Chapter 17 : Lego House
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“Hey.” Piper tapped Albus’s arm lightly. “Al, I need to get up.” There was a slight moan from Albus, but his eyes remained closed. His arms were wrapped tightly around Piper’s waist; her attempts to wriggle out bore no fruit. The night before they had created a nest of blankets and pillows in the middle of the floor, but Piper definitely remembered falling asleep on the other side of the makeshift fort. Then she remembered; at about two in the morning Albus had woken her up because she had been having a nightmare. Piper had fallen back asleep after a few minutes, but she guessed he hadn’t.
She was about to try to wake the messy-haired boy next to her again, but Piper found herself hesitating, because despite how much she tried to deny it, Piper liked lying like that. Even when they were little, Piper had always felt safer around Albus. People were going to be awake soon, though ...
“Al.” This time Piper’s voice was louder. Sighing, Piper kicked Albus’s leg and watched his eyelids finally flutter open.
“Whazzit ... Oh, Piper,” he said groggily, smiling crookedly at the end. And, like always, Piper smiled back. When it came to Albus and Nick, she couldn’t help but return smiles. They didn’t happen very often, see.
“We need to get ready. The others will be up soon,” she replied, trying to sit up, but Albus’s arms remained firmly around her.
“Relax. We have time,” he murmured. There was just a hint of pleading underneath the mischievousness and the calming nature of his tone, though. Albus didn’t want to face the day … what would happen after they left the common room. For Piper, that was when everything came crashing back. Nick. The trial. Owen. The Ministry. Nick.
“We can’t stay here all day,” Piper said quietly. Slowly, she slipped out of Al’s grasp, but he just pulled her back. “Al,” she whined. It was only met with a laugh, though. “Let me go.”
“Never.” Albus’s whisper was unnaturally husky, and it sent shivers down Piper’s spine.
“Seriously, Al, do you want Rhys-” she started, but then a figure appeared over them.
“Do you want me to what?” Rhys deadpanned, his face unreadable. “My, aren’t we cosy?” he added, as if he hadn’t seen them at first. He was going to joy every second of discomfort this was causing the sixth-years; it was bloody amusing.
“Piper didn’t want to be alone in her- their- dormitory,” Albus explained hurriedly as Piper scuttled away from him, blushing madly.
“Oh,” was all Rhys said for a while. Suddenly, his face darkened. “Brace yourselves for today. It won’t be pleasant for any of us, but you two especially.” Albus nodded in reply, as did Piper. Their jaws were set.
“Watch out for James,” Albus warned Rhys. “He’s particularly pissed about the situation, and our father’s stance on it.” The only reply was a bitter laugh.
“I’ll bet he is. Come on, we should be in and out of the Great Hall before the masses attack,” Rhys dismissed.
“We’ll meet you there. I need a shower.” Wrinkling her nose, Piper turned to leave. Then she froze. Stall Five. Nick. The slight smile slowly faded into nothing, though Piper tried to stop it. It was too late, though; she saw an alarm go off inside of Albus.
“Piper-“ he started, but Piper just waved it off. She had to suck it up.
“I’ll be fine,” she reassured him, smiling again. Piper learned long ago that smiling hid the pain. Almost no one looked past a smile. Not even Albus; she saw him relax visibly at the sight of it. “I’ll meet you down here then, yeah?” Piper started to slowly back up towards the staircase, but for a split second her smile was genuine at Albus’s. It had been a while since he’d been this damn cute, and Piper remembered how much she missed it.
“Yeah,” was his simple reply, but Piper couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as she walked up the stairs to her dormitory, fiddling with her hands. But in the privacy of the small room, it faded instantly. It wasn’t that the room looked any different- Nick’s bed hadn’t disappeared or anything- it was that it looked exactly the same. The same light and dark sheets and beds, the same pictures on the wall, and of course the same random assortment of notes and half-finished essays lying around. Most were Nick’s, admittedly, but that was what made it worse. But Piper wasn’t drawn to those; she was drawn to the piles and piles of pictures. There was Albus on the roof, the Astronomy tower, Piper in Honeydukes, Albus and Piper in the in the common room, Professor Zabini making a weird face, the twins, Lottie and Thomas … the list went on and on.
