Chapter 2 : Two
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Every time something bad happens, your thoughts and emotions don't go into frenzy and you just think that it really could've been worse. Because you've seen and known worse.
I suppose that nothing quite distressing has happened during the past five years after the worst has become behind us. At the same time, I do suppose that there are still many of us who still haven't recovered from what had happened back then.
I have been toying with the idea for that story for years now but there has always been a big list of kinks that needed to be worked out in order for that story to go smoothly – like making a tale about three brothers when there are only two Malfoy boys, and making all the three brothers have magic when Alphard Malfoy hasn't any magic, and tiny differences like that. But what has always kept me thinking about the story and the disease and the pain has been witnessing how depressed Alphard Malfoy was after his best friend Jenny died.
But had I ever even picked up a quill and attempted to write a single paragraph? No, I hadn't the courage; not until a few nights ago anyway. I snuck into Alphard's room and took my favourite of his possession: his laptop. After I wrote a few paragraphs while lying down in my bed, I felt my eyes tire and prickle. I tried to close the page so Alphard would not see it the following morning, was thankful that the computer gave me the chance to save my work as I almost forgot to, and then I let my eyes close for good.
"Why is it out of power?! I just charged it when I was at work last night! The battery can handle up to 10 hours without electricity! Valeria Scamander, what the hell have you been doing on my laptop?" Alphard lectured me very angrily the following morning.
I could tell that this was a serious problem as Alphard doesn’t often get angry or lecture anyone. Perhaps he is just overly protective of his muggle electronics?
Anyway, it was on the tip of my tongue; I almost told him that I was writing that day.
Nevertheless, I managed to hold it back. Yes, Alphard is my best friend and means everything in the world to me, but I didn't feel like I had written anything proper yet. And Alphard, being inquisitive, would have wanted to read whatever I had written anyway despite my pleas. Or maybe he wouldn't have... But still, I didn't want to risk it.
"I was playing that game you showed me a few days ago..." I lied and looked at the ground, feigning guilt.
"For ten hours?" he asked, an eyebrow quirked at me.
"I... I may have fallen asleep while playing...?"
Shaking his head, Alphard picked up his laptop and left my room, not suspecting anything about my writing.
So normally, as life continues to go on with its overbearing irony, when I am trying to keep him away from finding out about my story and how I've started to write, he would come and poke around my room for his laptop and give me a lecture before leaving for work. Yet, when I finally have a presentable chapter to show him, he would be nowhere to be found. Marvellous, eh?
"Astoria, have you seen Alphard?" I ask Alphard's mother as I walk into the kitchen.
"Maybe he's still asleep. Have you checked his room?" she says with a smile.
I'm a little surprised to see her wearing her red 'Kiss the cook!' apron over her floral and colourful sundress. Also, instead of having her long brown hair in a loose ponytail or in some fancy updo, it is in a firmly twisted bun that's wobbling slightly on top of her head. How unusual...
"Yes, I just did. And he hasn't gone to work; his laptop is here as well," I tell her and seat myself down on one of the kitchen table's seats. "It's right here," I mumble to myself as I set the device down on the table and start to noiselessly tap one of my feet rapidly.
"Maybe he's in the office with Draco or something; I'm sure he'll turn up in a bit for tea," Astoria assures me, still smiling as she starts to heat the water.
"Yeah," I mumble and start to chew my bottom lip nervously, wondering where the elves are.
As opposed to the kitchen in my family's house, which the two windows of are open whenever it isn't raining, Malfoy Manor's kitchen is rather dull. It doesn't even have a window; in there, you can't tell whether it's morning or night except by inspecting the type of food being cooked.
"Is something wrong, Valeria? You seem tensed," Astoria says after a few moments of silence, that smile from earlier still stuck on her face; and, for some reason, that smile annoys me.
After my lurking around for years in order to help Alphard get over things, and with the amount of time I've been spending inside the Manor since my vacation from work has started, Astoria was beginning to understand me better and better. I'm worried that soon enough she'd be able to detect when I'm lying or feigning a laugh at one of her attempted jokes.
