Draco looked up from his ledger as Grazia came into the library, wearing the dressing gown he'd bought for her on his last trip to China and carrying two goblets of wine, and set down his quill and pushed his chair away from the desk. "Has Scorpius gone to bed?"
Accepting his unspoken invitation, she sat on his lap and handed him one of the goblets. "He's so worried about the Apparition license examination tomorrow," she said. "I thought a good night's sleep would be good for his concentration."
"I'll bet you did," Draco said with a wolfish grin. He brought one arm up around Grazia's waist to support her and took a sip of the wine. As the ruby-rich taste flowed across his tongue and down his throat his eyes widened and he murmured in appreciative surprise. "You must really want whatever it is you're trying to seduce me for," he said.
Tiny crow's feet appeared at the corners of her eyes as she looked at him over the rim of her goblet. "What do you mean, Draco?"
He took another sip of wine before answering. "You didn't open a bottle of two-hundred-year-old goblin-made wine just to cleanse my palate."
"Mm, I don't know," she murmured, dipping her finger in her wine and rubbing it over his lower lip before leaning in for a kiss. "Why do I have to have an ulterior motive?" she asked afterwards.
Draco took the opportunity to adjust his seat as he laughed out loud. "After nineteen years, do you think I'm that easy to fool?" He leaned forward to set his goblet on the desk, then wrapped both arms around Grazia's waist to draw her closer. "You'd best tell me now what it is you want, so I can say no, and then you can scheme and plot your way to having it anyway."
She threw back her head and laughed. "You are much too clever, caro." She set her goblet beside his, then brought her arms up around his neck. "You are also too much a spoilsport. Where is the amusement in playing a game by oneself? Besides," she continued, nuzzling his ear, "I was looking forward to seducing you."
His laugh this time, little more than a chuckle, came from deep within his chest. "Just because I know the outcome in advance doesn't mean I can't still play along." Cupping the back of her head in his hand to guide her face closer to his, he said, "Aren't you the one always saying that it's not who wins or loses, it's how you play the game?"
Her lips curved in a smile. "Much too clever," she murmured just before capturing his mouth in a deep and passionate kiss.
When they broke apart some time later he was breathless, his shirt had been unbuttoned halfway to his waist, and his groin throbbed painfully with every beat of his pulse. Grazia's lips were swollen and her dressing gown had slipped off her shoulder, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of an exquisitely formed breast.
"Shall we go to bed, or--?" She looked meaningfully at the lush carpet that covered the floor, then back at him, her dark eyes glittering.
"'How you play the game,' my arse," Draco growled. "You are hell-bent on winning tonight." He shifted his seat again to find some relief. "I think I'd better find out what's at stake before I let this go any further."
Her pout reminded him of the tempestuous, provocative girl she'd been when he first met her nearly two decades ago. He'd not been able to resist her then, and could scarcely do so now. That she could trace the unbroken, untainted lineage of her pureblood wizarding family to the waning years of the Roman Empire was merely the icing on the cake, and all Draco had needed to tell his parents to get his mother's blessing and his father's enthusiastic approval. For his part, Draco had been so besotted with Grazia Veniziani from the first moment he saw her, she could have been a Muggle and he'd have renounced everything he knew and cherished just to have her. That he hadn't had to do so, that in fact Draco'd had to convince her father that he was a worthy suitor despite the cloud of disgrace and scandal that lingered over the Malfoy and Black name because of their ignominious affiliation with Voldemort, only made the winning of her far sweeter than any easy victory.
"Don't you trust me, Draco?" she asked, threading her fingers through his hair to comb it back from his temple.
"Trust isn't the issue. If you were truly guileless you wouldn't be able to drive me half mad with desire the way you do."
"Very well," she sighed. She leaned over to retrieve the two goblets of wine, handing one to Draco. She waited until he had taken a swallow, then said with an air of feigned nonchalance, "Scorpius and I had a couple of visitors today."
