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Masquerade by dracoismyboyfriendguys
Chapter 1 : It's a Long Story
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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Trains, or any method of public transport really, are odd. There’s all these people going on various journeys which are just a tiny part of their various lives. They come together for a brief moment, but they may as well be invisible to each other. 

God, I’m corny. Travelling alone does that to me. I shouldn’t be given too much time by myself or else I just talk to myself in my head and that always seems to lead to crazy tangents. Kind of like this.

I’m walking through the carriages, trying to spot an empty seat. I bought my ticket four minutes before the train (the 12:39 to Penzance from King’s Cross) left, so the man at the booth told me to just find one of the spare seats. The way he looked at me clearly showed he thought that this was an odd journey for a spur of the moment decision- if he only knew. Luckily, I don’t have any luggage with me, so I’m able to navigate through the cramped aisles relatively easily. 

I’m in the process of squeezing past a pushchair when a voice calls out to me. “Isadora Fletcher? Is that you?”

So much for being invisible. 

I look up at the sound of my name, and see a young man with floppy black hair and bright green eyes poking his head out into the aisle and looking at me in disbelief. “Albus Potter?”

“God, it’s been ages,” he says, moving his coat from the seat next to him so that I can sit down.

“Almost three years,” I tell him. “I haven’t seen you since we left Hogwarts.” I say the last word quietly, just in case.  

Albus and I had been at school together, and we were actually pretty good friends for a while because we were both prefects in our last years. What he’s doing on a muggle train to Penzance, I can’t imagine. We spend the next few minutes catching up; I skirt around some of the details but we end up laughing so hard that the woman with the pushchair gives us a dirty look.

“So what are you going down to Penzance for?” Al asks, more quietly. He’s eyeing me up suspiciously, clearing confused as to why I’m travelling on muggle transport and with no luggage at all.

I sigh. “It’s a long story.”

“It’s a long train ride,” he laughs, glancing out of the window where the city streets are still racing by. 

“Well,” I say, resigned, “let me think where to start.”

*

Because this is actually a long story. Usually the old ‘long story’ quip gets thrown about here and there when people can’t really be bothered to explain themselves, but this… Well it’s just not the same. 

See, when I woke up this morning, I had two of the things I think are crucial for any fledgling adult. Firstly, I had a stable job. It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world; I was a HR manager at a publishing company, it printed spell books and the like. I’ve never exactly known what I wanted to do, and leaving my post-school training with an Ancient Runes qualification didn’t help with the ol’ locking down a dream career. My sister, Amy, knew she wanted to be a healer since she was nine, and when she left school, she walked straight into the start of her professional life. Stupid Amy. 

Anyway, the HR job was fine. It paid the bills which allowed me to live in a comfortable flat with my next vital step towards adulthood: a stable partner. Mark and I had been together for about two years, since I got the job and moved to London. Now, I’m not necessarily saying I thought he was ‘The One’ but we were living together in a nice apartment, with nice furniture we’d bought from nice little vintage shops, and we were even cultivating a nice little vegetable patch on our terrace. 

It was all very nice.

 Why then, I hear you ask, am I alone on a train to Penzance with only the clothes on my back and my handbag? 

Let me tell you. This morning started off like any other. I woke up, showered, and made myself a coffee with the new muggle machine my mum bought for us for a joint Christmas present- how adult. I kissed Mark goodbye and told him I’d be back for dinner later. He works for Wizarding bars in and around Diagon Alley, scouting DJs and bands to play evenings and events, so he mostly works from home. I took the Circle Line to Embankment as we don’t have a fireplace to connect to the Floo network, and we’re in one the new designated no-apparition zones- extra precautions by the ministry- and made my way through the hoards of commuters to office block where P.L Courtney & Sons Publishers is located. As soon as I walked in, I could tell something was up. Janelle, the receptionist, greeted me like usual, but there was something overly cheery in the way she spoke.

“What’s up?” I asked her suspiciously, trying to meet her darting eyes.

“Up? A Quidditch pitch!” she tittered, her voice even more shrill than normal. She glanced over to the office of Peter Courtney himself, and then smiled at me sympathetically. “He’s asked to speak to you.”

