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To the lovely Bertle, whose unflagging support has been such a comfort. You inspire me.








                             

The World’s a Stage


The Show Must Go On – Queen

‘You don’t need strength to let go of something. 
What you really need is understanding.’
 
Guy Finley


 

 






It was Friday night before the Hogsmeade weekend and the Gryffindor common room was full of people engaged in their normal, end-of-the-week pursuits. There was a rather raucous game of exploding snap going on by the windows, an intense Wizard Chess tournament between a sixth year and a particularly talented fourth year by the fireplace, and a smattering of nervous looking first and second years trying to make a start on their homework.

Sam and Owen were sitting in the plushest, cushiest chairs by the fire, idly watching the fourth year beat the tar out of the sweating sixth year.

Every now and then Owen would raise a single brow and glance around the room, at which point the noise level would diminish somewhat. But it was warm by the fire and he was a bit drowsy, and besides, it was a Hogsmeade weekend, so his eyebrow raising was pretty light.

A loud clumping came from the stairs to the boys’ dormitories and a couple of people turned absentmindedly to look. Most of them lost interest when they saw it was just Terry and Josh and returned to whatever they were doing.

The two boys made a beeline for the cushy seats by the fire.

‘Owen, you got a minute?’ Josh asked, his tone exasperated.

Owen stretched lazily in his chair, unwilling to leave the warmth of the fireside.

‘Depends what for.’

Terry crossed his arms over his chest, his expression the same as Josh’s voice.

‘James is rummaging round the room pulling stuff out everywhere. We think he’s looking for something, but we couldn’t get him to speak clear enough to understand.’

‘He just mumbled something,’ Josh added, ‘sounded like miffleloopytask, but we couldn’t be sure.’

The fair-haired boy frowned, his forehead creasing as he processed this.

‘And you’ve come to me…why?’

The other two looked at each other, momentarily at a loss. Josh shrugged.

‘Well…you usually handle him…’

But Owen was shaking his head.

‘Unless it has something to do with human interaction or rational decision making, it’s not my problem. Besides,’ he went on, ‘have you thought about asking the one person who speaks fluent James?’

He gestured to Sam, who had been watching the conversation with a degree of detachment. Now he sighed, stood, and made his way to the stairs.

‘Any of you prats steal my chair, you’re done for.’

As soon as he’d rounded the corner, Terry plopped himself down in the vacant seat. Josh turned to the nearest chair and gave its occupant, a tiny third year, a pointed look.

The boy got the message and slunk out of the armchair. Josh then dragged it closer and joined his friends.

‘So, what’s new?’ Terry asked brightly.

Owen sighed.

‘Nothing, other than I was having a perfectly decent evening until you two clowns showed up.’

‘Hey, don’t lump me with him,’ Josh protested indignantly, ‘it’s not my fault he’s a prat.’

‘You’re all gits, the lot of you, now would you kindly shut up?’

Rose was glaring at them from a few seats over. Owen sighed and sunk deeper into his chair, but Terry laughed and reached out to snag one of her books.

‘Charms? Honestly, Rosy-Posy, its Friday night. Haven’t you ever heard of a break? And anyway, why study in here? That’s why we have a library, so you can study in there with all the other boffins.’

She snatched the book back out of his hands and placed it back on the table.

‘Never you mind why I’m in here,’ she retorted caustically, turning back to her work.

Terry wasn’t about to let her get away with the last word, even if she were evidently in a foul mood. Owen was about to warn him and changed his mind. If he wasn’t smart enough to leave her be, it was his own fault.

He really did hate constantly having to make excuses to Madame Pomfrey about why Terry had suddenly sprouted a trunk or tentacles, though.

Luckily for all involved, Terry was saved from certain hexing by Sam’s return.

‘Oi, git, sod off,’ he ordered Terry, who moved not a muscle.

‘What did James want?’ Josh inquired curiously, ‘Could you actually understand him?’

