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With all the drama of becoming Albus’ girlfriend, I didn’t realise until about a week after the Hogsmeade visit that I’d forgotten to go into Magic Sounds and get Scorpius a birthday present. Luckily, I still had a couple of weeks left before his actual birthday, so I ended up tearing an order form out the back of Witch Weekly instead and getting him the record I knew he’d like from Diagon Alley instead, which I ended up having to hide in my dormitory.

The thing was, though, I wasn’t actually seeing a whole lot of Scorpius since Albus had asked me out. Sure, we still had lessons together and we still hung out together in our little nook of the common room, but I wasn’t even eating at the Hufflepuff table much anymore now Albus’ friends were saving me an extra space with the Gryffindors. I’d sit with Albus in the library, I’d take Fauna to his Quidditch practices and, in those last weeks of November, I spent most of my weekends walking round the grounds with Albus or hanging out in the Gryffindor common room with him. It wasn’t like I’d ditched Hufflepuff or anything, because a lot of the time Fauna and Lucy came with me, much to the disappointment of Tabitha and Georgina. But I didn’t even bother to invite Scorpius because I think we all knew that there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell he’d ever want to spend time with Albus.

It drove me a little bit mad, if I’m honest. If you’ve been best mates with someone like Scorpius for that many years, it’s weird to have them suddenly vanish out of your life, even if they do get replaced by someone equally cool. In an ideal world, I’d have kept both of them, but it was plain they just didn’t like each other and it was a case of one or the other. That or I’d have to persuade them to be friends.

They always say girls are the dramatic ones as well. It’s supposed to be common knowledge that girls are bitchy and icy and will hold a grudge, whereas boys are uncomplicated and will sort things out like men. Not true at all; Scorpius was the king of grudges and even Albus was a bit uneasy when I suggested we try and include him a bit more. So I just had to accept that I now had two groups of friends to move between and that was what.

I made an effort, though, to take a bit of time out for Scorpius’ birthday, seeing as he was seventeen and all and that’s supposedly a big age in the magic world. Me and Fauna managed to persuade the house elves to send up a little birthday cake with tea on the evening of his actual birthday, although we didn’t try to sing to him given that there were only three of us. But I think it meant a lot to him, and he was pretty chuffed with the record I’d got him, which was by The Twenty Trenched Gashes, his favourite band (he calls it psychedelic garage-rock although, really, I’ve never been into them). We managed to persuade Tabitha to turn off the irritating Modernism records long enough so he could listen to it and, all in all, it went pretty smoothly, even if he did seem a bit miffed when I said I was off to one of Albus’ Quidditch practices.

And, after Scorpius’ birthday, the end of term seemed to come out of nowhere, probably because the Professors had been setting tons of work in the last couple of weeks and I’d suddenly had a social life to balance with school. Most of us were going home for the holidays, including me, and so Lucy had the idea of throwing a little party the night term ended where we could exchange our Christmas presents and celebrate having got through another few months of school and whatnot. And, in my case, have loads of jelly and ice cream without being judged.

The closer it got to the party, thought, the more I started to worry about it. I mean, Hufflepuff parties had never worried me before, because I knew from experience that they were basically just foodfests and an excuse to dress up a bit. But, this year, everyone started talking about whether to invite people from other houses, what drinks we’d get, stuff like that. So I suggested we maybe try and get muggle fizzy pop and, when they all looked at me weird, I realised they were actually talking about smuggling alcohol in. Which would be a first for Hufflepuff, really.

I had all these horrible mental images of what would happen if Hufflepuff tried to ‘go Gryffindor’, so to speak, and throw all these parties with illicit drinks, if Hufflepuff became the subject of gossip, for a change. Okay, it would certainly make people take notice of our house, but I didn’t want it to be for the wrong reasons. I guess I’m kind of a prude compared to everyone else, though, because they were really keen for us to sneak alcopops and stuff in.

