I thought we could, you know, Apparate there together."
And everything made perfect sense: her kit, the insistence about going to the rave tonight, and lastly, the male model at her doorstep. Lily. Rose scowled. "Someone needs to give her a slap. Somebody needs to put her on a leash and tie her to a hexed broom."
Quincy's smile dimmed. "Lily said—"
Rose stopped mentally mangling her cousin. "I'm not upset. Don't worry, you're off the hook. She likes to pry in people's lives. It's her superpower." Complete understatement. Lily pushed and pushed and pushed some more. She harped on things until Rose wanted to push her off a cliff. She'd barely managed to avoid her constant badgering about setting her up with Scorpius in the last month. Mainly because Lily had been too busy to really corner Rose like she usually did. "Sorry she dragged you into this. I'll sort out something to get her off your back."
Because Merlin forbid if Rose had actually disagreed with Lily, or declined her horrid attempts at setting her up. Not that Quincy was a horrible choice, he wasn't, but she also wasn't interested. She could almost visualise Lily's reaction. There wasn't a better sulker in the world than Lily Potter. She could bottle and market her sulking to the spoiled brat fraction of the wizarding world. She would either make millions or there would be a sulking epidemic. The Ministry would have to be brought in. Cures would need to be created deep in the Department of Mysteries. Pandemonium and sulking chaos would ensue. Anarchy.
So probably not, then.
Quincy rubbed the back of his neck, looking a bit shy. It was an odd look for such an attractive wizard. "I actually asked her about you."
The cogs in Rose's head ground to a complete stop.
"Look, I know you ditched me at the party, but I thought if we—" Quincy made a hand gesture, but Rose didn't know him well enough to interpret. "Tonight," he continued when she just stared at him blankly. "I figured tonight we could get to know each other better and maybe—"
"As mates." Rose interjected. "You mean as proper mates, right?"
Quincy sobered, looking awkward. "If that's what you want."
"It is," she assured him. "I'm not really interested in anything more right now. Sorry." Rose made a wincing face. "Actually, not sorry."
His smile returned. "I appreciate the honesty."
Rose smiled back, gesturing for him to come in. "I have to find my other shoe and finish making sure no one can yank on my hair, accidentally or otherwise, tonight. It'll be a bit." She led him into her sitting room and dashed off to finish getting ready. And to quickly plan out several scenarios where Lily's body would never be found. The Black Lake? Merpeople were too nosy. So no. Forbidden Forest? The Centaurs sort of admired her uncle. Favoured him in only a way that centaurs could. And since Lily was his daughter, she figured that idea was another no. Rose was pretty sure she could transfigure her into a bug and step on her. That would probably work.
And it would make her feel so much better.
Feeling better about the awkward situation Lily had thrown her into without warning, Rose did a few squats and knee-bends to stretch her denims and strolled into sitting room. Quincy looked up from the book he'd plucked from her bookshelf and held it up. "Magic Your Way to a Better Life. There's a story here, I'm sure of it."
"Just a tragic swan song of a slacker's desperate, overprotective mother."
He barked out a laugh and sat it on her brand new coffee table. Rose collapsed inelegantly on the other end of the sofa, stretching her legs across the middle. She glanced at her watch. They had another fifteen minutes before they needed to leave. Rose picked a piece of lint off her turquoise denims.
"At least she cares," Quincy shrugged. "My parents wouldn't bother."
It was the sort of comment that immediately caught her attention. Rose had her mind made up about Quincy. A pretty face and privileged life, but there was such heaviness in his tone that made her feel a twinge of guilt for categorising him. Just a twinge. She was judgmental. It was a character flaw. She made hasty judgments at first sight, but half the time she was right. The other half…well, if Rose felt bad about every person she'd misjudged, she'd drive herself batty. And it wasn't worth it. So she nudged him with her foot and asked, "What's your story? All I know is that you're model with ridiculous hair."
Quincy flashed a smile. "Ridiculous? I'll take it because I'm pretty sure that's Rose-speak for bloody fantastic."
"Learned quick, you have."
His eyebrow shot up. "What's wrong with your voice?"
Rose sighed. "Purebloods."
"I'm half, actually."
"And you don't know anything about Star Wars? Shame! Shame on you and everyone who let you live twenty-plus years without experiencing the American classic that is Star Wars. The last three episodes. Not the first three. Never the first three."
Quincy just blinked. "I feel like I'm supposed to understand you, but I just don't."
