Chapter 1 : The Boy
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And please don't mind Teddy. His personality is going to get better. Hopefully.
“What did you say?” My hand went slack over the armrest of the office chair and a piping-hot, piss-stream of black coffee splattered onto Jenkins’s trousers and dress shoes.
“Sir! My shoes! My —”
SHOES! ARGH, BOSS, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
“Chill the fuck down. Your shoes will be fine.” Did I feel the slightest bit guilty about splashing coffee on him? Huh. No way in hell. Yesterday, my idiot secretary had ordered a cappuccino without crème on top—no crème! My life had nearly ended. And this morning, he had handed me a cup of black espresso.
BOOM. The world just exploded.
“Sir,” Jenkins said in a stony voice. He hadn’t fixed his ruined shoes and trousers still looked like someone had splattered piss on them. “Did you —”
“The Drying Charm, Jenkins!” I hissed under my breath. I couldn’t stand the unconformity of color—the splotches— on his gray trousers. There were twenty little ones and seven big ones, all bleeding into each other and making grotesque, dark patches. Urgh. It was so unaesthetic that I wanted to start itching myself.
Jenkins took his wand out of his jacket and stiffly waved it over his person, muttering the Charm under his breath. I felt an aura of deep malcontent emanating from him, but his thoughts weren’t loud enough that I could hear what he was thinking.
“Sir, did you hear what I just said?”
“Of course I did!” I tapped my fingers against the side of the coffee mug. Fuck, there was no coffee left. “Why else do you think I jumped out of my skin and spilled my precious coffee on your two-cent shoes?”
“Boss.” Jenkins gave me a pointed look. I stopped my tapping for a brief moment. “Mr. Potter’s youngest son will be arriving in a few hours. We have been requested to be present at the airport.”
“I heard you the first flipping time!” My fingers impatiently resumed their intermittent tapping on the coffee cup. Idiot. Of course I had heard him. That had been the reason why I had flipped out and spilled the coffee on his shoes. I jerked back the sleeve of my jacket. According to my wristwatch, the time was 7:56. That meant that I had less than thirty-four minutes to arrive at the airport and accompany darling Midget Potter to wherever the hell he was staying.
Wait a moment.
Thirty-four minutes? That was only 2040 seconds.
Aw, fuck. No time. No time at all.
I snapped up to my feet, now towering over Jenkins balding, ginger head. He was a measly 5’6”—a good ten inches shorter than I was. “The Benz will be much too slow,” I said, waving the hand with the empty coffee cup dismissively. “I will take a cab.”
Jenkins seemed alarmed for a moment. “Why, sir? You have”—he checked his own watch—“over thirty minutes. You can easily make it.”
“I know,” I snapped at him. God, did he not know my routine already, after six months of being my secretary? “That was, if I did not have to wait an extra ten minutes at this office for you to run across the street to Roji’s to fetch me a mocha-vanilla cappuccino with no ice.”
He didn’t move.
I glared at him and shook the empty coffee cup in his face. “Well, go on!”
“Yes, sir,” he said, with a stiff bow, and began to walk towards the office exit.
“I said run, Jenkins!”
URGH! I heard him scream in his mind. And then he ran.
“Forget the crème and I’ll have your head!” I yelled as the office door slammed. God, I did I hate stupid people.
I fell backwards into my office chair. Now that the air was free of contamination from idiocy, I was able to think.
So. Albus Severus Potter.
I didn’t know what Harry was thinking—sending him to work for me. If he had been normal, I would have no problem with him. He was not-normal—he was terribly different from everybody else. He was stupid.
Unfortunately, Harry kept calling him my ‘little brother’.
Brother. My soul started to vomit whenever I heard that word. Stupid, fucking familial ties made up by my not-family! To think that I could ever be the older brother of him!
Albus Severus was a paradox. He was marked as ‘stupid’—by medical records, at least—and yet, he was ‘smart’. He might even be ‘smarter’ than me. (And remember that, nowadays, society judges one’s ‘smartness’ on, say, knowing how many protons are in an Uranium atom. Or how many teeth a lemon shark sheds after rutting. It’s all very rote and superficial, with no thinking involved.)
I leaned back on the chair and put my wrists behind my back. One of two of my vertebrae popped and clicked into place. I wonder what he’s become. The thought floated unbidden through my mind. Even though I detested the thought of stupid people, Albus intrigued me. He had always intrigued me.
“Sir!” Jenkins came galloping back into my office like a half-wit, holding a Styrofoam cappuccino in both hands—slightly above the height of his shoulder, as if he was carrying sacred material.
“What did I say about forgetting to knock?” I raised an eyebrow at him, and took the cup to examine it with my own eyes. Good. The crème came to a perfect, swirling point that I could delicately lick with my tongue when no one was looking. “You are excused,” I said to him with a cursory wave of the hand.
“It’s fine, Jenkins. You should be proud of yourself. You have brought me the correct caffeinated drink for the first time in six months.”
“With all due respect, sir, you kept changing your mind.”
“That can’t be possible,” I muttered, shaking my head. I felt a certain regret creep into my stomach. If only I could change my mind—switch it out for mundane one. I wouldn’t keep the mind, oh no, never. I just wanted to delve into it, to understand how lesser beings functioned. “We’re stuck with the mind we have, Jenkins.”
“Yes, sir,” he said primly. “I have called the cab. It is waiting outside the lobby.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “The cab is already here?”
“It is, sir.”
“When did you call it?”
“When I was standing in line for the coffee.”
I allowed a slow smile to form on my face. “Very good, Jenkins! It seems as if you do have some intelligence brewing under that balding fop!”
“Thank you, sir. Shall we go down?”
“I will, you won’t,” I retorted. I jumped to my feet and reached for my black pea-coat from where it was slung over the back of the chair. “I don’t think I can handle being in the same cab as your walnut-sized brain.”
“Sir, the memo says—”
“I know what the memo says. I will be the only one going.”
“Good. Just be a robot and nothing will go wrong.” I gave the man an unfriendly smile, then picked up my all-important chrome briefcase and strode toward the office door.
“Heathrow, innit?” the cab driver drawled as I slid into the back seat after squeamishly eyeing it for a second. Disgusting. The fake leather needed to be reupholstered.
“Yes. I trust my secretary was smart enough to provide you with at least that much information.” My patience always ran low with dimwitted cabbies. To calm the throbbing artery in my temple, I took a sip of cappuccino. “How long will it take?”
“Fifteen minutes.” Aw, fuck, where’s my cig?
I cursed inwardly. Smoker, he was a smoker. Didn’t Jenkins know that I was allergic to smoke? Fuck. Trust him to screw up even the simple process of ordering a non-smoking cabbie. “I need to get there in ten.”
“Not happenin’.” The cabbie gave a disgusting, rattling cough and waved his pudgy hand out the window at the trafficked lanes.
I pulled out my wallet and found the lowest note— hundred quid. I stuck it into the cabbie’s change bin. I smirked, seeing the red gleam of lust appear in his eyes. “Get me there in ten and you can keep that. And don’t touch a cigarette.”
