Chapter 20 : Knarls, Water Balloons and Running Away
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“Well it’s essentially correct,” I smiled. “You might want to word it just a teensy bit differently but otherwise you’re going to ace the exam, I don’t know what you’re worried about.”
“I just want to be sure,” He said, yawning again.
“You look exhausted, maybe we should call it a night,” I suggested. It was pretty late and there weren’t many people left in the common room, just a few seventh and fifth years like us, trying to cram extra information into their brains.
“But I promised to quiz you on Transfiguration,” Albus protested. “Auntie Hermione sent me some really good questions.” He began searching through a pile of parchment on the table.
“Look it’s really late, we’re not going to achieve anything when we’re so tired,” As if on cue, I yawned, raising my hand to cover my open mouth. “It’s not like the exam is tomorrow, we still have a couple of weeks.”
“Alright, but tomorrow night I’m quizzing you on Transfiguration, ok?”
“Um, sure,” I packed up my books and stood up. “Well, goodnight then.”
“Goodnight,” Albus stood up but didn’t move to pack up his things, watching me with a slightly confused expression as I made my way up to the dormitory.
After getting upset in the Owlery, I’d walked around the grounds for over an hour and I’d eventually decided that I needed to keep my distance from Albus. I loved every second I spent with him, every smile he gave me sent butterflies dancing in my stomach, and I felt like I could talk to him about almost anything. He thought I was funny and he made me laugh with his sense of humour, he was thoughtful and I felt completely safe with him. Yes, he did have a bit of a temper, but after the whole Rose and Scorpius blowout, I now felt comfortable enough to tell him off when he was being a git. The problem was, I loved being around Albus a little too much; I was getting addicted to his presence and I knew that if I let it go too far, it would completely break me when I lost him.
If Albus found out about my feelings, he’d pull back. He was too kind to lead me on and if he knew I was falling in love with him he’d make it pretty clear that he didn’t feel the same. When we’d been talking in the Owlery, I’d shared too much about my feelings; he knew that I cared about someone, possibly even realised I was falling in love. It would only take one little mistake and he would realise that person was him. I couldn’t risk that, so I had to cut myself off; the less I was around him, the less chance I had of betraying myself. It went against everything I wanted to do, but I knew it was the only choice I had if I wanted to save our friendship, if I wanted to keep Albus in my life.
I couldn’t avoid studying with Albus the next night, not when he’d gone to the trouble of writing to his Auntie Hermione to get some Transfiguration questions, but I knew I had to cut back on the study sessions in the library. Fortunately, now that she was back with Scorpius, Rose had more or less returned to her normal self, in fact, once she realised how much study time she’d lost during her breakdown, she went into overdrive, working extra hard and encouraging us to do the same. I didn’t have to think twice before throwing myself onto the Rose Weasley O.W.L preparation express; after all, Rose was the best study partner anyone could hope for and Albus knew that, so I knew he wouldn’t question it. I was grateful for all of Rose’s help, but I was especially thankful for the distraction that the upcoming exams provided, I was able to avoid wallowing in my own self-pity rather easily.
Despite my valiant efforts to avoid the ramifications of falling in love, love continued to happen all around me. I began to wonder if there really was someone putting love potions in everyone’s pumpkin juice. Rose and Scorpius were now officially a couple, and whilst the older and more outspoken Weasley/Potter cousins had been convinced to lay off the hexing and jinxing, the two of them had enough sense to keep a low profile, saving their displays of affection for less public forums. However, in the weeks leading up to exams, two more rather significant events of the romantic variety presented themselves as distractions to the monotony of study.
The first thing that happened was that Louis finally worked up the nerve to ask Jane out. I was in the library, returning a pile of books and borrowing a whole new set, when Jane came bouncing in, her cheeks flushed, her hair sticking out at odd directions and an enormous grin spreading from ear to ear.
