Chapter 6 : Rejection
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It was the coldest day Scorpius had experienced since last winter, and he angrily scolded himself for deciding to go to Hogsmeade. He could not turn back now; Lily was, without a doubt, looking forward to it. He had understood the strange notion that all girls worked themselves up when asked to Hogsmeade, but he wasn't sure if Lily was like that or not. There had been much whispering and giggling at the mention of his and Lily’s supposed ‘date’; he had even received a curious, almost disapproving look from Rose - no doubt she did not want to see her cousin with him.
He threw the scarf around his neck and bound it very tightly, plunging his gloved hands into his pocket. He was to meet Lily in the Entrance Hall, and the icy corridors were just a taster of how much colder he was to get in a few minutes.
He saw Gabriel standing by the stairs alone and walked up to greet him. Since their last meeting, they had been on quite friendly terms, almost like the old days before Hogwarts, and Scorpius had to admit that Gabriel did not take after his father.
‘How you doing, Scorpius?’ Gabriel greeted him, nervously rubbing his palms together. ‘Bloody freezing weather.’
‘Yeah. Wouldn’t go out if it wasn’t because...’
‘Because you asked Lily Potter out?’ Scorpius looked up. Gabriel grinned. ‘Yeah, I know. Are you together then?’ Scorpius shrugged.
‘You going out with Rose?’ he inquired quietly. The grin faded from Gabriel’s face.
‘Yeah. Took some persuading, I can tell you. She’s just - ah.’
He stopped speaking, for Rose was descending the stairs in her haughty, proud manner. Scorpius caught a breath in his throat as he looked at her, and was instantly furious at himself. He couldn’t help admitting how attracted he was to her, even when she was dressed in layer upon layer of clothes; a thick, purple scarf was bound around her neck and most of her mouth, her legs stopped short at a pair of furry boots and hand-knitted mittens were concealing her hands.
‘What are you doing talking to him,’ she said to Gabriel, eyeing Scorpius in disgust. Slightly hurt, Scorpius crossed the hall and managed to catch sight of Lily as she emerged from the library. He glanced behind him in time to see Gabriel and Rose leave through the doors.
‘Hello,’ Lily said cheerfully. Scorpius smiled, trying to bury his anger.
‘Been to the library?’
‘Last minute homework,’ Lily admitted. She was wearing a pair of smart, rectangular, black glasses. Scorpius thought they quite suited her. ‘Well, shall we go?’
Ten minutes later, they were standing on the high street of Hogsmeade. Despite the wind and the cold, many Hogwartians had decided to spend their Saturday in the neighbouring village as well, and most were heading, it seemed, for the Three Broomsticks. Scorpius and Lily perused the shops for a while, browsing at quills and books, but their ultimate destination was somewhere they could get a Butterbeer, so they, too, headed for the Three Broomsticks.
The place was crowded and noisy, but its warmth was highly welcome. There were no seats available for the time being, so while Scorpius went to get the drinks, Lily searched the inn for spare chairs. The barmaid, Hannah Abbott Longbottom, greeted him with a cheery face and passed him the Butterbeers without asking him what he wanted; he gave her the money and took the bottles in search of Lily.
She had chosen to sit with fellow sixth years. Scorpius knew some of her friends, though not very well, but she patted the chair next to him and politely, he sat down next to her. He passed her the Butterbeer and tried to keep up with their conversation.
Another pair of mouths, however, were making a rather more interesting speech than the ones he could see; his attention was drawn to them because he knew their voices and, after a few moments, he realized that they belonged to Gabriel and Rose. Lily turned and smiled at him and he grinned back, but his ears were not with her; they were with the table behind him.
‘I don’t see what the problem is, why you’re always just -‘
‘I don’t want to talk about it, Gabriel!’
‘I thought we were having a good time, I thought you were having a good time!’
‘I was, until you started spoiling everything.’
He heard Gabriel sigh. There was a strange sound next, almost like Gabriel had reached for her hand and she had withdrawn it.
‘Because I told you I was in love with you?’
‘Damn it, Gabriel, why can’t you just -‘
‘No, why can’t you just understand that people fall in love, that people love eachother, that people love, Rose?’
‘This is starting to sound like a cheesy soap opera, Gabriel, now just shut it.’
‘I can’t, I -‘
‘Fine, then it’s over.’
‘It’s over. I can’t make you - I can’t - Just leave me alone!’
He heard her jump to her feet; struggling; perhaps Gabriel was trying to hold her back. Then suddenly a bounce on the chair, a clatter, and he saw her fiery red hair disappear out the door.
Scorpius instantly sprang to his feet and grabbed his coat. He heard Lily cry out for him, but he could not care less; he sprinted towards the door, out of it and into the freezing wind.
