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a/n: reader beware! this story is overdue an edit.
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chapter one - the dartboard of destiny
After four years, London had worn me out.
Given the circumstances, I’m impressed that I managed to put up with the city for that long. Come for a holiday and London is lovely – London is busy and vibrant and alive, and Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley is almost worth the extortionate sum of rent you need to pay to be within walking distance of their two hundred separate flavours, not including sorbets. However, if you’re flung out in the west of the city and your daily commute involves having your face squashed into some businessman’s armpit, it gets a little wearing.
And, despite being nowhere near within walking distance of Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, the rent was still extortionate. I didn’t have one job; I had three. My life was a blur of gainful employment interspersed with tea breaks. Working three jobs can wear you out quite easily. The armpit thing doesn’t really help.
I use the terms ‘three jobs’ and ‘gainful employment’ quite loosely. I’ll be honest; three days of the week were devoted to waitressing, two days to selling beetle eyes in an apothecary, and the occasional wee hours of the morning were spent hammering out minor articles for the Daily Prophet. But I’d had enough. I wanted a normal job, a nine-to-five, five-day-a-week, stationery cupboard sort of affair.
I’d always had a nasty feeling this would happen someday. Dad had turned soothsayer some time ago and predicted it: ‘Lucy Weasley,’ he’s said, in that stern voice I’d been afraid of since birth. ‘If you want to stay in London, you need to improve your salary.’
When I pouted and moaned about the whole art degree thing making me practically unemployable, he’d fixed me with a look over the top of his reading glasses and said ‘Perhaps in London, but you might find more luck in a different part of the country. Trust me.’
I was right, though. I was practically unemployable. Hey, trust the statistics! The average starting salary of 2,400 Galleons a year for an art student is hardly a sum of money you can eat three meals a day off. The degree itself won’t get you into the Ministry. You can be a waitress, sure, but that doesn’t exactly up your game, and it’s a bummer when your tip won’t even cover the cost of a pint where you work. Of course, you can always apply for some muggle job, but what do you do when they ask for qualifications? Oh, about that, my secondary school doesn’t, technically, exist. But I do have an Outstanding in N.E.W.T level Divination that would really come in handy for this minor administrative role!
It wasn’t like I was the only one juggling multiple jobs. Scorpius – yeah, that one – had a couple himself. Although he had managed to find suitable jobs for a photographer; part-time photography for Wizarding History Magazine (a bit niche, but alarmingly high subscription rates) and a part-time job in a photo shop, flogging enchanted cameras and developing the odd film.
Despite us being a certified, bona-fide, together-for-three-years couple, the five jobs we held down between us meant our paths rarely crossed. And if our paths did cross, it was usually when we were both bleary-eyed and brushing our teeth in the bathroom, or fighting over a clean mug in the kitchen, or waking the other up by flopping into bed at one in the morning after a long shift. That’s hardly productive for a functioning relationship.
In a nutshell, triple employment was the source of all misery in my life.
I’d been meditating on the thought of kicking all three jobs and ditching London for a while, but I’d not done much about vocalising these thoughts to Scorpius. Not until a Tuesday evening after a particularly trying shift, when I apparated onto the doorstep, exhausted, my waitress’ uniform encrusted with spilt soup and baby vomit (don’t ask).
I dragged myself into the flat and surveyed the kitchen-cum-dining-room-cum-living-room-cum-laundry-cum-artist’s-studio. It wasn’t especially nice. We’d had to move after Tarquin, our long-suffering friend, had put his foot down and declared that enough was enough, and a single man just couldn’t share a two-bedroom flat with a couple. This flat was a good deal scabbier. The wallpaper was stained, peeling from the wall, and the taps in the bathroom flaked rust onto your hands now and again. There was also a locked cupboard in the hallway that rattled ominously around the full moon; we got five Galleons off each month’s rent on the condition that we fed it and spoke not a word of its presence.
The surveying lasted a full five minutes before there was a sudden pop! and Scorpius stumbled into existence in front of me, looking equally exhausted, jeans caked in mud up to the knees.
‘Hi,’ he said, out of breath. ‘Mock Goblin rebellion in Dorset, don’t ask, it was really muddy-’
‘We have to move,’ I said.
Scorpius looked a bit wary. It was possibly the baby vomit, possibly the way I was glowering – but then, without taking his eyes off me, he took a cautious step to the left.
‘Well…’ he said. ‘I moved.’
‘Not like that, you dolt,’ I said, although I smiled for the first time I a good few hours. ‘I mean…three jobs, it’s a bit…’
‘Horrific,’ he finished the sentence for me.
‘I was going to say demanding, but horrific works. It’s just…well…’
‘We’re both always tired and we don’t see much of each other anymore,’ he said. ‘I’ve been thinking…’
I meant to reply, but instead I was seized by a vast, hippopotamus-like yawn. I squinted at him through watering eyes, ignoring the menacing rattling that had just started up from the locked cupboard.
‘Yeah, and that thing in the cupboard,’ he said. ‘Did you feed it?’
‘Well…I was kind of hoping we could find a flat without a cupboard gremlin.’
The conversation didn’t go much further than this. Tea was made, toast was toasted, and then Scorpius spilled into bed whilst I stayed up scribbling a feature on self-stirring teacups for the ‘Prophet. At midnight, I chucked a crust of toast into the cupboard and then crawled into bed too, falling asleep almost instantly.
I’ll say one thing: those heady days of hedge-hopping, poetry slams and general drunken buffoonery seemed like centuries ago.
Even though we’d talked about it, I didn’t expect the subject of moving to crop up for ages – we were both so busy. However, the next morning, Scorpius woke me up in rather high spirits, clutching a large sheet of parchment and, bizarrely, a dartboard and three darts.
‘I have a great idea!’ he said.
‘Are we getting rid of the cupboard gremlin?’
‘No -’ he unfurled the parchment. It was a map of Britain, the rolling expanses of green punctuated by swirls and dots of grey and, bizarrely, a few sparse little purple triangles. ‘Ta-dah!’ he said. ‘Extensive map of the British isles, complete with magical dwellings! I found it in a skip ages ago and I was gonna use it for an art project but…’
I sat up, still a little woozy with sleep. ‘And the darts?’
‘Well, what we do is…chuck them at the map.’
‘No, what I mean is – we throw a dart at the map, and then move to wherever it lands! We put our destiny in the hands of the darts!’
He beamed at me. He looked even more tired than I did, his hair ruffled and his collar turned up on one side. I had the nasty feeling that he hadn’t had much in the way of sleep.
‘Darts don't have hands...and what if it lands in the sea?’
‘Then…’ he considered it. ‘We take up a life of piracy?’
Another question tripped to my tongue – what if it was far? What if we ended up in the Shetlands? But then I realised another reason for wanting to leave London: everyone else had left anyway. And commuting wasn’t exactly a bother, what with Floo powder and the Knight Bus and whatnot.
‘Cool,’ I pushed back the duvet as he crossed the room and stuck the dartboard to the wall with a charm, pinning the map over it. Then, he crossed back over to the bed and perched beside me, handing over a dart.
‘You go first,’ he said.
I aimed and threw the dart; it whistled through the air and landed on a dot labelled ‘Croydon’.
We exchanged a look.
‘That was a practise,’ Scorpius said hurriedly, passing me another dart. I aimed again; a whistle and a thunk, and then the second dart pierced a dot slightly higher up labelled ‘Walsall.’
We exchanged another look.
‘Third time lucky,’ Scorpius passed me another dart.
This time, I concentrated. Squinting at the map, I aimed a little higher, took a breath, and then threw it – the dart sailed high through the air, and for a terrifying moment I thought it was about to land in the North Sea and we’d end up in a life of piracy – but then it landed with a satisfying thunk on a tiny purple dot way, way up near the Highlands, the name too small to read.
For the third time, Scorpius and I exchanged a look. Then we both shot up at the same time, scrambling over the end of the bed to read the map.
‘We are moving to…’ Scorpius said, pushing up his glasses, squinting at the map. But it was still too small to read. I hopped off the bed, feeling more than a little apprehensive as I approached the map and traced the name of the third town with my finger.
a/n: welcome to the sequel! I've been excited about starting this for a while - expect many, many puns, metaphors, crack-tastic situations and scottish people. As a Scot, I've always been tempted to move some characters up north. Och aye the noo and all that. Also, no offence meant to residents of Croydon or Walsall. If you feel singled out, just you wait until I rant about Dundee.
And without further ado...onwards and upwards!
chapter two - escapism, miss weasley
At last, after four years, we were moving out. To Elgin. Which might have been something life four hundred and forty miles away from London.
It was not the first time my family had questioned my sanity.
My argument had gone like this: Elgin was going to be better. Cheaper flat, ergo less gainful employment, ergo more time to spend with Scorpius, and more time to contemplate my navel and reflect on the meaning of life. Less air pollution. Weight loss due to reduced proximity to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Besides, it was my life, my money, and my boyfriend, and if they were happy enough to let me go to art school and then live in a sub-standard flat, they should have been happy enough to let me move to the opposite end of the country. I closed my argument by saying I couldn’t be mollycoddled forever, unlike Molly, and that was when the debate really started.
For all my bravado, I was a little worried. Elgin was ages away – but the darts had chosen it, it had a proper magical community, and the neat little brochure we’d sent away for was full of glossy pictures of ivy-clad granite houses and ice-cream shops beside beaches. It was even close enough to Loch Ness and a few gothic ruins to sate Scorpius’ vivid imagination.
The first step I took towards Elgin was quitting two of my three jobs. The waitressing gig was easy enough to give up, the apothecary a little harder; I had to work right to the end of the month. The ‘Prophet, however, was a totally different kettle of fish. I told my manager I wanted to leave, and he told his manager, and somehow word got around and I was summoned to the editor’s office on a Friday afternoon, quaking in my boots.
He chattered vaguely for a bit about how they’d found me a transfer, how I didn’t have to quit, how they’d offer me a few more Galleons if I stayed on. I was pretty chuffed by this, almost beaming, and even made a mental note to hunt for a flat with a fireplace to make the commute to London easier. Everything was going swimmingly – and then in walked Euphemia Flitter.
The name was ridiculous enough. Her appearance was something else. She was a formidable woman, at least six feet tall, her bulbous, veiny feet jammed into patent kitten heels. Her hair was grey, severe, like a schoolmistress’ – except her dress was a shocking lime green, shapeless, with a huge, drooping collar like a potato sack. Her fuschia cat’s eye glasses, studded with diamante, glimmered as she studied me.
I realised a little too late that I wasn’t entirely good at first impressions either.
‘This is Miss Weasley?’ she said, in the sort of voice that could slice a lump of granite.
The editor and I both nodded. I stuck out a hand, saying ‘I’m Lucy.’
She ignored me.
‘Lucy, this is Euphemia Flitter,’ my editor said. ‘She’s responsible for Witch Weekly. And I’ve got to go to a meeting now so, best of luck.’
A little uncertain of what he was wishing me luck for, I sat in nervous silence as he darted from the room and Euphemia Flitter glided to the desk, perching upon it.
‘Miss Weasley,’ she said, in a voice so imperious that I was surprised not to hear an ominous clap of thunder following her words.
‘Hiya,’ was the best response I could come up with.
Euphemia Flitter stared down her nose at me. Then, she let out a vast, dramatic sigh – I expected another ominous clap of thunder – and said:
‘I am the editor of Witch Weekly.’
She stared down at me as if expecting me to burst into spontaneous applause. I didn’t. She sat back up straight again, inhaled sharply (it sounded as if half of the oxygen supply in the office shot up her nose), stared down at me again, then, finally, explained why I was there.
‘I received some of your work a short while ago,’ she said, still staring at me as if I was a sea slug. ‘And I’d like you to join the Witch Weekly team.’
This little snippet took a while to process. Me? Witch Weekly? Never in a million years. I had bought it once in my life, and that was for a free tube of lipstick that had been taped to the cover.
‘We’re looking for some fresh talent,’ she said, spreading out her hands. ‘I felt your work showed real…promise.’
Her nostrils flared, as if ‘promise’ was a dirty word.
‘We’d like some new faces around, in essence,’ she said. ‘We fully believe that a new generation of writers is what our core readership craves in such straitened economic times.’
‘I…see,’ I said, whilst not really seeing at all.
‘What we’re looking for is – well, a book. Of sorts. We’ll give you five hundred Galleons on receipt of an initial chapter and story outline.’
A book? More importantly, five hundred Galleons?
‘Pardon?’ I squeaked out, daring myself to look right into her piercing, stern eyes.
‘A book, Miss Weasley. Witch Weekly, as you probably know, has its own publishing company – you’ve probably heard of it. I daresay you’ve read some of our books.’
‘I’m not entirely sure…’
‘Amortentia Publications,’ she announced, pronouncing the words slowly, with pride. ‘Some of our best-sellers include Incidents at the Apothecary, The Lightning-Struck Astronomy Tower, Quidditch Confessions…’
I hadn’t read any of those three titles – nor did it sound like I’d ever want to read them. The name Amortentia Publications also sounded just a tad bit lovey-dovey…but, hey, who was I to say no to the promise of five hundred Galleons?
‘That…sounds good.’ I said. ‘But I’ve never really written a book before – I mean, I guess Divination homework counts as short stories, but I think I’m more of a non-fiction girl-’
‘Yes, so, essentially, we’d like a fresh spin on the classic Amortentia Publications formula,’ she said, talking over me. ‘A bit of fantasy. A ripping yarn. Escapism, Miss Weasley.’
‘I understand,’ I said, although I didn’t really.
‘Excellent,’ she said. ‘I’ll get an assistant to owl you more details.’
And with that final remark, she stalked out of the office and left me in peace.
All in all, I wasn’t really sure what I’d signed up for. I’d never written a book.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t write a book.
I returned home that evening simultaneously chuffed and unchuffed. I’d managed to hold onto a job, and squeeze an extra five hundred Galleons out of it (sort of), but-
‘I can’t write a book,’ I whinged to Scorpius the second he walked in the door.
‘You’re writing a book?’
‘I’ve been asked to write a book. Fantasy. A ripping yarn. Escapism, Miss Weasley!’
He kicked his shoes off, looking utterly perplexed. ‘Is that the title?’
‘The…the Prophet…they…they, like, passed me over to Witch Weekly. Amortentia Publications. Escapism! What do I do?’
‘No, you’re right,’ I put my head in my hands. ‘I should just go and give her the five hundred Galleons back and say I can’t do it-’
‘Firstly – what? And secondly – five hundred Galleons?’
‘On receipt of initial chapter and story outline,’ I said.
He seemed to think about it.
‘Five hundred Galleons is about a year’s worth of rent…’
‘And this new place we found in Elgin…that’s nearly two years’ worth of rent there.’
(The place in Elgin – a little flat above an empty shop, just off the high street, good access to local amenities, one bedroom, furnished, rented from a Mrs Jean Govan.)
‘So…I know I don’t know the full story, but I really think you should write the book. Pun not intended.’
I can always rely on Scorpius for good advice. Not.
‘What’s it about?’ he asked. ‘I mean, what’s it going to be about?’
‘Escapism, Miss Weasley!’ I repeated, in a passable imitation of Euphemia Flitter’s piercing voice. ‘I dunno – like, she said fantasy, so centaurs and elves and stuff? Wandless magic. Zombies!’
‘Escapism,’ he repeated. ‘I don’t think zombies are escapism, Lucy.’
He took the seat at the other side of the table; we stared at each other over the top of the salt and pepper shakers (shaped like ducks, natch).
‘I can do it,’ I said. ‘Moving to Elgin will be good for, um, writing. Quieter?’
‘It’ll be cold there,’ he frowned.
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘And you call yourself a Northerner?’
‘Yes, well, not that far north. And..., well, I guess it isn’t like we have friends left in London anyway.’
This was mostly true. Tarquin and Gwendolyn/Raven (who now went by Gwen), with their budding career as performance artists and partners-in-crime tendencies, were busy jetting around the country. While I wasn’t entirely sure where they stood – and me and Scorpius were way too chicken to ask – the two of them seemed to have fallen into a sort of relationship quite neatly, like two heavy objects that’d toppled over and ended up propping each other up. If anything had happened, it had happened neatly, unlike with me and Scorpius, who’d gone about it the long way, circumnavigating interpretive dance, wibbliness and extended door metaphors.
‘It’s not like we can afford the rent here anyway.’
‘And I only really want one job.’
I fiddled with the salt shaker. A small rattle sounded from the cupboard in the corner.
‘We’re moving. Definitely.’ I said, firmly.
It was as if the cupboard gremlin had decided our destiny for us. A fortnight later, we were packing.
Oddly enough, it was Rose who acted as our one-woman removal service. We were on speaking terms again, although it hadn’t been easy. It had taken a lot of custard creams, mugs of tea, and mediation from Albus, the newly qualified mental health Healer. But three years is a long time, and she seemed to have gotten over what we’d fallen out about. I think.
‘Rose’ is almost synonymous with ‘organisation’, and possibly also ‘getting things done’. All she did was turn up and wave her wand at our suitcase and, viola, in a short matter of days, we’d managed to fit the contents of our entire flat into it. She claimed it was just a simple undetectable extension charm, but I got the feeling it was a bit more powerful than that.
We even got the piano in, after a bit of crashing and tinkling about and a lot of wincing on Scorpius’ part. It wasn’t like we could leave it behind; it was a family heirloom and all. Nasty chip on the left from where he’d blundered into it as a child. Nasty chip on his forehead too, if you moved his fringe.
That left a big, piano-shaped space in the flat, right next to the sofa-shaped space, the dinner table-shaped space, the sideboard-shaped space, and all those little arty postcard-shaped spaces propped above the sideboard-shaped space. Our flat had become a jumble of something-shaped spaces.
The day before the move, Scorpius came tramping back in from work with a briefcase in hand. ‘Oh god, don’t tell me,’ I said. ‘Do you work in an office now?’
‘Nope!,’ he beamed. ‘I got you a present!’
He thrust the briefcase into my hand. I almost keeled over with the weight of it.
‘Is this a briefcase full of stones?’
‘Definitely not. Go on, open it.’
I opened it. It was, in reality, a typewriter.
‘You weren’t planning to write Escapism, Miss Weasley by hand, were you?’ he said.
‘Hadn’t really thought about that, to be honest,’ I said, running my finger along the top line of keys. ‘Oh, wow. Dad had one of these for work but I never…is it muggle?’
‘Nope,’ he grinned. ‘Enchanted! Never needs refilling! Types in Mermish if you want it to! It’s even got a hidden Rune keyboard! I mean, it was second hand, but…’
‘It’s fab!’ I said. I got up and went to attack him with snogs as a way of saying thank you, but he ducked out of the way.
‘Let me shower first,’ he said. ‘Repeated exposure to dark room chemicals can cause health complications.’
Then it seemed like no time at all had passed and it was already the long-awaited rainy Thursday morning, mid-November, our last day in the Ealing flat. We fed the cupboard gremlin one last time, locked the place up, handed over the keys and, with a bit of dithering and stumbling, got our flat-in-a-suitcase down to the street. Once there, Scorpius stuck out his wand arm, nearly got it torn off by a passing taxi then, five seconds later, a purple triple-decker bus veered around the corner, knocked over a wheely bin, and screeched to a halt in front of us.
I barely had a chance to look up to the vacant third floor flat before we left. The Knight Bus was packed out; I had to wrestle the suitcase up the narrow staircase alone whilst Scorpius dealt with the tickets. By some miracle, I’d made it to the top deck before the bus shot off again. Scorpius wasn’t so lucky. He’d only just got to the top of the stairs when the ground disappeared from beneath his feet. I didn’t see him hit his head off the window so much as felt it.
Safely seated, we turned to gaze at the London that was zooming past us, little more than a grey blur in a misty sky. Scorpius, ever the romantic type, stared wistfully out of the window, hand raised in an almost-wave.
‘Goodbye, London,’ he murmured.
‘And good riddance!’ I cried, showing the city the two fingers I truly felt it deserved.
There was an immense bang, the bus shot forward again – I nearly broke my nose on the seat in front – and we’d reappeared in countryside, miles from where we’d started.
a/n: hello again! not my best chapter, I know, but I kind of needed to get some of the expositiony-plotty-boring-y stuff out the way first before all the weirdness makes a comeback. To those of you who have asked if this'll be a new cast or will feature old characters - a bit of both, really. Just hang in there and they'll show up eventually (you can't expect art students to be punctual). Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!
coming up: a pint in the duck, a duck in the pint, 'they're staring at us because I'm incredibly attractive and you have antlers', and the all-magical-all-scottish-talent-and-variety-show-contest-region D-section A-Fifth division (first round).
An hour or so later, the Knight Bus lurched to a halt on a deserted country lane. I glanced out of the window, saw nothing but fields and hills around, and then went back to the book I’d been reading.
‘Well, this is us,’ Scorpius said, going to pick up the suitcase.
‘Huh?’ I gave the fields outside another glance. ‘No it isn’t.’
‘Well, the conductor said we were the stop after Gretna Green, and we were there about ten minutes ago…’
‘Oh, right,’ I snapped my book shut and got ready to leave, just as the conductor in question yelled up the stairs-
‘New New Elgin!’
‘…new new Elgin?’ I repeated.
‘Beats me,’ Scorpius shrugged.
We disembarked, the conductor having assured us that this was indeed Elgin – not just Elgin, but New New Elgin. So good, they named it twice…or something like that. The moment we’d stepped down from the bus, there was an almighty bang, a crash, a sound like a walrus being forced through a tea-strainer – and then the bus had vanished.
The two of us were, pretty much, abandoned in the middle of nowhere. With everything we owned in a single suitcase. No cause for alarm.
‘Any idea where we’re going?’ Scorpius asked.
We resolved simply to walk on for a bit and, if we got absolutely, totally, and hopelessly lost, we’d simply call the Knight Bus again and pretend we’d just been visiting relatives and were heading back to London. With, you know, a suitcase. We never had to resort to this though – within five minutes, Scorpius noticed a small wooden sign hammered in at the side of the road.
‘Hey! Look – it says New New Elgin-’
He crouched down to read the sign up close, touching a finger to the wood. Then, abruptly, he looked up and went a little slack-jawed.
‘Cool,’ he said, after a few moments.
‘No, come here –you’ve got to touch the sign-’
I knelt down beside him, putting a tentative finger to it. Then I saw it – a much bigger, more impressive sign shimmered out of the air; a purple plaque on a wooden post, covered in shining golden letters. Involuntarily, my mouth fell open.
‘Cool,’ I said, echoing Scorpius. ‘So…is this the magical dwelling bit that was on the map?’
‘New New Elgin,’ he read. ‘The largest magical dwelling near the Moray Firth. I guess it’s unplottable…’
‘Hmm, maybe…’ I peered around the magical sign, off into the distance. Surprisingly, the air seemed to be shimmering, like a heat mirage. But this was Scotland, where heat was, apparently, a myth.
‘Hey,’ I elbowed him. ‘Over there. Something weird.’
Together, we peeked around the sign, towards the strange patch of air.
‘That’s odd,’ he squinted.
Leaning around the sign and gawking into the distance like two spare parts, we were subsequently almost decapitated by a passing bus. Reeling backwards, we toppled over onto the suitcase and ended up crouching in the mud, Scorpius clutching onto his fringe.
‘Smooth,’ I said, after the bus had hurtled off into the distance.
We reached New New Elgin little more than ten minutes later. It turned out that the sort-of-mirage had been the place after all – a spell had been cast to make it, not only unplottable, but also unvisible. Invisible, I mean. Well, not invisible per se, perhaps just…slightly less visible. I couldn’t help but wonder what all the secrecy was for. It was a little strange.
Stranger still, New New Elgin was completely deserted.
Scorpius and I meandered down the High Street, suitcase in tow, and met not one single person along the way. Shops were open, but empty; discarded copies of the Daily Prophet blew across the cobblestones like tumbleweed. When I looked up at the flats above the shops, curtains twitched menacingly. I half expected someone to burst out of a doorway, point a wand at us and snarl this town ain’t big enough for the both of us, lass.
I vocalised this thought to Scorpius halfway down the road.
‘For starters,’ he said. ‘This isn’t the wild west. Secondly, maybe they’re all having a siesta…’
‘That’s Spain, Scorpius.’
We fell silent and meandered along a bit more. New New Elgin was quiet.
‘I have a bad feeling about this,’ I muttered, as we approached a phone box. ‘Should we stop here? I mean, we can always call Albus, provided he’s in his flat and-’
The telephone rang. Scorpius jumped about a foot into the air.
‘Who – who calls a phone box?’
I was about to tell him I didn’t know, but then, suddenly, a door to our left slammed open and a woman burst out, running at full pelt.
‘Hold on!’ she shouted. ‘Hold on!’
‘Hold on to what?’ Scorpius cried, but then the woman shoved past us – apparently, she’d been speaking to the phone box all along. But then she turned, looked the two of us up and down, and then jabbed a finger at me.
‘You,’ she said, in a vaguely threatening manner. ‘Will you watch the shop?’
She darted into the phone box before either of us had a chance to answer. I turned back to the door she’d come out of; it was a corner shop. CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS, a sign above the door proclaimed in fairly shouty capital letters. The window display seemed entirely comprised of tartan things, which, frankly, was disorientating at best.
Scorpius looked between the phone box and the shop, more than a little perplexed.
‘Uh…I suppose we should watch it?’
Gingerly, we went into the corner shop. If the tartan window display was disorientating at best, then the interior was simply migraine-inducing; every square inch of the place had been decorated with a different tartan, and a whole shelf behind the counter had been devoted to cuddly Loch Ness monsters.
‘This…’ I said, my mouth a little dry. ‘This is too far.’
Before Scorpius had a chance to launch into a full artistic critique of the juxtaposition of tartan and cuddly monster, however, the door banged open again, a bell jingled, and the woman reentered, clutching a scrap of paper.
‘Right,’ she said. ‘Thanks. Just a message for Kevin.’
She took up her seat behind the counter and immediately started rifling through a stack of newspapers called The New New Elgin Herald. She ignored the two of us, who were standing there not just gormless, but completely devoid of anything even resembling gorm.
After a minute’s awkward silence, she looked up again.
‘Well…’ she said, but then her eyes seemed to settle on the suitcase. ‘Oh…’
I had several questions for her, most involving the display of cuddly Loch Ness monsters and my sudden desire to purchase and cuddle one. But it seemed those questions could wait. She leant forward on the desk, balancing her chin on her hands, and said:
‘Well. You must be new.’
a/n: cheeky wee chapter shuffle here! this chapter was originally tacked on to the end of the previous one - I chopped it up and rewrote it.
as we all know, Han Solo from Star Wars was the first person to have a bad feeling about this, and the line belongs to him.
chapter three - elgin regrets
by shudder @ tda
The town was New New Elgin because Elgin and New Elgin were both already taken. The climate was something known in these parts as ‘dreich, often drookit’, the local pub was, thus, appropriately called The Drookit Duck, and the cuddly Loch Ness monsters were seven sickles each.
This was all the information we’d gathered in the first five minutes we spent in CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS, which I supposed was capitalised for dramatic effect because, you know, newsagents need all the drama they can get.
‘Happy hour is Monday through Thursday from Midday to five pm, and they’ve got this cracking whiskey from this brewery up the road, oh, and the local newspaper comes every Friday and you’ve really come at a bad time because the fog’s always in around November and…’
I didn’t really know much about the woman in front of me except that she really, really liked to talk.
‘…so if youse come along for a pint in the Duck tonight you can meet a’body and…well…welcome!’ she finally added, breathing heavily with the effort of talking so fast.
‘Er…thank you,’ I said, my voice a little hoarse.
‘So…are you here on holiday?’ she said, nodding to the suitcase.
‘Oh, no, we…’ I glanced at Scorpius, who was staring at the floor. ‘…we just moved here!’
‘Oh!’ her eyes widened. ‘Oh, right! Well, I’m Jean-’
The name rang a bell. ‘Jean Govan?’ I said, leaning in.
Jean let out a hysterical sort of giggle. ‘Crivens! No!’
‘Oh – right, sorry, it’s just – the woman we’re renting a flat from is Jean Govan and-’
‘She’s about sixty years old,’ Jean laughed. ‘Blue rinse, twinset, doilies…’
‘Ah, I…see. And you’re…’
‘Jean Cumbernauld,’ she said, leaning over her desk to shake my hand, and then Scorpius’. ‘Nice to meet you. There are five of us, by the way.’
Somehow, I took this to mean that there were five people living in the whole village. My mouth gaped open in a little shocked O – ‘only five?’ I said. ‘That’s barely any!’
Confusion descended on the scene, until Scorpius nudged me and mumbled – ‘I think what she means is-’
‘There are five of us called Jean,’ Jean said. ‘Well, strictly speaking one of them is a Jeanie, but there are five of us all the same. Unless you’re a Jean too – that makes six?’
‘Nope. I’m Lucy – and this is Scorpius.’
Jean raised her eyebrows. ‘That’s a funny name. You two sound like you’re from London. Am I right?’
Well, only half right, seeing as the two of us had pretty much split our childhoods between the North of England and some unidentified location in the back of beyond in Scotland. And Scorpius was quite proud of being Mancunian.
‘Er…yeah,’ I said. ‘All the way from London.’
‘Four hundred and forty four miles,’ Scorpius said, although his voice was pretty much little more than a whimper. He wasn’t exactly good with the whole first impressions business.
‘Right…so…’ Jean said. ‘Well – er – welcome!’
It seemed that the three of us had run out of things to say. Thankfully, at that moment, the door banged open and a little bell jingled in the back of the shop.
‘Good afternoon,’ a thickly accented voice said – and then a hand cuffed me on the shoulder. (Scorpius, at my side, received much the same treatment, only his flinch was a little more dramatic). A face peeked out from between us, staring down at Jean. ‘Who are these two?’
‘Lucy and Scorpius!’ Jean beamed. ‘They just moved here!’
‘Excellent!’ the man who’d grabbed our shoulders released us and darted around to stand behind the desk next to Jean – he offered his hand to me, then to Scorpius. How nice. You go to art school and people fire paint at you; you move four hundred and forty miles to Scotland, and people smile at you and shake your hand. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or mildly unnerved. So I went for a mixture of both. Vaguely unnerved acceptance of flattery.
‘I’m Jock,’ he said. ‘Jock MacPherson. Pleased to meet you,’ he added, with a charming little smile. He was a bulky guy, a fair bit of muscle showing beneath his ‘Elgin Egrets,’ shirt. Quite what the Elgin Egrets were I didn’t exactly know – perhaps he was a bird-trainer, although that didn’t explain the muscles. Unless the birds were freakishly big. Or maybe he was just hench for the fun of it. Or maybe there was an ‘r’ missing from the shirt and it was supposed to say ‘Elgin Regrets.’ I think I preferred the latter. It gave him a touch of je ne sais quoi.
My train of thought had suddenly put on a spurt of speed and bypassed several stations; Scorpius, Jean and Jock were all smiling politely at me, as if waiting for me to say something. I promptly put the brakes on my train of thought and brought it screeching to a halt at a station possibly labelled ‘for the love of Merlin’s facial hair, Lucy, say something’, which, of course, was on the ‘social interaction’ line just before the ‘you idiot, you’ve blown it now’ terminal.
‘So!’ I said, chirpily. ‘Uh…what is there to…do? Around here?’
Jock exhaled, exchanging a look with Jean.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘Pub.’
‘Suits us,’ Scorpius muttered.
‘We’re good with pubs,’ I added.
‘And then there’s always the Quidditch,’ Jean shrugged. ‘Sometimes you get a Montrose match up the road, or if Portree are visiting…’
It was the turn of Scorpius and I to exchange a look.
‘Are you Montrose fans?’ Jean smiled.
‘Well, he is,’ I elbowed Scorpius. ‘I’m a Portree girl.’
Abruptly, Jock slammed his palm on the table. ‘Get out,’ he ordered.
An awkward silence of sorts followed, then Jock and Jean’s faces split in a pair of wide smiles.
‘Kidding,’ he said. ‘Well…you might find more Montrose fans round these parts.’
‘Good,’ Scorpius said firmly.
‘Cool. Um – one more question,’ I said, feeling that the conversation was drawing to a natural end and we should probably get on with the business of moving into our new flat. ‘Why is this place unplottable? I mean, from the map, we got the idea that you all lived with the muggles in proper Elgin…’
Jean and Jock exchanged a look that seemed to possess an extraordinary amount of hidden meaning. I bit my lip involuntarily; Scorpius leaned in, as if expecting them to breathe out some deep, dark secret.
‘Well, we did, once upon a time,’ Jean said evenly. ‘But we don’t anymore. We’re actually a lot further North. I guess you came in from the South, did you see the bus?’
‘We nearly got run over by it?’ Scorpius offered.
