They buried Albus this morning, privately, in hallowed ground brimming with Potter remains. It was a cold, sterile place, unbefitting a boy of seventeen who was full of mischief and promise. Al deserved better, but there was nobody I could complain to. Who would listen?
Private or not, I went. Walked off the school grounds like I owned the place, and not a single person questioned why a student was leaving at half nine on a Tuesday morning. I even Apparated right to the edge of the wards at Godric's Hollow, daring someone to stop me, but no one did. They were too busy hugging and crying, comforting each other over Al's grave. I watched from behind an ancient oak, feeling so broken I could barely draw a breath, and when I did manage that simple process – inhale, exhale – pain lanced through my chest and brought stinging tears to my eyes. After all these years of being loved and cherished and known, I was alone once more. Albus was gone. The mahogany coffin being lowered into the earth and the half-circle of grieving Potters proved that.
The tree didn't hide me very well, but nobody knew I was about; no one ever did. Al used to tell me I'd mastered the art of fading into the background. Quite the feat for a Malfoy, he'd say, and we'd share a secret laugh because we both knew that, in my heart, I was less a Malfoy than even he.
I wrapped my cloak about me and hugged myself tight. In the distance, Mr Potter was speaking, voice uneven, saying how good Albus had been. How young. And how tragic it all was. And unnecessary, I wanted to scream. Because if someone had only asked me, we'd none of us be standing in the middle of a graveyard right now. Not a single person had asked, 'Scorpius, have you seen Albus this morning?' Because if they had, I would have said, 'Yes, of course. He woke early for once, the lazy sod, fucked me bow-legged, then went for a swim. Why?'
But no one had asked, so nobody had saved him, and Albus had drowned in the lake, tangled in the weeds near the bank.
Nobody knew us for lovers, let alone best friends. They were blind and ignorant and prejudiced, every single one of the Potters and Weasleys. They tried to keep us apart, Albus and I, though they failed in a most spectacular way. My own family was no better, in that regard. I blamed them all for taking Al away from me. If we hadn't had to hide, he'd be alive today. Not stuffed in a fancy box, still reeking of lake water.
Mr Potter stepped back, swiping at a stray tear, and Lily shuffled forward. I was too far away to hear her whole speech, but she was sobbing so hard, most of the words were lost anyway. Al would've rolled his eyes at all the drama, truly. Move on and move up, he'd say. Your life is wasting. That thought alone made my chest clench again, and I closed my eyes and took ragged, shallow breaths until I was more in control.
A voice spoke in my ear. "Chin up, Malfoy. All this doom and gloom does nothing for you."
My breath caught in my throat. I steadied myself against the tree with one hand, ignoring how the bark cut into my palm. "No," I moaned, the word barely passing my lips before it died. I would not accept that voice. It teased at my fragile sanity and threatened to snap it in two. Albus was gone. I had nothing left except my mind. To give that up now, while in some ways a relief, would be cowardly and weak. I was neither of those things.
"Are you determined to ignore me, then?" the voice asked. "I know this must be a shock, but I'm a bit scared myself, truth be told. I was hoping you'd know what to do, or at least what to say. Maybe 'Now now, Al, no worries. I'll figure this out, just like always.' Then I could pat you on the back, tell you good job, and we could go back to the Tower and shag like bunnies."
A sob worked its way up my throat. "Al?" I gasped. I squeezed my eyes shut.
"Yes. Scorpius, yes. Open your eyes. Please. Look at me."
I did what he asked. I always did. Ever since we were first-years, he's had the ability to do that – make me do whatever he wants. My best friend for seven years and my lover for these past two, Albus Potter knew me inside and out. I denied him nothing.
"All right," I said, drawing courage from my own voice. "I will." I'd edged along the trunk of the tree until I was hidden from the funeral party at the bottom of the hill. Now at least if I screamed in terror – a distinct possibility, as my mind had conjured up grotesque images of Albus, bloated and wrapped in mermaid kelp - I'd have a chance of escaping before I was caught. According to the Prophet, Mr Potter had been adamant about respecting his son in peace.
"Come on, Malfoy. You've never had a problem ogling me before."
Impatient to the end, quite literally as it turns out, that was my Al. I obeyed and had to grab the tree again once my eyes had adjusted to the light. "Albus," I whispered. "I thought you were— They said you were—"
Albus grinned at me, looking just as he had that morning three days ago. Gryffindor tie askew, shirt half untucked, dark hair mussed from our lovemaking – for a moment I expected him to say, "Thanks, that was brilliant. Nothing in the world beats waking up with you, you know, and I expect nothing ever will. See you at breakfast; I'm off for a swim. Did you see how blue the water was in the lake yesterday?"
He didn't say those things, but he did step forward and hug me, and before I could register the solidness of him and how very wrong that was, he said something else. "I thought I'd never see you again, Scorpius. I knew it was the end, and all I could think was how I was never going to see you again. I couldn't bear that."
My aching loss turned to relief. My knees went weak with it as it shivered down my spine. Some uneasiness joined the fray, but only for a moment, because it was all swept away when it registered who I was holding. I had Al in my arms. And he was solid, and warm, and crushing me close, and saying those things I loved to hear, but that he only ever said in the aftermath of sex, when intimacy trumped manliness.
"You're solid," I said, half laughing as I wiped a stray tear away. "You shouldn't be. Ghosts are—"
"I'm not a ghost." Al took my hands in his, squeezed them until I hissed. "I don't know what I am, really. All I remember is when I couldn't hold my breath any longer, when I just couldn't, and I opened my mouth and let the water in, it was because I was screaming for you. Don't you see, Scorpius? We're not meant to be separated." He squeezed my hands again, cold fingers crushing mine. "We're special."
I knew that, but to transcend death… I was overwhelmed.
Al gave me a minute to take it in. He turned and leaned around the tree. "My dad's really upset, isn't he? I don’t think I've ever seen him cry. Ever." His mouth twisted into a frown, and I saw him gulp when the coffin bumped the side of the grave as it was lowered in. "So. Not a ghost. But definitely not alive either. I doubt they'd go to all this trouble unless they were certain on that point."
I peeked around him. "No, you're dead and gone, Al."
Al threw a grin over his shoulder, but his expression turned serious when he saw my face. "Not gone. I came back for you. I didn't want you to be alone."
"Thank you," I whispered. Because I was thankful, and I didn't mind him knowing it. What I didn't want him to know was how I'd been contemplating skipping the rest of my classes that day so I could take the afternoon to kill myself. A jump off my broom had been the plan. I figured I deserved to suffer some crippling fear, for a few seconds at least, like Al had. It was only fair. But I couldn't let him know any of that. He would find it histrionic, and, like me, he despised drama.
Mrs Potter threw the first handful of dirt into the grave, and, even up the hill and behind the tree, I heard it hit the top of the coffin. She took two steps and collapsed, sobbing. Mr Potter never moved. It was James who helped her to stand and Lily who led her away.
Al cringed. "That's enough of that," he mumbled and turned back to me.
"I've seen your dad cry before," I felt it necessary to say. If nothing else, it defended the man's grief, which Al didn't appear to empathise with very much, if at all. Had he no idea of what he meant to people? To me?
"What?" Al cocked his head. "When?"
"In second year. When you crashed your broom and wouldn't wake up."
Al looked pensive, then shook his head. "I don't remember."
"No, well, you wouldn't."
But I did. Christmas of our second year, right before the school holiday began, we'd gone flying. A celebration, Al had said, for fooling everyone about our friendship for so long. We'd been best mates since our Sorting, but had been hiding that fact since Christmas that first year.
"It's been a whole twelve months," I remember Al saying as he swooped around me in the cold, frozen air. "Twelve months since my dad said I couldn't have a Malfoy for a best friend."
I nodded. "Exactly one year," I added, "since my father said the same about a Potter."
Al had laughed and flown close, wrapping his arms around me in a brief, but strong hug. "My father doesn't pick my friends, Scorpius. I do. One day they'll understand."
I wondered if that were true, but nodded anyway. Al flew away into the night, daring me to chase him. I did, but by the time I caught up, he was crumpled in a pile on the ground, pieces of his shattered broom scattered around him. My heart stopped that night and didn't start again until he opened his eyes a week later in the hospital wing.
