“-and then he was over all day on the 29th, and he probably would have stayed if not for that wedding, so thank Merlin for Victoire Weasley-”
I nodded absentmindedly, letting my feet skim the floor as I glided around on my broom.
“-and Mum kept looking at me, like she knew something was up, and it was so awkward-”
“Mhm,” I hummed softly, drifting around in another circle.
“-and it’s not like Leo plays Quidditch, so they spend all their time hanging out inside, and Leo doesn’t know about anything that happened, so he always insists I join them for everything-”
“That’s nice,” I nodded again, circling my blonde friend once more.
“-and then my arse of a friend came over to save me only to circle me on her broom for an hour while tuning me out!”
I froze as Rylie’s voice rose, shaking me out of my stupor. “Oh shit,” I said, my eyes wide. “I’m sorry Ry.”
To my relief, she looked less annoyed and more amused. “It’s fine. I can’t say I really expect you to pay attention, I suppose. You’ve had an eventful break yourself, haven’t you?”
I flushed, but a small smile spread across my face nonetheless. “A bit.”
Rylie was sitting on the floor of her bedroom, working on a large puzzle. Not really having the patience for the things myself, I’d let myself zone out as I rounded the room on my broom. I was just happy that she had such a large bedroom, giving me room to fly around. Oliver’s Quidditch career had paid off rather nicely.
“Well if you’re going to daydream, could you at least do it on the floor?” Rylie raised her eyebrow. “You’re making me nauseous.”
I laughed and dismounted, joining her on the floor beside the puzzle. The shaggy white rug was soft and fluffy, and incredibly comfortable. I rolled out on my back, looking up at the ceiling happily. Unlike Rose’s room, which was princess-like and always far too clean, Rylie’s room gave off a laid-back vibe that I appreciated.
The walls were a soft blue, and there were posters of both wizarding and Muggle bands on the wall by her bed. On the other side of her room was a long desk, on which were piles of clutter, ranging from books to games to some cute collectibles of characters from movies she liked.
Her ceiling was the coolest part- it was charmed to look like outer space, with stars and planets drifting about. Rylie adored astronomy. It was the only class she’d kept taking this year that I’d opted out of.
I turned over back onto my stomach and glanced down at her puzzle progress.
“Er- Ry?” I frowned. “Your puzzle seems off.”
“That’s because it’s magic,” she grumbled, frustratedly moving a piece around trying to decide where it should go. “The picture keeps moving.”
I snorted. “That sounds impossible. Why get it?”
“It was a gift,” she rolled her eyes. “I figured it’d be only kind to actually try it out.”
Her tone gave her away. “A gift from who?” I asked innocently.
“A person,” she said evasively, still glaring at her puzzle.
“A hot person, perhaps?” I ventured, grinning at her. “With dark hair, maybe? Tall? Plays Quidditch? Maybe his name rhymes with Tames Totter?”
A smile broke out across her features as she chucked the puzzle piece at my head. “Fuck off.”
I laughed, sitting upright and looking at her curiously. “So he was here the other day?”
“I did mention that,” she smirked. “You were busy daydreaming about your new shag buddy.”
“Oi!” I protested, throwing the same puzzle piece from before back at her. “Uncalled for, Wood.”
“Hey, if the two of you won’t label yourselves, I can’t be held accountable for using whatever words I see fit to describe the situation,” she shrugged.
“Shag buddy?’” I quoted with a frown as I absentmindedly ran my hands over the white fluff of the carpet. She really did have a lovely room.
“Would you prefer fuck friend?”
“Would you prefer I go downstairs and tell James you’d like a word?” I shot back. “I’m sure he and Leo have tired of their baking attempt by now.”
She snorted, dropping a puzzle piece from her hand. “The house hasn’t caught fire yet, so they probably haven’t even gotten around to turning the oven on yet.”
The puzzle moved again, figures shimmering as what I think was an eyeball passed by one of the put-together corners.
I smiled. “Well then, that’d make him all the more free to come hang out with us, yeah?”
“I hate you.”
I laughed, reaching over and starting to help her find some of her needed pieces. She was hardly a quarter of the way done- clearly my best friend needed some help.
A tap at the window, however, distracted us both. We turned to find an owl waiting outside, a gorgeous barn owl that I recognized instantly. “That’s Rose’s,” I smiled. “She miss me already?”
“I don’t see how she could,” Rylie teased. “You’re a terrible house guest.”
“Your parents love having me,” I contradicted as I stood up and headed for the window. I slid it open enough to reach for the letter, giving Rose’s owl a few pets and letting her hop inside.
