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Author's Note: this story is a rewriting (or, better yet, a re-vision) of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", but is also heavily inspired by Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights". The pouring rain and the playing of board games comes from a writing prompt at TGS.
A Game of Chess
There was much unrest in the castle of Hogwarts that new school year, the fair summer plummeting into dismal autumn, the leaves swept from the trees just as they began to flame gold and scarlet, plunging the world into shades of murky brown as though a poison had been fed into the land, killing all within sight. In such a world, there could be no hope, only the dreams of those who could remember the raging colours of dawns and sunsets, the soft pastels of spring flowers, and the chilling blues of winter.
As time passed, even those memories grew dim beneath threatening grey skies and tumbling piles of parchment.
Rain fell for weeks without end, leaving the ground impassible, the skies thick with mist, always a danger of lightning or hail to put a halt to any outdoor activity, especially flying. The students of Hogwarts had little to do except for their homework, and such a radical measure to counteract boredom was their last resort. They instead often gathered in the Great Hall, where wizard’s chess, exploding snap, and gobstones stood in for Quidditch and midnight duels. The air grew tense with each passing round of games as idle amusement ripened into fierce competition.
“We’ll play our best against yours,” a brash Potter exclaimed, his chin tilted to raise him above the height of his challenger.
“It’s a fair deal.” Montague put out his hand, a dangerous gleam in his eye.
Potter, the elder of two, frowned as he regarded that hand.
It was a fatal hesitation. Montague withdrew his hand, lips twisting into a sneer. “Don’t trust me, Potter? Or am I just too dirty for you?”
Other Slytherins stepped forward, arms crossed, looking grim.
Potter was too honest for his own good, an unfortunate inheritance.
“I’ve just got a bad feeling about this.”
“What is it?” Bletchley asked in his high-pitched waver. “Is your Potty-sense tingling?”
Montague gave a glare at the minion that sent him scurrying back into the crowd, shielding himself behind Malfoy, who, standing near the back, listened with his keen ears and watched with his keener eyes.
Potter did not hesitate this time, the creases across his brow clearing away.
“I’m not sure that you’ll like our champion, Montague. Probably not what, or rather who, you’d expect.” He smiled with one corner of his lips, brushing aside strands of red hair with a negligent hand, not bothering to consult with his younger brother, who raised an eyebrow in silent query.
“Then we’re on, Potter?”
Montague nodded and turned to the others who crowded around him, suggesting various names, discounting those whose skill was somehow flawed or their patience untrustworthy. This battle, the greatest chess battle in all of Hogwarts’s history – or so they claimed – would require the finest wizard’s chess players its four noble houses could offer.
Every so often, Montague looked back toward Potter, who waited with insolent patience, that smile still playing about his lips. The sight of it brought blood to Montague’s cheeks, but his eyes would flicker toward the prefect standing at the end of the table, and he would turn back to his compatriots, seeking retaliation in the pursuit of victory.
He whispered a name to the girl beside him, causing her to frown in disgust.
“If you must. Personally, I don’t think he’s got the stuff for it.”
A chorus of whos rang up from the crowd, silencing abruptly when Montague’s voice rang out, echoing to the ceiling of the Great Hall.
He whirled around to face Potter once more. “There is our champion, Potter.” He pointed toward the pale waif who came forward, eyes narrowed and lips tightly pressed together.
“Now name yours.”
Albus Potter’s eyebrow further encroached upon his hairline while his brother regarded Malfoy with a cool gaze, his brow furrowing in thought, hesitation again plaguing his ability to act, preventing his voice from mounting the final step onto his tongue.
A girl threw herself forward, sending various individuals head over heels as she pushed them aside with arms stronger than she would have sworn to, but that was always the way with Rose Weasley. None who stood in her way escaped unscathed.
With a toss of her head, bushy red hair flying in all directions, Rose snatched up Malfoy’s hand in her own, giving it a powerful shake.
“Well, I’m ready. Let’s get started.”
Bounding away, she took her seat on the other side of the table, folding her hands as she regarded not her opponent, but the chess set, her eyes darting side to side as her strategy began to take root in that mind of hers.
Potter and Montague, standing side-by-side for the first, and perhaps only, time in their lives, surveyed the competitors.
“A girl?” Montague pursed his lips. “Are there no real wizards on your side, Potter, that you have to let a girl fight your battles?”
Albus’s green eyes flamed, but the beside him with hair the colour of mud placed a calming hand on his shoulder, silencing whatever impetuous reply threatened to burst forth. He looked sideways at Rose’s brother with a stiff nod of gratitude.
Potter was smiling again, experiencing amusement where his brother found offence.
“I’ll tell you one thing, Montague.”
The elder boy frowned, failing to comprehend the reason for Potter’s amusement.
“I wouldn’t cross Rose Weasley, not if I were you or anybody else.” After a pause, watching Montague closely, he added in a lower tone, “You know what they say: every rose’s got its thorns.”
Montague rolled his eyes and, with an uncaring wave of his hand, motioned to the crowd to gather around the combatant and prepare to witness the greatest battle in the history of Hogwarts since the Great Battle itself, a quarter-century before. But instead of garnering the assistance of those assembled, this battle required only their eyes and ears as spectators while the two combatants fought, not with wands, but with chess pieces and, most of all, their minds.
Malfoy took some moments to seat himself across from Rose while he tested the bones of his right hand as though he feared that some part of her strategy had been to break his fingers in her iron grasp. He looked down at the chess set to see that she had chosen the black, leaving the white pieces for his use. It was an odd move, but she was one for doing odd things, never entirely reducing herself to the expectations others set for her.
With her father’s eyes, she scanned the squirming chess pieces, but it was with her mother’s curiosity that she raised her eyes to study the face of Scorpius Malfoy, looking at him as though for the very first time.
Thunder rattled the windows, shaking the castle to its very foundation.
“Your move.” Rose’s face did not smile, but it was there in her voice, as was something else, too, something beyond Malfoy’s understanding at that moment.
He looked down at the waiting pieces, felt the eyes of the waiting watchers, heard the gears turning in the mind of his waiting opponent, the seconds on the clock ticking as he made his decision, the pressure of the whole world bearing down upon his chest, squeezing every inch of pitiful life he had to offer. The chess pieces were as pale as his skin, as fair as his hair. Drained of all colour, even shadow, he and they were up against what was all colour, all life, all shadow. She had life and glory, and she hadn’t yet made a move.
With one last breath, he cast his die, settling his fate.
“Pawn to E4.”
Battle commenced with great deliberation on one side and great fortitude on the other. Time passed. More and more pieces were scattered across the table. Still no end was in sight.
The rain continued to fall and there was always a hint of electricity in the air, thunder rolling down the mountains while lightning flickered across the sky and the ceiling, illuminating the faces of those who watched, silenced, bated of breath, as they took in the expertise of these young players of matched wits and wills, who mercilessly slaughtered one another without raising a finger. The battle was beyond violent, both sides losing far more than they gained.
Malfoy felt beads of sweat trickle down his temples and along the line of his jaw until they came to drip off the end of his chin. He did not care to wipe them away; the workings of the mind taking precedence over the dull mechanics of the body. He was close to something, something big, even extraordinary. Her queen lay unprotected to one side of the board while one of his knights and his queen lay siege on her king. How she should have allowed for such a weakness, he could not comprehend, but he took advantage of its presentment, the breath catching in his throat as he spoke the command to his other knight.
“Knight to G6.”
Her queen fell with a crash, her carved mouth screaming in agony as the knight grabbed her hair and dragged her from the board.
There were gasps from the onlookers, the loudest of all from little Hugo Weasley, who huddled at his sister’s side, knowing better than to touch her, but still near enough that a nargle could hardly squeeze between them. No one could have been as close without disturbing her concentration and exciting her violent impatience. With wide eyes, he looked up at his sister as though to a great goddess, awaiting the inevitable explosion of passion that would burst forth from her now-quaking form.
But it never came.
Her eyes swept across the board, taking note of her remaining pieces, their present positions, and their possible future positions, her lips pressed tightly together, as though entrapping any outburst that may have emerged, unbidden.
As Malfoy continued his attack, he grew restless at her passive manoeuvres and her apparently decreasing interest in the game. Rose lost a bishop and both her rooks before long, and the Potters shifted uneasily on their feet, meeting one another’s gazes with grave uncertainty. Hugo leaned closer until his head rested against Rose’s arm, lending her his strength, his overwhelming confidence in her abilities, as though she hadn’t enough of her own.
Malfoy watched all of this before turning his eyes to her. The torches on the wall silhouetted her form, raising her hair to a shade of scarlet unmatched by any meagre flame. Its volume had increased as they had played, the static of the storm outside, coupled with the intensity of the storm within her mind, standing the frizzy strands on end. He thought she appeared like a rose in bloom, her hair the petals, folding outwards, her face the centre, burning bright, and her robes the blighted stem of a plant too long in the wet.