“You gotta deal, son!” the cabbie growled, as he hit the gas pedal. I was thrown unceremoniously against the back of the seat. “Hey, how’d ya know about the cigarettes?”
I was about to say something among the lines of, ‘By the sound of that cough, you’re going to die in less than five years from emphysema,’ but then I smirked and said, “I can read minds.”
The cabbie raised his grizzled eyebrows at me in the rearview mirror. “Oh, really?”
As per my calculations, I arrived at the flight’s waiting area just thirty seconds ahead of time.
Almost perfect timing. I should have spent a couple seconds more looking at the chocolate confections at the airport’s patisserie. The first-class came through the gate at exactly a minute after 8:30. This somewhat justified my inner turmoil—after all, wasn’t I allowed to be not-on-time if they were not-on-time?
Among the swarm of impeccably-dressed, undoubtedly affluent people was a young boy with messy dark hair—and I say young respectively because all the other blokes were in their fifties or forties. He was nineteen years old. Behind him, he dragged along —tumble, roll, tumble— a small suitcase with a long handle. He stopped just beyond the gates and blinked uncomprehendingly at the swarm of people surging in front of him. The other passengers muttered ill-things and side-stepped past him. I couldn’t help but snigger as one business man accidentally-on-purpose rammed his shoulder into the boy’s back, sending him and his little suitcase tumbling to the side.
“You’re blocking the way, honey,” said a woman who was monitoring the gate. She gestured to the boy and he slowly shuffled over to her, the suitcase tumble-tumbling behind him. “Are you looking for your parents?”
The boy shook his head.
I felt horror snake tendrils up my stomach. He can’t talk? Oh fuck.
“Is there someone here to pick you up?” the woman tried again. I tried not to be distracted by the garish sunshine-yellow uniform she wore.
The boy nodded his head.
He can’t talk. Well, that’s just fucking wonderful! I stamped the floor with a foot.
“Can you talk, honey?”
The boy’s lips moved, flitted out a word too soft for me to hear. It was Yes.
“Can you tell me the name of the person who’s supposed to pick you up?”
She was going to announce it over the loudspeakers. Urgh, those things hurt my ears. I suppose I must go claim my carryon luggage.
“Me!” I said loudly, and I authoritatively strode over to stand a meter behind the boy. “Sorry, he’s mine. I hope he hasn’t caused you any trouble?”
The woman replied something like ‘Oh no, it’s fine’, but I had already tuned her out. Albus Severus had turned his head at the sound of my voice, and had latched his eyes onto mine. They were round as coins and so green, you’d have thought it was the work of a toddler coloring in a coloring book, filling out the generic grass-green for the eyes of one person, sky-blue for the next. The eyes of ordinary people were not usually that vivid.
And of course, that thought made me look away from him and rub my own eyes. I was of the vivid blue variety.
I turned my eyes again on the boy, this time giving him a stiff smile. (It was more of a grimace, to be honest. The boy better not be getting any notions that I was his friend.) After politely thanking the lady once more—how they dealt with brats so kindly, I shall never know—I motioned with my hand for him to follow me.
“Come along, Albus.”
Without a word, the boy bowed his head slightly and began to walk behind me like an obedient dog. The suitcase went tumble-tumble.
Throughout the thousand-odd footsteps to the entrance to the airport, the boy stayed quieter than rabbit. It was annoying, because if there was too much silence, my brain began buzzing and screaming. There were not many animated people near us, so I could not busy myself by eavesdropping on useless minds. However, the boy’s suitcase talked for him (tumble, tumble, tuuuumble), so I did not find the need to start a fruitless conversation. This silence gave me ample opportunity to do a quick spot-check on the merchandise.
119 cm. 5’7. Size 11, men’s. Size X-S, shirt. 28, trousers.
God, was he skinny. Harry better not be banking on me to feed him up. I had only coffee-flavored ice cream at my flat.
The Benz was waiting outside Heathrow. The cab was gone, thank merciful Jesus. I tapped the trunk and the driver let it up. “Put the suitcase in,” I told the boy.
He didn’t move from the curb. He fixed his emerald eyes on the trunk, and then his pupils flicked nervously to the suitcase by his feet.
I frowned at this behavior. What, did he think that I was going to shove him inside the trunk if he got too close to it? Oh, wait. I forgot. He couldn’t think. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I—” the boy whispered quietly, breaking off quietly and widening his eyes at me in… fright? “I—I don’t want to.”
He was scared of me. Oh, that makes me feel somewhat better. I presumed that he had some extreme attachment to the items in his suitcase and that he simply could not be parted from them without having an emotional breakdown—I had heard of such things happening with similar cases. “Very well, then,” I grunted, moving over to open one of the car’s backdoors. “The thing’s so small, it’ll fit in anyway.”
I slid into the interior of the car and scooted over the other side to make room for him. Muggle cars were uncomfortably cramped. You’d think that they liked exchanging ticks in the backseat. However, to my irritation, the boy remained standing just beyond the open car door. He was contemplating it with a hooded frown on his face.
“You can come in.” I exasperatedly beckoned him in with a hand.
The boy nodded— one up-and-down of this head— and then awkwardly climbed into the back of the car, pulling the suitcase in with him. Clumsily, he wedged it in by his feet, behind the passenger seat. Then after a moment, almost as if he had forgotten and then remembered, he leaned over and closed the car door.
I signaled the driver in the rear-view mirror. “Wilson’s.”
I settled back into the plush faux-fur of the seat, bracing myself for the events yet to come. Worst scenario was that I was going to have to play charades for the boy and then act as translator for Wilson. Eurgh.
I glanced sideways at the boy. His hands were clasped and fidgeting slightly on his knees. His eyes were fixed on them, as if he was memorizing every crease of his skin. His lips were dry.
He was terrified.
The boy’s jeans were new. They didn’t have an ounce of grime on them—highly unnatural for even week-old denim. His trainers were new, too—white and sparkling. And his shirt. My God. The t-shirt he wore had a Muggle superhero on it—one of those pathetic, inhumanely jacked blokes who wore his pants over his panty-hose. The shirt itself was ancient . It was fraying at the hems of the sleeves and was also much too short on him. It rode above his waistline, making his shiny, metallic belt visible in the loops of his jeans. (I frowned at that, out of pure etiquette.) His crooked, wing-like shoulder bones stretched the fabric of the shirt too much for it to be comfortable. This was interesting. Harry would buy all new items for him, and yet be lenient about the old shirt?
Not that it smelled. If it had smelled, I would’ve stopped and kicked him out on the curb without a second thought. It was a comfort shirt, undoubtedly. As if I didn’t need another reminder of how juvenile the boy was. Muggle superheros, my ass. What was Harry thinking, sending him here?
I decided to probe the boy’s brain.
“So, Albus,” I drawled. I relaxed my posture against the back of the seat, tilting my head sideways with a lazy look. The boy jerked his head up to look at me with a wide-eyed, alert expression. “Is that what people call you, Albus?”
The boy blinked and lowered his gaze. “I—I have a nickname,” he said softly, and he glanced up to worriedly check my reaction.
“What is it?”
