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Chapter 20 : In Which It Keeps Raining
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“I still think you cheated,” Oliver said sulkily.
“They didn’t cheat, Oliver,” Harry Potter laughed. “They just have a bit of an age advantage.”
I still couldn’t quite believe I’d been playing Quidditch with Harry Potter. James had convinced him that he wanted to join in with the game and he’d happily joined us for the morning, eager to see some more of his children, who still hadn’t returned home from Puddlemere.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Oliver rolled onto one side, getting mud in his hair.
“Means we’re getting old,” Harry sighed.
Oliver stuck his tongue out and didn’t reply. Jason was still laughing but had managed to catch his breath a bit.
“Anyway, I have to get going. Work calls, I’m afraid,” Harry said, pulling a face.
Most of the reinforcements James and Jason had tracked down to complete the Quidditch teams nodded and agreed that the time had come to leave. Lily Potter gave me a cheery wave before leaving with her father, which took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure I’d actually ever spoken to her. Al’s cousin Roxanne gave James a big hug and took her girlfriend’s hand to apparate away.
“Don’t suppose you’d be up for a rematch?” Oliver sat up, looking hopeful.
“Dad, you’ve just lost the majority of your team,” Jason rolled his eyes. “And James and I were going to meet some people in Diagon Alley this afternoon anyway.”
Oliver looked hopefully at Al and me, although I wasn’t sure what exactly he expected us to offer. A three person Quidditch game was hardly going to be much fun.
“Would love to, but there’s actually somewhere Liv and I need to be,” Al said apologetically.
Oliver groaned and rolled over on the ground so his face was against the mud. Jason and James knelt down either side of him, murmuring words of concern. The huge grins pasted to their faces showed the falsity of their sympathy, but Oliver was soon laughing and pulling his son down into the mud beside him.
“We should get going, Liv,” Al told me, checking the time. “Visiting hours end quite early on Sundays.”
After taking some time to shower and rummage through my chaotically packed trunk for a respectable dress to wear to see my mother, I met Al by the door to leave for St Mungo’s. It was raining again and we stood in the doorway for a while, unwilling to step outside.
“You can’t apparate, right?” Al checked with me, reaching out to hold me hand.
I shook my head. “Still sixteen. Hence the splinching last night. Can you?”
“Yeah. My birthday was before christmas so I took the test at the Ministry in the holidays. I can take you by side-along?”
When I nodded, he gripped my hand harder and closed his eyes to concentrate. I was sort of surprised that I trusted him to take me somewhere by side-along apparition, but maybe I just trusted him with anything by this point. I winced as we were sucked into a narrow tube of air, but Al’s hand stayed warm against mine and I didn’t fall when we landed in the lobby of St Mungo’s.
I hadn’t been to St Mungo’s many times, and when I had visited it had never really been for anything serious. Last year when Oliver had a quidditch accident I’d had permission to leave school to visit, but I’d spent most of the time sitting in the cafe eating jelly with Jason. We’d known he was going to make a full recovery so I hadn’t really noticed the disconcerting, unstable atmosphere in the hospital. I hadn’t payed attention to the Healers gathered in corners, whispering anxiously and fading into silence as visitors passed them, and I hadn’t noticed the swathes of lost looking people, wandering the corridors in obvious distress.
This was the first time I’d really recognised the intense sadness in the wizarding hospital, and I gripped Al’s hand more tightly as he asked the receptionist where he could find Pansy Bell.
“Are you family?” The welcome wizard was a spotty boy who looked hardly older than us and was chewing gum as he spoke. He looked me up and down in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, and I felt Al tense slightly beside me.
“I’m her daughter,” I said quietly.
The boy nodded and didn’t take his eyes off me. Al put an arm around my shoulders.
“Right. Third floor. She’s in the McKinnon ward,” the boy said. He smacked his lips as he chewed his gum. I looked away.
“Thanks,” Al said.
Still holding hands, we walked away from the welcome wizard. There was a long queue for the lift so we turned and started to climb the stairs. The third floor wasn’t too high up in the building but I was aware that I was deliberately dragging my feet in an attempt to delay our arrival. Al must have realised what I was doing but he didn’t mention my slow pace until I came to a complete stop outside the door to the third floor.
“Liv,” he said quietly.
I shook my head. I wasn’t really sure what was going on in my body that had made me stop walking. I didn’t feel the same kind of devastated confusion I’d been struggling with the previous day and I’d been sure that visiting my mother was a good idea. Something about it suddenly felt too difficult.
