This part: 5,418 words, PG-13, ships at war
a/n: What? What? I didn't do anything!
Previous parts here.
Sequel to The Road Less Travelled.
They mouth love's language. Gnash
The thirteen teeth
Your lean jaws grin with. Lash
Your itch and quailing, nude greed of the flesh.
Love's breath in you is stale, worded or sung,
As sour as cat's breath,
Harsh of tongue.
Winter was closing in fast, wrapping itself around Hogwarts like a white blanket. In spite of the inclement weather, it was pleasant to wander around an enclosed courtyard decorated with only the tiniest eddies of snow. Albus wore two pairs of scarves, insulated mittens and double-sided robes, plus a jacket and cloak, but his mother still stopped every two minutes to inquire anxiously if he were cold.
It was only after he said, "No, Mum," for the fifth time that Mum at last mentioned his face.
"Dad said we maybe shouldn't talk about it," she said. "If it makes you feel self-conscious I won't, of course - but I'm dying to know."
"It's fine," said Albus. "And I'm fine. Everything's great."
"I'm glad you're happy," said Mum. "That's the most important thing. I'm only sorry you couldn't be happy with yourself the way you were."
"The way I was?" scoffed Albus. "I looked like a mutant. But I wasn't about to throw myself off any tall buildings, if that's what you're worried about. Most of the Healers said it'd clear up eventually - I was counting on that. But I'm not complaining that it cleared up earlier."
"Neither am I, dearest." Mum squeezed his arm. "I was always proud of you for being so kind and considerate to everyone. But now I'm proud because I have a gorgeous son as well."
"That's not shallow at all, Mum," said Albus. She pretended to swat him.
"I don't suppose -" she hesitated "- now that you have a bit more confidence - are there any girls in the picture?"
"Sure," said Albus. "Titania and Norma Abbott are two of my best friends."
"I meant romantically," said Mum.
"No. I don't like anyone that way - which is a good thing. It would have been a lot harder to be Omelette Boy if I fancied some girl who'd never look twice at me."
"Well, now the world's your oyster," said Mum. "Hmm. You know, I've never understood that phrase. Oysters are horrible little slimy creatures. It's not a very nice analogy, is it?"
"The world is my pumpkin, then," said Albus. When Mum made a face, he protested: "What? I like pumpkins."
"There's something else I wanted to ask you about," said Mum, after they'd made another turn about the courtyard. "That is, Dad and I have been discussing it. We've talked ourselves in circles. He suggested seeing what you - the children - think."
"We're not taking another holiday to Wales, are we?" Albus asked with trepidation. James and small confined spaces like caravans were a dangerously volatile mix. Albus' left eyebrow never had never grown in right.
Mum laughed. "Nothing quite that drastic, I assure you. I was thinking about going back to work."
Albus waited for the clincher, but it never came. This seemed to be the entirety of his mother's big announcement.
"Good for you," he said. "Have you got a job?"
"You don't object?" Mum seemed surprised.
"If you hadn't told me, I won't even know," said Albus. "I'm sure it's escaped your notice, but all your children spend most of the year in a castle five hundred miles away from you. Unless you've got a secret kid you've been keeping in the basement -"
"No, under the stairs," muttered Mum. "Well, that puts a different complexion on things. For some reason, I thought it would upset you. Serena hasn't dared to tell Scorpius yet."
"You overestimate Scorpius' interest in you," said Albus. "He's not going to care if you take seven jobs. You really don't feature that much in his life."
"But I haven't told you the rest of the story," said Mum. "Serena and I are going into business together!"
"Oh, wow!" said Albus. "Um. Doing what?"
"Dress-design," said Mum. "Serena's been buying her robes in Milan for years. She's just sick of going all that way to get decent clothes. She saw some sketches I'd done for Zodiac Lovegood-Scamander's christening dress, and one thing lead to another. We're going to Gringotts on Monday to sign for a loan." She beamed. "I'm so excited!"
