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Chapter 46 : The Shining of the Stars
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The candlelight under the huge tent shone bright and silver, like starlight had been captured underneath tarpaulin. An outdoors wedding in winter would have been cold, but charms kept the frosty wind at bay, made the wedding celebrations a cosy sanctuary against all perils of the outside world. And then the band launched into a new song, and the lights sparkled, and this place was no austere escape from reality, but a joyful celebration of life.
He’d intercepted while the dancing was still fast, the music still a steady beat, which hadn’t been so bad because it was difficult to dance and talk. It was made even harder when Scorpius realised just how terrible a dancer Rose was. So it was a mixed blessing when the band swung out of one song and slipped into the next, from floor-thumping Celtic tempos to something slower, rolling, but he made sure he didn’t miss a beat. He stepped in, brought one hand to her waist and made absolutely sure she had no control of how this dance would go.
Mostly because he still had appearances to keep up.
He watched colour rise to her cheeks, watched her eyelashes flutter as she fought for composure, but her voice was low and throaty when she said, ‘I wasn’t sure you’d be here.’
‘Without international crises, turns out more people could make it. I knew Victoire would kill me and Teddy if I snaffled someone’s spot at the ceremony or reception, so I told him I’d make it to the party. I wasn’t sure you’d be here.’
‘I did promise.’
‘And you promised to wear an amazing dress.’ Scorpius let his eyes drag over the dress, which he wasn’t equipped to describe as anything other than ‘blue’ and ‘slinky’. ‘So we’re two for two. I’d hope you wouldn’t break hearts, but maybe you decided to compromise and break men’s feet.’
Her eyebrows shot up. ‘I am not that bad a dancer -’
‘I was thinking about calling in IMC peacekeepers for my toes.’
Rose laughed, and that tore at the tension in her eyes he’d seen since coming back, that had doubtless been there longer, and had reached new levels since the ritual. ‘Then I guess I’d better let you lead.’
‘Said Rose Weasley, never.’
‘What can I say? The world’s changing.’
Scorpius braced for what he usually felt at comments like that, the sense of a brick wall blocking him off from all future, the smothering of claustrophobic mortality. Instead there was nothing but the sense of a rolling horizon ahead, and guilt on the breeze. So while he gathered a response, he turned and dipped her. The yelp made this seem less like a smooth, romantic dance move, and more like they’d both tripped. ‘You really are terrible at this.’
‘I had - I had better things to do the last two years!’
‘I was dead the last two years and I can still dance better than you!’ But he grinned, grinned a ridiculous grin, and now he felt guilty for not feeling guilty, which was a whole new vista of ridiculous. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t around the last few days.’
‘I suppose being not dead put a dampener on your plans.’ The tension returned to her eyes, though it was as if she had mastered it now, owned the pain instead of being owned by it. It wasn’t the same as the pain being gone. ‘I’m sorry about… about de Sablé.’
That brought a more familiar stab, but all he could do was shake his head. ‘Thank you. But you don’t need to be sorry.’
‘It was my screw-up. I’m still not sure how it happened, how the transference of life-magic…’
‘Rose.’ He met her gaze and that shut her up. ‘I only need an explanation in so far as I want to be really sure I’m not going to drop dead at some magical sneeze, or another Null field -’
‘No more than a centaur would drop dead in a Null field -’
‘I’m going to assume they don’t.’ The corners of his lips twitched, because even at his worst it was hard to not be endeared by her fierce intellect. ‘But other than that, what’s done is done.’
Her eyes flickered down. ‘It was still my screw-up that got him killed.’
‘And it’s still me who should have died in his place. We don’t forget. We don’t brush over it. But maybe this is a mistake we can live with.’ He stepped in, pulled her closer, and saw how she didn’t quite meet his gaze, even as her hand at his shoulder gripped tighter.
