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Animal Magnetism by Flavia
Chapter 16 : Crups, Parties and Unexpected Discoveries
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 10

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Chapter Image by Contour @ TDA

February was creeping closer and with it came a source of excitement for me and welcome distraction from both my heartbreak and exams: My 16th Birthday!  I absolutely love birthdays, especially when they’re mine.  Since my birthday is during the school term, I haven’t had a birthday party since I turned 11, something that my friends decided needed to be rectified.  It was late Saturday afternoon and the Gryffindor Quidditch team had just destroyed Hufflepuff, resulting in a victory party in the common room.  Dinner time approached, and the party began to die down as students headed downstairs for something to eat or off to catch up with friends from other houses before it got too late.  Jane, Albus, Fred and Will had been treated like heroes and were now crashed out in chairs near the fireplace.  I sat next to Jane on the sofa and she had her head resting on my shoulder as she listened to the conversation.  Gwen sat cross-legged on the floor in front of Rose who was amusing herself with weaving tiny braids through her friend’s hair.  Justin and Gwen seemed to be having their own quiet little conversation but none of us could begrudge them.  Louis and Fred were having a delightful time playing exploding snap as loudly as they could, earning them dirty looks from a group of seventh years who were trying to study at a nearby table.

“Oi, Would you two shut it!” Dominique, who happened to be one of the studiers, shouted across the room.  “Some of us are trying to work here!”

“It’s called a library!” Louis shot back at his sister, but the two boys did lower their volume after that.

“I love parties,” Fred mused and he shuffled the cards once more.  “I wish we could have more parties but I can’t think of an excuse.”

“You could play more Quidditch matches each year,” Louis suggested. “Hence, more victory parties.”

“No,” Will groaned.  “James works us hard enough as it is!”

“And more to the point,” Fred interrupted. “Did you just say hence?” He burst out laughing like he’d just heard the funniest joke ever.

“What?” Louis replied in defence, laughing despite himself.  “It’s a word!  I used it correctly, didn’t I Rose?”  We all looked at Rose, who nodded her head in the affirmative.  Louis gave Fred a triumphant smile.

“How about a birthday party?” Jane spoke up.  I looked down in surprise as I had half wondered if she’d fallen asleep.

“Whose birthday?” Louis asked, watching Jane with interest.

“Lucy’s of course,” Jane replied, lifting her head from my shoulder.  The Weasley and Potter kids (with the exception of Rose) looked at each other in confusion.

“But Lucy’s birthday is in October…”Fred began.

“Not Lucy your cousin you dolt, this Lucy!” Jane hooked her thumb in my direction, a look of exasperation on her face. Rose rolled her eyes at Fred but smiled at me.

“That’s a great idea!  We should definitely have a birthday party for you Luce,” She grinned.

“When’s your birthday?” It was Albus who spoke, and I looked over at him nervously.  It was so stupid of me to think he would already know, after all, he had barely acknowledged my presence before this year, why would he know something like my date of birth?

“Next Thursday,” I replied.  “February 23rd.”

“But that’s perfect!” Fred exclaimed.  “We’ve got a Hogsmeade visit next weekend, so we could get some supplies, then your birthday’s the Thursday after that and we could have the party on the following Saturday, two weeks from today.”

“Is that enough time to get a party sorted?” It was Justin who asked this time, he and Gwen having joined in our party discussion.

“Yeah, that’s plenty of time, I can organise things in the kitchens and with going down to Hogsmeade next week we can sort drinks out, no problems.” Fred suddenly looked extremely organised as he ticked things off on his fingers.

“This will be great Lucy, you never get to have a party,” Rose smiled at me across the circle of people.

“Guys, you really don’t need to do this, I mean it’s only my 16th, it’s not like I’m going to be of age or anything.” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed at my friends making such a fuss over my birthday party.

