Chapter 10 : Lust
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"No, come back here," I murmur, moving my hands from my lap and placing them on the back of his head. I gently pull his mouth to mine and let him kiss me again. His hands remain gently on the sides of my head and do not move. It's almost as though I'm a scared and cornered animal, and he's worried that moving too fast or making any sudden gestures would terrify me and send me running in the other direction. But it's not like that. Albus's lips are warm and soft, his hands gentle, and being close to him makes me feel safe – even safer than having him around with that awful woman after me does. I shuffle a little closer and Albus pulls back.
"Calm down, babe," Albus chuckles, using the pad of his thumb to gently run a line along the top of my cheekbone. I frown at that, not liking being compared to someone that can't control herself, but Albus smooths my ruffled feathers by placing a soft kiss on the corner of my mouth and then letting me go so that he can put his hands back on the wheel and pull out of the beach car park.
"Where are we going?" I ask, clearing my throat to try and get rid of the gruff throatiness. Albus shrugs his shoulders and pulls out onto a busy lane in the middle of a long line of cars.
"Well you don't like the beach, but beach towns often have arcades around. Do you want to go to one of them? We used to go to them all the time when I was a kid – James loved them. He still takes Leigh down there when he can drag her away from her bridal magazines or from being a pissy bitch." I raise my eyebrows in question.
"What do you mean? I got the impression you don't like Leigh before – why don't you? I would have thought you'd like the girl that your brother is going to marry." Albus rolls his eyes and takes one of his hands off the wheel – I suck in a deep breath and try not to panic – and places it on my knee. I stare at it for a moment and Albus looks like he's stuck between looking sad and laughing.
"She's got a pole permanently wedged up her backside, that's why. I like to party, I'll admit that – Leigh thought I should be kicked out of the family for it – that no one should have anything to do with me. She thought I was out of control and giving the family a bad name. James used to be my boy – he used to hang out with me about three times a week. Then Leigh and him got more and more serious and she cut it down more and more, guilting him into never leaving her side. They're trying for a baby – she always tells him she thinks she might be pregnant and so he can't go out with me. Now I'm lucky to see James once a fortnight at a family dinner. Lily hates her bones."
"Then why don't you say something to James? If he marries her then you're going to be stuck with her as a sister-in-law for the rest of your life. Marriage is for life, Albus. And she wants to spend time with her boyfriend, is that such a bad thing?"
"It's not that she wants to spend all her time with him, I get that. Like, I don't believe in true love, but whatever, you know? If he wants to think that Leigh is 'the one' and spend his life looking after her, then more power to him, like. But… I don't know. She sits there with an expression on her face like she's sucking on lemons, or something. She's never happy. James always has to appease her. He doesn't drink now because Leigh doesn't like it. He doesn't… it's like he's… gone or something."
"Not the same brother you're used to?" I ask, and Albus nods slightly, giving my knee a little squeeze. "He's become someone else? He's only doing thing that she allows and he's spending all his time with you on his phone, texting her and making sure she's not angry he's out?" Albus turns to look at me and nods his head slowly.
"Yeah, how do you know? I thought you were an only child?"
"I am. I go through the same thing with Andromeda. She falls in love at the drop of a hat, transforms into this girlfriend robot that does whatever her boyfriend says and approves, spends all her time fawning after him in a way that would make most feminists sick to the stomach, and then spends two weeks recovering from their breakup with a mountain of chocolate and romantic comedies that she's seen about a dozen times each." I roll my eyes. "I gain weight every time her guy splits."
"Well you look damn good to me, so don't worry about it." He shoots me a sly grin and a wink from the corner of his eye, and then looks back at the road. I flush a shade of red that would give expensive roses a run for their money, and Albus can't help but laugh out loud. "Merlin, Flora, I make one vaguely flirty remark and you blush like a fire-truck. Imagine what you'd be like if we were actually taking a stab at the vertical dance with no pants. I'd be able to heat my bathwater on your face."