"That's really cool," said Albus. "Do you think you could design me some new robes while you're at it? I'm thinking racing stripes and gold fringe -"
"Shut it!" growled Mum. "Will James make fun?"
"Does the sun rise in the east?" asked Albus. "And Lily won't understand it at all, but they'll be happy if you're happy."
"I wasn't into clothes myself when I was Lily's age," ruminated Mum. "But that was from lack of opportunity rather than anything else. I'd buy her a hundred robes if I thought she'd wear them."
"She wouldn't. She likes black. And brown. They don't show the bloodstains."
Mum sighed. "Has she shown any signs of relenting on this dropping out idea? I don't know how many times your father has threatened to disown her if she doesn't."
"That's ... probably not the best way to get her to change her mind," said Albus gingerly.
"Oh, I know. But your father can be obstinate as a pig. That's where she gets it from."
"If it's any consolation," offered Albus, "I think she can make a go of the taxidermy thing. She's really determined."
"But what difference does two years make?" said Mum. "I'm afraid for her, out there in the world with no proper qualifications."
Albus shrugged and shivered. Mum immediately set about conjuring some flames in a jar.
"So Scorpius hasn't said anything to you about this?" asked Mum. "Serena promised faithfully she'd write and tell him this week, but she's probably chickened out."
"I wouldn't know," said Albus.
"He is a very close-mouthed boy. Polite, yes, but so distant. Makes me think I'm talking to an iceberg. But I thought he confided in you a bit?"
"He used to."
"We had a fight. I told you that yesterday."
"Oh." Mum absently stroked the flame-jar. "I thought you'd have made up by now."
"No. We won't ever be making up. It was a serious fight. I hate him."
Mum looked startled. "That's a very strong term."
"Well, I do." Even as he insisted, an icy coil slithered around Albus' throat. He was extremely angry at Scorpius and wanted nothing further to do with him - that equalled hate, or close enough. Didn't it?
"It's a shame."
"Why? Because I was so good at stopping him doing all the stupid stuff he wanted to do?" snapped Albus.
"No," said Mum, "because you enjoyed his company so much. You sometimes said Titania talked too much about her looks, and Rambo's brains intimidated you. And I think you find Norma somewhat of an enigma. But it was always Scorpius this, Scorpius that. And oddly, out of all of them he's the least friendly and obliging. You're like night and day: complete opposites, but still inseparable."
"Not so much anymore, okay?" Heat scalded Albus' eyes.
"Okay," said Mum. "These things happen." She tucked his hand closer to her arm and talked of inconsequentials for the rest of her visit.
When Mum left Albus returned to his dormitory, a man on a mission. He dug out an old shoebox full of pictures. A couple didn't move, denoting their source from Rambo's Muggle digital camera.
In every photograph, whether it was just the two of them or a huge group, showed Albus and Scorpius looking at each other. Sometimes it was outright staring, such as the one where they'd been pulling funny faces (Albus suffered a cheek cramp for hours afterward). Mostly, though, it was plain grinning glances - the sort you sent to friends to telegraph your enjoyment, and receive the same message back. The photos depicted moments in time when they'd been happy. They never showed the temper tantrum Scorpius threw an hour later; or the day after, when Albus collapsed from eating cream. It made sense that the pictures couldn't show their current fight, but it still felt strange.
When Albus pushed the box back under the bed, it crashed against another. With a slap of recognition, Albus spotted the gift box from Scorpius. He gingerly took it up on to the bed with him. He was reluctant to open it, and not just because he dreaded the ravages within.
He squeezed some courage from the recesses of his heart and pushed off the lid. Inside was the heartbreak of a star. Albus carefully unfastened the satin lining and lifted the whole mess out of the box.
Spread out, the piece was broken in four large pieces and innumerable tiny ones. Albus' heart pumped in his ears as he separated out a pair of jade ears, a crystal tail and two paws: one emerald, one diamond. One of the ears sported a tiny flaw that, on closer inspection, appeared to be a creator's signature.
It read SM.
