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The chill of the winter air ran through my wet hair and down my spine as I left the Gryffindor change rooms.  We’d just defeated (well, more like demolished) Hufflepuff and I was pumped for a victory party.  “Great job Potter!”  Someone shouted, and I waved to the few stragglers who were still making their way back to the castle. 

I’d jumped in the shower pretty quickly after the match and was now the first team member heading up to the common room.  That was exactly how I’d planned it, because I really didn’t want to be stuck helping James to pack up his stuff.  James was always last out of the change rooms because as captain he had to make sure everyone was finished, hadn’t forgotten their belongings and he then had to send anyone injured up to the hospital wing to be checked out.  On top of that, he also had to pack up the little blackboard he used in his pre-match strategy meeting and double check everyone’s brooms were locked away safely in the broom shed.  The last person usually stuck around to help James, it was just what we did as a team and I didn’t mind taking my turn, but today I was determined not to be that person, not because I’m lazy, but because James was becoming a great big pain in the neck!  If I had to hear one more of his mopey tirades about how bloody lovesick he was and how he couldn’t go on, I was going to scream.  Didn’t he realise he wasn’t the only person with girl problems?

I folded my arms to keep my un-gloved hands warm as I reached the castle and stomped up to Gryffindor tower.  Brilliant…just thinking about James has put me in a grump!  I thought to myself as I climbed the stairs.  To distract myself I started going over the day’s match in my head, running the plays, remembering how many goals had been scored and by whom. 

“Yeeeaaaahhhh!” The cheer of the common room seemed almost tangible as I climbed through the portrait hole to be greeted by gleeful house-mates.  A large group crowded around me, slapping me on the back and doling out words of congratulations.  I couldn’t help but smile as I chatted with people, answering their questions and accepting their praise as humbly as I could manage.  It was a good distraction and I was grateful for the distraction that Quidditch could be.

However, every time another member of the team came through the portrait hole, they were greeted with the same cheer and accompanying tirade of admirers.  This meant that, over time, the distractions became diluted, until there were no more questions, very few slaps on the back and just the odd murmur of ‘Great game,’ as someone passed by.  I could feel my grumpiness coming back as I watched James sulking in the corner, only talking or smiling when someone walked over to speak to him.  I am so annoyed, I could just walk over there and slap his stupid…

“You look exhausted,” The only voice that could yank me out of a mood like this tickled my ears, making me smile before I’d even turned to look at her.  Lucy was standing next to me with a sympathetic and incredibly sweet smile on her face.  She was dressed in jeans and a red checked button-down shirt; a glimmer of light around her neck caught my eye and I noted a sparkly necklace that spelt out our house name in red and gold gemstones.  Her shiny, chocolate-coloured hair was pulled up into a ponytail, allowing me an unobstructed view of her features.

“I thought you might like this,” She added, holding out a bottle of butterbeer to me.  Our fingers touched for a brief moment as I took the bottle from her, causing me to nearly drop it as my heart skipped a beat, but I managed to keep my grip on the cold glass.

“Thanks,” I said.  “You look nice,” I added, the words slipping out before I could stop them.  Lucy turned pink and looked down at her feet, embarrassed.

Well done Al…only took you twenty seconds to say something stupid this time!

“Thank you,” She said, looking up at me, and I was relieved to see she was smiling.  “The necklace was a gift from Jane, I thought it might bring you some luck.”

“Me?” I asked, surprised. 

“Well…you know, you guys…the team,” Lucy explained, and I felt rather stupid.

“Oh, yeah, of course,” I laughed, trying desperately to act cool.  “Well I guess it worked, so thanks!”

Lucy laughed, “I’m not sure you needed it against Hufflepuff, but you’re welcome.”

“I dunno, Hufflepuff are getting pretty good,” I admitted.  Truth was, even though we won by over two hundred points, if I hadn’t been lucky enough to spot the snitch when the Hufflepuff seeker was on the other side of the pitch, we could have lost the match.

“Oh, hey, there’s Jane.  I haven’t congratulated her yet,” Lucy said suddenly, waving across the room to her friend.  “Great match today though!”

“Thanks, and thanks for the drink too,” I said, although Lucy was already dancing across the room to hug Hawthorn as I uttered the end of my sentence.