I'm so red by this point that my cheeks could probably been used to signal down planes from the sky at an airfield, which makes Albus smirk so widely that I'm almost positive he's going to get stuck that way.
"The vertical dance with no pants?" I ask, my voice slightly strained.
"Yeah, you know… the horizontal hokey pokey. Dancing the mattress mambo. Otherwise known as 'making Flora so embarrassed she can't speak'." Albus shoots me a teasing grin. "What's the matter, Flora? Are you embarrassed at the thought of getting naked with me?" I nearly choke on my own saliva as I struggle to come up with an appropriate response.
"Oh… hush," I say, after a short pause. The Gods of Witticism have quite clearly abandoned me in my time of great need, not that my sense of humour has ever been truly blessed. Albus smirks one last time at me, and then kisses the pad of his thumb and presses it against my bottom lip.
"Not every man is going to hurt you, Flora. They can be gentle and soft with you too. Remember that." As sweet as Albus's words are, something akin to disappointment tugs at the base of my stomach, making me suck in my belly and wrap my fingers around one another, trying to ease some of the tension making its way down my spine. Did he only kiss me to prove that he could be soft and not – and not like Harrison? Am I just some kind of pitied charity case, an effort he feels he must exert so he can feel better about himself? The thought turns me cold. I turn slightly in my seat so I'm facing the window more than him and try to focus on the beach town flying past the window.
It looks like something out of a postcard. Pretty matchbox-sized buildings are lined up in terraces along the promenade, all painted different colours of the rainbow. One red, pale pink, pale blue, lime green, egg-white, cream, lilac, sunshine yellow, another red – they looked beautiful all slightly blurred together. The pavements are a patchwork of grey and white paving flags, choppily assorted like a badly put together jigsaw. A long black railing runs along the other length of the road, separating the edge of the walkway from the plunge down onto the beach. Blue and white overhangs pour over the doorways of the shops and different coloured curtains cover the windows of the second floor flats.
Though the houses are tiny, they're kind of beautiful, and for a moment, just a moment, I want one.
"Flora, don't shut me out," Albus sighs suddenly into the silence, and having forgotten he's here, I jump a little. I immediately reach out and grasp the knob of the radio and switch the music up to a volume so loud that Albus will hopefully be put off from trying to start a new conversation with me. It doesn't work.
"Flora, I mean it. I can always tell when you've shut yourself down, when you're trying to stop me getting too close to you. Is there something else that you didn't tell me?" I shake my head but keep my eyes on the window, watching the tall trees on a patch of dried out grass, the leaves fluttering ever so slightly in the lazy breeze of the summer's day. Albus's hand suddenly moves from my knee, where I'd forgotten it was, and grips hold of my hand. "Flora, what's the matter?"
I snatch my hand away and grab hold of the fabric that covers my stomach, scrunching it up so hard that I can feel the tips of my nails dig into my palms like iron screws. Tears prick at the backs of my eyes and I instantly hate myself – has rape really stripped so much from me? That I can't be kissed by one guy that doesn't love me and feel like crying? I bite down on my lip and swallow with difficulty, determined to no longer be the pathetic little girl that was attacked and never moved on with her life. But it isn't Harrison I'm thinking about – it's Albus. And the fact that I'm the charity case he pities, trying to help move on by kissing her with sweet, red-hot kisses that she's never had before.
They mean nothing to him – he's probably pressed them to one hundred girls' lips. But to me, who has never been kissed in a way that did not involve having my head held in place, unable to move, they cause my stomach to flood with butterflies and hope to fill my head.
Hope? Hope for what? That Albus will announce undying love for me, an undeniable attraction now that he has kissed me, and then he'll get down on one knee and the mad stalker will just leave me alone and then we'll go home where he'll buy us a mansion and let me study medical journals all day? No, that isn't what I'm hoping for. I don't want Albus Potter to love or want me – I want to be left alone. So as to what I am hoping for, I can't tell you. Simply because I really don't know.