“Hmph.” I turned away, feeling slightly off-put. Trust Harry to minimize the syllables. If you’re never going to call the boy Albus, just name him Al. The fates had played the opposite game with me. I was christened Ted, and yet my annoying not-family persisted on calling me Teddy. I looked sideways at the boy.
“Do you know my name? Do you know who I am?”
The boy widened his eyes again, and I supposed that I should not have asked him two questions without a pause in the middle. “You’re Teddy Lupin,” he said, his voice whispery, making me want to slap my forehead –stupid not-family – “And you work in the government.”
“First of all,” I huffed. “My name is Ted. Ted Lupin, not Teddy.”
“But Dad told me that your name is Teddy.”
The boy was blinking uncomprehendingly at me. At that instant, I felt a horrific foreshadowing of days to come, of me finally chopping my own head off from the annoyance of having to contend with stupidity.
“Teddy is a nickname your dad uses.” My tongue felt odd after saying the word ‘dad’. I usually preferred the word ‘father’ when discussing others’ parental units. ‘Dad’ was foreign to me, much too intimate. When the boy’s confused expression did not quite vanish, I added, “Like how he calls you Al, but your name is Albus. Understand?”
The boy’s lips parted in an ‘Oh’, and then he nodded.
Direct comparisons? That makes him understand?
“Do you know why you’re here?”
The boy nodded, again the quick down-up of his head, and said in the soft voice, “Dad said that I’m here to live with you.”
The words hit my ears and I was convinced that I had heard wrong— except that I had not heard wrong, because I simply do not hear wrong.
“You just said that he sent you here to live with me,” I said slowly.
“Yes.” A slight frown appeared on the boy’s face. “I’m here to live with you.”
Harry! Silently, I screamed curses in his name. “Didn’t Harr—I mean, your father—mention anything about work?”
“Work?” At this, the boy looked truly frazzled. “No.”
The boy’s expression was puzzled, but he did not ask any questions.
“Did your father ever mention Defense Security?”
He shook his head quickly—left, right.
I resisted the urge to pull out my tablet, to punch in Harry’s name and yell at him. But, unfortunately, things like that could not be done in front of the boy’s impressionable eight-year old brain. “Tell me, Albus.” I steepled my fingers over a folded knee with deceptive calm and fixed at the boy with a piercing, I-am-not-amused gaze that would send the likes of Jenkins running for their mommies. “Why exactly did you come here?”
He shrugged and looked uncomfortable. “I came because Daddy told me to.”
“Can you tell me exactly what he said?”
Al lifted his head and looked me in the eye. “‘You’ll get along great with him, so it won’t be too bad. He might come off as a prat most of the time, but he really does care for others—you should have seen him when his cat died! He wouldn’t stop crying! And to cap it all off, he was one swanky flat.’” The boy took a deep, shuddering breath. “‘Don’t worry a bit, Al. Teddy’s a wonderful person. He’ll look out for you.”
I was silent. Was I shocked? A little. The two main thoughts in my brain were, 1) The reports are true—the boy can remember everything he hears! And 2) holy fuck, was I gonna kill Harry for mentioning the cat! I was ten when she died, for Christ’s sake! How the hell does he even remember ancient shit like that?
I cleared my throat and fixed a brusque expression on my face. The boy was watching me with guarded eyes. Hopefully he was too stupid to realize that crying for one’s cat was a weakness. “Are you trying to tell me that your dad sent you here purely because of how wonderful I am? So that you can soak up my wonderfulness? Is that it?”
The boy opened and closed his mouth, looking frightened again.
I made a disgusted noise in my throat and turned to glance out the window. The golden archway of the La Vierra hotel caught my eye. Thank Merlin, we had arrived.
Precisely twenty-five seconds later, the driver angled the car into an open slot on the side of the road. We were in the downtown area. There were many posh boutiques littering the area, with endless hordes of Muggles going to and fro. I watched them with a sneer. Lesser beings. I was taller, smarter, handsomer, and a wizard. Not to mention, it was because of me that the county’s defense was stable and that bombs weren’t falling on their heads. I should be receiving coffee-flavored chocolates from each and every inhabitant of the isle.
“Where are we?” the boy asked in a tiny voice. He was staring nervously past me, out my window.
“Are you blind?” I raised my eyebrows at him. We’d parked right in front of Wilson’s. Couldn’t he see it?
But, of course. Harry does not order suits.
“Come,” I said imperiously. I opened the car door and got out, stepping onto the curb, but just as I was about to slam it shut, the boy’s legs appeared and he hopped out after me, suitcase in hand.
“You could have gotten out the other side,” I pointed out, and then made a face at the suitcase.
“Why are you bringing that? Leave it in the car!”
The boy’s eyes widened and immediately, he protectively placed himself between the suitcase and me. “N-No, I’m sorry,” he stuttered and gasped.”No, don’t touch it! Don’t!” His face had gone bright crimson red. “I can’t leave this. I can’t. I need it. I’m so sorry. Oh god, I-I need it!”
Well, alright then. I raised my hands in a gesture of calm the fuck, down kid. I couldn’t help but look from side-to-side. Many passing Muggles were giving us odd looks. “It’s fine, it’s fine, you can bring it.” I shot a look at the small suitcase and and wondered again, what the heck he was carrying in there? “We wouldn’t want you having a separation anxiety from leaving your Muggle superhero comics in the car, now, would we?”
“I don’t have any comics,” the boy muttered.
With his head down, the boy walked beside me as me as we entered Wilson’s. The inside was warmly furnished, the lobby hardwood, and the rest of the fitting rooms carpeted. I hitched a smirk and went up to the small, dark-haired girl who was working suit jackets onto their hangers.
“Hello there, Rebecca.”
“Oh my!” She turned jerkily, hearing my voice, and nearly dropped the hanger. “Mr. Lupin, sir! We—we weren’t expecting you!”
Oh, God, my hair! Eep!
“Everything seemed to happen at once, and I was not able to make an appointment.” I tried to make my voice sound apologetic, but inwardly I was snarling. “Is Wilson available?”
The girl was already heading off towards one of the fitting rooms. “He’ll be only a moment! Please wait in Room B, sir. ” I wonder if I should offer him some coffee.
“I don’t need anything, thanks.” I smiled stiffly at the girl’s surprised expression. Coffee made by her tasted like fermented dog-piss. I tried not to shudder. Never again.
“Uh, okay. Does he—” Frowning, she turned toward the boy. He was standing behind me somewhere.
“Nothing. He wants nothing.”
Once she left, I glanced back at the boy—he was standing with his face parallel to the ground. Snorting, I turned and walked into Room B. It had several padded waiting chairs, a large rectangular dais, and several, floor-to-ceiling mirrors set in front of it, all at different angles. I sat down in a chair and pulled out my tablet. It was a Muggle device, only the size of hand, but with a whispered spell, it stretched until the size of a laptop screen. I had a very, very, very important anger call to make to Harry.
I happened to look up at that moment, to glance at the doorway. The boy was standing there awkwardly, the suitcase pressed against his leg. I remembered how I had to invite him into the car. I glanced down at the enlarged tablet on my knee.
I took pity on him.
“Come here.” I beckoned to him with a finger. Without a moment to spare, he shyly walked up and sat on the very edge of the other chair. “Do you want to talk with your father?”
