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Chapter 24: Key
I'm woken by rising voices and a little boy's laughter. Rolling over, from my stomach to my back, I push myself out of bed and feel for the bedpost. Hanging up is an outfit, a soft-feeling t-shirt, a non-sleeved shirt-like jacket with a hood and what I know are my favorite jeans, because they're one of the only pairs I had packed; someone must have come in this morning and left it out for me, I don't remember them being there last night. I dress quickly and follow the voices into my grandmother's dining area.
"Hey, you," Louis is the first to say. I can hear his smile.
"Hey, yourself," I yawn.
He takes my hand, leading me to the seat beside him, and sits me down. "We're just having breakfast. I'm surprised to see you, we weren't expecting you down till noon."
"What time is it now?"
"Almost ten," Grandma answers me.
Almost ten? Almost? As in not yet ten? As in still in the 9am area? I start to stand. "I'm going back to bed."
"No, stay with me," Louis pleads, not letting go of my hand. "I was hoping we could go out, we can have a longer day out together now."
"Sure, why not?" I mumble, which he can't hold against me because I'm still half asleep, and grab my breakfast as soon as it's put in front of me. "I even have money now. Sleep well in the guest room, Louis?" I ask, rubbing sleep from my eyes between bites.
"It was alright," he says. "You know, maybe we should give you a little bit of coffee today."
"Why? You know I'm not allowed to have coffee; it makes me jumpy."
"Just enough to wake you up, CJ." His finger tickles my neck when he runs over the base. He flicks something up. "You've got your shirt jacket on inside out."
I grab a bit of the back of my jacket; he's right, I can feel the label. Which means my hood is tucked inside. No wonder it felt weird. I shrug it off and try again. "Coffee sounds good, and then we can pretend that never happened."
The coffee is barely half a cup, but I feel more awake now than I did before. It may only be because I've been up for a while now, though. I do not put my faith in a bit of coffee. I find it hard to believe that there's enough caffeine in this to have any type of effect as last time. Which, of course, is why they only gave me this much. Not that I have a coffee addiction or anything. I drank some once when I was about seven, took what I thought was my hot chocolate off the table, and didn't sleep all night. Even if my mum hadn't said I couldn't have any more, I wouldn't drink it. I kinda wish I hadn't drank it now. I really don't like the taste.
Grimacing, I push the cup away and continue with my breakfast. "Where's everyone else?"
"Jay has gone with your grandfather for business reasons. Mel and Carrie have taken the children out for the day, I said I'd join them after you had gotten up," Grandma replies. "Enjoy your day, boys."
I frown at the odd sound of her voice, but nod and say good bye. "Have fun," I call. As soon as she's gone, I tap Louis. "What did I miss?"
There's a brief pause and the sound of ice rattling around in a glass. "Your mum floo called this morning, not long before you came down. She was pleasantly surprised to see your grandmother answer and said something along the lines of 'good, now nothing can happen'. Your mum is the really paranoid, over-protective type, isn't she? No offense."
"None taken. Does it affect your plans in any way?"
"No," he says simply. "None of my plans will come into motion until after Paris. Why? Does it affect yours?"
"Little bit," I mumble honestly, making an attempt at kicking him when he laughs. "Don't be a dick, it ruins the moment."
"I didn't realize we were having a moment," Louis chuckles. I re-attempt to kick him, but he continues speaking before I can open my mouth. "Finished your breakfast? Ready to go?"
I nod twice, one for each question, and stand up, my hand out for him to take. There's a good chance I may need him to lean on when my caffeine buzz fades and I start to fall asleep again. "Lead the way."
Louis says Bordeaux is beautiful, I tell him I'll take his word for it because I don't remember. Louis asks me if I'm okay, I say yes and pretend that I didn't notice the bitter edge in my tone a few seconds earlier. It's not fair on Louis and I won't be responsible for ruining our trip. Not just me; nothing will ruin our trip. There's been a slight change in my plans, since my family are here, but we will still have our trip and I'll still get to cross things off my list.
