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I was awake at seven the next morning, but I didn’t dare get up until Albus knocked the door at half past ten and said breakfast was ready for me downstairs if I fancied it. I’d already got up and got dressed, tying back my unwashed hair into something vaguely respectable and smearing a bit of concealer on the dark smudges under my eyes.

Albus was nowhere to be seen when I got downstairs. His mum was sat at the table in the kitchen with a mug of tea in her hands. She looked as bleary as I did. An open box of cereal was in the middle of the table, next to an empty toast rack and a pot that was a quarter full of crumb-crusted butter.

‘Good morning, Flora,’ she said, quite politely. ‘Do you want some toast?’

‘Er, I’m okay,’ I said, face already burning. I didn’t want to inconvenience her in any way. ‘I’ll just have some cereal.’

I may as well have asked for toast, because she had to get up and fetch me a bowl, a spoon, and a jug of milk anyway.

‘Tea?’ she said, as I shook the remaining cereal into my bowl and drenched it in milk.

‘Um…just water is fine,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’

She poured me a glass of water from the tap and then took the seat opposite me again.

‘So, how’s school?’ she said, just as I’d bit down on a mouthful of Snake Bites.

‘Mmm,’ I shook my head to show I’d talk to her in a minute. She sat patiently, sipping at her tea, as I swallowed the cereal with some difficulty.

‘Good,’ I finally said.

‘Albus tells me you’re good at History of Magic.’

‘Um, I think so. I mean, I always liked History at primary school. Castles and Vikings and all that.’

‘Quite,’ she said, and sipped at her tea again. I thought it was safe to take another bite, but then she asked me another question and I had to keep her waiting for a bit longer while I chewed and swallowed.

‘After school?’ I said. ‘Um, I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe admin. I’m good at typing. Well, when I’m at home, anyway. Not as good with magic typewriters. But, you know, filing and stuff.’

‘Ah,’ she nodded, and I felt a bit embarrassed for having such low aspirations.

I got to eat a few more spoonfuls of cereal before she started speaking again.

‘You’ll probably get to head off at about four this afternoon,’ she said. ‘The paperwork’s been delayed. Albus’ dad is having to work this weekend, the Ministry’s a bit overwhelmed. Tell Scorpius he’s welcome to visit any time.’

‘Oh?’ I said.

‘Absolutely,’ she nodded. ‘We know it’s been difficult for him. I know Albus is a bit reluctant, but…well, just tell him he’s welcome any time.’

‘Okay,’ I said.

‘And you are too, of course,’ she smiled. ‘We’re delighted to have you here.’

My face burned again. ‘Thanks.’

‘Right, I have to be off,’ she said, dumping her mug by the sink. ‘See you soon.’

She vanished out into the corridor. ‘Lily!’ I heard her yell. ‘Hurry up or you’ll be late for violin!’

The door creaked shut and left me on my own in the quiet kitchen. Well, I would have been on my own if it weren’t for the framed chocolate frog card on the wall, from which Albus’ dad smiled kindly at me behind glass.

Once I was done with my breakfast, I went upstairs again. The place was deserted. The door to the spare room was shut, but when I poked my head around James’ door I saw the bed had been made and Albus had obviously left. So I figured it was best to take my shower then, even though I was paranoid enough to jam a chair under the door handle the entire time I was in the bathroom.

It was still silent as the grave by the time I came out. I guessed Albus’ mum had taken his little sister, who I hadn’t so much as seen a finger of since I got there, off to a violin lesson. And I guessed Scorpius was shut up in the spare room, either too awkwardly shy to face the Potters or too bitter at the thought of facing them to come out. Albus was just AWOL. I went back to his room to give my wet hair a half-hearted brush (although I gave up when I realised it was beyond hope) and make myself a bit more presentable, a bit lost as to what to do with myself.

I ended up lying back on the bed, reading. I didn’t dare touch that Twelve Fail-Safe Way to Charm Witches book again for fear I’d offend myself, so I ended up starting this generic crime thriller I found on Albus’ bookshelf. It actually turned out to be pretty decent, so I was a little bit annoyed after a couple of hours when Albus finally turned up and broke my concentration.

‘This is a good book,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ he smiled. ‘I like that guy. Got most of his books.’

I folded the corner of the page over to mark my place and set the book aside.

‘Mind if I join?’ Albus said, indicating the empty patch of duvet next to me.