"When you were in the coma," I said now, coming back to myself. "He sat by your bed every night. All night. He cried more than once."
As if sensing how the memory affected me, Al pulled me close. He stroked the hair lying against the back of my neck and kissed my cheek. "And how is it that you know that? If he'd seen you there, he'd have hexed you for sure. Probably would've tried to blame the whole thing on you, come to think of it."
The same idea had occurred to me, of course. "I came every night, too. With your Invisibility Cloak. And I—" No, it made no sense to say it now, and it was terribly inappropriate, considering.
"You what?" Al pressed our foreheads together and stared into my eyes. I opened my mouth to speak and it filled with the stench of stagnant water. My mind rebelled, reminded me again that he wasn't truly alive, and I nearly gagged. Al let me go when I pulled away. "You what?" he pressed.
He wouldn't give up. He never did. I hung my head and resigned myself to the confession. "I know he hated me then. Hell, he hates me now. But still…." My gaze slid down the hill, to where Mr Potter was finally moving away. He was hunched like Atlas, the weight of his grief making his steps slow and wobbly. I understood how he felt.
"Scorpius?" Al prompted.
I sighed. "I was jealous. My father wouldn't have held my hand every night and talked to me. I'd be lucky if he sent an owl every few days. Gods, Al, he talked to you about everything while you were unconscious. About things you two had done together, and about things he wanted to show you and teach you. About lost opportunities and-" I hung my head. "I spent quite a few nights wishing he could be my father as well."
Al's fingers skimmed over my shoulder. "Why didn't you ever say?"
I barked a laugh. "You woke up, and he left. And you were okay. That's all that mattered."
"Yeah, I suppose." He came up behind me, slid an arm about my waist. "You wanted us to be brothers? I've always said you had a kinky side."
I groaned and elbowed him out of the way. He stumbled back with a laugh. "I hardly thought of you that way when we were twelve," I said.
Al's smiling eyes turned soft. "I know. But I loved you even then, you know. You'll always be my heart, Scorpius. Don't forget that."
As if I ever could.
I didn't want to leave Godric's Hollow. Part of me still believed Albus was a grand hallucination, the result of some grief-fed mental break, and that he'd disappear the second I Disapparated, never to return. Still, I felt clear and focused – much more in control than I had been at any point in the past few days. Enough so that I took charge of the situation, just as Al knew I would.
"How did you get here?" I asked.
Al shrugged. "I'm not sure. I remember leaving you in bed, going down to the lake. The next thing that I recall is struggling—" he stopped and swallowed heavily, "—struggling to get to the surface, but I couldn't. I panicked. When everything started to go black, I screamed your name."
I pushed back the guilt. Al was a strong swimmer; he'd never needed a lifeguard in the past. "Then?"
"I was here. Standing behind you, watching you watch my family bury me." He made a face. "Weird."
I rolled my eyes. "You've been dead for three days. Have you been, I don't know, floating around?"
"No," he said on a laugh. "No. It happened just like I said. It's like I went straight from the water to here." He wrinkled his nose. "I still smell like the lake."
I'd noticed. "But you're dressed."
"Disappointed?" He leered at me.
Much more of this and my head was going to start pounding. I drew him further back into the copse of trees. "Even in death, sex is all you think about."
"Can you blame me?"
He grabbed me and pushed me back against a tree, then playfully bit at my neck. It was so normal, so Albus, that I couldn't help but respond. When he bent to kiss me, I met him halfway, even though apprehension was coiling in my stomach.
I needn't have worried. His mouth was warm. Rough, like I remembered it. He smelled like the lake, but he tasted like himself, and another wave of relief rolled over me. Tears stung my eyes for the second time.
"Don't," Al whispered. He swiped one warm drop away. "I'm here. We'll figure this out, okay? I've made it this far. I'm not leaving now."
"If you say so."
"Damn it, you're even condescending when I'm dead."
"Stop saying that!"
"Okay." He pulled me close once more.
"I'll figure this out," I said and buried my face in his shoulder.
Al's arms tightened. "I know you will."
That was my role. Al added the excitement to our life, and I pulled us from the fire. It was mutually beneficial and contented us both. "Okay, let me think." I stepped away and turned my back on him. If he continued to distract me, we could well be spending the next twenty years in this field at Godric's Hollow.
Al astutely left me alone. He could be clever when he chose, even if his grades didn't reflect it. I knew him through and through. He put up a front, but he was more intelligent than most. Being underestimated amused him no end. But there was no question I was the analytical side of our equation. I fired off questions as they occurred to me.
"Are you hungry?"
"Need to take a piss?"
He burst out laughing. "You just want to see my cock. No need to be coy. It's yours for the having."
"You're impossible," I murmured, tapping my finger against my chin. After a few minutes, I came to the best conclusion I could. "We have to leave."
A cloud passed over Al's face. "But what if you leave, and I can't follow?"
"I'll come right back for you."
"Al." I griped his elbow. His shirt felt damp, and I resisted the urge to jerk my hand away. "I'll come right back. Right back, if you're not by my side when I get to Hogwarts."
"I don't like it." His pout was adorable and gave me goose bumps like it always did. I flashed him a crooked smile. "Fated to be together, isn't that what you said? I hardly think fate would restrict us to your mother's garden."
He blanched a bit at that. "Fair point. Okay, let's try it."
I stepped close and curled one arm around his waist. The other I wrapped around his shoulders. I huffed a laugh when he made a purring sound and nuzzled my neck. "Focus," I scolded.
"It's a bit difficult when you're this close and you—"
I Disapparated, cutting him off. I felt no drag, as I normally did when performing side-along Apparition, but before I could worry, I'd appeared at the gates of Hogwarts, and Al was still wrapped in my arms.
My first order of business had been to conduct a controlled test regarding Al's visibility, but the best laid plans, I've found, get bollocksed up more often than not. I'd barely let him go when Professor McGonagall's voice rang through the air.
Al spun around with a grin. "Professor," he cried, stepping in front of her. "I'm back!"
Impassive, she stared right through him, pinched frown on her face. Invisible to everyone but me, then. A fact that made me happier than it should have.
Al deduced it the moment I did. His grin turned wicked, and he winked at me. "Now this could be good for a spot of fun," he said. "I have some things I'd like to say to our dear Professor."
I rolled my eyes but held my tongue. I didn’t want McGonagall thinking I talked to invisible dead students. She had enough strange ideas about me as it was. I cleared my throat and adapted my most contrite expression. "Hello, Professor." All I got for my efforts was a huffy sniff.
"May I ask," McGonagall began, straightening her hat, "what you are doing outside the school grounds when you should be attending lessons? Potions, I believe?"
"I—" Had no acceptable answer, obviously. 'Running off to see my lover buried' would have been satisfying, but childish. To her, Al and I had been nothing more than acquaintances. Once, long ago, before our families had forced us into hiding, she'd known us to be friends. That we were still that and much more wouldn't occur to her in a thousand years. Not for the first time, I begrudged the secrecy. It stung that she would give no thought to the depth of my grief.
As always, Al read my mind. "Professor," he said. "I've come back to be with Scorpius. We're together, just so you know, and if you don't like it, you can go stuff that pointy, black hat up your wrinkly arse."
I'd wanted him to say those words for years. "Your timing could do with a bit of work," I muttered with a snort.
McGonagall straightened her glasses. "I beg your pardon?"
"Nothing, Professor. My apologies."
Al ploughed forward with all the grace of a cave troll. He stalked up, poked his finger right in her face. She never even flinched when he began spitting accusations. "I know what you did, you old cat. All those years ago, you listened to my father and agreed to keep Scorpius away from me."
Hearing it again fueled some of my old anger. I knew she had, both Al and I had known. I'd never quite forgiven her for it.
"You should've stood up for us," Al continued. "I can't believe you let my father do that." He shook his head. "With everything that's happened in your lifetime, how could you agree to destroy something as innocent as friendship? And all for the sake of an old grudge."
"Mr Malfoy," McGonagall said, as if it were only she and I standing there. "You don't look well."
Al spun around and raked me over head to toe. "Shut your trap, you old witch. He looks perfect."
