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“Rose.”

She turns to him, half-lit by the setting September sun. Around them, the palaces are going orange and gold, the waters in the canal ink-black already.

“Oh,” she says, and her eyes widen, “what are you—”

“Albus.” He steps closer. “I got home and there was this incomprehensible note on the fridge. The only bit I could understand said something about coming to Venice.”

She presses her lips together. “I got a text.” She fishes her iPhone out of her pocket and taps at it, then, almost hesitantly, slides the screen towards him. This gives him the excuse he needs to join her at the bridge’s railings, to rest his elbows on the iron there and permit himself to stand close enough to feel the warmth of her.

In the distance, parties buzz and the streets murmur with people shifting to and fro, the tourists mostly disgorged back onto their monumental cruise liners and the locals sipping wine in the streets. Scorpius has been here two days and he has already fallen in love with Venice at night; the elegant, velvet hum of it.

His eyes take in Albus’ text message. Al texts Rose differently than the way he texts Scorpius. Longer messages, more rambling, more full of feeling. The messages Scorpius gets are terse and practical, more often offensive than not.

The text is almost as hard to understand as the note. At one point, there are two lines of the letter w, over and over again. There’s a word that might be Venice somewhere in there, but it’s not certain enough to have brought Rose out here.

He offers the phone back to her. “You Saw him here, didn’t you?”

She turns her face away.

Gently does it, Scorpius tells himself, and resists the urge to touch her elbow.

“You know it doesn’t bother me, Rose. You can talk to me.”

“I never should have told you.” It comes out of her low and certain. “I shouldn’t have—nobody else knows except Lo and Al. I don’t know why I told you.”

“Well,” he says, and tips his head back, letting the breeze pull at his fair hair, “I’ve told you things about me I haven’t even told Al, so we’re square.”

Her clothes rustle. He thinks she’s probably looking at him, but he doesn’t glance down. He lets his eyes slide shut instead.

They had shared things, the two of them, in those uncertain hours in the middle of the night when everything is sleeping and the world doesn’t seem quite real. He had thought at first that she was getting calls or text from Al to bring her round, and hadn’t thought to question the fact that she was always just there those nights Al staggered in and needing nursing, sick with drugs or alcohol or just the inside of his own head. It wasn’t until the fifth time she came round, fingers knotted together, red hair pulled up into this ponytail that made his insides ache, that she admitted she saw what was going to happen before it did.

“I’m telling you this because it’s going to be a bad one tonight,” she’d told him then, her expression more serious than usual, “we need to be ready to get him to a hospital. A Muggle one. It’s a Muggle drug, St Mungo’s won’t know what to do with it.”

They had watched terrible reality TV together for four hours before Rose got up and said, “It’s now.”

Three hours later, sat beside Al’s hospital bed, watching the fluorescent lights turn his skin unpleasantly sallow, Scorpius had ducked his head and murmured to Rose, low and wretched, “I want to get clean but I don’t know whether I dare.” A confidence for a confidence.

When he gathered the courage to glance up at her, she was watching him silently, her eyes intent on him.

“It’s just,” he’d said, helpless, “seeing him like this, this last year—it isn’t fun the way it used to be. I’m so tired of it all. But living with Al, all the parties, my friends… I don’t know what my life will be like without it all, and it terrifies me.”

The quiet had stretched out so long he’d started to doubt he’d spoken.

And then Rose had said, so quietly, “If I can help you, I will.”

Now he opens his eyes and looks down at her at last, at last. The fading sun is washing her in gold, catching on the constellations of her freckles, her pale skin almost translucent.

“How are you doing?” she asks, “I mean, with everything. It must be—”

“Six months.” He almost smiles. “Do you know, I haven’t even wanted anything? Not once. I thought it would be impossible but every time I feel like maybe the itch is coming on, Al stumbles in off his face or one of my cousins drunk FaceTimes me and I just think, wow, I don’t miss that at all.” He eases his weight onto one leg, bends his knee slightly. “They don’t really want to hang out with me anymore, but that’s alright. It’s a trade-off.”

“I’m glad for you.” She says it in such a Rose way, so gentle and sincere, that all Scorpius’ nerves fizz and blister. It takes a moment or two before his brain can present him with anything other than the idea of pressing her back against the railings and kissing that tender mouth.

At last he manages to ask, “So where is Al? Or, rather, where will he be?”

This is a safe topic. Her cousin, his best friend, the common denominator that drew them together in the first place. He had been jealous of Rose during those first years at school. The only other person Albus would slope off to talk to, would share his secrets with, the pair of them squirrelled away together somewhere in the castle while Scorpius lounged around with his other friends and tried to pretend he wouldn’t rather be part of whatever private discussion they were having.

“We’ve got a couple of hours,” she says, and at last she puts her elbows down beside his and leans forward too, the breeze catching at the wisps of red around her face. “He’s going to get chucked out of a party and we’re going to need to get him out of the canal. It’s—” she pauses for a moment, pulling the cuffs of her sweater over her hands. “—It’s going to be a bad one, Scorpius. Will you be okay?”

For a moment, he says nothing, and then he turns a grin down at her. “Will you?”

“He’s my cousin. My responsibility. And I’m not—”

“Trying to stay sober?” Scorpius finishes for her, still grinning. Delicately, he allows himself to nudge her shoulder with his arm, just enough to make her sway where she stands. “I’ll be fine, Rose. He’s my friend. My responsibility.”

She doesn’t smile back. She just stares up at him, that clear brow furrowed, those blue eyes so serious.

“Honestly, Rose.” He pushes himself back off the railings, touches a hand to her arm. “You can trust me. I’ll be fine. Look, if we’ve got some time, I haven’t eaten yet. You want some dinner?”

She wavers, and Scorpius watches the doubts chase themselves across her face. Sometimes, he feels like she’s spent the last three years pulling away from him, even as they get to know each other better than he thinks he’s ever known anybody. At last, resolution comes over her, and Scorpius steels himself.

When she says, “I’d love some dinner,” it takes a few seconds for him to realise it’s the answer he wanted.

They go to this little place he knows, one he used to come to when he was younger and his mother brought him to Venice, took him round the haunts her cousins had introduced her to as a young woman. They take a table outside, right beside the water, and the amber lamps paint Rose in a beautiful soft light.

