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Chapter 4: Four
“You’re doing what?”
I looked at Pippa mildly over the top of the Daily Prophet, trying to pretend that I’d actually been reading it, a ruse which fooled neither of us. Her jaw had nearly hit the table, and I could see a large wad of bright blue, barely-chewed Drooble’s hanging about near her right molars.
“You don’t need to act so surprised,” I said a bit testily, setting the paper down with a pleasant rustle. There’s really not a lot that sounds better than newsprint, you know. Even if the articles inside it are totally boring and stuffy, it just sounds awesome. I always try and carry a newspaper around with me to look smart, and then I can just sort of crinkle it whenever I’m bored and get that lovely sound back.
I am an expert at these sorts of façades.
“I bloody well need to act surprised,” she retorted. She had finally regained her senses enough to resume chomping away at the gum.
“Merlin, Pippa, it’s only nine o’ clock in the morning,” I said, pointing at the little cellophane wrappers around her golden plate. “We’ve got to get you to a specialist, or a therapist, or somebody. This is getting out of hand.”
It sort of seems like I would get on Pippa’s nerves about the gum thing, but that’s been a factor in our friendship pretty much from the beginning. Considering it sort of began when I lent her a piece, way back in second year, and we just got talking from there.
They say you shouldn’t feed an addiction, and yeah, it makes sense now. But getting a friend like Pippa was well worth all the Drooble’s madness that came later.
And she owes me forever, which is always a plus.
She rolled her eyes. “Focus, Rose. You are taking lessons. From Scorpius. The same Scorpius you ridicule on a daily basis, I’m going to assume? We haven’t got a new student? You haven’t got a new invisible friend?” She looked pointedly at me from beneath her dark fringe, leaning forward on her elbows as though almost expecting this to be the case.
“Little heavy on the sarcasm, Pips. Maybe I’ve decided to become a more selfless person,” I said, clasping my hands over the mess of newspaper that had covered my breakfast. From next to me, Albus, who had tried to stay out of the conversation thus far, let out such a violent snort that I was very surprised there wasn’t a mess of egg splatter all over his plate.
“Rosie, you’ve been stealing my toys since you were born,” he said. “It runs in your blood.”
“Well, Albus, I’m not planning on stealing his toys,” I said patiently, and it was Pippa’s turn to roll her eyes. I felt rather victimized in this situation, not to mention a little hurt that they thought I could turn a new leaf so quickly. Never mind the fact that it wasn’t necessarily true.
“It so happens that I’ve made a deal with him,” I continued, trying to recollect the shreds of dignity that had become scattered between my cousin and my best friend. “Involving one witty announcer and one rather attractive Slytherin –“
“You sold your soul for Julian Murdock?” Pippa screeched, in a very impressive decibel. I winced.
“I did not sell my soul!” That came out rather louder than I meant it to. And, to infer something from the odd looks that were quickly cast my way, half-screaming that one has not sold their soul actually makes it look like they have. A second-year Hufflepuff girl from the table across the way – she’d always stalked Albus, I remembered now, she’d sent him love notes nearly every week our first year – looked like her eyes were about to pop out of her head. I turned back to Pippa quickly, propping up my hand by my face to avoid looking at anyone else.
“I’ve just agreed not to say anything else about him until after next week’s game,” I said quickly. “He wants to impress all those snobbish Quidditch people. And look, he said he could get me a date with Julian. That’s worth playing along for, right?”
Albus snorted again, and I was really thinking about turning him into a pig at this point just to show him how annoying that was. Bloody git. “Did you ever think that maybe he’s just got you to agree to this so you’ll stop? And he’s got no intentions of fulfilling his end of the deal?”
Well, no, that hadn’t exactly occurred to me in so many words. I pretended to look insulted still.
“I am a bit smarter than that, thank you kindly,” I said, drawing myself up to my full height. It was still only tall enough to give Albus’s chin a good glare. “He said he’d teach me –“
Pippa spoke up now, and I was getting good and sick of being interrupted. “That boy is not the one to be giving lessons on dating,” she said, blowing a large blue bubble I resisted the urge to stab my fork in. Albus stiffened slightly at the allusion that Pips and Scorpius had once dated.
It was sort of cute, his protective instinct. Or it would have been, if he hadn’t been my cousin. And totally obnoxious.
“Not mention,” Pippa added, “that Julian seems to be the sort to go for people like… like Scorpius’s family, actually. All those Malfoy and Greengrass types. They’re all, like… elegant and posh –“
“I’m elegant,” I scoffed, stabbing a kipper moodily and gnawing on the end of it, not bothering to cut it. Albus wrinkled his nose and slid a napkin my way, which I promptly ignored just to annoy him. “Besides, I’m a fast learner.”
