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Sparks by momotwins
Chapter 1: A Little Madness
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"Oh, don't take it so hard. I drove into this madness. Every woman needs a little madness in her life."
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 4
It was quite easy to overlook Lucy Weasley. She was well aware of this fact, having lived with it these past twenty-seven years. Her sister Molly, now she was impossible to overlook. Lucy rather admired that about her sister, though it had been quite annoying when she'd been younger and everyone had compared the two girls.
Molly had been a prefect. Molly had been Head Girl. Molly had been popular, and gotten good marks, and played Quidditch well enough to join the Holyhead Harpies reserve team.
Lucy had been... none of those things. She didn't mind so much. It had made it easier to concentrate on her schoolwork. She was working in Flourish and Blotts these days, having completed Hogwarts with a respectable number of N.E.W.T.s in nothing that particularly interested her. Lucy loved books, though. Working in a bookshop was something of a dream job for her. She hoped to one day own her own shop. She was practically running Flourish and Blotts already, though she was nominally only the assistant manager. Not that that was saying much – Flourish and Blotts only employed three people. Still, the job was a good fit for her.
She worked every hour she could get, saving up money toward her dream. Every Knut she could squirrel away got her that much closer. She was determined to do this on her own, to stand on her own two feet and reach her goal all by herself. It was something of a common thread for her life. She liked to do things alone. She liked to be alone.
Working in a bookshop meant she didn't spend every waking moment alone, which was probably for the best, or she'd likely turn into one of those barmy old cat ladies. Sometimes the customers got on her nerves, but sometimes they were quite good company. And sometimes her family stopped by.
Like today. Lucy was busily shelving books from a new shipment, fresh from the publisher. She was enjoying the feel and smell of the newly printed volumes when someone tapped her on the shoulder.
“Hi Lucy,” said a familiar voice, and Lucy turned around, a book still in hand.
Her cousin grinned at her. Roxanne was tall and pretty, with dark curly hair and skin a lovely shade of pale coffee. She and her brother Fred were the only Weasleys to escape the ginger gene, though they both had freckles. Lucy rather envied Roxanne and Fred – it must be nice to have such lovely coloring. They were probably the only Weasleys who didn't sunburn instantly on the first summer day. Lucy spent all summer wearing wide-brimmed hats and applying sunscreen potions to every square inch of skin.
Roxanne was trying to make it big as a journalist. She was quite close with Lucy's older sister, but she and Lucy were not really close. She had never come to visit Lucy at work before.
“What do you want?” Lucy said suspiciously.
“Oh that's very nice,” Roxanne said, pulling a face at her. “Here I come by to say hello to my dear cousin-”
Lucy rolled her eyes and turned back to her books. “Go away, Roxy, I'm busy.”
“I just need to talk to you for a moment,” Roxanne said, and grabbed Lucy's arm. She pulled her further behind the shelves, where the shop owner couldn't see them, and leaned in. “It's about Hilarion.”
“You know,” Roxanne said impatiently. “Hilarion Winston-Fisher.”
“Oh, right.” Lucy rolled her eyes. The Quidditch player was coming this weekend for a book signing of a book he hadn't actually written – it was only photographs of him. Lucy was prepared to be swamped by customers, though, because Hilarion Winston-Fisher was an extremely handsome young man. His posters always sold out immediately in shops, and women of all ages went mental over him. The shop was going to be overrun by shrieking teenage girls and primping middle-aged witches. Lucy shuddered a bit.
“This is my weekend,” Roxanne went on. “I can feel it. I'll finally get together with Hilarion.”
Lucy eyed her cousin. She knew about Roxanne's crush on the Appleby Arrows Seeker. All the Weasley women did (Lucy wasn't so sure about their male cousins, they didn't pay much attention to who their sisters and cousins fancied. Except when Rose had started dating a Malfoy – that hadn't gone over well with most of the family – but they were all quite used to Scorpius now and even liked him). Roxanne's crush was, to the best of Lucy's knowledge, not at all based in reality. “Have you ever actually met him?”
“That's the point, dummy,” Roxanne said impatiently. “I haven't met him. It's impossible for him to fall in love with me until I do. That's where you come in.”
“How?” Lucy asked suspiciously. She thought she knew where this was going.
“Hilarion's book is coming out, as you probably know, and he'll be coming to sign it-”
“At my job,” Lucy finished, and sighed. “Let me guess, you think if you come for an autograph, he'll fall in love with you on sight?”
“Well, I did think that,” Roxanne said. Lucy noticed her cousin's cheeks were a little red now. “But then Rose pointed out that it might take him longer than the space of an autograph to fall for me, and I don't want to miss this opportunity, you know? So I thought, I'd better stick around the store for when he shows up. You don't know when he'll be arriving, do you? Is he going to come by before the signing?”
“I haven't the slightest idea.”
“Well then. I'll just sort of wait it out. I don't have to work tomorrow.” Roxanne smiled complacently. “I can spend all day waiting for Hilarion.
All day. Lucy was going to kill Rose Weasley. “And this was Rose's idea.”
“Well...” Roxanne seemed to consider it. “In a manner of speaking, yeah.”
“And now you plan to hang around here all the time in hopes of seeing him.”
She was really going to kill Rose Weasley.
By Friday afternoon, Roxanne's welcome had been decidedly worn out at Flourish and Blotts. The store manager, Mr. Furmage, was growing more and more sour-faced as he worked and watched Roxanne sit around, scribbling into her notebook and not reading anything or buying anything.
Lucy was feeling rather sour herself. Roxanne had asked her four times in the last hour if she'd heard anything about Hilarion's arrival. She offered several times to Floo Roxanne in the event Hilarion Winston-Fisher turned up unexpectedly, but Roxanne was still there. It was driving Lucy mental.
She finally went up to Roxanne and hissed, “Go home already!”
“No,” said Roxanne, head still bent over her notebook. “I'm not going to chance missing Hilarion if he stops by early. I could have a serious chance at private time with him if I'm here before the crowds.”
“You can't just camp out here,” Lucy exclaimed.
“I already am,” Roxanne told her, dotting an i with particular pizzazz. “I'm not leaving until I see Hilarion.”
Lucy gaped at her. “You're not serious.”
“I'm perfectly serious. Go on back to work though, don't let me disturb you.” Roxanne waved her away, and Lucy stomped off, fuming silently.
Mr. Furmage gestured to her from behind the counter where he was counting receipts, and she came over to him, already dreading having to explain this whole Roxanne-Hilarion thing to her boss. Maybe she could say Roxanne was working on a column. Maybe Roxanne actually was working on a column. Lucy glanced over her shoulder; Roxanne was still writing steadily, as if she might go on doing it all day.
“Tell your cousin to go home,” Mr. Furmage whispered. “She's been here since nine o'clock this morning.”
“I've tried,” Lucy said, gritting her teeth. She was well aware that Roxanne had been waiting outside the shop when they opened nearly six hours ago. “She won't go.”
“You'd better do something about her. I can't have her hanging about all day. She's loitering. I believe the MLEs call it malicious lingering.”
Lucy made a face at him as he waved her off. Roxanne wasn't malicious. Annoying, yes, and completely mental as well, but she was lingering quite benignly on the whole.
Lucy glanced over at her cousin and watched Roxanne pull a sandwich out of her oversized purse. Feeling her eyelid twitching, Lucy went back to work.
Roxanne sighed a bit as she finished a paragraph about a witch in Cornwall marrying a Muggle MP. She was quite aware of how annoyed her cousin was with her, but she couldn't let it stop her. Her life was finally starting to happen, finally going to go the way she'd been dreaming. Having one cousin annoyed with her was a price she was willing to pay. Besides, she had lots of other cousins. Besides, Lucy was always annoyed about something or other.
It didn't matter. Not in the face of possible true love.
Roxanne had fallen for Hilarion Winston-Fisher the first time she'd seen him play Quidditch. He was beautiful, with blonde hair and a strong jaw, and athletic, and he smiled with boyish glee whenever he caught the Snitch. She loved him so much it ached a bit when she watched him on the wireless.
She'd let her cousins go on thinking she was only joking for quite a long while. Only Molly knew that it was totally serious to Roxanne. At least, up until Hilarion's book had come out and the book signing had been arranged in Diagon Alley. The possibility of meeting him had sent Roxanne into a flurry of planning and daydreaming, and it had been impossible to keep it hidden. Lily had found out, and then everyone knew, because Lily never could keep her mouth shut, and they all acted as if she'd lost her mind.
But that didn't matter either. They'd all be sorry when she married Hilarion and started the perfect life she'd been dreaming about.
He would play Quidditch, and she would write about it. They would have two perfect children, Camilla and Cassian, and live in a perfect flat in Knightsbridge. Well, Hilarion would probably want to stay close to wherever his team was, so if he was still with Appleby, she supposed they'd be living in North Lincolnshire. The mental image in Roxanne's head changed from a London flat to a bucolic country estate. That would work too.
Because everything would be perfect once Hilarion fell in love with her.
Roxanne was starting to feel a little desperate for that dream of perfection. Things hadn't entirely worked out for her – the man she'd been engaged to at twenty-one had left her unceremoniously, her job was sort of stalled, and she was starting to feel like she spent every night on her cousin Molly's couch, watching the wireless and wishing for more out of life. This was her bright shining opportunity, and she was grabbing it with both hands, whether her cousin Lucy liked it or not.
Roxanne was still there later that afternoon. She had eaten the sandwich right there in the shop, to Lucy's horror. She'd swept around Roxanne's chair bad-temperedly, but Roxanne hadn't seemed to notice.
Lucy moved to the front of the store, sweeping around the wide doorway and straightening up books in their display windows. A recalcitrant pile of spellbooks tried to snap at her fingers as she re-stacked them, and she had to speak to them sharply before they settled back down. Sometimes books needed a firm hand.
She glanced out the window as she used her wand to clean a streak of bird doings from the glass, and then something caught her attention across the street. Her eyes narrowed.
That was a very familiar-looking head of red curls just darting out of Knockturn Alley. And she thought she caught a glimpse of a pink unicorn t-shirt.
She dashed out the front door of the shop and set off after her cousin, calling her name. Rose turned, eyes wide as saucers, at the sight of Lucy, and then made as if to run away. Lucy shook a finger at her, and Rose held up her hands in defeat.
“This is all your fault! Roxanne has been hanging around my shop all day! If I get sacked because you told her to bring her ridiculous crush on Hilarion into my shop, I'll... I'll...” Lucy tried to think of the worst thing she could threaten Rose with. “I'll call your mother.”
Rose drew back with one hand on her chest. “Lucy!”
“I'm serious, Rose!”
“I'm sorry,” Rose cried. “It seemed like the best idea at the time. She was ranting and raving about him at your sister's party and I just thought, if she only saw him for a moment and he didn't fall in love with her, we'd never hear the end of it, and it would be better if she had more time near him.”
That stopped Lucy. “Hmm. You might be right. You didn't have to get me involved, though.”
Rose seemed to take that as encouragement. “You ought to get her hired on, Luce. You probably need a bit of help with the crowds at Hilarion's signing, right? Then she'd have a real reason to stick around, she'll have to work for you, and you could fire her later.”
That did sound appealing. Lucy reconsidered her stance on Roxanne hanging about, and reversed gears. “Right. Okay. But if this goes wrong, I'm calling Aunt Hermione and telling her about that time you were at Hogwarts and you set the Quidditch stands on fire.”
Rose looked shocked. “That wasn't my fault!”
She always said that, even when it had absolutely been her fault, like that time with the Quidditch stands. Lucy rolled her eyes. “I've got to get back to work, I'll see you around.”
“You're no fun at all, Lucy!” Rose called after her. Lucy waved haphazardly over her shoulder at her cousin as she walked off.
Roxanne was sitting in a chair near the shelves devoted to Divination books, leafing absently through a copy of Broken Balls: When Fortunes Turn Foul when Lucy banged back into the store. She'd been bad-tempered all morning, especially when Roxanne had eaten lunch. Roxanne didn't particularly appreciate her cousin's poor attitude when she was only trying to seize her one chance with the love of her live, but she wasn't going to let it stop her, either.
Lucy came over, and Roxanne looked up at her cousin, trying to be nonchalant. Lucy looked a bit less annoyed now, actually.
“Look Roxy,” she began, and Roxanne perked up at the conciliatory note in Lucy's voice. “My manager's pretty pissed about you hanging around all day doing nothing, so you need a better reason to be here.”
“True love,” Roxanne reminded her, in case Lucy had forgotten why she was there. “What could be a better reason than true love?”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “How about a job instead? We need extra staff for this stupid Hilarion signing, to control the crowds and keep an eye on inventory, and since you're here anyway, it might as well be you.”
“You want me to work here?” Roxanne was a bit taken aback. She'd been working on her journalism career quite steadily for the past nine years, and though she was still only writing fluff pieces ('human interest', they called it) instead of covering the Quidditch season as she wanted, and admittedly she felt a bit stagnant at the Daily Prophet lately, she didn't intend to switch careers at this point. “But-”
“Just for the weekend. Just so you can have a reason to stick around. And maybe you'll earn a bit of spending money, who knows.”
Roxanne frowned. “Your manager doesn't want me hanging about?”
“No. Work here or go home.”
“Well, if you're going to be like that about it-”
Lucy rolled her eyes again. Roxanne had a sudden sympathy with her mother's oft-repeated phrase, If you roll your eyes at me again, young lady, I'll roll them out of your head.
Working at the store would give her the perfect excuse to be around Hilarion the entire time he was there, but it didn't fit with her mental picture of how their first meeting would play out. She reckoned she ought to take what she could get, though. It was better than chancing him not paying close enough attention to fall in love with her at first sight. One couldn't always count on men to play out their halves of the script, in Roxanne's experience. Probably this was going to be her best shot.
“All right,” she said. “I'll do it.”
“Good,” retorted Lucy. “Get up and get to work, then.”
A/N: Welcome back, if you're coming here after reading the Midnight Run stories, and welcome aboard if you're new here :) Roxanne's story was covered a bit in A Weirder Shade of Midnight, and first brought up in Just Another Midnight Run. I figured it's about time to tell her side of things, and Lucy's too. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 2: At First Sight
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“I have a sort of rough and ready soldier’s tongue. But with any woman – paralyzed, speechless, dumb. I can only look at them.”
-Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 2
The name Hilarion Winston-Fisher hadn't always inspired fervent devotion from ladies age 15 to 45 (and sometimes older) across Britain. Once, several years in the past, he'd been a shy, skinny, and rather spotty teenager plagued by bad hair, and his one true friend was Perry Chilcott. From their early days at Hogwarts on, Perry had supported Hilarion in his tryouts for the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, the start of Hilarion's popularity, and even though Perry had no particular Quidditch talent of his own, he'd never seemed jealous of his friend. Hilarion appreciated that.
People usually wanted to be his friend because he was good at Quidditch, and these days because he was famous, but not Perry. Perry had been there since age eleven, with an easy smile and a witty quip, making Hilarion laugh when things were bad and keeping him grounded when things were good. It hadn't changed now they were in their twenties. Perry was sitting at Hilarion's kitchen table, eating crisps straight from the bag and drinking butterbeer, making jokes that both took the mickey out of Hilarion and put him at ease.
“I can't believe you wrote a book.” Perry grinned at his friend. “You didn't even like writing essays at school, and you haven't written a word since then. Now you've a book?”
“I didn't write anything,” Hilarion replied, reaching into Perry's bag of crisps for a handful. “It's just a load of photos of me that my manager had arranged into a book and now I have to promote it. I don't know why anyone cares.”
“They care because women think you're good-looking, you bloody twit,” Perry told him.
“Thanks very much.” Hilarion rolled his eyes and popped a crisp into his mouth. He was well aware that part of his popularity was based solely on his appearance, rather than his talent or personality. He'd figured out the right hair potions at sixteen, filled out a bit and sprouted almost six inches by the time he was eighteen, and ever since, women had been throwing themselves at him. He didn't really know how to talk to them, but most of them didn't seem interested in talking to him anyway. It was a little discouraging at times, knowing whatever woman he took to dinner or a party was only interested in having him as arm candy. He knew he wasn't even remotely any kind of genius, but it would have been nice for a woman to want a conversation with him.
One of his teammates had suggested dating models, so he wouldn't be the prettiest one in the relationship, but Hilarion didn't get along any better with models than with any other woman. He was rubbish at talking to them as well. Besides, the models didn't eat. Hilarion felt very concerned for anyone who didn't like eating.
He grabbed another handful of crisps. “Want to come along? The only thing I can think of to make six hours of book-signing a little bit less horrible is to have you along to take the mickey every five minutes.”
Perry gave a jaunty salute. “I live to serve. Shall I smuggle a flask along?”
“If you don't, I will.”
The bookstore was smaller than Hilarion remembered. He hadn't been to Flourish and Blotts since he'd last bought textbooks for school, since his preferred reading material tended to be sports magazines and Auror novels of the summer-reading genre rather than dry old tomes on magical theory. Or maybe the store just looked smaller because of the crowd. Women were lined up out the door and down the block. Hilarion took this in with disbelief.
He wasn't completely thick, he knew he was one of the more popular players in the league (his manager assured him of it regularly, having been led to believe that all athletes needed continual ego propping), but somehow he hadn't really thought that many people were really going to bother buying a book he hadn't even written, just to look at him.
Apparently they really were going to do just that. It was a little unnerving.
“Remember in fifth year when that Gryffindor girl turned you down and you worried you'd never be able to get a girlfriend?” Perry said cheerfully, surveying the line of women. “I think you can stop worrying, mate.”
As usual, Perry's jokes put Hilarion at ease again. “Shut up,” he told his friend. “Let's go around back. I think the publisher is supposed to be waiting.”
“Excellent plan. If this lot notices you're here, they're likely to riot.”
No one was there when they reached the back of the bookstore, only a rather clean alley and a rubbish skip. Hilarion glanced around uncertainly, then turned to his friend. “What do we do?”
Perry nodded at the back door of the bookshop. “Go in the door marked 'employees only', I'd say. Better than waiting around out here.”
“Right.” Hilarion smiled at him. “I'm glad you came.”
Perry pulled a flask out of his pocket and proffered it to his friend. “Fortifying sip before you face the lions?”
Hilarion took it gratefully.
Perry waited until his old friend had knocked back at least two shots' worth of firewhiskey before taking the flask back and having a drink himself. He watched his oldest friend steeling himself, one hand on the door, with a mix of long-suffering patience and amusement. Decisiveness was not one of Hilarion's strengths, and the man was surprisingly humble about his current fame. They'd been mates too long for Perry to be bothered by any of Hilarion's quirks, any more than Hilarion was by his, of course. And in truth, Hilarion was more self-confident than he'd been at school, but he did still have a habit of expecting Perry to be in charge whenever they were together. Perry was used to being the dominant personality in the friendship.
Perry wondered if Hilarion's erstwhile manager was actually going to turn up to the book signing he and the publishers had arranged, or if Hilarion was on his own today. Perry supposed it was up to him to get Hilarion through the day. Hilarion didn't care for crowds. He was fine on the field, but off the field he didn't do so well. He was actually rather a quiet sort. He particularly didn't do well in interviews, and there were bound to be a few reporters here. If Bergie Marwick, Hilarion's manager, had any brains at all, he wouldn't leave Hilarion to his own devices at the signing.
There was no sign of Bergie, though, so Perry gave Hilarion a bracing smile and asked “Ready to go in?”
“Too bad.” Perry opened the door and gave his friend a shove inside.
Roxanne had spent the morning shuffling crowds around into an orderly queue and giving the patented Watchful Eye to possible shoplifters. She'd learned that one at her dad's shop at an early age. It wasn't the sort of work she liked, but it was certainly engaging. It did serve to remind her of why she wanted her brother to take over the running of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes someday by himself, rather than sharing it with her. She didn't fancy being a shopkeeper.
Lucy seemed a little frazzled by the crowds, and her Watchful Eye was bordering on an Evil Eye by the time the sixth shoplifter was evicted from the store. Lucy and her precious books, Roxanne thought fondly. There wasn't much else in Lucy's life, but she seemed content. Roxanne rather envied her that contentment. She hadn't felt content in years.
But it was going to happen today.
Hilarion was due any moment. Lucy popped up between two customers and gave her a nod and an eyebrow lift that Roxanne took to mean she wanted a private word.
“Watch the customers,” she said as they drew aside. “Mr. Furmage wants me in the back with him to make sure Hilarion is welcomed properly. He always says the wrong thing to authors, the poor man. Not that Hilarion's really an author.”
“Future husband you're speaking of,” Roxanne reminded her.
“It's still true.” Lucy darted off, and Roxanne looked around at the line for a moment, debating.
She could abandon her post and follow Lucy to greet Hilarion, or she could continue to keep an eye on the crowd and make sure there were no more shoplifters.
Hell, who cared? She didn't even want this job. And if Mr. Furmage didn't like greeting authors, she could just take his place and let him babysit the unruly crowd. Problem solved.
Roxanne went after her cousin.
The back of the shop was a tiny little room in need of serious dusting, filled with boxes of unshelved books and damaged or outdated books and magazines stacked on every available surface. The only space that had been cleared was the small, rickety dinette where employees ate their lunches.
Lucy turned and saw her cousin, and looked daggers at her. Mr. Furmage didn't seem to understand.
“Is something wrong?” he asked blankly, looking a little alarmed.
Roxanne only had time to shake her head when the back door suddenly opened, and there he was.
She didn't blink, didn't dare breathe, until he saw her. Hilarion was accompanied by a tall, wiry man with reddish-brown hair and a saucy sort of a face, as if he might make a dry remark at any moment. Roxanne didn't know who he was, a manager maybe, but then she promptly forgot him, because Hilarion looked around the room and caught sight of her.
Their eyes met – not across a crowded Quidditch field as she'd always imagined, but across the dirty storeroom table overflowing with back issues of Witch Weekly that ought to have been discarded ages ago. And Roxanne could see, with growing delight, that look in his eyes that she'd always dreamed of seeing when she met him.
This was it. This was love at first sight.
“Hello,” she said breathlessly.
“Hello,” Hilarion said, looking rather as if he'd just been hit over the head with a Bludger.
“Welcome to Flourish and Blotts, Mr. Winston-Fisher,” Mr. Furmage said, giving Hilarion an ingratiating smile and sounding as if he'd rehearsed every word. “We're so pleased to welcome you here.”
“Yeah, cheers.” Hilarion hadn't taken his eyes off Roxanne. She thought she might explode with delight.
The man who'd come in with Hilarion turned to Lucy. “Hi. I'm Perry Chilcott.”
Lucy shook his hand. “Lucy Weasley. I'm the assistant manager here.”
“Oh, a Weasley. I went to school with Dominique Weasley,” Perry said cheerfully.
“That's my cousin,” Lucy told him, then pointed to Roxanne. “This is another of my cousins, Roxanne Weasley.”
Roxanne turned a smile on him, and Perry's eyes glazed for a moment with the same expression Hilarion had worn, but she barely noticed, because Hilarion was still staring at her.
“Roxanne,” Hilarion said in stunned, hushed tones. It sounded like a prayer on his lips.
“Are you Mr. Winston-Fisher's manager?” Lucy asked, and Perry shook his head.
“No, we're old friends. I'm here for moral support.”
“Moral what?” Mr. Furmage asked, bushy eyebrows shooting up.
Lucy gave him a pleasant smile that didn't reach her eyes. “Mr. Furmage, it's such a busy day, we don't want to keep you from running the shop. I'll manage back here if you can get the front ready for Mr. Winston-Fisher's arrival.”
“Right-o,” Mr. Furmage said without disguising his relief. “Cheers, Lucy. Give us about ten minutes, all right?”
Roxanne and Hilarion were still drinking in the sight of each other. It was making Lucy feel slightly uncomfortable, so she sought to redirect everyone a bit.
“Have you and Mr. Winston-Fisher been friends long?”
“You can call him Hilarion,” Perry told her. “Winston-Fisher is a bit of a mouthful.”
“He won't mind?” Lucy didn't think either her cousin or the Quidditch player was paying them any attention.
Hilarion glanced over at Lucy then, and favored her with a smile. She smiled back automatically – he had such a nice smile. She had to shake herself a bit. This was Roxanne's future husband, after all. And clearly he liked Roxanne.
“It's all right, you can call me Hilarion,” he told her.
“We've been friends since school,” Perry said, answering Lucy's question. “Years and years and years, he's been putting up with me.”
“I think it's more that you've been putting up with me,” Hilarion said with what Lucy considered rather charming self-deprecation.
Roxanne couldn't imagine anyone having to put up with Hilarion Winston-Fisher. He was so lovely, she couldn't stop staring at him.
“We shared a compartment on the Hogwarts Express first year and bonded over our horrible first names,” Hilarion said cheerfully.
Perry nodded. “It's a terrible thing to be given first names like ours. Really, our parents owe us compensation. And therapy. Lots of therapy.”
“At least yours has a reasonable nickname,” Hilarion told his friend. “There's nothing you can do with 'Hilarion'.”
“What's your full name?” Roxanne asked Perry curiously. She was grinning at their playful banter.
“You'll have to know me a lot better before I admit to that,” he said with a wink, then turned back to his friend. “Be fair, I did try calling you Hill in third year, but you didn't care for it.”
“It's a crap nickname,” Hilarion protested. “It's no better than Hilarion.”
“I don't know about that,” Lucy said under her breath. Perry winked at her. Lucy was discomfited for a moment; she hadn't meant him to hear her, so she said quickly to cover it up, “It could be worse. My father's full name is Percival Ignatius.”
“At least he had the sense to give his daughter a normal name, then,” Perry said with a grin. “My father was named Algernon, and yet he still gave me a crap name.”
“Some people never learn,” Roxanne quipped, and Perry turned a smile on her that was part wolfish and part impressed. A man who liked a dry wit, she thought, not entirely surprised. He looked the type for sarcasm and satire. She found that rather encouraging, as that was her preferred humour as well, and if Hilarion's best friend was a dry wit, Hilarion must be as well.
They all turned as Mr. Furmage poked his head in the door for a moment, waved urgently, then disappeared again.
“I suppose it's time to go sign books,” Hilarion said, feeling rather worried at the thought of such a large crowd waiting for him. If they'd been waiting to watch him play Quidditch, he wouldn't have been concerned. He was good at Quidditch. He was not good at talking to strangers and sounding entertaining and witty. Good thing Perry had come along to fill in the gaps, as he was so good at doing. Hilarion had managed to hold his own with a pretty girl for once, although Perry had done most of the talking.
