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The Gift by Twofighter
Chapter 3 : The Escape
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1

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Chapter Three: The Escape

Well, I’m inclined to believe,
If we weren’t so dumb, we’d up and leave
Is there some happiness for me?

Not in Nottingham – Mumford & Sons

“Ni!” A five year old dark haired boy ran down the street toward the Leaky Cauldron.

“Hey, you little rascal!” I sighed happily as I lifted up my little brother and received a loving hug.

“I want to go Diagon Alley!” He said excitedly, pointing over my shoulder at the Leaky Cauldron which Louis and I had just exited.

“Say hi to Louis,” I said distractedly as I put him back down and looked at my dad and grandmother approaching.

“Hi, Lu. You coming too?” He asked Louis, who just smiled at him. “I want ice cream. Daddy promised me!”

I stared at the cotton candy my dad was finishing, which surely had belonged to the spoiled little boy before he had grown tired of it.

“Hello, dear,” said Letty, my grandmother. She pouted her lips excessively, indicating that she was waiting for a kiss from me. I pecked her cheek quickly as a greeting. “Your father and I thought we’d go shopping a bit for clothes. God knows he barely has anything to wear anymore.”

I rolled my eyes. What God knew was that Dad never had enough of anything. My dad was that kind of person that always needed more than he could afford and his mother just loved to spend money on him. Perfect combination, you say? Yeah, I’m really looking forward to the day they both run out of money.

Letty pulled out her wallet and thrust a number of tenners into my hand.

“In the meantime, get your little brother and yourself one of those famous Florean ice creams. He’s been such a good boy, hasn’t he?” Letty put an affectionate hand on my little brother’s head, which he knocked away cockily. I gave him a stern look. “And your handsome boyfriend can have one as well of course,” Letty chattered on, ignoring the fact that I was trying to give her the money back. My dad rolled his eyes at me.

“You know pounds are useless in the wizarding world,” I sighed, forcing the money into one of her pockets. She scolded me for it. “Don’t worry, I’ve got some galleons left.”

Letty was about to protest again but Dad had already turned around. She huffed and hurried after her son.

“Don’t you have to ask what time you need to be back here?” Louis asked, turning back to the Leaky Cauldron. I shrugged and pulled out my muggle cell phone.

“Miracle devises for families with a severe lack of communication, like ours,” I said bitterly. Louis remained silent but I knew he was judging us, my family. It didn’t really bother me, though. If it hadn’t been Louis, then maybe I would’ve tried to defend my father and grandmother, but Louis and I had already had so many frustrating discussions about how dysfunctional my family really was that it would be rather pointless.

As we walked through the pub and exited through the back, Louis took my hand in his. It surprised me. We had never shied away from physical contact but this felt kind of weird. I looked up at him but he only smiled. It was probably just me. My little brother took my other hand and started to drag us forward, not satisfied with our slow pace.

We went to Florean Fortescue’s Ice cream Parlour first. After taking forever to decide which flavours we wanted, I took out my money but Louis said:

“It’s alright. I’ll get it.”

“Louis,” I said threateningly. He looked alarmed.

“No, this is nothing like the way Letty always throws money at you! I just– you already had to buy me that splendid birthday present. This is me trying to say thank you,” Louis tried to explain. It was weird. Louis knew how important this kind of independence was for me; I didn’t like to take money from others.

“Don’t be stupid. I’m paying,” I said determinedly turning to the counter where a cute blonde girl stood, smiling brightly at Louis.

“Here you go, Mr. Weasley,” she said, handing him the ice creams which he passed along to me and my brother. The girl turned away immediately, not even glancing at the money in my hand.

I turned to glare at Louis.

“I said I’m paying,” I hissed. Louis put up his hands in defence.

“I didn’t pay either, okay?” He hissed back. I frowned. “Uncle Harry bought this place in honour of the original owner who was murdered by Death Eaters during the war. The entire family gets free ice cream.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me sooner? I’ve been paying for years!” I yelled, punching his arm. He narrowed his eyes at me but still smiled – as if my skinny arms could do any real damage to Louis’ muscled ones.

