I waited outside Henry's office with a horrible feeling of dread in my stomach. I wish I'd had the foresight to bring Matthew with me for moral support, but he hadn't arrived to work by the time I left so it was a choice between feeling nauseous while I waited for him or feeling nauseous at the Ministry. I had chosen the latter in the hope that this business would be over and done with sooner.
"Miss Weasley?" I looked up from staring at my shoe laces and saw Henry pop his head out of his office door. Not even the straight lines of his glasses could give me reassurance today. "Come in."
I wished he would stop calling me 'Miss Weasley'. That name could be attributed to any one of my many cousins, it really didn't feel particularly personal. I followed him into his office, noting the loudness of the 'click' of the door as it shut behind me.
"What's the damage?" I asked nervously.
Henry indicated for me to take a seat and I did so, waiting for him to sit down at his desk before he continued. "Mrs Flourish came to see me this morning."
"Linda? Boris's wife?" I frowned.
"Yes," Henry said with a nod. "She asked me to speak with you as soon as possible."
I licked my lips, which seemed very dry all of a sudden. "What about?"
Henry hesitated. I hated it when he did this; he really hated giving bad news, which had always made me wonder why he'd chosen to join the law profession in the first place.
"Come on, Henry, just tell me what the bad news is," I prompted.
He brushed his hand through his blonde hair, looking distinctly uneasy. "There are some new complications regarding Boris's will."
"Meaning that Linda's decision to sign the shop over to you might have been premature."
I frowned. "I don't understand. Boris died six months ago, I thought all of that was dealt with. Linda said there was no one else to inherit the shop other than her."
"That's the thing," Henry continued. "Boris's will had not been updated in a good ten years before he died. The will states that the shop should go to his brothers, providing they were both still alive."
"Boris had no relatives left," I said slowly. "Linda told me that herself."
"Yes, that's true, or so she thought," Henry said. "Both of Boris's brothers died before he did. It should have been as simple as that. Unfortunately, Boris's elder brother, Wallace, had an illegitimate daughter nobody knew about."
I rolled my eyes. "What is it with people and illegitimate children around here?" I muttered.
"Yes, well, that wouldn't have been an issue, except that she has stepped forward to contest Linda's right to give the shop to you."
Henry looked me straight in the eyes, seeming to transmit just how serious this matter was.
"Oh shit," was all I managed to say, the reality of this message finally sinking in. "Are you serious?"
I held my head in my arms and groaned. "What am I going to do?" I really definitely wasn't ready to face some horrible woman who had her claws out for my shop. What would she even know about running a bloody business anyway? Nobody knew Flourish and Blotts like I did; I had worked there for years, for God's sake.
"Until we meet with Miss Flourish in person, it's hard to tell. I don't know how hard she's willing to fight you for the shop."
"Damn it," I cursed. "I really could do without this right now."
Henry shrugged. "I'm sorry, Rose. As your lawyer, I would advise you not to see Mrs Flourish for a while. You don't want to undermine her testimony should it come to that."
I frowned. "Come to what?"
"She might take you to court over it," he told me.
"What?" I exclaimed. "I'm not going to court. My family really doesn't need the bad press."
"You might not have a choice," Henry insisted. "She has the right to contest your right to own the shop. That's not to say she'd win, however. You've worked for that shop for many years, and your experience might just count for more than her inheritance."
I massaged my temples. "This is a bloody nightmare. I can't lose my job, Henry, I just can't. And Matthew..."
Henry's hand found mine across the table. "Please don't worry," he said gently. "I made a promise to your mother when we were fighting that Lockhart chap that I wouldn't let anything bad happen, and that still stands today. If Miss Flourish wants a fight, she'll get it and we'll win."
I sighed, taking back my hand and rubbing my forehead. "You don't know that we'll win. If we lose, I'll lose everything."
"Let's wait until we meet her before we start panicking," he reprimanded. "She might be very nice about it once she meets you and sees how passionate you are about the business."
"Yeah," I conceded with another heavy sigh. "Right."
I left Henry's office with a heavy heart. Returning to the shop felt like an extremely unpleasant prospect at that particular moment. It took me longer to return that is should have done, but when I finally ambled through the shop door I felt like three of those unwanted boxes of stock had been slammed into my chest. What if my days of working here were numbered? If the shop took on a new owner, who was to say that I would get to keep my job? And even if I did still work here, there was no guarantee I'd be managing the place. Miss Flourish would no doubt want to tailor the shop and its work force to her own tastes.
I realised I was tearing up and tried to wipe my eyes and hide in the break room, where I found Boris practising his marshal arts in his portrait.
"What's the matter?" he asked when I interrupted him.
I sniffed. "Did you know your brother had a daughter?" I asked him in an accusatory tone.
"Who, Wendell? I always thought he was a bit of a player," he mused.
"No, not Wendell," I snapped. "Wallace."
"Really?" Boris asked, surprised. "He told me he'd been considering a sex change the last time we spoke."
