Chapter 19 : Fire and Ice
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‘I can’t believe he’s hidden from the Marauder’s Map!’ said Rose as they trooped out of the fringes of the Forbidden Forest and reached the foot of the long, night-clad rise back up to the school. Hogwarts stood tall at the top of the hill, the lights shining bright and welcoming, and did more than a little work to chase away shadows both real and imaginary as they laid eyes upon it.
‘I can’t believe I lost my broom,’ Scorpius grumbled.
‘And he’s been watching us! He knew what we were out there for! And he didn’t even care that we were gathering reagents to cure a curse which he’s inflicted on Hogwarts!’
‘It was a good broom! Cleansweep X-Series A. It was Cleansweep’s big come-back! “The sweepiest broom”!’
Rose stopped, turning to face him and stamping her foot. ‘Really, Malfoy, is now the time to be fussing over a broom?’
He flashed her a grin. ‘Way I see it, tonight was a win. We got out with the reagents, some information, and our lives!’
She watched him for a few seconds, the incredulous look on her face visible with the lights of Hogwarts shining down on her. Then she shook her head, lips twitching, and continued along the path up to the school. ‘Does anything ruin your mood?’
‘A plague’s put a dent in it but it means I’ll find the silver lining where I can. You should try it some time, Weasley, optimism. Might suit you.’
She stuck her nose in the air. ‘I’m perfectly optimistic, Malfoy.’
‘You’re not; you’re a realist. Cold, hard realist, with all your silly facts and your logic and your weird, weird making-sense...’
Her gaze found him out of the corner of her eye. ‘You’re really determined to not be rattled by a run-in with our arch-nemesis, aren’t you.’
‘Ooh, arch-nemesis.’ Scorpius grinned. ‘I like that. It’s got panache. And, yes, I am. Because I thought I was going to get eaten by Acromantula, then I thought I was going to get murdered by a lunatic in the woods, and not only would those be rather painful endings, they’d be pretty embarrassing, don’t you think?’
‘I’m trying to not think about it.’
‘Why not? We lived.’ His feet felt surprisingly light as they reached the bottom of the winding steps that would take them up the hillside, past Hagrid’s abandoned hut, and onto the main grounds proper. Normally he hated trooping up there, and it was one of the reasons he didn’t miss Care of Magical Creatures, but right then he thought he could have flown even without a broom.
‘We almost died!’ said Rose.
‘I think of it as “almost died, but didn’t, isn’t that brilliant”? It changes everything.’
‘Some stuff. Like perspective. Makes some things seem really silly and irrelevant. And other stuff seem really, super important.’
Rose rolled her eyes as she headed up the steps. ‘Like what?’
On an impulse he reached out to grab the strap of her bag, full of the Acromantula parts they’d gathered - though that unpleasant part was the furthest thing from his mind right then - and pulled her around on the step above to face him, their eyes, for once, level.
‘Like this,’ he said, his grin toothy and broad right until he leant across the space between them and kissed her.
She froze at the touch of his lips, and for a split second he thought he’d horribly, horribly misjudged everything - from her apparent relish at their verbal sparring, to her thawing and peace offerings, to how she hadn’t ripped his arm off for their near-miss that mere morning, which felt like a lifetime ago. Then her lips parted under his and she was grabbing a fistful of his Quidditch uniform, pulling herself closer against him.
When he broke the embrace it was to join her on the step, and the hand that didn’t still have a firm grip on the bag to keep her close came to her chin, gently tilting her face up to him. Her eyes were wide, surprised, but the corner of her lips twisted into a grin she was trying to fight.
‘And what the hell do you think you’re doing, Malfoy?’ Rose whispered. Her mock-serious demeanour was rather ruined by the light dancing in her eyes and how she had to blow that defiant spring of red hair out of her face.
‘Like I said, nearly dying throws the important things into perspective. The things I let myself get all distracted from or nervous about. But you know what? I shouldn’t let myself wait another second. I should have done that this morning. Or by the tree at the lake, or in the corridor to the kitchens, or in that records room. Like you wanted me to.’ His smirk remained, eminently smug and self-assured.
