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When it finally happens, Albus isn’t expecting it. All those years jumping at the sight of blond hair, cringing at the sound of any voice with that ridiculous sing-song lilt to it, and it isn’t until he has come to terms with the fact that it won’t happen—that it does.

He sees the shock of blond hair amongst the crowd in front of him as soon as he enters the restaurant. He’s late, and dismisses the man as quickly as he sees him, more focused on the fact that a line to the door means that his tardiness will not go unnoticed. He’s cursing himself for always taking so long to get used to tourist season. Twenty minutes late in November means nothing, but do the same in June and you can forget being included in your coworkers’ donut runs for a while. He’s trying to be quick about his jaunt to the other side of the shop but with bodies packed this tightly, it’s less of a walk and more of a squeeze through a maze with disgruntled tourists shooting him dirty looks every few steps. Albus just rolls his eyes—if they are too non-confrontational to challenge a queue-jumper than they don’t deserve an explanation. 

He doesn’t see the blond man again until he’s right behind him, only a meter or so from the counter. He pauses briefly, his breath speeding up at the sight of him. He realises instantly that it’s not the hair that has his heart beating rapidly. There’s something about the roll of the man’s shoulders, the fidget of his hands, and some part of Albus just knows it is him but he convinces himself otherwise—he has to.

Then he hears him speak, hears him laugh, and Albus freezes where he stands. 

"Al!" His boss shouts, staring at him like he’s lost his mind—and maybe he has because he has no idea how to proceed. "What are you waiting for?"

He should run, his mind supplies. This job pays pretty well for restaurant work but fuck it all, he should just run because there’s no way that this can end well.

"Albus, are you deaf?" His boss spits, eyes spewing venom. 

Albus should feel slightly guilty or at least nervous because of his boss’s behavior, however in this moment he only can internally curse his father for not having given him a more common name. Joe, Ron maybe, even James, like his brother, there are plenty of those. Yet another way that James got the best from his parents. 

There’s a single beat and then he turns, unhurried like he isn’t expecting it to actually be his Albus. His Albus . What a joke, it’s been years since he’s been Scorpius’s Albus. Their eyes meet, grey boring into green, and he’s still so beautiful. 

"Albus?"

That sound. His own name on Scorpius’s lips, after all this time, and all his breath leaves him. 

*

"Albus? Albus, I know you’re in here," Scorpius shouts into the empty classroom. Gods, Albus should’ve known Scorpius would check here first. He should have hidden somewhere completely out of character—like the Quidditch pitch, no one would’ve ever looked for him there. "Come on," Scorpius continues, and the concern makes something stir in Albus’s chest. "Take it off…please?"

Albus sighs, pulling the cloak from his head but still refusing to meet his best mate’s eyes.

"Why are you crying?" He asks, dropping next to Albus, his practiced, comforting presence making him appear far more mature than his fifteen years.

"Because I’ve ruined everything, as usual," Albus whispers, bringing his sweaty palms up to his eyes, a futile attempt to hamper the tears.

Scorpius scoffs at him, an incredulous sound that only he can get away with. "You ruined nothing." He shifts slightly closer, not quite touching, knowing Albus won’t respond kindly to it quite yet. He knows Albus in a way that no one else does, in a way that makes it impossible not to feel these feelings for him. "It was entirely unkind and possibly illegal for them to put Veritaserum in your drink. You’ll be happy to know that James has given them three weeks detention—I told you his being Head Boy would come in handy." Scorpius smiles, jostling him with his shoulder, trying so bloody hard to get a proper smile out of him. Albus kind of wants to humour him but he can’t shake the feeling that nothing will ever be the same after tonight. "Come on." Scorpius is whinging now. "Lily threw a bat boogey hex at them for good measure. It was a shame that James was looking the other way, there was no way to be certain where it came from and he can’t give detentions without being certain, you know." 

Albus can’t help the slight smirk that crosses his face at that information, even though his entire world has been turned upside down in a matter of minutes. Things have been better with his siblings as of late, and the fact that they were so quick to come to his defense is concrete proof. 

Scorpius smiles fondly at him, sensing the shift in mood. "How long have you felt this way?" He asks, quietly.

Albus only shrugs, worrying his lip between his teeth and playing with the hem of the invisibility cloak.

"Well, it might interest you to know that I quite fancy you too." Albus’s head snaps up so quickly that he narrowly avoids whiplash. "Unless you’re this set on brooding over ‘ruining everything’ for a bit? I can tell you later, if you’d rather?" 

"You’re lying." Albus squeaks out, his mouth suddenly very dry. Hours and hours spent hating himself for these feeling couldn’t have been for nothing. "You like Rose. You’re obsessed with her. You shouldn’t say something like that just to try and make me feel better."

Scorpius rolls his eyes, the gesture at odds with the look on his face because he suddenly seems very nervous. Before Albus can question him further, Scorpius leans in and kisses him—soft, unpracticed, and absolutely perfect.

*

"Albus?" His boss says, finally gaining his attention through a too tight smile, the sweetness in his voice so fake it seems as though he’s in pain. "So glad you’re having a reunion amongst this ," he says, motioning to the chaos of the shop before sighing and scrubbing his hands down his face. "At least seat them in the back, will ya? They’re here for a tasting. You can take point."

A tasting. Of course, Albus thinks, taking in the beautiful woman to Scorpius’s left for the first time. She’s blonde, not the white-blond of her companion, but a yellow that reminds Albus of the sun. This restaurant does a lot of catering for big events, especially for the more posh types– graduations, reunions, weddings . "Right," he says, shaking himself from his stupor. "This way."

He leads the pair through the employees only section, to the small room that is used for private tastings. 

"Albus?" The woman asks suddenly once they’re alone, her French accent prominent but her English still very strong. "As in Albus Potter, I assume?" Albus only nods, not quite sure if the question was for him or Scorpius. "What are you doing working here?"

The way she says it, ‘working here ,’ the judgment clear in her voice, it leaves little room for anything but annoyance in his chest—he likes it that way. He watches from his peripheral as Scorpius’s eyes squeeze tight.

