Please note that the main pairing in this story is Albus/Rose (and yes, in the UK, it is perfectly legal to kiss, fall in love with, have sex with and marry your first cousin - not necessarily in that order). If it makes you feel uncomfortable, by all means, do stop reading.
Italicised lyrics at the end are taken from I Can't Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt.
Thank you to Jamie for answering all my embarrassing questions on AIM and not even batting an eyelid :P Thank you also to Gina and Ari for the wonderful beta work which really polished the story up.
Letting out a long, slow breath, Albus looked out of Rose's window at the ugly block of flats opposite. The buildings were only just visible in the bright yellow light of the streetlamp, for the sun was just starting to set. He could make out the small, skulking silhouettes of the teenagers in the park nearby; in the distance, he could see the Gherkin and the pyramid roof of One Canada Square with its flashing aircraft light.
It had rained heavily throughout most of the day. There were outbursts of rain, followed by a brief reprieve of blinding sunshine, and then the fat raindrops would splatter onto the already slippery roads and pavements all over again. Now it was sunset, however, the sky was clear and tinged with pink and purple, belying the rain-covered window before him.
Squinting, he counted the number of windows in the block of flats (thirty-six) and the number of people he could see in the park (eleven). He even found himself counting the flashes of red from One Canada Square and had got to sixteen before he realised what he was doing and shook himself.
Albus counted things when he was nervous. Counting calmed him, somehow; it distracted him from his real worries and concerns - which, in this case, revolved around Rose.
Well. She had always made him nervous. That was nothing new. But he was worried about her. She hadn't seemed herself lately, and he knew there was something wrong - he just hoped she would tell him what.
"Hey, Albus," came Rose's voice from her kitchen.
"Yeah?" he called back.
"Do you want biscuits? Or cake?"
"I don't mind," Albus replied.
She emerged moments later, carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of tea and a plate of Malted Milk biscuits. Her hair was damp and tangled, leaving several wet patches on the light-grey hoodie that she was wearing despite the humidity in the air.
"I don't know if you like these," she said, gesturing to the biscuits as she sat on the other end of the sofa and put her feet up. "Me, though - I could demolish the whole packet in about five minutes flat." Her ankle lightly brushed his thigh, but he tried to ignore it and shift away from her as subtly as possible. It was hard, though, trying to pay no attention to her like that. Even that smile, the tiniest curving of her lips, made Albus's heart drop to his stomach. She had that effect on him.
He wasn't sure what to call it - lust, obsession, pure madness, perhaps. But he had had those feelings for a while now; years, in fact. He was twenty-two, nearly twenty-three, and yet, for some reason, he was infatuated with his own cousin.
"It's fine," he eventually replied. "Of course I like them - Mum used to buy them all the time when I was a kid."
"I always thought they looked a bit funny because of the cow on them."
"I think I can remember Lily calling them 'cow biscuits'," he said, and they both shared a smile.
"Did you fly here?" she asked.
"Yeah," he replied, gesturing to his broom in the corner. It was his one prized possession, with built-in Disillusionment and Cushioning Charms, courtesy of his Grandpa Arthur. Mostly, Albus wasn't the materialistic kind of person, but his broom was the one thing he prided himself on. He hadn't gone so far as to give it a name, but according to Rose, that was because he lacked an imagination. Her smile grew a little more indulgent as he looked at his broom proudly, as if he wanted to get up and pat it, and she rolled her eyes.
Albus liked flying. He felt freer that way, as if the tilting walls around him that threatened to crush him would straighten after he got onto his broom. Besides, Albus, like Rose, hated Apparition; Albus hadn't passed his Apparition test the first time or the second or even the third, and he had eventually given up, opting for flying or driving instead.