But there were hardly any of Nick. Piper knew she had normally been the one behind the camera, but she swore there were more, not just one or two a year that Piper could find amongst the stacks. And instantly, Piper vowed to change that. She’d keep these photographs forever, and Nick deserved to be remembered as much- probably more- than the rest of them.
But why weren’t there more? If it was Piper, and she’d never had any real pictures before Hogwarts, she’d want to have loads. It was almost like Nick wanted to be forgotten, like she had purposely … wait, Nick had. It was why she always insisted on taking the pictures instead of being in them. But Piper wasn’t going to let that happen any longer. If- when- Nick came back, Piper would take as many pictures as she could of her best friend. God, even in her head that sounded stupid, but Piper was going to do it. She had to.
Unconsciously, she reached out to her favourite picture of Nick. It was of her and Owen, and she was just plain happy, something that was very rare for Piper’s best friend. Piper couldn’t get over how Nick’s eyes sparkled, and how she laughed as Owen swung her around. This was what Nick could be like, if her life had gone any other way but the way it had.
But when Piper grabbed the photograph off the wall, one that was hiding under it fluttered to the floor. To Piper’s surprise, it was another one of Nick, but from their first year. At the time, Piper had wanted a picture of her new friend to send to her family, but of course Nick had refused. Piper hadn’t taken no for an answer, though, and this secret picture was the result. It was only now Piper could see why Nick was so set against it. She was so much tinier then, almost too small. Nick’s brown hair was choppy and uneven, and there were bruises that hadn’t quite faded yet, but the worst part was how eleven-year-old Nick was looking down into her knees, and how her hair covered most of her face. She just looked … defeated. It was even worse than before break.
And that was when Piper lost it. She grabbed her kit and sprinted for the washroom, tears streaming down her face. That couldn’t happen to Nick again.
Before she went to meet Albus, Piper managed to pull herself together. The red eyes were gone, and a simple smile made it seem as if nothing had changed. The crushing pain of head heartbeat didn’t make it to her face, as the photograph in her pocket reminded Piper of exactly what was happening. She would show it to Albus later, but not now. Now he was waiting for her, hair still damp, and a strained smile on his face. Not like that stopped Piper’s stomach from doing a gymnastics routine. Stop it, she chided herself. You have more important things to think about.
“You ready?” Albus asked, looking around anxiously.
“No,” Piper replied, managing to smile slightly. Of course Albus returned the gesture, though it was back to mechanical and cold. It still prompted more fluttering in her stomach.
“Let’s do this.” Together, they left the safety of the common room. But they knew there was a gaping hole. Nick.
“I trust you’ve all had a nice holiday.” Professor Creevey clapped his hands together, glaring menacingly at Albus and Piper. To his everlasting credit, Albus merely smiled and waved slightly. “Detention, Potter, and five points for cheek. Now, with the new term, we’ll have a different seating arrangement.” Every single person in the class groaned. Instinctively, Albus looked to make a face at Nick, but her seat was empty. But the boy next to the empty chair was deathly white. Owen’s eyes were rimmed with dark circles, and he looked as if he were scared to death.
“Dalton,” Creevey all but barked. “Who sits next to you?” For a split second, Owen looked extremely confused. “Well?”
“N … Nick,” he stammered quietly. Even from across the room Piper could see anger swell in both Albus and Owen. Already, Piper bit back a groan; with both of them fired up, it would definitely be an interesting class.
“Nick who? I teach many classes, I can’t remember everyone’s nick names.” Creevey’s sheer condescension snapped Owen out of whatever angry haze he was in.
“Nicole Warrington,” Owen replied, his voice calm and clear. Whispers erupted, and Creevey smiled nastily.
