I Hate You

Chapter 9

Chapter Nine: Seventh Year, Part One

:in which there is a Yule Ball, Rose has a dastardly date, and Scorpius does not say I told you so:

Sixth year went by fast, in spite of N.E.W.T.s. Rose and Scorpius had both secured internships for the summer—she at the Daily Prophet and he at St. Mungo's. The internships lasted six weeks—most of the summer, but it would be valuable experience.

Since both were working in London and could now Apparate freely, they met for lunch as often as possible—at least once a week, sometimes more if Scorpius got another offsite lunch break.

Even on the days they weren't able to meet for lunch, they still stayed in touch by sending owls at least twice a day. If something went wrong or went well at work, the other was always the first to know.

Rose was the first to know when a patient on Scorpius' floor had succumbed to their injuries. She had always known that he would make a good Healer, but reading his note and seeing his anguish the next day at lunch touched her. He really did care for the people on his floor, even though they were not technically under his care. He felt even worse for the families. Rose comforted him as best she could. The experience had definitely shaken him, but did not lessen his resolve to be a Healer.

Similarly, Scorpius was the first to know when someone had told Rose that the only reason she had gotten the internship was because of her famous parents and uncle. Affronted, Rose had firmly stated that even though she was the daughter of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, she had obtained the internship on the merits of her writing and skills alone, and expected to be treated accordingly. Scorpius had taken her to lunch, where she recounted the scene in more detail. He was proud of her for standing up for her right to be seen as an individual—not that she would have done anything else. However, the idea that people might think she would ride her name and family fame to success—or that people might try to latch onto her for the same reason—rattled Rose.

Soon enough, it was time to return to Hogwarts for their final year. Scorpius and Rose had been made Head Boy and Girl, much to the amusement of their friends—Scorp and Rose sharing living quarters for an entire year? Surely something would finally happen between the two erstwhile rivals, now friends, who had been dancing around each other for ages.

Part of their shared duties as Heads was to plan the Yule Ball. Hogwarts held the Yule Ball every few years now to ensure that every student had the chance to attend.

Scorpius and Rose had delegated much of the planning to the prefects, but Rose insisted on keeping a few areas for themselves because she didn't trust anyone else with them.

Between N.E.W.T. classes, tutoring, Head duties, and planning for the Yule Ball, Rose was beginning to run herself ragged. She had given up Quidditch, partly because of time constraints, and partly because she was beginning to get burnt out. When Hugo protested, she said she still wanted to enjoy summer Quidditch games with her family and she wouldn't be able to do that if she remained on the Gryffindor team. She still went to the games, of course, and no longer felt bad about openly cheering for Albus and Scorpius.

One morning, Rose woke up late—she had slept on the couch after falling asleep while working on homework, and the couch was not conducive to a good night's sleep. She woke up grumpy and with a sore neck and back.

When she finally made it to the Great Hall for breakfast, she was met by the faces of the Weasley-Potters, Alice, and Scorpius.

Even though she was barely awake, she could tell that Al, Hugo, Lily, and Alice were trying not to laugh. She didn't think much of it, though—she knew her hair was a mess because she hadn't had enough time to do anything with it except to throw it up on her head in a loose bun.

Scorpius, however, had no such compunctions. "Good to finally see your shining face this morning, Rosie," he said in an overly happy tone.

Rose turned to glare at him, and he acted like he was being blinded. "I know you're working overtime on the Yule Ball, trying to get all the decorations in order, but there's no reason to make yourself into a decoration. You're pretty enough already," he mumbled the last bit. Rose raised an eyebrow, blushing a little—she had heard his last comment.

"You've got glitter all over your face, Rosie," said Al.

"Yes, and though you may now be aspiring to be a Christmas decoration, your hair isn't the right shade of Christmas red."

Rose paused, fork laden with pancakes halfway to her mouth. "Watch it, Malfoy," she grumbled. "I know where you sleep."

Scorpius raised his eyebrows, but quickly rejoined, his eyes twinkling:

"Why, Weasley, care to join me?"

Rose blinked, blushed, then automatically countered:

"I hate you."

Scorpius could tell she didn't truly mean it—her tone held more tiredness and a bit of exasperated fondness than actual hate—but her words still stunned him nonetheless.

He quickly recovered, however. "Aww, you're crazy about me, Rosie."

"Crazy because of you," she muttered.

