The Sugar Quill
Author: Zsenya (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Tell Him About It  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

 

Author’s Note: Much thanks goes to Arabella, for turning Mick and Rose into real characters and letting me develop them further, and to B Bennett for providing the original inspiration for Rose K. Brown. Cap’n Kathy is an excellent, canon-thumping beta-reader.

I’ve borrowed heavily from a lot of things in this story. I stole a line from the movie Some Kind of Wonderful – all you 80s junkies, can you spot it? I also stole a line from the Winona Ryder film version of Little Women. It’s a running joke in my family, and makes a great wedding toast. Lavender has become very like Charlotte Lucas, but I assure you that Seamus is in no way at all like Mr. Collins.

This story takes place in the late autumn of After the End. It would probably make sense to read this only if you’ve read After the End, as it’s based on two original characters from that story. I’m not necessarily recommending that you go and read After the End if you haven’t before. It’s really, really long. And this outtake just makes it longer…

~*~

Mick really did have a strong jaw, reflected Rose, sneaking a glance at him as he stopped to look in the window of Magical Menagerie. Today was technically his “day off” – he’d finished his dragon-riding shift at four yesterday afternoon, and didn’t have to return until eight tonight. She hoped he’d had enough sleep and guiltily remembered that it had been close to three in the morning before they’d finally drifted off, exhausted.

They’d risen late, and after a hearty breakfast – Mick’s method was to throw whatever he could find in a cauldron over the fire, and it almost always ended up tasting decent – they’d taken a leisurely stroll to Diagon Alley in order to do some shopping. Rose needed to buy a new clock; they’d broken her old one and no amount of magic had been able to make it run properly.

“Do you want to go in?” she asked. She didn’t really like it in Magical Menagerie – it smelled odd and the animals were very loud, besides, Mick could spend hours it seemed, looking at the different pets – but she found that she had asked without even thinking twice about it.

He looked at her incredulously. “Really? You don’t mind? I just want to check something out with the lizards.”

“No, it’s fine,” she said, and looking down the street, saw a familiar, twinkling sign. “Tell you what, I’ll head down to Bellibon and you just come down when you’re ready.”

Raising her hand to his lips, Mick kissed it gallantly, and even this exaggerated motion made Rose’s stomach flutter. But she retained her composure and pushed him away, pretending to be annoyed, yet secretly enjoying the feel of his chest under her hand. “Oh, go on,” she said, though she was smiling. “See you in a bit.” And she turned and headed down the street.

Bellibon was her sister Lavender’s favorite shop. Rose had been inside a few times, the most recent last August when she’d purchased hair ribbons for herself, Lavender and Parvati to wear during the wedding. It was just as large, busy and noisy as Magical Menagerie, but it smelled like flowers instead of rat pellets, and Rose preferred flying butterfly clips to flying ravens.

On instinct, Rose walked to the very back of the shop, trying to avoid the saleswitches as she weaved her way around pretty table displays and bins filled with small bottles of perfumes and love potions. She still hadn't bought Mick a Christmas gift - it was two weeks away and she hadn't mentioned it at all. She wondered if Mick was waiting for an invitation to the Brown family Christmas dinner. She hadn't told anyone that she was seeing him - she knew that Bill and Charlie Weasley were somewhat aware of what was going on, and judging by the way the latter had glared at her while visiting the Ministry the week before, they weren't too happy with Mick's choice of girlfriend. She couldn't believe that she'd ever thought of them as a pair, when Mick was obviously so much more mature than his friend.

Mick had certainly been a surprise, thought Rose, stopping to sift through rows of amethyst amulets and ornate pewter charm necklaces lining the back wall of the shop. After their first few dates, he'd slowly moved in with her, starting by Apparating directly to her flat after work and napping until she returned home. She hadn’t expected to feel so comfortable around him or to realize that she’d grown used to being able to talk to him. It was impossible to imagine life without him, and Rose shuddered as she tried to remember how she’d spent her evenings before September. She turned her mind to more pleasant things – to Mick as he looked after he’d just stepped out of the shower, with his hair much darker and standing on end, and to his ability to make her see humor in even the most seemingly grim situations.

A giggle interrupted her daydreaming, and Rose stiffened when she heard a familiar voice say, “What about this one, Mum?” Afraid to turn around, Rose sidled herself into the farthest corner of the room, and found herself absently sifting through a bin filled with crudely-titled erotic potions, designed to “take that wizard by surprise”.

“Lavender! We’re here to find something pretty for your sister, she has plenty of books – what about these earrings?”

“She doesn’t really wear earrings, Mum,” said Lavender, “and besides, she likes to read.”

Rose flipped up the hood on her cloak, before realizing that the wine-colored garment had been a gift from her mother the previous Christmas. She flipped it down again, and out of the corner of her eye, tried to figure out a way to escape the shop without being seen. Her mother and sister were standing on one side of a free-standing bookshelf towards the back of the shop, and Rose slowly moved around the perimeter of the room, until she was standing on the other side of it. Now she was safely out of their sight, but paled when she saw that her side of the bookshelf was filled with self-help pamphlets and slim volumes filled with selected Love Charms.

“I really wish I could see your sister settled down,” Mrs. Brown was saying to her youngest daughter. “She’s so pretty and smart, but she doesn’t seem to want to attract the boys.”

Certain that her sister was going to agree with their mother as usual, Rose was surprised to hear Lavender answer, “She’ll be fine, Mum. Rose just has her own way of doing things. I was only joking about the book – she doesn’t need some silly manual or a love potion to entrance some man. She just hasn’t met anyone smart enough for her yet, and I’m glad. She deserves the best.”

The small smile that was beginning to form around Rose’s mouth disappeared immediately when she heard a loud, male, voice say, “No thanks, I’m just looking for someone.”

“Well, we have books to help with that, although a wizard like you probably doesn’t really need them,” said the sales witch, giggling. Rose ducked under some sort of filmy material that was floating above her and headed for the front of the shop, hoping she could usher Mick away without being discovered by her mother and sister. He saw her coming, and his face broke into a wide grin that made Rose’s knees feel weak. “I think I’ve found the one I want,” he boomed, turning to address the sales witch. “How much for this blonde one?” He reached out for Rose, as she’d stopped a few feet away from him, frozen with embarrassment.

