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Chapter 21: Epilogue: Part One
epilogue: part one
There is a popular saying that, if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade.
It’s total bollocks.
In all seriousness, it makes no sense. You can’t just make lemonade with lemons. Lemonade’s got sugar and carbonated water and, most likely, a ton of chemicals in it (if we’re going to be basic about this). So, really, if the saying were to make sense, it would run something like if life gives you lemons, carbonated water, sugar and a crap load of weird chemicals, make lemonade.
It still makes little sense, but it’s a bit more accurate. Because that’s kind of what life is like. You get bitter, lemon-shaped bits, you get sweet, sugary bits, you get a crap load of weird bits, and then you get this neutral, flowing stuff that holds it all together. And, like carbonated water, life tends to start out fizzy and get progressively flatter as it goes on.
Let’s put it this way: I’d had enough lemons, sugar, weird chemicals and carbonated water chucked at me in the past five months to maintain a moderately successful lemonade business. No matter how bitter the lemons, there was always a nice balance to the madness – there was always just enough sugar to keep it sweet, just enough in the way of odd chemicals to keep me strange, and just enough time to hold it all together.
The last meeting I had with Euphemia Flitter was kind of the giant, sour lemon that upset the whole lot though. Nevermind the several smaller sundry lemons that accompanied it.
Not that the day had started out well. I don’t generally believe in fate, but it was surely fate that I was so overwhelmed by lemons. I mean, you can blithely ignore the facts all you like, but when mother nature forgets her monthly gift a couple of time and you start throwing up at the most inconvenient times, well, you don’t exactly have to see a Healer to know what’s going on.
I’ll suggest another revision to the phrase. When life gives you lemons, have them with salt and tequila. Or not.
Depends on the lemons, really.
No matter how much sugar comes with them, five months of lemons does not a happy Lucy make.
After the argument – me and Scorpius could really, really never stay mad at each other for long – I’d read my way through the little comic books, cover to cover. For some reason, it had touched me more than anything to read a couple of pages about the art school and see that, in an entire book of black and white, there was a little drawing of me with my hair coloured bright blue. So I found it in me to apologise the moment he walked in the front door. And I think he took it.
Small, strange events followed, like the news that two of Scorpius’ schoolfriends had got engaged. Or the day Albus wrote to tell us about the old Hogwarts’ Professor staying in his ward and how the two of them took tea together every morning – or the broadcast on the radio about one of Aunt Hermione’s equality reforms becoming reality and the ensuing family party where, for the first time, nobody treated Scorpius like a guest. The unprecedented series of events that befell Rose and Prentice on the road up to Wick; the way the car broke down at the side of a deserted road where the fog was too thick to see more than a metre in every direction, the way Rose’s patronus went unanswered and – well, there was nothing for it. The two of them had to wrap up and spend the night in the car, Rose curled up in the passenger seat and Prentice claiming the back, until the fog cleared enough for them to wander off in search of help. There’s really no better excuse for conversation than being locked in a car together for eight hours and, when they got back, she seemed to know everything about him.
Even though Rose had been my cousin all my life, it was only now that I was starting to think of her as – you know – a friend. It was as if the whole time I’d known her she’d been wound up like a spring, and it was only when her perfect life had started to unravel that she had too. Now her mechanism was winding down, she was a much more likable person. By embracing mundanity she had somehow become more, well, human.
And there was the time Tarquin and Gwen wrote to tell us that – no, really – they’d run off to the circus and would call in sometime in the next few months. The time call-me-Mary-Sue casually, ever so casually asked us how Lettuce was getting on and if she could possibly have his address, just to write him a wee note – or the time Scorpius took his comic book project to a small illustration fair and sold forty-seven copies, how we had an owl from someone a week later with an offer of a smaller illustration project, and how, finally, he gave up the camera shop job for good.
How the issue of the Coven of Graphic Designers was raised at a bi-annual annual general meeting and how, rather awkwardly, Jock had to confess that his Elgin Egrets were a little ham-fisted with their chaser practice and maybe, maybe that stunning spell to the back had been more like stray quaffle to the back of the head – just a maybe. Just a sneaking suspicion. And maybe there had never really been any reason to suspect call-me-Mary-Susannah beyond our own truly New New Elgin paranoia.