I didn’t get to speak to her again until later on in the afternoon after most of the party-goers had dispersed and a group of us were lazing about near the fire.  Fred and Louis were making a stupid amount of noise, annoying some of the older Gryffindors and lamenting about the end of another party. 

It was Jane who started talking about birthday parties, suggesting we throw one for Lucy, who looked somewhat embarrassed at the sudden attention she was garnering.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked, feeling a bit embarrassed that, for all my delusions of romance and chivalry, I hadn’t ever thought to find out something so basic about her.

“Next Thursday, February 23rd,” She replied shyly.  Louis and Will burst into party planning mode, listing things we needed to do before Lucy’s birthday.”

“Guys, you really don’t need to do this, I mean it’s only my 16th, it’s not like I’m going to be of age or anything.” The girl in question protested modestly, interrupting Fred’s list. 

“Are you kidding?”  Fred exclaimed.  “This idea is brilliant!  You’ve given us a very legitimate reason to throw a party in just two weeks’ time, Lucy I could kiss you…in fact I think I will!”  And then, to my very great horror, Fred jumped up to the small space on the couch next to her.  It all seemed to unfold in slow motion, and yet I was powerless to stop it as Fred leaned over and kissed Lucy’s cheek.  I felt a surge of adrenaline and a bright reddish-coloured light seemed to flash in front of my eyes as she giggled at him and gave him a playful shove.  Was it my imagination or was she flirting with him?  Suddenly, as if to make up for lost time, everything shot into fast forward, as Fred came crashing off the couch and into the exploding snap cards with a bang, causing and argument to erupt between him and Dominique, who had already told him off for being noisy.

I caught Rose’s eye across the group and she looked positively alarmed at what had just occurred.  When our sights locked on each other, she narrowed her eyes at me, giving me the silent message to sit still and stay calm.  It was the same look she’d had in her eyes the day that McMillan had attacked Lucy.  I inclined my head in a tiny nod to let her know I understood, and it was at that moment, that I realised Lucy was looking at me.  Not wanting her to know that the kiss had upset me, I flashed her the warmest smile I could muster.  She looked confused for a second and then smiled back before we were both distracted by the assault of text books that the seventh years were now hurling at Fred with their wands.

Rose and I didn’t talk until dinner time; she sidled up to me as we were all heading down to the Great Hall and gently squeezed my arm.

“You know he didn’t mean anything by it,” She whispered. 

“I know,” I replied, nodding my head to let her know I knew she was right, although I wasn’t 100% convinced that she was.

Thanks to Louis and Fred, excitement about Lucy’s party began to build rapidly amongst the Gryffindors, who (let’s face facts) were all happy for an excuse for another celebration. 

“So are you excited?” I asked Lucy on our way down to Wednesday’s Care of Magical Creatures lesson.

“About?” she asked, con fused.

“About your birthday,” I smiled.  “Surely you’re a little excited, I mean 16 is a big deal.”  To be honest, I was a tad surprised that she wasn’t bouncing off the walls with anticipation like everyone else; Lucy could be such a mystery sometimes.

“Not as big at 17 though,” She countered.  I rolled my eyes sarcastically at her.

“So are you trying to tell me you’re not excited about your birthday?”

“I didn’t say that.  In fact I happen to be extremely excited, but I get excited about all my birthdays so this one isn’t really any different.”  I was surprised at the seriousness in Lucy’s voice.

“Yeah but you’re having a party this time, surely that should raise the excitement levels a bit,” I said, giving her a hopeful smile.  “Everyone’s really looking forward to it,” I added.  Instead of smiling back though, Lucy let out a quiet sigh.

“Look, I’m excited and I’m glad about the party and all, but I’m not about to go dancing through the castle because a couple of people decided the anniversary of my birth is a good excuse to have a get together.” She said, sounding almost annoyed.  “Especially when most of those people haven’t cared before this year and probably still wouldn’t care if it wasn’t for the party.”  She bit her lip and turned her head to look straight ahead, and I wondered if she was going to cry.  My heart felt like it was made of lead – how could I have been so insensitive?  I couldn’t believe I’d underestimated Lucy like that, of course she realised that so many of the Gryffindors fawning over her were just doing it because of the party. 

Sweet Merlin, does she think that about me too?

