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Chapter 3: III
Elodie Desmarais first spotted her parents from the other side of the station.
She had been standing with Scorpius, encased in one of the fleeting moments in which they stood closer than several yards apart. If she had taken a few steps to her left, she would have been able to sense his scent: the mixture of spearmint and cigarette smoke that she had once loved, but now she found disgusting. His school trunk stood by his side. She could see her’s standing with her parents.
"I'm guessing we should go over," Scorpius said dismissively, shoving a worn paperback into his back pocket, "to your parents, I mean."
Elodie nodded, trying to ignore the disdainful looks of her classmates as they walked towards her parents. She had told her friends about her strange, unreliable relationship with them, and of her broken one with Scorpius.
Somehow, after his father's disappearance, the young pureblood couple had decided that telling their parents would simply make matters worse. Elodie's friends had assumed a picture of perfect surprise and condescension; their perfectly plucked eyebrows had risen, their perfectly glossed lips slightly agape, their perfectly filed nails drumming against the tabletop to avoid the awkward silence that followed Elodie's revelation.
They had not spoken about it, Genevieve merely commented on how her estranged aunt was trying to force her into the arms of a waiting pureblood gentleman, and how she did not mind as it meant she could summer in the south of France and wear the family jewels for the rest of her life.
Scorpius Malfoy could feel a line of sweat appear on his forehead. His fingers itched to open the new packet of Muggle cigarettes he had bought outside the station. He could feel the cardboard corner of the packet digging into his leg through his jeans pocket, tempting him. His gaze flittered from Elodie - looking cold and austere in her grey dress and black cardigan - to her parents. They smiled as Elodie approached them, and her mother enveloped her in a one-armed hug that made Scorpius' stomach clench uncomfortably. He no longer knew how to react to outwardly signs of fondness. Elodie's father kissed her on the cheek, commenting on how tall she was after a summer away from them.
The gestures would not strike anybody as overly affectionate, merely a mother and father greeting their daughter, but Scorpius felt a burning sense of jealously that made him want to tear his eyes away from their private moment, and instead look at the millions and millions of people who had seemingly flocked to the station to see their young ones safely onto the train. There were mothers crying. Young boys were recoiling away from them as they tried to kiss them goodbye, or remove the bit of dirt on their nose with a handkerchief. These loving moments played in front of the young blonde man, as he stood by his ex-girlfriend and her parents. They seemed like memories to him, being viciously played in front of his eyes like some sort of storybook from a nightmare childhood. And the images were taunting, provoking this overwhelming sense of jealously that overcame him.
He swore he could see Elodie's father flinch as they shook hands, probably because of the clamminess of his palm, and probably because of the slight possibility that Scorpius' mother was contagious and her illness was somehow infecting him through the bodily contact. Scorpius also tried to ignore the hideously fake smile Elodie's mother shot him as they exchanged pleasantries, instead deciding to focus on restraining himself from not running away.
"So, Malfoy," Elodie's father began, "did you enjoy your summer away? I heard you stayed in Paris for a couple of days, it is truly wonderful at this time of year, isn’t it?"
Scorpius swallowed, and his hand twitched dangerously close to his pocket where his cigarettes were hidden. He knew that Elodie's father was merely trying to avoid the subject of his disgraceful family: he had probably already triedpersuading Elodie to break off the relationship and find a richer, more respectful boyfriend before Scorpius dragged her down too.
It was too bad that he was too late.
"Yes, Scorpy," Elodie chimed in, her voice disgustingly sweet, "tell Daddy all about it."
She did something Scorpius didn't expect. She grasped tightly onto his wrist, so that her nails dugs into his skin and caused a sting of pain to shoot up his arm. The unanticipated action caught Scorpius by surprise, but to anyone else on the station - to Elodie's parents - it was merely a loving gesture shared between a young couple.
She let go after a couple of moments and her grip left tiny half-moon shaped marks on his skin.
