Chapter 5 : Five.
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Authors Notes. Again with me apologising profusely for taking such a ridiculously long time with this. Life is disgustingly busy, and I get confused with my own relationships so badly that I figure if I write, it'll twist the story falsely. Hope it is genuinely readble anyway. Expect a few typos and irky sentence structure, I'll be coming through to edit as soon as I can. I figured something would be better than the epic nothing I've passed out the last few months. Happy reading everyone! Love to all that have stuck by this story.
In the end, Madeline reflected, it all came down to choice. One way or another, everything did. Life depended entirely on decisions, whether they were the glaringly obvious kind, or the sort that seemed so insignificant they failed to get a single thought let alone a second. Whichever way they presented themselves, each had a similar nature of disastrous possibility. A decision was a decision, and once it was made, another would have to follow it to undo the path that led on from it. And even then, it was never really undoing anything, just sort of trying to lap back to the place things went wrong, adorned with stains from the mess that had already been made in a way that meant it was impossible to forget even after it had been left behind. Messy.
“You look completely awful, Grey.”
Madeline threw Alice a blank look, her usually expressive eyes now shining with a dimmed look of frazzled hopelessness. Alice managed to catch and hold her attention for a moment, and Madeline felt quite compelled to say something, to say anything that might help her friend to understand. She wanted out of her own head. But there weren’t any words to say that with the right sort of inflection, so she dismissed it, biting down on her lip as she turned away and continued to pull apart her breakfast; bit by small, uneaten bit. She didn’t say a word more, sinking away from Alice’s momentary clutch and back into her own gloomy oblivion.
Elliot. She was eating herself up because of Elliot. Because she still had a choice, because there was always a choice. She could still tell him she had never meant to nod, tell him she’d never meant to agree to whatever it was exactly she had. Or maybe, if she was feeling especially brave, that she had never intended to know anything more of him after she’d climbed free of the puddle and dried her clothes. Her brow wrinkled slightly, and her fingers grew more frantic in their movements; her breakfast now in ruins.
“Just eat it.” Alice sighed softly, “It’s all...bite-sized now anyway.”
“In a minute, Alice,” Madeline murmured absently, forcing herself to seem entirely focused on the remaining un-torn portion. In reality, she barely saw it.
“Well then, if you’re going to keep thinking about it so much. I think I’m perfectly justified to talk about it-”
“I’m not thinking about it, and you can ponce around with it as long as you like and all I’ll be able to say is-”
“You don’t know,” Alice finished, rolling her eyes as she slouched over her own breakfast, propping her chin on her hand. “If you don’t give me a smidge of something, I’ll use my imagination.”
“Bloody hell, you’re awful.”
“Me? You didn’t come back to find me: awful. And then you had the hide to fall asleep before I found you!”
“Awful again, right?”
“Just why were you so tired, huh, Grey?” Alice continued on her rampage, eyes glinting and mouth possessed with a twitching curve. “Don’t tell me the Lovely Jester does have a knob, and you aren’t half as opposed to it as you were a few days ago...” Madeline paled at Alice’s teasing eyebrow and quickly abandoned her breakfast with a single jerking movement, pushing the plate away with a look of distaste. But the girl ignored Madeline’s changing expression completely, charging forwards with a fresh onslaught. “You’re not half as angry as you usually are when you’re thinking about him, but I can tell you still are. It’s just a different sort of thinking. So either you’re thinking about whether or not it was ridiculously skanky to let him shag you silly like that last night, or you’re thinking you might maybe let him if he tries to again.”
“Alice, stop it-”
“Tell me something I can know then, if my imagination’s just being wanky.”
“I know Hogsmeade is next week. That’s five days from now. If it’s not too windy, maybe we’ll walk. It’s an extra lovely walk, Alice, not too hilly-”
“But maybe-Urgh! Sod it, I do hate maybes! Maybe I’ll twist my ankle. And maybe you’ll have to help me back to the infirmary, and by the time Marchbanks has fixed me up, it’ll be raining. The sort of rain you absolutely refuse to walk in Alice-becasue of what it does to your hair, and maybe by then every last carriage will be gone. And we’ll have absolutely no way to get there. So we’ll stay in the castle and read Udolpho together, near the enchanted window that looks out to our tree.”