“I love this restaurant,” Scorpius says, or tries to say, because Rose takes off her coat and she’s wearing the shortest skirt he’s ever seen her wear, miles of leg on show. It feels somehow indecent, to see Rose Weasley’s thighs, like something that ought to be reserved for a husband or for God. He’s never seen her in anything other than trousers or long skirts. Even in tights, the sight makes his mouth go dry.

She sees him looking and her cheeks colour. “I was on a date,” she says defensively, “I didn’t—Lo lent me the skirt. She thought it would look the same on me as it does on her, but we’re only half-sisters, and her half is the good half, and I think it just looks—no, I know it looks stupid.”

Scorpius isn’t sure what to respond to first. Rose tugs the skirt down self-consciously and slips into her seat, arranging the table cloth to hide herself away.

“No, it’s—you look great.” His mouth is drier than the desert. “I mean, really, Rose, I… a date, did you say?” Scorpius takes the seat opposite her and picks up his menu to keep his hands from reaching for her.

“Yes.” Her chin is lifted high, the flush creeping down her neck and spreading over her collarbones. Her white blouse is so sheer Scorpius can see the redness spreading, and it’s all he can do not to watch it bloom over her breasts.

He manages to keep his voice even. “Who was the lucky guy?”

“Oh,” she says, and studies her menu intently. “Nobody. This guy my cousin knows, um, he asked her out but obviously she’s engaged now and—well, anyway, she thought he might be my type.”

“Yeah? Why’s that?” This is a good thing to be talking about, Scorpius thinks. This will remind him of what he and Rose Weasley are and can be to each other, and all the things they will never be.

“He likes reading.” Rose’s voice has gone high and tight, and despite himself, Scorpius catches her eye and holds it. When Scorpius tilts his head slightly in curiosity, the complaint comes out of her faster than he thinks she means it too. “It’s so—he was so boring. He just kept talking about classic literature, like that’s anything I’m interested in. I think Young Molly must have told him I liked that, you know? She would have been trying to help but it just drives me crazy. My family don’t seem to notice that I don’t even read that much. Like, I like books, but I think my aunts and uncles all just look at me like I’m my mum all over again, just with my nose in a book all the time, and they’ve passed that all onto my cousins and nobody ever pays me enough attention to realise that actually I don’t care about books any more than the next person.”

Scorpius puts his menu down.

“It bothers you that much? That they think you like reading?”

“It’s not that.” She stares at him, jaw clenched. “It’s more like… it’s more that they don’t care enough to realise I don’t. Ask any of them what Vic likes, or what Lily or James likes, and they’ll know right away. But I don’t think any of them really know me at all. Al used to, but—”

“Al’s Al, these days,” Scorpius finishes for her, and sighs. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise. That sucks.”

“Yeah.” She turns her face back down and Scorpius uses the excuse to study her. She’s still flushed, red creeping over the tips of her ears and into her hairline. She’s got her curls pulled back into a low bun and it exposes more of her neck than he’s used to seeing, so pale and elegant. He wants to press his hand there, rub circles into her nape, and feel her melt against him.

Instead he beckons the waiter over and orders the third most expensive red wine on the menu in perfect Italian. Somehow, ordering the most expensive one feels wrong, for Rose. She looks up at him, suspicious, and he smiles easily over at her.

“What?”

“Wine? And you speak Italian?”

“Wine’s fine. It’s the cocaine I’m told is the problem.” He almost gets a smile from her for that, and it stirs something inside of him. “And, yeah, Italian. My father speaks about four languages so he insisted I learn at least two. Pureblood shit, you know? My mother’s got so much family here, Italian made the most sense.”

“I wish I spoke another language. I tried Spanish a couple of years ago, but I think I was too old. None of it stuck.”

“I could teach you Italian, if you wanted.” He makes this offer casually, like the excuse to spend hours a week huddled together with Rose isn’t something he’d sacrifice a limb for. “I taught my cousin Fen for a while, she got pretty good.”

“Maybe,” says Rose, and that almost-smile grows a little bigger. “I—”

The waiter arrives with the wine, and Rose clamps her mouth shut. Scorpius watches her carefully as he tries the wine, lets the rich darkness of it sit on his tongue, gives a barely-there nod for the waiter to fill their glasses.

“Nice,” she remarks as she takes her first sip, surprised. “Wow, I don’t usually like wine that much—”

“Let me guess,” says Scorpius, grinning, “you last tried it years ago, probably with Al or Lo, and it came out of a box?”

She doesn’t answer, but her eyes glint wickedly. Scorpius has to laugh.

“I should’ve known. Those heathens. Good wine is a very different prospect.”

“I’ll say.” She takes another swallow, bolder this time, and Scorpius’ groin tightens at the sight of red wine on her lips. Well, that being a turn-on is a brand-new problem he doesn’t have the time to unpack right now.

“So, if you’ve been here before, what’s good on the menu? What should I order?”

He’s pathetically grateful for the distraction. He bends over the paper tablecloth, studies the Italian in front of him.

“What sort of things do you like?”

She’s holding her wine in one pale hand, her eyes smiling over it at him. “Pasta. Anything with lots of cheese, really.”

“Well, there’s the quattro formaggi, you could—”

“Alright.” She says it easily. “I’ll have that.”

He frowns. “You don’t want to know more about it?”

“Contrary to all advice, Scorpius Malfoy, I actually trust you. If you think I’d like it, I’ll try it.”

He doesn’t know what to say first, so he settles for, “Who’s been advising you not to trust me?”

She laughs. Actually laughs. It ripples out of her, bright and merry, so unlike Rose Weasley he’s startled to his core. It might be the first time he’s heard her laugh in more than a year.

“Sorry.” She covers her mouth with one hand, wine sloshing in her glass. “Sorry, I shouldn’t—it’s Al, mostly, see, and I can never get over the irony of him telling me that you’re irresponsible.”

This would cut deeper if Al hadn’t also said the same thing to Scorpius’ face many, many times over the years.

“That’s bollocks,” says Scorpius sourly, and Rose laughs again, though not as loudly this time.

“I know, don’t worry. People we know from school think so too, though. Just so you know. I think you were probably a bit wild back then. You know what it’s like—however you are at Hogwarts, you tend to get fixed that way in people’s minds, no matter how much you change. It’s stupid. I’m hardly the same person at twenty-five I was at seventeen.”

