The Cherry Tree
The first thing you ought to know if you're going to pick cherries is what the Perfect Cherry looks like. The Perfect Cherry is big and bursting, and if you squeeze it just a little your hands will be stained with bright red juice; it is black – not red, not purple, but dark, dark black; and don't waste your time with other colored cherries, because believe me, they are either too sweet or too bitter. The Perfect Cherry is like an explosion in your mouth, part sweet, part bitter and part something in between that you can't understand unless you've tasted that exact kind of cherry. Most of these black cherries are found somewhere in the middle of the cherry tree, because people pick the cherries on the lower branches of the tree and the birds start their cherry feast at the top of the tree.
I don't have my own cherry tree, so I use the one next door. I don't feel like a thief climbing over the fence that separates our house from the Malfoy house, and walking over to the tree with my basket under my arm and picking the best cherries before sneaking off again. I don't feel like a thief, because the Malfoys don't use the cherry tree themselves; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't know that they have a cherry tree at all, seeing as the grounds are enormous and practically littered with trees – besides, dad says that the Malfoys are Very Rich and Very Arrogant, so I don't think that they know just how many trees they have, let alone cherry trees, but that's a whole other story.
Sometimes when I'm stealing cherries I wonder about the occupants of the Malfoy house. I know that there are three and doubtlessly also several house elves, because I have the feeling that the Malfoys are the type of people who like feeling superior. I've seen Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy a few times by the Hogwarts Express – they usually keep away from the crowd and only speak to Scorpius, their son. Once I caught Mr. Malfoy's eye and he gave me the most piercing stare, like he could see right through my skin and into my brain and read my thoughts, and I felt my blood chill and my bones freeze, because I suddenly had the feeling that I had done something very wrong. But he looked away again almost immediately, so I don't think that he had the opportunity to do a lot of Thought Reading.
I know about Scorpius, of course, but that doesn't keep me from wondering. I know that he is a Slytherin and I know that he likes Quidditch, obviously, because he's a Seeker. I know he doesn't like books much, because in every class that I have with him I hear him complaining about the Unfair, Unrealistic, Undoable amount of homework that we've been given. But other than that I know nothing, so sometimes when I'm picking cherries and I have no thoughts left to occupy my head I am left wondering about him, just wondering…
July is cherry season, so every afternoon in July I sneak into the Malfoy grounds with my basket and pick out the best, black cherries and then steal away again. I am reaching for a particularly perfect cherry, thinking about how summer is freckles, sunburns, cherries and just a little bit dreamlike, when my train of thought is interrupted by someone furiously saying What Are You Doing Here?
I turn around and there is Scorpius Malfoy himself with a broomstick in hand, looking quite windswept and an expression of the uttermost shock mixed with revulsion, but I like to think that it's mostly shock.
I freeze, my hand around a particularly nice bunch of cherries, trying to think up something clever that might get me out of this situation, but I can't, so I am thinking Say Something Quick, but then suddenly my hand squeezes the cherries and I am sprayed with cherry juice.
"Picking cherries," I finally say, trying to hide my now red hand behind my back.
Scorpius has his brow furrowed as though he is dealing with someone very slow.
"But – but those are our cherries!" he splutters, gesturing around wildly. "You're stealing our cherries! Can't your parents feed you? Are you left with no choice but to steal food?"
I frown and think that I am actually doing the poor cherry tree a favor, because if I didn't steal these cherries then no one would eat them at all, and there isn't a worse feeling in the world than the feeling that someone doesn't like your work.
"Well, seeing as no one else has ever picked any of these cherries, I don't really consider it stealing," I tell him.
Scorpius is now nearly seething, his fists are clenched and his eyes narrowed in a way that I have never seen him do before. In general, I have never seen him show such a display of emotion before, only at Quidditch matches, because usually Scorpius doesn't make himself heard. Dad says that it's because Scorpius' family has a Very Bad History, and that Scorpius is probably Ashamed Of His Past, so he probably keeps his head down on purpose. Dad actually often warns me not to get too close to Scorpius because of his family's Very Dark Past. I used to take this with a grain of salt; Dad is always overreacting about Dark Wizards and so on, but seeing Scorpius like this, I wouldn't be surprised if he cursed me off to the moon any time soon.
