This part: 6,255 words, R, Albus Severus/Scorpius
a/n: Finally! Finally! C'est fini! Truly I am not made for this strung-out manner of storytelling. Never again, I swear.
Previous parts here.
Sequel to The Road Less Travelled.
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
Albus paused on the threshold, nervously tugging on his cuffs. They were heavily invested with lace - something he would not personally have chosen, but of which he'd grown rather fond all the same. It went well with the theme of the evening, which was apparently 'inappropriate opulence.' Considering that the event was Uncle Ron's brainchild, said theme was perhaps not so surprising.
The main doorway stood at the edge of a slight curve, which gave way to a shimmering staircase. The steps and balustrades were mother of pearl flecked with gold; the carpet runner was sapphire velvet. The Starview Ballroom was grandiose, magnificent and not a little tacky. At this moment, it was also swarming with people. Albus scanned the crowds with a flickering gaze, hopping from face to face in search of the one he sought.
There was James with Marie-Jeanette, heads a little too close together. Dad had been horrified when he found out, but Mum was more philosophical. "We're related to most of the wizarding families in England already," she said. "No one's going to be very shocked." No one was - at least, not in the pureblood side of society. The Muggleborns struggled more with it; but on the whole, their blood-ties were only one of many incongruities in James and Marie-Jeanette's relationship.
There was Uncle Ron, false joviality straining his features. Aunt Hermione melted beside him in an oyster satin gown, making no attempt to disguise her feelings. She'd rustled up a lace fan and flapped it harshly at intervals. It did little to cool the flames in her cheeks.
There were Mum and Dad, heads close together in some private joke. Mum wore one of her own creations, which made daring use of peacock feathers interspersed with scraps of silk. Dad hadn't taken his eyes off her all night. She'd used the dress as an excuse to take photos of herself with everyone, claiming that Serena wanted to share their success at a remove. Albus knew that she really wanted to make a record of the event without being too obvious about it. It was clear that Aunt Hermione was not in the least interested in making this one for the family scrapbooks. She'd let Uncle Ron throw the party to save face, but that was all it was: public relations.
At last, Albus' eyes lit on the one person of all he wanted to see. Smiling, he hurried forward.
Albus doubtfully eyed the array of bottles. They were arranged in no particular manner he could see: not by colour, bottle shape and size, or system affected. It was fortunate that he'd thought to research the consistency of the potion beforehand, and not just its properties and interactions. The book described a 'creamy texture, the colour of old pearl'. However, many of the glass bottles housing the potions were tinted green and blue and brown, which hindered the deciphering of their contents somewhat.
"Misoprostine rapidis," he murmured to himself. It was the technical name - not as widely known as the common one; not by a long shot. But Albus doubted that Healer Bilharzia labelled her potions and pills by their manufacturing titles.
He was on a tight schedule. Healer Bilharzia had never before seemed so reluctant to quit her quarters and consult on Albus' progress with the other Healers. Usually, Albus was left kicking his heels in a draughty nightgown while she visited the respiratory specialist or the on-call dermatologist or the proxy surgeon. The one day he needed her to be gone, she chose to hang over him with the doubtful expression of a mama bird towards a hydrophobic duckling.
"M, M, M," chanted Albus. He scanned the titles more rapidly now, alert to every scratch and click that could signal Healer Bilharzia's return.
At long last, he spotted a likely candidate, nestled in a dark corner far behind a family of opium derivatives. It was a long, thin bottle with a specially designed neck to prevent evaporation, and thick cork. He surprised himself a little by recalling the information pat from one of his essays; he supposed the extra study was paying off at long last. The liquid inside was distressingly chunky and leaned more towards old cheese than precious jewels, but it was the only one there. He carefully set it on the floor and pointed his wand at it.
Scorpius had spent many hours insisting that Albus practise this spell, and for good reason. If he got it wrong, the shrinking magic would adversely affect the potion's properties. Albus was grateful for the repetition now in a way he certainly hadn't been at the time. Scorpius was too impatient, too good at magic himself to teach it well. At least five separate incidents had nearly instigated another fistfight. Oddly enough, three of the times a brawl was prevented was due to Scorpius backing down. Things had certainly changed.
