Scorpius stretched, enjoying the afternoon sun on his face. He ran a hand across his chin, feeling the stubble there and had the absent thought that he needed to shave. Lily had been gone for two days and he knew if she was still there, she’d be at him to clean up his face. He smiled, slipping his glasses on and pulling a hand through his messy hair. He needed a haircut too and where it once would have bothered him and had him rushing to the barber, now he found he didn’t care.
Slowly, Scorpius looked down at himself, noting the dirt on the knees of his pants, and the mud crusted on the soles of his boots, no longer new. He was also missing a button on his shirt.
He and Rose had spent the day in the cavern, working on the mask and he could feel they were close to breaking the curse. After what had happened with Frank they had both been reluctant to get too close to the mask but after working for a while, Scorpius had watched as Rose swallowed her hesitation and knelt in the dirt, looking up at the artefact critically.
“Bollocks,” she’d said, her voice a mere whisper in the semi-darkness. She’d turned to look at him over her shoulder, much the same way she had when he’d first seen her crouched on the ground on his arrival in the jungle.
He glanced around; he was alone in the camp with nothing but the jungle, birds and sweltering heat for company. Rose had wandered off to her tent after they had finished work; Louis, Luis, Pedro and Juan had gone down river for supplies and to speak with one of Luis’ Peruvian colleagues; and Lysdander was, as far as Scorpius knew, off in the jungle somewhere. Lorcan, he assumed, was out working with his dragon.
Scorpius closed his eyes and put his feet up, crossing his ankles. The hot, moist hair caressed his face and sweat slid gently down his neck. He was beginning to think he had found some sort of paradise, far away from the stress of general life and the worries that usually consumed him.
He had almost drifted off to sleep in his seat when a shadow crossed his face and the beat of wings thundered around his ears. Startled, he opened his eyes to find a great white bird, slender and sleek, with long tail feathers and intelligent eyes gazing at him.
“Hello there,” he murmured, noticing a cream coloured slip of paper held between the birds beak. The tropicbird hopped forward along the edge of the table, inclining its graceful neck. Scorpius took the paper and fished in his pocket, finding he had nothing to pay the bird. “Wait,” he told it, wondering did it understand English. The tropicbird did not wait; it followed him across camp to his tent, its smooth shadow passing along the ground before him. It perched on the peak of his tent poles while Scorpius went inside and found some money, hoping the bird would not mind payment in a foreign currency. He had no South American money.
“Sorry,” he told the bird as it accepted his coin and took to the air. He watched it a moment, a white streak sailing through the sky, before he turned his attention to the letter.
It was from Frank, and Scorpius breathed a sigh of relief to find he was okay. He had to stay in the hospital outside Cuzco until he was allowed to travel back to England.
Tell Rose I’m sorry, were the last words scrawled on the paper. Scorpius folded the letter and slipped it into his pocket, going to find Rose. She would be pleased to know Frank was going to be fine. He knew that, regardless of her somewhat indifferent attitude towards the man, she cared about him.
He flung the flap to Rose’s tent open, his greeting dying on his lips. He couldn’t see her anywhere; slowly, he moved into the tent, his eyes sweeping across the desk and the picture of her smiling son, the stack of parchment and some quills, their ends long nibbled on. He gazed at the bed, larger than his and obviously more comfortable. It was unmade; the sheets bundled at the end. There was clothing everywhere, dangling from the back of the chair, littered on the floor and hanging from the end of the bed.
“I’m in here,” she called. He followed her voice, moving almost cautiously around a dressing screen into what he soon found was her bathroom. He stopped; his heart thudded once, paused, and then accelerated, his blood boiling.
Dim light stretched across the room from the lamp on the small wash stand. Her hair was tied up, exposing the long line of her neck and her naked shoulders and back. Water lapped at the edge of the bath tub as she moved. He cleared his throat and she twisted her head, glancing at him curiously. He shifted his weight nervously from one foot to the other as she sat up fully. Water streamed from her skin, which glistened in the flickering light. She kept her back to him, glancing at him over her shoulder.
Her face was soft, her eyes shadowed and she gave him a strange little smile. He stopped breathing, his insides held in a great fist that threatened to squeeze the life from him.
It was the most erotic and alluring thing he had ever seen.