“Well, I see no need for her chair anymore.” With a flick of his wand, Nick’s chair vanished. Oh no, Piper thought, already having stowed away any emotion. She needed to be the calm, mature one, so she ignored the pang of anger. This isn’t going to go over well at all.
“She’s coming back. Put her chair back!” Owen argued instantly. Piper saw out of the corner of her eye that Albus was in the process of opening his mouth, too. Her gaze kept switching back and forth between the professor and the Hufflepuff, expecting a blowout. Surprisingly, the professor only laughed.
“We’ll let the Wizengamot decide that, Dalton. For now, though, you may join Mr. Potter in detention tonight.” There was a brief pause, and Creevey’s smile widened as Owen’s jaw started to jump. “And if you like snakes so much, you may sit next to Ms. Longbottom this term.” At the mention of her name, Piper inhaled sharply. The class went silent as Owen slammed his books together and took Layla Wood’s seat next to Piper. “Potter,” Creevey barked, “sit in the back.” Expecting much worse, as he had hastily shoved a suspicious looking contraption under his desk, Albus quietly did as he was told. And after everyone was rearranged, the lesson started.
“How do you take it?” Owen’s voice said suddenly. Piper had been sitting there quietly taking notes, ignoring the regular jibes at Slytherins.
“Take what?” she replied, never taking her eyes off her notes.
“Just sit there and let him walk all over you,” Owen replied, anger evident in his voice. In all honesty, Piper had to bite back laughter. Did he honestly just notice this now?
“We’re used to it,” she replied calmly, eyes flickering from the board to her notes. Piper wasn’t getting into this now.
“Nick wasn’t.” That took Piper by surprise. The entire lesson she had avoided looking at Owen directly, for fear that she’d spill everything. Now, she couldn’t help but look at him out of shock. It took her a few seconds to form a coherent response.
“Nick wasn’t scared of anything- or anyone- here,” Piper replied, her voice shaking. Hopefully it had done the trick.
“What’s going on with her?” Piper sighed internally. It was obvious this was what Owen had been itching to ask. He wasn’t half as subtle as he thought he was.
“I can’t tell you, at least not yet. We’re still working on …” Piper started hurriedly, before remembering Rhys’s order yesterday. Don’t tell them.
“Well then, can I help?” Owen pressed. Instinctively, Piper looked to her parchment, wracking her brain for something to say to Owen without giving any more away, or completely shutting him out.
“I don’t … know. This is a Slytherin thing; we need to figure it out first.” After saying it, Piper immediately winced. It was the wrong wording. All wrong.
“No offense, Piper, but that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Owen said, and Piper couldn’t help but laugh a little.
“Believe me, I know,” she whispered.
“Other people care about Nick, too. It isn’t just you lot,” Owen replied, his voice equally soft. Dammit. Piper could see why Nick relaxed so easily around him … it was almost impossible not to.
“I know, I know,” Piper tried. “It’s not like that. We just can’t drag you into-“ It would have worked, if only Owen hadn’t seen at the last minute that she was lying through her teeth.
“It’s a little too late for that, love. And for a Slytherin, you really can’t lie well,” he cut her off. Heart plummeting into her stomach, Piper merely looked down at her parchment.
“It looks like there will be a party in detention tonight, as Ms. Longbottom will be joining Mr. Dalton and Mr. Potter,” Professor Creevey said calmly from the front of the room, not even turning away from the board. “Please continue your conversation there.” Shooting a glare at Owen, Piper retreated into her notes once more. But she could practically feel the pent-up anger and frustration radiating off of Al, who was barely keeping his temper in check before this class. It had gotten worse as Professor Creevey attacked him over and over during the lesson.
So when the lesson was finally over, Piper didn’t bother waiting for Albus- not wanting to give Owen another chance at interrogation- and simply stormed off to the dungeons for Potions.
