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Chapter 17 : In Which It All Goes Wrong
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I dragged my trunk from the Entrance Hall down to the horseless carriages, stumbling a little on the rocky ground. I was one of the last people down there and I expected to sit by myself because of it, but Rose and Louis leant out of a carriage to wave me over.
Lou pointed his wand at my trunk and muttered a spell, and it shakily rose into the air and levitated towards the carriage. I thanked him as I climbed in.
“Don’t say thank you,” Rose frowned as the carriage started to move. “He’s only doing it because he thinks it’s manly.”
Louis puffed out his chest. “It is manly. I’m being...what’s that word?...chivalrous.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “Liv was perfectly capable of carrying her own trunk. It’s patronising to assume she couldn’t do it just because she’s a girl.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of what Rose was saying. Scor had always carried my trunk for me, and I’d never thought anything of it. I suppose he was doing it because he felt it was expected of him, or something, but usually it had just felt like he was doing it because he was my friend and wanted to help. I thought that Louis was probably the same.
After thinking for a moment, I realised that Rose was watching me, waiting for my input.
“Oh,” I said, unsure how to join in with this conversation. “Um, I really didn’t mind.”
“I wasn’t assuming she couldn’t do it because she’s a girl.” Louis slid down his seat so his bum drooped over the side of the chair and then stuck his tongue out at Rose. “I was being nice. That’s what kind people do.”
“And you’re a kind person now?” Rose raised an eyebrow.
Louis nodded enthusiastically and then turned to me. “How’s everything going, Liv? Our cousin didn’t come back to the dorm last night.” He waggled his eyebrows and grinned.
I laughed. “I’m alright, thanks. You?”
Louis sat up straight again. “Noo, Liv, you’ve misunderstood. I only asked you how you were as like a decoy question. I actually just want to know what happened between you and Al last night.”
“Louis,” Rose hissed. “You don’t have to answer that, Liv. Lou understands that it’s actually your business and not his.”
I laughed again and shrugged. “It’s okay. He can ask. Nothing happened. We were just talking and then we fell asleep.”
Louis screwed up his face into a half glare and then pressed his cheek against the window to watch Hogwarts fade into the distance, apparently bored of the conversation. I followed his gaze and watched the castle, smiling a little at the sight of the turrets disappearing into the fog above us.
Rose watched her cousin for a moment and then gave me a bemused sort of a smile. “Look after Al, Liv,” she said. “He deserves somebody kind.”
I nodded. I don’t tend to consider other people’s relationships very much, and especially don’t consider what kind of relationships people deserve, but the idea that Al should be with somebody kind is completely uncontroversial. The boy’s probably the nicest person in the world.
When the carriage came to a stop, Louis took my trunk in one hand and his own in the other, pulling a face at Rose as he dragged them towards the stationary train. Rose rolled her eyes again and cast a featherlight charm on her own luggage, carrying it out of the carriage with ease. I wished I’d thought to cast a charm. It would have made the whole thing a lot easier, and then Louis wouldn’t have had to help me.
“Al was on a carriage further ahead, I think,” Rose said to me as she pulled her trunk towards the doors. “So he said he’d get us a compartment. He’s probably asleep, to be honest, he looked exhausted when he got back, but I reckon people respect him enough to give him space and keep the compartment free.”
“It’s probably full of Laura Brogan,” Louis muttered under his breath.
Rose heaved her trunk up the step onto the train, and then drew her wand and cast a banishing charm. I wasn’t sure where she’d sent it. It had probably gone somewhere clever, given that it was Rose Weasley’s idea. I glanced at Louis, who looked as confused as I felt and continued to drag both our trunks along by hand.
“That doesn’t even make sense, Lou,” Rose said, speaking more clearly now that she wasn’t struggling with her trunk. “What’s probably full of Laura Brogan?”
“The compartment Al’s saving,” Louis said, as if this was obvious. “If he’s fallen asleep alone in a compartment, Laura Brogan has almost certainly found him.”
“Don’t be silly, Louis,” Rose said, peering through a window to see who was in the compartment to our left. “Laura understands that it’s over between her and Al. She’s got better things to do than waste her time sitting with him watching him sleep.”
Rose wandered ahead of us, looking through the windows to either side of us. I hung back with Louis.
“Is that true? Has Laura finally accepted that it’s over?” I asked him, curious.
Louis shrugged. “Fuck knows. She’s genuinely insane. No idea what’s going through her head.”
“But has she stopped trying to talk to him?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Louis said thoughtfully. “She’s not been around so much. I’ve hardly seen her the last few weeks.”
“When Rose was just talking,” I started, lowering my voice. “Well, she sounded like....” I trailed off, unsure how to finish my sentence.
Louis tilted his head and frowned at me. “Sounded like what?”
I chewed my lip, trying to work out how to phrase it. “Um, well, she kind of sounded like she knows Laura quite well? Like she might like her?”
