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Welcome to Blunderland by peppersweet

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 24
Word Count: 91,939
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Scorpius, Albus, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, OC/OC

First Published: 01/08/2012
Last Chapter: 01/30/2013
Last Updated: 04/24/2013

Summary:
zoomified new banner by contour @ tda


Flora Lancaster is a wallflower with a sweet tooth, a cat called Willoughby,
and a crush on Myron Wagtail. So why is Albus Potter interested in her?

Most Original Cliché - 2013 Ravenclaw Diadems


Chapter 1: { introduction }
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I’d never even met Albus Potter until he saved my life. Alright, that’s an exaggeration. We had met, although only briefly and only in the context of a Potions lesson. I’m pretty sure he knew who I was and I definitely knew who he was. I mean, you’d have had to have been living in a cave for, like, the past century not to have heard of Albus Potter. He’s pretty cool. Everybody has heard of Albus Potter.


Not many people have heard of Flora Lancaster. Mostly because she’s me.


I’m not the sort of person that gets heard of. I’m a Hufflepuff, for starters. My sole aim in life is to be loyal and hardworking and get food from the kitchens. And to look hot in yellow and black stripes, which is a difficult look to pull off unless you’re a bumblebee, and especially if you have a general lack of hotness. Especially if you’ve got knobbly knees and gappy teeth and enormous reading glasses – glasses that are as thick as bottle caps, if bottle caps were square, horn-rimmed and had legs.


I’m also kind of socially awkward. I’m the sort of wallflower that’s been on the wall so long that if you wanted to rip me off, you’d end up tearing the whole house down. I basically have my roots in the foundations of social awkwardness. I’m like the Japanese knotweed of awkward.


Which is why, up until the day he saved my life, the only conversation I’d ever had with Albus Potter was about horned slugs.


It all changed with that train journey to Hogwarts on that September the first. Of course, when I woke up that day, I had no idea that something big and totally zoomified would be on the horizon. Like, mega zoomified on toast. It was a pretty average day. Willoughby, my cat-kneazle cross, woke me up at six by purring into my face, and then I had a great two-hour yawn to dress, eat, and make myself look presentable within. Two hours, then it was into the car with me, my trunk, Willoughby and my batty muggle Mum, and off to King’s Cross.


I’m kind of a witch. You’d think that’d make me special, but it totally doesn’t. Magic’s just sort of incidental, and it’s not so cool when not only can everyone else do it, but everyone else is far better at it. I’m more special for my mega talent at getting food from the kitchens and falling up stairs, although not at the same time. If being a klutz was a talent, I could totally win talent shows and stuff. I’m not really selling myself very well, I know, but my mum told me I shouldn’t sell myself.


And now I’m rambling. Anyway, I was talking about my talents, magic not being one of them. I have a talent, though, for sugary snacks. Finding them, hoarding them, eating them, not sharing them, etc. But sugary snacks make the world go around; they basically demand my express attention. And the conversation with Albus only happened because of sugary snacks. But I’ll get onto that later.


We got to King’s Cross at a quarter to eleven that day. My mother waved me away at the platform, enveloping me in a hug that smelled a little bit like face powder but mostly like cat food, gave me one last proverb to treasure until I saw her again at Christmas (‘too many cooks spoil the broth!’) and then I hopped, skipped and tripped onto the train.


If there’s a good way to start your sixth year, it’s falling flat on your face on the train.


Willoughby leapt out of my arms the moment I hit the floor, tearing up the corridor and hissing as he went, like a balloon that’d just been let go – and then, as I jumped up and made to speed after him, a familiar blonde-haired boy leant out of a carriage and deftly caught Willoughby in his arms.


I’d already started to yell after my cat, so, when I saw Scorpius, I ended up yelling ‘Willoughpius!’ instead.


‘Er, hello,’ Scorpius called back. Willoughby, who’s fairly antisocial for a cat (and cats are generally about as antisocial as I am), landed an impressive right hook on Scorpius’ jaw. Scorpius, grimacing, held Willoughby at arm’s length, giving him a stern look.


‘Hey!’ I sped off down the corridor, giving him a cheery wave. He shoved Willoughby into my arms, went in as if to give me a hug, seemed to think better of it, and then backed off, leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe.


‘How was your summer?’ he said, as I cuddled Willoughby up to my chest and buried my nose into his gingery fur.


‘You asked me this last week, Scor. It was mega, as usual.’


‘Mega mega?’


Really brill and mega. How about yours?’


‘Oh, so-so,’ he held the door for me, letting me into the compartment he’d evidently been saving for some time. Once inside, I flopped down into my favourite place by the window, set Willoughby down on the seat beside me, and then snuggled into the threadbare cushions. Scorpius sat opposite me and picked up a book, although he continued to squint at me through his huge spectacles.


Scorpius is a funny lad. Alright, he’s been my friend since forever and he’s pretty zoomified as friends go, but that just makes it even more okay to say he’s a funny lad. He’s a Hufflepuff, like me, and just one notch down from me on the scale of social awkwardness. Like me, he’s a fan of cats, although his dad’s allergic so he can’t have one, and, like me, he’s a fan of apple crumble. We’ve had our fair share of crumble-eating-competitions in the Great Hall. Like me, he’s mega shy around strangers, and he even made up the word ‘zoomified’, which is pretty zoomified in itself. And he’s pretty much one of my only friends. I kind of have a secret mental agreement that, if by the age of thirty, I’m still a lonely cat lady, I’ll marry him. He doesn’t know, but I guess he likes surprises. And it’s not like any other girl would ever want him.


‘Hey,’ the compartment door slid open again, and the third member of our little trio came stomping in, pulling her trunk behind her and balancing a cage in the crook of her arm. ‘It’s rammed out there! Did you guys have a good summer?’


‘I saw you last week, Fauna…’


‘It was mega,’ Scorpius said. ‘And Flora’s was mega too.’


Fauna Chang, my bestest ever friend if you don’t count Scorpius, took the seat beside Willoughby, idly patting him on the head. She put her owl, Mr Darcy, into the seat next to Scorpius, poked an owl treat or two through the bars, and then settled back in her chair.


‘Mega,’ she agreed, nodding at us all. ‘You done the History of Magic homework? I haven’t.’


We all dived into our bags for our unfinished holiday homework; at that moment, the conductor’s whistle blew outside and the train set off. Scorpius, visibly comforted by this, settled back into his seat with a sigh, notes in hand.


Between us, I guess we embody the three perfect Hufflepuff traits. Scorpius is the hardworking one, Fauna’s the loyal one, and I’m the one who’s good at finding food and eating it. We’re basically the Hufflepuff trifecta, except I think the real Hufflepuff trifecta would be a bit pissed if we stole their name. But disregarding the obvious traits, we’re all Hufflepuffs for our own reasons. I’m a Hufflepuff for the close proximity of the dorms to the kitchens, Fauna’s a Hufflepuff for the lack of expectation hovering over her academic performance, and Scorpius is a Hufflepuff because his dad told him to be a Slytherin.


There’s nothing wrong with picking a house just for the food, by the way. If a girl likes to have three square meals a day, she deserves to get three square meals a day.


Speaking of food, no sooner had we started swapping our half-finished History of Magic notes, I heard the trolley lady outside (she’s called Agnes, you know, but nobody is nice enough to ask her name, except for me). I think I must have supersonic hearing, because I can always tell just when she’s started her rounds from the distant trundling of her little metal trolley of sugary nirvana. Maybe I was a bat in a past life or something. A bat with a seriously sweet tooth.


‘Gotta go,’ I said, throwing my notes aside and seizing up my moneybag. ‘Trolley.’


Fauna and Scorpius, who’d learnt to expect this by now, nodded.


‘Would you get me a chocolate frog?’ Scorpius said. ‘I’ll pay you back…’


‘Pumpkin pasty for me if you don’t mind,’ Fauna said. ‘Actually, make it two.’


I made a mental note of their orders, added at least fifteen of my own, and then stepped out into the corridor, sliding the compartment door shut behind me. And I’m really convinced that I do have supersonic hearing, because the Agnes and her trolley were all the way at the other end of the corridor. No matter. It’s always best to get your teeth (figuratively speaking) into the trolley before anyone else, or all the chocolate frogs are gone before the train’s even got to the Midlands.


Little did I know that my very destiny was in that trolley.


My mind focused solely on the prospect of sugary heaven, I didn’t really register much else in the corridor as I walked along it. I mean, I probably should have noticed something, like the unusually high concentration of seventh years hanging around the compartment doors, or the way everything had gone kind of quiet. Or maybe I should have noticed the entire compartment full of blindfolded first years, but, you know, being good ol’ sweet-toothed four-eyes Flora, I barely noticed a thing.


Agnes looked pretty pleased to see me, waving as I approached. I’m pretty sure I was the one responsible for keeping her in business. But I was barely two broomsticks’ length from her when three burly seventh year Slytherins emerged from a nearby carriage, blocking my way. Two of them turned to Agnes, but the third turned to me.


‘Back off, sunshine,’ he snarled.


Queue jumping is not something I appreciate; I gave him my best disapproving look before standing back, arms folded, still clutching my moneybag. I was pretty certain they’d be off in a second, probably only wanting a couple of liquorice wands or something. Again, I didn’t pay much attention. I’ve got a one-track mind, and that mind is focused on food.


But I certainly started paying attention when they pushed Agnes’ tray over.


Poor old Agnes, she’s such a dear. A squib, you know, and a friend of the driver. She’s the most harmless old lady you could ever think of. Retired, and her only job these days is going up and down with the trolley on the few occasions the Hogwarts Express travels. She’s mega and as sweet as the sugary snacks she peddles, and, even if you don’t know her name or her story like I do, you love her.


So when those seventh years shoved her trolley to the ground, scattering sweets and crisps and pasties and drinks everywhere – I saw red.


‘Hey!’ I shouted. ‘Leave her alone!’


They ignored me. Then, I was horrified to see two of them rooting about in the bottom few shelves of the trolley for the moneybox while the third kept his wand pointed at Agnes’ quivering, tearful face.


That was when I realised it was serious. Like, mega serious. But there was nobody else around, nothing between them and Agnes except for the overturned trolley. And someone had to stop them.


Unfortunately, that someone happened to be me. Four-eyes Flora, her limbs and fingers and even her eyelashes quivering from the shock and sugar deprivation.


So I stamped my foot and stared them down and, when that didn’t work, I jabbed the nearest one in the back.


‘Hey!’ I tried again. ‘Leave her alone!’


I was then mega shocked to find the wands pointing at me instead.


‘I thought I told you to back off,’ one of them snarled. ‘Sunshine.’


I really should have come out with a super-duper comeback like ‘oh, like a patronising name’s going to hurt me,’ or ‘that’s right, and they call me sunshine because I can kick you where the sun doesn’t shine,’ or whatever, but instead I kind of just stood there, quivering, still staring at them, absolutely petrified. I felt like I was about to vomit all of my internal organs out onto the floor.


But then there was a voice from behind me. An oddly soothing voice, sort of calm but tough at the same time. The sort of voice you’d like to read books to you. And the voice said-


‘Why don’t you back off, Fletcher?’


The three seventh years turned their attentions from me to the person behind me, glaring. Worse, one of them started to laugh.


‘Oh, like you’re going to do anything, Potter…’


The next thing I knew I’d gone flying into the wall and my glasses had slipped off – I ended up crouching near the skirting board, patting the floor around me so I could find my specs. Only when I discovered them, put them on again, and saw Albus Potter facing the three seventh years with a murderous glare on his face did I realise that one of them must have shoved me aside. Agnes was staring, horrified.


‘Not cool, Fletcher,’ Albus Potter said, and then punched him in the face.


It was mega, really. That’s all I can say about it. In the week or so that followed the train journey, all people could ask me about was what it was like to see Albus Potter take on the biggest bully in the entire school and win just to protect four-eyes Flora and Agnes the trolley lady. And really, it was mega. I mean, it was a bit dazed, I can’t really remember much. I was kind of in awe. But it worked. The three Slytherins took off down the corridor and vanished into a compartment.


Albus crouched beside me and extended a hand. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.


And, before you ask, no, there wasn’t a spark then. When I raised my eyes to meet his (fluttery eyelashes and all), I wasn’t instantly struck by his mega beautiful green orbs or anything. I just saw him – kind of worried, with his hazely-green eyes shining, his breath coming in little gasps from the effort of the punch.


I felt so overwhelmed I could barely say a word. I was pretty sure I’d just witnessed the most serious robbery in the history of Hogwarts ever, and Albus Potter had just saved my life. Okay, in hindsight, I’d just witnessed a semi-serious incident and Albus had just saved me from a spot of minor assault and probably a lot of wounded pride, but, still. A girl on a sugar comedown can’t be expected to think all that straight.


I took his hand. He helped me up, patted me vaguely on the shoulder, then went to check if Agnes was alright.


‘It’s Flora, right?’ he said, as I bent, shakily, to pick up an armful of chocolate frogs and replace them on the trolley. ‘Flora Lancaster?’


I was astonished he’d even remembered my name, seeing as the only conversation we’d ever shared was about horned slugs and had been in, like, third year.


‘Yes,’ I said. ‘And you’re Albus. Albus Potter.’


He smiled. ‘Flora, would you mind taking care of Agnes? I’ll go and tell the driver and get some other prefects.’


Not only did he know my name, but he knew Agnes’. This boy either was a freak of memory, or just…well…genuinely nice. Mega nice.


‘Oh, and,’ he stooped to pick up a chocolate frog and pressed it into my hand. ‘You look like you could use some sugar.’




a/n: Writing this on a whim because I miss writing teenage love triangles. No joke. This is dedicated to Gubby for her blogs, and I owe a bit to Gina and Melissa for the original support of the idea, especially the descent into shipping-themed crack. Oh, and I owe ALL the things to the raver puffins and their raving. Also Hannah, just for being cool cool cool and the Troy to my Abed. (also - edited in a new supa hipster and supa nostalgic chapter image, but I should point out that the idea wasn't mine - it came from an awesome online tutorial.)
edited 09/08/2012 - general grammar/phrasing edits

Chapter 2: { 01 }
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I went back to the compartment pretty much straight away after the mega dramatic events of my trip. It wasn’t like there was much I could do, aside from pour Agnes a cuppa from the urn on her trolley (miraculously, it survived the fall), give her a few sickles for the chocolate frogs and pasties I’d taken, and then take my leave of the scene. Albus disappeared up to the front of the train, ready to report the incident (it transpired that he was a Gryffindor prefect). The three Slytherins were nowhere to be seen.


‘You’re such a dear,’ Agnes said, pushing the sickles back into my hands. ‘Have them for free. Please.’


Who was I to turn down free food? It was pretty mega, getting a sugar fix for free – but, somehow, when I got back to the compartment, I couldn’t tell Scorpius or Fauna about what had happened. I still felt a little shocked, as if it hadn’t really happened, as if I’d been dreaming or something. I mean, Albus Potter knew my name. And Agnes’ name. That’s kind of mega special.


So I sat down, still a little bit in shock, and let Scorpius and Fauna burrow their way into the pile of snacks I’d dumped on the little table that poked out from the wall of the compartment. I didn’t say anything or do anything – didn’t even reach for a chocolate frog – but they didn’t seem to notice, preoccupied with their homework and eating.


Okay, they did notice after a while. And, okay, Scorpius noticed after a while. But I think his ginormous specs have given him x-ray vision or something because he can always read people like a book. Okay, within reason. He can read people like trashy thrillers or like children’s books or something. I doubt he could read someone if they were, like, the human personification of War & Peace.


He looked up at me, did one of his little trademark squints that made his eyes go into little crinkly crow’s feet at the corners, and said ‘something up, Flo?’


‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘The sky.’


Scorpius gave me a very disapproving look. ‘You always say that.’


By this time, Fauna had looked up too. ‘Yeah, something up?’ she said. ‘No, seriously. You haven’t eaten anything yet. That’s weird.’


I snatched up a chocolate frog at once. ‘Look,’ I said, picking the wrapper apart. ‘Eating now. Yummy. Chocolate,’ I stuffed the frog into my mouth before it could hop away. A long time ago back in the age of the dinosaurs when I was a little firstie, I’d been dead freaked out by the chocolate frogs and the way they hopped about. Being muggle-born, I wasn’t exactly used to chocolate jumping all over the place. But six years of being permanently peckish in a magical universe had rid me of my silly squeamishness. Chocolate was chocolate and the quicker it could be consumed, the better.


Funny thing is that me and Scorpius are friends because of sugary snacks too. I think my destiny lies in sugar. I mean, I’m pretty sure that my mum and dad bonded over a shared love of Opal Fruits when they met. I’m convinced that the only reason dad left was because mum’s a devil for hogging all the Opal Fruits in the cupboard. Okay, that’s not true at all, but I like to think it was because of that. I don’t want to think about reality. Not ever.


I was eleven when I met Scorpius, just as everyone else was eleven when they met their future mates at Hogwarts. I remember the queue for the trolley was mega long when I went because I was too scared to leave the compartment I’d been sharing with some kids I didn’t even know until we crossed the border into Scotland. He was in front of me in the queue, and I remember he was just as nervous as I was because when I dropped my bag and he went down to pick it up, he dropped his bag too and we both ended up crouching on the floor apologising to each other. Then, when I asked whether he knew if the trolley had any Opal Fruits or not, he gave me a really funny look and eventually I found out he was a Pureblood and he spent the rest of the ten minute wait telling me about all the sorts of snacks you could get in the wizarding world.


I don’t remember thinking he was weird at the time. Maybe he got weirder since. But he’s weird in a really cool way, and without that first meeting, I’d probably have ended up buying something healthy from the trolley and then I’d probably be a Ravenclaw and be really boring. Look, I’ve tried diets, and they all just made me boring. I’d rather be a jolly heifer with a chocolate addiction than a skinny little madam munching on rabbit food.


Okay, I’m going really off the point now. I did say I was going off on a tangent. While my mind had gone cartwheeling off into memory at the taste of a chocolate frog, Fauna had turned back to her homework and the sun had come out outside. But Scorpius was still looking at me really funny.


‘I’m totally fine,’ I told him. ‘No, really, I feel mega.’


Except I didn’t, because I’d just basically witnessed the worst robbery like, ever and talked to Albus Potter all in one go and my brain felt like mashed potato.


As a sort of distraction, I ended up looking down at the card that’d come with the frog. And I ended up looking right into Albus Potter’s face.


Except it wasn’t. It was his dad but, you know, they look kind of similar except Albus doesn’t wear glasses. But my mind was so fixated on him that, when I looked down at the card, I was basically just convinced that I was looking straight at Albus and ended up letting out this little gasping sound that sounded like balloon deflating at speed.


‘Harry Potter!’ I cried, desperately, in a feeble attempt to diffuse the smog of awkward I’d created with that little gasp sound. ‘Ain’t had him in ages. No sir. This is going right into my collection.’


The collection, which took up most of my trunk, actually had seven Harry Potters in it, and I’m pretty sure Scorpius knew that, but his family has some sort of feud with the Potters and so, at the mention of the boy-who-lived’s name, he clammed up like a clam and resorted to staring at the window. I would say staring out of the window, but there was something in the way he was staring that told me he wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to the countryside flashing past him.


I kind of felt bad. But desperate times calls for desperate measures.


Fauna was the one who recovered the situation, tossing back her immaculate black hair and launching us all into a new thread of conversation about the History of Magic homework. Fauna’s good at that. Tossing her hair, I mean, not recovering situations. She can kind of help diffuse awkwardness sometimes, but usually it’s a fluke. But Fauna’s pretty, like, photo pretty, and she’s kind of perfected this little hair toss that makes everyone shut up and pay attention to her like she’s got authority or something. She’s probably the most popular out of all of us, but that’s probably because she’s pretty and she used to have a boyfriend from Gryffindor. I’ve never had a boyfriend and I look like a dork. Scorpius, likewise, has never had a girlfriend, although I guess he’s kind of pretty in an ugly duckling way, not that I’ve been looking or anything.


Talking about my friends is really boring, but I’m such a dork that there’s not really anything else of interest in my life to talk about apart from school and going to Honeydukes. But Albus Potter changed all that, so hopefully I’ll stop being such a dull twerp soon.


Okay, first things first and second things second. By the time the train pulled into Hogsmeade station it was getting dark, and we were probably some of the last off the train because we’re not very good with our elbows and there’s always a bit of a crush on the platform. The three of us trundled out into the cold, me carrying Willoughby, Fauna carrying Mr Darcy and Scorpius carrying our bags, and we headed off towards the horseless carriages that would take us to school. I say horseless, but Scorpius tells me that there are actually horses there and he always goes a bit quiet when we have to ride in them. Once I even had to hold his hand. But he doesn’t like to talk about it so I try not to think about it either.


We’d only been off the train for three minutes, though, when Albus Potter suddenly drew up alongside us, satchel swinging off his shoulder, looking a little harried.


‘Hey, Flora,’ he said, and my stomach did a little backflip when I realised that he still knew my name. ‘D’you mind if we see Professor Carter straight away up at the castle? Sorry, I don’t want to keep you from the feast…’


Not only did he know my name, but he seemed to understand my love of edible things.


‘Cool,’ I said. ‘No, cool, I’ll go.’


‘Excellent,’ he smiled. ‘Could I just meet you in the entrance hall? By the hourglasses?’


‘Cool,’ I said. ‘Mega cool. I’ll be there, and, er, be a square!’


I don’t know what possessed me to say that, or even what possessed me to laugh so awkwardly afterwards, but what is done is done and unfortunately I don’t have a timeturner to fix all the mistakes in the past so I’ll have to let it be. Albus just gave me a warm, if a little quizzical smile, and then dashed off to join his friends.


Fauna and Scorpius were both staring at me in disbelief. I hugged Willoughby closer to my chest, burying my face into his fur as if a cat was a suitable gag for all the stupid things that were about to come pouring out of my mouth.


‘Flora,’ Fauna said, frowning. ‘What.’


‘He saved Agnes,’ I said, sounding like a child. ‘Some mean Slytherins were, like, holding her at wandpoint for her money, and I was like, oh, back off, but they didn’t, and then Albus came up behind me and, like, saved the day. It was totally mega.’


Both Fauna and Scorpius spoke at the same time.


‘Why didn’t you tell us?’


‘What on earth?’


‘It’s totally cool,’ I said, digging my nose deeper into Willoughby’s fur. ‘Albus totally had it under control and everything’s totally cool and Agnes let me have your stuff for free.’


‘But why didn’t you tell us?’


‘I dunno,’ I said, as we reached the carriages.


‘Right,’ Fauna arched an eyebrow. ‘Is that all we’re getting out of you?’


‘Yeah,’ I said, firmly, unlatching the door of the last carriage and hoisting myself and Willoughby inside. ‘Not really anything else to say. It was over in a flash. Totally zoomified that he saved me and all, but, you know, just a little thing.’


I was totally playing it down. The fact was that it had been mega, zoomified, and mega zoomified, and my brain still felt like a basket full of steamed carrots. I think. I wasn’t sure. But Fauna, certain she’d hear more in the girls’ dormitory that night, didn’t press any further, and Scorpius was deep in one of his mysterious contemplative silences that he always went into round the carriages.


Once in the Entrance Hall, I let Scorpius take Willoughby from me, and waved him and Fauna off as they went to dump our stuff in the Hufflepuff dorms before the feast. Once they’d left me, my brain felt wibblier than ever. Standing there, all on my lonesome in the middle of the entrance hall, wearing my tatty uniform and my stupid gigantic spectacles, I was basically a magnet for staring. It felt like everyone was looking at me. Four-eyes Flora, the sugar addict. I ended up staring at the floor, which made my neck hurt loads. I sort of wished I’d asked Scorpius or Fauna to stay with me, even though I knew the former had a sort of hereditary hate of Albus Potter.


The boy himself turned up ten minutes later. I didn’t notice him until he was right next to me, apologising profusely for being late and keeping me waiting and whatnot. The hall around me had emptied: it was the half an hour or so of quiet time before everyone had to be in the Great Hall for the main feast, and I was all on my one.


‘I don’t expect Carter will want to keep you for long,’ Albus said, kindly, as we ascended the stairs to the first floor. ‘Probably just an incident form or two to fill in. Are you alright? Took a bit of a tumble earlier.’


‘I’m mega,’ I said. ‘Mega fine. Right as rain.’


He smiled. To be honest, it wasn’t like he stopped smiling. He was the sort of person who seemed pretty pleased with everything. I liked that.


‘Good,’ he said. ‘Yeah, nothing to worry about, I guess. Pretty cowardly to pick on someone like Agnes, huh?’


I felt my stomach do another little backflip when I remembered that he knew her name too. ’I know,’ I said. ‘Poor Agnes, she’s such a darling.’


‘Without her, we’d be nothing,’ he said, with a little laugh. ‘Don’t know what I’d do without a chocolate frog or two to keep me going.’


‘Me too,’ I said, a little dumbstruck. He knew my name, he knew Agnes’ name, and he – did he feel the same way about sugar as I did?


Then there was a really pretty glorious moment, right there in the first floor corridor, when I turned to look at him and he looked at me and suddenly there was this little sort of understanding that passed between us, like a little electric shock went through the air or something. Fauna would call it a frisson, because Fauna likes romantic stories and there seems to be a lot of frisson in them. Anyway, as I looked up into Albus’ hazely-green eyes and he probably looked down at two reflections of his own face in my glasses, I realised that this boy was on exactly the same weird kind of frequency that I was.


It was a shame that the moment was really fleeting and kind of got trashed by the Slytherins.


They’d come out of nowhere; I’d been convinced that the corridor was deserted. There was one up ahead of us, one drawing alongside us, and another at the other end of the corridor – we were surrounded. As far as I knew, there were more around the next corner. There was a sudden tight feeling in my chest, and it felt like my backflipping stomach and mashed potato brain were leaking out through the soles of my shoes.


I was mega scared.


At once, Albus put a protective sort of hand on my shoulder, pushing me behind him a little bit. We’d turned about ninety degrees in the corridor, so my back was close to the wall, a little way along from a portrait of a sleeping warlock. I was pretty convinced that Albus could hear my heart, which was going about a light year a minute out of fear.


‘Where you going, Potter?’ the Slytherin I recognised as Fletcher said. ‘Gonna rat on us?’


‘Yeah,’ his friend called. ‘Gonna squeal?’


‘Of course,’ Albus said, and I was pretty impressed by how he’d managed to keep his cool. ‘Prefect’s duty, mate.’


‘We’ll stop you,’ Fletcher said. ‘You ain’t gonna squeal to Carter tonight. You’re gonna squeal to us first. We’re gonna make you squeal so you won’t say a word.’


It was possibly the worst threat I’d heard in all my days, but I was all a-flutter with the sheer terror of the moment, and so that was the point where I accidentally let out a nervous little ‘eep’ sound from behind Albus’ back.


The Slytherins made it worse by laughing.


‘Oo’s that?’ Fletcher’s mate said. ‘Oi, four-eyes!’ he called to me. ‘Didn’t see this coming, didya?’


I wanted to come out with some snappy retort about how glasses don’t help you see into the future, but I could certainly see clearly enough to have ascertained that he was ugly, thick, and needed a shower, but, again, I was kind of paralysed with fear.


Like Scorpius, I’m a better clam than most clams.


The three Slytherins advanced, drawing closer, until Fletcher was right in front of Albus. He really looked like he meant some pretty nasty business.


‘Scared now, are ya?’ Fletcher sneered, as Albus visibly cringed away from him. ‘Now the night’s out and you’re on your own?’


‘Hey,’ I said, in the bravest voice I could muster given the situation, which was a sort of wobbly squeak. ‘He’s not alone! He’s got me!’


And I don’t know why I did this, but I stepped forward so I was level with Albus, and raised a fist like I meant to fight. Which I totally didn’t.


‘Now, now, what’s this?’ Fletcher jeered, staring down at me. ‘Whatcha gonna do, four-eyes, blink at me? Oh, I’m so scared.’


‘Hey!’ Albus said, and he really actually did make a pretty good job of sounding sincerely threatening. ‘Leave off her!’


Fletcher was probably thicker than me, because he seemed to buy it. ‘Alright, alright,’ he said, with an incredulous look. ‘Keep your hair on.’


‘I mean it,’ Albus said, raising a fist just as I had, although his was way more convincing. ‘Don’t even try anything.’


Fletcher looked between the two of us, a smile brimming with mirth slapped on his stupid ugly face. ‘Why, what’s she to you, Potter?’


I knew the answer to that. I was nothing to him. I was four-eyes Flora, the girl who’d accidentally witnessed a robbery and the girl he probably hadn’t even meant to save, the inarticulate Japanese knotweed of a girl with enormous spectacles and a habit of saying mega.


But I never had time to say this, because that was when Albus suddenly seized me by the shoulders and kissed me.



a/n: I...I took a long time to write this. Classic trope of the genre, though, the spontaneous kiss. Had to give it a bit of time to stew. Lol jk I wrote this in like an hour flat and barely even edited it. If it makes no sense, that's because...because I'm incredibly lazy. Thank you to everyone who's reviewed to far, and I'm sorry I'm taking so long to respond (I am a bad, bad person). Thank you for reading & I hope you enjoyed it ♥
edited 09/08/2012 - minor grammar/phrasing edits

Chapter 3: { 02 }
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When me and Fauna were, like, fourteen and mildly obsessed with all things boy that weren’t Scorpius, we often used to sit up into the night talking endlessly about which boys in our year we’d like to kiss or, in Fauna’s case, talking about the one boy in our year that she had kissed. This meant that a lot of our conversations after the hours of darkness tended to revolve around Dermot Finnegan’s lips and how much they apparently tasted like cinnamon.


Before I go on, I should probably point out that Dermot Finnegan is totally squick and I would never want to kiss him even if his mouth tasted like Honeydukes’ best milk chocolate. I don’t know what Fauna saw in him but Scorpius says he’s really good at Quidditch, but obviously I wouldn’t know that because I’m not a boy and I’m practically a hermit anyway.


But I was sort of glad for those endless conversations, because without them I wouldn’t have known that Albus was actually pretty alright at this kissing lark and it was pretty decent for a first kiss, if a little unexpected and spontaneous and, frankly, quite frightening.


It did the trick as far as the Slytherins were concerned. There was a moment’s stunned silence, then Fletcher seemed to explode.


Ewww, Potter! That’s mingin’!


I just tried to stand as still as possible and let Albus get on with it, seeing as my legs felt like they were being sucked down two little whirlpools and my brain still felt like an over-cooked roast dinner.


‘He’s not worth it, mate!’ another of the Slytherins shouted.


‘Bloody sap,’ Fletcher said, as Albus finally pulled away from me. I stared hard at his shoes and tried to act like this was total normal and my heart wasn’t going like an aphid in a tumble dryer.


‘Big girl’s blouse,’ Fletcher finally spat, and then the three Slytherins marched off, walking like they’d all just got off horses or something.


As soon as they were round the corner, Albus took a full step backwards, grimaced, wiped his mouth with the back of his hands, and apologised ten times in a row. If I’m honest, I didn’t think the moment had been all that bad (I mean, like, it was better than the alternative, which was probably getting beaten up by the Slytherins) but I copied him anyway just to be sure.


‘I’m so sorry, Flora,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know what else to do.’



I was about to blurt out something along the lines of, don’t worry, I think you’re actually a decent kisser! but all the words sort of got blocked up in my throat and I just ended up nodding like an idiot.


‘Desperate times, huh,’ he said, giving his mouth another cursory wipe.


‘Sorry!’ I shoved my glasses back up again so I could see him properly. ‘I think I had lip gloss on!’


‘It’s okay,’ he said, but he wouldn’t meet my eye.


I didn’t have a clue what to say. Alright, the situation was a bit extreme and more than a bit out of the odds, but, you know, I had no idea what the post-kiss protocol was.


The silence stretched like an old scrunchie.


‘Thank you for sticking up for me,’ I finally said. ‘Nobody ever does that.’


‘It’s nothing,’ he said, but he looked troubled.


‘I owe you one,’ I pressed on, although I knew that I was about as much use to him as, like, a dead shrub or something. ‘I really do. That was very kind.’


It was his turn to stare at my shoes, which were still scuffed and muddied from the previous year because I’d forgotten to polish them. At once, my mind exploded with a thousand glorious images of how I could pay him back, about ninety-nine percent of which revolved around Honeydukes and/or the school kitchens.


‘There…there is one thing,’ he said, very slowly. ‘I hear you’re good at History of Magic.’


I’d got an Outstanding on my O.W.L History of Magic paper, but I was a bit too shy to admit this. I’m still kind of convinced it was a fluke, because I got the name of the first Minister for Magic mixed up with the name of one of my uncles on my dad’s side of the family and pretty much wrote a whole essay about how Lancelot Lancaster unified the magical peoples when he’s actually a plumber.


‘Sort of,’ I said. ‘Not really.’


‘I only just scraped a pass in the Summer but I can’t afford to drop it,’ he said, finally meeting my eye. ‘Would you tutor me?’


My heart did a little backflip.


‘Me?’ I said. ‘But I’m rubbish-’


‘Apparently you got an Outstanding,’ he said, before adding, in a sort of offhand way – ‘Lucy told me.’


Albus seemed to know a lot more about me than I ever could have guessed. I suppose this should have been, like, a little bit suspicious, but my mind was a bit wobbly and I didn’t want to do much thinking until I’d had something to eat, preferably of the pudding variety.


‘Of course,’ I said.


And, with that, we went off to see Professor Carter as if nothing had happened.


*



By the time I finally got to the Great Hall, the main course was well over and everyone was midway into pudding. Almost the second I saw apple crumble in the serving dishes, I abandoned Albus with a hasty farewell and practically sprinted to the Hufflepuff table, where Fauna and Scorpius had saved me a seat.


‘You missed chips,’ Fauna said, as I began ladling huge helpings of crumble and ice cream into my bowl. ‘Also, hello.’


‘Can’t talk,’ I said, almost dropping my spoon in my excitement. ‘Crumble!’


Fauna turned to Scorpius with a sort of well isn’t this typical look on her face, but he, too, was busy devouring what is pretty much the best pudding in the entire universe. Like, nothing beats apple crumble.


Five minutes later, I scooped the last bit of ice cream from my bowl and began to search for second helpings. ‘So, what did I miss?’


‘Oh, the sorting was pretty lame,’ Fauna said, toying with her cutlery. ‘Hat told us to appreciate the little things in life and work, like, mega hard. I think Flitwick told it to sing that or something.’


‘Oh, fun,’ I said, having just discovered an entire dish of strawberry jelly that had been concealed behind a third-year. ‘Look, Scorpius, jelly!’


Fauna, who isn’t quite as enthusiastic about puddings as we are, gave an almighty sigh. It’s probably a good thing that she knows where to draw the line when it comes to sugary food, but she can be so boring.


‘What did Carter want?’ she said.


‘Oh, not much,’ I shrugged. ‘Just, like, a couple of incident forms, and then the mean Slytherins are getting a mega load of detentions, and…’


I trailed off into silence, with my mind filling in the little and I kissed Albus Potter and now I’m his History of Magic tutor but that’s no biggie. Like, that’s a mega no biggie.


‘Serves them right,’ Fauna said, firmly. ‘Poor Agnes.’


I nodded, stuffing myself with strawberry jelly so I wouldn’t have to speak. The fact that I’d kissed Albus was sort of hanging over my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even though we’d agreed that it had never happened and it had only been a diversionary tactic. Desperate times call for desperate measures and all that. I don’t think he realised that I’d never kissed anyone before, because I guess kissing barely meant a thing to him or he wouldn’t have done it.


When I looked up, I noticed Scorpius was looking at me funny, but as soon as he caught my eye he burst into a grin and then switched his gaze to the table, and so Fauna frowned at us because she evidently thought we’d been in on some joke that she wasn’t part of.


This is totally mad, but I’ve always thought of me and Scorpius as being like velcro and a woolly jumper. We weren’t really meant to be friends, but we sort of clung to each other by accident and now, if we got pulled apart by something, the velcro would be all covered in fluff and the jumper would end up all bobbly and neither of them would really be nice and neat anymore.


Seeing as he was my best friend and all, I really wanted to tell him about the whole thing with Albus in the corridor, but I figured that Fauna was probably the person to go to in this situation and Scorpius would probably be a bit funny about it seeing as he doesn’t really like Albus and all. But it made me feel a little bit guilty, thinking that I couldn’t tell him.


Back in the dorm after pudding (and a plate of sandwiches that had been sent up to the dormitory by Professor Carter – she was the Head of Slytherin, but obviously understood my need for sustenance), I meant to tell Fauna about the whole thing. Like, I really meant to tell Fauna about it. The words were literally on the tip of my tongue, but somehow they just couldn’t come out.


I think I felt that it’d be something of a disservice to Albus if I went around blabbing about the diversionary kiss that had never happened. I sort of wanted him to think I was sane and normal and not a gossip or anything, and I knew that, as soon as Fauna knew, Lucy Weasley and Georgina Herring and Tabitha Hendricks from the dorm would know and then everyone would want to ask me questions and it’d be mega awkward.


When I say I’m a Japanese knotweed and a hermit and that Scorpius and Fauna are my only friends, I don’t mean it like everyone else hates me or anything. They’re actually really nice to me, apart from the Slytherins and the Ravenclaws, and I guess I get on fine with them. I’m just really quiet and I don’t like it when people ask me things because I tend to get flustered and say silly things like I’ll be there and be a square!


Fauna made me tell her all about the initial Albus incident though, as in the one that didn’t involve any kissing.


‘Wait, so,’ she said. ‘You were standing in front of the Slytherins-’


‘And they were like, oh, back off, sunshine, and then Albus just came out of nowhere behind me and was like oh, why don’t you back off, and I was like, woah, this is weird, and then, like, I was on the floor.’


‘Huh-’


‘One of the Slytherins, like, hit me,’ I said, sounding as if I didn’t quite believe myself. ‘They hit a girl with glasses!’


‘That’s so mean,’ Fauna said, with a sympathetic nod.


‘What happened?’


Lucy and Tabitha walked in through the door just at that moment, and were looking down at me with a vague sort of interest.


‘Flora took on the Slytherins!’ Fauna said, excitedly.


‘It wasn’t like that, Fauna,’ I sighed. ‘They were picking on Agnes.’


‘Agnes?’ Tabitha said. ‘Who’s Agnes?’


This made me a little bit angry. I mean, like, the woman serves you tea and coffee and sweets without a single complaint, and you can’t even be bothered to learn her name? So Fauna filled in for me, explaining that Agnes was the lady with the trolley, and I sat and wound the corner of my blanket around my fist and tried to pretend that I wasn’t irritated.


‘Anyway,’ Fauna continued, as Georgina finally turned up and the three other Hufflepuff girls settled around us, listening intently. ‘The Slytherins were picking on Agnes, right, so our Flora went and stood up for her!’


‘It was nothing,’ I mumbled.


‘She got punched in the face!’ Fauna said emphatically.


‘Oh, yeah,’ Tabitha piped up. ‘You’ve got a bit of a bruise, Flora.’


I stared really hard at the duvet cover, hoping I really didn’t have a bruise because bruises mean awkward questions.


‘And then Albus Potter saved her!’ Fauna said, sounding a little wild, and the girls around all went ooh simultaneously as if this was more exciting than getting punched in the face or sticking up for Agnes or whatever.


Well, all the girls went ooh apart from Lucy, who let out a giggle.


‘Oh, typical Albus,’ she said.


Everyone swivelled their heads around to look at her. I even looked up and all.


‘He kind of…kind of inherited a saving people thing from his Dad, you know?’ Lucy said. ‘I mean, he’s really nice and polite, but I’m terrified he’s going to get really hurt one day.’


‘What do you mean?’ Fauna pressed on.


‘He always has to intervene,’ Lucy smiled. ‘Terribly noble and all. In the summer, Molly and James took us to this club in Diagon Alley and – oh, I know,’ she beamed, as Georgina and Tabitha looked up at her in admiration. ‘Great having an older sister. Anyway, we went outside for some fresh air and there was this woman getting harassed by this really tough bloke, and Albus went over and tried to calm him down and got hit and all. I mean, it all turned out all right in the end,’ the smile dropped from her face a little. ‘But, you know, it could have gone so much worse.’


‘That’s so cool,’ Fauna said.


‘And he’s so handsome,’ Georgina chipped in.


‘Oh, definitely,’ Tabitha said, just as Fauna started nodding enthusiastically.


‘Oh, blee,’ Lucy grimaced. ‘Please don’t talk about my cousin like that-’


‘You don’t have to listen to us,’ Fauna said, defiantly.


‘Yeah, well, you’re kind of loud,’ Lucy said. ‘I’m going to go brush my teeth…’


She got up and went off into the bathroom, leaving me to face the other three on my own. I’d never been especially close to Lucy, although I thought she was a pretty alright person, but at that moment, I wanted nothing more for her to come back and keep talking to everyone so I wouldn’t have to speak.


‘What was it like, Flora?’ Tabitha pressed on. ‘When he saved you?’


‘Ummmm…’


My dithering voice faded into silence.


‘Mega, I bet,’ Georgina said, with a knowing smile. ‘Everything’s so mega with you.’


‘Yeah,’ I kept on winding the blanket around my fist. ‘Mega.’


Okay, it was pretty mega, I’ll admit, I just didn’t want to talk about it. Not in the slightest. I just wanted to hide under the covers and pretend I didn’t exist for a little bit. Plus I sort of knew that they took the mick out of me sometimes for saying mega.


‘Oh, you’re so boring,’ Tabitha said. ‘If Albus Potter had saved me from a load of bullies-’


‘He’s just really normal,’ I blurted out. ‘Like, mega normal.’


It was pretty much the truth. Regular guy, regular talk, regular walk, except I was pretty sure there was a little sugar addict beneath the surface wanting to get out.


‘Oh, really?’ Fauna said, but I could tell she wasn’t convinced.


‘Uh, yeah,’ I said. ‘And he…well, I said I’d help him out with his History of Magic work. You know, like, to pay him back.’


What?’ the three girls screeched. A moment later, Lucy stuck her head out of the bathroom door, toothbrush wedged in her mouth, staring at me in disbelief.


‘Oh my god, that’s, like-’ Tabitha spluttered.


‘Will you be in the library together?’ Georgina squealed. ‘Like, a lot?’


‘I dunno,’ I started up. ‘We didn’t really sort anything out-’


‘Wow, you totally have to introduce me,’ Fauna nearly yelled. ‘You have to!’


‘Fine, whatever,’ I almost yanked the blanket off the bed in my irritation. ‘Whatever.’


Eventually, they got bored of asking me questions when they realised I wasn’t going to tell them anymore, and talk turned to what they’d all got up to that summer – I made a show of cleaning my teeth, getting into my pyjamas and getting into my four-poster bed, already a teensy bit sick of hearing them rave on about Albus Potter when he’d just seemed like a regular guy to me.


Little did I know how mega he’d become. I mean, like, I’m kind of alright at Divination, but I couldn’t have seen it coming a mile off.


But when I lay there, all wrapped up in the duvet, listening to the other girls chattering on and on, I couldn’t help but smile. Because, even if it had absolutely never happened, I was the one who’d actually kissed him.


And even though I'd brushed my teeth, I had the weirdest taste of chocolate frogs in my mouth.



a/n: I have never written such annoying teenage girls in my life asdfghjkl;
Harry Potter's little 'saving people' problem was actually pointed out by Hermione in Order of the Phoenix, although I can't find the right page. I believe it is named on tv tropes as Chronic Hero Syndrome and, man, the Potters have that in buckets.
Anyway, thank you for reading, and I hope you liked it! ♥

Chapter 4: { 03 }
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I ended up being half an hour early for breakfast on the first day of term. I was so irritated and sick of my friends when I woke up that I decided to defy Lancaster tradition and actually get up when my alarm went off, leaving the dorm before Fauna had even put her socks on. I knew she’d be really mad at me, because getting mad at petty things is something Fauna Chang can be quite good at, but I didn’t really care. I didn’t want to hear another word about Albus Potter’s eyes in my entire life. The night before, I’d got so fed up of answering questions about him that I’d told them all that I hadn’t made eye contact with Albus once and his eyes could have been, like, yellow for all I knew, even though I knew full well that they were a sort of hazely-green.


The Great Hall was pretty quiet when I got there. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I mean, on one hand, it’s nice because there are less people to stare at you but, on the other, it’s horrible because you’re a lot more obvious in an empty hall. I made it to my seat at the Hufflepuff table without tripping once, which was a bit of an achievement seeing as I was convinced that the six Slytherins at the leftmost table were glaring at me.


I’d no sooner put four slices of toast onto my plate than Scorpius took the seat opposite me.


‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Fauna’s angry at you, you know.’


I looked up at him over my pumpkin juice. ‘What, is she up already?’


‘Yeah. I think she’s mad at me too because neither of us waited for her and…’


‘She’ll be over it by Herbology.’


The two of us sat in silence for a moment while he grabbed a piece of toast and a pot of strawberry jam.


‘So,’ he said. ‘Are you going to tell me what went on yesterday?’


Of course he’d known that there’d been more to it than I’d been letting on. In terms of him and his skills of reading people like books, I was probably the equivalent of, like, a child’s alphabet picture book or something. Slim with little substance. And full of helpful, colourful diagrams, like the epic tomato-colour blush that spread across my face just as he asked me what had gone on.


‘Uh…’ I set down my toast. ‘Not much, to be honest. Albus stuck up for me and I said I’d help him out with his History of Magic work in return.’


‘Oh,’ Scorpius said. ‘Cool.’


‘Mega,’ I nodded. I wanted to tell him about the ensuing, spur-of-the-moment kiss and how I’d had it up to here with everyone in my dorm, but somehow the words wouldn’t come out and it just seemed so much easier and neater to eat toast instead. But it wasn’t like Scorpius asked me much else either, which was sort of odd.


‘You don’t like him, do you?’ I asked, once I’d put away two slices of toast.


‘Er, no,’ he said, rolling his eyes. ‘He’s full of himself.’


I felt a bit of my earlier irritation creeping back. ‘He’s actually really nice,’ I said. ‘I didn’t think he was stuck up, anyway.’


Scorpius shook his head and frowned down at his toast. ‘It’s complicated, Flora.’


I didn’t want to press any further, because falling out with Scorpius on the first day of term would not have been a good idea and, besides, falling out with him on any day of the year really sucks.


Luckily, though, I didn’t have to press further, because Fauna joined us at that moment. She gave me a funny look, settled into the seat next to Scorpius, and helped herself to toast.


‘You okay, Flora?’ she said.


‘Peachy,’ I said, trying to prove how good a friend I was by passing her the butter before she’d even asked for it. She took it with a smile.


‘Seen Albus yet today?’ she asked.


I knew she was kidding, but I felt like I was going to scream if everyone kept talking about Albus.


‘Nope,’ I said. ‘But we’ve got Potions second. Maybe we’ll see him then.’


‘Mega,’ Fauna grinned. ‘He’s such a dish.’


Scorpius gave Fauna a really dirty look.


‘Hey,’ Fauna elbowed him. ‘I’m allowed to fancy him.’


‘He’s up himself,’ Scorpius scowled. ‘And you are so not.’


‘How?’


‘Your Aunt used to go out with his Dad, it’s weird…’


‘That is so not weird! It was centuries ago!’


‘It’s weird, Fauna.’


‘Not my kind of dish anyway,’ I said quietly. ‘My kind of dish has apple crumble in it.’


‘When’s your first study session with him, Flora?’ Fauna asked, ignoring both Scorpius’ indignation and my weird comment.


‘I dunno,’ I said. ‘Can I eat my toast now?’


‘You’ll have to introduce me,’ Fauna winked. ‘It’d be very mega. Mega mega.’


‘Don’t waste your time,’ Scorpius said bitterly. ‘I bet he’s got a girlfriend. Half of Hogwarts is obsessed with him.’


‘Well, not me,’ I said, although my mouth was so full of toast it came out a bit more like ell ot e. I swallowed the toast, took a gulp of pumpkin juice, and then faced my two best friends. Scorpius, who was glaring at the table, and Fauna, who was sporting a devilish grin. ‘I’m just going to help him with his homework, simple as. I mean, it’s pretty mega,’ I said, as a concession to Fauna. ‘But, you know, academic.’


‘Ooooh, academic,’ Fauna laughed. ‘Well, we’ll keep an eye on it. Won’t we, Scorp?’


Scorpius dropped his glare in an instant, replacing it with an unconvincing smile. He wasn’t fooling anyone; I knew he pretty much hated Albus and wouldn’t even give him the time of day.


‘Sure,’ he said. ‘We’ll be watching. Like hawks.’


True to my predictions, Fauna had forgotten all about being annoyed with me by Herbology, and we were back to our usual chirpy selves by the time we got to Potions. Potions was a lesson we used to have with the Ravenclaws, but now this was the first N.E.W.T year and all, there were only fifteen of us in the class and it was a mixture of all the houses. There were the three of us and Lucy from Hufflepuff, two Slytherins, Four Ravenclaws and two Gryffindors, and, yes, one of those Gryffindors was Albus. But he sat at the back of the class and we sat kind of near the front because we’re squares, so thankfully Fauna didn’t get many opportunities to nudge me and wink at me and stuff every time me and Albus were within a metre of each other.


But at the end of Potions, when we were all milling outside in the corridor on our way to break, someone tapped my shoulder and I turned around and saw Albus with the other Gryffindor, who I think was a girl called Eustace Finch.


‘Hey, Flora,’ he said. ‘Are you busy this afternoon?’


Even though he hadn’t been talking, I sensed Scorpius going very quiet beside me. Fauna, by contrast, let out a nervy giggle.


‘Nah, I’m not,’ I said.


‘Do you want to meet in the library? Say, four? I won’t keep you long,’ Albus smiled.


‘Of course,’ I smiled back, while Fauna continued to giggle and Scorpius continued to impersonate a rock either side of me. Then Albus waved cheerily and walked off, Eustace Finch in tow, and then Fauna took me by the elbow and turned me on the spot so we could walk off in the opposite direction. Scorpius took a while to follow.


‘I think he likes you, Flora,’ Fauna whispered conspiratorially. ‘He’s smiled like that every time he’s seen you!’


‘Maybe he’s just a nice guy,’ I shrugged.


‘Maybe he’s showing off,’ Scorpius said bitterly.


‘Oh, give it a rest, will you?’ Fauna said, as she linked her arm through mine. ‘You haven’t even given the poor boy a chance.’


‘Yeah, Scor,’ I said, because, actually, I did agree with Fauna on this one. ‘He’s sound.’


‘Oh, whatever, fine,’ Scorpius said. ‘I’ve got Arithmancy now, I’ll see you two later?’


And then he turned and walked off in the direction Albus and Eustace Finch had gone.


‘Hey!’ Fauna called after him. ‘It’s break!’


But he didn’t turn around, just put his arm through the other strap of his rucksack and walked off like he meant business. Me and Fauna looked at each other.


‘Weird,’ Fauna said.


‘He’s always been weird,’ I said.


Not really much happened for the rest of the day. Lessons, lunch, then more lessons – nothing really that eventful, unless you count the fact that I accidentally set fire to the cup of water I was working on in Charms. I don’t really know how you can set fire to water, but apparently I can do it. It’s why I’m really good at History of Magic and Runes and Divination and stuff that doesn’t really need magic, which I suppose is really typical considering I’m muggle-born and stuff.


Fauna walked me to the library at four, which I thought was pretty nice of her, because I was getting a bit nervous even though it was just Albus and I knew he was nice and stuff. I’d realised that we hadn’t really specified which bit of the library we were going to meet in, and the library is kind of mega as libraries go and I was worried about turning up in the wrong place. But he was there, by the door, idly staring into space, and Fauna gave me a little encouraging wave and a smile and said she’d see me at teatime before she turned and went back down the stairs again.


‘Hey,’ Albus said, when he caught sight of me dithering around by the entrance.


‘Hi,’ I said. ‘So what do you want to do today?’


He shrugged. ‘I hadn’t really thought of it. You’re the tutor.’


We went into the library. As we went through the door, our schoolbags kind of bashed together, and there was a bit of an awkward moment where the momentum of my bag kind of put me off balance and I almost walked into him.


‘Basics,’ I said, once I was walking in a straight line again. ‘Start with the really basic stuff, I guess. Oh, not like that!’ I added, when I realised I might have offended him by implying he was stupid or something.


‘No, that’s a good idea,’ he said. ‘I need to cover the basics.’


We found a spare table on the leftmost side of the library with four seats. He took the seat nearest the wall and I took the one opposite, leaving an empty chair on either side of us.


‘Maybe we should cover essay structure?’ I suggested.


‘Oh, yeah, of course,’ he said. ‘Great idea! I hate essays.’


‘Just takes a bit of practice,’ I said, flipping open my folder. Unfortunately, I was a bit too enthusiastic in flipping it open, and a load of my notes went flying out across the table and onto one of the empty chairs. Albus laughed as I dived out to catch them.


