Six hundred and forty seven days before
The problem was Sebastian Wilkes was entirely too charismatic: he was the reminder of why everyone had fallen behind a good looking, smart Slytherin in the first place, only hopefully without the murderous and prejudice tendencies because those sorts of things don't exactly make for happy co-habitation, but somehow he was able to convince the entire Slytherin dorm that we actually wanted to do something selfless and helpful.
Which I was entirely sure we hadn't really wanted to do in the first place. I was really considering mind control, because getting Liam Vaisey to stop licking his own arse (figuratively) for long enough to have a conversation was quite the achievement, let alone persuading him to leave the dormitory and troop downstairs to help take down Christmas decorations. Elliot Nott had emerged without so much as a complaint, and Sebastian - Seb - had also managed to convince Stanley and gotten him to recruit his twin sister, my ex-girlfriend and general hell raiser, Stacey, to the foray.
He'd been quite diplomatic in his explanation of the facts, as Seb always was. He'd explained that whilst all the prefects were usually eager to help put up the Christmas decorations there was always a distinct lack of volunteers to take them down again - a plight, he was sure, we'd all experienced at home (although, in my house the second sun set on Christmas day the single set of lights the annually reused plastic tree were vanished - Mum put up a good show of festivity, but Dad really couldn't be bothered with any of it), and he'd been so emotive when talking about Christmas trees beginning to rot, how it was usually left for the poor house elves to dissemble all the beautiful decorations we'd enjoyed at their expense, excreta… I really couldn't give a crap about the fairies in the fairy lights, or how the House Elves couldn't manage it all in one night and how they hated being seen, or that the charms would start wearing off the enchanted fake snow, yet I was trooping downstairs with the rest feeling oddly like I was serving my country.
"It's me and Rose Weasley who are heading up the operation," Sebastian explained as we neared the hall.
That, of course, made a great deal of sense.
Although Sebastian Wilkes never dated it wasn't through lack of offers, because his easy charisma and charm usually left the rest of us looking gangly and awkward, nor through lack of inclination - because as dorm mates you really did pick up on those sorts of things - but, I always suspect, the lack of a candidate that was helpful enough.
It sounded crass, but Seb was a Slytherin. People seemed to forget that just because he wasn't slimy and creepy like Liam, it didn't mean he wasn't a conniving bastard.
And Rose Weasley seemed to have caught his attention somewhat. She was the daughter of two war heroes putting him on the right side of the law, important for the ambitious slytherin pureblood descendent these days, plus she was a fellow prefect who seemed slightly more sensible than some of her relatives (who were full on absolute nutters), had good grades and probably a whole shiny future panned out before her. Plus, she wasn't bad to look at.
So it seemed about standard that this whole business of lending a hand to the house elves was probably just an attempt to get into Rose Weasley's pants, except we'd ended up being dragged into it which was a moment of stupidity coming from Seb - he could have organised a perfect one on one situation of removing baubles in close proximity, and now he'd invited Liam along and any chance of romance had been shot dead. I'd seen more romantic mountain trolls, and those beasts aren't pretty. In a choice between spending time with a jar of pickled frogs and my dorm mate, I'd pick the pickled frogs - the conversation was sure to be a tad more intellectual.
"Volunteers!" Rose called out excitedly as we trooped into the Great Hall, enthusiasm dissipating slightly as we looked at the really rather excessive Christmas decorations and came to terms with the fact that we'd probably be here for most of the evenings. A caught a flash of red hair half way up a ladder and shimmying down fast, before noticing that she wasn't quite on her own - Albus Potter had been dragged into the messy business (and didn't look too chuffed) along with Lucy Weasley, and the other Sixth Year Gryffindors – Imogen James and Abbey Stock were currently engaged with trying to dislodge the three foot snow flake topper from one of the trees - and one of Seb's rejected suitors who'd obviously walked into him at the wrong moment.
It still wasn't enough to make the task off removing all the Christmas trees any less depressing or daunting.
"Thanks Seb," Rose said distractedly, before letting forth a stream of instructions about where we should all start and what, exactly, was the correct protocol regarding sticking Mistletoe and infestations of birds in the Christmas trees. Seb, I noticed, was positioned at the opposite side of the hall to Rose which meant she was either oblivious or not interested.