I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing. The last few days had been too much – losing love, losing sleep, losing hope. Every emotion I held tight inside was squeezing free. All because of Albus. Because he was dead, yet wasn't. And because despite all that, he'd come back to save me.
I barely noticed when my laughter turned to hiccupping sobs. I was suddenly exhausted, trembling with it, and I doubted my feet would carry me through the gates, let alone all the way up to the Tower.
"Mr Malfoy." McGonagall's voice had softened. "Do you need to go to the hospital wing?"
I shook my head. Al stepped forward and put his arms around me, and it took every ounce of strength I possessed to not return the embrace. That would be a one-way ticket to St. Mungo's special ward. Take him, Poppy, McGonagall would say. He was laughing like a hyena one minute, sobbing the next, and then he hugged somebody who wasn't there. He really does upset easily, just like they always said.
"I have you," Al whispered into my hair. "You're not alone."
I pulled away from Al. "I'm fine, Professor. Just tired," I said.
She stared at me for an endless moment. "Very well. I'd like you to take the rest of the day to rest. I'll inform your Professors."
From behind, Al growled quietly into my ear. "Now what could we possibly do with all that free time?"
"Shut up," I whispered. I thanked her and stumbled off toward the castle.
I turned back.
McGonagall's expression was unreadable. "I won't confine you to your rooms. But I will ask that you stay away from the lake."
Beside me, Al sucked in a breath. Gasped for it. I felt his fingers wrap around mine and squeeze. Inexplicably, a few drops of cold water dripped from our joined palms onto the ground. "She's right," Al said. "Stay away from the lake. It's not safe."
"I will," I said, addressing both of them. "I promise."
McGonagall gave a prim nod. She stepped past me, and for a minute I thought she was going to run into Al. Or through him. I held my breath, desperate to know what would happen, but Al sidestepped her neatly and took my arm. McGonagall continued down the path to Hogsmeade while my breath trickled out of my lungs in short puffs.
Do you think she would've felt you? I longed to ask, but fatigue made the words stutter and die in my throat. Al laid his head on my shoulder. "I know I shouldn't be tired, I mean, being dead and all, but—" he rubbed his face against my neck, "—I am."
Albus smiled against my skin. "We're finely tuned, aren't we?"
"Yes," I whispered.
I took us to our room.
Not my room in Ravenclaw Tower and not Al's in Gryffindor. In seven years, we'd rarely seen the inside of each other's dorms. In fifth year, I'd been invited to a study session in the Gryffindor common room, during which very little revising occurred, if I recall correctly; the Gryffs were a rowdy lot. I remember catching Al's eye as he passed through later that evening. He'd looked surprised to see me at first, then pleased. That lopsided smile of his crept over his face before he ducked his head to hide it.
He hadn't said hello. Neither had I. Nobody suspected anything.
As for Ravenclaw, Al was there a bit more often, talking Quidditch with his sister and cousin and smiling that devilish smile at all the girls. He really did take the act too far sometimes, but when I told him so, he kissed me and said it was important to keep up appearances. I'd made it an art, how I would be there sometimes and others not, my presence completely random. More random than random, Al would say. We'd take pains not to look at each other, but were never completely successful. Still, our secret held.
But today I wasn't in the mood for idle chatter, and had a rather tentative grasp on my emotions, so I led him deep into the castle, down dusty, abandoned hallways to the room we'd made our own. He hadn't been joking about his fatigue. The further we went, the more he seemed to lag behind, and I wasn't in much better shape. The weight of this new responsibility made me ache all over. I could barely keep my eyes open.
Used for storage at one point, our room had long been abandoned. We'd left the area near the door mostly alone, except to stuff it with even more furniture and crates. If anybody should ever happen upon the place, all they'd see from the threshold were stacks of forgotten things – a graveyard of desks and wardrobes and tables, covered in dust-laden sheets. To the left, hidden, was a narrow path that meandered around the clutter, then opened to a cleared area in the back. This was our space. Al and I had created it out of nothing, and it had become our sanctuary. In the early years, when our free time had been split between studying and games, it had held a table and a lumpy sofa. In third year, I'd added rickety bookcases, and later that same spring, Al had found a musty rug and some pillows to scatter on the floor.
Now, the room held little but our bed, Transfigured from a steamer trunk.
"Finally," Al muttered as we stumbled through the last of the obstacles. He collapsed onto the mattress and lay there, spread-eagled and laughing softly. "My bed."
His words brought me up short, made me steady myself on a bedpost. Up until an hour ago, I never thought I'd hear his voice again. Now he was laying on a pillow still damp with my tears.
I wondered if I was going mad.
"Did you miss it?" I asked. I slipped my robe off my shoulders and went to work on my boots.
"Not as much as I missed you." Al hoisted himself onto his elbows. "I feel like I haven't slept in days."
He wasn't the only one. I shed the rest of my clothes, then turned to him, uncertain. "Are you going to…" I gestured at his mussed clothing.
Looking worried, Al chewed his lip, then nodded and sat up with a grimace. "Yes."
"You don't have to," I hastened to add.
His fingers paused over his shirt buttons. They shook – with nervousness, I think. "I want to. I need to know that nothing's changed, you know? That I can still feel you."
"Albus," I choked. "Something has changed. Something—"
"Not now." He cut me off with a sharp wave of his hand. "Later. Right now we sleep."
I acquiesced. I could only hope things would be clearer when we woke.
I awoke feeling rested, but disoriented. A candle flickered on the table next to our bed, but its halo of light didn't reach me where I lay tangled in the sheets. My pillow smelled salty, the cotton cover stiff. I stretched and rolled to my back, and my hand fell atop another. The ghost fingers grabbed mine and held tight.
Surprise, I told myself, when the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Surprise only, not fear.
Al rolled toward me, talking in his sleep like he usually did – these somnambular mutterings were common for him – and threw an arm over my chest. I braced myself for the smell of the lake, but instead got that slightly musky scent that meant we'd spent too many hours in bed.
"Potions essay, twelve inches," Al said, then sniffed against my shoulder.
I grinned and stroked his hair.
"Help Lily with charms." He groaned, then sighed.
My grin became silent chuckles. Lily needed all the help she could get in that quarter. Charms always gave her trouble, and trying to explain them to her was an exercise in futility.
"Swimming. To the boulders and back."
My good mood died. The laughter turned sour in my throat. Too far! I wanted to shake him awake and scream in his ear until he understood. From the sandy shore to the boulders was too far, a half mile at least. It wasn't safe, even though the route had the swimmer hugging the shore for most of the way.
"You're such an idiot," I whispered. "Such an idiot."
Al's fingers left my chest, where they'd been circling my nipple lazily, and stroked my cheek. "Love you," he said.
He breathed against my skin.
"Do you think it's possible to get something just because you want it so much?"
He didn't answer, and I fell back to sleep watching the candle's flickering flame.
When I next opened my eyes, Al was sitting next to me, propped against a small mountain of pillows. I stared at him, my eyes half-open, drinking in the sight. The sheets had pooled in his lap, leaving him gloriously bare to my gaze. His body never failed to excite me. Despite everything, my cock stirred. "It's very odd that you slept, don’t you agree?" I asked to take my mind off my insistent flesh.
"Is it?" He darted a look in my direction.
"You're not acting very dead," I said, voice deadpan. He shifted his thigh toward me, and I was so fascinated by the sound of his skin sliding against the sheet that at first I didn't register that he'd pressed it against my erection. My toes curled when he pushed forward. "Ah, don't do that."
I thought it was obvious. We had much to figure out, and not a lot of time to do so. McGonagall had given me the day, but I had a feeling we'd slept most of that opportunity away. "Al—"
"You don't want me anymore, is that it, Malfoy? I suppose you figure it's time to find some new bloke to share your bed. One who lives and breathes tops your list, I'd wager."
He'd meant it to sound teasing, but I heard the uncertainty in his voice. I heard the fear. "You're mad," I said. "No matter what happens, you're the only one I'll ever want. Ever. Surely you know that by now." And to seal my words, I slid my hand around his thigh and pulled it between my legs.