The boy’s eyes widened. “Yes!”
“Fine.” Before I could start feeling too weird about attempting kindness, I spoke Harry’s name to the screen. The words ‘TRANSFERRING’ floated up.
“How will I talk to him?”
I grimaced and tried in vain not to make a snarky comment about intelligence. He must really not be able to connect thoughts to his vision.
A second later, Harry’s face filled in the screen— and I blinked in astonishment. His eyes were the same emerald color as the boy’s. How had I not noticed before?
“Daddy!” the boy cried and draped himself over my arm. I stiffened, all the air seeming to evaporate out of my body. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. DON’T TOUCH ME, FUCK IT.
“Al!” Harry’s voice was suffused with relief. He looked from his son, to my grim face, and then back to him. “I’m so glad you made it. Did Teddy find you okay?”
“Take it!” I thrust the tablet at the boy. He curled his fingers around the thin device and sat back straight in his seat, clumsily settling it upright on his knee. Thank Jesus. I clutched the front of my shirt and breathed heavily.
“I was lost, and I couldn’t find him. I thought he wasn’t going to come,” the boy was blabbing. “But then he came and everything was okay.”
Harry’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Teddy was late?”
Oh shit. I was in trouble.
“Teddy’s never late.” I could hear the frown in Harry’s slow, contemplative voice.
“He was. I couldn’t find him.”
“I’ll talk to him later,” Harry promised, and I mentally began to plan an excuse that didn’t sound too selfish. “How are you feeling?”
The boy shrugged and sounded glum. “I’m hungry.”
“Did you eat after landing?”
“What? It’s hours past dinnertime. Hasn’t Teddy taken you anywhere?”
“We’re at a shop.” The boy stopped and frowned. “I don’t think we’re here to eat.”
“We’re at Wilson’s. Your son is in desperate need of a suit.” I leaned over the boy’s shoulder so that Harry would see me on the screen. My nose was too close to his black hair, and I withdrew as quickly as possible.
“What do you mean, in desperate need of a suit? Where is he going to wear it? He hasn’t eaten anything in hours, Teddy!”
“He didn’t tell me,” I grumbled into thin air.
“Al, hand the thing over to him.”
“No, you guys keep on talking.”
“Al, hand it to him.”
“Um?” the boy squeaked, confusedly looking back and forth from me to the screen.
“Mr. Lupin!” a voice boomed from the doorway. “What can I do for you this fine evening?”
“Mr. Wilson!” I stood up in relief and moved forward to shake hands with the man. He was shortish and fattish person, and looked more like cook than the owner of the finest tailoring shop in London.
“You’re wearing one of mine, I see,” he said, gesturing down at my suit.
“Well, of course,” I told him, adding a little chuckle on the end for show. “You see, Wilson, I am not here for myself today.” I lowered my voice and waved my hand vaguely to the side, towards the boy. He was hunched over the tablet, whispering something to Harry.
Wilson raised his bushy eyebrows at the boy. “And what exactly is that?”
This time I let out a totally genuine laugh. The boy was wearing a too-small superhero shirt, after all. Ridicule was fair game. “It’s a long story. He’ll be working for me.”
“You still haven’t answered my question, Lupin. What is that?”
Yeah, Wilson was definitely taking the sight of the t-shirt a little too hard. I thought for a moment on how to answer the question. “That is my... not-brother, I guess.”
I grimaced. “Just measure him.”
A frown passed underneath Wilson’s heavy whiskers. We both watched the boy as he suddenly nodded with gusto—still talking to Harry on the screen—bobbing his head up and down, whispering animatedly. His mannerisms and facial expression were juvenile, like a primary school child.
“Kid doesn’t seem right in the head.” Wilson contracted his bushy eyebrows and stared at the boy in perplexity.
“He’s not.” I grimaced and made a whirly motion in front of my temple. “He’s a little funny up here.”
Guilt pricked me in the stomach as I said this, but I pushed the feeling aside.
Wilson shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll get my measuring tools. Send the boy when he’s ready.”
He went towards one end of the room, where there was a shelf of equipment—measuring tapes, scissors, folds of clothing, allergen testers, etc. I was left standing for a moment. I couldn’t explain why I suddenly felt so awful.
The boy was like me. I wasn't funny in the head. I should have contradicted Wilson's words.
I was nearly shaking as I approached the boy’s chair. “Give that to me,” I snapped, holding out a hand for the tablet. The boy stopped mid-conversation with his father and looked up with an anxious expression. “What’re you lookin’ like that for? Give it to me!”
With a trembling hand, the boy reached out with the tablet— and I snatched it away from him. God, was I furious. I caught a brief glimpse of Harry’s bewildered face on the screen before motioning the boy over to the raised dais roughly, “Get over there. He’s waiting for you.”
“W-What do I have to do?”
“Stand,” I barked at him, and with a squeak, he jumped of the seat of the chair. “That’s good,” I said with forced sarcasm. “No go and stand over there.”
I jabbed a finger towards the dais. The boy gave me another frightened expression and scurried away.
I rolled my eyes at Harry and collapsed in one of the chairs.
“You’re too hard on him,” Harry said. As I watched, he took off his glasses and tiredly rubbed his eyes with a knuckle. “I’m reconsidering my decision of sending him to you.”
“Please do,” I muttered fervently, glancing over to where the boy was hunched over on the dais, fidgeting uncomfortably as Wilson pressed the tape measure across the width of his scrawny shoulders.
“Why did you yell a moment ago?”
“I—what?” Distracted, I looked back to the screen. Harry was glaring at me.
“You know that Al can’t stand sudden noises.”
“All I said was the word ‘no’.”
“You didn’t say it, you shouted it.”
“So?" To my intense discomfort, I saw a smile spread on Harry’s face. A hot, prickling sensation went up the back of my neck and I looked away from the screen, up to where Wilson was attempting to measure the length of the boy’s waist. The boy kept wrapping his arms around his middle and shrinking back.
“I might just let him live with you indefinitely.”
Harry grinned ear-to-ear. I gave him my best you-have-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me look.
“Didn’t you just say that you were reconsidering sending him here?”
“Yes, but he’ll be better off with you than with me.” The corner of Harry’s mouth twisted down.
There was a touch of sadness in his voice. I couldn’t understand it, since I couldn’t comprehend the mentality of a father. “You understand him better than I do, Teddy.”
“Me?” I scoffed, though the sneaky little gremlins in my mind were whispering True! True! Truuue! “Me, understand that little brat? He’s wearing a superhero t-shirt, for fuck’s sake!”
“But you will care for him.”
“Deny it all you like,” Harry said quietly, “but Al is your brother.”
Panic and rage reared up like a tsunami in my stomach. Brother! That word was the bane of my existence! He dared to say it, knowing how much I detested familial ties. I gripped the edges of the tablet so hard that my knuckle began to turn white. “He—is—not—my—brother!”
“In what way?” I barked, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Wilson stop his bustling to stare at me with a frown. I lowered my voice and dropped my head closer to the screen, hissing, “In what way? Is he related to me in blood? Is he the husband of my non-existent sister? Are you my adopted father?”
