Chapter 21 The Living Nightmare

The Goblin’s Amulet

Chapter 21: The Living Nightmare

Albus could not ask for anything better. Finally, just before students had to start studying for exams, Alexis had decided to talk to him. Albus was a little surprised she had picked that day and during a Hogsmeade weekend no less. A part of him thought he would have it no other way. He walked with her in what was at first silence. Soon, they appeared to arrive back on the hill of the Shrieking Shack. Though Albus truly believed Soto did not inhabit the shack, he still felt uncomfortable and even more so when Alexis sat down on the grass in silence, staring passively at the abandoned shack.

“Remember our first date, here?” Alexis asked quietly.

Albus sat next to her and looked over at it, unsure of where she was going with this. For the first time, she acknowledged it for what is was. A date. Though the two had never admitted it openly, never declared their mutual liking for the other, even outright denied it to their respective roommates, to each other it was what it was. A date.

“Yeah, I remember,” Albus said wistfully.

“For a first date, we did pretty well,” Alexis commented. “Except the beginning part. You took a while to get the message. But then… who doesn’t?”

Albus’ heart was contracting. A part of him just wanted to squeeze her hands again, hug her, talk to her as he always did, and return things to normal. Alexis had once filled the void that was his social life in second year. As they grew older, she became a bigger part of his social life. Without her, there once again existed a void and it needed to be filled. At all costs.

Albus was not sure how he managed the first time, but he got out in one breath as incomprehensible as possible, even gulping nervously in the middle of it, “Alexi-lovu.”

Alexis blinked and turned, “Sorry?”

Albus had so nearly made his confession distinguishable but he could not. He just shook his head and said, “Nothing- I mean,” he coughed again.

Alexis touched his knuckles to calm him, looking at him the way she always did when expecting him to tell her something troubling. Her touch of course brought a flood of memories back, one more prominent than the others. The first time they met.

“Wingardium Leviosa,” Albus practiced and as hoped the feather started rising.

Alexis smirked and childish one and withdrew her wand. In a second, she muttered “Gravis.”

Albus had to work harder to keep the feather afloat and she made it heavier and heavier by the second until he finally dropped it. He was surprised it did not smash a hole in the desk. Alexis had fared better than he had but not so much better. This time, the feather smashed a hole in the desk in its shape, causing Alexis to laugh loudly. “Seen Muggle cartoons, Al? Just like that.”

Since then, they had always partnered and she had always given him pointers in Charms till he was exemplary at it. Then, the first time he had ever told someone outside of his immediate circle of family or friends anything bothersome. At that time, it was Mark.

After failing the Cheering Charm for the fifth time, Alexis shook her head and put her hand on Albus’ white knuckles, calming them. “What’s up, Al? You look tense.”

Albus had never before confided anything in Alexis though she was attentive. He had no choice this time though. Looking into Alexis’ soft face, her brown pigtails blending with her eyes, he said, “Mark.”

Albus was brought back to the present when her voice sounded again, “Al, don’t be nervous. Say what’s on your mind.”

He wanted to. He really did. But something, a knot in his throat, maybe shyness or embarrassment, probably a combination of all three kept him silent. With a great breath, he just managed to say, “I can’t.”

Alexis raised an eyebrow but kept silent. She got up to signal it was time to walk back but she did not move. When he got up too, she turned to him. And Albus would never, ever forget this. “Remember when I told you that we would talk?” When Albus nodded silently, and rather hopefully, she shook her head, “I think… I’ll have to break that promise.”

If Albus thought before that something between them had snapped after the Jinx, he felt it again now. Something was severed and there was no tying it back together. Not so easily. Not something time would mend. No. It would take something more. And as long as Albus was in the dark, that something more was forever out of reach.

“Why?” he gulped.

“I don’t know,” she said honestly and cryptically. “I- I’m not even sure I’ll… look…” and she stopped too. She seemed so heartbroken and split up. Then, her eyes took on a new face and Albus stepped back slightly, taken-aback by the sudden change. She did not quite meet his eyes, “Al, I’m so sorry.”

“Wha”-

There was a bright flash. He thought he made out red light, a jet of green light perhaps, but darkness ruled over more. He snapped awake and found himself in his own dormitory. Funny.

Albus looked around. It looked like morning based on the empty bed and the state of the trunks by the other beds. He heaved a sigh of relief. It was a dream. He had never visited Hogsmeade. Not yet. He never saw Riley taking a whole bunch of underage students out of Hogwarts, never sat by the shack, never hallucinated Soto’s appearance or even Alexis.

It seemed so real but it was just a dream. A bad dream it seemed he might never wake up from. A nightmare. He shook his head and walked out of the dormitory. The Common room was empty save for a few people. They were faceless to him at the moment. He just walked past them, ignoring Samantha’s calls or Gabriel’s snide jokes and landed himself in the dungeons. He could hear the Great Hall alive for breakfast but… what a late breakfast. The sky outside the windows was dark.