"That's a normal reaction. I was able to educate Scorpius, who blew up the telly the first time Al turned it on. You shouldn't be that difficult to teach. I hope." She was about fifty percent confident.
He snorted. "He blew it up?"
"To be fair, he was twelve and trying to sort out the exact magic that made it work. We all learned a valuable lesson: magic and tellies don't mix. At all. Never." Rose paused, quirking her head to the side. "Actually, I take that back. He gets no credit. The nerd." Quincy let out a real laugh that was pleasant and contagious enough for Rose to join in until they were sighing and holding their sides. "So what's your story? What do you do beside look roguishly handsome for the pleasure of witches?"
"Modelling just something I do to earn money for my apprenticeship, my parents would pay, but I'd rather do it myself."
"At Gringotts. I'm studying to be a Curse-breaker and my apprenticeship is with your uncle, Bill Weasley. He's actually the one who invited me to the party. I work at the Ministry sometimes as a Magical Artefacts expert for Ministry. Only when they need me. I freelance."
He was certainly a lot more than she'd expected, truth be told.
Rose smirked. "You're an overachiever with a pretty face, but I don't think that makes you an expert."
"My parents are magical archaeologists. They're too wrapped up in their projects to be parents, but they did make sure I knew everything there was to know about artefacts. Even the ones lost in time. They used to take me out for digs during the summer hols."
He shrugged. "I suppose."
Rose glanced at her watch and scrambled off the sofa. "It's five 'til. We should go." If we're late Lily will annoy me to death with her I'm-disappointed-in-your-lack-of-punctuality eyes, which is usually accompanied by a what-is-your-life sigh." Rose glared at Quincy, who was struggling to maintain a straight face. "Don't look at me like that. I've known Lily since she was born. She has very expressive body language. She's been judging me since day one and I thought she was a boy. In my defence, I was two and she had no hair. How was I supposed to know?"
Quincy dragged his hands down to his knees before standing, poorly suppressing his amusement. "You two fight like sisters."
She gave him a dirty look. "Rude. I should splinch you on purpose."
He threw up his arms. "I was just wondering why you two hate each other so much."
She summoned her beaded bag and draped it over her shoulder. "I don't hate her. She's my cousin, but we just don't mesh. Never have. We're too different." Rose snapped her fingers and raised her hand just in time to catch her wand. Quincy didn't bother to disguise his amazement. Sheepish in the face of his awe, Rose muttered. "Don't tell Lily I can do that."
"Don't want your mum to find out?"
They shook on it, but Quincy made an amendment. "You owe me the first dance."
Shockingly, they were the first to arrive.
Rose felt the need to celebrate with a fist-pump celebration that Quincy just laughed through. She would've done more had Lily not arrived with Al and Scorpius flanked around her, and scarred her for life with her dramatic makeup and outfit. Neon green denims and a shirt with a bunch of runes on it.
Someone didn't get the family memo about what neon could do to red hair and pale skin.
"What are you wearing? You know the rules. No one with Weasley blood is allowed to wear anything neon or reflective. It makes us look like someone dug us out of a grave."
"Exactly!" Al chimed in helpfully. Judging from his attire, Rose figured he was going for the extreme too-cool-to-care look. It just made him look perpetually confused.
"I know what I look like out here, but when we get inside, I'm going to look amazing in the black lights."
Scorpius and Al exchanged unconvinced looks. The latter noticed Quincy standing beside Rose and thumbed in his direction. "Who's this?"
Lily took the liberty to answer. "This is Quincy. Rose's date that I acquired for her."
"He's not my date," she shot back. "And nobody says acquired. Makes you sound like you bought him half-price in a shop in Camberwell. Moreover, I feel we should probably further address the fact that you look like the second victim of the zombie apocalypse."
As usual, Lily ignored her. Primly. If that was even possible.
"Yes, he is your date." A group of similarly dressed witches and wizards walked past them, laughing at something as they turned onto Knockturn Alley. Lily looked around for James and his girlfriend. They were late and Rose could already see the pinched look forming around her cousin's mouth. Pretty soon she would be frothing at the mouth. Lily folded her arms, giving Rose a judgmental once-over. "I see you followed the breadcrumbs to my gift."
"You put it on my bed with a sign that said 'wear this or else'. It wasn't exactly subtle." Rose deadpanned. Lily looked rather chuffed. "Oh, and stop convincing my mum to let you into my flat."
"It was for a good cause."
"I'm not a charity case."
Lily just stared at her blankly until Rose maturely stuck out her tongue.