“You’re always so adamant on paying everything yourself. You know, sometimes it’s politer to just accept what people are offering you,” Louis explained, licking his liquorice flavoured ice cream. With a slightly disgusted look on my face, I turned to my own chocolate flavoured one. Mhm, much better.

We walked along Diagon Alley peacefully and Louis took my hand again. I didn’t pull away but I didn’t particularly feel like keeping it there either, so when I saw my devious little brother trying to sneak into Weasley Wizards’ Wheezes with his dripping ice cream still in his hand, I let go and ran after him.

“I wanna go inside!” He whined as I stopped him.

“You can’t go in with your ice cream though,” I pointed out. He stared at me with his big, innocent eyes and pushed the ice cream toward me so I would take it. I chuckled and took it before tossing it into a nearby bin. As I saw his messy hands, I sighed and tried to clean them with some tissues.

With a swish of his wand, Louis reappeared beside me and made the sticky mess disappear. I threw him an envious but grateful look, before entering the jokeshop.

I froze almost immediately upon entering. My careless little brother had run straight into a black haired, handsome boy and the butterflies in my stomach went crazy. Albus Potter was laughing at the little kid that was pouting and rubbing his forehead. Al offered him a chocolate frog –and don’t forget, Albus doesn’t share easily– and the little boy’s face lit up.

But you know what really made me go weak in the knees? Al was wearing his green jumper; the one I had slept in last night. A broad grin crept onto my face and, of course, that was the moment Al decided to look up. Did his eyes look even greener than this morning?

“Hey, I didn’t know you were going to be here,” Louis said as we approached his cousin.

“Emergency gift shopping. Still need to find something for my dad,” Al explained, grimacing guiltily.

“Wasn’t his birthday yesterday?” I asked hesitantly. This made him look even guiltier... but still so cute.

“Yeah... I really suck at buying presents.”

I chuckled.

“Look, look! I got Harry Potter!” My little brother squeaked, jumping up and down and pulling Al’s sleeve. He showed us the card that came with his chocolate frog.

“Did you know that this is his son?” I asked him, pointing at Albus.

“Hi, I’m Albus. And who are you?” Albus said politely to the small boy, whose eyes seemed to have grown to the size of ping pong balls and who suddenly seemed a bit afraid of the teenage boy in front of him.

“This is Pelops, my little brother,” I introduced him when it was obvious he was too star-struck to speak. Albus looked up at me.

“Pelops,” He muttered.

“Yeah, I know it’s a weird name. Blame my mother’s obsession with Greek mythology,” I explained, feeling rather self-conscious.

“Well, I’m not one to talk, am I? My full name is Albus Severus Potter,” he whispered to Pelops with a chuckle, but the boy just kept staring.

My cell phone buzzed, pulling my eyes away from the endearing scene before me.

‘We’re leaving.’ was what my dad’s text message said. I sighed and looked up at Louis who had been reading over my shoulder.

“See you in a couple of weeks?” He asked as he put his arms around me. I nodded into his chest.

“We’ve got to go home, little man,” I said to Pelops, putting a hand on top of his head. “Say bye to Albus and Louis.”

Pelops was still far too intimidated by the son of Harry Potter to utter a word. Louis chuckled as he ruffled the boy’s brown hair and headed toward the back of the store where he would be able to floo back home.

I looked up at Albus and found him staring back at me. There was a silence which I found incredibly awkward.

“You smell nice,” Al suddenly blurted out. He seemed surprised by his own words. “I mean the jumper, it smells like you. You–”

For a moment I didn’t know how to process this information –Was that a compliment?– and this pause made Al very nervous.

“I really need to go,” I said slowly. Albus’ eyes dropped to the floor and I had the feeling that I had hurt his feelings; that I had let him down somehow. I frowned, not understanding my weird behaviour... nor his.

“See ya,” he muttered before disappearing between the aisles of the shop. I stared out in front of me a bit longer, before Pelops got bored and started pulling my hand.

That peculiar look on Al’s face kept haunting me as we walked back toward the Leaky Cauldron, while Pelops stopped at every shop and drooled over everything one could buy there.