‘Right, okay,’ I resurfaced, clutching a handful of paper, and noticed that he’d already got parchment and a quill out like he was going to take notes. ‘Oh…’


‘I’ll forget it if I don’t write it down,’ he smiled. ‘Fire away.’


I wasn’t quite sure if I had the ammunition to, er, fire away, so I thought as hard as I could and then the first O.W.L History of Magic lesson we’d had last year popped into my head.


‘Essay structure is probably, like, the first thing to think about,’ I said, hesitating a bit to see how he reacted. But then Albus nodded encouragingly and I continued. ‘So we’ve got two essays to cram into two hours in the exam, right? So it’s, like, sixty minutes per essay.’


He scribbled this on the parchment and I felt myself blush. It was pretty chuffing good to have someone actually listening to you and paying attention for a change who isn’t your mother, and anyway mothers are practically obliged by law to listen to all the crazy things you say so that doesn’t really count. Anyway, so, Albus started making notes, and I went on, well, teaching him.


‘But you’ve got to take ten minutes out of that, right, because you need five minutes at the start to plan, five minutes at the end to proof-read. I mean, I actually have to take about ten minutes to proof-read because my handwriting is like the handwriting of a geriatric donkey on acid…’


Albus gave me a vaguely quizzical look as I trailed off into silence.


‘Wow,’ I said. ‘Well, anyway. First, look at the question. Really look. Kind of helps if you underline important words and stuff?’


‘Like what?’


My face burned again. ‘Um, how about…to what extent does Flora Lancaster say silly things?’


He laughed at me, although not in an unkind way. ‘Should I copy that down?’


‘Go for it,’ I said, fiddling with the corner of my parchment in a vague attempt to distract myself from what felt like two candles held to my face. Okay, so, I may be really good with snacks and pretty decent at History of Magic, but I think my true talents lie in embarrassing myself.


‘Important words…’ he mused. ‘I guess, um, Flora, Lancaster, silly?’


‘Probably,’ I said. ‘Okay, so, then you need to plan your structure. You need to figure out if you agree or disagree first, right? So then it goes introduction, disagree, agree, conclusion, whatever. Basically, whichever side you can argue strongest comes second. It’s supposed to be a balanced debate but it’s totally biased because you get to pick a side right from the start.’


‘Okay,’ he said, writing the vague points of what I’d said on his parchment. 'So…introduction.’


‘Where you sum up the question, define any of the words, whatever.’


‘I guess I’d define silly.’


‘Sure. If you like.’


‘And then…well, I suppose I’d agree first. Then I’d disagree. Then I’d conclude.’


‘If you think you’ve got more evidence for disagreeing with the question, then, sure.’


‘Of course I’ve got more evidence,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you say silly things at all.’


There was a weird little silence and my face went all red and hot again with embarrassment.


‘So I suppose I’d reiterate that point in my conclusion,’ he said, after the silence had gone on for a little too long.


‘Wow,’ I said. ‘Yes.’


‘Wow indeed,’ he said, eyebrows raised, as he scribbled something about a conclusion onto his parchment.


‘And…that’s kind of it,’ I said. ‘Done and dusted…dusted, hoovered and wiped down with a damp cloth.’


There was another weird little silence.


‘Okay, that was a silly thing,’ he laughed, and all the awkwardness seemed to evaporate at once.


‘Oh, don’t try and flatter me,’ I said. ‘I’m like, the epitamy of silliness-’


‘You mean the epitome.’


‘Er, yeah.’


‘Compared to a lot of girls in our year, Flora, you’re not really that silly.’


I realised that we were really getting off-topic and had sort of abandoned the whole History of Magic thing, but I felt I’d probably done enough teaching for one day and had to stop before my brain turned into a roast dinner.


‘Huh? Really?’


‘Well, you know what I mean,’ he shrugged. ‘A lot of girls in our year just go on and on about, well, Witch Weekly stuff. But you’re kind of above all that. I think that’s nice.’


I instantly thought of Tabitha and Georgina and, to a lesser extent, Fauna and Lucy. And to be honest, I didn’t feel like I was much different from any of them. I even wore lipgloss and had a poster of Myron Wagtail next to my bed and all.


But then I remembered that Myron Wagtail is, like, really old these days, and it’s really uncool to like the Weird Sisters when you’re a twenty-first century witch. And I remembered that Tabitha and Georgina and Lucy and Fauna all liked this guy called Johnny Glimmer, who sang in a band called Modernism and was really cool and stuff. But I didn’t like twenty-something Johnny Glimmer and electronica, I liked Myron Wagtail, who had big glasses and an intellectual beard and wrote really clever poetry and wore corduroy trousers when he performed on the Weird Sisters reunion tour. And everyone knows that grown-up girls like Fauna wear lipstick and nobody wears lipgloss anymore because apparently it’s a menace when you want to kiss boys. Which isn't something I do a lot.


So I think I sort of got the gist of what Albus was saying.


‘Well, um,’ I shuffled my notes, just so I had something to do. ‘Thanks.’


‘Cool. Anything else I should know about, um…essay structure?’


‘Don’t think so,’ I shrugged.


‘Are you going to set me homework?’ he smiled.


‘Ha! No,’ I smiled back. ‘But if you ever want practise, I’ll make up some questions for you.’


‘That sounds good.’


The session evidently over, we packed away our things and then stood up, and I wasn’t sure whether to dismiss him like a Professor would or leave the library with him like a friend.


‘Thanks, Flora,’ he said. ‘I really appreciate this.’


‘Don’t mention it,’ I said, and then we walked out the library together and parted at the staircase; him to Gryffindor tower, and me to the Hufflepuff common room.



a/n: sorry for the delay in updating! It's been a mega mega mad month with art school interviews and such, so this chapter has been stagnating for ages. I thought I'd use this author's note to tell you about the (un)official playlist I sort of made for this fic, which I've listened to solidly throughout writing and has been really mega for inspiration. It's a bit long, but the essential tracks are Flaws by Bastille, When I Go by Slow Club, Mis-shapes by Pulp, Since Yesterday by Strawberry Switchblade, Ask & Accept Yourself by The Smiths, Best Friend by The Drums and Wetsuit by The Vaccines. Um, wow, that's a bit hipster as story playlists go. But they're all great tunes and I most heartily reccomend them to you all~
Thanks for reading & I hope you enjoyed it!

Chapter 5: { 04 }
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The first month of school was kind of weird and normal in equal measures. Normal because I had the same old lessons to go to, the same old dormitory to sleep in, the same old friends to hang out with and the same old social awkwardness to peddle, but weird because I was now meeting Albus in the school library twice of week to help him out with the History of Magic homework. And, weirder still, he kept smiling and waving at me in the corridors and then, before I knew it, other people started to smile at me in the corridors too.


And suddenly Lucy, Tabitha and Georgina were very interested in me. Quite often the three of them would turn up with Fauna to walk me to or from the library, which I guess annoyed Fauna as much as it annoyed me. We didn’t really know them that well – especially not Tabitha and Georgina – and the three of them would talk and laugh louder than us and we’d end up totally silent on those little walks around the corridors.


Besides, after what Albus had said at our first meeting, I didn’t want him to think that I was the sort of girl who travelled around the school in a pack. Especially not after the time Albus turned up just in time to see Tabitha applying lipgloss in a mirror Georgina was holding whilst Lucy flipped through Witch Weekly and me and Fauna stood off to one side looking awkward.


I liked Albus. Honestly, I did. He seemed genuine and honest and he was pretty smart. But at the same time, I got the feeling that there was something he wasn’t telling me. Every so often, there were these little flashes of weirdness from him. It was like there was a little weirdo wallflower like me buried beneath his calm, normal surface.


I think I really, really wanted that little weirdo wallflower side to come out. Although I wasn’t sure how that would happen, or even if it existed. I think you’d have to be pretty starved socially to end up as weird and as awkward as me.


And while I was hoping for Albus to turn weird, Fauna was trying to solve our group’s problem of social starvation.


‘D’you think we could go out?’ she said, as we were doing our homework in the Great Hall. It was the dead hour between the end of lessons and the start of tea, when people sort of end up just roaming the school looking for something to do. Some of them end up in the Great Hall, which is pretty good for group study sessions, or even when you want to chat and do your homework at the same time without getting chucked out of the library. Me, her and Scorpius were at the end of the Hufflepuff table with our Runes books spread out all around us.


‘Sure,’ I said. ‘When the weather’s nicer we could go for a walk around in the grounds-’


‘Flora, I mean…’ Fauna flipped her textbook shut and leaned in, lowering her voice. ‘Like, to a pub. Or even a club. At night.’


Scorpius actually laughed out loud at this. ‘Fauna, we’re way too young,’ he said. ‘And it’s not like we can leave school at night-’


‘No,’ she said, with a disapproving look. ‘I mean in the holidays. And…and I suppose one can…procure false identity.’


Scorpius gave her a very incredulous look. ‘Oh? Like how?’


‘You know Charlotte Mangan in the year above?’ Fauna said, and then suddenly leaned in and pulled my glasses off. ‘Doesn’t Flora look like her?’


Scorpius leant back to squint at me, whilst I flailed my hands about and squinted at the two of them, my vision suddenly blurry.


‘Eh, sort of,’ Scorpius said. ‘But there’s no way Flora looks seventeen.’


‘Oi,’ I snatched my glasses back.


‘If we put make up on her…’ Fauna said. ‘And put her in high shoes-’


‘I don’t wear make up-’


‘What about this?’ Scorpius’ hand shot into my pencilcase and, a moment later, pulled out a tube of lipgloss I kept there for emergencies.


‘Hey, I need to keep my lips healthy! It helps my circulation-’


‘Circulation?’ Fauna wiggled her eyebrows at me. ‘You just need to kiss more people, Flora-’


‘Ew! Can we get back to the original conversation?’


Scorpius shoved my lipgloss back at me and Fauna leant in even closer.


‘We could get in somewhere really easily, I bet. I mean, I’m seventeen next month and Scorpius will be in December, then if we just borrow someone’s ID for Flora, we could totally go somewhere in the Christmas holidays.’


‘And high heels are going to make me look old? Doubt it, Fauna,’ I said.


‘You just need to look taller, a bit more confident. Maybe if you sit on Scorpius’ shoulders then wear a mega long trench coat…’


‘Or you could go on stilts,’ Scorpius shrugged.


‘Very funny, guys-’


‘Well, if you wanted to look really old, then I could sit on Scorpius’ shoulders and you could sit on mine and we could just find a massive trench coat-’


‘Like – what, how tall are you, Scor?’


‘Um, five eleven?’


‘So if he’s basically six feet and then we’re probably five and a half each,’ I said, counting it off on my fingers. ‘You really think a seventeen-foot tall girl is going to get into a pub?’


We all fell about laughing at the joke and eventually I shut my Runes textbook too, Scorpius following suit a moment later.


‘I dunno, though,’ he said, once we’d all finished laughing and were back to normal again. ‘Do we really…do we really need to go out?’


‘Well, it’ll be fun,’ Fauna shrugged. ‘And people will think we’re way cooler.’


I nodded because I knew what she meant, but Scorpius seemed to actually shrink away from us a bit.


‘Does what other people think really matter?’ he said.


‘Well, yeah,’ Fauna said. ‘I don’t really want to be remembered as the Asian girl who went out with the Irish guy for three months. I want to be remembered as Fauna Chang.’


‘But people might remember you as the girl who was the niece of that girl that once went out with Albus Potter’s dad-’


‘Better than the alternative!’


‘I see what you mean,’ I said, nodding to Fauna. ‘I don’t exactly want to be remembered as the girl who could set fire to water or anything-’


‘That’s actually quite a talent, you know.’


‘And I don’t really wanna be four-eyes Flora either.’


Our conversation was rather interrupted as a shadow fell over us. Fauna’s face fell. Scorpius turned around a second before I did, and I could guess from the matching looks of horror they were both sporting that there was something pretty nasty behind me.


When I actually did turn around, I saw that the three Slytherins who’d nearly beat me up about a month ago were standing behind me and they looked like they meant business.


Evidently their mega load of detentions were up.


‘What’s up, four-eyes?’


Before I knew it, my regular answer had fallen out of my mouth. ‘The sky.’


‘Don’t be smart,’ the Slytherin I recognised as Fletcher snarled.


‘I wasn’t,’ I said, quite honestly. But then I found I couldn’t speak, because Scorpius had surprised me into silence by actually standing up.


‘Hey,’ he said, glaring up at the Slytherins.


And that was it. Scorpius’ mind seemed as blank as mine. After two full minutes of silence, the Slytherins seemed to get a bit edgy and shifty about the fact that Scorpius was just standing there frowning up at them and not saying them. So I stood up too.


‘Yeah!’ I said. ‘Don’t…don’t.’


Honestly, if there was such thing as an award for social awkwardness, me and Scorpius would probably win it together every time. I was half-hoping that the Slytherins would get so freaked out by us that they’d naff off before anything got serious, but it seemed that they were in it for the long run.


‘I thought we told you not to grass,’ Fletcher sneered.


‘Stuff happens when you grass,’ the Slytherin on the left said. ‘Bad stuff.’


‘Oh, like I’m scared,’ Scorpius said, rolling his eyes, but up close I could see that he’d actually gone a bit pale and his hands were shaking a bit. The poor boy was probably terrified. I felt a little bit nervous, but I knew that even the Slytherins weren’t thick enough to try and pick on us in broad daylight in front of a ton of students doing their homework.


‘You need to watch it, mate,’ Fletcher said, jabbing a fat finger at Scorpius’ chest. ‘I wouldn’t pass up on a chance to pound traitor scum like you.’


Or perhaps they were that thick.


Scorpius seemed to go a shade paler. I noticed he was holding his breath, which is never a good thing. There are a lot of things about Scorpius I haven’t talked about, but mostly because he doesn’t like to talk about them either. The ‘traitor scum’ comment was a bad one, really bad, as I knew from having been his friend for six or so years, but it was all tied up in family history I barely knew anything about and tried to keep my nose out of. And Scorpius holding his breath – well, never a good thing.


On the plus side, I know where he keeps his inhalers.


I think the fact that Scorpius didn’t say anything in response made it worse. Or maybe it was me, glaring at them, really trying to give them the dirtiest look I could summon.


Actually, the worst thing was probably me spewing out the most childish insult in the book.


‘Takes one to know one!’


Childish and stupid as it may have been, it made Fletcher pretty angry. He took a swipe at us – it wasn’t a particularly good or powerful punch or anything, but it was enough to make me and Scorpius both duck at the same time. Then there was a clatter and when I finally straightened up, I saw the Slytherin on the right swoop down and snatch something up off the floor.


Fletcher was glaring at us, still fuming, but then his friend passed him whatever he’d picked up off the floor.


‘Well, well, well…’ he said softly, then gave us a really evil, nasty grin. In his fat fist, he was holding Scorpius’ inhaler.


I started to panic a bit when I realised I could hear Scorpius breathing next to me, and, generally, hearing someone’s breath in a room that loud isn’t the best thing.


‘Hey,’ I reached out to grab it back. ‘Give that to me-’


Fletcher snatched his arm away, holding the inhaler up above his head where I couldn’t hope to reach it. I lunged forward, grasping empty air, but he just laughed and held it higher.


‘Come on, four-eyes!’ he was saying. ‘Jump!’


I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me hop around like a demented rabbit but, then again, I didn’t exactly want Scorpius to have a full-blown asthma attack on the floor of the Great Hall. After all, it was my fault the Slytherins were there.


I tried being nice. ‘Please,’ I said. ‘Please give it back-’


Then someone unexpected suddenly appeared on my right.


‘Hey,’ Albus said. ‘Give that back.’


I’m not sure I ever fully thanked Albus for turning up out of the blue to save both me and Scorpius’ respective bacon on that day. As soon as I heard his voice, I felt an odd sort of calm, like I knew that we had more of a chance of winning or something.


Fletcher gave a derisive snort of laughter. ‘Oh yeah, Potty, what you gonna do?’


There was a brief, tense pause. Then Albus slipped his wand out of his sleeve.


‘This,’ he said.


I’m not really sure how it happened or even what happened. But one minute Fletcher and his thick friends were guffawing and sneering at us, and then, the next minute, they all had a rather impressive set of tentacles dangling out of their sleeves and Scorpius’ inhaler had fallen to my feet.


I wanted to laugh along with the rest of the hall, but my primary concern was for Scorpius’ lungs, so I snatched up the inhaler, forced him to sit on the bench and then shoved it into his hands. Dimly, I registered Fletcher and his mates yelling in horror before they turned and ran out of the Great Hall, their tentacles flapping on the flagstones with the most disgusting squelching sounds. Albus pocketed his wand and then perched on the bench next to me, totally calm, totally cool about the whole thing.


‘That was mega,’ I said, and I was surprised to hear how calm and cool I was too. Scorpius, on my other side, sat and puffed away on his inhaler, staring determinedly at the opposite wall so he didn’t have to acknowledge Albus.


‘It was nothing,’ Albus said. ‘I’ve wanted to use that jinx for ages, actually…’


‘Won’t you get detention?’


‘Yeah,’ he shrugged. ‘Worth it, though.’


I smiled at him. ‘Thank you.’


‘I should be off,’ he said, getting to his feet again. ‘Four in the library tomorrow, Flora?’


‘As always,’ I said, and then he gave me a little wave before turning and walking off again, to the applause of half the Great Hall. A few people still stared at me and Scorpius, but not that many. I don’t think we were important enough and, besides, all we’d done was chucked a couple of half-hearted comebacks and insults at the Slytherins before Albus had turned up and kicked their arses.


‘You alright?’ I said, putting my arm around Scorpius’ shoulders. He looked as if he was about to shrug me off, but then he tucked his inhaler back into his pocket and simply sat and glowered at the facing wall, letting me pat him awkwardly on the back for a bit.


‘Wow!’ Fauna said, startling me so much that I actually flinched; in the heat of the moment, I’d almost forgotten she was watching. ‘Wow! That was so mega!’


‘Er, yeah,’ I said, patting Scorpius emphatically on the back again.


‘Did you see that? He gave them tentacles!’


‘It was pretty awesome…’


‘He’s really cool,’ Fauna grinned, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘That was so cool!’


‘Yeah, because the sun shines out of Albus blimmin’ Potter’s arse-’


‘Scorpius, don’t,’ Fauna said, just as I turned to frown at him. ‘What he just did was really nice, you know.’


Scorpius glared at the table. I hadn’t seen him so angry for ages. It was probably the double-whammy of being shown up by Albus Potter and having his inhaler stolen by the Slytherins. I mean, that was mega embarrassing. So I tried to sympathise, even attempting an awkward little one-armed half hug.


‘You’re alright now, aren’t you?’ I said, and, when he gave a stiff nod, I took my arm away and turned back to Fauna.


‘Don’t suppose you heard what the Slytherins said about you,’ she grinned.


‘What, four-eyes Flora? That’s hardly new-’


‘No,’ she said, and her grin got even wider. ‘Just before they left.’


‘What?’


She leaned in conspiratorially again. ‘Watch it, Potter, we’ll get you and your girlfriend someday!’


My stomach did a little somersault, then a backflip, then did a bit of freestyle gymnastics around my midriff. I’d almost forgotten the diversionary kiss – what if the Slytherins had told other people about it?


‘Oh, Flora, don’t be offended!’ Fauna said, and I realised that my little panic about the diversionary kiss probably hadn’t gone unnoticed.


And, to my right, I heard Scorpius repeat the word ‘girlfriend’ in a tiny, incredulous little voice. I’m not sure why, but that made me even more uncomfortable.


‘I mean, tons of girls would love to be his girlfriend and-’


‘Not me,’ I said firmly. ‘You know the Slytherins talk a lot of crap.’


‘All the same, Flora,’ she said, and then her voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I think he likes you.’


It was a really awkward moment. It was more awkward than a bunch of awkward hawks at a party, probably a really awkward party, not that I’d know much about parties because I don’t tend to get invited to them. But, yeah. Awkward like a bunch of awkward hawks at an awkward party standing in a corner being awkward. I had Fauna opposite me, an honorary member of the Albus Potter fan club, and then Scorpius at my side, a devoted founding member of the Albus Potter is a Stuck Up Idiot club.


So, to placate both of them, I just tried to do my best sceptical look and said: ‘oh, don’t be daft, Fauna. He’s just being nice. Can we get back to Ancient Runes now?’


Before either of them could speak, I’d flipped open my Runes textbook and pretended to be engrossed in the random page I’d opened it on, tilting my head so that my hair fell into a sort of curtain around me.


‘Flora,’ Scorpius elbowed me. ‘Your textbook is upside down.’


And with that, everything went back to normal. Fauna made some joke about me needing my eyes tested again, Scorpius sorted out my book for me, and then a minute later we were back to discussing whether we’d be able to get into a pub as one seventeen-foot tall creature in a mutant trench coat.


Except it didn’t really ever go back to normal again. Not after that.



a/n: woo update~ this chapter is a bit...eh. it's a bit hastily written and a bit filler-y, but I hope it was alright. I just properly sat down and planned out the remaining chapters for this, and I'm really excited about writing them. Somehow, what was originally planned as a simple Al/OC romance has sort of...sort of become bromance meets dystopia meets the perks of being a wallflower. wow. please don't judge me for that. I'm rather given over to my 3am fic sprees and a lot of casual crackery tends to emerge out of those. ♥

Chapter 6: { 05 }
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The simple truth was that Albus was actually pretty good at History of Magic.


Okay, he wasn’t perfect and, okay, he didn’t quite get the marks I got. Okay, he did have to work a bit harder than most in the class and, okay, his essay technique was far from amazing, but the boy barely needed tuition. And yet he kept agreeing to meet me twice a week in the Library and, somehow, we found enough work to fill those hourly sessions every time.


It got to October, and I was certain that I’d have to tell him pretty soon that he didn’t need to keep meeting me because he was actually doing alright in the subject. But I didn’t really want to tell him that, because our meetings were actually pretty fun and I seemed to have made a new friend in him. It was nice, like we’d gone about becoming friends the normal way through lessons and studying and stuff, and not through train robberies and diversionary kisses. He never ever once brought up that spur-of-the-moment snog in the first-floor corridor, although I found my mind drifting back to it now and again. It had been my first kiss, after all. And I still hadn’t told a single person about it, not even my best friends. That made me feel pretty crummy.


It was like it had never happened, which I supposed was for the best. But I had the niggling thought in the back of my head that, had the school found out just what had gone on then, I wouldn’t be frigid old four-eyes Flora with her Myron Wagtail posters and pockets full of Opal Fruits any more. I’d actually be…well, you know, somebody else. Maybe just Flora.


I ended up being really glad I didn’t tell Albus to stop meeting me in the library, though, because during the very session that I was going to tell him to give it up, there was this very weird but very cool little moment that made me change my mind.


Like most weird but cool moments I’ve had in my life, it started with an accident. I was a bit late to the Library because we’d been let out of Runes five minutes after the bell, so when I found Albus I just threw everything I was carrying straight onto the table and then flopped into a chair. Unfortunately, my Runes folder landed at a strangle angle and flew open, so that Albus was left sitting right in front of the huge collage I’d made of Myron Wagtail and the Weird Sisters on the inside of the cover.


I felt pretty mortified because it was not cool to fancy Myron Wagtail, as Fauna had pointed out many times, and I’d made it so much worse by adding loads of little doodles of hearts and stars and song lyrics in curly script around the edges. So I snatched the folder back, slammed it shut, and tried to pretend that he had never seen it when, in fact, he was laughing into the cuff of his jumper.


‘You’re a Weird Sisters fan?’ he said, once we’d both regained a sufficient amount of composure, although I couldn’t stop blushing.


‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I know it’s bizarre-’


‘It’s not bizarre at all!’ he grinned. ‘I love them!’


I felt a little less awkward, so smiled back at him. ‘They’re pretty much the only, like, magic band I like,’ I said. ‘You know, being muggle-born…they were the only magic band I clicked with.’


‘Well, yeah, because they’re awesome,’ Albus said. ‘Have you ever heard the purple album?’


My heart skipped the tiniest of beats. ‘You mean the one with all the unreleased demos and b-sides? Of course.’


‘Oh, thank you!’ he said, throwing his hand up to the ceiling in mock worship. ‘Nobody’s heard of that album! It drives me mad, because Lacewing Lullaby is easily their best track.’


‘Track four,’ I said, and Albus raised an eyebrow at me. ‘I’m a huge fan…’


‘Did you catch them on their last tour?’


‘Ooh, yes!’


‘Really?’ he sat forward, suddenly animated. ‘Me too!’


‘Were you at the concert when Myron tore the knee of his corduroys during Accio Love and he got the roadie to tape them up for him-’


‘Yes! It was the best night of my life!’


In the end, we didn’t get any History of Magic work done that session. We were far too busy swapping stories of that particular Weird Sisters concert, our favourite lyrics, our favourite EPs. About half an hour of this went by and I’d just promised to lend him my special edition of New Magical Express when they’d done a whole issue on the Weird Sisters when Fauna and a couple of the other girls turned up at our table.


‘Hi,’ Fauna said. ‘Do you mind if we join you?’


With a sinking heart, I realised that there were only two spare seats at the table.


‘It’s alright,’ Albus said, sweeping his notes together. ‘I’ll move-’


‘You don’t have to,’ I protested, but I sounded a bit feeble. ‘We’ll find a bigger table-’


‘There aren’t any tables left,’ Tabitha pointed out. ‘That’s why we came over here.’


‘I’m really sorry,’ Fauna said to Albus, as Tabitha and Georgina took the two spare seats. I got the feeling, though, that Fauna was apologising to me as well. And she actually looked genuinely sorry, unlike Tabitha and Georgina, who had these horribly smug looks on their faces, like they knew something I didn’t.


‘Oh, Flora,’ Albus said, swinging his satchel over his shoulder. ‘You know Myron does a show every Sunday on the WWN?’


This was news to me: ‘really?’


‘Yeah. You should listen to it, it’s mega.’


The girls bade him farewell, and he turned and went off to take the spare seat at a table of Gryffindors on the other side of the Library. I actually forgot to say goodbye to him because he’d thrown me so much by using the word mega.


Maybe my weird habits were just rubbing off on him or something.


Anyway, I was lurched out of my little reverie when Tabitha and Georgina started giggling hysterically. I thought they were just being Albus-obsessed idiots, but then I saw that they were both staring down at the Weird Sisters collage in my folder, which I’d let Albus write his favourite lyric on.


I snapped the folder shut. ‘What?’ I said. ‘They’re a good band.’


‘You’ve got a crush on Myron Wagtail,’ Tabitha snorted, but then Fauna dived in to the rescue.


‘Yeah, they’re a good band,’ she said. ‘Good for…um, dancing.’


I knew she was lying because Fauna totally wasn’t a fan of the Weird Sisters (it’d been Scorpius who’d been dragged along to the concert with me), but I appreciated that she’d cut Tabitha off like that. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate Tabitha and Georgina, but they were mega annoying and it wasn’t like I actually liked them either.


‘Ugh, they’re so old,’ Georgina pouted. ‘My dad listens to the Weird Sisters. It’s really lame.’


‘It’s not lame,’ I said, trying to defend myself. ‘It doesn’t matter whether they’re old or new as long as they make nice music.’


‘Yeah, but Myron Wagtail is like, five hundred years old and you have a poster of him by your bed, that’s a bit weird, just saying.’


I couldn’t resist a scowl. ‘He was twenty when they took that photograph, actually.’


‘But he wasn’t even fit or anything-’


‘I don’t think Johnny Glimmer’s that fit,’ Fauna cut in. ‘But I still think Modernism are a really mega band. It’s music over looks, really.’


‘Ugh,’ Georgina said again, although her tone had changed entirely. ‘Johnny Glimmer is so hot.’


‘Oh, definitely,’ Tabitha said, just as Fauna rolled her eyes and reached into her bag for her homework. ‘Did you hear Modernism are putting out a new album soon?’


I completely tuned out at that point because, honestly, I thought Modernism were a pretty crap band and I could hardly care less if the lead singer had been photographed with Emmeline Puckle, who was only the face of Life’s a Witch makeup and all. And I only knew that because I got my lipgloss from Life’s a Witch whenever I went to Diagon Alley. Celebrity scandal really isn’t my cup of tea, mostly because tea is more my cup of tea.


I tried to ignore them and get on with my Runes homework, but I had the weirdest feeling of being watched. So I glanced up, shoving my glasses back up to the bridge of my nose, and then I saw him. Albus, on the other side of the room, had caught my eye. Then, pretty deliberately, he lifted both hands, made the little rockstar devil horns symbol with both, then put them together to form a W. Straight afterwards, he turned his hands around and put his little fingers together to turn it into an S. Then he smiled and went back to his homework.


And, yeah, I couldn’t quite believe it. Albus Potter had made the secret hand sign of the Weird Sisters fanclub at me across the Library.


*



Near the end of October, a sign went up in the Hufflepuff common room saying that the first Hogsmeade visit would be in the second week of November. Of course, the usual flurry of activity ensued. I don’t even know why, but people are always obsessed with the idea of going to Hogsmeade with someone, and I’ve been at Hogwarts long enough to know that that someone isn’t necessarily a friend but probably a bit more. It all seems a bit stupid because, essentially, Hogsmeade is just a really titchy High Street. Compared to where I’m from in the Midlands, Hogsmeade is the tiniest place ever and the only reason it’s exciting is because it’s magical.


I always find myself getting unreasonably excited before a Hogsmeade trip and then finding it to be a huge let down once I’m there. Usually, I’ll just go into Honeydukes with Fauna and Scorpius, then we’ll meander round the other shops for a bit, not really buying anything. Fauna likes the macaroons in Madame Puddifoots, Scorpius likes going to the record shop near the end of the High Street – and me? Well, barring Honeydukes, the only real place of interest is Scrivenshafts, because I’m the sort of weirdo who really enjoys shopping for stationery.


So as soon as the notice went up, I knew that, inevitable, it’d be another Saturday afternoon of wandering about and coming back to school with bags full of sugary treats. One of the noticeboards was right above our usual spot in the common room (in the far left corner, hidden in a sort of alcove, featuring three squashy armchairs and a coffee table with wobbly legs), so I brought it up one Friday night after lessons when the three of us were together.


‘The next Hogsmeade date is up,’ I said, nodding up at the noticeboard. ‘D’you wanna go?’


It was a pretty daft question because we pretty much always went, but Fauna and Scorpius both took a while to respond.


‘I don’t think I can,’ Fauna said, from her upside-down spot on the armchair opposite me (Fauna usually sat upside down when she was doing her Divination homework, because she said it helped her focus on the ley lines, whatever those were). ‘I’ve got an Astronomy trip that day. Sorry.’


‘Scorpius?’ I said, turning to my right.


‘I’m not sure I can either,’ he said. ‘I’m busy for the next few Saturdays with Book Club.’


‘Book club,’ Fauna echoed, giggling. ‘You’re such a nerd.’


‘It’ll look good on my seventh year reference,’ he said archly, turning a page in the novel he was reading. ‘They always say you’ve got to have a few extra-curricular activities…’


‘Oh, fiddlesticks,’ I said. ‘The only thing I’ve got is helping Albus with his homework every week.’


‘You should join Cookery Club,’ Fauna suggested. ‘They do a lot of baking, Lucy says.’


‘I’m really naff at cooking,’ I said.


‘You can come to Book Club with me,’ Scorpius said. ‘They actually prescribe a lot of muggle stuff.’


‘Yeah, but I’d rather read magic stuff,’ I said, picking at a loose thread on the armchair. ‘I get to read enough muggle stuff at home. Is there a club where you get to sit around and eat crisps or something?’


‘If only…’ Fauna said wistfully.


‘I wish they’d do a Music club or something,’ Scorpius said. ‘I’m sick of them playing bloody Modernism records in the common room all the time…’


‘I think what you’d want is an elitist record appreciation group,’ Fauna said.


Scorpius didn’t respond, only pretended to be engrossed in his book. Me and Fauna shared a strange look, mostly due to the fact that she was upside down.


‘Hipster,’ she muttered.


‘D’you think tutoring Albus would count?’ I said hopefully.


‘Not really,’ Fauna grimaced. ‘You could always offer to tutor first years. The Professors like that.’


‘Oh, no,’ I said. ‘Too much social interaction.’


The conversation was basically over, so me and Fauna both went back to our homework and Scorpius went on with his book. I didn’t even know why, but I felt a little betrayed that they were both too busy to go to Hogsmeade with me. Like I said, Hogsmeade isn’t even that exciting, but I still wanted to go and didn’t want to go on my own like the loser I was.


I had a bit of a stroke of luck the next day, though, exactly a fortnight before the actual Hogsmeade trip. I hadn’t exactly planned to meet Albus in the Library, but I’d gone with a view of taking out some extra reading for Charms to deal with my setting-fire-to-water problem, and he’d been sitting alone at one of the group study tables so I’d joined him. He started out by offering me some help with Charms, and eventually we got really off-topic and ended up carrying on about the Weird Sisters and our mutual dorky love for them all over again.


‘I’m still missing a copy of the Enchanted Hearts album,’ he said. ‘I know it’s not the best, but it’d be cool to have the full collection. I might look for it in Hogsmeade.’


‘Neat,’ I said. ‘I would pop into Magic Sounds and have a look myself but, well, Scorpius can’t make the visit, and he’s usually the one that drags me in there.’


‘Really?’


‘Yeah,’ I said, and I felt myself turning red. ‘Um, all of my friends are busy. Er, all two of them, that is. I was just going to go by myself so I can pop into Honeydukes and get some new ink from Scrivenshafts…’


‘Aw, Flora!’ Albus said, with a sort of pitying laugh. ‘You can come along with me and my friends, if you want.’


I couldn’t really tell whether he was joking or not. ‘Really?’


‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Well, it’s Quidditch next week, so I guess they’ll want to go to the Three Broomsticks for a drink. And you can’t go to Hogsmeade without going to Honeydukes.’


‘And…and I can really join you?’


‘Of course,’ he smiled. ‘It’d be awesome. Maybe I can drag you into Magic Sounds for a change.’


I smiled back. ‘I’d like that.’




a/n: New Magical Express is, of course, a play on New Musical Express, my weekly reading material of choice (hipsterrr...). And the lovely person in the lovely chapter image is the lovely Jarvis Cocker, who did (albeit briefly) play the part of Myron Wagtail in Goblet of Fire. Flora's feelings about Mr Wagtail are essentially just my feelings about the wonderful Mr Cocker, just with different names attached. Except the collage in my English Lit folder is mostly based around The Smiths and the wonderful Robert Smith~
coming soon: what's quidditch without a post-match party?, Flora and Albus and the trek through the snow, and Scorpius and the Mysterious Mystery Misery.

Chapter 7: { 06 }
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For the first week of November, all anyone could talk about was bloody Quidditch.


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind Quidditch. I see it as being a bit like football, except I think I understand football and I definitely don’t understand Quidditch. It’s like football in the way that everyone gets caught up in it, no matter how old or young or dorky they are or whatever. Once a game gets going, everyone gets so totally absorbed in it that, if you’re not into it, you may as well be an amoeba or something because nobody wants to notice you.


To be fair, most of my memories about football are from when I was pretty young, before my dad left, because my mum can’t stand it. Whenever there was a match on telly dad used to let me sit on his lap so we could watch it together, and even if I didn’t really get what was going on, it was nice to be able to cheer at the same time and whatnot. My dad’s from Glasgow, and he used to tell me about how intense the rivalry was there, how the family would disown me if I ever supported Celtic. It didn’t really matter because I could enjoy it without really supporting any team. It was time I got to spend with my dad. And I guess I’ve never really felt that way about Quidditch because there isn’t that nice, nostalgic feeling about it.


Most of the time I skip the school matches and use the time to chill out in the empty common room. Scorpius and Fauna go a lot, but that’s because they grew up with Quidditch and I bet they’d feel like I did if I tried to take them to a football match. I guess the three of us all have really different feelings about Quidditch, though. Like how Scorpius actually really wanted to be on the team but he’s just not good enough and, besides, he said that when you’re up that high and going at that speed, breathing is like getting punched in the lungs. So it’s sad he can’t play, but it hasn’t stopped him going. He even has an Appleby Arrows scarf from his Dad and all, just like I have a Glasgow Rangers scarf my dad sent me for my fifteenth birthday.


I don’t know why me and Scorpius have so many feelings about Quidditch. I mean, Fauna’s just in it for the hot sporty boys. She doesn’t have to get all emotional and sad about it.


Anyway, the match that week was no exception. Scorpius went for the game, Fauna went to ogle Toby McFarlane from Ravenclaw in his flying robes, and I lounged about in the common room doing absolutely naff all for the three hours they were gone. It was bliss. I sat on a sofa in front of the fire and flicked idly through New Magical Express, (just looking at the pictures, if I’m honest) whilst Willoughby sat on my lap and purred like an articulated lorry.


I was midway through a mega exciting interview with Myron Wagtail about Weird Sisters Greatest Hits album that was about to be released when the common room door opened and people started to flood back in from the match. I read to the end of the paragraph I was on and then put my magazine away, waiting for Fauna and Scorpius to come back.


When they finally turned up, Fauna looked over the moon. Scorpius, by contrast, looked sufficiently under the moon, if that’s even a thing. I gathered up Willoughby and my bag and headed over to our usual little nook of the common room so I could find out why they were, between them, pretty much making a full orbit of the moon mood-wise. We all took an armchair each, then Fauna leant in, flattening her hands upon the surface of the little coffee table. At once, the wobbly legs lurched sideways and she was left clutching onto it for dear life.


‘Well,’ she said, once she’d wrestled the table back upright again. ‘We have been invited to a party.’


‘Oh?’ I said, just as Scorpius rolled his eyes.


‘Yup! Post-match party!’ Fauna said brightly. ‘Dermot said I could come and bring my friends if I wanted, so…why don’t we go?’


‘Hang on,’ I said. ‘Whose party? Who even won the match?’


‘Gryffindor, of course,’ Scorpius said.


‘Flora, you should’ve seen it! Albus and Toby were, like, in a headlong dive to get the snitch-’


‘Yeah, Potter pulled a Wronski Feint, it’s nothing special,’ Scorpius said. ‘He barely did anything for the rest of the match.’


‘So it’s a Gryffindor party?’ I cut in, before Fauna could snap at Scorpius. ‘Oh, I dunno, the tower’s miles away.’


‘Eh, not really,’ Fauna shrugged. ‘We can take the shortcut from the third floor.’


‘It’s not like we know anyone in Gryffindor,’ Scorpius said.


‘I know Dermot,’ Fauna said archly. ‘And Flora knows Albus.’


‘Barely,’ I said, although this was a bit of a lie because I guess I had got to know him a bit better through all the dorky Weird Sisters appreciation in the library. ‘And I haven’t got anything to wear.’


‘Psh, it’ll be casual,’ she waved me away. ‘Besides, we’re the same size, right?’


‘You’re skinnier,’ I said.


‘That is so not true-’


‘Anyway,’ I said, before we disintegrated into a meaningless circular conversation. ‘I don’t really, well, wear a lot of skirts.’


There was a pause.


‘Flora, not wearing a lot of skirts isn’t a good reason to pass up on a party,’ Fauna raised her eyebrows at me. ‘Come on, please come with me. I don’t want to go alone like a loser.’


‘I’ll go if Scorpius is going,’ I said, knowing that this probably put Scorpius in a bit of a bind because, if he refused, Fauna would be upset, but if he said yes, he’d have to spend his night hanging out with Gryffindors.


‘Fine, whatever,’ he said. ‘But I’m leaving early.’


*



People always say Gryffindor house throw the best parties. And this is probably true, because I’ve been to Hufflepuff parties, and Hufflepuff parties tend to be a bit of a jelly-and-ice-cream-and-party-games affair. Usually Hufflepuff parties just revolve around a lot of food because we’re so close to the kitchens, but that’s pretty peachy when you’ve got a sweet tooth like me. Gryffindor parties are more like parties in the sense that people actually go to socialise, not just to stuff their faces.


You hear a lot of rumours, though. Like, you hear a lot of rumours about kids smuggling in drinks or playing cheap games like spin the bottle, and, truthfully, that sort of stuff frightens me a little bit. Typically, the Gryffindors throw a party, and then all anyone can gossip about for weeks is how some girl is a slag because she kissed more than one boy, and I think it’s weird how nobody ever gossips about a boy kissing more than one girl. It makes me a bit mad, actually. I like how homely Hogwarts is, and all that gossip and stuff just…well, it’s like when you’re sitting in a warm room on a winter’s night, and then you open the front door and a sharp little breeze comes in and makes you shiver.


Girls are really cruel. And I don’t get why. It’s a bit sinister to think that, if Fauna just so happened to maybe kiss more than one boy on the same day or something, no matter how sweet she is, there’d be unkind words about her swapped in the corridors all week. But if Scorpius kissed a load of girls, everyone would probably think he was really cool. Okay, maybe not because it’s Scorpius, but the principle still applies.


I think this is why everyone thinks I’m so weird. I don’t understand them and they don’t understand me.


Okay, I’m getting really off the point now. I think I just wanted to explain why I ended up getting really nervous about going to this stupid party when Fauna was so excited about it. I just wanted to turn up, maybe say hi to a few people, have a few snacks, then get back to the common room before curfew. Just to make Fauna happy and maybe, you know, even say hello to Albus.


It didn’t start off well. I mean, Fauna made me wear a skirt. I’m one of those weird girls who favours comfort over style, and I’m a bit too attached to my jeans, but after a bit of persuading she got me to put on a skirt she dug up from the bottom of her trunk. It was a bit creased and way too short, but she pouted at me and told me it was about time I got my legs out so I wore it. If it’s any consolation, she let me keep my thick tights.


Apart from that, it was on with the favourite old comfy jumper, the not-so-favourite-but-necessary enormous glasses, and the pink lipgloss. Not that I’m ever parted from the last two anyway.


Walking back down to the common room was pretty awkward because I had to keep tugging the skirt down. We met Scorpius in our little nook; he hadn’t even changed out of his usual jumper-and-skinny-jeans combination.


‘Hey,’ he said, giving me a funny look. ‘You look a bit…different.’


‘She made me wear it,’ I said, as Fauna giggled behind her hand. ‘It’s alright, actually.’


I gave the skirt another tug for good measure.


‘Besides,’ I continued, as Fauna giggled away beside me and Scorpius’ lips started to twitch into a smile. ‘You look absolutely the same!’


The three of us traipsed out of the common room and up the stairs. Fauna had heard that a lot of the Hufflepuffs were going too, but it seemed they’d either gone before or they were leaving later than us, because we barely saw anyone on our trek up to Gryffindor tower.


‘I bet we’re too early,’ Fauna said. ‘Ugh, I hate that. Being early to a party is so awkward.’


‘How many parties have you even been to, Fauna?’ Scorpius said.


‘Okay, I guess that being early to a party is so awkward-’


I folded my arms across my chest and tried not to speak, because I was actually pretty worried that it would be awkward and cringey, especially with me walking around in a silly skirt spreading awkward like it was a contagious disease and all.


Okay, I really didn’t have high hopes for the evening. Not at all.


We eventually came to a stop in front of the Gryffindor portrait entrance.


‘Right,’ Scorpius said. ‘How do we get in again?’


No sooner had the Fat Lady (the portrait in question) asked us for the password than the portrait swung open, and Albus popped his head out.


‘Oh, hi!’ he said.


I think the three of us must have given him a really strange look, because he jerked his thumb back inside the door and said ‘one of the portraits told me there were people outside. In case you were wondering.’


I was the first to follow him in. ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘Thought we’d be out there for ages…’


‘I’ll just have to keep an eye on the portraits,’ he shrugged. ‘I didn’t realise you were coming.’


‘Um,’ I turned back to look at Fauna. ‘I’m just a guest…of a guest.’


We reached the Gryffindor common room and came to a halt just inside the entrance, standing awkwardly in a little huddle. Scorpius was doing his best to pretend Albus didn’t exist, which was probably a bit hard seeing as they were next to each other.


‘It’s okay,’ Albus said, giving Scorpius a dead funny look. ‘It’s a nice surprise.’


I tried to say something nice in return, but somehow the words wouldn’t come out. It was probably just as well because, inside, the Gryffindor common room was a bit of a chaos of noise inside and he probably wouldn’t have heard me.


‘So…’ Albus trailed off.


‘I, um, heard about the match,’ I said to Albus. ‘Congratulations.’


‘Pardon?’


‘Fauna told me about the match!’ I raised my voice. ‘Well done!’


‘Thanks!’ he said. ‘You didn’t go?’


My stomach did a little backflip of awkward.


‘Er, not really,’ I said. ‘Not a big fan of Quidditch, me.’


I’m pretty sure I told Albus something like this before, but he actually looked a bit disappointed. So I stared at my shoes, as if hoping they would jump in and say something witty to save the day. But, no, I just had Fauna and Scorpius either side of me, and they weren’t saying a word.


‘Well,’ Albus turned to look around behind him. ‘You know Lucy, right? And Tabitha and Georgina are here already, I think.’


I got what he was trying to imply.


‘Oh, them,’ I said. ‘Yeah, they said they might come.’


‘Anyway…’ his eyes drifted off to look at something behind my head. ‘Someone’s out in the corridor. I better let them in. See you later, okay?’


‘Okay,’ I gave him a little wave, but he’d already gone off to open the portrait hole.


‘Oh god,’ I turned back to Fauna and Scorpius. ‘That was so awkward.’


‘Really?’ Scorpius said.


‘Look, Lucy’s over there,’ Fauna nodded to a corner. ‘Let’s go and say hi.’


It got a bit better after that. The whole party atmosphere didn’t turn out to be half as sinister as I’d expected and, even though people were drinking, there wasn’t any of the sort of behaviour that usually caused gossip in the corridors.


I know, I know, I sound like such a prude. But, you know, being Hogwarts’ resident Japanese-knotweed-of-awkward Flora Lancaster had deprived me of anything resembling a social life since I was eleven and this was technically my first party experience. But it was way better than I thought and, after we’d been talking to Lucy for ten minutes, she said she was going to get a drink and that she’d bring us all back one as well. I was about to say no thanks, but Fauna elbowed me in the ribs and I stopped.


Seriously, it was way better than I thought. Sure, the drink Lucy brought back would by no means be replacing fizzy pop as my beverage of choice, but it made everything seem a lot brighter and happier. Just a little bit, like the lights had been turned up a notch.


Still, nothing could shake the awkwardness of that little meeting with Albus, the way he’d looked so disappointed and all. And when I saw him crossing the room a bit later, I caught myself looking at him for ages like I was wishing he would turn around, and that’s when I realised I actually cared what he thought of me.


I didn’t know whether that was good or bad or what yet, but, then again, I didn’t really have time to think about it. Time flew by pretty fast. It was nine o’clock before I knew it.


‘Can we go back yet?’ Scorpius said, ever the misery-guts. ‘It’s curfew.’


‘Just another half hour,’ I told him, and Fauna nodded.


‘You’ll miss all the fun,’ Lucy said.


‘I barely know anyone here,’ he whined.


‘Just half an hour more,’ I pleaded, and he shrugged and seemed to cave in.


And after that everything seemed to happen at once. Not really, I know, it’s not like by accepting one of Lucy’s drinks I managed to bend the rules of time and space or something. More like the lights got brighter, the room got a bit warmer, everyone started talking a bit faster. And then I was in the middle of the room, dancing with Lucy, and a bit after that I went back to the corner we’d been hanging around in and Fauna and Scorpius had vanished.


‘Forget them,’ Lucy said, when I got back to her and said that the other two had gone. She was too close, almost yelling in my ear, but I realised she was the only person I had left that I actually knew barring Albus, of course, but he was nowhere to be seen. So I let her press another drink into my hand and, really, I tried my best to ignore the fact that I felt like I’d caught contagious awkward disease again.


Truthfully, I just wanted to get back to the common room. But that was far away, and there was no way I was going alone, not at that time of night. I was still a bit paranoid about the Slytherins, and goodness knows what levels they might have stooped to if they’d seen me blundering about on my own past curfew. So I knew I had to wait for Lucy but, of course, she was – dare I say it – drunk, dancing like an idiot in the middle of the room whilst someone kept the beat of the music with half-hearted clapping.


So I asked the nearest Gryffindor where the loos were, on the off chance that I could find some peace and quiet and maybe run my wrists under some cold water for a bit to fix the dizziness in my head.


The directions were simple. Through the door and up the stairs, first on the left. But when I got through the door in question, there were two staircases. So shut my eyes, stuck out my finger, went on tiptoe, and then spun on the spot.


This didn’t really go according to plan. Okay, having a part-Scottish family, I’ve seen drunk, and I certainly wasn’t. I was just…merry. But being merry doesn’t necessarily mean having good balance. So I’d planned a sort of graceful spin that would hopefully end in me pointing at the staircase I’d pick, but actually ended up with me careering into a wall and landing on my backside somewhere near the skirting board.


Just as I was sitting there, confused and maybe even a little bit bruised, contemplating life, the door opened and Albus showed up with a drink in his hand and a weird look on his face.


‘Flora,’ he said, and it was like he couldn’t believe his own eyes. ‘What are you doing on the floor?’


I decided it was better to tell the truth. ‘Uh…just…blundering about.’


‘Right,’ he said. ‘Okay.’


I stood up, which was actually pretty difficult given how tight my skirt was. After a few seconds of me standing about tugging at the hem and Albus giving me a weird look, he dipped his head towards the door he’d come through and said ‘I was about to take Lucy back to her common room.’


My heart leapt up a little bit. ‘You were?’


‘If she can’t walk in a straight line, she can’t go back on her own,’ he said. ‘Plus, I’m a Prefect. She won’t get into trouble if she’s with me.’


I fidgeted with the cuffs of my jumper. ‘Good point. Er, can I come?’ I said. ‘Only…you know. The corridors are a bit…gnarly. At this time of night.’


Albus actually laughed at me. ‘Gnarly?’


‘I’ll help you prop Lucy up,’ I said. ‘I’ll be, like, a fourth leg.’


This made him laugh again, and then I realised how my wide-eyed desperation and frantic nodding probably didn’t make my weird comments sound any better. But, somehow, he trusted me to be a fourth leg, and ten minutes later we were halfway down the stairs with a giggling Lucy between us. Lucy seemed to find everything in the castle hilarious on that long walk down from Gryffindor tower, and we had to keep stopping to haul her back from some Gargoyle she’d just insulted.


Eventually we got her to the basement corridor. I could just about see the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room when Albus suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and hoisted Lucy’s arm off his shoulder.


‘I should probably get back now,’ he said, when I gaped at him. ‘You’ll be alright, won’t you?’


‘Yeah, fine,’ I said, although I wasn’t too keen about the idea of dragging Lucy into the common room by myself. I wasn’t entirely sure I was strong enough.


‘Thanks, Flora,’ he said.


I knew it was serious when the biggest disaster of the night was not knowing whether to hug him as a form of farewell or just give him a friendly little pat on the shoulder like I was some boy in his dorm or something. So I tried to compromise, going in for a sort of one-armed hug, but inevitably having Lucy clinging onto the other arm weighted me down a bit and I ended up just patting Albus on the back of the neck.


He gave me the weirdest look yet. Behind me, Lucy watched with rapt attention.


‘Wheee,’ she said. ‘This is fun!’


‘See you?’ I said, once I’d managed to unhook myself from both of them.


‘Yeah,’ Albus smiled, but it wasn’t really all that convincing. ‘See you around.’


I waited until I could hear him going up the stairs before I tried to drag Lucy the rest of the way. She was surprisingly cooperative this time, if a little tired. I guess all the dancing had caught up with her; she yawned all the way and, when we finally got inside our own common room, she could only managed a half-hearted little wave before she turned and stomped up the stairs to bed.


I stood near the door, tugged down my skirt, tried to gauge how dizzy I felt now I was back on home turf.


‘You’re back late.’


I turned around so fast I nearly lost my balance. In our usual little alcove, Scorpius was perched in an armchair, the magazine I’d discarded earlier in his hands. And if he’d been under the moon earlier, he was pretty much entering the earth’s atmosphere with the look he had on his face then. This was like a scowl and a half straight from scowl central with misery garnish.


‘Just an observation,’ he said, trying to sound casual. He didn’t really do a good job of it.


‘Yeah, well…you need to lighten up a bit.’


A bit of advice: if you make a cutting remark, it’s probably best to follow your cutting remark with a swift, smooth exit, the more dramatic the better. Well, I certainly went for the latter, but I’m not sure my two-steps-towards-the-stairs-followed-by-stumble-to-ground manoeuvre was really the most efficient way to leave the common room that evening. It was a bit clumsy and, well, it hurt.


