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Chapter 7 : Hysterics
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"Flora, something is clearly eating at you. Tell me what the matter is." I shake my head and roll over onto my back so that I'm staring at the peeling paint on the ceiling. "Oi, look, part of my job description is to make sure that you're happy, yeah? And you're not happy." I shrug slowly.
"I'm fine, Albus. We're going to have a long day of driving tomorrow so I think I'd like some sleep. Goodnight." Albus shook his head, got hold of my shoulder and turned me back onto my side so that I was facing him again. I noticed that his shirt had ridden up slightly a small strip of his stomach was showing. I wonder whether or not I ought to tell him to pull it down again.
"Look, unless you tell me something, I'm not going to shut up all night. And then you're going to be tired tomorrow and everyone is going to get the wrong impression about the pair of us." I blush brightly and try to turn back onto my back, despite his iron grip.
"Well then, if you want to talk so badly, why don't you tell me a little something more about your job description?" Albus raises an eyebrow. "Yes, why don't you tell me why my father hired you – you know, why he would hire a bodyguard to take me on a trip? I mean, really, why did I even need to go on a trip? Father's 'you need to live a little' excuse really isn't floating it for me anymore – do you know something I don't know, Albus? If he hadn't sent me away then I wouldn't need a bodyguard."
Albus sighs, lets go of my shoulder and then rolls back over onto his back. I stare at the side of his head and then roll back over onto my back, so that we're both looking at the ceiling. "I can't tell you anymore than the fact that I'm your bodyguard, Flora. And I think the fact that you're a funless stick in the mud might have actually had something to do with why you got sent away."
"Why did I get sent away? Is someone looking for me, Albus?" I think about the note that Albus had hidden so that I wouldn't find it, and I wonder whether he is going to tell me the truth about someone being after me, or whether he is going to lie and pretend that all of this is for my own good. "Albus?"
"Go to sleep, Flora. I'll talk to you in the morning," he eventually murmurs, turning onto his other side so that his back is facing me.
"Of course you will," I sigh, turning my back on him as well. I pull the duvet up to my chin and hope that I'm actually going to be able to sleep, be able to get the image of the curling words spelling out the threat on my life out of my head. But the idea of that note sitting in the drawer just next to my bed makes me feel sick, and I want nothing more than Albus to explain what he knows. But I know he will say nothing, and so I force myself to close my eyes and try to sleep. Eventually, a fitful sleep swallows me and the nightmares arrive, filled with torn pieces of paper and lines of black ink.
"Wake up, sleepyhead, you need to get out of that bed, you have to leave early, your hair is all swirly, and I've made you waffles instead!" Wallis's voice chimes across the room and Albus groans from next to me, ignoring her little poem and snatching my pillow to slam across his face.
"Go away, Wallis, or I'll chuck you out of that window," Albus growls, kicking me in the ankle as I attempt to grapple to get my pillow back. A few seconds later, the unmistakeable smell of cooking waffles fills the small bedroom and Albus pulls my pillow up his face to free his nose and mouth. "In fact, scratch that – just throw some of those waffles into my mouth."
"Albus Severus Potter, if you think for one second that I am going to give you some of my top-secret recipe waffles without you heaving that admittedly delightful arse of yours out of bed then you have another thing coming. I did not spend all morning slaving over a hot stove for you to lie there and be a lazy fuck." A second later I was being heaved to the side as Albus jumped out of bed. Wallis's loud wolf whistle pierced the room and it was my turn to wince at the noise.
"What?" Albus mutters self-consciously, and I crack open one eyelid to see him pulling a hooded sweatshirt over his pyjama top and a pair of thick black socks onto his feet. In his defence, the kitchen tiles in the house are absolutely freezing. You step onto them with bare skin and you can instantly feel the muscles in your toes freezing up and seizing into position.
"Well don't you look mighty fine in those shorts," Wallis giggles, and a pale pink flush tinges the tops of Albus's cheeks. He yanks down his shorts so he's just standing in his check boxers and pulls on a thick pair of grey jogging pants that pour over his feet and trail along the ground, explaining the frayed hems.
"Shut up, I get hot at night so I sleep in shorts. It's not my fault that I have shapely legs and my mother hasn't bought me new pyjama shorts since I was fifteen and considerably smaller than I am now." I giggle too and sit up in our bed – I will never be able to say that without mentally wincing –tucking my hair behind my ear.
"And you can't head down to the nearest supermarket and pick yourself up some shorts without your mummy's help?" Wallis grins, stepping closer to the bed so she can wrap her arm around my shoulders, pulling my head to her stomach in an oddly motherly movement.
"Shut it, Chelan, or I'm going to tell them all about the time that you and I were having sex by the lake at Hogwarts and-" Wallis is from my side in a flash and is clapping her hand over Albus's mouth, not letting go despite Albus scooping her up and tossing her over his shoulder. If it was me, I would be screaming and tossing money at the poor people so they would help me get away from the enormous oaf with obviously inhuman brute strength.