“You’d probably do good to go and see Marchbanks right now, Grey, you sodding loon! What in Merlin’s arse are you on about? Trying to prove he’s actually gone and literally shagged your brains out-” Madeline swallowed her nausea and ignored Alice, knowing her friend expected as much; they rarely did any different.
“He told me to meet him in Hogsmeade.” Madeline hurried on anxiously as Alice omitted a gleeful squeak, “I don’t want to. I want to sprain my ankle.” She felt she had managed a nice sort of proper firmness with that statement and paused to chance a glance at her friend, immediately cringing at the glowing expression beaming back at her. “No! Don’t look at me like that! It’s not a date. You’ll be there, and some wanker named Frank-I mean, he might be lovely, but with a name like Frank I can’t help but fancy the guy a complete tw-”
Alice snorted laughter into her teacup as she raised it towards her face. “Wonder if he’s the Longbottom one.”
“Longbottom? Oh, Merlin!” Madeline felt an uncomfortable swell of hysteria in her middle. She supposed she was laughing, but it felt terribly ridiculous. It felt wrong.
“Piss! I bet it is! I suppose we’ll know the minute we see him anyway.”
“Is he that awful?”
“With a name like Longbottom?” Alice asked blithely, suddenly cutting her own snigger off with a small frown. “Erm, I can’t actually remember,” she admitted in undertone, waving a hand dismissively. “You know Gran’s done her best to keep us out of the Pureblood circle for years-But he’s Augusta’s youngest, and Gran swears he’s awful lovely.”
Madeline raised a curious eyebrow as Alice fell into a fresh pool of her own amusement, granted that her own lips curled at the thought of just what Grandmother Prewett would approve of in a fellow their age. Perhaps they’d recognise him for his tweed coat and little cloth cap, who knew with Elliot, after all.
Alice allowed herself yet another hiss of giggles before flicking her attention to Madeline, “Says it’s unfortunate he inherited the Longbottom Ears,” she blurted, a smidge breathless.
“The Longbottom Ears?” Madeline repeated, shaking her head with laughter.
“Ears like you’ve never seen them, Grey,” the blonde managed to sound almost serious, whilst flapping her hands around by her head in imitation. “If it’s him of course.”
“My guess is it will be; only one Frank in 7th and all...” Madeline’s eyes flew to the figure now looming behind her friend, quickly absorbing everything from his waving brown hair to garish Gryffindor robes. Finally she swallowed and dropped her gaze back to Alice, who was trying to communicate something very important with her eyes. Madeline gave a small, wavering nod of her head before taking an uncommon interest in her pancake. She had no plans to willingly converse with Elliot’s Frank. None whatsoever. The fellow didn’t seem to mind though, comfortably sliding himself into a seat beside Alice and propping his elbows on the table as he surveyed her with something verging on amusement, “Cat got your tongue these days, Prewett, or are the Ears just failing me?”
“Maybe I haven’t got anything to say to you, Longbottom,” gritted out Alice, her cheeks inflamed.
“Ouch, try and make me cry next time.”
“Believe me, I’m willing-” Alice’s threat was interrupted by a sneeze on Madeline’s behalf that resembled anything but invisibility. She felt both Alice and Frank direct their attention at her and scrunched her culprit nose from habit.
“Don’t mind me..” She reached for her tea as calmly as she could, offering what she hoped to be an apologetic grin. A minute later and Frank’s eyes were yet to give her peace though, and Madeline felt her breathing alter a little.
“You’ve got to be Madeline then, right?” He said finally, an easy sureness in his voice that she recognised a little from Elliot’s.
“I don’t have to be anything,” she retorted uncomfortably, unsure of what Frank was implying; it almost sounded like an accusation. His head cocked to one side slightly at her response, and her slight annoyance wavered into confusion. There was a strange strength in the way he manoeuvred himself, and it was as though every ounce of his attention had spun to focus on her, thinly veiled behind an easy nonchalance. For a second she was sure his honey eyes had filtered their surrounds away, and she sat before him like an open book, powerless to distract him in anyway. She wondered vaguely if he even saw Alice now, who still sat beside him, muted for reasons of her own.
