Chapter 19 : Falling to Pieces
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“Sh,” Albus whispered, scurrying over to wrap his arms around his best friend. “It’s not real. I promise. It’s going to be okay.” For the third time that week he’d been shaken out of his almost-but-not-quite sleep by Piper thrashing in a nightmare, but he didn’t mind. It was better than letting it get to her head, because he knew it would. And as brilliant as she was, Piper’s mind was a terrible place to be.
An agreement had been reached; Piper and Albus could sleep in the common room, as long as they did just that. Rhys and Alyssa were more than aware of Albus’s insomniatic tendencies, as well as Piper’s nightmares, so if they could help each other, they were fine with it. Of course, Professor Zabini didn’t acknowledge it was happening, which was his way of saying it was okay, because if he did mention it he would have to put an end to it as a professor.
Instinctively, Piper just turned into Albus’s chest and buried her head there, letting out a few sobs. Albus wrapped his arms around her, and slowly her breaths began to regulate once more. She just felt so much safer with Albus’s tight embrace, like because he was there nothing could happen. It was a hell of a lot warmer in his arms, too, and the panic receded as he reminder Piper of reality.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Albus murmured, nuzzling his head into the crook between her shoulder and head. His voice was husky with exhaustion, and Piper knew she couldn’t keep him up. Not when he was actually going to sleep.
“We can talk tomorrow. You had Quidditch and need to sleep,” she whispered, managing a faint smile.
“I have Quidditch everyday, love. It’s no difference tonight. Are you sure you’re all right?” Albus’s concern made Piper feel slightly warmer inside, but it might have just been the build-up from such close proximity to him.
“I’m sure. I know I’m safe with such a big bad Slytherin around to protect me,” Piper teased, causing Albus to smile. “Now go to sleep. Rhys was talking about slipping some sleeping draught into your pumpkin juice if you didn’t sleep tonight.”
“Aye aye, Captain Piper.” Albus’s slight salute was mocking, but Piper made sure to keep herself awake until she was certain her friend’s breaths had evened out enough to truly be asleep.
Right before she, too, fell to her drowsiness, Piper saw just how peaceful Albus looked when he was asleep, and how much younger. So smiling to herself, she relaxed into his loose embrace.
For once, there were no dreams.
“Any news?” Scorpius asked immediately as Albus and Piper got to the table in the corner of the magical beast section of the library. Rose reasoned it was the best place to meet without being disturbed, as no one had to research for Hagrid’s essays, so it was during lunch everyday that the group of five sixth years met to try to come up with something - anything - to help Nicole Warrington.
“Wait, what took you so long?” Rose asked, her eyes narrowed. “I don’t recall you having a black eye or split lip at breakfast, Albus.” Looking at each other, Piper bit back a sigh as Albus turned to calm down his cousin.
“Just ran into a group of Hufflepuffs on my way to Runes. Nothing major,” he explained, putting on a smile. Sending him a wary glance, Rose accepted her cousin’s excuse, though temporarily, and decided not to press further. “All right, mate?” Al greeted Scorpius, who responded with a smile and nod.
“How is she?” Piper asked, looking to Owen for an answer. “Did you get another letter from your brother?”
“They stopped doing the ‘tests’, which is great,” Owen started, causing everyone to relax slightly. “But Nick isn’t coping well. Liam said it was like her body decided to shut down, that every old injury that went untreated was coming back to haunt her. The healers are doing the best they can, but she’s in a lot of pain.”
“I’m going to kill them. Every last one of those bastards,” Scorpius muttered, gripping the edge of the table to control his anger. He still didn’t understand why the hell this was happening to Nick, and why no one could help her. Why he didn’t tell his parents what was happening to her about three fucking years ago.
“I’ll help,” Albus and Owen chorused. Of course, then Piper and Rose shared a glance.
“You know you’re not going to do that. But is there anything new on the ‘what we can do to help her’ front?” Rose diverted, and luckily it seemed to work, giving them something else to focus on. If you dwell on something for too long, it starts to become an obsession, and the last thing Rose needed was for her boyfriend and cousin to go off on a killing rampage, however much she approved.
