Rose's word of the hour was 'miffed'. It was the illegitimate love child of 'in a snit' and 'slightly displeased'—perfect to describe Scorpius Malfoy's current demeanour as he taught the new Beaters and Chasers a new formation in preparation for their first game next Saturday.
"Frank, steady your broom when you hit the Bludger. That way you won't wobble."
She wasn't wearing a watch, but she knew it was late. The sun had long since disappeared behind the distant trees, and even the warm afterglow in the sky had faded into a pearly, opalescent blue. Though the first faint stars were beginning to twinkle, a solemn greyness was brooding over the Black Lake. Rose hoped it wouldn't rain. She would kill for consistent sunshine, even if rain felt more appropriate for the time of year. Rain made for nasty Quidditch practices and even nastier accidents. Rose recalled her backup Seeker's ghastly fall last week with a wince.
Fortunately, today's practice had run smoother.
Since dinner, the new players had been running countless flying, catching, dodging, beating, and blocking exercises. And Scorpius was right in the midst of it all: leading, giving advice, and dodging his fair share of practice Bludgers. He made mistakes and accepted advice just like they did, but didn't seem embarrassed. This, Rose realised, was why he'd been chosen as captain over the more qualified Spencer Turnbull. Scorpius was a leader in every sense of the word, and saw no need to ram it down the throats of others. And he was better looking, too…
Wait. "Did I just think that?"
"Let's run it again!"
Rose, in an attempt to banish that thought from her mind, considered flying down to join the rest of the team in their drills. However, she decided against it when Lei Chu nearly beaned Stefan Filatov with a practice Bludger.
"Much better! One last time and then bring it in!"
Rose took her broom higher into the cool night-time sky, circling one of the goal hoops and flying through another before thoughtfully staring out into the distance. Instead of feeling tired, today's practice had left her with a sort of brittle restlessness that she felt in her bones. Just like the clouds over the lake, something else was brewing. Rose could feel it and see it in Scorpius' eyes at the oddest of times. Like when he'd asked her to come to practice when the two other returning players had the day off, she knew something big was in the works. She knew he was plotting against her.
But she'd come anyway.
When she looked down, Rose noticed that everyone was gathering in the centre of the pitch for closing words from their captain and figured she should do the same. By the time she hopped off her broom, a few had left for the castle, brooms in hand. Only five girls remained, and they herded around Scorpius like cattle, mooing and lapping up his every word.
"Did you invent that last formation we learned?" Tilly, her dormmate, asked rather giddily.
Rose barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes. It wasn't that Rose didn't like the girl; it was that they'd never developed a close friendship. Tilly was as intelligent and pretty as she was ridiculous. She'd entertained hopes of dating Scorpius since fourth year and only tried out for the Quidditch team this year to make him notice her.
Tilly, as usual, stood beside Scorpius, twirling a lock of her black hair around her finger as she waited for him to look at her. When he lifted his head to answer, she blinded him with a smile so bright Rose swore she could see the whites of her eyes glisten.
Scorpius kneeled to carefully place the old playbook into his bag. "Not alone." He stood and hoisted the bag over his shoulder. "Rose helped."
Not that any of them cared.
"I thought it was brilliant." Isobel batted her sixth year eyelashes in an attempt to be flirty, but all it did was make Scorpius' eyebrow rise over the thick rim of his black glasses.
"I did, too!" Lei Chu, a brilliant fourth year, exclaimed with too much exuberance. She immediately covered her mouth and blushed hard.
This was completely ridiculous…and mind-numbingly unoriginal. How had they all gotten into Ravenclaw? The Sorting Hat must have been washed too hot or something. Honestly! The shower of redundant compliments, the cute sparkle in their eyes, the annoying giggles, the longing looks…those were things they'd already tried to get his attention. They needed a clue. And fast. If it didn't work the first eight hundred times, then it would never work.
Besides, Scorpius wasn't like that. He wasn't the type that responded arrogantly to praise nor did he accept compliments. And Rose realised she understood his overall appeal a bit more at the moment. To them, he was ideal: attractive, rich, intelligent, modest, and confident when needed. But to Rose, he was…just Scorpius. Albus' best friend. The boy she'd been trying to avoid like a Celestine Warbeck concert since the start of term.
"I think it's safe to say that we all appreciate what you've done for this team," Tilly grinned.
Rose snorted a little too loudly.
Everyone looked at her.
"I did that aloud, didn't I?" she asked, not expecting an answer.
Scorpius covered up his amusement.
If looks could kill, Tilly would be an assassin…and Rose would be her victim.