“Lucy!” She exclaimed, earning a cross look from the librarian. I quickly gathered my newly borrowed books before she decided I was too irresponsible to have them if I was friends with someone who would shout in the library, and ushered Jane out into the corridor. I dumped my bag on the floor of the hallway and began shoving the books inside.
“What’s up?” I asked. “You look like you’ve just won the lottery or something.”
“Oh Luce, it’s so much better than that,” Jane gushed. I zipped up my bag and straightened up, looking Jane in the eyes properly for the first time since she’d found me in the library. There was something in her eyes, something so familiar and yet so distant. She looked like she was about to laugh, cry and scream all at the same time. Suddenly the knut dropped and I realised what her look meant.
“Louis?” I gasped, dropping my bag on the ground with a thud. Jane nodded her head frantically, a little squeal escaping her lips. “Oh my goodness!” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around her in an excited hug.
“He asked me about half an hour ago, after Potions. He looked so nervous Luce, and he said that he thought I was the prettiest, funniest girl he knew and would I like to be his girlfriend.” Jane rushed the words out as we pulled apart, though we held on to each other’s hands excitedly. “And I said yes I would, and then he kissed me!” Jane let out another squeal and before I knew it, we were both jumping up and down on the spot giggling. It was so silly and yet so exciting all at the same time.
“I’m so happy for you Jane, that really is fantastic. You guys are just perfect for each other!” I couldn’t help the smile that formed on my own face. “Should we be expecting any howlers from your parents over this relationship though?” I laughed.
“No, I think we should be alright, though Dad might not be too fond of the fact that he’s half French,” Jane joked as I scooped up my bag and we headed upstairs, arm in arm.
“Ah but his French half is his Veela half so it all evens out, doesn’t it?” I replied.
“He’s only one eighth Veela,” Jane corrected me. And I’d still like him, even if he had no Veela blood in him,” Jane blushed slightly and grinned at me out of the corner of her eye. “I’m so happy Lucy, I just can’t believe he asked me!”
I was happy for Jane, I really truly was. But there is something about a truly close friendship that enables you to be one hundred per cent happy for them and still feel terribly envious, and it wasn’t long before I found myself feeling the sadness of seeing my best friend with the guys of her dreams. I forced myself to keep a happy face on around the others, and to her credit, Jane never overdid it with her talk of Louis. She was aware of how I felt about Albus and she would never want me to feel sad because of her relationship. The truth was however, that more than one night I cried myself to sleep, knowing that I was the only one of my friends who still didn’t have a boyfriend, and I was doing everything I could to keep myself away from the one boy I truly cared about.
The second thing that happened is that I discovered someone who was just as miserable as I was: James. Of course I knew James was still upset about Alice – after all, Albus mentioned it every now and then and Alice commented on the occasional letter she received from him – but he had perked up somewhat after the Quidditch Cup win. So I was slightly surprised early one Sunday morning, when I headed down to the almost deserted common room, to find James sitting in an armchair, staring at the wall. There was a Charms textbook on his lap, but judging from the glazed expression on his face, he wasn’t achieving much. His skin seemed a few shades paler than usual, his hair was messy (and not in that ‘I spent twenty minutes making my hair look like I’ve just jumped off a broom’ way) and he had dark circles under his eyes.
“James?” I said gently, pulling up an ottoman and touching him lightly on the arm. He gave a little start, and looked at me, as though surprised other people would be there.
“Lucy,” He said groggily. “What are you doing down here in the middle of the night?”
“Uh, it’s seven-thirty in the morning,” I said. James looked over to the window and seemed genuinely confused by the light streaming through the glass.
“I came down in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep,” He explained. “I guess I was sitting here longer than I thought.”
“Are you ok James? You really don’t look well,” I wondered if I should take him up to the hospital wing. He looked at me for a moment, and then back to the wall. Just when I thought he’d gone back into his daze, he spoke.
“What did I do wrong Lucy? Why won’t she write back to me?” I didn’t have to be a genius to work out who he was talking about. “I can’t eat, I haven’t slept properly in weeks and I can barely focus on my studies. I’m starting to worry that I’m not going to pass my N.E.W.T’s and yet all I can think about is Alice!” He looked so sad and pathetic that I wanted to hug him but I settled for placing my hand over his in what I hoped was a comforting manner.
