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Stuck On a Puzzle
Albus S. P. & James S. P. & Rose W. & Scorpius M. - Words: 91,020 - Rated: T - English - Mystery & Romance - Chapters: 8 - Reviews: 26 - Updated: 13-02-2018 - Published: 17-08-2016 - by Rose Wazlib (FFN)

14/02/2018


Clear Skies
Knowing you, you'll wait for clear skies
To tell us how changes come about with the sunlight
So we'll count every drop that falls
While you throw us some old line
This will pass, this will pass
And I'm spending your time, wasting your time
You're with all you've ever wanted


It was peculiar how sublime one felt in their waking hours. The sun was rising later each morning as the days wore into winter, peaking over the tips of the forbidden forest, a sliver of orange light cast against the wall of her dormitory. A single bird had begun to sing outside the window. Chandra's cat was meowing, pawing at the glass in an appeal to be allowed outside.

It was peculiar how, when rising from sleep, she knew something was wrong, but could not recall what it was. She sat up in her four-poster, tugging back the curtains, reviewing the day before.

It wasn't only the fire in Hogsmeade, or James's absence, or Malfoy disappearing in the village, but Albus was mad at her, and all the things she shouldn't have said came rushing back.

But then, of course, there were things he shouldn't have said either, so ought she bother feeling remorseful?

Yes, she told herself. She was the one who knew better.

She ran a hand through her mess of ginger hair, forcing it back from her face, and rose to her feet. There was no use mulling the previous evening over in her head, cursing herself and Albus and James.

She dwelled on this as she gathered up her jeans and sweater and crossed to the bathroom to shower. She and Albus were ill-fitted friends, and yet he had been her only companion for the first eleven years of her life; she was too difficult, and he was too soft, but they had grown into each other, stomached each other when very few others could.

Other than Albus, her only proper friend was Chandra, who Rose knew could seldom muster the vitriol to think poorly of anyone, and therefore Rose could hardly hold herself accountable for their friendship: anyone could be Chandra's friend, even someone as harsh as Rose.

She stepped out of the shower and crossed to the bathroom mirror. She rubbed away the condensation and inspected her bony body. She wasn't attractive and she wasn't kind and she wasn't much else other than Chandra's and Albus's friend. What did she have if it weren't for them?

She pulled on her clothes and left the bathroom, tiptoeing across the dormitory, and descended the stairs to the common room. It was deserted. She hurried across to the portrait hole; if she ate quickly enough she could be concealed somewhere in the castle studying by the time Chandra came looking for her, no doubt anxious to see her and Albus make amends, and Rose wasn't sure she was ready for that.

'Rosie.'

She turned at the sound of the name, and there was the boy she wasn't sure she was ready for. He was by the window, standing in front of an armchair he had evidently been perched in watching for her. He looked peaky, his green eyes bleary and his sallow cheeks looking especially hollow, but of course he always looked that way in the mornings, and with a pang of guilt she remembered something she had forgotten in the string of affronts he had thrown at her.

Before she knew why she was saying it, she asked, 'I thought you were sick of this kind of rubbish from me.'

'I – what?'

'"Getting up way too early": that's what you said last night. If it bothers you so much why don't you just sleep in? I'm not bothered by eating breakfast alone.'

He seemed to wither before her, like a scolded puppy, and he hung his head; it was not the typical head hanging, which one would expect from someone feigning guilt, but rather a sorrowful head hanging. 'I thought you liked the company,' he told her meekly.

'Not if you're going to yell at me about it.' Why did she say that? Why was she making it worse? 'But I suppose I deserve it.'

Albus looked up at her – wide, curious eyes. He hadn't been expecting that, she knew.

'I'm sure Zhao's fine,' she continued. 'I don't know her very well.'

Green eyes swelled still wider, and when he spoke his voice was bubbling with excited disbelief. 'Yes, she's – she's good. But I don't know her that well either – but perhaps I'll get to know her – and perhaps you could too-'

'Okay.'

He grinned at her. 'Okay.'

And she knew it was settled – settled, at least, as much as Albus would have been expecting. Had it been anyone else they would have needed more; expected at the very least a muttered "sorry", and she knew she owed him that much, and yet her apologies were poor and stunted due to underuse, and so instead she sufficed to tell him: 'I'm going to breakfast.'

'Cool, I'll come – if you want me to.'

'If you can stand being awake so early.'

They walked down to breakfast mostly in silence. They were so early that the house-elves had not yet sent up the first round of dishes and so, wordlessly, Rose led Albus out through the entrance hall into the school yard. It was a crisp morning, silent and still and cloudless and they started down the cobbled pathway that led to the greenhouses.

'Do you think anyone died?' Albus asked her.

'Yesterday? In the village?'

'Yeah.'

Rose shook her head. 'I don't think so. They took everyone to St. Mungo's. The healers would have fixed it.'

Albus was silent, and Rose glanced across at him. He was staring at his feet as they walked.

'What?' she asked him.

'What?'

'What's wrong?'

Albus hesitated. She could see him searching for the words, but quickly deemed he was taking too long.

'Are you thinking about James?'

'How did you know that?'

'Because I was too.'

'I'm sure James isn't that stupid,' Albus said matter-of-factly. 'He wouldn't hurt anyone, would he?'

'No, he wouldn't. He was probably just off with his friends.'

Albus nodded, looking relieved. 'Yeah.'

'Do you have practice today?'

Albus modded wearily. 'Everyday this week. James made us all promise we'd be there.'

'Well, at least that means he can't sneak out again.' The pathway they were following was petering away. They had reached the herbology gardens. Rose heaved a sigh. 'I think you should ask Mei what time Scorpius Malfoy got back to their common room last night.'

Albus glanced at her, alarmed. 'Why do I need to do that?'

'Because then we'll have a better idea of what he was doing in the village yesterday. We need to give the teachers as much information as we can.'

'You want to tell the teachers?'

'Well, obviously, Al. If he's responsible for what happened in Hogsmeade we can't just keep it to ourselves.

'I don't think… but we don't… they won't believe us, will they?'

'That's why you need to ask Mei,' said Rose sternly. When Albus continued to gaze at her with wide, reluctant eyes, she heaved a sigh. 'Albus, do you want him to get away with this?'

'Well, no.'

'Good. So you'll ask Mei?'

Albus gave a slow nod. 'Alright.'


Godric's Hollow was silent in the mornings when his children weren't around. It was something that had attracted him so forcefully after the war; the empty streets and branches scraping against thatched rooves, no voices or car engines or bellowing journalists to drown it out.

He paused on his way down the stairs, inspecting the day out of the arched windows. The sky was cloudless. The field that served as his backyard was struggling in anticipation of winter; the birch trees were standing bare and the overgrown grass was no longer green. Had he had the time, he told himself, he ought to do something about it.

He found his wife in the kitchen, sitting at the table. He knew she had been waiting for him; a teapot sat steaming and The Daily Prophet lay splayed before her as if in question.

'Morning,' he said to her.

'I thought I should let you sleep in.'

'Thanks.'

'I made tea.'

'Great.' He took a seat and poured himself a cup.

