Chapter 4 : Surprise
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“That depends. Is that thing going to be coming with us?” Albus gestures to Cupcake, who is sitting on my knee under the new blanket that I bought him. Albus informed me after the purchase that it was all a gimmick as lizards were cold blooded animals and did not need blankets, but he looked cute under it regardless.
“Of course. He’s going to be coming everywhere with us, he’s my pet.”
“In that case, the next place we’re going is the nearest animal cemetery.” I gape at Albus as he changes gears and swerves roughly to the left to avoid some squashed road kill in front of us. He stares straight ahead of himself, avoiding my gaze and watching the never ending line of fields. We’re just driving aimlessly now, but neither of us wants to admit it.
“You can’t say things like that!” I object, spluttering a little with indignation. I slowly place my hand on top of Cupcake’s head, in case Albus was to suddenly get any funny ideas. I kick off my shoes in the foot well and stretch out my legs a little. “I’m pretty sure I could sue you for saying things like that – isn’t it a form of assault?” Albus rolls his eyes.
“Only if I was to say it about you. Which, if you don’t shut up, I might do.” I frown and slide my cardigan off the tops of my shoulders, as the warmth of the sun is beginning to irritate me. I stick one of my free hands out of the window. “Do you want to listen to some music?” Albus asks, gesturing to the radio that neither of us are really sure how to work.
“Sure,” I shrug, for lack of reasons to object. I don’t really like music very much, but I’m not going to kick up a fuss for no reason.
Albus takes one hand off the wheel (it takes all my effort not to squeeze my eyes shut and grab Cupcake’s hand for comfort) and begins to fiddle with the biggest knob on the radio, twisting it left and right until the crackling noise disperses and a loud male voice booms out over the speakers. Albus frowns and begins to twist the knob again, evidentially not happy with that channel.
“OI, BITCH, YOU KNOW I LOVE YA, NOW COME OVER HERE AND LET ME SEE YA, BITCH, YOU KNOW I LOVE YA, FUCK YEAH!” Albus begins to nod his head in time with the music and drums his fingers on the steering wheel. I frown at the radio as more of the nonsense noise fills the car. Albus begins to... sing the words along with the rap, and I just stare down at Cupcake.
“I’m sorry for this,” I whisper, stroking along the back of his neck. He blinks up at me reproachfully, as if blaming me for the atrocious noise that is blasting holes in my eardrums. “I’ll figure out how to turn this off when he’s not looking, I promise. I’m so very sorry for this.” I drum my fingers along the back of his head.
When a sudden roaring noise means that Albus jumps and swerves the car to avoid the motorbike that has appeared out of nowhere, I lean forwards and quickly twist the knob in the way that I had seen Albus do. The song changes to a chirpy pop tune about love, or something, and I smile.
Not because I enjoy the song, but because the peaceful lyrics about believing someone is the one for you and you’re going to be together forever and ever and ever and ever and never cry or fight or break up did not say the word ‘bitch’ once. Albus turns his head to stare at me and smirks, but shakes his head as though he is at a loss for words.
“Well, I’ve gotta say, I never really had you pegged as the kind of girl that would listen to this romantic drivel. I mean, does this bint not know that life isn’t really like that? Yikes, she’s gonna get a shock when she gets divorced for the first time.”
“Who says she going to get divorced?” I ask. “You never know, if their relationship is this good then they might never see the need to get married, or they might just not divorce. It’s not like you have any idea what you’re talking about, you’ve never been in love. And you can’t really judge something that you’ve never experienced.” Albus smirks at me again and pressed his lips against each other.
“Love, judging by the lyrics, she hasn’t fucked the bloke. And if she hasn’t fucked him now, then she’s not gonna fuck him ‘til marriage. And so they will get married. And then they’ll get divorced when she’s no good at it. And that’s just the way that it goes, yeah?”
“You’re awful,” I sigh, glaring out of the window as Albus pulls off our small country lane onto an even smaller country lane. We both sit in silence for a while as Albus dodges a couple of potholes.
