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Chasing Clouds. by RoseLolly
Chapter 1: One.
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Disclaimer. I own nothing but my own characters, who have lived in my head longer than they have occupied JK's amazing world. I wish Alice and Frank were mine, but apparently, someone discovered them before me. :] And Madeline's song is of course 'Dancing with myself,' By Billy Idol, even if she was a little before his time. No profit, etc.
Author's Notes. And quickly, to save confusion, I'd better say that a long ago, this story was posted as Self-Induced Lactose Intolerance...by me, Rose (formerly OllyCoop). Lolly's reinspired me, and the story has been worked over (and over)...and I'm feeling much happier with it. Yes. I hope you enjoy! And, with what I daresay is a completely pointless-eating-your-life detail, every word of this story I write is in Georgia font, and I vaguely recommend it for reading too :]
The rain pooled across the asphalt, individual drops dancing restlessly on the wind before finally loosing themselves in the glistening, ever-changing sheet of icy cold wetness that spread itself across the road. An entire week had passed and the ominous weather showed no signs of relenting as the town grew increasingly forlorn and waterlogged, its roads silent and undisturbed. It was to be a very wet Christmas, rather than white, and few souls relished in the news.
Madeline wandered along the empty street, her hands thrust deeply into her pockets as she stared up through the drizzling rain. She was content to let her feet lead her whichever deserted path they fancied; she didn’t know the surroundings well enough to argue with them if she’d wanted. And wherever they ended up taking her, she was sure it wouldn’t be home. She wasn’t too sure that it was home anyway, more of a house she had agreed to unpack her trunk in to silence her Professors' concerns. A house she had managed to lose her bearings on, minutes after she’d left it; a fact that was drifting between her jumbled thoughts with a confused sort of glee.
Just one week and she’d be back at school, away from the not-quite-home and it’s inhabitants. And she would be with Alice again. Oh how she missed her darling Alice Prewett! The girl was some sort of cherub in Madeline’s eye; a kind, loving entity that had a knack of adding bounce to the somewhat repetitive routine that came with a Hogwarts education. A beautiful loon.
The mere thought of Alice lifted Madeline’s spirits, and she gladly pushed the rather gloomy existence of holidays at her father’s into a dusty corner of her mind. She grinned up at the sky as the rain fell in a new and heavier onslaught, pulling her hands free to catch a few stray drops. There was something about the rain she had always loved; it always seemed so free and unaffected, relying on nothing more than pure chance.
Suddenly, Madeline bit her lip in amusement as a wave of spontaneity hit her. Glancing around, she assured herself she was entirely alone before flinging her arms out and tossing her head back with a laugh. She twirled effortlessly, letting the surrounds blend into a dreary blur. With her eyes closed against the icy rain, she imagined letting her soul fly free, delighted laughter dancing from her lips as she twisted about in well-relished freedom.
Soon enough though a prickling sensation crept across her skin and Madeline snapped out of her trance, noticing for the first time, a figure in her spinning world. As she passed around a second time, the grinning observer winked and she stumbled, falling unceremoniously to the water-soaked road. For a prolonged moment, Madeline just sat where she’d landed: in a puddle, in the middle of the street. It really wasn’t meant to end like that, really, she'd have been happy if it'd never ended. She sighed, reluctantly turning her attention to the now-laughing teenager who’d seen far too much. “What?” she snapped finally, peering over at him from her seat on the ground as though it might possibly be a place of dignity.
“Nothing, nothing,” he grinned, shoving his hands into the pocket of his apron as he leant casually against a nearby shop-front.
“Sure,” Madeline muttered under her breath as she finally scrambled to her feet, wincing at her wet jeans, sore tailbone, and worst of all, the discovery of a soggy left shoe.
“C’mon, inside and I’ll make you a coffee,” he offered, making a small effort to hide his amusement as he held a door open for her.
“I’d prefer tea, to be honest,” Madeline squelched past him, entirely unenthused by the idea, but suddenly too wet and cold to argue it. She suddenly felt somewhat betrayed by the weather for landing her in such a situation, albeit her own decision to go prancing about on slippery ground.
“That goes to show you haven’t tried my coffee yet,” he let the door swing shut, its tiny bell jingling crazily behind them as he steered Madeline into the small cafe, her internal cursing sufficiently interrupted.
He left her standing a few metres inside the door, and made his own way towards the counter without another word. Madeline watched silently for a minute as he moved about with a practised air. Finally she realised he wasn’t planning to strike up conversation she allowed herself to relax, slightly at least.
Her eyes danced over the room, lingering for a moment on the comfortable lounge-like chairs that lined the wall by the front window. A fire crackled cheerfully from where it was tucked away in the back corner, sending a warm flickering light over the surrounding jumble of slightly mismatched chairs and tables. It had a cosy, livable air, not unlike the commonroom she and Alice often lounged about in, hours after everyone else had left for bed.
Madeline glanced down, noticing a steady drip falling from the tip of her wet hair to the polished mahogany boards at her feet. A rogue smile twitched at her lips as she noted the small resulting puddle spread. Running a careless hand through her dark hair to dispel the gathering droplets, she approached the counter; slipping herself up onto a stool she watched as he bustled about, singing quietly as he went. The tune's familiarity soothed her a little, some small part of her at least. Mostly she just felt messy and displaced in her own being.
“Gets everyone, that puddle,” he spoke cheerfully after a few minutes, oblivious to her inner termoils.
“You find many soggy customers in the middle of the road?”
He grinned, “Aye, quite a few. Locals though, always locals and seized joints. And you. Here,” he slid a coffee towards her, “it’ll warm things up a bit.”
Madeline glanced down at it and barely refrained from snorting; he’d shaped a swirling heart into the creamy coffee. “Urgh, cheesy blighter, aren’t you.”
Nonetheless, she wrapped her hands around it appreciatively. And after taking a careful sip she slid off the stool and carried the cup with her to the fireplace, toting a vague hope to dry her clothes a tad before drenching them all over again on the way back. Home. Madeline sighed, silently vowing to stay away from that awful reality as long as she could. Decidedly, she sat cross-legged on the stone hearth, with her back against the wall and fixed her eyes unblinkingly on the dancing flame.
The self-induced drowse was broken some time later by a chair screeching across the floor, and it was glaringly obvious she'd stayed much longer than ever intended. She uncurled her limbs and struggled to her feet, silently begging them to co-operate through their ungainly sleep-heaviness. Behind her, the apron-clad youth was sweeping the floor, re-arranging the furniture around him as he hummed a familiar, but barely distinguishable tune under his breath. Feeling a touch frantic as she realised he was closing up, Madeline dove for her bag and began to search it’s confusingly unnecessary number of pockets for her purse.
“You’re back, then,” he commented, a lopsided grin casually appearing as he watched her.
“I er, well, yes,” Madeline finished, feeling quite pathetic. She offered an awkward half-smile, which she felt quite sure looked more like a grimace and quickly turned back to her search. Finally, she found the evasive thing and pulled it free, only to find, with great horror, that failed to contain a Muggle sixpence! “Oh, no,” she breathed. Merlin help her!
“Forget about it. It’s on the house.”
Madeline shook her head uncomfortably, far too embarrassed to form anything close to a proper argument or to gratefully accept, she wasn’t even sure which she actually wanted to do. Finally, she hooked her bag over her shoulder, ducked her head slightly in thanks, and hurried past him into the drizzling rain outside. The fresh air shocked some sense into her, and she stopped, turning back towards the door to fix the mess she’d left behind her. It was then that she caught glimpse of him, watching her through the window with his laughing expression and her resolve crumbled as she darted down the footpath.
Two days later and the dark clouds had slowly begun to disperse. The rain continued to fall, though, as if it had never been any different, as though the sun had never been anything more than a rumour. Madeline wasn’t the slightest bit worried about where the sky had been, or whether it was actually, finally coming back. She retraced her steps as best she could, barely registering any of the wrong turns along the way. And without hesitation, she pulled the door open, stepping into the warm building rosy-cheeked and starry-eyed from her rather lengthy explorations.
“Good morning, love,” the same teenager glanced over the top of a large espresso machine, grinning broadly at her as the door’s bell finally ceased it’s jingling.
“Oh, morning,” Madeline replied vaguely, weaving her way around an assortment of tables to stand in front of the fire. She stretched out her hands; carefully letting her icy fingers defrost.
“Can I get you something? Or are you just here for the fire?” he called. “Excellent fire it is too! Lit it myself,” he added as an afterthought. Madeline turned to look at him, wondering if he had known she would come back. She'd had to; the odd little place reminded her of things that made her spirit feel lighter; of school and Alice, and their ever-ellusive sense of 'home'. Even with this smiling dark haired creature lurking about, it felt like a place she might belong in, at least a little. Not at all like her father's.
“Maybe...Maybe just what I had before.” she shrugged, “But without the heart. Hearts won't get you anywhere.”
“Right you are, a guy has to try.”
Madeline nodded absentmindedly, already probing his presence into a place of lesser standing in her consciousness as she wandered away from the fire to a seat by the window. The rain slipped easily down the cold pane, her finger slowly traced the wobbly tracks of individual droplets through the condensation. She found herself musing on how quickly their adventure ended. Sometimes two lone drops would merge together, creating a fresh trail with a newfound momentum. But the faster each stream went, the more of themselves they left behind. And eventually, there was nothing left in them to keep going. People are the same, she thought wearily.
“You like this rain then?”
Madeline looked up as he sat the coffee on the table next to her, “I always have.” She picked it up, glad of the warmth more than anything. “Thanks,” she eyed him over the rim, realising she didn’t know his name.
“Oh? You’re actually wanting an introduction?” he grinned, offering an outstretched hand. “I didn’t think you were the type, but it’s Elliot.”
She stared at it for a moment. “Madeline,” she relented after the short pause. Not feeling entirely satisfied with herself, she opened her mouth again. And then closed it.
“We can go over it again if you’d like?”
“I’d-” Madeline cut herself off, her eyes darting back to the window. “No, that's it. That's me.”
“Right,” Elliot shrugged, seeming to accept Madeline’s non-responsive mood he strolled back towards his counter humming contentedly under his breath. She turned to watch him go, feeling as irritated by his unaffectedness as she did her own mood. She sighed, pulled her tattered sketchbook from her bag and sat it on the table in front of her, unconsciously adjusting it so it slanted rather drastically to the right.
Ten minutes later and she realised she had barely touched the page, thanks to a niggling thought in her head that refused to be squashed into the background for a pencil. “Maddy. I prefer Maddy,” she paused again, “but really, I suppose on a day like this I prefer Grey.”
“You’d be staying with your father then?” Elliot looked over at her from the table he was clearing, a small collection of dirty crockery balancing in his hands.
“If that’s what you want to call him. What is that anyway? A lucky guess?”
Again, he grinned, “Small town.”
“‘Course it is,” Madeline rolled her eyes.
“How do you get along with his lot?”
“I-" she swallowed, feeling displaced. "Give the town a few days and they'll get back to you."
“No need to get shirty,” he told her lightly, an eyebrow raised as he carried his load away. “All I meant was you not like them.”
“What grounds have you got to-”
“You can’t possibly want to be like them,” he called over the general clatter of plates, “not from what I remember of those girls as a kid.”
Feeling a sudden urge to leave, Madeline rose to her feet. Tucking her sketchbook firmly under her arm as she shuffled about in her bag for the familiar shape of her purse. It wasn’t the first time she promised herself she would assign a pocket to keep it in for easy access. As she approached the counter, Elliot peered at her in mild surprise.
“You’re leaving then?” he waved her proffered money away, and she could almost hear the unspoken ‘again’ dart through his thoughts. She was running, as usual.
“It seems my best option.”
“The other being?”
“I strangle you with your apron strings, or something,” she called, already at the door.
“You could always talk you know.” Nosey idiot.
“To you?” Madeline looked back at him in surprise. “Whatever gives you that idea?” She shook her head slightly and stepped into the street. And after glancing quickly in the general direction of her father’s, she went the other way. Her bag thudded reassuringly against her legs with each step as her head spun in circles. Not like them. It wasn’t fair for it to be so obvious. All he had was her name, and he knew. He knew she didn’t fit.
As she walked, the afternoon steadily melted into something slightly Spring-ish. Even Madeline felt willing to admit it was rather beautiful, as far as days went. And yet, she couldn’t shake her unusually glum mood, swatting idly at a passing bug as she walked by a particularly floral garden. She fervently hoped her feet were leading her back towards the park she had wandered past earlier. A lovely, bright afternoon such as this should be spent on a swing, accompanied only by a rusty chain and it’s cheerful squeaks.
Though Madeline knew well enough that her feet weren’t to be trusted. She was little more than their plaything, and usually, it didn’t bother her. Today however, was an entirely different story. She glared down at them; shod in her much-loved, over-worn boots, her toes pointing in slightly as they had accustomed to doing whenever she came to a standstill. Looking guilty, she murmured to herself, as her eyes slid up the building before her with resignation.
The old Madeline (the one this new, forlorn creature dearly missed) would be twirling about on a swing enjoying a moment of contemplation. But she wasn’t anywhere to be found, and her husk had no choice but to stand where her feet insisted she stood; on the pavement outside a small cafe, wondering in vain as to why she was there at all, and yet knowing the answer all the while. Her feet were sick of running, even if she wasn’t.
She stepped aside to allow an entwined couple a wider birth of the footpath, and then, without meaning to, followed their progress in the window’s reflection. Watching with a muted ill humour as the girl laughed shrilly at a comment murmured suggestively in her ear. Shaking her head slightly Madeline looked past the reflection and peered through the glass and into the cafe itself. Relief flooded through her when she failed to glimpse Elliot anywhere in the vicinity; perhaps he'd gone ahead and finished up early.
She was pleased, to say the least. No Elliot meant no apologies were necessary. Although, of course, he was the one that owed her an apology. Sure, she may have overreacted, but he was a nosy git-asking about her father’s lot. And suggesting she needed to talk to someone. To him, of all people. Madeline was hardy a damsel in distress. Not the kind that could be saved by a male's sudden presence, anyway.
Yes. He had danced ever smiling across the chalked line.
“Were you coming in for a second try, or just err...window shopping?” Elliot’s mildly accented voice asked amusedly.
Madeline peeled her face from the cool glass and turned to see him leaning against the doorframe, a cup of coffee in his hand as though it belonged there. “Undecided,” she answered finally.
“Coffee, if you want it,” he said with a grin, lifting the cup slightly in indication.
Madeline stared at him for a minute before stalking past and into the cafe, not noticing the odd little juggling act Elliot performed above her head to save the coffee from unnecessary spillage. She slipped into a corner window seat, which was hopefully a safe enough distance from the main counter to avoid conversation.
Wordlessly Elliot sat the cup on the table with a gentle clatter. He nodded slightly, wiping his hands on his apron as he walked off. She watched him go, wondering how he managed to be so completely uninhibited as he resumed his gentle singing. It was one of Alice’s favourites, Madeline realised with an unconscious smile.
The small bell jingled about as the door swung closed with a careful snap, announcing the arrival of a merry-faced lady who had seemingly witnessed about seventy years, etched in craftily in laughlines about her eyes and mouth. Her hair was a collection of short, messy curls of a purplish tinge. She walked towards the counter (and a broadly grinning Elliot) with a slight waddling shuffle. Madeline noted this was more likely due to the enormous carpetbag in tow than any physical condition.
"Mrs. Woolsey! Here I was startin' to think you're avoiding me."
"I figured you'd be back here again for a bit, wanted to give you a few days to get used to the job again," the old lady chuckled. "Now, I'll have a-"
Elliot tutted, hands already busy at the machiene. "Go sit down, you're just being cheeky now. Mum's got a fresh apple spice cake ready and all."
“You know me better than that old geezer at home,” Mrs. Woolsey shook her head as she dropped her bag to the floor with a muted thud and various clinks. Madeline wondered to herself if home was indeed the bag itself, she fancied having heard a human-like groan amongst the other noises of impact.
“How’s old Sir Ned? Hope the weather hasn’t got to him too much,” Elliot asked, seeming surprisingly genuine.
“Pffft. Sir! If that’s what he is, his armour is every bit as rusty as his joints. Can’t handle a fluffy white cloud, let alone a few weeks of rain. I left him moaning about his aches to Mimsy. She does nothing but sleep as it is these days, so he won’t bother her too much. Lazy old beast that cat.” The wrinkled old lady finished her rant, every word of which had been delivered in an oddly fond tone, one that didn't match her words.
