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Chapter 24 : In Which Olivia Likes Cuddles After All
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I reached out and took one of the cushions, cuddling it against my chest and retreating further into the quilt Scor had conjured for me.
“He’s meant to be nice,” I said in a small voice.
Scor’s expression softened.
“I know, Ollie. Here, have more whiskey.”
I took the bottle he offered me and propped myself up on one elbow so I could drink. It burned my throat but I still took several gulps before Scor peeled it out of my fingers and hid it back inside his cushions.
“Why is he not nice?” I asked him, wriggling across the mattress so we were closer together.
“I don’t know,” Scor said. “I’m not sure what to say.”
“I thought he was nice.”
I was aware that I was repeating myself but the combination of my confusion and the firewhiskey I’d consumed meant that I didn’t care.
“Look,” Scor said, knocking over one of his cushions so he could see me better. “You don’t actually know what happened. Maybe Brogan was lying.”
“She wasn’t lying,” I said, shaking my head against the bare mattress. “I know she wasn’t.”
“Well, then maybe there’s more to it. You didn’t talk to her for long. Maybe there’s a reason for what happened.”
“Maybe,” I moaned and then turned my face into the bed. “But I don’t know what to do! I can’t be with someone who does something like that. I just can’t.”
My voice was muffled by the mattress but Scor obviously heard me because he ventured out of his cushions and slid one of his arms under my head, gently pulling me closer so I could rest my face on his chest.
“I thought he was making me happy,” I confessed, lifting my hand so I could hold onto Scor’s fingers while they rested against my shoulder.
“He was. He does make you happy,” Scor said. “And Ollie, you know I hate to speak in favour of Potter, but I think he’ll probably carry on making you happy if you give him the chance.”
“How can I? You know what my dad did, and you’ve seen what it’s done to my mum. I don’t want somebody who behaves like that in my life.”
“But you don’t really know that Potter did behave like that,” Scor pointed out. “Even if she was telling the truth, Brogan didn’t give you any details, and you dragged me out of Gryffindor without even telling Potter what was going on. He probably hasn’t even realised you’re angry.”
“I didn’t want to talk to him. Too cross.”
“I know. But it’s possible that if you talked to him he’d be able to explain.”
I frowned and then let go of Scor’s fingers so I could prod his chest. He grabbed my wrist with his other hand and held it in the air so I couldn’t poke him.
“When did you become wise and reasonable?” I asked him. “This advice is very unlike you.”
“Probably around about the time I realised I’d lost my best friend because I jumped to conclusions and didn’t bother trying to sort things out before getting furious with her,” he said.
“Hmm. I suppose that does make sense,” I yawned, feeling like the whiskey was filtering through to my brain. “I also blame your new friendship with Rose Weasley. She’s always boring and wise and reasonable.”
“I can be wise without Weasleys,” Scor said.
“Sure. Keep telling yourself that and maybe one day it’ll be true,” I said, managing to squirm my fingers out of his grip so I could poke him.
“So…” Scor pushed me off him so he could roll onto one side and give me a serious look. “Will you talk to him? To Potter?”
“What’s happened to you? I thought you hated him. Why are you sticking up for him?”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m not sticking up for him. But I’ve seen you two together. He makes you happy, and I don’t want you to lose that.”
“But he cheated on…”
“I know,” he cut across me. “And you have every right to want to end it. But...just hear his side of the story first, okay? Please?”
“Okay. Only because you asked nicely. And only if you let me have more whiskey.”
“Deal,” he grinned.
He pulled the whiskey out from under another one of his cushions and gave it back to me. This time, I finished off the bottle.
“Good work, Ollie. Great life choices. Get smashed before trying to have a serious conversation with your boyfriend,” Scor said.
“I’m full of good life choices,” I agreed happily. “Escort me back to the castle!”
Scor laughed and pushed me so that I rolled off the bed and onto the dusty floor. By the time I managed to get myself sat up, he’d come round to help me stand.
“Come on then,” he said, wrapping an arm around my waist to support me as I stumbled.
