Chapter 3 : Threat of Retaliation
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Rose had left Al and Malfoy sitting at the table to raid the bookshelves for something that would help her with the potions assignment. She had just pulled a book off the shelf when she heard a very dry voice above her say “Very subtle, Red.”
She looked up at Malfoy, who was leaning against a bookshelf. His face was inscrutable.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t even try it,” he said. “You showed your hand.”
Rose managed to keep a straight face, though with difficulty. “I don’t know what you’re going on about.” She looked back at her book.
“Neither of us ever would have known if you hadn’t felt the need to show off.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “See, this is exactly what I hate about you.”
She rose so quickly that he actually took a step back. “I wasn’t showing off!” she whispered furiously.
He gave her a disgusted look. “Right. And you didn’t have anything to do with this, either, right?” He gestured at his bright red hair.
“I wasn’t!” she protested, ignoring the reference to his hair. There was no way that she was going to admit to that.
Malfoy raised his eyebrows. “Then why did you feel the need to rub your eavesdropping in my face?” he asked skeptically. “I’m curious, really.”
Rose had to fight to keep her voice to rising above a whisper. “You’re just mad because I heard you talking about me.”
“Well, a little,” he acknowledged, “but mostly because it happened to me. I can’t fault you for listening in.” She must have looked confused, because he laughed. Rose was seriously starting to wonder if she hadn’t just hallucinated the entire conversation between him and Albus, or else completely misunderstood it. Surely someone couldn’t possibly be so unpleasant to someone they were even remotely attracted to. “I’m not obsessed with honour. That’s your house. If I was in that situation, I’d have stayed and listened to the whole thing. I like to know what people are saying about me.” He sneered. “And I wouldn’t have blown it by showing off afterwards.”
Rose resisted the urge to tell him exactly what she, James, and Roxanne thought of him, though with difficulty. “I told you, I wasn’t showing off!” she snapped.
“Then why did you do it?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just wanted to see what would happen. How you’d both react.” Rose suspected that a Slytherin would not be able to understand this kind of motivation.
She was right. Malfoy shook his head, looking incredulous. “You’re telling me that you led us through that passage because you wanted to see what would happen?”
“Yes,” she said defensively.
He just stared at her for a moment. “And that’s a common motivation for you?” She shrugged. He seemed to take that as a yes, because he said, “This is why so many Gryffindors irritate me. You are completely irrational.”
“Then why is one of your best friends a Gryffindor?”
Malfoy shrugged. “Ask the Sorting Hat. I have no idea.”
Rose felt that he’d missed the point of her question, but decided that it probably wasn’t worth getting into it with him. It wasn’t as though the Sorting Hat had just randomly put Albus is Gryffindor. He belonged there. He was a lot humbler than Rose, James, and Roxanne, but while pride might not be his deadly sin, courage was definitely his cardinal virtue.
Malfoy was shaking his head. “‘I wanted to see what would happen.’ Really?”
“Yeah, well, I’d rather be irrational than conniving like you!” she hissed. She didn’t know him well, but she’d spent far more time with him than she would have liked over the last four years in an attempt to appease Albus, and he was definitely conniving.
He shrugged. He clearly did not understand an insult when he heard one. “Mostly I’d call myself cunning, but I guess I can be a little conniving, too. Believe it or not, I’m okay with that. Not all of us like going through our days without thinking about the consequences of any of our actions. Then, not all of us want to be worshipped, either.”
“I don’t want to be worshipped!” Rose retorted angrily. “I just think that dodging around rather than saying what you really mean is a stupid way of going through life, and I don’t want any part of it!”
“Well, Red, I hate to break it to you, but you’re still a conceited bitch. You just also apparently lack self-control.” He turned toward the bookshelf, and she had the distinct impression that he was doing it so he didn’t have to talk to her.
“Bet you wish I had a little less, don’t you?”
He looked back at her. She could see a slight flush spreading across his cheeks, and she knew she’d struck a nerve. “Thanks, I’m good,” he sneered. “Maybe you missed the part about how I want to punch you every time you open your mouth.”
