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In the Distance of Bravery by Sunflower
Chapter 4: 4
A/N: Hi there! I’m in the North, attending a wedding and trying to convince myself that wearing a hat isn’t the worst thing ever… Yeah. The weather’s bollocks, I’m staying at my grandad’s, who hasn’t got internet or anything, so I’m basically going to Nero’s, ordering coffee and writing there. I’m here dealing with my slightly erratic family who seems to believe that everything can be solved with a cup of tea. Can’t argue with that theory, now can you?
Various things have happened since last update. First of all I won Runner Up as Best Underground Author at the Golden Snitches, which is such an honour. So thank you so much to anyone who’s voted for me. Secondly, I’ve reached 70 favourites as an author. Quite a milestone. I can still remember when I only had 40, so this means so much to me.
Thanks for being awesome and supporting this story – you are awesome.
Give Just Be by Paloma Faith a listen – it’s gorge.
WE WERE HERE
CHAPTER IMAGE CREDITS SJOEKS@TDA
“With you, intimacy colours my voice. Even ‘hello’ sounds like ‘come here’.” - Warsan Shire
The entire room is silent.
The first thing I notice is Pippa's squeal. It sounds a bit like that sound the little piglets make just before they're slaughtered.
"I knew it!" She sings. "Oh, I had a feeling abou' you two!"
The second thing I notice is Ted's burning stare. It's imploring and confused, his eyes a soft grey. I look away from him. Scorpius and him are still holding hands. Scorpius seems to still be in shock. Finally, their hands break loose and I breathe a sigh of relief. It seems that the entire room relaxes somewhat after this and I begin to wonder how much people know.
"Really?" Ted runs a hand through his hair, a tiny tremor of tension giving some shape to his shoulders. "That's - that's -"
"PERFECT!" Pippa launches herself at me again.
A snigger escapes Scorpius's lips by my right and the tension falls from my shoulders. He can't be that angry.
"SHOPPING!" Pippa yells into my ear. "Shopping! We'll have to go shopping, sweetie. I'll help you with a dress for the wedding."
"It's brilliant!" Pippa beams at me, her bony fingers gripping my shoulders.
"Listen, babe, I think Lucy might be a bit busy with settling in here." Ted steps forward, his fists knotted tight.
"Nonsense," she puffs. "Everyone's got time for shopping..."
"Amen, sister." Scorpius guffaws.
I send him a heated look.
"OH, WAIT I GOT IT!" Suddenly, Pippa's got me in a tight grip again. I don't know how she does it. I stare at her hot-pink nails, slightly amazed.
And then she really does me in.
"I don't -" I stammer uselessly.
"Nonsense!" Pippa giggles. "You'll be perfect - won't she, Teddybear?"
"Whatever my princess wants." Teddy smiles. I try to ignore the hurt that coils in my stomach at the dismissal of me. This sucks.
"That's such an amazing idea," Scorpius gushes at her.
I snarl at him. Traitor.
Pippa jumps up and down excitedly. Her boobs are nearly concaving. "I know, right?"
"Best idea, EVER!"
I. Am. Going. To. Kill. Scorpius.
He meets my eyes and arches an eyebrow as if to say, you got me in this mess, deal with it.
Pippa squeezes me into a tight embrace again. She pulls back and looks at me with those wide blue eyes.
"We're going to be the bestest of buddies, Lucille."
Oh, don't I know it, Hon.
“What the hell, Lucy?” Scorpius has cornered me by the bathroom as I’ve escaped the now silent living room.
"This. Was. Not. Part. Of. The. Plan!" He gestures wildly between us.
I stare up at him, goldfish-mouthing, “I… um… panicked?”
“Uh you could say that again! Boyfriend? You’re missing one viable organ for me, sugar.”
I cringe. “I know. Trust me, I know. I just – do this for me? Please –“
Scorpius eyes me for a very long time. I force myself to meet his gaze and keep eye contact. Finally, he sighs deeply.
“If I’m doing this, you’re telling me all of this –“ He pauses for a second, “mess.”
"And I'll have complete say over the article."
“And I ain’t going nowhere near your muffin, eh.”
I finally break a smile. “Even better.”
He stares at me for a while, as if he is seriously contemplating my sanity.
“I’ll do it.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Thank you -”
“You’re welcome,” Scorpius says. “But you’re spilling the beans when we get home, sweetheart.”
I nod silently, dreading our departure more and more. I feel like I’m slowly driving towards the end of a cliff, readying for the free-fall.
"Alright." Scorpius straightens. “I’m off to flirt with that yummy cousin of yours. Laters, babe!"
And with that he leaves me, blowing a kiss in my direction, which I grab...
