Chapter 8 : Illegal Empathy
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Listening, all she could hear was hundreds and hundreds of owls, swooping and swooshing, hooting, clipping their beaks. She tried, with the part of her brain that wasn’t numb, to focus only on that.
Rose’s feet were frozen and her nose was dripping, but none of this registered in Rose’s mind. It had hit her only an hour ago.
What he had said.
“Goodnight Rose.” That smooth, sweet, secretive, and taunting voice had said.
That was her name. That meant he knew her name.
That meant he knew who she was. And Rose had no idea who he was.
The plethora of owls was definitely mocking her, Rose decided. Why did they keep on bloody saying ‘who’? She didn’t know who, damnit. But he did.
Last night, she had come back to the common room with Dom and the others, laughing, but feeling that she had forgotten something very key, like she was missing a shoe, or like she had walked into the great hall without pants. Something was wrong, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. The feeling had freaked Rose out all night until now, early this morning, when it hit her.
Giggling, they had all crashed like waves in a storm into their beds and dreamed all night. That was actually when it hit her: that he knew her name, when she was dreaming about him. She had awoken with a start at about three in the morning, and had replayed the conversation over and over in her head to make sure.
But it was always unambiguous—yes, he had really said that.
And now Rose was sitting in the dark on the top stair of the owlery, on a sheet of ice, snow falling like dandruff, at four in the morning, frozen in every way. She had run in a trance out of the castle, in pyjamas and the ownerless cloak, and had gone slipping and sliding all the way to the owlery. And now there was nowhere to go. Why the owlery? Rose had no idea. It just had seemed like a good place at the time. Not so much now, though. With no where to go, no specific destination, Rose was able to think much more than she liked.
Consciousness was slowly coming back to her mind, although it had altogether left her cheeks, fingers and toes.
Rose stood up, one hand on the owlery wall, and took a few tentative breaths.
So, what now? Did it really change anything? Yes, that was stupid to even ask. Of course it did. It meant that he was real. That he was a real person with a name and a life.
Rose was amazed at herself that she hadn’t noted it as he said it. Did he even realize he had said it? Maybe he did it on purpose.
At that point Rose’s fingers went from numbness to the complete agony of stinging. The pain made her move; down the stairs, hurrying across the dark, snowy path back to the warmth of the castle, head pounding and fingers throbbing. Rose slipped back in through the east door and walked quickly back to the common room as her body slowly thawed.
“Gillyweed.” Rose said to the Fat Lady, who opened one eye and said blearily, “You’re out late…or, early, now isn’t it?” She chuckled. Rose didn’t say anything and stepped through the hole, feeling considerably calmer.
The common room was empty, and still fairly dark, the only light coming from the slowly dying fire and the tall windows at the far side of the room. Rose walked over to the fire, and clambered up onto one of the big red chintz chairs, hugging her knees and resting her chin on them. She pulled off the cloak and tossed it over herself, curling up and staring at the fire.
Somehow, she fell into a strange sleep. Perhaps it wasn’t sleep at all, just frozen in the state of mind between sleep and awake.
And that was how Al found her two hours later.
“Rose? Rose? Don’t make me tickle you to get you up.” Rose made an incomprehensible noise, and didn’t open her eyes.
“Come on, Rose, we only have a half day of classes and then we’re off to the Burrow to see our large and rather deranged family!” Al said excitedly.
This made Rose laugh groggily, and she opened her eyes so she could groggily hit Al with the back of her hand.
“Watch it, Potter.” She said blearily.
“Thanks for waking me up.” Rose said, yawning.
Rose swung her legs off the chair, grabbing her cloak that had fallen on the floor and walked off to her dormitory.
Dom and Amanda were already up and running around, Amanda only in her underwear and Dom already dressed. Lucy was in the shower, Rose guessed.
“Rose, where the hell did you go?” Amanda shot at her.
“I went for a walk.” Rose said, peeling her top and leggings off.
“At three in the bloody morning?” Dom placed her hands on her hips.
“What’s going on?”
Rose didn’t know what made her do it; suddenly the urge to tell someone overcame her. She usually managed to keep this sort of thing private, for a day at least. Dom saw this, so she cocked her head, and said, “Okay, spill.”
