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Chapter 6 : Red Balloon
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Inside the shop, Albus could see Uncle George juggling for two young children. They gasped and then squealed with delight as the balls continued to fly up into the air while George held his hands aloft. “Self-juggling balls – they can be used to impress your friends,” he said to the awed children whose parents had gathered behind them. Al scurried behind the counter as two of the families lined up to buy the self-juggling balls. Once they had cycled through the line, George approached the counter.
“Busy day?” Albus asked as he deposited the sickles he had just collected into the till.
“Quite eventful,” George murmured examining their inventory list. “Did you know that the Malfoy boy opened a potions shop down the street?” His uncle waited for some sort of reaction from Albus, feeling curious how he’d react to news of the boy he had struck at a family gathering. Albus raised the corners of his mouth in acknowledgement of this news. “I’ve seen him walk by here quite a few times,” he added.
“A potion shop will do well,” Albus said automatically. “Do you want me to send off these orders from the owl service?” Albus asked to not have to think about the new business down the street or its owner. That afternoon he wrestled with the idea of Scorpius working so close to where he spent half of his days. There was no longer a pang of longing when he thought of his former lover but the pain from their misshapen relationship still stung.
Brandon was an ever-present source of comfort for Albus. His steady devotion and maturity enveloped Albus in a way he didn’t know was possible. That evening Brandon had dinner at the Potter residence. The first time he was over for dinner, not counting the time Albus punched Scorpius, there was a layer of tension around the room while the family adjusted to Al’s older boyfriend who worked with Harry. Ginny broke through the mood by telling Brandon that she once broke his uncle’s nose when Harry and Ron invited him to the Burrow for Christmas. After a round of laughter swept the room, everyone relaxed a bit and enjoyed normal conversation.
They didn’t see each other every night but Al was extremely relieved when Brandon trailed in after his dad that night. Albus embraced Brandon tightly then caught his dad’s expectant look. “Oh, hi, Dad,” Albus said releasing Brandon. “Have a good day?” It was with an impatient courtesy that Al listened to Harry’s response and volleyed back his answers. After the perfunctory exchange, Albus said, “Mum said dinner is in half an hour. I’m going up to my room.”
After extracting Brandon from his conversation with James, who was recounting an especially difficult goal he made in quidditch practice that day, Albus led Brandon upstairs to his room. Once the door was shut, Al pulled Brandon into another tight embrace. “Tough day?” Brandon asked running his hand through Al’s already messy hair.
“I’m just glad to have you,” Al murmured into Bran’s neck. “I don’t know what I’d do by myself.”
Kissing Albus on the forehead, Brandon asked, “What’s got you so upset?”
“It’s…” Al swallowed hard then continued, “I’m not upset, promise. Today I realized that I’m so much happier with you.”
“Than?” Brandon asked raising an eyebrow.
“I was alone or with Scorpius.”
Brandon sat on Albus’ bed. “Hm,” was all he said in response. Albus sauntered over and gently pushed Bran against the bed giving him small kisses as he leaned back. Slow kisses and roaming hands caused thirty minutes to feel like five. Ginny’s voice at the door telling them dinner was on caused Brandon so sit up looking startled. “Be down in a mo’, Mrs. P,” he called. Once her footsteps faded away, he asked in a low voice in Albus’ ear, “Your family would noticed if I kept you in here for dinner, wouldn’t they?”
Straightening out his wrinkled shirt, Albus smiled, “I think they can count to 5. If it were the entire family, no one would notice us gone for a meal – except Gran.”
They were both laughing when they took their seats at the table. Dinner was enjoyable even with James detailing the new players for the Wanderers. “Then there’s Mason, the bloke who has to hop on his broom like he’s doing a ballet,” James grumbled to his less than enthused audience. “Sure, he’s a decent beater but he prances about looking a fool.”
Harry glanced at Ginny who jumped into the conversation. “There was a player with the Harpies who did that and fell in front of the crowd at our first game that season,” she paused while Harry laughed but then continued on before James could start back on his team. “Albus, dear, how was George today?”