"Paris was lovely," he answered smoothly, sliding his hand around her waist and pinching her side, until she yelped and glared up at him, "the museums and galleries were simply exquisite."
An awkward silence followed Scorpius' statement. Elodie's father bounced slightly on the balls of his feet, nodding, and her mother pursed her lips into another strained smile, and Scorpius remarked how alike they were.
"We went to visit Clémence," Elodie said quickly, "she's really enjoying Beauxbatons."
Another silence. Elodie's mother's smile was now creeping up around her ears and looked like she was out to eat children. Scorpius removed his hand from around Elodie and kept his hands behind his back.
"And Malfoy, have you decided what you are going to do once you graduate?"
"Probably just follow my father into the family business," Scorpius replied easily. The answer was imbedded in his mind and pulled out at family functions, along with how to respond to 'my, haven't you grown?' or 'it is a shame about your grandfather, he was a truly honorable man.' The slightly overused 'you and Elodie do make the world's most perfect couple' proved a bit more difficult to answer.
"Your father," Elodie's father said distractedly, "yes of course. Draco."
Scorpius nodded, trying to avoid making eye contact with the tall, intimidating man standing in front of him. His gaze fell on a dark haired young man sitting on a nearby bench. His face was hidden behind a newspaper.
A loud bell rang out around the station and the surrounding students flocked towards the scarlet train. Scorpius grabbed the handle of trunk eagerly, stepping as far away from Elodie as he could after shaking hands with her father. He mumbled some excuse about meeting his friends on the train and rushed to find an empty compartment, leaving Elodie standing alone to say goodbye to her parents.
Heaving his trunk onto a shelf, he sat down heavily on the leather seats, pulling his book out from his back pocket and finally lighting a much-needed cigarette. Scorpius closed his eyes as the nicotine seared through his brain and his bloodstream, causing his heart rate to increase and blood to flow rapidly away from his heart. He exhaled slowly; smoke spilling from his nostrils and mouth and disappearing through the open window, mingling with the steam that was clouding the platform.
Scorpius remembered having his first cigarette. It had had been the morning after the disgraceful night at Elodie's house, and he had not slept, instead spent the moonlit hours pacing around his room at the Leaky Cauldron. His eyes had been red and sore as he left the pub and stepped out into Muggle London, looking for anything to distract from what had happened the night before (a small part of him even hoped that his father would suddenly emerge from a seedy bar or an old second-hand bookshop). He lingered slightly on the pavement, his feet twitching with excitement at the prospect of this new adventure - of finally leaving his memories behind him - and his eyes flicked around the dirty street before him. A Muggle. Wrapped up in a scruffy, patched overcoat that stank of urine and alcohol, stumbled over to him and asked him for a 'light'. Scorpius had watched, with a look of unabashed curiosity, as the man then proceeded to screw a short paper stick into his mouth and fumble with a cardboard packet.
He remembered coughing and spluttering as he tried his first cigarette. Now, of course, he was a natural. Now, of course, he realised that they didn't save him from his memories, just like the engagement ring didn't save his family from ruin.
He held his cigarette between his lips and flicked to the current page in his book, his eyes flicking back and forth as they skimmed the paragraphs. It was a Muggle novel, and Scorpius smirked as he imagined the look on his father's face when he realised that he indulged in something that wasn't riddled with dark magic or Malfoy heritage.
"They'll turn your lungs black, you know."
Scorpius' eyes flicked upwards, only to find Elodie standing in the doorway, her face slightly flustered and her appearance generally ruffled. In defiance, he replaced the cigarette to his lips - his eyes never leaving hers - and took a long drag before returning to his book. He heard Elodie sigh exasperatedly, and he smirked.
"It was rude of you to run off like that. Mother thinks it's not gentlemanly."
He continued to ignore her.
"Daddy thought it was very rude."
Scorpius breathed out, the smoke spilling from his lips.
"He wants us to go to the St. Mungo's Gala together. Keep up appearances and everything."
He turned a page.
"Are you going to say anything?"