Retreating as far as she could behind the hood of her cloak, Rose shot a withering glance at Mick, and tried to free her arm. People were staring now, and Rose only hoped that her mother and sister were not among them. She didn't dare look.

"Feisty too!" Mick continued, taking Rose's elbow jabbing into his ribs as a sign of affection. "Put it on my tab," he joked to the sales witch before allowing himself to be led outside, but not before throwing an arm around Rose's shoulders.

Once on the street, Rose disentangled herself from Mick and, holding her chin high, began to walk briskly away from him. His laughter faded, and she heard him utter a confused "What?"

She didn't answer. Inside, Rose knew that she shouldn't be upset with him - after all, he hadn't known who was in the shop - but she had nowhere else to direct her frustration.

"Rose! What?" Mick had caught up with her and grabbed the back of her cloak. She turned to face him, narrowing her eyes.

"That was very immature!" she hissed.

Mick looked relieved. He stepped up to her and put a hand on each of her shoulders. "You should be used to it by now," he said gently. "What's really wrong?"

Sighing, Rose looked away. They were still in view of Bellibon's elaborate entrance way. More than anything, she wanted to be gone from Diagon Alley.

"Rosie?"

Mustering a smile, she pulled his hands from her shoulders and intertwined their fingers. "I'm fine. Just tired. We didn't sleep much last night - I'd like to go home and take a nap."

"You sure? We didn't even look for the clock yet."

“I’m sure,” she answered, and still holding hands, they Disapparated for home.

~*~

"Rose? You there?" Rose jumped at the sound of her sister's voice, and immediately glanced over at Mick, who was still sound asleep. He'd been more tired than usual when he came home from work lately, and Rose preferred to let him nap. She gently lifted Mick's feet off of her lap and slid off of the couch, which was thankfully out of view of the fireplace.

"Hello Lavender," she said in a soft voice. Her sister's head, magnified several times by the fire, craned as far as it could to try to see around her sister. "Why are you whispering?" Lavender asked very loudly. "Is someone there?"

Rose heard a creak as Mick shifted on the sofa. She smiled and in what she hoped would be a joking tone of voice said, "Yes, my new house-elf - comes in once a week to dust the cat hair."

"Oh," said Lavender, looking doubtful. "Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Christmas. Would you mind if Seamus and I hosted it at our flat?"

"Not at all," Rose answered. "Why would I -" She was interrupted by a high-pitched squeal from across the room.

"Miss Rosie! Miss Rosie! These underclothes is very delicate! You is wanting me to wash them with special cleanser?"

Rose felt her neck burn. "You really do have a house-elf?" Lavender asked incredulously.

"I told you I did," Rose said, making a mental note to cast a silencing spell on Mick as soon as she was able. She could hear him snickering. "I pay him well. So, who else will be there? Seamus's parents?"

"Yes," said Lavender, "and Uncle Gerry and Aunt Susan. Seamus also invited his Uncle Pat and Aunt Marian. And their two kids."

"Oh," said Rose, "it'll be nice to have some young children there." A muffled laugh could be heard from across the room.

Lavender giggled as well. "Oh, they're quite grown up. Tara's older than you are, and coming home from Tibet or someplace adventurous for the holidays. And Mick is a year or two younger than you, so I expect you might know him from Hogwarts."

"Mick?" Rose said, feeling her forehead grow warm. She hoped her acting was believable. Furrowing her brow in concentration, she said, "Mick Finnigan? I don't remem-"

Seamus's voice called from somewhere beyond Lavender's head, "Not Finnigan, O'Malley. Uncle Pat is me mum's brother."

"Mick O'Malley, Mick O'Malley..." Rose muttered to herself, as if trying to remember, but not succeeding.

"He was at the wedding," prompted Lavender. "Tall, strong-looking, sandy hair like Seamus’s, quite attractive."

"You danced with him at Halloween," said Seamus. "Didn't you ask his name?"

"Mmm..." Rose shook her head. Since when was Seamus so interested in her love life? She felt stupid keeping up the act now, but she could see no way out. It didn't help that Mick was sitting behind her, snorting. "Oh!" she said, pretending to have a revelation, "Yes, I was surprised when he told me who he was. I remember him as being shorter than I am and odd-looking. Hung about with Bill Weasley's younger brother. I had to report him once for having alargeBundimunwith him in the corridors. You could smell itthree floors up." She huffed. "When I asked him politely to get rid of it, he whined that it wasn't the Bundimun's fault that it fed on dirt and smelled that way, and that he was only trying to get it outside to set it free."

“We-e-e-lll,” said Lavender, looking somewhat sentimental, “it was a nice thought. At least he’s kind to animals. What’s that? Oh, Seamus says he’s a ‘creatures specialist’. I think it’s sweet.”

From the couch, Mick said, in a high-pitched voice, “It be good to be free, Miss Rosie! Me think that Mr. Mick must be a good man! Fine, and true!”

“Budgie!” hissed Rose, using the first name that drifted into her head. She hoped it was insulting enough. Thus far, she’d avoided looking at Mick, and even now, when she turned, she found that she could only look at his feet. She was terribly annoyed and frustrated, and this was exacerbated by the fact that she wasn’t sure whether she would laugh or cry if she looked Mick in the eyes. “It’s time to clean the dishes now. Remember, that’s part of your contract.” She returned her attention to her sister, tossing her hair, and saying, “I agree with Budgie, it would be admirable to set something free, but since I caught Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Weasley on their way to the dungeons and not on their way to the grounds, I naturally assumed that they had another motive.”

Seamus laughed very loudly at that, and Lavender turned her head and gave him a look that Rose couldn't see. Immaturity must run in the family, thought Rose, as she heard

Lavender blow a kiss and order Seamus out of the room. Rose tried not to roll her eyes when her sister finally turned to address her. She loved Lavender dearly, but could really only handle her in small doses.

"Well, you and Mick can talk about the Bundimun at Christmas dinner," said Lavender, "unless there's anyone you'd like to bring?"

"Me?" said Rose, flinching as her voice went up an octave. "No...no one like that."

"Seamus's cousin is cute," said Lavender, "although, from what it sounds like, he's not exactly your type. Anyway, I also wanted to see if you wanted to meet for lunch next Friday in Diagon Alley. I was in Bellibon the other day with Mum and she showed me some earrings that she liked. I wanted to get your opinion."

