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Chapter 9: When Good Sense Goes on Holiday
I knew I must be losing my mind when I agreed to go to a Quidditch match with him.
I’d only ever been to one Quidditch match in my life. Dad took Vivian and me to one when we were kids. I didn’t understand it, and didn’t remember much of it, but I’m fairly certain I was bored by it. Then again, I was only ten years old, and I think a lot of things tend to be boring when you’re ten.
Still, I was going to feel very bad if I ruined Percy’s day by being hopelessly lost or anything less than enthusiastic.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather take someone else?” I asked him at work the day before the match.
“Like who? Him?” He gestured vaguely toward Robbie Saunderson, who looked like he was currently suffering a mental breakdown over a sheet of statistics at his desk.
“Well, you’ve got brothers, haven’t you?”
Percy’s eyes grew wide. “These are really good tickets. My sister was able to get them through someone she knows from Puddlemere, and she gave them to me on very hard terms. Please do not make me waste them on one of my brothers.”
He gave me an amused look and added, “And stop trying to get out of it. I think you’re going to like it.”
“What if I don’t?” I challenged. “What if it’s dreadfully boring and steals three hours of my life that I can never get back?”
“Well, don’t blaspheme, Audrey, this is Puddlemere we’re talking about!”
Defeated, I rolled my eyes, and, since nobody was around but Robbie, stood on my toes and kissed Percy on the cheek before heading back to my own office.
“We could be lucky,” he added before I reached the door. “It might be a long match that steals three days out of your life. You‘d be stuck with me the entire weekend.”
Well, no complaints here. Bring it on, Quidditch.
I came home that night to the scent of Vivi’s legendary chocolate cherry scones. This was one of her specialties. It was likely that either she was trying to make someone very happy, or she was wildly depressed and planned to eat them all herself.
Vivi’s voice floated out of her bedroom and I presumed she was talking to someone on the telephone, so I took the liberty of reaching for one of the scones that were cooling on a tray.
As soon as I touched it, I received a sharp zap, like a tiny volt of electricity.
“Ow!” I shook my hand. “Damn, Vivian!”
I’d forgotten just how much that smarted. It was a trick Vivi and I had learned rather quickly when we were younger, to keep Dad - and occasionally each other - from nicking whatever we were cooking.
“Serves you right!” announced Vivian, emerging from her room, still holding the phone to her ear. “What? No, Mum, Audrey’s just got home. Hold on a moment.”
“What was that for? Have you got national security secrets baked into these?” I demanded.
“No, mostly it’s just funny. I knew you’d try to nick one. Go on, have one.” She waved her wand.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked, breaking off a piece and popping it into my mouth.
“Work?” That was suspicious. Vivi must want something. “Um… why?”
“It’s called kissing up, darling!” she declared happily. “I’ll have Jane Bryson’s spot if it’s the last thing I - hold on, Mum!”
If only all evil villains tried to take over the world using delicious pastries.
“Should a medical professional really be encouraging people to consume sweets like this?”
But Vivi was no longer listening to me - she was rolling her eyes at something Mum was saying.
“Well, I’m sure I don’t know - why don’t you talk to her yourself?” Then she thrust the phone toward me, covering the mouthpiece with her hand as she whispered, “Please talk to her, she’s been talking my ear off for an hour! Michael’s been expecting me for almost two!”
“Scones are clearly more important than being on time,” I observed, taking the phone from her.
“My sodding career is more important!” She began poking about the kitchen, muttering about how she’d like Jane Bryson to be stranded on an island with a tribe of cannibals during her upcoming holiday.
“Hi, Mum,” I said into the phone.
“Hello, darling. It’s rather late for a Friday, isn’t it? Have you been stuck at work all this time?”
I paused. “Mostly, yes." And maybe snogging my boyfriend.
“What are you doing this weekend?”
“Um, Quidditch match with Percy tomorrow.”
“Oh, that sounds fun.” Then she spoke away from the phone, obviously to my dad. “Audrey says she’s going to see a Quidditch match tomorrow.”
This was typical of most conversations with Mum - every now and again she had to pause to fill Dad in on something Vivi or I had said. It was the primary reason our phone calls with Mum lasted as long as they did. Dad could have cared less about what Elsa Norwood said to Vivi about Kitty Martin at work, but he was generally forced to hear it all anyway. This time, however, he took the phone from my mother.
“Sweet pea!” He chuckled. “Quidditch!”
“It isn’t nice to laugh at people, you know.”
