Chapter 16: Full of Hope
Ten minutes after Rose had left Nat and Albus alone in the boys’ dormitory to join the party, Albus and Nat strolled down the steps and into the common room, hand-in-hand. They found their seventh year friends and joined them by the fire.
Nat was surprised at how many students from other houses were at the party. Students from each of the other three houses were represented including, much to her dismay, Meghan Longbottom and a gaggle of her friends. They were grouped with three of the sixth year girls from Gryffindor. And because it was Meghan, her skirt was impossibly short and showed off smooth, toned thigh, her top was low cut giving view to her ample cleavage, and her makeup was flawless. She looked years older than she actually was.
And this was Professor Longbottom’s daughter?
Nerdy Professor Longbottom who wore suspenders under his robes to hold up his pants and thought no one knew. Boring Professor Longbottom who could go on and on about his precious plants but ask him to do a hovering charm, or a locator spell, and he would instantly get flustered and embarrassed.
How had he managed to produce such a social butterfly?
It didn’t seem like Albus was really all that bothered by Meghan’s presence, so Nat decided she would act nonchalant about it, too. She curled up next to Albus on a small sofa next to the fire, tucking her feet up under her, as her friends all talked and laughed around her.
Albus laughed at something someone said, and the sound reverberated through his chest where her head lay. She was glad that he was back to normal, don’t get her wrong; but what she didn’t understand was why.
What had caused the sudden change in his demeanour? One minute he was sullen and cross and not speaking much, and then after New Years he was happy and laughing again, he smiled more often. He touched her stomach without grimacing.
She knew he probably didn’t mean to, and that he didn’t think she noticed, but every time he’d look at or feel her lower abdomen, he would get this uncomfortable expression of terror on his face. And she hated it. She was glad it was gone, really.
She just couldn’t understand the reason for its disappearance.
Determined to let it go, to do like Rose said and let him deal with his inner turmoil in his own way no matter how crazy Nat thought it to be, she decided she would get herself some Pumpkin Juice.
On her way she caught sight of Hugo sitting in the corner in what was becoming his normal sulky way: slumped against the wall, his head down, his arms surrounding his head. Nat bit her lip and looked over to where Meghan was edging her group of friends toward Albus and the other seventh years; then she looked back at Hugo and felt saddened. She nodded firmly, picking up two cups of Pumpkin Juice and headed towards the fifth year. Albus could take care of himself, and she trusted him. She was carrying his children, after all.
She sat down next to Hugo, her skirt swishing around her, reminding her she had yet to change out of her school uniform. Nat elbowed Hugo in the arm. He didn’t respond. So she did it again, and again, until finally his head snapped up in annoyance.
She smiled widely and held up the cup of juice. Hugo eyed it suspiciously for a moment before his gaze slid to hers. She felt like she was looking hopeful, if a bit sheepish, and he reluctantly took the cup.
They sipped in silence for a moment. During this time she had the sudden realization that she couldn’t see Albus from there. Then she reminded herself that it was alright, that she trusted him, that he was fine.
“You want to talk about the ring, don’t you?” she barely made out Hugo’s whisper, but even if she hadn’t heard it, she noticed when he held up his bare left hand.
“Only if you want to,” she told him back, bringing the red plastic cup to her lips and averting her eyes while drinking.
“Not here,” he told her firmly and she looked towards him. He had a frown on his face, and he was looking down, but he looked a bit optimistic which was a start. “Can we go for a walk?”
“Of course we can!” She jumped up, as well as one could in her condition (though she wasn’t showing that much), and offered her hand to Hugo. He took it and she helped him to his feet.
“That’s supposed to go the other way, you know. I’m supposed to help you up.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I just wanted you to know that my mum raised me right,” he refused to meet her gaze.
“I know, Hugo, I have met your mother before. It’s not as if she’d accept anything less.”
She followed him to the portrait hole, catching Rose’s eye from across the Common Room and gesturing with a nod of her head that she was leaving with him. Rose nodded and returned to her conversation with Bryce and Emileigh.
Nat stole a glance to where Albus had been sitting to find him gone from the sofa. She sighed, hoping against hope that he had made a trip to the loo. She didn’t see Meghan or her gaggle of friends and was hoping that she had left for her own Common Room.
The castle was dark and drafty and Hugo led Nat to a small alcove just away from the Fat Lady’s portrait. He leaned back against the wall, a dejected look on his face, a frown tugging at his lips. Nat leaned against the wall, too, crossing her stocking-clad legs and resting the side of her head against the frigid stones.
“Are you going to tell me what happened with Mattie?”
