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Chapter 20 : Perhaps, possibly, just maybe not so broken after all.
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“There’s only three days left until the match,” Albus announced, surveying his team in the changing room. “Hufflepuff has a brilliant team, there is no point trying to deny that, and they’ll play even dirtier than Ravenclaw. We’re not at our strongest, but Arabella and Kenzie have really adapted well, and Hufflepuff has a nasty habit of underestimating us. We can still win this.” Like the entire term, the team seemed to hang on to Albus’s every word, a great contrast from what they were like when Nick was there.
“For Nick,” Rhys added, a slight smile appearing on his face. “She hates the stupid badgers.”
“Then we’re going to beat them,” Jasper affirmed from his corner. “And then Gryffindor.” If Jasper voiced his opinion, it was a strong one, and everyone either nodded or murmured their agreement.
“Damn straight.” Paige’s voice sounded odd saying something like that, but it fit the situation.
“Remember, we need a clean game. They’ll be looking for any excuse to call a foul on us, especially after the ordeal. We’ll be using the earplugs again, because they seemed to work well. Now let’s practice. We won’t start with laps today, but we’ll end with them,” Albus said, and Rhys couldn’t help but smile. If there was one thing holding that mess of a person together, it was Quidditch. He reasoned it was that they were doing this all for Nick, that by finishing what she started Albus would somehow help her. Al did a great job, brilliant really, as captain, though, so Rhys couldn’t complain. It did worry him sometimes, though, how Albus was functioning at practice with what was going on, and the almost bruise-like circles under his eyes.
“That’s never good,” Kenzie commented, but followed everyone out of the changing room. It would be an interesting practice.
Kenzie was right. After the new and especially painful drills Albus had in store for the team, they all put their brooms away before walking back onto the field. Everyone was smiling, though, because Arabella had a really good day. She was finally adjusting to the rhythm Alyssa and Paige had, and manoeuvred exceedingly well when under Bludger fire. Speaking of, Kenzie rolled his shoulder and winced; being a beater required a lot of arm strength, and he was still constantly sore.
“Okay. Normally we start with fitness training, but I think today it’s moving to the end. You’re tired and worn, and that’s when you need to pull out everything you’ve got to win the match. So that’s what we’re going to simulate. Two laps around the pitch, first exercise of the circuit, three laps around the pitch, second exercise. And so on and so forth. Ready?” Albus looked positively gleeful, effectively scaring the six people in front of him.
“Where did you get this idea from? Satan?” Alyssa’s voice was barely audible, but everyone knew she secretly enjoyed it. She was the one who loved running after all. Everyone else, though, knew the next half an hour would be a painful one.
They couldn’t give Albus a hard time, either, because he was always leading the pack, and then after everyone left he’d practise even more. Never once did Albus slack off or cheat on any of the exercises, and if someone was struggling he’d encourage them and always had a way to help. He’d only get angry if someone wasn’t trying, or in Nick’s case going against his rule of ‘playing clean’. It was then that Rhys saw how no one truly gave Albus enough credit; he had to deal with his family, Creevey, normal bigoted idiots, Nick’s problems, and lead Quidditch as well do general schoolwork. And Albus never complained about doing it, and he never didn’t help someone who asked. Whether it meant staying late after practice to hit Bludgers with Kenzie and consequently doing his essay in the common room at three in the morning or pranking with Nick because Piper didn’t want something to happen to her, Albus would gladly do it.
That was why Rhys, and his sister, worried so much about him. He was almost Hufflepuff selfless, which could be quite dangerous, and that type of person really needed someone to look after them, because they wouldn’t. Albus seemed to absorb most of the abuse for the entire house, and as a result he was finally starting to break, just a little. Rhys was kicking himself for letting Al, but the honest to Merlin truth was that he hadn’t realized it himself until now. Because Albus could regress into a bad, quiet place in his mind, and he did make some comments about his family and did have his limits, but in the end that didn’t matter to Albus.
“Rhys!” a distant voice called, snapping him out of his thoughts. He hadn’t realized that they had been done with the circuit, and had kept going. Blushing through the sweat and exhaustion, he jogged back to the team.
“Brilliant job today, you lot,” Al called once Rhys was back. “I can’t say we’ll definitely win, but we have a chance.” With that, most of the team started to slowly walk or hobble back to the locker room, but Kenzie lagged behind.
