It was very dark, and for a moment she didn’t know where she was. She was definitely lying in a bed, but the hangings surrounding her body were not the usual blue ones of the Ravenclaw Common Room.
The Hospital Wing… she realized. But how had she gotten here? The last thing she knew, she had been sitting in the Common Room, opening up a letter from someone. Who had the letter been from? Not Terrence…
It was from her mother, Aurelia remembered. She scrambled around in the bed, yanking the hangings open, and coming face to face with none other than Evander Dearborn, who had pulled a chair up beside her bed and was sitting in it, sleeping. It didn’t seem like a very comfortable way to sleep. Was he the one who had brought her here? Why?
Evander’s eyes opened slowly in the darkness of the Hospital Wing, and as Aurelia stared into them, it all came back to her.
Dear Aurelia, the letter had said.
I hope you’re doing well. Brazil is lovely – I hope you’re keeping up with my articles in the Prophet. Your father and I wanted to let you know that our divorce has been finalized. My wedding is set for May – soon, you’ll be a half-sister!
“Aurelia,” said Evander, rubbing his eyes. “How are you feeling?”
Aurelia just stared at him, as – to her horror – tears began to roll down her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her face with her hands, sobbing. She couldn’t believe it.
“Aurelia?” said Evander more urgently, moving forward to stand over the bed. “What’s wrong?”
Six years. Aurelia had spent over six years of her life waiting for that letter. She remembered sitting in the Great Hall during breakfast as a first year, watching other students receive letters and packages from their parents. Some days, she had stayed behind late as everyone else went off to class, hoping that her owl would come. Six years. And now after all these years, the long-awaited letter had finally arrived, only to confirm her worst fears that her parents didn’t love each other, and were doing their best to forget that she existed.
She sobbed into her hands, ashamed to be crying in front of Evander. She knew that plenty of people’s parents got divorces, but the way that her mother had said it - our divorce has been finalized - meant that it had been in the works for months, and they hadn’t bothered to tell her about it. Her mother had probably met some young Brazilian man and forgotten all about Aurelia, content to leave her alone in the Proudfoot house until the garden grew up all around it and suffocated Aurelia. She felt like she was suffocating, now – the sobs came so hard that it was hard to breathe. Like she was choking on sadness.
“Aurelia…” All of a sudden, she was being pressed into Evander’s warm body, and his strong arms were wrapped around her.
She let him hold her as she cried. She couldn’t remember the last time she had cried into somebody’s shoulder like this. It was strange, especially because it was Evander’s shoulder she was crying into – but it felt a lot better than crying alone. She took her hands away from her face and threw them around Evander’s neck.
“I hate them!” she said in between sobs, and Evander squeezed her tighter, stroking her hair.
She felt furious and miserable as she remembered all the summer vacations spent alone with Bunny in that big, empty house. She remembered the day in her third year when she gathered up all the framed photographs and photograph albums in the house, and dumped them into her parents’ old bedroom, and slammed the door. She hadn’t been back into that room since that day.
“I came into the Common Room and you were on the floor,” said Evander as she cried. “I was so worried. I brought you here straight away. Just like the first day of classes.”
Slowly, Aurelia began to calm down. Even when she stopped crying, she stayed where she was, clinging onto Evander.
“You’re always making me worry,” he said with a soft laugh. “You really drive me crazy.”
Aurelia let her arms drop to her sides. Evander let go of her, and sat down next to her on the bed. His honey-blond hair was a mess, and there were slight shadows under his eyes. He must have had a hard time sleeping in that chair.
“You could have just gone back to the dormitory,” she said.
“Yeah,” agreed Evander. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Aurelia wiped her face on the sleeve of the standard Hospital-Wing pajamas, which were very square and unflattering. They should have a gift shop and sell these things – they’d fly off the shelves, she thought, her sense of sarcasm slowly returning.
“Well, thanks,” she said a bit awkwardly. “You’d better go get some sleep.”
“Right,” said Evander with a shy smile. “See you at breakfast, Aurelia.”
Evander left, and Aurelia fell back into bed, with a terrible headache.
Aurelia’s headache was much worse the next day.