She let him drink in silence, the paper lying between them, urging him for some type of justification. He read the headline without meaning to: Disaster strikes Hogsmeade – blood equality to blame.

Her question came later than he was expecting, and far less accusatory. 'What happened to James?'

He glanced up at her over his tea. She wasn't looking at him, but rather had her gaze fixed out of the window. There wasn't much to see out of it other than the crumbling brick of their owlery. He couldn't help but reach for her hand.

'He's okay, Ginny. He's fine.'

She seemed to wince at his assurance. Falteringly, her fingers squeezed his, before she withdrew her hand under the pretence of refilling their teacups.

'The paper says Rowle's claiming that it was the same people who killed Gamp,' she said. 'Pureblood haters.'

'There's nothing to suggest that.'

'But that's what everyone's going to think, isn't it?'

'Probably. When the Wizengamot convened last night he presented two new bills: one to have a curfew imposed on Wizarding streets and another to have Muggle-studies removed as a compulsory subject.'

'What does Muggle-studies have to do with anything?' demanded Ginny.

'He says it's to make a point to the perpetrators: that pro-Muggle ideology isn't to interfere with our traditions.'

'Do you think the Wizengamot will pass them?'

'They all seemed pretty happy about it last night.'

Ginny shook her head in dismay. She turned her gaze back to the window, frowning in thought. Several minutes passed before she spoke again. 'I feel like going up to the school and seeing James and asking him where the hell he was all day.'

'Leave it the professors, Ginny.'

'Where was he? What was he doing going missing for so long?'

'He was probably off with his friends.'

'You said all his dorm-mates were back in the common room.'

'With a girl, then. I don't know.'

'Stop defending him, Harry. I could tell you were furious when you got home last night. He can't go wandering off like that.'

'The thing is that he can; he's seventeen,' said Harry placidly. 'He doesn't need his mum and dad going up to Hogwarts and scolding him.'

'He's seventeen, but he's still our son. He still needs to follow school rules. He can't act like an adult when he's still at school and still living in our house.'

'Well, perhaps we need to accept that fact that he won't be for much longer.'

Ginny gave him a venomous look, and he continued before she could snap at him.

'You know he's going to want to leave home as soon as he can, Ginny. You could tell how jealous he was when Fred said he and Juniper were going travelling. He's going to go too as soon as he's done with school.'

If Ginny thought he was right, she covered it with a sharp, bitter laugh. 'Right, and with what money? You think he has any interest in getting a summer job and saving up like Fred?'

'We opened the Gringotts vault for him. What else is that money going to be used for?'

'That money's for his education - so he can find a career. We're not rewarding him for behaving like this.'

'If we set limitations for what James can do with his money then we're setting a precedent. We'll have to do the same for Al and Lily, or James will never speak to us again.'

'We won't need to set limitations for Al and Lily. They've got sensible plans. Lily's been wanting to go to Paris to be a seamstress since she was five, and Al wants to do a potioneering apprenticeship.'

Harry raised his eyebrows. 'He told you that?'

'I found pamphlets in his desk.'

'You go through his desk?'

Ginny's eyes narrowed. 'I was looking for a quill, Harry. You and your children hoard them and I'm the only one who ever buys more.'

Harry raised a hand in defence. 'Alright. Sorry.'

'The money in those vaults is for their future.'

Harry made a face, drew a breath, and considered how to proceed. 'Ginny, you know their futures are going to be fine. They could all go travelling and all do three different apprenticeships and all buy their own manor houses and they'd be fine. We have money.'

'I know that,' said Ginny coolly. 'But that's not how I want them to grow up. I want them to learn how to work for things.'

'And I want them to be able to do the things I couldn't when I was their age. If James wants to travel, he can travel.'

'He can travel after he's learnt how to work towards something. You never make him work for anything.'

Harry was silent, staring at her from across the kitchen. She looked riled, her dark eyes fixed upon him sharply. The way she spoke to him was full of vitriol, but he himself relished in. He liked these types of arguments; the type that made him feel normal. This was what normal people did; bickered over children and discipline and money. Normal people didn't get called to put out cursed fire on a Saturday afternoon.

He tore his eyes away from her to glance at his watch. 'I need to head into the office.'

Ginny seemed to deflate slightly, and said in a would-be gentle voice, 'You don't have to. It's a Sunday.'

'The Heads of Department need to be briefed. We didn't have the time last night.'

'Call in sick.'

'I don't want to give Rowle the opportunity to spin the story his way. I shouldn't be gone long.'

'You're going to work yourself to death.'

'What's new?'

Ginny laughed. He found himself smiling.

'It's not too late to become a professor, you know,' she told him.

'Yeah, but the scars make me look so rugged.'

Ginny rolled her eyes and got to her feet. 'But you're going grey: you look old. I'm meeting Luna in Diagon Alley. Do you need anything while I'm there?'

'No, thanks. Say hello for me.'

'I'll get you some rosehip essence. I'm sick of looking at the bags under your eyes.'

She picked up the teapot and moved to the sink. She turned on the tap to give it a rinse. Watching her, he pulled himself up and moved towards her, laying a hand on her shoulder. She turned to look at him, questioning.

'I don't mean to be gone as much as I am, you know?'

Ginny turned back to the sink, turning the teapot over beneath the running water, washing the leaves away down the drain. 'I know,' she said slowly. 'You still are, though, aren't you?'


He was waiting for him, perched by the doorway, knowing that he could only feign sleep for so long. He watched as he raised himself up in his four-poster, wincing as he did so, his mess of raven hair falling all over his face. His dark eyes met his from across the room.

'Hey,' he said.

'Morning,' croaked James. He propped himself up on his elbow, his movements slow and uncertain. 'Good night last night?'

Finlay didn't reply, but rather crossed the room to James's four-poster and ripped back the covers. James flinched slightly as the duvet was torn back from his leg, but Finlay gave him no mind, leaning over him to examine the wound.

'Looks gorgeous,' said James. Finlay's handiwork had turned the blackened burn into wide, purple scab. 'You're an artist, Fin.'

Finlay threw the duvet back over James and turned away. 'You can't fly today.'

James took hold of the four-poster's headboard, pulling himself upwards and easing his legs over the side of the bed. 'You worry too much.'

Finlay watched him wobble to his feet, unsmiling. 'You probably shouldn't walk on it.'

'Back off, Mum.'

'Oh, fuck off, James.'

James cocked an eyebrow. 'What's your problem?'

Finlay turned away. 'You know what it is.'

'Oh, come on,' sighed James. 'Poor little Finny's sulking. Do you want a hug?'

Finlay didn't smile. 'Don't make me do that again.'

'Stop being dramatic.'

'Go fuck yourself.'

James hesitated, taken-aback. 'Fin…'

'You should go the hospital wing. I'm not a healer. And you shouldn't play next week.'

'It's the first match of the year!'

'I'm just telling you what's what. I didn't expect you to listen.'

He turned towards the door, and James scrambled forwards, hobbling on his leg. 'Finlay, wait… listen…'

Finlay eyed him guardedly. Standing with his weight all on one leg, his dark eyes staring pleadingly, his thin, dark face sallow-looking. Finlay willed himself not to take any pity on the boy.