He admired this rose, this perfect flower, and began to forget his purpose. How could there be purpose when such a one as her could exist? The very sight of her stole his breath, the raging intelligence within her shining from every pore, her soul a guiding light to those lost in the storm, not of the weather, but of the world, wandering their whole lives without ever discovering that one perfect thing that would bring meaning to their wasted days and bitter nights.
He watched her and he loved her.
He was certain of that. There could be no other possible explanation.
“Pawn to F8.”
Very few had seen this move before. To many, it made no sense at all to move a pawn to the far side of the board until they witnessed a resurrection of the sort impossible in real battle. The black queen lifted herself from the sidelines, and with a regal step forward, holding her skirts up from the table top, took the pawn’s place.
Rose’s petals peeled back to reveal a beaming, no longer burning, face, her eyes aglow with all the glory of the ages.
Malfoy blinked, but said nothing, his face flushing in shame for it was all lost now. Her queen was too near his king and he had not the pieces left to counteract any onslaught from as savage a weapon as Rose Weasley’s queen.
In ten minutes, his king threw down his sword, defeated.
Rose’s fellow Ravenclaws sang her praises to the towers, her Gryffindor cousins gathering around to pat her shoulders, anything to touch such brilliance. Hugo and his Hufflepuffs danced around them all, tossing their pointed hats into the air.
The Slytherins, and those who had joined Montague in his challenge, were silent. Most silent of all was Scorpius Malfoy, who stared at the board, cursing himself, cursing everything in the world but her, that rose whose thorns had torn his mind to shreds even as all else about her had brought new life into his quietly-beating heart.
He slipped out of the Hall before the others to loiter beneath the stairs, hiding his rose-blushed cheeks in the shadows where no light, and no one, could find him.
He had to see her again.
The defeat was nothing, nothing at all, nothing to one who had felt the touch of that thing which must be love, one who had seen its resplendence and tasted the sweetness of its fruit. All his senses had been awakened. Only his mind had dulled, his intellect finding slumber beneath the blanket of snow upon which the last rose of summer dropped its petals, one by one.
She came out at last with her brother in tow, accompanying him to the stair that led to his house for the final good night she bid him every night. Malfoy listened from the shadows, watching the way that she smiled differently as she looked down at her brother, the way that the torchlight glittered in her eyes, the delicacy with which her hand rested on the balustrade, even though her thick fingers betrayed a strength that was matched by the firm set of her jaw and the squareness of her shoulders. She was like no other girl in Hogwarts, past and present, at least in the eyes of he who now loved her, or claimed to do so.
Hugo leapt down the steps, eager for one last foray of the kitchens before bed, his final good night echoing up from the brightly-lit stair.
Rose, about to turn away, stopped only when she heard Malfoy’s tread behind her.
“Rose. Just a moment. If you please.” The words emerged disjointed, and his flush deepened at the knowledge of how insignificant he must sound.
Her hand remained on the balustrade, her foot upon the first stair.
“You played well for a while, Malfoy,” she said in a low, harmonious voice. “I thought you might be a challenge.”
He fell back a step, feeling the blade of her disappointment strike deep into his heart.
“It was the light, the way it hit you. I thought you were perfect.”
The words were pouring from him now, and he was lost in their fatal current.
Her fingers clenched, her lips drawing into a frown.
“‘Were’, Malfoy? Only in a certain light, I think. The light of battle, perhaps.”
She began to move away, her feet light on each stair.
“Please. Don’t.” Malfoy’s voice broke and he swallowed, his breath coming in light gasps that gave him no relief. “Not yet, at least. Rose.”
Something in his voice, the sheer agony of his speech, forced her round to face him. From the fifth stair, she looked down upon him like a queen at the beggars who grasped at her train, eager for any touch, any look. A glance alone would bring them fame. A touch would bring them fortune. Her glory would rain down upon them and they would be beggars no more.
Rose saw that beggared expression in Malfoy’s eyes, her frown growing as she leaned forward, attempting to discern the meaning of such an expression. Many had envied her. Some had despised her. None had worshiped her. Not before this.
He came forward in a rush, as though the sheer act of stopping was response enough to beckon him toward her. Stopping on the stair below hers, he stared up into her face, stricken neither by awe nor fear, but something else, something inexplicable and incomprehensible to her mind, so careful, so calculating. But it had never accounted for this.
She reached out her hand to touch his face, mesmerised by what she saw there, the goddess extending a golden hand to her humbled, cowering priest.
That was when it happened.
That was when the scorpion’s tail took aim, piercing her to the heart, its poison taking root in the deepest, darkest corner of her being. He hardly knew himself that he possessed such a power, that he was more dangerous than her, that he could permanently, mortally wound even the strongest of spirits, even the most hidden of hearts.
That was the moment when Rose Weasley fell in love, losing herself to the illusion of that great temple, high above the velvet clouds, where she stood, high above him, the idol with a heart of black.
Song of the Nightingale
The rain soon ended.
It was said, many years later, that such weather could not withstand the force of a love as that which existed between Rose Weasley and Scorpius Malfoy. There was too much light between them, burning away the darkness and mist to reveal the sun, long hidden from view, a golden gem buried within a crypt. It shone down upon the school and its inhabitants with all the fury of a summer’s day, even as the winter winds gusted across the mountain tops.
But sometimes the weather is wrong. Sometimes pathetic fallacy is just that: a lie.
No one could account for the great change in the weather, nor the peculiarities that accompanied it. Even the lovers could not, though they, at least, had the excuse of not caring to notice what nature did or did not do. There were far more important things on their minds, or at least, on the mind of Rose. So many things passed through her mind each day, new ideas, new schemes, so many worlds to conquer, so many things she could make her own. Thoughts of Scorpius did not haunt her every minute, but whenever she looked upon him, she liked what she saw.
What else is one to do the first time one believes they are in love?
Nothing is enough. Everything is too much. The world is at once brighter and darker, and although one imagines that this love can last forever, one always knows, deep within, that it cannot, that it is too perfect, too precious, too extraordinary. No such thing can last as that illusion of light, of glory, of pleasure.
Particularly with families such as theirs.
“Even I heard Uncle Ron tell you not to go near that Malfoy.”
James Potter crossed his arms, glaring down at Rose, who proudly glared back.
“You dolt. He told me only to beat him in every test, which I do.”
“It’s not right, you know. No matter what you think. He’s a Slytherin.”
She tossed her head, hair flying every which way.
“And I’m not a Gryffindor, so I’m not breaking any rules, spoken or not.”
With a defiant sniff, she stalked away. It was to her advantage that she was, as of this time, the only one of her cousins in Ravenclaw. There had been one or two, but they had graduated long before and could offer to Rose neither words or support nor of warning. She could roost in her ivory tower, high above Hogwarts, pointedly facing away from Gryffindor Tower so that she need not dwell on her unfortunate origins, but instead dwell upon the novel experience of being in love, or, at least, imagining that one was.
She looked out over the grounds, the light streaming in throwing odd patterns across her face through the leaded panes. Her hands fidgeted with the fringe of the curtain, absently twisting and turning the gold tassels between her fingers, only to drop the last when she saw movement upon the lawn below.
It was the thing that she had waited for.
He carried his broomstick out to the Quidditch pitch, pale hair glinting in the morning sun. The rest of the Slytherin team hoards around him, gabbling like geese. He’s not the tallest, nor the strongest, nor the best-formed, but she saw only him. The others held no interest for her; they were only Slytherins, after all. He, however, was the exception, and rules were not made with exceptions in mind.
They marched to the pitch, nearly out of sight. Of course those Gryffindors could see the pitch clearly from their tower, but Ravenclaws were not supposed to be as interested in such things. Books and parchments were for them, as were the deeper aspects of the mind, but Rose, at that moment, was far more interested in deeper aspects of the physical persuasion.
“Is something wrong, Rose?” one of the other girls looked up from her letters.
Rose had already reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Just had an idea!” her gleeful voice called back.
She raced from the tower, the motion of her long, thin legs mesmerizing to those who caught sight of them beneath her flapping robes. The warm weather meant she did not bother with stockings, her bare feet shoved into an ancient pair of slippers, the edges nibbled by her cat, Paris, who spent most of his aging years sleeping in her trunk.
It did not take her long to reach the staircase of the tallest of Hogwarts’s towers, the one from which she could see everything without encumbrance, without being spied on by any of her creeping cousins. Taking the stairs two at a time, she ascended the Astronomy Tower, half-wishing that there were an easier way while the other half acknowledged that the road to love could never be easy, otherwise, everyone would be in love all the time, and then there would be little point to love. It had to remain something exclusive, felt only by a fortunate few, those deserving of the experience.
