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Chapter 14 : In Which Things Get A Little Bit More Complicated
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“That’s a very observant comment, Liv,” Al said with a grin. “Extremely observant, for you. I’m quite proud.”
“Shut up. I’m observant,” I said, thinking about the abandoned sketchbook under my mattress in the Slytherin Dormitory. I could be observant when I tried.
“Mmhmm. It’s bloody freezing.” Al kicked a piece of snow in front of him. It had been a ridiculously cold February.
“I told you that,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I don’t understand why we didn’t take the carriages? They’re like, you know, a warm way to get to Hogsmeade.”
“Fresh air’s good for us. And I like the snow. It’s pretty. We’re nearly there now, anyway.”
Al caught my hand and pulled me forwards. I slid on the frosty ground and he grabbed my arm to stop me falling.
“Now, where are we meeting your lovely mother?” Al suddenly looked serious as we crossed through the kissing gate that marked the edge of Hogsmeade village. The metal of the gate was icy cold, and he held it open for me when I drew my hand back.
“There’s this juice bar,” I said, grimacing. I’d forgotten Mum’s ridiculous idea of what a nice day out was. “I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s next to Puddifoot’s.”
“A juice bar, you say?” Al looked amused.
“According to Mum you burn more calories drinking one of their celery shakes than you get from it.”
“Right,” Al said. “Do you think they have hot chocolate? With extra cream and marshmallows? And maybe chocolate bowtruckles?”
I shrugged. “I seriously doubt it.”
Al swore and I laughed. Having him there with me had lifted some of the anxiety that had pressed down on my chest since Mum’s letter requesting the meet up. I was glad he’d agreed to come along, even if he did make me walk for ages through the snow.
“I’m surprised it’s so busy today. I would have thought people would be put off by the cold,” I said, nodding to the crowded street ahead of us.
Al shook his head. “It’s Valentine’s Day. They’re making the most of a chance to display their love to the world.”
“I don’t get the point.” I squinted through the snow to look at the couples we walked past. They all looked happy, I guess, but I was pretty sure they’d be just as happy inside. In the warmth.
“Course you don’t. You’re a Slytherin. It’s probably not your kind of thing. You know, love. Romance. General cheerfulness.”
I punched Al’s arm and he laughed.
“But seriously. If you love each other why do you need a day to declare it? It’s just an excuse for the shops to sell ridiculously expensive products lovesick teenagers feel an obligation to buy,” I said, feeling a little bit sick after spotting a girl carrying a gigantic pink teddy bear.
“I don’t know. I think there’s something nice about it. It’s like…a demonstration of the fact you care about each other, you know?”
Al flushed red. It could have been because of the cold but I generally don’t give people the benefit of the doubt so decided he was probably embarrassed about his lonely heart.
“So did you come here last year with Brogan?” I wasn’t sure whether the question was inappropriate, but was suddenly intrigued. The idea Al buying horrid Laura Brogan a giant teddy bear was a little bit repulsive.
“Yeah,” Al said quietly, looking down at his feet as he continued to shuffle through the snow. “And the year before.”
“I forget how serious you two were,” I said with a frown.
“So do I, sometimes.”
“I don’t get how it worked. You’re so…nice. And she’s…well, really…really…not.”
“She’s not always been like this.” Al ran a hand through his hair, shaking out snowflakes.
“Oh. Is she one of those complicated ‘mean girls’ who turns out to have a deep, dark back story that makes it all understandable?”
Al raised an eyebrow at me. I tried to smile in an endearing way that would make my words sound less cruel. It would be more than a little bit awkward if she was one of those complicated mean girls who turns out to have a deep, dark back story that makes it all understandable.
Al opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the dulcet tones of one Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy.
“Going for a nice snowy walk on Valentine’s Day? Charming.” Scorpius was wearing a thick black coat I hadn’t seen before, buttoned up to his neck around his Slytherin scarf. He was by himself and walking in the opposite direction to us, presumably heading back to Hogwarts already. I was surprised he’d come to Hogsmeade at all, given his general mood, but I suppose everybody has to occasionally take advantage of the opportunity to stock up on school and Quidditch supplies.
