Author's Notes: A chapter early! Go me! I wrote this yesterday and thankfully Arnel got it back to me very quickly.

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Chapter 55

They sat on the grass in the late August sun, dappled by the trees above as Emma giggled and ran around them, chasing motes on the wind. Al grinned as he watched his niece, her sunny blond hair pulled away from her face, and her blue eyes sparkling. She wore a pink romper thing with butterflies stitched on the front and her face shone with joy and wonder Al didn't ever remember having. Teeny had fallen asleep on the blanket spread under them, utterly worn out from a day of play.

"You look so serious," Nat said from beside him as she nudged him with her shoulder. "Why the long face?"

"She's so happy, so innocent," Al said and was surprised at how gruff his voice sounded. "She's just a baby."

Nat nodded slowly. "This is such a strange way of being. Emma will grow up with Teeny as her friend, always her friend, but Teeny can't go to Hogwarts."

Al felt his breath catch in his throat. He'd never thought about it in quite those terms. "If she wants to, I think she should."

"I agree."

Emma stopped her spin and turned to them, smiling and laughing. She didn't have a great way of saying 'uncle' yet. It came out something like 'wunkle' and Al utterly defeated her, but she knew she was loved. Emma toddled over to him, throwing herself into his arms and giggling as he lifted her overhead and then blew a raspberry into her cheek. She laughed and settled into his arms for just a moment before she was off and running again.

"I can't believe there will be twins at Christmas," Nat mused wistfully.

Al glanced sideways to see her expression as she studied Emma. "It's different having little kids around. This year Emma will care about presents."

Nat sighed and shook her head, grinning. "I'm so glad I get to be part of your family."

Startled, Al blurted out, "Why wouldn't you be?"

It was a stupid question, even to his own ears, but he'd been so used to her being there that he couldn't picture her anywhere else. He didn't want her to be anywhere else. She belonged with them.

"Oh, you know," she waved her hand as if waving off what he'd said. "I could have sat with someone else on the train. It could have been very different."

"What could have been?" Lily's voice called from behind them.

Al and Nat glanced back to see Scorpius and Lily walking hand in hand towards them.

"Teeny's asleep?" Scorpius mused as he sat to Al's left and Lily sat next to him. "She's normally a ball of energy."

"Polly said she's growing," Nat told him.

Scorpius had stayed with them since his father's attack. He'd gone to see his mother and he'd collected an apology letter from his father, but they hadn't spoken much about what it said. Scorpius was essentially back to normal, but Al couldn't help worrying over his friend. Word was out about Draco Malfoy being locked up in St. Mungo's. Al had a shrewd suspicion his dad was keeping Lucius Malfoy away from Scorpius, but if he was he hadn't said anything and Scorpius hadn't asked.

"What could have been different?" Lily asked again, bringing the conversation back around.

"I could have sat with someone else on the train that first day," Nat told Lily. "Then I might not have been here with you."

"Oh, I think you would have," Lily told her confidently as she brushed her red hair back as a cool breeze caught it and sent it dancing. "I think this was meant to be."

Nat shrugged. "You never know."

Al watched as Scorpius grinned down at Lily and pressed his forehead to hers with such obvious affection, it made something inside Al twist up. He was happy they were happy. He was happy he liked and trusted his sister's boyfriend. But still… Lily was such a baby still. He'd wondered if Scorpius' attack would change things for her, but after her initial shock, she'd been back to her same, happy self. It was so obvious she made Scorpius happy that she didn't let what Draco did ruin anything.

"I can't believe we go back to school tomorrow," Lily sighed as she leaned her head against Scorpius' shoulder.

"I can't believe we're already packed and ready to go," Nat admitted. "Maybe it was James who caused all the chaos."

"Probably," Al agreed with a laugh as Emma came over and leaned against Scorpius' back, throwing her arms around his neck.

"Hey, pumpkin," Scorpius said as she wiggled until she was clinging to him.

"Wide!" Emma ordered.

Scorpius wrapped an arm around behind him to secure her to his back and then stood up, taking her on a piggyback ride around the yard.

"I am going to miss her," Nat said honestly. "She's made the whole summer better. Taking her to the beach house this year was so much fun. We built all those sandcastles."

"One more year," Al reminded her. "Then we're done."

"Oh, don't say that," Lily laughed. "I still have three more to go. It's going to be awful without all of you there."

