Chapter 1 : in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me
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(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
e.e.cummings – somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
Rose came back last Wednesday night and I hadn’t been expecting her. I didn’t even know she could do that, I mean the idea never once occurred to me, although it should have, I guess. I’d just got back from some depressing little seaside town which smelled perpetually of salt, where there was a sting in every breath of air inhaled. The whole place smelled of grease as well from the residual sunscreen and steaming chip shops; it really clung to me, the grease, I could feel it in the air, pressing on my skin, making my face slick.
Anyway, I came back, Apparated to Diagon Alley. I was planning to drag my arse straight back to my old flat, the one me and Rose used to share, which had stood vacant for nearly a year now, but then I ran into Lily Luna, Rose’s redhead cousin, tottering down Diagon Alley in her ridiculous heels and micro-dress and lurid green robes.
Lily-Lou, as everyone called her, was already half-pissed even though it was still early evening; apparently there was an All Hallows’ Eve party in The Three Broomsticks, and she had started early, filling herself up with pre-party drinks at the Leaky. She was slightly dishevelled and her makeup was black round her eyes, like she’d shaded in with pencil, made the sockets more shadowy and sunken.
She let out quite a shriek when she saw me, “Oh my god, Malfoy! Now there’s someone lost and found!” and before I could say anything, she pretty much latched onto my forearm and Apparated us both to Hogsmeade, to the goddamned party and shoved me into the crowd. Half the wizarding world was there, getting pissed and heaving and grinding, laughing their loud putrid laughter. Everyone I didn’t want to meet was there, both Lily-Lou’s glowering brothers and a whole onslaught of cousins. Rose’s cousins, too, I suppose.
“You might have Splinched us, Apparating like that,” I yelled down Lily-Lou’s ear.
“Oh loosen up, for fuck’s sake.” She tried to clap my shoulder but missed and instead lurched forward as she swatted the air. “You’ve been gone for so long and you never bothered to write a word.”
She was right. I’d been gone a long time – a year, maybe. I lost count of the days. But anyway, after downing a couple of shots that soured my mouth and gave me a good whack to the skull, I managed to shake her off and Apparate away to my flat. I sat in the living room for a bit without turning on the light, feeling like shit.
That was when Rose came back. She was standing outside on the window ledge. God, she gave me a good scare. She was long and sort of brittle-looking, like a candle, with those same old curled-in shoulders, her back hunched because she'd been so tall – she was my height, exactly. Her neck was slanting at an awkward angle, maybe she was worried her head would scrape against the ledge of the floor above or something, though she really shouldn't have, because wouldn't it just pass through brick and tile like mist or water? And she was clear. See-through. It was like looking through glass gone fuzzy because someone had been fingerprinting on it. It was like looking through rain.
Rain with a hint of red.
Because somehow, even in her ghost form, despite her overall transparency and greyness, Rose’s hair still retained some vestige of its original scarlet colour. Not much of it, but enough to unsettle the hell out of me. As though the last trace and hue of her life had been caught in her knotty head, unable to leave her because she never brushed her hair properly. It was a bit windy outside, and her red ghost hair blew about, all dramatic, making her head look like a lit candlewick.
She didn’t look too pleased, standing out there in the wind, and she ran one pointy finger across the glass, prodding at where the window hasp was.
“Well?” she mouthed. “Are you going to let me in?”
I didn’t know what to say so I just did as she asked. The icy hasp bit into my palm like a tooth and the window slid up, creaking and unwilling, and in came Rose.
I thought I was hallucinating, maybe the drink was making things up in my head.
“Rose,” I said. “Rose fucking Weasley.”
Her hands folded across her chest. She was floating.
“Scorpius fucking Hyperion fucking Malfoy,” she retorted.
I hadn’t heard her voice for a whole year.
“Where’ve you been?” she asked, lips pursed. “I’ve been knocking all year.”
My throat was scaly with thirst. “Can’t you just fly in through the walls?”
“Why would I want to do that? You weren’t even here,” she said.
Her weightlessness was unnerving. There was so much space between her feet and the ground. She was looking down at me. We used to be the same height.
Rose went drifting about the room, examining – or pretending to examine– everything, the scuffed arms of the sofa, the flaccid cushions, the dust on the windowsill, the stained rug. The place was pretty bare, it’d always been like that.
She finally selected her seat: the windowsill, of course, after she’d made two complete circuits of our living room. Rose always liked to look out the window. I used to accuse her of pretending to be mysterious and removed, and in response, she would pull on a sort of cloud-eyed expression, tilt her nose to the sky and let out a deep, fake sigh.
“Tell me things,” she said. “You’ve been away for so long.”
I flopped onto the couch. There was a burnt patch on the seat next to me.
“Nothing particularly eventful happened.”
“Are you seeing someone else now?”
“You’re tipsy and it’s Halloween. You’ve been at a party.”
“I know you, Scorpius. You don’t go to Halloween parties. Especially not by yourself.”
My pulse was banging on the side of my skull. “I’m going to bed,” I announced loudly, to myself rather than to her. I got up and stumbled toward our bedroom. Rose would be gone as ever in the morning. I'd sleep her off.