He ignored me. “You must really like this fellow.” His voice became suspicious. “He isn’t a Wasps supporter, is he?”
“No.” I tried to remember the name of Percy’s favorite team. “Puddle…something.”
“That’s the one.”
“I suppose that’ll do. You know, it used to be if you wanted to get involved with a girl you were supposed to agree with her dad about Quidditch.”
“He’s supposed to agree with her father about politics.” Not likely in my situation, knowing Percy and knowing my dad.
“Quidditch is politics, sweet pea. You know I could never have one of my daughters running around with some witless Wimbourne…” He trailed off, apparently thinking.
“Having trouble thinking of an insult beginning with ‘w’ that you’re willing to use in front of me, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. But you get the point. Let’s talk about politics instead.”
“Dad, give the phone back to Mum before I throw myself out the window.” I started looking absently through my wardrobe. What did one wear to a Quidditch match, anyway?
“Alright, alright. Oh, hey, how’s that wand issue at work coming on?”
I sighed. “It’s a mess. I feel like I’m getting nowhere. There’s no apparent pattern other than the unicorn hair. And what are we really going to do, recall every unicorn hair wand made in the past year? It’s ridiculous. I’m waiting for the Magical Creatures Department to finish their end of the investigation, and hopefully we’ll get somewhere. But right now I’m just not seeing any good solution.”
“Well, mind you don’t drive yourself mad over it. You put too much pressure on yourself, Audrey.”
While trying to think of a good response, I noticed something about the contents of my wardrobe was off. Something was missing. I waved my wand, and two of my shirts and a skirt came flying into my room from Vivian’s and replaced themselves, prompting a surprised “Oi!” from my sister.
“I’ve no doubt you’ll find a way to sort it out,” continued my dad. “But it might not have the perfect solution you’re looking for, so don’t torture yourself if you don’t find it. You know, when you really think about it, some problems aren’t even meant to be solved.”
I knew he was just trying to make me feel better, but I scoffed anyway. “Well, this one can’t not be solved. And may I say, that may well be the least helpful piece of advice ever.”
“One day I think you’ll come to realize it’s the most helpful piece of advice you’ve ever heard.”
“Anyway,” he said after a pause, “have fun at the match tomorrow. Say, when are you going to bring this guy around?”
“When you learn to behave yourself,” I replied, raising my eyebrows and recalling what it was like bringing my other boyfriends home to meet my parents.
“I do behave myself.”
“How quickly we forget the Bobby Price debacle. I’m still embarrassed. And the time with Nev Baker.”
“That kid was weird.”
“You’re weird, Dad.”
Saturday was beautiful. It was sunny and warm, so the weather was perfect for a late afternoon Quidditch match. Just one of those days that makes you feel happy and alive. It was the kind of day when my dad would be out in the garden for hours on end and my mum would walk down the road to a neighbor’s house, just to take advantage of the sunshine. I was glad to be getting out of the city so I could enjoy it properly.
The match was in Exmoor, near the coast, and the view was breathtaking - which was perhaps the one good thing about having seats so high up in the stands.
When we reached the right spot, I placed a cautious hand on the railing in front of me, peered out across the pitch, then, against my better judgment, looked straight down.
“Oh!” I stepped back and grabbed hold of Percy’s arm as though it would keep me from plummeting to the ground. “This…this is really high…”
He chuckled. “You’ll be alright. Would I let anything happen to you? Here - ” He guided me forward. “Stand here, and don’t look down, you don’t need to anyway. Unless one of the players tries to take out the spectators in the stands.”
I looked around at him in shock. He tried and failed to suppress a grin.
“Oh, you’re very funny.”
Straightening his glasses unnecessarily, and repressing further laughter, he put one arm about my waist and with his free hand started pointing out the important aspects of a Quidditch pitch and explaining how the game was played. I recognized a few terms I’d heard my dad mention before, but for the most part I was concentrating very hard on processing all the information - all the while gripping the rail in front of me like a lifeline.
As the stadium continued to fill up, a few people passed by who tapped Percy on the shoulder or called his name, and on these occasions he turned briefly to say hello or shake someone’s hand. At one point, after shaking the hand of a short, blond man, he turned back to me with a perfectly straight face and whispered, “I have absolutely no idea who that is.” He then went on spouting a great deal of Quidditch information that I knew I could never keep track of.
When the players finally flew out onto the pitch - Puddlemere, I learned, in blue and gold robes, and Montrose in black and white - Percy began pointing out players.