"Nothing particularly wrong, no. There's just something important I want to show him and... yeah," I explain vaguely and just look at the kitchen's brick floor. Where is that idiot?!
Astoria makes me some tea, saying something about how I should stop tapping my fingers on the table nervously and just enjoy the cup, and she turns around to flick through some cookbook in order to decide what she should make for dinner tonight. I find that a bit uncharacteristic as Astoria doesn't usually cook; she only cooks on Mondays which are the elves' day off, and Monday is still five days away. I don't comment on it though. As I wait, I distract myself by twisting one of my long and insanely frizzy blonde curls around my finger, imagining how I'd look in different haircuts.
Alphard's voice enters the kitchen before his body does just as I finish drinking my second cup of tea, and he starts, "Mother, have you seen –"
"Looking for this?" I interrupt quite indignantly and get up to my feet, holding out his laptop for him. Astoria doesn't seem to mind my rude interference and she continues to rummage around one of the kitchen's cupboards, seemingly searching for a certain ingredient.
"No, actually, I was looking for you," Alphard says and adds in a shrug.
"You do realise that you're late for work, right?" I tell him as I put the laptop down on the kitchen table in fear of dropping it and raise a curious eyebrow at him.
He just shrugs again.
"Malfoy, stop it with the gestures. What's that supposed to tell me? You closed down the research centre? You’ve been kicked out of the hospital?" I ask him.
Alphard is one of the most punctual people I have ever met in my life –and also an over-achiever who juggles two jobs simultaneously. He is already over an hour late for work, and when I point that out, he just shrugs...? And Astoria is cooking? Either there's a celebration called 'Out of Character' day that even the elves take as a day off, or Alphard has shut down his research centre.
In the background, I hear Astoria snort and mumble something unintelligible.
Astoria has always not very secretly hated Alphard's centre. She sees it as the one thing that is not allowing Alphard to move forward completely and just put Jenny in his past. Perhaps she’s making us a special meal today to celebrate that?
It would all makes sense... to me at least.
"No, I didn't," he responds briefly, his blonde eyebrows furrowed in a frown and his lips pursed. "I own the centre and I feel like I need –no, deserve – a day off. Or do you think otherwise?"
I roll my eyes at him and sigh loudly since I can come up with no reasonable response, and turn around to sit down again. He pulls a chair and sits down next to me.
"I'm writing,” I blurt out instantly, and I’m not sure why I do that. I mean, I’m not the sort of a person that calculates words before saying them –I leave that to Alpahrd – but this was too rushed out even for me.
He frowns at me again, his befuddlement completely justified, then says, "What?"
"I'm writing, as in writing a novel, a story... I'm not sure how long it's going to be or how long I want it to be, but I... I wrote the first chapter and I need an opinion. Would you mind being my test reader?" I tell him really quickly as though I'm afraid I'd lose his attention or something as such. But in reality, I am a bit tensed about getting an opinion on my little project for the first time –my little personal project that doesn't even have a name yet. Also, I'm a little worried he'd think I'm silly for deciding to do something like this.
"Well, sure. But you must know, I'm a gruesome critic," he warns me with a smile that I cannot quite decipher –it looks a little like a smirk – but I just smile back at him anyway.
"Well, that's why I'm asking you. I want a brutally comprehensive and gruesomely honest review. You think you can manage that while I go bring us some tea?"
No, I do not expect two long pages of feedback from Alphard. After all, he is Alphard. His idea of comprehensive is circling things he liked and underlining things he didn't like. And, if it's a good day, you'd get a few sarcastic comments here and there. You should have a peek at the novels he keeps in his bedroom sometime. There are things that Shakespeare has written and Alphard doesn't approve of, so never mind me and my first attempted piece of literature ever.
"You've already had tea by the looks of it," Alphard says and dangles the small porcelain teacup I was drinking in by the handle.