“And just so you know, Flora Dainty, I have been in love before.” I turn my head slowly to gape at him but he just keeps his eyes staring straight ahead at the road. “I just think that you should get off that high throne of yours and actually realise what has happened in people’s lives before you go and try to pinpoint what they’re like. You’re not the genius that you think you are.” His words do not quite hit the spot he intends them to, and I feel the urge to laugh again.
“That’s what you think,” I sigh, pulling my feet out of the foot well and sticking them out of the window. Albus cocks another eyebrow at me.
“And I realised I loved you when we were sitting there, holding hands and whispering seeeeeeeeecrets. Oh yes those seeeeeeeeecrets! And you kissed the back of my hand and I smiled and I realised that-”
“That you’re a soppy cow whose boyfriend hates her and needs to get the fuck off my radio?” Albus mutters under his breath, and I close my eyes and begin to stroke the back of Cupcake’s head with the tips of my fingers. Albus continues to gripe under his breath as more and more fields fly past the window, creating a twisting line of green specks to be seen out of the streaky back window.
“Who were you in love with?” I ask eventually, turning my body to face Albus as my legs are still poking out of the window. I pray that no traffic police are going to come speeding down the lane and arrest me, but we seem to be so far outside ordinary civilian lines that I’m pretty sure something like a police force doesn’t even exist.
“Does it matter?” Albus replies with a sigh, but I just continue to blink at him. “Fine then... it’s none of your business.” I roll my eyes and pull Cupcake closer to the window to make sure he had enough fresh air.
“I was just curious, that was all. I don’t remember you ever being in love when we were at Hogwarts. I was in charge of the Hogwarts newsletter and I am almost certain that that would have been featured on it. Are you sure it was love, anyway, and not just hormones?” Albus smirks again.
“Merlin, I feel like I’m having a conversation with my mother whenever I talk to you,” he laughs, and I flush a little. “I mean, hormones? The way you speak is fucking hilarious. Honestly, they should put you on the wireless or something and just give you something to ramble on about.” I pull one of my legs back inside the car and prop it up against the dashboard.
“Shut up. And you didn’t answer my question.”
“That was intentional.”
I raise an eyebrow but let it go as the track transitions from the cheesy pop tune to an acoustic guitar piece about someone’s parents or words to that effect. Something about someone dying and someone else never being the same and seeing the dead person’s face in the clouds or something.
“Wait, did you say that Hogwarts had a newsletter?” Albus suddenly asks loudly, turning to look straight at me. I panic a little and gesture wildly at the window to indicate for him to get his bloody (excuse my language) eyes back on the road, but he just shoots me a scathing look.
“Yes, Hogwarts had a newsletter. I was the editor of it. We released a new copy every two weeks and gave them away outside the great hall on Saturday mornings. It wasn’t a gossip rag, which is why you probably knew nothing about it. It actually contained intellectual articles and reports about important issues involving students and various world events.” Albus shakes his head.
“It was shit and no one wanted anything to do with it, in other words. No one at Hogwarts would care about the Peace Protest going on in fucking Zambia while some monks sing Halle-sodding-lujah.”
“Oh, don’t be so crass,” I snap, but Albus just smirks. He smirks a lot, I’ve noticed. Maybe if I press his lips together and seal them with clothes pegs then he won’t be able to smirk anymore.
“Get rid of the dragon wannabee and I will.”
“I hate you.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, babe.”
“Well, this looks nice,” I comment mildly, poking at the grass with the toe of my heel. Albus kicked up a fuss about me wearing heels to go for a walk around a national park, but I had a feeling we were going to run into someone important and I was not going to be caught in leggings and one of those fluffy flannel hooded sweatshirts that Andromeda wears when we go cycling. So yes, wearing a tight brown dress, a white blazer and beige heels, Albus and I climbed out of the car and then didn’t move.
“Yeah, lovely. So, we should, erm, probably get moving. Our tour of the forest, park, whatever, is supposed to start in ten minutes and we’ve got to get all the way to the booking office and pay for our tickets.” I nod slowly and poke at a random clump of bark near my foot. I don’t want to trip over it and accidentally smear some mud on the front of my dress. It was one hundred and thirty galleons.