Roxanne walked with him out to the table set up for him to sign, with Perry and Lucy behind them, and for a moment bursts of flash went off in his face, blinding him, but the black spots in his eyes soon faded and Hilarion sat down and picked up a quill pen uncertainly. He wasn't entirely sure of the procedure.
Roxanne made as if to sit next to him, but her cousin grabbed her arm and whispered something in her ear. Hilarion watched her make a face and then flounce off, and Perry slid into the seat she'd nearly taken. Roxanne's cousin went to the line of customers and started moving them into a more orderly queue.
“So,” Perry drawled as the first woman, clutching a copy of Hilarion triumphantly, stepped forward for an autograph, “Roxanne is very pretty, isn't she?”
“She is,” Hilarion mumbled.
“Make it out to Estella,” the woman said.
Hilarion scrawled across the first page of the book, feeling self-conscious about his handwriting and stupid about signing a book he hadn't written, and handed the book back to the woman.
“She's a reporter, you know,” Perry said.
“How do you know?”
“I've read her column.”
“Oh.” Hilarion signed three more autographs, thinking what a twit he must look, and then said, “Is she any good?”
Perry nodded. “Yeah. Reminded me of some of my friends, actually.”
As always, Hilarion accepted his friend's opinion as fact. Perry was a better judge of these things than he was. Hilarion didn't really like newspapers. They mostly seemed to relate gossip and made-up facts, and only reported the truth by accident. He'd been misquoted by reporters too many times to entirely trust them, but he was sure Roxanne wasn't like those others. She was too beautiful for that.
But if Perry thought she was a good writer, it meant something. Perry was a writer himself, of lovely song lyrics and sometimes melodies as well, and his essays at Hogwarts had led him to earn eight Outstandings on his N.E.W.T.s, so anyone he acknowledged as good was likely of an intelligence that far exceeded Hilarion's.
Hilarion had been around Perry's friends before, the smart ones he hung around with when he wasn't hanging around Hilarion, and it hadn't been terribly pleasant. They knew things he didn't know, and treated him like a dumb jock, making witty remarks that Hilarion didn't understand. They weren't cruel, but it had been obvious that Hilarion couldn't keep up.
“She's probably too smart for me,” he said reluctantly. “What am I going to do?”
“You'll be fine,” Perry told him confidently. “You're a successful Quidditch player. She doesn't expect you to be a math genius on the side or something, I'm sure.”
“Thanks for that.” Hilarion signed a few more autographs.
Roxanne had been watching Hilarion like a hawk for two and a half hours of autographs. He was far more attractive up close and in person, she decided. His dark blonde hair waved softly across his brow, a little too long, as if he was overdue for a haircut. It made him look a bit boyish and very appealing. He looked up suddenly and caught her eye, and his teeth were white and even when he smiled at her. Roxanne sighed in bliss and tried to bring at least part of her attention back to the job she was ostensibly doing.
It had worked. Finally. He'd seen her, fallen for her (she could tell already, even though she hadn't yet had a conversation with him), and everything was finally going to sort itself out in her life. The perfect mirage of her future danced before her in Hilarion's smile, and the triumph was sweeter than she could have imagined. She wanted to dance down the street. It was working.
Take that, doubting family members.
She wondered if crowing in Molly and Rose's faces would be too much.
Lucy, for her part, was watching Hilarion a bit herself. A little pang went through her when he looked up and smiled at her cousin. She didn't really understand it, and brushed it aside. Roxanne looked so happy – she hadn't seen her cousin that happy since before Roxanne's fiancé had left her at the altar. Well, not quite at the altar, but certainly just before. Lucy wanted her cousin to be happy, and so as she often did, she put aside any thought of Hilarion Winston-Fisher's smile and got back to work.
Let love sort itself out for them. People like Lucy didn't catch gorgeous Quidditch stars in a bookshop. She wasn't vivacious and beautiful like Roxanne. Love at first sight wasn't for her.
Chapter 3: Beyond Reason
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"Love, I love beyond! Breath, beyond reason, beyond love's own power of loving! Your name is like a golden bell hung in my heart..."
-Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 3
Roxanne stretched out full-length on the leather couch and sighed blissfully. “It was perfect, Molly. It was exactly how I always thought it would happen.”
“I thought it was going to be across a crowded Quidditch pitch, isn't that what you've been saying the last six months?” Roxanne's best friend and cousin, Molly Weasley, rolled her eyes. Roxanne did not let this bother her. She was too happy for anything to bother her today.
“Aside from the Quidditch pitch, I mean.”
“Does this mean you'll talk about him more, or less?” Molly asked dryly. She was dressed in her Quidditch uniform for the Holyhead Harpies, the dark green robes with their gold talon emblem matching Molly's shock of green and blonde hair, which she'd been sporting in a mohawk for the past several weeks. Today, though, the mohawk wasn't potion-ed to stand up straight, and curled around her cheekbones quite prettily. Roxanne had descended on Molly's flat as Molly was about to leave for work – she was the reserve keeper for the Harpies.
“More, of course.”
Roxanne smiled when Molly heaved a long-suffering sigh. Her cousin Molly had been hearing about Hilarion since the beginning of Roxanne's crush on him. She didn't think Molly really minded though, or she would've told her to shut up about it by now. Molly was an honest person – sometimes too much so.
But today, nothing anyone could say would diminish Roxanne's good mood. Her dreams were finally starting to come true, and she was going to grab them and run with them before they could get away from her again.
This time, no one was leaving her at the altar. No one was going to wreck this. “He's so perfect,” she said aloud.
“So what did Lucy think of him?” Molly asked.
Roxanne paused. She hadn't actually bothered to ask her cousin's opinion, now she stopped to think of it. Lucy had been saying he wasn't a real author – which, having read the book, Roxanne had to admit was actually true: there was very little writing at all in the book, and none written by Hilarion – but aside from that, she had not offered her thoughts on him. And Roxanne hadn't asked. She felt a bit bad about that, but she didn't want to admit it. “Well, she didn't really say. I suppose she thought he was all right.”
Molly pursed her lips. “I've never known my sister to hold back her opinion.”
“I've never known any Weasley to hold back their opinion,” Roxanne quipped.
“True.” Molly smiled. “I did tell you Hilarion couldn't string two sentences together.”
“Maybe he's shy. I think he might be shy.”
“Well, he might or he might not, but either way, I've got training. Go swan about your own flat mooning over Hilarion.” Molly nudged her cousin with her foot, and Roxanne slid off the couch and got to her feet.
“Oh, thanks very much. I just got here.”
“No one invited you.”
“Well then go off and be sweaty and smelly with the other Harpies,” Roxanne said as she headed for the door. “No one's stopping you.”
Molly grinned. “Lunch tomorrow?”
“If I haven't anyone better to hang out with.”
“No one loves you like I do. Go away now.”
Roxanne went. When she arrived back at her flat – significantly smaller and less well-organized than Molly's – an owl was waiting on her window sill. She didn't recognize the writing, but it looked masculine. She ripped into the envelope eagerly.
A dinner date with Hilarion tomorrow night.
Roxanne hugged the letter to her chest and collapsed onto her sofa, grinning so wide her cheeks ached.
“I don't think I can do this,” Hilarion said, feeling rather panic-stricken.
He was standing in front of his bedroom mirror, examining his own reflection in the mirror. Hair tousled appropriately, button-down shirt, grey trousers, and a dragon-leather jacket. He looked all right, but he didn't feel all right.
Perry had egged him on until he'd written to Roxanne Weasley to invite her to dinner with him. He was due to meet her in less than an hour, and was seriously considering chickening out and canceling the date. He was bound to mess it up, bound to turn it into a disaster.
He wasn't the world's best conversationalist, and first dates were all about conversation, weren't they?
“I could send a message, tell her I'm sick,” he suggested.
“Don't be stupid,” Perry said. He was sitting on Hilarion's bed, his feet propped up on the bench at the foot of the bed. He'd stolen a packet of biscuits out of Hilarion's kitchen, and was rummaging through it now. “How long have these been around, mate? I think they're getting on a bit. They've probably just gotten their Hogwarts letters, they seem that old.”
“Throw them out, then.”
Perry ate a biscuit. “They're not too bad,” he said with his mouth full. Perry, as Hilarion knew from long years of friendship, would eat nearly anything, so long as it stayed on a plate long enough. If it got up and walked off the plate, Perry would probably Stun it and put it back on the plate.
“What am I going to talk about with her?” Hilarion asked, returning to what he viewed as more important matters. “What if she talks about things I don't know anything about? You know I'm no good at this.”
“Let her do most of the talking,” Perry advised him. “Women love that.”
Hilarion adjusted his shirt cuffs nervously. “Let her talk. Right.”
“Remember that model you dated who never talked? The one who only ate edamame?”
Hilarion grimaced. He'd chucked her after two weeks because of the edamame. It wasn't natural to avoid food with quite so much determination. “Yes.”
“Well, try to be like her. Just keep quiet and be good-looking.” Perry waved vaguely and ate another biscuit.
“Thanks, that's very helpful.” He turned away from the mirror. “This is going to be a disaster.”
“It's not going to be a disaster.”
“Yes, it is. Tell me what to say,” Hilarion begged his best friend. “Tell me what to talk about so I don't come off like a complete berk.”
Perry sighed. “I thought you said she might be the love of your life. Should you be this nervous if it's meant to be?”
“How should I know? I just am, all right?” Hilarion didn't particularly want to examine what his nerves might portend. He'd never studied Divination, anyway. It gave him a headache.
“Let's see, first date...” Perry tossed the packet of biscuits aside and brushed off his hands. “You could ask her about her family. But don't make a big deal of her uncle being Harry Potter, she's bound to have heard a lot of people fawning over that. Ask her about her siblings, and her parents. Talk about her writing – ask her what she's working on right now. See if she's doing anything aside from the newspaper; writers always have more than one project going on.”
Hilarion nodded, hoping he would remember all this. Maybe he ought to write it down. He tried to summarize it. “Family, no Harry Potter, writing. All right. Anything else?”
“You could always talk Quidditch with her,” Perry pointed out. “You know plenty about Quidditch.”
“It's my job.” Hilarion couldn't think of how to explain it, but he didn't really want to talk a lot of Quidditch to her. He wanted to sound smart and witty, like Perry was. He didn't stop to analyze why – he rarely stopped to analyze anything – but he wanted Roxanne to think he was much smarter than he actually was. “I can't really go on about the Arrows' chances in the league, can I? I thought women didn't like that. Besides, I talk about Quidditch every day, everywhere I go. I get sick of Quidditch.”
Perry shrugged. “All right, then. Ask her what sort of music she likes, what sort of books she reads, what she watches on the telly.”
“Right.” Hilarion adjusted his cuffs again and realized something was missing. “Blast, where's my watch?”
“I don't know, mate, I didn't see you put it on.”
“I must've left it somewhere. What time is it?”
Perry checked his watch. “Time to leave, you idiot. Quit standing around worrying before you wind up standing her up.”
He was five minutes early, as it turned out, since he was able to Apparate nearly right in front of the restaurant's entrance. The maître d' seated him instantly, since it didn't do to leave celebrities hanging about out on the pavement. He sat at the table and waited nervously for Roxanne to show up, still filled with anxiety.
She was too smart for him. He was going to say something stupid and then she'd get that look on her face, the one Perry's friends sometimes gave him, the one previous women had given him – the one that said they hadn't realized he was only a pretty face.
The look that said they'd just discovered he was completely thick.
He didn't want to see that look on Roxanne's face.
Hilarion drank some water and checked if his palms were damp. He had just told himself to take a deep breath and relax when she appeared. His face broke into a smile. She was so beautiful.
The waiter led her over, and Hilarion rose quickly, but she seated herself before either he or the waiter could hold her chair, and Hilarion, feeling a bit awkward, resumed his own seat and smiled at her.
“Thanks for having dinner with me,” he blurted out, feeling he ought to say something.
Roxanne smiled brightly. Her eyes sparkled, and her face seemed to glow. He waited for his nervousness to vanish at the sight of her, as it surely must if she was The One.
It didn't. If anything, he felt even more nervous.
Roxanne was swanning again, she knew. She couldn't help it. Her smile was rather smug as she sipped her wine, watching the waiter take away their plates. His arrival had caused a short lull in the conversation, but Roxanne's confidence was iron-clad.
It was the perfect first date. Hilarion had asked about her writing, and she'd spent the entire dinner course telling him all about the crime novel she planned to write, and her hopes of being lead Quidditch columnist for the Daily Prophet. They looked well together, she thought, catching a glimpse of their reflection in the windows of the lovely French restaurant. The lull stretched on as the waiter removed the dinner plates, but as he returned to expertly slide their dessert plates in front of them, Roxanne tried to rekindle the conversation. Hilarion started a bit when she spoke again.
“What's your family like? Lots of brothers and sisters?”
Hilarion shook his head. “There's only me. I have an aunt and a few cousins in Bristol, but I don't see them much.”
“Oh, you're lucky, my cousins are endlessly around, I can hardly get rid of them. My brother as well – it's just me and Fred, the two of us, he's a laugh but I always wished for a sister. My cousin Molly, now, she's almost like a sister to me. She's my best friend.” Roxanne paused for breath and Hilarion managed a word in.
“Molly Weasley from the Harpies?”
Roxanne nodded cheerfully and decided not to tell him the things Molly had said about him. That probably wouldn't go over well.
“I've met her,” Hilarion said, and Roxanne couldn't quite read his expression. She got the impression he was a bit uncomfortable though, so she tried to gloss over it.
“Well, she's Lucy's older sister – you remember Lucy from the bookstore? And we're only four months apart in age, so we sort of grew up always together. My other cousins, I have a lot of them you know – ten just on my dad's side – we're all quite close but not as close as Molly and I. And Molly loves Quidditch, of course, like I do.”
“Oh?” Hilarion managed, but Roxanne was off and running again.
“Lily played a bit, and James was the Seeker – their parents both played in school, and Aunt Ginny played for the Harpies too when she was younger. And my brother Fred, he was a Beater like our dad. He's got the build for it. The rest of them didn't play, although Rose wasn't bad if you could talk her onto a broom, and Hugo was actually quite good, but he never made the House team. Gryffindor. Were you in Gryffindor?”
“Um,” said Hilarion. “No? I was, um, in Hufflepuff.”
Roxanne smiled. “I think I read that about you once,” she said teasingly, and he returned her smile gamely, though he felt a bit slow. It was hard to keep up with her. She even spoke faster than he could think. But she went on before he could say anything more, and told him at length about her cousins (he wasn't sure he entirely believed the Louis stories) and then about her plans for holidays in Torbay with her family. She was quite entertaining to listen to. He could see how she would probably be a good writer. Best of all, he barely had to say anything. Perry had been right; letting her do all the talking was much easier.
She hadn't actually asked about him much. That was rather a relief, since then he'd have to try to talk about himself, and that made his hands feel a bit clammy. She was just as quick-witted as he'd expected – rather like Perry – and he knew now he wouldn't be able to act as if he were at her level. At least while she spoke about herself, he didn't have to make conversation about topics he knew nothing about, like politics or film or history.
It was nice to see a woman who ate with gusto, he had to admit. After so many dates with vacant-eyed supermodels who ate only tiny salads, watching Roxanne pack away a slice of chocolate cake was rather enjoyable. Clearly he'd been hanging around the wrong sort of woman, even if she was far too smart for him.
Roxanne finished her cake and her wine, and smiled happily at Hilarion. He smiled back, and she thought they had rather a lovely moment of silent communication. Surely he must be thinking how well-suited they were, as she was.
But then he looked away to signal for the bill, and the moment was lost. Roxanne felt her cheeks grow a bit hot. Maybe she was getting ahead of herself. It was hard to have everything she'd dreamed of right in front of her and not grab for it, though.
He didn't offer to see her home, which she attributed to nervousness. They exchanged a rather awkward kiss on the cheek and separated outside the restaurant, and Roxanne went home wishing he'd given her a real kiss.
Morning dawned bright and clear, and Hilarion was up with the sun for training, still distracted by his date last night. He was not entirely pleased with his performance at dinner. He'd felt a bit of an idiot, really, like a great stupid ox, fumbling over his words whenever Roxanne paused for breath. She certainly could talk. It was rather like hanging about with a female Perry in some ways. And she'd mentioned that Holyhead Harpies Keeper, Molly Weasley, whom he should have known must be her cousin, now he thought about it. She'd always rather intimidated Hilarion, with her leather clothes and spiky green hair. Molly had reminded him a bit of Perry and his friends as well, and Roxanne had said last night they were best friends. Hilarion wondered if he was doomed from the start.
And he still couldn't find his watch, which made him feel his entire day was thrown off.
By the time he made it home, it was nearly noon, and he searched his bedroom for the watch, to give him something else to think about just as much as to actually find the bloody thing.
It was nowhere to be found. He must have left it somewhere, and tried to think of where he'd been lately. The pitch, but it hadn't been there or a groundskeeper would have found it. Perry's, but Perry hadn't found it either. The restaurant, but it had been missing before then. The bookstore-
He groaned. He had taken it off about halfway through the signing, when his wrists had started feeling sore from so many autographs. He couldn't remember what had happened to it after that, but it must still be at Flourish and Blotts.
Well, at least if he had to go to Diagon Alley, he could have lunch at one of the cafes tucked around the street. His stomach was already rumbling.
He went to the back door of the bookshop, hoping to avoid anyone recognizing him. He'd learned long ago that sunglasses and a hat pulled low over his eyes were only slightly effective in disguising his famous face. Sometimes it was nice to be famous, but it was even nicer to be able to go to a bookshop without women screaming when they saw him.
He opened the door and ducked inside, and a woman bent over a box of books whirled around with a small scream. He recognized Lucy Weasley at once.
“It's only me,” he said hurriedly, whipping off the hat and sunglasses. “Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you.”
Lucy let out a huge breath. “I... I wasn't expecting anyone.”
“I lost my watch,” he explained, hoping she'd know where it was. Lucy seemed to be the one in charge at Flourish and Blotts, despite the 'assistant' in her managerial title. She had an aura of solid competence about her that was reassuring. “I thought I might've left it here at the book signing.”
She rolled her eyes. “I owled your manager that I'd found it. Obviously he doesn't read his mail.”
“Sorry,” Hilarion said, wishing his manager had mentioned this. Bergie probably had thrown the letter away after receiving it, or tossed it on his giant pile of unsolicited mail he would never read. Bergie wouldn't see the importance of the watch, and would tell Hilarion to buy a new one.
“I have it in the safe. I reckoned it might be expensive, so I thought I'd best lock it up.” Lucy indicated a large black safe embedded in the wall opposite them.
“It wasn't,” Hilarion told her, trailing along in her wake. “Expensive, I mean. At least, not very. My mum gave it to me when I turned seventeen. I always keep it on me.”
“Unless you're signing autographs?” Lucy waved her wand over the safe and locks began to click. The door slid open.
“Yes, well. My wrist was hurting.”
She pulled the wand from the safe and handed it over. “It's a very nice watch, anyway.”
Hilarion smiled as he fastened the watch around his wrist, feeling its familiar weight settle into place. “Thank you for rescuing it for me.”
Lucy looked a bit flushed. “That's all right. Is your wrist better now?”
“Much, thank you. Can I buy you lunch? As a thank you, for the watch.”
She looked even more flushed now, but she smiled up at him. She was quite different from her cousin, he thought, though just as pretty in her own way. He liked her smile.
“Yes, thank you,” she said. “That would be nice.”
“All right, then. Leaky Cauldron?”
They settled into a private booth, tucked away from the main part of the pub. Hilarion was used to having to request things like that, to keep at least some semblance of a normal life. Lucy had seemed a bit surprised, but she settled into her seat quite comfortably nonetheless. He supposed she wasn't used to the celebrity life, though she was related to Harry Potter, possibly the most famous wizard since Albus Dumbledore.
“Did you enjoy the book signing?” Lucy asked after they had placed their orders.
“No,” he admitted. “I felt like a right git. I didn't even write the book.” He hadn't told anyone but Perry that he hadn't wanted to do the book signing. He wasn't sure why he was telling Lucy, except that something about her blue eyes made him feel he could say whatever he wanted to her, and she would listen quietly. Not many people listened quietly to him.
“Why did you do it, then?” she said, and he was brought up short.
“Do you know, I'm really not sure,” he told her, and she smiled. He liked her smile better the more he saw it. “My manager wanted me to go, I suppose. I do like books, I'm just not much of a writer.”
Her eyes warmed a bit. “What sort of books do you like?”
“Auror novels,” he said, and she laughed. Her laugh was even better than her smile.
“I read those too. Roxanne always makes fun of me for 'light' reading. She likes literary fiction, the more intellectual sort of novels.” Lucy wrinkled her nose. “I think they're boring.”
Hilarion grinned sheepishly, though his stomach flipped a bit at the mention of Roxanne. “I tried to read one of those sort before, but I didn't understand it. Never finished it.”
“I don't see the appeal, either. I like something that's fun. I don't want to read sad books. I have enough real life to be getting on with already.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I like fun books too. I don't want it to make me think.”
“Exactly,” Lucy said, and they both laughed.
The lunch hour passed before Hilarion even realized it, talking nonstop with Lucy, before she suddenly realized the time and had to rush back to work. He walked her back to the bookshop to finish her shift, feeling quite cheerful after they'd parted ways. He whistled as he walked off down the street. It was far easier to talk to Lucy Weasley than to Roxanne Weasley.
Chapter 4: Obscurity
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"My wit is more polished than your mustache. The truth which I speak strikes more sparks from men's hearts than your spurs do from the cobblestones."
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 1
The grass was itchy, and it needed to be cut. Her father clearly hadn't bothered with it in well over a week. Lucy stretched out in it anyway, at the top of the small rise behind her parents' house. The clouds overhead drifted past slowly, almost not moving at all. It was a sunny day, for once. Lucy had come for Sunday dinner with her mum and dad, and decided to have some pre-dinner thinking time.
She'd always liked coming out here, to the little hill that had seemed a bit bigger when she'd been a bit smaller, to lay still and feel the world spin around her, along with her thoughts.
It was peaceful. She could do with a bit of that peace right now, wanted it to sink into her heart and soul, to calm her and blow her troubles away on the faint breeze.
She'd had lunch with Hilarion Winston-Fisher two days ago and had not stopped thinking about him since. It was no reason to feel guilty – not the lunch anyway, but the constant thinking about him was giving her conscience some trouble.
Because she liked him. More than just as a nice man who was allegedly/maybe the future husband of her cousin. She liked him. He was sweet, and gentle, and rather placid. But Roxanne was high-strung, loud, and (though Lucy would never say it to her face) maybe a little selfish. They just didn't go. If they were music, Hilarion would be a slow, simple folk song and Roxanne would be a frenetic swing number full of brass horns and drums.
She didn't understand why he didn't see it.
Opposites attract, they said, and she'd seen it – hell, her cousin Rose was living with a Malfoy who was as even-tempered as she was chaotic – but there had to be something underneath that held them together after the attraction. Lucy didn't know what would hold Roxanne and Hilarion. Besides... she liked him herself.
Maybe she was the selfish one. Maybe it was just petty jealousy. Maybe she shouldn't see him any more. But they could just be friends, couldn't they? She didn't know.
Soft footsteps broke her from her reverie, and she turned her head to see her sister approaching.
Molly's hair was gently curled today and swept to one side, de-emphasizing her mohawk cut in deference to their parent' more conservative sensibilities. Percy Weasley was willing to forgive his firstborn almost anything for her success at school and Quidditch (a family talent he'd always regretted not inheriting), but he did look a bit pained sometimes at Molly's edgy look. She stretched out next to Lucy, smoothing down her short black skirt as she crossed her dragonhide-booted feet.
They stared at the sky for a time in easy silence, comfortable together, and then Molly, still watching the clouds, said calmly, “All right, spill.”
Lucy closed her eyes to make the confession easier. “I fancy Hilarion. But he's with Roxanne. Now you.”
“Mum set me up with some bloke she works with, and I have to tell her he's actually a complete tosser.”
They watched the clouds a bit longer, then Lucy said, “Don't tell Roxanne.”
“No,” Molly agreed. “I won't.”
“Girls,” came the sound of their mother's voice, calling from the house. “It's dinnertime!”
After a quick tidying up in the washroom (“You'd think we were still children, the way she acts,” Molly grumbled), and fetching their father from his office, they arranged themselves around the table in the same spots they'd been sitting in all their lives. Audrey had to pluck the report out of her husband's hand to get him to pay attention, but once he did, he smiled benevolently at his daughters.
“Hello girls,” he said as if he hadn't greeted each of them when they'd arrived. He probably didn't remember it; he'd been that involved with his report. “How is work going for each of you? Oh thanks, dear, this looks delicious,” he added as his wife slid a loaded plate in front of him.
“Well enough,” Lucy said, picking at her cottage pie with her fork. She didn't particularly like cottage pie. Neither did her sister, actually – and their dad had privately admitted he didn't care for it either – but no one had the heart to tell Audrey Weasley.
Molly was already digging in. She had always been better about eating what was in front of her. Lucy had to psych herself up to it.
“We're playing Puddlemere next week,” Molly told them between bites. “They're putting me as the starting Keeper, since Lyra Brownyard is still recovering from that rotator cuff injury last month. She can't play a full game yet.”
“That's wonderful,” their father exclaimed, then seemed to check himself. “Well, it's wonderful that you're playing, not that Brownyard is still out, of course. I wish her a speedy recovery.”
“No you don't,” Molly said with a grin. “You wish she'd never get better so I'd have her spot on the team instead of being the reserve Keeper, then you could lord it over your brothers.”
He harrumphed loudly, cheeks red, and turned to Lucy. “How did that book signing go, with the Arrows Seeker?”
Lucy felt her cheeks turn as red as her father's. “It was fine, Dad. It was nothing, really.”
“But you met him, didn't you? Did you get his autograph? He's quite famous.”
Molly sniggered into her cottage pie. Lucy shot her a glare. Their father had never heard about Roxanne's ridiculous crush on Hilarion, and Lucy had no intention of explaining the entire complicated story behind Roxanne and Hilarion and her own lunch date with him. “No, Dad, I didn't get his autograph.”
“Well that's a shame.”
“Can we stop talking about Quidditch at the table?” their mother requested, looking mildly harassed. She was not a fan of the sport.
“We're not talking about Quidditch, we're talking about the girls' work,” Percy objected.
Audrey gave him a look, and that was the end of Quidditch talk at the table.