“Did you need something, Scorpius?”
He cleared his throat again. “Umm...it can wait.”
She laughed gently. “What is it?”
“Frank will be okay; we just got a letter.”
“Oh,” she breathed, closing her eyes briefly. “What a relief.”
“He says to say he’s sorry.”
She smiled. “He always says that after he’s done something ridiculous.”
Scorpius didn’t say anything else, just watched her watch him, the light dancing over her face and shoulders. He could see the muscles beneath her skin and marvelled at the seemingly infallible strength of her. She was like the jungle, he realised suddenly, beautiful and strong and dangerous in her unending mystery and he suddenly realised he didn’t know her at all. The enigmatic nature of her perplexed him, how she could switch moods so quickly, shifting from compassion and love to scorn and what he sensed was regret.
As he watched her, he also understood clearly why she loved her work so much and why she hid herself away on the other side of the world: it allowed her to be who she was, without constraint, and he realised he was terribly envious of that.
She blinked, breaking the tableau. “Hand me the shampoo.” He watched, heart in his throat, as she reached up and unwound the knot of hair from her head. It tumbled over her shoulders, a chocolate waterfall, and he felt part of his jaw unhinge.
She had absolutely no idea how stunning she was at this moment, and that only increased her beauty.
“You’re staring, Malfoy.”
“Sorry,” he muttered, dropping his gaze. He heard the water slosh against the edge of the tub.
“I’m beginning to wonder if you have actually seen a woman naked before,” she mused and he looked up. She was smiling, her expression cheeky.
He scowled. “I don’t usually chat with them when they’re in the bath.”
“Just get me the shampoo.”
He crossed the room, averting his eyes as he passed the tub and reached for the bottle on the wash stand. He passed it to her, stretching his arm out without turning around and she took it from him, a soft ‘pop’ floating through the air as the top was uncorked.
“I’m going to go,” he mumbled, listening as she washed her hair. He sniffed, frowning slightly. “What is that smell?”
“That smell – roses, jasmine and...orange?”
“Very good. It’s the shampoo. I make it,” she said, and he craned his neck, peering at her over his shoulder. She rolled her eyes at his expression. “What? I can’t make shampoo? I’m rather good at potions remember.”
“No, it’s not that...”
She smiled slightly, understanding flashing through her eyes. “I gave Lily some last Christmas. Good to know she’s been using it.”
“You gave Lily a gift?”
Her expression shifted. “I gave all my female relatives a gift. Now I want to get out so you can go. Hand me that towel first though.”
He blinked, his head swimming, bathing in flowers. Was it possible to be in love with a scent? He’d always loved the way Lily smelt. He gulped, reaching for the towel laying on the floor a few steps away. He passed it to Rose and backed out quickly, moving to the other side of the screen. He heard the water move as she stood up.
On Rose, the smell was richer, better; like it belonged. He swallowed, watching her shadow through the screen as she stepped from the tub, the towel wrapped tightly around her body.
“Yes,” he squeaked.
“We’ll give the mask another go in the morning,” she said.
“Sure,” he answered with fake cheer. Masks and curses and lost Incan treasures were the last thing on his mind. Shaking, he turned and fled the tent, his insides churning and his head an utter mess.
In his tent he found the firewhiskey he’d tucked into the bottom of his trunk, popped the cork and swallowed directly from the bottle. He gasped, setting the bottle down on the desk and clutching the side of his head. Everything burnt – his eyes, his nose, his throat, his stomach. He gulped air, expecting to burst into flame, squeezing his eyes shut and waiting for the sizzling of his flesh.
All he could see was Rose. Her image was burned into his retinas, seared on his corneas and he stumbled backwards until the back of his legs hit the edge of the bed. Scorpius let himself fall, groaning. With one eye still closed, he flicked his wand, sending the firewhiskey sailing across the room to bury itself in his trunk again, before he changed him mind and summoned it back to him. He lay on his side, sipping from the bottle and wishing he had a straw.
Half an hour later he was ashamed to find himself drunk. He lay on his back on the bed like a stranded tortoise, staring at the roof of his tent, alarmed at the swirling blur of his vision. Groaning, Scorpius rolled to the side, the bottle of firewhiskey jabbing him hard in the ribs. He had just curled his hand around the neck and was preparing to toss it away when the flap of his tent opened.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Blinking, Scorpius lifted his head. Lorcan was standing with the tent flap held back, an amused expression on his face. Moonlight streamed in, casting his shadow across the floor.