Scorpius’s alliance calms me somehow, yet there’s nothing that will put my mind at ease. Flashbacks of myself five years ago keep on playing around in my mind and I feel like I’m slowly, but surely stepping into the shadow of my former self. I help Mum with the dishes, trying to escape Pippa and Ted’s fluffy bubble of love. I'm as mousy as ever.
"Man, you've really done it good this time, eh. Nailing a Malfoy and a Southerner?"
I glance up to find Rose leaning against the door to the living room, her smile smug. I turn away, busying myself with the plates.
"What do you want, Rose?"
"Want?" Rose tuts, "why does it always have to be business with you, Lucy?"
"When isn't it business with you? What. Do. You. Want?"
"Your help." Rose pushes against the door and walks up to me. She's standing so close that I can smell the sickly sweet odor of her perfume. "And by the looks of it, so do you."
I go rigid. "What are you talking about?"
"Ted," she offers simply. "You've been ogling him all night. Somebody’s yet to get over their childhood crush."
I'm relieved that she hasn't picked up on the article. Rose has always been too clever and too nosy for her own good, meddling in other people's businesses. She doesn't get the whole privacy-deal. Another Weasley-trait I haven't inherited. I turn to the plates again.
"I have a boyfriend."
She rolls her eyes. "Yeah and I bet that his hand just accidentally happened to end up on James's lap because every other place was occupied..."
"Fine," I snap. "What do you suggest?"
"A deal," Rose answers evenly. "I'll help you with Pippa and Ted."
"What's in it for you?" I ask, but in that second Scorpius walks past the door and a pathetic look of love crosses Rose's face before she's had time to conceal it.
A slow smile spreads across my face. "Oh, I see."
"No, you totally don't see," Rose hisses, her cheeks flushed a bright pink.
"So let me guess. Same year, both meant for greatness. The forbidden blond headed Slytherin caught your eye, yeah? He is gay, you know. Mind you, the son of your father's arch nemesis."
"Just mind your own business -"
"Rose, Rose, Rose," I sigh. "I thought we were coming to an agreement here."
Rose's eyebrow arches. "We are. Just don't go around criticizing my preferences."
I ignore her biting comment, Rose has always had a mad temper, something you should always fear when she lashes out.
"Alright, alright... No need to get your knickers in a twist, sugar."
Rose crosses her arms petulantly. She probably expected less fight from me, the nobody of the family. But the capital's taught me well.
"Deal or no deal?"
I watch her for a second. It's dangerous waters, but I need all the help I can get. And Scorpius... Well there's no way Scorpius will ever agree to date that bushy haired spawn. Plus, if Rose is busy with this, maybe she won't notice my Quick-Spell Quill and the articles...
I sigh dramatically, with no intention to ever complete this deal. "Alright then. Deal."
"Good." Rose smiles for perhaps the first time and I almost feel bad for her and her five year unresolved crush. If... it wasn't for the fact that she's such a pushover.
Mum sweeps in through the door, muttering about cookies, tea and tension. Rose escapes the madness, slipping into the shadows once again as I step into help my frantic mother.
"Oh Lucy, they hated the cookies..."
Oh, the wonders of a village-drama.
"It'll be fine, Mum..."
She looks up at me for a long time, her eyes large and wet. She touches me in a warm gesture that doesn't sit right me.
"I'm happy for you."
Her voice is teary and I try to push down the anger and hurt bubbling in my throat. I fight the urge to shrug her off, my skin crawling uncomfortably. I haven't been loved for almost a decade and it's difficult to start now. Her fingers squeeze tightly and I come to think of disapproving stares and being disowned and of that anger, which is festering, lodged beneath my chest in a decaying chamber of despair.
I pull my wrist from her hands. She stares up at me with large eyes, anger twitching in the corner of her frown. I don't know how she does it; how she expects something from me when she has so little to give in return.
She's more than a head shorter than me, her hair wild and curly whereas mine is straight as an arrow, her eyes small and narrow, mine large and wide. She's my opposite. Her form seems small in my shadow, fragile even. I've outgrown her in more ways than one and it seems that our shadows don't match anymore - if they ever really have. It's a metaphor for our entire fucking relationship and I don't appreciate the imagery.
"Sorry," I say, and she looks away. I see Dad staring at us from the living room but it's too late for talks and those weak words. Sometimes words are just that. Words. It won't change the look in her eyes or the past, nor will it dislodge my anger. It won't change anything.
Just as quickly as she swept into the kitchen, Mum's out again, carrying trays of “home-cooked” muffins and beaming in a cheery voice. She pretends they’re her creation, but in reality Waitrose has quite the delivery service. Another pretense for the village. The door swings back and forth after her exit and I watch the people as she serves them tea. She doesn't look back and I turn away after a while.
It's not a life I've ever wanted, but something aches inside me anyways.
