Chapter 6 : Always Him
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Albus sat at the table, his head bowed in silence. James could tell he was only sitting at the table because his parents were making him. When Albus had the choice to do as he pleased, he liked to steal away to his bedroom and shut himself off from the rest of the world. Albus kept to himself these days, wallowing in his solitude and hating himself for something he would never forgive himself for.
James and the rest of his family desperately wished Albus would move past that day at Azkaban and the events leading up to it. He still blamed himself for Alaric Rousseau's death. Months after the incident at Azkaban had passed with Al still attempting to mentally recover, Harry and Ginny had held a conversation with him, asking him if he would ever move on. Or at least try to. When he said he would always consider himself to be the murderer of a fourteen-year-old boy, Harry and Ginny had sought help for Albus, and ever since then, he had been going to see a psychiatrist every other week.
Today had been his most recent appointment, but seeing Albus sulking once again, James could only assume one thing: they had made no progress yet again. But after three years of no progress, James was never surprised by this.
James momentarily frowned at the sight of his brother. He wondered if he would ever see his brother truly be himself again, if he would ever smile or laugh like he used to. There were the good days every now and then, when the old Al would peak into his daily life, when his smile would return—full and wide—when he would laugh in an unguarded fashion, but just as quickly as it would come, it would fade and his somber expression would return once more. It made James pity his brother.
He knew Albus didn't want to live a life full of self-loathing, but for some reason that James just couldn't begin to comprehend, Albus just couldn't forgive himself. Due to Al's incapability to move on, he hadn't gone anywhere with his life since he had graduated from Hogwarts. He had finished out with a strong seventh year, and he had received remarkable grades on his N.E.W.T.s. Albus had always been a brilliant student, but with his reaction to everything, James believed his schoolwork to be a good way for Albus to channel his thoughts. It had been something to take his mind off of everything that had happened, and since he had left Hogwarts, he had done just about nothing with his life. He was still living at home with Harry and Ginny and he had yet to find a job or even try; it also appeared that Harry and Ginny weren't trying to push him either. Not until Albus made progress with his psychiatrist, at least.
James forced his frown off of his face and instead replaced it with a smile. He walked to the table and embraced his brother from behind. James remembered the days when Albus had refused to give or receive any physical affection. Then he and Al had had their breakthrough. Emotionally vulnerable. The words had followed James around ever since that night three years ago in the hospital wing of Hogwarts.
Albus gave a weak smile and patted his brother's arm kindly, accepting the hug from his brother.
“Hey there, Al,” James greeted him. For good measure—and extra reassurance, as Al so often received these days—James placed a kiss atop his head.
“Hi, Jamie,” Albus greeted in reply.
“How was your appointment?” asked James as his arms retracted from around his brother.
“Fine,” he answered but left it at that.
Knowing that the results of Al's appointments were mostly held in confidentiality unless Albus wished to share them, James didn't ask any more. Instead, he turned to his parents, his mother busying herself with cooking lunch while his father leaned against the counter and pretended as if he were helping.
They greeted him with smiles and warm exchanges. “Dad,” James began to question after they had shared their hellos, “you're not at work?”
“No, I'm not,” grinned Harry. “We've had new leads as to the whereabouts of the next few Death Eaters. Our field Aurors are out there right now looking for them. Headquarters is empty, so I came home and there’s nothing to do until we find them. I'm on call, though, in case anything arises. But I could ask you the same thing, though! This workaholic isn't at work on a Friday for once?”
Harry asked his last question with a sarcastic chuckle.
“Nope,” said James happily. “I just got done with an out-of-office appointment, and work was slow. I decided to leave early for once.”
“Good,” commented Ginny from the kitchen. “You overwork yourself. It's good for you to take a break every now and then. Would you like something to eat, sweetie?”
“No thanks, Mum,” he replied. “I had a scone during my appointment, and I'm having a big dinner tonight. Norah's coming over.”
That seemed to grab the attention of everyone in the room. The three other Potters within the kitchen seemed to briefly go still and silent until they realized they had externally reacted, and soon all three of them tried to act as if this wasn't big news to all of them.
James even noticed Albus perk up slightly and listen more intensely.
His father, though, was the first to actually say something. “So is it safe to say the two of you are finally dating again?” asked Harry.
“Not quite,” answered James, sliding into a chair next to Albus. He began to absently rub his wrist. “I mean, maybe. We're talking about it tonight. We still have a lot of ground to cover, but we're both willing to work at it and we’ve made significant progress.”
“That's great news, baby,” said Ginny enthusiastically. “I'm ready to have my second daughter back.”
