Ron stood outside the door to Rose's bedroom, debating what to do. She'd scarcely said three words to him since the encounter with Malfoy, and as soon as Hermione had dismissed her from supper she'd run upstairs and slammed the door shut. He'd wanted to go after her right away, but held himself back, waiting until Hugo had finished--or, rather, until Hermione had satisfied herself that Hugo had fairly earned the detention Neville had given him to do over the summer--and then helped Hermione with the washing-up. Once that was done and she had retreated into her study to attend to some work she'd brought home, he stole upstairs in the hopes he could find a way to make things right.
If he rested his cheek against the wood, he could hear Rosie sniffling on the other side. The realization that she was crying, and that he was somehow--though he wasn't really sure how--responsible for her tears, made him feel lower than a squashed Flobberworm. When did things go wrong between them? Why did this have to be so hard?
There was nothing he wouldn't do to make her happy. He and Rose had always had a special bond between them, closer than she had with Hermione and he did with Hugo. She'd always been his Rosie, his wild-haired bundle of nervous energy and questions and curiosities and, as she'd begun to grow, arms and legs. Six weeks shy of seventeen, she was only a head shorter than him, still with the coltish figure (all arms and legs and knees and elbows) she'd had when she was twelve. Very little escaped her notice, very little failed to excite her interest or imagination, though she lacked Hermione's mental organizational skills. She was very much his daughter in that respect, putting off homework and studying until the very last minute, but Hermione's at the same time, earning perfect scores on almost any exam or essay set before her. He'd been even more disappointed than she had when she'd lost out on the Dumbledore Bursary; not that they needed the money, not at all, but he knew Rose was far brighter than Scorpius Malfoy.
He groaned inwardly. Scorpius Malfoy. What was his part in this? Ron almost wished he hadn't let George talk him in to eavesdropping on Rose and Verthandi this afternoon. He didn't like the conclusion Verthandi'd come to--that Rose fancied Scorpius--but had managed to convince himself she was wrong until that confrontation with Malfoy outside the shop. Now, he wasn't so sure. He hoped desperately she was wrong, and that all this was some school rivalry or other adolescent row that would soon be forgotten by summer's end. He didn't care to contemplate what the consequences might be if Verthandi proved to be right.
Determined to get to the bottom of things, Ron steeled himself and knocked quietly on the door. "Rose? Rosie, it's Dad, can I come in?"
There was a sniffle, then he heard through the door, "No! Go away."
"Rosie, please. Let me in. I just want to talk."
"I don't want to talk to you or anyone else right now! Can't you just leave me alone?"
He switched tacks and tried a more authoritarian approach. "Don't make me break this Locking Charm."
"What's going on here?"
He turned to see Hermione had reached the top of the stairs. "Rose won't let me in."
"Well, don't force your way in, Ron. If she doesn't want to talk to anyone now, just let her be. She'll talk when she's ready."
"But she's crying."
"Really?" She came over and pressed her ear to the wood. "She'll be fine," she finally said, taking his arm in an effort to lead him away. "C'mon, it's bedtime anyway."
He followed obediently. "How do you know she'll be fine?"
"I seem to recall crying myself to sleep many a night when I was her age," she said with a smile, "and I wasn't permanently damaged."
"You did? When? How come I didn't know about this?"
"For one thing, because it was usually because of something you'd done or said."
"Me? Like what?"
Hermione turned away from the armoire, where she'd been hanging up her robes, and planted her hands on her hips. "Does the name Lavender Brown ring any bells?"
"Oh." He sat down on the bed to remove his socks and shoes. "Blimey, I haven't thought of her in ages."
"Nor have I. But when you're a girl Rose's age and you fancy a boy, you tend to lack objectivity and perspective." She pulled her nightdress over her head and slipped her arms through the sleeves, then stepped out of her knickers and Banished them to the laundry hamper.
Ron tossed his shirt and trousers on the chair in the corner. "So you think this is about a boy as well?"
"As well? Who else thinks it's about a boy?"
