A note about Albus Potter that maybe, just maybe, my parents should have checked on before choosing him to drive me around the country – he is one of the most terrible drivers I have ever met. He only drives with one hand, for one, which makes me nervous enough – I like both hands on the wheel for safety reasons, thank you very much.
Second note that you might find interesting – he is not fantastic at using the gearstick. His constant swearing under his breath whenever he realises he has to change gears just proves it.
That's not counting the times that he's stepped on the wrong pedal, swore loudly and then quickly pressed the other pedal down. And do not even get me started on when we hit traffic lights, and he seems to think that if it had only been on red for five seconds then he was fully entitled to speed his way through it.
We've only been in the car for twenty five minutes, and I am already clutching the sides of my seat with my hands so hard that I'm sure I will find nail punctures in the leather should I care to check. Every now and again Albus would glance over at me; see my stiff position and most likely terrified expression and snort, before taking both hands off the wheel for a second so I squeaked in terror. If I have to put up with six weeks of this then I'm pretty sure I am going to go insane.
"Look, do you actually know where you're going or are you just driving around aimlessly?" I snap eventually, after another five minutes of slip roads and junctions and roundabouts that lead to nowhere.
"Nah, I'm just driving around – you want to see more of England... so why don't you want to see some more of the Great British motorways?" I frown and turn to stare out of my window as Albus took another sharp turn around a random patch of browning poppies sitting on the roadside.
"I don't want to see more of England – I'm being forced to see more of England. I want to stay home and read my textbooks and prepare for healing school and go on bike rides with Andromeda, but no – instead I'm stuck in this car with you." Albus cocks an eyebrow and smirks again.
"Wow, little firecracker, you, huh? And Andromeda – is that the name of the chick that came out the house with you before? She was hot, I'll tell you that." I gape at him.
"I would have thought this goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway – keep your hands off Andromeda. Don't touch her." I narrow my eyes at Albus and he laughs loudly, using his free hand that should have been on the wheel to pull some sunglasses out of the glove box and slip them onto his nose.
"Yeah, yeah – it's not like I'm ever going to see her again, is it? I'm stuck in this car with you, and you're not exactly renowned for being one big bundle of fun, are you? I remember you ending two of our Gryffindor celebration parties by getting McGonagall to come up and yell at us. No wonder everyone hated you so much at school."
The comment should have been cavalier, but it wasn't – it wasn't like I wasn't aware. I had known what people thought of me when I was at Hogwarts – and I knew that the majority of them were right.
But that didn't mean it was appropriate for him to sit there and spell it out at me – being hated and renowned for being a fun sucking prefect wasn't something I really wanted to be reminded of. The only reason I wasn't hated now was because I didn't go out and speak to people enough for them to learn to hate me.
Maybe Andromeda's judge of character was slightly skewed – or maybe, just maybe, she did hate me and liked hanging out with me because it made everyone else look more fun and exciting in comparison.
"Well, thank you for reminding me of that. Clearly you have a firm grasp on tact and other such things – please, do inform me of the other comments that people made about me. Do you think I don't know what they all thought?"
"They didn't think, babe, they knew," Albus snorts, and I glare out the window in an attempt to block his voice out.
The difference between the Albus Potter that had been scowling at everything is sight and glaring like his life depended on it last week, and the Albus Potter that was laughing at me and taking the mick out of my past was surprising. This one seemed more cheerful, I suppose – but at my expense. I would rather, in overview, have him glaring but not speaking at all.
"Please be quiet. You weren't told to talk to me, you were told to drive me around the country. So keep your trap shut, your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road."
Albus snorts under his breath suddenly and rolls his eyes, but thankfully keeps his lips touching one another. I stare out at yet another long stretch of bleak road, lined on both sides by overgrown and browning grass and the occasional broken bicycle. Beyond the endless lines of peeling brown fences were more fields than I care to count, most empty but the occasional one filled with sheep or the odd brown cow.
We sit in silence for another ten minutes, during which Albus fiddles with the radio and manages to find a decent muggle channel that played music that neither of us objected to too much. I begin to wonder where we are actually headed when the car is suddenly turned sharply into a turnoff I hadn't realised was there.
We head up the small tarmaced road to what looks like a petrol station crossed with an American diner crossed with some form of small newsagents, with three old cars parked outside and an enormous tree blocking out what little there was of the sun.
Albus pulls in and immediately switches off the engine, grabs a stack of papers that I had not noticed before from the back seat and steps out of the car, slamming the door behind him. I quickly leap out of the car after him and stumble around to his side, trying not to get any of the sloppy mud on the sides of my shoes. For sixty five Galleons, I wasn't having anything splattered all over them.
"What are you doing – we haven't even been driving for an hour!" I protest, but I might as well have been talking to a brick wall.
"We're going to have something to eat; a nice big lunch," Albus says slowly, "and we're going to plan where the fuck we're actually going. And then we'll take off again."
I try to find something to protest against but the plan seemed pretty sound, so I returned the favour and kept my mouth shut, checking where I was standing before I took every step. We approached the diner-style cafe, Albus confidently and myself warily, and let ourselves in.
My first thought is that I have stepped into hell. It is exactly the kind of place that I have never visited and have never cherished any desire to visit. Red leather couch-things are surrounding tables in countless booths, a 60's style jukebox is churning out some distasteful jazz music in the corner and a milkshake mixer is tossing around thick pink liquid with a constant whirring noise.