‘Course I could,’ was the weary reply, ‘he wants to know where the, you know…is. Say’s it’s not in its place.’

He made a vague gesture around his face that looked a bit like he couldn’t find the word he wanted. The others, however, caught on to what it really meant almost instantly.

Terry let out a groan.

‘That’s my fault. I took it to do a kitchen run. Must have forgotten to put it back. Bet it’s still under my bed.’

The other three looked scandalised.

‘A kitchen run?’ Josh asked, a note of disbelief in his voice, ‘Terry, how could you?’

‘It’s only supposed to be used for special occasions,’ Owen added, shaking his head in disgust, ‘special, dangerous occasions. Not for stuff as mundane as kitchen runs!’

‘Well, I just, you know,’ Terry was squirming a little under the hard stares that were being levelled at him, ‘I use it to, you know, kinda get into character…’

His voice trailed off as he realised that he’d somehow made a big blunder.

Sam was looking at him through narrowed eyes, arms folded, heavy scowl in place.

‘Terry,’ he began, but was interrupted by a clear and slightly amused voice.

‘Do I even want to know what you’re talking about?’

Taking a deep breath to regain himself, Sam studiously ignored Rose and addressed his friend again.

‘You’re going straight up there this minute to tell him where it is, and then you’re going to swear never to use it for kitchen runs ever again.’

‘I’m thinking we don’t let him use it full stop,’ Josh put in, his gaze steely, ‘any of it.’

Terry almost fell over himself to get out of the chair.

‘I’m going, I’m going, and I promise, I swear and all that. Don’t cut me out, please,’ he begged running for the stairs.

Sam sank into his now vacant chair and they all watched Terry go, sitting for a few moments in silence.

After an appropriate period of time, Josh scoffed and leaned back in his chair.

‘Kitchen run.’

‘Are you going to–’

‘No, Rose, we’re not going to explain, so just go back to your books, okay?’ Sam replied unenthusiastically, slumping down in the cushions.

Rose humphed and turned her back on them, and they had a few minutes of blessed peace, if it could really be called peace amongst the noise from the Exploding Snap. Closer to them, the fourth year had just won the game of chess and was celebrating loudly with his friends while the sixth years looked on in disgust.

All too soon, their relative peace was broken, this time by the arrival of Fred Weasley climbing in through the portrait hole.

‘Why so glum, Fred?’ Sam asked casually, looking for a change of topic if nothing else.

Fred dropped down into a chair nearby and put his head in his hands.

‘I just asked Renee Martin to Hogsmeade this weekend.’

‘Oh…I take the reply wasn’t in the affirmative, then?’

‘If by that you mean I literally got my pride handed to me on a plate, then, yes.’

He sat up straighter and sighed, looking disgustedly into midair.

‘I don’t get birds, I mean, seriously.’

‘The term is either ‘women’, ‘girls’ or ‘females’, Fred,’ Rose said warningly from her seat.

He shrugged off her words.

‘Whatever. What’s got your knickers in a twist? You’re always a wet blanket, but you’ve been a moody cow for days now.’

‘What exactly did she say?’ Josh cut in, before a fight could eventuate.

‘Not much, which was the problem really. I asked her, and she just stood there with that Sylvia bir-girl,’ he corrected, catching Rose’s eye, ‘giggling away like a pair of loonies. And then, after I’d finished, she looked me up and down with this kind of…sneer on her face. Like I smelled bad. I swear,’ he continued, falling back in his seat, ‘it was well bollocks.’

‘Ah, poor little Weasley,’ Sam said, patting him on the shoulder in a comforting way, ‘you’ll get there one day. Trust me. It’s all about experience and confidence.’

Rose snorted, but Fred sat bolt upright, a look of pure astonishment on his face.

‘You mean there’s a trick? There’s a way to get girls to go for you?’

