The Secret of the Forest
Chapter 30: Alexis Ackerly
Slowly, but surely, March arrived. Malcolm came back from the suspension he got for doing what Alexis told him to. He did not talk to Albus or even Walter but retreated into seclusion, humiliated badly. With Spring once more in the air, Laura seemed to be racing for the gold, and the way things were looking, she was seriously about to get it. Scorpius was left on the sidelines, truly helpless as for the first time, after lunch the first Monday in March, Mark stopped to talk not with the twins as was extremely usual and arguably customary, but with Laura Creevey who froze in shock on her way to Gryffindor tower and stopped to talk to him. Albus was not sure himself, but he could have sworn he saw Mark walk away beside her with a hand on her shoulder.
As for the twins, they walked off by themselves, Eric muttering nonstop under his breath and Alex looking rather pleased about it all. Scorpius stopped with Albus as they passed, and walked outside into the spring sun. Scorpius gaped, and then turned to Albus uncertainly, “Are they… together?”
Albus shrugged. He had his own guesses and more than enough reason to believe Mark harbored a soft spot for Laura, but he wasn’t going to tell Scorpius that… yet. “I dunno.”
Albus of course, had his own girl troubles. Charms class was taken with the Ravenclaws as usual and as always, Alexis was his partner. They were told to practice Cheering Charms and while the twins paired up, Mark and Laura paired up, Scorpius paired with Rose and Albus paired with Alexis. As usual, Alexis stayed put for him to Charm her, staring as if ready to point out what he did wrong the second it failed to work.
Alexis burst out laughing and banged her palm on the table in glee. Albus could not tell if it worked, or if she was laughing at a failed attempt. All he knew was what she seemed so cheery that even Professor Ackerly, who was passing by, stared in amusement. Then, she stopped, took a breath, and calmed down, making clear Albus had failed. Then, “Well, it worked temporarily. To be honest.”
“Oh, you were cheery?”
“What did it look like?” Alexis asked testily.
“I thought- I thought you were laughing at me,” Albus said honestly.
She did not even laugh at that suggestion. Somehow, Albus never failed to be straight and honest with Alexis. They stared at Mark and Laura. Both managed to cast it with Mark giving her pointers and Laura taking it all in wordlessly. Then, she sighed and said, “He asked her out to Hogsmeade tomorrow.”
Albus nearly choked in shock as he looked around at her, “What?”
“Yeah, and she was over the moon,” Alexis shrugged. “Why? Do you know her?”
“Not- come to think of it, I never really talked to her,” Albus shrugged. “Just… surprised. Mark’s told me plenty of times that he never liked her that way.”
“I think we’ve established a long time ago that Mark is a ferociously good actor,” Alexis reminded him. “What about you? Have you gone with anyone yet?”
“Wh-Why would I?” Albus mumbled, not completely with her now the subject had moved into clearly dark waters. The beliefs of Scorpius, Rose, and even Mark were clear once more as Alexis continued staring at him in wait. “I- Not really, no. No, just with friends.”
“So, you did go with someone,” she corrected. “You went with Scorpius.”
Albus was confused. He thought- he could have sworn she meant to ask if he ever had a date before. Then again, she asked him a straight-forward question. “Erm… I thought”-
“What did you think?” she asked calmly, not meeting his eyes. “I asked if you ever went with someone.”
“Ok, you’re confusing me,” Albus said straightly, trying to get his thoughts in order again. Alexis knew he went with people before. She saw him with Scorpius and Rose plenty of times. “Alexis, I’m kind of lost here. Is there- something you need?”
Alexis did not feel flustered but shook her head and put her hands on Albus’ knuckles like she always did when he was clearly tense. “I think the real question, Al is: Is there something you need?”
And it hit him. This was not a usual talk and Alexis was being ridiculously clever in directing the conversation exactly where she wanted it go. He smiled in spite of himself, in spite of a younger self who denied outright there was anything going on between them and asked, already knowing what the answer would be, “Do you- want to join me in Hogsmeade tomorrow? Is that it?”