"Yeah, well…Potter or not, I was never going to amount to much." His tone, although light, brokers no room for more commentary on the matter. "So what did you want to start with? Wedding, I assume?" He waits for her to nod, ignoring the painful stab to his heart when it’s confirmed. "Well then, I highly recommend the chicken, although our steak is also very popular."

"Right. We’ll try both of those then. And can we add the vegetable pasta? Oh, and I can’t forget the fish, it comes highly recommended. Anything you want to try, love?" Scorpius only shakes his head, as if his voice has been stolen.

"And drinks?"

"Oh, of course. I’ll take a water and Scorpius, do you want your usual?" When he nods, she continues with a smile, "And an iced tea with—"

"Extra sugar," he finishes for her, trying to ignore memories of sugar flavored kisses on long summer days. "Right. I’ll be back with that in a few."

"And Albus," she says, pausing him with a light touch to his forearm. "I didn’t mean—I just meant in a Muggle restaurant, that’s all." She’s kind. She’s beautiful and kind and Albus tries desperately to remember that this is exactly what he’d wanted. "I’m Rachelle, by the way."

Albus swallows hard, wishing he were anywhere else. "It’s nice to meet you," he says, hoping the quiver in his voice was subtle. "And it’s fine, of course."

As he runs into the nook that houses the drink station, everything around him is a blur. He puts his palms flat on the table top, trying to steady his breathing by focusing on the way his skin sticks to the surface every time he moves. It’s not working, and he is rapidly losing his battle with the tears because Scorpius is here. His Scorpius, and he’s still so beautiful it hurts.

And he’s getting married. 

Albus drops his forehead to the table, to rest between his hands—a move that would make him gag on any other day, they don’t clean this station nearly enough. A quiet sob wracks through his body as he fishes in his pocket for his mobile phone. He can’t do this.

When the phone connects, he rights himself, trying to calm his voice enough to impersonate a functional person.

"No, Albus," Cici’s voice calls out from the speaker the moment she picks up. Albus has always suspected that she doesn’t actually like him, but they spend enough time together that she’s the closest thing he has to a friend.

"Please Cici," he begs, the emotion seeping back into his voice. "Something has happened. Someone is here and I can’t be with him—I can’t be around him. It’s for a wedding tasting. Please. Please . I’ll take any shift for you."

There’s a long silence on the line and that’s when Albus notices that he’s crying again. Big, ridiculous tears pouring down his cheeks—he’s pathetic.

Cici must sense his deserpation through the phone because she doesn’t hesitate again. "Ok. I’m not at my house though, so it’ll be about ten minutes."

"Thank you," Albus whispers.

"And Albus," she says, her voice kind, "it’ll be okay. No one is worth this much hurt."

He swallows hard. "This one was."

After entirely too long, he returns to the tasting room with drinks in hand. "Here you go," he says, placing the glasses in front of them while avoiding their eyes. He doesn’t need to see pity directed his way. "Another server, Cici, is actually going to be taking over for me in a few minutes. She’s the best we have so if you need anything else, she’ll be happy to help you." He turns to leave, proud of himself for his level of professionalism.

"Before you go, Albus," Rachelle starts.

"Chelle, I’m sure he’s really busy," Scorpius snaps.

Albus should feel happy that they’re in agreement with ending this as quickly as possible, but something about those words feels remarkably like rejection.

"It’s fine," he replies, looking only at Rachelle.

"See?" she snarks to her fiancé before turning her full attention back to Albus. "We’re looking for a wedding location. All the beaches we’ve seen so far are so public." She makes a face like she smells something bad and Albus can’t help but smirk thinking about her and Draco driving Scorpius crazy planning this wedding. "They just won’t do." 

"Honestly, I don’t go to the beach much," Albus says.

Rachelle looks at him curiously. "Then why did you move to the beach?" she asks on a chuckle.

Albus just shrugs, backing towards the door. He nods his goodbye, allowing his eyes to meet Scorpius’s for a fraction of a second before mumbling, "I just like the sounds."

*

They’re at Shell Cottage for a week before school starts. His siblings and cousins are running around getting into some sort of mischief that he has no interest in. He and Scorpius are sitting in ‘their spot’, as they’ve taken to calling it—a rock, halfway down the hillside, hidden from sight but still with a full view of the sea. His head is resting on Scorpius’s shoulder, their hands intertwined on his lap, and Albus is sure he’s never felt this happy.

"Godric, I love this." he sighs.

Scorpius snorts from his side. "Since when did you become such a lover of the beach," he asks with a laugh.

"Oi–" Albus jabs Scoprius in the side, making him squirm. "I love the sounds," he declares, "and I love you."

He climbs onto Scorpius’s lap, kissing him soundly. Scorpius smiles into the kiss, happily reclining to progress their activities. Albus places his hand flat on the rock to steady their descent but is startled when a flash of pain meets him instead of the cool surface he is expecting.

"Ow!" Albus shouts, sitting up and clutching his hand. When he uncurls his fist, there’s a tiny pool of blood in the center of his palm. "Bloody hell! What was that?"

"Sea glass," Scorpius exclaims, reaching around to retrieve the offending object. "And it matches your eyes," he says with a smile, holding the glass up next to Albus’s face.

Albus scoffs but still can’t help the smile he wears. "Well I’m glad it pleases you," he says sarcastically. "Do you want to make it into jewelry first or do you think you could heal my hand?"

Scorpius bites his lip, looking quite pleased with himself, as he pulls his wand and conjures a chain, making a beautiful necklace before placing it around his neck. Albus watches him with an expression of shocked amusement.

"Twat," he laughs, tickling Scorpius in the ribs with his good hand.

"Now give me your hand, you big baby." He says, reaching for Albus’s palm before healing it with a well-placed spell. He drops a kiss to Albus’s palm, making him blush furiously. "There. All better."

*

He manages to avoid seeing Scorpius again for another few days which he counts as a small miracle. Knowing that Scorpius is in the same town as him is nearly unbearable—half the time he considers quitting his job so that he can hole up in his flat until he leaves town, the other half has Albus hoping to catch even one more glimpse of him.