There are a few people in here – a family with two children, a couple and two men drinking beer – but other than that it is pretty much empty. We walk up to the waiter, who is texting under his brightly painted podium, so engrossed he doesn't notice us. Albus coughs loudly. I do my best to straighten myself up, and smooth down my hair on either side of my face.
"Table for two, mate," Albus says eventually, and the waiter finally looks up.
"Right," he says, his eyes flicking to me and then quickly skipping back to Albus, clearly not finding me interesting at all. Still, what is interesting about a girl in jeans with a bloke much better looking than she is? Nothing, that's what.
With a slow flick of his wrist, he leads us over to a booth in the back, drops down a pair of menus and winks at the pretty blonde waitress serving oversized drinks to the table three booths down. Albus nods and sits down, dumps his papers and leaflets onto the table and pulls the menu towards him.
I quickly brush down the seat, pull a napkin out of the cup in the middle and lay it down where I plan to sit, before finally just sitting down. I pull out another napkin and lay it across my knee, and then pull out a third and tuck it into the collar of my silk blouse. Albus gapes at me, lets out a derisive laugh and leans back, shaking his head in shock.
"I can't believe – are you even for real?"
"What do you mean?" I ask, gingerly picking up the menu and cocking an eyebrow. Well-thumbed didn't quite cover it – the acetate cover was peeling at the edges, the writing was smudged from many greasy fingers pressing down on words and one of the pages was torn almost entirely down the centre.
"You – I know your dad is a... strict – no, that's not right... well-raised man, but how did they manage to brainwash you into this perfectly running little human machine?" Albus smirks, clearly amused at his own joke, but I merely shrug. It is not the first time I have been called a robot, or the first time my parents have been blamed, and I know it will not be the last.
"They didn't brainwash me into anything," I sigh. "Just because I know how to behave, want an academic future and am careful to behave myself in public does not mean I'm a machine. I would rather act like me and fade into the background than... oh, I don't know... go against it, get drunk every night and end up on the cover of the Daily Prophet, being insulted for completely embarrassing both myself and my family."
"How would you getting drunk embarrass your family?"
"My father is the Minister for Magic," I say slowly, and Albus rolls his eyes.
"No shit, really? You should have said something. Yeah, I fucking know that your dad is the Minister for Magic, but why should that mean that you can't go and get drunk – you are a teenager, people are expecting that." This time it is my turn to roll my eyes.
"Oh yes, because that would look just wonderful – the man who controls the Wizarding World can't even control his daughter. People are definitely going to vote him back into his position if that happened." My voice is thick with sarcasm, which is odd because normally Daddy doesn't stand for me talking like that – says it sounds 'common'.
"Well, I think you're missing out on life." His tone signals the end of the conversation, and I suddenly want to scowl.
"Yes, so does my father – hence why we're both sitting here instead of me being back home with Andromeda and you being back home with... well, whoever you spend your free time with. Your brother, for example. If my parents weren't worried that they really had brainwashed me then neither of us would be sitting here under forced parental coercion." I actually manage to get a sharp bark of laughter out of him, and it feels good to make someone laugh – I'm not exactly renowned for being the funniest girl in the place.
"I wouldn't be spending time with James, sweetheart. He's too busy with Leigh to give a shit about what I'm doing."
"His fiancée. They only got engaged last month, but already if you walk into their apartment you nearly slip over and break your neck on a pile of bridal magazines, or you get some flowers thrust into your face and are asked what you think about the smell in comparison to some other flower's smell. And I wouldn't mind, neither of the smug buggers invited me to go cake tasting with them. I don't know why they wanna get married so fast – I don't even believe in marriage."
"You don't believe in marriage?" I ask, shocked.
"No, I don't," he replies, but his explanation is interrupted by the arrival of a waiter, who seems to be a little more attentive than the man who led us to the table.
"What'll it be, folks?" he asks, and I quickly glance down the menu in an attempt to find something that sounds edible and will not give me a beard made of sauce if I try to bite into it. Something that can be eaten with cutlery is an added bonus.
"I'll have a pint of lager and a King Macho Cheeseburger with fries and no side salad, thanks," Albus says, turning his menu over to the waiter, who takes it.
"No you won't," I say quickly, and the waiter glances at me before he writes anything down. "You're not having a lager – you're the driver. You're not allowed to drink alcohol – I'm not sure of the limit on units before you're not allowed to drive, and until I check you're not drinking." Albus gapes at me, and then his face falls back into the scowl that I had become so accustomed to last week. He glares at the smirking waiter and folds his arms across his chest like a child.
"Fine then, I'll have a coke – wait, am I allowed to have caffeine, dear?" I take a deep breath through my nose and nod, and the waiter quickly scribbles it down on his notepad.
"Excellent – and you?" the waiter asks, and I glance down at the menu again.
"I will have a bottle of sparkling water and... erm, chicken filet with fries – but can I have a jacket potato instead of the fries? And if he's not having side salad then I'll have his side salad. Thank you." The waiter nods and writes something down, then takes my menu and heads off.
I stare down at my knees and adjust my napkin. Albus huffs under his breath and seizes the salt and pepper shakers, tossing them between his two hands just for something to do. He was doing what my dad calls mindless fiddling – I never fiddle, because it gives off the impression that the person you're with can't hold your attention, and that's rude.
