Chapter 1 : Albus Potter and the Worst Excuses Ever
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It was shortly before Valentine’s Day in their fourth year when Gretchen Creevey asked Albus Potter out.
Most of the students were taking advantage of the sunny day and spending it outside. Albus knew for a fact that James and Roxanne were planning to enchant snowmen to wander around saying, “I vant to eat your brains” until they melted.
He, however, was stuck inside the library doing the work that everyone else had probably had the sense to get done over the course of the previous week while the weather was horrible.
Later, he would realize that Gretchen’s question should not have surprised him. After all, plenty of other fourth years were starting to pair up.
However, in the moment, all he could muster up was confusion. “Sorry?” he asked, looking away from the bookshelf he’d been examining in hopes of finding Man’s Lost Wisdom: Reading the Stars, which according to his friend Damien was exceedingly useful in faking their most recent Divination assignment. He felt as though he must have misheard her, or that perhaps she was about to laugh and say, “April Fool’s!” two months early.
Instead, she cleared her throat and repeated, “Would you like to go out with me?”
If his face reflected any of what he was feeling at that moment, it wasn’t surprising that she looked so uncomfortable by the time he found the words he wanted. “Oh,” he said lamely. “I’m… um… okay right now, but thanks for asking.”
She looked a little lost, and he couldn’t really blame her. His answer was not a very good response to her question. “So, no, then?”
He searched for a reasonable and non-offensive reason to say no. “We’re just so young,” he said when he couldn’t think of one.
Now she looked as though she was wondering whether he was completely sane. “Albus, we’re almost fifteen.”
“But we’re still fourth years,” he said. “And fifteen is rather young, anyway. That’s all. I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
She shrugged and rose. “It’s fine. I just thought I’d ask.” She shook her head. “Calm down. You’re much less cute when you’re distressed.”
As she turned and walked away, he felt his face flush. Then he heard a chuckle behind him and turned, hoping that it wasn’t one of his family members. Especially not his brother, who would tease the hell out of him.
On the bright side, it wasn’t his brother. On the downside, it was Scorpius Malfoy, who was leaning against the bookshelf, his eyes gleaming.
“God, Al, do you think you could possibly have been any more awkward?” he asked.
Albus headed back to the table in the corner of the deserted library where he had left his books. “What are you doing in here, anyway?”
“The same thing as you, I expect,” Scorpius answered, sliding into the seat across from him. “I put off my least favorite assignments all week, and now I have both Divination and Herbology to finish before tomorrow morning.”
“Finish?” Albus asked.
Scorpius groaned. “Well, and start. What do you have left to do?”
“Divination and Astronomy.”
“Excellent. I’ll help you with Astronomy if you help me with Herbology. Albus nodded, and Scorpius began to unpack his bag. “’We’re too young?’ Seriously? As far as excuses go, that’s terrible.”
Albus groaned and buried his head in his arms. “I know. I know.”
“Pretty much anything would have been better than that.” Scorpius seemed unable to keep a straight face, and Albus suddenly had the urge to smack his best friend. He didn’t see what was so amusing about the whole thing. At this point, he would not have been surprised if his face was the same colour as his hair.
Which, now that he thought of it, was probably why Scorpius was so amused. He’d commented in the past that seeing Al or any of his red-haired family members blush was exceedingly amusing.
“I mean, I’ve already had and lost a girlfriend, and I’m, what, four months older than you?” Scorpius was saying. “And you can’t even turn a girl down?”
“Yeah, what happened with that, anyway?” Albus asked curiously. Scorpius’s breakup with Haley Rickett a few weeks before had been rather mysterious: it had seemed very sudden, even for fifteen year olds, and they didn’t seem to harbor any resentment toward the other. They weren’t even awkward around each other. Rose and Damien had been awkward around each other for a solid month after their breakup.
“Let’s just say someone’s heart wasn’t really in it.” Scorpius flipped through a book aimlessly, but Albus could detect a slight tinge to his cheeks. “Haley’s really a top-notch person, though.”