Fortunately, Scorpius chose the perfect moment to save her from Tilly's death rays. For now, at least. Rose made a mental note to ward her bed. "Thanks, but a formation is only as good as the players who run them." He sounded completely diplomatic, but gave Tilly an uncomfortable glance when she shifted closer to him. He stepped back. "Does anyone have any questions or concerns?"
As Rose watched him field query after query, she found herself looking at him for the first time since dismounting. It most annoying that while she looked like a devolved version of the Cowardly Lion, the only evidence of Scorpius' hard practice was the slight glow to his skin and a few random drops of sweat gliding down his neck.
She scolded herself for staring.
"Since we don't have practice next Thursday, do you think you could maybe schedule a private practice for those who need it?" asked Hermione—one of the two in their year alone, though none could hold a candle to the original. "I could use a little more practice before the game." A shy yet flirty smile graced her pretty features.
The others started to rumble in agreement while Rose considered hanging herself with her hot pink hair ribbon.
Of course, Scorpius maintained his usual detached tone. "We still have practice on Tuesday. We can use the time to work on any last-minute issues, but I don't think I can schedule any other extra practices."
Disappointment momentarily washed over almost all their faces.
"Anymore questions?" There was silence. Looks were exchanged, but no one looked at her…except for him. "Rose?"
She bit on the inside of her lip. "No."
There was a gleam in his eyes that she didn't like. "Are you ready for the game?"
Rose set her jaw. "Always."
Of course, Tilly had to say something redundant. "They say the Cup is ours to win this year. Probably because we have such a good captain."
The sheep agreed and Rose decided that she'd had enough. However, instead of walking away, she dropped her broom to fold her arms across her chest.
Words started pouring from her lips before she could call them back.
"Are you lot done singing his praises? He's just one bloke with a good eye for strategy and leadership skills, not some superhero. He's no Batman. Now he is the quintessential superhero. Magic or not, Scorpius wouldn't make it one minute in Batman's line of work. He doesn't know how to brood properly…his arms would have to be folded."
Scorpius stared at her, as did everyone. Nothing made her more uncomfortable than six pairs of bemused eyes on her—well, nothing except the grey eyes looking through her. Not at her, through her. It didn't help that she looked like the portrait of a girl in desperate need of a shower, sporting wild hair in a tangled bun at the top of her head and her favourite Quidditch practice attire with holes in the knees. Rose felt translucent under his gaze, diaphanous—it was as if he knew all about her.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the first time Scorpius had given her that look, but it was the first time it temporarily sent her snappy attitude into hibernation. Shifting her weight, Rose took one good look at everyone and decided it was high time to make a clean exit. So she turned as gracefully as she could—stumbling and slipping just a bit on the saturated grass—and walked confidently in the direction of the girl's changing room.
Rose didn't realise she was sans broom until she locked the door behind her.
Well, she wasn't going back. That would only diminish the effect of her walk-out, or at least that was what she told herself initially. The truth of the matter was that Scorpius' look was waiting out there for her, and that was reason enough for her to stay put. Rose splashed water on her face and paced the length of the changing room for a full ten minutes before unlocking the door.
Everything seemed quiet enough.
She took a step out, looked left, then—
"I remind you of Batman?"
Rose jumped like a jackrabbit, whirling around in alarm. Of course, she just had to trip and fall on her side…right at Scorpius' feet. That was just how the world worked. Her hip was on fire. "Nunngh," She slowly pulled herself into a kneeling position and grimaced, "That's going to leave a mark."
With a noise that sounded dangerously like a chuckle, Scorpius pulled himself off the wall to help her up. His touch made her feel queasy, but apparently she wasn't the only one affected by the contact. Rose saw his hand clench the moment it released hers. And it sparked the little voice in the back of her head that had been virtually silent since the start of practice.
He likes you. He likes you.
"You're jumpy tonight," he remarked as she dusted herself off with a bit too much fervour.
"Well," Rose took a stance that was similar to her mum when she was cross with dad—arms folded, lips pursed, and eyes narrowed to mere slits. The thought was sobering enough to make her at least allow her hands to fall to her sides. "I wasn't prepared to have the shite scared out of me."
"I hope I didn't do that. It'd cause quite a mess for the house elves. I—"
"You're about this close to getting hexed," she glowered, squeezing her thumb and index finger together.
Naturally, he smiled and it was infuriating for a reason she didn't want to think about. Or accept. "You don't have your wand."
"I don't need my wand," Rose retorted, placing her hands on her hips.
The smile never left his face. Scorpius resumed leaning against the outside of the door. Rose finally noticed their brooms next to him. "So I remind you of Batman?"
He continued on as if she knew exactly what he was talking about. "I'd be flattered, if I knew who Batman was. Does he wear a cape?"
