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13 January 2008 @ 12:09 am
HP fic: Three Steps Back  
HP fic: Three Steps Back
This part: 5,510 words, PG-13, ships going to war
a/n: Sequel to The Road Less Travelled. Not sugar-coated.
Previous parts here




Life is a long discovery, isn't it?
You only get your wisdom bit by bit.
If you have luck you find in early youth
How dangerous it is to tell the Truth;
You find that middle life goes racing past.
You find despair: and, at the very last,
You find as you are giving up the ghost
That those who loved you best despised you most.

(Hilaire Belloc)

Albus was roused from a groggy sleep by the polite yet insistent prodding of a finger into the small of his back. He groaned and rolled over. The house-elf jumped away in the nick of time.

"I have a delivery here for you, Master," it squeaked. "Mr Malfoy was most insistent that you be woken up to receive it, otherwise I would never have presumed to intrude on your slumber."

Albus knuckled his eyes, trying to figure out why Scorpius' father would send him anything. Mr Malfoy was unfailingly polite to Albus, but there was always a guardedness in his manner when they spoke - which was far from often. There was nothing in his recent behaviour that suggested he'd warmed to Albus enough to mail him a surprise present.

The elf was arranging a tray on Albus' trunk. On closer observation, Albus saw that plates of sandwiches and cake were nestled next to a pitcher of juice. The elf propped up an envelope against the crystal goblet and turned frightened eyes on Albus.

"Will you be requiring anything else, sir?" he asked.

"No, thank you," said Albus. The elf bowed and disappeared.

Albus picked up a sandwich and peeled back the bread. There was no butter or mayonnaise on it, no relish or mustard; just two plain slices of ham on a background of wholemeal bread. Albus pressed an experimental finger into the bread. It hardly made a dent. Organic three-seed wholemeal bread, then. And if he wasn't mistaken, the two slices of cake were carrot. Carrot cake was Albus' favourite, if only because he disliked most of what passed for 'dessert' in his diet.

His stomach gave an ominous rumble, so he shoved half a sandwich into his mouth and flipped open the envelope. Inside there was a batch of cards held together with a silver ring. The cards were white with a velvety finish, and sumptously decorated with inked vines. The first read: 'I'm sorry.' The second read: 'I should have realised." The third read: 'Don't worry about your skin.' The fourth read: 'It's hardly noticeable.' The fifth read: 'Please forgive me.' The sixth read: 'PS, you sulk like a girl.'

Albus smiled ruefully. One thing his spots were not was unnoticable. But he appreciated the gesture - all the more in light of Scorpius' recent abstraction.

Still chewing, Albus fished a black lacquer box - another present from Scorpius - out of his trunk and tucked the cards inside. He made sure to spell the box closed. Eoghan had an unfortunate habit of poking his pointy nose in places it wasn't welcome, and by now Albus had given up hope of him ever growing out of it.

He played with the silver ring while he finished his supper. The pitcher magically refilled itself four times before he was done, as 'healthy, non-antigen-laden food' was a synonym for 'dry as the mouth of Hell.' The clasp of the ring opened easily, and the metal was smooth under his fingers. On a whim, he fit it around his wrist. It was just the right size, sitting across his wrist bones below the by-now bedraggled friendship bracelet Scorpius had made for him in first year. Albus rather thought that had been the intention behind it.

He felt far more mellow as he changed for bed. The well of homesickness was no longer overflowing, just simmering away in the background of his mind. In a few days the busyness of another school year would drain it entirely.

By the time the thunder of feet sounded on the stairs outside, Albus was snuggled down under his duvet with The Lair of the Beast, the latest title in VD Wallflower's Berto Blastnoggin series. Albus had read it already over the summer, but it was good enough to stand up to a second run-through. However, he put the volume aside and sat up in readiness to greet Rambo and Conan. Eoghan, he supposed, would also have to be included in the greeting, although not precisely by design.

As luck would have it, Eoghan was the first through the dormitory door. Albus sank back a little into his pillows.

"There you are," said Eoghan. "Taken sick again, have you?"

"No." Albus was curt. "I was just tired."

"Better safe than sorry, eh?" Eoghan winked. Albus scowled. That catchphrase was made up of the four words Albus hated most in the English language, especially taken in conjuction.

"Where's Rambo?" he asked. It was rather rude, but Eoghan didn't seem to register the slight.

"Having sevenths, where else? That Slytherin bit of fluff was with him - the two of them giggling like idiots. Going out, are they?"

"No." Albus picked up his book.

"Never mind, anyway." Eoghan propped his hip comfortably against Albus' bedpost. Albus stared, trying to communicate through facial expression the distaste he was too polite to voice. "I have got the news of the century. Just wait till you hear - you won't believe it."

"No," said Albus for the third time, "probably not."