When one worked for the Daily Prophet, one was never really off work, but nominally at least, Roxanne had the afternoon free. She had turned in her column early, after feeling particularly inspired by the fine day, and had left work at lunchtime. She kept her eyes peeled for possible news stories, though, as she wandered through Diagon Alley. Once a reporter, always a reporter, as her aunt Ginny sometimes said.
It was too fine a day to go home and do the housework she probably ought to do. Window-shopping was far more fun, anyway. She avoided her dad's shop, because he was sure to find her some work if she told him her job was out early today. She ducked her head as she passed the shop windows of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, then resumed her stroll down the shopping street of wizarding London.
A trio of buskers had amassed a small crowd on one corner near the entrance to Knockturn Alley, and Roxanne paused to listen to the mournful, haunting melody that the violinist was playing. The magical folk who'd stopped to listen were silent in respectful appreciation, watching the violinist. Roxanne stepped a bit closer to join them, feeling the music envelop her. The tune was lovely, and the musician was quite talented. He was playing it as a solo, with his companions silent beside him, holding their own instruments and looking quite as entranced by the music as their audience was.
Roxanne glanced around the crowd, and one face jumped out at her, familiar somehow. She frowned at him a moment, trying to place him, and he looked over at her just as she remembered who he was.
Hilarion's friend. Perry, or Percy, or something like that.
He smiled at her and gave a little wave, and she smiled back. She tried to recall his name as he threaded his way through the audience to her.
“Hi there,” he said when he reached her side, grinning at her.
“Hi yourself. Perry, right?”
He nodded, and she felt relieved she'd gotten it right on her first guess. “It's nice to see you again,” she said gamely, not entirely certain what to say to him. He was Hilarion's best friend, but she really didn't know him. She didn't really know Hilarion yet, come to that.
“You as well. Roxanne, right?” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.
She stuck out her tongue at him for mocking her, and he grinned. “Shut it, you.”
“Couldn't help it. Had to be done. Not working this afternoon?”
“No, I finished early. Thought I'd do some window-shopping, but then I heard the music. Don't you have to work?”
“I work for myself,” he said easily. The violinist was drawing out the final crescendo of the song.
“That was so beautiful,” Roxanne said on a sigh as the last notes died away and the crowd began to applaud.
“Thanks.” Perry was looking round the crowd as if taking the measure of their appreciation. “I wrote it.”
Roxanne blinked. “You what?”
He nodded, turning back to her. “I wrote it. I thought it needed lyrics, but it seems to carry well enough on its own. Cyril said he'd play it today, give it a bit of a test-run.”
“Are you friends with the violinist, then?”
“Yeah. And the others as well. That's Cornish Dan on accordion and Lina, she sings.”
“Cornish Dan?” Roxanne echoed.
“As opposed to Welsh Dan and Irish Dan,” Perry told her. “We have too many friends named Dan, clearly.”
Roxanne smiled at that. Somehow she wasn't surprised that he was friends with street buskers. She gave him a sidelong glance, taking in the purple tie he wore loosely around the neck of his plaid shirt, and the day or two's worth of beard growth he was sporting, as if he couldn't be bothered to shave every day. He had an artistic, bohemian sort of look about him. It was intriguing – she'd always thought of herself as rather bohemian as well, despite her best friend being the post-modern punk type, and wished now that she had some friends who did interesting things like play original music on street corners.
Cornish Dan was currently warming up his accordion a bit while Cyril the violinist aimed his wand at the pegs, which began to turn slightly, adjusting the tuning. They launched into a much peppier song than the violin solo.
“Did you write this as well?” Roxanne asked, giving Perry a poke in the ribs.
He laughed. “No, this is a Baltic folk song.”
Lina had began to sing, her voice warm and slightly raspy, in a language Roxanne didn't understand. Roxanne listened to the song a bit, swaying to the music without really being aware of what she was doing. The song had a driving beat behind the melody that Roxanne could feel even without a drummer. It was a shame they didn't have a drummer.
“Normally there's Angus as well, on the darbuka,” Perry told her. “But he broke his arm last week, broom racing in the Yorkshire Wolds, and the Healers told him to take it easy for a while after they fixed him up.”
“What's a darbuka?” she asked.
“A drum,” he told her, and Roxanne thought it was rather funny that he'd felt the absence of the drumbeat as she had. He held out a hand to her then, with that grin he had that was somehow eager and confident and a bit sly. “Dance?”
She stepped into his arms, and was immediately surprised by how good a dancer he was. For some reason, she hadn't expected it of him, although when she thought about it, it wasn't entirely surprising that a man who could write such a beautiful melody could also have a good sense of music in his body and feet. He was a lot of fun to dance with.
The buskers reacted well to the dancing, probably because their friend had started it, but Lina was grinning and clapping the rhythm out as she watched them, and Cornish Dan with his accordion slid Roxanne a wink as he sang along with the chorus. Soon another couple began to dance on the edge of the crowd, and then another. Perry noticed them at the same time that Roxanne did.
“Sometimes people just need someone to lead the way,” he told her as he twirled her around and back into his arms.
Perry was enjoying the dance far too much, considering he was dancing with his best friend's girl. He couldn't seem to stop himself, though. She'd been swaying to the music, tapping a rhythm against the strap of her shoulder bag, and he had immediately known that she would dance with him if he asked. It was a huge mistake, he realized, as soon as his arm had settled into place around her waist.
He should not be holding Hilarion's girl this close.
But he finished the dance anyway, enjoyed making her giggle when he twirled and dipped her, enjoyed the feel of her in his arms, moving in perfect synch together.
They danced the next song too, and he caught Cornish Dan's eye as they passed. This had better be the last dance, he realized, or his friends were going to think something was up between him and Roxanne. Fortunately, Lina announced the end of their performance after that, and Perry drew Roxanne to a halt as Cyril invited the crowd to tip generously, drawing a few appreciative laughs and a small shower of coins into the houndstooth bowler hat that Lina held as she walked through the crowd.
Roxanne was still smiling, and Perry was still thinking what a fantastic bad idea the dancing had been as the crowd began to disperse, and Lina came over to them with a grin, still holding the hat.
“That went well,” she said, her Lithuanian accent giving her a more exotic air than her dark blonde hair and hazel eyes lent her. “Coffee is on us today.”
“Thanks for letting us use your song,” Cyril added. He was crouched on the pavement, packing his violin lovingly away into its velvet-lined case. “Who's your friend, Perry?”
“This is Roxanne Weasley,” Perry told them. “She's dating Hilarion.”
Lina gave him a rather startled look, but Roxanne was smiling at Cornish Dan and didn't notice.
“Nice to meet you,” Cyril said.
“Poor old Hilarion,” Cornish Dan put in as he latched his accordion into its case. “How is your jock friend? He never wants to come out with us.”
“It's for the best.” Cyril put a hand to his heart, pulling a sad face. “It's hard to be an obscure musician when you hang around with Quidditch celebrities.”
“You're too mean for Hilarion's gentle soul,” Lina scolded them. She had recovered quickly from her surprise, though her eyes still looked too sharply at Perry. He avoided her gaze and smiled vaguely.
Cyril slung his violin case over his shoulder, the strap running across his chest. “It's for the best, I reckon. It's dangerous enough to our obscurity to hang out with Perry. Keep going mainstream and you'll not be allowed to have coffee with us anymore.”
“No one remembers who writes the songs,” Perry told him. “Only who sings them. I'll always be more obscure than you lot even are.”
The coffeehouse was one they frequented rather often, and the waitress waved to them as they took over a table in the front corner of the shop. It was the spot Cyril always chose, where they could watch the street traffic outside. The shop was in a Muggle section of the city, not far from Diagon Alley, and was filled with young people in eclectic sort of clothing, so no one even noticed the addition of a couple of wizarding musicians. Roxanne sat next to Perry, and he tried not to read anything into this. She didn't know any of them, but she didn't know him rather less than she didn't know the others. That was all there was to it.
Her hand brushed his as they sat down, and he thought his skin tingled where it had touched hers.
The conversation wandered widely, and soon Roxanne had relaxed and was laughing and teasing the others like she'd been around them for years. Perry watched her, trying not to look like he was staring. She practically sparkled with life and wit, her face animated as she leaned forward to tease Cornish Dan about the paint job on his accordion.
“The polka dots are a bit much, aren't they? And purple and green? Hell of a colour combo.”
“Subtlety is not my forte,” Cornish Dan informed her.
“What did it say on the bellows?” Roxanne asked. “I couldn't make it out with all those pink and orange swirls.”
Perry grinned. Cornish Dan did like his accordions painted rather spectacularly. “It says Morveren. It's the accordion's name.”
Roxanne quirked an eyebrow, grinning. “What kind of name is that, then?”
“The mermaid of Zennor,” Lina said grandly. “It's a Cornish legend. The mermaid Morveren is drawn to the village of Zennor when she hears the music of a young man who sits by the oceanside, playing the pipes. Morveren falls in love with the piper, and has her father the king of the merpeople give her legs. They meet as people, they fall in love, but she can't stay human, so the piper joins her in the sea. The legend says you can still hear the love songs he plays for her under the waves.”
Roxanne smiled, her expression rather romantic, then she turned to Cornish Dan. “You named your accordion for a mermaid who falls in love with a piper? Do you even play the pipes?”
Cornish Dan shrugged. “No. Mermaids probably don't discriminate when it comes to good music. Maybe one will fall in love with the sound of my accordion and whisk me away to a palace under the sea.”
“Well, it would certainly be obscure,” Roxanne said.
“Morveren is a terrible name,” Cyril told his friend. “I told you it's bad luck to name an instrument after a species with such terrible taste in music. Have you ever heard a mermaid's song above the water?”
“It's a good name,” Cornish Dan protested.
“You should re-christen it Cyrilla,” Cyril announced, and was met by a round of laughter.
“You made that up,” Perry accused him. “Just now. That's not even a name!”
“Oh shut it, you have a made-up name as well. Besides, Cyrilla's a real name, probably, somewhere.”
Roxanne turned to Perry speculatively. “What is your real name? You wouldn't say before.”
“He never does,” Lina said. “Cyril knows it because he was at school with Perry, but he won't tell the rest of us his full name.”
“Disgraceful,” Cornish Dan intoned, looking down his nose at Perry.
Roxanne laughed, and the conversation moved on. Perry wondered briefly what she would think of his full name before being swept up into the new topic of discussion.
Hilarion was a bundle of nerves as he left Quality Quidditch Supplies with a new set of gloves. He had a game next week against the Kenmare Kestrels, who had beaten the Arrows quite soundly the last time the two teams had gone up against each other, but that wasn't what was making Hilarion anxious. He could handle Quidditch, that was fine. It was just a job.
But he was taking Roxanne out for drinks tonight. That was giving him terrible stage fright.
He didn't know what to talk about with her, didn't know how to talk with her. They'd already had one date where she'd done all the talking; surely she'd notice if he tried that again? And alcohol made him even quieter than he normally was. What the hell was he going to talk about over drinks? Why had he agreed to this?
Because she had suggested it, and he couldn't seem to say no. He still wanted to impress her.
He'd been wandering aimlessly down the street, buried in his thoughts, and when he looked around, he found himself in front of Flourish and Blott's. Peering through the window, Hilarion caught a flash of red hair whiz past.
He ducked into the shop, and when Lucy turned around from the books she'd been shelving, they smiled at each other automatically.
“Back again?” she remarked, more of an observation than a real question.
“No practice today for the team,” he told her. “Want to have lunch? It's on me again.”
Lucy shook her head. “I've already eaten, actually. I'm due for my break shortly, though, if you want to wait a bit.”
So he found himself sitting in an overstuffed tweed armchair in one of the bookstore's many nooks and crannies, reading a newly released Auror novel – his favourite author had written the cover endorsement – and waiting for Lucy Weasley. No one seemed to notice him, and reading the book in the quiet of the shop helped calm his nerves somewhat about his date with Roxanne. It took Lucy another three-quarters of an hour, but finally she bustled back over to him and smiled widely.
“Are you ready?”
He set the book down and followed her out the shop. They wound up in Hyde Park, wandering alongside the Serpentine side-by-side, walking in companionable silence for a while. Hilarion breathed in the scent of the trees, his hands in his pockets as he walked, and tried not to think about his date with Roxanne. His stomach fluttered every time he thought about it.
“It's nice to be out in the sunshine after being inside all day,” Lucy remarked conversationally. “I love the books, but things can get a little musty in there. Someday I'll own my own shop, and it will be bright and cheerful, with the windows open to every warm day.”
“You're going to open your own shop?”
“Someday I will,” she said determinedly, and he smiled. She would do it, too, he didn't doubt. Something about Lucy seemed so very competent that he thought she could probably accomplish just about anything. Roxanne had that sort of air to her as well. He wondered if it was a Weasley thing.
“What sort of books will you carry in your shop?”
“Oh, everything,” Lucy said immediately. She had clearly thought about this a lot. “Novels, and cookbooks, and books about magic. Anything you can think of. Lots of novels, though. I might even stock Muggle books as well. My grandfather has always loved reading them when he can get a hold of them.”
Hilarion smiled. “Do you have a name for your shop?”
“Not yet,” she admitted. “I'll have to think of something before I can open it, but any sort of grand opening is ages away. It's not like I have money for premises yet.”
“Invite me to your grand opening,” he said, half a question and half a demand. He wanted to see Lucy's shop in person one day. Whatever she named it, it would probably always be 'Lucy's shop' to him.
“I will.” Lucy's cheeks turned a bit pink. “And you'd better come buy your books from me, too. I'll keep your Auror novels in stock.”
“You open your shop, and I'll be there every day,” he promised. “I don't read very fast, but I won't buy books from anyone else.”
She smiled, and changed the topic, her cheeks still rather flushed. “What are you up to tonight? Anything fun planned?”
“I'm taking Roxanne for drinks,” Hilarion said, and felt the nervous feeling settle in his stomach again.
Lucy's smile didn't falter, but it seemed different now. He wasn't sure why. “Tell her I said hello when you see her. I'd better get back to work. I only have twenty minutes for my break.”
She gave him another smile and a wave as she walked off, back toward the trees where she could Apparate safely into Diagon Alley.
As soon as she turned away from him, his nerves returned to their stretched-taut state, but he waited until he heard the crack of Lucy Disapparating before heading home.
By the time 8 p.m. rolled around, Hilarion had (despite a half-hearted meditation session and two Floos to Perry) not calmed down a bit. His palms were sweating when he arrived at the tavern. Roxanne was already there, sitting at the bar, and he adjusted his tie as he approached. It felt like a noose closing around his neck.
They exchanged a cheek-kiss, and Hilarion sat down on the barstool next to her. “Hi,” he said awkwardly, feeling rather stupid. Why was it so difficult? He wanted to impress her with his wit and style, but when he was around her, he felt even more lacking in either quality than he normally did.
Roxanne smiled brightly. “You're early.”
“So are you,” he pointed out, and she laughed, though he hadn't intended to be funny.
“I saw your friend Perry the other day in Diagon Alley,” Roxanne said then, and Hilarion was a bit startled.
She nodded, and her eyes lit up a bit with the memory. “He was with a few of his friends. Musicians. Do you know them? They mentioned you.”
Hilarion knew them only too well. They were some of Perry's sharp-witted mates, the ones he always felt uncomfortable around. So sharp, you'll cut yourself, his mum had always said. “The bloke with the accordion and that lot. Yes, I know them.”
“They're brilliant, aren't they? So talented. We had coffee, all of us. It was such a lovely time.”
Hilarion's heart sank. “You liked them, then?”
She blinked at him, confused. “Of course, how could you not like them? They're too silly for words. They did say you interfered with their obscurity, you being a celebrity and all.”
“I don't mean to. I wish I was obscure too,” he said, and she laughed again. He didn't understand why. He hadn't meant to be funny or witty.
He tried to change the subject, but he had no idea what else to talk about, so he ordered a butterbeer and subsided into silence next to her.
Roxanne sipped at her firewhiskey and eyed his butterbeer. “You don't drink whiskey?”
“I don't like the taste,” he admitted, wishing now he'd ordered a glass anyway. Perry's friends had always poked fun at him because he didn't drink hard liquors. He didn't even like mead.
They both turned to see a blonde witch in bright pink robes bustling up to them. Her hair curled prettily around her face, and she was smiling as she approached. Hilarion smiled gamely, feeling secretly relieved at the interruption. It had distracted Roxanne from what had sometimes been calling his 'unmanly' drinking tastes.
Roxanne was grinning at her friend, who came up and leaned an arm on the back of Roxanne's chair.
“Can't believe I ran into you,” the blonde witch said chattily. “D'you know, I was going to Floo you earlier today?”
“Hilarion, this is my friend Gertie Griffith,” Roxanne said, waving to introduce her friend. “This is Hilarion Winston-Fisher.”
“I know who he is, Roxy,” Gertie said, giving her a nudge in the ribs. “I haven't been living under a rock, you know.”
“Really? Here I've been digging them up every day looking for your new flat.”
“I saw your column this morning,” Gertie said then, ignoring Roxanne's jab, “about that witch in Inverness who'd been trying to transfigure herself into a selkie so she could live in Loch Duich – did you see the paper in last month's Transfiguration Today from Nigel Faramund? He mentioned her in passing. He used to be with the Ministry, you know, everyone thought he was an up and comer in the government and then he left suddenly to head up that policy institute on Human Transfiguration. He's brilliant.”
“I know, I saw him last year when he gave that speech at the Conjuration Conference in Edinburgh. I got the idea for that article from his paper, actually.”
They went on in this vein for another five minutes, discussing animagi and trans-species transformations, and Hilarion sat silently and listened in bewilderment.
He didn't know what they were talking about. It was just like going out with Perry and his friends: everyone talking at lightning speed about things he didn't understand. And they ribbed each other the way Perry's friends did as well. Hilarion had never liked it; he couldn't tell when they were joking, and tended to take all their remarks seriously, only to be poked fun at afterwards for not understanding the joke. It was part of why he didn't like hanging out with them.
His heart began to sink as Roxanne needled her friend again. She was more like Perry than he'd realized. He didn't know how to talk like she did, like Perry did. This was worse than their first date, somehow, this feeling of inadequacy he got around her. He rather felt he was expected to go on the field for a game whose rules he didn't know. She left him feeling tongue-tied and slow-witted. He had to do something to fix it.
A/N: The mermaid of Zennor really is a Cornish legend. Maybe in the Potterverse, it really happened, too ;)
Chapter 5: Plots Afoot
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"...through the whirlwind which your eyes stir up inside me. But now, in this blessed darkness, I feel I am speaking to you for the first time."
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 3
“I need your help.”
Perry looked at his friend askance. He was slicing sausages for breakfast – several of his musician friends had been over last night boozing it up and wound up crashing on his couch and floor, so now he had an accordionist and two fiddlers to feed – and the pan was sizzling on the stove. “With what, mate? Want some breakfast?”
“What?” Hilarion appeared to notice the pan for the first time. “Oh. Sure. With Roxanne.”
Perry's stomach constricted. He kept his tone even and his eyes on the food preparation as he said, “I already helped you with her, I thought.”
“Well, yes, but it's not working any longer. She's... I don't... I need you to tell me how to talk to her.” Hilarion threw him a pleading look.
“Just be yourself.”
“Myself isn't smart enough for her,” Hilarion said quietly.
Perry set the knife aside and turned to face his friend. Hilarion looked rather dejected, actually, now Perry got a good look at him. Having spent the better part of a day in Roxanne's company, he rather thought he understood the problem. She was too sharp, in more ways than one, for the gentle-hearted Quidditch star. But knowing the problem and finding a solution were two different things, and beyond what he'd already told Hilarion, he wasn't sure what more he could do. He wasn't entirely sure what he ought to say to his friend.
“I just need some help,” Hilarion went on after a few moments' silence. “If you could listen in when I take her out, and tell me what to say-”
“How?” Perry asked, frowning. “I can't exactly tag along. Bit of a downer on a date, that'd be.”
“No, I mean...” Hilarion paused in frustration. “With an Extendable Ear, or something, I don't know – you listen, and tell me what to say so I can talk to her.”
“You want me to feed you lines.” Perry shook his head. “That's ridiculous. Insane. It'll never work.”
“Of course it will. Help me out,” Hilarion pleaded. “We're best mates. You always help me.”
Perry hesitated. He had always been there for Hilarion, who had always been there for him as well. He didn't want to admit why he was resisting helping him this time, though. This was absolutely mad, and it was going to fail, but that wasn't the full reason he didn't want a part of it.
He wanted Roxanne for himself.
But she seemed very taken with Hilarion. Perry didn't want to come between his best mate and his girl. Maybe it was just an infatuation, and Perry would get over her in time. Love at first sight wouldn't dare strike two men for one woman, would it? And she clearly hadn't felt that 'love at first sight' feeling for Perry, only for Hilarion.
He knew, in a dispassionate sort of way, that he was not as good-looking as Hilarion was. Women always fell for Hilarion. It was sort of a given. Women rarely looked twice at Perry when he was around his friend.
And now he was going to have to woo the woman he really wanted for himself into falling in love with his best friend. He would be able to tell Roxanne all the things he wanted to say to her but couldn't, but it would be Hilarion's face using his words, Hilarion who got the credit, Hilarion who got the love. Seemed damned unfair to both of them, thought Perry. Could anyone have devised a more exquisite form of torture? He doubted it. But looking at Hilarion's expression, hopeful and pleading, he knew he was going to have to do it, torture notwithstanding.
“All right,” he said, trying to keep the regret from his voice. “I'll do it. But you have to promise me you won't tell her it was me, if you get caught out.”
Hilarion breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't really thought Perry would let him down – Perry never let him down – but the thought that he no longer needed to panic over his next date with Roxanne took a weight off his mind. The memory of how slow-witted he'd felt with her still embarrassed him. But Perry would fix it. Perry was smart like Roxanne.
“How are we going to do this?” Hilarion asked hesitantly. He didn't entirely feel he should leave the entire thing up to Perry, but this was about as far as he'd thought it out.
“Dunno.” Perry flicked his wand at the pan and the sausages all flipped over and went back to sizzling. He tucked his wand over one ear and leaned back against the counter, crossing his arms and looking thoughtful. “I don't think an Extendable Ear will actually help. I'd be able to listen in, but not tell you what to say.”
“Maybe we can stop by Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and see if there's anything else to use?” Hilarion suggested.
Perry gave him a look. “Isn't that her dad's shop?”
Hilarion winced. “Oh right.”
“I was just messing with you,” Perry told him, grinning now. “I doubt they'd ever guess what we were planning even if her dad recognized you. We'll go over later. I can't think of another shop likely to have anything helpful anyway.”
“It's not a big rush, I don't have a date with her until Friday evening,” Hilarion said. “She had to go to her cousin's house tonight or something.”
“Plenty of time to find something, then,” Perry agreed.
A tall man Hilarion recognized as Perry's accordion-playing friend stumbled into the room. He had a tablecloth wrapped around his waist as a makeshift shirt, and every inch of visible skin was charmed blue.
“Aargh,” Cornish Dan mumbled.
Hilarion blinked at him. “What on earth...”
“Don't ask,” Perry said.
“What about this?” Hilarion asked, holding up a brightly-coloured cardboard box. Perry turned to him, and Hilarion tossed the box to his friend.
Perry examined the back of the box and shook his head. “No, mate. This is sort of like a two-way radio. It would do what we want, yeah, but she'd be able to hear everything we said.” He tossed the box back and Hilarion replaced it on the shelf, feeling rather discouraged.
They had both been carefully avoiding saying Roxanne's name inside the shop. Hilarion hadn't seen her dad – he knew exactly what Mr. Weasley looked like – but he still didn't want to chance being overheard. That seemed to be tempting fate rather too much. Hilarion, like most professional athletes, had a healthy respect for luck and chance.
They had been in the shop for nearly forty-five minutes, poking around the shelves in hopes of finding just the right device for what they needed. Nothing had yet suited their admittedly vague plans, and Hilarion was starting to worry that nothing actually existed in this vein.
“Maybe an Extendable Ear combined with some sort of charm for you to hear my voice?” Perry suggested, moving a few boxes aside to peer into the recesses of the stock shelves.
“I don't know any charms like that,” Hilarion said.
“Me either, but there must be something.”
“Can I help you find something?” asked a voice behind them, and Hilarion turned to find a young man with the same coffee-with-milk-coloured skin as Roxanne, and curly brown hair with a reddish tone standing behind them dressed in the magenta robes of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. His stomach flipped a bit as he read the name on the employee robes.
“Cor,” said Fred Weasley. “You're Hilarion Winston-Fisher, aren't you?”
“Er, yes?” Hilarion winced a bit. He had never really enjoyed being recognized everywhere he went, and this was certainly the last sort of errand where he wanted his presence known. The attention made him feel a bit stupid and awkward.
But the Weasleys seemed to be mercifully different in that arena – all of them that he'd met thus far had been quite blasé about his fame. Possibly this was because they were closely related to one of the most famous wizards of all time, one that even celebrities went potty for. Hilarion had to admit, he wouldn't mind meeting the legendary Harry Potter himself.
Roxanne's brother grinned at him and held out a hand. After handshakes and introductions had been given all round, Perry returned to the matter at hand.
“Actually we could use a little help,” he told Fred, smiling in that easy and confident way Hilarion had always envied in his friend. “We need something that will let one person eavesdrop on a conversation between two other people and be able to communicate with one of those people without the other person knowing.”
Hilarion had rather a hard time following that, even though it had all been his idea in the first place, but Fred only nodded.
“Legal purposes?” he asked mildly.
“Quite possibly,” Perry said.
Fred didn't look at all surprised. No doubt working in a joke shop, he'd heard it all. “We have something like that, but it's in our stock we sell to the Ministry, not in general merchandise. You won't find it out here on the shelves. Follow me.” He motioned to them and set off toward the back of the shop, ducking behind a purple curtain that covered an arched doorway.
Hilarion kept on Fred's heels and found himself in a storage space much bigger than he'd been expecting, where all the merchandise had much more sedate packaging.
“This is the Defense Against the Dark Arts line from early on when the company started,” Fred told them as they passed a shelf of bowler-style Shield Hats that Hilarion recognized from Magical Law Enforcement and most of the security guards he'd ever seen. “It's expanded since then so it's not just defensive magic anymore, but the name hasn't changed. The Ministry eats it up. Dad always says they pay the bills here so we can do more fun stuff out there.”