It was also the second time I’d fallen over in the space of about half an hour. So I crouched on the floor behind a sofa, hoping Scorpius hadn’t noticed, and feeling mega glad that Albus hadn’t been there to see Flora Falls Over: The Sequel.


Luck wasn’t on my side. ‘You alright?’ Scorpius called out. ‘Need a hand up?’


‘I’m fine,’ I straightened up and did my best to brush the dust off of Fauna’s skirt. ‘Goodnight.’


‘Goodnight, Flora,’ he said, and his voice was distinctly curt. ‘See you in the morning.’


It barely registered with me at the time, but the thought was definitely there when I woke up the next day, right on the tip of my tongue. So I’d had a little bit to drink, I’d come back to the common room a little bit later than him. But what had I done to hack him off like that?


And I lay there with the covers drawn up to my chin and the weak sunlight spilling in through a chink in the curtains and, honestly, not one answer came to me.



a/n: an update at last! ah, the post-quidditch partay, love me a bit of that trope. okay, I barely proofread this one and I am posting at, like, 3am, so if there are any silly errors please point them out because it's likely I just scrolled right past them in my art student-y sleep deprived state. thank you to everyone who's been reviewing so far - I love how everyone's already picked teams, heee. the shipping hasn't even started yet! scorpius is definitely winning by a mile. well, hope I can change your minds. for a few chapters at least. (enigmatic comment is...not very enigmatic)
anyway, thank you so much! ♥

Chapter 8: { 07 }
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The morning of the Hogsmeade visit dawned slushy, misty, and chilly. From the little circular windows of our dorm, I could see that the grounds were covered under a vast, soggy blanket of snow. The type of wintry weather I hate the most, when it’s cold enough to snow in the night but, come the morning, it’s warm enough to rain instead.


A light drizzle kicked in about ten as me and Scorpius said goodbye to Fauna in the Entrance Hall. She was off to visit some fancy Observatory in the South, Astronomy buff as she is. I totally see Fauna as becoming a complete Mystic Meg when she’s older; she loves Divination and Astronomy and follows her Horoscopes to the t. Sometimes I poke fun at her for it, telling her she’ll be a crazy cat lady with a crystal ball and anklets and stuff, but she’s pretty quick at poking fun at me in return. As she says –and I actually think she’s pretty accurate – I’m perfect crazy cat lady material. I’ll be alone with my cats and my biscuits forever. I bet even Scorpius will have more luck in life than me because, well, he’s better at pretending to be normal than I am.


After we’d said goodbye to her, there was only an hour left for me to get ready before I had to meet Albus and his mates in the courtyard. Scorpius rolled his eyes and tutted at me when I said I had to get changed before I left but, then again, he’d been a bit funny with me ever since I’d got back from the post-match party at Gryffindor tower.


He tried to laugh it off on the Sunday morning, because I’d woken up to a massive bruise on my thigh and couldn’t decide which of my two tumbles the previous evening had done it. He made all sorts of jokes about me being a closet drunk, how my fifty percent Scottish genes were making an appearance at last, how stupid I’d looked in the skirt. And I laughed along because, well, they were all fairly accurate observations, especially the one about the skirt.


Somehow, though, I felt like I’d broken some code between the two of us. When he’d been fourteen and I was thirteen and the rest of the year was really getting into partying and snogging and Fauna had a boyfriend, we’d once spent something like six hours up in this little niche overlooking the grounds moaning about how unpopular and uncool we were, stopping every so often to have a sympathy biscuit apiece. We’d got over it, eventually, though, and spent the last two hours talking about how it was okay, how we didn’t have to be popular or cool, how we were fine just being loser Scorpius and four-eyes Flora. We didn’t need parties or relationships, because we had biscuits and cats and each other. We would never go to parties or listen to Modernism records or wear trendy clothes. We’d put a lot of hard work into getting those nicknames and we weren’t about to give up when the going was so good.


So I guess I’d sort of gone back on everything I’d said then by befriending Albus, going to a silly party, drinking silly drinks, wearing a silly skirt and generally being a silly girl. I suppose Scorpius had expected me to shun it all. To defiantly continue slobbing around the school in my tragic jumpers with my Myron Wagtail collage held proudly over my head because I didn’t need parties, I had midnight biscuit raids and library fests to occupy my time. He probably didn’t expect me to become so attached to Albus either.


But Albus was nice, and it was the first time someone worthwhile had taken a moment to notice me and say lovely things about me to my face. Sure, people like Scorpius, Fauna and my mum said lovely things to my face all the time, but they’d all been part of my life so long they were practically furniture. It was nice to be validated by a fresh pair of eyes. Especially a pair of eyes that weren’t hidden behind dorky specs.


I changed into the most socially acceptable outfit I could throw together, which happened to be jeans, a tragic jumper, anorak, and sad, exhausted trainers. I didn’t have a clue what to do with my face beyond my usual crappy eyeliner and lipgloss, so I just left it alone, doing much the same with my hair.


I didn’t look like I was going off to Hogsmeade with the son of the boy-who-lived. I looked like I was going to muck out some Hippogriffs or something.


I nipped back down to the common room, said goodbye to Scorpius – he gave me a friendly wave and a smile, which made me feel a bit better – and then went up through the Entrance Hall to the courtyard.


It was still drizzling, but the caretaker had thought to clear a path through the slush and, in a corner, Albus and his mates had already gathered. I felt a bit embarrassed to think I was the last to turn up and had kept them and, blushing, hurried over to meet them.


Albus welcomed me with a cheery ‘hello!’; his friends just stood and looked at me and I couldn’t tell in the slightest what they thought of me.


Albus actually had quite a big group of friends. Two girls and five boys. Eustace Finch, the girl who was in my Potions class, and a Ravenclaw girl called Enid Boot I was pretty sure was friends with Lucy’s cousin Rose. Then Ashley Allen – who had a reputation for being a bit of a cheat – Ryan Neal, Warren Holt, Arthur Cornfoot, and Mike Fitzgerald. I didn’t really know anything about any of them, except that I’d once been Mike Fitzgerald’s partner in Charms when Scorpius had been off in the Hospital Wing after a particularly nasty asthma attack. But that had been second year.


The carriage trip down to Hogsmeade was excruciatingly awkward.


I know I’m an awkward person and I know I spread awkward like it was a contagious disease, but, somehow, this was a new level of awkward. This was like getting to the summit of awkward mountain only to discover that your eyes were playing tricks on you all along and there’s actually another thousand feet to climb. And then climbing that. And possibly tripping over at the top.


I didn’t know Albus’ friends and they didn’t know me; he was the only connection between us. There was literally nothing we could talk about. They were still full of stories about last week’s match, which, of course, I hadn’t gone to. Not counting the fact that they were all perfectly groomed and well-dressed and were probably totally normal, compared to weirdo me and her tragic wardrobe of knitted things. But somehow I’d ended up sat in the middle of a row between Enid and Mike, so they all had to talk over me whilst I stayed perfectly silent.


When the carriages dropped us in Hogsmeade, Enid decided to make a rough sort of itinerary for the afternoon so we’d all get to go to the places we wanted. The Three Broomsticks was the first suggestion, but she said we should leave that to the end of the trip. Apart from that, Albus’ friends wanted to go to Zonko’s, Dervish & Banges, Gladrags. I stayed quiet and hoped vainly that they were telepathic and could hear my silent pleas to visit Magic Sounds and Honeydukes.


Once Enid had compiled a sort of plan, there was a short silence.


‘What about Honeydukes?’ Albus said. ‘We can’t not go there.’


‘It’ll be mobbed,’ Eustace rolled her eyes. ‘You can barely get in the door.’


‘Full of first years,’ Mike added.


‘Yeah, well,’ Albus said. ‘I promised Teddy I’d send him some of their chocolate. He misses it.’


‘How about you go when we’re in Gladrags?’ Enid suggested. ‘You’re not into robes and stuff, I know.’


‘Cool,’ Albus said. And then, when his friends had turned away to walk up the High Street, he turned around and actually winked at me.


I drew up alongside him. ‘Can I nip into Honeydukes with you?’


‘Of course,’ he murmured. ‘That’s the point.’


When we got to Gladrags, Albus’ friends parted and left the two of us to carry onto Honeydukes.


‘We should only be ten minutes,’ Enid said. ‘We’ll just wait for you outside Honeydukes, okay?’


Like Eustace had said, Honeydukes was mobbed, as ever, and we must have ended up in there for over fifteen minutes. Even though I knew exactly what I was looking for (sugar quills), the queue for the tills snaked all the way round to the back of the shop and me and Albus were waiting for ages. On the plus side, we had a good natter the whole time we were waiting, talking about everything from Honeydukes’ new caramel candles to the History of Magic homework we’d been set (to what extent do you agree with the view that top-level Ministry of Magic officials failed to prevent the start of the second war?) Just as I’d paid and was slipping the sugar quills into my bag, Albus proposed we pop into Magic Sounds later in the afternoon on the off-chance he’d find that final Weird Sisters record. To which, of course, I said yes, knowing that this was probably the last chance I could go to the shops before Scorpius’ birthday and could have done with getting him a present.


So it was probably pushing twenty minutes by the time we actually shoved our way through the sugar-obsessed first years and out into the snowy High Street. Albus’ friends were nowhere to be seen.


‘How very kind of them,’ he said, but laughed, saying they’d probably turn up if we waited another five minutes. So we waited five minutes, then seven, and eventually we both sort of realised that his friends actually weren’t going to turn up.


‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘They abandon me like this a lot.’


I told him that was mean of them, but he just laughed me off, saying that he didn’t mind: at least he had some company and, besides, he didn’t care much for Zonko’s or Dervish & Banges. Then he suggested we walk round to Magic Sounds by way of the Shrieking Shack which was, apparently, a shortcut.


‘The scenic route, huh?’ I said, as we ambled down the rest of the High Street.


‘You could say that,’ he said.


The route round by the Shrieking Shack wasn’t really a shortcut at all. In fact, it would have been about the same distance if we’d gone round the other way, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d gone back up towards the village or down towards the Shrieking Shack, which was pretty much the last bit of Hogsmeade before the countryside kicked in. But I guess I was glad we’d taken the ‘scenic’ route instead. It was quieter and there were far less people to stare at me and make me prone to tripping myself up.


The little pathway out of the village passes through a copse of trees before it forks off to the right again, and it’s when you get to that fork in the path that you have a full, uninterrupted view of the ruined house that everyone still thinks is haunted, even though it’s been silent for decades. Beyond the empty house’s overgrown garden, the land shears off suddenly and there’s a steep drop down to the loch and the mountains that rise on the other side. On a clear day you can see all the way to Hogwarts perched above the lake on the far left, but when I was there with Albus, mist had hidden the castle and the mountains almost completely from view.


I always thought – and I still think so now – that, theoretically, the Shrieking Shack shouldn’t be a nice place, but it’s somehow kind of beautiful. The way branches and weeds have grown a new, skeletal roof where the old one caved in, the way the windows are all sad and smashed and the beams stick out like ribs. It’s even nicer when it’s covered in snow, but, then again, I’m one of those weird people who likes winter weather more than summer weather and I think everything looks nice when it’s snowy. Even though it’d been drizzling earlier, virtually nobody had been down by the end of the village and the snow was still perfect underfoot, like the Shack had its own little microclimate. I guess Albus thought it was a pretty breathtaking view as well, because we both stopped at the fork in the path to look at it.


‘Are you afraid of ghosts?’ Albus said.


‘Me?’ I said. ‘Not likely. The Fat Friar’s really cool.’


Albus laughed. ‘Yeah, Nearly-headless Nick’s a hoot. I just thought…well, must have been weird coming from the muggle world, seeing ghosts and all that.’


‘Yeah, a little bit. I-’


But I didn’t get to finish my sentence, because then there was a little flurry of movement a little way off to my left. I looked up and saw, with some embarrassment, a boy and girl from the year below hurrying off hand-in-hand into the woods.


Albus raised his eyebrows. ‘Looks like we interrupted something.’


I felt my face go red. ‘Yeah…’


‘Well, let’s hope there aren’t any more.’


‘Huh?’


‘I hear this is a popular spot for, well, couples.’


‘Oh. I, er, wouldn’t know.’


I thought this was a fairly innocuous statement, but it obviously surprised him. ‘What, have you never had a boyfriend?’


I felt myself going redder. ‘Um…no?’


‘Really?’ he said. ‘I thought…well, for a bit I thought you and Scorpius Malfoy might have-’


‘No!’ I blurted out. ‘Just, like, really good friends. Mega good friends. He’s my best friend. But, er, actually, a bit of a stick in the mud. So no. Well, no, never.’


‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Right.’


‘I mean…no,’ I garbled on. ‘Um, actually…you were the first person who actually, um, kissed me.’


It suddenly went very quiet indeed and I realised I’d taken things a smidge too far.


Albus’ eyes widened. ‘Oh, god, I’m so sorry-’


‘It’s-’



‘No, really, if I’d known that I wouldn’t have done it!’


‘It doesn’t matter.’


‘It does! Your, er, first kiss is…is supposed to be nice and…not some spur-of-the-moment diversionary tactic to get rid of some Slytherin bullies!’


‘It really doesn’t matter!’


He could obviously tell how awkward I was getting, so he dropped it at once and turned back to look at the Shrieking Shack.


‘So, yeah,’ he said casually. ‘This is a good shortcut and all…’


I didn’t know whether he was deluded or lying because, by now, it was more of a longcut than anything. But I decided to play along with it for sake of keeping the awkwardness at a safe level.


‘Actually, I just like this way more,’ he admitted. ‘I think it’s really pretty. Everyone thinks it’s weird and avoids it but, well…I think it’s really interesting. Mega!’ he added, grinning at me. ‘It’s mega mega cool!’


‘Do you come here a lot?’ I said.


‘Sometimes. My friends hate it, though. So sometimes I have to sneak off like a loser and they think I’m really weird.’


‘My friends think I’m weird too,’ I smiled. ‘But me and Fauna usually come up here to make snow angels in the winter. Well, not this year, I guess, but…’


‘Snow angels!’ he said. ‘That’s a great idea!’


And pretty much the next thing I knew the two of us had bounded over to the fresh snow and gone whumpf down in it.


Making a snow angel isn’t exactly tiring – it’s basically just doing star jumps on the floor – but when I was done I felt like I didn’t want to get back up again. All I could see was the snow around me, and, above me, the giant slab of dirty, white concrete that was the sky. But in a nice way. It should have been claustrophobic, but the leaden sky and the snowy ground were somehow comforting.


‘You know,’ Albus said, from somewhere to my right. ‘I could lie here for ages if my trousers weren’t getting soggy.’


So we got back to our feet and stood up right by the fence that cordoned off the Shrieking Shack from the rest of the village, the closest I’d ever been to it. My anorak had survived the snow angels, but my snow still clung to my jeans and in my hair, freezing and damp, and it was making me shiver a bit in the clammy, chilling mist.


‘Are you cold?’ Albus said, and in my shivery, teeth-chattering state I was about to go you don’t say! before I remembered I was supposed to be convincing him that I was a nice person, so instead I nodded and gave him a trembling, chattering smile.


‘I’m kind of warm,’ he said. ‘C’mere-’


And then he drew me into this lovely little hug so I ended up with my head resting on his shoulder and my face turned inwards away from the Shrieking Shack, and all I could think was that the house elves that did the laundry must have used some wicked fabric softener because he smelled really nice. It should have been an awkward moment because I am the very personification of awkward, but it actually felt all nice and normal and I was surprisingly calm. Feeling a bit warmer was just a bonus.


It was like that lovely feeling when you get into bed on a cold night and the duvet warms you up, and then you can wrap it around yourself and wiggle your toes about and get so comfy that you never have to move again. Not that Albus is like a duvet because he really isn’t, it was just a really good hug.


Except for one thing; I was sort of conscious of the meanings of a hug, having shared a dormitory with five hormonal teenage girls for nearly six years. Hugs weren’t just hugs, but movements that crossed all those invisible boundaries and ravines that separated different levels of friendship. Okay, it sounds weird to say it like that, and I was probably reading into it too much, but when we were standing there in the snow, it was weird to think that we hadn’t even known each other until a few months before. And there wasn’t really any going back.


After a while, I felt like I had to do something, so I pulled away a bit so I could look up at him and said ‘much warmer now, thanks.’ Then there was a weird moment when I thought he was going to speak but he didn’t, and when I opened my mouth to say something my mind went totally blank. So I looked down at his collar instead because I didn’t know what else to do.


‘Hey,’ Albus murmured, and then – it’s hard to describe the next few minutes without sounding like a total dork – he blew air on my face, really gently, so that my fringe fluttered about, just like he was blowing clocks off a dandelion to tell the time. So I looked up again, and there was that odd feeling of being on the verge of saying something without anything to say. Except I didn’t have to, because then he kissed me.


*



‘It’s hard to tell who you’ll end up liking,’ he’d said, just before we’d got back to the castle. ‘But they’re usually under your nose all along.’


I didn’t get back to the Hufflepuff common room until half past six, by which time most of the school had gone down to tea and the corridors were pretty much deserted. I hadn’t wanted to leave Hogsmeade, to be honest, but it had gone dark already and the last carriages back up to school left at six.


It was weird in a good way, and not just a good way but a mega good way: I’d trundled off to Hogsmeade as four-eyes Flora and strutted back as Flora, who was apparently Albus Potter’s girlfriend and a lot less of a loser than she was when she left the school. Okay, enormous bombshell of news and whatnot, but it somehow felt totally cool and normal, and I wasn’t even mad at him when he admitted that the diversionary snog wasn’t even a diversion at all but a pretty mega example of taking advantage of the situation because he’d liked me since the end of fifth year.


And it was weird in a good way to be actually properly kissing someone and holding their hand and stuff, although I guess there’s a first time for everything and, well, never any time like the present. So when he dropped me off outside my common room and we said goodbye, I felt weird, weird, weird, but pretty mega at the same time, and it was hard to look where I was going when I couldn’t stop grinning like a fool.


What he’d said about me was kind of how I’d realised I felt about him, in the sense that I hadn’t really realised I felt anything about him at all until I realised I cared about what he thought of me, and how much I’d liked our little detour that afternoon even though, ordinarily, a situation like that would have left me clammy and speechless with the sheer force of my social awkwardness. And now I felt like I was somebody instead of nobody, like there was actually a point to me being at Hogwarts beyond scraping through lessons and hanging out with Scorpius and Fauna.


The common room, like the corridors, was almost deserted. I was still in my wintry clothes, and the cosy warmth of the place hit me like a brick wall. I pulled off my anorak and scarf and folded them over my arm, nearly skipping over to our usual corner of the room. To my surprise, Scorpius was already there, slumped in one of the armchairs and engrossed in a paperback.


‘Not hungry?’ I said, as a blundered happily into my own chair. ‘Tea started half an hour ago.’


He flinched with surprise, probably surfacing from the book for the first time since he’d started it. ‘What? Is it that late already? I’m not hungry anyway.’


‘No, neither am I.’


He raised an eyebrow at me, knowing full well how much of a fan I was of eating and also how my heroic metabolism required three square meals a day, but decided not to question it. I was still grinning like a fool and couldn’t sit still, perched right on the edge of my chair with my anorak bundled up in my arms and my hair frizzy from making snow angels.


‘How was book club?’ I asked.


‘Oh, you know,’ he said, closing the book and setting it aside. ‘Booky and clubby. How was Hogsmeade?’


‘Same as ever,’ I said. ‘Hoggy and meady. No, seriously, how was it?’


‘Eh, alright,’ he said. ‘Mostly second years this week. And your afternoon?’


‘Mega,’ I grinned, and then the words tumbled out before I could stop them. ‘Mega, mega, mega, Albus asked me out.’


I felt my face burn radioactive red and waited for his reaction, which, in a way, I didn’t really want to hear. But, surprisingly, he just laughed.


‘And you said yes, right?’


‘Of course,’ I said. ‘It was mega cool, cool times infinity.’


He laughed at me again. ‘You!’ he said. ‘Going out with that prat!’


‘Hey, don’t be mean,’ I frowned. ‘He’s really nice, and he actually said he hopes you two can be friends-’


‘Sorry,’ Scorpius shook his head, still laughing. ‘Sorry, good for you, I just…yeah, ignore me. But, cool! You’re moving up in the world, Flora.’


‘And you’ve got a chip on your shoulder the size of Mars!’


‘It’s hereditary,’ he grinned. ‘Sorry, ignore me. Being an idiot. Fauna’s going to flip, you know.’


‘Why?’


‘You know how she approves of him. She’ll probably be a bit jealous too.’


Because he was still laughing about the fact that I was going out with Albus and I was still grinning like a twerp for the same reason, the two of us ended up giggling uncontrollably like little primary school kids, unable to talk for a few minutes. And, at that moment, I sincerely believed that everything could just continue as normal and we’d still be the loser and the four-eyes.


Fauna turned up about ten minutes after I did, her nose and cheeks rosy from the cold and a poster rolled under her arm. ‘What are you laughing about?’ she smiled, seeing the state me and Scorpius were in.


It took us another minute to calm down, before Scorpius said in a childish, sing-song sort of voice, ‘Flora’s got a boyfriend, Flora’s got a boyfriend!’


It was enough to set off the giggling again; even Fauna joined in, evidently noticing how I was looking a bit crazier and more flustered than usual. I wasn’t even wearing any lipgloss.


‘Really?’ she said. ‘And who’s the lucky boy?’


I felt myself go red again. ‘Albus asked me out.’


There was a high-pitched squealing noise before Fauna everything she was carrying and swooped down to hug me, which was when I realised that the high-pitched noise had been her and she was actually really, genuinely happy for me, which was kind of sweet.


‘That’s fab!’ she said, once she’d released me and cosied into her own armchair. ‘When you were in Hogsmeade?’


I nodded, and, even though I was pretty delighted, I felt a bit too embarrassed to talk about it much more, so I asked her about her Astronomy trip.


‘Ooh, mega,’ she said. ‘They did this amazing show about the constellations…I got you some stuff from the gift shop, here…’


She rummaged in her bag for a bit before emerging with three keyrings looped around her index finger, all matching, one for each of us: a little stone star on a chain, faintly iridescent.


‘They glow in the dark,’ she said, handing one each to me and Scorpius. ‘I thought they were really nifty.’


‘Thanks, Fauna,’ I said, closing the keyring in the palms of my hands and peering in at it between two fingers. I had plastic glow-in-the-dark stars at home on my bedroom ceiling that gave out a faint glow, but this one was magical, and it glowed bright as a candle would.


‘It’s kind of cheesy,’ she said, as I slipped the keyring into my pocket and Scorpius set about attaching his to the zip of his backpack. ‘It’s like, you know…a best friends kind of thing. Like a friendship bracelet. Kind of twee.’


‘It’s not twee,’ Scorpius said. ‘It’s nice.’


And I got that feeling again, that sincere, honest feeling that things could stay like this forever, that we’d be the losers and the misfits for eternity and nothing could break us up.





a/n: I finally got around to updating! er, hope you all don't mind, but I changed who I use in the story graphics to portray Flora (there's only so long you can pretend LDR is a convincing sixteen-year-old hufflepuff). I also remade all of the chapter images, hopefully for the final time, because the 3d effect I was using on the old ones was getting really tedious to do and looked pretty ugly most of the time. finally (this is a really long author's note, sorry) thanks and noot noots to Helena (tallesttower) and Erica (ericajen) for coming up with some truly brill ship names: florp (for flora/scorpius) and floral (for flora/albus). and if anyone on this planet ships scorpius and fauna, their ship could totally be called sauna. and...I believe that is all! thank you to everyone who's reviewed and favourited this fic so far, and I hope you enjoyed this chapter ♥

Chapter 9: { 08 }
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With all the drama of becoming Albus’ girlfriend, I didn’t realise until about a week after the Hogsmeade visit that I’d forgotten to go into Magic Sounds and get Scorpius a birthday present. Luckily, I still had a couple of weeks left before his actual birthday, so I ended up tearing an order form out the back of Witch Weekly instead and getting him the record I knew he’d like from Diagon Alley instead, which I ended up having to hide in my dormitory.


The thing was, though, I wasn’t actually seeing a whole lot of Scorpius since Albus had asked me out. Sure, we still had lessons together and we still hung out together in our little nook of the common room, but I wasn’t even eating at the Hufflepuff table much anymore now Albus’ friends were saving me an extra space with the Gryffindors. I’d sit with Albus in the library, I’d take Fauna to his Quidditch practices and, in those last weeks of November, I spent most of my weekends walking round the grounds with Albus or hanging out in the Gryffindor common room with him. It wasn’t like I’d ditched Hufflepuff or anything, because a lot of the time Fauna and Lucy came with me, much to the disappointment of Tabitha and Georgina. But I didn’t even bother to invite Scorpius because I think we all knew that there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell he’d ever want to spend time with Albus.


It drove me a little bit mad, if I’m honest. If you’ve been best mates with someone like Scorpius for that many years, it’s weird to have them suddenly vanish out of your life, even if they do get replaced by someone equally cool. In an ideal world, I’d have kept both of them, but it was plain they just didn’t like each other and it was a case of one or the other. That or I’d have to persuade them to be friends.


They always say girls are the dramatic ones as well. It’s supposed to be common knowledge that girls are bitchy and icy and will hold a grudge, whereas boys are uncomplicated and will sort things out like men. Not true at all; Scorpius was the king of grudges and even Albus was a bit uneasy when I suggested we try and include him a bit more. So I just had to accept that I now had two groups of friends to move between and that was what.


I made an effort, though, to take a bit of time out for Scorpius’ birthday, seeing as he was seventeen and all and that’s supposedly a big age in the magic world. Me and Fauna managed to persuade the house elves to send up a little birthday cake with tea on the evening of his actual birthday, although we didn’t try to sing to him given that there were only three of us. But I think it meant a lot to him, and he was pretty chuffed with the record I’d got him, which was by The Twenty Trenched Gashes, his favourite band (he calls it psychedelic garage-rock although, really, I’ve never been into them). We managed to persuade Tabitha to turn off the irritating Modernism records long enough so he could listen to it and, all in all, it went pretty smoothly, even if he did seem a bit miffed when I said I was off to one of Albus’ Quidditch practices.


And, after Scorpius’ birthday, the end of term seemed to come out of nowhere, probably because the Professors had been setting tons of work in the last couple of weeks and I’d suddenly had a social life to balance with school. Most of us were going home for the holidays, including me, and so Lucy had the idea of throwing a little party the night term ended where we could exchange our Christmas presents and celebrate having got through another few months of school and whatnot. And, in my case, have loads of jelly and ice cream without being judged.


The closer it got to the party, thought, the more I started to worry about it. I mean, Hufflepuff parties had never worried me before, because I knew from experience that they were basically just foodfests and an excuse to dress up a bit. But, this year, everyone started talking about whether to invite people from other houses, what drinks we’d get, stuff like that. So I suggested we maybe try and get muggle fizzy pop and, when they all looked at me weird, I realised they were actually talking about smuggling alcohol in. Which would be a first for Hufflepuff, really.


I had all these horrible mental images of what would happen if Hufflepuff tried to ‘go Gryffindor’, so to speak, and throw all these parties with illicit drinks, if Hufflepuff became the subject of gossip, for a change. Okay, it would certainly make people take notice of our house, but I didn’t want it to be for the wrong reasons. I guess I’m kind of a prude compared to everyone else, though, because they were really keen for us to sneak alcopops and stuff in.


Despite all this, I decided I wanted to go – Fauna and Scorpius would be there, and they felt the same as I did about the whole thing – and so I asked Albus if he wanted to come with me. Thing is, I’d put off asking him so much that I actually didn’t get around to it until the day of the party itself, when we both had a double free, no work to do, and were wandering around the snowy grounds together.


‘Can’t, Flora,’ he said. ‘Sorry. I’m supposed to be up really early tomorrow and I still haven’t packed.’


‘But the train doesn’t leave till Sunday…’


‘I know,’ he said. ‘I’m going away for Christmas, though, and the only Portkey we could get out was first thing tomorrow morning.’


‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Somewhere nice?’


‘Wales,’ he said, then burst out laughing. ‘Hardly palm trees and sandy beaches, I know. Just visiting family.’


‘Still sounds nice, though.’


‘Yeah, I suppose,’ he said gloomily. ‘My family’s been so…oh, it’s hard to explain. They’ve been really funny lately, really on edge, worrying about the tiniest things. I mean, they’re always like that at Christmas, but they’re awful this year. It’s probably to do with all that stuff in the papers.’


We’d reached a snow-free bench outside the greenhouses that was sheltered by a low canopy. I took a seat, brushing the snow from the turn-ups of my jeans; Albus sat next to me, looking out towards the lake. His last words had unnerved me a little, and so I tried to keep my voice fairly innocuous as I asked: ‘what stuff in the papers?’


‘I don’t really get it, to be honest,’ he sighed. ‘Mostly, I go on what my Dad says, and…well, he says there’s a lot of tension at work, especially in his department. You know, Magical Law Enforcement. He’s really worried by it. Have you been reading the Prophet lately?’


I shook my head. ‘Nah, I don’t really get it. My mum sends me the paper from home every week.’


‘Oh,’ he raised his eyebrows. ‘To put it this way…Flora, magic society isn’t really in a good place right now.’


‘Really? How?’


‘It’s complicated,’ he laughed.


‘I bet I can understand,’ I said. ‘It’s just…Fauna doesn’t read the papers and Scorpius, well, I haven’t seen him much lately, so I don’t really know what’s going on in your world.’


‘It’s weird to hear you say it like that,’ he smiled. ‘My world. Your world is just as confusing, you know. My dad’s explained it thousands of times but I still don’t get how electricity works.’


‘It’s not that important,’ I shrugged. ‘Come on, tell me what’s going on.’


He swung his legs up so he could sit cross-legged on the bench, facing me. ‘You know about the wars, right? We’ve done them in History of Magic.’


I nodded. ‘Yeah, but we didn’t really look at them in much detail…’


‘Well, before the second war, my dad tells me, witches and wizards used to be a bit less tolerant of muggle stuff. Like, there were muggle-borns like you in Hogwarts, of course, but there were still a lot of people about who didn’t think muggle-borns should be able to learn magic. I guess that’s the war in a nutshell-’


‘Kind of,’ I grinned. ‘Although I think it was a bit more than that.’


‘Yeah, well, after the war, all these new rules and regulations came in to try and make it all better. They made muggle studies compulsory, stuff like that. And there were a load of reforms designed to make life better for everyone…every beast, creature and being, apparently,’ he smiled. ‘According to my dad. That was their slogan. Something like a better life for every beast, creature and being. So house elves got better working conditions, they set up schools for Squibs, stuff like that. It worked really well,’ he gestured back up at the castle. ‘Apparently Hogwarts has never been so good. I mean, has anyone ever picked on you because you’re muggle-born?’


‘Not really,’ I shrugged.


‘Exactly,’ he nodded emphatically. ‘Whereas, when my Aunt was at school, she was probably one of the cleverest people there, but people still had an issue with her because she was muggle-born. I guess you could say she was bullied.’


‘That’s awful!’


Exactly,’ he said, nodding again. ‘I think that, because we’re in school and, really, we’ve never had it so good here, we…well, we get a slightly skewed idea of what magical society’s really like. Because, well, it’s sad, but…not everyone agrees that we should let muggle-borns in. You know, a lot of the old Pureblood families. I hate to make a generalisation because I know that quite a lot of them are decent folk now, but, well, it was mostly the old Pureblood families who were on the other side in the last war. You know, the bad guys.’


‘You mean the Death Eaters?’


‘Yeah, them.’


We both went quiet for a moment, and I was certain that we were both thinking the same thing.


‘I know it’s different now, but old Pureblood families like, well…’ Albus trailed off.


‘I know,’ I said, a sinking feeling in my stomach. ‘Like Scorpius’ family.’


‘It’s all in the past,’ Albus said quickly. ‘And everything’s changed now. But there are still some sick people around who think we should…well, at the very least, they want Hogwarts to stop admitting muggle-borns. But…there’s talk in some of the smaller newspapers about what we should do with people who aren’t born into magical families.’


‘Oh,’ I said. It was something I’d heard about, but never really given much thought to: the idea that there were people out there who hated kids like me. And the knowledge that it was so close and so real suddenly chilled me to the bone.


‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t want to put a downer on the conversation.’


‘It’s okay,’ I played with the tassels on the end of my scarf, trying not to meet his eye. ‘It’s important to know these things. I’m…I’m a bit surprised Scorpius didn’t tell me, actually.’


Albus shrugged. ‘Maybe he didn’t want to worry you. But there’s been a lot of talk lately about whether the reforms have gone too far, whether we should think about reversing some of them. I think it’s worst in the Ministry…there are a lot of old hands there like my Dad who were involved in the war, but apparently a lot of the younger staff are stirring up trouble – because they don’t know what it’s like, right? And it’s not coming from Hogwarts, I’m certain of it. But, according to my Dad, you walk along the Ministry corridors and you hear words thrown about that nobody’s said for years – derogatory names for muggle-borns, stuff like that.’


‘What sort of names?’ I said.


‘I don’t like to say them,’ he shook his head.


I attempted a smile. ‘Mostly, people just call me four-eyes.’


‘And when I was in first year some people called me Al-pus.’


Both of us burst out laughing, the tension evaporating.


‘That’s a terrible nickname,’ I grinned. ‘I think I’m happy with four-eyes.’


‘Yeah,’ he smiled back.


There was a short silence; I was still thinking over the things he’d told me.


‘So this is probably the last time I’ll see you before next term,’ I said.


‘It’d be nice to see you in the holidays,’ he said. ‘We can figure something out. I’ll write to you.’


‘I’ll get ready to explain the owls to the neighbours, then.’


I let him put his arm around my shoulder so we could look out at the lake together, and it reminded me of how we’d stood by the fence in Hogsmeade, staring out at the Shrieking Shack. Except I felt like a completely different person from the fidgety girl who’d stood there and shivered after making snow angels.


‘I’ll miss you over the holidays,’ he said. ‘It’s been really nice having you around.’


*



Officially, the Hufflepuff end-of-term party didn’t start until seven, but it was like the party in Gryffindor tower all over again. Me and Fauna spent ages dithering in the dorm about what to wear and, eventually, she persuaded me to borrow one of her skirts and we were both in the common room at half past eight with Scorpius, who was basically surgically attached to his jumper and jeans.


As far as I could tell, nobody had really been drinking, but there was a kind of tension in the air that everyone seemed drunk on instead. Everyone kept laughing at the silliest, most meaningless little things, and the room seemed warmer and brighter than it had ever been, although it felt far from cosy. Fauna went off to find out where Lucy had gone whilst me and Scorpius commandeered a bowl of crisps and retreated to our usual corner.


‘I hate this kind of thing,’ Scorpius said. ‘But I felt kind of obliged to come.’


‘It’s Christmas,’ I shrugged. ‘Tis the season and all that.’


‘It just came out of nowhere, you know?’ he said.


We lapsed into silence after that because, frankly, I didn’t really know what to talk to him about. A few minutes later, Fauna turned up with Lucy in tow.


‘I’m going to pop out for a bit,’ she said, grabbing a handful of the crisps. ‘Lucy needs to go to Ravenclaw tower and she asked if I’d come with her, so…’


‘See you in a bit,’ I said, although I was worried that, without her, me and Scorpius would literally have nothing to talk about and it’d be awkward.


‘See you!’ she said cheerfully, and Lucy gave us a friendly wave before they both left.


Me and Scorpius sat in silence for a few more minutes until I suggested that we should probably make an effort to be sociable, at which point we abandoned the crisps and went over to stand with Tabitha, who was talking at the top of her voice about how we should have invited more Gryffindors, how she felt totally wasted already, etcetera, etcetera. And even though she got on my nerves worse than an itch, I was kind of glad for the way she talked over everyone else and saved me from having to make conversation.


Worryingly, Fauna and Lucy still hadn’t come back by half nine, by which point me and Scorpius had already been press-ganged into having a drink each and Tabitha was already making a show of staggering around and slurring her words even though I’m sure she’d had about three sips of Butterbeer and was probably about as drunk as the miniature bust of Helga Hufflepuff herself on the mantelpiece. Then someone suggested that we play a game, and any hope I had of someone whipping out a Scrabble set was dashed when Tabitha thrust an empty bottle into the air and shrieked ‘spin the bottle!’


I shook my head and tried to back away, but Georgina rolled her eyes and elbowed me: ‘spoilsport.’


‘I’ve got a boyfriend,’ I said. ‘I shouldn’t.’


‘Oh, la-di-dah,’ she said. ‘Come on, it doesn’t mean anything. Don’t be a prude.’


Really, I wanted to be a prude, but I decided I didn’t want to be the party pooper they’d all bitch about for the next three weeks and took my place in the circle beside her. I thought Scorpius, as contaminated with contagious awkward disease as I was, might have refused to play, but I saw him sit cross-legged on the floor a few spaces along from me. I actually felt like dragging him away and berating him for not keeping to his side of the ‘we don’t need popularity and games, we’ll be the loser and the four-eyes forever’ agreement, but then I remembered I’d as good as broken it too and kept quiet.


I’m not a fan of these kind of party games, if you can even call them games. Spin the bottle isn’t a fun game but an elaborate sort of trap everyone involved both sets up and walks into. It’s an organised form of shit-stirring, if you don’t mind the expression, that exists just to create drama and drive people apart, not bring them together. It’s not like I’d ever played it before, but I’d heard enough to know that it was a game that nobody ever played right and everybody lost.


But, well, my own foolish desire to make people think I was an alright, normal girl made me sit down and play it. I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone else was playing it for the same reason or if people like Tabitha and Georgina actually got some sort of kick out of creating drama.


So we sat in a circle and someone gave the bottle a quick spin, and the invisible trap we’d all willingly blundered into was set in motion: a boy called Owen kissed Tabitha, and then the bottle was spun again and Dermot Finnegan got to kiss a girl in the year below called Verity, and when it was spun for the third time it pointed at Owen and everyone wolf-whistled and cheered for him. He got to kiss Angela Joyce, then it span again and Stephen Smith kissed Harriet Longbottom. Most of the room was still laughing at how Harriet blushed bright scarlet, so barely anybody noticed when Tabitha span the bottle again and it ended up pointing at Scorpius.


I actually felt like bursting out loud, because all I could think about was how awkward he was, how he’d never kissed anyone before and how funny it would be if he got someone like Tabitha and she printed her pink lipstick all over his face. How he suddenly looked really pale, and wasn’t laughing like everyone else was, how I probably should never have suggested we socialise and how we should have stayed in the corner with our crisps instead like we would have before I was Albus’ girlfriend.


And the game is the worst kind of trap, because it knows just how to trip you up and bruise you when you fall down. Because, when everyone calmed down and someone thought to spin the bottle again, it only managed one turn before it shuddered to a halt, pointing right at me.


It seemed like the room had gone deathly quiet, even though it was probably just my mind playing tricks on me. My hands were trembling a bit in my lap.


Someone wolf-whistled, but nobody was finding it funny.


‘No,’ I said, to no-one in particular. ‘I can’t.’


‘Doesn’t matter, Flora,’ Tabitha sounded exasperated, even sober. ‘It’s just a game.’


‘I can’t,’ I repeated.


‘Who cares? He’s not here,’ Georgina said.


‘Just hurry up and do it,’ one of the boys said, and then everyone in the circle was jeering and catcalling and goading me on, all with the exception of Scorpius, who was perfectly still and looked horrified.


I knew I had to do something to make them stop, something that wouldn’t make them flip at me either – so I scuttled two spaces along the circle and, as Scorpius gave me a strange, frightened look, I darted in and kissed him on the cheek. Okay, it was more like I kissed the air, leaving a centimetre of solid space between us, but I was pretty sure my hair covered it up and nobody saw. Then I darted back to my place and stared at the floor, still trembling a little bit. A few people booed.


‘Such a cop-out,’ Georgina tutted. ‘You scared?’


I decided I’d had enough, and I didn’t give a fig for what they thought about me. So I stood shakily to my feet and mumbled something about going to top up my drink and, before anyone could protest, I was already halfway across the room. Thing is, when I got to the table with the drinks and snacks on it, I realised it wasn’t just that I had to get out of the game: I had to get out of the room or I felt like I was going to snap at the ankles and be hospitalised with the sheer force of my awkwardness.


I was in the corridor outside before I really knew what I was doing. And, so caught up in being quivery and nervous, I didn’t notice Scorpius had come after me until I was halfway down the corridor and had climbed up into this little cubbyhole in the wall that used to hold a vase until some Slytherins smashed it. A cubbyhole, I might add, a lot like the one me and Scorpius had once sat in talking about how cool being uncool was.


Anyway, he joined me not long after; there was just about enough room for both of us, and if anyone had walked past they probably wouldn’t have seen us. It felt like a sanctuary compared to the common room. But then I remembered how I hadn’t seen much of him lately and how it had been tricky to try and make conversation with him earlier, and I suddenly felt awkward again.


I really wish I’d offered to help Albus pack, or gone up to Ravenclaw tower with Lucy and Fauna – anything that might have kept me from the Hufflepuff common room that night.


‘You alright?’ he said, although I knew that he knew I wasn’t.


‘Eh,’ I said, hugging my knees to my chest. I didn’t want him to notice that I was shivering when it wasn’t cold.


‘Was it really that bad?’


‘Huh?’


‘Having to pout at the air near my face,’ he smiled. ‘Was it really that bad?’


‘Terrible, actually,’ I couldn’t help but smile back. ‘Why did you leave?’


‘Uh,’ now it was his turn to look uncomfortable. ‘Not having had much experience of this…kissing lark, I didn’t really want to disappoint the experts in there.’


‘It’s not that hard,’ I said, folding my still-trembling hands on my knees.


And then it got really weird because Scorpius took one of my hands, really gently, and held it still between his own.


‘You were shaking,’ he mumbled, as if realising the weirdness of it. And if there’d been a centimetre of solid air between us when I’d had to pretend to kiss him in the common room, it was like that centimetre had snapped and the sound of it was echoing down the corridor.


I’m probably doing my usual thing of making mountains out of molehills but, at the time, it was like all my nerves were suddenly hyper-aware of everything, and I couldn’t help but think how it might look to the people back in the common room, me and Scorpius holed up in this little alcove and all.


‘I’m cold,’ I said, but I could barely raise my voice above a breath.


‘Wow, weird to think you were nearly my first kiss,’ Scorpius said, with this awkward little forced laugh at the end.


I couldn’t help but look up at him to see if he was kidding or not. But I’m not really sure I ever figured it out, because my mind was almost completely blank; all I could think of was how I could faintly feel his pulse and it was just as fast as mine.


It wasn’t me who moved first. I held my breath and counted to four before he kissed me, and then I was too thrown by the thought that I hadn’t reached five to pull away. Then I suppose I was thinking of Albus when he let go of my hand to pull me closer to him; I was thinking of Albus and how I wished there was a word for the exact hazel-green colour of his eyes. And I couldn’t even remember what colour Scorpius’ eyes were.


I know it shouldn’t have happened. But it was a few minutes before I came to my senses and shoved him away.


‘Stop it!’


I sounded hysterical, pushing myself away from him, almost falling back into the corridor. He looked about as freaked out as I did.


‘Flora-’ he started.


But, once again, neither of us had anything to say to each other.


Before he could say anything – and before I really knew what I was doing – I was dashing down the corridor again, into the common room I’d wanted to get out of such a short time before, and then I was halfway up the stairs to the dormitory.


I didn’t even think, just slammed my hand down on the handle and kicked the door open with my foot. Inside the dormitory, I shut the door again and leant against it, breathing hard.


Then I was a little startled and mortified when Tabitha and Owen turned to look at me, and I’m pretty sure I’d interrupted them mid-pretty-intense-snog and they were both giving me the evil eye.


‘Sorry,’ I said, then, before I could stop myself, blurted out: ‘but can you leave?’


I wasn’t sure what had come over my house, but I didn’t like it. I went and sat on my bed and pretended to straighten out the covers while they took their time leaving. It was only when they were gone that I felt I could panic, at which point I actually pulled the covers over my head so I could panic like a child afraid of monsters.


It was probably about ten when Fauna got back. I’d got enough of my common sense back by then to have brushed my teeth and changed into my pyjamas, and it had only just hit me as I was settling back into bed and trying not to think about what had happened that, well, something had happened. And, against my better judgement, I’d started to cry.


So Fauna came back into the dorm and saw me hunched in bed with my knees drawn up to my chin, tears rolling down my face from my swollen, red eyes, which my huge glasses only magnified.


‘Woah,’ she said. ‘You alright?’


‘I’m fine!’ I sniffed, because I’d already decided that I couldn’t tell her anything, even if she was pretty much the closest friend I had, given the situation.


‘Sure?’ she said cautiously.


I tried really, really hard to smile as if everything was alright. ‘Time of the month, you know?’ I told her.


She seemed to buy it. ‘I didn’t mean to be so late back,’ she said. ‘But Ravenclaw were having a party too, so we stayed for a couple of games…’


It felt like my blood had gone cold.


‘Lucy’s way better at Articulate than I am,’ she smiled. ‘The game went on for ages – her cousin Rose is a prefect, we had to get her to sign a slip so we could walk back after curfew. How cool is this?’ she said, waving a piece of parchment at me. ‘I could keep it, you know, we could use it to go to the kitchens at, like, midnight!’


I felt like I wanted to cry again, wanted to tell her how horrible it had been in our own common room. How I dearly wished I’d gone up to Ravenclaw tower to play board games with her and Lucy.


Her smile faded. ‘Sure you’re alright, Flora?’


‘Mega,’ I said, but I couldn’t even raise half a smile this time.


‘If you say so,’ she shrugged. ‘Think I might turn in myself. It’s a bit of a mess in the common room.’


‘Alright,’ I said. ‘Night, Fauna.’


‘Night,’ she said, although her smile was a little uncertain.


She went off into the bathroom and I drew the covers about me, trying to sleep. And, believe me, it wasn’t easy.



a/n: omg plz don't hate me
note: the 'twenty trenched gashes' is derived from a quote in William Shakespeare's Macbeth (act 3, scene 4)

Chapter 10: { 09 }
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I’m a bitch, was all I could think as the Hogwarts Express powered out of Kings’ Cross station, the windows half-obscured by steam. I’m a lying, cheating bitch, and not a soul knows.


I’d ended up in a compartment with Albus on the way back to school. His friends, who were surprisingly okay with the idea of me being his girlfriend, didn’t seem to care when I said I was really too tired, too worn out by spending Christmas with my family to talk much. Even if it was all a big, fat lie. Apart from two days with my Dad, I’d spent most of Christmas shut up in my room whilst my Mum was off at work, reading, doodling, cracking on with holiday homework, willing the rain to stop because I missed the snow and frost up North, and generally just moping around. I’d met up with Albus twice, after his Dad had pulled a few strings at work to get the modest terraced house I lived in connected to the Floo Network. We’d spent one bitterly cold afternoon in Diagon Alley and the other at his house, where we’d had tea and leftover Christmas cake with his mum and listened to that final Weird Sisters record, the one I’d got him for Christmas, in his room.


He confessed that he hadn’t really known what to get me, but the gift of writing inks in every colour of the rainbow was really appreciated, as was the card he’d made me out of a photo of Myron Wagtail with a ludicrous Santa hat perched on his head that’d come straight out of the pages of a nineties edition of New Magical Express. And, Myron Wagtail being Myron Wagtail and all, it was pretty amusing to see, out of the corner of my eye, how his photograph winked and struck poses at the camera whilst I kissed Albus. You know, it was like he was trying to send me some festive motivational message to cheer me up, especially after how I’d been feeling.


But Christmas had really just been as eventful as ever. I mean, that is to say, not really eventful at all. The thing about having divorced parents like mine, especially when your mum and dad are from totally different social classes, is the way the two sides of the family hate each other, how you can’t see your mum’s side of the family without someone getting drunk and bad-mouthing your working class Glaswegian dad and vice versa. So I try to avoid family engagements for that reason because, well, it’s not like I’m brave enough to stand up and say, hey, I’m fifty percent of that man’s DNA and he is my father, so stop saying unkind things about him, etcetera etcetera. Plus the fact that both my parents haven’t actually told anyone in the family that I’m actually a witch; I don’t even want to know where they think I vanish off to for most of the year. And I guessed from the way they talk to me that they think I’m, well, not all there.


Anyway, yeah. It had been a wet, miserable winter, and January looked to be even worse, not that I was especially looking forward to going back to school in the first place. Fauna had sent me a ton of letters over the break, a selection box of my favourite Honeydukes sweets, and at least five invitations to meet up or go to her house. I wrote back every time and sent her the gift box of Miss Magic eye makeup I’d bought her in Diagon Alley, but I made up excuses to get out of every invitation, pretending I had family things, colds, even that I had to look after my next-door neighbour’s cat. Truth was that she’d mentioned Scorpius would be there too and, even though he’d been my best friend since I was eleven, I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing him.


I’d had enough time to unravel the kiss since it’d happened. I’d never wanted to think about it but it was bloody hard not to. I couldn’t stop thinking about how horrible the whole miserable mess was. Boys are like buses, honestly, because you hang around for ages waiting for one to turn up and then two come along at once.


It wasn’t like I hated Scorpius or anything, because I knew I was just as guilty as he was. I just couldn’t, for the life of me, bring myself to see him or even write to him. Well, what if he wanted to talk about it? What if he tried to kiss me again? Okay, I got the feeling he wouldn’t do the latter because, well, I’m guessing the kiss had been pretty spur-of-the-moment in the first place and he wasn’t exactly brave enough to try anything like that again. Or stupid. But I was terrified of seeing him, because I knew I’d have to acknowledge that we’d crossed some stupid boundary and couldn’t be best friends anymore because we were best friends who’d snogged. Some kind of no man’s land between friendship and, you know, going out. I didn’t even send him a Christmas card and it was like he didn’t exist anymore.


The thing was I hadn’t actually seen him much at all since that last, panicky little glimpse I’d got of him before I ran away, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was making everything worse. Me and Fauna had come down to breakfast late on the Saturday to find that he’d already been and gone. Someone said he’d gone to the Owlery, but when we went up there it was deserted, and neither of us were really hungry enough to go down to lunch and see if he was there instead. He was AWOL in the afternoon too, and didn’t turn up for dinner. He still wasn’t back in the common room by the time I went up to bed early at half eight and Fauna went out with the slip she’d nabbed from one of the Ravenclaw prefects to see if she could find him.


‘Sulking in the library,’ she said, when she finally got back half an hour later. ‘Didn’t even realise it was curfew. Seems really down. D’you know anything about it?’


I said something vague about how he was always sullen and introspective at Christmas for reasons we didn’t like to discuss behind his back. She nodded.


‘Oh, well,’ she said. ‘Better leave him be.’


And I didn’t even see him on the train journey home. Lucy and Fauna roped me into a game of exploding snap before we went to hang out with Agnes for the rest of the journey, and he was so busy being bookwormish and quiet in the corner that I might not have noticed him even if I’d wanted to. And I didn’t want to notice him, because that meant reliving the uncomfortable memory of knowing what it was like to kiss him.


I’d only been Albus’ girlfriend for a month but, in that time, I’d managed to kiss another boy and keep it secret – which, you know, made me a cheat and a liar. I mean, wow, I’ve always been good at screwing things up, but this was taking it to a new level. This made me dishonest, the sort of girl Tabitha and Georgina liked to bitch about in the dormitory when the lights were out. And, you know, it made me feel completely crap. I wondered if Albus would pick up on this, but he didn’t, and was happy to let me sit with my head on his shoulder as the train rattled up the country. The moment we heard the trolley outside, he pulled me to my feet and out into the corridor, even held my hand as we walked down the train. I didn’t think to check for Scorpius and Fauna in the compartments we passed.


‘What’ll it be, dears?’ said Agnes, obviously knowing us both as the two students who appreciated her presence on the train most. I asked for two sugar quills and a pack of Droobles’ gum; Albus got a chocolate frog and two cups of tea, remembering that I took mine with two sugars.


‘Dear me, Flora, you’re looking very down in the dumps,’ Agnes said, filling two little cups from the urn on her trolley.


‘Huh? Oh. Um. Just worried about schoolwork, that’s all,’ I said.


‘You shouldn’t worry,’ she winked at me. ‘It’ll give you crow’s feet. Besides, you’ve got this handsome young gentleman to look after you-’


I couldn’t help but erupt into giggles. Albus did a little mock bow. ‘You’re too kind,’ he said.


‘Keep hold of him,’ Agnes nudged me. ‘Ain’t a lot of boys around like that.’


Albus burst out laughing and I felt myself going bright red. ‘Don’t worry,’ I mumbled. ‘I won’t be letting go any time soon.’


Albus took the two cups of tea. ‘Thanks, Agnes,’ he said. ‘And thanks for the tea too.’


