Rose and Scorpius stood in companionable silence, the thick slick of sweat on their skin marred only by the occasional streak of dirt. She glanced at her watch; it was nearly three, time to pack it in for the day, and for the first time in a long time, she didn’t mind. It had been a good days work, and she had to admit, without Scorpius’ help, it would have been harder. They were making real progress with the artefacts and the curse; Rose could feel they were close to solving the puzzle and she could not help smiling. Frank would be back soon with their supplies and she was actually looking forward to relaxing with a drink.
“So anyway,” she said, “thanks for your help.”
Scorpius smiled. “Not a problem.”
Rose had been surprised to find that, after he gained confidence, he was a hard worker. He had been tentative at first, afraid to touch her tools, but after she lost her temper and called him a soft handed desk jockey he had given her a fierce look, picked up a trowel and set to work. She also had to admit that having an extra pair of hands, as tender as they were, was a great help. In between scouring her brain and digging at Scorpius’ to try and break the curse, she taught him the very basics of her trade. He was a fast learner, and proved himself more useful to them than Lysander, who sat around sketching all day, keeping cool in the shade. Louis threatened to send him home if he didn’t do something useful, so Lysander took to dividing his time between trying to help his brother with the dragon, and helping Luis with any messages and reports that needed writing.
She snuck a glance at Scorpius out of the corner of her eye. She still knew nothing about him, not really. He wasn’t big on talking and the one time she had asked about Lily he had gone very quiet and made up some excuse about needing to check something in one of his books. He had left Rose sitting in the cavern with the artefacts, with nothing but the dark and the past for company, until she had strode off to find him lying on his bed with his head under the pillow. She had left him alone after that, but there was something deep inside her that wanted to ask questions – how was Lily? Was she happy with her job? Did she still like old muggle films? Did she ever mention her cousin?
Rose smiled to herself, remembering early in the week when, sick of Scorpius’ moaning about dirt, Louis had dumped a whole bucket of the slick, black earth on his head and made him sit in it. There was no running off to clean up, no temper tantrum – Scorpius sat there, shuddering with revulsion, but he endured it, partly because Louis had his wand out, and partly, Rose believed, because he wanted to. She knew what it was like to conquer a fear, and she had to admit she had been impressed with the way he handled it.
Scorpius swatted lazily at an insect buzzing by his ear and Rose grinned. He looked comfortable now; a far cry from the state he was in when he arrived. She frowned as a string of curse words scattered themselves through the jungle, and she wondered what on earth had happened to cause Frank to swear like that. He was not usually so colourful, preferring to sound like he’d swallowed a thesaurus for breakfast instead. She had not known there were so many phrases that could be used in place of a simple ‘fuck off.’
The jungle sighed and stirred and then, he was pushing through the undergrowth, moaning that the path needed clearing again. His hair was everywhere, his face harassed and on his back he carried a bursting bag. Juan and Pedro followed in his wake, and Rose strained her eyes, imagining she could see a fourth person crammed between the men.
“Frank, you look terrible! Anyone would think it was the first time you’d done that,” she called in greeting.
“Yeah well,” he grumbled. “I practically carried her through the jungle. You wouldn’t believe the commotion when a bug touched her hair. She didn’t want to Apparate – wanted to ‘look at the pretty trees’.”
“Yes: her highness of high horses, princess of perfection, right royal pain my arse!”
A slight red-haired woman dressed in beige trousers, a white shirt and wide-brimmed hat pushed past Frank with a glower, which he returned spectacularly. Rose could not see her face properly, but she knew her voice.
“I beg your pardon, Longbottom! I’ve had to put up with your hands all over me for the last hour.”
“Don’t worry – it won’t ever happen again. Ugh, I need a wash.”
“Lily!” Rose exclaimed, but her cousin was staring at Scorpius, her mouth open in shock. Rose frowned, confused, until she realised Lily would never have seen him like he was now – his shirt sleeves were rolled up, exposing his pale forearms, his buttons were undone half-way down his chest, his hair was messy, his glasses were smudged and sitting crooked on his nose, he was covered in dirt and he was smoking.
“Scorpius?” Lily whispered, removing her hat. Her hair glowed in the sunlight, casting a strange halo around her body. Scorpius dropped the cigarette, tidied his hair and attempted to brush the dirt from his front.
“Lily,” he stuttered. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“I came to see you,” she murmured, shock still plastered across her face. “You look...different.”
