"Why would I need a bodyguard?" I ask again, louder this time, but Albus continues to ignore me as Beckett rubs the palms of his hands over his eyes and Danny sinks down onto the crumbling wall that cuts off the scrappy front yard from the pavement out front. Ricky puts his arm around Wallis, who is biting her lower lip and staring at the small crack in the front door.
"Do you think they took anything? We can fix anything that's broken with magic, but if they've taken something…" Ricky trails off. I stare at the side of Albus's head, who is now watching Wallis and Ricky wrap their arms around each other in a friendly hug.
"Nothing in there really worth taking, Rick, to tell you the truth," Albus says, veiled humour in his tone, and Ricky's face lifts a little. Wallis laughs under her breath, but it isn't her usual bold laugh – it's a timid chuckle that she squashes down to fit the situation. Danny pulls his phone out of his pocket and quickly snaps a picture of the front garden, the sudden flash making me jump a little.
"Albus, why do I need a bodyguard?" I ask again, but I can tell before I have even finished talking that he is going to ignore me again. "Albus, will you listen to me!" I yell suddenly, stomping my foot on the ground and trying to attract attention from those around me. From the way Albus doesn't even bat an eyelid at my sudden bout of childish noise making – I take a moment to thank Merlin that my mother isn't around to see me acting like a child – I can only guess that he's taken lessons from my father in how best to ignore me. He perfected it when I was still in nappies.
"Flora, please shut your mouth for five seconds and let us focus on the fact our fucking house was broken into, will you?" Ricky snaps, glancing up from the brightly coloured sneakers on his feet, scuffing them along the pavement.
"Fine," I say back, making sure to use the polite voice that mother taught me when I was seven, mostly used for talking to Ministers from other countries and people high up in the British Ministry like ambassadors and members of Daddy's Minister Team. They never noticed me enough to notice that my tone was polite and reserved, but mother insisted that I did so anyway.
Andromeda called it 'being a priss', but I referred to it as 'being raised correctly'. And yet, Andromeda always wondered why my mother and daddy disapproved of her, referring to her as 'the bad influence'. They told me I could do better, until I pointed out that no one else was willing to be friends with me because of the way they'd raised me. That shushed them for a while.
"Right, well, we might as well head on in," Danny says suddenly, getting up off the wall and flexing the large muscles that made up his bulging biceps. I would be terrified of him if he walked past me in the street. "Ain't nothing going to happen if we just stand out here like a gang of lemons. I'll take charge of our Flo."
I go to correct him on his appalling use of a nickname I've never wanted and/or needed, but Albus looks at me for the first time in a good five minutes to shoot me a furious look that glues my lips to one another. Wallis goes to step into the house, but Albus gestures to Danny to take hold of my arm – which he promptly does – and then skips ahead of Wallis.
Not in the sense that he physically made a skipping motion, of course, but in the sense that he jumped the queue ahead of her. He nudges the door open with the toe of his baseball boot and pulls his wand out of his back pocket, pointing it ahead of him.
Wallis and Ricky, arms linked, follow Albus up the chipped stone step and into their home. Beckett waits a second; presumably trying to hear roared curses or screams, perhaps the odd few crashes of broken glass, but nothing comes so he makes his way into the house next. Danny glances over his large shoulder at the empty street, but then wastes no time in towing me into the house after Beckett.
"Wait, did you know about Albus and the reason that he's with me?" I asked Danny, noticing his protective clutch of my arm and the way his eyes keep glancing around the hallway like he expects someone to be stuck on the wall, waiting for me to walk past so that they can leap down on my shoulders and rip my head from my neck. My stomach twists slightly at the thought.
"Yes," Danny grunts. "But he never told us why, so I couldn't tell ya if I wanted to. Sorry, love." Danny pats my arm absentmindedly, locking the door behind him. I wonder whether or not to bring up the fact that no one who could have caused this magnitude of damage in such a short time would be deterred by a locked door, but I figure Danny's brain power won't comprehend that.
"Oh," I answer simply, instead.
Albus appears in the doorway to the living room a second later, the hand that is not clutching his wand rubbing across his cheeks and jaw in agitation.
"Living room's clear," he grunts, then pushes past me with a slight shoulder shove and stomps his way upstairs. Ricky follows a second later, also clutching his wand. Danny leads me into the living room, where Wallis and Beckett are sitting on the torn couch, and pushes me down into the one wooden chair that has not been reduced to splinters.