"How come you're so... bipolar, a lot of the time?" Albus frowns at me, and I wonder if I phrased it right. "I mean – sort of Jekyll and Hyde, but not exactly. You're like two different people – one second you're jokey and normal and the next you're scowling like you were at dinner last week. You never acted like that in school. Why'd you become so moody after you left?"
Albus smirks suddenly and shrugs, back to being the second of the two men – whether that was Jekyll or Hyde I wasn't sure. One would assume Jekyll, with his moody counterpart being Hyde – but at least when he smirks and laughs he is acting as himself, and not how he has been taught to act or forced to act by society – would that make him more like Hyde?
I need to stop reading muggle literature from two hundred years ago, that's for sure, regardless.
"I dunno," Albus says sarcastically, "maybe it's something along the lines of when I left school I had it drummed into my head that I was out of control and ruining the family and nowhere near as good as my brother – so why the fuck should I bother trying? Came back to bite me in the arse, like, because now I'm being forced to act like your personal chauffer."
"Well if you'd just behaved as you were expected to then you wouldn't have to be here," I say tightly, and Albus rolls his eyes.
"Look, I'll behave however the fuck I want. You're only young once, and I'm not gonna waste my life doing whatever you do – reading and giving your life away and focusing all your attention on your career. I have better things to do with my time – I'd rather go and get pissed with my mates than sit home with my parents acting perfect. You might not be in the papers for being like me, but at least... at least I know how to have a laugh." I gape at him and suck my cheeks in, furious suddenly – how he had the nerve to speak to me like that was beyond me.
Just out of common courtesy – you don't speak like that to anyone, let alone someone you don't know! He knows nothing about me, and I don't appreciate being spoken to like he knows who I am and he knows I'm throwing my life away.
"Whatever," I spit, and we sit in complete silence for fifteen minutes, until the waiter came over with our plates balanced on each of his hands.
"Pass the salt," Albus grunts suddenly, but I don't stop cutting gentle strips out of my filet. Albus coughs under his breath, but I still continue to cut. "Oi, I asked you to pass the salt – please don't tell me you're acting like a three year old and ignoring me."
"You forgot to add a little something on the end of your request," I say quietly, and I hear him sigh. Well, I'm sure everyone in the diner heard him sigh – he did so very loudly.
"Fine then, pass the salt please," he rolls his eyes widely as he says the last word, but I reach forwards, grab the salt shaker and pass it to him anyway. In the time he took arguing with me about passing him the salt, he could have just stood up and reached the salt himself.
He says nothing, so I cough pointedly, and then again when he still says nothing.
"Thank you," he sneers, and I wonder how a family as affluent and such as the Potters raised a son with such bad manners and such an insulting personality. And why, seeing how Albus Potter behaved, did my parents decide to lock me in a small box of metal and alloy with him for a month and a half?
Now they are questions I would love the answer to.
But it seems I am not destined to receive answers to those questions, as both Albus and I stay in steely silence as I work my way through my chicken and jacket potato, and both of my side salads, and Albus forces down his burger and fries at breakneck speed, as though worried someone might come along and try to take the plate from him before he finished.
"Right, so," Albus begins, his voice seeming sharper as I had grown accustomed to the silence, "we came in here to plan where we're going to go. I can drive until the cows come home, but that doesn't mean we'll actually see anything."
"Why would the cows be coming home? Where did they go? And when do they come back?"
Albus gapes at me, and then the corners of his lips curl up into that smirk that I had already grown used to seeing. He laughs a few times, quietly, awkwardly, and then shakes his head.
"It's an expression – you know; a figure of speech. It doesn't mean we're actually waiting for cows to come back from anywhere. It just means... forever. I could drive forever, but that doesn't mean we'd actually get to see anything your parents want us – you, to see." I nod slowly, and Albus rolls his eyes again. If the wind changes, he'll get stuck like that.
"Well, my parents gave you those leaflets, right? So let's have a look at them." I hold my hand out and Albus passes me the wad of papers. I leaf through them quickly, and then look back up at Albus. I may not be the queen of fun, but even I know that these choices are pathetic.
Noticing my expression, Albus raises an eyebrow, then slips around the table and sits down next to me, on my side. He takes the first leaflet, snorts under his breath and then tosses it aside.
So that's a resounding no to the Museum of 5th Century Magical Artefacts, then.
"Okay, seriously?" Albus asks, rifling through the next five or so on the pile. "We have the Museum of Old Spellbooks and Magical Textbooks, The Historical Society of Merlin's Wishing Well, The Exhibition on Ancient Wizarding Dress, two free tickets to a seminar on what ancient wizards used to eat in the BC era, and... a leaflet for a muggle cinema? What the actual fuck."
I blink at his language, but say nothing. All aside from visiting The Historical Society, none of them sounded as though they would be remotely interesting.
I thought my parents wanted me to do this because I wasn't living enough? And on that note – how can one live too much or not enough? A person lives – you don't have a measure of how much someone is living. It's just a state – you're either dead or you're alive. Simple. Immeasurable.
"I mean, he wants us to live as muggles on this trip, but he wants us to find out what buggering wizards from nine trillion years ago used to put on their toast? What the hell is wrong with him?" Albus snorts under his breath.
