Stuck On a Puzzle

Armistice

13/01/2019

Armistice
Dahlias and cherry trees, I don't recall them anyway
Some lovers know it ain't going to wear out
To each his own the same, look what you wasted
When the lights are cutting out
And I come down in your room
Our daily compromise it is
Written in your signed armistice

The last of winter's snow had melted in the graveyard, giving way to bursts of fragile shoots of sweet peas growing sheltered at the edges of the headstones. He walked with his hands in his pockets and the collar of his cloak turned up. He didn't want to be noticed.

He had brought with him a handful of young wisteria flowers, picked from the vines growing over the face of Hecate Hall. He laid the flowers at the base of the headstones, before straightening up to read the inscription. The names were beginning to fade.

He looked over his shoulder to ensure the graveyard was empty, before taking out his wand an aiming it at the headstone. Slowly and carefully, he traced the named of his parents and their dates of birth and death and the passage, deepening the grooves, etching the faded words back into the stone so that they were legible once more.

He lowered his wand and read them again before, satisfied, he turned away.

Godric's Hollow was a town filled with magic hoping note to be noticed; front gardens full of lavender bushes that had flowered all through winter; street signs that revealed themselves only to witches and wizards; a wand-maker and an apothecary disguised as vacant shop fronts.

And, since the attack on Hogwarts last month, the town square had had the addition of several weary-looking aurors. New recruits, some of them fresh out of Hogwarts and barely capable of mustering a shield charm, has been sent out to the sleepiest of Wizarding villages to stand sentry. They were dressed in a poor imitation of Muggle clothes, trench coats paired with corduroy trousers and mismatched dinner suits, and they tried too hard not to meet anyone's eye when they were to look at them.

The aurors were not the only new feature to the Godric's Hollow town square. A sign in the apothecary window caught his eye, and he stopped to read it. He already knew what it said – they had been plastered to every wall in Diagon Alley for the last month – but every time he re-read he found something else to detest about it.

CURFEW IN PLACE IN WIZARDING STREETS

Due to recent threats to the safety of witches and wizards, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is introducing a curfew in all Wizarding streets.

NOT LOITERINGin wizarding streets after SEVEN in the evening

No more than THREE individuals may congregate in wizarding streets AT ANY TIME

Infringers will be prosecuted by the Auror Office.

Below this notice, another, larger piece of parchment had been plastered, also bearing the Ministry seal and the red lettering of the auror office.

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WIZARD?

Mundungus Fletcher
Age: 62
Hair colour: Red
Eye colour: Brown
Height: 5"2"

Wanted in connection to the murder of twenty-five individuals on the Christmas Day Massacre.

IF SIGHTED DO NOT APPROACH. Suspect is considered dangerous. Alert the Department of Magical Law Enforcement IMMEDIATELY.

At the centre of the sign was a black and white photo of a scruffy, bearded man, taken at least fifteen years earlier before his hair had begun to fade. It had been sourced from the Auror Office's arrest records, something involving stolen cauldrons - something that the Mundungus could actually have been believed to be involved with, unlike the crime he was now supposed to be answering questions about.

Harry stood gazing at the sign, his fists clenched in his pockets, until he realised the apothecary owner had spotted him through the window. Not wanting to have to engage in conversation, he raised a hand in acknowledgement before turning away.

'I can't find any.'

'Oh, dear,' sighed Rose. 'What are we going to do?'

Chandra pouted. 'I can't tell if you're making fun of me.'

'Absolutely not,' said Rose. She sat herself down on the lawn, laying her handful of freshly-picked heather in her lap, watching as Chandra continued to scour the grass. 'It might not be flowering yet.'

'I need it though. I haven't been able to sleep all week.'

'Need what?'

Both girls looked around. Coming towards them along the pathway from the courtyard were Albus and Scorpius. Albus, who had posed the question, was carrying a number of books under his arm while Scorpius was walking with his hands in his pockets, his usual scowl in place.

Rose kept her eyes on Albus as they drew nearer; she didn't want to make eye contact with Scorpius. She hadn't spoken to him since Valentine's Day, nearly a month earlier, and she had no desire to do so. With prefect patrols suspended, they had no reason to tolerate each other, and so they had fallen back into the routine they had kept up for their first four years of school in which they seemed unaware of the other's existence.

'I'm need to pick some sage,' said Chandra. 'It usually grows out here in the spring, but I can't see it.'

'And why are you picking sage?' drawled Scorpius, eyeing Chandra with derision.

Rose wanted very much to say something to make him stop talking, but Chandra, seemingly unaware of Scorpius's scepticism, answered before Rose had the chance.

'I need to cleanse our dormitory,' Chandra told him. 'It's feeling very morbid at the moment. It's always like that after winter. Spring is very good time for cleansing. If I find some I'll give you some, if you like – I'm sure Connor would help you smudge your dorm.'

Scorpius gave a disdainful laugh. 'I'm fine, thanks. We did a séance last week and there are no spirits in Ravenclaw tower.'

'Perhaps you don't know how to do it right,' said Rose curtly. Scorpius looked at her, scowling, but she turned to Albus and said briskly, 'Do you have my Charms book?'

Rolling his eyes, Albus pulled one of the books from under his arm and held it out to her. 'Yes, yes, relax. Here.'

Rose snatched it off of him and stuffed it into her satchel. 'I've been asking for it back for a week.'

'Well, we tried to find you earlier,' said Scorpius. 'We should have guessed you'd be out here picking sage.'

'Some of us need hobbies other than growing our hair,' retorted Rose.

'Well, that's good to know. If your hair got any bigger there'd be no room out here for the rest of us,' snapped Scorpius. He looked to Albus and said, 'I have arithmancy. I'll see you later.'

'Oh, so does Rose,' said Albus. 'You two can walk together.'

Neither Scorpius nor Rose seemed to be able to muster a reply. For the last month, since he had become aware that neither Rose or Scorpius were going out of their way to verbally abuse the other, that Albus had been making these kind of suggestions ("Let's sit with Scorpius at lunch", "Let's see if Rose will proofread our papers") for the last month in an attempt to harass the pair of them into polite acquaintance. They had both become very good at ignoring these suggestions, but it seemed neither of them could invent a reason why they ought not to walk together.

'I think there's some sage growing in the herbology gardens,' Albus said to Chandra. 'I'll help you pick it.'

Rose and Scorpius, both watched, rather helplessly, as Albus and Chandra set off along the pathway to the herbology gardens. Rose was trying very hard to think of a suitable excuse as to why they ought not to walk together but, unable to fathom one, she turned to Scorpius and said bracingly, 'Shall we go then?'

Scorpius gestured forward. 'After you.'

She picked up the heather in her hand, got to her feet, and they began the walk back to the courtyard in silence. She had felt, in the days following Valentine's Day, that if they were not to speak to each other then they would have no reason not to speak of that night to anybody else. She didn't like the idea of him telling anybody she talked too much once she started drinking, and she didn't like the idea of having to tell anybody else about her insufficient response when he had told her about his mother.

It wasn't until they had made it through the entrance hall and to the Marble Staircase that either of them could think of something reasonable to say.

'You going to the match on Saturday?' Scorpius asked her.

'If I say no you'll tell Al, won't you?'

'Not necessarily. Depends if you have a good excuse or not.'

'Because I have a mental absence whenever I have to watch Quidditch.'

'I suppose that's a good reason,' he said. 'What will you do instead?'

'I don't know. Go to the library, perhaps. It's the only time you can get a seat.'

'You're fun, Weasley.'

'I just haven't conformed to the societal expectations of pretending Quidditch is entertaining.'

'Right, well, your secret's safe with me.'

They climbed the stairs towards the fifth floor where the arithmancy classroom was, still avoiding looking at each other, and started down the passageway.

'So, what's that for?' asked Scorpius, gesturing to the handful of heather she was holding. 'Is Chandra going to perform a fertility ritual?'

'Don't start,' Rose warned him.

'What? I was just asking.'

She opened her satchel and stuffed the heather unceremoniously inside. 'Yes, I get it. You don't believe in the same things she believes in. You're very clever. We're all very impressed.'

'God, Weasley, I didn't say anything,' snapped Scorpius. 'You're a lot more difficult to talk to when you're sober, you know?'

She hadn't wanted to broach those memories – the evening on Valentine's Day – and the fact that he had had the audacity to do so riled her.

'Well, we don't have to talk to each other, you know,' she bit at him. 'We're not friends.'

He looked at her, frowning. He seemed taken-aback by her harshness, but she wasn't going to relent. 'I never said we were,' he told her.

'We have no reason to have to speak to each other,' she continued, as if to convince him.

'I know we don't.'

'So, perhaps we shouldn't.'

He considered this, the frown still in place, before he said, 'It doesn't matter to me either way, but don't you think it might be easier if we could make amends?'

'There's nothing to make amends about,' she said. 'It just gets very tiring talking to you.'

His considered this, before he said evenly, 'I suppose.'

'Good,' she said. 'That's that then.'

And the continued the rest of their walk to the arithmancy room in silence.

'I can't do it.'

'Yeah, you can.'

'I can't. I'm shit.'

'You won last time.'

'Yeah, but that was against you.'

Scorpius dropped his fork onto his plate. 'Thanks.'

'I just mean that… you know. Sarah Jones is a really good seeker.'

'We won the cup last year,' snapped Scorpius.

Albus sighed and looked, for what felt like the thousandth time, across the room to the Hufflepuff table where the Quidditch team were sitting together in their canary-yellow robes.

He looked back at Scorpius and shook his head feebly. 'I hate Quidditch.'

Scorpius rolled his eyes. 'Stop sulking. Mei's coming over.'

Albus spun around again to see Mei approaching from the Ravenclaw table. When she reached them, she dropped down into the free seat beside Albus and kissed his cheek, before looking towards Scorpius.

'Morning, Scorpius.'

'Morning, Mei.'

'You're eating at the Gryffindor table?'

'So, are you, aren't you?'

'I've already eaten. I just came over to say good luck to Albus. We're not really supposed to eat at other house tables, you know.'

Scorpius refrained from rolling his eyes. He drained the last of his pumpkin juice and got to his feet. 'Well, I'm done now anyway. Good luck, Al.'

'Thanks,' mumbled Albus.

'See you after the match.'

He crossed back to the Ravenclaw table to join Zaina. She was sitting with Louisa Edgecombe and Marisa Nott from Slytherin. No matter what Mei Zhao believed, the teachers had no interest on enforcing the house seating rules, particularly on weekends. He dropped into a seat beside Zaina, who pretended not to notice his presence, and sat in silence while she continued talking with Louisa and Marisa.

'I swear, one day Connor is going to get himself taken off the team,' sighed Zaina. 'This is the third time this year the teachers have caught him with fire whiskey.'

'Well, he'll have to stop now that the passageway has been closed up,' said Louisa. 'Once he runs out he won't be able to get anymore.'

'He'll find another way,' dismissed Marisa. 'He does it just to impress Chandra Thomas. Merlin knows why. You'd think Connor would be smarter than to like just a pretty face.'

'Ooh, careful, Marisa,' cooed Zaina. 'Watch what you say around Scorpius. He and Thomas are best friends now.'

'Oh, really, Scorpius?' asked Louisa. 'I didn't know you knew her.'

'I don't,' replied Scorpius.

'Well, I'd keep it that way if I were you, Scorpius,' said Marisa. 'Anyway, I best be off. I told Edmund I'd meet him down at the pitch. See you later, darlings.'

Marisa got to her feet and headed off out of the Great Hall, and Zaina and Louisa returned to debating where Connor would now be sourcing his fire whiskey from.

Scorpius allowed his attention to drift back to the Gryffindor table. Chandra had arrived late for breakfast and joined Mei and Albus. Rose Weasley was nowhere to be seen. Scorpius found himself annoyed by this; it inconsiderate of Rose not to have come to breakfast to wish Albus luck.