"Minimus encontenus recorsi," said Albus gently.
Magic purled through the air. With extreme slowness, the bottle shivered and collapsed in on itself. So fascinated was Albus at watching its progress that he nearly forgot when to cancel the spell. He hurriedly whipped out a 'Finite incantem' - just in time. The main door groaned as Healer Bilharzia pushed her shoulder against the old, reluctant wood. Using a speed he didn't know he possessed, Albus shoved the bottle into his bag in passing and dived on to the bed.
Healer Bilharzia, engrossed in a long curl of parchment, didn't notice his flushed cheeks or the awkwardly casual position of his limbs. In fact, Albus had grown bored again by the time she looked up, and quite accustomed to his new life of petty crime.
"Ah-h," she said, sucking in her cheeks. Albus knew that expression of old: it foretold no good for anyone.
"What's the damage?" said Albus. He tried for light-heartedness, but his own organ sank at the look in her eyes.
"Extensive, I am afraid," said Healer Bilharzia. "I was concerned, yah, when you tell me of the shortness of breath and the coughing. The pink sputum, I do not like this. However, I am hopeful. I am also not a cardiac Healer. I consult with Healer Smith." She paused. "Healer Smith is a very abrupt gentleman. I am sure he gives patients myocardial infarcts with the way he barks orders. Not good for business, I am being sure. Regardless. Healer Smith knows the heart and he knows yours is not as it should be."
"But you can give me another potion to fix it, right?" said Albus. "I mean, it's no different from the time I had kidney failure. I took that horrible orange stuff..." He trailed off as Healer Bilharzia shook her head.
"I'm afraid this is not so," she said. "It became as I feared. The side effect profile of the potion I invent, it contains, how do I say ... elements for tightening of the muscle fibres. It is due to the necessity for closing pores in the skin by contracting connective tissue. You understand?"
"Not really," said Albus. "Does it mean I have to stop taking it?"
"I think it must be best," she said. "You understand, the tightening of your skin, it is perfect! I'm sure you see this." Albus couldn't bring himself to agree with words; he nodded instead. "However, the same type of cell, he is in your heart. Your heart is like a squeezing fist. It becomes smaller and tighter and is not working as it should. Eventually, it may stop working altogether. It was not as I hoped would occur, but I knew it might."
"Yes," said Albus. He'd known it too. He'd had to read a five-page scroll on all the potential side effects of the potion, none of which he wanted to happen. In truth, he'd skimmed most of it. The gastrointestinal side effects - diarrhoea and vomiting - and the alopecia preyed more on his mind. When they didn't come to pass, he'd taken it as a leave to rejoice. He'd never imagined it was simply a detour to something worse.
"I give you now some diuretics and beta-blockers," said Healer Bilharzia. "You will take these till the symptoms end. I am thinking they will disappear when you stop the potion, but it is better safe than sorry."
"Yeah," said Albus dully, "it always is."
Scorpius accosted Albus as soon as he returned from St Mungo's. Albus had hoped for some breathing space, some time to get his head around the fact that in a week or two - maybe less - he'd be back to being the hideous malformed creature of yore. A minority vote from his reason suggested that his acne hadn't been that bad, and that if he survived it before he could again; but it was drowned out by the tumultuous roar of the enraged mob in his hindbrain.
He knew Scorpius planned to set things up in the Clubhouse, which was why he headed towards the Hufflepuff entrance instead. However, Scorpius must have lain in wait for him; he pounced before Albus had even passed the first tapestry on the way to the kitchens.
"There you are!" he exclaimed, as if Albus was in the habit of hiding under tables when Scorpius approached. He wasn't, but he sorely felt like it at that moment. "You're an hour later than I expected. Good thing I set the cauldron to low boil, or the potion'd be tar by now. What kept you?"
"Had to go the pharmacy," said Albus. "Extra medications."
He obediently turned his feet in the direction of the Clubhouse and added, in hopes of distracting Scorpius, "I got the base potion, anyway. You wouldn't believe the trouble I had. There was just the one bottle and it was tucked well behind all the others in the longest shelf in the world. I just hope it's not gone off - it looks a bit funny."
