Hi everyone, I've been slacking off on fic because of some ongoing changes in my life. I'm moving countries again for work—which as you know can be challenging because of the pandemic. Also, I rewrote this chapter halfway through my first draft. Thank you so much for 800+ followers, and for the kind and encouraging comments despite the lack of updates… they'd been so motivating for me. Please do favourite this fic if you enjoy it! :) As always, do feel free to talk to me on tumblr.

Chapter 44: The Brawl

The unlikeliest place one could find Albus on a late afternoon, especially right after a gruelling week of tests, was in the frigid cave-like dankness of the Potions classroom.

Without the lively bustle of students, the dungeons were a damper on Albus' usually high spirits. He was a Slytherin at heart, but he had always been more physically attuned to the friendly outdoors. Nothing energised him more than the sunlight in his eyes, the crunch of earth beneath his feet, the satisfying thwack of a club meeting Bludger…

A few changes had taken place since Crossley's abrupt suspension. Potions was now taken on by the rigorous Professor Slughorn, who deigned to come out of retirement at McGonagall's request. To Albus' chagrin, he hadn't found the recent Potions tests as easy as he'd like, though this was mostly due to his own negligence. Quidditch, after all, had always come first. Then there had been his unwillingness to cooperate with Poppy when they were partnered up for their Potions classes.

So, as much as it pained him—here he was. Staring at a chopping block topped with the latest assortment of ingredients assigned by Slughorn, playing some forsaken game of Guess-The-Brew.

Really, it was beyond Albus how Langdon was here. By choice. On a bloody Friday.

Across from him, Poppy looked right at home at her workstation, completely oblivious to his increasing moodiness. Instead, she was quite the picture of calm as she observed the self-stirring ladle mixing through the bubbling brew in her cauldron. And was that her humming under her breath?

Potions was hardly the kind of subject teenagers enjoyed. It required discipline, rigour and dedicated memory work. The fact that Langdon was enjoying herself was enough proof that the girl was something else.

Even so, she didn't seem to mind when Albus arrived earlier, parking himself at their usual bench to slog through the latest Slughorn assignment. This usually counted as the most pathetic of ways to spend a Friday, but he still wasn't talking to Scorpius, who was undoubtedly hogging Rose's time. Both Hugo and Tarquin had conveniently gone off the radar, and Lily—bless her—was far too independent to entertain her brother's woeful lack of social life.

With friends and family like that, Albus thought with an inward sigh, was it any wonder he was hanging out with the enemy?

If he were any more desperate, he'd be snogging Tamara Fayed.

Albus ruffled his wild hair between his fingers in a fit of exasperation, then uttered—

"Hatterpods are absolute bollocks."

Poppy blinked up at him, her keen focus broken by his sudden outburst. She glanced back down at her notes, mentally bookmarking her task before setting down her quill to address him.

"I would argue that," she said, know-it-all that she was. "It's actually one of the most versatile ingredients in potion-making—"

Did Poppy honestly think he was an idiot? "That's my damn point, they're in everything. Could easily be a tonic for both hangovers and arse warts."

Unexpectedly, Poppy's mouth twitched. He waited for her haughty reply—well, duh, Potter, obviously it's This-and-This Brew, and you'd know it if you studied Chapter 15 of The-Know-It-All-Textbook—but she merely turned her attention back to her floating cauldron. Albus craned his neck, glimpsing the steady bubbling of sludge as Poppy added a dash of crushed Liverwort.

"Oy, Langdon," he said, after a beat. "Are you ignoring me?"

Poppy lifted the ladle from the cauldron; the silvery substance had gone thin and clear. Despite himself, Albus found his gaze following her hands as they drifted from task to task, each movement deliberate and precise… before the muted blue of her eyes found focus on his. "I have to keep time for this brew, Potter," she said wryly, as though she'd just heard his question. "So if you don't actually need help, we don't have to talk."

Bloody hell. They might have come to an understanding of sorts, but it didn't mean she wasn't still insufferable. Albus huffed under his breath, trying not to sulk as he turned back to his bench. But the scattered ingredients were blurring before him, his attention wandering in Poppy's direction once more. He allowed his gaze to linger then—at the loose strands of her casually pulled chignon, the careful manner she perused her notes, the slight crease in her eyebrows as she concentrated…

She looked so damn unbothered.