Rose was probably the only one in the family who shared his mellow temperament. She didn't hero-worship him like Lily and Hugo did; nor did she look down on him like James often did. Neither did she label him Harry Potter's son, the way a lot of the students had done when they had first arrived at Hogwarts. Unlike James, who lapped up the attention, Albus hated it, hated being known not for who he was, but for who his father and mother were. Rose felt the same. She didn't get as much attention as Albus, admittedly, but she had often complained about the teachers at Hogwarts comparing her to her mother.
They were close as a result, having played together as children and gone to Hogwarts together and been Sorted in the same House. They agreed on most things, though not Quidditch, which Rose had always dismissed as pointless, up until their fifth year. She had called it "a sweaty game of "balls, balls, balls" until Albus had persuaded (or, rather, dragged) her to watch their Quidditch practice just before their summer game, saying that he would prove her wrong.
"That sounds so dodgy," Albus had said after practice was over, grinning. The rest of the team had already sloped off to the changing rooms. "Balls, balls, balls. And...sweatiness."
"Not all of us have our minds in the dirty gutter like you," she said, sticking her tongue out at him.
"What gutter?" he asked, attempting to look innocent. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."
"You doth shit, Albus," she replied, but her voice was cheerful. "Besides, that's so badly misquoted."
"Okay, Miss Potty Mouth."
"Anyway, um, if you don't mind, can I have a go?"
"Can I..." Rose faltered ever so briefly, and Albus looked up at her questioningly. "Can I have a go on your broom? With you?"
"Just a second ago, you said-" he began to say, sniggering, but she glared at him and he got the message. "Sorry. I - yeah, why not? Come on, then."
It took a good two minutes to get Rose securely on the broom, and then Albus climbed on in front of her. "Right," he said, twisting around to look at Rose behind him. "Hold on tight."
He felt her arms tighten around his waist, and completely out of nowhere, a tingling sensation shot through his body as he felt her breasts press against his back. Unbidden, his mind became clouded, and all he could think about was her warm breath on his neck and her thighs pushing on his...
"Albus?" she said after a minute.
Shaking his head to try and clear it, he replied, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, "Yeah?"
"Aren't we going to - you know, fly?"
"Oh, yeah, sorry." He kicked off the ground quickly - too quickly, he thought, but the slightly cooler air helped focus his mind a little more. It was only Rose, his cousin; Rose, a good friend of his who he definitely didn't have any feelings for. He couldn't. It was just a moment of madness, that was all; nothing more.
A faint whimper from behind him made Albus realise how high they were already. "Damn," she whispered, her mouth less than an inch away from his ear. "Albus, we - we could fall."
"It's fine," he assured her immediately, though he brought his broom to a stop. "Really."
"Can we go back down?"
"I'm scared," she admitted. Too right, he thought; he couldn't recall ever hearing her so scared before. Her body tensed against him, and he could feel her heart beating very, very fast.
"Then why did you ask me to fly with you?"
"Because - I don't know. I wanted to see if I could face up to it."
"In that case, we're not going down. We've only just got up here. I want to go around the pitch, at least. Stop worrying, Rose; I won't kill you or anything." He had no idea how he sounded so calm, especially considering how closely she was clinging to him. It was like someone else was talking. "Besides, that's the whole thrill of it, see? The wind in your hair, the way everything's blurred around you, how free you are. No one can get to you up here."
There was a brief pause, and then she said, "No, I don't see it like that."
"Well, you will now." And before she could object, he took off again, flying to the hoops at the other end of the pitch.
"This is okay," Rose commented, surprise mingled with relief in her voice. He was going fairly slowly, but then, without warning, he accelerated, increasing his speed tenfold as they zoomed around the pitch's perimeter. Rose screamed, but thankfully, it wasn't a scream of terror but, rather, of exhilaration. At least, that was what it sounded like to Albus. At any rate, she wasn't telling him to stop, so he didn't. He joined in with her, both of them bellowing at the top of their lungs as they flew left and right and up and down until the sky began to redden and soften, and Albus eventually became completely out of breath.