"If it is, I'll go to Knockturn Alley," said Scorpius. "That was never an issue." His longer legs easily kept pace with Albus' hurried strides, giving him license to peer into Albus' face. Albus pretended a fascination with the utilitarian and identical paving stones under his feet. "What extra medications did you need?"
"Oh, you know," said Albus, "stuff."
"Really," said Scorpius. "And where does 'stuff' work, the completely vague system?"
"Look, what's it to you?" snapped Albus. "You don't have to take the bloody things."
Silence spooled out between them. Albus mounted the stairs that would carry them to the Clubhouse. He felt an itch of righteousness that said Scorpius deserved to be silenced. Of course, Scorpius rarely did what he was supposed to do. It was one of his more notable features.
"It's got to do with the acne potion, hasn't it?" Scorpius' voice almost boomed. Albus winced. "It's making you sicker. I can tell. I knew that crazy woman's inventions would do more harm than good."
"It must be nice, to be right all the time," said Albus. "You'll be pleased to know I had to stop taking Healer Bilharzia's cure because if I didn't, I'd die of heart failure. So now I can go back to being the hideous friend who's not good enough for you, but who makes you look just fantastic by comparison."
He didn't turn around as he said this, bile clogging every syllable. Through the rushing in his ears he didn't hear Scorpius' feet slap on the cobbles, either. But he did feel it when Scorpius ungently grabbed his shoulders and wrenched him around.
"How many times?" he hissed, hot breath blasting Albus' face. It smelled of apple drops, a sweet Christine had turned him on to. "How many times do I have to apologise for something I didn't even say?"
Albus shrugged sulkily, turning his head away from Scorpius' as much as he was able. It wasn't terribly rational to blame Scorpius for Hugo's wretched suggestions, but there was a grain of truth in them that was hard to deny. That was always Hugo's forte.
"I am not ashamed of you!" Scorpius shook Albus as he said the words. "I'm not, I'm not, I'm not."
"Although you're clearly five," said Albus. "You going to throw a tantrum next?"
"If that's what it takes," said Scorpius. "I don't know what I have to do to prove to you that whatever else happened, you were always my best friend. You always will be, too, unless you decide otherwise. You, remember. Not me. Because I will never make that decision, ever."
"Are you going to say you're unhappy that I have to stop taking the potion? Because -"
"I'm not going to say that." Scorpius gave Albus a final shake for good measure, but didn't remove his hands. Their grip was hard, and Albus could feel heat radiating off them. Of course, Scorpius was red and flushed with ire, which tended to raise the temperature everywhere in his local vicinity. "I am happy. No - happy's the wrong word - relieved. I was so worried about what it was doing to you, I can't even say."
"More worried than me, then," said Albus. "I've got coughs and things from medicine before and you never kicked up such a fuss."
"It was different this time," said Scorpius stubbornly. "You were too blind to see it. You wanted it to work so badly -"
"Of course I did!" roared Albus. Scorpius' face bloomed in shock, but he didn't step back. "Wouldn't you? If you looked as ugly as me?"
"But you weren't," said Scorpius. He looked genuinely puzzled, an expression Albus returned with gusto. They stared at each other in confusion.
Scorpius' eyes were open wide, white petals around a deep blue core. They radiated painful earnestness as Albus gazed into them. Insidious warmth pooled in the pit of his stomach.
He tried to remember what they'd been talking about. Scorpius saying something daft, which wasn't like him. Albus couldn't concentrate on the meaning of that, though, when he could count the honey-coloured freckles on Scorpius' nose and see the hairs that joined his eyebrows in the middle. His lips were cracked at one corner, open slightly, wet on the inside.
Oh no, gasped the minority vote, but whether from shock or horror he couldn't tell. He moved - closer or farther away - he never found out which, because the bottle clinked in his pocket and Scorpius jerked back, batting his eyelids frantically.
"Something stuck," he mumbled, prodding about his eye socket. Albus closed his hand around the slick, reassuring coldness of the glass.