“I’ve never liked that. It feels sometimes like everyone you meet has this fixed opinion of you because they knew you at school or they knew someone who knew someone who knew you. We should have more schools, more people. It would be better.”

Rose smiles. “You should move outside of pureblood circles more. There’s more people out there than you think.”

“I guess it’s just easy, being around them. I’ve known most of them since we were tiny, you know? It’s impossible to drive away people like that, no matter how you behave. Like having siblings. You know each other so completely, it’s impossible to shock.”

“You weren’t shocked by Cerwent Bulstrode and that—who was it? That Muggle who was, like, sixty?”

Scorpius has to laugh. “Rose Weasley, listening to gossip. I’ll be damned. Anyway, no, he was only after her money. Bit pathetic, but not really shocking, if you know Cerwent even slightly. He’s so good-looking, it feels like it would almost be a shame for him not to use it for nefarious means.”

“You don’t use the way you look for nefarious means,” she says, and Scorpius’ eyes snap up and catch on hers. She looks horrified, like she’s only just registered what she’s said, and once more the tips of her ears are almost glowing. She stutters, “I just, I just mean, you know—it’s, well—”

Even as Scorpius secretly clutches that to himself, elated, he says loftily, “Well, obviously, I mean, look at me. The temptation was always there, but somehow I overcame it.”

“Oh, stop,” she huffs, but there’s a hint of laughter in her eyes again. She glances up with relief as the waiter comes over to take their order, and once Scorpius has fired it off in perfect Italian, she surrenders her menu and leans both elbows on the table, gazing across at him.

“Tell me honestly,” she says, and all that laughter is gone now, “do you think that’s why Al’s so outrageous? Do you think if he were ugly, people wouldn’t let him get away with it so much?”

Scorpius sighs. It always comes back to Al, in the end, with them. Their common denominator. The only reason they are here together tonight. He needs to remember that. To stop making this into something it is not.

“I think it would be harder for him. But, no, I think he’d get away with anything. It’s their dad, I guess. People might gossip about them more than anybody else on the planet, but at the end of the day nobody actually wants to interfere with the lives of Harry Potter’s children.”

“I love Al,” Rose says quietly, taking her elbows off the table, “I do. And Lily and James too, obviously. But sometimes… sometimes I can’t help thinking about what my life would be like without them all in.”

“Peaceful,” Scorpius guesses, smiling, “right?”

“Oh yeah. So peaceful. But then I always think, probably I’ve only been able to keep the Sight a secret because they’re always being so loud and dreadful. All the attention they take, it’s probably what’s keeping me safe.”

“You’ve always wanted to keep it secret?”

“Yeah. It just felt like—I don’t know. My mum’s always been so dismissive of anything to do with Divination, like it’s some massive fakery, you know? And I didn’t really realise what it was until I was fifteen or so, and then the next year Lo turned up on the doorstep and they got their divorce, and it just felt like… I don’t know. Like not the right time. And it’s been not the right time ever since.”

Scorpius stretches his feet out beneath the table. “You don’t have to explain it to me, Rose. It’s your decision.”

“Lo thinks I should tell everyone.”

“She would. She’d do anything for attention.”

Rose scowls at him, and Scorpius holds both hands up in surrender. “I’m allowed to say that. She’s my cousin. Aunt Daphne’s always saying it.”

“Lo doesn’t like her very much. Her mum, I mean. And not in that way daughters aren’t supposed to like their mothers. I mean, just really doesn’t like her.”

Scorpius sighs. “I’ll be honest, I’m not sure Aunt Daphne was ever really designed to be a single mum. Or even a mother full stop, to be honest. We’re lucky there’s plenty of your dad in Lo, or I think she’d be a pretty horrendous person.”

Rose picks up her wine glass again and presses it against her mouth. As an undercurrent to this whole conversation, desire has been curling lazily inside of Scorpius, wrapping around his stomach. It’s a lot, to watch her lips around the glass, to see the movement of her throat as she swallows. It doesn’t seem to be lessened by talking about their families.

Sometimes, with other girls, he lets himself imagine they’re Rose. It’s never quite right. They’re louder than Rose would ever be, he knows somehow, too openly eager. As little as he knows about Rose’s dating life he knows she’d never be a shouter in bed, never demand anything. But he lets himself imagine her all the same, feeling dirty about it, and when he pictures her splayed beneath him, that hair all over his pillows, it shakes him to his core. He should stop doing it, probably, if he ever wants this feeling to go away. But he just can’t.

“I think Lo turned out to be a good thing,” she’s saying, oblivious to the heat inside him, “I mean, I love her, I always knew I would. But I thought she’d completely destroy our family. It should have just been one tiny mistake by my dad—”

“Uh,” interrupts Scorpius, despite himself, “not to hop up to defend your dad when he’s always clearly hated me, but Lo always says it wasn’t a mistake. Your mum kicked him out. She said she wanted a divorce. He was drowning his sorrows and, knowing my aunt, I’m pretty sure she took advantage of that.”

“Mum was in a bad place.” Rose stares across at him, inscrutable. “Post-partum depression. I wasn’t an easy baby. She tells me that a lot.”

“That I refuse to believe. You could never be difficult.”

“You have such a high opinion of me.”

Scorpius teeters on the edge of that, and then takes the plunge. “Actually, yeah, I do.”

“Oh.” Whatever answer Rose had been expecting, it wasn’t that. She had been on the brink of teasing, and now here he is, holding her gaze across a tiny table on the edge of a canal in Venice, telling her he thinks a lot of her.

Scorpius holds his nerve for about five seconds, but she doesn’t say anything, and he finds himself scrambling to cover it up.

“I mean, come on, Rose, you’re smart, you’re nice, you’re beautiful, you’re sure of yourself, you’d do anything for the people you love. Who couldn’t have a high opinion of you?”

She ducks her head. “I’m really, really not sure of myself at all.”

“Well, you come off that way to me.”

“I—” She is on the edge of something, a new confession, when their food arrives and stops her voicing it. Scorpius converses with the waiter briefly, thanking him, sending him away, and then pins Rose down with a stare even as he reaches for his cutlery.

