A/n: That's a wrap! Thank you all for reading and reviewing :) I'm going to try and finish up replying to reviews throughout the week- I promise I'm not purposefully ignoring them and I do appreciate them- just very short on time :( For those who are interested, I'll be posting a sequel within the coming week.
If Hugo blew that damn whistle one more time, Albus was certain he'd end up with it shoved into places that whistles didn't belong.
"No, no!" Hugo shrieked, giving the whistle another shrill blow. "Stop! Uncle Charlie, you've got to pass the ball! Your teammates are there for a reason! Aunt Angelina and Aunt Ginny are wide open! Wide open!"
From Albus's left, Aunt Angelina muttered something to his mum, her lips shielded by her palm to keep anybody from lip-reading. Both women burst into giggles a moment later.
"Louis!" Hugo continued. "What are you doing?! How is lying in the grass helping your team?!"
Louis—currently puddled on the grass, injured—was being seen to by Victoire.
"Hugo, he's injured! I think he tore something in his leg." Victoire reminded him. She risked a glance around herself, and once she saw that their grandad was otherwise occupied in a conversation with Teddy, she pulled her wand out and pressed it to her brother's calf, murmuring something. A brilliant, gold light enveloped his muscle.
"Shake it off! Shake it off, Louis, or we'll replace you!" Hugo bellowed, having missed Victoire's mending spell. He was already scanning the field again, looking for his next victim.
"Fine! I'm back," Louis snapped. Whatever Victoire had done was spot on; he bolted back into his position without even the slightest grimace. Albus followed his progress to the end of the field. He locked eyes with Scorpius, who was playing goalkeeper. Scorpius gave him a thumbs up and beamed, and Albus was momentarily distracted…
Another whistle blow. This time closer to Albus's ear. He flinched and reached up, cupping his hands over his ears.
"Would you stop with the whistle?!" He shouted.
Hugo was breathing down his neck now. "Pay attention! You're our center midfielder! You cannot be scattered!"
"I'm not! I'm not scattered!" Albus yelled back. "And if you blow that bloody whistle again…!"
"Aunt Ginny, Albus is threatening me!" Hugo whined.
Ginny, inspecting a scrape running down the length of her forearm, said: "Hm? Sorry, you'll have to speak up, Hugo. My ears are ringing with a mysterious whistle-like sound."
"Fine," Hugo bellowed, his face shining with perspiration. "Let's continue! Aunt Audrey—you're doing perfectly. I wouldn't change a thing."
Audrey—who'd grown up playing football—beamed.
"Scorpius, when you're paying attention, your goalkeeping is admirable…when you're paying attention. Stop daydreaming!"
Scorpius straightened his posture and saluted Hugo.
"Aunt Ginny…" Hugo trailed off, appraising his aunt. "Perhaps be a bit less aggressive with the ball. It's not a Quaffle, and if you miskick and hit somebody's leg, you may break a bone."
"I'll consider your criticism, Hugh."
"Teddy…care more about this, please? Victoire—I think you're only here for the opportunity to mend people, but you're pretty decent, so carry on. Louis…nice job working through that injury! Uncle Charlie…you're good, but you can't play all the positions at once. Aunt Angelina."
Angelina arched an eyebrow, her expression challenging.
"Er…perfect, as always. Only…maybe chat a bit less. Albus, focus! And Grandad…"
Arthur looked up expectantly, his face tomato red from exertion. He was grinning broadly. Nobody had the heart to say anything negative.
"Now I know where I got my talent from! Keep it up! Okay, Green Team! Back to practice and then we can eat!"
There were low grumbles of disagreement. Albus's stomach growled along with them. He met Scorpius's eyes from across the makeshift field; they shared a frown.
"Oh, come on, you lot! Push through! Don't you want to beat my sister—I mean, the Red Team?!" Hugo demanded.
"I do want to beat your sister," Albus called. "…and I guess the Red Team in general."
"Then focus!" Hugo punctuated that order with a stomp of his foot.
"Hugo," Aunt Audrey interrupted. She crossed the distance between them and wrapped an arm around Hugo's shoulders. "I think we ought to get to dinner now; you know how Weasleys get if they miss meals, yeah?"
"I'm a Weasley and I'm just fine with—"
"Well, you're a special breed, my love," Audrey continued. Albus marveled at how soft and sweet she could keep her voice, when he knew she was absolutely starving, going by the conversation he'd overheard between her and Uncle Charlie. "We should go back and be with the others. Hermione is probably wondering where you are."
Hugo (who was the living embodiment of a 'mummy's boy') hesitated.
"Well," he hedged, "I did tell Mum I'd help her draft letters during dinner."
"Right—wouldn't want to leave her all on her own, would we?"
"No, we wouldn't. Okay, Green Team. Let's break for dinner. Eat well, but not too well because—'
Albus was already making a beeline across the field. Scorpius was making a beeline towards him in the opposite direction. They reunited in the center. Around them, everybody else was chattering and making their way back towards the main camp.
Scorpius slung his arm around Albus's shoulders, pulling him close against his side. Albus allowed himself to lean fully into him.
"Good goalkeeping," he complimented. "How would you like to steal Hugo's whistle with me?"
Scorpius laughed. "I thought you were going to yell at him well before you did! You kept flinching every single time he blew it."
"It was awful!"
"It was slightly obnoxious. But I think, overall, it was a good practice! Our outlook is good! I'm decent at goalkeeping—you know, I really questioned Hugo when he placed me there, but I see why he did. You're obviously great, your Aunt Audrey is surprisingly good, your mum and Aunt Angelina are great players—but that's no surprise—and your Uncle Charlie probably could play every position himself. We've got a good chance!"
"Yeah, but we're against Rose, James, Lily, Fred, Roxanne, my dad, Dominique, Uncle Ron, Uncle George, Uncle Bill…that's tough competition."
"True," Scorpius nodded. He tightened the arm around Albus's shoulder. Albus's heart swelled. "But we've got you."
Albus was beaming for the entire walk, to the point that his face ached by the time they sat down for dinner.
They'd unwittingly sectioned off into teams for dinner. The Green Team observed Red. The Red Team stared right back at them. Aunt Angelina and Uncle George were making such intense eye contact that Albus and Scorpius moved places, putting distance between themselves and the couple.
"And then," Albus's grandad said, enthusiastically ignoring the competitive silence dividing the family, "I kicked the football across the field! Right across it! And it went into the goal!"
It went into their goal. Meaning, had they been playing, he might've scored a goal against them (maybe—Albus wasn't really positive on the rules, he'd zoned out during Hugo's lecture). But Albus loved his grandad too much to ever tell anybody that, and everybody else on Green was in a similar place. They were all averting their eyes. A few were struggling not to laugh. And others—like Albus's mum and Charlie—were glaring around at their teammates, as if daring somebody to embarrass Arthur. Nobody dared.
While Hugo and Arthur updated those who hadn't joined a team (Hermione, Percy, Gran, Fleur, Little Molly, Lucy) on Green's practice, the Potter family was sizing each other up. Lily moved her plate and planted herself right in front of Scorpius and Albus. As she chewed, she looked from each boy's face, as if searching for weakness. Her eyes were hardened. Albus found it a bit frightening to meet her gaze head-on.
"Lily, stop, you're creeping me out," Albus finally snapped.
She ignored him. She glanced over her shoulder at Harry.
"Left ankle, Dad."
Albus looked from Harry to Lily, mildly alarmed.
"What?! What about my ankle?"
"And for this one," Lily continued, pinning her eyes on Scorpius. He flashed her an innocent grin. Her cheeks pinked, but she steeled herself and carried on. "His weakness will be his kindness. Exploit it, Red Team. And Mum. Mum, Mum, Mum…" Lily shifted, so she was facing their mother. Ginny continued eating, indifferent, meeting Lily's fierce eyes easily. "This one's got a temper."
"Watch it— 'this one' birthed you."
"Probably while in a temper," Lily shot back. Emboldened, she turned back to Albus. "Scorpius."
"Yes?" Scorpius asked.
"No, it's an observation for Albus's weakness. Okay, Team. I think I've made a lot of decent observations. Time to separate."
James immediately stood up, plate in hand, and began walking to another part of the camp. Albus noticed that a lot of other Red Team members had moved over there already. Lily stood and grabbed Harry's hand.
"Come on, Dad!"
Harry hesitated. "Erm…I'm not sure it's in my best interest to do that."
"It is if you want to win!" She argued, her own temper flaring. She pulled fruitlessly on Harry's hand. "Come on, Dad!"
The Potter parents locked eyes.
"Go on, Harry. I'm going to beat you anyway," Ginny commented.
Harry scoffed, though Albus thought he was probably only a few seconds from laughing. He stood suddenly, nearly sending Lily falling backwards onto her bum.
"Okay, Lulu. Let's go."
They walked off, leaving Albus, Scorpius, and Ginny grouped together. Albus turned and watched all the Red teammates conspiring together. He was feeling less confident.
"It's a tactic, boys," Ginny said. "What they're doing. We used to do it all the time—we being the Harpies. If you enter a room with the attitude that you've already won, united and laughing, it'll mess with the other team's heads. Don't let them mess with yours. We've got this. They can put on a show about deciding our weaknesses, but we've already found theirs."