"C'mon," he said, "or you'll have the place burned down by the time we've finished."
James grabbed Albus' arm as he brushed past, keen to reach his now-clarified destination.
"What?" snapped Albus. He'd never quite mastered the art of rendering politeness to his brother. On the other hand, James was too long in the tooth to notice, or to make the attempt himself.
"You seen Lily lately?" he said through a mouthful of vol-au-vent. Albus curled his lips as he was treated to a front-row view of James' skill at mastication.
"No," he remembered to reply from within his trance of disgust. "Why, is Mum looking for her?"
James shook his head. "No, Dad. Something about an apology?"
"You're kidding. Dad said that?"
"Now, he was mumbling," warned James, "so he could have been referring to Lily apologising to him."
"That'll never happen," said Albus, with rock-hard certainty.
"I know that. You know that. Mum knows that. Strangers in the street know that. Does Dad know that?" James gave what passed for a philosophical shrug in someone who didn't know the meaning of the word 'philosophy.' "I dunno. Like, probably not?"
"Maybe he was inspired." Albus' gaze travelled over Aunt Hermione's puce face, Uncle Ron's matchstick gaiety, the way neither of them so much as looked at their children. "By all this family solidarity, and everything."
"Maybe he was," agreed James. But he wasn't looking at his cousins; his eyes were fixed on the novel sight of Dad and his only daughter engaged in what appeared to be a civil conversation.
"I'd better get over there and prevent the bloodshed," said Albus. "Or we'll have to pay a fine for carpet-cleaning."
At that moment, Marie-Jeanette floated over, her hands full of canapés. "There weren't any chicken goujons left," she said. "There were some vegetarian kebabs, but I did not think you would appreciate being offered such unmanly fare."
"Thanks, chickie." James planted a smacking kiss on Marie-Jeanette's cheek. Albus - although he'd resigned himself to the fact that the Weasley-Delacours had terrible taste in men - couldn't help but telegraph a question to his cousin with his eyebrows.
James put a canapé into his mouth and swallowed it whole, lips stretching obscenely in the process. He snaked a hand around Marie-Jeanette's shoulders and rubbed his chin in her blonde confection of a hairdo, briefly, before retreating to inhale another snack. Marie-Jeanette's eyes softened at the edges as she watched him. Albus rolled his own and turned away, but not before seeing his brother take Marie-Jeanette's hand in his greasy one and cling on tight.
Albus took a detour towards the buffet, where Dad and Lily were holding on to wine glasses and their composure with equal difficulty. Dad wasn't much of a drinker and Lily wasn't meant to, which accounted for the first; and they'd been staging a cold war ever since Lily moved out of the house two months before, which did for the second. So far, their shouts hadn't shattered any mirrors, which was a turn-up for the books. Albus wasn't taking any chances, though. He wouldn't put it past either of them to have poisoned the wine.
"So, you're ... okay. Then?" Dad stuttered as Albus hove into hearing range.
"Yes." Lily nodded slowly, consideringly. "I am. The work's harder than I expected. But it's nothing like school. Much better."
"That's..." The physical pain the word caused Dad was evident in his straining neck muscles. "Good." Clearly amazed at his own lack of implosion - Albus was no less startled - Dad tried again. "Good."
"Hi." Albus looked between his father and sister. "What's going on?"
"I was just telling Dad about my job," said Lily.
"It's good," said Dad, proudly - of himself or Lily, it was hard to tell. Either way, it was better than the cursing of Lily's progeny to the seventeenth generation. Dad had a bit of a dramatic streak; it figured that the child it came out in most strongly was the one who loved to provoke it most. "Ah, there's your mother. I think I'll go tell her, too."
"Does he think she doesn't know?" remarked Albus, as they both watched Dad's eyes linger in the V of Mum's cleavage. "I mean, really."
"She doesn't know he knows," said Lily. Her bug-eye glasses magnified her brown irises to deep woody pools.
"Can I expect a day out soon?" said Albus. "Now that you're a wage-earning contributor to society and all. I think that makes you responsible for my ice-cream quota."
"Albus," said Lily, "you can't eat ice-cream."
