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Chapter 4 : Friends
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THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Chapter IV: Friends
Rose felt fizzy, like bubbles frothing over the side of those Muggle soda cans that her mother was so fond of. Like everything inside her had reached a boiling point and was ready to explode through her chest.
What the hell had she done?
No, what the hell had they done?
Last year was bad enough, but again? Really, Rose? Scorpius Malfoy was just so irresistible that she couldn't help basically molesting him not once, but twice?
She groaned noisily, burying her head in the pillow in front of her and allowing her hair to form a screen between her and the outside world. Stop thinking.
Next to her, she head a book snap close. Loudly.
"Okay, Rose, spill."
Reluctantly, she looked up and narrowed her eyes at her best friend. "What are you talking about?"
Lizzy raised an eyebrow at her and stated slowly, as if speaking to a slightly obtuse child, "That's the third time you've sighed in the past hour. Plus, you called me here to study but you haven't even glanced at your textbook."
Rose turned away and grabbed the History of Magic text lying next to her. "There's nothing to tell. I've already read the portion for tonight, that's all." That, at least, wasn't a lie.
Lizzy couldn't mask her disbelief. "Rose, I've known you for seven years. I know when something's up."
Exhaling slowly, Rose set aside the pillow and crossed her legs on the bed. She shared everything with Lizzy; they were more like sisters than friends. She'd told her when she had her first crush – Michael Brandon, in second year – and the first time she'd held hands with a boy – also Michael Brandon, second year. But for some reason, there was something about her moments with Scorpius that she couldn't divulge. Something precious, something that would wither the instant it was revealed.
She couldn't tell Lizzy about the way he made her pulse throb, her head spin, her knees weak.
She couldn't tell him about the way her heart ached with pain when she closed her eyes and remembered the metallic tang of blood in the air.
She couldn't tell him that, whenever she closed her eyes, she could still feel the gentle pressure of his lips on hers.
Besides, it was clear it would never happen again; in Scorpius's own words, it had meant "nothing".
"Honestly, Liz," Rose said, plastering on a smile, "I'm just tired. In fact" – she glanced at the clock and faked a yawn – "it's pretty late. We should probably stop."
Lizzy sighed and picked up her bag. "Listen, Rose, I don't know what's going on but I'm always here for you if you need me."
"I know," Rose murmured softly, "thanks, Liz."
When her friend's retreating figure was out of sight, she grabbed the pillow again and muffled a raw scream in its forgiving creases.
Scorpius rubbed his hands together and wrapped his scarf around his neck a little tighter. The cold had frosted the castle an ethereal white, and the lake was crystallized into a smooth, glassy surface.
But he couldn't find any beauty in any of it.
To him, the only thing the winter seemed to do was strangle the life out of the earth.
Out of the shriveled flowers, withered with the memory of their once-bright hues, lining the amber hedges of the school.
Out of the dry, wilted leaves plucked mercilessly from decayed branches by a heartless zephyr, falling disjointedly onto the sleeted ground.
Out of him.
What had happened to him? A few years ago, he felt he had it all together. He was the apple of his parents' eyes, set to inherit the business his father had painstakingly built up after the war, restoring not only their family wealth, but also the Malfoy name. He was ready to marry the girl deemed to be right for him, Heather Parkinson, and he was prepared to step into the life designed for him from the moment of his birth.
He felt like a different person. Or maybe the same person, the person he was always meant to be but hadn't been able to become.
The strangest part was that he had no idea how this had happened. He couldn't pinpoint the time everything had changed for him, only that his first fight with his father had been last year, over his Christmas holiday. And that had been brought about by…
Suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle fell together. Scorpius closed his eyes, feeling velvety darkness ensnare him, and ground his teeth.
He should have known.
Fucking Rose Weasley.
He allowed the memory to wash over him…
"Weasley, where's the tracking compass?"
Rose looked up, parchment in hand. They were in the library, researching for the project they were reluctant partners in. "For this project? Malfoy, it's not due for until after the holidays. We're just supposed to analyze constellation backgrounds right now. Why do you need it?"
Scorpius looked at her sheepishly, and admitted – albeit in a terse tone infused with steel – "If it's anything to you, Weasley, I've never tracked before, and I wanted to practice beforehand."