"Or just crazy," he offered.

She glared at him, and Scorpius quickly backtracked. "All right, all right. I'm sorry. No teasing until after you've eaten."

"Is she always like this first thing in the morning?" Scorpius asked Al.

"Only sometimes," Al answered. "But you have the ability to rile her up like no one else."

Surprisingly—or maybe not so surprisingly—Rose and Scorpius got along well as suitemates. The Heads' dorm consisted of a common room; a bedroom on either side of the common room, each raised a level above that room; and a bathroom between the two bedrooms. The headmaster had explained that while Rose and Scorpius were allowed in each other's rooms during the day if given express permission, at night—between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.—neither could enter the other's bedroom except in cases of sickness or danger.

Scorpius and Rose had both blushed at the implication of such a restriction, saying that there was nothing like that going on between them.

It really wasn't that much of an adjustment to share living quarters with Scorpius. He had spent so much time at the Burrow and the Potters' over the years that Rose quickly became accustomed to having Scorpius around all the time. She enjoyed it, in fact. She liked knowing that he was the first person she would see every morning and the last person she would see every night.

(Plus, he had a habit of walking around in their common room wearing just pajama pants, giving Rose a full view of his toned chest and arms. She didn't mind in the least—in fact, she often caught herself wondering how it would feel to have his lean, strong arms wrapped around her.)

It still sometimes surprised Rose how Scorpius had gone from being her constant rival and bane of her existence to being someone she counted among her closest friends, someone she cared for very deeply.

(She knew what she was feeling; she had realized just exactly how much she cared for Scorpius over the summer. However, she was reluctant to attach that word to her feelings, even in her own mind. As a writer, she was profoundly aware of the importance of words, and she was reluctant to even acknowledge that word in regards to Scorpius because she knew that once she had, there would be no going back. She wasn't quite ready for that.

Even though deep down, she knew that she was already past the point of no return.)

A couple of days after her eighteenth birthday, Rose found herself unable to concentrate on her homework because she was too busy fretting about the ball—specifically, her inability to dance.

(As he had always been able to do, Scorpius soon realized that something was bothering her, although he wasn't about to exploit whatever it was, like he had done in the past.)

Rose was lost in her thoughts when Scorpius' voice broke into her reverie.

"What's wrong, Rose?"

Rose sighed, debating whether to tell him. She figured he would find out sooner or later, so she decided to just tell him.

"Idon'tknowhowtodance," she said in a rush.

"You don't?" Scorpius said, surprised. "No one ever taught you?" he asked as he moved closer to her on the couch.

Rose glared, but not at him in particular. "Apparently I'm too clumsy, and no one saw the need for it anyway."

Scorpius laughed. "Yes, I seem to remember you toppling off the dock at the lake near the Burrow when we were fourteen."

"That was because you pushed me!"

Scorpius grinned mischievously, hinting at the fourteen-year-old he'd been. "Technicalities."

Rose couldn't help but roll her eyes, albeit in an amused and fond manner.

"I also remember you resurfacing and grabbing me by the ankles to pull me in," Scorpius continued.

"I used to wish you'd hit your head on the bottom," Rose grumbled, remembering.

"You're deliberately evading the issue," Scorpius accused. "You really don't know how to dance?"

"No. And you know we have to open the Ball."

"I know."

Rose lapsed into her thoughts, trying to think of a solution.

Scorpius, apparently, had thought of a solution himself, judging by the smirk that slowly began to spread over his face. "Well, Rosie?"

He had only said two words, but immediately Rose knew what he was thinking. It seemed that both of them had come up with the same solution.

Rose sighed, trying to prolong the inevitable. Finally, she answered.

"Willyouteachmetodance?" she said softly.

"What's that?" Scorpius asked, grinning. Rose knew he had heard her, but of course he was going to make things difficult.

"Will you teach me to dance?" she asked louder.

"No need to yell, Rose. I'm right here. And of course I'll teach you to dance."

She couldn't help but give him a small smile, which he returned.

"When can we start?" she asked.

"Right now, if you'd like."


"Yes. I just have to find some music…" He went over to the wall of cabinets and shelves, looking through them until he pulled out an old record player and some records. He searched through the records that Rose guessed was suitable for dancing and placed the record on the turnstile. He cast a charm that would enable the record to play on repeat until he or Rose stopped it.