"I could watch you eating it," said Albus. "Live vicariously, that's my motto."
"I don't like cold food," said Lily, but there was a smile hidden in the monotone.
"You'll write to me, when I go back?" asked Albus, seized with a sudden anxiety. He'd hardly seen his sister the five years she'd attended Hogwarts, but he'd felt her presence in the background - a buffer against the rest of the world.
"Sure," said Lily.
"Morse is treating you right, isn't he? Wages, food, that sort of thing. It's my duty to beat him up if he's not. Or get James to do it."
"He's perfect," said Lily. "I'm going to marry him."
"Really?" Albus was a little perturbed. "When?"
"Oh, I haven't told him yet," said Lily serenely. "I'll wait till I'm of age, first."
"Right," said Albus. "Of course." He toyed with the idea of explaining marriage proposals - 'propose' being the key word - to her, but rejected it. Lily wasn't stupid. It would be a better idea to start picking his outfit for the wedding.
"There's Scorpius." Lily pointed. Her top lip quirked slightly. The tiny gesture made Albus blush.
"I guess I'll see you later then," he said.
"Later," echoed Lily, with a sardonic tint.
Albus barely heard her. He smiled widely at Scorpius. Scorpius held his smooth, disdainful expression almost immaculately, except for the one second where it dropped and the warmth lapped around Albus like a sunhot wave.
"You abandoned me," said Scorpius urgently. "You promised you wouldn't leave me at the mercy of these people!"
"I'm sure you can handle them." Albus let Scorpius' complaints wash through his ears while he ran his hand down Scorpius' arm, slowly, till he found Scorpius' fingers under a flurry of lace. The touch bolted up Scorpius' flow of words. When Albus looked back up into Scorpius' face, his shuttered gaze was focused on Albus' mouth. Albus smiled, and brushed his fingertips along Scorpius' jaw, turning it -
"Attention!" bellowed Uncle Ron, forty-seven sheets to the wind. Albus dropped his hand. "Attention, everyone! If you could all pipe down - that means you, too, Percy - we'd like to begin."
At first, Albus didn't recognise her.
"Albus?" said Rose again, a quaver in her voice. It broke his name into two staccato syllables.
"You look awful," said Albus, and a second later winced at his own tactlessness.
Rose shrugged listlessly. The comment wasn't kind, but it was accurate. Rose's usually shiny copper curls were lank, each separate wave weighed down with grease that nearly dripped. So dry were her lips, they were practically white; and at first, Albus thought she'd put eyeshadow on upside down, because deep violet shadows swept under each eye.
"I really need to talk to you," she said. The words rasped. Later, Albus would discover this was because she'd cried all night, most nights for a month. "Is there somewhere we can go?"
The Clubhouse was not an option, milling as it was with his confused and or beaten-up friends. Albus recalled the room his brother had summoned him to not so very long ago. "Yeah," he said. "Follow me."
They walked in silence, Albus because he couldn't think what to say, Rose because she said nothing. Rose walked hunched over, arms locked across her chest, as if toiling under some unbearable weight. Albus was very glad to see the door to the trophy room, if only because the change of scenery almost guaranteed articulation on Rose's part.
Albus hopped on to a desk and rested his wrists on his knees. He plastered on a neutral expression, which would suffice if this turned out to be a huge practical joke. Rose half-collapsed into a chair.
"So -" began Albus.
"I'm pregnant," blurted Rose, and burst into tears.
"Well," said Albus. He digested the news between blinks, which seemed unusually far apart. "That was. Unexpected."
"You have to help me," sobbed Rose. "I don't know who else - Mum would kill - Hugo - oh God." Her voice scaled upwards, shaking the dusty medals in their cases.
"Okay," said Albus cautiously. "I don't know how good I'd be as a babysitter, but I'll do my best -"
"Don't be stupid," snarled Rose, with something of her old verve. "I have to get rid of it."
"It?" repeated Albus. "Get rid of the baby?"
"It's not a baby." Low and vicious. "It's a - a thing. It shouldn't have happened. I don't want it."
"Why didn't you use a Contraceptus Charm?" asked Albus. "Or is that the question I shouldn't ask?"