“Can you help me out some more now?” Rhys just heard Kenzie ask. He knew for a fact Albus had at least three essays he needed to finish, and sleep to catch up on apart from dealing with the mess that would be the common room. But Rhys already knew what Albus would say, instead walking toward the changing room, worried about how much longer Al could last. Especially without sleep.
“Mr. Potter!” Blearily, Al opened his eyes, picking his head off his desk. From her angle two desks in front and three desks to the right of Albus, all she could see was the rather short professor leering over at her friend while he stared up in confusion.
Owen’s hand lightly grabbed Piper’s forearm, and when she looked she saw his eyes silently warning her not to interfere. But the professor had screamed at Albus, just for falling asleep. Not a week before someone else had and Creevey just ignored it. It wasn’t that Albus was getting in trouble that bothered her - Merlin knew it happened often enough - it was the public humiliation and hypocrisy.
On top of, Piper had just been glad Albus had been sleeping. Between the sheer amount of Quidditch he’d been doing, normal work, and all the stress and strain on everyone, she would take any time he closed his eyes. Regardless of whether or not it was during the worst lesson possible.
“Sorry,” Albus mumbled, his eyes still glassy with sleep. “I promise it won’t happen again, Professor.” The anticipation and nervousness in the room was reaching a pitch, and his quiet and sincere voice could be heard clearly throughout the entire classroom.
“What was the mark on the essay I just returned, Mr. Potter?” Professor Creevey’s voice was calm, but cold and unforgiving. Anger flooded Piper, and she saw Albus tense, but for once he didn’t retaliate. He mumbled something incoherent. “What was that? I don’t believe everyone heard you.”
“Dreadful,” Albus said loudly, not putting any ounce of emotion behind it. There was a long pause where no one spoke, not even snickers. Because they were scared about where this was going. “Because the person correcting it is a bigoted idiot who needs to publicly humiliate students to feel good.” Looking to her side, Piper saw Owen visibly wince. Personally, she just smiled. She had seen that coming from a mile away.
“If I’m the idiot, Mr. Potter, please do explain how you misspelt the word ‘believe’ multiple times throughout the essay,” Creevey replied. Even Albus didn’t have a reply to that, but Piper had to stifle a gasp. He had to know what was going on, and how much Al was struggling in general this term, and doing this? “Or why you’re the one sitting here with ink dripping off your face?” Hastily, Albus wiped the offending ink, before returning to his professor.
“Sir, then why didn’t you notice the fact that I turned your hair pink within the first five minutes of the lesson?” Of course, this was a complete bluff, but a simple wave of the wand from Owen fixed that. This was too interesting not to see more happen. Albus had begun to use a playful tone while Creevey’s face began changing colors.
“That is enough, Mr. Potter. I am sick of your disrespect-“ Albus knew he was going down, but he was going to make one hell of a story to tell Nick.
“Cry me a river,” Al said, putting on a pouting face. At this point, Piper had one hand tight over her mouth to contain the laughter she was shaking from. This was something she really missed about Al. Owen seemed shocked, but the corners of his mouth twitched as his friend got into his stride. Things had been far too quiet with Albus laying down in front of Creevey to walk over him.
“-and your constant distractions to my lessons. Detention for a week, and I’ll be speaking with your head of house,” Creevey finished, trying to turn his hair back. Owen had one of the strongest colour-changing charms, though, and it wouldn’t come out that easy. It took a week to wear out.
“Great,” Albus said boldly. “Though we all know why you want to get me alone…”
“Since you’re so keen, why not make it two weeks?” Creevey countered. Albus didn’t falter.
“Do you want to make it-“
“Looking forward to it.“
“A month, then. How about-“
“I’ll mark my calendar.”
“A letter home? And two more-”
“Do I look like I give a shit?”
“What about being banned from Quidditch?”
That shut Albus up. Everyone else in the class was trying desperately to not dissolve into fits of laughter, though, because not only had Albus never hesitated, when Creevey tried to take the charm off himself, the phrase ‘Merlin still hates you’ appeared in sparkly lettering on his forehead. Owen Dalton deserved an award.
“Now,” Creevey said, turning to face the group of students, “that we have that settled, and Mr. Potter will have detention for the next four months, let us continue the lesson.”
The small smile on Piper’s face had been worth it, though Professor Zabini and Rhys would absolutely murder him later. So for the rest of the lesson, Albus kept his head down to hide the smile on his face, thoroughly pleased with the victory.
