Blood of Birds

Note: Hi! The following is a 2nd generation Harry Potter fanfiction, with main characters being Rose Weasley, Scorpius Malfoy, and Albus Potter. It will be comprised of four parts, the first of which will follow Rose. There will also be seven one-shots (or side-alongs) following other characters at points throughout the series, each uploaded separately. I've also taken the liberty to include a few re-quotes, courtesy of JK Rowling and Steve Kloves of course, to pay homage to the original books and films. So without further ado, here is Chapter 1. Happy reading!

~ Lauren

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23. The Only One He Ever Deared

He couldn't breathe. Scorpius didn't know what was wrong, or what it was that was crushing his lungs, making them collapse onto his heart like a deflated raft being consumed by the ocean's roaring waves. Each breath he attempted to take took so much energy out of him that he had to close his eyes and rest before trying again. This cycle repeated what felt like a thousand times and for a while it was the only thing Scorpius could focus on.

When the breaths started to come more freely, Scorpius managed to keep his eyes open, but everything around him was blurry. He could see the outlines of other beds and people, but not much else. Through his left ear, he could only hear a high-pitched ringing, but when he turned his head on his pillow, he was able to pick up some conversation with his right ear.

"I still don't understand what happened," someone was mumbling from beside him. Scorpius had heard the female voice before, but he couldn't place it without seeing the girl.

"I do," another voice croaked, this one male and louder, but coming from further away. Scorpius lifted his head slightly to find its source, which he assumed was the blurry person across the room from him, who seemed to have lifted his arm in the air as if he was trying to show it off.

Why would he want to show off his arm? Scorpius wondered. And then he remembered. He had been playing Quidditch, the last conscious player remaining on the Slytherin team. He must have blacked out soon after, and the knock that came with it would explain his cracked ribs. Now, he was in the hospital wing with the rest of his team, some of whom he remembered seeing pretty banged up. Salem Keyes had been the worst, with a body that had gone completely limp on his broom before falling and crashing to the ground. He had been the first out, and Scorpius figured it must have been him who had raised his arm a minute ago, since he probably had multiple fractures.

Then Scorpius thought more about the match, realizing that they must have lost. But how long ago had it ended? He had somewhere to be now, something he had been planning for weeks. It was important. He had to get out of this bed; he had things to do, to set up, to get everything ready. He had to get to the Great Hall.

"Yeah, me too," said yet another voice, waking Scorpius from his own thoughts. His vision was returning to him now, and he repositioned his head to the corner of the room just in time to see Aaron Goodall add, "That kid is a BEAST."

Twenty-four hours earlier...

"And you're sure it's okay? We don't have to bow or anything?" asked Scorpius. He wasn't scared about this part of the plan, but still wanted to make sure it was safe. The last thing he wanted was a fall or injury to take place, as that would ruin the whole night.

"Oh don't worry, yeh'll be fine," Hagrid assured him. Scorpius wasn't completely convinced by the friendly giant, but he didn't exactly have a choice but to take Hagrid's word for it.

"I think what yer doin' fer Rose is right nice, yeh know," he added. "And it's good ter see yeh, of course. I haven' seen much of yeh three this year, you especially."

Scorpius gave a guilty smile. It was true that he hadn't visited Hagrid very much this year, and it was already November. "Yeah, sorry about that," Scorpius replied. "I thought about taking Care of Magical Creatures, but I had too many other classes, and I'm still not sure what I want to go into after Hogwarts."

"Oh, I understand," said Hagrid as he took Scorpius's empty tea mug and dropped it in an already crowded sink. "Al came over and told me ever'thing, 'bout why all of yeh dropped it."

"He did?" Scorpius asked, his interest suddenly piqued. He had seen Al at Hagrid's a few weeks ago, and had been slightly suspicious since Al was alone at the time.

Hagrid laughed at this, a huge, hearty croak that sounded through the whole hut. "Not like he needed ter tell me. Al might be the worst student I've ever had!" He said this in the nicest of tones, clearly feeling admiration for the boy, though it was true that Al's skills with animals and beasts were non-existent.

With a small chuckle, Scorpius said, "Well, I'm glad he explained it all to you. I know all three of us felt bad about it." This was a lie, as Scorpius hadn't talked to Al in over a month, but he didn't want to worry Hagrid into thinking that the trio had been split up. The knowledge that Scorpius and Rose were going through a rough patch after this summer had been enough to put Hagrid on edge, and the last thing Scorpius wanted to do was drive him overboard.

"Once yeh get Rose back again, I expect the three of yeh ter visit together!" Hagrid said as Scorpius pulled a sweater over his head, getting ready to leave.

"Sure thing, Hagrid," Scorpius promised, but he had to look away from those big brown eyes as he said it. "And thanks for the help."

"Yer welcome. I'll see yer at the match!"

"Yeah, it should be a good one," Scorpius yelled as he skipped down the steps from the hut. He had been training Arnia pretty roughly ever since James had commented that Scorpius may be in for a surprise at the match against Gryffindor. Now, it was only a day away, and Slytherin had no practices left, so Scorpius would just have to hope for the best.

Before he headed back to the castle, Scorpius walked over to Hagrid's pumpkin patch, where Colin Creevey had just brought in a hippogriff from the Forbidden Forest and Holly Longbottom was busy carving a pumpkin. Scorpius was going to ask why she was doing so since Halloween had come and gone, but he told himself not to bother.

"How's she looking?" Scorpius asked Colin, who had been helping Scorpius along with Hagrid. Initially, Scorpius had been worried that talking with Colin might be awkward, considering the attack Astoria had planted on him that summer, but Colin seemed to understand that Scorpius didn't share the same beliefs as his family.

"Oh, she's great," Colin said with a huge smile on his face. He clearly loved being at Hogwarts and working with all of Hagrid's game, even though he couldn't be a real student at the school. "Sh-She's the gentlest one I've seen y-yet."

"Perfect," Scorpius said, bowing at the half-bird, half-horse. When the hippogriff bowed back, Scorpius pet her beak and asked Colin, "And you think you can get the timing right? It's not too much to ask?"

"No, I d-don't think so," Colin replied. "I-in fact, Holly's offered to help with that. She's convinced some of the g-ghosts, Nearly Headless Nick and the Fat F-friar, to watch out for you, and they'll give me a signal to let me know when I should set her loose."

Scorpius turned to Holly, impressed by the idea. "Good thinking," he said to her, though she seemed to be fairly engrossed with her carving.

"Oh no, I'm not much of a thinker, actually," she said back, not looking up from the pumpkin. "Otherwise, I'd be in Ravenclaw. I think I just like talking to dead people. Or at least, they seem to enjoy talking to me."

"Huh," Scorpius nodded, completely failing to follow any of Holly's explanation. When he turned back to Colin, who looked just as lost, he whispered, "What's with the pumpkins?"

"No id-dea," Colin said, and as he and Scorpius glanced over at Holly, she smiled back at Colin with wide, admiring eyes. "She's been hanging around m-me a lot l-lately."

"Lucky you," Scorpius joked, though Holly's stalking seemed relatively innocent. "Well, I'd best be off, but I'll check in with you after the match tomorrow?" he asked Colin while giving the hippogriff one last pet.

"S-sure thing," said Colin. "Good luck!"

