She obviously wasn't carrying it. Three times he'd set off the Galleon, sending the same message each time, but she hadn't so much as checked her pocket that he'd seen, and she was still sitting with the other girls at their table in the Three Broomsticks, clearly visible through the window laughing and chattering. Even when she finally got up she went straight for the washroom, and he sighed, closing his eyes and shoving his hands down deep in his jean pockets as he let his head knock back hard against the cold, damp bricks of the alley.
Great. Just great. He'd at least thought he'd get to see her for a few minutes if nothing else, and not from outside the window like a beggar ogling the goods in a fine boutique. Ridiculous that he couldn't just go in and fetch her, but he'd been banned from the Broomsticks since last summer, even though his parents had paid the damages. Hadn't been that much, either. Couple chairs, one mirror, three or four bottles of stuff that wasn't even that expensive. You'd think any decent barkeep would take that sort of shit in stride. Blokes letting off a little steam was all. Nothing to call the Prophet about.
Maybe if he went around front, stayed officially off the property on the other side of the street, he could wait for someone he knew. Well, it would have to be DA, really. No one else would relay a message from a lad who looked like him to a girl who looked like her, but the DA knew he wasn't hassling and she wasn't slumming. Not really. Didn't count as slumming if it was still DA.
A faint cough sounded from somewhere directly behind him, and he leapt a mile, furious at his own inattention even as his hand flew to his hip and snatched the wand free and up in the same motion that spun him into the tightly defensive dueling stance his body could never forget. Jimmy's heart was stammering paranoia over a hundred possibilities, his shoulders tensed with equal readiness to throw a punch or a spell into who or whatever had somehow managed to –
Slowly, with supreme nonchalance, Rose raised one eyebrow, shifting her weight on the crutches to open her palm and reveal the Galleon, his message still burning brightly around the edge. "Um, you're the one who called me, you know."
"Fuck, I – !" He cut himself off with a sharp shake of his head as he forced himself to back down from the fighting pose. Wounded dignity was warring with genuine anger that she would take such a foolish risk, but he bit his lip, sucking hard on the steel ring embedded there as he tried to sound at all reasonable. He didn't want to fight, not really. "Rose, you -"
"I noticed." She poked the air in front of her with the tip of her wand, smiling fondly and a bit cheekily as it shimmered silver. "Protego, numbwand."
The precaution should have made him feel better, but he couldn't decide if it was annoying or endearing, and he made a face, changing the subject. "I thought you were ignoring me."
His answer came in a kiss, laughing hot, and he buried himself in it, all embarrassment as irrelevantly forgotten as the wait that had come before. Jimmy pulled her in hungrily, sucking down the taste of her, but she shook her head, breaking the embrace. "I can't stay out here for long." She shivered, and he noticed the tension at the edges of her eyes that admitted more than she'd ever be willing to put in words. "S'cold. Going straight through -" Rose trailed off, but he understood instantly, already shrugging out of his own heavy leather outer robes and wrapping them around her in place of the cloak she had left inside as a necessary casualty of her washroom ruse.
"Of course you can. Not stay out here, I mean." He slung an arm over her shoulders, careful not to push her off balance as he jerked his head down the alley where his broom waited out of sight in the shadows behind the rubbish bins. "Let's get you somewhere warm."
It seemed for a moment like it was going to be just that easy, but nothing was ever just that easy, and she hesitated, frowning back towards the kitchen door of the Broomsticks. "Really, I - we're all having a witch's –"
With most people, Jimmy knew that something as boyish as a pout on his mutilated face came off with all the offputting misfire of a cherub in Knockturn Alley, but Rose somehow still saw it for what it once had been. He used that to its full advantage now, working up a bloody reasonable sort of wide-eyed, innocent disappointment. "It's Valentine's Day."
She sighed deeply, her tone still firm, but her eyes said she was melting. "Jimmy…."
He redoubled the bottom lip, trying to make her laugh now. "You're out with a bunch of single witches. That's fucking daft."
"That's the point." A giggle! Success! Or at least a good hope for it.
"But you're not single."
"Yeah, but they don't know that."
"But I got you a present." It wasn't real magic, but the simple sleight-of-hand was well polished, and the bracelet appeared across his fingers as if from nowhere, glittering brightly even in the dimness of the winter alley.
He was rewarded with a little gasp of appreciation, but her look of happy surprise narrowed almost at once to one of jaded suspicion. "You got or you stole?"
"Sweat of my brow either way," he shrugged easily. "And c'mon, isn't it more exciting if you don't know?"
