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Starving Artists by peppersweet
Chapter 4: Al and his Many Elbows
How are you doing? We were delighted to get your letter the other day; it’s lovely to hear that you’re making new friends so quickly. Your Dad is pleased that you’ve decided to do photography, he says you’ll come in handy when Dominique gets married, because it’ll save money if we don’t have to get a proper photographer.
Are you free next Saturday? Molly has a visit to Hogsmeade that weekend, and we thought we’d meet her and some of the family in the Three Broomsticks to catch up. The Potters and Uncle Ron’s family have already said yes, it’d be really lovely if you could come. Molly’s dying to hear about your new friends. We’re meeting there at one. If you do decide to come, please remember to dress sensibly. I know you’re an art student now, but I don’t know how much more your poor Dad can take.
Lots of love,
My mother was never one for tact, but, with nothing else to do and a virtually non-existent workload, I decided to meet up with them anyway. I didn’t quite know how to interpret ‘dress sensibly’- wouldn’t the blue hair give it away a little? – so I stuck to a usual dull combination of shirt (pinstripes, of course) and a pair of jeans that had been stagnating on the floor for three days. The camera came with me, after an hour’s patient tutorial from Scorpius and a hastily-scrawled manual with a little diagram of what all the buttons did and which ones I shouldn’t press.
That was really the only learning I’d done all week. I turned up at ten every morning without fail, usually to find Henry and Eunice inside looking understandably concerned about the lack of students and especially the lack of Mr Holstone at the front desk. I later discovered that he lived in a small bedsit just behind the Art School, and at quiet times in the year, wasn’t known to surface before at least one in the afternoon. Tarquin and Gwendolyn/Raven seemed to appear and disappear whenever it took their fancy, sometimes dissapparating in the middle of conversations when they felt bored. I didn’t see anything of the other three – Ellen, Frances, or the brooding nameless boy - until Scorpius told me that they were all doing things like Pottery and Ceramics and were more likely to be cloistered in ‘where we keep the kiln’. Once Eunice had figured out where the paint stock cupboard was, she tended to shut herself up in there all day. Painting, according to her, was ‘super fun’. So, in the end, the regular common-room lodgers were me, Scorpius, and Henry, although Scorpius assured me that once I’d taken some pictures, we’d probably be in the Dark Room all day.
I didn’t know whether to look forward to this or not. I mean, the idea of learning to develop my own photographs was pretty cool, but the idea of being locked into a small, fusty cupboard with my cousin’s ex-boyfriend really wasn’t so cool. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist.
I had no deadline to take the photos by. Scorpius seemed content with hanging about aimlessly in the common room, drinking endless cups of tea and scribbling in a battered notebook that I suspected had something to do with poetry. Henry brought in some of his ‘obscure band’ records to play on the art school’s worn old gramophone, although I’m sure his music taste was a little more pedestrian than he’d hinted at. Soon, I had a ‘place’ on the sofa, my own mug for tea breaks, and my own little stash of records that Henry would sneer at and call ‘mainstream’. When I’d started Hogwarts, it had taken a week for me to even talk to anyone or do anything apart from stare at my shoes. By the end of my first week at art school, I was already bickering with Obscure Henry and reading Scorpius’ poetry. Which was awful, mind.
So although there wasn’t much to do at the weekend (apart from what Gwendolyn/Raven described as ‘Hedge hopping’ and I suspected was largely illegal) it was with some reluctance that I dragged myself out of bed on the Saturday morning, dressed and hauled myself over to Rose’s flat in Kensington, which, with a fireplace, was the only viable way to get up to Hogsmeade. I was still bleary-eyed when I rang her doorbell. Rose, by contrast, was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, although I think that had something to do with the fact that since I’d last seen her, I’d dyed my hair blue.
‘Lucy!’ she squealed. ‘What have you done?’
‘To my hair?’ I asked, already used to the reactions (most of which were astonished or, in the occasional art student’s case, approving). ‘Yeah, I had an accident in an apothecary. No biggie.’
She stared for a full minute.
‘Your dad is going to murder you,’ she said, evidently having some difficulty concealing a smug grin. ‘Not to mention your mum, and I think Molly might be a little shocked too.’