Once back in Muggle London, it took us a while to get to where Dad had parked the car and after that there was another long drive home. Sitting in the back, I wished for music but Letty just kept talking. I could see my dad roll his eyes more than once and it reminded me of how alike we were sometimes.

It wasn’t really a thought that comforted me though, although that had once been different. For the first ten years of my life, my dad had been my hero and I had relished in all the things we had in common. I had been a daddy’s girl all the way. My mum was the strict one that would always punish me too quickly and my dad was the one I’d go to afterward to get him to talk mum out of the punishment. He’d always comply to his little girl.

How blissfully ignorant I had been. Everything was black and white; mum always the bad guy, dad my personal teddy bear. And then my mother died, and I found out my dad was no hero. He was no hero without my mum. It was mum who had been the real hero, raising me to be a good person, not the spoiled brat Pelops would turn out to be. It was because my mum had been the bad guy that my dad could pretend to be the hero.

Now, I had to play that role. I had been forced to be a mother –or rather, act like one– and it had broken something inside of me.

I wished for music.

Somewhere along the ride, Pelops fell asleep and I carried him out of the car as we arrived home. I sat down next to him after I had laid him down on Dad’s bed.

I looked around the room. It was small, too small for a soon to be six year old and his father. Yes, Dad and Pelops still slept in the same bed. They had done so ever since Pelops was a baby. I had never liked it and had told my father so, saying that it wasn’t healthy for the boy. Dad had brushed it off and I had given up, because there wasn’t really anything I could do about the matter since there was no extra room that could serve as Pelops’ own bedroom.

You see, the house was actually Letty’s house which we had moved into after Mum died. Dad hadn’t been able to stay in that big, old, secluded house up north and had moved back in with his mother, who couldn’t have been happier. But the house was small, too small for four people. I had been urging my dad to find a new house but neither he, nor Letty, would hear anything of it. They were just fine with the way things were.

Everyone was happy, weren’t we? No we weren’t, Dad.

I walked out of the room and went up into the attic, which was where I slept. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my room and I loved Letty but this situation was not good for anyone, especially Pelops. It was like Letty only fed and encouraged Dad’s... unparentlike behaviour. He was her son, he needed to be taken care of, and somewhere along the way it made him forget how to be a parent, how he needed to take care of his child. Children.

But I wasn’t worried about me; I had grown up enough to see through Dad’s material world in which nobody lacked any thing. Pelops didn’t know any better, did he? He had never had that hero in disguise like my mother who could subtly lead him down the right path.

I threw my bag into a corner and went to my desk . I rummaged through the stack of papers that was growing each day until I found what I was looking for. Putting my headphones on and plugging them into my phone, I headed back downstairs.

I passed the kitchen where Dad was eating grilled cheese and walked out of the front door without saying anything.

They didn’t care anyway; they knew I’d be home in time for dinner.

My mind was recalling something my father said every time I brought up that Pelops would turn out to be a very insufferable git if he didn’t change his upbringing: “He’s a good kid, and he’s loved. He’ll turn out good as long as he’s loved.

I snorted. Clearly Dad didn’t understand the real meaning of love. Sometimes loving someone meant not showing them love, not showing them mercy and being ruthless. That was a part which neither my Dad, nor Letty understood and which I understood all too well.

I loved Albus. I loved him like I would love his dead racoon breath in the morning when we’re seventy but I couldn’t show it. Love wasn’t showering someone with affection and presents. Love was rough and painful.

I pushed open the door of our local library and spotted Ben immediately behind his desk. He got up when he noticed the grim expression on my face. I followed him all the way to the back of the library where he unlocked a door to which only librarians had the key. I smiled kindly at him before he closed the door gently, leaving me alone. Sometimes he would come in with me and ask if he could listen, but not this time and I had a feeling it might’ve had something to do with my sullen expression.

The room was small and stacked with boxes and cardboard signs. All the way in the far right corner stood what I was looking for; a piano.

As I sat down, I placed the sheet music I had brought from home before me and plugged my headphones into the piano. Deciding to turn up the volume really loud, I let my fingers hover an inch above the keys for a moment.

