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Chapter 18: Niffler
Nana Granger threw her door open wide and enveloped Rose in a hug. "It was a lovely surprise to receive your call. I didn't expect a visit until the end of the week!" Slim and casually dressed in a striped blouse and cropped trousers, Nana looked happy and enjoying her recent retirement. She hugged Albus and Lily and held out her hand to Scorpius. "I'm Rose's grandmother, Jane Granger," Nana said. "It's a pleasure to meet you . . . ."
"Scorpius Malfoy." He shook her hand without hesitation. "Likewise, ma'am."
Nana waved them into the three storey flat where she and Granddad Granger had lived—excepting a year sabbatical in Australia—since they moved to Islington fifty years ago to open a dental practice. The reception room open to the entrance hall had the appearance of a construction site.
"We're remodelling," Nana said. "Hand-built bookshelves, new paint, refinished floors. Richard rues the day I started watching decorating programmes. We thought we could DIY, as they say, but we were wrong." She shrugged. "We had to send an SOS to the professionals."
That must have been a row. Richard Granger was the one who passed along the know-it-all tendencies. "Where is Granddad?" Rose asked. She peered at the stairs. His study was off the half landing.
"He went to the B&Q supercentre to pick up chipped bark. Nick and the crew are coming tomorrow to finish the renovation, so naturally your grandfather's in a dither to show the back garden at its best."
Prove he was handy at something. Rose understood completely. "We can help."
"I'll tell him you offered," Nana said. "Now, where would you like to revise? There's the study or the lounge off the kitchen."
"They should take the study," Lily said. "And then we can watch programmes in the lounge." She smiled sweetly. "Do you still record my favourite one?"
Nana's sherry-brown eyes gleamed. "I do."
Rose said, "Watching a soap opera won't help you do well on O.W.L.s."
"Maybe not, but I find the continuing drama highly educational." Lily smirked. "And I'll get extra credit in Muggle Studies." She hooked her arm through Nana's as they headed for the steps to the lower ground floor. "I'd love to sample a few of those sugar free truffles we tried last time if you have any more on hand."
Rose led the way to the study, shaking her head in exasperation.
Albus tugged on a lock of her hair. "Don't be tetchy, Rosie. She would never have lasted more than a half-hour anyway."
True, and when she was bored Lily would try to talk them into doing something "fun."
Rose glanced over her shoulder at Scorpius. Perhaps the person she was irritated with was herself. Fun sounded good right then. Only determination not to be one of those girls who let marks slide because of a fixation on a boyfriend kept her from asking if he'd like to take a flight on the London Eye. They could book a private capsule. Have afternoon tea.
She stumbled onto the landing. The lurching feeling of putting her foot on a nonexistent stair jolted Rose back to her senses. Revising claimed priority over sightseeing and anything else they might do to pass the time.
Scorpius wrapped his hand around her arm to steady her. "Are you all right?"
"Just embarrassed. I didn't watch my step."
"I thought Potter used a trip jinx," Scorpius said quietly. "I almost hexed him."
"He could cast a better one than that."
"Beg pardon?" Albus asked pointedly.
Uh-oh, she'd forgotten to whisper. "Nothing," she said. The double doors to the study were open so Rose walked into the room to sit down on the two-seater next to a large bookshelf. Scorpius sat beside her.
Albus, left with the chair behind the desk, rolled it across the room to face the sofa.
Scorpius examined Granddad's books. "Death in the Dentist's Chair, Death of a Dentist, Murder in the Dentist Chair, Proximal to Murder," he read aloud before turning to Rose. He arched a brow.
"Granddad likes mysteries that involve dentists," she said. "He has a strange sense of humour." She knelt on the floor to search through the titles on the bottom shelf. "He collects children's stories too. My favourite is one about a mouse dentist. Here it is, Doctor De Soto." She handed it to Scorpius.
He looked at the cover, opened to the first page, and then closed the book. "I always felt sorry for the pictures not being able to move."