“Yes, we probably should. Will you do me a favour and take my arm? The ground is uneven and I have a feeling that I might stumble.” Albus stares at me for a moment and then steps around the car, links my arm through his and begins to walk forwards, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “Thank you, Albus.” He shakes his head.
“I still can’t understand, for the life of me, why you couldn’t have just worn flat shoes with that dress. It would have looked just as normal, and you wouldn’t be walking around like a spider on cocaine.” I adjust the belt around my waist with a frown and shake my hair over my shoulder. I’ve curled it especially for the occasion, and it is lying in large waves to my chest.
“Look, my father is the minister of magic. I can’t be seen out in public wearing flat shoes; it’s not dignified. You don’t see the royal family going to the cinema in their velour tracksuits and trainers, do you? So neither should I. This might be a muggle tour but it is an area that is known to be heavily populated with wizards: chances are, at some point today, we are going to run into some.” Albus clicks his tongue absent mindedly, clearly paying no attention to me.
“Sounds fucking marvellous, Flora. Now hurry your ass along so we can go and buy our tickets. I don’t want to be at the back of the tour.” Albus tightens his grip on my arm and begins to pull me along a little faster. I stumble over several pebbles and get my heel stuck in a small mound of too-soft mud, but other than that it goes quite smoothly. I thank Merlin that I chose against wearing suede shoes – treated leather is so much easier to clean up at the end of the day.
“There is one thing that I don’t understand: why do you even want to go on a tour around a national park – there is a lot of trees until you reach the little cafe and the animal shelter, and that doesn’t sound like your thing. So why are we here?” Albus flushes a little and clears his throat, before walking even faster towards the small white building under a sign saying BOOKING OFFICE.
I stare at the side of Albus’ head suspiciously.
“Albus? Are you going to answer my question? Why did you decide to come to a national park – it’s just about conversation and animals and preserving the natural environment, it’s not really your thing.” Albus pushes me down into one of the three chairs inside the waiting area of the booking office and gets into the short queue, again not answering my question.
I begin to suspect that he has something to hide. Ignoring the funny looks that a young boy in a blue t-shirt and an old lady in a knitted hat are shooting me – in particular, my shoes – I turn to watch Albus hand over some muggle notes to a bored looking lady behind the counter.
She grins up at him, revealing a small gap between her two front teeth, and brushes a small chunk of hair that had fallen out of her chignon out of her eyes. She is wearing a black polo shirt with a small logo of a pine tree on the front, and when Albus grins at her as she hands him the change, she pulls it down so a little more of her chest pops out of the gap where her three buttons are undone.
Albus pauses for a minute and stares at her openly and blatantly. The old lady next to me tuts loudly under her breath. I can’t help but agree with her internally.
“Albus!” I call loudly, pushing myself out of my chair and slowly making my way over to him. I wrap one arm around his neck and lay the other down on the desk, careful to splay my fingers so that the irritating woman can notice the nails that I’d charmed only an hour previously. The middle nail of each hand was sporting a large cream bow made of a strange acrylic. “Good, you’ve got the tickets. Now we better hurry up or we’re going to miss the tour.”
I shoot the woman a patronising smile and pull gently on Albus’ shoulders. He grins at her, takes the tickets and walks out of the booking office. I totter after him. Maybe the heels weren’t such a fabulous idea after all. Albus storms ahead, towards a large clump of people that are waiting around, talking amongst themselves and rubbing suncream on their shoulders.
“Albus!” I yell after him, but he continues to storm on ahead. Wondering what I could possibly have done wrong this time – I even agreed to leave Cupcake in the car, for goodness’ sakes! – I stagger behind, carefully avoiding pebbles and other rocks that litter the muddy pathway. “Albus, will you please wait up a minute? I can’t keep up with you!” Albus finally slows down a little.