I was slightly afraid of touching them. It always took me a moment to get myself together.

You see, I stopped playing for years after my mother died. She had taught me how to play and I had gotten pretty good at it, yet I had never considered myself a pianist. No, my mum was the musician and I only played with her, never without. So, when she died and we moved out of the house, leaving the piano behind, it never crossed my mind to continue playing. Even if I had wanted to, I don’t think my father would’ve allowed it. He hated everything that reminded him of her.

The moment I had decided to play again though, it had been more of an act of teenage rebellion against my father. I had planned to put up a note, asking if anyone in town had a piano on which they might let me play (only in the summer off course, since I would be off to Hogwarts during the rest of the year). Fortunately, Ben had been working as a librarian when I had asked him if I could put it up at the entrance of the library, and he told me there was an unused piano in one of their storage rooms.

His eyes had lingered a bit too long on my chest as he said I could use it whenever I wanted, as long as I didn’t tell anyone. In his defence: that was two years ago and he was sixteen... blame it on the hormones. We were friends now.

I looked at the notes on the sheet of paper before me and heard them inside my head, forming a melody. It was one of the pieces that I had played so many times 2 summers ago –very dark, very satisfying for an angry, pubescent girl of fourteen– that I was able to play it with my eyes closed if I wanted to.

Taking a deep breath, I placed my fingers gently on the first notes and started playing. Having forgotten that I had put the volume up so loud, I found myself suddenly immersed in the low sound and felt a part of the resentment that had been building up inside of me during the day flow through my fingers and leave me. There was truly nothing like it.

With a weird sense of urgency, I rushed to the higher notes. I knew I wasn’t playing at the right pace but it felt like I needed to get something off my chest.

As my hands moved to the left again, forming a very dark, slow melody, I stopped and sighed. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to play something so dark when I was already feeling quite bitter. I looked through the rest of the sheet music I had brought with me.

Kiss the rain. My mother’s favourite.

The papers were old and crumpled. It was still the same sheet music my mother had used to teach me this song before she died. I had taken it with me on accident, ‘cause usually I was too afraid to play it. Afraid that I wouldn’t be able to play it as beautifully as my mother had.

I stared at it for a very long time, until I had memorised all the notes on the first two bars. Carefully and slowly I tried to play them on the piano, first with my right hand, then, even more slowly, with both hands. My fingers remembered the tune quicker than I had thought. My right hand could easily play in the right tempo after just a few minutes of practice, but my left was a bit slower.

Once I had started to practice, I felt an incredible urge to finish it, to be able to play it right. I continued to work on it for hours, so completely consumed by it that I didn’t notice my empty stomach which was growling uncomfortably.

I was finally starting to get it right when the touch of a hand on my shoulder made me jump in surprise. Ben seemed equally startled by my jumpy reaction.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said friendly, leaving his hand on my shoulder.

“It’s alright. I shouldn’t have put the volume up so high,” I apologised as well, taking off the headphones. “What’s up?”

“Ehm, I have to close up?” Ben said slowly, as if it was obvious. I kept staring at him incomprehensibly. “We close at eight o’clock.”

My eyes widened as I realised what he was saying. Was it really eight o’clock already? I stared at the clock on my phone: 8.04 pm.

But no messages or missed calls. Normally dinner was at seven, but sometimes we ate later. I didn’t like the irregularity in that because it wasn’t healthy for Pelops. I quickly collected all my things and said goodbye to Ben.

I ran all the way home, sweating after about two seconds. When I reached the house, I could see the lights on in the living room and the flickering images of the telly. There was probably a football match on, and that was why dinner was postponed, I thought heatedly.

Upon entering, I smelled the thick air of baked food and proceeded immediately to the kitchen to see if I could help. Letty was bustling around, but she wasn’t cooking. She was cleaning up.

They had eaten already. I froze as I looked at the nearly empty kitchen table. Why hadn’t they waited for me?

It wasn’t like we made a big deal out of ‘family-time during dinner’ but was it really that insignificant? Was I really that unimportant that they just started without me? I didn’t really know why it stung so much because, really, it was something I might’ve expected but it made me angry and frustrated. And the fact that they didn’t realise it made me feel so angry, frustrated me even more.