I busy myself by cleaning the dishes Muggle-style, soaking my hands in the warm water until they’re wrinkly raisins, trying not to think of summers and promises we never kept.
“You’re quite the house-wife, aren’t you? Or have you barricaded yourself in the kitchen in an attempt to escape me? In that case, it's failed.”
His presence in the room is unmistakable and I freeze in my spot. He doesn't call out my name anymore. I don't think I've heard my name fall from his lips for years. But I know it's him.
“You and I both know that I haven’t got a maternal bone in my body, Ted.”
His laughter rings out, slow and heartfelt and I watch the window, the pink light of twilight, spreading across the darkness. I can see the faintest outline of him in the reflection and my breath becomes uneven.
It’s not fair.
I thought we could overcome all this crap. I thought love meant that no matter the obstacles we would survive it. I thought being in love meant that we accepted each other, even if we didn’t always understand each other. Now he's standing by the door, squared shouldered, with the eyes of a foreigner. They're grey today.
“Do you still ride your bike?” I ask, the burning desire to get to know him again ever present.
“Yeah.” He’s stepped further into the room and closed the door behind him. “Your mum hates it still, says I’ll break my neck for sure.”
“Nothing’s changed, then.”
I pour out the water and dry my hands slowly before I turn to face him. I try to tune out Vic's voice telling me of how he's the daredevil now, overtaking my spot as the village-loner, running with wolves. He smiles that slow smile again, the one he’s always known how to tweak in his favour. Its effect hasn’t changed at all over the course of the years and I can see the ghost of my Ted playing in the crevice of his smile. My mouth goes dry.
“You know that’s not true, Lucy.”
I just shrug in response, silently, my shoulders heavy against the moonlit sky. I don’t want to look at him. I’m so afraid of what I might find. I’m scared that he’ll be all right and that it’s just me who’s the broken girl. Ted clears his throat.
“Did you figure out the world?”
I look up at him involuntarily, his expression seems forcibly casual. I try to remember the last time I saw him. I can still recall the dark shadow of his form underneath the covers in the dark room as I packed my bags, the taste of regret ever present. He hadn't seen it then, but I'd known that he'd be okay without me. I've always known.
I slowly shake my head no. “But I like to kid myself and say that I did.”
His eyes are steady. “Don’t worry. You will.”
I look away again, trying to swallow the suffocating squeeze that fills my lungs and throat by the burn of his stare.
“I need to… go.”
I leave him standing in my childhood kitchen, his eyes wide as they follow me. He remains passively standing in the room, his face revealing nothing of his thoughts and I begin to wonder if he thinks about me as much as I think about him.
Ted 18, Lucy 16, 9 years ago
It rained that year. The rain marred the ground with great big lashes of wetness, the cold seeping into the ground and numbing everything with its frigid wetness. It numbed me, too. The weather seemed to quietly appraise my mood, settling in to being the epic drumroll to my dismal revelation.
Summer came, like a piece finally falling into place. Inevitable as it was just like our aging, the day of Ted’s graduation arrived quickly, slipping in the door when we weren’t looking. With it, it brought a sadness that seemed to seep into my very core, and the coldness could simply not be repressed. That night was particularly beautiful – one of the few good days in an otherwise pathetic excuse of a summer.
The round moon stands high on the night sky, almost shining as brightly as the sun. It is a subtle tribute to his parents, something which has not escaped Ted’s notice either.
I try and recall his huge smile and summon one onto my pale face. It’s to no use; the reflection’s smile slips off quickly, washed out with the sunlight as night falls and people begin arriving.
I can hear people getting ready downstairs, laughter ringing out occasionally. Outside the window, candles are hovering in the air, illuminating the huge banner that has been stretched across the midnight blue horizon.
Congratulations Molly, Ted and Vic! it reads in bold letters. I sink down the tears rising in my throat, brushing my hair once again with numb hands to no use. It remains the same dull brown, framing my face limply.
“You ready, pet?”
My mother shifts uncomfortably in the doorway. Her eyes flicker across the room, she’s never been great with feelings or anything that may differ from her picture perfect family. She stutters out the words, tripping over them as she refuses to meet my eyes. She’s always been better at grand speeches and winging the words just right. Small words are harder; the lies don’t snake around them quite as easily.
Molly's easier for her; she's lighter and fits into the family quite like a puzzle to the piece with her red hair and bright mind.
“Yeah.” I put down the hairbrush and smile up at my mother’s face as I tell the lie, “I’m coming down now.”
A while later, I walk briskly down the narrow path in the pale light. Colourful furled leaves and dazzling sunshine scourge my vision, but I walk on, eyeing the grey pale sea in the horizon. The sky is arsenic.