'Could you just… can you help me get my robes on?'

He realised only after James spoke that he had been hoping for an apology, and he told himself he should have known better.

'Do it yourself,' he bit back. 'I'm done fixing your problems.'

And with that he was gone, slamming the dormitory door behind him. Now alone, James allowed himself to slump back on the nearest four-poster, succumbing to a groan of pain.


Scorpius Malfoy looked like someone you ought to avoid: a gait like a kind of faltering strut of someone who thinks them self more important than they are; hair longer than what was presently fashionable in a declaration of his perceived peculiarity and the supposed merit he discerned from it; the pointed chin, pinched nose and haughty, hollow cheekbones of a lineage of men that nobody wanted to know these days.

Rose Weasley was watching for him that morning. She wasn't exactly trying to hide it, although Albus still felt some sense of achievement in having noticed her fixation. She had always ridiculed his distrust of the Ravenclaw, and yet here she was, waiting keenly for his arrival.

If Rose was expecting to glean some clue from the sight of the boy that morning, she was disappointed: he arrived in the same manner as he always did, flanking his girlfriend and looking morose.

'He's going to notice you staring,' Albus told her in an undertone.

'I'm not staring.'

This was a lie, but it may as well have been the truth; she was no longer interested in Malfoy now that he had taken his seat, and even she it had been he surely wouldn't have noticed. That morning's edition of the Prophet had announced that Draco Malfoy had once again been taken into questioning by the auror office ensured that she wasn't the only one staring across the Great Hall at the Ravenclaw.

'Rose, have some juice,' said Chandra quickly, brandishing the jug of pumpkin juice at her from across the table. 'Al, will you have some?'

They both declined, and Rose returned to frowning across the Great Hall. It was hard to think with Chandra interrupting; she had been attempting to rouse a conversation since arriving at breakfast, trying to alleviate any opportunity for the cousins to begin arguing again.

At that moment, the Ravenclaw that Rose had been searching for arrived, flanked by her friends. She entered the Great Hall just as Scorpius Malfoy was leaving; a glance at the Prophet's front page had apparently put him off breakfast, and he marched from the room without so much as a sip of tea.

Rose turned to Albus. 'Mei's here.'

Albus spun in his seat to look towards the Ravenclaw table. Mei was taking a seat with her friends, her long hair swept over her shoulder, and as she poured herself a glass of pumpkin juice he saw her eyes shift towards the Gryffindors. Their eyes met and his stomach gave a lurch; he told himself to smile, and managed a grimace. He saw her blush, smile, and then turn pointedly to her friend and begin talking rapidly.

'Are you going to go talk to her?' asked Chandra eagerly.

'When I'm finished, maybe.'

Rose nodded at his empty breakfast plate. 'Are you finished now?'

'Well… yeah, alright. Fine.'

'Just ask when he got back in.'

Albus grimaced. 'I don't think she's going to like me asking her to spy on her housemates.'

'It's not spying. It's observing.'

'Can't we ask someone else? Like Connor?'

'I tried. He said he went to bed early,' said Chandra.

'Besides, we need to ask a prefect,' said Rose matter-of-factly. 'They're the ones who will have been counting the heads, and she might have even asked him where he'd been. God knows she's nosy enough.'

Albus sighed. He hesitated before rising, sparing a second to check his reflection in the back of his spoon quickly enough so as not to be noticed by Rose, and then got to his feet and started towards the Ravenclaw table. He felt very aware of his limbs as he approached Mei but she wasn't looking at him, and instead was taking particular care to butter her toast.

'Hi, Mei,' he said when he reached her.

She looked up at him. He was sure she had been avoiding looking at him until then, and he took some solace in the fact that she was apparently as equally nervous as he was. 'Good morning,' she said.

'How are you?'

'Alright,' she said, frowning. 'I didn't get much sleep. I had to wait up until all the students returned to the common room.'

'Oh?' he forced himself to say. 'Were there students missing in your house too?'

'Yes, unfortunately.'

'Which ones?'

'The usual ones. They claimed not to have known they had to return to the school. It's ridiculous.'

'Yeah… yeah, that is ridiculous.' He couldn't think how else to probe for information, and instead stood before her, feeling increasingly panicked beneath her gaze. 'So, yesterday was… was fun.'

He watched as Mei seemed to find herself caught between blushing and frowning; the colour of her cheeks betrayed the look of disapproval she gave. 'Yes, it was nice until the village got set on fire.'

'Yeah, I… I meant having tea.'

'Yes, I thought that's what you must mean.'

There was another silence. He had to say something else – quickly.

'Do you want to go out again?' he asked.

She abandoned the look of disapproval to turn scarlet. 'Yes, that would be nice.'

'Cool,' said Albus, grinning at her. 'Only I've got practice every night this week.'

Mei frowned at him. 'Every night?'

'Yeah, the first match is next weekend.'

'Of course. How could I forget?'

'Yeah, well… perhaps the next week then.'

'Yes, perhaps.' She picked up her butter knife and returned to buttering her toast. He could feel the eyes of her friends inspecting him, and he knew he had said the wrong thing.

'Unless – unless you like Quidditch?'

She glanced at him. 'Somewhat.'

'Maybe… maybe you could come watch me practice one night this week? And then we could do something afterwards?'

She hesitated, considering his offer, before she gave a stiff nod. 'Yes, I could do that.'

'Great. So – so you'll come?'

'Not today. I need to study. We have a test on Friday. But perhaps I could come that evening.'

'Yeah. Cool. Great. Alright, well… well, I'll see you later then,' he said, beaming at her.

She gave him a smile. 'Alright, see you.'

He gave her one final smile before he turned away and hurried off, once again feeling very aware of his feet. Knowing Rose would chide him for his failure to extract any information, he chose to ignore her and Chandra's beckoning from across the great hall and instead started back towards his Gryffindor tower to get ready for practice.

In his dormitory he pulled on his Quidditch robes hurriedly and clumsily, his mind still whirring from his fleeting interaction with Mei. Speaking to her was exhilarating in a way he couldn't explain, but the anxiety that wracked him in her presence was almost debilitating. He was unsure how he was supposed to manage enough conversation to last another date, but the prospect of Friday evening was none the less exciting enough to keep him grinning all the way down to Quidditch pitch.

His high spirits were apparently not shared by his team mates. He found them lounging in the middle of the pitch with their broomsticks under the arms, looking sullen. Their captain was conspicuously absent.

'Where's James?' asked Albus when he reached them.

'Who knows?' sighed Xan. 'Probably sleeping off whatever he did last night. Was he awake when you left the dormitory, Fin?'

Finlay said nothing, but continued to swing his beaters' bat absently between his fingers.

'Should I go look for him?' offered Adam.

'Perhaps he doesn't expect us to practice today,' said Kim. 'After what happened yesterday it feels pretty bad to be worrying about Quidditch.'

'Kim, promise you will never, ever say that around James,' warned Louis. 'It will be the last thing you do.'