I spent the whole walk back to the castle being irritating, alternating between being delighted that Scor had gone drinking with me on my birthday and being devastated that Al had disappointed me. To his credit, Scor took it all in his stride and just let me talk, catching me every time I looked at risk of falling over.
As we approached the doors, Scor pulled me back. I started to ask why we weren’t moving but he put a hand over my mouth and nodded towards the now moving doors. He let go of me and I followed his gaze. A person slid out between the heavy wood, looking furtively from side to side. As they stepped forward, they were illuminated for a moment by the light from inside the castle.
“Potter?” I called out. “What are you doing?”
James Potter jumped and turned around, obviously trying to work out where I was. I stepped towards him, wobbly on my feet. Behind me, Scor let out an audible sigh and then followed.
“Doesn’t matter,” James said. “Where did you go? My brother’s been going insane.”
“That’s why I’m seeking him out,” I said brightly. “Get it? Seeking? Like in Quidditch.”
James looked puzzled but shrugged. “Right. He’s in Gryffindor Tower...where you left him. He just went up to his dorm.”
“I must find him! Scorpy, take me to Gryffindor!”
“Eurgh, fine,” Scor said, putting a supportive hand against my back as I swayed towards him.
James was watching us, eyebrows raised. “Have you been drinking? I swear you were both sober last time I saw you.”
“Only a little tiny bit,” I told him. “It’s my birthday, you know.”
“I know,” he sighed. “It’ll take you ages to get up to Gryffindor in this state. Borrow my broom.”
He took out his wand and waved it. The wood seemed to blur as it moved through the air, and I blinked slowly to try to make my vision clear again.
“Um, Potter, you haven’t got your broom with you,” I said, in a slow, patronising voice, and then promptly squealed with delight as his broom flew down from the building above us.
“I have now,” James said. “Take it. Al’s window is the second one down in the Tower. He sleeps with the windows open so you’ll be able to get in.”
He glanced at his watch. “I have to go. Just leave the broom with my brother when you’re done.”
He hurried away from us, cutting across the grounds and into the darkness. I didn’t bother thinking about where he was going, and instead admired his broom.
“Okay. I’ll fly up and meet you later,” I told Scor.
“You are so much more drunk than I am,” Scor said, shaking his head. “I’m not letting you fly.”
My lip wobbled and Scor sighed.
“Here,” he said, taking the broom out of my hands. “I’ll fly. Get on behind me.”
I beamed at him and climbed onto the broom, wrapping my arms around his back as he kicked off from the ground. It was windy and I could feel my hair tangling around itself, whipping my neck and catching the cold air. I put my forehead against the back of Scor’s neck and smiled to myself because I love being in the sky. For the moment, it was easy to forget my worries about Al.
And then we stopped outside an open window, and Scor slowly edged the broom forwards into the room inside.
“What the hell are you doing? Do you mind?” A dark haired boy said, sitting up in bed to scowl at us.
“What’s going on?” Al’s voice came from the other side of the room.
The drawn curtains around one of the other beds opened and I felt something catch in my throat as Al stuck his head through them. His hair was messy and he was dressed in the same clothes he’d been wearing at the party.
“Liv?” He said, scrambling out of his bed. “What are you doing here? I was looking for you. I didn’t know where you’d gone.”
“Um...I came to find you,” I said.
“But why did you leave in the first place? I thought you were happy to have the party. I wanted it to be something special for you.”
“It was,” I said. I turned to Scor, hoping for support, but he just shrugged, so I carried on talking. “It was lovely. I was happy. But then I had a conversation with Laura…”
“I should go. I’ve got reading to do,” the dark haired boy said abruptly. “I won’t be back for a few hours.”
We all watched him leave and then Al looked at me, obviously worried.
“Whatever she said, I can explain. It’s complicated, but I can explain,” he said.
“Okay. Explain then.”
“Now?” Al looked surprised. “Erm, okay then.”
He looked awkward for a moment, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and then Scor moved behind me.
“I should go,” Scor said. “I was just escorting drunk Ollie here so she couldn’t get lost. This is your brother’s broom. Can I just leave it here?”