"Thanks." And then Scorpius was off, jogging up the hill to the castle. Today was Friday, and classes had been cancelled to allow the entire student body to get riled up for the season's first Quidditch match, but Scorpius still had a full schedule. He was trying to check base with all his helpers before supper came round, and he still had to see how Lucy, Hugo, and Ilana were doing.

After climbing up to the seventh floor, Scorpius checked the hallway and then slipped into the Room of Requirement, which had taken the shape of an amateur factory, with two separate assembly lines in the middle of a long hallway. Hugo was stationed at the far side of one of them, busy cutting snowflakes out of pieces of paper, which were being folded on the near side of the line by Nigel Creevey. At the other line was Lucy, who was carefully pruning an enormous bouquet of roses.

"Oh, it's about bloody time!" Hugo said loudly as soon as Scorpius stepped inside, leaving his station and running up to the front of the room. "Does this mean you're going to take over from here on out?"

"Er, I wasn't planning on it," Scorpius said, much to Hugo's dismay.

"I can't believe this," Hugo threw his hands in the air. "I am a volunteer, and I do not appreciate being treated like an employee!"

Laughing, Scorpius said, "It's just a few more hours, Hugo. And believe me, I appreciate what you're doing. What all of you are doing, in fact." He then looked up to see Nigel giving him a courteous smile and Lucy waving her hand to say it was nothing. It had taken some serious pleading from Scorpius to get all of them to help him out, but they had eventually agreed, knowing that they weren't really doing it for him. They all cared about Rose, so they knew this was for a good cause.

"Hugo, it won't take much longer," Nigel said quietly to his friend. "And it's for Rose. She deserves it."

Hugo scoffed at this, then rolled his eyes and walked back to his station quietly, picking up the next paper and cutting away. He hadn't been speaking to Nigel as of late, which had made things difficult for Scorpius. Originally, he had only asked for Hugo's help, but then Nigel had heard word of what Scorpius was doing and wanted to offer a hand too. Since then, Hugo had been in a terrible mood about the whole thing, though Scorpius didn't know why he was so opposed to working with Nigel, whom he was usually quite close with.

Trying not to get in the middle of a row, Scorpius approached Lucy and asked, "You got all the flowers? No problems?"

"No problems," Lucy said. "Professor Longbottom's been in a great mood lately, so he was more than happy to provide them for me. I shouldn't be much longer, but I don't know if you'll have enough."

"That's okay," said Scorpius. "I can duplicate them if I need to. I just needed a good amount to start from, that's all."

Lucy nodded. "Oh, and I managed to track down Peeves. Told him someone was after his stash and he ran off before I finished my sentence. I'm guessing he moved it all to Filch's office straight away, so Fred shouldn't have had any problems finding it."

"Brilliant," Scorpius said. This was a part of his plan he hadn't been so sure would work out, but he'd had a feeling that Peeves would be itching to take over the old caretaker's office, and it was the perfect opportunity to get his hands on all the things Peeves had collected over his years at the school. Turning back to Hugo and Nigel, Scorpius asked, "Could one of you check with Fred before tomorrow?" Fred was another one of Rose's cousins, and like most of them, was in Gryffindor.

"I can," Nigel offered. He had finished folding by now, and said to Scorpius, "Um, do you think I could go now? I would stay and help Hugo cut, but I sort of have a meeting to get to."

"Oh, yeah, go ahead," Scorpius said. "Hugo can manage on his own." And with a guilty look back at Hugo, Nigel left the room.

"Sure, sure, Hugo can manage," Hugo muttered under his breath once Nigel was gone. "No problem. Because of course, I couldn't possibly have anything better to do."

When Scorpius was skeptical to leave Hugo behind with no supervision, Lucy assured him, "Don't worry, I'll look after the little scoundrel."

Next stop was Ilana, and she was all the way down in the dungeons, locked away in the Potions classroom. When Scorpius opened the door, though, he was surprised to see that Al was inside, standing just in front of Scorpius in the entryway, while Ilana was on the other side of the classroom with a pot of boiling liquid on a desk beside her. The two were staring at each other, their mouths ajar but silent.

Scorpius thought about turning around and coming back later, but Ilana had already seen him, so he said, "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

As soon as Al heard Scorpius's voice, he turned around and walked out of the room, bumping Scorpius's shoulder on his way. Ilana yelled after him to wait, but he was gone quickly and didn't come back.

"My bad," said Scorpius as he came closer to Ilana. When he was a few feet away from her potion, he was suddenly overcome with three painfully familiar scents. Not being able to help himself, he turned his head in nearly every direction, expecting Rose to be there. Then Ilana cleared her throat for him, and he realized that the smell wasn't coming from Rose; it was coming from the potion.

"Wow, that really works," Scorpius said, more to himself than to Ilana.

"It sure does," Ilana agreed, sounding slightly annoyed. Though Scorpius didn't want to read too much into the situation, he assumed that either she or Al had smelled something rather surprising from the love potion, which was meant to give off a different scent for every person according to what they were attracted to.

"So, does that mean it's finished? Scorpius asked. He had learned not to ask Ilana about her personal life, especially when it had to do with Al. She liked to keep to herself, which was something Scorpius could understand.

"Nearly," she responded. "Don't worry, though. I'll have it done by tomorrow night. How's it going with Rose, anyway? Is she still in the dark about everything?"

"As far as I know," Scorpius answered, taking a seat on one of the desks opposite Ilana. She had been more than willing to help, and hadn't asked what he needed the potion for, but he'd told her anyway. Rose had made it clear last year that she and Ilana didn't get along well, but Ilana still seemed to support Scorpius in his pursuit to get Rose back. To explain, he added, "Everyone's been sworn to secrecy, anyway. I considered using the tongue-tying curse, but it seemed a little extreme."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Ilana argued. "Secrets are pretty hard to keep when a lot of people are involved." She sounded as if she spoke from experience, but again, Scorpius didn't question her about it.

Instead, he spoke from his own and most recent experience. "Yeah, well that I know. You forget that Mercy's still on the team."

"That doesn't sound like it's going too well," Ilana commented with a grunt.

"As well as can be expected, really," Scorpius replied. "I mean, we'll be fine tomorrow. I think our new Beater's as ready as she can be, and Mercy will find her place once she starts. It's the Gryffindor team I'm worried about, to be honest."

"Why?" Ilana asked, surprised to hear of Scorpius's anxiety. "You know all of their players, don't you?"

Scorpius nodded hesitantly. "I should," he said, telling himself once again that Hugo and Roxanne must be the two new players; there was nobody else as qualified. But as he thought about the lack of Quidditch talk he'd heard from the Gryff Group lately, Scorpius couldn't help but add, "I just have a weird feeling about it."

And as he said the words, Scorpius's nose sensed a sudden rush of Rose's scent once more. This time, it was extremely strong, and he felt compelled to get closer to its source, the potion. As he stood up and walked over to it, he noticed that although Ilana didn't seem to be as attracted to the liquid, she was tightly clutching onto a crumpled envelope in her right hand. It looked exactly like the ones she always had piled behind her scroll when she wrote her mysterious letters, though it hadn't been until now that Scorpius wondered whom she was always writing to.

When Ilana spotted Scorpius's eyes on the paper, she quickly stuffed it in her pant pocket, took one last look at the potion, and said, "It's done," before covering it with a heavy lid.

The smell immediately dissipated from the room, causing Scorpius to slouch in disappointment as he regained his composure. Now thinking about what he was going to use the potion for, as well as tomorrow's Quidditch match, he said, "Well, until tomorrow, then."