Al's low growl sent pins and needles cascading down my chest and across my stomach. He rocked forward, and my eyes rolled back in my head. "I never thought I'd feel this again," I said, gasping, straining against the hard muscle of his leg.
Suddenly the heat and pressure on my cock was gone, but before I could protest, Al's face was pressed against my cheek. His lips moved against my temple as he spoke. "I'm never going to leave you, Scorpius. Never." He withdrew before I felt capable of a reply. My throat was tight, my chest equally so. To distract myself, I focused on the clutter of paper in his lap.
He caught me looking. "You never told me you kept all these."
I leaned forward, then blanched when I saw what he was sifting through. Two days ago, when the shock had worn off and the grief had set in, I'd taken the box out of hiding. In it was every letter and note Albus had ever written me, from first year through last week. There were many, and I'd saved them all. I'd spent almost all my time since his death reading them, then flipping through my journal to find the corresponding entry. It was terrifying how closely our lives revolved around each other. Terrifying and fantastic.
One letter had been Al's clumsy apology for a row we'd had on Halloween, the year we'd turned fourteen. "I made a mistake," he'd written. "You told me that Celia fancied me, and I told you to stop being jealous. You were right. By now, I should know to trust you."
In my journal, dated that same day, I'd written. "Al will never learn. He's far too trusting, and he actually believes that witch, Celia, is following him around like a puppy because she admires his skill in Potions. Unbelievable! She fancies him, I’m sure of it. I tried talking to Al about it, but he told me to bugger off and stop being jealous. When is he going to learn to trust me?"
Now, seeing the letters spread across Al's legs made me grimace. I collapsed backward and threw an arm over my face. "You were never supposed to know about those."
"Because it's mortifying, sentimental rubbish. It's the kind of thing Lily does, save letters from her boyfriend."
Al's playful smile froze. "Lily has a boyfriend? Who is it?"
I struggled not to laugh at his affronted tone. "Albus, she's nearly sixteen."
"You don't say?" His smile turned wicked. "Is he a Ravenclaw?"
"No." I smirked. "Now leave off. Lily can take care of herself. And what would you do, besides? Don a sheet and chains and haunt the poor boy?"
"I just might." He frowned. "I can't believe she'd hide something like that from me."
That stung. "You hide me from her." Or rather, he had.
His hands balled into fists, crumpling some of the parchments in his lap. "That's different," he said, and left it at that. I suppose he didn't feel the need to explain, and why would he? We both knew the reasons already.
Al's snits never lasted long. I knew to stay quiet and wait him out, and soon, as predicted, his fingers crept into my hair and began sifting through the strands. "You kept every single one," he mused, voice calm once more.
"Even this one." Al swept a sheaf of papers off the bed and waved it in my face. I recognized the letter. It was one I'd read many times over the years.
"That one especially," I said.
It was the one Al had written to me the morning after our first night together. My own journal had a similar entry on that date, brimming with exotic prose and teenage angst. I remember how scared I'd been those months prior to that day, terrified that our friendship would end because I couldn't keep my eyes off his arse or my mind free of lewd images, mostly hazy fantasies of the two of us naked and rutting together for hours on end. I began to avoid him. I made excuses to limit our time together. Now, I knew that Al had been struggling with the same volatile emotions, but at the time, I thought my life was ending – I was the freak who fancied his best friend.
It all came to a head in fifth year, the day of the last Quidditch match. Al missed the Snitch three times – that was rare – and the game was won on goals alone. As soon as the whistle blew, I fled the stands. Eluding Al was getting more and more difficult, and I knew he'd soon corner me and demand an explanation. Still, I couldn't resist going to watch him fly. It was the perfect opportunity to admire his physical power, something that drove me to a fever pitch of excitement.
I'd just left the stands and was still grappling with my overzealous hormones when he grabbed me by the collar. He was breathing heavily, hair wild, goggles hanging about his neck. He threw his broom to the ground and hauled me under the stands. "I've had enough," he said, taking me by the upper arms. "I can't take this anymore. I couldn't even concentrate on that damn Snitch because of it. Scorpius, I know why you're avoiding me. Do you really think I don't?"
The bottom dropped out of my stomach. "Al," I gasped. "Please. It's not what you think."
"Isn't it?" He shook me once, hard, and pressed me against one of the wooden supports. All around us, the structure shook as the students and staff stomped down the steep stairs and out onto the grass. But beneath it, we were hidden.
"Scorpius—" He stepped close. Too close. "Scorpius."
I was shaking with fear. With lust as well. Al's body was inches from mine, and he looked gorgeous. Face streaked with dirt, Quidditch leathers hugging him everywhere, eyes dark and intense – my hands twitched to touch him.
"Please," I whispered. I doubted he could hear me over the roar of the crowd, but his eyes were on my lips, watching them. "Don't hate me."
"Hate you?" He shook his head. "I love you."
It was the first time he'd said it. I blinked. "Really?"
He grinned, but it was strained. "Yes. Really. Now is there something you've been meaning to tell me?" He pressed his lips into a thin line and waited.
I couldn't speak at first. The air between us felt super heated. It burned me through my robe, through my clothes. My mouth was bone dry, and every breath I let out sounded like a whimper. I was on fire, my cock hard enough to make my stomach ache. "Yes," I blurted. "Al, I—" I stopped, unable to go on.
"For Merlin's sake!" Al hissed. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and I closed my eyes, too cowardly to watch his fist hit my face.
The contact, when it came, nearly did knock me off my feet. Al's mouth covered mine with enough force that my head knocked back against the support beam. Dazed, I parted my lips and met his tongue at the same moment he thrust his body forward into mine. Months of suppressed longing slammed into me at once. My body went taut, on the edge of something too deep, too sharp to be a mere orgasm. I had time for one whisper, a plea, I think, and then Al was groaning into my mouth while his hips jerked against mine. We were pressed so close that even through two layers of clothing, I felt his cock spasm. I hadn't a prayer of holding back after that.
We stood slumped against the beam long after we'd recovered, laughing through more kisses. By the time we ducked under the Gryffindor banner and emerged back onto the Pitch, it was deserted.
"Do you remember that first time?" Al asked me now.
It was a rhetorical question, I was sure. Still, I answered. "Explicitly."
"Not my finest performance."
We both laughed. "That depends," I said, scratching my fingernails down his stomach, "on whether or not you were trying to set a speed record."
Al's guffaw echoed through the room. "As I recall, you weren't far behind me."
No, I hadn't been. And he could still bring me to climax with embarrassing speed. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. "We've let a good bit of time slip away. And we're no closer to understanding what's happening. I want to start my research immediately."
"But first," I said, "I need to eat."
Al gathered up the letters, placed them in the box, and pushed it aside. "Then let's feed you." He bounded off the bed and threw my shirt and trousers at me. "Your wish is my command."
We left our room and began the long journey to the kitchens. Al walked beside me, looking as refreshed as I felt. The long sleep had renewed me, as it would have any living being. That it had a positive effect on Al as well was just another mystery.
"I'm not hungry," he'd announced as we dressed, "but I think we should go together. I'd feel better if I were with you."
I agreed. I'd yet to test how magic affected him, if at all, and though McGonagall hadn't seen him, that was no guarantee that other people wouldn't. I thought about using the Invisibility Cloak – Al had given it to me years ago for safe keeping – but in the end, I opted for stealth and our combined knowledge of the castle's lesser-used routes.
As we descended the last staircase to the main level, I realized my mistake could be a costly one.
"Well, what have we here? Scorpius Malfoy, out after curfew."
Both Al and I turned at once. With a sinking heart, I recognized Pat Simmons, a seventh-year Slytherin, and his two best friends. Simmons' guard dogs, we called them. I don't think I'd ever heard an intelligent word emerge from their lips. They'd lick Simmons' shoes if he ordered them to; the dynamics of it disgusted me. For some reason, they'd hated me since the night the Sorting Hat had placed me in Ravenclaw.
"I could say the same for you, Simmons," I said. "Unless you've suddenly become a Prefect, that is. Not that the school would ever lower its standards to such a degree. Letting you enroll in the first place is about as far as our fine professors are willing to sink."
Beside me, Al laughed under his breath.