She trundled off with her trolley further down the train, and me and Albus made our way back to our compartment near the front. Thing is, we’re not supposed to take hot drinks into the compartments in case we spill them all over the upholstery, so we had to stand about in the corridor instead, propping ourselves up against the facing walls, cradling the tea in our hands to warm them.


‘Sugar quill?’ I offered. Albus took one and stowed it in his pocket for later, then tried to open the chocolate frog one-handed without dropping his tea. Laughing, I held it for him while he dealt with the frog, and then held the wizard card up to the light.


‘Helga Hufflepuff,’ he said. ‘I’ve got two of her already…’


‘I haven’t got any. She’s the rarest of the founders in the collection.’


‘Underappreciated, more like,’ Albus said. ‘You have it. You’re a Hufflepuff.’


He swapped the card for his cup of tea. I skim-read it as he drank. ‘Loyal? Hardworking?’ I said. ‘Doesn’t sound like me.’


‘Sounds a lot like you,’ Albus said, and all I could think was, oh, if only you knew. ‘The Gryffindor cards all say brave, bold, and…well…I am nothing like that.’


‘Yes you are,’ I frowned. ‘You were brave enough to save me from the Slytherins. And bold enough to kiss me after.’


‘True,’ he grinned.


We fell silent for a moment as we drank.


‘Something’s been on my mind all Christmas,’ I said, dredging up the other thought that had been bothering me since the last day of term. ‘All the…all the stuff you said about the way society is. And, I mean, I don’t get the papers, so I can’t follow it. But…I was thinking about it and talking to my dad, and he said, well…he said it sounded like when there used to be support for far-right groups in the past.’


‘Far right?’ Albus said.


‘You know,’ I dithered, realising how woeful my knowledge of both muggle and magical politics was. ‘Extremists. The sort of people who think Britain should be white, totally, English, whatever.’


‘Oh, I get you,’ he said. ‘Yeah, it’s a lot like that. Mostly it’s talk about how the Purebloods are all, well, the supposed original magic lot, how muggle-borns apparently…contaminate that. Oh, Flora, don’t worry,’ he said, obviously noticing, like Agnes had, the worry on my face. ‘Every sane person knows it’s complete bull.’


‘It’s just…’ I said. ‘I wondered if…if it really was just talk or whether I should actually freak out.’


It took Albus a while to respond before, heavily, he said: ‘There was a particularly horrible incident in Diagon Alley before Christmas. You know…some papers said it was a mugging and, well, others disagreed. But it’s mostly just hot air. You shouldn’t worry,’ he said. ‘Hogwarts is the safest place you can possibly be. That’s what my Dad always says.’


‘So…it’s just…magicism,’ I said.


‘Basically,’ he nodded. ‘Yeah. And they try to cover it up by saying it’s because of the economy,’ he rolled his eyes. ‘Because they want to protect jobs for those of magical blood or something, but it’s all bollocks.’


‘It’s funny,’ I said. ‘Because I never got the impression that Purebloods were exactly all that much better at magic, you know? Okay, I’m terrible, but Fauna and Scorpius are both Pureblood and they’re not much cop at magic either.’


It was weird saying Scorpius’ name in front of Albus – after the whole kiss thing, it somehow seemed like a dirty word. But Albus didn’t pick up on it.


‘Yup,’ he said. ‘And that’s why you shouldn’t worry. Never believe anybody who says they’re better than you because of where they’re from, because they’re really not.’


My face split into a wide smile which actually felt kind of painful. ‘Wise, Albus. Really profound.’


He did another little mock bow. ‘I do try.’


And I really appreciated everything he’d said because, well, out of all the people I’d known, Albus was probably best at having his head screwed on the right way. Okay, it seems overly formal to say things like he had a decent moral code and good manners, etcetera, but it’s true. He was unbelievably grown-up for a sixteen year old boy when most boys in our school, even well into seventh year, were still obsessed with trying to snog every girl within a mile radius and making crass jokes. Alright, all barring Scorpius, but he was kind of immature in his own introverted, cripplingly shy way, because sometimes I was convinced he’d prefer to live in one of the books he read than hang about in the real world. And, well, Albus was incredibly mature compared to a silly twerp like me.


Thing is, despite everything he’d said, it was hard to keep smiling and not worry. I mean, the freaky guilt of kissing Scorpius was one thing, but it was really troubling to think that, somewhere, a bunch of people I didn’t even know might want to beat me up because my parents were both muggles.


It was reassuring to have him with me all the way up to school, even in the horseless-but-supposedly-horse-drawn carriage I usually shared with Scorpius and Fauna. His friends chatted on and on about the holiday homework they’d forgotten to do, the Transfiguration project they’d have to start that week, whether they had a chance of getting the Quidditch cup that year. And, meanwhile, I sat in the corner with Willoughby on my lap and Albus at my side, trying to send a telepathic message to Fauna to apologise for abandoning her for two weeks straight.


But as much as I’d avoided them over the holidays, there was no use avoiding Scorpius and Fauna at teatime. I’d gone up to the dormitory late to dump my stuff, so they’d already gone down to the Great Hall and I missed them. I changed back into my uniform and robes – frankly, I hadn’t wanted to change in a compartment full of Albus’ friends who I barely knew – and made my way up the single flight of stairs to the Great Hall at seven. And, you know, Helga Hufflepuff was probably the most sensible of all the Founders for putting our common room so close to the kitchens. She knew what students really want.


It was somehow comforting to see Scorpius and Fauna at our usual spot on the table. They were both on the same side, muttering conspiratorially to each other about something. They both looked pretty worried, but I decided not to think about it too much because, well, both Agnes and Albus had pointed out that I had the face of a wet January morning and a spectacular set of crows’ feet in the making. So I took the seat opposite them, attempted my brightest, most cheerful smile, tried not to look at Scorpius, and poured myself a goblet of pumpkin juice.


‘Hello, Flora,’ Fauna said, and her voice was a little taut, like she was expecting me to do something. ‘Merry belated Christmas.’


‘Merry belated Christmas to you too,’ I said. ‘Was it a good one?’


An irresistible smile cracked the tension in her face. ‘Oh, perfectly adequate,’ she said.


She asked me how my Christmas had been, and so I spent the next five minutes blabbering on about the most inane, stupid things, telling her this silly anecdote about my dad getting me a jumper that was about three sizes too big for Christmas, but how it was mega, mega, mega because obviously baggy jumpers were cool and, anyway, it gave us a laugh. And I told them about meeting Albus, about how I’d missed the snow, how I was excited to go out and see if the lake was still frozen.


‘It’s thawed,’ Scorpius said, and I realised I’d forgotten to look from the windows of the carriages, because, well, I didn’t even care anymore.


‘It’ll snow again,’ Fauna shrugged. ‘You know, Scotland in January.’


We didn’t get much time to talk more, because the food appeared a moment later and, anyway, Lucy shuffled up the table to ask Fauna if she’d like to come back to Ravenclaw tower because, apparently, the prefects had been very much enamoured with her board games skills. Then the talk turned to what Lucy had done for Christmas, what they’d be focusing on at Astronomy club that term, etcetera, etcetera; I tuned out.


And the only other thing Scorpius said to me in the whole forty-five minutes we were sat there was ‘could you pass the salt, please?’


It somehow seemed fitting. I wanted to hand it over with some sort of pithy comment like, yeah, go on, let’s rub it in the wounds of our friendship but, well, some things are just too precocious for teatime.


The conversation wasn’t so stilted back in the dorm, thankfully. Tabitha, Georgina and Lucy decided to hang about in the common room until late – we didn’t have lessons for another couple of days – whereas, as per usual, me and Fauna decided to tuck in early. And it was like we were fourteen again; we both perched on my four-poster in our pyjamas with the curtains drawn around, our own private little den to gossip in. I could have sworn she was about to tell me what it was like to kiss Dermot Finnegan all over again.


‘You were very quiet at dinner,’ she said. ‘You alright?’


‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Tired, that’s all.’


‘Me too,’ she said. ‘It’s been a crazy Christmas.’


‘What’d you get up to?’ I said.


‘Oh, we went to see my aunt,’ she smiled. ‘She laughed when I told her you were going out with Harry Potter’s son.’


‘My mum laughed at the idea of me having a boyfriend.’


‘Well,’ she laughed. ‘It’s a bit…not like you.’


‘Still not used to it myself… what else did you get up to?’


‘Um…I met up with Scorpius a lot,’ she said. ‘We missed you. But…’


‘I was mega busy,’ I said, automatically. ‘Couldn’t have made it even if, like, I could time-travel.’


‘Yeah,’ she laughed again, although she seemed a bit more nervous this time. ‘Well…kind of worked out, though, you know?’


There was a tiny shift in the mood. ‘Er…’


‘Well,’ she went bright red. ‘He asked me if I’d be his girlfriend. And I said yes.’


It was like having freezing water thrown at my face.


‘Kind of like what you said about you and Albus,’ she smiled. ‘You never suspect them. And then you realise they’ve been under your nose all along.’




a/n: if you want to hate me for all the plot twists I've been throwing in your faces, the review box is just below this note...jk. I'm enjoying your shippy reviews very much, and Albus is definitely in the lead. team florp, you are struggling. although I don't blame you.
should probably add that New Magical Express is a play on the british music magazine New Musical Express. also, I blitzed this chapter in one go literally listening to 'whistle for the choir' by the fratellis on repeat, so, you know, dredge it up and give it a whirl, it's a toe-tappingly good tune. and thank you for reading ♥

Chapter 11: { 10 }
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Life after the Christmas holidays was so different that, six months previously, I wouldn’t have recognised this version of my little Hufflepuff trifecta even if it had danced a Highland fling in front of my face. When you’re young and stupid, you tend to think you’re invincible, and you tend to believe people when they tell you you’re going to be best friends forever. But friendships really aren’t invincible, and even the strongest bonds can crack under the most trivial of pressures. It’s just a question of where said pressure is applied.


So if you’d taken me at the end of fifth year – back when I was oh so naïve and had just sat my O.W.Ls – gripped me by the shoulders, shaken me a bit, and said: Flora, in six months or so, you’re going to have a boyfriend, Fauna will be your best friend and you’ll never even want to make eye contact with Scorpius anymore because he is dead to you – I would have thought you were barmy. I think I was so used to being frigid and immature that I’d never have dreamt in a million years that a boy would look at me and actually think I was alright. And I’d never have dreamt in a million years that Fauna would suddenly be my absolute best friend. And I’d never have dreamt in a million, billion, squillion years that I’d somehow hate Scorpius.


All I had left of my little trifecta was the glow-in-the-dark star keyring that Fauna had got from her Astronomy trip. I noticed she was the only one who’d kept hers on her bag. Mine was in my muggle purse, mingling with fifty pence pieces and my house keys at the bottom of my trunk. I didn’t want to be reminded of it, but I never wanted to throw it away. Fauna, ever the budding astrologer, always looking for romantic symbolism about her, had gone on for ages one night about how beautifully meaningful the bloody keyrings were. How stars last for ages, how they glow powerfully in the dark and bring light to the universe, how pretty they look twinkling in the sky, how people wish on them. And while it was cute that she’d put so much thought into it, a new-found cynical part of me wanted to say get a grip. For starters, they’re plastic. Also, stars are just burning balls of gas and, duh, they die too. Nice to know you think our friendship is like a giant, gassy fireball.


Okay, I appreciated how sweet Fauna was being and how she was probably trying really hard to keep us all together, but she failed miserably, because everything was different after the holidays. Because, when I saw Fauna and Scorpius together for the first time since teatime in the Great Hall, her smile somehow looked brighter and he looked a bit taller, as if he’d only just found out how to stand up straight. Because they both said hello to me and then the conversation took a nosedive straight into the carpet and there was nothing, nothing interesting that any of us could think to talk about. And when you can’t talk to your best friends, you know something’s probably gone wrong.


It was weird to go back to the common room and see them sharing one of the armchairs we usually had one each of. It was weird to see them laughing about some private joke together or even – god forbid – kissing. I’d never even considered this might have happened one day, because, as far as I was concerned, they were just my friends. Besides, I was the one who’d introduced them to each other. I realised too late that I’d come to see Scorpius as mine – you know, my best friend, my confidante, my reliable source for copying homework off, my back-up plan for when I was a crazy cat lady and needed someone to marry.


Okay, Fauna had always been a good friend to him, nicer than most people were, didn’t even call him a loser when he wasn’t looking or anything, never gossiped about his family, even though I know people bugged her to tell them if his dad was really as horrible as the old newspapers made out, if the stuff they’d heard about his mum was true. But I couldn’t really understand how, after six years of laughing at him behind her hand, she’d suddenly decided she fancied him.


They always say you’re mean to the people you fancy, though. And, besides, like both she and Albus had said to me, you barely notice someone for years, and then one day you wake up and realise they’ve been under your nose all along.


I think I was just really mad that Scorpius had decided to kiss me when he knew I had a boyfriend, and then went on to ask Fauna out a week or so later. I didn’t even realise he was capable of such barefaced spite. He was too…Scorpius-y.


But I guess I had to face him sooner or later. We had Ancient Runes together the first Friday after term started; the only subject we both took that Fauna didn’t. Usually, it was a fun lesson, a bit of a doss, seeing as both of us were alright at Runes and could get through without paying much attention.


This time it wasn’t so much of a doss. He’d arrived early – I guessed Fauna had dropped him off, because I hadn’t seen her since I’d left the dormitory – but by the time I turned up it was still five minutes until the lesson started. He was in his usual seat by the back, my seat empty beside him. For a split second, I seriously considered going to sit next to Georgina, but told myself that I wasn't that desperate and went to sit in my normal place.


He looked up when I sat down and gave me an uncertain little nod of recognition. A notebook, open on the desk in front of him, was covered with doodling and scribbles. As soon as I reached into my bag for my textbooks he went back to scribbling on it again. And I’m not even kidding, he wasn’t drawing or writing or anything, just scribbling on the corner of the page and turning it black with ink.


‘Afternoon,’ I said, and it was hard to keep myself from sounding so frosty.


‘Hi,’ he said, and his voice was barely audible. The whole corner of the page was black by this point, and all I could think about was how inconsiderate that was, because he’d probably be staining the pages below with ink too. Somehow, it annoyed me more than anything and, before, I would have elbowed him or ordered him to stop, but I couldn’t think of a single way to say it that wouldn’t make me sound angry or awkward.


We didn’t talk any more before the lesson started. Given that it was the first week back, it was pretty easy stuff; cast runes and read them, translate into English. Try to put them into a sentence. So once Professor Caulfield had finished talking and told us all to get on with it, I lifted a handful of tiles from the pot on our desk and set out five in a pattern on the table before us.


Scorpius shut his notebook (which bugged me even more, because I noticed that the ink was still wet) and stared down at the runes.


‘Betrayal,’ he said.


‘Pardon?’


Somehow, my mind had taken this as a direct comment on the twisted state of our friendship. Maybe I was getting paranoid. But Scorpius just gave me a weird look and nodded at the runes.


‘The middle one stands for betrayal,’ he said.


The little cynical version of myself that was now living in my head went oh, I wonder if the other runes stand for Flora, Fauna, Scorpius, and Albus.


I kind of had to keep reminding myself that I’d once been a really innocent, optimistic person.


‘And the others?’ I said, trying to keep my face impassive.


‘Um…misunderstanding,’ he said. ‘Er…changes for the better, I think. Not sure…defence. And, um, mysteries.’


We lapsed into silence.


‘Well,’ he said. ‘We should probably put them into a sentence.’


Another pause. I felt heat rising in my face.


‘Well, the betrayal could be a mystery,’ I said. ‘And…the defence could lead to changes for the better?’


‘What about the misunderstanding?’ he said.


‘What about it?’


Pause, again. I took a moment to wonder whether our conversation was continuing down the path marked ‘runes’ or zooming off into uncharted territory.


‘You forgot about it,’ he said, frowning. ‘That’s all.’


‘Yeah, I don’t know how to work it in,’ I said. ‘You do it.’


‘Fine,’ he shrugged.


The rest of the lesson passed in stilted, awkward conversation. I didn’t really have any idea what to say to him and, even if I did, I just couldn’t get the words out, and ended up half-saying things, stuttering over stuff. It was like we didn’t know each other, like he was some stranger I was intimidated by. And it was mega weird being shy in front of him.


It wasn’t just me being like that, though. It was him too. And that was an even weirder thought and a really weird feeling to be sitting there, stammering at each other and never finishing our sentences, freaked out by the sight of each other.


I was pretty glad when the bell rang and we could both leave. I just couldn’t shake the thought of how he’d been scribbling in his notebook and how the pages before and after would have been ruined. Somehow, it bugged me.


Outside the classroom, I didn’t know what to say to him. He stood there, backpack hanging off one shoulder, folder clutched to his chest, and the blankest look on his face.


‘Um, tonight, me and Fauna were going to go to the Astronomy tower and, um, stargaze for a bit, you know how she’s got this nifty slip from one of the prefects and…yeah…’ he trailed off. ‘Er, we wondered if you’d like to come with us.’


I raised my eyebrows at him. ‘Um...what?’


‘Wondered if, uh…if you wanted to come with us.’


Awkward silence. Again. I wondered how many we’d have to go through before I cracked.


‘I don’t…er, I don’t want to be a third wheel…’


‘You wouldn’t be!’ he said. ‘Just…’


‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘I don’t think it would be…right.’


We stood there, just looking at each other, invisible to the other students passing by us on the way to lessons.


‘Sorry…are you ever going to want to hang out with us again?’ he said.


Of course the answer was yes, but I really didn’t feel like I could say that. I shrugged.


‘Are we ever going to…t-to…’


‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ I said.


He looked visibly deflated. ‘Flora, I…’


I’d already started to back off, knowing I’d be late for Charms. ‘You just, sorry, you…just kind of fucked everything up,’ I said.


I rarely ever swore, and Scorpius actually flinched like I’d hit him in the face or something.


‘Okay,’ was all he said.


I felt really bad. ‘Um, bye,’ I said. ‘See you.’


‘Yeah,’ I barely caught his voice. ‘See you.’


I walked to Charms in a foul mood, half-regretting what I’d said to Scorpius, half-satisfied that he’d actually deserved it. It was the way he’d looked so dejected, and the fact that, even though it had only been a few days, I already really missed him. I actually felt like I had tears welling up in my eyes.


But everything got a bit better a floor above the Charms department; Albus must have seen me from the other end of the corridor, because he came racing out of nowhere, threw his arm around my shoulder, and nearly made me jump a foot into the air.


‘Flora!’ he said, releasing me so we could walk side-by-side. ‘We’ve got Charms next, right?’


I nodded. I didn’t know whether I could speak or not without sounding too emotional.


‘Are you alright?’ he said. ‘God, you look really miserable…’


‘I’m fine!’ I insisted, sounding a bit on the verge of hysterical. ‘Totally fine! Peachy keen!’


Albus wasn’t having any of it. ‘Sure? Your face is tripping you…’


‘I’m fine,’ I said, but he put his arm back around my shoulder and held me close as we walked. It did make it kind of awkward to walk, but I liked being able to put my head on his shoulder and let my hair fall over my face. It made me feel normal again, or as close to normal as I could get.


Despite having hung back to talk to Scorpius, we got to Charms early. Most of the class had already lined up, so we took our places at the back of the queue, Albus still half-hugging me. I would never have admitted it to anyone out of shyness, but I actually really wanted to kiss him, right there in the corridor, for cheering me up so much…except I’m not really sure snogging in the corridors in broad daylight is the done thing and I could see Tabitha standing a few spaces up I the queue. I really didn’t want to be gossiped about.


‘Are you free this evening?’ Albus murmured.


I had a sudden, vivid image of sitting up at the Astronomy Tower with Fauna and Scorpius, wrapped up against the cold, staring up at the sky. It kind of looked a bit too good to be true.


‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Why?’


‘Found something we could do together,’ he said. ‘If you’re up for it.’


‘Found what?’


‘Ah,’ he raised his eyebrows at me. ‘That’s a secret.’


*



I’d imagined that he might take me to his common room, or even to sit in one of those secret little alcoves you found dotted around the corridors. So I was a bit surprised when, after I met Albus in the Entrance Hall at seven, he took me up to the fourth floor. To a plain, nondescript door, to be more specific. I wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t stopped.


‘Um, what’s this?’ I said.


‘Wait and see,’ Albus grinned.


He turned to the door, cleared his throat, and said ‘peach melba’ in a clear, crisp voice. The door unlocked and swung open – Albus turned to grin at me, and I had to fight to stop my jaw falling unattractively open in surprise.


‘The prefect’s bathroom!’ he said cheerily. ‘Okay, more like a swimming pool, but-’


‘You have your own bathroom?’


‘Well, I have to share it with the other prefects-’


‘No, I mean…the prefects have their own bathroom?’


‘Swimming pool, really,’ he corrected me. ‘But, yeah, we have our own bathroom.’


‘Mega,’ I said, breathless.


‘Mega,’ he nodded.


Zoomified mega. On toast.’


‘Indeed,’ he said. ‘Thought we could go for a swim!’


A tiny knot of worry tightened in my stomach. ‘Albus, I don’t, like, have a swimming costume or anything…’


‘Me neither!’ he said brightly.


‘Er…you don’t…’ my mind raced. ‘You don’t…expect me to be, um, starkers or anything, do you-’


He burst out laughing. ‘No, not unless you want to be.’


‘I don’t!’


‘I know, I know…I usually swim in my boxers because, well, no matter how thorough you’ve been about booking it and no matter how well you’ve locked the door, people will inevitably come charging in. Anyway…’


I followed him inside and pushed the door shut behind me. Okay, the place was clearly supposed to be a bathroom – there were fluffy white towels heaped by the door, soap dishes and cakes of pinkish soap perched on the windowsills, even a rubber duck lying abandoned by the edge of the pool. Alright, I say pool, and it was certainly the size of one, but I haven’t seen many pools with taps. I mean, a lot of taps. And a plug in the middle.


It was all very Hogwarts too. I mean, how many bathrooms have moving paintings in them? But directly opposite the door, there was a vast, bright painting of a beautiful mermaid perched on a lonely rock in the sea. She gave an impish little giggle at the sight of us and then dived into the water.


‘This is…very weird,’ I said. ‘You prefects certainly kept it quiet.’


‘Ah, but if we let it out that we had our own bathroom, everybody would want one. Beats the dorm showers anyway. Here,’ he passed me one of the fluffy white towels. ‘I’ll fill it up…’


‘Albus…’ I said warily, as he hurried over to sit cross-legged at the side of the pool and turn at least fifteen of the taps on. ‘Al, it’s…’


‘Hmm?’ he turned to look at me and, wow, I must have looked a fool. Standing there in my robes, bottlecap glasses on, towel clutched to my chest, a luminous, burning blush on my face.


‘Albus, I don’t really…er…I mean, I don’t really stand about in my underwear all that often.’


If I was the Japanese knotweed of awkward, then that was my roots digging themselves several feet deeper. I was cripplingly, criminally shy and, frankly, I wasn’t all that keen on the idea of whipping off my clothes in front of Albus, even if it was for a swim. Okay, I guess I’m pretty skinny for someone who lives off sugar and crisps, but I don’t exactly possess what you might call a figure. I actually know for a fact that I have the body of a twelve year old boy, because I’d needed white shirts for a summer job before I went back to Hogwarts, and I’d got them cheap from the schoolwear aisle of my local supermarket, boys ages eleven to twelve. They didn’t even cost me a fiver and they were a perfect fit but, well, it was a bit depressing.


I didn’t really want to let Albus know that he was going out with an ironing board with sticks for limbs. I didn’t even own nice underwear because I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be a crazy cat lady for the rest of my life and that no-one would ever get to see me without my tragic jumpers on.


Alright, back to the point in hand.


‘I won’t look until you’re in the water,’ Albus said. ‘I promise. I mean, you can stay in your robes if you want, just that it gets a bit steamy in here. Wow, that sounds wrong,’ he added. ‘I meant…’


‘No, I’ll come in the water,’ I said quickly.


Well, self-esteem issues or not, how many chances do you really get to swim in an enormous bath?


‘Just…yeah,’ I added. ‘No looking.’


I attempted a nervous smile. He grinned back and then, without any sort of warning, pulled his jumper off. I turned away and pretended to be looking in my bag for something, terrified I’d say something daft about how I thought he was cute, how girls like Tabitha and Georgina would totally want to be in my place right now. Plus I figured it’d be pretty disrespectful to gawp at him when he’d just promised not to look at me.


Besides, I couldn’t get the blush out of my face. I mean, if you didn’t know the sort of folk me and Albus were, it would have looked plenty dodgy; a teenage boy and girl, alone, stripping off in a room with steamed-up windows, in a school.


It doesn’t sound right however you try to phrase it.


Okay, it did feel a little suspect to me. I trusted Albus to the hilt, though, and, well, he was my boyfriend. It wasn’t like it was a crime for him to see me in my knickers.


I heard a splash from behind and guessed he’d got in. ‘Definitely not looking?’ I called out.


‘Positive,’ he said. ‘I’ve got my hands over my eyes.’


I glanced round to check. He was telling the truth, and he looked a bit funny, submerged up to his neck in the water, blindfolding himself with both hands. So, trembling a little, I kicked off my shoes, tugged off my jumper, unzipped my skirt, and tried to ignore how my limbs felt like coat hangers in a paper maché shell of skin. My underwear, boringly black as per usual, made me look even paler than I was. The tights were a bit of a struggle, but eventually I pulled them off and stood there, hugging my cold, goosebumped arms to my chest, shivering.


I chanced another peek at Albus and he definitely wasn’t looking. So I took a deep breath, willed my unsteady legs to walk me to the edge of the bath, and – ignoring the ladder – leapt in.



a/n: this chapter was surprisingly hard to write (although the next chapter was harder). so, you know, if it all reads a bit clunky, I mostly wrote this on a comedown after the stressfest of my history exam and I was a bit too delirious at the thought of never having to write about the cold war again to type properly. hope you liked it regardless! (p.s, for all you floral shippers out there...you're well in the lead, and Jess the Enthusiast is the captain of your ship. full speed ahead?)

Chapter 12: { 11 }
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At least the water was warm. It was only as I was plunging down below the surface, the air from my lungs turning into a stream of bubbles, that I realised I probably should have used the ladder. The way I’d gone in had resulted in far more splashing than I’d have liked.


But the water was warm, deliciously so, the perfect temperature a bath should be, and when I broke the surface it was like ploughing through a carpet of bluish soap bubbles. I took a deep breath, swept my sodden hair out of my face, then grappled with my steamed-up glasses – I’d forgotten to take them off, and they were hanging off my ear by one leg. I set them on the side, feeling a bit sheepish.


Without my glasses, though, Albus was just a vague blur on the far side of the pool/bath. I couldn’t even tell if he was still hiding his eyes or not.


‘Sure you didn’t look?’ I said, so far under the water that the bubbles touched my chin.


‘Sure,’ he said.


‘Cool,’ I said. ‘Er…I can’t see.’


‘Huh?’


‘My glasses…’ I meant to indicate to my face, but just ended up flailing about in the water. ‘Can’t see too well without them. You’re so blurry…’


He swam forward a bit. ‘Better?’


‘Almost…’


He came forward a bit more, until he was about a metre away from me and perfectly in focus.


‘Better now?’ he said.


‘Definitely.’


‘Good,’ he said, and then ducked his head under the water.


I momentarily freaked out, given all the promises he’d made about not looking. So I took another deep breath and sunk back down through the bubbles too. The first few moments were of suffocation; I was blinded, with my eyes squeezed shut and my breath held – but then I forced myself to open my eyes again.


The soap didn’t sting my eyes, weirdly, although I guess it was enchanted not to do that. I wanted to breathe more than anything but, through the surprisingly clear water, I could see Albus, his dark hair floating around his head like a sort of halo. He waved to me, and ripples spread through the water from his fingertips; it barely even occurred to me that he definitely was looking now. Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter now we were underwater.


It kind of reminded me of when I was small, when my dad used to take me to swimming lessons at the local pool. I didn’t really care much for the actual swimming, though, and it took me way longer than the other kids to get my first swimming badge. I just liked the whole novelty of being in water far too much, and I was always having way too much fun pretending to be a mermaid to actually work on perfecting my backstroke. Except then, it had been drifting underwater with my eyes open and burning with chlorine, and all I’d had for my pretend ocean floor was grotty tiles and the forest of pale, pasty legs kicking past me. And now I just had Albus, grinning and waving at me whilst my laughter came out in strings of bubbles, but I still felt like a child. Still felt awkward and shy and stupid.


So I told myself not to be any of those things, because they wouldn’t do me any good. Of course there was no similarity between the five-year-old me in the municipal pool and the sixteen-year-old me on a date in the prefects’ bathroom, of all places. And so it did me no good to think about that too.


I needed to come up for air, though, and kicked upwards a moment or two later. Albus shot up a moment after I did, hair plastered to his face.


‘I come here all the time,’ he said, sweeping hair out of his eyes. ‘It’s really relaxing, but it’s kind of hard to explain to people where you’re going…’


‘Can’t you tell them it’s the prefects’ bathroom?’


‘Yeah, but they’re not supposed to know…I don’t even want to know what they think I’m doing.’


I giggled. ‘Tell them you’re going to the library, it tends to make anyone shut up.’


‘I already spend enough time in the library,’ he grinned, kicking backwards. ‘They think it’s weird…’


‘What’s so weird about the library?’ I followed him, and the two of us drifted out into the centre, although I still tried to keep everything but my head underwater.


‘Well, normal people don’t tend to go to libraries for fun…’


‘I go to the library for fun!’


‘Yeah, but neither of us are normal, are we?’


I stopped, my toes only just reaching the tiles at the bottom. I was getting out of my depth. ‘Al, you’re, like, mega normal compared to me.’


‘Everyone seems to think that,’ he said. ‘I think they disregard the whole Weird Sisters fanclub, chocolate frog addiction, library thing.’


‘Yeah, but at least you’re not in Hufflepuff…’


‘Hufflepuff is a cool house,’ he smiled. ‘Loyal, hardworking…’


‘Good at eating, more like,’ I said.


‘I’d kill to be in your house,’ he said. ‘Do you actually do these, er, midnight biscuit runs I’ve heard of?’


‘Sometimes,’ I shrugged. ‘Me and Fauna pop over now and again to get cakes.’


He narrowed his eyes. ‘Forget you coming to Gryffindor, you’re taking me to Hufflepuff one of these days.’


I smiled. ‘Your house is a bit more fun than mine.’


‘No excuses,’ he grinned and, before I could respond, had ducked under the water again.


‘Al-’ I started, then breathed in and dived down after him again. Even up close, he was still a bit blurry, the refracted light playing tricks with his eyes so they looked more green than hazel. If his hair was like a halo in the water, I wondered what mine looked like – he seemed to be thinking the same thing, because he reached up and wound his hands through it, mouthing something through the water that might have been ‘cool’. Then, he pulled me towards him and kissed me.


I knew I couldn’t have held my breath for much longer anyway, and the surprise of being kissed made me breathe out, suddenly, in a stream of bubbles that I followed up to the surface, gasping for air again. When Albus popped up a second later, I tried to laugh it off, but I think he could tell I was already pretty on edge and didn’t try to kiss me again.


It sort of made me a bit mad inside. I mean, I’d been frigid, four-eyes Flora for life and I wasn’t exactly doing much to change that.


He held up his hands. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘I’m going all prune-y.’


‘Probably time to get out,’ I said, embarrassed by how quivery my voice was. The cynical bit of me that had somehow come into being over the Christmas holidays was there, in my head, going, oh, come on, get a grip: one kiss and you freak out, how typical.


‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Half an hour to curfew.’


‘I promise I won’t look when you get out,’ I said.


He grinned at me. ‘I wouldn’t mind.’


That said, though, I made sure I kept my eyes respectfully on the water as he got out. It was a bit difficult, though, when I could still feel that underwater kiss on my lips and my heart in my throat.


‘You’re alright to look now,’ he called out, sounding awfully amused. I swam over to the ladder and climbed out; to my surprise, he was already back in his school trousers, shirt half-buttoned.


‘Drying charm,’ he said, noticing how I was gaping at him. ‘Flora, you are so looking.’


‘You said you didn’t mind!’


‘I don’t,’ he shrugged, doing up one of his cuff buttons. ‘Especially since you don’t seem to mind me looking at you-’


I went bright red again, snatching my glasses up from the tiled floor. He chuckled and turned away, fiddling with his other cuff. I was glad he’d reminded me that drying charms even existed. My mind was too blank to have come up with that solution on its own. My own drying charm was pretty patchy (I kept thinking about how ironic it’d be if I overjudged it and set my knickers on fire, liar that I was) and it was tricky trying to shove my damp feet into my tights, but in a couple of minutes I’d wrestled my skirt and shirt back on. I’d done up about half of the buttons when Albus turned around and tapped me on the shoulder.


‘Do you want me to walk you back to your common room?’ he said.


‘If you want.’


It was the tiniest of gestures and I almost didn’t see it, but I noticed his eyes flicker down slightly.


‘Albus…’ I said, and his eyes met mine again. ‘You’re looking…’


He put on an expression of the utmost innocence. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’


I was listening to the cynical voice in my head and trying hard not to be awkward, so I didn’t flinch away or finish buttoning my shirt as fast as possible or anything, even though there was a part of me that really, really wanted to put my jumper on. Instead, I kept my head up, and said ‘thanks for this. It was cool.’


‘Something different,’ he shrugged.


My face was going red again and I was struggling to find something to say. ‘I…I really…it was nice.’


‘Yeah,’ he said.


It was like being underwater again; he wound his fingers into my wet hair like it was rope, pulled me close so that we could kiss. And even though I still felt awkward, I tried my best not to be shy, not to pull away from him and hide my face like I always did. With the cuffs pulled down over my palms, my hands knotted round the back of his neck to bring him closer still. The cold tiled wall bumped up against my back and, in surprise, I actually broke away for a minute, drawing in a trembling breath; his hands unwound themselves from my hair and tilted my face up to his again, closer, as the tip of his tongue traced the line of my lips and then parted them.


It occurred to me more than once how this would look if someone, like, Albus said, came charging in. The two of us, half-dressed, hair still damp, intertwined, my shirt unbuttoned to the waist and left sleeve slipped from my shoulder. It had seemed so innocent when he’d asked me to meet him earlier and I’d never imagined it might end up like this, although it’d be wrong to admit that I hadn’t privately daydreamed about it once or twice. It was easy to forget all this, though, as his hand slipped along the curve of my bare shoulder, along my side, coming to rest on that precise point where my ribcage ended. Despite best efforts to get rid of my shyness, I couldn’t help but flinch and broke away with another gasping breath. He laughed under his breath and kissed me on the cheek instead, but I was still short of air, dizzy, even, breath deep, shuddering. So he pressed his lips to my neck, tracing a careful line above my collarbone, over my artery, and I could only think about how he must have picked up my frantic pulse with every kiss. He was careful as you like, but I was so shy and so unused to all this that, when his teeth brushed against my skin, my gasping breath came out as a sort of pathetic moan.


He pressed his lips back to mine, laughing under his breath again, but I think he could tell I’d freaked myself out; I was gripping onto his arms so tight my nails were almost digging into his skin, putting a clear inch of space between us.


‘Can’t remember if the door’s locked,’ he murmured, lips on my cheek.


The blood rushed to my head in a sudden, dizzying burst, like flashbulbs were going off behind my eyes. ‘Don’t…d-don’t want people charging in…’


‘You’re right. I should probably check,’ he grinned, and I let go of his arms so he could make it over to the door without me hanging on like some dazed barnacle. Once he’d turned away from me, I sunk back against the wall again, head predictably giddy, knees predictably weak. It made me a little jealous to think that he’d probably done this sort of thing enough not to turn into a human jelly like I had.


‘Definitely locked,’ he said, as I fastened up the rest of my shirt with quivering fingers. When he walked back over to me, though, he was frowning.


‘You alright?’ he said, hesitant.


‘Peachy,’ I breathed.


‘I didn’t…freak you out, or-’


‘No, not at all.’


He pulled aside the unbuttoned collar of my shirt and I tensed, thinking, for a moment, that he was going to pick up where we’d left off. Instead, he gently touched a finger to a tender spot on my neck.


‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I’ve given you a bruise.’


My face flushed scarlet again. ‘It doesn’t matter-’


‘Lovebite, whatever you want to call it,’ he said, his grin lopsided, colour rising in his face.


I brushed his hand away and buttoned my collar to the top. ‘It’s fine,’ I said. ‘It was…fun.’


Sure I didn’t freak you out-’


‘No, more like…fun is an understatement.’


He laughed, again, as I stooped to pick up my jumper and pull it over my head. ‘Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you about it getting steamy in here-’


‘Shut up,’ I giggled, feeling the awkwardness brought on by my own ridiculous nerves melting away.


We went about gathering up our robes and bags and, at the door, he stuck out his elbow so I could slip my arm through his as we walked back.


‘Thanks for coming,’ he said. ‘I’m usually alone in there.’


*



It was lucky Albus was a prefect, because it was after nine before we got back to my common room. Outside the door, he kissed me on the cheek before wishing me a good night.


‘Thanks again for this evening,’ I said, calmer than I was back in the prefects’ bathroom. ‘I had a nice time.’


‘Are you free tomorrow?’ he said, and I must have looked really hopeful or something, because he laughed and said ‘I’ve got that History of Magic essay to do and I wondered if you fancied going to the library…’


‘If we can go somewhere afterwards,’ I said, and it kind of surprised me to hear how coquettish I sounded.


‘Cake raid on the kitchens?’ he said. ‘Yes, good. Usual spot in the library at two, then?’


‘Yep,’ I smiled. ‘See you there.’


It was somehow a bit more difficult than usual to walk across the common room. My hair was still a bit damp and I must have reeked of soap, plus my face was probably still a radioactive, luminous pink. A quick scan of the room showed me that Fauna and Scorpius weren’t there, so I just went straight up to my dorm, thinking I’d maybe use an early bedtime as an excuse for getting on with the Runes essay I’d been set that afternoon.


I was about two paragraphs in – even though well over an hour had passed – before the door opened and Fauna came in, looking just as radiantly embarrassed as I had when I’d got back and her school scarf wound around her neck.


‘Hello,’ she said, seeing me sitting up in bed in my pyjamas, parchment trailing over the duvet. ‘Early night, huh?’


‘You’re back late,’ I said. ‘Curfew was an hour and a half ago.’


‘Forgot the time,’ she pulled off her scarf and hung it on the end of her bed. ‘I’ve got that slip Lucy’s cousin signed, anyway, theoretically I’ve got prefects' permission to stay out until midnight…’


‘So why didn’t you?’


She raised an eyebrow at me. ‘Because…we didn’t really want to break curfew?’


‘Live a little,’ I said, realising the irony of that coming from four-eyes-Flora, who was currently writing about the meaning of the rune Eihwaz. ‘What, did you go up there to snog where people couldn’t laugh at you?’


Her eyes narrowed a little. ‘No, I went to show him the constellations.’


‘Is that what they’re calling it these days?’


She pulled off her glove and threw it at me. ‘Shut it, you. Where were you this evening? Scorpius said he’d asked you to come but you were busy.’


‘Out with Albus,’ I said. ‘It was fun.’


She didn’t press on any further, and I wondered if she’d clocked the purplish mark on my neck and put two and two together herself. ‘I don’t mean to rain on the parade,’ she said, kicking off her shoes. ‘But have you and Scorpius fallen out or something?’


‘Yeah, kind of,’ I said.


Her voice was suddenly cold. ‘It’s bloody ridiculous, you never fall out.’


‘Well, first time for everything.’


‘What’s he even done to you?’ she said.


I knew there was no way I could tell her the truth, so I shrugged. ‘You know he hates Albus. Maybe it’s-’


‘He doesn’t hate Albus that much, Flora. As far as I know he didn’t even write to you over Christmas, did he torture Willoughby or something?’


She was trying to joke, but it wasn’t very convincing. She looked far too upset for that.


‘It’s nothing,’ I said. ‘We’ll get over it.’


‘You better get over it. I hate arguments. Will you come tomorrow night? We’re going again, I’ve got this Astronomy homework to chart the sky over the course of a week-’


‘I can’t,’ I interrupted. ‘I said I’d take Albus to the kitchens.’


‘We’re not even going out until seven,’ she said, looking hurt. ‘You can bring him, you know.’


‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’


‘Well you’re not exactly going to make Scorpius warm to Albus that way, are you?’


‘I don’t care if Scorpius likes him or not.’


‘You used to. You really used to.’


There was an awful silence.


‘I don’t care anymore,’ I said. ‘It’s Scorpius’ problem, not mine.’


‘Don’t be so stubborn,’ she snapped. ‘It’s not like either of you are ever going to tell me what’s going on but I know he wants to be your friend still-’


‘Like I said, his problem, not mine-’


‘Well, maybe it’d be a good idea to talk to him one of these days!’


‘We talked at the end of Ancient Runes today, actually,’ I said.


‘Yeah, well,’ she shrugged, and it seemed like the fight had gone out of her. ‘Fat lot of good that talk did, Flora.’


‘His problem,’ I repeated. ‘Not mine.’


Fauna gave up completely, snatching up her pyjamas and vanishing into the bathroom. I tried to restart on my Ancient Runes essay, but it was even harder than before. My mind had been full of the hour or so I’d spent with Albus then, but now it was full of how I was going to try and resolve the whole thing with Scorpius without Fauna ever knowing the reason we’d fallen out in the first place. As much as I felt he deserved getting dumped for it, I didn’t really want her to know that her boyfriend had snogged me before he’d asked her out. And I wasn’t even sure if he was using her to get back at me or what, although I didn’t really think he was capable of that.


When Fauna came back out of the bathroom she was all smiles again, as if the exchange we’d had before she’d flounced off to brush her teeth hadn’t even happened.


‘You’ve got a bit of ink on your neck, by the way,’ she said, riffling through her schoolbag. It kind of amused me to think that she hadn’t put two and two together and thought that it was innocent enough to be an ink smudge, and I actually giggled without meaning to. She sat up, Transfiguration textbook in hand, and gave me a funny look.


‘It’s not ink,’ I said.


She seemed to get it. ‘Oh, right…’


Copying me, she settled down on her own bed with her Transfiguration homework, and the two of us worked silently for a couple of minutes. Well, alright, she worked silently: my mind was still a riot, flipping back and forth between the two boys in my life.


After about five minutes, she looked up and caught my eye.


‘You will…try, won’t you?’ she said hesitantly. ‘I mean, you will try to sort things out with Scorpius, right?’


‘I don’t know,’ I said.


‘It’d mean heaps to me if you did,’ she said. ‘Especially if you’d come out with us tomorrow evening.’


It kind of hurt a little bit to see her so hopeful when I knew we’d both disappointed her so much already. ‘I’ll try,’ I said. ‘But I can’t promise anything.’



a/n: fancied writing something a bit steamy. took steamy a bit too literally. harder to write than I expected, but I hope you liked it anyway! it's been lovely hearing your thoughts in the review box, guys, but please remember to keep it 12+! thanks for reading ♥

Chapter 13: { 12 }
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I’d never have told him this for fear of sounding like a weirdo, but there was something kind of comforting about watching Albus writing an essay. He pulled this face when he was thinking, one that made him look somewhere between frowning and being confused – although History of Magic does tend to have that effect on people. And when he was thinking, he tended to run his hands through his hair and bite his lip and gradually make himself more and more dishevelled, like unplaiting a rope or untying a knot. It wasn’t like he was the sort of guy to put on a front in public or anything, but, as you might expect from a Prefect and Harry Potter’s son, he always tended to look and act quite neatly in company. So I felt weirdly privileged to be able to sit opposite him in the Library and see him with ink smudged on his fingers and his fringe sticking up. I’m not sure Albus felt the same way, though, because I pretty much look dishevelled all the time and it’d be weird to see me without inky fingers and electrocuted hair.


It was a bit difficult to concentrate on my History of Magic homework that afternoon, mostly because Albus was evidently struggling with his essay and pulling that face again; it was equally difficult to tear my eyes away from him, especially after the date-of-sorts in the Prefect’s bathroom. It made me blush to think about now it was the middle of the day and the light in the Library was cold and clear, but I’d lain awake half the night berating myself for being such a twitchy, nervy, naïve little girl – shoving Albus away when he’d really done nothing more than kissed me and the like. I’d considered, once or twice, what it might have been like if I hadn’t put him at arm’s length. I might have missed curfew by a long shot, to put it one way.


But when we’d met up in the library we’d just gone to our usual desk and sat opposite one another, calm as you like, saying very little, working away at our essays like the model students we apparently were in the daylight. Nobody would have to know that we’d been snogging in the Prefect’s bathroom or even that I’d managed to cheat on Albus, especially seeing as I didn’t want anyone to find out about the second thing.


After a couple of hours of sitting there and blundering through the same few paragraphs on early Ministerial power structure, though, I was sick of my mind going in circles between Albus and pages fifty to fifty-seven of A History of Magic and put down my quill.


‘I can’t do anymore,’ I murmured. ‘I’m done with this essay.’


Albus looked up from his own textbook, eyebrows slightly raised. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Er…’


He put the textbook down. Hidden within the yellowed pages was the most recent copy of New Magical Express.


‘Sorry, Flora,’ he said. ‘But all this stuff about the fiscal policies of Artemisia Lufkin is so dull…mind helping me with the crossword?’


I rolled my eyes. ‘I’ve been working solidly on this for >two hours and you’ve been doing a crossword-’


‘I wrote for the first half hour…’


‘Anything interesting in this week’s issue?’


‘Nah, not much,’ he said. ‘Modernism are pretending to be the world’s best band again…’


‘Oh…’


At that point, the librarian came over and shushed us, and we pretended to be working on our essays again.


‘Up to much tonight?’ Albus muttered, once Mister Crow had vanished off between the next set of shelves. ‘You did promise to take me on a cake raid.’


‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Fauna asked me if I’d go up to look at stars with her but I don’t really fancy it…’


Albus set his copy of New Magical Express aside. ‘Stargazing? Oh, that sounds fun.’


‘Not really, Fauna’s pretty intense about the whole Astronomy thing-’


‘Sounds so cool though. Kind of romantic.’


‘Yeah, I didn’t really want to crash her date under the stars with Scorpius or anything-’


‘Sure you wouldn’t like to go? It sounds lovely.’


‘Eh, I don’t know…’


‘It’d be cool to meet Fauna properly too. Can we go?’


‘But we’re going to the kitchens…’


‘We can stop off on the way. Pick up some cake to take up the tower!’


‘The house elves can get a bit picky about what you take out…’


‘Oh, stop making excuses!’


We were shushed again, and this time we really did go back to our essays, mostly because I didn’t want to carry on dreaming up reasons for us not to go up the Astronomy tower that night. Frankly, I’d rather have gone without chocolate frogs for a month than spent an evening in a confined space with Albus, Fauna and Scorpius. Although I’d probably give up chocolate frogs to be in a confined space with Albus but I guess I don’t really have to do that, being his girlfriend and all.


I’d really hoped that I could have had a quiet night with Albus then, maybe spent some time in his common room, shooting the breeze and the like – but instead he insisted we be sociable, insisted we take up Fauna’s offer, seeing as she’d been nice enough to invite us and all. I nearly died, my mind bringing up all these horrible scenarios of what could happen with Albus and Scorpius at each others’ throats. Albus was having none of it, though, none of my whining, none of my ‘oh, we’ll just be third wheels on their date’ talk.


‘It’s so kind of her to think of us,’ he said as we walked back from tea in the Great Hall. ‘I’ve always thought Fauna was nice. And…well, I suppose it’d be cool to see Scorpius too.’


‘Mega,’ I said, although I sounded as excited as if Albus had just told me chocolate and bobbly jumpers had been declared evil.


He elbowed me in the ribs. ‘Come on, cheer up,’ he said. ‘Stargazing! Isn’t that cute?’


‘Cold,’ I shot back. ‘And it’s a long walk back.’


‘I need the exercise,’ he said. ‘And I know a heating charm or two. We’ll wrap up warm.’


I wanted to put my foot down, throw a tantrum, and demand that he take me to his common room so we could sit in front of the fire, even if it meant having to help him with the New Magical Express crossword. But I decided to be mature and seize the opportunity to repair and gaping abyss in my relationship with Scorpius and Fauna.


‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Fine, we can go. But I want to stop by my dorm first. I left my scarf there.’


He punched the air with his fist. ‘We can go there after we’ve been to the kitchens!’


I was a bit uncertain about blundering into the kitchens right after teatime, especially after the veritable feast the elves had thrown up that evening, but Albus shined his Prefect’s badge on the sleeve of his jumper and grinned at me.


‘Prefect business,’ he said. ‘If anyone asks why we’re here, it’s prefect business.’


‘What, getting cake is a legitimate errand?’


‘Oh yes.’


After a few minutes, we reached the still life of a fruitbowl that was the kitchen door.


‘Right,’ Albus said. ‘What now?’


‘Er…’ I stared up at the painting, which was hung too high for me to reach. ‘This is the bit Scorpius usually does because he’s a beansprout…you have to tickle the pear.’


‘Sorry?’


‘I said this is the bit Scorpius usually does. You’ve got to tickle the pear.’


‘Tickle the pear?


‘Yeah. It’s how you get in. It turns into a handle.’


Albus looked a little baffled, but shrugged. ‘You’re the Hufflepuff,’ he said, and reached up towards the pear.


‘So…like…scratching a cat behind the ears?’


‘I wouldn’t know,’ I said, grinning stupidly. ‘Like I said, Scorpius usually tickles the pear.’


Chuckling, Albus stroked the painted pear - a moment later, a soft bubbling noise like laughter came from behind the painting and, with a loud popping noise, a golden doorknob emerged from the canvas.


‘Yeah, that’s it,’ I said. ‘Go on in.’


Albus gingerly prodded the painting open, then turned to me.


‘You first,’ he said, placing a hand on the small of my back and gently pushing me forwards.


Even though I’d been to the kitchens loads of times, it was weird to go without Fauna and Scorpius in tow. Fauna, the most confident one out of all of us, usually did all the talking, and me and Scorpius only really turned up to carry food and, er, tickle the pear. So I’d half-hoped that Albus, being a prefect and all, would march in and get the whole thing over and done with and I’d only have to supply my arms for cake-holding purposes.


The thing about the kitchens is that they’re always just on the wrong side of weird to a muggle-born like me. I don’t know how it is for kids who grew up with magic and even, god forbid, the kids who were rich enough to grow up with a house elf at home, but it’s weird for me to walk in and see all these tiny creatures with enormous ears hurrying about. I was left a little speechless.


Albus peeped out from behind me. ‘Hello?’ he said.


‘Good evening!’ a chorus of tiny voices squeaked.


‘Evening,’ Albus said. ‘Er, we came for some cake…’


‘Cake?’ one house elf stepped out from the bustling mass. ‘Of course, master and miss!’


‘Master?’ Albus whispered. ‘Master?


‘They do that a lot,’ I muttered back. ‘Me and Fauna tried to get them to call Scorpius a Viscount, but…’


We followed the house elf to a corner of the kitchens, Albus chuckling behind me.


‘Are they okay with this?’ he said. ‘I mean…people just coming in and demanding food…’


‘I dunno,’ I said.


‘My Auntie did a lot of stuff in the Ministry about house elf working practices…I really should’ve paid more attention, but…not really the most interesting thing to talk about at family Christmas gatherings, you know?’


‘How is you wanting your cake, sir?’ the elf piped up.


‘Oh, surprise me,’ Albus shrugged. ‘Whatever you’ve got would be lovely.’


‘Certainly, sir-’


‘You don’t have to call me ‘sir’…’


‘We is keeping a carrot cake from dinner, sir, if sir likes that.’


‘Great. Wonderful.’


Within moments the house elf had returned with a sizable slab of cake wrapped in tinfoil.


‘Thanks,’ I said, tucking it away into my schoolbag.


The house elf ignored me, instead staring up at Albus.


‘You is looking like the boy who lived, sir,’ the elf said.


‘I’m his son,’ Albus stuck out a hand. ‘Nice to meet you.’


The house elf reached up and wrapped a tiny hand around Albus’ oustretched pinky finger. ‘Nice to be meeting you too, sir.’


We left soon after. This time Albus led the way, me following.


‘So,’ he said, once we were back outside in the corridor. ‘Up to the Astronomy tower?’


‘It’s miles away,’ I whined.


‘There are shortcuts,’ he said, sounding a little impatient now.


‘But seven staircases-’


There are shortcuts.


‘Yeah, like where?’


‘If you go behind that tapestry of aardvarks on the third floor and then down the corridor beyond it takes you straight to the sixth floor-’


‘How is that even physically possible?’


‘You know what the castle’s like, Flora.’


‘But that doesn’t even make sense-’


‘Yeah, but since when has Hogwarts ever made sense?’


‘I don’t know, sometimes…’


‘Your common room is underground. That doesn’t make sense.’