"But you'll have Hugo and Honor," Nat reminded her. "It'll go by faster than you think. I still can't believe we're almost done."

Scorpius came loping back with the laughing toddler as she called for her wunkle to give her a ride.

Al shot to his feet and scooped her off Scorpius' back, flying her around the yard like she was on a broom.

Point in fact she had a broom Ginny had bought her. No matter what Ginny might have wanted to be called, she was officially Emma's 'Gamma' and nothing anyone said changed Emma's mind, so they'd given up.

But Victoire had said no to a broom ride until Emma was three, so the broom sat unused in the shed.

Al couldn't believe they were going back to school already. The summer had flown by. As he hugged Emma to him as she caught her breath, he wondered just what the year was going to bring.

By the next morning on the train, things had already turned a little sideways.

Rose had been made Head Girl, to no one's surprise. Head Boy was a boy in Hufflepuff named Matt Carlson, so it was so no surprise when Rose was not around when Al and Nat sat in their compartment. What was a surprise was Andrew joining them.

"Hey," Al greeted him with a handshake as Andrew put his trunk up.

"Hey," Andrew agreed distractedly as he sat down across from them. "Where's Rose?"

"Head Girl," Nat reminded him.

"Oh, right," he said again as he glanced out the window. "Scorpius?"

"He's sitting with Lily for a bit," Al told him. "They're in the next compartment with Honor and Hugo, although I doubt he'll stay there long."

Andrew nodded and then seemed to come to himself. "Right. How is that, having your best mate dating your sister?"

"It's fine," Al assured him honestly. "Scorpius is good to her and he gets her. I don't have to worry about her with him."

To his surprise, he honestly meant it. Al had worried about what it would be like when Lily started dating, but it wasn't going to be a big deal with Scorpius.

Andrew nodded and his head kept nodding as he turned to stare out of the window again as the early morning light reflected off his brown hair.

"Andrew…" Nat said hesitantly. "You okay?"

"Hm?" he started and turned to look at them. "Yeah, yeah… uh… Ryan and I broke up yesterday."

"Oh," Nat grimaced and reached over to pat his hand. "I'm sorry to hear that."

He shrugged his shoulders which were starting to fill out, just like Al's were. "It was for the best. She came to my house and… well… the whole thing overwhelmed her. She can't handle the whole Muggle part of my life."

That honestly didn't surprise Al in any way. He knew Ryan and she wasn't big into complications. "How's Caleb doing? Are we going to be in for a rough year?" he asked, referring to Ryan's brother who had caused them so many problems.

"No, actually," Andrew shook his head as his blue eyes focused back on Al. "Ryan told me yesterday they've taken him to a special school in Australia. It deals with kids like him and she said he's doing well there. It's a shame, too, because I learned a lot from that kid and our lessons together." They fell silent for a minute as the train rocked and swayed.

The compartment door slid open and Rose came in, almost slamming in.

"What's up with you?" Al wondered.

To his horror, Rose's face dissolved into tears as she held up a crumpled note in her hand.

"Rose!" Nat gasped as she jumped to her feet and guided Rose to sit down. "What happened?" she asked as she took the note from Rose and scanned through it. Nat growled. "That bastard!"

"He w-was supposed to meet me to say good bye," Rose sobbed through her tears. "Instead one of his cousin's handed me that!"

"What does it say?" Al wanted to know.

"Hal broke up with her," Nat waved the letter in disgust. "It hadn't been going well, but I thought he wanted to keep going even with you back at school."

"That's what he said," Rose hissed as she took a handkerchief from Andrew. "Thanks," she told him as she mopped up her face. "I need to get back on duty, but I just couldn't right now."

"The Prefects will handle everything," Nat assured her.

Al glanced to Andrew, who was looking as miserable as Rose was. Then he looked at Nat and felt something inside him clench. He didn't want to think about having a breakup of any sort with her, but what did he know about anything. No, it was best to wait and see. He… well, he loved Natalie. He didn't want anything to screw it up for him.


James had been nineteen for exactly two days when everything changed for him. His team's coach, Marvis Stanton, called him into his office after practice at the end of a grueling day when the heat had been especially bad for September. He felt grubby, sweaty, and disheveled as he marched into the older man's cool office. "You wanted to see me, sir?" James asked.