‘Well, the trick is to follow the bus until it turns around – just outside the village.’
She gave us a few hasty directions to the pub and promised we’d be able to meet ‘the others’ there at around eight, pointed us in the vague direction of where our flat should have been, and then we left, dragging the suitcase behind us.
New New Elgin was still conspicuously deserted. I mean, there’s deserted, and there’s deserted. There’s deserted when it’s a rainy day or a Sunday or one in the morning or something, when it’s a pretty legitimate time for people to be indoors – but this was early afternoon on a Thursday and, believe it or not, the sun was shining. The twitching curtains didn’t exactly help.
I had the nasty feeling we were being watched by a lot of people.
‘They were nice,’ I said vaguely, as me and Scorpius wandered down the High Street.
‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this,’ Scorpius said.
‘That’s a hackneyed phrase and a half.’
‘I just…’ he peered up at the sky with nervous trepidation, as if he expected something to fall from it and hit him on the head (which, knowing Scorpius, wouldn’t have been surprising. The boy’s a magnet for comedic injury). ‘I just think it’s a bit quiet or something. And they wouldn’t tell us why it’s unplottable. Maybe it’s like…a cult.’
I narrowed my eyes, the High Street ahead turning into a blur. ‘The guy – Jock whatsisface – his shirt said Elgin Egrets but I thought maybe there was a missing R and it was supposed to say Elgin Regrets and…’ I trailed off.
‘We’ll see,’ Scorpius said heavily.
The whole move thing had thrown me off course a little bit; I suddenly couldn’t remember what our new flat was supposed to look like, let alone the name of the street it was on. Scorpius was pretty certain that it was on Burns Lane (‘I hope that isn’t prophetic,’ he said, miserably, as we approached it). Burns Lane, just off the High Street, was a cramped little alleyway full of shadows and cobbled stones; I felt Scorpius was somewhat justified in having a bad feeling about this.
We stepped into the alleyway – I involuntarily took his hand. Then someone stepped out of the shadows (I flinched and Scorpius rolled his eyes – pot calling the kettle black, much?). It was a woman, probably some way into her sixties, wearing a beige twinset and a tweed jacket, her hair an elaborately coiffed nest perched on her head. A daring slash of red lipstick made her face stand out of the gloom; she cast us a quick, prim little smile.
‘Jean Govan?’ I asked her, a little cautiously.
‘Yes,’ she nodded. ‘And you’ll be the new tenants?’
We followed her through a door, up some stairs, across a landing, up a tiny staircase and through another door into what was to be our flat. First impressions are undeniably important, and my first impression of the flat was that it was pretty small. Just big enough to swing a kneazle in, perhaps, but not big enough to…you know…swing multiple kneazles in.
Happily, however, there was an overwhelming lack of beige. Which is always a good sign. I think I’m kind of allergic to beige.
‘Bins get collected on a Wednesday, the Greengrocer’s is across the street, and linen is in the cupboard in the hallway,’ Jean Govan summed up the flat in three helpful clauses. (Although, arguably, the last thing on our minds was regular rubbish disposal, fresh fruit and vegetables and clean sheets. We weren’t even twenty-five yet). Then she left us in peace, bustling from the flat and shutting the door quietly behind her.
First things first: I flung open the cupboard in the hallway.
‘No gremlin!’ I cried. ‘No gremlin!’
Scorpius, busy rifling through the suitcase in search of something that was probably camera-related, barely even looked up. I suppose he was used to me shouting strange things in the vague direction of his face.
Second things second (or, if I really wanted to subvert the norm, I’d do second things third), I threw off my jacket, ran into the new bedroom, and flopped down on the bed. It was dead comfy; this pretty much made the flat perfect.
‘You’re like a child,’ Scorpius said, wandering in after me, rifling through a little book.
'A child is-'
'I mean the book, you idiot.'
‘I'm looking up the words I didn’t understand,’ he explained, flopping down next to me. ‘Oh…so that’s what dreich means…’
‘What does it mean?’
‘Bleak, miserable weather…hmm, like me,’ he added, as an afterthought.
I leaned around and nudged the book upwards to read the title.
‘A Scottish dictionary? You’re prepared…’
‘I was thinking I’d carry it around with me so I could understand everyone and…’
‘It’s not even a different language.’
‘It may as well be! We need all the help we can get!’
We turned up at the pub at eight on the dot, just as promised, having unpacked approximately five percent of our magically expanded suitcase into the flat (we weren’t much good at getting things done, unless the thing in question was procrastination).
The pub, The Drookit Duck, was surprisingly small and deserted (drookit, according to Scorpius and his pocket Scottish dictionary, meant ‘absolutely drenched’. Which kind of defeated the point, seeing as ducks kind of swim around so they have to be wet, but, well, this was New New Elgin and nothing made sense in New New Elgin). Apart from me and Scorpius, who perched at the bar, there was a surly barman, and, in the corner, a middle-aged woman and a boy about our age who was knitting. Middle-aged woman and knitting boy stared at us for a good minute before the latter went back to his knitting; the woman kept up her staring.
‘Why are they staring at us?’ Scorpius murmured, pretending to be fiddling with a beermat.
‘They’re staring at us because…because I’m incredibly attractive and you have antlers?’ I murmured back. ‘I don’t know…now I have a bad feeling about this…’
‘What’ll it be?’ the surly barman asked.
‘Uh…butterbeer, please,’ I said, guessing it probably wasn’t a good idea to crack out the whiskey on my first night in a new place.
‘Same, please,’ Scorpius said.
The barman poured two butterbeers and thumped them down before us with…well, I’m not sure what to call the look that was on his face. It was…it was like confusion, rage, sorrow and amusement all mixed into one, and it looked kind of painful.
‘Shall we get a table?’ Scorpius suggested. He picked a spot close to the far wall, where we would be slightly out of the line of vision of knitting boy and his middle-aged companion. Once we’d sat down, we sipped at our butterbeers, listening to the click-clack of knitting needles in the quiet pub.
‘You know, when she said we’d meet everybody,’ I muttered. ‘I imagined there’d be more people here.’
‘Maybe they’re late. Or maybe this is everybody.’
‘They can’t be late, we’re late, we’re the bohemians-’ I glanced at my watch. ‘Oh, no, you’re right – we’re actually on time.’
‘Weird,’ he said. ‘I mean – us being on time, not them being late.’
‘We’ll just have to wait and see,’ he set down his butterbeer and leaned nonchalantly against the wall, arms folded. Then everything happened in a flash – the wall wobbled, Scorpius toppled off his chair, and then the wall spontaneously collapsed, revealing what seemed to be half the population of New New Elgin hiding behind it.
Deserted streets – false walls – this was all getting a bit too weird for my liking.
‘Hello!’ Jean C bellowed, stepping out of the rubble of the fake wall to help Scorpius up. ‘Sorry – just…the…the bi-annual New New Elgin AGM!’
‘AGM? What’s an AGM?’ I hissed to Scorpius, reaching for his dictionary.
‘Annual general meeting-’
‘Hope we didn’t scare you!’ Jean C cried, patting me on the back; she looked slightly deranged. Behind her, villagers were spilling out of what looked like the rest of the pub, looking slightly furtive, taking seats at spare tables and producing drinks from thin air.
‘Just something that happens,’ she explained, talking very fast. ‘It’s like a council where we all get together and discuss issues that involve the village at large.'
Just behind her, Jock ‘Elgin Regrets’ Macpherson was frantically picking up pieces of the fake wall.
‘How can you have a bi-annual annual general meeting?’ I interrupted her. I could feel my eyes narrowing into a shrewd squint. Scorpius shuffled awkwardly at my side.
‘Uh…because…it’s a BAGM!’ she grinned. ‘Have you met Prentice? Hey – Prentice!’ she waved frantically over at the corner. Knitting boy glanced up, nodded, and then stood. ‘Can I get youse some drinks?’
‘We’ve – er…we’ve got some,’ I nodded down at the table. ‘Um…’
I was ignored. Mere moments later, the knitting boy, Jean and Jock were sitting with us, all traces of the fake wall had vanished, and five tumblers of whiskey had been placed on the table before us. Around us, business in the pub continued as noisily as I guessed was normal; the whole fake wall thing had already been forgotten.
‘To the newcomers!’ Jean C giggled, raising one of the tumblers of whiskey.
The toast was echoed around the table. Knitting boy put aside his knitting to drink along with us. Underneath the table, Scorpius’ hand slipped into mine.
‘Your hand is clammy,’ I muttered.
‘I don’t care…’
I pushed the empty tumbler of whiskey away; the ex-contents of it were busy burning a trail down the back of my throat. I coughed involuntarily – Jean C was right, it was cracking whiskey.
Despite this, I couldn’t help feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Well, the fake wall was one thing, but the whiskey was evidently another – no sooner had the last drops of whiskey been drained from the first round that another was brought to our table. I had a horrible feeling that they were trying to get us both pretty drunk so that the idea of a fake wall wouldn’t seem too outlandish.
After an hour in the pub, it was becoming a little difficult to concentrate, what with a seemingly endless supply of drinks and everyone talking all at the same time – it took me five minutes to notice that Scorpius actually wanted my attention, and I wasn’t imagining the constant poking at my ribs. And when I did turn to look at him and he leaned in close, I wasn’t entirely surprised by what he murmured to me-
‘I’ve got a really bad feeling about this, Lucy…’
a/n: crammed in another update this weekend~ I know the story's a bit boring and non-cracky right now, but I have tons planned and pre-written for later chapters and hopefully it'll get a little...well, funnier. The line 'I've got a bad feeling about this' is, of course, the trademark of Han Solo from Star Wars (although, in the great Star Wars analogy of life, Scorpius would blatantly be more of a Luke than a Han. Jus sayin'). Anyway, hope you enjoyed! ♥
chapter four - the coven
by shudder @ tda
It only took us two days to unpack. Considering we didn’t own all that much, this wasn’t a huge surprise – the biggest effort was probably spent transferring our collection of books from suitcase to shelves. By Saturday evening, we were moved in for good, and I just about had time to fire off letters to Mum and to Gwen and Tarquin before I succumbed to exhaustion and crashed into bed.
The letter to our favourite partners in crime ran thus:
Dear Gwendiferous and Tarks, (because nicknames were all the rage in our little gang)
Hope your jollies ‘round the country are going nicely. We’ve moved in now and we’re so far north that I think we can be considered far more adventurous and jet-setting than you so, ha ha, we win. Bloody freezing here. Locals are well weird. Went to pub (which is basically called the wet duck and isn’t that daft because ducks are wet by default?) and they were hiding behind a fake wall, which isn’t suspicious or anything, I don’t think they’re spying on us in the slightest. Feel I should teach Scorpius self-defence just in case – you know what he’s like. Limbs and glasses akimbo! Hope you can come and visit soon and join the weirdness.
See you in the next life and all that, you pair of losers.
Love and hugs and haggis, Lucy.
The letter to my Mum essentially said the same thing, but with a lot less of the in-jokes and the name-calling and a lot more of the formal niceties of communicating with family that you really, really like, but don’t really want visiting. Look, as much as I wanted my Mum to see the new flat, me and Scorpius’ chaotic methods of organisation and her doily OCD pretty much made a recipe for disasters. And I really, really hate doilies.
Having just moved in, though, that flat was strangely tidy and neat. I wasn’t sure we could call it home yet. For starters, the place was weird (and we had bad feelings about it). It was also quiet. Living in London and having been an erstwhile nocturnal art student, I was used to constant noise – sirens, traffic, occasional outbursts of raucous drunken singing. New New Elgin was as loud as it was normal, by which I mean that it was almost totally silence. Not even a distant motorway to hum me to sleep. I missed the feeling of a place being alive.
After the debacle of the false wall episode on Thursday night, I hadn’t had much contact with the inhabitants of New New Elgin. Unpacking had kept us busy most of the weekend and, truth be told, I wasn’t keen to turn a rubbish first impression into a second.
Call me mad, but, on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but feel a little homesick. Londonsick.
It’s not like my week was a total downer, though. Look, if there’s an equation for a perfect life, it probably looks a little like this: tea plus toast multiplied by warm duvet to the power of Scorpius Malfoy equals ace. I’m not sure how you’d write that out as an actual formula. Anything involving any sort of number is beyond me, unless it’s part of a percentage that denotes how alcoholic a drink is.
Sunday morning happened to apply this equation rather well. I woke up a little earlier than usual, and it was still dark when I opened my eyes. Condensation ringed the bottom of the windowpanes, and frost glimmered through a crack in the curtain, but I was deliciously, indulgently cosy, snug as a bug in a rug. Apart from my feet, which were poking out of the end of the duvet and had turned to ice.
I yanked them back into the bed and snuggled under the covers a bit more. This brought me a little closer to Scorpius, which was fine until I accidentally planted my icy feet on his ankles and he physically flinched.
‘Lucy, gerroff,’ he mumbled into the pillow.
I kept my feet there, though, and he didn’t say anything. I must have fallen asleep after that, because the next time I opened my eyes sunlight was streaming into the room and I seemed to have conquered vast swathes of the bed. Guessing that Scorpius had got up to make tea, I fidgeted about a bit, yawned, then stretched, plunging my weary limbs into the four corners of the duvet.
Much to my surprise, Scorpius still inhabited two of these corners. Evidently he’d been too polite to fight back when I’d claimed most of the bed earlier. This meant that, upon stretching, I pretty much shoved him straight out. A dull, vaguely painful thud signalled his landing on the floorboards.
I peered over the edge of the mattress. A single hand flailed up into my line of vision.
‘Ow, that hurt,’ he whined, grabbing onto the edge of the mattress and hoisting himself up. I huddled deeper into the duvet.
‘I regret nothing…’
‘Sure,’ he shuffled out of the room, clutching his elbow (which may have been the cause of the thud). ‘I’m going to make tea.’
Sunday, Sunday, the perfect lazy day. The day off, the sluggish, scheduled lie-in, reading the newspaper in bed with tea, not getting out of your pyjamas until three – or never getting out of your pyjamas at all. Sunday was a pyjama day. Sunday was the sort of day I could kick Scorpius out of the bed and then lie on the remaining areas of the mattress like a starfish, waiting for a cuppa.
Scorpius came back in from the kitchen five minutes later with a cup of tea in hand and yesterday’s newspaper tucked under one arm. I propped myself up, the duvet still swaddling my legs, smoothed down my hair, and fixed my face in a huge grin.
‘Good morning,’ I said.
‘Afternoon,’ he said, leaning nonchalantly in the doorframe and flicking the newspaper open. He scanned the front page with a raised eyebrow.
‘House prices rising? Falling? Someone famous falling over outside a nightclub? A nightclub falling over outside-’
‘It’s actually a very interesting report on the plight of the self-inking quill manufacturing trade in Essex which, apparently, has gone into a decline in recent years and-’
‘Just get back into bed.’
He came back over, plonked the tea on the stack of arty magazines we were using as a bedside table, and flopped down onto the mattress, newspaper still in hand. This made the paper open up like an accordion and scattered half the weekend supplement across the duvet – a catalogue of vouchers for Diagon Alley landed on my knees.
‘Maybe this is a sign,’ I said, lifting it. ‘That I should seize the day and…er…get fifteen percent off the sum of my total purchase when I buy a pound of beetle eyes at the Apothecary. Well, that’s a blast from the past.’
‘You do that,’ Scorpius said, flicking through the newspaper. ‘Carpe diem.’
‘I think I’m far better at seizing the night,’ I said, trying to hold back a yawn.
‘Carpe noctem,’ he nodded. ‘Oh, they’ve reviewed that exhibition I wanted to go to…’
I’d already started to tune out. ‘Cool. Pass the tea, then.’
‘Get your own.’
‘Hey – I worked really hard yesterday-’
‘You made a sofa out of packing paper. And I tidied it away.’
‘I’m a budding furniture designer…’
‘Well, before this descends any further – this came last night-’ he extracted a letter from the scattered supplements. ‘After you’d gone to bed.’
‘A letter! We’re popular!’
As I’d hoped, it was the reply from Gwen and Tarquin – remarkably fast, although my faith in the Owl Post system had never once failed before. (In my opinion, if they replaced every Ministry official with post owls, I bet the country would run about fifty times more efficiently. Or, you know, everything would collapse and there would be mass hysteria. Most likely the latter.)
Dearest Lucille and Scorpio,, it ran.
We will travel to the Orkneys and you shall no longer be the most northern northerners. Besides, our jetsetting has been far more cultural and enlightening than yours. Yesterday we went to a puppetry museum in Wales. Tarks, as you call him, wants to take me to France for a bit. He says he wants to ‘seduce me under the bright lights of gay Paree.’ Knowing us, we’ll be in Moscow by next week. Glad to hear the locals are weird, you’ll fit in great. And what if the duck is on land?
We’re free in January. We’ll be there and be a dodecahedron. Lucy, if you’re reading this, ruffle Scorpius’ hair on our behalf. Scorpius, if you’re reading this, pat Lucy on the head because she’s short. Maybe snog her too.
We await your reply with trembling knees.
Love and hugs and surreal performance art, Gwendotron: Dark Lady of All.
‘If someone ever found our letters, I bet they’d get so confused…oh, and,’ I reached up and ruffled his hair. ‘That’s from the two of them.’
‘Actually, I read it first,’ he patted me vaguely on the head and almost poked me in the eye. ‘You’re incredibly small, you know?’
A few minutes’ silence passed while he continued to peruse the newspaper and I re-read the letter a couple of times.
‘So. Carpe diem,’ I said. ‘It’s a Sunday. Are you gonna snog me or what?’
‘Saving it for later.’
‘Oh, okay. Well, you know, I feel like we should be doing something. Seizing the day, y’know?’
‘Please don’t build another sofa out of paper…’
‘No, I mean…’ I folded my arms and settled back into the pillows, thinking intently. ‘I never do anything on a Sunday. It’d be nice to…you know…go out somewhere.’
‘Not after last time. And you know I’d never start drinking this early, what do you think I am, an alcoholic?’
‘Well, we could just go for a walk or something,’ he shrugged. ‘You know, explore the town and stuff.’
I considered it. ‘Good idea. I’ve kind of been wanting to…um…check it out. See if we can find any normal people.'
‘We’re not exactly good at normal ourselves. We’re like…butterbeer for wasps. If you imagine that odd folk are wasps.’
‘Makes sense. Come on, let’s get going.’
An hour later, we were up, dressed, groomed and breakfasted. Or as dressed and groomed as we could ever be, although I guess that by normal standards we probably looked like the ex-art students we were. Something like a year or two previously, Scorpius had acquired this ancient mackintosh jacket that was undeniably waterproof and wind-resident, but also a bit massive and a bit grubby. It had these gaping, voluminous pockets, which were capable of storing a small sketchbook and a miniature palette of watercolour paints or, perhaps, a telephoto lens or two. As much as this jacket was practical, it was also a little bit ridiculous and made him look like he was wearing a navy tent. Stubborn as he was, though, he wore it pretty much everywhere. Including on our first merry little jaunt to the outer reaches of New New Elgin.
As expected, the town was deserted.
‘Look, either we’ve moved to pensioner land,’ Scorpius said, throwing his hands out at the empty shops as we walked along the High Street, ‘or there really is a conspiracy afoot.’
‘I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy.’
‘Yeah, well, I think that’s a bit daft. I mean, it’s basically winter, maybe this place is just popular in the summer when it’s warm.’
‘What’re you on about? There’s no such thing as warm in Scotland.’
In a way, I sort of envied Scorpius and his massive, wind/rain/snow/hail/sleet/lightning/plague of locustsproof jacket. I was freezing, even with my multiple woolly layers and thermal socks and whatnot. I drew a little closer, almost toppling him off balance.
‘Where are we headed?’ he asked.
I peered at the horizon, where a thin strip of sea could just be seen over the roofs of the distant houses.
‘We’re closer to the sea than I thought,’ I frowned. ‘Maybe...maybe we moved to the wrong place.’
‘Wouldn’t put it past us. The lady from the shop did say we were further North.’
We decided to hobble down to the beach anyway, Scorpius saying something vague about looking for flotsam and jetsam. I balled the cuffs of my jumper into my fists and shoved them into my pockets, trying to get the feeling back into my fingers.
The beach in itself was a bit of a disappointment. As we stood on the sand dunes and stared out at the brooding sky, I reflected that, in my life, I hadn’t exactly experienced many nice beaches. This one was…very flat. And very grey. Although I supposed that was mostly down to the weather.
‘I think it might rain,’ Scorpius nodded to the sky.
Above us, the clouds had formed the weather equivalent of a giant frowning face. An enormous black cloud hung over the scene like a furrowed brow, and the still sea reflected it in a steely grey expanse. It all kind of smacked of the worst bits of the Mordenton-on-Sea fiasco of a holiday and the worst bits of London rolled into one big beachy mass.
‘Will we ever go to a real beach?’ I said. ‘Like, with parasols and people in bikinis and melting ice cream everywhere?’
‘Ice cream,’ Scorpius said, with a determined look at the horizon. 'Ice cream in a cone, all proper like. I know it’s winter, but I’m craving it…'
True to Scorpius’ predictions, it began to rain.
‘And this is why I own a sensible jacket,’ he said, turning up the collar of the offending ancient anorak. ‘And before you ask, I’m not giving it to you.’
‘There you go,’ he pulled up the hood of my own jacket. ‘Do you need me to zip it up too?’
‘Only lame people zip up their jackets-’
He promptly zipped his anorak all the way to the top, giving him the appearance of an inflated circus tent.
‘No,’ he admitted, after a second or two had passed. ‘I look stupid.’
We battled on along the beach a bit more, hopping that the rain would ease off after a bit, but it only seemed to get worse. Even with my hood up, the rain drove into my face and made my nose go numb. Scorpius, on the other hand, could barely see through his soaking fringe. After a while, though, the blur of a building showed up in the distance and, as the rain got heavier and heavier and the wind started to howl in my ears, I suggested that it’d probably be wise to seek some sort of shelter in whatever shack, hovel or shed it was we were approaching.
It turned out to be a bit of a ruin – it looked like an old church, maybe, only one that’d been left derelict for quite a few decades. Given what I’d seen of New New Elgin so far, this was probably down to lack of population. Or maybe the village was embroiled in some weird pagan cult that would probably result in one of us being sacrificed on an altar made of tartan and shortbread. Ruin or not, though, it still had a roof in most places and, well, any shelter was good shelter, so we threw open the door and darted inside.
The door crashed shut with a shuddering echo – and, for the second time since we’d crossed the border, we seemed to discover most of the population of New New Elgin. They looked just as surprised as we were.
Worryingly, none of them looked especially happy to see us.
‘Oh…’ it was Jean Cumbernauld, standing at the front of the group with a dying smile. ‘What do we do?’
‘On one knee,’ the surly barman from The Drookit Duck pointed at the two of us.
‘No, that’s when you want to marry someone…’ knitting boy piped up.
‘Both knees,’ surly barman barked. ‘Both of them. Get on them. Hands behind your head. Where we can see them.
‘Surely if they put their hands behind their heads then we won’t be able to see them-’
‘Oh, don’t be pedantic!’
I ended up grabbing for Scorpius’ hand, missing, and pinching his waist instead. He let out the tiniest of yelps as I scrambled for his hand instead.
‘Look,’ I said, trying to summon courage to my shivery voice. ‘We’re not…kneeling.’
I could feel my heartbeat in my fingertips. The air pocket between my hand and Scorpius’ was fast developing its own microclimate as our palms sweated like there was no tomorrow.
‘Look, we just went out for a walk,’ Scorpius spoke up beside me, his voice shaking even more than mine. ‘We’ll go away if you want-’
‘Did Inverness send you?’ surly barman demanded.
The crowd behind him seemed to bristle with expectation. Something like twenty pairs of eyes peered at us.
‘But they’d say that if Inverness had sent them,’ knitting boy said. ‘You’ve got to use reverse psychology, Kevin.’
Surly barman (who would henceforth be known as Kevin) took a moment to think about it.
‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Did Inverness…not send you?’
‘Er – yes?’ Scorpius said.
‘You absolute prune,’ knitting boy rolled his eyes. ‘Not you,’ he added, as the crowd’s gaze swivelled onto Scorpius. ‘Kev, that’s not how reverse psychology works.’
‘Look, I know how to settle this,’ Jean C stepped forward and crouched in front of us. ‘Tell me what you know of the coven.’
I gave her what I hoped was the most gormless look I could muster under such stressful circumstances. Scorpius probably did something similar beside me, because then Jean C sighed and shook her head.
‘Look, they’re blatantly not spies-’
‘Spies?’ Scorpius burst out. ‘We’re not spies!’
‘But they’re artsy,’ Kevin frowned. ‘And we all know what the coven is like.’
A collective grumble passed through the crowd.
‘What coven?’ Scorpius cried.
‘We can’t tell you,’ Kevin frowned. ‘But you must fear them-’
‘Oh, we can tell them,’ knitting boy said. ‘And besides, the coven isn’t the worst thing round these parts.’
‘What coven?’ I echoed Scorpius. ‘What’s going on?’
Jean C and knitting boy exchanged a knowing look.
‘Draw up a chair, everyone,’ knitting boy said. ‘Time for a story.’
Another collective grumble seemed to go round the crowd; a teenage girl clapped her hands and squealed ‘I love stories!’ Then there was an immense scraping sound as the rest of the village drew up a pew or two from the dark interior of the old church, arranging them into a loose semicircle around us. Jean C, surly Kevin and knitting boy motioned for us to sit with them, knitting boy extracting some knitting from a bag on the floor.
‘Perhaps we overreacted.’ Jean C smiled.
‘Perhaps?’ Scorpius exploded. ‘Perhaps you overreacted?’
‘I’d say this is a bloody overreaction and a half,’ I muttered.
‘Some might say we’re a little sceptical of newcomers-’
‘A little sceptical?’
‘Yes, some might say. And the less you interrupt, the quicker we can tell the story.’
Scorpius crossed his arms and stared down at the floor, somehow looking politely indignant and confused at the same time.
‘Well, there’s this thing called the All Magical All Scottish Talent and Variety Show Contest. And we’re very particular about it. See, we’ve won five years in a row. But…not the last two years.’
‘That’s…impressive,’ I said, although it was hard to rein in the sarcasm.
‘Well, it’s only the region D contest. Well, section A of region D. And the fifth division of section A. And it’s only the first round…but we always win. And we’re always up against Inverness.’
‘But Inverness have the coven,’ knitting boy piped up. ‘And a fantastic contemporary dance group. But we have the musicians.’
‘We’ve got Kevin on the bass, Morag on the drums, the five of us Jeans can do cracking harmony and then Jock plays the bagpipes. But we always lose out on the poster and the dance…we have to design our own poster, you see?’ Jean C explained. ‘To get people to come to the competition. But, well, we’re not good that that. Or the dance aspect. I mean, we can do a few ceilidh things and we can strip a willow any day, but otherwise-’
‘They’re English,’ knitting boy said archly. ‘They probably didn’t get a word of that last bit.’
‘A ceilidh is a big dance,’ Jean C explained hurriedly. ‘And there’s this one dance called strip the willow.’
‘It’s better when you’re drunk.’
‘Anyway,’ Jean C continued. ‘But Inverness are our main competitors, right? Well, our only competitors. But they’re dead tough. And we have the beat them. So we can’t risk a single bit of our plan getting out to them.’
‘We thought Inverness had sent you. You look like coven types, and we-’
‘Sorry, but,’ I cut in. ‘What on earth is the coven?’
A ripple seemed to pass through the assembled villagers.
‘Nobody quite knows,’ a voice piped up from the back.
‘But they’re artsy!’
‘They wear black turtlenecks-’
‘Someone told me they only meet on the second Thursday of every other month-’
‘-but never on a full moon!’
‘I heard that they could walk on water-’
‘They’re from Inverness and they’re arty types,’ knitting boy explained. ‘They always do Inverness’ poster, which is always better. And they’re very intimidating. Not that I’ve met them, but you hear things, you know?’
‘So we were concerned that you were spies from Inverness,’ Jean C summarised. ‘Because, well, nobody moves to New New Elgin.’
‘Plus we intercepted an owl you received-’
‘What?’ Scorpius bellowed. ’You read our post?’
‘Just the once, and it’s not like we hurt the owl or anything-’
‘It’s against the law! You can’t do that!’
‘Our postmaster is above the law,’ knitting boy said patiently.
‘Yeah, but – but - you can’t read our post! And what sort of postmaster is above the law!’
‘We’ve got our position in the talent show to consider!’
‘That’s…’ I felt an overwhelming desire to laugh, despite the extra bizarre situation and the hordes of villagers peering at us. ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.’
The villagers’ looks of polite interest swiftly changed to confusion mixed with anger.
‘You don’t understand how important this talent show is.’ Knitting boy said, in that same patient voice.
‘But you can’t - can’t just,’ I stammered. ‘When someone is new to a t-town, you can’t just – make them so unwelcome! And no, seriously, intercepting post is very illegal. My dad works at the Ministry and if he heard about this-’
‘Well, uh,’ Scorpius interrupted. ‘We’re not your enemies. We can…help…you?’
Everyone leaned in slightly.
‘Yes…?’ knitting boy said expectantly.
‘Well…we can help with your poster. We’re both art school graduates. Okay, photographers. But we get stuff about colour theory and we know how to draw,’ Scorpius said, glancing at me. ‘Okay, we can draw a bit.’
‘We’d love to help,’ I nodded fervently. ‘Anything that’ll convince you we’re not spies…’
‘And I…play piano!’ Scorpius flapped his arms about a bit, as if he was struggling to get his words out. ‘Maybe we can…help out. With the…the thing.’
The New New Elginers exchanged a look as one.
‘We’ll consider it,’ knitting boy said.
a/n: not my best again, I know, but I had to write this bit by bit inbetween mounds of coursework so I never really felt I got into the flow of writing, or something? Anyway. A fourth chapter of exposition, fluffy sunday mornings and people being incredulous and strange~ thank you for reading!
chapter five - a duck in the pint
by shudder @ tda
‘So let me get this straight,’ knitting boy said. ‘Between the two of you, you can,’ he began to list off on his fingers, around which a string of wool was twined. ‘Play an instrument, write, take photos, draw, paint, do moderate DIY work, and design things?’
Scorpius looked quite chuffed about this assessment. ‘Well…yes.’
‘Let me get this straight,’ surly Kevin said, in a most surly manner. ‘What do you two even do for a living?’
‘I’m a photographer and she’s a writer,’ Scorpius said, quickly, ignoring the two ‘pseudo’ prefixes that should have been tacked onto both job titles.
‘And let me get the straight – photographer of what? Writer of what?’ Jean C cut in.
‘Well, I work for Wizarding History magazine and she works for Witch Weekly-’
‘Let me get this straight-’
‘For the love of Merlin’s saggy left earlobe,’ an irate villager near the back of the church started up. ‘Stop saying let me get this straight!’
‘Well,’ knitting boy said. ‘This is perfect, then, isn’t it?’
‘A bit too perfect,’ surly Kevin narrowed his eyes. ‘Too a bit too perfect.’
‘Yeah, it is kind of far-fetched,’ Jean C let out a giggle. ‘But we all know the town motto-’
‘Anything is possible in New New Elgin,’ the room chorused as one.
‘…right,’ I said.
‘So you can help us out!’
‘We’d be delighted to,’ Scorpius babbled, his arms already dangerously close to the flailing stage again. ‘We’d be so stupendously happy to!’
‘Yeah, we’ll help,’ I joined in the flailing and babbling fiesta. ‘We’ll do whatever-’
‘If you’ll let us go!’
And so it was that, within seventy-two hours of moving to New New Elgin, we had somehow joined a band.
It seemed I’d been a little hasty in agreeing to write a book. For starters, I had no idea where to begin.
Monday morning. I should have felt fantastic; I’d had lots of sleep, I’d survived my first proper meeting with the weirdo population of New New Elgin, I had a cup of tea and some toast, and I was quite cosy in the flat. Instead, I had my head on the desk and my fingertips trailing lazily across the keys of the typewriter, the blank parchment loaded in it getting blanker and blanker by the minute.
The parchment, I felt, adequately resembled my thoughts.
Of course, I’d asked Scorpius for a bit of help before he set off with a few cameras in tow for some event in the Midlands. Of course, he’d been a tiny bit useless, our conversation at the breakfast table being a case in point.
‘You’re a poet-’
‘Was a poet.’
‘Okay, you were a poet-’
‘You were a pseudo-poet-’
‘Only for a year.’
‘You were a pseudo-poet for a year.’
He looked at me over the top of his glasses. ‘Yeah, and?’
‘Well. How do you start?’
‘Writing, you gooseberry.’
‘Begin with a bang,’ he said. ‘Say something bold and glittery. Your first sentence should be a fishhook that embeds itself in the metaphorical mouth of your reader.’