When Evander had taken her to the Hospital Wing, he hadn’t noticed the letter lying by her side. The next morning, some curious Ravenclaw had picked it up, read it, and proceeded to tell everyone he or she knew that Aurelia’s mother was shacking up with a dozen Brazilian men. There seemed to be no end to the whispers. During Defense Against the Dark Arts, Aurelia was seconds away from jinxing a group of Hufflepuff girls who kept giggling and shooting her pitying looks. Luckily, the bell rang, and Rose dragged her out of the classroom before she could cause any serious damage to the girls’ faces.
“Why did you do that?” she said reproachfully as they sat down to lunch together at the Gryffindor table. “Maybe I could have fixed their bloody ugly–”
“Hello, girls,” said Scorpius, dropping in next to Rose and slipping an arm around her waist.
“You shouldn’t be here,” giggled Rose, looking around at the surrounding Gryffindors, several of whom were shooting Scorpius suspicious looks. “Someone’s going to hex you.”
“That’ll be the day.” said Scorpius with a cocky grin. “You know I’m a master dueler.”
“Maybe when your opponent’s Confunded,” said Rose cheekily. She turned back to Aurelia as Scorpius began to pour himself pumpkin juice. “Look, don’t worry about it. By tomorrow everyone will have forgotten all about it.”
Aurelia shrugged. “S’pose so.”
“People start stupid rumors all the time,” said Rose. “We could even start one ourselves, just to stop people from - damn!”
Rose jumped up from her seat, making Scorpius spill pumpkin juice all down his front.
“See what you’ve done?” he said, scowling.
“Don’t worry, it looks cute,” said Rose absentmindedly. “Look – I said I’d meet James in the Common Room. He wanted to talk about something. So I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”
Aurelia and Scorpius nodded dutifully, and Rose sped off.
Aurelia took a bite of her sandwich, feeling very awkward. She had never really been on speaking terms with Scorpius, and things were even weirder due to the fact that he had recently kissed her by accident.
“So…” said Scorpius, shifting uncomfortably. “How’s the sandwich?”
“What’s in it?”
“Er…there’s just some cold chicken and lettuce and tomato.”
“Oh, no cheese?”
“You don’t like cheese?”
“No, I do. I guess I just picked one without cheese.”
Luckily, Albus chose that moment to sit down at the Gryffindor table. Their little group, consisting of two Slytherins and a Ravenclaw, was now attracting a lot of odd looks from the Gryffindors.
“What a scandalous couple!” he said brightly. “Should I threaten to tell Rose you’re seeing each other behind her back?”
Scorpius rolled his eyes. “Git.”
Albus chuckled, grabbing a baked potato off of Scorpius’ plate and taking an enormous bit out of it. “Thanks.”
Scorpius elbowed him in a brotherly sort of way. “Should I tell Aurelia here about your recent girl problems?”
Albus spat out the potato into a dish of green beans, earning him several glares from a close-by group of Gryffindor girls.
Aurelia raised her eyebrows. “Girl problems? Do tell.”
Scorpius sighed dramatically. “Well, it’s like this – poor little Alby has Lydia Wiscurchin practically chasing him around the halls. But the girl he’s really interested in doesn’t know he exists.”
“She knows I exist,” Albus grumbled. “She’s just indifferent to me.”
“Who’s the lucky lady?” asked Aurelia. “One of Hagrid’s hippogriffs? Or have you set your sights higher this time – maybe on Moaning Myrtle?”
Scorpius roared with laughter.
“I’m not attracted to hippogriffs,” said Albus stonily, failing as usual to understand the joke.
“Unless you count Fay Nott as a hippogriff,” said Scorpius, “which some people do.”
“How dare you!” said Albus grabbing a chicken leg off the table, a threatening look on his face. “She’s gorgeous!”
“That’s not what I meant, mate,” said Scorpius, trying unsuccessfully to wrestle the chicken leg away from Albus. “I just mean she’s a bit stuck-up.”
“SHE IS NOT!” roared Albus, slapping Scorpius with the chicken. “She’s just shy!”
“Did you just slap me with chicken?” said Scorpius, rubbing his cheek where Albus had hit him.
“I think I just did!” said Albus, puffing up his chest.