‘Okay,’ I said, but went a bit tense as he lay down beside me. Not that much had happened the night before, in the great scheme of things, but I was still a bit weirded out by the whole experience.

‘The paperwork’s been delayed,’ he said. ‘Probably won’t come through till after four.’

‘Oh, that sucks,’ I said. ‘Yeah, your mum told me.’

‘Bloody nuisance,’ he said, adding ‘nevermind,’ when he twisted round and caught sight of me frowning.

‘Seen Scorpius this morning?’ I asked.


‘Did you knock his door or anything?’

Albus didn’t respond.

‘I’ll take that as a no,’ I said. ‘Not even to tell him breakfast was ready?’

‘Er,’ Albus said. ‘Well, you know what he’s like.’

‘You’ve never attempted to know what he’s like.’

‘Actually, I…nevermind,’ he said.

We lay in silence for a few minutes. Birds were singing outside the window.

‘It’s going to be lovely, staying here,’ I said.

‘Yeah. Listen, Flora, over this holiday, I… this sounds odd, but I want to teach you some…self-defence stuff.’

‘What? Why?’

‘Things you read in the papers,’ he mumbled. ‘Look,’ he went on, at a more normal volume. ‘Just some spells, stuff like that. Stuff we cover in Defence Against the Dark Arts, everything you’re missing out on.’

‘Probably too advanced for me.’

‘Not really, no. I mean, just basic spells. And we do a bit of…um…non-spell stuff too. Because, well, you’d be buggered if you lost your wand.’


‘Do you know anything, by the way? The disarming spell, stunning spells, the like-’

‘I think I can remember the stunning spell.’

‘Okay. What’s the incantation?’

‘Stupefy,’ I said, wincing at the memory of fourth-year Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons, most of which ended up with either me or Scorpius being trashed by Fauna.

‘Good, good. The disarming spell?’

‘Um,’ I said. ‘Forgot.’

‘It’s okay, I’ll teach you. One of the best spells there is. Dad swears by it, and he’s an Auror.’

‘I do know some self-defence stuff,’ I blurted out, not wanting to sound like an idiot. ‘Mum taught me, you know, stuff like not having your hair down when you’re walking home alone because people can grab it, always walking fast, never looking lost, and, well, if I get mugged she told me to just let people take my stuff.’

‘Yeah,’ Albus said. ‘That’s the gist of it.’

An earlier bit of the conversation had finally caught up with me. ‘Wait, non-spell stuff? Do you fight in Defence Against the Dark Arts?’

He started laughing, and the whole bed shook a bit. ‘Oh, no, no, course not. Well, we’re taught how to get out of a fight, but I couldn’t start or win one for the life of me. Kind of glad Fletcher’s a coward, remember when I punched him? Thought he was going to floor me. Almost saw my life flashing before my eyes.’

I smiled at the memory. ‘I just had my mind on sweets, I guess. Maybe you could teach Scorpius that sort of stuff too? He needs it more than I do.’

Albus let out a derisive laugh. ‘No he doesn’t. I think he rather enjoys it. He’d be a shoo-in for Magical Law Enforcement.’

‘I don’t think so…’

‘Come on. Those bruises…they’re like all those daft badges and patches on his schoolbag. He’s proud he’s got all these weird bands on his rucksack, he’s proud he’s got bruises on his knuckles and stuff. He wants people to see them.’

I didn’t want to tell Albus I agreed – like I didn’t want to tell Scorpius about the thing the night before – and suddenly I felt this big rush of bitterness because they’d become the focus of my life and I couldn’t tell either of them anything.

‘Whatever you say,’ I muttered.

‘Good-oh,’ he said, hoisting himself upwards. ‘Right, I promised Dad I’d take a look at some shelves that need putting up, you okay on your own for a bit?’

‘Sure,’ I said.

As he got up, I noticed the waistband of his jeans had slipped down a bit and the top of his boxers was showing; the word ‘Monday’ was embroidered there in red.

I couldn’t resist. ‘Al,’ I giggled. ‘It’s a Saturday.’

‘Huh?’ he twisted around and then clocked what I was looking at. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Yeah…my socks think it’s a Thursday. Never get the right pair out the drawer, you know?’

I picked up the book again. ‘Sure.’

‘See you later,’ he said, and left.