“Malfoy, are you drunk?”
“No,” Scorpius answered, his voice muffled and thick. He tried to sit up, failed and fell back, slapping an arm over his face.
Lorcan laughed. “Missing Lily that much?”
“Right,” the other man chuckled. “See, this is why I couldn’t be bothered getting serious with a woman. They make you do stupid things like drink half a bottle of firewhiskey on your own.” Lorcan came into the tent and took the bottle from Scorpius, sitting it on the table. “You should eat. Rose sent me to find you – you missed dinner.”
“Yeah, you remember her - scratchy, kind of prickly, much like the plant she was named after.”
“She smells nice,” Scorpius muttered before he could stop himself. He removed his arm and glanced at Lorcan, alarmed, but the other man simply shook his head.
“Up, lover boy.” Lorcan flicked his wand and Scorpius felt the world lurch as he was forcibly set on his feet. He protested, but Lorcan grabbed his upper arm and half-dragged him out into the night and towards the dining tent. The moon was high and the stars bright – it was a cloudless night and Scorpius tripped over his feet, gazing up at into the sparkly blackness as Lorcan lead him across camp to dump him in a seat at the long wooden table.
Blinking, Scorpius looked around. Rose sat across from him, eyebrows raised.
“Firewhiskey; half a bottle,” Lorcan said by way of explanation.
Rose wrinkled her nose. “You stink, Malfoy. Have a wash tonight please. I don’t want to spend tomorrow crammed into that cavern with you smelling like a still.”
Scorpius nodded vigorously, then wished he hadn’t. He groaned and Rose rolled her eyes, throwing a bottle at him. He caught it with reflexes he didn’t know he possessed and gave her a grateful glance.
“Just get some bloody sleep,” she muttered, standing up and walking away, claiming she’d have to make some more pepper-up potion if everyone kept getting drunk. He watched her until he could see her no more, uncapped the potion and swallowed it in one go. His head cleared instantly and he smiled. She really was good at potions.
He found Lorcan watching him. “That was about Lily right? The mindless moment of alcoholism?”
“Of course,” Scorpius lied. Lorcan narrowed his eyes before he nodded, still appearing unconvinced. Scorpius swallowed and scrambled for a change in subject. “How’s your dragon?”
“Fine. Settled down now.”
“What was wrong with her?”
“Lonely,” Lorcan replied with a sigh. “She’s on the endangered list you know.”
“I didn’t know. What will you do?”
Lorcan shrugged. “What I can I guess. There’s been talk for years about a breeding program but the kinks are yet to be ironed out. Dragons aren’t prolific breeders.” He stood up suddenly and yawned. “I’m going to bed. There’s stew or something in the pot over there. Rose cooked,” he added warningly before disappearing into the darkness.
Scorpius ate, barely tasting, and by the time he returned to his tent, his eyes were closing of their own accord. He remembered what Rose said about bathing and forced himself to wash. Still damp, he fell into bed and a deep sleep, not waking until Rose stuck her head in his tent hours later and yelled at him to hurry up.
They skipped breakfast, eager to get to work. Scorpius blinked when she grabbed his hand, closing it firmly in hers and practically dragged him around the perimeter of the dig site and to the cavern. She did not let him go until they had passed down the dark earthen corridor and were standing in front of the artefacts.
Rose glowered at the mask. “Do your thing.”
“The spell – you said you had one, right?”
Scorpius ran his hand nervously over his stubbly chin. “I don’t know if it will work or not.”
“Just do it, Malfoy, We’re running out of options.”
He nodded, dropping his bag to the ground and bending to retrieve Ye Olde Bewitchments and Charmes. “This requires two people,” he said, flicking through the book to the appropriate page. “It’s an old spell, from Ancient Rome, hardly ever used now but hopefully -”
Rose had her wand out and ready. “Stop talking and let’s get on with it,” she said, her face shining with determination. Scorpius swallowed, standing up and reaching for her hand. She raised her eyebrows.
“Sorry, but it says we have to hold hands, to strengthen the magic.”
