Ron felt like he and Rose were strangers. Something was wrong. He knew she wasn't sick, nor was she having trouble in school if her marks were any indication. No, it was something else. Something was troubling his Rosie. He hadn't seen her smile since she returned home from Hogwarts for the summer, but that could have been because she barely left her room. It just wasn't like her.
Hermione kept telling him it was just a girl thing, and that every girl goes through a phase when she wants to be alone and not talk to anyone. Ron knew his wife was probably right. After all, Rose was fifteen, about to turn sixteen in August. He knew that his baby girl was growing up, but he couldn't figure out why she was shutting the whole family out. More specifically, he didn't understand why she was shutting him out. The two of them had always been able to talk about anything and everything, and he missed that. All he wanted was for her to come sit with him and tell him all about her day like she used to.
Before he knew it, Ron was walking up the stairs to Rose's room. Hermione was working late at the Ministry, and Hugo was spending the night at Harry and Ginny's. This, he decided, would be the perfect time to try to talk to her. Even if all he got out of her was a sentence or two, that would be fine with him. He just missed her.
The door to Rose's bedroom was slightly ajar, and a stream of light from her reading lamp was pouring out onto the floor of the hallway. Ron knocked gently before peering in.
She was sitting on her bed with her legs stretched out in front of her. She looked up from the book in her lap upon hearing her name.
"Hi, dad," she said with a small smile.
Ron stepped into the room his daughter had decorated with Ravenclaw banners and posters of the British National Quidditch Team. He pulled her desk chair over and sat down beside her bed.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing," Ron said. "I've barely been seen you since you came home from Hogwarts."
She nodded. "I know. I've just got a lot of summer homework. They really don't cut us a break after O.W.L.s, do they?"
Ron chuckled. "Things haven't changed, I suppose. How did your O.W.L.s go, by the way?"
"Not too bad. I had a little trouble with Transfiguration, and I don't even want to think about Herbology, but I think things went well overall. I hope so, anyway."
"I'm sure you don't have to worry, Rosie. You're a smart girl. You're definitely your mother's child," Ron said in awe. It always amazed him how much of Hermione he saw in their daughter.
Rose gestured toward the broomstick leaning against the wall across the room. "Well, except for Quidditch. That's all Weasley."
Ron laughed. "True. Your mother still hates flying, even after all these years. How did the Quidditch season go? I take it Hufflepuff didn't do too well since Hugo hasn't said anything."
Rose, who played for Ravenclaw as a chaser, shrugged. "Honestly, I would have rather lost to Hufflepuff. Hugo would have at least been modest about it. But instead, we lost to Slytherin in the final match. Albus wouldn't stop gloating, the git."
"Well, you can always threaten to write him up the next time you're on your prefect rounds," Ron said with a chuckle.
"Dad, I wouldn't do that! That would be abusing my power!" Rose exclaimed, but she was laughing too.
"I know, I know," Ron said with a smile. "Again, you're just like your mum. Are you enjoying being a prefect?"
Rose nodded. "Yeah, it's not too bad. Rounds can actually be kind of fun sometimes."
"Really? I always dreaded them. I always had to patrol with your mum, and she wouldn't let me get away with anything."
Rose laughed. "I can't say I'm surprised."
"But since it was your mum, I didn't mind so much," Ron said. "So the person you patrol with is a little more laid-back, I take it?"
"Yeah, he's nice. He's good fun."
"Who do you patrol with, anyway?"
Rose suddenly became very interested in the pattern on her quilt, which she began to trace with her fingertips. She wouldn't meet her father's eyes.
"Just some guy," she said quietly.
So there it is, Ron thought. That's why Rose was so distant. She liked a boy, a boy she spent a lot of time with during the year, and she missed him. He wasn't surprised that Rose had a crush, but he was suddenly feeling very protective of her. Even though she was nearly sixteen, she was still his baby girl, his little princess. He was prepared to jump into a speech about teenage boys and how their minds are only on one thing, but he was stopped by a voice in his head telling him that if he freaked out about the situation, Rose would shut him out even more so than she had been all summer. Swayed by this, Ron took a deep breath and attempted to approach this calmly.
"Do you like this boy?" he asked casually.
Rose blushed slightly and would still not look at him.
"Yeah, I suppose… I mean, sure… I like him, yeah. He's a nice person. But I like pretty much everyone, you know?"
"You know what I mean, Rosie. Do you like him? You can tell me, you know."
She looked up at him, still blushing. "You won't be mad?"
He put his hand reassuringly on her shoulder. "Of course not. We've always been able to talk, sweetheart. You know you can tell me anything."
