A/N: So, my 50th fic. I'm actually quite proud over myself. But also a bit nervous, as this fic has sort of become my baby… Anyway, I hope you'll all like it, and be surprised over how long it is—I've never written this long before!
This is my x-mas present for mew (mew-tsubaki), who I think will like the pairings seen in this. Also, mew, you are the best friend I could ask for, so I really, really hope you'll like this, and have a wonderful Christmas!
And many, many thanks to J (jojor99) for the wonderful beta-job.
Finding Warmth in the Cold
Rose was cold. Only cold. She didn't feel anything but coldness as she lay on her bed and stared up at the ceiling. It had all come crashing down on her a few hours ago, like icicles that made her both freeze and hurt because they were as sharp as razors.
Scorpius had broken up with her. He had left her. He had told her he didn't want her, that he couldn't stand her anymore. And then, when he had walked away from the table where Rose was sitting, she saw him approach Albus, and give him a grin.
And Albus had answered it, too absorbed by Scorpius to see how the peck he gave him on the cheek made Rose cringe and leave Lucy's apartment where the dinner had been hold.
It felt rather awful, knowing that it was her who had made Scorpius gay.
She clutched the quilt around her shoulders tighter, and tried to fall asleep. But whenever she closed her eyes, a pair of grey eyes appeared, without the glint that she loved more than anything, only cold and dead and hateful.
She shivered for hours, twisting and stirring. The only thing that made her happy was that she didn't cry, not even once.
The morning came, and Rose went downstairs to get herself some breakfast. She wasn't cold anymore, and she thought she would be able to speak again.
She hadn't said a word, yesterday, when she stumbled through the door to her parents' house, instead of her own apartment. She hadn't wanted to go there and be alone, so she had returned home, even though she was twenty one and had lived by herself ever since the moment she finished school.
"Honey, how are you?" Her mother's concerned, a little too high, a little too rushed, voice met her on her first step into the kitchen.
She managed to get a smile out, but didn't have time to say anything as her mother continued.
"I've been so worried; I couldn't sleep at all last night after you knocked at the door, sweetie." Her eyes were big, and she rose from the chair by the table and walked up to her.
"But, Mum, you don't need to—" Rose began as her mother took a pan of scrambled eggs from the stove and began serving them on a plate for her.
"Psssh." She waved her off, and put the plate on the table. "Eat now."
"Mum, come on," Rose groaned. "I don't eat scrambled eggs for breakfast anymore; I did that was when I was twelve."
"Nonsense." Her mum's eyes were big as plates as she pushed her to the chair in front of the eggs and made her sit down. "Eat now, Rosie, and tell me what is the matter."
Rose took some of the eggs and began chewing on them. It actually felt rather nice, like when she was a kid home for the holidays and her biggest problem was homework, and her mum would care for her and speak to her, just to make her happy again.
But she still didn't want to tell her mum about this. How would it sound, really? "Oh, yes Mum, Scorpius ditched me and apparently I was so bad in bed that I made him think every women is like that, too, so now he's screwing Albus' brains out instead of mine. Oh, thanks for cooking for me, by the way."
"I'm just…I'm a bit stressed about work," she said instead. "Oh, and thanks for cooking for me, by the way." What? That part had at least sounded good.
"You are?" Her mum's eyes narrowed dangerously, but Rose wasn't the daughter to the brightest witch of her age for nothing.
She furrowed her brow slightly and tilted her head. "What?"
"Oh, nothing at all." Her mum folded her hands in her lap. "So you're so stressed that you had to come home, and you wouldn't even greet your father who opened the door, but just ran past him up to your old room?"
Rose kept eye contact with her mum. "That's how stressed I am, yes."
They sat like that for a while, looking at each other and both were determined to retain eye contact, when, suddenly, Rose's dad came in.
"Rosie!" he cried and took two quick steps, and then he stopped when he saw how the two women in his life were glaring at each other. "What's going on, honey?" he asked and put a hand on his wife's shoulder.
"Oh, nothing, dear," she answered with a sweet smile, after moving her eyes from Rose and onto him.
"Good," he answered after a few seconds. "Rosie, what's up?" he continued and turned to Rose.
"Stressed about work, Dad," Rose answered and wiped her around her mouth with her hand. There was no napkin, and she wanted to get out of there, away from her mum's inquiry, so her manners were the last thing that she cared about. "I'm going now, though."
Her dad closed his mouth tightly, and the opened it again. "All right, sweetie. Don't take on too much work, okay?"
"I promise, Dad." She gave him a kiss on the cheek, and then turned to her mum, whom she also kissed on her cheek. "Bye."