He doesn't buy it, though. He knows I'm pretending. "I wish I could help you, find a way to give you your sight back safely," he says softly, his finger rubbing circles across my skin while he unconsciously swings our joined hands again.
"I know, so do I. It's okay, though. I'm used to it," I promise.
"But I know that you can't accept it. How can you live like that?" he asks me. He's trying to understand.
"Because I have to," I tell him simply. "Why are we talking about this? Let's talk about nice things, like Paris. I like Paris. Have you been to the top of the tower before?"
"No. I'm not a worthy enough romantic, I've never been with someone who's given me a reason to go. It is a romantic setting, you know," he laughs, following my example willingly for me.
"Well, that is news to me," I grin.
We continue to walk, stopping occasionally so he can look through the shop windows. We have lunch and dessert at some café. It feels nice, like a date. No, it feels like more than that. We're enjoying each other's company, as you do on a date, but we're past that stage now, I think. It's like we've been together forever. I know who he is as a person, not everything - who does? - but enough. Which wasn't a hard thing to do really, since I can't see him to make first assumptions. Getting to know who he is was all I really had.
I wonder what he's first impressions of me was? What did he notice when he saw me?
I'm not very good at first impressions.
I don't ask him, though. Maybe that's a question for another time. Until then, I'll enjoy this trip and my company and hopefully not mess Paris up.
Embarrassment may be likely.
The sun is warm on my skin. We're sat outside, just me and Louis, while we wait for dinner. Grandma and Grandad have gone out for the evening, my cousins, their families and Peter have all gone home, so it's just the two of us, alone here. Like I planned. Unlike Mum, Grandma trusts us, because we're adults now and we can do what we like.
Okay, she may not have actually said it like that. It was something to do with being responsible and making the right decisions. She's talking to the guy who did a handstand until he went dizzy and the guy who wanted to rollerblade in the school halls; we are rarely responsible and we rarely make right decisions.
But she doesn't need to know that.
I jump up when my ice cream drips from my cone, the melted dessert landing on my stomach. Yes, we're eating ice cream before dinner. Home alone at its best. Louis asks what's wrong from behind me, breaking the silence, but I'm sure he can guess. "Ice cream's melting," is all I say, settling back down in my sun lounger. Mine was turned around and was no longer in the direction of the pool, like it usually was, and Louis turned his around, too, so now we're back-to-back; his hair tickles my neck.
"It's so nice here, peaceful," he says. "I can't believe you used to live here, you're so lucky. I mean, it's huge!"
I pull myself up into a sitting position, careful not to drop my ice cream, and tilt my head back, so I'm resting on his bare shoulder. Another thing we're taking advantage of is not looking smart for dinner, which I swear Grandma made a rule in this house. We're only wearing our swim shorts. "Louis," I say slowly. "Of course it's huge, it's a mansion."
"Yeah, well, I've lived in a cottage on a beach all my life and, sure, I've stayed at my grandparents a few times, but that's not as big as this and I've never actually lived there. Compared to that, even compared to the house you live in in Essex, this place is massive. What was it like moving into a smaller place?"
I shrug. "I've forgotten what this place looks like and I've never seen my house in Essex. I go from my bedroom to the living room to the kitchen and back; it's all the same to me. What's it like living in a cottage on a beach?"
"Summers were fun, when we were kids and the family came over; we'd play on the beach, swimming and sandcastles and stuff. But during the winter and when it rained, or during the week when Harry's and Ginny's and Ron's and Hermione's kids went to school, it was kind of lonely and boring; they were closest in age, so I hung out with them the most. I had my brother, though, and Vic until she started Hogwarts and started hanging out with Ted more. There's not much to do in the village and only a few kids my own age." Louis pauses, probably to eat his ice cream. "Now it's boring because we think we're too old for sandcastles and playing in the sea. It's kind of sad."
