The first month of school was kind of weird and normal in equal measures. Normal because I had the same old lessons to go to, the same old dormitory to sleep in, the same old friends to hang out with and the same old social awkwardness to peddle, but weird because I was now meeting Albus in the school library twice of week to help him out with the History of Magic homework. And, weirder still, he kept smiling and waving at me in the corridors and then, before I knew it, other people started to smile at me in the corridors too.
And suddenly Lucy, Tabitha and Georgina were very interested in me. Quite often the three of them would turn up with Fauna to walk me to or from the library, which I guess annoyed Fauna as much as it annoyed me. We didn’t really know them that well – especially not Tabitha and Georgina – and the three of them would talk and laugh louder than us and we’d end up totally silent on those little walks around the corridors.
Besides, after what Albus had said at our first meeting, I didn’t want him to think that I was the sort of girl who travelled around the school in a pack. Especially not after the time Albus turned up just in time to see Tabitha applying lipgloss in a mirror Georgina was holding whilst Lucy flipped through Witch Weekly and me and Fauna stood off to one side looking awkward.
I liked Albus. Honestly, I did. He seemed genuine and honest and he was pretty smart. But at the same time, I got the feeling that there was something he wasn’t telling me. Every so often, there were these little flashes of weirdness from him. It was like there was a little weirdo wallflower like me buried beneath his calm, normal surface.
I think I really, really wanted that little weirdo wallflower side to come out. Although I wasn’t sure how that would happen, or even if it existed. I think you’d have to be pretty starved socially to end up as weird and as awkward as me.
And while I was hoping for Albus to turn weird, Fauna was trying to solve our group’s problem of social starvation.
‘D’you think we could go out?’ she said, as we were doing our homework in the Great Hall. It was the dead hour between the end of lessons and the start of tea, when people sort of end up just roaming the school looking for something to do. Some of them end up in the Great Hall, which is pretty good for group study sessions, or even when you want to chat and do your homework at the same time without getting chucked out of the library. Me, her and Scorpius were at the end of the Hufflepuff table with our Runes books spread out all around us.
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘When the weather’s nicer we could go for a walk around in the grounds-’
‘Flora, I mean…’ Fauna flipped her textbook shut and leaned in, lowering her voice. ‘Like, to a pub. Or even a club. At night.’
Scorpius actually laughed out loud at this. ‘Fauna, we’re way too young,’ he said. ‘And it’s not like we can leave school at night-’
‘No,’ she said, with a disapproving look. ‘I mean in the holidays. And…and I suppose one can…procure false identity.’
Scorpius gave her a very incredulous look. ‘Oh? Like how?’
‘You know Charlotte Mangan in the year above?’ Fauna said, and then suddenly leaned in and pulled my glasses off. ‘Doesn’t Flora look like her?’
Scorpius leant back to squint at me, whilst I flailed my hands about and squinted at the two of them, my vision suddenly blurry.
‘Eh, sort of,’ Scorpius said. ‘But there’s no way Flora looks seventeen.’
‘Oi,’ I snatched my glasses back.
‘If we put make up on her…’ Fauna said. ‘And put her in high shoes-’
‘I don’t wear make up-’
‘What about this?’ Scorpius’ hand shot into my pencilcase and, a moment later, pulled out a tube of lipgloss I kept there for emergencies.
‘Hey, I need to keep my lips healthy! It helps my circulation-’
‘Circulation?’ Fauna wiggled her eyebrows at me. ‘You just need to kiss more people, Flora-’
‘Ew! Can we get back to the original conversation?’
Scorpius shoved my lipgloss back at me and Fauna leant in even closer.
‘We could get in somewhere really easily, I bet. I mean, I’m seventeen next month and Scorpius will be in December, then if we just borrow someone’s ID for Flora, we could totally go somewhere in the Christmas holidays.’
‘And high heels are going to make me look old? Doubt it, Fauna,’ I said.