The devastation is shocking; it looks like a tornado has spun through the room. The TV is lying on the ground, the screen smashed into a million shards of glass, surrounded by the mashed up remains of every CD, DVD and video game disk that had been sitting on the now-destroyed TV table. The coffee table has been smashed into six ruined pieces of wood. The curtains have been torn down and reduced to fraying shreds, which have been tossed around the entire room.
In the kitchen, the cutlery drawer has been upended so that forks and knives and spoons lie all over the tiles. The tiles themselves has been cracked and smashed, and pulled out of the layer of adhesive that sticks them to the ground. All the pots, pans and plates have been tossed around the room, the bowls and mugs crushed into hundreds of tiny pieces, the table and chairs broken and destroyed, the blinds ripped down from the window, the glass of the window smashed, the oven pulled out from against the wall and tipped on its side… it is awful.
I have seen pictures in slums in the poorest of the poor parts of the world that are in better condition than their house. The canvases on the wall have been punched through; I can't, for the life of me, imagine the kind of person would want to do this to the home of four nice teenagers.
The sound of Albus's boots clomping downstairs makes me jump, and Danny pats me on the thigh by way of comfort. I start at the gesture, but offer him a vague smile all the same.
"Y'alright, Flora? You look a bit shaken up," Wallis says suddenly, and I feel like welling up at the thought that she's worrying about me while sitting in the destroyed living room of her home. I nod to her and Beckett offers me what I'm sure is supposed to be a comforting smile, but he doesn't seem to be used to the gesture so his expression comes off a little pained and wooden.
"Upstairs is just as bad as down here, but there's no one in this house. I checked."
Albus twitches his wand to explain his statement as Ricky follows him into the room, dropping down on Wallis's knee as there is nowhere else for him to sit. I go to get up out of my chair, feeling rude for taking up one of their seats, but Albus reaches down and grips a hold of my shoulder, which keeps me sitting down.
"Want to fix this now? The beds and everything are destroyed, so we're going to have to at least make a start so that we have somewhere to sleep tonight. Beckett, your room… mine and Flora's room, as of right now, has been hit the worst." A knowing look is shared between the two boys, but Beckett's worry seems more aimed towards me than towards the fact that whoever mashed up their house seemed to focus the most on his possessions.
"Alright. How 'bout we sort upstairs out first, which'll probably take a good hour and a half, and then we'll see if we're not too tired to make a crack at downstairs. Once it's tidied we can see if anything's been taken – most likely check my room the most, and if nothing's gone from there, then it'll probably be safe to assume that nothing's gone from the rest of the house. Flora, you're gonna have to check your suitcase for us and tell me whether or not anything's missing from there, because none of us know what you actually brought with you." I nod, thinking they're hyping it up a little much – it's not likely that someone is going to have stolen a pair of my heels if they didn't take a television, is it?
"Okay," I murmur when Albus shoots an annoyed glance my way. His reasonably cheerful mood that had evolved from being with his friends for a while seemed to have turned surly and moody in the blink of an eye. I wonder if he's ever going to mature enough to be constant enough to look after little Noah. The thought of that little boy growing up without his daddy makes me stomach clench.
My daddy gave me everything in life; and I struggle to even comprehend what it will be like for Albus to have nothing to do with his son. I'd be nothing without my father, and I wonder if Albus has ever thought that his son could be the same.
Still, perhaps my view is a little biased – Andromeda's father was allegedly a good-for-nothing, and she turned out just fine without him. Never wanted for anything according to her, as her mother gave her everything she could ever need. Still, I had thought snidely, it is in reverse for me – I could have gotten by just fine without my mother being there.
Wallis gets up off the couch, shoving Ricky off her knee and onto the remains of the TV, and wraps her arm around my shoulder. The four boys head off upstairs, sounding like a small herd of elephants on the staircase, and Wallis chews on her bottom lip.
"I'd offer you a cup of coffee, but under the circumstances…" she trails off with an awkward laugh.
"I don't drink caffeine, anyway," I murmur, and Wallis rolls her eyes.
"Of course you don't. What do you drink?"
"Water. Fruit juice in the mornings. I have a glass of champagne at fancy functions or possibly a glass of vintage red at an important meal at home. I drink tea of an evening, just before bed, to wind myself down. I drink hot water and lemon at least twice a day. I haven't actually done that for a few days, since I got in that darn – excuse my language – car, and I think my body's not taken kindly to it." Wallis raises an eyebrow and turns her head away to hide her chuckles.
"You're a nutter, you, babe," she says affectionately, mussing up the top of my hair. I jump a little and pull out of her reach, smoothing down the top of my head compulsively.