Madeline gave a small intake of breath, pulling her sketchbook back onto the table as she watched Elliot continue a happy banter with Mrs. Woolsey. When she wasn’t nibbling on it, her pencil began to scratch at the blank page; pausing now and then for a moment’s observation. Her eyes darted back and forth as she carefully assessed the old lady’s hunched form. And beyond her, the lanky figure, with dark unruly hair that fell about his face and the lopsided grin that frequently slid across his features. Madeline looked up, focusing on his mouth, and a slightly crooked tooth that only seemed to show while he laughed. As she turned to look back at her page she froze-
“What’re you doing?” she asked with an impulsive grin, shaking her head as he struck a ridiculous statuesqe stance.
“Posing,” he said simply, in a tone that suggested it were obvious. Mrs. Woolsey turned in her seat to peer at Madeline momentarily, noticing her it seemed, for the first time. Her eyes sparked merrily as she span back around, her attention on Elliot again.
“You’ve found yourself a girl then?” she announced gleefully. Madeline chocked on her coffee. Her eyes watering ridiculously as she tried to regain some composure. Silently, without the wretched pair noticing her predicament.
“I found her,” Elliot agreed. He leaned forward, adding in a false whisper, “But she won’t admit to being mine.”
“Not even! Don’t you dare...” Madeline warned, her eyes narrowed.
He just grinned, throwing a wink over Mrs. Woolsey’s curls. Monstrously embarrassed, all Madeline could manage was a glare as she snapped her attention towards the window instead.
"Mm," The elderly creature took a sip of her coffee, hardly even seeming to note Madeline's presence beyond the detail of her actually being there. "Tom Grey's girl is it? She's a pretty little thing, a bit straggly but that's half the fun I daresay.."
With red cheeks and skin too bristled to comprehend much else than the water dancing on the glass right by her nose, Madeline missed the way the lady's glance across to her corner softened the words a little, like an elbow nudge between friends might.
An entire hour ticked by, and tucked away in her chair, Madeline knew more than everything she could possibly want to know about Mrs. Woolsey and her family. Including the eating preferences of each and every one of the old lady’s nine grandchildren. Nine! It was enough to develop a complex over. As the door clicked shut Madeline sighed in relief, never one for endurance of company, even when it came to an eavesdropped conversation. She lazily began to shade a small section of her sketch, glancing up as Elliot approached the booth. She scoffed quietly.
“It looks like a skirt,” she nodded vaguely towards his apron, and gave an awkward tug of her hair, poking a chunk of it behind her ear.
“Me ma always did want a daughter,” Elliot shrugged good-humouredly, setting a cup in front of her before he slid onto the bench opposite. He looked at her, “So, Grey, you’ve let Woolsey get to you, eh? She's good if you can take her right-”
“No one’s got to me,” Madeline argued, tugging her sketchbook away from his wandering fingers and stuffing it in her bag. “People don’t get to me.”
“Liar,” he laughed, “you’re itching to run out again, and I know it isn’t my coffee that’s doing it.”
Madeline stared at him, “Fine, a little. But you’re a smart-arse, and- and I still prefer tea.”
“Is that a round-about-way of saying ‘truce’?”
“No, I’m saying I drink tea.”
“I’ll turn you eventually.” His easy, lopsided grin appeared in an instant, “Truce?”
“I’ve got no place else to be,” she said, by way of a vague affirmative, struggling to keep her tone free of the sickening twinge that struck her. “Better. No place better,” she blurted uncomfortably, not thinking before hand if it would really make her confession any less of well, a confession.
“I’m stuck here too, so we might as well make the most of it, eh?” Elliot seemed content to take the small turn of her lips as an answer, and she sank back into her seat with silent relief; glad he had failed to notice her slip, or at least, had chosen to overlook it. His crooked grin re-appeared as he watched her, and after a pause, he shook his head slightly, dismissively.
“So,” he began again, his hand thudding against the table softly as he stood in front of her. “The way I figure it, is you’ll never fool anyone into thinking you’re not lonely by hiding out over here.”
Madeline swallowed thickly, her mind almost completely void of thought as she tried to grasp the idea that everything had spun back around so unexpectedly. It was impossible to tell which was worse, his jabbing words or the careless way in which he said them. “I’m not-I mean you can’t just-” She waved her hand about, but it didn’t help her find any of the words she wanted it to, so she quickly changed her intention, using it to grab hold of her bag as she shot to her feet.
“No no no,” Elliot protested, his hand suddenly on her shoulder, “You can’t keep this up, all this running. Stop assuming I’m taking the piss, because I’m not.”
Madeline merely stared, she felt as though she had been trapped mid-sprint, and she had no idea whether she wanted to go forward or back. She tried desperately to break her silence, willing her mouth to co-operate. Finally, she managed a terribly embarrassing, “Urrgh.” Her cheeks gained a slightly darker shade of red, but her wide eyes remained locked on his grip.
Thankfully, Elliot seemed to understand her meaning. He sighed and removed his hand, ducking his head for a second before running it through his hair as he gave a rueful grin. “If I didn’t think you’d just bolt for the door again, I’d even go as far as to say I like you.”
“But I won’t, so don’t worry your pretty little head over it.”
“Isn’t what? Pretty or little?” He raised an eyebrow, “Are you always so goddamn hard to please?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t bother trying,” Madeline answered, secretly thrilled at the firmness her voice had somehow managed to acquire.
“We’ll see,” Elliot laughed, “you never know, though, Grey.”
“Never know what, exactly?” She asked sceptically, wandering towards the counter and perching on a stool.
“You never know how long tea will keep you happy.” He assessed her confused face before adding a wink for good measure.
“What was that?” Madeline asked, amused.
“It was what it was.”
“A creepy facial twitch?”
“Charming, the word you want is charming.”
Chapter 2: Two.
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Author's Notes. This is most definitely the angstiest this story will get. Ever. I'm rotten at it, so yes. I promise this is the worst of it, period. Thanks so much for reading!
Christmas Day, 1961.
“Madeline! You’re drenched! Where on Earth have you been?”
“Nowhere, exactly-” Madeline offered an awkward smile, feeling rather out of place as her eyes darted around the orderly kitchen before stopping, finally, on the small lady who seemed entirely her opposite; dry, blonde and graceful. Madeline’s hand darted up to try and flatten her fringe against her forehead, though it seemed like a rather hopeless in comparison. “It’s raining again,” she explained hesitantly, wishing fervently that she had stayed away at the cafe a mite longer.
“Not to worry, we’ll just get you dried off-” Penny-for that was what she insisted on being called-hurried over to relieve Madeline of her wet coat. And once it seemed clear Madeline wasn’t going to co-operate, it was politely and forcibly pulled off and hung to dry beside the fire. “There you are then,” the blonde declared, satisfied, “dinner is almost ready, best you clean up.”
Madeline gave a small nod, wondering why anyone in their right mind would have dinner ready before the evening was properly dark. She hurried upstairs to her bedroom, keen to get away from the strange unsatisfying perfection that seemed to surround all things ‘Penny.’ She always left Madeline feeling uneasy, a small inkling of hollowness that settled in her stomach and refused to go away no matter how much she willed it to. She couldn’t help but feel uncertain; she had no idea what her father had told Penny about her. He didn’t know anything himself, in all truth, but it was hard to say if that was better or worse.
It was easy enough to imagine an uninformed Muggle telling a completely ignorant one that his illegitimate daughter would turn the whole town into toadstools if she half-fancied. Her father had made no effort to convince her that he thought otherwise, or indeed, that he thought anything when it came to her. It would have been nice though, if he had. Nice. But she didn’t need him; she had Hogwarts, and Alice. She had her own world. And once this holiday was over and done with, she would be able to go back to it, rather than trying to make sense of someone else’s world. His world.
She felt she was doing a horrible job of it. Nothing seemed to be a proper sort of real, it was filled with an irky Penny-ness; all cheery-like, but completely false and unbelievable. Everything seemed to be going on around her, and she was stuck in her own speed; watching wide-eyed as life went topsy-turvy. It was never clear what her speed was exactly; she was either outrunning everything, or watching it hurtle past while she chocked on her little cloud bubble. Which didn’t make any sense either, nothing did.
With a small sigh, Madeline slid off her bed and reluctantly left her room. The solid, lump of coldness laying snugly in her gut made the simple idea of food rather repulsive. As did the idea of attempting to sit calmly in the same vicinity of her ill-fitting, other-world family when all she ever wanted to do when it came to them was run in another direction. Any direction. She shook her head slightly, stopping in her tracks just outside the dining-room as she prepared herself to act undaunted. It proved hopeless, for as she had vaguely expected, she was the last to find her way there and her appearance alone seemed to drain the life from the happy family scene before her.
She sat as quickly as she could, ducking her head as she feigned interest in the meal she had no appetite for, hoping they might resume whatever it had been she had interrupted. The silence stretched on, however, and Madeline was yet to persuade herself to eat. Instead, she half-heartedly pushed a forkful of mashed potato towards her helping of peas, her eyes fixed wide and unblinking on the man sitting at the head of the table. As far from her as he could manage, although they both knew it wasn’t nearly enough. For Madeline, it was still unbearably close. Her insides cringed each time he raised his dark head, his eyes scanning over his family before they stopped, lingering on her plate without ever finding her face.
Madeline knew he probably never would, not willingly, and even, that it would be better if he didn’t; her mother had always provided the entire truth un-sweetened. Not that being privy to such things made them an ounce easier, and inwardly she fought desperately to stop herself from willing him to look. Because she wasn’t all that sure that she would be able to control herself it if he did.
“I wonder how she can bare being so damp!” Sarah-the elder of Penny’s daughters-exclaimed in muted tones to her sister, her nose wrinkled as though the idea in itself was specifically putrid.
“Maybe she can’t feel the cold,” Jeanie shrugged in answer, “Do you suppose she can?”
“How should I know! She doesn’t really eat either, does she? But there’s no way to tell if that’s just her, or all of them.”
“Oh don’t!” Jeanie protested, “She can’t help it, can you Madeline?” Madeline felt her cheeks darken, completely lost as to which of the two was worse. She wasn’t remotely sure of the question posed, but Jeanie didn’t seem to have meant it as a question at all, finishing with a rather decided, “She can’t help being a bit odd, obviously.”
Something swelled inside Madeline, and she head her fork hitting her plate with disjointed surprise, “Stop it. Just stop-”
“Quiet!” Her father demanded harshly, causing Madeline’s eyes to land on his face again.
“Scared I’ll say something?” she asked, hating herself for it the very moment it had been said. “How about ‘I loved her, and so did you.’?” She swallowed, “You can’t even look at me, because it’s like looking at her.”
“How about some pudding, then?” Penny interjected quickly, causing a shock of guilt to slam through Madeline’s insides. It seemed rhetorical, for the woman immediately began collecting their plates. Hurriedly. As though her pudding would drag peace in tow.
“It’s like admitting you were too scared then, that you’re too scared now-that you’ll always be too scared. And you know what? ‘Scared’ doesn’t really count for anything-” Madeline’s breath caught in her throat as he finally met her eyes with his own angry ones. She shook her head, persisting, “I love her. I love the way she didn’t need you, even though she wanted you. I love her for teaching me to do the same. But now I get it. I get it. I don’t need you. And I don’t even want you, so it isn’t half as hard for me.”
“If you weren’t just like her girl, you’d realise that what you are, your sort isn’t anything to be proud of,” he was still watching her, a strange, twisted expression on his features. But despite it being anything but kind, some small part of Madeline relished in it.
Her chin found the courage to assert itself, “I’m glad of who she was. I’m glad I am what I am. I hope I’m never pathetic enough to be so goddamn scared, I can’t do what’s right. She was a good person. I love her. I love Ma.”
“She’s gone, Madeline,” Penny spoke softly, “She’s-”
“She’s dead!” Her father interrupted, giving a bitter chuckle and rubbing his face with a large hand, “She always thought she was invincible. And now she’s nothing but dead.”
Madeline swallowed thickly, “I know she’s dead. I wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t.”
“If you have somewhere to go, then by all means. She failed to arrange anything for you, that’s why you are here. But go! If that’s what you want. I never asked for you, I never wanted any part of what she tricked me into with her 'magic'."
“Fine,” Madeline gave a small jerking nod of her head. She couldn’t remember standing, but she was glad of it. She couldn’t help but feel a little braver, “But don’t dare say Ma tricked you into anything, you tricked her. She thought you might love her enough not to care if she was a witch or not. And you just hated her instead. You tricked her.”
She tore her eyes from her father’s pale face and forced herself to look at Penny, who had long-since forgotten her remedial pudding. “I-I’m sorry, Penny,” it was barely distinguishable, Madeline knew, but it seemed the best she could manage. She made herself to walk from the room, despite the urge to run being almost unbearable. And the moment she was out of sight, she let the urge take her, absorbing most of her thoughts with the uncomfortable, bitter thrill that accompanied the rhythmic thud of her feet on the pavement. She had no idea why she hadn’t stopped herself. Stopped herself from ruining whatever it was she hadn’t managed to properly define, and yet dearly wished she had.
Trying to ignore the fact that there really wasn’t any place for her to run to, and that she hadn’t thought to take her coat with her, Madeline struggled to keep her focus away from all the dangerous thoughts now in her head. She wouldn’t delve any deeper than she already had, which was most definitely too far. She had just fought her mother’s fight, a fight her mother had chosen not to. It seemed ridiculous now. It was ridiculous.
Stupidstupidstupid, Madeline silently berated herself as she jogged through the fine drizzle. The street she found herself in was predictably familiar, she was honestly beginning to wonder if her feet knew any other destination. It wasn’t as though he could actually help her, but she knew he was the closest to Alice she could manage. And just now, Alice was what she needed.
She stopped outside the cafe, which she had left only a while earlier. Madeline couldn’t quite believe that so much had changed between then and now, even the cafe itself seemed gloomier. The wooden blinds were lowered, darkening the windows and hiding the homey interior. Figures. Madeline sighed, staring upwards as she tried to decide what it was she actually wanted. Before she realised she had come to a conclusion, she found herself knocking on the door. It was infuriating, she was sure the lights were on, even that she could hear him whistling. And yet, nothing, “El? El, please?”
“You can’t sodding well start treating me like everyone else now!” Madeline exclaimed suddenly, hating the fact she felt the need to. She pressed her forehead against the icy wall, trying to steady her breath and quell the pounding sensation that seemed to be consuming her insides completely. “I just want to pretend you’re different, just for a minute.” It was only whispered, but it was still too much; standing where she was, so horribly close to tears was rather like living a nightmare.
Madeline dearly wished she had thought to persuade her feet to take her to a different place-like the park. The park was a lovely Elliot-free kind of place. She bit down on her lip, closing her eyes as she considered the image that wriggled into her mind; the nice empty place she had wandered past before, with it’s swings blowing to and fro in the insistent breeze. The cold sort, that always went straight through a person, rather than around. The kind that always managed to coax unwanted thoughts away as it tugged at whatever lock of hair or stray clothing it managed to capture. And shadows. Madeline was sure there were shadows waiting for her at the park. Dark, shifting shapes to distract her from whatever tangents the wind couldn’t-or wouldn’t-steal. Suddenly, it seemed so obvious. So goddamn obvious!
Her palm pounded against the wall as she lifted her head, spinning away from the cafe with a new certainty; she would go to the park. She didn’t need to embarrass herself with Elliot. And he didn’t need to know she had almost been willing to communicate. Properly. With him. Especially with him, and his contant smile. What was she thinking?
Feeling a vague urge to laugh, Madeline quickly crossed the pavement. The need to flee swamping her the moment her foot collided with the road. Forget Elliot and his inability to answer doors, really, she was utterly glad he hadn’t. If he had, she wouldn’t be running across the road towards something close to freedom. Instead, she didn’t doubt she would be sitting somewhere...feeling ridiculous, trapped and patronised as she consumed a cup of coffee she barely even liked.
“Madeline? It is Madeline, right?”
Madeline stumbled slightly as she reached the far side of the narrow road, turning back as she tried to reorganise herself. A smiling woman-one she could only assume to be Elliot’s fondly mentioned ‘ma’-was watching her through the newly opened doorway, a pleasant dusting of flour gracing her forehead and dress. Madeline felt a surge of panic, her lovely clear frame of mind almost instantly forgotten. Her head managed a nod, “Yes. It’s Madeline.”