And that bothered him.

Albus cleared his throat noisily. "Well, I do need help," he said loudly, as Poppy paused over her book. "I—er—can't guess what this brew is. Bloody Hatterpods."

Poppy lowered her quill, fixing him with a mildly perturbed expression. Albus knew why that was. He was behaving rather odd, to put it kindly. For one wild moment, he was certain she would call him out on it. Yet, to his great relief, she merely turned down the fire on her stove and shuffled over to peer at his bench.

"You haven't even extracted the ingredients," she said, now looking somewhat concerned at his stupidity. "Potter. You do know that's step one. Every component—"

possesses more than one ingredient. Potions 101. When Albus stared back at her, rather like a deer in headlights, Poppy gave up and looked back at the chopping block. She was already touching each component, perhaps out of habit, as though each ingredient could tell her things through her fingers. He could almost hear her mind clicking as she reached deftly for an extraction knife.

He watched dumbly as she smoothed out the stem of a crumpled Deafleaf, drawing out its essence under a gentle thumb, before nimbly arranging the seedlets from the Hatterpod. Then, she crushed the Groofsprout beneath a tablespoon, extracting its pollen with finesse. So diligent, Albus realised absently, his eyes fixed on her busy hands. And in no time, they had the derived ingredients before them: essence, seeds, pollen, shells, and cores.

"Definitely a Wart Popping Tonic," he heard himself say.

"That's one," Poppy agreed over her shoulder. There was a faint amusement in her voice. "There are other possibilities. But I'll let you figure those out."

"Thanks." Albus faltered now, unsure of how to continue. The glittering image of the Mergirl flashed unbidden into his mind, the memory of her resplendent and impossibly lovely. Something stirred in his chest as Poppy came to focus instead. This plain girl with careful hands.

It was hard to understand the strange thunder of his heart. Perhaps it was—too early to try.

"What's that, then?" Albus said instead, keeping his tone light as he gestured to her floating cauldron.

"Emollire Draught." He didn't miss the way the tips of Poppy's ears turned pink as she hurried over to her bench to check on it.

"For headaches? Why didn't you get a prescription from Madam Pomfrey?"

"Any prescription from her comes with a stay at the Hospital Wing." Poppy grimaced, and Albus could relate. Pomfrey was perfectly competent, but terribly fussy. "Anyway, it's not hard to make."

Obviously a medical draught like this one was no cakewalk for the average student, but this time Albus chose his curiosity over sarcasm. "You sound like you get them often," he said conversationally. "The headaches, I mean."

Poppy waved her wand, and the stove puttered. The fire went out, and the brew cooled before their eyes, smoking lazily into the air. Poppy busied herself with wiping down her tools as she considered his question. Then, unexpectedly—

"Because of you, I suppose."

Albus' mouth quirked. It was hard to tell if she was joking, for she was often so very serious. "Me?"

She was decidedly not looking at him, but a telling colour had risen on her cheekbones. "I'll have you know you're the source of countless migraines, Potter."

It was hard not to sound pleased. "If I only knew exactly what I was doing wrong, Langdon… I'd do it all over again."

"You're now Shacklebolt's problem," she returned dryly. "Thank God."

"Mind you, I haven't been given one detention since you stepped down," Albus shot back, and Poppy ducked her head to hide her smile. They both knew the Head Boy Tristan Shacklebolt was far more lenient on Albus than Poppy ever was, perhaps due to his father's friendship with Harry Potter. One of those unsaid privileges.

Poppy had scooped a bout of Emollire into a tube flask before corking it. After a moment of hesitation, she turned to Albus. "Can you get this to Scorpius?"

"He gets headaches?" Albus tilted his head in question. "How do I know you're not trying to poison him?"

Poppy mouthed wordlessly back at him, looking oddly flustered now.

Albus flashed her a lopsided little grin before swiping the flask from her fingers and pocketing it. Poppy turned back to fuss over her cauldron, and no more words were said between them until they had to close the workshop at dinner time.