‘Of course there is,’ Sam continued grandly, ignoring Rose, who had graduated to eye-rolling and loud ‘humph’s, ‘it’s easy once you know how. Watch a master at work.’

He stood up, casually scanning the room and its occupants, before finally settling on one corner, where a dark brown head was bent over a book.

‘Oi! Jaya!’ he called across the room.

There was a slight pause in the conversations, which resumed as soon as Sam sent a speculative look around at everyone. Nevertheless, every person in the Gryffindor common room was listening closely to whatever he had to say.

‘Hmm?’ Jaya answered vaguely, looking up from her book. When she saw who it was, a long-suffering smile spread across her face. Beside her, Margie grinned widely and shook her head.

‘What do you want, Jordan?’

‘I was wondering if you’d care to accompany me to Hogsmeade this weekend?’

As he spoke, Sam crossed the room with easy, graceful strides until he stood before her table. Pulling out his wand, he conjured a single yellow rose out of thin air and presented it to the bemused looking Jaya.

Margie had started to laugh, trying valiantly to hide it behind her hand, but she wasn’t having a great deal of success.

Jaya, meanwhile, looked a little stunned. Quite clearly, this was not what she’d been expecting. She stared at the rose for a moment, then took a tentative sniff.

When nothing bad happened, she inhaled deeply of the sweet fragrance and smiled, her eyes lighting up a little.

‘Alright,’ she agreed at last, ‘why not?’

‘So, see you tomorrow then? Entrance Hall?’

‘Tomorrow it is.’

Sam swept her a rather elegant bow and shot a look around the room. Everyone hurriedly returned to whatever they’d been doing, and he sauntered back across the floor to his friends.

‘And that,’ he concluded as he sank into his chair again under the awe-filled gaze of Fred and the surprise of his friends, ‘is how it’s done.’

And not even Rose had the mind to laugh at him.

 

 











Not everyone was as excited about the weekend as Sam. James, for one, was viewing it more as a necessary evil than anything else. At least, he had, until Owen had helped him come up with one of the most brilliant plans in the history of plan making.

They’d never got around to telling the others, which was probably a good thing, since Terry didn’t seem to be in the best mood lately and Sam was more than just a little preoccupied with his prospective date.

But the two of them were more than fantastic enough to get a good plan together. Now all that needed to be done was the implementation of said plan.

James rose bright and early, dressed carefully, accompanied Owen and the others down for breakfast, never once looking at the Slytherin table or the gap where a certain Gryffindor usually sat.

After breakfast, he returned to his room briefly to grab his sneaking kit, then hurried down to the Entrance Hall, where Prattle was marking the roll under Filch’s watchful, if slightly blind, eye.

He’d been so good all morning, keeping his mind on the task at hand and not on other things, that it came as a bit of a shock to him the first time he saw his marks up close.

He’d happened to get into line behind Anastacia and Scorpius without noticing it, and he did a quick double take as he realised who was in front of him.

‘Morning, Stac.’

He really shouldn’t have spoken to her, after all, if they hadn’t noticed him now, it was a good chance they wouldn’t later. But years of habitual greetings were hard to break, and the words were out before he could shut his mouth around them.

She turned slightly, such a small, quick movement that he knew it had to be instinctual, just like his greeting. However, she didn’t complete the movement, turning back to face the front of the line before he’d got a look at her face.

That hurt more than a bit, and he frowned.

‘Morning, Stac,’ he repeated, a bit louder this time. This time she gave no indication of having heard.

‘Hey, you gone deaf or something?’ he asked louder, reaching out a hand to pull her around to face him.

Before he had even touched her, Scorpius moved in front of him, blocking off his view.

‘She doesn’t want to talk to you.’

‘Oh yeah?’

The calm look on the younger boy’s face only served to make him angrier.

‘Who says you get to decide who she does and doesn’t want to talk to, huh, sixth year?’