Scorpius returned to where Rose was now standing and held out his hands to her.

"Take my hands," he instructed gently, and she slipped her small hands into his much larger ones.

"All right," he began, then paused to think for a minute. "Now, I'm going to teach you the basic step. Master this, and you can dance pretty much any dance."

She nodded, and he continued. "This is called the box step. Now, step to your right, then step backward, then step to your left, then step forward. You should end up right where you started."

Rose followed his instructions, Scorpius stepping along with her. "Good," he said. "Again."

They performed the box step a few more times, until Scorpius decided that Rose had gotten the hang of it. "Now we'll assume the actual dancing position." He let go of one hand. "Put your hand on my shoulder." She did so, feeling tingles where her fingers brushed against his neck. He briefly closed his eyes at her touch, then opened them as he snaked his arm about her waist, tugging her closer.

She had hugged Scorpius before, of course—quite a few times—but something was different about this. He held her gently but firmly—he wasn't about to let her go. His long fingers had wrapped themselves around the swell of her hip instead of resting at the small of her back. She looked up at him and he smiled softly at her before beginning the first steps of the dance.

She was sure that she stepped on his foot a couple of times, but to his credit, he didn't say a thing about it.

"Dancing is kind of like arguing, you see," he said after a few moments, breaking the comfortable silence.

"How?" Rose was a little confused.

"Well, if I step forward—" he did so while speaking—"you automatically take a step back." He was right—she had done so. "And if you step forward," he said as she stepped closer, "I step back. We go round and round, give and take, pushing and pulling, always in sync, always answering the other's moves. See? Just like when you and I argue."

Rose hadn't thought about it that way before, but it made sense. She smirked up at him. "I'm guessing from your ability to pull off an extended metaphor that you're reading more literature."

He just grinned at her, not even taking the bait.

"You know, there's another similarity between arguing and dancing," she mused.

"What's that?"

"You're good at both," she admitted.

He squeezed her waist. "So are you."

Scorpius continued to teach Rose how to dance at least one night a week for the weeks leading up to the ball. He taught her fast dances, slow dances, and ones in between. Rose really enjoyed dancing with Scorpius. He was a good teacher, he made it fun, and she loved getting to hold him and being held by him in return.

Being in Scorpius' arms just felt right.

Surprisingly, Scorpius didn't ask Rose to be his date to the ball. She wanted him to ask her—pretty much expected it—but the invitation never came. She could have asked Scorpius herself, she supposed, but she wanted Scorpius to ask her. She prided herself on being an independent woman—she wasn't the daughter of Hermione Granger-Weasley for nothing—but she still stuck to a bit of tradition in wanting Scorpius to be the one to ask. Even her mother had wanted her father to ask her to the Yule Ball in their fourth year.

Instead, someone else asked her.

Flattered (and secretly hoping that Scorpius would wake up and take notice), Rose accepted the offer from a young man she had befriended midway through spring term of sixth year during a shared project.

His name was Christopher Wickham, and although he was a Slytherin, Rose couldn't find any fault with him.

The same couldn't be said for Scorpius, Al, and Hugo.

Somehow, the three had heard about Wickham asking Rose to the ball, and had cornered her about it soon after. Scorpius and Al knew him because he was a fellow Slytherin, and Hugo said that Wickham's sister was in his year. All three were concerned about Rose going to the ball with her fellow seventh-year, and she demanded to know why.

"Well, Rose…" Scorpius started, obviously uncomfortable with the topic. "Wickham doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to girls. Al and I have seen him flirt with many girls as a ruse to, well, get in their skirts."

"It's true, Rose," Al said before she could respond to Scorpius' accusations. "I can't tell you how many times he's come in bragging because he finally got some girl to snog him senseless in a broom closet or sleep with him."

"His sister's not much better," supplied Hugo. "She's a huge flirt. Not many people take her seriously."

"I thought you were going to stay out of my relationships," Rose accused Scorpius.

"I am. I have no intention of interrogating Wickham like I did to Nicholas. I would rather my robes remain Butterbeer-free. I just want you to be on guard if you still insist on going with him to the ball," Scorpius replied.

"We all do," said Al. "We know it's ultimately up to you on whether you go to the ball with him or not, but we wanted you to know up front just in case he tries to pull something on you."