After clearing out their benches, they exited the dungeons, scaling several staircases to emerge into the crisp open air. Poppy seemed intent on reaching the Great Hall in silence—typical of her, really—so of course that made Albus want to talk her ear off.

"Wanna do something bloody epic for Rosie's birthday?"

Poppy glanced up at him, sceptism entering her expression. "Her birthday's in March."

Albus shrugged, unbothered by that minor detail. "You need to attend more parties if you think it's ever too early to plan one, Langdon." He shot her a knowing look. "And if we don't plan it, Scorpius will. And we'll never see Rose again."

"I suppose that's true," Poppy conceded, suddenly looking somewhat thoughtful. "She's been rather preoccupied with him lately. Not that I blame her, but…"

Oh, so he wasn't the only one feeling neglected. Albus turned to her, eyes flashing. "Well then, obviously we need to stage an interven—"

"It's 'er, the 'ead Girl! And Potter!"

Albus and Poppy stopped in their tracks. Ahead of them, shrill voices were closing in, along with the sound of pattering footsteps. A group of firsties clambered to a stop before them, red in the face and talking over one another in high-pitched chatter—

"—a right kerfuffle—"

"—eyes knocked out—"

"—'Bini making a scene—"

"—Vance losing it—"

"Someone's poppin' his clogs!"

Poppy clasped tightly at the shoulders of the nearest boy. "One thing at a time," she commanded, the sudden calm in her voice surprising Albus. "And slowly."

"F-Fight in the courtyard," stammered the red-faced firstie. "Zabini and Vance!"

Tarquin? Albus couldn't believe his ears. His friend was a textbook case of privilege; he barely cared enough about anything to lift a finger, much less pick a fight. The man could barely be arsed with a verbal sparring, much less a physical one.

And just as befuddling was the fact that Kirkpatrick Vance was only the most level-headed bloke in Hufflepuff.

Of course they got into a minor scrap on the pitch after the Hufflepuff loss… but that was just business as usual. Boys being boys. Sportsmen high and emotional on the adrenaline of a game.

Wasn't it?

Surely neither of them held a grudge over that.

And yet there was that unsettled feeling creeping into Albus' gut.

He reached out and grabbed at the boy's collar, abruptly pulling him out of Poppy's hold.

"Duel?" he asked sharply.

"Issa fight," snapped his classmate, impatient at their slow uptake. "A bollocking!"

Albus and Poppy exchanged a significant look. And then they were bolting helter-skelter in the direction of the courtyard, the group of excitable firsties at their heels.

They heard the commotion echoing off the walls before they even arrived; a crowd had gathered round, shouting and cheering against the fading sunset. Poppy was shoving through rowdy spectators, Albus close behind as they elbowed their way towards the flurry of action taking place in the heart of the courtyard.

If he wasn't seeing this for himself, Albus certainly wouldn't have believed it: the righteous and tepid Kirkpatrick Vance mid-scuffle with Tarquin, of all people. Each one having a violent go at each other, a blurry whirlwind of pounding fists and sharp blows as they tugged and rolled across the gravel, cracking cheekbones and bloodying noses as wrath poured through their punches—

"Stop it!" Poppy hollered, louder than Albus had ever heard her. "This is absolutely unacceptable—a hundred points each from Slytherin and Hufflepuff—"

"You're no longer Head Girl," Albus reminded her.

Realisation dawned on Poppy's face as the students began jeering. To his disbelief, she was rolling up her sleeves. "Then we'll have to separate them," she said, her voice surprisingly steady. "You ready? I'll take Vance, you take Zabini—"

"Are you a witch or not—"

But before Albus could draw his wand, she'd gone into the thick of it, scarcely missing the brute hammer of Tarquin's fist as she dragged Vance back in a stumble that left them tangled on the gravel. Bloody hell, this girl. Albus groaned inwardly and resigned himself then—brawling wasn't his idea of a Friday night—but he certainly wasn't going to live it down if he stood there and left them to it.

At the count of three, Albus sucked in a breath and launched himself on a raging Tarquin.

