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Chapter 4: A Handful of Needles
Bells chime airily over my head, and Oscar’s face pops up from behind the counter like a groundhog’s, his ears pricking up like a dog’s and his nose itching.
“Bellie!” he exclaims, leaping toward me.
“Hi,” I answer back softly. My mouth is charged and ready to splutter out to him a blundering apology, but his lips have stopped my voice, and it dies willingly halfway down my throat. He tucks me neatly into his measly arms, and his fingers dig into me tightly, pulling the fabric of my jumper. His short, skinny bones are hungry for me, and he grows as he laps at my skin. He holds me as though I’ve disappeared, and his fingers are too desperate to leave when his face does.
I fill myself with air and observe his warmth, which embraces me with a smile. His forehead against mine closes out the rest of the shop like a hospital curtain, and the privacy feels very safe.
“What was that for?” I ask, smiling back.
He grins. “You’re just so beautiful. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Come on, then!” he exclaims, pecking me quickly before grabbing my hand and pulling me toward the counter. His feet hop up and down off the ground.
“You’re rather chipper today,” I tell him as he flings me in many directions. I had expected him to sulk around with his hair in his face until I said something about it, the only point at which he could be sure I’d noticed his state of misery. But he is unbelievably happy after the disaster dinner last night, and the emotions seem genuine enough; Oscar is as good a liar as Drabbleblatt is a dressmaker.
“I’m just so glad you’re here!” he explains. “It’s been awfully slow today,” he continues very rapidly, looking over at a lone couple dressed in a matching set of fuchsia robes, “and I knew you’d come, I did. I don’t care what that Emory Kaiser bloke says, I knew you’d come!” He stares at me excitedly, the two green specks of his eyes glinting in concert with his voice.
“Of course I did,” I say, moving closer to him. “Got to make sure you keep yourself out of trouble, haven’t I?” But I wonder why he hasn’t offered me any ice cream yet, which is the first thing he does the second he sees me outside the door, and my eyes bore into his for a different reason than his bore into mine as I look for some reason as to why the hell he’s so perky.
After a few moments of listening to his bubbly little giggles, it comes.
“How’s your flat?” he asks.
“Did Emory Kaiser ever come back after I left?”
I shake my head, wishing he’d stop using Emory’s full name each time he mentioned the man.
“And you’re keeping your wand with you at all times?”
“Good.” He stops, the contentment on his lips turning into the excitement from before. “Because I was thinking all last night,” he continues, lowering his head and turning his back to the old couple by the window, “and—well, just listen to me for a minute, but I reckon Emory Kaiser killed that woman the other night.”
My eyes fire at him. “What?”
“Just listen for a moment,” he urges, grabbing my wrists before I can do anything with them. “If you think about it for just a moment, it makes sense! He appears without warning in your flat the day that woman was murdered—”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean he killed her!” I barge. Bits of me inside begin to smoulder, baring their teeth.
“But you have to agree that’s at least more than a coincidence,” he says, and his hands tighten around my wrists as every muscle in his face pleads at me. “Don’t you at least think so? He’s been gone for years—”
“—And he’s suddenly sitting on your sofa as if nothing happened!”
I twist my wrists in his hands, trying to get away. “Do you think I haven’t thought about that yet?” He quickly shushes me, and I realise how loud I’ve been speaking. I lower my head, and he releases me. “It’s a bit too much of a coincidence, yes,” I agree, and I see him relax in a slump of tight arms and air. “But just because Emory’s a right bastard doesn’t make him a killer!”
“I didn’t say—”
Somebody coughs behind us, and we both look over Oscar’s shoulder. A short girl has her chin resting on the counter, her face turned up so that I can see the insides of her nose. She asks in a pompous, wheedling little voice for a Shivering Somethingorother which, as Oscar doles it out, seems to be trying to escape the bowl, wanting to go anywhere but inside. The girl glares at me as though I’ve done something wrong as she snatches the bowl from Oscar and walks off.
He waits until the door slams behind her before he whips anxiously back to me and says, “And he wouldn’t show his arms, didn’t you notice that? He’s got the Dark Mark on one of them, I bet.”