"Well, come here until I tell you -" Eoghan broke off as the door opened. Conan stepped through, carrying an armload of books and a sheaf of parchment bearing minutes from the Prefects' meeting. He looked wan, dark thumbprints pressed under his eyes, but a smile lit up his face on seeing Albus.

"Hi, Albus," he said. "Good to see you. I looked for you at the Feast - did you skip it?"

"Yeah," said Albus. "I felt a bit tired."

"Better safe than sorry, I told him," said Eoghan.

"Have you eaten?" Conan ignored Eoghan's input. "I've got some snacks in my trunk."

"It's all right, the elves brought me supper," said Albus. "Thanks anyway."

"No problem." Conan yawned. "God, I'm exhausted, and that meeting went on for ever. Minuette Nestor doesn't half love to talk. And of course Scorpius decided to be late, so James held up the meeting until he arrived -"

"Scorpius was late?" repeated Albus. "Did he go to the Feast?"

Conan shrugged. "I didn't see him, but I wasn't looking for him either. I was fit to swing for him after that little stunt, mind. Maybe Eoghan saw him?" He turned to his friend with a questioning look.

Eoghan made an unpleasant snuffling sound through his nose.

"I don't regard it as my job to keep tabs on the movements of Slytherins," he said. Albus compared this to Eoghan's comment about Norma eating with Rambo, and felt very tired.

"I'm going to turn in," said Conan. "We can swap summer stories in the morning, all right?"

"I bet that will be a laugh," said Eoghan, an unwholesome twinkle in his eye. Conan just made a face at him and disappeared into the bathroom.

Eoghan flounced off to his bed and pulled the curtains. A few seconds later, thumps and bangs indicated that he was undergoing the arduous task of unpacking his trunk. It was clear he was in for the long haul, with absolutely no intention of taking anyone else's desire for sleep into consideration.

Albus sighed. One couldn't enchant beds that were not one's own - the rule had its origins in a more vicious time in Hogwarts' history, when assassinations were often carried out through such methods - or Albus would have thrown a Silencing Charm at Eoghan's. He was tempted to try it all the same, or get Rambo to use his power to overcome the safeguards. Where was Rambo?

The floor was cold against Albus' feet as he hopped out of bed and padded to the door. The stairwell was empty, but not silent: the echoes of a dozen conversations filtered through the walls. But no Rambo.

Puzzled, Albus crawled back into bed. Even that short jaunt, combined with his erratic eating times, was enough to make him sincerely regret his earlier temper tantrum. He could taste metal on his tongue, and nails of nausea were raking down his insides.

There was a good chance Rambo was still at dinner. He'd proved many times before that the magical tables would keep serving as long as there were people eating. Or perhaps he'd gone to the Clubhouse. Conan wasn't about to report him for being out of bed after curfew, and neither was Norma. Albus could usually talk Scorpius out of giving his friends detention - something he was disconcertingly prepared to do - if given enough notice.

No, Albus wasn't worried. Selfish, maybe, in wondering why Rambo wasn't more concerned about Albus' no-show at dinner, when all meals were vital to his health. But not worried.

It was an hour filled with tossing and turning - plus a sound like elephants being slaughtered from Eoghan's bed - before Albus got to sleep. Rambo never returned.

+++

"Oy! Hurry up, you plonker!"

"Steady on, I've only been in here five minutes!" Albus yelled.

"More like ten. Come on."

Albus grimaced at his reflection. The light in the bathroom was unflattering to say the least. Albus had grown used to seeing his face lit up in various shades of lemon and puce over the last few years. What he hadn't anticipated was how grotesque this made his face look when rampant spots were added to the mix.

With more faith than hope, he finished massaging Healer Bilharzia's special cream into his chin. Samire had referred him to Bilharzia as soon as she decided the spots were becoming a problem, approximately six months after Hugo had run through every unkind nickname in the bullies' handbook and made up half as many on his own (he was a 'gifted child,' as Aunt Hermione constantly averred).

Bilharzia didn't advertise her wares well, for she had a nose like a middle-aged alcoholic and such rough cheeks that Dad had at first mistaken her for a man. Still, she was enthusiastic, and also completely certain that her treatments were efficacious. After being poked and prodded and hummed at by all the English dermato-Healers in St Mungo's, such conviction was a balm to Albus' soul.

What his parents and Healer Bilharzia didn't realise, however, was that Albus knew more about the reasons for his spots than they'd wanted him to know. At first Mum and Dad had passed them off as a normal teenage 'thing' - despite the fact that James' normal teenage 'thing' consisted of a few blackheads after shaving, and despite Uncle George's frowns, and despite the pictures of generations of Weasleys with ruddy clear skin. Hugo was quick to point out that the bad genes might have come from Dad's side of the family, but Rambo's spots weren't anything like out of control. Plus, the press clippings of Dad's school days could have filled an encyclopaedia; and, although they were bursting with frowns and expressions suggesting Dad was this close to hexing the photographers into oblivion, he'd had nary a spot in sight.