The wind caught at her hair as she stood on the balcony, high, high above the grounds, whipping its wild strands across her face. She did not bother to brush them away, but let them swallow her in a flaming beacon that he, soaring past, could not possibly ignore her presence.
He did not disappoint.
She watched as he drew closer, slowly, circling about, catching and throwing the Quaffle with another player. His mouth opened and he spoke, but she could not hear the words, only seeing the reaction of the other Slytherin, who visibly rolled her eyes before veering back over the pitch. Malfoy guided his broom toward the tower, head tilted as he regarded Rose, eyes asking the question he would not put into words for it would be a waste of breath.
“You can fly, can’t you, Rose?” He leaned over her, laughter filling his eyes.
Pulling hair from her eyes so that she could better see him – and the way the midday sun lit his hair from behind, giving him a crown of white, the same sun that flushed his skin a fresh, healthy pink, no more ghostly shades haunting his flesh – she found that she liked what she saw.
“I prefer to keep my feet on the ground.”
And Scorpius, what did he think of the smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks, the bottomless brown eyes that flashed with all emotions at once, the wiry hair that burst into every corner of his awareness of her and all of her, all that she was now and would be forever? Perhaps the light of the sun across her brow faded the freckles into alabaster and made her seem a goddess rather than the gangly adolescent witch that nature had made her. There, on that tower, she was someone else.
“Do you think anyone can see us here?” he asked, peering into the darkness behind her.
She let out a small laugh. “Are you afraid, Malfoy?”
Leaning down from his broom, his lips rising in a smirk that did not entirely reach his eyes. “Of course not. I just don’t like to be spied on, that’s all.”
There was a sudden tightness to her jaw and lips. “Do you mean Hugo?”
He raised his eyebrows. “What would make you think that?”
Their eyes were locked for a long moment. He kept his balance with all the will he could muster while her hands gripped the rail until her knuckles turned a deathly pallor. The tightness in her jaw persisted only for another minute before fleeing like the snitch from the seeker’s hands. Her eyes, raised to his, narrowed now with happiness, the joy of the sun and of him.
“Will you kiss me, Scorpius?”
He frowned at the change, still uncertain of this creature, this girl who had captivated him, but too often failed to make any sense at all.
“It’s probably too dangerous,” he said to save face, straightening on his broom so that he would not fall down, down to the ground eons below. “I’ll come see you after practice.” The wind tore at his robes and he locked his hands around the broom’s handle.
She bent over the rail, gazing at him with giant eyes. “Here, please. Oh, Scorpius, I’ll bet that no one has done it before.”
“And would that be the only reason you’d want to?” He swerved from side to side, moving against the wind that swirled around the tower and them. “There wouldn’t be another, would there?”
Part of her wanted to say no, just to torture him, but as he was the one on the broom, and very liable to fly away, she nodded, her smile coy. “Maybe just one.”
Pushing down with his arms, Scorpius drew the broom as close to the rail as possible and with the greatest care, mentally calculating how far he could bend forward before losing his balance while he tilted his face so that it would align with hers. Standing on tip toe, Rose touched his hand, but did not grasp it, knowing how delicate this balance was. Their lips met, though only for a second before the wind burst between them, thrusting him away.
He would always remember the taste of strawberries and the wafting of hair across his cheek. She would never forget the feeling of hanging high above the ground, her mind and heart soaring through the air, caught on the wind that pushed them apart, not that she much noticed until she caught sight of his back. He had retreated to the pitch, the world of his that she never wanted to share.
Turning back to the tower, she gazed at the instruments within, carelessly poking and prodding the delicate machines for her own amusement. She would have liked for someone to have seen her kissing Scorpius Malfoy. Then at least she would have something to do, someone to argue with, and prove wrong.
She enjoyed proving people wrong, and did so as often as she could, if only because, more often than not, she knew better.
Whether this time was one of those, we still cannot be certain.
The repercussions of this make-shift balcony scene could have no affect on Rose, however much she desired to a great queen of the stage, capturing the eyes of all no matter where she performed her acts. In her lofty towers, nothing could stain her, even the prying eyes of her cousins, who could only suspect, but were never able to validate these suspicions, even once it was too late.
It was deep within the heart of darkest Hogwarts, in the dungeons where Slytherin had placed his house some thousand years before, that Scorpius Malfoy’s housemates finally cornered him. They, of course, had seen it all from the Quidditch pitch, watching in horror as Malfoy had kissed a Weasley atop the Astronomy Tower. Some of the girls would not even go near Malfoy now, lest he be contaminated with that disease of red hair and freckles, as though such deformities were akin to leprosy.
“It’s disgusting, Malfoy.” Bletchley was sprawled across a fine leather chair, tossing a Remembrall up in the air at irregular intervals. “She’s such an ugly little thing.”
A thought pulled one corner of Malfoy’s mouth into a smile. “Perhaps that’s why I prefer her.” When Bletchley and the others crunched their brows in consternation, Malfoy’s smile turned into a laugh, an echo of that cruel sound Rose had made. “I never need to worry that any of you Casanovas will tempt her away.”
Some moments passed before, one after another, the other Slytherins began to laugh. They were hollow, awkward sounds, mostly unpleasant to the ear in their utter lack of sincerity, failing to understand what Malfoy found so amusing. He, who was well-acknowledged to be a handsome, if sickly-looking, wizard, found in the company of one of those despicable Weasleys, all ginger and spice. No refinement whatsoever.
“They’re everywhere, those Weasleys,” a brunette whined, twirling a long curl of hair around her fingers. “The Potters, too, of course. They’re all the same. All perfect little angels who make it impossible for the rest of us to do anything special.”
“Like you could do anything special, Isabella.”
She glared at the speaker, a lanky fifth year. “More than you, I’m sure.”
“Not as much as that Rose girl, though. Did you see her in Charms today?”
Marnie rolled her eyes with aplomb. “She may be able to charm Flitwick, but she’s all show. Could you imagine her in a duel?”
They fell into peals of laughter, the sound so different from the laughter that had come before. This was true feeling, something rare to many, the evil echo of honesty ringing through the dungeons, hitting sour notes within Malfoy’s ears.
“And what girl is good at wizard’s chess anyway? It’s ridiculous!”
Malfoy said nothing, only watched and listened until Montague should arrive. These others, how could they know, how could they understand? These things were beyond them. With their smooth faces and lifeless eyes, their shallow emotions and shallower thoughts, those who would insult the name of Rose Weasley could not even anger him with their words. Malfoy was very certain of his beliefs. He did not require their acceptance.
When Montague did appear, he took his time circling the room, ensuring that the youngest Slytherins were sent to their dormitories at the correct time and that the elder Slytherins were set to their homework. Although Prefect to Potter’s Head Boy, Montague never failed in his responsibilities, leading Slytherin House to have the highest number of points for not one, but two years in a row.
“Anything to report, cousin?” Montague laid a hand on the back of Malfoy’s chair.
They met each other's gaze with eyes a matched shade of copper, the only sign that the blood of Greengrasses flowed within them both. Malfoy’s eyes flickered toward the dungeon door, and soon, under the guise of a forage into the kitchens, the two kinsman found themselves alone in the dark, labyrinthine corridors that stretched beneath the castle like the fingers of Fortunado, scrambling for freedom against the stubborn rock.
“I suppose you’ve heard the news.” Malfoy leaned against a wall, taking in the smell damp and decay with greater pleasure than the air above ground could ever provide. “The others couldn’t stop talking about it.”
Montague took up a position on the opposite wall, his stance relaxed, even negligent, at last revealing a vague resemblance to his father. “Of course.”
There was no certainty as to which statement he had given a reply.
Malfoy was frowning, his arms crossed, his shoulders slumped, his thoughts reaching deep, but finding no solid substance at which he could grasp. Looking across at Montague, he could see a shade of his own mother’s face seeping through the hardened exterior of the elder boy. He was sinking, and sinking fast. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw only red, the blood red petals of the rose drowning him in what could only end in sorrow.
“It could prove useful, Scorpius, but you know that already.” Montague was looking at his fingernails.
“Yes.” Malfoy moistened his crackled lips. “That hadn’t escaped me.”
“She’s different from the others, Scorpius. I wasn’t sure before the chess game, but now I am. Her brain, it’s not like any other.” Montague paused, eyes narrowing as he regarded Malfoy, perhaps catching sight of the dreamer who wandered behind the lids of his cousin’s eyes.
“Of course she is,” he said, his voice almost a whisper. “And she won that game because of it.”
He closed his eyes for a moment more to relish the furious, blinding shades of his love, forgetting his purpose, all purpose, in the very thought of her.
“We’ll have to be ready, when the time comes.”
That time could not come late enough. Malfoy focussed on the sound of water dripping somewhere nearby, that slow, methodical noise that mesmerised his senses, drawing his consciousness into its perfect rhythm.