“Scor…” I wasn’t sure what to say to him. He’d had nothing but snide comments for me recently and, while I desperately wanted to somehow fix it all, I couldn’t really see how to go about making it feel like it used to.
“Leave it, Bell,” he said. I winced. Calling my by my last name was a first.
Al looked up sharply. “It’s not…”
Scor interrupted him. “Save yourself the effort of explaining. I don’t really care. Have fun on your…date.”
We watched him trudge away through the snow, back towards the Castle. I shivered and crossed my arms around my coat, tucking my hands into the ends of my sleeves to warm them.
“Sorry, Liv,” Al said softly, stepping closer to me. “Do you want to go after him?”
I contemplated his suggestion.
Making up with Scor sounded nice, really nice, but thinking about it practically I just wasn’t sure what I could say to make it happen. Scor was still furious with me for running away from him that night, and was choosing not to listen any time I tried to explain that it had been a mistake.
I shook my head. “No. I’m supposed to meet Mum. And I’m not sure it would help anyway.”
Al seemed to think about saying something else, but instead linked his arm through mine and pulled me gently along the street.
“Is it this place?” He came to a stop outside a bright pink shop called ‘Charmers and Shakers’. A large poster of several bikini-clad, laughing witches drinking milkshakes was lit up in the window. A poster outside surrounded by floating silver hearts declared that they had ‘Valentine’s Specials’ available.
“Probably,” I said gloomily. “Might as well get this over with.”
I pushed open the glass door and Al followed me through. We were immediately waved over by Daphne Greengrass, my mother’s best friend from school and my godmother. She was sat with Mum in a booth in the corner, both with glasses full of thick, green liquid. Neither of them seemed to have started to drink.
“Olivia, darling,” Daphne said, standing up to greet me. “Lovely to see you again.”
She pressed a kiss to each of my cheeks and gestured for me to sit down. I rubbed my cheeks with the back of my hand, glaring at the smudge of purple lipstick that came off on my skin.
“Hello, Mum,” I said, sliding into the booth to sit opposite my mother. Al sat down beside me.
“Olivia. You’re not alone,” she said, her eyes gliding over to Al. If she found Scorpius’s absence strange, she chose not to mention it.
“Well,” I said coldly. “You brought your back up, I brought mine.”
Her eyes widened a little but she didn’t speak.
“Aren’t you going to introduce your friend, Olivia?” Daphne looked obnoxiously cheerful.
“Oh,” I said. I’d sort of forgotten they hadn’t met Al before. They probably knew he was (son of the saviour of the Wizarding World and all that), but they were pureblood witches. They demanded proper introductions. “Um, this is Al. Albus Potter. He’s in my year at school. Al, this is my mum and her friend.”
“I didn’t know you knew the Potters,” Daphne said.
I yawned and ignored her.
“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Albus. I’m afraid to say I’ve read quite a bit about you recently in the papers.”
Al looked taken aback. “Yeah, that happened,” he said.
“It seems to have died down a bit now, though,” Daphne continued, not registering Al’s discomfort.
“Yeah. They get bored quickly,” Al said.
“Yes,” Daphne said. “Well, in my experience it’s best to just try not to think about these things too much. People forget about it all in the end. How’s Scorpius, Olivia?”
Daphne is Scorpius’s aunt. I don’t think she sees him very much, though. Their families don’t really get along, and she seems to get most of her information about him from me.
“He’s…okay,” I said, feeling uncomfortable.
“I heard about everything going on with Cassandra,” Daphne said, her voice dropping to a hushed whisper. “Awful business. How’s he managing?”
“Was there some reason you asked me to come, Mum?” I turned to face my mother, bored of Daphne’s nosy smalltalk. “I was under the impression you wanted to talk.”
“Yes,” she said, looking startled. I waited for her to elaborate but she stayed silent.
“Well, do you think you might want to get to the point any time soon?”
