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Chasing Clouds. by RoseLolly
Chapter 1: One.
Disclaimer. I own nothing but my own characters, who have lived in my head longer than they have occupied JK's amazing world. I wish Alice and Frank were mine, but apparently, someone discovered them before me. :] And Madeline's song is of course 'Dancing with myself,' By Billy Idol, even if she was a little before his time. No profit, etc.
Author's Notes. And quickly, to save confusion, I'd better say that a long ago, this story was posted as Self-Induced Lactose Intolerance...by me, Rose (formerly OllyCoop). Lolly's reinspired me, and the story has been worked over (and over)...and I'm feeling much happier with it. Yes. I hope you enjoy! And, with what I daresay is a completely pointless-eating-your-life detail, every word of this story I write is in Georgia font, and I vaguely recommend it for reading too :]
The rain pooled across the asphalt, individual drops dancing restlessly on the wind before finally loosing themselves in the glistening, ever-changing sheet of icy cold wetness that spread itself across the road. An entire week had passed and the ominous weather showed no signs of relenting as the town grew increasingly forlorn and waterlogged, its roads silent and undisturbed. It was to be a very wet Christmas, rather than white, and few souls relished in the news.
Madeline wandered along the empty street, her hands thrust deeply into her pockets as she stared up through the drizzling rain. She was content to let her feet lead her whichever deserted path they fancied; she didn’t know the surroundings well enough to argue with them if she’d wanted. And wherever they ended up taking her, she was sure it wouldn’t be home. She wasn’t too sure that it was home anyway, more of a house she had agreed to unpack her trunk in to silence her Professors' concerns. A house she had managed to lose her bearings on, minutes after she’d left it; a fact that was drifting between her jumbled thoughts with a confused sort of glee.
Just one week and she’d be back at school, away from the not-quite-home and it’s inhabitants. And she would be with Alice again. Oh how she missed her darling Alice Prewett! The girl was some sort of cherub in Madeline’s eye; a kind, loving entity that had a knack of adding bounce to the somewhat repetitive routine that came with a Hogwarts education. A beautiful loon.
The mere thought of Alice lifted Madeline’s spirits, and she gladly pushed the rather gloomy existence of holidays at her father’s into a dusty corner of her mind. She grinned up at the sky as the rain fell in a new and heavier onslaught, pulling her hands free to catch a few stray drops. There was something about the rain she had always loved; it always seemed so free and unaffected, relying on nothing more than pure chance.
Suddenly, Madeline bit her lip in amusement as a wave of spontaneity hit her. Glancing around, she assured herself she was entirely alone before flinging her arms out and tossing her head back with a laugh. She twirled effortlessly, letting the surrounds blend into a dreary blur. With her eyes closed against the icy rain, she imagined letting her soul fly free, delighted laughter dancing from her lips as she twisted about in well-relished freedom.
Soon enough though a prickling sensation crept across her skin and Madeline snapped out of her trance, noticing for the first time, a figure in her spinning world. As she passed around a second time, the grinning observer winked and she stumbled, falling unceremoniously to the water-soaked road. For a prolonged moment, Madeline just sat where she’d landed: in a puddle, in the middle of the street. It really wasn’t meant to end like that, really, she'd have been happy if it'd never ended. She sighed, reluctantly turning her attention to the now-laughing teenager who’d seen far too much. “What?” she snapped finally, peering over at him from her seat on the ground as though it might possibly be a place of dignity.
“Nothing, nothing,” he grinned, shoving his hands into the pocket of his apron as he leant casually against a nearby shop-front.
“Sure,” Madeline muttered under her breath as she finally scrambled to her feet, wincing at her wet jeans, sore tailbone, and worst of all, the discovery of a soggy left shoe.
“C’mon, inside and I’ll make you a coffee,” he offered, making a small effort to hide his amusement as he held a door open for her.
“I’d prefer tea, to be honest,” Madeline squelched past him, entirely unenthused by the idea, but suddenly too wet and cold to argue it. She suddenly felt somewhat betrayed by the weather for landing her in such a situation, albeit her own decision to go prancing about on slippery ground.
“That goes to show you haven’t tried my coffee yet,” he let the door swing shut, its tiny bell jingling crazily behind them as he steered Madeline into the small cafe, her internal cursing sufficiently interrupted.
He left her standing a few metres inside the door, and made his own way towards the counter without another word. Madeline watched silently for a minute as he moved about with a practised air. Finally she realised he wasn’t planning to strike up conversation she allowed herself to relax, slightly at least.