The boy’s face didn’t change. He was a year younger, but he was nearly as tall as James, though not nearly as muscular. His was a Seeker’s build – tall and wiry. James was a typical chaser, with a build that would have been called stocky on a shorter man.

‘Do you have some sort of problem with my age?’ was the level query.

James started to reply that yes, he did indeed have a problem with the guy’s age, but he stopped, remembering Stac’s words in the corridor.

‘He’s my age! I’m a year younger than the rest of you, remember?’

Well, why the hell was she in their year, then? Why wasn’t she with Rose and Albus? Maybe if she had been, none of this would have happened.

‘Is there anything else you’d like to add, Potter?’

There was a queer look in his eyes, something James didn’t really recognise. Was it…pity? No, it couldn’t be…and yet it certainly seemed to be.

James shook his head, willing the weird thoughts away.

‘Yeah, I’ve got something to say,’ he began, his voice growing louder. A few people around them turned to look, anticipation lighting up their faces as they saw the two boys facing off.

‘You’re a rubbish Quidditch player, for starters. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you sucking up to my team. If you think you’re going to bring us down from the inside by getting closer to Rose and Al, you’ve got another think coming.’

‘Albus isn’t even on your Quidditch team,’ Scorpius pointed out evenly.

James ignored him.

‘And for another thing, just because you’re going out with someone doesn’t mean you can control them. I’m allowed to talk to whoever I want, and so is Stac. Her dating you doesn’t change that.’

‘On the contrary,’ Scorpius mused coolly, ‘I think it changes a lot of things.’

James couldn’t help it. The smug smile on his pale face was all at odds with the pity plain in his grey eyes. He hated the way that made him feel – like he was a poor little child whining about nothing in particular.

He reached out and shoved the younger boy, hard. Scorpius staggered backwards a few steps and nearly fell. Some of the Slytherins nearby tried to steady him, but he waved them off, turning back to face James.

I have nothing to do with it. She just doesn’t want to talk to you.’

James gave a low growl and threw off Sam’s restraining arm, ignoring his friend’s admonitions. Walking forward, he reached again for his opponent.

‘Mr Potter! This kind of behaviour may be acceptable in Gryffindor Tower or on the Quidditch field, but is it too much to ask for some display of maturity whilst in public?’

Oh, bollocks, James thought, but he turned and smiled tightly at the dark haired woman who was glaring at him from across the Entrance Hall. Professor Ramira may be small and sweet looking, but he knew from experience that she was anything but. As she strode over to him, James felt all his anger leave him, replaced with a familiar feeling.

The one he got when he knew he was in trouble.

‘Sorry, Professor, just a small difference of opinion. Nothing major.’

Professor Ramira pursed her lips and glared up at him. In other circumstances, James would have laughed at the comedy in such a situation. The Professor’s head barely came up to his chest, but that didn’t stop her from reaching up to poke him in the chest, hard.

‘Be that as it may, Mr Potter, in future, I would advise you to refrain from resolving differences of opinion in the Entrance Hall. And for that matter, may I ask what it is exactly that is causing your pockets to be so…distorted?’

James winced, trying to wrack his brain for excuse. Nothing came immediately to mind, which was odd and slightly unsettling for him.

‘Well, Mr Potter? I’m waiting.’

She was even tapping her foot, arms crossed over her chest.

What the hell was he supposed to say? He couldn’t very well go telling her that his entire sneaking kit, consisting of cloak, map and self-designed mask, was stuffed into pocket of his jeans.

‘Sorry, Professor, but we really have to go. We’re supposed to be meeting his Uncle at the store in a few minutes.’

Sam to the rescue. James nodded and tried to look like this idea wasn’t completely new to him.

The Professor stared at him for a minute longer before raising her eyebrows and reluctantly letting them off the hook.

‘You may go. But in future, try to show a little more decorum, if only for the sake of the younger students.’

James and Sam garbled their responses and turned to leave. In the interminable minutes since the Professor had caught up with them, Stac and Scorpius had managed to slip off somewhere.