"But they're mine," he cries.
And I'm thinking that that's a very childish thing to say, especially because he is sixteen and about to start sixth year, so he really ought to be just a bit more mature. But then again what do I know? I'm sixteen as well and due to many years of reading and keeping mostly to my one best friend Albus I have somehow managed never to be part of a giggling group of girls and perhaps more importantly I have managed to never fall in love. I always hear about the thrill of First Love and First Kisses and so on, but I've never actually tried it myself, so half the time I think that it's completely overrated and overdone, but the other half of the time I feel such a desperate longing for someone outside my family to love me – really love me. Sometimes I feel like my youth is slipping away just like my childhood and there is a constant fear that maybe I am not experiencing everything that I can; maybe I am not living life to its fullest. Then I remind myself that everything happens to different people at different times.
All this is rushing through my head as I look at the blonde across from me.
"So try and stop me," I finally tell him for lack of something better, and march back to the fence, climb over it and go home, his tanned face still pictured in my mind; his words echoing in my skull, and I feel as though perhaps I'm grasping at something that isn't even there.
The second time I see Rose Weasley stealing my family's cherries I am better prepared. I swoop down, landing my broomstick roughly on the ground and put on my best scowl.
Somehow, this stealing business with Rose Weasley has been annoying me much more than it usually would have. Honestly, who cares about the cherries? She could have the whole tree for all I care. What I really need is someone to yell at. Someone that I can yell and scream and rant at and watch her expressions as she reacts to my words. Someone who listens.
I don't really want to rant about the cherries, I would rather rant about something else, like my parents arguing every minute of every day, my best friend being too preoccupied with his new girlfriend to give me much thought and of course just the frustration at being here when I really want to be just anywhere else.
"Stealing cherries again, are you?" I sneer at her.
She looks at me, a bit surprised. Then she scowls as well.
"Going to stop me, Scorpius?" she asks.
I look at Rose Weasley very carefully. She has somehow become even more freckly than usual over the summer and her copper hair is shining in the sun, something about the way that the sunlight hits her hair makes it seem like she's wearing a halo; her lips are smudged with red, and I'm guessing it's from the cherries. Rose starts saying something about how none of the Malfoys ever touch the tree anyway, and that it's a shame to just Leave The Cherries To Rot, but I am concentrating more on how the sun has somehow made her glow, and I am feeling this odd, foreign sensation in my stomach, like I am about to be sick, but then again not, and I somehow feel my heart beating faster and then slower, and then time is suddenly slowing down until – Well, Do You?
"Uh – what?"
I am snapping back to reality.
She sighs and frowns again. "Do you ever eat the cherries from this tree?" she asks again, slower.
"No," I say dully. "I've never had a cherry from the tree."
Her eyes widen a bit. "Really? Well, we can't have that. Take a cherry."
I stare at her, bewildered.
"Take. A. Cherry," she repeats.
I walk slowly to the tree and take any random cherry, feeling very uncomfortable as I do so.
"No, no, no, no!" she cries and shakes her glorious head violently. "You can't eat that!"
"Why not?" I ask, irritated. Honestly, first she steals my cherries and then she tells me what I can and can't eat? It is my cherry tree, after all!
"Because it's not ripe yet," she explains. "Look, its bright red. No, the black cherries are the best."
I snatch a fat black cherry from the tree and stuff it in my mouth, glaring at her all the while. Rose, however, seems to have forgotten that we are angry with each other and is watching me eagerly.
"Well?" she finally asks.
I am sure that I have tasted a cherry before, but it has never been quite like this. I don't know if it's the sweet scent of cherries wafting over from the tree and Rose, or if it's the bright, late afternoon sun making everything draped in gold, or if it really is the cherry itself – a perfect blend between sweet and bitter - that makes this cherry unlike any other.
There's no point in lying.
"It's perfect," I say softly.
Rose suddenly has a very smug look about her that I recognize from school that clearly says Was I Right Or Was I Right?
"Well, obviously," she says, rolling her eyes. "You have a magnificent cherry tree."
I only nod dumbly, not quite sure how to respond to this.