Maybe that was for the best. Maybe he didn’t want to linger on the topic of Reynald de Sablé for too long. Maybe he didn’t want to ask too many questions about how, when the energy dissipated and the spots in front of his eyes faded in that chamber in the Parisian catacombs, he’d been able to sit up, able to feel his arms and legs, able to look around and see his four friends picking themselves up. See the corpse of the man who had died to destroy the Chalice in his place.
See how Rose’s horror had been genuine, but her surprise had not quite rung true.
So he let her move a little closer, let himself revel in the feel of her, the warmth of her, in a way he hadn’t in this life, and that had his heart pounding in his chest in a way which, for once, didn’t make him feel tense, didn’t make him feel sick.
I don’t have to go.
The party was in full swing, even if the music was in a lull. Couples swam around them, and from here he could make out the vibrant sight of Teddy and Victoire, back for another dance after a few songs of being dragged away by their friends and family. Their smiles shone enough to rival the starlit candles and added to the warmth he couldn’t feel, but sunk to his bones regardless. It ebbed across the room, and it was like he could pick out every laugh, every grin, every clink of glasses, every waft of perfumes. Nothing had changed in him, and yet everything was louder.
‘Oh, crap,’ he hissed, eyes snapping back down to Rose. ‘Your father is eyeballing the hell out of us.’
She looked up, master of that tension again, and had he known her less well he wouldn’t have been able to spot it. ‘You did walk into the biggest family event in years and dance with his daughter. What did you expect?’
‘I thought he liked me. He was always decent when I was staying with the Potters. Except for that one time he mentioned how your Uncle Charlie’s dragons eat people and then said I should visit Romania sometime.’ Scorpius’ brow knotted with mock-thoughtfulness. ‘I wonder if that was a threat.’
‘Sorry, Scorp. You’re at a Weasley family function. You have to put up with the Weasleys.’
‘Then in the finest of Malfoy traditions, I will do nothing half-heartedly. Usually that extends to fuck-ups or power-abusing oppression, but in this case…’ He stepped back, not relinquishing his hold. ‘I’m going to spin you and you’re going to try to not die, okay?’ The only thing he could say for the result was that they did not, in fact, die. She stumbled and fell against him afterwards and he caught her, both laughing so hard it was just as well the song finished then. ‘No more! I surrender!’ He led her off the dance floor, both of them in more of a state than they’d been when they arrived, cheeks flushed, hair wild. ‘The good news is your father isn’t between us and the bar.’
‘You can’t dodge family all night, you know.’
‘I wasn’t planning on it. I was just going to have a drink first.’
‘Dancing with me? Getting me a drink? Anyone would think you’re up to something.’
He could tell she said it without thinking, said it with the flush in her cheeks and the brightness in her eyes, but he felt her hesitate as they moved through the crowd for the makeshift bar. So he gave her a sidelong look and a smirk. ‘I said I was going to have a drink. Don’t jump to conclusions.’
The joke did its work, diffusing the question but not her mood. ‘I shouldn’t have assumed you chivalrous.’
‘I respect your self-reliance. You’re a strong, independent woman. You can order your own drink,’ he said, leaning against the bar as they got there. She rolled her eyes, did so, and once she’d had a sip he smirked and said, ‘You’re welcome.’
‘I’m not thanking you for letting me get my own drink.’
‘Actually, when I didn’t die and leave everything to Teddy, I paid for the bar as a wedding gift instead. So technically I got you that drink.’
His triumphant grin didn’t flicker even when she swatted him on the arm. ‘You are such a snob.’
‘Also, technically, I got everyone in this party a drink.’ Scorpius mock-frowned at the gathering. ‘I wonder if that means Al will dance with me, too…’
‘I knew it. You come back and sweep Albus off his feet; this was inevitable.’