“That’s only because you’re a Quidditch star,” Rylie rolled her eyes, crossing her arms as she sat up and away from her puzzle. “Dad loves you, and James, too. He thinks you’re the Quidditch-loving children he was denied of all his life.”
I laughed as I opened the letter. “Fair enough.”
“What’s Rose say?”
I realize we only just saw each other at the wedding yesterday, and that you’ve hardly been at Rylie’s for more than a few hours, but I’m bored!
I asked Albus to hang out, but apparently he’s going to hang out at Scor’s place soon. He asked if we’d want to join! I think Scorpius mentioned his parents are out for the day, so we’d have the whole manor to ourselves. Let me know!
“She wants us to come hang out with her and the boys at Malfoy Manor,” I informed Rylie as I finished scanning the letter.
“Oh goodie,” Rylie made a face. “A whole afternoon of fifth-wheeling.”
“I’m sure we’d stay through the evening, too,” I supplied, earning another puzzle piece thrown at me.
“I suppose it’s better than lying on the floor doing nothing,” she sighed, standing up and stretching. “I’ll owl her back.”
“Sounds good,” I smiled.
“Have you seen Albus since the wedding?” she asked me as she scrawled out a quick reply for Rose.
I shrugged. “No. The wedding was yesterday, and I came over here first thing in the morning.”
“That’s true,” she grimaced. “I know because you woke me up at nine.”
“Nine is hardly that early,” I grinned.
“Will it be weird?” she asked, sending the letter off with Rose’s owl and closing the window.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I mean, it’s sort of weird, having so much out there between us, but… I don’t know.”
“You planning on giving him an answer tonight?” She raised her eyebrows.
I frowned. “I don’t know, Ry. I wasn’t actually ready to think about this yet.”
“You should!” She exclaimed. “The two of you would be great together.”
I didn’t answer her. I just stared at the rug, instead, crossing my arms.
She groaned. “I don’t get it. What’s holding you back?”
“Wish I knew,” I mumbled.
“Are you still seeing Dom tomorrow?”
“You going to tell her you slept with her cousin?” Rylie asked with a knowing look.
I summoned my broom silently and went back to drifting around the room. “No choice, really. She saw us dancing at the wedding, and we weren’t being as… discreet, as we could have been. She’s going to be so mad that I didn’t tell her first.”
Rylie smiled. “Thank you, by the way. For telling me. For always telling me so much.”
I felt a wave of guilt sweep over me. Rylie might have known more than most regarding my love life, but she still knew nothing about my family, my upbringing, or even where I lived. I felt like a fraud.
“Of course,” I murmured, skidding to a stop. I’m a rotten friend, I thought.
She smirked then. “So what happened during the dance, then? I know he told you he fancied you, but what clued Dom in?”
“I had to get a little close to him,” I admitted sheepishly, “to get him to tell me that he fancied me.”
Rylie looked delighted. “TARA! What a minx. Poor Albus, he’s only a bloke, you know.”
I snorted at that. “Oh, right, poor innocent Albus.”
“I never said innocent,” she said, still looking thoroughly amused. “He’s shagging you, isn’t he?”
I groaned. “Alright, let’s just go. I can’t take this anymore.”
“You just want to see Al.”
That does it.
“Oi!” I called down the stairs once we’d left Rylie’s room. “James, Leo! Want to come to Malfoy Manor with us? Al and Rose are there!”
“Sure!” I heard James yell back.
I turned to Rylie with a smirk of my own, while she gaped at me. “You’re an evil, horrible, awful woman,” she informed me.
“I try, love.”
I’ll be honest- I had mentally prepared for a multitude of outcomes as a result of the group gathering at Scor’s house, especially since James and Leo wound up inviting Fred to join us.
What I hadn’t expected, however, was an intense, highly competitive game of capture-the-flag.
“I forget the plan.”
“Of course you do, Fred, you were barely listening to it in the first place.”
“I guess you lot just bore me, Jamesie-poo.”
“Up yours, Weasley.”
“Can you two shut the fuck up for a second?” Rylie hissed. “You’re giving poor Tara anxiety.”
“It’s not anxiety,” I rolled my eyes. “It’s just irritation.”
“It’s Fred’s fault,” James frowned. “He’s not taking this seriously.”
“Sure I am,” Fred argued. “I just don’t need rigid plans and schemes to win. I thrive off pure boldness.”
Rylie and I exchanged an exasperated look. “Gryffindors,” I muttered to her.
“Honestly,” she sighed. “Scorpius probably has the other team under strict directions wherever they are.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Fred said confidently. “We can win regardless. We just need to play to our strengths.”
“I agree,” I snapped. “Hence the plan.”
“Right. Remind me what that is?”