Rose twisted away from him. It took Albus a minute to realise this was from shame. "Macnight doesn't like them," she said, so softly Albus had to lean forward to hear. "He - it makes him go - I thought. I thought the Potion would be enough. All my friends ... but sometimes I forget. To make it, or I run out, and it tastes like old feet. I didn't -"
Unthinking, Albus slipped off the desk and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. Rose flinched and seemed a whole world away. Then she relaxed into the touch. That was when Albus knew: regardless of what happened, it would be all right.
"Why me?" he asked.
"Who else?" said Rose simply. "Mum and Dad aren't to be thought of. Your parents are all right, but they'd tell Dad. Your father couldn't not. Hugo - Christ, I hate to think - and could you imagine James handling this? Or Lily?"
"What about Marie-Jeanette?" suggested Albus. "She's a girl. Too, I mean."
Rose's lip curled. "That goody two-shoes? Besides, she's totally in James' pocket. I love James, saints preserve us. But the boy can't keep a secret to save anyone's life, let alone mine. And if Marie-Jeanette told..."
Albus didn't think Marie-Jeanette would share this information with anyone, let alone James. However, he didn't consider it wise to provoke Rose. Pregnant women were notoriously touchy; add that to Rose's already volatile temper...
"Anyway," added Rose, "I had a detention with Longbottom the other day - don't you hate how disappointed he gets? - and Redding came in. If they're not screwing I'll eat this baby. Anyway, I pretended to be diligently writing my lines. Honestly? Lines? Listened in, of course. Redding said you were set to rival Malfoy in Potions if you kept up your level of effort. Which I don't believe for a second, but you have to be pretty good at Potions to survive NEWT level. Better than me, anyway."
"Breathe," advised Albus. Rose scowled. "What's the point?"
"I need you to brew me a potion," said Rose.
"Isn't it a bit early for morning sickness?" said Albus. "How far along are you?"
"Ten weeks," said Rose shortly. "Give or take. And not that kind of potion, doofus."
"What, then?" Albus grew a little impatient at being gratuitously insulted in the name of rendering a favour.
Rose turned pale. "The potion," she said. Sick realisation hit Albus just as Rose confirmed it, using the name Albus had only heard whispered about at dinner parties and behind hands. "Abortion Lotion."
Albus rubbed his scratchy eyes and yawned. The knowledge sat before him like a great fat toad, but he refused to recognise it. Not yet. The next book, the next parchment, might yet yield the information he needed.
He might not have to ask Scorpius for help.
In the week since they'd fought, they hadn't spoken. Albus hadn't so much as looked in Scorpius' direction, although he always knew exactly which one it was. Rose provided a welcome and ample distraction from his own troubles. She'd taken to hovering around places she knew Albus would be - never close enough to suggest to a passerby that she was there on purpose to meet him, but always in the corner of his eye.
She was nearly frantic with worry, and Albus now knew why. The Abortion Lotion's efficacy was limited to the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. He had exactly one week left to find instructions, ingredients and a place to brew it before it was too late.
Rose's hysteria affected him to the degree that he'd started dreaming about babies at night. Always babies, though; never slippery buckets of blood, which was the intended result of the Abortion Lotion. It struck Albus as odd, but he had no concern to spare for the inaccuracy of his subconscious.
In the end, it was Scorpius who came to Albus - although 'ambushed' was a better term. Scorpius stepped around a bookshelf, startling Albus into dropping the slim pickings he'd gleaned from the library's poor selection of magical obstetrics books.
"Is there something I should know?" Scorpius raised his eyebrow and nudged What to Expect When You're Expecting with his shoe.
"No," snapped Albus. "I'm just - doing research."
Scorpius' eyebrows crawled into his hairline. "Let me simplify it for you," he said. "When a boy and a girl love each other very much..."
"Or a boy and a boy," flashed Albus. Scorpius went very still.
"Well, that makes it a little more difficult," he said, after a pause. His voice shook, but he held it steady. "But with love and magic, anything's possible."
"Your talents are wasted here," Albus told him. "You should go into the greeting cards business."
