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The Gift by Twofighter
Chapter 4 : The Smile
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Chapter Four: The Smile

Well, it’s been a long time, long time now
Since I’ve seen you smile.
And I’ll gamble away my time.


Nantes – Beirut




“Daddy, come on!” Pelops says excitedly while he pulls his father’s arm with all the strength he can muster, which isn’t much since he’s only six. Dad stays put.

“What, ‘come on’? We’re here. Say goodbye to your sister,” Dad says with a furrowed brow. I put my trunk down and turn to my father, who’s avoiding my eye.

“But I want to see the train!” Pelops whines, continuing his attempt at getting some kind of movement out of his father. “Through there!”

Dad shushes him and I wrap my hand around Pelops’ little index finger that’s pointing right at the barrier between platform nine and ten.

“It’s rude to point,” I whisper.

“I want to see!” Pelops continues, loud enough for people to turn their heads. I blush, but dad seems oblivious to the people around us. He’s staring at the ground.

“You could go through the barrier with me and come back here the same way. It doesn’t close off until the train has left,” I suggest nervously. This has become a very awkward moment for me and my dad over the past couple of years. As Pelops gets older and insists more and more on going through the barrier to platform nine-and-three-quarters with me, my dad has found it increasingly more difficult to distract his son from this idea with the promise of an ice cream or something similar, and this year it seems like Pelops is adamant on getting a glimpse of the train to Hogwarts.

Dad, however, doesn’t seem to like that idea at all. He never goes through the barrier with me. We always say our goodbyes here. I don’t think my dad has ever seen the Hogwarts Express before, and he clearly isn’t planning on changing that.

You see, my dad’s a squib… or at least I think he is. His father was a wizard but his mother a muggle, so I guess one could call him a half-squib? Or just a muggle, I don’t know. The problem is that he knows about the wizarding world because his dad told him all about it, believing his son would also get a letter at the age of eleven. He didn’t.

“No,” dad says quietly but resolutely. “You’ll just have to wait until you’re old enough yourself, boy.”

My eyes drop from my father to my little brother. These two men are exhausting, I think, as I drop to my knees in front of little Pelops and begin shushing him before he can start wailing for everyone to hear.

My dad lets go of Pelops’ hand and rubs his forehead tiredly.

“Pelops? Ssh, maybe next year. Okay, little man?” I try to soothe him. “It’s just a train.”

As always, my words only seem to make things worse. I have never really been good at the comforting and calming down. My tactic has always been pure rational thinking, but I’ve found out that reasoning with a six year old crying because he doesn’t get his way is quite impossible.

Fortunately for me –and every person in a 5foot radius– Pelops’ attention is soon drawn away from this heart-wrenching disappointment as his teary eyes fall upon a family of four walking our way. His mouth drops open but no sound comes out. I turn to look at what has rendered him speechless and see that my little brother is once again star-struck by Albus Potter and his family.

“Hello Niobe,” Ginny Potter says cheerfully. I mutter back a small ‘Hey’ as I get up. Harry’s smiling warmly at me and Lily throws me a quick wave, before smiling down at Pelops, but it is Albus that I’m looking at and who seems to be fascinated with the ground.

“Is this your little brother?” Lily asks excitedly. I nod and she immediately squats before him, taking his little hand in hers and introducing herself to him. With his free hand, Pelops rubs his eyes, trying to get rid of the tears. I have to admit; he’s putting on a very cute act, and both Ginny and Lily fawn over him.

I look up just in time to see my dad and Harry Potter shake hands.

“Nice to meet you. I believe Albus here is in the same year as Niobe, aren’t you?” Harry says, putting a fatherly hand on Al’s shoulder. He looks up and nods at my dad before shaking his hand as well.

Surprisingly, I see my dad’s eyes widen slightly as Harry introduces himself. I guess little Pelops isn’t the only one a little star-struck. I think this is probably the first time my father doesn’t shy away from anything that’s related to the magical world.