Rose laughed; she couldn’t help it, and Lily gave her a startled look, as if just remembering her cousins’ presence. She moved forward and put her pale, skinny arms around Rose awkwardly, her eyes never leaving Scorpius, who had by now buttoned his shirt and cleaned his glasses. Rose couldn’t help but notice how out of place Lily was in the jungle – she looked more uncomfortable than Scorpius had on his first day and the smile that spread across Rose’s face was one borne of spite but she didn’t care or try to explain it away.
“Well,” Rose said loudly, going over to help Frank with Lily’s mountain of luggage. “You picked the worst place for a vacation, Lily.”
“I’m not on vacation, Rose,” her cousin answered in that superior tone that had always driven Rose insane. “I’m here to bring Scorpius home.”
Scorpius was frowning. “I’m not due home for another month.”
Lily put her hand daintily on his chest, doing her best to avoid the dirt and sweat. “Yes, I know darling, but I miss you and you cannot possibly tell me you’re enjoying yourself out here? In your letter you said everything was muddy and dirty and everyone was rude. And you nearly got killed by a dragon!”
Rose raised an eyebrow, catching Scorpius’ eyes over Lily’s very red head. “I might have exaggerated a bit.”
Frank snorted, shoving a cigarette between his lips.
“And anyway,” Lily continued, addressing the others now. “I wanted to see what it was that kept you all so busy out here.”
Rose scowled. “It’s not a bloody theme park, Lily. It’s an archaeological dig site.”
Lily waved her hand through the air indifferently. “I know that, Rose. I just wanted to have a look.”
Rose gave her an exasperated look, angry beyond explanation. She hoped Louis would come back and put Lily on the next boat out of here. He didn’t though; all he did was tell her to stay out of the way and tell Scorpius that he was responsible for her. To Rose, it was the worst sort of mutiny – if anyone knew how she felt about Lily it was Louis, and her cousin’s betrayal cut deep, putting Rose in the foulest mood she had been in in years. She was so angry she thought she might explode and spent the remainder of the day sitting in the cavern staring at the artefacts in their little niches. She didn’t move until Pedro called her out and told her dinner was ready.
Rose blinked. “Oh shit. Dinner. I was meant to cook.”
“Your lovely cousin handled it,” Pedro told her as they walked back to camp and the dining tent. Rose scowled but said nothing, figuring she may as well enjoy a night without having to eat her own terrible food. She knew she couldn’t cook and she knew everyone else knew it too – they always sat down to eat with steely determination on her scheduled nights.
The long table was full and there seemed to be more people than usual sitting down to eat, until Rose realised it was simply the atmosphere that was different. Lorcan and Lysander were chatting to Luis, who actually looked interested in what they were saying, and Juan was talking with Scorpius, who was as neat and tidy as Rose had ever seen him, with no trace of dirt anywhere on his body. Louis appeared as bored as usual, although Rose felt his eyes on her face as she took a seat next to a very annoyed looking Frank.
Amidst the plates and cutlery there was a splash of colour and Rose frowned. Lily had decorated the table. Where she found the flowers Rose did not know; she couldn’t imagine her cousin had trekked into the jungle for them. She took out her wand and poked at one; it shimmered, seemed to sigh, and transfigured itself back into a rock. Smirking, she poked another one, and another, until Frank caught her arm.
“I was just beginning to enjoy the peace,” he said in a low voice, reaching a bread roll that had suddenly appeared in a basket on the table. Rose glanced up; Lily was standing behind Scorpius, her hands on his shoulders as she watched dinner magically serve itself, the pan and spoon moving around the table quickly. Rose sat back as the spoon emptied itself on her plate.
“Eat, eat,” Lily said with a smile, sitting down and reaching for her cutlery. She caught Rose’s eye. “I hope you don’t mind that I cooked?”
“Not at all,” Rose said through her teeth. Whatever Lily had made, Rose had to admit, was good, and she recalled Grandma Weasley trying to teach her grandkids to cook. Rose and James had both failed miserably, eventually being sent from the kitchen to go and help in the garden. She hadn’t minded at the time; being outside was enjoyable, and she was never afraid to get her hands dirty helping her grandfather, and chasing gnomes was always fun. Now, as she glanced around the table and saw the satisfied looks on people’s faces as they ate, she wished she had have stuck it out in the kitchen.
Frank caught her scowling at her plate. “Hey,” he whispered, nudging her with his elbow. “So you can’t cook, but you’re brilliant at practically everything else.”
Rose scoffed, but nudged him back, smiling at how well he understood her. If things were different, if they were different, they would be absolutely perfect for one another.
After dinner was cleared away and Luis had turned in for the night, Lily set about informing the rest of them about what was going on in the ‘real world’, as she put it. Hugo had a girlfriend, Victoire was pregnant again (Louis raised his eyebrows), and James had been arrested for drunk and disorderly outside a club in Muggle London, and their father was less than impressed.