Draco stiffened. He could count on one hand the number of people apart from family who'd spontaneously visited them in the fifteen years since he returned to England. Even after all this time, despite his success in the import-export trade, he remained an outcast from British wizarding society. Scorpius seemed to have coped well enough at school, though he'd endured numerous taunts his first year until he'd managed to gain the upper hand after being ambushed by a gang of students, all of whom he refused to identify, even by House. Grazia, however, had fared the worst of all, in Draco's estimation. She never complained, but he knew she longed for friends and companions. He refused to stoop to paying people to pretend to be her friends, though, the way his parents had done for him.
"Who came to visit?" he asked cautiously.
"A woman and her daughter," she said, studying the contents of her goblet. "The girl is a classmate of Scorpius'. They seemed to be quite affectionate with one another. Scorpius could scarcely takes his eyes off her."
Draco ground his teeth together. "The woman--did her hair look like an enormous bird's nest?"
She gave him a puzzled frown. "Not at all." Draco relaxed slightly. "The girl's, though!" Grazia continued, smiling. "It must have been a nightmare for her mother to comb through it when she was a little girl. Such a beautiful shade of red, though."
The tension returned, aggravated by the sensation of acid burning through his stomach. "Red hair?" Grazia nodded. "Tall, skinny girl, no figure to speak of, probably with food stains down her front?"
"No food stains, and she may not have a figure yet, but she'll be stunning when she grows into her height." She glanced at him coyly. "Do you know them?"
"Yes," he ground out, clenching his wand hand into a fist. "And they are not to set foot in this house again. If either of them--if anyone in that despicable family--comes near you or Scorpius again, I'll--"
She drew back from him. "Draco, what is wrong with you? What are you talking about? What family?"
"I don't understand."
"Malfoys do not associate with Weasleys."
"Who are Weasleys, and why don't we associate with them?"
Draco studied his wife's face carefully. He could tell when she was being deliberately obtuse to manipulate him. It was another facet of the mind games they enjoyed playing with each other. This wasn't one of those times. "The Weasleys," he said somewhat haughtily, "are an ill-bred, ill-mannered, dull-witted, prone to physical violence, ridiculously fertile clan of blood traitors."
"Oh, no, Draco, you've got them all wrong."
"Do I? That woman who came here today, Hermione Granger--" He felt his stomach churn at the mere thought of her. "--is a Mu- a Muggle-born." He'd caught himself just in time; Grazia was far too elegant a woman for such a foul word as "Mudblood."
"So? Grazia, the Weasleys are as ancient a pureblood family as my mother's. They shouldn't be polluting it--"
"Polluting?" She got off his lap. "You just said they were 'ill-bred, ill-mannered, and dull-witted.' From what little I saw of her, Hermione Granger is none of those things. The worst you can think of to say about her is that her parents were Muggles!"
He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. "When was the last time a Muggle-born joined your family?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Never, but you know that. What are you getting at?"
"Your father practically had me performing like a trained seal just to get his permission to ask you to dinner."
"Considering we'd already moved well past dinner dates by that point..." She smirked. "You didn't have to earn Papa's approval because your magical ancestry was deficient, Draco. You know that wasn't his concern."
He turned his face away from her. "I know," he said bitterly.
Grazia bent over him, resting her hands on the chair's arms. "I didn't fall in love with your family tree, either," she said softly. Draco looked back at her. "If family honor and integrity was all that mattered to me, I would never have agreed to come to England with you." She leaned closer. "You are in no position to scorn anyone's bloodline, caro." Her lips pressed lightly against his.
"That doesn't change the fact that the Weasleys are a bunch of crude, foul-mouthed, bad-tempered..." he began when she pulled away, but she silenced him by laying her fingertips across his mouth.
"That may be your opinion of them, but I have only met two members of that family, and I found them both polite, charming, and intelligent. More importantly, Scorpius is obviously fond of Rose." Draco closed his eyes and shook his head. "I've promised to take him to that--"
His eyes snapped open. "What? Absolutely not! I forbid you to take him anywhere near that place!"
Her eyes flashed dangerously. "You forbid me? Arrogante!"
"All right." He held up his hands in submission. "I beg you not to take him there. Please."