'Oh, we should head off soon,' said Louisa. 'I want to get a good seat.'

'You go on,' said Zaina. 'I'm finishing my coffee.'

Knowing she was being asked to leave, Louisa bid them both goodbye and left the table. Scorpius waited in silence as Zaina finished her coffee, certain she had something to him, but knowing that she was biding her time to say it. By the time she had finally announced that she was finished, Albus, Mei and Chandra had already left for the pitch, as had the majority of the students.

When they stepped out of the entrance hall, Scorpius considered the blue sky and cool breeze. It was one of the first clear days of spring, ideal for Quidditch, and he found himself somewhat envious of Albus. He was sure that, had he had the same conditions for Ravenclaw's match against Slytherin, he would have had a much better chance of catching the snitch.

'What's the matter, love?' Zaina asked him as they strode along the path towards the Quidditch pitch.

'Nothing.'

'I'm sorry Marisa was talking about Thomas in front of you. I know how much you like her.'

'I've told you – I'm not friends with Thomas. I'm just thinking that I wish the weather had been this good when I played against Slytherin.'

'It's not the weather's fault that Caliber Montague is a better seeker than you are.'

The familiar voice that surfaced every time he knew Zaina was baiting him muttered in his ear: Don't do it. He decided, however, that he didn't want to listen to it.

'Okay, Zaina. You don't like Albus. I get it. You don't have to punish me for being friends with him.'

'I don't care who you're friends with, Scorp,' said Zaina. 'It's just a little humiliating having you ignore me every morning to go sit with him. My friends keep asking if we've had a fight.'

He glanced up and down the path, looking for any eavesdropping students, but the majority of students had already made it to the pitch. He looked back at Zaina and said, 'Well, perhaps we should have one. So they'll have something to talk about.'

He was giving her what she wanted, and hating himself for it. She gave one her high, faux laughs that he was all too familiar with.

'Scorpius, you need to grow up,' she said evenly. 'You know most girls don't find belligerence as charming as I do.'

Don't do it, he said to himself again.

'And most guys don't like it when their girlfriends spend as much time as you do talking about other boys.'

'Oh, we're talking about Connor again, aren't we?'

He plunged his hands into the pockets of his trousers as he walked. 'Why not? He's your favourite topic, after all.'

'You can be friends with Chandra Thomas but I can't be friends with Connor?'

'Zaina, for fuck's sake, I never even talk to Chandra.'

'Aw, don't be nervous. I'm sure she'll find you charming.'

He pulled himself to a halt, turning to face her, and she too stopped walking to meet his eye. 'Look, I need to go back to the castle,' he told her.

'Oh, darling, don't do that. We're just getting to the point.'

'I left my wand behind.'

She raised her eyebrows. 'If you'd like to concede defeat you can just say so.'

He turned his pockets inside-out to show her he wasn't lying. 'Seriously, I don't have it. I must have left it at breakfast.'

She sighed, placing her hands on her hips. 'Well, you better hurry. The match is starting in a minute.'

'Yeah, okay.'

'Do you want me to save you a seat or would you rather sit with Chandra?'

'Really, Zaina, I need to find my wand. I'll meet you at the pitch.

'Fine. See you there, love.'

He knew by the way she said it that she didn't believe him, but for the moment he told himself not to care. He turned away from her and trudged back towards the castle, passing a few straggling students on the way.

When he made it to the Great Hall, he found it nearly empty. The staff table was deserted and the only other students were a few NEWTs students poring over revision notes as they ate and Rose Weasley. She was sitting alone at the Gryffindor table, reading the Daily Prophet over a cup of tea. The sight of her only exacerbated his bad mood, and he marched over the Ravenclaw table where he had been sitting with Zaina.

He scoured the table for his wand and, finding nothing, proceeded to duck beneath the table to check the floor. Unsuccessful, he then crossed to the Gryffindor table to search where he had been sitting with Albus. From the corner of his eye he saw Rose look at him, but he ignored her.

Still with no wand, he swore and slumped back against the table, struggling to remember the last time he had used it. He was sure he had put in his pocket when he left his dormitory, but he couldn't recall using it at all that morning.

He glanced around the Great Hall in desperation. There was only person present who he knew by name and, sighing, he trudged over towards Rose.

He knew she could see him approaching her, but she was careful not to look at him until he was standing right beside her.

'Weasley?'

She glanced up at him from over the Prophet, scrutinising him with her wide, brown eyes. 'Malfoy.'

'Can you summon my wand?'

Her brows knitted together. 'Why do you need me to summon your wand?'

'I thought it would be a laugh,' he drawled. 'I mean, obviously because I can't find it. I'm sure it's somewhere here in the Great Hall.'

'Why do I need to do it?'

'Because you're here,' he snapped. 'Do I really have to fight you on this? The sooner I have it the sooner I'll go away.'

She rolled her eyes, before he watched her reach into her pocket and withdraw her wand. She gave it a twirl and said, 'Accio Malfoy's wand.'

No wand flew towards them. He swore again.

'Well, I've done my bit,' Rose told him curtly. 'You can go away now.'

He held his hand out to her. 'Can I do it?'

'What?'

'Can I borrow your wand to summon it?'

'No, you may not. I just did it. I know how to cast a summoning charm.'

'Yes, I've watched you delight in your ability in Charms,' he drawled. 'Look, you don't know where I've been this morning. It works better if you can picture where it might be.'

'Yes, I know that, I passed fourth year too,' she bit back. 'You told me you know it's in the Great Hall, but it's not here, so obviously you have no better idea of where it is than I do.'

'I thought it was here, but I might have dropped it on the way down from my common room.'

She took a sip of tea before saying, 'Well, I suggest you start looking then.'

'Right,' he growled. 'Thanks heaps, Weasley.'

'You're very welcome.'

Fuming, he turned away and marched out of the Great Hall. If he had asked Albus or anyone reasonable to summon his wand, he was sure he would have had it returned to him.

He ascended the Marble Staircase and continued up the stairs to Ravenclaw tower. The aurors didn't patrol the corridors until after dark on weekends, and so the passageways were deserted. It was for this reason that when he heard the voices from behind a nearby tapestry that he took notice.

'Did you do it?' came the voice of Edmund Goyle.

'Done and dusted,' replied Caliber Montague.

'And you're sure it will work?' asked Clement Rosier.

'Yeah, don't worry. The bludger will go for him, but I made sure it won't be obvious enough to stop the game.'

Scorpius didn't have time to realise what he was doing was stupid. He was alone and without a wand, but that didn't stop him from stepping forward and ripping back the tapestry.

Goyle, Montague, Rosier and Leartus Zabini rounded on him.

'What do you want, Malfoy?' snarled Zabini.

'What did you do to the bludger?' asked Scorpius, undeterred.

There was a brief flicker of worry over Goyle and Rosier's faces, before Montague snapped, 'What the fuck are you on about?'

'I heard what you said – what did you do?'

'You're mental, Malfoy,' said Zabini. 'You're spending too much time with your little boyfriend.'

There was laughter from the three other Slytherins, but Scorpius no longer cared. He didn't have time to interrogate them – there was no use. He turned away, breaking into a run back towards the Marble Staircase.

The game would be starting any minute. How long would it take him to get to the pitch? He would barely make it, but he needed to warn Albus. He needed to stop the game somehow.

He rounded the corner to the Marble Staircase, only to find his path impeded. He collided with another student on their way up from the Great Hall and they both fell back with the impact.

'Jesus, Malfoy…'

He didn't bother apologising, but merely pulled himself steady. Rose Weasley stood before him, scowling, massaging her elbow where he had hit her. For the first time in his life, he was pleased to see her.

'Do you ever look where you're going?' she snapped.

'Al's in trouble,' he told her.

Her eyebrows knitted together, and she said coolly, 'What?'

He didn't have time to explain to her, and so he merely grabbed her wrist and took a step down the marble staircase, but she pushed him off.

'Don't grab me, Malfoy,' she bit at him, furious. 'Tell me what you're talking about.'

'Did you not hear what I said?' he demanded. 'It's Al – I heard the Slytherins talking, they've cursed a bludger…'

Rose blinked at him, before she seemed to recover and said evenly, 'Well, we need to tell the aurors.'

'They don't patrol on weekends, and all the teachers are down at the pitch, and the game is starting – come on.'

He tried to grab her wrist again, but she stepped out of his reach.

'I said don't grab me,' she spat at him. 'There'll be some aurors at the front gates-'

'We don't have time to go to the front gates, Weasley, we need to go to the pitch! We need to stop the game!'

'That's insane, Malfoy. We don't even know what curse they used,' Rose insisted, her voice growing shrill. 'You do what you like but I'm going to find the aurors-'

She pushed past him down the stairs and as she did he caught her hand, forcing her back. She spun back to him, and with her free hand he saw her reach for her wand.

'Malfoy, if you touch me one more time…'

'Please, Rose,' he said. 'I don't have my wand. Please – we need to hurry.'

Rose considered him, bristling, before her hand flinched away from her wand. 'Fine,' she hissed. 'Fine. We have to go – now.'

As he marched across the pitch, broom over his shoulder, he cast his eyes towards the cheering and booing crowds in the grandstands. He made a feeble attempt to scan the red and yellow clad students for any glimpse of Mei or Scorpius or Chandra or Rose, but it was a feeble attempt.

Madam Robins was waiting at the centre of the pitch for the two teams to convene, the case that held the four Quidditch balls at her feet. At the Quidditch coach's instruction, James stepped forward to shake hands with Marigold Bones, the Hufflepuff captain.

'Best of luck,' Albus heard James say.

Albus he was sure James had sounded much less cordial at their last game when he had been forced to shake hands with Ravenclaw captain David Corner.

'Your confidence is cute, James,' replied Marigold.

'I'll buy you a condolence drink after, okay?' James told her.

Marigold laughed, and Albus watched her take a step away from James's, keeping hold of his hand far longer than necessary as they both mounted their brooms. Albus saw Finlay rolling his eyes as both teams kicked off into the air and assumed their starting positions.

Madam Robins knelt to unlock the case of Quidditch balls, and at once the two bludgers and the snitch flew into the air. Albus and Sarah Jones, the Hufflepuff seeker, both watched the snitch take off, but it was too quick to keep their eyes upon it before it disappeared into the blue sky. The bludgers circled overhead as Madam Robins picked up the Quaffle. She held it aloft, blew her whistle, and launched the Quaffle into the air.

As soon as the game was in play, the chasers launched forward. Marigold Bones knocked James out of the way took possession of the Quaffle first, passing it to Annabelle Dalal, who passed it back to Marigold, right before a bludger pelted into her shoulder.

She let out a gasp of pain, dropping the Quaffle, allowing Louis to incept it and start towards the goal posts. Annabelle called to Marigold in concern, but Marigold ignored her, forcing herself upright and starting forward again, but she wasn't quick enough to stop Louis from scoring.

'And the first goal of the match there by Louis Weasley!' proclaimed the commentator. 'The bludgers seem to be on Gryffindor's side today!'

The Gryffindor spectators roared with delight from the grandstands and Louis did a loop of the pitch, clasping hands with his team mates and narrowly missing the bludger that took aim at him in the process.

As the game began again, Albus decided he had wasted enough time, and began to circle the pitch in search of the pitch. As Marigold intercepted the quaffle from Adam, Albus brought his broom higher to survey the pitch, before he heard Finlay bellow his name.

'Al, look out!'

Albus ducked instinctively, but not quickly enough. The bludger swiped his forearm, and he let out a gasp of pain, pulling his broom away from him. There was a cry of shock from the crowd, and Albus looked around in time to see that the bludger had turned back, pelting towards him again, but this time Xan was near enough to intervene. She lunged in front of Albus, whacking the bludger across the pitch, and it re-directed itself towards Sarah Jones.