When they finally touched back to earth, Rose collapsed on the ground, breathing heavily, sweat covering her forehead. All the same, she had a contented smile on her face. He couldn't remember ever seeing her so loosened up: there was usually a stiffness about her, but now her eyes were so much softer, and the strands of hair that had escaped from her usual neat ponytail glinted in the late evening sunlight. Admittedly, he had always thought her pretty... but this was different. There was something inexplicably uncontrolled and free about her in that moment that made his breath catch in his throat.
"Was that fun?" he finally asked once he got his breath back. Albus managed to remain sitting up, even though he could feel his knees bruising as he did so. He couldn't help but notice that her skirt had rode up, so he closed his eyes and lay on the ground on his back, well away from her, trying to stop his thoughts from straying again.
"Hell, yes. Most fun I've had for a while." There was a scraping of shoes as Rose got up, and then she flopped on the ground beside him.
"So you're not scared anymore?" Albus's eyes were still closed, but he could feel her gaze on him. He wished she hadn't moved.
"I still am," she replied softly. "Less than before, though." There was a moment of silence before she spoke again. "Albus?"
"What are you scared of?"
You, he felt like saying. Or, rather, how I'm suddenly feeling about you. "Not being able to please people, I think," he said finally. If only he could work up the courage to do something with his bubbling emotions instead of just trying to ignore them. But even if it was more than just a passing fancy for him, he knew But she didn't feel the same way. She couldn't. Why would Rose be interested in Albus, of all people?
"Bit of a pathetic fear, if you ask me."
His heart, which had slowed down now they had landed, started thumping wildly again as he finally opened his eyes and stared into Rose's. He wondered when she had got so close to him; he could easily have kissed her right there, but the voice in the back of his head said it again: Why would Rose be interested in you?
And yet he moved closer to her. So close that he could have sworn her nose had brushed against his, and the light from the setting sun threaded into her hair and made it look golden-brown. Before he knew what he was doing, he leaned in and touched her lips with his.
She had frozen, and he had immediately pulled away and said, as he avoided her gaze completely, "Shit. Rose, I'm sorry. It's, er, getting dark. I still have to get changed." He had had no idea what he was saying; all that had mattered was getting away from her. By the time she had got to her feet, he had already leapt up and headed for the changing rooms.
Albus was suddenly jolted back to present when Rose started waving her hand in front of his eyes. But all he could see was the movement of Rose's lips. Her voice sounded distant, as if Albus had water in his ears. He shook his head. "Are you even listening to me?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow. She didn't look annoyed, thankfully, just inquisitive.
"'Course I am," he said, desperately fighting the blush creeping up his face. "I just have things on my mind."
"So do I."
There was a pause in which they drank tea and ate biscuits, a silence that Albus eventually broke. "So... why didn't you come to my parents' today?"
There. He had said it. She had been avoiding the whole family for the last week, and he wanted to know why.
"I didn't feel like it," she mumbled. "I was ill."
"You seem fine to me. It's my Dad's-"
"I know it's Uncle Harry's birthday today." She curled her fingers into fists. "You don't have to tell me that, Albus. So what? I sent him my present and card by owl. Is that the only reason you came round? To berate me? And why do I have to explain myself to you, anyway?"
Shrugging, Albus said easily, "You don't. I just wanted to know if you were okay. Sorry." He made to get up, but then he felt Rose's hand touch his wrist and turned around.
Her brusque voice softened, and her fierce expression lost its edge as she said, "Where are you going? Sit. Please."
"I'm kind of getting the impression that you don't want company."
"You're my favourite cousin. 'Course I'd want company from you." She took a sip of tea and tilted her head to one side to look up at him. "Albus, I'm sorry. I have a bit of foot-in-the-mouth disease today. Please don't just up and go. Stay. Besides, you haven't even finished your tea."
Returning to his seat, but this time keeping careful distance, he suddenly felt oddly self-conscious under her gaze, and his hand moved to his face to adjust his glasses. "Since when am I your favourite cousin?" he replied wryly. "I thought that was Lily."