“Yours or hers?” Albus pressed. If Scorpius was going to laugh at him, he was determined to laugh at Scorpius.
Scorpius shook his head. “A gentleman never tells.”
Albus knew that his closest Slytherin friends tended to see him as the unobservant and overly trusting Gryffindor, and he also knew that they tended to take advantage of that. Usually, he let them, because if someone didn’t want to talk about something that badly, he didn’t see much point in forcing the issue—no matter how curious he was.
“That’s you, though. Noah hasn’t had a girlfriend yet, I’m not the only one.”
“Yeah, but you don’t see Noah running around saying that he’s too young to have a girlfriend.” Scorpius hesitated for half a second before adding, “And your cousin’s on her second one.”
Albus frowned. “Her second? Since when?”
“Oh, I heard Julian Fairbourne asking her out today at lunch,” Scorpius said offhandedly. His face was still a little flushed from the comment about Haley.
“But he’s a fifth year.” Albus had been holed up in the library all day, so he wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t heard about Rose’s new boyfriend. Still, it was very strange to hear about it from Scorpius; his two best friends had detested each other since their very first ride on the Hogwarts Express. “And she sad yes?”
Scorpius shrugged. “Seemed like it, since I saw them walking around holding hands later.”
“I wonder what James and Roxanne think of that,” Albus wondered out loud. “Julian’s their friend.” If what Scorpius was saying was true – and it probably was – hopefully James or Roxanne would put a stop to the whole thing.
It wasn’t that Albus didn’t like Julian Fairbourne. It was just that there was something about Julian that bothered the hell out of him. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but the idea of having to put up with him until he and Rose broke up was one that filled Albus with considerable disappointment. It could take months.
“Not that I care,” Scorpius was saying, “but I doubt that it was the first thing on their minds, seeing as she was off doing God-knows-what with Ian Cauldwell for half the morning and he was off with Kitty Roshan’s little sister.” At Albus’s questioning stare, Scorpius added, “I overheard Kitty talking about it with my cousin Evy over lunch.”
“I just didn’t know what to say,” Albus said, slumping in his chair.
“How about, ‘Sorry, Gretchen, you’re a nice person, but I’m just not interested’?” suggested Scorpius, picking a quill up and opening one of his books.
“That just seems so…” Albus searched for a word to fit what he thought, but couldn’t find one. “… mean,” he finished lamely.
Scorpius shrugged. “It doesn’t have to be.” He stretched. “The problem with you, Al, is that you assume that everyone else will react like you would. They don’t. You wouldn’t ask anyone out unless you were really invested in her, so you’d be really hurt if you got rejected. Gretchen isn’t anywhere near that invested. She thinks you’re cute. She asked you out. You said no. The end. She’ll have forgotten all about it by next week.”
Albus sighed. “If you say so.”
Personally, he doubted what Scorpius was saying, but what did he know? He’d just turned down a date in much the same way he would have turned down a box of biscuits he didn’t like.
“Albus Severus Potter!” Someone slammed a book down in front of him, and he started so badly he almost knocked his chair over. He looked up to see his cousin Rose, who looked so irate that he actually edged back in his seat instinctively.
“What?” he asked, wondering what on earth he was supposed to have done to get her this angry.
“Did you tell Leslie Eastchurch that you wouldn’t go out with her because I didn’t like her?”
He glanced around the common room, thankful that most people were still at dinner, especially considering that the few who were there were looking at them curiously. “Maybe,” he said nervously, running a hand through his hair.
“What the hell,” she snapped. “I barely know Leslie Eastchurch. I certainly don’t know her well enough to dislike her.”
Albus decided to refrain from pointing out that until fairly recently, she had barely known Scorpius and had nursed a strong dislike for him. “Um,” was all he could come up with. He had known immediately after using it that it was a poor excuse, but he hadn’t known what else to say. Any excuse had to be better than the Holly incident, where he’d just stammered an awkward “I just don’t think so” several times before Damien had rescued him.
“Um?” She slipped into the chair next to him and yanked the parchment in front of him over. She examined it for a moment before looking up at him incredulously. “Did you really skip dinner to do Divination homework to avoid her?”