Despite all this, I decided I wanted to go – Fauna and Scorpius would be there, and they felt the same as I did about the whole thing – and so I asked Albus if he wanted to come with me. Thing is, I’d put off asking him so much that I actually didn’t get around to it until the day of the party itself, when we both had a double free, no work to do, and were wandering around the snowy grounds together.

‘Can’t, Flora,’ he said. ‘Sorry. I’m supposed to be up really early tomorrow and I still haven’t packed.’

‘But the train doesn’t leave till Sunday…’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘I’m going away for Christmas, though, and the only Portkey we could get out was first thing tomorrow morning.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Somewhere nice?’

‘Wales,’ he said, then burst out laughing. ‘Hardly palm trees and sandy beaches, I know. Just visiting family.’

‘Still sounds nice, though.’

‘Yeah, I suppose,’ he said gloomily. ‘My family’s been so…oh, it’s hard to explain. They’ve been really funny lately, really on edge, worrying about the tiniest things. I mean, they’re always like that at Christmas, but they’re awful this year. It’s probably to do with all that stuff in the papers.’

We’d reached a snow-free bench outside the greenhouses that was sheltered by a low canopy. I took a seat, brushing the snow from the turn-ups of my jeans; Albus sat next to me, looking out towards the lake. His last words had unnerved me a little, and so I tried to keep my voice fairly innocuous as I asked: ‘what stuff in the papers?’

‘I don’t really get it, to be honest,’ he sighed. ‘Mostly, I go on what my Dad says, and…well, he says there’s a lot of tension at work, especially in his department. You know, Magical Law Enforcement. He’s really worried by it. Have you been reading the Prophet lately?’

I shook my head. ‘Nah, I don’t really get it. My mum sends me the paper from home every week.’

‘Oh,’ he raised his eyebrows. ‘To put it this way…Flora, magic society isn’t really in a good place right now.’

‘Really? How?’

‘It’s complicated,’ he laughed.

‘I bet I can understand,’ I said. ‘It’s just…Fauna doesn’t read the papers and Scorpius, well, I haven’t seen him much lately, so I don’t really know what’s going on in your world.’

‘It’s weird to hear you say it like that,’ he smiled. ‘My world. Your world is just as confusing, you know. My dad’s explained it thousands of times but I still don’t get how electricity works.’

‘It’s not that important,’ I shrugged. ‘Come on, tell me what’s going on.’

He swung his legs up so he could sit cross-legged on the bench, facing me. ‘You know about the wars, right? We’ve done them in History of Magic.’

I nodded. ‘Yeah, but we didn’t really look at them in much detail…’

‘Well, before the second war, my dad tells me, witches and wizards used to be a bit less tolerant of muggle stuff. Like, there were muggle-borns like you in Hogwarts, of course, but there were still a lot of people about who didn’t think muggle-borns should be able to learn magic. I guess that’s the war in a nutshell-’

‘Kind of,’ I grinned. ‘Although I think it was a bit more than that.’

‘Yeah, well, after the war, all these new rules and regulations came in to try and make it all better. They made muggle studies compulsory, stuff like that. And there were a load of reforms designed to make life better for everyone…every beast, creature and being, apparently,’ he smiled. ‘According to my dad. That was their slogan. Something like a better life for every beast, creature and being. So house elves got better working conditions, they set up schools for Squibs, stuff like that. It worked really well,’ he gestured back up at the castle. ‘Apparently Hogwarts has never been so good. I mean, has anyone ever picked on you because you’re muggle-born?’

‘Not really,’ I shrugged.

‘Exactly,’ he nodded emphatically. ‘Whereas, when my Aunt was at school, she was probably one of the cleverest people there, but people still had an issue with her because she was muggle-born. I guess you could say she was bullied.’

‘That’s awful!’