"Oh, god," said Albus aloud. He hastily shoved the satin bundle back into the box, the box under the bed, and proceeded to fail at forgetting all about it for the rest of the night.
Albus heard Hugo's voice before he rounded the corner to the Charms classroom; it was almost enough to make him turn back, although he was already late.
Hugo and Lily were talking. Rather, Hugo was talking, leaning over Lily with great menace and superior height, while Lily clutched a dusty notebook and frowned. As Albus approached, Hugo flicked one of Lily's tangled curls. With precise enunciation, Lily said, "Do that again and I'll bite off your finger."
"Right," laughed Hugo, but he put his hand in his pocket all the same. "Oh, my. Look who it is - Freakazoid Mark One."
"You okay?" Albus asked Lily in an undertone.
"Of course she's okay," said Hugo. "Bedraggled and unkempt, yes, but I had nothing to do with that. We were just having a nice little chat."
"Among other things." Hugo's eyes swept over Lily's notebook. "I only wanted to find out her hopes and dreams. It's simply too tempting when people go carrying their diaries about with them."
"This isn't a diary," said Lily. "It's black."
"A black list?" Hugo sounded amused; but then, he always did. "Of people you're planning to murder with your fingernails. Or maybe your body odour. Am I top of the list?"
"No," said Lily. She turned and walked off. Hugo made to stop her, but Albus stepped in front of him.
"Why don't you leave her alone? She's done nothing to you."
"Aside from the two crimes of being related to me and refusing to wash her hair, you mean."
"I can't imagine what her hair has to do with you," said Albus. He went to move away, but Hugo's hand on his arm prevented him. In build Hugo was slender and sylph-like, and the appearance of his white-skinned hands suggested they had no more strength than a kitten's paw. The reality was somewhat different.
"Where are you rushing off to?" he asked.
"Class," said Albus. "I'm sure you have one to attend as well."
"Yes, but it's hardly urgent," said Hugo. "Not when I have the chance to catch up with you, dear cousin."
"What do we have to catch up on?" said Albus. "Years of mutual enmity?"
"Indeed, that's always so refreshing," said Hugo. "Tell me, how is your friend Scorpius Malfoy?"
Albus stiffened. Hugo, in whose grip Albus' arm was braced, couldn't and didn't fail to notice. He smiled, showing off the airbrush-perfect teeth his mother had early obtained for him and Rose. "That's what I thought," purred Hugo. "He did seem to be getting tired of you - not that anyone could blame him."
"What are you talking about?" snapped Albus.
"You had a fight, didn't you?" Hugo brushed lint off Albus' robe as a couple of younger girls passed by. One of them blushed and giggled as she received a megawatt smile. "It's been building for a while, I fear. He couldn't help mentioning how you'd grown apart of late. I could tell he really meant he'd grown out of you."
"You're mad," said Albus. "When does Scorpius ever talk to you? And more to the point, why would he talk to you?"
"I suppose he never told you," said Hugo, "about all the parties, over the summer. Of course, you weren't invited. Christine Ohtori and Scorpius were naturally honoured guests - you know the Ohtoris are even richer than the Macnights? And the Malfoys are nearly as long-established as the Weasleys. The Potters, on the other hand, can trace no roots earlier than the 1930s."
It didn't do to let Hugo see a chink in your armour, but at this point Albus felt like he'd entered an unexpected battlefield in his pyjamas. "What parties?"
Hugo's eyes were moist and limpid. "I should have thought someone had told you by now. Of course, the company you keep is hardly exalted." He gave a little yawn, his free hand fluttering over his mouth. "Perhaps Scorpius thought it was kinder not to let you know he'd finally found some proper friends. Friends who have parties, and can live up to the standards he expects. After all, you may have Glamoured your face, but you're still a grotty little worm underneath it all. As for those unspeakable friends of yours - but I really think Scorpius is too noble. He's played you along all term. I think it's time he admitted where he truly belongs - with us."
Albus gaped, dry-eyed and dry-mouthed. Hugo patted his head in a mockery of comfort.
