“What’s happening with you and my brother?” James asked me at breakfast one morning, a week after Hogsmeade.
“Nothing,” I frowned, making a face. “Why?”
“You two don’t fight as much anymore,” Leo pointed out from beside James. “And Clarke and her minions keep hexing you.”
“So your assumption over us not fighting as much and me getting hexed by some maniacs is that something’s going on with Albus and me?” I raised an eyebrow. They didn’t have to know that the two of us had snogged in a darkened secret passageway and had still yet to really discuss it outside of Albus's apology the week before.
“He flirts with you, like, constantly,” Leo rolled his eyes.
“To be fair,” James pointed out. “He’s always done that.”
“Not true!” I argued. “He does not, and he didn't before, either.”
The two exchanged knowing looks, and I felt my irritation spike. “Can you go bother someone else, maybe?”
“You’re the one sitting at our table,” James rolled his eyes. “Besides, I needed your advice again.”
“Is this still part of your woman-hunt?” I asked. “You’re rather fixated on this, James.”
“I haven’t dated anyone in almost ten months now,” he frowned. “Not since Leah broke up with me.”
“Don’t mention that bitch,” I growled. “I hate her.”
“I think Dom might have hated her more,” Leo mused. “Remember the New Years ball? When Leah had the audacity to show up with her new hot-shot Quidditch star boyfriend like a week after the breakup?”
“No, Wood, I forgot,” James said dryly. "Thank Godric you've reminded me."
“Dom physically forced her out,” I snickered. “That was a good night. At least you don’t have to see Leah anymore, since she graduated.”
“True,” he agreed. “But anyway, I’ve had plenty of rebound snogs-”
“Shags,” Leo corrected.
“-and I miss the whole relationship-thing,” James finished, his cheeks slightly reddening at the admission. It was a weird thing to hear from an eighteen-year-old bloke, honestly. But then again, James had never been like Albus or Fred, not really. He’d snogged some girls, sure, but he had always been significantly nicer, far less of a womanizer, and actually been in multiple relationships that weren’t just short-lasting physical flings.
I smiled at him sympathetically. “You’re a unique one, James Potter. We’ll find you someone yet.”
Leo coughed, “Pansy.”
“Leo’s the one who’s going to die alone,” I rolled my eyes. Leo frowned at me, running a hand through dirty-blonde hair. He and Riley were really both gorgeous; it was unfair. For all my jokes, Leonidas Wood could probably land any girl he wanted. And frankly, so could James. “You know the issue, James, isn’t really finding a girl who would have you,” I said, buoyed by my realization. “It’s that you actually have standards. The issue is finding a girl who deserves you.”
He looked at me doubtfully. “I dunno, Tara.”
“I do,” I waved a hand. “The reason you haven’t gotten yourself a secure girlfriend since Leah is that you only ever ask me about popular, slaggy bints. Maybe let me pick your next date!”
He looked at me skeptically. “I dunno, Tara. I mean don’t get me wrong, I love you like a sister, but I’m not all too fond of your judgement.”
“Why not?” I frowned.
“You’ve gone out with the most rubbish blokes possible,” Leo snorted. “Henry Bradford? Come on, now. And Alex Donnovan would have been exactly the same.”
“You don’t know that,” I defended. “He could have been nice-”
“No one’s denying his niceness, Tara,” James said. “But the bloke wouldn’t have been much more exciting than Bradford was.”
I said nothing, hating how similar their opinions were to what Albus had said about him. The idea of Albus being right made me want to punch someone.
“My point,” James went on, recognizing I wasn’t going to say anything, “is that your dating judgment has proven concerning.”
“Fine,” I sighed. “How about I check with Rylie? She’s got a better eye for this sort of thing.”
“How would she?” Leo growled. “My baby sister doesn’t date, after all.”
James and I both snickered. “No, never,” I managed through my laughter.
“Rylie Wood is an angel,” James chuckled.
“She is!” Leo exclaimed. The poor boy was so deluded it hurt. “She’s going to be the next Virgin Mary.”
“Leo,” James laughed. “If your sister was to be impregnated without having had sex, she’d give birth to the Antichrist.”
I giggled. “It’s true. She’s my best friend, and I love her dearly, but she’s no saint, Wood.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Oh we are so going to be having words.”