“I don’t think she meant to hurt you James, she’s just really confused,” I said, already knowing that my words wouldn’t be enough to make him feel better.
“But on New Year’s Eve she kissed me,” He smiled for a brief second, as though reliving the memory. “She wanted to, I’m sure she did, she seemed to like me back. And then she just took off and she won’t tell me what I did wrong and I don’t know how to fix it.” My heart broke a little as I watched James, my own heart identifying with the pain he felt, and I wanted to do something to make it better.
“James, I think maybe you should go and ask Madam Bones for a sleeping potion,” I suggested. “You need to be studying for exams, they’re less than two weeks away and you’re not going to take anything in if you don’t sleep.”
“It won’t do me any good,” He said. “When I’m awake she’s all I think about. I can’t focus on any of my classes or exams.”
“At least go and get some sleep,” I urged him again. “You might be surprised just how much it will help.”
“Ok,” James yawned and stretched as he got to his feet. “I guess I am feeling a little bit sleepy.” I watched him trudge wearily up the stairs before I slipped back up to my own dormitory to find a quill and parchment. I needed to write to my sister straight away.
Alice, I wrote, sitting cross legged on my bed.
You need to write to James, like straight away, today if possible. I’m worried about him Alice, he isn’t sleeping or eating properly and he said he can’t study properly. He’s even worried he’s going to fail his exams. Please don’t let that happen Alice, you need to write to him, make some sort of contact. I know you’re confused but he’s just so sad. You don’t need to make any sort of commitment or confess your love for him or anything else that’s going to scare you, but I know you’re not happy and neither is he. Please, please, please just give him something, even if it’s a promise to talk to him after school finishes.
I love you sis, but you need to be brave and help him because I think you’re the only one who can.
“Where are you off to so early this morning?” Jane asked groggily as I folded the parchment and pulled on my shoes.
“Owlery,” I whispered. “I’ll see you down at breakfast.” Jane mumbled something incoherent before rolling back over and closing her eyes. I followed the familiar path up to the Owlery where Flitch greeted me with an excited hoot.
“It’s for Alice, ok?” I said as I tied the letter to her leg. “You know where to find her.” I gave her a few Owl Treats for good measure and kissed her furry little head as I carried her to the window. She nipped my finger affectionately before spreading her wings and lifting off into the sky. I watched her until she faded into a tiny speck in the distance, hoping with all my might that my letter would help in some small way.
In the week before we sat the O.W.L’s, I began to experience a sort of claustrophobic feeling; not physically, but rather in terms of the expectations surrounding our exams. I couldn’t help but feel the pressure coming at me from all sides, teachers, my parents, my siblings; heck I even felt like I’d be letting Rose down if I didn’t pass every test! For this reason, I began to hide out in strange places, anywhere I could avoid my classmates and professors and grab a few seconds of peace and quiet.
Early one evening, only days before the beginning of exams, I found myself seeking the solace of a little-used stairwell near the Astronomy tower. It was cool, quiet and usually somewhere I could sit by myself without interruption, except from maybe the occasional ghost passing through (like literally passing through…the walls!). I settled down on the stone steps and closed my eyes, enjoying the lack of noise – I couldn’t even hear the noise of other people in the castle and as long as I kept my eyes closed I could pretend there was nobody around for miles and miles.
Ok, there’s that illusion ruined!
I opened my eyes reluctantly, having already recognised the voice. Albus stood a few feet away, watching me curiously. “You alright?” He asked gently.
“Yeah I’m fine,” I said wearily. “I was just escaping all the exam fanatics.”
“Ah, such as a certain cousin of mine?” Albus nodded knowingly as he walked over and settled on the step next to me. It was a fairly narrow stairwell so there was only just enough room for the two of us to sit side by side, our knees and shoulders touching.