Scorpius perked up. He reached over suddenly and settled his palm on Albus's upper thigh—casually, like they did that all the time. Did they do that all the time? Suddenly, Albus couldn't remember a thing. He stared at Scorpius's hand, his eyes wide. His stomach was rocking like the sea and his heart was drumming. He'd had a sulky question perched on his lips— 'and exactly what is their weakness?'—but he never got the chance to blurt it. He anxiously began shoveling food into his mouth, hoping it'd disguise the way his entire face had just caught flame. Hoping nobody could tell that every nerve in his body had somehow just merged beneath Scorpius's hand, to the point that he was hyperaware of every subtle shift Scorpius's knuckles made. And, again, not meaning to be dramatic…but he thought he might die right there from the sheer torture of having to sit chained in place, immobile, for fear of what he might do if he were to react in anyway. The brief memory of Scorpius's body beneath Albus's as they wrestled flew to mind. What he wouldn't give now to propel himself forward, to knock into Scorpius's frame, to press his lips to his skin—any skin, really, he wasn't fussy…-
"Al. Albus." He shook his head and found his mum's concerned face in front of his. She placed her palm on his forehead. "You look like you may faint. Are you feeling all right?"
"Er…erm…" he panicked. He felt cold and hot all at once, and he abruptly wanted to be somewhere else. He jumped to his feet. "I have to go now. Practice. I need to practice."
With one last cautious look back at Scorpius, who was watching him in soft concern, Albus hurried off.
It was a bad situation all around.
Albus paced the grass in the small field their match was to be held in in only a half-hour's time.
He'd thought it'd get better—his panic and his blushing and his—well.
But it only seemed to get worse the closer he and Scorpius got. It was worse today than it'd ever been, probably due to their closeness all day and all the bare skin. And he wasn't sure how much longer he could stand it. He would either have to tell Scorpius how he felt (and the thought was petrifying), or he'd have to tell him that they couldn't touch anymore. No—maybe not stop touching entirely. He couldn't imagine cutting hugs out of their friendship. But no more unexpected touching. He'd need warning beforehand. He'd need Scorpius to give him at least two minutes of mental preparation before he set his palm on his thigh. But would that even be enough?
No matter what—their friendship was the most important thing. Albus wouldn't have survived without Scorpius; Scorpius had accepted him without fault from the very start, at a time when most people couldn't stand to be around him. And he wouldn't and couldn't do anything to strain that relationship. So it was extremely upsetting to be faced with this potential divide—something that his own mind and body were doing, something he couldn't control, something that could ruin everything. He felt very betrayed, and in that moment, he also felt hopeless and extremely close to tears. Because what if this was the beginning of the end? How was he meant to go on with Scorpius when his feelings for him were taking on a life of their own? He couldn't go forward pretending like he didn't feel anything, because all it took was one unexpected touch and he was an unholy mess. But he couldn't tell him, either.
More than anything—he couldn't bear the thought of losing him. Just the suggestion made his throat tighten and his eyes sting. Who would he be without Scorpius? Not Albus. Not Albus Potter. Scorpius made him better. He couldn't lose him. He couldn't sleep in their dorm and pretend they were strangers. He couldn't eat in the Great Hall without him. He couldn't function without him.
He'd been angrily kicking the ball into the goal, over and over again. At the sudden greeting, he jumped and managed to poorly send the ball spinning sharply to the left. His dad entered the field and smiled softly.
"Well, if that's how you'll be playing, I think Red Team will be all right."
Albus's eyes were stinging fiercely. His vision began blurring. And his dad panicked.
"No, I'm sorry, Al—that was a joke, a really stupid joke; I'm a git."
Albus would've liked to have defended his own honor and told his dad that he wasn't crying because of that, but to speak would've been to succumb to tears. It was taking every bit of his focus and strength to keep the tears at bay; there was nothing left over for banter.
His dad approached. He gently kicked the ball to the side and out of his path. He reached down and gripped Albus's shoulder. Albus refused to meet his eyes.
"Are you all right? What's wrong?" His dad whispered. He looked around himself carefully. "No one else is here. If you want to talk about…things…no one will hear."
Albus sniffed. His nose was running at an alarming rate, as if determined to release some of the pressure of his withheld tears. As he reached up and wiped it on his sleeve, for lack of a better option, he could almost hear his gran scolding him.
Harry deflated underneath Albus's silence.
"Or," he continued, his voice filled with feigned indifference, "I could get your mum. If you don't want to speak with me. That's okay! If you want me to go, I can go."
For a man who had so many vast talents, he wasn't very good at masking his injured feelings. Or perhaps Albus just knew how to read him by now.
"I don't want Mum," Albus finally choked. His dad absolutely knew now; anybody could've heard the swells of tears trembling beneath each word.
"Oh," Harry was panicking full-force. Albus was looking towards the ground, so he noticed when Harry clenched his fists nervously. I must not tell lies stood out in even greater contrast. His wedding band shifted with the pressure, revealing a very noticeable tan line. "Oh. Okay. Grandad, then? Uncle Bill? Teddy? Uncle Charlie? Gran? Vic?"
His dad trilled off people Albus had a history of confiding in, but Albus didn't want to speak with them. If he was going to talk to anybody about this, it would be his dad, but he couldn't seem to get the words to pass his lips. His chest felt like it may burst, and he could hardly make out anything behind the blurry film of his tears, and his throat was prickling. The ridiculousness of his reaction made it even worse, because he felt angry and frustrated with himself, and that only egged the impending tears on. He looked up at his dad, blinking hard against the escaping tears, and gave up.
"I want to talk to you," he admitted, his voice strained, and a second later he was crying. He briefly registered his dad pulling him into his arms. He felt the soft texture of his dad's cotton shirt against his skin as it stuck to his already tear-streaked face. His dad rested one hand on the back of Albus's head, holding him protectively in place in their embrace, like he had when Albus was a little boy. Before things got so complicated. Before he found himself crying in the middle of a makeshift muggle football field over the longing he felt for his best friend.
"What's happened? Did something happen with Scorpius? Was one of your cousins being mean?"
The full defensive fury of Harry Potter was something to behold. For the second time that year, Albus found it quite easy to merge the idea of his father with the man who'd willingly died at the hands of Lord Voldemort to protect his friends. Had Albus offered any name of any cousin who may've wronged him, he knew they would've regretted it.
"No, nothing like that."
He couldn't get much else out around his sobs. He gave up and cried it out, his face pressed into his dad's shirt, all his repressed emotions leaving him at once. For at least three minutes, he stood there with Harry, expelling his suppressed trauma from the events of his fourth year, the anger he still felt at the way he and Scorpius had been treated for years at school, and the confusion and hopelessness he felt in periodic waves about the way he felt for Scorpius. All the while, Harry held him, sometimes patting at his back, but mostly just standing steady. It was the right thing to do. If Albus had felt even a bit better, he would've smiled and told Harry that.
Once he felt like he could speak without gasping like a fool, he leaned back and wiped impatiently at his face. He looked up at his dad, his eyes shining.
"Dad, I'm going to ruin it all. The only good thing I've got at Hogwarts, and I'm going to ruin it."
Where his mum gently pried, Harry threw out confident guesses. This time, he was spot on.
"Your friendship with Scorpius?" A nod. "Because you fancy him?" Another nod. "Have you spoken to him about how you feel?" Albus quickly shook his head, his eyes widening in horror. Harry laughed softly. "No, I don't blame you—I would not have either. Okay, so, you feel certain that he doesn't feel the same way?"
"I dunno, Dad. Sometimes…I wonder. I think that maybe he does. But then I worry that I'm… just seeing what I want to see." His hands were trembling. He shakily wiped more tears from his face. His dad withdrew his wand, conjured a handkerchief, and passed it to Albus. He sniffed again and mopped at his tears.
"I know for me," his dad began, each word measured and thoughtful, "it's difficult to read people sometimes. I usually just—don't. It's one of the many reasons your mum and I work so well—because she doesn't make me guess. She was blunt about everything, and then eventually, we knew each other so well that it became intuitive."
Albus's chest burned fiercely with what he could only describe as jealousy.
"Must be nice," he spat.
Harry realized his mistake. "Oh, no, sorry—I'm getting to a point with all that. Sorry…I'm not very good at this. But I promise…I'm trying my best."
Albus nodded. He continued wiping at the periodic tears that leaked from his eyes.
"My point is that, for people who aren't always the best at reading people—or, which it may be in your case, are good at it but second guess themselves too much for it to be effective—it's best to just be honest. You're only going to drive yourself mad if you don't. Trust me, I know. You think you can keep it all bottled up but you can't. I know you're worried about your friendship, but how are you meant to go on like this?"
"If he doesn't feel the same way, he'll think I'm...gross."
"Do you really think so? Because I don't know if I agree. Scorpius has never given me any reason to think he'd be judgmental or reckless with the friendship you two share."
"You and I both know, Dad, that if he doesn't feel the same way, things will change. And almost certainly for the worst."
"Maybe," his dad relented. "But things are going to change anyway. They were always going to. Fifth year is a time of changes whether you like it or not. I can't say for certain what's going on in Scorpius's head—I was always rubbish at Occlumency and I'm sure I'd be just as bad at Legilimency—but I do know that you'll drift apart if you don't say anything, because I know you. You'll push Scorpius away out of fear of losing him. And then you'll lose him. So. Basically. I think you should tell him you fancy him. Now…how to do that? I haven't got a clue. Frankly, the idea is terrifying. But I do know people who would have ideas."
