Chapter 3 : Three.
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“Was it completely dreadful?” Alice asked as she flopped carelessly across the end of Madeline’s bed. “It was, wasn’t it? Because you’ve been avoiding it.”
“Why don’t I know more then? I should know more, if you aren’t avoiding. Which you aren’t, apparently.”
“You’d know more if I knew less about your week at your Gran’s,” Madeline retorted, her nose scrunching with distaste. “I feel as though I was there! Your descriptive skills really are brill, by the way, if someone offered me a bowl of porridge just now I think they’d end up wearing it!”
“My pronunciation has definitely improved too,” Alice added, each word perfectly articulated, her nose jutted in the air. And no matter how silly it was, Madeline found herself amidst an outburst of mad laughter.
Moments later, their amusement slowly subsided, and Alice lazily rolled her head across the duvet, fixing her dancing eyes on Madeline’s. The expression on the girl’s glowing face quickly stomped down the stray giggles in Madeline’s throat. Leaving only a reluctant shadow of themselves in her thoughts. It could only mean one thing.
“So...did you meet anyone?”
Yes. That was it. A mocking tradition between the two that had never before achieved an ounce of gossip from either participant. Now though, the implications of such a question could not be overlooked in anything resembling innocence and Madeline wasn’t at all sure as to how she could even begin to try. She swallowed thickly, her thoughts twisting rather horribly as she tried to recall how she had intended to tell Alice. Elliot was hardly a secret, or particularly incriminating, and yet there seemed to be a dreadful sort of validity at the possible mention of his name.
“Maddy!” Alice exclaimed triumphantly, shooting upright to watch Madeline with an uncomfortable intentness.
Madeline groaned, “I can’t believe you’d sink so low.”
“I know, but-Mads-”
"You want news on the Prince front?” Alice nodded, immediately rearranging herself into an appropriate position for whatever declaration of love she seemed sure Madeline was about to utter. She fancied she had peeked into her own romance novel, or one in which she starred in a supporting role-at the least, and felt quite profoundly that she needed details to properly fulfil her part.
“No,” Madeline managed weakly, having a small idea of Alice’s attachment to the idea of one of them getting whisked away by some ridiculous loverboy. “Long story short. No. No princes for the likes of you or me.”
“Or I,” Alice corrected absently. Madeline narrowed her eyes, grasping hopelessly at a chance to prod their conversation into something easier to navigate.
“How long do you think it’ll take for that bosh to rub off?” she asked, her tone scrumptiously flat with feigned disinterest.
“A week, tops...” Alice brushed the possible topic change aside with a wave of her hand, a small twitch at her lips indicating that she knew all to well what Madeline had fancied. “What about a handsome stable boy, or something?”
“I did find a jester,” admitted Madeline, with heavy resignation. It was the closest thing to honesty she could manage, and she could only just envisage Alice accepting it. “While I was sitting in a puddle.”
Alice smirked, “You met him in a puddle? Were you both, er-”
“No.” Madeline bit her lip, feeling an uncomfortable swell of desperateness. She couldn’t understand why her mouth had felt it necessary to add such an unimportant detail. A detail that was now undo-able. “That was just me-”
“Right,” Alice giggled, her gleaming eyes dancing across Madeline’s tinged cheeks. “And he’s a...?”
“A-a coffee making jester, I suppose.”
“Oooh, I’m not saying no...”
“I never said you could have him!” Madeline exclaimed, perturbed by her friend’s playful tone.
“You never mentioned you wanted him.”
Madeline inhaled sharply, “That’s because I didn’t. I don’t!”
And she watched on, horrified, as Alice’s lips curled into a mischievous smile, “Can I have him? You drink tea, anyway.”
Alice giggled, her blonde hair falling to hide her gleeful face as she crawled over to Madeline and sank wearily onto the pillow at her side, still wracked with laughter. “No!” She gave a small squeak and lapsed entirely into her mirth. Madeline felt her entire person relax gratefully as the awkward topic faded into a rather delighting tangent.