‘It’s my hair, not theirs,’ I told her, airily. ‘I can dye it whichever colour I wish.’
I pushed past her and into the sitting room. I’d barely made it within three paces of the door when a gangly blur ran into me.
‘Lucy!’ the blur yelled. ‘How nice to see you!’
Slightly winded, I stepped back from the blur - which turned out to be my cousin Al. He gave me a high-five so powerful I thought I heard my fingers snap. He seemed to have grown about ten extra knees and elbows since I’d last seen him a year or so ago when he’d gone off on his gap year. His hair was as messy as ever, and, even without glasses, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Harry.
‘How’s it going?’ I asked him. He grinned.
‘Just starting my course. Did you know, once I’m fully qualified, I could section you?’
‘Nope, but now I do.’
He hadn’t stopped grinning. ‘And I hear you’re at art school?’
‘Ooh, yeah, it’s great fun! I’ve made some really good friends, including Sc-Tarquin!’
‘Sc-Tarquin?’ Al said, curiously. ‘That’s an odd name.’
I felt my face flush a dull red, knowing that I’d almost said ‘Scorpius’ in the presence of Rose. And, you know, I didn’t want to be responsible for triggering her complete mental breakdown.
‘It’s just Tarquin,’ I told him. ‘Sc-Tarquin’s his nickname.’
He gave me an odd look, but the moment was salvaged by Rose clearing her throat.
‘Come on,’ she said, gesticulating towards the fireplace. ‘No time for dilly-dallying, we’re going to be late!’
Al rolled his eyes. Rose grabbed a handful of Floo powder and threw it into the fire. Deep green flames roared up in the grate, and she stepped in, yelling ‘The Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade!’ before vanishing.
‘Ladies first,’ Al said, pushing me forwards. I stared at the fire for a second and then wheeled round, thinking fast.
‘Al,’ I said, hurriedly. ‘You know how I said I was at Art School with Sc-Tarquin? Well, you also know how there’s only one art school in south England, and Scorpius happens to be there too?’
‘Yeah.’ He nodded.
‘Well, don’t let Rose find that out. Or we’ll all be dead.’
‘I’ve kept it secret for a year already,’ he shrugged. ‘I haven’t seen him in a bit, what with being away and all. Is he alright?’
‘He’s fine. Bit weird, but he’s nice.’
‘Yeah, well, he’s always been like that. Still writing poetry?’
‘Ah, he’s such a weirdo. Poetry.’ Al tutted to himself. ‘I always wondered why Rose went for him, I mean, self-respecting-’
‘Yeah, okay, stuck-up girl like her, not really the type to go for a camera-fancying poet, is she?’
We both considered the logistics of the relationship for a second.
‘Well, we better get to Hogsmeade,’ Al sighed. ‘You know what Rose is like with…you know, timekeeping.’
I stepped into the fire and threw a handful of Floo Powder into the grate, calling out ‘The Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade!’
A few minutes and a highly uncomfortable journey through the nation’s fireplaces later, I was sprawled on the floor in The Three Broomsticks, covered in soot, coughing. Rose stared down at me disapprovingly, but, then again, she didn’t have many other facial expressions to pick from.
‘Honestly, Lucy, what on earth took you so long!’
‘I forgot how to work the fire,’
She gave me a blank look. ‘You forgot how to work a fire?’
‘Yeah, well, not all of us are at Law school, Rosie. I’ve been inhaling paint and chemical fumes for a week, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’d had an effect on me.’
Rose tittered. A second later, Al shot out of the fireplace, landing on the rug in a tangle of limbs. Straightening up, he nearly whacked his head off the low ceiling.
‘We’re early,’ Rose said, crisply. ‘Just as planned. We’ve got a room booked. Bit of privacy, hmm?'
I was about to blurt out something stupid about hardly needing privacy when we had a family so big and obvious (and mostly ginger), but stopped myself. Al loped across the room and dropped into a seat.
‘Comfy, isn’t it?’ he said, brightly. ‘You got a camera there, Lucy? Going to take some pictures?’
I curled my hands around the camera, trying to hide it behind my back. ‘Erm, I might. If the lighting’s right.’