Nodding, Ilana placed the cauldron on a shelf and walked out of the room. In the doorway, she turned to Scorpius one last time and repeated, "Don't worry. By tomorrow night, you'll have everything you want. As long as you have her in the end, whatever happens beforehand is meaningless."

Scorpius had no idea where she was coming from, but he desperately hoped that what Ilana said would turn out to be true.

Tomorrow came much too quickly, and before Scorpius could possibly worry about the Quidditch match, he and his team were about to walk onto the pitch. During their final moments in the locker room, Scorpius filled Mercy in on all the plays she had yet to learn while also making sure that everybody else knew the game plan.

"Arnia's been working well with Salem, so I've put him under her guard." Scorpius explained to Mercy, who seemed to be focusing well, which Scorpius was thankful for. "Maddi's with Aaron on the other side, as usual, but that means that they're the wings and you'll be in the middle. You'll most likely be flying against Lily on the Gryffindor side, and she's wicked fast, so make sure to watch out for her." Scorpius was skeptical of putting Mercy mid-field, since it was the most difficult Chaser position, but she was a better flier than Salem and Aaron and she hadn't worked with either of the Beaters yet, so it seemed like the best place for her.

On the other hand, Scorpius was daring to put Salem and Arnia on the left-side wing, which was where Caitlin Finnigan would be with Gryffindor's new Beater, whom Scorpius assumed was Hugo. The problem was, he had no way of knowing how good of a Beater Hugo would be, which put Arnia in rather precarious position. Still, he wanted Aaron and Maddi, who were both experienced players, to be covering Fred and Roxanne, since the two siblings were bound to have good chemistry in the air. As for himself, Scorpius would be going head to head with James once again and it was sure to be quite the showdown. Scorpius wasn't worrying about that, though, since he knew that whoever ended up catching the snitch would be less than a second ahead of the other.

At this, a strikingly loud whistle was heard from the Headmistress's box, so Scorpius huddled his team together for one last speech. "Okay, everyone," he started, one arm around Salem and the other around Arnia, Mercy standing opposite him, "We know our plays, we know our plan, so let's get out there and give it our all. There's no telling what kind of team Gryffindor's become this year, but we know that they will be playing as a team. Our only chance of winning today is if we do the same."

And as the other players nodded with Scorpius, the final whistle blew, signaling the team to line up in order (Aaron, Salem, and Mercy first, followed by Maddi and Arnia, then Lindsay, and finally Scorpius) and walk onto the pitch.

The crowd was already going wild by the time Scorpius mounted his broom and flew above his team's circle, where he shook hands with James and then waited for Madam Bell's call. Looking around as he stretched out his neck, Scorpius was hard-pressed to see much of anything. The stands were completely submerged with the morning's fog, only the top boxes visible, as they were high enough to reach above the mist as if floating on clouds. Though Scorpius could see James, he only caught a glimpse of the snitch for a second after its release, and he could tell that it would be hard to find for quite some time.

When he looked behind him, Scorpius could barely make out the Keeper rings, Lindsay Doyle's head slowly bobbing beside them. Rose was on the opposite end of the field, and Scorpius was secretly thankful that he couldn't see much of her either, since she'd be much less distracting this way.

Finally, Scorpius turned his gaze to the circle of Chasers and Beaters floating below him, though he could only see their numbers. On the Gryffindor side, he was able to spot Fred next to a similarly dark-skinned Chaser, so he knew right away that Roxanne had in fact made the team. Caitlin was beside Roxanne, her long, brown hair tied up and flying with the wind. Next to her was the new Beater, and Scorpius squinted to make him out. He thought he saw a bit of red hair, but the boy was covered with a uniform that was much too big for him, his shoulder pads extending outward from his chest as if he had wings. Though Hugo was relatively scrawny, he was also growing taller every day, so Scorpius had a sneaking suspicion that the new player, who was quite possibly the smallest Beater in Quidditch history, may not be a Weasley after all.

But Scorpius didn't have time to question it, as in that moment, the quaffle was released, signaling the start of the match. Before he knew it, everyone had flown off, so Scorpius quickly took his spot above the Slytherin goal hoops. He had a better view of things from up here, though some of the players would disappear into the fog every now and then. Since Scorpius knew it would be pointless to go after the snitch before the weather cleared up, he decided to devote most of his energy to watching Arnia and her match-up with the Gryffindor Beater.

Initially, Arnia did very well, and made a good job of keeping the bludgers out of Gryffindor's hands, passing it back and forth to Maddi, who'd then take a swing at Roxanne or Lily. They were following the plan perfectly, giving Mercy a chance to make the first goal. Rose probably hadn't seen her coming, and she wasn't yet used to her style as she had been with Al, so she swayed to the wrong side and didn't manage to impede the quaffle's path in time.

Scorpius smiled at Slytherin's early lead. Having a team that actually worked well together was a new experience for him, as last season he had relied mostly on himself to win all the matches. He felt proud of the people he'd assembled this year, and even found himself cheering when Arnia hit a bludger at the quaffle and sent the red ball straight into Salem's arms. Everyone was playing beautifully and soon Scorpius found himself letting go of all of yesterday's inhibitions. How could he have possibly been so worried?

Then an enormous bang sounded, and the entire crowd held their breaths. Scorpius searched for the source of the sound in panic, only to find Salem keeled over on his broom, holding tightly onto his arm, which had just gone limp and had caused him to lose hold of the quaffle. Caitlin managed to catch it next, but Scorpius wasn't so worried about that. Trying to back-track, he realized that Gryffindor's miniature Beater must have gotten the bludger after Arnia had hit it the nearby quaffle. Though Scorpius hadn't seen the hit, he could tell it had come from the Beater, who was now circling around to Salem's other side, where the bludger had bounced off. He caught it easily, and a second, louder bang was heard soon afterward.

This time, Salem collapsed completely, but his broom was still supporting his body. Scorpius could see him writhing with pain, but it was clear that he was still conscious. Arnia managed to catch the rebound bludger this time and went for revenge, hitting her bat straight at the Beater, who avoided a hit and instead took one steady swing at the ball and blasted Salem a third time. This hit knocked Keyes in the gut and then broke his broom in half, so he fell to the ground in defeat.

There wasn't a sound to be heard from the stands, and it even took a long silence before the commentator announced Gryffindor's first goal by Caitlin Finnigan. Nobody seemed to care, as they were all shocked by the sheer butchery that had just occurred. People, including Scorpius, barely had time to wrap their heads around the unknown Beater before the kid named Lindsay as his next victim. She was down after just one hit, which had gone straight at her knee and quickly thrown her balance off kilter.

Without a Slytherin Keeper, the hoops were wide open for Gryffindor to score, and that they did. Caitlin, Lily, and Roxanne all managed to make a goal within the next five minutes or so, while Slytherin struggled to keep up. It was torture for Scorpius, just sitting there and watching Arnia fluster, trying to stay away from her fellow Beater. Meanwhile, Roxanne had found her footing and was zipping past Aaron with ease, Mercy was constantly on Lily's tail but never seemed to get close enough to catch her, and the Gryffindor Beaters were working together like two peas in a pod, flying all across the field in an attempt to wear out their Slytherin counterparts.