“I’ve missed you insanely,” Madeline gasped finally through her own laughter, burying her face in Alice’s neck. “A week is never just a week.”
“You needn’t tell me twice! Thank Merlin we’re back.” Alice sighed contentedly as the lights finally dimmed around them, “I honestly thought it’d never end.”
Madeline gave a vague nod, biting her lip as she stared into the spreading darkness. It was over. Or at least, it would be, if she could persuade her thoughts to avoid the past week entirely. Her mind seemed obsessed though, and as much as she insisted on denying it, Elliot appeared to be the central pivot to the entire mess. A guarantee. His guarantee. His guarantee had ruined the anonymity factor Madeline had so desperately wanted.
And as much as she had hoped to forget the confusing, otherworldly glimpse, one sentence had tied her world to it with a maddening knot. It wasn’t even a glimpse anymore, having somehow managed to become a solid part in the usually elusive whole. Madeline sighed, closing her eyes against the room in hope of an emptier darkness.
“Greyble, sweetie? Promise you’ll tell me when you’re ready,” Alice murmured into the night, her voice sounding strangely sombre. And Madeline knew Elliot and his accursed strings were no longer the topic of conversation. She relaxed, marvelling at the noticeable difference with her breath.
“I can’t go back,” she whispered, the words slipping from her tongue. Until now, her father had never been more than a fragemnt of her mother's stories, and that was where he would continue to remain; for the self preservation of them all.
“I know. You don’t have to. We’ll make sure you don’t. They were mad for making you go.”
Madeline eyed the parchment before her rather despairingly, one sleeve-covered hand dabbing at a particularly large inky splotch. It was one of many, and her half-hearted attempt to right the mess only made it more profound. With a sigh she pushed the offending ink bottle away and turned dark eyes to the front of the class, her lips pursing as she watched Slughorn enter her vision and resume his usual trot back and forth. Her gaze narrowed slightly, locking onto his notably over-proportioned middle.
“I can’t stand him waving that thing around near me!”
Beside her, Alice let out a small hiss of laughter, losing control of the mirth she had so far contained. Madeline refused to look at her, slouching over and pressing her forehead to the table so her friend’s shaking profile was hidden from her line of view. Disturbingly enough though, she could still sense it, which did nothing to help her.
“The way you kept swerving!”
“What was I supposed to do? Let his ravenous torso devour me while you two twittered on like a-” Madeline raised her head to stared at Alice, who tried her best to keep a straight face. “You twat!”
“Talking to Sluggy was worth it just to see you.” Alice proceeded to-in Madeline’s opinion-exaggerate her albeit frantic attempts to avoid the mighty fearful Belly Bump.
“Merlin knows why I actually missed this...”
“Because families are completely buggy, and now, I’m the best you’ve got. Sad, isn’t it?” Alice grinned cheekily, purposefully bumping into Madeline as they scrambled to their feet and joined the awkward crush of students now inching towards the door. She nudged Madeline, leaning towards her to save from shouting, “Dorm first, I want another layer if you insist on dragging me out.”
And the dorm it remained for a quite a period, for the girls could never quite agree on their method of general appearance, or improve their time management as an inclusive duo. One was perfectly content with leaving their sanctuary looking a mess, but only a tad late. Although, admittedly, she always regretted it on any later glimpse of her reflection. And the other could rarely will herself to venture anywhere if things weren’t up to her expectation. Late or wickedly so, it didn’t matter, and she was constantly forced to deal with the consequences.
Most decidedly the former, Madeline stared blankly at the warm sea of bed canopy above her, showing little care for the tendrils of hair obscuring her features. Her head was otherwise occupied as it absentmindedly followed the scattered song Alice offered as she hurried around their dormroom searching for her favourite jumper. Madeline sighed as the latest snatch of humming stopped, idly pushing her hair aside as she propped herself up on her elbows.
“Come on then,” Alice commented finally, holding the door open with her back as she plucked lint from her gloves. “And wear a scarf. You’ll catch a cold.” Madeline rolled her eyes, plucking a colourful woollen mess from the floor as she followed her friend from the fifth year dormitory, bag and books in tow.