It was actually approaching seven o’clock by the time we got to leave. First there was the paperwork delay, then something had kept Albus’ dad in the office way past usual weekend hours, so we’d just gone ahead and had tea by the time he got back at half six. Albus’ mum was busy taking his little sister to some fourth year birthday party, so it was only the three of us sitting round the dinner table, putting away the undercooked pasta me and Albus had managed to whip up.

I know it was a bit of a rubbish meal – I’m no cook, and neither’s Albus – but I thought Scorpius’ grimace was a bit unjustified as he prodded it round his bowl.

‘Did you add salt before you cooked it?’ he said. ‘I usually do.’

‘Do you cook a lot?’ Albus said.

‘Have to. Dad works a lot of overtime in the holidays,’ Scorpius said, before cramming a massive forkful of the pasta into his mouth and effectively ending the conversation.

We tasked him with the washing up, mostly because he hadn’t lifted a finger to help us cook, although it wasn’t much compensation seeing as he could do magic out of school already and dealt with the lot in a matter of minutes.

Then we just had to sit and wait for Mr Potter to come home. Conversation didn’t exactly flow. To be honest, I didn’t exactly blame Scorpius this time. He was probably sick with worry, and he had these dark patches under his eyes that went with the bruises. I guessed he hadn’t wanted to eat not because our cooking was sub-par, but because he didn’t really feel like it. I always lose my appetite when I’m stressed, even for stuff like biscuits and cake. After my dad left I didn’t touch an Opal Fruit for months.

But eventually Albus’ dad turned up and we all gathered in the sitting room. It was just supposed to be me and Albus going to make sure he got home alright, then the permit just about stretched to the two of us coming back again before we’d have to apply for even more permission. Albus rolled his eyes at this, and apparently the Floo network had never been that strict before, but times were tough and they had to know who was coming and going about the country. Which didn’t make sense because apparently Scorpius’ dad had vanished in the middle of the Ministry itself, but I’d been a muggle for long enough to know that governments generally err on the side of naff.

Scorpius literally had his foot in the fireplace when something occurred to him and he turned round at lightning speed.

‘Flora! My inhaler!’ he said.

He couldn’t elaborate any further, because he was already one foot in the flames and had to go, but I knew what he meant. He’d given me it for safekeeping when he left Hogwarts, because he’d packed in a hurry and hadn’t wanted to leave it in his trunk in case he needed it. As it turned out, he didn’t, but I couldn’t exactly send him off home without it, so I dashed back upstairs and grabbed my bag from the back of the desk chair. By the time I’d got back, even Albus had gone. I took the pinch of green powder Albus’ dad offered me and stepped into the fire too, reciting the address of the little London flat where Scorpius lived when he wasn’t at school.

I think I realised something was wrong the moment I stepped out the fire at the other end because of the way the air smelled. Not bad or anything, I mean, it didn’t make me gag or have to pinch my nose and stuff. It just smelled a bit stale, a bit musty, like the windows hadn’t been opened in a while. I reckon Albus and Scorpius had come to this conclusion too, because they both looked a bit worried when I finally straightened up, brushed the soot off my clothes, and had a chance to say hello to them.

I rooted around in my bag until I found the inhaler. ‘Here,’ I passed it to Scorpius.

When he took it off me, our hands touched for a matter of moments and I noticed his were absolutely freezing.

‘It’s a bit quiet,’ Albus said.

‘Like I said, dad does a lot of overtime,’ Scorpius said, although he sounded pretty uncertain. ‘You know, Department of Mysteries stuff. Sometimes he has to work overnight. It’s all a bit intense.’

We left the sitting room and went through to the kitchen. The place wasn’t a mess, but it wasn’t exactly tidy; the Sunday Prophet was on the table, open at the business section, with all the supplement sections scattered around it and a crossword half-done, a chewed pencil lying on top of it. A mug and a plate were by the sink, and the plate still had toast crumbs on it. A chipped blue jug on the worksurface was labelled ‘milk’.

‘Sorry,’ Scorpius said. ‘Dad never does the washing up.’

There was nothing to apologise for, but me and Albus hummed and hawed all the same. I went over to look at the newspaper, Albus went to the window, and Scorpius went over to the sink.

I did a quick scan of the page, but the business section wasn’t really my thing; numbers don’t mean a lot to me. I flipped through another few pages and, by chance, ended up in the culture section, where there was a little piece about the Weird Sisters. I read for a paragraph before I realised something was up. The writer was going on about how Do the Hippogriff was going to be rereleased again as a charity single, so I thought, hang on, hasn’t it already gone back into the charts? And almost the moment I thought that Scorpius made a sudden sound of disgust from over by the sink.