That worked too, as Maddi was the next to fall. She had grown tired of chasing Fred for a bludger and had taken the bold move of being the monkey in the middle, hoping to get a ball in between Fred and the other Beater's passing. Unfortunately, her idea backfired, and the new Beater took her out on his first try with a blow straight to her chest.

"And Slytherin Beater, Madison Bulstrode is off her broom as GRYFFINDOR scores again! That's fifty points to ten for Gryffindor, and Slytherin's now three players out, thanks to Gryffindor's newest Beater!" announced Lila Jordan from the stands. She hadn't mentioned the boy's name, but at this point, Scorpius was watching him closely.

By the time Aaron was knocked out, Scorpius had begun to notice something odd about the baneful Beater. Though he seemed to have an uncanny amount of strength and force behind each of his hits, he wasn't a particularly fast flier, and his hand was shaking around his bat. At first, Scorpius thought he was just shivering, but that couldn't be possible with the amount of clothes he was wearing. He was nervous, possibly even petrified, as if he was intimidated by his own wrath.

Now, the fog had cleared some, so Scorpius reverted his attention to finding the snitch. Though his team had been well prepared, nothing could have prepared them for this Beater, and the only person who could help the team win now was Scorpius. Still, there was no sign of the golden ball for quite a while, and James hadn't appeared to have moved an inch yet either. It wasn't until Arnia was hit that Scorpius decided it was time to step in.

The Beater, who seemed to have perfect aim and an immeasurable amount of skill, got her just in front of Rose's goal posts. Arnia had been watching out for Mercy as the latter made a desperate attempt to score when a bludger hit her from behind in her upper back, so close to her neck that Scorpius could practically feel her spinal cord snapping. As she slowly slid off her broom, Scorpius dove down to her, flying fast enough to turn underneath her falling body and catch her on his back. He lowered her gently to the ground, where a nurse was ready and waiting to take her to the hospital wing.

Enraged with fury and having realized that Slytherin didn't stand a chance with only two players left, Scorpius raced back to the center of the action and trailed the Gryffindor Beater the way a werewolf would go after its prey. He knew that he was putting himself in danger by being near the kid, but he had had enough; he just wanted to see his face, to find out who this boy really was.

As Scorpius was growing nearer to the boy, however, Fred Weasley hit a bludger his way and the new Beater took his time in taking out the last remaining Slytherin Chaser. Mercy was hit in the shoulder, and though it was most likely only dislocated, she flew herself down to the ground anyway. Scorpius didn't blame her; there was nothing more she could do for the team, and it was better that she took herself out. Of course, this meant that Scorpius was the last man standing.

He was about to turn himself around and make a run for it when the snitch flew just past his ear. Seeing that there may be a glimmer of hope after all, Scorpius flew after it, swerving through the Gryffindor Chasers and around the Slytherin rings in hopes that he could catch a snitch and end this ridiculous match, once and for all. He could hear the crowds cheering him on as he flew, but he knew that James wasn't far behind.

In fact, the Gryffindor Seeker had for some reason decided to fly right underneath Scorpius. James's tactic made it incredibly difficult for Scorpius to follow the snitch in the exact way he wanted to without knocking himself into James's back, whose bigger build was sure to knock him back if Scorpius touched him. Still, the two kept on the snitch's trail, and Scorpius could tell that he was close to catching it when he rounded the corner of a tower stand, his fingers an inch away from the winged ball.

He was touching snitch when he'd fully circled the tower and was back in the pitch boundary, and Scorpius was just about to clasp his hand over it when the ball shot straight down to the ground. It went right past James's nose, though James didn't immediately go after it. Instead, he stayed put in the way of Scorpius's path, causing Scorpius to keep flying forward, right into the awaiting Beater.

Scorpius was staring into the boy's eyes when James turned his attention back to the snitch and went after it at full speed. Scorpius didn't have to turn around to know that Fred was behind him, ready to pass a bludger to his fellow Beater and watch the final Slytherin player tumble to the ground. In the short moment before the bludger hit him, though, Scorpius finally caught a glimpse of the Beater's face.

His eyes were a light blue, like Hugo's, but they were less alert and much more sunken. He had very few freckles on his cheeks, unlike Hugo's bountiful amount, and though his hair did bare a tint of red, but it was a mere strawberry blonde in comparison to his ears, which had turned a shade of crimson, the same as his trembling lips. He looked terrified as his bat made contact with a bludger and as he whispered, "I'm sorry, Scorpius."

And just as the pain from Scorpius's stomach had caused him to black out this summer, the pain from his upper abdomen drew his body backward and pulled him from reality. The last thing Scorpius saw before he fainted was a full, pure tear traveling down the freckle-free face of a beast known as Nigel Creevey.

"That kid is a BEAST." As soon as Aaron said the words, Scorpius could see nods coming from five other beds in the hospital wing.

"Agreed," mumbled Maddi as she tried to sit up on her bed. Then Aaron, Salem, Lindsay, and Maddi all said in unison, "Nigel Creevey is officially a BEAST."

"All I have to say is good luck to Ravenclaw!" Lindsay laughed, the others quickly joining in. They didn't seem to be too upset that they lost, as the shock of Nigel had given them all a rather humbling experience on the pitch.

Scorpius was fully awake now, though his left ear was still ringing and he was having a hard time trying to move. He now remembered that he'd fallen on his left side, his head banging on the ground before he felt nothing at all. Now, he was slowly trying to lift his head so he could talk with the rest of his teammates.

"Scorp, you're awake!" said Maddi as Scorpius finally sat upright. She was in the bed beside him, and was cringing from her own broken ribs. Across from Scorpius was Salem, his entire body bandaged and his face pale with sweat, and next to him was Lindsay, whose leg was propped up and bandaged as well. Aaron was in the far corner and he looked okay, with the exception of an incredible black eye. Searching for Arnia, Scorpius found an occupied bed on Maddi's other side, but the person on it was still lying down, unconscious.

Noticing Scorpius's worry, Maddi explained, "She hasn't woken up yet. One of the nurses said it might be awhile."

"And what about Mercy?" Scorpius asked, his voice cracking at the pain of moving his face so much. The Chaser didn't seem to be in the room, though it was true that she hadn't sustained much of an injury.

"Left," moaned Aaron. "The nurse popped her shoulder back in and she was good to go. She didn't even bother waiting to see who else woke up, since Lindsay and I were the only ones awake at the time."

Scorpius nodded, not surprised to hear of Mercy's lack of empathy for the rest of the team. Still, he wasn't like her. He had somewhere to be too, but he'd wait as long as he needed to in order to make sure that the rest of his team was okay. Glancing over at Arnia, though, he wondered if that moment would ever come.

Just then, the double doors at the front of the room opened wide to reveal one of the Hogwarts nurses alongside none other than Nigel Creevey. He was the last person Scorpius wanted to see right now, but couldn't help but pity the boy when he saw that his face was swollen from crying.

"What are you doing in here?" Maddi asked upon seeing her opponent. She'd worked with Vincent Goyle last year, so she was used to violent Beaters, but she didn't seem to like the violence when it came from a different team.

Nigel looked to Maddi with eyes wide and mouth ajar, his expression full of fear. "I wanted to apologize," he said, trying to keep his back straight as he walked over to Maddi's bed. He glanced back at the nurse on his way over, who seemed to be watching everyone to make sure none of them attempted to take a swing at Nigel.