"Erm, if you guys are just going to spend the morning wrestling then could you do it in the hallway? I'd quite like to have a wash and get changed for breakfast, and I can't do that unless you want to help me scrub my back." Albus's eyebrow cocks for a moment as though he is considering the idea, and I scoop up one of his shoes from the ground and toss it in their direction.
"Already being directed around by the old ball and chain, are we, Al? That's nice. Maybe I should write to your mother and tell her about this – she'll be planning your wedding before the end of the week. Tell me, would you rather be wearing a pale blue or a pale yellow tuxedo, because you need to get those babies pre-ordered quickly – they have to be custom-made because no one wants them."
"Oh shut your fucking yap, Chelan," Albus grumbles. He jumps up and down twice and Wallis shrieks in pain, leaping off his back and landing badly on her ankle so that she tips to her side and tips headfirst into the wall next to the window.
"Timber!" I shriek, flapping my hands about wildly but not actually getting out of bed to catch her.
Albus leaps forward like a Knight in Shining Sweatpants and grabs her around the waist, spinning her around in an elegant pirouette and then catching her when she is half a metre from the ground. Their ending pose looks like something out of a dancing movie from the eighties – her hair is tumbling over her shoulders and tickling the floor, his hands wrapped around her waist, their noses brushing one another's. They look like the kind of Hollywood couple people wish they could be. Irrational envy fills my stomach and I moodily mooch out of the bed, their laughter filling the room as they laugh and joke with one another as true friends do.
"Well, it's been lovely to meet you," I say slowly as Wallis hands me a badly wrapped packet of squashed cheese sandwiches and then another packet of ham ones for Albus, him not being trusted to look after his own. I carefully put them in the top of my bag so I don't get them squished further and offer Wallis a weak smile, trying not to let on that I will never be eating these sandwiches.
"It's been so cool meeting you too, Flora. You're nothing like I thought you were going to be." I wonder whether or not I should take that as a compliment but decide to ignore it anyway, allowing Wallis to pull me into an awkward hug. A second later I lift my hands from my sides and put them around her arms, making her laugh.
"You're nothing like I thought you were going to be, either, you know. I thought you were going to be some kind of… loud mouthed harpy with no manners or sense of tact. I thought you were going to swear non-stop and drink non-stop and have a constant string of guys around, but you don't."
Wallis leans out of the hug and looks at me for a second, an expression of disbelief frozen momentarily on her face, and then she begins to laugh hysterically. Danny and Ricky glance over from their man-hug with Albus to stare at the pair of us, slightly confused expressions on their faces. Beckett snorts and mutters something to Albus, who punches him in the stomach a second later and consequently causes Beckett to roll over the small wall behind him. None of the boys help him.
"And what, you thought that because I live with three guys, ride a motorbike and nearly failed out of school? I'm not fresh out of prison or a mental home, you know." She digs me in the ribs and I flush a pale shade of pink. "I am going to miss you, you know. The comedy factor around this place shot up when you and Al arrived. You're so… sheltered, it's hilarious." I frown, unsure again as to whether it's a compliment, an insult, or floating somewhere in the middle.
"It's not so hilarious when you've actually been raised the way I have," I murmur quietly, and for a second Wallis's expression drops so she looks something akin to worried about me. I brush off her expression. "Anyway, do you have any idea where I'm going now? Albus won't tell me."
"Nah, sorry, he never mentioned it. I think he and Danny were talking about it over breakfast this morning but they stopped when I walked into the room." I nod and frown, before letting Wallis give me one last hug and then wandering off to stand with Albus. His friends look at me strangely for one last time, like I'm some kind of alien that they can't quite wrap their heads around.
"Well, it's been… nice meeting you all. Thank you for loaning us your room, Beckett. I appreciate it." I slip my hand into my pocket and pull out the wad of muggle money I put in their earlier. I take his hand when he holds it out to me and pass over the wedge. He stares it in disbelief for a moment and then his face splits open into a wide grin.
"Geez, thanks Flora!" he laughs, pocketing the cash. I wince at his obviousness. Albus smirks at me.
"You didn't have to tip him, you know," he says loudly, ignoring the warning look I send him. "He let us use his room out of kindness, since I'm his mate – you don't need to give him money for it. He's not a little street urchin that polished your shoes for you." Beckett punches him hard in the ribs and Albus lets out a dull 'oofing' noise, clearly winded.
"Albus Severus, if dear, dear Flora wants to offer up some money in return for the kindness of others, then I don't have a problem with that. In fact, I think her generosity will be paying for me to take that pretty blonde thing from work to some kind of fancy restaurant this weekend." With a saucy wink at the lot of us, Beckett smacks me on the rear and swaggers off to talk to Wallis, who is picking weeds out from between the cracks in the paving tiles.