James rolled his eyes at his mother. He loved how much his parents loved Norah and considered her a daughter of their own, but he couldn't deny that, during their break-up, his mother's incessant bickering over James to forgive Norah for her wrongdoings had been annoying.
“Speaking of,” interjected James, looking about the kitchen, “where's your first?”
“Out shopping with Rose. She has a date tonight,” Ginny said absently.
Harry grit his teeth, his arms folding across his chest, and he breathed out quietly. “It's not a date...”
“It is, too, Harry,” snorted Ginny.
Harry rubbed his forehead in annoyance, and James couldn't help but grin. Harry had always been the protective, not-wanting-to-let-go kind of father, but now that Lily was growing up—and very quickly at that—that side of Harry seemed to push itself to the surface more and more these days, unwilling to let go. James also knew that Lily had dated before; she had dated at Hogwarts, where she had just graduated from two months ago, but perhaps it was the idea of Lily going on real dates outside of Hogwarts that made Harry worry.
“She's dated before, though,” said James in a questioning tone.
“Well, sure,” answered Ginny, “but I think this time 'round it's more who she's going on a date with that's bothering your father.”
“It is not!” retorted Harry quickly, but the expression on his face gave himself away.
“Really? Who is it?” asked James curiously.
“Scorpius Malfoy,” his mother said.
James made a noise of surprise. After the events at Azkaban, Albus had remained friends with Scorpius Malfoy. Scorpius had claimed to not know Parker's true nature and he declared that every act of friendship during that awful year had been genuine and true; Scorpius claimed himself to be a true friend of Al's during that rough patch, and he had helped Albus down the road to recovery as best he could. Scorpius had been a great friend to Al since, often dropping by the Potter's home and whatnot. In a way, with the amount of time that Scorpius spent hanging around the Potter house, James shouldn't have been surprised that he and Lily had grown close.
“It's not that she's dating the Malfoy boy,” argued Harry. “Scorpius Malfoy is a perfectly fine bloke. He's proved that to us over the years. I just don't...”
He faltered and found himself unable to finish. Ginny only smiled and went to kiss her husband's cheek, where she whispered something in his ear only he could hear.
Harry gave a sheepish smile and rubbed her arm in response.
James couldn't help but smile at their exchange.
When Ginny moved away from him, Harry was quick to change the subject. He looked back to his eldest son and smiled.
“Anyway, we're glad to hear that you and Norah are working past your issues,” commented Harry. James could see him begin to make another comment, but his father's gaze went down to his wrist, where James was absently rubbing at it. James looked down to his work and noticed he had rubbed the skin raw; it was now red and tender. James watched his father swallow an uneasy lump in his throat, and he quickly changed gears. “Your wrist bothering you again?”
“Yeah,” muttered James. To get himself to stop messing with it, he sat on his left hand and brought his wrist closer so he could inspect it. It was now blistering, and skin was flaking off from all the friction James had caused. “Something strange happened during my appointment. It hurts randomly—some days a lot, some not at all, but during my appointment...It hurt like it never had before. It felt like it was burning. It was excruciating. I just don't know what to do about it anymore.”
“Honey, you should really have a Healer take a look at it,” commented Ginny absently.
Harry brought his hand to his mouth, where he gnawed on the nail of his thumb and turned his back to everyone. “Who was your appointment with?” he asked, his voice seeming restrained, but no one seemed to notice.
“Clancy O'Dell,” replied James in a nonchalant tone. “We met at her regular coffee shop.”
Harry's brow pulled together, and he asked yet another question while hoping no one would find his questions strange. “Was it just the two of you?”
“No. Her boyfriend came this time.”
“Boyfriend?” Albus piped up in questioning. “But I thought you and her—”
James twisted to look at his brother, his eyes going wide as a sign for Albus to shut up. James knew Al was aware of him sleeping with Clancy, but that was something his parents didn't need to know. He shook his head and Albus clamped his mouth shut.
“Never mind,” Al said quickly. “Who's she dating?”
“Some guy named Nolan Paxton,” said James with a roll of the shoulders.
When James turned back to face his parents, he listened to his mother go on about how he should really get his wrist taken care of. Harry, uneasy, began to pace about the kitchen, rubbing the back of his neck, until he finally excused himself before he brought too much unwanted attention on himself for his inability to control his anxiety on the matter.
Harry slipped quietly out of the kitchen and quickly made his way through the house to his study, shutting the door. Alone, he fell back into his chair behind his desk and grabbed onto his head. He groped at his hair, tugging at it, until he finally pulled his hands away only to take his glasses off the bridge of his nose to rub his eyes in frustration.
“Shit,” he cursed under his breath.
What had he done? Three years ago, what had he done? He should have told James from the very beginning.