She placed her cool fingers in his palm. “This is cosy,” she said after a moment, making him blush.
Scorpius lifted his wand and Rose did the same. “Repeat after me,” he said quietly and she nodded. “Quis eram perfectus eram perfectus exsisto is iam laxo, per veneficus ut ago in us release is vomica.”
Slowly, as she gained confidence with the phrasing, Rose’s voice joined Scorpius’, a higher, lighter counterpoint to his deeper tone. They repeated the spell, wands lifted and hands joined, until she gasped. A tingle ran up Scorpius’ arm from where their hands were joined and he imagined she’d felt the same thing. Looking down, he saw a dull green light surrounding their hands. He shared a look of fear and wonder with Rose as heat spread from between their palms.
“I think we should let go now,” Scorpius whispered, the fire between their hands almost unbearable. She nodded and slipped her fingers from his. Green light washed over them and they watched in awe as the darkness was illuminated. Slowly, the light crept along the walls, inching across the dirt and stone like fingers, creeping into every pocket of shadow. Rose gripped his arm, her nails sharp against his skin and he sucked in a breath as the light sank into nothing, leaving behind strange symbols. Rose stepped forward and he went with her, drawn towards what appeared to be writing on the walls.
“What are they?” she whispered.
“They’re hieroglyphs,” he answered slowly. “The picture writing of the Inca.”
“They’re beautiful.” Her voice was low, awed and he glanced at her, smiling at the obvious joy on her face. “I wonder what they say.”
A deep rumble rose from nowhere, filling the air and the ground beneath their feet. The walls began to tremble and the mask glowed suddenly with eerie jade light.
“I want to get pictures,” she said hurriedly, reaching into her knapsack and withdrawing a Muggle digital camera.
The rumble became a growl. “Hurry up,” Scorpius warned, lifting his wand. Dirt fell like rain from the earthen ceiling above them and his stomach clenched. “Rose, hurry up!”
She snapped picture after picture, turning in a complete circle to capture everything that was plastered across the walls. Scorpius grabbed at her arm, attempting to drag her towards their exit.
“What about the mask?”
“Leave it. Come on,” he insisted, tugging at her wrist.
The walls shook with more force, the dirt tumbling from the ceiling became a waterfall and Scorpius coughed, his lungs tight as dust filled the cavern. A disembodied voice streaked through the darkness, the words in a language he could not understand and had never heard before. The intent was clear though and Scorpius and Rose shared a look of terror. He grabbed her, swinging her away as a chunk of the roof fell to the ground. She turned towards the mask, still glowing from its sanctuary in the wall cavity.
“Rose, the curse! I don’t know if it’s broken!”
“Unless you want a scar to match the one you already have, we have to go,” he snapped. She looked at him with wide, horrified eyes. “Come on, Rose. This place is cursed and we will be cursed with it if we don’t get out of here!”
She nodded and let him lead the way to the exit, the voice and the tremors growing louder and more insistent as they broke into a run in the darkness. Scorpius conjured a light to help guide them out and as they burst into the open, gasping, the entrance to the cavern collapsed around them, the force pushing them to their knees as a chilly breeze blew from nowhere, washing over them. Scorpius shivered.
“Are you okay?” he whispered. In answer, Rose climbed to her feet and stormed away, dirt falling from her hair and shoulders as she moved. He blinked after her, stunned and then groaned as he recalled what he had said in the panic and heat of the moment. “Idiot,” he chided himself, burying his face in the dirt, inhaling the rich aroma of the jungle floor.
Juan appeared and helped him to his feet, chatting away in an excited combination of Spanish and English that Scorpius could not follow. He caught the words ‘healer’ and shook his head. Apart from feeling dazed, he was not injured. Juan insisted, dragging him across camp to Luis’ tent, where Rose was waiting. She glared at him and perched herself on a stool in the sun, a thin blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
Scorpius realised then that he was cold.
“Shock,” Luis murmured, conjuring another blanket and making him sit. “You are unhurt? Rosa?”
“I’m fine,” she said through gritted teeth. “He,” she pointed at Scorpius, “made me leave the mask behind.”
“And good thing he did, or you would most likely be cursed like Frank or dead,” Luis answered in a calm, measured voice and Scorpius could not prevent a moment of smugness. “The mask will be retrieved in time.”