Personally, I hoped she wasn't interested. Seb deserved not to get everything he ever wanted, if only because the rest of us Slytherins had to work so hard not to have food thrown at us every other week. And Rose probably deserved someone slightly more genuine about liking her - it couldn't be easy being lost in a family that big with that much pressure on her shoulders (although admittedly not as hard as being born on the wrong side of history, but I couldn't really hold that against her).
"Didn't realise we were here in the name of Sebastian Wilkes' sex life," Stacey Staple muttered as we trod over to our assigned Christmas tree feeling slightly glum. Although for most of my time at Hogwarts Stacey was nothing more than classmate and dorm mate's twin, these days she was one of my favourite Slytherins. Not that that really said much, but it was probably quite the thing to say considering she was my ex girlfriend...although, the several arrangements we had in place probably tilted that in the other direction somewhat. That, however, was not common knowledge.
"I was sold it under the package goodwill to men," I returned, "should have known better."
"Slytherin stupidity," Stacey agreed, "well, I'm wearing a short skirt and Albus Potter is working on the tree next door, mind if I head up the ladder? This is probably the only point in my life where he's might see my pants - got to seize an opportunity."
"Be my guest."
"Just don't look up," Stacey said, gingerly stepping on the first rung of the ladder and turning around to wink at me.
I held the ladder until she'd finished climbing, then set about vanishing the baubles and melting the fake snow with a wave of my wand. It was a bit of a slap on the face that I could easily be playing Gobstones or something right now, when actually I was on some stupid failed schemes designed to make my overachiever dorm mate look like a good dating decision, which he probably wasn't. The only one of my dorm mates I'd wish on any girl was Elliot Nott, who was only fairly high in my estimations because he very rarely talked to any of us.
"Didn't expect to see you here." Rose Weasley said, when I nearly elbowed her in the face trying to dislodge a stubborn bit of tinsel.
I glanced at Sebastian, who was tree-partners with Liam (who was stood at the foot of the ladder of the next tree over, trying to charm Edward Prichard's trousers to fall down, if his familiar expression of concentration was anything to go by), and decided that he was really owed a bitter aftertaste after dragging us down here with his persuasive rhetoric in a misguided attempt to get on Rose Weasley and become the Minister of Magic, or whatever.
"Yeah," I said, shrugging slightly, "but Seb mentioned about the House Elves, and I guess I felt we should all pull our weight."
"Oh," Rose said, blinking a few times, before smiling. "thanks. That's… good."
"Did you have a good Christmas?" I asked.
I didn't talk to Rose Weasley all that much. We had a few classes together, but hardly any of the classes had seating plans and even then they were often done in alphabetical order, so I didn't often wind up in a situation where we would converse. We'd been potions partners in second year, but conversation had never stretched beyond the levels of mundane questions about Christmases and weekends and homework.
"Oh," Rose said, "it was all right. Bit loud, really."
"Seems like your family has the potential to do that," I nodded in returning, accidentally looking up in the direction of Stacey, getting a glimpse of pants (turquoise lace) and turning away quickly.
"I'll say," she said, "I could get lost in all the Christmas chaos."
"The opposite at our house," I said, "I'm the Christmas centrepiece. Next year I think my Mum might actually stick me on top of the tree."
"For what it's worth," Rose smiled, "I think you'd look great as a tree topper."
"With wings, a halo and a pretty dress?" I questioned. "White really isn't my colour."
Rose smiled and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.
"So, your families pretty small then?"
"Yeah," I agreed, "one aunt and two full sets of grandparents. None of them are particularly amicable people, either."
"I'm sure they're not that bad."
"Ex-death eaters?" I pointed out, to which Rose flushed and spent a few long minutes trying to remove a gold coated holy branch from her tree. "Nah, they're not that bad really. Conversation is scarce though."
"Sounds peaceful," Rose said, raising hey eyebrows, "always fighting to get heard, me."