She sighed, uncrossed her legs and drifted off her seat by the windowsill, following me. I’d kicked off my shoes when I came in, and I could feel her, a cool mist grazing the backs of my ankles.
“This wasn’t how I expected things between us.” Her voice sounded far away in the muck of my brain.
I threw myself onto the bed and shut my eyes and kept them that way for as long as I could hold until curiosity got to me and I opened them again. She was still there; in fact, she’d got into bed next to me. She exhaled deeply, as though she were really tired, and it was funny, because that puff of air from her mouth actually propelled her backwards a little, and she windmilled her arms a bit, looking alarmed.
"God. I'm still not used to this," she said. Then turning to me, with the tiniest hint of an accusation: "You've been travelling."
"If you mean going out and seeing the world then you're wrong." Of course she didn't mean that.
"You know what I mean," she said again. "Where've you been, then?"
I didn't want to tell her. Rose lay next to me, not actually touching the bed but hovering an inch above the sheets. I looked up at the ceiling. Cracks. Paint peeling. Same old ceiling. Used to stare at it all the time, when I got up in the morning, she and I, counting cracks, counting spaces between us. Stared up at it when she was straddling me, moving her strained hips over me, her narrow, pointy breasts jolting spastically. Sometimes I broke my gaze with the ceiling to look at her face, at her lowered eyelids gathering sweat, and her open mouth, pink slip of a tongue between her teeth, and I could tell that she was tired and she’d stop soon before either of us was finished.
"I needed a change of environment," I told her casually. And then to make myself sound less false, less sentimental, before she took my own words and waved them at my face, unthreaded them right by my teeth, I added, "It was just some boring Muggle place. Some shithole town by the sea."
She was impassive. "What was it called?"
"That 'shithole town'."
There was a sly curl at the corners of her mouth. I gritted my teeth. Wretch. I answered, "Shithole-on-Sea."
"Its real name, Scorpius."
"It's just some shithole village. Why are you so interested in that shithole? There's nothing there."
"It’s called Bixcroft, isn't it?"
"It is not called Bixcroft."
She was shaking. Heaving with laughter. Every sound she made, every breath she took in or blew out moved her whole body, sent her billowing like a sail, boneless, so much so that she nearly blew herself out of form. When she finally stopped, there was an enormous grin on her face.
"Funny, I never pegged you as the sentimental sort."
She got me as usual. Of course she did.
"Shut the fuck up, Rose."
I don’t remember when I met Rose. Which means I’ve always known her, I suppose, as far as memory goes. But logically, it must have been at school. There was nothing special about Rose. That must have been why we got on so well, if it can be considered that we even got on at all.
She kept away from her cousins. They accused her of being distant, pretending to be mysterious. I secretly agreed with them. She said I was the blandest person she’d ever met.
She was such a contrast to, say, Lily-Lou, who waltzed off the train in her first year, all swagger and swearing and later, she took up the habit of fluffing up her long red hair, as though she wanted it to be as frizzy and bushy as Rose’s, but both of them knew that Lily-Lou was just being mocking.
“Hiya cuz, hiya Scorpius,” Lily-Lou said to us once; she was coming from the opposite direction down the hallway, Quidditch broom swung over her shoulder, and before either of us could reply, she walked right between us, her shoulders nudging us apart and it seemed that she froze up for the tiniest second, like a human wedge stuck between Rose and I, and then time started again, and she was on her way. When Rose and I turned to glare at her, there was a smirk on her face, and she jiggled her broom at us. We both hated her.
“Oh, come on,” Rose was nearly choking, if indeed ghosts could choke. “I haven’t had a laugh for so long. It’s funny, you going to Bixcroft of all places.”
I got a bit annoyed and maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly, but all of a sudden I grasped the hem of the blanket, flung my arms into the air, and sent the cloth flapping upward. There was a sharp thwack of fabric before the blanket whooshed down gently onto the bed into a crumpled landscape of cloth mounds and trenches. Rose was thrown high up, her head and arms slipping through the ceiling among the cracks and flaking paint. She shot back down, glaring.
“What is the matter with you?”
She was real. She wasn’t going to go away.
“Rose,” I said slowly, “what are you doing here?”
The anger dissipated from her eyes, and her bottom lip slipped between her teeth. “I’ve chosen not to move on.”
“Does that – does that mean – ?”
She settled down beside me and I had to face her. She was really a ghost, a vapour. I studied her face. It looked like it was made from gauze. Her eyes were filmy and her lips and nose seemed to melt into her cheeks. The reddish swirls of hair tumbled down the sides of her face. She was nothing but air, insubstantial. And because she was so insubstantial, there was an invulnerability to her. I couldn’t touch her. Then again, I never could. She’d never allow me to, properly.
“There’s something in your hair,” I said. I peered at her head to take a closer look and she scowled.
I looked anyway. It was a handle of some sort, sticking out of the mess of curls. When I reached out to touch it, or perhaps extract it from the tangle, nothing happened. I passed through her. And then I realised what it was. It was the handle of her old hairbrush.