Rose hadn't been sure about Scorpius' comment because of his track record of openly interfering with her relationships, but if Al and Hugo were also concerned, that made things a little different. She wasn't going to back out of the date, but she would definitely be on guard. She would never let him do anything that she didn't want him to do, anyway. However, she still had a couple of points to get across to the three young men with her.

"I can take care of myself," she said pointedly.

"We know you can," said Scorpius. "I know that better than anyone, especially when it comes to your right hook," he couldn't help but grumble. "We just want you to be careful. You deserve better."

Rose sighed. "Will it make you all feel better if I tell you I'll be on guard around him? I'm not backing out of the date—he's just a friend, honestly—but I will keep my eyes open."

"Good," said Al. "That does make us feel a little better. Although you should know, just being so-called "friends" with girls hasn't stopped him from making advances before, even when he supposedly already has a girlfriend. He's worse than James."

That surprised Rose. James had been notorious for dating girls, just like his grandfather and namesake, but he had always broken up with a girl before starting another relationship.

"Just watch out for yourself, Rose," said Hugo. "Use Aunt Ginny's Bat-Bogey Hex if you have to."

"Or your right hook," said Scorpius. "Guaranteed to ruin his night, if you aim just right."

"I already said I'd be on guard, okay?" Rose said.

She turned to leave, but couldn't resist getting a slight dig in at Scorpius. "You know, Scorp, if you're so worried about who's taking me to the ball, why didn't you just ask me yourself?"

If she had stuck around, she would have seen Scorpius redden slightly and pinch the bridge of his nose in annoyance and Al tell him, "She got you there, mate."

Finally, the day of the Yule Ball arrived. Alice, Lily, Rose, and Roxanne spent the afternoon in Rose's room and the common room of the Heads' suite getting ready for the ball. Rose didn't see why they needed an entire afternoon to prepare—she only would need an hour or so, and most of that she expected to spend working on her hair. She had fun getting ready with her friends, though, as they talked about their plans for the night while experimenting with makeup and hair styles.

Rose loved her dress. It had been a gift from her parents for her eighteenth birthday, which saved her from having to spend hours in shops in Hogsmeade to find a suitable dress. Her mother had chosen well: the dress was a deep royal purple that complemented Rose's skin tone and hair. The dress had a sweetheart neckline that enhanced but did not expose. The neckline transitioned into a deep V in the back, with the point of the V resting just below the middle of Rose's back, showing off an expanse of creamy white skin. The top of the dress fit her like a glove before flaring slightly out at her hips and falling in straight lines to the floor. Lily had taken charge of Rose's hair, making a short waterfall braid on the right side of Rose's head before capturing the rest of Rose's wild hair into a chignon that rested behind her right ear. Rose wore light makeup and the pearl earrings her Grandma Granger had given her for her seventeenth birthday as well as a small rose pendant that was also an eighteenth birthday gift—this one from Scorpius.

Finally, the girls were all ready to go: Lily in a champagne-colored number, Alice in maroon and Roxanne in a sky blue that went well with her darker skin. They had planned to meet their dates at the entrance to the Great Hall. Lily and Roxanne were both going with friends of theirs, although Rose knew that Lily had a crush on her date. Al was taking Alice since the two of them had started dating soon after seventh year had started. Christopher was waiting on Rose with the other boys, and his brown eyes darkened upon seeing his date.

"Rose, you look enchanting," said Christopher, offering his arm to escort her into the hall, stealing glances at her along the way, eyes continuing to darken. She thanked him; he was charming, although not as charming as Scorpius. He was a good friend and she liked spending time with him; accompanying him to the ball, while not as desirous as attending with Scorpius, was still a better alternative than attending stag.

Scorpius himself was going stag, which surprised Rose. His bevy of fangirls had not lessened over the years, and she was sure that many of them had lined up in the hopes that he would take one of them to the dance. Rose had asked him about it, and he had told her that the girl he wanted to take was already attending with someone else, and that he would rather go alone if he couldn't go with her. He then said that he knew he would dance with this girl at least once during the ball; she had promised him a dance and he aimed to hold her to it.

Rose was a little upset that Scorpius had apparently wanted to ask someone else to the ball, someone other than her. (She didn't notice the reddening of his face when he told her why he was attending alone, or she would have known that she was the girl he was talking about.)

Rose, of course, had to open the ball by dancing with Scorpius. Christopher, to his credit, didn't seem to mind too much, and had headed towards a group of his friends while Rose searched for Scorpius.