I watched Louis carefully as he pondered his reply. He didn’t look cross, but I thought he might not really have liked what I’d said. Laura was pretty much number one on his enemy list, and had hurt Al really badly. My wondering whether Rose, their cousin, might not hate her after all probably wasn’t something he wanted to hear.
“I don’t know,” he said finally. “It’s hard to say how Rose feels about her.”
I waited for him to carry on. When he didn’t continue, I asked him what he meant.
“Well,” he said with a frown. “Rose and Laura used to be pretty good friends. I mean, Laura was probably Rose’s best friend, outside the family at least. And they’re in the same dorm. Rose knew Laura ages before she got involved with Al. And Laura’s been through a pretty shitty time....”
He paused for a moment, obviously trying to figure out what to say. “Yeah, well, Laura’s had a hard time, and obviously Rose was around for lots of that and tried to be supportive. And then when Laura did all that stuff to Al it was a bit like a bit of a betrayal to Rose, you know? I mean, she hurt Al, obviously, but I don’t think any of us realised until recently how much she upset Rose as well. And now that Laura and Al aren’t fighting very much, well, I guess it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if Rose was starting to remember that she kind of cared about Laura once. I guess. I don’t know.”
I nodded, slowly, trying to give enough of a physical response to excuse the fact that I didn’t really want to reply. I’d been vaguely aware that Rose and Laura had been friends, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that it might mean Rose was still looking out for Laura. I suppose I understood it, though. If Cass and I had fallen out, I’d still have cared if she was hurting, regardless of what she’d done.
Louis was still looking at me. “Look,” he said. “It’s not really worth thinking about. Everything with Laura’s pretty fucked up, and none of us really count her as our friend anymore. Especially Al. Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh,” I said. “I wasn’t worried. Just interested. I didn’t know you all when you used to be friends with her.”
“Well,” Louis said. “Things have changed a lot. A lot of rubbish happened with Laura, even before the whole shitstorm went down with Al. It’s not like things are ever going to go back to how they were. I try to just move on and forget about it. It’s not worth it.” He stopped walking for a moment to catch his breath, and then continued, dragging both our trunks behind him. “Look, Liv? Would you mind not mentioning to Rose that we talked about this? I think she still gets kind of sad about Laura, and I don’t want her to think we were gossiping about it, or whatever.”
I nodded. “Okay. I mean, yeah. Sure. Of course. I won’t mention it.”
Louis gave me a small smile.
“Thanks for telling me,” I said. “I guess I was just wondering how Rose was so sure that Laura wouldn’t be in there with him. It makes sense, thinking about how they used to be good friends.”
Louis opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by Rose calling us over.
“Hurry up, Louis, Liv. I’ve found Al. In here.” She jerked her head towards the compartment to her right, and then slid open the door.
Louis and I sped up to catch Rose up, and then followed her through the door and into the compartment. I tried not to think about the fact it was the back carriage, where I usually sat with Cassie and Scor. It felt different with the Gryffindors anyway; it was more cheerful, somehow.
As Rose had predicted, Al was asleep in the corner of the compartment. His head was tipped back, pressed into the groove between the edge of his seat and the glass window. He was smiling in his sleep.
Louis ruffled Al’s hair before taking the seat opposite him, and Rose sat down next to Louis, leaving the space next to Al for me. I sat cross legged on the chair and then took out my sketchbook, balancing it on my lap.
“I didn’t know you drew, Liv,” Rose said, leaning forward to have a look at the open book I was holding.
“I used to sketch a lot,” I explained. “And then somehow this term it’s not really been happening. I’m trying to start again.”
“Is that Al?” She turned her head to try to see the sketch more clearly. It was a rushed, messy drawing, completed the previous night when I’d already started to fall asleep, but something in the movement of the lines managed to show Al’s smile, and the chaos of his hair. “It’s fantastic,” Rose said.
“Can I, erm, can I draw you? Is that okay?” I looked hopefully at her.
“Noo, draw me,” Louis said before Rose could speak.
“I could draw both of you?”
“Oo, yes please,” Rose beamed. “Is it okay if we’re sleeping for the drawing, though? I’m shattered.”
I laughed and nodded, and Rose drew her legs up to her chest and forced her head under Louis’ arm to lean against his chest. Louis prodded her in a halfhearted attempt to make her move, and then pulled her closer and leaned his cheek against her head. I smiled and started to draw.
After three or four sketches, when my hands felt heavy and my head felt blurry, I decided to give in to the fact my body was objecting to only having three hours sleep. I closed the sketch book and laid it carefully down next to me, and then rested my head against the back of the seat and closed my eyes. Everybody else in the compartment was already sleeping, and I listened to their even breathing as I let myself fall asleep.