Hugo was silent for a moment, his frown deepening, his eyes cast down at the floor. His usually bright blue eyes were a darker, sullener blue that reminded Nat of the ocean. He turned suddenly, only leaning one shoulder against the wall, mimicking Nat’s stance, but facing her.
“When…when Mattie gave me that ring for Christmas…I just…I don’t know, I felt sort of trapped. I am fifteen years old and here’s this girl – don’t get me wrong she’s awesome…smart, funny beautiful… - but here’s this girl who’s also fifteen who I just practically promised to marry.” Nat nodded slightly, trying to take in everything that Hugo was saying though he was speaking quite fast. She could tell that this was the first time he’d talked about what happened and all of the emotions that he had been feeling for the past week at least were all coming out at that one moment.
“ – promised to stay a virgin. Why would she think I was a virgin to begin with? Am I perceived as that much of a loser that people just assume that I’ve never gotten laid? I know third years that’ve done it. It’s sad, I know,” he stopped to mention because of the look on her face, “and I don’t condone that kind of behaviour. But…I just don’t understand…”
“Hugo,” she said after he finished his tirade and looked down at her. “You are a great guy. You are funny and smart,” Nat felt awkward saying this because she didn’t really know him all that well, “and you don’t seem like the kind of person who would just sleep with a girl just to do it. You’re the kind of guy who waits until he’s in love, and then treats the girl with the respect and dignity that she deserves. You don’t do things on a whim.”
“That’s just it!” he exploded, shocking Nat, who jumped away from the wall and back a step. Hugo, in his outburst, had left the wall and began angry pacing back and forth in the alcove. “How do you know I’m that guy? Just because I don’t openly flirt with girls or make passes at them doesn’t mean that I don’t! It doesn’t mean that I’m a virgin! And when I told Mattie this she called me a hypocrite and a pig, demanded I give her the ring back, and then broke up with me!”
“Hugo,” said Nat tentatively. He stopped pacing and turned to her. They were standing less than a foot apart, but he seemed to fill the whole alcove. He didn’t look like Hugo, Rose’s dorky little brother the Quidditch star; he looked like a man – yes a man – with a mission. She was almost afraid to ask her next question. “Are you a virgin?”
“Yes,” he whispered, and if the music from the party had been a little louder she wouldn’t even have heard him. “But,” he continued, taking a step closer to her. She took a step back effectively trapping herself against the wall. “I don’t want to be one anymore.”
Then, in one quick motion, he closed the distance between them and sealed his lips over hers.
James closed the door behind Healer Shru and leaned his forehead against the cold wood. He had offered to let Healer Shru floo back to the hospital rather than apparating and then having to go through the multiple checkpoints, but she had another stop to make before heading back.
He couldn’t face her, so he was putting it off. He didn’t want to see the tears, the fear, the lost look on her face that comes with finding out you were about to die. He had never been in that situation before, and he wished he weren’t in it right now. Though he wasn’t in love with Jennifer, he sincerely felt for the woman.
She would want to talk and he really wouldn’t know what to say. What was he supposed to do? Keep up the façade that was their marriage until she died and then introduce himself as James Potter, Widower? That wasn’t necessarily fair to Jennifer.
She thought James loved her, and in some sort of weird way he probably did. Not as a wife, but as a friend, a person.
A person who was dying and had no one.
From what she had told him, her parents weren’t very accepting of most of her lifestyle choices throughout her schooling and had pretty much disowned her after she graduated from the Salem Witch Academy. She was an only child; her only friends were her fellow dancers.
And the worst part? She had no money for her medical bills. The prognosis was simple: they could keep her comfortable but the Endometrial Cancer (cancer of the uterus; he had to ask, too) had spread to her kidneys, lower intestines, and colon, and there was nothing else they could do. But still, even the “keeping her comfortable” part would be incredibly expensive.
For James that pretty much settled it. He had taken a vow to take care of her, to love her, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. He refused to lie to her anymore – she deserved at least that – but he would take care of her. Plain and simple.
James turned on his heel, ready to proclaim that very idea, but the kitchen behind him was empty.
Rose stood from the chair she’d been sitting in and walked nonchalantly towards to table that held the drinks. She picked up the bottle of whiskey and poured herself a shots worth into a paper cup. She turned and faced the common room, taking in the party around her.
There were a group of students in the corner crowded in a suspicious looking circle, huddled together. Rose felt the Head Girl in her want to march over there and bust whatever ‘party’ was going on.
Instead, she continued her sweep of the large room in front of her. A group of students were dancing, there were people eating a talking, Scorpius was bent over in laughter with Bryce and Emileigh. Albus was nowhere to be found.
Then she saw him descending the steps to the boys’ dormitories and join Scorpius by the fire. She fixed her gaze on the staircase, waiting. And waiting.
