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And a Little Bit of Conversation

Neville watched from a little ways off, pretending that he was collecting samples of alihotsy (he wouldn't be needing any if Hugo winked at him just one more time). He was sitting cross-legged on the soft, semi-frozen soil, prodding the plant aimlessly with his wand as he peered through its leaves at the silouettes of two teenage boys.

Scorpius's hair glinted like silver in the faint moonlight, contrasted by Hugo's mop which absorbed everything that came its way. Neville pondered as he often had before that Hugo was rather like a Muggle hoover; not only because of his inherited propensity to eat more than a small whale, but because although Hugo seemed to have no on-purpose control over the world around him, wherever he went he left a trail. It wasn't always the most pleasant thing to come across, especially when it consisted of little beads of wetness (Neville scrunched his nose, cringing. It's just Mrs. Norris, it's just Mrs. Norris—when will she kick the bucket, old devil?).

But Neville could always tell when Hugo had been the center of the day's activities. It wasn't unusual to stumble into the teacher's lounge, grimy and tired, and having seated himself on a pouf close to the fire, overhear a conversation that sounded more like a horror story in whose plot the main character's name was Hugo Weasley and he liked to blow up things in class. In fact, Neville wouldn't be completely surprised after tonight's turn of events to find out that Hugo played dumb only to get away with exploding things—non-flammable things—in class.

In fact, I think you're one of the ones who got gulped up by flames from that Bubotuber, Neville thought. You probably set it on fire just to get some of that orange "face paint" ointment on your cheek…or to torture me by making me paint it on like a Native American.

He watched from his clandestine perch as Hugo and Scorpius consulted the map; Neville let out a small laugh when he saw Scorpius grab it and spin it around, as Hugo had been holding it upside down. It wouldn't hurt Hugo to gain a sense of direction; after all, Neville had been rather the bumbling ninny at one point as well, but he cleaned himself up after the Great War and practiced surviving on his own. If Neville thought right, Hugo would come to realise, being away from the castle for a long enough time, that he had to become a real person; if not a member of society, then at least an individual capable of paving his way in the world in a manner that was not wreaking havoc and leaving a trail of destruction behind him.

Neville became distracted by a faint yellow glow coming through the trees on his left. He thought it odd that he hadn't noticed it before. He squinted at it, trying to recognize its eerie way of moving, racking his brain for a shred of information. He found he came up short, and decided that a position of perched on his feet would best suit the situation. He got up and squatted low, staring at the light, enchanted. He felt a warm sweep over him and his tensed muscles relaxed—he even contemplated, for a moment, sticking a hand out from under his coat to reach towards the light, which seemed to be moving closer…hopping.

"Professor Longbottom?" he heard Scorpius query, and he stood, crunching on the frozen underbrush till he reached where the two boys stood. They were also watching, mesmerised, their heads bobbing in rhythm with the emanation's dance.

It's coming closer, Scorpius thought, and he squinted at it, lifting a hand to shield his eyes from the bright moonlight above. With the glare of the natural light gone, Scorpius saw that the light seemed to be attached to a staff.

"Hey, Hugo," he said, whacking Hugo on the forearm. "You're good at Care of Magical Creatures…what's the one-legged thing that leads people into bogs?"

"Hm?" Hugo said, as he began to move towards the light.

"You know," Scorpius said, following him, keeping his eyes on the light, "the thing that tries to lure travelers into bogs, to eat their souls or something."

"Oh, the hinkypunk," Hugo answered nonchalantly. "Hey, the hinkypunk. I know who you are!" he said, seeming to be excited, and before Scorpius could wonder at the tone of recognition in Hugo's voice, he saw the boy start at a light sprint towards the source of the light.

"Hugo!" Scorpius said, starting after a moment and chasing after him. Wow, he's been training harder than I have, Scorpius thought as he struggled to keep up with Hugo, whose mane of curls seemed to be trailing him as he ran, straight-backed, into the trees. "Hey, the whole lesson is not to follow them!"

"It's okay!" Hugo cried over his shoulder. "It's okay!"

"It is?"