‘I think I wanted to hex you half of those times.’
‘Ever noticed how that urge gets muddled up?’ he mused - then it was her turn to pull him forward, and whatever aggravating words were at the tip of his tongue died when a thoroughly more welcome diversion presented itself.
He let go of the bag for his arm to snake around her waist, holding her against him, his other hand cupping her cheek to keep her face tilted up to his, not tolerating the slightest of gaps between them, even if it meant he had to crane his neck right down to cope with the height difference. Normally Scorpius preferred taller girls, or girls who spent longer fussing over their looks or at least wouldn’t be caught dead in the frumpy, practical gear Rose wore right then, but he couldn’t bring himself to care - not about the crick in his neck, not about the fistful of woolly knitted Weasley sweater in his hand, and not about the Acromantula bits in the bag that dangled from her shoulder.
Then there was a tension to the softness of her lips, and when she finally pulled back her eyes had widened, dark and guilty, and Scorpius felt his gut twist with predictable anticipation. Of course it wouldn't last, of course it was only a matter of time before she came to her senses and remembered Hector bloody Flynn...
‘Mmph - we really should go tell the others what happened.’
Scorpius blinked, his head spinning - from the memory of the kiss that was enough to make his lips still tingle, from the near-death experiences of the night, and from being wrong in a manner that was pleasant but left him wondering when that particular conversation would come up anyway. ‘Do we really...’ His voice trailed off, and Scorpius let go to run a hand through his hair, wild already from the events of the night. ‘Ugh. I guess we really should.’
But they hadn’t pulled apart completely, and Rose had that little crinkle in her nose which usually meant she was thinking particularly hard about something, and he had to admit he liked the notion she was thinking particularly had about him right then. She took an awkward breath, shifting the bag of Acromantula parts. ‘Lockett’s going to need to start brewing with these.’
Scorpius’ hand dropped, thwarted at last, and he took a step back reluctantly. He reached to carry the bag, and she handed it over, gaze bashful despite the frantic embrace of seconds before as their fingers brushed at the exchange. ‘She is,’ he agreed, not taking his eyes off her and rather enjoying the impression she was working to stay focused on what they both knew was the proper priority right then. ‘But she’s also going to need to start killing us when she finds out what happened.’
Despite the fact that she was wearing fluffy bunny slippers, Lockett’s footsteps still rang out loudly as she paced to and fro across the Great Hall in front of Scorpius and Rose.
‘Let me get this straight,’ the Potions Professor said, voice loud and arch enough to make even Albus and Selena, innocent and sat to one side, flinch. Methuselah, for his part, was going through the bag of Acromantula parts with interest, and hadn’t looked up once.
‘After being explicitly told not to go into the Forbidden Forest to look for reagents, you not only went and did specifically that, but you also had a run-in with Prometheus Thane where he incapacitated one of you and you only came back because, simply, he chose to let you go.’
Rose’s eyes were downcast, but she could feel Scorpius, stood next to her, take a deep breath to likely say something witty and entirely inappropriate. ‘That’s pretty much it, Professor,’ she said to cut him off.
‘Let’s not forget that you would have likely been killed by Acromantula had it not been for the intervention of Thane himself,’ said Lockett archly.
Scorpius nodded, and when she glanced up his expression was so solemn she knew it couldn’t be sincere. ‘And I lost my broom.’
Rose could have hit him. This time it was not a muddied feeling.
Lockett glowered at them both, and Rose looked at her boots again as Scorpius fell silent. ‘So we should really consider that it was despite your own stupidity that you made it back here with Acromantula skin, and found out a very little about Thane's intentions and operations - so little that it borders on guess work, really.' She folded her arms across her chest, and Rose risked a glance up to catch her critical eye. 'Are either of you injured?'
They both shook their heads wordlessly, Scorpius appropriately muted by the Potions Professor's cold glare, and silence reigned for long, awkward seconds, the sound broken only by the noise of Selena's fidgeting.
