Chapter 11 : The Loser Standing Small
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Thanks to all of you who have read and reviewed and given me so much encouragement. The story's not over yet, though I don't think that there's much of it left to go. Just a few threads to tie up. ;)
chapter image by bellatrixx
Onwards and Backwards
The Loser Standing Small
There was a long moment in which Rose felt herself transported back in time. Once again she was that gangly adolescent girl, her heart filled with rebellion and passion for this snarky blond-haired boy who had captured her imagination, fuelled her fantasies with every touch, every word.
“Surely you feel it, too, Rose?” His whisper was a flick of lips against her earlobe.
She tilted her head as she had so many times in the past to recapture his mouth, her hand reaching up to pull his head closer, as though she wished to swallow him whole, to make up for all the same lost between them when she–
“This thing between us. It can’t just end.”
He looked down into her face, the little smile, as always, playing about his lips, teasing, tantalising, stringing her along like a smitten puppy.
She wanted him to kiss her again. That was what she liked best, what she remembered with the greatest fondness.
What had their conversations been like? She could not remember them.
What had they done when together? She could only remember–
Nothing of substance. Nothing of importance. Nothing that could have made staying with him, marrying him, spending the rest of her life with him, worth-while. He would not always be handsome and charming, but he would always be manipulative and duplicitous.
In short, he would always be a Malfoy.
So she listened to her father’s advice after all. It was just ten years too late.
But it was not the epiphany that would tear her out of the past once and for all. Nor was it the feeling of disgust that crept up from her toes to her mouth. It was not the now-repugnant taste of his lips. It was not the sight of his face, so close to her own, each individual pore visible from that lack of distance. What instead ended the kiss was the loud screech that echoed down the hallway and back again, slamming against the drums of Rose’s ears with such force that it brought tears to her eyes.
“Rose, you bitch! How dare you!”
Pushing against Scorpius with all her might, Rose fell away when he suddenly let her go, landing against the wall with a teeth-chattering thump. She slid to the ground, seeing spots before her eyes, uncertain whether she had broken something.
Lily stood down the corridor, wand in hand, her hair breaking free of its bejewelled pins with the power of her fury. Rose had never seen her cousin look so alive before. Never had Lily been so real, so emotionally present. The whiny little girl of Rose’s memory, both old and recent, had dropped away to reveal a combined image of valiant Potter and furious Weasley, and this new image was making its way toward Rose at a worrying pace.
Her eyes opened wide, but still stars swam before them.
Scorpius was absolutely no help, but Rose had never counted on him for assistance in these types of matters. She had always been the one to defend them at Hogwarts when her older cousins cornered them in corridors, their faces unable to mask their disapproval. Later, it had again been she who had stood up to her parents while he had stood behind, a look of absolute innocence in his eyes.
Now he stood as though his bride had used a good stunning spell on him, freezing him in place more perfectly than a statue. Had the circumstances been different, Rose would have laughed at the expression on his face. It alone was worth the pain in her back.
“How dare you think that you can steal him back now?” Lily’s voice echoed up and down the corridor. It had to be audible even in the hall with the music blaring.
Rose blinked, rubbing at her eyes. “What? I–”
“I saw you! This is what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it?”
Perhaps she was wrong about the change in Lily. Remnants of the ghastly child remained, after all.
“He kissed me, dammit!”
Lily raised her wand. Rose felt about for hers, wherever she’d put it.
“Liar. You’ve been planning this ever since you heard. I know you, Rose. I know what kind of witch you’ve become. That bitter, old maid who can’t abide the thought of letting a man go, even when she’s the one who sent him away in the first place!”
One would think that Lily had been reading too many romance novels lately. It sounded like she was reciting a speech from a bad Victorian melodrama.
Rose wasn’t sure what to make of it, the speech, that is. From all appearances – her sudden return after receiving Albus’s news, the meetings with Scorpius, the way that she had moped around like a lost soul – she had seemed to only want one thing: to get Scorpius back. It had been her goal at one point, that was the worst. Why was she even here, now, at the wedding? Why would she have come if not to keep hoping that Scorpius would have changed his mind?