"You can beg all you want, Draco. I have already made a promise to Scorpius. And," she added, taking one of his hands and guiding it to the loose knot in the sash of her dressing gown, "I am intrigued by what you have told me about Rose's family. I would like to see for myself if these Weasleys are truly as horrible as you've made them out to be."
Draco growled low in his throat as she shrugged the now-loose dressing gown from her shoulders and let it pool around her feet, then stepped free of it to climb once more on his lap, straddling his thighs. As her fingers worked nimbly to unfasten his trousers he threw his head back and groaned, "If they're half as horrible as you are devious and provocative, bellissima, then I'm in for a world of trouble."
* * * * *
Scorpius couldn't help grinning exultantly at his mother when he emerged from the Apparition Test Center's examination hall. The glow of pride on her face when she realized he'd passed the exam and had been granted his license to Apparate filled him with warmth. "Congratulazioni!" she exclaimed, rising from her seat in the waiting lounge to embrace him and kiss his cheeks. "Was it as difficult as you feared?"
"It wasn't bad at all," he said as he held the door open for her. "A few of the others taking the test were splinched, but the examiner said I passed with flying colors."
"I had no doubt you would excel, Scorpius." She reached up to caress his cheek. "Do you feel up to Side-Along Apparating?"
He considered it carefully before responding, "I think so. Do you want me to take you somewhere in particular?"
"Well," she said, her expression playful, "I had thought we could see where Rose is spending her summer."
The momentary thrill he'd felt at the sound of Rose's name just as rapidly evaporated. "Father doesn't want me going there."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that, if I were you."
"What do you mean?"
She shrugged and made a gesture of indifference with her hand. "I was able to convince him that it couldn't do either of us any harm just to see the place."
"Mother! You didn't." Scorpius could hardly contain his elation.
"Of course I did. I want to see this joke shop, too. And since I've never been, and you are now properly licensed, I thought you could Apparate us there together."
"Thank you, Mother." He bent down to kiss her cheek, then took hold of her hand. Concentrating intently on his memory of the window display of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, he made a quick turn, and the two of them Disapparated.
Ron looked up when the bell over the door let out a loud belch and a sigh that sounded just like Charlie--not coincidentally, since Ron's nephew Fred had surreptitiously recorded it last Christmas when Charlie had once again reminded them all why he was still a bachelor. His brother's indigestion and Christmas were far from Ron's thoughts, however, when he recognized the tall young man with pale-blond hair and a narrow, pointed face who had just entered the shop. Ron glanced quickly at the woman accompanying Malfoy's son and realized he recognized her as well, from King's Cross. She pointed up at the bell and giggled, a reaction Ron would not have expected from the woman who married Draco Malfoy.
"She's not at all what I had imagined," Hermione had said last night as they were washing up after dinner.
"What did you imagine?" he asked, disturbed by the idea of Hermione imagining anything about Malfoy.
"I don't know. A Pansy Parkinson clone, I suppose." She charmed a dishrag to wipe down the table. "Don't get me wrong: she's very posh and sophisticated, and probably as pureblood as they come. But she also has charisma and style, which Pansy couldn't have for all the magic or Galleons in the world." She Summoned the broom and handed it to Ron. "I'd love to know their story."
"Draco and Grazia's, of course. I'm dying to find out how they met and how she ended up with him, of all people."
"Maybe he arranged to have her hit in the back of the head with a Bludger."
Hermione laughed. "Or Goyle's fist."
"A Confundus Charm might do it."
"So would an Imperius Curse, though that's desperate even for Malfoy. Either way, she certainly seemed lucid enough."
Ron had pondered this later in the evening, when he'd settled into his favorite chair to review the Quidditch standings in the Daily Prophet. Chudley was, as usual, ranked near the bottom. Their only victory this season had come when Ballycastle's Keeper had fallen off his broom and the Cannons had managed to score twenty-three goals on the undefended hoops before the Bats' Seeker caught the Snitch. Ron's mind wasn't on Quidditch, however, nor on whether the Cannons had a chance against the Kenmare Kestrels in this weekend's match; rather, he couldn't stop thinking about Malfoy and his family.