“You’re such a little... spoilsport! You’re just so irritating! What the hell was your problem with that girl, hey? Why wouldn’t you just let me speak to her? Instead you had to make it look like I was your boyfriend and flirting with her. What the fuck – what is your problem? Are you going to be this damn annoying the entire trip?”
“Am I going to be annoying? I object, on a moral basis, to you flirting with anything with a pulse – I find that annoying. I am not going to walk around a national park with someone that everyone around us knows has just done the receptionist!” Albus scoffs loudly.
“Just shut up, Flora. Come on, the tour is starting in two minutes.” Looking a little deflated, Albus heads over to the clump and joins the queue. I sigh and trample after him, my heels puncturing little holes in the mud as I walk.
“My. Feet. Are. Killing. Me.” I flop down on one of the cheap plastic benches around the school-style plastic tables and pull off my heels. It is the break of the tour, and everyone is hanging around in a large outdoors space filled with tables and benches, with one soft-pretzel cart in the middle. Albus has three in front of him already, and is coming to the end of the first one. Mustard and pretzel crumbs are spread around his mouth.
“Well I told you not to wear them, didn’t I?” Albus sighs flatly, spewing several dry crumbs into my face. I could have done without that. I pull one of my feet up onto the bench and give them a light massage. A good looking man on the next table grins at me and pushes himself off his own bench, swaggering over to ours.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” he ask in a thick Scottish accent. I shake my head and move my feet back to the ground to make room for him to sit down. Albus chokes slightly on his giant pretzel. Scottish Man gestures to my feet and smiles widely at me.
“Here, would you like me to massage your feet properly for you, darlin’?” My mouth drops open a little bit and Albus bursts into laughter around a mouthful of pretzel.
“Erm, that’s... that’s quite alright, thank you. Thank you for offering, I mean. I just... I don’t feel like I could, erm, have a stranger massage my feet. I think that might look a bit... odd, given the... circumstances.” I glance around at the random muggles gathered around us. I wonder why I have left my wand in the car; this man looked like a potential rapist if ever I’ve seen one.
“Well alright, hun, but we’ve got a hell of a lot of walking to do after this, so just remember, I offered.” With a slightly disturbing wink, he gets back off his bench and wanders back over to the man that he had originally been sitting with.
“That was... odd,” I grumble to Albus, and he nods at me. Offering me a bite of the large pretzel – which I promptly decline, I would like to point out – he shakes off his jacket and shoots a suspicious look at the man, who is now muttering under his breath. “What?” I ask.
“I just have a funny feeling about that man,” Albus sighs, shaking some of his long fringe out of his eyes. He needs a haircut, I note. I wonder whether one of the hotels that we will stay in will have a barber shop for him to visit; I don’t want to be walking around with someone that looks like a shaggy dog at the best of times. “I mean, I know this is where muggles live and everything, but even they’re not weird enough to offer random strangers foot massages. I’m sure I’ve seen him before, too.”
I glance over my shoulder at the man and wonder whether I’ve seen him before – nothing sprang to mind, and so I turn to shake my head at Albus again. He shrugs offhandedly, but I can tell that something is still bothering him.
“Look, just forget about him. He was probably just clocked to the fact that my clothes are expensive and thought that he’d be able to get some money out of me; look at him, he doesn’t exactly look like the king of hygiene, does he?” Albus glances over at him again, shrugging a little as if my words placate him a little.
I brush imaginary dust off the front of my dress and straighten my blazer, wondering when the lunch break is going to be over so that I can finish the walk and take the damn heels off, and nurse my broken feet back to health. I guess Dolly Big Bust and I won’t be leaping around doing Pilates together for a while, then. Shame, really. I was just managing to get the hang of those funny little plait things she does where the hair is in the rest of her hair and… you don’t know what I’m talking about. Never mind. It’s all for the best, I suppose, since my one pair of lycra exercise shorts that I brought with me got covered in something suspicious smelling after Cupcake sat on them for an hour solid.