"Mum?" Albus was wary, unsure if he wanted to embark on this conversation with both Potter parents present.
"Mum? Merlin, no. Your mum's not exactly a subtle person. She told me she was pregnant with James by casually dragging me into a baby shop during a routine shopping run for Quidditch supplies. I nearly fainted. No, I was thinking more along the lines of Aunt Hermione."
"Maybe..." Albus tried to imagine asking his Aunt Hermione for advice on how to tell Scorpius he fancied him, but it was such an alien idea that it was difficult to envision.
"I'd remind you that everything will end up okay—but I know that's not always the best advice. It may end up okay, but I'm sure it's very painful right now," his dad said wisely. Albus's throat gave another sear. He was terrified he'd begin crying again. He pushed through the feeling until he felt semi-stable again.
"Better?" His dad asked hopefully.
In the wake of his breakdown, he felt embarrassment flare through him. He stepped back out of his dad's arms and cleared his throat.
"Sorry, Dad. It was…silly. To cry."
"No, it wasn't," his dad said firmly. "Crying isn't silly. And you don't need to be embarrassed. Honestly, Albus, I expected you to fall apart months ago. After I saw Cedric die, I think I probably cried that entire summer. And what you and Scorpius saw—well. It's not an easy thing." Albus was feeling worse now. Seeing a classmate die was a good reason to cry, but he wasn't crying about that. He was crying over this.
But his dad continued.
"And feeling worried that you'll lose your greatest friend isn't easy. That's the most terrifying thing of all. That, I think, is the most fundamental fear there is. Except for maybe death itself, but even then it depends on the person. The point is…the fear of losing somebody you really care about, somebody you depend on…that's not a silly reason to cry. It's many witches' and wizards' worst fear. Mine included."
Albus wanted to duck back into his father's embrace, but he felt he was too old for it. He settled for smiling weakly. He had no choice but to accept his father's words as truth, because there was no way to doubt the sincerity weaved between each syllable. And, after all: his dad had died because of that fear, the fear of losing his friends.
"I do," he told his dad.
He hesitated. "You do what?"
"I do feel better now."
Relief flooded Harry's face. He beamed.
"Yeah? I did a decent job again?"
"A great job."
His dad nodded, smile still steady. "So would you say it was like…a five out of ten? Or lower? Higher?"
Albus furrowed his brow. "I dunno. Do we have to use James's scale for validation?"
His dad had a haunted look. "No, we don't haveto…I'm just realizing how trained I've become…that kid's got me judging everything on ten-point scales..."
Albus laughed. It was shaky, but it was there. He grinned.
"Okay. We can say…an eight."
"An eight! That's way higher than I was expecting! I'll take it. I'll take it gladly." He hesitated for one awkward moment, and then reached forward, pulling Albus into a tight hug. "I can't wait to tell your mum that I got an eight. Can I tell her?"
"Sure, you can tell her," Albus allowed. He was shocked that he had the control to say if his dad could or couldn't. It made him feel important. "So I should tell Scorpius."
"Yes. You should." His dad replied, pulling back to observe Albus seriously. "You should definitely tell him."
"That's up to you. If you start feeling this bad all the time…you should do it sooner rather than later. He wouldn't want you to feel this way."
Harry was probably right about that. Albus just didn't know how he was supposed to tell Scorpius. It sounded a lot easier to do than it felt. And now that he'd cried it out, he felt like he'd overreacted, like he could easily continue pretending he felt nothing at all. Even though his dad seemed to genuinely feel like Albus had a good reason to cry, he felt a bit stupid.
"Everyone will be here soon. You should go find Scorpius. He was worried about you."
Albus furrowed his brow. "You saw him?"
"Yeah. Your mum might've…sent me to check on you."
"Oh, great. I'm sure Scorpius thinks I've gone mad," Albus groaned.
"No, he's just worried and confused. Go on back. You can do it."
Albus dragged his feet. He hesitated.
"But…say that I tell him, and then he tells me that he doesn't…what do I say back?"
"Well…I guess you just say…'okay'. I mean, there's not much else to say, is there?" His dad pointed out.
"'I'm sorry'?" Albus suggested.
"Why should you be sorry? It's not like you asked to feel that way. It's not like it's hurting anybody." Albus wasn't convinced. Harry continued. "Look, your mum had a blatant crush on me for years before I came around. I knew she felt that way. It wasn't a big deal. The only thing that came between us was the fact that she was embarrassed because of it. If you act normally, Scorpius will, too."
Albus inhaled deeply. He squared his shoulders. "Okay. Okay, yeah. I'm going to do it."
His dad beamed. "Yeah?"
"Yeah! I'm going to. I'm going now. I'm going to tell him."
Albus took another deep breath. He didn't move for at least five seconds, even though he was screaming at his legs to move. He seemed to be frozen in fear.
"Er…do you need a gentle push, Al?"
"Might be necessary, yeah."
His dad carefully pushed him forward, forcing Albus to take a step. Once he'd ripped his feet from the ground, he was able to take another step, and from there he marched towards the path back to the campsite. He could do this. This was for the best. He was going to march up and tell Scorpius that he fancied him, that he thought he was beautiful, that he wasn't satisfied with being just friends, that the thought of losing him—or the sight of him with another person—was gutting and could reduce him to tears faster than anything. He was going to thank him for entering his life, for—
"Albus!" Scorpius jumped to his feet, relieved.
"See? There he is," Lily told him. She looked vaguely annoyed. "I told you he was okay."
Scorpius hurried over. He reached forward and grabbed onto Albus's hands, peering worriedly into his eyes. Albus's mouth went dry. The words pooling in his mouth crumbled. His brain blanked.
"Where'd you go? Is everything okay?"
"I…I needed to…I left because…"
Scorpius waited, inching closer to Albus with every second that passed, as if struggling to hear him.
"I…" Damn. Damn. Damn. "I'm just nervous about the game. I went to practice."
Scorpius's shoulders dropped. "Oh," he said. He didn't release Albus's hands. "Why are you nervous?"
"Just…you know. I want to beat James and Lily and Rose."
"Me too," Scorpius agreed, but he was studying Albus's face, his own vulnerable. "Are you sure that's why you left? Did I…make you uncomfortable?"
Shy. That was the word. Albus stared at Scorpius and realized he'd suddenly gone very shy. Patches of pink were blooming across his cheeks. His eyes were wider than usual with apprehension. He'd dropped Albus's hands. He was studying every expression that shifted across Albus's face as if he'd have an exam over it later. He thought he had made Albus uncomfortable, that he hadgrossed Albus out. By setting his palm on his thigh. By…making a move? Or was it just Scorpius being Scorpius? Albus wanted to turn on his heel and race back to the clearing, to ask his dad, but he had been staring blankly at Scorpius for too long already.
"No! Not at all!" He blurted. His heart was rising dangerously. "No! You never—you never make me uncomfortable. I love when you touch me. I mean—" Albus's face grew uncomfortably hot. The horrid blush spread down the back of his neck, over his ears. Lily succumbed into giggles from behind Scorpius. "Er. You know. You're my—and. I like to…hug you…because…you're so…my friend. My special…friend."
Merlin's pants…kill me. Would Lily kill him if he asked nicely? Maybe. He peered back towards her, but she was grinning evilly. No. She wouldn't kill him without seeing the way this panned out, and she would tease him for the rest of his life.
"Lily!" Ginny suddenly shouted from inside the tent. "Get in here!"
Albus felt slight relief to have his nosy audience gone, but not enough to quell the awkward tension covering both him and Scorpius. Lily scoffed.
"No, Mum! I'm talking!"
"You're not talking—you're eavesdropping! Now!"
Lily dared to ignore their mum. Albus guessed she felt watching this was worth whatever punishment her parents would dish out. And Scorpius was still staring at him, his lips moving soundlessly, his face Weasley red.
"Oh," he said, his tone colored with surprise. "Oh. Well…the thing is…I, you know. I like to. And I was worried that maybe that wasn't…okay. Or normal? 'Cause, er. I never really see…other mates who want to do that. And it made me feel bad because I don't want to…" Scorpius trailed off, visibly struggling to put his feelings into words.
"No," Albus said again, quickly, wanting to spare Scorpius the pain of stuttering on, even if it meant he had to. "No, it's okay, because I feel the same way…you know, I like to, too. Touch you, that is. So you're not…making me feel bad. Honestly…I left because…I was worried that I—"
"LILY LUNA POTTER!"
"NO, MUM, IT'S JUST GETTING GOOD!"
"I SWEAR IF YOU DON'T GET INSIDE THIS TENT—" there was a sudden motion to the left. Scorpius and Albus turned and watched Ginny struggling with the tangled tent doorway, clumsy in her irritation. She gave up, blasted it apart with her wand, and then stepped out. She glowered at Lily in such a way that would've had Albus scrambling to comply. "Get your little self inside this tent or so help me—"
Lily scowled. She flicked her hair over her shoulder, rose, and then looked to Albus and Scorpius. Albus couldn't meet her eyes.
"There is one word to explain what you two idiots have just stuttered nonstop trying to explain, and that word—"
"That's it!" Ginny raged. "No Easter holiday with Luna and Rolf! No hiking for sodding yak fairies!"