Today is his day to bring in croissants to the shop though, so the decision is out of his hands. He throws on a hoodie and puts in his Muggle earbuds, making his way to his favourite bakery—a little family owned shop that has the absolute best chocolate éclairs. He pushes through the door and it’s only when he doesn’t hear the small tinkling of the bell that he remembers his limited hearing. He pulls down his hood and takes out his earbuds so he can place his order. 

"I told you it was him!" he catches from his left, instinctively turning towards the sound and immediately cursing himself for removing the tiny saviours—rude is always preferable to embarrassed.

Scorpius, Rachelle, and who Albus can only assume are her parents are sitting at a table only a few feet away. Fuck , he thinks before smiling tightly and offering a small wave. He’s so awkward and he’s dressed like a teenager—he’s sure he looks like an idiot. 

He thinks he’s saved by Mrs Dupont asking for his order but when she informs him of the ten minute wait, he decides that this isn’t his favourite bakery anymore. He awkwardly stands to the side of the cash register, busying himself on his phone.

"Albus," he hears Rachelle say but pretends he doesn’t. "ALBUS!" she shouts again and when every set of eyes turn to her, Albus realises that he doesn’t have a choice. He glances her way and sees her smiling face and flapping hand beckoning him over. 

He groans internally. Why are people like this? And why is she, of all people, going out of her way to be so welcoming to him? Does she not know who he was to Scorpius? How they hold all of each other’s firsts and for a large period of time thought they’d be each other’s lasts? Or does she think that a childhood romance could never hold a candle to what she and Scorpius feel for each other?

Maybe that’s how Scorpius feels about it now too, the pain of puppy love lost a distant memory after experiencing a more mature love with his beautiful fiancé. The thought leaves a bitter taste in Albus’s mouth as he sits down awkwardly in a fifth chair pulled up to their table for four. 

"I’m sorry," Scorpius whispers, unexpectedly, a small puff of air ghosting over Albus’s ear when he speaks.

"No," Albus says too loud. "No, this is—this is great ."

Scorpius snorts quietly, trying to stifle it behind his palm. Albus feels warmth spread through his chest. Even after four extra years of aging, Scorpius’s laugh is still so unsophisticated—he absolutely loves it. 

Rachelle and her parents are speaking rapidly to each other in beautiful French, because of course they are. The only thing that could make this situation more hellish is a language barrier. 

"Chelle," Scorpius whispers, "English."

Rachelle’s mouth opens up into a perfectly round ‘o.’ "I’m so sorry," she says, "I didn’t realise you didn’t speak it." She turns to her parents, spouting a few more phrases in French. "Mama, this is Albus Potter. He was Scorpius’s absolute best mate at school." 

His best mate , Albus thinks bitterly. Nothing like hearing Scorpius’s fiancee erase the history of everything they were to each other. Scorpius must sense his shift in mood because his hand finds Albus’s knee and squeezes once—like motor memory from a past life. When they were younger, any time Albus’s anger flared –when James was being a twat or someone was giving them a hard time—just that slight pressure of Scorpius’s hand could bring him back from the edge. Only right now Scorpius is wrong—he’s not angry, he’s just really sad. 

 "Are you thirsty?" Scorpius asks.

"I can get us drinks," Albus replies, pushing his chair away from the table, happy for an excuse to leave.

Scorpius catches his wrist and at the contact, Albus’s tongue triples in size. "No. You’re not at work, Albus. I can get them."

Albus sits back down, surveying the three people in front of him—Rachelle had given him her parents names as soon as they said hello but Albus forgot them as soon as he heard them. "So, Albus," Rachelle’s mother breaks in, her accent thick, "do you know if your father will be attending the wedding?"

"I can’t actually say," he replies honestly—and okay, yeah, now he’s starting to feel a bit angry.

Thankfully Scorpius makes quick work of their beverages, returning to the table and dropping a bottle of cherry flavored drink in front of him. Albus sighs inwardly, eyeing the can of Lilt—his favourite drink—that the man at the next table has clutched in his hand. Scorpius seems to have forgotten the little things.

"She said they were out," Scorpius says.

"Hmm?" Albus replies.

"Lilt," Scorpius continues, motioning to the same man. "She says they’ll have more tomorrow."

Albus bobs his head for what feels like a stupid amount of times, his eyes stinging slightly. "No, this is good."

Scorpius’s eyes are trained on Albus as he fidgets, his hands mindlessly playing with the strings on his hoodie. Is Scorpius thinking about the way he used to play with the strings himself? How he’d chew on them while they studied, as if it is ever acceptable to chew on someone else's clothing? 

Or is he thinking about that one time he fucked Albus in it, the way his hands fisted in the loose fabric? Does he ever think about then, or any of the other hundreds of times they'd shared each other's bodies? The first time? 

*

"Is this okay? Are you ready?" Scorpius asks, all breath. He’s on his knees behind Albus, one hand guiding himself forward while the other lightly holds Albus’s hip.

"Scorpius," Albus chastises. "I said it’s good. I’m good. Just do it." His head is resting on his folded arms, his arse high in the air, on display—he’d usually feel embarrassed about that but right now he’s too bloody turned on to care. 

Albus had wanted them to face each other—his legs wrapped around his beautiful boyfriend but Scorpius insisted that all the books said this was the best position for a first time. He’s being so Scorpius about it all—so over-eager yet concerned about the logistics. He’s perfect.

"Okay," Scorpius announces shakily, pushing forward.

Albus bites his lip so hard he tastes blood because Godric, it burns! He’s grasping his forearms tightly, feeling the sting of tears in the corners of his eyes. He can’t cry, Scorpius will stop if he does and he knows it’ll feel better once he’s fully inside.

"Oh Merlin!" Scorpius shouts unexpectedly. "I can’t believe I’m doing this!"

Albus snorts at his inelegance, a hysterical laugh bubbling out of his chest. Laughter that dulls the ache of the final push in and perfectly emulates who Scorpius is to him as a person. His calming presence. His joy. His everything.