Rose brushed by him, moving closer than she probably had to in what was really a fairly wide aisle. “I’m sure there must be some situation you can think of where my mouth being open would be welcome enough.” She didn’t look back. She didn’t have to, to know that she’d made her impression, and she found with some surprise that she rather enjoyed it.
When he returned to the table several minutes later, she asked very politely, “Did you find that book you were looking for?”
“No, I didn’t,” he said, equally politely. “Someone must have taken it out.”
“Oh, that’s unfortunate.” Rose looked back at her paper and started writing again. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Albus starting at her, but she didn’t acknowledge him, and after a moment he looked away.
Malfoy was apparently doing the same thing, because after another moment, Al shook his head and went back to his homework. They worked in silence until a quarter to six. When she caught sight of the clock, Rose stood up. “I should get downstairs and have something to eat before practice.”
Al looked up, too. “When does he want you all out there?”
He nodded and glanced at his paper. “Do you want company?”
“Sure,” she said.
Albus packed up his books and looked at Malfoy. “You going to eat?”
Malfoy glanced up. “In half an hour. That’s when Noah’s done with practice. If you want to hang around, I’ll be down then.”
“Oh, do the Slytherins have practice now?” Rose asked as she snapped her bag shut.
Malfoy clearly agreed. “Yes.” She opened her mouth, and he added, “Why, do you have something nasty to say about our team, or do you just want to brag about your own?”
“Neither,” she answered, calmly. “I was just going to say that Nott’s a good seeker.” She knew next to nothing about him otherwise; despite his being one of Al’s closest friends, she probably bumped into him outside of class about twice a year.
Malfoy looked a little taken aback. “Oh.” He glanced back at his paper. “I really should get this done, Al. I’ll be down later, if you’re up for wait.”
Albus nodded. “I’ll see you then.”
Malfoy nodded. As they turned to walk away, he called, “See you soon, Albus. Don’t get too wet at practice, Red.”
Albus had clearly not noticed double entendre, but she felt her ears getting hot. She had to admit that she’d probably deserved it, though.
As they left the library, she looked back. Malfoy was watching them. She shook her head. He was such a strange person.
They’d walked past several suits of armor before Albus spoke. “So.”
“So,” Rose replied.
“Did you have anything to do with Scorpius’ new hair colour?” he asked. She didn’t say anything, and he sighed. “I promise I won’t write home if you did. Or to your parents.”
Rose adjusted the strap of her bag so it wasn’t pulling on her hair and assumed what she hoped was an expression of complete innocence. “You said it yourself, at Care of Magical Creatures. It couldn’t have been me. I was with you all morning.”
“Yeah, I know, I know. You got yourself an alibi.” He paused. When Rose glanced over at him, he seemed to be considering something. “Why did James and Roxanne really leave Care of Magical Creatures early?”
“I already told you,” she answered, nonchalantly. “They wanted to book the Quidditch pitch.” She did not suggest that he check. Providing proof of your alibi before you were asked just made you look guilty. She’d learned that from Victoire, who had been the master at getting away with major violations of school rules.
“And they both needed to go?”
She shrugged. “I suppose not, but it’s always nice to have a second opinion, and you heard Hagrid. Woodmore didn’t mind.”
Albus shook his head. “And I would bet that Marion and Tyler stayed and chatted with Hagrid for a few minutes after class ended, so they have their alibi.”
Rose shrugged again. “No idea. You’d have to ask them.”
“Rose, say you did do it, hypothetically. What would have been your reason?” He sounded so earnest and serious. Rose loved Albus dearly, but sometimes, she wanted to force feed him something that would make him take life a little less seriously.
“Hypothetically?” she asked. He nodded. “Hypothetically, if I had done it, which I didn’t, because I was with you all morning, it would have been because he was a jerk last night. He said I shouldn’t be in Gryffindor because I was a coward.” Albus looked skeptical. “Well, that was a reasonable interpretation of what he said, anyway.”