“Elliot, love?” A muted call answered, and Madeline watched on in silent horror as the lovely little thing continued, “Madeline’s here. Get her a spare coat, would you? He won’t be a minute, dear,” she assured Madeline, “and I’d best get back to my cake; this one's a fussy one.”
As Elliot’s mother disappeared, Madeline stared after her in shock. For a few prolonged seconds, she stood fidgeting, unable to manage anything else. And then she remembered a vague version of her plan, immediately turning on her heel and scurrying towards the park that seemed so enticing.
“Wait up Grey,” Elliot’s voice made her stumble yet again. He seemed to have magicked himself a miserably close distance to herself. Oh piss! The git had horrible timing! Half a moment longer and she wouldn’t have had to so much as admit she’d been in the vicinity, well, at least that she had been hoping to see him. Not that she had ever hoped to see him, not past her short lived moment of utter desperateness. As it was now, she didn’t feel she wanted to see him at all, so she kept running.
“I’m off to the park,” she called faintly, deciding it would be best if she didn’t take the time to explain.
Thankfully, her feet agreed to co-operate, taking her along the pavement as though the action was completely normal. It wasn’t really, Madeline was increasingly aware that she was jogging along with untied laces to a park, at half-light. The appearance of a long-limbed youth at her side certainly didn’t help with images of normality, so she tried to ignore it. But slow-motion seemed to take hold, and it wasn’t overly out of place for her to roll her eyes as she took note of Elliot’s apron accompanying him for the quaint spot of exercise they both seemed to be participating in.
“The park you say?” he asked casually, which was quite infuriating in itself-surely he had a few issues with how the scene was playing out. Madeline certainly did. She honestly couldn’t see the point of jogging all the way to the park to avoid Elliot if Elliot was merely going to jog alongside.
Finally with a reluctant sigh, she stopped. Turning to look at him, only to find herself glaring, “Yes. I like the park. It’s a nice park.”
“Were you coming to ask me if I wanted to come and play?” Elliot asked, his mouth adopting it’s crooked grin, “Because it’s getting dark out, which means some games are more suitable than others.”
Madeline felt her eyes widen with disbelief and was momentarily stuck with the unamusing idea that she probably looked like a bulging-eyed beetroot. She peered at him through the growing darkness, wondering if that was why he seemed to be so painfully close to laughing outright. She was a vegetable. And he was being suggestive. Merlin save her!
“Arms out,” he ordered cheerfully, catching Madeline with surprise as he smoothly slid a jacket over her soggy jumper. “Mum’s the word,” was all he offered her, untying his apron and slinging it over his shoulder. He fixed her with a triumphantly amused expression, indicating with his hand that she should lead the way, causing Madeline to feel more like a flustered beetroot than before. How on Earth was she meant to be rid of such an eager companion? It was daunting really, and her shoulders slumped a little with the realisation that her lovely, empty destination would now be otherwise occupied.
“You don’t need to come,” she exclaimed, “It’s awful cold out, and I sort of forgot what day it is. You and your mother, you're probably-"
"Nah," he shrugged, "She's famous for her Boxing Day feast, today is for last minute cooking."
"Oh, well, anyway, you know perfectly well that I won't be-"
“Wandering around on your own at night.” Elliot sighed, thrusting his hands into his pockets, “Am I allowed to ask why we’re wandering around at night?”
“Absolutely not,” Madeline answered firmly, feeling oddly amused as a small smile slipped onto her lips, “There’s no fun in that.”
“Some people seem to find mental stability fun, you could always give it a go.”
“Stop avoiding things.”
"I did! For a few minutes anyway, and now it's all much messier." She sighed. "I feel like might as well have run up and down the table tipping dinner on their heads."
"You're a lovely little nutter, Maddy Grey."
“Your compliments aren't exactly top-notch,” Madeline commented as they paused by the park, wrapping her arms around herself as she glanced skyward. The drizzle had stopped momentarily without her noticing, leaving the air deliciously fresh and untouched. She fancied she was lucky enough to be the very first to breathe it. Unable to feel anything but animated after such a thought, she threw Elliot an impish grin and darted across the shadow-strewn grass, allowing herself to fall gleefully onto the seat of her much-awaited swing. It was unavoidably wet, but Madeline only distantly acknowledged it. She didn’t mind being damp. Soggy was an entirely different thing, of course.
Elliot propped himself against the swing’s frame, his hands still buried in his pockets as he tilted his head upwards. Madeline watched him for a minute, trying to decide if the silence was a silence that mattered as she squeaked to and fro on rusty chains. He glanced at her, the corner of his mouth quirking. He winked easily and turned away again, humming the pleasantly familiar tune that always seemed to be on his lips. Madeline relaxed, absorbing herself in the wonderful soaring rush that filled her each time she sank towards the ground.
“Alice likes that song,” she said absentmindedly after a few minutes of silence, leaning backwards to watch the cloudy sky slide back and forth above her.
“She’s clearly got good taste,” said Elliot, his tone causing Madeline to glance over, slightly confused. He caught her look and sighed softly, a hand rising to mess his hair as he sat on the swing beside her. “Glad it’s nearly over, then?”
Madeline merely nodded, not knowing what to say to encourage a lighter tangent. She bit her lip, looking down at her feet as they skimmed across the ground. She was barely air-borne now, lacking the will to propel herself any higher. It was his fault. The last thing she wanted was a serious Elliot. Elliot wasn’t supposed to be serious. Not now. Not ever. But especially not now.
“I’d rather you didn’t say anything,” she stopped him, suddenly knowing with sinking dread what he meant. “Too late, too soon, I don’t know which one. But I’ll be gone tomorrow, and it won’t matter anyway.”
“How do you know it won’t?” he asked with his usual humoured lilt, to Madeline’s relief. He turned his head to glance across at her, his elbows still propped on his knees.
“You have some way of knowing it will?”
Elliot shrugged, his grin reappearing, “Life, Maddy. You go back to school assuming you’ll never see me again, and I’ll guarantee I’ll see you later.”
Chapter 3: Three.
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Author's Note. Just a quick one this time around. Sorry it took a tad longer this time around, I hope it's tasty enough-most of it was written at various '4ams'. And an enormous thank you to brokentrain who leaves the most lovely, darling reviews a girl could wish for xD
“Was it completely dreadful?” Alice asked as she flopped carelessly across the end of Madeline’s bed. “It was, wasn’t it? Because you’ve been avoiding it.”
“Why don’t I know more then? I should know more, if you aren’t avoiding. Which you aren’t, apparently.”
“You’d know more if I knew less about your week at your Gran’s,” Madeline retorted, her nose scrunching with distaste. “I feel as though I was there! Your descriptive skills really are brill, by the way, if someone offered me a bowl of porridge just now I think they’d end up wearing it!”
“My pronunciation has definitely improved too,” Alice added, each word perfectly articulated, her nose jutted in the air. And no matter how silly it was, Madeline found herself amidst an outburst of mad laughter.
Moments later, their amusement slowly subsided, and Alice lazily rolled her head across the duvet, fixing her dancing eyes on Madeline’s. The expression on the girl’s glowing face quickly stomped down the stray giggles in Madeline’s throat. Leaving only a reluctant shadow of themselves in her thoughts. It could only mean one thing.
“So...did you meet anyone?”
Yes. That was it. A mocking tradition between the two that had never before achieved an ounce of gossip from either participant. Now though, the implications of such a question could not be overlooked in anything resembling innocence and Madeline wasn’t at all sure as to how she could even begin to try. She swallowed thickly, her thoughts twisting rather horribly as she tried to recall how she had intended to tell Alice. Elliot was hardly a secret, or particularly incriminating, and yet there seemed to be a dreadful sort of validity at the possible mention of his name.
“Maddy!” Alice exclaimed triumphantly, shooting upright to watch Madeline with an uncomfortable intentness.
Madeline groaned, “I can’t believe you’d sink so low.”
“I know, but-Mads-”
"You want news on the Prince front?” Alice nodded, immediately rearranging herself into an appropriate position for whatever declaration of love she seemed sure Madeline was about to utter. She fancied she had peeked into her own romance novel, or one in which she starred in a supporting role-at the least, and felt quite profoundly that she needed details to properly fulfil her part.
“No,” Madeline managed weakly, having a small idea of Alice’s attachment to the idea of one of them getting whisked away by some ridiculous loverboy. “Long story short. No. No princes for the likes of you or me.”
“Or I,” Alice corrected absently. Madeline narrowed her eyes, grasping hopelessly at a chance to prod their conversation into something easier to navigate.
“How long do you think it’ll take for that bosh to rub off?” she asked, her tone scrumptiously flat with feigned disinterest.
“A week, tops...” Alice brushed the possible topic change aside with a wave of her hand, a small twitch at her lips indicating that she knew all to well what Madeline had fancied. “What about a handsome stable boy, or something?”
“I did find a jester,” admitted Madeline, with heavy resignation. It was the closest thing to honesty she could manage, and she could only just envisage Alice accepting it. “While I was sitting in a puddle.”
Alice smirked, “You met him in a puddle? Were you both, er-”
“No.” Madeline bit her lip, feeling an uncomfortable swell of desperateness. She couldn’t understand why her mouth had felt it necessary to add such an unimportant detail. A detail that was now undo-able. “That was just me-”
“Right,” Alice giggled, her gleaming eyes dancing across Madeline’s tinged cheeks. “And he’s a...?”
“A-a coffee making jester, I suppose.”
“Oooh, I’m not saying no...”
“I never said you could have him!” Madeline exclaimed, perturbed by her friend’s playful tone.
“You never mentioned you wanted him.”
Madeline inhaled sharply, “That’s because I didn’t. I don’t!”
And she watched on, horrified, as Alice’s lips curled into a mischievous smile, “Can I have him? You drink tea, anyway.”
Alice giggled, her blonde hair falling to hide her gleeful face as she crawled over to Madeline and sank wearily onto the pillow at her side, still wracked with laughter. “No!” She gave a small squeak and lapsed entirely into her mirth. Madeline felt her entire person relax gratefully as the awkward topic faded into a rather delighting tangent.
“I’ve missed you insanely,” Madeline gasped finally through her own laughter, burying her face in Alice’s neck. “A week is never just a week.”
“You needn’t tell me twice! Thank Merlin we’re back.” Alice sighed contentedly as the lights finally dimmed around them, “I honestly thought it’d never end.”
Madeline gave a vague nod, biting her lip as she stared into the spreading darkness. It was over. Or at least, it would be, if she could persuade her thoughts to avoid the past week entirely. Her mind seemed obsessed though, and as much as she insisted on denying it, Elliot appeared to be the central pivot to the entire mess. A guarantee. His guarantee. His guarantee had ruined the anonymity factor Madeline had so desperately wanted.
And as much as she had hoped to forget the confusing, otherworldly glimpse, one sentence had tied her world to it with a maddening knot. It wasn’t even a glimpse anymore, having somehow managed to become a solid part in the usually elusive whole. Madeline sighed, closing her eyes against the room in hope of an emptier darkness.
“Greyble, sweetie? Promise you’ll tell me when you’re ready,” Alice murmured into the night, her voice sounding strangely sombre. And Madeline knew Elliot and his accursed strings were no longer the topic of conversation. She relaxed, marvelling at the noticeable difference with her breath.
“I can’t go back,” she whispered, the words slipping from her tongue. Until now, her father had never been more than a fragemnt of her mother's stories, and that was where he would continue to remain; for the self preservation of them all.
“I know. You don’t have to. We’ll make sure you don’t. They were mad for making you go.”
Madeline eyed the parchment before her rather despairingly, one sleeve-covered hand dabbing at a particularly large inky splotch. It was one of many, and her half-hearted attempt to right the mess only made it more profound. With a sigh she pushed the offending ink bottle away and turned dark eyes to the front of the class, her lips pursing as she watched Slughorn enter her vision and resume his usual trot back and forth. Her gaze narrowed slightly, locking onto his notably over-proportioned middle.
“I can’t stand him waving that thing around near me!”
Beside her, Alice let out a small hiss of laughter, losing control of the mirth she had so far contained. Madeline refused to look at her, slouching over and pressing her forehead to the table so her friend’s shaking profile was hidden from her line of view. Disturbingly enough though, she could still sense it, which did nothing to help her.
“The way you kept swerving!”
“What was I supposed to do? Let his ravenous torso devour me while you two twittered on like a-” Madeline raised her head to stared at Alice, who tried her best to keep a straight face. “You twat!”
“Talking to Sluggy was worth it just to see you.” Alice proceeded to-in Madeline’s opinion-exaggerate her albeit frantic attempts to avoid the mighty fearful Belly Bump.
“Merlin knows why I actually missed this...”
“Because families are completely buggy, and now, I’m the best you’ve got. Sad, isn’t it?” Alice grinned cheekily, purposefully bumping into Madeline as they scrambled to their feet and joined the awkward crush of students now inching towards the door. She nudged Madeline, leaning towards her to save from shouting, “Dorm first, I want another layer if you insist on dragging me out.”
And the dorm it remained for a quite a period, for the girls could never quite agree on their method of general appearance, or improve their time management as an inclusive duo. One was perfectly content with leaving their sanctuary looking a mess, but only a tad late. Although, admittedly, she always regretted it on any later glimpse of her reflection. And the other could rarely will herself to venture anywhere if things weren’t up to her expectation. Late or wickedly so, it didn’t matter, and she was constantly forced to deal with the consequences.
Most decidedly the former, Madeline stared blankly at the warm sea of bed canopy above her, showing little care for the tendrils of hair obscuring her features. Her head was otherwise occupied as it absentmindedly followed the scattered song Alice offered as she hurried around their dormroom searching for her favourite jumper. Madeline sighed as the latest snatch of humming stopped, idly pushing her hair aside as she propped herself up on her elbows.
“Come on then,” Alice commented finally, holding the door open with her back as she plucked lint from her gloves. “And wear a scarf. You’ll catch a cold.” Madeline rolled her eyes, plucking a colourful woollen mess from the floor as she followed her friend from the fifth year dormitory, bag and books in tow.
“How about...” Alice paused thoughtfully, slipping her arm through Madeline’s. “‘The alignment between Jupiter and Mars results in an unintentional slip, revealing deep subconscious feelings.’”
“A bit Freudian, don’t you think?”
“Why? Is your head doing that horrible madly in love bullshit, where everything seems to relate back to your Jester God and his knob?”
“Your head’s the one doing all this relating. And when did he reach god status? What in Merlin’s name is your head doing?” Madeline demanded, turning to stare at Alice in alarm. “We’ve got no solid proof the little blighter even has a knob, so you shouldn’t get too mad about it.”
“We both know he does, Grey,” Alice stated, causing Madeline’s insides to twist about maniacally. It was far from being a pleasant sensation, and she struggled to confine her reaction to a small grimace.
“In all your fantasies, maybe.”
“Would it make you feel any better about it if I told you it’s always you I picture with him?”
“Um,” Madeline ran a pathetic, searching hand through her hair, but failed to find any sort of sensible answer. It was hardly a sensible question to begin with, to her reasoning, so to find the appropriate answer would have been somewhat miraculous. Thankfully, Alice seemed to have accepted the accidentally rhetorical nature of her own question.
“Right. I mean, it’s never anything-”
“Alice!” Madeline yelped, finally snapping under the swell of urgency to stop the conversation before it even hinted at going any further. “I don’t want to know, honestly. I really don’t. He’s-he’s not a god-nowhere near it, so don’t say he is. You’ll just-”
“Call him that until you give me something better.”
“You don’t need anything better.” Madeline stressed, or implored, she wasn’t entirely sure which and failed to care enough to actually mind. “Because we’re going to stop this, because it’s ridiculous.”
“We’re ridiculous. So it shouldn’t matter.” Alice gave a cheerful shiver as they stepped out of doors. Madeline merely sighed, because as hopeful as a small, small part of her felt, she knew all too well that Alice was nowhere near permitting some sort of closure. “Refusing to say his name isn’t going to make him disappear. And you musn’t want him to if you’re so insistent on keeping him all...”
“I’m not keeping him anything. Stop making it something, I don’t know how to even go about explaining how it just so isn’t what you think it is. Was. His name doesn’t matter. Since when does an indiscriminate Muggle’s name mean tosh?”
“Since it got so impossible to say.” Alice crossed her arms, her eyes daring Madeline into action.
“You’re completely obsessed.”