She was that bitter old maid that Lily called her. She was the real villain here, not Lily.
Rose looked up at her cousin, the tears in her eyes more than tears of dazed pain.
“Lily, I’m sorry. Please–”
The doors at the end of the corridor burst open and the wedding party emerged, their parents, all their family, their friends, everyone, all stopping in their tracks at the tableau before them, the groom frozen in place, the bride brandishing her wand over the fallen form of her cousin, the fallen woman, the failure.
“–let me go,” she breathed. “I’ll go and never come back. I’m so–”
There were sparks at the end of Lily’s wand; her hand was nearly glowing.
The last word was hardly a whisper, but she knew that Lily heard it. Lily had to have heard it. Rose saw the look in her eyes, finally saw the bandage around Lily’s right hand, the neat linen folds unable to disguise the blood seeping through, a fresh wound reopened.
How had that happened? Rose watched the blood stain the white linen, feeling as though she had been the one to cause those wounds, that she had somehow lashed out too heavily at her cousin, slashing her delicate white hands with the past she shared with Scorpius, a past that Lily knew too well could never be erased. Scorpius had proven that.
She and Lily were united, but forever divided. Yes, Lily was a pain in the arse, was so different from Rose in taste and interest that they could never be in the same room alone without one driving the other away in distaste. But there was something shared between them: the betrayal of this man.
Rose would gladly let him go, the taste of him on her lips turning her stomach.
Lily would never let him go. He was her prize. She had played the right cards.
The others were coming forward now, their hands holding up the hems of their dress robes to reveal shoes of every style, colour, and wear, striped socks or bare ankles. Scorpius finally moved, but away from Lily, not reaching out to comfort her, only retracting to the shadows, the sidelines from where he could cower in silence.
Quite a prize, wasn’t he?
Rose struggled to rise, backing away from Lily and supporting herself against the wall until she felt for the door that would give her freedom, her eyes never leaving Lily’s, still so filled with hatred, but also, perhaps, something else.
Hands were grabbing at Rose’s dress and arms, but she shoved them away, unable to hear their imploring voices. They were all there to see her, to gawk at her, to mock her and tell her “I told you so” with a shake of their heads.
“I can’t believe this!”
“Explain yourself, young lady!”
“Please calm down–”
She had to get away from such an effusion of noise and motion; it overwhelmed her senses, rose bile to her throat. She was trapped, her breath stolen from her lungs as they crowded closer and closer, threatening to lock her up forever and ever, the mad Weasley witch who had imagined herself in love with a Malfoy not once, but twice.
The door handle moved beneath her hands, and she fell through the opening, apparating without completely knowing where she would land.
It was very difficult for anyone to understand what had happened. It had resembled more of a scene in a passion play than a real series of events, and many of the onlookers had watched in amazement from the doorway, unable to understand what was going on before them. Others had known exactly what was happening, but stood all the same, powerless to prevent it from continuing its course.
Or was it that they knew such a course was inevitable? That this had been waiting to happen and should not be stopped because it was entirely necessary.
It was the only way to find a resolution to all this drama.
Lily’s parents were the ones to rush into the fray, Ginny grabbing the wand from her daughter’s hand while Harry reached out to help Rose. There was someone else beside him, Teddy’s blue hair changing to brown even as Rose threw off their offers of assistance with scrabbling hands, unable to see past the tears in her eyes.
When Harry turned back, the door clicking shut behind him, he saw that Ginny held their daughter close to her chest, almost squeezing the life out of her. It seemed that, for the first time in Lily’s life, she was actually returning her mother’s embrace, her eyes equally blinded by emotion. Lily’s friends stood around them, plucking at Lily’s dress and hair, their eyes scandalized by the destruction of high fashion. Molly Weasley fended them off to whisk both daughter and granddaughter off toward the lavatory to repair as much damage as possible, probably with the promise of the heartiest comfort food in Wizarding Britain.