"You'll want the ones over here, they're just beginning to ripen," Rose tells me. "You have an advantage, you're taller than me – you can reach those that I can't reach, the really good ones – not even the birds have touched those yet…"
Catching on to her pointed look I stand on my toes and grasp a whole bunch of fat black cherries and pluck them from the branch and hand them to her. Suddenly the two of us are bustling around, taking down all the really good cherries and throwing them into a pile on the ground. I have never felt less dignified, with red juice somehow all over my hands and droplets on my face; reaching for something always just out of reach, often toppling over backwards, trying to grasp the cherries…
We sit on the ground across from each other, a mountain of cherries between us. Ten minutes ago I had never tasted a cherry from this tree before, now I must have tasted at least fifty.
"You must be very angry," Rose muses.
"Why?" I say through a mouthful of cherries.
"Because you're always so quiet in school and then suddenly you were yelling at me," she explains, her brown eyes as wide and innocent as ever. "It's like you have a lot of pent up frustration."
"So what if I do?" I ask, my mind lingering back to the house behind me. Somehow, I feel that most of my frustration stems from there.
"It's not healthy," she says.
We sit in silence for a long time. She clearly expects me to tell her why I am so angry and frustrated but I don't. I can't help but feel that although she may have made me soften towards her and eat cherries from the tree for the first time, I can't confide in her yet. The knot in my chest that has been unbearably tight these past few weeks of summer has loosened just a bit in the time spent with Rose, but I still don't say anything for reasons that I'll maybe never understand. Yet perhaps I owe her something for brightening my day sufficiently. Perhaps I owe her something for making me smile.
"The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Ravenclaw," I blurt out.
Rose lifts her gaze to me, but her expression remains blank and I don't know what to make of it, so I decide to keep talking, to fill the silence.
"The Sorting Hat told me that Ravenclaw was the perfect House for me," I continue, not even knowing why I'm telling her this. "But I sat there and chanted 'Slytherin, Slytherin, Slytherin,' so I ended up there. I was so afraid that my family would be angry if I wasn't a Slytherin."
Rose's face is still blank, and I feel my heart starting to pound very loudly in my ears. The pounding is filling my ears and the only other sounds are the voices inside my head whispering What Are You Doing?
"The Hat almost put me in Ravenclaw, too," Rose finally says, her face breaking into a smile. "But I was chanting 'Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor.' I would have been the first Weasley not to be in Gryffindor. I was afraid too."
For a moment we just look at each other as it dawns on us how alike we really are, despite our families. It's very quiet. Too quiet.
"Well, I'll see you," Rose says suddenly, jumping to her feet.
"Right," I mutter.
Rose turns around and almost runs to the fence and home. She doesn't look back and I am left with a feeling that I don't quite like and that I don't quite understand – a kind of emptiness, because suddenly I'm alone again.
It is four days later and I am right back again, and Scorpius has a red rim around his mouth from all the cherries that we have devoured together. We are leaning up against the tree, chewing in silence.
"Why are you so frustrated?" I ask him.
"I am not," he concurs.
"You are," I say. "You are because you're always flying around, really aggressively, and the first time you saw me here, you yelled at me."
"Because you were stealing," Scorpius says, with a look on his face that clearly says Honestly Rose Get A Grip.
"But you're not usually like that in school," I say, trying to somehow prove my point.
Scorpius seems to give up trying to defend himself and sighs in a way that says that he is going to give in and tell me, but also says that he is annoyed with me for pressing it out of him.
"My parents keep arguing," he finally says. "All the time. A lot about me."
"My parents never agree on anything," I tell him.
"It's not like that. They throw things at each other. I think they hate each other. Maybe it's because of me, just a little bit."
I don't know what to say to this, so I lean my head against his shoulder, as though trying to comfort him by my presence.
"Why are you so curious about everything?" he asks me.
I shrug. "Born that way, I guess."
We sit in silence for a little while longer and although Scorpius' shoulder is kind of hard to lean up against, I don't move my head away, because I like the fact that we are somehow connected, and I can't help but think that right at this moment we kind of seem like friends, even though I know that this would never be able to happen. And I am thinking that I wouldn't mind sitting like this the rest of the day.
Eventually I don't even know if I show up at the cherry tree to see Scorpius, or if he turns up to see me. In some way the cherry tree has become our Meeting Place, someplace special – if only for the two of us. But really, I can't help but think, a place needs only to mean something to one person, before it becomes Really Special. I wonder if the cherry tree's special aura shines out to everyone else.