‘You just need to look taller, a bit more confident. Maybe if you sit on Scorpius’ shoulders then wear a mega long trench coat…’
‘Or you could go on stilts,’ Scorpius shrugged.
‘Very funny, guys-’
‘Well, if you wanted to look really old, then I could sit on Scorpius’ shoulders and you could sit on mine and we could just find a massive trench coat-’
‘Like – what, how tall are you, Scor?’
‘Um, five eleven?’
‘So if he’s basically six feet and then we’re probably five and a half each,’ I said, counting it off on my fingers. ‘You really think a seventeen-foot tall girl is going to get into a pub?’
We all fell about laughing at the joke and eventually I shut my Runes textbook too, Scorpius following suit a moment later.
‘I dunno, though,’ he said, once we’d all finished laughing and were back to normal again. ‘Do we really…do we really need to go out?’
‘Well, it’ll be fun,’ Fauna shrugged. ‘And people will think we’re way cooler.’
I nodded because I knew what she meant, but Scorpius seemed to actually shrink away from us a bit.
‘Does what other people think really matter?’ he said.
‘Well, yeah,’ Fauna said. ‘I don’t really want to be remembered as the Asian girl who went out with the Irish guy for three months. I want to be remembered as Fauna Chang.’
‘But people might remember you as the girl who was the niece of that girl that once went out with Albus Potter’s dad-’
‘Better than the alternative!’
‘I see what you mean,’ I said, nodding to Fauna. ‘I don’t exactly want to be remembered as the girl who could set fire to water or anything-’
‘That’s actually quite a talent, you know.’
‘And I don’t really wanna be four-eyes Flora either.’
Our conversation was rather interrupted as a shadow fell over us. Fauna’s face fell. Scorpius turned around a second before I did, and I could guess from the matching looks of horror they were both sporting that there was something pretty nasty behind me.
When I actually did turn around, I saw that the three Slytherins who’d nearly beat me up about a month ago were standing behind me and they looked like they meant business.
Evidently their mega load of detentions were up.
‘What’s up, four-eyes?’
Before I knew it, my regular answer had fallen out of my mouth. ‘The sky.’
‘Don’t be smart,’ the Slytherin I recognised as Fletcher snarled.
‘I wasn’t,’ I said, quite honestly. But then I found I couldn’t speak, because Scorpius had surprised me into silence by actually standing up.
‘Hey,’ he said, glaring up at the Slytherins.
And that was it. Scorpius’ mind seemed as blank as mine. After two full minutes of silence, the Slytherins seemed to get a bit edgy and shifty about the fact that Scorpius was just standing there frowning up at them and not saying them. So I stood up too.
‘Yeah!’ I said. ‘Don’t…don’t.’
Honestly, if there was such thing as an award for social awkwardness, me and Scorpius would probably win it together every time. I was half-hoping that the Slytherins would get so freaked out by us that they’d naff off before anything got serious, but it seemed that they were in it for the long run.
‘I thought we told you not to grass,’ Fletcher sneered.
‘Stuff happens when you grass,’ the Slytherin on the left said. ‘Bad stuff.’
‘Oh, like I’m scared,’ Scorpius said, rolling his eyes, but up close I could see that he’d actually gone a bit pale and his hands were shaking a bit. The poor boy was probably terrified. I felt a little bit nervous, but I knew that even the Slytherins weren’t thick enough to try and pick on us in broad daylight in front of a ton of students doing their homework.
‘You need to watch it, mate,’ Fletcher said, jabbing a fat finger at Scorpius’ chest. ‘I wouldn’t pass up on a chance to pound traitor scum like you.’
Or perhaps they were that thick.
Scorpius seemed to go a shade paler. I noticed he was holding his breath, which is never a good thing. There are a lot of things about Scorpius I haven’t talked about, but mostly because he doesn’t like to talk about them either. The ‘traitor scum’ comment was a bad one, really bad, as I knew from having been his friend for six or so years, but it was all tied up in family history I barely knew anything about and tried to keep my nose out of. And Scorpius holding his breath – well, never a good thing.
