Professor McGonagall was mysteriously absent from her office on the morning Scorpius and I had chosen to enact Operation: Rose Has So Much In Common With Julian It’s Not Even Funny.
I seriously thought the world was about to spin off its axis.
“But seriously, she’s never not been here,” I said anxiously to Pippa, who did not look nearly as flustered about this change in schedule as I was. I gnawed on a hank of my hair without quite realizing it, buckling and unbuckling the bag slung across my chest and occasionally drumming my fingers on my thighs. “I think we need to go send someone to check on her. Make sure she didn’t choke on a muffin or something.”
Pippa smacked her gum particularly loudly and made a derogatory sort of noise in the back of her throat. “I think she can be allowed a smidge of tardiness sometimes without Death knocking at her door,” she said, absentmindedly fluffing her fringe. “What are you so worried about?”
“I’ve got to do the announcements, haven’t I? And I’m a right grouch when I don’t eat breakfast, you know that,” I said, a bit more tartly than I had intended. Pippa nodded in rather amiable agreement and continued toying with her hair.
I wasn’t about to tell her that I was seriously considering skiving off lessons and heading up to the hospital wing to wait out Potions. Scorpius might hate my guts, but then, he already did, so it wouldn’t be much of a loss there. I just didn’t want him to see how jittery the upcoming conversation with Julian was making me.
At that precise moment, Hugo came barreling around the corner and ran smack into Pippa, who, not seeing it coming, was sent sprawling.
“Sorry! Sorry!” Hugo gasped in his squeaky sort of way. He popped right back up like the jack-in-the-box he’d loved so much when he was three, the one I’d accidentally-on-purpose put my foot through.
That stupid clown had given me nightmares for months.
“Rosie! Rosie! I was looking for you!” he said now, hopping from foot to foot in anticipation; it rather made him look like he had to use the loo. Pippa, whose robes had somehow ended up over her head, was still flailing about on the floor like a beached mermaid.
“Don’t be such a gentleman, Hugo,” I snapped, bending down and trying to sort out the writhing mass of black fabric that had once been my best friend. A hand emerged and yanked on my school tie, and I spluttered, wrenching back and massaging my throat.
Pippa managed to haul herself to her feet after nearly choking me, looking cross, although not cross enough to prevent her from continuing to chomp away at the bright blue piece of gum in her mouth. She muttered something about “Weasleys” and I shot her my most charming smile.
“This is why we’re friends. I provide you with your daily dose of excitement.” I patted her head, and then turned back to Hugo, who was still doing his absurd variation of a bathroom dance. “Merlin’s pants, what do you want?!”
“I’ve got something for you to say on the announcements! It’s urgent!” He stopped hopping about and shot Pippa a look, as though unwilling to confide this juicy secret in front of her. I waved my hand impatiently for him to continue.
“I’ve got word that the Ravenclaw Quidditch captain snogged a Slytherin Chaser in the locker rooms in exchange for some of their tactics.” He raised his eyebrows as if to say, Who knew? I waited, but that seemed to be all he had to say on the matter.
“Not buying it unless you’ve got a photo,” I said dully, now resuming chewing on my hair; his mention of the word ‘Slytherin’ had reminded me that I’d be making conversation with the fairest of that House in less than an hour.
As long as I didn’t make an idiot of myself, I’d be fine.
Which was a lot easier said than done, if I was being honest, seeing as last lesson I’d gotten covered in Pippa’s gum.
“But –“ Hugo spoke up again, evidently not finished with his end of the conversation. I let out a garbled sort of yell, the sort I imagine a captive of the giant squid might have emitted at one time or another, and tried very hard not to kick Hugo in the shin again.
“Look,” I said through gritted teeth. “Unless anything you’re about to say has to do with Julian Murdock and how much he loves and adores me, I don’t want to hear it. Okay? You’re being annoying. Go away.” I made a shooing motion, and his lip stuck out. “You’ll trip over that,” I added, pointing at said lip.
“Julian Murdock?” Hugo wrinkled his nose. “Gross.”
“You’re gross,” I shot back.
My comebacks were not exactly on par today.
“You’re not gross, Hugo,” Pippa amended quickly. “It’s just that Rose is a bit neurotic today” – she quickly reached over and clamped a hand over my mouth, sensing the protest that had just found its way to my lips – “and she’s not making a lot of sense.”
The cloud briefly lifted from Hugo’s brows, although he was still shooting me dark looks. “All right,” he said sulkily, and I was a bit insulted at how easily he took that insult as fact. “I guess I’ll see you around, then.” Pippa beamed at him as he turned to walk away, looking a bit mopey, before she finally removed her hand from over my mouth.
“Can I borrow your lotion?” I asked immediately. I hadn’t appreciated her cutting me off, but her hands smelled really good. Pippa rolled her eyes and began fishing about in her bag for the bottle.
