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Chapter 4 : Four.
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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 =]
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