'You okay?' Xan asked Albus.

'He's fine, Xan, get moving,' James bellowed at them. 'It's coming back around!'

But before Xan could turn to tell James to shut up, Madam Robins blew hard on her whistle and held her wand aloft. Both bludgers came to a halt mid-air, and Madam Robins flew up to meet them.

'Potter, are you alright?'

'I'm fine,' said Albus. 'It didn't even hit me that hard.

'He was trying to hold his broom as naturally as possible in order to hide the pain in his arm, but Madam Robins seemed unconvinced

'Do you want a break?' she asked.

'He said he's fine,' said James, who had come to meet them.

'Answer for yourself, Albus,' ordered Madam Robins. 'Do you want to keep playing?'

'It's fine, honestly,' said Albus. 'Please – can we start again?'

Madam Robins looked as if she wanted to press him further but, sighing, she flew down to retrieve to Quaffle. Blowing her whistle, she relaunched the Quaffle and the game started once more.

It was clear, as they pelted around the corner of the grandstand, that they were too late: the game had already begun. They could hear the crowd bellowing support, and when they reached the pitch they could see the figures in red and yellow zooming above their heads. As she was watching, she saw a bludger zoom towards Finlay, who blocked it seconds before it hit him.

'Fuck,' said Scorpius. 'Fuck. Fuck. Come on.'

He took hold of her arm, and once again she pushed him off before following him through the crowd. Eager students were crammed against the edge of the pitch, paying no mind to her and Scorpius as they pushed themselves forward.

'We need to get onto the pitch,' he said to her.

'No, we need to get to the teachers,' she insisted.

'How are we supposed to do that? The crowd's too big. We can't even get to the edge of the ground.

She opened her mouth to argue with him, but a series of gasps from around them made them look back towards the pitch. The bludger had hit Albus in the side of his ribs and he swung off his broom.

Before she could stop herself, Rose shut her eyes: she didn't want to see this. AThe crowd around her let out a cry of horror, and then a communal sigh of relief, and she looked up to see that Albus had managed to clamber back onto his broom. From the bee-line Albus was making across the pitch, Rose was sure he had seen the snitch, but the bludger had spun back around and was after him again.

She felt Scorpius seize hold of her wrist, but this time she didn't think to throw him off.

'Give me your wand,' he urged. 'We need to try to lift the curse.'

She withdrew her wand, but even as she knew it was useless. 'Scorpius, we don't know the counter curse.'

'We have to do something, Rose.'

She looked at Scorpius, and then down at her wand, and then raised her hand. With her wand raised towards the sky, the gave it a flick and a burst of bright, blue flames shot from the end of it. The students nearest them gave shrieks of panics, ducking to the ground, and only she and Scorpius remained standing.

He was staring at her, unsure of what she was doing, before she took hold of his arm and pulled him forward. The crowd was dispersing away from them, and they were now able to push their way to the edge of the pitch, and she once again aimed her wand forward. The flames hit the pitch and the grass immediately lit up with fire.

More screams echoed around them, and now the Quidditch players were stopping to look around. Albus drew himself to a halt, pulling back from his pursuit of the Snitch, and the bludger hurtled towards him, just as Madam Robins blew her whistle and held her wand aloft. As she did, the bludger immediately stopped mid-air.

Rose glanced around at the pitch. Only once she was sure that they game had stopped, and Madam Robins was flying towards her, did she send conjure a shoot of water from her wand to extinguish the flames.

'What are you doing?' Madam Robins bellowed at them. 'Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to duel with fire?'

'The bludger's been cursed,' said Rose breathlessly, raising an unsteady hand to point at the bludger, suspended in mid-air inches from Albus's head. 'You need to check it before the game starts again.'

'Malfoy, Weasley,' came the voice of Professor Sinistra, and they both turned to see her approaching through the crow. The students had parted to allow her a clear path towards them. 'With me. Now.'

'Professor, the bludger,' insisted Scorpius. 'Seriously, it's been cursed – the Slytherins –'

'Enough, Malfoy,' demanded Madam Robins. 'You can explain in the head mistress's office.'

Rose and Scorpius looked at each other, and then they both turned back to the head mistress.

'We'll come up to your office if you check the bludger,' said Rose. 'There's something wrong with it.'

Professor Sinistra considered them before she jerked her head towards the pitch and raised her wand. She summoned the bludger wordlessly and it came soaring towards her outstretched hand. She gave it a wrap with her wand and at once it gave out a shrill hiss, like a distant scream, before it shattered like glass in the head mistress's hand.

Sinistra looked at the black shards in her hand before she turned to Madam Robins. 'Check the other balls before the game resumes. Weasley, Malfoy, come with me.'

The head mistress's office was alight with midday light when she led them inside. She conjured up two seats before her desk, ordered them to sit, before she once again strode from the room.

Rose moved forward, slumping into the chair with her arms folded, her eyes set out the window at the lake glistening in the distance. Scorpius stayed standing by the door, gazing at the portraits of the previous head masters and head mistresses as they gazed back at him. His heart was pounding in his chest, a mix of exhilaration and breathlessness and relief.

'She can't seriously think we were duelling,' he said to Rose across the room. 'I don't even have my wand on me.'

'It would be better if she thinks we were,' replied Rose without looking at him. 'If this is what the Slytherins did to try to shut up what do you think they'll do if they get questioned about it?'

'What are you saying?' demanded Scorpius, crossing the room to take a seat beside her. 'We don't tell her what they've done?'

'Well, who are "they" exactly?'

'You know who it was,' he snapped at her. 'Goyle, Rosier, Zabini and Montague. Albus tried to tell me they knew it was him and I didn't believe him.'

Rose sighed. 'I didn't either. Al's the most paranoid person on earth.'

'You could get a little more concerned about it,' he snapped at her. 'Why do you have to act so fucking superior all the time? Can't you care a little bit more?'

'Don't get angry with me,' she snapped. 'I'm not the one who cursed the bludger.'

'I'm not angry with you. I'm just angry in general, okay?'

'Well, there's no point throwing a tantrum.'

'Rose, he could have died,' said Scorpius. 'And you're saying you want to let them get away with it?'

'I don't want to do that,' replied Rose. 'All I'm saying is that if we point the finger at them they'll just do more to get back at us and at Al. Is that what you want?'

Scorpius glared at her, unable to think of a response, and so Rose continued.

'So, we say we saw the bludger was acting weird,' Rose informed him. 'Professor Sinistra saw it was cursed. We don't need to convince her. We just can't say who did it.'

'And what do we do about the Slytherins? Next time Gryffindor plays they'll just do the same thing-'

'Gryffindor's next match is against Slytherin. They wouldn't risk their own players,' Rose informed him. 'And then – well, maybe we need to get some more solid evidence against the Slytherins.'

Scorpius raised his eyebrows at her. 'So now you want to get involved?'

'I know it sounds bizarre, but I'd prefer it if Al didn't get murdered.'

Scorpius considered this, before he nodded. 'You're right. This is bizarre.'

'I know. It's strange but my cousins getting murdered puts me in a bad mood.'

'You're a bit unusual, aren't you?'

The door clicked open behind them, and they both spun in their seats to see Professor Sinistra stride in, followed by Professor Karim and Professor Longbottom. The head mistress waved her wand, conjuring up two more chairs for the heads of house, before she took a seat across from Rose and Scorpius. Professor Karim and Professor Longbottom sat down beside their respective students, looking severe.

'So,' said Professor Sinistra bracingly, 'we've examined the other Quidditch balls, and none of them have been tampered with, and so the game has resumed. Would you two like to explain to me what possessed you to do something so idiotic?'

Rose and Scorpius glanced at each other. They had wasted their opportunity to get their story straight.

At their silence, Professor Sinistra continued. 'There were hundreds of students around you. Not only did duelling put yourselves in danger but you've put your fellow students at risk-'

'We weren't duelling,' said Scorpius quickly.

'Mr Malfoy,' snapped Professor Karim, 'do not interrupt your head mistress –'

'But we weren't,' he insisted. 'I don't even have my wand on me –'

'You've lost your wand?' interjected Professor Longbottom.

'Yes, I haven't had it since this morning! Rose only set fire to the pitch to stop the game.'

But the professors appeared to have stopped listening. They were exchanging glances with each other, before the head mistress reached into her pocket and withdrew a thirteen-inch cedar-wood wand.

'Is this your wand, Mr Malfoy?' asked Professor Sinistra evenly.

Scorpius inclined in his seat, frowning at the wand in her hand. 'I… yeah, it is,' said Scorpius uncertainly. 'Where did you find it?'

'In Madam Robins's office where the bludgers are stored,' said the head mistress.

'Can I have it back?'

He saw Rose look at him. There was a warning look in her eye that he didn't understand, and so he turned back to Professor Sinistra. The head mistress was watching him unwaveringly, but she proceeded to held the wand out to him. He snatched it eagerly and turned it over in his palm, inspecting for any damage.

'Do you want to explain to us why your wand was found next to where a bludger was cursed?' asked Professor Sinistra.

Scorpius met the head mistress's eyes. At last he understood what Rose had already realised. 'I… no,' he bit at her. 'I didn't curse the bludger. I – I lost my wand before the match. I was looking for it all morning. Somebody must have taken it.'

'And who do you think would do that?' asked the head mistress.

Scorpius made to reply, but Rose interrupted. She seemed to have known he was ready to name the Slytherins.

'We don't know who took the wand, Professor, but it can't have been Scorpius who cursed the bludger,' said Rose forcefully. 'I was with him all morning.'

'Is that right, Mr Malfoy?' asked the head mistress.

Scorpius hesitated. In the corner of his eye, he saw Rose shoot him another warning look. He gave nod.

'Yeah, that's right, and then we went down to the pitch,' he said. 'And we knew there was something wrong with the bludger.'

'How exactly did you know that?' asked Professor Sinistra.

'We just… it just seemed really aggressive,' said Scorpius. 'I've played Quidditch since third year and I hadn't seen them behave like that.'

'When do you last remember having the wand?'

'I know I used it in my dormitory when I woke up,' said Scorpius. 'But then it wasn't until I was I was leaving breakfast that I put my hand in my pockets and realised it was gone.'

'And you can't think of anyone who might have had the opportunity to take it?'

He could feel Rose's eyes on him again, and he gave his head a reluctant shake.

'Alright,' sighed Sinistra. 'Ms Weasley, what possessed you to light a fire in the middle of a crowd of students instead of telling the teachers?'

'We tried to get to the teachers in the grandstand but there were too many people in the way,' said Rose. She paused to draw a deep breath, and when she spoke again her voice was much softer. 'I know it was – I mean, I was stupid to light a fire but I was just so… so worried about my cousins getting knocked off their brooms.'

Scorpius couldn't stop himself from turning to look at her in astonishment. She had adopted a meek, simpering murmur when she said this, something he could never have imagined her being capable of.

Professor Sinistra seemed to find nothing about Rose's new voice unusual. She sounded almost sympathetic when she said, 'That's an honourable sentiment, Ms Weasley, but that doesn't mean what you did was incredibly irresponsible. You put other students in danger. Next time, all you need to do is signal to Madam Robins and she will stop the game, understand?'

'Yes, Professor,' murmured Rose. 'Sorry, Professor.'

'And Mr Malfoy, when you lose your wand you're required to report it to a teacher. A missing wand can be cause for alarm, especially when the school has had its security intensified. You should know that being a prefect, as it's included in the prefects' booklet that was sent to you at the beginning of the term. You did read that, I trust?'

'Yes, Professor, I just – just panicked, I guess,' lied Scorpius.