Scorpius turned around to see that Professor Longbottom had also taken flight, his wand out and ready. Scorpius shrugged and then looked back in front of him, trying to pick up pace.

They had gone much further into the forest than Scorpius had imagined that it would take to reach the hinkypunk, but then again, he considered, the hinkypunk did lead people into bogs. It could know how to run, too, even though I think they only have one leg.

"Hugo?" he shouted after a few moments of no sound but the crackle of leaves and twigs beneath them.

He only heard labored breath ahead of him, and he pushed himself to pick up speed. He glanced to his right and was slightly surprised to see that Longbottom had kept up the pace, being surprisingly fit for someone whose job it was to bend over plants all day. Still, Scorpius knew that Longbottom was a field researcher, and as he considered that plants did grow on all kinds of mountainsides, it really wasn't too much of a surprise after all. He wondered for a wild, sleep-deprived moment if Professor Longbottom had ever competed with a mountain goat to get to a rare species of wild herb first.


He saw that they were rapidly approaching the light and worried that they were closer to the bog than he had anticipated. He was close to Hugo, but his vision outside of the bobbing light ahead was severely limited, so he wasn't sure just how close.

It was a moment before the impact that Scorpius was wondering if he'd run into Hugo accidentally. And then, it just happened. With a loud crack, Scorpius toppled into Hugo's back and they fell to the ground. Scorpius heaved himself up almost immediately, apologising profusely, trying to wipe the dirt out of his eyes. He saw Hugo hadn't removed himself from the ground, and that he was still struggling. Scorpius rolled his eyes for a moment, mistaking the struggle for Hugo's inability to pick himself up, and he reached down to pull the boy off of the ground when he noticed that Hugo was struggling with the light itself.

He wasn't sure what to do, so he glanced at Professor Longbottom, who was standing opposite him over Hugo. Longbottom shrugged. Scorpius waited, watching intently, hoping that this was one of those times when Hugo was about to shock him with his understanding of the appropriate reaction in a certain situation. He wasn't sure that it would be a practical time to have this hope, as Hugo probably hadn't had too many opportunities to struggle with a magical light, but he had it anyway.

He saw Hugo reach into the pocket of his coat for his wand and pull it out with a sure and steady hand, a contrast to the rest of his body. Hugo pointed his wand underneath his body at the light and suddenly the struggle stopped. Scorpius wondered if he'd killed it, but there was still light streaming out from where Hugo's form didn't meet the ground.

"Got it!" Hugo cried suddenly and stood up, holding what appeared to be a glowing balloon.


"What is that?"

"I trapped the hinkypunk in a bubble-head charm and tied a string to the end of it. We can use it as a lamp now that there's a field between our vision and its light."

Scorpius was impressed, he would admit it.

"Where'd you learn to do that?"

"From the centaurs," Hugo replied in an offhanded tone. Scorpius supposed that it was legitimate as Hugo hardly ever realised when he was being absurd in a certain situation, displaying his lack of knowledge of social stimuli.

"Do the centaurs still live in the forest? Last I'd heard they'd taken up with the gypsies and left," Professor Longbottom asked, his brows furrowed.

"Oh, they're here sometimes. The gypsies too."

"You've met them?"

"Yes, I come out here on some nights and attend their festivals." Hugo looked up at the hinkypunk. "I learned this one on Walpurgis Night," he said, grinning widely and pointing up at the balloon, in which Scorpius saw the hinkypunk sitting docilely behind its light, seeming to have acknowledged defeat.

Well, I sure am learning a lot of things about this boy tonight, aren't I? Neville thought to himself, sharing a look with Scorpius, who was also clearly astonished to glean this piece of information.

"Why the centaurs and the gypsies?" Neville asked, though he rather thought that he already knew the answer.

"They accept me," Hugo said, still watching the hinkypunk, which was now entertaining itself by kicking up its one leg at random intervals. "I fit in better with them."

