The Secret of the Forest
Chapter 17: A Loud Christmas
While Scorpius was upstairs, brooding over his talk with Harry Potter, Albus was downstairs still, opting to listen to what Mark had to say. He could tell for a while, since his outburst against Cantharis that something was bothering him. Ald Albus had a sneaking suspicion he knew what it was. Mark Wallader seemed to be looking for advice. This was a first because Mark never asked for advice from anyone for as long as Albus knew him. Now, he was asking Harry, Ginny and Albus for advice. Neither James nor Lily seemed interested in this; however, and they left the table right after Scorpius to wash their hands. Albus set his silverware down and looked over at Mark to listen to him.
“Mr. Potter, I wanna talk to you for a bit,” Mark said innocently, attracting Harry’s attention. Ginny looked with interest from Albus to Mark as Harry gave Mark undivided attention.
“What about?” asked Harry. He was confused. Mark never asked to talk to him before. Admittedly, they talked a fair bit last summer, but not about something that gave the kind of air Mark seemed to fill the room with at that moment.
“I’m having a few problems,” Mark sighed. “Alex and Eric are bugging me.”
“Same as last year?” Albus guessed, grinning mentally to himself. He knew it.
Mark looked at Albus as if surprised he was still there. He didn’t kick him out though, just shrugged, “Kinda. I mean, I’m trying to get along with Scorpius, and even Walter, but the twins are dead set against it. I got over that, but just because I stuck up for Laura Creevey, they assaulted me.”
“Why did you stick up for her anyway?” Albus asked. “I’m starting to think you- you actually do like her.”
Mark was flustered, “Forget about that. Who cares,” he added hastily. “Dad, what would you do about the twins?” Mark asked, trying to get back to the point. “If you were in my position?”
Now this was new. Mark had never called Harry dad before. Something must really have been bothering him. The only time Albus sensed Mark being so distraught was the previous year, though back then Mark had brought it all on himself. “You know, Mark,” Harry said. “Apparently the twins have been with you for a while. Now, you’re teenagers, you all seem to be going different ways.”
“Al and Scorpy seem to be fine,” Mark pointed out.
Harry shook his head, “It’s different. It’s like you’re getting tired of each other. Besides, they’re your cousins. They’re never gonna leave you, will they? You all just need time alone. Not that big a deal, is it?”
Mark sighed, and Albus smirked, “Hey, Mark. You know we care about you, right?”
Mark shrugged, “Yeah, I know.”
“I think the three of you are trying to define your relationship. To lay the law down, so you three would understand each other better.”
Harry nodded in agreement and Mark rested his eyes on Albus was a long time. For once, there was no hint of malice of dislike in them, just wonder. “How can you tell?”
Albus did not know how he could tell. All he knew was how Mark acted and how the twins acted. He expected them to break it off a while ago. Then, a thought occurred, “Because, that’s what we did last year. Right?”
“What could we not understand about each other?” Mark questioned, voice drawing close to breaking point, like the subject itself was causing immense pain. “We’re practically triplets.” ‘Triplets’ was the term Mark and the twins often used to refer to their relationship. It defined them better.
“Is there any particularly strong feeling you harbor that they’re not aware of?” Harry asked.
Albus watched Mark open his mouth to say no, but then he shut it. There was something. And Albus could tell what it was. He made it clear enough before they left. Albus caught the look on his face, and smirked, “What is it?”
“That’s my own secret,” Mark said quietly. “You don’t have to know, Al.”
Mark left the table right after, leaving only Albus in the dining room, waiting for judgment concerning his best friend. This was what he stayed for. Harry’s opinion of him would be the deciding factor on whether he could ever come over again. Ginny smiled, “I like him. He’s a good kid.”
“Just like his father,” Harry muttered.
“But not his father,” Ginny reminded him.
“Very challenging,” Harry assessed.
“Well, hey, he’s a Malfoy,” Ginny shrugged.
Harry then looked up optimistically. He smiled, “Can’t be perfect, can he? But Al is loyal to this family and if he can reconcile this loyalty with a friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, he must not be that bad. Good enough for me.”