“Me?” she asked, shaking her blonde head as she glanced across at Madeline with a toothy grin. “Well. Maybe a bit. But I have no idea how you expect me not to be.”
“You could always try,” Madeline suggested teasingly, inwardly heartened as she flicked her gaze skyward and dove into the sun’s warmth with a beaming countenance. Alice was letting up, and it was wonderful. Completely wonderful. She bit her lip, pondering momentarily as to whether or not some strange variety of delirium was setting in.
“Just give me a name,” whined Alice.
“Jeffrey.” Madeline fought to hide her amusement, a small snicker escaping as Alice rounded on her.
“But that’s not his! I know it’s not, Grey.”
“It might be.” She teased,
“Jeffrey?” Alice laughed, “Please! He isn’t a Jeffrey. He can’t be.”
“You’ve been researching, or something?”
“Well...” Madeline turned to stare as Alice pulled a face, “I had to, a bit. Obviously.” She reached into her bag and shuffled about for a minute, finally tugging out an achingly familiar sketch pad. Madeline watched on with wide eyes as she flipped knowledgeably past page after page, finally stopping, her finger tapping pointedly at Mrs. Woolsey. Or the unfinished figure standing to her left, maybe, Madeline allowed. “And that-that-is not a Jeffrey. If that’s a Jeffrey, I’ll have to rethink my entire life philosophy. Start looking for a future husband called Gavin...”
Madeline ginned, shaking her head as she dropped her things and sank onto the cold grass. Alice willingly sprawled at her side, smacking a heavy potions textbook atop the unwelcome sketchbook, hiding its presence from Madeline’s view. And despite the lingering image still in her mind, she was inwardly thrilled at the strange lack of realism she saw in it. It wasn’t real anymore. And as far as she knew, it never really had been. Thank Merlin, because things would be much worse if they were. Real meant it mattered, and Alice was daydreaming, caught up in a non-existent novel with a cheesy, unreal plot.
The next morning firmly assured Madeline that life had resumed its normal, hectic state. She entered the Great Hall at a run, a few paces behind an almost equally late Alice. The dreadful knowledge that breakfast was almost over was playing through her head as she side-stepped students with frantic haste. It seemed almost unfathomable that ten minutes earlier, she had been in her bed, blissfully unaware of where she would soon find herself. But beyond caring, she was intent on very little aside the process of acquiring a cup of tea. Indeed, as usual, it had taken absolute priority over her appearance--a fact that was yet to register among her jumbled, single-tracked thoughts.
In an instant, Madeline’s mind was involuntarily cleared as she slammed solidly into an annoyingly sturdy student, and consequently found herself ricocheted backwards onto the cold stone floor. She submitted silently to the helpful hand that entered her vision, allowing it to pull her to her feet. A few incoherently issued mumblings left her mouth before she silenced it, her hand tugging fruitlessly at her twisted skirt.
“Alice?” Madeline called, somewhat desperate, as her eyes locked upon own her untied shoes. Alice span around in her newly acquired seat at the Hufflepuff table, her sigh winning Madeline’s gaze for a moment. She was comfortingly close, and seemed all too groomed given their mad rush around the dorm.
“Just say you’re sorry and we’ll sort you out," Alice prompted, reading her friend's hopelessness. "I’ll try and fix your hair-”
“My hair?” Madeline repeated softly, a reluctant hand rising to inspect it. She winced at the messy attempt to tie it back, unable to remember ever actually doing it. “Oh piss it!”
“Grey!” Alice stressed, forcing Madeline to concentrate on managing an escape with some form of politeness. She gave a small, jerking nod, and proceeded to tear her eyes from the still-waiting, foreign shoes before her own. Her gaze slid quickly across the owner’s Gryffindor robes to meet his face, impatient to flee the result of her own clumsiness.
“Bloody hell.” Madeline’s eyes widened as every brief unsentimental excuse she had vaguely envisioned herself offering evilly evaded her tongue.
“Morning, love,” Elliot greeted, his features generally unreadable to Madeline’s shocked senses. His eyes held their familiar amusement though, and she quickly retracted her own, refusing to give him the benefit. She made a small chocked sound but achieved nothing more, so Elliot continued, cautiously reaching a hand to smooth a hair straying from her string tie. “It doesn’t look that bad.”
“No,” Madeline managed firmly, shaking her head as she took a step backwards. “No you don’t, you-No! You're a Muggle.” Swiftly, she turned and stalked over to Alice, taking a moment to persuade her knees to bend before collapsing awkwardly beside her.
“I’ll see you later, then,” Elliot called after her, his voice retaining its usual ease. I’ll see you. I’ll see you later. I guarantee. I guarantee I’ll see you later.
Madeline sank in her seat, her head stopping with a small thunk as it touched the tabletop. “Stupid sodding fucker,” she groaned, lifting her head and dropping it repeatedly against the wood. "The liar!"
“You’re a complete loon! What the dixy was that?” Alice laughed. She sat a cup of tea in front of Madeline, untying the string that held her hair and carefully combing it with her fingers.
“That was-” Madeline stopped herself, “It was...I really don’t know Alice.”
“He’s a seventh year, isn’t he?”
“Alice! I crashed into the guy, I didn’t get time to read his sodding autobiography!”
“Merlin! I didn’t mean to get your knickers twisted.” Alice raised an eyebrow, but seemed in somewhat of a hurry to change the topic. She transfigured the yarn into a silky ribbon and used it to fix Madeline’s hair into a more acceptable arrangement. “Have your tea, quickly. Class’ll be starting in a minute.”
Madeline wrapped her hands around her cup and took a small, tentative sip of the tea she had so completely desired. But she found herself setting it down again, sickened by the thought of her own churning stomach. Nevertheless she felt a tad more grounded, getting to her feet and offering Alice her hand.
“You’re a mess,” Alice snickered, wolfing down her last bit of toast and ridding herself of crumbs. Madeline sighed as she took note of her still-crooked skirt, her awkwardly buttoned shirt and tie, which dangled loosely from her upright collar. She was a complete mess. Part of an unfathomable mess. Muggles had become Wizards and worlds had collided. But Madeline too preoccupied to dwell on it as she trailed along behind Alice, trying to fix her buttons.
“I can’t believe you let me out like this,” she muttered as they squeezed through the classroom door side-by-side.
“Stop complaining,” said Alice as she dropped into a vacant seat, leaning over towards Madeline with a secretive manner, “You’re not wearing yesterday’s knickers.”
Madeline laughed, “Thank Merlin. At least no one else can tell.”
“I can,” Alice growled, “And now you can. They’ll all catch on soon enough.”
“The rest of you is positively squeaky.” Madeline assured.
“And your hair looks lovely.” Alice giggled, completely aware of her own self-compliment. Her eyes glinted, and it seemed clear she had discovered a new tangent. “Anyway...” She trailed off hopefully, and Madeline chose to ignore her effort completely, tapping her fingers with thinly veiled restlessness.
“So...?” Alice tried again a few minutes later, her hand firmly pinning Madeline’s to the table to silence the small, incessant beat.
“Later Alice,” stressed Madeline, as she struggled slow her thoughts to a speed better suited to talking. Words she much prefered to think rather than speak seemed rather too close to her tounge, adding an awful sort of trepidation to the mix. “I’ll tell you later, once I know what to say.”
“If you’d read his autobiography, you’d be able to use direct quotes.”
Madeline groaned, “Use your imagination.” Alice had no way of knowing that Elliot wasn’t the sort to offer his particulars around in an easily accessed tale, she had no way to understand who he was-or if she had ever almost begun to know him at all. But worst of all, he still knew her, and Madeline hated to realise it. Things had grown all the more unequal. And it had been lopsided enough at the start.
It wasn’t until half-past one that Madeline finally agreed to break her twitching silence, grabbing Alice’s hand and towing her into an empty corridor. She paced it’s width for a moment, before turning with a snap to face her friend, indicating with an uneasy motion that Alice could go ahead with the barrage she was so obviously trying to contain.
But Alice seemed determined to control herself, letting out a hiss of breath as she stared at Madeline. “Tell me now. Tell me everything.”
“Who’s here? Oh Merlin! The Jester?”
“Elliot,” Madeline gulped, dismayed by the odd sound of it actually being spoken. She didn’t see the point of hiding it though, not anymore. Not if he was going to be making regular appearances during mealtimes-or whatever it was he planned. “His name is Elliot. But don’t dare call him that. You musn’t.”
Alice gave a small, reluctant nod. “What’s he doing here?”
“Learning I suppose,” Madeline answered flatly, suddenly throwing her arms up with frustration as her mind flicked over the entire situation. “Being a cheesy, self-assured, lying little bastard. He guarantees my arse!”
“I don’t think I want to. I can’t even begin to-He gets me! He was there, and all I wanted was you-and Ma! My father was everything she ever said he was-I couldn’t stand it. I had to talk to something! I’d have settled for a potted plant or something if it seemed agreeable enough-didn’t ask too many questions. Questions only make it worse. And he knew, of course he knew. He just does, Alice. He was the best anything I had, and he knew. It amused him. Bloody hell! I amuse him!”
“You aren’t the slightest bit happy he’s here?”
“Of course I’m not! He understands me for Merlin’s sake.” Madeline ran a defeated hand through her hair, feeling a hopeless uneasiness spreading through her previous indignation.
“Grey, honey, you still aren’t using your lungs quite as much as you should be. I know you’ll feel better with a bit more oxygen-this’ll all seem better.” Alice watched Madeline for a moment, and seemed to decide she wasn’t going to interrupt. “It isn’t exactly a problem. If I had a sexy little monkey that understood me, I’d hardly see it as a problem. I’m entirely willing go and sit in a puddle if that’s what a wet arse’ll get me. Why is it a problem? I mean-I know you too, and I get why. But honestly! Why?”
“Because he’s here!” Madeline cried, barely willing to believe Alice had actually said such things. “It was okay when I knew he’d just be there. It didn’t matter then. Because when he was just there he couldn’t cause any harm. But he isn’t. And he can.” She stopped abruptly, her mouth uncomfortably dry. “And I don’t know him. I don’t think I did then, and I certainly don’t now.”
“I think you’re mad-that’s not capitalised at all by the way. I mean nutty. Completely nutty.”
“He was meant to be getting fuzzy!” Madeline blurted, digging desperately through her thoughts to find some other manner of explanation. As yet, Alice clearly wasn’t grasping it. “He’s meant to be back there and he’s meant to be fuzzy!”
“He was hardly getting fuzzy, Grey.” Alice’s eyebrow quirked upwards, but she wilfully forced it down. She knew now wasn't the time.
“But he would have. If he hadn’t gone and-” Madeline waved a helpless hand around, “shown up. Which, might I add, was obviously by accident. He didn’t want to. He could of found me, if he'd wanted to; he obviously knew. And what if he never gets fuzzy? What if it does all means absolutely nothing, and he never gets fuzzy? How is that not a problem?”
“It just isn’t. Because you’re reading too much into it-when did you end up so obnoxiously pessimistic anyway? You’ll see what a tosser you’re being once you two are married with lots of ickle yous running around being completely adorable.”
“You really aren’t helping, to be completely honest.” She watched as Alice leaned against the wall; her horrid merry eyes closed briefly in thought. Madeline wasn’t all that sure that letting Alice think was the best idea for the time being, not if weddings and children were casually willing to slip from her tounge. But the blonde snapped her eyes open just as Madeline reached her conclusion. Too late. Too sodding late.
“At breakfast. That was him, wasn’t it? You went all twitchy.” Madeline sighed as Alice’s features broke into a triumphant grin. "He's nice and tall, isn't he?" Madeline saggily dropped herself to the stone floor, propping her back against the wall by Alice’s feet. Lying seemed rather wonderfully tempting, although, Madeline supposed it would be somewhat transparent if she were to start now.
“I don’t agree with your terminology. I didn’t go ‘twitchy’. I don’t go twitchy.”
“You’re arguing the wrong point, completely. So I’ll happily take that as a yes. You can’t avoid him forever though, Mad. And if you’re completely set on it, you have to at least let him know that you’re planning to avoid speaking to him ever again. Looking too, I suppose,” Alice frowned. “Why in Merlin’s name would you want to? He was alright. Looked quite alright, your Jester did. You should be jumping him, if anything.”
“He’s avoided me for an entire week!” Madeline protested, deciding to ignore the specifics of Alice’s comment.
“A few days, and we’ve hardly been easy to find.” Alice said firmly, apparently unmoved by the wretchedly horrid mess. Madeline scrunched her nose, her racing head refusing to act so much as slightly agreeable. Maybe they hadn’t been easy to find. But surely if someone had wanted to, they’d have been quite a way from difficult.
“He’s only here for another year,” she reasoned, “I’ll just wait it out. He’ll graduate-we’re assuming, unless he has shit for brains and...and viola, no more Elliot-Jester-Git to worry about.” As she finished what she had originally intended to be a strong, unyielding statement revolving on insult, she noted to her own dismay it could have just as well ended with a question mark. Her heinous lack of conviction was muffled slightly as her head had quite insistently buried itself in her arms. “Bollocks.”
“So you’ll talk to him then?” Alice murmured softly, sliding down the wall until she landed beside Madeline.
“I suppose I have to.”
Chapter 4: Four.
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Disclaimer. Madeline, Roger Verona and Elliot are mine-and I'm happy enough with that. :] The rest, and their world, are JKR. But you already know that.
Author's Notes. Terribly sorry I took so godawful long with this, I've rewritten it a few times. And now, finally(!) Lolly and I agreed it was worth posting, maybe because we both knew I couldn't stand another redo. I daresay it's a filler-ish sort of set up, but hopefully you enjoy it anyways. :]
Madeline eyed the misty drizzle with an impish grin as her feet lead her across the dewy grass with a delightingly light step that almost compensated for their embellished weaving. Almost. But it was such a teeny almost, really, and she was feeling far too bubbly and vague to give it anything more than a brief acknowledgment.
She knew rain was something she could never re-imagine as anything slightly true to reality. It was far too lovely and changeable to picture, so she relished every moment she had to witness its moods; hiding the precious feeling of it away, because it would be the closest thing to remembering she’d ever have. And her mind continued to wander freely over absent musings, seeming to understand that it wasn’t to taint the general rapture with anything slightly comparable to worry. As it was, she rather hoped she was past worrying altogether. About anything. Which was an easy enough fancy to hold to as she drifted through the damp air, eyes locked onto the promising clouds above.
Madeline’s arms stretched out beside her as she walked, fingers gently moving to the gentle tune she hummed amongst her own thoughts. If she had paused to consider why it was there at all, she would have decidedly assumed it was Alice. Because it was always Alice, even when Alice played a part too small for it to be a reasonable conclusion; Elliot had hummed the same notes, and yet, Madeline could never be entirely sure if she had heard him-or her darling friend utter them.
It couldn’t possibly have mattered though, for it was Alice she had promised to meet for dinner. So the tune was hers. An absent reminder Madeline remained largely unaware of as she glanced back to the castle, realising with a sinking regret that the lamps were already lit, calling her in from the rain with their dancing light. She sighed, pushing her fringe from her eyes as she reluctantly turned to follow her own footsteps, quickly reabsorbing herself before her thoughts wiggled off into a direction she’d rather they didn’t just yet.
Alice would obsessively bring them to mind with her hellish persistence soon enough anyhow. Not that it would lead to anything productive: knowing that she needed to talk to Elliot and actually doing it were two entirely different realities. She already knew.
Madeline was completely aware that she might be stalling for time. But she secretly fancied she might continue doing so until Alice gave up, or she herself forgot exactly why she had agreed to dredging up some kind of...closure. Because more than anything, Madeline hated to think she felt there was something she needed to say. Wanted to say, she reminded herself hurriedly as she darted through the doors, scrunching a few drops from her hair as she paused, steeling herself to enter the mealtime chaos. Wanting and needing were entirely different. Needing had nothing to do with Elliot. Neither did wanting, when she considered it. She certainly didn’t want him.
“Have you Talked to Him yet?” Alice demanded, plonking herself beside Madeline at the Hufflepuff table a few minutes later. Her tone clearly indicated she was thinking in capitals, and expected her damp friend to do the same. Madeline was rather unwilling, crinkling her nose irritably.
“Does it look like I have?”
“No.” Alice leaned past her to seize a pitcher of pumpkin juice, “Actually...You look like Roger Verona tried to snog you again. He didn’t, did he?”
“That was two years ago!” Madeline protested, greatly alarmed by the unexpected reappearance of something she had largely hoped forgotten.
