Chapter 14 : The Triumph
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On Friday they walked into the Great Hall in an awkward clump, not sure where to sit.
“I guess we could just take some food and bring it outside,” suggested Albus.
“But I wanted shepherd’s pie,” complained Rose. “I can’t bring that outside.”
They stared at each other.
“What if we just sat at the Hufflepuff table?” said Scorpius, grinning.
“None of us is in Hufflepuff, you prat,” said Rose, elbowing him.
“Let’s do it,” said James, heading for the Hufflepuff table. “There’s no rule against sitting at another House’s table.”
“Er… I think there is one, actually. As Head Boy, you should probably know that,” said Rose, but they all followed James anyway. The nearest Hufflepuffs looked quizzically at them as they sat down, but nobody actually complained or told them to go away. Which was surprising, considering that they’d been banned from three House tables in three days. Somehow, James ended up right next to Aurelia, with everyone else on the opposite side of the table. The table was crowded, and Aurelia could feel the warmth of James’ body through both of their robes.
“BEING IN HUFFLEPUFF IS GREAT!” yelled Scorpius, spooking many a nearby Hufflepuff.
“Don’t be a git,” said Albus, “they’re fragile.”
“What’re they going to do, sting us?” said Scorpius. “Geddit? Because they look like bees.”
“We got it, thanks,” said Rose, rolling her eyes.
Aurelia began ladling potato and leek stew into a bowl. “You know, I think they get better food than us.”
“Probably the House-Elves feel sorry for them,” said Scorpius. “Because, you know, they look–”
“Like bees.” interrupted Rose. “We know.”
“The sight of pumpkin juice makes me sick now,” said James, eyeing a nearby jug of it with distaste. He’d just come in from Care of Magical Creatures, and looked even more charmingly windswept than usual. “I guess once you’ve been covered in a food it sort of loses its appeal…”
“Debatable.” said Albus. “I wouldn’t mind being covered in, say, bread pudding.”
“So, Aurelia,” said Scorpius with a wide grin, “Big Al’s in need of your womanly advice.”
“I’m a woman, too,” grumbled Rose.
“You’re a child who doesn’t understand the ways of the adult world,” said Scorpius with a large, teasing grin that disappeared very quickly when Rose stomped on his foot underneath the table.
“Still hung up on Fay Nott?” asked Aurelia.
“I wish everyone would stop saying that so loudly,” said Albus with a frown.
“Everybody knows.” said James, Rose, and Scorpius in unison.
Ignoring them, Albus said, “I want to ask her to watch the match with me, but I don’t know how to go about it. Scorpius keeps saying I should go up to her and say–”
“That was a joke,” said Scorpius quickly, “don’t repeat that.”
Rose raised her eyebrows, giving Scorpius a deadly look. The fact that she was holding a sharp knife only added to the intimidating effect.
“Fine,” said Albus. “Scorpius keeps saying I need to think up some clever line. Like–”
“Don’t repeat that one either!” hissed Scorpius. “It doesn’t make for appropriate mealtime conversation.”
“You told me to say it,” said Albus.
“Say what, exactly?” said Rose in a dangerous voice, glaring at Scorpius.
“Look, Albus,” said Aurelia as Scorpius tried to ignore Rose’s terrifying stare. “You don’t need some clever line to hide behind. All you need to say is ‘will you go to the match with me on Sunday?’ Just be yourself.”
“Or you could always try a Love Potion,” said Scorpius brightly.
“Or we could cut off Scorpius’ hair,” said Rose darkly.
Scorpius’ hands jumped protectively to his mane of gold hair. “You wouldn’t do that! You love my locks!”
“Sometimes I think I’d like them better if I dyed them blue,” threatened Rose.
“N-no!” whimpered Scorpius.
“Aurelia’s right,” said James, who had been occupied with a lamb chop for most of the conversation. “The only kind of girl who likes those sorts of pickup lines is Valerie Vane.”
Rose winced. “Gross. It figures.”
“Really?” said Scorpius eagerly. “What’d you say to her, Jamesie?”
James shook his head, reaching for a pudding. “If I told you, it’d be like letting a little kid play with fireworks.”
“It’s that good?” said Scorpius, his eyes wide. “Please tell us, James!”
Aurelia felt a bit uncomfortable all of a sudden. The idea of James sidling up to Valerie Vane and reciting some stupid, probably perverted pickup line made her feel faintly sick. She looked over at Albus, who seemed to be deep in thought. His eyebrows were practically knitted together, and he seemed to be twiddling his thumbs – something that Aurelia had heard about, but never actually seen somebody do.
“Let’s go now, Albus,” she said.
He looked up. “What?”
“Let’s go ask out Fay Nott,” said Aurelia firmly. “You’ve got to do it today – you don’t want to wait until the day before the match. Where does she usually go after lunch?”
“Not now!” protested Albus. “I’ll do it later. After dinner. In the common room.”
Aurelia shook her head. “Nope – you’re going to do it now.”
“Let’s all go along and laugh at him from a distance,” said Scorpius cheerfully.