I sighed in frustration. Fred, Rylie, James and I were huddled in one of the guest rooms on the third floor of the manor. We had five minutes left until it would be exactly half past 1, at which time we would be allowed to leave the room and try for the flag, which had been on the first floor in the kitchen.
Scorpius, Al, Leo, and Rose were across the house in the library, similarly prohibited from leaving until half past.
The rules were simple: Get the flag and bring it back to your team’s base, with no magic allowed. The prize was bragging rights- in a house full of only Gryffindors and Slytherins, that was worth plenty. We were a prideful bunch.
“The plan,” I began slowly, for Fred’s sake, “is for me to go straight for the flag, while you, Fred, come from the east stairwell. If I know Scor, and I like to think that I do, he’ll assume that whoever we send in first is meant to be a distraction. But I also think that he knows I would guess at said assumption. So, we send in you, Fred, as our backup distraction.
“When they don’t see James, who let’s be honest, is our best physical asset-” James smirked at that. “-they’ll probably send Leo or maybe Albus to look for him. James, however, will have made his way into the dining room and will be hiding behind that fancy cabinet with Mrs. Malfoy’s china and shit. With at least one of them distracted as they look for James, one on me, and one on Fred, that’ll only leave one person remaining, and I bet that one person would be Rose.”
“Rose?” Fred scrunched up his nose.
“She’s the least likely to make it past any of us with the flag,” I explained. “So Scor will probably send her in for the flag, thinking the rest of them will be distractions enough for the rest of us.”
“Isn’t that basically what we’re doing?” James questioned. “Except with Rylie instead of Rose?”
“But the difference,” I grinned, “is that we’ll have you hidden in the dining room outside the kitchen. Rylie will be seen with the flag by Rose, who will inevitably call out that she has it, and then Ry will run straight to you and pass you the flag. You can beat Rose in a foot race easily, so it’s just a matter of the rest of us maintaining our distractions over the others.”
Fred groaned. “My head hurts.”
“Just make for the east stairwell, and then run for the flag after me,” I snapped. “One of their guys will likely tackle you, just wrestle with them long enough for Rylie to get the flag to James.”
James snorted. “Are you going to wrestle too, Tara?”
I narrowed my eyes. “If I have to. They’ll be too afraid to hurt me to really fight back, it’ll be easy.”
Rylie giggled. “That’s my ruthless best mate.”
“You got this, Ry?” James raised an eyebrow at her challengingly. I grinned in delight as she colored, having not really talked to him directly since our arrival at the manor.
“I got this,” she mumbled, though her eyebrows were set together in a determined manner.
“Well good. Because the doors are set to open in about thirty seconds,” Fred nodded to the clock.
“Alright team, let’s fuck shit up,” I said confidently.
“Hell yeah,” James cheered. “Team James!”
“We are not team-”
The doors swung open, breaking off my protest. “GO!” I hissed instead. I ran for the main stairwell, Fred swinging a right at one of the hallways and running for the further stairs. James was ahead of me- he’d have to be first down the stairs in order to hide before being seen.
To my relief, he was able to turn down the hallway to the dining room before we could be spotted. A moment later, I saw the shadow of one of the others coming from the other direction, just as I burst through the doors that led to the massive main sitting room. The kitchen was only one room away.
I was a few steps away from it when a pair of arms snatched me around the waist and lifted me up.
“OI!” I protested, elbowing at my kidnapper.
“Ow, cut it out Tara,” Albus moaned as I struggled against him. It was pretty pointless, honestly. He had a lot of muscle over me.
“Then you ought to let me go,” I suggested, flushing at the contact. He was holding me in the air, my body completely pressed against his as I fought. There was a small voice inside that was screaming at me to just stop fighting and to enjoy the proximity.
Blimey he smelled so good.
“No can do, love,” he murmured in my ear, making me shiver.
“Well, we can hardly talk about yesterday like this, now can we?” I managed. It was a low blow, but I wanted a win.
Ahead of us, I watched Leo and Fred wrestling on the ground at the foot of the kitchen doors. I wasn’t sure where Scorpius was, but Rose peeked her head around the corner of the sitting room, looking to see if anyone was in a position to stop her.
Al’s grip on me had loosened. “You want to talk about it right now, do you?” he asked, sounding suspicious.
“What?” I asked, mustering as much of an affronted tone as possible. “You think I’d seriously use our relationship status for the sake of a stupid game, Al?” I turned my head to glare at him accusingly.
He frowned, letting me down slowly, though he kept his hands on my arms. “Tara, I didn’t mean to-”
“RYLIE HAS THE FLAG!” Rose’s voice came yelling.
