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Chapter 39 : Moonlight and Roses
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‘Luxury boat. Our own cabin. Setting off for the Caribbean. What more could we want?’ Scorpius closed the door to the cabin behind them, his gaze seeking her. ‘Also, in here, you can’t dodge me any more.’
‘That sounds ominous,’ said Rose, voice absent as she crossed the cabin to open the shutters, letting the late evening rays of the sun creep in.
‘I mean it.’ He tossed his bag onto the bed. ‘You’ve been doing a me.’
‘Brooding and avoiding me. In a much more subtle way.’ He leaned on the door, arms folding across his chest. ‘You actually talk to me and look at me, but you’ve been evasive.’
‘I have not -’
He crossed the room and reached for her hand, and she slid from his touch before he even got there. Scorpius’ jaw tightened. ‘See? Come on. Talk to me.’ She had her back to the wall, but there was a tension to her shoulders which made him take a step back. Otherwise he was cornering her, blocking the escape route with his greater size, and the mere thought of that set a prickle at the back of his neck. He was here to talk. Not bully. ‘Is this about… what I said in the cell -’
Her eyes widened. ‘No! Not at all! It’s just been a bit… much. With Mum and Dad and Hugo and Uncle Harry -’
He only half-believed her. ‘That’s not it, Rose.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Scorp. My family thought I was dead, it’s just been a bit emotional getting made… not-dead. My parents aren’t the most easy-going people in the world.’
‘Compared to some, your parents are so laid-back they’re practically horizontal,’ he snorted.
She bit her lip. ‘How was your father?’
His gut twisted, concern for her dissipating in the face of that old, familiar anger. He made a low noise and stalked to the window, and she again slid away from him. Once he wouldn’t have noticed, but he knew her too well by now, could read her body like an open book, and he knew when she was shying away. ‘He didn’t deny the bounty. He’s bloody in with the Council -’
‘We know the Council of Thorns has connections to crooks,’ she said softly. ‘It’s possible he just put out a contract and it ended up in Council hands -’
Anger tightened to a fist in his stomach. ‘Why are you always so damn intent on defending him? Back in Hogwarts you were championing what a hateful man he is; now I’m letting myself hate him, you’re suddenly saying I shouldn’t!’
‘I’m not saying you shouldn’t hate him; I’m saying you should look at all the evidence. He put out a bounty on people who hurt you -’
‘No! No, he didn’t! He put a bounty on people who hurt the family. That’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s always been about. How the family looks. He’s been so obsessed with making the Malfoy name mean something since the war, since my grandfather died, that he’s not cared who he hurt. So long as we were the perfect little family unit, so long as we lived the lives he wanted, he’s been happy - and he’s been satisfied with nothing less.’
Rose let out a long, slow breath. She had softened, he thought; he could see tension in her eyes, but there was no longer the fight-or-flight instinct. ‘You can’t keep driving him away.’
‘I can,’ Scorpius snapped, advancing at last. ‘You really don’t understand, do you? You’ve just said your parents aren’t the most understanding people in the world; did they ever call you stupid?’
‘My father did. I was nine and learning to play the guitar. He caught me, broke it. Said I’d never amount to anything if I furthered “stupid Muggle indulgences”. Called me stupid for being curious. About music, Rose.’ His voice shook, and he planted his hands on the cabin’s writing desk to steady himself. ‘Did your parents ever call you worthless?’
‘My father did. Several times. Oh, yes, last year when I was running the radio show to help sick kids communicate with their parents, but before that. When he saw my OWL results; those “A”s in Transfiguration and Arithmancy rankled him. I was never going to qualify for one of the Ministry fast-track posts with those academic scores, was I! Nobody cares about an “O” in Astronomy!’ She opened her mouth to answer, eyes wider, back straighter, but he was on a roll now. ‘Did your parents ever call you a failure?’
‘My father did! When Albus made Quidditch captain and I didn’t; when Albus made prefect and I didn’t - Albus, the first person to stand by me who had no reason to, and my father threw that friendship in my face, not because of a family grudge but simply to make me feel lesser!’ Anger writhed inside him like an angry snake by now, and all he could do to appease it was thump his fist on the desk to punctuate the last words.