For a dark moment, Albus thought Alexis had really stunned him and took him back to Hogwarts before he remembered she did not know the password or the location of the Slytherin Common room. If he had been stunned, someone like Scorpius or Riley would have woken him up a while ago. No, he had been asleep. But he had overslept. Big time.

<i.“This boy has a curse inside him. It’ll act up every now and then…”

Orgella had said there was a curse inside him. Was she telling the truth? Did the curse act up and keep him asleep? Why did nobody wake him up? Mark? Scorpius? Riley? Or… was he still trapped inside his own nightmare? The hall behind the doors went quiet and it seemed Phoenix was making a speech but Albus was uninterested. Looked around the Entrance hall, alert. He heard scuffling, no, snuffling in a chamber off the hall. Someone was crying.

Yeah, this was a nightmare. Like out of a horror movie. He inched closer and his heart did a double-take as he gasped in surprise. He recognized the sob. It was Hugo. Albus stepped back once, thinking he would not disturb him when he stopped. Hugo? Crying? Nothing made Hugo cry. He was emotionally strong. Unless…

Albus walked in on him and Hugo, out of surprise fell back on his chair. Albus walked forward to help him up but Hugo waved his hand around to shoo him off. He never, ever acted that way to Albus before. Never in living memory. “Go away!” he yelled, tears flying from his eyes. “You broke your promise!”

“Hugo- what?”

“You swore!” he sobbed, covering his eyes again.

Albus didn’t care anymore. He took a seat concernedly, unsure what had happened but heart beating wildly. His troubles were supposed to be over. In the dream, it looked like they would be until he woke up. But something felt very out of place. He was missing something. And something told him that whatever he was missing, it was too late to find it.

“Hugo, what happened???” Albus yelled, forcing his hands from his eyes. “Tell me, mate. What happened? You- you’re never like this!”

But once, that year he nearly was. “You have to take care of her, Al,” Hugo said bluntly, eyes watering. “I’m trusting you. I can only sleep half the night because I know James and Mark are on her too. I need you.”

“Hugo,” Albus said uncertainly, dreading the answer to the question he was about to ask. “Where’s Lily?”

Hugo did not break down more but he did seem shaken. Albus could tell, without words that Hugo had no idea. What a perfect time. She waited for Albus to oversleep the entire day before she disappeared. He gulped once as Hugo managed to utter, “I c-c-can’t find her anywhere. She’s gone!”

Albus almost had a heart attack. “What do you”- he couldn’t finish. No, he was mistaken. Hugo had lost Lily before. Even at home. He shook his head, “When was the last place you saw her?”

Hugo’s response nearly finished the heart attack job his first utterance started. “Hogsmeade. With you!”

Hogsmeade.

It wasn’t a dream. It was not even a nightmare. Albus would have preferred even the latter. It was reality. And something terrible had happened. Albus could not even stand up by himself. Hugo had to help him up, eyes still watery but he looked more together, “I’m sorry, Al. I forgot I’m not the only one who- who loves Lily dearly.”

“Come with me,” Albus whispered.

Hugo raced behind him, drying his tears. Albus stopped in front of the Common room entrance, not really giving a damn who was with him and stuttered, C-Cobra.

The wall opened up and the two ran in. The few that were in the Common room were stunned by Albus as he raced to his dormitory. He rummaged through his trunk, took the map out and tapped it with his wand, Hugo with him and in unison said, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

Albus’ eyes poured over the map even as the lines formed themselves. They looked everywhere. Albus knew, he felt so strongly that he would heave a sigh of relief as he spots Lily’s dot and direct Hugo to her. He would close the map and think about Alexis instead. But Alexis for once was the least of his worries now. His eyes raked over the Great hall, the Gryffindor Common room, the library, Hagrid’s hut, the grounds, the greenhouses, every classroom on every floor, even the dungeons. He looked everywhere and the truth settled itself in.

She’s gone.

Not just Lily, but subconsciously thinking of her too, Alexis was gone too. She too was not in Hogwarts. Then they had to be in Hogsmeade. Both were too young to Apparate and both were last seen in Hogsmeade. He blinked as he realized something else. The suspicious little boy Seth Lean had also disappeared. Three students were gone. Three. But only one mattered over all others.

Albus could feel Hugo shaking. He seemed to be trying to hold himself together now he had stopped crying. Just as Albus started to accept what was happening and who needed to be told regardless of whatever dinner was taking place, a black crow appeared from under his bed. It cawed at him and Hugo, regarding the latter with disdain. It dropped a letter nonetheless before incinerating itself.

“I know where she is,” Albus said quietly to Hugo’s curiosity.

Albus bent down to read the letter, a part of him well aware that Hugo was not supposed to know this much. And Albus knew what it would say before he even read it.

She’s mine, now. You have been warned.

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