Albus hadn't seen his mum in such a temper in a while. He wondered if she knew what he'd been planning on telling Scorpius. He wondered if she wanted him to tell Scorpius, too. She probably did.
"No, Mum! No!" Lily's outraged cries faded as she stomped into the tent.
"Yak fairies?" Scorpius said skeptically. Half of Albus was relieved by the subject changed—because things were getting dangerous—but the other half was terribly disappointed. He heaved a sigh.
"I think my mum just made that up, but there's no telling with Luna."
Scorpius laughed slightly. Albus gave a forced, short chuckle. They stared at each other, hesitant and uncertain. After what felt like decades, Scorpius stepped forward and retook Albus's hands. His stomach jerked.
"I'm Scorpius. You're Albus. We didn't even really hug until a year or so ago. But then we did. So we can be…touchy. If you are okay with it, and I am, too. There's nothing wrong with it." He paused. That vulnerable expression returned. "Right?"
He was certain that Lily could probably hear his heartbeat pounding wildly from all the way inside the tent.
"Right," he said, a bit weakly. "We're just—Albus and Scorpius."
"Right. And we can be whatever versions of ourselves that we want to be."
"Right…" Do it now. Say it now. Do it now or you never will. "Scorpius…"
He dropped his eyes to the ground. He took another deep breath.
"The thing is…I've got a very specific version of us in mind."
"Oh, okay," Scorpius said. He didn't get it. His tone was light. "Well, you know what I always say—planning is the first step to success! A clear vision never hurts!"
"Right, I vaguely…recall that. Er. What I really mean is that I feel—"
"GREEN TEAM!" Albus's grandad's shout echoed throughout the campsite. "IT'S TIME."
Albus looked around, horrified, as people began spilling from their respective tents. He and Scorpius took a few stumbling steps back from each other, their hands separating, blushing to the roots of their hair.
"Hold that—hold that thought," Albus told Scorpius. Scorpius smiled, nodded, and reached easily for Albus's hand once again.
Albus's mind raced with panicked thoughts for their entire walk. By the time they made it to the clearing, he was dazed, confused, scattered. Hugo wasn't having it.
"Ouch!" Albus cried, rearing back from Hugo, who'd just delivered a surprisingly strong smack to Albus's shoulder. "Hugo! What the—!"
"I don't know what has gotten into you since practice, but if it's Scorpius—deal with your feelings. We have a match to win. No excuses! Get focused! Rose has already been going on about how she and James are going to smash the Green Team so hard that they fly back far enough to meet Albus Dumbledore! Get it together!"
Albus was left gaping as Hugo stamped off to scold somebody else. Scorpius hesitantly met Albus's eyes. They both looked in opposite directions a moment later.
"Okay, well, he's mad," Albus tried to laugh, but nothing came out but a weak exhalation of air. "As if—as if I'd…"
Whatever he'd said, it'd been the wrong thing. Scorpius seemed to get smaller. He dropped his face.
"Yeah. I suppose I'd better get to the goal—it won't keep itself."
Albus felt his heart jump with panic. "Yeah. Okay. But I…what I meant, what I said to Hugo…"
Scorpius was already gone, weaving through the people cluttering the field, each donning at least one garment of their team color. An old, green cap was shoved on Albus's head by Victoire. She tapped his nose.
"What's wrong with you? Did Hugo punch you in the stomach?"
"Do you need me to look at it?"
"No. I just—need to get this over with so I can talk to Scorpius."
His dad sneaked his way over. He was wearing a slightly-too-small red t-shirt.
"Well?" He greeted Albus.
Albus sniffed. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, damn," his dad whispered, horrified. "Did it go badly? Do you want to forget the match? We can, if you want."
"No. No, I want to do the match. I'll be fine. I'm just…Dad, I'm really bad at talking about my feelings."
"Welcome to my world," Harry patted Albus's shoulder briefly. "We'll talk afterwards, okay?"
"Okay," he replied miserably.
Everybody moved back to where they were meant to be. Rose was beaming at Albus.
"I'll try not to beat you too badly," she told him. "I was studying football techniques all throughout dinner. I'm ready for this."
Albus wasn't in the mood. "Whatever, Rose."
She frowned. She edged closer. "Are you okay? What's wrong? I'm not serious. I'm actually fairly intimidated by your football skills, which is a new feeling all around."
"I don't care about football!" He hissed. He glanced over his shoulder towards Scorpius. His heart plummeted at the listless way Scorpius was nodding as Arthur talked to him. Albus was certain that Scorpius wasn't processing any of it. He looked back at Rose, desperate. "I think I hurt Scorpius's feelings."
Rose glanced back that way too. "Oh, yeah, he does look a bit like a kicked puppy. Worse than when I rejected him. Did you reject him?"
"No! At least—I don't think I did."
"Well, what did you say?" Rose demanded. Albus regretted confiding in her. Her bossiness and nosiness were a terrible combination when it came to asking her for advice.
"Hey, what's everybody talking about?" Uncle George interrupted. He looked between both teenagers. "We're not, perhaps, talking about Scorpius and Albus, are we? Because I've got a very specific conversation I'm supposed to look out for when it comes to Rose discussing that matter—Ow! Angelina! I'm coming, fine!"
Uncle George appeared only to be dragged off again. Rose continued.
"So? What'd you muck up this time?"
He felt a sting of instinctive, defensive anger pierce him.
"It doesn't matter. Never mind. Let's just play this game. Beating you will make me feel better at least for an hour."
Rose arched an eyebrow at his harsh tone.
"You don't have to be so mean," she said coolly. "I was only joking before. And I was trying to help you."
"I don't need help."
"You need more help than I nor anybody else can give you," she snapped.
Hugo whistled. Albus jumped.
"The Read Team won the coin toss! They get first kick-off!"
The game began and Albus slipped away. He sank into the match entirely, focusing only on the ball. He was indifferent to the players around him, to Hugo's whistle-blows, to the shrieking. He made one goal. And then another. And then two more. After his sixth, Lily collided with him head-on, her leg sneaking between his to steal the ball. But she'd misjudged her speed. They both went careening down with a sickening crack.
"Stop!" His mum screamed. "Hugo! Stop the match!"
His parents and Victoire arrived at once. He was already climbing back up to his feet, his heart pounding, a bit disoriented from his adrenaline. He shoved his mum's and Victoire's hands away. He could feel thick blood pouring down his face. His nose had gone numb and he was having a difficult time breathing out of it.
"I'm fine! I'm fine!" he shouted at them.
Lily jumped up from the ground, eyes ablaze. If she noticed the angry knot protruding from her forehead, it didn't show.
"Me too! Dad, I'm fine!" She shoved the adults' hands off too. She and Albus faced each other, teeth gritted.
"It's on," Lily growled.
"It's been on," Albus shot back. And without waiting for Hugo to figure out what was going on, he side-swiped the ball and took off towards the Red Team's goal, Lily on his heels. Had she successfully become an animagus, Albus was fairly confident she would've transformed right there and devoured him.
He very nearly made another goal. Lily propelled herself forward with reckless speed at the last moment, managing to cut sharply in front of him and gain possession of the ball. However, she had turned at a bad angle, and Albus definitely heard her ankle make a cracking sound, but she bolted forward towards the Green Team's goal despite. Albus chased after her. There was a noticeable limp in her gait now.
"Catch it, Scorpius!" Albus shrieked, once he realized he wasn't going to be able to steal the ball before Lily made a shot. Their grandad tried to intercept, but Lily merely leaped around him. Scorpius met Albus's eyes for a moment. He nodded, Albus stopped running, and then he nodded back. He bowed forward to catch his breath, his palms on his thighs, and waited.
"YEAH!" Louis cried. "Great save!"
Albus looked up in time to see Scorpius toss the ball back out. They exchanged a fleeting grin—one that lifted Albus's heavy heart. I didn't mean it, he tried to communicate through his eyes. Whatever it sounded like—that's not what I meant.
"Aunt Ginny! Get James! No—James! I don't care if he's your son! Get him! Get—oh, that works, too, Uncle Charlie!"
Albus spun around and raced back towards the middle of the field. James was on the ground, Uncle Charlie and his mum crowded around him. He was moaning in pain.
"What happened?" Uncle Charlie demanded, panicked. "I hardly even brushed you, James."
"He's faking, Charlie! Ignore him! He's tricking—arg!" Their mum's words broke off with an outraged shout as James popped up from his spot and immediately stole the ball from Charlie's feet. He bolted back across the field kicking it towards the Green Team's goal.
"Foul! Foul! MY KID JUST MADE A FOUL, HUGO! Call it!"
Hugo— who was flipping frantically through his football book, sweat stains blooming beneath his arms—looked up.
"I don't know what to do, I don't know if that really counts as a foul!"
"Fine! I'll referee! James, you're grounded!"
"Dad says I'm not!"
"Dad's grounded too!"
Albus had a horrible stitch in his side, but he thought he might be able to cut James off. He circled back towards Scorpius's goal. He was gaining on James, but not quickly enough. Scorpius just barely managed to save it; a few millimeters to the left and it would've landed right into the back of the goal. Relief flooded Albus.
"Nice one!" He shouted.
Scorpius—beaming—pushed his hand out. Albus nearly tripped over his feet in his haste to bolt over and meet his high-five. Hugo blew his whistle.