"Verthandi. Apparently Rose was all shirty earlier today because Scorpius Malfoy didn't talk to her on the train or something, and Verthandi suggested Rose was upset because she fancies him."
Hermione, who was seated at her vanity brushing her hair, turned to him with a surprised look on her face. "Scorpius Malfoy? Draco's son?"
"You know of any other Malfoys?"
She made a face, then turned back to her mirror. "I thought she had something going with Spencer Finnigan."
"I did too, but apparently he's 'manky'." Clad only in his boxer shorts, Ron pulled back the bedcovers and stretched out beneath them, his hands folded behind his head, watching Hermione as she went through her bedtime rituals. "Draco and Scorpius came by the shop today, in fact." He watched her eyebrows go up in her reflection. "Didn't actually come inside, though."
"Er... you could say there was a bit of a set-to."
"Oh, really?" She got up from the bench and came over to join him in the bed. "What did you say to them?"
"What makes you think I said anything?" She gave him a look that said, "because I know you that well." "All right, so I may have told them to bugger off."
Hermione turned off the bedside lamp and lay down beside him. "What did you do that for?"
"Blimey, Hermione, he--Draco, that is--was rude to Rose! I had to defend her."
"Maybe you'd better tell me everything that happened, from the beginning."
So he did, from the moment Rose stepped off the Hogwarts Express, until Draco and his son slunk away from the shop. He repeated as much of what was said from memory as he could, including what he'd overheard Rose and Verthandi talking about. "Now do you understand?"
"Oh, Ron," Hermione said softly, rolling towards him to rest her arm over his waist. "No wonder Rose is upset."
"Care to enlighten me, then?"
"Verthandi's right: Rose does fancy Scorpius Malfoy."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Weren't you paying attention? She told him she was working in the joke shop this summer in the hope he might stop by." Ron groaned loudly. "Don't you go giving her a hard time about it, Ron," she said sternly. "She's upset because you embarrassed her."
"Embarrassed her?" he exclaimed, sitting up. "Did you hear what I said Draco said about her?"
Gentle pressure from her hand brought him back to a supine position. "Yes, I heard you, and I'm sure that's a big part of it as well. But you... you made things worse for her by insulting Scorpius in front of his father. You called him a pervert, for Merlin's sake. You let Draco provoke you into lashing out, just like you used to do when we were still in school." She moved closer to kiss him, then lay her head on his chest. "You always did have to play the part of the knight defending a lady's honor."
"So that's why you married me." He squeezed her bum, pulling her closer against him.
"Among other things," she said with a giggle.
He relaxed his hold on Hermione with a sigh. "So what do I do to make it up to Rose?"
The mattress shifted as she propped herself up on her elbow. "You don't."
"No. I think I'll cancel all my appointments tomorrow morning and pay a call on Grazia, and take Rose with me."
"Grazia? Who's that?"
He swore he could hear her roll her eyes in the dark. "Draco's wife."
"Oh. Wait a tic--" He started to sit up again. "You're not taking Rose to their house, are you? Are you mad?"
"Not at all," she said, pushing him back down and resting her finger over his lips. "Look... if we go during working hours Draco probably won't be at home, but Scorpius might. I can have a nice social visit with Grazia, maybe get a feel for what she might know or think about Scorpius' feelings on the matter--have you considered he might fancy Rose in return?--apologize for the things you said to her husband and son, and see if... see if we can work something out."
"Work something out."
"You approve of this? You think it's okay that Rose might fancy Scorpius Malfoy? Son of Draco Malfoy, grandson of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy? Y'know, the former Death Eaters, You-Know-Who's biggest supporters?"
"That was twenty-five years ago. As for what either of us thinks, it's immaterial: what matters is what Rose thinks and how she feels." Ron made a noise of displeasure. "Would you just trust me, please?"
"I do trust you, Hermione, but I still don't like it. I don't see how any of this can come to any good for Rose."