“Honestly, what does he think he is doing?” Lily said with a shake of her pretty head. She sighed. “He has such a terrible reputation. He is almost as bad as Dom.”
“Leave him alone,” Rose said sharply. “He’s allowed to have some fun.”
“Why yes, I know,” Lily said, “but at least he can keep it to himself at times. You should have seen the mess the media made of it.”
“Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story,” Frank said simply. “Has anyone seen my smokes?”
“In your pocket, Frank,” Rose answered, turning back to Lily. Juan and Pedro were following the conversation with interested expressions. “That would solve everything then, would it? If all family secrets were buried in the closet where no one could find them? If everyone’s bad behaviour was swept under the rug and things were never acknowledged?”
Lily blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Forget it,” Rose mumbled.
Lily laughed. “Oh sorry, Rose. I wasn’t referring to you.”
Frank froze in the act of lighting his cigarette and Louis was frowning. A great rush of anger flared to life inside Rose and she stood up. “Sod off, Lily.”
“And you can forget your pathetic excuses,” Rose snarled, pushing her chair away. “You always know exactly what you’re saying so don’t bother apologising.” She stormed away into the night before her cousin had a chance to speak and Frank found her moments later pacing in the darkness. “Go away,” she murmured.
“Ignore her bullshit,” he said quietly. When Rose didn’t reply he sighed. “You always let her get to you.”
“I can’t help it,” Rose growled, kicking out at a rock.
“Yes, you can.” His voice was gentle and he caught her arm as she stalked past him, pulling her close for a hug. Rose felt his lips in her hair and sighed. He held her until she stopped shaking, and she hadn’t realised she was so angry. “I’m exhausted. These potions make me so tired,” Frank said, letting her go. She nodded, and watched him walk away, not knowing what to do next. She was still angry; her blood was boiling and she could feel her heart pounding furiously. Sweat skipped down her spine and she took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself. A glance at the dining tent showed Louis and Lily talking, and Juan, Pedro and Scorpius were gone.
Rose moved closer to Scorpius’ tent, not knowing why, and hid herself in the darkness. “Man up, Malfoy,” she whispered, catching his arm as he walked past her; he yelped, startled. “The minute she shows up you put on your pretty boy exterior,” she hissed, needing to lash out at someone. “Look at you! You look like you did when you first arrived – all nerves, like a scared bunny rabbit. Show her the real you for a change.”
“And who might that be?” he said in a low, furious voice, surprising her with his anger. “You don’t know me.”
“I know that right now, you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, like a kid playing dress-ups; like some fabricated person you think she wants you to be.”
“It’s not that simple,” he muttered dejectedly.
Rose glared at his weak excuse. “Yes, it is, and if she doesn’t want you for the man you are then she’s not the person -”
“I tell myself that all the time,” he interrupted bitterly.
“Then just do it,” Rose answered. He did not reply, so she rolled her eyes and walked away, heading for her tent. She needed a long bath, a glass of whiskey and some chocolate before bed. There was work to do on her artefacts, but she decided it could wait. Anger and such delicate work did not mix. She glanced back at Scorpius over her shoulder; he was staring at the ground, his stance tense. She shrugged, telling herself not to care. If he wanted to waste his time with Lily then it was his business.
“What about you and Frank?” Scorpius called as she lifted the flap of her tent.
Something inside her bristled at the mention of her lover. “Me and Frank are none of your business.”
“Then keep your nose out of mine,” Scorpius argued, crossing the clearing to stand before her. She could see the tiny beads of perspiration on his forehead.
Her eyes narrowed. “Fine,” she snapped and stepped inside her tent. He followed, his face stormy, and she looked at him in surprise as he paced around in front of her, chewing his lip. He was rehearsing, she could tell, and so she waited with a patience that was not her own.
“You’re such a hypocrite,” he bit out finally, continuing to pace. “You have no right to lecture me on what I do and don’t do. No right at all. You’re rude and abrasive and think you know everything.”
“Well well,” she murmured, folding her arms. “The kitten has claws.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” The words came out as a snarl; a feral, painful sound that made her heart speed up. She had never heard him speak with such a tone.
“It means,” she said, stepping towards him; he stopped pacing, took a deep breath and glared at her. “That I have never seen you display any raw emotion, aside from the occasional spat of annoyance. It’s about time you let it out. It’s not healthy to keep it all bottled up inside.”
“You don’t know a thing about me,” he reiterated, his voice sharp.