"Fine!" Albus thundered. He turned and headed back up the field, chasing after Rose, who'd nabbed the ball. She scored a goal, Angelina scored one for the Green Team, Charlie and Albus's mum teamed up and scored two more, and then Albus stole the ball again.
"A few more minutes!" Hugo told them. Albus ignored him, his eyes narrowed in on the goal that Uncle Ron was guarding. He made it up to the goal with the ball, but had it stolen by Roxanne a moment later. He and Roxanne ran the length of the field—Albus stole it back—she stole it from him—he stole it from her—
"You can do it!" Scorpius shouted. "Go, Albus! Go Albus Potter!"
He was sure that they were already winning (but by how much, he wasn't certain). But that didn't matter in that moment; he was determined to make this final goal, to end this quickly, so that he could apologize and explain himself to Scorpius.
Nearly every member of the Red Team was charging at him now, all previous formations forgotten. Albus weaved between them all, accidentally elbowing Rose in the face and tripping Fred, and with his last burst of energy he kicked the ball violently forward. He stumbled backwards from the force of it, managing to trip and fall painfully onto his bottom (nearly sitting on James's face—who was sprawled out on his back for reasons uncertain to Albus). The breath was knocked from Albus from the force of his fall, and consequently, he missed watching the outcome of his shot. Seconds later, the field erupted into a mixture of angry shouts and elated cries. In the midst of it, Albus could make out only Scorpius's voice.
"You did it! Albus, you did it!"
Dazed from his loss of breath, his entire body aching as his adrenaline ebbed away, his legs unsteady—Albus stood. He impatiently pushed through everybody, scanning the crowd for Scorpius. James's and Rose's cries of defeat were holy to behold. Teddy and Victoire cheered victoriously nearby Albus, but he didn't pause to speak to them. His parents were engaged in what appeared to be a friendly argument, Lily stamping angrily around them, but that didn't matter, either. What mattered was finding Scorpius.
He searched the crowd for him now, his heart dangerously full, all his repressed words perched for flight. After a brief moment of searching, he spotted his best friend's blond head, making his way towards him through the crowd of Weasleys with equal purpose. As people parted, Albus spotted the breathtaking grin on Scorpius' face, and everything narrowed down and simplified. Scorpius wasn't sad anymore. He was happy—he was here with Albus, and he was happy, and he didn't want to be like 'normal friends'. And maybe that meant exactly as it sounded; maybe he was good enough for this: for Scorpius's affections, for his family's pride. Maybe he deserved to be happy, after all.
Albus didn't know what possessed him to do it; he certainly hadn't had the conscious thought. But before he could consider much of anything, he'd begun tearing across the grass in a run towards Scorpius, his own whooping laughter carrying loudly over the din of his family. He slammed into Scorpius, he felt Scorpius's arms envelop him tightly, and then—
He was kissing him. Who had moved first? Did it matter? As he fell into the warm softness of Scorpius's kiss, he decided that no, it didn't matter. Nothing mattered, except for the boy entangled with him. He went blind, he went deaf; the only thing he sensed was the pressure of his best friend's mouth on his, the gentle sweep of a hand through his hair, the touch of another against his hip. One long kiss turned into a series of them. Albus had a palm pressed against the back of Scorpius's neck and his other had found a permanent home over his best friend's heart, feeling out the rapid throbbing, his own pounding with a similar franticness. He could've stood there forever, but Albus felt a pointed hit to his arm a moment later. He knew enough by now to tell Rose's beatings apart from anybody else's.
"Oi!" She cried, as Albus and Scorpius jumped apart. "You're in front of our grandparents! Have some respect!"
Albus was hurdled back into reality as he stepped back from Scorpius. He felt his stomach clench in embarrassment. He looked around tentatively, still a bit dazed, and found nearly everybody smiling at them. Except for Uncle Ron, who was…cheering? Either that, or he'd just been stung on the foot by a bee; he was jumping up and down and hooting. Albus could feel Scorpius's eyes on him; he turned and glanced back, and as he did, he felt himself automatically leaning forward…
"OI!" Rose insisted, swiping at Albus' arm again. "Neither the time nor the place!"
"Where is the time? And the place?" Scorpius asked her curiously. "We can go there?" He met Albus's eyes. "Want to go there, Albus?"
"Live there, more like it," he quipped, without even thinking about it. Both he and Scorpius grinned shyly at one another while Rose gaped. Albus pursed his lips against his pleased laughter, his cheeks coloring darker.
"Rose!" Hermione scolded. "Leave them be!"
"Yeah! Get over here, let them kiss!" Ron scolded.
"Come on, you lot," Harry hurriedly ordered. "Leave them. I mean it, Lily!"
"Aw," Lily lamented. "But it just got properly interesting…"
"Who kissed who?" Uncle George was asking frantically. "Who made the first move? Who saw it—did anybody?!"
The chatter faded as Harry banished everybody towards the path leading back to camp. Leaving Albus and Scorpius mere millimeters from each other, their wide-eyes locked, alone except for each other.
"Er…" Albus squeaked.
Scorpius blinked his light eyes, stunned. There was something inexplicably lovely about the pinkness of his lips and cheeks in contrast with his white-blond hair. Albus scanned his face, his own heart picking up pace, and then reached up. His movements were hesitant, jerky, but he forced himself to press forward. He gently scratched above Scorpius's upper lip and beside his nose, scraping away at the blood that'd transferred from Albus's (probably broken) nose. He hadn't felt the pain while they were kissing, but he felt it now—it was a stinging, hot, full pain. He slowly lowered his hand once the blood was gone, Scorpius's eyes following its path.
The silence dragged on. The only thing protecting Albus's heart was the fact that he wasn't certain who'd initiated the kiss; it very well could've been Scorpius. He played around with a few weak jokes, to try and pretend the kiss had never happened, but he couldn't get himself to do it. It had happened. And it should've happened long ago. And he wanted it to happen again. So he would have to follow his parents' advice—he'd have to be honest.
"So," Albus began. He could feel his heartbeat pounding in his head now. "That's the idea of us that I was talking about. That's the version that I…" be brave. You can even be foolishly Gryffindor brave, but be brave, even if only for this moment. "…wanted. Want," he corrected. "The version that I…want." A beat. "Please say something back quickly, because I may combust any moment now."
Scorpius didn't move or say anything for a full three seconds, which under any other circumstance, would've flown right by. Now, however, they inched forward. Albus's hands were trembling. He felt like he may be sick. And then—the corners of Scorpius's lips twitched. A slow, warm smile bloomed. Albus grinned back immediately, his eyes greedily taking in Scorpius's beam, because that had to be a good sign. He couldn't look that happy if he were preparing himself to let Albus down gently.
Scorpius reached up and set his palms on Albus's shoulders. He took an almost bouncing step forward. He stooped down, Albus watching him carefully all the while, and slowly tilted his face towards Albus's. Albus's heart made an uncomfortable lurch, like it'd actually skipped two beats. He found himself staring at Scorpius's white eyelashes.
"It's a good idea," Scorpius finally told him, his tone bright, his words soft. "This is the idea of us that I had, too. I just didn't know how you felt."
If Scorpius didn't close the gap between them soon, Albus was going to. It was a fresh torture, waiting there on the brink of a second kiss, Scorpius's breath fanning out across his chapped lips. He'd fallen into Scorpius's eyes in the all-consuming, soppy way he'd never expected himself to ever personally experience. For the first time, he noticed flecks of soft blue mingled in with the grey. Oh, Merlin, Albus thought. He felt a bit winded again. What have I done?
"Your nose," Scorpius said, his brow furrowing in concern.
Albus, forgetting his injury for a moment, reached up self-consciously. "What—what's wrong with it? You don't like it?"
Scorpius laughed. He lowered his hands to Albus's waist, looping them around to pull him close, his touch a bit shy—but leaking with affection. "What? No! I just mean…" he reached up, gently tapping the top of Albus's nose. He winced. "Well, it might be broken. I wanted to…but I didn't know if it would hurt…"
He trailed off, his words giving way to a bashful smile. Albus swallowed roughly. His blush was searing down to his shoulders now (it was possibly the most impressive blush he'd ever had to date). He inhaled briefly through his mouth, lifted a trembling hand to Scorpius's cheek, and then craned his neck up. He pressed his lips gently to Scorpius's. A thrill raced down his spine and to his toes, and Scorpius must've felt it too, because he tightened his arms around Albus's waist, pulling him closer.
They had no idea what they were doing. It was, in all honesty, the first real kiss for both of them. But Albus found it easy to get swept up in it; easy to press into Scorpius's embrace, easy to share embarrassed laughs after fumbles, easy to keep kissing him. They were both getting a bit emboldened, and Albus was considering giving techniques a try that he'd seen James and Nora exhibiting throughout the halls at Hogwarts, but then Scorpius accidentally collided noses with Albus a bit too hard for Albus to ignore. He reared back, his face throbbing madly, pain blinding him for a moment.
"Sorry!" Scorpius was horrified. His hands grasped Albus's. "Are you okay?"
Albus pulled one hand free from Scorpius's. He pressed carefully along his swollen, blood-caked nose. He beamed.
"I'm brilliant. Well—the nose is a disaster. But I'm brilliant."