“Give me a heads up as to when that’ll be, mate,” James shivered. “I’d like to not be around when she murders you.”
“Who’s murdering Leo?” came Scorpius’s voice as he suddenly slid onto the bench beside me.
“His sister,” I smirked. “What brings you over here, Scor?”
“Albus abandoned me to chat up some Fifth Year,” he rolled his eyes, gesturing across the hall. I looked over and saw Albus sure enough sitting by a pretty girl with auburn hair, his elbow perched on the table and his cheek resting on his fist. He sat very close to her and wore an annoyingly easy smile. I watched the girl giggle at something he said and my stomach lurched a little.
“Gross,” I muttered. Scorpius looked at me funny.
“I hate our family!” Rose suddenly cried out as she joined us at the table. “Seriously. I’m changing my last name. I’m over it.” I simply nibbled at a piece of bacon with little concern- I'd heard her make this claim about eighty times through out years at Hogwarts. Rose was a bit dramatic at times.
“What happened?” Scorpius frowned across the table at her, his voice soft.
Her shoulders dropped slightly as she took in his presence, the stress visibly leaving her body as he gazed at her earnestly. I rolled my eyes. They needed to get together already.
“It’s just Molly,” she complained. “I got asked out by Darren Boot, and she went and wrote my dad about it, who then sent me a Howler warning me against dating before I’m twenty-five. Bloody Ron Weasley’s voice literally shook the library.”
Scorpius’s face darkened at the mention of Rose being asked out. I nudged him with my knee, shooting him a reassuring smile. He sighed, sending me a small smile in return.
“Eh, Ron’s right, Rosie,” James shrugged. “No dating for you.”
“Sod off,” she growled. “I’ll date whoever I want.”
Scorpius was looking thoroughly defeated, so I suddenly stood up. “Hey, Scor, I just remembered I needed you to look at my broom for me. It’s been veering to the right for some reason.”
“What?” he demanded, standing abruptly as well. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Tara? We have a game soon!”
“See you guys,” I waved at Leo, Rose, and James. “I’ll talk to Ry for you, James!”
“Tell her I’m sending her to a convent!” Leo called after us.
Scorpius followed me out of the Great Hall, demanding answers as to why I hadn’t told him about my broom troubles, and when they’d started, and how badly the veer was, and a bunch of other questions that I stopped listening to.
“Scor, my broom’s fine,” I shook my head. “I just didn’t think you wanted to listen to Rose talk about her dating life.”
He stared at me in surprise. “Oh. I- er, thanks Tara.”
I smiled back. “Anytime. Come on, let’s go to the kitchens. I don’t think you actually had any breakfast.”
“Don’t pretend we’re going for me,” he grinned. “You just want some sweets since there weren’t any at breakfast today.”
“You think you’re so astute, don’t you Malfoy?” I narrowed my eyes. He laughed and we headed down to the kitchens together.
The house elves, as always, were happy to see us. “Tara!” Hillow called, running over and throwing her little arms around me. I hugged her back happily.
“Hi Hillow,” I smiled warmly. “How are you?”
“Hillow is really good,” she bobbed her head quickly. “Just missed Tara! It’s been so long!”
“I know,” I said apologetically. “I’ve been a little distracted this term, I’m sorry about that.”
“Tara doesn’t have to be apologizing to Hillow,” the elf shook her head. “Hillow understands! Hillow’s been talking to Albus Potter lately. He said Tara has been busy with school and Quidditch and that she’s had a lot on her mind because he’s been a-” she broke up. “Hillow is begging your pardon, Miss, but Albus Potter used a word Hillow doesn’t want to repeat.”
Scorpius snorted from beside me, and I elbowed him sharply. “That’s alright, Hillow,” I smiled. “I should have visited sooner anyway. Although I’m sure whatever he said was perfectly valid.”
“Mister Potter talks about Tara quite a lot,” Hillow informed me. I shot her a strange look, meaning to ask her what exactly Albus was saying about me, but a moment later she hustled off to make us food.
We took a seat at one of the tables after that. Hillow brought me a chocolate eclair, and made Scorpius some eggs. “So why is Al talking about you with a house elf?” Scorpius asked me through a bit of food.