'If he doesn't turn up on time I don't see why we should sit here waiting,' said Xan.

Nobody protested this, but Albus silently agreed, and by the scowls on most of his teammates' faces he was sure they were all in consensus.

'Right,' said Finlay after a few moments silence, pulling himself to his feet. 'I'm not waiting any longer. I have an essay to write and-'

Finlay was cut short, however, by a bounding silver streak that burst into the centre of the group, materialising into the gleaming form of a maned lion. It hung in the air, brilliant and shimmering, before it opened its jaws and James's voices spoke from its mouth.

'Running late. Get moving. Twenty laps of the pitch and practice passing until I'm there.'

And the lion evaporated like mist as quickly as it appeared.

Adam gaped around at them. 'Was that…'

'… a patronus?' said Kim uncertainly.

'A lion patronus,' said Louis, grinning.

'Can James cast a patronus?' asked Adam in awe.

'We've been learning in defense,' said Xan, who seemed to be unable to suppress her surprise. 'A few people have produced corporeal ones, but Doge hasn't even started getting us to use them as messengers. James must have taught himself.'

'He has to be good at something, doesn't he?' said Louis. 'Alright, what are we waiting for?'

'Okay, let's get started,' instructed Xan, mounting her Cleansweep. 'Everyone up. We better not be sitting around when he gets here.'

One by one the Gryffindors pulled themselves up, mounting their brooms and taking off. Albus, scowling, climbed onto the school broom he had borrowed. Discovering another of James's talents was enough to quell any joy that Mei had sprouted.

Kicking off, he noticed Finlay level with him. Finlay was not someone Albus would generally consider glum, but as they soared upwards Albus was sure that he wasn't the only one irked the lion's appearance.


Friday evening found the Gryffindor Quidditch team in fowl spirits. Albus had no way of knowing if this was the norm for his team-mates on the eve of matches, but he suspected it was not the case. He knew that it could be somewhat attributed to the news the Prophet had been bringing them of Mikhael Rowle's proposed curfews and the tension that had arisen amongst disagreeing students, some of whom supported Rowle and some of whom sided with Hermione Granger's objections. However, Albus was sure that the disastrous practice sessions would have occurred regardless of the political climate.

Firstly, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, Finlay and James were not currently on speaking terms.

Secondly, Xan had taken it upon herself to attempt to bully them both into making amends, which had resulted in the two boys extending their animosities towards her as well.

Thirdly, Kim had spent most of the week telling anyone who would listen that Rowle needed to be removed from office and finally on Thursday evening, under mounting pressure from the prospect of his first match, Adam had told her to shut up. James, sulking over his own poor performance that evening, had done nothing to mediate the subsequent fight that broke out, and now two more players were currently estranged.

Albus was certain that could they win the match tomorrow all ill-feeling between the seven of them would be resolved. Winning the match, however, would most likely require him to catch the snitch, which Albus believed to be incredibly unlikely. Whatever improvement he had made since making the team in September had seemed to ebb away the closer he got to the first match. They had been practicing for the better half of three hours that evening and in that time Albus hadn't caught the practice snitch once.

James seemed ready to burst. 'I'm going to kill all of you.'

Nobody had any words of reply. They stood around the changing room, drenched in sweat and refusing to look at each other as James bared down upon them.

'Weasley,' said James, apparently selecting Louis as his first victim on a savage whim, 'you scored once. Once. What the fuck is wrong with you?'

Before Louis could reply, James turned to Xan, pointing his finger at her in accusation. 'Do you know what a bat is? It's that thing in your hand! You're supposed to bloody well use it!'

Xan opened her mouth to protest, but James wasn't interested. He rounded on Kim. 'I don't give a fuck if you take it upon yourself to knock Farouk off his broom tomorrow; you still need to pass him the fucking Quaffle after you save! Louis and I can't be waiting by you every second to save you from having to look at him!'

Kim looked abashed, and gave a feeble, 'But…'

'But nothing!' bellowed James. 'I don't give a fuck! I don't give a fuck if he's a Muggle hater – he's still a Chaser!'

'My mum's a Muggle,' protested Adam.

Kim turned dangerous eyes towards him. 'Then why don't you care what Rowle's been saying about Muggle-borns?'

'I do care! I just don't see how us talking about it helps-'

'Oh, shut up!' barked James. 'Shut up the pair of you – and you…'

It was what Albus had been waiting for. James turned to him, brandishing his finger as if it was a wand ready to aim a curse at him. Instinctively Albus took a step away, backing against the wall of the change rooms. James stepped forward after him, jabbing the front of his robes.

'What the actual fuck?'

'I… I didn't…'

'Didn't catch the snitch? Yes, Albus, I bloody well realise that. You're the seeker! It's your only job! Your one, stupid, simple, pathetic job and you can't even do that right!'

'It's his first game tomorrow, mate,' said Louis from across the room, but he went ignored.

'I know it's my own fault for putting you on the team – Dod knows you can barely get the broom off the ground – but I don't see what's so fucking hard about catching a ball, do you?' demanded James.

'Alright, stop,' said Finlay finally, stepping forward towards the brothers. 'You're being a prick, James.'

Albus saw James flinch with anger, and he rounded on the beater. 'I'm the captain. You stay out of it.'

'Being captain doesn't make you emperor of all of us. What do you think yelling at everyone's going to do?'

'What the fuck would you know? It's not like you've been playing so brilliantly.'

'Ever realise what we've all got in common is that you're our captain? When Fred was captain-'

'I don't want to hear about Fred!'

'When Fred was captain, he took the time to make a proper training schedule instead of working us all to death!'

'Al,' said Xan quietly, stepping towards him to take his arm. 'Come on, let's go.'

Albus looked around at her. Louis, Kim and Adam were already moving towards the door, capitalising on James's distraction. He didn't need much convincing. He picked up his broom and hurried after Xan, leaving Finlay and James to scream at each other across the change room.

Once out the door, the full impact of what James had said to him hit him. There was no refuting it; he was useless. He was useless and they were going to lose tomorrow. They were going to lose because of him.

'Hello.'

He started, looking around to find Mei standing near the door. He had been so immersed in how terribly he had played that he had forgotten that she had been in the stands watching.

'Hi,' he said, hoping desperately that she had not heard what James had said to him through the door. It seemed unlikely, however, as he could make out every name James and Finlay were throwing at each other from within the change room. 'Sorry to make you wait.'

'That's okay. I thought your brother might have something to say to you.'

Albus stomach gave an unpleasant turn. 'Yeah… I… that was bad.'

'It wasn't you,' said Mei. 'It was the whole team.'

'Right… yeah. Thanks.'

'And besides, he shouldn't have yelled at you all. It's not very fair. It's not like he's playing well either.'

'Yeah… I… yeah.'

'Well? Did you still want to do something?'

Albus hesitated, The honest answer was no. All he wanted to do was return to his dormitory and attempt to drown himself in the shower, but that would mean having to pass through the common room where Rose was undoubtedly waiting; he had assured her that this was the evening he would question Mei about Malfoy.