Luis made them drink something warm; a tea that tasted like the jungle, and sent them on their way, telling them both they should sleep and eat and leave worrying about the mask until tomorrow. Rose tossed her head and stalked away without a word or a glance and Scorpius sighed, his shoulders slumping. Dejected, he headed for his tent, where he bathed and slept a few hours like he had been ordered to. He skipped lunch, wanting to avoid Rose and her scathing looks. He penned a letter to his parents, and one to Lily, out of habit and which he screwed into a tiny ball, tossed into the air and incinerated.
It was almost dark outside when Rose burst into his tent, her face tight. “How did you know?” she asked him through her teeth, her voice no more than a scratch that flew across the room and swiped at his face.
He knew what she was talking about. “I saw it, when I...walked in on you and Frank that time. I didn’t mean to look, I just...”
“It’s okay,” she said with a sigh, going to sit on his bed. When he said nothing, she gave him a curious look. “Aren’t you going to ask how I got it?”
He shrugged. “No, not unless you want to tell me.”
Something flashed in her eyes, something so quick he thought he imagined it, but he was certain it was gratitude. “Thank you for today.”
“Got anything to drink?” she asked him. “God knows I need one.”
He chewed his lip, digging into his trunk to find the firewhiskey.
“Closet alcoholic, Malfoy?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he answered, conjuring two glasses. “Its better keep in a cool, dark place.”
“Ah,” she said, accepting a glass. “A connoisseur then.”
He smiled wryly. “Not really.” She patted the space beside her and he sat, his muscles tense as she curled her palm over his shoulder. It was a friendly gesture but it left him on fire. He gulped at his drink, choking as it burnt its way down his throat to settle like molten larva in his stomach. He really needed to find another less-painful drink. Rose chuckled.
“Definitely not a closet alcoholic. So, what do you think it was? That voice?”
“I have no idea.”
She nodded, not seeming surprised and they finished their glasses before refilling them and draining them again. His head was starting to feel heavy again, his heart pounding like a god’s hammer as he sat, Rose beside him. He glanced down; her thigh was touching his leg but he could feel the heat of her skin through the fabric of his trousers.
She turned to him, her expression curious. “That spell, Scorpius, what was the Latin? I recognised some words but...”
He took a long breath of air. “What was done was done, be it now undone, by the magic that lives in us, release this curse.”
She blinked rapidly, before bursting into delighted laughter. “That’s it? Just that? A few choice words to undo some crazy ancient curse?”
“That and us; our magic, I mean,” he added with a smile. “I don’t fully understand how it works, a spell like that, but it has a lot to do with the intent of the castor, well in this case, castors, and how powerful the witch or wizard are. I don't know if the curse has been broken or banished or if I just made it worse and it's now lurking in the cavern waiting for us or -”
She leant over and kissed him, the action so swift he thought he’d imagined it, but when she pressed her lips to his again, he knew he was not dreaming, and his arms went around her. She melted against him, all liquid heat, and her kisses were hungry, teasing, enough to send his head into a spin. Dizzy, he pulled back, nudging her away gently as he climbed to his feet, unsure.
“Are you alright?” she asked faintly. She made no move to approach him, just watched as he paced the floor, his brow creased.
“I don’t know. What about Frank?”
“He doesn’t own me; we’re not together.”
Her face fell a little. “Right, Lily.”
He shook his head quickly. “We broke up...I think. I don’t know, Rose, the whole thing is so bloody confusing.”
She stood up. “Should I go?”
“Are you drunk?” he blurted, watching her closely.
She raised an eyebrow. “Are you?”
“A little, but not enough to have my judgement impaired,” he added quickly.
She gave him a curious look. “Is that what you’re worried about? That we’re drunk and about to do something stupid?”
He didn’t say anything, just watched her, thinking furiously. She gave him a tiny smile and in the soft, dim light he thought she looked disappointed.
“I’m going to go, okay, Scorpius?”
“No,” he murmured, making a swift decision. He moved quickly, stepping in front of her, blocking the exit to his tent. “No, I want this.” And he did, he realised, watching her; he wanted her more than he realised. With a bloated tongue and dry mouth, he did not take his eyes off her as she slowly shed her clothes. The lamplight caught on her skin, painting her golden. The twisting scar on her stomach glowed eerily; peach and pink, it danced across her flesh, serpent-like, and his hands automatically moved towards her.