I pick up my trunk again and walk toward my dad, trying to ignore Albus as much as he’s ignoring me.

“I think I’ll go now,” I say, wishing that only my dad would hear but the people around us seem to have gone dead silent. “Bye dad. See you at Christmas.”

I turn toward Pelops who’s still holding on to Lily’s hand. He takes a step in my direction and says: “I wan’ come with you.”

I sigh and drop to one knee before him, trying not to feel too guilty for leaving him again. The first year was the worst, but still I’m feeling miserable enough about it now.

“No, you just stay with your dad, okay? And try to be good,” I say before hugging him and whispering: “I love you.”

But Pelops doesn’t really let go and seems to remember his mission here: “I wan’ see train!”

I can feel everyone’s stares on us. I know I have to say no to him again, but the Potters won’t understand why.

“No, Pelops. Just stay here with your dad like a big boy. You’ll see the train when you get your own Hogwarts letter, right?” I try to get him excited about that but it doesn’t seem to work. He furrows his brow and his eyes go moist again. I can practically hear Lily and Ginny’s hearts breaking next to us.

“Why isn’t he allowed to see the train?” Lily whispers to her mother.

“Shush Lily,” Ginny whispers back, and I’m just in time to see Ginny’s eyes flit to my father and back to me.

“Let’s just show him. You and dad could bring them both back out here…” Lily reasons and Ginny makes an irritated, hushing noise.

I get up and smile at Ginny for a moment, whose sympathetic eyes jump from me to Pelops and back. My smile falters. I don’t like pity.

But Ginny hasn’t noticed because she has already turned to my father and says:

“Is it okay if Harry and I show your son the Hogwarts express for a moment? We’ll bring him back here safe and sound, I promise.”

My father clearly doesn’t doubt that the man who killed Voldemort is able to look after his child, but in his eyes I can see the uncontrollable resentment toward the fact that he needs Ginny and Harry’s help. Fortunately, there’s no arguing with Ginny Potter and so he nods.

Pelops squeals delightfully and immediately grabs my hand. Lily takes his other one as we face the barrier between platform nine and ten.

Suddenly I feel a warm touch against my right hand, which is still holding onto my trunk. I think I catch a whiff of my favourite smell before actually seeing his face, far too close for me to think straight.

“Let me take this for you,” Al whispers before taking my trunk from me and putting it on the cart he wheeled into the station. My hand’s tingling because of his touch but before the drool can drip from the corner of my mouth, Pelops and Lily are pulling me through the barrier and suddenly a big, red steam engine stands in front of us.

Its magnificence can still amaze me every year and Pelops is as speechless as he was upon first meeting Albus. Even though his eyes are bright and hungry as they scan the platform, Pelops lets go of Lily’s hand and wraps it around my leg, clearly intimidated by everything around him. I lift him into my arms and he wraps his arms securely around my neck.

“A big train, isn’t it?” Ginny says sweetly to Pelops, who nods. His eyes don’t seem to be able to catch up with everything they want to see. He squeals and points as a man on a broomstick zooms by so fast that he’s unrecognisable.

“I wish my boys were still that age. You were such a pretty kid, Albus,” Ginny says, making Al blush more than I have ever seen him do before.

“Are you implying that our Al isn’t pretty anymore, mum?” A familiar voice calls out. James Potter appears next to Albus and slings his arm around his younger brother, the newest broomstick available shining brightly in his other hand.

“Shut up,” Al mutters, shoving his brother embarrassedly.

“Kids, I think you should go load your trunks onto the train now, while I destroy my son’s fifth new broomstick this month,” Ginny says sweetly, throwing said son a stern glare. I lower Pelops to the ground and although he’s reluctant to let go, he appears too engrossed in watching James to really notice whether he’s holding my hand or Ginny’s.

“No, mum! This is like… my baby,” James whines, hugging the broomstick to his chest.

“Merlin, the thought of him breeding,” Albus mutters as he reaches for his trunk. I chuckle as I take down mine first, and I am granted my first smile of the day. His green eyes twinkle just like they did a couple of weeks ago and I have to acknowledge that my memory can never really do them justice.

