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Chapter 4: IV
Albus Potter was sitting by himself.
This scenario was not unusual. His brown leather satchel sat closely by his side, a fairly worn book open in his lap, his shoes shined and shirt collar straight. He was perfectly tidy.
He had grown accustomed to listening to his own thoughts, to delving into the world of fantasy created for him by the authors of the novels he pored over. He did this so perfectly that he barely registered the tantrums of his sister, or the cool sarcastic comments of his brother, just as they would never acknowledge any of his actions.
He would be left alone.
Albus bent the page corner of his book, saved his place and looked around. If he had been a writer, he would have tried to get this moment down on parchment. Albus would have tried to recreate the way the steam swirled around the station, or the sound of the train guttering and grunting on the platform and how it mingled with the cries of mothers and the goodbyes of fathers. He would describe, with the best possible turn of phrase, the sadness on mothers’ faces and the excited squeals of their children. The words would flow effortlessly from his quill and he would revel in the beauty of them. Others would read them and be entranced by the sentences and the clauses and the metaphors and the imagery. They would sigh and swoon over the elegant phrasing and rush for it to be published, for him to have his name embossed in gold on the front of some leather bound book, for him to get paid for doing the thing he so enjoyed.
The train’s horn sounded. Albus blinked twice.
The steam swirled. The train guttered and grunted. Mothers were sad. Children squealed excitedly. He couldn’t write it down. He wouldn’t be able to write about peoples’ emotions, or peoples’ reactions. It wouldn’t be realistic enough so that people would believe him. The only thing he would be able to write truthfully was his isolation, his family’s inability to talk or comfort him and his seclusion. It was the only thing he knew. He would be able to write about writers. He could copy what they did. He could talk about their use of words, their structure of sentences, their turn of phrase, but he wasn’t able to create something of his own, not unless it recalled the story of one lonely boy’s escape to freedom.
A freedom that would come to Albus at the end of the school year, when he would be without the shadow of his father or the expectant looks of his professors.
He would be without the pressure of being a Potter.
There were two people standing across the platform, nearer to the train. Albus placed his book quickly into his satchel, and reached farther into his bag for a copy of the Daily Prophet. Flipping the old newspaper over, he read again about the Malfoys, the disappearance, the illness, and of course, the son. His green eyes flicked upwards, towards the couple standing on the other side of the platform. He could tell that it was Malfoy - shoulders hunched, brooding, blond hair - and that the girl beside him must be Elodie. Albus swallowed.
He shared a dormitory with Malfoy. The small dark room was always silent. Conversation would be limited to a homework topic, the weather, or the Quidditch team. At times, Elodie Desmarais would grace them with her presence, swooping in and out with a comment about the state of the room or the untidiness of Malfoy’s hair. They would greet with a chaste kiss on the lips, and Albus would marvel at the ease of their conversation, of her grace and of his charm, of the effortless way her hand would slip into his.
Albus would stare. The other boys in the dorm thought that he had a thing for Elodie, but, as beautiful as she was - it was the mere dynamics of their relationship that fascinated and sometimes startled him.
His sister Lily wasn’t graceful. His sister Lily was not beautiful, not in the way that Elodie Desmarais was. Albus couldn’t observe the actions of an elegant woman from the safety and comfort of his room, or from the old chair in his grandfather’s study. He had watched as their relationship blossomed, and then continued watching as it deteriorated. He watched as her visits became less frequent, and there were no welcome kisses or holding hands, and the whispered conversation became fraught with anger and suspicion.
He tried not to let the memory rush to the front of his mind. He tried not to remember where Malfoy had put his hands, the sounds the blonde girl had made, the dimness of the lights and the soft scent of French perfume. He tried to forget.
Albus Potter was staring now, as he watched Elodie and Malfoy walk towards the stern couple standing dangerously close to the bench where he was seated. Malfoy was dragging his trunk, and his steps were small and slow. Elodie was looking around her, obviously conscious of the small group of girls huddled around a luggage trolley, their perfect hair shining and their perfectly glossed lips glistening in the autumn sunlight.