It made perfect sense, Neville thought, that a social outcast would find solace in the company of nomads, stargazers, necromancers who had been outcasted by society for centuries. It made sense that Hugo would find that in a heterogenous setting, where there was such a mishmash of culture and customs and beliefs and practices, that there was no norm to follow. In a way, every one of them was an outcast, but that pulled them together as a community and allowed them to attain a sense of simultaneous belonging and individualism. Neville stared at the two boys conversing; he heard, faintly, Hugo's excited description of the night of the festival, the dancing and the chanting, the astrology and the fresh wine.

"My sister and I always used to go out into the fields on the outskirts of Ottery St. Catchpole when we were little and we'd play like we were Maenads, tying plants in our hair and running around chanting. Rose grew out of it, but when she stopped sneaking out with me in the moonlight to howl to Bacchus, I felt something missing. When I came across the gypsies, and the wandering witches, and the centaurs, I felt a piece of me again that I hadn't felt since those nights in the rushes. Of course, I think that's because Bacchus is my patron god," Hugo added, frowning slightly. Neville saw Scorpius's blue eyes flicker over to his, deciphered a hint of exasperation in that glance, and returned it. He decided that Hugo needed a crash course on regular culture.

"So…" Scorpius began, a large furrow forming between his brows. "So, most nights when you're out you're not just nicking stuff from the elves in the kitchen?"

"Well, not most nights, no…but, I am sometimes," Hugo said, lowering his voice to a whisper as he admitted to his crime.

"It's okay, Professor Longbottom already knows," Scorpius said, sighing and placing his hands on his hips, looking at the map again. He looked up at the stars.

"Too bad Rose isn't here, she's a whiz at astronomy," he lamented as he tried to calculate their relative bearings. "You know it's weird that no one's ever pinned the exact location of the Castle by looking up at the sky," Scorpius mused. "I mean, I know it's Unplottable—"

"What's that?" Hugo interrupted. Neville was surprised. Hugo didn't usually ask questions; he's always just assumed it was because he was too uninterested in following the markers of conversation.

"Well, you can put a spell over a place that makes it so you can't plot it on maps," Scorpius said patiently. Neville silently cheered such patience. He himself had worked years to acquire it, and he admired Scorpius's ability to reach out the way he did.

"Oh," Hugo said, nodding, and making a face that denoted his interest in the answer. "So you're saying that even though it's Unplottable and no one can find it from the outside, someone on the inside should have been able to find out where it is exactly from…?" He trailed off, unable to complete the thought.

"Because when we look at our position in relativity to the stars and constellations, which move across our vision at a fixed and predictable rate, we should be able to place ourselves at a certain point on the globe—that, obviously, would tell us where we are." Scorpius waited for a response from Hugo, who seemed to be grasping desperately at what Scorpius was explaining. He wondered if anyone had ever noticed this seeming inability to follow the logical flow of conversation before. It might explain Hugo's lack of social adaptability.

"I suppose that makes sense. So say, we're looking up and Capricorn is on our left and Aquarius is to our right. We could tell where we are from that?"

"Erm…yes, basically."

"Wow," Hugo said, his wide eyes scanning the skies above with new interest. "Wow. Maybe I'll start paying more attention in astronomy. And all this time I thought it was just because they were looking to settle us on another planet…and needed our help to find it."

Scorpius looked over at Professor Longbottom again. He was reassured, as the last time they had made eye contact, that he wasn't going gaga and that Hugo actually was an absurd character.

"Right, so, it looks like we're heading to the north-east right now. We need to be going north-west of where we're facing right now until we reach that creek—it looks too wide to cross easily, and there's a problematic rocky bank on the other side, so we'll just have to follow along it (which will backtrack us a little I suppose) until we reach the tree-bridge." He looked over at Longbottom. "Does that sound right, Professor?"

"In theory, yes, although I've never actually crossed the river, only gotten up to the point that you've located on the map where we can cross on the trees."

Scorpius scrunched his nose, wondering for the umpteenth time why he was even taking Hugo's desire seriously—there were so many things about it that were wrong, that would pose a threat to his grades, to his communication with Rose, to his wellbeing…but he felt that he couldn't let Hugo down here, not when the boy seemed to lack so much confidence in himself.