"Hey, that's my father you're talking about," I snap, and Albus raises an eyebrow, as unruffled as always. He must have developed a thick skin naturally, from being in the public eye for so long. "And if you have such a problem with places he's suggested, why don't you find somewhere for us to visit instead, then? Come on, I'm waiting to be blown away."
Albus blinks at me for a moment, and then an oddly thoughtful expression takes over his face. It doesn't suit him. I wonder how much strain he's putting his brain cells under with all the extra work.
"I actually have an idea... I don't know if you'll like it, but it's somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time." Albus stares at me apprehensively, and I shrug.
"Well, okay then. If it's better than a seminar on ancient food, then I'm in." And Albus smiles – a real smile, for the first time since I've met him.
"Are you going to tell me where we're going?" I ask, after we've bundled back into the car, tossed all the leaflets and travel sheets and booking information onto the backseats and pulled back out onto the open road. Albus seems to know where he's going without using the road map, and I wonder how long he's wanted to go to wherever we're going.
"No," Albus says shortly, and I shrug.
"Okay." Albus looks surprised that I give up without an argument, but takes it and runs. "Can I have a clue at least?" I add, and he rolls his eyes, as though expecting such a question to follow.
"Fine. Just give me a second to think of one."
"How long can it take to think of a clue – just tell me a little something about wherever we're going. For example, is it inside or outside? Like, is it a garden or a building? You know, that sort of thing." Albus laughs, settles a little further back in his chair and uses of one of his hands to fiddle with knob on the front of the radio.
"It's both," he chuckles, and I peer at him through my hair, which has swung down on one side of my face.
"What do you mean, it's both?" I ask, and Albus laughs again.
"It's both inside and outside."
"You mean – like, there is a building part and then a garden outside?"
"No, it's both at the same time, I suppose. You can decide when we get there if it's inside or outside." I frown and turn back to face the dashboard, trying hard to think of something that could be both inside and outside at the same time.
"Okay, well you have to give me another clue, then, because that one was awful."
"What do you mean, it was awful? You were the one that came up with it! Urgh, fine. I'll give you another clue. Just... give me some thinking time." I roll my eyes, but out of fear for his one remaining brain cell, I give him a little time to mull it over.
"Got one yet?" I ask, after about thirty seconds of silence.
"Yeah, alright. Lots and lots of famous people have been there, and famous people still go there today, but not as many as there used to be. And they visit for different reasons now than they used to." I bite my lip and grip the edge of my seat tightly as Albus swings sharply around another tight bend, and takes us off an ordinary stretch of tarmaced road onto what looked like a country lane.
"How old is this place?" I ask, and Albus smirks.
"Greedy, greedy. Honestly, and here was me thinking you were all charitable. But hey, I'm a nice bloke... it's about three hundred years old, now. But it's not the oldest one of its kind in the country, not by a long shot."
My mind was still drawing a blank, and I didn't like the feeling. So instead I pouted out of the window and crossed my arms over my chest, much to Albus' evident amusement.
"And what makes you want to go and see it? Considering you don't seem like the kind of boy – man? – that would enjoy going to look at something historical, and you've most likely met plenty of famous people in your time."
Albus chuckles under his breath and shrugs, stretching his arms out while still keeping his hands on the steering wheel.
"It's just somewhere I've wanted to see for a long time – it relates to one of my hobbies. And that's another clue, by the way – your fourth, if I've been counting properly. My dad always... my dad always said he'd take James and I one summer, but he never did. So I might as well go and see it with you." I don't like the way he says 'you', like I am something poisonous and undesirable that he would
rather not think about, but I choose to say nothing.
It's not ladylike to argue.
"Why do you think I'm not going to like it? And that is not asking for another clue, I'm just curious."
"Because... it's exactly the kind of thing a girl like you would hate. It's somewhere relating to something that I remember you hated when we were back at Hogwarts."
"I try not to hate anything," I say honestly, and Albus snorts, turning his head away from the windscreen to cock his eyebrow at me, his lips curling up into a disbelieving smirk.
"I'm sorry, are you taking the fucking piss?" he laughs. "You, Flora Dainty, try not to hate anything? You were practically famous for hating everything back when we were at school – well, anything fun. You liked classes and books and prefect duties and other shit like that."
"I like plenty – I may not have an interest in a lot of things, but that doesn't mean I hate them."
"Trust me; you hated what I'm thinking of. But you probably won't hate where we're going... it just won't interest you."
I have nothing more to say to that, and not wanting to admit defeat and accept another clue, I settle down in silence and try to think of anywhere that we could be going. Having to show up with no idea will feel like a victory to Potter, and I'm not willing to let that happen.
"Right, we're here," Albus announces half an hour later.
The crunch of gravel beneath the wheels is a telltale sign that we're pulling into a car park, which is strange if it's a wizarding attraction, and I slowly open my eyes. I'd tried to take a nap on the way here, but the constant rap music blaring out of the radio had proved that to be impossible.
"Where are we?" I sigh, looking around for a sign.
"Did you not manage to guess? Oh, shame. I guess you're not the genius that everyone thinks you are." I frown a little but quickly smooth my expression out, and search around even harder for a sign. Having to ask Potter again would probably make my stomach ulcer come back.