“Are you kidding?  This idea is brilliant!  You’ve given us a very legitimate reason to throw a party in just two weeks’ time, Lucy I could kiss you…in fact I think I will!” And before I knew what was happening, Fred jumped up on the seat next to me and planted a kiss on my cheek.  I giggled in surprise and pushed him back off the sofa, where he fell into the deserted pile of exploding snap cards, creating a loud bang that attracted stern glares from Dominique and her friends once more.  We all covered our mouths to stifle our laughter as Fred pleaded with his cousin for forgiveness.  I couldn’t help but notice though that even though she was smiling, Rose’s eyes were serious, and they were sharing a very significant look with Albus, who suddenly looked furious.  When he realised I was staring at him, his face broke out in to a smile that seemed so genuine I began to wonder if I imagined his stern expression.

The news of the party spread around Gryffindor house like wildfire, and once the prefects had agreed to it, excitement in the common room began to rise like smoke from a chimney.  People I’d hardly ever spoken to (and a few people I didn’t even recognise) were suddenly my new best friends, clapping me on the back or smiling at me in the Great Hall and saying things like ‘can’t wait for your party Lucy, it’s going to be great!’

The truth was, Fred and Louis were taking care of most of the plans and ‘my party’ wasn’t really mine at all.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just being used as an excuse.

Wednesday afternoon, Albus caught up with me as I headed out of the entrance hall towards Hagrid’s hut for Care of Magical Creatures.

“So are you excited?” He asked me cryptically.

“About?” I replied, hitching my bag up higher on my shoulder.

“About your birthday,” Albus replied with a smile.  “Surely you’re a little excited, I mean 16 is a big deal.”

“Not as big at 17 though,” I reasoned, to which Albus rolled his eyes.

“So are you trying to tell me you’re not excited about your birthday?” Albus said, disbelief in his voice.

“I didn’t say that,” I replied.  “In fact I happen to be extremely excited, but I get excited about all my birthdays so this one isn’t really any different.”

“Yeah but you’re having a party this time, surely that should raise the excitement levels a bit, everyone’s really looking forward to it,” Albus looked at me hopefully and I sighed, wondering how to word what I wanted to say without sounding like I was sulking or being ungrateful.

“Look, I’m excited and I’m glad about the party and all, but I’m not about to go dancing through the castle because a couple of people decided the anniversary of my birth is a good excuse to have a get together.  Especially when most of those people haven’t cared before this year and probably still wouldn’t care if it wasn’t for the party.”  I bit my lip, wondering if Albus was going to get cross at me or call me a spoil-sport.  People who had never been invisible didn’t really understand what it was like sometimes.

“I guess you’ve got a point,” Albus said apologetically.  “I’d never thought of it like that before.”

“It’s ok,” I mumbled, wishing I hadn’t taken it out on him.

“No it’s not really,” Albus continued.  “I mean we’re supposed to be friends and I didn’t even know when your birthday was until Jane brought it up the other day.”

“Really, it’s no big deal,” I said, feeling embarrassed now that my statement had guilted Albus in to apologising.

“Well, I hope you’ll still enjoy yourself, and you know that your real friends are just happy to share the day with you.” We reached the crowd of students near Hagrid’s shack as Albus said this.

“You sound like a sappy greeting card,” I teased, smiling to show Albus there was no animosity between us.

“Just working out what to write in yours,” he teased in response.

“Alrigh’ listen up!” Hagrid boomed over the chatter, causing everyone to quieten down.  “Terday we’re goin’ to look at a very common magical creature, one that is often kept by us magical folk as a pet.” I noticed a few people share wary glances.  Hagrid’s idea of a ‘pet’ could often be somewhat unusual.  Hagrid remained oblivious and continued to talk.  “We’re goin’ to be lookin’ at crups, which is a kind of magical dog.”  Most of the worried faces changed in to an expression of relief, Crups were usually pretty tame.  “Now, the first thing that yeh goin’ to do is have a look at some crups and make a list of distinguishable features,” Hagrid indicated to a large crate near the steps to his hut, the lid was leaning against the side of the crate and a soft barking noise could be heard from within.  Hagrid reached down and pulled out a small dog with short hair, a brown and white pattern on his fur.  His tongue was hanging out and his tail, which was forked at the end, was wagging excitedly.

“Now find a partner, and come and get a crup.  They’re all pretty young so they might nip at yeh fingers a bit, but they’re teeth are tiny so it shouldn’t hurt too much,” Hagrid held the dog out to Will, who was standing right in front of him.  I glanced around the group for Pippa, my usual partner in this class, but I couldn’t seem to find her.