“It’s due soon,” he told her, using what he knew was a very liberal definition of the word “soon.”
She snorted and handed it back. “Nice try,” she told him. “I was with Scorpius today and he said your Divination assignment was due in two weeks.”
Albus looked away from her and out at the sunset, wracking his brain for an excuse. Unfortunately, none was forthcoming. “Um,” he repeated.
Rose rolled her eyes. “You are ridiculous,” she told him, but she seemed to be calming down a little.
“What happened?” he asked quickly, looking back at her.
She rubbed her eyes. Albus was not necessarily the best at getting enough sleep, but Rose was downright horrible. He didn’t know why she refused to drop any of her electives.
But Rose was very bad at listening to reason.
“She and Harmony cornered me just as I was leaving the Great Hall. They were both horribly offended about why on earth I didn’t like them, and didn’t I know that they were really stand-up terrific people, and after that they got too high-pitched for me to understand what they were saying.” She glared at him and kicked the leg of his chair. “That was fifteen minutes of my life,” she said, snapping her fingers. “Gone. Just like that. Wasted.”
“Sorry?” Albus offered, and she snorted.
“Sorry is right.”
Over her shoulder, the portrait hole opened, and Albus’s life went from bad to worse. His brother James and his cousin Roxanne spotted him and made their way over to him, looking far too gleeful for him to hold out any hope that they had not heard about the incident.
Rose twisted around to see what he was looking at, and a grin broke out across her face. “Excellent.”
He glared at her as she turned back around. “Thanks for your support.”
She did not look remotely abashed. “You used me as an excuse. You don’t have the right to complain.”
Albus supposed that she probably had a point.
James and Roxanne reached them and both took seats at the table.
Roxanne leaned forward. “So, Albie,” she said, tossing her long braids over her shoulder. Roxanne was the only person who ever called him “Albie,” and when she did it was usually a clear indication that she was about to tease him. “We just heard the most interesting story, didn’t we, James?”
“We did,” James confirmed, nodding seriously. “We heard that you told poor Leslie Eastchurch that Rose didn’t like her so you wouldn’t have to date her.”
Roxanne shook her head, looking very disappointed in him. “And poor Rosie here needed to spend ten minutes defending herself and assuring Leslie that she didn’t dislike her at all.”
Albus raised his eyebrows. “You told me fifteen minutes,” he said to Rose.
She shrugged. “Well, it felt like twenty, so I split the difference.”
“Poor, poor Leslie Eastchurch,” James said. “Well, more to the point, poor Rosie. She was completely confused.”
“Her boyfriend had to come to her rescue,” Roxanne added. Albus glanced at Rose, who had suddenly decided to study the table. Her cheeks were flushed.
Rose had not quite adjusted to the fact that she was actually officially going out with Scorpius.
Neither had Albus. He was still very confused by the entire thing.
He was not, however, surprised that Scorpius had managed to smooth the situation over. Scorpius was significantly more tactful and friendly than Rose could usually be bothered to be. He supposed he should probably be thanking his best friend next time he saw him. With any luck, Scorpius would have convinced Leslie that it was all a big misunderstanding.
Of course, that meant that next time he saw Scorpius, Scorpius would be on about it as well, so it was really a mixed blessing.
“Find better excuses,” his brother advised him. “Write them down on your hand or something. Rehearse them in the mirror.”
“Or use me next time, I don’t mind,” Roxanne put in, grinning. “I don’t like a lot of people. What’s one more?”
Albus groaned. “Leave me alone,” he said, putting his head on the table. “I know. I’m an idiot.”
His brother clapped him on the shoulder as he and Roxanne made their way over to the fire. After a moment, he felt someone pat his arm sympathetically.
He turned his head a little to see Rose. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I just panicked. Especially after that whole Holly situation.”
“I know.” She pulled an apple and two biscuits out of her bag and handed them to him. “Here. I grabbed these before I was accosted by two girls I barely know because you’re an idiot.”