Yes, I cheered inwardly. But I made the mistake of letting my satisfaction show visibly.
“You fucking manipulative arse!” Al exclaimed. I expected him to let go of me and go after Rylie at this point, but instead, he surged forward and lifted me up, throwing me over his shoulder.
“PUT ME DOWN, POTTER!” I yelled, hitting his back with clenched fists.
I felt his laughter as he walked me toward the back door that would lead out into the gardens. “Hell no, Tara, you wanted to talk, so we’re going to talk.”
“There’s a game going on, prat!”
“Too bad.” He slid the door open and closed it behind us. I felt the brisk air hit my cheeks and shuddered at the drastic drop in temperature.
“It’s freezing, Al!”
“Then we better make this quick, yeah?”
I groaned, still futilely hitting at his back. “This is ridiculous. They’re going to wonder where we’ve gone, you know.”
“They won’t,” Albus replied, and though I was still slung over his back I could practically hear the smirk. “This was all part of the plan.”
“What bloody plan involves kidnapping me?” I demanded as Albus carried me further away into the gardens.
“You think we didn’t know you’d be mastermining your team’s operations?” Albus laughed. “Rylie wouldn’t have bothered, Fred’s not smart enough, bless him, and James would trust you when it comes to going against Scorpius. And let’s be real, Gryffindor’s might think they’re competitive, but this is a Slytherin’s game. So we’re taking their most Slytherin player out of the equation.”
We reached a bench off near one of the fountains on the other side of some hedges, on which Albus dropped me down. “Run, and it’s back over the shoulder,” he warned me, sitting down beside me.
“What else did this stupid plan involve?” I asked, crossing my arms and glaring at a snow-covered bush across the walkway.
“Don’t call my plan stupid,” he smirked. “I’ll admit, not seeing James in any of the main rooms threw me off a bit, but if things go my way, Scorpius should have handled both Rylie and my brother by now, which would mean Leo just needs to hold down Fred long enough for Rose to get the flag upstairs.”
Albus looked pleased with himself. “You figured Scorpius would make the plan, I’m assuming.”
“He’s our captain,” I frowned. “It made sense.”
He shrugged. “You know his planning too well after years of Quidditch. It was our best bet to let someone else plan this out.”
I scowled. “I hate you.”
He raised an eyebrow, sending me another wolfish grin. “Do you? Because I’ll admit, I do actually want to talk about yesterday.”
“I don’t,” I lied. “I have a flag to steal.”
With that, I jumped off the bench, making a beeline for the door. Unfortunately for me, Albus was faster. He once again reached around my waist and hoisted me off the ground like I weighed nothing.
“Dammit Al!” I growled. “Stop fucking manhandling me!”
“I told you not to run,” he laughed as he carried me back from where we’d come. “Aren’t you cold? The sooner we have this conversation, the sooner you get to go inside.”
“I don’t think this is legal.”
Albus snorted. “You going to turn me in? Call the Aurors?”
“Nah,” I said lightly. “I’ll just write to your mum.”
I laughed at that despite myself as he placed me back onto the bench.
He looked at me for a moment, his expression becoming more earnest. “Can we actually talk about it now? Please? Because I told you I bloody fancy you, and replied with, ‘Oh’ and barely spoke to me the rest of the night.”
I flushed, my cheeks probably even more red in the cold. “I didn’t mean to sound so…”
“I’m not disinterested,” I said quickly, almost frantically. I had no idea how to explain myself. “Al, I just have no idea how to go about this. Everything about us changed so much in such a short span of time, and I don’t date much, and everything that’s happened with you has been so much more intense than my last relationship-”
“That’s because you’ve only dated pansies, but go on,” Albus interrupted, smiling slightly.
I rolled my eyes. “You’re not wrong. But my point is that this has all been quicker and stronger than I’d really expected or been prepared for.”
Albus thought about that for a moment. “I can understand that. But can I ask one thing?”
“Sure,” I said carefully.
“What exactly do you want?” He asked, looking serious. “Because I’ve been pretty open with you so far, I’d say, and I still have no idea where we stand.”
I took a deep breath. “I- I don’t know what I want. And I feel like shite about that, because you deserve someone who has some semblance of an idea as to what they might want, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re wasting your time on me.” I avoided looking at him as I spoke, feeling saddened by my own words. “I’m a mess, Al. I’m a mess, and I have issues and you’re so sodding nice, and I’m mucking everything up by throwing you all over the place, snogging you one second then reverting us back to friends, then sleeping with you, and you have fangirls and such good music taste, and you’ve helped me so much with all the Frodarian shit, and-”
Luckily, he had the sense to shut me up with a kiss by then.