Exactly,’ he said, nodding again. ‘I think that, because we’re in school and, really, we’ve never had it so good here, we…well, we get a slightly skewed idea of what magical society’s really like. Because, well, it’s sad, but…not everyone agrees that we should let muggle-borns in. You know, a lot of the old Pureblood families. I hate to make a generalisation because I know that quite a lot of them are decent folk now, but, well, it was mostly the old Pureblood families who were on the other side in the last war. You know, the bad guys.’

‘You mean the Death Eaters?’

‘Yeah, them.’

We both went quiet for a moment, and I was certain that we were both thinking the same thing.

‘I know it’s different now, but old Pureblood families like, well…’ Albus trailed off.

‘I know,’ I said, a sinking feeling in my stomach. ‘Like Scorpius’ family.’

‘It’s all in the past,’ Albus said quickly. ‘And everything’s changed now. But there are still some sick people around who think we should…well, at the very least, they want Hogwarts to stop admitting muggle-borns. But…there’s talk in some of the smaller newspapers about what we should do with people who aren’t born into magical families.’

‘Oh,’ I said. It was something I’d heard about, but never really given much thought to: the idea that there were people out there who hated kids like me. And the knowledge that it was so close and so real suddenly chilled me to the bone.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t want to put a downer on the conversation.’

‘It’s okay,’ I played with the tassels on the end of my scarf, trying not to meet his eye. ‘It’s important to know these things. I’m…I’m a bit surprised Scorpius didn’t tell me, actually.’

Albus shrugged. ‘Maybe he didn’t want to worry you. But there’s been a lot of talk lately about whether the reforms have gone too far, whether we should think about reversing some of them. I think it’s worst in the Ministry…there are a lot of old hands there like my Dad who were involved in the war, but apparently a lot of the younger staff are stirring up trouble – because they don’t know what it’s like, right? And it’s not coming from Hogwarts, I’m certain of it. But, according to my Dad, you walk along the Ministry corridors and you hear words thrown about that nobody’s said for years – derogatory names for muggle-borns, stuff like that.’

‘What sort of names?’ I said.

‘I don’t like to say them,’ he shook his head.

I attempted a smile. ‘Mostly, people just call me four-eyes.’

‘And when I was in first year some people called me Al-pus.’

Both of us burst out laughing, the tension evaporating.

‘That’s a terrible nickname,’ I grinned. ‘I think I’m happy with four-eyes.’

‘Yeah,’ he smiled back.

There was a short silence; I was still thinking over the things he’d told me.

‘So this is probably the last time I’ll see you before next term,’ I said.

‘It’d be nice to see you in the holidays,’ he said. ‘We can figure something out. I’ll write to you.’

‘I’ll get ready to explain the owls to the neighbours, then.’

I let him put his arm around my shoulder so we could look out at the lake together, and it reminded me of how we’d stood by the fence in Hogsmeade, staring out at the Shrieking Shack. Except I felt like a completely different person from the fidgety girl who’d stood there and shivered after making snow angels.

‘I’ll miss you over the holidays,’ he said. ‘It’s been really nice having you around.’


Officially, the Hufflepuff end-of-term party didn’t start until seven, but it was like the party in Gryffindor tower all over again. Me and Fauna spent ages dithering in the dorm about what to wear and, eventually, she persuaded me to borrow one of her skirts and we were both in the common room at half past eight with Scorpius, who was basically surgically attached to his jumper and jeans.

As far as I could tell, nobody had really been drinking, but there was a kind of tension in the air that everyone seemed drunk on instead. Everyone kept laughing at the silliest, most meaningless little things, and the room seemed warmer and brighter than it had ever been, although it felt far from cosy. Fauna went off to find out where Lucy had gone whilst me and Scorpius commandeered a bowl of crisps and retreated to our usual corner.

‘I hate this kind of thing,’ Scorpius said. ‘But I felt kind of obliged to come.’

‘It’s Christmas,’ I shrugged. ‘Tis the season and all that.’

‘It just came out of nowhere, you know?’ he said.