‘Sorry,’ he said, when me and Albus had both looked round in shock. He was holding the milk jug at arm’s length. ‘Smells foul.’

I went back to the newspaper as he poured the off milk down the sink and rinsed out the jug with water. At first I wondered if the Prophet was as out-of-touch as most people suggested, then realised that the obvious answer was staring me right in the face. Quite literally, because the date of publication was right at the top of the page. A Sunday, almost a month in the past.

‘This paper’s old,’ I said. ‘Mega old.’

It was their turn to look round at me in shock. I flipped back to the front page and held it up. The headline meant nothing to me, seeing as I’m pretty out of it when it comes to magical society, but Scorpius did this sort of theatrical gasp that might have been amusing if I wasn’t so creeped out.

‘Can’t be right,’ he said, and strode out the room.

I looked at Albus, who shrugged, then the two of us followed Scorpius out into the sitting room again, then into the hallway. There was a little box on the front door where the owls were meant to drop post that could be accessed from a hatch in the door itself, a little like a cat flap. Scorpius went up to this hatch and loosened it, then had to jump back as a torrent of post came flooding out onto the doormat.

‘Weird,’ he said to himself, and I wholeheartedly agreed. The place was giving me the heebie-jeebies.

Scorpius lifted a bit of the pile and had a flip through. ‘Weird,’ he said again. Another edition of the Prophet stuck out, but I couldn’t read the date from my place near the sitting room door.

‘Maybe…’ Albus started, then trailed off. I don’t think either of us wanted to say what we were undoubtedly both thinking.

‘Bills, bills, bills…’ Scorpius muttered to himself, before withdrawing a violet envelope from the pile. ‘Shit, final warning on Ministry tax…’

I wish Albus had finished that ‘maybe’, because I could have used something comforting to think about. Scorpius had ditched the post by the door and stood up again. He was deathly pale.

‘I’ll…I’ll check the bedroom,’ he said, and I got the feeling we weren’t meant to follow. Not that I wanted to, especially given what he’d said the night before. About, you know, coming home and finding his dad. But him not necessarily being there.

Me and Albus went back into the kitchen.

‘I’ve got a really horrible feeling about this,’ Albus said, and he’d gone pretty pale too.

‘I know. Me too.’

‘What do we do?’ he murmured.

‘I don’t know…’

He’d inched a bit closer to me so our arms touched, and I felt a bit warmer on that side. The rest of me was pretty chilly.

A minute later Scorpius came wandering back in, and I could tell by the relief on his face that the three of us were totally alone in the flat.

‘Nothing,’ he said.

‘Maybe, maybe…’ Albus seemed to struggle for those missing words. ‘Maybe it really is overtime. I mean, like you said, Department of Mysteries, weird place, wouldn’t put it past them to start sleeping there, right? Never leave their research. Don’t quit till they’ve got an answer.’

‘Right,’ Scorpius said.

It occurred to me this was the first time they’d spoken to each other normally. Given we were standing in a chilly flat discussing the possible disappearance of Scorpius’ dad, I could hardly appreciate this, but it was a slight improvement.

‘You alright?’ I said.

‘Um…’ Scorpius trailed off.

‘I could go back and get my dad,’ Albus ventured.

‘No, it’s – it’s probably like you said, he’s probably found some new thing, something he can’t leave the department for,’ Scorpius said. ‘He’s been doing some pretty weird stuff, I heard, really deep.’

A silence passed. I had no idea what to say.

‘He’s probably still in the Ministry,’ Scorpius said.

‘Well…Mr Potter said nobody had seen him,’ I said.

‘The Department of Mysteries is really secretive,’ Scorpius mumbled. ‘Probably…that’s probably it. He’s just there.’

‘You can’t stay here,’ Albus said, so forcefully that it almost made me jump. The place was alright, it wasn’t a mess or anything, and it’d only take a charm or two to make it warm enough, but I wholeheartedly agreed with Albus, mostly on the grounds that the flat was creepier than a cemetery at night.

Then the reality hit me. ‘Al, only two of us can go back. The permits…and we’ve only got two pinches of Floo Powder.’

He pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘Shit. You’re right.’

‘And how do we find him?’

The three of us stood and thought about it.