‘Hey.’ Despite himself, his gaze sobered and his hand shot out to grasp hers. ‘I do want to go catch up with Al. And I should give Teddy and Victoire my best. And I’ll let you check in with your dad and Hugo after all this time.’ And they can maybe see you smile like this, because the world should see you smiling like this. He swallowed the surge in his chest. ‘Then when we’re done, when it’s a bit quieter, we can… talk, maybe?’
Her cheeks coloured once more. ‘Yeah. That’s - we should - can do that -’
Scorpius smiled, the teasing twist back as he stepped in. ‘And maybe by then you’ll have remembered your vocabulary.’
Indignation returned to her eyes. ‘And maybe by then you’ll have -’
But he lifted her hand, brought her knuckles to his lips for a feather-light kiss, and her words collapsed along with her indignation. His smirk only broadened as she sputtered. ‘Good comeback.’
Rose’s eyes narrowed. ‘This isn’t over.’
‘I’m counting on it,’ he said, smile intact as he took his glass of the best champagne and waltzed away from the bar. Again his heart thudded in his chest, except in the weeks before it had been a countdown. Now it was a drum-beat to march to, head high, a chant that he was alive, alive, alive.
So he had no qualms about shouldering his way through the crowd by sheer presence, his exuberance alone enough to make people step back to let him intercept Teddy and Victoire as they emerged from the dance floor. ‘Congratulations!’
Teddy brightened, and his handshake was firm, genuine. ‘You made it.’
‘My schedule opened up, so how could I turn down a party?’ He rounded on Victoire, took her hand and bowed down to kiss it, though with much more ridiculous, self-aware pomp and flourish than with Rose. ‘You look fantastic.’
‘Thank you, Scorpius,’ she said, far less icy than at their last meeting, as if the warming charms defrosted more than winter. ‘And thank you for -’
He waved a dismissive hand. ‘It’s the least I can do, making sure everything goes swimmingly. Even if it’s swimming in champagne.’ He turned back to Teddy. ‘I thought about what you said. I will pay your Gran a visit, though not tonight. The heavy stuff can wait.’ Or, I have enough heavy stuff. Let’s get the old baggage under control before I pick up some new.
But there was a press of well-wishers behind him, so he didn’t linger. Finding Albus in the crowd was easier than expected; Weasley hair normally stood out, but for once he was searching for someone who wasn’t a redhead. He found Albus next to a redhead, though. Lily bounced when she saw him, and hurtled over for a hug. ‘Scorpius! You’re not dead!’
Scorpius rocked back with genuine surprise. ‘I know! Isn’t it awesome!’
‘I didn’t know I particularly gave a damn and then you were dead and that sucked!’ She pulled back, beaming. Then he saw the glass of fizzy wine in her hand and understood. ‘I didn’t see you arrive! Then you were dancing with Rose and nobody wants to interrupt those smoochies - I mean, I assume there are smoochies -’ Lily looked cautiously at Al. ‘I’m right, aren’t I?’
Albus gave a hapless shrug. ‘I’m so not the person to ask.’
‘Oh yeah, he’s having smoochies with a criminal mastermind.’ Lily jerked her thumb at him.
‘Would you please stop saying, “smoochies”?’ her brother groaned.
‘Hey. Hey. Omega Potter.’ Scorpius had to try twice to get Lily’s attention. ‘You should go top up your glass; the bar’s only free for the first five hundred galleons and it looks like James is trying to exhaust that before midnight.’
‘That’s -’ She turned to the bar and almost fell over. ‘How dare he!’ Then she was off, barely giving them a wave. ‘Bye! Try to stay not-dead!’
‘I’m getting really good at it!’ Scorpius called in her wake.
Albus gave him a flat look. ‘When she vomits everywhere, I’m telling Mum to blame you.’
‘Not fair! She was clearly doing fine without my help.’
‘Yeah, but you made the bar free.’
‘I know, right? Cheers.’ He lifted his champagne glass, and Albus couldn’t help but beam and raise his own. ‘So how’re you doing, mate?’