"Well what do you drink? Surely you don't drink beer morning, noon and night." I lean back in the chair as Wallis puts her hands behind her back, indicating she'll keep her paws to herself. Wallis toes a few smashed up beer bottles on the floor by the couch and nudges them underneath the sofa so they're obscured from view. I have to chuckle at the naivety of the action.
"I drink coffee. Shitloads of the stuff – about ten cups a day. Drink beer of a night. Drink a few cups of tea in the morning, when I get up. Drink hot chocolate when it's cold in the winter, but not very often because that stuff is pricey. Danny drinks beer morning, noon and night, though – the majority of his measly pay checks go on the stuff."
"What does Danny do for a living?"
"He works two jobs. He works as a waiter in a little café 'round the corner from here, and then he works weekends at a restaurant that's a ten minute bus journey away as a kitchen assistant – he does more dishwashing than cooking, like." I raise my eyebrows.
"Do any of you work in Wizarding careers, or do you all work muggle jobs? Didn't you say that you work two jobs: a waitress and a barmaid?" Wallis nods, her otherwise neutral expression falling a little flat and sad. I wonder whether the subject of her mediocre employment is an issue for her.
"Nah, we all work muggle jobs. None of us got enough qualifications to do anything in the Wizarding world that would actually have anything to do with magic, and why bother being a barmaid in a Wizarding pub where everyone can see what a failure you are when you can just go and do the same thing in a muggle pub where no one knows you?" I frown and pat her on the wrist, an oddly affectionate gesture that I have never done before.
"You're not a failure, Wallis," I say honestly, but her face breaks out into an expression of amusement as though she thinks I'm speaking merely hot air and flattery. "No, I mean it. You're one of the only people that have made an effort to be nice to me in a very, very long time. You're not a failure. You might not like your jobs, but you seem to be a lot happier than m- than most people I know."
Wallis peers at me, scrutinizing, so I aim my gaze out of the window.
"I suppose I am happy, yeah. In general. Not all the time, no, but most of the time I would probably classify myself as happy. What, you don't meet many people that are happy in your perfect little world?" she asks, and while it might have sounded cruel coming from someone else, it just seems like an honest question coming from Wallis.
"No, not really. Daddy's too stressed to be happy, as are all of the business associates of his I have met. Mother is too… miserable and starved of attention to be happy. Too busy being the dutiful Minister's wife, you know. All the people who I do charity work with, they're either starving or homeless or dying… they're not happy. All the healers are stressed while at work. Andromeda's happy, I suppose, but her constant falling in love and subsequent heartbreak means I hardly ever think of her smiling or laughing." I shrug offhandedly and Wallis's eyes widen.
"So… you wouldn't classify your family as happy?" I shake my head. "What about you?"
"What do you mean, what about me?"
"Would you say that you are happy in life, in love, in general?" I go to laugh, but the sound catches in my throat and makes my eyes water instead. Wallis seems to think she's overstepped the mark.
"I've never been in love, so in love… no. I work too hard to really focus on… on that, the pursuit of happiness. I want to get myself settled first, get through school, become a healer, focus on becoming the best at my job I can possibly be. Buy a big house. Follow politics. Meet a man that works just as hard as I do and will not expect me to see them every day. Get married quite quickly – no point in waiting. Move in together. Get promoted. Have a baby or two, maybe. Hire someone to help take care of the children so I can work. Send the babies to the best private nurseries and primary schools in the country, and then to Hogwarts, possibly Beuxbatons so they're better cultured. Put them through healing college, preferably. Let them get married to nice people, and then have grandchildren. Retire. Get to…. get to know my husband then, probably. I suppose that's… that's the plan." I haven't answered the question she's asked, but I've spoken.
"That's no life," a loud voice says from the doorway, and I turn to see that Danny has made his way back downstairs and is walking into the living room, his wand jammed behind his ear. "That ain't any kind of life, Flora. That sounds like my kind of worst nightmare." My plastic smile drops a little, painful to try and keep on my face.
"That's what I want," I volley back, and his eyebrows rise.
"Then I hope Al teaches you a thing or two while he's with you. I might not know ya, Flora, but I'd hate for anyone to have to live that kind of life. 'avin kids raised by a nanny so ya can work… tellin' ya now, I ever knock a bird up then I'll be with that kid for life. My kid. Nobody's ever gonna be raisin' my son or daughter for me." Wallis smirks a little and sits on the sliced couch.
"Better hope that you never knock up anyone then, if the kid's gonna be stuck with you for life," she laughs. Danny shoots her the finger and heads into the kitchen, fixing a few mugs and filling them with water from the hole in the sink that once held the tap. I presume that the boys have gotten tired with their hard work and want something to drink.
