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Winner Takes All by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 7: Building Me A Fence
Author's Note: I think this is an odd chapter. A necessary one, but odd all the same. Hopefully it's not so odd that it makes you not want to read on. With the next chapter, I aim to bring Scorpius back, but for now, more with Rose.
chapter image by bellatrixx.
Days Two, Three, & Four
Building Me a Fence
Uncle Harry left her standing in the doorway to the Burrow. She watched him walk toward the shed, the family’s usual Apparating spot, wondering if she should have said something to him about Lily. He was blaming himself for his brat of a daughter (as he should, the nasty little voice in Rose’s head muttered) and it wasn’t his fault at all.
What would she say, though?
“She didn’t have to go through what you did, Uncle.”
Lily didn’t have to grow up with relatives who hated her – she was doted on by parents, siblings, and extended family. Lily didn’t have to face the painful loss of so many whom she loved – other than the fact that Lily loved herself more than anyone, no family member or friend had ever died in her lifetime. Lily never had to face Voldemort, either. The worst she’d ever faced was a large spider in her bedroom, and even then, she’d gotten James to kill it.
But was that the sort of thing she would want to tell Uncle Harry? That, because he’d suffered, he’d ended up a better person? That, if his parents had never died, he would have become just like Lily? No, she could not see that making him feel any better.
“Rose, is that you, dear?”
Grandmum entered the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Rose put a smile on her face before turning to greet her grandmother. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to entirely fool the observant Molly Weasley, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t try.
Not that it worked. By the time she reached the room she was sleeping in (not hers, though even the room at her Mum and Dad’s house wasn’t really “hers” either. She was too much the transient type), the whole story had come out, with many remonstrations received as to her cousin “not deserving of such treatment” however silly a girl she was, and that Rose should be more understanding of Lily’s situation.
“But what about my situation, Grandmum?”
She had, in reply, received a blank look.
“Rose Minerva Weasley, do not tell me that you are actually pining for Scorpius Malfoy!”
And so, following her grandmother’s command, Rose said nothing and went to bed. She would be better off staring at the ceiling, ignoring the presence of the rest of the world, letting it go by around her as it always had.
She should not have come back. Let stupid Lily marry stupid Scorpius and get on with their useless lives doing useless things and having bratty children like a pair of feisty rabbits. What did it matter to Rose? Certainly most of her family thought her better off without Scorpius. She thought it herself sometimes.
Not often enough.
It would have been easier if she did, if she could stand up and say “screw you, I don’t care” then scarper back to China where she could bury herself in tea leaves and chomping cabbages and be done with it.
Everyday, she seemed to get closer to that point. All she had to do was avoid Scorpius.
Why? Her mind was drifting off; even the little voice could manage no more than a single, simple syllable.
Because she knew that, if she saw him again, if he said something to her, she would be convinced, she would fall under his spell, she would lose herself. And this time, she could not be sure of getting herself back again.
Her brain remembered hearing a slight creak as the door opened. Grandmum looked in, brow furrowed deeply as the last rays of daylight streamed into the room. She turned to someone behind her before Rose’s eyelids could lift all the way.
“She’s asleep, Ron. Let her be.”
The door closed again, and Rose let her half-shut eyes close with it.
She had dreams, but they were vague and fuzzy around the edges, and she could remember nothing for certain, particularly not because of the way she was rudely woken by someone – she knew what someone it was as soon as he did it – sitting on her leg. He had, at least, matured from tickling the bottom of her feet.
“Did your dad send you?” she muttered, face in the pillow.
Albus shifted off her leg and balanced himself, cross-legged, on the bottom edge of the bed. “Nope. This is all the doing of my devious mind.”
“He was pretty down when he left me here.”
“Well, his daughter is marrying a Malfoy. Your parents weren’t too enthused with the idea, either, if I remember properly.” He stared at Rose, the light from the hallway throwing his face into shadow.
Rose winced in reply, shutting her eyes tight.
“Yes, I didn’t think you’d want to remember that,” he managed to say while laughing (a cruel sound, as heartless as the rest of him, Rose thought, burying her face deeper into the pillow). “I’ve never seen Uncle Ron turn purple before. It clashed really badly with his hair.”
“And you’ll be a purple Potter if you don’t go away.”
Albus leaned back, further squishing her leg. “Tut, tut, Rose. Where have your manners gone?” He said this with an exaggerated upper-class accent. Rose could imagine him adjusting his glasses like some nerdy scholar.
“I suppose that you’re not interested to hear why I came, then.”
