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Chapter 17: Bare-Knuckled Heartbreaking
I won't open my eyes. I can't. Lashes froze shut, too much grit and frost and asking myself how I ended up on the shores of Black Lake with Albus Potter.
I mean, really: fuck.
Count up all the times I never gave a fuck, smash them into one big fuck, and that would be the one sitting in my head, because I fucking fucked fucking Potter. There's no excuse, no tiptoeing away on snappy retorts—we fucked in the lake. And when the cold became too much, we stumbled to shore and almost did it again.
Pickett and Scorpius were snoring under the willow when Albus and I picked up our clothes from the dock. We tried to put them on—honest—but in the dark, a shirt's a bloody puzzle. There's a million holes and buttons, and you think you know where your head's supposed to go. Then two minutes later, you're stuck in your left breast pocket.
We gave up and collapsed on the grass. Albus pulled me atop him in those sleepy minutes and I can still feel him pressed against my thighs, all sand and skin. Our kisses were salty, careless; there was no more mystery. You don't really know addiction until it happens. Chocoballs, blackjack, boys—pick your poison, I can stop. Addiction's just a choice, and I'm not addicted to him. Encouraged him a little but that's it. I don't need him. I don't want him. I was bored.
Now I lay here with my eyes shut but all too aware of what I'd see: last night was real and so is the morning.
Which brings me to back to my first point: fuck.
There's not much subtlety to mornings. Pruned skin, circulation stopped at my knee, bug up my nose—I'm not looking for LaFolle's set-ups of satin sheets and every candle in the castle here. I'd settle for a little less sand between the cheeks.
Shifting my leg only gets my knickers wedged in. The arm around my waist pulls me closer, scrunching my shirt past my ribs. His lips slumber motionless against my forehead, barely breathing, so little air for such a wanting heart. I could almost fall asleep again, but the hand twined with mine twitches.
He's waking up.
The touch is soft despite his callouses from practice. He mentioned how their Beater Wilkenson 'had a vendetta against lifeforms' when my thumb ran over a scar in the blue dark of night, of all gestures to interrupt us. It was so perfectly moon-shaped, carved into the valley of his collarbone; it distracted me.
In that moment, I envied the blissfully ignorant. Maybe the two of us could work, if only to indulge ourselves. There is a misconception that cynics don't believe in love, but we know when it's not worth the gain, when we see endings clearer than beginnings, and why must we be framed as afraid of hurt? Few true love stories come from taking risks, and they are all with people better than myself. Albus and I will do no better than falling apart in two months, when the thrill's gone and our banter turns frustrated and dies, finally, in silence.
The dawn is rising red and fast. I can't delay it any longer. I crack my eyes open and his blur takes shape, nose and mouth aligned to mine. His eyes lift steadily and they snap wide and—grey.
Gawking back over our knit fingers is Scorpius Malfoy.
Mouths wide with screaming, we kick away from each other fast enough to cause sand burn and bottles behind me skid clinking into the reeds. Scorpius shoots upward, aghast. I wipe—slap—the feeling off my hand. "You—did we—"
"SorryIdidn'tmeanto!" he sputters, fingers curled and clutched together in front of him, and oh god—there is no god—I slept with Scorpius Flaming Malfoy.
As I choke on spit and horror, someone else snorts awake. "Wha—what's going on? Is a mob here?" Albus sits up between us, clutching his temples, exactly as rumpled as I left him. Lolling back on the grass, he flumps headfirst into the pile of clothes behind him, completely hungover. "Tell them to bugger off," he groans. "Toss 'em my shirt... or socks. Not today."
My staring goes from him to Scorpius, trying to crank out the logistics. If Albus was between us, then—"Why were you—?" I frantically gesture at the indent where Scorpius took residence.
"Henry was gone and it got cold," he mumbled.
"So wear a jacket, not your best mate! You didn't think it might be, I don't know, overly friendly? Socially unacceptable? Traumatizing?"
Scorpius scratches the tuft of hair stuck on his ear. "I drank a lot, so... no."
The lake burbles to fill the silence. I figure that any second now, he'll look up and realize exactly what he had intruded on, but he doesn't. He looks up, all right. Stares straight at my mismatched underwear that I'd very much like to cover up now that I'm lucid, even though they hide more than most bikinis (clothing logic, like jeans with holes).
No, he sees this in full view and only asks, "Al, did we bring any of those coconut triangles? I'm starving."