“To begin with,” I smiled back, folding my hands tightly in my lap. Albus smiled in return and we sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes.
“I haven’t seen much of you lately,” It was Albus who eventually spoke.
“I’ve been laying low,” I offered as explanation. It was true, I had been laying low, avoiding anyone or anything that was going to put too much pressure on me of make me feel nervous. That, of course, included Albus, though I wasn’t about to give that much information away. Albus nodded his head slowly and stared at his knees, drumming out a pattern with his finger-tips.
“So…” I began, starting to wonder how he had ended up in my private stairwell and why he was happy to sit next to me so silently like this.
“So…” Albus replied, grinning sideways at me. “James seems to have a bit of a spring in his step again.”
“Yeah I’d noticed that.”
“Might have something to do with a letter he received recently.”
“Oh?” I feigned ignorance.
“Yeah, apparently Alice wrote to him, apologised for freaking out on New Year’s Eve, said she cared about him and was just nervous and that she would be happy to catch up with him in the summer.” Albus said casually, as though he were telling me the weather forecast. “The boy’s got hope again, and I think that’s really all he needed to get back on track.”
“Well I’m glad it’s worked out for now.” I replied, also trying to keep my voice calm and casual. There was another minute of silence before Albus spoke again.
“Thanks,” He said, nudging me with his shoulder.
“For telling Alice to write to James,” Albus nudged me again and my heart fluttered.
“What makes you think I did that?” I replied.
“Because I know that you think they are right for each other, you know how they feel about each other, you’re the one person Alice would listen to and quite frankly, you’re far too sweet and kind to let James continue on in that sort of misery if you’re able to help.” Albus resumed tapping the pattern on his knees again. “I know you too well, Bell.”
“Oh do you now?” I laughed in response. “Well if you know me so well, what am I thinking at the moment?”
Albus stopped his tapping and turned to look at me, his eyes serious as though he really was trying to read my mind. I was glad he couldn’t, because my head was filled with thoughts of how cute he looked in his school robes, his tie pulled loose while he could get away with it and his dark hair scruffy and tangled across his forehead. Albus continued to stare at me thoughtfully and I held his gaze, determined to give nothing away. Eventually, a mischievous grin lit up his face and his eyes sparkled the way they always did when he told a joke.
“Well you’re either thinking ‘What is this prat doing in my quiet stairwell, if he doesn’t leave me alone I’ll hex him,’ or else it’s ‘If Rose asks me to practise my banishing charm one more time I’m going to banish her to Hagrid’s compost heap!’ I’m not entirely sure which.” He grinned a little wider and I couldn’t help but smile back at him, feeling a little mischievous myself.
“What makes you think it isn’t both?” I asked. There was a silence while Albus watched me carefully, waiting for my punch line. “Nah, it couldn’t be both. I’d never banish Rose to Hagrid’s compost heap.” I held my straight face for all of three seconds before I started laughing. Albus chuckled too, but he still looked a little serious.
“You know, if I’m bugging you, you can just tell me to get lost,” He said quietly. “I know you like the peace and quiet.”
There was no way I would ever tell Albus to get lost. Sure I’d been keeping my distance but I still loved it when he was around, and I wasn’t about to ruin the situation when he chose to come and find me.
“It’s ok,” I replied with a smile. “If I didn’t want to be found you wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“I’d believe that,” Albus gave a little chuckle. “So I’m not bothering you?”
“Not at all,” I smiled nervously. Well that’s not entirely true. I thought to myself. You bother me in the sense that I can’t breathe when you’re around and you do funny things to my heart. But I wasn’t about to tell him that, instead I took a deep breath and looked down at my knees. “I like having you around,” I said bravely. There was a silence that seemed to last forever, while my heart dropped to my feet in despair and panic, but then Albus spoke.
“Likewise,” He replied, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “But you’re sure I’m not bothering you? I’m not chasing away potential dates or anything am I?”
I couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped my lips. “Hardly!” I exclaimed with a giggle.