“Absolutely not,” said Aurelia. “We’ll stay here. You can come back and tell us how it went, and if she says no we’ll hex her.”
Albus laughed nervously. “Er…will…you come with me, though?”
Aurelia blinked. “Me?”
“Yeah,” said Albus. “If you don’t mind. I mean, if you’d just walk with me part of the way I–”
“Let’s go,” said Aurelia, grabbing some nondescript pastry from the table as she and Albus stood up. “It’s better just to do it without really thinking about it – that way you won’t have the time to get nervous. Where are we headed?”
“The Lake,” said Albus as they began to walk out of the Great Hall, leaving James, Rose, and Scorpius behind. As they left the Great Hall, they could hear Scorpius’ voice shouting “YOU’RE JUST A LOT OF BEES!” in the distance.
“You look nervous,” observed Aurelia, munching on the pastry, which had turned out to be a cheese-stuffed croissant. Albus was holding his arms straight at his sides as he walked – it looked like he was carrying two very heavy, invisible briefcases. His face was set in an expression of grim determination.
“I am.” he said simply.
“There’s no need to be,” said Aurelia, smiling. She had never seen Albus look anxious like this before, and it was sort of cute. “All the girls in your year love you and Scorpius.”
“But Fay Nott isn’t like all the other girls in my year,” said Albus.
Aurelia followed him outside of the castle and down to the Lake. Several groups of students sat at intervals around the Lake, chatting and doing homework. A Ravenclaw boy had brought a chicken leg out of the Great Hall and was levitating it above the water, just out of reach of the Giant Squid’s flailing tentacles. On the far side of the lake, a group of four or five girls were sitting in the grass. From the way Albus blushed when he saw them, Aurelia guessed that Fay Nott was a part of the group.
“You can take it from here, kid,” said Aurelia, patting Albus on the back. “Pretend it’s just a normal conversation. Pretend you’re talking to James or Scorpius.”
“Why would I ask James on a date?” said Albus, frowning.
“I just mean – oh, never mind,” said Aurelia. “Just get it over with.”
With one last, somber look at Aurelia, Albus started off toward the Slytherin girls. Aurelia ducked back into the castle, and had almost reached the Great Hall when she came face to face with Evander.
Both of them stopped in their tracks, staring at each other. Aurelia hadn’t spoken to Evander since the Hospital Wing incident, which had left her feeling confused and uncomfortable. Nothing that had happened in the Hospital Wing had had any romantic connotation, and she hoped Evander hadn’t gotten any ideas.
“Hi,” said Evander. “It was our night to patrol last night. I guess you forgot?”
“Er, yeah, I did,” admitted Aurelia, feeling relieved. Of course he’d just wanted to berate her for shirking her Prefect duties, as always. “Sorry about that.”
“’s okay,” said Evander, whose hands were stuck in his pockets. “I, er…heard about your parents.”
“You and the rest of the school,” said Aurelia, feeling extremely uncomfortable. The gossip about Aurelia’s parents had finally died down, but Aurelia hadn’t actually spoken to anyone about it. James had been even more kind than usual, sneaking her pastries from the Kitchens in between classes, and Rose kept asking if she was all right, but she hadn’t had a real conversation with anybody. Gushy talks about feelings just weren’t Aurelia’s style – she preferred to be left alone. She’d heal eventually.
“Right,” said Evander. “I just wanted to see if you were feeling well.”
“I’m fine,” said Aurelia, avoiding Evander’s eyes, which all of a sudden looked extremely soft and sweet. “Thanks.”
Evander nodded, and they stared awkwardly at each other for a few seconds.
“So, there’s a Quidditch match this weekend,” said Evander conversationally.
“Oh, yeah,” said Aurelia, who had no idea why he was telling her this. Maybe he just wanted something to talk about. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” said Evander, stepping a bit closer to Aurelia. “Look, I don’t know if you were planning on watching, but maybe if we win–”
Aurelia turned around – Albus was speed-walking down the corridor, a huge grin plastered across his face. Before she knew what was happening, he had lifted her off of the ground into an enormous bear-hug and was roaring with joy.
“Er… I’m guessing she said yes,” said Aurelia in a muffled voice, because her face was being pressed into Albus’ robes.
“Yeah,” said Albus, setting Aurelia down. “Let’s go tell the others – I can’t wait to rub it in Scorpius’ face!”
He started off toward the Great Hall, pulling Aurelia along by her sleeve. She had never seen him this happy before, and she couldn’t help but laugh. He was like a big, bumbling bear. Fay Nott was definitely a lucky girl.
Aurelia waved helplessly at Evander. “See you around!”
They ran into James, Rose, and Scorpius in the entrance to the Great Hall. James and Scorpius were guffawing together, though their hair was plastered with what appeared to be some kind of pudding. Rose’s face was grim, and she was pulling the two boys out of the Great Hall by their sleeves.
“I hate to tell you this, but we just got banned from eating at the Hufflepuff table,” she said. “I guess it was my fault, but I just couldn’t control myself.”