I catch Molly’s eyes when I step into the yard. She’s sitting in a corner, surrounded by her friends, her hand lodged in a tight hold with her boyfriend, Paul. Her hair is plaited in an intricate design and there are flowers in her hair. She looks like Mum. Beautiful.
She tilts her head silently in acknowledgement when our eyes meet, nodding her approval of the dress she picked out for me. I patter past Dad and his barbeque-adventure, weaving past relatives only to squeeze in next to the one Weasley-head I’d like to talk to.
“Here’s to two more years of school.” James knocks a glass against my empty hand, seemingly not sensing that I do, in fact, not have a glass yet. He's hammered, sitting in a corner by himself. I don't know why he prefers the soleness of my company to the others; he isn't unpopular or a failure by any means. He's a good quidditch player with a decent aim, social enough and clever - though, nothing in comparison to Rose or Molly.
The amber liquid sloshes all over my hand and shoes, showering me in a stale smell of a harsh beverage that’s definitely not Pumpkin Juice.
“Let’s hope that this year Lushhhie will shhtop pining after Te –“
“I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink there, buddy.” I snatch the cup out of his hands, cutting him off before he finishes the sentence.
“Oh, don’t worry, Lushh.” James nudges me, winking so rapidly it looks like he’s got a twitch. “I think you’re a hottie with a body.”
This would have been a lot more convincing if he hadn’t walked off to chat up a hedge, thinking it is one of our distant veela relatives.
“Stop it,” James hisses at me out of the corner of his mouth. “I’m in the zone –“
I roll my eyes at him, pulling him away from the bush and into yet another warzone. I stop in my tracks when I meet her eyes.
Dammit, dammit, dammit –
“Oh look, it’s your best friend!” James yells before resolving into a serious of inappropriate giggles.
Victoire is a Greek Goddess, wearing a white flowery dress with lilies in her hair. Her golden hair is curling all around her, giving the illusion of virginity still. It’s her last day as a little girl as today marks the finish to a chapter of her life, though she hasn't looked like a child for years with her slim waist and large breasts. Everyone's noticed that. Ted noticed it four years ago and our relationship hasn't been the same ever since.
“Did you know?” James leans forward and says in a stage whisper, “Lucy has a nickname for you. She calls you Vicky-dic-“
“That is quite enough,” I hiss, clamping a hand over his mouth.
Thankfully, Vic merely raises a perfect eyebrow at us before billowing past us in a swirl of chiffon, not even offering a hello. Of course, she scored top of her class. A true Gryffindor to my weak Hufflepuff.
James giggles again, “Guess Vicky-Dicky really is a bit of a b-riched girl, isn’t she?”
“That she is, James, that she is…”
I try to not look after her, but my eyes keep searching her out, the envy sizzling hot in my stomach. I want to walk right up and rip her perfect hair off her head. I want to rip down the banner and stomp on it and scream to the entire party, Wake up! Dammit, wake up! James has to drink in order to get through this day, Mum is frantic with her cookies and Molly's gripping Paul's hand like it's a lifeline. We're all scared shitless, even Ted. His eyes are wild with panic as he forces laughs to inane old-man-jokes, his body stiff in suited clothes.
I don't do anything, though. I couldn't possibly do anything, not me, quiet Hufflepuff Lucy with the mousy hair. Instead, I drink. I throw down champagne flute after champagne flute in a vain attempt to escape this day; this future.
The two lovebirds of the house have been talking about buying houses. Vic catches my eye while she recounts all their plans to our aunt Hermione. And after that to Aunt Ginny. And my mother. And my uncles. Even the old cat-lady from across the street, Vilma, gets the story.
The ever-consistent Rose is telling anyone who’d like to listen of her grand plans. She has a time table over the next decade, scheming her overtaking of the world. Dom’s going to France for an internship the year after this. James is planning on Quidditch and I’m as lost as I've ever been. No great grades, no great talent, no great escape. Nobody asks me about it either. They all seem to sense that there's no possible chance that Practical-Lucy could ever plan anything spectacular in her life. It’s unsettling, watching as everyone moves away me, their gazes already set on the slowly rising horizon years before it is to set.
I avoid Ted’s stare all night, refusing to see the goodbye that’s waiting for me there. I hate that he’s leaving me, more so than when he’s coming around. He tells everyone of his upcoming travels, praising multicultural experiences and seeing the world. I don’t care about seeing the world. I just want to see him.
“Could you come here for a sec, Luce?"
I look down into my lap. James is absolutely no help, snoring loudly into my ear, his mouth lying wide open against my shoulder as he sleeps away his high. I clench my hands.
“Luce, come on. It’s my last night here.”
“I’m not coming just so you can have some 'Great Goodbye'," I answer, air-quoting. "Not in the mood, mister.”