“She’s good, she’s a Chaser… He’s a Chaser, too, he’s alright… He’s rubbish, don’t pay any attention to him… That one, the Keeper, I went to school with him…”
As soon as the match started, however, I was utterly lost. It was a fast-paced game, and there seemed to be too many things going on all at once - and add to that the noise coming from the crowd, which grew about five times louder when Montrose scored the first goal (I could follow that much, at least).
“Bugger,” muttered Percy. “They should have been watching for that. What’ve they been doing for the past three months?”
I had to ask a lot of questions about what was going on, and I started to worry I was becoming quite irritating. But he seemed content to wrap both arms around me and keep up a running narrative of the match, filling me in on what was happening and what to watch for.
This was, in some respects, helpful, and in others, not. I could feel my heart beginning to pound in such a way that I was sure he would notice it. I tried to rationalize this to myself as a product of the fact that we were up so high - but this was pure fabrication. I was actually beginning to feel very safe.
It took me awhile, but I started to catch on. At one point, I let out a little laugh as a player in black and white robes caught the Quaffle, then promptly dropped it.
“That wasn’t very good, was it?” I noted, proud that I had at least some inkling what was going on.
“Well,” he deadpanned, “for that guy, it’s bloody spectacular, but generally speaking, no, not ideal.”
Then he brushed my hair aside and kissed me once on the back of my neck.
“Excuse me,” I said, “do I know you?”
That made him laugh.
“Quit bothering me,” I teased, “I’m trying to watch a Quidditch match.”
“This is not a Quidditch match. This is a farce.” He seemed very pained by the fact that Puddlemere was losing.
“Well, I like those, too.”
“You’re so agreeable,” he remarked.
“You’re so contrary,” I challenged.
He made an amused face that said he wasn’t about to disagree with me.
Puddlemere continued to trail Montrose, and when all was said and done, Percy sighed with disappointment but told me he figured it gave him a good reason to take me to another match sometime.
“You did like it, right?” he asked later that night when we wound up back in my flat after dinner. “You had fun?”
“Of course I did!” I had both my hands in his. “I had a really good time, especially since I can understand it now. Well, sort of, anyway.”
He looked down at me with a dubious expression. “Are you sure?”
What I really wanted to know was how he could stand there and ask me whether I liked Quidditch when my heart had been attempting to hammer its way out of my chest for hours and all I wanted was to feel his fingers in my hair.
When I pulled him closer and went to kiss him, he finally started acting reasonable and kissed me back - well and properly, I might add. Good lord.
His glasses were in the way. How was I supposed to snog him properly with his glasses in the way? I liked them, but like all other things they had their appropriate time and place. He removed them and reached over to set them on a nearby shelf without looking, but he missed and they dropped to the floor.
“Oh,” I started, “you - ”
Percy shook his head like he couldn’t be bothered, and managed something that sounded like, “Forget them.”
And who was I to argue?
I felt drunk even though I hadn’t been drinking. It was a sense of weightlessness and a pleasant spinning sensation in my head. I momentarily lost track of all good sense and almost said something very ill-advised - well, it seemed like a good idea at the time - but reason came flooding back to me and I caught the words before they could escape.
I love you.
I almost clamped my hand over my mouth, though that would have required me to break away from him. What on earth was wrong with me?
Stupid, Audrey. Stupid, stupid. What a way to make a complete idiot of myself.
I did say something else, though. I tried to talk myself out of it, but my attempts were feeble - and anyway, it was all shoulds and shouldn’ts. Should wait a little longer, Audrey. Shouldn’t be so forward, Audrey. But ultimately, I wasn’t interested in these thoughts. I wouldn’t say I dismissed my good sense entirely, but I did send it on a mini-holiday.
“Stay.” It came out almost as a question.
I think his eyebrows just about flew off his face. But other than that, his response was something like “Uh-huh” and a lot of nodding.
Trying to pull someone from one end of your flat to the other and into your room, while not watching where you’re going, can never be a totally dignified act. I bumped into a table and I think I almost broke a lamp.
“Smooth,” he commented, causing me to crack up momentarily.
Then, somewhere along the way, he whispered, “Audrey?”
There was a pause before he shook his head and mumbled, “Um… nothing. Nothing.”
I didn’t know what he’d been about to say, but I was beyond thinking at that point.
I did learn that Percy thought I was beautiful - well, he said so, anyway. I suggested he retrieve his glasses, to which he responded by smiling and countering, “I’m short-sighted.”
I learned Percy had hundreds of freckles on his shoulders from a bad sunburn he once received.
I learned Percy snored - loudly. On balance, though, I’d have to say it was worth it.