“I won’t fail.”
To love, or to hate? At what would he refuse to fail? He could not say.
Montague wandered away without another word, leaving Malfoy to listen. There was no such thing as silence; there were always sounds, always things to be heard. His ears strained against the relentless dripping and dropping of water, residue from those eternal rains of autumn, to catch the distant echoes of the castle drifting into another night of rest.
From the higher reaches of this subterranean maze came another sound, a set of notes playing on a different octave from the rest, a pitch higher and sharper that bounced along the dark, stone corridors to reach Malfoy’s hungry ears. It was joined by a similar tone, but only twice, the main tune rising above, just as its speaker rose above all others, knowing no peer.
There was no flower that possessed a voice. Even the rose was silent, brilliant only for the eyes, never the ears. Her voice was that of the nightingale who called from the blackened skies for a mate to banish the silence and bring light to the heart of the darkness. He wondered how the shuddering scorpion, burrowed deep within the earth, could respond to this call, raising himself into the moonlight only to be snatched and devoured by beak and talon.
He ran his hand against the dungeon walls and he hurried to meet her, to meet his fate, feeling tiny roots dangling from the trees above, or perhaps they were the roots of the rose, anchored into the moist, green earth, her flaming face turned upward to await the approach of the new day and mourn the loss of the endless night.
Due to my wordiness and the amount of additional development needed for this final act, I've added to divide it into two parts. Here are the first two scenes.
Many thanks to those who nominated or voted for Venom as the "Best Short Story" at TGS's Golden Snitch Awards! It's a great honour for this story to have won something. ^_^
Act Three, Part One
Thorn of the Rose
When the night came, it came with chilling depth, the darkness consuming their world beneath its inky cloak. All could not be well for very long. Ambition will take root in the minds of the weak and the hearts of the strong, tearing apart respect and virtue until only power remains. There is no person who can escape the draw of power, her cloying voice and silky words, tempting, corrupting. It does not take long before a new shadow is born, a new excuse to take hold of that precious, beautiful power and start the cycle of history turning once again.
But while history may repeat, it is never in quite the same way. The same story may be written once and again, but each time, one small detail will alter, the teller of the tale will remake the story for a new audience in a new place and a new time.
Eventually, the story becomes new.
“Is that you?”
One shadow spoke to another in the sunken depths of Knockturn Alley, to where only the fallen go when no other portion of the earth’s surface will suffer their presence.
“Why here?” asked the other shadow, voice terse. If they were to be found in this place–
The laugh that emerged is of the sort that brings chills to one’s spine even during the warmest of midsummer days.
The rains had long ceased and a fog had come in from the sea, anchoring over London, filled with the shades of past mistakes and future miscalculations. It swirled around the cloaked figures, at least one of whom was stifled beneath the folds of heavy fabric.
“It’s fun to be clandestine, isn’t it?”
Scorpius knew that this was all part of her game. For two long years he had played along, swept up in her enthusiastic passion as much as he was mystified by her rampant logic. She would act as though she felt so much, every nerve of her body quaking, but when it passed, there was nothing more than that dark glint in her eyes which betrayed no feeling, only thought. Pure, calculating thought.
“Don’t use those big words on me, Rose. They’re useless.”
He often wondered how much she had discovered about him, about the things he did when they were apart and the things running through his mind when they were together. He could play the game as well as she, and one day, he would play it better. Then she would be his.
“You have no sense of adventure. It makes me wonder why I like you at all.”
Her face marked by a childish pout, she ventured into the light, throwing back the hood of her cloak with a defiant toss of her head, spilling red hair like long drips of blood flowing over her shoulders. Her eyes flickered across the alley to see who and what else it contained, but there was only herself and her companion and the refuse that had drifted into forgotten corners. When they flickered back in his direction, the childishness had faded into shadow.
“You know very well that none of my family like you, Scorpius, and they never will after what happened with Bletchley.” She turned to face him, one white hand resting negligently against a wall. “Imagine dredging up all those old ideas, and for what reason?” Her jaw clenched. “And just because you’re a Slytherin, they take you down with them.”
It was an unexpected outburst, to say the least. Scorpius could not help but be impressed by her impassioned words, all very genuine in their feeling, at least for the moment.
“I go down willingly. Don’t forget that.”
Her eyes flared. “It’s difficult to forget when you keep reminding me.”
“You obviously need reminding. Clandestine, indeed.” He gave a little snort and gathered the cloak around him to drift off into the mist. She was in one of her moods again, as tempestuous and changeable as the ocean. Too often he wondered when she would drown him beneath her tempestuous waves.
She followed him, a slender hand grasping at his arm with claw-like fingers.
“That’s what it’s been, Scorpius. The danger is as serious for you, if not more so.”
He stopped, just as she knew he would. “More?”
Rose leaned forward, bringing her lips to his ear. “You are Montague’s best friend. Everyone knows that, and therefore, everyone wants you dead.”
To say that everyone wanted him dead was a slight exaggeration. She was, however, correct that there were a good many who desired the absence of Scorpius Malfoy on a permanent basis, and most of that merry band were Slytherins like him, all green with envy that a blond waif could stand at Montague’s left hand, a fair Lucifer to his lofty lord.
Head bowed, Scorpius thought of these things and smiled at their grand error.
“If we were to be found together–”
Her voice roused him once more.
“We could end it all, Rose. If they found us here, now–”
“They would kill us both.” She paused on the central word, relishing its taste.
“Me, certainly. You? You’re too valuable.” He glanced at her over his shoulder.
“As what? A hostage?” Gleeful laughter emerged with the final word. “They couldn’t catch me, not if there were twenty of them to... what’s the phrase? ‘Take me down?’”
Scorpius closed his eyes, shuddering at the echoes of laughter that rattled through his guilty bones.
Something in his voice sliced her laughter in two. He hesitated for a long moment, drawing out the silence, his ears perked for the sign of any intruder, any spy who could have followed them to this place to overhear this forbidden conversation. He did not like it here; it was not safe enough, not hidden enough, not far enough away from everyone they knew.
“What?” She crossed her arms, pointedly ignoring his misgivings.
He paused to swallow. This was dangerous ground. Once he had spoken, he could never retract these words; they would haunt him for the remainder of his life, if not beyond it. Were anyone but her to hear–
“What if I asked you to come away with me?”
The words hung in the air for some time before she replied, twisting a lock of hair around her finger.
“Come away with you?”
Scorpius nodded, stepping over to the window to glance out one last time before turning to Rose. “Leave England. Forever, if necessary. I can’t stay any longer–”
“Why not?” She stared at him, her face pale, but otherwise without apparent expression.
Of course she would ask. He should have taken greater care with his wording to ensure that her curiosity would not be piqued. As far as she knew, he was still near the top of the shadowy hierarchy that was the Counter Ministry, whispering his strategies into the ears of those who had quickly learned to listen. For all his youth and delicacy of appearance, Scorpius Malfoy could think. Perhaps he was even more skilled at this than Rose, though many would debate it.
“I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
She watched Scorpius, her sharp blue eyes burning holes through flesh and bone, tearing him to the core.
“I won’t leave without Hugo.”
First and foremost of that knowledge was that Rose would do anything for her younger brother. Feed him her last crumbs of bread. Give him her last drink of water. Force into his frail body the last drops of blood from her veins, if it would mean assuring his survival. And if something were to happen to the boy, then... He could not imagine her stopping short of murder. No, she would not balk at killing.
Scorpius had never seen such loyalty before; it was beyond his comprehension. There was no one in the world for which he would do these things. Not even for her. There were limits to a love such as his.
It had constructed obstacles at every turn, forcing his plans down a dangerous road that had, in the end, failed him. His attempts to draw Rose into the shadows had proved fruitless. For all of the darkness that lay within her soul, she revelled too much in the light, too much a creature of the sun and the sky, unable to shrink her being into the dungeons, unwilling to shape herself to his bidding. And when the time had come, she had remained aloof, still high on her balcony, her feet on the ground, but her head in the clouds.
Thus Scorpius had continued into the darkness on his own, without the light that could have guided his path, bringing him something, anything other than this life of bitterness and deceit, a life that failed to satiate his lust for life. He wanted no more of Montague’s great plans, no more of the adults who exploited them all, using their youth and ambition for higher ends. Like fodder the other Slytherins would stand before the cannons, their eyes blinded by the dangled carrots of power and glory.
He had wanted neither power nor glory, only satisfaction. A rare thing, most precious of all, the diamond in the heart of the darkness.
Even now, as he looked upon the face that had, once, given him such joy, he saw her as he would a particularly pleasing portrait. She would, he imagined, be a pre-Raphaelite in a million shades of red. Only a painter could capture the monster that lay behind the mask of petal-soft cheeks and dewy eyes. Her thorns, though hidden, were as sharp as knives and just as deadly.