We lapsed into silence after that because, frankly, I didn’t really know what to talk to him about. A few minutes later, Fauna turned up with Lucy in tow.

‘I’m going to pop out for a bit,’ she said, grabbing a handful of the crisps. ‘Lucy needs to go to Ravenclaw tower and she asked if I’d come with her, so…’

‘See you in a bit,’ I said, although I was worried that, without her, me and Scorpius would literally have nothing to talk about and it’d be awkward.

‘See you!’ she said cheerfully, and Lucy gave us a friendly wave before they both left.

Me and Scorpius sat in silence for a few more minutes until I suggested that we should probably make an effort to be sociable, at which point we abandoned the crisps and went over to stand with Tabitha, who was talking at the top of her voice about how we should have invited more Gryffindors, how she felt totally wasted already, etcetera, etcetera. And even though she got on my nerves worse than an itch, I was kind of glad for the way she talked over everyone else and saved me from having to make conversation.

Worryingly, Fauna and Lucy still hadn’t come back by half nine, by which point me and Scorpius had already been press-ganged into having a drink each and Tabitha was already making a show of staggering around and slurring her words even though I’m sure she’d had about three sips of Butterbeer and was probably about as drunk as the miniature bust of Helga Hufflepuff herself on the mantelpiece. Then someone suggested that we play a game, and any hope I had of someone whipping out a Scrabble set was dashed when Tabitha thrust an empty bottle into the air and shrieked ‘spin the bottle!’

I shook my head and tried to back away, but Georgina rolled her eyes and elbowed me: ‘spoilsport.’

‘I’ve got a boyfriend,’ I said. ‘I shouldn’t.’

‘Oh, la-di-dah,’ she said. ‘Come on, it doesn’t mean anything. Don’t be a prude.’

Really, I wanted to be a prude, but I decided I didn’t want to be the party pooper they’d all bitch about for the next three weeks and took my place in the circle beside her. I thought Scorpius, as contaminated with contagious awkward disease as I was, might have refused to play, but I saw him sit cross-legged on the floor a few spaces along from me. I actually felt like dragging him away and berating him for not keeping to his side of the ‘we don’t need popularity and games, we’ll be the loser and the four-eyes forever’ agreement, but then I remembered I’d as good as broken it too and kept quiet.

I’m not a fan of these kind of party games, if you can even call them games. Spin the bottle isn’t a fun game but an elaborate sort of trap everyone involved both sets up and walks into. It’s an organised form of shit-stirring, if you don’t mind the expression, that exists just to create drama and drive people apart, not bring them together. It’s not like I’d ever played it before, but I’d heard enough to know that it was a game that nobody ever played right and everybody lost.

But, well, my own foolish desire to make people think I was an alright, normal girl made me sit down and play it. I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone else was playing it for the same reason or if people like Tabitha and Georgina actually got some sort of kick out of creating drama.

So we sat in a circle and someone gave the bottle a quick spin, and the invisible trap we’d all willingly blundered into was set in motion: a boy called Owen kissed Tabitha, and then the bottle was spun again and Dermot Finnegan got to kiss a girl in the year below called Verity, and when it was spun for the third time it pointed at Owen and everyone wolf-whistled and cheered for him. He got to kiss Angela Joyce, then it span again and Stephen Smith kissed Harriet Longbottom. Most of the room was still laughing at how Harriet blushed bright scarlet, so barely anybody noticed when Tabitha span the bottle again and it ended up pointing at Scorpius.

I actually felt like bursting out loud, because all I could think about was how awkward he was, how he’d never kissed anyone before and how funny it would be if he got someone like Tabitha and she printed her pink lipstick all over his face. How he suddenly looked really pale, and wasn’t laughing like everyone else was, how I probably should never have suggested we socialise and how we should have stayed in the corner with our crisps instead like we would have before I was Albus’ girlfriend.