"Never?" Rose snapped her head up, amused surprise evident in her eyes. 'We were supposed to try tracking over the summer, remember? It was a NEWT requirement!"
He narrowed his eyes to bright slivers, refusing to meet her gaze. "My father doesn't even know I'm taking Astronomy as a NEWT. He doesn't approve; according to him, it's a woolly subject."
"He doesn't…approve?" Rose scoffed disbelievingly. "So you don't practice a requirement for a NEWT class because your dad doesn't approve?" After minutes ticked by in stormy silence, she ventured, "Wait…you're serious?"
"Yes, Weasley," he hissed, slamming the books on the table in frustration. "Not everyone has parents like yours – naïve morons who believe their daughter can do no wrong. If my father doesn't approve of something, I don't do it in his house. That's all."
Rose bit her lip, not missing that he referred to Malfoy Manor as "his father's house" rather than "home". "But don't your interests matter?"
Scorpius laughed, hollowly, without humor. "As long as they line up with his, they do." At her dumbstruck look, "Calm down, Weasley. Just because your parents don't care what you do…"
She pulled up a chair next to him. Sitting lightly, she rebutted, "Not at all." She grinned at his puzzled expression and, eyes twinkling, pulled her mass of red curls over her shoulder, revealing a second piercing glittering in the corner of her earlobe.
He gaped openly, his silver eyes clouded with incredulity. Recovering, he commented wryly, "Well, Weasley, I didn't think you had it in you."
The corners of her mouth twitched into a smile. "Dad grounded me for two weeks over this and Mum didn't speak to me for ages."
Scorpius knit his eyebrows together with confusion. "I've seen you with your parents since then. At Kings Cross. You all seemed…happy."
"Right!" she exclaimed emphatically, looking him straight in the eye. "Getting this was reckless and they thought it was a mistake. But it was my mistake to make, and ultimately, it's my life. Eventually, they got used to it. My mother almost likes it now, even though she'll never admit it."
He met her warm brown gaze with his steady cool one. "And the point to this story…'
"Malfoy, you're willfully thick!" Rose said, exasperated. "Your parents love you, not your choices. Even if they disapprove, they'll adapt. It might be a little hard at first – and I'm not pretending my earring is analogous to your situation – but eventually, they'll come around. And you'll be glad you chose to be happy."
Scorpius looked away, uncomfortable by her earnestness. Clearing his throat, he attempted a scornful tone and sneered, "Of course, Weasley, your advice has been invaluable. How much do I owe you for this outstanding therapy session?"
She scoffed, standing. "Listen or don't listen, Malfoy. I guess that's your choice, too."
Scorpius rolled his eyes, and got up heavily to look for the tracking compass that she'd apparently lost. And willed himself to forget whatever she had said that night.
But some part of his mind had kept going back to their talk, which seemed to be burned into his brain. Subconsciously, he seemed to have absorbed her message and allowed those sentiments to fester within him, culminating in his confrontation with his father.
It was all her fault.
Every-fucking-thing that had gone wrong with him this year was her fault.
Scorpius stopped in his tracks, and just breathed for a few moments, allowing the arctic air to kiss his exposed skin, clearing his head.
This couldn't go on.
This whole conflict – it all boiled down to Weasley and her crap advice, which he, idiotically, followed out of some ridiculous, futile attraction to her.
He was not about to jeopardize his whole future based on a few wayside comments by a girl that messed with his mind more than she helped it.
Stoically, he set his expression, tightening his mouth into a line. This revelation showed that his inner turmoil was an aberration, brought on by hormones, by lust, by Rose. Somehow, that information made all the difference.
He dragged in a long, shaky breath, rubbing his chin contemplatively. In that moment, everything was clear to him.
He knew what he was going to do.
He was going to go back to his dorm, talk to his father, straighten out this mess that his primitive yearning for Weasley had gotten him into. He was going to graduate from Hogwarts top of his class, he was going to inherit the business, he was going to marry Heather, and he was going to live his life as a responsible adult.
Because he was a Malfoy, born and bred, and that's what Malfoys did.
And nothing – or more precisely, no one – was going to stand in his way.