Rose made a face. Not that he could see it, but he would know that she had made it, as it was the kind of face she always made in response to his proposals, the majority of which had either gotten them both in detention or had otherwise scarred her for life. There were reasons not to become friends with devious geniuses, even if they were immediate family members.
“Whether I want to help you destroy my sister’s wedding?”
With a sigh, Rose lifted her head, straining her neck to look at him. “No. Let her suffer a life with that bastard Malfoy.”
Albus raised his eyebrows so that they almost buried themselves under his too-long hair.
“Now that’s a quick change of mind. It’s only been–”
“I know how long it’s been. Long enough for me to change my bloody mind.” Rose extricated her leg from under Albus, rubbing the places where it had gone numb.
He grinned, the corners of his mouth stretching to the edge of his face. “Time for you to get out a bit, Rosie. Celebrate your new-found freedom from that git.”
It was Rose’s time to smile, though only at the irony of his statement. “That git who’s going to be your brother-in-law?” Her new-found freedom wasn’t much worth celebrating, as it wasn’t really new-found. She had been “free” of Scorpius for two years now. Her return had merely entrapped her once again.
No matter what she did, who she was with, he would always be on her mind. Perhaps that was what he had wanted, for her never to forget him, to always regret that she had placed her own ambitions, however humble, before him. She had put her own independence over the wealth (though that was a questionable thing) and reputation (still tattered) of the Malfoys.
That was the difference between herself and Lily. It had been only too plain to see. Even when she had been with Scorpius, defending herself against the disappointment of her family, she had never acted as Lily had, she had never needed to manipulate their family. No, she had proven the worth of her and Scorpius’s relationship, how much they loved each other. Ha, loved each other! She was even starting to doubt that she had ever loved Scorpius Malfoy. He was all too easy to hate. Surely someone you have truly loved should be difficult to hate?
“Where were you thinking of taking me?” she asked Albus, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Hopefully somewhere interesting?”
He leapt off the bed. “It’s all lined up. Just try not to look like you’ve been eaten and spit out by the Orient, okay?”
Rose supposed he meant not to wear her old robes and her hair loose.
“You forget that I’ve been literally chewed,” she muttered, but he was already out of the room, his large feet booming down the stairs.
He took her to, of all places, the Leaky Cauldron.
“This isn’t exactly a place worthy of good clothes.” Rose glared at Albus, who only laughed again. How he could be so happy all the time, she did not know. Perhaps he had hexed a dark wizard today.
With all the time it had taken her to mend another pair of robes and fix up her hair (using all the special tinctures and sprays she could find in the Burrow), they had managed to arrive at the Leaky by late afternoon, sneaking out of the Burrow before Grandmum could notice that they’d be missing tea as well as dinner.
Rose nervously fingered a curl of her hair, greasy with cementing gel. “Why did you get us dressed up to come here? Mrs. Longbottom hasn’t enforced a dress code, has she?”
“What?” Albus narrowed his eyes at her. “We’re only here for tea. The scones are ravishing, and the clotted cream....” he trailed off into blissful reverie.
“Ravishing?” Rose’s eyes widened. “I’m worried about you, cousin.”
He turned to her with a reproof of some sort on his lips, but the sound of his name being called out across the room kept the words from emerging. It had not been necessary to call out his name, the pub nearly being empty at this time of day, and the sound attracted the notice of everyone there, from the gloomiest wizard downing one Firewhiskey after another to the sprightly witch in pink and orange robes. They all started at Rose and Albus.
He, of course, noticed nothing. It must have come from being a Potter – they are always getting noticed – or, better yet, from looking like the Chosen One himself. But one would think that Rose, too, would have the same experience, as Weasleys are even easier to spot with their hair and freckles and often boisterous behaviour. Perhaps it was the state of Rose’s appearance and her noticeable shrinking away from the spotlight that turned away the heads of those in the Leaky Cauldron, and things quickly returned to as they had been before.
“So you finally brought her, Al!”
Rose let out a breath. Albus was already halfway across the room, following the call of the voice as a sailor to a siren. She watched his progress, unmoving. For him, it was nothing to see them all again – perhaps he saw them everyday, even more – but to Rose, it was an actual reunion. Their faces were familiar, but the changes were too obvious to ignore: the way they dressed and styled themselves as adults now, the way some of them looked at one another, the way they all felt comfortable in each other’s company.
In that moment, Rose still felt continents away.
“Come on, Rose! We won’t bite!”
She stepped across the room, knowing that she shouldn’t be so hesitant. These people were to her just like Albus: the ones she had told all her dreams to and who had told her theirs in return, the ones who knew everything about her and she them.
