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Chapter 2 : Awkward People
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It was two minutes of tapping her feet on the floor and trying to draw a picture on the duvet with her fingers before Greta stood abruptly, stumbled over to her trunk, fished for the laptop case, and scurried out of the room before she could change her mind.
She almost collided with a ginger on the stairs and would've been happy to mumble an apology and move on, but before she could, the girl's eyes lit up in recognition. 'Oh! Greta, right?' she asked with a kind smile.
'Greta Hamilton,' said Greta, but this time she managed to stop herself from going on. Just one ginger. She could handle just one.
'I'm Lily,' said the girl chirpily. 'Your sister's marrying my brother.'
A pause. Greta nodded awkwardly and started to turn away, but then the smiley little thing had wrapped her arms around Greta's shoulders. Greta had to lean down a bit because Lily was not so tall and actually sort of choking her. It was not very fun, and not very comfortable with the laptop between them.
After she had ensured that she wasn't about to die by suffocation, Greta patted Lily's back. This seemed to satisfy the ginger's sudden violent need for affection, and she made a happy giggly sound as she released Greta. Then she turned and ran away. Lily, not Greta this time.
Slowly, Greta turned back and started down the stairs again. Except for two more smallish people running past her, the remainder of the journey wasn't so horrible. As she took the last few steps, Greta lifted a hand to rub the back of her neck, wondering if future sister-in-law had left her a nice little present already.
There was an argument going on in the sitting room. Greta wasn't sure if it was about a game or the cleaning because they were talking about teams but all holding broomsticks. She inched along the wall toward what she guessed was the front of the house, flattening herself as much as she could. She became aware of the extra weight of her stomach and her face turned sour for a moment before she reached the corner and darted into the next room.
The front door was in sight, but still out of reach. An adult person was headed her way. Those adult people liked to talk. Greta didn't want to talk.
'Ah, there she is!' said the adult person, who was a male ginger adult person, with a smile. Too many smiles, noted Greta, wincing again. The adult person got closer, but Greta was frozen. 'Hermione said you'd already gone into town with Florence, but I'm glad I caught you.'
When Greta realised she was being mistaken for her sister (again), she tried to correct him, but all that came out was a squeak.
'I want to show you something,' he went on, putting a hand behind her and leading her into one of the side rooms off the hall. Greta let him, taking one last longing look at the front door.
She did try to take note of their route so she could sneak away if possible and bolt out of the house before he noticed, but there were too many turns and doors. Greta looked up at the man. He was tall and had a head of flaming red hair.
He was saying something, but Greta was too busy panicking to listen. She would look at his hand on her shoulder, then at the last door they passed, then at the hand again, then at the windows. This was the ground floor, right? There wouldn't be a drop. But what if that window wasn't really there? What had Hugo said, something about cloaking? There could really be no window and she'd just get stuck in a wall and die there.
Of course, she might just die right here, at the hands of this tallish adult male. How did she really even know he was related to these folk? He could've just snuck in the house; any ginger would blend in here. Or maybe he was the mad uncle who hated Astrid and didn't approve and wanted her dead, so he was taking Greta to the dungeon by mistake.
Greta was far too focused on dank dungeons and rotting corpses and rats and axes dripping with blood to notice that the adult person was trying to get her attention. Until he snapped his fingers in her face. Then she yelped and cowered.
'I'm not Astrid, I swear, just take me back and I promise I won't tell anybody anything!' she started at an impressive pace. All her words ran together. 'I'll let you take her, I don't even like her, she's mean and bossy and when I was nine she ate the last slice of my birthday cake and it made me cry and she just laughed!'
It was at this point that Greta dissolved into tears. Now, Greta didn't normally do this all that much. But the fact was, she was in a strange house with a lot of strange people and she really didn't like people at all because they were big stupid mean faces that all thought she was weird. And there was no wifi and Greta was very sad and she was stressed out because she didn't get a lot of sleep last night and what if Hansel got ill and constipated or something in such a strange environment? Hansel couldn't die, he was her best friend. Best friends can't just go dying on you.
She was mumbling most of these reasons as she blubbered on, her face all wet with tears, but mostly snot. Greta had been here probably not even an hour, and she was already having a mental breakdown. She really thought she'd be able to last two whole weeks. How stupid. She definitely needed to go home.