“Elliot said you’d be missing this,” Frank started, addressing Madeline’s partially bowed head as he shifted in his seat. His strange manner from moments earlier had faded into the testing boy who’d first invited himself to their breakfast and Madeline couldnt help but chance a glance across at him. She was dually fascinated by him, but meeting his eyes seemed a step too close to danger. And Elliot!? What in Merlin’s name did he want from her now that he couldn’t face her himself? A small, lone strain of anger flushed through her, tinged with an ill-placed sense of humiliation.
Frank sighed with an impression of annoyance that she felt sure wasn’t any more than pretence, and she had almost gathered enough courage to properly face the Unfortunately Winged Sod when his hand thrust an achingly familiar bag into her vision. Madeline’s head flew up as her hand grasped at the shabby thing, “Why?” She cringed, barely hoping that he’d understand her meaning.
Yet, Frank seemed to, “He found it. Said you’d rather not see him today-if you could help it, so he asked me to give it to you.”
“Of course he did.”
“Yeah, he said you’d be like that, too.” The boy eyed her searchingly despite his tone, which indicated nothing but the mild amusement he appeared to carry with him as a constant, and Madeline found herself staring back, captured by his continuously contradicting signals. His gaze pierced hers for a second before he visibly withdrew, leaving the empty boyish expression to its own devices. “But you’d rather have your books over detention, right?”
“Right,” Madeline whispered with all the strength she could muster, pulling her eyes from him to save her imagination the difficulty of dealing with the possibilities. Was it simply that there was more to him than met the eye, or an overall dishonesty? They seemed such dizzying opposites, she could decide on neither without feeling completely terrified it was the other.
“Right,” Frank repeated normally, “I suppose I’ll be seeing you on Saturday then. Say around eleven, at the park.” He turned to leave but paused, glancing back, “Prewett, you’d better make sure you wear something nice for our date.”
“It’s not a date-” Alice and Madeline exclaimed in unison.
“Sure it isn’t. Look, just ask someone to help if you can’t manage something decent on your own, alright?” Frank turned and vacated in a smooth movement, leaving the repercussions of his rhetorical question lingering in the air behind him, just as he knew it would-no doubt.
“Real fucking lovely, Gran,” Alice muttered down at her breakfast, her cheeks unnaturally pale. Madeline averted her eyes, gulping her own reaction away. If Elliot was watching, she’d give him nothing more. No more of herself for his game. Not that she understood the rules he followed, or why her life seemed to provide everything he needed regardless of her efforts not to. Of all people to find her bag, it had been him. Why? What was she supposed to do? Madeline wasn’t so sure as to what her choices were anymore. But she still had to make one.
“So, do you want to push me over on Saturday? If it doesn’t look like I’ll fall on my own?”
Alice raised her head, her brow furrowed, “What gives you the idea I’d agree to that, Grey?”
“We’re going through with it, you loon. A git like Longbottom isn’t going to change my mind. I’ll just laugh at his ears if I need something to get me through.”
Madeline giggled despite the growing numbness in her middle, “Don’t say-”
“Don’t tell me you expect me to ignore those things?”
“They aren’t even that bad,” Madeline rolled her eyes without any particular feeling, and barely a second passed before she found herself under Alice’s disbelieving gaze. There was absolutely no hope for her to explain Frank had been blessed with a presence far too great for ears to be much of a hindrance, not when Alice was so determined not to see or admit to such a thing. Madeline gnawed her inner lip for a few brief seconds as she searched the unhelpful image of brownish curls and penetrating eyes in her head to no avail. She simply couldn’t picture a glimpse of ear but really, she didn’t need to admit such a thing openly. So she gave a small, non-incriminating shrug, deciding silently that she would see them eventually, if they had honestly earned themselves a title.
Alice snickered, clearly taking Madeline’s shrug as one of agreement, “Not that bad? If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I just met-”
“Stop it, you wanker! For Merlin’s sake!” Madeline felt a small grin quirk at her mouth as she licked her fingers clean, “Come on, lets just get going.”
“It’s like we’ve got a Moody Spurgeon in our story now too,” Alice snickered again. “No wonder he’s such a twat.”