Rose briefly explained what had happened last night, right until the end when he had said it. Goodnight Rose.
Amanda reacted in a similar way that Rose had.
“But that means that he knows who you are!” She screamed rather loudly.
“Yeah, Amanda, I know what it means.” Rose said tiredly, rubbing her forehead.
“So…” Dom said, making her bed, her sleuth face on, “you have no idea who he is though.”
“Nope.” Rose said, sighing and falling back onto her bed.
“Well, you have to find out eventually.” Dom reasoned.
“Yeah, he’ll probably tell you or something.” Amanda agreed.
Oh yes. That would be really non-awkward; “Oh, hello. I’m the guy you danced with last night so you didn’t have to dance with your boyfriend.”
“I’m not even sure if he knew that he said my name. Maybe he wanted to keep it a secret.” Rose said worriedly, sitting up and placing her hands on her lap.
“Look on the bright side, Rose. Now if he is your dream guy you actually have a chance of seeing him again.” Amanda said thoughtfully, “Maybe he’ll reveal himself today.”
Rose shrugged. They were all silent for a few seconds as the depth of her words sunk in.
“What are you going to wear?” Amanda cried suddenly, leaping up off her bed.
“Oh dear,” Dom said.
Twenty minutes later Rose was in the great hall, squished between Amanda and Al, Lucy and Dom across from them. Maggie had decided to join them, to Lucy’s disdain, and was feeding Al with her spoon, giggling. Lucy’s eyes were rather red and her lips were set in a very thin, hard line, flinching every time Al smiled or laughed. Dom had informed her that Lucy had been crying all night and all morning until she realized how red it made her eyes.
Rose couldn’t eat, she was too nervous. Who was he? Was he here, in this very room right now? Who could it be? Rose turned and glanced across the hall, as if he would jump out and declare himself. Rose shook her head at herself, and sat back down just as the bell rang. Everyone jumped up to get to their classes.
Rose saw Hugo walking, and she went over to him to say hi.
“I’ll meet you in Brooks’ office after second class.” Rose reminded him, waving.
Hugo nodded, not smiling. “Yeah, yeah.”
He stalked off, and Rose stood there, one eyebrow raised. She heard the Slytherin posse coming however, so she quickly walked in the other direction, towards her friends and away from the Slytherins.
The second they opened the doors out of the castle Rose could hardly see. The wind and snow were howling, making a complete white out. Rose’s scarf whipped around and slapped her in the face.
“Hey,” Al yelled against the wind, “Let’s go!”
They all stumbled through the snow down the long path to the warm greenhouses, stumbling inside and quickly closing the door.
Rose pulled off her scarf and her hood, shaking the snow off her hair.
“Don’t touch me Al, I can take off my coat on my own.” Rose heard Lucy hiss behind her. Rose pretended not to hear, and slid off her cloak, catching a fleeting glance with Dom, who had also heard.
Longbottom had pots set up around the room, all various sizes, but with one red, rather nasty looking plant in each. Rose saw that they were the last to arrive; the Hufflepuffs and the rest of the Gryffindors were already there. Tristan was glaring at her fixedly, which made Rose suddenly let out an odd, strangled giggle.
She was pleased to find that she didn’t particularly care.
“Please get a partner and sit in front of a pot, please.” Longbottom instructed, “Careful, they squirt.”
The hour went by surprisingly quickly for dealing with squirting, foul-smelling plants; Rose was surprised when Longbottom dismissed them.
They make their way back through the slightly calmer storm to the castle, going to the dungeons for potions.
“Only one more class and then we’re gone.” Al said wistfully as they descended the stone stairs.
“The Burrow’s going to be complete chaos,” Dom said, grinning, “Everyone’s coming.”
They walked into the dim-lit classroom, heading to their usual desks in the back.
Slytherin was sitting in their usual corner too, and Rose felt a little bit of color rise up into her face. How silly it was that she had ever thought that the mystery guy could possibly have been Malfoy.