He took them and smiled tightly. “Thanks,” he said softly.
Rose cocked her head to one side and studied him as he took a bite out of the apple. “You’re not gay, are you?” she asked, and he choked.
“No!” he exclaimed, and was uncomfortably aware of people turning to look at him again. “No,” he said, it a more muted tone. “Why on earth would you think that?”
Rose shrugged as she unwrapped a chocolate frog. “I dunno,” she said. “I didn’t really, it’s just that you’re so terrible with girls.”
“So I must be gay?” he asked incredulously. She shrugged again, and he made a face. “If I was gay, would I really get this awkward around girls?”
“Good point.” She took a bite off the frog. “I was only asking,” she said after she swallowed.
Albus pointedly did not look toward the two sixth-year girls that had just come in through the portrait hole. Instead, he turned his gaze back out the window. “Sorry,” he repeated to Rose.
“It’ll be funny next week.” She nudged him. “Come on, let’s play a game of chess. It’ll make you feel better.”
Albus spent several months following the disastrous exchange with Leslie feeling slightly paranoid every time a girl who wasn’t his friend talked to him. He had not quite gotten over this paranoia when his friend Claire MacDougal caught up with him as they were leaving Transfiguration and said, “Do you want to go into Hogsmeade together this weekend?”
“What?” he asked distractedly as he tried to fit his book into his bag. He didn’t know why he’d stuffed it so full when he’d left his dormitory that morning, but he was deeply regretting his actions. “Yeah, I was planning to go with Scorpius and Noah, you can join us.”
“No,” she said slowly. “I mean just us.”
He stopped dead. Apparently, he was nearly as bad as Rose, who hadn’t even noticed their fellow Gryffindor fifth-year Alex asking her out earlier that year. “Like a date?”
Claire nodded, looking slightly embarrassed. “Yeah. Like a date.”
“Ah…” he said, trying to think of a decent excuse. “Claire, I like you and all, but…”
She nodded quickly. “Don’t worry about it. I just wanted to ask. In case you did.”
“Well, I would,” he said quickly, shifting from one foot to the other and running a hand through his hair. “Except that you’re my friend.”
“One date isn’t going to ruin our friendship, Albus,” she said smoothly, and he stopped cold. He hated it when Claire’s voice took on that tone; she could talk her way into almost anything when she wanted to out of sheer persistence, and if she failed, she tended to blow up.
He swallowed. He did not need one of Claire’s blow ups. “No… but my brother would jinx you, and I just don’t want to put you through that.”
Claire didn’t respond for a moment. He was just about to start congratulating himself on his first reasonable excuse when she said coldly, “So you don’t want to go out with me because your brother wouldn’t approve?”
Albus shifted uncomfortably. “Well… even if he didn’t disapprove, he’d probably do it. He doesn’t mind Scorpius these days, but Scorpius still gets jinxed at least twice a month.”
“So tell him not to,” Claire snapped. “The only reason Scorpius gets jinxed is because your cousin is too much of a coward to stand up to your brother and Scorpius doesn’t have enough pride to fight back.”
“Claire—” Albus started, feeling as though he had opened the door to the Leaky Cauldron and found a Hungarian Horntail inside. This had been exactly what he’d been trying to avoid.
“No,” she said, cutting him off. “You know, if you just said, ‘Gee, Claire, that sounds good, but I’m just not interested in you,’ that would be one thing.” In fact, Albus very much doubted that that would be one thing – presumably something that she didn’t object to – but he knew better than to say it. “But hiding behind your brother?” She scoffed. “That’s just pathetic. I don’t know whether it’s more pathetic if it’s true or just a stupid excuse.”
“But you’re my friend,” Albus said, a little desperately. “This… I mean, really, this is just silly to fight over, we’ll laugh about it some day—”
“You think so?” Claire glared at him. “I don’t know. I guess stranger things have happened.” She shrugged. “Well, I’m probably better off without a Gryffindor, anyway. Look at how Scorpius has gotten, it’s disgusting.”
She turned on her heel.