‘Scorpius!’ Rose had jumped back at that, and now the fight-or-flight air about her had returned - and ‘flight’ seemed to be winning.
He heard his voice echo in the cramped cabin, saw the glint of fear in her eyes, and the anger rushed away for shame to fill the gap. And now I sound like him. He straightened and backed away from the writing deck, moving to the wall. ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘I didn’t mean to - I’m sorry.’
Silence hung in the room, and only then did he remember they’d started this conversation somewhere else. She’d been holding back and he’d been challenging her on it, and then she’d asked him about his father. His breath caught. ‘You wanted me to “look at all the evidence” about my father?’
When he lifted his head, she was biting her lip. ‘I just meant -’
Shame faded for clarity, and cold realisation. ‘You said that to piss me off.’ He straightened. ‘You specifically brought up my father to distract me, then you specifically told me to not drive him away so I’d be angry and wouldn’t notice that you changed the subject.’
Tears filled her eyes until she shut them. ‘I was trying to -’
‘You were trying to divert me.’ He squared his shoulders, expression sinking. ‘You made me bring up and dwell on the hateful, hurtful things my father did, just to wriggle out saying what was on your mind.’ Scorpius’ jaw set. ‘Well done. It worked.’
Rose stepped forward. ‘Scorpius -’
‘Hey, what do you know. The brochure didn’t lie. These cabins are pretty small.’ He stalked to the bed, snatched up his packed bag. ‘Turns out that’s not as much of a perk as I thought.’ He didn’t care that slamming the door would probably be heard across the entire ship. The others would notice something was up soon enough, anyway. After all, he was about to occupy the boat’s sixth cabin.
Matt woke once sunlight crept through the cabin window. He couldn’t see a shoreline any more, and while that meant they were making progress, he found the open water disconcerting. There was no way to gauge progress; the ocean looked much the same wherever in the world they were. All that changed were the stars and the temperature, and at this time of morning, before the sun was at its zenith, neither were making an appearance.
But he was not the only one out and about at this time, he discovered once he padded up on the main deck to find Selena coming the other way, plate of toast in hand. ‘Not sitting out for breakfast?’
‘I’ve got some reading to do,’ she said with a shrug. ‘And there’s no table in the galley. I think we’re supposed to lounge around on deck all decadently.’
‘That’s almost a pun. I thought decadent was what you did?’ He offered her a playful grin.
And got nothing in response. ‘I don’t fancy sitting on the benches.’
She went to step past him, but he leaned in, blocking her way. ‘Hey. What’s up?’
The look he got in response was the sort Selena normally reserved for when someone was being particularly stupid. ‘Nothing? I was just going to read.’
‘What’re you reading?’
‘Why’s it your business?’
‘Because we’re friends and friends talk about things they’re up to?’
Her eyes flashed. ‘My toast is getting cold.’
He bit his cheek. ‘Are you still angry with me for Tomar?’
‘If you want to risk your life on an idiotic, mad-cap escapade, Doyle, I don’t see why that should be any of my concern.’
‘Again, maybe because we’re friends?’
‘If you have to keep on insisting it,’ said Selena archly, ‘then doesn’t that mean something?’ She went to pass him again, and again he found himself reaching for her arm. She glared at his hand like it was something slimy that would stain her blouse.
‘What’s going on?’ Matt asked through gritted teeth. ‘You come to me for comfort after Ager Sanguinis, and then a few days later you’re treating me like I’m an utter nobody, or like I pissed you off for getting into a fight - a fight on a mission you signed us up for!’
‘So if something happens to you out here, it’s my fault?’
‘In a way! Yeah!’
It wasn’t, really, what he meant. But it was what he said, and so he didn’t fight her when she yanked her arm free. ‘Next time I decide I don’t want a conversation, you’re going to let me walk off. Even if you want to talk. Because if you grab me to yell again, I’m going to take your bloody hand.’
‘Then don’t treat me like a toy to be picked up and thrown away when you’ve lost interest,’ he groused - but embarrassment filled him, and trickled over the anger to make him sound sulky rather than accusing.
‘Hm. Lost interest.’ Selena wagged a finger. ‘Very astute.’