I remembered her yanking the hairbrush through her hair and how it caught in those red waves and wouldn’t come loose. She wrenched and shrieked and half-laughed because it was such a ridiculous situation, I suppose. I must have smiled a bit because she glanced back toward me, sitting at the edge of the bed.
“You try,” she said.
I gripped the wooden handle and tried to tease the brush free but it was stuck, the whole thing was part of a huge knot.
“Oh, come on, pull harder. It doesn’t hurt.”
I tugged harder and her scalp juddered toward me and her head docked in my chest. She yelped and I dropped the handle and it remained snagged in her hair. She didn’t pull away, she let her head lie against me and I briefly wondered if I should do something like run my fingers through her hair or perhaps clasp her shoulders and turn her around so we could face each other. But I froze up, did nothing and she let her head stay there for another few minutes before moving away.
The hairbrush snapped in the end. Along with a dozen other combs. That brush was a gift from her grandmother Molly, and it was supposed to be a precious one too, with a carving of a horse on the back, but Rose simply shrugged, got a pair of scissors and cut out the clump of hair with the stuck brush-head and binned the broken pieces.
When Rose and I got our flat together, none of our family were too happy. It was understandable. I never tried to be friendly to her whole clan of cousins, and she in turn didn’t bother to make an effort with my parents. Time and again, she turned down my mum’s invitations to dinner; I tried telling my mum that Rose wouldn’t come, but she still persisted. My dad on the other hand couldn’t care less.
“Our families,” Rose said sourly, “are as thick as blood clots, and just as asphyxiating.”
We chose a flat in the Muggle side of town. Muggle because it was easier. Also, it was further away from our families, which sometimes felt like half the wizarding world. The rent was alright, we managed, and though we lived among Muggles, we still did magic now and then in our flat. The electricity in the building was spotty, and all our Muggle neighbours made constant complaints to the apartment manager and Rose and I got a good laugh out of that. The building’s electrically-challenged reputation made the place rather unpopular and many of the tenants didn’t stay long.
One evening we lay in bed casting all sorts of trivial spells with our wands and the lights on several floors flared on and off throughout the night. They called electricians in the morning. We were asleep by then, so everything was in order.
“Isn’t this called Muggle-baiting?” Rose said. “Your dad might be pleased with you.”
Somehow that nettled me a bit. “I don’t think he’s like that.”
She got out of bed and walked to the mirror and tried to smooth down her hair. She was wearing a long shirt and knickers. When she locked her fingers together and stretched, her shirt glided up her bum, revealing that curve of flesh, which her knickers didn’t cover fully. We didn’t have sex the previous night.
“I’m sorry,” she said, studying her eyebags and the cut of her nose. “That wasn’t very nice of me.”
My father was, of course the talk of the post-war. All the Malfoys were. I suppose if I’d been paying attention, I would have caught some reference to my own name, even if I was born outside of the damned war. But I’d been too busy trying hard not to pay attention. I sometimes walked through school casting a Charm around my own ears so I could only hear buzzing instead of other people’s conversations. Rose never found out; she would’ve had a ball with that one.
She turned to face me. “Are you pissed-off that I said that about your father?”
I shrugged. “No big deal.”
“You’re not sentimental? You’re not that attached to your family?”
“What’re you getting at?”
“You have a lot of photographs of them.” There was a slight smile on her face. I couldn’t tell if it was a mild taunt or something else. “I’ve seen them.”
I went to her house for dinner once; her parents invited us over. We’d just moved into our flat and I suppose her family were trying to get to know me better – welcome me to the clan or whatever. I expected Rose to refuse, but she said yes, and she forced me to come along. It was a bloody uncomfortable get-together, her dad shooting glares at me which mutated into grimaces, her mother asking everyone in a shrill voice to pass things around even nobody actually wanted anything. For some reason Lily-Lou was there, and for once I was glad. She talked and talked throughout dinner, throwing her arms round Rose and squeezing her shoulders time to time, before finally getting up and walking over to Hugo sitting next to me.
“Swap seats,” she told him, “go sit with your sister so I can talk to Scorpius.”
Hugo shrugged and got up and left and then it was Lily-Lou next to me, prattling on and on about her boring as hell job at the Ministry and all her co-worker scandals, throwing her arm round me and thumping me on the back every few minutes. One time she gave me a pretty hard smack and I choked on the water I was drinking and a lot of it spilt down the front of my shirt. Rose’s dad snorted and pretended to cough. Her mum got all flustered, asking everyone to pass the box of tissues, more napkins, the tea towels, the lace doilies, the whatever-the-fuck.
When dinner was done, I excused myself and went to the bathroom. Rose knocked on the door; I recognised the sharp cadence of her knocks which almost never varied, so I opened and she stormed in and shut the door behind her, looking real pissed-off.
“Thank you for this wonderful experience,” I said.
She ignored me. She studied her reflection in the mirror, looking right through her eyes and possibly admiring how tight the corners were in her anger.
Then she whirled about and announced, dramatically, “You know what? Let’s fuck. Here. Right now.”
“That will serve the whole lot of them right.”
“Here – we never – I don’t know if I can.”