"I never meant to hurt you," he continued, "But I was told that that's what Beaters are supposed to do, you see. Anyway, the name's Nigel Creevey." He extended his hand out then to shake Maddi's. When she refused to take it and instead crossed her arms in defiance, Nigel gulped and begged of her, "Please don't kill me."

The other Slytherins were silent, all watching Nigel with hawk-like eyes, waiting to see who he'd go to next. The Creevey boy seemed to decide that he'd make his apologies to the players in the order that their beds were arranged. This meant that Arnia was next, and Nigel turned to her just as she was opening her eyes.

Scorpius sat up to catch a glimpse of the girl he'd been worried about, but Nigel barely had a chance to apologize before the nurse closed Arnia's curtains to examine her. Still, Scorpius was glad to see that she was okay after all.

From there, Nigel moved on to Aaron and then Lindsay, both of whom were as cold toward him as Maddi had been, unwilling to shake his hand. The poor boy looked heartbroken when he came to Salem, who was undoubtedly the most broken of everyone on the team. Curiously, though, he also ended up being the most accepting.

This time, when Nigel extended his hand, Salem took it willingly, and was laughing as Nigel stood in front of him, shocked as could be. He even leaned toward Nigel (though admittedly, he couldn't move much in his bandaged state) to whisper, "Buck up, mate! This is Quidditch; getting hurt is a part of the game. The rest of these blokes are just intimidated by you because you played so brilliantly!"

Though Nigel still looked fearful, Scorpius was laughing now, nodding at Salem's comment. As the team captain, he hated to lose, but Slytherin had still gone out fighting, especially Salem. And he was right... Nigel had been a beast out on the field, plain and simple. For that reason, Scorpius would just have to accept that Gryffindor played a better game, and so they deserved the win.

For the others, coming to terms with this wasn't so easy. Still, with a couple of glares from Salem and Scorpius, Maddi, Aaron, and Lindsay all cut their defensive act and forgave Nigel. At this point, the only person he had yet to apologize to was Scorpius.

"You're a real badass, Creevey, you know that?" Scorpius joked after he shook Nigel's hand. Scorpius had never expected such impressive displays of force from a self-proclaimed pacifist like Nigel, and though he had the wounds to pay for it, he couldn't help but appreciate the element of surprise. After all, if tonight worked out the way he'd planned it to, Rose too would be in for a shock.

Thinking of such, Scorpius took the moment to ask Nigel, "Oh, do you know if everything's ready? For tonight, I mean." As soon as he'd asked the question, Scorpius was sitting up and slowly getting out of bed. He didn't care if any nurses tried to stop him; he was supposed to have been at the Great Hall ages ago.

When Nigel failed to respond, however, Scorpius took his eyes away from the pain reliever he'd been rubbing on his chest and looked down at Nigel. The tiny fourth year seemed to be weeping yet again, worrying Scorpius that tonight's plans might have been foiled. "Nigel, what's wrong?" he asked, a hand on Nigel's shoulder. "What happened?"

"Nothing, nothing," Nigel assured him between sniffles. "Ilana got everybody together and made sure we'd be ready. It's just that Hugo... we don't know where he is."

"What do you mean?" asked Scorpius. Hugo was to play an essential part in Scorpius's plan, and he didn't think that it would be possible to go on without him.

"I mean that we can't find him," Nigel said, still blubbering. "He's been pretty upset with me lately, I suppose."

Of course, Scorpius thought. Though he hadn't had the time to let it cross his mind before, he realized now that Hugo must be fuming over his cut from the Quidditch try-outs. That would explain why he'd been so sulky this past week, not to mention how smarmy he'd acted toward Nigel. They'd been the best of friends since their first year at Hogwarts, but Scorpius knew how sensitive Hugo could be. That kid liked to get what he wanted, and what he'd wanted for the past four years was to play Beater on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Scorpius didn't know how it had happened, but somehow Nigel had won the spot instead, which couldn't possibly be good for their friendship.

To try to distract Nigel from his wallowing, Scorpius said to him, "Hey, don't think about him. For now, let's just make sure everything's in place for Rose. The best thing you can do for Hugo is give him some space, anyway. He'll show up; he always does." Though Scorpius was saying the words to Nigel, they were meant more to convince himself.

"Yeah, he'll show up for his sister, but that doesn't mean he'll ever show up for me," Nigel mumbled, and like Scorpius, it was more for himself than for a listener.

Even so, Scorpius heard the pain in Nigel's voice, and he couldn't help but be reminded of the same pain he felt when he thought about Al. Just considering, even for a moment, that he'd never get his best mate back, was unbearable. Sensing that Nigel was going through something similar with Hugo, Scorpius consoled him in the only way he knew how.

"That's not true," Scorpius lied. "He'll show up. And when he does, you'll just have to be brave enough to defend yourself, to apologize to him the way you just did to all of us."

Nigel was staring directly at Scorpius as he said this, and after looking around at the other nodding heads in the room, he said to Scorpius, "Come on. I'm not going to let myself ruin anything else for you."

And at that, Scorpius followed Nigel out of the room and into the hallway. As they walked, slowly but steadily (which seemed to match Nigel's normal pace) passing the rest of the wounded players, Scorpius reminded himself not to think of Quidditch anymore. His teammates would all be okay eventually, and most had suffered worse before. Plus, soon Scorpius would have Rose, and just like Ilana had said, she was all he needed.

It didn't take long to find her. Rose was waiting for Scorpius in the hallway right outside the hospital wing and was in the middle of a long pace when she saw Scorpius limp through the doorway.

"Are you okay?" She asked frantically as she approached him. Seeing her fearful expression made Scorpius think his injuries might look worse than he thought they did, but he didn't dwell on it.

Realizing how close she was to Scorpius, Rose added, "I'm sorry; I know you said you weren't ready yet, but I had to make sure you were all right. So, are you?" She knew that he was, but he knew that she needed to hear him say it in order to believe it herself.

"I'm all right," he confirmed, giving her permission to breathe again. Then, with a nudge from Nigel, he asked Rose, who had changed from her Quidditch gear into jeans and one of her many hand-knitted, red sweaters with an enormous 'R' in the middle of it, "Um, do you think you could come with me? I wanted to show you something."

Confused, Rose looked from Scorpius to Nigel and back again, but she didn't seem to know what was going on. Scorpius hadn't actually intended to bring her to the Great Hall himself (he had planned to intercept her on her way down for supper), but at this point he had no time to waste.

"Okay," Rose agreed hesitantly. Smiling, Scorpius led the way, walking beside Rose with Nigel trailing close behind them.

Though he didn't expect to be, Scorpius suddenly felt nervous. He was fairly certain that most of the night would go according to plan, but what about afterward? What if everything that Scorpius was going to tell Rose, everything that she'd been waiting to hear from him, scared her off? What if his explanation for leaving her this summer wasn't enough of an excuse? What if she didn't take him back?

Scorpius was at the verge of complete panic as they approached the double doors that led into the Great Hall. Though these doors were normally open, Scorpius had cast a spell to keep them closed, so Nigel ran up ahead of Scorpius and Rose to open the doors and let them inside. And once Scorpius was inside the hall with Rose and the door was shut behind them, all of his anxiety vanished.

The room was empty but for the two of them. The tables had been pushed to the side, and the wooden floor was completely covered in rose petals and paper snowflakes, not showing even an inch of the floorboards underneath. Above them, Gryffindor and Slytherin banners were hanging from an invisible ceiling.

