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Weather for Ducks by peppersweet
Chapter 13: The Coven (reprise)
by wishaway @ tda
I was freezing when I woke up.
I say woke up, and I say freezing, but I actually mean more like regained consciousness and shivering as a side effect resulting from the suspected application of a stunning spell to the back.
For the briefest of moments, I was convinced that the zombie apocalypse was, in fact, upon us all, and these were my first few seconds as a member of the undead.
The moment faded, and I instead became convinced that I’d actually kicked off the duvet in the night. I stretched out my sleepy arms and grasped for a blanket and a boyfriend, but my hands clutched at empty air; I then realised that I was actually propped up against something, and what I’d thought was the mattress beneath me was actually wooden floorboards.
It was definitely not the bedroom. It wasn’t even a room I recognised. No lacy curtains, no puffin-themed calendar, nothing comfy, nothing cosy. Instead: bare brick walls, tasteful ambient lighting, a few monochromatic abstract prints hanging on the facing wall, a neat plywood shelving unit. The ex-art student within me identified the furniture as belonging to the De Stijl movement, although that thought was quickly crushed and replaced by sheer panic as I saw the seven people standing over me.
Minimalist. If there was any word to describe them, it was minimalist. Tight black roll-necked jumpers, rimless spectacles, pristine jeans, a sense of general cleanliness and hygiene I hadn’t seen since I waved goodbye to Rose. On the three women present, sleek black bobs: on the four men, shiny bald heads.
I wanted to scream, but I was far too confused for any sort of emotional outburst.
One of the men stepped forward.
‘We are The Coven,’ he said.
It was all a bit too much to take in at once. I tried to push myself upwards, but found that my right hand was pinned to the floor and almost numb – I turned my head and saw that Scorpius was sitting beside me, clutching onto my hand so tight he’d managed to cut off the blood supply to it.
The plus side was that he hadn’t been caught up in a zombie apocalypse. The downside was that he looked terrified and was sporting a spectacular cut on the corner of his mouth.
The panic ratcheted up a few levels. I couldn’t quite decide whether this was reality or a zombie-apocalypse-smut induced dream. Or zombie reality.
‘We are The Coven,’ the man repeated, in the sort of ominous tone one usually associates with Potions masters.
‘The Coven of Graphic Designers,’ another man added.
‘You designed a poster,’ the first hissed.
‘Are in the process of designing a poster,’ the second corrected.
‘A poster that will not win,’ the first said, in a louder voice. ‘A poster that will be crushed beneath the might our poster.’
A third member of the group spoke up. ‘We find your prints somewhat…lacking.’
At that moment, there was a rustling sound, and the second man produced a small sketchbook from behind his back – one I instantly recognised as Scorpius’. He pulled the elastic band from around the cover and held the sketchbook up by the spine; a number of swatches for household paint in various shades of orange and blue fluttered out and came to rest at our feet.
‘You are no designer,’ the first man accused.
‘You are a photographer, a painter at best,’ one of the women snapped. ‘You cannot begin to comprehend the rules, the nuances of layout-’
Then they all started speaking at once.
‘Have you ever heard of one-point perspective?’
‘Blue and orange – so passé! So overdone!’
‘Hand-drawn lettering is so last year!’
‘Complimentary colours are a cliché!’
‘Are you trying to be a Futurist or something?’
‘Quiet!’ the first man commanded, and the others fell silent.
Scorpius and I both stared up at them in dumbfounded silence before, carefully, Scorpius shuffled forward and snatched up the paint swatches, stuffing them into his pocket.
‘You cannot enter. You must not enter. You must let us win,’ the man said. ‘We are far more worthy of the prize.’
‘Worthy!’ the six others bellowed.
‘Withdraw your poster,’ he said. ‘Withdraw your poster and let us win or-’
‘We’ll curse this kitten!’ one of the women screeched, producing a tiny kitten from behind her back. The other graphic designers turned to stare at her.
‘Margaret,’ one of them said. ‘Too far.’
‘How else am I supposed to do this?’ Margaret cried, brandishing the kitten at the others. It was a teeny tabby, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. ‘You said we had to make sacrifices! You said we had to suffer for our art!’
That was when Scorpius did something Magnificent with a capital M.
They say that the meek shall inherit the earth. If anything, Scorpius is a walking contradiction to this statement. Magnificence doesn’t entirely become him. Gravity has a vendetta against him, and he’s something of a magnet for misfortune. He’s meek, but he won’t inherit the earth. When the other meek are busy kicking backsides and taking over, he’ll be the one shuffling in at the back, trembling, hoping nobody notices. Which is why, as we were running out of the door, I was still convinced that I’d only dreamt the moment where he managed to kick the head graphic designer in a place where the sun isn’t known to shine, snatch the kitten off of Margaret with his free hand, and somehow also grab his sketchbook and keep a hold of me all at once.