He doubted he had ever run faster. It was madness, what would he say to her? He did not know, he only knew that he must find out, he must know why she was behaving in this crazy way, why she had fled from a man who had proclaimed his love... It scared him and intrigued him at the same time. He could not explain this longing to find out why any woman, especially Rose, could reject a man for being nothing but courteous and attentive; yet, he also knew that behind this curiosity, there was something else, something more irrational. He pushed the thought at the back of his mind.
Scorpius suddenly caught sight of her running towards the grounds of Hogwarts; she had left the high street and passed the gates and was on the lawn. He set off after her in full speed, and was thankful that she slowed down and started walking. By the time she was on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, he had reached her.
‘Rose... Rose,’ he panted, running up to her, grabbing her arm and turning her around. She gasped.
‘Scorpius -‘ she exclaimed, and he felt a leap in his stomach at the sound of his name. She seemed to have understood her mistake and wrenched her arm away from him. ‘What are you doing, Malfoy?’
‘Trying to understand you,’ he said, clutching at the stitch in his side. He heard a clap of thunder that drowned out his words, but Rose seemed to have heard them.
‘You’re insane,’ she answered back spitefully, ‘there’s not much to understand.’
She turned around and started walking again, but Scorpius caught up with her and prevented further steps.
‘Zabini loves you, Rose, he’s mad about you,’ he continued. ‘Why does that scare you so much?’
‘It doesn’t scare me,’ Rose shouted over the thunder.
‘Bollocks,’ continued Scorpius. The wind slapped their cheeks and the first drops of rain started falling.
‘Do you want to catch pneumonia?’ Rose yelled. ‘Because I don’t!’
‘Don’t change the subject!’
‘There is no subject!’
As the pouring started, Scorpius grabbed her upper arm and pulled her into shelter under the closely-growing trees. Rose once again wrenched free of him. She wiped her forehead dry. Understanding flashed furiously in her eyes.
‘You were eavesdropping, weren’t you? In the Three Broomsticks?’ Scorpius blinked. ‘Listen, I don’t owe you or anyone else an explanation about my life, about my decisions. If I don’t want Gabriel to love me, then that’s my decision, not yours!’
‘You can’t tell people not to love you,’ Scorpius yelled at her. His voice was barely audible over the rain, but he needed to vent anyway. He did not understand where his courage came from, how he could muster the strength to say these things: it was absurd, it did not sound like him. How could she make him be so unlike himself? ‘You can’t decide what other people should feel, you can’t decide what you should feel!’
Rose opened her mouth, then closed it, apparently not knowing what to say. She turned around and started walking out into the rain. The instant she left the forest, her clothes were soaked. She seemed to remember something and turned back to face him. Her eyes were flashing and her red hair stuck to her face in the rain. Every curve of her body was visible as the wet clothes clung to her skin.
‘So is that what your bloody father told my mum when he convinced her to cheat on my dad? Ruin their marriage? I can just hear him,’ she said, her voice rising in her anger, ‘”No, Hermione, you can’t help it, you can’t prevent falling in love, it’s not your fault”. People can prevent it, they can prevent falling in love and it’s better if they just -’ She stopped yelling, as if suddenly aware of what she was doing.
It felt as if the bolt of lightning which struck several hundred miles away had run right through Scorpius. So she knew. He stepped out into the rain with her and shuddered as its iciness hit him. He wondered how she could stand it.
‘You blame me for something my dad did,’ he whispered, and his breath was followed by mist. He noticed how violently Rose was trembling. He wanted to put an arm around her, two arms. ‘I’m not my dad. I’m not...’
He stopped because Rose had approached him and her face was inches from his. He could count every faint freckle on her face.
‘Do you honestly think that love lasts?’ she whispered and her warm breath hit his face. ‘How could you possibly, you of all people, with your parents divorced?’
Scorpius relished in the depth of her eyes, enjoying the fact that they were fixed on him for once. Mustering all courage, and yet not even needing to, because this felt perfectly right, he ran a finger down the side of her soaked arm.
‘I can because I know that if love exists, it’s because it’s meant to last.’
She almost seemed seduced by the idea; perhaps he was imagining it, but he almost felt her arm curve towards his hand; it was almost as if she was not moving in response to him leaning forward; it was almost as if she had finally let go of her hostility; but only almost, for a moment later, she had slapped his hand away from her arm and said spitefully:
‘Stay away from me, Malfoy.’
Christmas holidays were approaching rapidly which also meant that Draco’s wedding was approaching rapidly. It became clear as the weeks passed that it was becoming the social event of the season and the talk of the town; Tristan Greengrass, Draco suspected, had something to do with that.