“I guess you’ve got a point, I’d never thought of it like that before.” I admitted.

“It’s ok,” She mumbled and my heart felt even heavier.  I’d upset her now, stupid, stupid Albus! 

“No it’s not really,” I felt overcome with the need for her to realise that I wasn’t a faker who just wanted to talk to her because she was having a birthday party.  “I mean we’re supposed to be friends and I didn’t even know when your birthday was until Jane brought it up the other day.”  The word friends hung in the air for a moment, the same way it always did when I said it to Lucy, but she didn’t seem to notice as she responded.

“Really, it’s no big deal,” She said, her voice softening a bit as we approached Hagrid’s hut.

“Well, I hope you’ll still enjoy yourself, and you know that your real friends are just happy to share the day with you.” I made sure to make eye contact with her as I said this, hoping she would see the sincerity there.  It seemed to work because her lips broke in to a smile.

“You sound like a sappy greeting card,” She said.

“Just working out what to write in yours,” I replied playfully.

The truth was, I knew exactly what I wanted to write in Lucy’s birthday card, but I doubted that I would find the nerve to pen the words and actually give them to her.  I also found myself plagued by the dilemma of a present.  Buying a Christmas gift was tricky enough, what could I get her for her birthday that was just as special, if not even more?

When the weekend rolled around, I still hadn’t come any closer to thinking up the perfect present.  I’d thought about asking Rose’s opinion, but she was so difficult to get hold of these days – her O.W.L prep obsession was getting a little bit worrying.  The few times I had seen her, it had been in a class or as part of a group in the study room, and I couldn’t find an inconspicuous way to pull her aside for a chat.

As we headed down towards Hogsmeade as a group, I wondered if I might just get lucky enough to find the perfect gift in a shop window in the village.  Almost automatically, my gaze turned to Lucy, who was walking only a few steps ahead of me, her eyes on Justin and Gwen, joined at the hands as they walked together.  I lengthened my strides until I drew even with Lucy.  “Are you getting deja vu?”  I asked, my heart skipping a beat when she smiled up at me.

“Reminds me of the time we followed them on their first date,” Lucy agreed.  “They were so boring weren’t they?”

“Unbelievably,” I laughed, enjoying the sound of her soft chuckle as it joined mine.  “That was a pretty good day though,” I added, as snippets of memories floated to the top of my mind.  Sitting close to Lucy in the pub, our knees touching; a brief but almost flirtatious game of footsies; the warmth of her hand over mine when I’d started getting worked up over McMillan.  But Lucy, oblivious to my reminiscing, was continuing the conversation.

“That was the day that…” Her voice trailed off at the end of the sentence, as though she couldn’t remember what she was going to say next, or perhaps didn’t want to.

“That was the day that what?” I asked gently, hoping I wasn’t coming across as pushy.

“That was the day we saw Michael in the Three Broomsticks,” She finished her sentence quietly.  More memories floated across my mind, not-so-pleasant ones to contract my earlier thoughts.

“Oh yeah, I remember that, he was all over some…” Now it was my turn to leave a sentence unfinished.  Albus Potter you insensitive git!  I berated myself as I realised what I had just implied.  I looked at Lucy out of the corner of my eye, wondering if she was cross at me, deciding that I wouldn’t be finishing that sentence, no matter what.  Instead I muttered to myself, “Well anyway, he’s a stupid git.” 

“Yes.  Yes he is,” Lucy replied with a smile, having obviously heard my murmurings. I returned her smile, pleased that she seemed to be moving past McMillan and his moronic ways.

After an epic trip to Honeydukes, where I learnt that Lucy’s favourite food is toast and her favourite sweet is chocolate frogs, we decided that lunch at the Three Broomsticks was well in order.  I was eyeing off the seat next to Lucy as she sat down, unfortunately I was obstructed by Rose, who beat me to it.  Except for a joke about an peculiarly long chip, Lucy and I barely spoke as we ate our lunch, her attentions captured by Rose on her right and Fred, who had somehow managed to weasel (no pun intended) his way into the seat on her right.  I glared at him periodically, sending him determined yet silent messages.  Back off Freddy.  Keep your hands to yourself mate.  You might be my cousin but you better watch yourself.