‘Excuses, excuses.’ Al tittered.
That moment, the door opened and my parents entered. My mother screamed.
‘Lucy! Your hair!’ she gasped. My father’s eyebrows had nearly hit his hairline, and considering that he was almost bald, that was some achievement.
I shrugged. After a moment’s stunned silence from both of my parents, they were jostled out of the way by my sister Molly, who barged into the room and gawped at me. Slowly, her face grew into a smile.
‘Lucy, you’re such a rebel!’ she grinned. ‘Your hair looks like Drooble’s Gum!’
‘Chewy?’ came Albus’ voice from the other side of the room. He was duly ignored. A moment later, the door opened again and The Potters entered, closely followed by Uncle Ron, Aunt Hermione, and my cousin Hugo. Aunt Hermione looked positively startled at the sight of me, while the others looked entirely nonplussed.
In five minutes’ time, we were sat around the large table that dominated the room. A waiter took an order for drinks and then shut the door, leaving us in a peculiar sort of silence – well, peculiar considering that there were thirteen of us sat there. Al coughed.
‘So, um, Rose,’ he said, glancing around the table as if to persuade us into joining the conversation. ‘How’s law school?’
Rose sat up slightly. ‘Very interesting, funny you should ask. The other day we were doing a case study about this man who bought a wand from a shop in Knockturn Alley, and then when it started backfiring on him, he was refused a refund because it had ‘chosen him’ and the wand-makers claimed that the wand just didn’t like him very much...’
I decided that the small piece of fluff on the table in front of me was more interesting than Rose’s anecdote. Ten minutes later when she had finished and the drinks still hadn’t arrived yet, Uncle Ron broke the stupor by leaving in search of them, closely followed by Uncle Harry, Aunt Ginny, and my cousins James and Al.
‘Molly,’ my dad asked, to the half-empty room. Molly shot up from where she’d been slumped on the table, carving lines in the wood with a talon-like fingernail. ‘How’s school coming along?’
‘Eh.’ Molly shrugged.
‘What about Transfiguration? You like Transfiguration, don’t you?’
‘How’s the O.W.L work?’
My dad changed tack.
‘Lucy, what’s art school like for you?’
‘Eh.’ I told him. He shot me a look so filthy I instantly had a burning desire to wash my face. ‘Oh, well, it’s super. Super duper. Fantastic. Ace. Etcetera.’
‘What sort of painters are you studying? I hear that the syllabus even goes into looking at muggle artists, seen any you like yet?’
The only ‘art’ I’d seen so far had been Tarquin’s paintball madness. I shrugged.
‘We’re mostly doing technical stuff. Plus I’m doing photography, so I don’t really mingle with the painters.’
‘Ah, alright. How’s that going?’
‘It’s good fun. The other day Sc-Tarquin showed me how to develop a photo all by myself.’ I said, in a rush, knowing that I had almost said Scorpius again. Forget cats; that would have let the whole bloody zoo out of the bag. I thought I saw Rose stiffen slightly just along the table from me.
Thankfully, the moment was salvaged by the re-entry of the rest of the party, accompanied by a large levitating tray of drinks. I busied myself in my Butterbeer the moment it was plonked down in front of me by an especially tall-looking Al.
‘How was the gap year, Al?’ Uncle Ron asked. ‘Don’t think we’ve seen you since you came back.’
‘It was really good,’ Al said, sitting in his chair and folding his legs under the table. ‘I went to visit Uncle Charlie in Romania and he showed me these really cool dragons, and then there were a few Quidditch matches and a pub crawl in Transylvania, my mate got totally wasted, it was hilarious, we stripped him off and tied him to a-’
‘Let’s have a toast, shall we?’ Uncle Harry said, hurriedly. ‘To the students amongst us!’
A moment’s silence fell over the table as we drank.
‘Are you going to take any pictures, Lucy?’ my mum asked. ‘That’s a nice camera you’ve got there.’
I glanced down at the rusty old box-like camera carefully balanced on the edge of the table.
‘Ah, yes,’ I told her. ‘It’s a...er...phototronic X78BBQ.’
‘Oh! I’ve never heard of that make before. Is it a special one for artists?’