She stepped away. “Your turn.”
She laughed throatily. “In the interest of equal rights, I demand you strip, Malfoy.”
He took a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t refuse her, and fumbled for the buttons on his shirt. Her eyes did not leave his face as he undressed, and it wasn’t until the last article of clothing fell away that she altered her gaze. It crawled over him, tantalisingly slow, and he shuddered, nervous and then anxious, as she circled him once, then twice, like a lioness preparing to devour her prey. She stopped behind him; he could hear her breathing and he wanted to turn around to check that it was still her and not some trick of the light.
She ran a finger the length of his spine and he held his breath, heart thundering as her hands explored. He could not see her face and she did not speak and he could not help but think how different she was to Lily.
Lily was passive. She liked her own pleasure, she liked things at her pace and she had never touched him like Rose was touching him now: like he was interesting, something worth uncovering.
“Sshh,” she whispered, moving to face him, her fingers trailing the length of his arm. “You’re pretty fit, Malfoy, for someone who spends his time in a library.”
She chuckled. “Well, I imagine your room at Hogwarts has lots of books, and you did spend almost seven years buried in the school library.”
“I guess I did,” he answered. “So, was that a compliment then?”
She smiled. “It is whatever you want it to be.”
The invitation to touch, to feel, was in her eyes and, swallowing his nerves, he reached for her, the heat of her skin a brand against his senses.
It was dawn when he woke; the heat of the jungle sauntered through the closed tent flap, slapping itself against his bare skin. Rose stirred beside him, and he smiled as he felt her roll over. Moments later, the delicate sensation of her finger tracing patterns on his back washed over him and he closed his eyes.
“Guess what I wrote?”
“Scorpius is amazing?”
She snorted. “You wish.”
He rolled over and she twisted to lay her head on his stomach, her fingers dancing gently over his skin as she traced words around his navel. His hands went into her hair, fingers against her scalp and she sighed. As he lay there trying to decipher her writing, his thoughts strayed unwillingly to Lily. He felt his muscles tense and his hands went rigid, claws in her hair.
She sensed it, his withdrawal, and sat up so she could look at his face. “Please don’t tell me you’re feeling guilty, Malfoy?”
“Aren’t you?” he shot back, fidgeting under her gaze; strands of her hair were caught around his fingers and he concentrated on unwinding them so he didn’t have to look at her. “Maybe I feel a little guilty.”
Rose sighed; it was filled with pity and he felt a scowl build on his face. “You know you wouldn’t be her only lover,” she said simply. “Lily has never been great at commitment. She didn’t have to be – she’s Lily Potter. Every wizard the other side of the equator wanted her.” He did not reply and Rose shifted closer. “It’s not your fault, Scorpius. She is as she is.”
“It is my fault,” he insisted, closing his eyes as she leant in and kissed him softly. His arms went around her, holding her tight. “I wasn’t enough.”
She moved away from him, slipping out of bed and he watched, confused, as she collected her clothes. She paused in the act of pulling on her shorts. “I didn’t sleep with you because I felt sorry for you or anything, you do realise that, don’t you?”
He blinked, his confusion deepening.
“You’re a pain in the backside, you’re clumsy, stuck-up and annoying, you think you know everything and you complain about anything, but I happen to like that about you,” she said softly. “You are who you are, and you don’t apologise for it.”
He blinked, startled at the admission and what it must have cost her. She was not prone to displays of vulnerability. He sat up. “Rose...”
Her eyes flashed. “Did she ever take you to meet her daddy?”
“No, but she always said she didn’t want to upset him.”
“Scorpius, you are more naive than I thought. Harry has no animosity towards your father; all that was buried under the carpet years ago – even my dad, the man who can hold a grudge as fortified as the Great Wall of China, forgave your family.” Her voice was soft, pitying and he felt something inside himself twist violently. “It’s not you; it’s her, and the sooner you realise that the happier you’ll be.”
With that, she was gone, the tent flap singing her exit. He lay back with a groan, slamming his hands over his face so hard he thought he’d given himself a black eye.
She was right, about everything. He knew it, and so did she.