In response, she twisted her fingers into my hair and tugged hard and kissed me. Really stunned the hell out of me, too, because Rose. Rose hated kissing. I kissed her back and tried to lift her up, swing my arm round the backs of her thighs and hoist her bum to the edge of the sink, I could feel her legs clamping around my waist. I couldn’t lift her properly, maybe I was too nervous or something, thinking of her whole family listening outside with outrage on their faces, preparing to blast the door open – Rose would laugh, yes she would, they were her family after all, and she always laughed at anyone who got angry at her. But I wouldn’t know what to do with myself – the thought of it made me queasy, being caught with my pants round my ankles, my bare arse facing her livid dad, her flustered mum, a smirking Lily-Lou, the rest of the family.
I suppose I was too engrossed in my own thoughts because somehow without realising, I lifted Rose up and shoved her over the sink – too far back, in fact. Her bum slipped off the edge and into the bowl of the sink and her legs kicked upward and the back of her skull clanged against the mirror.
“Oh god, I’m sorry. Shit.”
She rubbed her head, leapt off and pulled her dress down. “Fucking hell, Scorpius.”
“I – sorry. You okay?”
We went downstairs. Lily-Lou was sprawled on the couch waiting. When she saw us, she smiled in this lazy way, eyebrow curving into her fringe and she ran her hand through her hair, fluffing it up and Rose crossed her arms, sat as far away as she could from her cousin, and folded her legs under her.
“Where’ve you two been?” Lily-Lou said.
When I woke up the next morning, my headache was nearly gone. Rose, on the other hand, was not.
I turned to lie on my back and found her floating an inch above me and I yelled and jerked and my head banged into the headboard.
“You snore just as much as ever,” she sniffed. In the sunlight, her translucent body was suffused with faint warm yellow. “I heard you all night. Also, your breath is foul.”
“Oh,” I said with some vindictiveness, “you’re real after all.”
“Course I am. What are we going to do today?”
“I’m going back to the Ministry,” I muttered. I’d been AWOL. I needed to get back to work, to stop secretly owling my mum to send me money, in exchange of countless promises that I’d be back soon, that I’d visit her on Christmas or next Sunday or so.
Rose seemed displeased at the idea of having to stay alone in the flat.
“You could visit your family?” I suggested. “Do they know that you’re, er, around?”
She snorted. “I’ll wait here. For you.” She sped off in a rush of air toward the kitchen, disappearing into the wall cabinet where we kept all our plates. There was no food in the flat, and I nearly choked on the dust that had collected in the kitchen during my absence. There were dirty dishes in the sink, crusted with mould from one year ago.
I Apparated to the Ministry. I used to work in the Portkey Office on Level Six but I’d left after the funeral, not that I told anyone, I just didn’t think I could go back to our dreary empty flat and face all that space, the dishes festering in the kitchen because Rose and I had been in the middle of a week-long refusal game before she went and carked it.
The whole Department of Magical Transportation was staring at me, least it felt that way, when I got off the lifts and made my slow walk to the Portkey Office. During my absence, Quotidius Quarkley, my old boss and the Head of the Department, had sent me a series of owls demanding my whereabouts and a written application for leave, but I never replied to any of them.
Understandably, Quarkley wasn’t pleased to see me, told me he didn’t need an extra person in Portkeys, told me that my attitude was “downright rotten” and told me perhaps I ought to try Magical Maintenance instead, seeing as I had the right qualifications in Charms and all. Prat. I didn’t want to do Magical Maintenance.
I took the lift to the Atrium. Ministry workers bustled past. For a moment there, I wondered how on earth I could ever have tolerated this place. It was such a restless place with all the people swarming about. The Floo entrances kept flaring into bursts of green flame and smoke, there were continuous cracks of Apparition and there were memos and scarlet Howlers and owls zooming at everyone’s ears. I decided to go home.
“Well, fancy seeing you here stopping up all the traffic as usual,” someone said and I spun round to face Lily-Lou with her heavy make-up and her orange-red hair combed straight down the shoulders, over her black Ministry robes. Her eyes glinted in their dark, shadowed pockets.
“I’m just –,”
“Looking for your old job? Yeah, no chance of that, mate,” she teased. Her forehead puckered into a frown. “You alright, Scorpius?”
“Not haunted by ghosts or the past or any of that shit now, are you?”
How the hell did she know?
She laughed at my expression. “Oh, don’t take everything so seriously. I’m with the Spirit Division now, I liaise with ghosts, and to me, half the people at the Ministry look like they’re spooked or something. The other half look like a pack of fucking zombies.” She began curling a strand of hair around the tip of her wand. “Must be something about the monotony of daily life or whatever.”
“Tell you what, let’s meet up for a coffee later, when I get off from work.”
“I’m heading home now.”
“Oh c’mon. You’ve got nothing to do anyway. You can’t be like this forever. Besides, I know people in the Ministry. I’m good with them, you know. Unlike you or Rose. I can help you get a job.”
I suppose she was right about having nothing better to do, anyway. I could go home to my static dusty flat and face a ghost. I could go and visit my parents. Or I could stall.
We didn’t have coffee as she suggested; rather, she pulled me off to the Leaky and insisted she buy me a drink.