I'd held my own against Simmons in the past. The idiot could barely string a compound sentence together, and his magic was no match for mine. But with the other two in tow, he had sheer numbers on his side. One night a year ago, he'd caught me alone outside the library. I'd tried to hide the damage from Albus – with very little success.
"What the hell happened to you?" he'd demanded.
I tried to slither out of his arms and escape across the bed. "It's nothing."
Even in the dark, he'd spotted the discoloration on my ribs. Sometimes I detested my ghostly pale skin. He caught me by the arm, stopping my retreat, and poked the bruise with his finger. I winced. "Nothing?" he growled.
"Simmons and his goons. They caught me by surprise. It won't happen again."
Al's expression was grim and just a little frightening. "Too true, it won't."
"I can fight my own battles, thank you," I said, but even as I did, I was smiling, pleased with his reaction.
He relented slightly. His finger splayed across the black and purple bruise. "I know you can," he cajoled. "But you can't expect me to stand by and do nothing when they've hurt you."
"Yes, I can. I want you to." I'd stand firm on this. I was known for being a loner and a bit odd, and over the years, people had taken that as an invitation to bully me. To my great pride, most only tried once.
Al sighed and bent to kiss the bruise. Despite my efforts not to, I hissed in pain. I felt his shoulders go stiff, and I ran my hands over his back soothingly, whispering for him not to fuss. He didn't answer, just murmured healing spells against my ribs until nothing remained but unblemished skin.
"I won't stand for it happening again, Scorpius," he said as he slithered up my body to kiss me. "They deserve to be warned about that, at least."
"Very well," I said once he'd kissed me pliant. "If you must."
Al never gave me the details, and I never asked. But he said all it had taken was one talk to convince the git and his goons to leave me alone. I suspected 'talk' was one of Al's quirky euphemisms, especially as both of Simmons' thugs were confined to the hospital wing the next day. I was solid and quick on my feet, but Albus had more muscle than the other three put together, and he knew how to use it. And with Harry Potter for a father, his repertoire of defensive magic was impressive indeed.
Now, though, having Al at my side wouldn't help matters. He couldn't fight. But the very fact that he was there bolstered my confidence. "Fuck off, Simmons," I said, "and take your lapdogs with you."
"Scorpius," Al warned. "One's trying to circle behind you."
"I see him. Don't worry about me."
Simmons cocked his head. "Who are you talking to?"
"My guardian angel," I answered. Perhaps it was my tone of voice or the way I drew my wand. Perhaps it was the words themselves, but Simmons hesitated. He snarled at me, then signaled for his lackeys. Reluctantly, they returned to his side. I swished my wand in the air, delighted that the red sparks had them all backing away. "Which one should I start with?" I asked Al. "They're all so tempting."
Simmons shook his head. "You've always been unbalanced, Malfoy. I'd lay odds you end up in St Mungo's, spreading butter on your sheets and asking the dogs to tea."
"Rest assured, if that happens, you won't be receiving an invitation." I gestured with my wand. "You heard what I said. Fuck off."
With one last hateful look over his shoulder, Simmons left, bodyguards in tow.
Al frowned after them. "You didn't tell me they were bothering you again."
"That's because they haven't been. This is the first time in over a year." I could tell he wanted to discuss it, so I cut him off with a kiss. "Come on," I said. "We've more important things to think about."
We continued without incident until we entered the hall that led to the kitchen. "What's this?" I heard a voice ask. I spun around, immediately on guard, my heart hammering in my chest. Simmons and his thugs may have decided they were up for a brawl after all. "Young Mr Potter," the voice said. "You've returned."
I turned to see Al standing in front of a portrait. He seemed completely at ease, hands on his hips as he laughed. "Scorpius," he said, then beckoned me closer. "This is Sir Clafton, descendant of Godric Gryffindor himself, and my ancestor." He saluted. "All right, Tims? What's the latest gossip?"
"Have you heard?" Tims asked, giving Al a sly wink. "There's been a death among the students."
Al's grin faded a bit, but he nodded, playing along. "I have. One of their finest, I understand. In fact, I hear the lad was the best Quidditch player in a century, and by far the most intelligent student to grace this esteemed institution in a generation. Not hard on the eyes, either, if the rumors are anything to go by."
Albus and Tims shared a companionable laugh while I fought back a wave of nausea. How could Al be so cavalier? I knew my mouth was hanging open, and I felt lost, unable to get my bearings. I'd seen the portrait Al was talking to, but never before had I known it to move or speak. He was a sallow-looking fellow, Sir Tims, with long, brown hair and flouncy robes. He sat on a plush tufted chair, one elbow on the painted table beside him.
When Tims' amusement faded, he bowed his head. "My apologies, young Albus, for what you've become."
"And what would that be?" I cut in, desperate for information.
I was ignored by both. "There's nothing for it, of course," Tims continued. "What's done is done, and what's passed is past. A warning, though, dear boy."
Al cocked his head and raised a brow.
Tims leant forward and whispered, "There's trouble afoot."
"Of what sort?" I asked when Al squinted in confusion.
"Ah." Tims sank back into his chair. "The worst sort, Mr Malfoy. Wicked, foul play. Burning jealousy and broken hearts. Dashed hope and blue oblivion." He gave one nod, then closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the gold brocade cushion.
Al shrugged. "Let's go," he said, pulling me by the arm. "He'll sleep for hours."
I let Al pull me along while I pondered the portrait's words. No matter how I turned them around in my head, they made no sense. "You've never told me about Tims," I said as we turned the next corner.
"Haven't I?" Al shrugged. "I've only talked to him a handful of times, myself. He sleeps a lot." I caught the mischievous twinkle in his eye, but before I could escape, he'd pushed me behind a suit of armor and kissed me.
I batted his roving hands away. "Al, please. I'm famished, and I'd much prefer to do this in our bed, if it's all the same. It's not as though we're fifteen and can't make it across the castle without groping each other."
Al snorted. "Speak for yourself." He tipped his head back and breathed a deep sigh. "I feel so alive." His thumb swept across my cheek. "I think it must be you, Scorpius. You've always brought out the best in me. Now you're breathing life right into my soul." He kissed my forehead. "Thank you."
I'd no inkling if his words held any truth, but they warmed my heart. Perhaps that had been his intention all the time. "You're welcome," I said. "Now feed me, and I'll waste no time proving how much I still want you."
"Fine." His nip to my earlobe made me jump. "You'll have your tea and biscuits, but afterwards, you're mine. Are we clear?"
"Yes, master," I replied, only half joking.
The stomach ache I'd been enduring for the past hour resolved into gnawing hunger once we entered the kitchens. Tempting smells assaulted me, the remnants of what had been served for dinner, I suspected.
I'd been determined to procure more than tea and biscuits, despite Al's teasing, but I was so hungry by the time we arrived, I grabbed the first thing I found.
Biscuits, of course. I ignored Al's smug smile.
I stuffed one after another into my mouth until the hunger pangs abated. Al sat at the table, watching me with that crooked smile of his. "Remind me never to let you get like this again," he said, chin in hand. "It's a bit scary."
I graced him with one of my rarely-used rude gestures and turned to the tap to fill a glass of water. It spilled into my cup like a torrent, splashing over the sides and splattering me with droplets. "Damn," I muttered. I turned to retrieve my wand off the table, the drying spell on my lips, but saw Al first. "Albus!"
I dropped the glass, let it shatter in the sink, and raced to his side, catching him just as he fell from the chair to his knees. Shivering, he clung to me, moaning low in his throat. "It's okay," I said over and over. I gathered him as close as I could, and when my fingers curled into the sleeves of his jumper, water spilled between my knuckles and dripped to the floor. Fear gripped me, so fundamental I felt a child again. I became aware of how his trousers were also wet and stained with algae. I smelled rotting vegetation.
"Scorpius," Al said, voice hoarse. "I remember. I remember!" He coughed, choked on the words. "I wasn't alone."
"What do you mean?"
"There were hands." He held out his own out, shaking, palms up. "They were holding me down. I couldn't get free. I can hear them laughing. Oh, God." He slapped his hands over his ears.
"It's okay," I said again. We sat in an awkward sprawl on the floor, and I rocked him.
Eventually, he calmed. It wasn't until he raised his face to mine that I noticed his clothes were dry again. "Scorpius," he said, eyes dull. "It wasn't an accident."