“Er… Liam says they need a few witnesses, to demonstrate Nick’s not a psychopath, and that she was abused. Because they have no clue whether or not she’ll be able to tell them herself.” Owen looked down, and Rose put a hand on his shoulder. Everyone seemed to forget it wasn’t just difficult on Piper and Albus, that other people cared about Nick and this was eating them up inside, too.
“Did he say who he had in mind?” Piper asked softly, and Owen nodded.
“Either you or Al, but then someone who would, and I quote, ‘really know and could prove this happened’,” he explained, as Albus and Piper shared a silent debate.
“No. He’s too young,” Piper said after a while, but Albus shook his head.
“All the better,” Albus responded. “They could use that, Piper.”
“Why not Arabella then? Or Paige?” Piper tried, but Albus’s jaw was set.
“You know they wouldn’t be nearly as good. It’s for Nick,” he reminded her.
“Would you care to fill us in?” Scorpius put in, and it was then that Piper and Albus registered that there were, in fact, other people there.
“He wants to ask Flynn Avery,” Piper sighed. “But he’s only a first-year, and Merlin knows he’s been through hell. I can’t put him through that, not with how he’s been…”
Everyone else at the table shared a look. This was walking a thin line, but the stakes were high and they had to help their friend anyway they could.
“Can you ask him?” Owen asked, his jaw set. All it took was a nod from Albus and silence from Piper to know it had been decided.
“Okay. Now there’s something else we need to ask. How is Slytherin holding up?” Scorpius tried to phrase the question delicately, but there was no pretty way of putting it. They had all seen various things, but this was more of a test than actually knowing.
“We’re fine,” Piper replied, forcing a smile onto her lips. She winced, though, because even to her it felt fake.
“Yeah no. We’re not blind, you know,” Owen said immediately, and Piper looked down, while Albus suddenly became fascinated with a burn mark on the table.
“They’re taking it badly. Flynn especially,” Albus explained, still not looking up. “And, well, you lot would know that the other houses really aren’t happy with us. So that’s gotten worse.”
“Define worse,” Scorpius put in, Rose nodding her agreement.
“It’s just like it was taken up a notch… or three. The hexes are worse, and more punches are thrown,” Piper tried. She couldn’t let them worry about her and Al right now, not when there was someone who actually needed it.
“How many times have any of you been to the Hospital Wing?” Owen asked, mainly out of curiosity. He wasn’t buying their bullshit, but this would the final determining factor.
“It’s never been that bad,” Albus replied immediately. “We promise we can handle it.”
“No, you can’t!” Rose exclaimed, but it came out a little squeaky. “Albus, have you seen yourself? There’s hardly a day that you don’t have a new bruise, and then there’s the days like the first one where you can hardly walk! And you haven’t been to the hospital wing!”
“This can’t go on,” Scorpius added as the two Slytherins sat there in shock. “I know you think you can handle it, but you can’t. And a professor needs to know.”
“You don’t think they already know?” Albus replied, his voice dangerously low. “How the fuck could they not know, when almost every day a Slytherin walks in with something to show from it? They do know, they just don’t bloody care.”
“What about Professor Zabini?” Owen offered, but Albus just shook his head and refused to answer.
“He does,” Piper responded kindly, trying not to wince as she moved the shoulder that had just been jinxed. “But he can’t do anything about it. It’s his word against Creevey’s and Patil’s, and Anselm refuses to accept what’s happening.”
“Then what can we do to stop it?” Rose asked, tracing a large bruise on Albus’s hand. “Because I’ve stood by for six years, and I can’t handle it any more.”
“Nothing. We’ve tried, but nothing changes. Come on, Piper, we have a family meeting.” Albus’s voice was cold, but not the ‘hard cold’. It was more of an ‘defence mechanism’ cold than anything.
“Wait. Albus, can I have a word?” Rose said, as everyone started to part ways at the entrance of the library. After a worried glance from Piper, Albus just nodded and she left with the rest of them. Rose made sure Scorpius would walk her back to the common room, so that she wouldn’t be attacked.