"Don't worry," he said. "Scorpius was so far above you anyway; you'll be better off without him."
Hugo sauntered off, looking pleased. Too late, Albus discovered an urge to throw his heavy Charms book at Hugo's perfectly-groomed, strawberry blonde head.
Norma required little convincing to swap desks with Albus in Potions. The look on Rambo's face when Albus dropped his books there on the first day suggested Norma hadn't felt it necessary to bring Rambo into the negotiations. Still, Rambo didn't argue: simply said, "Hi - watch out for that stool, one of the legs is too short."
Albus was sorely tempted to glance around and observe the person he used to be friends with's reaction to events, but he resisted. He already had a cramp in his neck from not looking at whatever seat in the classroom the person Albus used to be friends with occupied.
A diversion came in the form of a scuffle outside the entrance to the Potions lab. Professor Redding released an impatient huff and adjusted a peacock-blue bra strap before striding over. Albus decided he could get used to sitting at the front of the room.
Professor Redding swept open the door. Scorpius and Roe fell across the stoop. From the way Scorpius crash-landed atop Roe, it looked very much like Scorpius had recently been attempting to crush Roe's throat against the wood. Albus jumped to his feet, but before he could feel embarrassed for it several people rushed past him. Barrett was ahead of the posse. He grabbed Scorpius' collar and hauled him backwards. Scorpius choked and clawed at the fabric constricting his windpipe.
Professor Redding was too much occupied with Roe, bleeding as he was from several orifices, to notice that Barrett had taken up where Roe left off. As usual, Scorpius was giving as good as he got, but with Barrett's fist holding Scorpius' robes like a noose he was steadily losing ground.
"What's going on?" Rambo asked Albus, as the group in front of the teacher's desk descended into a melee.
It appeared to be Ravenclaws and Gryffindors against Slytherins. Rambo and Albus, as the sole representatives of House Hufflepuff, were within seconds the only spectators. Professor Redding's bouffant hairdo disappeared in the midst of the scrum. Even Norma was there, kicking the ankles of a Ravenclaw boy and yelling incomprehensible slurs. But all Albus could see were Barrett’s blows landing with soft crunches as Scorpius lost the power to resist.
Albus' feet moved of their own accord. He ducked under a flailing arm and avoided a stray punch.
"What are you doing?" yelled Rambo. Albus ignored him.
Barrett's back was to him, his elbow pumping as he systematically hit Scorpius in the stomach. Scorpius' breath came in wet gasps; he was almost dangling from his robes, which Barrett clenched so tightly his knuckles popped. Albus did the only thing he could think of: he curled both hands around Barrett's wrist and bit it.
He got half a mouthful of cloth as Barrett howled and dropped Scorpius. Scorpius sunk against the desk. One side of his face was as bruised the deep blue of his eyes and he was cradling his right arm.
Too late, Albus realised the other consequence of distracting Barrett. With a snarl, Barrett scraped the blood off his arm and advanced. Albus winced preemptively. And froze.
"That is quite enough!" shrieked Professor Redding. Her wand crackled fire. Albus couldn't move his eyes, but his line of vision directly encompassed Professor Redding's heaving bosom. Albus wasn't complaining. "This class is a disgrace! You will all stay here till six pm and clean cauldrons with a toothbrush." She waved her wand again. Albus blinked rapidly. Even after a short period open, his eyes were scratchily dry. Before he could speak, Professor Redding encanted a third spell. Its effects were instantly appreciated, as Albus brushed past Barrett and felt a sickening wave of vertigo as their arms bumped. His tongue, too, felt cold and lifeless.
"You should all be heartily ashamed of yourselves," Professor Redding told them. With a hand visibly shaking, she pushed back her blonde fringe. "I've never seen such a shameful display. I don't care what started it - there is no occasion to act like wild animals. I expect every cauldron in this room to be sparkling before anyone gets to put a toe out the door. Do I make myself clear?"