'Yeah, of course,' he told her. 'Should we… go for a walk, maybe?'

'There's not much else to do, I suppose. But we shouldn't be gone too long. I don't want to miss curfew.'

'Yeah, okay.'

They started away from the pitch. Instead of following the path that his team mates were taking up to the school, they trailed towards the lake. It was nearly nine o'clock and the moon was reflected in the water, shimmering silver. Albus thought of the patronus that had materialised on the pitch last Sunday. James had a knack for tricky things, he thought miserably, and particularly for knowing what to say to hurt someone.

'So are you nervous about tomorrow?' Mei asked him.

Albus had been so immersed in feeling sorry for himself that he had forgotten to feel embarrassed about having nothing to say to her. He didn't particularly want to answer, but he didn't have the energy to lie.

'Yeah,' he replied.

'That's understandable. I'm sure everyone is before their first match.'

'Yeah, but most people who join the team do it because they really like Quidditch. I'd never even flown a broom properly until August.'

He wasn't sure why he was telling her this, but it made him feel somehow better to speak his self-pity aloud. Mei didn't seem to mind this, and she asked, 'So why did you join the team?'

'I don't know. To… to prove a point I suppose.'

'What was the point?'

'That I'm not totally useless at everything. Seems like I am, though.'

'Stop feeling sorry for yourself,' she instructed. 'You're just going to make it worse. If you turn up to the match tomorrow sulking then your brother will take it as an opportunity to attack you again. Just don't worry so much. It's only Quidditch.'

Albus frowned. 'That makes sense, actually.'

'I enjoy watching the game, but I think people take it much too seriously,' said Mei wisely. 'Especially considering everything that's going on in the Ministry.'

Albus had trouble agreeing with this, but nodded none the less.

'Have you been reading the papers?' she asked him.

'Yeah, a little.'

'That Rowle really is delusional. My stepfather used to work with him when he first started at the Ministry. Apparently he's a total idiot.'

'Your stepdad works at the Ministry?'

'In the department of mysteries. He's a big fan of your dad, actually.'

'Everyone is,' he replied.

Albus was aware it was not advisable to reveal on a second date how truly bitter one could be, but he couldn't stop himself. She gave him a questioning look, and he realised that what he ought to be doing was seizing the opportunity like Rose had insisted.

'So, what do you think happened in the village?' he asked.

'Who knows. Probably some idiots thinking they can intimidate Rowle out of office. Even if he is hideous they can't just go around blowing up buildings.'

'My cousin thinks it might have been a student.'

Mei frowned. 'Well, I doubt that.'

'Really?' he forced himself to say. 'You don't think someone could have done it?'

'It would take really powerful magic.'

'Well, my cousin says she saw some students acting strangely in the village.'

'And which cousin is that?'

'Rose.'

'Ha. Of course. I'm sure she thinks this whole thing is a joke. She's so immature. Why do you spend so much time with her?'

'I don't. I mean, I do, but…. Well, she just thinks it might be best to tell the teachers.'

'Tell them what exactly?'

'She thinks she saw Scorpius Malfoy around the courtyard when it happened.'

'So?'

'So... well, his family's a bit funny, you know.'

'Well, if I were you I'd tell Rose to mind her own business.'

'So you didn't... you didn't see him come back late on Saturday?'

Mei stopped walking and he turned to look at her fully. She was glaring at him, her dark eyes alight beneath the moon. 'Is this why you wanted to see me tonight?'

'I... What?'

'Everyone knows our head of house pulls people off the Quidditch team for bad behaviour. I know you're scared about tomorrow but I didn't think you'd stoop so low as to try to get Scorpius thrown off the team.'

Albus shook his head. 'Oh, no. I don't care about the game-'

'Obviously you do. You're clearly desperate to get in favour with your brother. I really thought you were above all this ridiculous house rivalry.'

'I am - it's only - with Malfoy...'

'Forget it. I'm not giving you fuel to turn him over to the teachers. If you want to win tomorrow you'll have to do it on your own: not by getting him thrown off the team.'

'Mei, look… It's not about that. Rose just wanted… she told me if I asked you-'

'Oh, so it was Rose's idea?' demanded Mei. 'That's why you asked me out. God, she really is a piece of work.'

'No, you don't understand…'

'Excuse me?' she hissed at him. 'I understand a lot more than you do, Albus. Goodnight.'

'No, Mei – wait…'

But it was too late. She whipped around and began back along the path, walking briskly. He didn't have the energy to pursue her, and even if he did he didn't think he could think of words of amends. He turned back to lake, scowling.


Breakfast was grim the next morning. Chandra was doing her best to coax him into eating. Rose did her best to suppress her irritation when he relayed what had happened with Mei that previous evening. James's dorm-mates, sans Finlay, erupted into cheers when the captain arrived at breakfast, sending Albus into hyperventilation.

'I'm going to die,' panted Albus, staring down the table as the seventh years adorned James in a conjured lion-skin coat. 'I'm actually going to die.'

'You're not going to die,' said Rose impatiently.

'I am. How did I ever think I could do this?'

'Because you can, Albus. You just need to stop worrying.'

'I'm going to die, and if I don't James is going to kill me.

Rose was saved from answering by a heavy beating of wings above that announced the arrival of the morning post. Rose gave his shoulder a consoling pat.

'Come on, it's nearly ten. We'll walk you down to the pitch.'

'Don't you want to wait for The Prophet?' he asked her, glancing up at the owls.

'Not particularly. I'm sick of seeing Rowle's disgusting face on the front page. Let's go.'

They started to their feet, but were interrupted by the arrival of a large barn owl swooping over their heads and depositing a large brown paper package down onto Albus's uneaten plate of eggs. The owl swooped away without stopping, soaring back into the air.

'Wasn't that Gertrude?' said Rose, frowning at the retreating owl. Albus followed it too, trying to discern if it was his father's.

Chandra stooped over the parcel, reading the attached tag. 'It's addressed to you, Al.'

Albus looked down at the long, thing package. He knew what it was immediately. It was strange how jealous he had been when he watched James unwrap his first racing broom, and yet how unhappy he felt to receive his own.

'Come on, Al,' urged Rose, giving him a nudge. 'You better open it, quick.'

Albus did so. He tore back the brown wrapping, as quickly as possible; he didn't want to extend the ordeal, and he especially didn't want to catch James's attention. Just as he knew he would, he tossed the wrapping paper away and found himself clutching broomstick, it's polished mahogany glistened under the morning light. As he knew nothing about brooms, he needed to check the inscription on the handle to identify the model: a Comet 2022. Even he in his ignorance knew it was the top of the line in racing brooms.

'Oh, wow,' said Chandra whistfully. 'It's beautiful.'

'There's a letter,' said Rose, retrieving a folded slip of parchment from within the discarded wrapping paper.

She passed it to Albus. The sorry look she gave him told he she knew how embarrassed he was, and he was pleased she said nothing else. Instead she merely gestured for them to follow her, and she started towards the doors into the entrance hall. Albus followed after her, Chandra at his side, tucking the broom under his arm.