Years of hospital visits had taught Albus the benefit of assumed disinterest. It was easy to look lethargic when all your muscles were ganging up on you, but there was nothing so boring as an isolation ward. Usually Albus wasn't even allowed books or letters in case they carried dust-mites, which might aggravate his delicate condition. During these stays his eyes picked up the tiniest movement, his ears the tiniest sound - like that of people huddled together, whispering behind an unlatched door.

Extendable Ears were classic best-sellers for a reason.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, will you get a move on?"

Albus yanked open the door and nearly trod on Eoghan's foot. "Where's the fire? It's a whole hour till class starts."

"I have to eat breakfast too," said Eoghan, sounding both aggrieved and as if breaking his fast was a monumental task that could only be achieved with a significant run-up. He darted through the bathroom door and hustled Albus through so he could close it.

"Mental," muttered Albus - to himself. The room was deserted.

Conan's bed was neatly made, suggesting that the house elves had already been. Conan's interminable Prefect duties often encroached on his mornings - yet another reason why Albus was glad the dubious honour had not been bestowed upon him. Less logical were Rambo's hospital corners. Rambo wrestled nightly with his bedsheets, and was even less fond of early rising than Albus. Either he'd undergone a radical personality change, or he hadn't slept in his bed all night.

Albus rumpled his hair, unwittingly undoing all the good a five-second comb-through had wrought. Genuine concern for his friend put a spring in Albus' step as he shucked off his pyjamas and changed for school. Wand in hand to Summon the necessary articles, he buttoned buttons and tied shoelaces to the accompaniment of Eoghan's tuneless rendition of Hexed's 'Midnight in the Muggle Graveyard.'

"... the knife, the shining knife," he roared, almost drowning out the shower. Albus shivered. He was a huge fan of Hexed - owned every album, poster, t-shirt and toothpaste endorsement they'd ever made - but for some reason, that song always gave him the creeps.

Fortunately, the hot water ran out before Eoghan got to the spine-chilling chorus. Albus frantically scrabbled though his trunk for his NEWT Potions textbook. The last thing he wanted was to be present for Eoghan's infamous 'bastards who use up all the hot water' tirade.

"Bloody hell, I'm freezing!"

Albus froze, elbow deep in the detritus lining the bottom of his trunk. He really should have listened when Mum told him to clean it out - 'properly, Albus, don't just skim off the top layer.' Eoghan marched past him, flinging a spray of icy droplets with every arm-swinging stomp.

"You lads have no consideration for others," announced Eoghan. Albus rolled his eyes, keeping them firmly hidden in the crook of his arm. There was something hypnotising about Eoghan on a rant, and Albus didn't want to add fuel to his ire. "Is it too much to ask that everyone has a five-minute hot shower, as opposed to three fifteen-minute warm showers and one bollock-rotting one?"

"Mmm," said Albus, declining to mention that on Saturdays, when everyone slept late, Eoghan hijacked the bathroom for hours on end.

Eoghan continued in this vein for some minutes, finishing off with an impressively inarticulate gargle of rage. Albus was about to take the opportunity to flee when Eoghan said, "Oh, I never told you the sca, did I? It's about you-know-who."

"Voldemort?" said Albus in confusion.

"No, Conan," said Eoghan, as if this should have been blindly obvious. He jerked his thumb towards Conan's pristine four-poster. "Turns out ol' Conan is a regular pillow-biter. Now!"

Eoghan sat back, replete with satisfaction. Albus stared at Eoghan, whose plump chin quivered above wrongly buttoned robes.

"He bites pillows? What's so scandalous about that? I sometimes do it too, when I lie on them funny -"

"No, no." Eoghan waved a hand. "He's a shirt-lifter. A fudge-packer. A flaming poof."

Albus was beginning to get an inkling of what Eoghan was driving at. It looked like a big thick wall. "Do you mean he's gay?"

"Yeah - a fecking queerbo." Eoghan shuddered. "Right here in our dorm. Just imagine what he must think about us!"

"That we're his friends?" suggested Albus. He felt a trickle of - not quite anger; more horrified amazement. "Who cares if he's gay?"

"I care," said Eoghan. "He's a dirty little homo. He probably takes it up the arse. He probably thinks about us, naked!"

"I shouldn't worry," said Albus. "No one in their right mind would think about you naked."

Eoghan narrowed his eyes; a barb that thick penetrated even his fortified defences. Before he could form a reply, however, another voice spoke.

"Thank you, Albus." Conan's voice was shaky, but his jaw was lifted as he stared down his friend. "And in case you need further proof - if there were any man in the world who could turn me straight, it would be a sneaky little toad like you."