My hand was resting next to my leg under the table. Al moved up so our knuckles brushed against each other. A very small part of me felt guilty for bringing him into such a tense situation, but a bigger part of me was just glad to have him next to me.
My mother, predictably, burst into tears. It’s her default action.
“Oh, Pansy darling, it’s going to be alright,” Daphne cooed, conjuring a box of tissues and pushing them along the table.
Next to me, Al looked incredibly awkward. I suppose it made sense. He hadn’t witnessed Mum’s multitude of outbursts over the years, and probably thought this was out of the ordinary.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I tapped my fingers on the table. It squished slightly under my fingertips, the pink plastic folding as I pressed it down.
Mum plucked a tissue out of the box Daphne had conjured, and loudly blew her nose. Daphne looked mildly repulsed but, to her credit, continued to rub my mother’s back.
“Well?” I didn’t feel at all guilty. She was being ridiculous.
“It’s…it’s your father,” she said, her words jolting through her sobs.
“He, well, he’s…he’s left me.” Her voice rose to a high pitched wail.
I blinked. I hadn’t actually expected that one. Granted, my parents had always had their problems (to put it lightly), but they tended to just pretend not to have noticed them. They’d both been Slytherins in their time at school, and were experts at concealing what was really going on so that they could put on a more respectable front. I kind of thought they’d stay together forever, bitching and screaming at each other until the end of time.
Under the table, Al caught my hand. I didn’t shake him off.
“He said that he couldn’t be around me anymore,” Mum said, her voice prim and laboured.
“He never deserved you, Pansy,” Daphne butted in. “I’ve been telling you that for years. You’re the best thing in his life. If he wants to lose you then he’s even more of an idiot than I thought.”
Mum smiled weakly through her tears. Daphne always knows what she wants to hear. It’s probably the only way they’ve managed to stay friends when they’re both so irritating.
“But where’s he gone?” I couldn’t get my head round the idea that Dad was no longer in our house, drinking huge mugs of chai tea and painting the corridors bright colours. I’m not sure why it hurt. I don’t even like the man most of the time. But somehow the idea of him somewhere else, in another house, doing the same old things was strangely painful.
“Where do you think?” Mum sounded bitter. She took a sip of her horrid green juice and pursed her lips.
“He’s moved in with her. With the mistress,” she said, spitting out the words.
Well, should probably have guessed that one.
“Apparently they’re getting engaged,” Mum said, tears welling up in her eyes again. “As soon as the divorce goes through. Engaged. And Olivia, darling, you’ll never guess who she is.”
“I don’t really care,” I said. I was surprised by how cold I sounded.
“Oh, I think you will care when we tell you,” Daphne said. She looked kind of like she was enjoying the drama. She probably was. Her life is hardly fascinating.
“No, I really don’t want to know. He chose to leave us, that’s fine. I don’t have to care who he’s left us for,” I said.
“Don’t be so rude, Olivia,” Daphne snapped. “This is extremely hard for your mother.”
“Hard for her? This is pretty fucking hard for me,” I said, shocked by the sudden explosion of fury inside me.
“Olivia,” my mother said. She looked alarmed.
“You just…” I squeezed Al’s hand tightly. I wasn’t sure what words I was even looking for, but somehow they started to spill out. “You just call me here to tell me this rubbish, but you’re not doing it because you care about me, you’re doing it because you want me to sit and bitch with you and make you feel better about the fact Dad couldn’t stand to be around you anymore.”
Daphne tried to say something but I cut across her, not wanting to listen to any more.
“And you haven’t even thought about the fact it might be difficult for me, too. It hasn’t occurred to you to think maybe this will upset my daughter. It’s all about you. It’s all always about you.”
Nobody spoke. Al’s hand tightened around mine.
“You don’t even ask how I am,” I continued more quietly. The outburst wasn’t really making me feel any better. “I’ve had a shitty term. Everything’s falling to pieces and all you can talk about is how you’re struggling. I can’t…I just…I can’t do this.”