I could only grip onto his hand for dear life as we sped down a flight of stairs and through a narrow hallway, out into the dying light and the snow. Before I could even speak, he shoved the sketchbook into my anorak pocket, and then we were hurtling down a garden path that was slick with slush.
The Coven had followed. A flash of red light, a crash as a plant pot was knocked over – this was getting serious. Scorpius let go of my hand to tuck the kitten into the voluminous pocket of his mackintosh, but then another flash, another splatter as begonia and soil hit the pavement.
‘No spells, Margaret!’ someone yelled, but then something stung my shoulder: hot, sharp, like a wasp.
The next thing I knew, Scorpius was wielding a watering can at The Coven, the kitten peeking out from his pocket.
‘Don’t you dare!’ he yelled. ’Don’t you bloody dare!’
Stars waltzed, pranced and jitterbugged before my eyes. There was a scuffle, several loud swears, and then my vision came back with a faint popping sound just in time for me to see Scorpius take a swing at Margaret with the watering can. Her wand clattered to the floor, and then we were running again – or, rather, Scorpius was running again, and I was being pulled along behind on legs made of jelly and steamed vegetables.
But there was still time for Scorpius to turn around and deliver one last slice of Magnificence with a capital M.
‘By the way!’ he shouted, as The Coven skidded to a halt beside a weeping Margaret. ‘I’m an artist, not a designer! Fuck your rules!’
And so we sprinted off again. If it hadn’t been for that last remark, The Coven might have given up sooner, but still they chased us.
It wasn’t like Scorpius and I were bad runners, but we were both more than a little out of sorts, and the extra load of kitten in pocket and watering can slowed us down somewhat.
‘I’ve got an idea!’ he cried, skidding to a halt – he grasped my wrists as I hurtled past, deftly hooked the watering can in the crook of his elbow, and turned on the spot – there was the horrible being of being shoved into a shoebox, and then I was swaying where I stood by an oak tree, dizzy, staring at the tiny figures of The Coven in the distance.
Scorpius, at my side, had taken the kitten from his pocket to check it was alright. It merely yowled and swiped at his face. Cursing under his breath, he tucked it back into his pocket and turned to me, his face gone the sort of fear-driven shade of white you can only find in a set of expensive acrylic paints.
‘I…I thought if we,’ he sounded a little hoarse. ‘H-hiding in plain sight and whatnot and – oh, forget that, I j-just couldn’t apparate all the way home! I’m too weak!’
Forget lost for words, I was lost for monosyllables. I nodded frantically, but the voices of The Coven drifted ever closer.
‘They went that way!’ someone yelled. ‘Over there!’
I’d started to shiver. Through the falling snow, I saw that The Coven had stopped running; it seemed that they’d engaged the attentions of a few innocent bystanders, who were listening intently as The Coven made repeated wild gestures in our general direction. Then, the group broke up and – to my horror – a couple of the bystanders came wandering straight towards us.
I’d lost the power of coherent speech, but Scorpius seemed to get what was going on after a few minutes. He swore several times, rather fluently and colourfully, before pulling his wand out of his sleeve and pointing it at the watering can.
‘Got to hide the weapon!’ he said, sounding a little hysterical. A moment later the watering can shrunk to pixie-size and he dropped it into his spare pocket before staring at me in desperation.
‘Can’t apparate again!’ he fretted. ‘What do we do?’
I stole another look at the approaching figures. They weren’t part of the coven, as was obvious from the mop of hair one of them was sporting. The likelihood was that they wouldn’t immediately recognise us. What we needed was a disguise…or a distraction.
For the first time in a few months, inspiration struck.
‘We need to look innocent!’ I hissed, finding my voice at last.
‘And?’ he peered around the edge of the tree. ‘They’re getting close!’
In retrospect, the plan was very silly. If it hadn’t been for sheer bloody luck, it might have gone very much the shape of the pear. But, at the time, I stood there, hands on hips, poker-faced, and said-
He seemed to struggle between complying and panicking.
‘But – but will it-’
‘Just do it!’
If it hadn’t been for the minor issue of the kidnapping, the snow, the coven, my stunning-spell induced wooziness, Scorpius’ bloody face, a small kitten and the tree root we landed on, it might have been a glorious moment. The two of us lunged forward at the same time, collided, lost balance, toppled over onto the ground, quite literally snogging as if our lives depended on it. Because our lives did depend on it.
It was well timed, as, a moment later, the couple reached us.
‘Here, Angus, I thought I saw – crivens!’ a woman exclaimed, as Scorpius and I broke apart and looked up as sheepishly as we could manage. ‘We didn’t – terribly sorry!’