Scorpius looked at her, surprised to find her sitting so close to him on the worn leather seat. He took another drag from his cigarette and put his book down, leaning forward.
"What are you doing here?"
"I lied to your father about Paris," he answered simply, leering at the incensed expression on Elodie's face before adding innocently, "what more do you want from me?"
"Just for you to be civil to my parents. Make conversation. Smile. Avoid looking like you want to run away every time we talk to them."
"You know me too well, Elodie," Scorpius answered nonchalantly. "I, however, don't know what you are doing here."
"Here, in my compartment, invading my personal space. We're back at school now, so isn't it time for the ritual bitching to begin? I thought you would go meet up with Madeleine and Genevieve instead of hanging out with your deadbeat ex-boyfriend with his black lungs and unsuitable social manner."
"I was just..."
"About to leave?" Scorpius interrupted her. "I hope so."
He returned to his book. He had thought that after last night and the... the discussion they had, Elodie would have realised that they should just stay away from each other, and never ever try and 'talk' about anything, especially not the proposal. Scorpius tried to ignore her because he wasn't used to Elodie talking to him this freely. Perhaps - and Scorpius winced slightly at the thought - perhaps she thought that they had progressed, like some divided couple after a bizarre couples counselling session. Perhaps she thought that they could actually be friends.
Scorpius shuddered as he watched Elodie leave. She paused slightly when she slid open the compartment door, her hand resting on the handle.
"Have a good year, Scorpius," she said, not turning around to face him but her was voice burning with false brightness, "no doubt we'll eventually have to come into contact with each other."
"I'll look forward to it," he answered sarcastically, his eyes returning the page.
Elodie rubbed her thumb distractedly over the brass handle of the door, her eyes following its movements unconsciously. She took a long, deep breath and then exhaled heavily. She could feel the secondary smoke fill her lungs, as the carbon monoxide bonded with the hemoglobin in her blood, making it more difficult for oxygen to get to different parts of her body. She blinked twice; slightly alarmed as her brain recollected these useless facts. She remembered about how she had researched various Muggle diseases, searching for anything that could be linked to whatever Astoria had. She had borrowed books from the local library and after fumbling awkwardly with various plastic cards and small copper coins at the librarian's desk, she took them home and read them.
Elodie winced, and her fingers paused their slow methodical movements on the cold metal. It had been the night before she had met him on the station, and she had told herself that this was not some sort of vain attempt to win Scorpius back with her vast knowledge of his mother's illness, but a genuine concern for the woman's welfare. Astoria was pleasant enough, Elodie had reasoned as she flicked through the books and leaflets, and it would be wrong to not help her. She had stumbled upon pictures of blackened lungs, caused by the Muggle cigarettes that she knew Scorpius so adored. It was hard at that moment to think only of Astoria, especially when a small table of statistics showed towering death rates.
Elodie slid open the compartment door and stepped out into the corridor, breathing fresh air. She forced herself not to turn around and return to Scorpius and hit him or scold him or kiss him.
She slammed the door shut behind her. She hated the effect Scorpius had on her. It had made her grab his arm on the train station - in front of her parents - when usually they were under the strictest of rules to never make contact. This immense attraction, whether of disgust or desire, she wasn't quite sure, was going to destroy her, if it hadn't already.
She hated him for how he had behaved, how he had proposed, how he had ruined everything: but she also wanted to run back into his compartment pull the cigarette from his lips in some sort of mad attempt to save him so that he didn't end up as one of the statistics in her Muggle book. She shouldn't worry about him. He wasn't going to bother with her so she wasn't going to bother with him.
Elodie stood tall, rearranging her dress and cardigan so that she did not look so austere, or so much like her mother. Transfixed, for a moment, upon the rolling countryside outside the train window, she fiddled aimlessly with a small silver band around her middle finger. She pulled it off, instead sliding it onto her ring finger and admiring it in the weak autumn sunlight.
She would look good engaged.