“Word has it she’s already been bitten.”
“Oh shut up, Nate.”
“By a cabbage, it’s true,” Albus said with a grin.
They leapt up around her, hugging and kissing on cheeks and greeting her as though she hadn’t been gone at all, yet they all had to feel it too – how could they not? – the sad knowledge that two years had passed and that Rose no longer knew them, and they did not know her, not anymore. Where had their lives taken them? She knew little things – so-and-so did this, so-and-so is engaged now, so-and-so is working here – but it was not enough.
Rose was dragged into a seat between Albus and Virginia Westmorland, otherwise known as Vinny. Mrs. Longbottom came around with drinks – butterbeers for all (likely she still thought them children, her husband’s students) – and everyone clinked bottles, grins all around.
Minus one. Rose managed a half-hearted smile.
“Bril to see you ‘gain. Didn’ think you’d ever come out.”
“Flying’s the killer. How many time zones is it, anyway? Enough for a nasty hangover, I’m sure.”
“Oh yeah, not as good as the one we’ll give her!”
“Not with these drinks, we won’t. Would take a gallon to make one a little giggly.”
“More like she had some major wizard ba–” Vinny cut off as Mrs. Longbottom passed the table. “To kick,” she finished with a snicker. “No one can piss off a Weasley and get away with it, eh, Rose?”
“It’s Al who deserves the pity,” Reenie McGillivray broke in before Rose had the chance to venture a reply. “He’s stuck with Malfoy as a brother.” She reached across the table to touch Rose’s hand. “Believe me, Rose, you got away lucky. Really.”
The sudden seriousness in her tone made the breath catch in Rose’s throat. Perhaps she missed more than the passing of time. Something that none of her family had bothered to tell her, or maybe they didn’t even know. Albus was looking too curious, in spite of himself.
“How?” Rose couldn’t hold in her words any longer. “What do you mean, Reenie?” She looked around the silenced table. “All of you. I thought you didn’t mind him much, even before he and I were going out. He was never–”
“Our mortal enemy?” Albus offered.
“Not exactly what I had in mind.”
“All the same.”
Vinny shook her head. “We didn’t want it to start this way, Rose. But if it’s the way to go, so be it, right?”
The others nodded, always in acquiescence to their fair leader.
“He said to your family that you’d just refused him point blank, and that was easy enough to handle.” Vinny pushed back her multitude of braids. “Everyone knew you were independent, that you really wanted this job in China, whatever your reasons, so if you’d refuse him to take it, that was believable.” She looked to the others.
Austin Jansen, skin as pale as his hair, continued for her. “Then he started talking about you to his own friends, to the friends of his parents, all those Slytherin-types, you know?” Meaning those who had never completely changed their beliefs, who could not completely look past that Rose’s mother was a muggleborn. Austin himself was a Slytherin, but of a neutral sort. “Said things about you that no one should repeat. It was brutal.”
“He was upset that you’d gone, though no one liked how he dealt with it.” Rennie bit her lower lip. “He blamed you for everything, Rose, even if it couldn’t possibly be your fault.”
Albus was staring down at the table. “You hurt his pride, that was all. He couldn’t believe that any girl, especially one like you, would ever refuse him.”
Wasn’t this what she had always known? It wasn’t beyond Scorpius’s character to say things that he didn’t necessarily mean; it was his way of showing emotion. Merlin knew that he hardly had any to show in the first place, and even if he did, his face would remain as smooth as glass. All those times he’d called her stupid and slow, he’d been goading her on, trying to catch her attention. All that work, and she had still walked away.
Maybe it was her fault.
“Look, she’s blaming herself. What did I say?” Albus’s voice shook, his hand clenching his butterbeer too hard.
“You’re always right, Al. We’ve long stopped contesting it.”
“Be serious,” Vinny said, waving her brown hand. “She’s thinking that Malfoy loves her after all, and hooking up with Al’s sister is his way of saying ‘I love you, come back to me, darling,’ or something to that degree.”
“Well, it worked, didn’t it?” Austin tipped his bottle toward Rose. “She came back.”
Rose rubbed the bridge of her nose.
“Can we talk about something else, please? Everyone always talks about him... and me... and my cousin–” She couldn’t even name Lily. Everything inside of Rose, from mind to stomach, was twisting about in knots. Nausea was hitting her hard. She put down her bottle so abruptly that it clanked on the table, droplets spilling out.
The others were neither terrified nor calm. They had been expecting this from her; they’d had to be. There was pity there, but not too much, just enough to show that they cared. Merlin, after being smothered by her family, this was a welcome change. People who weren’t bleeding hearts, but rather real good-hearted human beings, the sort who would just pat your back and help you get on with your life.