Ted opens his mouth to say something more, but in that exact moment Vic decides to make an appearance, resting her chin on his shoulder, her red lipstick staining the collar of his white shirt.
“Leave her alone, Teddy. If Lucy wants to sulk on your last day, let her sulk. I, for one, am going to celebrate you with style tonight, darling.”
She says darling the way they do in those old black and white movies Aunt Hermione loves to watch on rainy days. Daaahhh-ling. There's a slight twang to it. I suppose it sounds elegant.
I wouldn't know. I haven't got an elegant bone in my body.
And with that she whisks them both away in a swirl of white and Chanel no. 5. I’m alone again, taking care of James who’s oblivious to all the drama around him in his drunk haze. Nothing new about this scenario, really.
I catch Dom’s eyes across the yard from us, her hands intertwined with Darren’s as always. There’s pity in the depth of her blue eyes and I look away before it catches up with me. Vic is feeding Ted cake, giggling girlishly as she misses his mouth. I catch his eyes in a moment when she isn’t looking. He looks sad, but I am the one to look away first.
“I see someone’s had a bit too much of your dad’s homebred whiskey.”
I look up to see Andromeda standing in front of me, her smile kind. She's always been good to me. I can remember eating cookies at her house with Ted when Mum and Dad would fight, and helping her water her plants. I smile back at her, but the smile’s sad and pathetic and it slips off after a few seconds.
Andromeda steps closer after that and I realize a second too late that I’m not ready for the intensity of the look between us when I meet her eyes. My eyes burn and I clench my teeth tightly.
“He must be getting heavy.” Her voice is soft.
I don’t answer right away and I can feel her stare on me for longer than I can bear. I wish she'd stop. I bite my lip when the first tear slips down my cheek, its travel quick and unhindered.
“I’m getting used to it," I sniffle. "For the record, Auntie, James Potter does not know how to hold his liquor. The idiot never learns.”
“They never do,” she says and I get the feeling that we're no longer talking about James.
The silence settles once more, only broken by James’s soft snores. I can still feel Andromeda’s eyes on me and I look away, watching Lily bicker with her mum about her curfew. Andromeda’s always been as much of an aunt to me than anything. She’s getting on, her grey-streaked hair a telltale sign of times passed. She has got an air around her that both intrigues and intimidates me. She’s seen both of the Wars and lived through them, knows how to make a mean rhubarb-pie and raised Ted by herself – with the help of Uncle Harry, of course. She's one of the kindest and most frightening people I've ever met.
“Ted’s been looking for you.”
“So it seems.”
She furrows her brows, and looks at me closely, her eyes searching my face.
“I get that you’re mad, Lucy.”
I stare straight ahead. “I’m not mad. Who said I was mad? I didn’t say I was mad.”
“It’s perfectly alright to be upset.”
Her face tells me that she knows what’s going on. I look down, fingering at the soft fabric of the dress. I’ve always hated mothers’ intuitions. Made it a lot more difficult hiding stuff. Not from my mum, though. She's never looked close enough to see anything out of the ordinary with me.
“I just got him back.” My voice is barely above a whisper, yet she seems to have no trouble making out the words. Her expression softens and she takes a seat beside me.
“You know, it’s not about leaving people, it’s about finding yourself. He’s not abandoning you, Luce. He just needs to become the person he’s going to be.”
“What if that person is someone who doesn’t have me as a friend?” I ask, uncertainty present in the tremor of my voice.
“You just have to trust him. He needs his best friend right now.” The wind stirs her grey hair gently as she looks at me, her eyes crinkling. “He's so afraid, Lucy. He needs to know that you’ll always be there whenever he comes back. No matter what. No matter who he becomes.”
In my heart I know I’ll always be here to wait for him, but I don’t tell her that. Instead, I let out a sigh that seems to come from my bones. “I think I need some time.”
“I’ll take this guy home.” Andromeda steps forward, grabbing James’s arm. His head lolls forward as she lifts him off his feet with a surprising strength of such a small woman.
"I'm getting too old for this," she huffs.
Thanking her, I get to my feet after rousing James. I quietly slip out the garden door, stepping down the cobblestone steps that lead into the forest. The noise of the party is slowly muffled as I thread down the moonlit path. I need time and there’s only one place where the distance will prove enough.
“Only you would insist on cycling across town with 40 kilos of baggage, I mean honestly.”
Scorpius hauls the suitcase higher, pushing his hair off his sweaty forehead. “Just because you’re afraid of apparating – you’re lucky I love you or I’d have transfiguered you into a teapot and brought you in my pocket.”
“I’m not… afraid - I just… get sick.” I thread carefully on the muddy ground, wincing as my expensive heels sink into the soft earth. “Besides, the car doesn’t enter through the woods – the shrubbery is too dense. And the trip is nice - fresh air and all, you know.”