Scorpius—bouncing happily on the balls of his feet—leaned forward, wrapping his arms tightly around Albus. He pressed his face into Albus's shoulder. Albus carefully rested his cheek against Scorpius's, too. He hugged him back, and as he did, he felt a familiar wave of affection wash over him. He squeezed him tighter, his affection nearly violent due to the sheer force of it. He wanted to tell Scorpius how much he cared about him, but he felt like the words were probably extraneous.
"I'm brilliant, too," Scorpius admitted, his words muffled into Albus's shoulder.
They exchanged sly grins periodically during their walk back. Albus caught Scorpius glancing at him from the corner of his eye about as often as Albus was glancing at him. They linked hands halfway through the walk, flushed and pleased. Albus wasn't excited to face his family—and he certainly hadn't planned on making his kiss a public, family event—but he had to tell Scorpius sooner or later in some way, and he was breathlessly relieved to have it over and done with.
"They're going to be insufferable," Albus told Scorpius as they came up to the edge of the campground.
"Do you think they'll be okay with it?" Scorpius asked nervously.
"They'll be fine. It's Rita Skeeter who's going to have a fit. 'Son of Voldemort involved with Harry Potter's son'—she'll think it's Christmas."
Scorpius laughed once. It trailed off, giving way to a quizzical, hopeful look.
"And are we?"
"Yeah," Scorpius said. He beamed. "I should know what proper title to use. How do I introduce you? Is it 'Albus Potter, my good friend' still? Or is it 'Albus Potter, my…'" he trailed off. For a moment, Albus thought he might give an excited squeal. He felt an urge to seize him into his arms again in response. He had to scrounge for self-control.
"Well, I'll always be Albus Potter, your good friend," Albus pointed out.
"Yeah! My good, good friend! My good, good boyfriend?" Scorpius suggested. Innocently, hopefully. In the open, kind way only Scorpius seemed to be able to utter things. There was no insecurity, no manipulative suggestion. He seemed to be genuinely curious and honestly hopeful that the answer would be yes. And Albus, well. He felt like jumping up in down in place, and his heart was beating out an enthusiastic tune. That seemed right in a way that nothing else had since he started Hogwarts. My boyfriend, Scorpius Malfoy seemed right. He could imagine himself saying it. He could imagine the wave of comfort it would bring him to be able to say it.
"I would love to be your good, good boyfriend," Albus beamed.
Scorpius smiled so widely that his eyes were nearly shut. He linked his arm with Albus's.
"That makes me happy," he told Albus. "In fact, I'm feeling positively gay!"
Albus snorted. "You are such a geek," he said affectionately.
They were still laughing as they stepped in the campground. Albus had expected to be bombarded by cousins the minute he stepped foot into the clearing. But, instead, he found himself staring at an almighty row.
"Erm…" Scorpius trailed off, surveying the scene. "Is this because of…us?"
Uncle George was angrily waving a bit of parchment in the air. Albus's parents were both physically restraining Lily, who looked ready to smack Roxanne across the face. Uncle Charlie was in a serious, deep discussion with Uncle Bill, Rose was getting what looked like a lecture from Aunt Hermione, and Gran appeared to be fiercely scolding Uncle Ron.
"Retreat," Albus said, eyes wide. "Go back…slowly…nobody's seen us yet…"
"Aw," Scorpius lamented. "Spoke too soon."
"Oi! SHUT IT!" Uncle George thundered. "They're back—we'll just ask them! And then we can settle this!"
"No, you will most certainly not ask them!" Molly snapped her head Uncle George's way, transferring her rage from Uncle Ron to Uncle George.
"But Mum!" Uncle George complained.
Albus's mum had her wand out. And—uh oh. Gran did, too. Uncle George backed up, hands up in surrender, wary eyes glued to the wands pointed his way.
"Okay, okay! I get it, mama bears! What do you propose we do, then?"
James was making his way towards them. Nobody noticed.
"Hey," James greeted. "Let's get down to it. Everybody had a bet on who would make the first move, but the thing is, your kiss was really ambiguous; half of us think a different person initiated it. So if you'll just tell them loudly that Scorpius is the one who initiated it, I'd be really grateful, and I'd be two hundred galleons richer."
Scorpius was astounded.
"You bet two hundred galleons on me?" He pressed his palm over his heart, genuinely moved. "Wow. You think I'm brave."
James impatiently nodded towards Albus. "Braver than him. So—what was it? Who did it? Who plucked up the courage—and that was courageous, nice job. In front of the entire family and everything. I'm proud."
He reached forward and clapped both their shoulders. Albus and Scorpius exchanged a look.
"James! Leave them be!" Gran demanded.
"Quickly, quickly," James urged through gritted teeth. "Who was it?!"
At once, both Albus and Scorpius pointed at themselves. James groaned.
"Oh, Merlin, you two don't even know, do you? Nobody thought to put money on it being mutual! Not even Mum and Dad…they put money on—"
He broke off abruptly. Albus met Scorpius's eyes. He could see that his mind was working out this new information, too. If James made a point to stop speaking, that meant that their parents had bet on the category opposite of the one that he'd bet on. Which meant that they'd put money on Albus. Which meant that if they won, they'd most likely give it to Albus, since they had no use for the money, anyway. He'd had his eyes on a new wizarding Chess set…
Albus and Scorpius shared a brief, conspiratorial nod. Albus looked back at James.
"We were just teasing. It was me. I initiated it."
Being cunning wasn't a fault after all. James's face fell.
"Scorpius, seriously? What happened, mate? I was counting on you," he groaned.
"Sorry...he just…pounced first!" Scorpius lied.
Pounced? Albus scrunched up his nose (painfully) at Scorpius. Scorpius grinned and gently knocked his hips into Albus's in response.
"Damn!" James hissed. He closed his eyes briefly in chagrin, heaved a sigh, and then smiled. "Ah, well. At least you two finally communicated. That can be my reward." He turned and headed back over. "Uncle George, it was Albus, confirmed by the lovers themselves."
Mingled cries of joy and outrage. Uncle George held up a silencing hand.
"No, that's it, that's final!"
While the adults began divvying out money—more money than Albus had expected—his gran hurried over. She pushed Albus down onto the closest bench, her wand held ready.
"We aren't supposed to use magic—" he tried to remind her, but he broke off as a relieving warmth spread across his face. She'd effortlessly mended his nose with a brief wave of her wand. He waited as she cleaned the blood from his face with another.
"I don't care; I won't have my grandson in pain," she scoffed. She tipped his chin back, peered critically at his nose, and then nodded, satisfied. "Perfect."
She leaned forward and kissed the top of his head. And then, to Scorpius's utter delight, leaned over and kissed his, too.
"Good," she told them, her eyes shining. She nodded. "Good."
Overcome with emotion, she walked off, most likely in search of Grandad. Scorpius was literally squirming with joy.
"I think she likes me!"
"Yeah, I'd say so, too."
Rose, as it turned out, was really into the idea of them together (probably only because it meant Scorpius would stop asking her out). The entire family grouped around to roast marshmallows, and even though everybody was making it a point to not bring their improvised kiss up, people were showing their approval in their own, subtle ways. Rose was being unusually kind to Albus. Victoire kept smiling happily at them. And—strangest of all—Uncle Ron of all people was ecstatic. He spent nearly two minutes raving about how perfect the marshmallow Albus had passed him was, affection leaking out between every word, and then he pulled both Albus and Scorpius into a hug so tight that they could hardly breathe. Later, Scorpius hissed towards Albus that he thought his ribs may be bruised.
The families gradually retreated to their own tents. Albus expected to be bombarded by one of the Potters once they were alone within the tent, but that didn't happen. Something amazing did instead.
"Here," his mum said, a mug of hot chocolate in hand. Albus didn't have to be told that it was real chocolate; he could smell the sugar from where he was sitting. He hesitated. He looked up, meeting his mum's eyes.
"Really really. Come on, you lot! There's a mug for everybody—yes, even you, James."
Lily flew across the room. She grabbed a mug and promptly brought it to her lips, nearly drinking a third of it in one gulp. She lowered it a moment later. Her glasses were completely fogged up.
"Hot! Burning! Scalding! Oh, it hurts so good!" She exclaimed. She staggered over to the sofa, blind, and plopped down with her mug.
James was a bit warier. He held his mug like it was a ticking bomb.
"I dunno if I can handle this," he admitted, uneasy. "It's already calling to me…"
"You can do it, if you want to," his mum encouraged. "You've got willpower in there somewhere. But if you aren't comfortable, the blue mug is sugar-free."
James hesitated. "Half of each?"
Ginny smiled. "I like that answer. If that's what you want, sure."
"I think I'm done taking risks for another week. Well, three days, at least."
Harry was contently sipping at his, his glasses equally steamed up. Albus walked over and sat beside his dad. Scorpius sank down on Albus's other side. Harry leaned forward and smiled at both of them. Albus grinned back.
The hot chocolate was thick and terribly sweet. There was a layer of cream on top that left a little cream mustache above Scorpius's upper lip. Albus found himself reaching up to wipe it away without even thinking about it. Scorpius beamed.
"You look hilarious, leave yours," Scorpius requested.
Albus took another sip, muffling his laughter into the drink. Once everybody was seated in the living area, their mugs in hand, Albus steeled himself for an ambush. Lily was swinging her legs happily, looking between Albus and Scorpius with a sly grin.
"I thought you'd be angry, Lily," Albus blurted, without even thinking it through. Idiot, he chided himself, you just opened the door yourself.