Sinistra gave an approving nod. 'Alright, you're both dismissed. But I'll be taking fifty points from Gryffindor and fifty from Ravenclaw and I will be writing to your parents. I hope that will encourage you both to be a little more responsible and a little less brash if you should ever encounter a situation like this again.'

'Yes, Professor,' said Rose. 'Thank you, Professor.'

The head mistress looked at Scorpius. 'Mr Malfoy, does that sound fair to you?'

'Yes, Professor,' grumbled Scorpius.

'Alright, you may go,' said Professor Sinistra. 'And I'd try to keep hold of my wand if I were you, Mr Malfoy.'

They both got to their feet without another word and hurried across the room. Scorpius wrenched the door open and held it open for Rose, who strode past him without meeting his eye. It wasn't until they had reached the bottom of the stairs and passed the gargoyle that was guarding the head mistress's office that he spoke to her.

'What the hell was that?' he demanded.

'What?' she bit at him. 'We agreed we wouldn't name the Slytherins, didn't we?'

'I don't mean that,' he dismissed. 'I mean – I mean that voice you used.' He imitated the shaky voice she had adopted to speak to the head mistress. 'Sorry, Professor. Thank you, Professor. I was just so worried about my cousins, Professor.'

Rose folded her arms. 'Well, did you want detention?'

'Who else do you use that voice on?'

'I don't when I can help it.'

'Is that how you get mummy and daddy wrapped around your finger?'

'It doesn't work on mummy and daddy, unfortunately.'

'You should try using that voice on boys. You might scare fewer off that way.'

'Oh, fuck off, Scorpius.' She turned away and started along the passageway, and he followed in her stride.

'Are you going to keep doing that?' he asked.

'Only when I need to save you from getting crucified by the teachers.'

'I didn't mean the voice,' he said. 'I meant calling me by my first name.'

She stopped to look at him. 'I'm sorry?'

'You called me Scorpius.'

'Yes, well, you called me Rose.'

'You can't hold me accountable for that,' he told her. 'I was panicking.'

'Yes, I know, it was very funny to watch.'

'Well, I promise not to do it again.'

'I should hope not.'

They started along the passageway again towards the Marble Staircase, and he asked her, 'Did you know that about needing to report missing wands to teachers?'

'No.'

'Did you read that booklet they went us with our prefects' badges?'

She gave a sniff of laughter. 'Yes, of course, right before I went out to have a drink with Mei Zhao.'

'So that's a no?'

'No, I threw it out as soon as it arrived. Did you read it?'

'Course not. Couldn't burn it fast enough.'

As they drew nearer to the Marble Staircase they could hear jubilant voices of students.

'Sounds like the game's over,' observed Scorpius.

They rounded the corner to the staircase and were faced by a throng of gleeful students returning from the match, too consumed by their post-match reverie to pay them any mind.

'Oi, Rosie!'

At the sound of her name, both Rose and Scorpius glanced down the stairs to see Finlay Jordan coming towards her, being jostled by younger students. He was beaming at her, still in his scarlet Quidditch robes and levitating a dozen bottles of mead over his head.

'We won by two-hundred points,' he said when he reached them. 'Al caught the snitch about twenty minutes after your little altercation with the fire. Here, grab some mead. James is down in the village getting fire whiskey. We're celebrating.'

Rose congratulated him and obligingly snatched one of the mead bottles out of the air.

'I need to go to the kitchens to get some food for the after-party,' he informed her. 'Al and the others are up in the common room. Tell them I'm on my way, okay?'

'How did James get to the village with the passageway closed up?' asked Scorpius.

'None of your business, Malfoy,' said Finlay, but he sounded unbothered. 'Go on, grab a bottle if you like.'

Scorpius looked at Rose uncertainly, and she gave an encouraging nod. Scorpius too snatched down one of the bottles.

'Good on you, mate,' said Finlay. 'See you upstairs, Rosie.'

They watched the beater push his way through the crowd, ignoring the glances the younger students were giving to the bottles of mead he was levitating with him.

'I didn't know there were other passageways out of the castle,' said Scorpius. 'What if the Slytherins know about them too?'

Rose sighed. 'Can you give it a rest for a while?'

Scorpius scowled at her. 'Can't you even pretend to care even slightly?'

Rose sighed. 'I think it's time we stop talking to each other for the time being.'

'You might be right.'

She started to turn away from him, saying as she did, 'Enjoy your mead.'

'Enjoy your party.'

She came to a halt and looked back at him. 'Oh, damn it.'

'What?'

'I didn't think of that. My common room is going to be so loud.'

Scorpius rolled his eyes. 'Yes, a party. How awful.'

'Absolutely dreadful. The world is against me.'

Scorpius looked down at the bottle of mead, inspecting the label. 'This is good mead.'

Rose inspected her own bottle. 'Is it?'

'No idea. But it's a shame you're going to have to waste it drinking with your friends.'

'Hopefully if I drink enough it won't bother me,' said Rose, and she tucked the mead under her arm. 'See you later.'

She made to turn away again, but stopped when he called to her.

'Hey, Weasley?'

She glanced over her shoulder. 'What?'

'You could drink it down by the lake if you wanted to,' he said. 'The grounds are usually pretty quiet after Quidditch matches.'

She cocked her head to the side. 'Suppose I could. Will you go drink it with Zaina?'

Scorpius tried his best not to grimace, but he obviously wasn't very convincing. 'I guess so.'

Rose raised her eyebrows. 'Trouble in paradise?'

'I just don't feel like sharing the mead.'

'I see,' said Rose slowly.

They were both silent for a moment, conscious of the fact that a reasonable person would invite the other to drink with them. He decided he would have a bat at being reasonable. If it was a choice between returning to finish his argument with Zaina and drinking with Rose Weasley, he was surprised to find he would prefer the latter.

'At the risk of you bottling me,' he said, 'I suppose we could both go out to the grounds.'

Rose raised her eyebrows. 'Are you intending for us to drink it in each other's vicinity?'

'Well, if you're suggesting so.'

'Only if the conversation is strictly prefect related,' Rose warned him.

'Well, that goes without saying.'

'If you really want to avoid Zaina so badly then I won't stop you.'

'That's not the reason,' he told her. 'I told you. I just don't want to share the mead.'

Rose shrugged and turned away. 'Come on, then.'

James Potter was one for pageantry. He knew this, just as everyone else did, and he was unashamed of the fact. Proud of it, even.

He had finished a bottle of mead on the way back from the village, and so while the rest of the team were still on their first drinks, he was feeling comfortably inebriated.

He thrust his wand out and aimed it at one of the coffee tables in the corner, levitating it to the centre of the room, where he clambered on top of it and said to the room, 'Right, everyone shut up.'

It was typical that if James Potter told you to do something, you were likely to do it. People wanted to be liked by James, because being liked by James usually meant you were somebody funny or attractive or light-hearted. Even people who didn't like James, and he knew there were many of them, were renascent about expressing this dislike, as disliking James usually meant you were stern or boring or jealous.

From his perch on top of the coffee table, he watched as the room turned to look at him, grinning and laughing. Corrina Peakes was sitting on the couch with Finlay and her dorm-mates, her eyes pinned on James, and he flashed a smile at her.

'I want to make a toast,' James proclaimed, straining his voice over the music from the wireless, and raised his goblet of ale into the air, 'to the Gryffindor Quidditch team.'

From around the room there was a chorus of agreement. Bottles of mead and goblets of ale were thrust into the air in imitation of James. His team-mates, dotted around the room, were being pulled into hugs and clapped on the back by the other students.

'Look at them,' slurred James gleefully. 'Aren't they gorgeous? Well, not Al, but the others…'

There was a collective laugh from around the room. Albus, who had been trying to hide in the corner for most of the evening talking to Chandra, was pretending not to listen.

'And Finlay – everyone thank Finlay, because if it wasn't for him we wouldn't have a seeker anymore,' continued James. 'Anadia, give him a kiss for me. Go on, kiss him.'

Anadia Indra, who was sitting between Corrina and Finlay, obligingly kissed the latter's cheek.

'No! Properly!' demanded James. 'Kiss him!'

Xan emerged from the crowd to take hold of James's hand. 'Give it a bloody rest, you idiot.'

'And someone make Albus drink – no, Ducky, do it,' ordered James, aiming a warning finger at Albus who was trying to decline the shot of fire whiskey Louis was offering him. 'I'm not getting down until you drink it, Al.'

Albus shot hit brother a mutinous look, but James wasn't one to be reckoned with. He was swaying unevenly on top of the coffee table, fighting off Xan's attempt to make him get down, eyeing Albus up and down.

Like most people when in opposition to James, Albus backed down. Sighing and reluctant, Albus took the mead from Louis. He raised the shot glass to his lips, gave it a sniff and gagged.

'You're not meant to smell it, prat,' James called.

'If you do it quick it's not so bad, Al,' said Chandra encouragingly.

'Hah! Tell that to Mei Zhao!' bellowed James.

'That joke doesn't even make sense,' Xan informed him.

Albus, flushing scarlet and withering under the watchful gazes of dozens of his house-mate, shut his eyes and threw back the shot. There was a chorus of cheers from around the room. Albus spluttered, coughed, and grimaced, before recovering enough to pass the shot glass back to Louis.

'Finally!' cried James. 'Okay, okay, Roxanne, I'm getting down…' James rolled the R in her name, knowing how she hated it. He clambered down from the coffee table, stumbling on his feet, and bellowed across the room, 'Somebody get Ducky another drink! Oi, Fin, come for a smoke.'

Finlay looked up at him. In one hand he was holding a goblet of ale and in the other he was holding Anadia Indra's hand. 'I'm alright, mate.'

'No! Come on! It's loud in here.'

'It won't be once you leave,' said Finlay, and Anadia laughed. 'I'll come up later. I swear.'

'You better,' said James, 'because I have some very unsavoury things to tell you about him, Anadia.'

Anadia laughed again, as Finlay aimed a kicked at him.

'Go smoke your death stick,' said Finlay.

James raised his hands in a gesture of innocence. 'Alright, alright, I'm going. Don't miss me too much.'

The day was drifting into afternoon and the sun was high in the sky and the grounds were quiet in the post-match reverie. The grass was overgrown, flourishing from the wet winter and yet to be cut for the first time in the spring. Wild flowers had begun to sprout sparsely across the lawn. Snow was halfway towards melting on the slopes that surrounded the school, and streams of water had found inclines along hillside to run towards the Hogwarts lake, bubbling and gurgling against the sound of tree branches swaying in the breeze.

They had walked the long way down to the loch and little was said as they trudged their way through the thicket of aspens. Rose had taken it upon herself to keep several strides ahead of him, and navigating through the streams of water and overgrown grass had given them a welcome distraction from conversation. Now, however, as they settled down upon the edge of the lake and uncorked their bottles of mead, it seemed they were both conscious of the silence between them.

'Well, cheers,' said Scorpius, and he thrust out his bottle in Rose's direction. 'Nobody got killed.'

'Cheers,' Rose replied.

She had kept a sensible distance between them when she sat down, and so in order to reach his bottle she got onto her knees and leant towards him. They chinked their bottles and Rose returned to her sensible distance, hugging her knees to herself, before they both drank deeply.

Rose set her bottle down on the uneven ground, resting it against the crook of her leg to keep it upright, and put her chin against her knees. She stared out across the dark lake, listening to the lapping of the water against the pebbled shore.

She wasn't looking at Scorpius, but from the corner of her eye she could see him sitting with his legs stretched out before him, drumming his fingers against the side of his bottle of mead. A moment passed in silence before she saw him turn to look at her.

'So,' he said, expectantly.

She took another sip of mead before replying. 'So.'

'Shall we think of something to talk about?'

'You can if you if you want to,' she told him.