My temper teeters dangerously on my teeth. “He was wearing sleeves, Oscar. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Oscar!” I snap. His mouth closes instantly. I take a deep breath to steady myself. “I know Emory is arrogant and rude and whatever you may call him, but he would never kill someone. He’s not like that. I don’t care what you think about him, I know who he is, all right? Trust me, okay?”
“Excuse me.” Oscar turns around again, his response erased from his face. It’s the girl from before, whose nose seems larger now than it had before. “I gave you thirteen sickles for this, but you only gave me back three knuts.”
Oscar mumbles something as she continues to berate him for his idiocy and inability to count. She trots off after she’s received the proper amount of change, and I expect Oscar to continue at me with a louder tone, but he stands in his place, his palms pressed into the counter and his arms digging into his shoulders. His hair is in his face, and I can’t see what is going on underneath it.
It appears that our conversation is over.
“You’re coming with me tonight.”
I blink, dropping my purse on the table. Coins clink around inside. “Excuse me?”
“Don’t pretend like you don’t want to, Tinkers.”
My eyes search him warily. He is sitting on the sofa, a Daily Prophet at his feet, which are sprawled out across my coffee table. There is a thick book in his hands that looks much too expensive to have been bought with his own money. I linger over his arm, but it is covered by a tight fabric.
“I’m meant to meet Oscar at Florean’s before he gets off work.”
He snorts, his head bobbing back and forth. “Not tonight.”
I let air out of my mouth. I had expected something different from him, that he would have grown up on his magnificent journey or whatever the hell he’d been doing the past year. But he is still the same prat I’ve known since Potions the first day of school.
“You can’t do that, Emory.”
The book falls into his lap. “Wouldn’t you like to go to a nice restaurant?”
A restaurant sounded more appealing than an ice cream parlour filled with flavours I hated. But I couldn’t help the sinking feeling that Oscar was right, that I should stay away from him. But Emory couldn’t have killed anyone.
It was then that I heard the erratic whirring. It sounded like a small person breathing in a circle. It came from the study, trickling into my ears, buzzing around like a dying gnat.
“What’s that sound?”
He looked up from his book. “Hmm?”
“You hear it.”
He looked through the hallway toward the study. “Oh.” He switches back to his book. “That damn Sneakoscope has been going off all day.”
I deflate like a pierced balloon, adrenaline taking over the empty space. “Oh, Merlin.”
I run across the room, skidding through the hallway into the study. The first thing I notice is the large mattress slapped on the middle of the floor. The contents of Emory’s suitcase are spewed across the place, on the desk, the chair, and the shelf. He seemed to have made a home of the place, which relieved me despite the mess, because that meant he’d probably stay for a while longer.
“Accio Sneakoscope!” I yell. The damn thing comes flying out of his sock drawer, a drawer that had been for my desk the other day. “Godammit, Emory why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“Tinkers, shut up,” he says from the other room.
I walk heatedly out of the door and to the edge of the corridor. “When did this go off?”
He shrugs. “Dunno. I was buying some food for us so you could make a nice lunch for yourself, but you weren’t home in time…”
I narrow my eyes. Emory has never gone shopping. I go to the kitchen, my jaw set, and yank open the door of the refrigerator. Resting there on the top shelf is a glowing cake that looks as though it should be sitting in a gold throne with a red cape and an expensive crown. I slam the door shut.
He could very well be lying to me, the arse. I want to believe him. But he’s worn long sleeves, hiding from me the skin of his wrists. He’d shown up the day of the murder.
The damn Sneakoscope is whirring around in my fingers, all but having a damn seizure, but he is not a killer. It would have gone off the second he walked through the door. Except he had had time to hide it, to destroy it for all its worth before I walked through the door. He’d been sitting on the sofa waiting for me, and I’d jumped into his arms as though he were a pool of lush yellow daisies.
My mind shakes. He wouldn’t have stayed. He’d have run off and gone back into hiding. He would have killed me, too.
My brain is curled up and is rocking back and forth.
“Do you know why it went off, then?” I ask, walking back to him. My voice is unsteady.
“Maybe there’s a racoon in here,” he replies, looking at me sarcastically.