At the mention of Bellibon, Rose's stomach churned unpleasantly. It wasn't as though Lavender needed her input on jewelry selection. Was her sister dropping some sort of veiled hint that Lavender had seen her the other day? Before she could answer, a loud shriek interrupted her thoughts.

"Miss Rosie! Miss Rosie! Budgie cannot be doing the dishes. Budgie is afraid!"

Deciding that she was more annoyed than amused at this point, Rose asked through pursed lips, "What is it, Budgie?"

"The washing-up liquid! Miss Rosie, ‘B-Klean’! They is using Bundimun in the soap! Poor, poor creatures..."

Lavender craned her neck to try to get a glimpse of the mysterious house-elf. "You better talk to him," she said slowly. "Will you meet me?"

"Yes, all right," said Rose, relieved that her sister was leaving. "I'll see you Friday."

As soon as Lavender's head disappeared from the fire, Rose swiveled to face Mick, who was laughing so hard that his face was bright red. "They don't use Bundimun," she said, "just the secretions."

This only made him laugh harder. Rose stood there, arms crossed, tapping her foot impatiently.

Mick held up a hand. "I'm stopping," he said, gasping for air. He pushed himself off of the couch and was standing in front of her in two long strides. Roughly pulling her towards him at the hips, he waggled his eyebrows and said, "I guess the Brown women can't resist O'Malley charm. We're like veela to you."

“It’s not funny,” Rose pouted, not uncrossing her arms, which were now crushed between herself and Mick. “What are we going to do?”

“Do?” asked Mick. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Maybe Budgie can make us a spot of supper.”

“I meant, what are we going to do about Christmas?” Was he being dense on purpose?

“What do you mean?” asked Mick, looking truly confused. “I think it’s brilliant. I’ve been wanting you to meet my parents, and you'll love my sister. She's been all over the world.”

Rose felt a shiver run from her forehead to her toes. “Do they – do your parents know about us?”

Mick shrugged, and released his hold on her. “Well, yeah. My mum’s been trying to get in touch with me and I’m always over here, so when I did finally talk to her, she asked me if there was a reason that I wasn’t home all the time and I told her that a beautiful flower had stolen my heart.”

“You didn’t use those exact words, with your mum?”

“I did. I told you – she thinks I’m passionate anyway.”

“I haven’t mentioned you at all to my parents.” She knew, all too well, what the reaction would be. First would come the undeniable shock and surprise. They were always shocked and surprised when she had brought home any boyfriend. It was as though everyone truly believed her to be void of any emotion whatsoever. Second, most of the boys had been in Slytherin, and as much as her parents had somehow dealt with her being Sorted into that house, they had a harder time trusting any of her romantic interests. What followed would be hidden comments that she’d chosen an unsuitable partner, that so-and-so wasn’t good enough for her, and that her family really knew best. She hadn’t seriously dated anyone since Steven, and it was partly due to the fact that she didn’t want to bring anyone home. Rose loved her family dearly, but there were parts of her life that she’d decided needed to stay separate from them. It still hurt her how easily they’d accepted Seamus. He’d always been welcome – always been treated like a son, and Rose couldn’t help feeling left out even more now that Lavender and Seamus were married.

Mick was staring at Rose now, an unreadable expression on his face. She looked up at him for a moment, and then looked away, when she couldn’t bear it any longer. “What are you afraid of, Rose? I’m in love with you.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Do you love me?” he asked. His voice was more controlled-sounding than she had ever heard it, and she squirmed uncomfortably.

When she didn’t answer, Mick Disapparated, and Rose realized that more than anything, she was afraid of being without him.

~*~

Lavender wanted to meet for lunch in a new café that had recently opened adjacent to Flourish and Blotts. Rose arrived late, having been caught in a meeting with Minister Weasley about his upcoming travels to Belgium for a post-war summit on European wizarding relations. She was extremely tired and her head throbbed painfully as she fought her way through the daytime crowds.

Mick hadn’t come back. Their fight, if it could really be called that, had happened two nights ago, and she hadn’t heard a word from him since. It scared her. He wasn’t the type to be so silent. She’d waited that evening for him to return, and to hug her, and to try to figure out what was bothering her, but he’d never shown up and she’d finally fallen asleep at two in the morning, although the sleep had not been restful. When he wasn’t waiting for her when she’d Apparated into her flat after work the following evening, she’d simply cried, and then settled on the couch to stare into space. Sometime around midnight, she’d realized that she hadn’t eaten anything, and fixed a piece of toast, which she’d promptly dropped on the floor.

She wasn’t sure whether she was more upset with herself or with Mick. She knew now that she was being a bit silly in making such a big deal out of introducing him to her family. Her parents would most likely love him, considering he was a Gryffindor and Seamus’s cousin.

"Rose! Over here!" Lavender was waving to her from a small table tucked underneath a staircase. She looked, as usual, very pretty, and her pale-pink beautician's robes shimmered as she waved. Her hairdo was quite elaborate for lunch, and Rose patted her own orderly bun self-consciously.

"Hi," said Rose, mumbling. "Sorry I'm late."

"No worries," Lavender answered brightly. "I've gone ahead and ordered us some brie with fruit compote. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? And I didn't know what you wanted to drink, but I thought maybe you’d want to split a bottle of Pinot Grigio - " She laughed when she saw Rose's face fall - Rose always had a difficult time masking her emotions around her sister - "One drink in the middle of the day is perfectly acceptable."

In truth, Rose didn't object to the drink - it always helped to keep her sarcasm in check when her sister started going on about fingernails and hair. And now Lavender had a legitimate reason - she was apprenticing at Pink Witches Beauty Salon and had even more amazing facts at her fingertips than before about how to dye eyelashes and make lip-gloss change color whenever the wearer felt like a kiss.

“It’s not that,” said Rose, groaning inwardly at the sophisticated tone her sister had affected ever since her marriage. Why not call it “red wine” and be done with it? “It’s just that I’m more in the mood for some rum.”

“Rum?” said Lavender, narrowing her eyes, and pretending to be suspicious. “Have you been spending time with Seamus?”