“Want to be my partner?”  My heart skipped a beat as I turned to Albus, who was watching me with an expectant look on his face. 

“Uh,” I glanced around the group again, finally spotting Pippa.  However, she was talking to Will, who was holding the crup out towards her, both of them laughing as it tried to escape Will’s grasp.

“Um, sure,” I smiled at Albus.  “I’ll go get us a crup I guess.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Albus replied.

“Oh Luce, sorry, Will asked me to be his partner, I probably should have checked with you first,” Pippa said apologetically as I passed them. 

“Oh no, that’s ok.  I’m going to go with Albus today,” I explained, indicating to the boy in question.  Pippa looked at him and then back to me, eyebrows raised in a silent question.  Very aware of Will standing close by, I just smiled and headed over to the crate.   There was one crup left when I looked in the large wooden box and I was sure he had to have been the runt of the litter.  He looked up at me and barked with excitement when I lifted him from the box and immediately tried to lick my face.

“Isn’t he adorable?” I sighed to Albus as I reached him, cuddling the tiny dog to my chest.  “He’s so excited!” I laughed as the tiny forked tail thumped against my arm.  “Yes you are, you’re excited aren’t you?” I said to the dog as I scratched him behind his ears.

“I think somebody is in love,” Albus teased, causing me to look up, startled.

“What?” I exclaimed.  “Oh, you mean the dog,” I said, letting out a silent breath of relief as I realised what he meant.

“Who did you think I meant?” Albus laughed.  I laughed too, but I couldn’t look him in the eye for a few minutes.

“Actually, speaking of being in love…” Albus began after I’d pointed out a few of the distinguishing features of the crup.  I looked up at him, my heart in my throat, full in the knowledge that the rest of this very sentence could break my heart once and for all.  He’s going to tell me who he’s in love with, Oh Merlin no, I can’t take it!

“Alrigh’ come back in, yeh’ve had enough time,” Hagrid called out, stopping Albus from finishing his sentence and saving me from something I probably didn’t want to know.

Hagrid asked us to share what we thought were the main features of the small dog.  Interestingly enough, I wasn’t the only one whose hand shot up in the air this time; several other people had comments to make on the crups.

“It’s like a Jack Russell…well except for the tail,” A Hufflepuff boy spoke up.  Most people looked at each other in confusion, although a couple of students seemed to have had the same thought.  I noticed Will nodding his head with a smile on his face.

“Right yeh are,” Hagrid beamed.  “Ten points fer Hufflepuff.  Fer those of yeh who grew up in Wizardin’ society, yeh might not have heard of a Jack Russell.  It’s a non-magical dog that muggles are quite fond of and they look very similar to crups, except they don’t have a forked tail.  Now why do yeh think tha’ sort of thing might be important ter know?”

I immediately raised my hand and ignored the chuckle from Albus beside me.  “Lucy?” Hagrid beamed down at me.

“Well, crups are extremely friendly towards witches and wizards but don’t really like Muggles,” I started.  “So if a muggle thinks a crup is a non-magical dog, they may approach the crup, not realising it may try to hurt them.”

“Well done, ten points fer Gryffindor!” Hagrid said.  “Now what do yeh think this means fer a wizard who might like ter keep a crup as a pet?”

“Smarty pants,” Albus whispered in my ear.  I shivered involuntarily as his breath blew across my neck.  At the sudden movement, the crup in my arms stirred and then tried to bury his nose in the crook of my elbow.

“Shut up,” I replied teasingly once I’d regained my senses.  “Do I come to Quidditch training and call you a show off?”

“Fair call,” Albus smiled.  “Anyway, what I was saying before –”

“Lucy?” Hagrid called on me before I’d even realised I’d thrown my hand in the air.  Heart pounding, I tried to remember what the question had been.

“Um, crup owners need to have the dog’s tail cut with a painless severing charm when they’re puppies?” I said, hoping nobody else had mentioned that.

“Righ’ yeh are,” Hagrid continued to explain how the crup’s tail was removed to make them indistinguishable from other dogs.  Mercifully, Albus remained silent for the rest of the discussion, though I couldn’t expect him to be quiet once Hagrid set us the task of drawing a diagram of our crup, labelling the major features we had discussed.