“Will you be okay?” Scor muttered. “I can stay if you need me to.”
“I’m fine,” I whispered. “But thank you.”
Scor squeezed my hand as he passed me, and then followed the other boy out of the door.
Without Scor, I could feel myself swaying on the spot.
Al stepped forward and took my arm, helping me walk to his bed and sit down on the mattress. I expected him to sit next to me but he didn’t, and instead sat cross legged on the next bed along.
“Are you sure you want to do this right now?” He asked, concerned. “I don’t know how much you’ve had to drink. You can sleep if you want to? We can talk tomorrow.”
“No. Tonight. Explain.”
“Okay. What do you need me to explain?” He sounded calm but I could see that he was nervous.
“Yes,” I was sure. “Tell me everything. You never talk about you and Laura. I want to understand what happened.”
He sighed and messed up his hair. “Okay. Alright. Everything.”
“Everything,” I agreed and lay back on his bed, keeping my face turned towards him.
“Right,” he said. “So what you’ve got to understand is that Laura hasn’t always been like this.”
I thought back to my conversation with Louis on the Hogwarts Express, and nodded. Louis had explained how she’d changed. And it made sense. Al wouldn’t have liked her so much if she’d always been this mean.
“She used to be...nice. And fun,” Al continued. “And...I don’t know how to describe her. But she made me happy. My parents liked her, and nobody could come between her and Rose, and even Lily thought she was good for me.”
“I saw pictures of you two at her house. When Dad took me there,” I told him.
“Yeah? I didn’t know that.”
“It made me feel strange. You looked so in love.” If I hadn’t been drunk I probably wouldn’t have made the confession.
“We were,” Al said. “I really did love her. A lot.”
“So what happened?”
“Her father died,” he said. “And then everything went wrong.”
I frowned. “She said he died when she was little.”
Al nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think that’s what she tells people so they don’t ask too many questions. If she makes it sound like it happened a long time ago they don’t realise how much it’s still affecting her.”
“How did he die?”
“He was a muggle,” Al said with a shrug that would seem thoughtless if his face wasn’t so contorted with obvious worry. “And they have a lot of illnesses we just don’t think about. He had lung cancer.”
I recognised the word ‘cancer’ and swallowed. Poor muggles. Poor Laura.
“This was last year,” Al continued. “Just before the summer holidays. He’d been sick for a while but we never really talked about it, and then he suddenly got worse and a few days before the holidays Laura’s mum came to pick her up because he’d died. She didn’t even get to say goodbye. None of us had realised how ill he really was.”
He paused for a moment and put his head in his hands. Part of me wanted to tell him he didn’t have to talk about all this. It was obviously upsetting him, and I didn’t want to make him relive things that had hurt him. But I needed to know. I needed to understand. So I waited for him to carry on.
Al lifted his head again to look at me. “And for a while Laura seemed strangely fine. We all thought she was dealing with it really well. But she wasn’t at all…remember I told you about my friend? Over the holidays?”
“From your primary school?”
“Yeah,” he said. “She wasn’t from my primary school.”
“That was Laura? She tried to kill herself?”
Al took a deep breath before nodding. “I didn’t want to tell you her story. So I said it was a muggle girl you wouldn’t know. But yeah, that was Laura.”
“Al, I’m so sorry,” I murmured.
“Don’t be. You couldn’t have known.”
“So what happened?”
“After he died, she seemed fine. I said that. And we thought maybe she was going to be okay. She had all of us, and was letting herself have fun. But then...it was Louis that realised. Of course he realised - he spends enough time hiding his alcohol consumption to notice when someone else is doing the same.”
“She was drinking? And you didn’t know?”
“I don’t understand how we didn’t notice,” Al said. “As soon as Lou said it, it just seemed obvious. She was so excited about things and so happy and she was actually behaving really recklessly, doing stupid things like walking out of lessons because she couldn’t be bothered to concentrate. And then it turns out she wasn’t just drinking, she was casting all kinds of charms on herself to keep her mood okay, and she had some kind of pill that some muggle guy gave her.”