She opened the door to her apartment, and took a deep breath. Some part of her didn't want to go in there, but she was going to be strong. She hung her coat up, and walked into the kitchen.
One of Scorpius' shirts was hanging on a chair, like a miserable, abandoned piece of clothing that screamed of loneliness.
She lifted it up, numb in brain and fingers. It was Scorpius' shirt. It still smelled of Scorpius. He had been wearing it. His skin had been touching it.
Someone knocked on the door, and Rose didn't know where she was, what had happened, or how much time had passed. But she was lying on her bed, she realized, and Scorpius' shirt was in her grasp, pressed against her chest and her face was buried in it.
"Coming!" she yelled, and realized her voice was broken. She passed the mirror in the bedroom and her eyes were red and swollen, her hair looked like a bush, and her cheeks were red and blotchy. Shit! "Who is it?" she yelled again, as the knocking hadn't stopped while she desperately tried to get some order to her hair. She did not want to meet whoever it was in this state.
"Rose, are you there?" It was a woman's voice, but Rose couldn't quite recognize who it was through the door. "Rose?"
Well, everyone was bound to find out sometime, and better sooner than later, or whatever the saying was. "Yeah," Rose answered and opened the door. Outside stood Astoria, Scorpius' mum, and Rose was almost closing the door again in surprise.
"Oh, Rose," Astoria stepped in without hesitation and put her glove-clad hands on Rose's cheeks. "I'm going to kill my son, I am." She shook her head fervently so that the dark short hair flew around her head, and she looked so composed in her rage that Rose felt even more ashamed of her disordered state.
"Mrs. Malfoy…" Rose began, but was interrupted. Astoria had walked into the kitchen with determined steps and turned around to narrow her eyes at Rose.
"What's with this sudden 'Mrs.'-ing, Rose? You call me Astoria, as always."
"Oh, well," Rose pulled a hand through her hair. She didn't really know why she had called Astoria "Mrs. Malfoy." She never usually did, Astoria was right. "You want a cup of tea, or something, Astoria?"
"No, no, you sit down now, Rose." Astoria swirled around and pursed her lips in a thoughtful little pout. "I'll make the tea. Look at you; you need to be taken care of."
Rose took a seat on the chair that Astoria was so fervently pointing at, and chewed her bottom lip. What was up with everyone all of a sudden taking care of her? Her mum and now Astoria. Okay, it wasn't as though she didn't like it, it made her feel not so lonely, and not so broken when everything was filled with steamy cooking and warm eyes directed at her, but it still was odd. Different.
"There you go," Astoria put a cup in front of her, and Rose sniffed at it, and looked up at Astoria, who had pursed her lips again.
"Er—it's not very hot. And, to be honest, what is that smell?"
Astoria leaned across the table and pulled the cup to her, sniffed at it, as well, and rose, went to the sink and poured it out. Then she returned to the table, with a defiant look in her eyes. "Household spells have always been my weak spot," was all she said, and her eyes seemed to challenge Rose to laugh at her.
"It's okay; I wasn't that thirsty, even." Rose tried to smile at the older woman, but had an inkling that it looked more like a grimace. It made her a bit sad, realizing that just a couple of days ago, she would have laughed her ass off in a situation like this, even though she wasn't that close to Astoria.
Astoria grinned. "Yeah, yeah. Now, let's talk about the important stuff. How do you want me to kill my son?" She put her chin in her hand and gave Rose a teeth flashing predator's smirk. "I thought I should ask you before I am done with it, so that you can have your say in it."
Rose felt something spreading in her guts, something bubbly, something cheery, and it climbed up in her, more and more every second that Astoria's fingers tapped against the table and her eyebrows waggled.
"Come on, do you want me to tear his balls off and leave them to the crows? Or should I rip out his heart and feed it to a shark? Whatever you want, I'll do it."
Rose couldn't hold it in any longer. She now understood it was laughter that had bubbled down there in her stomach, and now it exploded out through her mouth.
When she had calmed herself, as she had laughed hysterically for what had to be more than a minute, Astoria smiled. "That's better. Now I recognize you."
"Thanks," Rose said, wiping a tear off her cheek. Everything now felt much better. She was Rose, and she was strong, and she shouldn't be depressed because of Scorpius, she shouldn't even be thinking of that git.
They sat at the table for a while, chatting about different killing methods, and the light outside became softer and softer. Rose's entire body relaxed unconsciously, and she didn't realize until Astoria rose from her chair, that she was smiling constantly.
"Rose, now I must go. You'll be okay, right?" Astoria walked up to her, and Rose was now standing as well.