"Paying for friends – nice touch there Flora, nice," Danny laughs, and I'm almost sure from his expression that he is kidding.
"Well when you've got as much money as I have, you might as well put it to some kind of use," I smile, and I actually manage to get a bark of laughter out of Ricky, who sits down on the little wall that Beckett had just fallen over. "If I can't buy people's affections, what can I buy?" Ricky grins at me.
"Nah, Flora. You're pretty cool without the money. You know, aside from the fact that you're stuck up and won't touch things without sanitizing them and ended up getting our house trashed. But you're funny, you know. And you wind Al up, which is fucking amusing. It's hard to get Al wound up these days because he tries to play this calm guy who's above everyone else, but you manage to do it pretty good. He's always stomping around now, it's fucking hilarious." He pats me on the back amicably.
"Language, Ricky. Constant swearing is not 'hip'; it shows nothing more than a limited vocabulary." I pat him on the shoulder and pull him in to my side as he breaks down into a loud round of choked laughter, clutching his stomach with his free hand.
"Did you just say 'hip'?" Ricky asks, managing to draw a breath between laughs. I glance to Albus for support but find him muttering with Danny, who is glancing at the car every now and again with a frown creasing his forehead. His thick eyebrows, which are large enough to pass for slugs from a distance, are pulled together under the strain of his expression.
"What are those two muttering about? They look worried," I say, gesturing to Albus and Danny. Ricky shrugs offhandedly, not looking the least bit concerned, and gives me what I guess is supposed to be some kind of one armed hug.
"I'm gonna go and get something to drink before I head off to work. I work in a bar and yet I still can't walk into that fucking place without having necked a good few shots. I swear to Merlin, that bastard boss of mine tells me one more time to wipe down the bar in a circular motion then I am going to throw the filthy dishtowel at his ungrateful bald head." Ricky pats me on the back and wanders off, stepping over Wallis, who is now on her knees with a trowel, picking at the overgrown weeds.
"Well, I sure know how to clear a group, don't I? Nice to know that some things never change." Danny grins at me and tips the baseball cap on his head slightly in my direction, in what I think is a refurbished version of 'doffing your cap'.
"Safe journey, Flora." And with that, he wanders off. It occurs to me that Danny seems to be a man of few words. Albus smirks at me, and I wonder if he's noticed the same thing.
"Thanks…" I murmur dejectedly, despite the fact he's already wandered away. I turn around just in time to watch Danny trip over the trowel that Wallis had set down and go catapulting headfirst into the door, which had just been shut by a scuff-kneed Wallis. The loud crack that sounds made even Albus wince, and he didn't even flinch when he hit a tooth on his spoon at breakfast this morning.
"You ready to rock and roll, princess?" Albus asks, picking up the one suitcase that has yet to be loaded into the back of the car and carrying it to the boot. He loads it on top of the four other suitcases that I had Danny cram in their earlier and rolls his eyes, cocking a brow at me. I adjust my handbag on my shoulder and tilt my chin up slightly, heading purposefully over to my side of the car.
"So where are we going?" I ask as Albus slides into the driver's side and jams the keys into the ignition with more force than strictly necessary. He clicks his neck from either side and pulls out of the small gap that our car was boxed into yesterday by the obnoxious next door neighbours with the weird caravan from the seventies. The wing mirror of our car scrapes along their cheesy flowery patterned doors and causes quite a substantial line in the paint, but I decide to keep my mouth shut instead of criticising Albus's (admittedly awful) driving. Last time I criticised his driving, he took his shoe off – while still driving – and threw it at my head. I did not appreciate the gesture.
"I'm not too sure – that's what I didn't want to tell you. I know you're one of those freaks that likes everything to be planned out minute by minute in one of those planners from twenty years ago, but I heard about this place up north that's like one big amusement town, and I thought we could go up there and just see what it's like. I don't know specifically what we're going to be doing, though."
"Sounds… cool. Alright." Albus turns his head and grins at me in amusement, his lips quirking upwards in an oddly friendly gesture.
"Flora, for the sake of my sanity, pleasure never describe anything as 'cool' again. It clashes with your personality. And it sounds like a swear word in your upper class accent, there." My mouth drops open in indignation but Albus is too busy inspecting his fingernails and nail beds to notice.
"Yes, well… you said 'subverting convention' last night and it sounded like a swear word in your… common labourer accent." I snort derisively and toss some of my hair over my shoulder, not liking the way it was causing my neck to itch. Albus chuckles once, that small action alone enough to cause him to swerve out of our lane and onto the dotted line in the middle. I grip the edge of my seat in an anxiety and try to swallow the lump that quickly gathers in the back of my throat.
"First off, princess, I am not a 'common labourer'. I grew up in a mansion, my father is the man that saved the world and my family is worth a hell of a lot, even if it's not as much as yours. That does not make me a 'common labourer'. And second of all, stop gripping the seat like you think I'm going to toss you out of the windscreen or something – I am not that bad of a driver – oh fuck!"