"In 1813, Garisa Gremhorn discovered the first generic cure for the affliction we now know as Dragonpox..."
Damn. Rose grimaced and rubbed her eyes blearily. She'd already read that sentence twice.
She smothered a yawn behind the back of her hand, willing herself to finish the passage. She couldn't afford to have her distracted mind affect her studies.
Her internal debate came to an abrupt halt when she heard hefty footsteps on the landing. Unwillingly, her palms clenched.
Following …well…the incident, Rose had been studiously avoiding any place that she could run into Scorpius, which was difficult, since they lived together. The library, the common room, the fields. She was only in the Head's common room today because she'd assumed he would be at Quidditch practice.
But she'd miscalculated, his injury slipping her mind, and now she was paying the price.
Her heartbeat thudding in her ears, Rose steeled herself for the inevitable imminent confrontation.
She was surprised, then, when Scorpius came in, glanced in her direction and continued to wordlessly remove his scarf and coat. His face was blank, unreadable; the only hint of emotion about him was the stern set of his mouth, the way his jaw was clamped a little too tightly. Sadistically, inexplicably, she was glad that he was suffering, too.
Relieved – and also peculiarly disappointed – at his lack of ire, she turned back to her reading, content to let the awkward moment slide. Rationally, she knew she would have to deal with it eventually, but she'd always been a procrastinator.
Scorpius, however, was not.
After hanging up his jacket, he sat down next to her and said, in a carefully modulated tone, "Rose, we need to talk."
So close. Rose sighed and was about to apologize for the way she ended their kiss when he startled her by saying, "It was a mistake."
She inhaled sharply. "A mistake. So you're not upset that I..."
He shook his head, his platinum hair falling into his eyes. Her fingers itched with the desire to push it back, but she remained steadfast. "We were both tired, and it was …it was a mistake, that's all. Can we move past it, please?"
Rose looked at him – really looked at him – for the first time in a long while. She observed the unnatural lack of luster in his usually bright eyes, noted the dark hollows under his lashes carved out by insomnia. Something was wrong, something was off. Scorpius was a ghost of his former self, a disjointed shadow of suppressed longings and forced willings.
"Are you all right?" she whispered, allowing herself to demurely touch his hand.
Even that chaste touch was too much for him. Tension infused his frame before he snatched his hand away, frustration bubbling in his chest. "I'm fine," he rasped, looking anywhere but her face. "Let's just…try, okay?"
"To be friends?" she asked, cynicism coloring her voice.
He gave her a curt nod. "Yes…friends."
At her virtually inaudible, "Okay," he looked up and finally met her gaze.
Ice met fire.
They could do friends, couldn't they?
Sensing glacial air tickling the back of his throat, Scorpius swallowed heavily and muttered a quick warming spell, cursing the never-ending winter that seemed to envelop the castle. Snow crunched under his feet as he trudged to the Herbology greenhouses, his fingers reddening with cold. Class had been cancelled that day, due to inclement weather, but Scorpius had a Mandrake tracking term paper and he wasn't about to allow a little ice yield irregular increments.
Even while his hissed oath resonated in the biting wind, Scorpius seemed to, almost absently, absorb his surroundings in a way that was beyond his capacity last week; where he had once seen only drying, dying things, he now saw the beauty that had previously escaped him. The pallor of the glittering snow underneath the dim golden glow of the moon, the dewy blades of glass glistening with tear-like pearls of frost, the delicate snowflakes that caressed his cheeks as they floated down from the murky heavens.
A shadow of a smile twitched at his lips. Maybe this subconscious uplifting of his mood signified the validity of his decision; maybe it was a way of showing him that his choice to abandon the musings of his unruly heart and instead embrace his destiny was a good one.
He hoped it was, anyway, because while his ever-rational brain stood by his cold decision, his heart seemed to feel differently. He'd even written the St. Mungo's essay, despite knowing that he would never send it, the last hurrah for the desires of his reckless heart. Not to mention, he felt a pang in his chest – a physical, literal, burning ache – every time he looked at Rose, acutely aware that the likes of Heather Parkinson could never hold a candle to her natural wit, her sparkling eyes, her fiery nature. But they'd been doomed from the start, hadn't they? Even before Scorpius had realized his muddled feelings for her, their fate had been written in the iron-clad manuscript of their past.