“How about...” Alice paused thoughtfully, slipping her arm through Madeline’s. “‘The alignment between Jupiter and Mars results in an unintentional slip, revealing deep subconscious feelings.’”
“A bit Freudian, don’t you think?”
“Why? Is your head doing that horrible madly in love bullshit, where everything seems to relate back to your Jester God and his knob?”
“Your head’s the one doing all this relating. And when did he reach god status? What in Merlin’s name is your head doing?” Madeline demanded, turning to stare at Alice in alarm. “We’ve got no solid proof the little blighter even has a knob, so you shouldn’t get too mad about it.”
“We both know he does, Grey,” Alice stated, causing Madeline’s insides to twist about maniacally. It was far from being a pleasant sensation, and she struggled to confine her reaction to a small grimace.
“In all your fantasies, maybe.”
“Would it make you feel any better about it if I told you it’s always you I picture with him?”
“Um,” Madeline ran a pathetic, searching hand through her hair, but failed to find any sort of sensible answer. It was hardly a sensible question to begin with, to her reasoning, so to find the appropriate answer would have been somewhat miraculous. Thankfully, Alice seemed to have accepted the accidentally rhetorical nature of her own question.
“Right. I mean, it’s never anything-”
“Alice!” Madeline yelped, finally snapping under the swell of urgency to stop the conversation before it even hinted at going any further. “I don’t want to know, honestly. I really don’t. He’s-he’s not a god-nowhere near it, so don’t say he is. You’ll just-”
“Call him that until you give me something better.”
“You don’t need anything better.” Madeline stressed, or implored, she wasn’t entirely sure which and failed to care enough to actually mind. “Because we’re going to stop this, because it’s ridiculous.”
“We’re ridiculous. So it shouldn’t matter.” Alice gave a cheerful shiver as they stepped out of doors. Madeline merely sighed, because as hopeful as a small, small part of her felt, she knew all too well that Alice was nowhere near permitting some sort of closure. “Refusing to say his name isn’t going to make him disappear. And you musn’t want him to if you’re so insistent on keeping him all...”
“I’m not keeping him anything. Stop making it something, I don’t know how to even go about explaining how it just so isn’t what you think it is. Was. His name doesn’t matter. Since when does an indiscriminate Muggle’s name mean tosh?”
“Since it got so impossible to say.” Alice crossed her arms, her eyes daring Madeline into action.
“You’re completely obsessed.”
“Me?” she asked, shaking her blonde head as she glanced across at Madeline with a toothy grin. “Well. Maybe a bit. But I have no idea how you expect me not to be.”
“You could always try,” Madeline suggested teasingly, inwardly heartened as she flicked her gaze skyward and dove into the sun’s warmth with a beaming countenance. Alice was letting up, and it was wonderful. Completely wonderful. She bit her lip, pondering momentarily as to whether or not some strange variety of delirium was setting in.
“Just give me a name,” whined Alice.
“Jeffrey.” Madeline fought to hide her amusement, a small snicker escaping as Alice rounded on her.
“But that’s not his! I know it’s not, Grey.”
“It might be.” She teased,
“Jeffrey?” Alice laughed, “Please! He isn’t a Jeffrey. He can’t be.”
“You’ve been researching, or something?”
“Well...” Madeline turned to stare as Alice pulled a face, “I had to, a bit. Obviously.” She reached into her bag and shuffled about for a minute, finally tugging out an achingly familiar sketch pad. Madeline watched on with wide eyes as she flipped knowledgeably past page after page, finally stopping, her finger tapping pointedly at Mrs. Woolsey. Or the unfinished figure standing to her left, maybe, Madeline allowed. “And that-that-is not a Jeffrey. If that’s a Jeffrey, I’ll have to rethink my entire life philosophy. Start looking for a future husband called Gavin...”