“Dad, I didn’t know he’d challenge you like that,” Albus swore apologetically.
Harry shook his head as if it no longer mattered, “Al, don’t worry about it. He inquired and I answered. He had every right to question what happened. I recall the Minister questioning me, even Aunt Hermione was skeptical that our plan would work… pity she was right as usual… oh, and Lucius questioned me. Yeah. I’m used to it by now.” He grinned and sniffed proudly, “Plus… if he doesn’t like Incommodo, he must be on the right side. Let me know later what he thinks of my explanations to him.”
“Sure, night dad,” Albus said happily.
Scorpius of course was skeptical of the entire situation but for a wonder, he found Harry’s story more believable. Albus related to Harry in private Scorpius’ thoughts on the matter, ultimately satisfying both parties. And that was not the last discussion Scorpius found himself involved in with the Potter family. The new concern was the boy who tried so hard to shut himself out for a year and was now inviting anyone who would listen into his life. Mark Wallader.
Throughout the years and even the summer holidays, the twins remained Mark’s closest companions, but when he moved in with Albus, there sparked something different. It wasn’t cousinly, but brotherly. The two grew close no matter how hard Mark fought against it. It simply was not worth it. Albus loved Mark, and Mark knew it, and Mark tried to deny it and push him away, but the more he pushed, the more Albus showed his care.
Throughout the holidays, Scorpius joined the Potters in caroling around the house. Scorpius introduced to them a crude song meant for Pure-bloods called Fill The Land With Our Pure Blood, which they knew to be the Wizard version of Deck the Halls. While Harry looked taken-aback and half offended, Ginny and Mark laughed, and Scorpius smiled guiltily. “Never mind. I- I haven’t sang it for a while anyway.”
Ron and Hermione arrived with their family on Christmas day. That meant Alex and Eric would be joining them. Already, Mark had a problem with them, and when they greeted each other, it was in a cool, curt way. Actually, the twins were walking into enemy territory now. They had an issue with Mark, and now they had to put up with not only Albus, but Scorpius as well.
Usually, when the twins visited the Potter household, they and Mark would never fail to make Albus feel left out. With Scorpius present, and Mark not being on good terms with them, this was no longer a threat. Eric had a problem with Mark making friends with what he dubbed Slytherin scum and actually talking to Princess Laura. Alex had a problem with Mark having a problem with Eric.
“Do they always visit?” Scorpius asked Albus during Christmas dinner.
Albus nodded into his pudding. “Always.”
“Shut up, Mark!” Eric said loudly. Mark looked down to his plate. He could notice from the corner of his eye Albus looking over. Eric went on, “Always. Always your problem. You never stick with the pride everyone else has got.”
“They’re as good as Gryffindor!” Mark said angrily.
Scorpius stared down, trying not to go red. Albus heard too, and stared down, but looked from the corner of his eye at the tense argument. Scorpius took a bite from his pudding, and then muttered, “I’m taking that personally.”
“Never heard Mark talk like that,” Albus said quietly.
Albus looked quickly at Scorpius. He just sensed Alex looking their way. Did he notice them spying? As Mark and Eric opened their mouths to continue arguing, Alex spoke over them, “Oi, people! We’ve got Slytherin eavesdroppers. Can we take this upstairs?”
“I’m done,” Mark announced, slamming his fork to the table, and walking upstairs.
“Where’re you going?” Eric demanded.
“To have an early sleep,” Mark said miserably, and he walked off. Albus and Scorpius feigned conversation as he walked past them. Mark walked downstairs to the basement.
“I thought they were over that argument of Slytherins? I thought we had Laura help us solve it last year,” Albus said disappointedly.
Scorpius laughed, “Al, I doubt they were ever over it. They’re just finishing with Mark what they started. It’s only a matter of time before Mark cracks too, because their influence runs deep. Ungrateful swines. Didn’t you save Mark’s life? What’s that mean to them?”
“Dunno,” Albus shrugged. “Maybe they just don’t like you.”