"Of course I will. Thanks," Rose answered, suddenly blushing. Astoria gave her a hug, and when they untangled themselves from each other, Rose blushed even harder.
Astoria gave her a quick, little glance, which she didn't know what it meant, and then she hurried out through the door after a final, "Bye, sweetheart."
Rose turned around, and her eyes were glued to the mirror to the left of her. Her eyes were shining, and her cheeks burning. Her hair was still disheveled, but she looked extremely alive. That bubbling feeling in her stomach had returned when Astoria's arms had wrapped around her, and she wasn't certain any longer if it existed because of laughter.
But, what else would it be?
Rose kneeled behind the counter in the shop she worked in. She knew she was covered in dust, because the small cardboard box she just had dropped on the floor, spilling loads and loads of old parchment, had said dust on it before it landed on her.
So, she really didn't want to poke her head up now, and greet the customer who just had arrived in through the door, letting the tiny, shrieking bell go off. She wanted to sit here, until the customer had left again.
Just when she had decided to put on a huge smile and jump up, a head appeared in front of her; a head that belonged to a body who had bent over the counter and spotted her. "Rose! What are you doing down there?"
"Astoria?" Rose stood up so fast she almost got dizzy. "Hey, er…well…I was…I was only picking up some stuff I dropped."
"Ah…" Astoria's eyes, though, didn't meet Rose's but were fastened on her cheeks. She suddenly pulled out a hand and removed something from there. "You had some dust there," she said and waved her hand so that it would disappear from her fingertips.
The place where Astoria's fingers had touched Rose was burning, and she had no idea why. "Oh…thank you."
"No problems." Astoria smiled. "So how are you? It's been a couple of days. Is everything okay?"
Rose swallowed. It had been a couple of days since Astoria had been in her apartment, and to be honest, she had hoped it wouldn't take so long until they would talk again. She had felt better, of course, going to work, but she had missed the bubbly feeling, the happy feeling. Instead there had been nothing but a gnawing hole in her, expanding more and more each day.
"Fine, thanks," she answered quickly and continued, "How are you?"
Astoria raised her eyebrows and put her hands on the counter, tapping with her fingernails and leaning a bit closer to Rose. "I'm fine. But, you don't look fine, Rose, you don't."
"Don't I?" Rose asked as she didn't know what else to say. And Astoria smelled of something that filled her up, something that was so intriguing half her mind was busy figuring out what exactly it was.
"Nope, you don't." Astoria shook her head and her dark short curls bounced vigorously. "So, now you're going to take your lunch break and we'll go to a lovely coffee shop I discovered the other day."
"But, I had planned on skipping it today, I have so much…" Rose began but got interrupted by a loud sigh.
"You have to eat, and you need to take a break, and you need to speak with someone." Astoria's voice showed that there was no space for arguing, so Rose decided to do as she was told, for once. They walked out of the shop together when Rose had hung up the little sign in the door window saying, "Lunch—I'll be back in an hour," and put her scarf and gloves on.
It was cold outside, not snowing, but an icy wind collided with them, and the people that rushed past were all hunched because of the weather. Therefore it was a relief when Astoria opened the door to the coffee shop and the heat met them, like a warm blanket.
They ordered Astoria's coffee with milk and no sugar, Rose's green tea with nothing added, and took a table as far in the room as they could get.
It wasn't overly crowded; in fact it was almost empty except for a man sitting with a newspaper and a large sandwich in the other part of the room, close to the windows, but yet it felt so cozy and comfortable being there.
Or was that just because Rose and Astoria were squeezed together at the seat, neither of them wanting to sit on the rickety chair on the other side of the table, and therefore ended up sitting next to each other?
Anyway, it was indeed making Rose happier, just sitting here in the coffee shop, watching the candles on each table reflect in the windows and give everything a golden glow, than being in her work place and flipping through dusty, grey, parchment day in and day out.
She had no idea for how long they had been there. They had talked and talked and talked, and taken sips of their drinks occasionally, but most of all talked.
It was like two different worlds. One that was old, ancient, almost shadowy, and dark, with frozen movements and slowly dripping time. And one where everything was newborn, where time was skipping forward, and it was light and glimmer and shiny, and everything carefully danced across a polished floor.
But was it really the difference between the coffee shop and the shop she worked in that she was describing right now?
Wasn't it the difference between her life with and without Astoria? The thought hit her like a flood, an ice-cold flood that streamed through her head and made her stop listening to Astoria telling her what Draco had done the other day when he had been attempting to cook dinner. What was going on with her? She couldn't be…no, that couldn't be it. She was not falling in love with Astoria. It was impossible.