Albus rolls over, rubbing the sand off his jaw, and takes in an audible breath when he spies my shirt hanging off my shoulders. Stomach hot, I clamber to my knees and scrounge for my tights stuffed somewhere behind him, and his sidelong glance lands on my arse before quickly moving away.
"Uh... priorities, mate. Let's... put some clothes on."
If Witchy Business ever does a sex issue—and it may as well celebrate its resurgence with a literal bang—I have a long list of advice starting with, 'Don't do it around friends who cuddle ambush,' which barely beats a plain 'Don't do it with Potter.' Merlin's haggy first cousin, what was I thinking? Anyone in a lake, but Potter in a lake? No amount of protection's going to save me from the crazies—fuck.
Teeth gnashed together, the word drops from my breath. Protection and crazies—both things I forgot until now, glory to the morning. There's still time to take the potion, but where am I going to get it?
There's Dom, if we were talking. Helen, I'm pretty sure she never bought more after she ran out. She still risks it with her boyfriend on occasion—'It's all right if you know your schedule'—but I can see the panic rising if her monthly arrives so much as thirty minutes late. We'll chide her and she knows, but there are still nights when she disappears without her vials.
I can almost understand. In the heat of it, it doesn't seem so bad. Take the potion late and just don't do it again. But inevitably, there's an again and again and again, and you start feeling cocky. And then you've got a baby.
I've been picking through the same three pieces of clothing since the thought rooted in. The trousers I'm holding aren't even mine. I hurl them at Scorpius, who receives them with his face.
Albus gets up finally. My shoulders lock when he bumps into me, but I don't look at him. I can't and I won't. He grabs the same grey jumper that I do but I loop my arms through first. It sags over my frame, two sizes too big. It's his.
When I fling it to him, he seizes my wrist; he doesn't mean to, I know. Consequence of reflex—the same as when I jerk away with a force usually reserved for disgust. There's not much to surprise me when our eyes finally meet: an ready apology clenched in his frown, waiting to see how much we ought to regret. That makes two of us who have no idea what happens now.
Scorpius zips up his trousers and shakes a leg out, peppering the ground with sand. The rustling slows as he stares. "Um... is something wrong?"
I get that tension is a silent, figurative construct, but he is the most blind-batted ninny I've had the misfortune of sympathizing with.
"You're lucky you've got a face they make statues of," I mutter, taking my sopping tights and rolling then over my foot; it's like trying to squeegee my leg with a cocker spaniel. "Don't worry your pretty little head,"
"Let's just get out of here." The lump of fabric next to me turns back into Albus as he pulls his jumper and shirt on. A shake of his head flicks off the dew.
When we all stand up, it's evident that we're in no way subtle about our midnight activities. We drank and then some, and unlike Scorpius, there are plenty in the castle who can put two and two together.
"Showers, then?" says Albus. "Hopefully no one's on a morning fly-around."
Scorpius' stomach growls and he clutches his middle. "I'm really starving though. Could we stop by Hagrid's? He feeds the Hippogriffs around now."
Albus makes a face. "Yeah, and their chow is about the tastiest food in that hut."
"Um, I vote for Hagrid's, too," I say quickly. When Albus raises a brow at me, my next words fight through my grimace. "Tea... helps the hangover. Especially with a little pennyroyal."
Upon that word, his pupils concentrate into two dots of terror. Pennyroyal, as Longbottom's favorite student would know, is an excellent pain reliever, decongestant, and contraceptive. It's not the shelf stuff but with the right brewing charm, it's better than nothing.
A swallow tunnels down his throat. "Hagrid's it is."
Scorpius turns the other way, quite pleased, but even he senses the off mood. After we pick up the empty firewhiskey crate and Appy's manuscript, we make our way across the knoll, and when he supposes I'm out of earshot, he whispers, "What happened?"
"I'll tell you later." Albus stuffs his hands in his pockets and walks quicker to stay ahead. Did the deed and we can't even face each other—figures that we'd go this route.
As we near, the dung stench invites itself into our nostrils. A stray goat bleats at us and trots over to nibble at Appy's novel. I shoo it away; if you are what you eat, I think I'm doing the goat a favor.
The shack door is wedged open. Albus knocks on the wood and steps in. "Hagrid?"
Hagrid's hut is one of the few buildings on Hogwarts grounds that is exactly the same size on the inside as it is on the outside, and probably the one with the most reason to be otherwise. I have a faint recollection of the interior, though from Merlin knows when; I haven't ever interviewed Hagrid. He's what I call well-intentioned—always eager to help but whenever he actually tries, manages to send someone to the hospital wing or prison.