Now there was someone else and another someone in the room, but they were all blurry because Greta was still crying kind of a lot. Somebody picked her up and started to carry her. Greta didn't panic and think they were taking her a dungeon this time because now she realised that was a bit silly. Now she was crying just because she had started and couldn't stop.
They sat her down on a comfy thing and gave her a cup. It had tea in it, and Greta drank it all. Then there was more tea, and Greta drank that too. She had a biscuit. Her cries tapered off into little whimpers. She had some more tea and biscuits. They were warm. Someone took her laptop.
Finally, she was down to just sniffling. She didn't look up, though, just hugged a tiny decorative pillow and stared at her hands. There were a bunch of whispering people. Greta felt really pretty stupid about all this. She was twenty-six. Probably older than... well, maybe half the people here, besides the real adults. But she was acting like she was five. Or even two. Actually, yeah, it was two.
It wasn't as if she'd never had a breakdown before. It happened sometimes. She couldn't really stop them. But still, she didn't cry like this normally. She just went a little bit crazy and had to shut herself away and rock back and forth and maybe have some tea and then she was fine. Not a big deal. This one, though, this was a big one. And it was in front of everybody. And there wasn't even a good reason for it, really.
Damn, that just made the whole thing a lot more depressing.
The crying started up again, but then somebody sat next to her. Greta tried to contain it. They put a hand on her arm. It took her a few tries, but she finally managed to say shakily, 'Can you make them go away?'
'Yeah,' said the person, and it was a boy. She didn't know him, but he was nice. He made the people go away. Then he slowly put an arm around her. She snuggled into him. He smelled good.
She felt silly and didn't want to say anything, but eventually Greta managed, 'Thank you.'
They sat just like that for a time before he asked if she wanted to talk about it. She was about to shake her head, but then she nodded. She sort of did want to talk about it.
'Whenever you're ready,' he said kindly. His voice was really soft, and quiet. 'I'm listening.'
'WhenIwasagirl,' said Greta in a jumble, but then she stopped and cleared her throat. She was going to say this, really clearly, and not skip over any bad parts. It was time to say it all, every bit, out loud. She hadn't told anyone the whole story before. But that was because she didn't have anyone she wanted to tell.
'When I was girl, they thought it was just tantrums.' It was quiet, but he could hear because she felt him nod. 'But then they took me in, and turns out it was anxiety. I had some medicine. We tried lots of things. One was something with skin oils and stuff, and it made my acne really bad. People talked about it in school a lot. But I didn't tell about all that because they'd say I wasn't really trying.'
She had to stop for a moment, and a few more times after that, but she got through it all. Every last bit. Every episode, every hard day, every insult (well, most of them). They must have sat there for hours. Greta's stomach rumbled, and she had a few more biscuits. The boy magicked up some sandwiches and more tea. Greta liked that bit of magic.
But the real magic was, after saying everything that had ever happened, Greta felt nice. She was light, like a balloon, like she was floating. She fell right asleep against the boy who she still hadn't looked at the whole time, who hadn't really said a whole lot of anything, just listened mostly.
It was a really nice sleep, with pretty dreams.
Greta still felt like a balloon when she woke up, but more like one of those ones that was all twisted up so they looked like animals. It was a weird position she'd fallen asleep in, but she hadn't woken up the whole night. She couldn't remember the last time that had happened.
She tried to pull herself up until she realised, the boy hadn't moved. Greta froze. She had fallen asleep on a boy. That had definitely not happened recently, or ever. And it was weird. What did people do in this situation? Well, it wasn't as if anything had happened. They'd just talked. Nothing weird.
No matter how Greta reasoned, the situation was still awkward as one-legged turkeys.
Her shifting around had woken him, and she squeaked. This was about to get ten times more awkward. But would it be worse if she ran away or stayed? Greta was still debating when his eyes opened.
He looked confused for a moment, but then he smiled sleepily. 'Morning. Sorry, my breath probably stinks. Didn't brush and all.'
Greta shrugged and offered, 'I have to pee really bad.'
'Yeah,' he chuckled, 'you had a lot of tea.'
'Mhmm.' Now they were both sitting up, and just kind of staring at each other. Greta looked down and flushed. 'Er, sorry for falling asleep on you.'
'That's okay.' The boy just sounded like he was smiling. He had a nice smile, though.
'And er... sorry about... everything else, too.' She tucked a clump of hair behind her ear. 'But thanks for listening anyway.'