She stood up, not knowing what to do or what to say. After a glance at Astoria, and watching her eyebrows rise in confusion, she darted out of the coffee shop like a scared rabbit.
Out in the street that was now dark, she hesitated for a while. She didn't know where to go, because her head was filled of ice cold mist and she wanted to get away as soon as possible. So she just walked.
And walked. The mist was becoming thicker, and soon she couldn't even separate what she was thinking from what she was feeling.
No words would form in her brain.
She was too busy not tripping on the slippery street, anyway, so that actually didn't matter. She was just a normal woman on her way home, and she hadn't just fallen in love with her former boyfriend's mother. Everything was just normal and there wasn't pressure on her chest that made it harder and harder to breathe. Nope. That wasn't it.
Eventually she got home, and she had no idea how but the next morning she found herself in bed, Scorpius' t-shirt snuggled up under her nose, and still all her work clothes on. Absentmindedly, before really waking, she realized the shirt did not smell of Scorpius at all, it smelled of his mum's perfume. She must have been holding it sometime, or hugging him so that it would linger, and it was as if it was….
No. She wasn't thinking those thoughts. No.
So, she got up from bed, like any other sane woman would do, and she changed her clothes, like any average person, and she made her tea, like a normal woman would do, and she brushed her teeth, and everything was as it should be.
But, then, all of a sudden, she sank down against her kitchen cupboard, onto the floor and couldn't stop her hands from shaking. And she couldn't stop the tears from spilling and she couldn't stop herself from hiding her head in her lap. She couldn't stop it, none of it.
She wasn't an average, normal person. She was so screwed up she'd do anything. And, if she was going to be desperate, she might as well do it whole-heartedly.
So she went to her brother's house.
She wouldn't go there willingly; she had said that, for so long. But, now she wasn't the normal Rose, she was the Rose that had gotten all of her walls and usual principles bombarded and taken down. She knocked at the door, and it wasn't until she had lowered her hand she realized she had knocked their secret code they had used when they were kids.
The door flung open and her brother practically flew out, threw his arms around her neck so that she had to take some steps backwards not to fall over. "Rosie!" he yelled in her ear, and he was hugging her so hard that she could hardly breathe.
"Hugo, don't kill her when she's finally come to visit you." Rose looked up from the reddish brown hair that she currently, for some unknown reason, had in her mouth. On the doorstep stood her cousin with his blonde hair wet, probably newly showered, and eyes that was piercing her with sarcasm and fury.
Okay, so maybe she deserved his anger a little bit. Maybe he had the right to be all stuck-up because she had, in fact, ignored her brother for months.
"Oh, sorry," Hugo said awkwardly and let go of Rose. "I'm just so happy to see you, sis!" He smiled widely and turned to Louis with a scowl. "And you can just lay off that attitude, Lou. I am happy to see her, and she's come, and it doesn't matter that you want to go all protective, bad boy at her, because I won't let you." Then he turned back to Rose, and the smile had reappeared on his lips. "Come in, it's ice cold out here, and I'm freezing my feet off."
Rose looked down, and realized her younger brother was barefoot on the icy path that led up to the pair's house. "Hugo, you can't go outside without shoes, are you stupid?"
"No, I'm just excited," Hugo grinned and they walked inside. Louis had stepped a little to the side, and he was still glaring at Rose, who rolled her eyes and walked into the living room. She had been to the house many times, before she and Hugo had fought over…Yeah, what was it now? But maybe it was better to let it be forgotten. But after their fall out she hadn't been to see the two of them once. It made her smirk to see it was still messy everywhere; clothes, books, everything shattered everywhere.
She had walked in to the living room to give the two men some private time, and indeed, Hugo hesitated in the hallway, and a while later she could hear angry whispers. But they disappeared eventually, and Hugo and Louis joined her in the living room.
She had sat down on the sofa, and Hugo joined her there while Louis mumbled something about "…just sit there, yes, I'll go get the tea…" and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Okay, what's going on?" Hugo had watched Louis disappearing, chewing on his lower lip, but now turned to Rose with a concerned look.
Rose took a deep breath. "Lots of things, Hugo, and, and I can't… I don't really know, and it's all… I…" It was odd. Before she had come there, it had felt as though everything would be cleared up as soon as she met her brother, but now, as they faced each other, she realized it was even difficult explaining what she needed help with.
"Take it all from the beginning, will you?" Hugo leaned back in the sofa, and gave her a soft smile.
Rose moved about a little in her seat, and decided to sit on her hands, as they shook so much. "All right. You've heard of Scorpius and me breaking up, right?"