‘I don’t know,’ Scorpius sighed. ‘He could be anywhere. I mean, thing is…where he grew up, it’s a ruin now, but he could be there. Or he could have, I dunno, gone…hiking. Probably not. But he hasn’t got any family,’ he said, more to himself. ‘He’s only got me. He stopped talking to Aunt Daphne and the others are all dead-’

‘We should go to the Ministry,’ Albus blurted out.


‘He must be in the Ministry. We should go there. Make some enquiries. Because it probably is totally innocent. They’d probably take you to him. They let me see dad all the time. Just turn up.’


‘Yeah!’ Albus said emphatically. ‘You just have to ask! I mean, there’s a few security checks, but they’re usually okay with you going round a department, you could say you’re thinking of working there, just want to check it out and stuff. Worth a shot.’

‘Are you sure?’ I said. ‘If they’re, well, being all stingy with the Floo Network, will they really let us in?’

‘Um, not that I like to brag or anything,’ Albus said. ‘But I am the son of Harry Potter. That opens a lot of doors.’

Scorpius forgot his anxiety for a moment to scoff at this comment.

‘Besides,’ Albus added. ‘I do have an invisibility cloak. That opens even more doors.’

‘That’s breaking and entering,’ I said.

‘Nobody has to know. Like I said, it’s worth a shot. We may as well try. The Ministry’ll be quiet tomorrow anyway, they’re more likely to let us have a look. Judging by the view,’ he pointed to the window. ‘We’re pretty close. We could walk there!’

The more he talked, the more it seemed like the best plan of action. But we still hadn’t solved the problem of Scorpius staying in the flat overnight.

‘Okay,’ Scorpius was nodding. ‘Okay, just…go to the Ministry. No problem. Dad’s taken me there before. That’s fine.’

I realised, then, what I had to do.

I turned to Albus. ‘I’ll have to stay here tonight too.’

‘Pardon?’ he said, just as Scorpius shot out a very disbelieving ‘what?

‘Well…’ I ran the idea through my mind before saying it, just to check I wasn’t being thick or anything. ‘We’ve got two Floo permits. And Scorpius can’t stay here, not on his own anyway. So you go back, then use the other permit to come back in the morning. And I stay here.’

Scorpius, evidently embarrassed, said ‘you don’t have to do that, Flora.’

‘No, it makes sense,’ Albus said, although he looked a little put out.

‘Just…tell your parents…the truth. I’m sure they’ll understand. They said you’re welcome any time, by the way,’ I said to Scorpius. ‘They’re looking out for you.’

I wish I hadn’t said it, because it seemed to make the whole situation that much more awkward. Like I was implying that it was just Albus who had a problem, that even his parents were okay with a Malfoy - and they were the ones that had to fight the war. I felt a bit guilty.

‘Okay,’ Albus said. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow. Eleven?’


‘I should go back soon.’

I wished he could have stayed longer, but it wasn’t really sensible. I’d volunteered to shut myself up in this creepy flat with Scorpius all night, dreading what we’d find in the Ministry the next day – I couldn’t exactly expect Albus to suffer that too, could I?

Scorpius mumbled something about making some tea (without milk, of course) and I went back through to the sitting room with Albus so he could Floo out. He gave me a brief little hug, kissed my forehead, then promised he’d be back at eleven on the dot before stepping into the flames and shooting back to Reading.

So I braced myself for the long night ahead.


Scorpius insisted that I take the bed in his room, but I refused to be the comfortable one when he’d have to sleep on the floor, and he wouldn’t let me swap. I suggested we both try and cram into the bed – after all, we’d been friends for years and I hardly cared if I had to spend a night with his feet in my face – but he point-blank refused to do this. I guess being Albus’ girlfriend had put an extra bit of wrapping around me, and he was too scared of the implications to try it, even if it was the only way we’d both be comfy. So we both ended up heaping duvets and blankets and pillows on the floor to sleep there, a good foot of space between us. Not once did either of us suggest taking the double bed in his dad’s room. I think we were too scared.

We passed the time by making endless cups of tea and chatting meaninglessly about the features in the issue of New Magical Express I had in my bag. Once that was exhausted, we picked things off the walls of his room to talk about. It was pretty much the way I’d remembered it from my last visit back in fourth year. Posters of bands I didn’t recognise, a Quidditch team in blue robes, a collection of unusual postcards. On the bookshelf there was a framed photograph of a very young Scorpius with a pretty woman who had mousy-brown hair and a thin, almost colourless face. He had her eyes, you could tell. I chose not to talk about that picture.