"This place is a fucking state, isn't it?" Danny grumbles, toeing glass out of the way as he comes back into the living room. "There is no way on this earth that one person did this. Al said they didn't use a wand, and there's no way one person did this with their hands." Wallis sucks in a deep breath.
"Yeah, well, we don't have to talk about that now, do we?" Wallis says, shooting a look at me that I assume she believes I don't notice. Danny shrugs and slouches out.
"I'm really sorry about your house, Wallis. Do you know what they wanted? Do you know who it was? If you like, I can walk down to the police station with you now and you can report it. I'll ring Daddy and ask him to send one of our security team to walk down with us – after today; I wouldn't want to head out anywhere unescorted. And it seems my… bodyguard is currently otherwise engaged." Wallis laughs uncomfortably and avoids my gaze.
"Flora, you… you know what they wanted, don't you? Surely you've… you've figured it out. Why'd you think Al is so furious? Why do you think Beckett's room was hit the hardest? It's not like that kid has anything worth looking at, other than a few years' supply of porno magazines." I frown.
"Beckett reads those kinds of magazines?" I ask, my nose wrinkling up a little in disapproval.
"That's not what you're supposed to be focusing on, Flora. For goodness sakes, why do you think that Albus is so furious, why he insisted on walking us back into the house this evening? I know the way, there was no need for him to accompany us. He had to walk his back because that's his job!"
"Yes, I know what the purpose of being a bodyguard is, Wallis," I sigh tiredly, wondering when they're going to sort Beckett's room out so that I can curl up on the bed and sleep for twelve hours.
"Are you this dense all of the time or are you just trying not to focus on the fact that the people that broke into our house most likely broke in to get to you? Think about it, Flora, for one second – you've been made to go on a road trip, completely out of the blue, you've been sent with a personal bodyguard that's known for being a bit of a brawler, you're never staying in one place, and the one night that you stay somewhere that they can track, the place is broken into and ransacked. Your bedroom is the room that has been trashed and searched the most, Flora – what does that tell you?" I blink a couple of times and place my head in my hands.
"Why would anyone want to look through my suitcase, though? What are they expecting to find, state secrets stashed in between my clean underwear and shampoo?" Wallis bangs her face against her hands a couple of times, and then sinks back into the couch as though she's bearing the weight of the world on her skinny shoulders. I notice how pronounced her collarbones are, poking out from beneath the base of her throat. She really is thin, I realise.
"I don't know, Flora, I don't. I've told you more than I should have since I met you, so why stop now? Albus told us that his father was sick of his behaviour and that he had devised a plan to drum some responsibility into him. A week later he told us his father's plan was to have him take the daughter of the Minister for Magic on a trip, as her bodyguard. He wouldn't tell us anything else, not why you needed one, not what your father said, nothing.
"Anyway, he said he'd like to meet up, bring you with him, for a night. He wanted to spend some time with his friends, you know? Ricky told him not to, said it wouldn't be a good idea to put you in one place for a few days if your father, the Minister for Magic, didn't think you were safe in the most protected house in the country. But Albus wouldn't listen, would he? I think that's part of the reason he's as angry as he is – he thinks this is his fault, since he should have just listened to Ricky and kept you safe. Kept you away from here.
"And I think a little more of it is that… well, he put all of us in danger, really. Our house has been ruined. If he'd just kept you on the road like he should have done, then they never would have showed up here. And he knows that. Albus told us that he needed to keep you safe, but he didn't tell us why or from whom. The house can be fixed, I know that, but if one of us got hurt… well, there ain't really much he could have done if one of us had been here and gotten battered, ay?"
I'm not sure what to say, so I stare at the toes of my shoes instead. I think about Albus upstairs, and wonder whether or not his sudden outs of anger are really aimed at himself. The thought is mildly comforting, to say the least.
"Well, as comforting as that thought it, is still doesn't explain who showed up at this house, why they did it and what they were looking for. Do you think Albus knows?" I say. Wallis frowns.
"I don't know. I think that your dad might have told him an abbreviated version so he'd know why he needed to take you on the trip, but I don't think he knows everything. I mean, would you trust Albus with important secrets? No. I dunno, I reckon that you should talk to Al about it, but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't tell you jackshit." I frown at Wallis's language but choose to say nothing, knowing that she's not going to break her habits. Not everyone has been raised like I have, to understand that foul language shows nothing more than a limited imagination and a repressed vocabulary. Wallis seems to gouge my disapproval from my expression.
"Right, well, I might ask him tonight in bed," I say slowly, wondering whether my bottle of water in Beckett's room is safe, since I am actually very thirsty from spending the day outside in thirty degree heat without any liquids, since I refused to drink the warm beer that Ricky had stuffed in his satchel.