“Go on, tell me.” When she says nothing, he grins. “It’s a night for confidences, don’t you think? You and me, here in Venice. We’ve got over an hour before we have to go and fish my stupid friend out of a canal. Let’s share some secrets.”

She’s still flushed. “I’ve told you most of mine already. I don’t know why.”

“Well, same here. Although, did I ever tell you that I fancied Professor Lancing for, like, three years at school?”

A laugh bursts out of her. “Oh, Scorpius, you didn’t.”

“I couldn’t help it.” He holds his hands up in surrender. “You saw her, right? Every straight guy in the school adored her. Those little dresses she used to wear, Merlin. It wasn’t fair to an innocent fourteen-year-old boy.”

“You’ve never been innocent.”

“Ouch. Go on, who was your first crush?”

“I’m not telling. You’ll make fun of me.”

He kicks, so gently, at her ankle with his feet. She jumps, startled, and he beams across at her. “It was me, wasn’t it?”

“Fuck off, Scorpius, it wasn’t. It was your cousin Julius Greengrass, actually.”

“Fucking—are you serious?” Scorpius takes the forkful of pasta he’d been about to eat away from his mouth. “Julius? What the hell did you see in him?”

“He’s extremely handsome,” says Rose primly, twirling spaghetti onto her fork. “He caught me sneaking back to Ravenclaw Tower one night after I’d been hanging out with Al and he walked me back instead of docking points off me like he should have done. All the other head boys who caught me never did that.”

“He was probably just trying to score,” Scorpius mutters darkly, and Rose laughs. She’s laughing more tonight than he’s heard her laugh in all the years of knowing her.

“What, when I was twelve?”

“He’s a freak. I can’t believe you fancied him.”

“It’s alright, Scorpius, jeez. I told you, I was twelve. I was over it by the time I was fourteen. Which was around the time Professor Lancing arrived on the scene for you, hm?”

Scorpius stabs at his plate again. His cousin Julius, damn him. Apart from anything else, if Julius is the type of person Rose would fancy, then he’s shit out of luck, if he’d ever thought he had any to start with when it came to Rose Weasley. Julius has inherited the dark, heavy Greengrass good looks from his father, with those thick brows and his solid, reassuring presence. Scorpius is all Malfoy, fair and angular, languid and flighty. He’s got no hope at all, if Julius is the type of guy she goes for.

“I’ve hit a nerve there, huh?” Rose is gazing at him, her eyes alight with mischief. He’s never seen her look like this before; sparky, merry, so alive he could drown in her. He’s always assumed she was more like her mother, like his cousin Leonora only in the heavy fall of her red hair, the wry way they both twist their mouths to the side when they’re unimpressed. But he sees familiar joy in her now, simple and irrepressible, and more than ever before he understands that there are depths to Rose Weasley he cannot begin to imagine.

He can no longer hear the idle chatter from other tables. His pulse is thrumming. He feels his whole self incline towards her, inexorably, like giving in to gravity.

“I just,” he says very carefully, “don’t think I like the idea of you being in love with my cousin.”

She presses the side of her foot into his ankle. The spark is fading. Urgency is writing itself across her features, like it’s important he understands this.

“Scorpius, I told you, I was twelve. I don’t—it was a crush, it was stupid. I shouldn’t have said anything. Why does this matter to you?”

He can’t answer that without tearing his heart out and laying it bare before her. The feel of her leg against his is killing him. Rose Weasley, with the power to pull him apart.

When he doesn’t answer, Rose’s face falls. She puts a forkful of pasta into her mouth and chews it for a very long time. In silence, Scorpius pushes his food around his plate. The longer the quiet stretches, the more unbearable it would feel to break it, and Rose has picked her way through half her food before Scorpius manages to get himself under control.

This is absurd. This is Rose, who has been present in the corners of his and Al’s flat on their most hungover days for years, who has watched him preen in a towel after a shower and made only faint noises of disgust, who has somehow orbited him and remained galaxies distant at the same time for longer than he cares to admit.

“Sorry,” he says at last, with effort, “I didn’t mean—uh, the sobriety gets to me sometimes. I shouldn’t have—”

“Do not,” she interrupts quietly, “pretend this is about that.”

He abandons all pretence of eating and puts his fork down gently on the paper tablecloth.

“What is it about, then?”

She puts her fork down too. “I’m not sure, but it’s not even in the realms of that. Don’t use it as an excuse.”

“For Merlin’s sake, Rose, I—”

“Enough.” She places both hands on the table and Scorpius watches, mesmerised, as they close into fists. “I’m not so hungry after all. Why don’t we go for a walk?”

So they do. Scorpius slides into the restaurant to pay the bill before she can start any kind of disagreement about splitting it, and then he picks the bottle of third-most expensive wine off the table and rolls it between his hands while she shrugs her coat back on. He shouldn’t do it, but he watches her legs before they disappear inside the coat.

“Which way?” she asks, pulling her hair out from under her collar. Her gold earrings wink in the low light.

“Let’s just walk.” He leads her back across the tiny bridge and then down beside a small canal, the water gilded in the light from the mansions soaring all around them. They leave the comforting hum of the restaurant behind quickly, and the feeling of walking alone in Venice soon fills him up. It’s the strangest thing, like looking at somebody’s skin and knowing that there is life beneath it – life enough to choke on – and yet seeing nothing but smooth expanse. Venice is alive, so alive, bursting with people and love and stories, and yet on this quiet stretch of canal it’s just him and Rose, the moon above them, the lagoon below, everything stretching and catching on the feeling of her slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow and holding on there.

“Sorry,” she murmurs, “it’s dark, I don’t want to lose you.”

He says nothing, but he presses his arm inwards, keeping her there. She’s warm beside him, bumping into him occasionally as he navigates a meandering path, keeping to the most deserted streets.

He draws them both to a halt on a set of broad stone steps. Orange light spills out from the door of a church across a square, and in a corner of it Scorpius pulls her down and they sit, legs sprawled out, listening to distant parties. Scorpius takes a swig of wine from the bottle and then passes it over to her idly. He leans his head back against the low stone wall behind him and watches, unashamed, as she raises the bottle to her lips and drinks.

“Did you know I’d be here?” He asks this quietly, smoothly, like he hasn’t been picking it over in his head for the last ten minutes.