"My dad and Jay used to help me build sandcastles, but I got frustrated because I couldn't do it myself and stopped," I admit. "I was a stubborn child."
"Hey!" I start to defend myself, even though he's right and I am still just as stubborn. "I was only allowed to paddle in the sea, never alone. I didn't mind that, though. Jay had scared me with shark stories and I was very glad I couldn't swim and couldn't go in even if I wanted to."
"How nice of him," Louis says sarcastically. "He's definitely a contender for Cousin of the Year."
I laugh softly and bite into my cone, finishing it quickly. "Looking forward to tomorrow?"
"I don't know what to think of tomorrow." He bites into his cone, too. "Telling them will be easy. I'm worried about what she'll do to you afterwards."
"You're not funny, besides I'm just going to stay here and you can meet me here before you make me ill by apparating to Paris," I tell him.
"You're coming with me, CJ. She has to see it to believe it, to know it's not a practical joke and that I really am in a relationship with her rival's nephew." Louis' lounger scratches against the floor when he turns, his chin now resting on my shoulder. "She really will say rival. Oh, and enemy, that will come up, too."
"Stop trying to freak me out," I glare. "It's working."
Louis leaves a kiss over my hair at my temple, but if he's about to say anything, he's interrupted by the timer in the kitchen that he spelled to echo; dinner's ready. He takes my hand and leads me into the house, letting me go as soon as I'm by the table. I find a seat while he prepares dinner and think about all the things that could go wrong with tomorrow. I just can't imagine why he'd want everyone to know about us now. Couldn't we have waited till graduation, at least?
Louis puts my fork into my hand, I must have been too preoccupied to hear the plate being put in front of me. "You still look scared." I roll my eyes in a halfhearted attempt at nonchalance. I'm not scared, but I can be a little worried. "My grandmother has never said anything about our decisions, she always supports us and, unlike you, she already knows I'm gay. No offense."
"You know, saying that doesn't take away the fact that I'm offended," I argue between mouthfuls of potatoes. Damn, I should have known the git could cook. "But I might be able to forgive you -"
"I'm not admitting that I know your name." I open my mouth to say something else. "I'm not kissing you either."
"Then I don't forgive you," I lie.
"Sure. Anyway, my grandmother will get over the fact that your Madeline Delaney's grandson. I've already told you that it's just a stupid pride war." He rubs his hand up and down my back. "I won't freak you out anymore, I promise. Now eat. We've got a big day tomorrow. It's gonna be b-" I swing my arm, hitting Louis in the chest. "Sorry."
I can imagine it now: Grandma, I went out with Ciaran James... Then he dumped me for being a dick.
Okay, that's not true... He's too nice to his grandmother to swear in front of her.
I really did not like Grandad's 'good luck' before we left this morning, I could tell he was trying to fight a snicker. Its hard to imagine he and my dad not being overly fond of each other, they're so alike. Especially when it comes to my misfortune; they have so much to talk about. I think it's because of something Dad did when he was younger and first going out with Mum. Or maybe it was when they were just friends and his outlook on life worried her because he wasn't worried.
I stand in front of Louis' grandparents' house and we wait for the door to open. He's knocked three times, but no one's answering and they've put up new wards, so he can't get in. He marvels at the differences between the two homes; Madame Delacour has a nice, fairly large house with a drive, Grandma has big gates that open up and a long drive that leads to a mansion. It's fun to listen to him; he thinks he's dating someone with money. He's really not, he's dating someone whose family is old money. None of it's mine, if anything were to happen to my grandparents, it would all go to Mum and uncle Michel. I just get to spend it sometimes.
Basically, he's just dating a kid from an old Pureblood family.
"They know I'm coming, they wanted to see me," Louis says, knocking again. "Grandma! It's Louis!" he yells.
That's when I hear it; the faint sounds of raised voices. I tap Louis' shoulder and point behind us just as they get louder. "Louis?" the softer voice calls. "We thought you'd be here a little later."