The figure at the table isn't hairy enough to be Hagrid. It's Pickett, who has his mouth submerged in a mug. A dash of enlightenment strikes his face when he sees us.
"Thatsh what I forgort."
I slide out the chair next to him as Albus and Scorpius wander into the hut's other room. "Thanks. Glad we're nearly in your thoughts."
"Oi, lasht time I woke you, you schtabbed a quill in my hand." Late night in the newsroom. I thought he was a grammar mistake. "I warsn't—" Pickett swallows his bite of charcoal-seasoned crumpet. "I wasn't ditching. Reginalda's brood hatched, didja see?"
"You? Hippogriffs? Really?" I flick off a patch of brown seaweed camouflaged in his hair.
"I dig the chicks."
Hagrid comes out of the back with Albus and Scorpius trailing. He's wider than a bear-elk these days. Mostly beard. "Yeh shouldn' be out all night. Lotsa critters coming out of the forest this winter." He juggles a tankard and a plate of more blackened crumpets to the table. Seeing me, he pauses. "Er..."
"Clemence." I extend a hand.
He scratches his ear and then goes for the shake. "Righ', the... newspeppery girl."
"That's me." I'll take whatever name-recognition I can get.
"Hagrid, do you still have that soap Aunt Hermione gave you?" Albus sneaks a glance in my direction, a habit of his since ten minutes ago.
"Eh, somewhere under all tha'." He waves him toward the stack of wood by the hearth.
Albus takes the path closest to me around him, and I pretend that I don't notice but he makes up for it by completely crashing into my chair. I have to bite my tongue to not snap back. I can't tell if he's doing this on purpose or if awkward's supposed to be the new sexy, in which case the Quirkers have struck gold.
Meanwhile, Scorpius squeezes through the gap between the table and shelves to get to the last seat, knocking into every hanging cage. The firebirds inside cheep angrily.
Pickett slides a pitcher over to him when he sits. "Milk?"
"Nah, I'll leave it strong." Scorpius sniffs the tar-black mixture. "Or... burnt." He sniffs again and then swats at the tiny flame on his shirt. "Auugh!"
Albus pulls a dented tub from the timber. "And Hagrid, um, do you also have—" His glance this time is more telling and my gut churns. He slinks to Hagrid's side, voice lowered to a mumble.
Circe, do I need this morning over with. It's barely six (says the clock that goes up to thirteen), and Potter's asking Hagrid if he has any birth control growing in his garden. If he were smart, he'd say that the pennyroyal was for his headache, but considering how Hagrid's looking at me like I'm a new species of dragon, I don't find that likely.
The walls rumble with Hagrid's hacking cough. Albus slides out of the cabin door, while the gamekeeper lumbers back into the other room, humming very loudly. At least the morning after has eluded Pickett and Scorpius, who are more concerned with a firebird that hopped out of its cage. Pickett's got his fist in his mouth, trying not to gush at the tuftball on his head.
"Guys, guys, look—ack." It starts pulling at his hair. "Ow, not so cute—ow—anymore—ow, get it off!"
"Oh, oh dear." Scorpius tries to capture it but it screeches fire.
"Best to leave it be!" Hagrid shouts from the other room. "Clamps harder if yeh disturb its nest."
"This is my head!"
While they tussle with a sickle-sized bird, I rise from my seat, taking my tea with me. "I need some fresh air," I say, but no one's listening.
Spoiled by the cabin's hearth, I shiver anew outside as a pocket of wind billows under my jacket. It's been a cold, white but snowless winter. The castle looks so harmless from this distance, like a sketch, erasable by fog. The door clicks in its clasp behind me and Albus, crouching by the windowless side of the cabin, looks up from the pennyroyal with mud up to his wrists.
He wipes his hands and steps over the patch and I step from the entryway. We meet in the middle and he hands me four flat leaves. Our palms brush; they're clammy. Silence isn't much of a conversation starter, but we get by.
"Is that enough?" he asks.
His breath sticks in his chest. "It's just better safe than—"
"You don't have to tell me." Holding my mug steady, I try to crush the leaves over the mug; they only wrinkle.
"Here, let me."
"I've got it."
But he tries anyway, the Gryffindor. "I can hold—"
His finger catches on the handle as I jerk away, sloshing hot tea onto my hand. "Ah—shit!"