My heart sank. “Fuck,” I muttered, running a hand through my hair and trying to recall any sackable offence I may have committed recently. I’m not a saint, but I couldn’t think of anything I’d done, except maybe using the work fridge to store my tanning potion- Mark says it makes our fridge smell funny.

“It might be something good!” Janelle suggested hopefully. 

“Oh yeah,” I scoffed, “and I hear the Pope’s a jew.” 

Janelle didn’t laugh, but she did shoot me a final hopeful smile that turned into more of a grimace. I shrugged off my coat, and hung it up with my handbag on the pegs next to Janelle’s desk. Preparing myself with a deep breath, I approached the office door and knocked tentatively. I felt like a naughty school girl, about to get told off for sticking chewing gum under the desks or being caught in another house’s common room. 

“Come in,” a voice called from inside so I did, trying to look like an reliable and pleasant employee. 

“Ah, Isadora,” Peter said, as if he didn’t expect to see me. Maybe he thought that I’d hear his request to see me and run a mile in the opposite direction. No such luck, Pete. “How are you doing?”

Fantastic, I love the sense of feeling like I’m literally about to crap my pants. You? “Fine thanks,” I said, steadying my voice. 

“Good, good.” He drew out the words carefully and walked round to the front of his desk. For a pretty important guy, he honestly couldn’t look more dull. He had his thick rimmed glasses on and what’s left of his thinning hair was pulled over his scalp. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily.

“Look, Isadora,” he began. ‘Look’ is never the start to a positive sentence and I started to think that maybe it would have been better to just walk back out of the office blocks, back to the tube station and crawl back into bed. That, or I could have just thrown myself into the Thames. “Why don’t you take a seat?”

I obliged, slumping down into one of the chairs near where he was standing in front of his desk. I gripped the underneath of the seat tightly, squeezing out all the tension in my body. “It’s no secret that the company’s facing a difficult time at the moment. And, while we value you as a worker, I’m afraid that there’s just not enough work for you anymore.” I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. All of the breath was knocked out of me.

“Right,” I choked, trying not to let on how much I was struggling to breathe. It was the only thing I could think of to say. The rest of the meeting is rather a blur. I think he said something about a reference, a recommending me for a position somewhere else. 

“Look, Isadora,” he said, again with the ‘Look’. “I’m sorry, I truly am.” He did look pretty distressed and I actually felt a bit sorry for the bloke, despite the fact that he was currently tearing down my perfectly constructed entrance to adulthood. 

“I understand,” I said, which was true. The concept of being fired isn’t too hard to grasp; he needn’t have used so many words. A simple ‘You’re gone, love’ probably would have had a similar effect. 

“You’ll be paid your wages for the next month, of course,” he said. “But we see no reason for you to continue you work.”

“So… that’s it then?” The finality of it hit me and I blinked back the tears stinging my eyes. I didn’t want to make the situation any more awkward than it already was, and Peter Courtney doesn’t really seem like the type of guy who would make much of a girl having an emotional breakdown in his office.

“I’m afraid so.” 

“Right.”

 

Half an hour later, I was sitting on the tube again, struggling with a cardboard box containing the few things which I’d brought for my office. A potted plant that I’m not entirely sure was real- I can’t remember the last time I watered the thing, a wooden hippogriff whose head wobbled about while I typed, and some framed pictures of me and my friends and of me and Mark. 

When someone’s sitting on public transport outside of peak time, carrying a box of office decorations, with some remnants of mascara tracks on their face, you don’t need three tries to guess what’s happened. I had to endure the sympathetic glances of strangers the whole ride home, and hey- you can’t spell sympathetic without pathetic. 

And I felt pathetic. It wasn’t that I particularly loved the job, but I more loved what it represented. It was my way of saying ‘Haha, Amy. I took Divination NEWT and I still got the same starting salary as you.’ I didn’t want to contemplate telling Amy or my mum; I know their faces will be even more tragic than those of the strangers on the tube. I was trying to hold myself together, with as much dignity as was possible in that situation until I could get home to Mark. I wanted to get to my flat, take these stupid heeled shoes off and crawl into bed with him. I tried calling him (it’s so much easier than owls) when I left the office but his phone rang out. I supposed he was working. 