"Yeah, we left earlier. Sorry," he says. "I told you I was staying with a guy from school first, so we could talk to his family. Anyway, this is CJ, Mrs. Delaney's grandson."
Even now, he just can't seem to admit to knowing my actual name. He must really hate to lose.
"Hello, CJ," Monsieur Delacour says kindly.
"He's holding out his hand," Louis whispers in my ear.
"Oh." I hold out my hand, too, and Louis guides me. "I'm sorry. It's nice to meet you, sir."
"You went to the Delaney mansion," is the first thing his grandmother says. She's probably shocked, thinking I'm spying because of their rivalry.
"Yes. Let's go inside, I have to talk to you." There's a moment of suddenly awkward silence while we wait for the wards to be let down, so we can get in.
Mrs. Delacour leads us into the lounge and we sit down slowly. "Can I use your bathroom?" I ask suddenly. I don't wait for an answer, but Louis pulls me back down before I can really go anywhere.
"Coward," he mutters.
"I was for my family, what made you think I wouldn't be for yours?"
"Misplaced faith," he answers. I almost say 'shame on you', but he's already got his hand covering my mouth to shut me up. "The reason I was at the Delaney's is because we were telling them that CJ and I are going out. She took it very well," he adds deliberately, lowering his hand. Now she has to take it better.
Sneaky. He's good.
"We're very happy for you both. You know we've always respected your choices," his grandfather says. I like him.
"Of course we are," Mrs. Delacour replies straight after. "Why would we not be?"
Hmm. Maybe my worries were all for nothing and I just take after my mum.
She speaks to him in French next, either forgetting or not knowing that I was born here and French is my first language. She says, I hope you're making the right choice, Louis.
Hmm. Maybe not?
"What did your grandmother mean when she said she hoped you made the right choice?"
Louis' footsteps echo when he walks across the room, stopping in front of me. His aftershave is the first giveaway. I know he's mostly wearing it because his grandparents paid quite a bit of money for it, but he knows I like it, so I kinda hope it's for me, too. He fixes the back of my collar slowly. "My dating history, I bet," he answers, but he sounds unsure. "Strangely enough, my track record when it comes to dating is not that good."
"It is strange, considering you do so well in almost everything else," I smirk.
"What do you mean by almost?"
"Your academic achievements are admirable and I have no doubt about your skills as an artist," I say honestly. "But I beat you when it comes to music, you said yourself that you suck at the piano and, well, I can sing."
"Oh, I'm a terrible singer," he agrees, not effected by my words. "That's what makes drunk karaoke so much fun."
"I'll keep that in mind," I laugh, but turn serious a little too quickly for my liking. "They're okay with this? With us?"
"Yes, and even if they weren't, who cares? It's our life." I want to comment on that fact that he would care, and he should, it's his family, but he's in a good mood and I don't want to ruin that by being serious and negative. "Now, we have a city to get to, dinner to eat and a tower to climb. I say we go now."
I stick out my arm in response, really hoping he accepts it. Not that I consider him 'the girl' in this relationship, but I've never done it before. I can't help the grin on my face when he does accept... Well, he accepts it until we get to the stairs, then he slides his hand down my arm to take my hand instead. He says good bye to his grandparents, telling them not to wait up, and we step outside. We can't apparate inside or around the house because of the wards, so he waits till were some distance away before he does so.
The moment we touch ground, Louis is standing behind me, holding onto my upper arms while I wait for the nausea to pass. I nod my head when it's over and he takes my hand again. "Don't hate me if you don't like the food; your grandmother recommended the place, then booked a table before I could ask you. I'd have felt bad if we didn't use it."
I know exactly what restaurant he's talking about; it's Grandma's favorite. "I like French food," I promise. "I've been before. We take her there for her birthday."
"Good." He sounds so relieved.