He waited until they were outside and on the pathway down the pitch to open the letter. Chandra and Rose were several paces ahead of him, talking between themselves. He stared down at his father's handwriting.

Dear Albus,

Good luck today.

Love,

Dad


Not for the first time, Albus wished the change rooms were sound-proofed. He could hear, with painful accuracy, the voices outside as students flocked into the stands, talking excitedly amongst himself. It was bad enough that he had to play Quidditch; he didn't need to be reminded that people would be watching.

His new broomstick had already attracted attention Albus knew would come but had dreaded none the less. Adam, who was flying on his father's old broom, was particularly taken by it.

'Do you think I could have a go?' he asked pleadingly. 'Not now, obviously – one night after practice?'

Albus agreed with a nod. He didn't think he could manage any words.

'Wow, Al – that's amazing. I owe you one. Seriously, anything you want…'

James, who had until then been tolerating the attention Albus was getting, had apparently had his fill, for he gave his hands a heavy clap. 'Right, listen up, you lot.'

'You don't need to clap at us,' said Kim. 'We're not dogs.'

James glared at her, and the six of them glared back at him. James had apparently crossed a line with most of them last night and Albus had even questioned whether everyone would turn up to play. James had apparently questioned this too, for he didn't snap back and Kim and instead launched into directions.

'Easterly wind – keep that in mind. There's no cloud cover. Sun's bright today, so the beaters need to keep an extra eye out. Ravenclaw lost their keeper last year so we need to take advantage of that, but they retained the rest of their team. Corner's been made captain and he's not afraid to really go for it with bludgers, so watch out. Malfoy caught the snitch in the majority of their games last year, so if anyone gets the chance knock him off his broom.'

Albus goggled at his brother, horrified, but nobody else in the room seemed to react. Apparently they had received these type of instructions before.

'And… well, just...' James paused for a breath, heaved a sigh, and slung his broom over his shoulder. 'Nobody get their skull knocked in, okay?'

This was apparently as much as an apology James could muster, and they all seemed to realise it, for there was a murmur of agreement from around the room. Only Finlay remained scowling as they left the change rooms and marched out towards the pitch.

When Albus reflected on that day in the weeks and months and perhaps years to come, he struggled to recount it in a series of events. He had only vague memories of the walk onto the pitch and the bellowing cheers and boos from the stands and the ease with which his new broom rose from the ground. Instead, in the future when he was to reflect on it, he would remember that Saturday as the beginning of many things, and the end of his belief that a Quidditch match demanded skill.

In what he witnessed as he gained himself some height and the other players launched into the match, he didn't see anything he would call skill. Watching from hundreds of feet below, he had never realised just how rough the game was, and it wasn't skill that fuelled his team-mates; it was unimpeded aggression.

The first thing that happened after the whistle blew was David Corner charging into Finlay and very nearly knocking him off his broom. The next thing that happened was James slamming heavily into Corner and sending him spiralling away. The Ravenclaw's disadvantage lasted only a second, but it was enough time for James to get possession of the Quaffle and charge towards the goals.

'And Potter – Potter's got the quaffle,' the commentary roared around the pitch over the screaming crowd. 'Passes to Adam Farouk, he's new this year – passes back to Potter – passes to Lewis - sorry, Louis Weasley has the quaffle - passes to Potter - back to Weasley – back to Potter – and Potter scores!'

There was an eruption of cheers from below. Across the pitch, his teammates threw their arms into the air. James and Louis passed each other on their brooms, high-fiving. Albus, inexplicably, found himself clapping as he watched James do a brief victory lap of the pitch as the Madam Robins, the Quidditch instructor, relaunched the Quaffle.

James swooped past him back to the centre of the pitch, bellowing as he did so, 'Get moving, you prat!'

Albus remembered, with a jolt, that he was supposedly a seeker: glancing around the pitch, he caught sight of Malfoy who was circling below him, scouring for a flicker of gold. Albus decided to follow his lead, and as he did he heard the commentary start up as the chasers once again launched into the pursuit of the Quaffle.

Between dodging bludgers and searching for the snitch and the crowd's screaming below, it was hard to follow the commentary. Albus knew only that the match was close: Gryffindor scored first, then Ravenclaw, the Gryffindor, then Ravenclaw, then Gryffindor, and so on. The game was painfully tense within twenty minutes; James, Louis and a Ravenclaw beater had already received warnings for rough play.

Albus was doing his best to ignore an argument that had broken out below over a penalty shot for Ravenclaw. James was bellowing at Madam Robins. Albus could tell by his brother's sighing and yelling that he was resisting the temptation to swear at the woman.

Please don't, thought Albus desperately as he circled the pitch, listening to James's protests as the Ravenclaw chaser took their shot. Please don't, James.

From around the pitch, Albus heard a great groan of dismay which he took to mean the Ravenclaw had missed the shot. Around him the game started again, but Albus was no longer paying it any mind; across the pitch he had seen a glimmer of gold at the bottom of the goal posts.

'And Weasley in the possession of the quaffle – shoots and scores and – hang on, it looks like the Gryffindor seeker's seen something! Is that… I think it is, he's after the snitch!'

He was gaining on it, closer, closer, closer. The snitch was there - right there - he only had to reach it. He knew he had it within him - he knew this was what everything had been building to. Just an inch more, just a jolt further. It's feathers were grazing his fingers and then –

'Shit!'

Something blue and heavy collided with him. He felt his body swing from the broom, barrel-rolling through the air, the hands on his fingers blistering as he clung to the wood.

He pulled himself up sharply, out of the dive, his head spinning and his shoulder throbbing from the impact. The crowd was booing from the stands.

'Near fall from Potter there! Malfoy gave him a good whack! Looked intentional if you ask me!'

He looked around: Scorpius Malfoy was speeding away from him, in pursuit of the shimmering snitch. Albus felt himself flare with anger and it sent him speeding forward.

He was gaining on the blonde, flying better, sharper, more precisely than Malfoy who had only one hand on his broom, the other reaching for the snitch. The Gryffindors were bellowing support from the stands, and the commentator shouted into his microphone: 'Potter's back at it!'

This was enough to startle Malfoy. It was only a second, but he tore his eyes from the snitch, his head swivelling to catch sight of Albus right on his tail, his fingers retracting imperceivably in his distraction, and Albus dived - down towards he earth, hurtling beneath Malfoy, and then up, and his fingers closed on the snitch inches away from Malfoy's, and his whole body seemed to scream with glee, and he heard crowds erupt with applause below him, and then he registered a great pain around his wrist: Malfoy was clawing at his arm, trying to pry the snitch from his fingers.

Somewhere deep within him Albus heard a voice tell him it was okay - that it was over and that he had won, but then a much louder and more convincing voice screamed in his ear: it sounded very much as James sounded when he yelled, and Albus swelled with anger, and he drew back his free hand and punched Malfoy in the face.

The crowd's gasp drowned our Malfoy's yelp of pain. The force of the punch sent them spiralling through the air, and yet Malfoy still clung painfully to his arm. Albus refused to let go; he had caught it, and Malfoy wasn't going to take it, no matter how much pain he inflicted.