"What?" I whispered.
"When I drowned. It wasn't an accident. Somebody was holding me under the water. More than one person. I could hear them."
I shook my head. I couldn't accept that.
"Yes!" Al twisted around and sat up to face me. "And I know who it was."
For a long moment, there was no sound at all. Not even the castle breathed. "Who?" I asked.
Al struggled to his feet. I was dismayed to see how unsteady he still was. He stumbled to the sink and stared into it. "Simmons," he spat. "Simmons and his two henchmen."
I opened and closed my mouth twice before I settled on something suitable to say. I didn't want to outright contradict him, but I had to be the voice of reason. "Al, listen." I stood, a bit shaky myself. "I can't believe that. We had that run-in with them tonight and now your mind is conjuring up a connection. It's a – a mental thing. It doesn't mean it really happened that way."
Al spun around, and I bit my lip when I saw that my words hadn't had the calming effect I'd hoped for. "No! I'm not conjuring anything. I remember them. I saw a flash of that gaudy orange shirt Simmons fancies, and I heard a voice laughing. Don't you see?" He strode forward and grabbed my arms. I tried not to wince. "It's why they're suddenly bothering you again. They know they can."
"Al," I began weakly.
"And Tims," Al said, cutting me off. "He warned us about foul play. And wickedness. And jealousy."
It fit. I couldn't deny it. Even to my analytical mind, it made sense. And every word from Al's mouth added to its plausibility. Simmons had left me alone for over a year, knowing Al would've made his life miserable if he hadn't. His grudge against me must only have grown during that time. And the castle portraits knew everything. Surely if Simmons and his apes had discussed their deeds within these walls, the portraits would have heard.
My blood simmered with anger. I pulled away and walked to the door. "We should inform Professor McGonagall right away."
Al's forceful reply stopped me in my tracks.
"No," he said again when I'd turned to face him. "We can't prove it. And you know they'll lie. The most they'll get, if anything, is a slap on the wrist, and then everybody will know."
Al looked suddenly tentative. "About me." His eyes pinned me in place. "Do you want that to happen?"
"No," I admitted. I truly didn't.
Al wasn't alive, that I'd accepted, but neither was he dead. I thought maybe what was happening, though I'd no concrete evidence as of yet, was not an aberration, but rather a miracle. It was our bond that had defied death. It was our love that had turned back the Reaper. We might be the first couple in recorded magical history to have accomplished such a thing.
I didn't want to share him. Not yet. And maybe, I realized with a twinge of guilt, not ever.
"Then what do you suggest?" I asked, hands spread in front of me. "We must do something."
Al prowled toward me. With his nostrils flaring and hands fisted at his sides, he reminded me of a bull preparing to gore a toreador. And perhaps he was, at that. "Oh, we're going to do something," he said. "They tried to separate us, and even if they didn't manage completely, they did well enough."
I flashed back to the funeral. To the many hours I'd contemplated death for myself since Al had died. I remembered how the grief laid so heavily on my heart, and I nodded.
"An eye for an eye," Al said. He took my face in his hands and kissed me tenderly. "You'll do it for me, won't you?"
Of course I would.
We spent the night together. Under normal circumstances, I would've returned to my dorm, made a show of going to bed, then snuck back out with Al's cloak, but that night I hadn't the energy. Besides, the chance of anyone missing me was slim.
Since the incident in the kitchen, our appetite for sex had dwindled to a simple desire to be close to one another. I raised a token protest when Al gathered me close – I wasn't a fragile flower – but he shushed me quiet. "I need it," he whispered in the dark. "I need to hold you." So I conceded.
We laid awake long into the night, hardly tired after sleeping the day away. Al stared at the ceiling, nibbling on his bottom lip every now and again. I suspected he was thinking about the revelation we'd come to; I know I was. Anger would crash over me unexpectedly, waves of it making me shake, and when it did, Al would shift closer and soothe me. His warm solidness was no longer odd. I prayed he'd never become a proper ghost, translucent and cold and untouchable.
Near morning, he turned me on my side and pressed close against my back. "May I?" he asked, barely breathing the words. His hand drifted over my hip and down my thigh.
I took it and pressed it between my legs. "Always."
He took me gently, and I used I every trick I knew to prolong the pleasure. Al must've been pacing himself as well, because not until I started moaning into the pillow did his own composure falter.
At the very end, I felt drops of water spill over my neck and across my face, but they were warm and salty, not cold. "Don't," I whispered over my shoulder. "We're going to be okay."
"It's not fair," he said, voice harsh and breathless.
"I know it's not."
I couldn't think of anything more to say.
I returned to Ravenclaw a few hours later, Al in tow.
"It's odd, not having to wear the cloak," he said as we approached the door to the common room. His steps faltered. "Do you suppose Lily will be there? I've been wondering if she's okay."
I squeezed his hand. "I've no idea. Don't be disappointed if she isn't."
"I hate to see her upset."
"Me too." In my heart, Lily was my sister, and I looked out for her as such, even though I knew she considered me little more than a housemate. Over the years, I'd learned to shun friendships. Doing so saved me from having to explain my strange comings and goings, and, as sacrifices went, it had never been a painful one. With Al, I never lacked for companionship.
I gave the password and we stepped inside. To my surprise, Lily was there, sitting stiff as a statue in a chair near the fire. She caught my eye as we entered, which was strange enough, but when she rose and walked straight for us, uneasiness gripped me.
"Ah, Lily," Al said. He raised a shaking hand towards her. I sensed his concern and shared it. Lily was pale, eyes bloodshot and expression drawn.
She halted a few feet away and stood with her arms wrapped round her waist. "Scorpius?"
"Lily," I replied gently. "I'm so very sorry."
"Thank you." She stared at me, hands wringing her skirt. Her pinched, unfriendly expression boosted my apprehension. Her next words even more so. "I saw you yesterday," she said. "At Albus' funeral."
Beside me, Al cursed. I echoed the sentiment silently but tried to keep my reaction neutral. "Oh?"
"Don't try to deny it. Why were you there?"
I looked around, saw we'd drawn an audience, and a part of me – the angry, vindictive, grieving part – ached to scream the truth at her. That'd I gone because I loved him. Because he'd been strong and true, and he'd never left me. Because I was his in every sense of the word, and now, when everyone wanted him back, he was mine alone. Not even Lily could deny the poetic justice of that.
But I couldn't tell her any of those things. We had some business to attend to first, Al and I. "Why was I there?" I repeated, stalling.
Al ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Leave off, Lily," he mumbled.
"You shouldn't have been." She swiped at a tear. "It was for family."
I bit my tongue.
"There's going to a service here at the school. Today."
"I hadn't heard," I said truthfully.
"It's just for his friends."
Al gasped, I supposed in outrage. I knew her words had fuelled my own anger. "So don't bother showing up, is that what you're saying?" I asked bitterly. Al squeezed my shoulder, but I shrugged him off. I had no justifiable cause to be angry at Lily, but I was tired of hiding my grief from everyone, pretending it was less than theirs. When it was in fact, I knew in my heart, so much more.
"Scorpius," Al said again. He stepped close and curved an arm around my waist. "I love you. Focus on that."
I tried, but Lily's indignant tears and the silent accusations of the crowd surrounding us made it impossible. Before I said something I knew I'd regret, I spun back to the door.
"Scorpius," Lily called out. I stopped but didn't turn. Al's fingers stroked the back of my neck. His eyes were on me, not his sister. "I told Professor McGonagall that you were there yesterday," she said. "She wants to see you in her office."
Al groaned. "Damn it, Lily! You've just ruined everything!" A nice summation, in my opinion. I left without acknowledging her words.
"You're not actually going to see the old cat, are you?" Al matched my hurried pace as I descended the stairs from the tower.
I shrugged, defeated. "I suppose I should." How to explain myself when I saw her was the problem. I veered off the stairs onto a landing, determined to gather my thoughts and throw off my lingering anger. A beam of sunlight drew me to a nearby window, and I pressed my forehead against the glass and closed my eyes.
"I'm sorry." Al hoisted himself up onto the stone sill beside me. "This is so vastly unfair to you. I wish now…I wish I hadn't been such a coward about telling people about us."