Marvis looked much older than his sixty years as he waved to James. "Have a seat, son." When James was seated, he continued. "A reporter came to see me about thirty minutes ago to inform me you have a woman living in your house."

James' mind blanked. "Right. Caroline Baker, and her sister, but her sister is back at school."

Stanton's expression tightened. "You know the laws, Potter."

"The…" James brain stuttered and then he shook his head. Oh. So that was what was going on. "No, sir! I live at home with my parents. The girls are, well, not renting my house, but it's something like that."

A mixture of relief, hope, and wariness filled his face. "You live with your parents?"

"Yes, sir," James promised. "I'm home every night. You can have them make a statement."

"I didn't want to think you'd be flouting the law," Stanton said heavily, "but I think it isn't going to matter in this case. The optics are the same, Potter. Can you understand that?"

"Not… no. Not really."

The older man sighed and ran a hand through his thick, gray hair. James realized this wasn't the first time he'd done that recently, judging from the state of it. "It will run in the press that a woman, not your wife, is living in your home. If the public turns on it, it reflects badly on the team which means I would have to let you go."

James' gut clenched, but he didn't let it show on his face. "My father can release a statement saying I live at home. His word is trusted."

"His word is trusted," Stanton agreed. "I told the reporter I would speak to you and for him to come back in a few hours where you would make a statement. Can you get your father to come and make a statement, as well?"

"Yeah," James said as he swallowed hard past a lump in his throat. "I just need to warn Caroline the article is coming, then I'll go get my dad and get back here."

He showered and changed before Apparating back to his house and he called out as he let himself into the spacious home. Rufus was asleep on the floor of the kitchen where Caroline stood making herself a sandwich. "That's not much of a dinner," he said offhandedly as he ambled over to lean against the counter.

"If I'd known you were coming, I'd have made something," she said with a small smile as she took a bite and then handed it to him. "Hungry?"

"Starving," he said, even though it was a lie. He was sick to his stomach at what he had to tell her. So he took a bite, handed her sandwich back and then told her about his meeting.

Caroline ate in silence as she listened to him and when she was finished, she held up a finger. "Why don't we just get married?"

James blinked at her stupidly. "What?"

Her cheeks turned red as she glanced down at the counter and poked at a crumb, pinking it up with her finger and depositing it onto the plate. "It's what you want… right?"

"I… yeah, of course," James's heart leapt as he took in her words. "But… but it isn't what you want."

"We could be married by that Muggle pastor your dad knows," she told him. "Then it's still legal but it isn't… you know, it doesn't…" she fell silent, unable to say.

She wasn't ready for more than their current relationship. With a soul bond it required intimacy between the couple, at least in the beginning.

James considered her suggestion for a long moment and he wanted it so badly he could have screamed. He didn't like having to go back to his parents' house every night. He wanted to be here… with her. He didn't even know how anyone had learned she was living here. That was actually worrying, come to that. He didn't want her here alone if someone was watching.

But no, that was stupid. The house was as protected as a house could be. No one could get in or out without them knowing. "Caroline," he began but she cut him off.

"I have had a lot of time to think," she told the countertop, still not able to meet his eyes. "I love you and… and you love me. I believe that. I believe in you. I'm not ready for us to do anything more, but I am lonely here without Honor." Finally, her eyes met his and they were so mesmerizing he couldn't look away. "I want you here. This works out and then when we're ready, we can have a soul bond."

James leaned in and kissed her lightly. "I do love you. If you're sure—"

"I'm sure," she promised as she cupped his cheek in her hand.

"Well," James said heavily. "Let's go rope my dad into this."

Fifteen minutes later they were in his father's office and his father was shaking his head. "Getting married to solve this is—"

It was Caroline who interrupted him. "You said," she started and then stopped to take a deep breath, but Harry waited. Caroline, who had been holding James' hand this entire time, squeezed his fingers hard. "You said James meant to make me part of the family."

"I did," Harry agreed evenly. "But this is a drastic step."

"It's not," Caroline shook her head. "It's a Muggle marriage."

Harry glanced between them. He knew what she was implying, James saw. "Alright," he threw up his hands. "Alright. Let's go get rings for you two and get you married."

"Should we get Mum?" James wondered.

"She has Emma today," Harry sighed. "I'll get Hermione to come along as a witness."