“And I swore I’d never forget the look on your face, didn’t I?” chuckled Alice. “You should’ve let him you know-”
“You always said his nose was a-”
“He’s grown into it now though, hasn’t he?” The blonde snickered again, “Prolly would’ve poked your eye out or something back then.”
“It’s actually really lovely now, isn’t it?” Madeline admired the object of their affections, where it remained attached and rather well proportioned to their fellow Hufflepuff’s face. “Especially considering what it was.”
“Mmhm,” Alice murmured, her chin propped in her hands as she watched their newest form of entertainment. Madeline felt vaguely sorry for him as he glanced their way, deciding for a moment that he could sense their attention. She shivered involuntarily, imagining the prickling sensation too vividly for comfort as she ducked her head briefly for his benefit. “This is why you need to bloody well hurry up, with Him.”
“Roger’s nose?” asked Madeline, feeling monstrously confused as she craned past Alice to squint directly at it. She immediately offered an awkward smile as he caught her eye and sank back into her seat, still trying to comprehend how his nose had anything to do with Elliot.
“No, you twat,” Alice shook her head, elbowing Madeline to gain her attention as her other hand massaged an apparent kink in her neck. “Me. I want someone delicious to admire up close, without all the bothers of owning them myself.”
“Your lazy arse,” Madeline interpreted aloud. “I wouldn’t call that an inspiring reason to prance about humiliating myself some more. I’d rather stay here, craning around corners to see The Nose. Any closer than this and its owner tries to snog you. You can’t have it all, Alice.”
“This isn’t about Roger or his appendages!” Alice hissed, “Don’t dare complicate this.”
“His appendages?” Madeline stared at Alice with a horrified mirth, finally rolling her eyes dismissively. “You’re the one that brought them into this-”
“Because this wasn’t the conversation I thought we’d be having!” Alice elbowed Madeline again, the action managing to adopt the same vicious note that tinged her tone. “I meant to spin it back to the Jes-Don’t look at him like that! You don’t want him to try it again. You don’t want him a step closer! I think I can see a cold sore...”
Madeline gave a soft groan, sinking in her seat to drop her head onto her arms. “This is insane,” she mumbled, knowing that neither of them knew precisely what it was they were arguing. She was sure her life would be considerably pleasanter if Elliot had a cold sore. A teensy blemish that would give her a universally accepted reason to avert her eyes and forget she had ever looked long enough to notice it. But he didn’t, and his nose was perfectly acceptable too. Perhaps it even warrented a compliment. It was all too wretched and far too horrible. “I think I might just...” Madeline paused, unsure of what she had originally intended.
“Just...?” Alice eyed her, “At least take something to eat, if you’re running off on me, Grey.”
That seemed enough of a decision to settle on, so Madeline willingly scooped an unbuttered bread roll from the table to silence her friend and darted gratefully from the buzzing hall. She left her feet to their own whim, letting the castle around her melt into a series of endless, indistinguishable staircases and corridors. The sweet dampness of the rain outside seemed to cling to the stone, fresh and clean overlaying a deeper, older scent that Madeline didn’t dare to explore too keenly. She felt it had probably lain forgotten too long, and histories seemed so sad and desolate-it wasn’t right to dredge it up for her own amusement.
It was sometime later that she finally sank to the floor, her back pressed against the corridor’s wall as she tugged her sketchbook free from her tattered shoulder bag. She propped it against her knee, falling into a comfortable daze while her pencil whispered across the blank parchment. Abandoned at her side lay the bread roll, nothing more than an unwanted problem to be rid of before she returned to Alice’s company.
The sketch had developed a true likeness before Madeline froze, her pleasant oblivion immediately twisting into alarm. She felt a small chill of inner fury, unable to understand why she hadn’t stopped herself sooner. But the sensation quickly left her and she sighed, running loving fingers across pencilled lips before softly closing them into darkness. The book remained cradled in her lap though, even after she had averted her gaze to the ill-lit wall across from her. She continued to trace absent designs onto the worn cover, her eyes unseeing. It was like trying to remember rain. Grasping at the edges without capturing the spirit.
“You’re better than paper, Ma,” she whispered, too absorbed in her own thoughts to know whether it was aloud or not.
Madeline pushed herself up, carefully tucking the book beneath her arm and donning her bag. And then with obvious reluctance she collected the morsel, feebly offering a thought to the houseelves before sinking entirely into her own jumbled head. The half-finished image still burned clearly in her mind, and Madeline struggled to calm the sickening swell in her middle. She forced herself to submerge into the echoing sound of her own footfalls, desperate to replace the sketch with her Ma. Real memories, the ones she usually secreted away.
Because paper was dangerous: it twisted things to its own desire. It created lies. She created lies on paper, without ever meaning too. Her Ma was too enigmatic to be pinned between pencilled lines, and Madeline believed she could never do so without designing horrible untruths. Untruths that would eventually merge into the precious few certainties Madeline had. Remembering lies would be worse than remembering nothing at all.
Madeline teetered, catching hold of the banister as she fought to overlook the dismay that flooded her. Her sketchbook thudded to the floor and she dove after it, quickly using the action to scrub her eyes free of the unbearable hot prickling so reminiscent of childhood. She felt just as naive and silly, biting firmly on her lip for an ounce of sense while she gathered her thoughts. “Not now, Elliot. I can’t.”
“Tomorrow?” his voice carried its easy amusement, muffled slightly by her own fleeing footsteps.
Madeline slipped uneasily from her sleep, a disturbing sense persuading her to keep her eyes shut as consciousness steadily engulfed her. Warm breath danced across her face, its odd rhythm colliding with her own in a fascinating mix of ill coordination. Hesitantly she opened her eyes, giving an alarmed squeak as she stiffened. “Alice! That’s so fucked up!”
The blonde sighed, her face unnervingly close and bright-eyed to Madeline’s. For a few prolonged moments she said nothing, watching Madeline rather quizzically as they inhaled one another’s breath. Neither girl uneasy enough to actually terminate the close quarters, but both a considerable way from being comfortable.
“It isn’t,” she said finally, her voice devoid of anything slightly argumentative.
“How long’ve you been there?” Madeline blurted. “I mean, it’s right there, isn’t it? You’re right there! Why are you so goddamn close?”
“Stop being dramatic. It isn’t half as creepy as you’re making out.”
Madeline merely offered a small noise of non-committal, trying to stop herself from dwelling on Alice’s avoidance. She knew her well enough to understand that no answer only meant the truth was better left unsaid. Madeline groaned, rolling onto her stomach and burying her face in an attempt to hide from the idea in itself. She felt quite sure she didn’t want to know.
“When are you getting up?” Alice asked airily, slipping from the covers herself and getting to her feet, revelaing herself to be fully dressed. She studied Madeline for a minute. “It’ll be tomorrow all over again, once today’s out anyway. And if our Jester-lovely is half as lovely as he looks, he’ll settle for that tomorrow just as well as yesterdays.”
“Don’t start,” implored Madeline, pulling herself upright.
“I swear you’re trying to send me batty,” Alice continued on, heedless. “I mean, maybe? Maybe? Jump the lad while he’s willing, you tosser! If it’s got anything to do with Verona’s-”
“Oh, please, Alice! Not again, I honestly can’t stand hearing it again.”
“Just get up. We’re going for a walk. It’s completely lovely outside and we’re going to enjoy it, because-”
“It’s lovely,” Madeline finished, disentangling herself from her sheets with a reluctant grin. She tugged a previously discarded dress over her head, carelessly smoothing a few wrinkles out as she went in search of shoes. Alice flopped down on the bed in her wake, and after a few fleeting seconds, she began to hum, her legs swinging to and fro as she waited.
Madeline rolled her eyes and averted her gaze, long-used to Alice’s vehement hate of silence. The overly familiar notes slowly grew more pronounced in her mind, and when she finally turned to announce herself ready, she found something entirely different dancing on her tongue. "What's that song?"
Alice raised an eyebrow, "What song?"
"Nevermind," Madeline answered instantly, realising her friend had been largely unaware of her own actions. She sighed as they left the dorm, still uncomfortably torn between whether or not she should try to clarify the question as they made their way outside. Her final decision was swallowed as Alice began her own tangent. It couldn't possibly be reintroduced with any sort of casually feigned disinterest. Surely it didn't matter anyway. It was Alice's song. Alice's.
Madeline willingly submerged herself into the blissful day with such an intent that she barely remembered that things had changed. And that tiny twinge was so lovely and faint as she and Alice sprawled on the grass that she found it deliciously easy to pretend Easter had never happened. Just as it was to ignore the fact that the unmentioned maybe could occur at any time, as maybes were generally known to do.
The afternoon sun slowly lost its warmth though, sinking behind the Forrest's outline in a wash of colour. The girls watched on silently with their arms wrapped around themselves, subdued by the darker presence of dusk. Madeline found herself staring the glowing outline long after it had truly faded into nothing, hoping unreasonably that it might reverse its decision. Alice seemed equally reluctant to lead them indoors but finally managed to tear her eyes from their skyward gaze to climb to her feet with a sigh, mumbling something half-heartedly about dinner.
As they trekked across the lawn, Madeline found an uncomfortably honest reality settling around her. The lovely afternoon with her Alice seemed to make it all the worse, for it reminded her precisely what it had been before. She couldn’t help but wonder if He had changed things, or if they had succumbed to it themselves. No matter. The castle still felt different, sending an odd shiver through her middle as she considered it. Those two weeks had changed things, subtly perhaps, but change was change. And she and Alice were no longer safely isolated, caught up in their own designs, for they couldn’t be, not if it mattered where someone else was.
They slipped into the Great Hall amidst a small gaggle of students, inconspicuously separating themselves to find an empty patch of bench wide enough to accommodate them both within some hazy edge of reason. Madeline hesitantly spooned a few small portions onto her plate, feeling anything but hungry surrounded by the general commotion of mealtime that contrasted all too vividly with the lazy afternoon. She reached for a pitcher of pumpkin juice and handed it to Alice, who had never endured a meal without a glass, and found that the blonde was entirely too distracted to notice the empty glass by her plate.
“Al-” Madeline followed Alice’s line of sight with alarm as she issued a dreamy sigh. “For Merlin’s sake,” she hissed, her eyes locking onto the laughing features of Elliot who seemed to somehow manage to joke with his friends and throw a dreadful wink in her direction without drawing any attention. At his table at least. Alice emitted a delighted squeak, elbowing an ashen Madeline blindly beneath the table. The nudge caused Madeline to snap from her horrified trance, and she quickly dropped her gaze, using her foot to stamp Alice from hers.
“I didn’t say a word!”
“You're still blushing though. That’s enough, isn’t it?”
“Did you see that wink, Grey? Merlin knows wink doesn’t cut it. How can you not just-” Alice sighed again, “Honestly, if it wasn’t so horribly obvious he could only see you, I’d have stripped down right here.”
“Oh, wow!” Alice interrupted, “He’s looking again!”
"You can't be serious-" Madeline lost her trail, momentarily tangled in his gaze. She broke it quickly though, shaking her head with as much certainty as she could muster. Not now. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.
Madeline dropped heavily onto a seat opposite Alice, her cheeks flushed and her heart pounding. Alice glanced up absently, a quill poised mid-air above a parchment of scrawling notes. "What on Earth-"
"Peeves," Madeline said simply, calmly given her state. Alice eyed her soggy friend with a thoughtful consideration, finally deciding that the three-floor sprint between the poltergeist's most recently favoured corridor and their own favourite unused classroom had diluted any emotional attachment to the situation. She sighed, her lips twitching as she struggled to feign ignorance.
"Where's your bag, Grey?"
"My-" Madeline made a small motion to show her tattered messenger bag, her eyes widening as she groaned softly, "I must have dropped it when I-Urgh!" She dropped her wet head, absorbed in the jumbled mix of possibilities. She uttered a strangled noise, a few loose, particularly drenched tendrils of hair falling loose to squelch against the tabletop. A new realisation found her, much worse than any of the others. A hoarse whisper left her lips, "My sketchpad, Alice."
Alice delicately slid her essay out of harms way. "Do you want me to come? I've almost finished Sluggy's…" she trailed off tentatively.
"Don't look at me like that," Madeline murmured into the silence, eyes locked onto her fingers as they trailed an absent pattern in glistening dampness across the wood. She lifted her head unexpectedly, revealing a pointedly determined gaze. "It's just a bit of water-"
"And is that-"
"Just mud," she confirmed hurriedly. Alice gave an awkward nod, dropping her curious hand away from Madeline's cheek.
"How did he-"
"I don't know."
"Oh yes!" Madeline exclaimed, eyes bright with recognition and something a little frantic. "I'll be back soon then."
And with that she leapt to her feet, hurrying off before she could reflect on the trembling hysteria spreading through her middle. It seemed a horrid mix of both laughter and tears. But she couldn't quite grasp its nature without willingly delving into a reaction, and neither felt anything close to right.
Madeline was horrified by the skittish, bewildering discomposure overcoming her. Determinedly ignoring it, she tucked a dirty strand of hair behind her ear, her fingers grazing her cheek as she did so. It was too warm, far too warm. She frowned slightly at that, feeling all the more flustered as she found the prominent smear of caking mud Alice had moments earlier. Well, sod it all!
She stumbled and, mutely deciding she was too muddled to bother fighting, she fell. After swallowing the awkward lump rising in her throat she scrambled to her feet, one hand already scrubbing anxiously at the swipe of unwanted mud. Just minutes ago, Madeline had been reasonably organised. And now, she didn't have so much as the vaguest idea as to where her bag was. It was horrible to be jilted from one mind-frame to another, much worse than Peeves and a few handfuls of muddy water, anyway.
Madeline's eyes widened with surprise as a nearby portrait swung open, her feet stopping in their tracks as her surrounds slowly seemed clearer. At least, the fact that they were mostly unfamiliar seemed clearer. With a small groan, she came to a realisation. She'd gone the wrong way. She'd gone and walked the wrong sodding way.
Her eyes latched onto the sizeable woman, knowing with sudden dread that she had stumbled across what could only be the Gryffindor Commonroom. Merlin help her! But much to Madeline’s relief, luck finally seemed on her side when a pretty, completely un-Elliot-ish girl appeared in the portrait's wake with a small, curious smile on her mouth. Indeed, ‘relief’ didn’t quite suit Madeline’s fancy. It wasn’t half as striking as she felt it should sound. She offered her own smile, feeling genuinely glad to see the girl, before spinning on her heel and darting away from the dangerous location.
Madeline exhaled as she rounded a corner, vanishing the niggling thought that maybe, she wished it hadn't been the girl. Maybe. If only she could come to some sort of decision. Or at least leave it alone entirely. If she didn’t spare her head to it, maybe it wouldn’t matter. Maybe if she left it entirely unconsidered, Elliot would morph back into what he used to be. An unidentified Gryffindor, winking at some other girl. A girl that wasn't her. She glanced back, offering a half-thought to the pretty Gryffindor.
For she was sure he would have always had a someone, indeed, she couldn’t imagine him any other way. And she hated it. Hated her imagination for failing her, for leaving her with nothing more than a strangely eager, Maybe it wouldn’t matter. It would matter. He’d always have a someone else. Before her. After her. Always. She’d just be some other girl’s someone else for a few fleeting moments. But maybe it wouldn’t matter, maybe it would be best that way.
Maybe. How horrid and indecisive! Maybe, sodding maybe.
Madeline scratched ferociously at a newly discovered brown smudge on her arm, paying little heed to the group of Gryffindors making their own disorderly way towards their commonroom as she shrank towards the wall unobtrusively, tangled inside her thoughts. A small urge struck her though, and she glanced up absently.
"Oh," Madeline swallowed and forced her hand to cease it's obsessive scratching. She wasn’t ready, not with all her pathetically neutral maybes. It was the only thing she was sure of as thoughts stumbled over themselves under the surprised gaze of a collection of rowdy seventh years. Knowing she had no choice, Madeline found Elliot's, her chin jutting upwards slightly with undefinable determination.
“Right,” he said lightly, turning to grin at the rest. “Won’t be long, lads.”
He looked at her for a second as he studied her mud-stained form, and Madeline found herself lacking the ability to portray much of anything. Finally, she felt his hand on her wrist, and unable to provide a protest, she let him lead her away from his jesting friends-feeling that they were perhaps, worse than anything waiting elsewhere.
“Let me have it, Maddy Grey.”