I shot him a disgusted look. “First of all, manners, Scor. Honestly, I know your parents brought you up more properly than that. And second, I have no idea why Albus is discussing me with house elves. It doesn’t matter.”
Scorpius looked over at the elf, who was happily singing to herself as she levitated some plates over to a cupboard. “You think she knows you snogged him?”
I choked on my eclair. “You know?”
“Of course I know,” he rolled his eyes. “I saw it.”
“How the hell did you see it?” I demanded, feeling a surge of panic rise in my chest. There was no way he could have seen us- it was impossible. Did Scorpius know about the passages? And if he did, how? And for how long? “And why didn’t you say anything?”
“You weren’t exactly hidden, Tara,” he snorted. “The Potters’ garden is hardly the most covert spot. Plus it was clear to anyone that you were both piss drunk.”
Oh. He meant the first kiss. The drunken one.
I felt relieved- a drunken kiss at my birthday party was a lot easier to explain away than a completely sober one.
Unfortunately, my relief apparently showed on my face, because Scorpius’s eyes widened. “Wait a second, that wasn’t what you were thinking of, was it?” I stayed quiet, trying to fight off the furious blush that spread across my cheeks. “You two snogged again?”
“Please don’t tell anyone,” I begged. “It was nothing. A weird, unexplainable one-off.”
He stared at me. “A one-off? Tara, this is the second time it’s happened that I know of-”
“There weren’t any others,” I quickly assured him.
“Doesn’t matter,” he shook his head. “There’s no way that’s the end of it.”
“Of course it is,” I frowned. Albus and I had done a good job at not bringing up the kiss since Hogsmeade, and he was obviously more than satisfied with his other options given what I’d seen at breakfast.
“It’s not,” he insisted. “Al made you cancel a date just to go to Hogsmeade with him! You think he chose you randomly? And let’s not forget the fact that you agreed.”
“There was more to that,” I muttered. “It was closer to extortion than to a willing agreement.”
“Even if it was, he still went out of his way to get you out of going on a date,” Scorpius pointed out. I ignored the way my heart fluttered at the idea of Albus wanting to date me, because I didn’t want to date him. At all.
“He didn’t even know I had the date when he told Clarke I was going with him,” I rolled my eyes. Scorpius was clearly reaching, at this point.
He looked at me with a confused expression. “What are you on about? He didn’t tell Clarke you were going with him. She asked him to Hogsmeade and he just said that he already had plans.”
“What?” I hissed, looking at him sharply.
“I was there,” he explained. “He didn’t specify he was taking you. Which means he only asked you to go with him when he knew you had agreed to go with Donnovan.”
“Why the hell would he do that?” I demanded.
“Why do you think?” he raised an eyebrow. I shook my head aggressively fast.
“You’re jumping to conclusions here. I’m sure he just did it to get under my skin.” I couldn’t tell if I was trying to convince him or myself at this point. But either way, it seemed important to emphasize that he didn’t want to bring me to Hogsmeade just to keep me from a date. Because that would imply that he’d been jealous.
And that would imply that Albus Potter had actual feelings toward me beyond loathing. But that was impossible.
“Whatever you say, Tara,” Scorpius sighed, though I could tell he didn’t believe me.
I glared at my eclair, my appetite suddenly having disappeared.
I had a very rigid routine on Mondays. My friends must have assumed I had some sort of weird religion that set aside Monday at lunch for a time of self-reflection, because in all my years, I’d never had lunch in the Great Hall on a Monday.
I’d have breakfast there, as always, I’d go to my classes as normal, and in the evening I’d attend Quidditch practices.
But at lunch, I visited the Room of Requirement, every Monday for six straight years.
One particular Monday, a few days after my annoying breakfast with Scorpius, I made my way upstairs straight after Potions class. None of my friends made any move to stop me- they’d all come to regard my Monday lunchtime departures as normal after all these years. I hadn’t told any of them, even Riley, why I always had to leave at that time, but it was a routine I couldn’t stray from. They;d given up on asking me about it.
The hallways became less and less crowded as I made my way up, since most students were headed down to the Great Hall. The seventh floor was completely abandoned- people didn’t usually go up there, anyway.