“Are you sure you don’t want any of this pretzel? It’s damn delicious. Like… if someone mixed pure deliciousness with like… more deliciousness, and then added sugar… or, in this case, salt – it is a pretzel, after all – and… yeah. You need to have some of this. Your life isn’t going to be completed unless you try this. But I don’t want you to have any because then there’s less for me.”
I cock an eyebrow at him but keep my mouth shut.
“I think I’ll pass, but thank you for offering… again.” Albus chuckles under his breath. Demolishing the last few bites of the giant pretzel – his third giant pretzel, I feel the need to add – he brushes off his lips and pulls on the hooded sweatshirt that he had been wearing before.
“You ready to start walking again? The first group leaves in about five minutes, and I kinda wanna get back so that we can go out somewhere for dinner. I’m wasting away here.”
“Yeah… so come on, slow coach; get your shoes on and your ass up so we can finish the tour.”
“Fine, fine. Off to stare at random animals in trees part two, then,” I grumble. Albus throws his head back in a loud guffaw, his long hair flopping out of his eyes for a moment.
“So, are you ever going to tell me why we’re doing this?” I ask as my heels sink into more fresh mud that makes up the dirt path we’re walking along. The ranger out in front, a bearded man with weather worn skin and muddy hands, prattles on loudly about various types of trees and nuts and squirrels and other natural things that I honestly don’t care about as Albus colours a little.
“What do you mean? Why are we crossing in the country in an old car looking at random shit?”
“No. I know full well why we’re doing that, due to it being my father’s fault. What I meant was why are we at this national park? Neither you nor I care for this kind of thing and we could have left at lunch time; why are we still here? Why did you want to come?” Albus’ cheeks remain a little flushed but he picks up the pace of his walking so that I have to jog along to keep up with him.
Jogging on damp mud in five inch heels is not an easy feat.
“Albus! Wait for me, please!” If I wasn’t wearing anything on my legs and feet but sheer tights, then I would take my shoes off and walk the path barefoot. But the mud and bracken that littered the ground would surely cut my feet, and so I ploughed on with my inappropriate shoe choice.
“I want to meet up with someone. Well, several people if I’m being completely honest. They live near here, and the only landmark that I could pull off to trick you into getting here was this forest. Do you really think that I care about pine trees? No. But I guessed that you wouldn’t want to meet… my friends, so I thought it best not to mention it to you. They all want to see you. None of them believe that you got contacts, for one.” My head snaps up.
“Do you mean to say that these people we’re going to meet went to Hogwarts with us?” The idea of seeing some of the people that… well, I won’t say I hated, because I didn’t care about them enough to hate them, but that people that hated me… That isn’t my idea of a good time.
“Obviously,” Albus says slowly, as if my question bothers him with its density.
“What – why do I need to be there? Albus, I have no problem with you going off to meet your friends; I’m not your warden. I’m not even your friend. I don’t have any say in what you do every day, as long as you do what my father asked you to at the same time. I don’t care if you go off with your friends. But I don’t want to be there.”
There was a pause as Albus exhaled noisily and pulled his arms back behind his head. The muscles in his arms strained against his t-shirt (he had tied his sweatshirt around his waist when the weather got a little warmer as the sun had risen higher in the sky) and I wonder whether or not I should offer to buy him a better fitting shirt, since this one evidentially is ill-fitting.
“Well, that’s tough luck. Because you’re going. They’re meeting us at the end of this tour, which is right by the house that they all rent, and then we’re going to go back to their place for something to drink.”
Oh goodness, alcohol. Champagne at a party or some dry white with dinner is one thing, but the alcohol chugging that Albus is clearly anticipating is something else altogether; it’s not the kind of thing that I have ever done or have ever wanted to do. I chew my lip nervously.
“What?” Albus asks, noticing my expression. “Don’t tell me that you don’t drink.”
“Not in the sense you mean, I don’t,” I mutter. Albus rolls his eyes, a wry smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “I don’t drink beer, or anything else that I’m sure you will drink. If you can find a nice bottle of vintage red wine then I might have half a small glass.” Albus laughs.
