Chapter 9 : Louis
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Edited with the help of some careful reviewers, 2nd August 2012. Lovely chapter image by les miserable on TDA.
Tell me tomorrow, I'll wait by the window for you
I'll wait by the big house for you
I'll wait by the squeeze box for you
I'll wait by your dresses for you.
If it wasn’t for the dirt that inevitably settled under his nail beds, or the stench that remained long after that night’s bathing, Louis might have actually enjoyed double Herbology on a Saturday morning. It wasn’t like he’d actually admit to liking having class on a weekend – but it was outside, in a way. An actual breath of fresh air.
“Who’s up today, Rox?” he asked, as they left Gryffindor Tower, slipping into the routine.
“The next gentleman caller?” Roxanne fluttered her eyelashes, well used to this. She always had a date on the Hogsmeade weekends. “Diggory.”
“As in the one Lily went out with? Does she know?”
“That was over a year ago. So no.”
“Seriously? You don’t think she’d mind?”
Roxy rolled her eyes. “She went out for a butterbeer with him. Over a year ago. She spent this Valentine’s with her little friend, Daniel. It’ll be fine.”
“Pretty but dim probably isn’t her type,” he scoffed.
“Look who’s talking,” she snapped, mood changing suddenly, speeding off to catch up to her friend, Aileen Finnegan, who was a little ahead and also in their sixth year group.
That was harsh. It wasn’t as if Rox actually cared about Diggory. And it was true. Not about Louis, about Diggory - but then Rox could be like that. At least he gave as good as he got.
A bit much though. He was always among the top in some of his classes, and ended up doing her potions homework most weeks. He didn’t much like being reminded of how people saw him, though.
Louis glared ahead at Aileen. He’d taken a severe dislike to her the year before, when she turned him down to go on a date with Albus, who was only trying to make Eva jealous. It wasn’t as if Louis even liked her much, but he’d been bit put out. He had been going to go along with it, for Roxy’s sake – she just wanted her best friends to get along, presumably.
Was it because he was “pretty?” He often worried he was pretty like a girl. Diluted Veela blood, and all that. Did people not get that? They must, he allowed, but it still was mainly younger girls who fancied him.
Whatever. Al would be gone next year, leaving Hugo, Mr Personality, as his only male competition for Weasley fandom. Good looking people had it easy; that was just how the world worked. His sisters used it to his advantage, so why shouldn’t he?
He slipped into the Greenhouse, taking his place beside his Quidditch teammate, Colin.
“So Roxy’s with Diggory now?” Colin asked, not beating around the bush, nodding at the boy in question.
“What’s it to you?” he grumbled. Bloody gossipers, even if Colin was alright. He could see Erica Sherlock craning to listen. Who even cared what his family actually did?
The class settled in as they were given their instructions. Louis rolled his eyes. This was ridiculous, he’d finished last week, he just needed to replant now. Why did he have to move so slow with everyone else?
“Mr Weasley?” Professor Longbottom called. “Can I speak to you for a moment?”
Louis sighed, and followed him a little outside the greenhouse.
“This is a bit of an unusual request, Louis,” Professor Longbottom said. Louis registered the use of his first name.
“I would have asked one of the Potters, or Rose or Hugo, but Saturdays are so precious coming up to O.W.L.’s and N.E.W.T.’s. It’s just something has come up this afternoon, and I won’t be able to help Ali out with her Herbology. You know she comes in for her practical work on weekends? When she’s well enough, that is, and the other Professors are free.”
Louis blinked. “What do you want me to do?” he asked stupidly.
“Just supervise, like I do. She’s already studied the theory. It would be great revision, to look back on her fourth year stuff, for next week that is. We’re starting on similar stuff; you’d have a head start. I’d been thinking of letting you move a little faster anyway.
“She’s at one of her better points,” he added, seeing Louis’ hesitance. “I’ll leave you mouthful of the potion we use when she’s contagious just in case, if you like. She’s in really good form at the moment, too. She’s really, really well. Almost able to come back to school, we think.”
Louis shrugged. He was almost embarrassed at the gratitude on his Professor’s round, kind face. “Yeah, why not. I’ll just dump my stuff and grab something to eat.”
He looked at the other sixth years, the ones he had been going to tag along with to Hogsmeade.
He didn’t have plans, anyway.
Louis walked out of the common room for the second time that day, this time with Albus, who was meeting Eva in the library.
“What’s Alice like?” Louis asked. He could barely remember her, though he knew they had met a few times. He stuffed the sandwiches the house-elves had made especially for him into his mouth, trying to recall whether he’d even seen her since she’d left Hogwarts.