I shoved past Al to get out of the booth, and then pretty much ran out of the cafe, slamming the door behind me. The glass trembled ominously but I didn’t stop to check whether I’d broken it, instead running as fast as I could down the street through the snow. It felt like I’d spent an awful lot of time running away from things recently, but no part of me wanted to stay.
I slowed down a little bit to let Al catch up, stopping completely when I skidded dangerously on an icy stone and wobbled.
I suddenly felt stupid. It was snowing and cold and I’d left my gloves on the table in the cafe. I shouldn’t even have been surprised by what Mum had told me, and definitely shouldn’t have reacted the way that I did. But for some reason it all felt like a huge problem.
“Hey.” Al caught up to me and his arms were immediately around me, hands rubbing my back to warm me up.
I shivered against him and let my head flop against his shoulder.
“I’m really sorry,” I mumbled against him.
“Come on,” Al said. “I know where we should go.”
I followed him back down the street, bowing my head against the cold. Bits of snow were getting caught in the gap between my chin and my scarf, and I felt shivery and disgusting as well as extremely guilty.
Al opened the door to Honeydukes and I raised my eyebrows. A sweet shop? It was, as Al probably should have anticipated, packed with couples from third and fourth year, buying each other heart shaped boxes of chocolates.
I waited for Al to change his mind, realising how ridiculously busy the shops was, but he didn’t say anything so I followed him in, scowling at the crush of people pressing against me.
“This way,” Al said, nodding towards the counter. I kept close behind him as he went weaving through the crowds.
“Mr Potter. Nice to see you again,” the wizened man at the till said. His smile revealed yellowing teeth but he looked friendly.
“Hey, Ambrosius. This is my friend Liv,” Al said brightly. “Could we maybe sit in your cellar? It’s busy up here but we’re in need of some of your wonderful hot chocolate.”
“Of course. You know the way,” the man said with a nod. “I’ll bring you some things down if you like. On the house.”
Al looked kind of embarrassed. “No. I’ll pay,” he muttered.
“We all owe your family a great debt in this village. It’s my pleasure,” the man said. “You two head down there. I’ll be with you in a sec.”
Al walked round to a staircase by the side of the counter and looked expectantly back at me.
“You seriously want us to go down there?” I pulled a face. It looked gloomy and kind of horrible. The boy’s insane.
“Yup. It’s quiet and there’s chocolate.”
I frowned, mulling over the suggestion, and then shrugged. I didn’t have much to lose, and didn’t really fancy being around people right now. I stepped past Al and carefully climbed down the wooden staircase.
When I reached the bottom I found myself in a softly lit cellar. Large wooden crates lined the walls. The floor was dusty but somehow the room was still welcoming.
Al stepped down beside me and grinned.
“What do you think? Good hideout?”
“Sure,” I said, walking across the room to sit down on one of the crates. “Do you come here often?”
“Sometimes. There’s a passage from here up to the school. It got closed up during the war but they didn’t renew the charms for ages after and James figured out a way to open it again.”
“So we can get straight back to school through here?”
“Yup. And Ambrosius turns a blind eye. That’s the guy that owns the shop. He fought in the Battle of Hogwarts and has a massive crush on my dad, so he lets us come and go when we want.”
Ambrosius hobbled down the steps a few minutes later, wobbling a tray of hot chocolate and various sugary snacks in his shaking hands. Al stood up to take the tray from him and thanked him before sitting back down with me.
“Now,” he said. “Would you like to talk about what happened in there?”
I thought about his question.
If I was with Cassie or Scorpius I would almost certainly have launched into an angry tirade against my mother, insulting her for crying and bemoaning the fact that I still had a year and a half before I could move out. But I wasn’t sure Al would really be impressed to hear it. He was looking at me with quiet concern, worried that I was actually sad rather than just angry, and I felt like I’d be letting him down somehow to use his offer to listen as an opportunity to bitch.
“Nah. Can we just eat chocolate?” I looked at him hopefully, wondering whether he’d press the subject.
“We can absolutely just eat chocolate,” Al said with a nod. “I’d recommend the bouncing brownies for a mood lift.”