‘Me? I should be asking you.’ Al watched as he perched on the table next to him. ‘What with your plans thrown into wild disarray by being not-dead.’
‘I know, it’s a scheduling nightmare.’ Scorpius sighed and had a gulp of his drink. ‘It’s like I’m deliriously happy but want to vomit. Is that normal?’
‘What the hell’s normal any more? I don’t think I even care. I’m just glad you’re here. I’m sorry Rose feels like she fucked up the ritual and got de Sablé killed, but I can’t be sorry things worked out like this.’ Albus gave a guilty shrug. ‘Call me an arsehole. He’s not my brother.’
Scorpius slammed his eyes shut and bowed his head, because it was that or burst into tears in the middle of a party. ‘You’re not an arsehole,’ he croaked after a moment.
Albus threw his arm over his shoulder. ‘You’ve earned this, mate. I know, I know, life and death is never about earning or deserving, it’s just what it is. But you know how you made me promise to stand by everyone when this was over? Now that includes you. And you don’t get to wallow in guilt - guilt for being alive, or guilt for daring to like being alive. I won’t allow it.’
Scorpius swallowed hard, and gave himself a few moments to make sure he was back in control before he said, with a forced but not insincere smile, ‘I should have made you promise to not dance.’
‘Hey, I’m not that bad!’ Albus paused. ‘There wasn’t much time for dance lessons when roaming the world, hunting evil!’
‘Rose used a similar excuse! There weren’t dance lessons in the Otherworld, either!’
‘Fine! We’ll have to go out, and you can show me how it’s done.’
‘You asking me to dance? ‘Cos there’s still a band, and it’ll hilariously horrify Rose…’ Scorpius put his glass down, giggling, but Albus raised his hands.
‘Oh, no. I don’t dare invoke wrath of Rose. I wasn’t gone long enough to forget that.’
‘Nobody can be gone long enough to forget that.’ He grinned and retrieved his drink. ‘Besides, seems you’re spoken for in the case of smoochies.’
Albus turned bright red, and that just made Scorpius smile even broader. ‘Yeah, Lily’s just been dumped so she’s living vicariously; maybe if she finds someone new she’ll stop using that word.’
‘Nice evasion, but I’ll matchmake for your sister another time.’ Albus looked briefly horrified, and Scorpius didn’t stop. ‘So how’s Eva.’
‘Possibly getting pardoned,’ said Albus, and Scorpius unwittingly followed in Rose’s footsteps by spitting out the last of his drink.
‘Yeah. Something about saving a building of people and spending the last two years fighting the Council means she shouldn’t get locked up for life for deeds committed when she was barely an adult after an upbringing of brainwashing at the hands of Prometheus Thane.’ Albus peered at his glass. ‘Maybe I should stop drinking.’
‘Why, because you’re speaking blunt and honest sense instead of trying to be all even-handed and second-guessing? Rock on, Tipsy Albus.’
Al sighed. ‘I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do for the law to forgive her. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do for me to forgive her.’
‘I hate to break it to you, Al, but nobody knows what’s right and what’s wrong; not once you step outside the obvious, and complicated likes sneaking up on the obvious, too. “Don’t kill,” oh, unless you have no choice, or unless it’s the lesser evil, or sometimes you do it but it’s not that bad…’ Scorpius eyeballed his empty glass, then shook his head. This wasn’t about him. It was about Albus. ‘I believe there’s absolute evil in war. I don’t believe there’s absolute good. And the war’s over. Maybe I’m projecting all over Eva, but I think your assessment was right. She deserves a shot at a real life. I’d say she’s earned it, but a shot is something everyone deserves, not something you earn. She never had that.’
‘Maybe, but -’ Albus furrowed his brow and swept a hand around the room. ‘You were right, I need to stick by my family. I need to live my life, here, with the people I care about.’
‘So imagine me bringing Eva to this party.’