“Uh, good,” Ablus said through his bite of steak and kidney pie. Swallowing he said, “We had a fair bit of traffic through the store – mostly younger kids.”
“Do you manage the ankle-biters pretty well, then?” Brandon asked holding in a smirk.
“After growing up with this lot, it’s a piece of cake,” Albus said grinning until he caught Ginny’s eyes. “I mean, with so many loving cousins I learned valuable life skills that will help me in my career.”
Ginny rolled her eyes but couldn’t conceal the grin she had at her son’s snark. “Do you have a large family, Brandon?” she asked raising an eyebrow.
“No, ma’am. Just me and one cousin who is a few years older.”
“You’re lucky,” James said pushing his empty plate away. “I could turn around at school without running into one of my cousins.”
“You have to understand, Sav- Brandon, that James is upset by that because it made it harder for him to sneak off and break rules at school with so many eyes,” Harry said grinning at how many owls he had from one of his nieces, nephews, or in-laws conveying the most recent trouble James had been in.
“To be fair,” Ginny started glancing at Harry. “There were times at school where I wished I had less brothers hanging about.” She reached over and caressed his hand tenderly.
“Oi, Mum, we’re right here,” James said groaning.
Albus was laughing at James when he said, “Yeah, Mum, much more handholding and you’ll have to tell James about the birds and the bees.”
After dinner, and goodbyes to the rest of the family, Albus walked Brandon out where he could apparate. “I hope they’re not too weird for you,” he said shyly, leaning against the fence for the neighbors. “It must be weird seeing Dad outside of work.”
“They’re not terribly weird, Al,” Brandon said running a finger down Albus’ cheek. “Harry is decent at work so it’s not too strange seeing him relaxed at home,” he added. Brandon’s face was mere inches from Al.
Al couldn’t believe how much his stomach squirmed with delight when Brandon was this close to him. Every kiss and caress was divinity and when they were even more intimate Albus felt alive and free. When Brandon’s lips began to slowly move against his own, Al knew that everything he had with Scorpius was quite the opposite from this. That had been furtive and subvert – he wouldn’t let that shame and anxiety haunt him anymore. Letting thoughts of his ex seep away, Albus melted into Brandon.
“Maybe I could sneak you in,” Al suggested in a husky voice. “We could cast a silencing charm and no one would notice.”
Brandon’s smile was warm when he said, “I’m not sure I could look your dad in the face if he and I left for work together in the morning.” Brushing a stray wisp of hair from Albus’ face, Brandon added, “We’ll see each other Friday and can stay the night together then.”
While he didn’t want to wait a few days for intimate fun with Brandon, Albus agreed and bade the handsome auror goodnight.
Scorpius had a stack of flyers ready to hand to the shop owners around Diagon Alley. He knew the older shops would reject and offer to cross-promote their businesses together as he was competing with a rather old and well-established store. Mr. Mulpepper’s Apothecary sold potion ingredients and a few basic potions that could be easily brewed at home. Scorpius was hoping to target witches and wizards who either weren’t qualified or interested in brewing difficult common potions.
Over the last week he had visited almost every shop but avoided Weasley Wizard Wheezes. Part of him was nervous to visit because of his breakup with Rose but he was mainly anxious about running into Albus who seemed to be working there.
This would be the third time Scorpius attempted to visit the Weasley’s store, having walked past the last two times when Albus’ dark head of hair could be seen from the door. He hoped it looked like he was window shopping rather than feeling too anxious at the prospect of talking to his former lover. Steeling himself as he strode down the street on the sunny November day, Scorpius opened the door without looking into the popular shop.
Albus was at the counter and didn’t look up from the as he called out, “Good afternoon,” but looked up to say, “How can I help—“ The sight of Scorpius stopped him talking mid-sentence. “Scorpius,” he said curtly. “What brings you in?”