“Where is Albus?” Professor Zabini said some time later, as the sixth-year in question had yet to show up for the lesson. Piper was worried; she should have waited for him. She shouldn’t have acted like a Gryffindor, letting something so tiny get to her and storming off in a hissy fit.
“He was in Charms,” Piper answered, looking nervously at Owen, who was sitting on the other side of the room. He didn’t even glance up, though.
“Well, we’ll see if he shows up. Now, today we’ll be working on Gamp’s …” Glancing back at the door, Piper sighed. Hesitantly, she turned back to the front before starting to take notes. Albus would show up, and he would need them later.
Halfway through the lesson, Albus had yet to arrive. Piper was slowly becoming visually worried, and had almost ruined her- their- potion because she couldn’t focus on anything but Albus. But she wasn’t the only one who was worried; Owen had actually exploded his cauldron. Somehow, though, Piper muddled through. It wasn’t the precise colour the book detailed, but Professor Zabini would give her and her currently absent partner an O regardless. With a quarter of the lesson left, Piper began writing her essay, blocking everything out. It worked, until ten minutes were left before lunch. That was when Albus stumbled through the door.
“Oh my god,” she whispered. It was obvious that Albus was trying to hide hex marks and bruises, because there was a bruise that basically sealed Albus’s eye that was only diminished slightly by a concealing charm. But Al didn’t say a thing, he just sat down next to Piper and quietly started writing, ignoring the erupting whispers. Piper tried meeting his eye, but he refused, until Professor Zabini walked over to their desk. With a simple whisper, a hurried glance at Piper, and a nod to the professor, he disappeared into Professor Zabini’s office.
“All right. One of my seventh years will be in here in a few minutes. Do not cause any trouble, or you’ll be serving detention for a week. The same if I hear of any rumours spreading.” With that, the professor was gone, too. Within five seconds, Piper was out the door. She guessed the professor was about to send Rhys, but his twin would be in the common room.
“What are you doing here?” Alyssa asked upon seeing the sixth year enter the common room, her mind jumping from conclusion to conclusion. “You don’t have a free period.”
Piper struggled to find the words for a few seconds. “Albus was late for Potions. But when he did come … he was really beat up.” Despite all of her efforts, Piper couldn’t keep a tear or two from forming. “I should have waited, but I was just so pissed off.” It looked like Alyssa was having an internal battle, because it took a second before she replied.
“Honestly, no matter what the hell happened, it wasn’t your fault. You need to stop blaming yourself for everything that happens. Besides, if he really was that beat up, you being there wouldn’t have helped,” the redhead replied. After a pause, Alyssa realized it would never be that easy to convince the blond in front of her.
“I should’ve helped-“ Piper started, but Alyssa cut her off before Piper could finish.
“We can’t do everything. And we cannot blame ourselves for any of this; we need to stay focused. That type of thinking will only drive us crazy. Got it?” Alyssa’s voice was serious, and Piper could only nod in response. “Today’s not going well, eh?” Alyssa asked, smiling slightly.
“You could say that. Owen wants to know what’s going on. I tried to explain that we were figuring it out, but he doesn’t get the whole family thing,” Piper blurted out. She figured if anyone could help her with this, it was Alyssa.
“Wait … he wants to help?” Alyssa’s voice was surprised. “This complicates things. When Rhys said, erm, what he did, it was because he thought they would take the easy way out.”
“At least with Owen, that won’t happen. He cares too much about Nick to let this go.” Piper’s voice was quiet. “Same thing with Scorpius, probably.”
“But who says that’s a bad thing? Nick needs that,” Alyssa replied wisely. “I’ll talk to Rhys, yeah? He’s still under the illusion we can do this on our own.”
“What do you mean?” Piper’s voice shook.
“Nick really does need to be with someone who cares, even if a little too much. I’m honestly scared she won’t be …” Alyssa started to explain, before stopping suddenly. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen to her.”
“None of us do.” After that, there was a long silence. There always was after they mentioned Nick; no one could forget what was happening. It was slowly crushing them.
“Where is Albus? What happened?”