So they hurried down the road to meet the other boys, who were waiting for them just outside the castle grounds.

‘What took you so long?’ Terry demanded, stamping his feet and rubbing his hands together. The day was overcast and windy, threatening rain. There was a light cover of frost on the ground, heralding the rapid approach of winter.

‘Ramira,’ Sam muttered with a cynical twist of his mouth.

There was a chorus of ‘oh’s, and a few curious looks in James’ direction, but nothing more was said on that topic.

‘So when are you meeting Jaya?’ Owen asked without real curiosity, more to change the subject than anything else.

‘Lunchtime, Three Broomsticks. She said she needed to get some shopping done first.’

‘Did she mention who she was going with?’

Terry’s voice was light and uninterested.

The others weren’t fooled for a second.

‘Yes, Terry, I’m pretty sure Margie will be there.’

Josh smirked.

‘Why don’t you just hurry up and ask her out already? You know you want to.’

He shoved Terry, who shoved back and then pushed him into a puddle for good measure.

‘I do not want to ask her out!’

‘Whatever,’ Sam scoffed, ‘you’ve liked her since…like, forever.’

‘James stared at his friend in mock horror.

‘You just used the word like in a sentence…as a linking word. Who are you?’

‘Prat,’ Sam did some shoving of his own, but Terry was ignoring them all in light of his own dilemma.

I do not like her! Honestly, can’t you guys just leave well enough alone?’

‘Poor Well Enough,’ Owen mused thoughtfully, ‘he really gets a bad time of it, doesn’t he?’

By the time Terry had calmed down sufficiently to get his head around this statement, they’d reached the town, along with the majority of the other students.

Hogsmeade was definitely not being shown in its best light on this particular day. In fact, there was barely any light for it to be shown. It had became increasingly gloomy since they’d left the castle, and the little shops and houses seemed especially dingy, as if someone had splashed everything with dirty water.

The only welcoming thing in the entire village was the squares of bright, golden light pouring out the doors and spilling from the windows of the assorted stores and pubs.

The boys paused at the top end of the high street, looking down the road with varying levels of enthusiasm.

‘Well, look on the bright side,’ Josh began in a cheery voice.

He never got any more than that out, though, because the moment he paused for breath, the skies opened and it quite literally began bucketing down.

James sighed heavily and trudged up the street, ignoring the other wizards and witches scurrying around with huge umbrellas and raincoats. Some had worked enchantments to keep the rain off, both effective and not so effective. One man had his wand pointed at the air above his head and was muttering under his breath as he strode along. It didn’t seem to be working as the rain was pouring down relentlessly on him just as it was on everyone, but you had to give him marks for trying.

As for the boys, they didn’t even bother with spells or anything of that ilk. Terry whined quietly for a couple of seconds about his hair getting wet, but they were soaked through soon after that so there was no sense in complaining.

Pausing at the entrance to the joke store, James waited until there were relatively few people around and pulled out his sneaking kit.

‘Well, I’ll be off then,’ he announced casually.

Sam frowned.

‘Yeah, I was wondering what you brought that stuff for. Don’t tell me you’re planning to run off and terrorise one of the boys currently making eyes at your little sister?’

James scoffed.

‘Please. As if I’d waste the…you know, on something so trivial. Lily knows how to protect both herself and the sterling Potter name.’

He beamed a look of superiority around the group.

‘That and it’s Albus’ week to babysit,’ Owen added mildly and James nodded.

‘Precisely. No, my friends,’ he continued, tapping the map surreptitiously with his wand, ‘I have something rather more important in mind.’

‘Whatever,’ Terry interjected boredly, ‘I’m going in. It’s too cold to stand out here listening to you gloat about wearing the stupid mask.’

He stomped inside, ignoring the scandalised looks his friends were shooting his way.

‘Do you think anyone heard?’ Sam asked urgently.

Josh swivelled on the spot, scanning the vicinity.