"What?!" I shriek as Albus curses again, not sure what is going on but drawing my legs up onto the seat anyway. This, in hindsight, only really makes sense if Albus is cursing about the fact there are rats in the footwell.
Albus swerves like a madman, slamming his side of the car into one of the drying hedges that line the road and plunging his foot down onto the brake pedal, causing the seatbelt to cut hard into my chest, winding me. My head slams backwards into my headrest and my eyes roll back into my skull as the car sputters to an uneven stop, Albus cursing creatively the whole time. I open my eyes to find Albus wrestling his way out of the seatbelt and his leather jacket.
"Albus, what's the matter?" I ask quietly, trying not to notice how pretty Albus's green eyes look as they're flashing with anger, glancing around furiously as though he expects someone to jump out of the hedge and start coming at the car with a hammer. His muscles are tensed, which is much more obvious in the tight grey t-shirt he's wearing, as opposed to when his arms were covered in his thick leather jacket. I never noticed before how large his muscles are, protruding out from underneath his short sleeves. I quickly avert my gaze before I'm accused of gawking.
"I saw…" he mutters, and then glances at me and quickly shuts his mouth. I slam my hands down onto the dashboard in an unladylike fit of anger, also wrestling my way out of the constrictive grip of my seatbelt. Albus stops glaring around and peers at me.
"Albus Severus Potter, for the love of all that is good and holy, tell me what made you pull over and nearly crash the damn car, or I am getting out of this sodding vehicle right now and going home and you can go back to being bollocked by your father for being a good for nothing! So tell me what the hell is going on because I am the same age as you and am sick of being treated like a toddler!" Albus's eyebrow rise slowly and his mouth falls a little slack.
"Woah, you've got a temper on you, haven't you? I probably ought to tell your father you're such a little firecracker – he thinks he raised some demure little princess that wouldn't say boo to a goose." I narrow my eyes and he raises both of his hands in my direction. "Fine, fine! Look, I just… I think someone ran across the road in front of the car, but I don't… I don't know."
"What are you talking about?" I murmur, the anger I had managed to get into my voice dropping down to something much more akin to fear. Albus sighs and shifts around slightly so that he can wrap his arm around my shoulders in what I'm sure is intended to be a comforting gesture.
"Look, it's probably nothing to worry about. I just… I was looking at you because I was talking to you and then when I looked forward I just saw… I saw someone run across the road so fast and disappear into the hedge. I had to slam on the brakes because they… I think they were stopping in front of the car I think. I'm pretty sure that first degree murder wouldn't make my father suddenly become proud of me." I feel the blood drain out of my face as I glance towards the hedge.
"And… and when you pulled over to stop us crashing into them… they disappeared into the hedge?" My voice is shaking but I'm not too sure how to even it out. Albus nods, tightening his grip on my shoulder and leaning over the gearstick to place a comforting kiss on my temple. It's the first time I've been kissed by someone other than family since I spent the night with Harrison, and the thought brings an odd lump to my throat.
"Yeah," he murmurs softly. I take in a deep, rattling breath and twist around in my seat, prompting Albus to retract his arm back to his own side of the car. I reach into the backseat, where Cupcake is snoozing peacefully in his basket, and pull him onto my knee, careful not to move him too quickly and scare him. I pull his knitted blanket closer around him and brush my thumb along the back of his slimy neck, which I notice is swirled with faded black markings.
"It's alright, Cupcake," I soothe as his eyes crack open slightly, "I'm not going to let anyone hurt you, don't you worry about that. No one is going to get to you, I won't let them." I kiss my pinkie finger and brush it along the skin where his ears would have been, should his brand of lizard have been born with ears. Albus chokes back a laugh.
"Flora, I'm just going to get out the car for a sec, okay? I'll be back in a minute, yeah?" I nod.
A second later, Albus has pulled his wand out of his pocket and is holding it in front of his chest, slowly making his way around the car. I clutch Cupcake tighter to my chest and curl my toes up in my shoes, wishing I'd worn the boots with the sheepskin in to stop the sudden chill spreading through my bones. My hands shake slightly as my eyes rake up and down the hedge, looking for white eyes or a leering face, something concrete to be afraid of.
"Albus?" I call, winding down the window manually while trying not to jostle Cupcake, who has been a little testy over the last few days. I think the break in was quite hard on him – it shook him a little. Plus, the constant moving hasn't given him any sense of stability – he's probably just adjusting a little bit. He was fond of Wallis, and he's probably missing her. That's why he bit a chunk out of the sleeve of Albus's leather jacket; he was just grieving over the loss of Wallis.
"Yeah?" he calls back, turning his head slightly put continuing to poke along the hedge. I suddenly start to feel ridiculous, sitting in a car, afraid of something that may or may not be hiding in a six foot hedge by the edge of a country road. I put Cupcake back into his basket and climb out of the car.