'In that case, I have only one thing to say to you.' Lockett straightened up, beady eyes locking on them both. 'Well done.' Then she gave them the biggest grin they'd ever seen her wear.
Rose's jaw dropped as Scorpius boggled for only a split second before returning the beam. ‘Thank you, Professor!’ he exclaimed.
Lockett looked over her shoulder at Methuselah. ‘Jones, what do you think of the skin?’
He lifted his head from the bag. ‘Excellent samples, Professor. Variety of portions of the exoskeleton. Sufficient quantities of good quality for multiple batches.’
She clapped her hands together. ‘Good, now let’s -’
‘Is that it?’ Rose stared at her.
Lockett raised an eyebrow in bewilderment. ‘Is what it?’
‘Is that... all you’ve got to say?’ Rose gestured wildly. ‘Well done?’
Selena’s hand shot up. ‘I second Weasley’s question.’
Lockett looked between the two girls. ‘Would you rather I clapped them in irons and dangled them over lava?’
‘You have lava somewhere in the castle? Awesome,’ mused Scorpius.
‘I don’t really care if Scorpius and Weasley want to get themselves killed; that’s their choice,’ said Selena disinterestedly. ‘I’m just saying: I got out of bed for this, and I really need eight hours of sleep a night or I get cranky.’
‘As opposed to your usual sunny disposition,’ said Scorpius. ‘We thought everyone should know.’
‘Great, great. We’ve got disgusting magical spider skin and found out Prometheus Thane’s absolutely fine with inflicting a whole school with a curse named after a river into hell, but shooting kids in the face? That would be too far.’ Selena got to her feet, tossing her hands in the air. ‘Wake me if we find something urgent. Not that we’ve got more horrid things to put in horrid potions and that we’ve found out our number one enemy wasn’t hugged enough as a child.’
She left the Great Hall and Scorpius arched an eyebrow. ‘Just think,’ he told the others, ‘this is her on four hours of sleep. Imagine what she’d be like on none.’
Rose looked at Lockett. ‘Are you really not angry, Professor?’
‘Oh, I’m furious.’ Lockett by now was over at the table with Methuselah, examining the samples, and sounded rather disinterested. ‘But you got out in one piece so I’m not about to lose sleep over what could have been. It was stupid as all hell and you could have died and then I’d have got it in the neck, which brings me to the crux of my irritation: tomorrow you get to tell your mother, Weasley, exactly what happened. And if either one of you seek to imply in any way that I'm responsible for not having you leashed so you couldn't do something this bone-headedly stupid, and she tries to blame me? I’ll have Harley stop the House Elves cleaning their own loos and reassign the job to you both.’
Rose lifted a hand to her temples. ‘Oh, God, Mum’s going to do her nut...’
‘You should have thought of that before you decided to risk your lives on an idiotic escapade. But these are some bloody good samples, Weasley; I’d be giving you a term’s worth of O’s for these.’ Lockett turned over a bit of shed exoskeleton, and Rose could feel Scorpius shuddering beside her. ‘I’m going to get down to the dungeons and begin brewing up some test batches immediately.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ said both Rose and Methuselah at once.
Lockett looked between them. ‘That’s a “yes” to Jones, a “no” to you, Weasley. You need sleep, and rest, and to give your report in the morning. We’ll worry about the rest then, including anything you learnt from Thane. But I’ll be happy to consider us even once these batches prove we needed these skins in the first place.’
She smiled again, and Rose couldn’t help but feel awkward at the impression Lockett cared more, right then, about proving her mother wrong than necessarily about brewing something up which could alleviate the suffering of Hogwarts’ afflicted students.
Lockett and Jones left in short order, leaving just the two of them with Albus, who rose awkwardly from his chair and glanced between them. ‘We... should get some sleep,’ he said, shoulders slumped. ‘Aunt Hermione’s going to be livid in the morning.’