We board the train in silence and when I walk into a compartment, my heart gives a squeeze as Albus follows me in. While we put our trunks away, I am desperately searching for something interesting to say, but as always I have to admit to myself that I’m just not that interesting.

“So, how was the rest of your summer?” Albus asks nicely.

There you go! How difficult can coming up with something like that be?

“Dull,” I reply immediately, still in line with the thoughts I was just having. “Well, less dull than normally, I guess.”

I’m thinking of the piano and realise that, for the first time, there will be something missing at Hogwarts.

“I got some exciting news,” Albus says, and I am momentarily reminded of how rude it is of me not to ask about his summer. I was wallowing in the emptiness of my own life too much.

Al reaches for the back pocket of his trousers and pulls out a crumpled envelope. He turns it over and a red badge drops into his hand.

I stare at it for a moment before my brain really registers the words ‘quidditch captain’.

“Seriously? That’s brilliant!” I yell and before I know it I wrap my arms around him in a hug. It is pure bliss, his smell and the fact that I’m so incredibly happy for him, a feeling of pride that comes over me. My man, the quidditch captain! I only have to remind myself that he isn’t my man.

We both blush as he lets go, and I quickly speak to cover up the embarrassment.

“Well, I better start practicing if I want to make the team again this year,” I say jokingly.

“Oh, you don’t have to try out. Off course you’re on the team. I like you,” Albus fires back immediately, waving my comment away airily. He doesn’t realise how much of an effect his last three words have on me. The analysis begins: does he really like me? In what way; as a friend or could it mean more?

But before I’m able to draw any conclusions, another voice interrupts us.

“Oh, how very professional of you. Luckily, I’m your cousin!” Louis says cheerily.

“Louis!” I yell, jumping away from Albus and turning to hug my best friend. His long, strong arms envelop me and for the first time I realise I’m truly going back to Hogwarts. After two months of feeling out of place, I am starting to feel like myself again.

“Hey, mate,” Albus greets him cautiously, clapping him on the back. “I was really surprised I got this. I was sure you’d get it.”

Only then does the realisation hit me that Louis joined the quidditch team a year before Albus did. Maybe it is a little unfair that Albus has gotten the badge and not Louis. There’s a brief flicker of disappointment in his eyes as he looks down at it, but it’s gone before anyone but me can notice it.

“McGonagall probably thought I was going to be busy enough already as Head Boy,” Louis shrugs, taking out his own red badge and showing it to us with a slightly cheeky expression.

“What?” Al and I both exclaim at the same time. And there are hugs and congratulations again, while I ponder the fact that I haven’t gotten any sort of badge over the summer. I would be jealous if I didn’t know how busy I already am with just the handful of N.E.W.T.’s classes I have managed to scramble together.

Grinning like an idiot, I go back out onto the platform to say goodbye to Pelops. Ginny and Harry are talking to Ron and Angelique, while my little brother safely holds onto Ginny’s hand, his eyes still taking everything in. When his bright eyes find me, he jumps away from the adults so quickly that Ginny can’t stop him. After a moment of panic, she notices he’s running my way and smiles.

I catch him in my arms and almost turn around to take him with me on board of the train. If only that was possible. My smile fades as I realise again that I’m leaving him behind. When he was younger, I could kid myself into thinking that Pelops didn’t really understand that I was leaving him for months at a time, but noticing every day how much smarter the boy’s getting, it’s hard to still believe that.

“Will you promise me to be a good boy? Ask dad or Letty to read you a story at night, okay? And send me some photographs from time to time. And maybe a letter?” I whisper to him, having that feeling that there are still millions of things I need to say to him.

“I can’t write,” he giggles, holding onto a lock of my hair as I study his face for a moment. I have learned to memorize it because I know from experience how much it will have changed in a couple of months.

“But you can draw beautiful pictures! They tell a story, too,” I answer with a smile. He nods enthusiastically.