“Do I have to do it?” I asked Al.
My voice was quiet and pathetically desperate. I knew it wasn’t Al’s job to tell me what I should do but I somehow wanted the responsibility to lie with somebody other than myself.
Al shrugged. “Of course not. You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
“But you think I should see her.”
“If I was in your position I know that I’d want to see her,” Al said. “But I can’t tell you what’s best for you. And I’m not going to make you do anything if it’s upsetting you. I just want you to feel better.”
I didn’t reply. I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Do you want to go back? I can take you back,” Al said, sounding nervous. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have suggested we came. It should have been your choice. I…”
“Shush, Al,” I said, managing to laugh at his nervousness. “It’s fine. I just needed to put my thoughts back together for a minute. I’m alright. I can do this.”
“You sure?” He looked relieved but uncertain.
I nodded. “Yeah, I need to do this. Come in with me?”
I pushed open the door in front of us and took a step through. The third floor of the hospital was for Potions and Plant Poisoning, and lots of the patients we walked past were almost comical, wandering around in fits of uncontrollable giggles, or smiling dazed smiles as they crawled along the floor. I ignored them, knowing that the story behind the closed doors in the corridor would be very different. Plant poisons could be entertaining, but they were more often very dangerous, and potions could be even worse. I took Al’s hand again as we walked to the end of the corridor and found the McKinnon ward for self-inflicted potion abuse.
As we reached the door to the ward I was aware of Al glancing at me but I didn’t make eye contact and didn’t hesitate to enter the ward. A smiling Healer greeted us almost as soon as we entered the room.
“Can I help you? I’m Healer Robins. You must be here to visit someone?” Her eyes flickered from me to Al and widened with recognition but she didn’t acknowledge that she knew exactly who he was. I liked her.
“Erm, we’re here to see my mum. Pansy Parkinson? She came in yesterday,” I mumbled.
“Oh, yes. She’s in the bed at the end. I think she’s sleeping at the moment, but you’re very welcome to go and see her, of course,” Robins said with another smile. “Let me know if there’s anything I can get for you.”
My feet started to carry me towards the bed before my brain had really caught up with the words Robins had said. Al thanked her and then walked with me.
The bed Robins had indicated was surrounded by a thin, mint green curtain, hanging from a wobbly rail near the ceiling. I edged around the curtain rather than opening it. For a moment, Al stayed where he was. I reached back and pulled him through with me, unwilling to go through this encounter alone.
My breath caught in my throat at the sight of my mother in the bed in front of me. She looked achingly familiar at the same time as seeming frighteningly different. Her eyes were closed but her eyelids were strangely translucent. Her skin looked doughy across her face, and then papery and dry around her hairline. She was tiny in the bed. She’d lost weight since I’d seen her in Hogsmeade.
I stepped closer to the bed and then tentatively perched on the edge of the mattress and put my hand over Mum’s. Her skin was cold against mine and I wanted to draw away, but then her fingers curled against mine and she held onto me. I glanced back to her face and forced a smile when I realised her eyes had opened.
“Olivia.” Her voice was weak, trembling, but still she sounded like herself.
“Hey, Mum,” I murmured. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, I’m alright. The Healers say I just need a few weeks of rest here when they can take care of me, and then I shouldn’t do anything strenuous for a while after that. Daphne’s suggested that we holiday somewhere warm once I’m out of hospital, so that will be lovely. I’ll have to buy a new swimming costume.” She was smiling as she spoke but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
I shifted uncomfortably on the mattress, still holding onto her hand even though I wanted to get back up. It didn’t surprise me that she was avoiding properly talking about what had happened but the fact I’d expected it didn’t make it much easier to hear.
She kept speaking, seeming not to mind that I hadn’t responded.
“Daphne’s suggested Barcelona. I’m looking forward to a few weeks of sangria in sunny squares, and relaxing on the beach. It’s a shame you’ll be back at school and won’t be able to join us.”
“Yeah, that’s a shame.” A holiday with Daphne and my mother sounded awful, but there didn’t seem to be any point in being unkind to her, not when she was so unwell. I resigned myself to simply saying what I knew she’d want to hear.
“How is school? I’ve not heard from you for so long. How’s Scorpius?” Mum looked genuinely interested.