"I said I've got it!"
The silence mounts. This is bad. This is transcendent. Huddled to my mug, I start shaking and I can't even tear the damned stuff.
He can't help himself. "At least let me—"
He reaches for the mug again, so I end up dumping the pennyroyal in, stem and all, and down it like a shot.
Breath steaming, I wipe the liquid that trickles down my chin. "Do not start treating me like a delicate little flower you plucked.”
Without much to stick to, the anger bleeds into wind as quick as it came. I suppose it's sweet how he frets, but forgive me if I'm a touch bitter that he'll leave today unscathed except for a broken heart, and if he's really that torn up, I'll owl him a tub of double chocolate chip.
When everyone finds out—and they will, for bedroom mistakes are the first to rear their ugly, wart-chinned heads—I will be the liar who fancied Potter after all, the witch strapped to the stake for not being good enough for him, and I will burn while he gets the coos. So forgive me again, for tacking the bitter to the sweet and making it harder than it should be, for both myself and the poor boy who got mixed up with reporters. He didn't know any better.
"We can forget it happened," Albus says quietly, like a compromise. "We were drunk."
"You were drunk."
His brows scrunch together and I hug my arms closer, letting my empty mug dangle. I should have just said, 'Yes, all right, we were drunk. That's the mistake. That's why we shagged,' instead of tossing another regret to the pile. But there are truths that I could never keep to myself. "I drank the watered down bottles. I was past tipsy at best. I knew what I was doing." The memory's nearly gone, but not the feeling—the blind stagger of our fingers as we fell asleep smothered in each other. I liked it—too much. "Don't get me wrong; it was still a mistake. Our relationship's as healthy as a dead cow."
But silly me's already given him hope. It's all over his voice. "It doesn't have to be that way."
"You really want us to happen," I scoff. I spy his gaze lingering on the three scratches on my jaw, my gift from Caroline and Co. and I cover them with my shoulder. "Just because we..." There aren't enough euphemisms to finish the day. "Look, I obviously don't do relationships."
"I told you before we could keep it casual."
That's a lie if I ever heard one. "I don't do casual either."
"You've never tried either."
"Well, I'm not going to try it with you."
"Are you scared?"
Great, now he's pushing it. "God no." Before he can open his mouth again, I add, "And not insecure or damaged, so don't come tearing down my walls; I just decorated them. Anything else?"
"Tired of your fishing? Yeah, very much so."
We're in two totally different conversations. He thinks that we have a chance when the possibility has been all but blasted from my mind. I only gave it up further last night when he whispered those little words, prefaced with an oh-so-romantic, 'Don't tell Sober Albus. He doesn't know,' and placed a finger between our lips to seal the promise.
"The hard part's over." He shrugs and scuffs his brogues on a hill of loose pebbles. "I'll be the one to say it: last night was fun. The part in the lake... was good, too. I don't regret it. I thought, I dunno, you felt the same way."
I guffaw. Not very mannerly, but his pride needs the beating. "You don't get it." I shake my head. "You don't remember."
"If the girls start threatening you again..."
"Potter, just stop." All I'm thinking is: don't remind him. He didn't mean it anyway. I shudder as the memory redoubles, beating my eardrums from the inside out. People never should've let words carry so much meaning. Most don't know how to use them right and his are so bloody loud.
"Clemence." He thinks I'm caving when it's just the opposite as his shadow turns solid on my cheek along the longest scratch, the only one not left by the girls but myself, when I was prying their claws off.
"You said you loved me."
I didn't think it could sound any stupider than when it came out of Albus' mouth, but here I am telling him like it matters when it's just something he said while drunk and shagging in the lake; it was practically under duress. When I hear his swallow hit bottom, I can't even face him to place it in context, so close but so isolated, as if we're counting down rather than across for distance and the thousand years of rocks under our feet have risen to separate us. Not so casual anymore.
"Did you mean it?" My jaw shakes at its hinges when I spit out the question.
I crank my neck around and there is a word wavering on his lips, but he can't decide how it goes, and upon meeting my gaze, the word changes again.
"Stop trying to guess what I want to hear. Did you mean it?" The mug that I've forgotten in my grip could shatter. You're trembling. You don't tremble. Stop trembling.
Albus licks his lips, cherry-red chapped, and the white flecks frosted along the edges fade into skin. In the second he glances toward the sound of the door opening, he whispers, "I don't know," and somehow it's more agonizing than a yes.