Scorpius wraps his body around Albus’s, being careful not to move until he’s ready. He drops a kiss to the back of his neck, leaving his lips attached so that every word is murmured against flesh. "You’re perfect, Albie," he whispers, causing a shiver to run through Albus’s body. "And you can laugh at me all you want—just wait until it’s your turn."

*

"Albus!" Mrs Dupont yells from the counter, startling Albus out of his thoughts. He nearly trips over his feet in his haste to stand and leave the situation. 

"Thanks for this," he announces to the table awkwardly, thankful for an excuse to make his retreat. "Have a good day." 

"Oh and Albus," the voice of Rachelle’s mother stops him, "do ask your father about the wedding, will you?"

He flashes her a thumbs up, grabs his croissants, and flees.

 *

After a fitful night’s sleep, Albus barely makes it into work on time. When he arrives, Cici takes one look at him and assigns him the easiest serving section in exchange for the promise that he will "sort his shit out soon." So it turns out that he and Cici might actually be proper friends.

Later in the morning, following a particularly grueling brunch rush, he slips out the back door into the break room. That’s what they call it anyway; it’s actually two folding lawn chairs in a dirty back alley—it serves its purpose, though. He falls into the green chair that sits closest to the back door, just in case he’s needed, letting his head fall back against the cracked concrete and relishing the feel of the cool surface against his skin. He’s just made the decision to allow himself a power nap when a hand on his shoulder startles him.

Albus squints up at his visitor and then startles all over again once he sees that it’s Scorpius staring down at him. The sun behind him forms a perfect halo around his blond head. Albus gapes openly for much too long, noticing the changes in Scorpius now that he’s allowing himself to look properly. Scorpius still looks like himself but older somehow—more filled out and sure of himself. It’s a good look on him.

"Hi. Hello." Albus stutters, sitting up and pulling at his dirty uniform as if that will make it more presentable.

"Um…sorry. Hi, Albus. Yes," Scorpius babbles. "Hello." He waves. "Chelle is dress shopping and I don’t know…my legs just sort of brought me here."

"Right," Albus says, standing awkwardly. "Chelle."

"I meant to ask you yesterday," Scorpius says, looking at his feet. "How is your family doing?"

"Oh, they're great. I see them every holiday," Albus lies. "Chelle is beautiful, by the way. Where did you two meet?" He curses himself internally; the last thing he wants is to hear their love story. 

 A strange look crosses Scorpius’s face. "That summer internship in France," he says, "I ended up going after all."

"Oh, that soon?" Albus blurts.

"No!" Scorpius shouts. "It wasn’t soon. I think it was a respectable amount of time. That’s just when we met."

Albus just nods. This is excruciating.

"How about you?" Scorpius asks.

"What about me?"

"Is there a guy?" Scorpius squeaks out.

"A guy?" Albus says with a chuckle. "Nope. No guy. I mean, there are guys sometimes, I’m not a monk. But not, you know, a guy ." Albus squeezes his eyes shut and internally prays to Merlin that Cici will need him for some kitchen related disaster, or even a bathroom nightmare—he’d take anything at this point.

"And friends?" Scorpius probes.

Albus sighs. "Don’t do this." When Scorpius looks confused, Albus continues. "Please don’t dissect me," he says quietly. "I know what I am. I don’t need you to be my mirror."

"I wasn’t –" Scorpius starts.

"It’s fine," Albus says and he means it. "I really do need to get back, though." He walks to the door and pauses, turning back to face Scorpius. "I am happy for you, Scor. Really. This is all I’ve ever wanted for you."

"Albus—"

"There’s a spot," he interrupts. "Tourists don’t know about it, but it’s about a mile down North beach. It’s quiet. It’s beautiful. It’ll be perfect for you two."

"Albus," Scorpius demands but Albus dismisses him.

"I have to go," he says, rushing in through the back door. 

Running again. He’s good at that.

*

"I don’t understand why you’re doing this," Scorpius sobs. He looks so small sitting on the floor of the Astronomy Tower, hugging his legs against his body. Albus wants to go to him, to wrap his arms around him and tell him that everything will be okay. He can’t do that though—not this time.

"You need to do that Healing internship," Albus states through fresh tears of his own.

"Okay," Scorpius says, wiping his eyes and standing up—he clearly feels that they’ve finally found a starting point, some common ground that will fix all of this. He’s wrong. "We can talk about how to make it work again if it’s that important to you that I go. It’s only a year though, Albus. We can work it out." 

His voice is so full of conviction—he believes they’ll make it through this, that they can make it through anything together. It breaks Albus’s heart because it’s not true. Scorpius is going to be an amazing Healer—he’s already so talented, hardworking, and kind hearted. And he’s so beautiful. Albus though—he’s surly, unmotivated, untalented—the only good parts of him are because of Scorpius. That’s not a fair responsibility to put on someone else—to expect them to constantly make you a better person. He couldn’t do that, especially not to someone as perfect as Scorpius. Scorpius will realise it eventually, that this was for the best. He’ll thank Albus when he does. 

"No," Albus says, attempting to keep the emotion out of his voice. "I don’t mean talk about how long distance will work or anything like that. I mean you should just go. You need to go without me holding you back."

"No," Scorpius shouts, his voice so full of pain. "I’m not letting you do this, Albus. We’re—we’re nothing without each other."

"No. I’m nothing," Albus says. "You could be so much, Scor. I want you to have everything that you want."

Scorpius walks over to him, his hands coming up to cradle Albus’s face. "All I want is you," he cries.

"It’s what I want," Albus says, pushing away from him. "Is that what you want to hear?"

"I want the truth," Scorpius pleads.

"Okay," Albus says, scrubbing his hands down his face. "The truth is that I need space."

Scorpius is shaking his head repeatedly. "No–" he says, "Albus, you never actually want space. You’re just pushing me away like you do to the rest of your family. Please stop! This isn’t us."

"I don’t even know who I am, Scorpius." He’s openly sobbing now, his words hard to understand through the tear filled shouts. "I need space to be alone and to—to grow."

"We can grow together, Albus." Scorpius whispers, "Please. Please don’t do this. I love you."

"I’m sorry."