“You don’t need to get so worked up.”
“Answer me, Harry!” I shook the tablet a little, knowing that it would do nothing to him but blur my image for a few seconds. “How are we brothers?”
Harry narrowed his eyes at me. “You’ve grown up together—”
“I moved out when he was six!”
“I don’t care. He remembers you. And you two are very alike.”
“That is not true!” I snapped at him. Harry put up the same excuse whenever I tried to say something against his son. That we were alike. Fuck that!
“Can’t you just accept it already?”
“I’ve already accepted it.” I fought hard to keep the anger out of my tone. “I accepted it a long time ago. My mind will never be the same as normal people, I know that, but your son is much more skewed that I am!”
Harry snorted derisively. “And you’re not skewed at all.”
“I never said that I wasn’t!” I made a frustrated noise in my throat. Goddammit. Harry comments were pushing me over the edge. “The difference between us is that I can think and he can’t!”
Harry was silent for a moment. Fuck. That had come out much too harshly.
“I mean that he doesn’t know how to think.” I made my voice quieter. “Despite being born with—the same problem, I have no difficulties with comprehension, do I? Is my mind forever stuck in primary school?”
“Al’s mind works differently than yours or mine.” Harry’s eyes was sharp as shards as glass as he held my gaze. I snorted and made no reply. “Are you afraid of him, Teddy?”
“Afraid? No fucking way! Why would I be afraid of him?”
“Then why do you push him away?”
“I don’t push him away,” I grumbled. I paused. “Okay, maybe I do. Just a bit.”
“Exactly.” Harry gave raised his eyes and gave me an irritating look that read Go on, explain.
“What am I supposed to say?” I snapped at the tablet screen. I suddenly wanted to fling it away from me, bash it against the floor or do something so that I wouldn’t have to look at Harry’s self-righteous expression.
“Tell me why you always push him away, Teddy.”
“I don’t have a reason! I just don’t like him, and I— I don’t want him near me!”
I fell into a huffy silence, and it was only then that I noticed that both Wilson and the boy were looking at me.
This was awkward.
I coughed. “So, how much longer will it be?”
“Just finished, actually.” Wilson waved a scrap piece of paper in my directions. “I got his measurements. Do you want the suits right now? We have his size in stock.”
“Yes, that would be fantastic.” This was better than I had expected—no more second trips. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was no wonder that the boy’s size was available. He was scrawnier than most clients.
“Three,” I said firmly. I doubted that the boy was going to be working much, and even if he did, I could not afford for him to be seen in the same suit twice in a row.
I waved a hand. “Please.”
“Very well,” Wilson grunted, slouching out of the room.
The boy remained standing in the middle of the room. I turned back to Harry, and said in a quieter voice, “You want him to live with me until the divorce is settled, is that it?”
“Yeah.” Harry narrowed his eyes and gave me a hard look. “Don’t refuse me, Teddy.”
“You could have just told me.” I felt vaguely pissed. “Instead of making up all the bullshit about him coming to work here.”
Harry gave me a small smile. “You would have never agreed to it. I had no choice.”
I grunted my assent. It was true. I looked again at the awkward boy. He was tracing patterns into the floor with the toe of his sneaker. I was suddenly struck by the fact that this kid, this mentally-impaired, nineteen-year old child, would have to stay under my roof for an unknowable amount of time. I would have to provide him with food, provide him with a place to sleep— I would have to watch his every fucking move!
Talk about fucking impossible!
“Harry.” I gave him a look. “How the hell am I supposed to do this?”
“It’s not that hard, you know.” He gave me a careless shrug. “He’s a docile child. He eats, sleeps, reads, and watches TV.”
Yeah, right. Taking care of him will be like looking after a puppy with Parkinson’s.
“Fine,” I muttered. What was I supposed to do? Deny Harry’s request and forcefully package the boy back to Godric’s Hollow? Yeah, wasn’t going to happen. “Just swear to me that you won’t tell him.” I glanced at the boy. He was walking around in small circles now, not paying a smidgen of attention to us. I lowered my voice to a hiss and bent my face over the tablet screen. “Swear that won’t tell him about me.”
“I’ve already told him.”
Harry’s face was stoic. I swallowed back a sudden lump in my throat.
“You’ve told him? Without asking my permission?”
“He doesn’t understand, Teddy—” Harry started to say in a gentle voice.
“Fuck that! Look what you’ve done!” A thrill of panic shot down through my stomach. “He’s going to go—he’s going to blab to everyone! Do you know what will happen to me if this gets out?” I was wringing my fingers together. My breathing was speeding up. Fuck. Fuck.
“Teddy, calm down. Do you honestly think that Al talks to anyone he doesn't know? He hardly opens his mouth!”
“But why did you have to tell him? Did you have some absolute, utter need to inform him of that fact?”
“I didn’t want him to be scared of you.” Harry’s voice was blunt.
I nearly threw my hands up in exasperation. “And knowing that, he isn’t scared of me anymore? You could have just shown him that appalling photo of me dressed up in a pumpkin suit—”
“Don’t be silly,” Harry said mildly. “Your expression in that picture could make a ten year-old start crying.”
“Yes, well, you were the one who stuffed me into such a fuck-awful get-up. God, fucking pumpkins.” I physically shuddered. I had always hated Halloween. “If I was laughing stock then, it’s nothing compared to how my colleagues will treat me if they find out—”
“Stop it,” Harry snapped. “I’m ending this conversation before you start to become any more ridiculous. Go take Al someplace to eat.”
“No,” I growled.
“Teddy. Do as I say.”
“He hasn’t eaten for hours.”
“So?” I scoffed. “How is that any of my concern?”
“Don’t be heartless.”
I glanced at the boy. He was still aimlessly walking around in a circle. Didn’t he get dizzy? I wondered quietly. He flung his arms out to the side on a whim, imitating an airplane, and my keen eyes trailed over his stick-thin arms and bony wrists. His clavicles were hollow ridges, the too-small shirt falling baggy on his sunken chest.
“What kind of food does he like?”
“Anything that tastes good.” A relieved smile had appeared on Harry’s face. “Thank you.”
“Just take him off my hands as fast as possible,” I grunted, before terminating the call. I shrunk the tablet with a quick wave of the hand and tucked it into the inside of my jacket. The boy had stopped windmilling his arms like a fool, now that he noticed that I wasn’t talking anymore. He stood in the center of the room, blinking at me nervously.
“C-Can I talk to my dad again?”
“Perhaps later.” I stood up and brusquely stuck my hands in my pockets. How was I supposed to find someplace to eat? Eating out meant sneakily buying coffee-flavored ice-cream from the convenience store at some ungodly hour in the morning.
Should I consult with the boy on this matter?
No, that’s pointless. He doesn’t know anything.
Wilson bowed me out from the lobby of the shop. He had even placed the boy’s three suits in the Benz without me having to tell him to do so! God, did I love intelligent people. I got into the back of the car and the boy did the same.
Once on the highway, I placed a quick call to Jenkins.
“Make a late dinner reservation for two at the Vapiano.”
His voice was startled. “Sir?”
“Do as I say!”