There's a cough behind us. Dear Pickett, who probably knew what happened the entire time, ever since he woke up and found us on the beach without Scorpius confusing the scene, has come to save us from ourselves, but it's too late. "Um, you two... want to wash up now?"
"Yeah," I say, finding my breath. "Sorry."
Pickett receives my reply with a pause, and it isn't until he goes inside that I notice that I've been swinging my mug like a maul against my elbow. Pull your arse together; it's the same Potter you've always dealt with.
"I changed my mind. Let's forget it ever happened." Heels squeaking against the grass, I turn from the pennyroyal patch. The stairs at the hut's entrance, with its hundred nails breeding tetanus, have never seemed more inviting.
Albus stays quiet until the bottom step creaks under my weight and then he lets out a sudden, short laugh, no more than a bark. "I can't believe it. You're scared."
"For the love of Salazar—"
"You are." He hasn't moved from his spot when I face him. "You don't want to think I might truly care about you. You thought I'd flat out say no."
"Actually, I thought you'd be moronic enough to say yes," I mutter, moving up another step.
"That's the thing though. You think it's moronic if I loved you, a girl who doesn't give a flying rat's arse about anyone, right? That's your disclaimer, so you don't have to feel responsible for the people you hurt, because that's just how you are. Why feel guilty? Except you do."
I roll my eyes.
He spreads his arms, shrugging. "You've always cared. If it were that easy to master our hearts, someone would have invented a spell a long time ago." He isn't wholly wrong, but neither is he right enough to wear that smirk, the same one that convinced me to shag him. "If you think you can stop caring by pretending that you don't matter to people just because they don't matter to you, look at the world again if you know it so well. The person who eats up the most of your bullshit is standing in front of me."
Prove me wrong, he begs. Claim the last word. You were always so good at denial and hypocrisy dressed up as wisdom, so say something, anything.
I don't hear the smash but I know the sound should be there, alongside time and space. Albus flinches for me, mouth closed tight and humbled, when the spray of the chipped pieces jolt the nails awake.
The wind howls. There is a clink at my feet. When he passes by me, he picks up the mug, repaired sans for a sliver crack along its side, and places it in my hand.
"If you want to forget last night happened... fine by me."
He lets go and the door scrapes against the frame as it opens and shuts. The words I wanted to say flood me, flush to my skin. I wait for the burst—tears, the trembling, a sneeze—but there's zilch, and the walls of my chest crumple into the vacancy: one starved heartbeat.
But life must go on.
That's the whole point of a defensive maneuver. I can't get hung up on matters that might sting a little, even if they leave me speechless. I've got a castle to get back to and a shower to take and classes to attend. The world doesn't stop for one shag, so take a scoop of that double chocolate chip and cheers to me.
The four of us thank Hagrid and leave at half past. Albus takes the lead, hauling the crate of empty bottles transfigured as flowers. Points for cleverness—but he takes it further by masking our footsteps and coming up with four different excuses about getting lost in the Forbidden Forest. That's veering into common habits of murderers.
He and I do our best at pretending like nothing happened, if only because Pickett and Scorpius are still with us and no one likes prolonged angst. What's left to talk about on the walk back? Pickett's known me since my more naive days; we can have conversations about air and recite Shakespeare until it drives Dom to a nunnery (library, but close enough). Scorpius is a right chatterbox when I'm not bossing him around with words big enough to make him cry.
So naturally, when all of us are here, we shut up completely.
We can bond over Appy's novel but shove us together sober and you've got so's and um's and boy, it's chilly. When Scorpius decides to have a breakdown midway over his drunken coming out, it's relieving.
He takes his confession in good stride at first. "You know what, I said it. Flaming as a flamingo." He nods at me as if he expects me to magic a notepad and quill from my bra. "Quote me on that. I want people to know. Especially my father."
"Wait for it," Albus warns.
"Screw my father." Scorpius drives a fist into his other hand. "He's not getting a grandson. I'm going to adopt a daughter. Orphanages are overfilled anyway. He's gonna treat me like a p-proper man, and he's going to listen and... a-and... oh grumbly Dumbles..." He crumples to the grass.
"Good effort, mate."
"He's going to d-d-disown me," Scorpius wails. "Clemence, p-please don't publish it..." He latches onto my leg.