Then she was gone, and Matt was left alone on the deck, suddenly not very hungry. He stomped not to the galley, but up on the quarterdeck, high enough that he could see the whole ship and the luxurious, dazzling sapphire of the ocean. They had to be going at a tremendous speed, considering their estimated time of arrival, but the wind was no more than a gentle breeze to ruffle his hair, and the waves were calm.
But he wasn’t alone on the quarterdeck, and so schooled his expression to something tight and controlled when he saw his company. ‘Good morning.’
Rose sat on one of the comfortable benches, a book in her lap. The sun was bright on her hair, making it ripple like polished bronze, and the wind played with loose locks to see them float gently about her. But when she lifted her gaze, she, too, was taut. ‘Hi, Matt.’
Don’t tell me yours, and I won’t tell you mine. He sat next to her. ‘Good book?’
‘I don’t know. I’ve been staring at the page for the last hour.’ She sighed and closed it.
He cocked his head, spying the bags under her eyes. ‘So you didn’t have a good night’s sleep.’
‘You look like you’ve had a shoddy morning.’
His jaw tightened. ‘Okay. Are we going to have a proper conversation or are we going to prance around and pretend nothing’s wrong? Because I’m happy to not talk, I’m just… I’m already out of interest in playing games.’
Rose sighed, gaze dropping. ‘You don’t want to hear my problems.’
‘If they’re about Scorpius? Probably not.’ Matt shrugged. ‘I don’t know if you want to hear mine.’
‘Depends on if you want to tell me.’
He looked away. ‘I’m not even sure what they are. Do you know if I pissed Selena off in some way? You don’t have to tell me if I did, or what I’ve done, I don’t want you to violate some girly code.’
Her eyebrows raised, and he thought the surprise was genuine. ‘I’ve not spoken to Selena much in the last few days, and we’ve not talked about you since -’ Then she stopped herself, and he sighed.
She bit her lip. ‘Sorry.’
‘No, no, it’s fine. If she’s got a problem with me, she can bring it up herself, like a big girl.’
Rose winced. ‘We didn’t talk about you and her. We talked about you and me.’
Matt flinched before he could stop himself, and turned to study the mast intently. It was very… tall. ‘I didn’t think there was a you and me.’
‘Matt, when did we stop being friends? We were friends, for a long time, before we were a couple and then after.’
‘Were we? The way I remember it is that we didn’t spend much time together until we were prefects, and that’s when we got together. Then we broke up and it was all amicable but you went back to Hestia and Cheryl and I went back to John. And then you went out with Hector.’ His lip curled.
‘I didn’t do that to hurt you.’
‘No, you did it to get over me. That’s… not actually all that comforting.’ This was not the issue he’d thought he’d confront today. He’d figured Selena was where problems began and end, and to be fair to Selena, she did not make for insignificant problems. The morning was escalating fast.
When Rose spoke again, it was in a blurting tumble of words. ‘…it wasn’t amicable. I did break up with you. And you accepted it, better than I thought, so I liked to think that, because it wasn’t an argument, it was mutual. So that’s what I told people. And you didn’t contradict it, so that’s what people believed, that’s what everyone wound up believing. Including, eventually, me.’
Matt scowled at the mast. ‘Not everyone,’ he said in a gruff voice. ‘Not me. Not really.’
He drew a raking breath. ‘The one thing you never did explain properly, Rose, was why.’
She hesitated. ‘We were arguing lots, Matt. You remember that. Little bickers. You were too competitive, or that’s what I told myself - we were both too competitive, too wound-up. Everything was always big, and dramatic, and important. We had to care about everything, care intently, and neither one of us let the other switch off. And I was beginning to resent you for it. And I didn’t want to wind up hating you.’
His gaze dropped, brow furrowing. ‘I believe you,’ he said. ‘And that… does sound pretty familiar. But there’s something you’re not telling me.’
Another pause. ‘You really don’t want to hear this.’
‘Come on. You’ve come this far. I can read you pretty well; I’m getting really sick of having to guess what should be filling awkward silences.’
