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Chapter 7: Seven.
"Oi, here we go lads!"
A face vaguely familiar to Madeline materialised from the small crowd now gathered near the counter. Even without his robes, her sinking heart knew with ridiculous conviction that he was one of the Gryffindors she'd stood before earlier, drenched and muddy like a proper fool; a piece of Peeves' Art. Not that today was faring much better. She was a right mess, inside and out and the thought of more eyes made her cringe so throughly it could have been mistaken to observers as a shiver. Elliot had seen her in far worse states, granted, and Frank's opinions were so unclear she didn't know what to think; no part of her was sure if either of these facts made sitting with them easier, or even more unbearable. Not an ounce of it mattered; the burly Gryffindor was loping towards their table with a mighty grin in tow and a drink in hand.
"Sixth Years eh? I knew you two were holding out on us," he started, nodding towards the girls. "A fucking double da-"
"It's not a date," Alice exclaimed, echoing the Madeline's earlier protests as though she'd agreed vehemently with her all along. Two more large creatures had joined him now, slipping free of the crowd in time to hear her say as such. And whether she'd meant it as an invitation or not, it seemed it had acted well enough to those means.
"Good to know we aren't interrupting anything then, eh."
"No other tables left, mates. It's just started raining out."
"Fucking rift-raft," Elliot grinned, shaking his head. They thudded one another's shoulders in greeting as they pulled up chairs, the first choosing to flip his for straddling; dropping it closer to Alice then space deemed nessecary, the blonde flicked him a smile, causing Madeline's stomach to drop in realisation.
"Maddy," the easy greeting startled her, but it only took a moment to place the boy by her side as the same lad who'd fetched Elliot from the kitchens. "C'mon, shove over. I won't bite." Any friendliness she'd felt towards him due to familiarity faded instantly to awkward horror, somewhere beside her, Elliot shifted to make room; not enough though, it'd never be enough. "Aye, don't look like that; he won't either. Not his style."
It was said in jest, though knowing that did nothing to soothe her. Blindly, she eased herself across the bench until her leg hit the unbearable warmth of Elliot's. She didn't look at him, not daring to spare as much as a glance even as she was pressed closer by the familiar stranger. Merlin help her, if she'd been a mess before; she was not much more than a pool of nonsense now.
"Alright," Frank started. "This is here is Shamus," he nodded to the sandy haired fellow who'd pulled a chair up between himself and Elliot, "the good for nothing down there is Tarquin, and-"
"Harry," Harry spoke for himself, his voice seemed so close to Madeline she almost felt him say it and she found herself toying with the wretched urge to shift away, even if it meant more Elliot. She was entirely unsure which would be worse, or even, which would seem worse. To whom exactly, she wasn't sure either.
"Alice," the blonde girl piped up, not missing a beat. "And Maddy, of course."
“Brilliant,” Tarquin leant forward a little on his chair. Alice daintily crossed her legs, her eyes rising to lock with Madeline’s over her drink. Oh yes, boys.
Introductions aside and talk came easily with the Gryffindors, their jests tugging a smile to her lips even when she half-felt she wanted to resist it. For a moment she flicked her eyes to watch Tarquin, and found herself thinking perhaps Harry in close quarters was far from her worst option. Granted, she hardly saw the small breath of air separating her from his energetic arm gestures and easy amusement anywhere enough. She was uncomfortable, undeniably so, and yet, she realised she sort of rather liked them. Watching them at least, whether she fit amongst them or not was another matter.
It was in this moment of Madeline's self-manipulated peace that Elliot bent his head towards her. “I din’t know the circus was coming-honest,” his words found her ear with an unspoken volume, drifting beneath the others calls. She dropped her gaze as as Shamus chaffed Tarquin merrily across the table whilst Alice giggled on queue.
Circus. Merlin, Madeline wondered if he knew he was one of them, owning a perfect part in the scene dancing around them, his jester hat bells jingling madly. “Oh, no,” she paused, “They’re alright, really.”
“Look at Alice,” she whispered back with vague amusement, unable to give an answer on her own behalf-she knew what his real question was, after all. “She’s in her element.”
Finally, in a breath, the over-closeness of his presence faded ever so slightly and it seemed he was willing to let her weave herself into the pleasing vagueness she had stumbled to create; surrounded by other's laughter, and conversations that didn't matter. She felt if her thoughts didn’t attempt to shape the true nature of what was now enveloping her so entirely, then maybe, just perhaps, she really wouldn’t want to run out in to the forgiving rain that becconed. But staying, and not running? They were two such different things. Staying seemed a commitment, not running was merely a fancy to hold as long as it seemed fit.