I scoff. “Emory, this is serious. Someone was killed the other night.”
He’s chuckling at me. “Tinkers, calm the hell down.” He flips the book casually across the coffee table. “Nothing’s going to happen. The Ministry is here, aren’t they?”
“You hate the Ministry.”
“I never said that.”
“Oh, yes you did. That’s all the hell you could talk about seventh year.”
He glares at me now. “I had my reasons.”
“Fuck that! You ran away from home and your poor mummy was a Muggle. That’s not their damn fault.”
“You haven’t told me a damn thing about yourself. I don’t even know your goddamn middle name!” My hand grips my wand more tightly. I walk threateningly toward him. “I’m the one damn thing you have even close to a friend, Emory. If you’re going to be living in my house, I of all people in this world have a right to know where the hell you’ve been and what the hell you’ve been doing, because I sure as hell was the one person who spent months worrying whether or not you were still living!” My wand is trembling now, brandished and aimed directly at his head.
He stands up slowly, his face smooth and his eyes commanding. His chest meets the tip of my wand. “Where I was,” he starts, his voice low, “is none of your business.”
“Really?” I say caustically. I hold up the Sneakoscope pointedly.
He sighs. “That went off when I took money out of your purse so I could get food and a new book because the ones you have around here might as well be about rainbow-coloured ponies.”
My teeth suddenly are stuck together. I feel compressed. Doubt fills me like vodka.
“I don’t believe you.”
He laughs. “You don’t have to.”
I don’t know whether to be terrified of him or to slap him across the face. “I don’t understand why you’re so calm about this.”
He pushes my wand down from his chest, and I let him, letting it fall limp at my side.
“Because you’re coming with me, and no one can kill us.” He walks to a bag sitting against the wall behind me, and my eyes follow him in time to catch the black ball of fabric flying at my face. “Put that on and stop talking.”
“No,” I growl. “I’m meeting Oscar tonight.”
Air comes out through his nostrils. “Then I’ll undress you myself.”
I have words ready in my mouth, but my eyes widen because he is coming toward me. He closes in greedily, hands outstretched until they latch on to the hem of my jumper. He gives it a tug upward, cocking his head to the side as he gages my reactions.
I stand still.
“You know,” he rumbles, moving closer, “I’d always imagined we’d be doing this in a much darker room, and you’d be clawing to get my shirt off, too, but we could do it this way, if you’d like.” He smirks, giving my shirt another tug. “Arms up, then, Tink.”
“Oh, get off!” I yell, throwing my arms out and pushing him away so that he staggers backward. “You’re absolutely filthy!”
He laughs. “Sorry, dear. I showered this morning. Now, I’m not one to go for a girl with unusual fetishes, but if you prefer me unnaturally hygienic, I suppose I can sacrifice a shower or two.”
Because he is staring at me so intently, I cannot bring up the courage to say anything back to him, and so I spin deliberately on my heel and stomp through the door of my room and slam it loudly behind me.
I hadn’t ever considered myself to be terribly pale until his damn dress is on me, the darkness of the fabric bringing out the darkness of the circles under my eyes. It stops before my knees and displays very well how odd they look, sticking out at different angles. I turn away from the mirror in disgust and return to the living room, where Emory looks me over with amusement. I cross my arms across my chest.
“I could have put that on much better than you did.”
I ignore his comment and instead say, eyebrows raised, “You own a suit?”
He scoffs at me, adjusting his tie. “It’s quite easy to get past Muggle security. Now, come on, we’re going to be late.” He grabs onto me, and I let him, for I’ve known all along I never really wanted to go meet Oscar, and he twists backward, pulling me into the darkness with him.
We land heavily, and he holds me tightly as if I can’t damn Apparate myself. His arms are like big, twiggy vines, wrapping around me and keeping me stationary.
“I don’t much appreciate,” I start, grabbing his wrist and twisting it off of me, “the fact that you think you can just take away my free will.” I turn and face him, my arms halting firmly at my side.
He puts his hands in the pockets of his coat. “I’m not doing anything with your free will.” He walks past me, his shoulders laughing. I stand there for a moment and watch as the street gets closer to him. I curse.
