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In Her Absence by luvinpadfoot
Chapter 19: Not Fine
Chapter Nineteen: Not Fine
“Aren’t you going to at least eat something?” Rose begged at breakfast one morning. She’d been watching Al refuse food and steadily lose weight for weeks, since everything had gone wrong. She was beginning to think he wouldn’t just get better on his own and needed her help, although she wasn’t exactly sure what help she could give.
Usually she could set aside her own feelings to think rationally, but Al was too close to her heart. She’d protect him over anyone, she’d just never had to protect him from himself before.
“I’m fine,” Al said as he poked at the bacon on his plate. He didn’t understand why Rose got in a fuss around meal times. He ate enough, he just wasn’t hungry anymore. It was hard to eat with no appetite to speak of. Every mouthful had to be forced down.
“You’re not fine,” Rose said snippily. She hated it when Al lied to her, especially when he had no good reason to.
Al turned away. “Of course I’m not fine. My sister’s missing, my Dad’s run mad, and James hasn’t owled me since I got here.”
Rose winced. She knew why James hadn’t owled, or at least one of the reasons he hadn’t. His recent suspension from the Cannons had been all over the papers. Rose had kept the headlines out of sight so Al wouldn’t be worried and just hoped the publicity would die down soon.
“What?” Al asked, suddenly suspicious. “You’re keeping something big from me, I can tell.”
Rose looked around, shifty eyed. Most students seemed tired of the Potter family business, but those who knew James or Al still read the papers and some others did. It was definitely the minority, but Rose knew Al would react badly if he heard the news from anyone but her.
“Tell me,” he demanded.
Rose sighed. “It’s about James,” she said, drawing it out for as long as possible. Some people said to rip it off like a bandage, but that method didn’t work with Al. She preferred to give him bad news in bits and pieces. “He, well, you know how he can get sometimes.”
That didn’t explain anything at all, so Al glared at her. “Tell me,” he repeated.
“Apparently there were some problems with the Chudley Cannons and you know how that coach is. He won’t put up with anything or give anyone a break, no matter how much they deserve it or what they’re going through.” Rose sighed and anxiously tucked a strand of frizzy, red hair behind her ear. “He got suspended for almost two months.”
Al looked shocked. “Suspended from Quidditch? For doing what?”
Rose shrugged. This part was even worse. She didn’t know what to keep from Al or what to tell him anymore. He was a sensitive boy, but he deserved to know the truth. “Officially? He missed a game and some practice, but everyone knows that was because of Lily. Unofficially,” she trailed off.
“Unofficially, what?” Al asked. “You’re the only person I can trust to be honest with me. Say it.”
“He’s been out a lot. Partying, drinking, at pubs with his friends. There have been reports of a few fights, one of them involving wands. People think that’s the real reason he was suspended.”
Al was shocked. James had always been a party bloke, sneaking firewhiskey onto Hogwarts grounds, but he’d been relaxed about it. That was what everyone did, everyone who was a popular troublemaker like James, that is. “He just knows how to have a good time,” Al said, always loyal to his older brother.
“The fights, Al. He could get into real trouble if he attacked a muggle. Some people even think he has a problem.” Rose added the last part in a whisper. People had read it in the paper, but she didn’t want to validate their suspicions if they heard James’s own family talking about it.
Al scoffed. He didn’t believe there was something wrong with his brother. Over the years professors and parents and all manner of adults had questioned his pranks or his attitude. They’d wondered if he had anger management issues or too slow in the classroom.
James had always managed to prove those people wrong. He rolled with the punches, seemingly uncaring over what others thought of him.
“It’s James,” Al said, begging Rose to be on his side. “He likes this, the center of attention, everyone wondering if he’s alright. This is what James does. He’s always been fine before and he’s fine now.”
Rose bit her lip to keep from saying anything she would regret. She didn’t agree with what Al said, but she nodded anyway. It was better for her to agree, even if it wasn’t the truth. Al had a few good points though.
She picked at the eggs on her plate and looked over at Al who was staring off into space. “Eat something,” she said quietly, too soft for him to hear.
Al blinked and glanced up at the head table. When he noticed Neville staring at him he ducked his head. “He’s been doing that for ages,” he muttered under his breath to Rose. His messy hair fell into his eyes and Al had to push it back. “He’s always doing that.”
“Talk to him,” Rose suggested. She knew Al wouldn’t, but she didn’t feel right not mentioning it at all. “If you give him five minutes of your time he may stop.”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Al said. He preferred avoiding the subject of Lily and anything that had to do with her.
Everything in his life seemed centered around her now, but at least he could find solace in his schoolwork. It was the one thing Rose could really help him with. They spent countless afternoons and evenings in the Heads’ common room studying and quizzing each other.
Since the only other person who had the password was Scorpius and he preferred to spend time in the Slytherin common room Rose and Al usually had the place to themselves.
“You’re going to have to talk about it sometime,” Rose said.
The air was filled with the sound of flapping wings as the owls descended on the students with their mail. A few of the first years who still weren’t used to it dropped their food in surprise.
A small tawny owl flew down and landed gracefully in front of Rose. She recognized it as her mother’s immediately. It stuck out its leg for her to untie the letter. Her mother’s owl, Cliffie as her brother had named it when he was small, was one of the best trained owls Rose had ever seen. Her mother used it mostly for business so it couldn’t be allowed to nip at anyone’s fingers.
She scanned the letter, taking in her mother’s neat handwriting, while Al looked on in confusion. “What’d she say?” He asked anxiously.
Rose shook her head. It was a whole lot of nothing, telling her the official story of James’s suspension and wishing both of them good luck in their classes. She also told Rose to take care of Al, which Rose knew she couldn’t tell Al. “Teddy’s back in town, apparently. He stopped by the house a few nights ago.”