Albus Potter hated the morning when he returned to school. He hated packing, he hated the disorganization of it all and he hated the tiresome traditions his family insisted on.
The journey to the station was jam-packed full of crying, shouting cousins, screeching owls and argumentative uncles. He wished that he could have just apparated, quickly and silently, away from the commotion that always settled on the Weasley family as they departed to King's Cross. They probably wouldn't have noticed, in all the chaos, if the quietest Weasley member simply disappeared from their ranks, his broomstick and his trunk in tow. He doubted they would notice if he ever did something out of the ordinary.
Albus flung his broomstick into his trunk (James had screamed and screamed when he was child, as he watched Albus swoop around the Potter garden on a broomstick when his wouldn't even lift off the ground. Quidditch skill, apparently, was the only thing Albus had inherited from his father, apart from his dark hair and green eyes) and stood, looking around at his room. It was perfectly tidy. His wardrobe was free of clothes, his shelves were free of books and his desk was no longer littered with old homework or detailed Quidditch plays. Everything he owned was now locked in his trunk, to be taken with him on the train to Hogwarts to be packed away, perfectly tidily, in his dormitory; his dormitory in the Slytherin dungeons.
Albus sat on the edge of his bed, listening to the shouts and cries of his family waft up the stairs and through the closed door. He remembered his father painting his room - painting it green - in a vain attempt to show that he was accepting of Albus' house, and Albus' choice. He had placed a small picture of a black haired, hook nosed man on Albus' desk, saying it was important for Albus to know whom his namesake was. He also said it was important that Albus knew that not all Slytherins were disgustingly prejudiced. Albus' mother had made a poor joke about someone called Pansy Parkinson before they had gone downstairs and left Albus alone to 'enjoy his new room'.
Albus could see it now, alone on the smooth, clean surface of his desk. Severus Snape stared out of the ornate silver frame, blinking occasionally and clenching his jaw. His dark eyes seemed to follow Albus around his room. He did not want to take the photograph to Hogwarts with him (it was the only thing left in his room, aside from a couple of leftover Weasley jumpers). Snape's eyes would just follow him around there too. According to his roommates, there was a portrait of him in the Headmaster's study. That version of Snape would able to talk to him. Albus shuddered.
He heard someone start to cry downstairs and he sighed. He leant back so that he was now lying on his bed. It was probably best if Albus stayed in his room for a few more minutes, unless he wanted to endure the wrath of his flamed-haired mother and her spoilt daughter, or the arrogant quips of his older brother. He stared at the ceiling, listening to the muffled shouts of his family. There would be more of them once they arrived at the station. It was the tradition that all members of the Weasley clan were to show up at King's Cross to show the new generation onto the train, and that included all uncles, all aunties, all of the cousins and a very elderly Grandma Weasley. Albus was the only Slytherin in a huge group of Gryffindors, with a few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. He felt alone whenever he was in that huge, attention-seeking group. He felt alone in the crowd.
"Albus Severus! If you are not down here in five minutes then we are leaving without you!"
Please, Albus thought desperately as he shoved his school robes into a bag, please leave without me.
He levitated his trunk down the stairs and stacked it next to the front door. Grabbing an apple from a bowl on the kitchen table, he slumped on the sofa, chewing soundlessly as he watched his parents and his siblings rush frantically around the house. Lily had lost her prefect badge, and was on the floor, crying and kicking her feet in a way that any other fifteen-year old would be ashamed of. Harry Potter had lost the keys to the car he had borrowed from the Ministry (another tradition that Albus detested). Ginny Potter was hysterically trying to persuade James - who was lounging at the kitchen table - to join the family on the platform. Albus grimaced.
"Albus! Come on! We're leaving!"
"I'm here, Mum."
Ginny Potter turned to stare at him, her eyes wide and anxious.
"Have you got your trunk? Your broomstick? Have you got socks?"
"Have you seen Lily's prefect badge?"