The marriage, done by a Squib who had decided to become a Lutheran pastor, was over in less than ten minutes. "Now," the man said smiling. "When do you want the date of this union to have taken place?"

James shook his head. "Come again?"

"Well," the man said waving his hand. "I, uh, forget to turn in forms on time. I'm supposed to turn them in regularly, but I'm known to forget for months on end. The clerk at the office has a soft spot for me because of… well, never mind that."

Aunt Hermione was predictably apoplectic at the notion of forms not being turned in right away, but James was impressed to see the only sign of her rage was in her bright red face. "Harry…"

"I know," Harry said as he rubbed at his forehead. "Would middle of July be too far back?"

"No, not at all," the pastor assured him. "I haven't turned in any other forms since first of June. I can tell her I found it just now. Here, let me make you a copy."

And so it was with the marriage certificate in hand and his wedding ring on his finger that James returned to his team manager's office to tell him the news. Thankfully he'd beaten the reporter by twenty minutes.

Marvis Stanton stared at him, dumbfounded. "This is legal?"

"It is legal," James assured him with a laugh. "But even if the date is a little fudged, I'm married now anyway. It's a Muggle marriage, so the reporter wouldn't have learned of it. Don't worry, I have a good story worked out."

James then spent the next hour carefully not lying to the reporter. He and Caroline were private and not ready to be public. They loved each other very much. They would have preferred to keep their marriage a secret. Caroline and Honor did live in James' house because their grandparents died, but until they married, James had either been in training or living with his parents in their house.

All of it was true. It simply wasn't the full story.

He didn't expect the storm he encountered when he went back to his parents' home to pack up his things. His mother was in tears.

"Mum," James said as he walked over to her. She sat with his dad and Caroline at the table. Emma wasn't anywhere to be seen, so he assumed she'd gone home, but Teeny was playing on the floor in the living room with some toys. He watched his father wave his wand and cast the Muffliato charm so Teeny wouldn't hear them. "I'm sorry! I know you wanted to be there, but we'll have a real wedding at some point and—"

Ginny waved him off and James sat down next to Caroline who looked stunned. In fact, she wouldn't look at him.

"Here," Ginny said as she pulled a scrap of parchment out of a book and passed it to him.

Confused, James began to read and he found himself shaking his head. "What does this have to do with anything? What is it?"

"I had that dream many times," Ginny told him. "I told Caroline about it, too, one night at the beach house. I had this dream and it was Caroline your dad hands that baby to, James. When I saw her in the hospital that awful day you killed her dad… I knew it was her. Then I let it go because it seemed crazy and in my later dreams, the dog wasn't in them or if he was, I didn't recall it."

Harry cleared his throat. "I hadn't told your mum you went to Brazil, James. I hadn't told her you were hurt in that attack."

"Right," James agreed slowly and then gasped as he stared back at the part of the dream where he was lying in a hospital bed.

"Did the Healers speak English?"

"Uh, they did when Mr. Stanton was in the room," James confirmed slowly. "I just don't… see…" his voice trailed off because he did see. He saw very clearly. Bile rose in his throat and he had to clamp his jaws shut to stop from vomiting all over the table.

"I didn't tell your dad about the dog," Ginny said in anguish. "Audrey reminded me of it, but then I decided to keep it to myself. He forgot about the dream and didn't tell me about you being hurt in Brazil," she said as she shot her husband a look. "Then today he agrees to you two being married and I wasn't informed because it was no big deal, but this," she said as she pointed to the parchment. "It's a big deal, Jamie."

"You don't think it was a Muggle attack," Caroline said slowly. "You think Crabbe used him to impregnate someone."

"I didn't!" James spit out, disgust filling him to the brim. He turned to her and her face swam as tears filled them. Fear. He realized it a moment later. He was afraid of what she'd said. "Caroline, I didn't! I wouldn't cheat on you! I—"

"Stop," she said forcefully and he stopped. Her face was fierce as she went on. "You were drugged, James! It was a Muggle drug of some kind or Nat would have seen the magic in you. She didn't. The Healers said so. What happened was rape."

It sat there between them very heavily.

"If it happened," James said quietly.

"If it happened," Caroline agreed as she took his hand. "You don't hold my past against me and I'm not about to hold this against you. If you were unconscious or unable to give consent that's rape."