Hugo nodded slowly. "But Mum said you were taking it rather well…" Louis suddenly came out of the kitchen with a tray, fully loaded with cups and plates and cookies.
He placed it on the table and sat down in the armchair. He hadn't once looked up, and now sat stubbornly pouting, with his arms folded. "It smells lovely," Rose said to break the awkward silence that had appeared.
"We just baked," Louis answered shortly.
Hugo rolled his eyes and took one of the cookies. "So, where were we? You and Scorpius broke up…"
"Is it true that he and Albus got together?" Louis asked suddenly, with the air of someone who didn't care whatever answer he got.
Louis laughed, a short, abrupt laugh, but stopped it as soon as he had begun, and sunk back down in his chair.
Hugo, though, acted as he hadn't noticed Louis' little input. "But that isn't what's going on, right, Rosie?"
Rose shook her head. And, when her eyes met Hugo's brown ones, and when she looked into that familiar face, she decided to just spill it. It didn't even matter that Louis was there. "I'm in love with Astoria."
Hugo's eyes widened, and Louis head snapped up. "…Greengrass?" Hugo asked, confusedly, while Louis lit up, no more the pouting, stubborn, juvenile look on his face.
"You're in love with Scorpius' Mum? That's fucking perfect, Rose!" He had the most evil of grins on his lips, and Rose couldn't help beginning to grin, as well. This was the Louis she knew, the one who didn't stop joking, the one who would always look out for those he cared about, and the one who loved getting revenge. "He's going to be soooo pissed when he finds out, it's brilliant!"
Rose got a bone-crashing hug from her cousin, and turned to Hugo. He had a more pondering look on his face, though one that had mischief glimmering in his eyes. "And I thought I was the one being rebellious in our family, being in love with my cousin. Anyway, Rose, does she know?"
And as always, Hugo was the one that could see exactly how she felt, and put the problem in words and did not miss a single detail.
"I don't think so," Rose answered. She didn't actually know if Astoria knew, she realized now. What if Astoria had seen it all the time? What if she was laughing at her stupidity behind her back? "But I don't actually know, what if she does?" she added hastily.
"If she does, that would mean all is fine, Rosie, because otherwise she would have said something, or done something. And I guess she hasn't. And if she doesn't, everything's fine, as well. Then, you'll just have to tell her."
Hugo's eyes were big and sincere, and Louis was still giggling quietly in his armchair, and Rose's mind was spinning. Telling Astoria how she felt? No way, that was impossible. She hadn't come to be told that she should tell Astoria, she had come to be told how she should stop loving her, for Merlin's sake!
"You have to tell her, Rose." Hugo's eyes floated through the air into her mind, effectively interrupting her thoughts. "Really."
"Do I?" Rose suddenly felt like she was the younger sibling and Hugo the older, the wiser, the more experienced, the one with all the knowledge in the world.
Louis suddenly broke in, wiping tears of laughter from his cheeks. "You must, Rosie, otherwise I'll never see Scorpius' face when you tell him that you've gotten it together with his mum."
Hugo smiled, as he watched Louis' eyes glint. "Yeah, yeah. That's one reason for telling, sure. But also, if you love her, she must know that, otherwise you'll never know what else could happen."
Rose swallowed. "But what if…" her voice broke, and she felt so silly, like a little girl speaking of her first crush. "What if she thinks I'm stupid?"
"Then you'll have at least have tried, right?" Hugo smiled.
Louis suddenly got up from his chair and sat himself on Hugo's left knee, giving Rose the most solemn look she had seen today. "Listen to him, Rosie. He knows what he's talking about. If he hadn't dared taking that step himself, the two of us wouldn't have been together."
Rose nodded, and moved her hands from underneath her, for the first time. She knew they wouldn't shake anymore, and for some reason, she felt at peace now. It was as though she had known this all the time, that she wouldn't be able to deny her feelings, and that she would come to the moment where she would have to tell Astoria. She had just needed someone to tell her so.
Rose was woken up the following morning by the sun shining in at her. The light was so strong she first thought she had overslept, but then she realized she had only forgotten pull the curtains when she had arrived last night. She had been so tired after staying at Louis' and Hugo's place all night. They had cooked dinner together after talking all evening, and then they had played cards and had basically acted childishly. It was like the sleepovers they had had when they were young, and it made Rose smile even now.
Then she realized she had forgotten about going back to work yesterday. Completely. And that the sign still hung on the door saying that she was having lunch.
Her boss would kill her.
She jumped out of bed, and found some clothes on the floor which she pulled on, and yet she didn't feel stressed. She had this peaceful little sentence playing over and over in her head: "Today I'm going to tell Astoria I love her." They had planned it all last night, she had even owled her asking if she wanted to grab dinner with her today.