"Just shut up and read, Malfoy,” I snarl at him and take the mug from him, wondering why he’s in an unusually good mood –perhaps he should take more day-offs?
Before I even reach the kitchen counter to start heating the water again, Alphard asks, "You're seriously starting the novel by talking about the weather?"
"It seemed fit for the setting of my story..." I say with a shrug as I fill the kettle with water, thankful that I had a reasonable response.
"When is it set anyway?"
I turn around to look at him then say, "Late 1400's. I had to use modern English though..."
"Alright then; we'll see," he says and goes back to staring at the computer's screen.
As I pour the water into my mug, I expect him to speak up again after he reads the following sentence... or the one after it, perhaps; but he doesn't. I walk over to one of the drawers to take out a spoon, and I glance at him, trying to guess his thoughts through his face. He seems pensive and focused as his grey pupils run slowly from side to side, the words' reflection apparent in his thickly-framed glasses. I remain there, inspecting his face, searching it for answers to the million questions racing through my head, and surprisingly enough, none of them had anything to do with the story he was currently staring at.
And unsurprisingly, his face was almost expressionless – his pale eyebrows were furrowed in concentration and his hand clasped under his chin. I suppose that's what they call a poker-face?
Astoria is still bustling around, making metal pots cling and slamming cupboards shut. Clearly, she still hasn't found what she was looking for.
When I finish making the tea and seat myself down next to him again, he does not acknowledge my return by a sideways glance or anything. I don't mind that, though, as I take a sip out my mug and almost burn my tongue with the steaming tea. If I'm not used to burning myself with tea –I have the attention span of a two-months-old infant– I probably would've been crying by now.
"You do realize that I didn't meet Jenny at a party, right?" is what Alphard says to break the silence, and so, he brings me out of my head that's full of fish bowls and bubbles.
I look up from the cup of tea that is still steaming, blowing semi-invisible smoke at my face, and say with a small, uncertain smile – the smile of someone hesitant about hearing an opinion on something that matters from someone that matters, "So it's safe to assume that you've deduced the inspiration behind the story?"
He shrugs at me, his face nonchalant while saying, "Well, you introduced a boy who likes to cuddle with books and a sick-looking girl, exploding with illness and a peculiar skin condition; so yes, it was not hard to figure out at all. Despite that, I didn't realise you knew about the 'vine incident'."
I chuckle out a soft laugh and smile at him, "It was Scorpius's favourite story to tell throughout his first year, and it was retold a few times after Scorpius left Hogwarts; or so says Lysander anyway. I think that people were reading too much into it, you know? That just because Scorpius is a Malfoy and his first use of magic was to hurt his own brother... As if Lysander and Lorcan never used magic to try and bother me or anything of that sort."
Alphard nods in acknowledgement, but does not say anything for a little while, and I watch him intently. I can tell that he is thinking or, perhaps, remembering. What I really had not thought about before asking him to read the story was all the memories it would bring back to him, which is rather stupid on my behalf. I was worried enough about what he'd think of the idea itself rather than its effect on him. A bit selfish, perhaps, but it really has been unintentional...
When I feel that he has had enough time of thinking back, I speak out asking, "So... What did you think of it?"
"Are you elaborating the story of the Three Brothers? The three boys resemble the characters of that tale," he asks me, coming out of his frozen state with grace and ease, brushing the few past moments off as though they never existed as he sits up straight and runs a hand casually through his long blonde strands.
"Something like that, yes; that's a part of it," I respond with a brief nod, having a more complex and not fully constructed plan in my head, one that I am yet quite hesitant to share with anyone. I’m not even sure if I’ll be doing it the way I want to or if I will be able to make it work out that way.
I notice that he nods too in some sort of approval and then says, "Well, I believe you're off with a good start. I also like the names you've chosen for the characters... Well, the female characters anyway. I hate the name you've given me," he admits, his face still bare of emotions.