“-and honestly, what’s a pretty little thing doing with company like them, anyway,” Tarquin was testing, his laughing eyes locked on Madeline’s lovely blonde. The girl’s mouth opened with a laugh, but she seemed a trick too slow.
“Roll your tongue up, mate,” Frank snipped dryly, “I’ve seen her naked and it’s not worth the effort of crooning-”
Madeline froze in disbelief, her horror ebbing as Alice surprised with a genuine laugh, “For Merlin’s sake, I was four-” She eyed the fellow up and down, “No point clinging to that, eh? Not the most accurate portrayal nowadays.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Prewett, nothing’s changed from where I’m sitting,” Frank snorted, though Madeline acknowledged his tone didn’t seem to aimed to insult, despite his words. He was confusing her more than ever, but Alice didn’t seem to so much as blink at his nature.
“Well,” started Tarquin, seemingly always uneffected, “I don’t know where you’re sitting LB, but-”
“Tarq? How bout you take the afternoon off, lad?” Shamus suggested, chuckling.
Harry clapped Tarquin on the shoulder with a laugh, “He doesn’t know what to say if it isn’t about pants.”
“Doesn’t hold much standing, coming from you, that,” Elliot smirked, his hand taking the familiar movement to rub the back of his neck. “Everyone up for another pint?”
“One isn’t going to cut it,” Frank muttered, sculling the last of his glass and dropping it noisily back onto the table top.
“Aye aye, time to cough up,” Harry wriggled in his seat, twisting his hand into his trouser pocket to thump a mound of coins in front of Elliot. The other’s followed suit, with Shamus and Elliot automatically deemed responsible due to the fact they were able to exit the table without crawling over anyone else, not that Tarquin would have minded. “Girlies?”
“They’re making us go Dutch, Grey.”
Already breathing a little better at the prospect of a smidge more space, Maddy grinned at her friend, “Gryffindors though, aren’t they? Can't expect manners.”
“Give me a Ravenclaw anyday,” Alice sighed, skillfully adding something dreamy to her tone as she reached for her purse in a pitiful manner, “Ravenclaws know how to treat a girl.”
“Fucking Merlin,” Harry exclaimed, staring at Alice. He peered down at Madeline, “What is this rubbish?”
“I think we’re being tamed,” Shamus answered, slowly depositing another knut to the pile. Alice beamed at him. “Come on, sooner it’s done with, the better.”
Harry looped his arm around Madeline, tugging her towards him, “I’ve been nothing but nice, have I?”
“They’ll both be liking you more if they’re tipsy,” Elliot laughed, and Tarquin threw his own addition down to the pile.
"Good luck getting us tipsy on butter beer," Alice snickered.
"That's right. They're naught but wee bairns," sighed Harry, leaning even closer to Madeline as he tugged more money from a back pocket, seemingly oblivious to her discomfort or perhaps worse, as she expected; he was simply ignoring it. Finally, the urge to sidle closer to familiarity took her entirely and she found herself edging across the minute space that lay between her and Elliot; mere inches had never seemed so far. Her relief was fleeting, the vague whisper of victory that danced through her disappearing as she felt his eyes on her; laughing brightly as they always seemed to. She wondered if he knew what it felt like to feel so uncomfortable in your own skin, you could forget to step, or too breathe. Knowing that your own self betrayed you too often to trust it; could he even dream of it? Would he still laugh?
"Need anything else?" He'd ducked closer again, speaking to her and not the others. She shook her head, words seeming too hard, as they had all day; for him, for the group, separating the two in the same way he seemed so able. A small sigh escaped her lips as he got to his feet, scooping the money off the table top. Shamus stretched lazily as he rose, and the two made the their way back over to the counter. With their retreating backs, the startled sensation that had gripped her thoroughly shifted; and she felt air swell her lungs as though they had been missing it. It tasted stale and strange, the steady realisation of wrong making her skin prickle anew.
Suddenly, Tarquin groaned, "Should've got some bloody food."
That was it. Madeline's voice found itself, for once in tune with her thoughts, "I'll tell them, what do you w-"
"Chips," Harry interrupted decidedly, to Tarquin's obvious agreement. She slid free, a funny feeling coming over her as her feet took her weight, as though standing would have made her braver all along. The boys' money in hand, she left, her heartbeat throbbing in her very soles as they saved her from whatever this was, step by step, and out to the rain that waited.