“Oh hello, dear,” Letty said cheerfully once she noticed me standing there. As if on cue, my stomach growled. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d be eating with us.”

Where else would I be eating? Straight off the streets? I wanted to scream at her, but she had already started to look for something she could make me.

“There’s still some leftover pasta from yesterday. I could warm it up for you, if you want?” She offered, her head hidden behind the fridge door.

I’m allergic to tomatoes, which are in the freaking tomato sauce!! Why couldn’t she remember that?

“There are also some mashed potatoes from... last week. Don’t think they’re still good to eat, though,” She was murmuring to herself, while my anger built up inside me.

“It’s okay. I’m not hungry,” I muttered coldly and turned back around.

“Oh no, dear! You have to eat something. I’ll make you whatever you want,” I heard her say behind me as I walked out of the kitchen and into the living room. I ignored her as I turned my anger toward my father, who was lazily watching the telly with Pelops’ head on his chest. The little boy’s eyes were drooping tiredly.

“Hey dad, guess what,” I said boldly.

“What?” He replied uninterestedly. I resisted the urge to go stand in between him and the TV.

“I’m hungry,” I said, clenching my jaw.

“Then eat something.”

“That’s kind of a problem since, you know, you decided to exclude me from dinner,” I snapped at him, earning me my first glance from my father.

“You were late for dinner,” he replied in that same bored voice. I huffed, not satisfied with his unperturbed reaction.

“For the first time ever, I lose track of time. One time!” I exclaimed. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. “What the hell is this stupid thing for if not to call me?”

I tossed him the cell phone, which bounced with a hard thump against his shoulder. He looked back at me and finally his expression changed, but not in a good way. His eyes widened as he glanced at the phone –Pelops had quickly snatched it away and started playing games on it – and then back at me, giving me that ‘respect your father’ face.

“Well, if you don’t want it maybe I should give it to your brother here. He seems to appreciate it,” Dad said, thinking that he was threatening me with taking away my phone. Like I cared. I didn’t have friends with cell phones.

“That’s not the bloody point!” I yelled, throwing up my arms. Both my little brother as well as my father looked at me with wide eyes. Language, Niobe! I rolled my eyes. As if Pelops wasn’t going to turn out to be the most foul-mouthed kid in the neighbourhood.

I gave up my attempt to get through Dad’s thick skull tonight and walked toward Pelops, taking him into my arms.

“You should be in bed already,” I muttered, while he protested and tried to continue the game on my phone at the same time.

I took him upstairs to Dad’s room and ordered him to put on his pyjamas and brush his teeth. Knowing that if I wasn’t watching over his shoulder while he was doing those things, he wouldn’t do them, I stayed and had to repeat myself a million times until he finally lay in bed.

“Do you want me to read you story?” I asked hopefully. Pelops narrowed his eyes at me, knowing what I was getting at.

“Can I still watch a movie after?” He asked cheekily. I sighed.

“I’d really wish you didn’t. It’ll keep you up longer,” I explained, although I knew it was futile. This was such a familiar routine that we both already knew what the other was going to say.

“No, it won’t! I can’t fall sleep if I don’t watch a movie. I’ll be up all night,” he pleaded. I sighed again, growing listless of forever wanting to change Pelops’ upbringing for the better only to have every step forward annihilated again by my dad or Letty.

“I’ll read you a story anyway,” I said, heading for the landing where the only bookcase inside the entire house was and taking out the first book that I found.

After reading the story and feeling like Pelops hadn’t been listening to a word of it, I found him still wide awake, much to my annoyance. When I asked him what movie he wanted to watch, he tried my patience by thinking very long and hard, only to choose one he had already seen a hundred times.

Feeling tired –but also a bit dizzy from the lack of food– I exited the room and went up to the attic to put away the sheet music and my headphones. I stuffed a bit of money into my pocket, along with my keys and headed back downstairs, tossing my phone onto my bed –it was obviously useless, wasn’t it?