By far Scorpius was the greater mystery. All joking aside about using underhanded means to get a wife like the woman Hermione described, Ron could entertain the possibility that Malfoy might have other attributes that some women might find appealing, though he preferred not to take that line of thought too far. Scorpius, on the other hand, didn't make sense. What little Ron had seen of him the day before wasn't all that bad, really; he seemed polite, if a little standoffish--not a barefaced snob the way Draco had always been, but more quiet and reserved--and had clearly been troubled by the altercation and its effect on Rosie. While Ron could remember having seen Draco distressed before, he couldn't think of any occasion when Malfoy's concern had been for someone else.
More importantly, Rose seemed to like Scorpius, even think highly of him, apart from any notion of fancying him. She was naturally generous and had always been kind and considerate of others. In that regard she was the ideal Hufflepuff, something Ron had been proud to acknowledge once he'd got over the initial shock of her being the first Weasley in generations not to be Sorted into Gryffindor. Even so, she was discriminating with her affections; she might treat everyone with equal thoughtfulness, but she chose her friends carefully. In the past couple of years, as adolescence had run rampant and she'd morphed into a human beanpole, she'd grown more self-conscious and awkward as well, trying to make herself appear as small and inconspicuous as possible even in familiar surroundings. Consequently, that Scorpius Malfoy seemed to have such an impact on her behavior was very telling. While it was true that the day before she'd been calling for the boy's head on a Fanged Frisbee and the rest of him to be fed to mountain trolls in bite-sized portions, Ron had been forced to consider since then that her wrath may actually been disguising very different feelings.
Merlin's beard, his little girl was in love.
And now here was the object of her fancy and his mother in the shop, admiring the row of cages containing Chameleon Ferrets, which could change the color of their fur to match their surroundings, and the ever-popular Pygmy Puffs. On the wall behind the cages was a tank containing a miniature mervillage, one of George's pet projects.
"Blimey, is that who I think it is?"
Ron turned to see his brother holding a stack of receipts. "Uh-huh. Brought his mum with him this time."
George sniggered as he dropped his load on the counter behind the till. "Is ickle Scorpikins not allowed to cross the street without Mummy or Daddy there to hold his hand?"
"You got me." He glanced over his shoulder at the curtain dividing the shop from the back rooms. "Rosie still back in the office?"
"Yeah, I've set her, Verthandi, and Freddo to sorting through invoices." He rubbed a spot on his brow just above his nose. "We've got to hire a file clerk. This bloody paperwork is out of control. I'm having nightmares about being buried alive under a mountain of order forms."
"Huh," Ron said. He scratched at his temple in a mocking gesture of thought. "Seems to me I remember saying something just like that back in March, but you said you could manage it."
"So I lied."
"I'll send an owl to the Prophet placing an ad after we close tonight."
George clapped him on the shoulder. "Brilliant, mate. Thanks." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the counter. "What should we do about them?" he asked, indicating Scorpius and his mother.
"Dunno," Ron said after a moment's thought. "Treat them like they were any other customer, I reckon."
"And if Daddy Draco shows his ugly puss again?"
"Deal with that if it happens?"
"Well, if it does, take it outside. With all the new Whiz-Bangs inventory, this place is a powder keg. I'm not keen on having to explain to my wife why our son and I have been blown to smithereens."
"What about my wife?" Ron asked. "What do I tell her?"
George gave him a look of unsympathetic amusement. "What you tell Hermione, dear brother, is none of my concern."
The door chime let out a staccato burst of belches as a group of girls entered the shop and made a beeline for the WonderWitch products. Clustered together as they were, they blocked Ron's view of the Malfoys. One of them erupted into giggles as Charlie's relieved groan sounded overhead, and soon all of them were doing it. Ron raised an eyebrow at George, who just shook his head and said, "Reckon I'd better see if they've made any progress back there. I wouldn't put it past Freddo to 'accidentally' Incendiate an entire stack."