“There’s four of them that rent one shitty house together; you really think they’re going to have a bottle of red wine, vintage at that, lying around?” I raise my eyebrows to make my point. “Honestly, and you wondered why I tried to convince you not to wear that.” He gestures with an odd mixture of disdain and amusement at my dress. “You’re gonna stick out like a sore thumb at the pub.”
“Pub?!” I ask, my voice shooting through several octaves.
“Well, yeah,” Albus grumbles incoherently, as though he’s gotten bored of the obviousness of our conversation. “I’m sure they’ll have some red wine for you to drink, or something. We’ll go off and play snooker or something, and you can sit at the bar and chat with the bartender. He’s paid to do that kind of thing.”
“Fine,” I sigh, accepting that there is no way to get out of it. Albus cracks a smile at me and glances at the watch on his wrist, which the nosy woman walking next to him eyes with confusion. “What time are we supposed to meet them?”
“Well…” Albus said slowly, cocking his head to the side, “five minutes ago, technically.”
It could not be any worse. Not only was it four people – five if you include Albus – from Hogwarts whom I never wanted to see again, but they just seem to be some of the worst people that I could have imagined, had I had to choose. Danny, Ricky, Beckett and Wallis Chelan. I don’t know the surnames of the first three; I never bothered to learn them.
Danny was on one of the Quidditch teams (I don’t know which one) and he is as muscular as it is possible to be. Steel bands of muscle are wrapped around each of his arms and his chest stretches his t-shirt to huge proportions. One of his calves is probably the size of my waist. He has a cap backwards on his head and is grinning widely at Albus, who looks tiny in comparison despite being two inches taller.
Ricky is different; wearing bright green skinny jeans and a yellow and white check shirt around his skinny chest, he stares at me through thick framed glasses with an amused expression on his face. I flush self-consciously. He has a backpack in the shape of an orange turtle slung over one shoulder and his shoes are brown and lace up, and look like they could have come from the Victorian era. His long brown fringe is swept into his eyes and covers sixty percent of his face, straightened until the light from the pale sun behind my head bounces off it.
“Flora Dainty… fucking hell, you’ve changed.” I blink at him.
“Oh,” I mutter.
Beckett whistles under his breath and high fives Ricky behind his back. Beckett is different again from his friends – he’s not a muscular sport freak like Danny, but he looks like a watered down version of Ricky. His skinny jeans are grey not green, and he has on a button up black shirt with a black and brown leather satchel sitting on both his shoulders. He too has thick framed glasses on. I wonder if this is a new trend.
But the boys I’m not really bothered about; I had nothing to do with them in school and feel no compulsion to socialise with them now. It’s the way Wallis Chelan is scrutinising me that bothers me, like… I don’t even know. Just like she has a problem with me.
From the little I remember of her, Wallis was reasonably nice in school.
But then again, we weren’t friends so I hardly knew her. She used to have curly brown hair that she wore in a bun on the top of her head and she spent most of her time in leggings and stretchy t-shirts, flaunting her tiny figure. She was about the size of a matchstick. She always seemed nice enough to me – I think she dated Albus for a while at some point, but I never really kept tabs.
But the girl that stands in front of me with an oddly speculative look on her face looks like a different woman; if it wasn’t for the fact Albus had told me a ‘Wallis’ would be here and they had vaguely similar faces, then I never would have guessed they were the same person.
This Wallis has died her hair such a dark shade of brown that it’s almost black, and it is chopped short just above her shoulders, whereas it used to hang to her ribcage. It’s thick and curly, but the curls have been brushed out so that it frizzes wide and thick. One half of it is clipped back and puffed out. It’s odd – I can’t decide whether it looks good or plain weird. Her eyes are rimmed thickly in dark makeup and her lips are a shocking pink colour.
She’s wearing sheer black tights with the shortest of skirts – it’s black and starts at her waist, but only comes down to the tops of her thighs. A thick black belt is wrapped around her tiny stomach, flaunting how much weight she has lost. She’s wearing a leather jacket three sizes too big and all in all, she looks like some kind of sixties model.