“So how’re you coping with everything?” she asked as she tipped the contents of her glass down her throat. She looked very striking, sitting there in the pub with her pouchy eyes and long straight red hair. A couple of blokes down the counter were eyeing her but she didn’t seem to notice. She sat facing forward, at the display of whisky bottles behind the counter, and when she spoke, it was out of the corner of her mouth, never looking directly at me.
“Not too bad.”
“You still think about Rose a lot?” Lily-Lou asked bluntly. There was a hint of disbelief in the way she spoke.
I wondered if I should tell her. After all she was Rose’s cousin. Who happened to work in the Spirit Division at the Ministry.
“It’s like – she’s still around,” I said.
Lily-Lou lifted her second glass to her lips. Her fingernails glittered, hard burgundy slates on the glass.
“You and Rose,” she said in between gulps, “were always such an alien couple.”
“Don’t know what you mean by that.”
“You and her, stuck to each other like warts since schooldays. I’ll always remember you two sitting on the Quidditch stands looking down at everyone from above, and everyone looking up to watch the game. Pair of fucking fruitcakes, you two. Aliens. You know.”
Lily-Lou turned to face me fully. She leaned forward so far that she had to put a hand on my knee to support herself, and the pressure of her palm against my leg was taut, challenging. I shrugged, trying to look all normal but I suppose I was beginning to flush. She smirked. Her teeth were small and neat. Rose’s teeth were large and three of them were crooked and overlapping but she refused to do anything about them. Something about her mother, and about her grandparents being dentists.
“You know, you could always offer to buy me the next drink and I might consider accepting,” Lily-Lou said, grinning and god, I stared into her green Potter eyes for a full five seconds, swallowing hard, and just when I’d finally made up my mind to pull away, mumble some apologetic crap, she drew back, as if sensing my intentions, and continued, “though ultimately I will have to refuse you because I have an appointment with my new boyfriend.”
“I see,” I said.
Without waiting for me to ask, she rambled on. “Former Puddlemere United player, very tall, good-looking I suppose – Ambrosius Armstrong, heard of him? I’ve been seeing him for a week now.” She put her glass down on the counter with a firm clink and hopped off her stool.
Just before she left, she looked at me hard and said, “I’m sorry about Rose. Really I am. But you’re lucky, Scorpius. You have the rest of your life. You might want to consider it properly."
Bixcroft was the name of the town that Rose and I went to one year, late in autumn.
We talked about travelling sometimes. Rose taped pictures to the walls, all of them of the Eiffel Tower cut from newspapers, magazines, travel books – some of them were postcards. The Eiffel Tower in sepia, the Eiffel Tower in black and white, the Eiffel Tower decked out in gold lights, the Eiffel Tower propped against the sunset. But Rose didn’t really want to go to France.
“Look at that place,” she pointed and laughed at the wall of Eiffel Towers, and from where I was standing, they looked like glittering steel needles. “I can’t believe Dominique never shuts up about how grand the thing is. It looks like a giant skeleton.”
I myself sprinkled the wall with a few pictures, mostly of kangaroos and Ayers Rock, and one of a Muggle satellite picture of the Australian continent, which was roughly the same shape and colour as the water stain on our living room ceiling. She pinned more Eiffel Tower postcards over those.
In the end, we decided to take a weekend off and go to Bixcroft. I wasn’t sure how on earth we decided on such a place, none of us even knew it existed before we went there. It was a town by the sea and to me it felt like the end of the world. I didn’t like the sea, the way it kept on going, never stood still, all those tides washing in and out, beating against the breakwater with the white lighthouse at the end, like a stump of chalk. When the tide receded, it went so far out that the shore looked naked and squelchy and pockmarked; we stood on the seafront, leaning against the railing and looked at the flat expanse of mud for hours.
“I like this place,” Rose declared, as though she could sense my discomfort.
“I like it, too,” I lied.
I took a deep breath as though I was supposed to be savouring the clean sea air or whatever. My eyes watered from the salt bite at the back of my throat. The skies were dull and clouded, like seagull feathers.
Outside the town was the ruin of an old Roman fort, according to the tourist pamphlet, which was titled, Explore Bixcroft: Historical Seaside Town! We walked to the fort, trudging through the damp country lanes and into the damp fields. Rose walked on the low brick walls, went up and down rough stone steps leading to nowhere, climbed to the top of a nearby hill and hollered down at me: SCOOOOORPIUUUUUSSSSSS!!!
Her voice was tiny, a filament of sound winding down the hills, stretched thin by all that space between her and I, the space of the whole damned country.
At night, we lay in the bed of the shoddy bed-and-breakfast we were staying at. We didn’t have sex again. She leaned her head on my shoulder and said nothing. The wind picked up outside, tugging at the shingles on the roof, and hollering through the deserted streets. The waves smashed against the seawall. We didn’t sleep much and we talked even less for the remainder of that short trip. The wind sort of clattered through us. There was no point talking; we wouldn’t be able to hear each other, it left us without breath, coloured in all our speechlessnesses.