When he looked at her, Rose was studying her hands as if all the secrets of the cosmos lay under her skin. ‘We could have maybe made it work. I was starting to fall for you; really fall for you, and I didn’t know what would happen if I stuck it out, fought to fix things. I didn’t know how… far I’d fall.’
His jaw tightened. ‘So you bailed when it got hard. So you didn’t fight for it.’
She looked up at his accusing tone, eyes flashing. ‘Neither did you.’
Matt opened his mouth for an angry retort, then remembered where his temper had got him with his friends that morning. The anger was short-lived, anyway, and it wasn’t shame which took its place this time, but fatigue. ‘No,’ he sighed at last. ‘I didn’t. And that was a long time ago. And we’re over.’
‘You moved on with Hector. And now you’re with Scorpius.’ Matt sighed again. ‘And you’re rowing with him right now.’
‘A row would suggest it was two-way,’ said Rose tightly. ‘He’s pissed off at me and he’s right to be.’
Suddenly he was hungry again. Perhaps his stomach knew he needed to escape the conversation and had decided to be his ally again. Matt got to his feet, but not before he reached out to squeeze her shoulder, touch ginger in case she wanted to pull away. She didn’t. ‘Then don’t do what you did with me, if he’s important to you. Fix it. Work on it. Make it right.’ She looked up at him, startled, and his expression creased. ‘Fight for it.’
Then he straightened and headed for the galley, leaving her behind with her book and her thoughts. But despite that he knew he’d done the right thing, made the healthy, smart choice to help her and to distance himself, he couldn’t help but feel like an additional burden had landed on his shoulders, and made him stoop a little more.
‘Knock knock.’ Albus stuck his head around the door to Scorpius’ cabin.
Scorpius looked up from where he was sprawled on the bed. ‘That door was shut. Traditionally people knock, instead of just saying it.’
‘Yeah. True.’ Instead, Albus let himself in. The sun was fat and low in the sky beyond the window, their second night on board drawing in. ‘Except you would have told someone knocking to sod off, and I wasn’t actually going to take no for an answer. So the knock is kind of a… gesture.’
Scorpius sat up. ‘I’m really not feeling up for company, mate.’
‘Tough.’ Albus sat at the desk chair and dumped a pack of beer on the table. ‘I want company. You cannot deny me.’
‘You could have a beer with the others.’
‘I don’t want to have a beer with them. I want to drink with my best mate.’ Albus swished his wand at the first two bottles, cracking them open.
Despite himself, Scorpius took the drink when it was given. His shoulders sagged. ‘Somehow I can’t say no to you.’
‘It’s my winning charm.’ Albus swigged his beer. ‘It’s weird up there. Everyone’s being weird. Rose is distant, Selena’s distant, Matt’s distant, Lisa’s distant…’
‘Wait, wait. Hold the phone. Lisa’s being distant?’
Albus gave a wry grin. ‘She’s been thoughtful. It wouldn’t be a big deal, but with everyone else all maudlin it doesn’t help. I’m not meant to be the chirpy one. You are.’
‘Yeah, well. I’m not feeling all that chirpy.’
‘You two.’ Albus made a low noise in his throat. It could have been frustration or amusement; Scorpius wasn’t sure. ‘You spend five years fighting like cats in a sack. Then when you get to know each other, you don’t just get on, you hook up. And then you keep fighting like cats in a sack.’
Scorpius coloured. ‘I like fighting her. Usually.’
‘I thought you hated her.’ He frowned. ‘I thought she hated you.’
‘So did I. I didn’t hate her, though. I just thought she was fun to wind up, and I didn’t like how she looked down at me.’
‘I should have seen it coming, really. There were times you cared more about where Rose was, what Rose was doing, than you cared about anything else going on in school.’ A slow, nostalgic smile tugged at Albus’ lips. ‘Of course, it was so you knew exactly what to say or do to wind her up, but, really. A guy pays that much attention to a girl. It should mean something. And I think she kept your attention for longer than any girl did.’
‘I don’t know if that was a thing.’ Scorpius scratched the back of his head. ‘Like a pigtail-pulling thing, I mean. I really did resent the hell out of her. And it really was kind of astonishing when Phlegethon happened and that meant I had to get to know her better and I found what I did. How scared she actually was. How she didn’t work because she was stuck up, she worked because she cared.’ He sighed. ‘How much she actually cared.’