Scorpius sighed. 'My job, is it?'

'You were the one so desperate to drink together.'

'Oh, don't flatter yourself, Weasley. You're easier to stomach than my house-mates, and please don't think that's a compliment.'

'Shall we talk about that, then?' said Rose. 'What have you done to annoy Zaina that's making you want to avoid her?'

'I told you, it's not about Zaina. I just don't want to go back to the common room.'

'Sure.' She sipped her mead, looking at him. 'I'm very convinced.'

'If we were fighting it's not like it would be any of your business,' he told her. 'I don't pry into your love life. I mean, I know you don't have one, but if you did I'd respect your privacy.'

'What if I told you I had a Muggle back in London completely besotted with me?'

'London – where's that?'

This caught her off guard and she choked on the sip of mead she had been in the middle of. He watched her struggle to clear her throat, grinning, before he said, 'Do you want me to clap you on the back?'

'If you'd like me to break your fingers,' she croaked.

'Didn't think so. Thought I'd offer though.'

She recovered by taking another sip of mead, wiping her watering eyes.

'So do you have a Muggle in London waiting for you?' he asked.

'No, but you were ready to believe it.'

'Well, it's not outside the realm of possibility. I suppose you're not completely hideous,' he said.

'Thank you. You could be halfway decent if you got a better haircut.'

'You can't hold my haircut against me. It's not up to me.'

'Oh, God. Don't tell me Zaina dictates how long you grow your hair.'

'No, she doesn't, but if I were to cut it then that would be one less thing I'd have to annoy my dad with.'

'Oh, honestly, Malfoy.'

'I'm kidding,' he assured her. 'Although you should see how much he hates it – it's delightful.'

'Why does he care how long your hair is?'

'Who knows? Because he's deranged, probably. Look, I'm going to need to get further into the mead before I talk about my dad. Or about Zaina.'

'Alright, we'll stop then.'

'Thanks.' He sipped his mead before looking back at her. 'Do you think we should tell Al what the Slytherins did?'

'I was wondering that,' she said. 'It will just make him even more paranoid.'

'He probably deserves to know, though.'

'It wouldn't do him any good.'

'Since when do you care what's good for people?'

'Only when I don't want to have to hear him talk about how they're planning his murder.

He gave a sniff of laughter before they fell into silence again. The lake lapped against the shore and the trees shook overhead with the breeze and Scorpius's fingers drummed bottle in his hand and the mead was making all of this blend into one slow, rhythmic beat, and there was nothing in her head but her thinking.

Albus could have been killed today, and if could have been killed today then he could be killed any other day, and if he could be killed then so could anybody else.

She had known this, of course; she had been tuned keenly to the notion ever since she had arrived at Hogwarts and started reading about the war in the library. But now, as she sat by the lake with Scorpius Malfoy, it was as if this was the first time she had ever really felt the truth of it. The Ministry was bracing for a war, and her parents were in the midst of it, and if twenty-five aurors could be killed, then anyone else could, too.

'Hey, Rose?'

She was pleased by the sound of his voice. His voice was a distraction. 'Mmm?

'Do you think…'

When he stopped talking she straightened up to look at him. 'What?'

'It's stupid.'

'Lots of things you say are stupid.'

'Thanks. Well, I… I was wondering if there was… you know… if the Reclamation Army is still around when we finish school, what would you do? Would you fight?'

'I don't know,' she said truthfully.

He nodded, once again drumming his fingers on the bottle. He seemed dissatisfied with this response. 'Right.'

'Would you?'

He shook his head. 'I don't know.'

'You don't know, but you think I should,' she declared.

He looked up at her with pale, watchful eyes. 'I didn't say that.'

'You do. You think because my parents fought in the war that I should do the same, but you're not under the same obligation.'

'Rose, I don't think that.'

'It's not the same as when they were young,' she informed him, as if refuting him. 'They were fighting a war against Voldemort, but now the fight is against the Reclamation Army, but if we're fighting against the Reclamation Army then we're fighting alongside Mikhael Rowle and all of his supporters, and all of his supporters hate my mum and my grandparents.'

'I understand that,' he said indignantly. 'I just – if we hadn't done anything today Albus would probably have gotten hurt – or worse. So I just think… I don't think I can do nothing.'

'So, you'd fight against the Reclamation Army?' said Rose. 'Even if it meant Mikhael Rowle took over?'

'I… If it stopped people getting killed, yes.'

'If it meant that Muggle-borns stopped being allowed into Hogwarts?' she pressed. 'If the Ministry shut down its Muggle liaisons?'

'Rose, what do you want me to say?' he asked her, exasperated. 'I've told you – over and over again I've made it clear to you that I don't support Rowle. Why is it so hard for you to believe me?'

'You haven't given me a reason to.'

'I saved Al's life today,' he reminded her. 'Isn't that enough to stop you hating me?'

'I didn't say I hated you.'

This seemed to catch him off guard. His frown relented somewhat, before he recovered, and said beseechingly, 'Tell me what it is that's stopping you from trusting me.

'There's lots of reasons.'

'Give me one, then.'

Rose kept her eyes on the bottle of mead in Scorpius's hand. She didn't want to look him in the eye as she turned over all the reasons things she had against him: his father, his insistence on following her and Albus down the passageway to find James in November, his proximity to the fiendfyre in Hogsmeade, his limp at the prefects' meeting on the first day of school.

She decided on the least incriminating – the least likely to cause a fight – and said to him, 'You were limping at the prefects' meeting on the first day back at school.'

He immediately jumped into a defence, opening his mouth to correct her, but it seemed he hadn't been ready for what she had said, because he stopped suddenly. 'I – what?'

She sighed, trying to sound impatient rather than guilty, because that was how she felt. For now, she didn't want to fight him, but it seemed as if they were skirting around the prospect. 'On the first day back at school,' she said more slowly, 'when we went to the prefects meeting, remember?'

'Yeah?'

'And you let me get bitten by that bloody door knocker.'

He rolled his eyes. 'You would have done the same.'

'That was the day that – '

'That my dad was taken in for questioning about Gustav Gamp getting murdered,' he said. 'Yes, I have a vague memory of that, strangely enough.'

'And you had missed Charms that day,' she continued, 'and Al and I had heard you fighting with Zaina, and she was telling you – telling you not to go see your dad. And then there was a break in at Gamp's house…'

'And what?' he snapped. 'You thought I what?'

'I didn't think anything,' she said quickly. 'It was Al. He put the idea in my head –'

'Don't blame Al,' he bit at her. 'You thought I broke into Gustav Gamp's house to – to get them to release my dad or something?'

'Well, what happened to your leg?' she demanded.

'Been keeping tabs of me, Weasley?' he grumbled. 'I slipped, okay? I landed on my knee. There's no mystery.'

'Where were you? Why weren't you in Charms?'

'I went for a walk through the grounds. I was just – I didn't want to see anyone. You know, you can complain all you like about your parents, but your dad's never been arrested on suspicion of murder. Why don't you try it and see if you feel like going to class?'

'You asked me to tell you why I didn't trust you,' she said. 'I'm telling you why. Don't get annoyed.'

'That's the only reason? That's ridiculous. How can you –'

'It's not the only reason,' she informed him. 'Why did you want to follow us out of the castle when we went looking for James in November?'

'Oh, this again. I followed you because I – just the same as you – wanted to know who was responsible for blowing up a street in Hogsmeade.'

'And where were you that day?' asked Rose. 'On the first Hogsmeade visit of the year. I saw you in the square before the fiendfyre started.'

'Jesus, you actually are keeping track of me, aren't you?' he growled at her. 'Why were you there?'

I was following you.

'I was going for a walk,' she lied, 'and I noticed you, and then you disappeared.'

'Maybe I was going for a walk,' he snapped. 'You're not the only person allowed to walk, Rose.'

'I just want to know why you were there,' she said firmly.

'And I've told you why I was, so why don't you just admit you were wrong about me? Can you ever just admit that?'

'You can't pretend I didn't have a reason not to trust you,' she said. 'I grew up hearing my parents talk about your dad –'

He let a long, angry groan. 'Right, okay, that's it, isn't it? You're never going to think of me as anything else other than the son of a Death Eater, are you?'

She sighed impatiently and bit back at him, 'No, Scorpius, that's not it. You take everything so bloody personally.'

'But you must see now that you were wrong,' he insisted. 'You see that, right?'

'Can we stop talking about this?' she requested.

'Fine,' he said, and she was surprised by how annoyed he sounded. She watched him getting to his feet, snatching up his bottle of mead. He stood over her with his arms folded. 'Look, this was stupid. We don't have to… we're not friends, just as you said the other day. There's no point in forcing ourselves to try to get along, so I'll – I'll see you later.'

And suddenly she realised – and she was disgusted by herself – that she didn't want him to leave. Or more to the point, she didn't want to be alone. She didn't want to sit on the shore of her lake getting drunker and sadder and trying not to think of what would have happened if they hadn't made it to pitch in time to stop the bludger. She too got to her feet, and he stood over her.

'Cheer up, Malfoy,' she said, trying to sound disdainful. 'Do you really want to go back to the castle and fight with Zaina?'

'Can't you just apologise?' he asked her, exasperated. 'Ever heard of that? It's a thing adults do when they realise they were wrong.'

'Malfoy,' she said evenly, 'you can storm off to your common room feeling self-righteous and thinking you're better than me, or you can get drunk, but you can't do both.'

He glared down at her, his arms folded, considering what she had said, before he muttered, 'If I stay here I think we might need a break from talking.'

She raised the bottle of mead to her lips and cast her eyes over the aspens behind them and the shore in front of her and the distant hills across the lake. She looked back at him and gestured towards the lake. 'Do you know how to skip stones?'

'Skip stones? Really, Weasley?'

She turned away from him and started down the slope to the pebbled shore line. 'I'll teach you how. It doesn't require much talking.'

'Teach me how. You're so smug,' he drawled, but she could hear him following her. 'It's skipping stones. Not alchemy.'

'You don't know how to do alchemy?' she asked. 'How embarrassing.'

'Oh, shut up.'

Rose reached the shore first, and she started along the stony edges, the water lapping against her school shoes. She snatched up a handful of stones and turned back to Scorpius.

'You need the flat ones,' she told him, and she held one up to him to demonstrate. 'Like this.'

'Your socks are going to get wet,' he grumbled, and he raised a hand to gesture to the water at her ankles.

She ignored him, and raised her arm back. 'Get a stone.'

Scorpius gave a heavy, mutinous sigh, but he didn't protest and she watched him scan the shore for a stone he deemed appropriate. He held it out to her, glaring. 'Will this do?'

'You can try it,' she said, and she turned to face the lake, stretching her arm back behind her. 'Okay, like this – flick with your wrist.'

He watched her fling the stone out over the water. It skimmed the lake's surface, bouncing along it in three smooth, sharp grazes, before it at last sank into the water. She looked back at him, expectant, and he mimicked her. His stone plonked into the water on its first land. She looked back at him to find him already watching her.

'Don't say anything,' he warned.

'I didn't.' She picked him out a stone from her handful. 'Try again.'

He hadn't really expected Finlay to join him, but it didn't stop him being disappointed as the time wore on. He gazed up at the cloudless skin, tinged pink and orange as the sun edged towards the horizon, and he lit another cigarette.

He shut his eyes and drew in deeply, savouring the scent of the air and his cigarette smoke, and let his head swim.

He was feeling the type of slow and heavy feeling that came from being enough of the way towards sober to feel awful but still drunk enough not to think straight. He wondered what Finlay and Anadia were doing, and whether cigarettes were cheaper in Eastern Europe, and what the afternoon smelt like in Dubrovnik.