But to Draco, this time of year meant something else, and that was that his son was coming home. The first three months of absence after a long summer holiday were always very difficult for Draco, but he had managed to convince Henrietta that Scorpius should stay with him during Christmas and his wedding, something to which she had reluctantly agreed.
Scorpius’ letters gradually became longer and longer, and Draco deduced from them that he was entertaining a fling - or perhaps something more - with a certain Lily Potter. Initially, it had made Draco worried, for surely Harry and Ginny Potter would not approve of their relationship; then happiness for his son took over, as he realised that Scorpius had got the woman he wanted, and he suddenly cursed the Potters and all obstacles that might stand in love’s way. Finally, melancholy overcame him, for only when your child falls in love do you truly realize your age.
Elated that Draco had agreed to become a father again, Asteria had happily settled down planning the wedding. Though they had initially agreed on a small ceremony, Draco could not help notice that her mother’s influence was a bad one; things became more lavish by the second, and, this time, Tristan would not accept no for an answer as he suggested paying for most of the expenses. It would have amused Draco a few years ago, but things had changed in a way even he could not explain.
‘Scorpius is coming home tomorrow, isn’t he?’
Draco, immersed in papers and charts, did not hear the question at first and Asteria repeated it a little impatiently. It was a Friday evening and she was resting on an armchair, a blanket over her knees, curled up by the fire.
‘Yeah, he is,’ Draco said, smiling, his eyes lighting up at the thought. Asteria returned his smile half-heartedly and he frowned; usually, she was as excited as him at Scorpius’ return. ‘What?’
‘It’s just...’ she sighed, shook her head and glanced back at the fire. ‘Never mind.’
Draco put his papers down.
‘Tell me, Asteria.’
‘Maybe... maybe Daphne could pick up Scorpius while she is picking up her own kids and then - and then -‘ she faltered as she caught sight of his face. ‘Never mind.’
‘Why would you not want me to pick up my son?’ Draco asked, dread looming somewhere in the pit of his stomach. First Tristan, now Asteria... Did they know about Hermione?
‘Well, Dad wanted you to meet the Ministry official who’ll be wedding us.’
The dread was replaced by hot, stinging anger, plenty of it. Not again.
‘I thought we agreed that Jameson would be wedding us?’ he asked prudently, trying not to voice the fury he was feeling. Asteria seemed to sense it nonetheless. She appeared to be gathering courage.
‘It’s just,’ she began slowly and carefully, ‘Dad doesn’t think it’s too good of an idea if we associate ourselves with people who were once...’ She paused, not knowing how to phrase it.
‘Jameson wed my father and my mother,’ Draco said, his voice dreadfully quiet. ‘He was one of my family’s closest friends.’
‘Exactly... We don’t want people getting the idea that...’
‘That we support the Dark Arts or that sort of thing...’
Draco stood up in disbelief. He did not know what to do with himself; he was tempted to throw over the table or run out the door, but neither were rational. He was incensed, stunned - he could not understand how Asteria could believe such a thing, how she could agree with her father. The hypocrisy of it all grew in him like steam, but suddenly he calmed down - he did not need another fight, another reason to leave. He must make this relationship work.
He walked over to her: her face was screwed up in fear. Kneeling down, the warmth of the fire washing over him, he kissed her hands.
‘All right, Asteria,’ he said. ‘Let Jameson be replaced by one of your father’s connections. Replace our red-and-white roses with gold and silver lilies or petunias or violets or whatever the hell Daddy wants. But I’m picking up my son tomorrow, and I don’t care if Tristan likes it or not.’
He let go of her hands and marched into their bedroom, trying not to slam the door behind him. He had been looking forward to a peaceful night, but his days seemed to be filled with nothing but quarrels.
He opened the door to the adjoining bathroom and slipped off his clothes, throwing them into the laundry pile, and angrily put on his pyjama bottoms. While he brushed his teeth, he stared at himself reflectively in the mirror, wondering if he had changed. His hairline was receding, it was true, and he was pale, but that was not a novelty; he was as slim as he had been for most of his youth, his Healer experience having forced him and his son to eat healthily.
He finished brushing his teeth and dried his face on the towel, too tired to do anything else but shut the light. As he walked into the bedroom, he noticed that Asteria was already standing there, her face illuminated with sadness and guilt. She walked over to him and paused just within inches - the perfect distance of temptation.
‘You’re right,’ she sighed. ‘I’ve been letting Dad take over. I’m sorry. You should pick up Scorpius, of course you should. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’
She enclosed the tempting distance and pressed herself against his bare chest. He put his arms around her, but couldn’t help feeling that it was all so artificial. There was something guilty in his manner, too, for though most of him was looking forward to seeing Scorpius, some of him was also picking him up to chance a glance at Hermione.
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