“I’m going to go visit Dad,” Fred announced quite suddenly after our plates had been cleared. I stared at him in surprise, Did he actually hear those things I was thinking?  “Anyone want to join me?”  He offered, looking around the table. 

“Sure,” Will said, standing up and pushing in his chair.

“Anyone else?” Fred repeated his offer as he, too, stood up.  His gaze stopped on Louis for a moment, obviously somewhat surprised that his cousin and mate hadn’t taken up the offer.

“I’m right,” Louis said casually, although I noticed his eyes flit to Jane for the briefest of moments.  Fred obviously saw it too, because he nodded in acceptance.

“Anyone want another butterbeer?” I asked after Fred and Will had thrown their cloaks back on and ducked back out into the chilly, winter air.

“Sure,” Louis replied.

“I won’t say no,” Jane added.

“No thanks, not for me Al,” Rose smiled, indicating the mouthful of golden liquid still in her glass.

“Lucy?” I asked, trying not to blush at the way her name rolled around on my tongue, as though the way I pronounced it might give me away.

“I’d love one,” she said, obviously not perturbed by the way I’d spoken her name.

“Come help me,” I said to Louis, yanking on his sleeve as I stepped towards the bar.  “Four butterbeers please,” I said to the harried looking barman, who nodded and then promptly disappeared into the back room.  I wondered curiously what he was doing, and leaned forward on the bar to see if I could spot him through the half-open door.

“Hey Al, you reckon you could help me with something?” Louis said suddenly.

“Hmmm?” I replied, still craning my neck.

“I want to see if I can get some time alone with Jane this afternoon,” He said, his voice wavering a bit.  I continued to lean on the bar but turned my head to look at him.  “I thought maybe I could ask if anyone wants to come to Uncle George’s shop and maybe you could keep Rose and Lucy occupied when we go over, so I can sneak in a bit of one-on-one with Jane.”  Louis spoke quickly, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been rehearsing this speech in his head.

“Sure,” I said.  “I’ll do my best, I mean Jane and Lucy are best friends, but I’m sure I can distract her long enough for you to get Hawthorn into a quiet corner.” I winked at Louis and chuckled out loud when his ears turned pink, but before he could defend himself to me, the barman returned with our drinks.

“So we have a deal?” Louis asked as he picked up two of the frosty glasses.

“We have a deal,” I nodded.  And if I could just get rid of Rose, then I might even get my own alone time with Lucy, I thought to myself.  You can imagine my surprise and delight then, when we returned to the table to find that Rose was missing.  It was Jane who answered my question about the sudden disappearance.

“She just remembered that she promised Gwen she’d look in on her date,” She smiled.  “And I think she something about stopping in at Scrivenshaft’s.  You know what Rose can be like about having enough stationery around exam time.” 

“That sounds like our Rose,” Louis laughed.  For a brief moment I wondered if the excuse did seem a little flimsy, but I wasn’t about to question the gift I’d been given, an opportunity to get Lucy on her own.  Yep…not sounding creepy at all.

I took Rose’s seat, telling myself it was because spreading ourselves out around a table that could seat eight was silly.  Louis looked positively delighted as he sat next to Hawthorn, his eyes fixed on hers.  I turned my gaze to Lucy and noticed that her usual smile was missing, replaced by a sad, pensive expression.  As I watched her, she let out a small, sad sigh.

“Lucy?  Is something wrong?” I asked quietly, not wanting to draw the attention of the other two.  She looked up at me, obviously surprised that I’d noticed.  The surprise was swiftly replaced by her usual sunny expression.

“Nope, everything’s fine,” She said, almost convincingly.  “Tell me, how did you go with that Potion’s essay that Professor Alchers set for homework this week?”

The conversation turned to mundane things, exams, study, school stuff in general, but Lucy’s animated chatter and bright smile, which had returned in full force, kept me interested in the conversation about grades and essays and revision plans.  As I drained the last of my butterbeer, I noticed Louis shooting me a pointed stare across the table.  It’s showtime, I thought nervously.

“Fred mentioned that Uncle George was getting in a shipment of some new joke products.  I thought I might go over and have a look; anyone want to join me?”  I was amazed at how calm Louis sounded.  I was a nervous wreck inside, wondering, hoping, praying that the plan would work.