"You can't protect her from everything, Ron. Sooner or later, the fledglings have to learn to fly." She kissed him again, then lay down on her side of the bed. "Besides, this may turn out to be nothing. It could be a passing fancy, or maybe we're completely wrong and Rose just thinks Scorpius is nothing but a big-headed prat."
"I'll keep my fingers crossed."
* * * * *
"Rose, don't slouch, it's bad for your spine."
With an irritated huff, Rose tried to straighten her posture. It was hard. When she was with her dad it wasn't so bad because he was still taller than her, but she absolutely towered over her mum. She felt like a bloody giraffe, even more so today thanks to the enormous spot that had erupted on her chin overnight. "Do we have to be here, Mum?" she said, not trying to conceal the whine in her voice. "Why'd you make me come along? Couldn't you have done this alone?"
Before Hermione could answer, the door they were standing before swung open to reveal a petite woman a few years younger than Hermione, with short dark hair and blue eyes, dressed in robes that had obviously been very well-tailored. Rose remembered having seen her at King's Cross once or twice. "Yes?" the woman said, her accented voice hesitant but not unwelcoming.
Hermione took a step forward and thrust out her hand. "I'm Hermione Granger, and this is my daughter Rose. She and your son, Scorpius, are schoolmates."
The woman took Hermione's proffered hand but kept her gaze on Rose. "Rose Grang--Ah!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "I've heard so much about you! Please come in, please." She stepped aside to let them in, then closed the door behind her. "This is such a surprise, I was not expecting this."
"I understand that, Signora Malfoy," Hermione said, "and I apologize for the intrusion. I've been meaning to call on you for ages, but the time never really seemed right. I hope we're not inconveniencing you in any way."
"Not at all, Her-Her--"
"Mi scusi. Please, call me Grazia. Signora Malfoy is my mother-in-law." She led them into a sumptuously furnished sitting room, well-lit by windows that reached from floor to ceiling. An easel with a partially-completed painting stood by one window that had been opened to let in the warm summer air. A bay on the south end of the room held a piano. "Would you like some coffee or tea?"
"Coffee would be wonderful, thank you," Hermione said as she sat down on the settee Grazia indicated, tucking her robes around her. "What a beautiful sitting room you have here!"
"Thank you very much. It is my favorite room in this house." She picked up her wand from a delicate-looking stand and gave it a flick. Almost instantaneously, a house-elf dressed in a frock coat of green with silver accents appeared, carrying a tray with three demitasses of espresso. "Thank you," Grazia said to the servant, placing two of the demitasses on the table before Hermione and Rose and lifting her own before her. The house-elf bowed and disappeared.
Grazia kept her gaze on Rose as she gently stirred her espresso, a smile never quite leaving her face. Rose squirmed under her scrutiny and her mother's silent disapproval of her fidgeting, manifested in her tightly pursed lips. Then, after taking a sip, Grazia set the demitasse on the table and said, " I must say, Hermione, my son's tales about your daughter do not do her justice."
Rose, having just taken her first-ever taste of espresso, nearly spat it back out in horrified embarrassment; in her effort to avoid doing so, she was overtaken by a violent fit of coughing and spluttering.
"Oh, my, I am so terribly sorry!" Grazia exclaimed. She hastily Transfigured Rose's espresso into a glass of water. "Please forgive me, I did not mean to cause you such distress."
"Are you all right, dear?" Hermione asked with concern as Rose continued to cough. With tears streaming from her eyes and her cheeks on fire, she'd bent over to hide her head between her knees. "Grazia, is there a washroom nearby where Rose can recover?"
"Yes, of course." She turned and pointed in the direction they'd come from, instructing Rose to look for a painting of a harlequin. Rose, grateful for the pretext, fled for safety.
She retained enough self-control not to slam the bathroom door shut, but locked it and then slid down until she was seated on the floor, her back against the door, and pressed her hands against her face, choking down a sob. "Mortified" didn't even begin to describe how she felt. She wanted to kill Mum for dragging her here, and Dad for leaving her at Mum's mercy by leaving for work without getting her up in time to accompany him. How could he? Merlin only knew what he'd told Mum last night to make her think coming to the Malfoys' house was anything but the absolute worst idea in the history of bad ideas. Did they want her to die from the humiliation?