“Muggle drugs? But that’s so dangerous.”
“I know. And the more we found it, the more there seemed to be. She was a mess and it was frightening, but every time any of us tried to talk to her about it she’d deny everything and then get even worse.”
He breathed deeply again and squeezed his eyes shut. I wondered if he was trying not to cry.
“It makes me feel like such a bad person when I think about it,” he said.
“Why? You couldn’t have helped. That’s what you told me after what happened with my mum. All you can do is offer your support.” I sat up so I could look at him properly.
“And I tried. I really did. But she was being horrible. She was just insulting me every time I tried to talk properly to her, and disappearing all the time, and she’d ignore me for weeks at a time if she didn’t feel like being in a relationship. And somewhere along the way it all got too much and I just...didn’t love her anymore.”
“That’s understandable, Al,” I said.
He nodded but didn’t look that convinced.
“I tried to break up with her just before the christmas holidays, and she just ignored me.”
“Yeah. Completely ignored me. I explained that I was finding it hard and that I felt bad but knew I couldn’t be with her anymore, and I gave her this long speech about how I’d always love her and would always be there to support her, but couldn’t do the relationship anymore. And then when I finished she just smiled at me and told me she didn’t agree. And then she kissed me and said she loved me and would see me after christmas.”
“She told me you cheated on her,” I said. The whole story he’d just told me was horrid and made me understand him better, but it still didn’t explain my conversation with Laura.
He winced. “I’m getting to that.”
My heart plummeted down inside my chest. “So it’s true?”
“I’m not proud of it. I’m really not. I wish it hadn’t happened.”
“But it did?”
“On the first night of the holidays I went out with Lou and James. To Pumpkin Carriage, that place I met you at New Years? Louis decided the solution to all my problems was to get unbelievably, overwhelmingly drunk, and James fully supported the plan. He was in a pretty bad mood about some of his own problems, and Louis’s always up for drinking, so by the time we got there none of had a clue what was going on. I can’t even remember meeting the girl.”
“But you slept with her?”
He half shook his head and then shrugged. “That’s what she said the next day. I think I did. I woke up next to her, anyway. Luckily James had thrown up all over the kitchen table so my parents were distracted by that and didn’t notice her sneaking out of the house.”
I mulled over his words. It made sense. Laura had been telling the truth but everything was a bit more complicated than I’d realised. I pulled Al’s quilt over me to make myself a cocoon and then looked back at him so he could finish the story.
“I told Laura straight away, and broke up with her properly. And then...well, you know what happens next. I told you already. She found some of her mum’s prescription medicine and got rushed to hospital after a suicide attempt.”
This time, his blinking didn’t stop his tears. I reached out a hand and he reached out his from the next bed along, linking our fingers together between the mattresses.
“And then she got out of hospital and that’s when all the horrid newspaper articles started,” he said. “And then I started talking to you after New Years and I suppose that’s it”
He watched me for a little while, letting our linked hands sway together in the gap between the beds.
“Are you angry?” He asked.
I contemplated his question. I knew that I was still not sober, so maybe I’d feel differently in the morning, but I couldn’t feel any of the fury that had filled me after talking to Laura earlier in the night.
“No,” I decided. “Not angry.”
He gave me a watery smile. “Okay. That’s good. So, um, I have a question.”
“Yeah. Do you want to go to Hogsmeade with me next week?”
I smiled sleepily. “Of course.”
I yawned and Al stood up, coming to sit on the edge of the mattress I’d claimed.
“Do you want me to walk you back to your Common Room? It’s late. And you’re still drunk.”
“Nope. I’m staying here,” I told him. “Your bed is comfy.”
“Oh really? So where am I staying?” He looked amused but it was a valid question.
“You’re cuddling me. All night.”
He laughed at lay down next to me, letting me flop onto him so he could hold me.
“I thought you were a Slytherin and didn’t do physical affection?”
I yawned against him and hugged his tummy.
“I’ve decided it’s not so bad.”
He kissed my forehead and used one hand to stroke the back of my head, his fingers running through my hair until I fell asleep.
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