I glanced around to make sure no one had followed me before pacing in front of the wall opposite the Barnabas the Barmy tapestry. I need the place I call home.
A door appeared, as it always did, and I reached forward to pull it open despite my usual hesitance. One of these days, she’ll be here.
Before I could tug it open, however, I heard a voice behind me that I had become all too familiar with. “What are you doing?”
I jumped, releasing the door. I didn’t have to turn around to see who it was.
“Potter,” I said through gritted teeth. “I’m getting really fucking tired of that cloak of yours.”
I turned around slowly to face him. He had the cloak bunched up under his arm, his other hand dangling by his side limply as he stared at me. “I was curious,” he mumbled.
“I don’t care,” I snapped. “You shouldn’t have followed me.”
“You come up here every week,” he stated, though there was a question in his tone. “Why?”
“None of your bloody business,” I glared at him. Lunch wasn’t long- I needed him to leave me alone already.
“Then open the door,” he challenged stubbornly. “Let me see.”
“No!” I cried. “Just go away. Please?” My added ‘please’ got his attention, since I so rarely used such niceties with him.
He took a couple steps closer. “Come on, Tara,” he urged. “You can tell me.”
“Why?” I asked quietly, holding his gaze with an accusatory glare. “So you can have yet another thing to blackmail me with?”
He winced slightly. I thought about what Scorpius had said, how he implied Albus might actually like me. Well if you ask me, either Albus had a funny way of showing it, or Scorpius was as deluded as he was blonde, rich, and in love with Rose.
“I just have something I need to take care of, and I need to do it alone,” I sighed. “Can you leave it at that?”
“No,” he shrugged. “Please let me see?”
“Why do you care?” I demanded.
He faltered. “I- I have no idea. But only knowing part of your story drives me kind of insane.”
“Is that what I am to you, then?” I demanded. “A story for you to unfold? A sad mystery for you to decipher to deal with your own boredom over your monotonous life of breaking girls’ hearts and having no constructive passions?”
He frowned deeply. “Now hang on-”
“It’s not some big unraveling, Potter,” I went on, my temper rising still. “It’s not some epic secret for you to discover to try to find some way to reconcile with the fact that you’ll never live half as interesting of a life as your parents.”
“Hold on, that’s not-”
“My life isn’t something for you to play around with,” I bellowed. “I don’t need holding my secrets against me, forcing me on fake-dates that I don’t want to go on, forcing your way into passages I discovered, snogging me for no bloody reason just to pretend it never happened the next second, or following me around under that stupid cloak of yours! So just fucking leave me alone, alright?”
He glared back, his hand clenched into a fist. I knew I’d gone a little far bringing up his parents, but he’d pushed me to it. “You think that’s all this is to me?” he asked, his tone low as he came closer, until we were only a couple steps apart. “You think I did any of that just out of some erratic boredom that I couldn't channel into anything else? Fuck, Rivers, you think I meant for the whole snogging-thing to happen? I can bloody guarantee you I didn’t intend for it to, not like that.” His anger disappeared for a moment, replaced with a look of surprise. “Er- that is-”
“Not like that?” I repeated, my voice falling to a whisper. “What do you mean?”
He shook his head quickly, taking a small step back. “Nothing.”
“Albus,” I insisted, moving closer to him to retake the space he’d tried to add. “Tell me.”
“Tell me, and I’ll show you what’s behind the door,” I implored. He paused and narrowed his eyes, studying my face, likely looking for some sign of dishonesty. I’d startled myself, too. I hadn’t meant to make such an offer- I didn’t want to show him that room, after all.
For a brief moment, I pondered why we'd each kept managing to surprise ourselves with our own words. Were neither of us capable of filtering out own speech?
He took a deep breath. “Well… I guess I just meant that, if I ever were to kiss you, it wouldn’t have happened that way.”
I looked at him with wide eyes. My stomach was cartwheeling about, while my heart pounded so loudly that I worried he could hear it too. “So you- you’ve thought about doing that, then?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Obviously I’d thought about it, since I did it.”
“Why?” I frowned.