"Nothing is the matter. I may be a charity case to you, Albus, but that doesn't mean I want to sit here and watch you preen yourself because you've kissed a social recluse and proved that not all guys are animals. Because the fact you're so pleased with yourself tells me something; that you're no better than them. Ironic, isn't it? That the girl that spends most of her life trying to fill her free time with helping charities, since she's had so much since she was born, is considered to be one herself. Just leave me alone, Albus." I glare out of the window.
A few tense seconds of silence trickle past, both too slowly and too quickly to really measure, and then Albus lets out a deep sigh that sounds like it slices his throat on the way out.
"Is that really what you think?" he asks, his tone either angry, bitter or amused. Or perhaps a concoction of the three, I can't really tell. I stay looking out of the window but nod my head once, stiffly, as though someone has poured Plaster of Paris down the back of my neck and it has only just started setting. Albus slowly pulls us into another car park and stops the car in a disabled spot, despite our blatant lack of a disabled badge.
"Albus! You can't park here! You're only supposed to park here if you're disabled, and neither of us are!" My shock seems to amuse him, but only enough for the grim lines of annoyance marring his face to smooth out ever so slightly. He stills looks miserable.
"Well you're so stupid that it can probably be classed as a crippling disability. Let's go."
Albus jumps out of the car and slams the door behind him so hard that the entire car frame shakes. I undo my seatbelt gently and slowly get out of the car, shaking myself and smoothing down my shirt so that I don't look like I've just escaped from a car wreck. I swipe the back of my hand gently across my cheeks, taking care not to smudge my blush, and get out too.
"Arcade?" I ask, and Albus nods. Apparently I'm no longer worthy of a verbal response. I reach into the footwell of the car and pull out my bag – my beautiful, beautiful bag that I decided to use today to cheer myself up – before sliding it up onto my shoulder. A present from my father, chosen by me and purchased from Stella Witch, it's one of the most perfect things I've ever owned. Of course, the two hours I spent waxing lyrical about it nearly caused my daddy to whack me over the head with it.
We trudge along the few metres from the car to the front of the arcade as Albus roots in his back pocket for his wallet. He pulls it out, a cheap leather affair that really is nothing more than two slices of black material folded in half with slits cut into it to hold cards and notes, and extracts two ten pound notes from it. He presses them into my hand, and I hate that the contact makes me stomach roll over just a teeny tiny bit.
"Take them and go and get change. There's a machine over there that will change the notes into pound coins and another one that will split some of the pound coins into two pence pieces. Get five put into two pennies, five put into ten pennies and… I don't know, keep the others for later. The only good thing about these machines – they accept small value coins and so you don't blow through a fortune in half an hour. I learned that lesson the hard way in Vegas when I was fifteen." I raise my eyebrows. Albus is a few months older than me at most, but it seems like he's lived a million more lives. I almost feel a little jealous – other than the fact he's been to World's Most Tacky Holiday Destination, Las Vegas. I've heard the place is practically crawling with disease. Kind of.
I wander through the two sets of double doors and into a room that is both huge and so dark that I can barely put one foot in front of the other. The carpets are scratchy and black run through with orange, the walls are deep blue or green, there are no windows aside from the ones set into the front doors and the only lights come from mystical spotlights studded onto the ceiling and the penny machines themselves, which ring out random tunes and jingle as money falls into a slot at the bottom.
I head over to an enormous machine under a sign that says 'change'. I take one of the notes that Albus gave me and slide it into the little slit for paper money. The machine beeps twice, and then money comes pouring out of the hole in the bottom – hundreds and hundreds of shiny bronze coins. I screech and stick my hands out to stem the flow, but I don't have enough hands to catch them all. Someone sighs from behind me and suddenly a plastic pot is stuck under the flow of coins, stopping them from falling to the ground.
And that's when it hits me – I'm catching coins that have been touched by Merlin knows how many people with Merlin knows what on their hands. If I am to wake up in the morning with dysentery, then I won't be surprised.