"Get off, I won't—sheesh." I pry him off with help from Pickett. Sometimes I forget that underneath his pristine set of abs—ripped like an ear of corn, as Dom likes to describe them—Scorpius has the emotional makeup of a Regency debutante. Squatting to my knees, I shake him until his sniffly head droops in my direction. "You're lucky only me and Pickett found out."
"Editors of the gossip newspaper?" Albus deadpans from behind.
"Shut up, Potter. Blondie, stop crying." I slap him. He stops. "Pay attention. I'm not printing anything you don't want me to print, all right?"
"Really. Come out whenever you're comfortable, but my suggestion: soon. This school is being torn apart over you." Dom and Rose may questionably care for him, but they definitely raised that many followers on the pretense that they do.
His brows knit. "But that's not my fault."
"Neither am I responsible for the Quirkers. Look at what your pal got me into. I'm writing advice columns."
I pat him twice on the cheek. Resigned to his fate, Scorpius sighs and we set off once more, passing the willow where we spent the previous night. Albus falls in step with me and my shoulders are set to cringe. Sorry, did I sound bitter again?
But he only takes his cloak from the crate and places it in my hands. They disappear in a shimmer. "Take it," he says. "You need it more." There's nothing expectant, nothing owed.
I bite my tongue to stop habit; don't snap. "Thanks." I shake it out and drape it over my head.
(Two minutes later, an observant Pickett: "Where'd Clemence go?")
The castle sounds quite awake as we near—bustling, in fact. Albus ditches the crate in a shrub by the entrance.
Pickett pushes the main doors open wider to get Appy's novel through. "But what if your worst fear was something really inappropriate and the boggart..." The din hits a peak and masks the rest his sentence, until a very clear groan: "Bollocks, this early?"
Albus and Scorpius freeze on either side of me when we enter, and I hold the cloak close. Filling the space between the entrance hall and the dining tables are fifty-odd students, not counting overspill, seventh- to first-years of every shape and height, many in their slippers and all in red or purple. At the fringes are mostly spectators but toward the center of this mess, fists of hair are being yanked above the crowd and I can hear Dom and Rose.
"Don't you blame me. Crowds are fire hazards, eh? You brought just as many—more—to back you up—"
"Only because I knew you would — "
On a day that starts with shagging Potter at midnight, I'd expect the rest of the day to be less interesting. We've been gone for eight hours—sleeping hours—and the castle goes to shit.
"Let's leg it already," I grit when no one moves, but I'd pretty much have to be a banshee to be heard through the cloak's Silencing Charms. I elbow Albus to my left and he glares at me, except with me being invisible, that glare gets sent to Scorpius.
We tiptoe along the edge of the hall—him, me, Scorpius, and Pickett in that order. A few notice, but some boys creeping in isn't much to call attention to. Pickett hisses encouragement as we round the corner and pass under a portrait of Sir George von Rheticus who has his nose stuck so far up that the paint details the hair inside.
"Be one with the wall. You are the wall."
The horde of bodies are right up to our toes, shoving arguments back and forth over the matter of soul mates, modern romance reduced to the poetry of prepubescent teens who 'know love when they see it.' A yawning girl bounces off me thinking I'm empty space, and I trip over the cloak folds and collide into Albus.
He fumbles with holding me up. "You okay?"
"No," I hiss. "There's sand in my knickers, my best friend's gone bonkers and dragged half the school with her, you're grabbing my boob and just because I liked it last night does not mean you get to do that now, and you still can't hear me, can you?"
He absently brushes off—from the boob—a bit of ash that dropped from the sconce above.
"So sorry!" the girl says to Scorpius, who followed close enough behind me to masquerade as the victim. She does a double-take at his rag-tag group before skipping off. The commotion starts turning people around and a dozens eyes now face us, clumped together like an acromantula head.
"Is that—I thought I heard—" Marisa McLaggen, Team Rose sycophant, parts the crowd with two of her friends in tow and points at Scorpius. "See, he's right there! Just ask him."
He freezes, crouched. "Um, uh, n-no comment." He nudges me in the leg and I pass a kick along to Albus who lifts a small shell-shocked boy out of the way, apologizing profusely as he mows through the bottleneck.
Marisa hustles after us and despite their difference in size, pulls Scorpius by the sleeve. "Just one question! Let's settle this, Mr. Malfoy. Quickly, please. We all know who you'll choose."
Before any of us can snatch his other hand, the sea of bodies swallows him—legs, torso, and finally, his horrified expression contorted worse than a cat stuck between sofa cushions.