Madeline struggled to hold herself normally as her throat constricted, slipping free of the bench and straightening out her skirt as she swallowed the questionable half-protest that had seemed willing to sound so natural on her lips. She would create a proper mess by defending him, especially when even now, seconds later, she highly doubted he actually deserved it. He had such a strange air about him and even thinking of it made her dreadfully uncomfortable in her own skin. What conclusions had he reached during their brief encounter to cause him to look at her that way, as though she were something to distrust? Madeline wondered if he’d had them before he’s seen her, because of Elliot. She shut herself off compulsively, refusing to let her thoughts wonder into yet another unanswerable tangent. Worry surged through her nonetheless, What would Elliot say about her?
Determined to stop herself she snatched up her bag, half-registering it didn’t feel quite like she fancied it always did, as though the invisible niche on her shoulder had forgotten the weight and texture of it’s counterpart. That seemed ridiculously silly, but she dismissed it as she linked her arm through Alice’s, deciding that there was little doubt her bag had been returned slightly tainted. How could it not feel different, she mused, glancing over at the Gryffindor table; nothing Elliot touched seemed to feel the same in his wake.
“You really must stop referencing Anne, Alice,” Madeline mumbled, breaking free of her own stupor.
“Whatever, as long as we both know who Gil-”
“Oh! Keep your knickers on, love... Or not, whichever you prefer.”
“Leave my knickers out of this. At least they’re clean.”
“Madskie, play nice, you fool.”
“Because that’s completely lovely.”
Alice rolled her eyes, “Just watch the trick step, fooly. It’s too early to start self harm schemes.”
“Actually, I think I’m just going to do the sensible thing,” Madeline commented, negotiating her way past the stair in question.
“Tell him I never really meant to say yes.”
Alice laughed, “Do you think he’ll listen? Or just do his loverly wink and tell you just how much he wants to talk about your knickers.”
“I’ve decided to owl him, seems nice and safe. And there wont be any knickers,” she added as an afterthought.
“How unclassy of you.”
“My handwriting is atrocious,” nodded Madeline regretfully.
“I meant you not wearing knickers.” Alice laughed, “I mean really, Mads! You want them to have to try a smidge. Why else do you think our deluxe over the shoulder boulder holders have such nifty clasps?”
Madeline groaned and shook her head, “I’m just going to ignore you. Elliot has absolutely nothing to do with my knickers. You have more to do with them than he ever will. But that’s not any reason for you to go about obsessing with them. So here I am Alice. Look at me go. Ignoring you.”
“Look at you go indeed,” Alice snorted. “Still sitting together for Charms though, right?”
Madeline turned to stare at her friend as she adjusted her bag, “Of course.”
The following day had Madeline lapsing into a silence that Alice read as an important sort, rather than an ignoring sort, no matter what her friend claimed it to be. And it was for that reason precisely that Alice watched her friend so closely, her own head stewing with possibilities. She had done her very best to convince Madeline that a letter would do anything but fix an ounce of anything to no avail. Now, one could only hope that Jester Gods knew the art of perseverance, or at least had the manners to be reasonably illiterate. She clicked her tongue as a wrinkled sheet of parchment was smoothed across the wooden desk next her own and finally averted her eyes to the board, figuring at least one of them should scrawl a few notes. She could multitask in the meantime; and pray that everything would work out as splendidly as it should, no matter how much Madeline did to botch it.
The girl in question, personally, had no intention of botching things further. She was tripping back to a little park, where the air lay damp and heavy with rain, and she had the ability to uncomplicate and unruin the muck she was still struggling to get out of. Because Madeline assumed that that was the last point she had decidedly felt she knew what she had wanted. Right there, swinging to and fro with Elliot at her side, completely disconnected from the motion. And despite the fact she now held certain knowledge that would have seemed unfathomable at the time, it seemed safest to stick with that certainty. She’d disappear out of his life, and she’d never have to hear him speak any words of substance. Too late or too soon, it didn’t matter. She didn’t want to hear them. Not now, not ever. That seemed enough.