‘Don’t remind me,’ sighed Rose, but she nodded, and the three of them trooped out the door and up the stairs, up to the corridor of guest bedrooms, in silence. Albus’ shoulders were tense, his brow furrowed, and though Rose hadn't been sure she wasn't imagining his stiffness, Scorpius was reacting to it too, staying quiet.
But Albus didn't say anything until they were just by the door to Scorpius' room, the first one they came to, and he straightened up. ‘Actually... can I speak to you both?’ He looked up and down the corridor as if Selena might jump out at them, then nodded into Scorpius’ room.
Rose tried to not look around too much as they walked in - but it wasn’t the sudden insight into Scorpius’ personal habits she’d expected it to be. Or, if it was, he was more fastidious than she’d have given him credit for; there was little of mess, save the trunk of Quidditch gear still open but looking like it was normally quite tidy, and the clothes he’d changed out of slung surprisingly neatly across the back of a chair. As a girl with a younger brother, who was thus no stranger to the habits of teenaged boys, she was surprised.
She had little time to consider this, however, as Albus closed the door behind them and turned. His brow remained furrowed, and he opened and closed his hands for long moments of awkward silence, fumbling for words, until finally he managed to stumble out, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
Scorpius sagged, running a hand through his hair. ‘Honestly, mate... I didn’t mean on telling anyone. I ran into Weasley on the way out, and she threatened to tell Lockett if I didn’t let her come with.’
Rose nodded guiltily. ‘It’s true.’
Her cousin’s eyes landed on her. ‘Then why didn’t you tell me?’
Her chin tilted up a fraction of an inch. ‘Really?’ she said. ‘I thought you’d tell us to not go, and tell Lockett if we tried to go anyway.’
‘I’d have been right to,’ muttered Albus.
‘Mate - are you pissed off with us because we didn’t ask you when you’d have come with us, or are you pissed off with us because we risked our necks doing something stupid?’ Scorpius asked.
‘Can’t it be both?’
‘A little bit, it just kind of hurts your righteous anger if you’re pissed off we thought you’d tell Lockett if you would have,’ was the wry answer.
Albus’ shoulders slumped again, and he kicked at the floor. ‘Just... if something had happened to you guys... I don’t know what I’d have done. I’d rather have stopped you or, if I couldn’t, have at least risked my neck with you both. Then I could have done something.’ His eyes met Scorpius’. ‘And this is the second time you went off and did something stupid and dangerous without me because you thought I’d stop you.’
Rose looked at her feet, suddenly feeling like an intruder as the two boys talked - and not for the first time, not when it came to matters of her cousin and his best friend.
‘In my defence, Al, you’re pretty smart,’ protested Scorpius. ‘You don’t do stupid things.’
‘I made friends with you, didn’t I?’ But Albus was wearing a small smile, and Scorpius grinned with relief, obviously taking this as forgiveness. 'I'm just glad you’re both all right.’
‘So are we,’ said Rose, and she relaxed a little as he turned his smile on her and it widened. ‘It got a bit hairy out there.’
‘Yeah, well. That’s what you get for going after a nest of giant spiders. Did you think it was going to be all fun and games?’ said Albus, voice going teasing.
‘Hey, that was the easy part,’ said Scorpius. ‘The hard part was not being murdered by a criminal mastermind. They don’t prepare you for that in Defence classes.’
‘They probably should.’ Albus looked at Rose. ‘Your Mum’s going to kill you tomorrow.’
‘I know.’ Rose made a face. ‘Though it’s nothing worse than what she used to do at school. And she doesn’t get to use the excuse of “greater good” any more. They were younger than us when they broke into the Ministry and fought Death Eaters!’
‘Parents specialise in hypocrisy,’ offered Scorpius, but his expression went flat the moment she threw him a curious glance, and she remembered his sudden fury the first time they’d been out in the Forbidden Forest when she’d made a comment about his family.
It was turning into an evening of realisations.
‘And you better get some sleep to face it.’ Albus suppressed a yawn. ‘I don’t know how you’re not asleep on your feet, I’m exhausted just hearing what happened to you.’