She was quiet for a few moments before speaking. "Well, he and I… we've been kind of seeing each other."
"What do you mean, kind of?"
Rose sighed. "After Easter, we started spending more time together outside of classes and rounds. We never actually declared ourselves a couple, but it felt like that's what was happening. And just before the summer holidays started, we… um…"
Ron braced himself, thinking the worst. Oh no. They didn't, he thought. No, no, no! She's not even in sixth year yet!
"What happened, Rosie?" he asked with as much calmness he could muster. He wasn't really sure if he even wanted to hear he answer.
Rose smiled a little bit. "Well… he kissed me."
Without realizing it, Ron let out a sigh of relief.
"Oh, thank Merlin."
Ron's face flushed. "Nothing, nothing."
She eyed him inquiringly. "What did you think I was going to say?"
"Nothing. I'm just glad that's all you did. Kissing him, I mean."
Realizing what his thoughts had been, Rose laughed a little, a reaction he wasn't expecting.
"Dad, me and him, we aren't… no. Not even close. I'm not ready for that yet. Don't worry."
Ron smiled. "You have no idea how nice that is to hear, sweetheart."
Rose rolled her eyes and grinned. "Glad I could brighten your world a bit."
Ron chuckled before speaking again. "In all seriousness, though, when it does come time for that, be careful."
"Dad, I've already had this talk with mum..." Rose said sheepishly.
"I know about protective charms and everything. Don't worry."
He shook his head. "It's not just about charms, Rosie. Those are important, but it's more than that. I know you've talked about this with your mother, probably more than once, but since you have a special bloke in your life now, I feel like I should say this. Just be absolutely sure you're ready. Don't go rushing into things. I don't want to see you getting hurt, okay?"
"I know. But really, you don't have to worry. Not for a long time, anyway." Rose sighed and looked down. "I don't think he likes me anymore."
"Why would you think that? Has he said something?"
She shook her head. "No, and that's the problem. I've only heard from him twice since the start of summer. I sent him a letter a week ago and I still haven't received a reply. Maybe he just doesn't see me in that way anymore."
"Oh, honey, it's probably not that. He may just be busy with his family and all."
Rose shook her head. "Busy enough to not write me for a week? I doubt it."
"Well, I'm sure he has a good reason for not writing back right away. Give him a little bit of time. Merlin knows I took forever to reply to your mother whenever she wrote me over summer holiday."
Rose giggled. "She must have wanted to hex you into next week."
"You have no idea," Ron said with a smile. "But do you want to know a secret? Whenever I did write back to your mum, I would always make an excuse about why I took so long to reply. I usually said something along the lines of working in the garden or playing lots of Quidditch with my brothers. But the real reason? I was always so afraid to write back."
Ron nodded. "You see, your mum always wrote long, beautiful letters, and while they were a joy to read, I was slightly intimidated by them. Well, not so much by the letters, but by her. I always wanted to impress her, so I would spend a lot of time writing my replies, trying to make them as interesting as hers were. I even wrote drafts sometimes."
Rose couldn't help but giggle. "I can't picture you writing drafts."
"Believe me, Rosie, I couldn't believe myself either, and I was the one doing it," Ron said. "But you see, when a boy likes a girl, he really does put a lot of time and effort into trying to show off. So perhaps this is what your special guy is doing."
Rose raised an eyebrow. "You really think so?"
Ron nodded. "It's definitely possible, especially if your letters are anything like your mother's were."
Rose laughed. "I do have a tendency to ramble a bit when I write. Especially to him. He makes me nervous, too."
"Well, with any luck, you'll hear from him soon. I hope you do."
"Me, too," Rose said. "I really like him, Dad."
Ron smiled and pulled his daughter in for a hug.
"Hey, no matter what happens, you've always got a guy right here who loves you no matter what."
Rose beamed as she pulled away from him. "I love you, too, Dad."
Ron looked at her adoringly, proud that his little girl had grown into such a wonderful young woman. He couldn't believe how fast time went by. It seemed like only yesterday he was teaching her how to ride a broom for the first time. Now, she was nearly sixteen, and he was talking to her about her boyfriend. But that's how it always was between the two of them. They had always been close and talked about everything, and now Ron was sure that would never change. It felt great.
Suddenly, Ron wanted him and Rose to do something they always used to do together, but hadn't in a very long time.
"Say, you feel like going for a broom ride? It's a lovely night."
Rose grinned and placed the book she had been reading on her bedside table.
Ron smiled and stood, pushing the chair back over to her desk as Rose walked across the room to get her broomstick. Just as the pair were about to head out into the hallway, they heard a tapping noise coming from the window. The two looked over their shoulders to see a small, tawny owl fluttering outside.