And that is when I see it – looking glorious against the white clouds, high up in the sky. Normally I would have no interest in a giant wooden sign, but this was a sign of something else – of not having to give in to Albus.
"Well, Flora, since you couldn't work it out, I'll tell you. We're at –"
"The London Quidditch Stadium and Historical Quidditch Museum," I cut in quickly, and Albus' expression quickly sours. "Wait, I have to spend the rest of the day walking around a stadium that is no longer used and has been turned into a museum about something I have no interest in?"
"And by the way, I didn't hate Quidditch when we were back at Hogwarts," I inform him, but he's already climbing out of the car and slamming the door behind him. I quickly climb out my own side and peer over the roof at him, as he slings his leather jacket over his shoulders.
"Yes, you did."
"No, I didn't. I didn't have an interest, so I didn't watch the matches, but I didn't hate it."
"I remember you telling me and the captains of the other house teams that you were going to appeal to your 'Daddy' and get him to stop Quidditch at Hogwarts, because it was nothing but a violent sport that encouraged rivalries and fighting between the houses."
"Well it's true," I protest, shrugging, but Albus merely rolls his eyes.
"Well I love Quidditch, and this is one of the most famous stadiums in the country. Some of the most incredible matches were played here, before it got shut down about seventy years ago. The 1939 world cup was played here, right before World War Two broke out in the muggle world. The match had just finished, Czechoslovakia had won, and then some Quidditch official comes sprinting out onto the pitch with a muggle wireless and makes the whole crowd listen to the announcement that war had broken out."
"But the war made no difference to wizards – they could protect their houses and families with spells and fix anything that was broken with magic."
"It still changed lives, Flora, even if it didn't kill wizards. Muggle friends of wizards died. It's not like the muggle world doesn't affect the wizarding one.
"Hmm..." I say vaguely, falling into step next to him as we cross the grimy car park. The weeds sprouting out from underneath the gravel are quite repugnant. "Tell me, do your friends know you're this... deep?" I pinch my lips together to stop myself from laughing.
"Shut up," he barks, increasing his pace towards the entrance.
I trail after him, trying to avoid stepping in anything unsavoury and stopping the gravel from marking my shoes with ugly little scuffs. The smell of freshly mown grass is not a particular favourite of mine, so I scrunch my nose up as we get closer and closer to the pitch itself.
"Have you decided which one it is yet?" Albus asks suddenly, and I can almost feel a whiplash coming on from his complete 180 degree mood swings. One second he's laughing, one second he's scowling and the next he's chatting like a normal Tom, Dick or Harry. I frown and stagger back to his side, wondering what is wrong with ordinary tarmac for the roads.
"What do you mean? Which what?"
"Outside or inside. You know, you asked me if it was inside or outside."
"Erm..." I start unsurely. I glance up at the giant... thing in front of me, and try to guess which category it would fit into best.
It is a giant stadium, but it is made of some kind of strange material that mostly resembles wood. Well, I suppose it was made in the 1800s. It circles the edge of the pitch like a frame, too tall to be allowed, but it has no roof. It is essentially a giant, one hundred foot high circle made of wooden tiles, smoothed down until they shone with years of weathering. The no roof situation was what made me unsure – was it inside or outside?
"Does it have a roof that comes across when it rains?" I ask, and Albus cocks an eyebrow at me.
"Then it's outside."
Albus shrugs and pulls out a handful of Galleons from his pocket, tosses them at the waiting ticket-bloke and hands me mine.
"Thank you," I say politely, but he doesn't even have the courtesy to grace me with a response. Wondering if this boring and mediocre day is going to be the basic plan, but in a different location, for every day on the rest of this godforsaken trip, I stumble over the threshold and blink down, unimpressed, at the stadium.
"Isn't it fucking awesome?" Albus' mouth is hanging open slightly, and I wonder for a moment if we're looking at the same sight. It looks bog-standard, almost painfully average, to me. It doesn't look like a stadium that 'amazing' and 'historical' things happened in.
The grass is browning slightly around the edges, a lot of the seats are bashed and the amount of people who had taken the tour over the last seventy years meant that footprints are hammered onto all the concrete and mud pathways around the place. A bored tour guide is lounging against one of the steel railings, a cigarette in his mouth, sending puffs of smoke into the air in curling spirals.
I pull my jacket a little tighter around my shoulders without even thinking about it.
"Right, come on – the real reason I wanted to come here is just down these steps." Albus points with his head towards a concrete flight of stairs leading into a dark room, and I stupidly decide to follow him. Yes, into the room that looks like a pit. No, I don't know what I'm thinking.
Albus quickly makes his way down the steps as I flounder at the top, wondering whether I should follow or wait at the top for him to finish whatever it is he wants to do. He turns to shoot me a bored, albeit slightly amused look when he reaches the bottom, but shakes his head and heads off through a peeling pair of double doors without me. I have almost decided to stay at the top and wait for him, or perhaps go and sit in the car on my own, when something I consider rather scary happens.
A man – perhaps in his late twenties, but most likely in his early thirties – suddenly appears next to me on the other side of the steps. He's directly opposite me, no more than two metres between us. But it isn't the proximity that is daunting me – even by my prudish standards, he isn't that close. It is the ruggedness of him. And not in the sexy-decorator-or-plumber-that-hadn't-shaved way.