Fred plucked a small box off the shelf. “We developed this when my uncle Ron became an Auror, to help with some of their undercover operations. This way one Auror can hear a conversation the other Auror is participating in. Helps with getting backup there faster and such, and getting information without blowing the operation, all that good stuff. Should do what you want.” He handed the box over to Perry, and Hilarion peered at it.
The Wire, it said in small, tasteful lettering across the black box. Range of up to half a mile. Do not immerse in liquids. Keep away from small children and animals. Not responsible for any magical shocks experienced while wearing.
“Don't worry about that,” Fred said, noting Perry's raised eyebrow. “That hardly ever happens. The lawyers made us put it on there. Look, all you do is put one bit in your ear and clip the other to the end of your wand – that's the speaker, it draws its power straight from your wand's magical energy – and you're set. It works best if you can set your wand out somewhere close, or hold it in your hand, but even if it's still in your pocket you'll be able to hear just fine.”
“Sounds great,” Perry said. “Except the magical shocks bit.”
“Paying cash?” Fred asked brightly.
Roxanne got to her cousin's house earlier than she'd meant to. She stood on the street and stared up at the brightly lit windows of Dominique Campbell's row house, and decided she didn't want to face the rather pretentious Dominique on her own. She sat down on the steps, reckoning she'd wait for Molly to turn up. At least they could face it together.
Not that she didn't love Dominique, of course. They were cousins. Dommie was family, so Roxanne would always love her. It was just that they had very little in common. And Dominique was a bit pretentious, no one could deny that. She'd married a Ministry barrister, and they were both what Roxanne's mother sometimes called 'upwardly mobile' and Roxanne's father more often called 'social climbers'.
Roxanne had some sympathy with the social climbing, since she also wanted bigger and better. Just not in the same way Dominique did. Roxanne wanted her life to be full of fascinating things and genuinely interesting people. Dominique was the sort of person who sometimes affected a faint French accent, just to sound more interesting than she actually was. That told one rather all one needed to know about Dominique.
Molly turned up ten minutes before the appointed time. Roxanne had not been expecting things to start on time – they never did with Weasleys – and was not at all surprised that Molly was early. Molly was early to everything. Being exactly on time was actually late for her. Lucy was at her sister's side, and Roxanne smiled at the contrast between the two sisters. Molly was dressed in head-to-toe black dragonhide, and Lucy wore a tweed pencil skirt and crisp white blouse. Molly's green mohawk was spiked straight up, and Lucy's hair – a natural Weasley-red – floated rather romantically around her face. If their facial features weren't so similar, one wouldn't even believe they were related.
She kept her chuckles to herself, though, and stood up to greet them.
“Too chicken to go in alone?” Molly inquired before Roxanne could say anything.
“Absolutely. You know what Dommie's like.”
Molly draped an arm around Roxanne's shoulders. “Well, now you've got us to back you up. Let's go in.”
They led the way up the stairs arm in arm, with Lucy trailing behind them.
“What do you think she wants?” Roxanne asked as Molly knocked on the door.
“Who knows. Maybe she won the lottery.”
Lucy sighed heavily. Whatever Dominique was up to, it wasn't a lottery winning. Her cousin probably considered playing the lotto to be beneath her. Dominique had always been that extra bit taller, thinner, and prettier than Lucy was. Not smarter – Dominique's marks at school had been about the same as Lucy's. Lucy had always wished to have the edge over Dominique, somehow. Over any of her cousins, really. They all had something interesting to recommend them, but Lucy felt left out of the eccentricities of her family. She was so bloody normal compared to the lot of them.
Dominique swung the door open, dressed in a perfectly draped teal wrap dress that showed off her figure, which, despite having had a baby less than a year ago, was smaller than Lucy's. Lucy had, sad to say, inherited the short-and-stocky Weasley gene, while Dominique was tall and thin like her father. Lucy cherished the thought that Dominique would one day develop the Weasley potbelly that the tall-and-thin gene seemed to come with past age fifty. At least, Lucy reflected, her chest was fuller than Dominique's.
“Welcome,” said Dominique cordially, as if they hadn't all grown up together, dashing about naked in the paddling pool. “Thank you for coming.”
“Stuff it, Dommie,” Molly told her affectionately.
Dominique bustled off to bring them drinks, and Molly made a beeline for the wireless, where a few of their other cousins were already sitting. Lucy could hear the sounds of a Quidditch match coming from their corner, and the Potter boys suddenly let out a roar that sounded as if a foul had been committed.
Molly shoved Hugo Weasley aside to get a seat in the middle. Dominique was watching them as she brought glasses of wine to Lucy and Roxanne.
“I better get them coasters,” she said almost absent-mindedly, and rushed back to the kitchen.
“She's ridiculous,” Roxanne remarked.
“I suppose.” Lucy glanced over at the corner with the wireless, then looked back over to Roxanne. She was surveying Dominique's living room décor, and smiled at Lucy when she felt her looking.
“How are things going with Hilarion?” Lucy blurted out, and regretted it immediately. She hadn't meant to ask, and wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.
Roxanne beamed. “Very well. He's so sweet, and so handsome.”
Lucy's heart sank a bit. She'd been half-hoping Roxanne would say they weren't clicking, but she might have known it was a futile hope.
The last time Lucy had seen Hilarion, he'd turned up at her shop for no particular reason, and her heart had soared that he'd come to seek her out. But then they'd walked in the park, and he'd mentioned ever so casually that he had a date with Roxanne that night. It had been a slap to the face for Lucy: he hadn't even thought twice about telling her about his date. Apparently they were friends. She didn't want to be just friends with Hilarion.
But she didn't have much choice, she realized as she watched Roxanne's bubbly smile. He was meant for Roxanne, and Lucy just couldn't steal that happiness from her cousin. It made her feel quite bad-tempered, though.
The door opened, and Dominique's older sister Victoire Lupin walked in with a bottle of wine tucked under one arm, followed by Rose Weasley carrying a second bottle of the same label. The two of them were surprisingly close friends, though Lucy had always thought they were quite opposite personalities. Victoire had been an earth mother even before she'd had children, and Rose didn't get up before noon except under threat of death. Dominique fluttered over to greet them, exchanging a cheek kiss with her sister.
“Oh bugger,” Roxanne muttered, eyeing the wine bottles. “Were we meant to bring something?”
“I have no idea. Probably.”
Lucy never thought of that sort of thing, but Victoire did. It was the sort of person she was – bringing gifts to the hostess, even if the hostess was the sister she probably saw twice a week. Dominique had likely expected them all to bring something, now Lucy thought about it. It was the sort of person she was.
Victoire was shorter than her sister, with round cheeks and red hair that tumbled in waves down to her shoulders. She'd cut it a bit since Lucy had last seen her. She didn't go to Victoire's very often, though not because of Victoire. Victoire was lovely. It was Victoire's children Lucy was avoiding, at least until Johnny Lupin stopped head-butting her whenever she saw him. She still had a bruise on her hip from the last time she'd been round the Lupins.
Rose was looking over at the little crowd around the wireless, obviously not paying attention to Dominique. She seemed a bit distracted, but Rose often seemed distracted. She was wearing a purple t-shirt with cartoon baby hippogriffs prancing across the front of it on a rainbow. Lucy shook her head at this. Rose had been wearing twee t-shirts as far back as Lucy could remember, and she seemed to have no intention of ever giving them up.
Rose handed her bottle of wine to Dominique (Lucy suspected Victoire had brought it for her to give, since Rose hadn't even managed to dress appropriately for a dinner party), and Dominique shut off the wireless.
Everything went fine, or at least as fine as any gathering of a dozen Weasleys could reasonably be expected to go, until the pudding was finished. Dominique got to her feet with a somber expression and told them all, her voice strangely flat, “I wanted you lot to be the first to know, but you mustn't tell anyone else just yet.” She paused, and Lucy got a feeling it wasn't just for dramatic effect. Dominique was gathering her courage.
Lucy frowned. Dominique never had to gather her courage.
When she spoke next, the announcement seemed to fall on the gathering like a lead blanket. “Andrew and I are getting a divorce.”
Lucy felt her mouth fall open.
She was so shocked by the announcement that she nearly missed Dominique's admission that her husband was seeing someone else, but she couldn't have missed the shouts that followed. In the midst of the swirl of threats and plots of bodily harm that her male cousins shouted back and forth to each other, Lucy sat back in her chair and chewed on her thumbnail.
She had never liked Dominique's husband much, but she'd tried to accept him into the Weasley clan because Dominique had seemed so happy with him. Everyone had thought the two of them perfectly suited – ambitious, pretty people who wanted to make their way into the upper echelons of society.
Dominique and Andrew had been married for three years. That was hardly any time at all. What sort of man cheated on his wife? And with a baby at home. Their son, Thornton, was not even a year old yet. She wondered how long Andrew had been cheating. What sort of man could lie like that to the ones he loved? She didn't know how anyone could do that. Lying every day, right to Dominique's face... It was horrible to think about.
Lucy watched Dominique crying on her sister's shoulder while Victoire stroked her hair and tried to comfort her, and decided she could never stay with a liar. That sort of calculated deceit had broken many relationships, and now it had broken another one.
Poor Dommie. She and Lucy weren't close, but they were cousins. She wished she could do something to help.
Victoire lifted Dominique to her feet, saying briskly, “You'll come stay with me a few days, all right? Go and pack a few things for yourself and the baby, and come home with me.”
Dominique nodded, her face still streaked with tears, and Lucy stood quickly. Dominique took her arm gratefully and Lucy led the way toward the master bedroom. Roxanne fell into step on Dominique's other side.
The room still showed evidence of Andrew's presence – clothes, a pair of dress shoes next to the armoire – as if he had only gone out to work, not abandoned his family. Lucy exchanged a glance with Roxanne, who had frowned when she saw the shoes.
“You help her pack,” Roxanne whispered. “I'll gather up his things.”
Lucy nodded. Dominique began pulling clothes out of her dresser without appearing to be aware of what she was doing. Lucy conjured a large purple tote bag and packed as Dominique tossed clothes onto the bed.
Roxanne had conjured a bag of her own – a garbage bag – and was gathering up anything masculine into it. Shoes, robes, a watch, it all went into the bag. Dominique didn't seem to notice; she might have been in a daze for all her apparent awareness of her surroundings.
“I can't believe he's doing this,” she said as she tossed clothes at Lucy. “How could he throw away everything we have?”
Lucy shook her head and opened her mouth to speak, but Dominique interrupted her.
“I was good to him. I helped him with his career. Do you know how many boring Ministry dinners I've been to? How many officials and judges I've schmoozed with? I only ever tried to do what was best for us. And he cheated on me.”
She tossed a pair of shoes onto the pile of clothes. Roxanne glanced over at them; Lucy was going to need an Undetectable Extension Charm on that bag at the rate Dominique was going.
Roxanne paused in her purging of Andrew's things when she saw a glint of gold on top of his dresser. His wedding ring. “I don't know how he could do that to you, Dommie,” she said, and snatched up the ring. When she threw it in the garbage bag, it was swallowed up by his clothes and lost. Good riddance, she thought. Roxanne had no tolerance for cheaters.
“He took me to Venice on our anniversary,” said Dominique in a voice that was half-bewildered and half-angry. “How could a man take you to Venice and then cheat on you? Venice is so romantic. We rode in a gondola.”
Roxanne tied off the filled garbage bag and set it in front of the armoire where Andrew would be sure to see it. It wasn't all the things he'd left behind, but it was quite a lot of them, and would certainly send him a message.
She hoped it made him angry.
“Need some help there, Luce?” she asked, regarding the large pile of clothes Lucy was sorting through and folding into the purple tote.
Lucy nodded, and Roxanne came over to stand next to her, grabbing a few things to fold. Dominique seemed to realize she'd emptied half her dresser, and flung herself onto the bed next to the pile of clothes.
“That bastard,” she muttered, staring at the ceiling. She held up one hand then, and Roxanne realized her cousin was still wearing her wedding band and engagement ring. “What the hell am I going to do with these?”
Dominique sounded much less posh when she was angry. Roxanne decided she preferred the angry Dominique to the crying one, but they were both preferable to the increasingly pretentious Dominique she'd got to be since getting together with Andrew.
“Sell them,” Roxanne suggested.
“Melt them down,” muttered Lucy.
“I'm not giving them back to him,” said Dominique mulishly. “He gave them to me. They're mine.” She tugged the rings off and clutched them in her fist, breathing deeply through her nose.
“I don't think he'd ask for them back,” Lucy told her. The tote bag was full – Dominique had enough clothes packed to stay at her sister's for a fortnight – and she zipped it shut.
“I'll be damned if he ever sees them again.” Dominique sat up. “I'll go pack a bag for Thornton. Thank you both. I'm sorry the evening turned out like this. I hope you enjoyed the dinner.”
Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Oh, Dommie. Dinner was delicious. Come over to my flat if you want to get stinking drunk and badmouth your bastard ex-husband, all right?”
“Ex-husband,” Dominique repeated, rolling the words slowly. She blew out a long, slow breath. “I never thought I'd have one of those.”
“All the best women do,” Roxanne assured her, and Dominique cracked a small smile.
Victoire was shuffling everyone else out when Roxanne and Lucy emerged from the bedroom. They met Molly out on the front steps.
“I think the lynch mob just headed out,” she told them. “Off to find Andrew and perpetrate a few criminal offences on him.”
“Well-deserved,” Roxanne said. “I wouldn't mind joining them, actually.”
“Me too,” agreed Molly. “But I think they've got it taken care of. Besides, I haven't got a chance to hang out with you in ages, Roxy. You're always with Hilarion now whenever I've a free night.”
Roxanne grinned smugly. “The course of true love, and all that. Don't be jealous.”
“Who could be jealous of you?” Molly needled her.
“Well, I am dating a very handsome and famous Quidditch star.”
Lucy tried to hold the frown off her face, but she was beginning to feel rather annoyed. Roxanne had been joking, yes, but the way she'd only described Hilarion as handsome and famous – two things he really couldn't help about himself – instead of his other good qualities, the ones that made him who he was, pricked her temper. It wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair that Roxanne got to have Hilarion when she clearly didn't appreciate him properly. Lucy was sure she understood him better than her cousin did, but she was stuck being his friend while Roxanne got everything else. And it wasn't bloody fair.
“You only like him because he's good-looking,” Lucy told her, feeling a little wild and reckless for saying it out loud but pushed beyond her endurance to hold it in any longer.
Roxanne's mouth dropped open, and her cheeks turned a dull red. “That's not true!”
“You haven't anything in common with him.”
“We both like Quidditch,” Roxanne pointed out heatedly, on the defense now.
“Hilarion doesn't like Quidditch the way you do. It's just something he's good at.”
“That doesn't make any sense,” Roxanne snapped.
It did to Lucy, though. And she knew it did to Hilarion as well. She didn't know why she was arguing with her cousin over this, when it wouldn't change anything, she thought grumpily. It wouldn't make Hilarion fall in love with her instead if she fought with Roxanne. She drew in a deep breath. Her heart was fluttering madly. She wasn't used to picking fights like this. She'd always been the quiet one, really. But she had the urge tonight to claw someone's eyes out for letting Hilarion be wasted on Roxanne.
“Come away,” Molly said, tugging at Roxanne's arm. “We'll go have a drink. Lucy, go on home. It's been a long night, and you're both going to say something you'll regret if you keep talking.”
Lucy stomped down the street a ways while Molly led Roxanne off in the other direction. She stopped under a spotlight and thought about giving it a kick, but turned on the spot and Disapparated instead.
Friday night found Roxanne arriving at the restaurant Hilarion had invited her to with a rather nervous feeling. She was still thinking of what Lucy had said after the dinner party.
You only like him because he's good-looking.
It wasn't true, she told herself. All right, it had been at first, when she'd had such a raging crush on him without ever meeting him, but now they were actually getting to know each other and she did truly like him. It wasn't only because he was good-looking.
She'd never seen Lucy behave that way before. Lucy hadn't had a fight like that with anyone but her sister, and then only when they were teenagers. Lucy didn't pick fights on street corners. It had been so odd for her that Roxanne wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. She rather thought the announcement of Dominique's divorce had affected her cousin more deeply than she'd let on, since Lucy had started looking a bit strange as soon as Dominique said her husband had left her for another woman. Roxanne tried to forgive her this, then, since Lucy had always been a good friend and cousin to her.
After all, she'd helped Roxanne finally get to meet Hilarion.
Lucy had just been in a temper, that was all. Roxanne told herself to brush it off and enjoy her date. But she could still see Lucy's face in the dark street, angry and maybe a little bit hurt, too, spitting out those words.
You only like him because he's good-looking.
Hilarion was already at the table, and he stood to help her with her chair. Roxanne smiled at him, pleased by his chivalry, and waited while the waiter opened their bottle of wine and poured two glasses, allowing herself a moment to just look at him.
His hair was combed neatly, a bit of curl at the edges, and his blue eyes seemed to sparkle in the finely chiseled planes of his handsome face. He was extremely pretty, Roxanne thought, but now the thought made her feel a bit strange.
As soon as the waiter departed, she jumped into conversation, eager to prove to herself and the phantom Lucy haunting her conscience that she liked Hilarion for more than his looks.
Hilarion almost jumped out of his skin when she started talking. It was time to put their scheme into play, and he was a ball of nerves now hoping it wouldn't go awry.
“Relax,” Perry's voice said in his ear, and he watched Roxanne's face closely as she talked about the morning's news of a new appointment to the Department of Magical Games and Sports. She hadn't heard a thing, clearly. It was really working.
The knot of fear in Hilarion's stomach disappeared immediately. He had been afraid they'd be caught out at once. But she couldn't tell, he thought, elated. He could do this, with Perry telling him what to say.
And it really did work perfectly. He repeated back everything Perry said, and tried to time his laughs when he heard Perry chuckle, since he didn't always understand what Roxanne was saying. It was hard to fake a laugh, but he was so relieved that it was going well that his own chuckles seemed as real as Perry's.
When Roxanne finally got up to use the ladies' room after a solid hour and a half of conversation, Hilarion turned in his seat and found Perry sitting in a corner of the restaurant, a book propped on the table in front of him. There was a charm around him to keep anyone hearing him having an apparently one-sided conversation, invisible to the eye. Hilarion gave his friend a thumbs-up and a relieved grin.
Perry's smile back seemed oddly tight, as if he wasn't as happy about their success as Hilarion was. Hilarion didn't have time to think about it though, because then Roxanne was back and he was back on.
Roxanne pleaded an early morning work schedule, and left the restaurant half an hour later. Hilarion had not seen her home, but she wasn't concerned. The date had gone swimmingly, she reflected with satisfaction as she walked up the stairs to her flat.
Their last date hadn't been quite as stimulating conversation-wise, but this time Hilarion was much wittier. He'd probably grown more accustomed to her now, she decided. He was rather shy sometimes.
It was quite clear now though that they were very well-suited indeed. Roxanne thought smugly about how he'd laughed at her jokes, and he'd made some quite funny remarks as well. He was smart, and witty, and she liked him more than ever now.
No longer simply because he was good-looking, she thought, wishing she could crow about it to Lucy. She liked him. Not his looks. Him, the man. Hilarion Winston-Fisher.
Roxanne gave a loud sigh, the smile still wreathing her face, and went to bed.
A/N: The dinner party scene is, of course, from "A Weirder Shade of Midnight", where we saw it from Rose's perspective. Much different seeing things through Lucy and Roxanne's eyes.
Also: 'naked in the paddling pool' is a nod to Bridget Jones' Diary.
Chapter 6: Gesture of Love
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"You're not totally immune to me, are you? Why else would you concoct such a delicious revenge? It must be a gesture of love."
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 3
Hilarion found himself once again at Flourish and Blotts on his day off from team practice. This time, however, Lucy didn't seem to be there. He looked around the bookstore with a sting of disappointment.
He'd had a half-formed notion of speaking to Lucy about her cousin. His plan with Perry had worked perfectly, but left him feeling rather ill at ease and vaguely dissatisfied. Lucy was the first person that had come to his mind to talk to. He couldn't explain everything to her, of course – though she could probably keep a secret, it seemed somehow wrong to ask her to keep this one – but talking to Lucy made him feel better, in any case.
He caught sight of her co-worker, Colwyn, among the stacks and went over to question the man. Lucy had said she got along famously with him, unlike her somewhat antagonistic relationship with the store manager.
Colwyn looked rather impressed to see him. “Bloody hell. Hilarion Winston-Fisher!”
“Uh, yeah, that's me,” he said uncomfortably. “Is Lucy working today?”
Colwyn shook his head. “No, it's her day off. Just me and Mr. Furmage here today.”
Hilarion's face fell. He didn't know where Lucy lived to owl her. This probably made him a bad friend, he realized guiltily. He'd got used to her being in the bookstore whenever he went to look for her, it hadn't occurred to him to get her home address. “Would you, uh, mind giving me her address?” he asked, hoping for once his celebrity might work in his favor. Probably giving out employees' home addresses was against the rules.
Colwyn gave him a knowing look, which Hilarion didn't entirely understand. “Yeah, sure. Anything you need, mate.”
Hilarion took the address Colwyn scrawled on a scrap of parchment, and went outside to Disapparate. He glanced over his shoulder as he left, and found Colwyn giving him a thumbs up and a big grin.
Nonplussed, Hilarion turned over his shoulder and headed for Lucy's.
She lived on the outskirts of London in a small and ancient-looking building that had been divided into six flats with a courtyard in the center. The wrought-iron gate stood open, overgrown with ivy that crawled up the old stone facade of the building. It was a rather enchanting place, and he thought it suited Lucy quite well.
Lucy's flat was on the ground level, with a small table set out front next to a lawn chair, both of white wicker, the chair covered with a fluffy sand-colored cushion. Plants flowered in pots of various size all around. The scene reminded Hilarion of holidays spent at the beach. Smiling to himself, he knocked at the door.
Lucy, wearing a set of purple, well-worn robes, opened the door a moment later, only to go wide-eyed and squeak, “Hilarion?”
He realized, somewhat belatedly, that it probably wasn't very polite to stop by unannounced to a home one had never been invited to before. “Um, hi Lucy. Hope you don't mind me coming over...”
She recovered quickly and gave him a smile, smoothing back her unruly curls. “Of course not. Come in.”
He stepped past her and into the little flat, noting the floral scent of her as he passed. Her hair was damp and her face clean of any make-up; he must have caught her just after a shower. The thought made his body heat up, and he tried to ignore it. This was Roxanne's cousin. He had no business thinking of her naked and wet.
“Do you want some tea?” Lucy asked as she closed the door. She ran a hand over her hair again, and he wondered if she was nervous.
“Tea would be great,” he said firmly.
She smiled and went to the kitchen, aiming her wand at a kettle on the stove. It began to boil immediately, whistling cheerfully as Lucy pulled down teacups and a box of tea from the shelves above the sink.
Hilarion nodded. “My favorite, actually.”
“Mine too.” She seemed more at ease as she went through the familiar ritual of preparing the tea.
Lucy tried to hide the trembling in her fingers as she made tea. He was here, in her flat, smiling at her in that sweet way he had, and she felt she could hardly breathe, hardly think. She looked away from him, down at the steeping tea, and told herself to calm down.
He couldn't be here for her, not really. He probably wanted to talk about Roxanne. But she hadn't told him where she lived, so he must have gone out of his way to find out. Her heart skipped a beat.
“How did you find out where I live?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
“I stopped by Flourish and Blotts, and when you weren't there, I asked Colwyn for your address. I hope that's all right.”
A flush of pleasure went through her that he'd sought her out, and she tried to ignore it. He fancied Roxanne, she told herself firmly. “It's fine. You can come over any time.”
Hilarion's face relaxed into a smile. “Did you have plans for today?”
A romance novel and a cup of hot chocolate probably didn't count as plans, Lucy reckoned. “Not really.”
“Want to have lunch with me?”
Lucy bit her lip as she poured a bit of milk in her tea, giving herself a moment before answering. She did want to have lunch with him, because she wished she could spend every spare minute with him, but she didn't want to torment herself with his friendship and her unrequited infatuation with him. What she really needed was a chance for some distance. Every time she thought she was getting a bit, Hilarion turned up unexpectedly and reminded her of why she was falling for him. Lunch probably wasn't a good idea, but she couldn't bring herself to say no.
“We can make it a picnic. There's a little lake by the Arrows training pitch,” Hilarion added gamely, seeing her hesitation. “There are turtles and dragonflies, and sometimes you see knarls in the rushes.”
She'd really never stood a chance, she realized. “All right, that sounds fun.”
After Lucy had ducked into the bathroom briefly to make herself more presentable (Hilarion had already seen her without make-up, but she didn't like the thought of being out in public with him without doing something with her hair and face), they headed into Lincolnshire. The village of Appleby wasn't large enough to boast much in the way of markets, so Hilarion took her to the usual places the team preferred for their shopping in the nearby, larger town of Scunthorpe.
Hilarion had always preferred this area, as it was almost entirely populated by Muggles, so his fame was meaningless here. The Scunthorpe markets teemed with people on a sunny weekend morning, but none of them were interested in him as he and Lucy bought Cornish pasties so hot he could hardly touch the wrappers, apple tarts baked crisp and golden, and Stilton cheese with crusty bread. Hilarion grabbed a bottle of wine as well after seeing Lucy examining the Cotes Du Rhone wines.
He found he was enjoying himself far more than he'd expected, just doing a simple domestic chore like shopping for a picnic. Lucy was relaxing company; she was easy to talk to, she listened to everything he said – something he had not often experienced, particularly from women – and she smiled frequently. He felt easy in her company, almost as if they'd known each other for years.
It was funny how quickly they'd slipped into that sort of friendship, he thought cheerfully as they made their way from Scunthorpe to the outskirts, such as they were, of Appleby. The Arrows team pitch stood tall above the rolling fields, protected by Muggle-repelling charms and painted in the pale blue of the team. Silver arrows festooned the building anywhere they could be fastened to. Hilarion was quite loyal to his team, but he did think the effect was a bit garish.
Lucy seemed impressed, however, by the small lake on the team's grounds. Hilarion was pleased to see the turtles were sunning themselves. Lucy smiled when she saw them.
“As promised,” she noted, and then conjured a bright yellow blanket for their picnic.
“Did you have to choose yellow?” Hilarion asked, setting the parcel of food in the center of the basket. “The Wasps are the enemy team for us, you know.”
She rolled her eyes. “I'd forgotten. I don't watch much Quidditch,” she admitted then, sitting down quite gracefully on the blanket, her robes swirling around her. “The yellow just happens. Most of what I conjure is yellow. I'm not sure why.”