“He and Victoire came back early,” Al commented.
“Well of course they did,” Rose said. “They’re family.”
“Molly, Lucy, and Louis are still off doing whatever it is they’re doing,” Al replied sullenly. After leaving Hogwarts, the three had decided to go on a trip around the world. Louis and Molly had waited a year to go with Lucy, and then just left over a year before.
“Well has anyone been able to contact them?” Rose asked. “They don’t exactly keep us informed of where they are.” Occasionally Percy, Audrey, Fleur, and Bill got owls from them, but their letters tended to be brief and vague. Percy especially had been upset when they left without any warning.
One day the three woke up, informed everyone they were leaving, and were gone before nightfall. It had been surprising, especially coming from the three so-called responsible ones in the family. No one would have been quite as shocked if it had been James, Roxy, and Freddie, but they all got stable jobs immediately after graduating from Hogwarts.
It surprised the family to no end.
“Probably not,” Al muttered. He didn’t blame Molly and the others for not coming back, but he was a bit sore that they were acting so selfish. He hadn’t been close to any of them as they were older and had been in different houses, but he still thought they should have some respect for their families.
“They’ll be home by the end of the year,” Rose said, unsure as to why Al looked so upset that they were gone. He hadn’t cared before and she wasn’t sure why he would now.
“But who just skips out on their family for over a year?” Al asked with a scowl. “You know what they’re like. Everything revolves around them. They could be home with us and instead they’re off trotting the world and seeing things no one will care about in five years.”
Rose’s eyes widened as she realized what the problem was. Al was making parallels between their cousins wandering the world and Lily being missing. It was just like him to look too deep into things, she was surprised she hadn’t realized it before.
“You know they’re just trying to have some fun, right?” She asked slowly. “I mean once they get back Molly’s thrown into her internship at the Ministry and Lucy and Louis go off to Healer Training and that’s the end of everything for them. They aren’t trying to be cruel to their parents.”
“Aunt Audrey looked like she was going to cry when they didn’t come home last Christmas,” Al said. The corners of his mouth were turned down in disgust. “And they have a choice about things. It’s not like-” He stopped before saying Lily’s name. He didn’t want to solidify those connections in his mind.
Rose shook her head and spooned some more eggs onto Al’s plate. “Eat these and you’ll feel better,” she said, although she felt like she was talking to a small child instead of an of age wizard.
“How many times do I have to tell you I’m not hungry?” Al asked, pushing the plate away from him. “It’s not a crime to skip a few meals, you know.”
“I know,” Rose said and she gave up on trying to convince him to eat. He would in his own time and he wasn’t that thin anyway. He was a smart boy and an adult. He could do whatever he wanted.
Breakfast was just ending as two blokes joined Al and Rose at the center of the table. Al blinked in surprise to see Bolton and Roland, two of his yearmates, sitting down next to them. They were on friendly terms although Al had been avoiding them as well as everyone else since the year began.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Bolton said as he dropped in on Al’s right side. “We overslept and nobody deemed it necessary to wake us. You going to eat those?” He asked, gesturing to the eggs as the rest were already gone. When Al shook his head, Bolton pulled them in front of him.
Roland rolled his eyes. “So we haven’t seen you around much,” he commented as he ate a slice of toast. “Not that we blame you, of course,” he added when Bolton sent him a sharp glare. “We miss having you around, that’s all. That toff Peterson’s been a right prat and you’ve missed all our- er- you know.” He smiled tensely at Rose, clearly editing himself for her sake.
“Anyway,” Bolton said through a mouthful of eggs, glaring at Roland. “We were wondering if you would care to grace us with your glorious presence in Hogsmeade in three weeks.”
“Normally we wouldn’t bother you with a request so early, but you’ve been so booked lately we decided it was time for extreme measures,” Roland said.
Rose raised an eyebrow at Al. She hadn’t realized his excuses to Roland and Bolton had been quite so flimsy. Al’s ‘schedule’, if you could even call it that, was anything but booked. He spent most of his time studying or doing nothing at all with Rose.
“I’ve promised to go with Rose actually,” Al said, his eyes glued on the table. “Sorry, mates.”
Rose rolled her eyes. She wasn’t going to be a part of his lies any longer, especially since she wasn’t going to go to Hogsmeade with him. She couldn’t go at all because she had a Heads meeting with Scorpius that day. “I’m going to have to cancel on you, Al. Something’s come up, so you’re free to go with them.”
Roland grinned widely at Rose, knowing that they’d just caught Al in a lie. “Brilliant. Don’t bother trying to avoid us, we’ll find you.”
Al stood up from the table and stalked off, Rose just behind him. “You didn’t have to be so rude to them,” she said as she struggled to keep up with his quick pace.
“You didn’t have to force me to go with them,” he replied.
“I didn’t force you to do anything. I just wasn’t going to let you blame it on me.” When Al didn’t respond, Rose grabbed his arm and forced him to a halt. “You could have told them you didn’t want to go, but they’re your friends. It might help you to spend time with them.”
“Newsflash, Rose, I don’t need to be helped,” Al said, yanking his arm out of her grip. “I just want to be left alone by everyone, and that includes them. And you.”
He stalked down the corridor and Rose let him go, knowing that he would cool down soon. He’d gotten angry before and he had a right to. Everything that had happened with Lily had taken a toll on him emotionally.
Rose sighed and turned back down the corridor to head to her own class. She’d find him later, she just hoped he didn’t have a row with anyone else before then.
A/N: Posted early to avoid power outage from Hurricane Sandy. Hope you guys enjoy!