It was the small things.
A few hours later, everyone was sitting in the common room, but for once they were laughing. Even Rhys cracked a smile, though he knew there would be hell to pay on Albus’s part. He’d received a fair amount of detentions from Creevey in his time, and they were easily the worst kind of detention; disgusting, laborious, and Rhys knew Creevey would take every opportunity to insult Albus. He would have to hold his tongue.
“And Professor Zabini wasn’t angry?” Flynn asked from the corner, amazed at Albus’s odd mix of bravery and stupidity. Who would ask for detention? “You had a meeting with him, right?” These were things Flynn would miss, though, once he was gone. The little rebellions that were just so damn funny.
“Well,” the sixth-year started, blushing slightly. “He was a bit peeved I almost got kicked off the Quidditch team, but he was mostly proud. Said it’s been a long time since Slytherins started standing up to Creevey.” Now there was a silence, as everyone knew what was going through Albus’s head.
“Let’s do it,” Lottie said, wincing as she shifted a little. Today she and Thomas decided to bomb the Gryffindors, and it hadn’t ended well. “It’s like Nick said. We can’t let them walk over us any more.”
“Nope. Mum is saying no,” Piper cut in, and everyone chuckled slightly when she referred to herself using Lottie’s nickname. “It’s one thing to not let someone trample over you, but deliberately disrespecting a teacher is something completely different.”
“It’ll be fine. If we’re all doing it, the blame will have to be spread, yeah?” Kenzie tried, but now Alyssa’s arms were crossed to match Piper’s.
“That is the most flawed logic I’ve ever heard from you,” the red-head said incredulously, causing her twin to snort.
The debate continued for a while, but Flynn wasn’t listening. Flipping through the pages of the hundredth book, one spell caught the first year’s eye. He had been searching for this for so long… immediately, heart racing, he stuffed a paper into the book to mark the page before running to his dormitory.
It was finally going to be over. All the pain… everything.
“I will see you back here again tomorrow,” Professor Creevey droned, as Albus rolled his shoulders, trying not to wince. Bruises that hadn’t quite faded and moving boxes for three hours had made it a living hell.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Albus muttered, before quietly leaving the room. Piper would be alone in the common right now, and Al didn’t want her to have a panic attack when he wasn’t there, and everyone else in their dormitories.
So he hurried away from the old classroom, but made sure to be cautious. It seemed that Professor Creevey had purposely put the detention in close proximity to Gryffindor tower, which meant Albus needed to be careful. He didn’t want to be caught alone after the patrols were done, especially not now.
He was almost to the grand staircase when he heard a female sob, setting something off in the back of his brain. Albus knew he should recognize that voice, but that scared him any more. It wasn’t Piper… but was it Alyssa? Paige? Lottie?
Something propelling him, Al hurried toward the direction he thought he heard the noise coming from. Looking around by the light of his wand, something clicked when he saw a little alcove hidden by a giant chess piece, a knight.
“Is there someone there?” he asked, moving the curtain aside. “Lily?”
“Have you come here to gloat, too?” she sobbed, turning away from her brother. Surprised, Albus couldn’t do much more than stand there.
“Wait… what? What happened?” Albus finally managed to stammer out, sitting down next to his sister. Lily was a mess of running make-up and puffy eyes, and it looked like her shirt was buttoned wrong.
“Like you care. Go back to your fucking snakes and leave me the hell alone!” Lily said, her voice still cracking and uneven. Then she dissolved back into her tears. Something Albus hadn’t felt in a long time - a protective urge of sorts - kicked into gear and he put his arm around his little sister. She was so much tinier than her remembered, and that scared Albus. How could he not have noticed?
“No. I find you crying at Merlin knows what time and I’m supposed to leave you here?” Albus kept his voice soft, and Lily just looked at him. It was a mix of anger, surprise, and confusion, but eventually she forced her brown eyes away from her brother’s vibrant green.
“Why do you even care? It’s not like you’ve given a… bother… for the past four years!” Lily exclaimed, shrinking farther back into the alcove.
“It’s not like you have, either,” Albus pointed out, effectively silencing his little sister. “So we’re both in the wrong. But you’re hurting, and I could help you, you know. I am your brother, after all.”
“You lost any right to call yourself my brother after you chose them,” Lily spat, but moved closer to Albus. “I’m sorry,” she blurted out immediately.