He sighed in frustration, running his hand through his hair. I gripped my robes down by my legs, not trusting myself to resist reaching up and running my own hands through it too. It wasn’t my fault it was so bloody soft. “I don’t really know why, Tara,” he uttered softly. “Maybe because it’d happened once at your birthday drunkenly, and I wanted to see if it’d feel as good sober?”
“Did it?” I asked, dreading the answer. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what I wanted his answer to be.
“It was better,” he whispered back. He was so close to me now. I wasn’t even sure which one of us had stepped closer that time.
His hand reached forward tentatively, brushing against my elbow before running slowly up the length of my arm. He tugged me forward gently, and I let him move me closer, until we were barely a toothpick’s distance apart.
He leaned down, his forehead resting against mine. I felt my breath catch and I knew that if he moved to kiss me, I wouldn’t stop him.
So I stepped away before he could. Seeing the hurt look on his face, I explained, “You wanted to see the room. I only visit it one lunch period a week.”
“Limited time,” he understood, the rejection clearing from his face. “You’ll really show me?”
“I said I would,” I shrugged. I turned back to the door and pulled it open, stepping inside and allowing Albus to follow me.
“Woah,” he breathed. “This is where-?”
“Yeah,” I said quietly as I let the door fall shut behind us. “Welcome to my home.”
The room looked the way it most commonly did. The far side was a bedroom of sorts, with a large four-postered bed, a wardrobe by the side, and the old toy box I’d had the Room make me as a kid sitting off to the side. At the front, where we were, was a couch by a fireplace, a plush chair by a window, and a bookshelf full of both magic and Muggle books. My mother and I had used to let the room change between bedtime and normal hours, to make it feel more like a normal home I suppose, but once she’d left, I’d taken to just having it all exist in one open space.
“You really did grow up here,” Albus said, looking around with wide eyes. “I mean, I know I guessed at it, but while you did confirm living here in the present you never really admitted that you’d… you know… been here as a kid.” He looked simultaneously nervous and curious at the same time. There was so much apprehension in his expression that I felt sort of bad for him.
“I did,” I nodded. “You were right.”
“Why here?” He asked, looking at me with an added emotion that I couldn’t quite work out. “Why did you grow up at Hogwarts?”
“She never said,” I replied softly, looking away from him. My feet carried me toward the couch, on which I collapsed sadly. Showing Albus the room had nearly distracted me from my original purpose of visiting- nearly.
“Your mum?” He asked, joining me on the couch.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I used to ask her all the time. Eventually I gave up- she’d never tell me.”
He hesitated. “What- what happened to her?”
“She left,” I shrugged. I couldn’t believe I was telling him any of this. I suppose it was just nice to have someone to talk to about it all for once. He already knew most of it anyway; there wasn’t really any harm in sharing the rest at this point. I hoped. “I was ten. She hasn’t been back since.”
He stared at me. “Tara, I-” he stopped, clearly at a loss for words. I didn’t entirely blame him.
“I keep checking,” I whispered, fighting the urge to cry. “Every week, I come back. Maybe I ought to come more, maybe I’ve missed her returning before, I don’t know. Or maybe she’s just never coming back at all.”
He reached forward and pulled me toward him, and I let him. I let him wrap his arms around me and pull me tightly against his chest, my knees curled up against his lap and my face buried in the crook of his neck.
“I just can’t let myself believe she left for good,” I said, my words muffled as I spoke into his skin. “You know? It’s bad enough I never had a dad, but for my mum to just leave, without giving me any answers,” I paused, sitting up slightly to take a shaky breath. Thinking about it made me not just sad, but angrier than I’d ever thought possible. “I guess part of me keeps coming back because I want to know why. I don’t think I expect her to come back, but I just can’t help but look for a reason. I don’t even know her name.”
I leaned back down against him, relishing in his warmth.
“That’s why you got so upset that day in the passages, isn’t it?” he asked quietly. “You were so fixated on the notion that you were alone, and that you’d stay alone. It wasn’t about finding a boyfriend, was it?”
A particularly determined tear forced itself out of my eye and down my cheek, until it dropped onto his shoulder.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I guess never knowing one parent and losing the other makes it a little hard to feel wanted.”
“You are, you know,” he murmured. “My entire family would have you in a heartbeat.”
“I know,” I whispered. I pulled back slightly, just enough to look him in the eyes. “You have a lovely family, Al.”