Rose was gaping at the sight of it all, so Scorpius took the time to walk through the petals and to the front of the room. After Rose had gathered her thoughts and turned to Scorpius's new position, Scorpius was quick to be the first one to speak. He knew that she'd have a thousand questions, but it was about time that he gave her a few answers.

"This is the place where we first met," he said loudly, as Rose was still standing by the doorway. "I recognized you from King's Cross, because my dad had warned me about that fiery head of hair you have." He had had this speech prepared for the longest time; it felt good to finally say it.

He had caught Rose's attention by now, and she was walking closer to him as he continued, "You came up from behind and stood right next to me while we waited for our names to be called out to be sorted. I remember you looking me straight in the eye and saying that your name was Rose Weasley and that your dad had warned you that I was dangerous. I was about to spit back at you, like my dad had told me to, but then you said that you'd be willing to give me the benefit of the doubt."

Rose chuckled at this part. She had been so confident back then, but that wasn't the reason why she'd gained so many friends. She had also always been open to everyone, regardless of where they came from. Scorpius hadn't realized then how rare of a trait that was.

"You were the first person who truly reached out to me," Scorpius said. "And almost instantly, I completely forgot all of my dad's warnings. In fact, during your sorting, after I'd already been put in Slytherin, I secretly hoped that you'd join me there. When you didn't, I promised myself that I wouldn't let our different houses come between us. I wanted to make you notice me again, because I already knew that I'd never stop noticing you."

By now, Rose seemed to understand that she wasn't supposed to speak. She didn't even try to respond once Scorpius was finished, but instead bit her lip and followed him back to the doorway. With a swish of his wand, Scorpius opened the doors and suddenly all the rose petals and snowflakes from the Great Hall flew up and over Rose and Scorpius's heads and into the empty entryway, where they fell peacefully to the floor, marking a path for the two to follow.

The path led to the Transfiguration classroom, in which Rose and Scorpius entered to find desks piled with bucket loads of unlit matches. Taking a stance in the middle of the room, Scorpius faced Rose and said, "Our first class together was Transfiguration, and I came in determined to perform impressively. When we were told that we had to transform a match into a needle, you nearly had it with a single try. Knowing that I had to beat you in order to gain your attention, I decided to give it a go. I put so much focus into that spell, more focus than I thought was humanly possible, and somehow, it worked. You looked at me with the most envious expression I've ever seen you wear, but I was just happy that you'd looked at me at all. Plus, you had no reason to be jealous. After all, you were the reason I'd ever even tried. Since that day, Transfiguration has been my best and favorite class, and that's because of you.

"You inspired me to work hard at something, something I loved. I've even managed to work so incredibly hard on it this past year that I think I might be able to grab your attention again." At that, Scorpius backed up from Rose and quickly transformed into his white falcon self. He took one complete turn of the room, then pulled all the energy from his stomach, just like he'd been practicing with McGonagall, and lit the piles of matches on fire. Once the tall, bright flames had encircled Rose from her spot on the ground, Scorpius returned his focus to the matches and transfigured them into sharp, burning needles. He'd come pretty far over the past few weeks in his work to perform magic while in Animagus form, and it was something he'd been dying to show Rose ever since he'd started.

When Scorpius was back on his own two (human) feet, Rose decided that she couldn't keep silent any longer. "That was incredible!" she said to him. Shaking her head, she added, "I'd never be able to do something like that."

"Sure you would," Scorpius said without the slightest hesitation, for he was being completely honest. "You can do anything. We both can." She had taught him that, too.

Their next stop was the Charms classroom, which wasn't too far down the hall. Here, though, Scorpius didn't lead Rose inside right away. Instead, they stood just outside the closed door as Scorpius joked, "We had Charms second period. Now here, you whooped my ass."

Right on cue, the doors burst open as soon as Scorpius finished his sentence. Small, yellow canaries were now flying around the room, and before they came out, Scorpius performed a silent spell to make all the rose petals in the path float up to the entryway, where they formed a thin wall of red. Moments later, the canaries flew straight through the rose petal wall to come out the other side as bright red cardinals. Before long, the birds had perched themselves on Rose's shoulders or the molding around the door and were singing the same song Rose's patronus had sung over a year ago now.

When the birds stopped singing, Rose reached up a hand to pet one of them, but it disappeared as soon as she touched it. The others vanished as well, but Rose was still smiling at the sounds they had made when she and Scorpius started walking to the next location.

Scorpius stopped abruptly, right in the middle of the path, when they reached a statue of the late Wilfred the Wistful. It took a moment for Rose to notice that he had stopped walking, and she turned around to see the statue, looking even more confused then she had before. It almost seemed like she thought Scorpius might be stopping to rest his injuries, but he could barely feel them anymore. He was running on pure adrenaline now, and this statue was far more important than it seemed.

"This spot probably means nothing to you, but it represents a big turning point for me," Scorpius explained to Rose. "See, toward the end of our first year, I was already really good friends with Al, but you and I just couldn't get through a day without screaming at each other. Once I realized how rattled you got when I beat you at Transfiguration, I just kept getting under your skin. I didn't realize how fed up Al was about it, until he sat me down behind this statue and ordered me to be nicer to you. The ironic thing was, all I was waiting for was permission. From then on, I vowed that I would always be kind to you and that I would protect you in every way that I could. Even then, it made perfect sense to me. I knew that I couldn't win a game of chess if I didn't have a knight to protect my queen, so I decided to make myself a knight for you."

Rose was blushing so much that she barely heard the window beside the statue shatter. When she did, Scorpius followed her gaze to see ghosts of horseback driven knights jump into the hallway, the window mending itself behind them. In total, five knights lined up in front of Rose and Scorpius, where they bowed to their queen, one by one.

Then the knights were off, riding in the direction of the rose petal path, which Rose and Scorpius continued on until they reached the hall of moving staircases. Scorpius had to be careful which stairwell to take, but eventually he found the right one (which was also covered in roses and snowflakes) and climbed to its twenty-ninth step.

"In our second year, you tripped on this step," he proclaimed. Pointing to it, he emphasized, "This one, right here. I was walking behind you, so when you fell, I offered my hand to help you up. It was the first time we touched."

This time, Scorpius had no tricks up his sleeve. He didn't want any magic for this part of his plan. So, without fire, birds, or ghosts, he stepped toward Rose and took her hand in his. She smiled at the feeling, as did he.

Hand in hand, the two ascended multiples staircases in order to reach the seventh floor. Scorpius's nerves had returned to him now, since this was the part that Hugo was needed for. Nigel had surely gone looking for him, but Scorpius wasn't sure that he'd be successful. But Scorpius didn't get to be reassured right away, as he stepped into the hallway that led to the Gryffindor common room to find that there wasn't a soul in sight.

Hoping that Hugo was waiting in his hidden position, Scorpius carried on, saying to Rose as he held her hand tightly, "Well, I think you know why we're here. This is where we first kissed, exactly one year ago. And when it happened, it started to snow."

That was the moment when the paper snowflakes were supposed to float into the air and then assemble a tunnel pathway to the end of the hall. They were supposed to, but they didn't. Nothing happened. Scorpius even waited a little while, but still nothing happened.

He was just about to ignore the misstep and move on when he heard voices coming from the stairwell. Rose heard them too, as she tilted her head in their direction.