Rose burst into tears.
It was among the most irrational things she had ever done. The first being that she had gotten herself involved with Scorpius in the first place. What a stupid, selfish thing, taking up his challenge and nearly ruining her life. And yet these people around her now had never abandoned her, never judged her to her face (she hoped not behind her back, either), and stuck by her still, even though she didn’t deserve it at all. They were loyal, reminding her not of her family – Lily’s face appeared in Rose’s mind the little two-faced witch – but of Zhang, Chen, and Ming, her family in China who, like her friends here in this room, had treated her with the utmost kindness and affection. Cold and alone within the sorrow of her shattered heart (Rose was getting rather melodramatic by this point), Rose sought to warm herself in the love of those around her, those who loved her in return.
And those who would, if she made her case, completely destroy Scorpius Malfoy.
Not kill, of course. Right?
Rose, what do you want? What do you want to do now?
“Merlin, look at her.”
“She’s gone mad.”
“No, she’s becoming sane again. Madness was going out with Malfoy.”
“He didn’t seem that bad then, remember?”
It was Vinny who ended the tirade of voices, words, and phrases that meant nothing to Rose. Hand on Rose’s shoulder, Vinny faced off against the others, eyes blazing.
“He turned bad as soon as he hurt our Rose.”
Our Rose. Belonging to someone. Owned. A possession. Rose blinked away the childish tears, wondering if the Antarctic would be a suitable place for her to live out the rest of her miserable days, alone and independent.
She looked up at Albus. He alone knew of her earlier plan to sabotage Scorpius and Lily’s wedding, that she was as weak and malleable as a bit of clay. If Scorpius were to walk into the room and hold out his hand, Rose could not say for certain that she would not take it, would not step up to him and kiss him on the mouth. Scorpius still had her, still moulded her in his fine, well-manicured fingers.
And she hated him for that.
Albus met her eyes and gave an imperceptible nod. Mum’s the word. She could rely on him. The others, Vinny especially, would hate that Rose still had a thing for Scorpius (Rose could not deny her feelings, and it only dragged her self-esteem down further to know the depth of her weakness – if this was love, Rose wanted nothing more than for it to die a long, painful death).
“We really need to get her pissed.”
“I think she already is.”
“No! I meant drunk out of her mind. Might make killing Malfoy easier.”
So it was obvious, after all. Rose stared blankly ahead, hand clutching in a fist.
“Look at her. I think she’s already ready to go at him.”
Albus grabbed Rose’s arm. “Let’s go. I wouldn’t want to arrest my favourite cousin for attempted murder.”
“I wouldn’t kill him,” she muttered while the others were busy pushing in their chairs.
But Vinny heard. Nothing got past her. “That’s precisely the problem.”
“That’s what I was going to say,” Albus added.
Rose couldn’t miss their exchanged glances. Something was there, something like–
But they had shoved her outside and down the street, and her idea was gone. As the afternoon progressed into evening, and the evening into night, she would not remember it, would not remember very much of anything at all.
“Come on, Rose. It’ll help. Honest.”
Strange how easy it was to forget everything with the right provocation, not that she was complaining. Her head spinning with the droning beat of the music, Rose swished a near-empty glass while standing on the edge of the dance floor. She watched the others dancing, or would laugh at a non-joke, or would just stand silently with them, listening to the non-music or a non-conversation. What number of drinks she had passed was nothing, nothing at all. Nothing to the amnesia that had long-ago set in, blocking out the world and all the things she had done wrong.
The pounding in her head grew too much to withstand. The others seemed to agree that, yes, they should move on, a quieter spot, one final drink before calling it a day, going back to their homes and their lives.
“A coffee will help. Just one before we’re off.”
It was Albus who chose the café, a little spot off the beaten track. He wouldn’t tell why he had chosen that particular one, even when they had passed Merlin knew how many on the way. Before Rose could even enter the place, she paused to look at a lone smoker standing near the door. Something about him– Yes, she knew him. He did not see her, though, and she hurried through the door to latch onto Albus’s arm.
“Did you see who was outside?”
He blinked, frowning at her clutching hand. “Yes. He usually comes here.”
Rose let go, the flush on her cheeks deepening. “Did you–”
“Go talk to him. He knows, Rose. Him and Victoire–”
“More advice? Lovely.”
Albus massaged the bridge of his nose. “You don’t like coffee anyway.”