As I walk back to Ginny and Harry, who are now joined by most of the Weasley family, I feel slightly better, knowing that Pelops has at least gotten to see the Hogwarts Express after all these years.

“Thank you,” I say humbly to Ginny, trying to ignore the rest of the crowd. A cute six year old, clinging onto a teenage girl always seems to draw attention. I lower Pelops to the ground.

“Oh, it was my pleasure, dear,” Ginny gushes, stroking Pelops’ head endearingly. “If there’s ever anything else we can do for you and your family.”

I know what she’s really saying: if there’s something you need in the magical world, something your muggle family can’t help you with…?

It’s sad that I never will be able to take her up on it. Pride’s quite a problem in our family, and asking help from others just isn’t something we’re able to do. I smile shyly, once again wishing I could come up with something sensible to say.

The conductor blows his whistle and the crowd on the platform is thinning out. Pelops wraps his arms tightly around my leg again. I feel my eyes well up as I see the sad look on his face.

“I love you,” I whisper again, untangling his tiny arms from my leg and squatting before him.

“I wish I was you,” he whispers back. This stuns me into silence for a moment, as I blink rapidly to make the tears disappear.

“You’ll get your own Hogwarts letter too, in time,” I reply, trying to cheer him up, even though I don’t know for sure that what I am promising will ever come true. It doesn’t seem like this is a moment for my harsh, rational approach.

He nods and lets go of me. I quickly turn away and head for the train, hoping the excitement of going back to Hogwarts will come back soon. Louis is waiting for me in front of the train and I can see Lily’s bright eyes from inside, fixated on Pelops as she waves at him lovingly.

Louis silently takes my hand and I feel grateful for that as he pulls me along onto the train and into our compartment, where Albus and Rose are already seated. Rose puts one arm around my shoulder in a way of greeting as we both waved goodbye to our families. This is the first time I have ever been able to do that.

The next half hour, I am silent apart from the occasional ‘hello’ and ‘bye’ as every Weasley comes in for a small chat before disappearing to find their friends. After these formalities, Louis and Rose leave to meet up with the other prefects at the front of the train.

Suddenly I find myself alone with Albus, who is humming lazily, clearly not as bothered by this fact as I am.

This is weird. Normally, Albus sits with his dorm mates or the quidditch team on the train. I remember last year, when I had for the first time found myself without both of my best friends while they were busy with their prefect duties, and I went looking for other people to sit with. I had run into a couple of fellow quidditch players, when suddenly I found Albus sitting with probably my least favourite classmates, among them: Jessica Taylor.

Jessica is the exact opposite of me. As a chubby eleven year old entering Hogwarts, there hadn’t really been anything special or attractive about her, and so she compensated by being loud and funny, making her quite popular with both boys and girls. From the very beginning she and the roommates had become good friends, except for me. I was the petite, quiet one of the bunch, which in itself wasn’t necessarily something that made Jessica dislike me. I have to be fair and say that she did try to include me into her clique. However, this required me opening up to her about personal things that I didn’t feel like sharing. Gradually, Jessica realised I wasn’t just a shy girl that needed a little push to come out of her shell.

I had lost my mother and gained a baby brother a little over a year before, and I had become really independent because of that. Much to Jessica’s annoyance, I didn’t need her. I was the girl who went to the restroom alone, who did her homework on her own and whenever she wanted, who wasn’t afraid of missing out something ‘totally awesome’ when she had decided to read a book instead of join the crowd. And most importantly, I didn’t feel like sharing my secrets with her, or anyone for that matter. Pretty soon, Jessica started pretending I wasn’t even there. To her, our dorm only had four beds, all belonging to a tight group of friends.

The real hate started in third year, when I suddenly found myself on a date with a (in retrospect not at all handsome) fourth year boy. I had never been asked out, let alone on a date to Hogsmeade! And this was the first time I was even allowed to go, since my father had so very typically been too late with signing the permission slip.