I have been to the cherry tree and seen Scorpius so many times that I have lost count by now, and yet every single time is special. I hate to say it, but whenever I go to the cherry tree and there is no Scorpius I feel let down, disappointed and sad. As though he somehow doesn't like me anymore and has other people that he would rather want to spend time with. Other Rich And Important People.
But today, when I go to the cherry tree, Scorpius is there, sitting under it, and licking cherry juice off his long fingers. I stop for a moment and just watch him, thinking about how his blonde hair – white, now, bleached by the sun to look like swan feathers – falls into his grey eyes, the eyes that at first reminded me of steel, but now look softer, though not warm, and how his long body leans against the tree, his legs stretching out beneath him. He likes to talk about how the tree is His, and how he Owns it, and all that, but somehow, I think that it's more the tree that owns him.
It annoys me that he doesn't look bothered in the least by my not having shown up yet. I wonder if I should just turn back and go home so that he could see How It Feels, but then I remind myself that that is childish, and I am sixteen, actually, and that I should approach him like adults approach one another. So I take a deep breath and say Hello Scorpius, and light up just a little when he turns to me and smiles.
"Hello," he says and pats the ground next to him, clearly telling me that I am to sit there.
I take a seat and smile at him. I suddenly remember that I have forgotten the basket for the cherries at home, which means officially that I have lost my alibi for being here, and that I might as well Be On A Date when I'm just here to see him. That makes my cheeks redden, but I doubt that he can see it under my tan skin and freckles. We sit in silence for too long and then I feel have to say Something.
"What's it going to be like when we go back to school?" I ask him, and then regret that I did.
"Like school?" Scorpius says, frowning at me a little.
"No," I say, wishing more and more by the moment that I could have kept my Big Mouth shut, "I mean for the two of us. Like our… friendship or whatever."
"I don't know," Scorpius says, and although I do wish that he would have said something more positive, I decide that at least he was honest. "I like you, Rose, but… I don't know."
"But we're not that different," I tell him.
Scorpius shakes his head. "I know. But sometimes I feel like we're from two different worlds."
I know how he feels. Sometimes I feel like the Malfoys live in a completely different country than the Weasleys. Sometimes, I feel like the cherry tree is the kind of border between our two worlds; neither of us dares to cross it.
"I'll miss you, though," Scorpius muses. "I am starting to get used to you, after all."
I almost feel touched, but at the same time I tell myself that It'll All Be Over Eventually. He can't really like me – not in the way that I want him to. Nothing would ever work out properly, seeing as his family is full of Dark Wizards and my family is full of Good Wizards, and there is some kind of Feud between them that isn't official, but we all know that they don't like each other.
I decide that I'll enjoy the time that's left, before everything has to change.
And then there is the kiss underneath the cherry tree. I wasn't expecting it – and I don't think that she was either, but I don't know enough about girls to be able to tell when they are Secretly Planning something and when accidentally, something Just Happens.
All that I know is that one second, I was saying I Wish The Summer Was Longer, and then she was saying I Wish School Never Started again, and then I said, You Love School. She opened her mouth to say something then, but blushed, closed it, and kept silent, looking at me instead.
And then we were leaning closer to each other, and I sort of knew what was coming, yet I sort of didn't want to be too hopeful, but at the same time I couldn't imagine anything else happening.
We were kissing; our lips touching softly, her scent filling my nose – soap, cherries, and something like chocolate – and my heart beating so fast that it might just beat straight out of my chest. I was half enjoying it and half thinking that this was my Real First Kiss and actually A Huge Moment. And all along I was thinking how if there is a Perfect Cherry there is also a Perfect Kiss and that this was it.
And then Rose broke away, looked at me and ran back home, her basket of cherries forgotten behind her.
I haven't seen her since, and the more I remember and reminiscence about the kiss, the more I wish that I could have more of them. I sit by the cherry tree every day with her basket, thinking that at some point she will have to come back and get it.
I now know that the only way not to end up Getting My Heart Broken is to stay at home and not go picking cherries again. My mom keeps asking Don't You Like Cherries Anymore and I Bet You Ate So Many That You Feel Sick At The Thought Of Them Now. I decide to nod at everything she says, because I can't tell her the real reason that I'm not going back is because I know that Scorpius won't be there and that will make me sad.