‘Is that some sort of writing thing?’
‘No, it’s something Lettuce told me when he was drunk.’
‘Right, so, bold and glittery,’ I said.
‘You’ll be fine. Only advice I have is write what you know, but that’s a hackneyed expression and a half and, you know, subvert the norm now and again.’
He’d left ten minutes later in a blur of maroon cardigan and telephoto lens, and I’d settled down in front of the typewriter with my tea and my toast and resolved to have a crack at a chapter or two.
I’d somehow forgotten that I’d never actually written a book before. I’d written little things over the years, whether they were little pieces for the Daily Prophet or epic feats of imagination and fantasy for Divination homework, but I generally lost interest after a couple of sides of parchment. Which I really couldn’t afford to do with this.
I sat up, took a swig of tea, and then typed, resolving to write what I knew.
So I’d just given London the two-finger salute.
Too informal. Sounded like the start of a joke. I wound the parchment on a little bit more, thought again, and then, for the second time, typed.
Leaving London was the best idea I’d had in a while.
No, that wouldn’t do either.
It was the day I moved to Scotland.
Somehow I felt that had been done. And did I really need to narrate this in the first person? It wasn’t like I was meant to be writing my life story. I wound the parchment on again.
There was four hundred and forty miles between her and London, and all she had was a single suitcase.
It sounded like the start of an epic weepy, but I decided to plough on regardless.
She hadn’t been able to resist giving the city the two-fingered salute before she left, but, with the benefit of distance, she realised she had, in fact, developed a certain fondness for the place, and the homesickness was already setting in as she set foot in the small, grey town.
Better. But where did I go from there? Who was she and what was she doing? A thought occurred to me, and I chuckled as I typed out the next paragraph.
Her name was Daisy Beasley, and she was a hopeless nerd with the figure of a teenaged boy, legs that went on for inches, and hips that barely held up a pair of jeans. Behind her walked her spindly boyfriend, Sebastian Malouel, who could barely be seen behind his trendy glasses and overgrown fringe.
I was rambling. The whole thing was futile. I hit a lever on the typewriter and tore the parchment out, crumpling it into a little ball and tossing it over my shoulder. It soared towards the sink and splashed into the washing up bowl, throwing up specks of scummy water on the tiles.
I wound a new page, rubbed my palms into my eyes, took another hearty swig of tea, and started to type again.
She had to leave. Had to go four hundred and forty miles alone, with her life packed into a small suitcase and her life’s savings in her pocket. She had to run, and she decided to run as far as she could.
Maybe not the best start, but it’d do.
I was about to carry on writing when I realised that, actually, I didn’t really know what I was writing. Euphemia Flitter hadn’t exactly been very clear about what she’d wanted, she’d just made it known that she wanted something, been a bit intimidating, then left.
My next act, then, was to send her a letter that went something along the lines of Dear Miss Flitter, I started writing but I don’t know what I’m writing so could you tell me what I’m writing please? Love and hugs and haggis from Lucy. Only the real letter had a much more formal and apologetic tone and there was no love and hugs and haggis, only a yours sincerely and the scribble that passed for my signature.
And, of course, the moment I set off for the Post Office, it started to rain.
Even the rain in New New Elgin was weird. See, in London, I’d become very accustomed to ignoring rain (there’s never much you can do about it when you’re stuck in a busy street and you don’t have an umbrella). But in New New Elgin, it was hard to ignore. It was like being stuck inside a cloud that punched you in the face now and again.
My anorak went to an early grave that day.
I finally arrived at the Post Office after ten minutes of battling through the elements, soaking wet and occasionally sneezing. To the raised eyebrows of the postmaster, I withdrew the letter from where I had tucked it inside my jumper and handed it to him. The edges were slightly soggy.
‘To London,’ I sniffed. ‘First class.’
‘The owls won’t fly until this rain is off,’ he warned, holding the letter at arm’s length. ‘There may be some delay.’
‘Cool,’ I said, tempted to add, but I thought you were above the law? I was too busy shivering inside my sodden jacket to think much about postage times, however. Like the anorak, the hair hadn’t survived the walk. I shook my fringe out of my eyes, scattering droplets of rainwater across the counter. Just as I was picking at the cuff of my jacket and trying to figure out how much it would cost to send the letter, the bell over the door jingled and knitting boy entered, sporting an industrial strength anorak.
‘Oh dear,’ he said, catching sight of my drowned rat impersonation. I gave him a polite nod, the memory of being accused of spying still smarting just a teensy weensy bit.
‘You’re going to need to invest in a better anorak,’ he said, nodding to me and the puddle of rainwater I was standing in.
‘I’m Prentice, by the way,’ he offered me his hand. ‘I don’t think we’ve met…properly.’
Considering we’d met twice, once in a ruined church and once in a pub with a fake wall, then, no, I didn’t think we’d met properly either.
‘I’m Lucy,’ I shook his hand. ‘Er…’
‘It’s alright,’ he released my hand, breaking off what had probably been a remarkably wet handshake. ‘We get the rain up here a lot, you know.’
‘Yeah, so we’ve been told. And I had to swim through it to get here.’
‘Well,’ he said vaguely. ‘I suppose you’ll be wanting to know when the first rehearsal is…’
‘For the talent show,’ he said. ‘I mean, if you’re still going to help us…’
The second part of his statement sounded slightly threatening. I nodded.
‘First of December,’ he turned away to the desk. ‘Seven o’clock in the town hall. Any post for me?’
I stood back and waited while the Post Officer handed over a large parcel.
‘Splendid,’ Prentice said. ‘New wool.’
‘Sorry but – where’s the town hall?’ I asked, envisioning the whole town trying to squeeze into that ruined church on the beach again.
‘Just at the end of the High Street,’ he said. ‘By the war memorial.’
‘Thanks,’ I made to leave. ‘Hope the rain’s off.’
‘Oh, it won’t be off for a while,’ he said. ‘It’s November.’
True to his word, the rain didn’t stop for another five hours, although it definitely got a bit lighter than the celestial fisticuffs I’d had to battle through earlier. Scorpius turned up about the time the rain ended too, sporting a pair of grossly oversized sunglasses.
‘Hello!’ he sounded very cheerful indeed. ‘Beautiful day, isn’t it?’
‘Have you been outside?’
‘Yeah,’ he grinned. ‘Well, in the Midlands anyway, I got tons of good photos and-’
‘It’s been raining all day.’
‘Oh. D’you fancy going to the pub?’
‘Um…sure. But I’m going to need a new anorak.’
We made a slight diversion on our way to the pub; I wanted to check out where the town hall actually was, and so blundered on through the gloom until I saw something vaguely pointy and memorial-shaped sticking out of the darkness. This, I presumed, was the war memorial, and that the dark bulk behind it with the stained-glass windows was the town hall. We drew up at the foot of it, both shivering slightly.
‘Funny,’ Scorpius said. ‘It’s only for the second war.’
I squinted down at a plaque that had been nailed to the floor. There seemed to be an awful lot of names on it.
‘Usually they’re for both wars,’ Scorpius added, sounding a little sombre. ‘There was one near where I grew up, except you had to touch it to see the names…’
We both stood in silence for a moment until Scorpius vocalised exactly what I’d been slightly too afraid to say.
‘That’s a lot of names for one town.’
Another tense, shivering silence passed. I hooked my arm around his.
‘Yeah,’ I said, already turning away. ‘I’m freezing.’
Our diversion up to the war memorial meant that it took us a further twenty minutes to get to the pub. Fortunately, the windows of The Drookit Duck spilled warm light out onto the pavements; it looked delightfully cosy indoors, and there was no sign of a fake wall or, for that matter, any sort of espionage-related shenanigans.
It actually all looked a bit too good to be true.
Scorpius went up to the bar to get two pints while I tried to find an empty table. No sooner had I made a beeline for a free table crammed into the corner, though, than someone called my name from the other side of the room. I looked over to see that Jean C, knitting Prentice and another woman I didn’t recognise were waving me over to their table. Given that I was still a little bit scared of them, I didn’t want to refuse and so sat myself down on one of their free chairs, keeping an eye on Scorpius at the bar.
‘How are you getting on?’ Jean C asked, in the peculiar hybrid of chirp and shriek that was her voice. ‘Settling in alright?’
It was a bit rich of her to ask this, but I nodded.
‘Weather’s a bit naff, though.’
‘Must be hard, though, moving from a city,’ she said.
‘I’ve never been to one,’ she looked a little wistful. ‘Furthest away I’ve been is Peterhead.’
‘I went to Glasgow once,’ knitting Prentice said. ‘It was…big. But I imagine London’s huge.’
‘Yeah,’ I nodded. ‘Massive. Expensive.’
‘You picked a very quiet corner of Scotland to move to,’ Jean C smiled. ‘Not much happens round here.’
This statement was so at odds with what I’d seen so far that I nearly burst out laughing. But, then again, I hadn’t visited much of the rest of Scotland. For all I knew, blackmailing the English for the sake of a talent show was pretty normal round these parts.
Scorpius turned up with the pints at this point. Surly Kevin the barman was obviously of the generous kind, because each glass was precariously full; Scorpius had to do a sort of crab impersonation to get them safely onto the table without beer slopping everywhere. When he managed this without a single drop spilled and managed to sit down without knocking anything over, I felt like applauding him. Evidently I’d trained him well.
They weren’t just ordinary pints, however. Before one rushes to assumptions about what a pint from New New Elgin might look like, I should point out that the pints themselves were alright and it probably was just regular old beer. What was special about them was the garnish, which was a tiny model duck on a cocktail stick.
‘When you come for a pint in the duck, you get a duck in your pint,’ knitting Prentice said, sagely, as I contemplated the duck. If it was a real duck, it probably would have been in a lot of pain; whoever had made it had stuck the cocktail stick right in its backside.
‘Cool,’ Scorpius extracted the duck from his glass and propped it up against the salt shaker.
‘Yeah,’ I placed my duck next to Scorpius’. ‘Neat.’
‘And you get to keep them,’ knitting Prentice said.
‘I have a whole jar full of them at home,’ Jean C said. ‘They just look so…cheerful!’
I instantly resolved to acquire more ducks so that I could package them up and send them on to Tarquin and Gwen.
‘Have you met Jean, by the way?’ Jean C suddenly asked.
The third occupant of the table spoke up for the first time. ‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘This is Jean Paisley, but we all call her Jeanie-’
‘It’s a popular name around these parts,’ Jean P/Jeanie explained, sounding a little weary.
‘She’s Jock’s fiancée,’ Jean C added. ‘He’s at training the noo.’
My mind, which was still firmly tuned into London, heard this as he’s out training the noo and before I could stop myself, I’d asked exactly what a noo was and how one went about training it.
I only realised my mistake when the three New New Elginers at the table burst out laughing.
‘No,’ Jean C smiled. ‘No – it’s like-’
‘Now,’ Scorpius cut in. ‘What they meant was-’
‘He’s at training at this present moment,’ knitting Prentice said, in a passable imitation of a cut-glass English accent. I felt my face going an interesting shade of red and sank back in my chair, sipping at my pint.
‘What sort of training, by the way?’ Scorpius asked.
‘He’s out training the bairns,’ Jean P/Jeanie said. ‘The Elgin Egrets – it’s the Quidditch team for the wee ones.’
‘And he plays keeper for the Elgin Eagles,’ Jean C added, sounding quite proud. ‘Beat the Inverness Ibises four tournaments running.’
Ah, so it was Elgin Egrets after all, and not Elgin Regrets as I’d suspected – well, that made me feel a lot more comfortable about the move to New New Elgin.
‘You’re not really fans of Inverness, are you?’ I said.
‘Not in the slightest,’ knitting Prentice said. ‘They’re our oldest rivals.’
‘We’d do anything to beat them,’ Jean C said, looking remarkably serious for someone so cheerful. ‘Youse still want to help out, right?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I said, aware of how very uncertain I’d sounded.
But after that brief flicker of uncertainty, the conversation ran pretty smoothly after that and, for a while, I forgot how weird the place was – it simply felt like five people having a pint together, it felt like the first time we were welcome.
When we left, though…well, I suppose the only way I can describe it is the feeling of being acutely anxious, yet acutely curious at the same time. This was a town so paranoid about losing a talent show that it spied on newcomers, a town verging on the ridiculous – yet, at the same time, a town with a war memorial with a very long list of names indeed. Something had happened in New New Elgin in the past, and I got the feeling that it wasn’t going to come under the ‘ridiculous’ category.
It left me wondering one thing: what sort of place was New New Elgin?
And how could I exploit it for fiction? A girl’s got to eat.
a/n: so. much. exposition. and. filler.
This...this is a little bit more serious than I'd anticipated but, hey ho, of the twenty or so chapter outlines I've scribbled down in my big yellow notebook of organised doom, at least eighty percent are set to contain bona fide artsy crack in some shape or form. If I truly stick to my plan, one can expect to expect one-armed DIY antics, sequins, Scorpius and the Comic Book Saga, an abundance of tartan, Mr Andrew Socks (and, no, I'm not telling you who he is, you'll have to speculate), a Burns supper and troo lurve. I hope some of that tickles your fancy ;D
thank you for reading! ♥
chapter six - the keeper and the seeker
by shudder @ tda
All in all, I think the best thing about leaving London was the extra sleep.
A week had passed into our new life in New New Elgin and I was barely working. It was a noticeable change. Back when I’d had three jobs and strange shifts, I’d averaged no more than six hours a night, and I’d only ever got a lie in on those strange, rare Sundays I’d had off. But now, my only job was to spend a few hours a day arsing around with a typewriter. I didn’t even have to get up until eleven in the morning if I wanted to.
I don’t want to sound like I’m a jobsworth or a slacker or anything. I mean, I worked. I kept the flat clean and tidy (or as clean and tidy as I could with my naff housekeeping skills), I went and fetched the post, and I actually did write some things, although they were pretty abysmal. Sometimes I even made soup. And even though I didn’t have to get up until lunchtime, I usually dragged myself out of bed at seven anyway to see Scorpius off.
That was the thing; I’d pretty much assumed that the main (and possibly only) impetus for the move was the fact that we were both working too much and it was all getting a bit silly. But he still worked. He had the magazine job, and then, pretty much as soon as we’d resolved the whole manic-villagers-stalking-us crisis, he’d been off jobhunting in the Prophet classifieds again, and then even going so far as to check all the local newspapers, right down to the New New Elgin Herald, until hed found something.
And so our second Sunday in New New Elgin was the last one we would have off together for a long time.
‘I’ve found something,’ he said, over breakfast, jabbing at a square inch of text in the back of the Moray Firth Advertiser. ‘It looks decent.’
‘Hmm?’ I said, through a mouthful of toast.
‘This,’ he held up the newspaper for me to see, although the tiny text was little more than a vague blur. ‘Photo shop needs an assistant. It says…um, you get a pretty good staff discount.’
I could almost see the little lights (possibly flash bulbs) going off in his head. If there was a chance to get cheap film and cheap cameras, he would take that chance like a wasp on an open bottle of butterbeer.
‘Cool,’ I said. ‘Where is it?’
‘Aberdeen,’ he said, nonchalantly. ‘It’s called Cameraderie. Heh.’
I paused, my tea halfway to my mouth. ‘Aberdeen. That’s...that’s not very local.’
‘Yeah, well,’ he set the newspaper down. ‘I do commute to London half the time. I bet I can Floo to Aberdeen, it’s nearer. It’ll be fine.’
‘Hmm,’ I hmm’d.
‘Lucy, it’s called Cameraderie. You know I like puns.’
‘Yeah, I know. I know.’
So I let him run off and apply for the job. I needed some time to myself anyway; Euphemia Flitter had responded. Sort of. She had sent me four very neat, very pristine, and very pink books with a screech owl. Not even a covering letter or a little note, nothing.
The books? Quidditch Confessions, Incidents at the Apothecary, To Tame a Dragon-Tamer, and Accio Love.
I wouldn’t let that put me off, though. One thing my mum said to me when I was very little was that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and I decided to make good on that advice. It was hard, though. Quidditch Confessions had the sort of cover I would be too embarrassed to read in public - I’d probably have covered it up with a newspaper if I’d been on the train. A bulky specimen of a man in Bulgaria robes, cradling a feebly pathetic, pouting mass of frills and pink robes – oh, the pink was overwhelming. I think the front cover made the nuances of the plot fairly clear, but I was going to give it a chance. I had a job to do and Galleons to earn, and if I ended up churning out something called Elgin Regrets with a pink cover, so be it. A girl’s got to eat, and a girl can eat a lot off five hundred Galleons. A girl can also drink a lot off five hundred Galleons.
I didn’t have much time to read, though. I’d barely dipped into the first page when Scorpius returned in a whirlwind of cardigan, anorak and chemicals, the clock ticked round to ten to seven, and we had to depart for the first rehearsal of the official New New Elgin band.
‘So they said I could have the job,’ he said, as we descended the stairs to Burns Lane. ‘Well, I mean, for a trial, you know, a few weeks. I can start on Wednesday. And I can Floo. And their dark room is awesome. Not scuzzy or anything, not like the one in London. And the staff discount is massive and they have tons of old cameras.’
‘Cool,’ I said.
‘And I was going to look for something else,’ he held the door open for me, and we exited into Burns Lane. ‘You know, just another thing on the side.’
‘What, another job?’
I felt like I was missing something. ‘Didn’t we leave London because we had too many jobs?’
‘Yeah, but,’ he shifted from one foot to the other. ‘I could do with a leg-up into, you know, a proper job.’
‘You’ve got proper jobs.’
‘I’m an assistant photographer and an assistant sales assistant and I don’t want to be an assistant forever alright?’
‘Okay,’ we set off down the High Street. ‘Fine. But I’m not going to look for anything else. Feel free to work your arse off, but I’m content being a pseudo-writer for the time being.’
As was to be expected, New New Elgin was quiet. Someone had put up a load of Christmas decorations overnight; pretty lights hung between the buildings, and the shop windows were full of paper snowflakes. The air had a bitter edge to it, the sky was heavy – I was pretty sure the weatherwitch had forecasted snow.
‘How’s your book going?’ Scorpius asked.
‘Naff. Very naff. Scary lady,’ (for that was what we called Euphemia Flitter within the privacy of our flat) ‘Sent me some books. You know, as examples for what I should write.’
‘Oh, cool. And?’
‘They’re pink. And they look a bit racy.
‘I hate pink.’
‘They might be okay. Never judge-’
‘A book by its cover,’ I finished the proverb for him. ‘Yeah, I know.’
We lapsed into silence, strolling along the High Street in the dim glow of the Christmas lights. It wasn’t entirely silent, though. There was a vague, distant sound on the periphery of my hearing – something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Scorpius stopped dead in his tracks.
‘Is it just me,’ he said. ‘Or does it sound like there’s a herd of wildebeest coming towards us?’
I listened to the distant noise.
‘Very small wildebeest,’ I said. ‘Midget wildebeest.’
We stared at each other in confusion. Scorpius adjusted his glasses.
Then, the stampede turned up. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a herd of midget wildebeest. Instead, it was a group of very small children, all wearing tiny Quidditch robes and carrying tinier toy brooms, running out of a side lane at full pelt. Worryingly, they were all laughing; I grabbed Scorpius by the wrist and ducked out of the way, but the herd of children ran straight past us, down an opposite lane, pursued by a flustered Jock Macpherson and several teenagers in flying robes.
‘Just training!’ he called, merrily, as he charged past. ‘See you at the rehearsal! Slow down, youse lot!’
He sped into the distance and vanished.
‘Ah,’ Scorpius said, a little weakly. ‘That’ll be the Elgin Egrets.’
‘They’re, er, cute,’ I said, staring at the lane the horde of children had just disappeared into.
‘Violent,’ Scorpius added.
‘Wouldn’t like to run into them in a dark alleyway.’
‘We just did.’
Despite minor diversions in the form of midget-wildebeest-except-not-midget-wildebeest, we turned up at the town hall right on time. It was lit brightly from inside, the stained glass windows turning the light into little pools of colour on the pavement below. I pushed open the heavy doors (which took a bit of effort and heave-ho-ing) and let us both in.
It was warm inside; that was a good start, at least. It was your fairly ordinary, non-descript, bog-standard village hall. A scuffed wooden floor was bare, bordered with lines of chairs at the edges, and a small stage dominated one end, where moth-eaten red velvet curtains hung against a blank backdrop. A small hatch at the back of the hall led to a kitchen, where Jeans C and P were standing by a large urn of tea and a few plates of biscuits.
‘You’re early,’ Jean C said, as we approached. I nodded vaguely, a bit entranced by the enormous plate of custard creams I’d just spied. ‘Would you like a cuppa?’
A cup of tea and half a plate of biscuits later and nobody else had turned up. It was a bit suspicious but, then again, nothing was really all that suspicious in New New Elgin anymore.
‘Weird,’ Jean C mused. ‘It’s not like the others to be late.’
Just then, the door banged open, bringing in a rush of wintry air. Then knitting Prentice poked his head inside.
‘There’s a new person,’ he hissed.
At once, Jeans C and P stiffened.
‘A new person?’ they echoed.
‘A new person,’ he nodded. ‘Moved in this afternoon.’
I had a nasty feeling that I knew exactly what was coming next.
‘More new people?’ Jean C whispered. ‘Are you sure?’
‘But nobody moves to New New Elgin.’
I definitely had the nasty feeling that I knew exactly what was coming next. Mostly because it had happened to us.
‘Who? What are they like?’
‘It’s a girl,’ knitting Prentice held up a hand. ‘About so high, I just saw her wandering about, she asked me how to get to the pub and-’
Jean C slammed her teacup down on the table. ‘We have to go there,’ she said. ‘Now.’
‘Er,’ I chipped in. ‘Is this going to be like when we moved in or-’
I was ignored.
‘To the duck!’ knitting Prentice called, and then the resident New New Elginers snatched up their coats and prepared to leave. A little grudgingly, me and Scorpius followed suit, although I paused to shove a few custard creams into my pockets, just in case I needed a spot of extra sustenance.
Then it was back out onto the High Street, back into the cold, back under the dim glitter of the Christmas lights. And I couldn’t help feeling very unsettled. Which is why I took a deep breath, put my foot down, and stood up to the New New Elginers.
Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to stand up to people when they’re a lot taller than you. I felt about this big, especially considering I didn’t know them that well.
‘Look,’ I said. ‘Are you going to just march into the pub and ogle her like she’s something in a zoo?’
Knitting Prentice gave me a slightly withering look. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘That was the plan.’
‘It’s not nice,’ I pouted. ‘And I know from experience.’
Another withering look was shot in my direction. ‘We were all new once!’
I felt my resolve crumbling, but then decided to put my foot down once and for all. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘But I think I’ll go and speak to her instead. Make her welcome, you know. And Scorpius will come, won’t you?’ I elbowed him.
‘Sure,’ he murmured.
The New New Elginers exchanged a look.
‘We’ll allow it,’ Jean P said, evenly.
‘It’ll give us time to fetch the others,’ she said. ‘I should probably go and round up Jock.’
‘See you later,’ knitting Prentice said.
And with that, the New New Elginers departed, leaving us alone. I slightly regretted volunteering to welcome the new girl, seeing as I wasn’t exactly an old hand of the place or anything – but decided to go ahead.
‘Scorpius,’ I said. ‘Please make sure I don’t say anything daft.’
‘I can’t really help you with that.’
We marched over to the pub, pushed open the door, and went inside. It was deserted, aside from Surly Kevin behind the bar and, in front of him, a slim, black-haired woman, leaning her elbows on the bar. Her back was turned to us and me, suddenly struck by a fit of shyness, didn’t quite have the courage to tap her on the shoulder and say hello. Instead, I sidled up to the bar, ordered two butterbeers (guessing it was best to stay as sober as possible), and then perched on a stool beside Scorpius.
It was my fault for volunteering, but I really had no idea what to say. Fortunately, I didn’t have to say it, because, at that moment, the girl turned to look at us and said ‘Hello. Sorry, I’ve just moved here, and…’
She was astonishingly pretty, to put it bluntly. She had the wide, dewy eyes of a cartoon and full, bee-stung lips. To top it off, she had the sort of porcelain-skin-blood-red-lips-hair-black-as-a-raven’s-feather sort of combination you only really get in fantasy novels, and the sort of curvy physique that was the polar opposite of my rake-masquerading-as-an-ironing-board figure.
‘It’s alright,’ I said, attempting my best warm smile. ‘Er, welcome to New New Elgin! Um, I’m Lucy, and this is Scorpius – we’re kind of new too.’
‘Oh, right,’ she said, as Scorpius gave a nervous smile and tipped his glass to her. ‘That’s a funny name.’
Scorpius’ nervy smile fell apart slightly.
‘I’m Mary-Susannah Ellis,’ she said. ‘But you can call me Mary-Sue.’
‘I’ve just come from London,’ she said. ‘Felt I needed a change, you know?’
‘Oh, us too,’ Scorpius piped up. ‘Which end?’
‘Kensington,’ she said. ‘It was just a bit too busy.’
Neither me or Scorpius responded. I think we were both sharing the same thought, which was what sort of idiot would move from Kensington to here, I mean, really.
‘How long have you been here?’ she said.
‘Only a week.’
‘What’s it like?’
‘Quiet,’ I said. ‘Takes a bit of getting used to.’
‘It’s bloody brilliant,’ Surly Kevin shouted from the other end of the bar.
‘What’s there to do around here?’ call-me-Mary-Sue said, ignoring Surly Kevin.
‘I don’t really know,’ I said, truthfully. ‘We’ve been working a lot.’
‘Oh, what do you do?’
‘I’m a photographer and Lucy’s a writer,’ Scorpius said, once again ignoring the ‘pseudo’ prefix that should have been tacked onto each job title.
‘That’s interesting,’ she said, nodding, although she sounded a little amused (perhaps she’d picked up on the lack of pseudo-prefixes). ‘Well, my job sounds horribly boring in comparison.’
‘What do you do?’
‘Oh, I work for the Ministry,’ she said. ‘Auror office. Nothing big.’
Once again, it seemed that me and Scorpius were sharing the same thought, which was something along the lines of what, no, I’d call a job in the Auror office pretty big!
‘Must be hectic,’ I said, an involuntary shrill, nervous little laugh escaping my mouth.
‘Oh, definitely,’ she said. ‘I barely find time to paint these days.’
‘You paint?’ Scorpius said.
‘Yes. I freelance, sometimes, although I doubt I’m any good. Sewing, too. Pulls in a bit of extra cash.’
‘Oh,’ was all I could manage.
‘What, so, oils, or-’
‘A bit of everything,’ she smiled. ‘Oils, acrylics, watercolours. Whatever suits the subject matter. Partly why I came here was the scenery, I suppose. I hear it’s lovely.’
‘Wonderful,’ Scorpius said. He was looking at her with a peculiar sort of interest, as if he wasn’t quite sure whether to believe her or not.
‘I sing a bit too,’ she continued, fiddling with a beermat. ‘Play the piano, sometimes. I suppose that’s the only let-down about this place, not having a decent music scene!’
‘It’s decent enough,’ Surly Kevin growled from his spot at the end of the bar.
That shut her up.
‘I suppose there’s the talent show thing,’ Scorpius shrugged. ‘If that’s a good enough music scene.’
Surly Kevin dropped the mug he was wiping. I dared to meet his eye. The glare was enough to entirely personify his nickname. It was a surly glare and a half with bells on.
Call-me-Mary-Sue didn’t seem to pick up on this, though. ‘What talent show?’ she asked, politely.
‘Oh, er,’ Scorpius dithered. ‘Just a thing.’
She looked a little put-out. ‘Oh. Right.’
I then got the suspicious feeling we were being watched. You know, the sort of feeling when the hairs on the back of your neck go all prickly and you really need to shiver, like you’re shaking off a cloak made of cobwebs.
When I turned, I saw the New New Elginers standing at the window, faces pressed to the glass, gawping at us all.
Come in, I mouthed, jerking my head at the bar. Fortunately, Call-me-Mary-Sue didn’t notice, although Scorpius gave me the sort of funny look I knew all too well. But then the door opened and Jeans C and P filed in, Knitting Prentice and Jock in tow, looking as casual as anybody who’s anything but casual can look.
I was very pleased to see them. It was very nice to see their creepy stares applied to someone else for a change.
‘Off to work, then,’ Scorpius lifted his anorak from the back of a chair. ‘You know, off to enjoy some Cameraderie.’
‘You’re going to milk that pun for all it’s worth, aren’t you,’ I said, giving him a pointed look over my mug.
‘Of course. If it’s good, milk it.’
‘Did you just invent a quote?’
‘Shame it’s only applicable to cows.’
‘When will you be back?’
‘Oh, around five,’ he pulled the anorak on, instantly lost inside it (honestly, the thing was like a waxy tent with zips and pockets). ‘You’ll know I’m back when you smell the chemicals coming up the stairs.’
‘See you later then. Love you and stuff.’
‘Farewell. Am I ever going to get that snog, by the way?’
I peered at him over the top of my mug. ‘The one Gwen mentioned in her letter. You said you were saving it for later.’
‘I’ve snogged you a lot since then.’
‘Yes, but I haven’t had that snog.’
He grinned, shaking his head, and then left. I settled back to my tea and toast, but then there was a pattering of feet from the corridor and he leaned around the doorframe again.
‘Did I mention I love you?’
‘Go to work, you idiot.’
‘See you,’ he grinned, giving me a final wave before dashing back down the corridor again.
‘I’m not going to let you forget about the snog!’ I yelled.
A few seconds later, the front door slammed.
I got comfy in my chair. I had Quidditch Confessions lying on the table beside me, a full mug of tea, and some tasty toast to make my way through. I was going to give the book a chance, read a chapter or three, and then hopefully get inspired enough to write something worthwhile of my own.
I folded the cover back, cracked the spine (I always had to break in a book before I read it), and then settled down to chapter one: The Keeper and the Seeker.
Bernice was not the sort of girl who spent her weekends at the Quidditch pitch, but…
Half an hour later, I was pretty sure of what I was expected to write. And I was sure I knew a lot more about Bernice the pathetic heroine and Ivan the Bulgarian Quidditch hunk than I’d have really liked to know. Sorry, that should have been Ivan the one-armed Bulgarian Quidditch hunk. The arm had been lost in a tragic Quidditch accident in his tragic past that formed the impetus of his broody wanderings about deserted Quidditch pitches in the middle of the night. If it wasn’t for the muscles and the Quidditch and the cheekbones and the missing arm, he’d have reminded me a bit of Scorpius.
But it was implausible. So implausible. And so, so trashy.
I felt like my stomach was sinking down through my legs and through the floor. I actually felt a bit panicky. I knew exactly what Euphemia Flitter wanted me to write for her stupid Amortentia Publications – of course the name seemed so, so obvious now – and I didn’t want to write it. Not in the slightest.
‘Scorpius!’ I wailed, pressing my face into the book. ‘Come back! They want me to write smut!’
a/n: I think I should probably use this author's note to mention a film that's been a pretty big inspiration for this fic - it's called Local Hero, and it's one of my all-time favourites. It's kind of quaint and whimsical and hilarious, and I'd definitely recommend you watch it if you can get hold of it. It never fails to cheer me up, hee ♥
Thank you for reading, and, also, thank you to the raver puffins for helping me out with characters and appreciating my puns and whatnot. You know I adore you all.
chapter seven - anoraks and fluttery eyelashes
by shudder @ tda
I tossed Quidditch Confessions aside. It hadn’t been a particularly good read, and it had taken me the better part of a week to slog through. I’d even found myself skipping several sections just to avoid the sheer amount of eye-watering (and, on occasion, anatomically improbable) explicit scenes. It had only taken me three chapters to work out that Amortentia Publications was not really my cup of tea. I’m not a prude or anything, but, after the fourth steamy scene turned up in chapter two, I’d had enough. One can only take so much innuendo.
‘That was disgusting,’ I said, to the room at large. Scorpius, who was passing, leant over the back of the sofa to squint at the book.
‘Here, take a good look,’ I said, picking it up and holding it out to him.
‘Can’t, I’ve got inky fingers.’
‘It’s already dirty enough. I doubt you’ll make much difference.’
Gingerly, he lifted the book between a finger and a thumb. ‘Quidditch Confessions?’
‘This is from Witch Weekly, you know? It’s naff, but page thirty eight is simply the worst.’
He riffled through until he found the appropriate page, his eyes skimming the text. ‘Oh, wow,’ he said. ‘Is that even…possible?’
Then, after a pause – ‘I kind of want to try it.’
‘Er? I imagine it’s, um, quite difficult?’
‘Yeah, especially if you’ve only got one arm.’
‘But it’d be far easier if you stood, probably. And if you had the right tools. He doesn’t even have a spirit level or anything.’