“Right, you’re doing the drawing part,” Albus said, holding his hands out for the Crup.  “Unless you want Hagrid to think we let the crup draw it.”

“Aw but….oh fine,” I conceded, handing over the crup to Albus.  He laughed as the puppy wriggled in his arms happily, and I smiled at the image as I dug a piece of parchment out of my bag.  If we ever got married, we could get a pet crup, I thought to myself, and then looked up at Albus in panic as I felt the blush fill my cheeks.  Oh Merlin, please tell me I didn’t say that out loud!

“You ok?” Albus asked, looking up from the wriggling dog. 

“Um yeah, fine.” I said hastily, relieved I’d kept that ridiculously embarrassing thought to myself.  “Just try to keep him still.”

“Well I’ll try, but he’s not really one for sitting still,” Albus smiled down at the puppy and scratched his head affectionately.  How I managed to stop myself from melting into a puddle right then and there, I’ll never know.

“So anyway,” Albus said after about five minutes of drawing; I was just finishing off the tail.  “What I was trying to say before was-”

Oh no, here it comes!  I’m not ready to hear this, I’m not going to –

“Do you think maybe Will might have a crush on your Hufflepuff friend over there?”

If I had been drinking I would have spit it out everywhere.

“Sorry?” I squeaked.

“Well I dunno, maybe he’s just being friendly, but they seem to be getting along pretty well if you ask me.”

I managed to look up and followed Albus’s gaze to where Pippa was sitting next to Will on the grass.  They were teasing their crup pup with a few small twigs, both laughing as they chatted.

“I um…well I don’t know,” I stammered.  Albus looked at me curiously and I looked back down at my picture to hide my embarrassment.  “Yeah, I guess maybe.” Albus didn’t say anything else on the issue, and he stayed quiet until I finished the drawing. 

“Right, now you’re going to want to cuddle our little friend here while I do the writing part, are you?” He said, holding out the puppy.

“Is that ok?” I asked, praying he’d say yes.

“Are you kidding?  You saved me the horror of having to draw; Lucy, you can have anything you want from me!” Albus eyes sparkled when he said that, though I wondered how much he’d be smiling if he knew what I really wanted from him.

I was impressed with how much Albus had remembered from the class discussion as he wrote carefully on the parchment, labelling my picture neatly.  The crup seemed to have tired himself out and settled down on my lap where he promptly fell asleep.

“Isn’t he just the cutest, sweetest most beautiful thing you’ve seen in your entire life?” I asked Albus as the puppy rested one of his paws across his nose.

“Yeah,” Albus said quietly.  “I guess he is.” Then he looked away, something I didn’t quite recognise in his eyes.

Saturday morning dawned cold and crisp yet the sky was a clear blue, the perfect day for a trip to Hogsmeade.  The girls and I chatted cheerfully as we pulled on jeans and warm jumpers, digging out matching scarves and hats from our trunks.

“Scorpius and I are going to try and get away for a sort of secret date,” Rose giggled quietly to us once Molly had excused herself to take a shower.  “I might need you girls to cover for me though.”

“Oh a secret mission, I like the sound of that challenge!” Jane whispered dramatically, causing us all to laugh along with her.

Fred and Louis were practically bouncing off the walls when we ran into them in the Great Hall.

“We’re going to sort out all the supplies Lucy, don’t you worry about a thing!” Fred grinned across the Gryffindor table at me.  “Madam Rosmerta and I have an understanding so we won’t be short on butterbeer or pumpkin juice.”

“Although we should probably make a stop in at Honeydukes too,” Louis suggested.

“Well Justin and I are going on a date, do you think you can manage without us for the day?” Gwen asked, looking up from her pancakes.

“That depends.  Are you planning on going to Puddifoots? Because I don’t think I could allow that.” Louis raised an eyebrow seriously in Justin’s direction.

“It’s none of your business where we’re going,” Justin replied.

“That’s a yes,” Fred muttered under his breath to Louis.