"Huh," said Eoghan. He turned to Albus, a vile expression crinkling his face. "I thought better of you. Have fun with your new boyfriend."

"We'll have loads," said Albus, "not thinking about you naked."

Eoghan turned a spluttering shade of magenta. He struggled, he fought, but for once in his life he had no words. Instead he slammed the door with rattling force.

"Did you see? He had shaving foam all under his ear - hey!"

Conan had sunk to the floor, white and shaking. Albus crouched down and put one hand on Conan's shoulder.

"Are you all right? Do you want some of my vinegar salts?"

"No, no," said Conan, in between gulping breaths. "I just feel a bit - oh, God." He buried his face in his hands. His muscles shuddered under Albus' hand.

"Please don't cry," said Albus, torn between sympathy and embarrassment. He knew all the gay stereotypes courtesy of Hugo, who mocked Uncle Charlie as much as he mocked everybody in the world bar Rose. Conan was perpetuating the over-emotionality to a T. If he started dropping his wrists and speaking with a lisp, Albus felt it might be his duty to smack him. "I don't know what to do when people cry. Also, I have no tissues."

"I'm not crying." Conan's thick voice gave him away but, to his credit, he raised his head a few seconds later. Albus politely ignored his raw eyes.

"Don't get too upset about Eoghan," said Albus. "He's a tosser, sadly, but he's also your friend. He probably got a bit of a shock."

"Not as much as I did," said Conan. "He sort of ... walked in on us. Me and my boyfriend," he clarified, at Albus' inadvertently raised eyebrows. "Well, ex-boyfriend. Niall didn't take kindly to all the name-calling."

"But that wasn't your fault!"

"Depends which way you look at it." Conan shrugged. "Eoghan is - was - my friend, and he started yelling that Niall had infected me, turned me into a degenerate monster, all this crap. And, I mean - I didn't mean to be gay. I even had a girlfriend."

Albus remembered Roberta Dunway. He supposed she was, in every technical sense, a girl. She also had muscles bigger than James'. In retrospect, that made a lot of sense.

"Niall was getting sick of my ... uncertainty, or whatever. Eoghan was just the icing on the cake. He's been funny with me ever since, and now I know why." Conan's smile was watery as he raised his fists in a mock-cheer. "Yay?"

"I still don't understand," said Albus. "Eoghan is deeply deeply bothered by your sexual preference. Not, say, your terrible body odour or your horrible personality or your rampant stupidity, which would actually be reasonable if you did have them. I'm sorry, what?"

"It's like he said: he's afraid I think about him naked."

"You don't, do you?" Albus eyed him askance. Conan laughed.

"No. You were right. I don't think anyone's thought about Eoghan naked outside of a nightmare, God love him. Even so, he's clearly afraid I'll impugne his manly virtue."

"That's just silly," said Albus. "Eoghan isn't gay. You want someone else gay, right?"

"Pretty much," said Conan. "But he's right about one thing: I do fantasise about some boys who definitely aren't gay."

"And I fantasise about Charlotte Redding, but it doesn't mean I think she's going to fly down from Holyhead to jump my bones."

"You never know," said Conan. "I heard she has a thing for younger men."

"Still." Albus sat back on his creaking heels. "Fantasy is fantasy, reality is reality. They are two very different things."

"So you wouldn't be bothered if I said ... for example ... that I think James is very hot, even though I'd never ever want to sleep with him?"

"Oh geez, not you too. His head is fat enough as it is."

"You really don't mind, do you?" Conan marvelled.

"Any admiration is flattering, surely?" said Albus. "Of course, I speak as one who never gets any. But provided you don't go around stalking people, I don't see anything wrong with it."

"I think I just fell a little bit in love with you," said Conan.

"You're wasting your time," said Albus. "I'm saving myself for Charlotte Redding. Besides, you don't want to have naked fantasies about someone with spots all down their back."

"They're not as bad as you think," said Conan. "No, seriously, don't make that face. They're bad, but they're not important, if you know what I mean."

"Not a clue," said Albus. "I can't take philosophy on an empty stomach. You coming to breakfast?"

Conan shook his head. "I already ate." He paused. "How long will it take Eoghan to spread this around the whole school, do you suppose?"

"Five and a half minutes," said Albus. "Maybe six."

"That's what I thought."

"Cheer up." Albus clapped Conan on the shoulder. "Not everyone can be as dim as Eoghan. It's a statistical impossibility. Besides - there might be some boy out there who's thinking naked thoughts about you."

"Hopefully James," said Conan.

"You've got to remember, I used to share a bath with him," said Albus. "You're setting yourself up for a huge disappointment. Huge."

Conan smiled. He looked a lot less likely to keel over in a faint, for which Albus was grateful. It would be aggravating to let a twerp like Eoghan win even that little victory.