The two of them scuttled away at full speed, eventually swallowed up by a flurry of snow. The Coven had vanished into the distance.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The fall seemed to have knocked whatever little coherency I’d had out of me. To top it all off, the kitten had escaped Scorpius’ pocket and was now perched somewhere to my right, licking my ear with its tiny sandpaper tongue.
Scorpius looked as if he wanted to laugh. ‘Are you alright? Sorry for, er, falling on you…’
I didn’t care in the slightest, but let him pull me upright and make a show of pushing back my fringe and putting his palm over my forehead, as if to check my temperature.
‘How did they get you?’ he said.
‘Stunning spell, I think,’ I said, wincing as I moved my shoulder about a bit. ‘Stinging jinx too- just a bit groggy,’ I added, hastily, as his eyes widened in horror. ‘Nothing tea won’t fix. What about you?’ I carefully touched a finger to the cut at the corner of his mouth. ‘That looks fierce.’
‘Oh, that,’ he grimaced. ‘That’s my fault.’
‘Tripped over when I was trying to run way the first time. Ta-dah!’ he beamed, although it looked a little painful. ‘Injured by my own stupidity!’
‘Not hurt otherwise?’
‘Nope – you?’
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Just…the kitten…’
Injuries assessed, we set about brushing snow and mud from our clothes. I took care of the kitten, tucking it inside my anorak and idly scratching it behind the ears as it mewled and continued to lick my face, whilst Scorpius peeked around the side of the tree again. What with the muddy clothes, bloody face and glasses at a funny angle, he really looked like he’d been in a fight with a shrub and lost.
‘Coast is clear,’ he said, squinting into the distance. ‘I think there’s a bus stop near here…’
‘How d’you know that?’
‘They brought me here on the bus.’
‘You know I’m not good in a fight. It was get on the bus, or be jinxed.’
Covered by the snowfall, we followed a low stone wall and eventually retraced his steps to the bus stop. The road was deserted – sheer bloody luck played in our favour yet again – and, after only five minutes, an ancient single-decker bus trundled over the horizon. Scorpius stuck out his left hand and the bus squealed to a halt, the doors opening with a terrible racket. I was terrified that the noise might attract The Coven, but tried to keep my face impassive as the two of us faced the driver.
‘Er…’ Scorpius stuck his hands into his pockets. ‘I’m…I’m not sure I have much change.’
The muggle driver looked us both up and down. Me, with dead leaves in my hair and a kitten in my arms, and Scorpius, with blood on his face and the fistful of paint swatches he’d just pulled from his pocket.
‘Och, youse can get on for free,’ he said.
Our first destination when we arrived back in New New Elgin was The Drookit Duck.
A lot of fuss was made when we walked in. The two of us were shoved into comfortable chairs, the kitten was whisked away, and then full tankards of hot butterbeer were pressed into our hands before the New New Elginers pressed us for information.
Whilst Jean C got her coat and ran off to raid CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS for plasters and headache potion, Scorpius told the story of our run-in with The Coven. About halfway through the story, knitting Prentice tapped me on the shoulder and presented me with the kitten; in its brief absence, someone had wrapped it in a little tartan blanket.
‘Aye, sounds like the coven alright,’ Jock said, as soon as Scorpius had finished. ‘Nasty lot.’
‘Dinnae worry,’ knitting Prentice added, gathering up his knitting needles. ‘Us two’ll take care of them.’
‘Probably not worth it,’ Scorpius said, sounding a little sheepish. ‘It’s nothing big…’
‘We’ll take care of them,’ Jock echoed. ‘They won’t trouble you again.’
He set his own tankard down on the table with a firm clunk, as if putting an audible end to his sentence. Knitting Prentice’s knitting needles suddenly looked very threatening.
‘What do we do about the kitten?’ I piped up, pointing at the mewling tartan bundle on my lap.
‘Well, I suppose you could report it,’ Jean P said. ‘To the polis-men. You know, in the other Elgin.’
‘You mean the muggle bit?’ Scorpius said, just as I murmured ‘You mean the police?’
‘Yeah,’ she nodded. ‘Think that’s what you do.’
‘Cool. I’ll do that tomorrow.’
‘Something’s troubling me,’ Jock spoke again. ‘How did The Coven know you were doing the poster?’
‘And how did they get you?’ knitting Prentice said.
‘Uh, well,’ Scorpius looked sheepish again. ‘They kind of…I was coming along the beachfront on my way back from this interview thingy, and, er…they just sort of…grabbed me and took me side-along to the bus stop. It was that or be jinxed…’
‘Um, er…I tried to, er, run away, but then…uh, they got me on the bus.’