“Probably because you've a sunny nature or some such,” Hilarion remarked, sitting cross-legged beside her. “I didn't get very high marks in that sort of thing, though, so I really don't know why either.”
Lucy investigated the contents of the bag. “Those pasties should be edible by now. I don't know why they serve them so hot, no one could possibly eat them.”
“Cooling charm,” Hilarion suggested.
“It was a Muggle shop, they couldn't possibly expect customers to use a charm.” She smiled. “But we can use one if we need to.”
They ate in companionable silence for a while, watching the turtles nap and the dragonflies dance, drinking the ruby wine from conjured glasses which did, upon closer inspection, appear rather yellow.
Eventually Lucy brushed the crumbs from her hands and leaned back, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Thank you for lunch. This was definitely a lovely idea.”
“Thanks. I'm glad you came.”
Lucy tried not to watch him as he poured another glass of wine for each of them. She was quite suddenly very aware that they were alone and having what had turned out to be a romantic picnic lunch. Hilarion looked very handsome in the midday light, the sun shining on his golden hair. He only thinks of you as a friend, she told herself firmly. There was no use daydreaming.
He was probably thinking of Roxanne.
Unable to resist, she slid a look his way. He was watching the turtles plop into the water with a slight, almost absent-minded smile. Her heart lurched a bit; he was so different than she ever would have guessed a professional Quidditch player might be. Gentle, sweet, and slow to speak, he was very soothing to be around. It was hard to worry about anything when Hilarion was next to her, smiling and being thoughtful. He'd bought a bottle of her favorite wine without any hinting on her part. She'd never had a boyfriend manage that before.
But he was Roxanne's boyfriend, not hers. Lucy mentally consigned her cousin straight to hell for being better-looking than she was, then promptly felt guilty because Roxanne was, after all, her cousin. It was just that it was hard not to despair a bit about one's self when the perfect man sat at one's side, feeding one rich foods and expensive wines and yet being in love with one's cousin.
She put all thought of that firmly to the back of her mind. Today she wouldn't think of that. Today she would only enjoy his company.
Hilarion stretched out flat on his back on the yellow blanket, his hands resting on his stomach and eyes on the clouds overhead. Lucy only hesitated a moment before following suit, though she kept a bit of distance between them as they lay side by side.
She closed her eyes for a few heartbeats, then turned her face to see Hilarion had also turned to look at her. They smiled at each other when their eyes met, without conscious thought.
Lucy wanted very badly for him to lean forward and kiss her, but she knew he wasn't even thinking of it. He liked Roxanne, who was prettier, smarter, thinner, taller – just everything Lucy wasn't.
Pushing her feelings to the back of her mind, she tried to fill the silence. “Sometimes my sister and I lay like this on the hill behind my parents' house. And we talk, about everything. We've done it since we were children.”
Hilarion smiled again. “Sounds nice.”
“It is.” Lucy turned her face back to the sky, smiling. “She's the best. We've always been very close. It's just the two of us, me and Molly.”
“Your sister scares me,” he admitted, and Lucy let out a chuckle.
“I won't tell you what she said about you, then.”
“No, don't.” He closed his eyes. “Okay, tell me.”
She laughed again. “It wasn't very nice. Molly has a mean streak sometimes. Dad says she gets it from Uncle George.”
Hilarion wasn't distracted by this aside. “She said I was thick, didn't she.” He sighed. “She's not the first. I've heard it before.”
“I'm sorry,” said Lucy, although she wasn't certain if she was apologizing for bringing it up or for what Molly had said.
“It's all right. I know it's true,” he told her quite calmly, and she sat up abruptly and poked him in the ribs with two fingers.
“Don't say that. It isn't true.”
“I'm not a genius, Luce-”
“That doesn't mean you're stupid. Just... Don't say that about yourself.”
He grabbed her hand before she could jab him in the ribs again, and the feel of his warm, callused hand around hers unnerved her. It wasn't fair. Bloody Roxanne. She took a deep breath and then pulled her hand free, patted his hand gently, and told him, “I'm no genius either, Hilarion. But I'm not stupid. And you're not either.”
“I never did well in school,” he pointed out, as if defending his thickness. “I don't know about history and politics and literature and all that.”
“Only because you're not interested in that kind of thing,” Lucy said firmly. “I'm not either. So if that makes you stupid, then I suppose I am as well. Simple isn't the same thing as stupid, so stop saying it is. Simple isn't anything to be ashamed of. Most people wish they could live simple lives, and be able to take pleasure just in sitting quietly and watching the turtles in the pond. I think it's nice. I like simple.”
She was saying too much. Shut up, she told herself, and closed her mouth before she could give herself away entirely.
Hilarion stared at her so long she thought she might squirm, and then he said quietly, “Thanks, Lucy.”
She didn't know how the conversation had gotten to this point, but the strength of her feelings threatened to get the better of her, so she laid back down on the blanket beside him in silence.
After a few minutes, Hilarion held up a hand, and Lucy slid hers into his grasp.
They passed another hour at the lake, and when Hilarion left Lucy at her flat, both of them were relaxed and happy. Hilarion whistled as he left the courtyard of Lucy's building, thinking of how much fun she was to talk to. She'd looked so fierce telling him not to call himself thick. He wondered what her sister had said about him exactly, but found that for once he didn't even mind that it hadn't been anything good. Molly Weasley and all the Harpies could call him an idiot all they wanted, because apparently Lucy would tell them off for doing so. He was grinning as he Disapparated.
It wasn't until he got home that he realized he'd forgotten entirely about Roxanne while he was with Lucy.
Roxanne slid into the seat next to Perry and nudged him in the ribs. “Thanks for the invite,” she said as Perry held his coffee cup away, having nearly spilled it in his own lap at her arrival.
“I won't be doing it again if you make me spill hot coffee in my lap,” he told her.
She peered down into his lap. “You seem fine to me. High and dry.” She tossed her purse onto the table and waved to the waitress.
Perry checked her out as surreptitiously as possible while she was distracted getting the waitress's attention. Her hair was pulled up into a knot of curls on top of her head, a few escaping the updo to trail down her slender neck. She looked flushed and happy, as if she'd recently been laughing quite hard. It was a good look on her.
He drew his attention back to his coffee as she turned back to him. Unwinding the houndstooth scarf from around her neck, she plopped it on the table next to her purse and sat back in her seat, giving him a merry smile.
“You look well. I see you shaved.”
Perry rubbed a hand over his jaw. “I do that now and then, just to screw with people. How's everything going with you, Roxanne?”
“Oh fine,” she said in blasé tones, then turned at the arrival of the waitress to place an order for a pot of tea. After the waitress had bustled off, Roxanne went on, “I submitted an article to Transfiguration Today, and the editor says it'll be published next month.”
“That's great,” Perry exclaimed.
“Don't sound so surprised, I do write other things than fluff pieces, you know,” she shot back at him.
“I thought you wanted to write about Quidditch.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Is Transfiguration Today adding a sports column?”
“I wish,” Roxanne said with feeling. “No, I like to branch out. Someday I'll get in writing for the Prophet about Quidditch, it's just that they don't feel like they need another sports writer, and my aunt Ginny doesn't seem to want to retire any time soon, so I've got to do something.”
“I'd almost forgot your aunt Ginny was a writer too,” said Perry. “She's the one married to Harry Potter, isn't she?”
Roxanne nodded. “Having a famous uncle is hell on one's obscurity,” she remarked, winking at him.
Perry grinned. She was adorable when she winked and joked around. Her dad owned a joke shop, so probably having a great sense of humor was genetic. She was damned appealing, or possibly Perry just found sarcasm in a beautiful woman damned appealing.
Same difference, really.
The tea arrived, and Roxanne busied herself preparing a cup. The steam wafted over to Perry, and though he loved coffee, he thought her fragrant tea smelled better today.
“How's your song coming along?” she asked, taking a sip gingerly.
He shrugged. The song had started out a simple, folksy melody that would have been great for Cornish Dan and his band, but it had turned into a mournful love song for Roxanne. Perry didn't always write lyrics, but lyrics to this song had come easily, and if anyone saw those lyrics it would be very obvious who the song was for. But he couldn't tell her any of that. She was Hilarion's girl.
You didn't hit on your mate's girl. And you damn well didn't write her love songs.
“It's not finished yet,” he hedged.
“I want to hear it when you finish it,” she told him sternly. “I'm sure it's wonderful.”
Perry shrugged and picked up her teacup, taking a sip. He didn't want to talk about the song. “This is excellent tea.”
She rolled her eyes and took the cup back. “You should have ordered some for yourself, then. This is my bloody tea. Lord, you're as bad as my brother. He always steals my food.”
Perry tried to stifle his irritation at her implicitly relegating him to brotherly status. “I met your brother, actually,” he said. “I rather liked him.”
“Did you? Weren't you at Hogwarts with him? You must've seen him around then.”
“He wasn't in my year. I don't remember him.”
“Well, Hilarion is four years older than me, so yeah, Fred would've been two years below you both.” Roxanne sipped her tea and then asked, “Where did you meet him?”
“Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Stopped in to look around and he popped right up behind me.” Perry wasn't about to tell her what he'd been looking for, but there was no reason not to tell her he'd been there. “He reminds me of you.”
“Then you didn't talk to him very long,” Roxanne said dryly.
“Oh no, don't tell me you're one of those jaded little sisters who think everything their brothers do is ridiculous?” He gave her a teasing grin.
“Fred is ridiculous. He's actually a big swot. Someday he'll take over running the shop for my dad and keep Weasley's Wizard Wheezes going through another generation of Weasleys.” Roxanne held up her teacup briefly in silent salute to her brother. “Dad is so pleased.”
Perry sensed something more underneath her flip comments. “Is that what he wanted to do, then? Run the joke shop?”
“Yes, of course. He loves it in there. Well,” Roxanne amended thoughtfully, “sometimes he does wish he could run off and work with our cousin Rose, but usually if Rose lets him tag along he runs straight back to the joke shop.”
“What does Rose do?” Perry asked, taking a sip of his coffee.
He choked a bit on his coffee. “You're joking. Your cousin is a bounty hunter?”
“Weasleys are full of surprises,” she told him wisely.
“But not your brother. He's going into the family business. Didn't you want to go into the family business?”
“I am,” she pointed out. “I want to write about Quidditch like my aunt Ginny. My parents both played Quidditch at school, too. Quidditch runs on both sides of the family.”
“So you come by it honestly,” Perry joked, and then turned serious, or as serious as he ever got. “And that's really what you want to do? Follow in your aunt's footsteps like your brother is following in your dad's?”
She looked thoughtful for a while, sipping her tea, and then said slowly, “Sometimes, when you're a Weasley, that's all you get to be. A Weasley. People forget there's more going on than the Weasley. We've got other genes, you know. My mum never wanted to write, and Dad only ever cared about his joke shop. So by becoming a writer, I'm striking out on my own, even if it's only toward where my aunt is. It's different for my Weasley family.” She grinned then. “I think, with how many Weasleys there are, you'd be hard-pressed to find a job no Weasley has ever done before. What about you? Is your family musical?”
Perry shook his head. “I'm striking out on my own, too. My mum owns a little bakery out in Sussex, and my dad is a potioneer who does bit parts in Shakespearean plays in the summer. They're only a little artistic and bohemian. I took it to the next level.”
Roxanne grinned. “Is that why your dad gave you a terrible name, because he does summer theatre?”
He shook a finger at her. “Don't think I'm going to slip up and reveal my full name to you. Sneakier people than you have tried that for years and years.”
“Maybe I'll do some research on you and find it out for myself,” she said smugly.
Perry wondered briefly if her being interested enough in him to dig up his real name meant that interest might extend into romance, and then squashed the hope immediately. Inviting her out for coffee probably hadn't been a good idea. He didn't know why he was torturing himself this way. She was beautiful, clever, and sharp-witted, and he wanted to haul her into his lap and kiss her until she looked flushed and happy again as she had done when she'd arrived. But he couldn't do that, because she was Hilarion's girl, and tonight Hilarion was taking her out and Perry would have to torture himself even more by helping his best friend make Roxanne fall in love with him.
This had definitely been a bad idea. But he couldn't really regret it.
“Do your worst,” he said, trying to hang on to their banter and not kiss her senseless. “If you find out my name, I'll have to stop spinning straw into gold, though.”
“I don't think Perry is short for Rumplestiltskin, so I am undeterred,” Roxanne said loftily.
“You never know, it might be.”
“Well, I could use the gold.”
“I'll spin you some after I finish the song,” he promised dryly, and she chuckled.
Roxanne drained the rest of her tea and gathered her scarf and purse off the table. “Thanks for the company. I've got to dash, though, I'm technically at work right now.”
“Are you? You looked so much like you were here.”
She laughed and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek briefly, slinging her purse over her shoulder as she stood. “Bye Perry, thanks for the tea.”
He waved to her as she left, then let out a deep sigh and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He was an idiot.
Hilarion was already at the restaurant when Roxanne arrived. He was quite punctual for a celebrity, she reflected, pleased by this evidence of his responsible nature. Molly had been dead wrong about him. Roxanne had always thought it was more likely that Molly just hadn't cared for Hilarion for some reason and so exaggerated his bad qualities. He wasn't nearly as thick as she'd always said, for starters.
He nearly jumped to his feet when he saw her. Ever the gentleman, she thought, feeling quite carefree as she took her seat across from him.
Hilarion was not as carefree. He could feel his palms sweating a bit, and his nerves felt stretched. Though the scheme with Perry feeding him lines had worked well last time, he was anxious about using it again, sure he'd be caught out at any second. But he didn't think he had any other options, unfortunately.
“Calm down,” Perry's voice said in his ear. “Seriously, you're beginning to make me nervous watching you sweat.”
Hilarion drew a slow breath while Roxanne ordered wine and a complicated dinner from the rather pretentious menu. He didn't actually like this restaurant, but it was one his previous dates had always been enthralled with. The menu contained a great deal of items he either couldn't identify or couldn't pronounce, and so he always wound up eating steak here, because at least that was one thing he could be certain what it was. He found himself thinking wistfully of the Cornish pasties he and Lucy had eaten yesterday.
Lucy would probably hate this place, he thought.
Roxanne, however, seemed to enjoy it immensely. When her dinner arrived, she tucked into her food – he had no idea what it was, but it was arranged very artistically on her plate – with gusto, and while he still felt relief at being out with a woman who actually ate, something about the evening nagged at him. It wasn't right, and he didn't know why.
But the conversation went smoothly, thanks to Perry, and Hilarion tried to ignore the voice at the back of his head telling him he ought not be here with this woman. She was so beautiful, and so smart, it had to be right.
The small band at the back of the restaurant was playing, and by the time they'd both finished eating, couples were beginning to get up and dance. Hilarion caught Roxanne watching them over his shoulder and recognized the look on her face. His stomach sank. He was nimble enough in the air, but he was not graceful on solid ground.
Perry evidently recognized Roxanne's expression as well, because his voice came again in Hilarion's ear, sounding both amused and exasperated. “Ask her to dance, you idiot.”
He nearly opened his mouth to argue with Perry, but remembered just in time and merely gave a tiny shake of his head, hoping his friend could see it.
Roxanne turned her full attention back to him as the band began a new song. “Want to dance, Hilarion?”
He hadn't thought his stomach could sink any lower, but it did. “Two left feet,” he mumbled, embarrassed.
She seemed mildly disappointed, but signalled the waiter for dessert instead of pushing him further, to Hilarion's relief.
“That's all right. Not everyone is a dancer,” Roxanne told him. He'd looked almost ashamed to admit he couldn't dance, she'd thought, and it seemed the kind thing to do to reassure him. Men, in her experience, required a great deal of reassurance on any number of topics. “My cousin Victoire, she never liked to dance. She did learn though, for her wedding, to surprise her husband. Teddy nearly fell over from shock when she knew how to waltz.”
“Weasleys are full of surprises,” Hilarion said, and she laughed.
They left the restaurant after Roxanne had finished her elaborately delicious but quite tiny slice of cake, and Hilarion walked her home, Disapparating at her side as she led the way to her flat. He seemed less at ease as they left the restaurant, and even more so after Apparition. Perhaps he didn't like the feeling, she thought. Plenty of witches and wizards didn't care to Apparate.
The walk to her door seemed shorter than usual. She unlocked her flat, waving her wand down the length of the door, and turned to Hilarion. It seemed too soon to ask him to come inside, but she was sure he was going to kiss her.
And sure enough, he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. It was shorter than she'd wanted, and more gentle than she'd expected. Before she had a chance to respond or even to think about how it felt, it was over, and he was leaving.
It hadn't been the sort of kiss she'd imagined.
Chapter 7: All Along
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"How obvious it is now - the gift you gave him. All those letters, they were you... All those beautiful powerful words, they were you!"
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 5
The captain of the Appleby Arrows was lecturing them about what he perceived as their continued poor performance during practices. Hilarion didn't think they'd been that bad today. Certainly they had won more games so far this season than last year. It was hard to pay attention to Barry Wilford's ranting when their scores were up.
The team was clustered around Wilford in the middle of the pitch, catching their breath after practice and listening to Wilford with varying degrees of concentration. Hilarion, who had been consistent about catching the Snitch at every practice, tuned the captain out completely.
“Hilarion.” One of the Beaters, Gavril Groundsell, nudged him sharply in the ribs.
“You have a visitor.” Gavril was grinning obnoxiously and tilted his head to indicate the main ground entrance to the pitch.
Hilarion turned, expecting to see Lucy behind him, and then felt his stomach contract with fear. It was Roxanne, coming toward him across the pitch, walking slowly in her high heels so as not to sink into the grass.
He wasn't ready for her. He couldn't talk to her without Perry's help.
“Is that who you've been dating?” Gavril asked. “She's hot.”
She was hot, he knew, but now he was nervous as all hell. He was going to have to talk to her without Perry today, ready or not. And after several dates with the scheme working, she was going to expect far more from him than he could possibly manage. This was a disaster.
Suddenly Hilarion found himself wishing that he'd never met Roxanne Weasley, because then he never would have come up with this stupid scheme and set himself up for embarrassment and failure. He had clearly not thought the scheme out fully, since it hadn't occurred to him that he'd eventually have to deal with Roxanne without Perry feeding him lines.
This was very bad.
Wilford left off lecturing them and the team began to disperse, leaving Hilarion alone on the pitch with Roxanne. He took a deep breath and walked over to her.
She smiled at him brightly. “Hi! I had the day free, so I thought I'd come by and surprise you.”
“Oh.” He had no idea what to say. This was even worse than when he'd tried to talk to her before, because now he felt he had to work even harder to keep up and say something interesting after she'd been, in essence, talking to Perry for hours on dates. “Um, hi.”
Mentally he kicked himself for being the thickest swot on the face of the planet.
“I haven't been to the Arrows pitch in about two years,” Roxanne was saying, looking around. “Looks like they did some renovating.”
“They painted the stands,” Hilarion volunteered lamely. He knew there'd been more done to freshen up the ageing stadium, but he hadn't paid much attention.
She looked back at him expectantly, and struck by sudden panic, he blurted out, “Do you want to go walk round the lake?”
Her smile lit up her face, but for some reason it didn't seem as attractive as it had done when they first met. She was still pretty, but it didn't make his stomach flip or his blood race.
“Sounds great,” she agreed.
Relieved, Hilarion started for the exit, and Roxanne took his hand. The walk to the lake felt longer than usual, and his mind completely blanked on conversation. Roxanne was silent the entire way. Hilarion was sure he was breaking out into a cold sweat.
He was starting to forget why he'd wanted to be with her so badly in the first place.
Not that she wasn't pretty and smart and funny, it was just that aside from both of them being good-looking, he knew they had nothing in common. He didn't understand her humor, or the things she was interested in, and quite frankly, she terrified him. Trying to talk to her left him feeling stupid and awkward.
How was he supposed to explain all that to her without looking even more like an idiot than he already felt?
He didn't know how to get out of all this though. She was walking beside him as if she hadn't noticed anything wrong, when Hilarion was starting to feel that everything was wrong.
Keep calm and fly on. He could almost hear his manager's voice in his head. Bergie Marwick was full of little peppy sayings like that whenever one of his players needed a boost. Hilarion knew Bergie actually couldn't care less except for how it affected his bottom line, but sometimes it was nice to pretend.
Keep calm. That was easy for Bergie to say, he never did anything but sit in his office. They stopped beside the lake, and Roxanne let go of his hand to bend down and examine one of the little turtles that spent all their time at lakeside.
“Aren't they sweet,” she said, and an image of Lucy smiling at the turtles flashed in his mind.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Roxanne stood, dismissing the turtles, and turned back to Hilarion. He was watching her almost warily, and she wondered what was wrong with him. He was acting really weird, and she had no idea why. She'd surprised him at practice, yeah, but he couldn't be annoyed about that, could he?
Men were bizarre.
Normally by this point, he should be cracking jokes and making clever remarks. But he was strangely silent. The day felt wrong suddenly, as if she was somewhere she wasn't supposed to be. She didn't like the feeling.
“How was practice?” she asked, not entirely sure what to do.
“Fine,” Hilarion mumbled.
Something was going on, and she didn't know what. Normally at times like that, Roxanne would dig in and get to the bottom of things. She wasn't a reporter for nothing, after all. But nothing about today felt normal, and for once she held back.
“D'you want to go grab something to eat?”
For a moment, she almost thought he looked mildly panicked, but he said, “Um. I can't, we've still got more to do. With the team.”
“Oh. Well then, I suppose I should go, if you're busy.”
He didn't argue. In fact, he looked relieved. Roxanne really did not understand what was going on. She decided to take the bull by the horns, though. She leaned up on tiptoe, put a hand on his shoulder, and pressed her lips against his, gently at first and then more firmly. And she waited for the fireworks.
She kissed him with more art than passion, trying to force the fireworks to appear, but still they stayed away. She didn't understand. If he was the one, if they were in love, why didn't she feel anything when he kissed her?
It was pleasant enough, sure, but there was no fire. It was no different than kissing any other man. A bit of panic fluttered in her belly.
This wasn't right.
Hilarion pulled away, and she saw a flash of confusion in his eyes for a moment, but then he glanced over at the lake, and she started second-guessing herself. What if he'd felt something and she hadn't? What if neither of them felt anything? Should she pretend, manufacture a passion that wasn't there? Or tell him the truth right now? She hadn't expected this.
What the hell, honestly?
“Hilarion!” Gavril Groundsell, the taller of the team's Beaters (Roxanne could identify every player in the league on sight), was jogging toward them. “Wilford wants us in the locker rooms.”
The relief showed on Hilarion's face again, and he turned to his teammate. “I'm coming.”
“I'll just go,” Roxanne volunteered, gesturing vaguely over her shoulder.
“See you later, Roxanne,” he told her, and then they both moved at the same time, so that he left a rather awkward kiss on her cheek.
Roxanne watched the two Quidditch players walk off back to the blue-painted stands around the pitch, and crossed her arms over her chest.
Honestly, the entire day made no sense. Men who acted weird and then ran off, kisses that turned out dull and indifferent... This was not the day she'd thought to have.
She went to Disapparate, heading for her cousin and best friend's flat as she always did when she wanted to talk, but something stopped her just as she started to turn over her shoulder, and she paused.
Something told her going to Molly's wasn't going to help – she couldn't talk to Molly about it. Molly, a professional Quidditch player herself who had met Hilarion any number of times, thought he was a twit and would tell Roxanne to chuck him. Molly wouldn't understand. Who the bloody hell was going to listen to her?
Inspiration struck immediately. Rose. This had all started with Rose, when she had suggested that Roxanne ought to try for more time with Hilarion than just an autograph in a book. Rose would listen. And sometimes Rose was struck with surprisingly brilliant ideas, considering she was the sort of person who wore pink unicorn t-shirts regularly.
Roxanne turned over her shoulder and Disapparated for London.
Rose's boyfriend, Scorpius Malfoy, opened the door a few minutes after Roxanne knocked. He looked a bit surprised to see her, and a little guilty. She wondered if she'd caught him and Rose at what her mother might have called an 'inopportune time'. Rose was nowhere to be seen though.
Scorpius waved her in. “I just woke Rose, so she'll probably need a minute before she makes it out here. Tea?”
Rose's sleeping habits were notorious in the family. It was well known that she didn't wake up until noon. Roxanne realized she'd come over quite early, not even ten in the morning. “Tea would be great.”
He made tea quickly, and Roxanne watched him bustling around the kitchen. He was very efficient with the tea, probably because he did all the cookery and other household duties, since Rose was completely inept at that sort of thing. The tea, when he brought it to her, was in a pink floral printed teacup, and as he returned to the kitchen to put away the tea leaves, she noted his hair was tied back in a ponytail with a pink elastic band.
Scorpius was an odd guy. But then, only an odd guy would put up with Rose, who had bypassed odd in favor of completely mental.
Rose stumbled out from their bedroom then, her red curls wild, wearing – as expected – a pink unicorn t-shirt with her pajama pants, and sat down heavily in the chair opposite Roxanne, covering a yawn with one hand.
“I think I've made a huge mistake,” Roxanne told her cousin, setting down her teacup.
Rose blinked at her, her eyes still heavy with sleep. “What?”
“I...” Roxanne almost couldn't bring herself to say it after all this time thinking they were perfect for each other, but she had to tell someone, and Rose seemed to have landed in the position of someone today. “I don't think Hilarion is The One after all. He doesn't seem to be as smart as he pretends to be.”
“Most men aren't,” Rose said.
That was easy for her to say, she'd had the same boyfriend for over ten years. She even lived with him. They were quite settled, or at least as settled as Rose was ever likely to get.
Scorpius rolled his grey eyes at Rose, and then said to Roxanne, “Maybe he just doesn't think the way women do. Most men don't,” he added, obviously directing this last bit at his girlfriend.
Roxanne tried to explain it, to herself as much as to her cousin. “He's so wonderful sometimes, we just seem to click, and then other times it's like he's a completely different person. It doesn't make any sense. Last weekend he took me to this lovely restaurant in Appleby, and we had such a fantastic time, we talked for hours, but then when we left the restaurant, it was like the Hilarion I'd just eaten dinner with was gone.”
“Maybe there was something on his mind, that's all,” Scorpius suggested.
She turned to face him, ignoring Rose, who was yawning hugely and not making any contributions to the conversation. “Maybe he wasn't having a good time at dinner after all.”
“Maybe it had nothing do with you at all,” said Scorpius in a surprisingly gentle voice. “He might have just been a bit stressed.”