“I’ll come with you, I haven’t been to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in ages,” Hawthorn’s response was immediate, and Louis beamed at her.  I turned my eyes to Lucy, who was staring rather intently at Jane.  I knew I had to keep up my part of the plan, I had to stop Lucy from going with them, but my mind was blank – what could I possibly say to make her stay that wouldn’t embarrass Louis or myself and reveal our scheme?  If Lucy knew what Louis was trying to achieve here, she’d be on board, I was certain of that, but how could I communicate the plan to her without Jane finding out.

I glanced down and noticed Lucy’s right hand, resting on her leg, only inches away from me.  Before I could second guess myself or chicken out, I placed my hand on top of hers, squeezing it lightly.  Lucy’s head immediately swivelled around, her eyes meeting mine with a look of surprise that matched the way I was feeling.  I looked at Louis and Jane as pointedly as I could, before turning my gaze back to her with a slight shake of my head.  Lucy’s eyes widened in understanding, and a small smile played with the corners of her mouth.  Fortunately, Louis and Jane we too absorbed with each other to notice our interaction, and both seemed to start in surprise at our presence when Lucy turned to them and spoke.

“You guys go ahead, I don’t like to buy things just before my birthday, you know presents and all,” She said calmly, impressing me with her increased ability to tell a convincing lie.

“I’ll keep you company,” I said, trying to make it sound casual and unplanned.  Jane looked at Lucy momentarily as she stood, Louis shooting me grateful stares at the same time.  A small giggle escaped from Lucy’s lips, but she turned it in to a cough, an indication of her imperfect lying skills.  I noticed her shoulders shaking slightly as Louis ushered Jane out the door, and as it slammed behind them with a jangle of the brass bells that hung above it, Lucy burst out in hysterical laughter.

I looked at her in shock for a moment, before the contagious giggles reached out to me, and suddenly I was laughing along with her, the whole situation seeming ridiculous and overly tense.  Several other tables and a few people at the bar looked over at us in surprise, no doubt wondering if the two giggling, underage wizards by the window were drunk.

“Maybe we should go.  Fancy a stroll through the village?”  I said as a group of elderly witches gave us dirty looks over their wire rimmed glasses.

“Ok, sounds like a good idea,” Lucy replied, trying to steady her breathing as the last few giggles escaped.  I stood and pulled her gently to her feet, the automatic action reminding me that I hadn’t let go of her hand.  Lucy seemed to have the same thought as she glanced down and turned bright red before pulling her hand away from mine.

Crap, now I’ve embarrassed her!  I thought to myself, although when I noticed Lucy shove her hands into her woollen gloves, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.  My heart was behaving in something of an erratic matter as it dawned on me that Lucy and I were now alone, together, in Hogsmeade.  We were practically on a date.

Except it’s not a date you knuckle-head, I reminded myself as I slipped my scarf around my neck.  Date or no date though, I was determined to be the perfect gentleman; maybe if Lucy saw how good a date with me could be, she might me more willing to say yes when I asked her on one.  IfIf you ask her on one.  If you ever work up the nerve, you mean.  I ignored my inner voice as I held Lucy’s cloak out to her and then opened the front door of the pub for her to walk through.  My hands tingled with the memory of her touch and I squeezed my fists together tightly to resist the urge to interlock my fingers with her own.  I buried them deep in my pockets for good measure and then turned to Lucy and smiled.

“Where would you like to go?” I asked, but before she could answer, Lucy slipped on the icy road and lost her balance.  Thankfully, years of developing seeker reflexes meant that my hands reached out and steadied her before she fell.  “You seriously have a problem with falling down don’t you?”  I joked as she righted herself.

“You’re just learning this now?” She muttered sarcastically, but her smile told me she wasn’t really angry.  I let go of her, about to put my hands back in their pockets, but I was suddenly struck with an idea.  A rather daring and potentially disastrous idea that could leave me feeling rejected while Lucy runs away screaming.  Oh what the hell!  I decided, throwing caution to the wind.

“Here, I’m thinking that with all this snow around, you might need some help to stay upright,” I said, extending my elbow towards her, indicating she should take it.