“No, why?” asked Rose, picking up the menu and holding it up so that she wouldn’t have to look directly at her.

Lavender leaned in conspiratorially. “His family has a spell that will turn water into rum. He doesn’t drink a lot, but we used to use it on occasion at Hogwarts to spike the pumpkin juice at the end of exams.”

“Ahhh,” said Rose, deciding that rum might not be very good for her at the moment; she was already flustered. “Well, it was just a thought. I’ll share the wine with you.”

Rose thought that Lavender looked vaguely disappointed.

By the time they’d finished their lunch, Rose was already late back to work, and the bottle of wine was more than half-empty. Her head was spinning, partially from the alcohol, and partially from her sister’s rather long-winded, yet humorous account of Seamus’s reluctant bonding with their new puppy. Overcome by a wave of emotion that rarely emerged without the help of something stronger than Butterbeer, Rose reached out to her sister and took a bit of the shiny pink fabric from her sleeve between her fingers. “This is pretty,” she said softly. “I’m so glad you’re my sister, Lavender.”

“And I too,” announced Lavender, trying to appear solemn, “am glad. To be sisters is a bond stronger than marriage.” She drank her last drop of wine. “But don’t tell Seamus, or he’ll definitely take the dog back.”

They both erupted into laughter and tried to control themselves when the waiter appeared. He asked them if they wanted any dessert, and when Rose asked if they had any strawberry sauce to put on the chocolate cake, he winked at her and said, “For a beautiful witch like you – anything.”

Rose blushed and tried to look annoyed, and Lavender gaped at her. “See!” Lavender said, pointing an accusatory finger at Rose, “Men are falling at your feet! Don’t tell me that there really aren’t any boyfriends!”

“There aren’t!” said Rose quickly, squirming a bit in her seat and suddenly regretting the decision for dessert. The wine felt like it was curdling everything in her stomach.

“I bet men throw themselves at you all the time!” squealed Lavender. Rose looked around to see if other people were listening. Sighing, Lavender propped her chin on her hand and looked at her sister with an expression of … envy? “It must be so nice,” she said softly. “I love Seamus, don’t get me wrong, but at least you’ve had a chance to try out a few.”

“I suppose,” Rose answered, sitting up straighter. “But it’s not all nice. There are reasons why things never seem to work out. You’re lucky to have found the right person right away.” She twirled the last drop of wine around in her glass, and said wistfully, “It seems like it took me forever.”

“Ah-ha!” Lavender was now sitting up, hands clasped together tightly, a gleeful smile on her face. “Ah-ha!” she said again.

“What?” asked Rose, feeling very self-conscious. “What is it?” She began to wonder if she shouldn’t hit Lavender with a Sobering Charm.

“You said, ‘it took me forever’. Past tense. Who is he?” Lavender was practically jumping out of her chair.

“What? No I didn’t. Nobody. Shut UP,” she hissed.

Lavender looked incredibly smug. “Okay, I’m tired of teasing you. I want all the gossip. I saw you with Mick O’Malley in Bellibon last week.”

Rose felt the tears start to form in her eyes and angrily wiped at them with her hand. She hated feeling like this – it was as though some spirit had invaded her mind and made her irrational and insecure. She prided herself on being honest, on telling the truth, no matter how blunt it might come across, and now she felt as though she had a million secrets bottled up inside of her. It was an awful, terrible, feeling, and all that Rose wanted to do was tell someone.

“We’ve been dating since your wedding,” she admitted to Lavender in a very small voice.

She’d actually managed to shock her sister. Lavender’s eyes were wide. “Since the wedding?” she asked. “That was almost four months ago! You’ve kept it quiet for that long?”

Rose just nodded, attempting a small smile for the waiter as he slid her dessert plate in front of her. They were both quiet until he left their table.

“Are you in love with him?” asked Lavender.

“I-I- damn! Rose couldn’t stop the tears now. She pursed her lips as hard as she could to try to hold it all in, but it was too much strain. She covered her mouth with her hands and nodded at Lavender, her shoulders shaking.

Lavender, whose need to give comfort and show affection superceded any pretense of putting up appearances, came around to Rose’s side of the table and, kneeling, reached out to envelope her in a hug. “It’s okay,” she whispered, patting Rose on the back. When Rose finally stopped shaking, Lavender pulled away. “Have the two of you had a row?” she asked, looking concerned.

Rose nodded. “Right after you called the other night. He wanted me to invite him for Christmas.”

“But he’s already going to be there,” Lavender said, looking confused.

“I know,” said Rose, trying not to sound irritated. “But he wanted me to invite him. He wanted us to go … together. And I – well, he asked me if I loved him, and when I didn’t answer right away, he just left. But honestly,” she rolled her eyes, “can’t he tell how I feel?”

Much to Rose’s annoyance, Lavender smirked, and then tried to mask her amusement with a calm-sounding voice. “Rose. No. People can’t tell how you feel. I’ve known you my whole life and I don’t know how you feel most of the time. Quite honestly, you’re a little bit scary. It took me two years to convince Seamus that you don’t hate him.”

“But – why?”

“Because you are so honest. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to change – you’re my sister and I’ve always looked up to you. But sometimes… well, sometimes you’re a little intimidating, that’s all.”

Rose felt her shoulders slump. There was no hope, really. She had nothing left to lose. Deciding to throw her self-respect into the trash bin, she confessed, “Lavender, I love him so much. But I’ve messed everything up. What am I going to do?”

“Why don’t you just tell him? There are very few of us who have heart enough to be really

in love without encouragement. He’s probably feeling very insecure right now. You should just go to him and tell him that you love him, right now. Trust me, those three little words, if you mean them, will make all the difference in the world.”

“I can’t!”

“You can.”

“I thought maybe you could fix my hair. That would make me feel better.” For dramatic effect, Rose reached up and released her hair from the pins that were restraining it.

Lavender shook her head. “I’ll fix it for your wedding.”

Rose rolled her eyes, and suddenly, she felt very, very nervous, and more than a bit fidgety. “I should tell him now,” she said slowly.

“You should,” answered Lavender.

“I will,” said Rose. And after fishing some gold out of her purse, she kissed her sister on the cheek and ran out of the restaurant to Disapparate.

