Chapter 1 : Waltz
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One, two, three. One, two, three.
Her heart keeps beat in three-quarter time.
One, two, three.
Her hands feel unclean, though she's only just washed them, washed them, and washed them again.
One, two, three.
Wash them again, Rose.
She does. Once. Twice. Three times.
"Clean, clean, clean," she whispers to herself, trying to ignore the smudge on the mirror she is now looking into. It is impossible to resist the urge, to fight the anxiety that creeps into her now twitching fingers as she stares unblinkingly at that miniscule mark. It should mean nothing to her, and yet it means everything. And so she heaves a defeated sigh and reaches for one, two, three paper towels before she scrubs, scrubs, scrubs. When the smudge is finally gone, Rose washes her hands again and again and again.
One, two, three.
Much better, she thinks, straightening her robes and smoothing out the fabric. Her narrowed eyes scan over every inch of her body, inspecting for even the tiniest of imperfections: a bit of fuzz on her right sock, a loose thread below her left elbow, a strand of frizzy red hair resting mockingly on her skirt; hair that is curled and kinked and bent in the most cringe-worthy of ways, unable to be tamed or restrained or fixed. She can control everything else in her life, but her damn unruly hair.
When she's as satisfied as is possible with the state of her being, Rose exits the bathroom and moves on to her next routine.
She crosses with determined purpose to her section of the shared dormitory, coming to a halt as she reaches the far corner of her already made bed, bed, bed. Making sure that the heels of her feet are lined up directly with the far left bedpost, Rose adjusts the angles of her spotless shoes until they are exactly parallel to one another. The details must not go overlooked, no matter how arbitrary each may seem. Once settled, she brings her right hand up to just below eye level and stares at the watch on her pale, freckled wrist. She waits, waits, waits, watching as the second hand ticks closer, closer, closer; her concentration unwavering as she tries to keep both still and silent.
Four minutes remain.
Now only three.
She fights the impulse for as long as can be managed, knowing how very much her dorm mates hate it, but when the second hand hits 7:29 exactly, she cannot help herself from indulging in the calming, ritualized, solo waltz for this final allotted minute. She paces in time with the second hand, taking three steps forward and three steps back, counting out loud each set of three.
"One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three."
Forward, two, three. Back, two, three. Forward, two, three. Back, two, three.
The sleeping girls one by one begin to lightly stir and grumble. Rose makes it all of 27 seconds before one of them finally heaves a frustrated sigh and says in a low voice laced with exhaustion, "Oh, bloody hell, Rose, would you just give it a rest already? It's the first morning of holiday! D'you really have to be up with the counting right now?"
The others murmur similar sentiments into their pillows.
Rose feels for them, she does. She is sorry that they are unable to sleep through this part of her morning routine; sorry that she is unable to resist its tempting pull. They have no idea how desperately she tries on their behalf to quell each seemingly pointless urge. They try to understand her need to pace and count and count and pace, but can never truly grasp just how very much this is not her choice. Life would be so much simpler if Rose didn't need, need, need the rigid structure, but it is beyond her control. Because of course she cannot simply just give it a rest already.
It cannot be explained, but these patterns are important. They are significant. Because they matter. They do. Just because.
Expertly tuning out the cries of her disgruntled dorm mates, Rose continues keeping count and remains in perfect time with each tick, tick, tick, because skipping over even one small second could throw off her entire day. She needs, needs, needs to stay perfectly in time so when the second hand reaches 7:30 exactly, she will simultaneously be finishing her final set of one, two, three's. They come together perfectly and it makes all the difference.
"One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three." She continues on until that perfect moment she craves each morning finally comes to fruition.
The relief is instant.
Without another moment’s hesitation, Rose pivots on her toes and makes her way hurriedly to the door, calling out her sorry, sorry, sorry's as she goes.
"Saying sorry doesn't give me back my beauty rest!" one of them complains again, before adding out of spite, "Not even when you say it three times!"
Rose ignores the jab as she bee-lines for the exit, opening and closing the dormitory door with two small clicks. She bustles quickly down the hallway, stopping only when she's reached the top of the staircase leading down to the Common Room. It is a blessing, she thinks, that there are exactly nine steps. She counts as she descends.
One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.
He is waiting for her where he always waits for her, in the same spot at the bottom of the stairs; precisely on time, as he promises to always be.
"Good morning, Scorpius," she says to her friend.
"Good morning, Rose," he carefully replies. It is almost easy, the way he speaks it. She ignores the strained look of concentration on his face as he completes the sentence without stall or interruption. It never used to be the case, back when G's were his worst letters. Rose likes to think he's gotten better because she eases his anxieties the way he eases hers.
She used to always greet him with her hi, hi, hi, but as they grew to know each other better, as they became every day a little closer, she found that being around him always seemed to calm the voices in her head that demand a life in three's. She doesn't seem to need such unwavering control when he's around. And while she doesn't quite understand exactly why that is, she likes to think it's because he too is so imperfect.