On the plus side, I know where he keeps his inhalers.
I think the fact that Scorpius didn’t say anything in response made it worse. Or maybe it was me, glaring at them, really trying to give them the dirtiest look I could summon.
Actually, the worst thing was probably me spewing out the most childish insult in the book.
‘Takes one to know one!’
Childish and stupid as it may have been, it made Fletcher pretty angry. He took a swipe at us – it wasn’t a particularly good or powerful punch or anything, but it was enough to make me and Scorpius both duck at the same time. Then there was a clatter and when I finally straightened up, I saw the Slytherin on the right swoop down and snatch something up off the floor.
Fletcher was glaring at us, still fuming, but then his friend passed him whatever he’d picked up off the floor.
‘Well, well, well…’ he said softly, then gave us a really evil, nasty grin. In his fat fist, he was holding Scorpius’ inhaler.
I started to panic a bit when I realised I could hear Scorpius breathing next to me, and, generally, hearing someone’s breath in a room that loud isn’t the best thing.
‘Hey,’ I reached out to grab it back. ‘Give that to me-’
Fletcher snatched his arm away, holding the inhaler up above his head where I couldn’t hope to reach it. I lunged forward, grasping empty air, but he just laughed and held it higher.
‘Come on, four-eyes!’ he was saying. ‘Jump!’
I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me hop around like a demented rabbit but, then again, I didn’t exactly want Scorpius to have a full-blown asthma attack on the floor of the Great Hall. After all, it was my fault the Slytherins were there.
I tried being nice. ‘Please,’ I said. ‘Please give it back-’
Then someone unexpected suddenly appeared on my right.
‘Hey,’ Albus said. ‘Give that back.’
I’m not sure I ever fully thanked Albus for turning up out of the blue to save both me and Scorpius’ respective bacon on that day. As soon as I heard his voice, I felt an odd sort of calm, like I knew that we had more of a chance of winning or something.
Fletcher gave a derisive snort of laughter. ‘Oh yeah, Potty, what you gonna do?’
There was a brief, tense pause. Then Albus slipped his wand out of his sleeve.
‘This,’ he said.
I’m not really sure how it happened or even what happened. But one minute Fletcher and his thick friends were guffawing and sneering at us, and then, the next minute, they all had a rather impressive set of tentacles dangling out of their sleeves and Scorpius’ inhaler had fallen to my feet.
I wanted to laugh along with the rest of the hall, but my primary concern was for Scorpius’ lungs, so I snatched up the inhaler, forced him to sit on the bench and then shoved it into his hands. Dimly, I registered Fletcher and his mates yelling in horror before they turned and ran out of the Great Hall, their tentacles flapping on the flagstones with the most disgusting squelching sounds. Albus pocketed his wand and then perched on the bench next to me, totally calm, totally cool about the whole thing.
‘That was mega,’ I said, and I was surprised to hear how calm and cool I was too. Scorpius, on my other side, sat and puffed away on his inhaler, staring determinedly at the opposite wall so he didn’t have to acknowledge Albus.
‘It was nothing,’ Albus said. ‘I’ve wanted to use that jinx for ages, actually…’
‘Won’t you get detention?’
‘Yeah,’ he shrugged. ‘Worth it, though.’
I smiled at him. ‘Thank you.’
‘I should be off,’ he said, getting to his feet again. ‘Four in the library tomorrow, Flora?’
‘As always,’ I said, and then he gave me a little wave before turning and walking off again, to the applause of half the Great Hall. A few people still stared at me and Scorpius, but not that many. I don’t think we were important enough and, besides, all we’d done was chucked a couple of half-hearted comebacks and insults at the Slytherins before Albus had turned up and kicked their arses.