By the time I’d opened my mouth to retort I realised we were already in the Entrance Hall.


‘See?’ Albus sounded impatient again. ‘If we carry on like this we’ll be at the seventh floor in no time.’


‘Fine, alright. Let’s go stargazing. With our carrot cake.’


*



Despite what Albus had said, climbing up to the Astronomy tower took what felt like a bloody century. It had been a hike and a half, even with all the shortcuts we’d taken, and by the time we got to the actual Astronomy classroom at the top of the tower my thighs were aching like billy-o and I was so out of breath I was beginning to sound like a winded hippopotamus with every move. I ended up hanging back beside Albus as we blundered our way across the darkened classroom. I trusted him and all, but I didn’t really want to see me in my unattractive, red-faced, out-of-breath state.


I felt like I’d underestimated Fauna by a mile when we finally emerged from the classroom onto the Astronomy department’s viewing platform, a stretch of stonework that ringed the top of the tower and supported several enormous telescopes. I’d thought the reason Fauna had dragged Scorpius up this far was so they could be alone, but half the astronomy class was there, perched on stone benches or sprawled in little huddles across the floor, all clutching parchment and quills and gazing skyward. Fauna and Scorpius were away off to one side, barred off from most of the class by an elaborate glass-and-metal contraption that was clicking and whirring contentedly like a strange pet.


It’d been weird enough seeing the house elves, being fundamentally unprepared for the sight of them and all, but it was even weirder, in a way, seeing Fauna and Scorpius from a distance. As a bystander instead of an actual member of the group. I knew that I shouldn’t have felt like that, especially since they’d invited me up to join them and all, but it was hard to ignore the urge to turn around and walk away or even go and sit with Tabitha and some of the other Astronomy students on the opposite side of the tower.


Albus led the way. ‘Good evening!’ he called out, weaving his way carefully between the spindly limbs of the glass-and-metal telescope that was the final barrier between me and my former best friends.


Fauna and Scorpius turned around in unison, but evidently they hadn’t coordinated their facial expressions. I knew Scorpius well enough to know that he could be pretty good at putting on a smile when he wanted to, but he wasn’t making any attempt to hide his dislike for Albus.


I stepped forward, trying to navigate my own way past the telescope. Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely successful, and ended up with the sleeve of my cardigan caught on one of the spindly brass branches and nearly brought the entire telescope crashing down on me.


And, well, it didn’t seem so bad – I might have had to stand there with my arm attached to something that probably cost mountains of Galleons with the entire Astronomy class giggling at me, but it seemed worth it to see Albus, Fauna and even Scorpius grinning at me. All at the same time.


‘Nice to see you,’ Fauna said, as I extracted myself from the telescope and made my way over to join them. Albus had already sat himself down beside Fauna, leaving me a tiny gap between the telescope and him for me to squeeze into. They all had to budge up a bit to fit me in, and so we ended up shoulder-to-shoulder and I was inwardly thankful that Fauna was there as a sort of buffer zone between Scorpius and Albus.


‘Yeah…er, we brought carrot cake,’ I said, pulling it from my bag.


‘Great,’ Scorpius said, except with the tone of voice that suggested carrot cake was anything but.


‘What’s your project for?’ Albus asked, as I passed the cake around.


‘Oh, just mapping the sky,’ Fauna said. ‘Charting the constellations, you know? We’re supposed to do it over the course of a week.’


‘Sounds cool,’ Albus said.


‘Yeah,’ Scorpius piped up. ‘Freezing.’


‘Good cake,’ Fauna said, shoving her parchment into Scorpius’ hands to grab a slice. ‘Did you get this from the kitchens? It looks fab.’


‘Yeah…the elves were pretty taken with Albus…’


‘Of course,’ Scorpius said. ‘Everyone is.’


My mind completed his sentence for him: except for me.


‘Yeah…great cake!’ I chipped in. ‘Cake’s fab. Probably my second favourite thing. First favourite is The Weird Sisters. And Myron Wagtail.’


Fauna giggled behind her fingertips; Albus nodded emphatically.


‘See, for me…’ he said. ‘It’s probably cake first and The Weird Sisters second.’


‘Yeah, I don’t get it,’ Scorpius suddenly cut in. ‘I mean, The Weird Sisters were good in their prime and all, but everything they’ve put out since they reformed has been pretty average.’


There was a slight pause.


‘I’d disagree,’ Albus said. ‘It was a perfect comeback.’


‘How would you know?’


‘Pardon?’


‘How would you know?’ Scorpius said. ‘You weren’t there the first time round.’


‘Yeah, but, if you listen to their live recordings from back in the day…’


‘I dunno, I feel like you can only truly appreciate a band once you’ve seen them live.’


‘I’ve seen The Weird Sisters. Granted, only on their reunion tour, but…didn’t you go too?’


‘Flora didn’t want to go on her own.’


‘I thought you enjoyed it!’ I piped up, but both of them ignored me. Meanwhile, Fauna was watching the two of them warily, nibbling away on her slice of carrot cake.


‘What’s your favourite band?’ Albus cut across.


‘Oh, you’ve probably never heard of them,’ Scorpius said.


‘Try me.’


‘The Twenty Trenched Gashes?’


‘Nope.’


‘They’re a gothgaze four-piece from Manchester. They-’


‘What on earth is gothgaze?’


‘Like shoegaze meets goth?’ Scorpius said, and I felt like I could have slapped the smug little grin right off his face.


‘Nah, you’re right, never heard of them,’ Albus said. ‘Obviously they’ve still got to build a name for themselves yet…’


I took advantage of the tiny silence to elbow my way into their conversation.


‘How’re the stars looking, Fauna?’


‘Oh, you know,’ she said, eyes fixed on Scorpius. ‘Starry.’


‘Fab. Just fab. Anyone for more carrot cake?’


‘I think I’ll pass,’ Albus said. Scorpius didn’t even look at me.


Awkward silence. But I really shouldn’t have expected much else.


‘So…what’ve you two been up to?’ Fauna said, tugging her parchment out of Scorpius’ hands. ‘Apart from going to the kitchens…’


‘Homework in the library,’ I said.


‘Sounds…fun.’


I wanted the conversation to continue, more to save us all from the awkwardness than anything, but I couldn’t exactly bring myself to speak when I was preoccupied with the thought of punching Scorpius. I looked helplessly over at Albus, but he was staring out over the edge of the tower, jaw clenched. I almost might have said he was pouting.


‘Well, my favourite band is Modernism,’ Fauna finally said. ‘And I know the three of you hate them, so feel free to let rip with the insults.’


I guess Fauna must have felt as awkward as I did, because it was only another twenty minutes before she folded up her parchment onto her lap and said she was done stargazing for the night, even though the rest of her class still looked pretty engrossed in the project.


‘May as well call it a night,’ she said. ‘I am going to be up here all week, after all.’


We packed up our stuff, bundled the remains of the carrot cake into the foil, and then set off for the stairs. Albus hesitated at the foot of the staircase.


‘My common room’s on this floor,’ he said. ‘So…see you around?’


‘Yeah…see you soon,’ I said.


He gave me a brief one-armed hug, waved to Fauna, and then set off down the corridor. I couldn’t help but feel he was a little miffed, which, to be honest, served him right for being so pushy about going there in the first place.


We started descending the stairs to the sixth floor in silence.


‘Thanks for coming…and bringing Albus,’ Fauna said. ‘For a bit I didn’t know if you were going to show up or not…’


‘Albus was really keen to go.’


We still hadn’t said all that much by the time we reached the first floor, which was when Fauna came to a halt outside a classroom.


‘Need to drop off an essay in Transfiguration,’ she said. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’


She vanished through the doorway before either me or Scorpius had a chance to speak. I already wanted to hit him, but I could have hit her too for abandoning me with him. It was pretty much the first time we’d been alone since everything had happened.


‘So…’ I said, after a protracted silence. ‘Trying to out-hipster Albus…not cool.’


He glared at me. ‘Styling your hair the way Myron Wagtail does it is not cool.’


‘I don’t-’


‘Albus looks like a prat and I know it’s because of the feature about Myron’s style tips in the last issue of New Magical Express, come on-’


‘He looks good with a quiff!’


‘Quiffs never looked good on anyone, Flora.’


I rolled my eyes and tutted at him, but I knew, deep down, that it was by far the silliest disagreement I’d had in a while and I actually wanted to laugh. And I guess Scorpius felt the same too, because his lips started to twitch into a smile.


I actually thought we could be friends again.


‘Myron’s cool and Albus is cool,’ I said.


‘And I’m not?’


‘Absolutely not.’


‘Neither are you.’


‘I know.’


There was another little pause before Scorpius spoke again, although he’d dropped the glaring and just looked sheepish instead.


‘Do you remember…once we…spent ages talking about how we weren’t cool and never wanted to be and…’


‘Yeah,’ I said, casually as I could, not wanting to let him onto the fact that it’d been dwelling on my mind more than usual for the past few weeks.


‘Kind of different now you’re Albus’ girlfriend and all…’


‘Yeah.’


‘You’re still four-eyes to me.’


‘And you’re still a loser.’


‘Okay…’ he said, and then added: ‘I missed that.’


An apology tripped to the end of my tongue, then I realised that I didn’t really have anything to apologise for. But I still wanted to say it. Not because I was sorry for something I’d done, but I was sorry for myself and the state the two of us had got into.


There was only time for him to say one more thing before Fauna returned: ‘It’s nice to see you again.’



a/n: I fail so much at updating...I'm sorry. real life has sort of become complicated and stuff and I have a full-time job now so I'm really struggling to find the time to write. buuut I do still love writing and and I'm looking forward to writing later bits of this story, so hopefully inspiration will strike and I can update a lot more this summer. anyway to the two of you who are still here, thank you for sticking with this and I'm sorry it's kind of sucky right now but I have had the worst writers' block and...~excuses~ ♥

Chapter 14: { 13 }
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Scorpius had saved me a seat at breakfast the next morning.


‘You’ve got toothpaste in your hair,’ he said.


And it was weird how much that single observation healed our friendship. I mean, not totally, because I couldn’t so much as cast a bloody glance at him without thinking of the kiss, but at least now I felt like I could talk to him without simultaneously wanting to hug him and punch him in the throat.


I sat opposite him and tried to claw the lump of toothpaste from my hair, scanning the breakfast table at the same time. Toast, cereal, fruit, an impressive array of fried food – nothing different, just the usual breakfast, but it all felt a bit different. Different in a good way. I wondered if Fauna, sitting next to Scorpius and engrossed in a copy of Witch Weekly, had noticed anything had changed.


So the knowledge that me and Scorpius were fast on the way to fixing all the silly and intangible things we’d broken made me feel good. And it made me want something fried for breakfast to celebrate.


I caught Albus’ eye over on the Gryffindor table a few minutes later, when I was midway through piling up my plate with grilled tomatoes, beans, bacon – he raised his eyebrows and gave my breakfast a funny look.


‘Big day,’ I mouthed to him. But when I switched my gaze back to the table in front of me, I noticed Scorpius had seen me too and was looking mightily confused.


‘What’s going on today?’ he said.


‘Dunno,’ I shrugged. ‘Just…life. Need to eat to make my bones big and strong.’


His eyes widened and he prodded at the toast on his plate. ‘God, don’t tell me. I’d need to eat all the food on this table to be strong enough to get through one day.’


Fauna dropped her magazine onto her empty plate and jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. ‘Cheer up,’ she said. ‘Stargazing tonight!’


‘Yipee,’ Scorpius said, continuing to prod at the toast with some disdain.


‘I’ll come,’ I said.


‘You can bring Albus,’ Fauna started, but a murderous look from both me and Scorpius shut her up. Scorpius probably looked murderous because he hated the whole idea of Albus; I just looked murderous because I didn’t want to see a repeat of the whole you’ve-probably-never-heard-of-them debacle of the night before..


Besides, I didn’t need to spend all my time with Albus. Right? Right. I wasn’t clingy or anything. And we both had different sets of friends, different social circles. I had my Hufflepuff Trifecta and he had his little gang of popular Gryffindors.


By the time me and Scorpius had to trundle off to Ancient Runes, it was like nothing had changed and we were back to normal. Sure, nothing could change that pre-Christmas memory I still had in my mind, but it felt like so long ago and I’d worked so hard on forgetting it that I wasn’t even sure what I remembered was the truth anymore. How long had it even gone on for? What had I even been thinking about? Couldn’t really be sure of anything. Not beyond the alcove in the corridor and the fact that it had actually happened. Half of the mental images I was still cringing over were probably fabricated. Evidently trying really hard to forget it was working.


Back in the dorm that afternoon once lessons were over, Fauna was waiting for me with a massive smile.


‘Made up with Scorpius?’ she said.


I shrugged. ‘I think so.’


Her smile got even wider. ‘God, I knew you’d get over it quick enough.’


I laughed involuntarily, trying to find something meaningful to say to her. ‘Yeah…you were right, Fauna, he did torture Willoughby. But he apologised.’


Before she could question the obvious lie, I swept the cat himself up into my arms and buried my nose in his fur.


‘See?’ I said. ‘Right as rain.’


Willoughby hissed at me and leapt out of my arms.


‘Just…’ Fauna trailed off, then did a weak little thumbs up. ‘Cool. Just nice to see you getting on again.’


And just one tiny day of our old group being back together – no matter how screwed up the dynamic had become – was enough to make me dig the twee star keyring Fauna had bought me out of the bottom of my trunk and clip it back into my bag. But I noticed Scorpius didn’t replace his, so maybe I was just being mega optimistic or something. I was really getting used to the idea of him being my friend again, though. It was like the past few months had just been erased from living memory. It was like everything had been erased going back to September, actually; each time I hung out with Scorpius, it was like vanishing into a parallel universe in which Albus had never saved me on the train and we were still good old loser and four-eyes.


I mean, don’t get me wrong, I appreciated that, but I just didn’t want Scorpius to forget that Albus was part of my life now whether he liked it or not.


We actually met up mostly during our free periods, whether by chance or design – it didn’t really matter, it just only really happened that we hung out during the daytime, or even after curfew if Fauna and her Astronomy homework said so. Never in the evenings, though, that was when I spent time with Albus, whether in his common room or going round on his prefect rounds with him or whatever. And at the weekends I just felt so tired I mostly ended up curling up in the common room noodling away at homework and dozing in front of the fire.


By the time April rolled around I almost had my life in check again. Except…well, I always felt like I was on the verge of losing control of it and, embarrassingly, April was also the month I stupidly lent my folder to Fauna in the Library and she found the scrappy timetable I’d drawn up next to my Charms notes.


‘What on earth is this?’ she hissed, shaking the dog-eared little refill pad at me. ‘And what on earth is trifecta time?


I gulped and fiddled with my quill to avoid answering.


‘Is this a timetable for your social life? Do you really only see Albus on Thursdays and Sundays?’


‘He has Quidditch and prefect stuff,’ I said. ‘And we’ve got Apparition lessons on Saturdays now.’


‘Flora…’ she shook the timetable at me again, but she looked like she was about to crack up laughing. ‘You’re so odd sometimes. Who on this planet timetables their socialising?’


I shrugged. ‘I just want to fit everything in…’


‘You’re weird,’ she said, more to herself than anything, sliding the refill pad back to me across the table. ‘Seriously, what is trifecta time? Sounds like a weird band Scorpius would be into.’


I tried to act as casual as possible. ‘Spending time with you two. We’re a trifecta,’ I said. ‘So it’s trifecta time.’


She raised her eyebrows at me. ‘Snappy title. You’ve timetabled more trifecta time than Albus time – and that’s a really crap name, by the way – did you realise?’


‘Yeah…like I said, he has Quidditch and prefect stuff.’


‘Do you book your dates in advance or something?’ she snorted.


I was about to open my mouth and say something silly about how, well, sometimes we did have to book if we wanted to go back to the prefects’ bathroom – but decided that wasn’t necessarily something I wanted her to know about and stayed silent.


‘What do you even get up to?’ she said, sounding more curious than scathing. ‘On your dates, I mean. You don’t talk about them a lot.’


‘Not much,’ I said. ‘Studying. Hogsmeade. Sometimes I just hang out in the Gryffindor common room. And we’ve gone walking round the grounds a couple of time.’


‘Oh,’ she said, and I guessed she’d probably been expecting something more dramatic than that. ‘Yeah, same.’


She should have expected more dramatic than that, to be honest, what with the prefects’ bathroom meet-ups and all. But that was strictly hush-hush.


‘You don’t talk about your dates a lot either,’ I said.


‘Oh, you know,’ she shrugged. ‘Don’t want to make it awkward.’


I smiled at her. Truth be told, yeah, the last thing I wanted to hear about was what Scorpius and Fauna got up to when I wasn’t around. Even though I could probably bet all my worldly possessions on their dates being mostly Astronomy/Library related.


A hand fell lightly on my shoulder and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Twisting around in my seat, I saw Albus stood behind me, a stack of books balanced in the crook of his elbow.


‘Sorry,’ he whispered. ‘Didn’t mean to frighten you.’


‘Fine,’ I said, thinking it had been at least two days since I’d last spoken to him.


‘Er…you done the History of Magic homework? Only I can’t get my head around it…’


‘I’ll come over,’ I said, already standing and pushing my chair back in under the table.


He nodded down to the books. ‘Better put these back first, should only take a minute.’


I followed him all the way back to the restricted section. The Library was only ever really silent there, right at the back, amongst those dusty shelves where, once in a while, you’d find a book chained shut or written in unintelligible runes. Luckily, Albus was only returning Transfiguration theory books, so we didn’t have to go wandering down those sorts of aisles.


‘Still free this Thursday?’ he said, sliding a copy of A Comprehensive Examination of the Ethics of Human Transfiguration, Third Edition back onto the shelf.


‘Yeah. What do you fancy doing?’


‘I dunno,’ he said, turning round to put the last book onto the opposite shelf. As he turned, a flash of white caught my eye.


‘Albus,’ I giggled. ‘Your jumper’s inside out.’


He looked down at the bright white label sticking out of his side. ‘Oh. Right.’


Without warning me, he pulled off his jumper and turned it the right way round again. But he didn’t put it on again straight away, instead standing there, seemingly lost in thought, the jumper held out before him.


‘What?’ I said.


‘It’s…nothing. Well, not nothing,’ he said. ‘Just reminded me. There was this one History of Magic lesson in fifth year when, well, I didn’t really know who you were then – I mean, I knew your name and I knew who you were, but I didn’t really know you. But…it’s daft, this is. I think you were late to the lesson or something, but your jumper was on inside out and the labels were really obvious – a couple of girls on my table were pointing and laughing at you. But I thought you looked a bit upset, and I wanted to just tap you on the shoulder and let you know your jumper was on the wrong way, but we were working in silence, of course, O.W.L practise and that. I couldn’t get it out of my mind all lesson, though. And I think I made a bit of an effort to look out for you after that because it had worried me. So I noticed you a lot more.’


I felt my face burn; he’d gone a slight shade of red too.


‘That’s really nice of you,’ I said, in this teeny voice that was basically inaudible. ‘And really typical of me.’


‘Every time I see a jumper label now I think of you,’ Albus said. ‘Sorry, that’s not very…er…romantic.’


‘It’s perfect, actually.’


‘I never even asked if you were okay,’ he said, going even redder.


‘Pretty sure I was…I think I was just late. And I think my normal face is just sad.’


He laughed. ‘No, it isn’t.’


‘But…that’s actually one of the nicest things anyone’s ever told me.’


I wonder if he felt like I did at that moment – the way his face had gone pale apart from the colour in his cheeks, the way he was suddenly looking at me cautiously, the way he was nervous – it was the way I kind of felt most of the time on our dates.


‘I bet you wished I’d told you you reminded me of flowers or the sunset or something-’


‘Jumper labels are fine,’ I said. ‘You kind of remind me of chocolate frogs.’


He seemed to find his confidence again, rolling his eyes at me in mock anger. ‘Thanks, Flora.’


‘Well, after the whole…fandango on the train, you gave me a chocolate frog.’


‘Yes, but thank you for comparing me to a solid chocolate amphibian that tries to jump out of the window the second you unwrap it…’


‘I’ll keep you in the wrapping.’


‘What card did you get, coincidentally?’


‘It was your dad. But I have about seven of him anyway.’


‘He’s pretty common, I know. He keeps one in a frame on the kitchen wall.’


‘Oh. Neat.’


‘Pisses my mum off, though, keeps distracting her when she’s trying to cook.’


There was a pause; I leant against the bookshelf and Albus pulled his jumper back on.


‘Don’t really fancy this homework now,’ he said.


‘I’ve got a free next if you want to crack on with it then.’


‘Nah,’ he shook his head. ‘I’ve got Defence Against the Dark Arts next. Big practical. Kind of dreading it.’


‘Good luck,’ I said. ‘Knock ‘em dead.’


‘Actually, I really hope I don’t knock anyone dead seeing as the practical’s on non-verbal reviving spells…’


I checked my watch. ‘We’ve only got five minutes till the bell.’


‘See you on Thursday night?’ he ventured.


‘Of course.’


Another little silence fell.


‘Flora-’ he started, but the word was barely out of his mouth before we sort of collided with one another, my back against the bookshelf, his hand on my waist. I mean, it had only been two days since I’d last seen him properly, but when we kissed it was a weirdly desperate, hungry sort of kiss, like we were parting for a century and not just parting for fifth period lessons. It wasn’t an especially good kiss either, rough, with teeth in it, his hand winding around my hair until it began to tug painfully at the roots – but when we broke apart I was as breathless and red-faced as ever.


Just to top it all off, a book on the shelf behind me let out a disgruntled moan.


‘Er,’ Albus said, lamely, untangling his hand from my hair.


‘Wow,’ I breathed.


‘Chocolate frogs. Jumper labels,’ he said, absently, tugging down the cuffs of his jumper and smoothing his hair. Then he darted in to kiss me on the cheek. ‘I’ve got to go. See you soon.’


‘Yeah,’ I forced myself to stand up straight. ‘See you.’


He darted off, waving as he turned the corner. Then it was my turn to straighten up my uniform and sort out my hair, which was tangled enough without Albus sticking his hands in it.


Fauna wasn’t there when I got back to the table, nor was her stuff – I guessed she’d gone off to Divination and packed up my own things. I had heaps of homework, but it was the last period of the day and I didn’t especially feel like doing work, especially not after Albus had sneak attacked me with jumper label-related emotions and snogging in the restricted section. I actually felt more like skipping across the width of the grounds and possibly singing at the top of my voice from North Tower.


Skipping and singing wasn’t really on the agenda, though, what with me being allergic to extended periods of exercise and having the singing voice of a donkey with a sore throat. So I just decided to head back to the common room, taking the shortcut through the Courtyard seeing as it was a fairly nice day. And it’s lucky I did, because I found Scorpius on the way, and I’m not sure what state he’d have been in if someone like me hadn’t come across him.


I’m also not entirely sure what had happened before I turned up, because it was long finished by the time I clapped eyes on Scorpius knelt on the floor with his books and rucksack thrown about him, and it took me a wee while to connect that to Fletcher and his mates walking away with their noses in the air.


One of the things I found out on day dot of Hogwarts was about house traits. For the most part they’re utter rubbish, because you get Ravenclaws who fail half their subjects and Gryffindors who’ll still scream at the sight of a mouse in their common room. But once in a while you get someone who you can really slap a label on, someone you can look at and think ‘wow, he/she is a right Slytherin’ or something. Fletcher and his mates were people like that. Easy to label with the Slytherin traits. Sure, they say Slytherins are ambitious and cunning, which does work in their favour, but they also say that Slytherins are proud and arrogant and stubborn as mules. And there are certain Slytherins who still have all the prejudice and rage of the second war hanging off their backs and dragging them into the dirt, certain Slytherins who’ll really, really go out of their way to make the lives of so-called ‘traitors’ miserable because of what their parents have told them. And Scorpius was the only son of what was probably the most infamous traitor of them all, or so I’ve heard.


I laughed at first, stooping down to pick up a copy of Advanced Herbology. Scorpius isn’t what one might call a master of hand-eye coordination, so I thought he’d maybe just tripped and was all set to take the mick out of him for it. Then I saw how he had his hands held out before him, how each palm cradled a half of his broken glasses and the lenses were all shattered on the stone slabs.


I barely even thought about what I was doing, just gently pulled the metal frames from his hands and set about gathering up the shards of glass, laying them all in my lap. Then I pulled out my wand, tapped the mess, and said ‘reparo’ – it wasn’t exactly a difficult spell, but I’d never quite grasped it non-verbally – Scorpius actually flinched like he’d only just noticed I was there.


Even when I handed him the repaired glasses he didn’t look at me.


‘Come on,’ I said. ‘I know I did a crappy job on them, but-’


‘They’re fine,’ he snapped. ‘Thank you.’


He glowered at his own knees as I did my best to gather up books from the floor.


‘Here,’ I set his textbooks in a pile before him. ‘You alright?’


Sure,’ he snarled.


I wondered, vaguely, why he was making such an effort to sit perfectly still. ‘Look at me,’ I said.


Grudgingly, he turned so his eyes met mine. Blood marked the left of his face, trickling down from his nose and a whole line of scrapes that went up to his eye and outlined a fresh bruise – and I couldn’t blame him for being so crabby, because when I saw the mess he was in I could only clap a hand over my mouth and stare.


‘Before you ask,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t much of a fair fight, no.’

That was when I connected the broken glasses and broken face with the infamous Slytherin bullies. And it hurt to imagine the three of them laying into Scorpius.


‘We’ve got to go to the Hospital Wing,’ I said. ‘You-’


‘No!’ he grabbed me by the arms so I couldn’t stand up. ‘No, absolutely not!’


‘But-’


‘I don’t want the Professors to get involved!’


‘But you’ve got to tell them!’


‘That’ll just make it worse!’


‘But they can do something about it-’


‘They can’t do anything that’ll help! They’ll just write home to my dad and give that lot another excuse to kick the shit out of me-’


‘But-’


‘Flora-’ he lowered his voice. ‘Flora, it’s not like I’m totally innocent, I…I kind of fought back-’


‘Fat lot of good that did you!’


‘Was I supposed to just stand there and take it?’


I think he could sense how upset I was getting, because he let go of me and put his repaired glasses back on.


‘Sorry…’ he mumbled. ‘I didn’t want you to…but the Professors can’t find out, I just – they’d just write to my dad and I don’t want to worry him and…’


We fell silent, kneeling on the floor opposite one another, him with his bruised and bloodied face and a barrier of textbooks between us.


‘Let me help you,’ I said. ‘At least let me get the blood off your face-’


‘I don’t want anyone to see!’


‘It’s alright,’ I said, wanting him to calm down more than anything, because I’d never really seen him like this and knew him as more of the type to – as he’d put it – stand there and take it. ‘If we – if we just went back to the common room, people are in lessons – I’ve got plasters and stuff in my trunk, if you came through to the dorm I could patch you up…’


He looked torn between refusing and going with me. ‘I can’t go into your dorm…’ he said vaguely.


‘Of course you can.’


He met my eye, and I had to stop myself from flinching away at the sight of that bruise.


‘It’s fine,’ I said. ‘No, really. I want to help.’


It took a lot of persuasion to get him out of the courtyard once I’d gathered up all his things and even more persuasion to get him to follow me along corridors and down the stairs to the Hufflepuff common room. Inside, there were a few people sitting around working; Scorpius walked all the way to the dormitory doors with his face turned to the wall so nobody could see him and nearly walked into a pillar.


He seemed a bit better once I got him into the dormitory, though (using the tried-and-tested technique of using pot plants as stepping stones like all the boys did to get past the anti-boy charms on the girls’ dorms). A lot calmer and a lot more cooperative. I shoved my Runes homework off the end of my bed so he could sit there as I went around collecting up tissues and the promised box of plasters.


‘Okay?’ I said.


He took off his glasses and looked gloomily up at me. With bruises and blood on his face and, well, the fact that he’d been scrapping in the courtyard with the bullies – he looked a bit like a lost child. I actually felt obliged to pat him on the head and get him a slice of cake from the kitchens or something.


‘Okay,’ he said.


I poured him a glass of water from the jug on Tabitha’s bedside table. ‘C’mon, have this,’ I said, forcing it into his scraped hands, dabbing a tissue into the water with my free hand.


‘I’m sure I’ll be fine-’


‘I’ll just get the blood off,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to, like, give you stitches or anything.’


‘Flora-’ he shied away from me as I advanced with the tissue.


‘It won’t hurt…’


Any awkwardness between us evaporated; this seemed more important than petty friendship drama. I started to clean off the blood, careful as I could, although he flinched away from me a couple of times and whined about how much it hurt. It wasn’t an especially deep set of cuts, more like scrapes or grazes and anything, but it took a while to get all the grit off. I was glad I’d never been especially squeamish - unlike Fauna, who was the sort to freak out over a papercut.


‘Has this ever happened before?’ I said.


He scowled at me. ‘I think you’d have known if it had.’


‘Sorry,’ I went on dabbing at the cuts. ‘I know you don’t really get on with them.’


He rolled his eyes. ‘Yeah, sure. We don’t really get on.’


‘Are you sure you don’t want to tell the Professors? I’m sure your dad would want to know about something like this-’


‘What, and let him know I’m even more of a failure?’ he cut across me. ‘My marks are bad enough-’


‘I’m sure he doesn’t think you’re a failure.’


‘Yeah, well, you’re wrong.’


‘Being bullied doesn’t make you a failure-’


‘Of course it does!’


I’d never really seen him so mad about anything. I hate to admit it, but my eyes started to burn and I had to bite my top lip to stop myself from crying.


‘I’m just trying to help,’ I said, once the silence had gone on too long.


‘Yeah, well…’ his voice sounded hollow, even trembled a little bit. ‘Shut up.’


I gave up trying to clean his cuts and turned away from him. The awkwardness was creeping back, little by little.


‘I’ll change the subject, then,’ I said, figuring it was best to be diplomatic. ‘Have you done the latest History of Magic essay yet? It’s a tricky one.’


He jerked his head from side to side.


‘I can help you out, if you’d like, I’ve got most of mine done…I mean, I’ve been helping Albus out for weeks and he’s been doing alright.’


With the benefit of hindsight, mentioning Albus was a bit of a mistake. Scorpius’ scowl somehow got even darker, and his face became a palette of murky bruising and dried blood that was almost black. He was normally so pale that the cuts and bruises made the rest of him indistinguishable, almost like he’d faded and been soaked in spilt ink. For the first time in my life, I actually felt a bit scared of him. Thing is, at the time, I was so desperate to find something else to talk about that I didn’t even think: I went on talking like nothing was wrong.


‘I’ll get on fine,’ Scorpius said.


‘It’d be nice to help someone else out. I mean, it seems like all I do with Albus these days is homework. I don’t even get to see him that much anyway, he’s so busy being a prefect and a seeker whatnot. It'd be nice to see him more, everything's kind of un-mega at the moment - I’m not even improving in History of Magic or anything, even after all this! And I’ve got all that extra work with apparition classes and all, it’s crazy! Not to mention how my mum wrote to me last week saying I can’t go home for Easter because she’s going away on a cruise with my aunt – ugh, I have to stay here for the entire holiday. I have the worst luck.’


I said it all without even thinking. But if I’d engaged brain for a second, things might have gone differently.


‘Oh, you have the worst luck?’ he spat. ‘Oh, sure! Look at me, I’m Flora Lancaster, and I have the worst luck! My boyfriend is the richest, most popular boy in school but, well, whatever, I have the worst luck because he only wants to study with me! I’m top of the History of Magic class but, wow, who cares? I have the worst luck because I set fire to one goblet in Charms and that makes me the biggest academic failure ever! Mind you, I may be half-blind and a bit ginger, but at least I don’t have to pull out an inhaler every five seconds! At least I didn’t have to have braces until I was fifteen but, no, I have the worst luck! At least people don’t hate me for being born! I have the worst luck because my dad walked out but, whatever, guess I’m lucky both my parents are still alive! I’m sick of your shit!’


Well, that escalated quickly. And it’s kind of hard to explain how it made me feel, but I guess in its simplest form it would be sad, awkward, angry, and a little bit sick all at once. My knees and elbows were trembling, my head hurt a little bit, and, well, screw all attempts at composure; tears were already welling up behind my glasses.


My voice was so tiny I may as well have saved my breath and not spoken at all. ‘Scorpius,’ I said. ‘You’re hurting me.’


‘I didn’t even touch you!’ he yelled.


‘No,’ I felt very small indeed. ‘I mean…inside. You’re hurting my heart.’


He got up and stood a few metres away without even saying anything. My hair fell around my face so all I could see was the floor and my own feet, blurred with tears.


‘I was just trying to help.’


‘Yeah, well…’ now he sounded as small as I felt. ‘You’re not really helping.’


‘I tried…’


‘You forget sometimes,’ he said. ‘Some people…you’ve got it better than most.’


It felt like a sudden shock in my mind – the sudden anger when I mentioned Albus, everything that had gone on between us, how I’d really been doing my best to ignore it and move on. I furiously thumbed the tears out of my eyes and looked up at him, all battered and bruised and staring back at me with wide eyes.


‘Is this just because I didn’t want to kiss you? Is this all about me not wanting to be your girlfriend or something?’


He shook his head but seemed unable to speak.


‘Is this – is this because you’re jealous? God – you’re infuriating – it’s your fault, you were the one that kissed me – I didn’t ask for that!’


Before I could stop myself, all the foul thoughts that I’d been trying to forget for the past few months came back to me.


‘Did you think what you did was justified? Did you feel like you were entitled to me or something? I’m just your friend and I never wanted to be anything more – you made this mess, it was your fault that we didn’t speak for so long! You’re the one who forced yourself on me – and then just running off to Fauna a couple of weeks later like nothing had happened, have you ever told her you don’t actually care about her? Because evidently you don’t have a clue how to treat your friends-’


Flora! Stop it!’


‘You, sick of me? I’m sick of you! I’m always running around after you trying to make you happy! And…’


The past few months may as well have been worthless. All that careful repairing, all that timetabled ‘trifecta time’, all that walking on eggshells – turned out it was for nothing after all, because I realised at that moment that we weren’t alone.


Once the bathroom door had cracked open, the room was filled with the most chilling sort of silence, and I barely had a moment to take in Fauna’s pale, horrified face, sodden hair plastered to her forehead, before I snapped my gaze back to the floor.


Neither of us even bothered to try and explain what was going on. And I guess it wouldn’t have made a single bit of difference if we had.



a/n: I don't always wait a century to update, but when I do, my update makes all of my characters' lives at least 20% more miserable. sorry for my sudden absence; on top of having a full-time job, life got a bit gnarly for me this past month and it was all a bit tricky to navigate. but I'll do my best to motor on with this story, must admit that I'm counting down the days until I can write that final hulk-smash-all-the-cliche chapter. plus I'm always fond of a bit of Scorpius angst.
so...thank you for reviewing. and please don't come chasing after me with pitchforks for what I'm doing to these characters. I'm a sadistic author, what can I say?
(p.s - guessing you all liked the steamy prefects' bathroom scene if the read counts are anything to go by. oh my.)

Chapter 15: { 14 }
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Awkward was an understatement. Awkward’s kind of a funny word. Awkward implies something of a minor emotional and mental inconvenience. Awkward implies that things will get better in time. Awkward would be Fauna laughing it off and Scorpius grinning like an idiot and the three of us all being best-of-friends-forever again.


Awkward isn’t quite enough to convey the sudden, strange sensation of having feet that are somehow welded to the floor, of having limbs in binding splints, swallowing your tongue, ringing in your ears. Awkward doesn’t quite explain the speed with which Scorpius left the room and slammed the door so hard it ricocheted off the frame and swung open again – and it’ll never equate to the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I looked from the door, to Fauna, to the door again.


When she tried to follow him, I somehow found the strength to shoot across the room and block the way.


‘Fauna, it’s not what you think-’


‘I don’t care!


I had to admit I was impressed she wasn’t crying, especially when I was such a wreck.


‘I swear-’


‘You liar!


‘It was only once and it wasn’t my fault!’


‘Why didn’t you tell me!’


‘I’m sorry, I swear I meant too!’


When the truth was I’d never wanted anyone to know about the fact I’d unwillingly been Scorpius’ first kiss – not her, not Albus, not even my mum or Willoughby. Fauna, it seemed, had other plans. She put her hands on my shoulders and pushed – not too hard, but enough to set me off balance a bit.


‘Let me through!’


‘I can’t.’


‘Don’t be such a bitch!’


‘You have to calm down!’


I stood there, impassive, as she beat her fists against my arms. It didn’t hurt; she wasn’t even trying.


‘No,’ her voice had gone a lot quieter, sounded a little bit choked. ‘You’re the one that has to calm down. I just came here to have a bloody shower before dinner.’


I stood with my back to the door and barely even flinched. ‘I am calm.’


She wouldn’t meet my eyes. ‘Fuck you, fuck you,’ she said, before tearing away and throwing herself down onto her bed.


I counted a minute’s silence by the clock on the wall.


‘Fauna?’ I said. ‘I’m sorry.’


‘No you’re not,’ she said into her pillow.


It occurred to me then that, no, I didn’t feel sorry, but more because I didn’t feel anything. I was curiously calm and steady. My head felt clear. But I couldn’t look at her.


‘I really am,’ I lied.


‘Why didn’t you tell me?’


‘Because it didn’t mean anything.’


Her tearstained face lifted from the pillow, only half-visible behind her still soaking hair. ‘It’s a kiss, of course it fucking means something!’


‘It didn’t.’


How!’ she exploded, then seemed to realise it was useless and slumped down on the pillow again.


‘There was a party here,’ I said. ‘In the common room. And they made us play spin the bottle-’


Fauna let out an agonised sort of groan.


‘I know, I know,’ I said, my voice starting to shake again. ‘I didn’t want to play, and when it came to my turn I refused and I left and…I was outside in the corridor and he came to find me and I swear he only honestly meant to check I was okay but it just…happened.’


‘How can it just happen?


‘I didn’t know what was going on! He…he did it!’


‘Whatever,’ she said, in that same, choked voice. ‘Everyone knows he likes you better.’


‘That’s not true-’


‘Come on, it’s bloody obvious!


‘It – it’s not true at all!’


She just buried her head deeper into the pillow.


‘Look, F-Fauna,’ I said. ‘I…I didn’t want it to happen and I didn’t mean it and I don’t want anything to come between us, ever, not like this, you always have been and always will be my breast friend-’


There was a split second of silence before her shoulders started to shake. For a moment I thought she was crying, then I realised what an epic slip-up I’d made.


She lifted her head again to look at me, and although her face was still streaked with tears, she seemed to be laughing.


‘Breast friend?’ she said. ‘Sure.’


‘Slip of the tongue.’


‘Freudian slip,’ she choked. ‘I know what you’re really thinking.’


I guessed she’d calmed down enough to let me come within a metre of her, so I did my best attempt at a smirk and went to sit next to her on the bed.


‘I mean it,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry. And you really are my best friend.’


It wasn’t exactly a lie, because I think Scorpius had ceased to be my best friend some time ago – but it felt dishonest to say it all the same. The truth was that I didn’t exactly feel like spending time with either of them. I wanted to be on my own for a bit.


‘Please don’t tell Albus,’ I added.


When she finally met my gaze, there was a mutinous look in her eyes, and I was scared for a moment that she would.


‘I won’t,’ she said. ‘That’s your problem.’


*



There was a long time when I didn’t really speak to Fauna or Scorpius much at all. In the case of the latter, it was pretty obvious, although I never really quite figured out for myself why Fauna was so keen to avoid me and hang out with Lucy and the others instead. I guess what I’d done had been too much of a betrayal for her, although I felt a bit slighted seeing as I hadn’t exactly been my fault and all. Although I was in the wrong for not telling her.


It didn’t matter too much. I had Albus to spend time with and, besides, exams were getting closer and closer, and Saturday apparition lessons didn’t exactly leave a lot of free time at the weekend. I had a lot on my mind, too. Not just exams and my persistent inability to apparate – not even just the fact that I rarely ever saw Scorpius and Fauna anymore.


Weird things started happening, and Albus wouldn’t explain them to me. And not like weird in a funny way – not like life suddenly got surreal and entertaining, because I really wish that’d happened. I mean, you expect a degree of weirdness when you go to a school for witches and wizards, but you don’t really expect that weirdness to suddenly be threatening.


I suppose it’s kind of wrong to say that too, because there’s plenty at Hogwarts that’s weird and seems threatening but, in the great scheme of things, is mostly harmless – like the stairs that keep moving, the living suits of armour, or the books in the library that scream when you open them. It’s all part of the territory, really. What you don’t really expect is the threatening sort of weirdness when people start calling you names that don’t make sense to you, when they stick notes to the back of your chair and slip things into your schoolbag when you’re not looking, and your boyfriend won’t tell you what those names mean. Even when you get kind of mad at him and threaten violence.


Okay, I should explain, because no matter how tricky it is to think about, the stuff that happened at Hogwarts in that couple of months was pretty integral and, well, the whole business of the Easter holidays couldn’t have happened without it. That’s another reason why it’s tricky to think about. No matter how many times people tell me how I did the right thing and how lucky I am, I wish the whole business of the Easter holidays had never happened at all. And I wish all the stuff before hadn’t happened either.


The first time it happened was in a Potions lesson. I’d moved nearer the back so I could work with Albus, and I noticed Fauna and Scorpius had moved to different bits of the classroom too – Fauna had gone to work with the Slytherins, and Scorpius was in a new group with the Ravenclaws, not that they really ever paid him much attention. It was me, Lucy, Albus and Eustace Finch on our table, and I have to admit that since I’d switched my marks were better than ever.


Everything happened in a matter of minutes – I went up to get some more ingredients from the cupboard, and, when I got back, there was a bit of paper stuck to the back of my chair.


I remember thinking it was really weird at the time, because everyone was working pretty intently and the classroom was really quiet. I peeled the note off – it’d been gummed on with a bit of armadillo bile, which was pretty gross, but the note was almost unintelligible to me. No name, not even a dear Flora. A single word in spiky black ink: ‘mudblood’.


I showed it to Albus, trying to laugh it off – it was more confusing than anything. But as soon as he read it, his face went totally white and he scrunched it up into a tiny ball before throwing it in the cauldron. A spark danced across the surface as the note dissolved into the potion.


‘Wow,’ I said.


‘Always wanted to…see how parchment reacts to a Crystallising Solution,’ he said, but his voice was hollower than a chocolate frog.


‘Okay. What did that word mean?’


‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about it.’


Lucy and Eustace were staring at us by now. ‘Albus,’ I said, in an undertone. ‘What did it mean?’


‘Nothing,’ he shrugged, raising his eyebrows at me. ‘Woah, don’t get so touchy about it.’


I was a bit hurt and didn’t even think to ask Lucy or Eustace what it meant, and it had totally gone out of my mind by the end of the lesson, when I had to manoeuvre myself out of the classroom without making eye contact with either Fauna or Scorpius. I managed it alright, but I was halfway down the corridor when the word came back to me, by which point Albus had already gone to Defence Against the Dark Arts and I was totally alone.


Just to be sure I didn’t forget to ask, I wrote the word on the back of my hand as soon as I got to the Library – in blue ink, this time, so it didn’t look so malicious in my loopy handwriting. For a moment the word looked funny, like the name of a band Scorpius might listen to, but Albus’ reaction had been a sure-fire indication that it was anything but. I tried to put it out of my mind and get on with my History of Art homework.


By the time I got to Ancient Runes later that morning the word was starting to smudge and rub off. I took my usual seat, got my books out, and did my best not to look at Scorpius, who was sitting next to me with his head on the desk. I thought he’d be trying to ignore me too, but after a minute or two he sat up and yelped: ‘why the hell would you write that on your hand?’


Taken aback, I forgot to hate him for a second. ‘I dunno,’ I shrugged. ‘Someone wrote it on the back of my chair in Potions, I didn’t know what it meant.’


‘Oh, god,’ he said, and went back to sitting with his head on the desk.


I didn’t say anything else to him, but I licked my finger and tried to rub the word off anyway. All I got was a pale blue blotch on my hand, the faintest traces of ‘mud’ showing from there the ink had been thicker.


By the time I got back to the common room that evening the word had been completely rubbed off and I’d forgotten all about it.


*



Another month passed before the word came up again, and it was as me and Albus were walking back from a History of Magic lesson at the end of the day. Seeing as the weather was nicer, we’d taken the scenic route back along the back of the school, going through the courtyard and skirting around the grounds. It was the longest route back, but we weren’t exactly in a rush, and it was almost completely deserted.


We were halfway up the steps to the courtyard when two second-year Slytherins passing the other way stopped for the briefest moment, sniggered, and one of them said ‘mudblood’ to me.


They hurried off again before me or Albus could react.


‘Idiots,’ I said. Albus had gone pale.


‘Bastards,’ he said. ‘If I was their prefect I’d dock fifty points for that.’


I frowned at him. ‘Fifty points is a bit excessive.’


‘It’s not excessive enough,’ he said. ‘But Prefects can’t take more than fifty points at a time. I wish we were allowed to duel in the corridors.’


‘Technically, we’re outside.’


‘Too late,’ he sighed. ‘God, if only…’


‘What does that word mean? Nobody’s told me.’


‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ he said. ‘Just ignore it.’


‘I can’t ignore it when it upsets you so much-’


Ignore it.’


I stopped where I was. ‘Albus, tell me.’


‘It’s nothing, just ignore it.’


‘I’ll…hit you, or something.’


‘Really,’ he said. ‘Ignore it.’


‘Fine. And I’ll ignore you too.’


I was pretty pissed off by that point, so I went storming up the stairs to the courtyard without him.


‘Flora?’ he called after me, and by the time I reached the top of the staircase and started walking down the covered pathway he’d caught up.


‘Why won’t anyone tell me!


‘It’s just a word!’


‘It’s a word that makes you want to duel second-years in the corridors – sure, just a word!’


‘I…sorry,’ he said.


‘Scorpius wouldn’t even tell me either! I don’t get it!’


‘Couldn’t help but notice,’ Albus said. ‘You’re not so chummy with him anymore.’


I gave my default answer without thinking. ‘He tortured my cat.’


‘Sorry?’


‘Er, we fell out. And don’t change the subject!’


‘What a shame,’ Albus said.


We reached the archway in the centre of the path, where the ivy didn’t grow so thick and you could see out into the courtyard. Both of us stopped dead in our tracks.


‘Speak of the devil,’ Albus muttered.


I’d assumed Scorpius would be avoiding the courtyard ever since I’d found him there with his glasses all shattered on the floor, but evidently he’d decided to chance it this evening – or maybe this wasn’t the first time he’d dared to go the quiet way – and, in a typically Scorpius way, he’d not had the best of luck. It was a bit thick of him, really, to walk this way when he knew it was quiet at this time of day, but after a moment I realised he might not have had a choice. He was standing in the middle of the courtyard with his backpack thrown behind him and his fists raised like he meant to fight, although he clearly had no chance against the three Slytherins facing him. The same ones who’d picked on me on the train, coincidentally.


It wasn’t even like there was a crowd gathered to goad them on or shout ‘fight!’ in a frenzied rhythm like there usually was – just me and Albus. And so I reckoned this was the sort of skirmish that went above and beyond your usual playground scrap, and it probably wasn’t the first time it’d happened.


I glanced across at Albus, who grimaced.


‘They’ll never leave him alone, will they?’ he whispered.


I didn’t respond, trying to figure out what Fletcher was saying to Scorpius. The two of them were talking in very low, almost inaudible voices – but Scorpius must’ve said something that stung, because Fletcher suddenly started forwards and his two Slytherin mates had to hold him back.


‘Al, we have to do something,’ I hissed.


He just frowned. ‘I dunno, there’s not a lot we can do…’


‘You were ready to duel those second years a few minutes ago!’


‘Yeah, but take on Fletcher again? Are you having a laugh?’


I tugged on his sleeve. ‘Who else will help?’


‘I thought he tortured your cat?’


‘He didn’t torture my cat, Albus, he…’ I said, then realised I couldn’t finish that sentence.


We watched the unfolding drama for another few moments. Fletcher had calmed down a bit, but Scorpius was backing away a step at a time, and for a split second I felt how terrified he must be and realised I’d stopped hating him some time ago.


‘I can’t let this happen,’ I said, and stepped through the archway.


Okay, I’d gone about one step before I realised how stupid it was, and I wanted to turn around and go back to Albus, but unfortunately by that point Fletcher had already spotted me and I was pretty much toast.


He laughed, rolling his wand between his hands. ‘You joining in, four-eyes?’


I was too scared to say anything, so I just went and stood next to Scorpius. I say next to, more like I was sort of behind him, so he was a kind of human shield.


‘Flora, stay out of it,’ he hissed.


‘No,’ I said, although I didn’t sound defiant as I’d have liked. I sounded nothing short of terrified. And I felt a bit light-headed.


‘I was just telling your friend here what I think of his dad,’ Fletcher sneered. ‘I think you’d agree with me, four-eyes, haven’t you met him?’


‘Only once,’ I said, deserted of all witty comebacks.


‘I mean, what’s the house like? Oh, I forgot your dad’s too poor to have a house, Malfoy, how’s the cardboard box?’


‘I don’t live in a box-’


‘No wonder your mum copped it, couldn’t stand the shame!’


It was my turn to pin back Scorpius’ arms as he made a desperate lunge towards Fletcher.


Fletcher gave Scorpius an approving look. ‘Well done, Malfoy, you’ve got your mudblood trained well-’


I didn’t even have to react this time, because that was when a bolt of light shot across the courtyard and Fletcher’s wand went hurtling over my head.


‘Oi!’ Albus yelled behind me. ‘Fighting in the corridors or grounds is strictly prohibited!’


Fletcher and his mates didn’t exactly look scared, but at least they stepped back.


‘I’ll be reporting you all to your heads of houses,’ Albus said brusquely, drawing up alongside me. ‘And I’ll be keeping this for now,’ he held up Fletcher’s wand. ‘Confiscated until you learn some manners.’


‘And what gives you the right to steal my bloody wand?’


‘I’m a prefect, mate,’ Albus said. ‘Shove it.’


They sloped off with a surprising lack of protest. All we got was an earful about how poor Scorpius apparently was, how much of a bastard Albus apparently was and, finally, that word again. ‘Mudblood’.


‘You’re not really allowed to confiscate wands, Al,’ I said, once the Slytherins were out of earshot.


He was white, shaking a little with anger. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, I’m not. But right now I don’t really give a shit. He was ready to hex you.’


I turned to Scorpius instead. He, too, was pale, shivering, a graze on his cheek standing out stark against the colourless skin.


‘I’m guessing neither of you are going to tell me what that word means,’ I said. ‘You could at least tell me why people keep saying it to me.’


Albus shook his head. ‘Flora, really…’


That was when Scorpius cut across, and considering how terrified he looked, his voice was steady and deadly calm. ‘It’s an insult. You’re a muggleborn. That’s why they hate you.’


It felt like I really had been punched by Fletcher. My heart raced. ‘But I didn’t do anything wrong.’


Scorpius looked me straight in the eye for the first time in weeks. ‘All you have to do is exist.’



a/n: sorry this chapter was such a downer, especially after the long wait to post it! I'm sure I've mentioned before how this story takes a darker turn towards the end and, well, think of this as the indicator lights on the plotmobile flashing before it takes a sharp left into the dark woods. super creepy dark woods. I wouldn't go there alone if I was you, but I'm driving, so I've got to keep going. (what on earth that is the weirdest author's note ever).
anyhow. sorry for the delay, but I'm excited to be writing this again and delving more into the social politics and more dramatic drama of the dramallamas. I just hope you all don't hate me too much when you get to read the ending...
~enigmatic author's note over~

Chapter 16: { 15 }
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In the great scheme of things, I got off lightly. It was never more than a note and a word that had been hissed at me across corridors and courtyards a few times. It never really hurt me because I never really got the meaning of the word, because I read the muggle newspapers and Scorpius and Albus never bothered to fill me in on current affairs – possibly for good reason. I tried to adopt the blunt approach: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.


Even if it had hurt me – even if that word had got under my skin like a thorn and worked its way into my bloodstream – I’d still have got off lightly. Definitely. I was one of the lucky ones. There was the girl that had her name written in lipstick on the bathroom mirrors so everyone knew she was a muggle-born, or the half-blood boy, raised by muggles, who had his textbooks chucked off North Tower with a whole crowd watching. Or the first year they found locked out after hours, shivering in the grounds – of course, on the surface, it just looked like any old mean prank, but everyone knew the kid was a muggle-born. I think the worst was when that really popular seventh-year in Gryffindor had her robes slashed to pieces in the changing rooms one night when she was out at Quidditch practice, and Albus told me the worst thing was that they didn’t even bother to stop when she came back and saw them. Although he told me as well that she didn’t dare fight back, and I don’t blame her.