She considered, her tongue darting out to lick her finger. "I suppose it could be a toss-up between you and Lily, though she annoys me more often than you do. But let's just say that you're my favourite male cousin, then. How's that?"
"Well, I must say, I'm flattered," Albus said lightly, keeping his tone carefully casual as he raised his mug to his lips.
"So you should be. I don't like many people." Rose took a biscuit and dipped it into her tea, raising her eyebrows at him as though daring him to disagree with her.
"What a lovely person you are, Rosie." She chose that moment to kick him; as she did so, her whole biscuit sank into the brown liquid. Laughing, Albus reached out and offered her a spoon, which she used to fish out the soggy biscuit. "Are you actually going to eat that?"
"Watch me." With as little gracefulness as possible, she did just that.
Though Albus laughed, he did so only briefly, and then he said, "In all seriousness, though-"
"Oh, Albus. Who wants to be serious?" she interrupted.
"You know what I mean," he said patiently. "What's wrong? And don't try and joke with me when you're clearly upset, Rose. It's so out of character, and you know it."
Her shoulders slumped, and she looked defeated. The faint humour in her eyes was gone. "I'm - I'm not sure, to be honest. I just wanted someone to talk to."
"What happened?" Albus pressed.
Ignoring his disapproving frown, she got out a cigarette, lit it and took a drag. "I broke up with Scorpius."
"Why?" he said.
"We're - we're not allowed to be together, apparently. New rules in Magical Law Enforcement - you can't be in a relationship with people into your office." Her voice was hollow, matter-of-fact and close to careless. "I mean, we knew that already. That's been the rule for a year, but we didn't think it mattered. Everyone breaks the rules."
Albus wasn't quite sure what to say, settling on, "And how do you feel about it?"
She let out a bitter laugh, flicking the ash into the ashtray on the table.. "You sound like a shrink or something."
I might as well be, he wanted to say. "You're not answering my question, Rose." He wasn't entirely comfortable with discussing Rose's relationships. He was used to it, yes, but he didn't like it. Not in the slightest.
"I don't know. He - he wanted to transfer to another department, but I wouldn't let him." Again, she sounded so casual, as if this was of no real importance to her, though he knew it clearly was.
"I'm not going to let him lose his job over me."
He paused at that. "Do you - do you still love him?" Albus asked hesitantly.
Unfortunately, Rose noticed his face fall at her words. She didn't look surprised, instead watching him steadily, barely blinking, and taking another puff out of her cigarette.
"That's... complicated," he finally said, fully aware of how banal he sounded. And Rose knew it too.
"I told him I loved my job more."
"But you were lying."
"Naturally." She thought for a moment before saying, "I don't like being blamed for something. He'd hate me for it. Maybe not today, but at some point, he'd hate me for making him switch jobs."
"It's pretty difficult to hate you," he told her truthfully.
"That's sweet of you, Albus," she said gently. "But I know he would have hated me, eventually. And I couldn't have that. I think he hates me anyway, though."
"And how would you know that?"
"I already told you that, Rose. Besides, it's because..." He paused, struggling to find the right words. "...because you're you."
"That's not an answer." Before he could interrupt, she continued, "And I brought all this upon myself, anyway. I miss him, you know. I - we work together, but it's not the same."
"No, I don't think it would be the same." Albus knew as much. He had experienced too many awkward silences and longing glances, directed towards Rose, not to understand. Nodding slowly, Rose stared deliberately at him, stubbing out her cigarette with unwonted force, as if she were reading his mind and knew what he was remembering.
Their past was never discussed between them. Albus could talk about almost anything else with Rose, and vice versa, but it was like they had an unspoken agreement not to talk about that night in the Quidditch changing rooms. He was still as surprised as he had been that day that Rose had followed him into the changing rooms minutes later, just as he had pulled on his robes.
"I'm sorry," she had said quickly. "I - I clammed up."