“I got James to tell me the pickup line he used on Valerie,” cackled Scorpius. “Rosie didn’t like it much.”
James patted Albus’ head with a hand covered in pudding. “How’re you handling the rejection, son?”
“She said yes,” said Albus with a broad grin.
James’ jaw dropped. Scorpius made a noise that was somehow in between a gasp and a hoarse yell.
Rose’s face lit up. “Well, it looks like the two of you owe me five Galleons.”
Scorpius shook his head, looking shocked. “She’s out of her mind. Fay Nott has lost her mind.”
“Did you Confund her?” asked James, looking suspiciously at Aurelia. Somehow, he managed to look attractive even though his hair was slicked down against his face with great globs of pudding.
Aurelia held up her hands in a universal sign of innocence. “I just stepped back and let the magic happen.”
“It was magical,” said Albus dreamily, looking absurdly happy. “I just plodded right up to her and said, ‘Fay, can I have a word?’ and her cheeks turned all red and she said I could, and her friends were all giggling. Of course, I knew she’d say yes, so I was very relaxed as I–”
“You prat,” Aurelia interrupted, rolling her eyes. “He nearly fainted, he was so nervous.”
Albus looked sheepish as laughed. “Fine, so I was nervous. Look, Aurelia, will you come sit in the Slytherin box on Sunday? I’d feel more comfortable if you were nearby.”
Rose snorted in amusement as James’ face morphed into a bright red expression of alarm.
“What the hell is going on with you two?” snapped Scorpius, staring at the two of them. “And why haven’t you let me in on it?”
“You’re a child who doesn’t know the ways of the world,” said Rose in her best impression of Scorpius’ voice (it sounded more like a walrus in pain), echoing his earlier speech.
“What on earth would I do in your box?” said Aurelia, deciding that James’ and Rose’s weirdness was their own problem, and turning back to Albus. “I’m not nearly foul enough to pass for a Slytherin – people would look at me funny.”
“People already look at you funny,” muttered Scorpius, earning himself a sharp poke in the ribs from Rose.
Albus looked down at his feet. “Right. I just thought I’d feel more comfortable if you were there.”
“I’m not going to chaperone your date,” said Aurelia firmly. “Fay would think you were insane if you brought along another girl.”
“Nah, she’d think he was a smarmy git,” said James in a feeble attempt at wit – his cheeks were still visibly pink under a sticky layer of pudding.
“You can sit with me,” offered Scorpius. “Rose refuses to set foot in our box during matches on account of Gryffindor pride, and without Alby I’ll be all alone. We can sit right behind them, and throw bits of toast at the back of his head if he starts acting stupid.”
“I don’t want you there,” huffed Albus, shoving his best friend.
“I’ll sit with you, Scorpius,” said Rose sharply.
“Aha!” gloated Scorpius. “So, you’ve come crawling back to me!”
“Oh, shut up,” said Rose. “Let’s go to Transfiguration early – I need to explain something to you.”
With a quizzical look on his face, Scorpius allowed himself to be dragged off to class by Rose, who had a businesslike look on her freckled face. Aurelia, James, and Albus stared at the odd pair until they had disappeared from the corridor. When they turned back to each other, Albus and Aurelia were sporting looks of extreme confusion. James just looked embarrassed.
“What is going on with you and Rose?” asked Albus, frowning and rubbing his chin. “You’re both acting very odd. I haven’t seen you look this affected since mum told you were too old to do tea parties with Lily and her stuffed rabbits.”
“It’s none of your business,” said a red-faced James through gritted teeth. “And I was just helping her fix the tea. I didn’t actually play with the rabbits.”
“Sure, sure,” said Albus, flashing disbelieving look at Aurelia, who laughed. “Well, Goldie, you ought to be thanking me about now.”
“Rescuing you from that daft curmudgeon who was assailing you,” said Albus.
“Oh, you mean Evander,” said Aurelia, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. A few months ago she would’ve been happy to make sport of Evander with the Potters, but now that she knew his true feelings, it just didn’t seem right. “He was just asking about the match on Sunday.”
“What about the match?” said James very loudly. “Isn’t he playing in it?”
Aurelia nodded. “Yeah, he just asked if I’d be watching. Probably just trying to make conversation.”
“He’s clearly not too good at it,” said Albus cheerfully.
“Maybe you should give him lessons, smooth operator,” said James sarcastically. “Did you even tell Fay where you’re going to meet her before the match?”
Albus’ eyes popped open. “Damn. I didn’t. I’ll be right back!”
Albus raced down the corridor at top speed, practically tripping over his robes, and leaving James and Aurelia alone outside the Great Hall. They laughed, watching Albus’ mad dash, and then turned to each other. James looked very tense all of a sudden – he was blinking very rapidly, and breathing rather loudly – and Aurelia realized that he had been acting strange lately. Maybe it was a Quidditch thing.
He took a deep breath, combing a hand through his pudding-soaked hair, and stuck a businesslike expression onto his face. “Er, Aurelia. Can I have a word with you…in private?”
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