“Um, he’s okay. Stressed about Quidditch but he’s having a nice time.” I avoided looking at Al, knowing that he’d be puzzled by my not mentioning that Scorpius and I weren’t speaking. He’d met my mother before but wouldn’t understand how much easier it was to avoid speaking honestly to her. Cassie or Scor would have immediately recognised what I was doing and probably could have joined in with the conversation to take some of the pressure off me.
“That’s good. You should hold on to him, Olivia. He’s a lovely boy. And so handsome. You’re very lucky to have a Malfoy in your life.” Her fingers momentarily tightened around mine, feeling stronger than they had before.
I made a mumbling sound of agreement, hoping that she’d change the subject quickly. I’d never liked talking to Mum about Scorpius. She was so convinced that we ought to end up married that it had always been difficult to convey our actual relationship. It was much harder now that there wasn’t any relationship at all to talk about.
“I’m actually very tired, sweetheart,” Mum said, her smile fading. “I hate to have to ask you to leave, but…”
“Oh.” I let go of her hand and sat up straighter. “Oh, of course. That’s fine. I just...I wanted to see you, after what happened. But yeah, you should definitely get some sleep if you need to.”
“It was lovely of you to come and visit,” she said sleepily.
“I’m your daughter.” My voice was hardly even a whisper but I knew she could hear me.
“Yes. Thank you, sweetheart. Now, you go and enjoy your holidays with your friends. Send my love to Scorpius.” She rolled her head to one side. The movement seemed strange, more free than her motions usually were, but in a way that was disconcerting rather than reassuring.
I stood up and took a few steps across the room, ending up closer to Al. He stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder. The gesture was comforting without suggesting anything more and I was grateful for it.
“Bye, Mummy,” I called back as we started to leave the room.
Her eyes were tightly closed so I didn’t expect her to reply, but she called my name and I paused to hear what she wanted to say.
“You should get some new conditioner, sweetheart, at least before you go back to school. The ends of your hair are looking dry.”
“Oh. Um, sure. I’ll do that.”
“You’re so pretty. You’ll never be prettier than you are now. Make the most of it.” Her voice was faint again. “Enjoy your holidays, and school.”
It was a fairly unsubtle invitation not to visit again and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I knew she wasn’t trying to be unkind.
We left the hospital without speaking to each other. I knew Al well enough to realise that he wouldn’t think any less of me after witnessing the visit but I also knew him well enough to realise that he’d be worried about me. He’d wanted me to see my mother to get some closure, or to learn more about how she’d ended up there. Her rushed small talk hadn’t exactly changed anything.
The welcome wizard gave us a small nod as we left. I didn’t smile back but Al gave him a wave before taking my hands to apparate us back to puddlemere. I closed my eyes as he spun round, not wanting to witness the hospital dissolve into space around us, and focussed on the feel of his hands in mine.
When we shuddered to a halt in the pathway outside the Madhouse, we were both immediately drenched. I’d forgotten that it had been raining when we left, and now the rain had grown heavier. We were lucky it had stayed dry for Quidditch. The ground around our feet was thick with mud and it was the kind of rain that found its way into crevices of my skin, dripping into my ears and around the corners of my eyes so that I felt like I could be crying.
“We should get inside. This is horrible,” Al laughed, shaking his head so that water droplets spilled out of it.
He took a step forward but I grabbed his arm to hold him back.
He looked back at me. “You okay?”
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“For being there today. For getting me to go. Thank you.” I pushed my sodden hair back behind one ear. It was a nervous motion, something to do while I waited for his response.
“You don’t need to thank me. I didn’t really do anything.”
“You got me to visit, though. And you were right. I do feel better.”
“Yeah? I was worried you wouldn’t. I’m sorry you didn’t really get a chance to talk to her about what happened.”
“No, it was fine. It was great, actually. I just needed to see that she’s still herself, I think. I was worried she’d be different. And now that I’ve seen her it feels like it’s going to be okay, you know? I feel calmer.”
I smiled at him through the rain and he smiled back.
“I’m glad,” he smiled.
We stood there for a few moments, ignoring the water soaking through our clothes and running down our skins. Both of us were still smiling which was probably a bit silly because nothing had really changed, but it somehow felt like things were different. I was feeling more positive, more hopeful. And it was because of Al.
I put my arms up and he came forward so I could put them around his neck. I pressed my forehead against his chin for a moment, my ear against his collarbone. I could feel his heart beating against my chest and everything about him felt warm, comforting, alive. I wanted to tilt my head upwards but wasn’t sure how, and then it didn’t matter because he’d lifted one hand to my chin and moved it for me.