Professor McGonagall turned the corner just then, and not a moment too soon – I may or may not have jumped directly in her path in my eagerness to get the stupid announcements over with. “Where have you been?” I cried. Her eyebrows rose in shock, and I saw her gaze fall on the damp strand of hair lying on my shoulder.
“I don’t see how it’s any of your business, Miss Weasley,” she said, drawing herself up a bit. “If you must know, I had to see to a group of second-year who thought it might be amusing to drip paint on the gargoyles near the headmaster’s office.”
I shook my head. “Youth today,” I said tragically, and then clapped my hands together, rubbing them briskly. “Shall we do this, then? You know, classes to attend, things to learn…” I tapped my temple for emphasis and nearly poked myself in the eye. Pippa let out a very unhelpful giggle.
McGonagall looked even more concerned now. “Are you feeling quite well, Miss Weasley?” she asked, tapping the door of her office with her wand; it opened with a soft click.
“Spiffing,” I amended quickly, darting inside the room before she tried to detain me. The announcements sheet was lying in place beside the microphone, and I turned it on as quickly as possible. I had to get down to the dungeons before Julian; it was imperative.
I launched into rapid speech.
“Good morning students and faculty of Hogwarts Mr. Filch has demanded to remind everyone to please remember to take particular care with your shoes today as he does not want to spend the morning sponging up mud.” I paused for breath, ignoring the burning look McGonagall was giving me at that moment. Pippa gaped from the doorway, open-mouthed.
“The chess club will meet after dinner tonight in Professor Vector’s classroom so members are once again asked not to throw chess pieces at first-years and finally as always be diligent in your studies and remember to learn something new today.” I tapped the microphone again to turn it off with such pent-up force it very nearly snapped.
I do believe I’d broken a record.
“Miss Weasley –“
“Thanks, Professor,” I panted, slightly out of breath, and jumped up from the stool. “Sorry, but I’m in a bit of a rush – let’s go, Pippa –“ I bolted from the classroom. I’d probably be in a lot of trouble for that set of announcements later, but right now Julian was more important.
Let’s face it. He was always more important, wasn’t he?
Scorpius was already waiting outside the dungeon when I got there, although I couldn’t quite figure out why; he looked half-dressed as it was. His tie was draped loosely about his neck as though he simply couldn’t be bothered to put it in properly. Somewhere along the route I’d lost Pippa – she’d probably intercepted Albus – and so it was just the two of us in the dank and moldy-smelling underground corridor.
“Loved your diatribe this morning, Treesley,” he said as I approached, looking around subtly for Julian. “He’s not here yet,” he added.
Well. I thought I’d been subtle.
“You’ll notice that I steered away from your malodorous stench this morning,” I pointed out, and he grinned at me. That grin sent a little shiver through my stomach, and I took it as more nausea at the fact that in less than an hour I’d have to draw up conversation from basically nothing to go on.
“You ready, Rosie?” he asked now, fishing about in the pocket of his robes and pulling out the old list we’d used in the library, looking thoroughly worn by now. “D’you want this?”
I grabbed for it as though it were the only life preserver being tossed to me in a churning ocean. “I can’t do this,” I said suddenly, clutching the parchment to my chest. “I’m going to vomit.”
“Disgusting,” he said conversationally. “You can do this – it’ll work as long as you remember what I told you.”
“Right.” I paused. “What exactly did you tell me again?”
Scorpius gave me his best impression of a dirty look, although the amusement in his eyes belied it a bit. “Relax. Breathe. Just stick to – what was it you resolved to talk about?” He came around and peered over my shoulder at his list. “Difficult exams.”
“Erm. Right.” I swallowed as a clattering of approaching footsteps met my ears. “And if I do vomit?”
“Don’t go blaming it on me.” He squeezed my shoulder. “You’ll be fine, Rosie.” I could still feel the place where his hand had touched my shoulder as he walked into the classroom. I stayed where I was to wait for Pippa, wishing to Merlin I had his confidence at that moment.
“And so, you can just take the chrysanthemum root… like so… and cut it at a forty-five degree angle…” Slughorn bent over his massive desk at the front of the class, the tip of his tongue poking between his lips in concentration. I was trying desperately to regain control of all my senses and not fall asleep. I could not miss my chance.
Pippa nudged me in the side, blowing a small bubble and releasing it with a small pop. “Are you seriously going to stick me with Scorpius?” she hissed, her eyes still trained on Slughorn in case he decided to look this way.
I’d decided the best plan was to have Scorpius wander over to our desk on the pretense of borrowing one of our ingredients, leaving the place next to Julian open. And then I would casually saunter over and say something incredibly witty and bright about exams (exams - oh, Merlin) and we would wind up finishing the day’s potion together.
