Chapter 18: Only Natural

Al's morning practice had not been a disaster.

It was some type of miracle. He felt -and he told his team this- like it was the first time he'd looked at them and not wanted to weep. He was a very encouraging captain. But really, through all his wanting, this was the first time he'd actually felt like they had a chance. A real chance.

He hadn't even wanted to kill his twat of a Seeker, which was unheard of. Maybe the fact McLaggen still seemed to be half asleep -the practice session had been called spontaneously- had something to do with it, but the rest of the team thrived.

He'd been so happy he hugged one of the Chasers -a third year, who'd never looked more terrified in his life- and for the rest of the day could not stop talking about how wonderfully everything had gone and how great they were bound to do in the games.

For most of the day he sat with his Keeper, Parker Trench, and, for once, the conversation was no entirely one-sided, as they both ran over plays and plans for glory. Or he was with Jez, who was so pleased to see him happy that she listened to his chatter with very little complaint, and demanded to know where her Albus was when he insisted she tell him about all she'd been up to.

At lunch, he gathered his team around him to go over the morning's practice once more, and to let them know what they needed to work on before the next time they met. Their first game back was growing closer and Al didn't think he'd be able to live with himself if they lost.

He only saw his cousin Rose for a few moments. She was surrounded by a big group of friends but, before they filed into class, he'd been able to give her a hug and wish her a happy birthday and promise she'd get his present later. Her friends were still yelling in her ear, dancing about or covering her in sparks and streamers that she'd barely managed a thank you in response before he'd lost her again.

He didn't even mind.

The Gryffindors were crazy today.

Lucy didn't know why, but she couldn't stop watching them. It was Rose's birthday and they seemed to have decided to spend literally all day celebrating it. From what Lucy understood about them, they'd take any chance for a party they could, but she just couldn't understand how they had so much energy. She felt tired just watching them.

She was glad that they weren't talking about her that day. Right? Yes, that made sense. She didn't belong in the spotlight.

But Merlin, they made it look like a lot of fun to be there.

Today, she couldn't even imagine these people saying anything unkind about her. They were laughing and singing and smiling and made even the most boring of classes look like a fun fair.

Everyone else seemed entirely sick of them, rolling their eyes and muttering bitchy comments to one another, but Lucy couldn't find fault with people enjoying themselves.

It was a shame, though, that this is what Lucy did. She watched from a distance.

She watched everyone else live their lives, lapping up their stories. She seemed to hang about in a sort of non-existence herself.

Her friends may have still been acting a bit odd towards her, but Lucy wouldn't have known. She was watching the Gryffindors.

Professors would tell them off and they'd quieten down for maybe a minute, and then they'd start back up again. Lucy tried to imagine having the nerve. She'd give anything just to be a little more daring.

It was a while before she realised she was being watched back.

On the way to lunch Lucy was stopped by a hand on her arm. She looked down and she saw dainty fingers and flawlessly painted nails. She looked up and she saw Isabelle Griffin smiling at her.

"Hey, Lucy," she said, like they spoke all the time. Which, for the record, they definitely did not. Ever. "We're having a gathering tonight. Eleven-PM, Astronomy Tower. Be there?"

Lucy only assumed she phrased it like a question. She glanced over her shoulders and she saw Cassie hanging back, waiting for her. Then Cassie spotted her boyfriend and called him over and Lucy turned back to Isabelle and smiled. "Sure."

Louis couldn't find the right word for it.

For some reason, that was what he was most preoccupied with doing. They sat on opposite sides of the same table, books open in front of them or piled around them and the pressure of a whole lot of work to do weighing them down and Louis was trying to find the right word.

Did 'awkward' work?

No, he didn't think so.

Scorpius didn't look uncertain or self-conscious or anything at all that could make the situation awkward. He was just quiet. Steady. Calm. Composed.

Louis could throw more words out there, but it didn't matter what he called it, it was unbelievably frustrating.

This was their Care of Magical Creatures class and they were in the most exciting stage of all; theory.

Louis was pretty sure he was studying the wrong thing.

Scorpius wasn't looking at him. His brow furrowed slightly and he scribbled something out from his page of notes, then he said, "I understand it must be difficult not to, but it is considered rude to stare."

Louis felt his cheeks flush, just slightly. "Sorry," he said, but he didn't look away.

Scorpius was still looking at his page, but he raised a brow slightly and Louis knew it was directed at him.

Louis waited. He was sure he was waiting for something. He didn't know what it was, just that it would have to come eventually.