“Maybe,” Roxanne said. She chewed on her thumbnail, thinking of his behavior when she'd turned up to the team training session. “He was just so different on the way home, it was strange. I stopped by the Arrows' pitch this morning, and he was acting very odd. Nervous, too, when he saw me.”
“You ought to talk to him about it,” Scorpius told her. “Ask him what's going on. Men don't act like that unless something is up. We're not that complicated, really.”
This cheered Roxanne up considerably. It likely had nothing to do with her, as Scorpius had said. Maybe something was wrong at work – the Arrows had done poorly last season, maybe he was worrying about that. But he was fine at dinner, said a voice in the back of her head. He didn't act weird until afterwards. She brushed it off. “I'll talk to him. Thanks.”
Scorpius nodded as she stood up, and Rose got up as well, still looking half-asleep. “Sorry about Hilarion,” Rose managed, and Roxanne tried not to laugh at her cousin.
“Thanks, Rose. This really helped me, I think. Cleared my head a bit. Sorry to bother you so early, I know you never get up before noon.”
“That's all right,” Rose told her with a grin. “I'm going back to bed as soon as you leave.”
“Right.” Roxanne turned to give Scorpius a wink as she left. He smiled at her.
Roxanne banged on Hilarion's door. She'd sat at a pub in Appleby most of the afternoon, waiting for the Arrows to finish their training, and now she was as ready as she was ever going to get for a confrontation. Whatever he was up to, she was going to bloody well find out what it was. She wanted Hilarion back, the Hilarion she'd gotten to know on their dates, the one who laughed and understood her and said wonderful, clever things.
The team was done training for the day, and Roxanne had two shots of whiskey to fuel her on her way to Hilarion's flat, which fortunately was not far from the Arrows training pitch. Two shots of whiskey was enough to give her some liquid courage, but also enough to make her think twice about Apparating further than a mile or two.
He opened the door, and she could see on his face that he wasn't pleased to see her. He looked nervous again, like he had that morning by the lake. She barged past him into the flat without waiting for an invitation.
“We need to talk,” she told him.
“Um. Okay.” He followed her as she made her way into the living room and stopped in the center of the room. Neither of them sat down.
Roxanne frowned as she wondered what to open with. My cousin's boyfriend said men don't act weird like you've been doing unless something is up. Somehow that didn't have the ring of authority. She settled for, “What is going on? Why were you acting so different today?”
His body tensed, and the instant alertness told Roxanne she'd been right. Something was up. “What d'you mean?”
She threw caution to the wind and just had out with it. “It's like you're two different people. One day we're talking for hours, and the next you can hardly get a word out to me. If you're messing me about, fair warning, my dad could probably make even someone as famous as you disappear forever.”
Looking alarmed, Hilarion blurted out, “I wasn't messing you about.”
“Then what are you doing? Because I don't understand you. You act so... so weird sometimes. I know something is up, so just tell me.”
He seemed to wilt immediately under her glare. “I never should've done this. I just... I wanted you to like me, and I knew you wouldn't if – but I didn't mean it to be a lie, it just came out that way, and I knew it was a mistake and I-”
Roxanne scowled. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“I, um, I had a friend who... helped me. To talk to you. I'm not good at talking to women,” he went on in a rush. “I say stupid things, and you're so smart, and I didn't know what you were talking about most of the time so-”
She put her hands to her temples. “A friend who helped you? Helped you what?”
Hilarion looked so worried now, he was nearly incoherent. “Told me what to say. To you. He listened in and I said what he told me to say, so that you'd, um, so you'd like me...”
“That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard,” she snapped. “You had a friend tell you what to say? None of that was really you?”
“Just the last four dates,” he explained. He hadn't even blinked at being called stupid, though he still looked worried. “Before that, it was just me.”
Now that she thought about it, he had seemed to grow wittier the longer they dated. But she'd thought he was just shy and was opening up to her. Those first dates, though, that had been the real man, Hilarion Winston-Fisher. Not the man she'd thought she'd gotten to know.
“Why would you do that?”
He shrugged helplessly. “I wanted you to like me, and to think I was smart like you are.”
She couldn't think of a response to that statement that wouldn't sound cruel, and only shook her head. It had worked – she had thought he was smart, and had liked him for it in ways she had never liked him before when she'd been stupidly infatuated with his good looks and his celebrity. But it seemed that it hadn't really been him. It had been someone else, and not knowing the identity of that faceless stranger she'd really been dating was intolerable.
Someone had talked to her for hours, someone wonderful, and she damned well wanted to know who that person was.
“Who was it?” she demanded. “Who helped you?”
He shook his head. “I promised I wouldn't tell. Just a friend.”
Roxanne stared at him, her arms crossed tightly in front of her, and she wanted very badly to kick him. It seemed, however, that she didn't know this man at all, and kicking him seemed wrong somehow now that he was someone else entirely from the Hilarion she'd thought she knew. “You tell me who it was right now, Hilarion.”
“I can't. I promised.”
She had to stop herself grinding her teeth, and turned away from him to stare around his flat, trying to control the urge to kick him or shout at him. There was evidence of Quidditch all around the room, trophies and plaques on the wall, and photos of his team. And beside one of the photos of the Appleby Arrows was another photo, older than the rest, framed and propped against a shelf among photos of Hilarion's parents: Hilarion and Perry, looking like they were fresh out of Hogwarts.
As soon as she saw the smiling faces in the photo, it hit her. The realization dawned in an instant, and all the frustration and anger drained out of her. She knew exactly who his anonymous friend was, and everything clicked into place. Who else would he possibly have turned to but his best friend?
“Weasleys are full of surprises,” she whispered, remembering Hilarion's voice parroting that phrase, something she'd said to Perry.
“What?” said Hilarion, obviously confused.
But she couldn't speak. Her mind was spinning. All those conversations over lovely dinners... It had been him all along, not Hilarion. It had been Hilarion's face, but it had been Perry she'd been talking to, Perry she'd been falling in love with.
She should have known. The way Hilarion had phrased things, he spoke the same way Perry did. She hadn't really thought of it aside from a passing notice that the two men were alike. But they weren't, really. It had all been Perry.
Perry's words, making her laugh and think and feel. She remembered coffee with him, dancing with him, the way she felt when she was with him. Oh, she was a complete idiot for not realizing it...
“Are you angry?” Hilarion's voice was still worried, and she turned around to see him frowning in concern, his expression both nervous and ashamed.
But her heart was too full of the dawning realization that she had fallen in love with Perry to have any room left for anger with anyone. “No,” she said blankly, feeling a bit dazed. “I don't think we should see each other any more, Hilarion.”
He nodded slowly, looking rather relieved to be chucked, probably because she wasn't shouting at him. “I figured you'd say that. I'm really sorry, Roxanne, I just-”
“Hilarion,” she interrupted sharply. She didn't want to waste time listening to him apologize. She didn't want to waste any more time on him at all. She wanted – no, she needed to see Perry.
His eyes widened at her tone. “Um. Yes?”
Perry's flat was larger than she'd expected, and in a better neighborhood. His lack of obscurity must have paid off, she thought a little wildly as she knocked on the door, her heart beating erratically.
It seemed to take forever before the door swung open, and there he was, dressed in another brightly colored tie and shirt, and a pair of striped trousers. He managed to make clashing look interesting. He must not have shaved since she'd last seen him, because his cheeks were covered in a rough, reddish stubble again. She decided she liked that look on him. His face seemed different to her now, though his features hadn't changed. It was as if she'd only seen him before without glasses and was now seeing him properly for the first time.
And he looked very handsome, in an interesting way that Hilarion's perfection didn't compare to suddenly.
He looked surprised but pleased to see her, smiling widely. “Roxanne?”
For once in her life, her voice failed her, and she just stood there for a moment staring at him, unable to speak or move.
His smile faded a bit, and something came into his eyes, a flash of longing that Roxanne recognized at once. It cemented everything she'd been feeling since Hilarion had confessed, and broke her out of her frozen speechlessness.
She took a step forward and put her hands up to his scruffy cheeks and kissed him.
He reacted immediately, his arms wrapping around her to pull her closer, and she swayed against him, relieved and elated that she'd found him. Here, finally, was a kiss with fire. He kissed her as if he'd been starving for her touch, and she couldn't breathe, couldn't think, could only feel a glorious euphoria at the feel of his lips on hers and his arms crushing her against him.
This was the way she'd always wanted to be kissed, and never had been.
When they finally broke apart, both of them panting a bit, Perry breathed out, “Hell's bells. Roxanne...” His hands slid to her waist, and he leaned down to rest his forehead against hers. “Roxanne, what are you doing?”
“I know what you did for Hilarion,” she told him without preamble.
His eyes grew wary, but he didn't pull away from her. “You know?”
She nodded and kissed him again. His response was less desperate this time, but no less passionate.
“Wait,” he said after a few moments. “Hilarion, you know – I was only trying to help out a friend.”
“I know,” she told him. She thought it was wonderful that he would do so much for his friend, but she couldn't find the words to tell him. Not yet. Not when he was holding her tightly.
“I didn't want to do it, I didn't like lying to you, but he's my best friend. I had to help him.”
“I know,” she said again.
Perry regarded her in silence, then said, “You don't seem mad about this.”
She was sure from the way he had just kissed her that he'd wanted her all along and set aside his own feelings for his friend's happiness. How could she be mad at a man who did something so selfless?
“I probably should be,” she said thoughtfully. “I might be later. But not with you.”
“I've loved you all along, Roxanne,” Perry said then, his face serious. His hands tightened on her waist. “I fell in love with you as soon as I met you.”
Roxanne's heart skipped a beat. “You should have told me.”
“You wouldn't have listened.” His lips curved into a wry half-smile. “You wanted Hilarion.”
“I was an idiot. I want you.” And she put a hand to the back of his neck to pull him down for another kiss.
He hauled her up against him, backing up a few steps into his flat, and kicked the door shut behind them.
A/N: It took me so long to get the last chapter posted, I figured I'd double up. :) Also, this chapter was totally emotionally satisfying to write so I wanted to share it. lol. And again, a scene we saw before from Rose's perspective in "A Weirder Shade of Midnight" - so if you've read that, you know Scorpius looks vaguely guilty because he just stashed Lenny (drug-addled accused murderer whom Rose is harboring) in the closet.
Chapter 8: Love Lies in Ambush
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"You're a genuinely good man. There aren't many of you left."
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 2
Lucy was happily ensconced on one of the chairs outside her front door, in the cozy courtyard of her building, reading a book. A pot of tea sat on the small table beside her, the teacup in its saucer stirring itself lazily. She was so engrossed in her book she'd nearly forgotten about the Darjeeling waiting for her.
The gate to the courtyard, perpetually in need of oiling, swung open with a mild screech, and she looked up to see Hilarion coming toward her, his blonde hair glinting in the sunlight.
“Hi,” she said, suddenly feeling a bit breathless.
“Hi Lucy.” He sat down in the chair next to hers and propped his feet up, leaning back with a sigh.
Lucy set her book down next to the teapot and turned to face him, sitting sideways in her chair. “Is everything all right?”
“Roxanne chucked me,” Hilarion said, and Lucy caught her breath.
He wasn't seeing Roxanne any longer. He was free.
“She what?” Lucy asked cautiously, examining his face more closely. He didn't look at all upset. In fact, he looked... relieved. A warm feeling began to spread through her, and she wanted to dance around in glee.
“She said we shouldn't see each other any more,” he explained. “It was my own fault, I'm such an idiot-”
“Don't say that,” she interrupted him.
“You won't say that for long.” Hilarion sat up and turned in his chair to face her, propping his elbows on his knees as he leaned toward her. “You don't know what I did.”
She couldn't imagine him doing anything truly bad. He was just such a nice guy, he couldn't possibly have done something horrible to Roxanne. More likely he'd made a remark Roxanne didn't like. Roxanne could be touchy sometimes.
“Not that I'm heartbroken over it, actually,” Hilarion went on. “I mean, I thought I would be, at first, but really I just feel like a load of stress is off my shoulders. I don't think I ever really liked her, I just thought I did. Cause she's so pretty. But there was no... no spark between us.”
Lucy's heart was in her throat. He was saying all the things she'd imagined him saying, wanted to hear him say to her, and suddenly the fantasies she'd had of Hilarion, of him telling her he'd made a mistake dating her cousin when he really loved her, blended with the real Hilarion sitting in front of her, so that she had to blink hard and take a deep breath to steady herself.
“What was it that you did?” she asked, trying to keep her tone neutral.
“I got Perry to help me talk to her.”
Lucy frowned. “That doesn't sound bad to me-”
Hilarion's cheeks turned red. “No, it was. I couldn't talk to Roxanne, when we were out together alone, she was just... She was too smart, and she knew things I didn't know, and she said things I didn't understand, but I wanted her to like me, so I got Perry to listen in when I took Roxanne out, and he told me what to say to her, and I just had to repeat whatever he said.”
Lucy's mouth had fallen open as she listened, and the frown that creased her forehead deepened. “So you had a friend help you lie to Roxanne,” she said slowly, feeling rather stunned. The budding happiness when he'd started speaking had wilted, and she couldn't decide if she was feeling too much, or nothing at all. Numb, she decided. She was numb.
“It wasn't lying,” he protested.
“You pretended to be someone else,” Lucy pointed out. “To get her to like you. You lied so she would like you.”
“I didn't mean to,” said Hilarion lamely. “It was awful, I didn't like doing it, and I couldn't talk to her at all unless Perry was helping me so that was sort of a pain in the arse at the end of a date-”
“You pretended to be someone else,” she said again, almost as if she hadn't heard him.
Frustration filled Hilarion. He didn't know how to explain it properly to Lucy, but the way she was looking at him now was just awful. Roxanne had given him a similar look, as if he had taken Polyjuice Potion and transformed in front of her to someone completely different. It had been uncomfortable to see that look on Roxanne's face, but on Lucy, it was a hundred times worse.
It cut him to the bone.
“I was going to stop,” he said in a rush. “I didn't want to do it any more. I was going to break things off with her.”
“You never should have done it,” Lucy said quietly.
“I know that now, but I thought I had to.”
“No one has to do something like that,” she retorted. “Why on earth would you have to do something like that?”
She was starting to lean back away from him, and he caught her hands to keep her sitting there in front of him. She snatched them away as if his hands had burned her.
“Why did you do it?” she asked plaintively.
He wanted to roar with anger that he couldn't make her see his reasoning. “Because I needed help. I have a hard time talking to women.”
“You talk to me just fine,” Lucy said, the betrayal still on her face.. “Are you... Have you been pretending to be someone else with me?”
“No, of course not. You're different from other women,” Hilarion told her. “That's why we're friends.”
She closed her eyes briefly, as if he'd hurt her more deeply than she could face, and then got to her feet, stepping over the chair. He realized she was going to leave, and jumped to his feet, knocking over the chair he'd been sitting on. In the moment it took him to right it again, Lucy reached the door and opened it. He caught up to her in time to throw a hand out, blocking her from going inside with his arm across the doorway.
“Please just listen,” he begged her. “I don't want you to be angry with me.”
“I'm not angry,” she said in a high-pitched voice. “Why would I be angry?”
He didn't believe her for a second. It was there in her eyes, anger and hurt and pain, and it made him feel a little wild to know it was his own doing. “Lucy, please-”
She folded her arms across her chest. “You lied to her to get her to like you, and then you were going to break things off, you said. Were you going to tell her the truth? Or just chuck her because it had gotten too hard for you to carry on your lies?”
“No, I wasn't chucking her because it was too hard, I was going to chuck her because I realized it was never going to work with her.”
Lucy gave an angry huff. “Because you couldn't get Perry to help you lie forever?”
“Then why would you do something like that and then still chuck her afterwards?”
“I told you why! Because I can't talk to women!”
“But you talk to me! You've talked to me for hours before!”
The argument circling around and around like this made him want to punch something. “But Roxanne isn't like you! I couldn't very well chuck her just because... because she wasn't you,” he said in frustration.
“Why not?” cried Lucy. “For me, just once, someone could do that for me-”
“You don't understand.” Hilarion raked a hand through his hair, leaving the blonde waves in disarray. “It wasn't like that, it was-”
Lucy cut him off with a gesture. “You're right, I don't understand. I don't understand you at all, and I thought I did. I thought I knew you.” Her voice caught but she steadied herself before she went on, “I never would have thought you'd do something like this. I never thought you were a liar.”
“Lucy-” He stretched out a hand to her, but she drew back.
“Don't, just don't.”
“What did you mean when you said someone could do that for you?” he asked, and Lucy gave him a look he'd never seen before from any woman. It was aching and sad and covered over something he didn't recognize.
“Just once,” she said quietly, “I'd like someone to want me that badly.”
“Goodbye, Hilarion.” She stepped inside and closed the door in his face.
“Lucy?” He pounded on the ancient wooden door, tried the doorknob rather frantically, but she'd locked it. “Lucy! Lucy, I'm sorry!”
But she didn't answer. He turned around and leaned against the door, sliding down until he was sitting on the cobbled courtyard, knees drawn up in front of him. He'd made a mess of things somehow with a friend he valued just as much as Perry. She'd probably never speak to him again. He didn't entirely understand what had just happened.
He hadn't really thought of it as lying at the time, but she was right. He'd been lying to Roxanne, pretending to be someone else. Pretending to be Perry. That look Lucy had given him – she was never going to speak to him again, he thought despondently.
He remembered suddenly what he'd said. I couldn't chuck her because she isn't you... She must have thought he meant -
What a complete ass he was. Lucy was never going to forgive him. He wasn't sure he was ever going to forgive himself.
The door opposite Lucy's flat opened, and a little old woman came out, her white hair curled neatly around her head, a teal handbag hanging from the crook of her arm. She shuffled over to him and gave him a sad shake of her head.
“You should be ashamed of yourself, young man.”
Hilarion stared up at her wide-eyed. “I-”
“Go on home now.” She opened her handbag and for half a moment, he expected her to pull a wand on him, but she merely took out a pair of yellow gloves and tugged them on. “You've said enough for tonight, I should think.”
“Yes, ma'am.” He got to his feet, gave Lucy's door one more worried glance, then followed her neighbor out of the courtyard.
When he got home, he sat on his sofa drinking butterbeers for an hour before the realization finally dawned that what Lucy probably thought he'd meant was exactly what he had meant. And he was an even bigger ass than he'd thought possible.
He had wanted to chuck Roxanne because she wasn't Lucy. Because he would rather have Lucy than Roxanne.
He hadn't realized that was in the back of his mind at the time. He'd only been thinking of how intimidating being around Roxanne was, and any time he had free time, rather than seeking her out and getting to know her better, his first thoughts had always been of Lucy. Every time he'd had a morning or an afternoon free from work, he'd gone to spend time with Lucy.
All that time and energy wasted on Roxanne, on an empty fantasy, lying to himself and to her, when the woman he'd been able to really be himself with – fearless honesty for the first time he could remember in front of any woman – had been waiting for him and he'd thought her only a friend.
A friend he'd pictured naked, his brain nudged him with the reminder. A friend he'd imagined kissing, late at night when he was alone.
Hilarion groaned. He really was completely thick, just like everyone thought. Why hadn't he seen Lucy? She was beautiful, and smart, but she made him feel comfortable. Relaxed. He didn't feel stupid and awkward with Lucy. She fit so naturally with him that he hadn't even realized what he had with her. There weren't a lot of people he really felt like he could be himself around, and even fewer women. Possibly only one woman.
He remembered the look on her face. Just once, I'd like someone to want me that badly. She must have had some feelings for him, but that was probably over now, after what he'd done. And the worst part was, he really did want her that badly. The thought of never talking to Lucy again, never seeing her smile at him again, was enough to make him want to drown his feelings in firewhiskey, and he didn't even like firewhiskey.
“You idiot,” he muttered, and drained his butterbeer.
“Do me a favor,” Perry began as he strolled down Diagon Alley with Roxanne. He had an arm around her waist; he still sort of felt like he didn't want to stop touching her in case this was all a dream and lack of contact made him wake up. They were meeting his friends for coffee – leaving his flat for the first time in two days. “Don't say anything to this lot about the whole Hilarion thing.”
“They're bound to ask when they realize we're together,” Roxanne pointed out.
“I just mean, don't tell them about what he did. He gets enough crap from them already, and he's kind of a sensitive guy really. He doesn't like being teased.”
Roxanne looked at him askance. “I don't know how you can defend him.”
“He's my best friend,” he reminded her. “And he didn't mean any harm.”
“I know.” She sighed. “It's more pathetic than anything, really. I won't say anything. If they ask, I'll just say we didn't have anything in common so we split up.”
Perry pulled open the door to their favorite little cafe and dropped a kiss on top of her head as she passed him. “Thanks, Roxy.”
Cornish Dan, Lina, and Cyril were already in the corner table near the window, the same spot they always took over in this cafe. Lina's eyes watched them approach with great interest, and Perry was sure she'd seen that little kiss in the doorway.
Since the cat was going to be out of the bag anyway, Perry went ahead and rested his hand on Roxanne's thigh as soon as they sat down. She smiled at him, leaning closer, and he ordered tea for both of them.
Lina was watching them with a smile, and Cyril seemed oblivious, but Cornish Dan waved a fork at them and said blithely, “So when did this happen? I thought she was dating your jock friend.”
“We split up,” Roxanne told him.
“And now you're with Perry.” Cornish Dan often felt the need to state the obvious, Perry reflected.
“Yep,” said Perry. Lina gave him a look that he knew meant she'd be asking for the full story eventually. He'd have to do some wriggling to avoid telling her; Lina, for all her apparent sweetness, could interrogate someone better than a KGB torturer.
“Well okay then,” said Cornish Dan, and the conversation moved on.
Roxanne sat back, her fingers tangling with Perry's in her lap, and listened to him joke around with his friends for a while. He was so relaxed, and she realized that even though the last two days had seen all of her plans for the future smashed to pieces with the loss of her famous-Quidditch-wife dreams, she was relaxed as well. She didn't know where she was going, but strangely, it didn't worry her. She was enjoying spending time with Perry, who had a remarkably laissez-faire attitude about the future himself, and that was enough for now.
There was no back-up plan. Hopefully things would work out at the Daily Prophet one day for her to take over Aunt Ginny's job, but if it didn't, she'd find something else to do. Perry had already suggested she ought to write a book, and the idea was growing on her.
She could be an author, with her songwriter boyfriend, sitting in cafes with his musician friends. That was an appealing picture. Although at this point, any picture with Perry in it was appealing. Even if she stayed at the Prophet writing fluff pieces and occasionally publishing papers in wizarding journals, that was enough, with him around.
Her fingers tightened on his, and he returned the squeeze.
“We went to visit Angus yesterday,” Cyril said, then added in an aside to Roxanne, “He's our drummer.”
“I remember,” she told him. “Broke his arm broom-racing?”
“That's the one,” Cyril nodded. “He hasn't been able to do much while he's been recovering-”
“Including cleaning,” said Lina. “His flat looked as if a troll had got loose in there. Smelled like it, too.”
Perry chuckled. “Angus is never very clean. Are you sure it wasn't just a Tuesday mess?”
Lina pulled a face at him. “It was worse than usual. By far. I'm not sure floor was visible.”
“He's just milking his injury,” Cyril declared. “The Healer told him he can start drumming again. His arm is fine now, all he had to do was rest it.”
“Cleaning isn't restful, I reckon,” Perry said dryly.
“Well, it's much better now,” Lina commented, giving Cornish Dan a sly look. “Dan cleaned up the living room while we were there.”
“Of course you did.” Perry grinned at his friend. “Bet Angus loved that.”
Cornish Dan rolled his eyes. “Not really, but I couldn't help myself. You couldn't see the floor, mate.”
Roxanne propped her chin on the heel of her hand and smiled sweetly at him. “I have got to introduce you to my cousin Molly.”
Lina raised an eyebrow at this apparent non-sequitur. “Your cousin?”
“Is she a writer too?” asked Cornish Dan.
“She plays Quidditch,” Perry told him. “Reserve Keeper for the Holyhead Harpies. And she's got a mohawk.”
Cornish Dan looked suitably impressed, either by Molly's career or by her mohawk. “Sweet.”
Roxanne laughed. “She also has an obsessively clean flat. You'll love her.”
“Pairing up your friends with Perry's already?” Cyril asked. “Next she'll be rearranging your entire life. My girlfriend did the same thing to me, and look where it led.”
“It led to me singing in your band, you git,” Lina said dryly.
Perry laughed, but he didn't care if Cyril needled him all day about Roxanne. She was smiling at him prettily, her eyes sparking with mischief, and he would have agreed to just about anything she wanted when she looked at him like that.
Besides, Lina would punish Cyril later for cracking jokes about her.
“Well, I can't sing a note,” Roxanne told them both.
“Lucky for you, or you'd be joining the band as well,” Lina said, and they both laughed. Perry, watching them with a smile, had an intense sense of satisfaction that Roxanne fit in so well with his friends. She fit him so perfectly, settling right into his life as if she'd belonged there all along.
She had belonged there all along, he thought, from the moment he saw her. Shame his friends were watching, or he would have kissed her right there.
“Speaking of our band, where's that song you promised us?” Cyril demanded, turning back to Perry.
“Not finished,” he said.
“Why the hell not? You've been working on it for a fortnight.”
Perry held up his hand to tick off his reasoning on his fingers. “One, because I've been in bed with Roxanne for two days straight-”
“Perry!” she exclaimed, giving him a kick under the table.
He grinned. “And two, because the song changed on me halfway through, and I had to rewrite it.”
“Changed?” Lina echoed, quirking an eyebrow at him.
“Yeah. And now you can't have it.”
Cyril sputtered at this remark. “What? Why the hell not?”
“Now it's Roxanne's song,” Perry told him. “So you'll have to ask her if you can have it.”
Roxanne's jaw dropped. “You wrote a song for me?”
“Not on purpose,” he said, “but yeah. It just sort of happened, and then I couldn't not write it. It's almost finished.”
“You wrote a song for me,” she said in wonder, and then put her hands on his cheeks to kiss him. She seemed to like doing that. She'd commented favorably on his scruffy beard the other day, so apparently he wasn't going to do a lot of shaving any more. Not that he ever had, much.
“Aww,” said Cyril. “So Roxanne, if the song's good, can we add it to our repertoire? We need new music.”
She kissed Perry again, then turned to him. “Yes, you can play it if you want to.”
“Good. Hey Perry, next time you say you'll write us a song, write us a song instead of writing one for your girlfriend,” Cyril told him.