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”
I terminated the call and glanced sideways. The boy was hunched over with his arms wrapped around his middle. He stared at the back of the passenger seat miserably. Harry was wrong. I didn’t understand him. I didn’t understand a single fucking thing that went through his brain.
To my chagrin, the boy dragged the suitcase with him into the restaurant.
Tumble tumble tumble.
“Albus,” I growled under my breath, not even bothering to hide my impatience. He glanced up at me, his expression perking up like a bloodhound’s ears. “Can’t you leave your damn luggage in the car?”
He bit his lip, and then averted his green eyes to the floor, shaking his head frantically. “N-no, I can’t.”
“And why is that?” I willed myself to understand this boy—to understand that he was only a child, afraid of his surroundings, clinging onto the only familiar thing he had.
(A suitcase? Really?)
“I have something precious,” the boy mumbled, addressing his white trainers. His fingers tapped erratically on the handle of the suitcase. Damn. I hated people who did that. It would start to grate on my nerves.
“A reservation under Lupin, thank you,” I said brusquely to the young lady behind the desk. Beyond her head, I could see many people in the seating area. Fucking agoraphobia. Jenkins had better remembered to get me a private booth. I could just feel the itch returning, the urge to start wringing my fingers.
“R-Right this way, sir,” the waitress stammered, motioning us toward the back of the restaurant. Thank Jesus. The booth was hidden behind an oriental-style screen. We were shut off from the rest of the people.
“Here are your menus.” She put two on the table. I slid into the booth, motioning for the boy to do the same across from me. He obeyed as meekly as a mouse. “W-Would you like something to drink?” Oh, goodness. He’s so handsome.
I made a face at the menu. Great. The waitress likes me. Kill me now. “I want black espresso.”
“Are you sure, sir? Coffee doesn’t go well with any of the entrées we—”
“I said I want black espresso.” I narrowed my eyes at the girl, who visibly quailed.
“Y-Yes, sir.” He’s scary. She quickly turned towards the boy. “And you?”
He was biting his lip and staring at the untouched menu, drumming his fingers uncontrollably on the table.
“He’ll have water.” I gave the woman a stony look. Go away. She took the cue.
Once we were alone, the boy snapped his gaze up to meet mine. “W-Why are we here? It’s uncomfortable.”
“Why is that?” I struggled with myself, trying hard not to sound bloody sarcastic
“It just is.” The boy half-shrugged his shoulders, obviously in discomfort. “Can we go to a burger joint?”
“Uh…” I was caught completely off-guard. Did he just say burger joint? “You—how do you know what a burger joint is?”
In fact, I was shocked that he could form a coherent thought without being prompted.
“Yeah, ‘course!” For the first time, the boy sounded rather indignant. He frowned at me. “Dad always took me.”
“For hamburgers?” I didn’t bother to hide the disgust in my voice. Out of all of us, Harry had always been the most unprofessional.
“Fish burgers,” the boy corrected, a shy smile appearing on his face, “and chips.They were really tasty.”
“How nice,” I grumbled.
“Do they have fish and chips here?”
I slammed the menu down onto the table. “No.”
“But you eat here, right? Why isn’t there any fi—”
“Because they do not make fish and chips here!”
I cursed under my breath.
“Albus, just shut up,” I hissed . The boy fell silent, looking cowed again.
“Here are your drinks, sirs,” the waitress chimed. Startled, I turned my head to the side.I hadn’t even noticed her arriving. This was surprising because now that she was near, I could easily hear her loud mental mutterings of Oh goodness, he’s looking at me and Drat, I forgot to brush my hair. God, I felt like vomiting.These girls seriously needed to get a clue. Did I look like the type of person who gave a fuck about their hair?
I took the coffee and brought it to my lips, remembering too late that I hated black espresso. Fuck.
“So,” the waitress said brightly. “What can I get you?”
“I’m suddenly not hungry.”
The waitress blinked in confusion. “Um, okay,” she squeaked, and then turned to the boy. “I’ll... um, what would you like?”
The boy, of course, did not reply. He blinked at her, and then turned his head to look at me. I resisted the urge to sigh. It wasn’t like I could simply ask him, ‘What do you want?’ because then he would answer, ‘Fish and chips!’ and then the waitress would go to the kitchens and gossip about the two nutters sitting in the private booth.
I’m not a nutter.
The waitress looked at me. Poor boy must be a special child. “Does he want anything?”
I turned my eye upon the boy, and then decided to risk asking him a question. I leaned forward across the table. “Do you like pasta?”
To my utmost relief, the boy’s face brightened and he nodded his head vigorously— up and down, up and down. “Yeah! I love pasta!”
I leaned back and dismissively waved my hand at the waitress. “There you go. He’ll have pasta.”
“Erm... do you know what type of pasta? We have mixed antipasti with a choice of roasted vegetables and cheese or the Bruschetta Trio on toasted ciabatta bread or—”
“It doesn’t matter. Anything will do.”
This guy is so strange. The waitress made a note on her pad. “I’ll order the house special, then. The Pomodoro Fresco e Basilico with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.”
“Whatever. Just be quick.”
And rude! She bowed her head stiffly. “Yes, sir.”
When she was gone, I fell into the routine habit of tapping my fingers against the table. It was an annoying habit, but one that helped me concentrate. Across from me, the boy was huddled nervously, his shoulders slumped down, back not touching the booth behind him. He did not make eye-contact.
Harry told him about me, right? That he and I were... alike. Why was he still so terrified? He must know that he really had nothing to fear from my diatribes, harsh as they were.
A wave of panic grabbed at my heart. He— I —we were alike, meaning that we had similar powers.
Does he know what I am thinking?
I slammed my fist onto the table. Why hadn’t I bothered to ask Harry?
The boy gave a frightened squeak. I looked at him harshly.
“Do you know what I’m thinking?”
I hate you. I fucking hate you.
His eyes went wide and he didn’t answer.
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM THINKING?”
I HATE YOU.
“N-No, I don’t,” the boy whispered. His eyes were fixed on mine and glazed over. He was about to cry.
“You can’t?” I demanded roughly. The boy shook his head jerkily, his eyes never leaving mine. I couldn’t hear any of his thoughts— I couldn’t hear what he was thinking! Why was this? “What can you do? Do you sense anything about the people around you? What can you feel about me?”
“I—I— know,” he stammered. “I know that you hate me.”
A vicious feeling flooded my insides. “So you can hear my thoughts!”
“No!” the boy cried in anguish. His face had twisted as if in physical pain. “I know. I can feel it. You hate me! You want to hurt me!”
He was starting to cry. Fuck. He couldn’t hear my thoughts, but could feel them? Bullshit. Well, he wasn’t feeling them wrong!
Calm down, Teddy. Count the numbers around you. Twenty-three tables in sight, each sandwiched by two booths, making forty-six total objects. Hexagonal tiles on the floor, meaning with a total of one thousand, four-hundred and sixty-five, there are a total of eight-thousand, seven-hundred and ninety sides and there is a flower vase on each table, eleven flowers, sometimes twelve, combined total of—
STOP IT, TEDDY.
I swung my legs out of the booth and stood up. I gave the boy a cold look. “After you’re done eating, come outside to car. I’ll be waiting.”