He found her first, eyes widening at the sight of her in fancy dress and silently extending his hand. She looped her arm through his and he led her to the dance floor, facing her and taking her hand. "You look stunning, Rose," he breathed.

She couldn't help it; she quirked an eyebrow at him.

"I mean it, love," he said just as softly, slipping an arm around her. This time, his hand came to rest in the middle of her back, his thumb landing on the bare skin just above the V of her dress. A shiver ran up her spine at his touch and continued as he started to rub small circles into her skin.

She smiled, putting her hand on his shoulder. "You look good too, Scorp."

That was an understatement. Scorpius looked impossibly handsome in his dark dress robes, dark dress shirt, and deep green tie that set off his flawless skin and immaculate hair.

(Really, she thought it was ridiculous that he had better hair than she did.)

He knew just how good he looked. "Just good, Rose? Where's your arsenal of adjectives? "Good" is far below a writer of your caliber," he teased.

"Fine, you look dashing. But you don't need to tell me that you look handsome. You know it, and your ego doesn't need any more fuel, Scorpius."

"I don't know, it's still nice to hear," he said, smirking a little, making him look even better, if that was possible. "And as for that ego, you keep saying that my head is going to get so big that I'm going to float away one of these days, and yet I'm still here."

"It would be nice if you could float—that would have saved us a lot of trouble when hanging decorations." She grinned—only she and Scorpius would bicker while dancing.

He grinned down at her, tugging her even closer, if it was even possible to do so. His eyes were filled with mirth and something else that she had noticed in his eyes before but had long been afraid to define.

He looked at her as if he had just been told he would go blind in a matter of minutes and wanted her to be the last thing he ever saw.

Looking at his dear, mischievous face, knowing that he was the only person she ever wanted to bicker with, knowing that no one challenged her like he did, relishing the feel of his arms around her, she finally allowed herself to admit it.

She loved him.

She was in love with this witty, intelligent, charming, funny, incorrigible, arrogant yet good-hearted man.

The hand that was resting on his shoulder moved of its own accord, coming up to rest on his cheek, her thumb brushing against his jawline. His breath hitched slightly at her touch, and she brushed the backs of her fingers against his cheeks before returning them to their place on his shoulder.

The first song came to an end, but neither of them moved. The next song was a bit faster than the waltz they had opened up with, but still not super fast. They continued to dance, wrapped up in each other, Scorpius smirking a bit. She had always wanted to slap that smirk off his face, but just then she had a new urge—to kiss that smirk off his face. She wanted to snog him senseless, but the middle of the Great Hall was no place for that. For now, she was just content to remain in his arms.

She knew he cared for her deeply, but wasn't quite sure how deep his feelings ran. She decided to keep her revelation to herself for a while. In the meantime, she'd enjoy dancing with him, the feel of him against her, the sensations she felt as his thumb continued to caress her bare skin.

The second song ended, and reluctantly she pulled away. She had remembered that she wasn't here with Scorpius, no matter how much she wanted that to be true. She would rather spend the night dancing and hanging out with Scorpius and the rest of her friends, but she needed to at least spend part of the night with her date—he was her friend too, and she felt obligated to find him.

She told Scorpius so, and he nodded and pulled away. "Just promise me we'll dance more later," he said. "We haven't danced to a really fast song yet, and those are the fun ones."

"You just want to see if you can fling me across the room, Scorp," Rose said teasingly. "I'd rather not careen into the punch table if I can help it."

"Oh, I wouldn't sling you around in here—much," Scorpius answered, eyes twinkling. "I'd rather save that for the common room."

Rose blushed a little and told Scorpius she'd see him later. He nodded and bowed with a great flourish over her hand. She chuckled at his ridiculousness and walked away, looking for Christopher.

She found him a little ways away, talking to some friends. "There you are, Rose," he said with a smile.

"Sorry," Rose said sheepishly. "I lost track of time."

Christopher excused himself from his friends and held out his hand to Rose. She took it, wondering why Scorpius, Al, and Hugo had been so concerned when he had asked her to the ball. He hadn't overstepped his boundaries in any way.

He gathered her to him quickly and started dancing. Rose noticed that his hold on her was different from Scorpius'. Christopher was pretty much clutching her to him, almost possessively. His hand on her back was a little lower than she would like, but it hadn't reached inappropriate territory. His hold was too strong; she felt almost trapped.