“What happened?” Looking up to meet his professor’s eyes, Albus weighed his options. Should he tell Professor Zabini? “Albus, I know what you’re thinking.” Damn. “You need to tell me, though; it’s not an option anymore. Or else it will just get worse.”
For a split second Albus hesitated. Until he realized he had nothing left to lose. “It was after Charms. Piper had stormed out because of something that had happened with Owen, and I ran after her. But I lost her in the crowd, so I just started heading to Potions. But a group of them found me on the third floor,” Al explained. Nervously, he waited for the professor’s response, but Professor Zabini merely held out a piece of gauze with a bubble-gum pink potion on it. Accepting it with a gracious nod, Albus just stuffed the gauze up his shirt, wincing when it touched the intended wound.
“Who was it, Albus?” Professor Zabini asked after a minute, his face creased with worry. He was used to seeing the occasional bruise on the student facing him, and the dark circles under Albus’s eyes were not out of the ordinary, but they were much darker than normal. Albus looked defeated.
“Seventh-year Gryffindors. He … James wasn’t there,” Albus said coldly. “I’m pretty damn sure he was behind it, though.”
“Language,” the professor corrected automatically. “You can’t know it was him, Albus.”
“He’s extra pi… angry at me,” Albus explained, correcting himself at the last second. “Because of a fight me and Dad had over break, and how Dad’s supporting Nick.”
“Very well. I’ll talk to him after today’s lesson. You may go if the potion has done its work,” Professor Zabini said, and Albus smiled.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, and saw the professor strain a smile.
“Just … try to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he replied, clutching at straws. Of course it would happen again. Maybe even tomorrow.
“Will do, Sir,” the sixth-year replied cheekily before taking off.
“This week will be a review of everything we covered last term. Starting with the Butober pods. Put yourselves in groups of four or five and start working.” Professor Longbottom sounded tired, and Piper guessed that this wasn’t actually his lesson plan.
Albus leaned into her slightly, and motioned over to where Scorpius and Rose were standing. Professor Zabini had fixed him up really well, and Piper wasn’t afraid to admit when he walked into the common room she had attacked him in a hug.
“But, Sir, aren’t we supposed to be starting-“ a brave voice asked, and Piper saw her dad push down his anger.
“Yes. There has been a change of plans. Now get to work,” he responded with lethal calmness. Immediately, everyone jumped into action.
“Hey, mate,” Scorpius greeted weakly, surveying Albus. He was obviously knew what had been going on. “You think it would improve Professor Longbottom’s mood if I chucked some pus at him?”
Suddenly, Piper dropped the bowl she had been holding. Her face paled, and everyone in the group realized why. The first time they had to do this …
“Oh, God,” Piper choked out, but Albus just put his arm around her.
“We can’t think like that. Let’s just get this over with.” But they worked in silence. Each one remembered the last time; how they had tried to get Nick to tell them about … about Justin, and all of the pus-flinging that had occurred.
“I’m not the only one who’s thinking about this,” Rose said suddenly. “Sitting here in silence isn’t helping anything. So who wants to start talking?”
“Well, that was blunt,” Albus said coldly. “Let’s talk about something else, though. Was Creevey especially bitchy during Charms for you lot?”
“Yeah. Docked points anytime someone breathed the wrong way, practically. What did you lot do?” Scorpius replied easily. The entire time, Piper had only been staring at her hands.
“Piper and I were ourselves, and Owen was feeling sassy today,” he explained simply.
“You didn’t provoke him at all?” Rose asked suspiciously. Albus merely grinned. It sounded like he muttered ‘only once’, but Rose wasn’t impressed. “Well, what I’m more interested in was what happened after Charms?” There was a pointed look at Albus, but he just ignored it.
“Oh come on, you’re going to ignore that, too?” Scorpius said angrily. “You won’t say anything about Nick, and you’re going to act like you didn’t just get ambushed by the seventh-years?”
