Al sat at the Slytherin table during supper, chatting with Russ about the Porksoff Ploy. Sharon had gone to sit with her friends in Hufflepuff, as she was beginning to feel like she never sat with them at meals anymore. She had a point, Al knew. Sharon hung out with him and his friends a lot, and while Sharon knew Eddie’s middle name and the occupation of Kev’s dad, Al knew only the basics of Sharon’s other relationships. She wasn’t truly close to her friends, Al knew, and he could tell she enjoyed being part of such a close group whenever she sat with him.
Sharon wasn’t the kind of girl Al had used to picture going out with; she was quiet and hardworking, two words that didn’t appear in Al’s dictionary. But she was intensely loyal, and the first person he’d had real conversations with in a while. Sharon had opinion about adult issues, and while she could seem a little bland on the outside, she was brimming with personality on the inside. She dragged him out of the person he’d been pressured into becoming a long time ago. She believed in him. And she was truly capable of love, something Al couldn’t say for anyone else in his group.
Al spared a last glance at Sharon’s back, and looked around the Great Hall for Scorpius. Probably holed up in the dormitory, thinking of crazy new plays for the game.
But no, Scorpius was just to the right, by the Hufflepuff table, talking to Sharon. Al had been so preoccupied with Sharon, he hadn’t noticed. She had turned around on the bench so that she was facing Scorpius, hands folded neatly in her lap. As Al watched she laughed at something Scorpius had said. Al turned back to his food with a smile. He’d talk to Scorpius in a minute.
But when Al turned again, Scorpius was still talking with Sharon. Both of them were into the conversation, gesturing and talking over each other. “Malfoy!” Al called. Scorpius was his best friend, and Sharon was his girlfriend; it pleased Al that they got along, but wasn’t he allowed some time with one when the other was occupied?
Scorpius held up one finger without looking away from Sharon, as if asking for more time. Al glanced at his friend, and Scorpius’ eyes were as bright as they were when he was talking about Quidditch. Al turned back to his meal, and managed to push Scorpius to the back of his mind. After all, they’re just talking. This is all good. I want my girlfriend and my best mate to bond.
“Al,” Eddie said then, “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Al shrugged, “I just wanted to talk to Scorpius, but he’s sitting with Sharon for some reason.”
“They’re getting to know each other; it’s a good thing, right?”
Al smeared his mashed potatoes into his plate. “’Course.”
“It’s going well with Sharon, then?” Eddie asked.
Al looked up. Whenever he discussed relationships with Eddie, it was usually about Eddie’s latest crush. When they did talk about Sharon, Eddie didn’t have much interest in Al’s intense attraction to her, but rather wanted the details of physical aspects. Eddie wasn’t to blame, of course; he’d only kissed a girl once or twice, Al knew. But the fact that Eddie wanted real news was gratifying.
“It’s going amazing,” Al replied, “I’ve never been so close to a girl. She’s an incredible person.”
“Good.” Eddie smiled.
The next time Al remembered to glance back at Scorpius, the boy was sitting closer to Sharon, squeezed in next to her, since someone else had sat on Sharon’s other side. While Al watched, Sharon laughed and lightly punched Scorpius on the shoulder, as they shared a joke. Al finished his meal in silence, all too aware of the joy behind him. Scorpius never skipped a meal to talk to someone else, even when he was dating.
After supper, the Slytherins drifted back to their common rooms, but Scorpius stayed back to walk with Sharon. Normally Al knew Scorpius would be only using Sharon to get closer to one of her friends; after all, Sharon hung out with some pretty hot girls, and it was a great opportunity for Scorpius to jump in and be all friendly and funny and manly. But none of Sharon’s friends walked with her; it was just Sharon and Scorpius, and Al slunk down to his common room alone, uneasiness beginning to creep into his stomach.
He couldn’t exactly put a finger on his worry; he just knew it felt odd that two of his favorite people at school had just spent more time together during a meal than with him. Maybe Al had been spoiled, because he and his Quidditch team had always been the most popular Slytherins, and they were quite used to the attention. But whatever it was, Al wasn’t happy about Sharon and Scorpius.
Al spread out his homework on a table by the fire, and set to work on an essay for Muggle Studies. Around him, students chatted and laughed. Dash was snogging the girl Eddie liked in a corner, and Russ was playing Exploding Snap with Jon. It only took Al a few minutes to become distracted. He’d just convinced himself that he was glad Scorpius and Sharon were becoming close when the door to the common room opened, and Scorpius stepped in. He looked grave.
“Al,” he called, when he got within speaking distance, “Can I have a word?”
Al gulped followed Scorpius up to their dormitory, and Scorpius didn’t say a word.
The room was a mess, as it had been since first year. Scorpius’ Quidditch magazines and books were spread out everywhere, Al’s trunk looked like it had had an engorging charm placed on it before exploding, and Russ had pasted posters everywhere, from hot Muggle girls to his favorite Quidditch team.
Scorpius pushed Beating Bludgers: A Study of Defensive Strategies in Quidditch off his pillow, and hopped onto his bed. Al leaned against my own bedpost, and sincerely hoped Scorpius was just having doubts about his father’s sanity again.
“Al, you’re my best friend,” Scorpius began, starting determinedly at the ceiling, “And you’re allowed to get mad, but I’d rather you not.”
Al chewed his lip and felt his shirt grow damp under his arms. He felt a joke growing in the back of his head, something funny that would ease the tension, but he couldn’t find the right words. And Scorpius had never looked that serious before.