She noticed that he didn't even try to talk to her, which was weird, considering that they had always had an ample supply of things to talk about before. He just stared at her face and form, eyes darkening again like they had when he first saw her. She vaguely recognized that look—it was lust, and it unnerved her a little bit.

Slowly, she began to realize that he was maneuvering her slowly across the room, away from the other couples. They had made it to a support column before she even realized it, and he thrust her roughly against the column before attacking her lips with his overeager mouth.

She squirmed; she did not want this at all. It was too much. Even if she hadn't been in love with Scorpius, she wouldn't have wanted to be attacked like this, as if she was just some body that would gratify the boy in front of her for a short while without even giving a thought to how she felt about the whole situation.

Evidently, he took her squirming for passion, for he slipped one hand where it had been gripping her shoulder down her back, fumbling around the top of her dress, apparently looking for the zipper. His other hand came up to skim her side, clumsily pawing at her breast.

She felt violated and stupid. This was why Scorpius, Al, and Hugo had warned her about Wickham—and she hadn't really given their concern much thought. She hadn't believed that the nice boy who helped her with class projects and made her laugh (though not as much as Scorpius) could be such a forceful lecher who was evidently just trying to get under her dress.

Her shock turned to anger, and that gave her enough strength to push him away from her. "What are you doing?" she spat.

"I thought that was obvious, Rose. I want you."

If he thought his words would make her weak at the knees, she was mistaken.

He continued, taking her silence for acquiescence. "You look delectable," he said with a leer.

"Don't look at me like I'm a cream-filled pastry," Rose sneered.

"Oh, c'mon, Rose, you had to know what such a dress would do to a guy. I couldn't help but react."

Those words incensed her even more than his actions, if that was possible. How dare he blame her for his lack of self-control? It wasn't like she'd been flaunting herself in front of him, and even if she had, that was no excuse for his behavior.

"I wore this dress because I wanted to look elegant and feel beautiful, not as an excuse for you to try and paw me."

"Oh, so I'm your date and I can't touch you, but Malfoy over there is allowed to have his hands on you?"

That angered Rose even more. He was a bloody idiot (and she wasn't much better, in her opinion).

"We were dancing. And he's a gentleman. And how dare you bring Scorpius into this? This is between you and me. Scorpius isn't a part of this."

"Oh, I think you'll find that when you're concerned, Malfoy makes things his business."

"At least he's my friend. You were just using me."

"Oh, come on, Rose, lighten up. You're too tense all the time; you need a good snog, maybe more, to loosen up. I'm offering; that's more than most of these other blokes could say."

She had to get out of there before she smacked him senseless. She didn't relish the idea of getting detention, even though a part of her said it would be worth it.

She turned to leave, and he shot out a hand that clamped itself over her wrist. "Where are you going?"

"Away from you. You have no manners. You had no right to force me, especially in front of everyone!"

"Seduction and force are two different things," he said nonchalantly, not even bothered by her accusation.

"They aren't if the other party isn't willing," she shot back, yanking her arm away from him and storming away.

She made it over to where Al and Alice were sitting. Lily's date had apparently ditched her for his ex-girlfriend, who he was trying to win back, and Scorpius had taken Lily out to dance. Rose felt a clench in her gut at the idea that Scorpius and Lily were dancing, but she knew that Scorpius only thought of Lily as the little sister he never had and was just trying to make a bad situation better.

Plus, given the way Scorpius had looked at her earlier, Rose was sure he didn't have feelings for Lily.

Al and Alice looked concerned at her arrival. She quickly explained that Christopher wasn't the gentleman she thought he was. Al had clenched his fists and had made to go off and find the git, but Rose wouldn't allow it.

After a few minutes, Scorpius had shown back up, looking at her with concern and his jaw setting into a hard line when she told him what she had told Al and Alice. She could tell that he knew that there was more to the story than she was letting on, but he didn't press her, for which she was grateful.

Rose went to get them all drinks, realizing about halfway there that her path would take her past Christopher and his friends. Squaring her shoulders, she was almost past them when she heard something that stopped her dead in her tracks.

"So what are you going to do about Weasley?" said an unfamiliar male voice.

"Well, I guess I'll just have to charm my way back into her life. My plans are too important to give up. No girl can resist me for long, anyway."

That was Christopher.