It sounds like the Professors were all useless, and they kind of were, but you can’t really blame them. Half this stuff barely even made it out of common room gossiping. On one level, the victims were too scared to report things properly and, equally, people were too scared to grass – but at the same time, it felt like people wanted to keep it quiet. Maybe they agreed, maybe they just didn’t want to believe it was really happening to the school again.


After years of being a social recluse, people finally knew my name. For all the wrong reasons.


I’d been four-eyes Flora before, I was muggle-born Flora now, or mudblood Flora – really depended on whoever it was chucking the name at me. I was pretty happy being four-eyes Flora, like I was happy when people still called Scorpius a loser and didn’t think it was cool to take cheap shots at his family all the time. And I was happy when Fauna wasn’t avoiding my eyes in the corridor like it was dumb to know who I really was or something. I missed her, even if I had been a pretty crap friend.


It was nice, I kept reassuring myself, that I still had my boys, although my relationship with Scorpius had been so all over the place that I didn’t know whether we’d still be friends from one day to the next. He was weirdly volatile, like one of those potion ingredients Professor Blair kept in special glass boxes behind her desk. But, for the most part, I had him. And I always had Albus, who was making a conscious effort to spend more time with me these days – to the point where it got kind of annoying.


We were in his common room one day in a free period, not really doing much, just chatting absolute rubbish as the rain came down outside. A conversation about whether it’d be cool to start wearing corduroys and cardigans like Myron Wagtail veered off course and back into normal territory. ‘What are you doing for Easter?’ he said.


‘Staying here,’ I said. ‘My mum’s going on a cruise with her sister and my dad’s been contracted out to the Shetlands for the month.’


He shook his head in disbelief. ‘With everything that’s happening here? You’d be better going home.’


‘You think?’


‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘My dad wants me home. He doesn’t think Hogwarts is the safest place to be anymore. Which is pretty depressing.’


The two of us glanced involuntarily over at the sofa by the fire, which had a golden plaque on it, much like you’d find on a bench, where you could read all about Harry Potter and his life in Gryffindor tower.


‘He says the same stuff’s happening at work. I mean, not in the same way, and not in his office, everyone there’s too smart for that. Like…snippy gossip by the tea urn. Stuff like that, he says. Someone in his department already quit. It’s madness,’ he shook his head again, letting out a low, whistling breath. ‘I suppose the Cannons have better chances of recovering than the economy does, but…this shouldn’t be happening.’


‘I should read the newspaper some time,’ I said. ‘The muggles are recovering from a recession, you know. Things are looking up out there.’


‘God, you don’t want to read the newspaper, it’s bloody miserable. Nine percent unemployment. Nine percent. It’s never been this bad.’


‘It’s been worse in my world.’


‘Yeah – but now everyone’s blaming it on the fact the Ministry copied the muggle model, I know it’s bollocks but once people get hold of an idea…’


‘I can’t even be arsed to get involved in that sort of stuff. You know, have an opinion. People just shout at you.’


‘You’ve got to learn to shout back. Hey, do you want to stay with me this Easter?’


‘Really…?’


‘Actually,’ he looked sheepish. ‘I do really want you to stay, but my dad kind of told me to ask you. Like I said, he doesn’t think Hogwarts is too safe anymore. And it’d be really nice if you stayed anyway.’


‘I’d actually love that.’


‘Yeah?’


‘Yeah. More than all the cake and Myron Wagtail in the world.’


*



I was keeping an eye on Scorpius almost every day, but it was kind of hard to get him in the sort of situation where it’d be okay to talk to him beyond exchanging stupid, empty words about the weather and our homework. I wanted to have a meaningful chat with him, but it was hard when I only really ever saw him when he was surrounded by other students – and the rest of the time, I wondered constantly about where he was and whether Fletcher was beating him up or something.


I guess I was right some of the time. Eventually, I stumbled across him on the third floor about a week before the Easter holidays. It was probably just half an hour or so before curfew – which had been tightened ever since the incident with the cut-up robes in the changing rooms – and the evenings were getting lighter now, so the corridors weren’t so full of shadows. He was perched up in an alcove with his knees drawn up to his chest, staring out of the window with the utmost concentration.


I took a deep breath and clambered up next to him. Then I tried to work out, in my head, how many days it had been since the last incident – to put it that way – by the purplish-blue colour of the bruises under his left eye.


‘Hello,’ I said. ‘What’re you up to?’


‘Oh, just thinking about offing myself,’ he said. ‘You?’


I was so bothered by this that I turned away to the wall, lips pressed tightly together.


‘Sorry,’ he said, a little grudgingly. ‘That was a bit insensitive.’


‘Yeah, it really was. How did you get that bruise?’


‘Quidditch accident…apparently,’ he said. ‘I don’t think they even bothered to check if I was on the team or not.’


‘Did they tell you to say that?’


‘The first bit, yeah…told me to say hi to my dad and I said I hadn’t heard from him for weeks, they didn’t like that.’


‘Have you told your dad?’


‘No. I haven’t heard from him in weeks.’


‘Oh.’


‘Great, really, looks like I let him down again.’


‘You didn’t.’


He turned to face me. ‘Flora, I can’t even stick up for myself-’


‘I wouldn’t expect you to, you’re always outnumbered!’


‘Yeah…yeah,’ he turned back to the window, and sounded a bit choked up, like he had a cold. ‘I mean, wow. Don’t want to think about it. I hate this place. I wish I didn’t have to get up in the mornings, but they send a prefect to check if you don’t turn up for lessons. I hate it so much.’


‘Easter holidays soon!’


‘Yeah, but…I can’t go home if my dad’s not replying. I’d have to stay here.’


‘I’m sure he’ll reply.’


‘What if he doesn’t? What if I have to stay here? Oh, god…I’d just…I dunno.’


‘I don’t know either.’


‘I hate this place,’ he said again.


I couldn’t think of anything to say that would cheer him up because I actually kind of agreed with him, so, like him, I stared out at the grounds.


‘You know, it just…doesn’t make sense,’ he said, with a weak laugh. ‘None of it. I mean…no offence, Flora, but I’m pureblood. I mean, I know…okay, there was all the stuff with my dad and the war but…’


‘No offence taken, you’ve had it worse than me.’


‘Yeah, well…the weirdest thing was, after they gave me this,’ he pointed to the bruise below his eye. ‘They…you won’t believe this. They took a photo of it. I mean, I thought…muggle technology, you know, they wouldn’t want to touch it. And I don’t get why they wanted a picture. Maybe they’re going to throw darts at it? Dunno.’


It was pretty weird, and I couldn’t figure it out either. ‘Probably just a joke.’


‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I bet. Bastards.’


‘Are you going to come back to the common room now?’


He jerked his head from side to side. ‘What if they’re in the corridors?’


‘It’s nearly curfew. They’ll be heading back to the dungeons.’


‘Yeah, at the same time we’ll be heading back to the basement.’


‘You won’t be on your own.’


He looked at me and laughed, then promptly shut up and stared back out at the grounds again.


‘Sorry,’ he said.


‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Let’s go back.’


*



Of course, it was only when I was back in the safety of the Hufflepuff common room that I realised how lucky I was and how, compared to most people in the same situation, I’d got off lightly. When stuff happened I tended to think the opposite. Like I said, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me – okay, words sting for a little bit. I mean, sticks and stones are surface wounds too. Words go a wee bit deeper.


Once it was when I was on my way to meet Albus late one evening, and the corridors were pretty deserted – you didn’t see as much people wandering about these days, either too scared to leave their common rooms or too busy pretending nothing was wrong with Hogwarts to walk through the corridors and have to witness the damage that’d been done to the schools. I mean, I’m not even talking about mean tricks and name-calling. It wasn’t just us ordinary living kids that got the stick, because some of the portraits had suffered too. Rude words printed on them in indelible ink, scraped frames – the caretaker was going mad. But there wasn’t much he would do, because the people involved (who, coincidentally, weren’t just the Slytherins) had parents in pretty high places and were more than used to wriggling their way out of trouble.


Anyway, words go deeper than any of that. I mean, I’m pretty sensitive and a bit miserable, but I’ve always thought I had a thick skin when it came to name-calling after years of being ‘four-eyes Flora’ at my muggle primary school and at Hogwarts. But the whole ‘mudblood’ thing got to me even more, because that wasn’t just some stupid nickname, it was a proper offensive word that, I found out, they’d even campaigned to have removed from books. I mean, they could call me four-eyes all they liked, because my glasses really were a bit daft, but there was nothing I could do about being a muggle-born.


Thing is, when it came to the name-calling, people didn’t even think up justifications or anything. You would pass them in the corridor, they’d shoot a cursory ‘mudblood’ at you, and, unless you were brave (or stupid) enough to fight back, you just went on with your day. You let the name brand you invisibly and then you moved on and tried to forget it, and that’s what I did most of the time.


This one time, though, I don’t know what was up with me – maybe I was really hormonal or moody or something. I mean, it had been a hard day, seeing as we’d started all our mock exam preparation and I’d managed to set fire to three different things in Charms because I was so stressed about it. I don’t remember feeling especially naff at the time, but when I passed this third-year Ravenclaw in the corridor and he said ‘mudblood’ at me before heading on his way, it got to me so much I swear I nearly cried, right there, right outside the Transfiguration classrooms.


As I walked on towards where I’d promised to meet Albus, a ton of different things were going through my head. I had all these different scenarios playing. In one, I whipped around with wand in hand and cursed the little bastard’s arse all the way to Potions – in another, I broke down in hysterics in front of the same little bastard before delivering a heartwarming yet ultimately tragic speech about how upset it had made me, which resulted in him realising the errors of his ways and atoning for his sins by fetching me cake from the kitchens. Both equally unrealistic, you know. And there was another scenario where I kept going, and kept going, and kept going until there were more of us walking down the corridors, and together we sparked some sort of uprising that got rid of the hate once and for all – except I hadn’t quite figured out how to go about doing that.


There was another scenario when I imagined I was Scorpius, because he really was one of the ones who would fight back (although he was more stupid than brave when it came to this). He knew enough about the second war and the parents of those Slytherins to have a damning comeback or two up his sleeve, which usually ended up in him getting thumped and me giving him plasters out my bag. A scenario where I turned back and spat something equally hateful at the Ravenclaw – and ended up in the hospital wing. And somehow I thought that was the most realistic, but the worst, of all the scenarios I imagined.


See, a proper little monologue was going through my mind as I walked, eyes all blurred with tears and hands trembling a little. I can’t help the way I was born. I shouldn’t have to make excuses for you. I’m proud to be a muggle-born. You can’t hurt me. It all sounded great in my head, but I knew it would be trash on my tongue.


I was so caught up in these thoughts that I didn’t even have time to compose myself before I met Albus, which meant he saw me in all my miserable glory, sniffing, eyes leaking, dragging my feet on the ground.


‘What’s up?’ he said.


Everything in my head felt like trash on my tongue. I struggled to speak for several seconds, then finally gasped out this piece of shuddering anguish: ‘oh, Al, how do you disappear?’


What I meant was that I wanted the earth to swallow me whole, and what I really wanted was for him to hug me like he usually did and tell me everything would be okay in time. Instead, his face lit up and he swung his backpack off his shoulder.


‘I have just the thing,’ he said.


I watched him, still sniffing, a little disappointed, as he rummaged around in the bag for a bit. Then he took out a folded piece of rich, silky fabric.


For a moment I stupidly thought he was trying to cheer me up by giving me clothes or something, and I wanted to tell him I wasn’t that kind of girl. But then he unfolded the fabric, shook it out, and held it aloft. It was a cloak.


‘Like this,’ he said, sweeping it about himself and vanishing entirely from view.



a/n: back into the swing of updating! sorry for giving you a really depressing chapter followed by a short, filler-y one. I couldn't make this any longer, really. I'm pleased to announce that the end is within sight now! I mean, I have a fair few chapters left to write, but we're moving into the final third of the story - only a scene or two left in Hogwarts before it all switches to the Easter holidays and the matter of What Happened Then. I'd be interested to know what you think might happen in the rest of this story after the sudden change in tone.
I listened to 'temptation' by new order and 'seasick, yet still docked' by morrissey a lot when writing this. also, by the way, if you haven't seen the film of 'the perks of being a wallflower' yet, evaluate your life choices and go and see it immediately.

Chapter 17: { 16 }
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I hadn’t exactly expected Albus to actually disappear, so it took me a while to process the fact that he was no longer standing in front of me, and it was only when he took the cloak off and appeared again that I actually reacted.


‘Woah!’


‘I know!’ he burst out, wildly happy, like he’d been waiting to show it to me for months. ‘It’s awesome!’


He swept the cloak about himself again and blinked from view.


‘How cool is this!’ came his disembodied voice.


‘Mega!’ I said, all my crying pretty much instantly forgotten.


‘Invisibility cloak!’ he said. ‘It used to belong to dad, he made such an effort to keep it quiet in the history books, James really wanted it but he got the map instead so dad let me have this for christmas last year-’


‘Your dad just had an invisibility cloak?’


Albus dropped the cloak to his shoulders and his severed head floated in midair. ‘My dad did defeat the dark lord to end all dark lords. He didn’t just do it with a wand.’


‘What’s the map?’


He ignored me, extending his hand instead. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘This is how you disappear!’


Shivering a little with excitement, tears totally forgotten, I took his hand and let him pull me towards him; with his free hand, he draped the cloak about my shoulders and then over my head.


‘So nobody can see us?’ I said.


‘It is an invisibility cloak…’


‘Can they still hear us, though?’


‘Yeah,’ he frowned. ‘Unfortunately. Not that many people will be around at this time.’


We stood there, invisible. The cloak barely registered to the touch. Only a fine, shimmering sort of gauze behind Albus’ head reminded me it was still there.


‘So. Do you do this a lot?’ I said.


‘What?’


‘Disappear. Do you do it a lot?’


He exhaled. ‘Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean – okay, I’ll let you in on a secret. When everyone expects you to be this…perfect, good guy, it helps to be able to disappear now and again.’


‘That sounds…ominous.’


‘Oh,’ he furrowed his brow. ‘Oh, no, I don’t mean it like – I don’t mean like I go and commit crimes and stuff, I just mean – it’s nice to be by yourself and be yourself now and again, right?’


I opened my mouth to tell him that, sure, that’d be nice – I mean, look at where almost seventeen years of being myself had got me – but the sound of distant footsteps came echoing round the corner.


Albus rolled his eyes. ‘Don’t worry,’ he murmured. ‘Only a moment.’


So I stood there in silence but, of course, I couldn’t not worry when the owner of the footsteps came round the corner, dragging his feet, because of course it just had to be Scorpius, who spent most of his evenings in the library these days and only got back before curfew by the skin of his teeth.


I opened my mouth to say something again, but Albus shoved a finger against my lips.


No, he mouthed.


I guess I had some sort of faulty circuit in my brain, because, no matter what he did, the sight of Scorpius always made me get this sort of weirdly powerful feeling – not in that way; more like I wanted to check he was okay, wanted to be nice to him and pat him on the shoulder and tell him to chin up because things would be peachy in the end. Maybe it was a kindness complex. Or a guilt complex. But I couldn’t just let him walk past, with his face all cut and bruised still, looking like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. I mean, no matter what, I still cared. I’m stupid like that, it’s probably why they made me a Hufflepuff.


I brushed away Albus’ hand. ‘It’s fine,’ I said, and then shrugged off the cloak.


I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone freeze the way Scorpius did. I’d appeared out of nowhere, right in the middle of his path – his eyes went wide, his mouth dropped open a bit, and he did the best impersonation of a deer in the headlights I’ve seen this side of a motorway.


‘Where did you come from?’ he asked, quite casually.


‘Oh, you know,’ I said, trying to replicate the air of forced calm he’d adopted. ‘Coventry.’


‘Ah. Right,’ he said.


I guess Albus must have followed suit behind me, because there was a sigh, a rustle of fabric, and then Scorpius pitched sideways and fetched up against the wall, eyes wide as saucers.


‘Buh-’ he spluttered. ‘The hell did you two come from?’


‘Coventry,’ I repeated, just as Albus said ‘well, Wales, technically, but if you’re being specific it’s a little closer to Reading.’


‘Whatever,’ Scorpius said weakly.


I turned briefly back to Albus. ‘Reading? Is that where we’re going for Easter?’


‘Yeah,’ he said.


‘This can’t be real,’ Scorpius moaned. ‘I’ve been in the library for five hours. Can you get book sickness?’


‘I think if book sickness existed you’d have caught it a while ago, Scor.’


‘I’ve got an invisibility cloak,’ Albus sounded impatient. ‘It’s no big deal.’


‘What?’ Scorpius hoisted himself upright again. ‘I’d say that’s a bloody big deal, mate.’


‘Yes, well, Flora’s here, so I won’t make it a big deal.’


Neither of them spoke for a bit. It gave me a chance to notice that Scorpius was actually a good deal taller than Albus, probably by a couple of inches. But Albus seemed taller because he didn’t look like he was dragging a bunch of rocks about in his rucksack every day.


‘Inherited it from my dad,’ Albus said.


‘That was nice of him,’ Scorpius said.


I sort of wished suppressed rage was an energy source, because there was enough going around that corridor to power a small town for a couple of months.


Albus nodded to Scorpius. ‘Those cuts healing?’


Scorpius shrugged. ‘Yeah, I guess.’


‘They took a photo of him last time, Al,’ I chipped in. ‘Beat him up and took a photo, how weird is that?’


‘I guess. What do you want me to do about it?’


‘You are a prefect,’ I whined.


‘Get your dad to complain,’ Albus said. ‘They’ll listen to that.’


Scorpius had evidently swallowed back some snippy retort, because it took him a while to come up with something to say. ‘Dad’s stopped writing to me. I dunno where he is.’


‘Isn’t he Ministry?’ Albus said. ‘I could get my dad to check.’


‘Nah, don’t bother,’ Scorpius shook his head. ‘Probably just mad at me.’


There was a prolonged silence.


‘When was the last time he wrote to you?’ I asked.


‘Um…three weeks ago.’


‘Doesn’t he usually write every week?’


‘Twice, actually.’


‘Wow, that’s awful,’ I said. Albus narrowed his eyes.


‘Has he ever done this before?’


‘Not really,’ Scorpius said. ‘Ever since mum…’


The sentence trailed off into silence.


‘Should we maybe head back soon?’ I said. ‘It’s almost curfew.’


‘I’ll get my dad to check how things are at work,’ Albus said to Scorpius. ‘I’ll let you know.’


‘Thanks,’ Scorpius said, face all scrunched up like the word caused him physical pain.


I’d planned to go back to the Gryffindor common room with Albus that night, but after everything that’d happened I decided I wasn’t really feeling it. Albus walked me and Scorpius to the Entrance Hall, where we parted ways; he went upstairs to Gryffindor tower, and we went back to Hufflepuff.


‘Uh…you’ll let me know if Albus says anything about my dad, right?’ Scorpius said.


‘I think he’ll probably tell you in person, to be honest.’


‘Oh. Well, you know, just in case.’


‘Seriously, he’s a good guy. On your side,’ I lied. ‘He’ll find something.’


‘I don’t…cool. Last thing I want is to spend Easter here.’


‘Last thing I want too.’


The common room was pretty empty. I didn’t really see anyone I knew that I could go and sit with and, if I did, I’d stopped being sociable in the last few months and I’d pissed them all off too much to be able to sit with them anyway. So I decided I’d go straight up to bed, and Scorpius said that he was tired too and needed an early night more than anything, so we walked to the dormitory doors together.


I was about to say goodnight when a thought struck me. ‘Scorpius, is it weird? Albus keeps taking me to all these places he goes to be alone, now he apparently has this invisibility cloak so he can disappear and stuff. Is he up to something? Oh my god, what if he’s a criminal?’


Scorpius gave me a withering look. ‘I’m glad you’re my friend,’ he said, wished me goodnight, and then went up to the boys’ dorms.


*



It was pretty difficult to concentrate on my work that last week of school, what with my head being all over the place. One minute I’d be worrying about whether Scorpius was being lynched near the Quidditch pitch by Slytherins, and the next I’d be wondering how much time Albus really did spend on his own and to what extent he’d trusted me with that. Then I’d start worrying about how I’d fallen out of touch with Fauna, and then I’d start worrying about schoolwork and apparition lessons, because people were starting to take their tests and I hadn’t even managed to splinch yet.


Mostly I worried about Scorpius and Albus though. As much as I cared, it kind of got to me, in a way, that I was spending so much time thinking of them, letting the two of them run my life. And I even sometimes worried if they thought about me as much. I wondered if Scorpius would intervene if I was getting beaten up by Slytherins, or Albus would be as accepting if I took him to a deserted corner of the school and said ‘this is where I come to be a loser when I’m not too busy publicly being a loser’.


Then the big, overarching worry was the whole issue with the economy and the ‘mudblood’ thing; an issue that was big and real and scary and a proper threat, because I knew that, in the great scheme of things, Scorpius getting a black eye and Albus having a suspicious hobby of disappearance weren’t that important. That didn’t really matter, though, because everything worried me equally, and it got to the point where I was lying awake for longer and longer every night, clock-watching, wondering when my own mind would let me sleep.


So I decided, it being the last week of term and all, to be a bit more proactive. Try and beat the worrying. The easiest thing I thought I could tackle was Albus’ vanishing habit, seeing as I trusted him and I wasn’t going to try and solve Scorpius’ bullying problems in a hurry. So, when I was on my own, I started hanging round all the places Albus had mentioned or taken me to that were secluded. Little alcoves tucked away in quiet corridors, certain bits of the Library nobody used, the odd spare classroom where the chairs were stacked on the desks and piles of textbooks that were decades out of date filled the cupboards. I even staked out the Prefect’s bathroom and didn’t get a sight of him, although I guess he could have gone past in his cloak and I’d never have known.


I got lucky one afternoon, though, when my Ancient Runes lesson had been cancelled and I’d taken it upon myself to go wandering. I went into classroom eighteen, which he’d never mentioned or taken me to, but I knew was definitely one of those tiny N.E.W.T classrooms that never gets used – and I found him, sitting at a desk right on the back row, palms flat on the surface, eyes staring forwards.


Despite trusting him and all, I didn’t really anticipate how awkward intruding on his weird solitude would be.


‘Hello,’ I said, peeking my head around the door. ‘Can I come in?’


‘Sure,’ he said.


I hurried to the back of the room and took the seat next to him. Both of us sat and stared at the board like we were waiting for a lesson to start.


‘So,’ I said. ‘Come here often?’


‘Not really.’


‘Why here, then?’


His lips barely moved. ‘I’m having an off day.’


‘Why?’


‘Um. Stuff,’ he said, then put his head on the desk.


I didn’t really know what to do. Common sense said I should probably hug him, but I didn’t really feel like doing that.


‘What sort of stuff?’


‘Tried thinking about the future,’ he said. ‘Wow, it sucks.’


‘Really?’


‘No jobs,’ he told the desk. ‘No money, full of racists. People want to hurt you.’


‘Can’t be that bad.’


‘No, it really can be.’


‘Come on…’


‘It is,’ he said, and the tone of his voice told me to drop it.


‘So…do you always come somewhere like here when you’re having an off day?’


‘Mmhmm.’


‘You don’t…talk to anyone?’


‘People wouldn’t like it.’


‘You can talk to me. I’m alright.’


‘Can’t.’


There was a strained silence.


‘If you’re feeling…off,’ I said. ‘You shouldn’t have to hide away like this. Everyone gets it, like I ate an entire slab of Honeydukes chocolate the other day just because I felt a bit iffy-’


‘I can’t,’ he said.


The silence stretched on.


‘It’d be nice to be like you,’ he finally said. ‘You don’t care, you’re okay with…going around, being yourself. You seem happy.’


‘Trust me, Al, I’m not sodding happy about being myself-’


‘Yeah, but, I mean…stuff other people try to cover up, you’re proud of. I can’t be proud of this, it’s a flaw.’


‘Er…’ I felt like I was missing something. ‘Being a bit down in the dumps isn’t a flaw. It’s just a…thing. It happens.’


He didn’t respond. I had about a million motivational speeches swirling around my head, but I felt like nothing I said would make the slightest bit of difference.


‘It’s a bit screwed up,’ he said, in that same muffled voice. ‘I know, I’m a prat.’


‘You can trust me,’ I said. ‘I am your girlfriend.’


I’d sounded a bit petulant, so I guess I can’t blame myself for his retort, although it didn’t exactly make it hurt less.


‘Can’t trust anyone,’ he said. ‘Not when the world’s going to hell in a handbasket.’


‘Oh. Thanks.’


‘No, I…’ he sat up, then waved me away impatiently. ‘Look, one thing I can trust you on. When’s the next time you’ll see Scorpius?’


‘Er, probably at teatime?’


‘Well…I’ve got something for him. Don’t really have the heart to tell him myself, he’d probably punch me. Dad went and talked to some friends in the Department of Mysteries, checked up on some records, says all the stuff he got was a bit confusing. I mean, the records are fine, apparently, and it looks like someone’s been in the office…but, truth is, no-one’s seen Scorpius’ dad for weeks. Might be a work thing, though, weird department. All a bit secretive. Would you pass that on?’


‘Just tell him yourself.’


‘Flora, that’s a bad idea.’


‘Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.’


‘Trust me, I’ve tried. I think you just need to face up to reality, we don’t get on and we never will, okay? I already did him enough of a favour finding all that out, alright?’


‘Aren’t you Gryffindors meant to be, like…chivalrous?’


‘Yeah, well, I’m not a good Gryffindor.’


I tried to keep my calm. Not that I’d had much of a temper in the first place, but the whole pointless rivalry between Albus and Scorpius drove me madder than anything. ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Okay, I’ll tell him that. See you later?’


‘I’ve got Quidditch practice,’ he said. ‘See you tomorrow.’


‘Fine. Bye,’ I said, and I left and that was that.


*



By the time I got around to telling Scorpius, it was a couple of days later and the last day of term before Easter. I’d wanted to say something earlier, but never really had the chance; I’d never managed to get him alone, and I figured it was the sort of thing that was too serious to just casually drop into conversation in the middle of a lesson. It was kind of exhausting, looking after both boys, keeping an eye out for Albus and trying to hunt down Scorpius at the same time, and once or twice it did occur to me to just say ‘screw it’ and forget about them so I could get on with my own life. But I didn’t really have enough of a life to be getting on with, so I tried not to think that thought too often.


When I told Scorpius what Albus had told me, his response was pretty casual. More so than I’d expected. He shrugged, and said that that was kind of normal for the Department of Mysteries – it was probably some top-secret project or something, nothing to worry about. But there was an odd sort of flickering in his eyes that showed he was worrying, no matter what he said. He looked pretty dejected when he said this would mean he’d have to stay at Hogwarts for Easter.


I’d had an odd dream the night before that unsettled me when I told him this. I’d dreamt that the two of us had been wandering around the corridors, looking behind tapestries and into empty classrooms for Scorpius’ dad. I’d dreamt that we kept finding people in these classrooms that vaguely fitted the bill, middle-aged men and people with ice-blonde hair and people in Ministry robes, but, each time, Scorpius would shake his head and say ‘that’s not my dad’. Eventually, we got up to the corridor outside Divination, although we weren’t walking, more like doing an odd sort of gliding run through the air, and I knew that someone was hiding there under Albus’ invisibility cloak. So I reached out and grabbed a handful of empty air and, sure enough, Scorpius’ dad was under the cloak, but Scorpius just shook his head again and said ‘that’s not my dad’. Then I dreamt that I went to return the cloak to Albus, only he lived in the Prefect’s bathroom and the bath was full of blood, at which point he told me the only reason he hid was because he was a serial killer. And then I woke up.


The dream was utter bollocks but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something in it. Then again, though, I am the girl that once dreamt she was performing an exorcism on Moaning Myrtle with Myron Wagtail and her Uncle, so I don’t really think there’s much to be read from dreams.


Anyway, me and Albus had arranged that we’d leave at nine that night, when we were supposed to report to Professor Longbottom so we could Floo out of his office to the Potters’ house, so I was a bit surprised when he turned up at our common room at six. I hadn't even started packing.


‘Listen,’ he said, brow furrowed, before I’d even had a chance to say hi. ‘Bit of bad news.’


My heart plummeted. ‘What’s wrong?’


‘Um…my dad, er, my dad says we have to bring Scorpius with us.’


I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. ‘Er…could be worse?’


‘Not really,’ Albus muttered.


‘Any reason why?’


His frown grew darker. ‘Not really. Said it was so we could drop him off at his house. Something to do with the Ministry, I don’t know.’


‘I’m sure he’ll be…er…delighted.’


‘Don’t make jokes like that.’


‘But why?


‘Says it’s for his safety. I dunno, alright?’


It was a bit of a fly in the ointment and a spanner in the works considering this was supposed to be my holiday with my boyfriend and all, but I decided to let it drop. I figured that if Harry Potter told you to do something, you should probably do it.


‘Fine,’ I said. ‘I’ll go and fetch him.’



a/n: sorry for the slow updating! I've been having a horrible month, long story, one I should probably save for a rainy day...hope this filler-y chapter isn't too disappointing but, believe me, you'll want filler when you find out what's coming up. it gets a bit...dark. questions? comments? theories? I'd love to hear from you in that review box down there! thanks for reading ♥

Chapter 18: { 17 }
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You’d think that, after seventeen years of being around on this little rock of a planet, I’d be more than used to awkward moments. In reality, I wasn’t, because the thing about awkward moments it that each one tends to be awkwarder than the last, and they all supplant the other until you get this sequence of awkward, awkwarder, awkwardest, and you’re standing at the front with a face the colour of a ripe tomato wishing that the ground would swallow you up. In those circumstances, it’s easy to forget that there have been moments more awkward than this.


The three of us had emerged from the fireplace in the Potters’ sitting room and were all squished together on one sofa, in front of Albus’ parents, getting soot on the carpet and staring at our feet, and I swore to myself that there would never be an awkward moment to trump this one.


I felt a bit sorry for Albus’ mum and dad. They’d said hello to us and all, and asked us how we were, fetched us drinks and stuff, and we’d all responded politely and stiffly because conversation was stunted by the elephant in the room. Okay, the Scorpius in the room.


I figured I should probably get a bit of air to calm myself down. Being on edge, though, I kind of screwed up and asked Albus’ mum if they had a loo, when I really meant to ask where the loo was.


‘Upstairs. Second on the left,’ she said.


I cringed inwardly as I went up the stairs. Of course they had a loo; it was a bit of a legal requirement as far as keeping a residential dwelling was concerned. His parents probably thought I was as thick as a couple of planks. Being a Hufflepuff probably didn’t help me there.


I splashed some cold water on my face and re-applied some lip gloss, trying to force those thoughts from my head. Maybe they liked me. I guess I was kind of sweet and harmless. I certainly wasn’t like I was dangerous. I was pretty boring too. It wasn’t like I was out to corrupt their son beyond feeding him cake and crisps.


When I flicked off the light and went back out into the corridor, I found that the Scorpius in the room had migrated to the Scorpius with a suitcase on the staircase, following a frowning Albus, for fans of alliteration.


‘Mum and dad said we’d probably want to get to bed soon,’ Albus said. ‘It’s getting on a bit.’


The two of us were about a metre away from Scorpius, who was standing at the top of the stairs and looking very forlorn.


‘I thought we were dropping him off?’ I said.


Albus rolled his eyes at me, knowing Scorpius couldn’t see. ‘The paperwork for his dad’s flat had expired, they had to re-connect it to the Floo network again. And it’s only valid from tomorrow. We’re going in the morning.’


‘Oh,’ I said.


‘So we’re all staying here tonight,’ he said.


‘Great,’ I said. Scorpius didn’t say anything.


‘First thing tomorrow,’ Albus sounded hopeful.


He showed us to the rooms we’d be staying in. I got his room, whereas Scorpius got the spare room. Albus would be staying in his brother’s old room. I thought this was a bit odd and maybe even a deliberate snub, like saying I could be part of the family but Scorpius couldn’t, shoved away in the guest room in the end of the house. It actually made me cringe a bit and feel terribly sorry for Scorpius. I even felt like offering to swap.


It was all a bit weird. I guessed that, if I’d been in the same sort of situation, but with Fauna instead of Albus, it might have been a bit friendlier. We might all have piled into someone’s room and stayed up talking, drinking hot chocolate, just hanging out. Instead, we all went straight to our rooms. All antisocial like. We didn’t even say goodnight to one another.


On the plus side, Albus’ room was pretty nice. It was a bit on the cosy side, with a bed squished into one corner and the walls decorated with posters of everything from The Weird Sisters to the Tutshill Tornados. They were all moving, which made for a fairly overwhelming effect; I sat down on the end of the bed and faced the window instead, beneath which was a desk and a chair. A copy of New Magical Express four months out of date was on the desk. The blinds were rolled up, and I could see stars twinkling at me through the window. So even though I knew I should be getting on and changing into my pyjamas, brushing my teeth and the like, I thought I’d perch up on the desk and have a better look at the view. Maybe I’d recognise some of the constellations from what Fauna had said about astronomy.


I’d been there for about five minutes when there was a knock at the door and Albus came in, fluffy white towels folded over one arm.


‘Mum said to bring you these,’ he said. ‘Her and dad have gone to bed.’


‘Oh, thanks,’ I slid off the desk and took the towels from him, folding them over the back of the chair.


‘And I came to say goodnight,’ he said, once I’d straightened up to face him again.


‘It’s only ten.’


‘Might be a long night.’


I felt like I got the hint even without the lazy little smile twisting at his lips. Part of me wanted to turf him out for being so insolent. Except I was pretty glad to have him there, given how miserable most of the situation was. He took my mind off things a bit.


Albus reached up and brushed the tangled hair from my face, slightly calloused fingers hesitating for a moment on my jaw.


‘Why bother with all that?’ I said.


‘Yeah,’ was his explanation, before he ducked in and kissed me, hands on my waist, and I went on tip-toe to wrap my arms around his neck and keep pulling him closer, lower, until eventually he broke off and pressed his lips to my neck, the way I’d sort of figured out I liked it.


Weirdly, I didn’t really feel all that shy anymore. I mean, I guess outwardly I was still shy as ever, but I didn’t feel like I usually did, all wound up like a spring and locked in a cage of my own making. All shivery and secretive and introspective. I felt like I at least had a bit of control over the moment, a bit more confident than I usually was, not so scared. Light years away from that version of me that’d gasped and flinched when he’d done the same in the Prefects’ bathroom.


He ever-so-subtly pushed me backwards, hands at the base of my spine, so that when I was sprawled out on the bed, giggling a bit, it was like he’d lowered me down instead of pushing me there. I only laughed cause it seemed a bit absurd, but he was totally serious, pulling at the hem of my shirt, so I lifted my arms like a dumb child obligingly so he could pull it off.


Maybe it’d made me colder or something, but I started to tense up. Before I could put my arms down, he’d covered both my wrists with one hand and pinned them there, above my head, and suddenly it seemed more absurd than ever and it was probably a bit hard for him to kiss me when I kept giggling nervously.


So that got me even more wound up, until I felt like a little papier-mâché doll, all rigid and motionless and stuck down. When he spoke, my lips moved with his and it was like we spoke the words together, so I felt more out of control than ever.


‘Stop giggling.’


He let go of my hands, and I tried to move on from that moment of weird uncertainty and nervy laughing. I put my arms around him and thought, he’s my boyfriend, this is allowed, and at the same time wondered if other people did this, if this is what Fauna and Scorpius had got up to at her house in the holidays. That’s absurd, I thought, because Scorpius was probably about as frigid as they came, but then I decided that what Scorpius got up to with Fauna was both none of my business and a poor choice of thought mid-snog.


And, all the while, Albus’ hands were inching further and further up my back, and my thoughts sort of hit a break wall when his fingertips reached the clasp of my bra.


‘No,’ I murmured, but he wasn’t stopping. I felt like I was folding in on myself like origami, all angular and thin and pointy and uncomfortable; I forced an arm between us. He’d seen me in my underwear before, but nothing worse than that, and I was still too naïve and underprepared. I’d locked myself up in that mental cage again.


‘No,’ I said, actually audible this time, but he just did this smug laugh that made me flinch and kissed the hollow bit of skin on my neck, even bit into it a little, and the slight, sharp pain made me awake again. ‘Seriously, stop!’ I said, and put my free hand over my face without even thinking. Like a child, who imagines in their temporary blindness that no-one can see them either.


There was a sigh, then the pressure lifted from me and cool air filled his space. He lay down next to me so we were both crammed together, me still holding an arm over my chest like a safety restraint.


‘Too far,’ I mumbled into my palm.


The silence went on for centuries, or so it felt. My heart beat frantically and I worried he’d notice it, my face going hot at the thought.


‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘Not ready.’


‘You don’t have to worry,’ he said. ‘You’re really pretty.’


‘It’s not that,’ I said. ‘It’s just, well, like you know. Never done anything like this before.’


‘Well, me neither.’


I peered at him through my fingers. ‘Seriously?’


‘Yeah. Trying all this for the first time. You’re like a guinea pig.’


‘Wow,’ I said.


‘Not even kidding,’ he twisted round and reached into the bedside cabinet for something, emerging with a book in one hand and my shirt in the other.


‘Here,’ he threw it at me, and I pulled it on right away.


‘James gave me this book,’ he said. ‘It’s a load of bullshit. Kind of funny, though.’


I read the faded cover. Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches.


‘Er,’ I said. ‘Okay.’


He dropped it to the floor. ‘It’s nothing like real life.’


‘It doesn’t look…um, very mega.’


‘Hmmm.’


‘So what did it teach you?’


‘Naff all.’


‘Sorry, did I offend you or something?’


‘I should be the one saying sorry.’


This silence was longer than the last. Then he swung his legs off the bed and stood, smiling a tight little smile down at me.


‘Well, goodnight,’ he said.


‘Yeah,’ I said.


‘Night, then. See you in the morning.’


‘Yeah. Okay.’


Once he’d left and shut the door behind him, I realised I couldn’t resist and scooped up the book from the floor. First, I checked the contents page. Like Albus had said, it looked like a load of bullshit, but a couple of lines halfway down caught my eye. Chapter six – How to turn yourself from a frog into a prince, without having to kiss the girl first.


Wow, I thought, riffling to the chapter. And, surprise surprise, the book fell open easily at the right page, like it’d been revisited again and again and the spine had cracked. I knew it’d be a really bad idea to read it, but I was so tempted, just to see where Albus had been getting his tips. Frog into a prince or, in other terms, how to turn yourself into Gryffindor’s golden boy, all shiny and perfect and adept at random acts of bravery. Except maybe not so random, because what if Scorpius had gone to the trolley on that day on the train instead of me? Would Albus have intervened then? What if it was Fauna, or Tabitha, or Georgina? He said he’d had his eye on me since fifth year, so maybe it was just dumb luck he’d happened to see me all damsel-in-distress-like that day. Maybe he’d actually been scared out of his wits to stand up to Fletcher and co.


I didn’t have much of a chance to ponder this, though, because then there was a second knock on the door. Thinking it might be Albus again, I slammed the book shut, but it was only Scorpius. He peeked around the door, face all taut with worry.


‘Still up?’ he said.


‘No, of course not. Can’t you see I’m sleeping?’


‘Ha, ha,’ he said, coming in and shutting the door behind him. ‘What’re you reading that for? It’s a load of shit.’


‘Oh, just…picked it up,’ I lied, shoving it back onto the bookshelf. ‘Thought it looked funny.’


He made a disapproving sort of humming sound.


‘So…’ I said. ‘What’s troubling you?’


‘Oh, you know,’ he took the seat in front of the desk. ‘Stuff.’


‘Right.’


‘Just, you know,’ he shrugged. ‘Worried about tomorrow, yeah? I mean, what if my dad really is just mad at me? Then he’ll be extra mad if we turn up with Pot – sorry, Albus. When it turns out I’ve stayed here and stuff,’ he looked around with evident distaste, adding under his breath: ‘but the tornados aren’t even a good team.’


‘I wouldn’t know.’


‘Nevermind. And, well, what if dad just isn’t there? Or what if he’s there but…not? My dad’s not very, um, cheerful. I mean, I’ve kind of dreaded this all along. Coming home and…finding him. Ever since mum, you know, died.’


He gave me such a miserable look that I forgot the whole thing with Albus for a bit, remembering what was more important. ‘I’m sure that’s not the case. Seriously.’


He laughed. ‘Doesn’t stop me worrying. I’m good at worrying. Sorry,’ he drew his knees up to his chin, perched in a tangle of gangly limbs on the chair. ‘Sorry I’m such a miserable bastard.’


‘You’re not,’ I lied. ‘How long d’you reckon it’ll take that bruise to heal?’


‘This?’ he touched the purplish spot below his eye. ‘Dunno. Bet there are salves that’ll get rid of it in minutes.’


‘I bet you don’t want to get rid of it. I think you like having it.’


He frowned at me. ‘You think I like getting a shiner off the Slytherins?’


‘No, but…I think you like having the mark. Bit like a badge. Sort of wins you sympathy, don’t you think?’


He rolled his eyes at me. ‘Barring you, Flora, what sympathy do I get?’


‘Er…’


‘Nah, it’s more like…more like a reminder, you know? That I can get hit and be okay. Doesn’t hurt for very long. I can stand it. Doesn’t make me feel so small.’


‘Okay.’


He looked a bit cautious. ‘Okay?’


‘Yeah, just…well, don’t kid yourself into thinking you can take more than this. Don’t be daft, really.’


‘Right,’


There was a pause.


‘Nice little heart-to-heart, that,’ Scorpius said. ‘Anything you need to vent about to me? I’m good at keeping secrets. I’ve got no one to tell them to.’


‘Nothing,’ I said.


‘Sure?’


‘Yep. I’m all hunky-dory.’


I somehow thought that unloading all my anxieties about Albus onto Scorpius would probably be the worst thing to do. I didn’t want to give him any more ammunition.


‘Fine,’ he said, and stood up. I stood too, and then the two of us were there, gormlessly facing each other, silent, until I decided to just go for it and hugged him.


‘Just one thing,’ I said, once my head was buried in his shoulder and I knew he wouldn’t be able to see the tears welling up in my eyes. ‘Do you reckon the house elves will take good care of Willoughby when I’m gone? You know how picky he is about food.’


He hadn’t gone in for the hug like I had, and his hands stuck out comically like he was afraid to touch me.


‘Hmmm,’ he said.


‘Okay,’ I released him. ‘Night, then.’


He made for the door. ‘Night.’


‘Oh, and, Scorpius – we will find out what’s happened to your dad, I promise.’


He gave a snort of derision. ‘Sure,’ he said, and left.



a/n: still shipping the shame ships? (say that repeatedly and it becomes a cool tongue twister). this chapter is proof that a) I do not enjoy writing romantic things and b) I like writing angsty things, especially angsty Scorpius things. I also like to inject my views about lovey-dovey (and wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey) stuff into my characters. Just wait until the friendzone crops up.

'twelve fail-safe ways to charm witches' is the title of a book Ron gives to Harry in The Deathly Hallows, and 'wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey' is a snippet of great wisdom from the tenth doctor. hope you enjoyed. ♥

Chapter 19: { 18 }
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I was awake at seven the next morning, but I didn’t dare get up until Albus knocked the door at half past ten and said breakfast was ready for me downstairs if I fancied it. I’d already got up and got dressed, tying back my unwashed hair into something vaguely respectable and smearing a bit of concealer on the dark smudges under my eyes.


Albus was nowhere to be seen when I got downstairs. His mum was sat at the table in the kitchen with a mug of tea in her hands. She looked as bleary as I did. An open box of cereal was in the middle of the table, next to an empty toast rack and a pot that was a quarter full of crumb-crusted butter.


‘Good morning, Flora,’ she said, quite politely. ‘Do you want some toast?’


‘Er, I’m okay,’ I said, face already burning. I didn’t want to inconvenience her in any way. ‘I’ll just have some cereal.’


I may as well have asked for toast, because she had to get up and fetch me a bowl, a spoon, and a jug of milk anyway.


‘Tea?’ she said, as I shook the remaining cereal into my bowl and drenched it in milk.


‘Um…just water is fine,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’


She poured me a glass of water from the tap and then took the seat opposite me again.


‘So, how’s school?’ she said, just as I’d bit down on a mouthful of Snake Bites.


‘Mmm,’ I shook my head to show I’d talk to her in a minute. She sat patiently, sipping at her tea, as I swallowed the cereal with some difficulty.


‘Good,’ I finally said.


‘Albus tells me you’re good at History of Magic.’


‘Um, I think so. I mean, I always liked History at primary school. Castles and Vikings and all that.’


‘Quite,’ she said, and sipped at her tea again. I thought it was safe to take another bite, but then she asked me another question and I had to keep her waiting for a bit longer while I chewed and swallowed.


‘After school?’ I said. ‘Um, I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe admin. I’m good at typing. Well, when I’m at home, anyway. Not as good with magic typewriters. But, you know, filing and stuff.’


‘Ah,’ she nodded, and I felt a bit embarrassed for having such low aspirations.


I got to eat a few more spoonfuls of cereal before she started speaking again.


‘You’ll probably get to head off at about four this afternoon,’ she said. ‘The paperwork’s been delayed. Albus’ dad is having to work this weekend, the Ministry’s a bit overwhelmed. Tell Scorpius he’s welcome to visit any time.’


‘Oh?’ I said.


‘Absolutely,’ she nodded. ‘We know it’s been difficult for him. I know Albus is a bit reluctant, but…well, just tell him he’s welcome any time.’


‘Okay,’ I said.


‘And you are too, of course,’ she smiled. ‘We’re delighted to have you here.’


My face burned again. ‘Thanks.’


‘Right, I have to be off,’ she said, dumping her mug by the sink. ‘See you soon.’


She vanished out into the corridor. ‘Lily!’ I heard her yell. ‘Hurry up or you’ll be late for violin!’


The door creaked shut and left me on my own in the quiet kitchen. Well, I would have been on my own if it weren’t for the framed chocolate frog card on the wall, from which Albus’ dad smiled kindly at me behind glass.


Once I was done with my breakfast, I went upstairs again. The place was deserted. The door to the spare room was shut, but when I poked my head around James’ door I saw the bed had been made and Albus had obviously left. So I figured it was best to take my shower then, even though I was paranoid enough to jam a chair under the door handle the entire time I was in the bathroom.


It was still silent as the grave by the time I came out. I guessed Albus’ mum had taken his little sister, who I hadn’t so much as seen a finger of since I got there, off to a violin lesson. And I guessed Scorpius was shut up in the spare room, either too awkwardly shy to face the Potters or too bitter at the thought of facing them to come out. Albus was just AWOL. I went back to his room to give my wet hair a half-hearted brush (although I gave up when I realised it was beyond hope) and make myself a bit more presentable, a bit lost as to what to do with myself.


I ended up lying back on the bed, reading. I didn’t dare touch that Twelve Fail-Safe Way to Charm Witches book again for fear I’d offend myself, so I ended up starting this generic crime thriller I found on Albus’ bookshelf. It actually turned out to be pretty decent, so I was a little bit annoyed after a couple of hours when Albus finally turned up and broke my concentration.


‘This is a good book,’ I said.


‘Yeah,’ he smiled. ‘I like that guy. Got most of his books.’


I folded the corner of the page over to mark my place and set the book aside.


‘Mind if I join?’ Albus said, indicating the empty patch of duvet next to me.


‘Okay,’ I said, but went a bit tense as he lay down beside me. Not that much had happened the night before, in the great scheme of things, but I was still a bit weirded out by the whole experience.


‘The paperwork’s been delayed,’ he said. ‘Probably won’t come through till after four.’


‘Oh, that sucks,’ I said. ‘Yeah, your mum told me.’


‘Bloody nuisance,’ he said, adding ‘nevermind,’ when he twisted round and caught sight of me frowning.


‘Seen Scorpius this morning?’ I asked.


‘Nope.’


‘Did you knock his door or anything?’


Albus didn’t respond.


‘I’ll take that as a no,’ I said. ‘Not even to tell him breakfast was ready?’


‘Er,’ Albus said. ‘Well, you know what he’s like.’


‘You’ve never attempted to know what he’s like.’


‘Actually, I…nevermind,’ he said.


We lay in silence for a few minutes. Birds were singing outside the window.


‘It’s going to be lovely, staying here,’ I said.


‘Yeah. Listen, Flora, over this holiday, I… this sounds odd, but I want to teach you some…self-defence stuff.’


‘What? Why?’


‘Things you read in the papers,’ he mumbled. ‘Look,’ he went on, at a more normal volume. ‘Just some spells, stuff like that. Stuff we cover in Defence Against the Dark Arts, everything you’re missing out on.’


‘Probably too advanced for me.’


‘Not really, no. I mean, just basic spells. And we do a bit of…um…non-spell stuff too. Because, well, you’d be buggered if you lost your wand.’


‘Okay.’


‘Do you know anything, by the way? The disarming spell, stunning spells, the like-’


‘I think I can remember the stunning spell.’


‘Okay. What’s the incantation?’


‘Stupefy,’ I said, wincing at the memory of fourth-year Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons, most of which ended up with either me or Scorpius being trashed by Fauna.


‘Good, good. The disarming spell?’


‘Um,’ I said. ‘Forgot.’


‘It’s okay, I’ll teach you. One of the best spells there is. Dad swears by it, and he’s an Auror.’


‘I do know some self-defence stuff,’ I blurted out, not wanting to sound like an idiot. ‘Mum taught me, you know, stuff like not having your hair down when you’re walking home alone because people can grab it, always walking fast, never looking lost, and, well, if I get mugged she told me to just let people take my stuff.’


‘Yeah,’ Albus said. ‘That’s the gist of it.’


An earlier bit of the conversation had finally caught up with me. ‘Wait, non-spell stuff? Do you fight in Defence Against the Dark Arts?’


He started laughing, and the whole bed shook a bit. ‘Oh, no, no, course not. Well, we’re taught how to get out of a fight, but I couldn’t start or win one for the life of me. Kind of glad Fletcher’s a coward, remember when I punched him? Thought he was going to floor me. Almost saw my life flashing before my eyes.’


I smiled at the memory. ‘I just had my mind on sweets, I guess. Maybe you could teach Scorpius that sort of stuff too? He needs it more than I do.’


Albus let out a derisive laugh. ‘No he doesn’t. I think he rather enjoys it. He’d be a shoo-in for Magical Law Enforcement.’


‘I don’t think so…’


‘Come on. Those bruises…they’re like all those daft badges and patches on his schoolbag. He’s proud he’s got all these weird bands on his rucksack, he’s proud he’s got bruises on his knuckles and stuff. He wants people to see them.’


I didn’t want to tell Albus I agreed – like I didn’t want to tell Scorpius about the thing the night before – and suddenly I felt this big rush of bitterness because they’d become the focus of my life and I couldn’t tell either of them anything.


‘Whatever you say,’ I muttered.


‘Good-oh,’ he said, hoisting himself upwards. ‘Right, I promised Dad I’d take a look at some shelves that need putting up, you okay on your own for a bit?’


‘Sure,’ I said.


As he got up, I noticed the waistband of his jeans had slipped down a bit and the top of his boxers was showing; the word ‘Monday’ was embroidered there in red.


I couldn’t resist. ‘Al,’ I giggled. ‘It’s a Saturday.’


‘Huh?’ he twisted around and then clocked what I was looking at. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Yeah…my socks think it’s a Thursday. Never get the right pair out the drawer, you know?’


I picked up the book again. ‘Sure.’


‘See you later,’ he said, and left.


*



It was actually approaching seven o’clock by the time we got to leave. First there was the paperwork delay, then something had kept Albus’ dad in the office way past usual weekend hours, so we’d just gone ahead and had tea by the time he got back at half six. Albus’ mum was busy taking his little sister to some fourth year birthday party, so it was only the three of us sitting round the dinner table, putting away the undercooked pasta me and Albus had managed to whip up.


I know it was a bit of a rubbish meal – I’m no cook, and neither’s Albus – but I thought Scorpius’ grimace was a bit unjustified as he prodded it round his bowl.


‘Did you add salt before you cooked it?’ he said. ‘I usually do.’


‘Do you cook a lot?’ Albus said.


‘Have to. Dad works a lot of overtime in the holidays,’ Scorpius said, before cramming a massive forkful of the pasta into his mouth and effectively ending the conversation.


We tasked him with the washing up, mostly because he hadn’t lifted a finger to help us cook, although it wasn’t much compensation seeing as he could do magic out of school already and dealt with the lot in a matter of minutes.


Then we just had to sit and wait for Mr Potter to come home. Conversation didn’t exactly flow. To be honest, I didn’t exactly blame Scorpius this time. He was probably sick with worry, and he had these dark patches under his eyes that went with the bruises. I guessed he hadn’t wanted to eat not because our cooking was sub-par, but because he didn’t really feel like it. I always lose my appetite when I’m stressed, even for stuff like biscuits and cake. After my dad left I didn’t touch an Opal Fruit for months.