Her cousin looked up at the ceiling. She knew from long experience that if he was praying to anything or anyone, it was not going to be answered. “Great.”
“And he kept calling me ‘Red.’” She paused for half a second, and then added, “And ‘Cherry.’”
He sighed again. “That’s just great. I take it he decided on ‘Red’ in the end?”
“Can you two just try to be nice to each other?” he asked. He sounded exasperated, and Rose supposed she couldn’t really blame him. “Or at least civil? You don’t seem to manage to have these run-ins with Noah.”
“Nott doesn’t go out of his way to bother me, so I don’t bother him.” She twisted her neck from side to side, trying to work out the kinks she’d gotten from leaning over a table without moving for as long as she had. “And I am trying. That was a hypothetical.”
“Right,” he said, in a very tired voice. “And you have an alibi, and your teammates have plausible deniability.”
He shook his head. “Whatever. Just… try, Rose. He really is a nice guy to be around.” She started to talk, and he cut her off, wearily. “Yes, I know he’s a Slytherin. The two are not mutually exclusive, you know. Noah’s a nice guy, too. I like spending time with them.”
“Go lecture him, not me,” she said as they rounded the corner and emerged at the top of a staircase. “He’s always picking fights with me. I’d be happier to just ignore him, I don’t know what his problem is.” However, she did think that she was beginning to understand his problem a little better than she had a few days ago.
Albus looked up at the ceiling despairingly again. Rose didn’t understand why he persisted in wanting her to get along with Malfoy; the amount of time he spent looking up at the ceiling or at the sky as if beseeching some god to intervene and make his life a bit easier seemed to serve only to greatly increase the likelihood that he would fall flat on his face. “Rose, do you really not see how sometimes, you give him reason for it?” When he looked at her and she stared at him blankly, he groaned. “Really?”
“He gives me reason for it, too,” she pointed out. “Did I tell you what he pulled on the train this year?”
“No, but I suspect you’re about to,” Albus said, beginning to look absolutely exhausted.
“All I did was ask him to give you a simple message.” Remembering the incident, Rose could feel herself getting irritated with Malfoy all over again. “He started calling me names.”
“I wanted my charms book back. James and Roxanne wanted to experiment with it.”
Albus chose not to comment on the fact that they were not technically supposed to be doing magic on the Hogwarts Express, and that as a prefect, Rose probably should not have been enabling or actively participating in it. “But I got that message,” he said, looking confused.
“From who?” Rose challenged.
He screwed up his face. “I think it was Noah,” he said after a moment of consideration. “Yeah, it was Noah.”
Rose scowled. “Yes, because Nott isn’t a git. He doesn’t like me, I don’t like him—”
“You don’t know him,” Albus said, sounding very exasperated. “How can you not like someone you don’t even know?”
“That’s not the point,” she told him. “The point is, we manage to coexist just fine. We are perfectly cordial when we have to patrol. Once I even complimented his choice of book.” As they turned to go through the tapestry again, Rose shifted her bag from one shoulder to the other before beginning to descend the stairs. “Come to think of it, can’t you just ditch Malfoy and spend all your time with Nott?”
Even in the fairly dim light, she could tell Albus was rolling his eyes. “It’s not an either/or situation. Unlike you and Scorpius,” he added pointedly.
“He’s the one who starts it.”
Albus snorted. “Even if I bought that, which I don’t, you still overreact. Whatever he called you last night, did you really have to turn his hair bright red?” He cut her off when she tried to object. “Wait, I’m sorry, I forgot, you had nothing to do with it, because you were with me all morning.”
“Exactly,” Rose said as she pushed aside the tapestry that hung at the bottom of the staircase.
“I was just hoping it would be different this year,” Albus said after a moment. “You know, after the summer.”
This time it was Rose who tripped over her own feet when she stopped to stare at him. “What?” She honestly wasn’t sure she’d heard him right. “Why?”
He looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, you didn’t seem to hate each other as much as usual when you were both staying with me over the summer. I mean, mostly you just ignored each other, which was an improvement.” She wasn’t sure how he interpreted the fact that Malfoy was so busy staring at her that he wasn’t processing what his friend was saying as “ignoring,” but challenging him would involve admitting that she’d eavesdropped. She was definitely not going to do that. Albus would be horribly disappointed in her.
“Al,” she said patiently, “my parents were on holiday. I was pretty much stuck at your place, and James wasn’t even there. I wanted to relax, not argue with Malfoy and then argue with you about arguing with Malfoy.”
“Oh,” Albus said after a moment. He appeared to be rather disappointed that his optimism had been so far off the mark. “I was just hoping it meant you’d both finally grown up a little.”
Rose felt that this was extremely unfair. “Thanks.” Her voice came out sounding even more sarcastic than she’d meant it to, and he sighed.
“Why can’t you just try?” he asked again.
“Why can’t you give up on wanting me to?” Rose shot back. “Just because they’re your friends doesn’t mean they need to be mine. You don’t like Julian,” she pointed out, referring to a Gryffindor in the year above them who she’d briefly dated the year before and had remained fairly good friends with.
He pursed his lips together. “I am perfectly civil to Julian,” he said coolly. “He probably doesn’t even know that I dislike him.”
“Of course he knows.” Rose rolled her eyes. “You’re civil, not friendly, and you’re always friendly to everyone.”
“Yeah, well, at least I try,” he snapped. “You don’t. You just jinx my friends.”
“Fine.” She suspected that she would regret agreeing to this, but arguing the point further just felt like kicking him when he was down. She knew that he couldn’t be happy about Malfoy’s revelation, no matter how much he’d been expecting it. “I’ll try harder. If you give me my plausible deniability.”
Albus groaned. “Fine. I won’t challenge your plausible deniability unless something really ridiculous happens.”
“I won’t challenge his, either.”
She looked at him sharply. “What do you mean? What is he planning?”
“Nothing that I know of. But if I were him, and I knew who’d done it, alibi or no, I’d be planning some payback.” He glanced at her, amused. “What, did you think that plausible deniability would be enough for him?”
Rose shrugged. “Whatever, I can take him,” she said casually. “Hey, can I borrow Hazel tonight? Godric’s out taking a letter to Dominique.”
He looked a little taken aback by the change of subject. “Sure. I don’t mind.”
“Thanks.” They walked into the Great Hall and sat down at the Gryffindor table with Colleen, Alex, and Damien. When James tapped her on the shoulder at twenty past six, she got up and they left for the Quidditch pitch. Rose made very, very sure that she was surrounded by teammates the entire way there.
When the team trooped back up to the castle after practice, they were all both soaked and exhausted. Most people who didn’t play Quidditch didn’t really understand how tiring it was to play in bad weather.
“So,” James said cheerfully as they sloshed through the mud, “Did you like it?”
Rose grinned despite her exhaustion. “It was amazing. He wasn’t happy.”
“No,” Roxanne replied, sounding very pleased with herself. “No, we didn’t think he would be.”
“He knows it was me, though,” Rose told them. “Al thinks he’s going to want payback.”
“Well, if he’s going to try and go after you, he’s got another thing coming—” James started, but Rose shook her head.
“I have a better solution. Can I have the cloak when we get back up to school?”
James and Roxanne both looked at her, confused. “Sure,” he said, “But why do you want it?”
“I want to send an owl tonight, so the reply can come with the morning post.”
Roxanne looked at her. They were close enough that Rose could see her face clear after a moment and she clapped, gleefully. “You’re sending it to Fred?”
James looked from her to Rose, clearly perplexed, and then he seemed to get the joke, too. “That’s perfect. That’ll wipe the smirk off his face when he tries to jinx you.”
“I thought so, too,” Rose said, pleased.
“We should get that Herbology homework done,” James remarked as they entered the castle.
“We should,” agreed Roxanne. “And I need a bath.”