"It sounds like you still do," Rose said, thinking he was sweet.
"Not at all. I know they aren't frozen. They're printed that way."
She re-shelved the book and hid a smile over his dismissive tone. Typical male, he wanted to conceal his sensitive side.
"I think I remember Doctor De Soto," Albus said. "He did bad work."
"Very good work, so he had no end of patients," Scorpius said.
Rose nodded. "Granddad wouldn't have a children's book about a bad dentist."
"That makes sense," Albus said. He unpacked his rucksack. "I think we should revise for History of Magic first."
That sounded nearly as exciting as a lecture from Binns. Rose took out quill and parchment to make notes. She used sharing the text as an excuse to sit closer to Scorpius. That was a perk she didn't get in class. She covertly studied the strong column of his neck and imagined kissing it the way he had hers. Kiss. Lick. Suck.
"Defective quill," she muttered and used Reparo to reattach the broken nib.
Forty minutes later, she could finally look at Scorpius without blushing. What she couldn't do was answer another question about dates, treaties, wars, and rebellions. She knew the material and so did Albus and Scorpius. "I need a cup of tea," she said. "Let's take a break."
Scorpius immediately shut A History of Magic.
"We usually revise an hour for each subject," Albus said.
"Today we have a guest to consider." Rose asked Scorpius, "Aren't you thirsty?"
"Parched," he said, in a way that made her mouth dry, but not for something to drink.
Rose set her notes aside.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Granddad was preparing a tea tray. His smile was dazzling white against tanned skin. "Beaut timing, Rosie, love. Now you can pour and I can head out to the garden." He manoeuvred around the oak-topped kitchen island to give her a squeezing hug.
Rose breathed in the comforting smell of sun lotion. Skin cancer was more common for Muggles with increasing age, and Mum worried Granddad was more diligent about dental care than protecting his skin.
"Introduce me to your friend, Rosie."
"Granddad Granger, this is my boyfriend, Scorpius Malfoy."
Granddad asked Scorpius, "Do you chew those brushing/flossing mints like my granddaughter?"
"After every meal."
"Good onya!" Granddad said, in the accent he'd picked up over twenty years ago. Dad told Rosie it was a rare side effect of the counter Memory Charm Mum used to make her father think he'd taken time off, not forgotten his child and emigrated with the intent to make Australia his home. Nana, on the other hand, kept her English accent—along with the collection of boomerangs she still threw regularly.
Scorpius said, "If you need any assistance in the garden—"
Granddad jumped at the offer. "But have a cuppa, no hurry," he said. "Come find me when you're ready." He put on a bushman hat with a crocodile leather hatband and exited through the terrace doors that led to the garden beyond.
Nana and Lily joined them for tea. Ever health-conscious, Nana served a plate of berries and grapes with a yoghurt dip and a sugar-free spiced apple cake with soy cream cheese icing. There were no truffles.
"We ate them all," Lily admitted unrepentantly when Rose asked if there were any left.
Scorpius said, "Try the cake, it's excellent," and held out a forkful.
If he was trying to prevent her from jinxing a glutton, it worked. The innocent action of her mouth closing around the fork became incredibly sexy when she remembered his lips had slid along the same tines. A flush stole across her cheeks, the same way it had when she'd picked up his soap in the shower.
"What's the matter, Rosie? Is it too spicy for you?" Lily asked. "Would you like some water to cool off?"
Rose cast a wandless spell and looked at Scorpius. "It's perfect."
"Have some more," he said.
Rose accepted another bite, and smiled as Lily tried to sip her tea and discovered it was frozen.
After they helped Nana tidy up, Rose performed a charm to protect Scorpius—and his lips—from sunburn and followed Albus upstairs to continue revising. The window behind the sofa overlooked the garden. Rose watched her granddad hand Scorpius a pair of hedge shears and point him to the other end of the line of shrubbery he was pruning. "Oh dear," she murmured.