‘We found ways to keep ourselves awake,’ said Scorpius, and threw Rose a sideways glance that had her looking away abruptly and cursing her father from whom she’d inherited her ease at blushing.
Albus snorted. ‘Risk of death will do that, I guess. But I don’t have it to keep me up, so I’m going to turn in. Good night.’ He opened the door and hesitated there, glancing over his shoulder. When he spoke, he sounded neither as morose nor as tiredly cheerful as before, but rather quietly pleased. ‘I’m glad you two are getting on better,’ he said, and left.
Rose stared at the door until she heard the click of the latch, then whirled to face Scorpius. ‘Oh, Merlin, he knows.’
Scorpius lifted his hands. ‘He doesn’t. No way. His poker face isn’t that good. Take it easy.’
Rose scurried over to the door and put her ear to it. ‘He calmed down way too quickly,’ she said frantically, her mind already hard at work, in her worried and wearied state, in reconstructing the last minutes of the conversation to suit her panicked theory.
‘Did it occur to you it might have been my outstanding grace and charm that put him at ease?’
‘No,’ said Rose, turning around - and then stopping, back to the door, as she found Scorpius had crossed the room and was mere feet away. She swallowed hard, her throat abruptly dry, and despite the ache in her limbs from the sprinting and being Stunned and the long walk back to Hogwarts, her veins were fizzing as if she could do it all over again. ‘Don’t be silly.’
But her voice was hoarse, and he gave one of his over-the-top, lopsided smiles as he took another step forward. ‘Anyway,’ Scorpius murmured, ‘what’s there for him to know about?’
Her heart thudded in her chest enough to drown out all the protests racing through her mind at his proximity. ‘You know damn well what.’
He reached out a hand - and then rested it against the door beside her, leaning in, and she straightened, chin coming up half an inch. She wasn’t sure herself if the motion was defiant or inviting. ‘You might have to refresh my memory.’
Rose’s eyelids fluttered as she drew a deep breath. ‘If you’re trying to goad me, I made the first move once already.’
‘Oh no, Weasley. I know your self-control’s too good for me to get a rise out of you.’ He grinned, and it was a different grin to usual - not the easy smile, or the aggravating smirk that made her want to slap him. It was still obnoxious in a way which was wholly Scorpius, still over the top and eminently confident, but it was aimed directly at her, full of the assumption that he knew exactly what she was thinking and was entirely in control.
And for once, as his ice-blue eyes locked onto hers and the feeling was like an impact slamming her in the chest back against the door, she didn’t feel like proving him wrong just for the principle of it. She did feel like hexing him in the face, but Rose had to reluctantly concede that Scorpius was right: often, that was a pretty confusing feeling.
‘Damn you,’ she murmured, voice hoarse - then she’d grabbed him by the collar of his Quidditch uniform and was pulling his head down to hers, lips needy, touch ardent. Back by the forest she’d still been coming down from the adrenaline of their escape, had still been shocked into a certain numbness from his sudden grab for her, but that was faded now, and for the second time in as many moments she found herself conceding Scorpius Malfoy was right.
She was alive, and she wanted to feel like it. Not terrified for her life in the woods, or stressed while hard at work in the dungeons, or worried sick over her brother and friends. Something good. Invigorating. Him.
He had her pinned between his body and the door now, and she didn’t think she’d be able to stand of her own volition if she tried. One of her hands was buried in his hair, rumpling the wild mop even more if such a thing were possible; the other entangled in the laces at the front of his Quidditch uniform. His kiss was hungry, needy, but not the frantic fumble she’d had with some clumsy teenaged boys; he knew what he was doing, and the brief flash of jealousy and doubt that came with that thought was an unpleasant mix of a cocktail in her stomach.
She almost pulled back - then his hand slipped around to the small of her back to pull her closer, and she became infinitely aware of the thick, cushioned padding of his Quidditch uniform, and suddenly this was a far more pressing consideration. Her fingers fumbled with the laces at the front of his chestpiece, pulling them loose so she could push the uniform off his shoulders and so there was only a thin shirt between her fingertips and his skin -
Then he was pulling back, eyes wide, cheeks flushed. Her fingers fumbled with thin air for a second as he drew away so suddenly the tingling memory of him felt almost real. His chest was heaving, and his breath came ragged enough to make his voice hoarse. ‘Hector...’