Albus doesn’t even kiss him goodbye.

*

Albus needs to get drunk—possibly so drunk that he doesn’t remember Scorpius or any of their painful memories exist. Luckily he knows just the place considering he lives above a bar—a move that really defines how classy he’s become over the years. He thinks he might actually hate himself. He misses his family. He misses Scorpius. He misses who he used to be. Yes, he definitely needs to get drunk tonight.

After many failed attempts to convince Cici to join him, he’s perched in his usual spot at the far side of the bar, working on his seventh whisky and ginger—it’s not as good as firewhisky but the Muggles do alright for themselves. He’d love to say he was drinking alone but unfortunately Oliver, a sleazy regular who Albus has gone home with on more than one occasion, has decided to make Albus his goal for the night. Despite many clearly articulated ‘noes,’ the man’s hands continue to wander—his touches becoming bolder with every glass Albus empties.

Albus wants to throw up. 

"Come on, Al," Oliver says, slipping a hand under the front of Albus’s shirt to paw at the dusting of hair there.

"No," he grumbles, pulling the offending hand away from him, "and it’s Albus. Now piss off."

"Woah! Okay, Albus," he says, slipping his arm around Albus’s shoulders and leaning in far too close to whisper in his ear. "Sorry. You’re just so fucking hot and I’ve been dying to have you again."

Albus clenches the glass in his hand, weighing his options when Oliver speaks.

"I’m sorry, can I help you?" he slurs, looking over Albus’s shoulder.

Albus follows his line of sight and audibly groans when he sees Scorpius standing there. Muggle or not, he is going to hex Cici when he sees her tomorrow.

"He said to leave him alone," Scorpius warns. 

"It’s fine, Scor," Albus mumbles, waving a hand in what he hopes is a placating manner.

"Yeah Scor," Oliver says with a smug smirk, rubbing the back of Albus’s neck in a way that makes him cringe. No one else should touch him like that with Scorpius around, and no one but Albus can call him ‘Scor.’ "Move along, now."

Suddenly, the beer bottle that Oliver is holding explodes, sending shards of glass everywhere. Oliver stares at his hands as if he’s never seen them before. The bartender, Joe, rushes over and surveys the scene before turning suspicious eyes on Oliver.

"What the fuck, Oliver?" Albus shouts in bewilderment. Oliver looks stunned, eyes glassy and wide. Albus finds his confusion gratifying. loving the ‘deer in headlights’ look on the man’s face.

"I didn’t do it!" Oliver insists, pointing at Scorpius. "He did something."

Albus rolls his eyes in Joe’s direction. "He didn’t touch the bottle, I was sitting here the whole time."

"I figured," Joe says with a chuckle. "Come on, Ollie. You’re cut off."

The bouncer has joined their party now and happily escorts Oliver out of the building, much to Albus’s delight. That was fun. He puts his hands on the table to steady himself as he stands up, turning to face Scorpius. 

"You didn’t need to do that, but I have to admit it was hilarious," he says with a tired smile.

Scorpius is eyeing him strangely, his expression almost sad. Albus feels suddenly self-conscious. "So what brings you do this shit hole?" Albus jokes, gesturing to their surroundings and secretly hoping that Scorpius doesn’t know this is the basement of his home.

"Your hand!" Scorpius exclaims, and it’s only when Albus looks down and sees the blood that he feels the pain. He thought he was holding his liquor well but apparently he is drunk enough not to notice when broken glass enters his body. "Can we go up to your flat so I can clean it out?" Scorpius asks—well so much for walking away from this with even a shred of dignity. 

When they enter the flat, Albus is keenly aware of every imperfection in his living space. Despite his dripping hand, he does his best to kick shoes and discarded clothes to the side as they make their way to the kitchen. Single-focused, Scorpius drags him to the sink—the sink that’s, embarrassingly, filled to the brim with dirty dishes. He rinses Albus’s hand before pulling a small bag out of his pocket. The way he’s rifling through it, his arm invisible to the shoulder, it’s clear that the bag has an Extension Charm on it. 

"Blast," he says, "I can’t find the antiseptic, can you summon it for me?" 

"Oh," Albus replies stupidly, "sure, I think my wand is in the bedroom."

Scorpius has stopped searching in his bag, his eyes trained on Albus, the look of horror plain on his face. "You don’t carry your wand?" he asks seriously.

"I do," Albus defends. "Sometimes. I just forgot it."

"Albus, that’s really dangerous," he chastises. "How would you have dealt with that guy if I hadn’t come along?"

Albus shrugs, his eyes finding the floor. He knows what he would have done—gone home with Oliver to save everyone the trouble. He’s embarrassed, sure that Scorpius can see it written on his face.

Scorpius, to his credit, doesn’t say another word about it. He summons the antiseptic, catching the bottle with ease, and sets to work cleaning the wound and stitching it up. Watching Scorpius work is comfortable—it reminds Albus of how he looked when they studied together back at school—completely dedicated to the task at hand, his bottom lip pulled uncomfortably between his teeth. He has always been the type to lose himself in whatever he was doing. Albus misses that, too. 

"You're good at this," he says quietly. 

Scorpius gives a shy smile, whispering his thanks. Albus watches the way his too-light eyelashes flutter against his cheek, the sharp line of his cheekbone, itching to reach his hand out and touch. He clears his throat, fidgeting uncomfortably. 

"I'm sorry, did that hurt?" Scorpius asks. 

Albus shakes his head, searching for any subject that will stop him from staring like a lovesick fool. "So why did you come out tonight?" he asks. 

Scorpius looks at him like he's grown two heads. "You, obviously," he says before returning to his bag, "and Cici asked me to tell you not to be mad."

Albus grumbles and Scorpius shoots him a fond, amused smile before handing Albus a vial. "Bottoms up," he says. "I'd like to talk with you sober."

Albus rolls his eyes before downing the sickly-sweet liquid with a wretch. 

Scorpius lets out a laugh. "Albus, how you can drink Muggle whiskey and not a sober-up potion–" he leaves the thought unfinished, shaking his head in amusement

Even sober, Albus just wants to kiss him. He needs to get his head in order. "How about you go sit down in the living room and I'll get us some tea?"