"I didn't choose those. The legendary rumour has it that the Three Brothers tale is inspired by the Peverell brothers. They're the only characters I hadn't had to squeeze my brain out over for names," I explain, quite relieved I had not hand-picked him a name he would dislike.
"Oh, I knew the name sounded familiar... Well, I suppose I can't give you critique on that, then," he says with a shrug. "Also, I do believe you need to be a bit more careful with your descriptions. You don't have to increase them much, but you know... Just add a few more details, especially when it comes to the brothers. We may know what they look like but others certainly don't," he adds thoughtfully, his eyes on me, gentle yet serious.
"Oh, alright; I'll try to work on that," I say with a nod, making a mental note to get back to the file and try to fix it.
Instantly though, I start to work on details in my head. For example, I notice how Alphard's usually perfect hair is a little bit messed up today as though he has run his hands through it a million times already. I want to point out to him that his hair is standing up in many different directions but I decide against it. Why? I realise that even if the messy hair is an unintentional result of anxiety or the product of extra humidity in the air, it gives him this casual, youthful look all over, which is certainly rare for Alphard but still looks rather admirable on him.
Alphard is usually all about formality and perfection down to the very last hair on the top of his head. His casual look, as I decide, makes him seem more human to me.
"Oh, and make sure you don't go overboard with making those boys smart. After all, they're just children, and at some points, I felt like they were overly mature," Alphard says, his eyes on the screen instead of me.
"Okay, I'll try to see to that too," I tell him, grateful that he really is being honest with me.
"Are you planning to...publish this?" he asks me, and I'm taken by surprise because I have not thought about this at all.
I shrug at him and then say, "I don't know; but I don't think so. I just had the idea and it sort of continued to grow on its own, then I found myself making plans and connections in my head and naming characters. Therefore, I thought,
why not? What harm could come from it anyway? I sort of have the time at the moment and the appropriate help and resources..." I wave a hand casually in his direction and continue, "So I stole your laptop and typed out this chapter. I like typing, you see. I like the sound the keys make, especially now that I write sort of quickly; not as quickly as you do, but still... So anyway."
I always try to stop myself from rambling, even around Alphard who does not mind it much, yet I always seem to fail. And I always let my words end up in an awkward manner.
We do not say anything for a few moments and I just resume staring at my cup of tea, taking a sip out of it, then returning to watching my reflection in it again.
"Do you want to go for a walk?" Alphard asks out of the blue, and his question seems abrupt.
You know how sometimes you weigh the words out in your head and you imagine the tone you would let them come out in? Then, when you do say them, they sound a bit off-ish? Well, that is exactly how he did sound. And yes, speaking in that manner –and detecting people doing so – is something I do quite often, but Alphard...Never!
"A walk?" I ask him, a little surprised as it's not a habit of ours to walk around. Since the day I've arrived at the Manor to spend the summer with him, we may have done various activities, but take a walk in the morning? Again, never!
As I've previously said: out of character day.
Alphard shrugs at me in response and I do not object –why would I anyway? It may not have been a habitual thing for us, but there's certainly no reason for me to refuse –change is good, right? So, in agreement, I put down my half-full cup of tea on the kitchen table and get to my feet as Alphard turns off his laptop and stands up as well.
As we leave, Astoria smiles at us before she resumes digging into the cupboards; this time, she is hoarding everything out of them instead of just poking her head in and out.
Alphard and I remain silent as we walk through the, for once, naturally lit corridors of the Manor as the sun streams in from every window. Perhaps that's why he suggested taking a walk? The unusually beautiful weather?
I don't press on it as I follow him out of the door and into the garden in which the 'vine incident' had taken place about twenty years ago. I suppose I didn't know any Malfoys back when I was two.
I remember Alphard's advice and I look around the garden, the massive and marvellously decorated garden, and I try to imagine putting its beauty into words.
Stepping out into the Manor's garden is like being engulfed in by something that is all green. The trees are so high yet very leafy that there is a spot of shade surrounding every thick –and thin– bark of wood. I could imagine myself sitting there under one of those trees on a blanket with a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, and end up spending one of the best days of my life.