And the game is the worst kind of trap, because it knows just how to trip you up and bruise you when you fall down. Because, when everyone calmed down and someone thought to spin the bottle again, it only managed one turn before it shuddered to a halt, pointing right at me.

It seemed like the room had gone deathly quiet, even though it was probably just my mind playing tricks on me. My hands were trembling a bit in my lap.

Someone wolf-whistled, but nobody was finding it funny.

‘No,’ I said, to no-one in particular. ‘I can’t.’

‘Doesn’t matter, Flora,’ Tabitha sounded exasperated, even sober. ‘It’s just a game.’

‘I can’t,’ I repeated.

‘Who cares? He’s not here,’ Georgina said.

‘Just hurry up and do it,’ one of the boys said, and then everyone in the circle was jeering and catcalling and goading me on, all with the exception of Scorpius, who was perfectly still and looked horrified.

I knew I had to do something to make them stop, something that wouldn’t make them flip at me either – so I scuttled two spaces along the circle and, as Scorpius gave me a strange, frightened look, I darted in and kissed him on the cheek. Okay, it was more like I kissed the air, leaving a centimetre of solid space between us, but I was pretty sure my hair covered it up and nobody saw. Then I darted back to my place and stared at the floor, still trembling a little bit. A few people booed.

‘Such a cop-out,’ Georgina tutted. ‘You scared?’

I decided I’d had enough, and I didn’t give a fig for what they thought about me. So I stood shakily to my feet and mumbled something about going to top up my drink and, before anyone could protest, I was already halfway across the room. Thing is, when I got to the table with the drinks and snacks on it, I realised it wasn’t just that I had to get out of the game: I had to get out of the room or I felt like I was going to snap at the ankles and be hospitalised with the sheer force of my awkwardness.

I was in the corridor outside before I really knew what I was doing. And, so caught up in being quivery and nervous, I didn’t notice Scorpius had come after me until I was halfway down the corridor and had climbed up into this little cubbyhole in the wall that used to hold a vase until some Slytherins smashed it. A cubbyhole, I might add, a lot like the one me and Scorpius had once sat in talking about how cool being uncool was.

Anyway, he joined me not long after; there was just about enough room for both of us, and if anyone had walked past they probably wouldn’t have seen us. It felt like a sanctuary compared to the common room. But then I remembered how I hadn’t seen much of him lately and how it had been tricky to try and make conversation with him earlier, and I suddenly felt awkward again.

I really wish I’d offered to help Albus pack, or gone up to Ravenclaw tower with Lucy and Fauna – anything that might have kept me from the Hufflepuff common room that night.

‘You alright?’ he said, although I knew that he knew I wasn’t.

‘Eh,’ I said, hugging my knees to my chest. I didn’t want him to notice that I was shivering when it wasn’t cold.

‘Was it really that bad?’


‘Having to pout at the air near my face,’ he smiled. ‘Was it really that bad?’

‘Terrible, actually,’ I couldn’t help but smile back. ‘Why did you leave?’

‘Uh,’ now it was his turn to look uncomfortable. ‘Not having had much experience of this…kissing lark, I didn’t really want to disappoint the experts in there.’

‘It’s not that hard,’ I said, folding my still-trembling hands on my knees.

And then it got really weird because Scorpius took one of my hands, really gently, and held it still between his own.

‘You were shaking,’ he mumbled, as if realising the weirdness of it. And if there’d been a centimetre of solid air between us when I’d had to pretend to kiss him in the common room, it was like that centimetre had snapped and the sound of it was echoing down the corridor.

I’m probably doing my usual thing of making mountains out of molehills but, at the time, it was like all my nerves were suddenly hyper-aware of everything, and I couldn’t help but think how it might look to the people back in the common room, me and Scorpius holed up in this little alcove and all.

‘I’m cold,’ I said, but I could barely raise my voice above a breath.

‘Wow, weird to think you were nearly my first kiss,’ Scorpius said, with this awkward little forced laugh at the end.