Always willing to take his cues from Albus, Scorpius does as he’s asked. Albus stands alone, taking a few deep breaths before heating the water and cleaning two mismatched mugs. When he comes out, tray in hand, Scorpius is standing by the mantel and holding a picture frame. Albus doesn’t have to look to know what he sees; he has every detail of the photo memorised. It’s of them, a candid that Lily had snapped on their last Boxing Day together. They're laughing and smiling at each other, completely in love. 

"Sorry." Albus places the tray on the table. "That’s weird." He takes the frame from Scorpius's hand, putting it face down on the mantel and ignoring the inexplicable look in Scorpius’s eyes.

Albus sits down, grabbing his own cup of tea to quell his nervousness about the fact that Scorpius has not moved. "Did you check out that place I told you about?" he asks. 

"Cut the bullshit," Scorpius snaps and Albus is thrown completely out of sorts. He can't ever remember a time he's heard him swear like that—especially not at another person. 

"I, I–" Albus stammers. 

"Albus, I don’t want to talk about pleasantries and my wedding. I want you to tell me why you’re hiding out in some tourist town and lying about visiting your family."

"I didn’t–"

"Yes you did," Scorpius says, and he's furious. "You don’t make it home for every holiday. Do you know how I know that? Because my dad and I went over for Boxing Day this year. And last year? We were there for Easter dinner."

"I do talk to them," Albus defends.

Scorpius scoffs. "Please, a few letters a month is hardly a good relationship."

"I don’t know what you want me to say." Albus says, feeling tears well up, threatening to spill over. 

"The truth, Albus."

"Fuck," Albus says, the first tears falling down his cheeks. "Do you want me to say how I’ve regretted my decision every fucking day for the last four years? How I miss you so much that it hurts, and seeing my family causes me physical pain because I know that they can see how pathetic I am? Fuck. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry, Scorpius. But this is exactly why you deserve to be with someone else. I’m a mess."

"Fuck you," Scorpius yells, grabbing Albus by the scruff of his neck and pulling him in for a bruising kiss. It’s not like it used to be. There’s anger and sadness where there used to be love and warmth, but it still feels like coming home. Gods, the taste of him, the feel of his body against Albus’s own—how is Albus supposed to live the rest of his life without this?

With more self-control than he’s ever exhibited, Albus pulls a hair’s breadth away. "You don’t want to do this," he whispers against Scorpius’s lips. "You’ll hate yourself."

"Stop trying to tell me what I want," Scorpius growls, fisting his hands in the fabric of Albus’s hoodie, refusing to let go. This close Albus can see the grey of his eyes, each fleck of blue, magnified by his tears. "You have never cared what I wanted. You didn’t care. Because all I ever wanted was you, Albus! But you decided you knew better and you left me. You broke me." 

Hearing this is nearly unbearable. Albus’s heart is breaking. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry."

Scorpius doesn’t acknowledge him. "And you can say it was for my own good, Albus, but the truth is that you were a coward. You were so scared that I would ‘wise up and leave you’ that you decided you’d leave me first. And now you’re too fucking late and I hate you for it." He’s sobbing now and Albus pulls him against his chest, which Scorpius accepts easily. His lets out a few stuttery breaths and then his voice softens. "Because you think that’s what you deserve but it’s not. We deserved to be happy. You deserve to be happy, Albie."

Scorpius leans back, his red, swollen eyes raking over Albus’s face. His hand swipes through Albus’s tangled mop of brown hair, brushing it away from his forehead like he has countless times before. His fingers dance down Albus’s cheek, coming to rest against his jaw. Albus leans into the touch, his heart beating rapidly as if it knows it will break again at any moment and wants to beat extra hard before that happens.

"I’ve missed you every day," Albus confesses.

Scorpius leans forward again, brushing his lips against Albus’s. It’s soft but not at all hesitant, a tactile answer to the question Albus would never dare ask. Albus knows Scorpius will probably regret this—he’s too good a person not to. The two of them together, though, the feel of Scorpius’s hard length against his thigh, it’s too right to stop, so instead he tilts his head to deepen the kiss. The first swipe of Scorpius’s tongue lights Albus on fire and a small moan escapes his mouth without his permission.

Scorpius exhales heavily against his lips, mouthing along Albus’s jaw while delicate hands slip beneath his hoodie. "Please," he whispers, as if Albus is the one in control here. 

Albus isn’t entirely sure what he’s asking for but in that moment, he’d give Scorpius anything. He continues kissing him frantically, both of their bodies responding, as he backs them down the hallway, hoping that his assumption is at least partially correct. When they reach the door, Scorpius reaches around him, turning the knob and pushing them through.

As soon as they enter his bedroom, Albus is half expecting the change of scenery to break the spell—for Scorpius to change his mind. Instead, he rips the shirt over his head, revealing an expanse of beautiful, milky white skin—Albus salivates, walking forward and ghosting his hand across Scorpius’s ribs, loving the way he shivers in response. There’s a small scar that he’s never seen before on his right side, just under his nipple—a visual reminder of memories made without one another. Albus’s heart lurches at the thought even as he traces the scar lightly with a single fingertip. 

"You now," Scorpius says, suddenly breathless, as he hooks his fingers under Albus’s hoodie. Albus complies, lifting his arms above his head as Scorpius gently pulls the garment off. When his chest is bare, Scorpius wastes no time, bending awkwardly in half to swirl his tongue around Albus’s left nipple, as if he can’t wait another moment to put his mouth on him. 

Albus gasps his approval, tilting his head back as Scorpius trails kisses up his neck. Up until this point, Albus has allowed Scorpius to set the pace, but his mind is screaming for ‘more’ and ‘now.’ His hands drop to Scorpius’s trousers, frantically unfastening them, as if they’re running out of time. And maybe they are—maybe this is just temporary, just a goodbye. Albus pushes the thought to the back of his mind as Scorpius matches his pace, hungrily kissing him while pawing at his clothes. 