Rose slumped against the door, pressing a hand against her temples. ‘I didn’t think it was like that between you two, but I suppose that does explain a lot,’ she managed to drawl. He looked so surprised at her answer - at him raising the serious point and her deflecting it with humour - that she couldn’t fight the relieved giggle she’d been trying to sit on.
Scorpius ran a hand through his hair, as if it needed to be made any messier. ‘I... what?’
‘I’m not an idiot, Malfoy, I have thought about this. I had a whole walk up to the castle where I didn’t want to think too hard about Lockett shouting at me,’ said Rose, amused at him being the flustered one for once. ‘I’ve only ever been realistic about Hector and me and our relationship. We’ve only been together four months, and that’s a pretty generous reckoning when you take into account I barely saw him over summer and then there’s been Phlegethon. It’s not like we’re married and it’s not like I ever saw it lasting and if I’m here with you that makes it clear... whatever happens, I guess it makes it clear that I don’t exactly want him, do I?’
Scorpius stared at her, boggled. ‘But he’s...’
‘Ill, now.’ Rose sighed. ‘And when he wakes up I’ll feel like a jerk for telling him, but he’ll be cured then and this situation will be behind us.’
He dropped his hands, defeated. ‘You got this figured out, don’t you.’
‘Apparently I’m good at that,’ said Rose. ‘But though tonight makes it pretty clear to me Hector and I are over, that doesn't actually tell me anything for sure about... you... and me...’ Now uncertainty did creep into her voice, and she wrung her hands together, for want of something to do with them.
‘I, um.’ Scorpius worked his jaw eloquently. ‘I guess we have to figure that out.’
‘I guess so.’ A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. ‘Just do me a favour? Can you... keep this under your hat for a day or so? I’d like to survive being mauled by Mum and helping Lockett out with the next stage of brewing before working out if anyone, like Al, gets told... anything. If there’s anything to tell them.’
‘Oh. Yeah, sure.’ He bobbed his head, gaze awkward. ‘And, er, sorry for... fussing then. About you and Hector. I should have known you knew what you were doing.’
‘Sometimes? I don’t. And it was sweet.’ Rose stepped in, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek, and gave a weary smile. ‘I should get some sleep.’
‘Same.’ Scorpius managed an uncertain, lopsided smile. ‘Maybe we can, er, talk again tomorrow. You know. Once all the mauling and brewing’s been done.’
‘Of course.’ Rose gave the faintest of nods. ‘I mean, tonight was crazy, with the running for our lives and all, so we don’t want to... you know... jump into things if we’re still a bit with the need for something “life-affirming”... right?’
‘Right.’ She nodded, and stepped back. ‘I’ll see you in the morning.’
‘Sure.’ His expression was rather morose as she turned to the door, but she was almost into the corridor and closing it behind her before he spoke again. ‘R- Weasley?’
She heard the stumble at her name and hesitated, glancing over her shoulder. ‘Malfoy?’
‘I...’ Then his voice trailed off, and he shoved his hands in his pockets, looking surprisingly small and tired now he wasn’t wearing the thick, padded Quidditch jerkin. ‘I’m not just being a jerk who’ll say in the morning this was a spur of the moment, near-death experience one-off thing,’ he told her left boot.
Rose gave him a smile she hoped he saw as encouraging. ‘I’ll see you in the morning, Malfoy,’ she said, and thought he began to return the grin as she closed the door behind her and headed down the corridor. She was exhausted, her limbs were aching from running and being Stunned, and she couldn’t help but feel a little sick at the thought of confronting her mother the next morning. And yet still Rose had to fight the urge to skip the distance down the corridor, to her room, and into a bed where for once the dreams that awaited her were more pleasant than strained.
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