Scorpius did, and tried to not laugh. Then he failed, and it was a good laugh, a belly laugh echoing from deep inside. It bent him double, made him clutch Albus’ arm to keep standing, and had they not been at a merry wedding he’d probably have gotten a lot more funny looks.
‘I’m serious!’ Albus said, more embarrassed than indignant.
‘I know! I’m sorry, it’s not - okay, it is a funny idea, because I just thought of you two dancing. But that’s not what I was laughing at.’ Scorpius planted a hand on the table to right himself, wiped his eyes, and clapped Albus on the shoulder. ‘Congratulations. You’re worrying about normal stuff. What your parents will think, how she’ll do at family occasions - oh!’ He snapped his fingers. ‘It’s my turn to eat all the chocolates.’
‘When you figure out what kind of chocolates she likes, so you buy loads of those mixed boxes and pick out only the right ones for her. I did that for Rose, and you got to eat the surplus. It’s my turn.’
Albus looked nonplussed. ‘That was three years ago -’
‘What, I should charge interest? Extra chocolates?’
‘Albus!’ Scorpius grabbed his shoulders. ‘You need to focus and listen to me.’
‘You diverted completely about chocolates -’
‘That’s the point. It’s not life and death. War and peace. Right and wrong. It’s just you and a girl, and let me tell you, Al, that is always complicated, too. And sometimes as dangerous as Thornweavers. But a lot more fun.’ He beamed. ‘Maybe you like her and maybe you don’t, but that is the question you should be asking yourself. Do you want a future with her, and what do you want that future to be? Not if it’s right. Screw that, the world’s going to mess with that enough, and no, you do not like it easy…’
‘Okay, okay. I’ll… think about it. I just wasn’t expecting this. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it.’ Albus patted his hands until his frantic grip loosened. ‘South Africa happened, and we both remembered life is too damned short to waste, and we made the most of the time we had. We didn’t talk about what would happen when it was over, if she’d go to prison… any of it. She just makes me feel good about myself, and she’s - we’re -’ He stopped, sighed, and gathered himself. ‘We’re both past needing the other in order to be someone. But we’re still made better by each other. Does that make sense?’
Scorpius slouched against the table, looked at the crowd, and thought this would be the perfect time to gaze wistfully at Rose - if he could find her in the sea of red hair. He sighed. ‘Perfect sense.’
Albus elbowed him. ‘So. Rose.’
‘We’re going to talk.’
‘Uh-huh. I’m sure there’ll be lots of talking.’ Albus made a face, and peered into his glass. ‘I can’t believe I just did that to myself.’ He cleared his throat. ‘I take it you still want to know if Goyle sends word?’
‘I don’t have ancient ghosts to hunt any more. I might as well hunt my father. If the IMC don’t find him first as the Council collapses.’ Scorpius’ expression pinched. ‘Or Mum.’
‘She’s still not resurfaced? I’m sorry I didn’t keep track of her in Nairobi.’
‘How were you to know she’d run away, too? She went from respected relief worker to dropping off the face of the world.’
‘Do you think something happened to her?’
Scorpius frowned. ‘No,’ he said after a moment’s thought. ‘You said Geiger’s interrogation confirmed she wouldn’t have been executed if she’d been captured or handed over? I think she realised the Council wanted her specifically, got spooked, and ran off.’
‘I’m sorry, mate. Your family should have been with you in this -’
He turned and met Albus’ eye. ‘I want to know what happened to Draco because I need answers. But my family? They’re in this room. The ones who’ve been with me all along. The ones I’m figuring out, hey, maybe I should build some bridges there. That’s what matters.’
‘I’d drink to that, but you’re out of champagne.’
‘I am.’ Scorpius punched him in the arm. ‘We’re also in danger of getting sappy. So I’m going to go. Oh, tell the bartender I said you could have a bottle of champagne to take away.’
‘To take -’
‘For you and Eva.’