A sudden movement caught her eye and she turned slightly, seeing Nat had come into the common room via the portrait hole, her face bright red. She had a weird look on her face and Rose grew concerned immediately.
“Nat?” she asked as her best friend approached her.
Nat didn’t seem to hear her and continued right on past, up the stairs to their dorm room. She frowned, returning her gaze to the staircase. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her brother enter the common room, his steps slow and careful. His face looked red as well. He moved to walk past her, as if he didn’t see her at all, and she grabbed his wrist to stop him.
“What the hell?” He turned to her, his blue eyes blazing angrily. Rose caught sight of redness around his right eye, the upper and lower lid beginning to become a puffy mass, and her own anger spiked.
“Who the hell did this to you?” She gripped his chin roughly between her thumb and forefinger and tilted his head back and sideways towards the light of the torch near her head.
“Don’t worry about it,” he grumbled, jerking his chin out of her hand and turning to walk away. Unable to just let it go – as per Rose’s personality – she grabbed his arm and pulled him roughly back to her. “What the fuck, Rose?” He spat, catching the attention of students near them.
“I’m Head Girl, Hugo. Tell me who did this to you so I can take points, give detention, something. Students can’t just go around punching each other. It’s not right.”
“Yeah?” he frowned, which was disconcerting to her. “You should see the other guy.”
She recoiled slightly; she was nearly ready to send an owl to her mother. Hermione would never condone fighting and would force Hugo to rat the other guy out. And then, her mother would come down to the school and make sure the proper punishment was given.
“You don’t mean that,” she said in a low voice, aware that a majority of the people in the Common Room were looking their way.
“No?” He fixed her with a look, daring her to respond, and then turned and walked away, back out the portrait hole.
“Hey!” she called after him. “It’s after curfew!”
“So?” he called back just before the portrait slammed shut.
She glared at the hole in the wall he’d just disappeared into, the paper cup crumpling in her fist before falling to the floor. Then, seeming to realize she had captured the attention of forty or so people, she turned and spat, “What are you looking at?” before stomping up the girls’ staircase.
Not only had she not been able to take any house points from anyone, she’d missed the sight she knew she would see but didn’t want to. Meghan had been in the corner giggling with her friends when Hugo left and, for the life of her, Rose could not remember seeing her re-enter the Common Room.
She stomped into the room to find Nat struggling to button the tab on her jeans. The blond let out a frustrated cry and then fell back onto her bed.
“Wow, Nat. From this angle your boobs look huge!” She meant it as a compliment, but the bite in her tone from her anger at Hugo made it sound angry.
Nat sat up and looked towards her friend, and for the first time Rose realized that Nat was crying. Tears streamed down her face, and Rose fought the anger rising in her. Nat had found out; that had to be it. What else would make her cry like that?
“Nat? What’s wrong, sweetie?” Rose asked just in case she hadn’t found out. She would hate to rat out Albus.
“It’s nothing. Just hormones.” Nat brushed her tears away and stood, sliding the jeans back down her legs and tugging on a pair of comfy sweats. Rose raised an eyebrow. Nat would never refer to her hormonal imbalance. She got pissed every time anyone else did!
“Nat?” She fixed Nat with her ‘bossy’ gaze and Nat sighed. She climbed back up onto the bed and cross her legs, resting her elbows on her knees. With her growing belly, soon she wouldn’t be able to sit like that. Rose sat down next to Nat, Rose’s own jean-clad legs dangling off the edge, and turned to look at Nat.
“Well…um…I…er…well…” she refused to meet Rose’s gaze and instantly Rose knew her worst fears had come true.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it, Nat,” Rose insisted before Nat could utter a multi-syllable word.
“You know?” Nat’s voice went up an octave from her usual pitch. Rose was surprised that Nat wasn’t bawling her eyes out at that moment in time. If Scorpius was cheating on her, Rose knew she would be throwing a bitch fit.
“He told you?” Nat couldn’t believe that Hugo would have blurted it out like that. Not after she’d decked him good and threatened him with an immense amount of pain if he told anyone. Now she’d have to hurt him.
“Not exactly…I kind of…witnessed it.” Rose bit her lip and looked away, ashamed. Now she would have to admit to Nat that she had known for two weeks and not told her. Nat would hate her just as much as she hated Albus at this point.
“You were there? But you were here!”
“What? I was in London for Christmas, you know that! Wait! What are you talking about?” Confusion etched Rose’s face. This was getting weird.
Just as Nat was about to speak, the door opened and Lily burst in, a wide smile on her face. The apples of her cheeks were tinted pink, her red hair in crinkly curls cascading down her back. Her shirt was crooked and, if either of the older girls had been paying attention they would have noticed a large love bite on the side of her neck.