We put the lights out at eleven. Twelve hours until Albus would turn up again. It seemed so far away, especially when the room was dark and the shadows kept moving.

I’d probably been lying there blinking for half an hour before I realised I wasn’t about to get much sleep.

‘Scorpius?’ I whispered.


‘I can’t sleep.’

‘Me neither.’

I sat up, wrapping the duvet about myself. He copied me.

‘Maybe I should have taken the bed,’ I said.

‘I did keep telling you…’

‘Nah. I’m okay.’

Sitting there all cocooned up in duvets, it was like being back at a primary school sleepover. I was on the verge of suggesting we tell ghost stories and have a midnight feast when Scorpius interrupted my thoughts.

‘Wish Fauna was here,’ he said. ‘She’d cheer us up.’

The dim, faintly orange glow from outside made it look like he was black-and-white, even with the bruises and all.

‘I’m scared,’ I said.

‘Me too.’

‘Can you really just…waltz into the Ministry?’

‘It’s not as hard as you think.’

Two white squares of light were flickering on his eyes. I tried to focus on them and not look into the dark.

‘Anyway,’ I said. ‘Enough misery. Yeah, I miss Fauna. She’d probably crack some joke.’

‘Except she’d ruin the punchline.’

I smiled. ‘Too busy laughing at it herself.’

‘Then she’d try to play it down – you know, flip her fringe around, pout a bit. Who cares when I look this good-’

I actually laughed. ‘She wasn’t that conceited.’

‘I miss her.’

The brief good mood died a bit, but we were talking more freely than we had done for months. It was like the darkness made it acceptable to say these things; neither of us had brought up Fauna since she’d slipped out of our group. Well, since she’d slipped out the group and made it a duo. And then since Scorpius had repeatedly messed things made up and made it a bit of a one-woman-band.

And that’s what my mind settled on, you know, Scorpius messing things up. Then the words were out of my mouth before I could stop myself, because I’d kidded myself into thinking that just because it was dark and it was like being at a sleepover that it was an acceptable thing to say. Like I was brave enough to ask this: ‘why did you kiss me? Just before Christmas?’

I could’ve slapped myself. The kid already had enough on his plate to be dealing with, it was pretty uncharitable of me to be digging up that angst after so many months.

It took him ages to say anything coherent, although not after a fair amount of spluttering and monosyllabic noises.

‘I’d thought about it for months, but…’ he looked down at the floor. ‘Never had the courage. And then it was too late. Pretty wrong of me.’

To be honest, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

‘I’m glad, though…glad you told me to shove off. I mean, it was really dumb. And a bit horrible. I didn’t mean it to go…that way. I just thought, well, why not? And went for it. Well, I mean, this is daft, but I…I thought you liked me. For ages. I know, it’s really stupid. But I like to think you trusted me and stuff, and I was nice to you, and, I dunno…I thought something would come of it.’

‘That’s…that’s just being friends, Scorpius.’

‘No, I mean…this was ages ago, promise I don’t think the same now. But, you know, you told me things, and I tried my hardest, and I thought it…I dunno, I just assumed it’d all come together.’

There was a bit of me that was dealing with the toe-curling revelation that he’d probably fancied me for a good bit of fifth year, but there was a bigger bit of me that mostly felt angry.

‘No, really. That is just being friends.’

‘Yeah, well,’ he seemed a bit flustered. ‘Well, I guess you kind of friendzoned me.’

‘I…friendzoned you.’

‘I mean, at the time, I thought that, but now-’

‘There’s no such thing as the friendzone. It’s a dumb concept someone made up.’

‘I dunno, it’s the only word to describe it…’

‘Well, thanks,’ I said, wishing I’d gone back to the Potters’ with Albus. ‘Great, really. Nice to know you were only my friend because you thought something would come of it-’

‘I didn’t mean that!’

‘Are you eleven years old or something? By the way, boys and girls can be friends without it leading to, to…shenanigans!

‘I didn’t mean that!’ he sounded desperate. ‘I was a bit of a prat! I didn’t realise there were different kinds of love!

I glared at the floor.