How was I supposed to know that this rather charming boy with a lot of acne had been Jessica’s first kiss, only a couple of days before our date? I hadn’t been there when the girls were whispering about it in our dorm and even if I had wanted to attend that ceremonial girl talk, I wouldn’t have been welcome. My only source of information when it came to what was going on with the other girls in my dorm was Rose Weasley, who had always been nice to me, even in the beginning when we clearly didn’t have anything in common. However, during my second year I had become best friends with her cousin, Louis, as we both joined Gryffindor’s quidditch team. This meant that we suddenly did have something in common, and in third year we discovered that we actually got along very well.

This was also a thorn in Jessica’s eye, and she soon began to excommunicate Rose as well. Hence, our lack of information when it came to her kiss with Aaron, the boy I had a relatively nice date with. When Jessica found out, I obviously became enemy ‘numero uno’. When she did speak to me, or around me, it was always to make snide comments or tell lies. Rose would stand up for me when I wasn’t around to do so myself and we became even better friends, which enraged Jessica only more – along with the fact that I found her cold shoulder not unpleasant at all.

It isn’t clear whether the next step she undertook had anything to do with me or not, but its timing was definitely very convenient. It seemed as though she had given up on me and Rose, and continued with her life as normal, apart from the fact that she started losing weight. It wasn’t noticeable to anyone outside her immediate environment, but by the time fourth year started, Jessica’s body had changed so much that neither boys nor girls could be oblivious to it anymore. She was still as outgoing and popular as before, and so girls started to look up to her and boys started to ask her out.

After ‘winning back’ Aaron, whom I hadn’t talked since that one date the year before, I got the feeling that this sudden obsession with her weight had been more related to our feud than I had assumed at first. Despite the fact that Louis and I had never been more than friends, rumours were constantly going around because we were spending more and more time together; and Louis quickly became Jessica’s next target. She would gush about how much she liked him and how he was (supposedly) dropping hints to his classmates that he liked her. I knew she was making it all up and tried to ignore her but when she actually had the nerve to ask me whether I could put in a good word for her, I exploded. This was Louis, my best friend, and there was no way I was even going to encourage any form of communication between them. However wrong it sounded, Louis was mine, and because I knew that he didn’t like her at all, I would protect him from Jessica with everything I had.

Unfortunately, Jessica noticed how her actions were getting under my skin and this only gave her the satisfaction she didn’t deserve.

This has been the main reason why I haven ‘t let anyone ever notice I’ve been having feelings for Albus the past couple of years – although, I’m finding it harder and harder, certainly when we’re alone in a compartment. The other main reason is of course that Albus has never seen me as anything other than Rose and Louis’ best friend. Add to that the prophecy I had about him only a couple of weeks ago, and you get a pretty good picture of my frustration toward the beautiful boy, who is staring right back at me.

“Niobe?”

I jump a little and start to blush immediately, focusing on his nose to avoid the eyes I have been gazing at.

“Mmh?”

“What are you so deeply daydreaming about?” He asks, his expression half amused and half confused.

“Just people,” I mutter, blushing even harder.

“What people?” He presses on, looking me straight in the eye. It’s equally as hard to look at him as it is to look away, thoughts about how I have had to hide my feelings for him still lingering in my mind.

“Classmates,” I hear myself say in a soft voice. A ghost of a smile appears upon Al’s face.

“Anyone in particular?” He says in the same voice, as if there is a secret passing between us. I try to ignore that voice inside my head that’s screaming: you, you, YOU !

Does he know? Of course he does.

Has he figured it out? After all the bumbling, ogling, drooling clues you’ve dropped… He’s not stupid.

Maybe Rose told him? Maybe you should just tell him now.

And suddenly Al’s bright, lively green eyes are fading, as if the liquid inside is slowly seeping out of them. I look away. He’ll die.

I swallow and realise the bleach blond hair that dances in front of the compartment door belongs to the girl that was the original topic of my ‘daydream’.