"But with blokes—"

"No, James," Harry interrupted him. "She's right. It's still rape."

James felt cold all over. "It… it just can't be true," he said as he reread the dream before pushing the parchment back to his mother. "It can't be true!" They sat in silence for a moment when James realized what this meant. "You're saying… you're saying I'm going to have a child in seven months?"

"I don't know," his mother said honestly. "I don't want this to be true, but if it is true… everything fell into place, James! It all fell into place without any effort. We have to prepare for it to be true."

"I'm going to take a week and go to Brazil," Harry told him. "I'm going to try to find something, but I doubt I'm going to have any luck. We have to wait until April to see what happens. If it happens like in the dream, I will get a call to collect the baby. I don't know where you are, James, but I do know you need to be careful." He leaned forward slightly. "You two need to work out what you're going to do. If you can't love and care for a baby as a mum and dad, then you decide that now. Your mum and I will raise the baby. No questions asked. You're young and you have been through a lot."

"Not as much as you have," James reminded him.

His father glanced to Caroline. "Not as much as she has," he retorted and James fell silent. "No judgement on our parts, James. You two head home and you talk long and hard about this."

James went upstairs to pack a hasty bag full of clothes to get him through a few days and then he left with Caroline to return home.

Rufus was glad to see them. "Let's take him outside and sit and talk," Caroline said as James dumped his bag on the sofa. "It's still nice out."

James reached for her hand and he was grateful when she took it. They strolled out to the back garden and sat in matched lawn chairs while Rufus plodded around the yard, sniffing at shrubs. Caroline let out a long sigh as she stared up into the fading light of the early evening. "This is not how I expected to spend my day."

"We're married," James said as he glanced down at their entwined fingers and saw the wedding ring glinting on his finger.

"You might have a child."

"Why would the child's mother not keep the baby?" James wondered as the bugs sang their chorus.

"That worries me," Caroline admitted. "I have to admit the whole thing seems cracked. I cannot believe she'd dream something like this so long ago and that it would come true, but I don't have another explanation for all the coincidences."

"What if she can't care for him?" James wondered as the implications of everything settled over him. He might have had sex for the first time and he didn't remember it. Or she might have used him to magically impregnate someone. Or… or something else. He felt dirty all of the sudden and really wished he could get another shower.

"I think that's most likely," she said quietly as she watched Rufus plod back to them and fall at their feet to snore in the grass. "At least we know Rufus is good with kids. Emma rides him like a pony every chance she gets."

"Well," James said fairly, "she weighs little more than a feather compared to him."

"But he likes her," she reminded him with a small smile. "He likes having her around. When we were at the beach a few weeks ago, he'd body block her from getting too close to anything dangerous."

"What say you, Rufus," James asked as he reached down to scratch behind the big dog's ears. "You want a job as a nanny?"

Rufus chuffed out a breath but didn't otherwise bother to reply.

James glanced over to Caroline. "We don't have to decide anything right now."

"What's there to decide?" Caroline asked as she turned to him. "If you have a child to raise, then we will raise that child."

Love for her filled his heart. "I don't know what to say."

"Probably best not to say much of anything at this point," Caroline said softly. "If it happens, we have a lot of time to get used to the idea and work out the logistics. Mostly, I'm worried about you being safe. I don't know how I'd raise a baby alone, so you have to be okay."

James didn't know how to promise it, but he knew he'd try. "I love you."

"I love you, too," she said with a sad smile. "This has got to be the weirdest wedding day ever."

"Let's go out and get take out," James said suddenly. "I'm finally hungry and we can celebrate with a curry."

She laughed and stood. "Deal."

The press was in an uproar the next day over James' marriage and several reporters tried to corner him at practice the next day. His team mates gave him a hard time about not telling them he was married, but James simply shrugged.

By the time the Magical press tracked down the paperwork for James' marriage it was all set and legally registered. He'd married Caroline on the seventeenth of July… at least, that's what the record said.


It was Halloween and they were supposed to have a Hogsmeade trip, but of course the trip had been cancelled due to safety concerns for the students. Instead, the Head Girl and Boy had put together a carnival, of sorts, for the younger students which was to be followed up by the feast that evening.