"I made you look smashing tonight." Lily gave her another critical once-over. "I like the bracelets, but you could've done with more war paint around your eyes. And your hair. You could've done something more dramatic with it. Braided ponytails are boring and lazy. And what are your shoes? I left better ones for you, I'm sure of it. Why didn't you wear them?"
"Um." Rose gaped at her. "Perhaps I didn't want to fall over all night."
Lily scowled and Quincy bravely asked, "Is it always like this?"
"Pretty much." Scorpius muttered his first words of the evening, looking slightly put out. It could have been because he looked like he'd just stepped out of some new aged hipster magazine with his denims, band t-shirt, glasses, and messy hair. He caught her staring and patted down his hair in a poor attempt to fix it. "Lily made a proper mess with it."
"I made it better," she preened. "The just-woke-up look is in again with the Muggles."
Scorpius looked like someone who had long since run out of bothers to give.
Rose sidled up next to him, poking him in the side "You look like a cheesed off hipster. You're probably judging Lily's outfit right now, aren't you? Go on. Tell the truth."
"Piss off," Lily sulked. Al coughed to cover his amusement, but not well enough because it earned him a punch in the arm from his sister. Quincy then laughed at his not-so-manly yelp. Al shoved him in the arm.
As the childish shoving and laughing match ensued, Scorpius rolled his eyes and cracked a tiny smile that was tense around the edges. Rose didn't like it so she butted his arm with her head until he glared but lifted his arm to wrap around her shoulders. She hugged him around the waist, resting her head on his chest. He smelled like sandalwood, mint, and oddly enough, old paper. "Been in a library?"
Scorpius absently played with the end of her braid as the tension literally bled from him. "My dad's. I needed to see if there was a Dreamless Draught potion that didn't include Flobberworm Mucus. I have a patient who is allergic."
"Your dedication to your patients is admirable. Are you off tomorrow?"
Scorpius nodded. "And Sunday, too, so I'll be at brunch."
"Me too. There's an apocalypse film out now. I know just how much you love the end of the world."
"I think you're projecting again, but I'll come. Supper afterwards?"
"And I won't even complain about the vegetables."
"It's about time you two turned up!" Lilt screeched. Rose leaned back, bypassing the strange look Quincy was giving her, to see James and – okay, Rose wasn't going to pretend she knew her name – sheepishly approach them. They were wearing matching outfits. She rolled her eyes. That idiot's hopelessness knew no bounds.
"Sorry, Matilda had a late shift."
"Mishap in the Department of Mysteries," Matilda sighed. "It took ages for everyone to decontaminate."
That seemed to placate Lily. She probably remembered that not every witch James dated was a complete idiot. "Let's just go and have fun. We all need it."
The rave was well underway when they checked their wands and bags in at the door. The base thumped so hard Rose felt it in her chest. It didn't hurt. It was just odd. No matter how many times she'd been dragged out, she'd never get used to the atmosphere. Her vision blurred under the harsh, flashing lights and she gripped Scorpius' hand tightly, twining their fingers together and let him guide her through the throngs of bodies gyrating to the driving baselines of the DJ she couldn't even see.
By some stroke of luck, they ended up at the packed bar. Al immediately got in line to order drinks. Rose relaxed her grip, but never let go. Lily attempted to shout instructions to everyone, probably about where they would meet when they were ready to leave, but no one paid her any mind.
James and Matilda disappeared before she finished.
Al reappeared seemingly out of thin air with five vials of pink liquid. Potions.
"Inhibition potions? Really, Al?" Rose shouted as she dropped Scorpius' hand to take one.
"It's light. The barman said it'll just help us relax a tad. It'll last three hours, max."
Lily popped up next to him and snatched a vial. "Thanks!" She downed it and smirked at Rose. "Seeing as you look terrified, it might do you some good."
"Is this even safe?" she asked Scorpius, who was eyeing his vial sceptically.
"Looks like it," he uncapped his vial. "The darker they are, the more potent. This looks pretty light."
Quincy and Al clink their vials together and tossed the contents back with ease and then grinned. Their newfound camaraderie was disturbing on all levels and judging from the look on Scorpius' face, he agreed. Lily started dancing in place, shaking her hips to the beat of the music. Truth be told, Lily had been right. Under the lights of the club, she didn't look like she had an incurable disease. And Rose wasn't the only one who had noticed. A few blokes at the bar had their eyes on her cousin.
But then she did some move that made her look like a cartoon character and the universe righted itself once again.