“Of course. We three will go together.” He summoned a smile, unconvinced that he was making the correct decision. “It’ll be safest for you both.”
She raised a pale eyebrow. “And you?”
Glancing away toward the window, he let out an inelegant snort. “How nice to know that you care.”
“But I do.” She came forward to lay a delicate, freckled hand on his arm, the nails long and painted with blood, perhaps her only visible sign of vanity. How she would run them over his shrinking flesh, leaving lines across his back, even with the most sensitive touch–
“Would I say that I’d come with you if I didn’t want to be with you?” She brought her lips to his ear, standing on the tips of her toes. “What fun we’ve had together!”
He stared past her. “Yes, fun. It’s nearly had us killed a few times.”
A smile bloomed across her moist lips. “No one said we were conventional.”
He remembered all the times that he had smiled back, all of the times that he had relented, placed his whole self into her keeping, knowing that she could only spoil him, but loving her all the same.
Love. Hate. He knew what both felt like, how they tasted when she kissed him, mingling together on his tongue. They were the venom that had poisoned them both for so long, too long. Yet still he wanted her, still wanted to know what it was like to flirt with death, feel its fleeting touch across his brow before tearing himself away for a moment’s respite, a gasp of air before diving back into the sea.
“Even now,” she said, watching him through narrowed eyes. “You want to escape, to change all of this, and that should be boring, but it isn’t. And you know why?” Her teeth glinted in the sallow light as she shifted her body closer to his. “Because if you leave, they will never been satisfied until they can prove that you’re dead.”
Their lips touched, delicately at first, in that same fleeting, teasing dance that had tantalised him from the beginning, since their lips had met upon that balcony so long ago now, a lifetime in the past. Yet how much had things really changed, if the very touch of her could still affect him so, could still bring back the memory of every touch, every kiss, every time that her hair had spread across his pale skin like a pool of blood, their partings in early morning light like a stab to his chest, his heart bleeding out upon the sheets as her fingers ran down the line of his jaw in farewell.
Yes, these were the only right moments of their lives, the moments when they were here, in each other’s arms, warm breath giving life to cold hearts.
“I love you,” he whispered like the wind on the spider’s fine-woven web.
The spider at first shuddered, her body limp against him, as though the effort of love was too great, draining all her embittered strength. His name emerged from her slightly parted lips, a mere sigh against his cheek that shot lightning through his form, giving him the strength she lacked, his muscles tightening around her, crushing her against him.
“They will kill us both, Scorpius.” She breathed the words against his mouth. “They will kill us because of what we are...”
He smiled against her lips and thought of the nightingale.
“And what is that?”
The nightingale flew from its perch into the blinding light of day, much filtered by the damp and fog and gloom that lay its blanket over the monstrous city. Scorpius drew away to look upon the faded shadow of his dreams. Her eyes were the colour of the sea. Her skin tasted of its salt. But all else was light. Fire. The blush of the fevered rose blossomed across her cheeks, especially when she pronounced that final word, his death warrant at the hands of his comrades.
He took her hands in his with a strength that creaked her bones.
“What we had before, don’t you miss it?”
Blue met grey, sea clashing with ocean in violent tumult, eyes drowning in eyes, no air, only the water that drifted around them, everywhere: the war, for so it was, that swamped their youth in misery, the age-old blood feud that lay beyond understanding, always bubbling beneath the surface of history from the moment that the first pureblood thought himself better than those of differing heritage.
Heroes and Dark Lords may perish, but an idea never dies, not as long as it appears in the minds of those who would believe in its truth.
He turned so that he would not have to see her face, his own disappointment reflected in her eyes.
There was a whistle from below. Hugo’s signal. Someone was coming, but Rose had not yet finished.
“I will come with you, Scorpius.” She grasped his arm, pulling at his sleeve. “But don’t imagine that it’s because I love you.”
He stiffened. Perhaps he had selfishly expected that she would still be lost in her passion for him, for the shadows that surrounded his heart, shadows that only she could penetrate. If his affections had waned, it was due to circumstance alone, the coldness of his world freezing the blood in his veins. The world would not let him forget that he, beneath his sunken eyes and blue-tinged flesh, was the scorpion, his tail, filled with the poison of hatred, poised to strike all who obstructed his path, be they friend or enemy. He could run and run forever, but never could he escape who he was, what the world had made him.
“Is it for Hugo, then?” he rasped, face flushing as jealousy surged through every nerve. That he should be used to protect that worthless, weak-hearted fool–
She shook her head, but when she leaned toward him, she failed to reveal the truth.
“Tomorrow. In the other place. Be ready for our escape.”
Then she was gone, the ragged curtain in the doorway drifting back in place as though merely a stray breeze had shifted it. There were her footprints in the dust, the remembrance of her touch on his arm, the sound of her voice in his ear, but nothing more.
He blinked, head reeling. She could still affect him, it seemed. He could hardly believe it, but for the heavy beating of his heart in a cavity he had come to believe had grown hollow with the manipulation, the cruelty, the killing. If only she had known all of the things he had done these past years, then she would understand what it meant to hate. She would hate him.
He would ensure, with all of his power, that such a thing would never happen.
“You’ve been seeing her still, Malfoy. I know it.”
There was a chill in the air, and not from the open window through which the summer sun gleamed, a gentle breeze wafting against Malfoy’s face. He kept his back to the room, refusing to acknowledge Zabini’s accusation, knowing that Montague would exonerate him, however undeserved such protection was.
“He’s kept her from her family’s side, at least. Her brother, too,” Montague drawled, right on cue. “Every less Weasley they have is another victory for us.”
“The only good Weasley’s a dead one.” Zabini hit his fist on Montague’s desk.
Montague’s laughter made Malfoy cringe. It echoed off the walls, the floor, the ceiling, through every inch of his beleaguered, guilty brain.
“But what would be the fun in that? We wouldn’t have anyone to fight.”
The words struck Malfoy too deeply. He could imagine them spoken by a voice of higher-pitch, the syllables bouncing from her rose-red lips as her laughing eyes echoed the sick sentiment of pleasure gained from another’s pain. It was not the first time in which he had listened to his cousin and heard the thoughts from her mind pouring forth. They were so much alike; it confused his weary mind.
Zabini had joined Montague’s laughter, and Malfoy wished that he could hold his hands over his ears against the din, but then they would know his heart, they would see past the cloak of shadows behind which he hid his shrivelled soul.
“What’s wrong with you, Malfoy?” Zabini came toward him, but Montague’s voice rang out in time.
“He’s tired. Overworked. Too many great plans running through that brain of his.”
“Plans, or the thought of that Weasley girl’s–”
“Piss off, Zabini.” Malfoy snapped at each syllable, echoing the sound of his namesake’s claws rattling their displeasure. “Your presence in this room makes it hard to think intelligently.”
He hadn’t bothered to turn away from the window, and from behind him, he heard a rustle of fabric that signalled the removal of a wand. He half-expected to feel it poking into his spine, or worse, to feel a curse shatter his nerves.
“Leave him, Zabini.”
No one could ever be certain why one such as Montague, with his bulk and troll-like face, could intimidate with the merest intonation of his voice, the slightest emphasis on one syllable over another, no iota of strength spent on towering over his victims and allies. His sharp, black eyes burned out from his pasty, dull face as though he wore a mask over the chiselled charm of the young Tom Riddle.
All that they knew was that, when he spoke, they would listen. Should listen. All they could do was listen.
Zabini shut the door behind him with a snap that voiced his dissension.
It was the only way that it could be achieved. Voices were meaningless. Opinions were dangerous, if not fatal. Thinking was bad enough, but to think against? Inconceivable.
“You’re walking a fine line, Scorpius.”
Malfoy closed his eyes, leaning back his head as though to take in the rays from the sun, a sun that had not shone in so long. He could remember its warmth. He could remember warmth. It was only a memory, and what was that? It seemed meaningless to everyone in this world but him. The different one. The one who remembered. The one who still knew what it meant to feel.
“Don’t speak of things that don’t concern you, cousin.”
“How doesn’t it concern me?” There was a long, painfully measured pause. “I need to know whether I can still trust you.”
Malfoy let out a bark of a laugh, turning at last, a desperate glint in his eyes.
“It’s best that you don’t. Not anymore. Not ever.”
He began to make his way toward the door, thin shoulders set, power in every step.
Montague leaned against the desk with crossed arms, his bland features arranged into the most perfect of indifferent masks. Nothing about his manner revealed a single hint of surprise, disappointment, anger, anything at all.
“So that’s it? You think you can walk out of here without any of them killing you?”
Malfoy halted, glancing back over his shoulder, the glint in his eye fading.
“Only if you tell them to, Dorian. They’ll do your bidding, and only that.”