"That sounds really strange when you take it out of context," Wallis laughs, and I flush a little at the insinuation. Wallis notices the colour in my cheeks and her gaze instantly switches from amused to curious. "Flora, could I ask you a personal question? It's alright if you don't want to answer, like."
"I don't see why not," I say nervously, wondering what she wants to ask me.
"Are you a virgin, Flora?" Colour blooms up into my cheeks and I clap my hands over my ears, and then let them drop back down onto my knees when Wallis's face breaks out into a huge grin at my naivety and embarrassment. "Sorry, it's just… you go red every time someone mentions sex, or anything like that – you even blush when someone mentions that you're sharing a bedroom with Al, which is pretty hilarious since you are really not his type." I smile awkwardly.
"Erm… no, I'm not," I say honestly, wondering whether or not it would be easier to lie in order to get Wallis off the subject. Her grin becomes even wider and she instantly sits up a little straighter.
"What?! Are you being serious?" I blush such a deep shade of burgundy that I can almost feel the heat radiating off my cheeks. Wallis gets up off the couch, pulls me down to the sofa next to her and grabs hold of my hands, clasping them over her lap. I've never seen her looking this excited.
"Yes," I murmur quietly, staring at the swirly patterns on the carpet. "But really, Wallis, you can't mention this to anyone. If Daddy was to find out then he would be absolutely furious and I – I couldn't have him being furious with me, I just couldn't… Wallis, really, you have to keep this to yourself. In fact, just forget I ever said anything!" I bite my lip and Wallis pulls me in for a big hug, which she doesn't seem to find as awkward as I do.
"Oh, chill yourself down, love; I'm not going to talk to anyone about it. What am I going to do, mention it to Ricky over a bowl of Golden Loops in the morning? But tell me more about it – did you have a secret boyfriend that you were hiding from your father or something? Oh my god, this is so exciting!" Wallis looks to be on the verge of clapping.
"No, no. I went to Barbados with my daddy and mother when I was seventeen, just before I went into seventh year, and I made good friends with another English boy that was holidaying in the same six star resort." Wallis raises an eyebrow at me. "Well, we were talking one night on the coast and he asked me if I was a… you know, and I told him I was, and he said that we had to… 'fix that', and then we… you know. On a towel by the coast. I hated every second of it." Wallis frowns.
"Why? Was he not very nice?"
"No, he was alright, I suppose. It just… hurt, you know." I'm mortified, and I duck my head forwards so that my hair swings down on either side of my face so Wallis cannot read my expression. "And afterwards he just got up and left and left me on the beach alone, and he didn't look at me for the rest of the holiday. It was a good job we were only there for five days, because Daddy needed to get back home for work and it was hard enough for him to get those five days off. But I regretted it ever since. I wish I'd waited, or something, for someone that I wanted to be with. But being in a relationship is not at the top of my list of priorities, to be quite honest. I want to focus on my education and career."
Wallis rolls her eyes and pats me on the thigh.
"Well that's not exactly the exciting, dramatic love story that I was imagining, but it's interesting," she laughs uncomfortably. "He sounds like a little bit of a fucker, to be quite honest. You should have just given him a good kick in the nuts and told him to drop dead, that's what I would have done. Shame you fell prey to a typical teenage bloke on holiday, babe." She smacks quick kiss on the top of my head and pats my knee again, ignoring the way I shudder uncomfortably and shuffle away from her a little. I'm not comfortable with all of the personal contact.
"Sorry," I apologise, hoping that I haven't disappointed her too much with my lack of a sex life.
"Have you ever had a boyfriend, Flora?" she asks, and though I still find this question uncomfortable, I can tell that some of the tomato-coloured blush is leaving my cheeks.
"No, I haven't had a boyfriend, per say, but I've been on several dates. Neither me nor the date ever got along well enough for things to progress to a further stage, though," I say, and Wallis leans back into the padded sofa cushion, clearly expecting me to elaborate. Any further explanation on my part is halted by the arrival of all four of the boys clambering back into the living room.
"What are we talking about, my ladies?"
"The boys that Flora's dated," Wallis says, and I'm incredibly grateful that she does not mention the first discussion that we had. The idea of sitting in a car with Albus for another five weeks at a minimum with him knowing what I had said… the very thought made me panic a little. "She was just about to tell me about them when you fuckers barged in here and interrupted us."
"Ooh, let us in on the secret," Beckett says, wiping a little bit of soot off his cheek and dropping down onto the last remaining space on the couch. The other three boys kick aside a little bit of rubbish and rubble and make some room for themselves on the floor.