Madeline ginned, shaking her head as she dropped her things and sank onto the cold grass. Alice willingly sprawled at her side, smacking a heavy potions textbook atop the unwelcome sketchbook, hiding its presence from Madeline’s view. And despite the lingering image still in her mind, she was inwardly thrilled at the strange lack of realism she saw in it. It wasn’t real anymore. And as far as she knew, it never really had been. Thank Merlin, because things would be much worse if they were. Real meant it mattered, and Alice was daydreaming, caught up in a non-existent novel with a cheesy, unreal plot.
The next morning firmly assured Madeline that life had resumed its normal, hectic state. She entered the Great Hall at a run, a few paces behind an almost equally late Alice. The dreadful knowledge that breakfast was almost over was playing through her head as she side-stepped students with frantic haste. It seemed almost unfathomable that ten minutes earlier, she had been in her bed, blissfully unaware of where she would soon find herself. But beyond caring, she was intent on very little aside the process of acquiring a cup of tea. Indeed, as usual, it had taken absolute priority over her appearance--a fact that was yet to register among her jumbled, single-tracked thoughts.
In an instant, Madeline’s mind was involuntarily cleared as she slammed solidly into an annoyingly sturdy student, and consequently found herself ricocheted backwards onto the cold stone floor. She submitted silently to the helpful hand that entered her vision, allowing it to pull her to her feet. A few incoherently issued mumblings left her mouth before she silenced it, her hand tugging fruitlessly at her twisted skirt.
“Alice?” Madeline called, somewhat desperate, as her eyes locked upon own her untied shoes. Alice span around in her newly acquired seat at the Hufflepuff table, her sigh winning Madeline’s gaze for a moment. She was comfortingly close, and seemed all too groomed given their mad rush around the dorm.
“Just say you’re sorry and we’ll sort you out," Alice prompted, reading her friend's hopelessness. "I’ll try and fix your hair-”
“My hair?” Madeline repeated softly, a reluctant hand rising to inspect it. She winced at the messy attempt to tie it back, unable to remember ever actually doing it. “Oh piss it!”
“Grey!” Alice stressed, forcing Madeline to concentrate on managing an escape with some form of politeness. She gave a small, jerking nod, and proceeded to tear her eyes from the still-waiting, foreign shoes before her own. Her gaze slid quickly across the owner’s Gryffindor robes to meet his face, impatient to flee the result of her own clumsiness.
“Bloody hell.” Madeline’s eyes widened as every brief unsentimental excuse she had vaguely envisioned herself offering evilly evaded her tongue.
“Morning, love,” Elliot greeted, his features generally unreadable to Madeline’s shocked senses. His eyes held their familiar amusement though, and she quickly retracted her own, refusing to give him the benefit. She made a small chocked sound but achieved nothing more, so Elliot continued, cautiously reaching a hand to smooth a hair straying from her string tie. “It doesn’t look that bad.”
“No,” Madeline managed firmly, shaking her head as she took a step backwards. “No you don’t, you-No! You're a Muggle.” Swiftly, she turned and stalked over to Alice, taking a moment to persuade her knees to bend before collapsing awkwardly beside her.
“I’ll see you later, then,” Elliot called after her, his voice retaining its usual ease. I’ll see you. I’ll see you later. I guarantee. I guarantee I’ll see you later.
Madeline sank in her seat, her head stopping with a small thunk as it touched the tabletop. “Stupid sodding fucker,” she groaned, lifting her head and dropping it repeatedly against the wood. "The liar!"
“You’re a complete loon! What the dixy was that?” Alice laughed. She sat a cup of tea in front of Madeline, untying the string that held her hair and carefully combing it with her fingers.
“That was-” Madeline stopped herself, “It was...I really don’t know Alice.”
“He’s a seventh year, isn’t he?”
“Alice! I crashed into the guy, I didn’t get time to read his sodding autobiography!”
“Merlin! I didn’t mean to get your knickers twisted.” Alice raised an eyebrow, but seemed in somewhat of a hurry to change the topic. She transfigured the yarn into a silky ribbon and used it to fix Madeline’s hair into a more acceptable arrangement. “Have your tea, quickly. Class’ll be starting in a minute.”