Her eyes danced over the room, lingering for a moment on the comfortable lounge-like chairs that lined the wall by the front window. A fire crackled cheerfully from where it was tucked away in the back corner, sending a warm flickering light over the surrounding jumble of slightly mismatched chairs and tables. It had a cosy, livable air, not unlike the commonroom she and Alice often lounged about in, hours after everyone else had left for bed.
Madeline glanced down, noticing a steady drip falling from the tip of her wet hair to the polished mahogany boards at her feet. A rogue smile twitched at her lips as she noted the small resulting puddle spread. Running a careless hand through her dark hair to dispel the gathering droplets, she approached the counter; slipping herself up onto a stool she watched as he bustled about, singing quietly as he went. The tune's familiarity soothed her a little, some small part of her at least. Mostly she just felt messy and displaced in her own being.
“Gets everyone, that puddle,” he spoke cheerfully after a few minutes, oblivious to her inner termoils.
“You find many soggy customers in the middle of the road?”
He grinned, “Aye, quite a few. Locals though, always locals and seized joints. And you. Here,” he slid a coffee towards her, “it’ll warm things up a bit.”
Madeline glanced down at it and barely refrained from snorting; he’d shaped a swirling heart into the creamy coffee. “Urgh, cheesy blighter, aren’t you.”
Nonetheless, she wrapped her hands around it appreciatively. And after taking a careful sip she slid off the stool and carried the cup with her to the fireplace, toting a vague hope to dry her clothes a tad before drenching them all over again on the way back. Home. Madeline sighed, silently vowing to stay away from that awful reality as long as she could. Decidedly, she sat cross-legged on the stone hearth, with her back against the wall and fixed her eyes unblinkingly on the dancing flame.
The self-induced drowse was broken some time later by a chair screeching across the floor, and it was glaringly obvious she'd stayed much longer than ever intended. She uncurled her limbs and struggled to her feet, silently begging them to co-operate through their ungainly sleep-heaviness. Behind her, the apron-clad youth was sweeping the floor, re-arranging the furniture around him as he hummed a familiar, but barely distinguishable tune under his breath. Feeling a touch frantic as she realised he was closing up, Madeline dove for her bag and began to search it’s confusingly unnecessary number of pockets for her purse.
“You’re back, then,” he commented, a lopsided grin casually appearing as he watched her.
“I er, well, yes,” Madeline finished, feeling quite pathetic. She offered an awkward half-smile, which she felt quite sure looked more like a grimace and quickly turned back to her search. Finally, she found the evasive thing and pulled it free, only to find, with great horror, that failed to contain a Muggle sixpence! “Oh, no,” she breathed. Merlin help her!
“Forget about it. It’s on the house.”
Madeline shook her head uncomfortably, far too embarrassed to form anything close to a proper argument or to gratefully accept, she wasn’t even sure which she actually wanted to do. Finally, she hooked her bag over her shoulder, ducked her head slightly in thanks, and hurried past him into the drizzling rain outside. The fresh air shocked some sense into her, and she stopped, turning back towards the door to fix the mess she’d left behind her. It was then that she caught glimpse of him, watching her through the window with his laughing expression and her resolve crumbled as she darted down the footpath.
Two days later and the dark clouds had slowly begun to disperse. The rain continued to fall, though, as if it had never been any different, as though the sun had never been anything more than a rumour. Madeline wasn’t the slightest bit worried about where the sky had been, or whether it was actually, finally coming back. She retraced her steps as best she could, barely registering any of the wrong turns along the way. And without hesitation, she pulled the door open, stepping into the warm building rosy-cheeked and starry-eyed from her rather lengthy explorations.
“Good morning, love,” the same teenager glanced over the top of a large espresso machine, grinning broadly at her as the door’s bell finally ceased it’s jingling.
“Oh, morning,” Madeline replied vaguely, weaving her way around an assortment of tables to stand in front of the fire. She stretched out her hands; carefully letting her icy fingers defrost.
“Can I get you something? Or are you just here for the fire?” he called. “Excellent fire it is too! Lit it myself,” he added as an afterthought. Madeline turned to look at him, wondering if he had known she would come back. She'd had to; the odd little place reminded her of things that made her spirit feel lighter; of school and Alice, and their ever-ellusive sense of 'home'. Even with this smiling dark haired creature lurking about, it felt like a place she might belong in, at least a little. Not at all like her father's.
“Maybe...Maybe just what I had before.” she shrugged, “But without the heart. Hearts won't get you anywhere.”
“Right you are, a guy has to try.”