She clenched her jaw and ran her fingers through her graying hair, striding off in the direction of the living room. As soon as she left, Lily picked herself off the floor and dusted herself down and sat opposite James. She pulled a box of crystallized pineapple from nowhere.
"Why aren't you coming, James? It's tradition," she whined, offering him the box.
"It's boring, that's what it is. I'd much rather be doing something else."
"I thought you were going to bring that new girlfriend of yours," she said suggestively, "Sally or Samantha or something..."
"What happened to her?"
"She had to go back to Belgium for a photo shoot. I won't see her until Wednesday."
"That's a shame," Lily replied. There was silence as the three siblings listened to the distant shouts of their parents. Apparently Albus' father had left the keys 'just there'. Albus sighed. He never understood how girls fell for his brother. He was an arsehole, arrogant and unintelligent. His only positive features were his obvious good looks, and the fact he was Harry Potter's son. The girls the eldest Potter child brought home were often ditzy and blonde, and wearing so little clothing that the material of their dresses and skirts didn't even bother with a pattern. If James brought them home for a family dinner during the holidays, the girls would glance suspiciously in Albus' direction. He was 'the other Potter boy': the quiet, plain, boring teenager who disappointed his family and spent his time reading. He was nothing like his elder brother.
Albus smirked. He never wanted to be.
He pulled a book from his pocket, and opened the front cover. It was an old copy of a Muggle novel, a present from his grandfather, which he had re-read so many times that he was pretty sure he could quote the thing by heart.
With his fingertips, he traced the words that Arthur Weasley had written there, in his untidy scrawl. Albus could almost feel the warmth emanate from the page, as through his grandfather had just written those words and the ink was fresh. Albus imagined him, sitting at his desk in the study of the Burrow, the fire roaring and the magnificent collection of Muggle plugs, light bulbs and cassette tapes would be illuminated by the flickering flames. Albus imagined him pouring over this book, his hand shaking with age as he penned the words, pushing his glasses further up his nose to squint at them.
By silence, I hear other men's imperfections and conceal my own. 
No one visited that study anymore. No one lit the fire, or cleaned the plugs and bulbs and tapes that were now plagued with dirt and dust. No one dared to disturb anything. Sometimes, when Albus was forced to attend the family gatherings at the Burrow, he would creep into this silent room. It was hidden away from the main house, located in the old outhouse where Arthur had kept his precious Ford Anglia. Albus would slip into the old, moth-eaten armchair and run his fingers over the ancient, leather bound books. He would never hear the shouts of laughter or arguments from the main house, just as his family would never realise that he had gone. Albus would flick silently through the pages of his grandfather's books, and he would almost hear them sigh with delight, for they had been longing - for a long time - to be touched, and read, and understood by someone. They had been left ignored since that Christmas, since the winter night when their owner had simply fallen asleep in front of the fire, only never to wake up again.
Albus felt his hand tighten around the book. He had been truly left alone then.
Albus felt the sudden urge to do something radical: to disapparate straight to the station, to simply walk out of this house and away from his idiotic brother and his bratty sister. He wanted to take all of his grandfather's books with him. He wanted to read them all. He wanted to go somewhere where no one knew his name, or that he was the 'other Potter boy', or that he was in Slytherin, or that he liked Quidditch. He wanted to go somewhere where no one knew him.
James and Lily would never notice. James and Lily wouldn't care. James and Lily were too busy discussing their own lives in far too much detail that if Albus were to turn himself invisible, they would never spot the change in the room, or feel the unseen presence of Albus standing beside them, breathing down their necks in a way that he would only dare to do when he wasn't able to be seen, and they weren't able to hit him. They wouldn't realise that he had gone.
Not that he would; that would be far too drastic, far too boisterous, far too loud. Albus was reserved. Big, expressive gestures and declarations weren't his thing.
He sank into a comfortable silence, flicking to his current page and starting to read.
 This is a quote by a Greek philosopher, Zeno of Citium.
And there's Albus! Hope you like him/his social ineptitude. Many thanks to puffins and to Ariellem for betaing this for me!