But eventually Albus’ dad turned up and we all gathered in the sitting room. It was just supposed to be me and Albus going to make sure he got home alright, then the permit just about stretched to the two of us coming back again before we’d have to apply for even more permission. Albus rolled his eyes at this, and apparently the Floo network had never been that strict before, but times were tough and they had to know who was coming and going about the country. Which didn’t make sense because apparently Scorpius’ dad had vanished in the middle of the Ministry itself, but I’d been a muggle for long enough to know that governments generally err on the side of naff.


Scorpius literally had his foot in the fireplace when something occurred to him and he turned round at lightning speed.


‘Flora! My inhaler!’ he said.


He couldn’t elaborate any further, because he was already one foot in the flames and had to go, but I knew what he meant. He’d given me it for safekeeping when he left Hogwarts, because he’d packed in a hurry and hadn’t wanted to leave it in his trunk in case he needed it. As it turned out, he didn’t, but I couldn’t exactly send him off home without it, so I dashed back upstairs and grabbed my bag from the back of the desk chair. By the time I’d got back, even Albus had gone. I took the pinch of green powder Albus’ dad offered me and stepped into the fire too, reciting the address of the little London flat where Scorpius lived when he wasn’t at school.


I think I realised something was wrong the moment I stepped out the fire at the other end because of the way the air smelled. Not bad or anything, I mean, it didn’t make me gag or have to pinch my nose and stuff. It just smelled a bit stale, a bit musty, like the windows hadn’t been opened in a while. I reckon Albus and Scorpius had come to this conclusion too, because they both looked a bit worried when I finally straightened up, brushed the soot off my clothes, and had a chance to say hello to them.


I rooted around in my bag until I found the inhaler. ‘Here,’ I passed it to Scorpius.


When he took it off me, our hands touched for a matter of moments and I noticed his were absolutely freezing.


‘It’s a bit quiet,’ Albus said.


‘Like I said, dad does a lot of overtime,’ Scorpius said, although he sounded pretty uncertain. ‘You know, Department of Mysteries stuff. Sometimes he has to work overnight. It’s all a bit intense.’


We left the sitting room and went through to the kitchen. The place wasn’t a mess, but it wasn’t exactly tidy; the Sunday Prophet was on the table, open at the business section, with all the supplement sections scattered around it and a crossword half-done, a chewed pencil lying on top of it. A mug and a plate were by the sink, and the plate still had toast crumbs on it. A chipped blue jug on the worksurface was labelled ‘milk’.


‘Sorry,’ Scorpius said. ‘Dad never does the washing up.’


There was nothing to apologise for, but me and Albus hummed and hawed all the same. I went over to look at the newspaper, Albus went to the window, and Scorpius went over to the sink.


I did a quick scan of the page, but the business section wasn’t really my thing; numbers don’t mean a lot to me. I flipped through another few pages and, by chance, ended up in the culture section, where there was a little piece about the Weird Sisters. I read for a paragraph before I realised something was up. The writer was going on about how Do the Hippogriff was going to be rereleased again as a charity single, so I thought, hang on, hasn’t it already gone back into the charts? And almost the moment I thought that Scorpius made a sudden sound of disgust from over by the sink.


‘Sorry,’ he said, when me and Albus had both looked round in shock. He was holding the milk jug at arm’s length. ‘Smells foul.’


I went back to the newspaper as he poured the off milk down the sink and rinsed out the jug with water. At first I wondered if the Prophet was as out-of-touch as most people suggested, then realised that the obvious answer was staring me right in the face. Quite literally, because the date of publication was right at the top of the page. A Sunday, almost a month in the past.


‘This paper’s old,’ I said. ‘Mega old.’


It was their turn to look round at me in shock. I flipped back to the front page and held it up. The headline meant nothing to me, seeing as I’m pretty out of it when it comes to magical society, but Scorpius did this sort of theatrical gasp that might have been amusing if I wasn’t so creeped out.


‘Can’t be right,’ he said, and strode out the room.


I looked at Albus, who shrugged, then the two of us followed Scorpius out into the sitting room again, then into the hallway. There was a little box on the front door where the owls were meant to drop post that could be accessed from a hatch in the door itself, a little like a cat flap. Scorpius went up to this hatch and loosened it, then had to jump back as a torrent of post came flooding out onto the doormat.


‘Weird,’ he said to himself, and I wholeheartedly agreed. The place was giving me the heebie-jeebies.


Scorpius lifted a bit of the pile and had a flip through. ‘Weird,’ he said again. Another edition of the Prophet stuck out, but I couldn’t read the date from my place near the sitting room door.


‘Maybe…’ Albus started, then trailed off. I don’t think either of us wanted to say what we were undoubtedly both thinking.


‘Bills, bills, bills…’ Scorpius muttered to himself, before withdrawing a violet envelope from the pile. ‘Shit, final warning on Ministry tax…’


I wish Albus had finished that ‘maybe’, because I could have used something comforting to think about. Scorpius had ditched the post by the door and stood up again. He was deathly pale.


‘I’ll…I’ll check the bedroom,’ he said, and I got the feeling we weren’t meant to follow. Not that I wanted to, especially given what he’d said the night before. About, you know, coming home and finding his dad. But him not necessarily being there.


Me and Albus went back into the kitchen.


‘I’ve got a really horrible feeling about this,’ Albus said, and he’d gone pretty pale too.


‘I know. Me too.’


‘What do we do?’ he murmured.


‘I don’t know…’


He’d inched a bit closer to me so our arms touched, and I felt a bit warmer on that side. The rest of me was pretty chilly.


A minute later Scorpius came wandering back in, and I could tell by the relief on his face that the three of us were totally alone in the flat.


‘Nothing,’ he said.


‘Maybe, maybe…’ Albus seemed to struggle for those missing words. ‘Maybe it really is overtime. I mean, like you said, Department of Mysteries, weird place, wouldn’t put it past them to start sleeping there, right? Never leave their research. Don’t quit till they’ve got an answer.’


‘Right,’ Scorpius said.


It occurred to me this was the first time they’d spoken to each other normally. Given we were standing in a chilly flat discussing the possible disappearance of Scorpius’ dad, I could hardly appreciate this, but it was a slight improvement.


‘You alright?’ I said.


‘Um…’ Scorpius trailed off.


‘I could go back and get my dad,’ Albus ventured.


‘No, it’s – it’s probably like you said, he’s probably found some new thing, something he can’t leave the department for,’ Scorpius said. ‘He’s been doing some pretty weird stuff, I heard, really deep.’


A silence passed. I had no idea what to say.


‘He’s probably still in the Ministry,’ Scorpius said.


‘Well…Mr Potter said nobody had seen him,’ I said.


‘The Department of Mysteries is really secretive,’ Scorpius mumbled. ‘Probably…that’s probably it. He’s just there.’


‘You can’t stay here,’ Albus said, so forcefully that it almost made me jump. The place was alright, it wasn’t a mess or anything, and it’d only take a charm or two to make it warm enough, but I wholeheartedly agreed with Albus, mostly on the grounds that the flat was creepier than a cemetery at night.


Then the reality hit me. ‘Al, only two of us can go back. The permits…and we’ve only got two pinches of Floo Powder.’


He pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘Shit. You’re right.’


‘And how do we find him?’


The three of us stood and thought about it.


‘I don’t know,’ Scorpius sighed. ‘He could be anywhere. I mean, thing is…where he grew up, it’s a ruin now, but he could be there. Or he could have, I dunno, gone…hiking. Probably not. But he hasn’t got any family,’ he said, more to himself. ‘He’s only got me. He stopped talking to Aunt Daphne and the others are all dead-’


‘We should go to the Ministry,’ Albus blurted out.


‘Pardon?’


‘He must be in the Ministry. We should go there. Make some enquiries. Because it probably is totally innocent. They’d probably take you to him. They let me see dad all the time. Just turn up.’


‘What?’


‘Yeah!’ Albus said emphatically. ‘You just have to ask! I mean, there’s a few security checks, but they’re usually okay with you going round a department, you could say you’re thinking of working there, just want to check it out and stuff. Worth a shot.’


‘Are you sure?’ I said. ‘If they’re, well, being all stingy with the Floo Network, will they really let us in?’


‘Um, not that I like to brag or anything,’ Albus said. ‘But I am the son of Harry Potter. That opens a lot of doors.’


Scorpius forgot his anxiety for a moment to scoff at this comment.


‘Besides,’ Albus added. ‘I do have an invisibility cloak. That opens even more doors.’


‘That’s breaking and entering,’ I said.


‘Nobody has to know. Like I said, it’s worth a shot. We may as well try. The Ministry’ll be quiet tomorrow anyway, they’re more likely to let us have a look. Judging by the view,’ he pointed to the window. ‘We’re pretty close. We could walk there!’


The more he talked, the more it seemed like the best plan of action. But we still hadn’t solved the problem of Scorpius staying in the flat overnight.


‘Okay,’ Scorpius was nodding. ‘Okay, just…go to the Ministry. No problem. Dad’s taken me there before. That’s fine.’


I realised, then, what I had to do.


I turned to Albus. ‘I’ll have to stay here tonight too.’


‘Pardon?’ he said, just as Scorpius shot out a very disbelieving ‘what?


‘Well…’ I ran the idea through my mind before saying it, just to check I wasn’t being thick or anything. ‘We’ve got two Floo permits. And Scorpius can’t stay here, not on his own anyway. So you go back, then use the other permit to come back in the morning. And I stay here.’


Scorpius, evidently embarrassed, said ‘you don’t have to do that, Flora.’


‘No, it makes sense,’ Albus said, although he looked a little put out.


‘Just…tell your parents…the truth. I’m sure they’ll understand. They said you’re welcome any time, by the way,’ I said to Scorpius. ‘They’re looking out for you.’


I wish I hadn’t said it, because it seemed to make the whole situation that much more awkward. Like I was implying that it was just Albus who had a problem, that even his parents were okay with a Malfoy - and they were the ones that had to fight the war. I felt a bit guilty.


‘Okay,’ Albus said. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow. Eleven?’


‘Okay.’


‘I should go back soon.’


I wished he could have stayed longer, but it wasn’t really sensible. I’d volunteered to shut myself up in this creepy flat with Scorpius all night, dreading what we’d find in the Ministry the next day – I couldn’t exactly expect Albus to suffer that too, could I?


Scorpius mumbled something about making some tea (without milk, of course) and I went back through to the sitting room with Albus so he could Floo out. He gave me a brief little hug, kissed my forehead, then promised he’d be back at eleven on the dot before stepping into the flames and shooting back to Reading.


So I braced myself for the long night ahead.


*



Scorpius insisted that I take the bed in his room, but I refused to be the comfortable one when he’d have to sleep on the floor, and he wouldn’t let me swap. I suggested we both try and cram into the bed – after all, we’d been friends for years and I hardly cared if I had to spend a night with his feet in my face – but he point-blank refused to do this. I guess being Albus’ girlfriend had put an extra bit of wrapping around me, and he was too scared of the implications to try it, even if it was the only way we’d both be comfy. So we both ended up heaping duvets and blankets and pillows on the floor to sleep there, a good foot of space between us. Not once did either of us suggest taking the double bed in his dad’s room. I think we were too scared.


We passed the time by making endless cups of tea and chatting meaninglessly about the features in the issue of New Magical Express I had in my bag. Once that was exhausted, we picked things off the walls of his room to talk about. It was pretty much the way I’d remembered it from my last visit back in fourth year. Posters of bands I didn’t recognise, a Quidditch team in blue robes, a collection of unusual postcards. On the bookshelf there was a framed photograph of a very young Scorpius with a pretty woman who had mousy-brown hair and a thin, almost colourless face. He had her eyes, you could tell. I chose not to talk about that picture.


We put the lights out at eleven. Twelve hours until Albus would turn up again. It seemed so far away, especially when the room was dark and the shadows kept moving.


I’d probably been lying there blinking for half an hour before I realised I wasn’t about to get much sleep.


‘Scorpius?’ I whispered.


‘Yeah?’


‘I can’t sleep.’


‘Me neither.’


I sat up, wrapping the duvet about myself. He copied me.


‘Maybe I should have taken the bed,’ I said.


‘I did keep telling you…’


‘Nah. I’m okay.’


Sitting there all cocooned up in duvets, it was like being back at a primary school sleepover. I was on the verge of suggesting we tell ghost stories and have a midnight feast when Scorpius interrupted my thoughts.


‘Wish Fauna was here,’ he said. ‘She’d cheer us up.’


The dim, faintly orange glow from outside made it look like he was black-and-white, even with the bruises and all.


‘I’m scared,’ I said.


‘Me too.’


‘Can you really just…waltz into the Ministry?’


‘It’s not as hard as you think.’


Two white squares of light were flickering on his eyes. I tried to focus on them and not look into the dark.


‘Anyway,’ I said. ‘Enough misery. Yeah, I miss Fauna. She’d probably crack some joke.’


‘Except she’d ruin the punchline.’


I smiled. ‘Too busy laughing at it herself.’


‘Then she’d try to play it down – you know, flip her fringe around, pout a bit. Who cares when I look this good-’


I actually laughed. ‘She wasn’t that conceited.’


‘I miss her.’


The brief good mood died a bit, but we were talking more freely than we had done for months. It was like the darkness made it acceptable to say these things; neither of us had brought up Fauna since she’d slipped out of our group. Well, since she’d slipped out the group and made it a duo. And then since Scorpius had repeatedly messed things made up and made it a bit of a one-woman-band.


And that’s what my mind settled on, you know, Scorpius messing things up. Then the words were out of my mouth before I could stop myself, because I’d kidded myself into thinking that just because it was dark and it was like being at a sleepover that it was an acceptable thing to say. Like I was brave enough to ask this: ‘why did you kiss me? Just before Christmas?’


I could’ve slapped myself. The kid already had enough on his plate to be dealing with, it was pretty uncharitable of me to be digging up that angst after so many months.


It took him ages to say anything coherent, although not after a fair amount of spluttering and monosyllabic noises.


‘I’d thought about it for months, but…’ he looked down at the floor. ‘Never had the courage. And then it was too late. Pretty wrong of me.’


To be honest, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.


‘I’m glad, though…glad you told me to shove off. I mean, it was really dumb. And a bit horrible. I didn’t mean it to go…that way. I just thought, well, why not? And went for it. Well, I mean, this is daft, but I…I thought you liked me. For ages. I know, it’s really stupid. But I like to think you trusted me and stuff, and I was nice to you, and, I dunno…I thought something would come of it.’


‘That’s…that’s just being friends, Scorpius.’


‘No, I mean…this was ages ago, promise I don’t think the same now. But, you know, you told me things, and I tried my hardest, and I thought it…I dunno, I just assumed it’d all come together.’


There was a bit of me that was dealing with the toe-curling revelation that he’d probably fancied me for a good bit of fifth year, but there was a bigger bit of me that mostly felt angry.


‘No, really. That is just being friends.’


‘Yeah, well,’ he seemed a bit flustered. ‘Well, I guess you kind of friendzoned me.’


‘I…friendzoned you.’


‘I mean, at the time, I thought that, but now-’


‘There’s no such thing as the friendzone. It’s a dumb concept someone made up.’


‘I dunno, it’s the only word to describe it…’


‘Well, thanks,’ I said, wishing I’d gone back to the Potters’ with Albus. ‘Great, really. Nice to know you were only my friend because you thought something would come of it-’


‘I didn’t mean that!’


‘Are you eleven years old or something? By the way, boys and girls can be friends without it leading to, to…shenanigans!


‘I didn’t mean that!’ he sounded desperate. ‘I was a bit of a prat! I didn’t realise there were different kinds of love!


I glared at the floor.


‘Okay, that sounded really lame,’ he said. ‘I’m a git, I should have realised, but…I dunno, I’ve only ever had you and Fauna around, and my dad’s so…well, you know, dad, and Fauna’s a bit…Fauna, and sometimes it felt like you were the only person who cared about me, and I sort of got the wrong end of the stick and I’m really, really, massively sorry.’


‘So why the change of heart about Fauna?’


‘Because I realised I felt a bit sick whenever I looked at her, I don’t know!’


It was a bit ludicrous and I couldn’t resist a giggle. ‘You felt sick?’


‘Urgh,’ he brought the duvet up to cover his face. ‘You know what I mean. Probably how you feel about Potter. I mean, Albus. Like…like when I went round the corridors at school on my own, I kept thinking how I wanted to bump into Fauna, and then I’d see someone that looked a bit like her and then I’d find all these reasons for why I didn’t want to see her…and then went it wasn’t her, it’d make me sad. You know?’


I nodded.


‘Fucked that up too,’ he did this really exaggerated shrug. ‘Can’t help it!’


‘You should have said something,’ I told him, and a private little voice in my head said that well, if he’d got there before Albus, you’d probably have said yes and ended up the girlfriend of the grumpiest git in Hufflepuff. ‘Not just…attacked me.’


‘Um,’ his voice went small again. ‘I dunno. I was seizing the moment a bit, I think. I, well. I don’t want to end up how my dad did. Like when mum was dying, I don’t think he believed it. And I was there nearly all the time with Aunt Daphne, but dad kept doing long shifts at work. Then one day he was doing overtime and Aunt Daphne had gone out to get a cup of tea or something, and mum…died. I was the only person there. I was the only one who was with her. I keep thinking I don’t want to be like dad, I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to let things get away from me. He missed mum and he’s never been the same since. I can’t end up like that, pretending nothing’s happening and missing all the chances. Or I’ll end up as miserable and lonely as him.’


‘I’m sorry,’ I said, but he’d floored me a bit. I was a little speechless. So I let him talk and talk until he seemed brave enough to say the things he wanted to say, like I was kidding him into thinking I’d suddenly gone deaf and nobody could hear these things he’d probably kept bottled up for ages. Things about his parents, and about Fauna, and about what’d been like at school for him all this time. And he said meeting me had been one of the best things that’d ever happened to him, because he bet everything in his dad’s Gringotts vault that he wouldn’t have had friends otherwise.


Like I said, it floored me. Couldn’t think of a thing to say. I decided it was best to let him work over this stuff in his own head, and at least console myself by thinking that we were making peace.


Eventually he ran out of stamina and drew the duvet back up over his head. ‘Sorry,’ came his muffled voice. ‘Shouldn’t have said any of that. I’ve probably made it weird. Sorry. Sorry.’


‘No, I’m glad you said it.’


‘Sorry,’ he repeated.


‘It needed to be said.’


There was a pause. Still wrapped up in the duvet, I lay back down again.


‘I’m tired,’ I said. ‘We should get some sleep.’


‘Sorry,’ he said, like a record skipping back to the same spot.


‘You’re going to wear that word out.’


‘But I am sorry, I really am…’


‘It’s fine. I’m glad you said all that. It’s okay, I promise. It’s fine. I forgive you.’


‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Sor-’


‘Don’t you dare apologise again,’ I hissed.


‘Oh…kay,’ he said. ‘Goodnight, then.’


‘Night,’ I said. ‘Sleep well.’


I didn’t sleep well in the slightest, and I don’t think he did either. If I did drop off, I usually woke up with a start, only to find that the patterns of light in the room had barely changed and time hadn’t really passed at all. I ended up tossing and turning, trying to find a comfy spot on the carpeted floor, and every so often I heard him shift around too. Once in a while I’d turn and end up facing him and see the light reflected on his eyes again, so I’d shut mine, pretending I was fast asleep, too tired by this point to bother with him. Then the sun started to rise and I finally dropped off when grey light began to soak into the room, showing us both as I guess we truly looked. All bleary eyes, all dull hair and chapped lips and bitten fingernails, nowhere near as brave as we’d felt the night before.



a/n: hello. yes, it does get a bit angsty now. no, the angst doesn't let up. yes, it gets worse. I may or may not be cackling evilly about the 13,000 or so other words of this I have lined up for posting. yes, you may send me death threats when the next two/three chapters are posted. I think I deserve them for what's about to happen. but regardless of all that, I hope you enjoyed it and thanks for reading! *inappropriately cheesy smile*

Chapter 20: { 19 }
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The sun was properly up when I woke, alone in Scorpius' room. I stretched out, kicked the duvet away, yawned, then grappled for my bag, where I’d tucked my watch into the front pocket. It was just past ten. I nearly sighed out loud with relief, knowing that Albus was only an hour away.


When I went out into the corridor I could hear Scorpius pottering about in the kitchen, but I ducked into the bathroom first to splash cold water on my face and wrists. I’d had to sleep in my clothes and it showed; they were all crumpled and creased and the cuffs of my cardigan were loose and shapeless from where I’d been tugging them down over my hands all night. I probably had a tube of lipgloss in my bag, but there was no way I could make my face presentable for the Ministry visit. I’d have to make do with the previous day’s make-up - whatever was left of it.


But desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess. When I got through to the kitchen I found Scorpius perched on the worktop, a tin in each hand. I was a bit pleased to see he looked as bedraggled as I did.


‘Erm, we have no bread. Or cereal,’ he said. ‘We might have to have soup for breakfast.’


‘Suits me,’ I said, realising how hungry I was.


‘Cream of tomato?’ he offered.


‘Sounds great.’


I sat down at the table in front of the month-old Sunday Prophet whilst he busied himself with a saucepan and the soup. For a moment, I entertained this bizarre fantasy that we were penniless students, exhausted from a night out and heating up soup for breakfast in a stale, cold flat, but all I could think was that me and Scorpius both looked very, very young in our present states and the fantasy just didn’t hold.


‘Sorry,’ he said, sliding a steaming bowl of tomato soup in front of me five minutes later.


‘Stop apologising,’ I said.


He came back with his own bowl and a couple of spoons. ‘I’m trying,’ he said. ‘But I keep finding things to be sorry about.’


It wasn’t exactly a normal breakfast, but it was hot and reasonably tasty. We didn’t talk once as we ate. Scorpius focused his gaze on the window and lapsed into a sort of thousand-yard stare, like he was trying to see through the layers of buildings outside into the Ministry itself.


‘So,’ I said, once I’d finished and let the spoon clatter into the bowl. ‘Albus will be here soon.’


‘Forty minutes,’ Scorpius said, without breaking his stare.


‘I can’t believe we’re doing this.’


‘Hmm?’


‘Going to the Ministry. Isn’t it kind of…breaking in?’


‘No, they’re pretty good about letting you visit,’ he shrugged. ‘I mean, it’s not the most exciting career choice, is it? So I guess they want kids to have a look around, encourage them to work there. We’re the next generation of admin assistants, Flora,’ he said, very sternly. ‘It’ll be us in those offices in…ooh…two, three years’ time?’


‘I don’t want to think about that. Wouldn’t want to work there anyway.’


‘Well, where would you work?’


I didn’t have the faintest idea. ‘I dunno. Maybe I’ll be a professional cat lady. Of the crazy variety. What about you?’


‘Haven’t the foggiest. Might be a conductor on the Knight Bus. I like their uniforms.’


‘Bet the pay’s crap. I think Albus wants to be an Auror.’


‘Well, of course Albus wants to be an Auror,’ Scorpius sneered.


‘Sorry,’ he said, after a long silence.


We ended up hanging about in the sitting room for the next half hour, idly flipping through books from the shelves around the walls, watching the fireplace from time to time. It was three minutes to eleven when a flame shot up in the grate and then, moments later, Albus sprung out, impeccably dressed and brushing soot from his shoulders.


He looked at us warily. ‘You alright?’


I felt like running up and throwing myself into his arms, but decided this was a bit inappropriate given how tense it was. ‘Peachy,’ I said. ‘Ready to go?’


‘Sure. Have you had breakfast, or…’


‘We had soup,’ Scorpius said, with such seriousness that it nearly made me giggle.


‘Okay,’ Albus shrugged, and we went out into the corridor.


‘Oh, before we go…Flora,’ Scorpius said, holding out his inhaler. ‘Do you mind keeping this in your bag?’


‘Fine,’ I took it.


‘Oh…’ Albus dug about in his pockets and then withdrew a small, tightly folded square of silky fabric. ‘Do you mind looking after this too?’


‘One of you could take a bag as well,’ I said.


‘Boys don’t do handbags,’ Scorpius muttered, and it cheered me up when Albus laughed at this.


It turned out that Albus was right; we weren’t far from the Ministry at all. Not that I’d have known, because the place was pretty much invisible from the street. Or, rather, from the street, the place was just a phone box. Just your average red telephone box, hidden away round a corner and pretty much ignored by everyone going past. Even though it’s not like people use telephone boxes at all these days.


‘In here,’ Albus said, holding the door for both of us. Once we were all in, it took a bit of manoeuvring so we could all fit with Albus by the telephone, so I ended up squished against the door with Scorpius treading on my feet now and again.


‘Ready?’ Albus said, lifting the receiver and dialling a number I couldn’t see.


I almost said ‘ready’ back, but then a woman’s voice came out of the thin air.


‘Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name, and the reason for your visit.’


‘Albus Potter, Scorpius Malfoy, Flora Lancaster,’ Albus said, smooth as you like. ‘We’re here to visit the Department of Mysteries.’


‘Thank you,’ the woman’s voice said, and a moment later three silver badges came shooting out of the little coin return trough. Albus passed one of them to me. Flora Lancaster: Visitor. I pinned it onto my jumper.


‘Please surrender your wands at the security desk in the Atrium,’ the woman said. ‘Have a pleasant day.’


‘You too,’ Albus said.


Scorpius snorted with laughter. ‘She can’t hear you.’


‘A little politeness goes a long way,’ Albus said, but then the phone box creaked into life and we began to descend into the earth.


*



I’ve never seen the Ministry in pictures or anything, but I’ve read plenty about it in History of Magic textbooks. Being a bit of a nerd as I am, I can quote all sorts of meaningless facts about the construction of the Ministry. Like how the original Atrium was pretty much destroyed at the end of the last war and had to be rebuilt in a week to make sure the Ministry got back on its feet as quickly as possible. And like how the statue in the middle’s been replaced countless times, and the current one is a commissioned piece by the famous artist Tarquin Prenderghast that’s supposed to be an abstract representation of magical unity, or something like that.


Okay, I tell a lie, I have sort of seen the Ministry in pictures. One picture, actually. It turned up when we got our textbooks for studying the second war this year, in a bit of the textbook we haven’t got to on the syllabus yet, and for Scorpius’ sake it’s a bit of the textbook I hope we never get to. It’s a photo taken back in the nineties when the war had already started but hadn’t got to real conflict yet. It’s of the Ministry Atrium, although you wouldn’t guess unless you read and understood the caption. I think it’s been lifted out an old Prophet article. It’s in black-and-white and every so often a bit of the photograph lights up like a camera flash has just gone off.


Every time I see this photograph I can imagine how it might have been at the time. Those camera flashes are really bright, coming from all directions, and I guess that whoever took the picture was not the only photographer there. And because so many cameras are going off and the light is so harsh, the two pale people in the photograph look paler than usual. The boy is probably only about sixteen; he looks like his mind’s totally elsewhere, because there’s something pretty absent about his gaze. The woman next to him is looking at the camera, though, and I can’t decide whether she’s doing this on purpose or whether that was just how the photographer got her, because I can’t read her expression. The two of them barely move in this photo, even though the flashbulbs keep going off around them and you can see people moving about in the background. Both of them just blink, and stare, and blink, and stare, and every so often you might catch the boy clenching and unclenching his fists.


In the textbook, the caption says ‘Narcissa Malfoy leaves the trial of her Death Eater husband, Lucius, with her son’.


From that photo I’d imagined the Atrium might be a pretty intimidating place, like there’d be banks of reporters and photographers jostling about the place. This was the place where, years ago, the boy that’d become Scorpius’ father stood and had his picture taken. I don’t know if I’m meant to, but I’ve always felt sorry for the boy in that photo, even if I’ve always been a bit unsure about the real Draco Malfoy.


It was a nicer place than expected, though. Not too busy – it was a Sunday, after all – and impeccably clean, all purplish tiles and ornate fireplaces that I knew from my reading were the means of entering and exiting for workers. I knew we were underground, so it felt a bit like being in a cave. Just one with nicer interior design than your average cave.


I recognised the statue in the centre from my readings too. It was all curves and twists of coppery metal, a little tarnished, going a bit green at the bottom where it stood in a pool of perfectly clear water. The metal went up almost to the ceiling, then at the top there was a phoenix fashioned out of gold. It was done almost like the artist didn’t care, and the shaping was a bit rough, but I guessed this probably had some meaning I couldn’t quite grasp.


Just as we passed the statue, Albus took a knut from his pocket and tossed it into the pool of water.


‘For good luck,’ he said, when I looked at him enquiringly.


We went over to a desk on the far side of the Atrium. The face of the guard sat behind it seemed to light up when we approached, and he grinned at Albus.


‘Mister Potter!’ he said. ‘Your dad’s not long in.’


‘Hi, Wilf,’ Albus grinned. ‘Yeah, I gather law enforcement’s pretty busy at the moment.’


‘Ain’t half,’ Wilf said. ‘Come to see him? Brought some friends?’ he added, nodding to me and Scorpius.


‘Yeah. Actually, Wilf, we were wondering if we could pop down to the Department of Mysteries. Flora here is thinking of becoming an Unspeakable, you see. We wondered if we could see someone to sort out some work experience.’


It was hard not to react to this obvious lie. I tried to grin at Wilf too, but my lips were trembling a bit.


‘Really?’ he said, disbelievingly, and for a moment I thought he’d seen right through us. ‘Never met anyone who wanted to be an Unspeakable before. Well, each to their own.’


He looked back to Albus. I felt I could drop the trembling grin.


‘I mean, I know a lot of that level is out of bounds, most of the time,’ Albus said. ‘But, see, Scorpius’ dad works there,’ he pointed over his shoulder, not once breaking eye contact with the guard. ‘He might be able to take us around.’


‘I’ll have a look at the sign-in sheets,’ Wilf said. ‘What’s the name?’


‘Malfoy,’ Scorpius said, quick as a flash.


Wilf’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Oh, really? Yeah, he’s on the sheet. Clocked in yesterday morning and hasn’t been out since. Do that lot ever see the sun?’


Scorpius managed a small, tight smile.


‘I’ll send a memo down,’ Wilf said. ‘Should be alright. The department’s got its own security clearances, I’m sure someone can show you around the…er…accessible bits. I’ll have to take your wands, by the way.’


Albus made a show of rolling his eyes. ‘You’d take a wizard’s wand off him?’


‘Them’s the rules,’ Wilf said with a cheerful smile, and I got the feeling Albus was trying to distract him away from me and Scorpius. We looked too morose to be there for just work experience. ‘Hand them over.’


We all took out our wands and passed them to the guard. He put each of them in a little cloth bag which he then labelled and stowed under the desk.


‘I’ll send a memo down to Mysteries,’ he said. ‘But you can start making your way there; the lift takes ages. Have a nice day.’


‘Thanks,’ Albus said. ‘You too.’


We hurried over to the lifts and Albus pressed a button to call for one. There was a whole bank of them, an enormous row of severe metal grilles – and not all of them went down. There were some that went sideways; you could see the shaft extending out for ages before it was swallowed up by darkness.


‘See?’ I said. ‘Your dad clocked in yesterday. He’s fine!’


‘Then why didn’t he go home?’ Scorpius snapped.


Albus shrugged. ‘Maybe he just didn’t bother to pick up the post, you know, work on the brain. Probably didn’t want to let it trouble him.’


‘Yeah, sure,’ it was Scorpius’ turn to roll his eyes. ‘And he also found the prospect of dealing with month-old milk and newspapers too stressful, yeah, that’s a reasonable explanation.’


‘Maybe he just didn’t go home,’ I said. ‘Could be staying in a hotel? Maybe he’s…found someone. To move in with.’


Scorpius made an incredulous noise that sounded a little like fnar, in perfect harmony with the ding as the lift reached us.


‘Mysteries is right down in the basement,’ Albus said. ‘It’s a looong way down.’


Just as we stepped into the lift and the grille clanged shut behind us, Scorpius said ‘I hate being without a wand. I feel like I’m starkers.’


We went a few floors down before we properly had another conversation, mostly because witches and wizards kept popping in and out of the lift, along with a fluttering flock of paper aeroplanes. Albus explained that these were memos, like the one Wilf would have sent down about our visit. I just wanted to catch one and take it home so I could keep it as a sort of novelty pet.


Nobody got in the lift after International Magical Cooperation, so we could talk properly then. ‘This is...scary,’ Scorpius said. ‘I feel like we’re walking into something massive.’


‘It all seems fairly simple…’ Albus said. ‘Even if your dad’s too busy to see us, we’ll still get a tour, how about that?’


‘The Department of Mysteries is a horrible place,’ Scorpius said grumpily.


‘What was your dad researching?’


‘Oh, um,’ Scorpius’ face darkened. ‘This is where it gets…weird. It’s always weird stuff, you know?’


‘How come?’


‘Well, I mean, nobody’s meant to know about it, but…he can do mind magic, you know, that’s his thing. Occlumency and Legillimency. So he does a lot of the odd, obscure stuff, like apparently before he met mum he spent all his time watching peoples’ dreams in Pensieves. You know, the basins that hold memories. We’ve got one at home,’ he said, when me and Albus looked at him blankly. ‘I don’t know what the purpose was. I don’t know what they did that for. But then, um…now they’ve got him researching the afterlife.’


Albus’ jaw had actually dropped open. ‘The afterlife?’ I said.


Scorpius had gone red. ‘I don’t know any more than that. But he’s obsessed with it, and he always gets worse in the winter because mum died at Christmas. He won’t give it up.’


Albus blinked a few times. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know.’


‘Nah, nah, it’s fine,’ Scorpius said dismissively, although you could tell he really did care. ‘I guess this is important stuff to know, right? Maybe he made a breakthrough.’


‘Why does the Ministry care about the afterlife?’ I said. ‘Aren’t there bigger fish to fry?’


‘I dunno,’ Albus said, frowning. ‘They managed to put the dreams research to good use – I read up on it for a Defence project. I think they figured out a way of getting in people’s heads when they were asleep, it’s a kind of weapon. They could plant ideas and stuff. Takes a massive amount of skill, though.’


‘Well, my dad learned Occlumency from the Death Eaters,’ Scorpius said without thinking, then abruptly shut himself up.


The flat had given me enough heebie-jeebies to be getting on with, but this new development was creepy central. I pulled my sleeves down over my hands again, feeling a sudden chill.


‘I don’t really want to know what afterlife research involves,' I said.


‘I must admit I’m intrigued,’ Albus grinned.


‘This place is giving me the creeps.’


‘You’ll be fine,’ Albus said. ‘If the worst comes to the worst, I’m good at stunning spells and Scorpius can throw a punch or two.’


‘I can’t so much throw a punch as take one,’ Scorpius said, grinning too, but then his smile dropped. ‘We don’t have our wands.’


‘The worst won’t come to the worst, though…’


‘I’d like some reassurance,’ I said, a plan springing into my head. ‘Al, I’ve got an idea. What if you take the cloak? Then me and Scorpius go have a look around and you follow us. Invisible. Then you can go and get help if anything goes wrong.’


‘It won’t come to that, Flora.’


‘But what if it does? Seriously, I’ve got a horrible feeling about this. Just to make me feel safe.’


He’d been pretty obsessed with protecting me in the past, so I figured he couldn’t fail to respond to this line.


‘Oh…fine,’ he said.


I just about managed to hand him the cloak from my bag before the lift finally came to a halt at the final level, and the same woman’s voice from the telephone box said ‘Department of Mysteries’.


‘Here goes nothing,’ Albus said, and disappeared beneath the cloak.


It was a bit weird walking as a trio when only two of us were visible. Every so often, I could hear Albus, really faintly; his shoes scuffing on the floor, an intake of breath. It felt like being blindfolded. And I didn’t quite feel safe, really. We went through a single door, down a corridor, deeper into the Ministry of Magic, and I was bloody terrified.


After a few minutes of walking a door to the left opened and a man in emerald robes stepped out, blocking the way entirely.


‘Can I help?’ he said.


‘Er…yes,’ Scorpius said. ‘We’re here to sort out some work experience and…um. I’m here to visit my father too. Someone at the desk sent a memo down about it...’


‘Memo?’ the wizard said blankly. ‘What’s your father’s name?’


‘Draco Malfoy?’


‘Ah,’ his face lit up. ‘Ah, yes, indeed. Right this way. Just some…ah…procedures to follow. Won’t take long.’


We followed him into his office; a small, fairly empty room, where a desk and filing cabinets had been set beneath a window. It was drizzling outside, despite the fact we were underground.


‘Just a moment,’ the wizard drew his wand and conjured two wooden chairs from mid-air. He set these beneath the desk and motioned for me and Scorpius to sit, which we did cautiously, me almost tripping over my own feet.


‘I have to ask you to fill in these forms,’ he said, with a taut smile. ‘Standard procedure, obviously. Security has to be absolutely watertight! Did you say you were Draco Malfoy’s son?’


‘Yes,’ Scorpius said.


‘Ah. He’s quite deep down the levels at the moment. We have a curious habit here,’ he smiled again. ‘Of referring to the Department as a series of levels. A little like the circles of hell, most people say.’


He worked so quickly that I barely registered what he was doing. In the time it had taken us to sit down and him to speak, he’d swept several pieces of parchment and a quill from a drawer and set them out on the desk. He licked a finger, peeled a sheet from the top, and then smiled at Scorpius. There was something I didn’t quite like about the way that smile was frozen, how it did not quite reach his eyes.


‘Just a few details. Enough to let us run you past our records. Full name?’


‘Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy.’


When we’d first met, I’d found his unusual name pretty funny, and even these days his middle name still made me smile. But now my nerves were all on edge and my heart was beating in my dry throat, and I couldn’t possibly remember what’d amused me so much.


‘Date of birth?’


‘Thirteenth of December, two-thousand and five.’


‘Mother’s maiden name?’


‘Greengrass.’


‘Wand?’


‘Er…’ Scorpius thought about it for a bit.


‘It’s quite alright, not everyone remembers right away.’


‘Holly. Unicorn hair. Can’t remember the length.’


‘Excellent. And your blood status?’


There was a perceptible shift in the atmosphere, an icing of the air. Scorpius stared ahead, momentarily mute, until he mumbled ‘pureblood’.


The space beside me seemed to empty, and I suddenly realised Albus must have gone. A creak from the hinges startled us all as the door drifted open an inch further, as if in a breeze.


‘Excuse me,’ the wizard said. The door locked without him even looking at it.


‘And you, young lady. Name?’


‘Flora Mary Lancaster.’


Scorpius shifted uneasily in his seat. I wanted to tell him Albus was gone, but I got the feeling this wizard would notice the slightest of movements.


‘Date of birth?’


‘Fifth of August, two-thousand and six.’


‘Mother’s maiden name?’


‘MacPherson.’


‘Wand?’


‘Yew. Unicorn hair…’


And the question I’d been dreading. ‘Blood status?’


I was tempted to answer with mudblood. ‘Muggle-born,’ I answered instead.


He raised his eyebrows. ‘I see. Good. Thank you. Now, I’ll just have to stamp you. So we all know you’ve been through me. If you could hold our your left hand, please, palm side up.’


We both did as we were told. Scorpius’ hand was shaking so badly that the man had to grip hold of it and make it steady before he brought down the stamp. Scorpius flinched. I don’t know why, because when my palm was stamped it didn’t even hurt. I felt the pad press on my skin, then a coldness as the wet ink met the air. When I looked down, a black ‘M’ in a circle took up most of my palm. M for Ministry of Magic, I supposed, and let my arm drop down by my side again. No matter how much the place gave me the creeps, I was certain we were minutes away from finding out what’d happened to Scorpius’ dad, and I was beginning to believe in the theories we’d bandied about over the last couple of days. Overtime, weird projects, weird departments; Mr Malfoy was probably dozing at a desk somewhere.


The wizard had scribbled a note on a small scrap of purple Ministry parchment. He folded it deftly into a paper aeroplane, then stood to open the window and flung it out into the air. Beyond the window there was only darkness, and I realised that the drizzle must be enchanted. The note spiralled away out of the sight and he shut the window again.


‘Just informing your father you’ve arrived,’ he said. ‘I do hope he receives it. He has been a little, erm, preoccupied of late. You’ll just have to hang on until we hear back from him.’


He sat back down and surveyed us both. Scorpius nudged me in the ribs a couple of times, but I didn’t dare look at him.


‘And how do you two know one another?’ he said. ‘Schoolfriends, I suppose.’


‘Yeah,’ Scorpius said, with another elbow jab at me.


‘Ah. I don’t think your grandfather would have approved, Scorpius. Remind me, how long did he spend in Azkaban?’


I finally gave in and glanced across at Scorpius. He had his left hand resting on his knee, palm side up, as if he was casually waiting for the ink to dry. But I knew he wanted me to see what’d been stamped there. There, in red, a capital ‘P’.


P for Pureblood, and M for Mudblood.


The wizard sniggered. ‘Yes, we do need to distinguish. You’re lucky neither of you are half-bloods, I’m all out of green ink. What do you expect? They employ any sort here. Nobody cares for purity anymore…your family used to, Scorpius, but I hear you’ve given up the cause these days. Was it when the pigs bled your father dry? Half the country runs on the Malfoy money, the joke goes…’


My ears seemed to be ringing. Scorpius said ‘Please, let us leave. We don’t want to cause any trouble.’


He shrugged. ‘It’s a bit late for that. I’ve got a couple of our lot coming to deal with her. We can’t let you leave, I’m afraid.’


‘Please,’ Scorpius repeated in little more than a mumble.


The occasional bit of social awkwardness was nothing compared to the fear that rooted me to the ground then. Fear of the couple of our lot that were surely minutes away, and how would they deal with me? I wanted to do something heroic. Something that would save us both - because I got the feeling this wasn’t just empty talk and we were far out of our depth - but I knew we had little time and little chance.


But then I guess I sometimes underestimate Scorpius, who I always assume is just a bit quiet and just a bit weird like I am. I forget he’s actually a bit tough underneath all the introspection and pretension. And at the time I guess I underestimated him as per usual. Those scabs on his knuckles flashed past as he made a desperate lunge for the wizard’s wand and missed, only just avoiding a bolt of red light that took a lump out of the opposite wall.


I was still rooted to the floor with ringing ears. Someone shouted my name, and I came back to my senses long enough to throw myself down off the chair and cower on the floor with my hands over my head. There was another bolt of light, blue this time, and I ended up drenched in plaster. Someone shouted again, and then a clattering brought my focus to the ground in front of me. A wand.


I was uprooted. I grasped for the wand and realised I was holding it the wrong way just as the wizard yelled and launched himself over the desk. I pointed it the right way and thanked Albus in my head for reminding me of the spell I needed to use, gasped out the strange word on my tongue – then all the wind was knocked out of me and I couldn’t speak anymore, sharp pain in the back of my head and on my chest.


Stunned, the wizard had fallen on me, and I’d hit my head on the wall behind. I wrestled my hand free; the wand was in two pieces, held together by a sliver of dragon heartstring.


I threw it aside. I was shaking too badly to hang onto it anyway. I tried to shove the unconscious man off, but he was too heavy – then Scorpius stumbled over, pushed, and the dead weight rolled off. I could breathe again.


‘Oh god,’ Scorpius said, and dropped to his knees beside me. I sat there, taking great, shuddering gasps of breath, and he knelt at my side clutching his left wrist, eyes screwed up in pain. We didn’t have much time, maybe only a minute or two, so I tried to stand on unsteady feet and put out my hand to help Scorpius up.


He shook his head at me, wincing. ‘My wrist,’ he choked. ‘It’s killing me.’


‘We’ve got to go.’


‘The door?’


I went over and grappled with the handle for a bit before my mind caught up with my hands and realised it wouldn’t open. I even tried kicking it, and throwing my full weight into it, but it wouldn’t budge. We had no wand that would open it. Tears – a third pain, a third frustration, a third blind fear – were dropping down my face before I could stop them, and I put my forehead to the door and my hands to my eyes and cried silently.


I could hear Scorpius moving about behind me. It sounded like he was getting as far away from me as possible. Took another shuddering breath that hurt all the way to the bottom of my lungs. Then I asked ‘What are they going to do to me?’


‘The window,’ Scorpius said.


I turned around. He’d opened the window and was dragging the desk chair beneath it. ‘The window,’ he repeated. ‘It’s our only way out.’


‘To where?’ I spluttered, thinking of the darkness beyond.


‘I think I know where,’ he said, wiping blood from his face with the back of his uninjured hand. ‘It’s worth a shot.’


‘We shouldn’t have come here.’


‘Flora, we’ve got minutes!’ he cried, and I went hurrying over to the window too.


‘Climb up,’ he ordered.


‘But where do I go?’


‘Down.’


I pulled myself up to the window ledge and looked out; the drop was almost the height of a house, an enormous distance, a certain death.


‘I’ll break my neck!’


‘You won’t! Trust me!’


‘How?’


‘The charm will protect you!’ he said, forcing me up. ‘Please!’


The lock in the door clicked. I brought my feet up and crouched on the ledge, shaking, staring down into the dark.


‘I’ll be right behind you,’ he said, and pushed.



a/n: and so the proverbial poo hits the proverbial fan. I mostly typed this chapter one handed; I needed my other hand to swill a glass of fine red wine as I flipped my head back like a pez dispenser and laughed manically towards the ceiling. By my estimate, there's only 3-4 chapters left to go...
I'm indebted to justonemorefic for her beta'ing of the end of this chapter and the entirety of the next, and also supporting me through my successful career of being Very Horrible to Scorpius. I also owe thanks to the HP Lexicon; I'm without my copy of OotP and had no idea how to write the Ministry scenes, so referred back to that constantly during this chapter. I've taken a lot of liberties with the architecture of the Ministry, however, so I'd like to explain it away with the following: it's magic.

Chapter 21: { 20 }
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I only fell for a couple of seconds, but screamed the whole way down until my throat felt raw. My eyes were shut tight, waiting for the landing that would surely kill me, but instead I hit something soft that only knocked out my breath before I dropped a matter of inches to the stone floor.


I lay motionless for a moment or two. My glasses had fallen off. Above me, I could see Scorpius on the window ledge, getting ready to jump - I shut my eyes again, not particularly wanting to see him fall.


He landed a couple of feet away. I started scrambling around for my glasses as he shot back up again, wincing aloud, cradling his left arm.


‘Told you,’ he wheezed, when I’d managed to put my glasses back on. ‘Cushioning charm. Some of the offices look down into this chamber…’


I could now see where we’d landed. The room was circular, lined with doors that had shining golden handles. Dim, flickering torches separated them. A dozen doors in all.


‘Which one do we take?’ I said, but the walls had started to move before I’d barely even got the words out. They were rotating - slowly at first, then faster - and the door handles and the torches turned into a singular, luminous blur that I covered my eyes to block out.


Scorpius dragged me to my feet with his good hand when the walls had stopped rotating. ‘I’ve been here before,’ he said, more to himself than anything. ‘There’s a trick to getting the door you want but I can’t remember…’


‘Which one do we take?’ I repeated.


‘Any,’ he replied, and we ended up opening the one directly in front of us.


‘We can find out way back out,’ he said. ‘I’m sure we can. And Albus…?’


‘He left. Before the door was locked.’


‘Ah.'


The room we’d gone into was dark at first, but as we walked in it began to light, filling the place with a blue gloom. The door had shut behind us. Rows of shelving filled this room, stretching up to a vast, vaulted ceiling. And there were hundreds of shelves, and upon these shelves were hundreds of glass containers, each filled with a milky vapour. I had to steel myself to keep walking, not to stop and admire these objects or to stop and think about the pain in the back of my head.


‘Where are we?’ I said.


‘No idea,’ Scorpius said. ‘Those questions…they were all bullshit, weren’t they? He knew from the start. Something about my dad. I bet he was waiting for us…’


We went down a row then took a left. The entire room seemed to be devoted to these glass containers, row upon row of them, stretching out as far as I could see. There was nobody working here, not one person in sight. Just us and the glass, the vapourish thing it held.


After five minutes’ silent walking we reached another door – one that was not set into any wall, but stood alone in the middle of an aisle. I barely noticed I’d taken Scorpius’ good hand in my left until it came to opening this door and I had to let go.


The next room was a lighter, but a lot like the last. A huge, vaulted ceiling covered us, and this room was made up of rows and rows of seating that faced a platform sunk into a stone pit, as if it were a room designed for theatre. There was a stone archway built on this platform, and a black curtain hanging in it, and I for a brief second wondered if this was some stage set we’d stumbled into, and that the curtain was a prop. But then Scorpius was staring at it in a peculiar way that made me think it was a lot worse than that, and his injured hand had stretched out to it, almost as if he meant to touch it from this distance.


‘Can you hear it?’ he whispered.


All I heard was the ringing in my ears. I grasped for his right hand again. ‘We’ve got to keep going,’ I said.


‘I can hear voices,’ he said.


I pulled him along a bit, imagining this was some mental breakdown brought on by the events up in that office with the wizard in emerald robes. But he wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t break his stare, no matter how hard I tugged on his sleeve and shook him, and I panicked for a moment and even thumped him on the shoulder, pleading.


But luckily – or unluckily, I guess – a door near the platform slammed open and his concentration was broken. At once, we started to run, me still holding onto his sleeve, as two others in emerald robes burst into the room. There was another door at the end of this passage, and I made a mental note of something to say to Scorpius if we ever made it out of this place – Department of Mysteries, how about Department of Doors?


This one slammed behind us just as before and we were back in the circular room again. The walls span, the doors blurred, and then when it all came to a standstill we picked another door that might’ve been one we’d gone through already.


But this room was almost pitch-black, and when we stepped over the threshold the ground dropped about a foot below us and I landed with stabbing pains in my ankles. The door behind us vanished when it shut. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but eventually I picked up all these twinkling lights around us, surrounding these great, glowing spheres of different shapes and sizes, all hanging in the dark air. There was an odd smell to the room I couldn’t quite describe, like the smell you get on Bonfire Night – chilled air, acrid burning, the smell of fireworks, I guess.


‘Planets,’ Scorpius breathed. ‘Fauna would kill to be here.’


‘No, she wouldn’t,’ I said, sounding like a petulant child, and tugged on his arm again. We started to walk. The ground was weird, definitely solid, but not always easy to find. It was invisible, but dipped now and again, or rose, and a few times I felt like I was floating in empty space.


And space surrounded us. We walked through the shadow of Saturn, stepped over the rings, and continued out into the edges of the solar system. Uranus and Neptune loomed out of the darkness, and then Pluto was a little speck behind them.


‘I didn’t think Pluto was a planet anymore,’ Scorpius frowned. ‘I thought they downgraded it.’


‘Pretty, though,’ I said. ‘Yeah, I know what you mean…Fauna would love this room.’


I was suddenly aware of shouting below me, where the universe extended out into infinity. I looked down between my shoes and saw the two emerald-robed Unspeakables from the room with the platform, shouting up at us; a bolt of green shot up and barely missed Scorpius’ ear. So without a word we started to run again.


I wanted to keep hold of Scorpius, more to reassure myself than anything, but he was a lot taller and a lot faster, and within moments he’d managed to break out of my grip. I kept running behind, still a bit out of breath from the first fall, pain shooting through my ankles now and again. I wanted to keep up, hoped I wouldn’t fall behind, but he was too quick, and then there was a foot of space – actual space – between us, then a metre, and then I started to panic and suddenly it was difficult to breathe at all.


‘There!’ he yelled, turning to the left, and I saw another door standing entirely unsupported in the darkness. We made for it, and then Scorpius was there and through in a matter of seconds. It started to swing shut, so I put all the energy I could find into making my legs move, making my aching muscles work, drawing breath into my lungs. I ran for it. Only seconds from it shutting, but I was so close, and my hand was already out to grab for the handle.


I ran through empty air. Stupidly, I kept on going, even though the way ahead was clear apart from one of Neptune’s moons. I decided I could round back and make the door again, thinking I must have just blundered right past it. So I skidded to a halt and turned, but of course the door wasn’t there. It had vanished. And the two men in emerald robes were still running about below me.


It felt like being back in that office again with my forehead against the door and my hands over my eyes, crying. Knowing I was in for it now. No way out. Even in this ludicrous room that somehow seemed to contain the entire universe, scaled down to human-size, so that Neptune’s moon was only around twice my height.


At least if they found me here, if they caught me and captured me and dragged me away – at least it was a nice place to be before whatever was to come. At least I could say I’d been inside a scale model of the solar system before they got me. I turned again and sprinted for Neptune’s moon, hearing one of them yell from somewhere beneath me – my hands grappled through empty air then met something smooth and polished, something that was cold and hard to grip – but I somehow managed to hold onto the moon, trying to hide behind it.


