A/N: The title of this chapter, "L'Esprit de L'Escalier" is a French phrase that doesn't translate directly into English at all. The literal translation is "Staircase Wit", but the French usage of it has nothing to do with stairs. :) It's basically a phrase used to describe that moment when you think of the perfect comeback after an argument is already over, or realise something that you wish you could have thought of in the heat of the moment. It's that feeling of regret that you didn't get to say that thing that you should have said during an argument.

06 — Staircase (L'Esprit de L'Escalier)

It wasn't until a few days after Al's conversation with his father that Scorpius attempted to broach the subject. Albus knew that Scorpius and Rose had talked about what had happened in the library that evening; he could see it in the awkward, stilted looks that the two of them had been giving him whenever they were all together, and he was fairly certain that it was going to come up some time soon. What he hadn't expected, though, was that the moment Scorpius would choose to finally bring it up would be so wildly inappropriate.

They were collapsed on top of each other in Scorpius's four-poster bed one night, sweaty and breathless and completely pulled-out. Despite the feeling of bliss that was still coursing through him in tiny little aftershocks, Albus was beginning to grow a bit uncomfortable, flat on his stomach and pinned to the mattress with Scorpius draped over him. He could feel his friend's hot breath still coming out in gasps on the back of his neck, and his hair was sticking to his forehead in damp strands that kept falling into his eyes.

With a rather large amount of effort, because his arms still felt like jelly, he reached behind him blindly, groping for Scorpius. He pushed at his shoulder a bit, trying to get him to roll off. Scorpius made a protesting noise, but complied, flopping back onto the pillows in the small space.

Albus groaned as he rolled over, taking a deep breath now that he felt like he could breath again. They had to lie rather close here, heads fighting for space on the single pillow, but he couldn't help the small smile that began to turn up the corners of his mouth as he stared up at the heavy canopy above them.

"You are getting so much better at this," he said quietly, his eyes falling closed. One of his hands fell to rest on Scorpius's thigh, and he laughed softly to himself. "I mean really. That was…Merlin."

"Practise makes perfect," Scorpius muttered, turning his head so that his face was buried in Al's neck.

There was a long, comfortable silence as they caught their breath, and Albus could feel his heart beating out a lazy rhythm in his chest as they lay there. After a while, he began absently threading his fingers through Scorpius's hair, and though this wasn't the kind of thing that they ordinarily did, lingering together after the fact, it felt nice. It was peaceful. Scorpius hummed a bit and curled in a little closer, and Al was just beginning to feel sleepy when Scorpius took a deep breath and pulled back so they could look at each other. Albus could just barely make out the features of his face in the darkness provided by the thick velvet curtains around the bed, but he could tell that Scorpius looked concerned about something.

"Al, I know this isn't an easy thing, but…I've been thinking about it a lot lately," Scorpius said slowly, his voice barely above a whisper. "Rose and I have been talking, and…er…she told me what happened the other day. After you talked with your dad. She's right, you know."

Albus felt an instant flash of anger replace the serene feeling he'd had a moment ago. "Now?!" he asked in an incredulous undertone. "You want to talk about this now? Of all the times you could have brought it up, it had to be here."

"Look, I'm sorry, but it's just…" Scorpius trailed off, searching around for the right words. "I've been trying to…This isn't…I mean, no time would have been a good time, would it? You never want to talk about all this."

Albus rolled his eyes, sitting up in the bed. "And you thought this would be the time I'd want to? You're unbelievable," he said disdainfully, pulling his knees up to his chest and turning his head away from Scorpius.

He heard Scorpius sigh, and the bed shifted as he moved to sit up as well. One of Scorpius's hands smoothed up his back, and Al felt lips pressed into the notch of his shoulder.

"I just worry about you," Scorpius said softly, his hand rubbing gently up and down Al's back. "You throw yourself around like you don't think you're worth anything, and I…it's just not healthy, Al. I don't want you to hurt yourself."

Albus felt his eyes begin to sting, and he squeezed them shut, pulling away from Scorpius's touch. "Funny thing for you to say," he said coldly. "You don't seem to mind me 'throwing myself around' too much when it's you who gets the benefit. Next time you want a free pass, I suggest you look somewhere else, because this is over."