"Do you think the girl will go along with your plans? She is pretty smart," said a female voice, also unknown.

"She hasn't figured them out so far," Christopher answered in a smug tone. "And I never planned to let her in on them in the first place. She wouldn't help—her morals are much too strong to go along with my schemes. It'll be more fun to blindside her anyway, watch her expression when she realizes that I've just been cozying up to her to get an in at the Ministry. There's no doubt she has a nice body, but honestly, the most she has going for her is her family name."

Rose choked on her breath, aghast at Christopher's nonchalant way of admitting to using her connections and name to rise in the Ministry.

She saw such a slight as an insult not only to her, but to her family as well. And to Rose, insulting her family—especially in such a way—was one of the most despicable things a person could do.

Forgetting the drinks, she stalked up to her "date" and his cronies. "You vile, loathsome, conniving piece of scum," she spat, fuming.

The people across from her—all Slytherins—looked surprised at her words.

Christopher didn't even try to deny it. "Oh, so you heard my plan, did you, Rose? Ingenious, isn't it?"

"Absolutely not," Rose sneered. "You're despicable. Why would you do such a thing?"

"Isn't it obvious? Your mother is a leading candidate to be the next Minister of Magic. I want to rise through the ranks. I get close to you, get closer to a high position." His tone held no remorse; it was casual, as if they were talking about the next day's plans.

She was vaguely aware of gasps and scuffles of feet coming from behind her. She guessed that Al, Alice, Lily, Scorpius, and maybe Hugo had come up behind her, ready to defend her if necessary. She had a feeling that at least one of the boys would have jumped in already if it hadn't been for someone holding them back. She was grateful, but she had other matters to attend to.

"You honestly believed that would work? And why would you rather attach yourself to me in hopes of rising through the ranks instead of working hard to achieve your goals?"

"I have always been instructed to use the resources at my disposal," he said calmly. This infuriated Rose even more—he had the audacity to refer to her as a resource, not a person. A tool, something to be used as a means to an end.

"I thought we were friends." She couldn't help it; the words just slipped out.

He laughed, a cold, heartless laugh. "No, we weren't, not really. You were helpful in projects, I'll give you that, but you talk too much, and about the most inane things. I could care less about literature. I tuned you out whenever you got on that subject. I wanted something else from you—something that required much less talking."

Rose's blood boiled at his blatant innuendo. Wickham—she would no longer refer to him as Christopher—continued. "If you had decided to talk about the Ministry, then that would have been one thing. But you rarely did."

"With an attitude like yours, you would have never made it in the Ministry. The Ministry is supposed to be about laws and order, not using people for your own personal gain."

"The Ministry was like that before," Christopher said. "Maybe it should be so again."

"You disgust me," said Rose. "I can't believe I ever liked you—not romantically, never that, but as a friend.

"And I can't believe you thought you would get away with this. My mother would have figured out your scheme in a heartbeat."

"Well, by that time, hopefully I would have risen far enough to be secure in a position—and by that time, I probably would have cast you aside as well. I always planned to, once I was secure enough."

"You have no feelings, no remorse?"

"Of course not."

"You are the most abominable person I have ever come across. How dare you use me—my worth is tied to more than my body and my name. I am Rose, and that should be enough."

She reached for her wand, concealed in a hidden pocket in her dress. She hadn't reached for it before now because she hadn't wanted to be sentenced to who knows how many detentions, but he deserved whatever punishment was coming to him and then some.

"Since you think you're so high and mighty, why don't you just spend the rest of the ball looking down at us peasants?" She pointed her wand at him, muttered "Levicorpus," and watched, satisfied, as her dastardly date rose in the air, flailing and shrieking. She uttered another charm, ensuring that he would stay up there for the rest of the night, and turned around.

Sure enough, her friends were there, looking shocked at Rose's actions and Wickham's words. "I charmed him to stay up there for the rest of the night. In about thirty minutes, if I'm not back, will you charm him to hang upside down for a while?" she asked Lily, who merely nodded. Al and Hugo were already heading towards the young man hanging suspended in the air, intent on giving him a piece of their minds. Scorpius just looked at her with a mix of pride and hurt.

She turned to rush out the door, heading for the hallway, where she finally collapsed in a burst of sobs.

It wasn't long before she heard footsteps coming her way. "Rose?" she heard Scorpius' voice call her. "Rose?"