"I was thinking the same," said Scorpius. "I could take out shares in the 'I'm Sorry' section."
"Bit of a waste of money, I reckon," said Albus.
"Why do you say that?" Scorpius' eyes pinned Albus'. Albus looked away first, coughing on a dry throat.
"Considering I've already forgiven you, I mean," he said.
"Albus -" began Scorpius, voice filled with unspeakable emotion. Albus held up a hand.
"Not scot-free," said Albus. "I need your help."
"Anything," said Scorpius. "Anything, I swear I'll do it."
"Break up with Hugo?" suggested Albus, only half-joking. Scorpius frowned.
"But I already did," he said. "Ages ago, when he started dissing you." Albus stared. "He was a bit pissed off - what? I thought you knew."
"I didn't," said Albus. He forestalled any more talk by pushing Baby Talk: A Wizard-Infant Dictionary into Scorpius' hands.
"But seriously," said Scorpius, "who'd you knock up?"
"It's fine!" Scorpius snapped, batting Albus' hands away from the knife. "We don't have time to cut everything into equal sizes."
"Sorry for trying to follow the recipe," panted Albus. The belching potion's fumes were doing all sorts of funky things to his sinuses.
"Artistic license," said Scorpius briefly, sprinkling the ginkgo with a liberal hand. It looked more finger-painting than Matisse, but Albus was sick of arguing.
Scorpius' stash of semi-legal books, courtesy of his criminally-minded parents, were a treasure trove of information when it came to brewing wholly illegal potions. Only registered Healers were supposed to dispense misoprostine rapidis, presumably because of the threat of misuse. Even with the shortcut Albus had taken by stealing the starting base from Healer Bilharzia, there were still several steps to be taken to render it active, each as intricate as a minuet. Needless to say, the concentration and effort involved was fraying more than one temper.
"There," said Scorpius, his voice laced with exhaustion. "Half an hour on the boil, and it's ready."
Albus didn't even have the energy to praise a deity. He sunk into a hammock and pressed his hand over his eyes. It was a good thing Rambo and the twins were so delighted to have Albus and Scorpius make up - otherwise, they might have questioned their need to use the Clubhouse exclusively for seven consecutive days.
A minute later, Scorpius joined him. He stunk of sulphur.
Albus lifted his arm so Scorpius could tuck his head into Albus' shoulder. Scorpius' elbow stuck him in the side; Albus shifted away and ended up nose to nose with Scorpius.
"Hi," said Albus, feeling a little silly.
"Hey," said Scorpius, his voice much huskier than usual. Albus abruptly ran out of comebacks, except 'Hi', which was already dated. He settled on smiling. Scorpius didn't smile back. By contrast, his eyes went hooded; he looked almost angry.
"It's okay," said Albus, seeing the warning signs of a fit of rage, although without understanding the reason for it. "Keep cool, yeah?"
"With you around?" Scorpius sounded strangled.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Albus tried to wriggle into a more upright position, but Scorpius' hands pinned him. "Hello? Ow?"
"I'm not hurting you," Scorpius dismissed this contribution. His fingers flexed around Albus' arms. Albus lost the last breath in his lungs. Scorpius, too, was breathing heavily.
Albus felt their chests swell and sink, brushing gently, for long moments before Scorpius dipped his head and kissed him.
It was the barest and lightest of bare light touches. A quick rasp of drywarm skin and Scorpius was gone, burying his head in Albus' neck with a moan.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
Tentatively, Albus raised his hand and folded it across Scorpius' neck. He stroked the short hairs there against the grain, marvelling at how they were sharp and soft at the same time. Scorpius froze at the contact, although a tremble ran through his body. Albus could feel it everywhere they touched, which was everywhere. Something hot and deep pulsed in Albus' belly, snatching the air from his mouth as soon as he breathed it; leaving him panting.
Scorpius raised his head and stared into Albus' face. Albus kept his hand on Scorpius' neck, despite the heat he saw in Scorpius' eyes. It confused and scared him, but he dug his fingers through the fine buttery strands and tugged Scorpius' head down. This time, he didn't let Scorpius break the kiss.