He heard the creak of the trapdoor and forced himself to sit up, looking around expectantly. But it wasn't Finlay climbing onto the roof of Gryffindor tower – it was his brother. James made a point of dragging on his cigarette as Albus walked over to him.

'Alright, Ducky?'

'You've been up here for ages,' Albus replied.

He sat down on the stone ground beside James, sipping at a half-drunk bottle of ale. Unlike James, he had changed out of his muddy Quidditch robes, but he was looking pale and tired. The sleeves of his sweater were rolled up to his elbows, and James could see the dark, angry bruising where the bludger her hit his forearm.

'Gotta sober up,' said James. 'Off to meet Marigold later.'

'She's not upset about the match?'

'Oh, I hope so. I can help her work off her frustration.'

Albus rolled his eyes. 'You're an arse.'

'I know, and birds still like me. Weird, isn't it?'

Albus looked away from James, gazing out over the edge of the tower towards the sun setting behind the Forbidden Forest. They sat in silence as James pulled out his tin of tobacco and rolled himself another cigarette.

'Good game today, Al,' said James as he lit his cigarette and lay back against the stones. 'You only fell off the broom once.'

'A bludger hit me,' said Albus defensively.

'Yeah, I saw. It was hilarious.'

'You haven't seen Rose, have you?' asked Albus. 'I want to know what was going on. She never came back after she and Scorpius got taken back to the castle.'

'Perhaps Professor Sinistra murdered them.'

Albus watched James raise the cigarette to his lips, his chest rising as he inhaled, the plume of smoke rising through the air.

'Are you ever going to stop smoking?' asked Albus.

'Live a little, Ducky,' said James. 'Life's very dull when you deny yourself basic pleasures.'

'But there are other things that feel good that aren't bad for you.'

'Hmm, not sure if I agree.'

'I just don't get why you started doing something you knew was so bad for you.'

'I'm a curious creature. I don't want to be one of those people who die never having had a bloody cigarette. I don't want to be like… well, be like you, for example.'

'But trying it is one thing and continuing with it is… is just stupid.'

'So, you condone trying it?'

'Well, I mean like… like if you want to try it I get it, but you've let yourself get addicted.'

James didn't seem to be listening anymore. He rolled onto his side, propping himself up with the elbow of his cigarette-free side, and he extended his other arm to Albus, holding the cigarette in front of his face. 'Try it then.'

Albus looked caught off guard, before he smacked away James's arm. 'No.'

'Go on,' said James. 'Don't die wondering.'

'I said no.'

'It will be our little secret. My gift to you for not completely fucking up our chance for the cup.'

James once again brandished the cigarette in Albus's face, and once again Albus pushed him away. 'Stop it, James.'

'Come on, Al. You're not a virgin anymore, so that's out of the way. And tonight you've been drinking, haven't you? Now try a smoke and you'll be halfway towards a normal person. Go on. I won't tell Ginny.'

Albus glared down at the cigarette, his eyes full of suspicion, before he slowly extended a hand and slipped it out of James's fingers. James watched him, grinning, as Albus raised it to his lips, took a quick drag, and dissolved into a fit of coughing.

James waited, laughing, for Albus to recover. When he had, the younger Potter held out the cigarette to his brother, motioning for him to take it back. 'I don't like it,' said Albus.

'Give it another go. It grows on you.'

Albus let his hand drop back to his side, inspecting the way the cigarette looked between his fingers, but he didn't take another drag. After a few beats of silence, he asked, 'Where did you and Finlay get the drinks from?'

'It's a secret.'

'Did you go to the village?'

'Secret, Al.'

'How'd you get out? The passageway on the third floor has been closed up been closed up. Is there another way in and out of the castle?'

James sighed heavily and stretched his arms out behind his head. 'You're boring me.'

'James,' snapped Albus. 'There are aurors everywhere. You can't just… just go wondering around. And if anyone else finds out about it, I mean… I mean the Reclamation Army wants to get into the school, and you've just given them a way in-'

James sat up quickly enough that Albus flinched away from him. 'Christ, Al, do you ever shut up? Me leaving the castle doesn't equate to me letting in the Reclamation Army.'

Albus recovered from his surprise and said, more forcefully thn James anticipated, 'But where do you go? Why do you need to leave?'

'Ever heard of alcohol?'

'But people could use the passageway for other things –'

'The only people who know about the passageway are me and Fin,' snapped James. 'Believe it or not, we're not as thick as we look. We don't go broadcasting its whereabouts to the whole school. Not after some prat got the other one closed up.'

Albus glared at him, and James glared back, before Albus said quietly, 'I know you don't go just for alcohol.'

'Pardon, Al?' asked James, though he knew exactly what Albus had said – he just like watching the colour rising in his cheeks. 'Speak up. You're muttering.'

'You don't sneak out just to buy drinks,' said Albus more loudly. 'You can get drinks from the kitchen. And buying alcohol doesn't –'

'Give me my smoke back,' said James, and he leant towards Albus, snatching the cigarette from his hand. 'Here I was thinking you'd come out here to bond, but you're here to interrogate me.'

'- it doesn't explain what happened to your arm,' continued Albus, undeterred by James's interruption. 'Or your leg after the Hogsmeade fire, or why your lip was bleeding that night we saw you in the forest…'

'Jesus, are you stalking me now?' snapped James. 'Get a life, Al. I thought now that your girlfriend is shagging you, you might not be so jealous of me –'

'I'm not jealous of you –'

'– but you're just as fucking obsessed with me as you've always been.'

James pulled himself staggeringly to his feet, holding onto the stone balcony of the tower to hold himself steady. He had thought he had sobered up, but now that he was on his feet the alcohol came rushing back to his head.

'James,' said Albus, 'you're going to…'

'To what?'

Only Albus seemed unwilling to continue. James stood over him, swaying in his drunkenness. 'What, Albus?'

'Get hurt.'

'You sound like Dad,' James spat at him. 'So fucking superior. Just because you've got a girlfriend doesn't make you normal, Al. You're not normal – you're a loser. Everybody thinks so. Mei thinks so too – I can tell by the way she speaks to you. She thinks you're pathetic.'

James couldn't quite tell what the look on Albus's face was as he got to his feet. He did so slowly, evenly, watching James unblinkingly. It was the first time James had ever thought of Albus as dignified, but he thought that might have only been in comparison to his own drunkenness.

When he spoke there was a sharpness, an assuredness, in Albus's voice that James didn't think he had ever heard him manage before. 'Go to bed, James,' he told him. 'You're pissed.'

And then Albus was gone – back down the trapdoor, back into Gryffindor tower from which laughter and music was rising – and James was alone once more.

The afternoon was wearing on, the sun halfway below the horizon, setting the dark waters of the lake alight with shimmering beads of light. It was hard to appreciate the school grounds when they were rife with other students but today – deserted for all but the two figures beside the lake – it looked pristine. A cloudless sky and the wind roaring through the trees and the young wildflowers lining the stony shore.

They stood apart from each other, far enough so they wouldn't need to talk, but close enough that Rose could correct Scorpius's technique when she felt the need to. He didn't protest, but he did roll his eyes, but she didn't care.

She thought, as she got deeper into the bottle of mead, that perhaps drinking wasn't good for her. The more she drank the more she thought of her parents, and her brother, and how the pretty light on the lake was asking her to forget something she couldn't really forget: that they weren't safe and there was no way to make them safe.

She let go of her handful of stones and they plonked heavily into the water. Scorpius looked at her, his eyebrows raised.

'Are you ready to go back to the castle?' he asked.

'Not yet,' she said. 'You go.'

'I wasn't saying I wanted to. I was just asking if you did.'

'Well, I don't.'

She turned away from him and started back towards the edge of the shoreline where the pebbles fell away into grass. She dropped down onto the lawn and Scorpius joined her.

'You're drunk,' he accused.

'I'm not. I'm just tired.'

'No, you're drunk. You've nearly finished the bottle. You should eat something.'

'Stop being so fucking condescending.'

He seemed taken aback by this. 'Christ, okay.'

They were silent again, and she wondered why he was still there; why he hadn't stormed off ten minutes into their time together and a dozen other times since then. When she had made fun of his hair, or when she had asked about Zaina, or when she had told him she didn't trust him, or when she had corrected his stone-skipping method for the tenth time.

In what she was sure was a bid for civility that she knew she didn't deserve, she saw him turn to look at her out of the corner of her eye. 'Who taught you how to skip stones?'

'My dad,' she said. 'We have a pond in our backyard Westminster.'

'Westminster – that's in England, right?'

She was annoyed that this made her laugh, and she tried to hide it. 'Your geography's gotten much better.'

'Thanks, I've been practising.' He has returned to drumming his fingers against the bottle of mead. She tried to find it within herself to be annoyed by the sound, but she didn't have the energy. 'So you and your dad are – close?'

She shrugged. 'I don't know – it's just like normal parents and children. My mum's always worked a lot so when I was little – before I went to school – I spent a lot of time with him.'

'And with your cousins? Were you close with them?'

'With Albus, definitely.' She realised talking gave her something to do other than thinking, and so she continued. 'He and I... I don't want to sound like I'm trying to be complex, because I'm not, but he and I always felt slightly... We weren't as outgoing as our other cousins.'

'Is that why you're so emotionally stunted? Because Albus was the only person you spoke to for the first eleven years of your life?'

'Believe it or not I did have other friends.'

'Chandra?'

'No, not really. Not until we came to school and were in the same dorm. I mean I'd met her, because our parents went to school together, but I'd always found...'

He looked at her. 'Go on.'

'If you're hoping I'll insult her you're going to be disappointed,' she told him. 'I always thought she was - sweet. I just didn't think we were similar enough to be friends. But then when we were in the same dorm, and I realised... Well, Sally Wood offers about as much in the way of conversation as a brick, and Elena Fortescue hates anyone who talks about anything other than her, and Kim Nguyen never liked me... And on top of that they were always just pushing me. As soon as I arrived at school they wanted to know about my parents, and my uncle, and I hadn't been prepared for that. But Chandra... Chandra doesn't do that. Chandra always knew a lot more about the war than I did - her parents are more honest than mine, and so she was about the only person in school who didn't want to talk about it.'

'Right.'

She looked at him frowning. 'Is that acceptable? Or would you like to remind me that you don't like her?'

'I don't not like her,' Scorpius insisted. 'I just... I suppose I've paid too much attention to what people say about her.'

'Well, that's not her fault.'

'I know it's not,' he said gruffly. 'So if it wasn't Chandra who were your other friends?'

'I met them at primary school.'

Scorpius frowned at her. 'Primary school?'

'It's what Muggles call the school you go to when you're quite young – like age five to eleven.'

'God, Rose, I know what primary school is,' he sighed. 'I meant – you know – primary school? I don't know anyone with Wizarding parents who went to primary school. Why'd they make you do that?'

Rose shrugged. 'I guess my mum wanted to get me acquainted with Muggles, so I'd grow up to be a campaigner for Wizarding and Muggle solidarity and save the world and be universally adored just like her.'

'Right, I should have known. So what was primary school like? What did they teach you?'

'I suppose just the same things that Wizarding children would normally get taught at home,' she told him. 'Reading and writing and maths. Geography, obviously, as you know how versed I am.'

'Well, that goes without saying. Did you like it?'

'I think so. I don't know. I remember not quite understanding why I had to go but Albus and my other cousins didn't. But I liked my classes and I liked my friends and… It was fun, I suppose.'

'Do you still see your Muggle friends?'

'No, I…' Rose stopped, hesitated, and started again. 'I lost contact with them. I didn't finish primary school. I left when I was – was about eight, I think.'

'Why's that?'

'I guess it was when my magic was starting to come out and… I mean, you know. You can't control it when you're little. It's not the best thing to have around Muggles.'

Scorpius nodded as he sipped his mead. 'Once I threw a tantrum and all the crystals in the chandeliers shattered.'