She was tucked into a corner, sitting on a bench—not far from the same spot, she realized, where Scorpius had confronted her in their fourth year after the marshmallow spider incident.

She looked up and he spotted her, face immediately softening at her tearstained face. "Rose," he said quietly, walking over to her and putting his arms around her.

She started to cry again, and he squeezed her tighter. "Rose, please. Don't cry over him. He's not worth it."

She spoke into his chest. "I'm not crying over him, per say. I meant it when I said I never saw him in a romantic light. I was flattered by his offer to take me to the ball, yes, but I was also irritated because the person I most wanted to ask me to the ball never asked.

"His words and actions hurt," she said, choking on another sob, and she felt him start to rub her arm comfortingly. "But honestly, what hurts more is that he saw me as just a means to an end. He didn't see me as anything but a body and a name, not an actual person with thoughts and feelings.

"I know I'm a Weasley, and I can't run away from that. I don't want to—I'm proud of my name, proud of my family. But I am also Rose, and if he didn't see that…."

"If he doesn't love you, he's thicker than I thought," Scorpius said gruffly. "You're a wonderful person, Rose. Don't ever forget that. What he thinks doesn't matter."

"I just…" she trailed off, feeling silly.

"You just what?" Scorpius said softly.

"I just…if he only saw my family name and my body, and he played the part of admirer and friend so well, how am I supposed to find someone who loves me for me, and not what I can bring to them?"

"That person is closer than you think," Scorpius said enigmatically.

"You can say it, you know," Rose said after a moment.

"Say what?" Scorpius' voice sounded a little nervous.

"I told you so."

"I'm not going to," Scorpius said.

"You're not?!" Rose said, surprised, lifting her head from its comfortable spot on his chest.

"No, I'm not," he said, looking a little hurt that she would doubt him. "I never thought he would pull something like this, the vile little…" Scorpius trailed off, calling Wickham every choice word he could think of.

Rose settled back against him, hearing his heartbeat thudding against her ear. "Rose," Scorpius began again, caressing her name. "Rose, you're worth much more than your name or what you look like. You're intelligent and witty and stubborn and loyal—and beautiful," he said, almost whispering that last word. He held her tight, and Rose felt something brush across her forehead—Scorpius' lips in a gentle caress.

He squeezed her again and pulled back slightly. "Now, Rose Minerva Weasley, are you really going to let such a contemptible person ruin your night, or are you going to go back in the Great Hall and show him how much you don't need the attention or good will of someone like him? You're strong, Rose. Don't let him get you down."

"Thanks, Scorp," Rose said softly, getting up off the bench. "I'll go back in—if you dance with me."

"Of course I will," he said. "I haven't gotten to fling you into the punch table yet, remember?"

She couldn't help but grin at his comment. "There's that smile," he said fondly.

She tugged on his hand, leading him back in the hall. When they entered, they stopped to survey the scene—most were dancing, but Al and Hugo were still yelling at Wickham, who was now spinning in circles in the air—apparently Lily had enacted her own revenge.

"You know," came Scorpius' voice from her side, "We could always throw him to the Giant Squid."

Rose threw back her head and laughed. "That's the best idea you've ever had, Scorp!"

He grinned. "I have my moments."

Rose circled her arms around Scorpius' neck, his arms coming around her waist. They had danced for most of the rest of the night after returning to the ball, and now it was the last dance of the night. He held her close, her head on his shoulder, eyes closed, savoring the feeling of being held by him.

She felt something touch her hair—Scorpius' lips again. She sighed in contentment, caressing the back of his neck.

His concern for her and his comments earlier had made her think that there was a strong possibility that he loved her as much as she loved him. He had said that someone who loved her for her was closer than she thought, and at that moment, no one had been closer to her than Scorpius. When she thought over his actions from the past year or two, that possibility became stronger.

Yet, for some reason, he had never said it outright, preferring to leave enigmatic comments and to show her he cared by his actions.

She wanted to be with him, wanted it more than she ever thought possible. She loved him dearly, this incorrigible man who knew her better than anyone else.

For years, she had wanted him to leave her alone—or at least that was what she told herself—and yet now, nothing could be further from the truth.

She was a Gryffindor, she decided. If she needed to be the one to act, she would.

The dance came to an end, and she made a decision.

"Scorp," she said softly, pulling away from him slightly to look into his gray eyes. "Will you come with me?"

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