Pippa shook her head, clucking her tongue. I was rather impressed the wad of gum in her cheek still allowed her to make noise at all. “Better you than me,” she said. "Been there, done that, bought that set of robes."
"Oh, this is totally different," I said, and then leaned across the table and patted her nicely on the head. “Pips, my lovely friend, what is the absolute worst that can happen?”
Scorpius had said to meet him in the library after lunch that day for our first lesson, although the prat wouldn’t tell me exactly what it would consist of. I hate surprises, and told him so, but he just smiled and said something about it being good for me.
Which I found to be a load of rubbish, to be honest. He wasn’t my father or my uncle or any of the other men in my life who tried to help me out, and his advice wasn’t, you know, vegetables or vitamins. And I was doing him a favor, too, by saving him from a world of witty humiliation. I didn’t ask for lessons in morality and patience along the way, I just wanted this date.
He was waiting in one of the squashy chairs by the far window when I got there, looking in his element. I, for one, absolutely hated the library, and it really wasn’t all that hard to see why. The place was so dusty you could see little footprints where everyone walked, and anyone with asthma would have been dead in two seconds upon walking in. And it was much, much too quiet – any place where you can’t talk above a whisper for fear of getting expelled was no place for me. And there is, of course, Madam Pince, who I swear should be dead by now. She was librarian when my parents were at school, and Merlin knows how ancient they are. And most unfortunately, she has apparently only gotten crankier in her old (older) age.
Scorpius gave me a far-too-cheerful smile when I plopped my bag on the floor near him. “Lovely to see you, Sneezeley,” he said, sitting an inch or two forward on the cushion of his chair. “Ten minutes late, of course, but –“
“Time is relative to all things,” I said, frowning. He quirked an eyebrow but apparently chose not to comment.
At that exact moment, Madam Pince came stalking around the corner of the nearest stack, her bony, claw-like hands clasped around a stack of moldy books. She froze when she saw me, and her beady eyes narrowed even further than normal. She always seemed to resent my presence even more than that of the other students.
This may or may not have anything to do with the time Pippa and I accidentally set her first-edition copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them on fire.
In my defense, though, if you’re going to assign students an essay on fire salamanders, and they want to get a little hands-on experience by bribing Professor Hagrid, you cannot blame them for whatever articles may or may not be returned singed.
The librarian’s eyes flickered over to Scorpius at that moment, however, and her gaze became a fraction less hostile – for whatever reason, she seemed to like him well enough. She settled for a loud sniff through her wrinkled old hook of a nose and stalked off, heels tapping. I stuck my tongue out at her retreating back.
“So, shall we get started?” Scorpius lugged his own bag onto his knees and rummaged around in it for a bit, pretending he hadn’t seen the tongue thing at all. Which was big of him, really. He deserved a pat on the head, maybe a biscuit.
Like one you might give dog that hasn’t peed on the rug. That sort of pat.
He finally pulled out a piece of parchment and set it on the arm of his chair, and I could see that it was covered in tiny black writing – how he ever managed to write that much, I’ll never know. I was rather impressed that it hadn’t come out looking like a herd of centaurs had trampled on it, as all the essays that came out of my own bag usually did.
The paper was, rather optimistically, titled Lesson One: How to Make Rose Seem Attractive to Julian. I jabbed it with my forefinger, feeling rather offended. “And what’s this supposed to mean?” I asked, crossing my legs under me leaning on my own armrest. “I’m plenty attractive to Julian.”
“A precursor to the lesson, if we may,” Scorpius spoke up, not looking at me as he continued to rummage. He held a forefinger in the air as though he were making some philosophical point. “Staring unsubtly at a boy all through Potions and then getting covered in gum does not equal attractive. Learn these things now.” He glanced up, smirking. “I could make you take notes.”
“I could make you eat frog spawn.”
Scorpius sat up a bit straighter now, clutching a quill in his right hand. He raised another eyebrow, and I noted that he was rather good at this. Whenever I tried to raise just one, my whole face looked sort of lopsided.
“Are you going to learn this, or not? I’m trying to help, Rose.” He looked so serious at that moment that it unnerved me a bit, so I just resorted to mumbling something, straightening my robes over my knees for something to do.
“You may continue,” I said primly. He let out a long sigh and cleared his throat, pulling the parchment a bit more towards himself.
“What I’ve compiled here is a list of Julian’s interests, things I know he likes and dislikes. What we can do first is go down and see if any of them match up, and sort of build conversation from there.” He glanced up at me, and I noticed that his eyes were rather blue.
Quite blue, actually.
“From there,” he was saying, and I pulled myself together enough to listen, “we’ll plan out potential responses and where to set up this conversation between you two. So with luck, you’ll have bonded from the first conversation. And where there’s bonding, there’s the potential for a date.” He tapped the paper with the quill for emphasis. “Are you with me so far?”