Or, more correctly, Louis had forced her to do it.
Anyway, having this knowledge, that today was the day where everything would change, either for good or for bad, was surprisingly calming. She had thought she would freak out, but she didn't. She was simply content.
The entire day passed in this calm, peaceful, cloud. She didn't really listen to her boss' yelling. Dhe didn't really notice when she dropped her finally finished translated parchment in the mud, going to buy lunch, so that she would have to redo it. She didn't really care when she got ink dots all over her work shirt. All she thought of was tonight.
And tonight came.
At last she stood outside the restaurant where she was going to meet Astoria, and she couldn't help checking her reflection in the window across the street every few seconds. She had applied her makeup carefully before leaving, chosen her outfit and had been very happy with it. Now, though, she regretted it more and more. Why did she pick that colour of the eyeshade? Didn't it make her look like some sort of prostitute…?
She shook her head. Gosh, what was she doing? She was acting like some silly schoolgirl, again, before her first date. She really had to focus now; it wasn't a good idea to act even more childishly when she was about to…er…seduce an older woman…
She took a deep breath, and realized all of a sudden that she was freezing. Her nylon-clad legs felt like they were made of ice. She glanced down at her watch, and, yes, Astoria should be here now.
But she wasn't. Should she perhaps go inside and see if she was waiting there? But, no, that didn't sound like Astoria. They had decided to meet outside, Rose was one hundred percent certain of it.
She was probably just around the corner; Rose decided and hugged herself to keep the cold wind out of her coat.
Ten minutes later, a shiny-eyed Astoria arrived with red cheeks and panting slightly. Her eyes grew wider when she saw Rose. "Sweet Merlin, Rose, what are you doing outside?"
"We said we were going to meet here, didn't we?" Rose managed to get out through her chattering teeth. Astoria grabbed her arm and pulled her inside.
"You could have at least waited in the foyer, Rose. Look at you, your fingers are about to fall off!" Astoria shook her head, but gave Rose a look that made her wonder what she was really thinking. Was she…was she happy that Rose even wanted to freeze her ass off for her? No, Rose decided, that was just wishful thinking.
"It's okay, Astoria," Rose answered as they had hung up their outer clothes and had been shown to a table.
Astoria shook her head again, with her eyes fastened on the menu in front of her. After a while she looked up, and Rose realized she had forgotten to open hers, too absorbed by Astoria's finger that traced down the list. She quickly lifted her own to cover her face, which was bound to be tinted with redness. "What are you having?" Astoria asked, and was she sounding smug or was Rose hallucinating?
"Ehm…I don't know, actually. You?"
They decided eventually to have what the waiter recommended, as they couldn't decide, neither of them. He had arrived with their food fifteen minutes later. The time waiting for the food was filled with small talk from Astoria's side and an unexplainable amount of blushing from Rose's side.
"This was good," Astoria said and wiped her mouth. Rose nodded, and put her fork down. She had no idea what it had tasted like; she had no idea of what she had even eaten.
She braced herself. Now was the time. Now she was going to say it. Now there was no way she could choke on her food. She had taken a huge sip of water to ensure that she hadn't something on her teeth. Now was the time. "…As—"
"You want dessert?" Astoria interrupted her and Rose felt herself sink.
"Sure," she answered weakly, and Astoria's eyes were dancing, but she didn't know how to regain the braveness. Maybe a big bowl of ice-cream would help, hopefully. At least it would cool her down a bit, which was needed at the moment.
A while later, Rose found herself staring at Astoria's lips closing themselves around her spoon, and slowly pulling it back out again from her mouth. She licked her lips, and gave Rose a smile. "Delicious, don't you think?"
Rose had to pull her eyes off Astoria's mouth. "Yeah, extremely." Her own ice cream had begun to melt, as she had only taken two spoonfuls, so far. She realized she couldn't do this anymore, and she realized she could do this instead. "Astoria, I've something I have to tell you."
Astoria opened her eyes in confusion, but continued to eat the ice-cream, and Rose felt as though she was the one melting at the sight of her.
"You know…I don't really know how to say this—, "she began, as Astoria's eyes drilled into her. "I've…er…discovered something." For fuck's sake, Rose, she thought to herself, just say it. "I'm…I'm in love with you." The words were blurted out, and as soon as she had let the words out, she regretted it. Astoria's eyes were even wider, and she had a little wrinkle on her otherwise smooth forehead.
"You—," Astoria began, but Rose stood up, dropped the napkin on the floor and picked it up again. She didn't dare to look at Astoria, and she didn't know what to say.