They spent an hour in the cafe, drinking coffee and cracking jokes. Roxanne and Lina disappeared into the bathroom before everyone departed (Cyril rolled his eyes at this), and returned ten minutes later giggling. Lina smiled and winked at Perry as she and Cyril left, and he wondered what Roxanne had been telling her.
“You better not be telling embarrassing stories,” he warned her as they left the cafe. “It's hard enough for me to maintain my coolness when I've given up most of my obscurity.”
“Yes, dear.” Roxanne gave him a wink.
He groaned. “Don't yes, dear me. You don't get to do that yet.”
“Fine.” The smile she gave him was distinctly mischievous. “Yes, Peregrine.”
Perry clapped a hand over her mouth. “Roxanne! Someone could hear you!”
She was laughing. He could feel her breath against his hands, and her eyes danced, so he moved his hand and kissed her instead. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him back, still chuckling a bit.
“I love you, Peregrine Chilcott,” she said after they broke apart, her eyes still dancing with laughter.
“Stop calling me that or I'll chuck you,” he told her.
She just laughed at him and slipped her hand into his as they set off down the street.
“You're a cruel woman,” he said, smiling at her.
It was hard to concentrate on work with a broken heart. Lucy had thought her concentration was bad when she'd merely been suffering from unrequited love, but this was ten times worse.
Every time she closed her eyes, she remembered standing there crying silently while he pounded on her door and called her name, and her heart broke all over again.
He hadn't even understood what he was doing, really, hadn't known that his words were tearing her apart inside. That's why we're friends. It had never even occurred to him that Lucy was someone he could be interested in as well. She was only a friend.
It was so much worse hearing it from him, worse than when she'd only thought it in her more despairing moments.
What he'd done, the lies and the deceit... It was more than she thought she could forgive. How could she ever trust him again? And even after Roxanne was out of the picture, he still hadn't really noticed Lucy. It just was so bloody unfair, she thought miserably, fighting the urge to throw the book in her hand across the room.
“You're very gloomy today,” observed Colwyn. They were in the back room of Flourish and Blotts, sorting out a new shipment of books that had come in, and Lucy had been so absorbed by her thoughts that she'd almost forgotten her coworker was even there.
“Sorry,” she said, trying to smile at him.
Colwyn wasn't fooled. “Did you and Hilarion Winston-Fisher break up?”
Lucy's hand stilled for a moment over the stack of books. The stab of fresh pain at the idea that she and Hilarion had been dating made her want to burst into tears. “We were never together. But I don't think we're friends any more.”
“You weren't?” Colwyn looked confused now, and seemed to forget about the books altogether, turning to face Lucy. “But he came looking for you, got your home address. He didn't look like he just wanted to hang out with you. I could tell.”
“Well, I reckon you were wrong, because that was what he wanted,” Lucy said bitterly.
Colwyn frowned. “Jerk. I hope you set him right.”
Lucy had to try hard not to cry. She hadn't set him right. It had been too humiliating to say out loud, to confess her feelings when he so clearly did not feel the same for her. “I really don't want to talk about it.”
“Well, you seem pretty down. Why don't you go on home? I'll finish this off,” Colwyn said, nodding at the boxes of new books. “Go home and get some rest.”
She'd never left work before the end of a shift before, but the idea of crawling into bed and crying for a while over a cup of tea sounded extremely comforting. “All right. Are you sure you don't mind?”
Colwyn waved her away. “Go. I'll tell Mr. Furmage you weren't feeling well.”
“Thanks, Colwyn,” she said, and though the smile she finally managed was small, it was sincere.
Lucy stopped to replenish her tea stores on the way home, but when she picked up the box of Darjeeling that she normally purchased, the memory that it was his favorite tea as well stopped her. She bought another box instead, grabbing one at random.
When she left the store, she stopped at the Disapparition spot on the corner of Diagon and Knockturn Alleys, and stopped at the point of Disapparating. She ought not go home, really. She ought to go to Roxanne's.
Lucy had avoided talking to Roxanne about Hilarion's deception, thinking that having to hear her cousin's distress over breaking up with the man she'd been calling her future husband for who knew how long would only intensify Lucy's own. After all, she wasn't sure that Roxanne wouldn't be upset with her for falling for Hilarion as well, even after Roxanne had broken things off with him. But maybe they were right when they said misery loves company, and she ought to go commiserate with her cousin. Instead of crawling into bed and crying, she could climb onto Roxanne's sofa and cry.
At the very least, she thought guiltily, she ought to check that Roxanne was all right.
She took a deep breath, gathering as much of her courage around herself as she could, and Disapparated for Roxanne's flat.
It took a while for Roxanne to answer the door, and when she finally did, Lucy was rather stunned to see her cousin smiling and a little red-faced. Was she blushing?
“Hi Luce!” Roxanne chirped. “Is everything okay?”
“Well, I don't know,” Lucy said without thinking. “Are you okay? I mean, Hilarion told me what he... what he did...”
“Oh that.” Roxanne dismissed it with a wave. “D'you want to come in for a bit?”
Lucy stepped past her, looking at her askance, and almost didn't see that Roxanne already had company. “How can you just say 'oh that' – oh,” she broke off when she caught sight of the man sitting on Roxanne's sofa. “Um, hi.”
“You remember Perry, right? He's Hilarion's best friend.” Roxanne plopped down next to him, and Lucy sat slowly on the chair next to her, surveying the pair of them thoroughly.
They were sitting so close together that their legs touched, in the middle of the large sofa, and now that Lucy looked around, there were glasses of wine on the coffee table. As she watched them, Perry put an arm around Roxanne's shoulders, and Roxanne smiled at him, a smile Lucy recognized.
Now that was interesting.
“Yeah, I remember.” Lucy tried to smile at Perry, but her manners seemed to be slipping with shock, and she couldn't quite manage it. She was sure that these two were together, though she could hardly believe it. Roxanne had chucked Hilarion and then gone off right away with his best friend?
Poor Hilarion. That couldn't be easy.
She squashed that thought ruthlessly. “Hi, Perry,” she said, and this time she managed to smile.
“Hi,” he said with an easy smile in return. “Nice to see you again.”
It came to her suddenly that Hilarion had told her Perry was the one to help him with his whole scheme. She wondered if he knew his friend was together with Roxanne now, as they clearly were together. “Does, um, does Hilarion know that you two are...”
“Oh yeah, he knows,” Roxanne said, rolling her eyes. “He basically set it up. As soon as he told me who'd been actually dating me, I went off to find Perry.”
“Oh.” Lucy wasn't sure what to say to that. Roxanne looked so happy. It didn't seem to bother her at all what Hilarion had done, but Lucy didn't want to say that in front of his best friend. And accomplice. She didn't know what to say next, though. This wasn't going at all the way she'd expected, and it left her rather flustered.
She'd thought to find Roxanne inconsolable on her couch, drinking too much wine, and meant to join her for a round of men-bashing, but instead Roxanne had already moved on. With Hilarion's best friend, who had helped him to deceive her.
It was too weird for words, even for a Weasley.
Perry was watching her closely, a small frown of concentration on his face. “You like him,” he said abruptly. “You fancy Hilarion.”
“What?” Roxanne turned to him, then back to Lucy. “Do you?”
Lucy had to fight the urge to burst into tears. “I didn't mean to, it just – I thought he was so sweet, and he only ever wanted to be my friend, I promise, it was only on my side, Roxanne, I never told him and nothing ever-”
“It's all right, Lucy,” Roxanne interrupted her, but then something seemed to occur to her. “Wait, when did you ever talk to him?”
“He left something at the shop at the book signing, and when he came back to get it, we wound up going out to lunch. And then we hung out a few more times. That's all.”
“How many is a few?” Perry inquired. “More than once a week?”
“Um, yes?” Lucy ducked her head guiltily. “Ever since the book signing.”
Roxanne still looked rather confused. “Well that was weeks ago. So he talked to you when you hung out with him?”
“Of course,” Lucy said. “We talked for hours,” she added, almost to herself.
“Interesting,” said Perry.
“Well good for you, cause he sure as hell couldn't talk to me for hours,” Roxanne put in. “He could hardly talk to me for two minutes. Do you really fancy him, Lucy?”
She didn't want to admit it out loud. “How can I when he turns out to be a liar?”
“He's not a liar,” Perry told her in a quiet voice. He didn't look angry. In fact, he still wore the same expression as before, when he'd asked how often she'd gone out with Hilarion. “He's a good guy. He just messed up, that's all.”
“And you helped him,” Lucy said mutinously. She didn't want to hear that Hilarion was a great guy right now. She'd spent weeks thinking that, only to have it dashed out from under her. Letting herself think that again was dangerous, at least to her heart.
“Like I told Roxanne, he's my best friend.” Perry gave a one-shouldered shrug. “That's what you do for your best friend. Even if it's to help him get the girl you really want.”
Roxanne bestowed a radiant smile on him, and Lucy tried not to scowl at the two of them. This was too much for her to watch, and she didn't want to try to talk to Roxanne about it in front of Perry, who was clearly only too quick to defend Hilarion. Lucy rose abruptly, and Roxanne blinked in surprise.
“Are you leaving already?”
“Yeah. I'll see you later, Roxy. It was nice to see you again, Perry,” she added, unable to leave without a polite farewell. Good manners were hard to overcome.
“Bye Lucy,” Roxanne said, watching her leave. A small frown of concern wrinkled her brow, but Lucy ignored her and fled.
After a bout of crying and a few hours completely alone in her flat – which felt emptier than it ever had – Lucy decided she didn't want to be alone any longer, and went to her parents' house for dinner. Her father wasn't home from work yet when she arrived, so she went out to the hill behind the house to wait alone, not wanting to chat with her mother. She stretched out in the grass to watch the overcast skies above her. The clouds hung heavy and dark with impending rain, as if they knew Lucy's mood and wanted to show their sympathy.
She couldn't remember feeling this miserable before. Falling in love with someone who loved her cousin, and turned out to be a liar... That had to be the worst luck ever. And now she couldn't even blame Roxanne for being so pretty and personable that Hilarion hadn't noticed Lucy, because even after Roxanne had chucked him, Hilarion had still thought of Lucy as only a friend.
There was no one left to blame for that but herself.
She heard footsteps approaching and dashed the tears away with the back of her hand. Molly sat down on the grass beside her and laid down at Lucy's side.
“Roxanne Flooed me. Are you all right?” she asked quietly.
“No,” Lucy said, her broken heart in her voice.
Molly's hand reached out to grasp hers, and Lucy laid there beside her sister and tried not to cry again as they watched the stormy skies.
Chapter 9: Identity
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"She said, 'If you were ugly, I would only love you more.'"
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 4
Roxanne was back to work on Monday, so Perry went to visit his best friend. Hilarion hadn't contacted him since Roxanne had chucked him, and though Roxanne had assured him that Hilarion was aware of the developments between them, Perry wasn't going to let it go at that. He needed to talk to his friend.
Hilarion answered the door after a few minutes' wait, looking dishevelled and in need of a shave. Perry frowned as he came inside.
“You look like hell, mate.”
“Thanks for that,” Hilarion said, heading into the kitchen.
Perry followed him, surveying the scene. The place had obviously not been cleaned in a few days: dishes were piled up in the sink unwashed, and empty butterbeer bottles crowded the kitchen counters. This evidence of heavy drinking – for Hilarion – made Perry feel guilty about leaving this conversation so long.
“You might want to get the cleaning service over early,” Perry said, poking at one of the bottles as they passed through the kitchen. “They're going to charge you extra for this mess.”
Hilarion ignored him. “Haven't seen you in a while. What have you been up to, Perry?” He collapsed on the couch, and Perry sat down beside him, tossing aside a dirty sock.
“You know Roxanne and I...” He wasn't sure how to put it.
“I figured,” Hilarion said, taking a long pull of his butterbeer.
Perry wasn't sure how to bring up Hilarion's apparent depression, or his uncharacteristic behavior. He'd never seen his friend sit around drinking this way, even if it was only butterbeers. At best, Hilarion probably only had a light buzz, but he'd never been a drinker.
Roxanne had said Hilarion had seemed relieved at being chucked. That didn't jibe with what was in front of him, going on a butterbeer bender and apparently not showering, so something else must have happened between Roxanne chucking Hilarion and Hilarion butterbeering himself into an unwashed stupor.
“So... Anything new going on?” Perry asked, trying to lead his oldest friend gently to a confession.
Hilarion shrugged and slumped down into the couch cushions. “Not really.”
An image of Lucy Weasley stopping by Roxanne's, looking distraught and asking about Hilarion, popped into Perry's head. We talked for hours, she'd said. That wasn't the Hilarion he knew, at least not around women.
Lucy had clearly liked Hilarion quite a lot. She wasn't as pretty as Roxanne, but she was certainly pretty enough. He wondered if Hilarion had noticed that as well. He decided to prod at this particular wound and see what happened.
“Talked to Lucy lately?”
Hilarion stopped drinking and set the bottle down on the floor beside the couch. “No.”
His suspicions aroused, Perry leaned back with studied nonchalance. “Why not? I thought you were friends.”
“We had a fight,” Hilarion admitted. “She... she shouted at me when I told her about, well, everything. What about Roxanne? Is she mad at me too?”
“No. She thinks you're kind of pathetic for doing it, but she's not angry.”
He groaned. “I am pathetic, I know. It was a stupid idea.”
“I don't want to say I told you so, but in fairness I should point out that I did tell you so.” Perry grinned at him. “It's over with now, mate. You can't change the past.”
Hilarion thought of lying by the lakeside holding Lucy's hand, laughing with her at the Leaky Cauldron, picnics in the park, tea at her flat, and wished he'd never seen Roxanne Weasley. “Wish I could.”
He wasn't ready to tell Perry about Lucy, though. Somehow it didn't seem right to talk about her yet. If he had to say out loud that he loved her and she wouldn't speak to him, it would make everything too real. And he didn't want to see the pity on Perry's face.
His life was a mess, Hilarion thought resentfully. Considering how famous he was for his looks, one wouldn't think he'd have such trouble with women. He had the sudden urge to kick something hard.
“So you and Roxanne, eh.” Hilarion shook his head at his friend, trying to joke around to get Perry off the subject of Lucy. “You stole my girl, you git.”
Perry was completely unconcerned by this accusation. “Not on purpose. I think she stole me, actually. You're not bothered by it, are you?”
“No. Knock yourself out. I'm glad you're happy,” Hilarion admitted gruffly, and Perry grinned hugely.
“You're well-suited for each other, now I've been thinking about it,” Hilarion said. “Better than she and I were. Obviously, since she only ever liked the things about me that were really you.”
“Just your looks,” Perry added teasingly.
Hilarion made a face. “Thanks for that. Anyway, I'm glad you're happy, and I'm glad she's happy. I never should've asked her out. Shouldn't have let Bergie talk me into that book signing in the first place.”
Perry's expression changed, grew sharper, and he said in a suspiciously mild voice, “Maybe not, but then you never would have met Lucy either, would you?”
Hilarion froze, his eyes sliding away immediately to stare at the floor. “What do you mean?”
“I knew it,” Perry crowed triumphantly. “You're not sitting on the couch moping because Roxanne chucked you. You're moping because Lucy is mad at you.”
“I'm not moping,” Hilarion muttered.
“When was the last time you left your flat?”
Hilarion frowned at him. “There hasn't been any training for the Arrows. I didn't need to go anywhere.”
“Have you left since you fought with Lucy?”
Hilarion's silence was answer enough, and Perry shook his head. He didn't remember ever seeing Hilarion behave this way before, and Hilarion had dated quite a lot of women – most of them only for one or two dates. Apparently with Lucy, things were different.
Even with Roxanne, he hadn't been bothered. The fight with Lucy was bothering Hilarion more than Perry had ever realized was possible in his mild-mannered friend.
“Have you even tried to talk to her?”
“She slammed the door in my face. She doesn't want to talk to me.” Hilarion picked up a cushion from the couch and tossed it across the room, almost absently, as if he were skipping stones. “I don't think she's ever going to talk to me again.”
“Laying around drinking butterbeer all day isn't going to change that,” Perry pointed out.
“I know. I do have to leave today though,” Hilarion admitted. “I'm supposed to be at the pitch this afternoon for a team meeting. I was kind of hoping to get out of it.”
“You should go. You should shower, too.” Perry picked up a cushion and tossed it at him. “It'll do you good to get out of the house.”
“I suppose.” Hilarion, having caught the cushion easily, sent it flying across the room after the first cushion.
“I'll leave you to it, then. I need to get some work done today, even if you don't.” Perry got to his feet, and Hilarion didn't move, still slumped into the couch. “You sure you're okay?”
“I'm fine. See you later, Perry.”
Perry left, though he was starting to think it was against his better judgement.
“Hi Lucy,” said Teddy Lupin, stepping aside to wave her into his house. He sounded as if he had a head cold. “Welcome to the insanity.”
“Hi Teddy.” Lucy smiled at him as she came inside. The hallway just inside the door was littered with toys, and she could see small muddy footprints tracking through the hall and up the stairs. Teddy Lupin was married to her cousin Victoire, and the pair of them had three small children.
Teddy sneezed into the crook of his arm, then said to Lucy, “Go on in. They're both in the living room.”
Lucy picked her way through the toys and went in to find Victoire sitting on the couch, supervising a pile of laundry that was folding itself with her sister beside her. Dominique had a mug in her hand, and for the first time Lucy could remember since Hogwarts, absolutely no makeup on and hair in a sloppy ponytail. Although she looked like hell compared to her normal appearance, Dominique was still pretty. Damn her for inheriting better genes than Lucy had gotten.
“Hi Lucy,” Victoire said cheerfully as Lucy came in to sit down. “How are you, dear? Want a cup of tea?”
“What kind are you drinking?” Lucy asked, peering at Dominique's mug.
“Pinot noir,” Dominique said.
Victoire rolled her eyes. “I'd be happy to make you actual tea, but if you want wine with Dommie, feel free.”
“No, I'm good.” Lucy wasn't much of a drinker. From the slightly bleary-eyed look on Dominique's face, she'd been having a go at being a big drinker since her divorce.
Not that Lucy could blame her.
“Who's here?” a small voice demanded behind her, and Lucy turned in her seat. Victoire's younger son stood in the entrance to the living room, dressed in a yellow t-shirt and shorts and a red cape, all of which set off his flaming red hair.
“Hi Johnny,” Lucy said gamely.
“Auntie Lucy! Did you bring me anything?”
Lucy had to fight the urge to flinch as Johnny ran up to her. He was well-known for headbutting for no reason. The boy was a menace. Victoire's oldest son wasn't like that, so Lucy had no idea where Johnny had come from. Probably whatever genes had produced Rose Weasley, and their uncle George, had managed Johnny Lupin as well. And Rose was, after all, Johnny's godmother. It wasn't at all surprising that a child with Rose Weasley for a godmother should turn out like Johnny Lupin. It was almost fate. Thank goodness Rose hadn't yet had any children of her own.
“It's not polite to ask for presents, Johnny,” Victoire told him calmly.
Johnny ignored this, and climbed onto the arm of Lucy's chair. “I have on my cape. I'm a flying manticore, see? Watch this.” And he stood on the arm of the chair and leapt off. Lucy's heart leapt with him, but he landed safely.
Victoire hadn't even blinked. Dominique eyed her nephew warily and drank her wine.
“Very nice, now go play in your room,” Victoire said, still folding laundry.
“No!” Johnny shouted, and Lucy leaned away from him. Among the many notorious things about Johnny Lupin was the sheer volume he was capable of, considering he was only four years old.
“One,” said Victoire.
Johnny climbed back onto the arm of the couch and jumped off, landing in a crouch.
“Two,” said Victoire.
Giving his mother a glare, Johnny swept his cape dramatically aside and dashed off.
Dominique mumbled something under her breath and drank her wine.
“I'm going to go put the laundry away,” Victoire said, getting to her feet. She waved her wand so that the laundry baskets floated up into the air in a neat line. “I'll be back in a bit.” And she headed toward the stairs, the baskets floating along behind her.
Lucy looked at her cousin for a moment, while Dominique drank her mug of wine. She'd thought talking to Dominique would be best, since Dommie was now experienced with men who turned out to be liars. It had seemed like a good idea, getting Dominique's perspective, but watching her down pinot noir like it was chamomile tea, it didn't seem so good after all.
“How are things going?” Lucy asked, trying to bring it up gently. “Have you heard from Andrew at all?”
“That son of a bitch,” said Dominique, pulling a bottle of wine from behind the couch cushion and refilling her mug. “He's been asking for me, can you believe that?”
“Asking for you?”
“Didn't you hear?” But Dominique went on before Lucy could tell her cousin she'd been preoccupied with Hilarion and hadn't heard a thing. “The boys found him, hexed him, and dropped him off at the MLEs. Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were questioning him, but of course the bastard asked for a lawyer, and while he was in MLE custody, someone wiped his memory. He doesn't remember a thing. Still thinks we're married and doesn't remember running off with another woman.”
Lucy's jaw dropped. “What? But how could his memory be erased when he was at the Ministry?”
“I don't know, and I don't care. I'm not going to see him. I hope he rots in Azkaban.” Dominique's face had a mulish expression that Lucy had seen before. Suddenly where Johnny Lupin had come from was readily apparent. He was just like his aunt.
Between Dominique, Rose, and Uncle George, Victoire's kids had combined some pretty terrifying genes.
“He never even came by once to see me or Thornton. Before he was arrested, I mean. His own son! Can you believe it? Bastard.” Dominique tucked the bottle of wine back behind the cushion and went back to drinking.
“Wow.” Lucy didn't really know what else to say, or how to segue into what she actually wanted to talk about without seeming insensitive. “But he doesn't remember not coming by to see you, right? If his memory was erased.”
“I remember,” Dominique said darkly. “I remember everything that lying son of a bitch did.”
Victoire bustled back into the room. “Dommie, Thornton is awake.”
Dominique set her mug of wine on the coffee table and went off to tend to her baby.
Lucy sat back into the couch cushions. That had not been a terribly helpful conversation. She still didn't know what to do about Hilarion, but she had to admit, what he'd done hadn't been anywhere near as bad as what Dominique's ex-husband had done. Comparing the two men, Hilarion looked pretty good, actually. Maybe she was overreacting. But she didn't think she could trust him, didn't want to think she had fallen in love with a man who would lie to get what he wanted.
Lucy rubbed her temples, closing her eyes. She didn't want to cry over this any more than she already had, and the tears were threatening to come again.
“Are you okay, Lucy?” asked Victoire softly, and Lucy looked over to see her sitting on the couch again, a look of concern on her round face.
“I'm fine,” Lucy said automatically.
“You don't look fine. Do you want to talk about it?”
“I was trying to talk about it with Dommie,” she hedged, and Victoire, who knew her own sister better than anyone, gave Lucy a look. Lucy smiled despite her bad mood. “Yeah, you're probably right.”
“Dominique isn't in the proper state of mind to give relationship advice,” Victoire said diplomatically.
“Well... You know that Quidditch player Roxanne is in love with?”
Victoire nodded. All the Weasley women knew about the Quidditch player Roxanne was in love with. “Hilarion Winston-Fisher.”
“Right. Well...” Lucy let her breath out on a sigh. She wasn't sure where to even begin. Everything with Hilarion seemed so complicated to explain. “It's a long story.”
Victoire smiled slightly. “There are two other adults in this house to keep my kids busy. I've got time.”
It took half an hour for Lucy to pour out the entire story to her cousin, probably in far too much detail, but eventually Victoire was up to speed on the entire situation. She sat back thoughtfully, tapping a fingertip against her lips before she spoke.
“So he and Roxanne aren't actually together now. And he told you that his feelings for Roxanne were only ever a stupid infatuation.”
“Well, yeah.” Lucy gave her a hopeless shrug. “But he lied. He pretended he was someone else.”
“Because he wanted to be the sort of person Roxanne wanted,” Victoire said gently. “Don't you think it's just a little bit romantic?”
“No,” said Lucy.
Victoire sighed. “Look, Lucy, it sounds like he didn't lie because he wanted to impress Roxanne – I mean, she was already impressed by him because he's gorgeous and a famous Quidditch player – but because he wanted to be good enough for her. Haven't you ever felt like you weren't good enough for someone, and wished you were a little better in some way?”
Lucy thought of all the times she'd wished to be thinner, prettier, smarter, wittier, more comfortable around large groups of people, more like her cousin Dominique or Roxanne, and - “No.”
Victoire gave her a look.
“All right, yes,” Lucy admitted.
“He told you the truth,” Victoire pointed out. “And he never lied to you about who he was. He lied to Roxanne. But he came to you and told you the truth.”
“Because we're friends,” Lucy muttered.
“Don't knock friends.” Victoire smiled. “Teddy and I were friends before we got together. And you clearly don't have just friendly sort of feelings for this man.”
“I thought I was falling in love with him, but how can I when he lied like this?” Lucy asked pleadingly, wishing Victoire could make it all go away. As the oldest of the grandchildren, and being by nature a very motherly sort of person, Victoire had fallen into the role of matriarch of their band of first cousins. When you couldn't go to your own mother, or one of your aunts, you could always go to Victoire. “I don't even feel like I know who he is any more. Would you trust him again?”
“Do you really want to know what I would do?” Victoire asked, and Lucy nodded. “I think what he did was silly and poorly thought out, but sort of romantic. And now he's free and he feels bad about the whole thing. I don't think he's a bad person, I think he just made a mistake. I would forgive him.”
Lucy was rather flabbergasted. “You really think I should just forget about what he did?”
Victoire sighed. “You're the only one who can decide that, Lucy. I can't tell you to forgive him, or tell you whether or not you should be in a relationship with him after all this, but I do think you love him. And I wouldn't throw that away easily, that's all I'm saying.”
Tears were starting to sting Lucy's eyes, and she sniffed a bit. “Thanks, Victoire.”
Her cousin smiled gently. “Do you want something to eat? I've got a Bakewell tart in the kitchen.”
Victoire had a habit of feeding people who cried on her couch to stop them from crying, Lucy knew from past experience. But she was also an excellent cook. “Yes, thank you.”
Lucy conjured a yellow handkerchief while her cousin bustled off to fetch her a slice of tart, and wiped the tears from her eyes. On the shelves next to her chair were a few photographs, including one of Teddy and Victoire, both looking absolutely blissful, at their wedding. Lucy sniffed again as she stared at it. Even in those days, Victoire hadn't been as thin and pretty as her sister, or as tall and pretty as Roxanne.
Maybe instead of wishing she were a little more like Roxanne or Dominique, she should have wished to be a little more like Victoire, she thought, watching the newlyweds smiling and kissing in the photo.