Rose likes that Scorpius is as flawed as she feels. She likes that he's opinionated, even if he sometimes comes across as condescending. She likes his impeccable posture, even if others think it makes him look arrogant, with his nose a bit in the air like that. She likes that he is exactly three inches taller than her. She likes that his hair is always neatly combed and that his teeth and nose are both straight, straight, straight. She likes that his tie is always clean, with the bluest blue and the brightest bronze, just like hers. She likes that he is almost as tidy as she is. She likes that he is always on time. Most of all she likes that he makes her feel almost normal.
It is without another word that they both turn simultaneously towards the otherwise abandoned Common Room's exit. The corridors are just as barren, with seemingly every other student spending the first morning of Christmas break oversleeping.
They walk along in comfortable silence and Rose enjoys how at ease her mind is with Scorpius by her side. However, even his calming presence cannot keep her ever over-active mind quelled forever, especially not when there are plans to be sorted out.
"The train home this morning leaves at eleven sharp," she announces, beginning to tediously schedule out their day. Structure and stability are what she needs, needs, needs. "We should really be ready to head down to the station at least an hour before hand, just in case. If we leave Ravenclaw tower at precisely ten, we should make it to the station easily by twenty-past. Of course we have to be prepared for any number of things to go wrong and deter us from a straight-shot there. Perhaps it would be better to leave at half-past nine, to give us room for error. Have you packed yet?" She sends Scorpius a side-ways glance and he shakes his head in a silent no. "I already packed yesterday, but since you haven't packed yet, you'll need at least an additional half hour, though probably closer to a full hour if you plan to pack neatly, which I'm sure you do. So instead we'll want to be back up to Ravenclaw tower by half-past eight for you, which means we should leave breakfast at precisely quarter-after. Although, perhaps we should leave right at eight, just in case? Better safe, safe, safe, than sorry. Yes, I think that would be for the best. Eight, eight, eight. Okay?"
Scorpius nods and swallows hard, preparing himself for another unbroken response, when suddenly the sound of lightly jingling bells goes off above their heads. They look up in unison to see a small sprig of deep green leaves with little red berries and silver bells all tied together with a pretty red bow floating above their heads.
"Is that..." Rose begins.
"Mistletoe," Scorpius finishes. The word comes out surprisingly well considering the rather uncomfortable look on his paling face. Rose only just makes note of the expression before connecting the dots for herself and reacting on instinct.
"Ew," she says immediately, unable to filter the rather rude reaction. It is soon followed by a few rounds of, "No, no, no. No, no, no. No, no, no."
She makes to move out from beneath the levitating plant when a pair of hands grab onto each of her arms and keep her from getting away; and while she knows that he is the only person around, it still surprises her to see that it is Scorpius who has stopped her; Scorpius, who has always kept his distance out of respect for her great aversion to being touched. It is enough of a shock to keep her planted where she is. There is an urgency in his grasp and displayed across his features as he tries his very best to say the words that catch on the tip of his tongue. His grip remains firm as he tries desperately to overcome the block, but he continues to get stuck stumbling over his P's until finally, finally, finally he breaks through.
"Patricia Maddox!" he nearly yells when the words are finally set free, his eyes boring into her own, begging to be understood.
They immediately are and her reaction is instantaneous.
"No, no, no! No, no, no! No, no, no!" Rose cries out desperately, exceptionally careful now not to move any further away as the event he has just conjured up replays itself in her mind.
Patricia Maddox had been caught under the mistletoe two days prior and, much like Rose, had simply not been willing to kiss the boy with whom she had been paired. She opted instead to walk away with her nose held high in the air. But by the time she’d taken merely five small steps, the levitating sprig whose tradition was going ignored gave a violent shudder before bursting into a thousand tiny pieces of sparkly, silvery glitter. The explosion of chaos covered both Patricia and the boy she'd left behind in a layer of the sparkling mess; marking them for their refusal to play along. Rose had seen Patricia at dinner the night before, nearly 30 hours since the incident, and still with a layer of persistent glitz stuck to her skin. Just thinking about it now made Rose's fingers twitch anxiously.
The realization of her current predicament nearly took her breath away.
"So, so, so... we either have to kiss, kiss, kiss or be covered in glitter, glitter, glitter?" Rose asks with a shaky voice, clinging to her sets of three's as if they are lifelines. When Scorpius nods, she lets out a rather terrified whimper before continuing on with much quieter sets of repeating and pleading no, no, no's.
On and on they go, go, go; endless rounds of no, no, no's.
The loop must feel endless to Scorpius, who is still holding her gently by the arms. But as the no's continue their desperate pleading, he grows more and more restless. His fingers loosen their already soft grasp, his feet shuffle about nervously, his eyes refuse to meet her own, and his face seems to fall. Still her sets of three's push on, ignoring the look of concentration on Scorpius' face as he prepares himself to say something. He is slow to gain the confidence needed to complete a proper sentence, but eventually he gives it a staggered try with a question that nearly stops her heart.