In the morning, a fishing boat was beached against the muddy shore and the local paper was shouting in bold print, and people were gathered at the shore, pulling their coats close to their bodies. Rose and I went somewhere quieter, to the chip shop at the end of the street though we didn’t get any food. I insisted we didn’t, because I hated the smell of the grease.
“It will get into your hair,” I told her mercilessly, “and then you’ll smell of it for weeks.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Fine.”
She walked in front of me. I saw her receding form, not bothering to wait, her hair flapping like an injured wing in the wind, she grew smaller and smaller as though she were becoming a little girl, shrinking, and I found it strange because she’d always been my height, and to see her grow downward and thin and diminish…I ran after her.
There was a Muggle wind farm in the distance offshore and we watched it for awhile, the huge white turbines dragging their blades through the air in dense circles.
“They capture the wind,” Rose said, touching the tourist pamphlet in her pocket. I looked at those blades, trying to see them catching wind, ravelling up thick streamers of wind.
She continued, “You know, I’m tired of this trip.” And she looked it as well. Her eyes were murky with lack of sleep, and her shoulders, hunched. There were small crinkles in her forehead from continuous frowning or maybe the salt had dried her skin out. “I want to go home today.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I told her stiffly. But I really meant it. It was beginning to feel peaceful to me, at least now that it was low tide and the sea was a grey strip and a white bar in the distance. “We can go tonight.”
She put her arms round my neck, and I felt the cold interlock of her fingers, digging beneath my collar. I pulled her into a rough sort of hug and at first it felt difficult, like everything we did, but then she softened a bit, her hands got a little warmer. I put my own fingers through her hair, trying to comb through the tangles but they got stuck as usual in the red coils and kinks, and we both snickered a bit at that.
In the distance, the turbines kept turning, turning like huge ancient clocks, counting time in circles.
Rose hardly left the flat. She could, but she didn’t want to. It might’ve had something to do with ghosts being attached to their haunting locations. But then again, even when she was alive, she rarely went out. I was becoming used to her presence in the flat; truth be told, it was beginning to feel a bit normal, a bit like our old life again.
“Where were you when I wasn’t here?” I asked. She was reading through a pile of old Daily Prophet newspapers, sniffing at how dull the news was.
“You mean when you were at Bixcroft?” she replied, slyly.
“I mean whatever.”
“Drifting around, I dunno. It’s quite nice, I get to see everything and nobody sees me.” She giggled. “You know the bloke who lives on the floor above? He’s sort of tall and good-looking and wears plaid shirts. Collects awful pottery.”
“I’m glad you found yourself a new hobby.”
“I’d die of boredom waiting for you to join me. ”
I didn’t say anything and she didn’t elaborate. I started to clean our flat a bit, the kitchen, the dust, the year-old crusted dishes.
“What’s death like?” I asked.
She was hovering near the ceiling, looking distastefully at the dust on the top shelf of the kitchen. “Well, nothing like you’ve experienced before.”
“I can’t explain it. There’s a choice at the end, not something that someone asks you; you sort of know that you must choose something. To go on or not.” She sucked at the insides of her cheeks, hollowing out her face. “I was indecisive. I might have dithered a moment too long, who knows. Anyway, not choosing is also a choice, maybe that’s why I’m here.”
“You’re going to be here a pretty long time,” I pointed out.
She screwed up her face as though trying to imagine. “It’s not so bad. Look what I can do.” She turned a cartwheel in the air and then she floated upside down, her hair like a cloud around her head. The handle of the hairbrush was still stuck in her head, and for a moment it looked like a lever of some sort, something that I could turn round and round, making her whole body spin in accord, if only I could get a hold of her.
Someone rapped on the door and Rose flipped back to her normal orientation. We didn’t get visitors often. We stared at each other a moment, as though trying to telepathically nudge each other into answering the door before I went to open and she slipped into the nearest wall. Lily-Lou was standing outside, right next to the doorframe, hands in pockets, leaning against the wall, just outside my line of vision.
“Oh, hello, Scorpius.” She peeled away from the wall and stepped in before I could invite her and dropped her bag onto the couch. “Look at how you’ve been living.”
I got a bit nervous, then. I hadn't told Rose that I'd gone for a drink with Lily-Lou the other day. She wouldn't have been pleased; after all, since coming back from death, she hadn't even gone to visit her family once. “What are you doing here, Lily-Lou?”
“Checking up on you, of course. Good thing I came. You’ve been living like a wreck.”
“I’m cleaning now.”
Lily-Lou raised one of her stiff, arthritic eyebrows at me and the wand in my hand, and looked again at the flat, still covered in dust.
She sighed, drew her own wand from her robes and with a broad swipe of her arm, siphoned away most of the dust, which jumped off all the surfaces of the room into a large grey puff before vanishing. "This is cleaning."
"Thank you." I glanced around. No sign of Rose. No doubt she was sitting somewhere in the walls, listening hard.
"Good news, Scorpius," Lily-Lou yawned. There was the faint tang of Firewhiskey in her breath. Lily-Lou drank at all times of the day. "I've got you a different job at the Ministry. And you don't even have to see that old geezer Quarkley again."