I couldn’t help but look up at him to see if he was kidding or not. But I’m not really sure I ever figured it out, because my mind was almost completely blank; all I could think of was how I could faintly feel his pulse and it was just as fast as mine.

It wasn’t me who moved first. I held my breath and counted to four before he kissed me, and then I was too thrown by the thought that I hadn’t reached five to pull away. Then I suppose I was thinking of Albus when he let go of my hand to pull me closer to him; I was thinking of Albus and how I wished there was a word for the exact hazel-green colour of his eyes. And I couldn’t even remember what colour Scorpius’ eyes were.

I know it shouldn’t have happened. But it was a few minutes before I came to my senses and shoved him away.

‘Stop it!’

I sounded hysterical, pushing myself away from him, almost falling back into the corridor. He looked about as freaked out as I did.

‘Flora-’ he started.

But, once again, neither of us had anything to say to each other.

Before he could say anything – and before I really knew what I was doing – I was dashing down the corridor again, into the common room I’d wanted to get out of such a short time before, and then I was halfway up the stairs to the dormitory.

I didn’t even think, just slammed my hand down on the handle and kicked the door open with my foot. Inside the dormitory, I shut the door again and leant against it, breathing hard.

Then I was a little startled and mortified when Tabitha and Owen turned to look at me, and I’m pretty sure I’d interrupted them mid-pretty-intense-snog and they were both giving me the evil eye.

‘Sorry,’ I said, then, before I could stop myself, blurted out: ‘but can you leave?’

I wasn’t sure what had come over my house, but I didn’t like it. I went and sat on my bed and pretended to straighten out the covers while they took their time leaving. It was only when they were gone that I felt I could panic, at which point I actually pulled the covers over my head so I could panic like a child afraid of monsters.

It was probably about ten when Fauna got back. I’d got enough of my common sense back by then to have brushed my teeth and changed into my pyjamas, and it had only just hit me as I was settling back into bed and trying not to think about what had happened that, well, something had happened. And, against my better judgement, I’d started to cry.

So Fauna came back into the dorm and saw me hunched in bed with my knees drawn up to my chin, tears rolling down my face from my swollen, red eyes, which my huge glasses only magnified.

‘Woah,’ she said. ‘You alright?’

‘I’m fine!’ I sniffed, because I’d already decided that I couldn’t tell her anything, even if she was pretty much the closest friend I had, given the situation.

‘Sure?’ she said cautiously.

I tried really, really hard to smile as if everything was alright. ‘Time of the month, you know?’ I told her.

She seemed to buy it. ‘I didn’t mean to be so late back,’ she said. ‘But Ravenclaw were having a party too, so we stayed for a couple of games…’

It felt like my blood had gone cold.

‘Lucy’s way better at Articulate than I am,’ she smiled. ‘The game went on for ages – her cousin Rose is a prefect, we had to get her to sign a slip so we could walk back after curfew. How cool is this?’ she said, waving a piece of parchment at me. ‘I could keep it, you know, we could use it to go to the kitchens at, like, midnight!’

I felt like I wanted to cry again, wanted to tell her how horrible it had been in our own common room. How I dearly wished I’d gone up to Ravenclaw tower to play board games with her and Lucy.

Her smile faded. ‘Sure you’re alright, Flora?’

‘Mega,’ I said, but I couldn’t even raise half a smile this time.

‘If you say so,’ she shrugged. ‘Think I might turn in myself. It’s a bit of a mess in the common room.’

‘Alright,’ I said. ‘Night, Fauna.’

‘Night,’ she said, although her smile was a little uncertain.

She went off into the bathroom and I drew the covers about me, trying to sleep. And, believe me, it wasn’t easy.

a/n: omg plz don't hate me
note: the 'twenty trenched gashes' is derived from a quote in William Shakespeare's Macbeth (act 3, scene 4)

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