~*~

Rose arrived at the PAP headquarters a little out of breath. She was surprised that she hadn’t splinched herself, and ran her fingers through her hair, which was not looking its best since she’d released it from the bun in the restaurant. She checked both of her hands as if to reassure herself that she was all there. She didn’t feel like it.

The front room was, as usual, deserted. People rarely sat around in there unless there was a big meeting and the large desk in the corner of the room was empty. Rose walked over to it and sat down in the straight chair behind it, folding her hands primly in her lap. She checked her watch. Five after two. She still had almost two hours until Mick came off his shift. But after a minute of attempting to sit still, she pushed away from the desk and walked quickly over to the window. It had been sunny in Diagon Alley, but here it was grey and dim outside, and she could see the occasional light, and flares from the dragons, but little else, and besides, she knew that Mick and Viking generally flew on the far side of the island.

Leaning her head against the window, Rose could feel the cold wind creeping in through the panes of glass as it whispered against her throat. She closed her eyes and tried to figure out what she would say. What was it that Lavender had said?

“Damn!” she muttered, furrowing her brow. “Everyone needs encouragement – just tell him that you love him and the world will be a better place? URGH.”

She had never felt so inexperienced in her whole life. Mick was going to laugh at her, she just knew it. He wasn’t shy about his feelings. He let everything out – he’d told her that he loved her on their third date.

Maybe if she wrote down what she wanted to say, and practiced it, then she’d be all right. She looked at her watch again. A quarter past two. She strode purposefully over to the desk and rummaged around in the drawer.

She couldn’t help but make a tutting noise when she realized that there were only some scraps to write on. Someone should really see about keeping the headquarters stocked better. The quill on the desk was dull, and she sharpened it with her wand, dipped it in the inkwell, and then watched as the ink dripped onto the paper.

Mick, she wrote. That was a good start. She would take his hands and say “Mick”. Tapping the quill impatiently, she smiled a little, when she imagined Mick’s response.

You can say my name, Rosie! See, it’s not so difficult…

He was so frustrating. Maybe it would help to tell him exactly why she was in love with him. She wrote a row of numbers down her piece of paper. She could remember doing the same thing after her ex-boyfriend Steven had left. She’d cried herself to sleep for three nights in a row, and then, when she’d been unable to figure out in her head why she was so upset, she’d decided to write down the things she missed about him. Instead, the list had contained eighty-seven reasons why she was happy that he wasn’t there anymore.

Rose’s stomach clenched. What if that happened with Mick? What if, instead of writing down how much she loved the smell of his hair after a shower, or how she liked his dragon-riding outfit so much that she’d once tried on his spare when he’d been at work, she wrote down that his boots didn’t smell so pleasant or that sometimes he had a tendency to show off? It was true, she reflected, his boots did smell terrible, and …

She shook her head. That wasn’t important. Under number one, she wrote, Smelly boots not important. That was already one more good thing than she’d managed to think of for Steven. Feeling pleased with herself, she started to write.

The sound of loud male laughter coming from the direction of the locker rooms made Rose nearly fall out of her chair. She steadied herself and looked with narrowed eyes towards the corridor. Charlie. Well, she should have assumed he would be there – his shift started immediately after Mick’s. She checked her watch again. Three o’clock. Only one more hour. She hoped that Charlie would stay in the back until the last minute. Biting on the top of her quill, she thought for a moment, and then wrote down: 17. Best friend hates me, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Her hopes were dashed, however, when Charlie laughed again, and a moment later, Cho Chang ran into the front room, a model dragon clutched in her hand. She skidded to a halt when she saw Rose, only to be knocked down by Charlie, who obviously hadn’t expected her to stop so suddenly. The two of them climbed off the floor, and Rose noticed that Charlie’s face was quite red, although Cho regained her composure and said “Hello Rose!” very sweetly.

“He’s not off for another hour,” said Charlie. Rose hastily folded her list and pulled another scrap of parchment out of the drawer. Sitting up, as straight as she possibly could, she answered with as little emotion in her voice as she could manage. “I know, but I wanted to be here when he finished, and I’ve just been catching up on some work. It’s quiet here.”

“Uh-huh,” said Charlie, his eyes darting around the room. “Where’s your briefcase then?”

Rose didn’t feel like answering him. She felt a pang of panic, thinking that she’d left her case in the restaurant, although she quickly remembered that she hadn’t bothered to bring it with her to lunch.

She refreshed the ink on her quill and wrote on her new piece of parchment, Ministry Memo... “I don’t carry my briefcase everywhere, Charlie,” she answered after a moment. “Although I should,” she continued. “This headquarters is very poorly stocked with office supplies.”

“Well,” said Charlie, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in his voice, “we’ve used them all up writing reports up on our dragons, haven’t we?”

Rose was about to retort but was saved by Cho, who had always been very nice to her. “I agree,” she said. “I refilled the parchment last week. I’d needed some earlier to plot some flight patterns and couldn’t find it anywhere. I’ll pick up some more tomorrow, shall I?” Then, with another sweet smile, she nodded to Rose, and pulled Charlie back down the corridor with her, asking him if he’d go out to the dragon hangar a bit early with her to look at something in one of the holding pens.

Reprimanding herself for letting Charlie Weasley get under her skin, she shook out her hands and added number eighteen. I love him despite the fact that his best friend is an obnoxious git with the behavior of a first-year. She crumpled up the fake memo, and continued to add to her list.

Loud booming noises from outside alerted Rose to the fact that the dragon shifts were getting ready to change over. Several bright flashes illuminated the window glass, and Rose cringed involuntarily. She still couldn't quite believe that anyone would be crazy enough to ride on a dragon, and she was torn between wanting to catch a glimpse of Mick on Viking, and not wanting to look at all. She wondered if Mick had really pasted her picture to Viking's harness like he’d said he had. Well, she wouldn't be able to see it out of the window anyway.

Rose looked over her list one more time - she'd made it to twenty-nine - which was fitting, as it was also her age - and stood up. She was very, very nervous, and her heart felt as though it were beating outside her body when she heard the front door to the headquarters opening.

She was partly disappointed, but mostly relieved, when she saw Draco Malfoy enter the room. He didn't look surprised to see her - she wondered if his face ever truly showed any emotion - and nodded to her instead.