“That was pleasant,” Scorpius said softly from behind him. “Hey, Claire, you’re a bitch,” he called after her retreating figure.
She made a rude gesture at him without turning around.
Albus turned around and found his cousin Rose leaning against the wall next to Scorpius. “What a charming girl,” she said. “I knew I never liked her.”
Albus groaned. “I don’t understand what I did wrong.”
Scorpius shrugged. “Well, Claire can go into bitch mode when she doesn’t get what she wants. She probably won’t talk to me for the next week.”
“How do you work that out?” Rose asked curiously.
Scorpius held up a hand. “Well, first,” he said, raising his forefinger, “I witnessed her getting rejected. Second –” he raised another finger “- she’ll assume I’ll take Al’s side. Third, and most importantly, she’ll be jealous because I’m sitting here perfectly happy with my Gryffindor and she just got rejected by hers.” He put down his hand and pulled Rose closer to him. She kissed him on the cheek and he smirked. “Sucks to be Claire.”
“You are far too pleased with yourself,” Albus told him sternly. “Maybe Rose’s arrogance is rubbing off on you.”
Scorpius had had quite a lot to say about Rose’s arrogance right up until the point that they’d started going out. Since then, he’d been surprisingly mute on the subject.
His friend gave him an impression of exaggerated innocence. “Me? Pleased with myself?”
“Yes,” Rose told him. “Very.”
He shrugged. “I’ve got good reason.”
Albus did not want to know what that good reason was, since he suspected that they mostly revolved around Rose and were decidedly not wholesome.
Rose shook her head and brought the conversation back to him. He would have been just as happy to listen to her continue to be disgustingly mushy with Scorpius. “To be fair, Albus, that was a terrible excuse.”
“Why?” Albus demanded. “I made it so it wasn’t about me at all.”
Rose and Scorpius looked at each other and let out identical sighs.
“‘I’m not interested’ really is a lot better than ‘I’m not willing to stand up to my brother,’” Rose said.
“Especially considering that your brother clearly doesn’t do anything all that awful,” Scorpius pointed out. “At least not to me. Other than this damn hair.”
James had spent a good part of their Hogwarts career despising Scorpius. When Rose and Scorpius had started going out earlier that year, however, he’d actually made an effort and discovered that his brother’s best friend wasn’t actually quite as bad as he’d initially thought.
He still turned Scorpius’s hair interesting colors about once a month. This week, it was blue.
“Claire wouldn’t appreciate the hair,” Albus pointed out. “She takes things too seriously.”
“She does,” Scorpius agreed. “But why did you turn her down? She is your friend.”
This was not a conversation that Albus was remotely interested in having. “I’m just not interested,” he said, shrugging.
“Well, next time, I suggest just saying that.”
Albus kept Scorpius’s advice in mind, but it was almost Halloween in their sixth year by the time he was given occasion to use it.
He was sitting in the library with Morgan Jones on a Thursday afternoon. He had discovered that Morgan was a very good person to study with, in a large part because Morgan was not a Quidditch player, nor was she dating a Quidditch player. Many of the people Albus usually studied with were on some sort of Quidditch team, and he found it very annoying to try to keep straight who had Quidditch when. Scorpius had been reliable until last year, but then he’d abruptly gone from hating Rose to dating her. He wasn’t usually at Gryffindor Quidditch practices, but sometimes—like today—he was.
Morgan, however, was always reliable, and she quiet enough that he got work done (which was a problem with James and Roxanne) without being too uptight about it (which Claire sometimes was).
“Hey, Albus,” she said, and he looked up.
She tucked her hair behind her ears and took a deep breath, and he felt a surge of panic. He knew what this meant. “This is a little awkward, and I’m sorry for that, but I was wondering if you’d be interested in going out with me.”
His stomach lurched, but he tried to keep his head. What had Scorpius said last time? “Sorry, Morgan,” he said. “I’m just not interested in girls right now.”
“Oh,” she said, looking a little surprised. “Oh. Okay.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
She gave him a puzzled look. “Albus, it’s fine. You are who you are. I’m not going to stop being your friend because of it.”