"I have to go, or my stomach will literally start devouring itself," said Albus. "You didn't happen to see Rambo anywhere, did you?"

"Yeah - he was at breakfast, eating all round him."

"Oh." Albus' earlier concern was replaced with confusion. "That's ... good." He tucked his Potions book tighter under his arm. "See you in class."

"Yeah, see you. Oh, and Albus?"

Albus paused, his hand on the doorknob.

"Thank you," said Conan. "Just ... thanks."

"You don't have to thank me," said Albus. "I'm your friend, remember?" And he slipped out before Conan could say anything more.

+++

Thanks to Eoghan's little revelation and the subsequent tete-a-tete, Albus was running direly late. He managed to scarf down two slices of toast and a glass of grapefruit juice before the clock struck nine. Madam MacDougal would always vouch for his need to put regular meals before punctuality, but Albus preferred to maintain the fiction that he was normal.

He slid into class with half a minute to spare. It was in the usual uproar that dominated prior to the arrival of a professor. Scorpius was saving Albus a seat at the back of the class. Rambo, as usual, was dead front and centre - beside Norma, Albus noted with a little surprise. He'd thought Norma had decided to drop NEWT Potions.

He hurried to the back of the room. Scorpius acknowledged him with a slight nod. He was enmeshed in a low-voiced conversation with Barrett Hughes from Ravenclaw, who was sitting with his friend Roe Negworthy. Scorpius' hair was clustered in wet curls, soggy gold shavings clinging to the back of his neck. It wasn't slicked back as if from a shower, and the shoulders of his robes were sprinkled with damp as well. Another nagging little mystery.

Albus settled his books and looked around. The class was small, but diverse enough that Albus could only just match names to faces. Predictably, the class was dominated by Ravenclaws and Slytherins. Roe Negworthy was the only Gryffindor, and even at that he was often labelled a 'Gryffinclaw' for his un-Gryffindor-like fondness for book-learning and grasp of basic caution. There were no Hufflepuffs in the class bar Rambo and Albus.

After a few minutes Scorpius deigned to turn his attention to Albus, who was duly grateful.

"Thanks for dinner last night," he said. Scorpius waved it off.

"I didn't want you getting sick on me," he said. Albus thought that was an odd way of putting it, but he didn't say so. "Are you feeling all right today?"

"Fine, fine," said Albus. In fact he'd felt a little light-headed on the headlong rush to the dungeons, but he wasn't about to divulge that particular gem. "Where did you get to this morning? Was it raining?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Your hair's all wet."

"Oh." Scorpius patted his fringe; he was paranoid about his hair. He pulled out his wand and started shooting Drying Charms at his head. "Yeah, there was a bit of drizzle outside. I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to go for a walk."

"Did you see Rambo?" asked Albus. "I don't think he actually went to bed last night."

"He was having breakfast with Norma when I got there," replied Scorpius. "He didn't say anything about sneaking out. He probably just got up early too, before you did. You know how much you like lie-ins."

"Me and ninety-nine percent of sane people. It isn't normal to like getting up early."

"I don't know," said Scorpius. "You get to see things everyone else misses. Speaking of which, have you got class after this? I want to show you something."

Albus consulted his timetable, which was already much-decorated with marmalade. "I have a half-hour study period. Don't we have to sign in with Madam Pince for those, though?"

"We'll be back in time to sign. Scout's honour."

"What is it?"

Scorpius shook his head. "Not telling. Showing."

"Fine." Albus couldn't repress a sigh. Ten to one whatever mysterious thing Scorpius wanted to show him would have looked just as well ten hours later when class was over, and Albus would get a detention out of it.

He was about to ask if Scorpius had been to the Clubhouse yet when Scorpius darted his eyes around furtively and leaned in close to Albus' ear. The sharp spicy smell of the aftershave Scorpius wore nowadays tickled Albus' nose, making him want to sneeze.

"Did you hear about Conan - you know, that boy in your dorm?" he whispered.

"What about him?"

"Before you came in, Barrett said Roe told him that Conan came out. Roe had it off that berk Eoghan. Is it true?"

"Yeah," said Albus, after checking with his internal slang-bank to make sure 'coming out' meant what he thought it meant.

Scorpius' eyes boggled. "Seriously? I thought they were just making it up."

"Why would Eoghan make up something like that? More to the point, how could he? He hasn't got the imagination."

"I'm so sorry. Still, at least you've got the Clubhouse."

"Yeah ... I do." Albus was confused as to what that had to do with anything.

Scorpius didn't heed him. He was splaying out his hands as he talked off into the distance, not seeing Albus at all. "It's all very well, to be accepting and everything, but there's such a thing as being too accepting. I mean, when you get right down to it, it isn't natural. Sex and relationships are about ensuring the survival of the species. Two men having sex ... God. It's just wrong, isn't it?"