And she smiled widely, no teeth showing this time. Albus was furiously red and so was she, as she put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Now that’s using the brain God gave you.”
Scorpius of course, burst out laughing when Albus told him with Gabriel Dagger overhearing. Albus insisted it really was just as friends but he waved it aside and said, “Al, that’s what they all say before they end up with twelve kids.”
“And a dog named Chester,” Gabriel put in casually. “Don’t forget the dog.”
“Each kid a year’s difference from each other,” Scorpius added.
Whatever Scorpius said, Albus still met Alexis outside by the lake. He wore a plain black shirt and black jeans. He smiled in acknowledgment and she smiled widely as he came. Alexis wore a purple shirt with blue jeans, looking almost boyish save for the ponytails she had tied in the back. “Hi, Al?”
“Alexis,” Albus nodded. “So, where to?”
“Hogsmeade, and we’ll look for somewhere to go there,” she shrugged. “Um, but don’t you think of taking me to Madam Puddifoots.”
The two laughed as they went on their way, hands clasped around each other, walking and consciously aware of the other’s presence. In fifteen minutes, they reached the village and looked around. Alexis seemed at quite the loss as to where they had to go so Albus felt obliged to break the impasse. “Well, we could try Honeydukes if you’re”-
“Yeah, they sell good lollipops,” she said brightly. “Did you have the one I gave you a while ago?”
Albus was flustered, “No, I didn’t.”
“Good, it was spiked with a love potion for Era,” she shrugged. “Give it to Malcolm. It’ll compliment his trouble.”
Albus widened his eyes. Alexis never ceased to amaze him but what did she have in mind? Why did she give it to him in the first place if it was spiked with a love potion for a hag? As they walked over to Honeydukes, Albus questioned her on this, “Why’d you give it to me if it had a dangerous love potion in it?”
“I thought it was a blood-flavored lollipop,” Alexis shrugged honestly. “And I thought you would give it to Riley. Or that you’d have it yourself or something. They’re not all that bad. Here we are!”
“So, there’s absolutely no significance behind that lollipop?” Albus asked as they walked in.
“None whatsoever,” Alexis told him plainly and honestly.
Their Honeydukes visit was uneventful. Alexis bought a whole packet of sweets from Droobles Best Blowing Gum to Ton Tongue Toffee and even two boxes of Bertie Botts Every-flavored Beans. “One is for my brother at home.”
“You have a brother?”
“Eight years old,” she said fondly. “Can’t wait till he joins us. Shame we won’t be sixth year till then.”
“Ok, Zonko’s next,” she suggested.
At Zonko’s, they were hailed by James Potter and Michael Finnigan. The two seemed to be examining a bright purple rocket when Alexis actually took two small fireworks and paid for them. Albus had no idea what she wanted with them but he sensed it was his turn to pick the destination and he did feel hungry. “Um… ok, The Dozen Eggs.”
“Dad told me it opened up last year,” Albus noted. “It’s a steakhouse.”
“Are you asking me to lunch?” she asked snidely.
Halfway there, Albus halted in shock, unable to understand the girl. Honestly, the more he talked to her, the more confusing she was. “Yes, I’m asking you to lunch,” he said resignedly
“Ok, let’s go,” Alexis shrugged.
Albus had never had a lunch with anyone apart from family before. Alexis, he found was great company. She, as she always was, was attentive and talkative and a very funny girl and to top everything, she was funny. The steak was ready in fifteen minutes and the next fifteen minutes were spent eating it, chuckling at a joke they had shared with each other.
At the end of the day, Alexis pulled out the rocket she got from earlier and the Bertie Bott’s box and sat themselves down on the small hill where the Shrieking Shack was located. “Perfect,” she commented. She spent a minute setting the rocket up while Albus opened the box.
He never had so much fun with anyone in his life. She set the rocket off which made so many shapes in the sky; a snake, an eagle, two wands crossing each other, and Albus somehow understood it all. They shared some Every-flavored Beans as they watched the light show and at the end of it all, when the beans were finished and the rocket was done, Alexis put an arm around him tightly in the most explicit suggestion to date and said, “I enjoyed our time together.”