Scorpius didn't mind helping out with the silly games for the first and second years. He had Lily helping him and any time spent with her was a good time. "We won't get to go on a Hogsmeade weekend as a date," Lily mused as a pair of fourth year boys ambled up. She smiled at them and handed over a ball they were supposed to throw through a hoop.

"Hey, Lily," one of the boys said with a grin.

Scorpius fought hard against and won out over his impulse to roll his eyes. What felt like the entire male population of the school, well, the older population, had been silently glaring at Scorpius ever since it became public he and Lily were a couple. They'd been a couple for four months, actually, and every day things seemed to get better. They disagreed sometimes and true to her word, Lily had showed him how to fight fair and it was so easy with her. She didn't try to bully him, push him around, or make him do things. She was too gentle and loving for that. She wasn't a pushover, either. If she didn't like something, she said so.

And he waited to see what Lily wanted to do about the boys. Early on he'd said something to the other blokes, warning them off, but after a few weeks she'd told him she wanted to do it herself. Most of the time she did. Sometimes she looked to him. It had taken him a bit to figure out it had to do with how aggressive the boys were. Somehow, she sensed it before anything even happened.

Lily darted a glance to him and Scorpius took the hint. He slid an arm around her waist and grinned at the boys. "Go ahead, take your shot," he told them.

Sure enough, the boy who had spoken gave him a dirty look before he threw the ball and missed. His face turned red as Scorpius handed him another ball. "Take another try."

"It's a stupid game anyway," the boy spat as he spun and stormed off, his friend trailing behind him.

Lily almost shrank into him.

"What?" Scorpius asked her quietly.

"It's getting worse," she murmured as she pressed her face to his chest. She rubbed at a spot on her sternum and put her arm around her. "Be my calm in the storm, okay?"

"Always," he promised as he kissed her temple.

"Hey, now," Al called out from the next booth over where he worked with Nat. "No funny business."

It wasn't until later, after the feast, that Scorpius found a few minutes to walk and talk to Lily. They found a quiet alcove and they sat, staring out at the dark grounds around them. "What happened, Lils?"

"I'm not sure what's happening," she admitted. "I just… I know when the boy isn't going to be nice. I shouldn't ask you to deal with them."

Scorpius waved that off. He wasn't a Malfoy for nothing. "I'm not worried about that part. I want to know what's bothering you. You can tell when they're going to get mean?"

"I… I can," she said as she bit her bottom lip and looked up at him, her big, brown eyes filled with concern. "I get this feeling in my chest that hurts. It's fear or something like it. It feels… it feels really bad and I get scared. I hate when they corner me and I'm alone."

"Wait," Scorpius said as anger flared inside him. "Boys are cornering you when you're alone?"

"Well, no," she said shook her head. "I always have Honor and Hugo with me and they help. But I still have to be the one to turn them down."

He wished there was something he could do to make the situation better, but short of dueling every bloke who might have his eye on Lily, he was stuck. It didn't help that James and Louis had left. Now with only Al and Hugo around, no one was feeling like they had to tiptoe around Lily. Added to it, Lily would be at the school without him that next year. Fear and fury filled him as he studied her sweet face and wished he could fix this for her.

"You can't fix it," she said, reading his expression. "I'm working on getting better at turning them down, but I'm still not there yet. I have the whole rest of this year to work things out."

"You shouldn't have to," Scorpius growled in frustration. "They should simply leave you alone! Maybe we should talk to Professor Longbottom about this."

Lily blinked and them beamed at him. "Yeah. Let's do that."

The next day they arranged to meet with him in his office after classes and Lily laid out the history of the last several months and what the boys had been doing.

Professor Longbottom was bright red with anger by the time she was done. "I'll take care of it, Lily."

At dinner that night the professor stood and called the room to attention. "I have been told by a student," he began, "that some of our gentlemen are not behaving as gentlemen should behave. So I am ordering all the boys to stay after the meal so we can speak about how you are to conduct yourselves."

After the meal, when all the girls had cleared off, Neville and several of the other male teachers went over what was harassment and what wasn't. "Do you realize you are scaring some of the girls?" Neville asked them bluntly. By the looks of shock and denial on many faces, clearly they didn't. "You are scaring them. Next time you go up to talk to a girl, look at her expression. Read what her face is saying. I know it's scary for you to talk to her, it's difficult, but you can be aggressive or defensive when you're scared and it's scaring them. Do you want to do that?"