Clearing her throat, she asked, "How is your dragon being kept, Mr. Malfoy? Are the new keepers adequate?"

"Quite," he answered. "No thanks to Weasley or O'Malley." He looked as though he might say more, but stopped when the door opened a second time, and Harry Potter entered.

Rose was shocked by his appearance. He looked - old. Or, older. His face was grey, and there were thin strands of white hair sticking out very clearly against the black. He barely registered Rose's presence and followed Draco towards the locker rooms. The third person through that door would have to be Mick. Rose grew more agitated, and peered out the window, thinking about how ill Harry Potter had looked, and despising herself for not ever taking into account how stressful it must be for Mick to be out on the dragons all day long. She'd just assumed that Mick, being used to dragons, was going out every day and enjoying himself. She'd forgotten about the Dementors, and the weather, and people like Malfoy, and...

The sound of the heavy door slamming made Rose stand up straight, but she didn't turn around.

"Ro-," Mick cleared his throat. "Miss Brown? Here on Ministry business?"

Miss Brown? He'd never, ever called her that. It was always “Rosie” or “Rose” or, when he made half-hearted attempts to be polite, “Miss Secretary Privy”. Rose opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. She shook her head instead, concentrating very hard on the paint on the windowsill.

There was silence for a few moments. At least he's not walking away, thought Rose, willing herself to turn around. Mick was closer than she'd expected. His hair was a mess, and his broomstick was flung over one shoulder. He was twirling it, and not looking at her.

"Well, what could possibly bring you to Azkaban in the middle of a work day, if not official Ministry business?"

His voice sounded bitter.

"I wanted to talk to you."

"Right. Well, I know I've left some things at your flat. I can collect them now, if you'd like."

Rose had a sudden vision of her flat, not as it had been before Mick, but rather, as a grim, empty space, with white walls and no furniture. Empty. She whispered, "No, that's not why I - "

"Interesting." Draco Malfoy entered the room again, dressed in some of the nicest everyday robes that Rose had ever seen. An expression that could only be called a sneer was on his face. "When you said you'd see to it that Mordor was well looked after, I had no idea what drastic measures you'd resort to. Really - " He looked Mick up and down and let out a short laugh, "It wasn't necessary."

"Right, that's it -" Mick had thrown down his broom in disgust, but Rose was at his side before he could take another step towards Malfoy, who, Rose noticed, had edged back towards the corridor.

"Mick," she said gently, taking one hand and attempting to pull him with her towards a corner. It was like trying to move one of the pillars in front of Gringotts.

Reaching for Mick's other hand, she moved to stand in front of him, forming a human barrier between Mick and Malfoy. A moment later, she heard a pop! from behind her. Turning, she saw that Draco was gone.

"Coward," Mick muttered. "Disapparating - well, I know where he works, don't I?"

Rose laughed. Mick pulled his hands from hers and stuffed them into his pockets. "So," he said, a trace of the former bitterness in his voice, "What's up?"

Rose tried to push away the hurt that she felt when he withdrew his hands. He obviously didn't want to talk, or even be around her. He was probably relieved that she'd given him an easy way out. How could she have let Lavender talk her into this? She wanted to believe that he might actually - love her - but now that she was standing here, trying to talk, and not getting any response, Rose felt all of her insecurities surge to the forefront.

Mimicking his gesture, she shoved her own hands in the pockets of her robes, and felt the list that she'd created earlier. Hesitantly, she pulled it out and unfolded it. Gripping it tightly with both of her hands, she held it up so that it concealed her face, and said, in a shaky voice, "I wanted to tell you something."

"I'm listening."

"Okay," said Rose. But her lip had started trembling, and her hands were shaking, and she knew she wouldn't be able to get through it.

"Damn!" she said, stamping her foot. "Damn! Damn! Damn!" Mick was now staring at her, and his expression softened to one of slight amusement.

"I know you can swear better than that," he said.

"I know," she said, taking the handkerchief that he handed to her. "I'm a bloody idiot and a coward. Here." She thrust the list at him, then went to lean against the desk, her arms crossed. "I took some notes."

“On what?” asked Mick, taking the piece of parchment, looking puzzled.

“Oh! Just read it!” Rose said, stamping her foot.

Mick looked down and Rose watched his eyes scan the parchment. "My boots smell?" he said, sounding offended. "Like what?"

"I don't know," answered Rose, looking at the boots. "Wet. Like mildew. I even tried to charm the smell away but it didn't work - it just ate away at the lining and then I had to repair it."

"Hmph," said Mick, and then was silent for a minute as he read through the list. Rose pulled out her wand and cleaned the handkerchief, and then occupied herself by folding it and unfolding it in various fancy patterns. She felt oddly numb, and very tired.

"Rosie?" She snapped her head up. That was number twenty-three - how much she secretly loved her nickname.

"Yes," she whispered.

“Number twenty-nine?”

“Yes?” Taking a step forward, Rose took hold of one of Mick's hands.

“I – I want to hear you say it.” Mick looked suddenly shy.

Feeling as if a weight had already been lifted off of her shoulders, she said, "Mick?"

"That's my name."

"I know. I love you."

"Sorry? Didn't quite catch that. You what?"

She squeezed his hand and laughed. "I love you, Mick."

"Even though I am obsessed with disgusting creatures that make your skin crawl?"

"Yes. I still love you." Rose found that the more she said it, the easier it became, although she meant it more each time.

"Even though I'm an arrogant Gryffindor bastard?"

Rose cringed. That had been number eight.

"Yes."

"Well, all right then." Mick put his arms around her, and she prepared for what she thought would be a kiss, but before their lips could meet, Mick whispered, "I love you too. Let's get married."

He tried to kiss her then, but Rose stood back to look at him, unable to stop gaping.

“What did you say?” she asked, furrowing her brow.

“You heard me.”

This time, he grabbed her shoulders and wouldn’t let her escape a kiss, and she felt herself carried away with the intensity.

"When?" asked Rose, when they stopped for air. She didn't see the need for further discussion or clarification. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense to her.

"Whenever you want. You name the date, I'll name the place. Deal?"

Well, thought Rose, if this was a dream, it was the strangest one she'd ever had. She might as well test its limits. "How about now?"

"Now?"