‘She’s got a big heart.’ Albus sipped his beer. ‘Almost as big as yours.’ He gave a low chuckle. ‘Though you know, when I said I wanted you two to get on better, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.’
‘I’m sorry I made things hard for you. Back then, I mean - you were cut off from your family by being a Slytherin, and you wanted me to make peace with her, and I didn’t. Even though she was the family closest to you.’
‘We were allies.’ Albus leaned back, watching the sunset through the narrow window. ‘Everyone else in the family around our age is one of the jokers. My brother, the rascal. My sister, with the nose for trouble and fun. Her brother, living large. Our cousins -’
‘If you list them all,’ said Scorpius gently, ‘we’re going to be here a while.’
‘I struggled to get on with James and Lily. I was always more serious than them, and I couldn’t get why they didn’t stop to think more. And Lily worshipped the ground James walked on, at least back then, and they were always a team. Rose was the one who thought like me, joked like me, had fun like me.’
‘I really didn’t mean to come between you two. That was the last thing I wanted.’
‘You didn’t,’ said Albus with a sigh. ‘We all let childish things get in the way of what mattered. But we were children. And you’re my best friend, and I wouldn’t change my choice in the Sorting for a thousand more chances with Rose.’
Scorpius frowned. ‘Your choice?’
Albus faltered. Then he looked down, intently studied the label on the beer bottle. ‘The Sorting Hat gave me a choice. It said I had everything it took to be a Gryffindor. But I had a spark of greatness that would do me well in Slytherin. And I chose Slytherin.’ He started to pick at the label. ‘Not for the spark of greatness. But this cool guy I’d just met got Sorted into Slytherin. And my family were in Gryffindor, but I was already tied to them by blood.’ Scorpius would have replied, but his jaw had fallen somewhere under the bed and he wasn’t sure he was up to fishing around for it. ‘Stop looking at me like that.’
Finally, Scorpius managed to close his mouth. And now he didn’t know what to say, except, ‘You crazy bastard.’
Albus grinned. ‘Crazy like a snake.’
‘That doesn’t even make sense.’
His grin turned distant. ‘James decided to have it out with me before we left. Decided to blame me for everything going wrong in my family.’
‘I think - and I’m not sure about this, but I’m pretty certain it’s right, because this bright guy told me it once - that we’re not responsible for what our parents do. What our families do.’ Scorpius veered his mind away from the row with Rose. This wasn’t about this. This was about Albus.
‘I know. And you’re right. Or he’s right. Or I’m right - whatever.’ Albus’ lips thinned. ‘It was still a bit ridiculous. Him having a go at me for upsetting everyone. Even if I did, a lot, and in something more serious than a tabloid scandal.’
‘It was a pretty good scandal.’
‘I mean - the point I’m making is - he and I have never been as close as I wanted. He’s my brother, and I love him, but we don’t have much in common, we don’t have that much to… to bind us. Blood. He’s the brother of my blood.’ Albus drew a slow, awkward breath, and again studied the window. ‘You’re the brother of my choice.’
Silence fell, a low, awkward silence, and Scorpius cleared his throat before trying to speak. ‘You - you’re basically the family that actually matters to me, you know that?’ Albus just gave a stiff nod, and Scorpius winced. ‘Bloody hell. Give me another beer.’
Albus grinned at last, but he moved the box away. ‘Nah. Go talk to Rose.’
Scorpius’ chest tightened. ‘I thought we were having a beer.’
‘We did. We had a beer. And now you need to go talk to her.’
‘You don’t even know what’s wrong.’
‘I don’t, and I’m not the guy you need to talk to about it. And to a certain extent, the less I know about you two and your various woes, the happier I’ll be.’ Albus smiled to take a sting out of the gibe. ‘Come on. She’s miserable. You’re miserable. If you pissed her off, go say sorry. If she pissed you off, go give her the chance to say sorry.’
‘Thank you for accepting the chance that I’m not the one in the wrong.’
‘Are you the one in the wrong?’