“Hey, I walked all the way here without falling over!” She argued, planting her delicate hands firmly on the perfect curve of her hips.  She thinks I’m joking?  I almost gave up at that moment, conceded defeat and let it go, but I decided that I’d come this far, I may as well stick with it.  I raised my eyebrows at her, giving her a look that I hoped indicated that my offer was a genuine one.  Lucy stared at me for a moment, frozen on the spot, hands on hips and a slightly puzzled expression on her face.  My breath caught in my throat as I began to doubt the gamble I’d taken, maybe I’d crossed the line, pushed the friendship too far.

Then suddenly, so quickly I almost fell over myself, purely from the shock of it all, Lucy linked her arm with mine.  “Fine.  But this doesn’t mean I need your help, I’ve managed alright by myself so far.”  Lucy pretended to look put out by my offer, but her eyes told me otherwise.  My heart felt like it was about to burst out through my chest and go flying across the countryside, but I simply smiled at her in what I hoped was a playful manner.

“Oh and who was it that I had to take up to the hospital wing a few months ago because she fell over and broke her leg?  Oh, that was you, wasn’t it?”  I teased as we began wandering down the street again.

“It was a broken ankle, thank you very much.  And like you can talk, I seem to recall a Quidditch match last year where you fell off your broom in front of a whole stadium of people!”  Lucy and I fell in to a comfortable banter as we walked, my heart regaining its steady rhythm.  It felt incredibly natural to be so close to each other, arms linked.  At one point we passed a large group of third years and I gently pulled her closer to let them pass, Lucy leaned into me, tightening her grip on my arm slightly, and a warmth filled my chest as I realised how natural it felt, how perfectly our shoulders seemed to press up against each other.

 I didn’t even care what our closeness must look like to other people, in fact I found myself hoping that people looked at us and thought we were a couple.  I liked the idea that a girl like Lucy could be my girl. 

The light sprinkle of snow began to fall faster and eventually I wondered if it was best to get out of the cold.  I couldn’t have Lucy getting sick on account of me.

“Do you want to head back to the castle?  It’ll be warmer there and we can play exploding snap or something while we wait for the others.”  I looked sideways at her, wondering if she understood the hidden message in my question.  The message that said I still want to spend time with you, so don’t go running off on me.

“Or we could go to the kitchens and see if the house elves will give us some treacle tart,” She replied.

“Ah, a girl after my own heart,” The words slipped out of my mouth with a laugh.  Crap. Did I really just say that out loud?  But Lucy was laughing too, so she obviously hadn’t construed it as a come-on.  Nonetheless, I thought it might be safest to change the subject to less inflammatory topics, and our focus turned back to our O.W.L’s, though this time it was a much more honest conversation than the one we’d shared with Louis and Jane in the pub.

When I eventually let her arm go so I could pull open the heavy wooden entrance doors to the castle, I felt disappointment run through me, and my whole left side felt cold as Lucy’s body heat was taken from me.  I tried not to gawk as she pulled off her hat and shook her hair out, the light from candles above us causing a thousand stars to glitter in the golden brown waves that tumbled over her shoulders.

I wanted to take her arm or hold her hand again, but since we were now in a safe, dry, snow-free castle, I couldn’t find an excuse and so I had to content myself with walking as close to her as I could without looking suspicious.  We didn’t talk as we climbed towards Gryffindor tower, but we didn’t need to.  The silence wasn’t awkward, it felt comfortable, natural.  I watched Lucy in my peripheral vision, wondering if she too felt how natural and easy it was for us to be together.

My thoughts were broken by the sound of a gasp escaping Lucy’s lips, and she stopped, dead on the stairs.  I followed her vision to where a couple were locked in a rather passionate embrace on the landing.  It was a moment before I understood the panicked look in Lucy’s eyes though, as my brain took in the bright red hair of the girl and white blonde of the boy.

Rose.  My Rose.  My cousin Rose with Scorpius. Bloody. Malfoy.

“What the hell!  Get off my cousin you slimy git!”  The anger bubbled up inside of me as I watched that slime ball put his hands all over my best friend.  They broke apart at my shout, both staring at me in shock.  Rose’s expression changed first, her eyes softened and a look of pleading crossed her face.

“Al, wait, stop…” She said, but the rage I was feeling was starting to consume me and I cut her off.