I sunk into him, not realizing how much I’d been craving him since Christmas. Our dance at the wedding had been like one teasing taste, but I wanted all of him. Thoughts of my mother, and Rylie and James, and capture-the-flag: they were buried, and all I could think about was how good Albus felt and how warm his hands were on my cheeks despite the icy air, and how soft his lips were on mine.
He pulled away a few moments later, leaning his forehead against mine. “There’s a chance you’ve been overthinking things,” he breathed, smiling.
I let out a choked laugh. “Probably. I’m sorry about that.”
“Don’t be,” he shook his head. “We can slow down, Tara. Honestly, it’s not a big deal.”
I frowned. “I don’t know if I even want to slow down.”
“It sounds like you might,” he pointed out. “I think the physical aspect of the relationship just distracts you from your doubts.”
“You’re pretty distracting,” I agreed in a mumble. “But don’t let it go to your head.”
He grinned my favorite sideways smile. “No promises. And Tara, look, we don’t have to label ourselves, or do anything that feels too quick to you. I mostly just wanted to know if you fancied me back.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course I fancy you, prat.”
He laughed, pulling me into a hug. I leaned my face in the crook of his neck, savoring the warmth of being pressed against him.
“Can we not tell anyone though?” I requested quietly. “Just for now. You have too many cousins, and I don’t want to get hounded. And Lily kind of scares me.”
Albus snorted. “She’s fourteen.”
“She’d still beat me to shit for sleeping with you without dating you first,” I frowned.
“You could always just date me,” Albus suggested cheekily. “Just to save yourself.”
Dating Albus. It sounded like a lovely, perfect fantasy to be honest. Being able to snog him in public, whenever I wanted, or being able to curl up together on a couch in the Slytherin common room- thinking about it made me smile.
But for every image I had in my mind of Albus and me, there’d be another, further down the line, of me entirely alone. What if things went wrong? We shared the same best friends, his family was practically my own. It’d ruin everything.
“Tara, don’t have an aneurysm,” Albus said softly. “I was mostly joking.”
“I feel like a bitch,” I mumbled.
“You’re not a bitch,” Albus rolled his eyes. “Just a bit of a chicken. But I can wait, honestly.”
I opened my mouth to protest against the chicken comment, but honestly, he was probably right. I hated how complicated this had all become.
“I’m sorry,” I said instead, a horrible pit in my stomach.
Albus brushed a knuckle against my cheek with a somewhat sad smile. “It’s alright, Tara.”
“You were never supposed to be so nice,” I whispered, feeling a strong urge to cry. Why couldn’t I just say ‘fuck it’ and date the bloke?
“I’m not as nice as you keep claiming,” he chuckled. “I blackmailed you, once upon a time.”
He laughed again, pulling me in for another kiss before standing from the bench. “Come on. The others are probably done by now, and you’re turning blue.”
That reminded me of a question I’d had earlier. I accepted his offered hand and he pulled me up beside him. “Oh right- what was your plan for having Scor ‘handle’ James and Rylie?”
Albus snorted. “He was supposed to lead them into one of the rooms and lock them in together. I figured they’d distract each other enough for us.”
My eyes widened at that. “Do you think he pulled it off?”
Albus shrugged. “Possibly? It’s his house, he had a home field advantage.”
“Al,” my tone was urgent. “They could be doing who-knows-what by now.”
He seemed less perturbed than I felt. “That was the idea,” he said as we headed back to the house. “We’ve already seen them snog.”
“But Leo is here,” I explained.
“Oh,” Albus realized as we reached the back door. “Shit.”
“You better pray Scor didn’t actually manage to trap them,” I warned. “Or there will be a shitstorm waiting for us inside.”
“Great,” he frowned. “Now I’m scared.” He pulled the door open cautiously, gesturing for me to go first. I suspected this was out of fear more than chivalry, the pansy.
I stepped inside.
Sure enough, a shitstorm awaited.
Honestly, with my writing no longer being ahead of my postings, I should probably stop leaving these on cliff hangers haha. But OH WELL, here we are. I hope everyone enjoyed this chapter! I was so incredibly grateful for the warm welcome back I received, and for any new readers too! Writing again has me feeling ten times better, so I think updates should remain relatively timely for now. I'm feeling motivated, and that hasn't happened in months. Things are looking up, gang! I know this year is tough on just about everyone, so if anyone ever needs to talk about anything, I'm here for you all!!! I have a new story coming soon, that might be kind of sad at points, but it's very much from the heart and something I need to get out into the world.
Thanks for reading, and reviews are always appreciated :)
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize here is JK Rowling's as always.
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