Wishing that his cheeks would stop turning red, he made his request, “Could I speak to George? I have flyers I’ve been asking other shops to give out in exchange for me directing people to their stores.”
“Let me go get him,” Al said ducking under the counter.
Not a minute later George Weasley was talking business and marketing with Scorpius. “I’ve heard there’s quite the kerfuffle over your idea,” George said with a grin that reminded Scorpius of Albus with its youthful glow. “I really don’t need extra promotion myself but I wouldn’t mind shaking a few cages,” he said kindly. “Leave a stack on the counter and I’ll see that they get handed out with a kind word.”
Scorpius couldn’t quite believe his luck – a good word from this shop would certainly send customers his way. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “If you do need anything or if I can do anything—“
George waved his hand as if to say it wasn’t necessary. “Everyone needs a leg up, even a Malfoy.”
Albus sauntered down from the office and started stocking shelf behind the counter. George handed him the stack of flyers and told him to make sure every customer got one before returning to his office. Turning in time to see Scorpius at the door he said, “Good luck with your company.”
“Thanks, Albus,” Scorpius said before leaving.
It was the first time since Scorpius broke his heart that Al didn’t feel his wounds painfully split open after an interaction. It was liberating to not feel the shackles of heartache and longing from a happenstance social encounter.
That evening, Albus and Brandon went out together in London. They were both quite randy after not seeing each for a week and had to exercise great restraint to have dinner and a bit of fun on the dance floor before returning to Bran’s flat and losing their clothes. After satiating one another’s lascivious needs, Brandon got up for water. “It looks like a tornado hit my flat,” he said returning with a glass. “Hey, my eyes are up here, Potter,” he said catching Albus’ eyes focused on a less than polite area to stare at.
“I know where your eyes are, Savage. I wasn’t looking at them,” Al teased.
“At least I know why you keep me around,” Brandon said getting back into bed.
Albus curled up next to Brandon, running his hands over Bran’s chest. “Something good happened today,” Al announced.
“Well, it was a change at least,” Albus said with a grin. Brandon raised his eyebrows prompting Albus to get on with his news. “Scorpius came into the shop asking Uncle George to promote his store and, well, that’s not the point. It’s just that I saw him and talked to him without getting all,” Al gesticulated vaguely, “batty.”
Brandon rolled to his side to face Albus better. “That’s great,” he replied kissing Al’s cheek.
“You’ve made me so happy that Scorpius just stopped being hurtful.” In the dark, Albus couldn’t see that Brandon was frowning now. “I wouldn’t have gotten past him if I weren’t seeing you.”
“Al,” Brandon started tentatively. “I’m not sure that’s healthy. I can’t be your sole reason for contentment and happiness.”
Albus propped himself up now, the languid expression on his face quickly replaced by one of concentration. “Why not?”
“People should be happy in their own right,” he explained. “Relationships shouldn’t be the source of a person’s contentment but add to what’s already there.”
This was too serious a discussion to have while both men were feeling their eyelids grow heavy with sleep. “Let’s talk about this tomorrow,” Al suggested yawning. They hunkered down and wrapped themselves in the warm duvet though neither fell asleep right away. Brandon had been worried for some time that Albus was overly reliant on relationships as his source of happiness and their conversation that night confirmed it. Brandon liked Al quite a lot and didn’t want to hurt him, not after all the heartache he just had, but he could not place himself as the younger man’s emotional crutch.
After a shower, Brandon made tea and toast for himself and Albus after they had a lie-in. Albus wasn’t completely oblivious to the shift in Brandon’s behavior after their brief conversation the previous night – the lack of a good morning kiss and the presence of a bathrobe over his pajamas were enough to prep Al for a hard conversation.
“I want to talk about last night,” Brandon said abruptly. “About your comments – that you’re only happy because you’re in a relationship.”