The girls, chattering like a flock of magpies, came up to the counter en masse just as George disappeared. They each had a bundle of items to buy, and were so intent on continuing their rapid-fire conversation while Ron rang up their purchases that it took him a while to work through them one by one. In the meantime, other customers had come in, including a spotty-faced warlock in a tatty knit cap and ragged cloak who Ron had run out several days before for trying to nick a set of Muggle gaming dice, so he found himself having to keep one eye on the warlock and another on the till so he didn't inadvertently count out too much change into whichever girl's hand was held out expectantly. Not that she'd notice, seeing as she hadn't so much as acknowledged Ron's existence when she dropped several tubes of Legilimency Lip-Gloss and a handful of Galleons on the counter.
"Uncle George sent me out here," Ron heard Rose say. "Said you might need some help."
"Yeah," he said with relief. He pointed with his chin in the direction of the warlock, who was lurking suspiciously around the Dirt Mark Doo-Dads. "Go see what he wants, will you? And keep a close eye on both his hands!" He handed the last of the girls her receipt and gave her a strained smile. "Thanks for coming in." She flicked her eyes at him, then followed her companions out of the shop without a word.
Automatically, Ron turned to the next person in the queue and said, "Welcome to Weas--"
Ron looked over his shoulder to see his daughter still standing there, her mouth slightly open, her eyes wide, a flush creeping up the sides of her neck. At that moment, the warlock, seizing what had probably looked like a golden opportunity, tried to stuff a box of Miniature Ecuadorean Freeze-Dried Yodeling Acromantulas under his cloak. Ron, who'd been waiting for this, waved his wand at the warlock so that it let out a bang that had the Malfoys ducking for cover, their hands over the ears, and sent the warlock running out of the shop. "Bloody buggering bollocks!" Ron shouted, vaulting over the counter and going after the man, leaving Rose behind to chase him down the street.
"Is it always like this?" Mrs. Malfoy asked, emerging from her crouch with a look of amusement on her face. "No wonder you enjoy working here."
"Erm," Rose said, alternately staring at Scorpius and Mrs. Malfoy. "Erm, sometimes, yeah." She licked her lips and took a deep breath. "Er, hi." She gave them a weak smile, terrified anything more enthusiastic would lead to her lunch ending up on the floor.
"We wanted to surprise you," Mrs. Malfoy said.
Rose nodded. "You did."
"Is this a bad time?" Scorpius asked solicitously, a look of concern on his face.
"Oh no, not at all!" Rose exclaimed. "I just... I really didn't expect to see you here," she said, leaning her elbows on the counter and addressing herself to Scorpius. "Ever. Again." He gave a little nod of comprehension. "I'm glad you did--er, I mean, it's good to see you--that is, it's good you could come."
"It's a wonderful little shop," Mrs. Malfoy said. "Fantastico. I don't think I've ever seen any place quite like it before. Your father is obviously a very good businessman."
Pride warmed Rose's cheeks. "He is, yeah. Uncle George is always going on about new product ideas Dad comes up with." She glanced at Scorpius, then just as quickly looked away when she saw he was looking at her, and tried to hide her nervousness by tucking her hair behind her ears. "Erm, have you been here long?" she asked Mrs. Malfoy.
"We arrived a few minutes ago." She came closer to lay her small, pale hand over Rose's large, freckled ones. "Why don't you show Scorpius around and recommend something for him to buy? He's never been in a shop like this before, and I don't think he knows where to begin."
Flustered, Rose glanced at Scorpius; he was looking at his feet, but she thought she saw the corner of his mouth turn up slightly. "Okay, sure. This way," she said, her voice gradually gaining strength and confidence as she came around the counter to lead him to the Whiz-Bangs.
"I've seen these before," he said thoughtfully, picking up a Basic Blaze Box and turning it over in his hands, studying it. "I had to confiscate some from a group of fourth-years after the Quidditch final." He looked up at Rose. "I didn't realize they came from your father's shop."
"Yeah, they're among their most popular products. Hugo smuggles 'em in faster than I can report him to Professor Longbottom." She smiled at Scorpius' quiet chuckle. "Actually, the Whiz-Bangs and the Skiving Snackboxes were what got the whole business off the ground. My uncles sold them while they were still at Hogwarts."