"Flora, it's not rocket science – why do you think they put this huge stack of pots next to the machine? So that you don't have to catch ten pounds' worth if two pence pieces straight out. Unless you're an octopus with dustpan hands, you're gonna drop the frigging lot. Honestly." Albus rolls his eyes and I blush, chewing on the inside of my cheek in irritation.
"Well, I've never been to an arcade before, how would I know that you have to catch the coins in a pot? That's like expecting me to know… I don't know. Go away, Albus. I'll catch the rest of them."
Albus rolls his eyes again and shoves the bucket sized pot into my hands, which weighs more than I thought it would and so I nearly drop the thing. Albus sticks another note into the machine next to him and starts catching round, silver coins in a slightly smaller pot. I have to squat under the weight of all the coins as my arms start to throb a little bit.
"Want to swap yet?" he taunts, sticking his pointy tongue out at me. That tongue was running over my lips not too long ago. Flora! I am shocked with the turns of my thought and I wonder if Albus can tell that my cheeks are heating up and blooming an odd shade of red.
"Go away," I snap back. I'm rewarded with an amused snort.
"Yes!" I shriek, throwing myself into Albus's arms and letting him spin me around in some kind of loop-de-loop. Albus laughs loudly and some old woman turns around from her penny machine to glare at us. Old, and with tightly permed hair that clings to her head and frameless glasses that sit high up on the bridge of her nose, she's naturally a little nosy looking and her beady eyes are narrowed in our direction. If I was that kind of person, I would have raised my middle finger in her direction. But I'm not, so I don't.
"Flora, you've won like five coins. That's ten pence. You can't even buy sweets for that these days." He rolls his eyes at me for a third time as I begin jumping up and down on the balls of my feet, clapping my hands together gently. I have no qualms about my hands touching one another as Albus had hunted down some hand gel straight after the coin saga and had squirted it all over my palms and fingers, even remembering to get it under my nails.
"Don't try and put me down, Potter!" I crow. "That's my first win! Just because you seem to be able to win these coins with a glance doesn't mean that I can! Haha!" I cheer again and Albus claps a hand over his eyes, pretending to look embarrassed when his lips are really tilted up in amusement. I take one of Albus's hands and use it to spin myself around. "I am a winner, a winning winner," I sing loudly, and Albus actually does clap his hand over my mouth this time, in what I know is jest but it panics me nonetheless.
I shriek a teeny tiny bit and my spine feels like it's been shot through with ice. I stiffen and Albus instantly snatches his hand away from my mouth, raising them both in silent apology. My lip trembles for a second and, ever so slowly, Albus leans forward and presses his thumb to my shaking mouth. I close my eyes and lightly kiss the pad of his thumb. His eyes seem to soften ever so slightly.
"Well done there, winner," he says with a cocky grin, taking his thumb away from my perverted lips and patting me on the head instead. I pull away and take hold of another handful of coppers, and slot them one by one into the slit in the machine, watching it fall down the chute and land on the moving panel that mixes the coins together. Several more drop off the end of the precipice and land in the little coin-collecting bucket at the bottom of my machine.
"You know Albus, I never took you for a man that could stand the taste of losing," I tease, wondering where this newfound need to rib him has come from. Albus raises his eyebrows at me but says nothing, as I scoop the small number of coins and put them back in my plastic bucket. "It must physically hurt to be worse than Flora Dainty at a sport," I add, to add insult to injury.
"I really don't think that sliding low-value coins into an old machine counts as a sport, Flo. You should probably try an actual sport, like Quidditch, before you say that." I cock a brow at him.
"Please don't call me Flo – it's Flora. No abbreviations, no initialising, just Flora. That's my name. Flora Mae. Do you want me to start calling you Albie?" One of Albus's oddly triangular eyebrows cocks up above the other and makes his face look amusingly quizzical. Before I've thought about it, I've reached up and smoothed the pad of my thumb along it. It slowly drops back into place and his face smooths out to become slightly blank.