Her eyes narrowed even further at first, then she shook her head, making a noise somewhere between a snort of exasperation and a laugh as she took it. "Like I don't." She slipped it on, turning her wrist to examine it more closely. It was real gold, set with a dozen or so of what he was pretty sure weren't real pink diamonds, but there was no question it was out of his league, and they both knew it. "How am I supposed to explain this?"
"Don't." There was a rebellious edge to the smile on the word that he knew was more persuasive than she liked to admit. "Heroes don't have to explain themselves to anyone."
"Seventeen's an adult."
"Whatever." She shook her head reluctantly but firmly, pushing the bracelet off again and holding it out to him. "As long as I'm at Hogwarts, doesn't matter."
"The mattering stuff, that was years ago. Numbers are bullshit." Jimmy refused to take it, pressing it back into her palm instead. "Come on, Rose, I'm not asking you to run away with me."
There was a long pause, but then the gift was on her wrist again, and her smile said everything as she gave a teasing rattle of the crutches against the frozen stones. "Good, because I'm not running anywhere."
"Exactly!" Jimmy tried not to sound too smug as he hurried to fetch his broom, pulling it from its hiding place along with a small, tightly-wrapped bundle. "Which is why I brought this. And these."
The bundle unfolded into several long, silky-looking scarves, and Rose grinned, tilting her head with an appreciative whistle. "Kinky."
He returned the grin with one of his own, making no effort to hide the eager thrill that smile had sent through him. "Maybe later. Right now, though, it's so you can come with me." Carefully, he set about showing her how he had found a way for her to settle herself on the broom behind him, using the scarves to secure her crutches below like a cargo harness and at the same time make up for the strength her damaged leg still lacked to hold her snugly behind him. He had spent hours in trial and error, but as he passed the second scarf under her arms, he couldn't help but chuckle. "You're pretty fucking cooperative for someone who's not going, you know."
Her face was only inches from his, her breath a warm brush that ruffled the fringe against his forehead with her answer. "You said you weren't asking me to run away with you. Or was that a shameful lie?"
"No running," Jimmy assured her with mock indignation. "This is flying."
She seemed about to laugh again, then he felt her stiffen, and suddenly her hands were staying his, all amusement and teasing gone from her voice. "Are you clean?"
He jerked back, almost knocking them both from the broomstick as the indignation became at once very real against the unexpected bluntness of the accusation. "Rose!"
She didn't budge an inch, her hands still preventing the makeshift harness from going any further. "I'm in enough pieces, Jimmy. I said, are you clean?"
"You know I can –"
His intended argument was cut off before it could even begin. "JAMES!" She hadn't raised her voice at all, but it came as a shout nonetheless, almost a slap. "Don't fuck with me."
There was nothing for it but the truth, and he dropped his eyes, trying not to run his hands over his arms where it suddenly felt as if she could see right through the long sleeves. "Most of a day. I'm safe, though." He forced his eyes up to hers, not hiding the open plea of sincerity. "I swear. I mean…I wouldn't…not if I was hexed, you know."
The hesitation seemed to take forever, and he had to bite his tongue, knowing that this was one of those times when a lad only dug himself in deeper if he kept talking, but hoping she would understand. Clean was a nice thing in theory, but he was quite sure she didn't want him shaking and freaking out any more than she wanted him actually hexed up. At last she raised her hands, allowing him to continue, but her eyes never left his. "If you get me hurt, I'll never forgive you. I fucking swear."
"I'd never forgive myself," the whisper was rough, cruel in its honesty, and the silence dragged on several more awkward, awful seconds until he was finally finished. Taking a deep breath, he turned forward on the broom and squared his shoulders, trying to shake off the ugly, creeping, guilty feeling as he twisted a smile back over his mouth. "Just hang on, okay?"
They took off easily, the extra weight meaning little to the high-powered sports broom that been maintained with so much more care than its owner, soaring within seconds so high that the buildings of Hogsmeade seemed nothing more than so many dollhouses below. It was colder up here, the wind biting fiercely, but he didn't regret for a moment surrendering his robe to her, concentrating instead on how warm and close his passenger pressed against his back.
Hovering a moment, he spun a slow circle in midair, getting his bearings off the layout of the streets and the nightmare castle crouched on the hill behind them before he set out, certain now he was headed in the right direction. Rose leaned forward, her mouth almost directly against his ear to be heard above the whip and whistle of the wind. "Where are we going?"
"You'll see," he shouted back.
"I don't want to see."
"Close your eyes, then."
She poked him in the ribs, impressively managing to make it just hard enough to proper hurt without jolting him into an unwanted maneuver. "Jimmy!"
"I'm not telling," he insisted archly. "Bloke's got to have some surprises and all that."