My feet break into a trot and my mind groans as the mouth of the alleyway spits me out. “What is that supposed to mean?”
He keeps walking. I follow him into the crosswalk.
“Hmm?” He doesn’t acknowledge me as he speaks. He looks ahead with his damn overconfident expression and his damn overbearingly elegant posture. I pull my shoulders back. Oscar has good posture, too.
“You’re not doing anything with my free will?” I repeat, my words accusatory.
He shakes his head. “Not a thing.”
I want to rip his voice out and tear it up with my hands. “Would you stop doing that?”
We’re at the sidewalk now, and I’ve caught up with him, but I can’t get past his shoulder.
“Doing what?” He slows now, cutting past me as he moves toward a glass door that’s orange with light.
“Being so cocky.”
“Hah.” He opens the door. “As you so wish it, Your Highness.”
The look I send at him as I walk through the door is prickly, and I make sure to clap my heels against the ground with extra force as I enter.
The place is warmly lit and the air smells like burning cinnamon. Candles hang from the ceiling in stained-glass baskets, fading onto the tables and walls in rich reds and browns. There is a collection of black and white photography around the place, featuring large, muscular women with heavy brows and big feet. They stare down at me in an oddly comforting way. But they remain where they are in their frames, their mouths turned down and their droll, flushed cheeks crowding their eyes. It’s a Muggle restaurant.
“Guten Abend! Haben Sie eine Vorbehalt?” says a man behind a red-ribboned counter who looks very much like the women in the photographs.
My head turns to Emory, who says back, “Ja. Unter Kaiser. Für zwei.”
My mouth opens unhappily. “You took me to Germany?”
He grins. “I told you we’d be safe, didn’t I?”
The bulky tomato-man approaches us with his hands out, talking in a language that sounds like a great angry mob throwing rocks at a wall. Emory responds easily, and the two laugh in a very informal way, as if they’ve known each other for a long time. I push my lips together and cross my arms as I follow them deeper into the restaurant. The words register in my ears as a jumble of guttural snorts, and I sit down with an exhausted frustration as the man pulls my chair out for me, smiling sloppily.
A few more minutes of jolly grunts and huffs pass before the man presents us with our menus and bids us goodbye with a dip of his head.
“Do you know him?” I ask when he leaves.
“No,” Emory answers over his menu. I don’t touch mine. I have no plans to eat. “He’s heard of me, though.”
“Heard of you?” I say sceptically. He thinks he’s a damn celebrity. For a moment I’d thought he’d made an effort to drop his ego.
“My father used to own this place.” He says it casually, his eyes making a circle around the ceiling ahead of him.
I blink, my irritated thoughts dissolving. A blank, curious space opens in my mind, and it bothers me that his expression says nothing but the possibility that he is hungry. The only other time Emory has mentioned his father to me had been in a broom cupboard sixth year when I’d asked him about his summer holidays, and even then the information had been brief. He’d said his father was a bastard and that he’d made the decision never to return home again. He’d never mentioned any of his other family, and I’d always assumed his mother had died before he’d gotten to school. But talking about his father now, it would seem that nothing had ever happened between the two of them.
My silence is disrupted by a shrill sound of “Emory!” My head snaps toward the back of the restaurant, where a woman is flying toward us. I narrow my eyes. Her hair is dark, and as she approaches, I see the gray underneath. She has a large bosom that collects at her navel, and her gut is firm. A gnarled scar runs across her cheek.
Emory turns his head as well, and his lips quirk into what appears to be a genuine smile. Something inside me knots. In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve only seen that smile twice.
The woman embraces him as he stands, and I can see him sway with the force of her. “Hallo, Sylvia.” His tone is warm, and he pats her on the back. It makes me wonder if this woman is his mother, but she bears no resemblance to him whatsoever.
Sylvia continues bantering to him like a hummingbird, throwing her hands into the air and putting them on his face with more affection than I thought possible to direct toward him. I sit politely and watch them, and the knot, the rock of pressure somewhere in my stomach, expands as Emory nods and laughs.
I hear him mention the name “Bellie” through all his gibberish, and he turns to me, his smile wry now. At this, Sylvia’s mouth opens, her eyes lighting up. She claps her hands together with an exuberant “Oh!” and lunges toward me.