It’s only a few heartbeats before they’re both naked, hands roaming and pulling moans from both their lips. Scorpius leads him to the bed and pushes him back gently against the pillows. Albus submits without question, tugging on Scorpius’s wrist so he falls on top of him. His smell, the familiar weight against his chest, that is all it takes for tears to spring to his eyes. 

"Oh, Albus," Scorpius sighs, kissing away his tears—a sweet gesture turned dirty by the rhythmic rocking of his hips. 

"Need you," Albus whispers brokenly and the expression Scorpius gives him is almost pained. 

Without hesitation, he reaches for Albus’s nightstand, fishing in the first drawer for the lube. Albus lays flat on his back as Scorpius coats his fingers, eyeing him hungrily. He feels exposed in more ways than one but that fact doesn’t make him feel weak like it would with other partners. In contrast, giving himself to Scorpius makes him feel ten feet tall. 

When Scorpius finally works his fingers into Albus’s body, rational thoughts cease. Albus’s mouth drops open and he groans wantonly as Scorpius kisses the filthy sounds from his lips. His fingers retreat and Albus has only a moment to mourn their loss before Scorpius’s cock is begging entrance. Albus pulls back on his knees and tilts his hips to allow for better access and is rewarded with the familiar flash of heat that comes from Scorpius slipping inside.

He’s had lovers since Scorpius but the difference between how things felt with them and this moment, it doesn’t even feel like the same physical act. Sex with Scorpius has always been another level—the way they read each other’s bodies as if it’s a second language they’re both fluent in. Even if all the other things about them have changed, this still feels perfect.

They’ve worked into a steady rhythm now, Scorpius’s breathing coming in pants against Albus’s cheek. Their hands find each other’s against the pillow, squeezing hard, wanting to be joined in every way possible. "You’re everything," Scorpius whispers, his voice hoarse, as he leans down and connects their lips. 

Those hands. That tongue. The hard pressure against his length. The steady pounding inside of him. Before Albus knows it, he’s falling over the edge with Scorpius’s name on his lips. He convulses, only realizing that Scorpius has joined him when his channel is filled with warmth. 

It’s over too soon.

After, they lay boneless, breathing heavily. Scorpius eventually pulls out and retrieves his wand, casting a quick cleaning spell over both of them. The familiar crackle of magic on Albus’s skin feels almost as intimate as what they’ve just done. Almost. Scorpius sits on the side of the bed, not saying anything, and Albus is suddenly so nervous.

"Will you stay?" he asks, feeling small.

Scorpius looks at him for a moment with tears in his eyes before pulling Albus to him and dropping a kiss to his lips. "Yes," he says.

 *

The next morning Albus wakes up alone. He can feel the ghost of Scorpius inside of him, the smell of him on the pillow, but his side of the bed is cold as ice. He listens to the sounds of the house, chewing his lip anxiously. Silence.

He stands and pulls on a dirty pair of joggers and a white t-shirt. "Scorpius?" he says into the quiet. No answer.

"Scorpius?" he shouts again, even though he knows deep down that the flat is empty. He stands up, making his way into the kitchen on shaky legs. He sees the pad of paper sitting purposefully in the middle of the table, and takes a deep breath before walking over to it and peering down. 

You were right. I hate myself.

Once when Albus was five, James and Fred convinced him that they’d performed a spell that would allow him to fly. They meant no harm, just a childish prank that they’d forgotten about as soon as they’d said it. Albus, on the other hand, believed them so whole-heartedly that he’d climbed to the top of his grandparents’ shed, jumping off before anyone even knew he was up there. Even after all these years, he can still feel the hot flash of burning pain when his sternum broke, the embarrassment of having believed them, the crushing loneliness as he waited for someone to find him.

That pain was nothing compared to this. 

How could he have let this happen? Albus is sure he deserves this pain. He wants to cry for this loss, to curl up in a ball and forget the world exists. Only he doesn’t want to be alone right now—he can’t be. He looks frantically around his house, not sure how to proceed. When his eyes fall on his wand, he does the first thing he can think of, he picks it up, squeezes his eyes shut, and Disapparates.

When he lands in the back garden of his parents’ house, he’s relieved. A part of him thought that they may have changed the wards, after so much time away. He takes in a deep breath, his senses flooding with small reminders of his childhood. He wishes those thoughts from his past were comforting, but right now they’re just a reminder of how far he is from the happy little boy who used to lay in the grass all day. 

"Albus?" His dad is standing on the back porch and he looks so bloody happy to see him. Albus isn’t worthy of that look, but he’s still grateful for it. 

Albus doesn’t say a word. He walks over to his father and wraps his arms around him in a full body embrace. Harry doesn’t question it, returning the hug just as fiercely. The hug, the familiarity, the unconditional love from his dad, and Albus is sobbing again like that scared five-year-old all those years ago.

"Hey, hey," Harry says, rubbing Albus’s back, "whatever it is, it’s okay, Albus. You’re home now."

That just makes Albus cry harder, snot and tears smearing against the front of his father’s shirt. He thinks he should feel embarrassed but right now he’s too broken. He needs this, and just this once, he’s allowing himself to have it. He squeezes his father tighter and chokes out a quiet, "I love you, Dad."

 *

Three months pass.  

Three months of mending relationships and making up for lost time. His family has been immensely kind and sympathetic after his time away. He’s told them bits and pieces of what happened with Scorpius but he’s pretty sure that they still think drug addiction played a role. They never ask directly, though, so he doesn’t correct them. Why would he when they’re being so supportive?

He hasn’t heard from Scorpius since his third day back in England, when a letter of apology arrived in the mail. The letter was vague, just stating that he shouldn’t have left the way he did but that he had had some things to work out. Albus misses him. Missing him has been a constant presence in his life the last four years though, so he supposes not that much has changed. 

Today James is helping him move into a flat of his own, on the outskirts of Muggle London—and this one’s not even above a bar, so he’s making improvements in all facets of life. When they return with their final load of boxes, there’s a plant on his front steps, a small note affixed to the front. Kneeling down, Albus plucks the card from amongst the leaves. 