Scorpius supposed that in its way, this adventure was parallel in Hugo's mind to the quest of his parent's time. They were both equally impossible, finding a mythological plant and defeating, almost single-handedly, the most powerful darkwizard of the age. And Scorpius wasn't sure that the tasks weren't equally dangerous. He'd never been so far into the forest himself; only far enough, with Rose, to gather the specific potions ingredients that she wanted to use in her illegal experiments in the first-floor girls' loo.

He didn't know what sort of threats lingered in the dark foliage, or amongst the sturdy, dark trunks. All he knew was that he had started this, and he would see it finished as well. Whether or not, he mused, that ends up in the capture of the Quidropopot, is unsure.

"Let's make camp here," he suggested, stifling a yawn. "We can set up protective hexes and charms to keep the creatures out."

Hugo nodded, getting out his wand. Scorpius watched him walk around the perimeter of the clearing, waving his wand and chanting "Salvio Hexia," "Repello Muggletum," and Scorpius was rather surprised to hear Hugo cast the Stealth Sensoring Charm, which he himself hadn't learned until sixth year completely by chance—Rose had been using it to try to find Albus in a game of hide-and-seek when she thought he might have been using his dad's invisibility cloak.

Scorpius cast the Supersensory Charm on each of them as he pondered what to do about blankets. He was soon relieved of the trouble as Hugo reached into his pocket and pulled out a canvas tent and nearly ten blankets. Scorpius, unsure if by this time he should react in a surprised manner, asked, trying to sound casual, "Undetectable Extension Charm?"

Hugo nodded, looking proud of himself. "Mum taught me that one when I wanted to bring an extra trunk to school this year."

Scorpius nodded, resisting the urge to ask what Hugo had needed the extra trunk for. He was afraid to know.

"So…anyone know how to set up a tent?" Hugo asked, shrugging, looking a little sheepish. Scorpius grinned, shaking his head. They both looked at Professor Longbottom.

"In fact, I do know how to use this contraption," he said, puffing up proudly. "On my adventures into the field I often have to use them for overnight protection."

He took out his wand, and getting up pointed it at the tent. The canvas jumped up and began to unfold wildly, the support sticks jumping in every which direction. Scorpius dove out of the way of one that made a beeline for his forehead, rolling onto the forest floor with a thump. He heard Hugo exclaim loudly and guessed that he had also dove out of the way of a rogue pole, as he watched him land on the nearby ground. In a moment or two it was over and Scorpius raised himself up on his arms slowly, ready for another attack. He looked around, and deeming it safe, he nodded at Hugo whose big eyes were fastened on his face. They got up quickly, jogging around the small tent to see Professor Longbottom brushing himself off—he, too, was sprinkled with underbrush and dry leaves.

Scorpius found himself grinning as he extended a hand to help the professor up. Longbottom bit his lip, putting his hands on his hips while he regarded the lopsided canvas beast. He turned to the boys and said, in a whisper, "Well, it has been a while since the last time."

Hugo awoke in the morning feeling stiff. He looked down at his bare feet, which were sticking out of the end of his blanket; they were purplish, something that he figured probably couldn't be a good thing. He got up, stamping his feet on his blanket and waving his arms around above his head, trying to warm himself up.

He pulled on his socks and trainers, casting a waterproof spell on them, and shrugged on his coat. He pulled up the collar around his neck, and stuck his head out of the tent.

It was a blinding white—a pristine blanket, smooth and powdery, coating every inch of ground, peppering each tree, each bush.

"First snow," he whispered, in awe of the perfect picture before him.

Scorpius awoke to a cold draft blowing through the tent and the sound of shrieks coming from the clearing outside. He sat up quickly, and saw Professor Longbottom sitting near the open door, looking out. Scorpius scrambled to his side, pulling the collar of his coat up to his chin. He was nearly blinded by the blanket of white snow, but that did nothing to stymie the wonder that he always felt upon regarding the first snowfall of the winter. He looked around, catching sight of Hugo, who seemed to be the source of the shrieks that had aroused him—he was dancing wildly, flapping his arms above his head and picking his feet up high, tracking curlicues in the fresh powder.