I smiled and shuffled along the crate to sit closer to him.
After several hours and more chocolate consumed than I wanted to think about, Al swished his wand to wash up our plates and left some gold coins on the crate he’d been sitting on. I didn’t ask why he was leaving the money. I’d seen his face when Ambrosius insisted that we shouldn’t pay.
Al showed me through a trapdoor and along the passageway back to the school. It was long and kind of horrible, but infinitely warmer than walking outside would have been. We came out somewhere along the third floor corridor.
“Thanks, Al,” I said before turning away from him. “Really, thanks. For everything today.”
Al just grinned. “I had fun. Sort of. See you tomorrow?”
I nodded and turned away. I hadn’t really been in the Dungeons much over the last few days, and wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. After spending so much time in the warmth of Gryffindor Tower I wasn’t too keen on going back underground to our own gloomy Common Room, but I didn’t want to outstay my welcome in somebody else’s Common Room, and it felt like it was probably time to give Al a break.
The Slytherin Common Room was quiet. A few couples were sat together, holding hands and whispering to each other. I’d forgotten it was Valentine’s Day.
My boots were still wet from the snowy run through Hogsmeade earlier in the day, and I left a thin trail of icy water behind me as I traipsed across the room towards the fireplace. It seemed tiny compared to the one in Gryffindor Tower, but was better than nothing.
A blonde head poked out from the sofa in front of the fire and I sighed.
I wasn’t ready for a confrontation, and almost turned round. But I wanted to sit by the fire, and I didn’t want to intentionally avoid him. Besides, he was maybe the only person in the whole castle who would properly understand what had happened with my mother. I wanted to be able to talk to him about it.
“Hi, Scor,” I said quietly, plopping down onto the seat next to him.
“How was the date?” He spoke without looking at me, instead staring coldly into the flames in front of him.
“It wasn’t a date.” I waited for him to reply but he didn’t so I kept talking. “And it was actually a really shitty day. I met my mother and she told me…”
“Sorry,” Scor interrupted. “I shouldn’t have asked.”
“I should have been clearer. I don’t really care about how your day was.” Scorpius stood up. “And I don’t really care about you. Not anymore. Good night, Bell.”
I felt…icy, as I watched him leave. Like everything had gone cold. I wasn’t sure why I kept trying to make things better with him. It was just that he was Scorpius. He was supposed to always be there. And he’d decided not to be.
But maybe I was the one that decided not to be there for him. I ran away first.
I let out a single, agonising breath that sort of felt like it should have ended in tears, and then took a deep breath and got up. It seemed like just going to sleep was the best idea.
The dormitory was empty, which I’d kind of expected. It was still quite early. The sight of Cassie’s bed sent a dull thud of sadness through me, but didn’t affect me as much as it had done earlier in the term.
I sat down on my mattress and stared straight ahead of my for a moment. A single photo frame stood on my bedside table - silver, with a laughing picture of Cassie, Scor and I inside. They’d given it to me in third year, and I’d treasured it ever since. I leaned back on the bed to look more closely at the picture, trying to somehow see something in our younger faces to explain how we’d ended up where we were today. Cassie’s arm was draped loosely around me, her hand appearing over my other shoulder, silver painted nails visible against my collarbone. My head was tilted into Scor and he was blowing a stray strand of my hair out of my face. There wasn’t anything to see. We just looked young. And happy.
Without thinking, I reached out and picked up the picture, holding my breath as I watched our smiles.
And then I hurled it across the room.
The glass shattered against the wall and I heard a gasp from the doorway. I looked up to see Amethyst Twine, standing in the door with a hand over her mouth. She was wearing horribly smudged eyeliner and her hair was long and greasy. A nasty, twisted part of me wanted to comment on it, but I couldn’t even be bothered to be mean.
“What are you looking at?”
Amethyst shook her head and mumbled something about being sorry.
I glared at her. I’d perfected my glare a long time ago, and she looked suitably awkward.
“Just mind your own business,” I said, pulling the curtains of my bed closed around me.
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