"I'll be damned," said Albus. He was sitting on the sofa, an open book on his lap. "Listen to this. Doctor De Soto, the dentist, did very good work, so he had no end of patients."
"You didn't remember that? I suppose Granddad only read it to you once—"
"Scorpius didn't even skim it and quoted verbatim."
Rose sat down next to him and picked up The Standard Book of Spells. "Of course he did, it's a children's book, not complex prose."
"Dad said at the Burrow Scorpius quoted Pride and Prejudice."
She put aside the Charms textbook and lifted Advanced Rune Translation. "He reads. That's something we have in common." Rose flipped to the back of the book.
Albus put a hand over the page. "Scorpius looked at you more than History of Magic and never answered a question wrong. Why are you trying to hide that he can memorise bloody near anything?" His expression was troubled. The real question was Why are you trying to hide it from me?
He was her best mate. Rose didn't want to hurt him. "It isn't my secret to tell," she said. "Please understand. Scorpius trusts me, I can't betray him."
Albus raked a hand through his hair, making spikes stand out like exclamation marks. "How can I understand when this whole—thing—between you came out of nowhere? Last month everything was the same as it's always been. Now nothing's the same. What happened?"
She took a deep breath. "The day you were sick I tried to watch Scorpius brew his potion and—" It still pained her to admit, "I failed. Twice. I should have waited to brew it again, or gone to Professor Blackwell and explained when I messed up the second time, but I didn't. I was too proud. I let Scorpius switch labels with me and copied his notes when you asked for mine."
"How did he know you needed help?"
Doxie droppings. She'd hoped to avoid sharing that part. Rose set the book on the cushion between them and stood to gaze out the window. "He saw me tip my cauldron over."
She craned her neck trying to see Scorpius. "It's hard to watch someone accidentally."
"I meant you."
Rose looked at Albus. "Not exactly Head Girl behaviour, was it?"
He grinned. "I didn't know you had that in you."
She could almost hear Lily say, Finally, you do something bold and romantic. This proves you're a true Weasley!
"I did," Rose admitted, as much to herself as to Albus. "I was just hiding it."
"But not anymore."
The events of the last few weeks seemed to flash before her eyes. She smiled. "No."
"Good onya," Albus said, imitating Granddad's Aussie twang.
Rose started to laugh, caught sight of Scorpius, and ran for the door.
"What's wrong?" Albus was right behind her.
"Do you remember any Herbology charms?" she asked while they rushed down the stairs.
"Good." Rose waved at Lily and Nana as they passed through the open area that combined a dining nook on one side and a lounge on the other. She paused at the terrace door. "We're going out for a breath of fresh air and to see how the garden's shaping up," she told Albus. "Get ready to use one of those charms."
"Why do I need to use a charm if we're going outside for fresh air?"
She elbowed him in the ribs. "I don't want Scorpius to think we saw what he did to the shrub and came running."
"We didn't see anything," Albus said. "You saw. Singular. I won't see until you open the door."
Rose sighed. "Remember he isn't using magic." She turned the handle and walked into the sunlight.
Along the left side of the garden, dividing it from the neighbours, was a hedgerow of tall, closely spaced, evergreen boxwoods. Except one—the shrub Scorpius was pruning. He clipped a few leaves off the right side, lifted his shears, and lopped off a branch on the other side. Boxwood trimmings carpeted the ground.
"Hullo," she called.
Scorpius continued to work. When she drew near, he said, "The sides are symmetrical, but I don't think this is what your grandfather had in mind."
"It's still impressive," Rose said. She meant it. The rest of the boxwoods were squares. Scorpius had cut his into a vertical rectangle. It looked like a work of modern art. "Where is Granddad?" she asked.
"He went next door to answer the neighbour's question about preventing weeds in the front garden." Scorpius laid the hedge shears on the grass. "Can you fix it before he returns?"
"I'll try," said Albus. "A growing charm won't prune the shrub, but there's another that should make this boxwood match the rest. He waved his wand in a grand sweep. Exemplares!"