Maddy turned, a smile on her face that didn't quite feel like her own, guilt already taking her for the abandonment that was always caused by her actions. It felt too late to stop, although she wasn't entirely sure what she was doing in the first place. All she knew was the air wasn't quite right, too full of people and food, and that she herself didn't suit any of it. Perhaps she didn't want any of it. Certainly not chips. Alice would be fine, she always was; Madeline would simply have to make it up to her.
"Maddy are you-" The girl trailed off, her face speaking everything she didn't dare in front of the Gryffindors; her eyes locking on the bag hitched upon Madeline's thin shoulder. A silent plea.
"Am I what, Alice?" It was almost teasing, or it would have been if Madeline had had the strength in her to conjure the right notes in her voice to make it so. It was enough though, Alice seemed to have her answers; she was leaving, but not particularly disturbed, just constrained. "I'll be back." Soon, later, tonight. The last possibility seemed too drastic though, all Madeline wanted was to free her feet and breathe the rain. It was hardly running at all, when it came to Madeline, it was decidedly tame. She was avoiding the insecurities that wouldn't rest, unready and unwilling to face them and entirely too aware that even if she could, the time and place was ill-fitted.
She found Elliot easily, the momentum that took her to his side faded as quickly as it and come though, and she could force herself to do little more than stand there. It was her feet as usual, failing her with their blunt, unimaginative thinking. All they knew was forward, or backwards-if circumstance demanded it. They didn't mind if her head came with them, or if her thoughts and words could keep up. "They wanted food-Harry and Tarquin-"
"Maddy," he looked at her, as though he saw right through her. "Going somewhere?"
"Chips they said, you might want two lots, they seemed...hungry." She didn't answer him, she wasn't sure how, so she did what she'd come to do; pressing the money into his hand in a hurry. He took it, but it was obvious he expected her to say something else. She took a breath, stumbling over her own thoughts. The best she could manage was what she would have voiced hours ago, if they hadn't been surrounded by people that needn't have heard it. It felt odd even saying it aloud now, but it was almost an explanation "My sketchbook-it was in my bag when I lost it, and, and it wasn't…"
"I don't have it," he said, as if that'd been her question. It hadn't really, she'd never really been able to imagine him keeping it, not when he knew how she dwelled over its pages, not when his own likeness lived on such a page.
"I-I didn't think you did, really, but I had to ask-" she hesitated, knowing she'd said too much of all the wrong things. "I'm going for a bit-I just need to get something." Air.
"Don't say I'm running. I'm not. I've left my most important thing behind to prove it," she tried to grin, nodding her head towards Alice where she still sat in their little corner. That was hardly the way of it but Elliot didn't know how impossible it would have been to pursade Alice to leave the comfortable pub and their companions for the rainy day that lay outside, singing for her presence. Perhaps he didn't know that Alice was rather used to being left by her friend and her wayward feet; too used to it to simply sit ransomed, and wait for her return.
In the end it didn't matter what he knew or didn't know, Madeline didn't wait for her words to sink in; too scared to hear him tease her for it all, or worse, protest. She ducked her head away from his eyes and turned on her heel, her palms smacking against the cold glass panes of the door as she broke free from the busy place and her own muddled confusion.
The world outside was an entire lifetime away from what she had left behind, even from its own image, still sketched in somewhere behind her eyes from earlier that day. A grey mist crawled about now, a lingering, tired sort. As though it had grown weary of the sky and wished for a place to rest, even just for a while; it softened the harsh cornesses of the buildings and created a delicious haze between her and the few students still braving the streets, no one was here nor there, they just were. Her heart had quickened, spurred on by the icy air, or her silly little grasp of freedom. She glanced back for a second, bottom lip taken hostage between her teeth, to make sure he hadn't followed. He hadn't of course; she'd not really given him the option, knowing enough to predict he wouldn't leave everything to Shamus to cart back to the group.
Madeline grinned, her eyes swinging to the sky as her feet made their way towards the main street. It was drizzling she decided, thoughtfully assessing the water-filled space before her; the heavy sort that could well be rain if it weren't suspended just-so, too heavy for the clouds, but immune to the need to hit the ground. She felt she understood it a little, as though the day itself had pulled something from her shoulders, or her soul (if she dare admit it), and given her a lighter step. She felt as though she was human in essence, but with a dash of something spritely she never might have dreamed of in the pub. By the time she reached the shopfront of Toames and Scrolls, she was almost drenched through entirely; subtly done so by the suspended moisture which was, if anything, more thorough at creating all-over damp than falling rain. She had hardly noticed, merely feeling a little merrier to truly be a part of the general loveliness.