Rose took her potion under everyone's watchful gaze. They all cheered in unison.
The effects were instant.
Rose felt her muscles relax and her heartbeat steady. She grabbed Quincy's arm and started dragging him towards the dance floor. Scorpius shot her a funny look. "I owe him a dance. Back soon."
"You can dance with me, Score," was the last thing she heard Lily say before she and Quincy vanished into the crowd.
They danced and jumped around for what felt like hours. Rose wasn't much of a dancer, but Quincy made up for it with a surprising amount of rhythm. He tried to teach her, but the potion wasn't strong enough to make her even attempt to shake her hips.
No. Just no.
Regardless, she was having fun, and for the first time tonight didn't seem like a colossal bad idea. Surprising. By the point of that realisation, she and Quincy weren't so much dancing together as they were dancing in front of each other. People kept cutting through them, in and out. Witches interested in Quincy; wizards interested in her. It was wicked hot from all the bodies in motion and she was probably being judged for doing a few moves that resembled The Robot that sent the last bloke on, but it didn't matter.
Nothing mattered. The music was exhilarating. Infectious.
And Rose regretted nothing.
It must have been getting late because the DJ started dialling down from the almost frantic tempo they'd set earlier to something almost hypnotic. It made Rose close her eyes and just sway from side to side. When she opened her eyes again, she spotted Quincy immediately. His hair wasn't going to survive the two witches who were gyrating against him.
He didn't seem to mind.
Familiar hands gripped her shoulders and she leaned back into the body behind her, knowing exactly who it was. They rocked together for a moment before Scorpius dipped his head to murmur into her ear. "Al took Lily home about ten minutes ago."
"She decided to mix the potion with four Firewhiskys and chucked up on some bloke's shoes. He didn't seem to mind. Or notice."
"Ouch," Rose winced. "She's going to feel like absolute rubbish for the rest of the weekend."
He agreed. "Anyway, I'm leaving, too. I have to go in. There's been another death."
Rose turned so they were face to face. Scorpius hair was matted to his forehead and he'd inherited a red skinny tie. "Now? But the potion—"
"Should be out my system by the time I get there. She was my patient." And he was troubled by it, she could see that much. "Look, I'll see you tomorrow. I have to go."
"No." She grabbed him by the tie to stop him from leaving. "I'll come with you."
"You should stay." He looked over his shoulder at Quincy. "Make sure she gets home safely."
Rose ignored Quincy's nod and stared her best friend down. He looked right knackered more than anything. Frustrated and sad. He took each loss personally and harder than he probably should. "Not a damsel, I can find my way home. Not that it matters, since I'll be coming with you."
"Yes. End of story. I took a kip after work and I know for a fact that you didn't. I'll wait, do some paperwork, something. I'll sort it out. Someone needs to make sure you don't collapse from exhaustion. And that someone is me. So get over it."
Scorpius sighed his acquiescence. Rose grinned and bounced over to Quincy.
"We're heading out. Have fun with Thing One and Two." She waggled her brows at him.
"I will," he flashed a grin. "Hey, Rose." He glanced over her shoulder where Scorpius still stood. When she shot him a questioning look, he continued. "You know, from before, you should've told me. I would've understood, but I'll catch you later, yeah?"
Rose nodded, but walked away completely confused. What?
By the time they arrived at St. Mungo's, security was on high-alert and the metaphorical red tape of bureaucracy was wrapped around the ward. Scorpius was immediately granted access as the victim's healer, but no amount of name-dropping and not event the sight of her mother's bushy hair could get her past the Aurors guarding the entrance to the ward.
"It's not my fault that your security is so flawed that—"
Scorpius dragged her to a corner before she could finish giving the Auror a piece of her mind. And probably get arrested for something in the process. "I'll be an hour. They'll want her medical files and a detailed account of her care from the day she was admitted. Shouldn't take long. Breakfast when I'm done?"
"You're paying, just so you know. And we better not go to some vegetarian place. I refuse to eat fake bacon." Rose frowned at the mere thought. "Fakeon," she whispered in disgust. Scorpius laughed out loud and it made Rose smile in response. "And then we'll go to my flat and get some rest, yeah? Because I know you won't sleep at yours."
He rolled his eyes. "I'll drop by mine after breakfast and pick up extra clothes."
"Perfect. Now I'll go do some paperwork in Lavender's office and steal some of the candy she thinks I don't know about in her top drawer."
He snorted. "Save me some chocolate?"
"You closeted chocoholic, you." Rose emphasised each word with a poke to his chest.