"Would you just stop for a second?" screamed a voice that Scorpius recognized as Nigel's.

"You're the one who just had to come remind me what I'm supposed to be doing right now!" a second voice yelled back. This one was Hugo's; Scorpius could tell by the tighter grip Rose put on his hand upon hearing it. "Because we all know I'm not allowed to do what I want. I just get to be the nurse or the secret keeper or the slave to everybody else!"

"You're being ridiculous!" said Nigel, sounding out of breath. As Hugo came nearer and nearer to the floor, it seemed as though Nigel was starting to struggle to keep up with him. "And you have to stop. You're too late for Rose and Scorpius; they'll probably be gone by now, anyway."

"Oh yeah?" Hugo spat back. "See if I care!" And then he reached the top of the final staircase and was standing directly in front of Rose and Scorpius.

Though they stood silent, he managed to catch sight of them and said sarcastically, "So sorry I missed the show. I'll send a condolence gift when I can." Then he approached the Fat Lady on the wall and said the Gryffindor password, "Laures," which proceeded to open the portrait hole that Scorpius assumed led to the common room.

"STOP RUNNING AWAY AND LISTEN TO ME!" came one of the loudest cries Scorpius had ever heard. Nigel's new register caught him off guard, as it seemed to for Hugo as well. As if in unison, Scorpius, Rose, and Hugo all turned back to Nigel, who had finally made it to the top of the stairs, with gaping mouths.

"Please just listen to me," Nigel pleaded less forcefully, half-keeled over and out of breath. He had now attracted quite the audience, since most of the Gryffindor students had overheard the yell from inside the common room and had since come through the portrait hole to gather around the live drama.

James was somewhere in the crowd, but Scorpius ignored him as he tried to get a good look at the extent of his opponent's injuries. The only other people in the crowd who made their presence known were Lily and Roxanne, Hugo and Nigel's best friends, who took their places just behind Hugo. Fred also came closer to the action, stepping toward Nigel as his new right-hand man.

As Hugo crossed his arms and waited for Nigel to speak, Nigel's ears grew even redder than Scorpius had seen them during the match that morning. He was already nervous enough to confront Hugo; the crowd couldn't be helping much. Luckily, he seemed to have some support, as Fred put a hand on his shoulder and whispered something in his ear.

Upon hearing whatever it was that Fred told him, Nigel stood up straighter and faced Hugo. He didn't look at anybody else when he said, "I'm so sorry, Hugo. I never wanted to be on the Quidditch team; you know that. I would never purposefully take something from you, not something you'd owned for a lifetime, nor something you'd always wanted. I would never purposefully hurt you."

Hugo wasn't giving in. Though Roxanne was pouting with pity for Nigel, Lily and Hugo were still indifferent toward him. When Hugo rolled his eyes, Lily raised her eyebrows, and Nigel's eyes filled with tears. Still, something told Scorpius that this time, Nigel wasn't going to let them fall. He looked like he was going to braver than that.

Nigel took a long, deep breath, before he said seriously, "But you've been hurting me, Hugo. You walk around this school like you own the place, and that's fine. But you don't ownme. You think it hurts to feel like a nurse, or a secret keeper, or a slave? Well, that's how I've felt this entire year, thanks to you."

Nobody dared to interrupt as Nigel continued, "I've been there for you whenever you've needed me, researching wandlore for days on end to figure out what happened to your wand even though you hardly ever joined me, and letting you stay at my house this summer even after you spent the previous fall convinced that my brother was a murderer. I've let you drag me around, watching every Quidditch match with you even though you knew how much I hated them, and then trying out for the team only because you didn't want to do it alone. Worst of all, I've had to keep my own secret from all my friends just so that you can keep yours."

If people hadn't been paying attention before, they most definitely were now. Ears shot up at the word 'secret', none higher than Lily's. In fact, the only person who didn't seem overly curious to learn what half of the Gryff Group had been hiding was Rose, who was looking between her brother and his friend with nothing but sadness.

Hugo had his eyes locked on Nigel now, and they seemed to bare a mixture of fear and guilt as Nigel concluded, "You're my best friend, Hugo, but you make me feel like I have nothing... like I am nothing."

Whatever bit of guilt Hugo had been displaying washed away at this, and he furrowed his eyebrows with fury as he pointed at Nigel and yelled back, "NOTHING? You have everything! You are everything!"

Nigel was shaking as Hugo stepped forward and said in a slightly lighter tone, "Don't you get it? Wandlore is your passion, your talent. You have a future, whereas I can't see a bloody foot ahead of me. You have a family that knows who you are and loves you for it, whereas I have to lie to mine every day to be sure I'm making them proud. You hate Quidditch because you see it as more than just a game, whereas I'm only interested in the plays and the hits. You're a great Beater, whereas I can't seem to swing a bat. Best of all, you're confident enough to tell your secret to the whole world, whereas I can barely tell it to myself."

Nigel was silent for a while and Hugo was now rubbing his face with his hands. They both looked exhausted, but Nigel managed to find the energy to step closer to Hugo and say sympathetically, "You can tell people. You can tell everyone. You're the bravest person I know. You can do anything."

At his last line, Scorpius instinctively glanced at Rose, whom he was pleased to see was looking back at him.

"No, I CAN'T!" Hugo's frustrated scream broke Scorpius and Rose's connection, and they turned back to the scene to find Hugo's hands held motionless in the air, grasping at the nothingness around him.

"I'm not as brave as you think I am, okay?" Hugo continued, letting his hands down slowly, where they sat at his side. "I'm only smart if I'm taking my mother's advice. I'm only funny if I'm telling my father's jokes. I'm only cool if I'm walking by Lily's side. And I'm only brave if you're holding my hand."

Scorpius was taken aback by Hugo's final comment. It seemed as though others were as well, since nearly everybody started whispering to each other then, questioning what Hugo had meant about holding Nigel's hand. At least, that was until Rose hushed them all sharply, trying to gain whatever respect she could for Hugo and Nigel's privacy.

But they themselves didn't seem to care. Hugo had long since forgotten that Lily and Roxanne were watching, and Nigel no longer needed Fred's support. They only saw each other as Nigel said, "That's not true. I happen to know that your marks have been the top of the class this term, and these days, you spend every waking minute in the History of Magic section of the library. I know plenty of people who laugh at your jokes, and I know for a fact that some of the ones your father tells came from you first. I know that every other fourth year looks up to you over Lily, because they put in hours of work into your birthday celebration every single year, and not because they're asked to. And you are the bravest person I know, because it's you who has made me brave enough to do this..."

And as Hugo stood completely still, Nigel traveled the foot or two that was needed to stand so close enough to touch Hugo's face. Then, slowly but steadily, as was always the case with Nigel, he stood tall, leaned in, and kissed Hugo. Though Hugo seemed shocked at first, he soon reciprocated the gesture, and the two were locked in a tight embrace. He had his arms wrapped around Nigel, his right hand grasping Nigel's sweater while gripping onto his own wand. Without saying the incantation for the spell, Scorpius's paper snowflakes had levitated from their spot on the ground and were floating around Hugo and Nigel, just as they were supposed to.

It took a while for the couple to break apart, but eventually they did so. Scorpius, like most of the people in the crowd, was still trying to wrap his head around this secret they'd apparently been keeping for a year. Still, it didn't take long for Scorpius to accept that the boys were gay; he was just happy that they had each other, and that their row had ended well after all.