“I’m just checking!” Albus replied, throwing up his hands in mock surrender. “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”
“Well there is that huge line of guys that always follow me around,” I teased, giggling at the ridiculousness of the statement. “You know, ‘cause every boy in the school is after me!” I laughed again, but sobered slightly when I realised Albus wasn’t laughing with me.
“Is that really what you think about yourself?” He asked, his face a mixture of confusion and sadness.
“Well I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s not exactly a ‘Lucy Bell Fanclub’ is there?” I reasoned, but Albus’s expression did not change. Why is he looking at me like that? It’s freaking me out.
“You don’t see yourself clearly at all,” He said, starting at me intensely. My heart started thumping against my ribcage. “You’re brilliant Lucy, you’re pretty and clever and funny. You’re kind and thoughtful and a great friend.” My breath caught in my throat as he reached over to pat my hand. “Any guy would be lucky to have you.”
I tried to respond, to make some joke to break the tension in the air, but my head had become cloudy and I couldn’t think straight enough to form the words. All I could focus on was Albus’s face, which seemed to be slowly leaning in towards mine. I tilted my head towards him, my eyes still locked on his intense stare. We were only an inch apart now, our lips so close, my heart thumping and my pulse racing. My nose bumped lightly against his as I felt Albus’s soft lips brush ever so gently against my own.
“Bombs Away!” The shrill voice of Peeves the Poltergeist cut through the air, seconds before something wet and cold exploded on our heads. I pulled away from Albus with a gasp as another water balloon dropped on to the step just above us. Before either of us could speak, another three dropped on top of us, drenching our clothes and skin. Without another word, I leapt to my feet and bolted down the corridor, away from Peeves and away from Albus. I could hear him shouting at the Poltergeist as I hurried in the general direction of Gryffindor tower. I suddenly felt as though I was running through waist deep mud and I stumbled clumsily on a flight of stairs. My knee clipped the stone sharply and I gasped in pain as I collapsed on to the step. Tears pricked my eyes as I pulled up the hem of my skirt to reveal a small cut. I wiped them away roughly, feeling stupid for being so upset at a small injury – I’d dealt with much worse.
But deep down, I knew that my tears had nothing to do with the sting in my leg – it was all about the stinging in my heart. Albus had nearly kissed me, I was sure that was what had happened back there before Peeves interrupted; he practically had kissed me – our lips definitely touched if only for a second. But I didn’t understand why he would do that; if he liked me and fancied me, why hadn’t he done something about it sooner? Asked me out on a date or something else – goodness knows we’d been alone in the Library enough times throughout the year. I rubbed my forehead in frustration, I was so confused!
No, it couldn’t have been because he liked me, because Albus didn’t feel that way about me. He’d been saying something about some guy being lucky to have me. I suppose he thought he was comforting me, maybe he thought I looked down and assumed it was because the last guy to ask me out was Michael and that had been a disaster, or maybe he thought I was upset because I’d hinted that I was falling for someone that day up in the Owlery, someone who didn’t feel the same way. That had to be it, Albus was comforting me and got caught up in the moment; he probably had a brief moment of delusion where he thought I was his mystery girl and leaned in like that by accident.
“Lucy, are you alright?” I looked up to see the boy in question, standing in front of me looking as though he had gone swimming in his clothes. I blinked several times rapidly, wondering if he was real or if I was just imagining him. “What happened?” He asked, leaning forward to look at my cut, one hand dangerously close to my leg.
“Nothing, I just tripped,” I replied, quickly pulling my skirt back down tightly across my knees.
“Lucy you’re bleeding,” He said, concern in his voice as he lowered himself to the step next to me.
“It’s fine, the bleeding has stopped,” I replied, hoping that statement was true. It’s only a small cut, nothing to worry about, I told myself.