I hung there for a moment, hands slipping gradually, until I couldn’t help but let go entirely and fall again. But the ground I’d been standing on had changed, and I fell far farther than I should have, entirely the wrong way, like gravity had been reversed, upwards instead of down. And I fell for ages and ages, not stopping, until my flailing hands hit a planet I couldn’t identify and I stopped, quite suddenly, the ground beneath my feet once more.


Except I was upside down. Below me, the men in emerald robes were tiny, running off into the distance. I don’t think they’d noticed me at all. Then they vanished.


I sunk down next to the planet, not knowing where I was in the solar system anymore, too worn out and scared to properly care. Miraculously, I still had my backpack, even after all the running and chasing and falling. The tiny leather backpack that I usually took to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. I might have been out for a trip at the shops.


I shrugged it off. There must have been something in there, something useful. But I’d given Albus the cloak and my wand was back in the Atrium. I shoved my hands into the bag and rooted around; lipgloss, my purse, my house keys, Scorpius’ inhaler. My stomach flipped over. Please, I thought. Please don’t make him need it.


I took out the purse instead. A little plastic-fronted pocket in the inside held a photo of my mum with Willoughby in her arms when he was still just a kitten - not a great photo, and a static muggle one at that. Mum was cropped weirdly in the frame, half her head missing, and Willoughby yawning in the middle with his pointed teeth and little tongue showing. I slipped the photo out and held it in the palm of my hand, staring at it. Trying really hard to commit it to memory. I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of the Ministry or not, and I wanted to remind myself that there were nice things in the world if I did.


*



I kept an eye on my watch. An hour had passed when I saw them in the distance. At first they were little dots I mistook for more of the emerald-robed men, then they became fully-formed figures I knew and recognised, and by the time they got to me I felt so sick with nerves I had to fight not to throw up at Albus’ feet.


He reached down for me. I forced myself upwards, hugging him so tightly that the effort made me feel a bit sick again. Over the hour the pain in my head had got worse, and it hurt even more to move – he jerked away, grasping me under the arms and dragging me upwards, and I couldn’t help but cry out loud.


‘I hit my head!’ I gasped, but he wouldn’t let go of me or let me back down. His arm was around my shoulders and I clung to him, letting him take all the weight. We were surrounded by men and women, some in black robes, others in a strange assortment of muggle clothes, all holding lit wands, all grim-faced. Albus’ dad stood at the centre.


‘Which way did they go?’ he asked me.


I shrugged, helpless. ‘I don’t know, the door disappeared-’


Mr Potter cursed under his breath. ‘This department…Albus, get out of here.’


Without a word, Albus started to drag me away again. I felt a bit too weak to walk; my feet just scuffed uselessly on the invisible floor. I had a ton of questions to ask him, and the photo of mum and Willoughby still curled up in my palm, but I didn’t have the energy or nerves to do anything about either.


‘Dad told me to get you out,’ he muttered, directing me away towards a perfect, tiny replica of planet Earth. ‘As soon as we find the way out, anyway. To take you straight up to Law Enforcement.’


I must’ve seemed hysterical. I could barely walk, and I kept making these weird, shaky, wheezing noises whenever I tried to talk and found myself out of breath. I guess this was why he was so keen to prop me up. It kind of reminded me of the time I’d helped him walk Lucy back to our common room, except she’d been drunk and not fearing for her life.


He kept on shushing me like I was a little child. ‘It’s okay,’ he kept saying. ‘It’s fine. It’s alright.’


But then he seemed to run out of synonyms for ‘okay’ and stopped talking, and the two of us stumbled about trying to find an exit in silence.


We were by the moon. ‘Where’s Scorpius?’ he said.


‘He went through the door,’ I moaned, because by this point I was trying to walk properly and my ankles were aching. ‘I didn’t make it. And the door’s gone. He’s gone. We have to find him!’


‘I need to get you out of here.’


‘Al, but-’


His grip on me got even tighter and he shushed me again. ‘The Aurors are here, don’t worry, it’s going to be fine.’


‘But what about him?’


He was properly dragging me along by this point; my feet barely touched the floor. ‘My job is getting you out of here. We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.’


‘But you don’t have a wand!’


‘I…no. I don’t. But I’m going to get you out and we’ll be safe.’


And then we found a door, almost walking right into it, because it seemed to loom out of the darkness with no warning. Suspended in mid-air, like the others. We went through it, and then we were back in that circular room me and Scorpius had found earlier. The walls started to turn.


‘Which door?’ I gasped.


‘I don’t think it matters,’ Albus said, and then the walls ground to a halt and we picked one on the left. It was a room I’d never been in before, bright with honey-coloured light, almost a hundred spindly instruments of gold covering leather-topped tables. Steam rose from some of them, and the room was in slight disarray, as if the people working there had left it quickly – I wanted to stay and look, but Albus dragged me on through an exit door. He was deaf to my pleas that we search for Scorpius. He just ignored me, or shook his head grimly, pulling me along all the time. Dragging me out of the depths of the Ministry back up to the light.


The circular room again. The walls turned. ‘Fucking hell!’ Albus shouted in frustration, and then the walls stopped in an instant. We picked the door in front.


But this one wouldn‘t open. So we gave up, and the walls turned again, and Albus yelled obscenities at the walls until they duly paused and let us into an enormous library.


‘The archives!’ he said, picking up the pace.


And we guessed that this, the most innocuous of rooms, might lead back to the corridor with the offices and the way out – but the next room was a tunnel of glass with flat white fog pressing against the windows, a passage of sorts to a chamber at the end. I felt like I might pass out from the pain in my head.


And maybe that was the way out. So we made towards it, and went through, but there were no more doors in this room apart from the one we’d come through. The room was cold, full of that white fog. Freezing. My breath turned to mist on the air. And the floor and the bits of wall we could see were a pale, icy blue, slippery to the touch, like it was built from ice.


It was empty. Almost empty, because there was someone huddled up in a corner. Wrapped up in fog like it was a blanket, and like he was asleep. I forgot the pain in my head and my ankles and skidded over to him. He could have been asleep, lying there with his injured wrist out on the icy floor.


But it was hard to tell because my eyes burned so much, and had gotten so blurry. It felt like the sore spot on the back of my head was an opening that had let the fog in, and I was slowing down. This was Scorpius, though, who’d somehow ended up here after we’d been separated. So colourless, but for the jaundiced bruises and the scabs on his hands and the pale blue colour his lips had gone.


‘Oh, god,’ I said to Albus. ‘Get me my bag,’ I ordered him, before I realised it was on my back and Albus was shaking his head like he couldn’t hear me. So I took the bag off and rooted around for the inhaler I knew was in there somewhere. I’d lost the photo of mum and Willoughby somehow on the way there.


Time-honoured tradition told me the inhaler should have been the answer, but he wouldn’t move. And my fingers were trembling so much they couldn’t keep a hold of it; I kept dropping it and scrambling for it on the icy floor. Soon my fingernails had shaved off enough ice to make a little pile of snow for it to sit on.


‘What’s this room for?’ I asked Albus. Then, in little more than a whisper, when I realised I couldn’t hold onto the inhaler and I wasn’t sure I could use my arms anymore: ‘Albus, please.’


He was taller by far, but Scorpius looked very small then. I was thinking about the first aid lessons I’d had when I was still a muggle and had gone to Brownie guides. I’d got a badge for it. I’d tied slings for my friends. This seemed like a funny thing to remember, and I tried to laugh about it but only heard this odd gurgling sound, so I thought I’d gone mad. And then I checked for Scorpius’ pulse and didn’t just feel a beat, but heard it, except it was only the door opening and I put the last bits of my strength into turning around and looking.


Someone with emerald robes and chaotic footsteps, with a nosebleed and a borrowed wand – the man who’d been stunned and lying like a dead weight on top of me only an hour and a half before. I let go of Scorpius’ wrist so I could hold my own hands up in surrender. I remembered reading somewhere that medics on the battlefield had a sort of immunity, and I reckoned I counted.


Palms facing outward. He must have seen the ‘M’ on my hand. Recognised me.


‘Please,’ I said.


The wand and the arm moved. I fell apart into separate pieces. The pain didn’t come until the world had gone horizontal and I had my cheek pressed to the ice. Numb fingers stretched forward, feeling nothing. Then the world slipped away and I was gone too.



a/n: posting on the first anniversary of this story going up on the archives! annnnd posting with an evil cliffhanger.
I'm indebted to justonemorefic for her superior beta'ing skills on this chapter. someday, with her help, I will understand how a comma works. In the meantime we'll just sit here and share this 'we killed scorpius' cake.

Chapter 22: { 21 }
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There was a long time when I wasn’t really sure whether I was awake or asleep. I knew I was lying down, but I couldn’t open my eyes to check where I was. So for a bit I assumed I was on the floor of that ice room, with eyelids too heavy to open and skin gone too numb to pick up the cold anymore.


I could definitely see light, though. Light that was so warm and thick and saturated that it went right through me, into the back of my head, so the pain there was gone. But in an odd way, pain might have been better, because I couldn’t feel a thing. I could have been freezing to death and wouldn’t have known. I might not have been in the ice room at all, but lying down in the snow that day in Hogsmeade. The whole thing with the Ministry had been a little dream played out when I shut my eyes, and I knew I’d wake up and find I’d been making snow angels all along.


Sometimes I could hear, but it was like being in the deepest bit of the ocean with all the water pressing down on my ears. Only the odd bit of noise got through and none of it made sense. Just connecting words and prepositions and once or twice, my name. And now and again, an odd burning feeling would soak through the numbness and criss-cross my entire body, right to my feet, like I was being bound up in candlelight before being laid to rest again.


I was in the snow, I was sure, but then I was certain it was the ice room again and I had to make sure Scorpius got his inhaler. But, then again, it must have been the planet room because it was dark, but it was too golden for that, and maybe it was the Hufflepuff common room and I’d just dozed off in front of the fire. So I dreamt that I was lying with my hands folded on my chest like I was on a funeral bier. Everyone I’d ever known had lined up to pay their respects and touch their hesitant fingertips to my skin so it would burn in that pattern. At the end of this procession someone bent to kiss my forehead and tell me I was brave, but I didn’t get a good look at their face before they melted away and I became certain I was out in the snow again.


When I did come around, it wasn’t for long enough to work out where I was. ‘Tell her nice things,’ someone said, before the exhaustion caught with me and I ended up dreaming again. I don’t know who I was meant to be telling nice things too, but I thought about them anyway. Things like Willoughby’s fur, and Fauna’s glow-in-the-dark star keyrings, and carrot cake, and the opening bars of Lacewing Lullaby, and pink lipgloss. Fresh ink and parchment, and getting a good mark in History of Magic. Sitting on the banks of the lake with Albus. All these things made me smile, although if I really was asleep or frozen or stuck at the bottom of the ocean I was probably only smiling in my head.


Then I think that warm light was the first thing I noticed when I properly came round. It was the same gold that’d been burning away in my head all that time. I found the strength to open my eyes and saw that rich light in full - and it was so bright I had to squeeze my eyes shut again.


There were a few seconds of the familiar numbness before the pain arrived. On my face, on my neck, across my chest, all along the left of my body. Eyes open again, watering this time, I put a hand to my cheek and felt a stiff fabric there, stuck right against the skin. I tried to claw it away, but a cold hand rested over mine and held it tight. Then my vision adjusted and I saw my mother sitting beside the bed I was in.


‘Hello, Flora,’ she said. Her hand squeezed mine. ‘It’s good to see you awake.’


‘I woke up before,’ I said, thinking of the voice that had made me dream of nice things.


She smiled, the sort of smile I’d kind of got used to lately. It missed her eyes and made her look older. And it hurt to see her look like that, so I twisted my sore neck around to look at the room I was in. Only it wasn’t so much a room as an enclosure, with a white ceiling and white sheets on my bed and cheap white curtains serving as flimsy walls. But it was all lit by dying light; it must have been around sunset. There was no clock to check. I twisted round a bit further and saw I had a white bedside table with a vase of flowers and a glass of water on it. And then bottles of pills and salves that made my stomach turn over.


I asked her how long I’d been asleep, where I was, and tried to sit up, but she gently pushed me back and stroked my hair with her spare hand.


‘Shhh,’ she said. ‘Take it easy.’


This made me want to laugh. Or cry. Or even both. Taking it easy was a bit of a tall order considering I’d just woken up somewhere completely unfamiliar with this burning pain all over me. I gestured for her to pass me the glass of water instead.


‘You’ll have to sit up,’ she said, withholding the glass. So I struggled upright, leaning against the uncomfortable metal bedframe. Before she could pass me the water, I had another go at pulling away the stiff material on my face.


Mum looked like she was about to cry. ‘Don’t, Flora!’ she said, grabbing for my hand again and slopping half the water over my stomach. ‘There’s only a day till they come off.’


I took a sip of the water so I had a bit of time to process what she’d said.


‘They?’ I asked.


There were proper tears welling up in her eyes by now, but she tried her best to smile. Tried really hard, and it looked a bit painful. ‘The bandages, love.’


My stomach turned over again, and I felt a bit scared. ‘Bandages? For what?’


Her lip quivered. ‘What you did was very brave.’


‘Brave?’ I felt tired again, and I was thinking about making snow angels with Albus. ‘That wasn’t brave.’


But then I was too exhausted to continue. I handed her the glass back and sunk down into the bed.


‘That wasn’t brave at all,’ I whispered. ‘But the Shrieking Shack is meant to be haunted.’


She looked surprised. I shook my head at her then closed my eyes again. ‘I’ll tell you later.’


I must have dropped off to sleep after that, because the next time I opened my eyes mum was gone and the light was all blue and cold instead. Instead of dreaming, I’d been remembering. I’d realised that the memory of the snow was just that, and the real memory behind was the one with the ice room and the pain and. And. And.


And failure, surely. When I woke up I started to cry, and a Healer in sky-blue robes got me a glass of water and asked if I was okay. I didn’t really feel like telling her why I was crying, because in some way I didn’t want to hear the reason myself, but I took the water and drank it to calm myself down. Surely I’d failed. That was why mum had been so sad. I was responsible for everything. He’d gone and I hadn’t been able to bring him back.


I tried to sleep again. I thought that I might dream about the snow again and forget what I’d remembered. I reckoned I slept for a couple of hours more, and when I woke up and calmed myself down again I had a chance to sit up and have a look around. There were bandages all around my left wrist and the bottom of my hand, up my arm, on my chest, stuck to my neck and my face. For what, I kept thinking, although I couldn’t bring myself to ask the Healers who came to check up on me and give me painkillers. Bandages for what? What sort of injury needed this suffocating second skin?


Then that night I managed to transport myself to the Great Hall at school, sitting alone opposite one of the windows that looked out onto the forest. Except the window was a giant white screen with people moving about behind it, all blurred and muffled. The house tables were empty but the air buzzed with talk, and I was in my school uniform with that candlelight rope tightening about me again. It got so tight that I couldn’t breathe anymore, but then the skin of bandages fell away like water and I felt like I’d never run out of air as long as I lived.


And in this dream I was wearing a Hufflepuff cardigan that was a bit too big for me. The threads on the crest were loose and the cuffs were wearing thin, and I knew that if I checked the label I’d find the little namestrip his mum had sewn on for him before she died, on a cardigan she’d bought three sizes too big on the assumption he’d grow into it. I knew it was the last piece I had of him, so I wrapped my hands about myself and balled the cuffs into my fists. When I woke up my hands were clutching at empty air.


This time there was no crying or confusion. The Healer brought me water and explained that the bandages had melted off whilst I was sleeping – evidently some new technology, because she looked pretty excited as she described the complex process that made the fibres break down themselves and absorb into my skin as a sort of medicine. Then she told me my father was waiting outside and would be with me in a minute.


When she went outside to fetch him, I had a moment by myself to look at my left hand and see how the skin was split with a livid scar.


The curtains opened. Dad came in, clutching an umbrella with a white-knuckled grip. He took the seat beside my bed that mum had occupied the other day. Then he stared at me. His eyes were glassy.


‘Flora,’ he said, taking my scarred hand in his. ‘My brave lass.’


That made me want to burst into tears again, because there was nothing brave about letting my best friend die. So I didn’t speak.


‘It’s strange being here,’ he said. ‘Round magic folk.’


It was painful to smile. Dad had never really got used to me being a witch. He noticed I was staring at my hands.


‘The bandages came off an hour ago, apparently-’


‘I know, dad.’


‘They said you were very lucky.’


‘I don’t even know what happened to me. I can’t remember,’ I lied, a lump building in my throat.


He coughed and looked down at his shoes. ‘Well, you know me, I hardly ken half of what they’re saying. You were…cursed. Some bloody curse too, by the looks of it. One of the doctors said he’d come round and talk to you about it later. They…’


He trailed off, twisting the umbrella round his hands.


‘I brought your baffies,’ he said suddenly, pulling out a pair of worn slippers from a carrier bag at his feet. ‘I think they want to keep you here for a few weeks. Some home comforts, ken?’


‘Thanks,’ I said.


‘Your mum’s got some proper pyjamas and a few books for you. You’ve got a friend here, too, he was asking after you earlier. He said he was just a few wards down.’


My heart leapt into my throat. ‘Which friend?’


‘Oh…’ he frowned. ‘I didn't know him…black hair, bit scruffy-looking. Talked very posh.’


‘Right,’ I said.


‘I’ve got you some soor plooms,’ he said. ‘Opal Fruits, too. All your favourites.’


He put a few paper bags on the bedside table and I wanted the bedsheets to swallow me up. Somehow all I could think about was whether they’d let me out in time for the funeral.


Dad didn’t get to hang about and talk for long, because a couple of Healers came in through the curtains and asked if I wanted to look in a mirror yet. I definitely didn’t, but knew I had to before long and, besides, I thought it might get me out of the place faster. So the vaguely handsome male Healer smiled and his colleague went off to fetch the mirror itself. Then dad had to shift over when the Healer conjured a chair and came to sit next to me.


‘Now,’ he said. ‘Now…’


Some of my dad’s family start their sentences with a now. It’s a proper eastern Scottish thing, I hear, but this Healer had a really crisp, cut-glass voice, like he was getting ready to read out the news headlines on the radio.


‘You were hit by a rather nasty curse a few days ago. Unfortunately, it’s one of the tougher ones to treat – it’s very uncommon. We haven’t seen it used since the last war. These scars are cursed,’ he took my hand and turned it over so I could look properly – even if I didn’t want to - at the red line that spiralled down from the heel of my hand almost to my elbow. ‘Treatment doesn’t tend to last fairly long. But with the intensive regime of treatments we’re giving you, the cuts should, within a fortnight, be keeping together…’


My dad coughed politely and the Healers turned to look at him. ‘Can’t you give her stitches?’


‘The curse will just melt them. It’s best to apply a salve directly to the wounds and limit movement as much as possible. Besides,’ he turned back to me. ‘You had a fairly nasty concussion when you got here. We’ll have to keep an eye on that. And after what you’ve been through – I think it’s best you stay off school for a wee while.’


I’d gone from wanting to scream to wanting to laugh hysterically. There was no bloody way I wanted to go back to school. I’d made up my mind; I was done with the place. I was done with being a witch already. I almost wanted to flail my arms about and make the cuts open up again just to spite them. I felt like I was past caring; I wanted time by myself to grieve.


‘Now – are you ready for the mirror?’


I kidded myself momentarily that this was another part of the treatment, like some magic mirror in a fairytale that would tell me I was the fairest of them all and send me on my merry way. But that was a daft thought; it was just a little plain mirror in a cheap white frame. The Healer kept it back for a second.


‘Ready?’ he said.


I braced myself for the worst. At least I knew already I wasn’t missing bits of my face or anything. ‘I’m fine,’ I said, and he handed me the mirror.


Okay, it wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t exactly like looking back at the face I’d had since day dot. It was all a bit weird and different. It looked like a toddler had taken a red felt-tip pen to it. A jittery line ran down the middle of my forehead and sliced my eyebrow in half, before disappearing off towards the side-fringe I’d spent the better part of my teenage years trying to grow out. That was gone, now, as was a decent chunk of my hair that left my ear poking out like a house elf’s. Then a few inches below it there was another red line from the bridge of my nose to my jaw that had twisted my skin and caught the corner of my mouth; my lips were dragged into this half-smile that didn’t match the rest of my face. Then another line on my chin that went down to my neck, and another below that, and as I put the mirror aside and had a proper look at myself I noticed they all followed the same pattern, went the same way, were roughly the same length.


‘Must’ve been a pretty fastidious guy,’ I said, handing the mirror back. They all stared at me. I think they wanted me to burst into tears. I didn’t think I was ready yet. ‘So bloody neat.’


The most boring of thoughts then occurred to me. ‘What about my glasses?’


‘They shattered,’ the Healer said, pressing the mirror back into my hands. ‘The little marks around your eyes…well. We had to remove a fair bit of glass.’


My stomach turned over at the thought.


‘My colleagues a few floors down are working on getting you a new pair made up,’ he said. ‘The frames were perfectly intact, they’re just waiting on the lenses. Took us a while to get your prescription.’


‘The optician’s always awfully busy,’ dad said, trying to be helpful.


‘Okay?’ the Healer said. ‘I’ll pop along a bit later to see how you’re doing and administer the next round of salves.’


I gave him the mirror back and he and the other Healer left with a bright cheerio. Dad shuffled back up to my bedside and sat there, still wringing the brolly between his hands. And even though I was the one in the hospital bed with the bloody cursed wounds, I felt like I had a duty to make him feel more at ease in what was a totally alien place for him. I told him about the stuff I’d been doing at school before the holidays, my friends, even how I’d got a boyfriend. I figured it must have been Albus who’d been asking after me earlier, so I told dad that he wasn’t usually that scruffy.


‘Him?’ dad said, disbelieving. ‘What a handsome lad!’


And somehow that was when it got to me. Not that I’d ever been pretty, or thought of myself as such, and the way I looked wasn’t massively important to me when I knew I could do pretty much naff all about it. I think it was just realising that these weren’t just felt-pen marks that would wash off and be gone and never bother me again. Thinking that these were real scars I’d have for the rest of my life, cursed ones at that, which would probably burn and wake me up in the night. That’d given me this odd almost-smile that didn’t go with any of the rest of me. That it was a constant reminder of the moment I’d gone to feel for Scorpius’ pulse, only to turn around and get slashed to pieces by some man I didn’t even know the name of.


I cried so hard I ended up giving myself a headache. Proper ugly tears, all noisy and messy, that stung the cuts on my face. I thought I might give myself a nosebleed too, but eventually I calmed down enough to wipe my eyes on a blanket and realise all I’d done was make my head pound and my wounds weep along with me. Dad sat there through the whole thing and didn’t say anything. I was kind of glad. I didn’t want anyone to touch me or talk to me, and when the Healers had come back and were done applying more salves and making me swallow more painkillers, I pretended I was exhausted and they all left so I could sleep.


I didn’t sleep in the end. My mind was going over the scars and the last conversation I’d had with Scorpius. I realised that I hadn’t even found out what’d happened to his dad; what if he was dead too? Then I wondered about the scars a bit more. What would I tell people at home? I decided I’d been in a car accident, cribbing from a story I’d seen in the local paper a while back. I rewrote it in my head and substituted a few characters, and suddenly I could picture myself being driven along a dark country lane in the dead of night with Scorpius at the wheel. I wasn’t cursed, I was just in a car accident. My best friend died.


Not that I could sleep, mind. The curtains around my bed were only to give me a bit of privacy. Nearly everyone had them, I'd only seen a couple of people in the ward on the few occasions a Healer had let me get up and go to the loo. So I could hear everything that went on, and all through the night an old lady a few beds down kept crying for her mum. That ship has sailed, I felt like shouting back. I reckon I dropped off when the sun started to rise.


Then late the next morning I woke up and Albus was at the gap in my curtains, fist raised like he meant to knock on some invisible door. He was in pyjamas and slippers like I was, looking a bit sheepish.


I waved him in. I felt like crying again.


‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Long time, no see…how are you doing?’


‘Shit,’ I said, knowing there was no point in lying about how I felt when I had such obvious scars. ‘You?’


‘Getting better,’ he said. ‘You been awake much? I think they had you under for ages.’


‘Only a few times. Mum and dad popped in. Saw some Healers. A nice lady brought me soup yesterday.’


For some reason, this reminded me of how me and Scorpius had had to eat soup for breakfast, and my eyes burned.


‘Did either of them fill you in?’ he said.


‘No,’ I replied, and then I had to put a hand over my face to hide the fact that I’d burst into tears again. Pretty restrained tears – I didn’t want him to see, for some reason – that made my breath all sharp and shaky and meant I couldn’t speak.


‘Hey, it’s alright,’ Albus said, patting me gently on the back with a bandaged hand. ‘It’s okay, I know, it’s tough.’


‘I didn’t want that!’ I choked. ‘I didn’t want – lost him!’


‘Er…’ Albus put his hands on my shoulder. ‘Nobody’s filled you in?’


I couldn’t move or speak anymore. I was trying so hard not to cry that it was making me cry harder.


‘Come on,’ he passed me a tissue from the bedside table. ‘Don’t cry. It’s…well, it’s bad, but not all bad.’


I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood and tried to stop crying. Albus gave me a moment or two before he started speaking again, by which point I was hiccupping.


‘Okay…what’s the last thing you remember?’


‘I…bright light. Healers talking to mum. And…the cold room.’


‘Okay. That’s about the last thing I remember, too. See the curse that got you – look, I’m going to try and explain this as logically as I can,’ he said. ‘I got a little bit of it too, only a tiny bit on my hand – but the blast made me hit my head on the wall…I was out for a couple of minutes. You came round before me but…but. We were lucky – the man chasing us was being chased by Aurors, and they got there right away. We were so lucky-’


‘And?’


‘And…well. We were really lucky. Like, miracle lucky. I mean…Scorpius was dead.’


I ended up bursting into tears again.


‘No, listen!’ he gripped me by the shoulders properly this time. ‘Past tense. Look, I’ll be logical, okay? He was only just alive when we got there, his heart stopped for a full three minutes – but the Aurors…shocked him, I don’t know, I’d come around by then and it was…weird. He jumped up and…there were sparks coming out of him, Flora. Dancing on his skin. I mean, I’ve been to see him and he can give people electric shocks, it’s freaky-’


‘He’s alive?


I think he clocked what’d been going through my head. His whole face changed. I felt his fingertips grip my shoulders tighter.


‘Flora, he’s alive!’



a/n: okay, let's not lie. that was the hardest trio of chapters I've ever had to write. only two left to go!

Chapter 23: { 22 }
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I could’ve punched him in the face for not telling me earlier. Instead, I threw a pillow at him, which was the next best thing I could do without messing up my cuts. Unluckily, Albus ducked, and so the pillow went whizzing through the curtains and probably ended up on the other side of the ward.


‘What was that for?’ he yelped.


‘He’s really alive? You’re not lying?’


‘Why the hell would I lie about that?’


I shot upright and threw my arms around him, forgetting how painful the scars were. It must have hurt him too, because the two of us broke apart pretty hastily.


‘He’s alive,’ I repeated, feeling a bit hysterical. ‘He…oh, god…but I killed him!’


Albus gave me a look of sheer horror. ‘What?’


‘He gave me his inhaler and…and.’


‘Oh, no,’ Albus slumped back in his seat, smiling weakly. ‘No, not that, not that at all – the cold room, Flora. It was well below freezing. It's a...firing range, or something. Where they test out how spells perform under different conditions. And the cold, well, it just…makes you shut down.’


I felt a bit of a chill on me when he said that. I was on the verge of asking him to shut the window when I realised it was just my imagination.


‘Hypothermia,’ I said.


‘Something like that.’


‘Well…and he’s alright now?’


Albus grimaced. ‘Ehh…if you count being electric as alright, then I guess he’s alright, but…yeah. No. Sort of. He’s not the same.’


The relief I’d felt at knowing he wasn’t as dead as I’d thought faded a bit. ‘Not the same,’ I echoed.


‘Not really,’ he said.


Then other pressing issues occurred to me. ‘What about his dad? Did they find his dad?’


‘I…well, actually,’ he rose from his chair. ‘My dad wondered if he could have a word with you. He’s waiting outside. Just wanted me to go in first and…see how you were.’


‘Oh, okay,’ I said, sitting up straighter and tucking my hair back behind my ears. On the left side, it stubbornly fell back into place again. Albus ducked out of the curtains and reappeared a moment later with his father in tow. I’d never really appreciated the similarities between them before, but it was obvious now. Albus was taking on the grim, stoic look that his father had.


Mr Potter took the chair and I drew my feet up so Albus could perch on the end of the bed. The two of them exchanged glances, and then Mr Potter sighed, removed his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose.


‘Where to start?’ he said wearily.


‘Is Scorpius’ dad – Mr Malfoy, I mean – is he alright?’ I asked.


Mr Potter smiled ruefully. ‘Yes, in a way. I’ll get onto that.’


‘Oh.’


‘As you…well, not even as you know. You do know. There’s been a lot of…anti-muggle sentiment lately, in the press and – well, even in the Ministry. Turns out it was concentrated in the Department of Mysteries. Call themselves a terror group. Apparently we’ve only scratched the surface. I know,’ he said patiently, when my mouth inadvertently dropped open. ‘The Minister wouldn’t believe it at first.’


‘We blundered right into their base,’ Albus cut in.


‘And Scorpius’ father was with them.’


Something inside me seemed to harden. ‘Does he know?’


‘It’s not like that-’ Albus started, but his dad interrupted.


‘He wasn’t with them. He was their hostage. They were trying to…extract old Death Eater methods. Curses they used, bits of old dark magic, the like. That’s why they wanted his son, why they chased you and Scorpius halfway across the Department – they wanted him as ransom. We found, ah, we found a photograph-’


‘What you told me about,’ Albus nodded to me. ‘When the Slytherins took a photo of him. It's…Fletcher, his parents are in this group.’


The three of us sat in silence for a bit. For some reason, I thought I felt sorry for Fletcher. He was a year above me and technically an adult in the magical world, but a kid all the same. It was all his parents’ doing, evidently, instructing him from afar. Just like Scorpius had only suffered because of who his dad was, and I’d only been picked on because of my background. We were living with the legacy of the second war, just as we seemed on the verge of falling into another.


‘So what happened?’


Mr Potter looked over at Albus, who shook his head. ‘You tell it,’ he said.


‘Well, we always suspected something. I have to say we didn’t expect it to be in the bloody Ministry, but I suppose they were sticking to the old principle of hiding in plain sight.’


‘Right under your nose all along,’ Albus said.


‘Yes, thank you, Albus. At first, though, we thought it was just a rogue. Someone working alone. We had no idea it was as bad as that…never could have appreciated…anyway, as you probably know, the alarm was raised. And…’


‘I told her about Scorpius,’ Albus muttered.


Mr Potter turned back to me and raised his eyebrows. ‘Well, yes. We brought him back from the dead.’


‘Can I see him?’


‘Not quite yet. Give it a few days. I expect they’ll want to keep you rested a bit longer. Take your time, Flora, you’ve been through a lot. I’ve got to get back to work now, but some more of us from the department will be round to see you soon. Got to get statements written up and such,’ Mr Potter said, rising from his chair.


‘The curse they used on you…it was never meant to be taught to anyone,’ he said, and there was an odd bitterness in his voice that hadn’t been there before. ‘It was a cruel invention of…well, it doesn’t matter, but the Death Eaters shouldn’t have got hold of it and these gits shouldn’t have either.’


Then he raised a hand and swept back a length of greying hair from his forehead, exposing a fading scar the precise shape of a lightning bolt.


‘Don’t be afraid of scars,’ he said, smiled, and then took his leave.


Albus stood and nodded to me. ‘I’ll be back soon,’ he said, before following his father.


*



No matter how much I wanted to see Scorpius, the Healers absolutely forbade me from any sort of exercise beyond loo breaks and the odd stroll around the three sides of my bed. I had too many wounds, they said, that were prone to re-opening, and they didn’t want to chance me moving about too much.


They were bloody weird wounds too. Took an age to heal, no matter what salves and bandages the Healers put on them. And they kept on weeping, which I guess was the curse’s work. Albus came to visit again once they’d taken the bandages off his hand. The cut went right across his palm and wouldn’t close up. It put paid to his stint as Seeker for the Gryffindors, he said, because there was no way he could keep hold of a broom with a hand that could barely even grip a fork. He was definitely in much lower spirits. He said he almost didn’t want to go back to school. In his words, he wanted to get out there and fight the bastards right away.


But there were nice things about the confinement, though. Not brilliant things, but it wasn’t all bad. The food reminded me of the sort of stuff you got at Hogwarts, and I had plenty of time to work through my reading pile, which I’d started compiling over two years ago. Albus was allowed to come and see me most days. Sometimes he brought board games and stuff so we’d have something to do when we ran out of chat. And sometimes we just sat in silence, reading, wiling away the time.


I’d been there for a fortnight when Fauna turned up. Her visit was totally out the blue, and it seemed she hadn’t expected it either. Our Head of House had authorised the Floo transfer at the last minute, and she came bounding up to the ward with her lazy pink tracksuit bottoms still on like she hadn’t had time to change.


It was like the past few months had never happened. She dropped into the chair next to me, hair falling out of her top knot all over the place.


‘Did you want me to bring you the homework?’ she said, and we fell about laughing. I had to be careful not to smile too wide in case the cut on my cheek opened up again.


‘What have I missed?’ I asked.


‘Ooh,’ she rubbed her hands together. ‘You don’t want to know. It’s all very boring. We’re just revising for mock exams right now. What happened to you?’


‘Eh…’ I pointed at the scars.


She giggled behind an ink-stained hand. ‘Everyone’s talking about you. It was in the papers. Professor Bones did a special talk with us in the common room, it was sooo serious, it was like you’d all died.’


‘Yeah, well…did you hear about Scorpius?’


Her face fell. ‘I…yeah. I asked if they’d let me see him, but…no.’


‘Apparently he can give people electric shocks.’


She smiled weakly. ‘Sounds like a lame superpower.’


‘Albus got away with a cut on his hand. But he says he can’t play Quidditch anymore.’


All her initial chirpiness had gone. ‘That’s awful,’ she said.


‘Yeah,’ I gave her a thumbs up. ‘Fun times for us.’


‘Oh! In better news,’ her face lit up momentarily. ‘The Welcome Witch asked me to give you this.’


She took an envelope from the pocket of her hoody and passed it over. My name had been printed on the front in careful block capitals. I slit it open and took out the card inside; it was a typical thing from a shop, with delicate flowers on the front in pastelly colours.


The printed message was pretty standard: get well soon. But below it, someone with flamboyantly loopy handwriting had written to the bravest girl on the planet, love from us. And the signatures were a little bit hard to read, but if you looked hard, you could make out the names Myron, Struan, Faris, Maeve, and Jarvis.


‘It’s them,’ I whispered, and my fingertips stroked the signatures lovingly. ‘How did they now?’


Fauna tugged the card from my hands. ‘Who?’


‘The Weird Sisters,’ I breathed, and all of a sudden she started to giggle again.


‘Flora, this will be worth, like, mega amounts of money when you’re older.’


*



A full month had gone by before they were okay with me actually being around and about in the daytime, although they insisted it’d still be another week or two before I could be out in the fresh air again. The three of us – me, Albus and Scorpius – were all on the fourth floor, and I wasn’t to go anywhere but there and the fifth, where there was a tearoom my mum sometimes met me in.


It was odd getting my legs to work properly again after being confined to a bed for that long. I’d never really had much of a chance to use up energy, so I hadn’t really been eating as much. I definitely looked a bit thinner when I had a chance to look in a mirror on loo breaks. I daydreamed about Hogwarts feasts a lot but never felt hungry enough to eat much beyond soup and grapes.


I’d actually started to wonder if everyone was playing some massive trick on me. Maybe they were deluding me that Scorpius was still alive just to make sure I didn’t have a complete breakdown or something. I never got to see him. Apparently they were doing all sorts of tests with him. I started to privately think of him as Scorpius: The Wonder Boy, the Miracle Man, Back from the Dead, Scorpius the Zombie, etcetera etcetera, but then I reminded myself that surviving death is no mean feat and I ought to take it all a bit more seriously.


I didn’t go and visit him the first few days I was allowed to wander about. I think I was scared of what he might be like. Scared to acknowledge what we’d been through. I had an irrational fear of going in and finding out he actually was a zombie. An irrational fear of casually going to greet him, only for him to start chewing on my brains or something.


Then there was a rainy Thursday when I sat in bed reading for a full three hours before I thought screw it, threw back the covers, and left the ward. The Healers were used to people like me wandering about in their pyjamas and slippers, and a few of them nodded when I went past. It was the first week that the cursed wounds had all healed.


Albus had told me where the ward was and it wasn’t exactly difficult to find, but I took a few moments to myself outside the door before I knocked and asked the Healer on duty if I could visit. She was totally fine with it and had apparently heard all about me, so let me in quicker than expected. I hung by the door for a moment or two, looking around. Biding my time.


It was a nicer ward than mine, but more long-term. The Healer gently touched my arm and pointed me towards the end of the room, where a bed was set near a window. It felt like all of my internal organs had somersaulted at once and crash-landed.


I was going to visit a real-life zombie.


I tried to act casual. Paced myself, walking carefully in my inappropriately fluffy purple slippers. I tucked my hair behind my ears, forgetting that the curse had lopped half of it off at the left.


Scorpius was cross-legged atop the sheets, engrossed in a book. He looked up when I was about a metre away. Smiled, quite politely. He’d definitely gone paler. His skin was only a touch darker than the white plaster cast around his wrist. Only a little bit darker…but only a lot greyer. I thought he'd been monochromatic before, but now he looked like he'd been drained entirely of blood.


‘Hello,’ I said, taking the chair next to his bed.


‘Hi,’ he said.


‘So…how are you?’


He raised an eyebrow at me. ‘Well…I broke my wrist. And I died. That’s not such a big deal, though.’


I had to fight hard not to giggle, half out of sheer nerves, half because the whole situation was kind of absurd. But in trying to suppress that giggle, I ended up making a weird sound through my clamped lips that sounded a bit like fpptrrpptpfppppt.


‘And you?’ he said, not quite meeting my eye. I figured he was taking in the scars.


‘I’m going to tell everyone back home I was in a car accident,’ I said. ‘But they’re cursed, you know.’


‘Well, I was there,’ he said. ‘For…some of it.’


‘I thought I’d killed you,’ I blurted out. ‘I had your inhaler.’


‘I thought you were dead. You…um, I don’t think you want to know how much blood…you know, came out. Practically had to wade through it.’


‘Oh. Yuck. I meant to ask…how much do you remember?’


‘Dunno,’ he shrugged. ‘Just waking up in that cold room. Like when you have a dream about running, then you fall, then you wake up with a jump. I sat up so quickly I nearly gave one of the Aurors a concussion.’


‘Anything before that?’


‘Dunno,’ he shrugged again, nonchalantly, only a shadow had crossed his face. ‘Just running about.’


‘And have you seen your dad?’


He did this weak smile that showed off how colourless his lips had got. ‘Yeah. He’s alright. He actually…well, it’s kind of funny. He was there when they brought me back – as soon as the Aurors got there he got free and went to fight with them. The newspapers made a big deal of it, you know. My dad fighting next to Harry Potter. I reckon…I dunno, this is just a theory,’ he said, staring down at the book in his hands. ‘It was meant to happen. Like Potter – well, everyone on that side, I guess – had his hand out to help dad up for years. And he only let it help him up when we got involved.’


‘Is he alright?’


‘Back at work,’ Scorpius laughed, but it sounded hollow. ‘In Law Enforcement now, though. He didn’t want to go back to the Department of Mysteries. Can’t think why…’


He folded down the corner of the page he was on, shut the book, and placed it on his bedside cabinet. I got the feeling there were bits of the story he didn’t want to tell. A part of me wanted to ask what dying was like more than anything, but I decided I’d let it slide.


‘I got a letter from The Weird Sisters, by the way,’ I said.


‘Really? Wow. Yeah, Fauna said - she came by the other day, did she see you too?’


‘Yeah. She’s been a few times.’


‘Apparently school’s gone nuts since this happened. Fletcher’s been expelled.’


‘Poor kid,’ I said, without really thinking. Scorpius gave me a look of the utmost disbelief. ‘I mean…it’s not his fault. His parents made him that way. Made him fight their fight.’


Scorpius fell silent for a bit before saying ‘Yeah…I get what you mean.’


Then he changed the subject at once, thrusting his arm towards me. ‘Feel how cold I am,’ he said.


I gripped it like we were shaking hands. It was like gripping stone.


‘I thought you gave people electric shocks,’ I said.


He smiled. ‘Only when my heart rate goes up. I know, it’s freakish.’


‘Why does that happen?’


Scorpius laughed again, but he looked a bit sad this time. ‘I don’t know. Spell residue, they think. But, you know, you don’t get good things for free. I guess there’s a price to pay if you want a second shot at life.’


He let go of my hand and I stuck it in my pocket, trying to make it warm again.


‘Your scars don’t look as bad as Albus made out,’ he said.


‘I’ll grow into them.’


We lapsed into silence once more.


‘He said you’d changed,’ I ventured. ‘But I think you’re mostly the same.’


‘Except I’m dead.’


‘Ignoring that, though…’


He laughed, properly this time. ‘I don’t feel any different. Not at all.’



a/n: phew. That was exhausting. For writing these last few chapters I actually did the unthinkable and used my 'sad classical music and film themes' playlist for inspiration as opposed to my regular blunderland one. It was a tough couple of days' writing, I tell you.
Only one chapter left to go! Thank you for reading, please don't murder me, and also thank you to Gina for the real 'we killed Scorpius' cake (and my honourary ‘we killed scorpius’ bakewell tart in acknowledgement of the many miles between us). Disclaimer: our two dead Scorpii are totally unrelated. Or, you know, maybe they are. Muahahahaa.

Chapter 24: { epilogue }
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We were lucky to get good weather that final day. Really lucky, because even a drop of rain would have wrecked it. If it had rained, we certainly wouldn’t have sat by the lake like we did.


But, in a weird show of luck, the day we left Hogwarts happened to be one of the brightest days Scotland got all year. Brilliant sun, t-shirt-and-shorts type weather, with a slight breeze to make it all manageable. If it hadn’t been like that we might have been forced to sit in the common room with the others and that would have been a bit tragic.


We were down by the lake for a full three hours. I had a bit of a headache because it was so sunny, so I had to down a few phials of Pugnas Pugh’s Patented Painkiller Potion before I really felt much up to chatter. I was sweltering, too, because we’d all agreed to keep our uniform on right till the last minute. Even without the robes, the cardigan was stifling. But I didn’t want to take the special cardigan with the Hufflepuff crest off until I was absolutely certain I was done with the place.


Likewise, Albus had kept his Gryffindor jumper on even though it was getting a bit short in the sleeves. You could see a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead underneath his messy black hair, no two strands of which went in the same direction these days. Scorpius had his Hufflepuff cardigan on too, but somehow I doubted he was suffering in the heat when his body temperature was roughly equivalent to that of an ice cube.


For the first hour we didn’t really talk much. We lay back in the grass with our faces pointed skywards, eyes shut tight against the bright light. It’d been a heavy week. There was the feast the night before, then the little ceremony with just us seventh years and our Heads of Houses in the Great Hall that morning. Though we’d all chosen careers and training programmes months ago, it had only been in the last week that we’d felt like we were actually going onto something else beyond the castle walls.


Except we’d had it a bit differently, I guess. The three of us had never finished sixth year, and when we’d come back in September for our seventh I think we all felt about a decade older than the people we were sharing lessons with. Not that anyone really made an effort to make it easier for us. Everyone had apparently been gossiping about us in our absence, but once we got back it was like they’d shut up for good.


I guess none of us really noticed how different we were. We’d got used to it over the summer. I couldn’t really remember what life had been like without the scars, and it wasn’t a surprise when I caught sight of them in the mirror anymore. But the first day back at school was horrible. People avoided me in the corridors like I had the plague, staring like their eyes were magnets and I was a lump of metal. I almost didn’t want to come back for day two. But I did. And I made it to the end without any major incident, although I couldn’t escape a few minor ones.


Anyway, that’s what I reckon made it all so weird. We were used to ourselves. I was used to the fact that, when it came to mortality, Scorpius was a bit of a grey area. And Albus’ dramatic fall from grace didn’t seem so dramatic when you’d seen him unravel bit by bit, day by day. Well, I think it’s a bit unfair of people to call it a ‘dramatic fall from grace’, anyway. I think I realised that he was always an average bloke with the same sort of neuroses and insecurities as the rest of us. He was just a bit better at putting on a bit of polish and acting the part of the golden boy.


I think it’s the defining memories of us that people have these days that make them so keen to give us that customary two-foot berth in the corridors. Before everything at the Ministry happened, I’m willing to bet all my worldly possessions that most of the school didn’t have a memory of me at all. Then once we came back for seventh-year, it was probably the sight of me with my scars and that ugly almost-smile I couldn’t drop.


And for Scorpius, if they recalled that, before, he’d been that helpless one from Hufflepuff with the asthma attacks and the ancestry of mugshots in the History of Magic textbooks – well, now he was the kid who’d almost broken my neck when he’d given me an electric shock at the top of the stairs. Or the kid that seemed to go about with a trail of rumours following him. Some people didn’t believe our story; they thought he was a weird Ministry experiment. An Inferius gone wrong. The nastiest rumour was that he’d tried to off himself and been hopeless enough to only half-succeed.


Then there’s Albus. Albus, and the time everyone likes to bring up, when he resigned as a Prefect in front of everyone in his house. When he’d clutched the badge so tight that cursed wound had opened up again and – well, I wasn’t there, but if you’re to believe the stories, by the time he threw it down on the table it was all slick with blood. Quite fitting, because Gryffindor’s main colour is the same rich, arterial red. But it’s not like I saw it happen. All I know is that his resignation got him a detention.


But maybe the thing that shocks people the most is how, when they give us that two-foot berth and the evil eye in the corridors, it’s not just the three of us. More often than not, there’s a little crowd. There’s Fauna and Lucy, and the four other Hufflepuff boys who resolutely refused to move out of their dormitory when someone suggested they keep clear of the undead boy. There’s even Tabitha and Georgina. There’s a regular little gang of people who’ve stuck with us, no matter how many rumours get bandied about. And no matter how many of us are, strictly speaking, dead or in Gryffindor. That’s the only thing I think matters.


I didn’t think I wanted to be normal anymore. I didn’t give a fig about the other people in my year. Half of them probably wanted my sort out the school anyway. My mind was already outside school, already on the Healer training Professor Bones had advised I take up. I was pretty certain Albus felt the same about his decision to go into Magical Law Enforcement, and I guess Scorpius did too, even if his vague ambition to work in a kitchen somewhere was a bit woollier than ours.


But I guess there was a little part in all of us that would miss the school. We had lived there for seven years; it’s not the sort of thing you can give up easily.


I’d miss the kitchens and Agnes and her trolley on the Hogwarts express for sure. But that’s just me.


So after soaking up the sun for an hour, we spent a bit of time reminiscing about the rubbish parties we’d been to in the last few months, the exams we’d sat, the bits of the Library we’d got to know like the back of our hands during study leave. We skipped over sixth year and went further back into the past, as per usual. We never talked about sixth year much. We kind of skimmed over it like it had never happened. As far as I was concerned, I’d never dumped Albus and he’d never dumped me, although we’d been nowhere near being a couple in the past eleven months. It was like we’d jumped from fifth year to seventh and somehow become friends along the way.


But, as per usual, we ran out of stuff to reminisce about. Albus checked his watch and said ‘It’s nearly four. The bell will go soon.’


Even if we had nothing to say, I felt like I wanted to stay on the banks of the lake forever.


‘We better get back,’ Scorpius said, and the three of us traipsed back up to school for the last time.


There was one last ceremony, though, that took us back to the lake, although it was to a completely different part. We’d been near the fringes of the forest, but when we came back in our robes it was at the little jetty nearer the castle. A fleet of little boats waited for us on the water. The Heads of Houses and the Headmistress stood by the front doors and waved us off; this was a journey we got to make by ourselves.


The atmosphere matched the weather. Everyone was laughing and talking excitedly, swapping addresses, signing rolls of parchment for one another. But a few people looked sad too, and you could tell that people were uncertain about leaving. They formed a queue for the jetty all the same, everyone pairing off and then reforming into little groups of four like they had done in first year. We clung to the back and waited as a three, until the crowd shuffled in front of us and Lucy Weasley was deposited at our side, boatless, looking for some familiar faces to make the final crossing with.


Our boat was one of the last to leave. We all clambered in, me next to Scorpius, tucking our knees and elbows in so they didn’t knock – the boat was made for first years, after all, and it’d been a long time since we’d been that small. It moved by itself, gliding smoothly through the dark water. Albus made some joke about the Giant Squid lurking beneath in wait, and our laughter sounded sharp in the warm air.


It was hard to laugh when I could sense them on the opposite bank. Those things Scorpius had talked about for years that I sometimes suspected were some symptom of madness. I couldn’t see them, as such, but I knew they were there. I could hear their hoofbeats as they spirited carriage after carriage up to Hogsmeade station and, if I looked out the corner of my eye, I could catch sight of something - the tip of a wing, a stick-thin limb. I could collect these little glimpses bit by bit into the black skeletal horses you only saw if you’d seen death too.


I’d only seen a three-minute death. I only got a strange taste of their presence, a spoiler for something I still had to learn. I’d grieved for a boy who’d never died. They evaded me, never more than a shadow, haunting somewhere in the background.


Scorpius nudged me with a cold, bony elbow. ‘Don’t worry about them,’ he said. ‘They’re harmless.’


And we drifted on further towards the edge of the lake.


*



We may act like we’ve forgotten about sixth year, but I haven’t. Sometimes I look back and cringe at the stupid stuff I did, and sometimes I look back and laugh, and then sometimes I marvel at how much I changed in the space of few months. Like how I went from being a nothing to having my name printed in the newspapers, even if I did pick up a few cursed wounds along the way.


And in the great scheme of things, it wasn’t a good year, and there’s no way I’d admit to wanting to go through it again or anything. But I guess it had to happen and I guess it made me a better person. Or if not better, certainly a bit more sensible.


I promised myself I won’t let it get to me. I keep telling myself it made me better, and the scars don’t mean a thing. I keep telling my family I was in a car accident and keep my chin up. I keep reminding myself that at least we all got out the Ministry alive. Well…sort of.


I keep reminding myself that if you think everything is mega, in the end it will be.



a/n: so it's been about a year since I started this. Back in January 2012, I was sitting in front of my laptop with a cute yellow banner, a title, a summary, and a vague desire to write something love-triangley after a blog I'd read by the wonderful GubrathianFire. and it was meant to be just that: a love triangle, a smidge of coming-of-age, and the subtle sending-up of half a dozen stereotypes (plus a wee dab of my own feminist ramblings). and then, er, I'm not sure what happened but I suddenly decided I wanted to make the lives of my characters hell and murder Scorpius. I think it was around the time I made a purple banner instead.
I guess the love triangle and the coming-of-age themes sort of stayed, although they got a bit diluted by the end and a lot of that satirical intent got buried under my desire to write about awkward moments and lipgloss. I liked writing something a bit more shippy for a change, (and I still find it hilarious that people were starting to pick their ships /in the introduction/), even if, well...hate to break it to you, guys, but none of them reached the harbour. I’ve been plain old Team Flora since day one~
I'm thinking of writing something else with these characters, so keep your eyes peeled for a story called 'Counting Daisy Roots' that'll be up soon. It'll be short, and probably won't be about Flora, but...it'll be there. If you've got any comments or suggestions you'd like to make for a follow-up, fire away in that review box! Any loose ends, any characters you want to hear more about - not only will I have that story to write, but I'll be doing a proper full edit of this soon and your input would really help all my polishing.
Time for some acknowledgements. First, to GubrathianFire, without whom this story would never have happened. To justonemorefic, for beta'ing the action scenes and for suggesting that Flora/Fauna be the endgame ship with the two of them driving a car off a cliff a la Thelma and Louise. To my fellow writers ToujoursPadfoot, TenthWeasleyWriter, WitnesstoitAll, Aiedail, hdawg, Marzipan, Ericajen and Harriethopkirk, for putting up with my hours of complaining about this story on skype. And to Tallesttower, for suggesting that my plot include a zombie apocalypse and Albus becoming the CEO of Staples (I promised an undead Scorpius and I delivered…as for Albus' ascent to greatness in the stationery industry, I'm working on that. Noot noot.)
And to you lot, sitting behind your computer screens reading this. Thank you for shipping and squeeing and constructive crit. Thank you for coming up with such brilliant ship names as Floral, Florp and Sauna, and for reviewing and favouriting and all that jazz. You have all been very mega and I think you're a bit zoomified too.
Fun fact: I’ve dyed my hair eight times since I started writing this fic. You can get a lot done in a year, I guess.
Until next time... ♥

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