It was a lovely morning to head down to the village, as we all headed down the long sweeping Hogwarts driveway.  Gwen and Justin walked with us, holding hands as they led the group.

“Are you getting deja vu?” Albus asked me, nodding in the direction of the two lovebirds of the group.

“Reminds me of the time we followed them on their first date,” I grinned up at him.  A memory of falling flat on my face in the snow after Albus had put his arm around my shoulder came to mind and I blushed, turning my head quickly to stare straight ahead.

“They were so boring weren’t they?” I forced myself to laugh casually.

“Unbelievably,” Albus laughed in response.  “That was a pretty good day though.”

“Yeah, it was,” I smiled.  “That was the day that…” I stopped talking mid-sentence, leaving an awkward silence.  I had been about to say that was the day that Rose first flirted with Scorpius, but I had stopped myself just in time.  Unfortunately, my unfinished thought had created an awkward silence between us and Albus was watching me curiously.

“That was the day that what?” He prodded.  I racked my brain, trying to think of something else to say.

“That was the day we saw Michael in the Three Broomsticks,” I said, pulling the thought out of thin air like the brilliant witch I am.

“Oh yeah, I remember that, he was all over some…” Now it was Albus’s turn to leave his sentence unfinished.  He looked at me uncomfortably and then turned his head to focus on the approaching village.  “Well anyway, he’s a stupid git,” He mumbled, and I wondered if I was supposed to hear it.

“Yes.  Yes he is,” I laughed, showing Albus that I wasn’t upset about it anymore.  He smiled again, a small absent-minded smile, as though he’d just remembered something funny.

“Right, you lot, let’s go crazy in Honeydukes!” Louis suddenly interrupted as we reached the outskirts of the village.  From where we were standing we had a clear view along the main street and the famous sweet shop, already busy with customers heading through the front door.

“”Bye guys, have a nice day!” Gwen waved as she and Justin broke away from the group, heading further down the road.

“Enjoy Madam Puddifoots!” Jane teased while Louis and Fred made gagging noises.  Everyone laughed, except for Justin and Gwen who pretended not to hear us.

We had all agreed to pool some of our money in order to buy sweets for the party and Fred had actually managed to pass the hat around the common room, getting a few trusting Gryffindors to contribute as well, which meant we would be able to go on quite the shopping spree.

“So what are we getting?” Jane asked once we had all crowded inside, her eyes sparkling like the proverbial kid in a…well a candy store!

“I think Lucy should get first choice,” Albus said, flashing me a smile that made my knees turn weak for a second.  “What’s your favourite?”

“Well I doubt that Honeyduke’s stock toast flavoured chocolate,” Jane snorted, causing the other to look at me curiously.

“What?” I exclaimed.  “I like toast; there’s nothing weird about that!” 

“I don’t think ‘like’ is quite the word,” Jane laughed.  “Maybe ‘I am addicted’ would be more appropriate?”

“Look, I thought we were here to buy sweets, not put my breakfast food choices on trial,” I grumbled, to which the others nodded in agreement.

“That would be ok if it was just a breakfast food for you,” Jane teased me quietly, before ducking under a display of sugar quills.  Albus watched her curiously before smiling at me again.

“So what do you like?  I seem to recall you find Bertie Botts a little bit of a risky choice,” He said.

“Well yes, though they are not to be completely written off,” I replied.  “I, however, happen to be rather partial to chocolate frogs.”

“Chocolate Frogs it is,” Albus cried, and Louis headed off to the counter to ask for an entire box full of them. 

It was kind of exciting being let loose in Honeyduke’s with the amount of money we possessed, and before long, we’d gathered and paid for a huge amount of sweets.

“Well that was exhausting!” Louis said dramatically as we left Honeyduke’s.  “Who’s up for some lunch at the Three Broomsticks?”  We all agreed ad headed across the road to the pub.  We settled at a table near the front door where we could see the bustling street through a small window.  We ordered food and chatted happily as we ate. 

“I’m going to go visit Dad,” Fred announced as we finished the meal.  “Anyone want to join me?”  Will said that he would but the rest of us were happy to sit in the pub for a little while longer.  Clouds had appeared and covered up the clear blue sky of the morning, so I wasn’t in any hurry to head back out in to the cold just yet.