Letty was still busy cleaning the kitchen so I decided to avoid that room, noticing the annoying headache my hunger was giving me and knowing I would unnecessarily snap at her if she’d only open her mouth. My father hadn’t moved one inch from his position in front of the TV –although he now had a glass of red wine in his hands– and was talking in a frustrated voice to the newsreader as if she was the one to blame for all the crap that was happening in the world.

“That’s it! I’m moving to South-Africa!” He exclaimed, throwing up one arm. Seeing him so passionate about that, I felt a short stab in my chest as I compared it to his lack of interest toward me earlier on.

I closed my eyes and rubbed my temple, deciding that the headache was making me so bitter. Not granting anyone another look, I headed for the door. I heard my father ask where I was going but I ignored him. As if he cared.

Ten minutes later, I found myself sitting down on a lone bench with a pack of chips that was already turning cold.

Suddenly, I thought I heard someone call my name and I looked around.

My eyes widened as a fairly muscled man started jogging my way. I couldn’t make out his face because the lowering sun behind him was blinding my view. If I wasn’t such a paranoid pessimist, I might have thought the sight of him sort of angelic, but I knew about 5 people in this town and most of them didn’t even like me. Was the person coming this way one of the people that liked me or not?

“Niobe,” the stranger repeated and I sighed as he sat down next to me. It was Ben.

“God, you scared me,” I whined as Ben leaned back and spilt a bit of his beer. “You seem drunk.”

“Just a bit,” he replied with a chuckle, not embarrassed about it. Not that he should be. The embarrassing thing was that I had never even been drunk, ever.

“How is that possible? You left the library less than an hour ago. Did you skip your dinner?” I teased.

“Nah, I ate in the library.”

“I am shocked!” I exclaimed. “Eating in the library, Benjamin? Isn’t that the worst kind of violation of a librarian’s Ten Commandments?”

“You know what they say about librarians...” he said, wiggling his eyebrows at me.

“Yeah yeah, I really don’t want to hear about your basement full of sadistic sex toys!”

Ben laughed and whispered: “You’d be surprised by what you’d find,” as he leaned back and put his arm around me. I ignored him.

“You know what I don’t get, Niobe? Why you don’t allow people to like you more,” he said, suddenly serious.

“I don’t really know why but that feels like an insult,” I replied, staring down at the beer in Ben’s hands. I reached down and brought it to my lips.

“No, it actually really isn’t. You’re way more fun than people here think you are,” he continued as I took a sip of beer. It was lukewarm and sticky.

“Again, kind of insulting!” I said with a chuckle, before drinking from the beer again. Ben was clearly more drunk than he was letting on and so I wasn’t really paying any attention to what he was saying.

“No, it isn’t! You could have so many friends, if you just made an effort!”

Now he was just trying to piss me off.

“Well, I won’t. Okay?” I snapped at him. “If being a bit reserved is enough for the narrow-minded people of this godforsaken town to call me a freak and think I’m retarded or something, well then that’s their loss.”

I pushed the glass back into Ben’s hand angrily and got up. I really didn’t need another person pretending to know how I should be acting.

“Yes!” Ben said immediately, grabbing my arm before I could walk away. “You’re absolutely right. It is their loss. The problem is that you don’t allow them to see the real you.”

That’s rather a problem when you’re a witch; it’s even against the law...

“Trust me, there isn’t much to see. My life here is so incredibly fascinating that I’m counting down the days until I can return to school,” I said sarcastically.

Sarcasm was always the way to go when confronted with how much my life sucked.

“You have no idea how great you are. You don’t see yourself properly, and thus others can’t either,” he concluded, turning around and sitting back down on the bench.

I sighed and followed his example.

I knew Ben was just trying to be a good friend, and he really was. He had been trying to make me enjoy my two months during the summer ever since we met. What he didn’t know was that it wouldn’t change a thing: I could never show people who or what I really was. My situation at home would still suck as much as before; my dad would still be as unable to raise my little brother as before. I would still want to leave this entire town behind from the moment I graduated.