"I think I hate you sometimes."
The pout was so clear in her voice that he could almost see it, and he tried hard to keep his reply irreproachably innocent. "Tell me that when you're not rubbing your tits on my back."
"I'm not rubbing my – I'm trying not to fall!"
"That's what they all say."
"Oh, because you've got so many."
"Sexy face like mine, I can't jinx 'em off."
Whatever her reply would have been, it was abandoned as he crested the edge of the hidden vale, the last copse of trees opening before them to reveal their destination. Corbenic Hall was not properly so grand as its name might suggest, little more really than a two-story cottage, but it had been built as a retreat for dignitaries visiting Hogwarts who might not wish to stay either in the bustling castle or one of the simpler Hogsmeade village inns, and no comfort had been missed. The gardens were beautifully maintained, charmed to be in full bloom even now, and a thin plume of smoke curled softly from the chimney.
He knew the favor – oh, hell, favors, definitely very plural – he'd called in should have been more than enough, but that didn't stop the sudden tightness from seizing Jimmy's throat as he tipped the broom into a gentle glide towards the upstairs balcony. What if old families just didn't have the pull they once did? What if keeping one's mouth shut wasn't that big a deal when you'd already….
Nevermind. None of the panicked fears mattered at all, because the balcony doors opened at their approach as if to beckon long-lost family, and he brought the broom inside and touched down so lightly that he hoped it would seem as if it could be no other way. Already, he could feel Rose turning behind him to take it all in. The wallpaper seemed made from cloth rather than paper, a sort of cream colored brocade with thin blue stripes, the bed seemed wide enough for a giant, heaped with dozens of soft pillows, and everything was as put together as a magazine, the styles nothing he could identify but the effect unquestionably both tasteful and very, very expensive.
Rose's voice was so quiet she seemed afraid to startle herself out of the dream. "How did you afford –"
Quickly, he slipped himself free of his portion of the scarf-harness, dismounting with a wide, sweeping bow that grandly displayed the room. "M'Lady's castle."
"Yeah, but how in Merlin's name –"
He stopped her with a single finger over her lips and a quick shake of the head as he detached her from the broom. "Don't ask."
She seemed about to argue, then to his relief, she shrugged. "I don't think I want to. When the DMLE gets here, I don't know anything, and I swear on my wand you kidnapped me."
"Yeah, of course," Jimmy agreed solemnly, helping her get settled on her crutches again and taking the broom to lean it against the rack in the corner. "Kicking and screaming."
A sharp hiss of pain snapped his attention back around, but she was already waving him off, her chin set determinedly as she swung her way easily over to the huge bed and climbed up, leaving the crutches to clatter carelessly to the floor behind her. Jimmy hesitated, not wanting to seem like he didn't trust her, but there was genuine gratitude in her eyes when she looked up and saw his concern. "I'm okay. It's…I just…nevermind." Her face screwed up again as she reached down, but as she raised her skirt, he saw that it was nothing more than a twisted strap that was digging into the tender skin behind her knee, and the look of relief that replaced the discomfort as she fixed it was almost too close to the erotic.
If that had been an unexpected temptation, however, it was nothing compared to the long, luxuriant moan of open bliss she gave as she threw herself backwards into the deep feather mattress with its mounds of pillows. "It's lovely! And so is this," she raised her hand playfully, displaying the bracelet as primly as a fashion model from her incongruously decadent sprawl. "Even if I'm quite sure it's hotter than fiendfyre."
Jimmy considered several ways he could answer that, then decided that he had already wasted too much valuable Rose-snogging time with thinking. Nodding proudly, he took a running start across the room, pushing himself up over the foot of the bed and flopping down full-length beside her, arms open so that she would roll right into them as his weight shifted the mattress beneath. "Happy Valentine's Day."
This was, he decided, a very good call. The half hour in the alley, the freezing flight, it was all worth it to be here now, alone and together and free for at least the rest of the afternoon and evening. Which was certainly more than enough to make up for at least a little of the lost time since the last Hogsmeade weekend. Rose obviously agreed, easily allowing herself to be pulled on top of him as the kissing grew more passionate, the bulky leather robe discarded almost immediately and her blouse not far behind. There was a momentary tangle as she tried to pull his tshirt over his head, the ragged fabric catching in an earring, but they were seasoned soldiers, long adept to changing tactics when needed.
It wasn't their first time, not by a ways, nor their most creative, but there was something unexpectedly wonderful in the creativity not being needed this time. He'd always thought the thrill of almost being caught any minute was half the fun, but this was even better, just having the time to take with each other, to explore and experiment in ways they hadn't been able to before. They used that time to the fullest advantage, Rose in particular seeming to get an almost evil enjoyment out of prolonging the snogging until he was right at the edge of pleading before the last of the clothes finally joined the heap at the bottom of the bed.