"Oh, well," I say quietly, my face blooming bright red and my hands clasping together on my lap, my fingers locking in and out of one another in my embarrassment. Wallis seems to notice because she raises her middle finger at Beckett and loosely drapes an arm around my shoulder, clearly making sure she doesn't invade my personal space as she did before.
"Oi, nosy whatsit, maybe you should ask her if she minds telling you before you go in and butt in on her private business." She flicks Beckett on the forehead and he jabs her in the ribs affectionately.
"Fine, fine. Dearest Flora, will you please do us all the extreme pleasure of allowing us to listen in on the sparkling secrets that are your social life? We would appreciate the gesture so very muchly. Thank you and good evening, my darling wonder." Reluctantly, a giggle escapes me. I glance up to see Albus staring at me oddly, as though he's not quite sure whether or not the laugh came from me. I suppose it is a fairly unfamiliar gesture for him.
"Erm, I don't see why not," I say, unable to come up with a reason as to why the boys cannot listen in on the limited experience I've had in the world of dating.
"Well, when I was fifteen Daddy roped me into a date with the son of a South African ambassador that was staying with us for a while, since he allegedly fancied me, but it turns out that his father was hoping we'd hit it off and marry and create a tangible link between the two countries while Daddy is still in power, and so made up different stories to tell both of us." They all begin to laugh, but I feel like it's more aimed at me that with me, since I had been heartbroken at the time, finding out that the first boy I had ever dated did not even want to date me.
"It turned out to be a good thing, though, since the son had been twenty two and therefore not very happy when he found out how old I was. His father misunderstood and thought I was eighteen, not fifteen. My daddy had thought that the age difference was a little strange.
"Then about half a year later, I went to a charity dinner with my aunt and uncle and a nice boy that had been sitting on our table asked if I'd like to go out for a meal with him, and I said yes, but he wasn't exactly a sparkling conversationalist and the awkwardness meant we never saw each other again after that. Plus, he pointed out that I was one of the richest children in the country and therefore should be picking up the bill, since he was just the son of an accountant. Daddy fired him the next day – he was an intern in the ministry – because he'd been so rude to me."
"How rich are you?" Beckett asked, picking shards of glass out of the bottom of his sneakers.
"Well, Daddy earns a lot and I come from two families of old money – both my mother and father were the children of millionaires growing up. My grandparents are all dead, and the majority of their money went to my parents but both of them set up generous trust funds for me that Daddy won't let me touch until I'm living on my own, or twenty one. Whichever comes first."
"So… how much is your Dad worth?" Beckett asks, his eyes wide.
"Well, together, my Daddy and my mother are worth about sixty million galleons." There is half a second of silence and then Wallis falls off the side of the couch. "Both of my trust funds are for several million galleons apiece." Albus sits up stock straight, as though someone has stuck electrodes to the base of his spine.
"How much?!" Ricky yelps, glancing around at his decimated box of a living room. "What they gave to you in a sodding trust fund is more than what every single member of my family has ever earned ever put together!" I blush a little and stare at the toes of my ninety galleon shoes.
"Well, my Daddy works awfully hard…" I murmur.
"So does mine! He's worked every day since he was fifteen in a fucking backbreaking job, working for absolute buttons, just to keep food on the fucking table! My granddad is still working at sixty nine because he can't afford to retire – he didn't start paying into his retirement fund until he was fifty two so there isn't enough in it for him to live off. And just because your dad makes a few speeches every now and again, he's earning enough to pay off every debt of every person in the entire sodding world," Ricky berates, pressing his hands down into the floor and glaring up at me.
"He doesn't earn that much, I've told you that," I say loudly, struggling to keep my tone polite. "A lot of the money is old money, since both of my parents are distant parts of the royal family. My father's great grandfather was made a duke in the muggle world, even though he was a wizard. That's why my father's a duke – it gets passed down to the eldest son of each man. My Daddy is an only child, and a male, so…" Danny's jaw is resting comfortably on the floor.
"Your dad is a duke?" he says slowly, as though the words don't quite make sense when strung together. I nod.
"Yes. My mother is only a duchess by marriage, though. In the muggle world, I am Lady Flora Dainty. My grandparents were not happy that my father chose to marry my mother, since she was rich but had no title, but that's just between us. Most of the Wizarding world doesn't know that Daddy is muggle nobility as well as a Wizarding politician. He's a wonderful man," I add with pride.