This time, Montague’s laugh was not grating. Its depth was chilling. Finally, one could catch a glimpse of what he was behind that terrible mask, of the more terrifying soul that lay within this wizard, still young by many standards. It was his youth that made him strong, made him the brightest chess piece on the board.
Not the weak, passive king who could move only one space here, one space there, his lone purpose to await capture.
As incongruous as the image may be, it was Montague who was the queen. He was everywhere across the board, knowing each square, each opponent and ally, every move that had been and was to come.
Except for this. He had not foreseen the door shutting behind Malfoy’s white head, casting a shadow that transformed him into black.
The white knight turned black.
He should have seen it, should have known that, one day, his cousin’s heart, grasped in the hands of the black rose, would cause the ruin of them all.
chapter image by bellatrixx
Act Three, Part Two
“Where are we going, Rose?”
Hugo’s large eyes were open to their fullest extent as he sat upon his neatly-made bed in his neatly-organized room, a disturbing sight for any boy of his age. The death of their father had affected him in no small way, making him almost a child, not that he had ever really stopped being one in Rose’s eyes. He still followed her as though no more than a devoted puppy, and she did nothing to stay his behaviour, no matter how often their mother and cousins protested. Hugo was all he could be. Rose had taken too much, leaving him mere fragments from which to construct himself, his brain, his heart, his soul. All was hers.
Their father... It made no difference to her whether he was present or not. He had too often been an obstruction. Rose had no time for obstructions. It was only in the darkest of moments that she remembered her childhood, those days before her mind had awoken, carrying her into the half-light of dim, dusty rooms filled with crumble-paged books filled with the tiny holes of worms that, like herself, devoured the content whole, scarcely taking the time to chew.
She had lost her father then, metaphorically. He had never understood.
Her cousins had been fathers enough. Albus and James, they had wanted to help, always giving things, not even bothering to ask before dumping whatever food and clothing and other objects they had no use for. They meant well, of course. That was what Hugo continued to tell her, day in and day out.
She never believed it. They sought only one thing.
No one could possess that.
No one can possess something that does not exist.
“We’re going away, Hugo. That’s all you need to know.”
His face crumpled in half-hearted rebellion. “I don’t want to go with Malfoy. I don’t like him, Rose. Something bad will happen.”
She moved toward the door with a toss of her head, hair flying in all directions, like it always had, like it always would, long after the final spell was cast, after the final body fell to the ground, bones crunching, blood staining all, the chess board no longer black and white, only red.
“Would you rather stay with Mum? Watching the world fall apart around you, save in her little tower, high above it all? Would that suit you better?” She did not even deign to look back at him, hiding her clenched first in the sleeve of her robes. If they were to be separated, would she care? Would he not be safer here, away from Malfoy, away from her?
“No. I want you to stay.”
Looking over her shoulder, she placed her hand upon the cold, brass knob of the door.
“We leave in an hour.”
She shut the door behind her and paused as she heard a noise from below. That light footstep could only mean one person.
“Hello, Albus. Come to pay homage to your poor, fatherless cousins once again?”
Her eyes narrowed as she surveyed the grim lines etched upon his face, a face so like that of his father’s that, in the eve of the death of that great wizard, they thrust Albus upon that same pedestal, hailing him the new Chosen One. There could not be a sentiment further from the truth.
“Or are we motherless now, too? How kind of you to–”
“The Ministry has not yet fallen, Rose, nor will it ever. Your mother remains strong, even if you cannot.” He held his head high, as though he looked down upon her, though she was a full two inches taller.
“You mean that I never could, cousin. I was never strong.” She watched him behind the pretence of examining her bloodred fingernails.
Albus waved an impatient hand, the scars running across it shining pink in the late-day sun.
“You and Malfoy–”
Rose rolled her eyes and sauntered over to the window where her hair burned scarlet in the light, but where her face was nearly hidden in shadow.
“That again? I’d have thought that old news by now.”
He let out a long breath, just barely controlled by the iron will that lay within.
“We’ve only just prevented you from being labelled a traitor of the Ministry, Rose. If not for your mother and I–”
“Haven’t you ever gotten it into that tiny head of yours that I want to be one?”
Her words cut across his too sharply, his tongue silenced by their gravity. Finally, she had put into words what had for so long sat upon the roof of her mind, weighing down upon her thoughts until she could only think of that word, her every action, her very being, framed about its immense power. She was not with them because she was not like them. She had somehow missed that Weasley-born gene which endowed one with bravery and goodness, though if her mother were there, she would remind Rose of those dark days of the past when jealousy and fear had eaten their way into the heart of Ron Weasley. Perhaps that darkness had never left him. Perhaps it had fallen to Rose.
Albus did not speak. He was a heavy thinker like others of their age had become heavy drinkers, and it likewise brought age into his face, drawing lines between his features that should not have existed in a boy of his age. There were even white hairs sprouting amongst the black. He might as well have been twenty years older.
For all that Rose shared his age in number, she did not share his age in appearance. If anything, she appeared more youthful than ever, as though she kept a charmed portrait in the attic to wear the mask of her sins.
“Don’t say such things, Rose. You were always overdramatic.” His jaw was tense with mingled exasperation and disgust.
After a moment of silence, Rose released an impatient sigh. “Well, what did you come for?”
He adjusted his glasses as he was wont do to in his brief moments of uncertainty.
“Due to the increasing state of danger, your mother has requested that you and Hugo be placed under Auror protection–”
Rose made a face.
“–twenty-four hours a day until further notice.”
Her upper lip now retracted in a snarl.
“For our protection or to keep me conveniently out of the way?”
Albus noted the change in pronoun with a twitch of one eyebrow.
“To prevent anyone making use of you or your brother to manipulate the Minster of Magic.”
With a negligent shrug, Rose crossed the room to fling open the curtains and stare out into the growing twilight, her eyes lighting upon the shadows of the vigilant Aurors already at their posts. There was a slight tremor in her left hand as she gripped the heavy fabric, but when she turned back to face her cousin, she merely looked bored, jaw slack and eyelids drooping.
“Don’t you think they would have done that long ago if they thought it worthwhile?”
He took in a breath as though to deflect her words, but what would be the use? She would shoot back an answer of equal and opposite logic and they would continue to argue for hours, or as long as her whimsy took her. There was no time to play those games Rose so enjoyed. They were no longer bored children seeking entertainment on a stormy afternoon with pride as the only reward. Survival mattered far more now, and that was the one thing which Rose did not seem to understand. If death did not come for her, then it would come for another close to her.
She did not move from the window. The room grew oppressive with her presence. Albus quickly took his leave as though fearing that, if he were to stay longer, Rose, that human Dementor, would consume any happiness he had left in his heart.
When the door closed behind him, she smiled. Was she satiated or merely relieved?
The smile remained as she shut the curtains and took repose on the nearby chaise lounge, its gaudy upholstery worn on the arm where she had picked away at the stitching. The room grew dark around her, but she did not move, her mind twisting and turning within while her face registered none of that turmoil.
There would be no Aurors outside unless something had, at long last, occurred. Something that altered the arrangement of the players so that they would gather around to protect to the king and queen. Her mother, the king, was that powerless piece, only useful to the other side, constantly shuffled around with no aim but to survive. It was the queen that, unsurprisingly, caught Rose’s interest, her love of grand spectacle preventing her from taking the place of any subtler piece. She must have the one who could move at all angles, conveniently forgetting that she was a mere piece and not the player, believing that she could fly across the board to wreak destruction at her will.
Even the queen has her weakness, though she may prefer to forget it.
The long night began to pass. Not a nightingale sang, nor did the moon show its shame-stricken face to a world so filled with hate. The silence was broken only by the soft shuffling of the Aurors at their posts and the dull creaking of the house as it settled its ancient bones around her.
She waited for the dawn to come. She waited for the battle to end.
It was a slow breaking down that began deep within, signalled by a fading smile and tightening jaw, her eyes staring into nothing, seeing nothing, knowing nothing. At last, something snapped and the restless hand, pulling, plucking the loose threads, suddenly ceased its work to retract, covering her eyes from the sight of the room devoid of all life but her own. Once, it had been.... once.... no more. It was a dark place, dust clinging to every surface just as it clung to her robes, her hair, lurking in the depths of her eyes. She remembered it well, that day she had heard of her father’s death. She had sat in the same chair and listened, feeling nothing. Nothing at all.
What was she? A queen. A heroine. No. Not that. She was not what they thought of her. She was herself, the blighted rose, bloody thorned and flaming red, the knife at Juliet’s breast, the poison at Romeo’s lips. Why must she be tangible? Why must she be real at all?
The game. It had never really been a game, had it?
“Rose? Are you there?”
Hugo stood in the doorway, squinting into the darkness, his trunk floating beside him. His feet did not touch, much less cross the barrier of the room. They had not done so for many years.
“I’m ready now.”