Indeed, stepping inside seemed madness, but she chided herself for thinking it. She had come with a purpose as much as an excuse, and it felt important to somehow manage it, even if it meant admitting torents of things she usually daren't even think. Madeline took a deep breath and forced herself to enter the stifling little place; it was cramped at the best of times, and today she felt as though she bore open wings, struggling to spread between the tight four walls and leaning shelves. Her fingers danced hesitantly over the too clean, too crisp pages of the sketchbook that had found its way into her hands. She almost hated it, a small part of her wanting to slam it back onto the pile and leave. That wasn't an option though. Or it was, perhaps; but one that would leave her a little crazed inside her skin and heart, and only postpone this horrid moment until the next chance she had to visit Hogsmeade. She needed a sketchbook dancing in her hands grasp. She needed her sketchbook. But she had lost it, lost a thousand half finished pieces of herself. She'd lost scraps of her Ma along with it too, stupidly tying her into its paper, as though it wasn't something that wouldn't always be by her side; safe. There hadn't been enough scraps left of her Ma for her to lose.
Unseeing, Madeline paid and left, feeling bewildered all over again. It stung of something different this time, something she hoped she never had to face in any proper sort of way. She pushed it all away, settling it down deep as she could, telling herself it was all inside her own bodily confines, so it was within her power to ignore it. Always, if she had to.
Madeline made her way back towards the pub, her insides furling tightly at the thought of sidling back through its many bustling occupants to find her Alice. Really, she had no intention of going back, not in the sense of opening the door and returning to her few cramped inches of seat. Pressed between Harry and Elliot her mind became naught but that disturbing empty that consumed her more often now than it ever had before.
It was different, out in the dampness, looking across at the bricks that hid the only person that might help her from such a stupor, if it was help she was needing. Madeline wasn't even sure if it was. Where she stood, she was almost overcome by thoughts, words she might never utter. It was no worse than the emptiness, but she couldn’t bare it, quickly retreating from view of the glass doors and around the corner. She exhaled unsteadily, glancing up at the cloudy sky as a drop of rain struck her face, proper rain. There was no need to feel like this, not really. Alice was fine, she was sure; surrounded by burly Gryffindor lads out to make her blush. She would walk, just for a while, eyes locked on the sky that promised more rain.
Madeline’s dedication to the idea seemed to spread to the weather itself, for as her steps hastened away from the awful place, the spots grew heavier and heavier. It was a delicious release, almost validating her decision. Though Madeline knew that was only because she was searching for validation in the first place, to feel at peace with such an act of selfishness as the one she was commiting. As the rain slowly seeped deeper into her damp hair, splattering against her jacket and bag, she let the twisted feeling in her stomach unwind. It really seemed best to ignore the feelings currently plaguing her, for some things couldn’t be fixed with a simple action, not when she had ruined them so much though another. Every decision brought another with it, and they looped and twisted about until the next came, and the next. Every choice changed the future. There was no retreating now, regardless. So she felt free from trying to untangle beginning from end.
A clap of thunder ripped overhead, her new sketchbook was clamped to her chest, now just as wet as its owner, and Madeline's eyes soared skyward, clinging to the world above her; the ethers that stretched on for ever. Her feet twisted her, circling around and a bout, slow, blind but steady. For a second she only felt the sky, a sad smile slipping onto her mouth as she watched it merge into something swirling and complete above her. A half fancy caught her unawares, and she almost wished she were back in the coffee shop, avoiding her father, sitting in a world different to her own. It had been simpler then, of course, as this world and Alice would have been waiting for her. And that had always been all the comfort Madeline had ever dreamed of wanting or needing. It was only now that she felt what it was like to truly be lost, even while she was home.
She was running now. Her steps were quick and light, dancing over the wet pavers, leading her away from where she should go and taking her someplace else. She felt awful, and she felt lovely all at once. And the lovely almost weighed the other out. Lovely, lovely, lovely-
“M-Madeline!” The call made her pace hasten, if nothing else. And it was with an unsure gait that her pursuer caught her, as though he wasnt certain as to whether he should run after or leave her be entirely. “I er-”
“I’m sorry,” Madeline cut in, swivelling to face Roger Verona with awkwardly hidden surprise. Her words rushed from her mouth, preventing the pause that might make it more obvious, “But I’m in an awful hurry. I’ll see you at dinner though, or something, won’t I?” She smiled, her lips curling in an uncomfortably foreign manner and she twisted away before she had to face his gaping mouthed agreement. It didn't matter she'd spoken an outright lie, or that he probably, no, definitely knew it. She was completely out of sorts as she darted away from the confines of such an encounter, not daring to notice the remarkably unstable feeling slipping through her legs and feet as she ran.