"Well, we'd have to register with the Ministry at some point, but you can do the wands any time. And imagine the look on our parents' faces at Christmas. We can have the party later."

"All right," said Mick, and Rose surreptitiously pinched herself to make sure that she really wasn't dreaming. "Now I have to decide where." He closed his eyes, as though deep in thought, but opened them again very quickly. "Got it!" he said brightly. "Where's your cloak?"

She had left that at the restaurant. 'I didn't bring it," she admitted. "But if we're going to Diagon Alley, I can just -"

Mick was shaking his head and pointing his wand in the direction of the locker rooms. "Accio cloak," he said, and a very large, pea-green cloak came floating into the room. "My old one," he explained, as he wrapped it around her shoulders.

It was quite warm and heavy, but it smelled like Mick, and so Rose didn't mind. "Where're we going?" she asked, as he led her to the door. She had a sudden vision of the two of them performing the wand-crossing ceremony on the snow-covered hill above the lake at Hogwarts. Or maybe near the Three Broomsticks, where they'd shared their first kiss the night of Lavender's wedding? He'd said that they weren't going to Diagon Alley, so it couldn't be one of the parks there...Rose was half-afraid that he'd take her to Magical Menagerie.

But he didn't mean to take her anywhere far, because they were going outside. He still had his broomstick. Where were they going that they couldn't Apparate?

The force of the wind nearly knocked Rose over when they stepped outside, even though Mick was gripping her tightly at the waist. She was starting to have a not-so-good feeling about this. Maybe this was a dream after-all. It was turning out like most of her dreams did - unpleasant and stressful.

Mick's broomstick was now hovering in mid-air next to them. It was amazing that it didn't blow away instantly, but Rose supposed that there must have been several wind-resistant charms placed on it. Mick pulled her closer to it, but she kept her feet rooted firmly in the same soot. "Where are we going?" she demanded. She had to shout because the wind was so strong.

"Someplace new and exciting - for you, anyway." Mick shouted back, lifting her onto the broom. Damn him for being so strong, she thought. He settled onto the broom in front of her and yelled back, "Hold tight!"

"Mick O'Malley!" she yelled, and she could barely hear herself - they were flying now, close to the water, and the wind was rushing past her ears. "I am NOT getting onto that dragon. Are you crazy?"

"Rosie," he shouted back, "don't you trust me? Trust is the basis of every relationship." He made the broom dip a bit, and Rose, who had always loved flying - on broomsticks anyway - had to admit that this bit, so far, was fun.

With amazing skill, Mick managed to steer the broom with one hand, while removing his wand from his pocket with the other. He pointed it at his ear and said a spell that Rose couldn't hear. A moment later he was shouting into seemingly thin air, “That’s right, don’t let him settle yet! Give him some leaping toadstools – just a few – so he’ll be ready for us when we land.”

Mick turned his head slightly to address Rose. “We can take Viking out on the periphery. There’s room enough for ten dragons to fly in this area, if we wanted, so we don’t have to worry about interfering with any PAP business.”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me, Mick,” Rose shouted. They were now circling the dragon hangars, and a particularly nasty one with a large ridge down its back was sending shots of fire into the air. The Chinese Fireball that she recognized as the Malfoy family dragon, on the other hand, was curled up and sleeping so peacefully that from that far above, it resembled a vibrantly-colored kitten. Rose’s could feel her words getting lost in the wind, but continued to shout, “There is NO way I’m getting on one of those things – now I mean it! Land this broom. It isn’t funny!”

Turning his head again, Mick raised a finger and put it to his lips. “Shhhh…” he shouted. “You’ll excite them.” Rose looked down again in time to see four keepers simultaneously attempt to hit the dragon with the ridged-back with some sort of spell between its eyes. They looked well-enough excited already. “There’s only one rule!” he continued, and as he spoke, Rose did not fail to notice that they were slowly coasting downward. “Never tickle a sleeping dragon. Remember that, and you’ll do fine.”

Rose cast about for something to say – anything – that would make Mick realize how absolutely terrified she felt. But she could think of nothing, and as the broom slowed even further, she found that all she could do was scoot closer to Mick and bury her head in his shoulder. She felt ridiculous, but she could not look, and this was the next best thing. She felt the broomstick moving slowly in circles, and she also felt what she imagined to be the heat of fire from a dragon’s snout waft across her back, and after a few moments, she realized that the sinking feeling was gone from her stomach, and she felt oddly safe and tranquil.

Perhaps I just fell off the broom and died, she thought. Then she amused herself by adding, in her head, 30: He killed me, but I still love him.

“Rosie?” said a voice close to her ear.

“Yes,” she answered, her voice muffled. She did not look up.

“Rosie – look!”

“No. You can bring me out here, but you can’t make me look.” Rose noticed that they appeared to be hovering in one spot, and that it was suddenly much warmer than it had been. The wind was much quieter and Mick was speaking in a normal voice. She closed her eyes even tighter.

“Oi, Mick, what’s Charlie going to say?” Rose heard an unfamiliar male voice very close to her ear. Someone must have flown up to join them. Rose turned her head and opened one eye. A young-looking dragon-keeper was hovering next to them, holding a helmet and some other gear in one hand.

“Official Ministry business,” said Mick, with an authoritative tone that Rose never knew he possessed. “Inspection.” He took the helmet from the boy and handed it to Rose.

“Privy Brown – you’ll be needing to use the helmet and goggles.” When Rose didn’t move to take the items herself, Mick reached with one hand out to them, and plopped the goggles on her head. There was nothing to do but pull them on, which Rose did very quickly with one hand. It was a good thing that Lavender hadn’t fixed her hair.

“We’re just going to take Viking out on the borders,” said Mick, adjusting Rose’s goggles for her, and then plopping an oversized helmet on her head. “We’ll be down in a second to mount him. Go ahead and secure one of the training seats for Privy Brown.”

“Yes, sir,” said the keeper, and took a steep dive towards the dragon pen.

Mick had dug out his own helmet and goggles from the rucksack he’d brought with him, and turned to her. Rose could feel the twinkle in his eyes, even if she couldn’t really see them very clearly. “We’ve only got to wear these until we get onto Viking.” He tapped the hard helmet with his fist. “But we should really wear the goggles the whole time. You never know when the wind might blow a blast of dragon fire your way.”