‘I think we’re okay. He’s just sour about last night, that’s all, it must be.’

‘It’d better be,’ Sam retorted, and Josh held up his hands in a placating manner.

‘I’ll talk to him, I will, I’ll bring him round.’

He hurried inside. James watched him leave with a pained expression.

‘Now may I get back to my gloating?’ he asked peevishly.

The others nodded and tried to take deep breathes to calm themselves.

‘Well, anyway, you know how Stac and the Slithering-Git are on a date?’

More nods.

‘So, I’m going to follow them and wait for him to stuff up. When he does, and he will, I know it, I’ll be there to sweep her off to…wherever. It’s not important,’ he finished, waving away the details.

Sam didn’t really know what to make of all this plotting.

‘You’re following them? Under the cloak? With the,’ he looked around, saw no one, and whispered, ‘mask?

‘Don’t give me that look,’ James answered indignantly, ‘it was Owen’s idea.’

Resolving to ignore them both, he swung the cloak over his head and, under its secure protection, tied the mask to his face. Checking the map for a second time, he set off through the rain for Dervish & Banges.

Sam and Owen stood in the doorway of Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes watching as James’ unseen feet splashed through puddles and trampled dints in the ground. They continued down the alleyway, around the corner and disappeared.

‘You told him to stalk them?’ Sam asked incredulously, in disbelief that his usually level-headed friend would do something so out of character.

Owen shrugged, unconcerned.

‘It was that or have him follow us around all day like a little lost puppy, whining and moaning.’

The both stood watching the rain fall, while around them students hurried through the doors, seeking the warmth and dryness within.

‘Great plan, mate,’ Sam commended, nodding seriously, ‘you’re well intelligent, you know?’

‘Thanks,’ Owen replied modestly, ‘I try. Might I suggest we join the others before we freeze and or drown?’

Giving no further thought to their friend’s plight, they slipped through the doorway and left him behind.

 







For a date that was not really a date, it was going surprisingly well. Anastacia and Scorpius had started out at Dervish & Banges, headed over to Scrivenshafts so that she could stock up on her favourite colour of ink, and then browsed through Honeydukes for an extended period of time.

While she knew the real reason for the rather public debut of their relationship and was always aware of the eyes watching her from sundry spots, it was all too easy to forget about it, at least for a little bit.

Scorpius made her smile, he made her laugh. Whenever she was with him, he went out of his way to make her happy. True, she may not love him in the same way that she loved James, but she did love him nonetheless.

As they’d expected, there had been a small deal of opposition when Scorpius had first made his intentions known. Creeten in particular was not happy with the arrangement, although whether it was because he effectively lost a guard or for other reasons, who could tell?

The strongest thing in their favour, just as Rose had known it would be, was actually Stac’s father himself. When he’d sent Trelain to preach about Anastacia’s staying away from boys, he’d been warning her off a particular type of boy – one who was not a member of their circle, highly-born or from a powerful family.

Scorpius was none of these. Stac’s latest letter from her father, while stressing that he didn’t think it was suitable as a long-term attachment, nonetheless gave her permission to continue the relationship in the short term.

In fact, the letter encouraged her to take advantage of the relationship. Once again, this was just as Rose had theorised. The Malfoys interacted with her family on a regular basis, yet they weren’t members of the inner circle that surrounded her father. It wasn’t because he didn’t want them there; he did.

But every time he extended a subtle invitation to Scorpius’ father, Draco Malfoy turned it down. So the fact that Anastacia and Scorpius were dating was seen by her father as simply another tool to be put to use.

Actually, all things considered, it was the perfect arrangement, even not counting the motive that lay behind. Of course, when you did count that motive…

Scorpius nudged her gently and narrowed his eyes teasingly when she met his gaze.

‘You’re frowning,’ he murmured low enough that the people around them couldn’t hear, ‘date not going so well?’