Scorpius twisted away from her poking fingers. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
Point made. "I—"
"Scorpius," Henrietta called from several feet away. She was in her Healer's robes, but judging from the state of her hair, she'd just rolled out of bed. Her arms were folded and she looked supremely stressed. "They're ready for you." And she walked away without so much as acknowledging Rose's presence.
"Hiya!" Rose called after her. Then shot her best friend a look. "Pretty sure she still hates me."
"I'm pretty sure she does, too." At least he had the decency to look apologetic about it. He loosened his skinny tie, put it on her, lightly tugged on the end of her braid, and followed Henrietta.
Rose loitered around for a bit before she left. Healer Brown's office had been a cyclone of unorganised files and loose papers when Rose had started. In a month she'd managed to tame the loose paper into three piles: important, research, and possible rubbish. And then she'd sub-divided those piles into: really important, meh, relevant research, useless research, definite rubbish, and possible rubbish.
And she hadn't even started organising the long-term patient files yet.
That was a beast she wanted to slay with loads of coffee. And candy.
Speaking of candy, Rose broke into the top drawer with a whispered Alohamora and a flick of her wand. She spent the next few minutes enjoying a few handfuls of sour rind watermelons and flipping through dull research on aconite poisoning Lavender had left on her desk. She grabbed a few chocolate bars for Scorpius and got to work on clearing out the possible rubbish pile, moving a few papers to the research and important stacks.
Her stomach rumbled half an hour later, but she suppressed it with a piece of liquorice.
That didn't satisfy it for long. Ten minutes later, it rumbled again.
And again five pieces of candy later.
"I get it, stomach. You want real food. I get it. I want real food, too, but you don't hear me complaining." To which it replied with a loud rumble. "You win. Let's find Scorpius."
She straightened Lavender's desk, locked the top drawer, turned off the lights, and locked the door behind her. Rose took the elevator back to the trauma ward's floor, but before she could get round the corner towards the ward, she was approached by an Auror, who asked her for identification.
"Why?" Rose asked, but still flashed the badge she always carried in her beaded bag.
"This hall is off limits, Miss Weasley."
"On whose authority?"
The man lip twitched when he said, "Your mother's."
And, well, mum's authority in the Ministry knew no bounds. Rose was pretty sure there were a percentage of people out there who actually thought she was the Minister. "So are all the halls off limits or just this one?"
"Just this one."
Rose got an idea because taking the detour route to the ward wasn't part of her plan. "Did you know that I went to a Muggle primary school? No? Well, I had an instructor who told me something fascinating. Did you know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?"
"How exactly is this relevant?"
"You see, I'm trying to get to the trauma ward and it's straight down that hall. Ignore the two lefts I have to make to get there and the rights, too. It's practically a straight line. I just think that in the interest of time, you should let me through. I won't tell a soul. Promise."
"Can't let you through."
"Is it because of my argument? Because I can come up with something better. That wasn't my best work, which isn't fair. You deserve the best."
"Don't bother. You're still not getting through."
"But I—" The stony look the Auror gave her made her point past him. "I'll just go that way. You have a… jolly time standing there. I'll just—"
And she went, making sure he heard exactly how she felt about the grumpy gargoyle routine he had going there. Rose could have sworn she heard him chuckle as she rounded the corner, which was just disheartening.
Just like that, she'd been reduced to the comedic relief.
That was apparently a running theme for the evening, or rather early morning now.
Only bacon could help her regain her dignity. And maybe a pancake. Or five.
She ate her feelings, okay. And they were delicious with lemon juice and sugar.
And so on she walked, passing by rooms eight, nine, and ten; forced the long way around that sent her through the halls she walked with Lavender each day.
She quickly realised that it was different at night. The constant hum of activity and noise Rose thrived on during the days was nonexistent. It was dead, uncharacteristically so, and the silence made each footstep echo through the empty hall. So she began humming and taking louder steps with longer strides, because the one thing Rose hated more than her mum's cereal bars was the quiet. It activated her imagination, waking the part of her brain that was an absolute drama queen and mystery novel fan.
But it was too late.
All of a sudden, she wasn't Rose Weasley taking a familiar detour to the trauma ward. No, she was a consulting detective, deducing her way to the cause of the phantom shift in the air.
Rose froze, thinking her fantasy had gotten the better of her – somewhat – good sense. It had happened often enough, but really, it wasn't her fault. Her imagination was a by-product of all the stories her parents had told her of their time at Hogwarts. The mysteries and suspicion, three-headed dogs and acromantulas, and don't get her started on the revolving door that was the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. Rose spent her entire First Year just waiting for something to come along and threaten Al's life.