When everyone was gone, Rose turned to her cousin, who was leaning against the stone wall. “Albus, I’m really worried about you.”
“Well, you shouldn’t. I’m fine,” Albus shot back immediately. He forgot that this wasn’t just some concerned professor or parent, this was Rose; she knew every defence mechanism he had, and how to dismantle each and every one.
“Don’t even try to pull that one on me, Albus Potter,” Rose shot back. “Just for once, be fucking honest, because I don’t know how much longer I can take watching this happen to you.” That shut Al up, and for a minute he just stood there, jaw clenched. “Now are you okay?”
“No,” Al breathed, unable to meet his cousin’s eyes. He couldn’t tell her more, though, because he didn’t want to disappoint yet another family member. The son of Harry Potter ripped to pieces by school-yard bullies. What a disgrace he was.
“And now you’re going to tell me why,” Rose ordered, but part of her voice had softened slightly. She had known Albus since the day she was born, and this was the first time she was truly unable to help him.
“What more is there to say? Everywhere I go, one of the groups is there to follow me then beat me up. It’s a miracle Piper’s managed to avoid them so well-“ Al started to ramble.
“Only because her best friend purposely made himself a target so she could slip away,” Rose reminded him. Of course, it didn’t change a thing. Albus refused to look her in the eye and legitimately flinched when she put her hand on his shoulder. “Al, please tell me you’ve been sleeping.”
“I can’t do that. I’m being ‘fucking honest’, remember?” Albus said, but there was no teasing in his voice. Lightly grabbing her cousin’s chin, Rose forced emerald to meet amber, like they had countless times. But now the emeralds were dull and lifeless.
“You’re not a machine, Al. You need sleep,” Rose reminded him, but Albus just ran a hand through his hair.
“I can’t, because every time I do I see her, and then it’s not her but Piper, then you, then Scorpius…” Albus trailed off. Rose decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to press him further, given this was much worse than she thought. Her cousin was falling apart.
“How’s Quidditch?” she asked, and Albus smiled slightly.
“All right. We’re winning the cup for Nick, so they’re all training their arses off,” he replied, a ghost of a smile flickering onto his face. “I think we might actually have a shot.”
“Well, you did beat Ravenclaw,” Rose reminded him, before stopping beating around the bush. She needed to ask about his siblings. “Erm, Al? Have you talked to James or Lily lately?”
“Wh… er… what?” Albus stuttered, as Rose automatically thought back to the common room this week. Gryffindor was a bloody mess, with James having his epiphany and Lily going out with that seventh-year Lewis. Fights were common now, but Al didn’t need to know that. Merlin knew he didn’t need something else to worry about.
“Did James try to talk to you?” Rose repeated, and watched as her cousin appeared to turn temporarily schizophrenic with the fast-changing emotions on his face.
“I don’t know what the hell is up with him lately,” Albus finally said. “He was warning me about Flynn, and Professor Zabini said he tried to stop them from doing things, but I don’t trust him.”
“Well, it seems James has finally opened his eyes to your slow descent into madness,” Rose started, but Albus opened his mouth to correct her. “Don’t even try to deny it, Mr. Insomnia. Anyway, so your brother realized the shithole around him, and is now trying to change it. At least give him fucking credit for trying,” Rose explained. “I’m not saying to forgive him - Merlin knows I wouldn’t if I were you - but keep your mind open. Give him some time to let this sink in, because he’s having a rough time, especially with your sister dating Lewis.”
“Lily and… what?” Albus looked completely confused. “No, that can’t be true. It’s James. He hates me. He… he…no. Why are you lying, Rose?”
Rose had been afraid of that. “I’m not lying, Al. James isn’t necessarily bad, and you can’t just write him off. Please.”
“You’re saying that after all this time, James is suddenly deciding to completely change his mind?” Albus asked, shaking his head, but his pale face and shaking hands gave away his hope and fear that it might be true.