Albus stared at Scorpius as if he'd never seen him before. "No."

"What?"

"I said no. It's not wrong. It's not right. It just is. Wrong is casting an Unforgiveable or selling faulty cauldrons that explode and burn down houses with the families inside. What people do with their sex lives is entirely their business."

"Like you'd know," snorted Scorpius.

"I clearly know more than you," said Albus heatedly. "No one goes prodding into what you get up to with Christine. No one cares. Why is this any different?"

"Because," said Scorpius, slowly, as if Albus was an idiot, "Christine is a girl and I am a boy. Girl plus boy is right. Boy plus boy is wrong."

"By that standard, I'm wrong too. Healthy person plus peanut equals yummy snack. Unhealthy person plus peanut equals death. You're right, I'm wrong."

"That's not the same at all. You're twisting my words."

"It's exactly the same. Next you'll be saying people with red hair are wrong and people with brown hair are right. Being gay is not something you make a choice about, it's something you are."

"No, it's not," snapped Scorpius. "People - Conan doesn't have to be a deviant if he doesn't want to be."

"Deviant?" Albus nearly choked on the word. "Deviant? Is that really what you think? He's a deviant?"

"Of course," said Scorpius. "I can't believe you don't realise that."

"I can't believe I'm having this conversation," returned Albus. "What's the matter with you lately? You're always moody - I mean, more moody than usual. You're never around, you hardly talk, and when you do you come out with trash like this!"

"I'm entitled to my opinion," said Scorpius frostily.

"Fine. So am I. In my opinion, you're a bigot."

Two pink flares lit up Scorpius' cheeks. "You don't get to call me that, just because I'm not all liberal and tree-huggy like you. There are such things as standards and decency, and it's people like you and Conan who erode wizarding society!"

"Pureblood inbreeding and evil dictatorship mania would have nothing to do with said erosion, I suppose?"

"I am not inbred!"

"I didn't say you were. I just think there's bigger threats to your precious 'society' than boys who like other boys."

"Oh Jesus." Scorpius' face twisted. "Don't tell me you're one."

"One what?"

"A faggot."

"Bloody hell, that is it," said Albus loudly, and got out his wand and cursed Scorpius' hair into tentacles just as the new Professor opened the door.

+++

Albus lay on a cot with bile-green sheets, holding a cold compress to his stinging eye. Madam MacDougal could have healed the bruise in a trice, but she didn't condone physical violence and believed that those who indulged should reap what they sowed. Albus was currently doing a lot of reaping, in between winces.

The curtains were abruptly ripped back and Scorpius stood there in a shaft of sunlight. The glare lit up his blonde highlights, making his de-cursed hair glow. They stared at each other for a long, long moment.

"I cannot believe it," said Albus, dazed.

"Charlotte Redding," sighed Scorpius, in the same trance-like voice. "Our new Potions professor."

"Do I sleep? Do I dream?" asked Albus. "Seriously, pinch me."

"I think you've got enough bruises to be getting on with, don't you?" Scorpius sat down gingerly. Albus shifted to make room for him on the bed. "I'm really sorry I hit you."

"Fair's fair. I did cover your head in worms."

"I was going to hex your nose blue," admitted Scorpius, "but I was afraid you'd get an attack or something. You're not allergic to punches, as far as I know."

"What you said before -"

"Look," Scorpius cut in, "I'm just not very comfortable with ... those sort of people, all right?"

"That's fair enough, but you can't go around prating that it's wrong. I'm not over the moon about the thought of Christine getting within ten yards of reproducing, but I don't go lecturing people about it."

"You've really got a bee in your bonnet about her."

"Don't change the subject." Albus adjusted his compress and rested back on the pillow. A stone would have been marginally more comfortable. After a minute, Scorpius swung his legs on to the bed and settled in beside him.

Scorpius didn't speak for ages: long enough for the pain in Albus' eye to go down, and for him to get a cramp in his leg. It was as he was shaking it out that Scorpius said, "I suppose ... I suppose you're right."

"I was born right."

"Shuddup." Scorpius elbowed him in the side. Albus retaliated with a sharp pinch. "Ow!"

"I hope you boys aren't fighting again," said a stern voice from behind the curtain.

"No, Madam MacDougal," they chorused. Scorpius even put on his angelic choir-boy face, wasted as he was hidden from view. It made Albus dissolve into giggles.

"You laugh like my sister," Scorpius informed him.

"Yeah? Well, you hit like my sister."

"Considering your sister is Lily Potter, that's a compliment." Scorpius held up Albus' wrist. "You're still wearing that old thing?"

Albus twisted his friendship bracelet, now faded to the colour of old blood. Their fingertips brushed. "Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

Scorpius shrugged. "Thought you might have lost it by now. The others all have."