And Mrs. Malfoy. Rose closed her eyes and thumped her head against the door. She had only ever seen Scorpius' mum from a distance before, and even then had not given her more than a glance or two, and so had not realized how pretty she was, how composed, elegant, graceful--everything Rose was not and never would be. She wasn't just a giraffe next to Mrs. Malfoy, she was more like a drunken, one-legged ostrich. It was a wonder she hadn't broken the delicate espresso cup or cracked her shin on the table when she'd jumped to her feet.
At least she'd learned something from this disaster: though he mostly resembled his father, Scorpius had inherited his dark blue eyes from his mother. Not that it mattered anymore, because after yesterday's and today's catastrophes, she'd never be able to bring herself to look at him again. What the bloody hell did Mrs. Malfoy mean about Scorpius' "tales" about her? She cringed to think of the laughs he and his parents must have had at her expense. They'd certainly got plenty of material to keep them entertained all summer now, thanks to her awful parents. It was just too painful to contemplate.
Rose unrolled a handful of toilet paper and used it to wipe her eyes and blow her nose, then climbed to her feet. She should return to her mum and Mrs. Malfoy soon, lest Mum come looking for her and embarrass her even more. Unlocking and opening the door as quietly as she could, she poked her head out and looked around. Which way was the sitting room? She couldn't remember. There was the harlequin, hanging on the wall opposite, but she had no idea which direction she'd come from. The sitting room couldn't be that hard to find--this was just an ordinary London townhouse, if rather richly furnished and in a plummy neighborhood--so she took a deep breath and turned left.
Rose realized her mistake after she'd passed the same bust of Agrippina the Elder for the fourth time. She tried retracing her steps, but to no avail: wherever she went, Agrippina seemed to follow, and the harlequin was nowhere to be found. On the outside this might be an ordinary London townhouse, but the Malfoys had obviously had the interior magically expanded. It struck her as odd that they would, since there was only the three of them living here. Whereas she couldn't seem to avoid tripping over her brother and parents when they were all at home, it seemed as if the Malfoys could spend an entire weekend in this house and never once cross paths with each other except by design. What a rather lonely way to live, she thought.
As she passed a familiar set of double doors, she heard a sound like the scrape of chair legs on bare wood that caused her to stop and turn back. One of the doors had been left cracked open, but she couldn't see who or what was in there. Maybe, she thought, a house-elf was tidying up, and would direct her back to her mum. With a mixture of curiosity and apprehension--she hoped it wasn't Mr. Malfoy in there--she slowly pushed open the door.
Her first impression was that the room was used predominantly, if not exclusively, by the males in the house. Whereas the sitting room had been warm and airy, this one, a study or office of some sort, was cool and dark, with only table lamps to provide illumination. At one end sat a large desk; at the other was a fireplace with a mantel made of what looked like dark green marble, two sturdy armchairs, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases with a stepladder attached to a track along the wall on both sides of the fireplace. Rose thought she'd give her left arm for the opportunity to browse those shelves. All of the décor, including the rugs and upholstery, was in shades of green and silver.
What really caught Rose's attention and made her heart leap up in her throat, however, was the familiar figure seated at the table in the center of the room. In the six years she'd known him, including the past two when their Prefects' responsibilities had thrown them into each other's company on a regular and prolonged basis, she didn't think she'd ever seen Scorpius looking so relaxed and at ease. He was impeccably dressed, as usual, in a tailored shirt and trousers, but he'd rolled his shirtsleeves up past his elbows and had loosened his collar by undoing the top button. He'd even kicked off his shoes, something she'd never seen him do before, not even when they'd stayed in the library until half two in the morning studying for exams. His workspace was cluttered with books, scrolls, and loose pieces of parchment, and near his left hand was an inkpot and quill holder with three or four eagle quills of varying plumages stuck in it. Scorpius was leaning back in his chair, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, hands clasped together behind his head, his pale blond hair looking like he'd been raking his fingers through it as he tried to work through a particularly complex problem--a habit of his she was very, pleasantly, familiar with--and in the air in front of him, in markings of bright yellow-orange, was a mathematical equation she couldn't even begin to make heads or tails out of.