"I can't imagine Filch was too happy about that."
Rose laughed. "Considering they got expelled from school during their seventh year, I'd say not. Supposedly their entire inventory was on Filch's forbidden items list one year. Dad says I should be grateful I've never been at the business end of a Secrecy Sensor." She rocked back and forth on her heels. "So... erm... does your dad know you're here? He didn't seem too thrilled the other day."
"Mother brought me here as a reward," Scorpius said, unable to completely suppress his smile. He beckoned Rose closer and said in a low voice, "I just passed my Apparition license exam."
"Scorpius, that's wonderful!" For a moment, she almost let loose enough to hug him, but caught herself at the last second. In that instant as she pulled back, she thought she saw a look of disappointment cross his face. "Congratulations! Was it hard?"
"Not really. I think I almost splinched myself on the return leg, though." He held out his hand, palm up, and wiggled his thumb back and forth. "The tip feels a little wobbly."
"I don't believe you for an instant," Rose said. "You were always best in lessons." She leaned against the display shelves and let out a sigh. "Since I don't turn seventeen until so late in the summer, I'm going to wait until the Christmas holiday to take the exam. Not that I have any hope of passing, seeing as I have yet to Disapparate successfully," she continued, picking at a loose thread on her robe.
"Maybe I could help," Scorpius said impulsively.
Her head tilted to one side as she looked up at him. "How?"
"Perhaps we could practice together." He hoped he wasn't coming across as too keen. He was keen to spend more time with her, but he didn't want to frighten her off.
"When would we practice? Where? At school? You know there's no Apparating on the Hogwarts grounds."
"There are the Hogsmeade weekends. We could find an out-of-the-way alley in the village and practice there, if-if you didn't have other plans. Or," he added hopefully, "there's always the rest of summer."
She made a face that he couldn't read. "Between your dad and my job, that might be hard to pull off. Thanks for offering, though." She shrugged. "It's no big deal. The worst that'll happen if I fail the exam is that my cousin James'll make fun of me."
Scorpius scowled with contempt. "That's rude."
The tone of his voice caught Rose's attention. He'd been looking away from her as he spoke, so she took advantage of his momentary inattention to study him in profile, an activity she'd found herself doing rather frequently of late. For someone so generally soft-spoken, dignified, and unassuming, not prone to the sort of red-faced blustering that seemed to run rampant in her family, Scorpius had very sharp, almost harsh features, including a prominent, pointed chin, a long, narrow nose, and a high forehead. They weren't the kind of features one might normally find attractive--at least, she'd not heard of any girls who fancied Scorpius--but she liked the way his manner and appearance seemed to balance each other out. Plus his eyes were to die for, especially when she'd look up from whatever she was doing to find him watching her. They were so dark blue as to be almost black, and at times looking into them was like looking into the heart of the universe. And on those few occasions when he smiled, really smiled, as if with genuine happiness, and he just happened to be looking her way...
Rose gave her head a vigorous shake to clear it. "Yeah, well, James has always been a bit of a pompous toerag," she said. "I'm used to it." She picked up a Spell-Checking Quill someone had mis-shelved and threaded it between her fingers. "What are your plans for the summer? Apart from teaching yourself physics, that is?" she added, teasing.
"Not much. We'll go visit my grandparents at the end of the month, but that's about it." He paused, then added, "Father's a very busy man and travels a lot, so I'm used to finding ways to keep myself occupied."
Something about the way he said that struck Rose as very sad. She remembered wandering around his house yesterday and thinking that one could spend an entire day there and not run into another human being. What a horribly lonely way to live, she thought.
"Where do your grandparents live?"
"Grandfather and Grandmother Malfoy are in France, and Papa Veniziani lives in... well, Venice, just like his name says."
"He's named for where he lives?" Scorpius nodded. "I've never been anywhere more exotic than Norway. Aunt Ginny took us all there for the Quidditch World Cup last summer."
"You showed me the pictures."
"I did? Blimey. I'd completely forgotten about that."