I was not going to sit there with him. Who knew what sort of strange powers he had working on me.
I paid for the meal with my office card, then exited the restaurant and breathed freely. I felt the oppression, the whispering voices in my mind clear. Yes, there were people walking on the sidewalk, but they were all moving— not static beings like the ones seated in the dining area. I got in the Benz and pulled out my tablet. I thought to call Harry for a moment. I should demand to know what types of abilities that the boy possessed— I was going to be living with him, after all! But, fuck it! I was so angry, I doubted I could have a straight conversation with anyone. And what if Harry didn’t know himself?
In the end, I pulled up a puzzle of kakurasu and immersed myself in the numbers.
Exactly twenty three minutes and fifty seconds later, the boy knocked on the car window. I put away the tablet (I had gone through about thirty kakurasu puzzles and ten sudoku) and waved my hand. The car lock clicked open, and he opened the door.
“Hello,” he said quietly. I watched as he lifted the suitcase and gently put it on the seat, and then sat down next to it. Almost at the last second, he remembered to close the car door.
“My flat,” I told the driver.
We rode in silence. I tried my best not to glance sideways at the boy. What unnerved me was that I could not sense a single thing about him— his thoughts or feelings or anything. Before, I had thought that it signified that he didn’t have any thoughts, feelings or the like. But, no, it’s simply because of the fact that my power does not work on him.
But whatever power he had— it operated on me. He had more of a grasp on me than I had on him.
The place I lived in was a large, high-rise apartment building, not merely a flat— though I called it a flat to reclaim some comfort back into my life. There were multiple people living in it, but I was the one wealthy enough to rent out the penthouse on the top floor.
Before the driver drove away with the Benz, I opened the trunk and placed a hand over the boy’s new suits. A quick muttered word and they disappeared. They would be waiting on my sofa. It beat having the carry the shit all the way up to the top.
I entered the building by swiping my card through the processor, and then with the boy following in behind— tumble tumble tumble— fuck, I was going to be hearing that noise in my sleep. I went into the elevators and jammed the button for the topmost floor. It was only narrowly that I remembered to hold the grate open for the boy.
Fuck. I hate elevators.
The grate opened mercifully and I strode forward to the flat door. I dug in my pocket—
and came up with lint.
Where’s my card? Damn.
Must’ve dropped it in the car.
On whim, I whirled on the boy. He was waiting nervously by the side, watching me. “You! Do you know where my entry card is?”
The boy blinked and then lowered his eyes, shakily holding out a hand. The card was clutched between his fingers. “Is it this?”
“Where’d you find it?” I snapped, snatching it from him. I stuck it in the door’s processor and watched impatiently as it beeped and flashed a green light.
“In the car—”
“Yes, I know!” I entered the flat, resisting the urge to slam the door shut in his face.
I went into the kitchen, throwing my chrome briefcase somewhere near the coat rack. Fuck, I needed coffee. I scoured the cabinets. I needed coffee. Fuck, I’m out of fucking coffee!
I looked over my shoulder with raised eyebrows. The boy had tripped over my suitcase and had crashed into the coat rack. Idiot.
“I’m s-sorry!” he stammered pitifully, trying to straighten the coat rack. “I’ll fix it, I’ll—”
His voice grated on my nerves. “SHUT UP!” Why did my voice came out so harsh? “Go be stupid somewhere else!”
The boy stopped dead. His hand motions stilled and he looked at me, his mouth still moving wordlessly. All of a sudden, the tears glazing his eyes broke loose and trickled down the side of his face. I turned away and opened the refrigerator. Where is my ice cream?
I took the cold tub into my hands and slammed the fridge door shut. I could hear sniffling.
I should offer him some.
I grabbed a spoon from the dishwasher and, without a backwards look, entered the bedroom. There was only one floor to my flat, if you discounted the loft. I flung my jacket to some corner of the room and fell snow-angel style on the mattress. There’s something wrong, I mused, while pulling off my tie. Damn thing was about to choke me. There’s something wrong.
Maybe I shouldn’t have left him out there.
Who fucking cares?
I flipped over onto my stomach and pulled the ice cream tub close to me. The condensation from the outside left my fingers wet. It was late, about 10:00. I’ll have three spoons and then I’ll go to sleep.
Mmm. I licked melted coffee-flavored gunk off the inside of the tub’s lid. I’m gonna finish the entire thing.
Then I’ll go to sleep.
A searing pain shot up my chest. Someone’s high-pitched voice screamed “TEDDY!”
I sat up straight in bed. The sticky, nasty aftertaste of sweetness was in my mouth. Urgh. I rubbed my chest. What was that?
A nightmare? How juvenile.
I couldn’t remember anything of it. Casting the thought aside, I looked dimly around the room. I was in my bedroom, on the bed. The empty ice cream carton was... on the floor somewhere. I was still wearing my trousers and button-down shirt.
It’s after midnight.
I remembered the nightmare, and a strange prickling sensation shot up the back of my neck. There’s something wrong.
I wild feeling overtook my stomach. Where is the boy?
I jumped out of bed and, unlocking the door to my room, ran out to the living area. Fuck. The boy wasn’t on the sofa--I had been expecting him to be sleeping on the sofa! I glanced towards the kitchen. Of course he wasn’t there, why would he be in the kitchen?
Where else? The loft?
He wasn’t in the loft. Hell, I wouldn’t step in the loft even if you paid me. That space was reserved for evil purposes— i.e., to drink or to have a smoke. I would probably trip over one of the many rum bottles if I tried to go up there.
Why should I even care, dammit? The kid ran away on his own!
Yes, but he’s a kid. He has the mental capacity of an eight-year old.
I growled and ran a hand through my hair. This was really like taking care of a puppy with Parkinson’s.
In the end, I took the elevator down to the ground floor. Because, honestly, there was nowhere else he could be. (I was banking on the hope that he didn’t run away, as in leave-the-building run away. I didn’t want to think of the conversation I would have to have with Harry...)
He was in the lobby, folded up on one of the armchairs. He had buried his head between his knees and wrapped his pale, twig-like arms tightly around his legs. His shoulders were shaking. A brick dropped in my stomach. Still crying.
I walked up silently to stand in front of him. Thank Jesus, it was late and there was no one else around. I was still wearing my day-clothes, rumpled and creased from sleep, and the boy was just sitting there— silently sobbing his heart out. How undignified. What would people think?
I cleared my throat. “Albus.”
The boy gave a half-choked, half-hiccupy gasp and jerked his neck up. Then he gave a strangled scream and pressed himself backwards into the chair.
“I’m sorry— I didn’t mean it! I—please don’t hurt me!”
“Albus.” My brows contracted together into a frown. God. He’s sniveling and cowering. “Albus, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Slowly, the boy removed his trembling hands from over his face. His eyes roved frantically up and down, from my face to my shoes and then back up. His breathing steadied a bit, and he held up a hand to quickly wipe his tears. “Y-You wanted to hurt me.”