After all, he was the one who looked the most like his dad so it was only fair that he be destined to have his life threatened by a nose-less wanker with a power complex and a fear of death. It worked in Rose's eleven-year-old mind, but not so much in reality. The worst thing that happened during First Year was that Al got the flu, threw up in his cauldron, and it exploded in his face. Needless to say, Rose's time at Hogwarts was positively boring in comparison to her parents' but her imagination had always been there to keep life lively.
Unfortunately, the strangeness in the air had nothing to do with her imagination. It was real. It prickled her skin and dried her mouth, which was enough for a tiny voice in her head – a voice that sounded a lot like her dad – to say, "Here be dragons." And really that was just uncalled for. All Rose wanted to do was get to a place in her day where she could sit down and satisfy her soul with food that had an alarming amount of calories.
So Rose walked on with purpose and extreme focus…for all of about three steps.
Because by then, she'd reached the end of the hall and the proverbial – okay, literal – fork in the road. Which wouldn't be such an issue on a normal day, but right now, she couldn't remember which way to go. And that. That wasn't normal. Rose looked to the right, then the left. She knew her way around, of course, she had it memorised and categorised in her mind along with the rest of St. Mungo's. The layout wasn't complex. If a corporeal messenger Patronus could find its way, so could she.
Confidence restored, Rose went left.
And then quickly turned on her heels and jogged in the other direction.
Not that it mattered.
Nothing looked familiar.
But Rose walked on, slowly and carefully, ignoring all the feelings of unease that seemed to grow with every turn she took. Right. Left. Left. Right. Every hall looked the same – bright, shiny, and white – nothing distinguishing one corridor from another, like a whiteout in a snowstorm. Room eight. Room Nine. Room Ten. Rose considered finding her way back to the Auror, because, really, to hell with this. But the problem with that was that it didn't feel like a life choice that would result in anything other than further confusion. And frustration.
And there was plenty of that building, so much that it blurred her vision. In no way did any of this make sense. Rose knew her way around. She knew the hospital; could find her way with her eyes shut. She shouldn't – no, couldn't – be lost or confused or second-guessing herself like she was. It defied every shred of logic.
Rose stopped and rested her forehead against the wall as she did her best to think of a way out. She didn't realise how fast her heart was pounding and how badly her hands were shaking until right then. Merlin, it felt like her chest was about to implode; like there something on it, pressing it, and pushing it inward. Rose's only outlet was to close her eyes and take a few of those cleansing breaths her mum had taught her. In the nose and out the mouth.
She had to get it together. Now wasn't the time for panic. There wasn't even a reason for such a thing. This was all in her head. All she had to do was get back on the right track. Where was she again? Room Eight. Right. Breathe. She had to find her way to Scorpius and breakfast and a place where she could laugh about this little non-adventure. Breathe.
And she did just that until her breathing slowed and her ears stopped ringing. Her stomach grumbled. Rose was about to lament on the irony of starving in three floors from the cafeteria, but remembered the chocolate bars.
Sorry Scorpius, but survival of the fittest and all that.
Rose bit into the bar, savouring the flavour.
The overhead lights flickered.
Peering up curiously, she took another bite and shrugged it off. Nothing. It was nothing. St. Mungo's was an old, creepy hospital. And sure, the hospital boasted about the fact that they ran on a supply of magic that wouldn't fail long enough for the lights to flicker. But in the end, it was still old. Old and unreliable with flickering lights. Old and creepy.
The lights flickered again.
Seven years of being in Slytherin taught her that if something happened once, it was an accident. Twice was a coincidence. Three times – well that just meant something was wrong and she needed to make a tactful retreat. With speed. And tact. Which Rose would have done had the lights not flickered once more and plunged the entire hall into darkness.
Which was just perfect.
Because suddenly she was in a poor remake of every stupid horror movie and that meant she was going to be the first one to die. Or get eaten. And she wasn't even dressed like a slag. Not fair.
Another thing that wasn't fair: the sliver of light peeking from beneath the door in front of her; a light that grew brighter, hotter, and more intense the more she stared. Because that was completely normal. Dread and every other conceivable negative emotion slammed into her like – like a curse. Like a spell. Like magic. And that was…well, it was the only explanation for everything.