The grass beneath us is like a mattress, like something cushioning our feet as they sink between its soft blades and bounce back up with ease.
I stop walking for a moment and take a long breath in, and I can sense that the air smells like lavenders and fresh grass, warm and refreshing, and I could almost feel it cleanse me. It certainly is a nice contrast to the smell of the rain that many people seemed to like. I obviously don't; this is what I like. I bitterly realise that the weather will probably not stay like this for long; the best case scenario is having this last for a day or two, and that disappoints me for a second before I dismiss the thought.
"Regretting not going with your family to Australia? Or with Lysander to Egypt?" Alphard asks me, and I'm glad his tone seems to have balanced itself. I notice that he has stopped too and is standing just a few steps ahead of me.
When Alphard first heard that my whole family's travelling and that I'm staying behind for work, even if I could've got myself a vacation a week or two earlier had I wanted to, he offered me one of the Manor's guest rooms. After clearing things out with my mother since she always worries whenever we aren't moving around as a family, I aceepted his offer and have been stayingat the Manor ever since.
"Not really, no. I'm not the one for exploring the world. Would I like to travel around? Sure. But do I want to now? Not really, no. Do I want to go see three-legged kangaroos and battle my way through forests? Again, not really. I'd rather just stay here with you. Besides, the Manor is practically a palace; it makes me feel as though I'm royalty. It provides me with this Victorian mood all over, which I like," I say as I start walking again and I see Alpahrd follow my lead.
"That sounded a bit superficial, I think," Alphard admits bluntly with a smile that is his version of a smirk. When put in comparison to Scorpius's version of a smirk, Alphard's is just an innocent and genuine smile of a two-year-old at his birthday party.
They may be twins and share a face, but there are many things that set them apart. And I mean that in every meaning you could possibly come up with.
"I don't care. It's just like being a part of a Victorian novel or something where everything is so classy and expensive. Our house is nice, I love it and I love how Mum makes it very home-like, but it certainly isn't Victorian; and I like Victorian!" I say excitedly, no shame apparent or existent whatsoever.
Alphard nods to let me know that he has heard what I said and I smile at him before I stop walking once again. I slowly seat myself down on the warm, soft grass and lay down, cushioning my head with my arms. "Now, this is enjoyable. And so unladylike by Victorian standards!" I exclaim as I squint at the sun.
Or any other standard, I think to myself.
I notice that Alphard is considering joining me as I see him lower himself down a little as though he is going to sit down but then stands up again. He remains still for a while, and I do not say anything. I just lay down and bask in the sun and enjoy its warmth.
"Alright, I can tell that you're enjoying this, and I hate to be the person to end this for you, but I sort of need you to stand up," Alphard requests gently.
"Hey, just because you do not want to ruin your fancy trousers and your white shirt does not mean that I have to stand up. You sacrifice a little; you can have your trousers cleaned or you can replace them with another pair. It's not every day we get such wonderful weather," I respond sternly and remain in my position, not moving even a little.
"Valeria, please? And... you know, here, look," he says quickly and sits down, crossing his legs. "And I can sit here like this for hours, alright? I just need you to stand up for a few minutes. Can you do that? And we can sit down here all day after that."
I look at him as I start to suspect his motives. What could he possibly want and why did I have to stand up for it? I can't even guess a thing so I just sigh and do as he has asked me to, straightening out my powder blue dress
By the time I'm on my feet, so is Alphard, and he looks a little off-ish; like his suggesting the walk when we were back in the kitchen, and like Astoria's smile and her cooking today. Out of Character Day just keeps on forcing itself upon me and I just want it to be over with and bury itself behind a cross on Alphard's wall calendar. It may have been entertaining to point out all the misfits, but now, it has become tiring and annoying.
And there go my thoughts again.
Focus on what's happening now, Val! There's nothing at all like Out of Character Day but there is certainly something going on right under your nose, here at the very tangible and existent Manor, and you have to find out what it is.
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