“What the hell are you thinking Rosie?  Not only are you snogging some guy in public, but he’s a bloody Slytherin!”  My words bounced off the stone walls of the stairwell, echoing around us.  Rose’s eyes flittered to Lucy, who was still standing next to me, no doubt as shocked as I was; when she returned her focus to me however, the pleading was gone, and anger flashed in its place.

“Who cares what house he’s in?  Just because he’s in Slytherin doesn’t make him a bad person!  I mean you’re in Gryffindor and clearly you’re a complete arse!”  Rose was mad…really mad.  We’d only had a few fights this intense in the past, and I could count on one hand the times she’d called me an arse.

“Could we just all maybe calm down for a second here?” This was a new voice to the discussion and my eyes immediately snapped to its owner.  Scorpius Malfoy had blonde hair and fair colouring, and in the flickering torch light, it made him look slightly sinister.

“Oh, you do not get to tell me to calm down,” I growled at him, hoping he was intimidated.  I pulled myself up to my full height which, whilst we were very similar builds, was about two inches taller than him.  “I walk in here and you have your slimy, Slytherin hands all over my cousin.  You’re just lucky I haven’t hexed you yet, in fact maybe I should do just that!”  I fumbled in my pockets for my wand.  Al, what the hell are you doing?  A soft voice of reason drifted through my mind, and I paused in my search for a brief second, long enough for Rose to pipe up again.

“Like hell you will.  Leave him alone, I’m allowed to kiss whoever I want.  You’re not my father!” She shouted, her eyes still flashing angrily at me.

A laugh escaped my lips, but it wasn’t my usual laugh, it sounded distorted, even slightly insane, and before I could think about them, the words slipped out.  “No I’m not, but I bet Daddy Dearest would love to hear about this.  His perfect daughter is having it off with his enemy’s son!  Oh you’ll make him so proud!”  There it was, a threat, the ultimate threat.  I knew I’d crossed a boundary when Rose’s eye suddenly looked like fireballs that were going to start shooting at me.

“Shut up Al!  We were not ‘having it off’; how could you say such a thing?”  There was an icy rage in her voice, but underlying it was a thinly veiled tremor, like she was fighting back tears.  Guilt sliced through me and I wondered if I should back off.  But as I considered this, Malfoy reached out his hand, taking Rose’s hand in it.  She turned to him and despite the tear that had escaped the corner of her eye and was now trickling down her cheek, Rose smiled at him softly.

I don’t know exactly what happened to me at that moment.  Maybe it was the fact that Rose wasn’t listening to me; maybe it was because Malfoy was my main Quidditch rival; maybe it was all those stories I’d heard about the horrible things Malfoy’s Dad did to my parents and Aunties and Uncles when they were younger.  It was probably a combination of these things, but I think what pushed me over the edge was the fact that the way Rose was smiling at Malfoy was exactly the way I imagined Lucy smiling at me when I had my little fantasies about her.  Whatever it was, I felt my hand bunch up in a fist, my arm pull back, ready to administer a well-aimed punch to Malfoy’s jaw…

“No!”  It took me a second to register where the cry had come from.  It was a female voice, and yet Rose hadn’t opened her mouth.  It wasn’t until I felt her grab my arm, pushing me to the side, that I realised the word had come from Lucy. 

My back hit the wall, not hard enough to hurt me though.  I felt pressure on my chest and heard a soft “oomph,” sound.  I looked down to see Lucy, her hand gripped around my forearm, pressed against my chest.  My mind flooded with emotion: Shock and confusion at what had just happened, raging hormones at being this close to Lucy, frustration at having not been able to deliver the punch, but somehow relief that I hadn’t gone through with it.  And anger, deep, fiery anger that seemed to come from somewhere I couldn’t quite control.  All of these emotions were jostling around in my brain, like hundreds of voices screaming to be heard over the top of each other.

I heard footsteps, and glanced over to notice Rose disappearing up the stairs, pulling Malfoy with her.  Suddenly, though the hubbub of voices, one seemed to amplify, shouting louder than the others and filling my mind with red-hot light.  I turned my eyes back to Lucy, not really seeing her; but the anger saw her, and it made her its target.

“What the hell did you do that for?”  The voice was not my own, the rage seemed to have manifested itself into some sort of monster; and somewhere in the back of my mind, in a brief corner that the anger hadn’t reached, I wondered if this is what it felt like to be under the imperius curse, to know that what you are doing and saying is wrong, is stupid, is dangerous, but being unable to stop it from happening.