‘Astonishingly, this time I think I’m not.’ It was an odd sensation. ‘I don’t want to be angry at her any more.’
‘Then go on. Get back to your cabin.’ Albus waggled the box. ‘And if it goes horribly wrong, we’ll have another beer. And I promise I won’t press unless you want to talk.’
Scorpius stood, shoulders slumping. ‘All right. Thanks, mate.’ He slipped out the door, into the gloomy corridor below decks that ran between the cabins. For a luxury magical boat, it wasn’t the biggest vessel in the world - but it was meant to be cosy, he mused, meant to be a close and comfortable. Which was ideal right up until he wanted some distance from people. Their expedition wouldn’t give them any more space in the future. And he had no desire to be fighting with Rose when they got to their destination.
He hesitated at the door to her cabin. They’d rowed before, of course, seemingly countless times; they’d even rowed when it had been more her fault than his. But he’d dealt with that badly every time, and by the time they’d reconciled they’d both had things to apologise for. Scorpius had the creeping sensation that today he was the truly wronged party. It was an unusual feeling. He rapped on the door, and reached for the handle when he heard her voice from inside.
She was sat on the bed, curled up by candlelight with one of the books she hadn’t lost in Kythos, because she’d not done enough reading on Kythos to unpack them. He’d made sure she was distracted. But she looked up as he shut the door behind him, and her face flushed. ‘Scorp…’
He clasped his hands behind his back, resting them on the doorknob. ‘Hey,’ he said at length. How, exactly, was he supposed to request an apology?
But she put the book to one side and slid across the bed to perch on the edge. He hadn’t been so acutely aware of the distance between them in a long time; for months he could reach for her when he chose, and for weeks before that he’d been too caught up in the crisis to feel that crackle.
‘Hey, yourself,’ she said. And then nothing else. She sounded tense and fraught, and he figured he’d surprised her. There was no practised speech to make this all better, and he had no idea what to say to fill the silence which wasn’t horribly accusatory. And he’d done hurting her because he was hurt.
‘If something’s on your mind,’ he settled on, ‘I want to help. But not if you’re going to use my father as a tool to push me away. I’ve spent half my life trying to shake the damage he’s done. But we’re in a crisis, of course - when are we ever not in a crisis - and I don’t like fighting with you, and -’
‘I’m sorry,’ she blurted out, and the knot in his gut eased. ‘It was wrong of me to use your father to distract you, I just - I needed time to work on some stuff in my head and I wasn’t sure how to tell you that.’
‘Um. Like that?’
She didn’t get up, hands tensing on the blankets. ‘Would you have accepted that?’
He blinked. ‘What?’
‘Would you have gone, “Oh, okay,” and given me space, or would you have fussed some more?’
Scorpius bit his lip. ‘That’s a fair question. But in my defence, you didn’t give me the chance to find out.’
She dropped her gaze. ‘I know. I am sorry. But that was what I was afraid of. Partly. I was more afraid I’d talk to you and you’d think I was a bad person.’
He sat next to her with a sigh. ‘Now you’re making no kinds of crazy sense. And you’re meant to be the smart one.’
‘Yeah. The smart one. The one who does the magic others can’t. Like Legilimency.’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘Albus didn’t ask me to read Lisa’s mind. He implied it, sure, but he didn’t ask me outright, and I did it anyway to - I don’t know. Save him from himself? Stop him from having to make such a vicious decision? And so I chose to do it.’
‘Um.’ Scorpius was doing well for eloquence tonight, he thought. ‘Yes. And it helped.’
‘Do you want me in your head?’ She looked at him sharply. ‘I mean, really in your head. Everything you think and feel laid bare.’ He hesitated, and her expression twisted. ‘And if I did it anyway, crept in there while you slept -’
‘Okay, okay. Point made.’
‘And you’re someone who trusts me. We’ve been through so much and you don’t want me in your head - and I don’t blame you for that, I mean, that’s normal. But I did that to someone on our side. And not for specific facts; I didn’t care about what I learnt about Paquet, we just needed it. I’ll hopefully never see her again. And I didn’t go far into Lisa’s thoughts, but I could have. Every time I see her, I think, “I’ve seen parts of you that you never chose to show me.” She’s our friend. Our ally. And I violated her privacy in the most fundamental way possible.’