Rose let out a long, low breath, but could not smile. “I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me.”
His lips quavered, but he said nothing more, listening as Rose slowly took to her feet and crossed the room, the light from the hallway striking her face, catching on a slick stain that ran down one cheek. He reached out one small hand to touch hers, but it failed to meet its destination, his fingers touching only the air where she had been.
The distant sound of a shutting door drifted down the stairs. Hugo stared into the dark room, wishing for it all to end.
The sun rose with great calm, hearkening in a day that seemed at peace with itself. The streets of the Muggle world were mostly unchanged, knowing only the slight vibrations of the conflict brewing beneath its feet, but the only figures daring to cross the cobbles the Diagon Alley were heavily cloaked and even more heavily armed, their faces tense, their senses open to every danger that lay ahead. It was not the same time of darkness that had lain heavily on their world in past days of glory and rebirth. This world was stricken, not plagued with evil, yet ill beyond reproach. It festered with the canker of distrust, dishonesty, and distaste. It was a slow-spreading disease that knew no cure but death.
There was no battlefield. The war was fought everywhere and nowhere. Some thought it a trick of the mind, but others knew, and knew too well, the lives lost, the bodies maimed, the souls torn free from earthly bounds.
Hugo took careful steps down a shaded alley, placing each foot where Rose’s had trod as though he imagined this alley to be a mine field where every step could be his last. He glanced from side to side, imaging trolls and dragons lurking behind each pillar and within each cave-like entryway. Was that a flash of light, or a pair of eyes? Was that a gleeful bird, or a warning cry? The chill of fear had permeated his delicate bones, for while the day dawned warm, he shivered within his winter robes, pulling the hood of his cloak further down his face to hide the wild red curls that burst from his freckled scalp.
They were part of who he was. They were also his death warrant.
He had not liked their exit from the comfortable cottage of his childhood, where wisteria vines stood guard at the door and hung low over the kitchen window, filling the house each spring with intoxicating scent. The small rooms were filled with books, old Quaffles, dusty photographs, and endless rolls of parchment, rarely unused. He remembered the way the door had closed behind them and the gentle click of the key as Rose turned it in the lock, whispering the protection spell out of habit more than a true desire to protect. They would never return to those worn stone walls and low thatch roof. Hugo said goodbye to it all with eyes squeezed shut so that he would not start to cry.
The Aurors sent as prison guards, or so Rose had said, lay tumbled over a broken pot of tea, its scent sour in Hugo’s nostrils. He dared not ask what she had put into the tea.
And now their quiet path had brought them here, to the darkest of places, the centre of a pulsating city where the day did not end with the setting of the sun, but eternally laboured on. The feeling of endlessness curled tight around his weak, erratic heart.
“Rose,” he whispered, his voice shuddering even over that single syllable. “Wait!”
But she had already stopped, touching her wand to the corner stone of a crumbling house. A flash of red, then it was a stone once more.
“Yes.” It emerged little more than a half-mutter. “Yes, wait here. Keep watch.”
Her hand rested on his head for a moment, the only caress, the only outward affection she would offer in those agonizing days. She had been so far away from him, and he reached for her hand at the last moment, threading his clumsy fingers with hers, stepping forward with desperate tears forming in his dull blue eyes. Something in the air raised the hairs on the back of his neck. He could feel an alien tension crackling around them, but when she turned upon him with impatient, questioning eyes, he could only produce a pathetic squeak of protest, easily shaken off.
“It won’t be long, Hugo. Stay out of sight.”
She began to fade through the shadowy entrance, but she returned into the murky half-light of the city to look hard into her brother’s face as though to trace the lines of her father’s lost life. The wide blue eyes registered surprise and, she was certain, also delight, childish adoration of the idol who now gazed down upon him, the ivory brow softening, the tight lips giving a minute twitch.
“You know the signal.”
A pair of feverish, dry lips brushed across his forehead, a fleeting touch much less than the flutter of a butterfly’s wings but meaning so much more, all the world coming together, all of the war falling away, as Hugo Weasley closed his eyes and knew that he was loved.
Push the pawn aside. The queen, she comes.
One is the other. They are the same. For if she falls, he may cross to take her place, giving life for her cause, exchanging his place so that she may rise and win the game.
Up the twisted, wooden stairs, her shoes perilously angled, her hand unwilling to grip the splinted rail, she climbs to the attic room to look out over a city at war.
Do you hear the soldiers marching through the cobbled streets? They assemble, softly, in the nooks and crooks of medieval byways with weary faces and muffled feet, hands gripped around wands, jaws clenched around teeth, the beating of their hearts echoing loud in their ears. They would not meet in a lonely field between flooded trenches, nor would they hide behind fortified walls, ducking at each fire of the cannons. They had killed in secret for so long that they knew no other ways of war. They huddled on stairways and looked out from attic rooms onto empty streets. Few would wander back to the land of peace restored. The armies were evenly matched: both virtuous in belief, both strong in arms. But together they could never be, only apart.
Let them fight that battle off-stage, where we may hear their cries, see the flash of their spells, and smell the blood that flows from their veins, mingling as it drops into the ancient sewers. Let the game of chess come to its end, so that we may clear the board and, at last, find our rest.
The players moved again. Black pieces shifted to and fro, their queen alone, remaining still, the black knight drawing near her, the white king lurking close behind.
Odd shadows were cast upon alley walls. Footsteps resounded in hollow spaces. A lone figure navigated through the labyrinth of streets, his movements light, his heart not. He had not bothered to cover his head, the pale hair grown dull. Scorpius’s feet echoed the movements of Rose and Hugo only moments before, taking care to walk only on certain stones, his eyes darting back and forth with each step. He knew what he had chosen to leave behind. There could be no going back. To do so would reveal the weakness so many expected of him. His grandfather had failed. His father had failed. Was he destined to do the same?
Yes. It was better to leave all of this and be weak than remain with strength and die. No Malfoy was a fool. No Malfoy would willingly give his life, no matter the cause.
“Not even for her.”
He had not meant to speak, but there was a chill in his heart, an odd feeling that had remained with him all of his years. He remembered that day, the first day, too clearly, the little details rising to the surface long before the broad strokes. He remembered the way her hair flew out in every direction, how her face radiated with the delight of the game. More than delight, even, a sort of mad ecstasy, as though a gleeful murderer instead of a child at play.
They had never stopped being children. There had been no time to grow, to learn, to revel in that purgatory before their lives truly began. They were sent straight to hell with no return ticket, no hope or dreams to guide them, only the bitter reality of death.
He glanced up at the building, nondescript in all regards. She would watch the game as it crashed toward its end, awaiting the moment to make the final move. But what would it be? This was no game of chance in which one roll of the die could make you win or lose. She sat behind the pieces, hovered over the board, the thread of existence pulled tight between her anxious fingers. She alone knew how it all would end.
His faith in her abilities was unending. His faith in the rest....
Braced for attack, he shoved open the door to peer into the dusty, grey room.
But all doubts were cast aside at the first glance that passed between them. The eyes that met his were filled with ill-repressed tears. This was no fearful harpy or jaded, blind goddess. The lines of her face were smooth, the freckles bright against her faded cheeks, red lips quaking at his entrance. Cupid’s arrow could hold no light against the hooked thorn of the English rose. Scorpius leapt forward, drawn as to a magnet, like a fly into the web. The spider stretched forth her hands, the nails hacked down to the quick, her hair hanging loose about her.
He had not meant to stare. He had not meant to take her hands in his. He had not meant for words of comfort and affection to bubble forth from his dry, cracked lips. He liked to think that she also had not meant to lean so heavily against him, her head nestled against his shoulder, her hair spilling over him like a shower of dripping blood.
“I thought we would never make it,” she whispered. “The Aurors had us under house arrest like common criminals....”
Scorpius’s brow tightened. “How did you get away?”
If they had been followed to this place, then he was as good as dead, the target already painted upon his back. He had only just evaded Zabini’s unrelenting gaze, joining the others chosen to patrol the city streets, scouting for Ministry officials to snatch. Snaking through corridors and passing through busy shops, he had found himself here, only to be threatened once more, heart constricting in his chest as his cheeks grew a shade more pale.
The slightest pause preceded her reply. “Albus won’t at all be pleased with me. That is all I will say.”
A sound approaching a giggle emerged from her throat, but she swallowed it in a sob, her fingers twining into his robes, her lips approaching the throbbing vein on his pale neck. His arms tightened around her as her mouth found its mark, but the rose did not crumble in the scorpion’s embrace. Not a petal fell from her long-lasting bloom of that startling shade which drives bulls to madness and lovers to jealous frenzy. She seemed to thrill at the pressure of his arms, the closeness of his body, his cool flesh fading against her searing heat. Sensual delight rippled through their bodies as their mouths hovered, millimetres apart, in anticipation of what was to come.