“Maddy-” And that was it, with the familiar call echoing in her ears, Madeline was falling. Her entire body crumpled, thudding against the wet ground with decided surety. She swore softly to herself as she searched for a will to lift herself upright, feeling all too shamed to bother with such a motion. Roger appeared at her side, but she barely noticed; dread ebbing through her as Elliot towered into her vision. He didn’t seem to look at her, turning instead to his shorter counterpart with a shoulder clap that left his meaning clear, “It’s alright, I’ve got her well enough.”
“Come on,” he continued on, speaking to her almost roughly as he hoisted her up with vexing ease, not acknowledging her protest in the slightest. Pain immediately shot through her ankle but Madeline forced her reaction away, refusing to add an ounce more embarrassment to the situation. She couldn't believe she'd done such a thing again. He'd seen her running, after she'd sworn she wouldn't. “Calm down, would you?”
“Just-” she flushed, not knowing which words would come until they'd fallen from her lips. “Stop it. I don't think I can bare...that,” her hand motioned towards the pub. She sighed, not knowing how to say why it felt so hard, when it was all so nice. “Just leave it in your little cafe back there and let it be.”
“That’s it though, isn’t it? Maddy, we’re here now. Both of us.”
“But I don’t want to be! I don’t want it to change here, you’ll never get it. You fit. Here or there. I don’t. This is all I’ve got. And you were never supposed to be here. We'd have met in the sodding corridor if we were supposed to be..here."
He frowned as his hand ruffled his hair, already damp from the drizzle, “So you’ll carry on and pretend I’m not?”
“I think,” her voice faltered, "I think that'd be best." She twisted her arm from his grasp and stepped past him, figuring she should reinstate Alice at her side before she left the village. A twinge of pain made her falter though, and suddenly the replacement of his arm didn’t seem so unnecessary, though it felt uncomfortably firm. “Oh,” she mumbled, almost confused by his annoyance. “Right.”
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” Elliot’s voice was almost clipped, and Madeline stared at him with humiliated shock. Nothing made much sense, not enough for her to judge the situation, anyway.
“W-what do you mean?”
“If I can’t catch you, don’t fall. Don’t such a fool, Maddy.”
"I don't want you around catching me." She was almost as annoyed as he seemed now, pulling free from his grasp to face him, balancing softly on her sore ankle. "I fell a thousand times before I met you, and I'm fine."
"Oh," Elliot was mocking her. "Is that what you call it?"
"It is." Madeline was surprised by the sureness in her voice, it spread throughout her, as though she'd spoken the truth. She hardly felt fine, at this point she was not even sure quite what it was she was arguing against, or even for. Oh Merlin, what a mess.
He watched her for a minute, his face a strange sort of mix. When he finally spoke, the annoyance seemed to have faded, a fact that seeped through Madeline like honey. "See, I don't think you are."
That unsteadied her, causing another breath to hitch in her throat. "I am." This time it felt closer to the lie she was sure it was. "And if I'm not, it's my problem."
He laughed at that, at her, the sudden noise seemed too easy and natural. It scalded against Madeline's ears, and left her face burning, startling her so much she felt herself lose the grasp she held on the pieces of herself. Looking at him now, it seemed the last few minutes had all been part of her own horrid imaginings, creating stories out of nothing like she had as a child. For a fearful second she wondered if it had all been a game, but the thought left her as quickly as it'd come once she laid eyes on his face, shocked at how intently he studied her.
"The thing you keep missing," Elliot said finally, seemingly closer than he had been seconds earlier. "Is that my problem, is you." She opened her mouth at that, defiance creeping back through her, but the look on his face made her drink his words in properly.
"Oh." Madeline understood what he'd meant by his inflection, she hardly believed it though, there was naught in her to do such a thing to someone. He sighed, almost laughing as his hand found the back of his neck in a motion she'd become so familiar with.
"Gods, Alice was right. You're a fucking fairy." It was almost a whisper for he was close now, too close. His fingers brushed one of the loose curls haloing her face. But Madeline only had half a mind, and it seemed to be the half unable to deal with such things. She hardly knew what breathing was, let alone words for protest.
"I don't even know what that means, Elliot," she managed finally, barely registering the grin that appeared on his lips before she found herself nestled between the opening of his jacket, against his damp shirt. If she thought about it later, which for sanity's sake she prayed she wouldn't, Madeline decided she'd imagine he'd pulled her to him. It wasn't exactly a lie, she just wasn't entirely sure; a small part of her felt too glad to be there, and she couldn't help but wonder if that part had done something to the space between them itself.