"Ah... grumbly Dumbles."
Pickett chucks Appy's novel to where he supposes I'm standing and it lands on a suit of armor. He dives in, a lone Team Green in his tatty surplus jacket. Albus goes in, too, leaving me on the sidelines.
By the Hufflepuff tables, Marisa clears a space around her, presenting Scorpius like a sacrifice to the queens, though neither seem too pleased to see him. Jumping up, I get the first good glimpse of Dom in days. I secretly hoped she'd be as tired as Rose when I last saw her, but she—and Rose—are impeccably dolled in this pit of morning, not a hair out of place even after their screaming. It's a campaign as much as war; appearances are half the battle.
"Look, I found him." Marisa pushes him toward Rose but if I didn't see Marisa, I'd swear Scorpius is being repelled with the way he shuffles back. "It's always been Rose, hasn't it?"
"Oh, stop it, you're scaring him!" Amy, a once-friend of hers before she donned the purple, slaps her hand away. They start bickering.
Pickett has hit an unmovable block of spectators and Albus is trying to shake off stray Quirkers, taking this opportunity of communal rule-breaking to mob him. Neither can make headway toward Scorpius who looks about one incident short of therapy.
I can make my exit. No one knows I'm here. I don't need to save Scorpius. He has two friends coming for him. Even better, this is the perfect time for him to make an inspirational coming out speech and null this whole gathering. He needs the public speaking experience, and it would make a spiffing headline, much better than 'Witchy's Frisky Whiskey Fandango'. Everyone wins.
But damn my soft spot for idiots.
Taking Appy's novel and shoving it under the cloak, I slide into a chink in the crowd as a circle of Ravenclaws vacates. Everyone is too preoccupied to notice the empty space that feels more solid than it ought to.
For what happens next, it's not a matter of I-should-have-seen-it-coming. I did see it coming and I still joined the fray. What good reporter turns tail from the fun?
No one knows who threw the first roll. Some say that it was Dom's side—the obvious answer as Marisa is Team Rose—while those with Dom insist it was friendly fire aimed at Amy, and still others say that there was never an assailant at all and that the collective sentiment in the room was so bloodthirsty that it conjured the offending sausage roll from a nearby plate and sent it arcing to the middle of the hall where Marisa turned at the wrong instant.
It strikes dead-center between the eyes, and she screams amongst the gasps and falls to the ground, slack-jawed, in a pool of grease. The crowd stills in shock.
Then, it erupts.
Butter knives and waffle shields, treacle, jam, toast with eggs, and sticky-with-saliva chicken legs. Everyone at once—those unwilling towed by the rip tide—surge forward in arms and Amazonian battle cries, and the Great Hall sky is blackened with breakfast.
"Aiyiyiyiyiyiyi!" A girl launches herself above the heads, lines of marmite painted on her cheeks.
I wheeze as an elbow pummels my ribs, and the bodies around me turn sharp in motion. The boys are lost to the brawl but I can spot Dom and Rose, the two most horrified of all. They're learning the hard lesson: you can't control the school. Trust me, I try. It controls you.
I'm spat out near the Hufflepuff table, cloak covered in the recipe for a muffin sandwich. Pairs are ransacking the plates for artillery, duplicating scones in conveyor belt fashion. Those not fighting are hauling fellow teammates from the fray. "Jam... everywhere..." croaks a fallen comrade.
"Please, you love Rose!"
"No, it's Dom!"
"Neither. I—I don't—!"
I whirl around. On the next table over, armed with a bread basket, Scorpius is surrounded and chucking iced buns like dungbombs. Clara Thompson of Team Dom goes down in a blaze of powdered sugar.
I smack my way to the front of the pack using the manuscript as a bludgeon. "Blondie!" I lift the cloak over my head. "Just tell them the truth! Or indulge them and choose someone!"
"Then they'll riot over that!" Out of buns, Scorpius swings the basket over his head as a makeshift helmet. "Besides, when the well-being of this school hinges on my sexuality, I think there's a bigger problem to address!"
Next to me, a purple goes down with another purple. This is no longer Dom versus Rose but destruction for its own sake, relishing these few minutes before professor intervention. Civil girls and boys, apples of their mothers' eyes, future of Wizarding Britain, so quick to covet lawlessness; how did civilization make it past a millennium?
I could retch.
Clambering onto the table, I pull the cloak off and take a stand in a bowl of split pea soup. "All of you nitwits, would you take a look at yourselves achppft—" A banana peel slaps my face.