He smiled, lifting a hand to my cheek and brushing a tear away with his thumb. “You ought to call me that more.”
“I can call you Al?” I asked with a watery smile of my own.
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Paul Simon, you can call me Al.”
“I’m surprised you listen to Muggle music,” I said softly. I’d fallen in love with Muggle music myself during a visitation at Riley’s house one day. Her mum was Muggleborn, playing Led Zeppelin, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and all sorts of other old bands and artists nearly all day long.
“I heard you singing a Beatles song once at Rose’s house,” he admitted. “I don’t think I bothered with another wizarding song after that. You were singing While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up on Dad’s computer and was hooked.”
“I never knew that,” I leaned back against him.
“I couldn’t tell you,” he grinned. “You’d have held it over my head that I only found Muggle music because of you.”
“I’m still going to do that now,” I teased.
“That’s fine,” he brought the hand that wasn’t curled around my side up to my face and stroked it gently, trailing his fingers from the spot where my hair ended down my cheek and to my lips. “Tara?”
“Yeah?” I breathed, feeling my face heat up as his fingers continued down to my chin and then slowly across my neck.
“Can I ask you for favour number two?” his voice was hesitant.
If he kept running his hand across my skin like that I probably would have agreed to fifty more favors. “Name it,” I sighed, both with pleasure from his fingers grazing my collarbone and from apprehension over the favor.
I lifted my head from his shoulder. His emerald eyes bore into my own with an earnestness I’d never seen before. For a moment, I doubted it. It was almost out of habit. I was waiting for the punchline, for the part where he’d laugh in my face, or insult me, or blackmail me. He had more than enough of my secrets to work with, after all.
But as I held his gaze, that instinctual doubt faded away. He looked scared, but more than that he looked passionate. It reminded me of our conversation before the first time we’d snogged. He’d brought up Alex being boring, and asked me if I really wanted someone stable over someone passionate.
Albus Potter would never bore me.
He'd also asked, despite it being a "favour." He was giving me the choice.
I brought my hands up to the back of his neck, sliding them into his hair like I’d been dying to since the last time we’d kissed, and pressed my lips to his.
This time was so much different than before. We weren’t angry, we hadn’t been mid-argument, and he wasn’t trying to make some dumb point. It was in a moment of honesty and sensitivity that I’d never thought to expect from him.
But maybe I should have. He’d mentioned, once, that we’d always had moments where we were friends. Moments where we defended each other, and rescued each other. We practically thought on the same wavelength on the Quidditch pitch, making us unstoppable as Chasers. Even on our fake date, he’d paid for my sweets despite not needing to, I’d cozied up beside him to drive Clarke mad even though that hadn’t been asked of me with the favor, and we’d gotten along surprisingly well on a number of occasions.
His passion furthered mine as he slid his hands up and down my back, playing with the end of my braid, moving his lips against mine. I pushed myself onto him further, and he groaned against my lips, holding me tighter. I could feel every inch of him against myself, his excitement both emotionally and physically evident.
He pulled back for a moment, letting us both catch our breaths, but he kept his hold on me, and my hands remained in his hair. We breathed against each other for a moment, my eyes opening to find him watching me with a mix of worry, happiness, and lust that I’m sure my own eyes reflected back.
“I think lunch ended,” he whispered.
I felt my lips tug into a smile and let out a breathy laugh. My smile seemed to ease the worry in his eyes, and he smiled back crookedly, the way I loved it. “I guess we’re late for class,” I murmured.
“Well, since we’re already late,” he smirked. He pushed me back, lowering me so that I lay across the couch, and covered my own body with his before reaching down to kiss me again.
Oh boy, they snogged again! And Tara finally talked to someone about her mum! I loved writing this chapter. From the lighthearted bit at the beginning to help characterize James and Leo, to Tara showing Albus the place in which she grew up, to them making out again... it was all super fun!
So I hope you all enjoyed, and feel free to keep leaving those reviews because they make me sooo happy :)
Disclaimer: I obviously own nothing you recognize. It's all JK Rowling's. Except for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" which is by the Beatles, and "You Can Call Me Al" which is of course by Paul Simon. Both are solid songs, by the way.
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