Albus quickly unfolded the paper and hid his face behind it. There was a murmur of greetings, and the shuffling of feet as they moved to shake hands.
“So, Malfoy, 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.”
How strange, Albus thought, that Elodie and Malfoy used to talk and talk and spend entire hours in comfortable silence, and yet the conversation between them and her parents was strained and forced? He flipped the paper again. He was as interested in Gilderoy Lockhart’s return to full health as Malfoy was interested in the cultural attractions in Paris and the welfare of Elodie’s relatives. The murmur of conversation continued, until the bell signaled the train’s departure. Albus put down his newspaper and grabbed the handle of his trunk, lowering his head as he passed Elodie and the hurriedly disappearing blond boy.
He would hate it if Malfoy had seen him, if they would have to do the awkward acknowledge of acquaintanceship. He would force his lips into a small smile - not wave, definitely not wave, as that would signal to the Malfoy boy that Albus was overexcited to see him. A small smile, if Malfoy did not see it, could easily be interpreted as a mere gesture and on lookers would think that Albus was simply happy to be here.
What a lie.
People were flocking towards the train and blocking off the doors. There were parents as well, giving their last goodbyes. Albus readjusted his bag strap as he searched for his own. He found them at the end of platform, a photographer dancing around them. Albus’ father was smiling broadly with an arm clutched around his wife’s waist. Lily was flipping her hair back and forth and puckering her lips, attempting to find ‘her best side’ (Albus was pretty certain there wasn’t one) and James was stony faced and pouting. Albus’ lip curled automatically, as it did whenever his family posed for anything.
Albus pushed his way on (one observant new first year commented on his hair and his eyes and the likeness to his father), fighting through the crowds of students to find a compartment. There were all full of people, the cliques forming once again with the return to school. He got a particularly nasty look from a group of Hufflepuff girls before continuing down the corridor, and receiving another from a burly looking Gryffindor who he had beaten at Quidditch last year.
The train began to pull out of the station. He had yet to find a free compartment.
“Al! Al! Are you looking for someone?”
Albus grimaced at the piercing voice of his little sister, and tried desperately to ignore her. He continued up the corridor, but he could hear her small dainty footsteps behind him.
“Why are you ignoring me?”
Albus didn’t reply and tightened his grip on his trunk handle.
“Is this because of that thing James and I did to your books?”
The dark-haired boy looked through another compartment door, only to see a group of small first-years gawp at him. He rolled his eyes. He felt his sister tap at his elbow.
“I don’t understand, Al,” she whined, and Albus was surprised that she didn’t stamp her foot like a five-year old girl, “you have plenty of books, we really didn’t think that you’d mind if we...”
“They were my books, Lily, and...”
“Let me finish! We really didn’t think that you’d mind if we sent them to the children at the orphanage, where they have nothing, not even the love of their parents which we take so much for granted...”
“You used them for your end of summer bonfire. I found a singed copy of Dumbledore’s book in the garden.”
Lily Potter bit her lip, and flicked her long red hair over her shoulder. Where Albus was the splitting of his father, Lily was the splitting image of her mother, complete with brown eyes and freckles and a small, petite figure. But where their mother was talented and brave and clever, Lily was temperamental, spoilt and brash. With her good looks, she had the boys in her year at her heels, but she would crush them before James could get his hands on them. She was Gryffindor’s little princess. Having an anti-social, nerdy, quiet brother in Slytherin was a blight on her perfect reputation.
Albus started to walk again, his trunk wheels snagging on the corridor carpet.
“Aren’t you going to argue with me, Albus?”
The second youngest Potter stopped, and looked down the floor, inspecting his shining leather shoes. The windows rattled as the train went over a bump in the track.