And then he would take me in his arms and ask where I’d been all these years, and I would tell him I’d never taken my eyes from him since the moment I first saw him, and we would be happy forever and ever.
I was awakened from this very lovely fantasy by Pippa snapping her gum close to my ear. She knew I hated it when she did that.
“What?!” I said in a frenzied whisper, jerking my head up from the desk and flailing my arms wildly. She jerked her head towards the front of the class. Thankfully, Slughorn was still engrossed in his roots.
I would never understand teachers like him, or like Professor Sprout. Why you’d want to spend your life dealing with dirt and grime and gross stuff was beyond me.
“He’s nearly done,” Pippa whispered conspiratorially. “Scorpius is going to be coming back here in a minute.” She still didn’t look happy at this prospect, and on her left, across the narrow aisle, Albus looked ready to snap his quill in annoyance.
“Right,” I said, and began running my fingers through my hair, trying to make sure it didn’t look too tangled. “Can I see the list?”
“The list,” I said impatiently, “Scorpius’s –“ I gasped so loudly that the Slytherin girl next to me looked over, her eyes narrowed. I mouthed something at her that was intended as an apology, but she apparently read my lips wrong, and cracked her knuckles at me warningly.
But I had bigger kettles to charm at the moment. Because when Pippa had startled me awake, and I’d waved my arms about, I’d apparently sent Scorpius’s list flying. And it now resided approximately ten inches from Julian’s right foot.
Pippa had spotted the list at this moment, and immediately dissolved into a massive fit of hysterical giggles. Her breathing hitched in the middle, thus attracting Al’s attention. It didn’t take him long to piece together what had happened, either. He choked on a bit of spit (disgusting) and had to duck beneath his desk to straighten himself out.
I had to get that list back. “Cover for me,” I snapped at Pippa, who was still trying hard to hide her laughter, but she managed a nod amidst the hilarity. Taking a deep breath, I slid slowly sideways on the bench, towards the aisle. If I crawled very quietly, I could snatch the list back before Julian (and, preferably, Scorpius) ever noticed it there.
If only it didn’t have How to Make Rose Seem Attractive to Julian scrawled across the top. Scorpius would be hearing about that one from me later.
My neighbor to my right was now observing with more than passing interest as I slowly lowered myself to the stone floor - it was like ice beneath my rear end - while Slughorn droned on about his blasted chrysanthemum roots. The sounds of my shoes scraping against it sounded like banshee screams. It was amazing how loud everything seemed when you wanted nothing more in the world than for them to be quiet.
The Slytherin girl was still watching me, and so I pressed a finger to my lips in a silent plea for secrecy before making another executive decision. Trying very hard now not to be heard, I flipped over onto my stomach and began army crawling towards Julian and Scorpius’s desk. Three feet to go… two feet now… I was going to make it, the paper was almost within reach…
And suddenly my way forward was impeded; my arms wouldn’t haul me any further. I pulled as hard as I dared on the edge of the stone, grimacing, but something had caught around my foot. Oh, this could not be happening. This could not be happening. I chanced a glance back behind me, and saw that somehow it had become tangled in the strap of my school bag.
Of course it had, though. I couldn’t do anything successfully, could I? Pippa’s face was bright red from suppressed laughter by now, and there were already tears rolling down her cheeks. Next to her, Albus looked to be in similar spirits.
Help me! I pleaded silently, gesturing at the strap of the bag, which looked nice and cozy where it lay with no intention of loosening itself simply because my entire life was on the line. Pippa swallowed bravely and slid over to the seat I’d recently vacated, bending down to extricate the strap.
“Weasley?” I lifted my eyes to the voice that had spoken. I knew that voice. I knew that voice really, really well.
“Julian!” I smiled as brightly as I could possibly manage, trying to pretend that I currently wasn’t sprawled on the floor behind him, foot caught in a canvas strap, my hand reaching toward his shoe, and that the rest of the class didn’t now have their full attention tuned into the spectacle. Slughorn had even looked up from his roots, mouth slightly open in numb shock. Scorpius was looking down at me from beside Julian, and the expression of glee on his face cannot be properly expressed in words.
I would have given anything in the world – all the Galleons in my vault at Gringotts – to sink through the floor and disappear at that moment.
“So,” I said, feeling as though my throat had suddenly gone extremely dry. I gathered my elbows up underneath me and propped myself on them, hoping the pose looked casual enough. I blurted out the only thing I had in my head to say to this god among mere mortals. “Do you like difficult exams?”
A/N: Oh, Rose. She just needs a lot of hugs, and maybe a bit of time in solitary. Although I've got to admit, her character is one of the most fun I've ever written -- I feel like I can just make her do all sorts of wacky things, and it'll be perfectly agreeable to the plot line. A skeleton key to mischief, as it were!
As always -- don't forget to review, if you've got the time, and thanks so much for all your incredible support!
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