So she set all other ponderings aside, and tried to scrawl something from the girl she had been, the one lost and alone at her fathers. If that girl felt she could do without Elliot, than surely this current Madeline could. She had her world and Alice, things that promised to stay, and had. For the most part anyway. Her quill scratched thoughtlessly across the page, barely allowing herself time to process thought from thought as she went. It seemed deliciously simple, and Madeline dared not dwell too deeply on it when she finally set her quill aside and stowed the precious letter inside her robes as the bell garishly sounded the end of the lesson.
“What? Already done?” Alice asked, eyebrow arching as she gathered her things up. To be fair, she had expected Madeline take the most part of the morning to compose something suitable. She was almost worried that it hadn’t.
“I-I think so. Just telling him no, it’s not so complicated, is it?”
“Nah. I mean, you’ve managed to do it really well so far, got me in on a double date and everything,” Alice rolled her eyes. “So many wheels in your non-relationship we could transport a small Muggle army.”
Madeline glared at the blonde, “I wish you’d stop calling it that. It’s not a date! It never was. I never said it was.”
“Sure it’s not. ‘Ridiculously dashing Jester God requests the hand of undignified-yet-”
Rising her voice slightly, Alice parried on, “-beautiful maiden to accompany him to the fair village of Hogsmeade for a light luncheon-”
“For Merlin’s sake!”
“-and quick, mid-afternoon romp-”
“Only to find that his dear maiden doth protest too much!’”
“You know, you’re the most irritating wench-”
“Correction, my lovely, I’m the poor tosser hand selected to keep his awful manfriend occupied whist he whispers gooey nothings in your ear. Blokes don’t want their mates witnessing the soppy bits it takes to tip a girl off her feet and onto their laps. It’s the thrusting and stuff that they plaster about. The manly bits.”
“So you distract Frank in the meantime?”
“Mm. Disgusting, isn’t it? The things I’m willing to do for you, and you just throw it all away.”
“Just say ‘thankyou’, Alice. That’d be the appropriate response, wouldn’t it?”
“Hardly. I’m praying to Merlin that your dashing lad suffers from a quick bout of illiteracy.”
“You secretly want to shag Frank.”
“Oh, Gods yes.”
“I knew it,” Madeline giggled.
It wasn’t until the last bell echoed through the castle’s halls that she was finally able to make her way towards the owlrey, where it sat delightfully silhouetted against a sky of smudging primrose and apricot. She inhaled deeply, trailing her hand along the railing as she began the steady increase upwards, towards the casual rustle of feathers and tugging breeze, vaguely noting how uncertain her feet felt upon the rough stone steps. It had never become a common place to her, the rare visits she had made to the open room in the past to owl her mother doing nothing to lesson the odd kind of grandeur it possessed. Genuinely lovely, Madeline mused, watching a lone bird’s shadow disappear between the curving arches. She barely felt the hard edges of the letter press through her pocket, and for a few passing minutes, she climbed with no purpose other than to see the sun set with a suitable sort of rapture.
She darted directly across the room, keeping her footsteps light to save creating a disturbance any greater than necessary and slid herself up onto the open sill that faced the castle. Stretching her legs out before her with an elegance that barely belonged to her, Madeline stared out at the delicious sight, watching with wide eyes as the illuminated castle slowly sunk into a dim, misleading twilight. She guessed that somewhere, by one of the soft, glowing lights she assumed to be the Great Hall, Alice would be waiting. And so, with gentle resignation, she turned to the mission at hand. Soon enough she found an attentive owl, willing to deliver her ill-addressed letter to Elliot Seach, of Gryffindor, presumably no more than a few hundred meters away. It almost seemed silly, but the owl cared less than her, so it barely mattered. And Alice was waiting. She dared not miss another dinner, hungry or not, because she most decidedly wasn't.
Madeline felt as though her soul had lifted as she skirted her way back towards her darlingly impatient friend with a lively, hurried step, disappearing from the darkening owlrey as instantaneously as she had arrived. When she finally slipped into her seat with softly flushed cheeks and dancing eyes, Alice shot her a quick grin, “I’ve got news.”
“Your Jester God can read, apparently.”
Madeline stared at her friend, reading enough from her expression to swivel in her seat and set her eyes on the last thing she wanted to see. Elliot was striding straight towards her, easily making his way through the mess of students as he watched her, his jaw strangely set.
“Really Mads,” Alice murmured, “What did you expect? At dinner time too, you fool.”