Behind him, the student crowd roared again.

The sudden whispering didn't bother Scorpius. At first.

In hindsight, however, this would prove to be the first indication that his weekend was about to go tits-up.

Scorpius paused in the middle of the hallway, now acutely aware of hushed murmurs coming from students as they passed. Scorpius, of course, was no stranger to this type of behavior, for people often acted strange around the semi-famous.

Even so. He couldn't help but wonder if he'd somehow missed something.

Not that anyone had anything to gossip about, surely. He and Rose had kept to themselves over the past fortnight. They had been immersed by their studies and… well, other more pressing matters. Frankly, Scorpius found himself paying attention to little else since the two of them started physically exploring each other.

Hormones could make any teenager stupid. And he was stupid for Rose, if almost getting caught by Filch was any indication. Since their close shave that night, they had taken greater pains to ensure their privacy. Scorpius had considered calling on the Room of Requirement at some point, but Rose had been scandalised by the idea… perhaps due to its pivotal role in her parents' war efforts. And Scorpius could relate. In his time, his father had rather nefarious uses for that room himself.

So. Of course he was behind on gossip. Who gave a shit about that when all he could daydream about was Rose writhing beneath him on any given surface?

Like that teacher's desk a few nights back.

His cock twitched.

Though Rose clearly had no insight to the paths his mind had taken, because she was tugging gently at his hand, a question in her cornflower blue eyes. "What's wrong?"

He looked back at her. Trying to ignore the memory of her shirt unbuttoned under his hands, her pretty collarbones marked by love bites as her breasts rose and fell under his hungry mouth…

Scorpius cleared his throat, forcing himself back to the present. "Did the tabloids write about us again?" he asked evenly.

The unexpected question drew an inquisitive smile from Rose, a sight that made his heart lift ever so slightly. "Not that I know of. Lily would've told me at breakfast."

The chirpy way she said it brought a sense of relief to Scorpius. It was possible he was overthinking things again, he told himself.

Maybe he could let his guard down and just—be. For once.

So Scorpius turned his attention instead to the way Rose was fiddling with the collar of her shirt. As his gaze lingered on her fidgety fingers, her cheeks turned suspiciously warm. Scorpius reached out to tug gently at her hair, leaning in to whisper slyly in her ear:

"I didn't bite you anywhere they can see."

Rose elbowed him gently, a soft reproach entering her reddened face. "Scorpius. You're being wicked."

"But you like it, don't you?" he teased in an undertone, kissing her soundly on her jawline. "Next time I'll make sure to bite you everywhere else. Or you can bite me back, hmm?"

Rose released his hand and quickened her steps, her ears going adorably pink. Scorpius bit back a grin as he followed her at leisure; she was too short to outpace him anyway. To his surprise, however, she suddenly came to a pause a few feet ahead of him.

"Hugo?" he heard her say.

Scorpius looked again. And, sure enough, there he was. Hugo… looking uncharacteristically bleary-eyed and lost. The bespectacled boy was known for his cheery disposition and razor wit, but none of that was on display as he surged forward into Rose's open arms. His distress felt uncannily familiar. Scorpius was abruptly reminded of the evening after his first date with Rose—

Hugo had been crying too, then.

Over the tosser Kirkpatrick Vance, no less.

"Rosie," Hugo uttered, before his shoulders heaved from a panicked sob. "Oh, Rosie, Rosie—"

"Hugo," Rose said, alarm crossing her features. She shot Scorpius a bewildered look before soothing her brother once more. "Shh, shh, tell me what happened—"

"I've been so stupid," Hugo croaked, his words jumbled as he hiccupped. "We—messed up—ngh—we—he—done for this time—"

"What? What are you talking about?" Rose asked forcefully, gripping at the back of Hugo's jumper as she pulled away to look at him. "Hugo, you have to slow down—"

"You were right," Hugo sobbed, his cheeks streaked with tears. "I haven't been careful, I…"

Something clicked within Scorpius then.

The whispers. They weren't about him or Rose, they were about—

"Tarquin," he said sharply, making Rose and Hugo jump. "Where is he?"