And Albus turned to her, wanting to understand something, “If you wanted to spend time together, why not ask me?”
“I like playing with you,” she shrugged. “I would’ve asked you eventually but I should give you a chance. You were just as smart as I hoped you were. You would do well in Ravenclaw.”
“I don’t think so,” Albus disagreed with a smile. “The riddles would be the end of me.” And he looked at her with a small smile, “But I enjoyed our time too. You are”- and Albus stopped. He usually would have felt shy around a girl but with Alexis, someone he knew for so long, he felt very comfortable. “You are without a doubt the best person to hang out with.”
And there it came. She gave him a tight hug and this one, though he had many from her, felt different. Then, they broke apart and Albus smiled more to himself, and continued smiling as they walked back to school, completely aware that he had the best day of his life in Hogwarts.
And with such a good date with Alexis on his mind for the next week, it whizzed by, Albus in a good mood the entire time. He was at first worried that things would be uncomfortable between them but she treated him the same as ever, as if they never went on a date to begin with, partnering up with Charms, saying hi to each other in the corridors, and even throwing a smile during lunch. When he told Rose about it, she suggested that it was probably because she meant to treat him and nothing more or less. The two, however fond they were of each other, were not ready to date just yet. Still, Albus had to disagree. She was clear with her feelings and yet, they were clearly friends.
Happiness was of course only short-lived. The next Saturday, another Quidditch match dawned, and Jennifer stared at her whole team in a deathly way. “Hufflepuff! Understand, people! Hufflepuff! You know what this means? We had better win this, or so help me, I will change this whole team next year, and that’s a promise!”
Scorpius, who was leaning like a cool guy against the entrance, smirked, “Y’know, Jenny, the thing about Quidditch is that anything can happen. Even Hufflepuff could flatten us if luck was on their side.”
“Well, luck had better be with us today, or else!”
“So no pressure people,” Scorpius said happily, standing up straight and walking over to pick up his broom. “We win, or we get the hell out.”
“Who’s captain here?” Jennifer challenged.
Before Scorpius could answer, Philip Horton opened the doors of the changing rooms wide, and Jennifer led the way out into what was now splattering rain. Scorpius looked uncertainly at Jennifer, “When did we train for this weather?”
Jennifer gave Scorpius a cool look, and took off into the light rain. Albus felt it, “It’s a drizzle. Not that bad.”
On cue, the thunder boomed, and Scorpius looked over at Albus, “Drizzle, Al?”
Albus took off next, and Alex’s commentating was heard over the rolling thunder, “Welcome to Quidditch game Number four! Defending players, Slytherin and Hufflepuff are locked in a defensive duel to determine who will follow Ravenclaw out. Captains Jennifer Salsty and Henry Barcelona shake hands. Cantharis, our dear- erm…” Cantharis looked up at the podium threateningly, and Alex backed off, “Wonderful Quidditch Master releases the Bludgers and the snitch. The Quaffle follows, and the game begins!”
Lorcan was the first to take possession of the Quaffle. He barrel-rolled out of the way from a Hufflepuff Chaser, and dove up, two more on his tail. He threw it down for Malcolm to catch.
“Slytherin in possession, Mold passes it to Albus Potter. Seems we finally see teamwork on the Slytherin side. Albus positions himself, directly threatening Hufflepuff Keeper George Debby. He shoots! Ah! He missed. Off by a mile. Is the rain effecting Slytherin play?”
Hufflepuff took possession. Malcolm soared past the Chaser, and before anyone knew it, the Quaffle was in Slytherin hands, Alex laughed, “Well, easy to tell what area Mold has been training in! He passes it to Lorcan Scamander- OH, intercepted by Hufflepuff Chaser and Captain Henry Barcelona! Hufflepuff in possession. What happened to Slytherin skill! Are they deteriorating?”