Slippery lips slid open. Scorpius choked on another moan and shoved his tongue into Albus' mouth. Distantly, Albus thought Scorpius should have been a better kisser; but he didn't care. He was too busy forcing his own tongue up against Scorpius, a shuddering lethargy engulfing him as he did so. His limbs fell lax and open around Scorpius, who by contrast was all fire and restless movement. He licked into Albus' mouth, over and around his tongue, and shoved his hand up Albus' jumper. It was cold, and too fast too soon. Albus arched into the touch.
"Oh god," mumbled Scorpius into Albus' mouth. He pressed a sticky line of kisses along Albus' jaw. "I've wanted to do this for so long."
Albus wanted to clip him around the ear for sitting on that piece of information all this time, but he wanted Scorpius' mouth more. He made a needy little noise to alert Scorpius to this fact, squeezing his hip for emphasis. Which was when Rose walked in.
"If I'd known you'd finally got your act together with Malfoy," said Rose, lighting a cigarette, "I would have knocked."
"You shouldn't smoke," said Albus automatically. "It's bad for the baby."
Rose blew a smoke ring. "It won't be a baby very soon, if you've done your bit. In fact, it never was. Just a bunch of cells."
"Yeah, whatever," said Albus. This wasn't the first time Rose had brought up this - faintly erroneous - argument, but Albus was a little distracted right now. He kept touching his jaw, feeling the roughened skin there. Every time he did it Rose smirked; but to her credit, passed no remarks.
Albus pressed his swollen, sensitive mouth. Rose finished the cigarette and lit another from the cherry.
"So?" she said at last. Albus shook himself out of his daze.
"It's ready," he said. "We finished it just before - uh. You can take it whenever you want. Now, if you like. We got towels and things ready, and some volumiser."
"Volumiser?" echoed Rose.
"To replace the blood you'll lose," explained Albus. "And you'll probably need to take tomorrow off school. Fake a sickness."
"Period pain," said Rose, with grim humour. "Scorpius won't tell?"
"No." Albus didn't say he'd trust Scorpius with his life; Rose didn't ask.
At length, she heaved a sigh. "I suppose it's now or never."
"For this, anyway." Rose turned a questioning look on Albus. "You could keep it, you know. Adopt it out. Something."
"Yeah," said Rose, "something."
After a minute, she put her head on his shoulder. After another minute, Albus cupped his hand around her rough head. The smoke from Rose's cigarette billowed into the chilly dusk. They sat in the courtyard for a long, long time.
Hugo carried the lace-swathed bundle. His face, when he looked at his nephew, was that of ice melting. He'd even forgiven Rose for not telling him about the pregnancy until she went into labour in the Gryffindor common room. Robes disguised a bump exceedingly well.
(Rose's screaming gave Albus an earache for days, and she dislocated his little finger when the head came through. There were never any apologies for either, nor for forcing Albus to witness the birth firsthand - with blood and guts galore - while Aunt Hermione was banished to the waiting room.
"Don't name it after me," warned Albus. "There's enough of that in this family. Let him start his own legend."
Rose stuck her head out the window to smoke, despite having been caught and reprimanded twice before. The baby squawked in its bassinette. "Oh, shut up," said Rose irritably. "God, it sounds like Mac already."
"Don't," said Albus.
"I wasn't going to," said Rose.)
"Thank you for coming to our little cele - celery - party," hiccupped Uncle Ron. Aunt Hermione snapped her fan so hard it hit him on the nose. Uncle Ron shook his head, apparently not able to locate the source of his distress. "We're welcoming a new ad-d-d - member of our family. A small one." He giggled.
"Oh, for the love of Merlin," snapped Hugo. He snatched the microphone out of Uncle Ron's hands, jiggling the baby into the crook of one arm. The baby let out a peal of disapproval at such cavalier treatment, and Hugo gave it a finger to suck. Behind him, Rose stubbed out a cigarette into her mother's plate of toffee slices.
Hugo wasn't looking at the crowd, not even at Albus holding Scorpius' hand, as he said in a wash of static, "This is Wilbur Weasley." He was smiling, and looking down.