Albus rolled his eyes. ‘Enjoy your “talk”.’
‘You’re only hurting yourself, you know,’ Scorpius said with a wink, and waltzed off into the crowd, wondering if having another drink was going to make navigating a sea of red hair impossible.
Then a heavy arm fell over his shoulder, and Ron Weasley’s voice rumbled, low and ominous in his ear. ‘A “talk,” huh?’
This was, Scorpius thought, perhaps more terrifying than when he’d fallen to his death. ‘Oh, sweet Merlin, how long were you there?’
Harry appeared the other side of him, rolling his eyes. ‘Ron, leave him alone.’
Ron dropped his arm, grinning. ‘You always ruin my fun.’
‘I let you chase those Thornweavers over those rooftops in Athens!’
‘Let? I was long gone by the time you arrived. You’re just jealous I got the cool parkour chase -’
Scorpius looked frantically between the two old friends and tried to not whimper. ‘Do I need to be here for this?’
Harry made an exasperated sound, and turned to him. ‘I came to thank you, Scorpius, and give you my best.’
‘And I,’ said Ron, ‘came to scare the shit out of you.’
‘Good job,’ Scorpius squeaked. ‘Top marks.’
Ron dropped his arm, beaming. ‘We heard how everything with the Chalice went down, and how it almost went down. Harry thought we should be decent about it.’
‘Well - I don’t - I mean, it didn’t go down that way -’
‘No.’ Ron sobered. ‘And I’m glad.’ He glanced at Harry, who huffed and left, and Scorpius wasn’t sure if he was reassured or not by Rose’s father turning more serious when they were alone. ‘I know better than to interfere with my daughter’s life. She’s proved again and again that she’s capable of making her own decisions. I’m not going to lecture. I’m not going to threaten. I’m just going to remind you of something -’
‘No, seriously. She’s been through a lot. You know that better than I do, I think. Perhaps I don’t need to tell you to be careful, to tell you to be respectful. Hell, maybe it’s not like that between you two and I’m over-stepping my bounds, but you two are clearly important to each other, and -’ Ron stopped, jaw tightening as he fished for words. ‘She deserves to be happy. And this might be interfering father talking, but she’s been… fragile. For a while. All I’m asking is that you remember this.’
‘Hilarious though it is to be called “sir” by a Malfoy - don’t.’
‘Yes -’ Scorpius bit his lip, straightened, and looked Ron in the eye. ‘I worry about her, too. I kept away from her for a lot of reasons, some of them selfish, but some of them were because I didn’t want to hurt her all over again. Her happiness is still my priority.’
‘Good.’ Ron clapped him on the shoulder, looking a mixture of relieved and a bit abashed. ‘There’s a reason I like you being around my daughter, Scorpius. You make her laugh. That’s what the smart girls need.’
‘I like to think so,’ said Scorpius, actually wondering if setting fire to the tent would end this conversation sooner.
‘I’ll let you go.’ Ron nodded. ‘Just remember: blah blah, cliché threats, blah.’
‘Still suitably terrified by “blah”, Mister Weasley.’
Another clap on the shoulder. ‘Good man,’ Ron decided, and let him go.
The only good thing about this conversation was that Scorpius looked sufficiently shell-shocked, as he stumbled away, for his interception by Hugo to include a fresh glass of champagne pressed into his hand.
‘So, Dad can be a bit intense,’ said Hugo, brown eyes sympathetic.
‘Yeah.’ Scorpius took a huge gulp of champagne. ‘Thanks.’
‘No problem.’ Hugo leaned in, dropped his voice, and then those dark eyes weren’t sympathetic but black. ‘If you hurt Rose, I will beat you to death with all of my Quidditch Cup trophies. Which I won by demolishing the Slytherin teams. Twice.’ Then he disappeared in the crowd, and Scorpius clutched at his glass and wondered if coming to a Weasley wedding was a terrible mistake. A gulp of champagne only did so much to alleviate this feeling.