As if that was the boost they needed; Albus stole it back, and passed it to Scamander. Scamander, in agitation, shot it from half-pitch, and Alex whooped, “Scamander attempts a shot from half-pitch! What the bloody hell was he thinking!” The Quaffle could’ve made it in, but the Keeper had enough time to block it, and block it he did. Alex laughed from the podium, “George saves it, and obviously making fun of Lorcan Scamander in his mind, passes it to his Captain and teammate Barcelona.”
Albus gaped at Lorcan. Lorcan flew away in the opposite direction, refusing eye contact with Jennifer or Albus. Scorpius scanned the pitch desperately. The next time Lorcan got the Quaffle was mere seconds later, and he passed to Albus. The aim was off, and Hufflepuff took it instead. It took Malcolm to steal it once more.
“MALCOLM SCORES!” Alex yelled. “The first goal of the game! Mold scores! Ten-zero to Slytherin! Hufflepuff once more in possession. Potter and Scamander surround the Captain. He passes- OH, and Mold intercepts it again! Seems to have true talent in the art of thievery. He rushes up the pitch, three Chasers behind him. Malfoy has seen the snitch! Mold scores! Michel on Malfoy’s tail! Slytherin in possession! The snitch racing up! It’s a mad game, I tell you!” and Alex seemed agitated. “Twenty-zero to Slytherin and the game is picking up. Hufflepuff seeker Michel Harp on Malfoy’s tail! Who will catch it! Only twenty points ahead, Slytherin could still lose. Harp gains in! Mold scores another goal! Pushes Malfoy’s arm out of the way, this looks close to a tussle!”
Albus stopped playing to watch. Scorpius was red-faced. Michel looked close to winning. Abandoning position, uncaring for foul play, Albus zoomed upward to get Harp off. Just then, a black bludger narrowly missed him, and zoomed for Michel. Philip zoomed after it, ready for another whack at it. Deciding Philip could handle it, he dove back down.
Michel did a maneuver, and next thing anyone knew, Scorpius ended up taking the Bludger instead. Alex whooped, “MALFOY IS HIT BY HIS TEAMMATE’S BLUDGER! The way clear, Michel has his day. He catches the snitch! The game is over. Hufflepuff wins the game! Hufflepuff beat- wait… Hufflepuff? They won, they actually won. They cheated! Do-over! I call a do-over. Hufflepuff hasn’t won in a millennia, five millennia if you count that game of uh… that game that… they won. WHY DID THEY WIN?”
The cheers from the stands were never heard before. The yellow-clad supporters were jumping up and down enthusiastically, hugging each other. Professor Macmillan too was jumping up and down, failing to remain neutral as teachers were bound to do as he gave thumbs up for the team. “Ok, I suppose they deserve that,” Alex conceded. “From a Gryffindor, congratulations Hufflepuff!” he yelled as Phoenix walked out onto the field to hand the cup to Michael.
Jennifer was furious.
Albus and Scorpius got what they feared! As Michel’s hands clasped around the snitch, Albus realized what happened. Michel had the fastest version of Firebolt, faster than Scorpius’ broom. Scorpius wasn’t getting any new brooms till the summer. Michel ordered a broom to beat Slytherin especially. A gamble paid off. A large yelling match in the Slytherin changing rooms. The yelling was mainly between Malcolm and Jennifer, but Albus certainly had his time too.
“I am kicking you from the team!” she screamed in Malcolm’s ear. “You’ve held us back, and”-
“I scored all our goals!” Malcolm yelled back. “Expel the others! I was the better player!”
“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL!” Scorpius raged. He stepped forward and sized himself and Malcolm up. Scorpius was about the same size now. “You couldn’t have done it without Al or Scamander, so quit taking the credit!”
“SEE!” Jennifer yelled! “This is what I mean! You can’t get along, and I warned you. And Malfoy, you allowed the snitch to be caught! Scamander, you true idiot, trying a goal from half-pitch like a professional.”