She wipes her mouth on the back of her hand. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you seemed pretty surprised when I found you earlier. Didn’t you See I’d be here?”

“I try not to look for you.” Even in this low light, he can see she’s blushing again. Merlin, but she colours easily, that flush so ready to bloom.

“Why?”

“Because,” she says, and then she breaks off, takes another long pull of wine, and looks him square in the eye, “I used to look, but I’d see you with girls, and it just—I stopped looking. It seemed safer that way.”

He determinedly ignores the hot twist in his stomach. “Safer?”

“Yeah.” She places the bottle on the paving stones between them, staring at it as she tries to balance it on the uneven surface. “I… this—whatever it is, here, what it sometimes feels like we could be… we can’t be that. So it’s safer not to look for it.”

“Rose—”

“No, Scorpius. This is the way it has to be.”

He reaches out, closes his hand around hers on the neck of the bottle, stills her nervous fidgeting.

“Rose, why can’t we be that?”

At last, she looks up at him. In the Venice dark, her eyes are almost black.

“Al. Lo.”

“What about that?”

“Lo would hate it. You know she would.”

“I don’t really,” says Scorpius slowly, “give a fuck what my cousin has to say about this.”

“Well, I do. You’ve got plenty of cousins, I’ve only got one sister.”

“Half-sister.”

“Well, anyway, even if she’d get over it—Scorpius, you know this would kill Albus.”

“It’s none of his business—”

“But it is. Without him, where would be? We’d never even know each other.”

Scorpius realises, too late, he’s still holding her hand under his. As though it doesn’t pain him to do so, he lets her go.

“It’s not like we’ve ever snuck around behind his back. Jesus, Rose, we got talking because he kept trying to kill himself with drink and drugs, and we were the only idiots ready to keep pulling him back from the edge.”

“I won’t do this to him, Scorpius. Not with everything else he’s going through.”

“This is nothing,” says Scorpius, “nothing to do with him. Do you hear me? The way I feel about you, it’s—”

“Don’t say it,” she pleads, turning away, “please. Please don’t say it.”

Scorpius reaches out and touches her, takes her arm, draws her around to face him.

“Rose. Please.”

She puts both hands up and presses against his chest, her legs pushed sideways against the stone, her hair shining copper in the light from the church. This is the most she’s ever touched him. He feels every degree of heat from her palms, even through his coat and sweater and shirt.

“We do not fit, Scorpius.” She shoves, just once, for emphasis. “I have no friends and you have so many you can’t even keep track of them all. You like parties and, and, and pureblood galas and expensive cars and everything like that. You do everything too fast, like if you look before you leap you’ll get left behind. I’m not like that. I’m—I’m boring, I’m serious, I hate crowds and I hate going fast and I never found a thing I could do without worrying about it first. You’re so sure of everything and I’m just, I’m here watching myself do everything, hating it all, hating everything I do and not knowing how to stop. We don’t fit, Scorpius. We’d have to change ourselves too much to ever work together.”

He moves so fast he knocks the wine over. The bottle clatters away, ignored, the red spreading down the steps away from them. Their knees are pressed together, her arms still stiff and insistent between them, and he lifts a hand to her face. At last, he lets himself slide his fingers around the back of her neck, into her hair, and pull there so gently.

“But I want that.” He puts it into the air between them as urgently as he can. “I want the quiet things, Rose. I don’t want all these things I have. I told you, the parties, the friends, I want to leave all that behind. I want a flat somewhere with you, boring evenings on the sofa talking about anything, nothing; cooking dinner together and drinking good wine and knowing about every tiny thing you think, no matter how stupid you think it is. Because it isn’t, not to me, not one single thing you think could ever be stupid.”

She turns her face away. “You’d be bored stiff in a week.”

“I wouldn’t. That’s the thing—we’d find we had friends we fit in with together, Rose. People who aren’t right for us separately, but who would be for us together. You can’t tell me you’re happy with just Lo and Al for friends. You’d enchant anybody, if you let them see you the way you’ve let me see you. That’s something we could have together, you and me. We’ll go for dinner with them, come home and watch crap TV, all of it. All those mundane things I couldn’t imagine wanting before and now they’re all I want for myself. I don’t just want you, Rose, I want the life I’d have with you. Every inch of it.”

She’s shaking her head, but she’s not pushing quite so hard against him anymore. Her expression is a frightful, fractured thing.

“I don’t know, Scorpius, I just—”

“Kiss me.” It’s wrenched out of him. When she looks at him, astonished, he draws her in closer. “Kiss me and then tell me you don’t want any of it.”

“I don’t,” she breathes, eyes wide and wild, “I don’t dare.”

“You’re braver than you’ve ever believed, Rose Weasley,” he tells her, and that sinks into her, deep and sure. She sucks in a breath, tremulous and unsteady, and then suddenly those pushing hands are pulling, fisting in the front of his coat, yanking him into her so fast his brain can’t catch up before her mouth is on his.

It’s hot, soft, perfect. His hand in her hair, drawing her face closer, her lips yielding against his. He wraps his spare arm around her, feeling the span of her ribcage, the soft dip of her waist. His mouth slants a little, angling the kiss deeper, and she lets out this tiny sigh. It’s like deliverance. Scorpius could kiss her forever.

He’s hard already, thrumming with it, every nerve in his body wired. The shape of her in his arms, it’s everything he dreamed of and more. Her knees are pressed into his, the angle awkward on the steps, but he’s still trying to gather her closer, to have every inch of her pressed against him until she is all he can think, hear, feel. He wants his hands on her skin, delving beneath her clothing, under that tiny skirt. Desire floods him, utterly and completely, and he knows beyond knowing that there is no chance he is letting this go, not now.

A swelling roar in the distance has Rose pulling back. Scorpius could scream. He goes after her, wanting to pull her back into the kiss, but she’s already scrambling up. Her coat is askew, her hair a mess. At the sight of her mouth, swollen, another pulse of wanting shoots through him, strongly enough to make him groan.

She looks down at him, breathing hard. “It’s Al. We have to go.”

“Rose, no, I—”

“Fine.” She adjusts her coat, movements stiff and jerky, like she’s stepped from a warm room into a cold outdoors. “I’ll go alone.”