"What did he look like – was it a he or a she?" I ask, slowly walking up behind him. Albus frowns, turning around and piercing me with his eyes, which seem several shades brighter than usual. I avoid looking at them reach out to grip hold of the back of his t-shirt, causing him to sigh and wrap an arm around my waist. His wand is gripped so tightly in his hands his knuckles have turned a shocking shade of white. I reach out and touch the back of his hand until he loosens his grip slightly.
"I… I don't know. Shit, Flora, I'm sorry – I should be more on the ball than this. I… I don't even know what I saw. It was a flash of… something. A person. Wearing a black or dark blue cloak, I think. The hood was up, but it blew back when they stopped running." Albus's voice drops and he glances back towards the hedge, his face betraying the first signs of worry and apprehension I have seen since I met him.
"If they were wearing a cloak, then I'd guess that they're magical – muggles don't generally go around in cloaks, do they?" Albus shakes his head slowly. "Why would a wizard run in front of our car? Are you sure that they stopped in front of the car?"
"Yes!" Albus yells suddenly, I jump so quickly that his arm drops from my hips and swings back down to his side. "They sprinted across the road and then turned and stopped right in front of the car, and their hood blew back and – well, that's about it."
"Could you tell whether it was a man or a woman?" I ask slowly. The crease between Albus's eyebrows reappears, making him look suddenly so much older, and I feel the strangest urge to smooth it out with the tips of my fingers. He shakes his head slowly, his cheeks hollowing as he sucks them in, and his eyes stare dispassionately at the ground as I wonder whether to give him a bracing pat on the back or whether to just leave it.
"No… I… when I swore and braked and swerved they… they just shot off in the direction of the hedge and just sort of went through it, and I don't want to carry on in case they're following the car or something. They must have been tracking us somehow or they wouldn't have managed to find us now. That is, of course, if this person was the person that… never mind." Albus shakes his head, and for once I don't feel the need to pump him for information.
"Do you want me to help you look?" I murmur, and Albus glances at me for a second. He then leans back into the car, pulls my wand out of the cup holder and thrusts it into my hand.
In the short few seconds it takes for him to lean into the car and get my wand, he seems to take on a whole new personality. Before he had been more open with me than he ever had before, talking about what he had seen, offering up information – very differently to usual, when he normally glares at me if I so much as ask for one word extra than what he has already offered up.
But now – now he's back to the old Albus. His eyes have narrowed, the creases across his forehead are deep enough to seem chiselled into his skin and his jaw is clenched tightly in irritation. I seem to know what he's going to say before the words actually bubble past his lips.
"Maybe you should get back into the car, Flora. I'm supposed to be looking after you, and I can't do that if you get pulled through some kind of hedge by a cloak-wearing psychopath because I was peering through the wrong bit of foliage. Just get back in the car and roll your window back up. You can play with that little devil of yours – by the way, you still owe me a new leather jacket." I frown at the way Albus is talking. He's murmuring as opposed to enunciating, his voice low and soundly nothing more than thoroughly disinterested.
"I am not getting back into the car, Albus. Regardless of what you and Daddy Dearest seem to think, I am not a porcelain doll that's going to smash if I step outside in the rain. These are not particularly expensive shoes, I'm perfectly happy to walk up and down the road in them for a while. They're only four inch heels – I got used to walking in this height when I was thirteen. We have no problems, Albus." Albus folds his arms and turns his narrow-eyed glare onto me.
"And what if someone leaps out and attacks you, huh? Are your 'not too expensive' shoes going to stab them in the ankle and save you?" I lift up my wand and hold it in front of his face, twitching it from side to side for a second. I bring it back down to my side.
"No, but I do possess a wand and I am capable of casting spells. I'll hex or curse someone that jumps out in front of me, of course." Albus rolls his eyes and turns his back on me, walking back over to the hedge and punching his arm through the thick leaves, cursing under his breath. I worry that some brambles have hurt his arm and that I am going to be expected to play Florence Nightingale and wash his wounds with something.
Having never tended to a cut in my life, I am completely unaware as to what I am actually expected to do if someone slices themselves. I think that Daddy put some first aid kits in the boot of the car, but I'm not too sure what I would even do with antiseptic and a bandage if I had some. How does a bandage even stay stuck around a cut, anyway? Surely it would just flop back open… I wonder whether healing school is really the best choice for me. I only ever decided to go because Daddy told me that I either became a healer or a diplomat, and I don't do well in the face of confrontation.
"Are you alright?" I ask, wandering five metres or so past him and peering through a slightly barren patch in the hedge. Seeing no white eyes or cloak-wearing psychopaths on the other side, I wander another three metres up the hedge and peer through it again. To be completely honest, I'm not even sure what I'm doing or what I'm looking for. Albus is peering at his arm, poking at his arm like he thinks that it's just going to drop off and roll down the road.