This was all part of some spell – a ward. A very powerful one, all things and her trip to the edge of sanity considered. Rose knew a lot about wards. Some were designed to be undetectable, but others deterred undesirables who got too close using any sort of method. It all depended on the intent of the caster. Most played with a person's mind, distracting them until they left, but there were a few out there that played dirty to the point that anyone who came too close tended to ignore the obvious.
Like, for instance, the fact that she'd passed by Room Eight more than once tonight.
Room Eight. The glowing room.
Probably not a coincidence.
She forced all the – likely magic-induced – emotions to the back of her mind and chewed her chocolate bar slowly, looking around to see if the lights to rooms nine and ten were on, but they weren't. Just this one.
And it was pulsing dangerously bright as if to warn her off. She almost thought about listening, almost grabbed her wand and used it to guide her down the dark hall, but there was…something. A feeling, well more like a morbid curiosity coupled with the realisation that the only way out of the maze was to find its centre.
A glowing room, well, that was just it, right?
Rose took a final bite of chocolate and stood to her feet. Everything – every single shred of her good sense and survival instinct told her to leg it far and fast, but Rose's mind was made up. Someone once said that only way out of hell was to go through it. So she stood on shaky legs, making sure she had her wand in her hand and her wits about her. Rose approached the door, resting her hand on the oddly warm knob, turning, pushing the door open slowly.
And of course, the door's squeal announced her presence.
She pushed the door open because, hell, in for a Knut, in for a Galleon, and all that…
Immediately, she wished he hadn't.
Rose stumbled forward, all her senses bombarded by light and feelings of dread and the smell of something that burned everything. She dropped to her knees, coughing and eyes watering, clutching her ears to block out…something. The dread? She didn't know, but it helped Rose momentarily regain her senses and breath. She forced her eyes open and—
Standing over a sleeping patient was a person shrouded in a dark cloak, speaking in an unfamiliar language and clutching a dagger that glowed brighter with each word. The words burned in Rose's ears as the air thickened to the point where it felt almost liquid. Rose desperately gasped for the breath she couldn't find, body trembling and tears pouring from her eyes. She was drowning. Disbelief and terror bled into shock, leaving a sort of defiant horror in the hollow of where Rose's heart had practically stopped beating.
And then it all stopped.
The air cleared and the room was plunged into an empty silence that only Rose's harsh, gasping breaths filled. The silence did something else: it shook her from her stupor to the point where she could open her eyes. She didn't even bother to wipe the tears from her cheeks, because why bother when something was standing in front of you that wasn't there before.
Or rather someone.
Bloody hell, she really was going to die. How rude.
She craned her head upward. Rose couldn't see the face behind the hood, not that it mattered, because she found herself staring at the dagger – the dagger that was now glowing red. Rose's heart started racing as she held up what was left of her sweet treat and blurted the first thing that came to mind. "Chocolate?"
There was no reaction.
"Oh go on." She tried again, voice shaking. "Everyone loves chocolate. Yummy, yummy, yum!" Rose choked on her nervous laughter, extending her hand out further; the wrapper nearly touching the cloak.
"No? Well, I'll just take this delicious treat elsewhere and—"
"You shouldn't be here, Rose Weasley."
The voice was too high to be male, but too low to be female, and that was as far as she analysed it. Because the second they said her name, Rose's heart exploded somewhere around her knees and she panicked. Clumsily, she scrambled to her feet, stumbling backwards in an attempt to escape. Not that it mattered. Before she could reach the door, much less regain her balance, the door shut behind her with a resounding slam.
Of course it did.
"Leaving so soon?" the person asked.
"That was the plan."
The hooded person stepped towards her.
Rose almost backed against the door in a bout of reflexive terror, but stopped herself. Never back yourself into a corner, her dad had always said. Right. She dropped the chocolate and stepped forward, keeping her eyes trained on the red dagger. "So is this the part where you get stabby or are we just going to continue to stare at each other?" She raised her hand. "Not that you care about my opinion on the matter, but I am for anything that keeps me at about a zero on the pain scale. I'm just tossing that out in the universe." Rose paused. "Sure you don't want any chocolate? I have plenty in my—"
"One day that mouth of yours is going to get you into trouble."
"Far too late for that, I think. I'm here, aren't I?"
The hooded person looked askance at her. "Actually, that's what I want to know. How are you here? My wards—"
"Are flawless. I'm not sure which part I liked better: the part where it had me wandering around in circles like a dying bloke in the desert or the part where I nearly went nutters and had to talk myself out of having a much-deserved panic attack. Bloody brilliant, really."