"You like my eyebrows?" he asks with a grin, flashing his teeth at me. Not like a tiger, but in a grin that makes him look twelve times more likeable. He leans down and flicks his tongue at the thickest part of my eyebrow, which makes me jump and start to swat him away.
"Albus! You're going to smudge my brow pencil! And that is crazily unhygienic!" I pull a compact mirror out of my bag and flip it open, checking the extent of the damage. Yes, damage. No, that is not an exaggeration. Luckily, it's all still in place – another case in point for paying for extremely expensive makeup over cheap tat from Diagon Alley. WonderWitch makes you wonder what happened to your complexion and why you look like your father mated with a tangerine more than it does anything else. I told Andromeda that once and she tried to hit me – turns out her slightly waxy pallor was because of the WonderWitch 'mattifying' powder.
"You wanna talk about crazy?" he murmurs… sexily. I think. Maybe. I'm not really too sure – Andromeda gave me a Witchy World magazine on boys' 'sexy voices' once, but the way they described it sounded more to me like they were suffering from a particularly bad head cold. Anyway, he murmurs that and then slides his hands down the sides of my shirt.
I'm wearing tight black silky pants that cover my stomach and suck in my waist with a thick leather belt, and a high-necked white shirt that is covered in tiny little 3D flowers with petals that rise from the shirt with tiny little crystals in the centre. The sleeves come three quarters of the way down my arms and the remaining space on my left wrist is filled with an enormous, diamond encrusted watch with white gold hands and an engraved back that says with many thanks, Daddy. He gave me it as a thank you for entertaining some of his guests from other countries while he sorted out his paperwork for the meeting. I ended up having to talk to them for three and a half hours. I'm almost positive that he had a sneaky nap and thought I wouldn't realise.
I never really wear it because it's so big that I feel I'm either going to be attacked and mugged or I'm going to catch it on something and it's going to get damaged. I also, secretly, think it's a horribly gaudy piece of jewellery – it's ostentatious and almost screams 'look at me, I'm rich!'. That's probably why Daddy chose it, if I'm honest.
But I was missing my family so I put it on this morning. Albus presses both of his hands into either side of my waist and nudges my feet apart with the toe of his trainer, my patent black loafers splitting from their twin so they are thirty centimetres apart. He shuffles forward so he's completely pressed against my back and I press my hands against the penny machine in front of me so that the suddenly jelly-like feeling in my knees doesn't cause me to go careening to the ground. Merlin only knows what kind of murderous germs are lurking on this floor.
A second later, Albus is sucking on the knobbly bone on the top of my spine. My knees really do nearly give out this time, and my arms buckle on the machine. He kisses the bottom of my hairline and then pops his head around the side of my face, his chin resting on my shoulder, and nuzzles the edge of my jawbone with his nose. He's got a lump in the middle of his nose, and I can feel it against my neck and jaw. I wonder how it got broken. Knowing Albus, he was either in a fight or stark raving drunk. Or, most likely, both.
"Albus… Al – I – what are you doing?" I gasp, my eyes practically rolling into the back of my skull. Albus begins to giggle – yes, giggle – and he lifts me up so that my feet are but five inches off the floor and whirls around so that my legs fly out and then he pops me down on one of the tall bar stools and stands between my knees.
"Do you really think that I only kissed you because I wanted to defend mankind?" he asks, not looking hurt or wounded like he would if he was in one of Andromeda's trashy romance novels, but rather… sceptical. And amused. And it makes my stomach curl. Like he is wondering whether or not I'm really that stupid or like he thinks I'm just doing it for… attention, or something like that. He leans down and presses a kiss on my bottom lip and then digs the points of his fingers into my side in one of those electric zipping things. I nearly leap off of the stool.
"I… maybe, I – Albus, I'm not… I'm not very literate about these things. I – well, see, it's just…" Something behind Albus catches my eye and I can feel the colour, the blood, draining out of my cheeks. My chest shakes and my hands grapple out desperately to clutch a handful of Albus's shirt in my blanched white fists. Albus's expression drops from flirty and amused to cautious and alert in less than a second, and he whips around to try and find the source of my distress, but I've got such a tight grip on his shirt that he can't move anywhere.