The only ignored party was Scorpius, who had slunk into the shadows to sit on the ground, looking lost. His parents had hung back in the crowd, but Draco was red with fury, or was it shame? Certainly Astoria was furious, smoothing back her hair with shaking hands, just barely maintaining her usual stony expression.
Ron and Hermione were long gone. Unless he himself alerted them of this, they would have to find out the hard way, from rumour or, worse, from the newspapers. There would be no way of preventing this from getting out, not that Harry cared. For all that it was his daughter who was involved, he had to admit (to himself, of course, and himself alone) that she had, for those few moments she had towered over Rose, wand in hand and hair electrified, looked just like her mother, and his mother too. A daughter that he could, at last, be proud of.
It was the sort of thing that Teddy’s father would have understood, and he turned his head to try it out on Teddy.
“Quite something, wasn’t sh–”
But the boy was gone.
Sighing at another opportunity lost, he entered the fray to calm the remaining guests of his daughter’s wedding and, if he could obtain the patience, interrogate the groom.
She did not land on pavement or on the floor of a building, but rather on a lawn. Well, to be exact, half on the lawn and half in the garden, completing the ruination of her dress. It felt more natural to be covered with dirt, anyway, her fingers taking hold of the nearest plant with an odd feeling of relief. She had been out of the natural world for too long. No place, even the Burrow, even this quaint English garden that she now lay within, could make her feel that same exaltation she had known in the mountains, now so far away.
“I have to go back,” she muttered to herself, the remaining tears dripping onto the soil, unheeded. “I can’t stay in this godforsaken country any longer.”
The ground was achingly comfortable, and it would not have taken much more emotional turmoil to entice Rose underground. A nice cozy cave would suit her very well, a place where she could leave behind the past, escape her family, and regain that freedom she had tossed away at the barest whiff of the past.
Twenty-two was a dreadful age. She’d had more sense at eighteen.
She had taken the first step, the hardest step of all, and now she was free, free to leave again and find her own way in the world and make something of herself without a care for some pretty boy named Scorpius Malfoy or his pettier wife or her friends of any of the people she had, once, cared about.
They all felt so far away now. It was like she was already long absent from England.
If she was lucky, they would easily forget her, forget everything that had happened this last, nightmarish week.
When she managed to get herself on her two legs, a very awkward thing to do on the grass in a dress and heels, even if her heels were of minimal height, she surveyed her surroundings, half of her brain whizzing through the preparations she would have to make for her return to China.
She would have to take one of those cheap last-minute seats on the airplane, which would mean spending ten hours squished between a deaf old lady and an obese tourist with a child constantly kicking the back of her seat and the person in front with their chair all the way back. She would take with her only the things she had brought along, which didn’t amount to much, but all the same, she would have to get everything laundered and mended, if Grandmum hadn’t already gotten through the lot. She would have to double check at home that there weren’t any books that she wanted to take along, if only for a change of reading material. Sometimes, in the evenings, it was so quiet–
The natural silence of the garden was lost in a sudden, though short POP. She was no longer alone, and it reminded her of what she had to leave.
She would prefer to go by any other name now.
At least she knew whose garden she’d landed in.
She did not turn to look at him, exhaustion finally taking its toll.
“You left in a hurry.”
“Can you blame me?”
“No, though Uncle Harry was only trying to help you.”
She did not know what he was talking about.
“I didn’t see him.”
“Ah. That explains it.”
He walked toward her, steps softened, but not quite silenced, by the soft grass.
“At least your parents had left.”
She shrugged, then winced, raising a hand to rub her collarbone. “Dad would have killed Scorpius, not that I could blame him.”
“Your father for resorting to murder, or Malfoy for trying his luck one last time?”
There was no irony in his voice, but she laughed all the same, the sound making the birds flee to the highest branches of the giant chestnut tree in the centre of the garden.
“You sound as though you can identify with both.” She turned to face him and revelled in the shock on his face. That she could garner such a reaction from someone like Teddy Lupin helped to bolster her shattered confidence. “Don’t tell me that you–”
“Stop it before you say anything you’ll regret.” His shock had melted into something near, but not quite pity. Perhaps it was understanding. “Most people would tell you that you’ve done enough today that you should regret.”