"If you mean Magical Maintenance -,"
"Of course I don't. Look, I had a chat with Septimus Spektor who heads the Spirit Division, and he agreed with me that we do need an extra worker and so I mentioned you and Spektor is willing to give you a shot."
She looked at me expectantly and I gave a forced sort of laugh. "So – I'll be working in the same Division as you, then?"
"Can't promise that the work will be really stimulating – I mean there's a shitload of parchmentwork and ghosts are a really dull bunch, always wailing about what shitty lives they lead and how miserable their existences are, but hey, it's better than Magical Maintenance or any post under Quarkley."
A strong gust of wind swept through the room, and a pile of old Daily Prophet newspapers in the corner leapt up and flapped in the air like an angry flock of birds. Lily-Lou looked around, startled.
"Left a window open," I grunted. Stupid thing to say. The windows were right behind Lily-Lou, and they were shut tight. Rose made sure they were sealed, because air movement of any kind irritated her, affected her flight abilities, according to her.
Lily-Lou shrugged. "What do you think?"
If Rose hadn't been listening, I'd have accepted the job right away. Lily-Lou might have been one annoying bint, who sometimes scared the shit out of me, but I needed work, good old-fashioned sitting in a cramped cubicle and sifting through piles of parchment. But Rose was there. I could feel the edge of her anger emanating from the walls, I knew her well enough.
I hesitated. Lily-Lou's patience slipped a little. "Oh for goodness' sake, Scorpius, it's a job and you need one. How hard can it be?"
"I'll consider it." I gritted my teeth. "Really, I will. Look I'm a bit busy today, I'll talk to you another time if it's alright with you."
She came right up to my face, and I sort of flinched, I was pretty sure she was going to grab me by my collar and shake me, she looked so bloody exasperated. "Rose died a year ago. You took the whole year off to mourn or whatever. Okay, fine. But haven’t you taken long enough? She’s gone. And you're still here. If you need to go for fucking grief therapy or whatever then just do it." She jerked her head toward the empty living room. "Just, stop sitting around and sucking in dust like a bloody vacuum cleaner."
"Muggle thing my dad mentioned. Dust sucker-upper." Lily-Lou picked up her bag from the couch. "I see that you aren't going to ask me to sit down and have a cuppa. That's okay, I don't want to ruin whatever precious bond you and Rose had, or god forbid, still have." She sighed. "Shame, you and her. Always lived in your own little fruitcake world. Perfect fucking fruitcake couple."
Behind Lily-Lou, a chair suddenly jumped from its place and began to swing toward her head. It was a heavy chair, made of ebony, one which neither Rose nor I ever sat upon ever since we got this flat. I lashed my wand out so suddenly that Lily-Lou's eyes widened in alarm. She probably thought I was attacking her or something. The chair exploded in mid-air, in a burst of wooden shrapnel. A shard of chair leg brushed past Lily-Lou's face, opening up her cheek. If I hadn't stopped it, it would've clobbered her pretty hard over the head, probably concussed her or something.
But that was not how Lily-Lou saw it. She reached up to touch the cut on her face, examined the trickle of red on her fingertips.
"Are you alright?" I asked shakily, keeping an eye out for more flying furniture. "The chair just - it just - ,"
"No," she said slowly, "it was you. Funny, I thought that was something that Rose was more likely to do rather than you."
She wrenched open the door. "Don't bother. I can help myself. Unlike you, Scorpius."
The door slammed. I sat down on the couch and rubbed at my face with my hands. Rose didn’t come out. She, too, had left.
The only time I saw the whole of Rose’s family was during her funeral. There was the cemetery. That pale headstone, that rectangular hole dug in the ground, the open coffin next to it. Her mother whose face looked crumpled and shrunken, whose hair was greying along the scalp. Her dad who didn't look any better. He didn't even seem to notice me there. Actually nobody paid me much attention, maybe they wanted to ignore the fact that I was the one who saw the most of Rose during her last years of life, that she hardly ever saw the rest, probably didn't even bother to answer their letters.
All her cousins, a whole red-eyed parade. There were flowers. Roses, but not red ones or white ones, because nobody wanted to be obvious and overly sentimental. But still, roses.
They'd packed her neatly in that satin-lined deadbox. I kissed her cold cheeks before they brought the lid down on her. I’d felt stupid kissing her dead face and when I pulled away from the body, I thought I could see my two mechanical kisses still sitting on her flesh, wet marks, the saliva thickening into crusty stains refusing to be absorbed by the stiff skin. Always a difficult girl to touch, Rose Weasley, even in death. How easily tickled she was, and god, how she writhed all the time, giggled and slapped my hands and told me to stop it, do it properly or don’t do it at all, for fuck’s sake. But really, it was all her damn fault. Once, I’d slipped my hands under her shirt and along her hips and ran them up where her body dented into her waist and she shrieked and wouldn’t stop laughing and jerked so far away from me that she tumbled off the side of the bed in a twist of sheets.
"Rose." I was breathing heavily. "I'm trying to -,"
“–fuck me?” she finished, trying to scowl, but still, the stupid giggling came slipping through the cracks between her clenched teeth.
“Sorry, I thought you wanted to.”
“Well, not anymore.”