From around fifteen feet away, standing in the shadows behind the broken machines that have been lined up against the wall because they don't work, a woman in a long cloak with a raised hood, with shock white eyes that burn out from the dark, stands in the corner between the dark and the light.
I can't see much – a willowy, slim figure, even when cloaked in thick velvet, and a pale face with pale eyes… eyes so pale that the whites blur into the irises. Dark lips are curled back over an ugly grimace, white teeth bared and hair pulled back straight from her face. A hood loosely covers her whole head and casts her in shadow, but I know it's her. The second she sees me looking, her face contorts.
She goes from a snarling animal, a twisted grimace filled with bitterness and anger, to something both better, and so, so much worse. Her lips curl into a contorted smile, the kind of look a predator would give its prey before it tore it limb from limb. Her colourless eyes gleam maliciously and when she steps forward, her cloak billows out to reveal long, white legs in something short and dark.
"Fuck!" Albus yells, so loud that my eardrums echo, and before I've had a chance to blink, I've been thrown over his shoulder and he's sprinting at a speed only a honed athlete can achieve, my bag only being kept near me by the very tips of my fingers. One of my loafers slips of my foot and hits the ground as we run past it, but Albus ignores it.
"Albus! My shoe! That's a ninety galleon shoe!" There is a pressure on my other foot and then my second loafer sails over my head. "ALBUS POTTER! GET BACK THERE NOW AND GET MY SHOES!" He ignores me, and his hands are suddenly throwing open the glass doors that lead to the exit but instead of turning to our car, he turns the other way and starts sprinting down the street, dodging random pedestrians and then doing an odd, crazy leap that looks more like he's doing the splits in the air. I want to pummel his back for what he's done to my shoes, but I hold myself back since he's running from… her.
Though I could see extremely little of her face, I would guess that the woman was somewhere in her thirties, and though she was beautiful enough to be in movies, her eyes make shivers run down my spine. I try to dig in my bag for my wand but it occurs to me last second that we're in the middle of a huge crowd of muggles. If we curse this woman here, with no real reason, we're dead.
Yes, irrespective of whether or not together we make up a duo of the Minister for Magic's only daughter and the son of the Boy who Saved the Wizarding World. We'd be arrested for magic in plain sight of muggles without probable cause.
Albus skids to a stop, random debris from the pavement flying up from the base of his shoes, and then he shoots down a back alley, similar to the ones from every single horror film that has ever been shot, and then he pulls me off his shoulder. He presses our chests together, wraps my arms around his waist since he's so much taller than me, and then starts to turn together as he apparates us away from the dingy side street.
I press my face against his chest, my nose and mouth crushed against his soft cotton shirt, my breath warming the fabric – it would be almost romantic if it wasn't for the dreadful circumstances. And that's when something much less warm than Albus touches me.
Compared to Albus's warm skin, pressed against my back and my neck, the hand is as cold as ice, the fingers bony and the nails as sharp as a my father. My bare foot tries to recoil away from the claw, Albus's loud swear-words echoing in my ears as he swings one foot out, mid-turn and kicks the woman in what I assume is her face. Blood, I'm guessing from her nose, spurts over my shoe-less foot and I scream as the air is ripped from the world and Albus and I leave her behind in the alley.
I lie, shaking, on Albus's chest. We're in a bed – a large double bed with a duvet thick enough to be called a cloud and pillows that may have been fluffed for days. My feet are clean, and dressed in thick, fluffy socks that have been pulled up to midway along my calves. I've been changed into a pair of light cotton shorts and a long sleeved t-shirt. My hair has been (badly) pulled back of my face and held there with an elastic band.
I try not to gag at the thought of what the disgusting piece of elastic may be doing to my hair. I've heard they give you split ends, something I can certainly do without since my favourite hairdresser can't know where I am. But I appreciate the thought that Albus must have put into this gesture. I stretch out like a large cat and push myself off his body, my cheeks beginning to heat.