Scorpius rolls his eyes at me, pulling the blue bicycle along him. He’s sweaty and his hair is all over his face. It’s the first time he’s been anything but perfect and I can’t keep the grin off my face as we circle the small lake, which leads to the house.
"Come on, it's not that baaa- crap-"
With a quick snap, my heel cuts clean off the rest of my shoe, and unprepared, my shoe slides further into the mud, now covered completely in rotten leaves and dirt.
"My Manolos -" I moan.
Scorpius sniggers at me. "Serves you right for forcing me into the wild..."
"Tsk! You ain't seen nothing yet, sweet cheeks."
I wince slightly as I pull the shoe free of the mud, opting for barefoot instead. The earth feels nice against my feet and I breathe the fresh air in deeply.
It's been too long.
We make our way slowly across the forest-ground, mud squelching at our shoes as a lonely house appears behind the thicket of trees. The roof has holes in it and the wild seems to slowly be overgrowing its boundaries, slipping across the borders. A chubby older woman is jumping up and down in front of the yellow house, her grin large and inviting as it’s ever been. There’s something off about her face, with the large lips and small eyes and I see Scorpius stiffen beside me as he takes her in.
Clem has always been the black sheep of the Black family, and was never mentioned anywhere in journals. Illnesses such as Downs have never been gazed upon lightly and Andromeda took care of her sister ever since she was old enough to do so. And when the end came, Clem took care of Andromeda in return. When Ted’s parents died, he came to live with Clem, Ted and Andromeda and when his grandfather died, the trio stuck together like glue. Clem lives alone now, but Ted’s old room is still there, marked by the window facing the sea.
I glance at it ruefully.
When I walk up, I can almost see his old motorcycle resting against the gable of the wooden house. The spot on the wall seems oddly bare in its absence, but I discard the thought expertly, focusing my attention on Clementine’s smiling face.
“Lucy!” She squeals and wraps me up in her large form. I sink into her embrace, breathing a sigh of relief as I feel everything drift slightly into place again.
“I’ve missed you, Clem.”
“Clem’s missed you more,” the old woman croons, her wispy curls stirring in the wind. Over her shoulder I see Scorpius placing the bike gingerly in Ted’s old spot and I look away. I turn to face Clem, winking at Scorpius when he walks up to us.
“This is Scorpius.”
All the joy on Clem’s face seems to disappear with the beat of a wand. I watch her carefully as she takes his large form in, together with the sunshine yellow robes and the long ponytail. He smiles largely, holding out a hand.
“Hi there, gorgeous.”
Clem ignores his hand, instead turning to face me, her eyes glittering in the light. Her full mouth twists, her eyebrows knotted together in a deep frown. I already know the words before they leave her mouth, but the shaky tremor to her saddened voice makes me close my eyes and bite the inside of my mouth hard enough to draw blood. The stale metallic taste fills my mouth, its sting nailing me to the ground as the word spreads across the silence.
Clementine Black’s house is the closest I ever got to home.
It’s not a fact shared with many people, in fact, it’s a fact hardly anyone knows. That doesn't make it any less true, though. I press a hand against the weathered door, entering with trepidation. I can feel his presence here even more so than anywhere. Funny how a place can be heaven and hell all in one.
As I step into the house, one thing becomes frighteningly apparent:
It's not the same.
It would have been easier if the house had remained the same, but the passage of time has changed this place. The wallpaper is yellowing, curling at its edges and the floorboard is paler, worn away by the shuffling of shoes. My feet can feel each dent and curve in the tree as I thread barefoot towards the living room.
There is a clear smell of decay and neglect pushing against my throat, nearly clogging it as I walk around. I try desperately to swallow the guilt that lies thick in my throat as I eye the state of things. We’ve been so busy with our own problems that we’ve forgotten Clem.
There are small things I notice. I notice the white larkspur struggling up out of the moss, the cracks on the walls, cutting over heartstrings and beheading flowers. I notice the empty fridge and Clem’s wrinkled hands. I notice the missing pictures and the ones that have remained. I also notice the absence of someone else.
“Who’s that?” Scorpius, having followed closely behind me, nods towards the large photograph above the fireplace as we enter the living room. It's much too large, covering nearly the entire wall. The image is a painted portrait of an elderly lady with large grey eyes and a small smile playing at her full lips. I eye the smiling lady before quickly looking away again.
“Andromeda,” I answer, “Clem’s sister. Ted’s... grandmother.”
I stumble over his name and curse myself. Scorpius nods but does not ask any more questions, thankfully. I see him look at a picture of a five year old Ted, taking in his toothy grin and the gap between his front teeth. There are many things I don’t tell him. I can tell he senses it, but he doesn’t turn to confront me, nor does he seem upset by it. I guess it’s a give and take. He has his secrets and thus he lets me have mine.