Malfoy, in all his glowing perfection, was bent over his desk, reading a book before class started. He glanced up and caught her eye when the dungeon doors slammed behind them, announcing their arrival. His glance was different today, Rose suddenly realized. There was something strange and secretive in his eyes. It was the glimmer of having a secret with someone. The glint that they knew something no one else did.
The funny thing, however, was that Rose had no idea what this look was referring to.
And suddenly, just as quick as he had glanced up, he looked back down to his book.
No one else seemed to have noticed; Dom was giggling about something and pulling Rose along to their seats. Rose sat down and her view of Malfoy was blocked by another Slytherin, which she realized with a jolt was Hallie. She was sitting on his desk, her long shimmery hair pulled over one shoulder, head tipped back, laughing. Rose looked away quickly, ignoring the sinking feeling in her stomach, just as Professor Barnes began to talk.
“Today is an easy class. You’re just going to identify these potions,” he gestured around him to the ten or so cauldrons, “and describe them with your partners.” He clapped and everyone began to move. Rose hesitated, waiting.
“Same partners as last week!” He said above the noise. Rose let out a breath.
Dom put a hand on her elbow, and Rose turned to look at her.
“I’m fine.” Rose said hotly. “Really.”
Dom nodded and Rose bent down to get her bag, stood up, and made her way across the classroom to where Malfoy was sitting, still engrossed in his book. A faint sense of déjà vu enveloped her again.
Rose dropped her bag next to her chair and sat down.
He looked up, closing his book. He was barely smiling, but Rose found the look slightly condescending; the same feeling that he was laughing about an inside joke enveloped her. Once again an odd feeling of remembrance skittered through her head.
Rose’s throat felt suddenly very dry.
What do I say to him?!
Her panic rose up in her chest.
“What are you reading?” She asked, automatically tilting her head to read the title.
That’s it Rose, good job. When in doubt, just make the conversation even more awkward by bringing up books.
“It’s a French classic by Alain-Rene Lesage.” He said, leaning down to put it into his bag.
A cool wave of paranoia swept over Rose as he spoke. His voice sounded exactly the same as the mystery guy. Of course. But, as a teenager, didn’t most male voices sound pretty much the same? If Rose hadn’t been thinking about it, would she have even noticed how similar the voices were?
Malfoy stood back up, and Rose snapped back to attention.
“Oh, I didn’t know you spoke French.” She blabbered nervously. Oh, god. What a stupid thing to say. I barely even know him, how would I ever know that he spoke French?
Malfoy seemed to agree.
“Oh, yeah. I do.” Obviously was the implied word in his response.
He tapped his fingers on the table, looking to the other side of the room. He was still barely smiling, so slight that Rose wasn’t sure if it was even there at all or if she was imagining it.
“Well,” Rose started, “we should probably get started here.”
He nodded, grabbed his parchment and quill, and stood up from his desk. They made their way over to the cauldrons, Rose biting her lip nervously.
The first cauldron was a light green, smoking, bubbling and emitting a smell like rotten eggs.
“Ah. That’s lovely.” She heard Malfoy say under his breath. She laughed quietly, and he glanced up.
“Do you want to write?” He asked, holding out the quill, as if to cover up for his sarcasm.
Rose nodded and they leaned over the cauldron.
“Okay. Color first—light green.” He said.
“Like?” She asked timidly, hoping he remembered.
He did, and smiled that one side up, lopsided smile for the first time that day.
“Like…new born summer grass.”
“Uh huh, new born summer grass, poetic as usual,” Rose said under her breath as she wrote, smiling down on the parchment. She finished writing and looked back up. She thought she saw a hint of a smile on his face.
“Smells like, looks like, texture?” She prompted again. He tapped his finger on his chin, a habit she noticed he did whenever he was thinking.
“Ah, rotten eggs, texture like cottage cheese.” His voice had the tiniest bit of humor in it, Rose noted, but, just like his smile, hinting at an inside joke.
Rose scribbled what he said down, smiling because she couldn’t help it, and they both stood back up to move to another cauldron. It went on like that for the next forty-five minutes, as they progressively became more and more creative with their descriptions such as ‘dog breath post-hamster, ‘malt vinegar with a touch of B.O.’, and ‘melting rubber with cinnamon.’