Rose held out her hand and her broom flew into it with ease. "Does he wear a cape?" she repeated with as much sarcasm as she could muster before rolling her eyes. "Ugh. First off," she told him, "I didn't compare you to Batman. Quite the contrary. And second, you wouldn't look good in a cape anyway. You're too wiry." And she left.
Rose hadn't made it halfway across the pitch when she heard him coming. He had a distinctive run, or at least that was the excuse she used to justify knowing his run. Scorpius ran after her like a high jumper moving for the cross bar. When he caught up, he wasn't nearly as out of breath as he should've been, especially since he was lugging a broom and a heavy-looking bag. Silently, he fell into step beside her, although he didn't say anything right away. Rose would've preferred a silent walk, but he wasn't the sort who kept quiet for long.
At least around her.
"I don't think Hufflepuff will give us any problems."
That was the lamest conversation starter, ever. Judging from the look on his face, he knew it.
"They never have before." Rose looked over at him. "Question: how did you manage to send your legion of fangirls away?"
"I just grabbed my stuff and your broom … and left."
"Did you say all that for me?" Scorpius asked suddenly. "You know, to—"
"I wouldn't read too much into it if I were you. I was rambling."
"So when you said I don't know how to brood properly…"
For the first time, Rose smiled. "Actually, that was the truth."
His grin was one that only he could produce—boyish and charming, with a hint of discomfort. It was the type that split her in two—half wanting to hex it off his face and the other half liquefying to a puddle of drool. Rose looked away from him, pretending he had no affect on her common sense whatsoever. She wasn't one of his zealots, living for that occasional look or compliment. No, that wasn't her. Rose was smarter than that. She was going to walk away from him in the same manner he'd walked away from his admirers.
Any moment now.
It was going to happen.
Scorpius sidestepped a puddle left from yesterday's rain and inadvertently brushed his arm against hers, causing her to give him wide-eyed look. "My—"
If it weren't for the sensory replay of his skin against hers, Rose would've been able to mutter something other than: "S'okay."
They walked on in silence, the only noise coming from the scrape of dirt and pebbles beneath their shoes. Scorpius walked with his eyes lowered, shoulders straight, and he seemed at complete ease in her presence. Rose wished she could say the same. She kept her head turned slightly so she could glance in his direction with a reduced chance of making eye-contact.
It was better that way, she figured.
Finally, they reached the tall double doors. She felt a burst of warmth from the castle as she pulled the door open for him. But instead of walking through without looking back, he stopped in the doorway and asked, "Are you still coming?"
So there it was. The conspiracy, or rather, the reason he'd requested her presence at practice. He wanted to make sure she wouldn't chicken out and stand him up. Rose frowned. That was … remarkably Slytherin of him.
This mess had begun with an almost awkward invitation at breakfast. "The Orionid meteor shower starts tonight … and I was … wondering if you wanted to watch it with me. We'll probably be alone because Sinastra didn't offer any extra credit." Scorpius' invitation had been met with a blank stare from Rose and a wide grin from Lily—a frequent visitor of the Ravenclaw table. Her ideal Friday night consisted of a fresh book, an arm chair, a blanket, and a quiet common room. Not a cold tower. And she'd told him just that. After he had rubbed the back of his neck nearly raw, Scorpius sat in the empty seat next to her and asked, "When was the last time the Common Room was quiet on a Friday night?"
The day before never.
After several nudges and, "You should go. It could be fun," from Lily, Rose had reluctantly agreed with a lacklustre, "Mmm, I guess."
Bad idea, she'd realised during a horrible moment at lunch. So unbelievably bad! It would be just the two of them. Alone. Late at night. In the Astronomy Tower. She didn't know what would be worse: the potential rumours or the possible changes that could take place. Rose sucked in a long breath. Changes. She knew that if she went, everything would change for her. For them. She would no longer be Rose Weasley: the Ravenclaw Seeker with famous parents and great balance. She'd be…well, she didn't know, but it probably wasn't good for her.
"I'm…" she shifted uncomfortably, so unaccustomed to blatant lying. "I'm not sure if I can come tonight. I'm a little rancid. I need a shower."
Shrugging, he walked on inside. "I do, too."
Rose followed, letting the door shut behind her and fell into step with him. "Not to mention, I have some reading to do for tomorrow's Arithmancy lecture."
He gave her a questioning look. "Didn't you read the entire text before the start of term?"
"Yes, but…" She scrambled for another excuse as she followed him to the Ravenclaw Quidditch broom closet to deposit their brooms. "I also have to read for History of Magic. Another Giant war, you know how those go."