"He's a bastard," Ricky grumbles, but I swallow my retort. Arguing immaturely does nothing. I know that father is not without his opposition, or people that dislike him, but no politician ever has one hundred percent support across the country. Ricky sounds bitter due to his assumedly poor upbringing, but that is no fault of my family.
"You're a lady?" Danny asks, a furrow between his eyebrows.
"Yes, because I'm the unmarried daughter of a duke. Because my family are not part of the sovereign dukedom, meaning the royal family, but by old philanthropic acts and earning the title, I cannot inherit my father's title, since I'm a girl. It will die with Daddy, since he has no sons. I'll be a lady for life, though. If I am to marry a titled man, I will take their title, but otherwise I will just retain lady. If I was to marry you, for example, Danny, I would become Lady Flora… what is your surname?"
"Lady Flora Brockman, then. But you will not receive a title, and mine cannot be passed onto my children. My daughters will not be ladies, for example." Danny's eyebrows were in his hairline.
"If you'd been part of the royal family, would it change?"
"Yes, I'd become Her Royal Highness Princess Flora if Daddy was a royal duke, since that would mean he was in close relation to Her Majesty the Queen. But he's not, so I will not become a duchess or anything of the sort. My mother is one because she is married to a duke."
"What's your dad's full title?"
"The Duke of Devonshire," I say. "But he is also the Earl of Westmorland, through another part of his family, but that's a long story. You go by your highest title, so he goes by duke. It's not very often that we go to muggle parties, or such, so we don't have to go by our titles. I was made to learn the hierarchy as a child, though, so I know."
"Fucking hell," Danny eventually says, letting out a breath.
"Language, Mr Brockman," I sigh. He smirks.
Albus is staring at me oddly, I notice. He's looking at the way I am sitting, it seems – back straight, legs to the left, feet crossed at the ankle and hands sitting on my lap. Then his gaze switches to the bun I had my hair pinned into at the nape of my neck, and then the straight middle part of my hair. He looks at the platinum necklace around my neck. The sapphire ring on my finger. The diamonds in my earlobes. The expensive clothes I am wearing. I frown a little.
"Yes, Albus?" I ask slowly, narrowing my eyes enough so that only he will be able to notice.
"Nothing," he says calmly, raising both of his hands slightly in a sign of surrender. I widen my eyes again and brush one flyaway hair from my forehead, watching Albus watch my movements. "Though I suppose that explains why you're as stuck up and pretentious as you are. Not only does your family think they're 'all that' because your dad sits in the biggest office in the Ministry, but they also think they're the sodding biscuit because they happen to have been born to certain parents."
"Will you stop bashing my family for five seconds, please, Albus? It's rude and quite frankly, I find it offensive. I'm sure my father would be thrilled to know what you're saying to me – in fact, I think that any kind of position you might be hoping to hold in the Auror department will be squashed."
"Wow, is that really the best kind of threat you can come up with? Maybe if you removed the fucking stick out of your –"
"Albus Potter, shut your mouth right this second!" Wallis yells suddenly, standing up and getting directly in between Albus and I, so neither of us can see the other. I start, wondering whether or not I have been partaking in an argument that was severe enough to need to be broken up. Wallis runs her hand through her hair and lets out a deep breath.
"The pair of you are going to have to spend a lot of time together over the next few weeks, so maybe you should just try to lay off one another. If you are going to start bickering this early into the trip, can you imagine what you're going to end up like? Stop being twats." Wallis shoots both of us a look.
"Sorry," I murmur. Albus says nothing, as expected.
"Is upstairs all clear and good?" Wallis asks, turning to look at Albus. Danny smiles at me, in what I'm sure is supposed to be an encouraging way, and I struggle to manipulate my face muscles into returning the gesture.
"Yeah, it's all good. Doesn't look like anything's missing, but our Lady over here will have to go through her suitcase and tell us if they've taken anything of hers, which I think that they might have done." I frown but say nothing, noting the natural authority in Albus's tone. His muscles are tense, which is visible even beneath the sweatshirt that he must have put on when he went upstairs.
"Well then maybe we should head upstairs and get ready to go to bed – clearly none of us are in a place to talk. I'll see you in the morning. Goodnight, boys, Flora," Wallis says calmly, and then leaves the room. I can hear her bedroom door open, and then it creak shut again. There is a moment of silence, and then Danny heaves himself up off the ground, two hundred pounds of solid muscle, and heads off upstairs, pulling his shirt off as he goes. I blush and look down at my knees.
"If you don't mind, Albus, I'll head upstairs and get changed for bed, go to the bathroom, and such. Could you wait about fifteen minutes before you head on up? Thank you." Albus nods and gestures to the door. Ricky and Beckett both wave slightly, as a sign of goodnight, and I smile at them. Again, the smile is slightly off – it feels foreign on my face.