"I'm fine," he snaps, wandering further away from me. I take another few steps and peer through the hedge again. Seeing nothing there, I decide to take matters into my own hands. I quickly singe a hole in the hedge with my wand, which I widen until it reaches a size just large enough to hold my head. I swallow the bile that rises in my throat and brace my hands on either side of the hedge and go to lean through the gap when a strong pair of hands on my waist pulls me sharply backwards.
"What in the fuck do you think you're playing at?" Albus asks, his tone nothing less than a snarl. He picks me up with an arm around my stomach, spins on the spot and sets me down. I pull out of his grip and whip around to face him, jabbing him squarely in the chest with one manicured fingernail.
"I was going to look on the other side of the hedge," I chastise, going to step around him again. He steps to the side, blocking my movement.
"Like hell you are," he snaps back, showing his usual glowing temperament. "Like hell am I going to let you lean through that hedge. Someone could be – you don't know anything about anything, do you? I know your father told you nothing but he really told you nothing, didn't he? Hell, this is… I didn't sign up for this. I didn't sign up for this Flora!" He stomps his feet, and the childish action tugs at my heartstrings. He looks suddenly vulnerable, like somewhere inside him, somehow, something is scaring him. Like he doesn't want to be doing what he's doing.
"What didn't you sign up for? Why won't you tell me anything?" My voice is embarrassingly high pitched, almost a whine, and even though I'm breathing perfectly evenly, I feel like I'm not getting any oxygen from the air. I try to take calming breaths, but Albus's obvious unease fuels my own discomfort, my fingers twisting around themselves in anxiety.
"Get back in the car," he says suddenly. I'm going to protest, but Albus brings one of his hands up suddenly and claps it over my mouth. "I'm going to get back in the car with you, don't worry." Any fear that had been on Albus's face is suddenly gone, replaced with his usual calm, authoritative mask.
I grasp his wrist as he repairs my hole in the hedge, clearly not wanting to look through to the other side, and I decide that if someone has disappeared into the hedge then chances are, they're not going to still be waiting on the other side. Albus frowns at my hand for a second, like he can't quite get used to the image of it being there, but lets it slide anyway. A second later, he leads me back to the car and holds open my door for me. It being the first gentlemanly thing he has done since I've met him, my jaw drops open slightly in surprise.
"Thank you," I say slowly, only remembering my manners in the nick of time.
Albus opens the backdoor and climbs into the backseat, before performing an elaborate series of stretches and movements to get through the small gap between the two front seats and into the driver's chair. I wonder why he's bothering to go to such extreme measures to get into his chair, and then I realise that the enormous, overgrown piece of foliage to our left means the door cannot open without being hacked through the hedge with a giant crowbar.
"My oh my, you're a smooth Casanova," I laugh, despite Albus's deep-set worry lines. For some reason, I thought it might be a nice moment to try some sarcasm for the first time. The glare that Albus shoots me tells me that I was, in fact, wrong on that count.
Albus wiggles a little bit, to get comfortable in his seat, and quickly slots the key back into the ignition. With a quick frown at me, he pulls the car out of the hedge and slowly accelerates, the car tipping side to side slightly due to the spare bracken that litters the road from Albus ripping apart the hedge. I wince, lean back in my chair and jam my eyes shut.
I only open my eyes again when we've travelled about twenty seconds up the road, the steady thrum of the engine relaxing my tense shoulders. I glance to the side and my eyes catch on the wing mirror of the car. My heart, for two seconds, stops beating. Instead, it feels like my ribs are cracking in my chest in sheer horror, and something the size of a stapler catches in my throat.
Only two inches tall in the mirror, a face is peering at me from under the hood of a deep green cloak, eyes too small to discern silently following the path of the car. A scream has ripped its way out of my throat before I can stop it, my hands coming up to clutch at the neck of my dress, my stomach heaving as I wonder whether I'm going to once again be reacquainted with the dry toast I ate for breakfast.
Albus whips around when my scream pierces his ears, and the colour drains out of his cheeks. He suddenly grabs hold of the front of the radio, pulls it out of the dashboard with a surprisingly small amount of effort and tosses it into the backseat with little concern for Cupcake's basket. Behind the radio, the strangest assortment of buttons I've ever seen sit unlabelled, arranged in a random and messy formation that reminds me very much of Danny.
Albus plunges one thick thumb towards the largest button, a purple affair in the centre of the dash, and the car suddenly shoots forwards at a speed so rapid my head slams back into the headrest.
"Albus!" I scream, tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes and spilling down my cheeks so rapidly that my face begins to sting. I'm aware that I'm screaming at the top of my lungs, my hands gripping the edges of the seat, heaving sobs wracking my chest, but I force my eyes open so that I can look at the tiny figure disappearing into the clutches of the dark hedges.