“Jessica Taylor,” I say loud and clear, all softness and intimacy gone. Al follows my gaze just as Jessica turns around.

“Yes?” She comes in and sits down next to Al, all cheerful and beaming. “Albus! It feels like forever since I last saw you.”

She gives him a quick hug and continues, keeping her hands on him.

“How was the rest of your trip? I bet none of the parties were as good as mine!” She giggles, diving into stories about said event.

I am only mildly annoyed by the fact that Jessica completely ignores me – even though it was me who had called her name— because that isn’t really out of the ordinary. However, alarm bells go off inside my head once I notice another little detail: Albus and Jessica saw each other on holiday and he went to her party?

Maybe it’s for the best that they are completely ignoring me, so I can take a moment to get the burning waves of jealousy under control.

“Oh my god, Niobe!” Jessica suddenly squeals, as if she hadn’t noticed me before. “What’s going on here?” Her eyes flit from me to Al and back; her face suddenly lighting up with pure evilness. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything. I wonder what Louis would think of this little rendezvous.”

Her long, manicured finger make a small circle, pointing at some imaginary point right in between Al and I.

“I think he still would never want to go out with you,” I reply as harsh as I can. Jessica seems stunned for a moment; normally, I just ignore every one of her comments about Louis and me, knowing that’s the quickest way to get rid of them and of the people commenting.

“Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re any closer to getting out of the friendzone either,” she says in her singsong voice, before turning back to Albus. “Speaking of getting out of the friendzone; Helen and Chris totally hooked up! Apparently, they’ve like secretly liked each other for years… isn’t is cute?”

I tune her out and stare out of the window, looking at my own reflection, the raindrops slipping down looking like tears against my face. I look so sad.

I try to focus on happy thoughts, but some of Jessica’s words always manage to slip in. I try listening to one of the songs I have been playing on the piano the past couple of weeks, but after a while the piano tones in my head are just moving to the rhythm of Jessica’s storytelling.

I still look sad. I try to smile; just a pleasant, ‘I am content’-smile to show Jessica and Albus that I’m not listening and not bothered at all. Then I realise I don’t have to pretend if I don’t want to, not even for Albus.

My years of pretending are over; there’s no place for me in Albus’ life; there will never be an Albus and I, not if I want there to still be an Albus Potter at all. If Jessica wants to go after Albus, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s time for me to start moving on, before I get really hurt.

When I hear Albus laughing at something Jessica said, I get up and they fall silent, looking at me expectantly.

“Oh please, do not stop ignoring me! Please,” I snap, directing my words to the both of them. “Excuse me.”

Jessica looks down at her nails, hiding her reaction, and I don’t stay long enough to analyse Al’s face.

The hallway is crowded and the storming away part isn’t as dramatic as it should’ve been because only a couple of seconds later I find myself standing in line to use the girls’ restroom – where else was I supposed to go?

After a couple of sighs and some pondering whether I should just hide in the men’s room, I feel a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Niobe?”

My heart does a little flip before I actually turn to see who it is. But of course, it’s Albus. Did he really follow me? I didn’t know that actually happened in real life.

He left Jessica behind for me. And here I am, furtively trying to get over you!

“What?” I reply in a small voice, feeling stupid.

“Is everything alright?”

The bitterness return when I think about the answer to that question.

“Yes, everything’s just splendid. Jessica Taylor is talking about parties with you while effectively ignoring I even exist. Things are just like they should be,” I reply, trying to keep any emotion out of my voice.

Albus frowns for a moment, before slumping against the side of the train. Behind him the countryside passes by at high speed.

“She was being rather rude,” Albus comments and I know he’s just saying that to make me feel better.

“No, she was acting like we always do around each other,” I admit, leaving the waiting line that’s now extinct to stand next to him. Our shoulders bump into each other from time to time as the train sways.

“Why do you keep stepping on each other’s toes?” He asks, sounding genuinely curious.