She’s pulled her wand out of its long pocket in her coat and taken three steps before he catches her by the sleeve.

“As if I’m letting you go by yourself,” he says, and pulls his wand out too. “But this—that conversation isn’t over, okay?”

She pauses there, bracketed by the church doors, light spilling over her like an enchantment. She gazes up at him, eyes dark, lips parted.

“Yeah,” she concedes, voice abruptly thick, “we’ll talk about it.”

Even as they’re running through the Venice streets towards the shouting, Rose intent on their goal, Scorpius is still awash with it all. It’s her. It’s always going to be her.

 

x

 

By the time they get there, Albus is at the bottom of the canal. Scorpius has his coat and sweater off within three seconds. It isn’t until he dives in that he realises Rose has used those three seconds to cast some kind of charm on him. The water feels warm around him, clear, and when he surfaces with his arms around Al he knows he’s safe from any kind of illness that might be lurking here. It speaks volumes, that she’d think to do that for him.

“Get him up here,” says Rose, kneeling on the stone, reaching out her hands. Scorpius can hear the party Al came from still pulsing in a nearby basement, the baseline buzzing in his chest. There’s no sign of the people who threw Al in, but Scorpius isn’t eager to linger regardless.

Al is very, very still. Between them they get him up onto land and Rose launches into a complicated series of charms as Scorpius hauls himself out by the arms and leans over his friend.

Rose finishes with an urgent, “Enervate,” and then Al is rearing forwards, coughing up canal water, bone dry but still shaking. Scorpius puts a hand on his back and holds it there. Rose meets his eyes and gives him a look, a strange one he can’t begin to unpick, then her wand moves again and he looks down to find himself dry.

“Thanks,” he mouths as Al chokes wetly a few more times, and she gives this tiny little shrug as she tucks her wand away.

“Al, look at me.” She puts both hands on Albus’ shoulders and physically twists him round to face her. “What have you taken? Do you need a hospital?”

Al laughs faintly. His voice is hoarse and scratchy. “Not this time. Let me up, I’m going back in.”

“Um, you’re not,” says Scorpius, and pushes himself to his feet. “My mother’s family have an apartment here they’re not using. We’re all going back to that and you,” he continues pointedly, peering into Albus’ eyes, more pupil than iris, “are sleeping this off.”

“Come on, man.” Albus lurches upwards himself and Rose follows nervously, reaching out a hand to steady him. “The night is young.”

“Mm-mm.” Scorpius shakes his head. “You’re done.”

“You’re a really self-righteous little prick these days, you know that?” Albus takes a few stumbling steps back towards the party. A look of betrayal floods over his face when Rose moves to block his path.

“Scorpius is right, Al. Let’s go back, yeah? Get to bed.”

“Fuck.” He runs a hand through his hair. His cheeks are hollow. “Et tu, Brute?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Albus.” Scorpius has had just about enough. He strides forward, grips Al’s sleeve with one firm hand, and tips his head at Rose. “Grab on. I’ll apparate us.”

“All three of us?” says Rose doubtfully, and Scorpius manages a grin.

“Don’t you remember? I won the school award for best apparator. We’ll be fine.”

“Let go of me,” Albus says irritably, trying to clumsily shake Scorpius off. “Jesus, I’m just trying to enjoy myself, can’t even—”

Scorpius pops them all away.

Half an hour later, he’s endured twenty solid minutes of screaming, five minutes of slurred pleading, and has finally lost his temper and hexed Al to keep him in bed. With the bedroom door firmly closed, he’s sitting by the fire feeling murderous. The leaping flames are reflected in the huge window, the canal and other palaces beyond invisible in the darkness.

Rose weaves her way among the expensive furniture and comes to an unsure halt just in front of him. She’s taken her hair down and it hangs, curly from its time in a bun, around her face and shoulders. She’s holding two mugs and she’s transfigured her sheer blouse and short skirt into a long brown dress. Scorpius mourns the loss, but he’s in too much of a bad mood to say anything about it.

“Tea,” she says, and holds a mug out to him. He takes it, curling his hand around hers, and she slides her fingers away like she’s been scalded. Scorpius sighs and leans his head against the wings of his huge armchair. With his free hand, he picks forlornly at the blue velvet arm, watching as she settles herself on the deep green sofa opposite.

For a while, the only noise comes from the fire and the muffled, distant sounds of the city outside. The Greengrass apartment lies in the heart of Venice’s richest district, tucked away on the middle floor of a faded palace, subtly extended and improved with the touch of centuries-old charms.

Scorpius likes coming here. He likes feeling the gentle hum of his ancestors’ magic settling over him, like they’re reaching their hands out to squeeze his shoulder reassuringly from decades long, long past.

“I have to ask,” says Rose at last, breaking the quiet, her gaze flicking uneasily between Scorpius and the fire, “do you ever feel like Al wishes we don’t go and help him? That we just leave him to—to die?”

Scorpius’ jaw clenches. Wearily, he pushes one hand through his hair, dishevelling it even further than the leap into the canal did.

“Yeah, I think so.” He bows his head, sliding his thumbs over the gilt-gold lines of the Greengrass crest on his mug. “But then I also think he’s glad we’re there, if that makes sense. I don’t think he especially wants to die, I just feel like… I don’t think he really cares one way or the other a lot of the time.”

He glances up to find Rose giving that some thought, lips pursed, expression abstracted.

“He’ll be okay, Rose.” His voice is soft and warm in the big, arching room. “He will. It might take him a while, but he’ll be okay.”

“It’s just,” she says suddenly, the words tearing out of her mouth like she’s already regretting saying them, “sometimes I’m so fed up with it. With him. I know, I know if you or I don’t get here then that’s it, we lose him, and I’m so tired of that being our responsibility. He’s a grown person, we shouldn’t have to keep track of him like nursemaids.”

“I know.” Without thinking, Scorpius gets up, goes over to her, sits beside her and gathers her up. She stiffens at first, but then she allows him to draw her in, pliant against him, her head resting so sweetly on the juncture of his neck and shoulder.

“He was alright until the kid,” she whispers, pressing her legs a little closer. “I wish Daisy had got an abortion.”

Scorpius is still fuming about it, so he doesn’t say anything at all.