Albus isn't asleep – he's just staring at a muggle television over my head. It's on mute, but no subtitles are appearing so I wonder how he knows what's going on.
"Why don't you put the subtitles on?" I ask, and Albus looks at me like I've suggested that he strips off all of his clothes and goes hula dancing with a crocodile in the back garden. While the Queen watches. And people throw popcorn at him.
"If I wanted to read then I would have gotten a book out," he says, as though it's the most obvious answer in the world. As someone who loves to read, I can't even comprehend his answer. "Who wants to be made to read when they're trying to chill out and watch a little bit of meaningless TV?" He uses my shoulders to pull me back down onto his chest, my nose stuck into his armpit. I gag a teeny-tiny little bit and try to pull away.
"What happened?" I ask.
"I apparated you here, then snuck back and got the car and our bags, came back, got you changed, and tried to tuck you into bed but you threw a hissy fit. You kind of passed out when we got here, but you weren't really out and you wouldn't do anything you were told." Albus grins down at me.
The colour in my cheeks darkens further and I run my hand through the parts of my hair that Albus hasn't managed to get into my haphazard ponytail.
"You wouldn't lie still, and when I was trying to get you into clean clothes you tried to kick me and every time I got within a metre of you, you started trying to – very poorly – fight me. Then, I'm pretty sure you tried to feel me up." My mouth drops in objection at what is, I'm sure, a lie. At least, I hope that it is a lie. "In the end, you started behaving well when I hugged you and let you lie on my chest, and I just couldn't be bothered moving you."
Something seems to amuse Albus as I turn my head so that I'm looking at his t-shirt as opposed to his face – being mortified doesn't even half cover it. Why is it that every time I wake up lately, I'm told that I've been acting like a madwoman in my sleep? Things I would never in a million years do while awake I seem to have no problem doing while I'm asleep. I blink back embarrassed tears.
"Did you know that you're the only girl I've ever shared a bed with that I haven't slept with? We've done it a few times now." I look up at Albus's contemplative face. "I never normally shared a bed with the girls I was sleeping with, but I did sometimes. But it's quite cosy, really. But girls will think it's cutesy and sweet and take it to mean love and I just can't be dealing with that."
"It is cosy," I say, letting him pull the light summer-sheet from the bottom of the bed over our bodies. I un-mute the TV and let whatever dull show is on play out loud. Albus pulls the elastic band out of my hair and lets its fall all over his left shoulder. He wraps one arm around my waist. Simply on instinct, I raise one leg and slide it over the top of his. His leg hairs tickle my smooth skin.
"Ever done this with another girl?" I ask Albus, who doesn't reply. He shifts slightly underneath me and traps my foot between his – his feet warm and toasty and mine slightly cold and much smaller. He brings his free arm around my waist so my free hand is trapped underneath his elbow.
"No," he says suddenly, quietly, into the silence, while we find new ways, ways I'm not even sure I can describe, to snuggle closer to one another. Despite the sticky heat, for England's standards anyway – thanks global warming – I've got a chill down my spine that I just can't seem to shake.
White eyes, dark clips, claw-like hands, long white legs hidden beneath a thick black cloak; the images are only expelled by clinging to Albus like a life-size teddy bear. I don't know why he's holding me, but I don't mind.
We're two people that have hidden behind our families our entire lives. We're two people that thought we could do everything by ourselves and didn't need anyone to do anything for us. We're two people that couldn't be more different if you tried. And yet, under the threat of death from a woman that looks like she should be in killer heels rather than a killer, we're both finding comfort in each other.
It's odd, but it's snuggly, so I don't complain. And not only is it not on a beach, but it's all a choice – all my decision. I kiss Albus's chest. He stills. I think I've overstepped the mark. But then he carries on breathing and I turn my head so that I can look back at the television screen.
"Night Flora," Albus murmurs.
"Goodnight Albus," I whisper back, my eyelids drooping heavily. "Thanks for saving me today." I don't remember anything else before I drop off.