Scorpius muttered the locking incantation and turned around. "No." History of Magic had never been his strong point. "But I'm sure you do, because you're an expert on every war and rebellion that's taken place over the last two thousand years."
"I like history," Rose's stance matched the defence in her voice. "And anyway, I need to proof my report for Ancient Runes. It's due next week."
His response was a little too quick for her liking. It was as if he'd anticipated and practiced one for all her excuses. "I can proof it for you tomorrow, if you'll look over my Transfigurations assignment. It's due next Tuesday. We can meet in the library tomorrow before the Gryffindor-Slytherin game."
"I think you're out of excuses."
"I think I am, too." Rose caved with a sigh and started bracing herself for the inevitable. "Midnight, right?"
The corner of his mouth twitched. "Yes."
She gave him a hard look. "Don't make me regret this, Malfoy. I mean it."
He didn't say anything until he was much too close. "I won't." Scorpius flashed a quick smile before he turned and left her standing in the middle of the corridor with pink cheeks and an undulating stomach. Rose waited until she was completely alone before she groaned her new word of the hour:
There was only one blanket, and his leg was coming dangerously close to hers underneath it. Tension, stemmed from the anticipation of them touching, was mounting at an alarming pace. Rose took a long drink of coffee to distract herself from the possibilities and disguise her reddening cheeks.
It was the perfect night for a meteor shower, he'd told her shortly after their arrival. The gloomy clouds over the lake had dissipated in the hours following practice, clearing the way for a cool and clear night. Stars shone brighter in the moon's absence, almost as if attempting to make up for the loss. And while she kept her gaze fixated on the sky, waiting for the first sign that the meteor shower had begun, Scorpius randomly spouted Astronomy jargon to fill the gaping holes in conversation.
"Any planet with a reasonably transparent atmosphere can have meteor showers," Scorpius told her. "Mars has them, but of course, they're different from the ones seen here. It's mainly due to the unique orbits of Mars and Earth and that they intersect the orbits of comets in different ways."
Rose tried her best to feign interest with a few glances and even fewer words, but truthfully, she'd never cared for Astronomy. Not the way he did.
"Tonight's meteor shower will produce double the amount of meteors in the southern hemisphere than it will in the northern. I've thought up theories in my spare time, but that's all they are."
She couldn't figure out if she was impressed that his brain could retain all that information without imploding, pleased that he considered her enough of an intellectual equal to discuss the science behind meteor showers, or annoyed by the situation unfolding around her.
"Umm, Rose?" Scorpius shifted beside her.
Sitting her coffee down, Rose turned only to find him way too close. For the second time that night she jumped, and then flushed. She didn't like being caught by surprise. "You've got to stop doing that."
"What?" For one horrifying second, she could feel the warmth of his knee against her thigh.
"Ah…erm, nothing." What could she possibly say? That she was working to the point of mental exhaustion to ensure that nothing changed between them tonight? That she was a lit fuse and every innocent touch was making her creep closer and closer to combustion? Even in her mind that didn't sound right. Rose frowned inwardly, fairly confident in the belief that she should have stayed in her dorm.
He shifted again, away from her, and she exhaled…barely. Scorpius was still so close that she could smell the soap in his hair, and was sure he could smell the lack of it in hers. She'd been too nervous while she'd showered and forgotten to wash her hair.
"All I was going to say is that you're looking in the wrong direction," he told her with a strange look on his face. "The point from where the Orionid meteors will appear to radiate is located right around where Orion is." And then he pointed to the visible constellation. "There. That small cluster of three stars."
It took several moments and a flashback to Astronomy, which she'd quit the moment she could, to figure out which cluster of stars he was referring to. "I see it."
She didn't have to look at Scorpius to know that he was looking at her. Because when he said, "Good," she felt his breath on the side of her neck. Rose gave an involuntary shudder, which she promptly blamed on the cool night. She spent the next few minutes strategically manoeuvring herself to ensure that no part of her would come into contact with him.
Naturally, Scorpius filled the silence with facts. "Meteor shower particles travel in parallel paths at the same velocity, which is why they appear to radiate from a single point."
"You talk a lot."
Even in the near darkness, Rose could see the pink tint on his cheeks when Scorpius glanced at her. He rubbed the back of his neck and confessed that he didn't care much for silence.
"Silence is peaceful."
To which Scorpius snorted and gave her a pointed look, "Not all of them."
Rose shifted uncomfortably. She wasn't stupid. Stubborn to a fault, yes, but not stupid. She knew exactly what he was trying to say.
And she hated to admit that Scorpius was right.