“I do love it when you get angry,” his sister continued, and he imagined her twirling the end of her hair, eyes wide and innocent. It was the look she employed whenever her teachers were telling her off, or when her father accused her of something. Albus’ fingers tightened around the strap of satchel. He knew that his siblings liked to infuriate him. It had become a silly little competition between the two of them, when they realised that Albus was there and present within their sacred bubble. They would taunt and annoy him, steal his things, blame him for problems around the house. Simple things, really... things that an eight-year old would find funny, but not a nineteen-year old bachelor or a teenage girl.
“Oh, Al,” Lily sighed, “I get so disappointed when you give me the silent treatment. It’s like you’re not even trying.”
Albus remained silent.
“It means I have to listen to the sound of my own voice, and you know how much I hate to do that,” Lily said, she was probably pouting now.
“No, I didn’t know,” Albus replied sardonically, not even turning around to look at his little sister. He continued along the train. There must be a spare compartment somewhere. A place that wasn’t filled with gawking first years or burly Ravenclaws or irritating, petulant relatives...
“See! That’s so much better,” Lily replied, her voice brimming with false excitement, “it’s so much more fun when you try, Al. We can work on the comebacks together, if you want. Have a little bit of family bonding time.”
Her stupidly patronising voice was burning into Albus’ brain as they passed a group of raucous Hufflepuffs cheering at a classmate that was downing a pint of doxy eggs. Albus rolled his eyes, and he wondered whether they would get permanently stuck there, gazing up into the darkness of his cranium.
“You would hate that,” he said to his sister.
“True,” Lily answered nonchalantly, “even I hate to admit that there’s a snake in the family.”
Her voice was no longer shrill or high-pitched, but lower, calmer, haughtier. It was the voice she used when she was talking her way out of detentions and into boys’ daydreams.
“I could give you a detention, you know,” she continued, pulling a red and gold badge out of her pocket and flashing it in Albus’ direction, “simply for being in Slytherin.”
Of course they had made her a prefect. Of course they had to celebrate the obnoxious children of the saviour of the wizarding world. Of course said children would be allowed to parade around the school with free reign. Albus had gone on unnoticed, as usual. He was the Potter that didn’t fit in. He had recognised the feigned looks his family had thrown people who were in Slytherin, or were somehow tangled up in the Dark Arts, or were unfortunate enough to have the surname ‘Nott’ or ‘Goyle’.
“I suppose you could come and get your little Death Eater friends to come and kill me, but I’m pretty sure that’s out of question based on the fact that you don’t have any friends...”
Albus adjusted his strap. There must be a free compartment. The next one along, he kept telling himself. In the next compartment, he would be able to lock himself away from his sister and from the stares of the students and open his book and remember times at the Burrow, in the outhouse with his grandfather, without the snide comments of his siblings or the condescending remarks of his uncles and aunts. There would be none of James’ ditzy blonde girlfriends to call him plain or boring. He would be alone with his thoughts and with his books. Perfectly tidy. No loud gestures. Albus.
He punched open a door between two train carriages and continued along the corridor. His little sister persisted, walking quickly to keep up with him, her head bobbing at his shoulder. She was nattering on about family and house pride and herself and her popularity and which boy was trailing after her. Albus sighed as he tried to tune out her voice, his ears instead listening to the rolling wheels of his trunk or the faraway giggles of excited first years.
Albus’ gaze fell on a girl, her hand pressed against the train window. He froze.
Lily had continued walking, and tripped over Albus’ trunk, spluttering and swearing at the dark-haired boy. She stopped too, however, at the sight of the handsome girl and her staring brother.
The girl quickly withdrew her hand from the window, hiding it behind her back. She turned to face them. Albus didn’t have time to prepare himself for the staggering beauty of her features or the gracefulness of her actions. He remained still, his now clammy hand clenched tightly around the handle of his trunk, his toes curling in his shoes. He quickly recalled the last time they had seen each other. It had been on the last day of sixth year, and the entirety of Slytherin had gathered in the common room, trunks and broomsticks and owl cages in hand. Albus had been standing near the entrance to the common room, and Malfoy had been late. The blond boy had rushed through the door, and with his arrival Elodie had hurried over, pulling him away for a whispered conversation in a dark corner.