Rose sighed. “I should get some work done, too. I’ve got the free time tomorrow, but I have a lot of work due Wednesday, and I have to patrol.” She scowled. “Why did they make me prefect, anyway?”
Roxanne put an arm around her shoulder, and James ruffled her hair. “You’ll be fine,” they said, together.
Rose grinned despite herself. “Thanks.”
“Though really, I have no idea why they chose you,” James added. “I was expecting Colleen.”
Once they’d gotten to James went upstairs to get dry clothing to change into after his bath, and covertly handed her the invisibility cloak as he passed the staircase to the girl’s dormitories. She went up to her room to do the same, and Roxanne, on her way back downstairs, handed her a peace of folded paper and murmured “You’re one of us, of course you’re up to no good.”
After her bath, clad in warm and wonderfully dry clothing, she sat down at a table in the common room to write her note.
How are you? We’re all looking forward to the first Hogsmeade weekend—Al keeps complaining about Divination and wishing he had some snackboxes, so don’t be shocked if he comes in wanting about twenty. I don’t know why he signed up for that stupid subject.
Without getting into unnecessary details, I have reason to believe that someone might be planning to jinx me. I don’t remember what you guys have shield charms in these days, but can you send me something I can wear inside the castle without making anyone too suspicious?
P.S. I just got back from practice. James kept us at it for two hours in this rain. We’re all soaked. The caretaker would have had our heads if he’d caught us.
Rose folded the paper, put it in an envelope, and got up.
She saw Albus sitting on a chair near the fire, potions book open on his lap as he scratched out an essay on a piece of parchment. “Need any help?” she asked.
He looked up. “Not with this, but can you help me practice for Transfiguration later?”
He smiled. “Thanks. Look, I’m sorry if I was too hard on you earlier.”
She shook her head. “It’s fine, really. I’m off to mail that letter.”
He looked at the clock. “Better hurry. You don’t want to be caught after hours.”
“I won’t be.”
He grinned. “Of course not. What was I thinking? Don’t give it back to James when you get back. I’m going to be up half the night, and I might want a snack later.”
She smiled back. “No problem.”
“Who is it to, anyway?” he asked, peering at the envelope.
She moved her fingers so she wasn’t blocking the name. “Fred. Asking him about the first Hogsmeade weekend and telling him what I think is going to be in hottest demand.”
Albus laughed. “Excellent. Hey, tell him to stock up on snackboxes. I’m tired of suffering through Divination.”
She smirked. “You shouldn’t have taken it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Too late now, though.”
“I’ll be back in a bit.” Rose climbed out of the portrait hole. She immediately swung the cloak over her, and pulled out the old, folded piece of paper. She looked up and down the hallway, and then held her wand out and whispered, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
She checked the map for teachers, and then set off toward the owlery, glancing at it occasionally to make sure the way was still clear.
It was difficult to get caught with the invisibility cloak, but not impossible, and it paid to be careful. She knew for a fact that both Professor McGonagall and Professor Longbottom knew about its existence, and wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss an out-of-place noise as their imagination or something innocent.
Today, however, McGonagall was in the Headmistress’ study, and Longbottom was nowhere to be seen.
As she neared the owlery, she looked over the map one more time, saw no one nearby, and pulled off the cloak as she entered it. “Hazel!” she called, quietly.
A barn owl glided down to her, and she pulled an owl treat out of her pocket. Hazel ate it happily, and Rose stroked her head for a few minutes. Then she pulled the letter out of her bag. “Hazel, can you take this to Fred for me, please?” Hazel stuck out her leg, and Rose tied the letter on. “Thank you!” she called, and Hazel flew out of the window.
She checked the map again, pulled on the invisibility cloak, and made her way back to the Gryffindor common room.
A/N: Any input from my lovely readers on this chapter would be much appreciated. :) If you're curious about what exactly happened during the incident on the train that Rose mentions, check out my short story "Achilles Heel." :)
Thank you so much for reading!
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