He looks like he's spent the last three nights sleeping in a gutter – his brown hair is thick and matted and hangs down to his eyebrows, but it is clean. It doesn't look like he is homeless – just like he has not bothered to wash himself properly or comb his hair.
My mother, who is one of the biggest advocates of 'cleanliness is next to godliness' I knew, would probably collapse at the sight of him.
He turns to look at me suddenly, peering at me speculatively from beneath thick black eyebrows. His shoulders are hunched in an oversized, faded army shirt that hangs open over a black vest, and his jeans are ripped at the knee in a way that was most likely not done in the factory. His boots were most likely once black but are faded on the toes around the backs of the heels from constant wear, as though they are one of the only pairs of shoes he owns. His eyes are a cool gray, like liquid steel.
I don't know what it is about him that scares me so much – maybe it's the superficial basis that he is just so different from myself and everything I grew up around.
But the reasoning behind it I don't much care – the point is that I am scared. Had I been home – and had I been, I can assure that I would not have been in a place like this – then I would have immediately been yelling for one of the security team to stand with me, or calling my father to take me somewhere else so the man was nowhere near me anymore. Either that, or I would have the owner of the venue remove the man from the premises.
And as bad and stuck up as that might sound, going out dressed in the way he does... he must know what he looks like. Can he really blame someone for being wary of him?
"Albus?" I shout suddenly, careful just to use enough volume to reach the doors. I pray Albus hasn't gone too far already. "Albus, can you come back here please?" There is a slumping noise as though someone is slouching back out towards the concrete steps, and my heart rises a little in relief.
"What's the matter?" Albus grunts, and from his expression I can't tell if he is glaring at me or squinting into the white sky behind my head. The man has slouched down a few steps, but is still hanging far too close to me, and is still well within hearing distance. Albus walks past him, no more than a foot between them, without even looking the slightest bit perturbed.
"I..." I say vaguely, when Albus reaches my side. Immediately his expression melts a little bit and he reaches out to take a grip on my elbow, leading me down the stairs to the double doors that he had disappeared out of before.
When we reach the door, Albus turns to peer at me and says: "Flora? Are you going to tell me why you called me? You looked upset, and I don't want your father bollocking me for upsetting you."
"No, it wasn't you..." I sniff. "That man just creeped me out a little, is all."
Albus gapes at me with blatant disbelief and blinks a couple of times, as though he can't quite believe the words that have come out of my mouth. He runs his hands through his hair, which has been moderately tamed today with a mild amount of hair wax, and directs us both down the left of the two corridors we were facing.
The word 'simulator' is written in fading gold letters on a sign that is hanging from a wall bracket almost immediately after we step down the corridor, with a crudely drawn arrow directing us straight ahead. This seems to be what Albus is aiming for, because he ploughs confidently down the hallway without a backwards glance.
"I honestly cannot believe that you would call me, whilst on the verge of tears, because a man that looked like he'd had a rough month was standing next to you. That's just – that's blatant snobbery. Merlin, it's not like he was even looking at you. Your parents have absolutely ruined you."
I am just going to disagree, but then realise that I do not want to risk arguing childishly and so keep my mouth pressed shut.
"Where are we going, anyway?" I ask, wondering what this unknown 'simulator' could be. I thought he had wanted to come here to see the historical museum for all the Quidditch paraphernalia, but that had been down the corridor that we hadn't headed down.
"You'll see when we get there. I'm actually glad you're coming. This is going to be hilarious."
"No way on Earth," I spit through my teeth. "No. Hell will freeze over and pigs will fly and Andromeda will commit herself to a life in the nunnery before I do that. No. You're insane." Albus guffaws like a gorilla and swings a long arm out to clap me on the back, like a particularly amusing child doing something adorable.
"You are having a go – I've already paid for it, and it's frightfully rude to refuse after someone has already paid." Albus smirks at me as I gape at him in horror.
"But – but it is awfully undignified, and there is a man with a camera over there! What if – what if I was to fall off and be captured in such an unflattering pose? That would just be... disastrous. And I don't have any previous experience trying to – to do that. It's just going to go wrong and – and –"
"Oh lighten up, will you? If you're gonna be like this the whole time then I'm gonna knock your head off your fecking shoulders." My mouth instantly snaps shut.
"You can't say something like that to me."
"Well, I just did."
"But – you can't go around threatening people like that. What if someone was to take you seriously? You could get into a lot of trouble for that, and imagine what an embarrassment it would be to your parents." Albus shrugs like this is the last thing that he has ever bothered to worry himself about.
"Why would I care about that? They don't care what people think."
"But – but – stop trying to distract me, you – ragamuffin! I am not going to do it!"
"Up next, Flora Dainty," a bored voice calls over a crackling magical microphone, which is rigged up by magic just above our heads. The pips crackle and the voice dies out. Albus smirks and me and leans backwards, and with a large and completely superfluous flourish directs me to the large green area in the corner of the room, where a depressed looking worker is leaning against the... thing that Albus expects me to try.
I blink in shock and stare at him with wide eyes, praying that he wasn't actually going to make me do it. He even said himself that he knew how terrible I was at this kind of thing from back when we were in school! And yet... oh, he was just spiteful.
"Albus, please, can we just leave?"
"No! We're not going yet, I want to have a turn."
"Then you take your turn and then we'll leave. I don't want a turn."
