Competition (Worth the Risk Interlude #3)

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“What is the fundamental flaw in human nature? Pride - or greed?”

“I know this one.”

“If you get it wrong, we’ll have to wait for another,” Rose points out. “I happen to know the answer, but if you’re sure that you’re right, go ahead, Malfoy.”

Malfoy frowns and looks between the knocker and her. “How do you know you’re right?”

“Because I’m always right.” He starts to speak and she sniffs. “Except in the very rare case when I’m incorrect.”

“Wrong, Weasley. The word is wrong,” he says smugly. “Rare case? Do you want a list? I could start now but we might be standing out here a while.”

“What is the fundamental flaw in human nature? Pride - or greed?” The eagle looks between them, and she swears it glares at them. Well, really!

“Neither,” she answers before Malfoy can. “The fundamental flaw in human nature is having the ability to feel. Feelings are the cause of both greed and pride, after all, and they can be a gift as well as a curse. But, without them, we wouldn’t exist.”

“Well done. You may enter.” The door to Ravenclaw tower swings open, and she can’t resist a smug look at Malfoy.

“Was that your answer?”

“Not all of us like to be so wordy,” Malfoy mutters as he pushes past her. “Being smart doesn’t have to mean making other people feel stupid, you know?”

“Hmph. As if I could ever make you feel stupid.” She hurries after him and sticks her tongue out at his back.

“It also doesn’t mean talking just to hear yourself sound clever,” he adds, turning to look over his shoulder in time to catch her with her tongue partially out. She rolls her eyes when he snorts and begins to speak in that uptight tone that she hates while looking at her as if she’s a silly child. “Very mature, Weasley. Your mum would be so proud.”

“My mum is always proud of me,” she tells him firmly. “She’d love me even if I wasn’t clever.”

“Yes, well, my father is always proud of me, too,” he says in a ‘so there’ tone.

“Not this again,” she mutters. “I’ll just mention my dad and then you’ll mention your mother, and we’ll just be back where we started.”

“You started it.”

"I did not. The introduction of my mum was your doing, if you recall."

"Yes, but I didn't start with the 'my parents always love me part'." He smirks and pushes his pale blond hair away from his eyes as he sits on the sofa nearest the fireplace. It’s warm in the castle, but she’s convinced that he must have weak blood because he gets cold a lot. He’s lucky he didn’t get sorted into Slytherin, or he’d have spent the school year frozen like a Popsicle from Creevey‘s Ice Cream Shoppe. He narrows his gaze. “What’s so funny?”

“What?” she asks, schooling her face into the picture of innocence. It never works on her mum but usually works on her dad.

“You were grinning like one of those obnoxious cousins of yours when they’ve managed to escape punishment.”

“My cousins aren’t obnoxious and I was not grinning.”

“Yes, you were. What were you thinking, Weasley?” he demands to know. Rose wonders if she can make him sulk again. That’s always fun.

“Nothing, Malfoy.”

“You were, too. It was probably rude and common,” he decides.

“If I was thinking something, it certainly wouldn’t be common. I’m far too grand for such a word,” she declares in the lofty tone that Victoire uses sometimes. She purses her lips and picks imaginary lint off her robe while subtly keeping an eye on him.

“You wouldn’t know grand if it came up and bit you on the bum.” He stares at her for a solid minute before his lower lip curls into a pout. “What were you thinking?”

“Oh, do stop your whinging, Malfoy. It’s very common.”

“Tell me or I’ll owl your mum and tell her what you made on your Astronomy exam,” he threatens.

“If you do, I’ll owl your father to let him know I made higher than you in two classes,” she threatens back. “I’m sure he’d just love to know a Weasley did better.”

“At least I didn’t get a pathetic E in Astronomy,” he taunts before he nudges her leg with his foot. “Tell me, Weasley.”

“You might have got an O in Astronomy, but you only managed E's in Defense and Transfiguration, and that’s even after I tutored you!” Rose tosses her hair over her shoulder and grins. “As for what I was thinking, you know the magic word, Malfoy.”

He mumbles something, and she gives him the look she’s seen her mum use on her dad and Uncle Harry, arching a brow and frowning at him. It works even better than she expects because he sighs and says, “Fine. I said please.”

“I was just thinking how lucky you are to have been sorted in my house instead of Slytherin because you’d have frozen to death,” she tells him smugly. “I was thinking about what sort of flavor frozen treat you’d be before I realized you’re much too sour to be sweet.”

"You were thinking about licking me?" he squeaks before he snickers in a way that reminds her of her male cousins.

It takes Rose a minute to realize what he finds so funny. When she does, she rolls her eyes, wondering if all boys are so bloody immature. "You're disgusting."

"I'm not the one thinking about licking me." He snickers again. “By the way, in the long list of reasons why I’m glad to be here instead of there, that’s actually rather low,” he informs her. “And I don’t get cold all the time, so stop trying to make me sound weak.”

“You’re sitting by the fire in June.” She looks at the fireplace and then back at him. “I rest my case.”

“The room is just chilled. It’s not me.” He gives her the look he probably thinks makes him seem superior but just reminds her of how Fred and Fabian looked when Gideon managed to prank them by putting a potion in their pumpkin juice that made them rush off to the loo. However, she never tells Malfoy that because it amuses her that he thinks he’s being snooty when he really just looks like he needs to use the toilet.

“Where’s Corner? We should be talking strategy and plotting since we leave next week,” she announces as she sits up and peers around the common room. She doesn’t see a mop of black hair anywhere, which means he’s either in the library or sneaking into the kitchens for a snack. “If he has biscuit crumbs on his robe again when he gets back, I’m making him a color-coded diet for the summer.”