Most of the class nodded. Albus looked over at Scorpius, who wasn't nodding. He was staring at Albus, eyes narrowed. Albus flinched and grabbed for a toothbrush. Professor Redding was conjuring them at the speed of light and practically flinging them at individual members of the class.
Albus was glad of the mute spell. Rambo kept sending him questioning looks, and there was a burning on the back of his neck that told Albus someone was staring at him. He didn't want to acknowledge that the person he used to be friends with was still someone to whose aid he leapt without question. It made him inconsistent. Not to mention that the person he used to be friends with might take it as a positive sign, when as far as Albus was concerned, there was nothing positive left in the ever-widening space between them.
About an hour after the fight broke out, just when Albus was starting to feel dizzy, a messenger appeared at the door. She tiptoed across the room as if the silence was compulsory and whispered in Professor Redding's ear. Her words drew Professor Redding's eyes into slits.
"Scorpius Malfoy!" she barked. Albus intended not to look, but his eyes didn't listen. Scorpius was out of his chair before she finished the second S. "The Headmaster will see you now."
Now that he'd broken his own rule, Albus made the most of it. He drank in the expression on Scorpius' face, which was one he'd never seen before and never wished to again. It made Albus' insides lurch in sickened sympathy.
Rambo grunted in annoyance. He grabbed some parchment and scrawled: "WHAT?"
Albus shrugged and pushed at the parchment - too hard; it fluttered off the table and on to the floor.
"No note-passing!" snapped Professor Redding. "Mr Dursley and Mr Potter, you can both stay an extra hour for that infraction. If anyone else cares to join them, you know the way."
An extra hour meant Albus would miss a meal. He didn't think now was the time to mention it - even if he could. He bent over his cauldron and scrubbed until his mind was drained empty.
By evening, reports of the fight had circled the school twice. Albus didn't care to hear more of it than he already knew; besides which, he was faint with hunger. He went straight to the source, tickled the pear and very nearly collapsed by the kitchen fire. The elves were accustomed to bringing trays to his dormitory, but they didn't shush him out. Albus was duly grateful, and ate slowly while dribbles of strength returned to his limbs.
The common room was rowdy, too much so for Albus' aching head. He crept along the edges until he could climb the stairs in peace. Even such little effort used up his entire store from the hearty dinner he'd consumed. He flopped face-down on his bed, feeling an unusual crackle as he did so. He fell asleep before he could investigate.
He didn't discover the letter until he woke early the next morning. The darkness had only changed in shade, not consistency: the wind battering the plate glass windows chased away any wintry slivers of sunlight. Six am was an inhospitable time to be conscious, but Albus knew he wouldn't get back to sleep. He got up and washed, feeling groggy. The slip of parchment on the bed was the first thing he saw when he returned to dress.
Albus knew there was only one person in the school who had no other way to talk to him. He hated the fact that his first emotion was pure joy at the thought of Scorpius writing to him. He immediately didn't want to open it, in case Scorpius said something scathing, or - worse - it wasn't from him at all.
Meet me in the trophy room at eight. Be there. James.
Albus swallowed a knot of disappointment. What had James to do with anything? Hang James. Albus pulled on a sock with such force his big toe ripped through the frayed fabric.
The next two hours kindled Albus' curiosity. It was true that he and James didn't mingle much where anyone could see them, or even where no one could. Yet this wouldn't prevent James from talking to Albus at any juncture if that were his desire. The whole thing stank of secrecy.
Albus had no real intention of failing to answer James' summons. But as he trundled along the dank hallways to the trophy room, he had a feeling that whatever intelligence James had to share, it would not be pleasant.
To his surprise, Lily was sitting on a dusty desk in the trophy room. She bit into an apple as Albus opened the door, seeming quite at her ease.
"Did James send you a note, too?" asked Albus.
"Yes," said Lily.
"Pretty early, for James." Lily always rose early and Albus was no laggard, but to James 'morning' meant 'between twelve and three'.