Rose raised her eyebrows. 'The crystals in the chandeliers?'

He realised his mistake too late. 'Oh, shut up.'

'The chandeliers? Plural? How many chandeliers do you have?'

'Well, none anymore. I broke them all.'

Rose laughed. 'How did you go on?'

'Finish your story, could you?'

'It's strange how quickly you can lose things, isn't it? One day you have a house full of chandeliers, and the next you're living destitute, chandelier-less…'

'Yes, yes, I know I'm abhorrent,' said Scorpius, though she could see him smiling. 'Tell me why you stopped going to school.'

'It's not much of a story,' Rose assured him. 'It's similar to the chandelier thing – sans the chandeliers, though. I was just in the classroom and I… I wish I could remember why, but my friend did something to make me laugh. Like, you know, I was hysterical. I was like… crying with laughter, and then all the lightbulbs in the building burst.'

Scorpius raised his eyebrows. 'And they figured out it was you?'

'No, of course not,' said Rose. 'But it freaked my parents out a lot. You know, wondering what I might do or what might have happened… And my dad – I mean, he never really understood why my mum wanted me to go in the first place. But he convinced her it probably wasn't a good idea to keep sending me to school. So they took me out and told me like… like that I could still see all my friends. And I did for a little while, but it was different.'

She sipped her mead, and doing so prompted her to keep talking. 'We were different and – and I think I was starting to realise that.'

Scorpius was watching her with a frown. 'That sucks.'

Rose gave a huff of laughter. 'At the time, yeah. What about you? Did your mum teach you how to read and write like all good wizarding wives do?'

'No, the house elves did.'

'Oh.'

'Yes, I know, my family still has house elves,' he sighed. 'You can write to your mother and tell her how awful I am, have her send round the Ministry. But don't worry, my dad pays them all what he's supposed to. Not a knut more or a knut less.'

'I didn't mean it like that,' said Rose. 'I just… I don't know.'

'What?'

'Everyone I know was taught those things by their parents. Other than me, I mean.'

'Well, it's not that my mum didn't want to,' he told her, and he sounded rather defensive. 'It's just… I mean, I told you this. Mum gets sick sometimes and she kind of – she was in St. Mungo's a lot when I was little.'

'Oh, right.'

'Yeah.'

They were silent for a moment. Rose didn't know what he was thinking about, but she suspected it may have been the same thing she was thinking about, which was of his mother. Rose thought of the pretty woman she had met at the memorial back in December, who had smiled and introduced herself.

Thinking about her made her think of the night on Valentine's Day, when Scorpius had told her about what had happened in August. Thinking about it made Rose want to get up and walk away. It was excruciating to remember how stunted her response had been, and she knew she was failing at it again.

'I'll never have kids,' she mused aloud.

She kept her eyes on the lake as she said it, but in the corner of her eye she saw Scorpius turn to look at her. 'What made you think of that?'

'Just talking about our parents,' said Rose. 'I don't know, just – just the idea of spending half your life teaching people how to read and write and cooking for them and cleaning up after them… who in their right mind wants to do that?'

Scorpius smirked. 'I've definitely thought the same thing before.'

'And trying to make all those choices,' said Rose. 'You know, how to raise them so they're not completely intolerable. And you won't know if you've done it right until they're grown up.'

'And then if you've cocked it up there's nothing you can do about it,' said Scorpius.

'Yes, exactly. I mean, I'm sure your parents had no idea that you growing up doted on by house-elves with dragon-hide shoes would make you so entitled, and now they can't do anything to reverse it,' said Rose mournfully.

'And I'm sure your parents didn't know that they'd turn you into a nihilistic egotist in their vane attempt to raise a genius,' said Scorpius, 'but there you have it.'

Rose took a sip of mead, grinning. 'The ridiculous thing is that you're not even wrong, you know? My parents expected me to be this – this amazing human being. Dad used to say, "Oh, you're so like your mum. You're so smart." And then Mum would say, "Oh, you're so brave. You're just like you're dad." I grew up being told about – about how important it was to do something worthwhile, to work for the Ministry and be like they are and I'm just – I'm just not. Even if I wanted to be I don't think I'd know how. Because when it comes down to it I'm not that smart and I'm not that brave.'

'You don't really think that, do you?'

'I'm not asking you to tell me I'm wrong,' she informed him.

'I wasn't going to,' he assured her. 'What I meant was that... I mean, there's nothing wrong with you. I think everyone feels like they're not living up to their expectations. My dad was expecting me to be… well, I don't know what he was expecting me to be. But whatever it was I know I'm not it.'

'If you don't know what it is that he was expecting, how can you know that you're not it?'

Scorpius considered this, and took a sip of mead to help him think. 'I don't know. I'm not in Slytherin, for one thing. I mean, Ravenclaw is alright in his eyes. It's not Gryffindor – or God forbid, Hufflepuff.'

'And were you disappointed about not being in Slytherin?'

He frowned at this. Not annoyed, but considerate. She could see him bite his lip in thought, before he said slowly, 'I think I was, a bit, yeah. I mean, I'm glad I wasn't now – now that I know what Goyle and Rosier are like. But at the time, I mean – my whole family had been in Slytherin. My dad's parents. And my mum's side, too. And I was just worried that – worried that I'd let them down. That I wasn't good enough to be in their house, because I'd been brought up being told the Slytherin is for the smartest people, and the most successful, and the most worthy.'

'Did you spend a lot of time with them when you were little?' she asked. 'With your family?'

'You want to know what it's like growing up with Death Eaters for grandparents?'

She sighed, impatient. 'I meant your whole family. Your mum's side too. See, I don't know what that's like. My mum's parents live in Australia, so I don't see them very often, and my dad's parents have twelve other grandchildren so I never got singled out.'

'Yes, but I'm sure you were their favourite,' he drawled. 'Being so smart, and so brave, and so pretty, and so obnoxious…'

'Can you answer my question, please?'

'Okay, fine. What was it again?'

'Did you see your family a lot growing up?'

'Oh, right. No, not really,' he said. 'My mum's side didn't see us much. I mean, they were Purebloods, but the Malfoys were a bit extreme for them. And I did see my dad's parents a lot before I came to Hogwarts, but then when my granddad got sick, my great-aunt asked them to come live with her. I'm sure you already knew that though – Edward Lupin's grandmother.'

'Yeah, I did know that,' Rose admitted.

'Right, and I'm sure you know that my granddad died in September. There was an article about in the Prophet.'

Rose remembered the article. It had appeared towards the back of the paper, with a headline along the lines of You-Know-Who's Most Loyal Servant Dies a Free Man. 'Yeah, I read it.'

'Well, my grandmother's changed after he died,' said Scorpius. 'She's been getting frail for ages, but I saw her at Christmas and she was just… I don't know, not right in the head or something. It was the first time I'd seen her after he died, and she'd changed.'

'You didn't see her at the funeral?'

'No, I didn't go to the funeral. They didn't take me out of school.'

'Oh.' And because she felt she ought to say something more, she asked, 'Did that bother you?

'Not really,' he replied. 'Does that make me weird? I mean, he was my granddad… I feel like most people would want to – to get closure or whatever you call it.'

Rose didn't know what to say to this, but the way he was looking at her was asking her to reply. She tried to imagine what somebody else would say – Albus or Chandra or anyone halfway decent.

'I don't think it's weird,' she managed. 'People have different ways of dealing with death – getting closure or whatever they call it.'

'That's what I mean though,' he muttered. 'I feel like I had nothing to deal with. I feel like… I don't know. I suppose I wasn't very close with them towards the end. Obviously when you're little everyone loves their grandparents. He'd spoil me – he bought me my first racing broom. But then when I got older I started to notice things about him. I told you she had a miscarriage last year, right?'

'Yeah, I remember.'

'Well, it wasn't the first one,' he told her. 'She had two others when I was younger, before I came to Hogwarts. And my granddad always acted like – always behaved like it was her fault. The way he spoke to her it was like… it was like he thought she was pathetic. And then of course as I got older I started to understand the way he spoke about Kingsley Shacklebolt and blood traitors and Muggle-borns and… He just wasn't a nice person.'

He didn't look at her as he said this, but fidgeted with his hands. First, he straightened the collar of his shirt, and then he brushed his hair from his eyes, and then he moved onto pulling at the grass.

'It took me ages to realise it though,' he continued. 'I think my dad – and perhaps this is giving him too much credit – but I think he really is ashamed of what he did. I mean, he would never openly say anything about the war or Muggles, but when Shacklebolt would give speeches and stuff I'd see my dad rolling his eyes, or scoffing when people would talk about promoting blood-equality. He used to talk about the war like it was some kind of misunderstanding – like he got tricked into it. But my grandparents weren't afraid to say what they really thought about Muggle-borns and Muggles, so I'd been brought up thinking that - that Muggle-borns didn't respect our ancestry, or that Muggles were… were inferior.'

He paused to draw a deep breath. She watched his chest ride and fall, his blonde hair falling into his eyes as he stared out at the setting sun. 'And then I came to Hogwarts,' he murmured, 'and I found out what – what the Death Eaters did, and what You-Know-Who did, and what my family had been doing for centuries and… and now whenever I go back home I can't walk into a room in our house without thinking, you know, who built that? Who made that? How did my ancestors have the gold for all of this? And then I think they probably didn't need the gold, because they'd just steal it from Muggle-borns and then curse Muggles into doing their bidding and I just think…'

He shut his eyes and inhaled once more, and when he exhaled he said all in one breath: 'I think there's something really wrong with my family and there's nothing I can do to get away from it.'

He stopped talking and raised a hand to brush his hair back from his face. She watched him do so, keeping her eyes on him as he brought his hand down to tear at the grass once more. Watching the side of face, cast amber by the setting sun, with his pale eyes avoiding hers, she thought for the first time that she could see some resemblance to the pretty woman she had met at the memorial in December. In amongst all the angles and sallow cheeks of his father, he had the same softness to his eyes as his mother did.

'There's something wrong with everyone's family,' she told him. 'I mean, I – I love my parents. Obviously I love them, but I sometimes think that – that I don't even know them. They don't want me to know them. I realised at the memorial in December, when the aurors' relatives were giving the eulogies, that when my parents die I'll have no idea what to write. I'll have to get it all from their biographies.'

She stopped to sip her mead, and when she started talking again it was as if she was reading from a textbook. 'Hermione Granger was born in 1979, and Ron Weasley was born in 1980, and they started school 1990, and they left school in 1997 to fight in the war, and when the war ended they went to work for the Ministry. And then they got married, and then they had children, and then they died. And that's it – that's all I know about them. That's all I'll ever know.'

Scorpius gave a grim smile. 'You know what I'd write for my dad?'

'What?'

'He was born in Malfoy Manor, and he grew up in Malfoy Manor, and he died in Malfoy Manor. That's his whole life right there, except for a brief stint doing work for You-Know-Who.'

'He said sorry, though,' Rose reminded him. 'He did do that.'

'You think that makes it okay?'

'I don't know. The Ministry seems to think so. He didn't go to Azkaban, at least.'

'No. Bad luck, that,' he said. 'Then you probably wouldn't have to sit here drinking mead with his son.'

'It's better than drinking alone.'

He gave a laugh. 'That might be the nicest thing you've ever said to me.'

Rose shrugged, and then they were silent. They sat staring at the lake, waiting for the sun to edge behind the distant hills, sipping their mead while Scorpius tore at the grass between them. Rose reached the end of her bottle first and Scorpius watched her withdraw her wand and vanish it.

'You drink fast,' he observed.

'You drink slow,' she retorted. 'You're going to miss curfew if you take much longer.'

He held it out to her. 'You finish it if you like it so much.'

'No, I've done my part. Now you do yours.'