Madeline nodded absentmindedly, already probing his presence into a place of lesser standing in her consciousness as she wandered away from the fire to a seat by the window. The rain slipped easily down the cold pane, her finger slowly traced the wobbly tracks of individual droplets through the condensation. She found herself musing on how quickly their adventure ended. Sometimes two lone drops would merge together, creating a fresh trail with a newfound momentum. But the faster each stream went, the more of themselves they left behind. And eventually, there was nothing left in them to keep going. People are the same, she thought wearily.
“You like this rain then?”
Madeline looked up as he sat the coffee on the table next to her, “I always have.” She picked it up, glad of the warmth more than anything. “Thanks,” she eyed him over the rim, realising she didn’t know his name.
“Oh? You’re actually wanting an introduction?” he grinned, offering an outstretched hand. “I didn’t think you were the type, but it’s Elliot.”
She stared at it for a moment. “Madeline,” she relented after the short pause. Not feeling entirely satisfied with herself, she opened her mouth again. And then closed it.
“We can go over it again if you’d like?”
“I’d-” Madeline cut herself off, her eyes darting back to the window. “No, that's it. That's me.”
“Right,” Elliot shrugged, seeming to accept Madeline’s non-responsive mood he strolled back towards his counter humming contentedly under his breath. She turned to watch him go, feeling as irritated by his unaffectedness as she did her own mood. She sighed, pulled her tattered sketchbook from her bag and sat it on the table in front of her, unconsciously adjusting it so it slanted rather drastically to the right.
Ten minutes later and she realised she had barely touched the page, thanks to a niggling thought in her head that refused to be squashed into the background for a pencil. “Maddy. I prefer Maddy,” she paused again, “but really, I suppose on a day like this I prefer Grey.”
“You’d be staying with your father then?” Elliot looked over at her from the table he was clearing, a small collection of dirty crockery balancing in his hands.
“If that’s what you want to call him. What is that anyway? A lucky guess?”
Again, he grinned, “Small town.”
“‘Course it is,” Madeline rolled her eyes.
“How do you get along with his lot?”
“I-" she swallowed, feeling displaced. "Give the town a few days and they'll get back to you."
“No need to get shirty,” he told her lightly, an eyebrow raised as he carried his load away. “All I meant was you not like them.”
“What grounds have you got to-”
“You can’t possibly want to be like them,” he called over the general clatter of plates, “not from what I remember of those girls as a kid.”
Feeling a sudden urge to leave, Madeline rose to her feet. Tucking her sketchbook firmly under her arm as she shuffled about in her bag for the familiar shape of her purse. It wasn’t the first time she promised herself she would assign a pocket to keep it in for easy access. As she approached the counter, Elliot peered at her in mild surprise.
“You’re leaving then?” he waved her proffered money away, and she could almost hear the unspoken ‘again’ dart through his thoughts. She was running, as usual.
“It seems my best option.”
“The other being?”
“I strangle you with your apron strings, or something,” she called, already at the door.
“You could always talk you know.” Nosey idiot.
“To you?” Madeline looked back at him in surprise. “Whatever gives you that idea?” She shook her head slightly and stepped into the street. And after glancing quickly in the general direction of her father’s, she went the other way. Her bag thudded reassuringly against her legs with each step as her head spun in circles. Not like them. It wasn’t fair for it to be so obvious. All he had was her name, and he knew. He knew she didn’t fit.
As she walked, the afternoon steadily melted into something slightly Spring-ish. Even Madeline felt willing to admit it was rather beautiful, as far as days went. And yet, she couldn’t shake her unusually glum mood, swatting idly at a passing bug as she walked by a particularly floral garden. She fervently hoped her feet were leading her back towards the park she had wandered past earlier. A lovely, bright afternoon such as this should be spent on a swing, accompanied only by a rusty chain and it’s cheerful squeaks.
Though Madeline knew well enough that her feet weren’t to be trusted. She was little more than their plaything, and usually, it didn’t bother her. Today however, was an entirely different story. She glared down at them; shod in her much-loved, over-worn boots, her toes pointing in slightly as they had accustomed to doing whenever she came to a standstill. Looking guilty, she murmured to herself, as her eyes slid up the building before her with resignation.
The old Madeline (the one this new, forlorn creature dearly missed) would be twirling about on a swing enjoying a moment of contemplation. But she wasn’t anywhere to be found, and her husk had no choice but to stand where her feet insisted she stood; on the pavement outside a small cafe, wondering in vain as to why she was there at all, and yet knowing the answer all the while. Her feet were sick of running, even if she wasn’t.