"Well this was obviously before that," I said crossly. "Well anyway, his daughter now wants the shop thanks to your stupid will so I'm probably going to have to stop talking to you like this soon." I gestured between me and the portrait.
"What?" I turned around, seeing Matthew standing in the doorway.
My lip started to tremble when I saw him, though the weight on my shoulders seemed to lessen. "They're going to take the shop from us, Matthew," I said quietly. "They've found a loophole in the will."
Matthew sighed, stepping towards me and pulling me into his chest. I inhaled deeply, partly to stop myself losing all rationality and crying and partly to sniff the scent of his aftershave, something which probably was more comforting at that moment than it should have been. He kissed the top of my head, then I distinctly heard him hiss "thanks a lot, Boris," over my shoulder at Boris's portrait.
"It'll be okay," he assured me, looping his arms around my waist and leaning down to kiss me. "We'll be fine. We'll talk to this woman and tell her that she can bugger off. Nobody deserves this place more than you, she'll see that."
I gave him a wobbly smile, feeling a lot more convinced than I was before. "Yeah," I conceded. "I'm sure she'll understand."
Matthew kissed me again, before giving me a reassuring smile and wiping away the smudge of make-up under my eyes.
"Ugh," Boris complained from his portrait. "Excuse me, it's before the watershed. Go and take that smut elsewhere."
"Okay okay," I said, reluctantly stepping out of Matthew's reassuring arms. "We're going."
We headed upstairs to my office. I sagged into my seat, rubbing my eyes tiredly as Matthew slipped into the chair opposite me. It had been such a long day.
"I'm glad you're here," I told him tiredly, closing my eyes and leaning back into my chair. "I'm not really sure what to do with myself now."
"You don't have to do anything," he told me gently. "It might not amount to anything. Try not to worry."
"I do worry, though," I said with a sigh. "I can't help it."
"Yeah, I know," he said. "It just shows you care. It's not a bad thing."
I smiled to myself, though I knew he could see me. "I do care, I care a lot. Not just about this shop, either, but about our jobs - your job. And you."
I hoped he knew where I was going with this. Just in case he had said last night that he loved me, I didn't want him to think that I definitely didn't love him. Because whether or not I loved him, I definitely cared about him. And he cared about me, which I knew and wasn't intending on taking for granted. I already felt much less like the whole world was about to end now that he was with me. He really just made me a lot more mentally stable, which could only be a good thing.
"I know, Rosie," he replied. I heard his chair shift. I opened my eyes as he found his way over to me, kneeling so that he was eye level with me. "We're going to be fine, even if the worst does happen."
He kissed me again, presumably knowing that the only way to take my mind off my worries was to distract me. And hey, I was rather enjoying this particular distraction. His hand had found its way under my shirt before I came to my senses.
"Stop seducing your boss," I said with a smile as he reached my ribcage. "I'm not going to give you a promotion."
His lips paused on mine briefly. "Not even a raise?" he murmured.
My fingers traced the line of his jaw playfully. "That depends entirely on your... performance."
That caused him to laugh, his hand reluctantly withdrawing from my shirt as he pulled away. "You're so classy," he teased as I straightened out my shirt.
I grinned as I wiped my lipstick from his lips with my thumb. "Don't be rude," I scolded. "I've been waiting to use that line for days - I was quite proud of myself when I thought it up."
He laughed again, his own fingers tracing his lips where mine had been. "Oh, it's good, don't get me wrong. I hope it was worth the wait."
"It was," I assured him as he stood up and retreated for the door.
With Matthew gone and a promise to myself to not worry about this potential job loss thing, I flicked through my paperwork and settled in for a slow afternoon. In the office next door, I could hear Matthew taking books on and off the shelves. It was almost soothing to just listen to the noise, a very small distraction away from my thoughts. I didn't know what to do; it wasn't as though there was anything I could physically do to stop this from happening, not yet, anyway, so I had to continue my normal work as though nothing had happened. I was finding it impossible.
Every word I read on my files just reminded me that something bad was going to happen. Before long, I gave up even trying to distract myself and started writing angry letters to an imaginary Miss Flourish, involving many more swear words than I would ever say out loud. After a few attempts I gave up and chucked them all in the bin. I definitely couldn't risk anyone finding them. Luckily for me, I was the boss (for now) so I just decided to make a fake sales call that afternoon. Alan didn't need to know it was actually Scorpius I was going to see, but what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Matthew and I were always flitting in and out of the shop on various errands anyway.
Arriving at my destination, I rang the doorbell and waited outside in the blisteringly cold weather, snow sticking to my boots. Bloody Scotland.
"Rose?" Scorpius opened the door a crack and I saw he was wearing a balaclava. "What are you doing here?"
"Can I come in?" I asked, not waiting for a reply before I pushed him out of my way and slammed the door behind me. I turned to look at him. "What are you wearing?"
He shrugged, leading me into the kitchen. "It's cold."
"So light a fire," I suggested, gesturing towards the unused fireplace.
"I don't have any coal."
I rolled my eyes, digging my wand out of my pocket and flicking it in the direction of the grate, which burst into life instantly.