“Oh! Glückwünsche! Du bist—”
Emory interrupts. “Sie spricht nur Englisch.”
Sylvia turns back to him and laughs, embarrassed, her face blushing up like a balloon.
“Es tut mi—” she begins, but stops, giggling and clearing her throat. “Em—I am sorry.” Her accent is thick, but her face is apologetic enough to understand. “He is so good. Be good, Bellie, to him, ja?”
I look over at Emory, whose face is simply tickled pink. I look back at Sylvia, whose hand is caressing my cheek as though I am some heavenly relic. I’m afraid she’s about to start crying. Emory has told her something, and I don’t like it much at all.
“Yes,” I agree hesitantly, putting an unrehearsed smile on my face and nodding my head. “Ja.”
She gives another exclamation at my German, and stands up. “Wine! Yes, I will go. You need wine!” She scurries off quickly, and Emory watches her go before he sits down, pulling up his sleeves and slumping in his chair as if he’s just come home from a long day’s work.
“What the hell did you tell her?” I ask, my fingers gripping the handles of my chair.
He snickers, sitting up and leaning forward. “I told her you’re my wife, and we’re on our honeymoon.”
My eyes widen, but as much of an instinct I have to be angry with him, I can’t help feeling completely elated. I lift my elbows and put them on the table, my forehead falling into my fingers to cover my eyes as I laugh. “Oh, Merlin.” I shake my head in disbelief. “Who is she, anyway, Sylvia?” I lift my fingers to see him.
He shrugs. “Old friend.”
I straighten up, grabbing my napkin for something to hold. “I suppose you’ll tell her I’m pregnant when she comes over next?”
He raises an eyebrow. “I don’t imagine we’ve been on our honeymoon that long, Tinkers.”
He surveys me, his face alight. “You’re having fun.”
I freeze, my muscles tightening. My chuckling expression drops. “No,” I answer quickly, remembering I’m mad at him for bringing me here. “I’m just—looking forward to being drunk and forgetting who you damn are.”
“Oh?” He readjusts his seat. “Rebellious, are you, Bellie?”
My eyes snap to him, a large, red mark whipping across his face. “No. You’re not to call me that.”
“You let Oscar, don’t you?” He puts his foot on his knee. “He special or something?”
My lungs harden, and I grab my menu so I don’t have to look at his wry little face. “I hate it when he calls me that, and I am in no need to hear it from you, too.” But the menu is in German, and I can’t read a word of it. “You tell Sylvia when she comes back my name is Mirabelle.”
“Of course, Bellie.”
The grip around my menu tightens, and I pretend to read it. I can tell Emory thinks this is funny, because he leans back in his chair and doesn’t move his head. I try to make sense of the words for a few vehement moments before Sylvia comes back, two bottles of red wine in her hands.
“The best!” she says, slapping them onto the table so that the stuff inside whips around as if in a sudden panic. She pours it in the same manner, and it cascades out of the bottle’s throat haphazardly, bubbling and foaming in the glasses she’s provided. It fills in dark red circles. “Food?” she asks then. “What will you have?”
He answers quickly, and I assume begrudgingly he’s ordered for me as Sylvia grabs for my menu. I give it up, but replace it immediately with the wine glass.
“Ah—Sylvia,” he calls, as she makes a move to scurry away. He speaks now in German, his voice lower, and I watch them as the glass pushes up against the bridge of my nose. Her face becomes suddenly grave, and she shakes her head, her eyes turned down mournfully. My ears strain. Emory is still. He responds to one word of her monologue—Rolf—with an arch of his brow. My breath echoes through the glass, and I put it down as Sylvia prances away again.
“What did you say?”
He regards me with a roll of his eyes and pushes himself from the table, his elbows jutting out like tired springs. “You’re a nosy little bitch, Tinkers, you know that?”
My mouth falls open as he glides away, his hand ripping at the tie around his neck, his shoulders burdened with some heavy force that’s contracting his spine as hard as it is pushing him forward. My fingers tighten around the neck of the wine glass, my teeth locking together and my breath coming fast.