"Fascinating," the person drawled, "That doesn't explain how you made it past them."
"I'm going to go with something I like to call 'Genetically-Inherited Dumb Luck'. I got it from my dad."
"Next time I'll be sure to ward against that, too." And they pulled off their hood.
In the dimness of the room, all Rose could see was dark hair and facial features that didn't seem right or natural, the face was feminine and not at the same time. Probably a glamour. She always had a hard time telling for sure. Where was Lily when Rose needed her? She could pick out any sort of glamour from across the room.
Rose watched the person as they carefully placed the still-glowing dagger on the bed of the sleeping – or likely comatose – patient. She thought about hexing them good and escaping, but that didn't seem like the best idea, especially when they knew a bit more wandless magic than she did. Summoning wands? Rose had that down. But shutting doors?
Not so much.
They had their back to her when they said, "You made a wise decision not to attack just now."
"More like tactical."
"You really are like your mother."
Rose instinctively tightened her grip on her wand, readying for a fight. "Is this the part where you tell me that I know too much and can't stroll out of here alive?"
They turned, wand in hand. That cloak clearly had a few pockets. "No, it's actually the part where I alter your memories to make you believe that you're the one who's been causing all the unexplained deaths. And then wait for a few months before continuing my…well, mission, if you will."
"That's actually sort of brilliant, but I'm going to have to pass on that inevitable trip to Azkaban. The North Sea does nothing for my complexion."
"I had a feeling you might say that."
Rose's stomach churned, knowing just what she'd have to do to make it out of there with her memories intact. She wasn't much of a dueller in the traditional sense, preferring to let her words and reputation fight her battles, which had worked just fine for her until now.
She took a step back.
The person chuckled, low and menacing. "This is going to be easier than I thought."
Rose absently wished she'd attended at least one Duelling Club meeting, but realised it probably wouldn't have done her any good. She never saw the point of practising spell-casting reflexes when there was nothing on the line. Just because Rose could fire a counter-spell when someone was trying to make her do a jig, didn't mean she would be able to do the same when fighting for her life.
Apparently, she'd been wrong about that.
Because the moment she heard the spell, Rose had it blocked before her brain caught up to what was happening. The same went for the next three spells: two different stunners and a malevolent-looking blue light that she'd never seen before. Rose was so dazed from her surprise duelling ability that she had to duck to avoid another stunner from hitting her in the chest. As she straightened, Rose brushed the fringe from her face and huffed, "You could've given me some warning. Voldemort let my uncle pick up his wand, for Merlin's sake!"
"Voldemort just wanted to prove he was the better wizard. I, on the other hand, could care less. Crucio!"
Rose knew what was coming and all she could think was help me. She tried to prepare herself, relax her muscles, focus on something, breathe, but who was she kidding? Her vision blurred and muddled as her body exploded in a particular brand of searing pain she'd never experienced before. It was indescribable, electric, and all she could do was fold in on herself and feel.
It was all too much, too intense, and all-consuming. She lost track of everything: time, place, and even her own mind. It was as if she were being annihilated from the inside out, like every layer of skin was being stripped away and burned. The pressure was too much. Her head was going to explode. Unconsciously, Rose ground her teeth together to relieve some of the stress. But it didn't work. She heard them say 'Crucio' again, with more emphasis, and everything became hotter and even more agonising. Rose was sweating, felt it running down her cheeks, or were they tears? She didn't care to figure it out. She tried to crawl away, but there was nowhere to go. She tried to focus on something, but she couldn't concentrate over the taste of copper in her mouth and the sound of her own feral screams.
But then it was over and an infinite numbness swept through her. Part of her body screamed pain, her mind yelled danger, but she was too overwhelmed and exhausted to ascertain anything really. All she could do was gather her wits. Rose heard the person move, saw them grab her legs. "Hurts, doesn't it?" They asked as they dragged her further into the room. "The good thing is that, after this, you won't remember the—"
Rose used every bit of strength to kick out and by some miracle, she landed a blow to their face. Drops of blood landed on her denims as Rose's tormentor dropped her legs in shock and staggered back, clutching their bleeding nose and swearing darkly. Groaning, Rose rolled over to her stomach and tried to get to her feet and leg it, but her stomach was rolling and her knees weren't working right.
Not that it mattered anyway, because all she heard was an angry, "Stupefy!"
And then she heard nothing at all.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of JK Rowling. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: This chapter was deleted or whatever. Dunno why. Fixed! Thanks anon, for letting me know.