“What are you guys talking about? I have something to tell you. I’ve been dying to tell you but I couldn’t tell you but now I can tell you and I want to tell you so bad. Can I tell you? Can I? Can I? Can I?”
“Lily!” Rose cried suddenly, breaking Lily from her speed-talking rant. “We were kind of in the middle of something here.”
“Sorry,” Lily’s eyes widened at the dried tears on Nat’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“I kissed Hugo!” Nat cried suddenly, and then covered her mouth with both hands. Her eyes were round and becoming misty.
“You what?” Lily and Rose simultaneously yelled. Rose jumped off the bed and rounded on Nat.
“You kissed my brother? Why in the hell would you do that?”
“You cheated on my brother!” Lily’s face was increasingly becoming a bright shade of angry red.
“I didn’t! H-he kissed me! I didn’t kiss him, that’s not what I meant! Hugo kissed me! We were just talking about Mattie and he…he leaned in…he was talking all crazy…” Nat’s breathing increased, and she felt light headed for a second. She moved to the edge of the bed and sat, trying to get oxygen into her lungs.
Rose, noticing her best friend’s distress, quickly leaned over and pushed the blonde’s head between her legs. “Slowly, through your nose, sweetie.”
Rose and Lily sat and watched while Nat took deep breaths into her lungs. As soon as her breathing was regular again, Rose let go of the back of her neck and Nat sat up straight, her hands on her knees.
“I have to tell Albus,” Nat said suddenly, turning to look at her best friend and boyfriend’s little sister. “I mean, I…he kissed me and I…I just…”
“Nat,” said Rose, hoping to calm her friend before she became too excited, “you absolutely cannot tell Albus.”
“What?” Lily gasped from her spot at the end of the bed, hip cocked, arms crossed. Rose was reminded of her Aunt Ginny when looking at Lily. Lily’s face was still blotchy and red from anger, causing her freckles to stand out.
“She can’t tell Al!” Rose reiterated for her cousin.
“And just why the hell not?”
“Is that a hickey?”
Lily spluttered for a second before, “That’s not the point right now!”
“She can’t tell Al because you know what he would do to Hugo. She doesn’t want to cause a rift between family members, right?” Rose realized that this could potentially work out well for her. “It was only a kiss. And she punched Hugo out, I’m guessing?”
“How’d you know that? How do you know everything?” Nat’s eyebrows rose.
“My keen sixth sense,” Rose replied smoothly. “Point is you can’t tell Al.”
“I don’t feel comfortable keeping this from him. I mean, I cheated…”
“No you didn’t! It was just a kiss!” Rose insisted. Both Nat and Lily looked sceptical still, but then Rose changed the subject. “What did you want to tell us, Lils?”
Lily’s eyes lit up, and she jumped up and down quickly, clapping her hands. “I had sex!”
“With who?” Rose and Nat shouted at the same time.
“Longbottom?” Again, in unison.
“Duh,” Lily answered. “How many ‘Arnie’s do you know in this school?”
“So, wait, you had sex, sex, with Arnold Longbottom? I didn’t know the bloke had it in him!” Lily slid onto Nat’s bed near the two and Rose pointed to the hickey. “I definitely didn’t know he had that in him.”
“How’d it happen?” Nat wondered aloud. “I didn’t even know you guys were dating!”
“We wanted to keep it a secret from my brothers,” Lily explained. “Albus would probably have a problem with it, seeing as Arnie’s his roommate and all.”
“Not to mention a close family friend,” Rose reminded her.
“Right,” Lily agreed.
“So you had sex with Arnie Longbottom?” Nat asked and she and Rose commenced staring at Lily.
“Well,” Lily sighed, looking away for a second. “It was sex. Not, like, sex sex, though.”
“Oh. So…” Rose made a nodding movement with her head.
“Yeah,” Lily seemed to get her meaning and answered.
“You or him?” Nat wondered.
“Me to him.” Then she paused, a smile crossing her face. “Then him to me.”
Rose sighed as the other two girls continued to giggle over Lily’s experience. She couldn’t help but think of what a close call she had just had with Nat. Rose had almost told her. That could’ve been disastrous. But it needed to be said. Nat didn’t deserve to have such guilt over a little kiss from Hugo she didn’t even want when Albus was going around snogging Meghan Longbottom whenever he wanted.
Rose looked over to Nat. She was smiling at the moment. But Rose knew her. The guilt would start eating away at her and eventually she would tell Albus. Rose needed to make sure that Nat had full disclosure before that point came.
Now she just had to figure out how to tell her.
A/N: edited for content 12/16/08
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