“Well, fine then - engorgio!” said Scorpius, pointing his wand at a piece of asparagus and swelling it to the size of a canoe paddle. Albus jumped out of his seat and ran out of the Great Hall, laughing wildly. Scorpius, wielding the enormous asparagus, was close at his heels. Aurelia shook her head, laughing to herself and realizing that she wasn’t upset anymore – all thanks to Scorpius and Albus.
When Rose returned to the table several minutes later, she was accompanied by James. James looked a bit embarrassed, and Rose looked smug. Aurelia wondered what they had been talking about, but figured it was none of her business.
“Where’d Scorpius go?” asked Rose, sitting down to her food, which was now cold.
“He and Albus got in a fight with a big asparagus,” explained Aurelia, earning herself bewildered looks from James and Rose. “Have you lot heard about this Fay Nott business?”
“Slytherin’s Ice Queen,” said James knowingly. “Al’s got it bad.”
“Did he tell you?” asked Rose.
“Nah- Scorpius did,” said Aurelia.
James chuckled. “I’m sure Albus didn’t appreciate that too much – did you, Allie?”
Albus and Scorpius had just dragged themselves back to the Gryffindor table, looking exhausted but happy.
“Ew – you smell like asparagus,” said Rose, pushing Scorpius’ arm away as he tried to put it around her shoulders.
“Appreciate what?” said Albus.
“Scorpius telling Aurelia about your deep-seated passion for Fay Nott,” said James conversationally.
Albus’ jaw dropped. “How do you know about that?”
“Everyone knows,” said Rose taking a small glass bottle of perfume out of her school bag and spraying Scorpius with it.
“Great,” grumbled Scorpius, “now I smell like a girl.”
“Which is a major improvement,” Rose told him, kissing his cheek.
“Wait – does Fay know?” said Albus, horrified.
“Probably,” said James, who seemed to be enjoying watching Albus squirm.
“You should ask her to watch the match with you,” said Aurelia supportively. “You know, Hufflepuff versus Ravenclaw.”
James choked on the potato he’d been eating, and Rose burst out laughing.
“Why is everyone acting so weird?” said Scorpius, frowning.
“At least we don’t smell like flowers,” said Rose smugly when she had recovered, making Scorpius pout.
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Albus thoughtfully. “She always goes to the matches.”
“It’s in the morning, too,” said Aurelia. “So you could bring some breakfast and eat it together.”
Rose burst out into another fit of laughter, and James seemed to be having more trouble with his potato. His glasses slipped down his nose, and fell into a jug of pumpkin juice with a splash.
“Oops…” said Rose.
James coughed a few more times, and then looked up. “Er…where’d my glasses go?”
He looked adorable without his glasses on, thought Aurelia. His eyes were much bigger than they looked from behind the lenses, and their color was much richer, with green tones Aurelia had never seen before. He felt around blindly on the table, squinting, until his hand landed in a bowl of cranberry sauce, and everyone burst out laughing.
“I hate to tell you this,” said Scorpius, “but your glasses are in the juice.”
“Damn.” said James.
“What do we do?” asked Rose.
“I guess we have to tip over the whole thing and pour it all out,” said Scorpius with a shrug.
“Wait – you could just use a…” said Albus, but it was too late – Scorpius had already turned the entire jug upside down. Juice spilled out onto the table and into several dishes of food, dripping over the sides and onto everyone’s laps.
“…accio charm.” muttered Albus.
“Too late!” said Scorpius cheerfully. “Here’re your glasses, James.”
He leaned over the table and stuck James’s glasses, still dripping with pumpkin juice, onto his face.
James blinked. “What the hell just happened?”
Everyone burst out laughing, and several of the other Gryffindors at the table joined in. Others just looked irritated - they had probably wanted more pumpkin juice. As the bell rang, the Head of Gryffindor House came by to inform Scorpius, Albus, and Aurelia that from now on they were banned from sitting at the Gryffindor table. Aurelia didn’t care – she was having a wonderful time.
She looked around happily at James, Albus, Scorpius, and Rose, realizing that her parents didn’t matter, and the stupid rumors didn’t matter. The only truly important thing was that at this moment, she felt happy.