I growl, ready to swipe a missile of my own. As I back into a pile of silverware, my shoulder crashes into someone who I assume to be Scorpius until he mutters, "Sorry."
We both turn around. It's Albus.
"You're—" His note of surprise exposes the rest of his words—still here?
Not running off might be the second-worst decision I've made in the last twenty-four hours but seeing him gives me the very worst idea of all, one that shouldn't even enter my mind. It's neither smart nor noble but perhaps, at last, that elusive something to prove.
I snuck into the castle like a coward, silent and invisible, when I used to strut down the halls after toppling entire Prefect rings. People listened to me once upon a time. Those were good days, about three weeks ago. But when I've lost control of the school, my voice, and my repute, my body is still my own and I will take it all back with just that if I have to.
So with fifty eyes to witness, I grab Albus by his jumper's collar and yank his mouth down to mine.
I stagger under his weight, wet shoes slipping, but he catches me. His fingers dig into my hair as I steal the question from his mouth and sling an arm around his neck to crush him close. I only get to fall from this height once; let's make the most of it.
Shutting off thought, letting sinews dictate, it's too easy to commit the crime. Reasons and actions don't add up. Sometimes it's a mere moment's impulse and that's the justification, for when taking account of our heart—the thing that controls our desires, but also our obsession, spite, and the rest of our sins—are reasons any more trustworthy?
I will placate this horde. I will claim Albus Potter because I can.
In the thick of the tumult, I hear a shriek, and he breathes my name at the same time. He knows how to say it sober. I like it, too much. Fluttering, his touch craves to travel. I hear it again: Clemence, what's the craziest thing you've done?
Then a cake smashes into the side of my face.
We break apart. Blue icing crumbles down my hair. I stare round-eyed at him and he back at me. The hall is hushed sans for one heaving hurricane. Slowly I turn to my right, where Appy is standing in the front row of the audience with an empty cake platter.
And it looks bad. I mean, I've got her novel in one hand and Albus in the other. For all the words I meant to say, all that comes out is a very Scorpius, "Um."
She climbs up on the bench and yanks the manuscript from me. "How could you?" She's actually shaking. "I trusted you."
At the corner of my eye, Scorpius scrambles off the end of the table with Pickett's help and dashes off. There is one friendly face amongst the hostile and confused, and she is blonde, grinning, and covered in cheese sauce. She gives me a thumbs up, probably cackling inside.
Staring in awe as if I'm the one who thinks herself nearly in love, Albus is waiting for my reasons as much as everyone else, but I don't remember them anymore sans for one: this school will not control me.
I turn back to Appy, stealing Dom's grin for my own. "He's mine."
Her jaw drops. The jaws of the Quirkers surrounding her drop. That's not the right answer. That's not even an option. Appy, of course, is best known for jumping to extremes. She fancies Albus, so she'll make a club of it. Match their initials together. 'A' becomes her favorite letter and let it be known in everything she names in her novel: Ampersand, Asterisk, that whole family of Aidens. For three whole pages, she accidentally put 'Appy and Albus' instead of 'Ella and Chase.' Her fists clench and the platter clangs to the ground.
But before she can do anything, a girl climbs onto the Hufflepuff table, fist raised in the air. "Team Clemence!"
Pastries drop. Heads turn to one another. Wait, no, I don't want—
"Appy or bust!" The Quirkers squeal. Across from them, a girl squeezes an 'C' made of mustard on her shirt, and then the whole crowd erupts in new shouts.
A/N SORRY FOR THE WAIT ;_; I have actively been trying to post this chapter for about two months, and I've posted a few explanations here and there but basically I am HORRENDOUSLY SORRY. Hopefully this will make up for it because this is actually two chapters smashed together, and well, WHAM plot twist and shouts all over. I didn't want to separate them because they're the same morning.
Running commentary: so last chapter I wrote my first sex scene, and this chapter I write the first morning after. I've wanted to address the er, practicalities of the whole shebang (pun intended). Shagging in the lake sounds cool until you wake up, and maybe not even before that. I spent 10 minutes zipping up zippers to figure out the sound for 'zzzloop' (this is amongst the reasons why it takes me forever to get anything written). Reginalda pulled a Norberta. And I think we can all agree the winner of this chapter is the girl who drew a mustard C on her shirt.
Lots of cursing this chapter eheheh, but please keep your reviews 12+!