The trouble is, this place is a landmine of secrets.
It’s as if wherever I turn there’s another anecdote, another twist to our story. On one wall hangs Ted’s graduation letter, on another a picture of Ted and I on his graduation day, limbs intertwined and big smiles. At the kitchen table sit Remus and Dora Lupin in a silver frame, a small toddler swaddled between them. A beautiful metal figure resembling a sunflower is standing right beside them on the table, delicate and beautiful.
I sink down my fear and take the stairs slowly. A painted flower covers the wall beside my hand, its stem circling lamps and frames, reminding me where I am. There are leaves stretching out towards the ceiling. I trace the outline of a tulip, caught fleetingly by a lost thought.
“What’s the deal with all the flowers?” Scorpius asks behind me, “They’re painted all over the house.”
I don’t answer, unsure of my voice and of the situation. I’d never imagined Scorpius would be here. Now my two worlds are merging and I'm unable to stop them from spiraling outwards, out of control.
“Lucy.” Clem beams from the top of the stairs. I meet her eyes briefly. The joy in there hurts my eyes and my stomach clenches painfully. I know I’m going to be the one who’ll put out that fire in her eyes. I always am.
“You painted all of this?” Scorpius sounds incredulous.
I shrug. “I paint.”
“I’ve never seen you paint.”
“That’s because I've stopped.”
Clem shakes her head disapproving, tapping her hand against her heart. “Painting good for heart. Instead heart breaks.”
I don’t answer her and merely offer her a weak smile in response before stepping into my designated room. I catch sight of Scorpius’s surprised face before I turn my back on him, trusting Clem to show him to his room.
The room is as familiar as the inside of my eyelids, so I don’t need to look at the ceiling in order to see the large tree spreading outwards. It’s the only room where I haven’t painted roses. Instead it’s a nightscape, the moon winking at me from the left-hand corner.
I stand there, beneath the starlit sky and spoiled clouds, the silence of the house almost ringing in my ears. I don’t know how it got to this. I have no idea how to retrace my steps. I don’t know when this place became a stranger and turned on me.
I assess the place slowly, vacillating between technicolor nightmares and dulcet dreams. Snapshots of his hair on the pillow keep on flickering behind my eyelids, festering.
Nothing’s changed, yet everything has.
I sink down onto the bed, my eyes running over every furniture. His scent is burnt into the very core of this room and as soon as I lay down, I’m engulfed in his scent. I wonder if he ever returned to this place, if he’s pressed his skin against these white pressed sheets that caress my skin.
The memory is easy.
It comes ignited in the far back corner of my mind before spreading like a fire, inching along my subconscious. The feelings are harder and difficult to swallow down with the bitter taste of regret. It still burns when I recall the sting of his lips and the way he used to smile.
I cross the room, pressing open the closet. I find it stuffed between a worn Weird Sisters t-shirt and an old pair of overalls. The dust hangs suspended in the stale air, backlit by the dirty window behind me as I peer into the tattered book.
I search through the pages of the old album, passing faded photographs of people I have never known. I go on. Searching. Looking. Checking to see, to know.
We were here.
Remus and Nymphadora Lupin are smiling up at me, leaning together to kiss gently every few seconds. And on the other page, just as it has been for the past eighteen years it lies, held together by the small piece of plastic and a small note saying forever in clumsy lettering. I swallow down the choking bubble of anguish, running a finger along the delicate flower. The yellow petals are faded, but the sunflower remains, pressed between memories Ted Lupin never wanted to forget. I’ve been filed under past.
Maybe this is what forgetting looks like.
It gets harder and harder to look at the book the longer I sit on the cold floor. It’s a bit too much as I feel Ted’s presence so palpably in this room, yet he feels eons away; a distant tale of a fabled prince and his honours. Finally, I snap the book closed with a sigh. Reminiscing will do me no good.
My feet are heavy as I walk to the desk by the window. A soft fluttering of wings announces the arrival of Baltimore, Miranda’s Barn Owl. He eyes me with large, solemn eyes, perched on the window sealing. Beneath him lie a fresh piece of parchment and a small quill.
“Hi there, Balti.”
The owl hoots softly in greeting, shifting his legs.
“I know why you’re here,” I assure him. “And I said I’d do it, so I’ll do it.”
Balti says nothing but merely stares at me with his big eyes.
I shift. “Okay. Yeah. I’ll do it now. It’s just… He’s my best - well... Former best friend, you know?”
Balti blinks slowly.
“Yeah.” I breathe out deeply. “You’re right. The job’s great. And he doesn’t care, right?”
At this, the owl hoots twice and that’s all the encouragement I need. I sit down at the table, quill poised.