With each cauldron, Malfoy became more and more casual, slightly less intimidating, laughing quietly and smiling and occasional half-real smile to cover his odd smirk. The main thing Rose noticed about this week that was different from last week was that he never looked her in the eye; he sporadically glanced over at her while she was writing, and if she looked up, the heat coming to her face, he would immediately look away and wouldn’t look again for a while. She either had something disgusting on her face that was so grotesque that he couldn’t look away, or he was hiding something.
They progressed steadily until they reached the last cauldron, where Rose sat with the parchment on top of her potions book, balanced on her knee, quill at the ready. Barnes called across the room that there was only about ten minutes left of class.
“So what do you think about this one?” Rose said casually, peering over the rim to the delicate shade of light bluish green, sparkling and glowing, occasionally catching all colors of the rainbow.
Malfoy didn’t reply, and Rose looked up from the cauldron to make sure he hadn’t walked away. He was standing there, hands in pockets, with that same strange insinuating smile playing his lips stronger than ever before. The secret smile seemed a fitting name. His eyes were full of hope and mystery, but suddenly behind them Rose saw a dark and heartbreaking shadow for the first time in his complex gray eyes.
She couldn’t help it; she shivered slightly.
“So, what are you doing this Christmas?” He asked suddenly, disregarding the assignment but still staring at the potion, not turning to look at her.
Rose felt her eyes widen a little bit, surprised.
“Um, I---” She stuttered, and then answered automatically, “We’ll be at The Burrow for a few days and then we’re all going to the Potter’s, apparently.” She couldn’t help the slight note of discontent slip in at the end. He probably hadn’t even noticed.
He nodded, not saying anything.
“Apparently?” He asked quietly, his tone neutral and polite. He had noticed. Rose had to be more careful with her tone if he was going to be so perceptive. She could really give something away.
It would be easy to stop there. Not say anything more.
“I don’t really get any say in what we do for Christmas,” Rose said, “Or my life, really.” She added on quietly at the end. Whoops.
“Why is that?” He asked, his tone very casual and controlled.
Rose paused, trying to figure out why she had said that, why she had said that to him. He didn’t need to know, nor did he probably care. Some strange, alien force dragged the honest truth out of her before she could really consider it at all.
For some reason, she felt like it was the most important thing in the world that he should know. He needed to know.
“I suppose I have a lot to live up to; I don’t really get to decide what I do for myself.” Rose said, embarassed because unknown sadness anger tainted her voice. She thought of the foot high stack of Career-Option packets piled next to her bed, the careful surveillance her mother kept over her grades.
“The Golden Girl, right?” He said, amusement and hostility seeping into his voice. Her parents were two of the famous Golden Trio, consequentially; she became the ‘Golden Girl’. He looked up and she caught a glance of his expression. His lips were tightened slightly, his eyes seemed darker.
“Unfortunately; that’s what they all know me as.” Rose said, setting her lips too in a hard line.
“Do you prefer just Rose, then?” Malfoy asked, but his tone was no longer as casual. It was intense, hidden meaning pulsing behind his words. Rose was distracted by him saying her name for the first time—it sounded so different. Like a spell, something to be whispered at sunset, or written in a book of poetry.
And she was also struggling to understand what he meant beneath his words. Maybe she was imagining it.
“Just Rose,” she sighed, her heart pounding loudly.
“The title implies something that I’m not.” Rose hadn’t realized the truth to her words until she had said them; she also realized that no one, in her entire life, had ever asker her that before.
Immediately regretting telling him this deep insecurity, she was surprised when he immediately responded, actual emotion in his voice with no trace of a smirk.
“I know exactly how you feel.” He said bitterly, suddenly smiling grimly. Rose couldn’t say anything—she was far too surprised at how right he was. Of course, the situation was almost exactly the same. She had never really thought about how people must judge him too. His grandfather and father had both notoriously been Voldemort’s followers, and after the war the Malfoys had been universally hated. However, they had a lot of money and Rose suspected that after the war, their generosity (dare she say bribes?) had been a major part in their reacceptance back into the social respect of the wizarding world.