‘You can’t really do that without a spirit level. And probably another arm.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The bit where the guy with one arm puts up a shelf?’ he said, quite innocently. ‘Oh, no, hang on, I’m on page forty-eight,’ he flipped back ten pages, skimmed the text again, then his eyes widened with horror. He dropped the book onto the seat beside me.
‘Nope,’ he said. ‘No, definitely don’t want to try that. Sorry.’
‘S’alright,’ I flipped Quidditch Confessions over with my toe, not wanting to look at the drawing of feeble Bernice and Ivan the one-armed-hunk any longer.
‘So you’ve got to write something like that,’ Scorpius said, leaning over the back of the sofa again.
‘Wow. Don’t envy you,’ he stood up, and made off down the corridor again.
I turned my eyes back to the coffee table, where Incidents at the Apothecary, To Tame a Dragon-Tamer, and Accio Love still lay.
I wanted to kick them to the floor. Instead, I sat back, steepled my fingers, and considered my options.
It was really a no-brainer. I’d promised to produce a book, and, even if I hadn’t really agreed to write something steamy, something steamy I would have to write. Besides, I needed the money. Five hundred Galleons had a fantastic way of turning into a thousand pints.
So I would write it, and write it I would. Even if it made my eyes bleed.
‘How are you getting on?’ I called down the corridor.
‘Drawing,’ he shouted back. ‘Nearly drank the ink instead of my tea, but I’m okay.’
‘You prune. We’ve only got half an hour before we have to go out,’ I consulted my watch.
‘Yeah, I know…’
It was the day of the promised rescheduled band rehearsal, after the little hiccup in the form of call-me-Mary-Sue and her innocent-startled-deer-in-the-headlights impression. I mean, she seemed okay to me, if a little perfect, but, of course, the New New Elginers were convinced that she was the spy from Inverness and would be the undoing of all of us. I somehow doubted this, but, as I’d been the first to approach her, I’d been asked rather politely by Jean C to keep an eye on call-me-Mary-Sue’s behaviour and mannerisms, get to know her a little better, and report back to the New New Elginers and their Bi-Annual Annual General Meetings and whatnot.
Which actually made me the spy.
I didn’t actually mind getting to know her, but it was the spying part I had an issue with. It felt horribly cruel, yet, at the same time, we’d only just managed to befriend the suspicious New New Elginers, and I was actually starting to like them quite a bit. I didn’t want to tick them off or anything. So, you know, if I just casually tried to make her acquaintance, then casually passed some very generic comments on, then I’d be keeping everyone happy, right? Right.
Who was I kidding? I suspected her too. She was very perfect. Scorpius said she was almost Pre-Raphaelite in appearance, as if her face was a thing he could provide artistic critique on. I’d managed to bump into her again, two days after the initial meeting, in a little café called Thyme & Plaice (Scorpius was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of puns Scotland had to offer) down by the beach. I hadn’t intended to pop into a café on my own, but I’d been passing, seen call-me-Mary-Sue sitting on her own by the window, and deceived to just go for it and went in.
Small talk had been made, coffee, tea, and cake had been ordered.
‘I suppose we Londoners should stick together,’ call-me-Mary-Sue smiled at me.
I let out a laugh that sounded just as fake as it was.
‘I’m actually from Liverpool, originally,’ I told her.
‘You don’t have an accent.’
‘Well. No. School kind of…got rid of it.’
‘Well, your boyfriend then,’ she said. ‘With the funny name.’
‘Scorpius. And he’s from Manchester. He’ll cry if you accuse him of being southern.’
‘Right,’ she stared at the table. Where did you live in London?’
‘Oh. Bit dodgy. Must be nice to move here.’
‘Not really,’ I frowned. ‘Ealing’s nice.’
‘Well,’ she said. ‘Not been there much, but you hear things.’
I wanted to point out that, so far, I’d pretty much felt that New New Elgin was infinitely more dodgy than Ealing had possibly ever been (I’d never been held at wandpoint by a bunch of talent-show obsessed Scottish people before in Ealing, anyway), but instead kept my mouth shut and stared at the table too, picking at my slice of carrot cake.
‘What sort of stuff do you do in the Auror office?’ I asked, after the silence had gone on for a little too long.
‘Um,’ she said. ‘I’m an Auror. Only work eight months of the year,’ she added, quickly. ‘Good job. Generous holiday. I meant to ask – I know you’re a writer, but what sort of stuff do you write?’
Oh, dear. This was the question I’d hoped to dodge.
‘Just…little articles,’ I said. ‘Little bits and pieces. Kind of…lifestyle stuff. Travel. Um, fashion,’ I lied, knowing that a blind yak wearing a bin liner would probably make a better fashion writer than me. ‘Just kind of do the odd thing for the Prophet. Witch Weekly. Etcetera. I’m freelance.’
‘Oh. I’ll look out for your pieces.’
The rest of the conversation degraded into little scraps of the most meaningless sort of small talk and drivel, until I made up some excuse about needing to go to the Post Office, gulped down the last of my tea, and hurried back out into the freezing rain.
Fortunately, there was actually some post to pick up which, back in the flat, I let Scorpius sort through before we left.
‘Here’s one from Tarquin and – sorry. Tarkatron, Dark Lord of All, and Gwendotron, Dark Lady of All,’ he said, flipping the letter open. ‘Oh, no, they’re calling themselves Supreme Chancellor Tarks and Evil Overlady Gwen now.’
‘We should get nicknames.’
‘Right,’ he squinted at the letter. ‘Uh…Dear Scorch and Lucifer. Oh, they made up the nicknames for us, that’s helpful. Bit satanic, though. Remember I said Tarquin was taking me to Paris, but knowing us, we’d probably end up in Moscow? Well, greetings from Los Angeles.
‘Don’t ask how it happened. It’s kind of complicated and involved our old pal Lettuce. Lucky sod ended up in Paris instead of is. Apparently it’s called psychogeography, but that’s not important. We just wanted to let you know that we are coming to stay at the end of January, so crack open the fatted calf and buy in crates of beer in preparation. Send an owl if that’s not convenient. If it’s inconvenient, we’ll come anyway. And Scorch, if you’re reading this, give Lucy another snog on our behalf, because she’s well fit. Lots of love, Tarquin and Gwen.’
‘Cheeky sods,’ I said. ‘You still owe me that first snog.’
‘Well, now I owe you another. Good things come to those who wait.’
The first band rehearsal was a surprise in that it actually managed to take place and a certain amount of work was actually done.
‘It’s definitely going to snow,’ Scorpius said, as we walked to the town hall. He was peering up at the sky with an intense look of concentration on his face, as if he trying to move the clouds by telekinesis. ‘Good. I love snow.’
‘How do you equate a love of snow with a love of ice cream?’
‘Easy. A love for winter and a love for summer. And I’m lumped with you for the whole year,’ he added, elbowing me.
‘You’re my girl for all seasons. You even come with your own anorak and all.’
There was a pause.
‘I had to chuck my anorak out the other day.’
‘Well, all the more reason for me to be gallant and give you mine.’
‘You anorak is ridiculous. And it smells weird.’
Thankfully, our arrival at the town hall took us off the subject of fusty old anoraks (such as ourselves) and onto the subject of music. We were strangely early, so the town hall was deserted; he made a beeline for the piano straight away, dragging me along behind him.
‘I’ll serenade you,’ he said, before pressing a number of keys at random. ‘Dissonance is so romantic, of course.’
‘Your dissonance inflames me with desire.’
Scorpius let out an abrupt laugh, almost blinding himself with his own fringe. But then the doors to the town hall opened and Knitting Prentice entered, cutting short any threat of fringe-related trauma.
‘Ah, you’re early,’ Knitting Prentice said. ‘Good.’
‘Early for bohemians,’ Scorpius muttered, pushing himself away from the piano. It was something that was very noticeable about him; in company, he tended to shrink back into his tough little shell of misery. Essentially, he was a tortoise. But I won’t expand upon that metaphor for the sake of my own sanity (it’s hard to kiss someone when you picture them as a tortoise. No, really. It has happened.)
Twenty minutes later, most of the New New Elginers had turned up. We were still sitting at the piano, although Scorpius seemed far too shy to so much as look at it, and was instead engaged in a tortuously complicated conversation about chord progressions with Surly Kevin who, aside from being the local barman and sulk, seemed to be a bass player. And I – I had a blank notebook cradled in my arms, a pen tucked behind my ear, and nothing in my head but the vague thought that I should probably write something worthwhile some of these days.
‘Evening, Lucy,’ Jean C said, sidling up to me at my perch near the piano. ‘How are you?’
She seemed strangely caring. And her voice was a bit too quiet, especially for her.
‘Oh, fine,’ I said. ‘You?’
‘Cannae complain. Have you spoken to Mary-Susannah yet?’
Ah, getting straight to the point.
‘Ye-es,’ I said, carefully. ‘I had a cup of tea with her today.’
I hesitated, remembering her slightly stilted speech, her vaguely snobbish views about Ealing (which I still missed). ‘She’s…’
‘Nice,’ I finished.
Jean C squinted at me.
‘Nice,’ she repeated.
‘Nice…ish. Look, I didn’t get to talk to her much, so-’
‘Speak of the devil,’ Jean C muttered, as the door opened again and a very forlorn-looking call-me-Mary-Sue wandered in, one arm in a sling. ‘Pretend we’re talking about baking. Quickly.’
‘Um…shortbread,’ I said, keeping my eye on call-me-Mary-Sue. She seemed to hover about the entrance for a few minutes, looking a bit lost, then approached the piano area, taking a seat next to Scorpius.
‘Aye,’ Jean C nodded. ‘You get rare shortbread round these parts, right enough. Would you like some?’ she asked, suddenly producing a small tartan package from her handbag.
Momentarily distracted by the tartan and the promise of a biscuit, I took my eyes off call-me-Mary-Sue.
‘Jean G baked it yesterday,’ Jean C said, as I took a piece and began to nibble away. ‘Her baking’s dead good.’
‘Hello,’ Jean P joined us. ‘Who invited her?’
I took ‘her’ to mean Mary-Sue.
‘It wisnae me,’ Jean C frowned. ‘Must’ve been Prentice. Or Kevin. Any of the lads, really.’
‘Can you imagine one of the lasses inviting her?’ Jean C said, with an emphatic raised eyebrow.
‘How d’you reckon she did her arm?’
‘Oh, she’s an Auror,’ I chipped in. ‘Maybe it was…work-related.’
‘Hmm,’ Jean C hmm’d, with a certain degree of scepticism.
‘Hmm,’ Jean P agreed.
It was then that I had a sort of surreal out-of-body experience. It was only fleeting but, for a second, I felt like I was in call-me-Mary-Sue’s head, looking over at where we were standing. Feeling all new and unloved and stuff. And there we were, standing in a little circle, stealing little glances over at her, and looking more than a little bitchy.
‘She seems a bit lost,’ I said. ‘It’s difficult to move such a long way.’
Jeans P and C exchanged a glance, before looking back to me.
‘But she could be an Inverness spy,’ Jean C said. ‘Like you said, she’s nice, and I suppose she’s pretty perfect-’
‘Too nice. Too perfect,’ Jean P frowned.
‘These are just precautionary checks.’
‘Well,’ I decided to remove myself from the circle of suspicion. ‘I’m just going to have a seat…’
I left Jeans C and P to their scheming and went to sit down on the opposite side of the hall, where there was a lot less music and, well, scheming. Then, I flipped my notebook open, took my pen out from behind my ear, and tapped it on the blank page.
Nope. Nothing. Inspiration wasn’t a friend of mine.
Maybe watching the rehearsal would give me some inspiration. I mean, it was the very earliest of stages, and everyone was still coming up with vague, half-formed plans for things. There was Morag, one of the creepy teenage residents of the town, idly tapping a snare drum with her fingers whilst her creepy teenage companion explained something with a lot of hand actions. There were the eldest of the five Jeans, sipping tea in a corner with knitting Prentice, who was knitting. There was Jock Macpherson, bagpipe under one impressively muscled arm, swapping notes with Surly Kevin.
And then there was Scorpius, at the piano, intently explaining something to call-me-Mary Sue. Who was staring back with equal intent. And a lot of fluttery eyelashes.
Now, I’m not exactly an expert on body language, but I know what fluttery eyelashes mean.
It was probably very insignificant. I tried to remind myself that I barely knew the girl, she barely knew Scorpius, and if Scorpius was anything like what Scorpius was like when I first met him, there would be no need or reason for eyelashes of the fluttery variety. I mean, so much angst. So much fringe. So much oblivion to so many things. Even if those were the things about him I loved.
So I turned back to my blank page and resolved to put it out of my mind.
‘It’s a bit of a dilemma, I’ll admit,’ Scorpius said. ‘They’re not really…well…your type of books. Your type of book is the sort where everybody is unhappy and dies at the end. Don’t deny it,’ he added, as I went to speak. ‘I’ve seen your reading pile.’
‘This is coming from the fan of existentialism.’
‘Yeah, but…that’s completely different,’ he waved me away. ‘Did you bring the keys?’
We’d reached the landing outside our flat. I began to pat down the pockets on his anorak (which he’d so gallantly given me when it got cold).
‘No,’ I said, discovering the keys in an inside pocket. ‘But you did.’
‘Oh, good for me.’
I let us into the flat, where we stood in the dark for a few seconds until Scorpius found the lightswitch.
‘My brain’s still in London,’ I said. ‘I keep thinking the lights will be on the left.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I’m kind of scared to open the airing cupboard. I half expect to find a gremlin in it.’
‘I wonder if the gremlin misses us,’ I carried on through to the kitchen, shrugging off his anorak and folding it over the back of the sofa.
‘I like to think it does,’ Scorpius said, a little wistfully. ‘So how are you going to write…er…smut?’
‘Badly,’ I said. ‘I’m going to write smut badly. I mean,’ I flopped down onto the sofa. ‘From the book I just read, I gather that a love triangle is the norm.’
‘A love triangle?’ Scorpius took the seat beside me. ‘Pfft. That’s…cliché.’
No sooner had the words left his mouth than I suddenly remembered the two of us had once been the two points of a love triangle.
‘Well, anyway,’ I said, quickly. ‘There’s usually a hunky guy. And a damsel in distress. You know, a really pathetic girl. Those are the basics. Ivan and Bernice.’
‘Ivan and Bernice?’
‘Yes. Ivan’s the hunk and Bernice is the pathetic damsel in distress, you know. And, inevitably, there’s a seductive, slinky girl on the outskirts, prowling around, waiting to pounce on Ivan…’
‘And what’s she called?’
‘Eugenia. Well, she was in this book, anyway. You know the sort. Pouting, fluttery eyelashes…kind of, kind of…like Mary-Susannah.’
‘Uh-huh. Um, I meant to ask…’
‘Does she have…like…a, um, problem with her eyes? Only, they kept kind of…’ he flapped his hands about for a bit. ‘You know. They were all over the place. Like mad.’
‘Good,’ I said, slightly relieved that, evidently, call-me-Mary-Sue’s manic eyelashes hadn’t had much of an effect on him.
‘I mean, er…nah, I think she was just blinking. Maybe she had something in her eye? Do you know how she did in her arm, by the way?’
‘She didn’t say. But she asked if I’d help her put up a shelf in her new flat.’
‘Put up a shelf? With only one arm?’
We exchanged a look, and then fell about laughing.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Seriously. I have no idea what to write.’
‘Except the triangle.’
‘Yeah, except the triangle. And the three pointy bits.’
‘Well…I did say that you should write what you know.’
‘So…’ he said. ‘Maybe you should write what you know.’
I got what he meant. ‘Apply aspects of our relationship to the book?’
I raised my eyebrows at him. ‘Do you really want that in print?’
His hands windmilled a bit. ‘Fake names should do the trick.’
The following Saturday, several New New Elginers travelled to the offices of the All Magical All Scottish Talent and Variety Show Contest in a nearby town to officially register the as yet unnamed New New Elgin band as an official entrant. The rest of us, including the unmusical types such as my own good self, were huddled in the pub.
It seemed that both Scorpius and I had evolved. We’d evolved from being newbies to being New New Elgin conspiracy theorists. Well, not quite yet. But we were getting there. It was a pretty good conspiracy, I’ll give the town that.
‘The sprained wrist is a ruse,’ Knitting Prentice mused, knitting needles click-clacking a neat little rhythm to our conversation. ‘Perhaps to attract sympathy.’
‘She asked us to help her put up her shelf,’ Scorpius said. ‘Because she’s only got one arm.’
The two of us giggled, drawing us puzzled looks from the others.
‘She’s been making gooey eyes at all the lads,’ Jean P piped up. ‘I’ve been watching.’
‘All the lads?’ Surly Kevin asked, sounding a little hopeful.
‘All the lads,’ Jean P nodded. ‘And some of the lasses too.’
‘Maybe she just has an eye condition,’ I volunteered. ‘You know, maybe she can’t help all that…fluttering.’
‘What about the pouting?’
‘Maybe she’s…impersonating a duck.’
‘Who does that?’
‘Who doesn’t do that?’ Scorpius muttered.
‘Anyway,’ I continued. ‘It’s not like we have proof. Maybe she’s just a bit…forward.’
‘Come off it,’ Knitting Prentice snorted, starting a new row.
‘She’s obviously a spy,’ Jean P said.
‘Yeah, even I think that,’ Scorpius said, elbowing me in the ribs for good measure. A vague sound of assent passed through the pub, and a sort of Mexican wave of nodding swept the table.
‘Okay, fine,’ I sighed. ‘I’m in the minority. But I still maintain that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Come on, that’s a great proverb! Everyone knows it!’
‘Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s true,’ Knitting Prentice said sagely, pointing a knitting needle at me.
The pub door opened, saving me from further dissection of proverbs/my moral judgement. A blast of wintry air filled the pub, making us all shiver for a moment, but then Jean C, Jock and the rest of the talent show delegation entered.
They did not look best pleased.
‘I can’t believe it,’ Jean C said, dumping her handbag on the floor and dropping onto a bar stool.
‘Can’t believe what?’
‘It’s Mary-Susannah Ellis,’ she said, as if she still couldn’t quite believe it. ‘She’s entering. She’s entering the talent contest. For the town. As well as us.’
a/n: fillerfillerfillerHEYPLOT. I wrote this pretty quickly inbetween watching community/finishing endless art coursework/coming up with puns, so it may be a bit...lame. I just want to get going with this story, seeing as I've got so much of the later chapters drafted and ready to type up. I'll edit in a chapter image later when I get time to make one half-decent. Thank you for reading ♥
coming soon (and by soon I mean anytime between here and the end btw) : Lucy and the tartan fiesta, and Scorpius /finally/ gets his 'save the world, get the girl' moment. Kind of.
chapter eight - an abundance of tartan
It wasn’t that I disliked call-me-Mary-Sue. For all her fluttery eyelashes and improbable perfection, it wasn’t like she made me feel like a worse person, and it wasn’t at all like she came between me and Scorpius. I doubt she really came between anyone. She hovered on the outskirts, pouting and fluttering away like the freak cross of a duck and butterfly.
It wasn’t even like I felt all that sorry for her. Sure, she seemed to lack the substance that the rest of us had, and I couldn’t help but feel a slight pity in imagining that she was like a shell, and that there was nothing beneath the eyelashes and the textbook prettiness. I was mostly confused by her. She was a total mystery. Despite us knowing her name, occupation, and occasional hobbies – well, that was all we knew.
After a few misunderstandings, Scorpius and I had pretty much been welcomed into New New Elgin with open arms. But if the village was a metaphorical castle, then call-me-Mary-Sue was well outside the keep.
Fortunately, she was perfect inspiration.
I’d been working hard at my prospective smut for Amortentia Publications. I had a vague plot, at least, and a mess of an opening chapter (a snip at five hundred words, natch), both of which had been owled off to Euphemia Flitter as if to say: give me my five hundred Galleons. I want it now.
I had Fauna Hewitt, a mawkish, tearful blonde, and her love interest Buck Blair, a dangerous and enigmatic private detective built like a mountain. And then there was Eugene Gilbert, Fauna’s loyal but wimpy best friend, who was obviously her true undying love and made a point of telling her that every few pages or so, taking time to complain about how nice guys always finish last.
But that was it. The sketched-out plot focused on the Buck-Fauna-Eugene love triangle, and that was about it. Meanwhile, Scorpius was busy as a bee, working in his various assistanty jobs across the nation, and drifting home each night in a vague fog of developing chemical with his hair sticking up at the back.
It was around about this time that Scorpius started his comic book project. He’d claimed he’d got the idea from a magazine he’d read, and set about laboriously scribbling away in his sketchbook for a few days. It transpired that these were just the sketches; the real thing would be on brown wrapping paper, which he had to cut down to the right size and then iron flat right after ironing his work shirts. When he described it, it sounded like a pretty naff idea, but, on paper, it looked pretty neat. It was, in his words, ‘an exploration of the past including, but not limited to, how we met, through illustration primarily, executed through the medium of cost-effective ink pens on a subtle and similarly cost-effective paper’. Once you put this through the artistic bullshit decoder, it came out something like ‘basically, I’m going to draw my life story like a cartoon using cheap pens on cheap paper’.
I must admit that, at first, I was a little sceptical. It sounded a bit twee. But when he was done with the first few pages, it was a bit mindblowing. He’d been a photographer so long that I’d actually forgotten that I was quite fond of his drawing style. It wasn’t perfect, and it was stuck somewhere between total abstraction and wibbly realism, and it was more than a bit surreal. Yet it sort of made perfect sense when you looked at it. It was almost as if he saw the world through a weird, distorted lens, and by looking at his drawings, I could see through that lens too.
And the way he saw the world – well, it was something else. It was weird, it was twisted, it was cramped and it was a little claustrophobic. The paper was wrinkled from the sheer amount of drawing on the surface (drawing that often ended up all over his hands too). Everything was slightly warped – buildings, for example, leaned over at alarming angles, like the whole world was on the verge of tottering over. I know it just sounds like he was awful at drawing but, in reality, it was the opposite. Somehow it was perfectly imperfect.
Sometimes I’d peek at these drawings when he was out at work, even though he’d forbidden me from looking at any art stuff until it was properly finished. He was out at work so often that I got a good chance to really sit down and admire the drawings, what with his two jobs and all. He wouldn’t be dissuaded from looking for a third, even though he was dead beat in the evenings already. On more than one occasion he’d no sooner walked in the door than he was asleep on the sofa/bed/laundry pile/floor, evidently a little worn out by Cameraderie.
And besides the Fauna-Buck-Eugene love triangle and Scorpius starting to draw that book, December brought us heaps of letters. The first was from Supreme Chancellor Tarks and Evil Overlord Gwen, fixing the date of their arrival to the twenty-sixth of January and wishing us a merry hello from Seattle, where they seemed to have ended up. It turned out that they were actually going to end up in Paris for Christmas, where they were going to rescue Lettuce, who had somehow become an underground pop sensation in his short stay in the French capital. And, knowing Lettuce, he must have been a really underground pop sensation. I mean, I’m picturing interpretive dance in subterranean caverns with added cowbell or something. I’m picturing something slightly mad and shiny and highly flammable.
The second letter was, surprisingly, from Rose. It was only short, merely to inform us that she’d moved flats, and listed an address in Vauxhall. What Rose was doing moving to Vauxhall I wasn’t entirely sure, but the letter didn’t elaborate. I didn’t write to Rose all that often, but I propped it up on the mantelpiece just in case. You can never really know when you might need spontaneous legal advice. Especially when you’re as accident prone as me and/or Scorpius.
The third and final letter came from my parents. In true mum fashion, it was about seven pages long and went on for ages and ages without really saying anything at all. It did, however, invite us to spend Christmas with them – something that had been planned since March but, no worries, it was nice to know she’d remembered. I wrote back immediately, guessing she needed quite the headstart to make sure she had adequate time to wash and iron the doily collection.
As much as I hated the doily-centric feel of being back at home, I was kind of looking forward to spending Christmas with my Mum and Dad. Molly would be there too, and Molly’s boyfriend, who I’d only met on once before. I’d spent the previous Christmas with Scorpius and his Mum, and as much as I loved Astoria, the short hour his Dad had visited for had been nothing short of excruciating. The elder Malfoy didn’t approve of me in the slightest, and he made this pretty clear. So I was kind of looking forward to being able to put my feet up and go back to my childhood home, and to parents who definitely approved of my significant other, no matter how clumsy and strange he was.
Along with the letters, December brought snow. And it brought snow in a big way. It sort of came out of nowhere, like a punch (or a snowball) in the back. All two feet of it. I opened the door onto Burns Lane on the Wednesday morning, took three steps forward, and then fell flat on my face. Then, I ran back upstairs again (dripping melting snow all over the carpets), grabbed Scorpius by the wrist, and dragged him down to see the snow too. This time, I remained standing; he took a single step out into the street and then fell over, landing with a sort of whumf noise.
‘Alright,’ he said, emerging from the snow a few seconds later, shivering. ‘I do need to go to work.’
‘Cool,’ I pulled my jacket tighter about myself – it really had got a lot colder. ‘See you later, okay?’
He went back into the flat and I stomped my way along the High Street, where someone had thoughtfully cleared a path through the overnight snowdrift. While Scorpius was off for the day to do a shift at Cameraderie and cover some thing in Dorset, I had an exciting day of Christmas shopping ahead of me. Christmas shopping in the closest thing New New Elgin had to a department store, which was a two-storey affair in the centre of the town called Thistle Dae Nicely. The sheer amount of punnery New New Elgin had to offer was a killer.
I’d made a list for my Christmas shopping trip. Item one was tartan and item two was anorak. The former was for gifts; the latter was for myself.
Finding tartan things in Thistle Dae Nicely wasn’t exactly hard. Every other thing on display seemed to be made of some eye-watering tartan pattern. Going into the shop was like walking into a Scottish vortex where everything was colourful and mad and made my eyes want to bleed, but in a good way. In half an hour, I’d managed to pick up a tartan tea towel for my mum, tartan doilies for my dad, a tartan bag for Molly, shortbread in a tartan box for each branch of the family, a tartan scarf for Scorpius, a cuddly tartan Loch Ness monster for Scorpius’ mum, and a tartan plant pot for Scorpius’ dad. I’m not sure the tartan plant pot would exactly be appreciated, but I figured that he thought so little of me anyway that it’d hardly hurt to offend him further.
The tartan theme continued up onto the second floor, where I’d intended to look for a new anorak in ‘contemporary ladies fashions’ – although, having seen the residents of New New Elgin, contemporary was somewhere back in the 1900s. Thing is, the sheer and bewildering amount of tartan made me a little bit disorientated and woozy, and I ended up blundering into the lingerie section instead of the anorak section. And everything was still tartan there.
It made me laugh. Mostly because I was reminded of going shopping with my mum when I was a lot lot younger, and mispronouncing lingerie as ling-er-yyy¬, but also because, no matter how many tartan frills and bows you stick on it, tartan underwear will never really be sexy.
Of course, standing in the middle of a tartan explosion and giggling to myself, I stuck out like a sore thumb. So I probably can’t blame Jean C and Jean P for approaching me at that moment, arm in arm, matching little smiles on their faces.
‘Good morning,’ Jean C said.
‘Getting a present for someone?’ Jean P asked, with a more than suggestive eyebrow waggle at the tartan underwear fiesta.
‘Er, no!’ I blurted out, before I could stop myself.
‘Just…’ I tried to salvage the mood. ‘This place is full of tartan! It’s…tar-tan-tastic!’
They each gave a weak laugh.
‘Christmas shopping,’ I held my basket up. ‘Stuff for…you know, family.’
‘I see there’s a tartan theme,’ Jean C said.
‘Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of choice in that matter.’
‘Have you got much planned for Christmas?’
‘Nah, just…family. You?’
‘Jock’s taking me to Paris,’ Jean P said. ‘It’s very fancy.’
‘Oh, I’ve got friends who are going to Paris!’ I said, without thinking. Then I remembered that one of the friends in question was, in fact, Lettuce. ‘Don’t bump into them,’ I added. ‘Please.’
‘They’re very weird,’ I babbled. ‘But a couple of them are visiting soon and I guess this place is pretty weird too, right?’
‘Well, we’ll be going now,’ Jean C said – which was just as well, as I was starting to feel like I was descending through a metaphorical trapdoor of social awkwardness. ‘See you later.’
‘Yeah, see you!’ I waved, and then they headed further into the lingerie (sorry, lingery) section, whilst I headed off in the other direction in search of anoraks.
After the Christmas shopping/anorak hunt was over, I returned home, my purse considerably emptier, but my chances of getting soaked in a downpour considerably less. I’d been moderately successful in finding an anorak that wasn’t completely tartan, although I’d ended up getting one with a tartan trim. It was a style much in the vein of the navy tent that Scorpius had, only a lot smaller and with a lot less pockets. It also actually smelt like it hadn’t been festering in a ditch since the sixties, which was a bonus.
That afternoon, it was onto the business of writing Christmas cards, sending Christmas cards, writing and sending the Christmas cards I’d forgotten the first time around and then, finally, at seven in the evening, flopping down on the sofa with the newspaper and a cup of tea.
That was the thing I disliked about Christmas. It was so energetic.
When Scorpius finally turned up from work half an hour later, he was evidently a bit miffed that I’d got ahead of him on the festive organisation front. Almost instantly, he set down to writing his own cards – before accepting a cup of tea, of course.
‘It’s awful, but,’ he said, shuffling through the pile of parchment held together with a rubber band that we called our address book. ‘Really don’t want to send a card to half these people. Henry!’ he said, plucking an address from the pile at random. ‘Why would I want to send a card to Henry?’
‘He sent one to us,’ I said, nodding to the card featuring an abstract print of questionable quality that now stood on the mantelpiece.
‘Oh, fine,’ he said, scribbling a message into one of the multi-purpose cheap ‘n’ cheerful cards I’d bought a few years previously. ‘Here,’ he passed it to me. ‘You sign it.’
I added my name to the bottom, quietly amused by the way that Scorpius had chosen to put a little x at the bottom of the card. ‘Henry only gets one kiss from you?’
‘It’s from both of us,’ he said, pointing the pen at me. ‘So technically he gets half from me.’
I was about to muse aloud on the logistics of giving someone half a kiss, but decided there were probably better topics of conversation to occupy my time.
‘The smell of developing chemical is especially potent today,’ I said, as he scrawled Henry’s address on the front of an envelope. ‘Did you trip over in the dark room again?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Better. I got promoted.’
‘You kept that quiet.’
‘Well,’ he stuffed the card into the envelope and sealed it. ‘It’s not big. Assistant sales assistant to second dark room assistant. Ta-dah!’
‘Good job,’ I said. ‘On the…good job.’
‘Not that I get more pay,’ he added, sounding a little bitter, as he tossed Henry’s card onto the pile of those waiting to be sent. It overshot and went skidding across the room, coming to a halt against the skirting board. ‘Just, you know, I get to spend my time in the dark. More trip hazards.’
‘I better brush up on my first aid skills.’
We sat in companionable silence as he scribbled away in a few more cards. Then, he handed me three cards at once, saying ‘sign these.’
I glanced at the names. ‘Hey,’ I frowned. ‘These are your friends?’
‘And?’ he said, continuing his erratic scribbling.
‘Well…I don’t really know them.’
‘Yes you do. You’ve met them.’
‘But…but….I’ve never corresponded with them.’
‘And I’ve never corresponded with Morgan Maule,’ Scorpius held up the card he was writing in. ‘But apparently he’s on my Christmas card list. Besides,’ he added, in a slightly softer voice. ‘It’s kind of about time.’
‘Well, we’ve been together for a while. Only makes sense.’
I shuffled the cards again, lifting my pen to sign my name on each. ‘Right. So…what’re they up to?’
‘Well, if I’m signing a card to them, I sort of want to know what’s going on in their life should the need to enter into further correspondence arise.’
‘Nah, I’m just nosy. So what’s…’ I checked the top card. ‘Ellery up to these days?’
‘Dunno, really,’ he shrugged. ‘Ministry stuff, I think. Has her own office, so it must be good. I think he works for one of the newspapers,’ he said, pulling out the middle card. ‘Or maybe he freelances. I can’t remember. Newspapery things, anyway. And her,’ he indicated the bottom card. ‘She owns a wool shop down the bottom of Diagon Alley.’
‘She was the one who sent you the jumper last year, wasn’t she?’
‘Shame it only fits me.’
‘It suits you more.’
‘Cool,’ I said, turning back to the cards and adding my name to each. ‘Nice to catch up with them.’
We worked away in silence for a few minutes more, until he suddenly spoke up again, putting his cards aside.
‘Look, I…I found another job, I think,’ he said. ‘I’ve applied, anyway, but it’s not for a while yet.’
‘Good,’ I said, although my heart sank a little.