Madeline stared at him for a minute, taking in a confusing mix of him and their surrounds. He leaned casually against the professor’s desk of the empty classroom he had steered her into, eyes dancing with an unexpressed amusement that sent her stomach roiling.
“You should have told me,” her voice caught in her throat, forcing her to swallow thickly. “Or tried to. None of this is right, El.” Madeline sighed, not knowing if she had intended to speak anything of the sort. “I-I haven’t got anything to give. And even if I did, I don’t think I’d let myself. You just-I’ve already made a complete fool of myself. Don’t dare make it worse, I just want to know you won’t.”
“‘Course I won’t,” he paused, running his hand through his hair dismissively. “I told you I wasn’t taking the piss.”
“That was another guarantee, was it?” Madeline shrank inwardly at her own voice, unable to stop herself from meeting Elliot’s eye. She wondered desperately if he’d noted the horrible sound of it, the sound that contradicted her own words. His eyes hadn’t lost their monstrously teasing glint though, and she forced herself to believe he had overlooked her unintended slip. Madeline brushed a crease from her dress with unsteady hands, using the distraction to beg her feet to take her away, back to Alice.
“Come to Hogsmeade with me, next weekend.”
Madeline turned in the doorway with surprise. “No. I can’t,” she bit her lip, alarmed by her instant retort. “Alice-I mean, we always go together.”
“Bring her then.” Elliot grinned at her, as unaffected as ever. “Frank and I’ll meet you sometime before lunch.”
Madeline was startled to feel her head give a small twitching nod and fled before any other part of her joined the act of betrayal. Her lungs themselves seemed entirely uncooperative; leaving her with an aching chest and rather uncomfortably lightheaded. Her insides twisted with a miserable throb as she dashed to the safety of her bed, paying no attention to the steps she missed and stumbled over or the comforting thud of her beloved bag against her legs that wasn’t there. None of it mattered, because the only idea Madeline cared to dwell on was to curl up and hide under the covers for something close to forever. Grazed knees and missing bags became plesantly insignificant when you’d made such a mess of things anyway, a fact Madeline was rapidly learning. One mistake changed everything; she didn’t feel she could afford another.
Update: Additional final paragraph to smooth things over for the new chapter, which is on it's way, finally =]
Chapter 5: Five.
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Disclaimer. Madeline, Elliot, and the handy little wallflower Emily Mathers are all mine. JK takes better care of her characters, I feel rather guilty.
Authors Notes. Again with me apologising profusely for taking such a ridiculously long time with this. Life is disgustingly busy, and I get confused with my own relationships so badly that I figure if I write, it'll twist the story falsely. Hope it is genuinely readble anyway. Expect a few typos and irky sentence structure, I'll be coming through to edit as soon as I can. I figured something would be better than the epic nothing I've passed out the last few months. Happy reading everyone! Love to all that have stuck by this story.
In the end, Madeline reflected, it all came down to choice. One way or another, everything did. Life depended entirely on decisions, whether they were the glaringly obvious kind, or the sort that seemed so insignificant they failed to get a single thought let alone a second. Whichever way they presented themselves, each had a similar nature of disastrous possibility. A decision was a decision, and once it was made, another would have to follow it to undo the path that led on from it. And even then, it was never really undoing anything, just sort of trying to lap back to the place things went wrong, adorned with stains from the mess that had already been made in a way that meant it was impossible to forget even after it had been left behind. Messy.
“You look completely awful, Grey.”
Madeline threw Alice a blank look, her usually expressive eyes now shining with a dimmed look of frazzled hopelessness. Alice managed to catch and hold her attention for a moment, and Madeline felt quite compelled to say something, to say anything that might help her friend to understand. She wanted out of her own head. But there weren’t any words to say that with the right sort of inflection, so she dismissed it, biting down on her lip as she turned away and continued to pull apart her breakfast; bit by small, uneaten bit. She didn’t say a word more, sinking away from Alice’s momentary clutch and back into her own gloomy oblivion.
Elliot. She was eating herself up because of Elliot. Because she still had a choice, because there was always a choice. She could still tell him she had never meant to nod, tell him she’d never meant to agree to whatever it was exactly she had. Or maybe, if she was feeling especially brave, that she had never intended to know anything more of him after she’d climbed free of the puddle and dried her clothes. Her brow wrinkled slightly, and her fingers grew more frantic in their movements; her breakfast now in ruins.
“Just eat it.” Alice sighed softly, “It’s all...bite-sized now anyway.”
“In a minute, Alice,” Madeline murmured absently, forcing herself to seem entirely focused on the remaining un-torn portion. In reality, she barely saw it.
“Well then, if you’re going to keep thinking about it so much. I think I’m perfectly justified to talk about it-”
“I’m not thinking about it, and you can ponce around with it as long as you like and all I’ll be able to say is-”
“You don’t know,” Alice finished, rolling her eyes as she slouched over her own breakfast, propping her chin on her hand. “If you don’t give me a smidge of something, I’ll use my imagination.”
“Bloody hell, you’re awful.”
“Me? You didn’t come back to find me: awful. And then you had the hide to fall asleep before I found you!”
“Awful again, right?”
“Just why were you so tired, huh, Grey?” Alice continued on her rampage, eyes glinting and mouth possessed with a twitching curve. “Don’t tell me the Lovely Jester does have a knob, and you aren’t half as opposed to it as you were a few days ago...” Madeline paled at Alice’s teasing eyebrow and quickly abandoned her breakfast with a single jerking movement, pushing the plate away with a look of distaste. But the girl ignored Madeline’s changing expression completely, charging forwards with a fresh onslaught. “You’re not half as angry as you usually are when you’re thinking about him, but I can tell you still are. It’s just a different sort of thinking. So either you’re thinking about whether or not it was ridiculously skanky to let him shag you silly like that last night, or you’re thinking you might maybe let him if he tries to again.”
“Alice, stop it-”
“Tell me something I can know then, if my imagination’s just being wanky.”
“I know Hogsmeade is next week. That’s five days from now. If it’s not too windy, maybe we’ll walk. It’s an extra lovely walk, Alice, not too hilly-”
“But maybe-Urgh! Sod it, I do hate maybes! Maybe I’ll twist my ankle. And maybe you’ll have to help me back to the infirmary, and by the time Marchbanks has fixed me up, it’ll be raining. The sort of rain you absolutely refuse to walk in Alice-becasue of what it does to your hair, and maybe by then every last carriage will be gone. And we’ll have absolutely no way to get there. So we’ll stay in the castle and read Udolpho together, near the enchanted window that looks out to our tree.”
“You’d probably do good to go and see Marchbanks right now, Grey, you sodding loon! What in Merlin’s arse are you on about? Trying to prove he’s actually gone and literally shagged your brains out-” Madeline swallowed her nausea and ignored Alice, knowing her friend expected as much; they rarely did any different.
“He told me to meet him in Hogsmeade.” Madeline hurried on anxiously as Alice omitted a gleeful squeak, “I don’t want to. I want to sprain my ankle.” She felt she had managed a nice sort of proper firmness with that statement and paused to chance a glance at her friend, immediately cringing at the glowing expression beaming back at her. “No! Don’t look at me like that! It’s not a date. You’ll be there, and some wanker named Frank-I mean, he might be lovely, but with a name like Frank I can’t help but fancy the guy a complete tw-”
Alice snorted laughter into her teacup as she raised it towards her face. “Wonder if he’s the Longbottom one.”
“Longbottom? Oh, Merlin!” Madeline felt an uncomfortable swell of hysteria in her middle. She supposed she was laughing, but it felt terribly ridiculous. It felt wrong.
“Piss! I bet it is! I suppose we’ll know the minute we see him anyway.”
“Is he that awful?”
“With a name like Longbottom?” Alice asked blithely, suddenly cutting her own snigger off with a small frown. “Erm, I can’t actually remember,” she admitted in undertone, waving a hand dismissively. “You know Gran’s done her best to keep us out of the Pureblood circle for years-But he’s Augusta’s youngest, and Gran swears he’s awful lovely.”
Madeline raised a curious eyebrow as Alice fell into a fresh pool of her own amusement, granted that her own lips curled at the thought of just what Grandmother Prewett would approve of in a fellow their age. Perhaps they’d recognise him for his tweed coat and little cloth cap, who knew with Elliot, after all.
Alice allowed herself yet another hiss of giggles before flicking her attention to Madeline, “Says it’s unfortunate he inherited the Longbottom Ears,” she blurted, a smidge breathless.
“The Longbottom Ears?” Madeline repeated, shaking her head with laughter.
“Ears like you’ve never seen them, Grey,” the blonde managed to sound almost serious, whilst flapping her hands around by her head in imitation. “If it’s him of course.”
“My guess is it will be; only one Frank in 7th and all...” Madeline’s eyes flew to the figure now looming behind her friend, quickly absorbing everything from his waving brown hair to garish Gryffindor robes. Finally she swallowed and dropped her gaze back to Alice, who was trying to communicate something very important with her eyes. Madeline gave a small, wavering nod of her head before taking an uncommon interest in her pancake. She had no plans to willingly converse with Elliot’s Frank. None whatsoever. The fellow didn’t seem to mind though, comfortably sliding himself into a seat beside Alice and propping his elbows on the table as he surveyed her with something verging on amusement, “Cat got your tongue these days, Prewett, or are the Ears just failing me?”
“Maybe I haven’t got anything to say to you, Longbottom,” gritted out Alice, her cheeks inflamed.
“Ouch, try and make me cry next time.”
“Believe me, I’m willing-” Alice’s threat was interrupted by a sneeze on Madeline’s behalf that resembled anything but invisibility. She felt both Alice and Frank direct their attention at her and scrunched her culprit nose from habit.
“Don’t mind me..” She reached for her tea as calmly as she could, offering what she hoped to be an apologetic grin. A minute later and Frank’s eyes were yet to give her peace though, and Madeline felt her breathing alter a little.
“You’ve got to be Madeline then, right?” He said finally, an easy sureness in his voice that she recognised a little from Elliot’s.
“I don’t have to be anything,” she retorted uncomfortably, unsure of what Frank was implying; it almost sounded like an accusation. His head cocked to one side slightly at her response, and her slight annoyance wavered into confusion. There was a strange strength in the way he manoeuvred himself, and it was as though every ounce of his attention had spun to focus on her, thinly veiled behind an easy nonchalance. For a second she was sure his honey eyes had filtered their surrounds away, and she sat before him like an open book, powerless to distract him in anyway. She wondered vaguely if he even saw Alice now, who still sat beside him, muted for reasons of her own.
“Elliot said you’d be missing this,” Frank started, addressing Madeline’s partially bowed head as he shifted in his seat. His strange manner from moments earlier had faded into the testing boy who’d first invited himself to their breakfast and Madeline couldnt help but chance a glance across at him. She was dually fascinated by him, but meeting his eyes seemed a step too close to danger. And Elliot!? What in Merlin’s name did he want from her now that he couldn’t face her himself? A small, lone strain of anger flushed through her, tinged with an ill-placed sense of humiliation.
Frank sighed with an impression of annoyance that she felt sure wasn’t any more than pretence, and she had almost gathered enough courage to properly face the Unfortunately Winged Sod when his hand thrust an achingly familiar bag into her vision. Madeline’s head flew up as her hand grasped at the shabby thing, “Why?” She cringed, barely hoping that he’d understand her meaning.
Yet, Frank seemed to, “He found it. Said you’d rather not see him today-if you could help it, so he asked me to give it to you.”
“Of course he did.”
“Yeah, he said you’d be like that, too.” The boy eyed her searchingly despite his tone, which indicated nothing but the mild amusement he appeared to carry with him as a constant, and Madeline found herself staring back, captured by his continuously contradicting signals. His gaze pierced hers for a second before he visibly withdrew, leaving the empty boyish expression to its own devices. “But you’d rather have your books over detention, right?”
“Right,” Madeline whispered with all the strength she could muster, pulling her eyes from him to save her imagination the difficulty of dealing with the possibilities. Was it simply that there was more to him than met the eye, or an overall dishonesty? They seemed such dizzying opposites, she could decide on neither without feeling completely terrified it was the other.
“Right,” Frank repeated normally, “I suppose I’ll be seeing you on Saturday then. Say around eleven, at the park.” He turned to leave but paused, glancing back, “Prewett, you’d better make sure you wear something nice for our date.”
“It’s not a date-” Alice and Madeline exclaimed in unison.
“Sure it isn’t. Look, just ask someone to help if you can’t manage something decent on your own, alright?” Frank turned and vacated in a smooth movement, leaving the repercussions of his rhetorical question lingering in the air behind him, just as he knew it would-no doubt.
“Real fucking lovely, Gran,” Alice muttered down at her breakfast, her cheeks unnaturally pale. Madeline averted her eyes, gulping her own reaction away. If Elliot was watching, she’d give him nothing more. No more of herself for his game. Not that she understood the rules he followed, or why her life seemed to provide everything he needed regardless of her efforts not to. Of all people to find her bag, it had been him. Why? What was she supposed to do? Madeline wasn’t so sure as to what her choices were anymore. But she still had to make one.
“So, do you want to push me over on Saturday? If it doesn’t look like I’ll fall on my own?”
Alice raised her head, her brow furrowed, “What gives you the idea I’d agree to that, Grey?”
“We’re going through with it, you loon. A git like Longbottom isn’t going to change my mind. I’ll just laugh at his ears if I need something to get me through.”
Madeline giggled despite the growing numbness in her middle, “Don’t say-”
“Don’t tell me you expect me to ignore those things?”
“They aren’t even that bad,” Madeline rolled her eyes without any particular feeling, and barely a second passed before she found herself under Alice’s disbelieving gaze. There was absolutely no hope for her to explain Frank had been blessed with a presence far too great for ears to be much of a hindrance, not when Alice was so determined not to see or admit to such a thing. Madeline gnawed her inner lip for a few brief seconds as she searched the unhelpful image of brownish curls and penetrating eyes in her head to no avail. She simply couldn’t picture a glimpse of ear but really, she didn’t need to admit such a thing openly. So she gave a small, non-incriminating shrug, deciding silently that she would see them eventually, if they had honestly earned themselves a title.
Alice snickered, clearly taking Madeline’s shrug as one of agreement, “Not that bad? If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I just met-”
“Stop it, you wanker! For Merlin’s sake!” Madeline felt a small grin quirk at her mouth as she licked her fingers clean, “Come on, lets just get going.”
“It’s like we’ve got a Moody Spurgeon in our story now too,” Alice snickered again. “No wonder he’s such a twat.”
Madeline struggled to hold herself normally as her throat constricted, slipping free of the bench and straightening out her skirt as she swallowed the questionable half-protest that had seemed willing to sound so natural on her lips. She would create a proper mess by defending him, especially when even now, seconds later, she highly doubted he actually deserved it. He had such a strange air about him and even thinking of it made her dreadfully uncomfortable in her own skin. What conclusions had he reached during their brief encounter to cause him to look at her that way, as though she were something to distrust? Madeline wondered if he’d had them before he’s seen her, because of Elliot. She shut herself off compulsively, refusing to let her thoughts wonder into yet another unanswerable tangent. Worry surged through her nonetheless, What would Elliot say about her?
Determined to stop herself she snatched up her bag, half-registering it didn’t feel quite like she fancied it always did, as though the invisible niche on her shoulder had forgotten the weight and texture of it’s counterpart. That seemed ridiculously silly, but she dismissed it as she linked her arm through Alice’s, deciding that there was little doubt her bag had been returned slightly tainted. How could it not feel different, she mused, glancing over at the Gryffindor table; nothing Elliot touched seemed to feel the same in his wake.
“You really must stop referencing Anne, Alice,” Madeline mumbled, breaking free of her own stupor.
“Whatever, as long as we both know who Gil-”
“Oh! Keep your knickers on, love... Or not, whichever you prefer.”
“Leave my knickers out of this. At least they’re clean.”
“Madskie, play nice, you fool.”
“Because that’s completely lovely.”
Alice rolled her eyes, “Just watch the trick step, fooly. It’s too early to start self harm schemes.”
“Actually, I think I’m just going to do the sensible thing,” Madeline commented, negotiating her way past the stair in question.
“Tell him I never really meant to say yes.”
Alice laughed, “Do you think he’ll listen? Or just do his loverly wink and tell you just how much he wants to talk about your knickers.”
“I’ve decided to owl him, seems nice and safe. And there wont be any knickers,” she added as an afterthought.