Lily shook her head rapidly. Her long hair managed to get enough momentum to whip James in the eyeball. He cried out and glowered, half-blind, at Lily. He crossly gathered her long, thick hair, flinging it over her other shoulder.
"That hair should be a registered with the Ministry as a dangerous creature!"
Lily ignored him.
"I'm not angry. This frees up my heart for other exploits."
Harry looked wary. "'Other exploits'…Lily, you're thirteen."
"So? I can love things. Quidditch, dueling, Gobstones—"
"Oh, please don't love Gobstones," Ginny grimaced.
"—gardening, chocolate, The Pumpkin Pasties' second album, cats, the Patronus charm, kicking people's arses—"
"Okay, Lulu, I get it," Harry reassured her, looking rather relieved himself.
Their conversation was interrupted by the loud buzzing of the enchanted mirror Scorpius had temporary possession of. He jumped up.
"Dad! My dad!" He hesitated. "May I be excused?"
Ginny smiled fondly. "Of course, tell him we said hello!"
Albus watched him apprehensively as he hurried off to the bedroom. Would he tell Draco Malfoy? What would Draco Malfoy say? He anxiously picked at his nails until his dad reached over, settling his hand over Albus's.
"It'll be okay," he reassured him quietly.
"What if Mr. Malfoy—"
"He won't. Scorpius is his entire world. He won't."
Albus let out a relieved breath. Ginny, James, and Lily were in a deep conversation about something involving Lily's Easter holiday plans. Albus took the opportunity to exchange words with Harry. He leaned closer.
"Dad, I didn't do it the way I said I would, but it still worked. And I feel…I feel so happy," he admitted. His heart rose into his throat at the admittance. How long had it been since he'd felt this way? Years. His last memory of feeling this content and light was from age seven, sitting on the roof of the Den with his mum and James, playing Exploding Snap as the sun rose. "And I don't know if I would've had the bravery to do it if we hadn't spoken."
Harry—visibly affected—looked to the side. He cleared his throat after moment. When he looked back at Albus, his eyes were moist.
"I wish I could explain how wonderful it is to hear you say that, Al," he admitted.
For the first time, Al didn't sound wrong on Harry's lips. It sounded just as affectionate as Lulu and Jamie did. Perhaps it always had—maybe Albus had imagined the awkward weight of it all along.
Albus, not wanting to cry again, attempted to shift the topic.
"I was an idiot, though, Dad," he admitted. His cheeks flushed at the memory. "You should've heard me trying to tell him…it was horrible…it's like I suddenly forgot how to speak English."
Harry laughed. "I can imagine."
"Is that how it was when you told Mum?" Albus asked.
Harry turned and glanced at Ginny. Albus followed his gaze. His mum had her head ducked, conversing quietly with James and Lily, her hair partially blocking her face.
"Er…" Harry got a faraway look in his eye. He smiled softly and stared off into space. "No. To be honest, Al, I didn't tell her."
Albus furrowed his brow. "Well, you must've at some point, because I exist."
Harry laughed loudly. "Okay, well, let me rephrase: I didn't verbally tell her. Basically…I did exactly what you did. Or, I guess, you did exactly what I did."
"Right after Gryffindor won the House Cup. Common room. Everybody around us—Uncle Ron included. She ran at me, I at her, and I just—did it," Harry shrugged. Whatever he was watching in his mind's eye, it was a good one. He collapsed back against the couch cushions, still smiling softly. "And that was that."
It was too good to be true.
"Really? Just like that?"
"Yeah. Just like that," he said, that faraway look still there. Albus gave him a moment. He shook his head and looked back at Albus. "I mean—we had our year-long break while I was searching for the…-way to defeat Voldemort. But once that was over, we picked it right back up, and it was better than ever."
Albus was emboldened by that knowledge. Because—as much as his parents disgusted him from time to time—he knew they were soulmates. He knew loved each other. He knew they supported and trusted each other with everything. And, well, there were definitely worse couples to follow in the footsteps of.
"My dad says hello," Scorpius said, as he exited the bedroom. He plopped back down beside Albus, and when he boldly reached for his hand, Albus knew the conversation with his dad had gone better than anticipated.
Scorpius beamed. "Everything's perfect!"
"Good," Harry commented. He took another sip of his hot chocolate. "I didn't want to have to duel Draco again."
Ginny snorted. "Because you did such a good job the last time?"
He rolled his eyes fondly.
"Mum, tell us now, please?" Lily pleaded.
Albus looked at her curiously. "Tell us what?"
Ginny and Harry exchanged a look. Ginny rose.
"Before we get into that," she began, her tone forcibly light. She dug an envelope from the pocket of her jeans and crossed over to Albus. "Here. This is yours."
He took it curiously. Scorpius leaned over as he opened the flap. They both stared.
"Er…Mum, I think you gave me the wrong envelope," he said, hardly daring to hope.
"No, I didn't. Five hundred galleons. Now, I won't tell you what to do with it as long as it's legal, but might I suggest you save at least half of it and give Hogsmeade a chance this year? Might be fun with loads of pocket money."
Albus hesitated. He glanced at Scorpius. He was looking off, probably estimating how many Pepper Imps they could purchase with that kind of money. He looked back at his mum.
"Yeah, okay. Thanks, Mum," he smiled.
She patted his knee warmly, her own smile brightening her face. She ignored the sulky looks James and Lily gave her as she sat back down.
"Now," she began. She looked to Harry. "Your dad and I want to talk to you about something. And we want everybody to be honest. There's no right or wrong way to feel about this. And Scorpius—your opinions on this are valid, too."
Scorpius looked a bit taken aback. He nodded tentatively.
"Harry?" Ginny prompted, after a long silence.
"Okay. Look. I really don't want anybody to get upset. So if you hate the idea—I won't do it. Period. So can you promise me you'll all be honest?"
"No problem, Dad!" James said.
"Always am!" Lily chipped in.
"I guess so, yeah," Albus agreed.
Harry exhaled. "Okay. Well, Simmons is quitting."
"YES!" Lily and James chorused.
Albus was indifferent. Simmons had never been kind to him, but then again, not many professors were.
"And…I've been offered the position."
His dad actually closed his eyes, as if he couldn't bear to watch the expressions flittering across his children's faces. Lily promptly screeched, jumped up from her spot on the couch, and flew over to Harry. She shoved Albus over, wedging her hips between his and Harry's, and threw her arms around their dad.
"That's the best news ever, Dad! Ever! You would be so great at that! And I would have no homework!"
"No, Lily—you'd still have homework," Ginny told Lily, eyeing her strangely.
Lily continued to beam. "I'd have so many free evenings!"
"No…Lily, that's not—" Harry tried to say, but James cut him off.
"Professor Potter, I'd be honored to be taught in my N.E.W.T. year by the Boy Who Lived," he sank forward into a mocking half-bow. Ginny lightly smacked the back of his head. He straightened, grinning. "Anyway, yeah, Dad. I'm all right with that."
"Would you live at Hogwarts?!" Lily asked their parents. She seemed thrilled with the idea. James, however, grew suddenly guarded. Albus was sure he was thinking about all the nighttime 'strolls' he and Nora took.
"No. I'd Floo there every day like Neville does." Harry turned to the side, peering over Lily towards Albus. "Al?"
Albus looked down at his lap, thinking hard. He pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and gnawed. Having Harry Potter there might make people judge Albus even harsher in comparison…but it also might make people be nicer to him, if they could see that Harry Potter was proud of his Slytherin son. Having Harry Potter there might make people idolize the Potter family even more…but it also might show his classmates that Harry's a normal person. His dad was a huge geek when it came to Defense Against the Dark Arts. One lecture consisting of Harry ranting about the brilliance of Expelliarmus might nip all that hero-worshiping in the bud once and for all. And even if it didn't…maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have his dad there every day. He felt like they were at a place now where they understood each other. And, if he was being frank with himself, he'd need all the support he could get if he and Scorpius planned on revealing their relationship to their peers.
"That'd be all right, I think."
Harry looked astounded. "Really? Honestly? You'd be all right with me being your professor?"
Albus nodded. "Yeah. Honestly—couldn't make things at Hogwarts any worse."
"I love that idea," he shared. "Simmons was horrid! He lectured nonstop and we hardly got to try anything."
Harry was cautiously glancing around the room, as if he expected somebody to change their mind.
"Why do you look like one of us is going to hex you, Dad?" James demanded. "We love you, idiot."
"James," Ginny sighed. "Really?"
"…that's 'idiot' as in…the affectionate nickname I have for you, Dad. Not a disrespectful insult."
"Oh, of course," Harry said dryly, "how could anybody get the two mixed up?"
"Sorry," James said, "but we do. We love you."
"Yeah, so much!" Lily agreed, hugging Harry again.
Harry seemed to be forcing himself not to look Albus's way. Ginny was staring holes into him, willing him to pipe up, too. But nobody needed to tell him to.
"We do," he agreed easily.
It was only two words, but the smile Harry gave him made Albus feel as if it'd been much more than that.
Albus stumbled as they apparated onto the lane in front of Malfoy Manor. From his side, his mum merely swayed for a moment, and then she let go of Albus's hand for the sake of straightening her robes. Scorpius was leaning weakly into Ginny's side.
"That's never good, nope. Never."
Ginny hugged Scorpius to her side sympathetically.