The crash came, the scorpion’s sting lashed, the rose’s thorns plunged deep, and both knew no breath. All was heartbeat, raging wildly within. They danced the tarantella to quell the poison that flowed within their veins, the blood of feuding families for once unspilled, yearning to mingle. Together, they could create a new world, if only–
“We have to go.”
She was pulling away, too strong for his grasp, her face turned aside, only a slight blush upon her cheeks revealing that she had felt anything at all. It may have only been his fervent kisses that had raised it, a mere physical reaction. He felt himself sink, no more than an insect beneath her toes, the exhilaration fleeing from his lungs, wishing he could hold her again.
“I’ll fetch Hugo.” With tilted head, she offered a discomfiting smile, too bright for the occasion. “I won’t be long.” Her lips glided against his, then she was gone.
Scorpius let out a long breath and waited.
No clock was present to tick off the lonely seconds of her absence, only the beating of his heart made him believe that any time passed at all. The street outside was silent, that kind of eerie silence that sometimes happens in the city, as though it has taken in a great breath, awaiting the coming storm. He strained his ears to hear something, anything, but there was nothing. Feeling, yes: the tension in the air pulled at his nerves, making him pace the room, if only to hear the sound his feet made on the old wooden floor.
The ending had at last come. He could feel finality lurking around him, as though it knew that soon he would no longer be standing here, but far away. For all that she did not love him, he would not leave her. There was no other, no more perfect a specimen. He hated her and loved her all at once. Nothing else had made him feel as much as a single thought of her. Each measure of repulsion he experienced at her cold laugh and unflinching logic brought with it additional measures of attraction which he could not resist, hard as he sometimes tried. Those times were rare.
And now to be leaving this nation that knew nothing but war, each following so soon on the heels of the last that the blood had not yet dried on the paving stones and the screams still echoed in the survivor’s ears. Scorpius could not grasp what it would mean to be gone from this place, to turn his back on the only world he had ever known, the people whom he’d known all his life, his family.
Yes, family. The ties of blood could never fade.
But each moment also roused his nerves into a ferocious quiver that made it impossible to think of blood for long. What were the ties of blood to every feeling she stirred within him? Those people who claimed him as their own had never given him life as she did, nor could they so easily take it back again, teasing, tempting, driving heat through his clammy, Slytherin veins.
Just as he grew to despise each breath taken in her absence, a shadow fell across his own. Rose stood the doorway, haloed in light, alone.
It made him think of the blossoming flower he had seen sit across from him those years before. She had changed so little, hardly aged at all, the memory overwhelming his mind, overwhelming those cares of war and darkness and escape. What did it matter, if she was here. If she was his and he hers?
With a smile he stepped forward to take her again in his arms, to again kiss those lips and feel her breath sucking the air from his lungs. He did not want her to speak. He did not want to hear the strange and terrible ideas she kept within her mind, the dreaded secrets she held close to her tainted soul. He would have knelt before her, eternally supplicant, but only as long as she remained the silent idol, that figure in his memory who had stood on the Hogwarts stairs, looking down upon him, mesmerised by the sight of the one who would worship her.
After all this time, she was, to him, still that same girl. That is the vision that permeated his mind, so brilliant with figures and facts and things, but utterly useless when it came to her.
How beautiful she was as he held her close, his eyes feasting on her perfect flesh, his lips feverishly pressed against hers, so cold, so unyielding, refusing to touch him as she had before, but he still drank what sweet liquid he could from her scarlet mouth. It had been so long since their last, since they had done more than merely embrace, and the hunger consumed him, the poison of his need, his obsession, the filthy thing he called his love.
It was not love. It never had been.
From that moment he had looked upon her... No, sooner. That moment she had called out her mastery of the game and sat down, the challenger who dared be female, dared be confident, dared to be assured of her win when it came, and had it come! The queenly attitude as she looked down at her supplicant, the poor priest who offered his own blood as sacrifice to the great goddess.
And she had accepted, just as she had accepted the challenge, just as she would accept any challenge tossed within reach.
But oh, how he... how he.... He moved closer still.
Pain. Hollowness within. Blood pouring forth.
He looked down at his stomach, the knife still in her hand, its blade buried hilt-deep in his abdomen, then up at her face. It revealed too little. Determination, maybe, but otherwise eerily calm, white as a ghost, eyes dull. Perhaps she was dead too. Like he would... like he was....
She leaned close, her breath warm against his ear.
“Feel the blood. Thicker than water, isn’t it? You should have remembered. You may be disloyal, but I am not.”
He gasped as she thrust the blade deeper, clutching at his abdomen as she stepped away, her eyes crackling to life, throwing off sparks of fire that burnt away his soul, his love, his life. Spots of darkness passed before his eyes, blotting out the terrible flame that was her, the one who had, in the end, betrayed him.
Even as he collapsed, he did not know the truth.
But she, by then, was gone, her feet swift upon the creaking stairs, fading into nothing.
His life flowed away so slowly that it is impossible to tell when the final drop spilt forth. The sun fell low upon the window sill, illuminating the pool of blood that surrounded the one who had loved neither wisely nor too well, who had made a mockery of himself, deserting his kin and kind, thinking only of the thing he could never possess, the one who would, forever, remain beyond his, and every other, grasp.
Time passed, the sad pages of history inscribed with death and victory in one breath. The war was over, but could there be peace again? Could there be anything?
At last, a sound was heard by dead ears. A mother’s sharp cry of grief, footsteps ascending the stairs, then a seeking spell burst into the room to hover over the grotesque form that had once been an artless Romeo, murdered by his Juliet.
Albus entered the room, his face a stormcloud, all rain and thunder. His upper lip rose with disgust as he took in the sight of the crushed scorpion. Perhaps he would have been surprised had he not borne witness to the scene down below, the boy’s throat slashed from side to side.
As another appeared at the door, he turned to block her view.
“Please, Minister. It’s better–”
“This is not the time for formalities. I will see it.”
Rose’s mother pushed passed with an impatient hand, only to be taken unawares by the identity of the murdered wizard. Like Rose, her hair was a wild tangle, but it was streaked with white, her face lined with thought rather than worry, her eyes filled with a serenity her daughter could never know, nor understand. There was blood on the Minister of Magic’s robes were she had clutched her dead son to her chest, but still her gaze was unflinching, her nerves like iron.
“She got away.” The worlds filtered through her half-closed lips.
Albus knelt over the body, rifling through its pockets with irreverence, only to pause and slowly remove a long, thin blade from a hidden sheath. His gaze darted between the knife in his hand and that which protruded from the carcass.
“They’re the same. A pair, both engraved with ‘M.’” He examined the one in the final rays of light. “One for Malfoy, the other for–”
“Montague.” Her voice was strained.
Jaw contracting, stomach twisting, Albus nodded. “She must have believed that Malfoy... did it.” His courage, everlasting through the day against the opponents who had crumbled in his wake, failed him now against mere words.
“Killed Hugo. Killed my son.” She ran a hand over her face, but did not turn to leave, as he thought she might. “Rose loved her brother. She’d have done anything for him.”
Three Aurors poisoned. Her lover murdered. How many others? How many had fallen before the queen? How many more would fall, wherever she had gone?
The two, the Minister and the Auror, stood silent for the dead as the sun vanished from view.
Always to be looked down upon, Scorpius Malfoy was given no choice but to receive homage, even sympathy, from his once-foes. Rose had made a single mistake; she had killed the wrong man. Her brother’s stifled cry had gone unheard, his hand disarmed before he could perform the spell of warning. Montague had captured the pawn, only to find his death in the next street.
The game had ended. The players long dispatched. After Albus had left to oversee his few remaining Aurors, the Minister of Magic continued to stand over the body, centre stage. There was nothing new to her eyes, history merely repeating itself once and again, spiralling into forever, but this– It was more than she had expected of the strange daughter she hardly knew, and that was what saddened her most. Rose had acted as a mother, and the Minister of Magic had done nothing.
Could this bloodshed have been prevented? Was there ever a point in time when all of this could have been halted, altered, turned away from tragedy?
The light faded. Words came to her mind as from another world, a distant time where she read too much and knew nothing of magic. A girl who had scoffed at the story of a failed love, star-crossed lovers taking their lives in error, their infant souls weeping, a stream of blood flowing in their wake.
Author's Note: Another story finished! This is far from my best work, but I am, after a year, pleased to have completed this experiment in writing. This ending is meant to be depressing, just as much as Rose is meant to remain enigmatic and Scorpius is meant to be fickle.
In this chapter there is a line adapted from Othello 5.2 about loving not wisely but too well. Inspiration for this story also came from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and the twisted relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff.
Many thanks to those who have read and commented on this story, offering their assistance in ironing out the creases and improving the style. If any reader should see something that can be improved upon, please let me know! Thanks for reading. :)