Yet still, Scorpius remained silent.

There were no smart-arse comments, no provokative questions.

When at last Scorpius opened his mouth, the question that followed was such an inane enquiry into the natural habitat of the kneezle that Louis couldn't even find the words to respond.

"I think we've done enough," said Scorpius, suddenly, even though Louis obviously had done nowhere near it.

He arranged his books into two neat piles, one of which went back onto a cart to later end up back onto shelves and the other he carried over to the librarian. Louis left most of his things where they were and followed after him.

The librarian processed the two random books Louis had grabbed and was now borrowing, while Louis watched Scorpius cross to the door.

When he disappeared around the corner, Louis was right behind him.

"Don't go," he heard himself saying.

Scorpius stopped. He turned around, his mouth quirked into the most infuriating little smirk. "What was that?" he asked, voice awfully sweet.

Louis scowled.

"Sorry," said Scorpius, making to turn back around. "I thought I heard you say something."

"You're a prick."

"That's nice. I'll just be going now." He really did turn.

"Don't," said Louis, and he winced. "Go. Please."

The grin on Scorpius's face when he spun back around was wider than Louis thought was at all necessary. "Oh, is that what you want?" he asked, innocently.

"I don't... think we got enough work done," said Louis, carefully.

"I did plenty."

Louis had to resist the urge to hex him. He fiddled with the strap of his bag, shifting the weight from his shoulder. "I might need some help," he said.

"I'm sick of working."

Louis genuinely did not have the slightest idea why he didn't just walk away then. He considered doing so, but his feet just weren't working. "What did you want to do instead?" he found himself asking. He felt like he'd taken a plunge, and waiting to feel himself hit the water.

Scorpius smiled. "I'm sure we'll think of something."

Louis sighed. "I'm going to die," he said, but he started walking.

Scorpius did the same, falling in line beside hime. "Don't feel bad or anything," he said. "Everyone wants me. It's only natural."

"Oh, I've just remembered. I have to be anywhere else but here."

"Do I need to tone down the arrogance?" asked Scorpius.

"A little bit."

Scorpius stood up straight, seeming to steel himself. "Anything for you," he said, voice weighted with mock-solemnity.

Louis smiled. "I am charmed."

"Good. That was my aim."

"It was very nice."

"You're mocking me."

"Oh no, I wouldn't dream of it."

Scorpius didn't reply for a minute. Then he said, "Just so you know, it isn't arrogance. It's honesty."

Louis didn't feel bad about pushing him into that wall.

The Whomping Willow struck an imposing figure against a starlit sky. Rose shivered, but whether from cold or excitement she did not know. Either way, the night felt alive.

It was Hugo who stilled the thumping branches, but she wished it wasn't him who did so. She had to resist the urge to snap out at him. She felt it was her job to look after him, but Hugo was taller than she was now, and he had been for a year.

The warm, damp tunnel was unnervingly quiet, until it was punctured by Lily's shrill scream.

Roxanne called James immature, and he laughed until she jabbed his ribs and he jumped even higher than his sister had when he did the same to her.

They all started talking then. The place was too full of myth and history and it felt better to cover it in any way they could.

Rose was sure that was why Teddy was so quiet, him more than anyone. But when he spoke, it wasn't of the place, nor his father and what he'd gone through here.

It was wider where they walked, and the two of them stood side by side. Ahead of them walked Scorpius, a solitary shadow.

"You two can break it off now, can't you?" Teddy spoke quietly, but not so quietly that Scorpius couldn't hear every word. "There's no need to pretend any more."

Rose hesitated. Just for a moment, but a moment was long enough for Teddy to see. When Rose looked at him his jaw was set in a stony line and his eyes were black.

"Absolutely," she said, but it was too late. The damage had been done. "We'll just have to think of a way to make it believable-"

Scorpius's voice broke in. "I don't want to see you any more."

Easy, he seemed to say. Done.

Rose didn't know why she shook when she answered, or why she said what she did, her voice so sad. "It's... it's my birthday..."

Then there was light as the tunnel opened out and Rose sheltered her eyes against the glare. She only felt Teddy push on past her. She only heard James's voice.

"So, is Al meeting us there later?


Shit shit shit shit shit shit.

No he was not, because she hadn't invited him.


AN: I reached 200 reviews and it was SO EXCITING that I wrote this entire chapter out in one sitting, in celebration. 300 next, right? (Ha, I can dream).

Thank you to all of you for being awesome. XO

(Sappy author's note is a little sappy but SORRY NOT SORRY)