Of course, no one did. Or, at least, no one admitted it's what they wanted.

It made Scorpius feel a bit better, but only time would tell if it would help.

Much to his surprise, it did help.

Several of the boys he knew were interested in Lily cornered him over the next several weeks to tell him they were sorry, to tell Lily they were sorry. The fourth-year boy told him it was exactly as Professor Longbottom had said. He'd been scared to talk to her, so when she hadn't responded, he'd been humiliated and he'd become angry.

"Let's go for a walk," Scorpius said one Sunday in November as they sat around the common room fire.

"I'd love to go for a walk," Al told him cheerfully, then laughed when Scorpius punched his shoulder. "Oh, you meant my sister."

Lily giggled and said, "Let me get my cloak. It's getting cold."

Scorpius watched her go and felt absolute contentment like he'd never felt in his life. It was a little scary because something could go wrong. His crazy great aunt was after Lily, but for now she was safe and they could spend this time being happy.

"You have it bad," Nat mused from her seat next to Al.

"I have it bad," Scorpius agreed as Lily reappeared.

"You don't want your cloak?" she asked as she fastened hers on and took his hand.

He was wearing a Weasley sweater from the previous Christmas. "This is warm enough," he said, pointing to the royal blue jumper.

"Gran needs to make your next one bigger," Lily noted thoughtfully. "It's getting too small."

He pushed through the portrait hole and held it open while she climbed out. "Are you going to claim this one after Christmas?"

"Oh, yes," Lily said as she took his hand again. "I'm in need of a new dress."

Scorpius snorted out a laugh and raised her hand to his, kissing her knuckles. "I love you, Lily."

Heat flushed to his face as he realized what he'd said. He meant it, of course, but he hadn't meant to say it just then.

She pulled him to a halt and studied his eyes for a moment. Whatever she saw made her lips part into a mile-wide grin. "I love you, too, you know."

Joy so profound it could have knocked him over filled him, as he bent to kiss her quickly, and then started to walk again. They walked around the grounds and around the lake, talking about nothing and everything. Scorpius had decided he was going into law. It was something that interested him and he felt like he'd be good at it. He'd have training for a year with the barristers at a firm, then he'd take an exam and he'd be done. In his mind it meant he'd be done and truly established before he was ready to marry… whenever that happened. He didn't mention that part to Lily, though. She still had years of schooling left. He didn't know what was going to happen in between now and then, but he hoped they were still together.

Of course, they were young. Of course, this was Lily's first relationship. There were a lot of things that could go wrong, including having to spend two years apart while she finished school.

"You know Teddy and Victoire did it," she told him quietly.

Confused, Scorpius turned to her. "Did what?"

"They were together when she was fifteen or sixteen," she told him as she looked up into his face. She was such a bitty thing, a good food smaller than him, but she had such a presence she left an impression. "Teddy went to Auror training while she finished school. They made it work."

"How did you know that's what I was thinking about?" Scorpius asked as a grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. He rather liked her ability to guess what he was thinking.

"I dunno," she shrugged. "I just sort of… feel it in my head. That sounds silly, but it's true."

Scorpius leaned down and pressed his mouth to hers, feeling her cold nose press into his cheek as they kissed. He could have kissed Lily forever. He desperately wanted to kiss Lily forever. But all too soon he knew he had to pull back. It wasn't the time or the place for such things. "I like that you know me so well."

"I like that you know me so well," she countered as she raised up on her toes to put her arms around his neck. He ended up pulling her off her feet to hold her tightly against him. "I really do love you, Scorpius. I didn't know I could feel like this, but it feels… right."

Yes. It felt right. As he set her down, he finally told her the things in his head he hadn't been able to say before, not to anyone. "Before I knew all of you, I didn't have anyone I could count on no matter what. I never felt settled or whole. I never felt like I was worth anything. I love my aunt, and she's been there for me, but she can't even take care of herself."

Lily waited quietly, holding the space for him to speak, holding his hands so he'd feel her support.

"I knew I could run to you, run to your dad," he said as his voice hitched. "I knew I had family to turn to, Lils." His gray eyes met her brown ones and they held. "This feels right."

Her lips quirked in a confident way only Lily could do. "It's only just started. It's going to get better."

He couldn't imagine how it would get better, but he sincerely hoped she was right. He was going to do whatever it took to see to it.