He waggled his half-empty bottle it in front of her. 'Go, on have it.'

She forced his arm away. 'No, you have it. You're a light weight.'

'Am not.'

'Admit it, Scorpius, you are.'

'He's not, actually.'

They both spun in their places. Standing at the top of the slope they were sitting on, the last of the day's sun on her face and her dark ringlets caught in the wind, was Zaina Faheem. She didn't look angry, exactly – in fact she was smiling, but it was a dangerous sort of smile.

'Oh,' said Scorpius, and the way he said it told Rose that she wasn't to trust Zaina's smile. 'Hey.'

'Hey,' Zaina replied. 'Didn't mean to interrupt. I was only wondering why you didn't meet me when you were supposed to.'

Scorpius was getting to his feet as he said, 'Yeah, Zaina, sorry – you saw at the game, with the bludger –'

'No explanation needed, darling,' cooed Zaina, her smile growing ever-more foreboding. 'I'll see you back at the castle.'

Scorpius started after her, stumbling up the slope, but Zaina was already walking away. 'Hey, Zaina, wait…'

Zaina's voice was swept back towards them by the wind as she stalked back towards the castle. 'Goodbye, Scorpius.'

Zaina's anger resonated in the way she said his name. Rose didn't blame Scorpius for coming to a halt; she was also grateful that she wasn't going to have to bear witness to the argument that would have ensued if Scorpius had persisted.

She watched him standing lopsidedly on the slope, watching Zaina's retreating figure growing smaller and darker in the waning light. Rose watched him watching her; it was the same way Albus watched Mei, and Chandra watched Connor, and her parents watched each other. She wondered how hard they had to try to look at each other like that.

He stood poised like that for a moment, until Zaina was out of sight, before he turned back to Rose, his hands slumping to his sides in defeat. He walked back to the space he had been sitting and sunk down beside her. The last of the day's light was almost gone, and there were shadows along his cheekbones. He gave her a sort of bashful smile – pained and exasperated – that she knew he was hoping to hide his dismay with.

'Look, sorry about that,' he said.

'It's fine.'

'We argued this morning, and then I said I'd meet her at the game after I found my wand, and I forgot all about it.'

'See, you are drunk.'

'Am I?'

'You said you'd need to be to talk about Zaina.'

She saw him laugh, but it didn't quite get rid of the knot between his eyebrows. 'Suppose I am, then.'

He gave a stifled sigh, as if he hoped she wouldn't hear it. She felt a strange sense of obligation in that moment. It was if she owed something to him – not only for Albus, but for the accusations she had made that afternoon, and for her inability to offer anything in the way of condolence about his mother.

And because she knew he wasn't going to say what he was thinking, she said it. 'We should probably go back to the castle. We shouldn't be caught out after dark the same day we set fire to the Quidditch pitch.'

He nodded, relieved. 'Yeah, good thinking.'

They took a shorter route back to the castle than the one they had taken down to the lake, but the uphill walk made it hard to talk. They walked slowly, silently, catching no glimpse of any other students. The castle rose before them, the lights of its towers floating over them. She only now seemed to notice how hungry she was, and tired, and cold, and she drew her cardigan further around her.

She realised, suddenly, that Scorpius was no longer in stride with her. She looked back over his shoulder to see him a few feet behind her, down on his knee, reaching into the grass. She strode back to him just as he got to his feet.

'What are you doing?'

'Nothing,' he replied quickly.

She saw in his hand what he had crouched down for. He had plucked from the grass a wildflower. In the dark light she could make it out to be a bluebell.

'Is that for Zaina?' she asked.

He wouldn't look her in the eye, but he held up the flower as if it was enough of an explanation. 'I don't know. I guess so. My mum likes them.'

'Right, okay.'

They stood facing each other, Scorpius staring at his feet and Rose staring at the bluebell hanging limply in his hand.

'Shall we keep going?' she asked.

'Sure.'

And so they did. Scorpius fell back in line with her as they walked, the bluebell clutched between his fingers.

When they reached the doors of the entrance hall, Rose peered inside for any teachers who would scold them for being out in the grounds after dark. They were early for dinner, and so they crossed the hall to the Marble Staircase.

Nothing was said until they reached their point of divergence. Rose stopped at the seventh-floor passageway that led to Gryffindor tower, while Scorpius stayed on the staircase to continue up to his common room.

'Well,' she said, 'this is me.'

'Alright,' he replied. He wasn't looking her in the eye, but rather had his eyes fixed on the sleeve of her cardigan. 'Night, then.'

'Night.'

She raised a hand in farewell, and he mirrored her with the hand not holding the bluebell, and she turned away and started down the corridor away from him. She waited to hear his footsteps begin as he continued up to Ravenclaw tower, but they didn't. Instead she heard him say her name.

'Hey, Rose?'

She looked back at him. He was still poised on the staircase, the torchlight flickering behind him. He watched her as she took a few steps back towards him and reached the balustrade, leaning against it.

'Yeah?'

'I – I didn't just go for a walk that first day back at term. When I fell on my knee.'

She cocked her head to the side, frowning. With the lamplight flickering behind him, his pale face was cast in shadow. 'You told me you did.'

'I know, but…' And he raised the bluebell once more. 'I went looking for these.'

'For – bluebells?'

'Scottish bluebells.'

'Why'd you do that?'

'Why'd I lie or why'd I go looking?'

'Either. Or both. I don't know.'

'I went looking for them because… because I felt guilty about going back to school,' he murmured. His voice sounded strange – hushed and unsure. 'It was really soon after my mum lost the baby in August, and she wasn't doing well, and then my dad got arrested and I just… I know she likes them, but they don't grow at our place in Wiltshire and - '

'Wiltshire in England?'

He stopped, grinning. 'Yeah, that Wiltshire. But I was hoping I could find some in the school grounds. That's why I tripped - I knew it was a bit late in the season for any to be flowering, so I was walking along the edge of the forest, and I wasn't watching where I was going, and my foot got caught on a tree root. And - and I fell. And it hurt, if you were wondering.'

Rose considered this, frowning, but he continued talking before she could reply. 'And that day in Hogsmeade, the day of the fire… I walked off to hail the Knight Bus. I wanted to go visit her, but when I got on they told me they wouldn't take me, because they're not supposed to pick up students from the village so I just… I just walked around. Trying to avoid Zaina.'

He drummed his fingers along the balustrade, just as he had done to the mead bottle down by the lake. 'And I lied because… Well, because it's stupid.' He grinned slightly. 'I mean, it's not like I could give her the bluebell. I had no way of getting to to her and even if I did it's not like there's any – any use in it. I don't know what I'll do with this one either – it might actually be worth getting murdered to see the look on Zaina's face if I tried to apologise by giving her a flower. I just… It's stupid.'

'Have you tried pressing them?'

He raised his eyebrows. 'I'm sorry?'

'Pressing the flowers,' she said, 'in a book, and then you could put it an envelope and post it to your mum. My grandmother does it. The one I said lives in Australia. When it's spring over there she presses flowers from her garden and sends them to me so they last the journey, and then I send ones back to her when it's spring here. That's why I had the heather the other day.'

Scorpius stared down at her, before saying resolutely, 'That's so Muggle.'

She shrugged. 'It works though. Give it to me. I can press it for you and then when it's dried out you can post it to her.'

He continued to gaze at her, as if trying to gauge whether she was making fun of him. Deciding that she wasn't, he held the flower out to her. 'Thanks.'

Without a word, she took the flower from him. They both stood, looking at each other, the torchlight flickering overhead, before he said to her, 'So do you trust me now?'

She hesitated, scrutinising him. It was hard to discern in the dim light of the torches, but she thought she could see him smiling.

'I'm considering it,' she admitted.

'It's a pretty humiliating story. I wouldn't tell you it if it weren't true.'

'That's a good point, I suppose.'

She heard him sigh from above, and he asked her, 'You really don't know whose side I'm on?'

'It's sounds silly calling it sides. As if we're at war or something.'

'That's what the Mikhael Rowle and the Reclamation Army call it,' Scorpius reminded her. 'If they're calling it war then we should too.'

'You really want to fight a war?'

'I don't want to,' he assured her, 'but it's starting to feel like I'm going to. It might be easier if I didn't have to fight with you, too.'

She looked back up at him. 'An armistice? Is that what you want?'

'An armistice? Is that really all you're willing to give?'

'Well, what did you have it mind?'

'Today wasn't so bad, was it? I think we can get along when we try to,' he told her. 'I think we could be friends, don't you?'

'For the sake of an armistice?'

He gave a murmur of dismay. 'No, Weasley, for the sake of being friends. Is that so unbelievable?'

'I'm not good at being friends with people.'

'Neither am I.'

'People don't really like me.'

'Only those who have met you, I'm sure.'

'That's not how you make friends, Malfoy.'

It took him a moment to settle on a reply to this, and when he spoke she was sure there was a tremor of disappointment in his voice. 'You're right. Perhaps it's a little ambitious.'

'I think that... I think I do trust you, though,' she informed him. 'We're on the same side. Whatever that means.'

'So, what? Not friends but – allies, or something?'

'Yes, I think that's a good word for it.'

'Should we shake on it?'

'Okay.'

He stretched his hand over the balustrade, and she raised her bluebell-free hand to meet it. His fingers were cold in hers, chilled from their hours spent in the grounds. Their hands didn't quite fit properly; they shook clumsily, avoiding the others eye, before they dropped their hands back to their sides.

There was a silence in which they both considered what they had just agreed upon. She couldn't think what else to tell him, and so she simply said, 'I suppose I'll say goodnight.'

'Suppose I'll do that same.'

'Night, then.'

'Night, Rose.' And he turned away and continued up the staircase to Ravenclaw tower.

Allies, she thought as she started down the passageway towards her common room. He was apt in his choice of words. They were not friends and they never would be. There was no sense in arguing with herself on that point. Friendship, however, was a frivolous thing when it came to life and death. Whatever distaste they had for each other, she decided, mattered little in the face of the war that seemed to be rushing to meet them.

If they're calling at a war then we should too.

He was right – of course he was right. There was no place for apathy in the current climate, and yet apathy was what she did best, and she would need to make the appropriate compromises.

Gryffindor tower was loud when she stepped into the common room, but the only people who would have tried to stop her from going to her dormitory – her cousins and Chandra – were too inebriated to notice her slip inside.

She navigated her way through the crowd and hurried up the stairs to her dormitory. It wasn't empty: Kim and Sally had brought some of sixth-years up for a round of poker, but none of them paid Rose any mind as she climbed into her four-poster and pulled the curtains around to hide herself from view.

She extended an arm along the side of her bed and felt around until her fingers closed around the heavy, leather-bound book she was searching for. Saxon Wizardry in Druid Britain. It had been a prescribed text for the History of Magic, but she hadn't touched it since September. She flicked it open, and it fell naturally onto the page in which she had pressed the heather for her grandmother.

She lay the bluebell against the page and eased her fingers over the flowers, flattening them into the shape in which she wanted them preserved in and then, taking much more care than she normally would for such a thing (and more care than she would for most things), she pressed the book shut.

Song Credit: Armistice by Phoenix.

A/N: I remember back in the old fanfiction days when I was new to the site that a chapter this long would have broken the page. It really should have been two chapters, and I'm sure I'm going to look back and want to cut down like 50% of the Rose/Scorpius dialogue, but just to give some justification I've been working on this chapter since I first started writing this fic so that's why there is so much content.

That being said if you'd like to send me reviews telling me to learn how to edit then please do! Or if you'd like to leave any other kind of review then do so too! (Honestly, I'm so nervous about this chapter so I'd really appreciate feedback, whether it's praise or criticism!)

Seriously thank you SO MUCH for reading is you got through this monstrosity!