Rose could see the hardness in Malfoy’s jaw, and his rigid and protective stance, and she suddenly realized where that must have come from.
“They all call me the Death Eater’s son.” He said, softly but resentfully.
Sympathy and concern spluttered into Rose’s heart. She had never wanted anything more than to reach out to this strange, suddenly vulnerable boy right then. The inscrutable and indestructible wall around him crumbled for just a moment.
Professor Barnes clapped his hands and broke through their conversation. Rose spun around to face Barnes. Suddenly everything was very loud again, chaotic; Everyone was talking and moving. The reality of where they were rushed back to her. In the middle of a dungeon, two people destined, but forbidden to be friends, surrounded by people. She could hear the rush of adrenaline in her veins, his breathing.
“Finish up; you only have two minutes left.” Barnes called. Rose caught Dom’s eye from across the room. She had one eyebrow raised delicately. Rose looked away.
Malfoy was still standing next to the cauldron, hands in pockets, but his eyes were more present, back to reality.
Rose turned back to the potion, splotches of red appearing on her cheekbones.
How could she have gotten so personal with—not just someone she didn’t really know, but---a Malfoy. Those were some of her deepest insecurities. Dom and Amanda didn’t really even know the extent of them. Al was really the only one who could really empathize, but he didn’t seem to have the problems with attention like Rose did. Quite the opposite, really.
“We should probably finish.” Malfoy said suddenly, his tone strange. Maybe he regretted talking with her.
“Yeah, right.” Rose said, dipping the quill and straightening the parchment to hide her embarrassment at the strange, entirely illegal bond they just made. That was unheard of; a Weasley and Malfoy ever relating to each other, ever being friends.
She watched him pull his hands out of his pockets and she leaned over the parchment, her hair swinging over to hide her face.
He cleared him throat, and said “Hmm,” very quietly.
“This one is special,” He declared quietly, finally looking up at her, “I think that it’s…” he paused, considering his next word, before saying softly,”…iridescent.”
Rose brought her eyes down to the parchment automatically to write before she processed what he said.
Her hand froze, hovering above the parchment.
And then it hit her like a tidal wave.
Everything was suddenly very quiet again to the point where all she could hear was her own heartbeat and his breathing, as if there was no one else in the world, let alone the room. Was it a coincidence? No, certainly not. He had paused in just such a way…
Rose could barely speak. She courageously looked up from the parchment to look at him. He had taken his hands out of his pockets and was staring at her, half sitting, half standing against a desk, his eyes smoldering like burning embers with that dangerous gleam. That same heartbreaking conflict shattered the peace of his grey eyes.
“You?” she breathed, and his eyes awoke, breaking into a thousand new emotions.
Rose felt her mouth open, her breathing suddenly unsteady, unable to look away from the painfully beautiful boy before her. SHe knew she only had a second to react, and that the right thing to do would be to run, but she couldn't stop herself from looking at his eyes.
Looking into his eyes was like falling into his life, feeling a storm of emotions that didn’t belong to her. The clash of so many feelings in his eyes was exceedingly complex and switching so quickly that Rose found she could not identify a single one with an actual word. The emotions were too multifaceted, so conflicted by other emotions that Rose actually stopped breathing from an overdose of feeling. Maybe she just died, right then and there, from such an overflow of complicated, powerful emotion.
And then the shrill, piercing bell rang, slicing through their gaze and shattering her trance.
There was suddenly much noise, and it occurred to Rose that there were actually other people in the room. She snapped back to consciousness and tore her gaze away from his, painfully, completely ending the few-second trance that had felt like hours.
She jumped up, her heart pounding in her ears, and spun around to find her bag in an automatic sort of panic. She snatched it up, and tried to run towards the door, colliding with a table in her blind haste. She kept on pushing and the table grinded across the floor as it moved from her pressure. She broke into a run, until she got caught in the flow of students exiting the dungeon, up the stairs, her mind spinning. She came out of the throb, not processing any noise or emotions.
Back, down the stairs, into the green lit and dark dungeon, to where the only person in the room is sitting atop a desk.