And ignoring Scorpius's stuttered protestations, he grabbed the wad of his clothes at the foot of the bed, ripped the hangings open and stalked back to his own bed. He lay awake fuming for hours after that, rolling over restlessly to punch his pillow, hating himself every time he caught a whiff of Scorpius's cologne that had caught in his hair, furious that his friend could be so tactless and hypocritical. He hardly got any sleep that night, and when morning came, he left the room without even sparing a glance at Scorpius.


It was nearly a week before they spoke to each other again.

Albus was stuffing his book back into his bag as he left the Defence classroom one Monday afternoon. He was not in a very good mood. He and Scorpius had been passive-aggressively fighting since the incident, and he'd just spent the last hour absently taking notes as he glared at the back of his friend's head from where he'd been sitting two rows behind him. He'd been halfheartedly trying to decide which hex would cause the maximum amount of discomfort with the least noticeable effects, and had just started to work out a plan when the bell rang, jerking him out of his thoughts.

As he made his way into the corridor, filing out into the stream of people, he saw an all-too-familiar flash of light brown curls not too far away. He turned quickly, trying to redirect himself into the flow of people moving in the opposite direction, but it was no use. A hand clamped down on his shoulder, pulling him off to an emptier stretch of hall.

"Hello, Albus," said the boy's soft voice once they had a bit of space to themselves.

Al felt himself flush red. "Cassio. How…erm…how have you been?" he asked a bit awkwardly, his mind still half focused on Scorpius. "I heard from Louis that you and Lucy broke things off."

Cassio took a step closer to him, and Albus felt the thoughts of his fight with his friend begin to leave his mind. "Yes, I have been rather…lonely lately, if you know what I mean," Cassio said in that quiet voice, running his fingers over the silky material of Al's tie.

Albus took a deep breath, swallowing thickly. His eyes flicked over Cassio's smooth brown curls, the lean line of his shoulder, the hard, muscled arms that were prominent even through the billowing material of his school robe. He allowed his gaze to linger on the other boy's thin lips, which were curled up into an easy smile. He could feel his heart rate picking up a bit, but he made himself force it down. Lucy was his family; this was off limits. He wasn't allowed to cross this line anymore.

Albus took a step away from him suddenly, bumping into something solid behind him. A hand caught on his waist to keep him from stumbling over, and before Al could turn to apologise, the person behind him spoke.

"Cassio, how lovely to see you," said Scorpius's smooth voice. "Al and I were just talking about you a few weeks ago."

Albus felt his eyes fall closed in embarrassment as he remembered just where that particular conversation had led. His cheeks began to burn a bit redder as images began to float back to him.

"All good, I hope?" Cassio asked in a friendly tone, taking a step backward. Albus noticed his eyes flicker to where Scorpius's hand was still planted firmly on his waist.

Al tried to wriggle out of Scorpius's hold. The last thing he wanted was to cause a scene and draw any more attention to this conversation that was happening in an uncomfortably public place. As he tried to step away, though, Scorpius's fingers dug into his the side of his hip sharply, keeping Al pinned helplessly. Albus turned to glare up at him, and he saw that Scorpius's face was twisted into a very forced-looking grin as he stared fixedly at Cassio. Al rolled his eyes, biting down on his tongue in frustration as he shook his head.

"Yes, it was quite good," Scorpius said with a glint in his eye, "if I do say so myself."

Albus stamped down on his foot, finally tugging himself free of Scorpius. "You know, Cassio, it's been great talking, but we've really got to get going," Al said firmly, jerking at the back of Scorpius's robes in a silent plea to get him moving. "I've just remembered something I need to speak with Scorpius about."

"Alright, then," Cassio said, watching them suspiciously. "I hope to see you soon, Al."

Albus threw him a halfhearted smile over his shoulder as he began dragging Scorpius away down the hall. They rounded a corner, and when Al was sure they weren't being watched, he wrenched open the door to an empty classroom and gave Scorpius a rough shove inside.

"What the hell was that?" he asked once the door had slammed behind them.

Scorpius just gave a quiet grunt, crossing his arms over his chest and looking at Al with a raised eyebrow, clearly trying to look unimpressed.

"You are not my boyfriend," Albus said after a moment of silence. "You don't get to act like a jealous prick whenever another bloke looks at me sideways. If I want to mess about with Cassio, that's my business. Not yours."

"So you're speaking to me again, then?" Scorpius asked him, leaning back against the wall.