This constant awkwardness between them wasn't his doing. Only hers. There was something twisted and wrong coming from inside of her, and it was the reason she behaved out of character around him. Like earlier on the pitch, Rose thought with a distasteful frown. She could just hear Lily laughing her arse off at her, even though she was tucked in her bed in Gryffindor tower. Lily was the first person she'd ran to following her walk back to the castle with Scorpius. She was looking for someone to commiserate with, but all she got were poorly suppressed grins and awful advice: "You've got feelings for him, Rose. There's nothing wrong with that. Grow some courage and tell him."
Courage was one of those Gryffindor traits she hadn't inherited from her parents.
And then it hit her. All evening Rose had wondered just how she was going to make it through the meteor shower, but now she had her answer. She would remember Lily, and her asinine and illogical thoughts on feelings and love. She would think of the enormous joke she would feel like if she ever decided to tell him how she felt. It was enough to make the 'bothered' feelings dissipate and bring on a flippant attitude that suited her better.
"How much longer before the shower starts?" They'd been sitting in the Astronomy tower for nearly half an hour now and her bum was starting to go numb.
"Not much longer, I think."
Initially, the silence that followed was far from comfortable, but at least it had lost the discomfiture and abruptness of before. That was enough to slightly loosen the knots in Rose's shoulders. However, as it lengthened, she felt she was beginning to lose some of that impassive control she'd mustered and didn't know how to retrieve it. Scorpius had taken to staring the sky as if the meaning of the universe was locked in the pattern of the stars. While she surreptitiously watched him, Rose could feel the heavy weight of history pressing on her chest.
"So that's little Scorpius," her father had said the day she left for Hogwarts. "Make sure you beat him in every test, Rosie. Thank God you inherited your mother's brains."
She had every intention to listen to her dad, but sensible and kind Albus had a plan of his own. By the time she returned with sweets from the trolley and helped recapture a rat for a nervous boy, Rose had found her cousin sitting in their car with Scorpius Malfoy. They had been laughing together, and a bubble of indignation formed. But then, she had really looked at him. Albus wasn't a conversationalist, nor did he make friends easily, so to see him talking to Scorpius so effortlessly…well, it eased some of her worries about her cousin. Then, it seemed awfully silly to let her dad's words get in the way.
"This's Scorpius," Albus had said, gesturing to the only other first year that had changed into their robes early. "We're going to be best friends, right?" When the blond boy nodded with a nervous smile and clutched his large book to his chest, Rose silently doubted that their newfound friendship would last through the Sorting.
She'd been wholly wrong.
Albus went to Gryffindor and Scorpius went to Ravenclaw, but the bond that was forged on that first train ride only strengthened over the years. They still were nearly inseparable. The same couldn't be said for Rose and Scorpius. Despite being sorted into the same House and joining their House's Quidditch team second year, they weren't very close. What she knew of his character had been learned from Albus and casual observation during the weeks he spent at the Burrow during the summer.
Naturally, everything changed in fourth year when Mrs. Luna had given her a nearly dead Mimbulus mimbletonia for her birthday. As a self-proclaimed Herbology-hater and the only Ravenclaw barely making an 'A' in the class, a plant was a strong contender for 'the worst gift ever' award. It had looked dead, Professor Longbottom had said it was nearly dead, but when it had coated Tilly's face with Stinksap after she'd touched it, Rose decided that it wasn't too dead to save. So she asked permission to place it in one of the unused greenhouses and cornered the best Herbology student in their year to help.
Scorpius had seemed put-out about giving up a large part of his already limited spare time to help, but there had been moments when she could tell that he enjoyed it. A smile here. A look there. He'd started giving her books about plants, and even did a lot of research into the Muggle pop culture she loved so much to find a good name for it.
Audrey the Third, after the man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors.
Much to her current distress, Rose's Herbology grade and the Audrey's health weren't the only thing that soared, so had the time she spent with Scorpius and her interest in him. By the time she realised how she felt for him, it was too late to turn back.
And by Merlin, she'd tried. She was still trying.
"Rose?" Scorpius interrupted her trip down memory lane. "Are you still listening?"
She cut her eyes in his direction only to find that his were on her. That time, Rose didn't recoil or make any sharp movements. She swept her auburn hair back into a ponytail and replied with an ease she didn't feel. "To your babbling? Sort of." That bothered feeling she'd come to associate with Scorpius Malfoy had returned with a vengeance.
"I wasn't babbling. I was explaining."
"You explain for too long." Rose picked up her cup of coffee and took a long sip. "I don't recall you stopping to breathe. Is that even possible?"
There was a long pause. "If you really didn't want to come, you should've said something."
"And miss the excitement of a meteor shower?" she drawled. "How could I resist?"