“Ali? She’s nice,” Albus said, shrugging his bag onto his shoulder as he walked. “Always asks about the Quidditch team, about Eva and stuff. And don’t let what everyone says weird you out. The Scrofungulus just makes her a bit delirious, I think they call it. She’s still far more normal than Luna,” he joked.
Louis nodded. He had no idea why he was nervous, he knew she was normal. It was just that no one ever really told him what was wrong with her before.
“Still though,” Al said, more serious. “It’s cool of you to give up your Saturday, mate.”
He nodded at him approvingly before heading off in his separate direction, letting Louis know he was happy with him.
The entrance hall was empty when Louis reached it, save for a few ghosts. And her.
The ghosts passing around her shed a weird light on the girl. Her head was bowed, fixated on her Muggle shoes. Her hands were tucked inside her long sleeves, as if chilly, or perhaps merely self-conscious. Her hair, though fair, was more of a mousey brown than Louis’ blonde. It fell down in front of her face.
When she lifted her head in greeting to the Grey Lady, Louis took Alice all in – the fragile frame, Hannah Longbottom’s nose and most strikingly, the eyes that pierced him even from a distance.
“Alice,” he said as he drew nearer, his voice cracking.
She looked at him intently, before almost bowling him over with her smile.
“Louis,” she greeted him, taking him by surprise as she took his hand, and squeezed it briefly, before letting it go.
“Shall we go?” she asked; the shyness in her voice only matched by his wonder.
When at the greenhouse, she handed him a vial.
He paused, not wanting to seem rude.
“Go ahead,” she grinned. “I won’t be offended. It’s a good precaution to take when in a confined place, anyway.”
He took it quickly, feeling guilty. Out here, the scars from where the fungus had taken hold were very visible on her face and neck, and even her hands. He couldn’t help an internal shudder when imagining what she looked like when taken over by the illness. He didn’t think he could take looking like that.
They moved into the greenhouse, the difference in light being kinder to her.
“Do you come here every week?” Louis asked, his guilt being taken over by embarrassment.
She smiled. “When I’m able. It’s a nice change from just reading my schoolbooks at home. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to sit my exams with the rest of my year.”
He nodded, mostly to himself. He cleared his throat realising time had passed.
“I suppose I should start in then.” She rolled her eyes, still smiling.
He didn’t know how she smiled.
She set to work, rolling up her sleeves, as she expertly surveyed the tasks in front of her. Her father had obviously made her feel comfortable in a greenhouse. He settled on a stool beside her, and decided to join her. Longbottom had told him to revise, after all.
He could barely remember fourth year Herbology, and relied on copying Alice, suggesting alternatives when he could remember. Mainly though, he watched her hands delve into the healing earth. When their hands were covered in dirt they were identical. She could have been as healthy as him.
“Are you not going to Hogsmeade today?” Ali asked politely. “When Lily wrote to me during the week, she said this was a Hogsmeade weekend.”
Louis shook his head. “Nah. It gets boring there.”
Ali nodded. “I’d much prefer to spend my time in the castle, or the grounds. I’ve always loved exploring here.”
More guilt washed over him. He took the school for granted.
“Do you miss it? Not going to school?” The words came out before he could catch them.
“Yes,” she answered very definitely. “I don’t have much company at home, even if I do live above an inn. Mum has to work a lot there, obviously. And sometimes I see the students who would have been in my year, like Caitlin Finnegan, and I think – I think ‘I should be there. Eating my lunch and talking about ordinary things’.”
Her face fell for a moment, and Louis felt he had done the worst thing in the world, making that smile go away.
“It’s not that great you know,” he coughed, elbowing her gently, in some weird effort to cheer her up. “The ordinary stuff.”
She shook her head, letting her hair fall down again. Without thinking, he brushed it back, hoping to see her smile again. Instead he managed to get dirt in her hair.
“Oh Merlin, Ali,” he rushed. “I’m so sorry – “
The next thing he knew, he was covered in soil himself. He heard a cackle through all the dirt, but could barely process it as he shrieked. It was in his hair, and slipping into his robes. His skin crawled at the thought of what could have been in the soil thrown at him. He grabbed at his wand and cleaned himself up as best he could, but his face and part of his hair still felt disgusting.
He glowered at Alice, returning to his work.
“Sorry,” she said, quietly. “That was too far.”
“No,” he shrugged. “I just don’t like my hair and face messed up.”
She laughed, almost incredulously. “How nice for you.”
He was mortified. He hated her thinking so badly. “It’s just, it’s all I seem to have.”
She raised her eyebrows, but continued working.
“No one wants me to be smart, Hugo has that covered. The Potters are good at Quidditch. Everyone has something, then there’s me. I’m the ‘pretty but dim one’. My sisters have every other ‘pretty-but’ angle covered.”