‘It’s sort of,’ he ran a hand through his hair, sending it sticking skywards. ‘Well, you know the primary school they have down by the beach? They’re sort of looking for an art teach…ing assistant. Part-time thing,’ he added, quickly. ‘I figure it could fill that gap I have on Wednesdays…’
‘Oh, cool,’ I’d already turned back to my newspaper. ‘Don’t work too hard.’
‘I won’t,’ he smiled. ‘Just…just looking for something that might lead to something better, you know?’
‘I know. You don’t want to be an assistant forever.’
‘Yeah. I could be an art teacher.’
Another one of those short silences passed, although, this time, it didn’t feel quite so companionable. Just like there’d been a little change in the air pressure or something, only I knew it was more like a little change in the air pressure inside my head. Metaphorically. I’m sure that’s actually kind of dangerous.
‘You do realise,’ Scorpius said, breaking the silence. ‘We’re supposed to be helping Mary-Susannah put up a shelf in ten minutes?’
‘Ah,’ I nodded. ‘Well, must be hard to put up a shelf with only one arm.’
‘For her, anyway.’
We trundled out into the snow ten minutes later, bundled up in our anoraks, hands shoved in our pockets against the cold. This time, we managed to make it out onto the High Street without falling over; the Christmas lights glittered on the streets below.
‘It’s kind of pretty here,’ I said, appreciating the quiet for the first time.
‘Kind of?’ he elbowed me. ‘It’s great.’
Mary-Susannah buzzed us up to her flat almost the instant we’d rang the doorbell. I got the feeling she’d been lying in wait for us. She was waiting at the top of the stairs with the door open, leaning on the doorframe, her arm still in its sling, looking as vulnerably appealing as ever.
‘Hello,’ she said, mostly to Scorpius, fluttering her eyelashes all over the place. ‘Thank you so much for coming.’
‘It’s no problem.’
‘Oh, no,’ (flutter, flutter) ‘I really,’ (flutter) ‘appreciate it.’
‘Should be done in no time,’ Scorpius said, as we both shimmied past her into the hallway.
‘Oh, it’s alright,’ (flutter, flutter, flutter) ‘take as long as you want. Would you,’ (flutter) ‘like a cup of tea?’
She fluttered off to what must have been the kitchen, leaving us in the hallway. We stayed there, shuffling from foot to foot a little awkwardly, Scorpius squinting up at several watercolours that hung from the walls.
‘If these are hers,’ he muttered. ‘They ain’t half bad.’
We continued to shuffle.
‘Look,’ he said. ‘Maybe this is your prime chance to, er…do a bit of snooping.’
‘You know, to, er, see if she’s a spy or whatever,’ he said, casting a furtive glance at the door Call-Me-Mary-Sue had disappeared through.
‘Why can’t you do it?’
‘I’m too conspicuous. And I knock things over. You’re more…well, gravity doesn’t hate you as much.’
‘Oh, fine,’ I said. ‘But I still think you’ve all got the wrong idea about her. I bet she’s really nice and lovely and not a spy at all.’
He pouted at me, blinking furiously in a vaguely passable imitation of Call-Me-Mary-Sue. ‘Are you sure?’
I didn’t have time to respond. Call-Me-Mary-Sue fluttered back into the hallway at that point, took our anoraks, and then led us through to what appeared to be her sitting room. It was pretty nice, if a little minimalist; the furniture all looked as if it were brand-new, and there were no ornaments on the tables or anything – but there were a ton of paintings hanging on the walls, paintings I supposed were hers. And, if they were, then, wow: she was good.
The shelf that needed to be put up was in one of the corners. She’d left out the basic tools we’d need, including a spirit level (I had to fight to suppress a giggle). Scorpius, who had a lot more experience at putting up shelves than I had (although in a purely DIY sense, if one gets my drift) surveyed the scene with his arms folded across his chest, deep in thought.
I felt I had to seize the moment. ‘Er, Mary-Sue…sannah,’ I said. ‘D’you mind if I use your loo?’
She nodded. ‘Just down the,’ (flutter) ‘corridor. Last door on your right.’
As I turned to leave, Scorpius gave me this funny look that was halfway between urging me to go and snoop and panic at being abandoned alone in a room with call-me-Mary-Sue.
Her bathroom was suitably anonymous; I sniffed at her perfume and opened a tub of her moisturiser, but that was about the extent of my snooping in there. I guessed I had enough time for a bit of extra snooping, so I tried the next door down, being as silent as possible; a cupboard with a lot of shoes in it. Then I tried the door after that, tip-toeing in and squinting around in the semi-darkness. I made out the dim shape of a bed, a wardrobe, a cage that might have kept an owl, before I lit my wand and illuminated the room. The faint blue light only showed me that the room was impeccably tidy and well-kept. Either that or she just hadn’t had a chance to mess it up yet. I pointed my wand towards the bed, giving the area around it a cursory glance – nothing, not even a pair of pyjamas folded up on the covers or anything. There was a piece of paper on the bedside table, though. Still holding my wand out before me, I crossed the room and focused the light onto the paper, peering down at what was written upon it.
It was wrong to read it. It wasn’t one of my finer moments, as moral judgements go. But I read it anyway, and when I told Scorpius about it later, I completely blamed him for telling me to go and snoop in the first place. I had to read it quickly, but I can pretty much remember what it said.
I’m sorry and I miss you.
And that was it, apart from the name Alexander, which had been added to the end.
It could have meant nothing. I am pretty guilty of having an overactive imagination. But the letter seemed to unsettle me a bit, like the whole snooping-on-call-me-Mary-Sue thing before had been a joke, and now it had suddenly got all serious and dodgy. But, as I said, it could have been nothing. I got the feeling, though, that it meant a lot.
I extinguished the light and left the room, taking care to be as quiet as possible on the way out.
a/n: I don't usually wait ages to update but, when I do, I update with a filler chapter. The name Thistle Dae Nicely is actually a hyped up version of a tourist shop in Edinburgh with a very similar name. Always makes me chuckle when I pass it on my holidays there. I love a good pun.
chapter nine - molly drops a bombshell
by shudder @ tda
As much as I dislike my family at the best of times, there is really nothing better than going home to them at Christmas.
This is for several reasons, the most important being ‘free food in abundance’. This year, however, the most important reason was ‘getting away from a weirdo Scottish village in the back of beyond where there is nothing to do except stare at the ceiling and write smut’.
I’m pretty sure Scorpius was as glad to visit my family as I was. He gets fed a lot better when my mum’s there, seeing as I’m a pisspoor cook and he’s hardly better. Besides, my parents aren’t too stingy to leave the heating off. Navigating the doily collection is difficult, but it’s just an occupational habit of living there.
We turned up just after lunch on Christmas Eve, our undetectably expanded suitcase packed with tartan goodies. The Knight Bus deposited us on the front lawn and sped off with a screech, almost running over a squirrel.
Mum was all smiles when she let us in, enveloping me into a huge, all-encompassing hug the moment I stepped over the threshold. Scorpius got an awkward one-armed embrace a moment later. I could tell she was about to lecture me on how thin he’d got.
‘Molly here yet?’ I asked, before she could say anything.
‘She’s arriving with Desmond later this afternoon,’ Mum beamed. ‘It’s so nice to have a house full of children again!’
I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from reminding her that, seeing as I was twenty two, I was far beyond being a child.
‘Why don’t you take your things upstairs?’ Mum’s smile never once faltered. ‘Scorpius is staying in your old room, and Desmond will be in Molly’s, and we’ve borrowed a couple of camp beds from Ron and Hermione that you and Molly can sleep on in the living room…’
I had to bite my tongue again. I’d been under the impression that I’d have been allowed to share my old room with Scorpius, but, apparently, Mum had other plans. So I did my best to return her unflinching smile and said I’d take him upstairs.
‘Good. Your dad’s in the kitchen…I expect he’s busy. Doesn’t like to be disturbed when he’s working on the parsnips,’ she added, in a stage whisper. Then, she patted me on the shoulder, increased the velocity of her beaming a bit, and went through into the living room.
‘Hasn’t changed much,’ I told Scorpius as we climbed the stairs. The house was, indeed, in its usual colour scheme of beige, beige, beige, with the occasional ornament in a muted shade of ivory or cream or something that was probably called beige with a hint of boring. ‘Funny, cause they redecorated last year.’
‘Ah, I like your house, though,’ he said, as we reached the top of the stairs, looking down fondly at a table on which three doilies were displayed. 'It’s very normal. And it’s comfy. My room at home was, like,’ he stretched his arms out either side of him. ‘This big.’
‘Well,’ I smiled, hand already on the door handle. ‘Mine’s not much better.’ Then, shoving down on the handle, I threw the door open, letting Scorpius and the suitcase into the room I’d occupied for eighteen years. ‘Ta-dah! This is it!’
I paused for dramatic effect as Scorpius surveyed the room, taking in the Pride of Portree posters, the wardrobe covered in graffiti, and the piles and piles of parchment stacked up against one wall.
‘Yeah, dad uses this as an office dumping ground,’ I explained, moving into the room. ‘Make yourself at home.’
He put the suitcase at the foot of the wardrobe and peered up at one of the posters above my bed, eyebrow raised.
‘So you’ve always been Portree,’ he said archly.
‘Yup,’ I crossed the room and knelt on the bed, giving the poster an affectionate pat. ‘These are up with a permanent sticking charm…they’ll never come down!’
To emphasise this last point, I leant forward and gave the bottom of the poster an almighty tug. To my surprise, it was not stuck there with a permanent sticking charm at all, and I went toppling backwards onto the bed with the poster on top of me.
It took a while for Scorpius to stop laughing but, eventually, he lifted the poster off of me.
‘You alright?’ he said. ‘Any papercuts?’
I lay there, a little dazed, staring up at the multitude of plastic glow-in-the-dark stars I’d stuck to the ceiling when I was six. I was mildly surprised they were still up there, if the poster was anything to go by.
‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘Now lie next to me like this was my intention all along.’
He complied, shoving me over as we both tried to squeeze onto the narrow single bed. Feeling the effort of travelling and packing catching up with me, I shut my eyes, knowing I could happily fall asleep at that moment.
‘I had stars like that,’ he said, prodding my ankle with his foot to stop me dozing off. ‘I covered my ceiling with them.’
‘Mmm,’ was all I could offer by way of a coherent response. He seemed to sense how tired I was and didn’t say anything more. I put my head on his shoulder, and was just on the verge of asking him to turn off the lights when the door creaked open and someone coughed politiely.
I sat up right away – it was my father, looking benignly embarrassed, half-hidden behind the open door.
‘Would you mind giving me a hand in the kitchen, Lucy?’ he said. Before waiting for an answer, he turned, pulling the door shut behind him.
‘Sorry,’ I said, nudging Scorpius aside as I hopped off the bed. ‘I’ll leave you to get unpacked. You can rummage around in my drawers, if you like. Do a bit of snooping.’
‘I always like a rummage around in your drawers,’ he sat up. ‘Anything incriminating?’
‘Oh, just a few old tomes on magick most foul,’ I pulled the door open. ‘See you in a bit.’
Descending the stairs, I had to pinch my arm to wake myself up. I was still exhausted and – come to think of it – I wasn’t sure I’d ever properly cleaned out my room before I’d left home. Not that I owned much in the way of incriminating objects, mind, and, as an artsy type, Scorpius was pretty hard to shock, but I was pretty sure I had a few manky old diaries kicking around, maybe a box full of bottle tops, photographs of old boyfriends and whatnot. Whilst Molly’s room had been cleaned and set up as a guest room, my room had pretty much been seen as a hopeless case and had been left to fester.
Dad was chopping parsnips in the pristine kitchen, the radio blaring out a set of cheery Christmas carols. When I tapped him on the shoulder, he turned the radio down, pointed to a mound of carrots, and handed me a knife.
‘You’re going to do it by hand,’ he said, when I protested. ‘I know what you’re like with a wand.’
A little grudgingly, I set to dividing the small number of large carrots into a large number of small carrots. We both chopped away in contented silence for a few moments, dad occasionally humming along to a carol, until he spoke again.
‘It’s so nice having Scorpius here for Christmas,’ he said. ‘Such a nice boy.’
‘Yeah, it’s nice,’ I nodded.
‘Really, it is,’ dad suddenly set aside the parsnip he was in the midst of chopping, the knife and his wand following suit. ‘Lucy…we’re….we’re so proud of you.’
Honestly. You wait twenty two years for your parents to tell you that, and then it comes when you’re busy trying to chop up carrots.
‘Er, thanks,’ I said. ‘For what?’
He’d gone a little misty-eyed. ‘I think it’s hard for you to understand,’ he said. ‘But the Malfoys and the Weasleys haven’t seen eye-to-eye for decades…centuries, even…and…well, now they get on. And it’s thanks to you.’
I’m sure I’d realised this fact some time ago, and I’m pretty certain that the credit should have gone to Albus, or Rose, or even Scorpius himself for being such an anomaly when it came to his family, but the sentiment still seemed to strike a chord with me. I put down the knife and the carrot I was holding. Typically, the carrot rolled off the worktop and landed on my feet (well, rather the carrot than the knife) as I patted my dad rather awkwardly on the shoulder.
‘Thanks,’ I said.
‘I know we were a little sceptical at first,’ he said. ‘London, art school and everything – but we’re so glad you’re happy, Lucy. It’s so nice seeing the two of you get on so well and…pick up that carrot.’
I complied, feeling a bit silly.
‘And wash it,’ dad said, a hint of his usual stern nature back in his voice.
I ran the carrot under the tap for a bit while he continued.
‘Anyway, we’re very happy for the two of you. The rest of the family, too, they’re so pleased. Well, your grandparents are taking a while to come around to it but, well…you can’t really…expect their generation to…’ his voice became quieter and quieter. ‘I mean…as they see it…living in sin and whatnot…their words, not mine!’ he added, as my hand shot up from out of the sink and I dropped the carrot again. It landed on the tiled floor with a little splatter like a punctuation mark.
‘Living in sin?’ I repeated. ‘It’s not like we’re going around casting dark marks and killing kittens-’
‘They don’t – they don’t mean like that,’ dad said, in a strangled voice. He’d gone slightly pink. ‘And it’s just something they said once-’
He cut off abruptly, grabbing up a parsnip and his wand and resuming his chopping. I didn’t bother to retrieve the carrot.
‘Dad,’ I said. ‘What do they mean?’
He was swiftly turning the colour of a beetroot. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘Funnily enough, I don’t, which is why I’m-’
‘Don’t be smart,’ he snapped.
‘Pfft, I’m not being smart, Dad, I’m just thick, didn’t you ever get that?’
His jaw worked furiously. ‘Lucy. You’re not thick!’
‘Dad, I failed Care of Magical Creatures-’
‘It’s beside the point!’ he roared, with a white-knuckled grip on an unfortunate parsnip. ‘What your grandparents mean – well, for their generation, for people of their age, you are very…unconventional.’
‘I went to art school and dyed my hair blue, Dad, of course I’m unconventional.’
‘You’re having relations with someone you’re not married to!’ he squeaked.
A deathly silence fell. I could hear Mum humming Celestina Warbeck in the next room. Dad resumed chopping parsnips, calm as ever. I reached down to lift the carrot from the floor.
‘Er,’ I started, eyes fixed on the chopping board. ‘You don’t know if we’re…er…’having relations’.’
Dad’s shoulders were hunched up like he was trying to fold in on himself. ‘Lucy, don’t be daft. Me and your mum have known what your attitude to boys is for some time.’
The aforementioned Mum had stopped humming next door. I felt like I wanted to cry, laugh, and stab something with the knife in my hand all at once.
‘Yeah, but…’ I struggled. ‘That isn’t…wrong. And times are different. I’m not like Nan.’
‘They only disapprove a little bit,’ Dad sounded like he’d been recently strangled. ‘You know what they’re like.’
‘Whatever,’ was the best I could come up with.
Dad finally set down the parsnip and his wand. ‘Look, I didn’t mean to upset you. It was just something they said.’
‘I know, Dad, but it’s only been three years-’
‘I don’t agree with them! Come on, let’s just get on with dinner.’
The conversation effectively terminated there, and chopping resumed in an uncomfortable silence, barring a lengthy anecdote from Dad about a new regulation on the thickness of cauldron bottoms due to come into force in the new year. As little as I cared about bloody cauldron bottoms, at least he wasn’t banging on about me and Scorpius living in sin. Besides, I always got the feeling that Dad listened more than Mum did, and if I’d had to pick one of them to awkwardly bridge the topic with, it would have been him.
‘I’ll go and fetch Scorpius,’ I said, once every root vegetable in the building had been chopped. ‘See if he wants a drink.’ And a bit of premarital relations, a little voice in my head snarked.
When I arrived back in my room, I found Scorpius cross-legged on the bed, flicking through a little box of old photos that was usually kept on the windowsill. I panicked momentarily before realising that, if I’d left them in plain sight, there couldn’t have been anything too incriminating in there.
‘Family cat?’ he asked, holding up a picture of an especially grumpy tabby. I sat beside him, taking the photo from his hands.
‘Weatherby,’ I said. ‘I miss him. Used to lick my face in the mornings. Like a furry alarm clock.’
‘Weatherby,’ Scorpius repeated. ‘That’s a good name for a cat.’
‘It’s alright,’ I said. ‘Dad hated it for some reason. There are better cat names.’
We met each other’s eyes.
‘Socks,’ Scorpius said, quickly, just as I said ‘Andrew.’
I turned my gaze back to the photo, where Weatherby had begun to lick his paw. ‘I miss having a cat.’
‘I bet he misses you too, judging by that face,’ Scorpius jabbed Weatherby’s surly glare.
‘Anyway,’ I set the picture aside. ‘D’you want to come downstairs? Get a drink and whatnot. Although I’m afraid we’ve probably only got ginger beer and elderflower cordial or something.’
‘Suits me fine.’
Molly and Desmond arrived with perfect timing, coming through the front door just as me and Scorpius reached the bottom of the stairs. What with mum flinging out her arms all over the shop to hug everyone, the hallway became quite cramped; I ended up flattened against the coat rack, grinning widely with an umbrella handle jammed into my back.
I’d never much approved of Molly’s taste in men in the past, but Desmond seemed to be an exception to the rule. I’d only met him a few times, but I’d noticed how he always kept his eye on her – not in an overprotective or creepy way, like. It was like, should she fall, he’d be there with his arms out to catch her in record time. And he was one of the few people who hadn’t sneered at my art school qualification. And he was a Portree supporter. That puts anyone in my good books.
Unlike Scorpius, Desmond seemed to have been to the house plenty of times before, and was content to see himself up to Molly’s old room. I went into the sitting room with Molly and Scorpius, only to have mum drag Scorpius away almost instantly to get him a drink from the kitchen, leaving me alone with my little sister.
‘Wow! It’s been ages,’ Molly said, yanking me into a hug. With her heels on, she was a good deal taller, and I ended up with my nose buried in her neck, sniffing her expensive perfume. ‘How have you been?’
‘Oh, just chuffing along,’ I said. She pulled away and grinned.
‘I’ve got a surprise for Mum and Dad.’
‘What is it?’
She winked conspiratorially. ‘You’ll find out later. Has she accused you of underfeeding Scorpius yet?’
‘I’m waiting for the onslaught.’
The aforementioned Mum appeared at this point with a tray of glasses and a bottle of elderflower cordial.
‘So nice to have you all here,’ Mum beamed, and we all took a seat. ‘Shame we couldn’t have more of the family.’
‘Oh, I’m sure they’re having a great time,’ Molly said, and, with that, Mum was off. She felt the need to describe to us, in detail, what every member of the extended Weasley-Potter family was doing this Christmas. How Albus had gone to Romania to see our Uncle Charlie, how his little sister Lily was getting on in her internship at the Ministry, and how Rose would be alone with her parents this year.
‘Such a shame, isn’t it?’ she frowned, and Molly and Scorpius both started nodding solemnly.
I felt like I was missing something. ‘And that’s different from any other year…how?’
Mum shot me a scandalised look. ‘Lucy!’
‘Awkward,’ Molly said.
‘Why? What happened to Rose?’
‘Did you get the letter about the move?’ Molly asked.
‘Did she tell you why?’
I snorted with laughter. ‘We’re not close.’
Mum was shaking her head. ‘After what happened, Lucy…’
‘You know, last August,’ Molly prompted. ‘When she split up with her boyfriend.’
‘Fiancé,’ Mum corrected.
‘Oh,’ I felt a bit deflated. ‘No…I didn’t know about that. Did you know?’ I said, turning to Scorpius.
‘Uh…yeah,’ he said, shifting in his seat. ‘Wrote me a letter.’
I chose to ignore this.
‘Wow,’ I said.
‘A downright shame,’ Mum was still shaking her head. ‘He kept the flat – Hermione was, understandably, livid, but luckily he decided not to press charges.’
I felt a bit stupid and sad about this. I’d never been close to Rose, and the two of us didn’t get on well at all, but I felt an unprecedented wave of sympathy welling up inside me. Poor Rose, nobody could get along with her.
Rose didn’t come up for the rest of our stay, however. I gathered that she was spending Christmas with her parents, but me and Scorpius would be long gone by the time Mum and Dad went to visit Ron and Hermione. Instead, talk lingered on cheerier subjects. Molly had got a part-time job in a shoe shop to supplement her Ministry pay, Desmond was doing something connected to the next Quidditch world cup, still two years away, and both of my parents were pretty keen to hear about Scorpius’ job at Cameraderie.
Scorpius, unused to having to talk so much and still a little fearful of my dad, was a bit twitchy throughout dinner on Christmas Eve. He was perfectly polite and had decent table manners, but I occasionally had to kick his shin under the table to get him to stop staring at the tablecloth and engage in conversation. I can hardly blame him, though. Scorpius, a sworn vegetarian since the age of seven, couldn’t have been more alarmed than when dad carried in a huge hunk of roast beef from the kitchen, slammed it down on the table, and the pulled out an enormous knife to carve it with. I could almost see the little cogs whirring in Scorpius’ brain; he was probably picturing my dad holding that knife up at him, saying something along the lines of hurt my daughter and we’ll eat you for our Christmas Eve dinner. But, happily, mum brought in a little plate of nut roast with trimmings a moment later, and he looked a little more pacified.
It was pretty funny to watch. Dad was evidently struggling to be nice to both boys while maintaining the whole these-are-my-daughters-and-thou-shalt-not-harm-them act, and so treated them both with gruff politeness while constantly urging them to call him ‘Percy’ instead of ‘Mr Weasley.’ Desmond handled this fine but, Scorpius, never one for social interaction, slipped up and accidentally called him ‘Mr Percy’ at one point instead. It kind of broke the ice, though; for that I was glad.
It was when we were having pudding that Molly dropped her bombshell.
‘Guess it’s now or never,’ she said, out of the blue, setting down her spoon and taking Desmond’s hand. ‘Well…the two of us have decided to get married!’
Absolute silence. Then Mum’s spoon slipped from her hand and hit her bowl with a loud clang. A moment later, Dad burst into tears.
‘That’s awesome, Molly!’ I cried, feeling that she probably needed a voice of encouragement. But Dad had already shot out of his seat and was flailing for her across the table, openly crying, pulling her into an embrace; Scorpius’ hands shot out and grabbed crockery and cutlery alike out of their way.
I was chuffed, over the moon, delighted that my little sister had ended up with someone that, god forbid, both myself and my parents approved of, someone who had that constant look of being ready to catch her if she fell. Someone my grandparents would probably approve of as well.
It was half past eleven before we all turned in for the night. I waited until Mum and Dad had gone upstairs to say goodnight to Scorpius.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘Kind of a hard act for us to follow, huh.’
‘Tell you what, if you meet me at the foot of the stairs at five tomorrow morning, we can elope.’
‘Yeah. That’ll show them.’
I couldn’t help but laugh. ‘I’ll make sure I’m wearing my best dress.’
‘I’ll look my suit out.’
‘Right,’ I stood on tiptoe to kiss him. ‘Goodnight. See you in the morning.’
Molly had already set up the camp beds by the time I arrived back in the living room, changed into my pyjamas. She sat on the edge of hers, idly brushing her hair. Now that the secret was out, she was wearing an engagement ring.
‘Really pleased for you and Desmond,’ I said, sitting on the edge of my own camp bed and kicking off my slippers. ‘Best news I’ve heard in ages.’
‘Thanks,’ she beamed at me. ‘Mum and Dad gone to bed?’
‘Right,’ she stood, sliding her feet into her slippers. ‘I’m off, then.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Going to go to my room, dopey.’
‘Hey, we’re supposed to be staying in here!’
‘It might reflect badly on him if you stay there instead. Look, I’d only just walked in the door today when Dad started accusing me of living in sin with Scorpius-’
‘I’ll be out before the morning,’ she said, rolling her eyes.
I let her slink away without another word. Feeling a teensy bit resentful, I got into my camp bed and turned the lights out with my wand, trying to settle down on the scratchy canvas.
I probably would have got into more trouble if I’d done the same, though. Molly was, and always had been, the better daughter, the one who’d joined the Ministry straight out of school, the one who had a decent salary and a respectable boyfriend – sorry, fiancé - the one who at least looked and dressed like she was a fully-functioning member of society. Me? I had a degree in photography, a boyfriend from one of the most notorious Pureblood families around, and a budding career in writing bad smut.
If it was any consolation, I wasn’t Rose.
A few minutes after I’d bunked down, the door creaked open and Molly returned looking a little sheepish.
‘Dad caught me,’ she explained, clambering into her own camp bed. ‘Had to pretend I was getting a scrunchie.’
‘Serves you right,’ I said.
‘He’s going to be a wreck when I get married,’ Molly said, yawning on the last word. ‘He’ll probably weep when he leads me down the aisle.’
‘I can’t decide,’ she yawned again. ‘Whether it’ll be a summer wedding or what.’
‘Summer would be nice.’
‘Yeah,’ Molly said, yawning again. ‘Yeah…’
‘I think I’d like to get married someday,’ I said, but Molly had already fallen asleep.
a/n: I don't usually update twice in one day but, when I do, I update with moar filler and a ~sensible~ chapter. Eep, sorry for lumping so much pointless filler on youse all, but there are a lot of plotty things I need to get out the way, like broody Lucy, the mysterious mystery of Mary Sue and her mystery man, Rose's angst and...yes...more discussions about naming cats...
Trust me, there's interesting stuff to come. Well...I hope it'll be interesting. Events to come in later chapters include Lucy's second enounter with Euphemia Flitter and Scorpius finally getting his 'save the world, get the girl moment'. Almost. I promise it's coming.
Aand finally...thank you for reading & I hope you enjoyed it! ♥
chapter ten - post-apocalyptic romance
I was a little surprised when the summons came from Euphemia Flitter to meet her on the fifth of January. From her aloof attitude and general ambivalence towards me, I’d assumed she wouldn’t have wanted to hear from me for months to come. Perhaps my plea for help and my vague ignorance of what I was supposed to write had made her panic. She described it as a brief check-up and asked me to bring everything I’d written so far.
From the moment the owl arrived, I typed like a woman possessed. With a little bit of creative input from Scorpius (he of the bizarre imagination), I constructed a wildly implausible plot and bashed out a few chapters of complete nonsense much in the vein of the essays that’d got me an Outstanding in N.E.W.T Divination.
It was set in the north of Scotland (writing what I know, of course), in a quirky little village that was a loosely-disguised version of New New Elgin. I tried to pick out elements of my own life to dramatise for reasons of plot – everything from the war memorial in front of the town hall to the Sunday afternoon we’d gone for a walk in the snow. But it was really hard to connect the weird and nice memories in my head with the bawdy thing I was supposed to be crafting for Amortentia Publications.
The plot certainly came out of nowhere. Fauna Hewitt is a pretty singleton and escapee from a loveless marriage in London. Buck Blair is her enigmatic three-doors-down neighbour. Buck saves Fauna from a chip pan fire. Fauna kisses him. Buck is mildly burned. She kisses the burn symbolically too, just as her old London friend Eugene Gilbert turns up. An entire page is devoted to miserable, drippy prose about how his wimpy heart is shattering into tiny bits. The three points of the love triangle turn and gape at one another. And then the music stops on the radio. Breaking news: the zombie apocalypse is upon Great Britain.
By chapter thirteen the death toll is already forty and Eugene is missing an arm. Buck is leading the human resistance movement. Fauna has become a ruthless killer with knives strapped to her garters and three wands tucked up each sleeve. What was once a romantic novel has turned into a post-apocalyptic fiesta. Although the smut stays. Think post-apocalyptic smut with a high body count. Think smut with the added danger of the walking dead walking in.
I was very much enjoying writing it, although I knew that it was probably the very thing that Euphemia Flitter and her potato sack dress would despise.
I had a bit of time to write it, time to think of what I would actually say to her. We didn’t really do much after the jaunt to my parents’ over Christmas. Our New Year’s celebration was just the two of us. First, we traipsed out to the phone box on the High Street to receive a drunken phone call from Tarquin and Gwen, an hour ahead of us in Paris (plus background sound effects provided by Lettuce, who sounded like he was wearing a bodysuit made of cowbells and tinsel). Then we retreated to the flat, where we made sure we kept the radio on, kissed at midnight, and drank a toast or two.
There was a funny moment when the midnight countdown ended and we kissed, as expected, but, on the radio, they’d left it tuned into the firework display over the Thames, and so you could still her thousands of people in London yelling, singing, oohing and aahing at the fireworks, even though austerity cuts meant that the display was far smaller than usual. It sounded fantastic but, after a few minutes, Scorpius switched it off. If you’re trying to have a couple of hours’ alone time with your significant other, the sound of half a city cheering you on is a bit of a mood killer.
I let Scorpius read through what I had of a manuscript before I left for the meeting.
‘Oh,’ was his verdict. ‘You killed off Algernon. I liked Algernon,’ he stared back down at the page, looking troubled. ‘I really liked Algernon. Did he really have to be killed like that?’ he glanced up at me again. ‘I mean, that was slow. Painful. Does he really have to come back as a zombie?’ eyes back down to the page, frown back on face. ‘I bet he’s going to hunt down Buck. I don’t mind what you do to Buck,’ eyes back up at me. ‘He’s too perfect.’
‘Buck’s the vanguard of the revolution. He can’t die.’
‘Oh, yeah, I noticed you dropping the politics in. It’s good,’ he added, hastily. ‘I like it. But you didn’t have to kill Algernon.’
‘Algernon’s a fictional construct. Besides, you’ve gotta make sacrifices. Fauna’s still around. You know I sort of based her on you.’
‘Oh. Cool. She’s good. Don’t kill Eugene either,’ he sounded a little desperate. ‘He’s grown on me.’
‘Spoiler,’ I said. ‘Eugene and Fauna put up a shelf together.’
‘Right?’ he raised an eyebrow. ‘And, what, the shelf collapses on them and alerts the zombies to their presence?’
‘That’d be a mood killer and a half.’
Truth was that I hadn’t planned where I was going at all. ‘You’re on the right track, though,’ I said, enigmatically.
Sometimes I felt a bit miffed with myself. We’d both, in a way, committed to take aspects of our own life together and turn them into fiction, both for Scorpius’ neat little comic book idea and my rampant beast of a post-apocalyptic smut novel. Scorpius was using it for creative good, though, drawing something nice that he was going to try and sell copies of back in London, all handmade, all sweet and pretty and honest – and I? I was using it for a tawdry bloodbath.
I got to the Witch Weekly headquarters a little early. My determination to get there before the stipulated arrival time of midday meant that I didn’t quite have time to make myself presentable. Anorak, uncomfortable high-waisted jeans that crushed my internal organs, a crumpled polyester shirt that was fraying at the collar. The cute blue suede loafers almost made the outfit work until I stepped in a puddle on my way in and stained them a funny shade of brown at the toes.
London felt practically tropical compared to New New Elgin, despite the rain, and I was sweltering in the waiting room of the Witch Weekly offices. I folded my anorak over the back of the chair and tried to swelter quietly in my shirt and cardigan, but this was difficult when my face was throbbing with the heat and my fringe was glued to my forehead with perspiration.
Most of the staff had vanished on their lunch break. Seven near-identical shades of nail polish stood on a desk nearby, surrounded by masses and masses of paper. A little further along, a young witch with bags under her eyes leant back in her chair, snoring quietly, a miniature Quaffle resting on her desk.
Euphemia Flitter summoned me into her office at one past twelve on the dot. She dispensed with small talk right away, taking my manuscript from me at once. This time, her dress was a severe, shocking pink that made her skin look deathly pale despite the tidemark of foundation on her neck. She didn’t speak once as she read through the trash I’d typed up, but lifted her quill once or twice to scribble in a margin or circle a word.
This went on for about four centuries.
Eventually, she lowered her glasses and peered back up at me with her piercing blue eyes, fingers steepled into a point, three-inch silver talons forming a lethal pinnacle. Her expression was unreadable. She had not reacted once to the pages she’d read. I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable, wondering just what I'd got wrong.