“Oh piss.” Madeline glanced at his approaching figure, meeting his eyes for the briefest moment before shooting to her feet, “I can’t Alice.”
“Come and find me when you’re ready, or done, or whatever,” Alice offered a weak smile, waving her off before turning to chat with their exceedingly sweet but mundane dorm mate, Emily Mathers. Madeline had already fled, twisting desperately between the crush of tables and people towards the exit. How could she have been so single minded? She cursed herself inwardly as a cold, almost guilty feeling shifted to the bottom of her conscience. She needed to find some sort of clarity, or things would only get messier.
“Come on then,’ Elliot’s voice ordered once she had burst free from the stifling hall, its usual amusement ever so slightly muted in her ear as she closed her eyes in defeat. Sodding long legs. She’d never had a chance, really.
“Where?” Madeline choked out as his warm hand closed around her wrist, it was easy enough to figure she didn’t have all that much of a choice.
“You think you’re skipping dinner on my behalf?” He threw her his crooked grin, “Ma’d have my skin.”
“I’m a ridiculously long way from hungry, Elliot.”
“Right you are, but we’ll soon fix that.” He glanced down at her and Madeline hurriedly averted her eyes, refusing to so much as glimpse her pale skin against his darker shade. No, she’d just watch her feet, for security’s sake. “Aye, I know,” he laughed softly, “You’re a stubborn fool.”
Madeline made a small scoffing noise, “Again with the compliments.” Elliot did no more than shoot her a quick wink, and as they lapsed into a reasonable silence, the glare fired at her feet intensified. He was purposely making her uncomfortable, and feeling a small burst of defiance, she tugged at her wrist. Who the sod did he think he was, anyway?
He sighed, loosening his grip slightly, no doubt unaware of the way his fingertips burnt her skin,“You always run-”
“You followed me-”
“You can’t just toss me this,” he’d pulled the letter from his pocket, and Madeline swallowed uncomfortably, “And then come dancing into the hall looking like that and expect me not to.”
Madeline bristled at his tone, it was terrifying to all her senses, and yet she couldn’t grasp any lucid definition to describe it, “Stop it, Elliot! Just sod the hell off and let me fix it,” her voice had faded to a desperate whisper, and she could only pray he understood her reference was to life itself, rather than his small part to play in it, or her own ratty appearance.
He grinned, easily overlooking her angst, “You really need to take a compliment when it’s due, Grey-”
“Please stop,” she murmured again, feeling utterly stricken at his words. “Stop all this. It’s all so...so silly, isn’t it? If its still about Hogsmeade, I’m not coming, really I’m not.”
Elliot laughed, causing her cheeks to flush pink, “You’re a godawful tease, Maddy.”
"You're just being persistent for the fun of it, you're a pain in the arse!"
“Aw, don’t get shirty, love.”
“I’m not your love,” Madeline bit out. "There is no love here."
“But I am persistent,” he replied, obviously amused.
“Elliot! Mate!” An unmistakably male voice tore Madeline from managing a function-able reply, and within seconds, another large Gryffindor had loped around the corner. “Hartly just called last-minute training. Larson’s lot cancelled, so the pitch is all ours..”
“For how long?” Elliot asked, his hand finding his hair again, “Snitch is going to be fucking awful at this time!”
“I’d say as easy as piss mate, give me an hour,” the scarlet robed boy let his eyes fall to Madeline, who instantly wondered if the term boy was suitable at all, his laughing, decidedly manly features making her feel younger than she had in quite some time. “Grey!” She inhaled sharply, somewhat startled. “Nice seeing you again,” he seemed to read confusion on her face, quickly amending with a grin, “Less mud this time, eh? I approve! Barely recognise you!”
“Er,” Madeline stumbled for a coherent sentence in her head, failing miserably.
“Better get going,” Elliot grinned at her, before quickly disappearing into the kitchens. He returned seconds later, gently pressing an apple into her hand, which suddenly felt strange without his touch. “I haven’t even started, Maddy Grey,” his whispered words did nothing to make her feel any easier, and yet it was a rather queer relief she felt as he stepped back. “The apple’s from Ma, not me, so eat it.”
And with that, he was gone. Madeline was far from okay.
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