‘Okay, that sounded really lame,’ he said. ‘I’m a git, I should have realised, but…I dunno, I’ve only ever had you and Fauna around, and my dad’s so…well, you know, dad, and Fauna’s a bit…Fauna, and sometimes it felt like you were the only person who cared about me, and I sort of got the wrong end of the stick and I’m really, really, massively sorry.’

‘So why the change of heart about Fauna?’

‘Because I realised I felt a bit sick whenever I looked at her, I don’t know!’

It was a bit ludicrous and I couldn’t resist a giggle. ‘You felt sick?’

‘Urgh,’ he brought the duvet up to cover his face. ‘You know what I mean. Probably how you feel about Potter. I mean, Albus. Like…like when I went round the corridors at school on my own, I kept thinking how I wanted to bump into Fauna, and then I’d see someone that looked a bit like her and then I’d find all these reasons for why I didn’t want to see her…and then went it wasn’t her, it’d make me sad. You know?’

I nodded.

‘Fucked that up too,’ he did this really exaggerated shrug. ‘Can’t help it!’

‘You should have said something,’ I told him, and a private little voice in my head said that well, if he’d got there before Albus, you’d probably have said yes and ended up the girlfriend of the grumpiest git in Hufflepuff. ‘Not just…attacked me.’

‘Um,’ his voice went small again. ‘I dunno. I was seizing the moment a bit, I think. I, well. I don’t want to end up how my dad did. Like when mum was dying, I don’t think he believed it. And I was there nearly all the time with Aunt Daphne, but dad kept doing long shifts at work. Then one day he was doing overtime and Aunt Daphne had gone out to get a cup of tea or something, and mum…died. I was the only person there. I was the only one who was with her. I keep thinking I don’t want to be like dad, I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to let things get away from me. He missed mum and he’s never been the same since. I can’t end up like that, pretending nothing’s happening and missing all the chances. Or I’ll end up as miserable and lonely as him.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, but he’d floored me a bit. I was a little speechless. So I let him talk and talk until he seemed brave enough to say the things he wanted to say, like I was kidding him into thinking I’d suddenly gone deaf and nobody could hear these things he’d probably kept bottled up for ages. Things about his parents, and about Fauna, and about what’d been like at school for him all this time. And he said meeting me had been one of the best things that’d ever happened to him, because he bet everything in his dad’s Gringotts vault that he wouldn’t have had friends otherwise.

Like I said, it floored me. Couldn’t think of a thing to say. I decided it was best to let him work over this stuff in his own head, and at least console myself by thinking that we were making peace.

Eventually he ran out of stamina and drew the duvet back up over his head. ‘Sorry,’ came his muffled voice. ‘Shouldn’t have said any of that. I’ve probably made it weird. Sorry. Sorry.’

‘No, I’m glad you said it.’

‘Sorry,’ he repeated.

‘It needed to be said.’

There was a pause. Still wrapped up in the duvet, I lay back down again.

‘I’m tired,’ I said. ‘We should get some sleep.’

‘Sorry,’ he said, like a record skipping back to the same spot.

‘You’re going to wear that word out.’

‘But I am sorry, I really am…’

‘It’s fine. I’m glad you said all that. It’s okay, I promise. It’s fine. I forgive you.’

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Sor-’

‘Don’t you dare apologise again,’ I hissed.

‘Oh…kay,’ he said. ‘Goodnight, then.’

‘Night,’ I said. ‘Sleep well.’

I didn’t sleep well in the slightest, and I don’t think he did either. If I did drop off, I usually woke up with a start, only to find that the patterns of light in the room had barely changed and time hadn’t really passed at all. I ended up tossing and turning, trying to find a comfy spot on the carpeted floor, and every so often I heard him shift around too. Once in a while I’d turn and end up facing him and see the light reflected on his eyes again, so I’d shut mine, pretending I was fast asleep, too tired by this point to bother with him. Then the sun started to rise and I finally dropped off when grey light began to soak into the room, showing us both as I guess we truly looked. All bleary eyes, all dull hair and chapped lips and bitten fingernails, nowhere near as brave as we’d felt the night before.

a/n: hello. yes, it does get a bit angsty now. no, the angst doesn't let up. yes, it gets worse. I may or may not be cackling evilly about the 13,000 or so other words of this I have lined up for posting. yes, you may send me death threats when the next two/three chapters are posted. I think I deserve them for what's about to happen. but regardless of all that, I hope you enjoyed it and thanks for reading! *inappropriately cheesy smile*

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