When they left the library an hour later, Albus felt rather triumphant. She hadn’t yelled at him. He didn’t seem to have offended her at all. Maybe Scorpius was right.
“Morgan asked me out today when we were studying,” he said offhandedly over dinner.
“So what did you tell her?” Scorpius asked. He had joined Rose and Albus at the Gryffindor table that evening.
“That I wasn’t interested. Just like you suggested last time.”
Two seats down, Roxanne choked and snorted water out of her nose.
James thumped her back. “What’s wrong with you?”
“That is not what you said,” she gasped.
“How would you know?” Albus asked irritably.
“I overheard her talking to Abigail Madley about it,” Roxanne said, her voice still hoarse.
Rose grinned. “Go on, tell us what he did say.”
“He said—” Roxanne paused to catch her breath. “He said that he wasn’t interested in girls.”
“Right now,” Albus added, feeling distinctly annoyed. “I said I wasn’t interested in girls right now. What?”
Scorpius, Rose, and James were all shaking with barely-restrained laughter.
“Al, are you gay?” James asked, a broad grin across his face.
“No,” Albus said, feeling distinctly annoyed. “You’re my brother, I’d have told you if I was.”
“Yeah, I know you would have,” James said. “But that’s really not what comes across when you say ‘I don’t like girls.’”
“Right now,” Albus said irritably. “I said right now. I’m sure she figured out when I meant, she’s not stupid.”
Scorpius was shaking his head. “Ten to one odds she didn’t, and some boy asks you out now.”
“That’s what I said,” Roxanne said, still giggling.
“Well, you’re both wrong,” Albus snapped.
Much to Albus’s chagrin, they were not wrong. Barely two weeks later, Gage Mallory caught up with him as he made his way to Care of Magical Creatures.
“Hi, Gage,” Albus said. Gage was a friend of his cousin Hugo’s, and while he didn’t know him very well, he seemed like a good kid. “Where are you off to?”
Gage held up his broomstick. “Free period,” he said. “I need to practice.”
Albus grinned. “Do you? You seem to be pretty good already.”
“Thanks.” After a few steps, Gage cleared his throat, and Albus had a sudden need to escape. “I was wondering. Would you be interested in… going to Hogsmeade, or something… with me? In a few weeks? Or something?”
Albus very much wanted this not to be happening. Gage was his sister’s age. That was just… creepy.
“Oh,” Albus said, stalling for time. Clearly just saying ‘I’m not interested’ wasn’t very effective after all. “Oh. I would, but I wouldn’t feel right going out with someone on another Quidditch team, you know? With my brother being captain and all.”
“Okay,” Gage said, and then Albus heard a voice behind him.
“Also, he doesn’t like boys.”
Albus turned and rolled his eyes at Scorpius, who shrugged, not looking remotely abashed.
Gage looked from Albus to Scorpius and back to Albus again before saying, “Really?” When Albus nodded, Gage laughed. “You really should have just said that. It’s about the most unoffensive excuse ever.”
“Really?” Albus asked in surprise. He felt like these days, he had no idea what was supposed to be offensive and what wasn’t.
“Yes, Albus, really,” Scorpius said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Hey, Gage.”
“Hi, Scorpius.” Gage peeled off to head to the Quidditch pitch. “I’ll see you both later.”
Two full days passed before Scorpius brought up the incident. When he finally did, they were taking advantage of one of the last warm days of the season by sitting under a tree near the side of the lake.
“So why do you keep saying no to people?” he asked.
Albus could have responded saying that that he’d said no to Gage because he was straight, but he knew that that wasn’t what Scorpius was getting at and that he’d only see that as a deflection. “Why did you and Haley Rickett break up in fourth year?” he asked instead, assuming that the question would make Scorpius leave him alone. Scorpius had always been strangely closemouthed on the topic. The reason for a breakup in fourth year shouldn’t have been a big deal at all, but it was. Asking him to explain it usually shut him up, which was nice, because nothing else would.