Rose’s mouth dropped open, and her stomach ended up somewhere in her throat as Mick yelled “Hold on!” and they took a steep dive. A moment later, they were hovering next to a pair of seats. Rose couldn’t actually see the dragon – if she hadn’t known what it was, then she wouldn’t have suspected. From her vantage point, they were simply hovering next to a very unusual air carriage.

“Reilly! Give us a hand, will you?” Mick shouted down to the boy who had helped them earlier. “Hold onto the Secretary and see to it that she doesn’t plummet to her death,” said Mick.

Before Rose could slap him, Reilly grabbed hold of her, and Mick clambered off of the broomstick and into the back seat. Rose didn’t like the look of that. There was nothing in the front to hide behind except what appeared to be the scaly, thick neck of a dragon. Reilly slowly nudged the broomstick closer to the dragon, and Mick reached out for Rose. She instinctively stiffened. “Up a bit higher,” Mick instructed Reilly, and soon the broomstick was level with the seat in the front. All that Rose had to do was shift a bit, but she stayed put. Mick laughed.

“Looks like the Secretary Privy might be afraid of dragons, Reilly, what do you think?” Reilly gave a nervous laugh, and Rose lifted her chin in the air. “Mr. O’Malley,” she said, in as haughty a tone as she could muster, “I most certainly am not.” With a deep breath, she slid into the seat.

She could feel Mick’s big grin. “Thanks,” he said to Reilly, and then swiftly attached their broomstick to a clip below them. Mick reached over the seat and helped her attach two belts across her chest. “Very romantic,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed of riding off into the sunset with my knight wearing goggles and a seatbelt.”

“Shut it,” said Mick, though his voice was gentle. “You’ll love it.”

Surprisingly, now that they were on the dragon, Rose didn’t feel quite so afraid. The seat was much more comfortable than that of a broomstick, and she had to admit that the harnesses made her feel very secure. She could feel them rise and fall slowly as Viking breathed, but he seemed…docile. She found that she was actually quite curious about how things worked.

“Shouldn’t you be in front?” she asked, turning her head to try and see Mick.

“Nah,” he said. “This way, you get hit with the full blast of the flames…” he held up a hand, “I’m kidding! But look, I hold onto the reigns at the sides. It doesn’t matter if I sit in the front or back to direct him.”

“Alright,” said Rose, though she felt very exposed sitting in the front. She focused on Mick’s hands, which she could see below her, and hugged herself tightly when there was a rather aggressive lurch from below. “Aughghgh!” she said, before she could stop herself. “What was that?”

“Just taking off,” answered Mick, and she could see the reigns grow tight. Suddenly, Rose was aware of something large and towering in front of her. Viking’s head was up. His long, bright-green neck was as thick as three trees, and Rose felt as though enclosed in a room. Up above, she could see his relatively small, yet ferocious looking head. She focused her attention on the front of the seating apparatus, and gasped when she saw that Mick had, indeed, pasted her photograph to the top of it. She gave a small, romantic sigh. Mick loosened the slack on the reigns, and Rose was aware of a gentle rocking and breeze, as Viking’s wings flapped rhythmically below them.

“It’ll get better,” said Mick. “When we reach a good cruising altitude, he’ll lower his neck a bit and you’ll be able to see in front of you.”

Rose wasn’t sure if that would be better or not, but she decided to take his word for it. “It’s warm,” she said. “There’s supposed to be a heating charm on the seats, right?”

“Yeah,” Mick said. “There’s a heating charm, and also a water-repelling charm. It’s like we’re in an enclosed room, but you can still feel the wind. The whole seat-apparatus is attached with real straps, and extra-binding charms, so they can withstand pretty much everything. It’s safer than walking down the street.”

Some people were obviously crazy, thought Rose, although she did find it interesting to actually see all the charms in action. She’d read about them in the official PAP Implementation Report, but hadn’t really given much thought to how they worked in real life.

She closed her eyes for a few minutes and allowed herself to feel what was going on. It was relaxing. She had an overwhelming urge to remove her helmet and goggles and feel the warm breeze hit her face. She was just deciding how to ask Mick if she could remove her helmet without being teased, when she heard something that sounded like a very gentle hum from in front of them. She strained her ears, trying to figure out if that noise was from the wind, or from something else. It slowly grew louder and louder until it resembled something similar to a gong that had been hit several times and was continuously reverberating. “What is that?” she shouted, after a moment, but she never finished her sentence, because she saw in front of her two thin, but powerful-looking jets of fire shooting out from Viking’s nostrils. She gasped again.

“He likes you!” Mick said, excitedly. “He’s happy! Look at him!”

“Breathing fire is a sign of happiness?” Rose asked, with heavy sarcasm. “What was that noise?” she repeated.

“It was Viking!” Mick answered. “It was the dragon equivalent of a cat purring. He approves of you, I guess.”

“Was that my test?” Rose asked. “Were you going to use me as dragon fodder if Viking didn’t like me?”

“Maybe,” answered Mick. “Here we go…”

They had apparently reached a good cruising level, and Mick turned Viking around, and the dragon’s head lowered obediently, so that Rose could see Azkaban far off in the distance. It looked almost pretty, with its turrets and towers blurred by the goggles and the distance.

Mick latched the reigns into a lock below them. They continued to rise and fall, as Viking flapped his wings. Rose felt the seat wobble a bit, and the next thing she knew, her whole chair was turning, until she was facing Mick. She gasped.

“Neat, eh?” he asked, pulling off his helmet and hanging it on the back of the chair. “It took years and years of training to get this far,” Mick said, proudly. “Centuries, really. We’re lucky that the final steps in training happened during our lifetime.” He reached over and pulled off Rose’s helmet and goggles. She smiled. He was right. He’d apparently been right about everything since they’d met. They were lucky.

Releasing himself from his own restraints, Mick scooted forward. He leaned in to kiss her, but not before whispering, “I told you that you’d love it.”

“I love you,” said Rose, as his lips met hers. She loved riding the dragon, too, but she decided not to tell him that. She didn’t want his head to get any bigger than it already was, and she also didn’t want to end up living in a hut on top of a dragon. She’d go anywhere with Mick, but there were limits…

~*~

And they lived happily ever after, because I want to finish this story.

//
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