Scorpius lifted his coffee cup to his lips and took a generous drink. It was hard for Rose not to watch. He never slurped. Not once, which was more than she could say for his best friend. When he sat his cup down, he brushed the hair from his face and straightened his constantly-crooked glasses. Rose bit down on the rim of her coffee cup. Merlin. Scorpius had this weird affect on her. Not in the crazy sense, but he did random things that made Rose want to throw away her good sense and snog him senseless.
She just wanted to launch herself at him and—the coffee cup in her hand started crackling.
A startled yelp escaped her lips as ice cold coffee bubbled up and over the rim, and she tossed the cup out of her hands, horrified. It didn't break on impact, but sprayed off a flare of blue sparks before coming to rest several feet away.
Rose blushed and looked over at the wide-eyed Scorpius, who had gotten to his feet as fast as she had. "Oops?"
"At least it didn't—" The mug promptly shattered. "Break." Scorpius took out his wand and with a flick, it disappeared. Another flick left her clothes and blanket clean. "I actually liked that one."
She didn't think it was possible for her face to get redder, but alas, it did. "Ah…sorry."
"Don't worry about it."
Things settled relatively fast. Scorpius sat back down next to her, this time keeping his distance. It made her feel…odd. Well, until she looked at him. Scorpius swallowed, rubbed the back of his neck, and cleared his throat as if he were getting ready to say something.
The look he regarded her with was strange in a soft sort of way. Then he took a deep breath and confessed, "I like you, Rose."
Rose promptly snorted and rolled her eyes before he could say anything else maudlin. She refused to do mushy confessions and romantic gestures. Not now. Not under a star-filled sky with the sounds of a cello in the background.
Wait a second.
A cello? Where the hell was the music coming from?
"Great," Rose muttered to herself. "I'm doing uncontrolled magic and hearing music in my head. Look at what this has done to me, Malfoy."
"It's the portraits in the stairwell," Scorpius explained, looking slightly put-out. "They like to have a little music played while they fall sleep. The portrait of the cello player is happy to oblige."
Rose raised an eyebrow. "And you know this how?"
"Two years of Prefect rounds," was his clipped reply. "You know. The ones you switched with Al so you wouldn't have to walk the dark halls with me."
She frowned, not liking the accusatory tone his voice had taken. But again, he was right. She had done that, but not because she hadn't wanted to go on rounds with him. It was because she had. A little too much. "I figured you'd want to go on rounds with Al." Rose replied lamely.
"You're an awful liar. You always have been."
A wave of irritation rose in her chest as she struggled to stay calm. Impatiently, she looked to the skies only to find that nothing had changed. No meteors. "When is this going to start? We've been out here for ages—"
"It's not going to start. The Orionoid meteor shower doesn't start for two days."
"Lied. Yes, I did." And he was extremely calm about that.
Rose, on the other hand, was not. There were a million things she wanted to say to him, but she couldn't sort them out. The right words were stuck someplace between her brain and lips. Clipped sentences filled with indignation and confusion followed. "But you—" Pause. "I—" Pause. "I can't believe—" Pause. "Why would you—"
"Lie? Well, that's quite easy. I told Sinistra that I was tutoring you for your NEWTs and she gave me the passes. It was the only way I could get you alone to figure out where I stand with you."
"Don't be daft, Rose. It's unbecoming. Don't tell me you didn't know how I felt."
Rose didn't speak a word.
She knew. Of course, she'd only figured it out at the start of term, but the knowledge followed her everyday. Every time she saw Scorpius, a sharp flutter in her stomach reminded her all over again. He likes you. He likes you. Avoiding him was imperative to the preservation of her dignity and self-control. In Rose's opinion, the one thing worse than knowing a boy hated her was knowing that one liked her.
"Did you know?" he asked.
"Yes," she breathed.
Scorpius had done strange things to show his affection for her since Fourth Year: asking her to be his partner in Potions when he knew she'd inherited her father's interest for the subject, saving the seat to his right in the Great Hall even when she didn't dare take it, helping her rescue Audrey, and going out of his way to walk to and from Quidditch practice with her. There was more. So much more. Their conversations. The looks. The smiles. But it was those incidents that she could recall immediately and with great detail. Those were the moments she could think about during the times she tried not to think about it.
They—no—he had overpowered her.
Rose could be having a pleasant thought about the downward mobilization of Wizarding society, and suddenly she'd have the urge to ask, "Why me?" or rant about how they would never work out. It was irrational…and scary.
"You know," Scorpius spoke after a long silence, amazement etched in his voice. "I didn't force you to come. You could've stood me up, stayed in your dorm, and there would've been nothing I could do."
"Yet you came anyway."