'Good,' she said, simply.
I grinned, but then she added -
'But I’m afraid this isn’t at all what we were looking for.'
My heart sank.
'Well, this is only the first few thousand words or so-'
'Your language, Louise.'
'Far too many swear words for a book aimed at women. Especially those words. Unecessary. Vulgar. You don't want to alienate your readers. A bit lighter on the language, please. A bit more ladylike.'
Well, that was bullshit if I ever heard it.
‘The plot, too,’ she turned over a few pages. ‘This…ahem…well, I understand that post-apocalyptic fiction has had a vogue of late, but, ordinarily, this is simply not the sort of thing we publish. Our readers want realism. I suggest you prune the story back. Rewrite from chapter four onwards. Go back to the original idea. Your protagonist is delightful. The opening chapter is sublime. I like the premise. You also tend to focus on scenery, atmosphere, ambience, a lot of description - all good, Miss Weasley, but we want to hear more about people. The gossip, the scandal. Who's doing what...or who, rather.'
'To be honest…I dunno, I guess I was, uh,’ I fidgeted with my sleeve. ‘Writing from life?’
‘Your life?’ she echoed. ‘In what way?’
‘Well, I live in a tiny Scottish village-’
'Do you live alone?'
'No, I live with my boyfriend.'
'Boyfriend?' she raised her eyebrows. 'Well, Louise', (I didn't bother to correct her this time) 'What we often find our readers want in these novels is sex.'
I wasn't entirely sure I'd heard her correctly. 'I beg your pardon?'
'The sex, Louise. Sells books by the ton. Nothing like Romantic escapism, Miss Weasley. Just slip some more in.'
I wasn't entirely sure that 'slip some more in' was an appropriate choice of phrase, seeing as there'd not been much to begin with.
'Well, Miss Flitter - really, I imagine readers could fill in the blanks as far as that was concerned…'
‘What this story needs is an emotional punch. Focus on relationships – everyone loves a bit of romance.'
I fidgeted, unsure of what she was really asking for.
'Good heavens,' she said. 'You're not prudish, are you? This isn’t the Victorian Era, you can discuss these sorts of things in literature.'
'Ha, no!' I blurted out, with a hysterical sort of scream of a laugh. 'Well, the sex is amazing!'
She merely gaped at me. Evidently, that wasn't what she was looking for.
'Romantic escapism, Miss Weasley,' she repeated, slowly. 'You know...a bit of a light romantic subplot to...well, to spice it up a bit.'
I felt my face go a luminous, burning scarlet and cringed back into my chair, wishing simply to become a little compacted square of awkwardness and be eaten by the squashy cushions. Miss Flitter sighed and put a hand on my manuscript.
'This is certainly a good starting point, though. It shows some promise. If you will send me an owl by the end of the week having made my suggested amendments, I think we should be able to go from there.'
'Cool,' I reached for the manuscript. 'I'll just be off then-'
'I thought you might accompany me to dinner,' Miss Flitter said. 'You can meet some of your colleagues.'
I ended up being dragged along to a dingy gastropub in Diagon Alley with whoever was in the office at the moment Miss Flitter stalked out of her office, me in tow. I ended up sitting opposite the dozing witch from the Quidditch desk, who had to keep stifling yawns throughout the extravagant three-course lunch.
I stuck out like a bit of a sore thumb. The rest of the team were already well acquainted, proper journalism types, whilst I was the odd writer out, the lone hawker of smut in a sea of Quick-Quoters and overstretched staff. I kept trying to relate to them through my old work with the Prophet, but these were people who did real features, proper stories, people who spent days on end testing endless varieties of self-stirring cauldrons to find the best one for making soup. And before anyone argues that that isn’t proper journalism, I defy them to try making soup in a cauldron that hasn’t been approved by the Which Cauldron? supplement. The results are often explosive.
I ended up ordering fish and chips (a whale of a fish! The menu promised) just to avoid chatter.
In a way, being in London had sort of made me nostalgic for home, made me realise how much we’d isolated ourselves by moving halfway across the nation and finding new friends in a bunch of strange Scottish types. And it also sort of made me realise just how successful everyone had become when me and Scorpius were still struggling to cover a month’s rent. I suppose that’s what happens when you run off to art school.
By the time I had a chance to Floo home it was past six in the evening. Manuscript in bag, I sprawled onto the carpet, sooty and exhausted, and feeling hungry already despite the three-course lunch. The flat was silent; I found Scorpius asleep at the kitchen table, slumped over a newspaper. I jabbed his shoulder and he started awake, newsprint on his cheek.
'S'nice,' I pointed at the newsprint. 'You should get a tattoo of that done.’
'Uh...' he blinked at me. 'Good...morning?'
'Evening,' I said. ‘It’s six. I'm famished. Put the kettle on, love, I'm going to murder a bacon sandwich.'
Like the good boyfriend he was, he got to his feet and started filling the kettle. I made for the cupboards - the prospect of a bacon roll was so close, so tantalising, that I completely forgot the day I'd had.
It took a while to get the food going, though. I cast all magic aside, cooking by hand instead. Which wasn't really a good idea. I'm a terrible witch, but an even worse cook. But, finally, the bacon was sizzling in the pan (Scorpius, the token vegetarian, did his best to look unconcerned, but he nearly had his face in the fruitbowl). Eventually, bacon roll assembled, I flopped down into my chair and took a long, well-earned sip of my tea.
'What did she think of the zombie thing?' Scorpius asked, with perfectly bad timing - I'd just taken an immense, hippopotamus-like bite of my bacon sandwich.
'Uh...she liked it, I guess,' I said, a few moments later. 'Not the zombie bit. The first few bits. I think she wants a plot change. She made a few suggestions.'
'She wants more sex.'
'In the book or...just, generally, in her life?'
I froze, the sandwich halfway to my mouth. It couldn't have been an attractive look. 'Er, the book, you prat,' I tried to sound nonchalant. 'Apparently, uh, sex sells. Romantic escapism,' I added, quickly. 'Light romantic subplot and whatnot.'
'Right,' he said. 'Cool.'
Sensing that this part of the discussion was over, I took a hefty bite of the sandwich. Further ketchup-soaked heaven filled my mouth, but then Scorpius continued-
'What does she mean?'
I chewed at the mouthful of food with what I hoped was a vaguely thoughtful expression, at a loss for what to say. Scorpius continued to stare politely at me, waiting for an explanation. I set the sandwich down, swallowing the last bite with some difficulty.
'Uh, well, I thought it was...romantic writing. You know, Escapism, Miss Weasley, and all that. Like I could get away with zombies as long as there was a romantic plot somewhere. But...it seems that she wants, er...steamy chick it. Just, you know. Smut. I think I knew that all along.'
Scorpius looked terribly amused. ‘Hadn’t you already done your best with the smut?'
‘Yeah, but she wants more!’
‘And? Combine it with the zombies! Write zombie smut!’
‘That’s disgusting! I’m not writing zombie smut!’
‘Can you imagine the looks on people’s faces when they read it, though?’
I fell about laughing, aware at just how ludicrous the premise was, but Scorpius just yawned.
‘I’m exhausted,’ he said. ‘Got an early shift tomorrow too. Might go to bed.’
‘It’s only past six!’ I exclaimed.
‘Just need to rest my eyes,’ he promised. ‘And then I’ll be fine.’
The next day, I sat with my manuscript and a quill, carefully editing my story - cutting a word or two here, adding a few extra there, toning down the swear words just about everywhere. Whilst I made every effort to change the manunscript to Euphemia Flitter's suggestions, I couldn't, for the life of me, find any way of accomodating the last one. Bedroom stories? Pfft. They were bedroom stories for a reason. They stayed there. And, besides, I used the bedroom for other things too, like getting dressed, or reading. If I were to be pedantic, I could eaily write fifteen chapters of detailed wardrobe exposition and call it a bedroom story.
Romance, too. How could I write romance? I was, by no means, a romantic. Flowers, expensive jewellery, Valentine’s day – never been my thing. It’s far better to have the person you love bring you a cup of tea in the mornings than bring you a bunch of roses once, only once a year, because custom and tradition dictates that they should. For me, it was tea and companionship. Not Amortentia Publications and their stupid little idea of love being something that was angry and cost a lot of money. But I couldn’t let it get personal like that. I couldn’t afford to let it get personal like that.
Still, I couldn't not do what she told me to. I'd spent most of the five hundred galleon advance anyway. I reached the end of the manuscript with a heavy heart, knowing I'd done a half-hearted job at best.
Yawning, I sat with my quill poised over the final sentence. ‘Come with me,’ Buck said, his orbs of grey steel boring into Fauna’s emerald green eyes. ‘And never leave.’
It was complete crap. Without thinking, I wrote two short sentences beneath it, the two tiny concessions I'd make to Euphemia Flitter.
Sex happened. It was very nice.
a/n: I don't usually update three times in quick succession, but when I do, I...okay, no, I have a valid reason here. I've had this chapter written for about six months. It's pretty much the second thing I ever wrote for this story. So this was just a case of doing a few minor edits and making a chapter image, before you all think I'm the superhuman almight updater or something. I mean, that'd be a pretty naff superpower. (Spiderman: I can shoot webs out of my hands and climb up walls! Julia: I can write three chapters in a row! COWER BEFORE ME.)
Thank you so much to everyone who's been reviewing so far, and I'm so sorry it's taking me ages to respond to all of them. You're all too kind to me ♥ Anyhoo. Hope you enjoyed this, and thank you for reading!
edited 11/05/2013 - caution, the story has not been rewritten yet after this chapter! please bear with me; I'll have the edits up soon. until then, I advise you hang on and stop reading here, because a lot of the story has changed and later chapters won't be as cohesive.
chapter eleven - the tripwire of reality
Even I’ll admit that what I was writing was dullsville central. No more weird locals to study and document, no scandal, no gossip, none of the habitual oddness that had come with art school – just the enigma of call-me-Mary-Sue, the band rehearsals, and the vaguely alarming knowledge that a surprising number of the people I knew were getting hitched. I half expected to get an owl from Tarkatron and Gweniffer (as they had called themselves in their last letter) any day telling us they were going to pop into Gretna Green on the way up to visit us and tie the knot.
It was crazy, though, I thought. Everyone seemed surprisingly young. I thought back to when I was eighteen, when I’d just left school and was about to butcher my hair and run off to art school – I’d been very adamant, then, that I’d stay eighteen forever. Not literally, but, you know, I had this sort of masterplan of having a different hair colour and boyfriend every week, maybe a really cool little job and some trendy digs in Camden or something, lots of seizing the day and acting on impulse and whatnot. I’d just about accomplished the hair colour thing before reality and the economy caught up with me in a big way. It was kind of like all my foolish little teenage dreams had been running a marathon and then – bam! The tripwire of reality strikes again!
I’m not sure I minded that (looking back, the idea of being trendy and seizing the day, every day is kind of laughable), but somehow I felt that I’d never in my wildest dreams/nightmares (delete as applicable) envisioned myself as already settled down and working by the age of 23. Already thinking about such preposterously grown-up things as marriage and early bedtimes and actually doing the laundry and whatnot. No, I liked my life, but I still felt like the old me would have thrown a hissy fit if she could have actually seen her future in all those Divination lessons she sat through.
I tried to project this into what I was writing. No, really, I did. I tried so hard. But it was very whiny. Whinging, miserable, woe-is-me-why-do-I-have-to-grow-up sort of stuff. Here we have Fauna, craving the hedonistic life she always dreamed of: will she choose Buck for the thrill of sharing his life as a one-armed skydiver, or Eugene for his stability and baking skills? Eugene, duh.
The truth is that a girl will always pick the nice guy. I know I did, even if I wasn’t lusting after an improbable bad boy in the first place. Or maybe the whole thing was just one big inverted parody and it was actually a case of Scorpius picking the nice girl or something. Or maybe I was the bad girl. I’m not sure.
As the early days of January dragged on, it became harder and harder to write the damn thing. When I sat before the typewriter or with a notepad in my lap, it was easy to let my mind wander. Not even wander: my mind bloody went hiking.
Usually, what with being alone in the flat and stuff, when my mind went off to climb the Himalayas, it took a while to claw it back to coherent thought again. Luckily, Scorpius was in the flat too a couple of times, and he seemed to be something of an expert in Lucy and her Mad Hiking Mind Studies, especially Module 1: Getting her Mind to Stop Hiking and Return to a Cogent and Brisk Pace. Probably passed with an Outstanding.
‘You’re doing that face again,’ he piped up, startling me out of my reverie so suddenly that my notebook fell from my lap and slapped onto the bare wooden floor.
‘What face?’ I turned to look at him. He was slouched on the other end of the sofa, sketchbook propped on his knee and a pencil in his hand. His trainers, resting on the coffee table, had scattered mud all over the newspapers. Given the state of the economy, this somehow seemed fitting.
‘That face you do when you think nobody’s watching,’ he said, squinting down at his book. ‘It’s good fun to draw.’
It was one of those moments where I felt something had been lost in translation between us.
‘Huh? You draw me?’
‘Why didn’t you say something?’
‘You get really self-conscious. And you’re hard to draw. Kind of better when you’re relaxed.’
‘I’m hard to draw?’
‘It’s not the drawing itself that’s hard,’ he frowned. ‘It’s the finished result. If I get a tiny thing wrong, it looks…creepy. Because it’s like you but not you if you get me?’
I felt we were straying into artspeak territory.
‘Yeah,’ he continued. ‘I know, it’s only an interpretation of you. But, you know, it’s got to look like you, and when something’s a bit off, it’s scary. Because I see you every day and I know exactly what you look like, and if I get it wrong it’s like I’ve drawn a stranger.’
‘So…’ I said, still processing the phrase only an interpretation of you. ‘What is this face, then?’
‘It’s like you’re concentrating very hard on something. Something nobody else can see. Kind of like you’re angry at it, too. But your eyes are all wide and spacey, and there’s kind of a bit of a smile there too but you look really distracted at the same time, kind of worried too. That’s generally how I know your head’s in the clouds. You look a bit drunk, but not so happy.’
‘Surely that’s not a good thing?’
‘Nah, I like it.’
I felt like I should have been flattered, but I’d been in a bit of a touchy mood ever since the festering pit of self-esteem issues that had been the Witch Weekly dinner out. So instead, I kind of felt a little edgy about all things that concerned my face. Merlin, a single meal had turned me vain. I know it’s daft, but somehow I didn’t realise this at the time. I stood, picked up my notebook from the floor, and then made up some excuse about having to send an owl to my mum and flounced off through to the bedroom.
When I got there, I remembered that I did actually have something to do. I crossed over to the calendar Scorpius’ mum had sent us for Christmas – puffin-themed, although I wasn’t entirely sure why – and carefully wrote Gwen and Tarks visit on the twenty-sixth of January, which suddenly didn’t seem all that far away.
I’d no sooner set the quill down than the mirror caught my eye. It was as if it had been standing there all the time I’d been writing on the calendar, waving at me out of the corner of my eye, going yoo-hoo, loser! until I finally turned around, when it ended up standing there looking as smug and self-satisfied as an inanimate object ever can. Which isn’t really all that possible, but I have quite the overactive imagination.
The more I looked, the more I seemed to find wibbles and other such sundry defects. Gappy teeth, overgrown hair, a figure that was better at impersonating an ironing board than most ironing boards. Lucy Weasley; poor, obscure, plain and little. I ended up standing there trying to figure out if standing like a constipated duck made me look any more attractive and half-wishing that I was a bit more like those simpering heroines of Amortentia Publications who actually had something of note in the chest department.
It took me something like three minutes to realise that standing like a constipated duck didn’t make me look any more attractive. It just made me look like a constipated duck.
It was possibly one of my sillier moments.
Scorpius wandered through from the kitchen/sitting room at that point, perching cross-legged on the end of the bed and looking up at me with an almighty sigh.
‘You know,’ he said. ‘You’ve been awfully funny this past week.’
‘I’m fine,’ I snapped, knowing full well that the tone of my voice communicated the exact opposite.
‘Pfft, you’re not.’
‘I so am.’
‘You are so not.’
‘Yeah, well,’ I turned away from the mirror and flopped down onto the duvet, searching vainly for some sort of appropriate comeback. ‘You’ve been weird recently too.’
The look of vague amusement he’d had faded slightly. ‘Huh?’
‘You know, past few months-’
‘You work so much!’ I frowned. ‘Way too much! You’re always tired!’
‘But I’ve got to work-’
‘Why?’ I demanded, aware that I was starting to sound a little shrill. ‘Why do you have to work so much? It’s going to make you ill-’
‘Because I need to! Because you need me to!’
‘I never said-’
At this point, he grasped me by the shoulders – not too hard, only just enough to make me realised that it was one of those rare occasions that he was desperate enough to make a point to overcome his own habitual shyness.
‘We have no money,’ he said.
‘We’ve got enough to get by on-’
‘But we haven’t! What if – I dunno – what if something happens, or…or what if the economy takes another headplant? You know it’s tough already-’
‘We could what if for forever and a day, you can’t budget for everything-’
‘There’s no point arguing about it, you know we need the money. We need more than enough to just get by on, we need to put something away for a rainy day, maybe even save up so we can spruce up the flat a bit – I mean,’ he motioned around him. ‘We’re using a pile of magazines as a table!’
I didn’t mean to sound so spiteful, but when I said ‘It’ll always be a rainy day, Scorpius,’ it was as if I’d punched him in the face.
‘Let me get another job, then,’ I said. ‘Let me work more. It’s hardly fair that you have to work three jobs and I just arse around with a typewriter all day-’
‘But that’s not fair either.’
The fight seemed to go out of him. ‘With that…advance thing you got,’ he said. ‘You earned in a month more than I’d have earned in five years at the camera shop. I’m just paying my share.’
‘The advance was a one-off.’
‘Paid for a year’s rent, though. Look, I…’ at this point, he looked genuinely tired, more tired than I’d seen him for a while, as if he just wanted me to stop talking. ‘I want to work my way up. I want to get a real job with a real salary so one day we won’t have to live in these crappy flats with cupboard gremlins and rising damp and magazine furniture-’
‘I like our crappy flats. They’ve got character.’
‘Yeah, but, it’ll make me happy if we actually look like we’ve done some sort of good for ourselves.’
‘Having money isn’t the key to happiness,’ I said, evidently having transgressed from stupidity to philosophy.
‘But it helps,’ he said. ‘It really does.’
And I got what he meant, I really did, and that’d probably why I couldn’t say the usual but all you need is love and tea and toast maxim that was on the tip of my tongue. I knew he was right. I knew we were just on the wrong side of skint, struggling in an economy that was on the turn. If anything, my little gig with Witch Weekly had been the fluke of the century.
So instead I said this: ‘Merlin, you’re always on about money.’
There’s something I’ve always been very good at. It’s saying the exact opposite of what I really want to say.
It makes me quite good at killing arguments. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not, though.
‘It’s important to me,’ he sounded incredibly glum. ‘Look, my shift starts in an hour.’
And then the worst bit-
‘We’ll talk later.’
I hated that phrase. It reminded me of a few very specific moments in my life when I’d heard it from my parents, usually when I came home drunk in the very small hours of the morning during the summer holidays and usually preceding a severe telling-off. It was the sort of phrase that made me jittery and nervous and drop things.
And the thing about us was that, even though we argued as much as any other couple, we rarely had those we’ll talk later conversations. Usually, our arguments were petty in the extreme. Trivialities and fripperies formed the basis of just about everything we did, mostly because ‘trivialities and fripperies’ is a fantastic combination of words that needs to be said more often.
No, really, it worried me.
There were things to do first, though. Scorpius had his work, I had my arsing around with a typewriter, and then we both had a band rehearsal of the still-unnamed-New-New-Elgin band at three that afternoon. Although call-me-Mary-Sue had taken it upon herself to enter as a solo act on behalf of the town, it seemed that the town in question was still intent on entering (and winning) and were going to perform, fluttery eyelashes or not.
So Scorpius vanished off to cover some battle re-enactment in Surrey, I vanished into a smog of daydreaming and absent-minded noodling on the typewriter, and the day vanished in what felt like a matter of seconds. I felt like I’d only just sat down when the clock ticked round to quarter to three and I had to get back up again and put my anorak on.
The snow had stuck around after the New Year and showed no signs of leaving. I had to watch my step on the way to the Town Hall; the streets were paved with ice, bordered with lumpy snow on either side that turned to slush where the two met.
I wasn’t the last person to arrive at the town hall, but I was by no means the first. Most of the ‘band’ (inverted commas very much intended) had already assembled, plus a crowd of assorted hangers-on and New New Elginers who were probably just there for the free tea and biscuits like I was.
Scorpius wasn’t there, though. I gave him half an hour. He’d never been entirely punctual as a person, and I knew how difficult the Floo Network could be at rush hour – half an hour tops. Half an hour before I’d allow the little nervy feeling that’d been twisting me inside out all day to take hold and develop into full-scale worrying. Look, I know he’s perfectly old enough to look after himself and all that, but the boy’s chronically accident prone and I like to keep an eye out for him.
I moseyed around the hall for a bit, chit-chatted, swapped some small talk, munched my way through a plate of shortbread with the help of Jeans C and P – the day continued to slip away, minute by minute, until it got to half past three and he still wasn’t there.
I started to worry.
‘Something on your mind?’ Jean C asked, cracking open another tin of shortbread. Over on the other side of the hall, the musical types were ‘jamming’ together (I was sorely disappointed when I found out that this didn’t actually involve any jam).
‘Yeah, sort of,’ I said. ‘Scorpius is late.’
She shrugged. ‘It’s only been half an hour.’
Half an hour it might only have been, but I’d been on edge all day – no, more like all week, for no reason – and my mind had already been fast at work conjuring up horrible nightmares in which he was caught up in the imminent zombie apocalypse, only to return, even more accident-prone as one of the undead.
Another quarter of an hour. Then another five minutes. Two minutes. I couldn’t stop looking at the clock. Then, suddenly, it was four, and I was standing up and telling the two Jeans and the box of biscuits that I had a headache and was going to go back to the flat.
It was a blatant lie. I knew I was raining on the parade – whoops, band rehearsal – by being so intensely anxious and worried and gobbling up all the biscuits and, besides, I just wanted to check the flat and see if Scorpius had just forgotten to turn up to the town hall. I felt it would put my mind at ease.
On the walk home, I tried to reassure myself. It was probably a work thing. Probably another shift, overtime, something like that – or maybe he’d gone to see his mum on the way home and lost track of the time. Or maybe there had been a zombie apocalypse and the relative isolation of New New Elgin had kept me in the dark about it.
Halfway down the High Street, I tried to construct an entirely sensible and zombie-free scenario that would explain away his mysterious absence. It was the battle re-enactment in Surrey. It had gone on a bit too long, maybe the weather was acting up or something. I could almost picture him, up to his knees in mud, looking adorably downtrodden and tired and wearing the threadbare maroon cardigan he’d left in that morning. There would be little red marks around his right eye from where he’d pressed it to the camera viewfinder. They’d probably still be there when he came home, and I was busily trying to reassure myself that he’d be in the flat when I got there and it had all just been a misunderstanding and we’d never have to talk.
I was so busy trying to construct this comforting thought I was barely looking where I was going, let alone what or even who was behind me. I mean, I really should have picked up on the footsteps from the moment I left the Town Hall.
I’d just stepped onto Burns Lane when something hit me in the small of the back like a dull punch. It’s a cliché, but – and trust my artistic licence on this – then everything went black.
a/n: oh how I missed writing Lucy angst and cliffhangers. Here's a double-whammy. I even had to switch to my angst playlist and all to write this, even though I mostly just played 'love will tear us apart' by joy division on repeat.
'poor, obscure, plain and little' comes, I believe, from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte .
thank you for reading & i hope you liked it (and don't hate me too much for my angst and my cliffhangers! I promise, the next chapter is...well, cracky. And Scorpius really gets his moment in it).
chapter twelve - the coven (reprise)
It was very cold when I woke up.
I say woke up, and I say cold, but I actually mean more like regained consciousness and shivering as a side effect resulting from the application of a stunning spell to the back.
For the briefest of moments, I was convinced that the zombie apocalypse was, in fact, upon us all, and these were my first few seconds as a member of the undead.
The moment faded, and I instead became convinced that I’d actually kicked off the duvet in the night. I stretched out my sleepy arms and grasped for a blanket and a boyfriend, but my hands clutched at empty air; I then realised that I was actually propped up against something, and what I’d thought was the mattress beneath me was actually a wooden floor.
It was definitely not the bedroom. It wasn’t even a room I recognised, as I saw when I finally opened my eyes.
No lacy curtains, no puffin-themed calendar, and an overwhelming lack of anything remotely comfy or cosy. Instead, bare brick walls, tasteful ambient lighting, and a few monochromatic abstract prints hanging on the facing wall above a neat plywood shelving unit. The ex-art student within me identified the furniture as belonging to the Bauhaus movement, although that thought was quickly crushed and replaced by sheer panic as I saw the seven people standing over me.
Minimalist. If there was any word to describe them, it was minimalist. Tight black roll-necked jumpers, rimless spectacles, pristine jeans, a sense of general cleanliness and hygiene I hadn’t seen since I last saw Rose. On the three women present, sleek black bobs: on the four men, a completely lack of any hair whatsoever.
I wanted to scream, but I was far too baffled.
One of the men stepped forward.
‘We are the coven,’ he said.
It was all a bit too much to take in at once. I tried to lift my hands, but found that my right hand was pinned to the floor and almost numb – I turned my head and saw that Scorpius was sitting beside me, clutching onto my hand so tight he’d managed to cut off the blood supply to it.
The plus side was that he hadn’t been caught up in a zombie apocalypse. The downside was that he looked terrified and was sporting a spectacular cut on the corner of his mouth.
The panic ratcheted up a few levels.
‘What – huh – how-’
I couldn’t quite decide whether this was reality or a zombie-apocalypse-smut induced dream.
‘We are the coven,’ the man repeated, in the sort of ominous tone one usually associates with Potions masters.
‘The coven of graphic designers,’ another man added.
‘You designed a poster,’ the first hissed.
‘Are in the process of designing a poster,’ the second corrected.
‘A poster that will not win,’ the first said, in a louder voice. ‘A poster that will be crushed beneath the might our poster.’
A third member of the group spoke up. ‘We find your prints somewhat…lacking.’
At that moment, there was a rustling sound, and the second man produced a small sketchbook from behind his back – one I instantly recognised as Scorpius’. He pulled the elastic band from around the cover and held the sketchbook up by the front cover – a number of swatches for household paint in various shades of orange and blue fluttered out and came to rest at our feet.
‘You are no designer,’ the first man accused.
‘You are a photographer,’ one of the women snapped. ‘You cannot begin to comprehend the rules, the nuances of layout-’
Then they all started speaking at once.
‘Have you ever heard of the rule of thirds?’
‘Blue and orange – so passé! So overdone!’
‘Hand-drawn lettering is so last year!’
‘Complimentary colours are a cliché!’
‘Are you trying to be Rodchenko or something? This isn’t soviet Russia-’
‘Quiet!’ the first man commanded, and the others fell silent.
Scorpius and I both stared up at them in dumbfounded silence before, carefully, Scorpius shuffled forward and snatched up the paint swatches, stuffing them into his pocket.
‘You cannot enter. You must not enter. You must let us win,’ the man said. ‘We are far more worthy of the prize.’
‘Worthy!’ the six others echoed.
‘Withdraw your poster,’ he said. ‘Withdraw your poster and let us win or-’
‘We’ll curse this kitten!’ one of the women screeched, producing a tiny kitten from behind her back. The other graphic designers turned to stare at her.
‘Margaret,’ one of them said. ‘Too far.’
‘How else am I supposed to do this?’ Margaret cried, brandishing the kitten at the others. It was the teeniest tabby cat I’ve ever seen in all my days, cute enough to momentarily distract me from the surreal situation. ‘You said we had to make sacrifices! You said we had to suffer for our art!’
That was when Scorpius did something so magnificent that it still amazes me to this day.
They say that the meek shall inherit the earth. If anything, Scorpius is a walking contradiction to this statement. Magnificence doesn’t entirely become him. Gravity has a vendetta against him and he’s something of a magnet for misfortune. Which is why, as we were running out of the door, I was still convinced that I’d only dreamt the moment where he managed to kick the head graphic designer in a place where the sun isn’t known to shine, snatch the kitten off of Margaret with his free hand, and somehow also grab his sketchbook and keep a hold of me all at once.
I could only grip onto his hand for dear life as we sped down a flight of stairs and through a narrow hallway, out into the dying light and the snow. Before I could even speak, he shoved the sketchbook into my hands and somehow I managed to transfer it to my pocket and then we were hurtling down a garden path that was slick with slush.
The coven had followed. A flash of red light, a crash as a plant pot was knocked over – this was serious. Scorpius let go of my hand to tuck the kitten into the voluminous pocket of his mackintosh, but then another flash, another splatter as begonia and soil hit the pavement.
‘No spells, Margaret!’ someone yelled, but then something stung my shoulder: hot, sharp, like a wasp.
The next thing I knew, Scorpius was wielding a watering can at the coven, the kitten peeking out from his pocket.
‘Don’t you dare!’ he yelled. ‘Don’t you dare!’
Stars waltzed, pranced and jitterbugged before my eyes. There was a scuffle, several loud swears, and then my vision came back with a faint popping sound just in time for me to see Scorpius take a swing at Margaret with the watering can. Her wand clattered to the floor, and then we were running again – or, rather, Scorpius was running again, and I was being pulled along behind on legs made of jelly and steamed vegetables.
But there was still time for Scorpius to turn around and deliver one last slice of magnificence.
‘By the way!’ he shouted, as the coven skidded to a halt beside a weeping Margaret. ‘I’m an artist, not a poncy graphic designer! Fuck the rule of thirds!’
And so we sprinted off again. If it hadn’t been for that last remark, the coven might have given up sooner, but still they chased us.
It wasn’t like Scorpius and I were bad runners, but we were both more than a little out of sorts, and the extra load of kitten and watering can slowed us down somewhat.
‘I’ve got an idea!’ he cried, skidding to a halt – he grasped my wrists as I hurtled past, deftly hooked the watering can in the crook of his elbow, and turned on the spot – there was the horrible being of being shoved into a shoebox, and then I was swaying where I stood by an oak tree, dizzy, staring at the tiny figures of the coven in the distance.
Scorpius, at my side, had taken the kitten from his pocket to check it was alright. It merely yowled and swiped at his face. Cursing under his breath, he tucked it back into his pocket and turned to me, the sort of fear-driven shade of white you can only find in a set of expensive acrylic paints.
‘I…I thought if we,’ he sounded a little hoarse. ‘H-hiding in plain sight and whatnot and – oh, forget that, I j-just couldn’t apparate all the way home!’
Forget lost for words, I was lost for monosyllables. I nodded, frantically, but the voices of the coven drifted ever closer, even through the falling snow-
‘They went that way!’ someone yelled. ‘Over there!’
I’d started to shiver. Through the vague mist of snow, I saw that the coven had stopped running; it seemed that they’d engaged the attentions of a few innocent bystanders, who were listening intently as the coven made repeated wild gestures in our general direction. Then, the group broke up and – to my horror – a couple of the bystanders came wandering straight towards up.
I seemed to have lost the power of coherent speech, but Scorpius seemed to get what was going on after a few minutes. He swore several times, rather fluently and colourfully, before pulling his wand out of his sleeve and pointing it at the watering can.
‘Got to hide the weapon!’ he said, sounding a little hysterical. A moment later the watering can shrunk to pixie-size and he dropped it into his spare pocket before staring at me in desperation.
‘Can’t apparate again!’ he fretted. ‘What do we do?’
I stole another look at the approaching figures. They weren’t part of the coven, as was obvious from the mop of hair one of them was sporting. The likelihood was that they wouldn’t immediately recognise us. What we needed was a disguise…or a distraction.
For the first time in a few months, inspiration struck.
‘We need to look innocent!’ I hissed, finding my voice at last. ‘Uninvolved – unconcerned-’
‘And?’ he peered around the edge of the tree. ‘They’re really close!’
In retrospect, the plan was very silly. If it hadn’t been for sheer bloody luck, it might have gone very much the shape of the pear. But, at the time, I stood there, hands on hips, poker-faced, and said-
He seemed to struggle between complying and panicking.
‘But – but will it-’
‘Just do it!’
If it hadn’t been for the minor issue of the kidnapping, the snow, the coven, my stunning-spell induced wooziness, Scorpius’ bloody face, a small kitten and the tree root we landed on, it might have been a glorious moment. The two of us lunged forward at the same time, collided, lost balance, toppled over onto the ground, quite literally – and excuse the bluntness here – kissing as if our lives depended on it. Which they probably did.