“I know that you’re scared,” she said firmly, rushing on before he could contradict her. “You’re frightened of life, Scorpius; of living, of being who you want to be. Why else would you do what you just did when Lily showed up? Why else would you hide?”
His expression altered for a split second, and she saw pain clearly etched across his features. Remorse and pity swirled inside her but she pushed the feelings away, standing firm as he came closer, his face hard. She had never realised how tall he was and resisted the urge to stand on tip-toe, to bring herself to his height. He stared at her, his eyes flickering across her face, searching for the answer to a question she could not recall asking.
“What would you know?” he muttered eventually. “And don’t talk to me about hiding, Rose. Maybe you’ll get lucky and a landslide will curtain you in the middle of this swamp forever and then you can continue avoiding whatever it is you’re avoiding.”
She snorted at his dramatics. “Please, tell me what I am hiding from?”
The answer was so clear, so swift and so confident it was like he had slapped her. She backed away a pace; he followed, keeping his eyes firmly on her face.
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Now who doesn’t know what they are talking about,” she spat, her voice a scratch. “Go away.”
“No. You started this little...heart to heart, so let’s talk, Rose,” Scorpius said, his voice softer now.
She glared at him. “Get out.”
“Get out, Malfoy!” Rose shouted, picking up the nearest object – a boot – and throwing it at him. He ducked, and the boot went sailing through the tent flap. Someone cursed, and then Louis was sticking his head inside, his expression concerned.
“Fine,” Rose said wearily; she could see Lily hovering in the background, those hummingbird eyelashes battering away as she blinked, her gaze moving between Scorpius and Rose. “Scorpius was just leaving.”
He gave her a sorrowful look before sighing and slipping out, and Rose heard Lily murmur something and the two of them left. She turned her back as Louis came into the tent.
“What’s the problem?”
“There is no problem.”
“I think they could have heard you shouting down river, Rose,” her cousin said gently. “What did he do?”
“Look, I’m sorry that Lily is here, and I’m sorry I didn’t send her home.”
Rose laughed; the sound was bitter and left a sour taste in her mouth but she didn’t care. “Of course you didn’t. Lily bloody Potter. Perfect Lily, saintly Lily, never put a foot out of place Lily. Who wouldn’t want her around?”
“Don’t you think you should let it go?” Louis suggested softly after a pause. Rose shrugged. “It’s ancient history, Rosie. Let it go.” He left without another word, leaving her perilously close to tears – it had been a long time since he, since anyone in the family, had called her ‘Rosie.’ Blinking furiously, Rose found her whiskey, swigging straight from the bottle. She really felt like inhaling some hot chips, maybe some pie, one of Frank’s cigarettes; anything to wash away the taste of Lily’s dinner.
Annoyed, she capped the bottle, found a book and stepped out of her shorts, slipping into bed. She realised, half an hour later, that she’d re-read the same page ten times. Footsteps outside her tent made her tense and reach for her wand.
“Get lost, Malfoy,” she snapped instantly. She could see his silhouette faintly through the tent wall. He shifted his weight, his hands fidgeting but he did not leave. “Where’s Her Highness?” she added rudely.
“Asleep,” came the answer. “Rose...”
“I said go away.”
“Not until you let me apologise.”
She sighed. “Fine, apologise and then leave me alone.”
She sensed him hesitate and then, without invitation, he pushed aside the tent flap and stepped inside. She sat up, throwing the covers off and glaring at him.
“I shouldn’t have said what I did,” he muttered, not looking at her. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She bit her lip, her fingers playing with the end of the sheet, looking for a loose thread to vandalise. “You didn’t,” she said and he lifted his head, eyebrows raised in surprise; she smiled. “Okay, you did, but it wasn’t you exactly.” He said nothing and she sighed, climbing to her feet and wandering across the floor to find her bottle of whiskey. She held it up. “Want one?”
“What? Oh, umm, yeah, I suppose,” Scorpius muttered, suddenly not looking at her.
“Rose...you might want to put on some clothes.”
She glanced down at herself and then burst out laughing. “Sorry,” she chuckled, setting the bottle aside and reaching for the shorts hanging from the back of a chair. “God Malfoy, you’re actually blushing,” she said, zipping up. “Anyone would think you’d never seen a nearly naked woman before.” She paused in the act of pouring their drinks, looking at him quickly. “You have, haven’t you?”
His head shot up. “Of course I have.”
Rose smiled, handing him his glass. He was still blushing. “Relax. I forgot you’re not used to the lack of privacy. I’ve been doing this for so long...you adapt. I swear they forget I’m female sometimes.”