My dreams were a confusion of laughter and swirling colour. I could see Cass, somewhere in the distance, and could hear her derisive laughter. Every time I stepped closer, she seemed to move further away. I ran towards her, trying to reach out but never getting any nearer, and then it became hard to walk. I looked down and realised I was stepping through paint; thick oil paint that stuck to my shoes and made the floor sticky. I took a bigger step and then slipped and fell into the paint, my hands covered in stains of pink and green. I turned one hand over in the paint, and realised I was clutching something sharp in my fist. I opened my hand and found Cassie’s locket pressed against my palm, the silver chain coated in clotting red paint. And then the red paint started to run down my wrist and I suddenly became aware of how horribly blood-like it was, and my arm was coated in red and I looked down and the rest of my body was red too…
I woke up with a jolt, my breath quick and sharp. I looked down at my hands and swallowed with relief to find them clean.
“You alright, Liv?” Al murmured sleepily.
I nodded. “I’m fine. Just a strange dream.”
“This is what we get for staying up so late,” he smiled.
“Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired,” I said, flexing my fingers to reassure myself that they weren’t stained with paint, or with anything else.
“Come here.” Al reached his arm out to me. “We’re not even halfway there yet. We’ve got lots of sleeping time.”
I hesitated, watching his hopeful expression, and then shrugged and shuffled along the chair towards him. He curled his arm around my shoulders, resting his hand against my forearm, and I tucked my face against his chest, under his chin. He was warm, and sitting wrapped up against him felt safe. I closed my eyes again and this time my dream were much sweeter.
When we reached London, I was woken up by a flash of light. I screwed my eyes shut tighter and turned my face further into Albus.
“Too bright,” Al mumbled. “Turn the light off.”
There was another flash and I opened my eyes to see what was going on.
Rose was stood uncomfortably close to us, holding a camera and beaming. “Sorry. I just realised we were stopping and had to get a picture of you two before we moved. You looked super sweet and I promised Aunt Ginny I’d get some nice photos of Al this year.”
“I tried to stop her,” Louis said.
“That’s a lie. He told me I should write on your faces before taking the photo,” Rose corrected. “Anyway, we’re at King’s Cross.”
I sat up properly and looked out the window, surprised that we’d already arrived. The train had slowed to a stop as we were talking, and now I could see that other students were already unloading their trunks and leaving the train to meet their parents. I yawned and stood up.
“You need a hand with your trunk?” Al was already lifting it down from the luggage rack Louis had put it up on.
I thought about Rose’s comments earlier on, and shook my head. “I’m good. I’ll just charm it to make it lighter.”
I concentrated hard and cast a featherlight charm, like I’d seen Rose do earlier. When I picked up the trunk, it felt weightless.
“Oo, that’s clever,” Al said, looking impressed. “I don’t know why that’s never occurred to me.”
We left the compartment together, and climbed out of the train and onto the platform. Al was immediately waved over by his mother. I looked in the direction he was waving in, and saw that Aunt Katie was standing with Al’s family. Not being able to see my mum, I headed over with Al.
“Olivia.” Aunt Katie pulled me into a hug and kissed my cheek. “It’s lovely to see you. You look well.”
I gave her a small smile and shrugged my way out of her hug. I suppose it’s nice to have a family member you don’t detest, but I’d never really liked her constant physical affection. Next to us, Al was kissing his mother hello. He grabbed my hand and pulled me over. I let go as soon as his fingers loosened.
“Mum, this is Liv,” Al said. “She’s the Slytherin we’ve decided to adopt.”
“I’ve heard all about you,” Al’s mum said with a warm smile. I felt my cheeks flush. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. She was hardly scary. But I suppose she is Ginny Weasley.
“I was surprised Al would want to be friends with a Slytherin, you know,” Ginny said. “We usually prefer not to associate with them.” Her eyes were smiling but I wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Thanks, Mum.” Al’s sister Lily had arrived pulling her trunk and a very grumpy looking owl. Her green and silver Slytherin tie was untied around her neck, and she glared pointedly at her mother. I’d forgotten Lily Potter was a Slytherin.
Ginny laughed and flung her arms around her daughter, almost childlike in her enthusiastic hugging. Lily scowled but let her mother hug her.
“Now,” Katie said, turning to me as Ginny and Lily’s reunion continued. “Have you seen my son?”
I looked around the platform, trying to catch sight of the moron. For a minute, I couldn’t see him anywhere. And then suddenly it would have been impossible not to.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Katie sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Is that our darling sons?” Ginny said, one perfectly arched eyebrow raised.
“Do you even have to ask?” Katie laughed a little.
Al let out a snort of laughter as he noticed his brother, flying along the platform with the moron. They’d both tied their trunks to their brooms, but the trunks were dangling dangerously below them as the flew, and people on the platform were having to leap out of their way to avoid being hit. The moron’s cat was draped around his neck, hair standing on end and looking terrified. James Potter’s owl flew between them.