Speak of the devil.
Scorpius halted as if slapped, his hand frozen to the sleet-sheened handle of the greenhouse. Through the frosted glass walls of the storage area, he could just barely make out a female silhouette melting into the shade. The figure would not have been recognizable, had she not possessed an unmistakable halo of crimson locks spilling down her back.
Of course it was her. The one girl who could send him into spirals of torment without raising a finger would obviously be the only other person in their class with the foresight to make sure her grades didn't suffer because of the cold.
No one could accuse him of having bad taste in women, at least.
Petrified in his position, Scorpius watched the shadow come to life as his eyes adjusted to the low light filtering through the fields. It had rained earlier, the typical lashings that accompanied large amounts of snow. She had evidently been completely soaked, her wet tangles of hair curling damply down her back and her soggy jeans caked with mud.
But she didn't appear to notice. She appeared to be waiting for the results of her tracking to materialize on parchment, and was, in the meantime, sitting back on a jagged edge of rock in the corner of the conservatory, her face tipped up to meet the verdant emerald leaves that topped her Mandrake pot. It was hard to tell amidst the shadows that embraced her, but he thought there was a smile dancing on her lips.
She was a wood sprite, an elf, a nymph.
She was beautiful.
No. Scorpius sucked in a tight breath, numbing the forbidden thoughts that had once again stolen into the alcoves of his mind. A fantasy, that's all she was. A dream that dissipated under the harsh light of the morning. Like catching smoke, she would always be a breath away from his clawing grasp.
It was futile to try and pursue her, as his recently wild heart was urging him to do. It was equally pointless to attempt to avoid her, as his cold, logical mind advised him to do.
He decided to settle on the obvious compromise; he'd follow through with his plan to befriend her, smothering any deeper emotion he may have felt - or may still feel - in favor of the bland companionship he'd promised her. With time, he'd feel as much emotion when he looked at her as he would when looking at a door.
Besides, they were friends now, weren't they?
Recklessly, he pushed the door open.
Rose looked up at the noise, startled, but her features softened for a moment when she saw who it was.
"Hey!" she said, brightly. Maybe a little too brightly. "Mandrake term project?"
He forced a smile. "Same as you, I guess." Shuffling over to his pot, he began the tedious process of soil filtration.
Rose stood up, brushing loose sediment from her lap, and made her way over to him. "Need a hand?"
"Sure," he replied. That seemed like something a friend would do, right? Lend a hand? "Could you record the ion content? I'll set up the filter."
She nodded eagerly. "No problem. I've got another half hour to kill, anyway."
Wordlessly, they set about their tasks, until Rose broke the silence with a giggle. "This reminds me of our first time with Mandrakes. Remember? Second year?"
Scorpius scowled as he met her gaze. "Weasley, I really hope you're not talking about…"
Dramatically, Rose lifted the back of her hand to her forehead and said, in a deep voice meant to emulate his, "Professor Sprout, I don't feel too….too…"
"My earmuffs were loose!" he growled, trying to stifle the amusement in his voice. "That was not my fault!"
Rose smirked. "I'm sure no one doubted your masculinity after your swoon, Malfoy…"
"First of all, I didn't even faint, it was just a little dizziness. Second…" he broke off, the corners of his lips twitching, at the sight of Rose doubled over in laughter.
Without him realizing it, his forced smile had morphed into a real one.
Rose stared glumly at the patrol list in her hand, a sinking feeling in her stomach.
Andrea Vance and Lester Macmillan.
Emily Nott and Alexander Wilson.
Rose Weasley and Scorpius Malfoy.
So far, she'd avoided having to patrol with him, even though they were technically required to partner together; she'd make an excuse about her schedule, or how it was important to mingle with the underclassmen.
But it was October and she couldn't skirt around him any longer.
Besides, they were friends now, weren't they? They'd been comfortable together yesterday when they ran into each other at the greenhouses. They'd been amiable when they met each other in the hallways or in their common room. They'd smiled and exchanged pleasantries when forced together in classrooms.
Exhaling slowly, Rose got up and stretched. It wouldn't do any good to pretend this patrol wouldn't happen. And ostensibly, she had no rational reason to wish it wouldn't.