"I've paid for you to take a turn, Flora – just go. And my go isn't until after yours, so..." Albus once again does his strange flourish and the man standing in the green area checks his watch and rolls his eyes. He heads back over to the magical microphone and pulls it roughly towards his mouth.
"Flora Dainty, can you please head over to the green area? We have a long queue and you're wasting time." Pursing my lips at the not-so-charming language he had used, I glance around at the impatient looking families out for a day trip with their kids and Quidditch fanatics that do not look thrilled at having to wait for me. "Flora Dainty, it's your turn. I'd like to remind you that it's non-refundable – wait, Flora Dainty?"
Albus curses creatively under his breath as colour blooms up into my cheeks.
"As in, the daughter of the Minister for Magic? That Flora Dainty?" My face grows steadily redder as Albus' shoulders slump and he leans back against the wall as though that might make people unable to recognise us. I wasn't in the papers much, due to my constant lack of scandals, but I was in them enough for people to be able to recognise me.
"Hey, love, do you mind hurrying up? I have three kids here that are getting bored, and I don't want them to start whinging. Can you just take your go and move on, please?" A tall man in a grey zip up jacket turns away from his wife, who was clicking her long red talons together in irritation, and I stare around. Most people have turned to look at me now, and one has even pulled a tourist camera out of his pocket and begins to snap pictures of both Albus and myself.
"Go on, Flora – just have a go. No one's going to care if you do it wrong or fall off – half the people here do," Albus urges me, but it seems to be more out of boredom than out of concern for me enjoying myself.
"But, but –" The man in the zip up jacket scowls and glances impatiently at his watch, and out of the corner of my eye I can just about make out the words 'her father' fall from his lips. And that does it, really. The idea that my own cowardice (despite having been a Ravenclaw and not a Gryffindor) was reflecting on my Daddy, most likely negatively in this situation, was inconsiderable.
So, with a little shove in the back from Albus, I head over to the green area. General sighs and mutters around the room seem to lean towards approval at my action.
Reaching the green area, the smirking worker directs me to the one thing I had been trying to avoid.
The so called 'simulator'. I stand next to the sleek black piece of plastic modelled in the shape of the latest model Firebolt – the Firebolt 9000, if I remember correctly – but surrounded by a lot more padding. Praying that the scary brown stain just under the seat was not, in fact, blood, I kick my leg over the handle and sit down.
Albus is struggling to hide his laughter over in the corner, and the amused attitude seems to be catching like fleas across the entire guffawing room.
"Right, for all of you who have just joined us, this simulator is a model that simulates the path of flying that Quidditch legend Edward Marigold took in the match of 1912 against the Wimbourne Wasps. He took this flight on a Cleansweep Superb, which was actually considered incredible at the time but can now be described with over 90 faults. However, in order to get the simulator as close to his path as possible, we have had to model it on the Firebolt 9000, which actually was only released ten months ago. How Marigold managed to make the flight is still unknown, and how he actually managed to stomach it is a mystery. Anyone who would like to have a try, please come and put your name down at the front of make a payment of 5 Galleons. Thank you." The worker spoke with the bored tone of someone that had been forced to recite that speech who knows how many times for days on end for Merlin knows how long.
I am just squatting over the handle, not really sure what to do, when the man turns around to face me. He smirks again and wanders over, pushes my shoulders down so I am actually sitting as well as squatting, and places my hands on the handle in front of me and forces me to grip.
"Hold on like a monkey, just like Marigold would have at the time. Yeah?" I gape at him and am about to refuse, Albus' payment be damned, but he has already wandered away.
"Wait," I begin, but the man must have been a fast walker as he has already started the simulator.
The broom rises into the air steadily, and I breathe out hard through my nose when I reach around four or five metres high. The broom seems to be suspended by nothing, and I pray that the gorilla of a man that is operating it actually knows the charms he's using well enough to do it safely. Surely they have some kind of test they must take first, right?
I mean, that's just the safe thing to do.
But as the broomstick hovers in the air for what seems like forever, I begin to question everything – and I mean everything. Just as I am pondering the great chicken and egg debacle, the broomstick jerks sharply to the left.
I screech loudly and clutch the handle so tightly that my knuckles strain against my skin as the crowd below me titter. The broomstick doesn't stay still as long as it did before – within a second it is flying to the right at the speed of light, my hair flipping into my face and the handle flipping upwards and nearly bucking me onto the ground.
Then it jerks forwards, and then backwards, and then to the left, a little further left, backwards and then right. Then the broomstick is spinning, and I'm upside down with my legs wrapped around the handle like some kind of howler monkey, and my head is snapping backwards and forwards and I think I'm screaming but I'm not really sure.
Then the broomstick is spinning and I can feel something rising in my chest and pulsing in my throat, and for a second I think I'm going to be sick, but then I stop spinning and everything is alright again.
But not for long – shooting forwards towards the long stretch of bleak white wall in front of me, I flatten myself against the handle of the broom and hug it to my chest, in the vain hopes that this might lessen the chances of my falling to my certain death.
"Albuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus!" I scream as the broomstick rocks backwards and forwards, then plunges and flies back upwards so that my head nearly smashes against the ceiling. The chuckling below has now turned into fully blown laughter, one woman laughing so hard that she's pressed against the wall for support with tears streaming down her face. The tourist with the camera is snapping pictures with a gleeful expression on his face.