“Anyone want another butterbeer?” Albus suggested.  Everyone, except for Rose nodded yes, so Albus dragged Louis up to the bar to help him carry the drinks.  As soon as the boys were gone, Rose frantically indicated for Jane and I to duck our head in close to her.

“Right, now’s my chance,” She whispered.  “I’m going to sneak off and meet Scorpius.  I saw him head in Honeyduke’s about ten minutes ago and I think he might still be in there.”  Rose pointed through the small window to the sweet shop, still as busy with customers as it had been earlier that morning. 

“What do we tell the boys?” I asked, knowing that with my awful lying skills that I wouldn’t be able to make something up on the spot.

“Tell them I promised Gwen that I’d keep an eye on their date and then I needed to pop into Scrivenshaft’s to get some new quills.  Tell them I said I’ll try to catch up with you later,” Rose said the excuse quickly, as though she’d rehearsed it in her head several times.  She glanced up at the bar, where the boys were waiting for our drinks, Louis chatting away animatedly while Albus tapped his fingers on the wooden bar top.  “Please girls?” Rose looked up pleadingly, and I knew that there was no way we could say no.

“Of course, go get him tiger,” Jane teased with a wink.  Rose giggled, mouthed ‘thankyou’ and then slipped out of her chair and through the door, hazarding a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure her cousins hadn’t noticed the exit.  I watched through the window as she hurried across the street and in to Honeyduke’s, not even bothering to wrap her scarf around her neck or pull her gloves back on.

“Where’s Rose?” Albus asked immediately.  Without hesitation, Jane rattled off the excuse Rose had provided.  The boys seemed slightly surprised at her leaving so suddenly, but accepted the reasoning all the same.  Albus moved in to Rose’s seat which put him next to me, although since there were only four of us left at the table, there was no excuse for me to sit close by him.  Glancing around the table, I realised that it felt like I was on some sort of double date.  Yeah…a fantasy double date where you and Jane get the guys of your dreams! My inner voice mocked me.  However, as I looked over at Louis and the way his eyes lit up when he looked at Jane, I doubted one couple on this imaginary double date wasn’t going to stay imaginary for much longer.  I sighed to myself as I wished I could catch Albus looking at me that way.

“Lucy?  Is something wrong?” Albus said quietly, and I realised that he’d heard me sigh.  Quickly I pasted a smile on my lips.

“Nope, everything’s fine,” I said cheerfully.  “Tell me, how did you go with that Potion’s essay that Professor Alchers set for homework this week?”

I managed to keep a check on my emotions while we sat in the pub finishing our drinks, and for once I was glad about our upcoming exams because it gave me something to talk about without thinking too much about what I was saying.  I was just managing to relax as we finished our drinks when Louis threw a glitch in to my plan.

“Fred mentioned that Uncle George was getting in a shipment of some new joke products.  I thought I might go over and have a look; anyone want to join me?” He said casually, though his eyes flickered momentarily to Jane as he posed the question.  I sat in silence, waiting to see what the others would say.

“I’ll come with you, I haven’t been to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in ages,” Jane said immediately.  I watched my best friend curiously, wondering what she wanted me to do, before I could do or say anything however, I felt a hand clasp over mine under the table.  A sudden jolt shot through my heart as I realised it was Albus holding my hand.  I glanced at him in surprise, my breath caught in my throat.  Albus looked almost as surprised as me, but he looked pointedly at Louis and Jane and then back to me, giving a quick shake of his head.  I looked across the table and understood his meaning instantly.  Louis obviously wanted an opportunity to spend some time alone with Jane and Albus had obviously agreed to help that happen by keeping me out of the way.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Fred and Will’s earlier ‘decision’ to leave had all been part of the plan.  I almost let myself feel excited that Albus had agreed to spend time alone with me in Hogsmeade, not just in the library, until I realised that he’d probably expected to detain Rose too.

“You guys go ahead, I don’t like to buy things just before my birthday, you know presents and all,” I smiled at Louis and Jane.