Hugo froze. Rose had stopped breathing; Scorpius could sense her dread growing as she dragged her gaze back to her brother's miserable face. A beat, then—"Hugo," she said softly, "where's Tarquin?"

Hugo's face wilted then. "It's bad," he managed in a whisper. "They were—b-brawling out in the courtyard, and—"

"Stay here," Scorpius said in a low voice. Rose nodded blindly, looking shell-shocked as she turned back to her sobbing brother in a sort of daze.

And Scorpius was on his way.

The courtyard had long cleared out by the time Scorpius arrived, so he made a swift detour. His instincts proved correct—he could hear the muffled yelling as soon as he stalked through the common room. The Slytherins sat stock still as he passed, deaf to the commotion in the distance as their keen eyes tracked him into the dormitories.

Quirke and Yaxley were huddled in the narrow walkway, their ears pressed against the door. Scorpius shot them a look of disbelief. "Are you two not wizards?"

"It's not locked, git," Quirke said indignantly. "We'd just rather not be in Potter's way. He'll have our balls on a platter."

"Albus? Isn't Tarquin in there?"

"Yeah?" Yaxley sniped back, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Takes two to tango, no?"

What the hell? How on earth would Albus be involved in a fight between Vance and Tarquin? Before Scorpius could connect the dots, there was the sound of a body stumbling across the floorboards, and then a sickening crash—

"So can you get in there and get them drama queens to calm down," Yaxley went on crossly. "It's my room too, I'll have you know—"

Scorpius shoved them aside, turning the door knob and slipping in before shutting the door squarely in Quirke and Yaxley's faces.

He'd barely registered the broken furniture and smoking carpet when Tarquin staggered backwards into him at full force, knocking the air out of him. Across the chaotic space, Albus was standing there with his wand pointed at straight at Tarquin, his boyish face painted with fury.

"Stop this," Scorpius said sharply, as Tarquin fumbled for balance against his shoulder. He was obviously in a bad state from his brawl with Vance—his nose had been bloodied, and he was sporting a swollen eye. "Al, what the fuck are you doing? Put your wand away."

"I'm doing no such thing," said Albus furiously, his jaw clenched. It was obvious he had been in a minor scuffle himself—there was a cut on his lip, his cheekbone was purpling, and his wild hair made him look frankly deranged. "Newsflash, Malfoy: Tarquin's been fucking around with Hugo. My bloody cousin, of all people. Took a bloody punch in the face for me to find out, because what are friends for, eh?"

Well, shit. Scorpius glanced warily at Tarquin, who had now slumped down onto the floor against the door, his dark eyes fixed blankly on the floorboards.

"Al," Scorpius said at last, turning back to his friend. "Let's talk about this."

His lack of reaction drew a sharp breath from Albus. Comprehension dawned on his face as his green eyes flicked between Scorpius and Tarquin. "…You knew, then."

Tarquin blanched. Scorpius took a tentative step forward. "Albus—"

"Fuck me. What are the two of you playing at? Is this a game of Score The Cousin? Is this what it is?" The fury in his expression gave way briefly to icy amusement. "Bloody hell—was this all one big joke on me?"

Anger flared within Scorpius then, but Tarquin had beat him to a response. "Don't drag Scorpius into it," he drawled, his voice hoarser than usual as he raised his gaze to Albus'. "He caught feelings, poor sod. Me, on the other hand…"

Scorpius closed his eyes and braced himself.

"I just wanted a good fuck. And I got it." Tarquin rose unsteadily to his feet, drawing himself to his full height as his eyes glinted in the low light. "And you know what? So did Hugo. If memory serves me correctly… he was the one who begged for it."

The next few moments passed in a furious blur. There was a flash of light and the smell of burnt wood as bed columns collapsed down around them. Before the dust settled, Albus had Tarquin trapped beneath him, raining punches across his face as Tarquin hacked fresh blood onto the carpet.

"Enough," Scorpius bellowed, dragging Albus up by the collar.

Albus stumbled onto his feet as he shrugged out of Scorpius' hold, his face pale from rage as he regarded Tarquin.

"You're dead to me," he hissed.

He stormed out, slamming the door behind him.