"W-w-would k-kissing me r-really be so awful?" he asks; the stutter he tries so hard to keep tucked safely away taunting him at nearly every word; his usually cool demeanour slipping away rapidly with every stammered letter.
"No, no, n-" she cuts herself off abruptly at the look on Scorpius' face. Realizing what she's just done to her pattern, however, she is forced to first complete the final n- with a delayed "oh" before she can even begin to answer the loaded question.
She locks eyes with Scorpius and he shifts under the intensity of her gaze.
He is beautiful, she thinks.
The whispers of her dorm mates late at night tell her that not everyone agrees, but Rose doesn’t care. To her he is lovely and his features are kind, not pointed and harsh and disproportionate like they say. Her eyes drift for a second away from his stare to linger on his parted lips, and she tries to find the words to say that kissing him, him, him… would of course not be so awful. But then again, perhaps it would be? But not because of him; never because of him! Only Rose has never been kissed before, because kissing is messy and sloppy and gross! Not that she hasn’t considered what it might be like to kiss Scorpius in a daydream or two or twelve, but the dream versus the reality are so very vastly different for one glaringly obvious reason: there are no germs in daydreams.
In theory it all sounds lovely, but in practice...
"Scorpius, do you know how many germs, germs, germs the human mouth can hold at any given moment? When was the last time you brushed your teeth, teeth, teeth? Ten minutes ago? Have you any idea how quickly bacteria returns to your mouth after brushing? No, no, no. No, no, no. No, no, no."
It feels nearly impossible to stop the harsh word from repeating itself over and over again because in her anxious state she feels so very reliant on its pattern; she needs its stability as she tries desperately not panic herself into a complete meltdown. She hopes that though her tongue is so determined to offend, her eyes tell a different story of a girl who is simply afraid of kissing, and not of kissing him. It is germs, germs, germs that have her spiralling apart, not him, him, him. Of course not him, him, him...
He is staring back at her with those bright grey eyes, wide and imploring and looking about as unsure as she feels. His breathing has grown heavy and his lips open and close and open close as he tries to string together a new set of words.
If she wasn’t sure before that he too was feeling overwhelmed, she knows it for a certainty now.
He cuts himself short with an exasperated sigh, and she can see the redness crawling up his neck from the frustration and embarrassment combined. He takes a deep breath and tries again.
He clenches his fists together tightly, closes his eyes and turns away from her to hide his shame. The more flustered he grows, the harder it becomes not to trip on his words. But still he is determined, and so he takes a final steadying breath and turns to face her once more, locking resolute eyes with her own.
"Rose," he finally says, and she can hear the relief in his voice. His eyes remain unflinching with an intensity she has never seen in them before. He closes the space between them so completely now that she can count every eyelash on each heavy lid. Her heart is beating wildly at both the fierceness and fragility of his gaze; at the closeness of their bodies, of their faces, of their lips... And though beneath the steady stare she can see how scared he too is, when he speaks his next words they hide all trace of fear.
"Let me kiss you."
He says the words with an almost pleading determination that makes her knees feel weak and her head feel light. Rose lets out a shaky breath and swallows the dry lump in her throat, but does not make to move away.
And that is good enough for him.
Slowly, carefully, he closes the final breadth of space between his lips and hers.
He is soft and warm and sweet and his touch makes her eyes flutter close. Her hands remain hanging uselessly down by her side, and he keeps his to himself as well. She is sure that she is bad at this, with lips dry and unmoving, but he doesn't seem to mind as he turns his head the other direction and kisses her again, just as soft and warm and sweet and, and, and... symmetrically.
He slowly pulls away.
Above them she can hear the light jingling of bells as the mistletoe bustles away from them, surely looking to seek out another unsuspecting duo. Neither can quite yet break their gaze to look up and watch it go, and that is just fine by Rose. His face is flushed with what looks like both joy and confusion and she is certain that her own is a reflection of exactly that.
It only takes a moment before an awkwardness settles between them, neither sure of what to do or where to go next. Rose tries to find something adequate to say, but is surprised to find that Scorpius beats her to it.
"D-do you n-n-need to go brush y-your teeth?" he asks with an awkward sort of stammer as he shoves his hands deep into the pockets of his robes.
Rose almost laughs, but it gets caught in her dry throat and she sort of half-coughs instead before shaking her head.
"No, no, no," she says slowly with a smile.
He smiles back and softly tells her, "Good, good, good."
Her life is a waltz, they both understand. But he can learn to dance.
Author’s Note: Y’all ever try to clean up glitter? The worst, amiright?
So this was written for the Winter Writer’s Duel using Prompt 3 and it is also my first attempt at Next Gen! I also changed stories halfway through, so I apologize for any mistakes. I’ll edit it more thoroughly later, but I had a deadline to meet!
Please review! ^.^
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