“Why should you be? You’ve said the same thing for the past four years. I honestly don’t care any more. I’m trying to help you here, and you’re being a bitch.” Albus’s voice was hostile, and a fresh bout of tears came.
“What happened to us?” she gasped out. “You’re getting the shit beat out of you while I’m…” Moving in, Albus just wrapped his arms around his little sister. Because, despite anything she’d ever done to him, or him to her, they were siblings. And when you find your sibling bawling their eyes out in the middle of the night, you help them. Every prejudice and fight fades away, because someone you’ve known since they day they were born is hurting, and you can’t want that. Especially if you’re hating them for something that started when you weren’t even teenagers.
“What happened, Lily?” Albus’s voice wasn’t dangerous, but it was urgent and warning. He needed to know what was going on. He needed to know how badly he’d failed his family.
“It was Lewis.” Surprisingly, Lily’s voice was calm, but she couldn’t bring herself to meet her brother’s eyes. “He was so sweet at first, and he was showing an interest in me. Me. But then he… he wanted to… and I said no…”
That was all Albus needed to hear to know what had happened. His little sister had dissolved completely, and he could only hold her as she cried her eyes out into his chest. Little did she know of the jinx he’d gotten there that blasted him off his feet, and she didn’t hear his little grunt of pain. It didn’t matter to Albus, though, because this was worse than he thought. He’d been so absorbed in his - in his house’s - troubles that he hadn’t noticed what was going on with his own family.
Wait, since when were they his family? They hadn’t talked in years, and suddenly James was supposedly looking out for him and he was comforting Lily? It didn’t make any sense. Albus wanted to feel that hatred he had at the beginning of the year, that anger that his siblings abandoned him over something as arbitrary as his house. But Al knew he abandoned them, too; James and Lily had tried to help him at least once over the years, but Albus hated them for their house, too. The realization struck him.
Sometimes, it went both ways.
Now, he wasn’t ready to suddenly become best friends with them, not nearly, but it was nice not to hate his siblings completely.
“I’m sorry for what’s happening to you guys,” Lily whispered after a while, wrapping her arms around her older brother. She studied Albus, and noticed all of the bruises and lack of sleep. “But this doesn’t change anything.”
“I know.” Albus’s voice was cold, and Lily slowly sat up to face him. “This never happened.” He still hadn’t forgiven her. As much as he wanted to, especially after seeing Lily like that, he couldn’t. It would take a long time before he could talk to her normally. Albus didn’t even know why he helped her. They would just go their separate ways and pretend nothing happened.
“Merlin knows what I would do if my friends found out I was consorting with a dirty snake,” Lily sneered, a trace of a smile on her face. “But seriously, if you tell anyone about what happened I will personally murder you.”
With that, Lily stalked away, leaving Albus hopelessly confused. Her thoughts were swirling at an extremely high velocity; she didn’t understand why Albus had helped her. They hadn’t made up - Merlin knew he probably wasn’t ready to begin thinking about that - but she realized that sometimes, once in a blue moon, she missed having Albus there.
But when she re-entered her common room, she was assaulted by her other brother. “I heard what happened? Lily, please tell me you didn’t…” James exclaimed, crushing Lily in a hug. “Wait, have you been crying?”
“Yeah,” she responded honestly, as James lead her towards the couch. Luckily the room was deserted, so she didn’t have to worry about whatever the girls would say if they heard this conversation. “I’m okay now, though. Someone talked to me, and I’m going to dump Lewis’s sorry arse first thing.”
“Who talked to you?” James asked, as she walked up the stairs to her dormitory. All Lily wanted to do was sleep.
“It was Al.” With a smile, she was gone, and James couldn’t help but smile to himself. Maybe things weren’t as broken as he thought.
A/N: Okay, so two of the next three chapters are with my beta. The awkward part of this is that the middle chapter is the one I'm currently writing. *coughs*
So the next update should be in about a week. But as another warning, I still have exactly 47 days of school left (not including weekends), so bear with me until the joys of summer allow for more time to write.
Also, if you haven't already, go check read (right now) Snake Bites by Sheriff. It's in need of more readers because it's bloody brilliant. But now onto actual story discussion. If you think that was too optimistic to last, you're right. I won't tell you why, though...
So thoughts on what happened? Opinions on the Potters? Predictions of what's to come?
Thanks for reading!
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