"Can't imagine anyone not listening to you, Rose." I said, which was probably the cheesiest thing I'd ever said in my life (confirmed by Stacey snorting loudly from somewhere above, but I wasn't going to look up to confirm the source of the noise and get another unwanted eyeful of lace), but Rose blushed so it served the purpose quite well.
"Well, with my family…there's always someone talking or not talking."
"You all seem pretty close."
"I guess," Rose said, turning away from her tree and the explosion of tinsel above to watch me removing several bells whose irritating jingling charm definitely hadn't worn off, "to some of them, anyway. It's like having a massive, ginger colony wherever we go. One time, for my granddad's birthday, we booked out the whole top floor of this muggle restaurant - he's a total Muggle nut - and the number of looks we got! I think they must have thought we were some weird ginger cult, or like part of some culture which advocated only ginger-ginger marriages, or something. One of them genuinely called us racist. So then Uncle George decided to order anything on the menu with ginger in… I don't think he even knew what ginger beer was but…"
"They sound great," I said honestly, "if overwhelming. I'm all alone."
"Poor Scorpius." Rose commented, dryly.
"You've never been lonely in your life," Rose scoffed, "you're in Island."
"That doesn't even make sense," Rose said, turning back to her tree and removing baubles at top speed.
"Is it the elves then," I began, "why you wanted to take down the Christmas decorations? I'm assuming it was your idea."
"Oh, yeah," Rose shrugged slightly, glancing down again, "Christmas shouldn't make things worse for other people. Our… celebrating with lots of big trees and fancy lights shouldn't negatively impact other things, or I couldn't really enjoy it properly. It's just a bit too selfish. You know?"
"Nope," I said with a grin, "Slytherin to the core, Rose. A hundred percent selfish."
"Don't believe a word."
"Good," I smiled, "but do watch out for some of the others. They're not all good like me."
"You know why Seb is here, right?"
Rose blushed enough that I took that to mean she had some inclination as to why he was there and that her decision to place him with Liam as far away from her as possible had been entirely intentional. This also meant she'd picked me and Stacey to be in the tree adjacent to her, so that indicated she didn't think I was as bad as all that - and that was really flattering, considering I was a Malfoy and she was a Weasley and I spent most of the time convinced they were planning ways to avenge Harry Potter's… school grudge, or whatever you wanted to call it.
"Isn't he your friend?" Rose asked, hand on hip and she turned to face me. "Why are you warning me against his unsavoury intentions?"
That had completely and utterly stumped me. I didn't usually go out of my way to talk to people and the whole purpose of engaging Rose in conversation was to make Seb feel like a bit of an idiot, but it wasn't like I could tell Rose that because I'd come off as a bastard too. And it wasn't like the situations were comparable - it wasn't like I was planning on seducing Rose and sleeping with her, just having a simple conversation and hoping that Seb saw and repented from being an idiot and using girls like commodities (or at least, getting his dorm mates involved in schemes to use girls like commodities).
"Good intentions." I shrugged, turning back to me tree deliberately and noting that this section of the tree was looking a little sparse and I should probably move around, but I didn't really want to cut the conversation with Rose short. I was, despite it all, quite enjoying conversing with Rose Weasley.
I couldn't pinpoint why that was surprising, either, because Rose was intelligent and generally quite nice and I'd found her a more than pleasant potions partner and generally considered her to be a nice person - perhaps why I was so bothered by Seb's lack of respect towards her, if he'd picked on of her other cousins it might be a little different - so finding her company enjoyable really shouldn't have been as shocking as it was.
"If you say so," Rose said, shrugging slightly and turning to another part of the tree, not far enough away that we couldn't continue talking. Her's was looking a little sparse too. "I guess you're glad to be back at Hogwarts, then?"
"Definitely," I said, "it's nice to have some peace and quiet which isn't directly associated with my parents refusing to talk to each other."
There was a beat of silence when I tried to work out where that had come from. It wasn't like I usually broadcasted quite how dysfunctional my family unit was, nor was I repressing it and just waiting for the right person to come along to dig out all the angst from my stomach with a pair of safety scissors. I just didn't talk about it because I didn't think it merited actual words being wasted on it, and someone other than my brain space been bothered by something which was really quite mundane. Loads of parents had marital problems and whilst I didn't think all of them were solved by a succession of made up problems from the son's end and carefully fabricated stories to invoke closeness, I didn't think it was worth bringing up in conversation.