I know that he won't be there, because he likes talking about how we cannot even talk to each other once we go back to school, because, after all, we are So So Different and In Different Houses and Have Different Friends, oh, and by the way Our Families Hate Each Other.
I can't go back – I can't go and see the cherry tree and remember what was and remember the fact that I was so stupid that I thought that we were supposed to be together, that we could be together and that all along he knew better, and I knew better, but we both kissed anyway.
As I lie on my bed, staring at the ceiling and contemplating all of this, and thinking about how it is now exactly a week ago we were kissing under the tree – and how in twenty – two minutes, it will even be the exact time of the kiss – my mum calls up to me.
"Rose!" she calls. "There is… someone here to see you."
I know by the way that she says it that it was someone unexpected and the wild thought strikes me that maybe I've been expelled from Hogwarts.
When I walk down the stairs, however, it is not Professor McGonagall come to kick me out. It is Scorpius, and he is holding a basket. My basket, actually.
My mother is pretending not to be there by focusing on the stove, but I can tell that she is listening.
"You…" Scorpius starts, glancing nervously at my mother and at me. "You forgot this." He holds up the basket as though to clarify what he is talking about.
"Right," I say, feeling awkward and stupid and wildly out of place. "Thank you."
I don't move to take it, though. I don't want to take it right now – that would be like asking Scorpius to leave immediately.
My mother seems to sense my awkwardness and says, "Scorpius, would you like to stay for dinner? We'll be eating in about an hour."
I'm almost hoping that he will refuse so that we won't have to sit in an awkward silence, but at the same time I'm thinking that if he decides to not stay then we might never talk to each other again.
"I don't know," says Scorpius, searching my face. I try to look positive and give him an Encouraging Smile. "I guess so. That would be nice, thank you."
My mother smiles at his manners and continues to bustle about the kitchen. I decide to take the next step. I ask him Would You Like To See My Room and he says Yes and we go upstairs. In my room I sit on my bed, watching him walk around and inspect everything. I suddenly feel self-conscious about the pictures of my friends on my bedside table, the stupid romance novels on my shelf and the way that a couple of my socks are laying on the floor. I decide to let him look in silence, before he turns around and grins at me. He holds out the basket.
"Here," he says. "It's what I came to give you, after all."
"Thanks," I say, and when I take the basket I notice that in it are a handful of Perfect Cherries – big, black and round, close to bursting with juice.
"You picked cherries," I say, and Scorpius nods.
"I thought that you deserved them," he says, and then, after some hesitation, he says, "and I needed a reason to come to see you."
"Why would you want to see me?" I ask.
Scorpius sits down on the bed next to me. I think vaguely that a bedspread with hearts on it isn't that Grown Up And Mature; mostly, however, I am thinking of how many different reasons there might be for Scorpius' visit, and how much I am hoping for the best reason to be true.
"Because you haven't been to see me," he says. "And I wondered why."
"Because," I say, "Because we kissed."
"And?" Scorpius says, arching his eyebrows. "I thought that that was a good thing."
I shrug and look the other way, feeling a little red in the face. "I don't know," I say. "I just thought that if we… did it again, I would fall in love and all, and then when we went back to Hogwarts you would ignore me again and then… then I would be quite sad."
To my surprise, Scorpius laughs. I feel a little offended that he's laughing at me, and a little scared, but just a little relieved that he isn't agreeing with me right away.
"I'm not going to ignore you," he tells me. "I know I said a bunch of stuff, but that's all stupid, and I've changed my mind about everything, and I know better about everything now. I want you to fall in love with me, Rose."
I let his words wash over me. I barely even process them before I am leaning over and kissing him again, and this time we are a little less careful and a little more certain. And I am thinking that if this is what I will be doing all next year then I actually don't mind at all, and Scorpius is beautiful and a little wild, to me, at least, but he doesn't take any of my clothes off, which, when I think about it, I don't think I'm quite ready for yet.
And then my mother is calling us down to dinner, and Scorpius and I are laughing about some joke, and I'm wondering how my father will handle having a Malfoy over for dinner, and then we leave my room and I'm thinking that Scorpius must be the boy – version of a Perfect Cherry.