Lily shrugged. They sat in silence waiting for James, who was predictably late. He whirled into the room at twenty past eight, extremely red in the face.
"This had better be good," said Lily. "This is my morning for finding animal corpses."
"Does someone else take them if you don't get there first?" asked Albus, intrigued despite himself.
"No," said Lily. "They get eaten."
"Oh, right," said Albus, "of course."
James hopped from foot to foot. "Moving on," he boomed. The latches on the cabinets rattled. "I take it you've both heard by now. I wanted to get us all together so we could -"
"Wait, heard what?" asked Albus.
"I probably don't know what you're talking about either," said Lily.
"The biggest scandal in Hogwarts' history, and my brother and sister haven't a clue," said James. "What a surprise."
"Has another Dark Lord risen or something?" asked Lily.
"I said scandal, not ... political coup," said James. "Now -"
"You're calling Voldemort's reign of terror a political coup?" said Albus incredulously. "Did you even take History of Magic?"
"Guys, seriously," said James. "I have to be at breakfast in half an hour and people will be turning to me for answers."
"That'll be a first," muttered Albus.
"Why, is Witch Weekly doing a feature on hair care?" Lily inquired.
"I can't believe this," said James. "I mean, Albus, you were there. How can you not have heard about Scorpius and Hugo?"
Rambo, of all people, convened the emergency meeting in the Clubhouse. Hufflepuff's last class of the day was study hall, which was a simple matter to skip. The Slytherins had Charms, but Norma pleaded a sore throat and arrived at the Clubhouse only five minutes later than the rest.
They sat around in uncomfortable silence until Rambo thumped a cushion and said, "Damn it - I don't think it's true."
"Me neither," Titania piped up. "Scorpius isn't that much of a dickhead."
"Would Hugo Weasley make up something like this, though?" asked Norma. "I'm not saying Scorpius did it, but where did Hugo even get the idea to accuse him? Albus?"
Albus stared at the rush matting. "When did you all find out?" he asked.
"Yesterday," said Rambo and Titania.
"Last week," said Norma. "There have been rumours floating around - but you don't understand what it's like in Slytherin. You pick your side and you stay on it. No matter what. I'm on Scorpius' side, so that means I think all rumours are lies until proven otherwise. It's not something you go talking about to other Houses."
"James had to tell me," said Albus dully. "He didn't want me to go fighting Hugo on Scorpius' behalf."
"I think quite enough people have been fighting Scorpius on Hugo's behalf," said Norma. "Gryffindors are crazy in the head. There's loyalty and then there's madness. I mean, what is Roe Negworthy to Hugo Weasley? Nothing. They're not even friends. But Hugo just has to suggest that Scorpius ... you know, and suddenly every single Gryffindor is up in arms against him. Ravenclaws, too, because of Roe's sabre-rattling."
"But if it were true," said Albus, "wouldn't that be a good enough reason?"
The silence rippled outwards from Albus' hammock, closing Norma's mouth and opening wide Titania's eyes. Only Rambo continued to look steadily at Albus.
"I don't know Hugo," said Rambo. "Can we trust his word? Over Scorpius', at that?"
"He seems nice enough," said Norma. "Aside from the inevitable crazy Gryffindor element. And being related to Rose."
"He told me my hair was nice," offered Titania.
The words twisted up inside of Albus. He didn't so much speak as spit. "Do you remember the time - do you remember when Rose threw Mouse in the river?"
"Yeah," said Titania. "Bitch."
"Rose hates me," said Albus. "She likes James, though, and she pities Lily. Which is incredibly condescending, of course. But Hugo - Hugo hates everyone. Everyone in the world. He only not-hates Rose some of the time. He did things like scribble over my favourite book or rip up a painting I made, just because he knew it'd hurt. But you could never do it back because Hugo doesn't have a favourite book. He doesn't love anything, except ruining what other people have." He looked down at the rope knot at which he'd been picking. His fingers burned. "But he can con everyone so well."
"So we believe Scorpius," said Rambo.