Rose thought it was the most breathtakingly beautiful thing she'd ever seen.
It was to be expected, then, that her mouth would pre-empt her sense. "Merlin's beard, is Salazar Slytherin your interior decorator?" she blurted.
Her immediate reaction was to clap her hands over her mouth. His came in stages. First he lowered his arms and turned to see who'd spoken to him. Then, as soon as he recognized Rose, he leaped to his feet out of polite habit. Unfortunately, he hadn't pushed his chair far enough away from the table, and consequently collided with it on his way up, which forced him back down. Rubbing his bruised thighs and looking sheepish, he stood up again, more slowly this time.
"Rose," he said, "it-it's good to see you." He glanced down and, seeing his bare forearms, rolled down his shirt sleeves. "What brings you here?"
She carefully lowered her hands. "Er… my mum, actually."
"My mum brought me here. She, er, she thought it would be a good idea to have a talk with your mum about… about what happened yesterday." At his puzzled expression she added hurriedly, "It's just Mum's way. She's a lawyer, she's always going on about some cause or another."
Feeling slightly more sure of herself, Rose came all the way in the room and looked around. "So what is it with all the Slytherin décor in here?" she asked. "Are you a descendant?"
Scorpius stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned against the table. "This is my father's office. He was in Slytherin, and my grandparents, and their parents, and so forth."
"Wow." She felt herself irresistibly drawn towards the bookshelves. "So are you the first person in your family's history not to be in Slytherin?"
"Oh, no." She heard him approach, but kept her back to him, instead tilting her head to read the spines. "My mother didn't even go to Hogwarts, so of course she wasn't in Slytherin, but I had a few cousins who were in other houses. Do you know Ted Lupin?"
"I do! My cousin Victoire's engaged to him."
"Right, of course. I'd forgotten about that. Anyway, Ted's grandmother and my grandmother are sisters."
"Really?" Rose exclaimed, turning towards him. "Why, that practically makes us family!"
He seemed taken aback. "Huh. I'd never thought of it that way before. So then you probably know that Ted's mother was in Hufflepuff." Rose nodded.
His expression turned thoughtful as he fingered a cloth-bound volume. With a fluttery feeling in her stomach, Rose found herself studying Scorpius' hand and wrist. She was surprised to realize just how large his hand was; the fine bone structure made it look smaller than it actually was, but he had astonishingly long fingers. It fit, since she reckoned he was one of only a handful of boys in their year taller than her. Unlike her, however, he was always composed and well-put-together. "Drunken, one-legged ostrich" was not a phrase she could ever see applying to him.
"Another cousin of mine was in Gryffindor--Sirius Black, have you heard of him?" Scorpius said, stirring Rose out of her reverie.
"We learned about him in History of Magic our fifth year, remember? All the history related to the war with Voldemort." Only too late, she remembered learning about the part that Scorpius' family had played during that era, and silently cursed herself for bringing it up.
"That's right, we did," Scorpius said. He pulled out the book he'd been examining and opened it, flipping through the pages. "So, anyway, I'm not the first in my entire family to be Sorted outside of Slytherin, though I am the first Malfoy. Father was extremely unhappy--he said the only saving grace was that I was put in Ravenclaw. I think he'd have disowned me outright if I'd been Sorted into Gryffindor."
Rose laughed. "What?" Scorpius wanted to know.
"Your dad sounds like my dad."
"How did your father feel about you being Sorted into Hufflepuff?"
"Oh, he was okay with that," she said with a grin, "he just didn't want me to end up in Slytherin. But it's fine, because Al's in Slytherin, so he gets all the grief. Everyone else is in Gryffindor, though, just like every bloody Weasley since the dawn of time."