I assume that’s the look she’s going for.
“Hello, Wallis,” I say stiffly. As much as I might not have a problem with Wallis Chelan personally, she’s still a reminder of how much I hated my Hogwarts years and how everyone treated me. Everyone other than Andromeda, that is. And why she might have been my only friend, I wasn’t hers, so I often stayed in our dorm while she went to parties and socialised with people.
It wasn’t that I wouldn’t go, I was never invited. Not that I would have gone if I was invited. But people often made an effort not to invite me.
Like when Amy Something-or-Other threw a huge birthday party and invited everyone from fourth year upwards in every house to be there – that is, apart from me. Just announced it at breakfast – if you’re fourteen and over, you can come. Of course, that excludes you, Flora – don’t bother coming, you, my boy won’t let you through the door.
I swore to Andromeda I didn’t care when she offered to stay with me, but it still stung a little, I guess. That’s why I did so well in school – because I never had anything to do other than studying. I always thought my father had known nothing about that, but he was obviously more aware than I thought. Hence the road trip and all the rubbish associated with that.
“Hi, Flora. You look good – did you walk around the national park dressed like that?” I glance down at my feet as I nod, checking to make sure the mud hadn’t left huge stains on the bottoms of my shoes.
“Yeah, I did,” I murmur. Albus is watching me with a slightly surprised look on his face. He looks like he is going to say something but then closes his mouth and starts a loud conversation with Danny about Quidditch. He mentions the Quidditch museum and the broomstick incident, but I’m barely listening – I’m just staring at my feet. I can feel Wallis watching me.
“Right, you ready to go get bevvied then?” I wince as Ricky addresses us all, and follow the four of them as they slouch off towards the row of terraces just behind us. Wallis looks like she is going to linger behind to walk with me but luckily she picks up the pace and joins the others instead.
However, Albus does linger behind. He stares at the side of my head but I don’t look up at him.
“So how come you act so different with them?” he asks bluntly. I ignore him, forgetting my manners. Daddy’s not here to tell me off now. “How come you barely speak and you act all stiff and moody? I told them all you weren’t actually that bad, you know, that you were actually a little bit of a laugh when you didn’t try too hard and forgot the stick up your backside for a bit. And then you put on the same miserable face you always wore in Hogwarts and made me look like a right twat.”
“Sorry,” I mutter quietly. Albus shakes his head in confusion.
“I don’t understand,” he eventually sighs.
“You don’t have to,” I grumble.
“I don’t understand you at all, you know. And I don’t even think this is the fact your father brainwashed you, you just… you have two personalities. No, you have more than two. You have the prissy goody-goody face that you put on in front of your parents, the relatively normal if slightly swotty face that you wear in front of me and then this… recluse fact that you put on in front of everyone else. You didn’t even say hi to the boys! Jeez, you made yourself look like a bitch.”
I raise my eyebrows but don’t react to what he says – I put on a righteous face to prove that I can act how I want in front of who I want. Woman power and other such sentiments, etc.
“Oh,” I mutter.
“Flora, what the fuck is… you know what? I don’t care.” Albus picks up the pace and joins Danny and Ricky, who are now shoving each other into the road and laughing as cars honk at them. I brush my hair over one side of my face in case there happens to be anyone around that could recognise me.
“So, Flora, what do you do for a living now?” Wallis has hung behind like I worried she would, and she seems to be trying to make conversation.
“I’ve just being doing some charity and ministry work and have been working on my novel since I graduated, but after the summer I’m starting my three year course at healing school. I’m going to Gambia next summer to do a month’s interning with the ministry there, too.” Wallis’s jaw drops open a little and she blinks at me a couple of times, looking a little confused.
“Fucking hell, babes, you’re… you’re an overachiever, aren’t you?” My eyebrows rise slightly at her language but I don’t comment on it – commenting on people that swore too much was another one of the reasons that I was hated so much at school.
“Well, what about you? What do you do?” Wallis laughs loudly.