Small, strange events – it was funny, all of it, how this band of weirdoes I’d met at art school and beyond were slowly settling down, slowly finding sanity. Unless we were, all of us, only losing ourselves even more.
Which might have been accurate. I mean, I did kind of lose myself. Er, lost my temper, even. In Euphemia Flitter’s office. Never really good for your employment prospects, that.
I’d like to say I was provoked, but, in all honesty, I turned up to the office in a foul mood – hair a ratty mess, crumpled clothes, poor makeup, an empty stomach and a sort of dry, acidic burn in the back of my throat. A mess. I hadn’t been feeling fantastic. Given the circumstances, though, I hardly expected to be anything but a mess. Keeping my breakfast down hadn’t really been easy that morning. And so I hurried into the office of Britain’s biggest magical gossip magazine looking like one of the ghouls you saw printed on their pages under a caption like – she’s lost it at last…
I think it was the way people stared when I was sitting outside Euphemia Flitter’s office. Someone had made me a cup of tea and neglected to add sugar; I sat and sipped at it, stricken with a stony grimace, wondering if I really looked as bad as those stares seemed to suggest.
And then in the office – Euphemia Flitter barely batted an eyelid at the sight of me, perhaps far too preoccupied with the tatty manuscript for Elgin Regrets I was holding. She barely even looked at me when she took it and ran her fingers over the cover, iron-faced. The woman practically gave out her own ghostly draught. I could have sworn the air temperature physically dropped when she finally did look at me.
Then she opened it and began to skim-read. I saw her eyes flutter across pages as her fingers turned them faster and faster, until the point where she missed out an entire section and skipped straight to the end and sat there, silently, for a full three minutes, eyes fixed on the final sentence. Her right hand palmed out a loose scrap of parchment from between the final pages. Then she shut the book.
She gave me a single hmmm for my trouble.
My empty stomach groaned in the silence and I felt queasy again. A hmmm was very open to interpretation, but this was not a good sort of hmmm.
Her eyes scanned the scrap of parchment she’d lifted from the back. Her long fingers and their pointed pink nails folded the scrap in two and slid it across the desk towards me.
‘You might want to see that,’ she said.
I felt too sick to move, even to lift my arms from my sides. ‘And the book? What did you think?’
‘Oh?’ she said. ‘Perfectly adequate writing style, some interesting concepts – but not what we’re looking for, I’m afraid. And your protagonist is simply diabolical.’
My head had started to spin slightly. ‘I was just trying to stick to a formula…’
‘Stick to a formula all you like, but you simply won’t sell if your readers can’t connect with your central character. You need to make them feel for her. You need to put her through hell.’
Fists clenched, I bit my lip to stop myself retorting. Was I supposed to have felt something for the characters of Quidditch Confessions?
‘I have quite a few suggestions to make, so you might want to jot these down.’
‘Just…what sort of suggestions?’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘Oh, a lot. The main suggestion is – well, rewrite. I think you should start from the beginning again. Approach the story with fresh eyes.’
I looked down at the battered manuscript on the table, the thing she’d given me five hundred Galleons to get on with – and it probably wasn’t worth a single knut.
‘Rewrite it,’ she said. ‘Just start again. Think of it as a new book. A new story.’
‘In essence,’ her tight smile didn’t even aspire to reach her eyes. ‘Write another story.’
The sharp, raw feeling was back in my throat. I think I realised I’d had enough.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘No…absolutely not. I am not rewriting that, or starting again – whatever. I’m not writing anything. I’m not going to submit to this…to this stupid brand of romance. I’m not just going to sit and blindly type out a hundred thousand words about some girl being tossed between two men like a commodity – about red roses and this stupid – this stupid idea of weak girls who need to be saved, and being saved by some six-pack with cheekbones that could slice ham-’
‘You know, I wondered for a bit if this was just some massive joke! Pulling this huge prank on women everywhere – even men! Perpetuating these ideas of – of – but it’s all legitimate, right?’