The lane flies away beneath us as Albus continues to drive the car at two hundred miles per hour, but his eyes are trained on me as opposed to the road. My screaming and sobbing means I cannot talk, but if I could then I would be yelling at him to look back out of the windscreen. My entire body is shaking, and a nudging at my elbow tells me that Cupcake has climbed into the space between the two seats and is nudging my elbow to provide some semblance of comfort.
I manage to stop screaming after about a minute of clutching at the broach pinned over my heart and clenching my eyes shut and opening them again, but hysterical tears stop me from being able to speak or even breathe properly. After another two minutes of driving, Albus pulls into a small side lane and parks the car, before grabbing me by the shoulders and staring at me like he wants to leap out of the car and run away as far as he possibly can.
"Flora, Flora! For hell's sake, calm down! Flora!" Albus shakes me shoulders lightly, before cursing repeatedly under his breath and getting out of the car. He jogs around the hood of the car, wrenches open my door and pulls me to my feet, cursing loudly again when my knees give way like water and I fall heavily to the ground. Poofs of tan sand rise to greet me and a large smudge of mud decorates the side of my expensive floral trousers. At one hundred and twenty galleons a pair and magical dry clean only, hysterics is the only excuse as to them getting dirty.
Albus squats down, grabs hold of my face with his hands and pulls my chin up so that my eyes are locked with his. He yells my name one last time, but the tears pouring down my face means he becomes blurry and I can't begin to fathom a reply. Albus sighs deeply, leans back and then hooks one of his arms under my legs and wraps his other behind my back.
He pulls me to his chest, stands up straight and then slowly leans back into the car, sitting down on my seat with me cradled to his chest. His expression resembles that of my mother sucking lemons, as though he would rather be anywhere else on the planet right now.
"Flora, please calm down. Just think what your father would say if he was to see you right now, not keeping a check on your emotions," Albus soothes, his hand smoothing up and down my back. I clasp my hands to my mouth and try to stop the noise, which seems to amuse Albus to no end.
"I-I'm… sorry," I pant, using the backs of my hands to try and wipe the floods of tears off my cheeks. "What the – who the – what was that?" I manage to choke out, coughing several times to try and clear the croakiness out of my throat. Albus pats me gently on the small of my back, propping his head up by balancing his chin on the top of my head. I tilt my head imperceptibly to the left so that my nose brushes the collar of his shirt and breathe in deeply.
A new kind of lump is brought to my throat, similar to one I felt earlier today, when I think that this is the first person, other than Andromeda, that has actually held me properly. Harrison certainly didn't, that one night, and my mother and father only grace me with light, passing embraces when in the company of others.
"That, I believe, was the person I saw run in front of the car. I can only assume now that they did, in fact, know who was in the car, and it was not just a random hitchhiker on their way home from a fancy dress party." His poorly executed joke, which normally would have only pursed my lips and caused me to roll my eyes, actually manages to heave a chuckle out of me. The noise sounds foreign and wrong, but Albus smiles at it anyway.
"That was horrible," I pant, wishing that I had seen more of this person's face, so that I'd have something more concrete to connote with my fears. "Why – you have to tell me what is going on, Albus! I'm terrified… I… I know you've been told not to tell me, but I really think that you need to now. I mean, if they're looking for me, or something… I need to know! Dammit, Albus!" Albus's mouth drops open at my language and he reaches out to brush two of his fingers down the length of my nose, loosening his grip on my waist a little, softening his future words.
"I'm not telling you jackshit," Albus says flatly, planting a kiss on the half bun on the back of my head. I would think it strange and romantic if I did not know that Albus was this way with everyone, having watched him with Wallis and the boys. Particularly Wallis, I feel the need to point out – he doesn't tend to kiss the boys when they've gotten worked up about something. Especially when you consider that Danny got worked up about the adverts on Wiz-TV running fifteen seconds longer than it says they would in the television magazine.
"Please?" I say quietly, mortifying vulnerability leaking from every letter, every sound, and Albus catches his bottom lip between his teeth, pausing for a second before shaking his head.
"No. And get off my lap, you. You might be skinny but you're not the lightest bag of sugar on the shelf. And the only way a girl numbing your knee is worth it is if you're getting a little sugar, you know?" I flush bright red and lean my head down to stare at my own knee, hoping our proximity does not mean that Albus can feel the heat on my cheeks.
"Someone's looking for me, aren't they?" I say, finally accepting that I might need to tell Albus that I've already seen the note he tried to hide from me. Albus pushes me to my feet, pulls a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and slowly wipes under my eyes, removing the smudges of black makeup from my cheeks. He then begins to dab at my lips, and only stops when I pull away.
"What are you doing? Has my mascara run onto my lips?" He shakes his head.
"No, but you're wearing bright red lipstick. I'm not a huge fan of bright lipstick on girls." Albus peers at me slowly and then slowly puts his hand on my cheek, brushing his thumb along the top of my cheekbone. "What are you thinking about, you? You're as pale as a sheet. Don't tell me you're going to go and collapse on me again, because I can't be assed lifting you again."