After he'd pulled on his trainers Scorpius scrambled out into the light layer of snow, lying on his back and listening to the soft rustling he created in the powder. He heard Hugo pat over and lay down next to him. The sun was rising and the sky was a diorama of light yellows, pinks, and oranges, which faded into the dark periwinkle in the heart of the sky. Scorpius wondered that he had never woken early enough to catch such a sight on a regular day. He thought that as soon as he got back he'd wake Rose up early one morning and they'd go watch the sun rise in Hagrid's pumpkin patch.

"Isn't it like a Picasso?" Hugo asked. Scorpius raised his eyebrows.

"I didn't know you'd seen any modern art," he said, turning his cheek into the snow to look at Hugo, who was staring, mesmerized, at the sky.

"Mum takes us on 'culture trips,' though I don't regularly enjoy them. She wants us to understand her culture. After all, for the first twelve years of her life she lived completely in the Muggle world. We went to the Fitzwilliam once, on our annual trip to Cambridge. Mum always dreamed of going to Cambridge," he added as an afterthought. "I can't imagine what my life would have been like if she had."

"You probably wouldn't have one," Scorpius said. "After all, your dad didn't have any intentions of integrating into Muggle society. It's unlikely they would have met."

After a moment Scorpius and Hugo exchanged a glance.

"Merlin, Rose has been rubbing off on me," Scorpius said, raising a hand to his brow and massaging his temples.

"You've got her down to the 'it's unlikely' scenario," Hugo laughed, grinning widely. "She's always looking out for me, Rose, telling me things like that…she knows I'm not too keen on figuring out those kinds of things."

"But you've got the same blood, Hugo," Scorpius said. "You could if you tried. You show miraculous creativity in the way that you use spells…saving Longbottom's face with expelliarmus."

"I heard that!" Professor Longbottom chirped from the other side of the tent. Scorpius rolled over onto his elbows, grinning, his blond hair flopping into his eyes.

"Is that sausage?" Hugo asked, rolling over as well, sniffing the air like a hound. "I smell fennel. If I had a tail, I'm sure it'd be pointing towards the grill."

Scorpius thought about explaining the way that a dog actually pointed, but decided that it would probably not come up again; after all, there were more important things to use to clutter up Hugo's brain.

"Yes," he said after a moment, getting to his feet. "Yes, I'm sure it would be."

Neville prided himself on his over-preparation for most of the possible scenarios that could play out in the area around Hogwarts. The night before, as he had figured that he would be out searching for Hugo, who wasn't the most adept at responding to calls, he had cast an undetectable extension charm on his own pocket and packed a miniature electric grill that Luna had given to him, unable to figure out how to operate the Muggle piece of machinery.

Of course, Neville couldn't use it either, but it made a nice platform for his firewood and seemed to retain heat well. He'd also packed some coals, wood, and plenty of food in case the worst happened and he became stranded, hopelessly lost without his map. He wished he'd packed more than one blanket so that he had more padding to share with the boys, but, as he watched them devour their sausage happily, enjoying some twittering conversation, he thought that they'd done alright on what Hugo had brought. Of course, if they came to an area with harder ground, he could always just discreetly cast a Softening Charm so that the boys wouldn't lose their sense of ruggedness.

Neville wondered for the hundredth time why he wasn't packing up the bags and demanding with all of the professor's authority that he could muster that they head back to the castle at once. He'd thought and thought about it last night as he lay on the blankets, listening to the sleeping breathing of the students next to him, and could only come back to the feeling that had arisen in the pit of his stomach upon translating the runes that Hugo had traced in the dirt the night before. He'd never heard anything like it from Hugo, a boy whom he had suspected to be hopelessly unaware of both his appearance and lack of smarts.

Of course, he'd discussed Hugo's failing grades with his parents on more than a few occasions, volunteering each time the need arose to be the one to act as the mediator between the home and the institution. He figured that hearing the news of their son's academic failure from an old, concerned family friend would be preferable to a demanding of an explanation from a more disinterested professor who had hardly taken the time to get to know Hugo's better points.