In Albus’ moment of unrest before sleep had won over, he thought it hurt Brandon’s feelings to hear that Scorpius had continued to have such a pull on him throughout their relationship. “I’m sorry,” he started not sure how to really apologize to someone in a relationship. “It was tactless of me to say—“
“Al, I’m not upset you were still nursing a broken heart,” Brandon said furrowing his brow. “It’s just that you shouldn’t use another relationship to fix your hurt from another one.” The way Albus’ face fell at this statement told Brandon he would have to explain his thoughts at some length. “I really like you, Al. But—“
It hit Albus with that three letter word that he was about to be dumped. Fighting a surge of emotions, Albus braced himself for the worse.
“I don’t want to be the person you place all your happiness on,” Brandon said watching hurt swim in Albus’ green eyes. “To be with someone, and truly be equal, both have to be whole before the relationship, not because of it.” Brandon let a few moments pass to see if Albus was going to voice an opinion at this point. When he didn’t, Bran pushed on to the hard part. “I think it’s best if we stop seeing each other. I hope you can understand why, Al. You’re lovely and quite fabulous actually, but you should find happiness in yourself before finding it with others.”
Albus was cycling through emotions faster than he knew how to process. Shock and disbelief were the first to come out of his mouth. “You’re breaking up with me?”
Brandon winced, feeling that he was mucking up what should be a rather straightforward discussion. “Yes, Albus,” he said keeping his voice even.
“Because I need to find myself?” Albus clarified.
“Because you deserve more happiness than just good sex and a nice partner can bring you.” Brandon offered.
Somewhere in Albus’ head the words rung with truth but in his heart this felt unfair and cruel. He stood up, wishing he was wearing more than his boxers, and said, “I’ll be going then.” He fetched his clothes from about the flat and started to get dressed resolving not to break down until he was home. “I guess I’ll be seeing you around,” Albus said once he was ready to leave.
It was agony for Brandon to see Albus ready to leave. “This is hard for me too, Albus,” Brandon said as a solitary tear escaped from his dark eyes. “I just can’t let you do this to yourself.”
Feeling suddenly more mature than he did just moments before walked up to Brandon and hugged him. “I- I know,” he managed. “I just need to go and,” he took in an unsteady breath and said, “sort myself out.”
Albus didn’t go home – his parents would ask why he was home so early. Instead he went to Uncle Ron’s house to see if Rose was home. Unfortunately for Albus, his parents were there too. “Al, we didn’t expect to see you until Sunday,” Harry said when Albus walked into the sitting room.
Ginny was the first to read her son’s emotional state and asked, “Is everything okay, Albus?”
“Everything is fine, Mum,” Albus lied. “I just came to talk to Rose. Is she upstairs?” he asked his aunt and uncle.
“No, I just came down for some tea,” Rose said from the kitchen. “I’ll get you a cup and meet you upstairs,” Rose called as if they had been planning to meet up.
Before any of the adults could inquire about Albus’ visit, he left the room and hid in Rose’s room much like he did many times throughout their childhood. Rose was just a few minutes behind him with tea and sandwiches. “Mum insisted on sending these up too,” she said before Al could ask. Rose set the tray down and sat cross-legged on the floor and sipped her tea. “If you’re not going to say why you’re here, I’ll just assume it’s to borrow another one of my girly romances,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Brandon broke up with me,” Albus said causing Rose to spit some tea back into her cup. “That was my reaction too,” he said dryly.
“Is there a reason to go with that or are you just sharing the news?” she asked hoping that Albus would be forthright with information.
“He said I was using him to find happiness rather than being all independent and happy just by myself,” Al said as airily as he could.
Rose raised an eyebrow at her cousin as if waiting for more details. When nothing came she said, “He kind of has a point, Al.”
Albus groaned and shook his head. “You’re supposed to be on my side. Where are your words of comfort?”
“I am on your side, dolt. Brandon is too from the sounds of it.” Rose took a bite of a sandwich and let Albus chew on that information for a few moments. “Didn’t you learn anything reading all those Jane Austen books?” she asked stretching her legs out. “Two miserable people will just be miserable together. One happy and one miserable person will be happy for a bit but will become miserable. Two happy people might just be lucky enough to be happy together.”