Faced with another night alone with her thoughts, and the memory of her blowup with Hilarion coloring her home, Lucy decided to visit her sister and hope for distraction, and maybe take-out as well.
But as she climbed the stairs to Molly's flat, she could hear music playing inside. Was that an accordion? Her life seemed more full of insanity than usual lately. She was starting to worry she might be turning into her cousin Rose.
Normally, Lucy just went right in at her sister's house, but since it sounded like she might have company, she knocked on the door first before opening it.
Her sister was sitting on the couch, turned sideways to watch a wiry but good-looking man play the accordion with every appearance of enjoying herself immensely. Molly's hair was spiked up into the full mohawk, emphasizing the yellow streaks in her green hair. Somehow Molly pulled it off, probably because she was wearing a black dragonhide mini-skirt.
Roxanne and Perry were sitting together on the chair next to the couch, their legs tangled together in a seat that was not built for two people. Lucy's heart sank a bit. She had wanted to see her sister alone, but this was clearly a double date of some sort.
“Hi Luce!” Molly exclaimed, jumping up to greet her sister. The accordionist stopped playing, and Perry and Roxanne both craned their necks to see her. “How are you? Come sit. Have you met Dan?”
Lucy allowed herself to be led to the sitting area rather reluctantly, taking the chair opposite Roxanne and Perry.
“Um, no. Hi,” she managed, waving vaguely at the accordionist.
He smiled, and Molly introduced them. “Dan, this is my little sister, Lucy.”
“Everyone calls me Cornish Dan,” the accordionist told her. “Nice to meet you.”
She smiled at him, knowing it probably didn't look terribly sincere, and then said to her sister, “I didn't realize you had company, or I would have Flooed first.”
“Don't be silly, you can come here any time you like,” Molly said firmly.
“Play another one,” Roxanne urged the accordionist.
Lucy pulled her feet up onto the chair as Cornish Dan began a new song on his garishly painted accordion. It wasn't long before the other three were focused completely on the music, but Lucy wasn't much interested. Oh, the song was pretty, and he played well, but she had never cared for the accordion.
She felt out-of-sorts and out-of-place, sitting there with the two couples, all by herself. Roxanne was half in Perry's lap, his arm around her, and Molly was looking at Cornish Dan as if she might jump into his lap as well. It made Lucy miss Hilarion more than ever, and the loneliness threatened to engulf her.
The music faded from her awareness as her mind's eye popped up an image of herself sitting on Hilarion's lap, tangled together like Roxanne and Perry. She wished it were real, and wondered if she ought to just let go all the boiling feelings of hurt and betrayal inside her. Victoire would forgive him, she thought, and for the first time she seriously considered it.
But even if she forgave him, he thought of her as only a friend. Suddenly she wasn't sure she could go back to being only friends with him. It was too painful to think about him finding a new woman to replace Roxanne, another woman who was prettier, thinner, taller than Lucy. Being his friend would only hurt worse.
This was ridiculous, she thought. Feeling left out and listening to music she didn't care for much wasn't helping her bad mood. She might as well go home.
She waited until Cornish Dan finished the song – no need to be rude, after all – and then got to her feet. “I better get home. I'll Floo you tomorrow, Molly.”
“All right,” Molly said. A small frown of concern crossed her face.
“I'll walk you out,” Perry volunteered, to Lucy's surprise, extricating himself from Roxanne.
They went to the front door in silence, but when the door closed behind them, Perry put a hand on her arm to stop her.
“Are you all right? You seem pretty cut up over Hilarion,” he observed gently.
“I'm fine,” Lucy said. She wasn't sure she ought to talk to him about what had happened, but he seemed determined to bring it up, so she decided to just have out with it. “Why did you agree to help him? And don't say because he's your friend. Why?”
Perry shrugged helplessly. “It was because he's my friend.”
“But you already liked Roxanne,” Lucy pointed out. “Why would you agree to help Hilarion lie to her like that?”
“To be honest, I didn't think of it as lying. It was just... Look, sometimes men do stupid things to show they like a girl. Hilarion has been trying to make himself a different person so girls will like him for years. This is just the first time he did it so elaborately. He never acts like himself around a girl.”
Lucy frowned. “What do you mean?”
“He takes them to fancy restaurants, even though he doesn't like that kind of food, or he talks about the team a lot because they want to be dating a Quidditch star. That kind of thing. He just... tries to be what they expect. It's not a big deal. Plenty of them do the same thing to him.” Perry gave her a considering look. “You must have noticed a bit of that, right?”
“No.” She tried to think back over every conversation she'd had with Hilarion. He had always felt real and honest when he was with her, very down to earth – not at all like a famous Quidditch star. “We ate at cafes and take-out places, and we never talked about Quidditch. He doesn't even really like Quidditch that much. He just happens to be good at it. If he could think of something else to do, he'd probably quit, but he's just waiting to retire from the team. Mostly he likes to sit and read Auror novels.”
Perry stared at her, and after a few minutes of stunned silence, he said, “I don't think he's ever let on about any of that to a woman before.”
Lucy gave him a sad smile. “That's because he doesn't think of me that way. We're just friends, that's all.”
Perry didn't dispute that, but she could see on his face that he didn't believe her. She looked away, unwilling to argue with him.
“He didn't mean to lie to Roxanne,” Perry said quietly. “He just wanted her to like him, and he thought she was too smart for him.”
“That's what Victoire said,” muttered Lucy.
Perry smiled. “I can't keep up with all the Weasley cousins. There are too many of you.”
Lucy's lips quirked. “I suppose there are.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes, lost in thought, and then Perry said, “You may not want to hear this, but he's pretty cut up over you, too.”
“Did he say something to you?” she demanded. “About me?”
Perry shook his head. “Not in so many words...”
Of course he was upset they weren't talking. They were friends. That was all there was to it. The brief hope died in her chest, and she felt completely spent. She didn't want to talk any more. “I'm going home. Thanks for the talk, Perry. I appreciate you trying to help.”
“Good night, Lucy.” He watched her until she Disapparated from the corner pavement, and then went inside to Roxanne.
“Is she all right?” Molly asked as he sat back down.
“I don't know. I'm going to go talk to Hilarion tomorrow. He hasn't left his flat in days.”
Roxanne winced. “Because I chucked him?”
He put an arm around her shoulders and kissed her temple. “Sorry, Roxy, but I don't think it has anything to do with you.”
“I have no idea what's going on,” Cornish Dan said in an aside to Molly, who smiled at him.
“I'm pretty sure my sister is in love with Hilarion.”
“I'm pretty sure he's in love with her too,” said Perry.
“Hell of a night,” said Cornish Dan.
Chapter 10: Bring Me Giants!
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“I am going to be a storm – a flame – I need to fight whole armies all alone; I have ten hearts; I have a hundred arms; I feel too strong to war with mortals – BRING ME GIANTS!”
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 1
Hilarion was stretched out on the couch, staring at the ceiling and feeling sorry for himself. He had run out of butterbeer two days ago, and leaving his flat to get more seemed more effort than it was worth. He was aware he was acting like an idiot, but he didn't know what to do about it, so he carried on in hopes a plan might present itself.
He couldn't stop thinking about Lucy, seeing her face every time he closed his eyes. Sometimes he thought he heard her voice or smelled her shampoo. It was ridiculous how much he wanted to touch her, to talk to her.
But he laid on the couch instead, thinking about her and kicking himself for ever fancying Roxanne. He knew he should go to Lucy's and try to convince her to love him, but hadn't managed to screw up his courage to that point yet.
Maybe tonight, he told himself. Maybe if it were dark out, he wouldn't feel so awful if she left him standing outside her door. His stomach twisted at the thought. He had to make her listen somehow, but that look on her face when he'd last seen her –
Hilarion twisted around to look at the door. Perry was just coming in, pushing the door shut behind him with one foot, a case of butterbeer in one hand.
“I brought you these,” Perry said, holding up the case, “but I want you to know I'll be judging you for drinking them.”
Hilarion hauled himself up to a sitting position, and Perry dropped onto the couch beside him, setting the butterbeers at his feet. Rubbing a hand over his face, Hilarion contemplated the bottles briefly before deciding he didn't want one after all. He'd had more butterbeer in the last week than he normally drank in a year. Drinking more had lost its appeal.
“You showered,” Perry observed, looking his friend over. “Congratulations.”
“Haven't seen you in a few days,” Perry said. “Not since the last time I stopped by. Usually you come by my flat now and then.”
“I didn't feel like talking to anyone,” Hilarion told him.
“If you can't talk to Lucy, no one else is good enough, eh?”
Hilarion didn't respond.
“That's what I thought.” Perry reached down for a butterbeer and popped it open.
“It's not that. Besides, you were busy with Roxanne,” Hilarion muttered.
Perry rolled his eyes. “Excuses.”
Perry drank in silence for a while, and Hilarion stared down at his bare feet, wondering if he should come out and admit his feelings for Lucy. He felt rather odd keeping it to himself this long, when he'd always been able to tell Perry anything. It occurred to him that maybe Perry had already guessed. Finally he looked over at his friend to find Perry waiting expectantly.
“I love her,” Hilarion told him. The declaration made him feel a little freer, made his feelings a little more solid in the world.
“I figured,” said Perry. There was no surprise on his face, and to Hilarion's relief, no pity either. “You've never been this way over any of the women you dated. She really isn't at all like any of them, either. So when are you going to get up and go tell her?”
“I don't know. She's angry with me. I don't think I should go over there.”
“Do you love her or not?”
“I love her,” Hilarion said again, without hesitation.
“So go tell her. Do you need me to tell you what to say?” Perry asked, only half joking.
Hilarion shook his head. “No. I never needed help to talk to Lucy. She's... perfect.”
“You're an idiot, mate.”
Hilarion groaned. “I know.”
“For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure she's in love with you too,” Perry told him, and Hilarion's heart leapt.
“I talked to her at Roxanne's place the other day, then last night at Molly's, and she's been pretty broken up over you.”
“Did she say she loved me?” Hilarion asked eagerly.
“Well, no, she didn't say it but-”
Hilarion's shoulders sagged. She hadn't said it. Why had he been such an idiot? He'd wasted his chance with her.
Perry punched him in the shoulder. “Stop that. Listen, she didn't say it, but every time she's been asked if she likes you, she avoids answering. A little too much, if you see what I mean. She went nearly hysterical the first time I suggested she fancied you, trying to convince Roxanne that she hadn't done anything about it.”
“So you think I still have a chance,” Hilarion said slowly.
“Does it matter? You love her. Go tell her that.”
Hilarion jumped to his feet. “Yeah. You're right. I'm going to go and – what if she refuses to open the door again?”
“She refused to open the door?” Perry repeated, sounding rather impressed.
“It doesn't matter. I'm going anyway. I'll sit outside her door all night if I have to.” Hilarion was determined now to do whatever it took to convince Lucy to give him a second chance. She was bound to at least let him try, he realized; she wasn't a cruel person. She was the sweetest, kindest, most amazing– he was an idiot for having waited so long to go after her. If she didn't already love him, he would figure out a way to make her love him.
He bounded to the door, grabbing his wand from the counter as he passed it.
“Just don't let anyone call Magical Law Enforcement on you if you have to sit outside her door all night,” Perry called to him cheerfully.
Hilarion paused at the door to glance back at his best friend. “They won't arrest me. Being a famous Quidditch player has to be good for something.”
Lucy was sitting on the chair just outside her front door. Her bare feet were tucked underneath her, and a novel lay forgotten on her lap. She hadn't been able to concentrate on the story, and was staring blindly at the potted ficus outside her neighbor's door instead, lost in thought. It seemed that she could think of nothing else but Hilarion for the past several days, replaying their entire friendship over and over in her head. She took each scene apart and examined it closely, but the more she did so the more she had to tell herself that she'd imagined his interest in her. She'd been fooling herself all along into thinking there might be a possibility of more, if only she'd gotten to him first instead of Roxanne.
And the more she thought about him, the more certain she was that even if she saw him again, they wouldn't be able to go back to their old friendship. She couldn't do that to herself. Maybe after some time, to get over him and let her heart heal, maybe then she could look at him again without that sense of loss, the hurt that he did not return her feelings, and more importantly the desire pulsing through her...
The sound of footsteps broke her out of her reverie, and she looked up at the entrance to the courtyard, prepared to smile politely at one of her neighbors. But the smile died on her face when she saw who was approaching. He was walking toward her as if conjured by her thoughts, looking unbearably handsome, if rather rumpled and unkempt.
“Hi Lucy,” Hilarion said tentatively, drawing to a halt in front of her.
“Hi,” she managed, not sure what to say to him.
He stood there for a moment, looking at her while she looked up at him. After a few beats of silence, Lucy offered, “Would you like a cup of tea?”
It sounded ridiculous. She was an idiot, she thought, mentally kicking herself. She sounded like her grandmother, offering tea.
But he smiled and nodded, and then followed her into her flat.
Lucy was silent as she set the kettle to boil and fished out the box of Darjeeling. She could feel him watching her, but didn't quite have the courage to meet his eyes again. She was a little afraid of what she might see there – or to be more accurate, what she might not see there.
“I'm sorry,” Hilarion blurted out, and Lucy looked up to find his expression very earnest. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you about that stupid plan, I'm sorry I ever did it. I wish I hadn't.”
Lucy handed him a cup of tea, which he took without looking at it, holding it in one hand while his gaze rested on her. She looked down at her cup; there was something too intense about meeting his eyes.
“Lucy, please just... say something. I really missed talking to you.”
She sighed as she stirred her tea. “I missed you too.”
Hilarion's heart jumped. She'd missed him. She hadn't slammed the door in his face again. But she wasn't looking at him. She was just standing there in the doorway to the kitchen, teacup in hand. The dress she wore was a solid, dark red – the darkest thing he'd ever seen her wear, actually – and clung to her every curve. His mouth went dry, and he sipped the tea. Darjeeling. He hadn't even noticed what kind when she'd been making it, he'd been so focused on her.
She'd made him his favorite tea. She said she missed him. He wanted to snatch her up and kiss her right there, kiss her until she realized they were perfect together and forgave him.
“You should go,” she said, and the rising hope in him died, his stomach plummeting to his shoes.
She was shaking her head, still looking at her teacup. “I can't do this. I just can't.” She was on the verge of tears; he heard it clearly in her voice.
Hilarion set his cup on the countertop and stepped closer to her. “Lucy, I'm sorry-”
“I know. Just go, Hilarion, please.”
“I don't want you to be angry with me-”
She looked up at him then, and he couldn't stand the hurt in her eyes. “It's not that. I just... I need to be by myself, I think. For a while, maybe.”
He shook his head reflexively, unable to let her go, especially when she was looking at him like that. “Lucy, I haven't been able to stop thinking about you.”
“Please don't say that. We can't be friends any more,” Lucy whispered, an aching sadness in her eyes. “I'm sorry, Hilarion. I just can't do it.”
“I don't want to be friends,” he told her in a rush. “Well, I hope we'll always be friends, but I don't – I mean – I'm messing this up, hang on.” And he drew a deep breath before continuing. “Lucy. I don't want to be just friends with you.”
“What do you mean?” she asked warily.
“I...” But suddenly words weren't enough, would never be enough. Hilarion's arm snaked around her waist with a speed borne of years of catching Snitches, hauling her up against him, and before she could do more than squeak in surprise, his mouth settled on hers.
For a heart-stopping moment, he thought she wasn't going to respond, but then she dropped the teacup she'd been holding and pressed closer to him, and her lips were warm and soft and her breath was sweet, and her mouth tasted a little like the tea she'd been drinking, and then Hilarion lost all capacity for thought.
Lucy's arms wrapped around his neck, pulling them closer together as she revelled in the kiss. A single word threaded through her jumbled thoughts, over and over. Yes, yes, yes... If her mouth hadn't been busy, she would have laughed from sheer joy.
After a few minutes, they broke apart, but he was still holding her close, and her hands went to his shoulders to steady herself. She wasn't sure her legs could hold her right now. If he let go of her, she'd probably fall over. A giggle slipped out, and she realized she was smiling.
He looked relieved. “I wasn't sure I'd ever get to see you smile at me again.”
“I can't help it, after a kiss like that,” she told him on another giggle.
He smiled back at her. “Then I'll make sure I kiss you like that every day.” He looked down then, beside them, their bodies still pressed together. “Don't move, you're not wearing shoes.”
Lucy followed his gaze and saw the shards of the broken teacup around their feet, and made a movement as if to break away from him, but he held her there. “Let me get my wand-”
Hilarion shook his head. “You can fix it later.” He lifted her up, hands on her waist, and set her down away from the shattered teacup, and then his body was instantly against hers again, turning so his back leaned against the wall and she stood between his feet. “First, I'm going to kiss you until you laugh again.”
She chuckled and leaned forward, tilting her face up to his. Her heart felt incredibly light, as if she might float away at any moment. “Well, I suppose that would be all right.”
“Lucy,” he murmured, his lips hovering over hers. “I don't want to be just friends with you. I want you to love me like I love you.”
That statement wiped away the last of her shields against him. Lucy melted. “I do love you, Hilarion. I've been miserable not speaking to you this last week.”
“I missed you so much.” He kissed her again. “I'm sorry, for being an idiot, for everything.”
“It's all right.” As she said it, she realized she had already forgiven him. She'd been blinded by jealousy, stupidly clinging to her hurt and anger because he'd seemed to love Roxanne enough to make such an elaborate plan to snare her, and no one had ever wanted Lucy that way. Until now, she thought, reveling in the feeling of being in his arms.
It was all right. He wasn't perfect, he made mistakes, and Roxanne had been a whopper of one. But she no longer felt the sense of betrayal. Maybe it was being in his arms like this, but she couldn't doubt him now. Of course she knew who he truly was. For all he was famous and good-looking, he matched her perfectly. It all seemed so obvious now.
He put one hand up to stroke a lock of her hair. “Do you really love me?”
Lucy smiled, feeling watery-eyed. “I think I fell in love with you the first time you walked in the park with me and told me you'd buy all your books at my store.”
Hilarion chuckled, his fingers still brushing against her curls. “I was an idiot not to see I was falling in love with you all along. I started wanting to tell you about everything that happened all day, wishing you were there so I could talk to you.”
“You were stupid, I was stupid – it doesn't matter now. Kiss me again.” Lucy tilted her face up to his.
His hands spanned her waist, pulling her closer as he bent down, and he whispered her name as he kissed her.
She loved him more than ever for that.
* three months later *
Hilarion was acting sketchy.
Lucy didn't know what was up, but it was clear that something was on his mind. Sometimes he got worked up over things with the Arrows, or her still-in-progress plans for opening her bookshop, and it made him act a little odd now and then. She didn't mind, though. Everyone had their quirks. Her faith in his devotion, in their relationship, never wavered, so it didn't worry her.
They hadn't spent a single night apart in two months. They alternated between her flat and his, although the last couple of weeks had seen them at Lucy's almost every night. Hilarion had confessed that he preferred her place, even if it was smaller than his and he had to Apparate all the way up to Lincolnshire for the team. He liked sitting out in the courtyard to watch the sunset, with Lucy curled up beside him on the lounge chair, her head resting on his shoulder.
And when he started acting a bit squirrelly, she let him work it out in his head, or sent him to talk to Perry, secure in the knowledge that he'd be with her every night, one arm curled around her waist as she fell asleep, not even minding that she hogged the blankets. He accepted her foibles as readily as she accepted his.
It was very natural being with him. They fit together perfectly, as if they'd always been together, as if he'd been designed just for her, she thought whimsically.
So when he said things like 'we need to talk', she didn't worry about that, either.
In fact, Lucy had just finished making a pot of tea and was pouring herself a cup when Hilarion came into the kitchen and said exactly that.
“We need to talk.”
She poured him a cup of tea and handed it to him as he sat down across from her at the table. “What about? If it's because I borrowed your razor again-”
“I don't care if you use my razor,” he said, brushing this aside. He took the teacup and set it aside, leaning across the table toward her. “Lucy, I've been thinking about this a lot lately, so you just tell me what you think, okay?”
He looked rather nervous, actually. It was adorable. She smiled at him. “Okay.”
Hilarion drew a deep breath. “Lucy. I don't want you to be just my girlfriend any more.”
She blinked in confusion. “What?”
“Lucy,” he said again, and this time he smiled at her in a way that made her heart skip a beat, even after months together with him. “I want you to be my wife.”
“Your wife?” she echoed in a stunned whisper.
“Will you marry me?”
She was around the table in a shot and jumped into his lap, her arms going around his neck. “Yes!”
“I have a ring,” he told her, and she could hear the smile in his voice.
Lucy sat back enough that she could see his face, and kissed him thoroughly before saying, “Okay, show me the ring.”
He produced a small purple box from his trouser pocket, and handed it to her. She popped it open, already smiling before she saw it.
The diamond was ridiculously huge. She probably could've financed her bookshop with it. It was ostentatious in a way that she never would have chosen for herself, because she liked to think of herself as a simple woman. And she loved it immediately.
He plucked the ring from its nest of velvet, and she held out a hand so he could slide the ring onto her finger. It fit perfectly, and he turned her hand over to kiss her palm and her wrist, and then her hands were buried in his thick blonde hair and they were kissing again.
Surely no one had ever felt this much happiness, she thought.
* another month later *
Perry watched Roxanne coming down the aisle at the stately pace dictated by hundreds, if not thousands, of years of wedding tradition. Her hair was piled up on top of her head in an elaborate riot of curls, and the blue silk dress she wore outlined the lithe curves of her body. She gave him a wink as she took her place.
The music changed, and the doors opened again, and this time Lucy Weasley was standing there in a white gown with far more fabric than Perry felt was absolutely necessary in a dress, her hand tucked into the crook of her father's arm.
As they started up the aisle, Perry leaned forward to whisper in his best friend's ear, “She looks beautiful, doesn't she?”
Hilarion could only nod, apparently struck dumb by his bride. Perry had to hide his chuckles, and glanced across at Roxanne again. She was standing next to Molly (whose hair had been done specially for the occasion in its original color – Perry was so used to the green mohawk that her red curls seemed very strange) and smiling at Lucy, but she seemed to feel his eyes on her and glanced over at him.
He threw her a wink and then went back to paying proper attention to his best friend's wedding.
At the reception, he wanted to dance every dance with Roxanne, but of course he had to give her up to her father, and then her brother, then several of her cousins (of which she seemed to have an unlimited amount), and Hilarion as well, but he was in too good a mood to be bothered by this. Besides, it gave him a chance to dance with the bride.
Lucy smiled as he twirled her around. She wasn't as light on her feet as Roxanne was, but she was practically floating with happiness, and kept looking over at her newly minted husband, who was at that moment dancing with her mother.
“Thanks for arranging the band, Perry,” she said while he whirled her past where Lina was singing a new arrangement of an old Celestina Warbeck classic.
“Least I could do. You seem absolutely giddy with happiness,” he remarked. “Just make sure you read the return policy on him. No taking him back if you lose the receipt.”
She laughed, the smile lighting up her face. “You're terrible.”
“Congratulations, too,” Perry added. The song was ending, and he drew her to a halt.
She reached up on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek, then wiped the lipstick off with her thumb. “Thanks, Perry.”
Hilarion appeared at her elbow, his hand going immediately to her waist as if the brief dance had been too long to be parted, and Perry gave his friend a cuff on the shoulder before going off to find Roxanne.
She was standing near the cake, preventing a small red-headed boy from eating the frosting. Judging from the evidence on the boy's face, she had not been completely successful. He recognized the boy as her cousin Victoire's son.
Everyone learned to recognize Johnny Lupin, if only out of self-preservation.
Roxanne was lecturing him. “I'll tell your mum, Johnny-”
“Here she comes, too,” Perry interrupted, giving the child a look of exaggerated alarm.
Johnny glanced around shiftily and then threaded his way into the crowd.
Roxanne propped an elbow on Perry's shoulder. “That kid terrifies me. Where've you been? I almost had to dance with my brother again, but I fobbed him off on James just in time. I think they're going to spike the punch.”
“I danced with Lucy. Privileges of the best man.”
“Is that where that lipstick came from? I can't leave you alone for a moment.” Roxanne wiped at his cheek a bit with her fingertips, but the band distracted her. Lina was singing a new song, and Lucy and Hilarion were wrapped in each other's arms, not so much dancing as swaying in place. “Look at them, aren't they sweet. Is this the song you wrote for them?”
“Cheapest wedding gift ever,” Perry said cheerfully.
“Well played.” Roxanne laughed. “It's been a lovely day, hasn't it?”
He turned to put an arm around her waist, and Roxanne moved so that the arm propped on his shoulder went around his neck. “I think we should do it next.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “What, all this? No way. Have you not seen how many relatives I have? I say let's elope.”
“They won't get mad?”
“My grandparents eloped. It's practically family tradition. I don't think they'll mind. And my dad will be happy not to have to pay for all this.”
Perry chuckled. “All right, then. Majorca? Rose and Scorpius said it was beautiful there. We could get married on the beach.”
“Let's go to Italy. Cinque Terre is supposed to be insanely romantic.”
“You've convinced me. Let's elope.” Perry leaned down to kiss her. “Is next week good for you?”
“Far too busy then. Tomorrow.”
“I'm starting to worry that you're serious,” he remarked.
“You started it,” Roxanne said, giving him a cheeky grin. “But you know what... I wouldn't mind.”
He realized suddenly that he'd been serious as well. “It's the wedding making us both insane. Let's go, right now, before we come to our senses.”
Roxanne looked around. Her parents were dancing at the far side of the dance floor, and her brother was indeed spiking the punch bowl with her cousin James. Lucy and Hilarion were still swaying in each other's arms, their best attempt at dancing. The only person she thought might notice them leave was Rose, but Rose was unlikely to tell on them. She turned to Perry with a grin.
He took her hand and Disapparated.
A/N: Allow me to editorialize on the chapter title: The quote on this chapter, and the line used for the title, is from one of my favorite scenes in Cyrano. Overcome with emotion that the woman he loves – Roxane – knows who he is, Cyrano gives this fantastic monologue about how his love for her gives him the strength of ten men, culminating in the roar of “Bring me giants!” So romantic. I just love it.
I hope you enjoyed the story, and the bonus mini-epilogues. I was going to end with the reconciliation of Lucy and Hilarion, but I had guilt over taking so long to finish this story, so I threw in an extra romantic scene or two. What can I say, I love that stuff ;) I've always liked a happily-ever-after. Please review and let me know what you thought of “Sparks”!