The two boys lowered and came to a stop when they reached their mothers.
“You’re a moron,” Katie said, frowning at her son.
I beamed. I’d never heard Katie describe him as a moron.
Jason caught my eye and laughed, obviously recognising my delight in his mother’s choice of language.
“Come on. We should get home. Oliver said he’d leave work early and pick up something for dinner. He’s looking forward to seeing you,” Katie said with a smile.
“Alright. Is Liv coming?” Jason nodded towards me.
Katie looked surprised by his use of a shortened name for me, but didn’t mention it. She looked at me. “I don’t know. You’re very welcome to join us, Olivia. Did you have other plans?”
“Thanks, but Mum’s coming to get me. I think she’s just been delayed,” I said.
“Are you sure? I can send Oliver a patronus asking him to get some extra food for you?”
“I’m really okay. Mum’s coming to get me,” I repeated.
“Okay sweetheart. If you’re sure. I’m sure we’ll see you later on in the holidays,” Katie smiled. “Now come on, Jason. Say your goodbyes.”
Jason turned to James and stuck his tongue out, and then turned back to his mother. “Can James come for dinner, if Dad’s going to be home? He wanted to ask him about some Quidditch stuff.”
Katie agreed, and after Ginny had complained that James didn’t love her enough, and Al had checked at least three times that I really did have somebody coming to collect me, they all apparated away, leaving me with my trunk and my owl.
I looked at Mercury. “Come on. Let’s find Mum.”
The platform was almost empty now, and there was no sign of her, so I dragged Mercury and the trunk through the barrier and into the main station. Mum didn’t seem to be anywhere in King’s Cross. I searched for her for at least half an hour, and eventually had to accept that she wasn’t there. She must have forgotten to come and meet me.
I rummaged in my pocket for my purse, and was relieved to find a few coins of muggle money. I struggled to manoeuvre my things over to the ticket machines, and bought a travel card for the tube. After a last quick glance around the station, I dragged my stuff down an escalator and found the right platform for the Victoria line.
The tube was quick but busy. The time I’d spent looking for my mother had meant rush hour had started, and the tube was full of busy looking people in smart muggle suits, none of whom looked happy to share their tube with a now very angry owl. I tried to cram my trunk into the corner of a carriage, and leaned against it with a very fat man’s legs pressed against me, and a young woman’s breath tickling my shoulder.
It was only a few stops to Finsbury Park, and I was desperate to get off the tube by the time we got there. My house is only a short walk from the station. I ignored the glares from the people around me and shoved past them with my trunk, walking more quickly the closer I got to home.
When I entered my road, it occurred to me that something might be wrong. None of the muggles that lived on the street were outside, and nobody was turning from the busy road near the station around the corner onto my street. It was almost like they couldn’t see that the street was there, even though usually it was crowded and lively.
I tentatively continued with the walk down the road. It was unnaturally quiet, and I wasn’t sure why. As I followed the road around the bend, I realised that something had happened. Something had happened inside my house. I could see the mint green of healer uniforms, and the dark green flickering light in the window that meant the floo must be lit.
I left my trunk where I’d been standing, and quickened my step. When I reached the end of my path, I hesitated, and then pushed open the gate. A woman was standing in the pathway with her back to me, her shoulders shuddering with sobs.
“Um, excuse me?” I took another step closer. “What’s going on?”
Daphne Greengrass turned around. Her eyes were red and her usually immaculate hair was straggly. It looked like she’d been running her hands through it.
“Daphne? What’s happened?”
She didn’t say anything. I took another step forward and tried to push past her, to get into the house and understand why there was a person in a Healer’s uniform with their head stuck through the fireplace, on full view through the front window.
“Let me in. What’s happened? Let me in. I live here.”
Something in the urgency in my voice seemed to get through to Daphne, and she grasped my shoulders, her fingers digging uncomfortably into my flesh.
“No,” she said, her voice sounding strangled. “No, darling. No. You can’t.”
I felt myself deflate. “But...why? What’s happened?”
Daphne shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut to let another tear roll down her cheeks. “Oh, Olivia. It’s your mother.”
“What about my mother?”
“I came to meet her earlier. We were going to come and collect you from the station together. But she didn’t answer the door. I kept knocking. And then, well, I have a spare key, of course. I’m her best friend. So I remembered I had the key, and I turned the key in the lock, and I opened the door. And you have to understand….”
“Oh, get on with it. What. Has. Happened. To my mother?” I glared at Daphne, hating her for being so pathetic, furious that she was still talking but I still had no idea what was going on.
“What? Tell me.”
Daphne bit her lip and widened her eyes. She looked pathetic.
“Olivia. Your mother…”
I rolled my eyes and glared at her again. Daphne drew in a deep breath and then nodded slowly.
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