The broomstick flips upside down again, but this time in a roll, and soon I'm back on top (ooh, er...) but I'm battling through what feels like hurricane strength winds. My bones are shaking and my hands are gripping the broom so tight I'm nearly in tears.
I was just about to scream again, this time to the monster operating the thing to stop whatever he was doing and let me off right now, but everything screeches to a halt. The magical speakers in the corner, one quite close to my head as I was still flat on the broom, crackle with static before a mechanical voice speaks over the microphone.
"Thank you for using the Marigold Simulator. We hope you enjoyed your experience. Please come again." The broom drops to the ground steadily, but I don't move. My bones feel like jelly, my whole body is shaking and I feel like both bursting into tears and being sick at the same time.
Albus makes his way into the green area and wraps his hands around the tops of my arms, pulls me to my feet and throws my arm around his shoulder so he can help me limp to the side. The second we get onto the blissfully not-green linoleum I sink to the floor, not caring about the germs or possible infections that I could be picking up, and press my head against the wall.
"Flora?" Albus asks, and something about his voice sounds strangely guilty. "Flora, are you okay?"
"No," I whisper, and I notice that no one around us is talking, so my voice seems to carry. "No, I am not okay. I think I'm going to be sick. I need to visit the bathroom. Why – why would you make me do that? That was horrible! I thought I was going to die!"
"Well of course you weren't going to die," the man in the grey jacket says slowly, peering a little sympathetically at me. "I mean, you weren't actually moving, so how could you die?"
The words bounce around the room and Albus suddenly seems to become very interested in the tips of his trainers. The two women next to us peer at him with raised eyebrows, before muttering conspiratorially together.
"What do you mean, I wasn't moving?" I ask through gritted teeth. "I nearly slammed into the walls and ceiling about fifteen times, so don't tell me I wasn't moving!"
"But... you weren't." The gorilla that had been operating the hellish contraption made his way forward. "The whole point of the simulator is that you think you're moving, but you're not. It's all in your head – it's a charm. It would be a major health and safety risk if we actually had people being like... tossed around on a bit of plastic." I gape at him.
"But... but... that stain! Under the broomstick! It's brown and – isn't it blood? From where someone has fallen off?" The worker suddenly looks a little sheepish.
"Well, no. It's the barbeque sauce from the sandwich I had at lunch."
"Mate, you didn't tell her that she wasn't actually moving? That was a bit tight; she looked really scared." The man in the grey jacket speaks up again, but this time his question is directed at Albus, who is now the one to look sheepish.
"Yeah, I've never seen anyone get on that before that hasn't known that they're not actually going anywhere and they're not going to fall off. I did think it was freakish how much you were like... screaming. I mean, it's not like you were gonna... die. Yeah, man, not cool. Shoulda told her." Albus is flushing a pale pink by this point.
"It was only a joke," he mutters churlishly, "to try and get her to lighten up a bit, you know."
"What, by scaring the living daylights out of me?"
"Anyway, now this nice little domestic is going on, I think we better call up the next person. And just to make it clear, ladies and gents, the simulator is not actually moving. It's a charm that goes on in your head." The gorilla worker began to speak into the small magical microphone clipped onto the sleeve of his shirt, and I slowly press myself up off the floor.
"Are you going to have a turn now?" I ask through gritted teeth, and a little of the smirk and swagger seems to return to the previous abashed Albus.
"Pfft, no. I wouldn't have a go of that thing if you paid me. I was hoping that you would, though. I actually came here because I wanted to go the museum. So let's go." I gape at Albus' audacity and take a step back, pulling my jacket up onto my shoulders more securely.
"You must be joking. I'm not going to some Quidditch museum with you after – after you've just put me through that! No way! That is not on, mister, not on at all. If you want to go to some museum then you can go on your own. I am not trolling around some display full of ancient, tarnished snitches while people walk past me and laugh because they saw me nearly sobbing because of something that wasn't even moving." Albus' expression become slightly guilty again, but there is a slightly squashed look of pride playing on the corner of his lips.
"Fine, don't come with me," he shrugs calmly, not looking in the slightest bit perturbed.
"Fine! I won't!"
"Okay. Here are the keys, you can go and sit in the car. I'll be about three hours." Albus tosses me a pair of car keys, turns on the heel of his trainers and headed off out of the drawers we had come in through.
It only occurs to me as he walks away, not sparing a second thought for the fact that I probably didn't want to spend the next three hours sitting in a car on my own with nothing to do, how much things were going to change on this trip. It is only the first day, but I already know how much I am going to dislike the experience.
Albus and I are just two very different people.
disclaimer: nothing in this chapter belongs to me.
hiiii! so yeah, i'm not dead! i can't believe the update for this has taken over a month, especially since i've actually had the chapter for this written for so long. i've just been so busy back at school and updating my other stories (which i haven't been doing since i went back to school... whoops) that this has sort of gotten shoved onto the backburner. i am very, very sorry. but the next chapter is coming along nicely, so it shouldn't be too long of an update. i'm in my big gcse year at school, so updates and review-answering is going to be more sporadic than it already is, sadly. but i will try, i promise. it's eleven o'clock on a saturday now and i've managed to find some free time :D so yeah! thank you so much to everyone who is managing to stick with me right now <3<3