By the time I’d struggled off the tube, through the station and all the way back to the flat, I was exhausted. Frankly, I was disappointed that none of my sympathetic onlookers offered to help me, I was at least hoping to profit a little off my misery- stupid muggles. I went into the lobby and cranked myself up for the arduous task of lugging this box up the stairs. Then one of my neighbours, Mrs Priestly, came in through the door and began walking up the stairs next to me.

Fantastic.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s a nice enough lady but at that moment I seriously didn’t have the patience to deal with her. She’s about sixty, a muggle, and only seems to dress in shades of brown and beige. She calls herself Mrs Priestly, but I don’t think she was ever actually married, or if she was, he’s long gone. Lucky bastard. She seems to take more pleasure in gossiping about anything and everything than men. 

“… so I said to her, I says, ‘Jackie, if you’re not going to invite Cynthia to your husband’s funeral, then I don’t think I’ll be coming either.’ and she says, ‘Suit yourself then!’ Can you believe it?”

When I didn’t respond she looked at me inquisitively. Then, she seemed to take in the box and my glum expression and her mouth made a little ‘o’ shape. “Bad day, love?” she asked. 

“Something like that,” I muttered, coming to a stop since we’d reached my floor. I didn’t go into any more detail as I’m not sure I want to be the next person she gossips about on the stairs. 

“It could be worse, love,” she told me, as she headed up the next flight of stairs. “You could be Jackie!” But I wasn’t listening anymore. I was fumbling around in my bag for my house-key, trying not to drop the blasted box of gloom. 

When I finally got the door open and stepped inside, I saw my friend, Ella, standing in my kitchen. Confused, I put down my bag and the box and stepped towards her. 

“What are you doing here?” I asked, she looked caught off-guard and took a second to answer. It wasn’t that unusual to see her there as she’s over a lot, but not in the middle of the day. 

“Eh… I was just- borrowing a CD,” she spluttered, gesturing wildly to Mark’s extensive CD collection in a dresser separating the kitchen from the living room. 

“Okay,” I said, walking forward to help her pick one out. “A particular CD or?”

Ella looked panicked, her big brown eyes wide. We’ve been friends since I was doing post-school training because she was going out with my flat-mate, Chris, for a while. She’s not exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree but she’s sweet and always a good laugh.

She was just about to start looking for a CD when a voice called out from the bedroom, “Come on, Els, you gonna leave me waiting with this boner all day? I’ve only got the place to myself for another couple of hours.” 

Well, Ella’s a good laugh most of the time. 

*

“And that, Albus dear, is why I find myself currently on this train to Penzance without a clue as to what I’m doing,” I conclude. Al’s face is contorted in horror. Then he just looks confused.

“But why here?” he asks, looking around the packed train carriage, as if that will provide any explanation. 

Good question. “I don’t know,” I say honestly with a slight shrug. “When I heard Mark, I just turned around, grabbed my bag and started walking.” Both him and Ella had called after me and followed me out of the flat, but frankly I didn’t want to hear anything they had to say. “I ended up at King’s Cross and got on the third train out of there.” 

“Three your lucky number?” Al asks, raising an eyebrow.

I laugh. “No, though that would be a better story.” He still looks confused. “The first train was to Edinburgh- I can’t stand the cold. And the second was to Paris, even I’m not that dramatic.” Although I wouldn’t put running away internationally past me. 

Al laughs and shakes his head. “You really are something, Isadora Fletcher.”

“Something? And all this time I just thought I was a floating spirit.”

“Well, technically,” he laughs, “that would be still be something. Just less-,” he wrinkles his nose “-substantial.” 

I smile and then sigh deeply. Now that I’ve said it all out loud, it sounds a lot crazier. In the space of six hours, I’ve lost everything. And now I’m speeding through the English countryside with less than thirty quid in muggle money in my pocket, a phone whose battery is probably dying and nowhere to go.