"Because…" He looked at her expectantly, almost telling her to finish that sentence.
Rose frowned. "Is that what you want? Someone to toot your horn? If so, I am not the one."
He gave her a look she recognised so well it was a wonder he didn't say, "What in the hell are you talking about?" Instead, Scorpius exhaled. The sound was practically a growl, and she could feel it in places that warmed her cheeks. "I don't want my horn tooted, or whatever the hell that means. I just want a clear signal. From you."
Rose felt as if she'd been metaphorically backed into a corner. Last time, she'd caved and put herself in this awkward situation. This time, she would fight.
Naturally, it didn't go as planned.
An explosion of indignant words flew from her mouth without censor. "A clear signal? Fine! Here's your bloody signal! Do you know why I was hesitant to come tonight? Because I knew this was a trap! I hadn't figured out exactly what tonight's purpose was, but I knew something like this would happen. I knew that coming here tonight would change everything for me. And I don't want that change. I want everything to be the same. I don't want to lose myself to—" Rose briefly faltered, realising that not only was she out of breath, but she was moments from confessing the truth behind her recent actions.
"Lose yourself to what?"
Stubbornly, Rose pursed her lips and refused to answer.
"To what, Rose?" Scorpius asked again, impatiently etched in his voice.
"You!" she shouted. The words echoed in the short silence that followed. "Okay, you." Rose sighed with disappointment…and an unexpected amount of relief, which masked every other emotion. Just like that, she knew what it felt like to have such an immense weight suddenly lifted off her chest. Rose felt almost sane; like she could breathe again after months of being suffocated by her feelings. It was euphoric.
That was until she caught a slow smile threatening to break the seriousness of his previous expression.
Rose glared. "Don't you—get that smile off your face!"
His grin only widened. "You like me."
She wanted the ground to open up and hide her from the mortification she now felt. This was something she would never live down. She immediately put it right there on her list of things she planned to eradicate from his memory the moment she became an Obliviator. That and the time he'd caught her tearing up at the end of a book she was reading (there was something in her eye)…oh, and all the times she'd fallen on her face in front of him.
"You irritate me."
"But you like me."
"Yes, and you like me." Scorpius was positively giddy. It was a little scary. "It actually explains everything, like why you avoid me like Spattergroit, cringe every time I touch you, and—"
"I need practical. I like logical. The fact that I like you is neither of those things."
"I know what you're going to say. 'Not everything has to make sense, Rose,' but I don't agree with that. It should make sense. It should be sensible. It—" Rose sighed as the smile slid off his face. "Everything in 'Roseville' makes sense to me…except you."
All signs of the grinning Scorpius were gone. "Then you should try taking a trip out of 'Roseville'."
"Easier said than done."
"I know that you need to be in control of your emotions all the time. I know that the cynic inside has a very strong grasp on your common sense, but wake up and smell the tea leaves. Anything involving emotions—they just don't make sense."
Scorpius didn't let her argue. "You've always been so damn practical that you think everything else has to be, but your feelings aren't always going to be like that. It's like…" he paused as he tried to grasp the perfect analogy. "It's like chasing a Snitch. You can't control it, change it, or make sense of it. The snitch never does what you want or what you expect, but that doesn't stop you from chasing it. It doesn't stop you from trying to grab it, does it?"
"No, but when I fly, I don't try to make sense of anything."
"And that's what you enjoy most about being a Seeker, right?"
It was the only time she wasn't consumed with her thoughts, but Rose kept that to herself and nodded. "So," she glanced over at him. "How is it that you're so knowledgeable about…well, this?"
Her brows furrowed. "Me?"
Scorpius chose his next words wisely. "You aren't exactly the easiest person to like."
Rose gave him a half-hearted shove.
He took the hit with a shrug and a smirk. "Well, you aren't! I had to plan, strategise, trick, coerce, and corner you into telling me how you felt. And I never knew for sure because it's very unlike you to actually express your feelings so freely." Scorpius shifted. "Now you tell me if having to do all that is the least bit logical."
She chewed on her lip thoughtfully. "No."
"But I did it. Because liking someone as difficult as you might not be practical, but it makes enough sense to me to make me…"
His answer would be extremely predictable, but it didn't stop her from asking, "To make you what?"
Slowly, Scorpius leaned in until his mouth was right there. Rose felt herself tense; her hands clenched and stomach tightened as he hovered over her lips. A shallow breath escaped her as she looked into his eyes. There were a myriad of emotions behind his, complex ones that Rose could barely comprehend. But there was one she could interpret. Scorpius was waiting for her to make a decision. About him. She could either push him away or pull him closer. Rose was well aware of what she should do, but what she wanted…now that was an entirely different matter.