The kiss was gentle and sweet. It felt different to the kiss yesterday, when I’d been so overwhelmed by everything that I’d just wanted to feel something. This time I focussed on Al, on the feel of his skin, and the comfort of his arm around my lower back. It didn’t last long but it was perfect, and when we broke apart both our smiles were even wider than they’d been before.
“It’s getting cold. We should go inside,” I said.
“Yeah.” He brushed another quick, chaste kiss onto my lips, and then we walked together down the path and rang the doorbell.
Jason answered. He was still wearing the tracksuit bottoms he’d worn for Quidditch earlier, but had taken off his shirt. He had a bruise on his collarbone from Al’s cousin Freddie catching him with a well aimed bludger, and he kept reaching up to anxiously rub the bruise. He looked worried, somehow, and not all that happy to see us.
“You alright, Jace?” Al had obviously noticed his discomfort.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jason nodded. “It’s just...Liv, you’ve got a visitor. I told him I wasn’t sure you’d want to see him, but he wanted to wait for you”
My father. I’d known he’d turn up at some point. Katie would have let him know that I was safe and with her, and he was obviously going to want to know what was going on. I wasn’t sure I was ready to see him right that moment though.
“Oh, um, where is he?”
Jason gestured towards the kitchen, and followed me down the corridor beside Al. It felt safe having them there. Not for the first time, I was struck by how much everything had changed since christmas. The fact I had Jason Wood and Albus Potter either side of me to make sure I was okay wasn’t really something I could have predicted, but I liked the way it made me feel.
I stepped into the kitchen and then immediately stopped in the doorway. I understood why Jason hadn’t been sure I’d want to see my visitor. The boy standing by the sink was not somebody I’d expected to see.
“Ollie.” Scor’s voice was warm, warmer than it had been in a long time, and he took a step towards me. “Merlin, Ollie. I don’t even know what to say.”
He was fidgeting, constantly moving his hands, twisting his fingers and turning the ring on his thumb. He looked tired but his eyes were kind and he seemed closer to my Scorpius, the Scorpius I’d always known, than to the cruel person he’d been recently.
“Aunt Daphne visited today,” he continued. “And, well, she told me what happened. And I didn’t know what to do. I had to see you. I...Ollie, I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” I was surprised by the steadiness of my voice. It didn’t match the churning in my stomach when I looked at him.
“Sorry about your mum, about everything with your parents. Sorry that you can’t stay at home. Sorry that Daphne was so unhelpful. Sorry that...well, mostly I’m sorry that you haven’t been able to talk to me about it.” He reached up to his head, tucking his fingers into his hair in the way he always did when he was nervous. “I’m so sorry, Ollie. I’ve been such a bad friend. I’m so sorry.”
He watched me with desperate eyes, clearly unsure what else to say. My mouth curved into a smile without me meaning to do it, and I took a step forward. He grabbed me and held onto me, and when his cheek touched mine I could feel it was wet with tears. It was this more than anything that made me want to accept the apology. Scorpius Malfoy didn’t cry, at least not in front of people, and definitely not in front of Albus Potter. I returned his hug.
“I’m so sorry,” Scor said again. “I love you so much. I’m so sorry. I’ve really missed you. I’m sorry.”
I kissed his cheek. He was still mumbling apologies.
“Scor,” I stopped him talking. “Scor, it’s okay. It’s alright.”
“I love you,” he repeated.
“I love you too.” I kissed his cheek again and then pulled back from him. His eyes were red but he was smiling and he squeezed my arm before letting go of me.
As I stepped back, Al took a step forward and put an arm around me. I leaned into him and nuzzled his shoulder for a second. Scor’s eyes widened.
“So, erm…” Scor gestured towards Al and me. “This is how it is, then?”
I smiled. “Be nice, Scor. I kind of like him.”
Scor nodded. He looked determinedly at Al and then raised a hand.
“I don’t think we’ve ever properly been introduced,” he said.
The formality in his words nearly made me laugh, but it showed that he was taking it seriously so I held back.
“I’m Scorpius Malfoy. Ollie’s best friend...well…” He looked back at me, suddenly nervous again. “Well, I’m…”
“My best friend,” I agreed. Scor looked grateful.
Al watched me for a moment, his expression blank. I met his gaze and gave him a small shrug. Al turned to Scorpius and took the hand he’d been offered.
“Albus Potter. Nice to meet you.”
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