"I…" was all she said, and then she hurried out of the restaurant. Inside of her head, she screamed at herself, and she realized she was clenching her fists so hard that her nails were about to bore into her skin.
Outside, in the fresh air, she released her fingers and closed her eyes for a second. She couldn't do this, it was too weird. She was so stupid. Why had she even said that? Was she stupid or was she stupid?
The doorman of the restaurant cleared his throat and gave her a concerned look. Rose smiled, or so she hoped, back and then retreated into the narrow alley next to the main street where the restaurant was located.
It was then that she realized she had forgotten her coat, and that it was even colder now. But she didn't know where else to go, and she wanted to hit something. A dustbin became her victim, and she began kicking at it, viciously.
It was the dustbin that was responsible for everything, she decided, and now it was going to feel the pain that she had been exposed to. She kicked and kicked and kicked. Then she sunk down to the ground, so as she was sitting on her heels, and buried her head in her hands. What was wrong with her? Why was she so fucked up, weird and everything? Why couldn't she just be normal and grieve over Scorp for a week, and then move on to someone that wouldn't make her look completely insane?
"Rose," a soft voice was heard, and Rose's head snapped up. Thank Merlin she wasn't crying.
"Why did you leave? Here, I've got your coat." Astoria handed her the coat and gave her a tiny smile.
"Thanks. Well, because, because I'm completely bonkers, I guess." Rose laughed a bit. The image of Astoria bending over her engraved the inside of her eyelids, the way she had resembled some sort of angel, searching for her, wanting to help her.
"Rose, you are not completely bonkers." Astoria helped Rose with the coat, and now, Rose realized, they were standing closer than they ever had.
"I'm not?" she asked slowly, and Astoria shook her head, a little smile playing on her lips.
"Okay, a bit, but that's just adorable," Astoria smirked, and closed the space between them. Her lips were burning against Rose's. Soon she found herself burying her hands in Astoria's short curls, their bodies pressed together and against the house wall.
They breathed heavily every time they let go of each other, and Rose couldn't help but noticing the differences between kissing Scorpius and kissing Astoria. This was much softer, when you spoke of the real feeling of her lips, but the movements were hungrier and faster. Not to mention, it was much better.
"I'm adorable, huh?" Rose asked when they at last broke free, Astoria's forehead was against her shoulder, and Rose's lips touched the top of her head.
"You are, very much so," Astoria answered, and Rose could hear how smug her smile was. Astoria's hand searched down to Rose's and grasped it tightly, and then she raised her head and looked at Rose. "So, what happens next?"
Rose raised her eyebrows, and grinned, feeling her heart lift a bit. "Well, hopefully, there shouldn't be someone at my place?"
"Hopefully, yes." Astoria grinned, too, and didn't let go off Rose's hand as she released herself from her.
"I mean, there might be some burglars, and my cat could be home, but I don't think those will disturb us."
"The burglars won't disturb us, is that so?" Astoria chuckled.
"Oh, no, I'll chase them off, saying that I've important stuff to do."
Astoria laughed, her eyes twinkling like the stars, and Rose realized what she just had said. "I'm 'important stuff'?"
Rose blushed, but couldn't stop herself from smiling widely. "You are."
It was dark in the room, and suddenly it was dark in Rose's mind, too. Astoria had all of a sudden put a soft hand on Rose's hip, and pushed herself up a bit. She hadn't seen her face, only her eyes and they had been darting all around, as if haunted by something. Then she had whispered softly, "I've got a husband, Rosie," and slipped out of the bed. And the only thing Rose had been able to think of was how it was the first time Astoria had called her "Rosie" and then the door slammed shut and her steps echoed away down the stairs.
And she was gone. It was completely dark, and Rose felt empty.
"Rosie, what's going on?" Hugo burst through the door which Rose had opened when she had heard his fervent knocking. "What happened yesterday?"
Louis came in just behind, carrying a plate covered by a cloth. He strode directly into the kitchen, while Hugo pushed Rose there, as well. She hadn't moved at first when they entered, being, for some reason, absorbed by the shoes that lay on the floor. She had been wearing those black ones last night. It was those she had kicked off when she and Astoria had stumbled in through the door…
"Rosie, speak to me!" Hugo's eyes looked like those of a sad puppy. He made her sit on one of the chairs. Louis stood next to him, and narrowed his eyes.
"What did she do?" Louis asked eventually, and Hugo's eyes shot up to him, before back to Rose.
"Did she…Oh, no, I'm going to…Wait, so she…No way….I mean…" Hugo stuttered and clenched his fists where he kneeled in front of Rose. Louis put a hand on his shoulder and pulled the cloth off the plate he had been carrying before to reveal a bunch of cookies.