“Oh, I’m always the bad guy?”
How right Scorpius was remained to be seen. Mark stayed in the downstairs room for the rest of the night. The twins didn’t come up after dinner as Mark expected. The rest of the house fell asleep, and the twins still didn’t come in for another hour. That night, when the rest of the house was asleep, Mark turned his head away from the twin’s beds, and stared at the wall. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and he wiped them off. He sniffed once.
“Oi, Mark, c’mon mate, it’s not that big,” a small voice said from behind him. He turned over, and there, kneeling in front of the bed was Alex. Alex climbed onto the bed with Mark, and sat up, “Wanna talk, without Eric? I know he’s pretty angry.”
“If I could just tell you the truth,” Mark said quietly.
“What truth?” Alex asked. “Would it explain why you like the Slytherins so much?”
“If you care so much of being a Gryffindor, think of this,” Mark began. “We’re in Gryffindor. Laura’s in Gryffindor. We’re all in Gryffindor. We’re not like Slytherin, being split between Albus or Malcolm. We’re better. We stick up for each other, guys. We don’t stay quiet while Cantharis yells at us. Mess with one, mess with all. That’s always been our creed. We’re rebels!”
Alex listened with rapt attention, and Mark knew he was listening. Nonetheless, Alex replied happily, “Right then, I rest my case. “Gryffindor, not Slytherin.”
“Big deal,” Mark whispered quietly. “Just because I’m friends with a couple of Slytherins doesn’t mean I’m one of them, so quit generalizing. Besides, Albus is my foster brother, and he’s honestly trying to help. He saved my life. I give up on trying to ignoring him. ”
“I’m not blaming you for Albus,” Alex clarified. “I like Albus. And Eric may nt show it, but he loves Albus for doing what he did. But Al is a Gryffindor. He doesn’t count, Mark. Scorpius does. Something you don’t seem to get about him.”
“Scorpius is his friend, and good enough to get invited into the Potter house,” Mark said defensively. “Besides, didn’t we discuss this last year? It’s getting on my nerves, Alex.”
Alex sighed, and bit his bottom lip. “Ok. Mark, we’re still friends. We’ve just got issues that need to be worked out. It’s not that bad, is it?”
Mark nodded. “And also”-
“No, forget him,” Mark shrugged, “I’ll prove my point on him some other time. No, it’s about Laura.”
“She’s a brat,” Alex whispered, eyes widening. But they didn’t look surprised, but expectant. He knew more than Eric did. Mark could tell. Alex knew how Mark felt, didn’t he? “C’mon Mark. We all thought so.”
“I did, till Cantharis yelled,” Mark answered. “I- I can’t tell.”
“Why not?” Alex asked, and his eyes bore directly into Mark’s. Yes. They knew. They could tell, and the next line was said with such strength and firmness, Mark had to admire it. “You can tell me anything.”
“Can I really?”
“I swear,” Alex said, left hand up. “I’ll even help you, if you want me too.” And so true was Alex’s look on the red-headed freckled face of his that when Mark looked at it, he was taken over by a rush of emotion towards Alex.
Alex sniggered, “You like her, don’t you?”
Mark looked up, “Who told?”
“Your expression when she talked to you during our last lunch at Hogwarts,” Alex nodded. “The way you’ve been smiling at her lately, your satisfaction whenever she shows up. You might be able to fool your family. But Mark, to me, you’re the most obvious person I’ll ever know. I can read you like an open book.”
“Did you tell Eric?” he asked, dreading the answer.
But the answer only proved how much Alex and Mark felt for each other. “Of course not. I figured you’d want to keep it to yourself. I hoped you’d tell me though. Our friendship is better than anyone else’s. You know that.”
Mark sniffed a laugh. “Yeah, I do.”
“We’re ok now?” Alex asked. “Don’t let it bother you. Eric will come around.”
Mark nodded, tucking himself in. “Night, Alex.”
Alex got up, and then he did something he or Eric seldom did to Mark, despite the great love between them, though given to many family members. He kissed his cheek. “Night, Mark.”