"I wouldn't lose it," said Albus. The disbelieving look on Scorpius' face made him persist. "I wouldn't."

"I think I'm going to break up with Christine," said Scorpius softly.

His voice was so utterly woebegone, Albus couldn't find it in himself to be glad. Not now.

He shuffled around until he could get an arm around Scorpius' shoulders. Scorpius lifted his head to let him, and when he laid it down again it was against Albus' shoulder.

Ten minutes later, Madam MacDougal came in to give them a note excusing their absence. She found them still curled up like that, fast asleep.

tbc
 
 
Current Mood: lazylazy
Current Music: narcissus (alanis morisette)
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Audrey Hepburnscoradh on January 13th, 2008 12:51 am (UTC)
Where is the pain? Describe the pain! Does it radiate elsewhere? Does anything relieve or aggravate it?

Yes, even I find that automatic response annoying.

Thanks~~♥

Edited at 2008-01-13 12:51 am (UTC)
(no subject) - differente on January 13th, 2008 03:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - purelytaintedkt on January 15th, 2008 01:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
caelae on January 13th, 2008 01:00 am (UTC)
I love how they can switch from fighting to friends... it's right between one end of unrealistic and the other. AKA, it's realistic.

Oh, Conan and Albus is perfect. Albus' so nice!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Because the Irish do it betterscoradh on January 13th, 2008 01:04 am (UTC)
Realism is voluntary, right? I fight with my friends. I want to fight with them more than I actually do, and have to swallow some anger so that I don't have no friends. I'm kind of basing Scorpius on them, in certain ways...

(Way too much explanation. Bad self.)

Poor Conan, abandoned to Eoghan's tender mercies ... ah well. Thank you!

(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 13th, 2008 04:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: 4 Weddingsscoradh on January 13th, 2008 01:17 am (UTC)
Eggsellent.
&helena;uminohikari on January 13th, 2008 01:14 am (UTC)
I don't think I like Scorpious much anymore :|

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: SGA: +scoradh on January 13th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
Sad that he has feet of clay, like most human beings? ;P
Silhouette in a Window Frame: Mischief managed Heebumcelerywench on January 13th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)
*clapsgleefully* yay yay yay!!! I love this story =D pleeeease tell there will be moar *puppydogeyes*
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Cooler than youscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:20 pm (UTC)
Of course there will be more. Twelve chapters ago this was supposed to be an ASS fic. They aren't remotely together yet, and this won't be finished until they bloody are. And the fat lady sings.
Lila Futuransky: tonksheyiya on January 13th, 2008 02:13 am (UTC)
:D
Yay, I am so glad that you're continuing this! I somehow missed the end of RLT and just caught up now, loved the ghost of Christmas past. This is wonderful too though -- the confusion and pain of teenageness depicted painfully well.

I loved the way Scorpius stood up for Conan (though he's not immune to homophobia, is he, with the callous response to Conan's being upset -- at first I wasn't very happy about that, but now I think about it more it's really a powerful demonstration of how homophobic the world Albus has grown up in is).

And oh, Scorpius, such a nasty case of denial... I hope! ;)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Candy lipsscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
Re: :D
Confusion and pain are what being a teenager is all about. Also inappropriate erections and crushes, which I shall be depicting presently.

You mean Albus? Yeah. I didn't want them having an all-out love fest over it. I mean, Albus' experiences have taught him to be a little more accepting, but it will still take an adjustment.

Very nasty case, indeed. *winkwinknudgenudge*
Re: :D - heyiya on January 13th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
painless_jpainless_j on January 13th, 2008 02:17 am (UTC)
RAMBO RETURNS! Yay! :)))

I love you to bits. Seriously. This is the best AS/S fic ever, and again I didn't manage to wait until the last chapter. I simply couldn't hold back :)

Scorpius, you denial queen! What was he going to show Albus?? And why was his hair wet? And where did Rambo spend the night?

I love Albus here, the combination of his level-headed-ness and perfect young-teen angst about spots. Btw, you hinted he knew more about the origin of his spots. Will it be explained?

Another question, about ch. 1 this time: It occurred to him that Scorpius had never once, in their six-year relationship, failed to meet up with Christine on the train to Hogwarts for some quality snogging time. -- why six-year? They are beginning their fifth year, aren't they?

And it seems to me that Unforgivable is spelled without 'e'? I'm not sure. ("Wrong is casting an Unforgiveable")
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: SGA: met his matchscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:27 pm (UTC)
Patience, young grasshopper! I couldn't be explaining everything all at once, or I would have nothing to write about in the next chapter. ;D

Oops. Er, about that ... I initially had the tag line 'six years later, all is not well'. Because, actually, I cannot count. Someone pointed it out to me and I fixed the tag line, but I'll go back and correct it in the text too. My bad, my bad.