My voice was getting louder and shriller, but I couldn’t stop myself.
‘Everyone here believes it, don’t they? Are they all just hanging about waiting for their one-armed Ivan? Are they all daft?’
‘It’s just – crap! The whole lot of it! Who cares if it’s Quidditch or dragon taming or a sodding zombie apocalypse, it’s just the same flimsy three people and flimsy dreams people have been peddling for centuries! Real stories for real women? Don’t make me laugh, you’re selling a bare-faced lie-’
It felt like my brain had decided to run the cold tap through my veins instead of the hot; I had the sudden sensation of my limbs turning to ice. Only too late, I realised just what a mess I was, how my hair was lank and dirty, how my breath was stale, how you could read every sleepless night of the last few months under my eyes, how my dress was borrowed and didn’t even fit right – and I realised just what the piece of paper on the table was.
To Euphemia Flitter, it probably looked like I’d just been dumped.
She gave me a cool, imperious look, but when she spoke, her voice was surprisingly soft.
‘Do you think any of us believe it, Lucy?’
‘You’re a writer. We’re all writers. First and foremost, a writer is a liar. A writer is a manipulator and a cheat. Fiction, it’s all fiction.’
‘Do you remember what I said at our first meeting? Escapism. All of it. It’s not supposed to be real. And, if we could, we would make it real – but would we be able to sell that? I think not. Who wants to read books about dead-end marriages, about doing the dishes? Escapism is an easy way out. We’re not here to tell the truth, Lucy, we’re here to make money, and we’re making people happy along the way. We’re giving them an escape.’
‘But – it’s the same Victorian clichés-’
‘And I wish I could publish a romance novel that promoted equality, Lucy, but that is neither sellable nor realistic.’
‘Not yet,’ I said stubbornly. ‘But it will be someday.’
‘Perhaps, but we have to write for the moment.’
‘You don’t honestly believe it…’
‘I appreciate you saying that…’ I said. ‘But I really…really don’t think I can do it. I’m sorry. I…I suppose you’ll be wanting the advance back.’
‘Nonsense,’ her voice was crisp again. ‘Ever heard of the Jinx imprint? Your zombie apocalypse idea and your morbid imagination – you’d be perfect for them. I’ll send an owl to their office right away.’
I’d arranged to meet Al for tea after my visit to the Witch Weekly offices, but Al being a trainee Healer and all, he was a wee bit late, and so I had time to sit at the corner table we’d been given to gather my thoughts.
The parchment Euphemia Flitter had recovered from the back of my manuscript was in my pocket, already creased and grubby from countless readings and re-readings, the words already memorised.
Lucy Weasley’s Manifesto for Troo Wub.
One: fall in love with your best friend.
And hope he loves you just as much.
And then, below, in a scribble so frantic it was almost unintelligible-
You’re a prat and he does.
I wanted to slap myself on the forehead, but it was a little hard when I was sitting at a table in one of London’s busier (and greasier) greasy spoon cafes. And, I tell you, I did a good job of pretending everything was hunky dory when Al actually turned up, fresh from his shift, and demolished an entire plate of food in just under ten minutes. When we were done, though, and had said our goodbyes, I made my excuses and went off to the loo whilst he settled the bill.
I had a little cry by myself. I couldn’t really help it. I locked myself in a cubicle, put my head in my hands, and thought about how much of a spare part I was since I’d kind of managed to lose a perfectly good job and get knocked up before I was even twenty-three-and-a-half years old.
On the plus side, I’d had a bacon sandwich, which had improved my outlook on life by roughly three percent. Except I still felt a bit too sick to really appreciate it.
I must have been moping in there for ages, because I got some proper funny looks when I came out, my eyes all red and puffy and little damp patches of tears on my dress. Thing is, it didn’t really bother me, because I'd assumed Al would have paid the bill in a matter of minutes and would already be halfway up the road, elbows and knees everywhere – but he was still standing by the counter, a sheepish look on his face.