Pasting a bright smile on her face, she shook her head and attended once more to their surroundings.

She wasn’t going to think about that, not about this morning, or the past few days or any of it. Today was a time that she could forget about it all and just enjoy someone else’s company for a few hours. She’d promised herself that much.

They rounded the corner, heading for the Three Broomsticks, when Anastacia nearly ran into the person in front of her.

‘Excuse me, sorry, I didn’t–’ she broke off mid sentence as the person turned around, ‘oh. It’s you.’

Marcus had stopped suddenly in the middle of the path, with his usual disregard for other people, to exclaim something to the girl alongside him.

When Anastacia peered over his shoulder to see who it was, she nearly groaned.

Sylvia Blackthorn. Perfect. Just perfect.

‘Perhaps you should look around you before stopping suddenly, Antoniou,’ Scorpius cautioned quietly.

Marcus did a quick scan of their surroundings. He wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he wasn’t the dimmest either. James Potter wasn’t the only one who’d figured out that Anastacia had a group of followers. Nor was he the only one to have guessed what those followers would do if crossed.

But, finding no witnesses of that kind, he turned back to the other couple with a smug smile on his face.

‘Why, Stacey, what a pleasant surprise! And might I add, you’re looking particularly ravishing this morning?’

He leered at her, emphasising the adjective in a way that gave it a whole different meaning, and Anastacia felt a chill slide down her spine. Marcus was harmless, she knew, but she still didn’t like the way he was looking at her.

‘Save it, Marcus,’ was all she said, not letting him see the way his words had affected her, ‘I’m not interested, as per usual.’

‘Oh, don’t listen to her, Marcus,’ Sylvia simpered. Simpered? Anastacia had only ever read that term in books before. She’d had no idea that it was an actual expression.

Apparently so.

I’ll listen to you all day. Don’t waste your lovely compliments on her.’

Dear Merlin. The girl spoke in italics.

‘Compliments?’ Anastacia asked archly, more to get a rise out of Sylvia than anything else.

She knew it was juvenile, but she couldn’t suppress the pleasure that flowed through her when the younger girl scowled at her.

Marcus, on the other hand, was completely oblivious to the subtext in the girls’ conversation, focused, as always, on himself.

‘I was sharing some of my favourite Italian phrases with the lovely Sylvia here,’ he explained, addressing not only Anastacia but the gathering crowd around them, ‘can I help it if most of them are compliments to beautiful ladies?’

More than one girl gave him a sideways glance that spoke volumes and some silly little Ravenclaw even fluttered her eyelashes at him (and was instantly debilitated by Sylvia’s basilisk-like gaze).

‘Oh really?’ Anastacia continued drily, ‘Such as?’

This should be fun, she thought. She’d always known that Marcus spoke Italian; her guards had picked it up before the end of her first week at school. It was rudimentary, to say the least, but he would probably have been able to understand some of what they said.

Not that it mattered. French and German were the languages of choice among her retinue, Italian being used only in extenuating circumstances. They just made a point never to use it around him.

Marcus, completely unaware of the inner monologue running through her mind, had turned back to Sylvia. He cradled her cheek in one hand, his whole posture set to display him to the best advantage.

Someone in the crowd sighed. Anastacia caught Scorpius’ eye and fought the urge to laugh.

‘My dear, sweet Sylvia, mia bella stella.’

The giggle impulse was even worse now. Beautiful star? That was his wonderful compliment? It was nice, sure, but lots of people must know those words. They were used fairly commonly to supplement English nowadays, after all.

From the looks of the faces in the crowd, a good number of them were disappointed as well. Marcus noticed this, and he grimaced for a split second before regaining his normal, smiling visage and turning back to Anastacia.

‘Ah, Stacey, my dear, you fluster me, mia piccola maiala ridicolo.’

His pronunciation was bad enough that for a moment, Anastacia was unsure if she’d heard aright. He’d deliberately twisted the vowels in the last word so that the other students around him wouldn’t catch its nearness to the English word, but it wasn’t enough for Anastacia.