“I’ll keep you company,” Albus said, as thought he’d only made the decision that very second.  Jane looked at me, an unspoken question in her eyes and I was hit with the absurdity of the of the situation, all the silent conversations being thrown across the table, Albus and Louis, Albus and me, and now Jane and I were trying to communicate without talking.  A giggle burst from my lips and I tried to make it sound like a cough instead.  Jane raised an eyebrow at me again as she stood up, shrugging in to the cloak that Louis handed her.  I felt my shoulders shaking with laughter as they left the pub but I managed to hold it in until they were outside; then the floodgates opened and I burst out laughing so loudly that the two wizards at the next table gave me a startled look.  Albus looked at me like I was crazy and then burst out laughing as well, earning us even more stares from the other patrons in the room.

“Maybe we should go,” Albus said through his laughter.  “Fancy a stroll through the village?” 

“Ok, sound like a good idea,” I giggled, trying to breathe properly.  Albus stood up and pulled me to my feet, drawing my attention to the fact that he was still holding my hand.  My laughter suddenly died out as I stared at our hands, clasped firmly together and feeling like the most natural thing in the world.  My heart skipped a beat, stopped dead and then started beating at triple speed.  I felt warmth fill my cheeks and I quickly pulled my hand away, hoping that Albus didn’t notice my embarrassment as I wrapped my scarf around my neck and slipped my hands into my gloves.  I wondered for a brief moment if Albus might reach out and take my hand again as we left the Three Broomsticks, but he simply clenched his hands into fists before shoving them deep into his pockets.

“Where would you like to go?” He asked, turning to me with a smile that made my knees turn to jelly and naturally led to me tripping over my own feet in the snow.  Albus reached out an arm and caught my elbow.  “You seriously have a problem with falling down don’t you?” He teased me. 

“You’re just learning this now?” I replied sarcastically.  And you have no idea that you make it so much worse, I thought.  Albus let go of my elbow once I was steady again, but instead of shoving it back in his pocket, he sort of held it in the air between us, as though trying to decide what to do with it.  I watched him, intrigued, not really sure what to do or say.  Suddenly, he lifted his arm and bent it so that the elbow was pointed in my direction.

“Here, I’m thinking that with all this snow around, you might need some help to stay upright,” He teased. 

“Hey, I walked all the way here without falling over!” I exclaimed, putting my hands on my hips.  Albus raised his eyebrows at me, arm still extended.  I wanted so much to take his elbow and stroll through Hogsmeade, arm and arm with Albus, but the cautious part of me warned me against doing anything too forward.  I bit my lip as my mind played tug-of-war with my heart, the conflict tearing me up.  Suddenly, throwing caution to the wind, I quickly linked my arm through Albus’s.  “Fine,” I mock grumbled.  “But this doesn’t mean I need your help, I’ve managed alright by myself so far.”

“Oh and who was it that I had to take up to the hospital wing a few months ago because she fell over and broke her leg?  Oh, that was you, wasn’t it?” Albus teased me.

“It was a broken ankle, thank you very much,” I bantered back to him as we ambled down the street together.  “And like you can talk, I seem to recall a Quidditch match last year where you fell off your broom in front of a whole stadium of people!”

“Well…yeah well that was all part of my plan,” Albus scoffed.

“Really?  All part of your plan huh?” I raised an eyebrow incredulously. 

“Yup,” Albus gave me a smug smile.  “And if you remember the rest of that story, I also caught the snitch, winning the match and being raised up as a great Gryffindor Quidditch hero.” 

“Yes, that’s true,” I replied serenely.  “And then that very night, you told me that Quidditch players get far too much glory, I believe the word you used was ‘ridiculous’.”

“You’re unbelievable,” Albus laughed, instinctively tightening his arm, pulling me slightly closer to him.  I felt myself lean automatically into his arm, feeling slightly giddy at how natural it felt.

“That was the night you fell in love,” He said, causing me to trip over again.  However, the tight grip Albus had on me meant that I barely stumbled as we kept walking.  I saw a small smirk cross Albus’s lips but I was too distracted by the statement he had just made.

“Sorry?” I gasped.

“You fell in love, you know with Voldemort…or was it Kenrick?” His smirk widened and he looked at me out of the corner of my eyes.