"Only so I can tell you to sod off," Albus said, glaring at him. Scorpius rolled his eyes. "Problem?" Al asked.

Scorpius considered him for a moment, then sighed, shaking his head. "Yeah, you know what? Why not. I should have said this the other night, but I couldn't get it out," he said. He pushed off the wall and backed Albus up against a desk. "Guys like Cassio are the reason I worry about you. They're just trying to find a place to stick their dicks, and you make it too easy for them."

"Yeah, and you're any different?" Albus scoffed, rolling his eyes. He made an attempt to push past, but Scorpius grabbed him by the waist again, holding him in place.

"I am," Scorpius said, nodding. "Because I actually care about you, Al. I just want you to be happy."

Albus frowned as he felt Scorpius's fingers squeeze his hip a bit. He searched his friend's face for a moment, trying to figure out what he was thinking. "Blimey, it's only been a month," he said quietly after a beat, sighing in disappointment. "Scor, we said we wouldn't let feelings into this. I thought you'd last longer than a month."

"What? No, don't be so thick," Scorpius said, shaking his head and laughing as though the idea were ridiculous. "I meant that I care about you because we're friends. You've been my best mate for ages. It matters to me what happens to you. Even when you're being a prick and not speaking to me, you're like my brother."

Albus raised his eyebrows. "Thank Merlin you're an only child, mate," he said, forgetting that he was still supposed to be angry. He sat back on the desk, letting his legs dangle in front of him. "There's a word for what we are, and it's not brothers."

"So we're still something, then?" Scorpius asked, moving to stand between Al's legs and resting a hand low on his hip. "I mean, if not that's fine, but I…you know…I wouldn't mind if we were..."

"Just shut up," Albus said quietly, letting one of his ankles catch behind Scorpius's knee. "You know, you won't always be able to win me over like this."

He watched as a mischievous smile turned up the corner of his friend's mouth. "I should enjoy it while I can, then, don't you think?" Scorpius asked, placing his other hand on Al's waist and pulling him a bit closer across the desk.

"You shouldn't want this at all," Albus said a bit breathlessly as Scorpius's lips wrapped around his ear. "You should be going after…oh God…someone with, you know, curves."

"Don't talk about all that just now," Scorpius mumbled as he began tugging at the knot of Al's tie. "Not when I'm about to bend you over this desk and do filthy things to you."

Albus groaned low in his throat when he felt Scorpius's fingers wriggling under the waistband of his trousers, and he grabbed a fistful of his dress shirt, hauling him in to connect their mouths. Their teeth clacked together roughly as they met in a tight kiss, and Albus was about to hop off the desk to move things along, when suddenly, there was a clattering at the door.

There was a split second in which they pulled back to stare at each other in shock before they sprang apart as though they'd been burnt. Albus frantically zipped his trousers back up as Scorpius began fumbling with the buttons of his own shirt. Just as Al was running a hand back through his hair, the door opened.

It was a first year Gryffindor that Albus knew by sight but had never spoken to. The young girl seemed like she was lost, and she opened her mouth to apologise for coming into the wrong room, but then she realised who it was that she had walked in on. Her eyes went wide at the sight of Albus tugging his tie back around his neck, and she closed her mouth with a snap.

"Move along, then," Scorpius said, his tone annoyed. He waved a hand at her dismissively. "Budge off."

"Sorry," she said meekly, her hand on the doorknob. The girl looked between them cautiously for a moment, then she backed out of the room and closed the door behind her.

Once they were alone again, Albus released a breath that he hadn't realised he'd been holding. "Do you think she'll tell anyone?" he asked cautiously.

Scorpius shook his head, looking unconcerned as he finished redoing his buttons. "Nah, poor thing's too young to know what she saw," he said, picking his bag back up.

He looked at Albus expectantly. Al, who was still sitting back on the desk, hoping to pick up where they'd left off, raised his eyebrows. "What? Get over here. Let's get on with it," he said, beckoning for him to come back.

"We've only got ten minutes left to eat lunch before afternoon classes," Scorpius said, shaking his head. "I'm hungry. We can do this later."

Albus stared at him, trying to decide if he was serious or not, but Scorpius just started toward the door. Al rolled his eyes and finished knotting his tie before following.

"Such a boy," Albus mumbled to himself as he hurried to catch up, only half-exasperated.