He didn't know what had gone through his head that day at Azkaban when he had hidden James' scar, the scar that still remained perfectly hidden to his very day. And it would always remain so until the right counter-curse was performed on him. Only two spells could reveal his scar, and Harry knew James had no reasons for such counter-curses to be placed on him.
He thought he could just hide it from everyone and never speak of it again. He thought he could act like it didn't exist and it would never come back to haunt them like Harry's had. He had tried to convince himself that there was no reason to fear, and after everything his sons had gone through, he wished to believe that it was over. At that time, he had just wanted his sons to live happy lives without fear or worry, and he had given that to them in hiding the scar.
He knew his actions would have repercussions. He knew the scar would affect his son the way his had affected him. He saw it some days. While no one knew what truly drove James to be such a different person at times, often driven by anger and impatience, Harry knew better. Harry knew it was that second soul living inside of him, and on those days when he would see James lash out, Harry was tormented by the decision he had made three years ago.
James acted as if he didn't know he had changed or what had changed him and why, but Harry could see the fear he held for himself, the fear of not knowing what he would do next if his anger got the best of him, and Harry pitied him. It made him wish he had told him just so he would know what was happening to him, but time had passed and now there was no way James could ever know and not be angry with his father for what he had done.
He thought he didn't have reason to worry, especially. He had no reason to worry until recently when it seemed as if his wrist was bothering James more and more. Especially today. This was strange to Harry. If James' scar worked the same way Harry's had, then the more it hurt, the closer he was to the one who had created the horcrux: the person to which Harry still wasn't sure of, but he had his hunches.
Now, Harry feared, it seemed as if James had been in the very same coffee shop with the person whose soul now partly resided in James. Who could it be, though? The only people there that day who James could have encountered in such a way were Elias and Parker. Elias was dead; Harry had seen the body himself at the Ministry after it had been found along the shores a mile away from the prison. Parker was believed to be dead also; Harry had seen James use the Killing Curse on him, and he had seen Parker fall into the cold ocean. Despite this, the body of Parker Namken never turned up. They had just assumed it had been crushed by the crumbling Azkaban and sunk to the ocean’s dark and icy depths, no questions asked. Harry had long ago begun to question the idea of Parker Namken being the one to have a horcrux.
Had Parker Namken been in that coffee shop? Surely James would have recognized the boy, Harry assumed. How could they ever forget such a face that had caused them so much pain?
But Harry had long ago assumed that Parker Namken was alive and that a part of him resided in his son. If Namken was smart, he would have gone underground and stayed there. If Harry's assumptions were correct, was Parker Namken finally returning to the surface? And if he was, what did he have up his sleeve? What trick was he trying to play by being at the same coffee shop as James? Had it been intentional? Harry believed that a man who was presumed dead would be calculating and never risk such an accident.
He hoped, if all of his thoughts were truly accurate, that Namken was flying solo in all of this. The new, rebuilt, and modified Azkaban prison had been completed a year after the demolition of the original. It had received an entirely new location and had been designed in such a fashion that Harry was absolutely certain that it was impenetrable from the inside and out. He had taken part in the location selection and the layout of the prison, despite how much he had wished to have no involvement whatsoever.
Since the completion of Azkaban, perhaps half of the Death Eaters and criminals who escaped that day had been caught, but the other half were still yet to be found. That was exactly why Harry's field Aurors were out there that very moment searching for Death Eaters. Despite how old, beaten, or worn down some of them may be, they were still extremely dangerous. At first, Harry had feared for the safety of his family and the world he had helped create, but after three years of continued peace, that fear had faded. He knew the Death Eaters had gone underground. He only hoped they weren't working toward an uprising, but if they were, Harry prayed that they hadn't found and joined forces with Parker Namken.
It had been years since Norah had felt such butterflies in her stomach. She didn't quite know why she was so anxious and excited for her dinner with James that night, but she decided that her excitement was ultimately better than any paranoia in the fact that the night may not go as planned. She highly doubted that, though. She had full faith that, after tonight, she and James would once again be on the right track. Since she had returned from her visit with James to her office at the Daily Prophet, her day had gone much slower than she had hoped. Finally the time came, though, when she wrapped up an article and left her office for the weekend.
She returned to her small flat, where she tried to busy herself with simple things just to pass the time until she could get ready to go to James'. She finally decided she couldn't wait any longer, and she had showered, shaved every inch of her legs, and painted her nails. She was putting the final touches on her curly hair when the doorbell to her flat rang. Humming under her breath, she meandered to the door where she greeted her visitor.
“Albus!” she beamed in surprise, and she immediately jumped into his embrace.