“I mean, I know it’s her choice, but to make that choice against his wishes, and then not to let him even meet his own son? For a whole year? It’s—”

“She’s doing what’s best for her.” Scorpius likes the situation no more than Rose, but he knows she’ll regret saying these things in the morning, when the anger of the moment has faded. Rose likes Daisy Longbottom. She’s always liked her, and pitied her, and she will not thank herself for cruelty now. “Come on, we know Al better than anything – would you want him as a father for your kid? It’s not Daisy’s fault at all, she’s doing the best thing for her and Daniel.”

Rose’s hands clench, spasmodically, in Scorpius’ sweater.

“I just don’t get why she didn’t have an abortion. Al’s been jerking her along on a string since he was fifteen and she’s not got wise to it. She jumps every time he comes in the room, like—”

“Not any more. The boy’s done that for her at least.”

“I suppose.” Rose doesn’t sound convinced. “She should have cut Al off a long time ago and run for the hills. Anyone else would have.”

“We haven’t.”

She doesn’t have an answer to that. She just sighs and tucks herself a little closer. Scorpius holds her, thinking that – despite everything – this moment is everything he’s wanted for years. Him and Rose, alone together, her warmth against him and her heart, just maybe, opening up to his.

Something vibrates between them and Rose shifts to pull her phone out of her pocket. She makes this tiny noise, halfway between irritated and wearily amused, and tilts the screen to show him. Shamelessly, Scorpius uses the excuse to wrap his hand around hers, to feel her smooth skin as he holds the phone steady.

It’s a text from her cousin Molly, mostly in capslock.

Teddy says not to ask but HOW DID IT GO?! did you like him? DO YOU LOVE HIM??????

Scorpius smiles slightly as he reads it. An hour ago, that would have made him seethe with jealousy. Now, with Rose in his arms, there’s not an inch of space for envy.

“Tell her you’re marrying him tomorrow,” he suggests idly, and lets her hand go.

“She’d take it seriously,” Rose says, fingers already flying over the screen, “you know what she’s like.”

“Not really.”

“Well, you should.” She pauses to tuck a curl behind her ear and blushes when Scorpius reaches to do it for her. “Teddy’s—he’s your second cousin, is that right? They’ve been together for eight years now, you ought to know her.”

“I stopped hanging out with Teddy forever ago. He said something about me being too destructive, and he was super boring anyway.”

“He’s not boring. He might not be a party animal anymore but he’s actually a lot of fun. You should try making him up, give each other another chance.”

“I’ve got plenty of cousins.”

“You can never have too many people in your life you love.”

She’s frowning, jaw set, and Scorpius leans in to kiss her brow and smooth the angry lines away.

“I’m sorry. I’ll talk to him, I suppose. It’s worth another shot now I’m done with all that, right?”

What he will never say is that he’s not much interested in getting to know Teddy again if it means having to get to know his fiancée, who might be Rose’s cousin but who is also probably the silliest person Scorpius has ever encountered in his entire life, and that’s saying something.

“Sorry.” Rose tries to draw back and Scorpius refuses to let her go. Not now, and not after waiting this long.

“Sorry for what?”

“I shouldn’t tell you how to live your life. It’s none of my business.”

“That’s alright. I’d like it to be your business.”

This time, when she pulls away, he lets her go. She tucks herself up at the edge of the couch, arms around her shins, chin on her knees, the light from the fire catching on her cheekbone and casting strange shadows over her face.

“We should talk about—”

“Yeah.” He sits up straighter. “I’d like that.”

“It can’t happen.”

Scorpius is abruptly floundering, adrift in open water with untold terrors lurking in the abyss below.

“Rose—”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—we shouldn’t have, you know, and I shouldn’t have let you, just now, but I… Scorpius, I can’t. I can’t do this, not to Al, not when he’s like this.”

“He’s causing us both plenty of misery without adding this to the mix,” Scorpius says hotly, leaning towards her. “Rose, please, come on. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. He’s my best friend, you know, and I’m sure he’ll be mad but he’ll get over it. It’s not like he’s been a great friend or cousin himself the last however long. We don’t owe him our unhappiness.”

“It’s not just that.” Her voice is tiny.

“What is it, then?”

Breathing fast, she lifts her face and then tucks her forehead against her knees, hiding her face from him. She mutters something, and Scorpius has to lean in, touch his fingers to her leg.

“I can’t hear you.”

She doesn’t look up. She just says it a little louder, just enough for him to hear.

“You won’t want me.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever—”

“Scorpius, please, I… I don’t…” she trails off, and he can only sit there, helpless, waiting for her to lay down this final confession.

“Tell me, Rose.”

She shifts just slightly, just enough for one blue eye to fix balefully on him, half-hidden behind her hair. “I’ve never told a guy.”

“You can tell me.”

“It’s…” That one eye disappears again, her face hidden, and her shoulders stretch as she takes a deep breath. “The thing is, I’ve never had sex with anybody before.”

Scorpius’ breath sticks in his throat. Of all the things he was preparing himself for, it wasn’t that. Frantic, grabbing for something to say, of course what his stupid mouth offers up is not at all what he wanted to reply with.

“How is that possible?”

Both eyes appear now, tightening with defensive rage. “Quite easily, actually.”

“No, no, shit, I didn’t mean—I, that is, it’s just, Rose, you’re beautiful. You are. I don’t get how nobody ever—”

“Wanted me?” She’s still defensive, but there’s a little less heat in it. She sounds full of something else, something he can’t yet devote the brain space to unpicking. “There have been a couple who said they fancied me, but I didn’t fancy them back, so. That’s that.”

“But you’ve never, uh, what have you, um?” He hears himself stuttering, hates himself for it, tries to force his brain to reformulate his understanding of Rose faster than it has ever had to before.

This is something he has never considered, never worried about. His first time was with a girl three years older than him who had no compunctions about showing him exactly what to put where, and since then the girls he’s slept with have been confident to a fault, sure of their own desirability, in utter control of what they wanted. He’d thought of himself as experienced, more experienced than most, probably, but he realises all in a rush that he has no experience at all with girls who don’t have experience themselves.