A light bulb lit up in her head.
This could all be more about her curiosity about kissing Scorpius and less about feelings. Right? Maybe her brain was confusing the signals. Right? It made sense. Or that was what she told herself. It explained some things. Not everything, but she could worry about that later. Rose could kiss him, and then that would be it. He would move on to some other girl, and her life would return to normal. Soon enough, it would be as though their kiss had never happened.
It was a solid plan that was sure to work.
Or so she thought.
Rose inhaled, exhaled, and then she kissed him.
The first kiss was the kind that lingered on the lips a second too long to be merely friendly; the kind that carried promises. It was nice, but Rose realised she wanted it to be more, or, at least, different. It didn't feel right, to her massive relief. It—Scorpius slid his hand behind her neck, taking control as he drew her in closer. Rose's mouth opened just a fraction when she gasped...
And everything changed.
It was no longer just mouths pressed together. His tongue was in her mouth, running over her own, searching, seeking, and Merlin help her, she could barely think. There was clumsy inexperience, going with the flow…and hands. Hers buried themselves in his hair before she could figure out what to do with them, and his other hand was on her waist, pulling her closer.
Deep down, Rose knew this was the point of return. This was the point when she should've shoved him away and ran into the castle, screaming.
But she didn't.
Tentatively, she let her tongue graze his. He tasted like coffee and mint, and Rose faintly thought she could do this for days and days. The thought made her squirm uncomfortably. Well, that was before she felt his hand lightly massaging her neck. Tension fled from her body, causing her to press more gently against his. Scorpius groaned quietly, almost in a whisper, but she felt it. She felt everything, even things she didn't want to feel, and it made her lightheaded.
Kissing Scorpius was quickly proving to be a tactical error.
Rose finally gathered enough of her scattered sense to place her hand on his chest and put several inches between them. She was surprisingly breathless and it took several moments for her to recover. The silence was charged with a million perturbing thoughts that she couldn't begin to articulate, but one that stood out in clarity.
You were wrong and now you like him more than ever.
She looked at Scorpius, who was red-faced and trying to smooth down his wild hair. That she'd messed up. With her hands. While she was—Rose pinched off that thought quickly because if she blushed any harder, she was sure she would faint. She drew her knees into her chest and sighed. Scorpius looked over at her curiously…with crooked glasses.
Rose decided right then that she liked his awkwardness. It suited him, balanced him, and stopped him from being cocky. And it made her feel better, too. She liked how he fidgeted and played with his glasses, pushing them up and down his nose, whenever he was nervous or bored. She liked that he was doing that right now. And Rose finally decided that she liked that she knew those things about him.
But she hated him for it, too.
Scorpius had affected her like no other. Rose was the girl who didn't need feelings because she didn't believe in them. That was her shtick. Then, he came along and everything changed. Somewhere down the line, she'd transformed into an insipid ninny with feelings that ignored good reason to spend over an hour listening to him babble about meteor showers…
That was what was so upsetting to Rose as Scorpius watched her, waiting for her to say something. She wanted to be furious at him for lying to her, for turning her into this person, but it was all a confusing mess. Because if she hated him, then it was because she liked things about him, because she liked kissing him, because she liked him…and was that even really hate?
No, it probably wasn't.
Rose groaned. "Oh bugger."
"Was it that bad?" Scorpius frowned.
"No…just the opposite." She glared at the grin that threatened to return. "Stop grinning!"
His grin waned when he caught a glimpse at the time. "Our passes expire in fifteen minutes, and I'm sure Filch will be coming around to make sure we've cleared out. And since the sight of Filch in pyjamas isn't one I want to see, we should probably head back."
Rose helped him neatly fold the blanket; their fingers brushing ever so lightly. Touching him still made her queasy, but it was inexplicably different now.
While Scorpius tucked the blanket under his arm, Rose dumped the last of his coffee over the side. Then, she started for the door, feeling a bit better. The energy around them had changed, and Rose slowly decided she liked it. She could finally breathe and think and remember who she was. And when she thought about it, she realised that she was still her sharp and sensible self…just different. Less repressed and more…something. She didn't know.
So when Scorpius called after her, Rose didn't fight the chill that ran up her arm and she tried not to feel bad about it. Or him. Instead, she stopped to wait for him. He was going walk her to the steps that led to the girl's dormitory, they were going to kiss again, and there was no going back. Things were going to change for her. For them. And the minute Scorpius wrapped his arm around her shoulder and tentatively kissed the side of her head, Rose was forced to accept one thing. She really was one of those people with the sloppy, irrational feelings that she still sort of hated.
But the thing she hated most was that it wasn't such a bad feeling after all.