"Goodnight, boys," I say, copying Wallis's nicknames for them.
"Night, Flora," Beckett mutters. Ricky murmurs the same thing.
The staircase has been cleared of rubbish but I still have to step over a broken telephone, table and mirror to get to the bottom step. Two newspapers have been shredded and laid over the bottom three stairs. Once I pass halfway up the stairs I can see that upstairs has been fixed very well; it looks the same as it used to, if possibly a little tidier.
Albus knocking on the door makes me jump a little as I pull aside carefully folded items of clothing, checking to see whether or not something has been taken. I'm not sure whether or not the boys charmed my suitcase back into being neat, or whether it had been untouched already. Everything is exactly where it had been, and that makes me feel a little uncomfortable – it doesn't seem right.
"Come in," I call. He pushes the door open and heads into the room, already wearing the plaid pants and stretchy t-shirt that he has been wearing to bed for the last two nights.
"Oh, good, you're already looking. Is there anything missing that you can see?" I push one of my dresses back into its place, place some blue wedges on top it and look back up at Albus. He sits down on the edge of the bed and leans forward, propping himself on his knees with his forearms. He lets out a breath and then runs the palms of his hands roughly over his face, suddenly looking both much older and much younger than he actually is.
"No, I don't think so. Did you fix my suitcase or was it like this when you arrived?"
"Your suitcase is the one thing we didn't touch, why?" Albus doesn't look worried, all of a sudden, but his expression changes slightly; he looks a little more alert, or something like that. I shut the lid of my suitcase and stand up, brushing down the pink shirt and tight black trousers that I have chosen to don as sleepwear.
"It's as organised and neat as it was when we left this morning. I just… it really does look untouched. I can't see anything that's missing, and unless they want to take my hair oil, I don't see any reason why they would actually bother to look through my suitcase." Albus nods, and in an unfamiliar gesture he holds out a hand and pulls me onto the bed beside him, putting his arm around my waist.
I think I flinch at the contact, but he ignores me either way.
"Flora, are you alright? You look a bit out of it. You're not too scared to stay here, are you? Because I'm sure your dad can afford to spring for a hotel if you want to go and stay somewhere else." I shake my head and rest my temple on the edge of his shoulder.
"No, I'm alright. I think. I've never been this close to a crime before – breaking and entering, vandalism… this is just so far out of my comfort zone. I… I'm more worried about what you told me about you being hired as my bodyguard. Would you be willing to tell me a little more about that?" Albus shifts uncomfortably but nods all the same, letting go of my waist and shifting back on the bed so he's lying down. I stay sitting up straight.
"What do you want to know?" he asks slowly.
"Why do I need a bodyguard, for one?" I ask.
"To keep you safe, obviously," Albus says, as though it's the plainest thing in the world.
"From who?" I sigh, frustrated with the slow pace of the conversation.
"I can't tell you that. That's in the letter I was given by your father – I'm not to tell you that one."
"Am I in danger?"
"No, I'm here." I narrow my eyes.
"Why did they break into this house?"
"Don't know," Albus says, and for the first time I suspect that he might not have answered truthfully. "Erm… they might have been looking for… something. That's why I said to check your suitcase, in case anything was… missing."
"What do they want, Albus?"
"I… look, I need to go the toilet. I'll, er, be back soon. Get into bed." Albus laughs at how it sounds.
"Right, okay. Goodnight, Albus." He smiles.
"Night, Lady Flora." I get off the bed and fold down my half of the covers as Albus makes his way to the bedroom door and heads out into the hallway, pulling on some slippers to guard from the broken glass that is still scattered across the landing. The moment he is gone, I gracelessly leap over the bed, sliding a little on the duvet, and pull open the one drawer on Albus's side of the room.
And as though a giant arrow has been leading me to what I have been looking for without actually having to look for it – though I believe my natural luck may have something to do with that – I find what I am looking for.
The piece of parchment that Albus snatched up off the front step, thinking that I hadn't seen his sly moves. I unfold it quickly; unaware as to how long Albus is going to take in the bathroom. My hands are shaking slightly, though I'm not too sure why.
Albus Potter – I know you're protecting her, but you can't hide her forever. I'll find her. And when I do, she's dead.
disclaimer: nothing in this chapter belongs to me.
hope you enjoyed the chapter :) I don't know if this was a fast update or a slow update, to be quite honest. but I hope you liked it anyway - sorry that it was a little filler-y and chatty chapter with not much plot, but yeah. thanks for reading <3