‘This is what’s been on your mind? That I’d think you were a bad person?’ He reached for her hand. ‘Rose, how could I ever judge you -’
‘You should.’ She slid away from him. ‘That’s - yeah. That’s what I thought I was afraid of. But this is really it. That I’d do it, and that you wouldn’t care.’ Slowly her gaze raised to meet his, dark eyes blazing in the candlelight. ‘What’s this quest doing to us, Scorpius?’
His throat went dry. ‘You didn’t care when I killed someone.’
‘I did. The difference is that while it happened and had to happen, it’s not something we think is okay, and it’s not something we want to do again. If you had your time over, you’d try to find another way.’ Her expression tightened. ‘But I had all the time in the world and still did what I -’
‘Stop it.’ He grabbed her hand again, too quick for her to pull back. ‘We’re in a tough spot and we’re doing tough things - and the answer to that isn’t for us to rip ourselves apart with guilt, it’s for us to stick together. To help each other. We try to do right, and maybe sometimes we falter, and maybe sometimes the paths are going to push us into dark places, but we return to the light because we guide one another.’ His gaze flickered across her face. ‘Like you guide me. Like you’ve always guided me.’
‘Not always.’ The slightest guilty smile tugged at her lips. ‘There was a time I thought you were a little shit.’
‘To be fair, I’m still a bit of a little shit.’ He returned the smile encouragingly. ‘I’m not going to tell you that you were right or wrong to do what you did. Because, hell, I don’t know about a cosmic balance of good and evil. What I do know is that you’re a good person. And if this means that you don’t want to do that again, then I will be here next time you doubt. I will help you find another way, or help you live with the uncertainty and guilt of doing nothing at all.’
Her grip on his hand tightened like a vice, and he managed to not wince. He could see relief flooding through her, and the tightness in his chest loosened at the knowledge that he could still help, still reach her. Still make all of this better. When she spoke, her voice was lower, more distant. ‘I’ve been trying to remember,’ she murmured, ‘when I first called you by your first name.’
‘After Tim died,’ he said without missing a beat. ‘I remember because I yelled at you for it - for coming close in a crisis after pushing me away. And, you know, I felt guilty about that.’
‘We’ve got a lot of guilt,’ said Rose with a frown.
‘I hear it’s bad for you.’
She met his gaze, and he was astonished to find a glint of fear there. He wasn’t used to her being uncertain in these things; she was always so righteous, so sure. For years he’d found it as annoying as it was entrancing. ‘I’m willing to let go if you are.’
He leaned in, rested his forehead against hers, and never broke eye contact as they brushed noses. ‘I forgive you for yesterday,’ he murmured. ‘Maybe I’m not the one to forgive you for the rest, but I know you, and I trust you, and I believe in you.’
Her eyelids fluttered, breath catching in her throat. ‘I didn’t dare come after you; I was too horrified with myself. And I didn’t think you’d come…’
‘Course I did,’ Scorpius breathed, and lifted his fingertips to trace along her jaw, then up to play with the springy, defiant lock of hair that always made him want to kiss her. ‘I’ll come back every time.’
‘Every time.’ But her voice was just a low murmur, and then her lips were on his. One hand tangled up in the hair at the nape of his neck; the other was at his collar, grasping his shirt to hold him close. ‘I couldn’t bear you thinking less of me,’ she whispered against his mouth.
‘How could I?’ He kissed her before she could answer, kissed her because he had to, because he’d burn if he didn’t. And it wasn’t enough; still wasn’t enough, so his touch at her shoulder pressed her down, pinning her on the bed under him, breath and thought and bodies mingling into one. ‘And I mean it.’
Their hands were teasing past clothes to reach for warm, bare skin, and it seemed to take a physical effort for her to summon the wherewithal to murmur, ‘Mean what?’
‘Every time.’ He locked his eyes on hers, letting his mouth brush against her lower lip but not closer, and her body arched under his to press them together. ‘I’m not just being cute. To hell with arguments. To hell with it all. To hell with golem-dragons and Prometheus Thane and Eridanos itself if it comes to it; nothing will keep me from you.’