He just sat there, on the desk, with his eyes closed. Everyone else had gone. He almost looked as if he was meditating, or sleeping, except for the tightness in his mouth and jaw, and his white knuckles that gripped the edges of the desk, as if he was straining to keep himself still. One might think he was having a silent fit. If you got close enough, you might think that something was wrong with his heart, because it was beating incredibly loudly. Or maybe they would assume that something was wrong with him mentally, because he suddenly broke into a large and genuine grin, and then it slid off his face and he dropped his head into his hands, groaning. Maybe he was bipolar.
It was probably good that no one was here to see him, Scorpius decided. It didn’t just look like there was something wrong with him. There was.
Scorpius slid off the desk, and stooped to pick up his bag. He slung it over his shoulder and started walking. He stopped after a few steps, and turned to look back at the desk where he had worked that day. The scene of the crime.
He turned again, for some reason feeling very…free. Relieved. As if a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders. That didn’t seem very accurate, Scorpius mused, seeing as he had just made things far more complicated than they were before. But no, he didn’t feel too worried, not right now at least.
He felt ecstatic.
When Rose had said “You?” so softly, her breath blowing over his face, she had certainly not looked repulsed. She wasn’t leaping for joy, but that was probably because she was so shocked. She hadn’t looked disgusted by the idea. Mostly she had looked surprised, and then panicked. She had been so panicked that she became clumsy, knocking into the desk, and then practically sprinting from the room.
Scorpius frowned. He could empathize completely with her panic; even the idea of the two of the m touching, the two of them dancing, the moment when he brushed her cheek were so completely off limits, so against the rules that it made him feel panicked too.
Scorpius closed the dungeon door behind him, the sound of the latch echoing in his head. He ascended the stairs, one step at a time, holding her face in his memory.
He had known, of course. When you spend so much time observing a person, there’s not much a mask and a little bit of darkness can do.
At first, he had been completely oblivious to all of the obvious signs that it was her; the smile, the awkward, but somehow graceful walking, the laugh, the voice, the blush. That was what had really tipped him off; that god damn, beautiful and distracting blush, the color of roses splashed across her cheekbones.
Maybe, if he hadn’t been so distracted by her delicate collarbone, her smooth chest, the arch of her neck, her slight waist, he would have noticed sooner. It was just one particular time, she had blushed, and it had hit him like a wrecking ball. He had stopped in the middle of the dance. He had just stopped. And then she had smiled her quizzical smile, and suddenly the most important thing in the world was holding her. Hearing her talk. Observing her responses.
Scorpius cut through a side hall, heading to the Slytherin common room to pack.
Nothing brings people together like discussing their insecurities, their fears. Rose was afraid that people wouldn’t see her for who she really was. Scorpius could certainly empathize with that. How strange.
He had assumed that she had to live up to expectations; that was obvious, but her reactions were so confusing. He had thought that maybe she would be nervous, feel pressured to be as ‘golden’ as her parents, but instead she had seemed almost angry.
That wasn't how he would have predicted her to act.
He hadn’t meant to say what he had said, but that somehow always happened when he talked to Rose.
They all call me the Death Eater’s son.
Although the pain had been magnified a thousand times when he said it out loud, he felt better now. Somehow, not so much alone. Making such a dark and off limits connection with someone so opposite of him gave him an odd, balanced feeling.
He nodded at some fellow Slytherins that he passed in the hall, not hearing whatever it was that they were saying to him. He gave the password, and made his way up to the dormitory. The elves had been in; his bed was made and the pile of dirty clothes that had been on the floor was stacked on his bed, clean. He knelt next to his bed and pulled his trunk out from underneath, beginning to put thing in without really thinking about it. He glanced at his watch; he only had about an hour left until he had to go.
He was going to take a carriage to Hogsmeade, where one of his family’s butlers was sure to meet him. His mother hadn’t said where they were going for Christmas, just simply ‘on vacation’. They were probably to travel to one of their many houses, estates, cottages and mansions. Maybe the villa in southern Italy. Maybe the mansion in Scotland. Maybe she had lied, and they were just staying home. It didn’t particularly matter to Scorpius, just as long as he was left alone.
Left alone to think.
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