“Now, let’s see what we can write…”
I write for hours until the sun is slowly rising in the horizon, bleeding into the sky as light seeps into the shadows. Beside me, Balti shifts impatiently, but remains otherwise silent as I scribble.
With a sharp nip to my fingers, he takes off as soon as I’ve secured the letter to his feet. I stand by the window and watch his small silhouette disappear in the horizon, unease churning in my stomach as I hope to Merlin I've made the right choice.
Ted 18, Lucy 16, 9 years ago
The heat hangs heavy in the air, dense with humidity. I hear him arrive before I see him, his ever-clumsy self ruining the so called “mystery”. It gives me enough time to panic but not enough time to make a plan. My breath catches in the back of my throat despite my best efforts as I keep my back turned, facing the still water.
“Kind of knew you’d be here.”
I open my mouth to say something snide, turning around to face him, but the look on his face stops me.
“So.” He steps further into the green, plucking a sunflower from the ground. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
I watch his face for a long moment, trying to judge in which direction this will go, whether this is the end of everything. I kind of feel like I’m losing no matter what.
I end up staying quiet. It’s not a choice as much as it’s the inability to string a single sentence together. I have no idea of what to say.
“Fuck, Luce.” Ted throws the flower away in a sudden jerky motion of his hand, spitting out the words with distaste.
“Are we seriously playing this game again? Just – How can you just…” His words fade out and he steps closer. “It’s my last day. I’m leaving and man, I love you, but it’s not fair that I always have to keep up with your fucking mood swings. It’s my last day and I’d like for us to just be us for a moment.”
It’s dark by the lake, so dark that I can barely see more than the outline of his face. I don't have the heart to tell him that we haven't been us for years now. I've been in love with him for way too long for that. Ted steps even closer to me, the warmth of his body radiating at me. He runs a hand along my jaw, toying with a strand of hair.
“I’ve always loved this place.” I look down, watching my hands, trying not to look at him. He's always had the power. It's so unfair.
The lake house has always been our haven. Ted presses a hand underneath my jaw, lifting my face to meet his again.
“Don’t shut me out.” He says it quietly and it’s all the pretend I can muster.
“I just want you to know that I’ll –“ I bite my lip as I try to keep my eyes on his steady ones. “I’ll still be your friend, even if you become a fancy old bugger and start wearing crocks or something. You know. You’re a good guy. One of the few.”
He’s smiling slightly, probably enjoying this. I wonder if Vic loves his eyes as much as I do. If she appreciates this.
Ted grins, his smile large. “I’m going to miss you, short stuff.”
“Not as much as you’ll miss Vic – what with all of your plans –“ I mutter, remembering our talk by the cliffs not long ago. He had looked so lost then, now he just looks excited, with the future in his eyes.
One hand slides up my back, pressing me forward into his arms. I let him embrace me, his strong arms wrapping around my torso. Involuntarily, I shiver as a tremor runs through my body. His chest is hard and hot underneath my hands and despite my better judgement I clutch his shirt in a tight grip.
“I don’t want you to forget me.”
The admission is hard, the words clinging to my tongue as I murmur them against his neck.
Ted stops breathing. There’s a flash of seven years ago, his eyes warm and comforting in a boat on a cold night, and I can’t help but feel that this is so much different than the last time. He’s not a little kid anymore.
He’s a young man now.
His other hand comes up and now he’s gripping my face and bringing me in closer to him. He presses his lips hard against my forehead, still cradling my face. I close my eyes. I can feel the warmth of his body, pressing into mine. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
“I broke up with her.”
“Pardon?” I ask distractedly as his fingers continue to draw imaginary maps on the small of my back. I can’t really think with him standing this close. I can’t really do anything. He presses his cheek against mine, his skin warm and soft.
“I broke up with Vic. We were never... We'd lost what we once had and we were just together for comfort. I’m so tired of pleasing everyone, trying to be what they want me to do. I'm tired of being scared. I just want to do what I want for once.”
“And what’s that?” I ask, my breath catching in my throat.
He pulls back suddenly, watching my face.
There's something in his eyes, which I haven't seen before. The expression says things that I think we’ve needed to say for a long time now and I come to think how twelve months doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I miss his touch for a second before his hands are back on my skin, cupping my face.
He presses his forehead against mine as his breath washes over me in a sharp gust of wind. He seems nervous, his eyes brown and never-ending as they search mine for whatever it is he's looking so hard for.
“This,” he whispers tightly before closing the distance and touching his lips to mine breathlessly.
I thought life would never change, that the seasons and our small place by the lake would forever withhold the passing of time. But as always time makes fools of illusioned dreamers. And then one day, one beautiful, crisp Easter day, it all came crashing down.
A/N: Don't forget to reviewww... :)