I shook my head. "Water under the bridge," I said and meant it. Blindly, I reached for his hand, and he grabbed hold. The cool pane against my forehead felt heavenly, and I was able to rein in my disgruntlement sooner than I expected. "All right, I'm ready."
But when I opened my eyes, all I saw was the blue of the lake, rippling in the sunlight. Stretching out forever.
I turned my head and looked at Al.
"Are you okay?"
I nodded, then shivered, feeling chilled. When I turned away from the window, my body nearly didn't obey; it was stiff, like I'd spent too many hours in bed. "I'm fine," I assured him.
We made the rest of the trip in silence, bypassing McGonagall's office without a word, and left the castle by the entrance nearest the clock tower. I let my feet guide me, and Al kept pace at my side, already knowing, as I did, exactly where we were going.
The shore of the lake where Al had drowned was choked with mermaid kelp this time of year. Anyone who paid even the slightest attention to their studies would know that, but even now, I couldn't cast blame on Al for risking it. He was a strong swimmer, and his death had been no accident, after all.
I thought I'd feel many things when we came upon where he died, but calm hadn't been one of them. I sank onto the spongy moss, and Al joined me. "I feel at peace here," he said, sounding surprised. I smiled. Our moods always matched so well. I let him lean against me while we stared at the water.
Of course, the tableau was too good too last. We heard footsteps behind us, then muffled laughter. I turned, and Al's murderers were behind me.
"Back again, Malfoy?" Simmons asked with a sneer. "Why are you always hanging about down here? It's fucking eerie."
I cocked my head. "I never come here."
Simmons whispered something to his guard dogs, and they all three laughed. I stood, my sense of peace falling away. Beside me, Al was breathing heavily, his hands balled into fists. "I hate them," he hissed. He wasn't the only one. My own rage was swiftly getting the better of me.
"I never come here," I repeated. "But you do, don't you? At least once, isn't that right?" I advanced a step. Simmons' goons looked wary, but held their ground.
"What the fuck are you talking about now, Malfoy?"
"Albus. You killed him." Saying the words opened the gates on my rage. "You waited for him to get close enough to shore, and you grabbed him. You held him under the water." My vision narrowed. I was hot and shivering all at once. I barely noticed when the three exchanged uneasy glances.
"You've gone round the bend," Simmons whispered. "We did no such thing."
"You held him under the water. He couldn't breathe!"
The three of them looked at me like I was mad. It was the final straw. I drew my wand, almost shouting for joy when it stayed firm and steady in my grasp, belying none of my agitation. "Al was right. You'll never admit it, will you? Don’t do it!" I shouted when Simmons made a grab for his wand.
Suddenly Al was there in front of me, filling up my vision, though the others wouldn't know it. "An eye for an eye, Scorpius," he said.
Our eyes met and understanding passed between us as easily as it ever did. "Yes," I said.
Something in my demeanor must have warned Simmons. He made a diving grab into his pocket for his wand, but I was quicker. "Petrificus Totalus!" I cried, then grinned when the three went stiff as boards. I advanced slowly, tapping my wand against my palm, cheered beyond measure by the terror in their eyes.
"Push them in." Al circled behind them. "Let them experience what I did. Let them know what it feels like when you can't stand it anymore and you just have to take a breath and there's nothing but water. Cold, cold water," he growled into Simmons' ear.
"Push them in, you say?" I repeated for the trio's benefit. "Let them drown?" I pretended to mull it over. "It only seems fair, doesn't it?"
Al's lopsided smile was all the answer I needed. I stepped in front of Simmons and put a hand on his chest. The barest hint of sound escaped his throat. I shifted my weight forward, exerting more pressure against his body, and he began to tip toward the water. Fascinated, I watched his eyes roll with fear. They pleaded with me, but I felt not the slightest bit of sympathy. In the end, it was his heartbeat, tripping against my hand at a furious rate, that brought me to my senses. With a cry, I grabbed his jumper just as gravity started to carry him over.
I jerked him forward and he fell to the ground, facedown. "I'm sorry," I wheezed. I leant over, hands on my knees, and gasped for breath. "I'm so sorry." I released the spell and fled, not even checking to see if Al was following.
I ran until the stitch in my side was so painful I couldn't take another step. I stumbled off the trail and fought my way through some brush to a grassy clearing. There I fell to my knees, positive I would be ill at any moment. Cool fingertips swept across my forehead, then my cheek. "Shhh," Al said. "Calm down. I'm here." His voice had its usual effect. My heartbeat slowed and my equilibrium returned. I sagged in his arms.
"I'm sorry," I said, dejected. "I've failed you."
"No!" Al dropped to the ground beside me and took me in his arms. "Don't you think that for even a moment." He pushed the hair off my face and kissed my forehead. "Let's just forget about it. Let's forget it ever happened, and everything will be fine."
I didn't deserve him. The thought brought stinging tears to my eyes.
"I've been thinking," Al crossed his legs and tapped a finger against his lips. "You've only a couple months of school left. We could just carry on like we have been, no one the wiser. Then maybe instead of that fancy job you've been eyeing at the Ministry, you could do something else."
I slipped my arms around him and sighed against his throat. "Like what?"
Al shrugged. "I don't know. It's a mad idea, I suppose. It's not as though we can hide forever."
But surely we could, I thought. At the moment, it sounded like the perfect plan. Perhaps take up in that secluded caretaker's cottage at the edge of my family's property. I'm not even sure my father remembered it was there. I could have Al all to myself. As for my dreams of a career, I was willing to let them go. I didn't need to work, and a job came with colleagues – with colleagues, questions. That would never do. Nobody could know about Al. My mind was made up. "We can hide as long as we want," I said. "Forever."
Al drew me down onto the grass until we were lying face to face. "Do you remember the first time I told you I loved you?"
I nodded. "Of course."
"Do you remember the second?"
I nodded again. "I remember them all."
It was easy after that, to lie pressed against him, content, while he spoke of things we would do to fill our days. I roused myself late in the afternoon, but only because I'd heard the rumble of thunder and felt a spattering of raindrops on my face. The walk back to the castle was uneventful. No one stopped me. No one stared or pointed or whispered. I began to nurse hope that I'd escaped punishment for my deeds.
Until we entered our room and found Professor McGonagall sitting on our bed.
"Do you know why I'm here, Mr Malfoy?"
"I can guess. How did you find me?"
"The castle led me. In times of great need, such as this, it provides." She beckoned me forward, but I didn't go until Al urged me with a gentle push. Her eyes brimmed with disappointment. I can only imagine what mine reflected. "Please help me to understand what you were thinking," she said sternly.
Defeat pressed down on me. I would be expelled, there was little doubt. And yet, even that wasn't as crushing as it might've been – I'd be with Al all the sooner.
I swallowed my fear. "Very well." My legs were shaking, so I joined her on the bed, albeit as far from her as possible
McGonagall folded her hands in her lap. "Your actions today at the lake. Would you care to explain them?"
"What did Simmons tell you?"
"I'd like to hear your version of events first, if you please."
For courage, I locked my gaze on Al's. He stood a few feet away, leaning against a stack of crates. His arms were crossed over his chest. He didn't look pleased. "I lost my temper," I admitted. "They pretended they had nothing to do with it, you see."
McGonagall tilted her head. "With what?"
"With Al's murder." Saying it again made me ill.
"Professor, it's true. They caught him close to shore and held him under until he drowned."
McGonagall's hand curled over my knee. I winced when her sharp nails bit through my trousers. "Did you witness this act?"
"Because I know how much time you spend at the lake."
"I don't – I don't ever go to the lake. Why does everybody keep saying that?"
McGonagall's mouth thinned until her lips all but disappeared. "Did you personally witness these boys hold Albus Potter under the water? Think very carefully before you answer, young man."
"No." I bit back a surge of frustration. Turning back now was out of the question. I'd rely on complete honesty, then, and if nothing else, I'd see Al avenged. Though the airing of it all was bound to have nasty consequences. "No," I repeated. "I didn't see it. Al told me."
She blinked. "Albus Potter told you he was murdered."