He was therefore quite surprised when Scorpius decided to break his two years of silence on the matter. “I told you then. Somebody’s heart wasn’t in it.”
“You were fourth years,” Albus pointed out. “Rose’s heart certainly wasn’t deeply invested in Damian or Julian.”
Scorpius sighed. “Yeah, but this was different.” He hesitated, and then said, “Rose wasn’t thinking about someone else. She just wasn’t deeply invested in them.”
Albus frowned. “Which of you was thinking about someone else, then?” Given that Scorpius had started going out with Rose later that year, it seemed highly unlikely that he was so invested in someone else earlier that year that he’d refused to say anything about it for almost two years. “Haley?”
“Me,” Scorpius said after a moment.
Albus was definitely surprised. “Who?” he asked.
Scorpius turned his head and stared at him. “God, how thick are you?”
“Rose?” Albus asked, feeling very surprised. “But you hated her then!”
Rather than answer, Scorpius put his head on his knees and gazed off toward the forest. Albus was about to say something else when Scorpius sighed again. “This is why I haven’t wanted to get into it.”
“I don’t understand,” Albus said plainly.
“Yeah, I know you don’t.” Scorpius didn’t look away from the forest. “I didn’t, either. I think I do now, though.”
When Scorpius didn’t speak again, Albus decided not to push into what exactly that explanation was. It could turn out to be something entirely too sexual for him to feel comfortable knowing. “So, wait, then, what happened? You just volunteered the information?”
Scorpius shrugged. “Not exactly. It kind of volunteered itself.” Albus opened his mouth, and Scorpius said quickly, “No, now it’s your turn. I’m done talking about Rose.”
Albus looked back at the Quidditch pitch. He could see a few of the Gryffindor players above it, though he didn’t know who they were from this distance. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just too picky.”
“Nice try,” Scorpius said dryly. “Try again.”
“I hate Slytherins.” Scorpius did not appear to think that it was a productive use of his time to argue about the relative merits of his house, because he didn’t say anything. When Albus looked at him, he was staring across the lake. Albus sighed. “Bridget.”
Scorpius started. “Sorry?”
“Bridget,” Albus repeated. “Bridget Hopkins. It’s not fair to go out with someone else when I’m not over her.”
“Do you need to get over her?” Scorpius looked surprised, and Albus allowed himself a brief feeling of triumph.
“Badly. For awhile.”
Scorpius rolled his eyes. “So ask her out, you idiot.”
“I can’t.” Albus had known that Scorpius would not understand this. “She’s in seventh year.” Before Scorpius could challenge that, Albus added, “I’m the younger brother of her friend. She thinks I’m a kid.”
“How do you know?” Scorpius asked.
It was a reasonable question, and Albus was very irritated that he didn’t have a good answer for it. “I just do. Look at how I reacted to Gage. He’s my little sister’s age.”
“You’re also two years above your sister, not one,” Scorpius pointed out reasonably.
Albus shrugged. “Bridget isn’t interested. It’s a lost cause. But I’m not going to find someone else just so I can get over her. That’s not fair.”
“You have an interesting definition of lost causes.” Albus looked at him, and Scorpius grinned. “And I can top that, anyway. Rose was pretty much a lost cause, wasn’t she? Until she wasn’t.”
Albus gave a noncommittal shrug.
When the rest of the year had passed without further incident, Albus had started to hope that people would just learn to leave him alone. Over a year after the embarrassing encounter with Gage, however, Autumn Harper decided to see if his response to her would be any different.
He didn’t actually know Autumn Harper all that well. She was in the year below him, she was a Slytherin, and she cared a lot more about her looks than schoolwork.
Why someone who cared that much about how she looked would zero in on him, he had no idea.
“So, will you go out with me?” she asked, tossing her silky blond hair over her shoulder and giving him what he was sure she considered to be her most winning smile.
He only suppressed a sigh with extreme difficulty. He was not in the mood to be cornered. He had a long Herbology essay due the next day. “Why me?” he asked.
Autumn blinked once, but recovered in record time. “I guess you must be lucky,” she said brightly.