She stepped aside to allow an entwined couple a wider birth of the footpath, and then, without meaning to, followed their progress in the window’s reflection. Watching with a muted ill humour as the girl laughed shrilly at a comment murmured suggestively in her ear. Shaking her head slightly Madeline looked past the reflection and peered through the glass and into the cafe itself. Relief flooded through her when she failed to glimpse Elliot anywhere in the vicinity; perhaps he'd gone ahead and finished up early.
She was pleased, to say the least. No Elliot meant no apologies were necessary. Although, of course, he was the one that owed her an apology. Sure, she may have overreacted, but he was a nosy git-asking about her father’s lot. And suggesting she needed to talk to someone. To him, of all people. Madeline was hardy a damsel in distress. Not the kind that could be saved by a male's sudden presence, anyway.
Yes. He had danced ever smiling across the chalked line.
“Were you coming in for a second try, or just err...window shopping?” Elliot’s mildly accented voice asked amusedly.
Madeline peeled her face from the cool glass and turned to see him leaning against the doorframe, a cup of coffee in his hand as though it belonged there. “Undecided,” she answered finally.
“Coffee, if you want it,” he said with a grin, lifting the cup slightly in indication.
Madeline stared at him for a minute before stalking past and into the cafe, not noticing the odd little juggling act Elliot performed above her head to save the coffee from unnecessary spillage. She slipped into a corner window seat, which was hopefully a safe enough distance from the main counter to avoid conversation.
Wordlessly Elliot sat the cup on the table with a gentle clatter. He nodded slightly, wiping his hands on his apron as he walked off. She watched him go, wondering how he managed to be so completely uninhibited as he resumed his gentle singing. It was one of Alice’s favourites, Madeline realised with an unconscious smile.
The small bell jingled about as the door swung closed with a careful snap, announcing the arrival of a merry-faced lady who had seemingly witnessed about seventy years, etched in craftily in laughlines about her eyes and mouth. Her hair was a collection of short, messy curls of a purplish tinge. She walked towards the counter (and a broadly grinning Elliot) with a slight waddling shuffle. Madeline noted this was more likely due to the enormous carpetbag in tow than any physical condition.
"Mrs. Woolsey! Here I was startin' to think you're avoiding me."
"I figured you'd be back here again for a bit, wanted to give you a few days to get used to the job again," the old lady chuckled. "Now, I'll have a-"
Elliot tutted, hands already busy at the machiene. "Go sit down, you're just being cheeky now. Mum's got a fresh apple spice cake ready and all."
“You know me better than that old geezer at home,” Mrs. Woolsey shook her head as she dropped her bag to the floor with a muted thud and various clinks. Madeline wondered to herself if home was indeed the bag itself, she fancied having heard a human-like groan amongst the other noises of impact.
“How’s old Sir Ned? Hope the weather hasn’t got to him too much,” Elliot asked, seeming surprisingly genuine.
“Pffft. Sir! If that’s what he is, his armour is every bit as rusty as his joints. Can’t handle a fluffy white cloud, let alone a few weeks of rain. I left him moaning about his aches to Mimsy. She does nothing but sleep as it is these days, so he won’t bother her too much. Lazy old beast that cat.” The wrinkled old lady finished her rant, every word of which had been delivered in an oddly fond tone, one that didn't match her words.
Madeline gave a small intake of breath, pulling her sketchbook back onto the table as she watched Elliot continue a happy banter with Mrs. Woolsey. When she wasn’t nibbling on it, her pencil began to scratch at the blank page; pausing now and then for a moment’s observation. Her eyes darted back and forth as she carefully assessed the old lady’s hunched form. And beyond her, the lanky figure, with dark unruly hair that fell about his face and the lopsided grin that frequently slid across his features. Madeline looked up, focusing on his mouth, and a slightly crooked tooth that only seemed to show while he laughed. As she turned to look back at her page she froze-
“What’re you doing?” she asked with an impulsive grin, shaking her head as he struck a ridiculous statuesqe stance.
“Posing,” he said simply, in a tone that suggested it were obvious. Mrs. Woolsey turned in her seat to peer at Madeline momentarily, noticing her it seemed, for the first time. Her eyes sparked merrily as she span back around, her attention on Elliot again.
“You’ve found yourself a girl then?” she announced gleefully. Madeline chocked on her coffee. Her eyes watering ridiculously as she tried to regain some composure. Silently, without the wretched pair noticing her predicament.
“I found her,” Elliot agreed. He leaned forward, adding in a false whisper, “But she won’t admit to being mine.”