Al opened up his arms for her and held her tight, burying his face into her neck with a smile. “Hey, Norah,” he said happily.
“What are you doing here?!” she asked in awe. “I mean, I'm thrilled to see you! Just surprised. Here, come in!”
She peeled herself off of his lanky frame and, taking his hand, pulled him into her flat. She shut the door behind them and turned to face him. He looked good—better than he had the past few months, anyway. When she looked at him these days, Norah still couldn't believe how much he had physically matured over the past three years. He was inches taller, and while he had also grown broader, he was lankier these days, his face longer and narrower. He didn't look like a teenager anymore; he looked like a man.
She hadn't seen him in a while. When she had still been dating James, seeing Albus was a regular occurrence. She was always seeing all the Potters, but ever since she and James had their fallout, she had seen Albus much less. She had missed him greatly, and she was thankful he was taking the time to come see her. Especially since Albus was such a shut-in these days, he stepping out of the Potter home for more than just his psychiatrist appointment was a big deal.
“I wanted to see how you are,” said Albus with a smile. “We don't see each other like we used to. I miss you.”
“Awe,” beamed Norah, and she embraced him again. “I've missed you, too. Thanks for stopping by.”
She moved further into the flat, Albus following her. They were comfortable around each other. After ending their relationship on fine terms, they had become good friends.
She weaved her way back through her small flat, through her bedroom, and to her bathroom. Albus threw himself down onto Norah's bed, turning onto his stomach to watch her as she sat down at her vanity in the bathroom. She busied herself with applying her make-up as Albus watched.
“James came by the house today,” Al said absently. “He said you're going over to his place tonight.”
“Yeah!” answered Norah enthusiastically. “It seems like we're both ready to finally make things work.”
“That's great and all,” answered Albus, but Norah picked up on his uneasy tone. He seemed reluctant to be happy for her and his brother. He finally added on to his previous statement. “But, Nore...You know what he did, right?”
“Al...” she sighed and rose from her spot at her vanity. She went to stand in the doorway and leaned against the frame.
“You know, don't you?” he stated again, his voice stern and serious. Now Norah knew Al meant business by coming to her flat; he hadn’t dropped by just for a pleasant visit because he missed her. “You know he slept with Clancy O'Dell? Did he tell you that?”
“I know he slept with her, Al,” Norah groaned.
Albus was quickly scrambling off of her bed. He approached her, his expression sad, and Norah couldn't help but wonder just what was going on with Albus beneath the surface. His shoulders fell with her answer, and his expression turned to that of disbelief.
“Then what are you still doing trying to get back together with him?” asked Al in an appalled voice. “He slept with someone else! You deserve better than that, Norah!”
“Maybe I do,” she said quickly, rolling her shoulders, “but I don't deserve any better right now, Al. You know it was me to screw up our relationship first, right? James walked in on me kissing Kiernan. We were broken up when he slept with Clancy. He was a single man; he could do whatever he wanted.”
“You really think that?” blurted Albus. “He should have been more forgiving of you!”
“We can't change what's done, Albus,” Norah said quickly. Albus was preaching to the choir, and she had already expressed her woes to James, so she didn’t need to hear it. “What's done is done, and what matters is that I love him, and I know he loves me, too. That means we're both willing to forgive each other and work together to be a couple again.”
“You shouldn't have to settle for him. You shouldn't have to work so hard to make him happy. You deserve so much better than that,” he said in an undertone. Then his voice grew with passion. “I saw the way he treated you. He or anyone else may not have noticed, but I did. He was cruel to you.”
Norah watched him curiously. He was looking at her in a way she had never seen before. Her brow furrowed with her confusion as Albus moved closer to her. With his new height, he loomed over her, and she had to tilt her head up to meet his eyes. As he came closer, his expression grew softer. Uneasily, his hand reached out and he gingerly fingered one of her curls. His eyes were swimming with something she didn't understand from him, something that made her ponder his true feelings for her.
She knew she should have stepped away from Al in that moment. She knew she should have turned in the other direction, told him the conversation was over, that Albus had no say in it whatsoever, but she found that she couldn't, for she was desperate to understand him. She was frozen, rooted to the spot as Albus continued to move closer and closer. She was shaking with bewilderment and curiosity as to what he would do next.
Finally, he was only inches from her. She could feel her chest touch the top of his stomach every time she inhaled. His palm flattened against her cheek, and he said in a low voice, his breath tickling her lips. “I never should have given you up.”
And then he was kissing her. Fiercely, passionately. In such a way they had never kissed before. Not even when they were dating three years ago.