I nodded. Well, this sounded easy enough, after all. I already knew that we probably had tons in common. Conversation would be a breeze. Heck, he’d probably ask me to the Three Broomsticks after ten minutes of talking. And then we’d go and grab a butterbeer, and afterwards…
“Rose.” Scorpius was now snapping his fingers in front of my nose, and it appeared that I’d sort of forgotten he was still talking. He waved the paper in my direction, and I pouted, annoyed that he was treating me like a four-year-old. “Okay, just listen. Can you do that?”
“I resent your bad attitude,” I said sniffily, and was treated to another rolling of the eyes.
Honestly. Could anyone keep their eyes firmly in their sockets today?
“Okay, here’s one,” he ventured, straightening the parchment. “The Rhythm Runes. Do you like them?”
I blinked. “Should I know what that is?”
“They’re a band, Rose,” Scorpius said, and I could have sworn a smile was twitching around the corners of his lips. He’d never own up to it, though. I huffed, rearranging myself on the chair.
“Well, I’m not good at music stuff. Nana brought us up on all the Celestina Warbeck stuff.” Scorpius mimed gagging, and this time – finally! – it was my turn to roll his eyes at him. “Okay, there’s got to be something else,” I persisted, trying to peek over the top edge of the parchment. “Next thing, come on.”
“Ick. No. That class is worse than Divination, and at least Divination’s easy to fall asleep in.” He stared at me for a second again before turning back down to the paper, scanning it with a slight hint of desperation now.
“Steak and kidney pie.”
“Old books – oh, no, we can scratch that one off.” He grinned wickedly at me. If you’re asking me, he was asking for a good punch in the head at that moment, but I was working on being elegant, like Pippa said. And elegant women, as far as I knew, did not punch their matchmakers.
Although it’s something I should probably research. Just in case I was missing a prime opportunity.
“Keep going!” I said, flapping my hands at him. Truth be told, I was feeling a bit panicked now myself, but there had to be something we had in common.
“The color green. Lectures on goblin rebellions. Early morning swims in the lake. Black shoes?” Scorpius shot me another look, and I really couldn’t tell if his was expression was because he was about to laugh, or cry, or maybe both. “Come on, black shoes.”
“They’re too plain! What’s the fun in wearing plain shoes?” I wailed, now more than a little anxious. I clasped my hands around my throat dramatically. “What if – I could just sort of… lie?”
Scorpius tossed the paper in the air in defeat, and I made a wild scramble to snatch it. “You can’t lie to the bloke, for Merlin’s sakes! Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“And who are you to tell me what I’m supposed to do?” I snapped, now looking at the list for myself. I pointed at one with a little shriek of triumph, and Madam Pince reappeared almost instantly around the corner.
“Shh!” she hissed at me, looking as though at any moment she’d sprout wings and swoop down on my face. I looked reproachfully back at the old hag until she finally resumed her place behind the desk, looking austerely at the two of us.
“Taking difficult examinations! We can totally bond over that!” Scorpius laughed so loudly that it was his turn to be hushed by the birdlike librarian. I stared at him a bit incredulously, mouth slightly open, as he choked and gasped for air.
“You’re being a mite rude, you know, Scorp.” I waved the list in his red, tear-streaked face. “I mean, I like when difficult exams are over, that’s a start… It’ll work! This was your idea, you know!”
He wiped his eyes and fought down the last of his giggles. It was rather unmanly for him to be giggling, actually. At the rate he’s going, it’s a wonder he managed to snag Pippa at all. Maybe he’s got a thing for gum.
“My idea was that you might have something in common,” he began. “Not –“
“It’s worth a shot,” I said stubbornly, crossing my arms over my chest. “Or we can just go back to the old days of my announcing your hair care problems for the whole school to hear.”
“I don’t have – my hair – oh, fine,” he grouched, snatching the list back from me; by this point, it was quite crumpled and dog-eared. “If you want to start building your whole relationship around this one rather flimsy fact, be my guest. If it means you think that got something out of this –”
I smiled, patting his knee in what I thought was a rather kind gesture. “Now you’re seeing things clearly, Scorpius. I’m proud of you.”
He snorted, and he reminded me distinctly of Albus at that moment. “Lessons are over for today. Let’s go.” Standing up, he led the way out of the library, and I had to try very hard to resist dancing out after him.
Julian Murdock was as good as mine. I could feel it.
A/N: Happy Friday, everybody! And I do normally update on Thursdays, so this is a tad later than my schedule dictates. But there was a slight queue rush and I was trying to time this right -- and, to make a long story short, yesterday didn't work out so well. But now sod it, I wanted to get this chapter out, so here it is! Hope you enjoy, and thanks so much for the already incredible response this story's gotten. In a month, no less!
Also, Scorpius is delicious. That is all.