“I don’t know how,” Scorpius mumbled, gulping at his drink. He coughed, eyes watering and Rose slapped him on the back, harder than was necessary. “Frank wouldn’t, at least.”
She removed her hand, shifting her gaze from his face. “No, he wouldn’t.”
“I’m sorry,” he said contritely. “I should get back to Lily...”
Rose rolled her eyes. “She’ll survive a moment or two without you, Malfoy. And anyway, you ruined my evening – the least you can do is make it up to me in conversation.” He gave her a blank look and she shook her head, exasperated. “What happened to all the fire and brimstone you were raining down on my head a few hours ago?”
“I apologised for that, remember?”
She sighed. “Scorpius, do you ever tell people what you really think?”
“Bollocks,” she stated simply, sipping at her whiskey. “Do you love her? Lily?”
“No,” he answered eventually, as Rose poured him a second drink. He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I know she’s your cousin and everything -”
“Please, by all means, continue.”
“You don’t like her?”
Rose sighed. “It’s got nothing to do with like. It’s family stuff – it’s complicated.”
He nodded in acceptance and she saw his eyes move around her tent, coming to rest on her desk. She knew what he had seen, and she held her breath as he stepped closer. A framed portrait sat on the desk, partially hidden by parchment, maps and other junk.
“Who is this?” he asked gently, picking up the frame. A nine year old boy raced around the edges, grinning his father’s cheeky grin.
“That’s William; my son,” Rose answered, throat tight. Scorpius nearly dropped the frame; she watched him fumble to catch it before setting it back on the desk and waited, interested to know what he thought, what he would say.
She laughed. “Don’t worry – it wasn’t one of those things you were supposed to know about. Not many people do know actually.”
“Another complicated story?” he surmised and she nodded, telling him to get out, she wanted to sleep. He smiled sadly. “I’m sorry about Lily.”
Rose ignored him, dropping back into bed and pulling the sheets up, rolling over so that her back was to him. She heard him set his glass down and moments later, he was gone. She closed her eyes and fell into a restless sleep, waking in the middle of the night, heart pounding and forehead slick with sweat. Without a second’s hesitation, she flung back the sheets and rushed into the dark, throwing herself into Frank’s tent. He was asleep, his arm dangling from the bed and she shook him roughly, desperately.
“Come on, wake up,” she hissed, shaking him harder. “Please, Frank.”
“Rose? What the...”
“Move over,” she said, the command coming out a breathy whisper. He did as she asked, lifting the sheet so she could climb in and press herself against him. Slowly, she felt her heart rate slow as he stroked the hair from her face.
“Bad dreams?” he guessed and she nodded. He closed his arms around her. “Go to sleep.” She did, instantly, and when she next opened her eyes, dawn was breaking through the jungle. Frank was watching her, his face thoughtful and she gave him a little smile of thanks. “You know, I can’t remember how long it’s been since you spent the night in my bed.”
“What are you on about? We’ve spent the night together heaps of times.”
“Yes, in your bed, because I don’t like to run out on you.”
Dread coiled itself deep in her stomach; things were about to change, she could physically feel it. It had been a long time between episodes. “Frank, please. This isn’t the time for this discussion.”
He stuffed a cigarette between his lips. “Too bad, because I want to have it.”
Rose snatched the cigarette and tossed it away. “I hate you smoking in bed.”
He glared at her. “As it’s my bed I shall do what I bloody well like.” He found another cigarette and lit it, blowing smoke in her direction. Rose glowered at him, sitting up and pulling the sheet around her body.
“What is with you? I can’t handle your bipolar bullshit right now.”
He ignored her. “See I’ve been thinking. This is shit. We’re either together or we’re not. You either want me, or you don’t. It can’t be somewhere in the middle anymore.”
She stared at him, incredulous. For so long she had wanted him to say this, but now that he was, she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it. “Frank, listen, I have never meant to hurt you.”
“Bollocks. You’re a smart woman, Rose. You can’t tell me you didn’t know this was pissing me off?”
“Then why do you keep coming back?” she shouted, scrambling out of bed.
“Because,” he yelled back, startling her, “I’ve been in love with you for years, damn it.”
She snorted. “Please.”
“You don’t believe me? Why else would I continually crucify myself over you for nearly ten years? God Rose.” His voice dropped, and he sounded tired, all the fire gone as quickly as it began. “This has nothing to do with Will, either, okay? It’s what I feel.”
“We can’t ever be together like that, Frank, you know it,” she whispered. “We’re bad for each other. You’re an enabler; I’m an enabler. We don’t work on any level that is healthy.”
He stared at her, his face impassive. “Go away.”
She did, taking his sheet with her and not caring who saw.