I wanted to tell her that I’d never heard of the make before either having just made it up, but I decided that I’d done enough looking stupid for one week and kept quiet, nodding.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘Do you want your dad and I to pose for a photo?’ she started shuffling in her chair next to my dad, who looked very uncomfortable.
‘Erm, nah, it’s alright...’ I shrugged. At my mum’s affronted face, I dredged up one of Scorpius’ wise photography sayings. ‘Candid photos are always the best because you get the subject looking really natural, posed photos are quite forced.’
The photography conversation died after that. Talk turned again to one of Rose’s lengthy law yarns.
‘Very good excuse, Lucy, did you come up with that one yourself?’ Al murmured. I gave him the evil eye.
‘Of course I didn’t. It’s one of Sc-Tarquin’s pearls of photography wisdom.’
Al grinned and lifted his butterbeer to take a sip. Seizing the moment, I lifted the camera, aimed the lens at him, and hit the shutter release.
There was an almighty BANG! and for a second I was blinded, engulfed in a cloud of acid-green smoke.
‘Bloody hell!’ Al exclaimed, once enough of the smoke had cleared. He appeared to have slopped a fair bit of Butterbeer down his front. ‘Lucy, give us a little warning the next time!’
Coughing, I held the camera out at arm’s length. ‘I didn’t know that was going to happen!’
On the plus side, the blast seemed to have knocked a fair bit of rust off the casing. And Rose had shut up.
‘Lucy,’ my dad said, slowly. ‘Aren’t you supposed to take the lens cap off before you take a picture?’
The ensuing blush might have been hot enough to fry an egg, had anybody put an egg on my face. Which would be weird.
‘Ah,’ I said. ‘You might be right about that.’
Thirteen pairs of eyes watched – no, stared - at me as I clipped off the lens cap and shoved it in my pocket. Heaving the camera up again (rust came off and stuck to my fingers) I attempted a nonchalant grin.
‘Art school is going well.’ I told them, brightly.
After a moment or two of stunned silence, talk resumed. Al glared at me, still soaked with Butterbeer.
I lifted the camera. ‘One more for good luck?’
He flinched as I hit the shutter release. Thankfully, this time there were no theatrics, but a satisfying little click-whirr as the picture was taken. Remembering what Scorpius had told me, I flicked the lever that would wind the film on, ready for the next photo.
Al opened one eye. ‘Is it safe to come out yet?’
‘Definitely,’ I waved the camera in his face. ‘It’s all hunky dory, camera-wise.’
An arm shot out in front of us and we both jumped.
‘Take my photo!’ Molly grinned, waving her arm about in my face. With her other hand, she plumped up her hair, throwing a little pout in for good measure. Al gave her a funny look. With another click-whirr of the camera, my second picture was taken.
Molly threw her arm around a baffled-looking James and dragged him next to her. Click-whirr. Another photo. Then Rose was in the frame, looking positively alarmed, and soon Molly had been around the whole table and I’d used up half a roll of film.
‘Individual shots!’ Molly called out, to a collective rolling of the eyes. She pushed Rose forwards, and, squinting through the viewfinder, I managed to get the perfect picture of her in mid-surprise. Molly gave me the thumbs up and shoved Lily and Hugo forward for the next photo.
‘Sc-Tarquin will like that one of Rose.’ Al murmured, as I snapped Lily and Hugo looking distinctly uncomfortable.
‘Sc-Tarquin cares not for Rose,’ I lied, remembering how Scorpius jumped every time he heard her name. ‘He cares for the simple things in life, like poetry and photography and-’
Al shook his head. ‘He’s in a state whenever he gets a whiff of her, isn’t he?’
I wasn’t sure that ‘whiff’ was the right word to describe Rose, but nodded anyway.
‘I’ll come and visit sometime,’ he said. ‘It’d be nice to catch up. Is the scary girl with the eyeliner still there?’
‘Ah. They’re such a mad lot.’
‘You’re telling me. I have to hang out with them.’
‘You love it really.’
There was a pause.
‘Yes. Yes, I do.’
A/N: edited 05/05/2012
edited 19/08/2011 - new chapter image