"Sorry, Scorpius. You'll eventually get used to it," she reassured him.
Scorpius walked forward on unsteady legs. He quickly reached for Albus's hand.
"Be my anchor again, please," he paled, "I feel quite queasy."
Albus immediately wrapped his arm around Scorpius's waist. He gripped him tightly, entirely happy to stumble down the lane, Scorpius's body pressed to his. By the time they made it to the tall, imposing door of Malfoy Manor, Scorpius seemed less likely to vomit. Ginny waved her wand, bringing Scorpius's levitating suitcases down onto the doorstep. The door drew open a moment later.
"Dad! Hi, Dad!" Scorpius beamed. He moved forward, and without the typical moment of awkward hesitation, Draco Malfoy pulled him into a strong hug.
"Come in," Mr. Malfoy told the Potters, over top of Scorpius's head. "Tea?"
"Well we've just got to—it's become tradition now," Ginny declared. Draco snorted.
Albus led his mum through the familiar, elegant halls of the Manor. They settled down into a different tea room than they'd been in before; this one was Albus's favorite. It had silk sea-foam green wall hangings and tables made of glass. It was airy in a way nothing in the Den was. The best bits were the chandeliers, made up of crystal peacocks. Ginny looked like she might've had a different opinion about the room's decor as she sank down, but her expression quickly shifted to something neutral a second later.
"I'm returning your son to you precisely the way I received him—you'll notice he still has all his limbs attached. Harry and I are quite proud."
"Hilarious," Draco said. "I suppose the real miracle is that he seems to have retained his levelheadedness despite being with Weasleys and Potters for a week."
"And believe me, Draco—we tried to squash it out of him, but he stood firm," Ginny said.
This time, Draco did smile. Albus and Scorpius exchanged a grin.
"Well, did you have fun? Did they treat you right?" Draco asked Scorpius.
"Like family!" Scorpius affirmed. "I had a great time. Dad, I'm good at football."
"Yeah! It's this sport and you use your feet to move the ball around the field! Albus is brilliant at it!"
Scorpius flung a proud arm around Albus's shoulders, and without a second thought, he leaned over and kissed his cheek. Albus's face caught flame. Draco politely ignored the display of affection.
"Ginny, I'm assuming you and Harry will have no issues with Albus joining Scorpius and I on holiday next summer?"
His mum's lips twitched. "Depends. What's the destination?"
"An ex-Death-Eaters convention," he scowled.
"Oh, how educational!" Ginny shot back. "Seriously—what's the destination?"
"You're just trying to be difficult, aren't you?" She demanded, but she was smiling, and so was Scorpius's dad. Albus realized that this was Draco's shaky attempt at joking around.
While the parents continued their odd, stunted chitchat, Scorpius reached over and took Albus's hand. He unfurled Albus's fingers—Albus hadn't even realized he'd been nervously clenching his fists until that moment—and idly began tracing over the lines on Albus's palm, each movement gentle and curious. Albus let his head fall against Scorpius's shoulder, his eyes dropping to his own hand, watching Scorpius trace over his palm like he was trying to memorize it by touch. He yawned. Scorpius let his own cheek fall against the top of Albus's head. Albus longed for a blanket.
"Harry and I would be glad for Albus to accompany you two," Ginny finally said seriously. "But! I think the next thing on the Malfoy-Potter to-do list is to host a dinner."
Draco Malfoy looked uneasy. "At the Den?"
"Or the Burrow?"
"No! No. The Potter household would be sufficient."
Ginny nodded. "Then it's settled. How's next Sunday?"
"It's…fine, yes. That should work well. Scorpius, is that okay with you?"
Scorpius yawned. He ceased his palm-reading and laced his fingers with Albus's instead.
"Brilliant! And we can have them over this Sunday."
Ginny and Draco glanced at each other again. They both seemed to realize at once that they were going to be spending a lot more time together than they'd expected. But, because Ginny loved Albus, and because Draco loved Scorpius, and because they both probably loved each other's kids as well, they both nodded.
"Sure, Scorpius," Draco said stiffly.
"We'll be here," Ginny promised.
Draco stood. "Scorpius, will you take your bag to your room?"
"Okay, sure thing!" Scorpius hopped up. Albus followed.
"I'll help!" He said quickly.
They'd only just cleared the doorway when the parents began speaking again. Scorpius drew Albus to a stop, hovering just beside the doorway, listening intently.
"Well?" Draco demanded.
"How did Harry take their relationship?"
"Very well—as did everybody else. Scorpius said you were okay with it?"
"Albus is the best Potter by far. He's a great kid."
"Scorpius is the best Malfoy by far. He's a great kid, too."
"I'm glad we can finally reach an understanding on something."
Ginny laughed. "Kids are amazing, aren't they? Who would've thought the Malfoys and the Potters would end up friends?"
"Certainly not me. Though I do have one stipulation."
"If they stay together and end up married, I get to plan the wedding."
Ginny burst into laughter. "You're joking! Draco Malfoy, wedding planner?"
"There is a very specific way that Malfoy weddings—"
"Oh, Merlin! You know what—sure. Scorpius is your only child—plan away. I'm sure it'll be beautiful, even if it is superfluous." A pause. "Though, if I see one ice sculpture of a peacock, I won't be responsible for what happens to it."
"Well, it wouldn't be a Potter gathering if somebody didn't vandalize something," Draco said. There was a pause, and then: "Thank you. For taking Scorpius. I was worried, but…you were right. He needed it. I'm glad that he went. And it means a lot to me that your family treated him as your own."
"I thought that offended you—us treating him as our own?"
"Take the compliment and gratitude, Weasley."
"Sure thing, if you take mine. Thank you for allowing him to come. I know it wasn't easy, but I appreciate it, and I know Albus does, too. And thank you for treating Al so well all summer."
There was an awkward silence.
"Shall we hug?" Ginny commented—clearly joking.
"We're not that good of friends."
"So no, then. No hug."
"No." A pause. "Should we have sent them off alone?"
"They'll be sharing a dorm for the majority of the year. We've got no choice but to trust them."
"Fair point…still…they must be nearly finished by now…"
Scorpius and Albus grabbed hands and took off running towards the doorway, where Scorpius's bag was waiting. They were out of breath and gasping out laughter as they grabbed it and took off up the necessary flights of stairs. They collapsed down onto Scorpius's bed, hearts pounding, temples damp with sweat. Albus turned over onto his side to face Scorpius. Scorpius mimicked him.
"I need to start running. This is awful, feel this," Albus complained. He pulled Scorpius hand forward and pressed it over his frantic heart. Scorpius grinned and brought Albus's up to his.
"Then I need to, too."
Albus let his eyes close. He rested on Scorpius's massive bed as his own heart rate gradually slowed, in time with the rhythm of Scorpius's heart, pounding out beneath his palm. Scorpius scooted over bit by bit. He cuddled up to Albus's side.
"Sneaky," Albus joked.
"Scorpius Sneaky Malfoy. That's me! Always stealing affection from my boyfriend."
Albus's heart beat irregularly, like it was trying to fit two beats in the place of one. Scorpius moved his head over and rested his ear over Albus's heart.
"You've got a weird heart, it goes: bum, bum-bum-bum, bum. Is that normal?"
"Probably not. What about me is normal?"
"Fair point." Scorpius threw an arm across his stomach, hugging him closely. "Luckily, I like weird hearts."
"Luckily, I like weird boys."
Scorpius nudged his outer thigh with his knee. They both laughed.
"We're coming up the stairs, Al!" Ginny warned.
"Aw," Scorpius lamented. He slid over, putting a respectable distance between them. "I can't believe we'll have to wait until Sunday to see each other."
Albus frowned. "Don't remind me."
"But at least we'll get to go back to Hogwarts soon!" Scorpius continued.
Albus sat straight up. He peered down at Scorpius with his lips parted and eyes wide.
"What?" Scorpius asked. He sat up, too.
"I don't think I've ever heard you say that. That you're looking forward to going back to Hogwarts," Albus admitted. He swallowed. "What's more—I don't think I've ever agreed before."
Scorpius cast a quick looked at the door, leaned forward, and pressed a brief kiss to Albus's lips. He leaned back but Albus leaned forward, lamenting the loss.
"One more for the road?" Scorpius guessed.
"We'd better, to be safe," Albus said seriously. He pressed his lips back to Scorpius's and smiled. When he leaned back, he put further words to the way he felt.
"I've never looked forward to it before. I used to spend every second of my summer dreading going back."
"Me too, but I feel like this year will be different. In a good way. Your dad will be there, Rose sort of likes us now. And we've got each other—all day, every day."
Their shared smile was interrupted by the opening of the door.
"All right, Al. Time to go," Ginny said.
Albus stood from the bed. He collapsed into Scorpius's hug once he'd risen, too. He pressed his face into his shoulder and tried to memorize everything about that moment: Scorpius's hands on his back, the smell of his shirt, the gentle thumping of his heart, the warmth of his skin. The togetherness made Albus feel whole.
"See you on Sunday," Scorpius whispered.
"Sunday," Albus agreed.
He walked from Malfoy Manor, stopping to turn and wave at Scorpius every few steps until he was out of sight. His mum took his hand.
"Ready?" she asked.
Albus beamed. "Yeah, I am."
Ready to be happy, ready to be new, ready to be Al.
Fifth year would be the best year yet.