Hermione and Ron had remained staunch in the opinion that eventually, when Hugo discovered what it was that he was really good to do, he'd quit fooling around and straighten up. Neville had always been surprised at Hermione's condonation of Hugo's grades, no matter what her philosophy on his personal development. They'd chatted about it over tea while Ron was out on the job with Harry, and Hermione had admitted to some exasperation, but a knowledge that Ron probably would have failed out of school if she hadn't written half of his papers for him.

"And look at him now," Hermione had said with a slight, proud smile. "He's making a difference in the world, all with less than half of the education that I would have guessed it would take to do his job. I'm not saying that I approve of Hugo's laziness—that's something I try to nip at home as well. I just imagine that for someone whose main concerns aren't scholarly, due to an inherited personality, it must be hard in an academic environment to find one's niche. I believe that Hugo is attentive enough to realise, maybe if only with a little help from friends, when he comes upon something that feels as natural to him as learning and logic feels to me, or as tending plants feels to you, or as tomfoolery feels to Ron and Harry…"

Neville had nodded, admiring of Hermione's hopeful attitude. With mainly the concrete evidence of grades in front of him, Neville wasn't sure that he could feel the same, but he acknowledged the wisdom of Hermione and her mother's intuition…something that Neville would never have even when the time came to have children of his own.

No, he couldn't pin the feeling on more than what he felt pulling him towards Hugo without much explanation. He wondered if it was a sort of sympathy that had arisen from his talk with Hermione.

"…And then I said to him, 'no, whaddaya think, I'm a portkey or something? Wait in line!'"

He shook his head as the boys guffawed, sitting around the tiny stove on logs they'd dragged over from the trees. Neville ate the rest of his sausage and toast and got up, attempting at an appreciative smile as he past the boys, who toasted him with their hands full of food. He shoved all of the tent's contents into the pocket of his coat, then proceeded to fold up the tent. He noticed that Scorpius and Hugo kept a careful eye on him as he did so. He shrugged as the tent folded itself up neatly, the supporting beams falling nicely into place. He picked it up and crammed it into his pocket as well.

"Even though I know you've got a charm on your coat, that still looks insanely impossible," Scorpius called from where he sat around the burner.

Neville smiled. "What charm?"

Scorpius felt a jolt of shock before he realised the professor was joking. He grinned, acknowledging the humor with an appreciative nod.

"You know, the old boy's not too bad," he said to Hugo, finishing the last of his toast.

"Who, Neville? No, he's great, the chap. Brings us fruitloaf on the holidays." Hugo wiggled his eyebrows. "And then camps out in our spare bedroom till it's time to go back to school."

Scorpius smiled, thinking of what his life would have been like if he'd been raised in a household where his professors would have liked to come and stay. He was sure he wouldn't have come as far as he had; he wouldn't have been so eager to please his teachers, to get on their good sides, to convince them that he was different. He wouldn't have been so attracted to Albus Potter's crowd—he sensed in Albus the instillation of everything he wished to become. Albus had the background that Scorpius had envied, growing up in the cold, white, marble Malfoy manner with a distant father and a warm, but ungrounded mother.

He learned to recognise from a young age what it was he never wanted to become, and had set out not only to avoid inheriting the damage of his ancestry but to become everything that was not what he had. Although he regretted that he would never have warm or nostalgic childhood memories, he understood that some things and some parts of his past had made him into who he had become, and would force him to make the conscious effort to put good back into the world.

He knew that reconciling the difference between his edgy past and the future that he hoped to attain had had more impact on his development than he would have liked: as a young child he'd chased after the most cutting-edge in fashion, music, even activities. It wasn't just Quidditch he would play: he'd put his parents on edge by joining the neighborhood rugby team, by attending fashion shows, visiting museums and taking math classes…piercing his ear. At the time he only invested in such endeavours to feel different, to develop an identity outside of what was Malfoy. But the diversity had lent him experience that he couldn't have gained another way. He was sure that although he couldn't ever be proud of his namesake, he could be proud of what he had done to be different. And he could be proud of what he was becoming today.