“I’m going to be an Auror,” he told her tiredly. “You don’t want to go out with an Auror. Just… trust me.”
Her eyes flashed. “Oh, is that right?” she snapped. Albus was rather impressed with how quickly she’d gone from being sickly sweet to being so angry she put him in mind of a spitting cat. “So that’s why you keep turning people down. Because they’re not precious Gryffindors.”
“I’ll have you know, I’m planning to go into the D.C.B.,” she told him. “ I’m not a coward.”
She shook her head. “You know, Albus, I liked you. As a person. I didn’t think you were like your brother or your cousins or—”
“You don’t even know me,” he said irritably, feeling that this had gone quite far enough.
“Oi!” They both turned. Albus had never been so happy to see Claire looking irate. She stopped in front of them. “What’s going on?”
“He called me a coward,” Autumn said quickly. Her demeanor had changed so quickly Albus could hardly believe it.
Claire didn’t even bother to look at him, so she missed the look of utter bemusement spreading across his face. “I find that difficult to believe, Autumn,” she said in a tone that rivaled Autumn’s for sweetness. “What happened?”
“She—” Albus started to say when Autumn just crossed her arms, but Claire shook her head.
“No, let’s let Autumn tell us.”
“I asked him out, and he said I didn’t want to go out with an Auror.”
Claire shrugged. “Well, he’s probably right. Anyway, Albus is terrible at making up excuses, everyone knows that. Leave him alone, or I’ll take points.”
Autumn scowled, tossed her hair over her shoulder again, and stormed away.
They watched her go. When she was far enough away that she wouldn’t be able to hear them, he said, “Thanks.”
Claire shuddered. “God, and to think I was like that.”
“You were never like that,” Albus assured her. “For one thing, you’ve never been that…”
She grinned. “Vain? No, I haven’t, but I’ve certainly been just as obnoxious.”
“That was a long time ago.” He slumped against a wall. “Why can’t people just leave me alone?”
“Because you’re a nice, likeable person.” She sat down next to him. “That’s what happens when you’re a nice, likeable person. Girls ask you out and react badly when you say no.” She pretended to think. “No, wait, that’s only Slytherin girls, isn’t it?”
He shrugged. Claire had mellowed significantly since their fifth year, but he still wasn’t going to risk saying anything she might interpret as being insulting to her house. “Scorpius has always been a lot more popular with girls than I am, and he’s not especially nice.”
That startled a laugh out of her. “It’s wasted on him. He’s too hung up on that cousin of yours to notice anyone else.”
“Yeah, he is.” Albus wasn’t sure what was going to happen when they all took their N.E.W.T.s, because Scorpius was not much more comfortable with Rose going into Dangerous Creatures than Marion had been with James doing so the year before, but Albus suspected that ultimately, the answer was simply going to be that Scorpius liked Rose too much to let it break them up.
Which he still really didn’t understand, but that was besides the point.
“You don’t need to explain it to me,” Claire said after a moment, “but I really don’t understand. There are plenty of girls who’d love to go out with you.”
Albus sighed. “No, they wouldn’t. I’m going off to be an Auror. And anyway, I still have feelings for someone else.”
She frowned. “Who?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He got up.
She did the same. “Okay. If you need to talk, I’m here.”
He managed a smile. “Thanks. And thanks for rescuing me.”
He really had been trying to get over Bridget, but it was difficult when he had no idea where his feelings had come from in the first place. He didn’t know her particularly well.
If he had to take a guess at it, he would probably say that it was because she was cheerful. You almost never saw Bridget without a smile on her face. She wasn’t always happy, but she was always cheerful. She said it was because she couldn’t let herself get bogged down in negative feelings, because once you started to focus on them, they could take on a life of their own.
Maybe it was just the fact that she was so full of life without being a ditz like Holly or Caitlin or Autumn.
Yay new Albus one-shot!
I was originally posting this in chapters, but decided that that was tedious and that the chapters were too short and that it really just worked better as a one-shot, so here it is.
Thanks for reading, and I'd love it if you took a moment to leave me your thoughts. :)
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