It was well timed, as, a moment later, the couple reached us.
‘Here, Alfred, I thought I saw – crivens!’ a woman exclaimed, as Scorpius and I broke apart and looked up as sheepishly as we could manage. ‘We didn’t – terribly sorry!’
The two of them scuttled away at full speed, eventually swallowed up by a flurry of snow. The coven had vanished into the distance.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The fall seemed to have knocked whatever little coherency I’d had out of me. To top it all off, the kitten had escaped Scorpius’ pocket and was now perched somewhere to my right, licking my ear with its tiny sandpaper tongue.
Scorpius looked as if he wanted to laugh. ‘Are you alright? Sorry for, er, falling on you…’
I didn’t care in the slightest, but let him pull me upright and make a show of pushing back my fringe and putting his palm over my forehead, as if to check my temperature.
‘How did they get you?’ he said.
‘Stunning spell, I think,’ I said, wincing as I moved my shoulder about a bit. ‘Stinging jinx too- just a bit groggy,’ I added, hastily, as his eyes widened in horror. ‘Nothing tea won’t fix. What about you?’ I carefully touched a finger to the cut at the corner of his mouth. ‘That looks fierce.’
‘Oh, that,’ he grimaced. ‘That’s my fault.’
‘Tripped over when I was trying to run way the first time. Ta-dah!’ he beamed, although it looked a little painful. ‘Injured by my own stupidity!’
‘Not hurt otherwise?’
‘Nope – you?’
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Just…the kitten…’
Injuries assessed, we set about brushing snow and mud from our clothes. I took care of the kitten, tucking it inside my anorak and idly scratching it behind the ears as it mewed and continued to lick my face, whilst Scorpius peeked around the side of the tree again. What with the muddy clothes, bloody face and glasses at a funny angle, he really looked like he’d been in a fight with a shrub and lost.
‘Coast is clear,’ he said, squinting into the distance. ‘I think there’s a bus stop near here…’
‘How d’you know that?’
‘They brought me here on the bus.’
‘You know I’m not good in a fight.’
Covered by the snowfall, we followed a low stone wall and eventually retraced his steps to the bus stop. The road was deserted – sheer bloody luck played in our favour yet again – and, after only five minutes, an ancient single-decker bus trundled over the horizon. Scorpius stuck out his left hand and the bus squealed to a halt, the doors opening with a terrible racket. I was terrified that the noise might attract the coven, but tried to keep my face impassive as the two of us faced the driver.
‘Er…’ Scorpius stuck his hands into his pockets. ‘I’m…I’m not sure I have much change.’
The muggle driver looked us both up and down. Me, with dead leaves in my hair and a kitten in my arms, and Scorpius, with blood on his face and the fistful of paint swatches he’d just pulled from his pocket.
‘Och,’ he said. ‘Youse can get on for free.’
Our first destination when we arrived back in New New Elgin was The Drookit Duck.
A lot of fuss was made of us when we walked in. The two of us were shoved into comfortable chairs, the kitten was whisked away, and then full tankards of hot butterbeer were pressed into our hands before the New New Elginers pressed us for information.
Whilst Jean C got her coat and ran off to raid CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS for plasters and headache potion, Scorpius told the story of our run-in with the coven. About halfway through the story, knitting Prentice tapped me on the shoulder and presented me with the kitten: in its brief absence, someone had wrapped it in a little tartan blanket, and drops of milk clung to its whiskers. I’d never seen such a contented kitten in my entire life.
‘Och aye, sounds like the coven alright,’ Jock said, as soon as Scorpius had finished. ‘Nasty lot.’
‘Dinnae worry,’ knitting Prentice added, gathering up his knitting needles. ‘Us two’ll take care of them.’
‘Probably not worth it,’ Scorpius said, sounding a little sheepish. ‘It’s nothing big…’
‘We’ll take care of them,’ Jock echoed. ‘They won’t trouble you again.’
He set his own tankard down on the table with a firm clunk, as if putting an audible end to his sentence. Knitting Prentice’s knitting needles suddenly looked very threatening.
‘What do we do about the kitten?’ I piped up, pointing at the mewling tartan bundle on my lap.
‘Well, I suppose you could report it,’ Jean P said. ‘To the polis-men. You know, in the other Elgin.’
‘You mean the muggle bit?’ Scorpius said, just as I murmured ‘You mean the police?’
‘Yeah,’ she nodded. ‘Think that’s what you do.’
‘Cool. I’ll do that tomorrow.’
‘Something’s troubling me,’ Jock spoke again. ‘How did the coven know you were doing the poster?’
‘And how did they get you?’ knitting Prentice said.
‘Uh, well,’ Scorpius looked sheepish again. ‘They kind of…I was coming along the beachfront on my way back from this interview thingy, and, er…they just sort of…grabbed me and took me side-along to the bus stop.’
‘Um, er…I tried to, er, run away, but then…uh, they got me on the bus.’
‘They stunned me,’ I said, as Scorpius dithered off into silence. ‘Because I’d left the town hall early to see where he,’ I elbowed Scorpius. ‘Was, and…well, got stunned. Then I woke up and, bam, coven.’
The pub suddenly went very quiet.
‘You know,’ Jean P said, in a sort of hushed voice. ‘Mary-Susannah wasn’t at the town hall earlier. In fact, I don’t know where she was.’
It was the moment I truly became a New New Elginer. ‘It must have been her!’ I burst out. ‘She is a spy! She must have told the coven about the poster and taken Scorpius’ sketchbook and then stunned me and-’
‘It’s possible,’ knitting Prentice mused.
‘The letter!’ I said, my mind whirring. ‘It was a ruse – what if she planted it to throw me off the trail? She knew I didn’t suspect her – oh, right,’ I broke off, noticing the confusion on the faces of those around me. ‘She asked me and Scorpius to help her put up a shelf in her flat and then I sort of snooped around and I found this letter in her room…’
The New New Elginers leaned in, suddenly paying me very close attention.
‘What did it say?’ Jean P whispered.
‘Oh, er,’ I thought as hard as I could. ‘It was from a guy…a guy named…Alexander! Yeah, that’s it. It was only a little letter. He said he was sorry, and that he missed her or something. I know it ended with something along the lines of remember I love you or something like that. Nothing else. Really bizarre.’
‘So you think-’
‘She knew I was going to go snooping,’ I said, firmly, now completely certain that call-me-Mary-Sue was a spy and a liar. ‘So she wanted to throw me off the trail.’
There was a tense silence.
‘Seems plausible,’ Jock finally said. ‘And she is a bit…funny.’
‘In what way?’
‘Her eyes, you know,’ he sounded a little embarrassed. ‘She blinks a lot…’
The tense silence broke as the majority of the pub burst into fits of laughter. All at once, people were doing impressions of call-me-Mary-Sue’s fluttery eyelashes and pout. A day or so previously, I would have felt bad about this, maybe even irritated, but at that moment I was entirely convinced that she was the one who had stunned me and so ended up grinning along with everyone else, having a good laugh at her expense.
‘We’ll just wait and see how she acts at Burns Night,’ Jean P said, once the laughter had died down.
The New New Elginers shared a knowing smile, whilst Scorpius and I shared a look of bafflement.
‘How?’ I said. ‘And what?’
‘Well, put it this way,’ knitting Prentice said. ‘We’ll see just how well she can handle the Burns Night drinking game.’
‘Oh, I’ve heard of this one,’ Scorpius suddenly piped up.
‘You have to drink every time someone says Burns,’ Jean P explained. ‘After Rabbie, of course. Was the finest poet in all the land, oor Rab,’ she said, before the New New Elginers inexplicably lifted their glasses and chinked them together in a silent toast.
‘Loose lips sink ships,’ knitting Prentice said, knowingly. ‘And we say the word Burns a lot at Burns Night.’
Back at the flat a few hours later, I finally had the chance to pull off my muddy trainers and brush the dead leaves and dirt out of my hair. Standing in front of the mirror, I felt like the wild woman of the forest, and, somehow, that felt pretty good.
‘Look at this,’ I said as Scorpius walked in, holding the kitten. I showed him the spot on my shoulder where Margaret’s jinx had got me, leaving an angry red weal on the skin.
‘Stinging jinx for sure,’ I said. ‘I hope Prentice beats them up with his knitting needles.’
‘Yeah,’ Scorpius perched on the end of the bed, setting the kitten at his side. I sat next to him. Then, bit by bit, the anxiety I’d had earlier in the day came ebbing back: I suddenly remembered that we needed to talk.
‘So…’ he trailed off. I almost held my breath, expecting him to pick up our petty little argument from where we’d left it off this morning, but then he lifted the kitten into his arms again and said:
‘You know that, if we report this kitten to the muggle police, they’ll probably ask us to keep hold of it until someone comes forward?’
‘And you know that someone probably won’t come forward because it doesn’t have a tag or anything?’
‘Do you also remember that we once had a conversation about good names for a cat?’
‘How could I forget?’
‘So how about we call him Andrew Socks?’
I couldn’t stop a grin from splitting my face. ‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Are you sure it’s a he?’
Scorpius gave me a withering look. ‘Positive. Well, Prentice says so, anyway.’
‘Perfect,’ I said, stroking him behind the ears (the kitten, I mean, not Scorpius). ‘Welcome to the flat, Mr Andrew Socks.’
a/n: I did say you'd find out who Mr Andrew Socks was some day...
Action isn't really my strong suit, so I'm sorry if this reads a little clunky. I just wanted to poke fun at certain aspects of the weird art world I inhabit so badly. I'm kind of waiting to hear back from art schools and trying to finish art coursework/start art exam/paint a mural/paint a set for a musical all at once and sometimes I have it up to here with art and just want to write about how absurd we artsy people can be. In fact, as I'm writing this, I've got all my lino prints hanging from a makeshift washing line above my head and I'm terrified that they're going to fall off and give me papercuts/print on my face or something. Hence the coven. Also Scorpius' first badass moment since, like, he was born. (srs moment: 'loose lips sink ships' is taken from a WW2 propaganda poster)
Anyway. Hope you enjoyed it, and thank you for reading! ♥
chapter thirteen - burns night
A week went past and no word came from the muggle police. I was starting to get used to the idea of having Mr Andrew Socks as a permanent household (or flathold) feature.
Unlike the surly ball of fur that had been Weatherby the cat, Mr Andrew Socks was a pretty cheerful cat. He was also a very inquisitive cat, which led to a lot of car hair turning up in odd places like the mug cupboard, Scorpius’ pencil box, and the inside of the lampshade that hung from the kitchen ceiling.
With only one weekend left before T and G-Day (as we’d come to call the date of Tarquin and Gwen’s visit), I spend most of my Saturday and Sunday picking up aforementioned cat hair from about the flat as I gave it the first good and proper tidy and clean it’d had since we’d moved in. Seeing as I’m not that good at cleaning, this wasn’t exactly hard. I graduated from the Scorpius Malfoy school of housewifery, which teaches such invaluable lessons as sweep it under a rug and it’s no longer a problem and economise and clean with facial cleansing wipes. Scorpius himself, who was the lord and master of this sort of half-assed housework, spent most of the weekend earning his salary by being voluntarily locked up in a small, dark cupboard.
He was around on Sunday evening, however, when I’d finished cleaning (or not cleaning) the flat and he was done with his multiple shifts for that week. I’m guessing that, most couples, when shut up in their house together alone, will end up playing silly games to pass the time. I’m also guessing, though, that most couples’ idea of a silly game to pass the time probably involves a lack of clothing or something. To me and Scorpius, though, it really is a case of silly games to pass the time. Such genius stuff as fill in the Prophet crossword with rude words, howling along to jangly guitar music and, Scorpius’ favourite, sofa hurdling.
This came about from his evident dislike of the arduous trek around the coffee table. Instead, whenever he wants to sit down for a quiet cuppa and a read of the papers, he insists on doing a run-up from behind and vaulting over the top of the sofa. I give him a mark out of ten for how much of him lands on the cushions. Points are deducted if he knocks his tea over or falls on me instead.
It seemed that he was a little on the tired side that Sunday, after having worked an extra shift at Cameraderie. He hurdled the sofa alright, but slumped onto the cushions straight away, resting his head on my shoulder.
‘Hmm, seven,’ I said. ‘You didn’t pull that off with your usual flair. You alright?’
‘Mmmtired,’ he mumbled. When tired, Scorpius has a tendency to insert an ‘m’ or three before every word he says.
‘D’you want to help me with the crossword?’
‘Does ‘bastard’ fit here?’
‘What about ‘twat’ for thirteen down?’
He stopped responding after that and, within five minutes, had fallen fast asleep.
Half an hour later, I shrugged him off. He woke with a start.
‘Maybe we should tuck in early,’ I suggested.
‘Mmm?’ he said. ‘Mmm. Shift starts at seven.’
‘Thingy in…thingy,’ he yawned. ‘Y’know. Bit of England that isn’t Kent.’
‘That’s pretty much the rest of England.’
‘Near Kent but not Kent…’
‘…pretty much the rest of the South of England.’
He seemed ready to drift away into the ether again but, as I stood and abandoned the newspaper, he lifted himself up and stood beside me, occasionally blinking, looking as if his mind had gone for a wander up the road. I went to brush my teeth and thought he’d just gone to get changed or something but, when I went into the bedroom five minutes later, he was flat out under the covers, still in his jumper and work shirt. Mr Andrew Socks was perched on his chest like a furry, purring vest.
I decided not to wake him, turned out the light, and crept into bed as quietly as possible. I wasn’t very successful, being a bit clumsy already but even worse in darkness, and he woke up briefly whilst I was trying to shimmy under the duvet beside him. Not that he was especially lucid; he just put an arm around me, mushed his face into my shoulder, then fell asleep again. Mr Andrew Socks, his curiosity piqued by my arrival, padded about on top of the duvet for a bit before finally curling up on my kneecaps.
As much as I loved them both, this made it bloody hard to get to sleep. What with Scorpius pinning down my arms and Mr Andrew Socks sat on my knees, I couldn’t exactly move about and get comfy.
‘Idiot,’ I whispered into the air. Scorpius shifted a bit beside me, freeing up my arms – I finally managed to turn onto my side, Mr Andrew Socks jumping off my knees with an irritated mewling noise.
I suppose that Scorpius did work a little too much for my liking, but who was I to stop him? Was I angry because I was worried for his wellbeing, or because I was selfish, wanting more of him to myself? Was I just angry because I didn’t work so much? Angry because I was shut up in the flat half the time, doing nothing of note?
Probably more like the latter. Carefully, I reached over and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt so he wouldn’t feel like it was strangling him in the night, and then settled back onto the pillows and tried to put it all out of my mind so I could sleep as soundly as he could.
I woke up to find Mr Andrew Sock’s face only a few inches away from my own, and a little sandpapery tongue lapping at the tip of my nose.
‘Morning,’ I said, pushing him off.
Mr Andrew Socks purred by way of response, curling up instead on the empty bit of mattress Scorpius usually inhabited.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Has he gone to work?’
Meow? Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘He did say his shift started at seven…’
Prr, prrr, prrr.
‘Ah well,’ I threw back the duvet, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. ‘Spose I better crack on with my day.’
Prrr, prrr, prrr, meow?
‘Not that I’ve got anything planned.’
‘No, you’re right. I should…’ I found myself staring at the calendar and the little scribble Scorpius had added which indicated that it was Burns Night. ‘Sorry, Andy Socks, what were you saying?’
Prrrrrrr, Mr Andrew Socks said, although a little snide voice in my head translated this into why are you talking to a cat you madwoman, get up and do something useful
Mr Andrew Socks was right; I should have been doing something useful. I got up, showered, put on an outfit of questionable cleanliness, and then sat at the kitchen table, my wet hair soaking up all the cold in the room and making me shiver. I probably looked like the dictionary definition of down in the dumps, what with my drowned-rat appearance and vague misery at not having been awake to say goodbye to Scorpius.
What could I really do with my day, though? I’d tidied and cleaned the flat to the point where it no longer looked like the sort of flat me and Scorpius would live in, although it still had the same rubbish magazine furniture and the hinges on the cupboard were held together by Spellotape. I had no desire or inclination to pick up the story of Buck, Eugene and Fauna again, and I certainly didn’t just want to spend the day lazing around on my backside.
I decided that what I needed was fresh air, and, once my hair had dried into a frizzy mess, donned my anorak and grubby trainers and set off down the High Street. Fresh snow had fallen in the night, but the whole place had a sort of sad look since the Christmas lights had been taken down, and there was a raw edge to the air that made me pull my scarf up over my chin.
Despite this, the beachfront seemed like a nice place to go for a walk; the wind was blowing in off the sea, but the little shops and cafes down by the shore gave me a bit of shelter if I stuck to the back lanes.
I was just passing Thyme & Plaice when something in the window caught my eye. Aside from the tartan and trays of shortbread, I mean, which always caught my eye. It was call-me-Mary-Sue, sitting at a little table in the corner, a letter in her hands, and a very pained look on her face.
Still convinced that she was the spy who’d hit me with a stunning spell not one week earlier, this only seemed to make me happier.
I wasn’t sure whether it was down to our early night or a vast intake of caffeinated drinks, but Scorpius seemed pretty wide-awake when we were finally ready to go to the Burns Supper at the Town Hall that night. We had been promised an evening of haggis, poetry and ceilidh dancing, although I really had no idea what the last one entailed except that it was supposedly violent, especially after large quantities of drink.
It wasn’t like either of us owned especially smart clothes, but we did our best to dress nicely. I even wore a skirt (although there were a few suspect splodges of blue paint on the hem) and Scorpius unclipped the badge from his work shirt and tied a little strip of tartan into a makeshift cravat. I mirrored him by tying the tartan scarf he’d got me for Christmas into a little sash across my chest. Then it was on with the anoraks and out into the snowy night, feeling a little more Scottish than we had done when we woke up that morning.
We were a little late, the Town Hall already buzzing when we arrived – everyone had been seated at a multitude of little circular tables, and the amount of tartan on show was a wee bit overwhelming.
We hurried over to the table in the corner where we’d been put with Knitting Prentice, Jean C and call-me-Mary-Sue (it seemed we were instrumental in wheedling information out of her) and took our seats.
‘Are you ready for the game?’ Knitting Prentice asked, tipping his empty glass at us.
‘What game?’ call-me-Mary-Sue said.
‘The Burns Night drinking game,’ Knitting Prentice cocked an eyebrow. ‘We always play it.’
‘How do you play?’ call-me-Mary-Sue said.
‘Drink every time someone says the word ‘Burns’,’ he said, casting a hand out at the collection of bottles in the middle of the table. ‘What’s your poison?’
‘Oh, pour me some whiskey,’ she said, with a coquettish giggle. ‘I’m here to celebrate, after all.’
‘Whiskey for me too,’ I said, throwing her an encouraging smile that was as false as her eyelashes.
‘Are you sure?’ Scorpius muttered, as Knitting Prentice poured the two of us a dram of whiskey each.
‘I can hold my drink,’ I laughed him off.
‘Suit yourself,’ Scorpius reached for a bottle of butterbeer.
Just then, the hubbub died down, and Jock MacPherson took to the front of the hall, wand held to his neck to amplify his voice.
‘Welcome!’ he called. ‘To the annual New New Elgin Burns Supper! Now, you’ll have had your tea-’
A ripple of laughter passed through the crowd, and everyone at our table took a sip of drink. Not entirely prepared for the strength of the whiskey in my glass, I nearly choked, and ended up spluttering through most of Jock’s welcoming speech. I recovered in time for him to ask us all to welcome the haggis in and, as he took up the bagpipes, I shared a quizzical look with Scorpius.
‘What, are they going to sacrifice it in front of us or-’
‘It’s not a real animal, Lucy,’ he said heavily, but was drowned out a moment later as Jock started playing the bagpipes, giving it a somewhat large quantity of welly. Then, from a side door, Surly Kevin emerged, bearing something that looked like a small, steaming brown Quaffle on a plate. Almost at once, the New New Elginers began to clap in time to the music.
The ritual was so bizarre that I had to take an extra sip of the whiskey just so I was doing something and didn’t start laughing out loud.
Then began another bizarre ritual as Surly Kevin read out a poem in some strange, unintelligible dialect I could only understand half of; I sat in stupefied silence, clutching my whiskey, until Scorpius nudged me and offered a hurried explanation. The poem was the address to the haggis and, yes, Surly Kevin was talking to the haggis.
I was all ready to judge him until I remembered that I’d talked to my cat that morning – no, I’d held a conversation with my cat that morning.
After the poem had ended, there were five more mentions of the word ‘Burns’ and I had to have my glass refilled before we could all stand and toast Jock and Surly Kevin for their excellent haggis relations skills, although I’d barely understood a moment of it and my brain felt a little bit wobbly already.
As the haggis was plated up with mashed potatoes and turnips (and Scorpius was presented with just the mashed potatoes and turnips, being the token vegetarian), talk at our table turned exclusively to Burns. This was knitting Prentice being a canny lad as per; he had to refill both mine and call-me-Mary-Sue’s glasses three times during the meal, and by the end of it the two of us were giggling away like little girls and Scorpius kept shooting me amused looks over the top of his remarkably non-alcoholic butterbeer.
What with me being a bit tipsy and all, the meal seemed to pass in a matter of minutes – I hardly paid attention to what I was eating, although apparently I liked it. Sadly, I have no recollection of the taste of haggis, which is most unfortunate as I could have drawn on the whole night as inspiration for my post-apocalyptic smut (it’d be a useful way of using up a word count if I made the three points of my love triangle go to a Burns Supper, I thought). Scorpius said I’d enjoyed it and that I'd actually made a point of asking if we could have it at home, but, seeing as he’s a vegetarian and all, I don’t entirely trust him on that matter.
The meal was followed by a speech, and that speech was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Or, continuing the Scottish theme, that speech was the caber that broke the Highland Cow’s back. Jock tapped a wine glass with his pudding spoon, pointed his wand to his neck again, and then stood before us all, beaming as we fell silent. Call-me-Mary-Sue’s giggling took a while to stop, but he ploughed on regardless.
‘Robert Burns was born on the-’
I turned my attention away from Jock to clink glasses with call-me-Mary-Sue as we drank.
‘-twenty-fifth of January in seventeen-fifty nine, only forty-four years after the battle of Culloden and the fall of the Stuarts. Scotland was a rural country then, and the primary occupation was being miserable.’
A smattering of applause went round the room, and Surly Kevin even called out ‘hear, hear!’
‘Poverty was widespread and life was short and hard,’ Jock continued. ‘And the government was pursuing a programme of oppressing the poor and young in support of the rich. Aren’t we lucky things have changed?’
Another burst of applause and laughter went round the room, whilst Jean C leaned in to say ‘he makes the same joke every year. Never gets old.’
‘Governments never change,’ Knitting Prentice said sagely.
‘Burns’ father cared a great deal about the education of his seven children, just as we Scots have always placed great importance in bringing culture and learning to the less developed nations of the world, especially England.’
More applause and laughter, whilst Scorpius, call-me-Mary-Sue and me all sat around and pretended to look offended when the heads swivelled in our direction.
‘And we all know Hogwarts is in Scotland,’ Jock said, approvingly. ‘But Burns was quite rock and roll as poets went – one of his chief interests was what you might call, ahem, the company of women, and he was not the sort of man you’d introduce to your wives or daughters. But he was a poet in turbulent times – war, revolution, chaos. Much of the population was revolting, as it still is to this day.’
It was something like our fiftieth chance to sip at our drinks.
‘In Scotland, it was the eighteenth century, the age of Enlightenment. But Burns was a radical, and many of his poems had to be published anonymously.’
‘Bit like you,’ I nudged Scorpius. ‘Radical poet and whatnot.’
‘Drink up,’ he said, sounding amused.
‘These days, he is commemorated with statues and many public buildings, and his song Auld Lang Syne is sang the world over every New Year. Even St Mungo’s hospital has a ward named in his honour. It’s called the burns unit.’
It was a devilish drinking game indeed; as the hall broke out into laughter, our table took a simultaneous swig of our respective drinks.
‘He was a man of the people, with a lifetime antipathy towards the establishment. He wrote his poems in Lowland Scots, making them unintelligible to three of our number,’ Jock nodded in our direction. ‘It’s a pure shame, so it is. And, tonight, we celebrate Burns through the tradition of the Burns Supper, a tradition started not long after he died, still a young man at the age of thirty-seven. Who better for a national hero than a man who died young? A poet, a philosopher, a political radical and, above all, a lover and a friend.
‘So can I ask that you raise your glasses and drink to the immortal memory – the immortal memory.’
And my last memory of the evening was tipping back my head and draining my glass in one as the sentiment echoed up to the rafters.
a/n: I've wanted to write a full legit Burns Supper/ceilidh chapter for ages but, the more I wrote, the more I realised how nonsensical we Scots really are. There really is no way of coherently explaining how one goes about stripping a willow or even addressing a Haggis. Ergo Lucy getting conveniently blind drunk.
The Burns Supper speech Jock gives is a massively abridged version of the one I gave last year. Sorry for the dig at England, but, of course, the rivalry is all in good spirit. I love you really, England. Sometimes.
Besides, everyone knows that Obi-Wan Kenobi was Scottish.
I'd heartily reccomend that you all go and check out the works of Robert Burns, one of Scotland's greatest and most timeless exports. He really was a marvy lad.
chapter fourteen - the conversational bus network
I’ve had horrible hangovers in my time, but none of them truly held a handle to the hangover from Burns Night. Probably just as well; I felt so alcoholic that it was inadvisable to hold a naked flame anywhere near me.
I woke up feeling like I was locked into a suitcase with sandpaper stuffed down my throat. After a bit of wriggling about, I worked out that I was actually safely tucked up in bed, although the covers were the wrong way round and the pillows had vanished.
It also felt like someone had hit me over the head with a sledgehammer. Repeatedly.
I curled up into the foetal position and burrowed deeper into the covers like a child hiding from the dark. It felt as if my internal organs had decided to go on holiday but were a bit late for their bus and were subsequently trying to make a speedy exit through my mouth. Bundled up with the duvet over my head, I just lay there and wished I’d never been born until the covers were unceremoniously thrown back and a bright light appeared, only to be blocked out a moment later when Scorpius popped up holding the Holy Grail.
I say Holy Grail, but I mean a tumbler full of cold water and a half-empty phial of Auntie Angela’s Instant Pick-me-up potion, which is a pretty cheery name for something that is essentially industrial strength painkiller for those well over the apparition limit.
I gulped it all down before Scorpius even had a chance to speak. He just sat beside me and patted me awkwardly on the back while I shivered and stuck my head between my knees.
‘So,’ he said, after a few minutes of this had passed. ‘Do you want the good or the bad news first?’
‘Argh,’ I shoved him off. ‘I don’t want…I can’t remember.’
‘Well, good news is that you enjoyed yourself.’
‘Glad to hear it.’
‘Bad news is that…well, you called Mary-Susannah a bitch and tried to steal an accordion.’
Despite the pain and nausea, I felt myself go a little bit numb. ‘Oh, oh no-’
‘Yeah, and you punched Prentice in the face.’
‘It wasn’t intentional!’ he said quickly. ‘And Prentice didn’t mind. It was during the strip the willow dance, you see, when everyone’s a bit violent and-’
‘Oh, you know, it’s all like, linking arms and spinning around really fast and…well, your fists where everywhere. But it all turned out okay!’ he added. ‘Jock managed to fix his nose up right away-’
‘Yeah, and I’ve never seen someone undo a shirt that fast in my whole life.’
‘Don’t worry, you were in the flat at that point!’ he added, as put my head between my knees again. ‘Still kind of alarming, though-’
‘Oh, shut up,’ I pressed my fingers to my eyes, trying to un-see the chaos that was the bedroom. A picture frame hung crooked on the wall, a tartan scarf lay crumpled in a corner. The magazine table had been pushed over; an avalanche of Artistic Review Monthly had buried the right hand side of the room.
‘Did…did I do this?’
‘Well, I always said you were a happy drunk,’ he said. ‘And…you’re a lot bouncier when you’re happy.’
I had a sudden, vivid mental image of Scorpius throwing me repeatedly at a wall whilst I boinged back like a rubber ball. Then I shook the image out of my head and shut my eyes tight.
‘Right, well, I’ll go and put the kettle on,’ he said warily, as I hugged my knees to my chest and began to rock back and forth. He toddled off to the kitchen, and I took a deep breath and swung my legs out of bed, thinking I should probably go and lie under a cold shower for a bit to make me feel better.
As I stood, the calendar caught my eye. Burns Night hadn’t been crossed off and, so, methodically, I picked up the black marker pen we used to score off the days from where it had been left lying on the floor, and then carefully drew a x over the twenty-fifth.
Some very familiar handwriting on the day below caught my eye.
Gwen and Tarks visit.
And then, underneath, in Scorpius’ crawl.
Pick up from bus stop at ten am.
I felt a little bit more nauseous.
‘Scorpius?’ I called out in my croaky, post-party voice. ‘What time is it?’
He came back through from the kitchen and crossed the room to stand beside me, one hand on my waist and the other clutching his tea. He peered at the calendar over my shoulder.
‘Er,’ he said.
‘It’s quarter to ten.’
There was no time to lose. The hangover could wait; I was suddenly an evil overlord, barking out commands while a startled Scorpius dithered about like a moth around an electric flame.
‘We have to tidy. No, you tidy, I’ll go pick them up. Sort out these magazines – no, do the kitchen first! Repair anything I broke! And make it snappy!’
First things first. I had to look a little more presentable. With one hand, I threw open the wardrobe and clawed at the tangle of clothes within, whilst the other worked at tugging off the baggy t-shirt I used as pyjamas.
‘Don’t just stand there,’ I hissed, as the still-dithering Scorpius dithered around behind me. ‘Or do you have work?’
‘I took the day off!’
‘-on the condition that I work the late shift the rest of the week barring Wednesday when I…I...’
I froze, the shirt stuck around my ears.
‘Well,’ I finally said. ‘At least it’s something.’
‘Er,’ he dithered. ‘You…should probably finish getting changed.’
He dithered off into the kitchen and I dressed in the cleanest things I could find, shoving my feet into the same well-worn grubby excuses for trainers I wore every day. Then I bounded out of the bedroom, cuffed Scorpius around the head as a sort of goodbye, seized my anorak, and then sprinted out of the flat and down the stairs.
Out in five minutes. It had to be a record. Even for a scatterbrain like me.
I hadn’t exactly had the chance to put on make-up or even wash my hair, but I figured Tarquin and Gwen were probably well used to seeing me hungover by this point.
They were already there by the time I’d reached the bus stop. I’d quit running by the time I got to the High Street, slowing to a brisk pace instead, but I was still catastrophically short of breath and red in the face.
The two of them seemed to perk up at the sight of me. Gwen tried to wriggle out of the large rucksack she was sporting, whereas Tarquin threw all caution to the wind and bounded up with his industrial-sized rucksack still strapped on. I only had a moment to catch my breath before he crashed into me and, seconds later, Gwen came running up and threw her arms around the both of us.
‘It’s been so long!’ Tarquin cried.
‘It’s been two months!’ Gwen corrected.
‘I’m so sorry!’ I said, as the two of them did a brilliant job at impersonating boa constrictors. I was more than aware that I probably looked (and smelled) like the walking personification of a morning after. ‘I’m so hungover!’
I felt like they’d be angry and, to be honest, I felt pretty crummy for not having made an effort for them, but then Tarquin released me and gripped me by the shoulders.
‘Aw, you started without us!’
Gwen, who had broken away to rummage about in her rucksack, reappeared with a bottle of wine in each hand.
‘Hair of the dog!’ she said brightly. ‘Now, take us to your leader!’
It took us a while to get back to the flat, a mixture of me dawdling to give Scorpius more time to clear up the trail of destruction I’d caused the night before, and Tarquin and Gwen stopping every few minutes to point at something and laugh. They seemed very taken by the tartan fiesta and cuddly Loch Ness monsters on display in the window of CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS.
The door to the flat was opened by a very flustered Scorpius, who was holding a tin of baked banes in one hand and had a paintbrush between his teeth.
‘E-yo,’ he offered by way of greeting, before spitting the paintbrush out into a corner, putting the baked beans onto a bookshelf and letting us into the flat.
It was pretty tidy, I had to give him that. It was a little higgledy-piggledy and the toaster was mysteriously upside-down, but there was a general air of order that had not been there when I’d sprinted out about half an hour before. The sofa looked a little out of sorts, as if the cushions had been stuffed with duvets and then inflated. This concerned me.
‘Did you hide something in the sofa?’ I muttered, as we busied ourselves with taking Tarquin and Gwen’s coats.
‘Nope,’ Scorpius said. ‘Just checking to see if the sofabed still worked.’