‘They stunned me, I think,’ I said, as Scorpius dithered off into silence. ‘Because I’d left the town hall early to see where Scorpius was, and…well, got stunned. Then I woke up and, bam, Coven.’
The pub suddenly went very quiet.
‘You know,’ Jean P said, in a hushed voice. ‘Mary-Susannah wasn’t at the town hall earlier. In fact, I don’t know where she was.’
It was the moment I truly became a New New Elginer. ‘It must have been her!’ I burst out. ‘She is a spy! She must have told The Coven about the poster and taken Scorpius’ sketchbook and then stunned me and-’
‘It’s possible,’ knitting Prentice mused.
‘The letter!’ I said, my mind whirring. ‘It was a ruse – what if she planted it to throw me off the trail? She knew I didn’t suspect her – oh, right,’ I broke off, noticing the confusion on the faces of those around me. ‘She asked me and Scorpius to help her put up a shelf in her flat and then I sort of snooped around and I found this letter in her room…’
The New New Elginers leaned in, suddenly paying me very close attention.
‘What did it say?’ Jean P whispered.
‘Oh, er,’ I thought as hard as I could. ‘It was from a guy! Yeah, that’s it. It was only a little letter. He said he was sorry, and that he missed her or something. Nothing else. Really bizarre.’
‘So you think-’
‘She knew I was going to go snooping,’ I said, firmly, now completely certain that call-me-Mary-Sue was a spy and a liar. ‘So she wanted to throw me off the trail.’
There was a tense silence.
‘Seems plausible,’ Jock finally said. ‘And she is a bit…funny.’
‘In what way?’
‘Her eyes, you know,’ he sounded a little embarrassed. ‘She blinks a lot…’
The tense silence broke as the majority of the pub burst into fits of laughter. All at once, people were doing impressions of call-me-Mary-Sue’s fluttery eyelashes and pout. A day or so previously, I would have felt bad about this, maybe even irritated, but at that moment I was entirely convinced that she was the one who had stunned me and so ended up grinning along with everyone else, having a good laugh at her expense.
‘We’ll just wait and see how she acts at Burns Night,’ Jean P said, once the laughter had died down.
The New New Elginers shared a knowing smile, whilst Scorpius and I shared a look of bafflement.
‘How?’ I said. ‘And what?’
‘Well, put it this way,’ knitting Prentice said. ‘We’ll see just how well she can handle the Burns Night drinking game.’
‘Oh, I’ve heard of this one,’ Scorpius suddenly piped up.
‘You have to drink every time someone says Burns,’ Jean P explained. ‘After Rabbie, of course. Was the finest poet in all the land, oor Rab,’ she said, before the New New Elginers inexplicably lifted their glasses and chinked them together in a silent toast.
‘Loose lips sink ships,’ knitting Prentice said, knowingly. ‘And we say the word Burns a lot at Burns Night.’
Back at the flat a few hours later, I finally had the chance to pull off my muddy trainers and brush the dead leaves and dirt out of my hair. Standing in front of the mirror, I felt like the wild woman of the forest, and, somehow, that felt pretty good.
‘Look at this,’ I said as Scorpius walked in, cradling the kitten in his arms. I showed him the spot on my shoulder where Margaret’s jinx had got me, leaving an angry red weal on the skin.
‘Stinging jinx for sure,’ I said. ‘I hope Prentice beats them up with his knitting needles.’
‘Yeah,’ Scorpius perched on the end of the bed, setting the kitten at his side. I sat next to both of them. Then, bit by bit, the anxiety I’d had earlier in the day came ebbing back: I suddenly remembered that we needed to talk.
‘So…’ he trailed off. I almost held my breath, expecting him to pick up our petty little argument from where we’d left it off this morning, but then he lifted the kitten into his arms again and said:
‘You know that, if we report this kitten to the muggle police, they’ll probably ask us to keep hold of it until someone comes forward?’
‘And you know that someone probably won’t come forward because it doesn’t have a tag or anything?’
‘Do you also remember that we once had a conversation about good names for a cat?’
‘How could I forget?’
‘So how about we call him Andrew Socks?’
I couldn’t stop a grin from splitting my face. ‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Are you sure it’s a he?’
Scorpius gave me a withering look. ‘Positive. Well, Prentice says so, anyway.’
‘Perfect,’ I said, stroking him behind the ears (the kitten, I mean, not Scorpius). ‘Welcome to the flat, Mr Andrew Socks.’
a/n: I did say you'd find out who Mr Andrew Socks was some day...
Action isn't really my strong suit, so I'm sorry if this reads a little clunky. I just wanted to poke fun at certain aspects of the weird art world I inhabit so badly. (srs moment: 'loose lips sink ships' is taken from a WW2 propaganda poster)
Anyway. Hope you enjoyed it, and thank you for reading! ♥