Except when he lowered his drink, the crowds had shifted and Rose was back in front of him, a flustered smile playing at her lips.
‘If it’s any consolation,’ she said, ‘Hugo’s kind of drunk. Lily was trying to match him drink for drink and now she’s outside vomiting with Roxanne.’
Scorpius wondered if Roxanne was helping her or in a similar state, then decided he’d had enough of worrying about the extended Weasley clan. ‘Your father wasn’t drunk, though, and remains a scary Auror man.’
‘Yeah, we had a talk. I think he’s guilty about being away the last few weeks.’ She shrugged and padded over. ‘It’s not like I don’t understand duty.’
‘And yet -’ Scorpius sipped his champagne, ‘-all of that’s over now.’
Her expression flickered before she raised her eyes to meet his gaze. ‘I suppose the question, now, is, “what’s next?”’
Scorpius swallowed. ‘That’s a good question.’ The crowd he’d been able to push back by sheer exuberance a while ago now felt close, claustrophobic, like ears were pressed against invisible walls around them. He drained his champagne glass and ditched it on the nearest table. ‘We said we’d talk.’
‘We are talking.’
‘Nice evasion. That’s usually my trick.’
‘I learnt a thing or two the last few years.’
‘But not dancing.’
Her smile was all silver nerves in the white candlelight. ‘I’m not talking here.’
‘Well, no, your whole family’s here and it’s your mother’s turn to threaten me next, then there’s a whole slew of cousins and uncles and aunts and so we might be here a while -’
She grabbed his hand and pulled away, leading him through the crowd and towards the edges of the tent. Beyond the tarpaulin was a stretch where the light and warming charms still reached, as far as an invisible line in the grass where the party ended and frosted wilderness began. It was past the line that she stopped, despite the biting cold, and turned to face him in the darkness.
But Scorpius knew he could map that face in his sleep, shape her from clay if only by memory. Even in the half-light he could see the tilt of her chin, apprehensive but determined, the wrinkle of her nose, thoughtful as her mind worked a hundred miles an hour, the glint in her eye. While he knew there would be, had to be tears still left to shed, guilt to overcome, amends to be made, for the first time in his second life he didn’t feel like he was jumping from moment to moment like crossing a river on lily-pads that could sink any time. Countless moments now tumbled before him.
And he wasted a good few of them doing nothing more than working his jaw, fishing for words, and settling, eventually, on the succinct, ‘Um. Well.’
‘I could -’ He frowned, not at her but at the tent, and drew a slow breath. ‘I don’t want to talk about Paris, or the ritual, or the Chalice, or - or de Sablé.’
Rose looked relieved and guilty. ‘Good.’
‘Or the war. Or how the Council’s doomed. Or about where Raskoph might be hiding. Or what happens next with the IMC.’
‘No, me neither.’
‘And I really don’t want to talk about your scarily large and scarily scary family any more.’
‘They’ve done quite enough today.’
‘So.’ Rose wrinkled her nose again. ‘I always make you do these bits. And yet I’m the one who’s had two and a half years just - just imagining this. A part of me still thinks this is the nightmare -’
‘Me being back is the nightmare?’
‘Because then I’d wake up and remember you were gone.’ Her expression fell, not to loss and pain but an earnest honesty. ‘So it’s like there are two halves of me right now. The half from the dreams, who just wants to kiss you and beg you to stay with me forever, come hell or high water. And the other half that says we’ve both changed, the world has changed, and it’s stupid to assume we can pick up where we left off, that things are more complicated. I don’t know if the first half is stupid or seizing the day. I don’t know if the other half is careful or broken.’
‘There’s nothing to lose from listening to the careful half,’ said Scorpius, voice low and deliberate, though his pounding heartbeat threatened to drown out all sound. He twisted his grip on her hand, raised it to clasp it in both of his. ‘We’ve got a lot of things to figure out. And we can take it slowly. We don’t want to stumble into anything and we have - we’ve got all the time in the world now, don’t we?’ She smiled at that, a smile reflected in the shimmering silver light from the tent, and he drew a deep breath. ‘So, would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?’