A huff came out of Al before he could bring himself to say, “I guess I missed that subtext.”
“If you want I’ll sneak into the Auror headquarters and hex his hair pink,” Rose said grinning.
“You don’t have to do that,” Al said cracking a grin. “We might have to stop Dad and Uncle Ron from doing that – or worse.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Rose said unconcernedly. “Most of the really bad stuff they could do is illegal and Dad would rather eat a slug than beak that kind of law.”
While Albus did have to convince his dad that it was not necessary to intervene in his relationship, and that their breakup had been quite amicable, he did not feel downtrodden for as long. Albus wanted to find out what it meant to be happy while alone. Once anger and bitterness left his system, Al could see that he had wrapped his entire sense of being in other people. Albus soon found out that he liked catching a drink with friends after work and helping Rose with her scheme to offer magical tours of interesting destinations. He started going to James’ quidditch games and met quite a few of his cute teammates.
After several weeks of trying to find joy Albus woke up and realized that he was happy quite on his own volition. It was set to be a nice, snowy day, and he was eager to go try out a spell he thought would improve the latency on the daydream charm. Albus yearned for the physical closeness that Brandon had offered as well as the emotional tie but his life was full enough with fun activity to quench most of that desire.
One icy January morning, Scorpius visited Weasley Wizarding Wheezes with another stack of flyers. “Hi Scorpius,” Albus said rather cordially.
“Good morning, Al,” Scorpius returned, matching his tone. “I came to drop these off,” he said setting down the stack of paper on the counter.
“Thanks, we’ve been running low. It sounds like your shop is taking off,” Al commented.
Scorpius seemed slightly distracted then said, “It is.”
Over the past months, this is as far as Albus and Scorpius had gotten in a conversation without one of them feeling the need to leave. Today, however, Scorpius was determined to get another word in.
“I was wondering if we could talk,” Scorpius said hesitantly.
Albus was on the verge of saying that they were talking but held back his sarcasm. “We can talk,” he stated.
George’s voice floated down from his office, “You can take your break now, Al.”
“I guess we can take a walk, if you’d like,” he offered to Scorpius.
They walked towards Gringott’s though neither spoke. Despite having practiced what he wanted to say, given the chance, Scorpius didn’t know how to open the conversation. “I’m sorry, Albus,” he blurted out without any preamble. “I was horrible to you and not just with dating your cousin. I should have had the courage to be with you rather than follow what my dad wanted.”
Albus considered these words but didn’t respond. He had been contemplating how Scorpius’ disassociation from his family marked quite a change in behavior from how he was at school.
“I can’t begin to ever make it up to you and I don’t deserve your love,” Scorpius continued feeling his heart race as he rounded towards the point of his speech. “But I’d like to be your friend.”
They stopped walking and locked eyes for a few moments. Albus took one of Scorpius’ hands in his and said, “I would like that.”
BAM! (Sorry, MBA thing that still hasn’t left my system.) Yay for a happy ending! Okay, it’s not rainbows and sunshine but no one died!! If you’re a bit confused about why Brandon broke up with Al, I’ll try to explain it here:
Al was showing a tendency to put himself completely in other people and rely on them for his sense of self-worth and happiness (he demonstrated that quite a bit and that’s the advice he gave Cindy when she was all heartbroken). Brandon is the type of guy that wants to see people who have a good sense of themselves before they start attaching to other people. He cared about Albus quite a bit (perhaps on the verge of love) which is why he didn’t want to let him permanently become a person who relied on relationships to be happy. One, it’s quite a burden for a person when their partner can’t be happy without them. Two, it just went against his ideals.
If you’re wondering about the red chapter naming scheme – there’s not a lot of extra symbolism to it other than the nouns had to do with some event or item in the chapter (except the last one) and red seemed to be a good color for heartbreak. Red Balloon refers to the movie from 1956 about a boy and his red balloon (blah blah blah, no copyright infringement intended).
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