“Fine.” Rose turned on her heel and left the café, coming to a halt in front of Teddy Lupin. He was plainer than she remembered, his hair a drab brown, sagging over his forehead in untended curls. His clothing was equally drab, all in shades of grey and brown as though he was trying to blend in with the wall behind him.
At seeing her, he squinted his eyes, also brown, looking down at her with carefully measured surprise.
“Ah, a Weasley.” That was all. He took another puff of his nearly-spent cigarette.
“Rose.” She said, crossing her arms (partially because of the damp).
“I was told to expect you.”
It sounded rather disturbing, something like a vampire would say to you, lurking in a dark alleyway beside an all-night café. Rose was very certain that Teddy was not yet a vampire, but he was a poet, which wasn’t very different.
Rose leaned against the wall beside him. “Any good advice for the broken-hearted?”
His face tightened, the cigarette dropping from his fingers. Swearing under his breath, he rubbed it into the ground with his heel.
“That was callous of you, Rose. I can’t think of a reason why I deserved that.”
She fell into an uncomfortable silence. She wasn’t a child anymore, but that’s what she felt like next to him. Just the way that he spoke divided them, that careful use of words, the emphasis he placed on certain syllables over others. Albus had thought this would help her? That it would help to talk to a distant, head-in-the-clouds wizard?
“What would I know about being broken-hearted?” he mused, his voice emerging so suddenly that Rose started. “Sorry.” A smile flashed across his face, then vanished again. “I’m not used to talking to someone, you see.”
“You talk to yourself then?”
He shrugged. “There usually isn’t anyone else. And it is pleasant to hear a voice once in a while.”
“You do have a nice voice to listen to.” Rose blurted out the words before she had the time to actually think them over. She was, admittedly, still on the tipsy side.
Teddy stared at her.
“Oh Merlin, I didn’t actually say that, did I?” Rose put her hands over her mouth. “It’s just I– it’s something I’ve–”
“Something you’ve always thought?” he finished, a more permanent smile pulling at the corners of his lips. “Well, thank you, Rose. That more than makes up for your earlier slight.”
He was so... so... Rose could not even think of a word to describe him with his condescending tone and holier-than-thou air. He was still that quiet, moody boy she remembered from her childhood – she could feel the intensity of his emotions radiating from his body – but now he was bitter, tainted, seeing the world through cracked lenses.
“If anyone needs help, it’s you.” She shook her head, brows furrowed. “I don’t know what happened to you, Teddy, but really, you’re not the same at all. You’ve been nothing but rude since I got out here a full” – she checked her watch – “three minutes ago.”
“I did say sorry once, if I recall.” It wasn’t until his muscles relaxed that Rose noticed how tense he had been, how stiff and uncertain he was before her. Not rude. The bitterness overtook him sometimes. Rose knew the feeling.
“Okay, not rude, then, just annoying.”
Annoying was a far more appropriate word for him. He was confusing in that annoying way, tying her own words in knots around her, showing her all the ways in which her grasp of language was entirely inadequate. If she said something, anything, he would automatically think of a better way, better words, and being the honest sort he was, he would tell her.
“So what did happen to you?” she asked, deciding to stick with blunt honesty. It seemed to be something he enjoyed, if the smile on his face was any hint.
“It’s a long story. I’m surprised no one else thought to tell you.”
Rose thought back to the news she’d had from home during her apprenticeship. Nothing for those last six months....
“I didn’t read all of the letters they sent me,” she finally admitted, grimacing a little. He raised an eyebrow. Oh yes, he knew her type, scatterbrained and idiotic. “I only read Lily’s letter. Don’t ask me why.”
He absently fiddled with a button on his jacket. “It sounds like fate to me.”
This conversation was going nowhere. Rose sighed.
“Or that it was just the first letter on the pile.”
Teddy made a face, his nose screwing up so much that it popped into another shape, longer, steeper so that he could look down it at her. She blinked, jaw dropping with her old fascination. As a child, she had begged him to change and change again, and he had always complied, laughing back at her laughing at him.
He was the first to laugh now, throwing his head back so that it thwacked against the wall behind him. The next moment, he was doubled over, swearing in three different languages.
“Teddy? Are you alright?” Meaning, are you sane? He was perhaps the least sane person she had encountered beyond herself. Or was it the other way around?
He nodded, eyes streaming and hand holding his injured skull.
“I think we’re both a mess.” The words tumbled out of her, but she wasn’t embarrassed by them, not this time. They were too true to be embarrassed by.
Closing his eyes tightly, he went bald. Reaching for a handkerchief, he placed it, folded, against the back of his head.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
The ice was broken.