I wanted to congratulate you on the new place. I know I’m not the only one, but I’m glad you’re home. 

Love, Scorpius

He reads the card, not even trying to school the dopey smile that he’s sure has crept onto his face. 

James calls him out immediately. "You’re both ridiculous, do you know that?" he states. "Albus, he called off his wedding, for Circe’s sake. Neither of you have been even remotely okay since the breakup, everyone can see that. If anyone is meant to be, it’s you two."

"I hurt him," Albus says, swallowing hard and pushing away the negative memories that attempt to creep in. He silently repeats the mantra that his Mind Healer taught him: ‘A positive mind, a positive life.’

"Yeah," James replies with a humourless laugh, "and he hurt you back pretty good, as I recall."

Albus ignores him, shaking his head and placing the card into his front pocket. He picks up the plant and opens the front door.

"I’m just saying," James continues, as he follows him inside, "one of you needs to be brave."

*

Those words stick with him all through his first night alone in his new place. He’s sitting on the sofa, wasting time tracing the big loopy letters adorning the card and thinking.

Could he do it? Is he brave enough to go after what he wants? To admit that Scorpius was right, that he deserves to be loved? To risk being hurt again? 

He sucks in a breath, letting his eyes roam around the room. When they land on the photograph of Scorpius and him, he smiles and tosses the card to the side, jumping to his feet. He's worth it. They're both worth it. 

When he lands in the entrance of St Mungo’s, he squints against the harsh lighting. It has been a while since he's been here and he’d forgotten how bright it could be. 

"Can I help you?" an irritable woman with purple hair asks from the front desk. In retrospect, maybe he should have waited until morning, but Albus has always been a bit impulsive once his decision was made.

"Yeah. I’m looking for Scorpius? I mean, Healer Malfoy. Is he working tonight?" He asks.

She gives him a very unimpressed look. "Do you have an appointment or something?"

"No, I just need him."

The lady, who Albus has now decided he does not like in the least, scoffs at him. "I’m sorry, but you’re going to need to make an appointment."

He sucks in a breath, reigning in his temper. Starting a fight with one of Scorpius's colleagues is not how he wants to begin their conversation. Just when he’s about to give up and try Flooing to the Manor in the morning, he sees white-blond hair and lime green robes walking down the corridor. And Merlin, even in that colour, he’s beautiful. When Scorpius looks up and catches sight of him, he smiles a full toothy smile and Albus feels his heart seize up. Suddenly, the smile drops from Scorpius's face as a look akin to fear replaces it. 

"Wait, are you sick?" Scorpius yells from across the room, his concern apparently causing him to forget all about wizarding privacy laws.

"No, no," Albus reassures him. "Just here to see you."

The smile that spreads across his face is even brighter than the first. "Great!" he squeaks. "I just need to finish up with this last patient and then I can come to you. You can wait in my office. Jeannie, can you show him where it’s at?"

Albus can’t help but flash Jeannie a smug grin as she leads him past her desk and into an office down the hall. He knows it's petty but he lives for moments like this.

"Thank you, Jeannie," he says sweetly as she closes the door behind him. 

Once he’s alone, he’s not sure what to do with himself. He walks the perimeter of the comfortable office at a slow pace and runs his hands along the spines of a few of the many, many books lining the walls, smiling softly to himself. He eventually makes his way to the desk, deciding to perch in Scorpius’s oversized chair. 

As he sits down, he hears the familiar crinkle of a paper and reaches below himself to pull out the offending item—a Pepper Imp wrapper. He laughs out loud at the thought of the very professional Healer Malfoy sneaking sweets in between patients—some things never change. He bends over to toss the wrapper into the bin when a flash of green catches his eye—a necklace of some sort, hanging from a picture frame to his right. He looks more closely and sees it for what it is—the green sea glass from that vacation so many years ago—the one that matches Albus’s eyes. Albus breaks into a huge smile. It may not be as overt as having a photograph of them, but it’s still Albus, still a memento of them . They’ve never truly left each other.

He’s fingering the stone and smiling when Scorpius comes in, startling him into a standing position.

"Hi," Scorpius says excitedly.

"Will you go on a date with me?" Albus blurts out without any of the finesse that he'd planned. 

Scorpius smiles shyly, biting his lip as if he can’t quite believe his luck. "It’s about time," he laughs, walking a few paces closer to Albus. "Do you know how many times I had to stop myself from Flooing to yours?"

"Why didn’t you?" Albus asks incredulously.

"Albus," Scorpius says sternly, "have you met you? I assumed that you’d think I was just rebounding or something equally ridiculous."

Albus snorts out a laugh, knowing that’s probably exactly what he would have thought had Scorpius shown up a few weeks ago. "Fair," he relents.

They’re quiet for a moment as if neither of them knows how to proceed. Albus decides to be brave for both of them. "I’m sorry for everything," he whispers, taking a few steps forward.

"I know," Scorpius replies, fidgeting with his hands. "I’m sorry too. For not fighting for you. For how I left and even how we –" he pauses, swallowing hard. "Chelle didn’t deserve that. But we didn’t deserve that either, to have our starting over be tarnished like that. I should’ve called off my wedding the moment I saw you again, Albus—I already knew I was a goner."

Albus chuckles, bridging the last of the gap between them and reaching out to play with the hem of Scorpius’s robes.

"So when I tell you that you make me the best version of myself, that I am madly in love with you, and that there is no one that I’d rather grow and change with?" he asks shyly, looking up at Scorpius through his eye lashes.

"I’d just say thank you," Scorpius croaks through a watery giggle.

"Thank you?" Albus asks, laughing.

"Or, I mean," Scorpius continues, "I love you too, of course. And I know that we’ve both made mistakes but I’d really like us to make up for them, even if it takes, you know, forever." Scorpius brings his hand up to cup the side of Albus’s face. "I’m kind of hoping it does," he whispers, before leaning down those few inches to connect their lips. 

Albus can’t help but agree. This won’t be their last challenge—there will be highs and lows, and changes—some painful, some unexpected. That doesn’t scare him anymore, though. Albus knows now that their love is strong enough to change right along with them, to grow as they go.