And what was he doing today, anyways? Helping a kid run away from school? Aiding a professor in losing his job? Or was he helping a kid out who needed desperately to find himself, just as Scorpius had once needed to find himself, away from everything he'd known before to make himself new? Was he helping Professor Longbottom to gain world fame? He thought about it for a moment and decided that he liked the latter explanation better.

"How is that, your parents being so generally well-liked?" Scorpius asked, trying with much difficulty to stymie the clear envy in his tone. Hugo, good old clueless Hugo, however, didn't seem to notice any hunger in the question.

"Oh, it's not as bad as you'd think," Hugo said. "I mean, I know that maybe if I was normal—you know, fit in better," he added as an aside, and Scorpius, although surprised at this admission of self-knowledge coming from the chap who couldn't keep his chin clear of spit to save his mum's life, nodded. Hugo continued, looking over at Neville as he seemed to encourage his faculties of thought, "if I was normal, I think that it might bother me that my parents occasionally show up at school to be chummy with the professors…it might bother me to have professors home for the holidays, bringing us teacakes and whatall… but, you know, when I think about it—I do think sometimes, you know—I realise that these are my friends." Hugo finished with a small smile, his eyes wide as he looked on to gauge Scorpius's reaction. Scorpius felt surprised, but almost more importantly, he felt a pang of pity that shook him to his core.


Didn't he know how important friends were to happiness? To discovering yourself? It hadn't been easy, getting to be best mates with the son of his father's arch nemesis. He'd sat next to Al on the train over his first day, sure, but they hadn't been too chatty or chummy. He'd spent the next few weeks relying on his apparent good looks to get him study buddies, to have people, namely girls, to eat meals with, to talk to.

He had been so overwhelmed as to almost be moved to tears the first time that Albus invited him to come out to the Quidditch pitch for an illegal practice after the first month of school—and even more moved when Albus announced that he'd let his dad know of their undeniable friendship and that Harry Potter, the man that had hated his father when they had been the same age, Harry Potter had welcomed the kid with open arms. He remembered his first Christmas at the Potters' place, the overwhelming warmth that he perceived in Mrs. Potter, her sassy, but still powerful, acceptance of a Malfoy into the world of light. The way Albus had taken him on not as a project, but as a best mate. And how that had impressed Scorpius so much that he'd spent the greater part of his early teenage years trying to pay back the world of good for all that it'd allowed him to become.

In the present, Scorpius was silent for a moment, unable to bring himself to speak.

He looked up, determined that he wouldn't ignore Hugo's need for companionship.

"I'm your friend, Hugo," he managed to croak, feeling a bit sheepish for sounding so close to tears.

Hugo smiled brightly, then managed to look awestruck.

Hugo didn't understand what he was hearing. Scorpius Malfoy, the coolest boy at school, was his friend? He supposed, after the initial shock, that he shouldn't actually be surprised, since Scorpius hadn't dragged Hugo back to school as he had supposed would happen. He felt a warmth and a feeling that he couldn't label as anything other than desperation seep through him. He felt thoroughly doused in a feeling of belonging.

He didn't understand why he was moved to cry—that wasn't manly, crying wasn't, and what Hugo wanted more than anything else, besides maybe for Margie to take him to the ball, was to become a man. He had a confusing rush of thoughts all concerned with the way that he hadn't ever fit in with his peers, the ways that he was different, and he looked up at Scorpius with renewed respect and appreciation. He felt a thought pass through his mind that looked an awful lot like Rose is lucky to have found him. And then, he thought, at second glance, that it looked more like I'm lucky to have found him.

He took a moment to regain control of his speech. And when he opened his mouth, without having planned it, the words came out and seemed to fit right into the cool air, like a piece of a puzzle fit into the rest when he hadn't been sucking on it and it hadn't gone all floppy:

"Thank you, Scorpius."

Scorpius smiled, and stood up.

"And, as a friend, Hugo, I have to tell you that you've got a bit of drool on your chin."


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