Greta heard the boy shift and looked up to see him running his hand through his definitely not ginger (she heaved a mental sigh of relief) hair. His face was turning a bit red too. 'Yeah, you're welcome, I guess. I...' He sighed, then looked straight at her. 'I sort of like to listen, y'know? So if there's ever... anything else...' He coughed.
Her head shot back down once she realised she'd been staring. It was hard not to. His face had a shape that made you just want to stare at it. Before she knew it, Greta was mumbling, 'Sorry. Your eyes are really green.'
They shifted awkwardly. At least he felt as weird as she did about it. Somehow that was comforting, like he understood or something. But he probably did. She had told him everything. Greta suddenly groaned.
'God, I'm so sorry. I just unloaded everything right on you, and I don't even know you.' She shook her head. 'Sorry. I can be stupid.'
'You don't have to keep apologising. It was... nice.'
She felt his hand on hers. 'No, really.' He grasped her fingers. 'You can talk to me, okay? It's kind of nice to hear about something other than Quidditch and the wedding and what job everyone has and what they're studying...' He trailed off, then looked down as Greta looked up. He took his hand away and finished, 'It just gets tiresome with my family sometimes.'
'Oh. Well... I'm sorry.'
'It's okay. I should probably go, though.' He looked up again, smiling a little. 'Morning breath.'
'I don't smell anything,' said Greta, shaking her head.
But it was like those times in films where someone says something and doesn't realise the meaning until afterwards, but the boy and girl just stare at each other anyway, not even caring. Thinking maybe they want it to mean something more. Leaning in a little bit. Lips meeting.
Well, not really on that last bit, but kind of almost.
The boy pulled back liked he'd been burned, and that made Greta feel more than a wee bit silly. They really hadn't even gotten that close. And maybe it was only Greta leaning in. And maybe she'd misinterpreted the entire thing, like always.
'I'm sorry,' said Greta again, hiding her face. 'Really sorry, that was stupid, I promise I won't... do that.'
The boy shook his head rapidly. 'I don't think you understand...' He got up from the sofa. He stuttered a little. Greta didn't look at him, but she could hear him shuffling about, not leaving but not wanting to stay either. 'You...' He seemed to calm down a bit. 'You don't know who I am, right?'
Greta glanced up for a second but looked back down before saying, 'Er... no.'
'Oh, thank Merlin,' he sighed. Then he did something a bit funny. He laughed. And Greta felt like just about the stupidest girl ever. The he said, 'Oh, no, I didn't mean it like that. I meant... well, it's a good thing you didn't know. That makes it a lot better, actually.'
It took her a moment or two to catch on, but Greta slowly realised it. 'You're not...' She looked at him, and his expression confirmed it. 'Bollocks. You're Albus, aren't you?'
Greta swore again, in a whisper this time. Something inside her was crushed a little bit. Mostly she was filled with so much embarrassment, it was probably oozing out of her ears. It was definitely trying to come through the pores in her face because that area was very, very red.
'I am so sorry,' she managed to say, though it was a great effort to speak when her throat was coated in shame. She really didn't think she could be any more stupid, but she had surpassed herself. 'So sorry,' she said again.
'It's okay, you didn't know. Don't feel bad, okay?' He started towards her, then stopped, thinking better of it. 'It's not your fault.'
Greta just nodded, trying really hard to breathe. She wished he would stop looking at her. Actually, it would be nice if he just disappeared into thin air. He could probably even do that. Greta considered asking him, but she really couldn't talk anymore.
'Well, er... I'm gonna go.' He started to walk away, then paused and turned back. 'Greta?'
She slowly looked up with her hands over her tomato cheeks.
'Er... It's just probably best if we don't... tell Astrid anything. I mean...' He cringed a little. 'Anything. She'd... well, you know how she is.'
Of course she did. She'd known Astrid longer than he had. She'd been there through the worst jealousy fits of the century. Greta nodded again.
Albus nodded too but hovered there awkwardly for another moment. 'Well... er... see you around, then.'
Yes, she would be seeing him. Greta sighed and let her hands slide off her face. It would be pretty difficult to miss the groom.
A/N: Okay. So I realise this is all a bit heavy for only the second chapter, and I'll probably lose some readers for it; but for some reason, this fic is destined for a breakneck pace despite any effort to convince it to slow the hell down. I'm already halfway to throwing this story's mental outline through the window. Probably what I'll end up doing anyway. Ack, who knows. Anyway, review? That'd be lovely.
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