Madeline wrapped her hands around her cup and took a small, tentative sip of the tea she had so completely desired. But she found herself setting it down again, sickened by the thought of her own churning stomach. Nevertheless she felt a tad more grounded, getting to her feet and offering Alice her hand.
“You’re a mess,” Alice snickered, wolfing down her last bit of toast and ridding herself of crumbs. Madeline sighed as she took note of her still-crooked skirt, her awkwardly buttoned shirt and tie, which dangled loosely from her upright collar. She was a complete mess. Part of an unfathomable mess. Muggles had become Wizards and worlds had collided. But Madeline too preoccupied to dwell on it as she trailed along behind Alice, trying to fix her buttons.
“I can’t believe you let me out like this,” she muttered as they squeezed through the classroom door side-by-side.
“Stop complaining,” said Alice as she dropped into a vacant seat, leaning over towards Madeline with a secretive manner, “You’re not wearing yesterday’s knickers.”
Madeline laughed, “Thank Merlin. At least no one else can tell.”
“I can,” Alice growled, “And now you can. They’ll all catch on soon enough.”
“The rest of you is positively squeaky.” Madeline assured.
“And your hair looks lovely.” Alice giggled, completely aware of her own self-compliment. Her eyes glinted, and it seemed clear she had discovered a new tangent. “Anyway...” She trailed off hopefully, and Madeline chose to ignore her effort completely, tapping her fingers with thinly veiled restlessness.
“So...?” Alice tried again a few minutes later, her hand firmly pinning Madeline’s to the table to silence the small, incessant beat.
“Later Alice,” stressed Madeline, as she struggled slow her thoughts to a speed better suited to talking. Words she much prefered to think rather than speak seemed rather too close to her tounge, adding an awful sort of trepidation to the mix. “I’ll tell you later, once I know what to say.”
“If you’d read his autobiography, you’d be able to use direct quotes.”
Madeline groaned, “Use your imagination.” Alice had no way of knowing that Elliot wasn’t the sort to offer his particulars around in an easily accessed tale, she had no way to understand who he was-or if she had ever almost begun to know him at all. But worst of all, he still knew her, and Madeline hated to realise it. Things had grown all the more unequal. And it had been lopsided enough at the start.
It wasn’t until half-past one that Madeline finally agreed to break her twitching silence, grabbing Alice’s hand and towing her into an empty corridor. She paced it’s width for a moment, before turning with a snap to face her friend, indicating with an uneasy motion that Alice could go ahead with the barrage she was so obviously trying to contain.
But Alice seemed determined to control herself, letting out a hiss of breath as she stared at Madeline. “Tell me now. Tell me everything.”
“Who’s here? Oh Merlin! The Jester?”
“Elliot,” Madeline gulped, dismayed by the odd sound of it actually being spoken. She didn’t see the point of hiding it though, not anymore. Not if he was going to be making regular appearances during mealtimes-or whatever it was he planned. “His name is Elliot. But don’t dare call him that. You musn’t.”
Alice gave a small, reluctant nod. “What’s he doing here?”
“Learning I suppose,” Madeline answered flatly, suddenly throwing her arms up with frustration as her mind flicked over the entire situation. “Being a cheesy, self-assured, lying little bastard. He guarantees my arse!”
“I don’t think I want to. I can’t even begin to-He gets me! He was there, and all I wanted was you-and Ma! My father was everything she ever said he was-I couldn’t stand it. I had to talk to something! I’d have settled for a potted plant or something if it seemed agreeable enough-didn’t ask too many questions. Questions only make it worse. And he knew, of course he knew. He just does, Alice. He was the best anything I had, and he knew. It amused him. Bloody hell! I amuse him!”
“You aren’t the slightest bit happy he’s here?”
“Of course I’m not! He understands me for Merlin’s sake.” Madeline ran a defeated hand through her hair, feeling a hopeless uneasiness spreading through her previous indignation.