I glared at her. “You’re a complete prude.”
“And you’re a – stiffie.” Her eyes lit up at the implication. She jumped up, made a grab at my crotch and I yelled and then it was my turn to fall backward off the bed and she laughed even harder. “Stiffie, stiffie!”
Lying there in the coffin, Rose was wearing a white dress and although it looked lovely on her, she didn’t look quite so charming in it. If anything, she looked stony and her hair was limp and flat, all the ghastly curls had been brushed quite thoroughly and they lay flaccidly down her shoulders. I remember wishing if only someone had given her a haircut before her funeral. Her arms were laid over her waist, hands clutched together and fingers locked together, like a belt buckle.
After I kissed her, I put my hand over her frigid ones and whispered in her ear, “You’re the stiffie.”
Then I left.
"Someone's got a new job," Rose chanted in a sing-song manner that almost reminded me of Peeves. "In the Spirit Division. Isn't it so coincidental?"
"I haven't. Thanks to you."
I would never approach Lily-Lou now. Not after what Rose did to her. Lily-Lou wouldn't believe that I had done nothing unless Rose herself popped up and showed herself and that hardly seemed likely.
Rose settled down on the couch. Next to her was the burn mark on the cushion. That was where she had set fire to all her Eiffel Tower cut-outs.
"Ugly things," she'd said, as their corners scrolled and warped and seemed to consume themselves, and smoke rose up to the ceiling, setting off the building fire alarm. She uttered a lazy Silencio at the alarm and Vanished the smoke, and when the Muggle building manager came knocking, we merely shrugged and said the alarm went off by itself, must be a blip in the system, wouldn't be surprising given the faulty electrics of the place, anyway.
"Rose," I said. I didn't sit next to her on the couch like I normally would've done. "What are we going to do?"
"Well, you have got a fine life ahead of you," she said mockingly. For a moment the scarlet of her hair seemed to glow. And then nothing, a trick of light. "Lily-Lou fancies you, I see."
"Nah. She's got a boyfriend. Tall, dark handsome Quidditch player. Armstrong something."
"Oh, don't be so stupid, Scorpius."
"You went too far, Rose."
"She deserved it. But I suppose you’re right. I ought to apologise."
She zoomed around the room a bit, flew straight at me and I ducked, though I really didn't have to. Again, she reminded me of Peeves. Maybe she would become like Peeves, a poltergeist, especially after that furniture-chucking stunt. She could go to Hogwarts perhaps, she could stay there.
"I'm bored, Scorpius," she said. "I can't wait until you join me. Are you going to join me?"
I didn't want to think of it. If what the books said about ghosts was true, then she could never go further. Trapped in an imprint of her life, our life, our pathetic fucking cut-off life, fumbling at each other, playing with electricity and listening to the wind spitting through the spaces between us. Would moving on be a better option? Going beyond.
"I'm sorry, Rose," I said, "but I really have no clue. I can't even think."
"Yeah, yeah, I understand." But she looked a bit upset. "I was like you, too. I couldn't even think of what to do, not even when the choices were right in front of me and I was staring at them, willing them to go away, to not give me the chance to choose.”
She ceased her aimless buzzing around and floated beside me, holding out a silvery hand. I tried to close my fingers over hers. Her translucent hand disappeared into my opaque flesh and we looked at each other. She was smiling wryly.
"I suppose you must think me really insubstantial. Like air, like nothing."
"You are a ghost."
"Well, to me it feels like you and all the rest of the world are feeble, intangible. All of you are the nothings, the air. You pass through me like smoke. You’re all not real. Imagine that."
I tightened my fingers together. My own nails burrowed into my palm.
She moved away, wafted down to the windowsill and turned her back to me. The hazy afternoon light streamed over her, staining her with gold and the pigment in her hair seemed more vivid than ever. I went and stood next to her, wanting to see what it was that she always looked for all those times she'd sat at this very spot, staring outside.
But I could see nothing. The glass was dirty and the light was far, far too bright. I blinked and saw white and yellow. Faint shapes. I imagined Rose and that moment of her life, that choice that she had to face, the headlights of the Muggle car shining right in her eyes, lighting up her irises and pupils and the long sleepless hollows behind them. Lighting up all the dark tunnels winding through her body all the way down to her toes so her insides were filled with it, that awful radiance. Maybe. I looked into Rose’s eyes now and they were silvery. I thought I saw a trick of colour in them. I thought I saw time, spinning slow and slow and slow, like the wind farm in Bixcroft. I thought I saw the turbines turning in her eyes. And then the brightness began to clear, and the outside world grew black and sharp.
I turned away from Rose. The window glass seemed a bit cleaner than before.
Without looking at me, she said, “I wish I could touch you.”
A/N: Well, here we have it: another rambling oneshot. :P This was originally written for the Poetry Inspired Challenge on the forums, but I never found the time to finish it before the deadline. I managed to complete the first draft of the story during an eleven hour plane journey. I was assigned the poem by e.e.cummings, somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond. The title of this story as well as the chapter tile are taken from the poem. Also, this marks my first foray into writing Next Gen.
Thank you for reading to the end; I hope you’ve enjoyed this!
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