"NO!" Rose cried. "That's copies, not copy! You're making the others model his!"
"What's the hollering about?" Granddad walked over in time to watch the conventional hedge transform into a row of topiary. His jaw dropped. "Holy dooley!"
"It's my fault, sir," Scorpius said. "They were only trying to help."
Albus said, "I miscast the spell."
"I asked you to do it," Rose said.
Granddad chuckled. "No one has to take blame. I shouldn't have messed with the ruddy things until June, and they were boring anyway. Now they're a what-you-may-call-it. A focal point. Gives the garden style." After Scorpius cleared the pruned leaves and branches with an Evanesco, her granddad went into the house to get his camera and tell Nana and Lily to "have a gander."
Rose said to Scorpius, "I told you it was impressive."
"Yes, you did." His lips curved. "Want to help me put away the tools?"
The shed was at the very back of the garden, partially concealed by a lime tree. A nice place for a snog. "Sure." Rose bent to pick up the head shears and jumped back. "Something's burrowing up through the ground!"
"Garden gnomes are attracted by magic," Albus said. "Maybe when I cast the spell—" he broke off when a pink nose attached to a long black snout poked up through the earth and was followed by the rest of a head covered in black fur. The animal crawled onto the grass and lay panting like a swimmer reaching the shore after a gruelling swim.
"What're you doing here, little Niffler?" Albus hunkered down. "You must be thirsty." He conjured a bowl of water.
"Don't touch him," Scorpius said.
Albus was already petting the rodent-like animal. "I'm not wearing gold or anything else shiny. He won't bite. Nifflers are gentle, mostly, and this one's a pet. He's wearing a collar."
"I'm aware of that," Scorpius said. "Come to me, Felix!"
With an excited-sounding squeak, the Niffler stopped lapping water and hopped toward Scorpius, tail swishing back and forth. Felix made contented-sounding grumbles when he was picked up and petted.
Rose's blood ran cold. "He's yours?" Lucius must be using the animal—that collar—as a tracking device! He could be there any minute. They had to leave!
Scorpius didn't answer. He stood frozen in place, holding the immobilised Niffler, fingers curled around the black tag dangling from the collar.
She cast a counter-curse.
Albus did the same.
Rose cast a different spell. "You and Lily get Nana and Grandpa out of the house for a couple of hours."
"What are you going to do?"
She took off the Niffler's collar, dropped it onto the grass, and used a Vanishing Charm. Rose wrapped her arms around Scorpius, who she'd charmed to be featherlight. It was a strange feeling, picking up her boyfriend like a gorgeous doll. "I'm taking him somewhere safe," she said and Disapparated.
A/N: I'll leave it to readers to decide which soap opera is Lily's favourite: EastEnders, Emmerdale, or Coronation Street (and if you have a reason why I'd love to know it). I had fun having Rose think about asking Scorpius if he wanted to go on the London Eye. There's a Cupid's Capsule private flight that has champagne and truffles they'd enjoy, although Scorpius would curl his lip over the name.
I don't say it outright, but I do imply that Nick and the crew are from the show DIY SOS. I gave me a giggle imagining the look on Hermione's face when she's told "Dad and I are going to be on telly!" The book titles came from Amazon. I can only personally recommend Death of a Dentist by M.C. Beaton and Doctor De Soto, by William Steig (whose book Shrek! inspired a far better screenplay imho). The Doctor De Soto quote is from the book’s opening page.
I originally gave Nana Granger a collection of digeridoos, but since a few Australian readers thought she wouldn't play even if Dreaming Law doesn't prohibit informal playing by women, I changed it to boomerangs. I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying everyone in Australia throws boomerangs, although you might be surprised to learn there is a Boomerang Association of Australia with a bi-annual Boomerang World Cup. Granddad Granger’s accent, slang, and hat are also meant to be humorous, an unintended consequence of Hermione's spell, not a blanket description of all Australians.