"Titus!" Rose exclaimed, running over to her window to let the tired owl in. She turned to her father. "This is his owl!"
Ron smiled as Rose eagerly detached an envelope from Titus' leg before offering him a small treat. As Titus flew back out the window, Rose stood there, simply staring at the sealed letter in her hands. Ron knew she'd probably want to stay up here now and read it; she had probably already forgotten about going for a broom ride with him. And that was okay, he thought. He'd seen how her eyes lit up when she saw her boyfriend's owl. He was disappointed that they wouldn't go flying together, but she was happy, and that was all that mattered to him. He picked up her broomstick, which she had dropped on the floor in excitement upon seeing Titus, and propped it up against her wall. He was ready to quietly slip out the door to give her some space when she stopped him.
"Dad, wait," she said. "Don't you still want to go flying?"
He leaned his head back in. "I'm always up for flying with you. But don't you want to read your letter?"
She nodded, looking at the letter again. "I do."
"Then we can do it another time. No worries."
Rose looked up at him, then back at the letter. To his surprise, she placed the unopened envelope on her nightstand and walked over to pick up her broomstick.
"I've waited a week. I can wait another hour or two."
Ron raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"
Rose smiled and nodded. "Before we know it, I'll be back at Hogwarts and I'll be able to see him as much as I want. I want to spend tonight with you."
Ron grinned and pulled Rose in for a hug.
"Thanks, Rosie. That means a lot to me."
"Let's go!" Rose said, skipping out her door and down the stairs. Ron chuckled and followed suit.
Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, Ron grabbed his broomstick from the cupboard, and the two headed out the door into the backyard. The sun was setting behind the treetops, creating a lovely pink and orange sky, and there was still a light breeze. It really was the perfect evening for flying. Ron put his arm around Rose's shoulder as they walked to the clearing they always kicked off from.
"If you want to, Rose, you can invite your boyfriend over next month for your birthday."
Rose's eyes widened as she looked up at him. "When the whole family is here? Are you sure about that?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't I be? If he means so much to you, he should be here for your special day. Besides, most of your cousins already know him from school, right?"
"Yeah. He gets along well with most of them, too. Especially Dominique and Lucy."
"So it will be fine, then. Invite him over. Ask his parents to come, too."
Rose laughed, brushing it off. "No, no, that's not necessary."
"Why not?" Ron asked as they arrived in the clearing. "If the two of you are serious about each other, your mother and I should meet his folks."
She shrugged. "I don't know, Dad. I mean, it sounds great and I'd love for them all to be here, but I just don't think you and Mum will get along all that well with his parents."
"Ah, c'mon, Rosie, why not? It's not like you're dating the Malfoy boy or something."
Rose bit her lower lip and looked at him.
His jaw dropped open. "It's the Malfoy boy? Scorpius Malfoy? You're kidding!"
A nervous smile spread across her freckled face and she mounted her broom.
"See you in the air, Dad!" she said hurriedly. She kicked off from the ground and was out of sight in an instant.
Ron stood there for a minute, positively gobsmacked. Of all the boys Rose went to school with, she just had to pick Draco Malfoy's son. He couldn't believe it. It made him nervous, because if he was anything like his father, Rose's boyfriend was bad news.
He was ready to chase after her on his broom and tell her she had to stop seeing Scorpius, but that little voice inside his head returned and stopped him. It had been over twenty years since Ron had spoken to Draco. He could have changed since their Hogwarts days, and perhaps he had raised his son well. Ron had no legitimate reason to think badly of Scorpius. He trusted Rose; she was a good judge of character, and she wouldn't have fallen for a boy who wasn't a decent person. If his daughter liked him, then Ron knew he must be okay.
Rather proud of himself for not completely losing his temper as he had always been known to do, Ron smiled and mounted his broom. He kicked off of the ground to join Rose above the treetops in the warm, evening air. All he ever wanted for his children was happiness, and Rose certainly seemed happy with Scorpius. If she wanted the Scorpius and his parents at her birthday party, then that's the way it would be. Ron knew accepting the Malfoys as part of his daughter's life would be a challenge for both him and Hermione, but if it meant something to Rose, he'd do it in a heartbeat.
Author's Note: As noted in the story summary, this was written for the Original Next-Gen Challenge. The point of the challenge was to write a story that defied at least one next-gen cliche. I chose to ignore the Rose cliche of her and Ron having a huge brawl after he learns of her relationship with Scorpius, as well as the cliche which has all of the Weasley/Potter kids in Gryffindor.