He would have sworn they were at it for days, but incredibly, it still seemed to be light outside when they were finally together, sweat-soaked and gasping in the midst of the messy wreckage of the magazine-perfect bed, her body draped loosely over his chest, one of the funny little pillows wedged oddly under his hip in a way he'd usually dig out if he even remotely gave a shit about such things right now. Which he definitely didn't.
These were the moments. The ones that made it all worth it. All the dealing and running and fear and fighting and nightmares and allof it that would never be okay for real time was okay for certain kinds of moments. The weightlessness at the top of an Immleman or the bottom of a Wronski Feint. The pop and rush of the plunger driving down on something good. Pulling off an escape from someone who should have killed you so easy and who you shouldn't have picked a fight with in the first place. What he'd been doing five minutes ago. What he was doing now.
He was just considering giving in to the comfortable urge to drift off to sleep when she shifted, mumbling something unintelligible at first, then again, clearer. "I got something for you too, you know."
Jimmy was going to protest that she had definitely already given him a very awesome present, but it was too late. Squirming free for a moment, she reached down to her discarded clothing and fished in her pocket, pulling out a small crumpled wad of something and pressing it into his hand.
Jimmy took it, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice as he looked at what seemed to be nothing more than a time, date, and a word that looked like it might be the name Albert if the handwriting weren't so smudged. "Random scrap parchment! I'm touched!" He clutched it melodramatically to his chest. "I'll keep and treasure it –"
"Oh, quit it!" she huffed, swatting him not quite gently on the side of the head. "It's an appointment at the Nimbus factory. For a job."
He blinked, twice, trying to register the word with the apparent seriousness of how she had said it. "They'll never –"
"The manager is a friend of my father," she insisted. "I've already talked to him. He's ready to look the other way on your background, you know, give you a chance."
"You're mental." He shook his head, wadding the parchment up again and tossing it off the edge of the bed. "Do I seem like the factory type?"
"I don't know, I thought you seemed like someone who would understand what trapped feels like, but maybe you've forgotten what it's like for those of us who can't hex it all off and fly away any time we get sick of it." The vehemence of her words took him aback, and he stopped halfway to taking her in his arms again, surprising himself with the open venom of his own reply.
"So you want to remind me by chaining me to some fucking factory bench?"
His response didn't seem to either surprise or deter her, and she pushed on, her tone kind but completely unyielding. "I've already put in for my MAGIs, and if you had a job, we could get a flat together. Nothing fancy, but Jimmy, we could…" Now her voice did waver, and she dropped her eyes, her fingers twisting nervously in the bedspread. "We could, you know, both get out finally. Of our parents houses. I mean, without you running off again."
Something stopped him on the edge of another caustic rejoinder as the real meaning of what she was saying sunk in, and when he reached out again, there was only comfort in the way he curled against her, nuzzling his face into her hair. "You didn't tell me it was that bad at home."
"It's not bad, not really." She let out a long, slow breath, her hands no longer twisting the rich fabric, just lying limp and almost exhausted. "It's just…kinda…."
"Not bad before," he asked quietly, "or not bad That Year?"
"Not bad like they don't mean anything by it, but it's just…it's just that ever since I got out of the chair, you'd think I was made of spun glass." Her words were barely audible at first, but they quickly gained in both volume and intensity, rising to a rapid snap that was nearly a hex. "They're all 'Rose, watch out' and 'Rose, let me get that' and 'Rose, be careful' and putting stupid fucking pads everywhere in case Merlin forbid I fall and I can't even get a fucking glass of water without them spotting me and trying to pretend like they're not."
Jimmy felt himself tense at her tirade, his mouth pressed together so tightly that the piercing dug into his upper lip. The very idea that anyone would treat Rose like she was some kind of invalid just because she'd taken a few hits! Where did they think she'd gotten those injuries in the first place, a tea party? "Bullshit," he snapped. "You're fucking DA."
"You know what that means. It's just, the thing is, it's that Mummy and Daddy don't. And I…" She sighed, her face unreadable. "I don't think they want to."
"Of course they don't want to." Whether or not she was just realizing it, the idea that other people didn't get it was no revelation to him, and the bitterness broke each syllable apart with hard, jagged edges. "Shit! They believe you're tough as dragonhide, next thing they know, oh no, they'd have to believe you're shagging some no good punk."