Albus and Elodie had not spoken. He had been merely watching her, observing, scrutinizing the dynamics of her relationship with Malfoy, calculating each movement and predicting every outcome. He knew their reactions, their every encounter, who they talked to, what they did and he recognised the wordless way in which they communicated.
But he dared not speak to them.
“Potter,” the blonde girl replied, with a soft smile. She rearranged the edge of her grey dress. Lily threw her hair over her shoulder.
“How was your summer?”
Albus was taken aback at his sister’s politeness, her reserve, and her apparent friendliness. He supposed this was what made her popular, that no one knew the side of her that was unleashed when she returned to Godric’s Hollow. He released his hand from his trunk, and feeling began flooding back into his fingertips.
“Woefully inadequate,” Elodie answered, and her voice was neutral, calm, beautiful, “how about yours?”
Her eyes flitted over to Albus, but he kept his gaze fixed firmly on the floor.
“Fine,” Lily said. Albus could tell she was getting bored. She had crossed her arms and was biting at her lips.
“How about you, Albus?”
Albus heard Lily’s sudden intake of breath, evidence of her surprise that someone was talking to her brother, that a beautiful girl was talking to her brother, that someone she apparently respected (and perhaps admired) was talking to her dirty, low life, alienated brother. Albus looked upwards, toward the striking girl.
“I really should be going, actually,” the youngest Potter interrupted, “I am already late for a prefect meeting and Rose is sure to throttle me. It was nice catching up with you, Elodie. We should do it more often.”
Albus recognised the strained expression on his sister’s face. A vein was pulsing dangerously in her neck and her face was flushed. She hated being polite and well-mannered. She was all too used to people falling at her feet and her being able to trample all over them.
“Yes of course, Lily, that would be wonderful.”
“Good.” The younger girl smiled and Albus swore he could see every single tooth. “I’ll be off, then. Have a good year, Al, and try not to stare too much. I’m pretty sure it makes Elodie feel uncomfortable.”
Albus immediately returned to looking at the floor. He hadn’t meant to. His stomach recoiled as he remembered the other times that Elodie or Malfoy had caught him looking. Elodie would smile uncertainly, perhaps do a little wave. Malfoy would nod. They would both look away after a second, but Albus would carry on, continue until he found out their secret, until he remembered that it was improper. He wondered whether it would have changed now, whether the direction of their relationship would have been changed by the disappearance of Malfoy’s father, or his mother’s illness. He wondered whether Elodie would stand by him, be at his side to comfort and support him. He wondered whether they had gone through enough that this would faze them.
Again, the picture of the darkened room flashed into his mind’s eye, and he cringed inwardly. He hated carrying this secret with him, but he felt obliged to keep it hidden. Moaning, groaning, French perfume and hands. He undid the top button of his shirt.
Lily bounced away, her red hair swinging. The train went over another bump in the tracks, and the two students stumbled. Albus righted himself, Elodie leant her left hand against the window for support. He glanced quickly at her delicate fingers, at the small silver ring wrapped around her fourth finger. Engagement. Or marriage.
Albus had known that the girl in that room was not Elodie. He would have recognised her, her body language, her looks. Her very essence.
“So, Albus,” Elodie began, and the dark-haired boy looked towards her. He suddenly felt panic. What did he call her? It wasn’t like they shared some sort of special relationship or friendship. Scorpius had called her ‘El’ from time to time.
“Hello,” he said quietly.
“Are you looking for a compartment? There’s a free one right by the driver’s cabin.”
He wondered briefly whether Elodie made noises like that. His throat suddenly felt very tight.
“I would sit with you,” she said kindly, but with an air of forced politeness, obviously trying to continue talking while Albus choked and a sheen of sweat appeared on his forehead, “but I have to get back to my friends.”
“Yes, of course. Genevieve and Madeleine.”