“Al, mate… I think I’m getting a crush on Sharon.”
Fireworks burst in Al’s head, and he staggered at Scorpius’ words. “What? Sharon? Scorpius, you can’t—!”
“I’m not going to tell her or anything!” Scorpius said quickly, sitting up, his eyes wide and apologetic. “I just wanted you to know…”
“Why? If you weren’t going to do anything about it, why would I bloody have to know?”
“I don’t know, I just thought, maybe you should…”
“Well just back off her, all right?” Al said angrily. “Damn it, I knew I should’ve been more worried when you sat with her at supper!”
Scorpius shrugged, and sadly studied his fingers, avoiding Al’s face. “She’s just really nice, Al, and funny, and caring, and so sweet… I can tell why you’re in love with her.”
Silence descended at Scorpius’ last words, a thick, heavy quiet that Al choked on. He bit his lip so hard he tasted the metallic flavor of blood.
“Al? You— You didn’t know?”
“What? Scorpius, we’re sixteen! We’ve been going out five months! What do we know about love?” Al spat, sounding meaner than he’d wanted. He grabbed his head, paced a step, spun in a circle. He looked up at his best friend of six years, the one he’d made despite their fathers’ history, despite Al’s dad’s disbelief and his Uncle Ron’s anger.
“Al, it’s just, when you look at her… the look on your face… it’s all light and caring and loving…” Then Scorpius added so quietly Al couldn’t be sure if he’d heard correctly, “Sometimes it’s better than the way my parents look at each other.”
Al deflated. He sank to his knees and leaned against his bed. “Scorpius, I don’t know how to love someone. How do I know if she’s the one? Sometimes, when I look at her, I can’t ever picture marrying someone else… but we’re just kids. We’re not even out of school. I can’t fall in love with the first girl I ever seriously date.”
Scorpius sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I dunno, mate. I just have a little crush; you’ve just got to wait and see what happens.”
“But Scorpius, what if I mess up?”
Al awoke the next morning, and it was as dreary as a Monday could get. He’d surprised himself last night by falling asleep as soon as he’d stumbled into bed, as soon as Scorpius had left the dormitory, looking nervously behind him. But his dreams had been plagued with confusion, worry, and… love?
Al was fairly sure he wasn’t in love. Scorpius had chosen the wrong word for Al’s feelings, really. Love meant that the sun rise and set on her, that she meant more to him than himself. Did he love Sharon?
How could Al really know, anyway? He’d “dated” a few girls before Sharon; they had lasted a few weeks at most, and often, Al didn’t even seriously kiss the girl. They came and went in a blink, and when they were gone Al had always felt better off, his chest free of the weight of caring for a creature as strange as a female.
When he’d started going out with Sharon, Al had known she was special. He cared for her deeply, and her happiness meant the world to him. He would do anything to make her smile. But how could he know if he’d run into another girl in a few years, who he felt a million times stronger about? With no real relationship experience, Al couldn’t be certain.
Al was sure that people didn’t fall in love at sixteen anymore. That had happened in the olden days, with people like Gram and Grandpa Arthur. Al had always been convinced that his parents and Uncle Ron were a fluke, an exception. Surely people weren’t lucky enough to fall in love with their best friends? But maybe… Maybe people in the present just blew off their love early on, and when they finally realized their mistake, it was too late?
So when Al awoke, he was bleary-eyed and numb. How could he face Sharon? She would know at once something was up; he was as translucent as a window to her.
But maybe… Did Sharon already know that they were in love? Was she just waiting for him to figure it out? And when he told her he knew, she would hold him and comfort him and promise him they’d be together forever…
Al shook the thought out of his head. He’d heard too many stories of people marrying their school sweethearts, and ending up in tragic divorces just a couple years later. He could not be in love. He was a kid. He shirked responsibility and played Quidditch. Why should he worry about it?
It was all Scorpius’ fault, that was what it was. That damn kid had ruined everything.
Al sighed, stood, and began to dress. It was early, for a change; usually Al was the last one up, but today all his friends were still snoring around him. The light the peeked in from under the drapes was fuzzy and fresh.
Al grabbed his bag and made his way downstairs, and then out of the common room. He walked up to the Great Hall, his stomach rumbling, and actually enjoyed the peace and quiet. His thoughts roamed free in the silence of the halls, and Al felt his mood lift. Did it really matter if he loved Sharon or not? He cared for her deeply, he wanted to keep on dating her, get to know her better… and that was all he needed to be sure of for the time being.
Al began humming as he strolled along the corridors, and he could smell breakfast before entering the Great Hall for the first time. Usually breakfast had been ready for at last half an hour before Al got there, and when he did, the room was clogged with students gobbling it up.
Just before Al turned the corner to the Great Hall, a hand came from behind him and dragged him sharply into a secret passageway hidden by a tapestry. And then Sharon was on him, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, her mouth glued his. With a laugh, Al kissed her back warmly. When they stopped for a breath, Sharon breathed dreamily, “You know, I love you so much.”
Al froze, and Sharon’s eyes bored holes in his. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, backing off, “I guess we aren’t really ready for that…”
But Al pulled her closer and breathed in the summery smell of her hair. “I love you too.” He said firmly. “It doesn’t have to be a huge thing; we’re not getting engaged if we say it. You mean more to me than anyone else, at least for now. I love you.”
Sharon grinned, and Al smiled back. He’d have to remember to thank Scorpius someday.
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