"Never mind," he'd muttered to her. "It was stupid anyway. You're my cousin, Rose, and-"
"It wasn't stupid. I just wasn't expecting you to - kiss me."
"It was stupid," he repeated, one of his trainers on, the other off. "Let's leave it at that."
She took several steps towards him until her face was close to his. "Albus, look at me," she told him firmly, and against his will, he did. "I think you're lovely and-"
He never quite found out what else she thought of him that night, however, because he finally couldn't take it any longer: the feelings that had suddenly welled up inside him became too much, and she was far too close to him for him to be able to think properly. His hands framed her cheeks, and he kissed her once more. Though she didn't respond at first, she didn't resist. And soon, she was returning his kiss, and then he tentatively parted her lips with his tongue. Still, she didn't stop him. He wasn't sure where to put his hands - hers were tangled in his hair, so he moved his palms to her shoulders and her back, still not quite sure what he was doing, wanting to touch her and relish how her tongue felt pushing against his.
Suddenly, she caught one of his hands and placed it on her breast.
"Rose, what are you doing?" Albus muttered, immediately taking his hand away but unwilling to forgo the feeling of her body against his. "I - you - we-"
"-shouldn't be doing this?" she said, and though her voice trembled a little, she continued, "Albus, do you..." She paused. "Do you want me?"
When had she become like this? He couldn't remember her ever being so - so bold. Or maybe she was always like this, and he'd just never really noticed before.
She kissed him so that Albus couldn't breathe, her chest pressing against his and one leg twisted around his legs. She repeated, "Do you want me?"
There was no way Albus could lie to her. She could see for herself that he wanted her, and she could feel his desperation, but even so, he murmured, "You're my cousin."
"Does it matter?"
It was almost as if he'd been put under the Imperius Curse. He felt dreamy in a way, the summer heat oppressing his brain and making it hard for him to think straight. "N-no," he finally stuttered, and he couldn't take it any longer, giving in to her once more and crushing his mouth to hers.
A few times, their teeth had clashed and their noses had bumped; they had had no idea what they were doing, and when Albus had asked Rose for the hundredth time if she was okay, she had told him impatiently to get on with it. It was his first time, and she'd told him it was hers, too, but he had not anticipated her screwing up her face in pain and swearing profusely at him when they had finally lost her virginity to one other. He had kept apologising over and over again for hurting her, and when he had collapsed on top of her in a sweaty heap, he had whispered to her very, very softly, "I love you."
She hadn't said anything in reply.
As Albus took a sip of his tea in Rose's flat, a furious blush coloured his cheeks and tinged the tips of his ears at the memory. Though Rose had changed substantially, he could still see the suppressed tears in her eyes and smell their mingled sweat and feel the indentations her fingernails had left when they had dug into his back. "I should go," he muttered.
"Hey, why don't you stick around?" she asked softly, lifting her hand so the backs of her fingers lightly touched Albus's cheek. "We could - talk."
He took hold of her hand and gently removed it from his face before smiling sadly. "Rose, please don't insult my intelligence."
"I'm not." Before he could stop her, she had taken hold of his wrists and held on to them so tightly that her grip almost hurt.
Resignedly, he tugged his hands away from hers. "Look, I don't think we should-"
Yet she seemed to ignore his words, instead trying to close the distance between her lips and his. "We don't have to talk, Albus. We could just..."
They were nose-to-nose now.
"We could just what? Kiss? Cuddle? Shag? Because we both know how bloody well that went last time," he blurted out, and he immediately kicked himself.
"Isn't that what you want?" she asked. She didn't wait for an answer but took his face into her hands, stopping short just of his lips. Her eyes searched his, pleading with him. It had been years since they had last kissed, years and years full of Albus longing for her touch and resenting Rose being with someone else and lusting over her (not loving her, he kept telling himself, because she was his cousin, and lust was all he could feel for her). Albus had convinced himself that he had got over her, that he had buried away his feelings and wasn't in love with her in the first place. But there was no point in trying to squash down how he felt for her anymore because, just when he thought he had succeeded in doing so, those same emotions had sprung up again.