“Yes, Genevieve and Madeleine,” she replied, smiling uncertainly, and Albus swore under his breath. He shouldn’t know things like that. He didn’t share classes with the girls, he didn’t socialise, and he shouldn’t know that. “I’m timing it perfectly so that they’ve stopped discussing who the best looking boy is by the time I get back.”
They both laughed weakly.
“So... so I should... I should probably get going.”
“Oh yeah, yeah, go ahead.”
The corridor filled with awkwardness as the two of them maneuvered their way around each other, Albus’ trunk getting in the way, the air fraught with strained apologies. When they finally managed to steer away from each other, Elodie flashed Albus a small smile before turning and walking down the corridor.
Albus released a breath he had been holding.
He had wanted to tell her. He had wanted to tell her about Malfoy, about what he was doing, about who he was doing. Albus had wanted to share the secret that he kept with him all of last term, and all through the summer. It had tormented him, his mind full of thoughts of it as he read all about the Malfoys and the illness and the disappearance. He had glanced furtively at the pictures in the Prophet and at the posters at his father’s work. Albus had somehow felt guilty for holding in a secret that nobody knew he kept. People would gasp in surprise and their eyes would stretch wide if they thought that Albus Potter was capable of gossiping.
Lily would scold him if she ever thought that he was encroaching on her turf.
Genevieve and Madeleine would run their fingers through their dark hair, and laugh at the debauchery of it all.
Malfoy wouldn’t care, and simply gaze aloofly at him.
Albus turned quickly, staring as Elodie walked away down the corridor. He knew how she would react, of course. She would put on a most beautiful brave face that would fool her friends and the girls in her year and her teachers. She would tell everybody that she was fine, wave the matter away with a flourish of her hands, make a sarcastic comment and then continue.
Elodie wouldn’t tell anyone the truth. She wouldn’t show anyone the truth.
Albus had been reading, secluded in the quiet of his four-poster, the curtains closed around him. It was the beginning of winter, and the cold had bitten at his fingers on the way from the library. The door had clicked open, and he heard footsteps across the dormitory. He turned a page, thinking it was simply one of his own roommates, but he heard a strong shudder of breath and then quiet weeping. Albus had crawled across his bedspread. It would have been far too obvious if he had stuck his head out of the curtains, so instead he merely peered through the gap in the material.
He immediately withdrew, and looked anywhere but at the scene occurring on the other side of the dark green velvet. The sentences and words and phrases on the page were more interesting, he told himself.
Elodie had entered the dorm, and collapsed into Malfoy’s arms. Albus dared not interrupt them, as the look on the blond man’s face was so littered with emotion that Albus suddenly guilty for intruding. One of Malfoy’s hands was wrapped around the girl’s waist, the other smoothing down her hair. She had stopped crying, and the two of them were sitting in silence. They were unparalleled.
Albus marveled at the exquisiteness of the moment, at the perfect way the cold winter light was pouring through the window and the way their pale skin contrasted against the luxurious silk and dark wood of the Slytherin dormitory. He wished, once again, that he could have had the talent to able to immortalize the moment on parchment, to perfectly describe the scene and their relationship. But he couldn’t. He didn’t have the authority to write about someone else. He couldn’t write their internal monologue, merely because he couldn’t read their thoughts, no matter how much he wanted to.
Albus looked at Elodie, now disappearing into a compartment. He let out a long, low whistle. She had said that there was a free one near the driver’s cabin, so he pushed his trunk towards it, his mind still reeling from his chance meeting with the beautiful blonde girl. He slid open the door, his gaze was downcast as he fumbled with the trunk handle.
When he finally looked up, his eyes widened. Malfoy was sitting on the leather seat, a book in his lap, and smoke curling mysteriously around his handsome face.
Today was just a day of first encounters.
Yup, a little bit more of Albus: hope you liked it. I know I'm spending a lot of time at the station/on the train (and this will continue for the next chapter... sorry!) but I want to establish initial stuff n that. Tnx to puffins and Ariellem, once again, for being awesome. ♥