“God, Rose. We already have a schedule for studying and one for practice. Let the poor boy eat his biscuits in peace,” Malfoy whines. “I really don’t know why I put up with you sometimes. It’s not like we’re friends or anything.”

“Schedules are important, Scorpius! Mum taught me that from the time I was able to write.” She smiles. “And of course we aren’t friends. We’re rivals, except for the part where I’m better than you at nearly everything except Astronomy and playing the position of Seeker,” Rose says. “And you’re lucky that I needed a third person to help in my scheme or you’d still be sitting alone reading your books instead of having so much fun.”

“Definitely rivals,” he agrees with a grin. “My father won’t have kittens if I explain that I’m being sneaky by keeping my enemy close and all that nonsense.”

“Your father needs to get a life,” she tells him. “And he can take my dad with him. To be so wonderful, Daddy has silly ideas sometimes. My mum is brilliant, though, and always asks after you without scratching out curse words like Dad.”

“My father said that you obviously take after your mum more if I find you even remotely tolerable. Mother actually used a silencio on him when he started to give his opinion about your dad,” Malfoy admits with a mischievous smile. “He turned red and wouldn’t talk to her for hours!”

“Your mother and my mum would be great friends, I bet. Mum’s hexed more people than I even want to count, or so they claim. They’re all scared of her.” She laughs. “But she’s not frightening at all. I miss her a lot. Dad has that woman now, but Mum’s all alone.”

“Your brother is home, isn’t he? That’s not alone. I wish I had a brother or even a sister. I asked for one for Christmas for five years, until I was eight, but finally Father explained that Mother couldn’t---well, it was one of the few things they wouldn’t be able to get me. So, the next year, I asked for a puppy instead, but he‘s not the same as a brother.”

“You can have Hugo,” she offers. “Well, I’d share him. He isn’t that bad all the time. Just most of it. God, he’s constantly moving around and fussing with things. Drives me crazy!” She sighs. “But I sort of miss him, too. Not that I’d ever tell him, and, if you do, I’ll steal your magical blanket next winter. And you know I’ll do it!”

“I wish I could share him. It gets so boring at home when my parents are off working and I’ve only got house elves for company.” Malfoy makes a face before he perks up. “I always like when our cousin visits, though. Teddy’s brilliant, and he promised to take me flying this summer.”

"Whenever you meet my mum, don't mention the house elves." Rose frowns and pulls at a string hanging off the pocket of her robe. “I forgot that Teddy's your cousin. He's actually been around our house a lot lately. Hugo’s constantly mentioning him, and he even took Mum and Hugo to some place in Wales that’s all secretive. Hugo can’t spell very well, so I don’t know the name of it, but it sounded like they had fun.”

“I don’t know why you didn’t just meet that woman over Easter hols instead of avoiding her. Didn’t make her go away," Malfoy points out. "Of course your mum and brother had fun with Teddy. He's brilliant, like I already said."

"Because I didn‘t want to meet her. I wanted to spend time with my family, not her." She shrugs when he mentions how brilliant Teddy is and says, "I guess." Then she smiles when she gets an idea. “Well, this summer, he can spend his time with you cause I’ll be home to keep Mum company so she doesn't get lonely. After Daddy left, she needed me and lots of hugs, so that's my job now, only she never wants us to think she gets sad sometimes.”

Malfoy considers her offer before he nods. “Okay. I’ll take Teddy for the summer. But if you want to share your brother, maybe we can sneak him over using the Floo or something.”

“I don’t know if Mum would let me share Hugo, but we can try,” she says, wondering if she can figure out a way that keeps her from getting blamed. She can always ask Uncle George. He’s good at being sneaky. “Maybe we should go look for Corner? I want to go over our practice plans for this weekend, since it’s our last one here at school.”

Malfoy leans his head back and rolls it to the side to get a look out the window. “It’s almost dusk, which means he’s probably in the library. Since he got an A in Potions, he mentioned studying more, which is just silly since it won’t change the A this year.”

“Studying is never silly,” she tells him as she gets to her feet. She reaches up and shoves her hair away from her face, frowning as she tucks several curls into the strap she’d been using to try to keep it fastened back. She has her dad’s blue eyes and auburn hair all her own, but the wild curly mess is definitely inherited from her mum. She finds it really annoying, but figures it’s a small price to pay when she also inherited her mum’s cleverness and organizational skills.

“It is when you’re leaving school in a week and all your exams are finished.”

“Nope, not even then. Knowledge is power, Malfoy. If you don’t continue to learn and grow, you’ll be stagnant and stupid,” she says, repeating her mum’s words with a nod of her head.

He looks at her for a moment before he nods. “Definitely don’t want to be stupid. That’s something Father wouldn’t likely forgive.”

“Come on, Malfoy. Let’s go find Corner so we can discuss our strategy.” She grins as he rolls his eyes but stands up without whinging. “You know, if you’re really nice to me and call me ‘Rose, the smartest person in the world’ from now until the Leaving Feast, I might help you work out a study schedule for Defense and Transfiguration so you can catch up over the summer.”

He snorts. “In your dreams, Weasley. Maybe ‘Weasley, the biggest smart arse I’ve ever met’ but I certainly won’t say anything about you being smart. You’re already smug enough as it is.” He smirks. “Besides, you’ll help me figure out the study stuff anyway because you’ll want to gloat if my marks improve.”

“Watch your language, Malfoy. Some of us have manners.“ She frowns at him as they leave the common room in search of Corner. Finally, she has to laugh as she hits his arm. “For once, you’re probably right, Malfoy. I think I’m in shock! Oh no, I might fall over,” she says, staggering slightly and reaching out to the wall for support. He sniffs haughtily and pouts, which just makes her laugh even more as they continue their walk to the library.