The even more frustrating thing was that I wanted to be able to disappear, be free and not have to think about anyone but myself, not have to think about anything but being myself. But every time I thought of my future, Pelops was there. I couldn’t leave him with my dad and Letty – however arrogant or condescending that sounded, I believed it was the truth. Even when I was at Hogwarts, I tried to write to him as much as I could – thank Merlin for magic that could make letters read themselves out loud – and tried to be there for him, keep an eye on him.

“I like you, Niobe. I really do,” Ben said slowly, pulling me out of my train of thoughts. “But you never had any feelings for me, did you?”

My eyes widened as I suddenly realised what he was saying. This is awkward.

“Don’t worry, I’m over it. I mean, I get it. Why let someone in just to lose them again right? Or at least, why take the risk?”

“Wow, Ben, you should become a therapist instead of a librarian,” I said, trying to steer the conversation away from myself.

“Let me tell you something: you learn a lot from watching people who think nobody’s watching them.”

“That sounded far creepier than you intended, I assume,” I joked, happy that Ben wasn’t waiting for a reaction from me after his little psycho-analysis.

Across the street, three men suddenly stumbled out of a bar noisily, followed by a short but well-built female, who was pushing them outside and yelling that they shouldn’t come back anytime soon. Ben laughed and waved them over.

Oh Merlin, I was about to be introduced to friends of friends. I hated situations like that. But then I remembered Ben’s words about how I needed to make an effort.

“Did you really just get kicked out of a bar by a woman half your size?” Ben asked laughingly, and then turned to me. “Niobe, this is my pathetic older brother, Nick, who is celebrating his 22nd birthday today – hence the drinking, although he usually doesn’t need an excuse – by getting thrown out of the only bar in town.”

I nodded at Nick, not that he was paying attention. He was too busy trying to zip up his pants while holding a beer in each hand. Ben was introducing the two other boys as Liam and Will, when Nick suddenly gave up his attempt at making himself look a bit more decent and said:

“That was not a woman, I’m telling you! Women don’t start yelling at you when you offer them a drink,” Nick slurred.

“She was being a bitch because birthday boy here still needed to pay his tab and didn’t have any money left,” the dark-haired friend, Liam I think, explained to us.

“Ergo, I told her to have a drink and chill!” Nick continued. “My treat, I said!”

Ben and the two friends started laughing.

“She then continued by suggesting I perform sexual intercourse upon my own person...”

“And the rest is history,” Ben concluded, still laughing. “We probably should get you home anyway.”

Nick had now found a soft spot of grass and seemed to be preparing to go to sleep.

“Do you want to come with?” Ben asked me as he got up. I shook my head automatically.

“No thanks. I should probably head home and do... nothing.” I decided not to make any excuses when I saw the sceptical look on Ben’s face.

“There’s pizza,” Ben suggested as he looked down at my now mushy chips. My stomach seemed to like the thought of pizza.

“Resistance is futile,” I murmured as I got up and followed him.

When Nick, Liam and Will started getting in a car, I stopped and put a hand on Ben’s arm but he just smiled at me and said we could walk, it wasn’t far.

We walked in silence mostly, and I couldn’t stop thinking that Ben had to be analysing me again. I didn’t like it but I couldn’t think of something to say either.

“I shouldn’t have come. I’m sorry, but I’m going to go home,” I said, suddenly anxious when we reached his house.

“No, please stay. There’s something I want you to see... and it’s not my collection of sadistic sex toys,” Ben joked with that same sweet smile. “I’ll walk you home after I showed you.”

And so, I walked into the house with Ben. It was dead silent, and I wondered where the three party-boys were. Shouldn’t they have been home sooner than us? They were drunk, though. I hoped they got pulled over.

“Nick and his mates are probably in the basement,” Ben said, answering my silent question. “It’s like his room nowadays.”

“Hence the sex toys...” I said, continuing our little joke. He chuckled.

“I wanted to show you this.”

It was the piano from the library. I rushed toward it and opened the lid.

“How did this get here? Did you steal it?” Ben laughed and I took that as a ‘no’.

“I bought it!” He said. “The library had that auction last week and when I noticed that you didn’t place a bid on it, I did.”