Except for one tiny, niggling detail...
She couldn't be friends with Scorpius.
Not when her knees turned to jelly when he looked at her, not when her voice shuddered when he spoke to her, not when her skin prickled with goosebumps when he touched her.
Rose frowned, unwilling to let the unwanted feelings bubble up in her again. But they were there, and there was no denying them. All she could do was do her very best to stifle them, plastering on a mask of indifference and training herself to maintain a friendly – friendly, and nothing more – relationship with him.
She slapped the offending parchment on her desk and pulled on her robes, resigning herself to another night of torment with the one person in the world who could make her lose her ever-present rationality. Pulling her curls into a ponytail and grabbing scattered papers, she started out of the room, but paused briefly in front of a mirror, critically pursing her lips. A pale face dusted with freckles, a veritable rat nest perched on her head, and eyes that seemed to take up half her face met her gaze.
Disdainfully, she tore her eyes away from her reflection, a knot in her throat. No wonder Scorpius couldn't feel anything for her. Who could?
Rose swallowed and left her room, feeling altogether out-of-sorts. An Arithmancy test, a Potions essay, a spells assessment in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and, of course, her patrol with Scorpius. What wasn't there to love about today?
In the Great Hall, she took her usual seat next to Lizzy, feeling pale and washed out in the face of her friend's exuberance.
Lizzy, always quick on the uptake, didn't let her mood escape her keen eye. Knowingly, she raised her eyebrows. "Boy problems?"
Rose smiled. "You know me too well, Liz." And, to avoid further discussion, started chugging pumpkin juice like her life depended on it.
Across the table, her cousin, Dominique – an infuriatingly beautiful girl of Veela descent who never failed to make Rose itch with jealousy – flipped her mane of platinum blonde hair, her ears perking up at the mention of boys.
"Did someone say boy problems?" Dominique drawled casually, her green cat-eyes narrowing with interest. "Rose, you have boy problems?"
Rose stiffened, determined not to let her cousin's snipes faze her. Twisting her mouth into a half-smile-half-grimace hybrid, she said, "It's nothing. Just…I have patrol with Scorpius tonight and…"
"Ooh, yes, let's talk about Scorpius!" Dominique squealed, cutting her off. "Damn, he's gorgeous…I wouldn't mind patrolling with him myself, if you know what I mean!"
The knot in Rose's throat wound itself a little tighter. She gritted her teeth underneath her phony grin and ignored the jealousy tickling her mind.
At that precise moment, a flurry of feathers swooped into the room. Owls, performing the routine mail drop-off.
Thank goodness, Rose thought. She wasn't sure how much more "boy talk" she could take. Eagerly, she tore open the paper her family's ancient owl had dropped into her lap.
She was looking forward to the Prophet's headlines continuing the riveting saga of Celestina Warbeck's return to fame.
Instead, what she read there made her blood freeze.
Eyes widened with shock, she looked wildly about the Hall for Scorpius, her heart drumming relentlessly in her ears. She finally located him down the Ravenclaw table, and her chest clenched when she saw that he'd read the same news she had. His face betrayed no sentiment, but the tight line of his lips and the pallor of his skin revealed to her the turmoil he felt. His friend, Mason Zabini, attempted to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder, but Scorpius shrugged it off. His face was a marble mask, angular features and hard eyes.
He swallowed heavily, casting his eyes back down at the paper he was holding with slightly trembling hands. After a brief rereading, something seemed to snap inside him. As Rose bit her lip and watched him anxiously, Scorpius abruptly stood, his plate clattering on the table, and stormed out of the Great Hall, his quicksilver eyes flashing. Every eye in the room followed his figure out the door with bated breath.
An ominous shiver flew down her spine. With a sinking heart, she turned back to the paper, eyeing the headline gingerly.
Lucius Malfoy, known Death Eater and eternal disciple of the Dark Lord, found dead after 25 years in Azkaban.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed that! The plot thickens *hehe* :D.
As always, thanks to my wonderful beautiful reviewers. Mwah! I love you all. Happy New Year, everyone!
Thank you for being so lovely and supporting; you're the reason I write!
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