‘Then don’t let it.’ Her words hummed at her throat as he kissed the curve of her neck, running through his body by feel as well as sound, and he looked up again, confused. ‘Don’t hold back tonight.’
His breath caught. ‘Are you sure?’
The firelight caught her smile in response, and he couldn’t fight off a shiver as her fingertips ran up his spine. ‘I guess you do need to ask when I’m seducing you. For the record, this is it.’
He would always remember that moment, Scorpius thought. The candlelight playing like fire in her hair, fire in her eyes. The utter certainty and trust in her gaze, enough to soothe his hesitation. The warmth in her touch, enough to remind him that while there was darkness ahead, and trials and woes to come, all that mattered here and now was her. He kissed her again, and this time he did not hold back.
It would be a lie to say that everything was perfect. They had their fair share of awkward fumbles, unfortunate bumps, but it was nothing that a pleased giggle and another kiss couldn’t fix, and then they were lost to the moment, to each other, again. He’d been scared with Miranda, Scorpius remembered - excited and overwhelmed too much to fall to the fear, but it had been there, and it was a fear that had burned him when she went on to hurt him. There was no fear now. No fear that Rose would hurt him, no fear that he would let her down - let her down in the long run, let her down by ruining the moment.
It was imperfect, but they didn’t care because they were together, and that made it perfect.
They did not say anything for a long time in the aftermath, tangled up in the sheets, the low candlelight, and each other, bodies worn and warm together. There was nothing words could say their intimacy had not, and so Scorpius was half asleep, fingers entangled in her hair, her head making a pillow of his shoulder, before the first wry thought struck him.
‘I thought,’ he murmured, and she made a low, tired noise of protest against his neck at the sound, ‘that we were going to properly talk about stuff, all responsible and the like.’
She lifted her head, eyelids low, gaze sleepy as she regarded him. ‘I thought my words were perfectly clear, Malfoy.’ They laughed, though after a moment her expression sobered, and she bit her lip. ‘Are you sure about where we’re going?’
He frowned. ‘If Matt thinks the Bahamas are -’
‘I mean where we’re staying.’
‘I’ve not told you where we’re staying.’
‘You’ve not needed to.’ Her gaze didn’t falter, certain and trusting.
He kissed her forehead. ‘It’ll be fine.’ I hope. But that was another day’s problem, and tonight he just had her to keep his focus, and that was more than enough for one world.
‘We want San Salvador,’ said Matt as they climbed the steps leading from the pier up to the tall, sunlit house that sat on the cliff, gazing down at the endless Caribbean seas. ‘So why are we here?’
‘We need somewhere to stay. The boat can get us to San Salvador in about an hour. But I’m not living on that boat throughout the bloody search, Doyle,’ said Scorpius, springing to the front of the group.
He’d been springing about a lot, lately, Matt thought. Grinning like a fool since their second morning on the boat, and Rose, too, and he’d put two and two together and decided he didn’t like maths much any more.
‘Then where is this?’ asked Selena, and though she didn’t look at Matt, he still gave her a glance of gratitude that someone else wasn’t happy to indulge Scorpius’ mysterious bullshit.
‘You’ll see,’ was all he said, and kept on up the steps. So he didn’t see Selena’s eye-roll, and if he heard Matt’s grumble he didn’t react, and he certainly didn’t spot even Albus and Rose exchanging a wary look.
‘Fancy place,’ Lisa mused as they reached the huge front door, bathed in shadow by the row of palm trees along the short path between steps and house.
‘And paid for,’ said Scorpius, rapping the giant knocker, ‘by the very best oppression of the downtrodden of Britain.’
It took a second for Matt to turn those words over in his head, and so he only realised what was going on, where they were, when the door opened to reveal a tall, dark-haired witch with an easy, sunny smile. It was a familiar smile, even though it turned to shock at the sight of them, and it was the final piece in the puzzle that no longer needed solving when Scorpius returned the exact same grin and opened his arms.
A/N: Not much to say on this chapter, except I did promise we'd meet Astoria before the end! Also, sorry on the delay; I thought I'd already put it in the queue for some reason!