“Not even! Don’t you dare...” Madeline warned, her eyes narrowed.
He just grinned, throwing a wink over Mrs. Woolsey’s curls. Monstrously embarrassed, all Madeline could manage was a glare as she snapped her attention towards the window instead.
"Mm," The elderly creature took a sip of her coffee, hardly even seeming to note Madeline's presence beyond the detail of her actually being there. "Tom Grey's girl is it? She's a pretty little thing, a bit straggly but that's half the fun I daresay.."
With red cheeks and skin too bristled to comprehend much else than the water dancing on the glass right by her nose, Madeline missed the way the lady's glance across to her corner softened the words a little, like an elbow nudge between friends might.
An entire hour ticked by, and tucked away in her chair, Madeline knew more than everything she could possibly want to know about Mrs. Woolsey and her family. Including the eating preferences of each and every one of the old lady’s nine grandchildren. Nine! It was enough to develop a complex over. As the door clicked shut Madeline sighed in relief, never one for endurance of company, even when it came to an eavesdropped conversation. She lazily began to shade a small section of her sketch, glancing up as Elliot approached the booth. She scoffed quietly.
“It looks like a skirt,” she nodded vaguely towards his apron, and gave an awkward tug of her hair, poking a chunk of it behind her ear.
“Me ma always did want a daughter,” Elliot shrugged good-humouredly, setting a cup in front of her before he slid onto the bench opposite. He looked at her, “So, Grey, you’ve let Woolsey get to you, eh? She's good if you can take her right-”
“No one’s got to me,” Madeline argued, tugging her sketchbook away from his wandering fingers and stuffing it in her bag. “People don’t get to me.”
“Liar,” he laughed, “you’re itching to run out again, and I know it isn’t my coffee that’s doing it.”
Madeline stared at him, “Fine, a little. But you’re a smart-arse, and- and I still prefer tea.”
“Is that a round-about-way of saying ‘truce’?”
“No, I’m saying I drink tea.”
“I’ll turn you eventually.” His easy, lopsided grin appeared in an instant, “Truce?”
“I’ve got no place else to be,” she said, by way of a vague affirmative, struggling to keep her tone free of the sickening twinge that struck her. “Better. No place better,” she blurted uncomfortably, not thinking before hand if it would really make her confession any less of well, a confession.
“I’m stuck here too, so we might as well make the most of it, eh?” Elliot seemed content to take the small turn of her lips as an answer, and she sank back into her seat with silent relief; glad he had failed to notice her slip, or at least, had chosen to overlook it. His crooked grin re-appeared as he watched her, and after a pause, he shook his head slightly, dismissively.
“So,” he began again, his hand thudding against the table softly as he stood in front of her. “The way I figure it, is you’ll never fool anyone into thinking you’re not lonely by hiding out over here.”
Madeline swallowed thickly, her mind almost completely void of thought as she tried to grasp the idea that everything had spun back around so unexpectedly. It was impossible to tell which was worse, his jabbing words or the careless way in which he said them. “I’m not-I mean you can’t just-” She waved her hand about, but it didn’t help her find any of the words she wanted it to, so she quickly changed her intention, using it to grab hold of her bag as she shot to her feet.
“No no no,” Elliot protested, his hand suddenly on her shoulder, “You can’t keep this up, all this running. Stop assuming I’m taking the piss, because I’m not.”
Madeline merely stared, she felt as though she had been trapped mid-sprint, and she had no idea whether she wanted to go forward or back. She tried desperately to break her silence, willing her mouth to co-operate. Finally, she managed a terribly embarrassing, “Urrgh.” Her cheeks gained a slightly darker shade of red, but her wide eyes remained locked on his grip.
Thankfully, Elliot seemed to understand her meaning. He sighed and removed his hand, ducking his head for a second before running it through his hair as he gave a rueful grin. “If I didn’t think you’d just bolt for the door again, I’d even go as far as to say I like you.”
“But I won’t, so don’t worry your pretty little head over it.”
“Isn’t what? Pretty or little?” He raised an eyebrow, “Are you always so goddamn hard to please?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t bother trying,” Madeline answered, secretly thrilled at the firmness her voice had somehow managed to acquire.
“We’ll see,” Elliot laughed, “you never know, though, Grey.”
“Never know what, exactly?” She asked sceptically, wandering towards the counter and perching on a stool.
“You never know how long tea will keep you happy.” He assessed her confused face before adding a wink for good measure.
“What was that?” Madeline asked, amused.
“It was what it was.”
“A creepy facial twitch?”
“Charming, the word you want is charming.”