As her brain confirmed that, yes, he’d said what she thought he’d said, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and she felt her lips draw back in a snarl.

Che cosa?’ she hissed furiously, straining against Scorpius’ arm, which was suddenly around her waist, holding her back.

One quick glance at his face showed real concern. He didn’t understand the words, but he knew her well enough to read her tone, knew the amount it took for her to snap in public.

Scorpius was worried.

Anastacia didn’t care. She was way past caring. All she could see or even think about was Marcus’ stunned face staring at her in the centre of her tunnel vision. The rest of the crowd may as well not even be there.

Che cosa ha detto?’ she demanded, not really expecting an answer.

They both knew what he’d said. She just wanted to see if he was man enough to admit it.

‘You…you speak Italian?’ Marcus managed to stutter.

This was rapidly becoming one of the worst moments of his life. If she’d understood what he’d just said…

Scorpius was now concerned enough to juggle his hold on Anastacia and press a finger to one of her wrists. She saw the movement out of the corner of her eye, felt his touch and knew that she had about ten seconds before the rest of her Guard showed up, ready for action.

Eh, cafone! Vaffanculo!’ she yelled at Marcus scornfully.

His eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed as he took in the insults she’d just hurled at him.

‘You little–’

He lunged at her, hands going for her neck. As usual, he’d forgotten about anyone not connected with himself and his current course of action, and so had completely disregarded Scorpius’ presence.

Scorpius let go of Anastacia’s waist, stepping in front of her so that she was shielded by his shoulders. He took the full brunt of Marcus’ attack, grunting as the hands that had been aimed at her collided with his chest, which was at the level of her throat. While he didn’t attempt to retaliate or harm Marcus, he was certainly not letting him get anywhere near the girl behind him either.

Marcus staggered backwards, dazed, shook his head and went to try again.

Unfortunately for him, it was at that moment that the rest of her Guard arrived. They, unlike him, were well-trained and totally focused on the safety of their charge and so made short work of the situation.

Creeten and Iago grabbed Marcus by the arms and hauled him against the wall. The Farlow twins worked to disperse the people who had gathered to watch.

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t have been able to get Hogwarts students out of that alleyway for love or money. After all, it wasn’t everyday that they got to see their Head Boy and Girl going at it like a pair of prize-fighters. Add in the prospect of a skirmish between the pretty-boy Ravenclaw and the burly Slytherins and giant spiders couldn’t have pulled them away.

But the young boys’ calm voices and level explanations seemed to do the impossible, and the crowd that had gathered began to disperse just as quickly as it had gathered. Perhaps it was the company they now kept that gave their words such weight. On any normal day, people would have simply laughed at them and stuck around to gawk.

Scorpius returned to Anastacia’s side to check if she was alright, brushing her cheek with the back of one hand as he examined her face.

‘I’m fine, I’m fine, stop fussing.’

But she was clearly shaken, and she clung to him just a little. He understood and said no more, but simply slid his arm around her again and let her cling.

 






And from the other end of the alleyway, under the cover of his cloak, James watched the whole thing.

He watched as the Slytherins roughed Marcus up a bit and then, after Stac said something to them and shot the Head Boy a cutting glance, let him leave.

He watched as the group held a heated conference in some foreign language that vaguely reminded him of his Aunt Fleur.

He watched as they evidently came to some conclusion and started off down the alleyway in the opposite direction to him.

But most of all, he watched as Stac’s small hand remained in Scorpius’ larger one the entire time. He saw the pale boy slide his arm around her waist and hold her tight, and he saw that she clutched him just as tightly, hiding beneath his arm as if she felt safe there.

And he made a very hard decision. 












And that decision is...? Any ideas? Anyone think they know what's going on? Anyone confused? Let me know! Good reviewers are beloved for all time!
Ta!


 

 

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