"Yes. He did." I was hesitant to offer more; she'd betrayed us before. I wanted desperately to believe it wouldn't happen again.
Her next words encouraged me slightly. I was relieved to hear only curiosity in her tone. "Please explain."
I took one deep breath, then another. "Albus came to me. He told me what happened to him. He remembers Simmons holding him down. He remembers the others there too." My explanation stretched the truth of what we knew to the breaking point, but it was imperative that I sound decisive. I could tell even Al thought I was walking a dangerous line; he'd arched an eyebrow at me.
"When did he tell you this?"
"Well, we sorted it out last night. But he came to me yesterday at the funeral."
McGonagall's expression remained unreadable. "Why were you at that funeral?"
"I just – I needed…" Six years of habit closed my throat. How could I begin to explain?
"Scorpius," she said. She scooted closer, and I allowed it. "You know as well as I that occasionally, when a spirit is not ready to leave, or when they have something to relay – a piece of information – they may linger. Albus was very young, full of life and potential."
"I know that," I cut in sullenly.
She nodded. "I do not disbelieve that his ghost is with us."
"But." She caught my eye, and I felt powerless to look away. "Why would he choose you? He has parents who love him very much. And even here at Hogwarts, there is Lily." She spread her hands in front of her. "Why you?"
It was a question I'd wondered myself over the years. Why had he chosen me, when he could've had anyone. Why had I been worthy? So worthy, in fact, that he'd been willing to play a game of cat and mouse with the rest of the world for nearly seven years.
"Because you're special," Al said. I blinked and swung to look at him. As always, he knew my thoughts. He smiled at me, and it was brilliant. "You're special, Scorpius."
"How? How am I special?" I whispered.
He stepped forward and cupped my cheek in his hand. "You just are. That's enough for me." Ignoring that McGonagall was beside me, he bent to kiss the corner of my mouth. "I love you."
My hiccupping laugh echoed through the room. "I love you too."
McGonagall had followed the one-sided exchange. I saw her looking in Al's direction, though of course she couldn't see him. Her hand inched across her lap toward her pocket. "I'll tell you why he came to me," I said, watching her trace the outline of her wand through her robe. "Because he was my best friend. He was my… he was everything."
"I still am," Al said firmly.
"I didn't know that the two of you were close," McGonagall said. Her eyes wandered the room.
"No one knew."
"I don't understand."
Where did I start? We'd had so many firsts, Al and I. "When we first met, at the Sorting. He didn't look at me strangely when I told him my name," I said. "It didn't matter to him. He never called me odd or accused me of being too sensitive or weak-minded. He's always been there for me. He's the only true friend I've ever had." And now the living, breathing part of him was gone. Oh, it hurt. Even having part of him back didn't take away the sting of that truth. "Then I went home for Christmas that first year." Bitterness seeped into my voice. "I told my father about Al. He was appalled. No son of his was going to be best friends with a Potter. Al told me later, his father said the same thing about a Malfoy. It didn't matter how much we needed each other, all they cared for was their stupid rivalry."
McGonagall's hand retreated from her wand pocket. She placed it over mine and squeezed. "I'm truly sorry."
Al snorted and stalked away. I tried not to let his anger distract me.
"It’s okay," I said. "We didn't listen." I watched Al pace the room, then smiled when I caught his eye. Even through his anger, he managed a warm smile in return. "We just kept it a secret." McGonagall drummed her fingers on her thigh. Her expression spoke volumes. I sighed. "You don't believe me."
"I am having difficulty understanding how such a thing could have escaped my notice, everyone's notice, for so many years."
That was fair. "Well, no one much notices me. And Al was always so careful. We never met where anybody would see us." I gestured around the room – to the sofa, now stuffed into the corner, to the leaning bookshelves, and to the old stacks of Quidditch mags Al favoured. I ran my hand over the rumpled bedcovers. "This is our place."
McGonagall's gaze took in every detail.
"And we had Al's Invisibility Cloak, of course." I pulled it from beneath my pillow and draped it over her hands when she held them out. She fingered the shimmering fabric.
"I don't know what to say." Her voice broke on the last word, and I felt something in me give. Finally. Finally there was someone who would try to understand. After all this time, we'd have an ally. A champion. Struck by an epiphany, I raced to the small table where I kept my journal. As an afterthought, I grabbed the box with Al's letters, then placed them both in her lap. "Would you like to know how we managed it? The whole story is here in my journal."
McGonagall ran a finger over the box. "And these?"
"Letters from Al that I saved."
She placed the box beside her before opening it and picking the topmost parchment from the pile. She placed it on her lap, atop my journal, then adjusted her spectacles on her face. "Scorpius," she said without looking at me. "Am I to understand that Albus is here right now?"
I bit my lip, but when Al gave a tentative nod, I told her yes.
"And nobody but you has seen him since he arrived at your side yesterday morning." She continued to examine my journal, flipping pages every few seconds.
"I – no."
She took several more of Al's letters from the box. "No one?"
I was ready to concede the battle when it hit me. "Tims! Tims saw us. Last night."
She glanced at me over the top of her spectacles. "Who?"
"Sir Clafton." My heart raced at her blank look. "The portrait that's hanging just inside the hall that leads to the kitchen. A youngish-looking man, with dark brown hair. Al said he was some sort of ancestor. He saw us. He talked to Al."
McGonagall remained impassive. "This man in the portrait. Is he seated in a padded chair with a small table beside him and wearing dark blue robes?"
"Yes!" My relief was a tangible wave. I fumbled for the bedpost when my knees went weak. She believed us.
"Burning jealousy and broken hearts. Dashed hope and blue oblivion."
Al's voice sounded hollow, and when I glanced up I found him huddled near the headboard. "That's right," I said. "That's exactly what he said. What did it all mean? Do you know?"
"Scorpius," Al whispered. "Don't let her separate us."
Seeing him so frightened threw me off stride. "Of course not."
I turned to find McGonagall replacing Al's letters in my box. She stood, then gathered it under her arm, along with my journal and Al's cloak. I remained at the foot of the bed, uncertain of our next step, holding tight to my renewed faith in her.
McGonagall stepped forward and took my arm. Her smile was warm. "Come with me, child," she coaxed.
"Where are we going?"
She curled my arm around her elbow. "To someone who will help you."
"Scorpius!" Al scrambled from the bed, but came no closer.
Sickening realization swept through me. "Wait! Where are you taking me? You still don't believe? After everything I've shown you?"
McGonagall drew herself up, suddenly every ounce a Professor. Her voice, when she spoke, was stern. "Mr Malfoy. Nobody is responsible for Albus' death except himself. He was careless and pushed himself beyond his capabilities. His drowning was witnessed from across the lake by the Centaurs, but by the time they raised the alarm, it was too late. There was no murder." She stopped to take a deep breath. "As for this—" she held up the Invisibility Cloak, "—Albus reported it stolen in his second year. Despite our attempts to uncover the culprit, we were never successful."
"Ludicrous!" I spat.
I expected her to chastise me for my outburst, but her eyes grew sadder yet. "There is no such person as Sir Tims Clafton. Not one who is an ancestor to the Potters, at least. The picture hanging in the hall by the kitchens is, in fact, Argus Filch's grandfather. It's not a magical portrait, simply paint on canvas."
My panic had grown to epic proportions while she spoke. Blindly, I reached for Al, but he wasn't there.
"And these letters from Albus…." McGonagall said.
Relief once again eclipsed the fear. The ebb and flow of emotions was making me dizzy, but I grabbed her words like a lifeline. "They prove things, yes?"
McGonagall's face rippled. Grief to match my own flashed in her eyes. "They're written in your hand."
I laughed at the sheer absurdity of it. My vision blurred, and no matter how hard I rubbed my eyes, it wouldn't clear. I couldn't comprehend why my face was wet.
"I'm sorry." McGonagall once more took my arm in a firm grip. "Albus hasn't been a part of your life since you were eleven years old. Right or wrong, he did as his father bid. He ended your friendship."
No. I shook my head. No.
She pulled me into a rough hug. I found my face pressed into the stiff fabric of her hat. I tried to scream, but I hadn't the breath to do it. I was drowning. "You held on, child," she said, "but he let go."
Back to Sansa's Page