“We’re still trying to figure some stuff out-“ Piper tried, but Scorpius wasn’t going to have it.
“Bullshit! You lot are doing what you always do; closing yourselves off. You wonder why it’s taken so long for anyone to notice something’s wrong in the Slytherin house? No one bloody knows what you guys are doing or thinking! And it’s destroying you. I’m not going to let it affect Nick!” he all but shouted.
“We are trying,” Piper replied. “I didn’t say that you couldn’t know, but that’s because you already know most of it. You were there! And we don’t need you turning on us right now. It’s only the first day of term.” The entire time, Piper managed to stay calm.
“Fine,” Scorpius replied, forgetting all of his anger. “I never thought-“
“That we wouldn’t magically have some brilliant plan after a week? Sorry, I’m not my father,” Albus replied, smiling at the end. It was getting harder and harder to tell a real smile from a fake one, though.
“But what about what happened, Al?” Rose asked. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Albus shrugged it off. “Professor Zabini is going to talk to James about it.”
Suddenly, Rose and Scorpius shared a look, their faces etched with worry.
“He can’t,” Scorpius said coldly.
“Why not?” Piper asked, confused. They normally didn’t defend James.
“It’s not his fault.”
“Mr. Potter, may I have a word in my office?” Face creased, James Potter silently followed his Potion’s professor into the back room. He honestly had no idea what this was about.
“What did I do?” James asked bluntly, cutting to the chase. He wasn’t in the mood for beating around the bush. There had been a lot of drama today. And if this was heading in that direction … maybe he shouldn’t have done what he did.
“I’m sure you’re aware with what happened with a group of seventh-year Gryffindors and one of my sixth-years?” Professor Zabini started, and James felt anger flare inside him. Albus thought he was behind it?
Despite everything, James would never do that to Al. He had felt horrible when they had gotten into that fight last summer, and yeah, it really did piss him off every time he saw a new black eye, or heard about something his house had done to his brother. Because, well, Albus was his brother.
Yeah. James was pretty fucking hypocritical, and he knew it. He hadn’t done anything- and still didn’t- to stop it. James had shunned his own brother when Al was only eleven. But Albus didn’t understand; if it wasn’t Albus, it would have been James. And James hadn’t been able to make the right choice then … it was Hogwarts, and he was popular, and ...
But he wasn’t the only one at fault. Albus had done some pretty nasty things, too. It just escalated over the years. And he never noticed what was happening with anyone else in their family, either. He left James alone to take care of his parents’ temperamental relationship and all of Lily’s flings.
And with Nicole Warrington … she was a messed-up person. She had been through too much hell in her life, and everyone knew it. She probably did kill that Finch-Fletchley bloke. And Nicole Warrington wasn’t the little angel Albus always painted her out to be. The things she had done to his house, to all the houses …
“James!” Professor Zabini said suddenly, snapping James out of his thoughts.
“Do you honestly think I would do that to my brother?” he asked, his voice cold. “No offense, Professor, but no matter what you hear, I’m not a complete d… jerk.”
“Albus seemed to think-“ the professor started, and James felt another flare of anger.
“NO! I didn’t. I didn’t even know about it until after! And I yelled at all of them who did it! It’s one thing to launch a hex or trip the kid once or twice, but not like that! I’m not that much of a monster!”
James Potter was fucking done with being the bad guy.
A/N: All right. It has been far too long. I'm hoping to update a lot more often, but school starts again in a few days. (Also, if you would please do me the pleasure, I have two one-shots that have gotten no love at all. Their names are Awaken and Human Debris. ;))
Thank you guys for sticking by me, though. I haven't exactly been in the best place this term, and I'm hoping to turn it around with the new year. And writing will honestly help me with that, which means you guys are in luck. :D
Something of actual substance: What are your thoughts on James? I've been waiting far too long to write that last bit, and I was wondering what you thought of it ... Also, anything on the Albus/Piper!fluff? Thanks for reading, and if it's not too much trouble, a review would make my day.
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