“I honestly don’t know,” I shrug. He gives me an empathic, crooked smile and I feel the corners of my mouth curl upward of their own accord. It’s not because I can’t act upon my feelings that we can’t be friends, right? That sounds good to me. “It’s not that I ever disliked her, as a person… at least not before she went after Louis.” Or you.

I shake my head, trying to clear away the possessive thoughts. Maybe Louis is mine to lose because he’s my best friend, but Albus isn’t. I don’t have any claim on him and if I can just get my hopes set on being friends instead of more, then I might get out of this situation with my heart still intact.

“Does she have a point there?” Al asks tentatively. I frown and wait for him to elaborate. “The fact that Jessica went after Louis… It really got to you, didn’t it?”

“Of course it did!” I reply immediately, not really thinking about what he’s insinuating. “It’s just… I knew she was only doing it because she thought I might have feelings for him, as in more than friends.”

“And do you?” Al interrupts me. I look up in surprise and find myself staring into his green eyes. He has moved closer and is now leaning with one shoulder against the window so that he’s facing me. The sense of intimacy is there again, as if this is a secret conversation.

It certainly fit the question, which is quite intimate and personal as well. Nobody has asked me that before, not as straight up as Al just did, not even Rose, although she has speculated about Louis and I before.

I study his face, trying to get behind the stoic façade that’s demanding an honest answer to his simple question. It is really simple: no, I have never thought of Louis that way. I have never thought of anyone that way with the one exception standing before me, handing me the perfect opportunity to save him from his horrible fate.

If I say yes, Albus will never try anything with me, out of respect for his cousin.

That means lying to Al, which suddenly feels harder than I ever thought it would be, but it also means making things awkward between Louis and me. We are after all just friends, but Louis is a best friend I can’t afford to lose.

I try not to look away, as I normally do whenever I have to talk about my feelings.

“I love him,” I whisper, wanting to see Al’s reaction to these words. The muscles around his mouth tense a bit and he swallows. What does that mean? “But, although a part of me selfishly never wants to share him with anyone, I’m not in love with him.”

His face doesn’t relax, and I just have to look away. This is far too intense.

“Good,” he whispers, releasing a long held breath. My eyes snap back to his face. He’s smiling, and Merlin, his eyes seem greener than ever. No, not good. Not good.

“Good?” I whisper back breathlessly. Albus nods, his eyes studying my entire face, and any thought of wanting to be just friends has disappeared. I swallow.

“It’s good… to be clear about your feelings; to yourself and to others. To Louis,” he explains, still nodding slowly. I find myself almost hypnotised by the motion.

“We’re good,” I reply, also using that word. It makes Al smile, but he’s holding back as if he isn’t entirely satisfied with what I said.

“Are you sure about that?” His question makes me frown. “Is everything just as clear on Louis’ side?”

“Of course it is,” I reply immediately, almost angrily. Why has he asked this? Does he disagree?

A full, satisfied smile spreads across his face, making me forget any of those questions. He leans in mischievously and is about to say something, when his eyes flit to something behind me. He quickly pulls away from me and stands up straight. I follow his movements, as if we’re somehow strung together by the moment we just shared.

“Speak of the devil,” he mutters from the side of his mouth, giving me that completely satisfied smile again.

I almost expect to see Jessica – Albus said something about the devil, right?—but it’s Louis, with Rose a few feet behind him.

“Here you are,” Louis says cheerfully, clearly happy about his first prefects’ meeting as Head Boy. His badge is gleaming on his chest.

“Come on, you two! I need someone to beat at chess,” Rose yells over Louis’ head before turning back to our compartment.

And suddenly I am back on the train to Hogwarts, with my best friends and the boy I have secretly been in love with for years… only, it feels like I just shared that secret with him.

Have I? No, I just answered some basic questions. Nothing has changed; Albus is still off limits, even if he’s suddenly acting less indifferent toward me.

Unfortunately, this theory means supressing the voice inside me that tells me I’m more in love than ever before, constantly reminding me of how I want to stand so close to Al again.
 


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The Gift: The Smile

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