This wasn’t helping matters.
“You have your health, Louis,” Alice said, smiling sadly.
“And you’re not even that good looking.” She grinned then, flicking another tiny piece of dirt at him again.
They settled back in. “Do you really think that though?” She asked.
“Yeah,” he said truthfully. Somehow, in the confines of this greenhouse, though it was made of glass, he felt enclosed in a different, safe world. “But it’s not even just that. Every big family has that.
“Everyone is watching,” he said, feeling heavy as he voiced this. “All the time. Someone is watching. They’re either talking about Dominique’s Quidditch or Lucy in university or something. Or who Roxy is going out with, or where Fred is.
“And our parents think it’s brilliant. All of this, everything. But it’s stupid. Who cares what happened before we were born? It’s over now!”
He glared at his hands in disgust. He snuck a look over at Ali, who was seated on her stool. He frowned, seeing she was breathing heavily.
“Ali, are you ok?” he asked, sinking into his own stool beside him.
“Yeah, sorry.” She smiled, just as brilliantly as ever, her teeth outshining the scars, though they seemed seemed more prominent than usual. “I thought I was slipping away there, but I didn’t. I just listened to you and it was fine.”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t be going on about this when –“
She caught his hand, holding it gently yet firmly, and smiled at him. “Never feel sorry for me Louis. I have far more than a lot of other people.
“And you.” She nodded towards the plants by one of the window. “Dad keeps all of your projects. He says you’re really good, that you take care of them. That’s why they always grow so much. You wait for them, and look after them when they grow.”
He wasn’t looking at the plants. He looked at that smile, the smile that was so amazing because of everything else. She didn’t shut herself up, or feel sorry for herself. She just smiled, and held on to his hand like nothing he’d ever felt.
He smiled at her too. “You’re really pretty, Alice.”
She blushed deeply, her eyes suddenly very bright, obviously shocked but pleased. He couldn’t believe she didn’t know this about herself already. Because she was pretty, and not just like him. She didn’t have that standard Delacour look that got him teased because he looked a bit effeminate sometimes. She was different.
He held her gaze for a moment, peaceful, until he felt something. Both of them looked down.
Beside his thumb, her hand was quite red. Before his eyes, a tiny growth came from her hand.
She drew her hand back slowly, but he held on.
“It’s ok, Ali,” he said in a measured tone, not wanting her to think he would panic. “I’ve taken the potion, so we can just send a message to your dad and –“
He looked up, realisation dawning on him. She was still staring at her hand, but her eyes had grown unfocused. She looked up and blinked at him, confused. No recognition, or expression or look of affection crossed her face. Her whole face had changed just slightly.
He closed his eyes. She had been well for so long, he had half-thought it wouldn’t happen again. She had probably just been so energetic because the disease was rising up again. He opened them again.
Alice seemed to draw back into herself, her disappearing smile leaving her face blank. He placed her hand carefully on the table as he crossed to Professor Longbottom’s desk. He had left a school owl there just in case. Calmly, as if it wasn’t Louis in control of his body, he scribbled a message to Professor Longbottom.
Louis sent the owl on its way, and returned to the dazed girl that had just been Alice, a few minutes before. He sat and took her hand again, ignoring the slight prickling underneath. After a slight hesitation, he put his arm around her too. Like a trusting child, she leant her head against his shoulder, staring straight ahead.
He began to talk to her, not knowing whether she could hear, but hoped it would help.
“It’s alright Alice. I’ll wait with you. You’ll be fine. You’re stronger this time. You’ll fight it off, your parents know how now.”
“I’ll be here, Ali,” he said, more fiercely now. “I’ll help you study for your exams, once you get back.”
He was making it sound like she was just taking a trip. But maybe that’s what it was.
“I’ll wait here for you. I’ll wait in the castle, or the pitch. I’ll keep your stool warm for when you get back. I’ll wait by our greenhouse for you.”
He circled his arm around her tighter, but still gentle, all worries forgotten. He was just waiting, now. Waiting for Neville to come back. Waiting for Ali to come back. Waiting for the first bud to break open the soil in the pot, for the plant inside to resurface and grow and grow. He didn’t care how long it took, or how bad it got. She was coming back, because she had people to come back to. Her parents, her old friends, and him. He knew now, and it comforted him. It comforted him to know she was loved, and could be healed, just like the rest of them.
He’d wait for her, the girl with the lovely smile.
Love is all you need.
A/N: You may have noticed the order in which these chapters are being uploaded – as I upload a new story, I am rearranging the chapter order so that it will read in age order (the order on the banner). For example, this chapter will fall in between Rose and Roxanne, even though they were uploaded and written first.
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