“I um tried to have a bit of a go at Peeves back there, but he just dumped the rest of the water balloons on me so I thought I’d better run for it.” He continued as I stared stoically at my knees; I was so embarrassed and I wanted nothing more than to hide from him. Because I’d realised something – I hadn’t stopped Albus kissing me, in fact I’d started kissing him back. I had leaned in to his kiss and he would now realise that I had feelings for him, why else would I let him kiss me? Albus probably realised that he was the guy I was falling for, the one who didn’t love me back and was breaking my heart. I closed my eyes tightly as more tears welled up and threatened to spill over on to my cheeks. Albus knew, he had to have worked it out and any second he was going to tell me that he was so sorry but he didn’t feel the same way, that he loved someone else. Then he would stop hanging around so that I got the message and everything we had, our entire friendship, would be lost.
“Lucy, seriously, you’re crying. You must be hurt, please let me take you to Madam Bones.” Albus’s voice sounded so gentle and caring and it only caused more tears to flow.
“No, I’m fine,” I insisted, standing up and starting to ascend the stairs again.
“Lucy, wait,” Albus reached up and grabbed my hand, causing me to stop so I wouldn’t fall again. “Look, about what happened back there, before Peeves came along. I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean…”
“Albus please just let me go,” the tears were flowing freely now and I pulled my hand from his grip before running up the stairs as fast I could. He didn’t try to stop me this time, but I kept running anyway. I didn’t care that I could barely see through the tears, I didn’t care that there was a sharp stabbing pain where I’d cut my leg, I didn’t care that I was probably going to fall over again if I wasn’t careful and I didn’t care that if a teacher or Filch caught me running in the corridors that I’d probably get a detention. I just kept running, running as far away from Albus as I could, and I didn’t stop until I reached the safety of the dormitory, where I collapsed on the floor in the corner behind my bed, lowered my head to my knees, and sobbed for twenty minutes.
AN: Soooo...I'm imagining there might be some mixed reviews on this chapter, but I kinda like it. I know it drives some of you crazy but I find Lucy's cluelessness to be sort of sweet. And Jane and Louis got together...yay! Thanks for everyone's reviews, I just love reading them. So you see that little review box down there? It would love to hear from you! :)
As always, here's a look at the next chapter:
Hagrid had sold most of the crups to a pet shop in Diagon Alley, but he’d kept three of the puppies and they were currently bounding about on the floor of his hut, chasing a ball Hagrid had fashioned out of some old fabric and twine.
“I thought they migh’ be nice ter have aroun’, yeh know ter keep ol’ Fang comp’ny,” He explained as we watched two of the puppies wrestle. They had grown a fair bit since we’d studied them in class, but they were adorable nonetheless. I glanced over at Fang, who was sitting on his bed, watching the puppies with a rather unimpressed look. I had a feeling that the puppies’ presence had less to do with Fang’s wants and more to do with his owner’s, but I kept that thought to myself.
“How’re yeh exams goin’?” Hagrid asked as he handed me a cup of tea. “Not too stressful I hope?”
“Well so far I’m not doing too badly,” I said, giving Hagrid a quick run-down of my exams.
“How’re yeh parents, and yeh brothers and sisters?” He asked next, watching me carefully as I answered. I chattered away happily for a few minutes about my family.
“An’ yeh friends, everythin’s going well there?” He queried, causing me to raise my eyebrows in suspicion.
“They’re all fine Hagrid, just plodding along with exams like everyone else,” I said. “Now may I ask a question? Why are you interviewing me like you’re a reporter for the Daily Prophet?”
“Well I can’ work it out,” Hagrid said. “Somethin’s obviously upset yeh, I can see it in yeh eyes, but I don’ know what it is.”
“What?” I laughed, though it did sound a little bit forced. “Hagrid there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just dealing with exams at the moment, that’s all.”
“Well if yeh say so…” Hagrid responded, though I noticed that he watched me carefully for the rest of the visit, despite the fact I refused to concede that anything was wrong. The truth was, I was pretty churned up about Albus. What else would I be worried about? Albus is all I’ve worried about this year! I thought bitterly as I made my way back to the castle for lunch.
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