“I left,” I whispered, still mesmerised. “I left the auction because I knew I couldn’t buy this thing and didn’t want to see anyone else get it. I didn’t even realise it shouldn’t have been there in the library when I came in to play on it today.”

“I left it there. You didn’t show up for an entire week after the auction. I started to think you didn’t want to play anymore and I had just made the stupidest purchase ever.” Ben explained, still amused by my reaction. “But today you showed and I thought I’d finally take it home with me, so you don’t have to sneak around... you can come play it here, as much as you like.”

I finally understood why Ben had bought the instrument, even though he couldn’t play and it clashed horribly with the rest of the furniture in the room.

If I wanted to play on it, I had to come to his house... It seemed a small price to pay though, if it meant I could play whenever and however long I wanted.

“What about your parents?” I asked, sitting down on the stool. My fingers were itching to play something.

“My parents are on holiday in Spain for the rest of the month.”

“Well, isn’t that convenient,” I commented.

“Go ahead, play me something. I’ll put a pizza in the oven in the meantime. There’s only one left, so you don’t really have a choice. I think it’s one with chicken, or maybe tuna...”

Ben’s voice faded away as he kept going on about pizza’s from inside the kitchen, while I stared at my fingers on top of the piano keys. They were tingling, and a smile crept onto my face.

I played my mother’s song. It wasn’t as perfect as I would’ve liked it to be but I didn’t mind; it still gave me a sense of freedom. I would play my mother’s song on a piano as often as I wanted, no matter how much my father would hate it if he knew.

“Dude, what’s with the...” One of Nick’s mates began, but Ben shushed him and he kept quiet. I had barely heard him because I was so focused on doing the song justice.

When it ended, the sounds around me returned and I could hear someone snoring behind me. As I turned around, I saw it was Liam – I think – while Ben smiled and ate his pizza.

I had actually wanted to continue playing – I had a feeling that I would be able to go on the entire night – but the idea of food drew me to the couch.

As I lay in bed later that night, I didn’t feel like sleeping at all. I was too excited. Yes, I would take Ben up on his offer; it was that or no piano at all, and now that I had had the guts to play my mother’s favourite piece, I didn’t want to stop playing it.

And so, I called Ben the next day; he had to work until four. At precisely four o’clock in the afternoon, I stood waiting outside the library for him and walked him home. I didn’t show up for dinner, and I continued not showing up for dinner. I always told Letty up front that I wouldn’t, so there wasn’t really anything my dad could be angry about, but I knew that he didn’t like it.

Most of the time I would go back home in time to put Pelops to bed, only to take my bike and go back to Ben’s. After a while, I didn’t wait for Ben to be home anymore; I just showed up and hoped that his brother, Nick, was home, which he was most of the time – certainly if I showed up before two in the afternoon.

But September first was nearing and I started to prepare myself to leave the piano behind. Ben’s parents were coming back anyway.

“Why would you ever want to go to a boarding school. You’re always going on about how you wish you were here more for your little brother,” Ben commented when I said that I was leaving.

“It’s fun,” I said, not feeling like explaining myself. I was already bummed out that I wouldn’t be able to play the piano again for months. “It really is! Besides, it’s not like I have a choice.”

Luckily Ben didn’t push the subject. We hugged and said goodbye. He told me to text or e-mail him sometime. I wouldn’t, off course, and for the first time I felt rather bad about that.

Saying goodbye to Letty was always a trial. Every time you went in for a hug, she would remember something that she had wanted to give me: money (I just couldn’t get it through her thick skull that pounds were useless in my world), make-up (even if I would wear any make-up, it wouldn’t be the muggle kind), food (I was kind of grateful for that), more clean socks, etc.

More than an hour later, dad, Pelops and I were in the car driving to London.

A/N: I've had this chapter prepared for ages already. Don't know why I didnt put it up sooner. The next chapter's ready as well so I hope I don't get too busy again :S

First song Niobe plays on the piano is 'Moonlight Sonata' by Beethoven. 'Kiss the rain' is by Yiruma.

Hope you still want to read this story; I know it doesn't seem like it but I'm really into it, so I would love to get some feedback from you. :)

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