Unforgiveable checks out on my spellcheck ... maybe it's one that can go either way, like judgement/judgment?
karadin on January 13th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)
There are few times to ever leave this word in a comment on a fic, but this is one of those rare times,

perfect.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fangirlscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
I'm deeply flattered! Thank you. I only hope I can live up to this in the next eight chapters...
(no subject) - karadin on January 13th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
somehow socially inept...: shiny stars!differente on January 13th, 2008 03:28 am (UTC)
i think i love you (as a writer, of course!).
and i definitely love your albus. there's this theory that people who suffer when they're young can grow up as better/stronger persons later on...
in any case, i cannot wait for more!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Eddie Izzard's flagscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
It is only through battling adversity that you learn how strong you are - that's true. Of course, he could have gone the other way, taken on the sick role permanently, but I didn't want to lose my readership entirely.

Thank you! ♥
(no subject) - differente on January 13th, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
anabellhenryanabellhenry on January 13th, 2008 03:47 am (UTC)
I love Albus. I want him for my very own son - yes, I'm that old. Harry and Ginny won't mind, will they? Of course, I also love Scorpius. Bless his me-thinks-he-doth-protest-too-much-heart. And I love Rambo, although, I miss him.

I want to know about the spots; I'm worried. I want to know what Scorpius was doing when not snogging Christine on the train, and what the wet hair and mysterious, "I've got something to show you" are all about. And, where the heck has Rambo been? Sleeping in Slytherin?

The tone, the pace, the characters, the story - they're all perfect. Thank you so, so much! I'm selfishly crossing my fingers, toes and eyes that you'll have time to post another chapter before Doctor school takes over your life again.

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Comic stripscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
I think Harry might have something to say about it - favourite son and all, wasn't he? Still, I'm sure they'd agree to a short-term loan.

protests too much ... hehe

These are the hooks I use to reel all of you in! You wouldn't keep reading unless there was something to read about. Ergo, mystery.

Oh, I'm in hospitals 9-5 every day, which leaves me so tired I can only write at weekends, but that's okay. It only takes about five hours to write 5000 words, and as long as I feel people are interested I'll keep at it.
(no subject) - anabellhenry on January 13th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
a_clear_day on January 13th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC)
so, so good <3
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Rodney: cutescoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
jacked up on cheap champagne: fangirlmizbean on January 13th, 2008 04:55 am (UTC)
I just love this universe you created. The image image of the two them curled up asleep... well, it even warmed my cold heart;)

Seriously though, it seems Scorpius has some issues to work through, doesn't he?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Bookishscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
Puppy sleep = torchblower to the soul. :D

Oh hell yes. That's what makes writing this fun!
Lisanitedula on January 13th, 2008 07:16 am (UTC)
Whee! I love Albus even more now.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: SGA: whales made us do itscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:41 pm (UTC)
That'd cheer him up, till he looked in a mirror again. ♥
meddie_flowmeddie_flow on January 13th, 2008 08:16 am (UTC)
I've been waiting all week for this update! And it's wonderful, 'cause usually, when I'm desperately waiting for updates, they turn out disappointing, and then I get...

So... Did I mention this it's so full of greatness? ;;)

And by the way, this - . "People - Conan doesn't have to be a deviant if he doesn't want to be." Oh, Scorpius, does that mean you're not one or that you don't want to be one?

And this - Not your terrible body odour or your horrible personality or your rampant stupidity Hmmm, does Albus like Conan, or does he dislike him less than he dislikes Eoghan? That comment struck me as odd, but make it's a joke and my sense of humour went on stand-by

And then, Albus all worrying about Conan starting to display all the gay cliches... um, that doesn't make him so liberal and tree-hugging in my book? Isn't that prejudiced also? Though Albus does have a fixation with "being normal", and understand you have to try not to get yourself in the attention of malicious people, 'cause it's a cruel world out there. Poor kid.

We can be expecting chapter three next week, right? Right?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: SGA: foreplayscoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, clearly I phrased that very badly! I shall go fix. What he was trying to say was that stupidity or a horrible personality were viable reasons for not liking someone, as opposed to their being gay, which is not.

Albus never said he was liberal and tree-hugging. That was Scorpius' accusation. Albus thinks it's okay to be gay, but he doesn't think he needs to be loudly advertised. Remember, he's all about blending in.

Yup! Thanks for reading. ♥
sleepingfingers on January 13th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
I really should be sleeping, but here I am, reading TRLT and this, and hoping that there's more. A lot more. Because it's brilliant.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: ASS: I want somescoradh on January 13th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
There will be lots more, never fear! Thanks. And I adore, adore, adore your icon.
(no subject) - sleepingfingers on January 14th, 2008 12:53 am (UTC) (Expand)