“How unclassy of you.”
“My handwriting is atrocious,” nodded Madeline regretfully.
“I meant you not wearing knickers.” Alice laughed, “I mean really, Mads! You want them to have to try a smidge. Why else do you think our deluxe over the shoulder boulder holders have such nifty clasps?”
Madeline groaned and shook her head, “I’m just going to ignore you. Elliot has absolutely nothing to do with my knickers. You have more to do with them than he ever will. But that’s not any reason for you to go about obsessing with them. So here I am Alice. Look at me go. Ignoring you.”
“Look at you go indeed,” Alice snorted. “Still sitting together for Charms though, right?”
Madeline turned to stare at her friend as she adjusted her bag, “Of course.”
The following day had Madeline lapsing into a silence that Alice read as an important sort, rather than an ignoring sort, no matter what her friend claimed it to be. And it was for that reason precisely that Alice watched her friend so closely, her own head stewing with possibilities. She had done her very best to convince Madeline that a letter would do anything but fix an ounce of anything to no avail. Now, one could only hope that Jester Gods knew the art of perseverance, or at least had the manners to be reasonably illiterate. She clicked her tongue as a wrinkled sheet of parchment was smoothed across the wooden desk next her own and finally averted her eyes to the board, figuring at least one of them should scrawl a few notes. She could multitask in the meantime; and pray that everything would work out as splendidly as it should, no matter how much Madeline did to botch it.
The girl in question, personally, had no intention of botching things further. She was tripping back to a little park, where the air lay damp and heavy with rain, and she had the ability to uncomplicate and unruin the muck she was still struggling to get out of. Because Madeline assumed that that was the last point she had decidedly felt she knew what she had wanted. Right there, swinging to and fro with Elliot at her side, completely disconnected from the motion. And despite the fact she now held certain knowledge that would have seemed unfathomable at the time, it seemed safest to stick with that certainty. She’d disappear out of his life, and she’d never have to hear him speak any words of substance. Too late or too soon, it didn’t matter. She didn’t want to hear them. Not now, not ever. That seemed enough.
So she set all other ponderings aside, and tried to scrawl something from the girl she had been, the one lost and alone at her fathers. If that girl felt she could do without Elliot, than surely this current Madeline could. She had her world and Alice, things that promised to stay, and had. For the most part anyway. Her quill scratched thoughtlessly across the page, barely allowing herself time to process thought from thought as she went. It seemed deliciously simple, and Madeline dared not dwell too deeply on it when she finally set her quill aside and stowed the precious letter inside her robes as the bell garishly sounded the end of the lesson.
“What? Already done?” Alice asked, eyebrow arching as she gathered her things up. To be fair, she had expected Madeline take the most part of the morning to compose something suitable. She was almost worried that it hadn’t.
“I-I think so. Just telling him no, it’s not so complicated, is it?”
“Nah. I mean, you’ve managed to do it really well so far, got me in on a double date and everything,” Alice rolled her eyes. “So many wheels in your non-relationship we could transport a small Muggle army.”
Madeline glared at the blonde, “I wish you’d stop calling it that. It’s not a date! It never was. I never said it was.”
“Sure it’s not. ‘Ridiculously dashing Jester God requests the hand of undignified-yet-”
Rising her voice slightly, Alice parried on, “-beautiful maiden to accompany him to the fair village of Hogsmeade for a light luncheon-”
“For Merlin’s sake!”
“-and quick, mid-afternoon romp-”
“Only to find that his dear maiden doth protest too much!’”
“You know, you’re the most irritating wench-”
“Correction, my lovely, I’m the poor tosser hand selected to keep his awful manfriend occupied whist he whispers gooey nothings in your ear. Blokes don’t want their mates witnessing the soppy bits it takes to tip a girl off her feet and onto their laps. It’s the thrusting and stuff that they plaster about. The manly bits.”
“So you distract Frank in the meantime?”
“Mm. Disgusting, isn’t it? The things I’m willing to do for you, and you just throw it all away.”
“Just say ‘thankyou’, Alice. That’d be the appropriate response, wouldn’t it?”
“Hardly. I’m praying to Merlin that your dashing lad suffers from a quick bout of illiteracy.”
“You secretly want to shag Frank.”
“Oh, Gods yes.”
“I knew it,” Madeline giggled.
It wasn’t until the last bell echoed through the castle’s halls that she was finally able to make her way towards the owlrey, where it sat delightfully silhouetted against a sky of smudging primrose and apricot. She inhaled deeply, trailing her hand along the railing as she began the steady increase upwards, towards the casual rustle of feathers and tugging breeze, vaguely noting how uncertain her feet felt upon the rough stone steps. It had never become a common place to her, the rare visits she had made to the open room in the past to owl her mother doing nothing to lesson the odd kind of grandeur it possessed. Genuinely lovely, Madeline mused, watching a lone bird’s shadow disappear between the curving arches. She barely felt the hard edges of the letter press through her pocket, and for a few passing minutes, she climbed with no purpose other than to see the sun set with a suitable sort of rapture.
She darted directly across the room, keeping her footsteps light to save creating a disturbance any greater than necessary and slid herself up onto the open sill that faced the castle. Stretching her legs out before her with an elegance that barely belonged to her, Madeline stared out at the delicious sight, watching with wide eyes as the illuminated castle slowly sunk into a dim, misleading twilight. She guessed that somewhere, by one of the soft, glowing lights she assumed to be the Great Hall, Alice would be waiting. And so, with gentle resignation, she turned to the mission at hand. Soon enough she found an attentive owl, willing to deliver her ill-addressed letter to Elliot Seach, of Gryffindor, presumably no more than a few hundred meters away. It almost seemed silly, but the owl cared less than her, so it barely mattered. And Alice was waiting. She dared not miss another dinner, hungry or not, because she most decidedly wasn't.
Madeline felt as though her soul had lifted as she skirted her way back towards her darlingly impatient friend with a lively, hurried step, disappearing from the darkening owlrey as instantaneously as she had arrived. When she finally slipped into her seat with softly flushed cheeks and dancing eyes, Alice shot her a quick grin, “I’ve got news.”
“Your Jester God can read, apparently.”
Madeline stared at her friend, reading enough from her expression to swivel in her seat and set her eyes on the last thing she wanted to see. Elliot was striding straight towards her, easily making his way through the mess of students as he watched her, his jaw strangely set.
“Really Mads,” Alice murmured, “What did you expect? At dinner time too, you fool.”
“Oh piss.” Madeline glanced at his approaching figure, meeting his eyes for the briefest moment before shooting to her feet, “I can’t Alice.”
“Come and find me when you’re ready, or done, or whatever,” Alice offered a weak smile, waving her off before turning to chat with their exceedingly sweet but mundane dorm mate, Emily Mathers. Madeline had already fled, twisting desperately between the crush of tables and people towards the exit. How could she have been so single minded? She cursed herself inwardly as a cold, almost guilty feeling shifted to the bottom of her conscience. She needed to find some sort of clarity, or things would only get messier.
“Come on then,’ Elliot’s voice ordered once she had burst free from the stifling hall, its usual amusement ever so slightly muted in her ear as she closed her eyes in defeat. Sodding long legs. She’d never had a chance, really.
“Where?” Madeline choked out as his warm hand closed around her wrist, it was easy enough to figure she didn’t have all that much of a choice.
“You think you’re skipping dinner on my behalf?” He threw her his crooked grin, “Ma’d have my skin.”
“I’m a ridiculously long way from hungry, Elliot.”
“Right you are, but we’ll soon fix that.” He glanced down at her and Madeline hurriedly averted her eyes, refusing to so much as glimpse her pale skin against his darker shade. No, she’d just watch her feet, for security’s sake. “Aye, I know,” he laughed softly, “You’re a stubborn fool.”
Madeline made a small scoffing noise, “Again with the compliments.” Elliot did no more than shoot her a quick wink, and as they lapsed into a reasonable silence, the glare fired at her feet intensified. He was purposely making her uncomfortable, and feeling a small burst of defiance, she tugged at her wrist. Who the sod did he think he was, anyway?
He sighed, loosening his grip slightly, no doubt unaware of the way his fingertips burnt her skin,“You always run-”
“You followed me-”
“You can’t just toss me this,” he’d pulled the letter from his pocket, and Madeline swallowed uncomfortably, “And then come dancing into the hall looking like that and expect me not to.”
Madeline bristled at his tone, it was terrifying to all her senses, and yet she couldn’t grasp any lucid definition to describe it, “Stop it, Elliot! Just sod the hell off and let me fix it,” her voice had faded to a desperate whisper, and she could only pray he understood her reference was to life itself, rather than his small part to play in it, or her own ratty appearance.
He grinned, easily overlooking her angst, “You really need to take a compliment when it’s due, Grey-”
“Please stop,” she murmured again, feeling utterly stricken at his words. “Stop all this. It’s all so...so silly, isn’t it? If its still about Hogsmeade, I’m not coming, really I’m not.”
Elliot laughed, causing her cheeks to flush pink, “You’re a godawful tease, Maddy.”
"You're just being persistent for the fun of it, you're a pain in the arse!"
“Aw, don’t get shirty, love.”
“I’m not your love,” Madeline bit out. "There is no love here."
“But I am persistent,” he replied, obviously amused.
“Elliot! Mate!” An unmistakably male voice tore Madeline from managing a function-able reply, and within seconds, another large Gryffindor had loped around the corner. “Hartly just called last-minute training. Larson’s lot cancelled, so the pitch is all ours..”
“For how long?” Elliot asked, his hand finding his hair again, “Snitch is going to be fucking awful at this time!”
“I’d say as easy as piss mate, give me an hour,” the scarlet robed boy let his eyes fall to Madeline, who instantly wondered if the term boy was suitable at all, his laughing, decidedly manly features making her feel younger than she had in quite some time. “Grey!” She inhaled sharply, somewhat startled. “Nice seeing you again,” he seemed to read confusion on her face, quickly amending with a grin, “Less mud this time, eh? I approve! Barely recognise you!”
“Er,” Madeline stumbled for a coherent sentence in her head, failing miserably.
“Better get going,” Elliot grinned at her, before quickly disappearing into the kitchens. He returned seconds later, gently pressing an apple into her hand, which suddenly felt strange without his touch. “I haven’t even started, Maddy Grey,” his whispered words did nothing to make her feel any easier, and yet it was a rather queer relief she felt as he stepped back. “The apple’s from Ma, not me, so eat it.”
And with that, he was gone. Madeline was far from okay.
Chapter 6: Six.
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Author's Notes. I know I've been awful at updating, I dearly wish to do better. But life keeps distracting me, and disheartening me. Sometimes I don't trust myself to write Elliot and be fair, because all the Elliots I've ever known show their flaws after a while. But, I'm fighting my way through. Thank you so much if you're still reading the words I conjure, I love each and every one of you. I'm working on finishing the next chapter, so I intend to follow this one soon.
Editing all previous chapters, tweaking a few tiny bits, and working on chapter 8 as of Nov. 2013
“Maddy, I mean really. Why not just...see what happens?” Alice pulled a somewhat apologetic face over their cauldron, but Madeline barely noticed, pushing her fringe back from the hot steam and heaving a great sigh. “I’m not saying throw yourself at the guy, though, of course, if you were willing that’d fix every-”
“I know, I know,” Alice switched her spoon rotation, “But don’t fight it quite so much. Let your mouth blurt out whatever comes naturally, and instead of trying to take it back, give things a chance to play on...”
“I’m so sick of all of it,” Madeline sighed again, “Lancewings now? I haven’t been paying attention.” Alice gave a quick nod, and for a passing second, they both watched the translucent pretties flutter downwards towards their doom. “And my mouth?” her voice barely broke the silence, “It’s positively awful around him Alice. I couldn’t trust to let it guide me for a minute.”
“Because it might say yes?”
“Or something worse..” She scratched her arm awkwardly, shaking her head suddenly to dispel whatever idea it was that left her feeling so uncomfortable. Alice dared not question its origin, deciding that Madeline would probably be better without recounting it aloud. But Madeline herself couldn’t pinpoint it at all, let alone find a way to verbalise it. Nonetheless there was no doubt in her mind that there was much, much worse to be said to Elliot. She ran her ringers across the folds in her skirt in helpless hope of distraction,“It’s not that I like running Alice-”
“I know,” the blonde whispered for comfort’s sake more than anything. In her mind, Madeline’s proven inability to keep herself anyplace resembling solidity made as much sense to her as it did nonsense. It had become an unquestionable part of their relationship, and whether it was healthy or not, Alice figured she was no longer a fair judge. It felt as though she should understand it, which held as much meaning as actually doing so, almost.
“But I need him to stop,” Madeline imediately regretted her choice of words, “I mean, I want him too. Every time I do run, he follows, and it just makes it worse.” She bit her lip to find silence, letting her head continue on without her mouth to solidify any of the awfully incriminating thoughts. And despite her vague awareness to the fact that her mindset was changing ever so slightly on the matter of Elliot, Madeline swore she would fight it as best she could. She didn’t need anything Elliot related, not now.
As regrettable as it was, it wasn’t terribly hard to recognise that her initial friendship with him as some awkward form of dependancy. She had needed someone, and he had been there, smiling and irritatingly willing, and she had clung to that in her own way. And maybe, in a moment of absolute, non-effected clarity, Madeline would even admit to herself that she had felt a small, inking relief to see him follow her. Not now though. That didn’t translate to now. She wanted to carry on pretending. She huffed in frustration, ceasing her thoughts, “It’s just...how can he accuse me of being stubborn? He’s just as sodding bad.”
Alice just grinned, “No one’s perfect Maddy.”
“He seems to think he is,” Madeline muttered, his laughing accusations playing through her head.
“No, I think he thinks you are, and you’re just misreading.”
Madeline refused to let the playful words sink into her conscionce, “I’d rather you and your voice of wisdom kept your stance neutral, okay?” She quickly found her feet, ready for the conversation to end, “I’ll go and get the vial.”
“Walk, don’t run,” Alice teased, switching her stirring for the final ten rotations as Slughorn strutted towards them, which only encouraged Madeline to make her exit sooner.
The brief spasm of fine, novel weather seemed to have dissapated, edging away so serenely that none could place when things had actually begun to turn quite so glum. At some point though, an ever-growing white gloom had chanced to rule, sweeping itself across the countryside, once again blanketing the castle into a hidden world of shifting silohettes and undefinable distance. Even the sun danced its way between here and there, discretely favouring the elegance it found behind the towering wall of cloud; a beaming, holy glow that seemed so suited to the formless majesty surrounding it.
Inside the castle’s walls, the afternoon’s omnious presence brought the whispered fears for Hogsmeade, though Madeline herself felt it was very doubtful that anything actually rainish would come of it. Not today, atleast, she mused, almost wondering if such a small fact was worthy of her disdain at all as she slowly let her feet weave their way across the chilly grounds. Because really, it was entirely beautiful as it was.
She savoured the thick, damp air as it filled her lungs, hesitantly letting her eyes drop from the pale, springtime orb which still lingered overhead as though it only stayed because it had no place else to go. It was a curious thing; somehow belonging perfectly to the landscape, yet managing to fully retain its individuality from the whole. And in an easy motion, her pencil was soon darting across paper as her teeth tugged on her lip in reflection, and she could almost imagine she held her dear sketchbook again. Wondering where it lay now was too daunting, dangerous, and she had little hope of finding it again; not realising until far too late that it wasn't tucked safely between her textbooks on her bag's return.
Once Madeline felt she had captured as much of the essence as she was able, she carefully stored the slip away, realising in that moment that she’d give it to Alice. Alice who was definitely missing something wonderful for the sake of her hair, even if it did exhibit a definite fuzz in anything less than sunny. Toying with the absent half-thought, Madeline slid a lone curl of her own between her fingertips before tucking it behind an ear with a small smile as she clambered to her feet. She liked to imagine it adored the current circumstance as much as she did, twisting about itself in a merry fashion to the call of the cool, teasing breeze that tugged at the clouds above in the very same breath. Or the very next at least. It was a charming idea, and despite the fact it left her head almost as soon as it had entered, the exhilarated feeling that shivered through her lingered as she threw her head back and willingly sacrificed herself entirely to the nature of the wind. And it seemed to relish in her agreement, sweeping at the leaves by her feet as it kindly whispered that maybe, just maybe, it would rain tomorrow.