‘You alright?’ I said, putting my arm around Scorpius’ shoulders. He looked as if he was about to shrug me off, but then he tucked his inhaler back into his pocket and simply sat and glowered at the facing wall, letting me pat him awkwardly on the back for a bit.
‘Wow!’ Fauna said, startling me so much that I actually flinched; in the heat of the moment, I’d almost forgotten she was watching. ‘Wow! That was so mega!’
‘Er, yeah,’ I said, patting Scorpius emphatically on the back again.
‘Did you see that? He gave them tentacles!’
‘It was pretty awesome…’
‘He’s really cool,’ Fauna grinned, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘That was so cool!’
‘Yeah, because the sun shines out of Albus blimmin’ Potter’s arse-’
‘Scorpius, don’t,’ Fauna said, just as I turned to frown at him. ‘What he just did was really nice, you know.’
Scorpius glared at the table. I hadn’t seen him so angry for ages. It was probably the double-whammy of being shown up by Albus Potter and having his inhaler stolen by the Slytherins. I mean, that was mega embarrassing. So I tried to sympathise, even attempting an awkward little one-armed half hug.
‘You’re alright now, aren’t you?’ I said, and, when he gave a stiff nod, I took my arm away and turned back to Fauna.
‘Don’t suppose you heard what the Slytherins said about you,’ she grinned.
‘What, four-eyes Flora? That’s hardly new-’
‘No,’ she said, and her grin got even wider. ‘Just before they left.’
She leaned in conspiratorially again. ‘Watch it, Potter, we’ll get you and your girlfriend someday!’
My stomach did a little somersault, then a backflip, then did a bit of freestyle gymnastics around my midriff. I’d almost forgotten the diversionary kiss – what if the Slytherins had told other people about it?
‘Oh, Flora, don’t be offended!’ Fauna said, and I realised that my little panic about the diversionary kiss probably hadn’t gone unnoticed.
And, to my right, I heard Scorpius repeat the word ‘girlfriend’ in a tiny, incredulous little voice. I’m not sure why, but that made me even more uncomfortable.
‘I mean, tons of girls would love to be his girlfriend and-’
‘Not me,’ I said firmly. ‘You know the Slytherins talk a lot of crap.’
‘All the same, Flora,’ she said, and then her voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I think he likes you.’
It was a really awkward moment. It was more awkward than a bunch of awkward hawks at a party, probably a really awkward party, not that I’d know much about parties because I don’t tend to get invited to them. But, yeah. Awkward like a bunch of awkward hawks at an awkward party standing in a corner being awkward. I had Fauna opposite me, an honorary member of the Albus Potter fan club, and then Scorpius at my side, a devoted founding member of the Albus Potter is a Stuck Up Idiot club.
So, to placate both of them, I just tried to do my best sceptical look and said: ‘oh, don’t be daft, Fauna. He’s just being nice. Can we get back to Ancient Runes now?’
Before either of them could speak, I’d flipped open my Runes textbook and pretended to be engrossed in the random page I’d opened it on, tilting my head so that my hair fell into a sort of curtain around me.
‘Flora,’ Scorpius elbowed me. ‘Your textbook is upside down.’
And with that, everything went back to normal. Fauna made some joke about me needing my eyes tested again, Scorpius sorted out my book for me, and then a minute later we were back to discussing whether we’d be able to get into a pub as one seventeen-foot tall creature in a mutant trench coat.
Except it didn’t really ever go back to normal again. Not after that.
a/n: woo update~ this chapter is a bit...eh. it's a bit hastily written and a bit filler-y, but I hope it was alright. I just properly sat down and planned out the remaining chapters for this, and I'm really excited about writing them. Somehow, what was originally planned as a simple Al/OC romance has sort of...sort of become bromance meets dystopia meets the perks of being a wallflower. wow. please don't judge me for that. I'm rather given over to my 3am fic sprees and a lot of casual crackery tends to emerge out of those. ♥