“It’s just,” she says all in a rush, and Scorpius understands suddenly that she’s ashamed of this, furious with herself, hating herself for this perceived failing, “it’s just it always mattered to me that it was somebody I, you know, loved and trusted, the first time I did it. But I was never any good with guys, I never seemed to have any luck with the ones I liked liking me back, and so I never—you know, I’ve been on dates here and there, and when I was younger and Lo dragged me out partying sometimes there’d be guys I’d, you know, snog or whatever in clubs. But I was never going to just go home with somebody. I had friends who did that to get it over with but I… for me, I wanted it to be more. I needed it to matter to the guy, whoever it was, that it was my first time.

“For a bit I thought, you know, it’ll happen when it happens, but once you get to nineteen, twenty, it starts to be a bit weird. It’s not something you can just bring up. I went on dates and if we got on the guy would invite me back to his, and all my friends would talk about their three-date rule, or five-date rule, or whatever, and I never knew how to tell anybody that it might be months before I was ready for that. The older I got, the worse it got. Now I’m twenty-five and it’s—it’s so embarrassing. Lo’s the only one who knows, she says I should just get it over with. I probably should have done but now, it’s like—I’ve waited this long, now I need it to matter.”

Tears are glittering in her eyes, spilling over. Scorpius aches to reach out and wipe them away but he can tell this is not the moment for that. Instead he sits very still, just watching, as she smears her cuff across her cheeks and wipes the wetness away.

He understands it is imperative that he doesn’t stay quiet too long. She will misread it, let her embarrassment take over, and above anything he wants to avoid that.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Rose.”

She drags in a ragged breath. It makes his heart squeeze with dismay.

“I’m serious. It’s not—I mean, it’s just sex. Nobody would make fun of you if you couldn’t apparate or drive a car or something like that at twenty-five. It isn’t the only thing there is.”

She forces out a bitter smile. “It feels that way, when you’re the only person in the world who’s still a virgin at twenty-five.”

“You are absolutely, one hundred percent not the only person.”

“Oh, you know somebody else?”

“No, but they’ll be out there. They will.”

Silence falls between them again, just the merry cracking of flames in the grate. Rose’s breath is still coming short and fast, her eyes darting to him and away again, trying to figure out what he’s thinking about this thing she views as her desperate, secret shame.

“Come on.” Scorpius stands up and reaches a hand out to her. “Let’s make another cup of tea.”

After a moment, she snorts wetly. “Tea?”

“It fixes anything.”

She hesitates, but at last she puts her hand into his and lets him pull her to her feet. He lets go and turns, padding across the enormous sitting room and pulling her into the gleaming, modern kitchen, with its expensive coffee machine and spotless hob. She perches on a wooden kitchen chair, pulling her cuffs convulsively over her hands and letting them go again, as he heats up the water with a simple charm and pours it over the loose leaf into the teapot.

He arranges a tray the way his great aunt Andromeda taught him, fine cups and sugar bowl and milk jug and pot, and then he bears it all over to Rose and puts it on the table beside her. They haven’t switched the lights on. The moon casts a silvery gleam across everything, and the lamps in nearby palaces give enough of a glow for them to see clearly. The half-dark is strange and magical, the perfect place to share confidences.

“Thank you for telling me,” he says at last, catching her eye and holding it. “I know that must have been hard.”

“I guess you’re not interested in me anymore.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Rose.” He puts his hands down, too hard, on the table between them. She lurches back, startled, but he’s not having that. “Don’t be absurd. As if it matters! I’ve wanted you for ages, probably longer than I even realise, this doesn’t even—this has no bearing on that. Absolutely none at all.”

“But I won’t, I mean, I don’t know how long—we can’t just, you know, I…”

Gently, he reaches out and takes both her hands in his. Her twitchy movements stop, her eyes very wide.

“I’m not going to pretend I don’t desperately want to have sex with you,” he tells her frankly, wryly, trying—and almost, he thinks, succeeding—to get a smile out her. “Because I do. Badly. But you, Rose, you are what I want. All of you, a whole life with you, that’s what I want more than anything. Sex is just a part of that.”

“So it won’t…you won’t be mad if I’m not ready to—”

“No, for fuck’s sake, what kind of a douchebag do you think I am? If you think that little of me, maybe I should forget this whole thing.”

“No.” At last, at last, her hands wrap around his in return. “No, don’t. I… I want this. I do. But I don’t think I could bear it if you do get bored of me, if you want more from me than I’m ready to give.”

“Rose.” He shakes his head across at her, so fondly. “Whatever you want to give me, that’s what I’ll take. No more and no less.”

She stares over at him, so serious, and the weight of her settles into him, deep and true.

“Look for us,” he says suddenly, and he stands up, pulling her to her feet too, “go on, right now, look for us in the future.”

“That’s not really how it works. I can’t just summon up some random scene.”

“Just try. Look for anything that tells you how this is going to be. Because it’s going to work, Rose. We’re going to work, I know we are. I need you to know that too.”

She gazes up at him, that dear and tiny line pressed deep between her brows. Just when he thinks she’s going to keep arguing, she finally gives him a tiny smile and closes her eyes. Her lips part, her frown deepening, and Scorpius squeezes her hands tighter as she stops breathing and her lids flicker, the whites of her eyes shining through. It’s deeply creepy, making a stranger of her, the channel to some strange and ancient magic too wild and old for him to understand.

It’s over in seconds. Her eyes flash open and she heaves in a great, ragged breath. She’s smiling. At last, she’s smiling.

“What did you see?”

Her smile widens. “We’ll have twelve kids.”

Scorpius almost swallows his own tongue. She laughs then, pushing at his ribs with her hands, mischievous and merry.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t tease.”

He traps her hands against him and tries to summon a frown, but it just won’t come, not when she’s laughing up at him like that, her whole face shining.

“Go on, what did you see?”

Her ears go pink again. “I’m not telling.”

He thinks he can live with that. “Something good, though?”

“Yeah.” She steps closer, pressing herself against him. “Something really good.”

This time, kissing her, it’s not a question. It’s a promise, a vow, an oath to treat this with the gravity it deserves. Rose Weasley, offering her heart up to him. Scorpius knows, with a blinding urgency, that nothing can ever persuade him to give it back to her. Whatever Albus thinks, whatever Lo thinks, whatever else they have to deal with, none of it will be enough to convince him she is not worth all of it and more.

He kisses her again. It’s like coming home.

Outside the window, Venice simmers on, another love story folded quietly up into its soul.