Most of the others seemed to share the same thought, as Hugo and Nigel were bombarded with hugs and pats on the back soon after they'd stopped snogging. Fred and Roxanne were especially thrilled, as they refused to leave the two boys' sides. James was also happy for his little cousin, and Scorpius had to let go of Rose for a moment so that she could give both Hugo and Nigel a hug (though it was clear to Scorpius that she'd known Hugo's secret all along). Just about everybody seemed supportive, much to Hugo's surprise. Unfortunately, though, he had had some reason to be apprehensive.

Lily ran off and back into the common room before Hugo had the chance to notice, but Scorpius could tell that Hugo was looking for her amongst the line-up of people approaching him. Knowing Lily, she wouldn't be happy to be kept unaware of an important secret for such a long time, but Scorpius had a feeling there was even more to it than that. After all, if there was anything he had learned about Lily over the summer, it was that she was the type of person who couldn't bear the thought of being alone. With Hugo and Nigel's relationship now out in the open, he knew she'd be worried about being left behind.

But now wasn't the time for Scorpius to be thinking about Lily. He had promised himself to focus on Rose, though admittedly, they had both been distracted by the scene that had just played out before them. As soon as Rose returned to his side, though, Scorpius whispered, "Come on. We're not done yet," then took her hand once more and led her along the rest of the path.

"Well, none of this is going to seem nearly as romantic now that we've witnessed the beginning of a budding love, but I don't want to let all this work go to waste," Scorpius teased as he came to the end of the hallway, where a rather large covered pot was sitting in front of a giant, stained glass window.

"Oh, you mean, you didn't plan that last part?" Rose joked back.

Laughing, Scorpius pulled Rose's head toward his own and kissed the top of her forehead playfully. He hadn't thought about the gesture before he'd gone for it, and luckily, he didn't feel the need to regret it afterward. Rose looked much too happy for him to feel bad. She was practically radiant, in fact, beaming with love for both her brother as well as Scorpius (or so he hoped).

Smiling at the thought, Scorpius used his free hand to pull the sheet off the covered pot, revealing a goblet filled with love potion beneath it. Rose's nostrils flared as the smell overcame her, and Scorpius was once again overwhelmed by three distinct scents.

"When you told me you loved me," Scorpius started, "It wasn't at Hogwarts. It was in your bedroom in Ottery St. Catchpole, and you had to tell me nearly ten times before I said it back. Since then, I've lied to you by saying that I wasn't ready to love you after all. But I can assure you now that I am ready. I'm ready because for me, this potion smells like seawater that's been carried from the ocean by a traveling wind, the warm smoke from a wood-burning fire, and the perfect sweetness of wild raspberries. It smells like you, Rose – your eyes, your hair, your lips. It's everything I love. You're everything I love."

Rose was beaming even brighter now, and she'd taken Scorpius's other hand in hers so that there was no way they could move away from each other. She was also happy to have her own response this time, as she said to him, "When I said I loved you nearly ten times, I would have kept saying it until you said it back. I had never been so sure about anything in my life, and it's still the thing I'm most certain of. For me, this potion smells like rain, and only rain. I've never told you this before, but the reason I love the rain is because it smells just like you."

Now it was Scorpius's turn to blush, and he had to remind himself that he couldn't kiss her just yet. There was more to say first. So he led Rose to the window, which he used his wand to open before giving a signal to a sly Sir Nicholas and then stepping onto the sill. "Will you trust me, Rose?" he asked, motioning for her to join him.

She did so without question, though she looked both petrified and exhilarated as she stared down seven flights of darkness. When she squeezed Scorpius's hand, he knew that she was ready, and so together, they leaped off the sill and into the unknown night.

The hippogriff flew by just in time for Rose and Scorpius to land on her back. They had fallen three or four stories before mounting the beast, and both had been screaming with excitement. Now, they were flying above the Hogwarts grounds, Rose holding onto the feathers in the hippogriff's neck and Scorpius behind her with his hands clasped around her waist. They weren't going that fast, but there was something to be said about seeing the castle at night.

It was majestic, with all its tower windows lit up by candlelight and spells that students were shooting out the tips of their wands. And as the hippogriff led Rose and Scorpius away from the castle, the magic only grew. They were approaching the Black Lake now, and as they proceeded to fly around its perimeter, Scorpius himself was surprised to see an assortment of jack-o-lanterns lighting up the island that sat in the center of the lake. There must have been at least fifty of them, all carved with various sizes of raindrops that perfectly mirrored the flames within them. It looked as though Scorpius really wouldn't ever know what to expect from Holly Longbottom.

After circling the water, the hippogriff slowly descended to a patch of land by the edge of the lake, just next to the boathouse. Once on the ground, Rose and Scorpius hopped off the animal and Scorpius let her go free. Then he walked Rose along the dark ground toward the water. Here, there was another pile of rose petals on the nearly frozen grass, and Scorpius picked one of them up and turned it into a flattened stone. He then threw the stone out onto the lake, where it skipped on the surface of the water to reveal a magical sidewalk atop the lake.

Stunned to see the stone skip all the way across the lake and to the central island, each skip extending the pathway until it made a bridge between the bank and the island, Rose finally asked Scorpius, "How did you do all this?"

Shrugging, Scorpius said, "Well, I've been practicing with the stones. The rest, I had a bit of help with."

Accepting his answer, Rose followed Scorpius onto the water bridge, which they walked upon to reach the jack-o-lantern island, a tiny piece of land surrounded by deadly waters and the Forbidden Forest. Scorpius went straight to the center of it, which had been laid with blankets, pillows, and baskets of food for the night. This was the final destination in Scorpius's planned journey, and he only hoped that Rose would agree to stay there with him.

"Look," he said to her, taking both her hands just as she had done with him before, "I don't know where tomorrow will bring us, and I know that we're surrounded by danger. But together, we have our own oasis. I'm ready to tell you everything, Rose, everything about this summer and about Astoria. I'm willing to spend the night telling you all that I know, but the first thing I want to say is, I love you. I never stopped loving you, and I never will. You know I won't."

Rose's face, illuminated by candlelight, was shimmering with tears as she asked, "You did all this for me?"

"For us," Scorpius nodded. "I didn't want you to have any doubt of my love for you. Not anymore. I want you, Rose. Only you."

"And you're going to tell me everything? Every last detail, even if it takes all night?" Rose asked. She wasn't willing to let him back in until she was sure that he'd be honest with her.

"What do you think the blankets are for?" Scorpius teased her. Rose laughed, and together they lay down on the ground and buried themselves under the covers. They were both on their backs and were staring up at the night sky, Rose's head leaning on Scorpius's shoulder and her hand lying atop his wounded chest, when the fireworks started.

"You can't be serious?" Rose laughed.

"Yeah, we sort of stole Peeves's secret stash," explained Scorpius.

Rose turned onto her stomach then so that she could face Scorpius as she said, "Thank you... for all that you did tonight, but mostly just for you. I love you, Scorpius."

"I love you, Rose," Scorpius returned before Rose kissed him. He couldn't describe how amazing it felt to have her in his arms again, to taste her lips on his, to hear her perfect voice say that she loved him. Today hadn't gone exactly as planned and neither had the past year, but there was something to be said about the unexpected. Sometimes all it took was a knock in the chest to take a person's breath away, but nothing could be better than the feeling that came with getting it back.

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