He’d faced hordes of reanimated corpses and troops of dark wizard Nazis, died and come back and defied death again. For Rose, he’d taken risks and bared his heart and locked himself away. He’d even been intimidated by her father five minutes ago. But standing there watching her, the seconds waiting for an answer felt like hours and this, perhaps, was the most scared he’d ever been.
Rose bit her lip. ‘You know, you never actually asked me out before.’
‘I took you out.’
‘That’s not the same. We just sort of stumbled into a relationship with ill-timed kissing and heartfelt declarations at bedsides.’
His jaw tightened. ‘Then I’ll do it super right and by the book this time, but you really need to answer before I pass out -’
Her giggle was like it spilt out, unbidden. ‘Yes, Scorpius, I’d like to have dinner with you.’
‘Good,’ he said before he could stop himself, but then he was beaming and so was she, and any light from the tent or skies was nothing compared to her face brightening. There was no more guilt, too much brightness for the shadow of de Sablé to fall far. The party had faded away, the winter’s chill had faded away, and he was as adrift as he’d ever been in the oceans of feeling in the Otherworld - except he had her, her he could pull closer, her he could wrap his arms around as an anchor. ‘But you’re right, I’ve been doing things wrong…’
Her finger raised to his lips was gentle, and almost enough to cut him off. ‘Scorpius…’
‘I’ve been trying to be responsible, trying to fight back against the Council, trying to find answers.’ His forehead rested against hers, voice low, throaty, desperate, and would have been too quiet to hear had they not been so near their breath mingled. ‘I’ve been trying to right my wrongs. I’ve been trying to avoid pain for myself, I’ve been trying to avoid pain for you -’
She leaned up, brushed her nose against his. ‘It’s over, you don’t need to justify yourself -’
But he bowed his head as hers tilted up, and though it was only the gentlest brush of his lips against hers, a whisper of a touch was enough to stop any more whispers of words. Her hand at his cheek tensed, though, and he stopped, chest heaving.
‘…I have not been kissing you,’ he decided, because this was probably the most important and the worst self-imposed duty. ‘I have not been kissing you every time I’ve seen you, every time you’ve had a brilliant idea, every time you’ve touched this bloody springy lock of hair -’ This he reached for, wound around his finger, and was rewarded with a quavering curl of her lips. ‘I have been not kissing you at every success, or kissing away every failure. I have been not kissing you every time I wanted to, which, at least, is like the old days because then I’d never be done kissing you…’
And then it was her turn to interrupt, to tug him down, and there was nothing gentle in the next kiss. He stumbled as his composure cracked, bringing them both past that invisible line, out of the frozen dark and back into the light and the warmth. It was perhaps surprise that parted her lips under his, but need that stopped either from pulling back, need that made the embrace fiercer than the winter, than the cold, than sense -
When Rose broke the kiss, it was only so she could murmur, voice like she’d run a marathon, ‘Forget everything I said -’
‘You say a lot,’ Scorpius rumbled, kissing the corner of her mouth, hands burying in her hair.
‘…about being careful - I don’t care, I don’t care - I’m sick of being broken, I’m sick of us both punishing ourselves -’
His eyes had to flash open at that, their gazes locking, and he knew, he knew what she was admitting. Fear shone through her burning need, fear that he’d push her away and back into the frozen dark, disgusted and betrayed. But that would cast them both away and it was far, far better to claw and stumble through the warm light of absolution together.
Scorpius kissed her again, soft and careful and lingering, and felt the shuddering tension flow from her. ‘Then we absolutely,’ he murmured, ‘one hundred per cent, have to get away from this party.’
A/N: See? I can totally give you guys nice things!