I suppose I always thought that if things went this badly wrong, the world would just stop. How can you lose everything and have to carry on? How do you even go about carrying on? 

Al seems to have read my expression. “You okay?” he asks tentatively, twisting himself round to face me fully.

I smirk and lean my head back on the seat. The vibrations of the train rattling on make it jolt up and down and my voice comes out shakily. “I’m really not sure.”

“I can’t quite tope your day of shite,” Al says, “but I can offer up a story that might have some condolence.”

“I’m all ears.”

“My fiancé dumped me this morning.”

“Shit.”

“My sentiments exactly. And we’d only been going out for a few months. And we’d only been engaged for a week. And we were supposed to be going to visit my family now.”

“Double shit.”

“Tell me about it,” he sighs, his lip twitching slightly. “I just don’t know what to do. My parents were giving me grief about getting engaged so quickly- I hadn’t actually told them about Emily, that’s her name, until we were engaged. It was all just a bit whirlwind, you know?” I don’t but I nod anyway. “And now we were all supposed to be going on this retreat together but I didn’t know how to tell them that I’d well…”

“Been dumped?” I prompt. Al doesn’t look like he appreciates it very much.

“Right. So now everyone is going to a spa week in Penzance with my new fiancé.”

“Sans fiancé,” I suggest. Al sighs again miserably. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. I just don’t know what to do,” he says. “But, condoled?”

 “Very much so.” We both sit in silence for a few minutes, contemplating our shit situations. The baby in the pushchair starts to cry and I can’t help but think that it’s unfair. What does the baby have to cry about, anyway? 

“Relationships suck,” Al says flatly.

“Amen.” And then something occurs to me. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing and Al may well just get up and walk away from me but… “Hey Albus?”

He turns and looks at me, thoroughly confused as to why I’m addressing him like we haven’t been talking for the past half-hour. “Isadora?”

“You said your family hadn’t actually met your fiancé yet?” He’s not catching on. “Well, have they seen a picture?”

“No,”  Al says slowly, still perplexed.

“Did you tell them that her name’s Esme?”

“Emily,” he corrects.

“Emily, whatever,” I say. “Do they know that’s her name?”

“I put it in the letter, I think, yeah. Who doesn’t tell their parents their fiance’s na-“

“Reckon we could pass it off that they read your terrible handwriting as that really saying Issy?”

“I don’t have terrible…” he trails off as he realises what I’m suggesting. He furrows his brow and gives me a strange look. Brilliant, I’ve officially lost the plot. 

Al will just get up and run down the train carriage away from this crazy girl (me). We’ll get to Penzance and he’ll go off with his lovely, famous family who will be supportive and sympathetic because his fiancé’s left him and then they’ll all have a good laugh about crazy old Isadora. Meanwhile, I’ll run out of money pretty quickly and be reduced to begging outside a Waitrose until I start to smell and then they’ll kick me out and I’ll have to go and beg outside Aldi instead. 

“Issy- you okay?” Al asks, concerned that I’ve been staring into space for the last two minutes, imagining my future as Batty Beggar Isadora. 

“Eh- yeah,” I say, blinking hard coming back to my senses. Or, as much as I can do on a day like today. “So,  what do you think?”

Al looks at me steadily. “I think,” he says, “that you’re actual mental.” Oh god, here we go. Better find a hat for the nice people at Waitrose/Aldi to throw their coins into. “But it could actually work.” Al is officially as mentally unstable as me. “And, I guess it would sort both our problems out.”

“Right? And then after this week, you can just leave it a while and then tell them that you called off the engagement.” Al’s nodding in agreement with me. 

“I like it,” he says, and I’m not quite sure whether he’s saying it to me, or trying to convince himself of it. 

“Well, you know what we have to do now,” I tell him, and he looks blankly at me, “construct a fake relationship.”





A/N- If you've got this far, thanks for reading! This is something I've been playing around with. Fair warning- I haven't written properly for years so apologies for any sloppiness! 

I love reviews & feeback! 

-Alice

Edited 8/01/18


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