“Should or will?”
He tilted his head and opened his mouth to admonish her. She knew the tilt, the way his face grew harder, his nose straightening, though he never knew that it did when he got this way. It was funny how he couldn’t always control his Metamorphmagal powers, his hair changing with his mood, his face changing when he wanted to make a point.
“What are you laughing at now? Are you mad?”
“Once and for all, you mean,” she rasped between chuckles, holding her heaving sides.
He shook his head in wonder, eyes rolling in exaggerated impatience, before the infectious emotion took hold of him as well. But although he managed some hearty laughs, they were too fleeting, as though the very act of laughing reminded him of something painful. His face tightened, but Rose did not seem to notice.
“Come on, Pinky. We’ll get you ready for Bedlam.”
She squirmed when he took possession of her arm. “Don’t call me that. I’m not a child.”
“Are you certain of that?”
She refused to answer that question, rhetorical or not.
“Why are you helping me, Teddy? I don’t understand it.”
He stopped, but did not look back at her. It was this that made her want to see his face, but she would not move, would not follow him into his house where, only yesterday, they had nearly kissed. There was an attraction between them that she could not deny, nor could she just leave him, this place, England itself, without addressing this strange new problem.
It had taken her a week to understand what she felt for Scorpius. Would it take another to understand what she felt for another man? Would it be longer, shorter? How could she know anything at all beyond the fact that she was nothing more than a hopeless romantic, falling for one man even before the previous one was out of the picture.
Rose. Rose. Rose. You’re being so pathetic.
She continued to watch him.
Maybe it wasn’t a romantic sort of thing at all. Maybe he was just being the kind of friend she needed right now. Not the sympathetic ply-you-with-drinks-until-you’re-senseless type. Not the distract-you-to-bits type. Just someone who could understand that she wanted none of that.
“I like you, Rose. I hate to see you suffer as you have this last week.”
She took a step forward. “But I didn’t see you for years! You hardly–”
When he turned, she could still only see him in profile, the waning summer light too strong behind him.
“I was a different person then. Hardly,” he relished the sound of her word, “worth your notice now.”
There was a little cloud whose path crossed that of the sun. The sky darkened for a moment, making Rose squint as she scrutinised Teddy Lupin, the famous poet of the wizarding world who, was perhaps as close to confessing his love for her as he could ever be. She waited, she wondered, then waited some more.
But it was a silly thought, and the little cloud agreed, passing merrily on its way, once again permitting the sun to illuminate all.
Including Rose’s adolescent fantasies.
There was far more to life than being in love.
She didn’t like the feeling all that much, anyway.
“I assume that you’ve decided to end your vacation in England?” he asked over tea sometime later. He had first offered coffee, but she had refused it on grounds of disliking the stuff, causing confusion for her host, seeing that she had accepted it from him only yesterday.
Only yesterday? Really?
It would never cease to amaze her how fast this week had gone.
She had said the words aloud over and over as she washed her hands, face, and neck in the lavatory, letting the dress slide to the floor and standing in front of the mirror, frowning, as the seconds ticked past. She lifted her hand and moved as though to smash the glass, stopping to touch the cool surface with gentle fingertips.
Yes, that was what Lily had done. She had smashed a looking-glass, something flat against a wall, not a window or some other breakable object. It was the only way to explain the way the bandages had been wrapped around her hand, the only way to explain so severe a wound.
It was pathetic, really. Pathetic in the saddest sort of way.
Rose looked into the mirror and saw herself as she had always been. Her body now may had filled out in the corners, but she had always known that she’d never be beautiful, that she was female, but never destined for an ideal figure. That was for other girls, those who were either lucky or cursed, depending. It could go either way.
She didn’t know what luck had given her, in the end. Normality, perhaps.
Scorpius had tried to change her, once, twice, again. He had tried so hard to make her into something more than she was, encouraging her spellwork when she was no good at it, giving her gifts so that she could take on the appearance of beauty in his eyes, moulding her into his vision of the woman who was right for him. She didn’t know what he’d done it, why he’d chosen her. What was important was that, for too long, she had let him have his way.