"I was… I was actually wondering where all those buttons behind the dash came from. I'm sure that they weren't there when my daddy leant me the car." I shoot a disapproving glance at Albus, who winks roguishly at me and stuffs the now-dirty handkerchief back into his jeans pocket. "Albus, how did the super-speed button get into my car? Don't make me disable it."
"It saved your life, you wouldn't even think about disabling it."
"I… well, I have no answer to that. How did they get there, Albus?" I allow him to help me back into my seat, once again showing an unusual likeness to an actual gentleman – they only kind of men I will ever consider associating myself with, usually – and shake my shoulders slightly, trying to get the chill out of my bones and stop my entire body from shaking with the wear off of what could either be fear or adrenaline.
"Danny and I rigged it up last night, after you went to bed. I snuck out after you fell asleep." Albus shuts my door for me and heads back to his own side, getting into his seat and slowly pulling out of the lane. "FYI, you wanted to cuddle with me last night." Colour once again blooms into my cheeks as my jaw drops open slightly, one of my hands coming up to cover my mouth. I try to pay no attention to the furtive glances Albus keeps casting over his shoulder.
"What? I don't cuddle," I say slowly, horrified.
"That's not what you were suggesting last night," Albus winks, and I pinch my lips together. "When I tried to get out from under the covers you grabbed hold of my t-shirt and snuggled up to my side, tickling my bloody neck with your nose." My blush flares brighter and I close my eyes in horror. "You also hooked your leg around my knee and twisted into my side. And when I got back into our bed after Danny and I awesome-d up this car, you rolled back over to me and draped your arm around my stomach, and started murmuring under your breath. I don't know what you were murmuring, and I don't think that I want to know."
"I – I don't talk in my sleep," I say tightly.
"No, you don't. You never have before, anyway. For all I know, you could have been wishing me 'happy five day anniversary'. You never know." I cover my eyes with my hands. "It started to get a little weird when you started to run the base of your foot up and down my calf, though. It did help that you wear the ugliest pyjamas, though. I'm only man, sweetheart. If it wasn't for that flannel disaster you had on, you might have never made it to alter in white." He titters to himself.
I frown, wanting to correct him desperately, but not having the nerve or the stomach to do so. Just imagining the news getting back to my father made the colour drain out of my cheeks.
"You wouldn't dare, Albus. I'd have someone break your nose if you dared to put a hand on me during the night." Albus grins at me.
"That's kind of ironic, babe, considering you had your hands all over me during the night. I mean, really, if I didn't know any better I'd have said that you were trying to steal my virtue or something." I laugh quietly, the sound still seeming far too loud in the cramped car. "Yeah, yeah, you're right. I can't pull off the virtue thing. That ship sailed when I was four- six- seventeen. Yes, seventeen."
"You can't pull that off either," I murmur quietly. Albus laughs, and I feel an oddly proud urge to grin at the fact I actually managed to make someone laugh.
"Do you feel better? You still look a little bit pale. We'll stop off somewhere and get an early lunch, or something. How does bacon and hash browns sound?" I nod and pull my cardigan tighter around my shoulders, trying to shake off a slight chill. Albus notices and quickly flicks up the warmth on the car heater. "Here, there's bound to be one of those rest stops off that motorway, there. I'll get onto it now." I nod and kick off my shoes, pulling them up onto my seat. I can only imagine the state of my mother's lemon mouth if she was to see my unladylike pose now.
"That would be lovely, thank you," I say quietly.
"Hey, Flora, come on. Smile or something. It just makes my job more miserable if I've got to cart around some girl that can't crack a smile." I sigh and try to smile but don't quite manage it.
"I'm fine, don't worry about me. I'm just a little bit shaken up."
"Here, I know what will make you feel better," Albus says slowly. "How about we skive off going to that amusement town up north and instead, you get to choose what we do today. How does that sound?" I actually manage to curl my lips into some semblance of a smile, and Albus smirks proudly again, his arrogant expression making mine flatten out.
"That sounds really good, thank you."
"So what do you want to do?" Albus prompts, fiddling with a dial on the radio.
"I…" A sudden brainwave hits me. "I know what I want to do!" I say suddenly, just a little bit too loud. "Albus, do you think we could… I… no, you know what? I think this would be good for me and you. I want to go and visit your son."
Albus's expression clouds over in an instant, not becoming cold and distant, but confused and… well, angry. His eyes are narrowed, and his hands clench the wheel so hard his knuckles turn white. He takes a turn off by a roundabout so sharply that I slam into my door. Finally, after a deep breath, he snaps his reply.
"How in the fuck do you know about Noah?"
disclaimer: nothing in this chapter belongs to me.
hope you liked the chapter :) sorry if it was a tad ramble-y.
ellie :) xx
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