"Scorpius isn't stupid!" snapped Albus. "He should know better than to have anything to do with Hugo or James or, or anyone in my family. Including me," he added for his ears only. "Hugo's too canny to start something like this unless he knew he had information he could use. They did something - they. I'm pretty sure I caught them together at Victoire's engagement party, only I didn't know it was Hugo. I just don't understand what was in it for Hugo."
"Sex," said a new voice. Albus nearly fell out of the hammock. Scorpius gently closed the door behind him. "What else?"
"You didn't ... force him, then?" asked Titania timidly.
"No! If anything, he forced me." Scorpius threw a quick glance at Albus, who dropped his eyes. "I met him over the summer. Christine was always getting us invited to these parties at the Nestors' and the Macnights'. They were a drag, but ... I didn't recognise him at first. He was always there, with Rose and James. But I never put two and two together until after - well. We got really drunk and ... I think you can guess what happened. He said he'd tell Christine if we didn't keep doing it, and it was actually kind of ... for a while. But I didn't want to ... and he did. So he went off and basically said I took advantage of him, which is ridiculous, because -"
He broke off, panting. Albus couldn't vouch for the others, because he was staring at his knees, but he knew he was blushing.
"I don't care if you think I'm lying," said Scorpius. His voice was so cracked and desperate he betrayed his own lie. "But it's the truth. I'm not even gay, not properly. That is, at the beginning - but he kept pushing me, even when I didn't like it anymore. And..."
"Oh, Scorpius." Norma scrambled up from the floor and put her arms around Scorpius. Albus flicked his head up to see that Scorpius was crying, silent jots of tears running down his otherwise impassive face. He didn't return Norma's hug, but the fists he'd clenched at his sides were shaking.
Rambo stood up and put an awkward hand around Scorpius' shoulders. "We didn't believe him," he said.
"Have some cheese crackers," said Titania, which was her primary source of solace in troubled times.
Albus' voice sounded shrill to his own ears when he asked, "How long were you in love with him?" Norma winced.
"Don't be silly," said Titania. "Scorpius was blackmailed, he wasn't -"
The tears polished Scorpius' eyes: they shone darkly when he turned them on Albus. "Almost three months," he said.
"You fucking fool." Rambo's arm dropped from Scorpius' shoulders as Albus approached; Norma stepped away a few seconds later. "You fool!" Albus shoved as hard as he could. It only made Scorpius stumble a little. His own lack of power infuriated Albus even more.
"I was curious - so hex me," shouted Scorpius. "And he offered. What would you have done better?"
"You had a girlfriend! You pissed on Conan when he came out - at least he was honest about it!"
"Oh, Conan, Christine - I don't care about them. I care about me."
"No need to tell us you're selfish, we know already," snarled Albus. He was dimly aware of his hands striking out at Scorpius, of Scorpius responding in kind. Scorpius wasn't pulling his punches: every one stung, but at a remove. Albus thought he heard Titania crying. "If you cared a bit more for other people, you wouldn't have got into this mess in the first place."
"I was protecting you," said Scorpius. "I needed - I had to find out. I had to know. Hugo seemed a good option for experimenting. It's not like you ever talk to anyone in your family, is it?"
"For a good reason!" yelled Albus. "You see what happens when you get involved with them? You get burned alive!"
His foot went through Scorpius' robes at the same time as Scorpius kicked his knee. They went down together in an almighty jarring tangle of arms, legs and cloth. For a minute all Albus could see was a tent of blue linen, all he could feel was Scorpius' hair in his mouth.
He spat it out and dragged Scorpius towards him by the chin, fingernails clawing for purchase. Albus' mind was a fury of emotion, colour and heat. His lips found Scorpius' ear. Close enough to whisper, "Why didn't you choose me?" Close enough to kiss.
Faintness, weakness notwithstanding, Albus was the first to find his feet. He shoved past Rambo, past Titania's tearful face. He burst out through the door in a final blare of energy, which left him empty and soaked with sweat.
Albus looked up into the face of his cousin.