“Grey, honey, you still aren’t using your lungs quite as much as you should be. I know you’ll feel better with a bit more oxygen-this’ll all seem better.” Alice watched Madeline for a moment, and seemed to decide she wasn’t going to interrupt. “It isn’t exactly a problem. If I had a sexy little monkey that understood me, I’d hardly see it as a problem. I’m entirely willing go and sit in a puddle if that’s what a wet arse’ll get me. Why is it a problem? I mean-I know you too, and I get why. But honestly! Why?”
“Because he’s here!” Madeline cried, barely willing to believe Alice had actually said such things. “It was okay when I knew he’d just be there. It didn’t matter then. Because when he was just there he couldn’t cause any harm. But he isn’t. And he can.” She stopped abruptly, her mouth uncomfortably dry. “And I don’t know him. I don’t think I did then, and I certainly don’t now.”
“I think you’re mad-that’s not capitalised at all by the way. I mean nutty. Completely nutty.”
“He was meant to be getting fuzzy!” Madeline blurted, digging desperately through her thoughts to find some other manner of explanation. As yet, Alice clearly wasn’t grasping it. “He’s meant to be back there and he’s meant to be fuzzy!”
“He was hardly getting fuzzy, Grey.” Alice’s eyebrow quirked upwards, but she wilfully forced it down. She knew now wasn't the time.
“But he would have. If he hadn’t gone and-” Madeline waved a helpless hand around, “shown up. Which, might I add, was obviously by accident. He didn’t want to. He could of found me, if he'd wanted to; he obviously knew. And what if he never gets fuzzy? What if it does all means absolutely nothing, and he never gets fuzzy? How is that not a problem?”
“It just isn’t. Because you’re reading too much into it-when did you end up so obnoxiously pessimistic anyway? You’ll see what a tosser you’re being once you two are married with lots of ickle yous running around being completely adorable.”
“You really aren’t helping, to be completely honest.” She watched as Alice leaned against the wall; her horrid merry eyes closed briefly in thought. Madeline wasn’t all that sure that letting Alice think was the best idea for the time being, not if weddings and children were casually willing to slip from her tounge. But the blonde snapped her eyes open just as Madeline reached her conclusion. Too late. Too sodding late.
“At breakfast. That was him, wasn’t it? You went all twitchy.” Madeline sighed as Alice’s features broke into a triumphant grin. "He's nice and tall, isn't he?" Madeline saggily dropped herself to the stone floor, propping her back against the wall by Alice’s feet. Lying seemed rather wonderfully tempting, although, Madeline supposed it would be somewhat transparent if she were to start now.
“I don’t agree with your terminology. I didn’t go ‘twitchy’. I don’t go twitchy.”
“You’re arguing the wrong point, completely. So I’ll happily take that as a yes. You can’t avoid him forever though, Mad. And if you’re completely set on it, you have to at least let him know that you’re planning to avoid speaking to him ever again. Looking too, I suppose,” Alice frowned. “Why in Merlin’s name would you want to? He was alright. Looked quite alright, your Jester did. You should be jumping him, if anything.”
“He’s avoided me for an entire week!” Madeline protested, deciding to ignore the specifics of Alice’s comment.
“A few days, and we’ve hardly been easy to find.” Alice said firmly, apparently unmoved by the wretchedly horrid mess. Madeline scrunched her nose, her racing head refusing to act so much as slightly agreeable. Maybe they hadn’t been easy to find. But surely if someone had wanted to, they’d have been quite a way from difficult.
“He’s only here for another year,” she reasoned, “I’ll just wait it out. He’ll graduate-we’re assuming, unless he has shit for brains and...and viola, no more Elliot-Jester-Git to worry about.” As she finished what she had originally intended to be a strong, unyielding statement revolving on insult, she noted to her own dismay it could have just as well ended with a question mark. Her heinous lack of conviction was muffled slightly as her head had quite insistently buried itself in her arms. “Bollocks.”
“So you’ll talk to him then?” Alice murmured softly, sliding down the wall until she landed beside Madeline.
“I suppose I have to.”
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