He'd always been in love with her and he always would be. She just didn't love him back.
As much as he wanted to kiss her, he knew he couldn't. "Don't," he eventually managed to say. "Please, Rose."
"What? Please what?"
"Don't do this," he said, and she furrowed her brow in question. "We both know that you don't..."
"Yes, I do. We're not teenagers anymore, Albus. This isn't like before. That was, what, seven, eight years ago? Things have changed, okay. And you... You want me."
"God, yes," he replied immediately. It hadn't been a question, but she'd have known his answer anyway, even if her hand hadn't travelled there. "I - I love you."
"Don't bring love into it," she said, and the bitter tone in her voice returned. "This isn't about love, Albus. It's about - comfort."
"Is that all this means to you?" Despite what he was saying, he was crestfallen anyway. He had hoped - a tiny, miniscule part of him had held on to the hope that Rose might love him back.
"Isn't that what it means to you? That time, at Hogwarts-"
"-was a mistake," he said firmly. "You didn't talk to me for weeks afterwards. Remember?"
"Yeah, well, we were both... young," Rose said, not meeting his eyes. "And I was being naive. But why does it matter now? I - I need someone, and..."
He groaned as, in spite of his protestations, her hands slipped under his shirt. When he felt her tongue in his mouth, he felt defenceless, bare, as if she had stripped him, even though he was fully clothed. Her bare foot curled around his ankle, sliding off one shoe before doing the same with to the other, and all the while, her lips continued to bruise his in a languorous kiss. At some point, she had taken off his glasses and placed them on the table next to their empty mugs, and this time, he lowered his mouth to hers, his hand moving in circles up her abdomen and higher.
"Rose," he whispered reverently, his breathing shallow when they finally came up for air, unwilling to open his eyes and look into hers, because he knew he wouldn't see love in the burnt brown of her irises. Instead, eyes still closed, he kissed down her neck, and his lips dusted her collarbone as his fingers lifted the edge of her hoodie and hooked around the loops on her jeans. Her fingers covered his, helping him pull her jeans down before she lifted his chin and kissed his lips.
"Just one night," she murmured, her teeth nipping his lip.
"Yes," he breathed without even thinking.
You're pathetic, he told himself. Fucking pathetic.
She pulled away a little to smile at him, in gratitude, perhaps, but he desperately wanted to kiss her once more. His lips peppered hers insistently while he dragged his finger slowly over the same spot, the only thing separating his skin from hers being her underwear, and she let out a feral groan that echoed loudly in his throat. Hurriedly, she removed her knickers, and then she reached forward, about to work the buttons of his jeans, but he shook his head. He placed a soft kiss on her mouth, before his lips moved down, and all the while, he mouthed "I love you" into her skin (silently, of course). All that mattered to him, then, was her pleasure - nothing else.
They had rushed things the first time, and it was a small comfort for Albus to know that it would be slower now. His hand caressed the arc of her hip and the length of her leg, settling on her calf. Her fingers threaded through his hair, and she hissed unintelligibly as his lips moved higher and higher, his tongue painstakingly tracing the softer skin there. She arched into him, her nails piercing his scalp, and Albus kept telling himself that it was just comfort kissing, comfort sex, one friend (cousin? lover?) soothing another and nothing more than that, as if that would somehow make it more real for him. And then, perhaps, he might be able to accept that the woman he was in love with simply did not love him back.
He had laid down his heart, and she could do with it as she pleased: treasure it, push it away, or, more likely, crush it to pieces. Yet it belonged to her now, and he was helpless to think otherwise.
Morning will come
And I'll do what's right
Just give me 'til then
To give up this fight
And I will give up this fight
Chapter End Notes:
I hope you enjoyed reading this. This story has given me hell, so it would be lovely to receive some feedback for it. Thank you very much.