“I work two jobs – I waitress the night shift at the pub on the corner, The King’s Legs, from eight in the evening until two, and then I work in the sport’s shop that Danny works at between eight in the morning and four in the afternoon.” I am as surprised at her choice in careers as she is at mine, and she begins to laugh at the blatant shock on my face. “Yeah, I know it’s not much compared to all the high end shit that you’re talking about, but it pays the bills, ha-ha.” She laughs loudly.
“The bills that you pay with… those three, right? Albus said that you lived together.” Wallis nods, a smirk pulling at her lips.
“Yeah, I know it’s miles away from the way you live, Flora, but hey. I love living with the guys, other than the fact they’re filthy and smell like the bad end of a sewer. And since I’m only paying a quarter of the rent and the bills, I can spend more money on my motorbike.” She shrugs offhandedly.
“You ride a motorbike?” I ask blankly.
“Yeah, I do,” she laughs.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” I ask loudly, taking in Wallis’s small frame and trying to imagine her straddling a giant black motorbike. It just didn’t look right in my head, even if she was wearing a leather jacket that hung far too big on her.
“Yeah, I suppose. But it’s great, I love it. The hardest part about it is keeping Danny’s prying fingers off it. I’m convinced one day that I’m going to come downstairs and he’s going to have robbed my keys and ploughed the thing into the side of a tree trunk.” I laugh once but am not really sure what to say.
“Oh, right,” I say quietly. Wallis clears her throat and I admire her perseverance – she is clearly making a Herculean effort to make conversation with me, even if her attempts are proving fruitless.
“So how do you know Albus?” she asks, and I wonder if she has suddenly forgotten that we were in the same year at school. “Was it really just Albus because your fathers know one another? I mean, he told us that but Ricky and Beckett thought that…”
“Thought that what?” I ask softly.
“Well, I dunno. They thought that maybe Albus and you were… you know. And that you wanted to go on holiday together without Albus’ parents giving him shit. And your dad too, I suppose, Al said he’s protective. And when he started prattling on about how you weren’t that bad and you were actually quite mellow then we all assumed he was fucking you.”
I choke on my own saliva.
“You thought that he was – no! That is completely incorrect and completely inappropriate! No! Goodness, I would never lower myself to such standards!” Wallis’s eyes widen and the pout on her lips quickly chastises me – I suddenly remember that Wallis and Albus were involved for quite a long time. “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean… I didn’t mean it like that. All I’m saying is that Albus and I are… we’re not like that. We don’t even get along most of the time. I know the two of you…dated.”
I ponder if this is the right word considering the crude label she had applied to me.
“I wasn’t… it’s not that Albus and I dated. That’s not it at all.”
“Then… what? Why did you look offended?”
“Albus is a great boy, that’s all. Not a man, he’s too much of a child in personality for that. But, you know, he really is a great guy. We’re all going to miss him this summer.” I instantly feel a little guilty. “I mean, after all he’s done for my mother, you know, I have to defend him.”
“What did he do for you mother?” I ask, perplexed.
“Well, you know, letting her adopt his son. She was desperate for another child. Did he… did he not tell you?” Wallis stills and her mouth drops as she realises that she has put her foot right in it.
What it is, I’m not sure.
“Albus – Albus had a son? And gave it to your mother for adoption?” I begin to stammer a little. Albus is only nineteen years old, for goodness’s sakes.
“Yeah,” Wallis whispers.
And even though I have just been told that Albus doesn’t look after his son, I still can’t quite believe what’s happening. Albus – pretty much the personification of irresponsibility – has a son. A son. He has a child. Albus is a father.
“What’re you girls talking about?” Albus himself asks suddenly, slowing down to talk to us. Wallis opens her mouth but I quickly cut across her, wanting time to process my own thoughts.
“Nothing. Just girly stuff. Nothing.”
Albus has a son.
disclaimer: nothing in this chapter belongs to me.
heeeeeeey. hope you all had really happy holidays, and... yeah. hope you all ate lovely food and got lovely presents and had a good ol' laugh, etc. kisses, my babies!
ellie :) xx
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