Well, fuck. What was I supposed to say to that? I was scared of you was an option, and so was I’m sorry. I couldn’t bring myself to utter either or them. After all, when faced by this pathetically juvenile not-brother, I was forced the concede that he could not use any of his unknown abilities to harm me. Heck, I doubted his brain could understand half the things that he saw and remembered. And he could not read thoughts, so he was not really a threat. I was more dangerous, I was the one he should be afraid of.
In the end, I said, “Come up to the flat. I can’t have you sitting here like a homeless person. The guards will kick you out.”
With a lot of sniffling, the boy stood up. But he did not immediately follow me to the elevator, oh no. He bent down and took a hold of something that was behind armchair. It was his thrice-damned suitcase.
Tumble tumble tumble.
Fuck my life.
Once we were in the elevator, I was a second away— a second I tell you!—from grabbing the suitcase and flinging it to the ends of the Earth. But he had protectively pressed it between the side of the elevator and his leg. I snorted. Someone was obsessed with their superhero comics.
Then we entered the flat. The boy was careful around the coat rack. He made a wide, circular berth around it. I smirked a little. Then he stood in the middle of the living space and looked at me expectantly. The suitcase rested against his leg.
I felt uncomfortable. I ran a hand through my hair and motioned vaguely around. “You can go to sleep. I’ll be in that room.” I pointed at the door. “Okay?”
“But where do I sleep?”
I stared at him. Damn. Didn’t think of that. I waved a hand behind him at the sofa. “Over there.”
He glanced over his shoulder, then looked back at me. “That’s a couch.”
“Yes, Albus,” I snapped. My patience was starting to run low again. ”That’s a couch. Hurrah for pointing out the obvious.”
The boy lowered his eyes, flushing. “I m-mean, that’s not a bed.”
I gave him a tetchy look. “Are you trying to say that you’ll only sleep on a bed?”
I ain’t giving up mine.
“People are supposed to sleep in beds,” he mumbled abashedly. He glanced at me and wrung his fingers to and fro. “Dad tells me to sleep in a bed, so that I don’t get kidnapped.”
What the fuck? What, did he have a tendency to fall asleep in random places?
Now that he mentioned it, I could easily see him falling asleep in the tube and getting abducted by some bloke in a ski mask.
I gave the boy a fixed look. “Unfortunately, Albus, I have only one bed here. And I’m the only person who gets to sleep in it.”
The boy looked alarmed. “But then where do I—”
“Why the hell can’t you just sleep on the couch?” I ran a hand through my in aggravation. At this rate, it seemed like I would be the one kipping on the couch while he took my bed! No fucking way!
Then I remembered something. Aha.
I looked at him. “You know what a futon is?”
“Futon, yes. It’s technically a bed so Harry can’t say anything.” I grinned widely and went back into my room, congratulating my own genius. The futon was rolled up underneath my bed. I think it had come as a freebie with a purchase at a furniture store. I don’t know, I’d never used it before. I swatted the bundle with a hand and a cloud of dust came billowing off it.
The boy watched as I dropped the futon bundle on the floor in front of him. He blinked in consternation and mumbled something under his breath. “Here,” he mumbled. “No stars.”
“Now what’s wrong?” I snapped. “This is a bed. It’s just roll-up.”
“I know,” the boy replied slowly. “But there’s something wrong. Where are the stars?”
Lord Almighty, I don’t think I can stand any more of this. I gave the boy a withering look.
“There are supposed to be stars when I go to sleep.”
“There aren’t any fucking stars here! Do you see any stars?” The boy bit his lip and stared at me. “Jesus,” I groaned.My brain was starting to hurt. “Just go to sleep.”
As soon as I turned to head to my room, the boy had grabbed the hem of my shirt. “Wait! Wait, you can’t leave—”
“The fuck! Don’t touch me!”
Automatically, in reflex, I lashed out an arm and caught the boy in his scrawny chest. He stumbled back several feet with a small ‘Oof!’.
“Don’t put your grubby paw on me,” I snarled. The back of my mind thought absently: Paw? I really must think of him as a dog.
“S-Sorry,” he gasped. He stopped where he was and looked at me anxiously. “It’s just... I saw myself sleeping in a place with stars.” He looked nervously around the room. “There are no stars here.”
Bloody fuck. The time was 1: 47. I really wanted to go to sleep. I glanced at the boy— he was biting his lip and looking at me expectantly—and growled under my breath. “Fine. Come with me.”
I led him towards a small, shadowy set of stairs at the very back of the room. I was tired, I couldn’t think much. On a normal hour, I would have thought twice about letting the kid go up there. But if he wouldn’t go to sleep without stars, then so fucking be it. Let my indulgences be revealed. It’s not like he understood what a beer bottle was, anyway.
The boy took an ungodly amount of time to climb up the stairs. He was attempting to carry both the futon and the suitcase up with him at the same time. Why carry the suitcase? It has wheels…
I held out a hand for the suitcase when it became plain that he was in danger of tripping and cracking his head open. “Give that to me.”
“No!” he snapped with unforeseen vehemence, twisting his body away from me in an effort to keep himself between me and the suitcase. And then he began to fall backwards. “Ah—!”
“You moron,” I cursed and grabbed a hold of his upper arm before he could really crack his head open on the balustrade. “Don’t carry so much up at the same time! And give that to me!”
I snatched the futon roll from him and continued up to the loft. He appeared a moment later, clutching the suitcase tightly to his chest. He gazed around the dark space –it was a small, rectangular area right underneath the gable. There was a balcony around it, so one could look down onto the living space.
“Where are the stars?” The boy’s voice was tiny and disappointed.
I chucked the futon roll to the floor, then went to the opposite wall and flung aside the curtains there. I jabbed a thumb at the windows. “See them?”
“Stars,” the boy whispered reverently, and I watched as he carefully placed his suitcase on the grimy floor, picked up the futon, and spread it right at the base of the windows. “They’re perfect,” he said. His eyes met mine, and in the reflected starlight, all I could see was pure joy. “They’re just like how I saw them.”
“They’re just like how I saw them.”
I fixed my eyes on him. “What did you say?”
My voice came out deep and menacing.
The boy looked frightened again. He had half-lain down on the futon, but jerked upright again. “I—”
“What did you mean, ‘you saw them’?” The gears were whirring through my mind. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be.
Harry would have told me.
“I saw them,” the boy said slowly. His hands gripped the futon. “B-Back when I was with Dad, I saw myself here, sleeping here. With the stars.”
“Oh, fuck,” I hissed. This was... unbelieveable.
He saw them. He saw himself sleeping here.
I tried to take a deep, calming breath. This can’t be happening.
Albus Potter was a Seer.
Without another word, I bolted down the stairs.
He was a Seer. The boy was a Seer!
Why didn’t Harry tell me? How could this happen? He and I, we were afflicted with the same problem. We were supposed to be copies of each other—
A Seer! Why him and not me? I don’t get visions of the future!
I was struck with a flash of jealousy. A Seer? How was I going to sleep, knowing that I was within vicinity of a Seer? And not only that, this was a young man with the brain of an elementary schooler, a boy who could read people’s emotions! I didn’t have a clue what was going through his head! I had no grasp on him! And, to cap it all off, it was two o’clock in the fucking morning!
God, someone get me some fucking coffee!
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