'They're going to crash!' screamed the commentator.

And that they did, of sorts. They hadn't been far from the ground, and they hit it with only soft thud, still clinging to each other, the snitch fluttering furiously in Albus's hand. Albus fell back and Malfoy seized the opportunity, scrambling on top of Albus, pulling his fist back to aim for the Gryffindors nose, and then -

'Get off him!'

Scorpius gave a gasp of pain as a boy in red pummelled into him, forcing him off Albus and forcing him to the ground. Albus sat up, his head spinning, looking around to see James on top of Malfoy, pinning him roughly to the ground. Something told Albus he ought to intervene, but the same loud, angry voice screamed in his ear you won. He looked down at his fist; the silver wings of the snitch protruded through his fingers, waving weakly.

And then he found himself engulfed. Xan was screaming in his ear, her arms around him. Louis landed beside him, tossing his broom away and pulling him into a hug. Kim and Adam were beside them, clutching hands and yelling with glee. Finlay landed last, scrambling onto the ground, not towards Albus but to James and wrenching him off of Scorpius.

'You did it, Al! You did it!' Xan was yelling.

'You punched Malfoy in the face!' trilled Louis ecstatically.

And then a much sharper, angrier voice cut through them as Madam Robins appeared on her broom, looking furious. 'All of you up! Up and off the pitch!'

They looked around blankly. Somehow, it seemed, none of them were expecting this, despite the bleeding Ravenclaw slumped on the ground a few feet away. Madam Robins swooped down upon Malfoy, clutching his arm and dragging him to his feet. She forced his hand away from his face and raised her wand, giving it a hurried wave. Malfoy gave a grunt of pain and winced away as his nose clicked back into place.

'Right,' said Madam Robins bracingly, still clutching Malfoy roughly by the arm. 'Albus and James Potter, follow me.'


James Potter received his first detention on his eighth day at Hogwarts when he whipped out his wand, aimed at Caliber Montague, gave it a clumsy wave and recited the words Fred had taught to him.

Scorpius Malfoy received his first detention six months after arriving at Hogwarts, after he failed to turn in his potions homework for the fourth week in a row.

Albus Potter received his first detention that Saturday afternoon in mid-November, two months into his fifth year of school. He had to remind himself that this wasn't unusual; that being dragged into the deputy head master's office to be reprimanded was something that most students experience within their first year or two at school. Albus, however, had never set foot in his head of house's office for any reason other than for afternoon tea.

Sitting rigidly in his chair before Neville's desk, flanked on one side by James and on the other by Scorpius Malfoy, Albus stared into his lap. His hands were folded there, the skin on his right knuckles split from their impact with Malfoy's face. He had never punched anyone before, and his hand was hurting far more than he had anticipated.

'It really is disappointing,' said Neville, for what Albus was sure was the tenth time since they entered his office. 'And the first game of the season, too. This better not become a common occurrence.'

'I'm sure that it won't,' said Professor Karim from beside the door. 'Professor Longbottom, I know it comes down to your decision, but I think seeming Malfoy is in my house it wouldn't be wrong of me to suggest detention and fifty points taken from Ravenclaw.'

'Of course, Professor. And I think Albus and James would do well to receive the same,' said Neville resolutely.

Beside him, James fidgeted with irritation. Albus, however, felt that it could have gone a lot worse.

'The trophy room has built up quite a bit of dust over the summer,' continued Professor Karim. 'Perhaps next week you boys could see to polishing the whole room?'

Neville gave a wry smile. 'Wonderful suggestion, Professor Karim. Well, I suppose if that's sorted there's not much else to say to you three. You can go. I know your teammate's will be waiting for you…'

At that moment there was a rap at the door. Professor Karim exchanged a glance with Neville, before she opened the door to allow Professor Smith to step into the room. Albus thought that he looked very much like a man who was extremely happy but was trying to look extremely troubled.

'Pardon the interruption, Professors,' said Smith, glancing around the room, his eyes lingering on James. 'I don't mean to interrupt. Only I thought you might not have had the time to get the forms – I popped up to retrieve them from the caretaker.'

'And what forms would those be, Zacharias?' said Professor Karim shrewdly, eyeing the three rolls of parchment he was holding under his arm.

'Well, Fahima, I know you've made it a policy to set an example by removing students from the Quidditch team for bad behaviour, so I thought you'd be needing to fill out the form for Mr Malfoy. And seeming I was there, Neville, I thought you might be considering doing the same for your students, due to the violent nature of the offense.'

Neville and Professor Karim were silent as Smith offered the parchment to them. Albus was sure he caught the pair exchange glances before Professor Karim spoke.

'I had no intention of removing Scorpius from the team,' she said. 'I've done so in the past for more serious situations. Trying to retrieve a snitch from your opponent doesn't deserve that.'

'I would call it a little more than that,' said Smith seriously. 'Malfoy attempted to knock Potter off of his broom. Did you not see that? And as for the Potter boys, Albus punched Malfoy in the face.'

'He was trying to defend himself,' said Neville evenly. 'It was a one-time incident. I think we can find fault on all parts, and so I think it would be best if the boys served their time and we moved on. You three can go.'

'One-time incident?' said Smith. 'Certainly, for Albus and Malfoy perhaps, but James has a history of rough play, and I am certain he was responsible for the damage to the Charms corridor in the first week of term. He was undoubtedly out of bounds last weekend in Hogsmeade and yet detentions do nothing to deter him from bad behaviour. I don't know how else you intend to teach his some discipline.'

'Well, luckily, Zacharias, James is in my house and not yours,' said Neville coolly, 'so you have no need to know.'

'Am I the only one who saw Potter attempt to knock David Corner off his broom today?' demanded Zacharias. 'Something he's in the habit of doing. Do you appreciate seeing your students attacked, Fahima?'

Professor Karim was frowning, silent. Smith had apparently struck a nerve. Albus could feel James shaking with anger beside him.

'Professor,' said Karim slowly, glancing at Neville, 'I know it's not my place to say, but, well… Scorpius and Albus don't usually cause these kind of problems. James, however…'

'He was hitting Albus,' growled James, gesturing at Malfoy furiously. 'What am I supposed to do? The game was already over. What's the problem?'

'James,' said Neville evenly, raising a hand to call for silence. 'We all saw what happened. I have no intention of removing you from the Quidditch team. Now, perhaps we could find a more constructive way for you to spend your detention. Albus and Scorpius, you will be responsible for the trophy room. James, you will spend your detention with me. I don't believe we've had time to discuss your plans after graduation; you can explain it to me in three feet of parchment. Now, please, I don't want to keep you any longer. You may go.'

Smith and Professor Karim appeared unable to find any more arguments, and so the three pupils rose from their seats and traipsed out of the room. Once out in the corridor, Smith pulled the door shut after them, and voices could once again be heard between the three teachers. Malfoy started away immediately, storming away down the corridor, leaving James and Albus behind in the silent corridor.

'Good game,' said Albus awkwardly.

James looked at him with sharp, dark eyes. 'Why'd you do that?'

'I… do what?'

'Punch Malfoy?'