‘Hello, tried to pay but you know what Gringott’s are like when you swap Galleons for quids, something always goes wrong,’ he said, talking a mile a minute. ‘Think it’s just about sorted, though, should be ready to head off in a second.’
He beamed at me. I stared at the floor.
‘Y’alright?’ he said, sounding as casual as if I’d just passed him in the street.
This was the Albus Potter way of dealing with emotion.
‘Not really,’ I said.
He looked stricken. ‘But you just had a bacon sandwich!’
For a moment, I wished I lived in a world as simple as Al’s, where food was a panacea and the only concern was a gangly elbow or two – but then I realised that I was making a few assumptions, that Al probably had his fair share of problems to cope with, and that, as a Healer, he was of much greater importance to the world than I was. And there was probably more than gangly elbows to worry about in his day job.
‘Where are you headed next?’ he said, as the waitress handed him a small mountain of change and we headed for the door.
‘Um…Diagon Alley,’ I said. ‘I told Scorpius I’d meet him after his…interview thingy.’
‘Cool,’ Al said. ‘I’m meant to be going to the pub but I don’t really feel it, hectic day on the wards…’
We ambled along for a bit in silence.
‘Seriously,’ he said, in a far quieter voice. ‘You alright?’
‘Not really,’ I repeated.
He dipped his head towards a small public park to our left. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
The grumpy, antisocial part of me wanted to say no, but I was in dire need of some advice. So I followed him into the park and the two of us slumped down on a bench.
‘I don’t know why I’m sad, it was a really good bacon sandwich,’ was the only thing I could think to say.
‘How did your book thing go?’
‘I have to write another book.’
‘And I sort of…threw a hissy fit. Had a bit of a rant.’
‘I guess I’m lucky I wasn’t fired.’
‘Always a bonus…’
‘You’re very pale,’ Al suddenly said. ‘I meant to say something over tea but, well, didn’t exactly seem like the right moment.’
‘I’m not too well,’ I said.
‘I am a Healer, you know.’
‘Well,’ I fidgeted. ‘Nothing much. Just…not been feeling great. Not sleeping well. Not eating well either. Just…not doing very well. Not very well.’
He peered into my face; I ducked out the way.
‘Are you kidding? You look like an inferius!’
‘I’ll be fine!’
‘Woah, your eyes – is it drugs? It’s drugs, isn’t it, you’ve finally cracked-’
‘Al, I am not on drugs!’
‘Well, what’s up with you?’
Several words floundered on the tip of my tongue before, all at once, they came tumbling out.
‘I…I have a bun in the oven. Up the duff. Knocked up. I am with child.’
His mouth drooped open. ‘Shit! Er…congratulations?’
My face crumpled. ‘Commiserations would be more appropriate.’
‘Al, just…be a Healer for a moment.’
‘Buh…buh…’ he stammered. ‘I’m not a midwife…midhusband?’
‘Try your best-’
‘Lucy, I’m not even a Healer, I’m a mental health nurse!’
‘Then I could still really use your help!’
He patted me awkwardly on the shoulder. ‘Er…put your head between your knees? And count to five. No, ten. Fifteen?’
I did as I was told.
‘Um…I presume I don’t have to ask who the father is-’
‘Have you told him?’
‘What do you think, you twerp?’
I lifted my head and stared out into the park. ‘Probably guessed, though. He’s smart. I think he saw through my line about having a stomach bug right from the beginning-’
‘Probably. Are you going to tell him?’
‘You’ll need to be a tad more specific than that-’
‘You better,’ he said, with a sad little smile. ‘It’s not good to keep things from people.’
‘I know, Al,’ I hissed, remembering Euphemia Flitter’s words about writers being liars.
When he left me at the Leaky Cauldron, he gave me a very stern, very pointed look.
Al knows best, I suppose.
From there it was just a short wait outside for Scorpius, who reappeared in his ill-fitting suit with his battered, second-hand briefcase, glasses filthy with finger-marks and slipping off the bridge of his nose, where they’d left a small red weal on either side. My stomach did a little backflip at the sight of him.
‘Ready?’ he said.
‘Ready,’ I said, and stuck out my right arm to hail down the Knight Bus.