Scorpius remembered it as if it were only yesterday, though in fact it had been nearly a year ago, right at the beginning of term. They'd each found the other in the library researching an essay for Advanced Potions late one night, and had agreed that it made the most sense to sit at the same table where they could share books and compare notes. A bundle of photographs had fallen out of Rose's bag and scattered themselves across the table when she took out her quill and inkpot. His curiosity had been piqued, but he'd been reluctant to pry--at the time, he didn't know her all that well apart from the time they'd spent together in classes or fulfilling their Prefects' responsibilities, and wasn't sure if she still resented him for winning the Dumbledore Bursary by a mere two points--but she'd blurted out, "Just got these by owl post today," of her own accord, and then launched into a rapid explanation, accompanied by lots of arm-waving and some rather colorful language. He'd been enchanted by the way she seemed so at ease around him, unlike even the boys he'd shared a dormitory with for the previous five years, and a friendship had been born.
The picture that had caught his attention showed Rose and Lily Potter, grinning madly, faces painted in the colors of the teams they were going for, arms wrapped around each other, their hands occasionally making gestures at the camera. When Rose had got up to request a pass to the Restricted Section, he'd pinched it, the first time he'd ever done such a thing. He couldn't explain even to himself why he'd done it, or why he'd wanted that particular picture. Nonetheless, he found himself studying it over and over, smiling when Rose's image grinned and laughed, imitating the hand gestures she made, and later, as they'd spent more and more time together and he realized his feelings for her were evolving beyond simple friendly affection, running the tip of his finger over the contours of her face and wondering what it would be like to do that to the real thing.
"So, have you found anything you want to buy?" Rose asked, stirring Scorpius from his reverie.
"Hmm," he said, looking around. Truth be told, he'd hardly noticed what was on the shelves, he'd been so intent on Rose. "What would you recommend?"
She tapped her finger against her lips as she walked up and down the aisle. Then, grinning mischievously, she grabbed a Headless Hat displayed on a bust near the end cap and hurried back to Scorpius. "Bend your knees," she said, and as he did as instructed she reached up to place the hat on his head. Then, taking his arm, she steered him to the mirror at the back of the shop. "What d'you think?"
He thought he was immensely grateful the hat made his head invisible, because he was blushing quite furiously from when she'd brushed up against him and even now was still standing quite close, closer even than yesterday when she'd tried to see the book he was holding. What he said was, "How much is it?"
Without thinking, Rose replied, "Nothing. It's a gift."
Scorpius pulled the hat away, relieved to see his color had returned to something near normal. "You don't have to do that."
"I know I don't," she said. "I want to. Consider it a combination late birthday present and 'congratulations on getting your Apparating license' gift."
"Thank you, Rose," he said with complete sincerity. If he'd had just an ounce more courage he'd have taken her hand and kissed it, but instead he concentrated his gaze on the hat. "You're very kind. I really appreciate the gesture."
"I'm just glad you were able to stop by."
"Me too," he exhaled. Then he continued, "Maybe we--" just as she said, "I hope you--" He deferred to her with a gesture. "You were about to say?"
Her arms folded across her midsection, Rose rubbed the toe of her shoe over a stain on the floor. "I was just going to say that I hope I'll see you again--y'know, before we head back to school."
Scorpius found the floor equally fascinating. "I do, too." He looked over his shoulder to see his mother standing at the counter with Rose's father, then checked his watch. "We should probably be going," he said, taking a few steps towards the front of the shop. "Father will be home soon."
"Oh, okay," she said, hoping her disappointment wasn't too obvious as she followed him.
"Are you ready to go, Scorpius?" Mrs. Malfoy asked when they reached her. "What did you decide to buy?"
Rose made a point not to look at Dad while Scorpius showed his mum the Headless Hat by putting it on. As she let out a delighted laugh he explained, "Rose gave it to me as a gift."
"Grazie molto, Rose," Mrs. Malfoy said, beaming. She kissed Rose's cheeks three times. "You are so kind." She waved at Rose's dad, who raised his hand in reply. "It was a pleasure to meet you. I hope we can meet again soon. Ciao!"
"Ciao," Rose said softly as the door closed behind them, Uncle Charlie's sigh echoing her own.