“It’s not like that, Albus. He still thinks you’re a prick for abandoning your family, but he’s finally willing to look past that because of how screwed up you are right now. Albus. If James is noticing how bad things are, you know you’re in trouble.” Rose’s voice was soft in kind, but Al still flinched away.
“I abandoned the family? They fucking abandoned me,” he said coldly, before starting to walk away. “I’m sorry, Rose, but I’m not falling for it this time. If James has really changed that much, he has to tell me himself.”
“Can’t you just give him a chance, Al? He’s trying as hard as he can! He’s trying,” Rose burst out, grabbing onto her cousin’s wrist. Something dangerous flashed in his eyes before he jerked his arm away.
“No. It’s not that simple.” Albus’s voice was dark and utterly lifeless. Suddenly, he saw a group of sixth-year Ravenclaws turn the corner. They weren’t as bad as the Hufflepuffs, but Albus still winced at their last encounter. “Go.”
“I’m not going to let them-“ Rose started, causing Albus to start to panic. He could handle whatever they did to him, but he wouldn’t let Rose get hurt in the process.
“Stop being a Gryffindor. I can handle it,” Albus muttered, before giving her a little shove toward the hidden passage they’d found in their first year.
“Be careful,” Rose whispered, before disappearing. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Turning to face them, Albus tried to swallow his fear when they made their way over to him.
Quietly, James slipped out of the Gryffindor common room. It wasn’t bad enough that Lewis was snogging his sister in front of the entire bloody house, but they all decided to recount the most recent ‘crusades’ on the Slytherins tonight as well.
Again, James had to remind himself how hypocritical he was. A month ago he’d be laughing along with everyone. How did he think that was okay? His own brother was getting physically, not to mention mentally and emotionally, abused by professors and students alike… and he thought it was funny?
Though he would like to think it was because he didn’t know any better, because that’s what he had been taught to do since he was eleven, James still knew it was wrong. Anyone who looked at Albus for more than a second could see something was horribly wrong. So why didn’t anyone say something? Professor Zabini had to know, and so did all the other professors. Was it really so ingrained in their heads that Slytherins were evil that they thought this was okay?
Knitting his brow as he wandered, James thought back to the only real conversation he’d had with Albus in years, the one about Flynn. Al had always been an open as a child, but now he was reluctant to say even two words to his brother. But could James even call himself a brother to Albus any more?
He’d seen Albus with countless bruises and hex marks, but he hadn’t said a word. He’d seen it actually happening, but didn’t stop it. James had told his team to target Albus during the match. So what made him think he could suddenly give a shit?
Before he knew it, James had reached the library. It was almost deserted, but a tiny shape started approaching, arms filled with books. The library was closed and it was almost midnight, so what was the kid doing there?
It was Flynn Avery. James knew the kid was going insane, and that he came from the same breed as Nicole Warrington: fucked up from probably crazy amounts of childhood trauma. And if he was taking books from the library, most likely restricted books, this wasn’t good.
“Oi! Flynn!” James found himself calling out, and watched as the poor kid stopped in his tracks while dropping his books. “What are you doing out? It’s past curfew.”
“None of your business,” he stuttered, while leaning over to pick up the stack of books.
“Then here, let me help,” James tried again, while really trying to get a glimpse at the title. The first-year snatched it back before he could really see it, though.
“No. Please just leave me alone.” It took Flynn three times to get the words out. Then he stumbled away.
Sighing, James knew what this meant. He would have to try to talk to Albus again.
Suddenly throwing himself to Hagrid’s blast-ended skrewts seemed appealing to James.
A/N: Another quick update? How much longer will these last? (Well, voice, I do have another chapter ready to go, and know exactly where I'm going. So depending on how motivated I am/how much RL decides to be nice, they could continue for a while)
Ah, some more Potter drama. I know you lot don't want them to make up at all, but I can't tell you whether or not even a slight agreement is reached. I can guarantee, though, that it will be dramatic. Very.
But have your opinions of James even started to change? Did you enjoy Rose's bit... or no? What about the tantalizing hint to Albus/Piper?
I apologize for the weirdness but it is currently 2:44 in the morning and I have reached the peak of productivity for the night. Please leave a review!
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