Scorpius smiled, a look Rose rarely ever saw from him, and returned his attention to the book in his hands. "What's that you've got there?" she asked, craning her neck to get a look at the page. He angled the book towards her and she came closer, taking hold of the edge nearest her so they were both holding the book. The page he'd opened to was covered in mathematical symbols. "Is this related to what you were doing when I came in?" He looked up as she gestured towards the equation, still glowing in the air over the table. "What is all that? It's not anything I recognize."
"It's, er, it's… it's physics, actually."
She had to turn herself slightly towards Scorpius to look up at him. "Physics? What's that?"
He pressed his lips together. "It's, er, a Muggle branch of science."
"Really? I didn't know you studied Muggle science."
"Mother thought it would be a good idea for something to do this summer. She thought it would challenge me." He took the book from Rose and closed it with a snap. "She's right about that."
"What d'you mean?"
He turned to re-shelve the book. "It's just very, very difficult, not like anything we've ever studied at Hogwarts. In addition, Father doesn't like the idea of me studying anything Muggle-related, and Grandfather would have a fit if he found out, so I have to take care to do it only when they're not around."
"That doesn't sound like a very conducive way to learn."
"It isn't. But, I've make the best of it."
"Why--" Rose started to ask, but her mum and Mrs. Malfoy chose that moment to enter the room.
"There you are," Hermione said. "We've been looking all over for you."
"Sorry. Got lost on my way back from the toilet." Beside her, Scorpius made a choking sound that she thought might have been a laugh.
"Well, we need to be going. I told Dad I'd bring you to the shop on my way to the office."
"Shop?" Grazia asked. "What shop is this?"
"My husband and brother-in-law own a joke shop in Diagon Alley. Weas--"
"Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes," Scorpius interjected.
"A joke shop?" Grazia said, a look of amusement on her face. "How entertaining! And you enjoy spending time there with your father?" she asked Rose.
"I work there, during the summer holidays. Summer's their busiest time except for Christmas and right before April Fool's Day, so I come in and help."
"What a very conscientious and industrious daughter you are, Rose. Your parents must be so proud of you." Rose blushed. "Have you been there, Scorpius, to this joke shop?"
He glanced at Rose, then down at his feet. "Not quite."
"Well then, we must correct this," Grazia said with a smile.
"Thank you so much for your hospitality, Grazia," Hermione said. "It was a delight meeting you. I'm only sorry I didn't get a chance sooner."
"The pleasure was absolutely all mine," she said as the four of them, Rose and Scorpius trailing behind their mothers, headed for the front door. "I enjoyed your company very much, and I suspect Scorpius was pleased to have a special visitor as well."
"I hope we can do this again soon."
"As do I. Ciao, Hermione. Ciao, Rose. Have a lovely day."
"Bye, Mrs. Malfoy. Bye, Scorpius."
Grazia closed the door behind them and turned to her son, her face lit up with delight. "I see now why you find Rose so captivating," she said to him in Italian, her native language.
"Mother, you're embarrassing me," he said in like manner, though his eyes shone with pleasure and relief at her obvious approval.
"She must have your heart if she's got you walking around the house without shoes." She indicated his stocking-clad feet. "Her mother is a fascinating woman. Formidably intelligent, and very opinionated. I think I could have spent all day with her and never once grown tired of her company." Her arm linked through his, they went to the sitting room.
"He does? Pity. I suppose I shall have to persuade him to change his mind."
"You'll have to be subtle about it."
Grazia winked at him. "Don't fret, Scorpius. I know what I'm doing." She picked up a paintbrush from the jar beside the easel and looked through her collection of paints. "Your Apparition license exam is tomorrow, is that correct?" she asked, in English this time.
"Yes, at 2 p.m.," he replied, also in English.
"Bene. If it goes well--and perhaps even if it doesn't--I think a brief detour to Diagon Alley will be in order, don't you agree?" She looked over her shoulder at Scorpius. "Perhaps a visit to a certain joke shop?"
Scorpius relaxed his face into a rare grin. "I'll be sure to bring my money pouch."