Caught off-guard, her eyes opened wide with surprise, and she stumbled back with the force of Al's kiss. He kept his hand against her cheek, but his other found her hip and squeezed tight, pulling her flush against his long form. Norah remained unmoving, too shocked to even respond as Al's plush lips molded against hers.
Finally she was able to gather her bearings, and she squealed against him.
“Stop,” she was able to gasp against his lips.
Her arms moved from her side and went to push at his chest. She broke her lips away from his and gave his chest a powerful push, sending him stumbling away from her.
“No, Al!” she cried out, the back of her hand going to her mouth. “What was that about?!”
“You shouldn't be with him!” Albus shouted. “Always complaining, always working, always hurting you, never there for you!”
“I love him!” she cried. “I love him, and you have to understand that! When you love someone...you'll do anything to make it work. It doesn't matter to me what he did. Or what I did. Not anymore.”
“No, Albus!” she cut him off. “I love him. I'm sorry.”
Albus stopped and pursed his lips. He stood in the middle of her bedroom, fuming and distraught. He had gone three years of not letting anyone know that his feelings for Norah still remained, and then he had to go do this. He had to go be stupid and kiss her. He wished he had controlled himself.
“What did you mean? What you said a minute ago…” she asked uneasily after a minute of awkward silence. She looked to his downcast gaze and tried to find his eyes. He stumbled back another step and lowered himself onto Norah's bed, taking his head into his hands. “When you said 'I never should have given you up...'”
“I meant exactly what I said,” he said in an almost inaudible whisper. As much as he now wished he could, he knew he couldn't take back what he had said. He couldn't take back that moment in which he kissed her. He was suddenly faced with the situation of sharing his true feelings with Norah. “I never should have handed you over to James. I should have fought harder to keep you.”
“Albus?” she asked uneasily, trying to decipher his meaning. She tugged her shirt, which had bunched itself up on her hips when Albus had grabbed her, back down and apprehensively approached him. She sat next to him on her bed, trying to urge him to continue speaking. It was so rare that Albus voiced his inner thoughts these days.
“My feelings for you...” he began and then faltered, but Norah's kind eyes urged him on. “They never left.”
“You still have feelings for me?”
“Oh, Al,” she moaned. “I had no idea.”
“Of course you didn't,” he muttered. “You moved from me to James. It was obvious how much the two of you loved each other, and after everything we had all been through, I could tell the two of you were just happy to finally be together. Neither of you ever stopped to look back and see how it made me feel.”
His words brought tears to her eyes. Tears of pity for Albus and guilt for herself. Had she and James really been that oblivious to how Albus felt?
“We didn't think you were that upset. You seemed happy for us, and I never thought you truly cared for me. I thought it was more of a physical attraction than true feelings.”
Albus shook his head again. “How could you think that?” he whispered painfully.
“I–I don't know...” she breathed. “Why didn't you ever say anything?”
“I didn't need to,” he answered. “I convinced myself I would move on. You're right in a sense. I thought it was just an infatuation; I thought I would move on. Once you told me how you felt for my brother, I realized I was stupid to have never seen it before. Of course you loved each other, and on that day, I wanted nothing more than for the two of you to be happy. Even if that meant I lost you along the way. And I knew no one would ever love you more than James loves you.”
“Albus...” she moaned in pain. When he said nothing, she uneasily asked, dreading the answer. “Do you love me?”
It took him a moment to find his answer, and in that time, Norah could feel her heart clenching in her throat. She didn't know what had prompted her to ask, and she didn't know what she would do if he said yes.
He finally spoke slowly. “I don't know if what I feel for you is love. I don't know if I love you or not. I try not to think about it too much because I know you and James are meant to be. I just think...I think my feelings for you never left because you were someone special to me when I truly hit rock bottom. During that hell, everyone left me. I had no one. No one but you, Norah. No matter what happened during that awful year, you were always there. Even James turned his back on me. You were the only one who didn't.”
His words made her feel guiltier than she already did. Albus didn't know what had truly gone on during that time he spoke of. Yes, she was always there for him when he had needed her, but he didn't know everything else. How James had to be the one to keep her faithful to Albus, how she had longed to be with James, how she had searched for a way to let Albus down easy. She could feel herself drowning in her guilt, and her tears began to steadily flow down her cheeks.
“Please don't cry,” Albus said gently. He reached out and wiped away her tears. “I'm sorry for what I did. For kissing you. I should have kept this to myself. I know that you and James...I understand how you feel for one another. I understand that you will always find a way to be together.”
“I'm sorry,” she said in reply. “I love him. I always have. I always will.”
“Of course,” he muttered. “It will always be him.”
A/N: Edited 9.20 for grammar and accuracy.
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