"I'm seventeen." There was something in the way she said it that wasn't at all what he'd expected, neither argument or agreement, more like someone who couldn't quite swim stepping out onto a newly frozen lake. "I could just go." Pushing herself up onto her elbows, she turned to face him again, her eyes gleaming with an uncertain fire. "If, that is, if you had a job that could pay the rent, they wouldn't have a choice."
Jimmy pulled back, biting down on the burst of anger that she'd come back to this again. "I can't. I –"
"You're DA. The hell you can't." The anger was hers now, a flush rising high on her cheeks . "Youdon't want to. You'd just rather breeze fucking in and out of my life halfway hexed and think you can have me any time you want to flash that stupid smile and some of your stolen jewelry."
"Yeah, well," he fired back, "it's worked so far!"
"I can't keep doing this." As if to punctuate her declaration, she pulled away from him completely now, sitting up and swiveling her legs off the bed, her back to him but her head still high despite the slight tremble that had crept in around the edge of her voice. "I can't keep worrying about you all the time."
"You don't have to worry." He forced himself to swallow down the defensiveness, sitting up and reaching out to put one hand on the back of her shoulder. "Besides, no one knows you like I do. Fuck it, Rose, who else –"
His gesture was pushed aside with a harsh shrug as she twisted to look at him again, her pretty face still dark with anger. "Are you saying you're all I can get? That I don't deserve better?"
He didn't know what to say to that, but what came out was not what he had expected to hear in the burst of frustrated, defensive temper that he only knew as hurling things to regret later. "I love you!"
In the three years they had been together off and on, he hadn't actually said it before, and he froze, not quite able to believe he finally had, but knowing even less how to handle that it hadn't seemed to make any difference at all. Rose's body was still held as stiffly, the fury still unrelentingly icy in her voice. "Then you can fucking show it for once."
"I – " Jimmy floundered desperately, trying to figure out how this had all gone so wrong. She knew what he was. Fuck, that was the point, wasn't it? He was her chance to play with fire when the world wanted her padded and protected while she was the only connection to a better place who still understood what hell drove his need to dance in the flames. How could she suddenly be mad at him for not being something he'd never pretended to be? "That's not - I show it all the time!"
"On your terms." She shook the bracelet at him, and this time there was no tease in the accusation. "Loving someone means you showing it on theirs sometimes."
"A fucking factory." He felt stupid having this fight naked, and he snatched up his shorts from where they had wound up on the footboard, yanking them on with a disgusted snort in her general direction as he began the hunt for his jeans.
"A broom factory." She said it as if it made a difference. "A racing broom factory."
"Ohh hurrah. I can't wait." Jimmy put his foot through the knee of the jeans the first time, but it didn't matter. They were torn anyway, and it only made him swear again as he had to sort the tangled mess. "Where'd I put my robe?" He scoured the floor, then the bed itself, flinging the coverlet aside to search the knot of sheets beneath, then under the bed, then the other furniture until, at last, he spotted the familiar black leather.
In her hands. Fuck.
They froze, staring at each other over the unexpected no man's land. She didn't seem to be attacking any more, but nor was she going to back down, and damned if he would either. It wasn't like hehad a curfew.
"It wouldn't be…" Rose stopped, closing her eyes, and when she opened them again, whatever it was that was in them was more complicated than anything he ever wanted to think about. "You know it wouldn't be that bad."
Except it would. She knew it and he knew it. She wasn't asking him to take a fucking job, she was asking him to change everything, to do things that…to stop doing things that…"You're off your wand."
"Yeah, so what? So are you." He couldn't tell if it was a tease or not. It looked like she couldn't either.
"There'd be…problems." They'd never talked about it directly, the questions about 'clean' were as close as it ever came, but he meant to reach for the robes with his arm turned up like that. He meant her eyes to follow the marks. And they both knew, like they'd always known, and fuck it all to shit, why did it have to be this hard when it was this easy to not have to say anything with her because they didknow. Both of them. About everything. Even the things they didn't want to know they knew.
For some reason, he thought she'd get angry again, having it shoved in her face like that. Or look away. Or something. Just about the last thing he had expected was for her to take his arm, each fingertip taking its own livid point of confession and dare. For it to freeze him as surely as a Body Bind. For her eyes to raise to his without anger at all. With what he would swear before Merlin himself was fear. That wasn't quite of him. "Get me out of my cage, I'll get you out of yours." She swallowed so hard he could see it ripple her throat, and he wished she would blink, because he couldn't look away and she didn't let go. "DA take care of each other. DA do not feel pain."
He finished it, of course. He couldn't not. But this time, he wasn't so sure he knew what it meant even as he said it for what must have been the thousandth time. "DA do whatever it takes."