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.
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.’
‘So what did it teach you?’
‘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.’
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.’
‘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?’
‘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.’
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.’
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.
‘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. ♥