I frowned, noting his lack of enthusiasm. "What's the matter with you?"
"I got dumped," he muttered, rubbing his gloves hands over his wool-covered hair.
"What, by Clara?" He nodded mutely. "But I thought she was really into you. That balaclava was a brilliant Christmas present."
"She ran off with someone else from our knitting group," he informed me, his eyes welling up with tears. "They're moving to Wales."
"Wow," I said, appreciating that Scorpius was probably rather cut up over this and I needed to show appropriate support. "What a bitch."
He was properly crying now, his balaclava soaking up the tears as his lip quivered. I pulled him into a hug. "There there," I said, rubbing his back in what was hopefully a consoling manner.
"I love her," he said into my collarbone.
"I know," I said.
Damn, even Scorpius knew that he loved someone. Did he 'just know' like Molly?
"Scorpius," I began after he'd calmed down. "How do you know if you love someone?"
He wiped away his tears and finally took off his balaclava. "Well, didn't you love Teddy?"
"I thought I did," I mused. "But in hindsight, I think I just loved the idea of him."
Scorpius shrugged. "Well, you know that you didn't love him, so that must mean you know what you're looking for."
I shook my head. "That's the thing," I said. "I don't. I think I might love Matthew, but what if I'm wrong, like I was about Teddy? What if he's secretly having an affair with my sister and will get her pregnant?"
"You don't have a sister," he reminded me. We sat down on the rug in front of the fire and tried to get warm. "It's different with you and Matthew. You've been together for six months. Just like me and Clara were before..."
I cleared my throat loudly to distract him before he could go into details. "What if I do love him? What then?"
Scorpius didn't appear to have heard me. He was crying again, fat wet tears rolling down his cheeks at a vast rate of knots. I abandoned my quest to find out the true meaning of love and went to find the Scrabble board.
"Here," I said, laying out the board and handing him the back of letter tiles. "This should take your mind off her." I reached behind me and grabbed the bottle of firewhiskey Scorpius always kept beside the sofa.
"It's the middle of the working day," he said with a hiccup.
"Well as neither of us are at work, I don't think it matters," I said. I handed him the bottle and he proceeded to drink straight from the neck.
He hiccuped again as I made my first move.
"I think you and Matthew will be very happy together," he commented after a few more swigs from the bottle. "I look at you two and I see what Clara and I never could be. We weren't made for each other."
I rolled my eyes. "That's very sweet, Scorpius." If he kept on like that, I would need a bottle of alcohol of my own.
"I mean it," he said solemnly. "You're a good lover, Rose."
I blinked, my hands stalling as I went to put down my next letter. "Um," I began. "I'm not really sure you're in a position to comment on that."
"I just know it," he said with a shrug. "Want some firewhiskey?"
I accepted the bottle from him and took a swig. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," he said, looking down at his letters and frowning. "I envy you," he burst out after he placed down a three letter word. "You have everything and I have nothing. You're so lucky."
I blushed. "I don't have everything," I argued. "Molly has everything, and she has the ring to prove it." I drank from the bottle again.
"But you don't want that, do you?" Scorpius looked at me, or at least tried to, because he was getting a bit cross-eyed. "Don't settle down, Rose. You're too young. Just enjoy it while it lasts. Before you know it, he'll be asking for his tea cosy back and dumping you."
I sighed. "Matthew isn't going to dump me," I said patiently. "I'm not going to dump him. And neither of us has a tea cosy."
"Maybe not now," Scorpius continued, though I was unsure whether he was referring to the tea cosy or not. "But you will one day. Love never lasts, Rosie. Look at Teddy. You loved him. Victoire loved him. Now nobody loves him."
I noticed he'd taken the bottle of firewhiskey from me and I hastily removed it from his grasp and tucked it out of reach. I wondered how much he had been drinking before I'd got here.
"It's not like that with Matthew and me," I persisted. "I love him, but not the way I loved Teddy. I love Matthew for who he really is, not who I want him to be."
"Yeah, but he'll take that love and take your tea cosy until you have nothing, Rose." Scorpius leant back against the leg of an armchair and closed his eyes. "Let me tell you, having nothing sucks."
He stopped talking for a moment, before that moment became a good few minutes and I realised he was asleep. I gently wrapped my arm around him and hoisted him up, taking him as smoothly as I could to his bedroom and laying him on the bed. I tucked him in sadly, wondering if Clara had realised what she was doing to him when she left him like that.
"Sleep tight, Scorp," I whispered. For good measure, I took the bottle of firewhiskey with me and headed home. I didn't want him drinking himself stupid and doing something reckless when I wasn't there to help him.
I felt exhausted, and it wasn't even five o'clock yet. The flat was empty; presumably Molly had gone back to work after all. I curled up on the sofa and wrapped my arms around myself before I realised what I had said to Scorpius; I loved Matthew.
AN: There was too much cheese in this chapter for me, but I'll just blame it on moving to France and learn to live with it. I hope you're still enjoying and thank you for all your reviews! Marina.