And that comment had just burst out my mouth without me even thinking about it.
"I can sympathise with that," Rose said, rolling her eyes, "my parents bicker worse than Al and James."
"Oh," I said, raising my eyebrows to try and show this reference meant something to me. I could almost hear Stacey's voice in the back of my mind 'typical Weasley trait, always assume everyone knows and cares about them' which was as cynical as the usual Stacey standard, as well as being almost completely true. I just hadn't pinned Rose to be quite like that.
"That's a lot," she clarified, "if you haven't heard about their legendary prank wars."
"Lucky," Rose said, "but it usually averages out as about one argument a day, only it's a lot more than that at Christmas. Sometimes I just think they should stay mad at each other so I don't have to listen to Dad making comments about SPEW - don't ask - but, I know they don't mean it, it's just irritating have to reside in the same house as it."
"My Mum is big on playing happy families," I shrugged, keen to move on from to the topic and disappear round the other side of the tree, but it felt like it would be rude to walk away when she'd started talking about things that were relatively serious. "Her 'let's pretend it's all okay' game is legendary."
"It's all right."
"Hey, Rose," Albus muttered, having just climbed down the ladder looking a little disgruntled, "mind giving me a hand with this ladder? Need to move it round to tackle the west facing side." He sounded more than slightly sarcastic and not too pleased. Rose flushed slightly.
Just then, whilst I was looking at the contrast between Rose's pink skin and her bright red hair, there was a sudden yelp, a swear word or two, and then Stacey came hurtling towards the floor in a rush of limbs and expletives.
She landed with an 'oof' a few centimetres away from Albus's foot and, given her skirt had blown up during the fall, it was safe to say she'd definitely seized the opportunity for Albus Potter to see her underwear… it just had the unfortunate side effect of causing her enough pain to start whimpering and crying in a way I wouldn't necessarily have defined as attractive.
And this was coming from the direction of her ex-boyfriend.
"It was a perfectly sound plan," Stacey hissed out of the corner of her mouth, so that Rose couldn't hear, "Albus was supposed to catch me."
"You missed." I returned, stretching out my legs at her bedside and shaking my head slightly. After discovering that Stacey wasn't capable of standing up, I'd gotten the wonderful job of levitating her to the Hospital Wing with Rose for company. Rose had insisted on coming out of the belief that the accident was all her fault but was currently talking to Neville Longbottom near the door. The second Rose had slipped away Stacey's face twisted into more of a grimace and began talking non-stop about how rubbish the male gender was, or something.
"Gryffindor chivalry," Stacey muttered, rolling her eyes, "it's dead, I tell you. Doesn't even live on in the Potter blood. What's the point of Gryffindors if they can't do the knight in shining armour thing properly?"
"Couldn't tell you."
"At least," Stacey breathed, "Wilkes saw Rose attached to your arm on the way out of the Great Hall. There is still a silver and green lining. I'll feed Stanley lots of lines about flirty looks and sexual tension, to really get at him."
"When did Seb reject you, anyway?"
"Oh shut up," Stacey said, waving this away, "we're not all Rose Weasley's. Some of us have to accidentally on purpose fall out of Christmas trees to get noticed."
"You weren't though, Stace."
"You've noticed me before." Stacey said pointedly.
Considering my lack of motivation for seeking out people and forming close relationships, I tended not to date much. But Stacey was the sort of person who plucked you out of a crowd and demanded to be noticed, so it wasn't so much as I'd sought her out as she'd barrelled into my life, suggested going to Hogsmeade and we'd ended up as an item for three months. When, after this amount of time had elapsed and I hadn't tried to jump her bones she seemed to decide that, as it turned out, we weren't that good of a match after all and things had come to a swift and succinct end.
Or maybe not that succinct, really.