Albus had not expected this. He blinked up at James, bewildered. 'I… he was trying to get the snitch.'

'You'd already caught it. The game was won. You shouldn't have done that.'

Albus shook his head. It had seemed so simple at the time but now, standing in his muddy Quidditch robes in the darkened corridor, he truly could not explain the punch. 'I… he just… he made me mad.'

'You could have lost us the game. That could have been a forfeit.'

'He was pulling my arm, and it hurt and… and… Why are you asking me? Why do you care?'

'Are you seriously that thick? They could have called a rematch if they wanted to!'

'You would have done the same thing,' Albus snapped back. 'You rammed into Corner like five times! They gave Ravenclaw a penalty shot because of you!'

'Don't try to pretend to understand Quidditch, Albus, you'll hurt your tiny little brain,' retorted James. 'If you had flown better Scorpius wouldn't have been able to catch up.'

'That's bullshit and you know it,' Albus thundered back. 'I flew well. You know I did.'

'You fly like shit. You always do. You're only the team because Finlay and Xan felt sorry for you.'

Albus was ashamed that he allowed this to sting him. 'You've been flying badly all week.'

James glared at him. 'I could fly with no hands and my arse hanging off the broom and I'd still be better than you.'

'Maybe, but that doesn't mean it wasn't crap,' retorted Albus. 'All week you've been missing passes. What happened to your leg?'

'What?'

'Your leg. You were limping when you got back from Hogsmeade. That's why you've been flying differently and that's why you were late to practice on Sunday. What did you do?'

'I don't know what you're talking about.'

James turned away and started up the corridor, marching away from his brother, but the younger Potter pursued. He only realised now that he'd been waiting for this; for an opportunity to barrage James, and he was revelling in his righteousness.

'You did something in the village last weekend,' Albus accused, 'and you got hurt. Where were you?'

'Go away, Albus.'

'Tell me it wasn't the fire.'

James came to a halt so suddenly Albus almost crashed into him. He rounded on his brother, his eyes glinting dangerously. 'What did you say?'

'The fiendfyre,' said Albus breathlessly. 'Tell me that wasn't you.'

James moved so quickly Albus almost expected a punch in the face, but instead James seized the front of his robes, dragging him forwards. James glowered down at him, their faces inches from the other's. Albus was often afraid of what his brother was capable of, but he couldn't remember ever being properly frightened of him.

'You think that was me?' James hissed. 'That's what you think?'

Albus seized the anger within him, forcing back the fear, and asked evenly, 'Tell me it wasn't.'

'It wasn't,' said James without hesitation. 'What is wrong with you?'

He relinquished his hold on Albus and the younger boy stumbled back, still staring up at his brother, full of distrust.

'I'm going up to the common room,' James informed him. 'Are you coming up?'

Albus shook his head. 'No.'

'Good.'

And with that James turned and marched away. Albus watched him go, his eyes trained on him until he saw him round the corner and disappear from view. With his anger dissipating, Albus realised suddenly how exhausted he was. He slumped against the windowsill of the corridor, resting his head back on the glass pane, shutting his eyes. He would have very much liked to return to his dormitory to sleep, but he didn't want to have to see James.

'Albus?'

He opened his eyes immediately. Standing before him, in a red sweater and black skirt and her hair long and flowing, was Mei. He straightened up.

'Mei,' he said. 'Hi.'

'Hi,' she said. She was looking straight at him, her dark eyes searching him. He was expecting to be scolded, but instead she said something he never could have imagined her saying: 'Are you okay?'

'Kind of,' he told her earnestly. 'I just had a fight with James.'

'I heard.'

'You heard what we were fighting about?'

'A little,' she told him. 'You were asking what he was doing when he went missing in Hogsmeade last week.'

The thought seemed too horrible to admit to her. 'Yeah.'

'Well, you shouldn't worry.' Her voice returned to her matter-of-fact assurance. 'That fiendfyre would require really powerful magic.'

It was no more than what Rose had told him last weekend, but he was used to Rose lying to him for his own benefit. Something told him Mei didn't do things simply for other people's benefit, and so he appreciated it more than he ever thought he could. 'Okay.'

'You played well today,' she told him.

'I didn't, but thanks.'

'You did,' she refuted. 'You probably didn't need to punch Malfoy in the face, though.'

'No, I probably didn't.'

'But then again, he shouldn't have tried to take the snitch from your hand. Did you get detention?'

'Yeah, net week. Polishing the trophy room with Malfoy.'

'Good,' she said. 'I suppose there'll be a celebration up in your common room.'

'Yeah, suppose so. I don't want to go though.'

Mei nodded. 'Perhaps we should go for a walk then.'

'Yes, perhaps we should.'

Little was said on the subsequent walk. He walked in line with her, and yet somehow he knew she was leading the way. He followed her without protest up to what he was sure was Ravenclaw tower. He had never had any reason to come to that part of the castle, and so the balcony she led him to was one he was unfamiliar with. The afternoon sun hung over the forbidden forest, casting the trees a blackened, olive green. She walked to the edge, leaning against the stone ballistrades, and he joined her.

'Nice view,' he said pointlessly.

'Why did you ask me out?'

He looked at her, taken aback. 'I… I don't know. I guess I just...' He sighed. 'I thought you seemed different. Like... like not like me. I wanted to get to know you.'

Mei nodded. 'Only I was thinking. It can't have only be to ask me about Malfoy to try and get him in trouble, because you had no way of knowing he'd be missing in Hogsmeade until after we'd gotten back.'

'You really thought I'd ask you out just for Quidditch?'

She shrugged. 'I suppose I just don't know you that well yet. I didn't know what to expect. But then I heard what you were saying to your brother – about what he did in Hogsmeade. It made me think you really were asking just because you wanted to know.'

'I was,' he assured her. 'But – but I'm sorry anyway. I shouldn't have asked you. Rose and I just thought – it's stupid. I didn't mean to – to use you. I just… last night, it was making me feel better to talk to you. Practice was so crap and you were making me feel better, and I thought if I could just ask and get it over with then we could talk about something that mattered, and… oh.'

He fell silent. Mei had taken his hand. She was looking at him very strangely. There was something uncertain about it; he didn't think he'd ever seen her be uncertain. She was standing very close to him. He could count the freckles on her face. He could learn the curve of her jaw as she leant in closer to him. He could smell her shampoo as she pressed her lips against his.


Song Credit: Clear Skies by the Strokes.

A/N: lol fucking hell. I am such a slow, pointless, terrible writer. I'm not going to pretend that this chapter would have been any sooner or any better (nothing happens again), but my laptop completely dying did halt production for a while. It's here eventually, for what it's worth.

In case anyone thinks I'm lying, Scorpius and Rose will eventually share scenes where they exchange more than two lines. It will happen. I know it seems unlikely, but it will. I have so, so, so much Scorose written for this fic but I didn't anticipate how long it would take to get to it, and for that I am genuinely sorry. I'd like to say it will be worth it but I don't want to get my hopes up.

If anyone has gotten this far then thank you so much! I would really, really appreciate a review, no matter how short and pointless! Thank you always xx

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