Tomorrow! It was a sobering word, and even where she stood, being blown hither in a dream world, Madeline felt a tiny twinge creep though her being. Gods knew what tomorrow would bring! In an uncomfortable sort of way, it almost seemed easier to agree to meeting Elliot, even if it were only to save herself from everyone’s prodding words. He seemed determined to pick apart her very soul, whilst Alice adamently persisted on mending it. Elliot was Alice’s idea of a plaster, or something, as far as Madeline could figure. It was irksome to say the least. Because she knew well enough that if she did manage to find enough courage to silence them on the subject, they would read far more into her presence than she felt necessary or safe. And so, Madeline stamped down on all tomorrow related tangents, deciding for the umpteenth time that she would remain undecided. Whatever she settled on would disagree with a corresponding piece of logic, and the only thing that seemed definite was that nothing would feel quite like it did in this very moment. For as easily tangled in tomorrow she was, the wind continued to play with her, and it promised nothing but freedom.
“Madeline? Madeline!” The call confronted her the very second she slid back through the great oak doors, undeniably masculine and only half familiar. Really, Madeline wanted nothing more than to scurry straight back out into the miserable evening. Instead, she ran an unsteady hand through her tangled hair, trying not to pay an ounce of attention to the way her heart continued to beat so spiritedly in her chest, seeming almost audible now inside the dull, muted walls. While she often found comfort in the very same qualities, today the castle seemed to dominate a strangling hold over her. Freedom was a passing fancy it seemed, something one needed the wind for.
Feeling somewhat ill from the spin in circumstance, she raised her eyes to meet the steady, if unsure, gaze of Roger Verona. “Oh, wow. Hello Roger,” her voice seemed uncertain, barely like her own at all. He grinned at her, giving a slight nod of his head in greeting as he wandered towards her, hands in pockets. Madeline licked her lips, teeth tugging slightly at the lower in thought. Finally, she decided to break the silence, “Is, er, something wrong?”
“Wrong?” He sounded surprised, his left hand darting up to rub his neck before plunging back into the reclusive pocket from which it had come. “Nah, nothing’s wrong. Why?”
Madeline tucked a rogue piece of hair behind her ear, compensating for the urge to lick her lips again; anything lip-ish seemed inappropriate near this boy, given the history. She felt immensely awkward, overly aware of every shift her body made. Roger could probably hear her swallow, for it felt more unnatural than ever. Plenty was wrong. She and Roger Verona never spoke. Not since the incident, and even before then. She and Roger Verona had never spoken, and there wasn’t really anything to say. “No reason,” she tried to smile, “It’s just we don’t talk, do we? Not since-”
“No, not since I-”
“Yes, I know,” Madeline hurried, not baring to hear the story voiced in such company, if indeed any company indeed.
“Er, it’s alright then?” His lips caught her terrified attention, and she forced herself to twist her gaze away. He didn’t seem to notice, leaning his shoulder casually against the stone corridor, “Alice said you were outside-I thought she was joking! It’s bloody awful out there-”
“You’re looking for me?” Madeline blurted, catching herself staring at his mouth yet again. Her gaze flicked past him as indistinctly as she could manage, and behind his dark hair, she could see the door through which she wished she were disappearing. He was far too close. Roger Verona was meant to be sitting a few seats down from her at dinner, or on a nearby lounge in the commonroom. He was most certainly not meant to be tormenting her quite like this, slamming her into reality with such disarmament. The entire situation was bewildering. She barely knew which way was up. But she could see his lips, and they filled her with a guilty embarrasment all on their own.
“Not exactly,” they shaped, “I was just talking with Alice and I've been meaning to-”
“With Alice?” Madeline felt as bewildered by this as she did the prospect that he’d been searching her out.
“Is she still in the commonroom?” she asked finally, lost for anything else to say. It occurred to a minority of her awareness that Roger himself seemed to create the awkward aura about them, not due to his manner exactly, because he didn’t seem to sense it, but somehow, it seemed logical to blame him. “I should probably find her, she’ll be wondering where I got to-”
“Course,” He smiled, as though slightly puzzled. “Guess I’ll see you round. You’re going tomorrow, yeah?”
Madeline forced herself to stay put, her feet already trying to move themselves away, “Hogsmeade?” Roger nodded, and she found herself returning a somewhat jerkier mimic, “Yeah, I’m guessing so.”
“Of course,” Madeline felt herself prickling at the wrongness of the situation. “I really have to run, have a good weekend though,” she forced sincerity; frankly not caring what came of it, so long as it didn’t find her. And finally she let her body dance towards the escape, oblivious to the expression on his face as he watched her leave. She was already out of sight when his farewell flittered past her ears, but she was far to pleased to be breathing evenly for it to barely touch her consciousnes.
All Madeline wanted was her Alice, nothing else seemed to be willing to sit right - where it always had - and it irked her terribly. There was no reason for her world to slowly start crumbling into change, none other than the awful, remerging possibility that she herself might be the cause. Maybe it had to change, merely to fit her. But no, Madeline hated to think she was the cause of it. Change was so very irreversible, and she’d do her very best to stop the people in her life from forcing it upon her so garishly.
And so, it tumbled upon her shoulders with great relief to see Alice curled up in their favourite corner with her hands curled around a tattered Udulpho. Granted the moment she entered the room the book was carelessly discarded, indicating that it had probably been nothing more than a prop. “There you are, thank Merlin! This whole place is going sodding mental.” Madeline’s very soul relaxed at Alice’s words, shifting the book so she could sink onto the comforting seat beside her. She couldn’t agree more, honestly.
“Sodding Verona,” Alice sighed, her eyes wide. “He found you then?”
An almighty chill thrust upon her, shooting across her skin and causing a shudder through her entire being. And before she had hold to so much as a string of sense to fight it, an unwelcome consciousness flitted through her. Oh, piss. Madeline dared not open her eyes, a strange heaviness on her soul itself seemed to prevent her, goading her to forget she ceased to sleep at all. And yet she knew she needed to move, the knowledge ringing through her head a little louder with each passing second.
It was with an impending anxiousness she floundered upright, her bare feet seeking solidarity with the cold stones by the bed, which seemed entirely oblivious to the warm rays skitting across their surface. She chanced a glance across at Alice, who claimed responsibility for the sudden cold with the unreasonable tufts of quilt that tucked snugly around her form before flowing off the bed and onto the floor. Wanky cow.
She shuffled to her dresser, pinning a chunk of knotty hair back without really bothering to check the mirror. The face of her mum’s old wristwatch flashed up at her, reading something close to half ten. Half ten. Madeline swore loudly, bashing her hip on one of the sharp golden handles as she spun. “Alice, get up! It’s fucking Hogsmeade! Oh piss, piss, piss!”
Alice moaned and rolled over, peering blearily at her through a few blonde locks of hair, “Time?”
“Half ten,” Madeline murmured, her tongue stressing it without her notice.
“Sweet Merlin,” and with that, Alice found a will to move. She was pulling clothes from her draws and scurrying to the bathroom, washing a vague relief over Madeline as she pelted past. Maybe they could make it, if a few corners were skipped. She tugged a nearby dress on, and yesterday’s woolly tights, despite the fact their feet still felt a bit soggy and went on a manic search for a warm enough jumper, or something of the like.
Alice reappeared, looking stressed and entirely frazzled. “Done.” Her voice held a quavering note, and less than a second later, she added a quiet, “-ish.”
“Lets just go,” Madeline sighed, deciding her hair didn’t matter that much. Not only had Elliot seen her in worse conditions, it was Elliot. And Elliot didn’t matter. Today’s logic was disconnected and pleasing, her emotions stunted due to the general mood of the morning. They both found their boots and darted from the dorm, somehow still holding pale hopes to catch the final carriage into the village.
And indeed, Merlin was seemingly in a lovely mood, and provided them the unexpected courtesy of transport. The two slid inside and as they began the trundling journey, they each sighed the discontented huff that always came with an anti-climax and shooting adreniline. All they could do was wait for the destination, and time didn’t care if it were being kind or completely nasty. After a few attempts at riddiculous small talk, which alone was out of character, they fell silent, unable to avoid the fact it was edging past a quarter past eleven.
They were most decidedly late.
“Come on Alice! There’s no point me running if I sodding well have to wait another ten minutes for you to tag me!”
“I can’t help it, can I?” Alice bit snarkily, “I’ve already got a blister because there wasn’t time to get any socks-”
“Knicker’s too I imagine, you stinker-” Madeline called, desperate for action despite the fact she wasn’t sure which bit of the park to even hurry to.
“You’re both late,” the grave tones of Frank Longbottom ceased Alice’s rant of defence, and the two girls halted in their tracks. They turned to face the two figures who had materialised behind them, and Madeline noted disdainfully that both looked much more rugged up against the icy breeze than she herself felt. Elliot shot her a crooked grin and gave Frank a friendly shoulder clap, causing a smile to spread across his lips too.
“My underwear is fresh,” Alice announced suddenly in unnatural tones, “I don’t want you thinking for a second it isn’t.”
“I’ve never taken the time to consider it, love,” Frank replied, without so much as blinking. “Nor will I ever. Now, shall we? We’ve been freezing our bollocks off for you two, and I’m really doubting the reasoning behind it. I want coffee.”
“He’s a bit out of sorts-” Elliot said, by way of explanation Madeline assumed, until Frank cut over again.
“No, fuck it. I want some mead.”
Elliot nodded to himself as though this made more sense. And so, Frank lead the way towards the main street in the village, grumbling about his bollocks and childbearing ability whilst Alice waspishly assured him he had plenty more to worry about than frostbite if he kept it up. Madeline winced, knowing The Ears were being referenced rather unkindly. She sighed.
“She’s lovely, your Alice is,” Elliot commented from her side, humour twisting through his voice.
“Oh, piss off would you,” she defended, shoving a tendril of hair back into the loose pin. “We came, didn’t we?”
“Aye, I knew you would.”
This caused a frown to crease her nose, “Then you don’t know anything.”
“Aw, come on now. You’ve got to leave a guy the essence of hope, Maddy,” he ran a hand through his hair, and she could read enough of his expression from the corner of her eye to tell he was grinning again. She probably shouldn’t have come, she decided then and there, because it made him think he was winning.
She snorted charmingly, “Even when there isn’t a shred?”
“You’re definitely taking the piss,” Madeline grumbled.
“I think that’s just you, actually.”
“-You’re a pompus bastard, Longbottom, and not an ounce more!”
“Get your dirty knickers untwisted and get over it,” Frank retorted, seeming amused at Alice’s frustration.
“It’s too early to deal with you, honestly,” Madeline’s blonde dismissed.
“Too what?! You were late to begin with-”
Madeline held her breath for a second, choosing to listen to the faint ringing in her ears rather than the bickering pair up front. She couldn’t stand it, and as the finally reached the pub front her mouth opened, “I don’t even know why you’re bothering. Today’s going to be awful, Elliot.”
He ducked his head towards her slightly, “Give it a chance, Maddy.” He held the door open with an easy arm above her head, and she quickly ducked under it. She wondered blankly if she had just noticed the strange twist to her name each time it left his lips, or if it were a new occurrence.
“Don’t do that-”
Madeline felt trapped, and rather stupid. Yes, do what, exactly? “Just...don’t say my name if you’re going to say it like that-” As though you like it, her mind added with a definite note of unsurity.
“Like what?” He asked, and she knew he was teasing her. She disconnected herself from his gently steering arm and sniffed, making her way through the crowded place to slide into a bench seat opposite Alice who seemed as off-put as she herself felt. They stared at one another in a traumatised manner as the boys left them to their own devices and pushed their way over to the bar to order.
“This is fucked,” Alice announced, the moment they were out of earshot.
“Completely pissy,” Madeline slouched over, resting her head on folded arms.
“I think we should just bail. I forgot how little time in Longarse’s company I could bear-” Alice shot a worried glance towards their companions, and to Madeline’s alarm, started to wriggle out of her seat. In an unconsidered action, her leg shot out, her foot planting firmly against the bench seat. Alice pressed back into the lounge in shock, glancing under the table as Madeline’s other leg mirrored the first, suffieciently trapping her between. “Maddy-you can’t be se-”
“You’re back!” Madeline blurted, cringing at herself and the fist that had chosen to pound her ankle.
“Yay,” Frank returned, almost coldly, but his eyes said otherwise-seemily almost laughing at her. Sarcasm, Madeline decided. He slid into the seat beside Alice and plopped a butterbeer in front of her. “There you go date-e-kins, hopefully that’ll warm you up a bit.” And then he winked, smacking his lips obnoxiously as he took a sip of his own.
Eyes wide, Madeline gave a firm nudge with one of her boots to prevent Alice’s mouth from snarking back, causing Frank to notice the odd movement. He glanced towards the blonde’s lap before throwing a peculiar look at Madeline who had the decency to fidget as an uncomfortable warmth spread through her frozen cheeks. It seemed inevitable that Frank would assume she was fighting her friend to stay here, in the ridiculously awkward booth for Elliot, when really, she didn’t see why she and Alice weren’t fleeing hand in hand. The only reason was supposedly her feet; spread-eagled around her best friend’s knees. And Merlin knew why they were doing that.
It was the sort of second that promised to ebb on forever as Elliot finally took his place next to her, Frank’s expression still lingering as much as her own horror, and then, almost too suddenly it was gone. As though time had remembered which pace was most suitable to travel at. Even before Elliot might have had a chance to notice it. And so she found the will to breathe again, her hands unclenching to casually fiddle with her drink. Elliot said something, encouraging a laugh from Frank as she forcibly willed herself to look across at Alice, who’s eyes seemed too crazed to offer an ounce of comfort. Piss.
“Couldn’t have picked a better two, seriously, mate,” Frank said, grasping her attention as he nodded at her, and Alice she guessed.
“Glad you’re in agreement,” Elliot grinned, lazily ignoring his friends sarcasm. Frank merely raised his glass in acknowledgement and took a gulp. Madeline swallowed thickly and used the casual motion usually kept for fixing her hair to sink her face into her palms, literally unwilling to watch a second longer. She prayed that some sort of inner silence might take over her hearing, because then, she could properly envision herself someplace else.
“Is she, er, quite alright?”
Madeline’s breath hitched a tad, but she didn’t budge at Frank’s words. “Obviously, she is quite, you wanker,” Alice bit into Madeline’s envisioned silence on her behalf, causing her to bury deeper into her consilidating arms.
“Aye, she’s just awful at being a wallflower,” Madeline ignored Elliot, inwardly horrified by how close he seemed in that passing instance, the breath of her name warm against her cheek. “You’re meant to slink away, hide in plain sight.” She clamped her eyes shut a little tighter, feeling pleased with the momentary distraction of Alice fiddling with her laces. Her friend hadn’t abandoned her completely, not quite yet, and that caused a small swell of bravery within her soul.
“You’re insufferable,” she muttered weakly, rising a smidge to prop her chin somewhat forlornly against her hand. Elliot just grinned, sinking back into the seat and stretching his legs to greater extents as he sipped his pint. Madeline’s knee danced away from his greedy one without question, blindly upsetting the two across from her with the attatched boot. Alice gave a weak cough, somehow managing to capture Madeline’s low line of eyesight.
“This place is actually really lovely when it’s cold out,” she started, “I could practically stay in here all day.” Her fingers tweaked at the nearby laces again, this time undoing them completely.
“Mm. All cosy like,” Madeline falsely caught her friend’s brightness, sliding her feet to the floor as silently as she dared herself able, “Might not have to see drop of rain, if you play it right.”
“Mustn’t let it stop you though-” the blonde was far from done though, Madeline could sense the tiny lilt, almost touch the odd weight pushing against each word. Every part of her immobilised form screamed across the tabletop, begging her friend to play her overt fondness to other ears, another day. Alice smiled though, unseeing, “Rain loves my Grey almost as much as she loves it-”
“I’ll tease her for it always, but if I could come in dripping, and look like she does, well..” Alice’s lips acquired a cheeky smile, “I might as well dip my head in star shine and call myself a fairy.”
“Do fairies find themselves in puddles often then?” Elliot added to her demise.
Nausea flickered through her, a pang of dismay swelling in her throat. Her friend’s words floated about her, disconnected by the ease of his immediate ajoinment. She forced her eyes to find his face, above her in all it’s mocking amusement. “Only the foolish ones,” her lips twitched with it, finding some uncomfortable, self depreciating smirk to match the attempted sniping jest. She’d play, but it was a game she hated.
Chapter 7: Seven.
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"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.