"We baked again. Here, eat this." He gave one to Rose, who took it and munched on the edge of it. He gave one to Hugo, too, who looked at it confusedly, and then back to Rose.
"She… She left in the middle of the night," Rose suddenly spoke up.
Hugo rose from the floor in one, quick movement. His mouth was open, but there were no sounds coming from it. Louis grabbed his arm and held him still, and their eyes locked and it looked like they debated without words. Then Louis spoke up. "Rose, I'm so sorry. It feels like this is our fault, and, oh, shit, how could she do that to you?" His calm voice rose at the end, and he chewed on his lip with a pained expression, before he pulled Rose to him and gave her a hug.
"Thanks," Rose whispered breathlessly, though she still felt as though she was numb, not able to really understand anything.
They stood like that for a while, Louis holding her head to his chest, and Hugo walking backwards and forwards behind them, pulling his hands through his hair.
Suddenly, there was another knock at the door and before Rose had time to really comprehend that, Hugo had hurried out into the hallway. She heard him open the door and then say something in a harsh voice, before closing the door again. Louis kept her in his arms the whole time.
He returned to the kitchen with an even more pensive, upset look on his face.
"Who was that?" Rose asked when she had been able to get her mouth free from Louis' shirt.
Hugo looked at her, and Rose suddenly understood.
"Hugo!" She untangled herself from Louis' embrace, and ran out into the hallway. Both of them yelled something at her, but she could only hear her pounding heart. She took the stairs two at a time, and she was breathing hard.
"Oi! Astoria, wait!" she shouted when she saw a dark-haired woman walk quickly down the street. "I said wait!"
The woman turned around, and looked wide-eyed at her. She stopped, frozen, and Rose collided into her. "Rose?"
"You're back, you're back," Rose said, and she didn't know why she said it, but it didn't really matter because her words were hardly discernible from her panting.
"But I thought…your brother…" Astoria had cupped Rose's cheeks, and it looked as though she didn't know if she was real or imaginary.
"Screw him, he doesn't know what he's talking about," Rose said quickly, grabbed Astoria's wrist and continued, "Why did you come back?"
Astoria still looked dazed. "I…when I went home last night, I realized that Draco and I aren't working out. We haven't for years, and, well, it just felt so wrong, as I lay there watching him sleep, and, I—I don't know. I just realized what I said to you, and it was so wrong, and…" she rambled on, her eyes blinking.
Rose was smiling widely, and then she kissed Astoria, because this happiness she felt, it was too much for her, and it was irrelevant, and she had to, and her thoughts were as rambling as Astoria's words.
Astoria's lips were seeking hers, craving hers, and she broke free for just a few seconds. "And I have a feeling he might be cheating on me, and a divorce wouldn't take long…"
Rose kissed her again, with the feeling that talking could wait, because she simply needed to know that Astoria really was there. She needed to feel her lips against hers. She needed her hands touching her body, and she needed her.
"So you forgive me?" Astoria mumbled in her ear when they walked back into the staircase of the building where Rose lived.
"Of course. Shut up now, will you?" Rose mumbled back and pressed her face against Astoria's neck, buried it under her hair, and they stood like that, holding onto each other as hard as they could.
Astoria chuckled softly, and twisted one of Rose's curls around her finger. "One more thing, though. You might want to tell your brother not to kill me, if you want me in one piece."
"Oh, I will do that. Now, kiss me?"
It was three weeks later and the sun had started to actually feel warm again. Spring was on its way and Rose had this warm feeling in her chest. There really wasn't anything she could think of that could destroy it either. She lay in bed with Astoria curled up against her, playing with her hair, and thinking of how good these last few weeks had been.
There had been the small things, like when Scorpius found out about her and Astoria. The look on his face for one, but mostly, the look on Louis' face was priceless. And there had been the surprise in her mum's and dad's eyes being replaced with a shrug and an expression that surely said "Okay, we don't want the commotion we got with Hugo, so we won't say anything."
Then there had been the bigger things. Like the hug with Albus, and the way his eyes lit up when he understood Rose wasn't angry at him, and that feeling that they were back to best friends and conquerors of the world, as they always had been. And Scorpius behind him, with a shy smile and the promising shimmer around him, that they would one day become the friends they once were, before getting caught in a vicious circle of relationships and breakups.
And of course, the most warming thing of them all. Waking up next to Astoria every morning, one day with their hands caught in each other's, the next with her head buried underneath her chin, and another day with their legs tangled.
She was positive she would never be cold again, with all this warmth embracing her.