“I…you…well…You were angry and about to do something stupid so I stopped you,” Lucy’s voice was quiet, pleading, and that small untouched corner of my mind ached to hear that tone.  The anger, however, seemed to strengthen at her words.  I felt myself straightening, pushing away from the wall and, taken by surprise, Lucy stumbled slightly as she was pushed backwards.

“Something stupid?” The anger snapped at her, menacingly.  “So you support her do you?”

“Of course I do, she’s my friend and she cares about him,” There was an edge to her voice this time, and warning bells began ringing in the untouched corner of my mind.  I wasn’t just frightening her now, I was making Lucy mad.  But the rage was still stronger, and it seemed to feed on the angry tone Lucy voice was taking. 

“So you knew about this? And you didn’t think to tell me?  I thought you were my friend Bell!”  The words hung in the air in front of me, dancing across the invisible line I had just crossed.

“I am!” Lucy defended herself, the anger now clearly evident in her voice.  “But I’m Rose’s friend too, have been since first year you know, and she asked me not to say anything!” 

For a second, the clear, sensible part of my brain seemed to overpower my brain, and I was flooded with guilt, with hurt and remorse.  Have been since first year… The words seemed to slam into me like an out of control broomstick, reminding me how badly I had treated Lucy before this year.  I looked down, too ashamed to look her in the eye, and I noticed that her hand was still clasped around my arm.  A warmth seemed to filter up from my arm, from her touch. 

Suddenly, roaring at the tender moment like it was wounded, the anger returned, and I pulled my arm from her, breaking to contact and leaving only and icy coldness where the warmth had been. 

“He’s a Slytherin!  He’s a slimy, smarmy, stupid snake and he’s going to break her heart.  How can you not have a problem with that?”  There was no missing the accusation in my voice, and Lucy responded in kind, her voice angrier than I’d ever heard it.

“Well he cares about Rose, and I thought maybe that makes him ok.  Anyway, I don’t know Malfoy from a bar of soap and I thought it would be best to give him the benefit of the doubt, rather than making assumptions about his personality like some arrogant berk!” I stood, listening to her in shock.  Even the anger had been forced into a sort of stunned silence.  “Your cousin actually cares about someone and you make her feel awful for it, then you yell at me because I protected my friend’s secret.  You know what?  Malfoy’s not the git Potter, you are!  A selfish, obnoxious, git!”

And then, just like that, she was gone, her footsteps echoing around me as she disappeared the same way Rose and Malfoy had only minutes ago.  Before I’d completely lost it.  Before I’d let the anger take over and I’d treated the most amazing girl in the world like a criminal.

And just like that, the anger disappeared, and I was left with only guilt and a sharp, stabbing pain somewhere in the region of my heart.  I sank down to the floor, realising that the most wonderful afternoon of my life had completely changed; all the kindness and gentleman-like behaviour and friendly banter and laughing and fuzzy feelings had been turned to ash.

And it was all my fault.

AN:  Whoah, this chapter turned out to be quite epic!  I'm sorry it's so long, I tried cutting it down and even breaking it up in to two chapters, but it wasn't working, so I've just left it long.  I hope you liked it.  I'll try to finish the next chapter and update quickly.  Please review, I love to hear your thoughts :)

Chapter 15 preview:

The next morning, I found a welcome distraction in a conversation between Hawthorn, Rose and Gwen over breakfast.  I’d joined them at the Gryffindor table where they sat with Justin and Louis – Lucy was nowhere to be seen.

“So Professor Longbottom said we have special permission to go down and get it from his office early in the morning on Lucy’s birthday, before she wakes up,” Jane was saying. 

“Just as long as she doesn’t wake up early and catch us at it,” Gwen piped in.

“If she does, we’ll just have to work around it, sneak out when she’s in the shower or something,” Rose reasoned.  “Oh, this is fantastic, she’s going to be so excited!”

“what are you guys talking about?” I asked tentatively.  Three heads swivelled towards me, and then Jane and Gwen both turned to look at Rose, as if waiting to see how she responded to me.

“Lucy’s parents are giving her an owl for her birthday,” Rose said. 


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