“I never admitting to being in love with Voldemort,” I replied, wondering if I was only imagining the light-headedness I seemed to be experiencing.   Albus and I continued to stroll through the village, and for a while I could almost believe we were on a date, except that instead of that awkward ‘what are we going to talk about next?’ feeling that usually came with a date, it was just easy and comfortable.  I realised just how close Albus and I had become and I knew that no matter what, I wasn’t going to let something stupid like unrequited love ruin our friendship; although I knew my reasons for hanging on to Albus’s arm were less than platonic, but I ignored that minor detail.

After about half an hour, it began to snow, lightly at first, but it seemed to be getting gradually heavier.

“Do you want to head back to the castle?” Albus suggested.  “It’ll be warmer there and we can play exploding snap or something while we wait for the others.”

“Or we could go to the kitchens and see if the house elves will give us some treacle tart,” I added as we turned towards Hogwarts.

“Ah, a girl after my own heart,” Albus laughed.  I laughed his use of the turn of phrase too, but it was a nervous, forced sort of giggle.  Why does he say things like that?  Doesn’t he realise he’s driving me crazy?

“So how are you really feeling about O.W.L’s?” Albus had changed the subject again, and I was glad for the safe choice of topic.  “You know, besides the stock response everyone has developed, how are you feeling?”

“Alright, I think,” I replied.  “I’m definitely going to fail Divination and History of Magic, but I should be right with the others.”

“You’re not going to fail Divination, Trelawney loves you, remember?” Albus shoved me playfully with his shoulder.

“Yeah, but our professors don’t grade the O.W.L exams, remember?” I elbowed him back.  “So I really don’t stand a chance.”

“Ah well, it’s only Divination,” Albus smiled.  “Not like it’s important or anything.”

We continued to share our thoughts on the pressure of our O.W.L’s all the way back to the castle, where Albus had to eventually let go of my arm to yank the large entrance doors open.  Once inside, I pulled off my hat, shaking the snow from it and then from my shoulders.  Albus and I fell into a companionable silence as we made our way up to the common room.   We decided to take the hidden staircase, behind the painting of the ice-skating wizards.  It was fairly dark in the tunnel, but glowing blue torches were lit periodically in brackets on the wall, so there was enough light to see each step we climbed, though we couldn’t see very far ahead, which is why  we didn’t see the two other people in the tunnel until we were almost tripping over them.  Two people standing on a landing.  Two people standing on a landing, kissing.

Rose and Scorpius.

AN: SO check me out...two quick updates in a row!  It's my gift to all of you, my wonderful readers, who support me and motivate me with your fantastic reviews and kind words.  I'm so excited that so many people enjoy this story and you'll be glad to hear I've had a bit of inspiration recently so hopefully there will be a few more updates not too far away.  Now, of course, here is your look at the next chapter.  Lots of drama in Chapter 17 :)

“He’s a Slytherin!  He’s a slimy, smarmy, stupid snake and he’s going to break her heart.  How can you not have a problem with that?” I couldn’t avoid the accusing tone to Albus’s voice and my own sense of anger flared up.

“Well he cares about Rose, and I thought maybe that makes him ok.  Anyway, I don’t know Malfoy from a bar of soap and I thought it would be best to give him the benefit of the doubt, rather than making assumptions about his personality like some arrogant berk!” I was getting worked up now but I couldn’t help myself.  I thought Albus and I had been getting closer but he obviously didn’t understand me at all if he thought I’d let Malfoy hurt Rose.  “Your cousin actually cares about someone and you make her feel awful for it, then you yell at me because I protected my friend’s secret.  You know what?  Malfoy’s not the git Potter, you are!  A selfish, obnoxious, git!”

Oh sweet Nifflers, I called him a…. oh crap.

Anger and adrenaline was racing through my veins, and I could feel tears forming, so without another word, I turned and ran up the stairs as fast as I could.  When I reached the main corridor, I turned right and continued running towards the common room.  My chest was tight and I gasped in short bursts of air as the tears began to flow down my cheeks.  Albus and I had fought, he’d yelled at me and I’d called him a git.  Months of friendship, of laughing and smiles, of holding back my nerves and fluttering emotions so that we could get to know each other properly and it was all ruined in a few shouted sentences.  I felt sick.

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