She may not have broken my heart but the pride took quite a wound and I hadn't thought I'd had all that much to begin with. Now, though, we were amiable and as friendly as I was to anyone, and she picked me up and dropped me at will (which was nice, actually, and much less intense than having to deal with her on a daily basis). Plus, there were benefits to having her around.
I glanced over at Rose, still in conversation with Neville.
"Hey," Stacey said, "If Rose falls madly in love with you, will you stop sleeping with me?"
Like I said - benefits.
"Very probably," I returned with an eye roll, squaring my shoulders as I turned to face her again, "can't imagine you'd be too bothered."
"You're fairly dispensable," Stacey agreed, "but it'll be a shame that there's no one I don't have to fall out of a dying Christmas tree for."
"Can't see it being an issue," I said, glancing back at Rose, "anyway, as you're okay I should probably go probably tell Stan you haven't lost the ability to walk or something."
"Oh, come on," Stacey complained, rolling her eyes at the ceiling and shrugging her shoulders, "considering you've been the most chivalrous man of the hour, the least you could do is stay by my bedside."
"It's your own fault."
"Oh go play Gobstones," Stacey muttered, "you're useless, Malfoy."
"You're insults are like knives," I said sarcastically, kicking back my legs and glancing at the ceiling, "they wound me."
The arrangement certainly hadn't been my idea and I didn't really encourage it either, but it wasn't my place as a teenage male to put a stop to it. And so the whole thing would just continue and she'd pick me up when she wanted me and I'd let her and that was perfectly fine by me. A nice easy alternative to relationships, actually. Very Slytherin, actually. Probably the most Slytherin thing I had going in my life, if you ignored the manic Death Eater relatives… which I really did try to do. Helped me sleep at night.
Professor Longbottom turned away from Rose and the edge of the Hospital wing, Rose stayed stock still for a second before turning around and walking towards Stacey's bed looking even more distraught than she had done previously.
"Apparently," Rose said, her voice shaking slightly, "it… was against the rules to organise the de-decorating without adult supervision."
"Are you serious?" Stacey asked. "Because, technically, Scorp turned seventeen right before Christmas so - "
"Professor Supervision," Rose said, blinking, "and because you're hurt, I mean it's not your fault, of course, but I've got detention all week."
"Life's a bitch." Stacey commented dryly.
"Erm, you're in too Scorpius," Rose said apologetically, "everyone else but Albus scarpered when they realised they were in trouble, but… erm, because you're here he knew you were involved so erm…"
"Am I in detention?" Stacey asked, sitting up wincing slightly, looking like she was a few seconds away from listing the name of every single student who'd been involved in the whole messy business, just so that she didn't go down alone.
"No," Rose breathed, "he said as you were hurt you'd, er, already learnt your lesson… I'm really sorry, Scorpius. I didn't mean to get you in trouble - I didn't know it was against the rules…"
"That's okay," I said, smiling slightly and sending Stacey a look, "at least there's some decent company."
"Right," Rose said, glancing at me looking slightly unsure, eyes wide, "well, we're cleaning the Trophy Room tomorrow at eight. He'll probably keep us all night - bitter idiot - but it shouldn't be too bad, I mean… I'm really sorry."
"And the stupid thing is," Rose continued, "on Tuesday our detention is taking down the Christmas Decorations."
I laughed at that.
"I'll wait up till you've finished, Scorp." Stacey said pointedly, sending me a look that was usually reserved for the likes of Albus Potter and certainly not for me. I was accustomed to certain levels of distain from Stacey and this sudden mood change took me by surprise for a minute. To the extent that I was stunned into not reacting for a good few, long seconds.
"Oh," Rose said, glancing between the two of us quickly, "well, see you tomorrow night, then."
"Bye," I said, weakly, turning around to face Stacey with an incredulous expression, "thanks."
"Hey," Stacey grinned, "I'm all for you getting one over on Wilkes, but really - Rose Weasley?"
"Sod off," I commented, "it's not like I was going to do anything."
"Sort of my point," Stacey said, "you heart breaker, you."
Did I mention this story is written entirely for my good friend Hanzi? And as it's a NaNo project it's pretty much all done, harrah. Hope you're enjoying and feel free to let me know if you are/aren't/couldn't care less.