The table is waiting for us when we arrive, my Grandma's influence this time. No meddlesome cousins who own it or staff I know and can talk to, just a woman who happens to be their best customer. We order quickly and talk about our families while we wait; Louis reassures me that I worried for nothing. During our meal, we talk about the tower and if I am looking forward to getting my answer and crossing it off my list. I tell him that I am, knowing that as soon as he got to 'crossing it off' he wasn't talking about the tower. I think I know what his plan is now.
I suppose I should have guessed. He did say he was going to show me exactly why people use it as a romantic setting.
We don't order dessert, I don't think my stomach could take anymore, and he asks for the bill. He sounds a little nervous now, which only makes me more so. What if I'm really bad?
"Are you ready to go?" he asks, bringing me back to the real world.
"Yeah," I say, nodding to prove to him that I am, as well as reassure myself after my thoughts. "Let's go."
We walk in comfortable silence, my hands tracing the outlines of his dinner jacket sleeve. There's music playing in the restaurants around us, people talking and laughing. I know it's dark now, I'd be able to feel the sun on my skin if it were still out and I'd be wearing my sunglasses. It feels romantic, like what Carrie talks about. I know Louis can be a romantic, but with school and NEWTs with never really done anything more than our dinner at Ellie's and a few dates in Hogsmeade. I realize that even after three months, I'm still new to all of this. I have no idea what to do.
"Dinner was nice," I blurt out.
"It was," Louis agrees. "Ready to climb that tower?"
We're careful climbing the steps; it would be a shame if we were to get this far, then I break something falling down because I was careless and mess up tonight.
"Almost there," Louis says, sounding a little out of breath. I don't even try to say anything. He exercises, I don't.
Finally, we get to the top and Louis leads me to the edge. "It's beautiful up here," he says softly. "I love Paris."
My heart sinks, hitting my stomach with a thud when I realize something I hadn't ever thought about before; how am I meant to know what people see in this place when I can't see it?
"Sounds nice," I mumble. I want to go now, I shouldn't have come up here.
"Stop that," Louis scolds me as though I'm a child. Using the hand he's still got ahold off, he pulls me in front of him. "Close your eyes. Now imagine it; in front of you is the park and the pavements, people are walking through, couples are enjoying their night. All around them is the city, and it's so bright, full of life and romance and you know why this is a romantic spot. What do you see, CJ?" he whispers.
"Paris." It's my own, very distorted view of Paris, but it's there. In my mind. I open my eyes. "I saw Paris. Thank you," I say sincerely, turning my head slightly to the right.
"No problem," he replies, turning me around so that we're face-to-face.
We're so close to each other, our foreheads touching, and unlike New Year, there's no one here to get in the way. Its just us and Paris and a list with items that deserve to be crossed off tonight. Louis cups the back of my neck, his fingers in my hair, and without warning, leans forward. His lips are soft and warm against mine and when he opens his mouth, I can taste the sweet wine we'd drank with our meals. He's slow and tender, almost caressing my tongue with his own. It makes me want more and I pull against his jacket, hoping he gets the message.
He doesn't give me what I want, he slowly pulls away. My groan of protest makes him chuckle. I take in what just happened. My first real kiss. It was better than I imagined, and I imagined it and more a lot. "Wow," I murmur.
"Yeah. Definitely worth the wait." I have to agree. "I'm glad we waited, Key."
I sigh. "Don't ruin the moment."
"I love the name, it suits you." I tell him that I can't think how. He puts my hand over his heart, I feel each quick beat against his chest. "Because it's exactly who you are; my key to my heart. I will never stop loving that name."
I shake my head. "You are such a -"
I don't get to finish that sentence, he knows what I'm about to say and that it's true anyway, so I don't mind that he interrupted me to kiss me again. This time he does give me what I want, and I have to hold onto him as I'm pushed against the railings. He's lucky I trust him. We only break apart to breathe and he whispers 'Key' again.
Damn, I'm really starting to like that stupid name.
A/N: I was told within a week and a week it has been. The chapter, I've been planning that tower scene since March. It feels good to share it with you now. I hope you're not disappointed. :)