Even when she’d been far away from him, he had maintained some semblance of power over her. Just look at how fast she had returned to stop the wedding, to take him back, and all along, it was what he’d wanted.
The bastard. The creep. The priggish immature boy who could never understand true feeling, what it was to believe yourself in love and lose yourself in that love only to have it crushed under the cruel thumb of the person who should have cared, who should have returned that love.
It was only when she heard the kettle’s beckoning whistle that she donned his grandmother’s spare dressing gown to join him in the kitchen, a new person.
After a long sip of tea, she answered, “I’ll leave as soon as I can.”
He nodded. “Everyone will understand.”
A long look passed between them.
It wasn’t at all like Rose had expected. This kind of moment was meant to be filled with tension, fraught with barely-repressed emotions that bubbled to the surface in surreptitious glances and blushing cheeks. But there was no hope for that kind of moment now. Rose was too far gone, in more sense than one.
Teddy raised his eyebrows in question, but she shook her head quickly, too quickly, her teacup missing her lips, sending a dribbling of tea down the front of the dressing gown.
“Oh damn. I just can’t keep clean today.”
He paid an extraordinary amount of time to the design on his teacup as she spelled the stain away, placing the wand beside her on the table before laughing awkwardly.
“I can see the headlines now. Rose Weasley, most tarnished of the family.”
His mouth twisted into a smile. It was so unlike the way that Scorpius smiled, but she didn’t know why. They were both very sarcastic, both relying on irony and double entendre to get them through each day....
“What is it?” He had put down his cup, brown eyes boring into her skull.
“It’s nothing.” She stared into her cup, into the fine sediment that littered the bottom. What would she find there?
It felt a very long time ago that she had sat across from Ming and had received her fortune at the wise woman’s hands, or rather, at the dregs of her cup of black tea. It had been the real stuff, not the British import that Teddy’s grandmother had been likely using since she’d set up house, however many years ago that had been.
Rose could hear echoes of Ming’s advise as she swished her cup clockwise once, and then again.
“The leaves do not lie, child. You may not believe in them, but you know in your heart that they are always correct.”
There had been a wolf in her cup then.
She looked into her cup now, but there was still too much liquid, obscuring the image. How fitting that her future should remain cloudy.
She glanced across at Teddy and laughter came to her lips. She knew that he would think her truly mad, just like that old bat Trelawney. She was laughing too often today. Either she had actually lost her sanity, which was quite possible, or she was relaxing, her nerves finding outlet in something other than rage or depression.
All that suffering of the last few days was gone. Why should she care anymore? Scorpius was married to Lily. Scorpius had proven just how weak he really was. Lily had proven her strength, her determination, even if it was to have him, of all people.
Once, so long ago, Rose had been that way. She had fought for Scorpius and won.
But it had not been a victory. There could be no victories in love.
Teddy caught her eye.
“That was the most exquisite set of expressions I’ve ever seen cross someone’s face in such a short time.”
She shrugged her shoulders and wore a self-mocking smile.
“It’s all been like a comedy of errors from start to finish. How did it happen?”
He snorted, setting down his cup with a polite clink. “Just think of all the fun it’s been, old girl.” His accent rose to the heights of British aristocracy. “A good bit of sport to make you appreciate your dreary life back home.”
She didn’t miss the clue among the red herrings. “Home?”
“You know where I mean.”
Their eyes met again and Rose’s heart felt light. Here was someone who understood what it was like to have survived, to have lived, who had found that one thing that made it possible to go on after all the world’s idols had come crashing down at one’s feet.
She smiled at him.
The front door to the house opened and a voice cut through the air, through the moment.
“Teddy, is that you? I’ve heard some very strange things about that wedding.”
Andromeda Tonks burst into the room to take in the sight of her grandson having tea with a significant part of those “strange things” and who was, at that particularly moment, only wearing a dressing gown and what could have been interpreted as a suggestive smile.
It was, to say the very least, unfortunate timing.
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