“I was about to help Scorps, but Philip had it!” Albus explained. “And Michel had a faster broom and did a weird move. How could we”-
“Potter, butt out!” Jennifer said in one breath. Silence in the room, and Jennifer walked up to face Albus, “You’ve done enough damage to our house’s reputation, and now you go and lose us a game? You’re sacked! I don’t want you on the team anymore. Definitely not you! You’ve done enough! Who wants his fate?”
Albus’ stomach dropped in major disappointment. It felt like the end of the world. Further silence. Then, Albus felt a rush of affection for the next speaker. Lorcan shook his head, and said, “I’m out.”
Malcolm smirked, “Good! Gryffindor scum deserve, it. See if they let you play on their team, hah!”
Jennifer looked directly at Scorpius, and Albus kept his eyes down. He didn’t want to meet his friend’s eyes. But he could almost hear Scorpius’ thoughts. He could sense Scorpius’ grey eyes staring down, and then his voice saying, “My father will hear of this. For the record, Jennifer, You can’t sack me, because I quit the team. So stay with Malcolm, the sore loser… and sore winner now I think of it!”
Albus got up to leave. He expected this, and didn’t want to hear it. Scorpius walked away from the room with him in silence. Even so, Albus could hear Jennifer saying to Lorcan, “I knew you’d stick up for that scum.”
Then, Albus heard Lorcan say something that showed Albus exactly what Scorpius meant when he said Lorcan was a true friend who fought tooth and nail on Albus’ behalf. “That scum had it rough in Gryffindor. Very rough. Expecting a heartwarming reunion at home, you all give it to him!” Lorcan said dirtily. “He stuck up for us!”
Albus stopped dead, and Jennifer responded, “Yeah, as expected, Scamander. Your family has gone a little down, hasn’t it?”
“Keep my family out of it!” Lorcan said angrily. “Albus is my friend. You’d do the same for your friends, wouldn’t you?”
“My friends don’t betray Slytherin house!”
Lorcan and Jennifer yelling filled Albus’ ears as he continued his walk out of the changing rooms to the castle. He could still almost hear them yelling at each other as Scorpius and him walked back up. Albus didn’t bother to dry up. He sat on the green couches, and stared down. The rest of the house didn’t arrive yet. They must’ve been having snack or something. The next to enter was Lorcan. He looked red in the face as he passed, without a glance at Albus, down to the dorm.
Albus began to think Lorcan was partly mad at Albus when the boy returned to stare straight at Albus and Scorpius, “Mark and the twins will be ready at six, so we need to get ready.”
Lorcan shook his head, “Forget it, Al. She was a real jerk, and I don’t wanna be on that team!”
“You didn’t have to”-
“Whatever, Al, I still did it,” Lorcan said miserably, sitting down and staring up into space.
Neither Albus or Scorpius got up. The three remained sitting in silence. Then, Lorcan surprised Albus a great deal. He knew Lorcan was stressed and it wasn’t lightening. Problems with Phoenix because he felt it his duty to stick up for Riley, a duel with Malcolm where he ended up in the hospital wing, and then a Quidditch problem and a threat of expulsion.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Lorcan whispered miserably. Albus looked in surprise as Lorcan finally burst into hard tears. He clutched the fabric of the couch hard as tears rolled down his eyes. With his other hand, he covered his eyes and hid his face in the couch like a small child losing his teddy bear.
Albus never felt more helpless. “Lorcan, I”-
“Why’re you trying so hard,” Scorpius asked calmly, gazing in mild interest and half surprise at Lorcan’s tearful sob.
“I- I have to,” Lorcan whispered, trying to control his crying long enough to speak. Tears still rolled down his cheeks in a stream of water. “I- I feel horrible if I don’t. People… in the world, they need help. I can’t watch Ril”- he couldn’t talk anymore. He fell into more tears, insides forcing his emotion out. “Riley… needs… help… not… fair…”
At a loss of what else to do, Albus reached out and gave him a small hug, trying to calm the younger kid. Scorpius might’ve rolled his eyes, but Albus didn’t care. Lorcan spent too much of the year trying his best to get Riley back in. It turned out to be unrealistic and Lorcan was threatened with expulsion before being kicked from the team. Now, he needed help.