Then he threw out his arms, stepped back, and declared-
‘Ta-dah! Our snazzy, crappy flat!’
And at that moment, the cushions toppled off the sofa and the wire bed frame within rose, elegantly unfolding like a woman’s leg emerging from a taxi, landing with a soft thud on the coffee table.
‘Wow,’ Tarquin said. ‘Your flats just…’
‘Keep getting crummier?’ Scorpius offered, trying to hoist the sofa bed back up again.
‘Just leave it,’ I said.
‘It’s nice, actually,’ Gwen peered round the kitchen/living room and up along the corridor to the jumble sale we called our bedroom, where the chaos of magazine furniture and tartan could just be seen through the open door.
‘Bit poky,’ I shrugged.
‘No gremlins in the cupboard?’ Tarquin said.
‘Nope,’ Scorpius grinned, dropping the end of the sofa bed back onto the coffee table with a thump and an ominous clatter. ‘But we inherited a cat!’
After it became obvious that neither Scorpius nor I had seen Mr Andrew Socks that morning, the four of us set about searching for him, whereupon he was discovered curled up on the kitchen shelf where we kept our condiments. Scorpius, holding the pepper mill in one hand and Mr Andrew Socks in the other, stood and beamed at us all like he was the lord of the manor. That or like the cat that got the cream, only cream that was a bit scuzzy and falling apart at the edges. Not that cream does that, unless it’s intensely scuzzy. Anyway.
The one thing about having a scuzzy flat is that there isn’t a lot to do in it. On the plus side, the one thing about being nauseous and hungover is that one generally requires a lot of fresh air to speed up the recovery process. So, after we’d had a cuppa apiece, we resolved to go out and take a bit of a stroll up the beachfront. Anoraks on and boots laced, we left the flat.
‘So what are you two up to these days?’ Tarquin said, as we meandered down the High Street. ‘I mean, we pick up stuff from the letters, but not everything…’
‘Uh…’ I faltered.
‘Odd jobs,’ Scorpius said.
‘A lot of odd jobs,’ I chipped in.
‘Mostly photography stuff.’
‘And I’m pretending to be a writer,’ I said.
‘You’re not pretending…’
‘I’m writing a smut for cash,’ I said. ‘Covering topics as broad as the zombie apocalypse and, er, smut.’
‘Sounds fab,’ Tarquin said, although he didn’t sound so sure.
‘And what are you up to?’ Scorpius asked.
‘Travelling, mostly,’ Gwen said.
‘Well, making the most of the great British railway infrastructure,’ Tarquin cut in. ‘We had a bit of a cash windfall last year…’
‘But mostly we just, er…’
‘I don’t really know what we do.’
‘Busk? Street theatre? Card tricks?’
‘I mean, card tricks look way more impressive if the muggles don’t know you’re just using a vanishing charm…’
‘But nothing very…fixed.’
I shared a look with Scorpius.
‘Same with us,’ he grinned. ‘Nothing very fixed.’
I didn’t say anything, but I was pretty relieved to hear that our two closest friends were just as unemployable as we were.
‘Looking forward to seeing your book out,’ Tarquin elbowed me.
‘Oh, no,’ I grimaced. ‘I’ll have to use a pseudonym. My dad would go crazy if he knew what I was doing for a living…’
‘What, writing bad sex scenes?’
‘You know what he’s like.’
‘What’s your pseudonym?’ Gwen asked.
‘Uh…’ I said the first thing that came into my head. ‘Prunella Pinkington-Smythe.’
‘I like it,’ Tarquin nodded.
‘Bit posh, but still a bit of je ne sais quoi,’ Gwen said.
We shared a murmur of assent before falling into silence.
‘Nice place,’ Tarquin said, a few minutes later.
‘Quiet,’ Scorpius smiled. ‘Cold.’
‘Cheaper than London,’ I cut in. ‘But, you know, not cheap enough.’
The silence that followed was a little awkward.
‘Things will pick up,’ Scorpius said eventually. ‘I’m sure.’
We ended up wandering along the beach. The weather was pretty nice for New New Elgin, with a mild feel to the air despite the snow that was still heaped along the edges of the pavements. Walking along, just the four of us, with the waves breaking on the shore and the seagulls cawing in the sky above – it was pretty lovely. Even though I still felt like I’d been beaten up with a sledgehammer, I almost wanted to keep on walking for as long as possible.
So I suppose it was kind of a good thing when we got lost.
We didn’t mean it and, to be honest, we were pretty thick to have lost ourselves on a bloody beach, of all places. We’d been walking for a while, but beaches are kind of long and pretty straight, so we should have been more than able to find our way back. But, alas, still being young, a little bit thick and, in my case, hungover, we ended up miles away from New New Elgin in a little seaside village that barely even merited a name on the map. And it took us half an hour to find said map.
‘Huh,’ Tarquin squinted up at the little dot on the map that said ‘you are here’. ‘I still don’t know where we are.’
‘Well,’ Scorpius joined him in squinting. ‘We…are there.’
Gwen peered around their shoulders at a bench on the promenade, where three old ladies were sitting, staring out at the sea. ‘We could ask for directions?’
‘No,’ Tarquin and Scorpius said in unison.
‘Good time to stop for a rest?’ I hazarded.
We ended up settling down onto a spare bench. There wasn’t room for Scorpius, who dithered about on the left, kicking ineffectually at a couple of drinks cans that had been abandoned there.
‘How about we have a poke around and try to find out where we are?’ Gwen said, after ten minutes or so of swapping anecdotes/dithering. ‘And then if you two stay here, we’ll report back in…fifteen minutes?’
‘Sure,’ I plunged my hands into my anorak pockets and settled back into the seat. Fifteen minutes for me to wallow in my hangover. Seemed alright. So Tarquin and Gwen trundled off into the distance, Scorpius aimed one last kick at the can at his feet, missed, and then flopped down into the seat next to me. As the two of us stared out at the sea, I had a strange feeling of déjà vu.
‘I’m exhausted,’ he told the horizon (honestly, Scorpius was something of a master when it came to the thousand yard stare, and I was half-convinced that he was talking to the sky instead of me).
‘Hey, me too,’ I said. ‘Except, you know, a bit more…queasy.’
‘Rather you than me,’ he laughed, snapping out of the horizon-bound gaze. ‘I’m not sure this was the best idea.’
‘What, ending up in the middle of nowhere?’
‘We’re really lost!’
‘I can see this going the shape of the pear,’ I said. ‘Knowing us.’
‘Yeah,’ he smirked. ‘Zombie apocalypse. Bet it’s right round the corner.’
I glanced over at the three old ladies on their solitary bench. ‘I think it’s already arrived.’
‘To be honest,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure I’d last long in the zombie apocalypse.’
‘Nah, me neither.’
‘I guess it’d be fun, though.’
‘Oh, yeah, an experience.’
‘Survival is just a bonus. It’d be a great story, huh?’
‘Yeah,’ I laughed. ‘Something to tell the kids!’
There was a strange pause.
‘What, do you…want kids?’ he said.
It was the conversational equivalent of a runaway double decker bus travelling at full speed down a very, very steep hill, in the sense that it casually came out of nowhere and knocked me a little bit senseless.
‘Sorry – I just-’
‘No, I didn’t mean-’
We flailed about for a while before eventually regaining control of our senses.
‘It’s…it’s a turn of phrase,’ I said, fidgeting. ‘I didn’t mean it, like, in a psycho girlfriend way-’
‘Oh, I get it now,’ Scorpius, who looked mightily embarrassed, ran a hand through his already messy fringe. ‘I just…’
‘That is to say,’ I said, hurriedly. ‘Not that I don’t ever want kids ever because I probably will when I’m a bit older and broodier and-’
‘I just…concerned in…in case…’
‘In case what?’
‘Well, um, in case that was your way of trying to say you were, um, er…expecting.’
My mind flashed up an image of myself standing at a bus stop, but then it clicked.
‘No!’ I nearly shouted. ‘Oh, no! No surprise buns in the oven-’
I nearly hit myself over the head for using that particular turn of phrase. Really, pregnancy should never be associated with baking like that. I quite like baked goods.
‘I just know we’re kind of careless!’ he threw up his hands in alarm, and the flailing and dithering started all over again (it was a vicious cycle). ‘That is to say – not like I’m going all psycho boyfriend or anything and yeah maybe if I’m older and stuff but-’
‘Just not right now!’ I cried, aware that we were both losing control of the conversation and, to top it off, the three old ladies were peering at us with some interest.
‘Ha, ha, sorry,’ Scorpius sounded a little weak, as if he’d just been hit over the head or something. ‘Yeah, like that! I mean, we’re not even married or anything yet!’
This was conversational equivalent of a double decker bus travelling at speed number two with bells on. Like, really noisy, jangly sleigh bells in the wrong season.
And I was surprised that it was so awkward.
‘Married, huh,’ I said. ‘That’s a big deal.’
‘Oh, hardly,’ he laughed.
I could feel conversational double decker bus number three about to hit.
‘Just a bit of paper,’ he said.
I could almost picture a routemaster appearing over the top of a hill.
‘Oh, yeah,’ he seemed unabashed. ‘Just, like, a legal agreement.’
‘Well, yeah. Why else would you marry someone?’
The metaphorical driver of the imaginary conversational equivalent of a double-decker bus number three had just slammed his foot on the accelerator. I was a little lost for words.
‘I dunno,’ I said.
‘Well, you know,’ he shrugged. ‘I mean, marrying someone just seems to make it easier to split up with them.’
I wasn’t quite sure where this conversation had come from or where it was going, but I did know that I had to wrap it up quickly before bus number three knocked out half my brain cells. Metaphorically, of course. I think. You can never really be sure of much in the vicinity of New New Elgin.
‘In what way?’
‘Money,’ he said. ‘Seems to be what it all comes down to.’
I ended up gaping at him, which was neither productive nor attractive.
‘That’s a generalisation,’ I said, finally.
We’d gone from hypothetical zombie apocalypses to hypothetical children to the whole bloody concept of marriage in the space of about five minutes. He seemed to guess that he’d said something to offend me, because he gave up talking altogether and went back to his thousand-yard horizon-bound stare.
But, being the idiot that I am, I tried to pick up the conversation again.
‘So, you’re basically saying that…’
‘You’re…you’re not really…for it?’
He seemed to struggle with an answer. ‘Not…not in principle. I don’t know.’
He took a while to respond.
‘It’s an outdated institution,’ he finally said. ‘I don’t really believe in it.’
Believe me, I tried not to make a fuss or disagree or anything. I wasn’t really in the mood to argue or debate or anything. I felt like I’d been hit by a sledgehammer and three metaphorical buses.
I just wanted to pretend that I was completely fine. Not, you know, hungover and a bit surprised and also a little lost in the middle of nowhere. So I just put my head on his shoulder and tried to adopt a suitable thousand-yard stare until Tarquin and Gwen got back.
Forget thousand-yard stares, though. My stare was something like four-hundred-and-forty miles long in the opposite direction, and that was when I suddenly realised that I missed London all over again.
a/n: I don't usually wait for ages to update, but when I do, I give you a triple serving of angst. Sorry, guys. I've got interviews for art schools soon and it's a bit stressy~ I just want to write ALL the angst. And make ALL the difficult chapter images, including the frankenraven I made for this one my photoshopping bits of zooey d. and kstew together. Crivens.
Hopefully things should be a bit more interesting and, er, fun soon (and please don't kill me for that last little bit. It was coming from the start. This is actually one of the first things I wrote for this story. Bit of trivia there).
Anyway, thanks for reading, & I hope you enjoyed (regardless of angst)! ♥
chapter fifteen - mandrakes and post owls
It felt strange to go to bed so early that Tuesday night, but we were promised by Tarquin and Gwen that it would do us all good. When we unfolded the sofa bed and bade them a good night, I felt like the worst friend ever. They’d travelled halfway across the country only to find me hungover and Scorpius practically undead out of exhaustion. I half-entertained the fantasy that we were just doing research for my work and inflicting a two-person zombie apocalypse upon New New Elgin.
Thinking I wouldn’t be awake in time to see Scorpius leave for work, I promised to pick him up from his first stint at New New Elgin’s primary school at about half past three. But I actually woke up just as he was leaving, so I had time to kiss him and tell him that his jumper was on inside-out before he Flooed off to some sunnier corner of the country.
I was surprised to find Tarquin and Gwen already up when I staggered into the kitchen.
‘Early worm catches the bird,’ Tarquin said brightly. ‘Where do you keep your toast?’
‘Uh…’ I made my bleary-eyed way over to the cupboards. ‘We might be out of bread. Bran flakes?’
Five minutes later, the three of us sat down to hot tea and half-filled bowls of bran flakes. The tea was taken up immediately (something I regretted when I burned my lips) but the bran flakes were a little unloved; I caught Tarquin’s eye and burst out laughing.
‘I’m sorry it’s so meagre!’ I giggled, shoving the cereal around with my spoon. ‘This is a really crappy breakfast, sorry.’
‘Bit more like being a student,’ Gwen smiled.
‘We were going to go out today, anyway,’ Tarquin said. ‘Have a poke around, see what this corner of Scotland has to offer.’
‘Kidnappers and deceit,’ I said, before taking a huge mouthful of the bran flakes. It was a pretty naff breakfast, but I was starving. With some difficulty, I swallowed, before looking up
again and meeting their worried eyes.
‘Uh,’ Gwen said. ‘Sounds like usual Lucy and Scorpius territory, then.’
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ I waved them away. ‘Just a little misunderstanding with the townspeople. And then some graphic designers from up the road. That’s where we got the kitten from! But it’s all good fun.’
Their worried frowns didn’t go away, so I set down my spoon and explained the whole drama of the talent show from start to finish.
‘Wow,’ Tarquin said, once I’d finished. ‘Was that a dream or did it really happen?’
‘I liked the bit with the watering can,’ Gwen chipped in. ‘About time Scorpius got violent.’
‘Yeah, I know. We’ve got another band rehearsal tonight, by the way. You can pop along and watch, if you’d like.’
‘Duh,’ Gwen said. ‘Even if only for the shortbread.’
I went to pick Scorpius up from New New Elgin’s answer to primary education at the promised time of half past three. The school was a grim little prefab building on the beachfront that someone had painted in eye-watering primary colours. A sign over the door read Robert Bruce Primary and, beneath that, in small letters, the words if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again had been picked out in a flamboyant shade of green.
It was a pretty small school compared to the one we’d had for magical children back in Liverpool. I’d gone to the boringly named Liverpool Magical Primary until I was eleven so that I could pick up the four Rs (reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and responsible magical practice, of which we’d had an hour a week) and generally break things and get into fights. New New Elgin’s Robert Bruce Primary was basically the size of me and Scorpius’ flat, with a concrete playground extending out into fields and another small, grim, prefab building that served as a gymnasium.
I pushed open the door and found myself in a classroom. Like most things in New New Elgin, it was visually overwhelming. The classroom had gone to a new level of wall displays – the posters and bright border paper extended all the way up to the ceiling, where they continued and met in the middle, forming a vibrant circle of orange paper around the lampshade. The furniture was all tiny, which made me feel a bit wobbly. It was like being a very very tall drunk. And being tall is not something I’ve had a lot of experience of in my short life. Pun intended.
At the other side of the room, a middle-aged brunette sat at the regular-sized teacher’s desk. I recognised her as the one who’d been in the pub on the night me and Scorpius had moved in. Trying my best to ignore miniature-furniture-induced wobbliness, I crossed over and said ‘good afternoon. I’m here to pick Scorpius up?’
She barely glanced up from the exercise book she was marking. ‘He’ll be out in five minutes. It’s afternoon break at the moment, he should be out on the playground.’
I thought she might have mistaken me for a mother coming to pick up her child, but when I leaned ever so slightly to my left and looked out of the window, I saw the love of my life running in circles and flapping his arms like a bird whilst a horde of small children copied him.
‘Yeah,’ I said, turning away. ‘That’s him alright.’
‘You must be Lucy,’ the woman extended a hand. ‘I’m Jean. Jean Auchinairn.’
‘Aye, that’s what they all say. He did very well, you know. Considering it was his first day. I mean, a lot of the bairns who come in here are a wee bit wild. I’m not sure they quite understood what I meant when I asked them to paint him, but he seemed to get on fine.’
I glanced around at the classroom. Paintbrushes, pots and scraps of parchment were piled neatly on the centre of each table. The paint, however, had been thrown around with reckless abandon, and there were splodges of it on every available surface. Even the ceiling had paint on it.
I somehow dreaded to think that Scorpius would look like up close.
‘Er…I can see that,’ I said.
The words had barely left my mouth when a bell rang overhead. Outside, a whistle blew, then there was the vaguely familiar sound of a lot of little feet running at once. For a full minute, it sounded as if the great migration of wildebeest was taking place on the playground of Robert Bruce Primary, but when I looked out of the window again I saw the crowd of children disappear off into the gym and the thundering stopped.
A lot of girls my age talk about hearing the pitter-pattering of tiny feet. I heard the stampeding of midget wildebeest.
A moment after the mass exodus of children, the door flew open and Scorpius tumbled in, doing his best to smile whilst he was evidently in a good deal of pain. His suit was covered in paint – even his face had paint on it. A bright blue smudge underlined one eye; he had khaki-green freckles.
‘Alan and Toby were fighting but it’s all cool now,’ he said, sounding a little breathless. ‘And…and I think I’ll be off.’
He reached into his pockets, pulled out several paintbrushes, and dumped them onto one of the little tables.
‘See you next week,’ he told Jean Auchninairn, before turning to leave. I followed him out into the mild (well, mild for January) air.
‘How was your day?’ I asked, offering him an elbow as we strolled along the beachfront. He slid his arm through mine.
‘Can we sit down soon?’ he said, sounding very weary.
‘Good grief, what were you up to this afternoon?’
‘Playing Post Owls,’ he said.
‘Post Owls? You never played it?’
‘Oh. Kids’ game. Used to play it all the time when I was little. Anyway…the point is that everyone is a post owl, and then there’s a letter, which is usually a leaf or a stick or something and…well, if you’re the owl with the letter, you have to run around with it so nobody else takes it off you, and the point is that you win by keeping hold of the letter for as long as possible.’
‘Oh. Never played that.’
‘Yeah, I played Mandrakes.’
‘Ah. I see.’
We spent the rest of the walk home swapping stories about childhood games we’d played; I got the feeling Scorpius was trying to pick up ideas for his next visit to Robert Bruce Primary. Especially when we got onto talking about survival techniques. Eventually, though, despite the plodding pace, we got safely back into the flat and within reach of a kettle and toaster.
‘I’m exhausted,’ he said. ‘And starving.’
‘We’ve got the band rehearsal tonight,’ I reminded him. ‘Tarks and Gwen said they’d come.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ he frowned. But then a smile flickered onto his weary face. ‘More late nights! We’re hellraisers again!’
‘I wouldn’t call hanging out at the town hall hellraising.’
‘If we’re drunk enough…’ he started.
‘I’m not repeating Burns Night.’
‘It was pretty funny when you punched Prentice.’
A short silence passed. I felt pretty chipper; I could only imagine the eyelid-drooping tiredness he was putting up with. He did his usual hurdling routine to get onto the sofa (I gave him a nine for effort) and I joined him a moment or two later, having taken the long route round the coffee table.
Maybe it was the blue paint beneath his eye, but I could have sworn that, in the clear, neutral light of the afternoon, he looked a bit ill.
Alright, he’d been a workaholic for a while, and he’d always held down a disproportionate number of jobs at any given time, and I completely understand that we were on the wrong side of humble when it came to money and that we were never exactly destined to make it big in the great scheme of things but – weren’t those all just excuses, sometimes? I loved him, and I was the tiniest bit scared. I’d kidded myself for a moment that the smudge of blue paint was just a really horrific sign of sleep deprivation, and that was easy to explain away, but it was obvious just by looking at him that the boy needed at least one less job.
‘I want to work more,’ I said, speaking so fast that the words ended up all tumbled together and it sounded more like Iwannaworkmore. ‘It’s not fair on you. I feel awful. Something’s wrong, isn’t it?’
This was the talk we’d never had. I was sure of it.
A strange, confused silence passed. He reached into his pocket again and, after a moment’s digging about, produced a little cardboard box with a diagonal red stripe and the words Salamander Lights on it. And, beneath that, in a far less jauntier font, the words smoking kills.
It felt like my stomach had done a triple somersault, jumped up my windpipe, and was now watching the proceedings through my gaping mouth. Which felt pretty horrible.
‘I’m really sorry,’ he said. ‘I was going to tell you soon, I swear.’
‘What?’ I felt certain that this was something I might have noticed before; I think I was more angry at myself for not keeping so close an eye on him. ‘Since when?’
He shrugged, almost apologetically. ‘I don’t get much of a lunch break at work. Doesn’t make me feel so hungry. Takes the edge off the tiredness. A lot of the other guys do it. I’ve got a lot of excuses, but I’m afraid they’re all equally rubbish.’
‘That’s not a substitute for a lunch break. And if the other guys at work told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that too?’
‘You know I’m a pushover. It’s cheaper, you know.’
‘It bloody well isn’t!’
‘In the long term…’
‘It’s not good for you.’
‘Yeah, I know, but I don’t know what else to do.’
‘Just give up one of your bloody jobs!’
He looked a little defeated. ‘What, so then we can’t afford to put the heating on?’ he protested. ‘I knew you’d be angry.’
Truth be told, I wasn’t really that angry. It didn’t really bother me. I kind of knew what he meant and, besides, it wasn’t entirely my place to govern the way he lived, no matter how much of a pushover he was. Merlin knows I hadn’t exactly been the angel in the house or anything.
‘We all have our vices,’ I said, and smiled, hoping he didn’t feel as tortuously miserable as he looked. ‘I’m twice the drinker you are. Guess this is even stevens, right?’
‘Oh…’ he looked incredibly uncertain, the little box of cigarettes still held aloft, as if inviting me to grab them off him. ‘Cool?’
‘Cool,’ I said. ‘If it keeps you going. Look…’
And I grabbed it out of his hand, fumbled it open, took out one of the cigarettes and stuck it between my lips, searching up my sleeve for my wand.
I snatched it back out of my mouth again to talk. ‘Only human,’ I said. ‘I used to…you know, when I was sixteen. And I’m a bad influence.’
He looked a little stunned. ‘Really?’
‘I did a lot of things before I met you,’ I said, and it was the truth, although not the most comfortable or delicate of truths. Then I stuck the cigarette back between my teeth, jabbed my wand at the end of it, and hoped I remembered the non-verbal incantation for fire. A second later, a huge flame shot up and singed the ends of my fringe; I stared cross-eyed at the smouldering hair whilst Scorpius nearly fell off the sofa in a fit of laughter.
‘Okay, bad influence,’ I said, feeling a little bit shaky as I handed the lit cigarette back to him. ‘And if it makes you happy, it’s fine.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ he repeated, before taking a drag on it. ‘Hang on, are you sure…in the flat…’
‘Eh, we’ll open a window,’ I waved him away. ‘At least Gwen’ll have company whenever she has to pop out for a fag break now!’
He gave me a look that was somewhere between a disapproving frown and a smile – the frown bein a bit rich, coming from him.
‘And it makes the hellraising all the more authentic, no?’ I said.
He ended up laughing and coughing at this, sending a little stream of abstract smoke signals to the ceiling.
‘I’d love you even if you had a seventy-cigar-a-day habit,’ I said. ‘Just promise me one thing.’
He looked up inquiringly.
‘Quit when you find a better job,’ I said. ‘And by better job, I mean one where you work a normal shift, get a decent lunch break, get a decent wage, and only have to work that one job.’
He let out a short, derisive laugh. ‘That job doesn’t exist!’
‘Keep looking,’ was all I could say.
He took another drag and gave me a very pensive look for good measure.
‘You’re unhappy,’ he said.
Forget a trio of metaphorical double-decker buses; that was a runaway steamroller.
‘Everyone is, Scor.’
‘No, I just…’ he shook his head, transferring his gaze onto the little curls of smoke that were twisting through the air before him. ‘Sometimes I can’t help but think it’s something I’ve done. Actually I think it is something I’ve done.’
I had to think carefully about my answer. He’d hit me with a runaway steamroller, I didn’t exactly want to buy into the whole eye-for-an-eye theory when picking my response, especially when he had a lit cigarette in his mouth. ‘I’m…I’m unhappy because I’ve got a crap flat and a crap job and I’m generally a pretty crap person but, if anything, it’s the somethings you do that cheer me up.’
‘Thank you for saying so,’ he said. ‘And if I might suggest a better bargain, how about I quit
when you find yourself a better job?’
I narrowed my eyes at him. ‘Both. I’ll only keep my half of the bargain if you keep yours. I’ll drink less if you find a better job, you quit if I get a better job.’
There was a moment of pained, intense silence before the two of us fell about laughing.
‘It’ll never happen!’ Scorpius cried and, in the chaos of laughing, I noticed him stub out the cigarette on a plate that had been sitting on the coffee table since yesterday’s dinner. ‘We’ve both got really terrible willpower-’
‘And we’re like magnets for crappy flats-’
‘-magnets for crappiness generally-’
‘If anything, we’re good at bad habits!’
‘Yeah, let’s not quit while we’re doing so well,’ he grinned.
I ended up throwing my arms around his neck, half-relieved that we hadn’t actually argued, half-happy that we’d finally acknowledged just how generally crap we were as people (no, really, it made me happy. It’s the simple things in life. Like…tea. And the two of us being so bad that we were good).
‘We’re rubbish!’ I said, hugging him as tightly as the muscles in my arm would allow (he made a faint erk noise which I supposed was a clear indication I’d got his windpipe by accident). Then I pulled away so I could look him in the eye, give him a silly sort of congratulatory punch on the arm. ‘We’re rubbish and we always will be! So light up! No, not like that,’ I added, as he jokingly reached over for the abandoned packet of Salamander Lights.
But then I kind of cocked up the whole cheerful, yay-let’s-celebrate-how-abysmally-crap-we-are mood by saying ‘and we’ll be rubbish forever, especially when we get married for the sake of our finances and become Mr and Mrs Rubbish.’
An insincere, taut smile replaced his broad grin. ‘I didn’t really mean it like that-’
‘No, no, you’re right,’ I said, desperately wishing that I hadn’t brought it up. So I kissed him, a little unused to the strange yet familiar smokiness that hung about him – hey, it was a valid distraction, wasn’t it? ‘But, you know, what’d really cheer me up is getting to snog you senseless, and then maybe there’s some shelf-related DIY we could be getting on with.’
See, this is why Euphemia Flitter picked me to work for her. I, Lucy Weasley, am the queen of talking sexily. I’m sure the awkward laugh I always stick at the end of my phrases is a complete killer for the menfolk of this planet. And maybe some other planets too. Or maybe she picked me for my ability to go off on a tangent like nothing else?
I pushed his fringe back from his face, took off his glasses, and then smudged the blue paint underneath his eye even more. I’d meant to try and get the paint off but…well, paint is about as stubborn as stubborn gets.
‘You’ve got paint on your face,’ I said.
‘I know,’ he said.
It was probably not one of the more romantic things I could have said at that moment. On a scale of one to ten, one being about as romantic as a dead sea slug and ten being about as romantic as the entire literary canon of Amortentia Publications, it was probably about a two. But, as I have said, I am the Mrs Rubbish to Scorpius’ Mr Rubbish.
Ignoring the paint and the glasses that were still in my hand, I leaned in and kissed him again. I wasn’t even sure I cared that he smelled like a bonfire with faint top notes of orange squash, and, I mean, the scratchiness of a five o’clock shadow has never been especially enticing to me, but somehow I didn’t really care about anything except for the fact that I just wanted him, tired and scruffy and smoky and covered in paint or whatever. And I know I wasn’t in great shape either. Never really have been.
He broke away after about five minutes to say ‘It’s weird. Sometimes I get really homesick for London and sometimes I don’t.’
Within a few seconds I was already bored of talking so I kissed him again, although a little voice in my head went oh, yes, Scorpius, I know exactly how you feel. Do continue this conversation later on; what you are saying is most interesting, although at the present moment it can possibly wait until after I have done things with you that will exhaust my entire back catalogue of euphemism and metaphor.
He seemed ready to push me off for a moment, but after I broke away for a couple of seconds to tell him in garbled whispering that he was an idiot but I really loved him and could I possibly put his glasses on the coffee table now, he gave up and pulled me closer. It wasn’t like it had been ages since we’d had time alone together or anything, but, you know, there’s not many times you find yourself getting horizontal on a sofa with the express aim of euphemistically putting up a shelf with only one arm, if you get the vague nub and gist of what I’m trying to say.
We’d been there for some time when he muttered something about how we should probably stop soon before Tarquin and Gwen got back from their travels, but when I told him that it was only half four by my watch and they weren’t due till six, he said excellent and his hands, which had been tangled up in my hair, went onto my shoulders and then slid down my back and just under the hem of my shirt (which was, in fact, his).
It was then when I got the strangest feeling that we were being watched.
And that’s really not the feeling you want when you’re trying to snog your boyfriend in peace. On a scale of one to ten, one being about as romantic as a dead sea slug and ten being about as romantic as the entire literary canon of Amortentia Publications, it was probably about a minus five hundred. Give or take a few.
I sat up, silencing Scorpius’ protest by pressing a finger to his lips. Then, my eyes met the tiny green cat’s eyes of…well, a cat. Mr Andrew Socks had climbed onto the little side table and was peering at us over the arm of the sofa.
Prrrrr, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Oh…crivens,’ my voice sounded very strangled. ‘Cat.’
Scorpius shoved my hand away and sat up too, twisting around to see Mr Andrew Socks.
Prrrrr, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Fuck me that’s off-putting,’ Scorpius said.
‘Oh, yes, of course,’ I said. ‘Yes to the second part too. And don’t swear in front of the cat,’ I added, elbowing him in the ribs.
Prrrrr, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘I bet that’s swearing in catspeak,’ Scorpius muttered, before reaching over and picking Mr Andrew Socks up. Then he held him at eye level and gave him a very stern look.
‘She’s mine, okay?’ Scorpius said.
Prrrrr, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Scor, I doubt he has a crush on me or anything…’
‘How do you know?’ Scorpius set Mr Andrew Socks down at the other end of the sofa, where he curled up on a cushion and stared at us with his green eyes. ‘He might have felines for you.’
‘You know I like puns.’
‘Iced puns for breakfast in the morning, I know,’ I took his hand, turning away from the still-purring Mr Andrew Socks. ‘You know, there are at least two cat-free rooms in this flat with lockable doors.’
‘You mean the bathroom and the airing cupboard? And the bathroom lock is broken. And as much as I love you, I’m not sure putting up shelves in an airing cupboard is entirely advisable.’
‘Oh, screw it,’ I pulled him to his feet, and then delivered what was, in the circumstances, the most romantic line I could think of: 'we'll just need to invest in more locks.'
a/n: this is the bit where I make a ton of catastrophic plot decisions and character developments and you all get mad and throw oranges at me, and I welcome those oranges because they're pretty good snacks and - er anyway. yes. I hope this chapter is alright. Not, like, bad or boring or anything. There was supposed to be a lot more to this chapter, but it got too long and I split it. Also, to those of you who were asking for a romantic scene...do you see, now, how awkward I get writing them? Srsly I don't even know where the whole lol it's a cat wat do thing came from and I'm going to shut up now.
to come: hopefully less ~dialogue heavy~ chapters, more Tarks & Gwendibird, more ducks in the pint, Lucy's manifesto for troo wub and...perhaps a spot of lettuce in the side salad.
p.s the quote 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again' is, I believe, from the popular legend of Robert the Bruce, although I doubt that he ever said that and therefore I don't really have much of a concrete origin for the quote. but it's a good maxim to live by. trust me.
chapter sixteen – (love is) tea and toast
We’d decided to dress a little more formally for that evening’s plan of ‘take Tarquin and Gwen to band rehearsal and subsequently decamp to pub’. But that decision was something of a bump in the road in what turned out to be a bit of a dirt track of an evening (in dramatic contrast to the smooth tarmac motorway of an evening we’d planned).
It was easy enough for Scorpius, who could just unclip the ‘hello, my name is Scorpius and I am here to help!’ badge from his work shirt, whop a cravat on and look instantly smart (aside from the uncontrollable hair). For me, it was a bit more complex. I went through seven pairs of tights, two skirts and five blouses before I found the right combination.
Scorpius is also not the best for outfit advice, given that he tends to make most of his clothing selections based on artistic colour theory principles and fabric paint resistance. While he perched on the end of the bed and took his time fiddling with shirt buttons, I went through several wardrobe changes at lightning speed.
‘Not the navy blouse…’ he said, as I threw on blouse number four and twirled on the spot. ‘Not with a black skirt…’
‘Fine,’ I wrenched it off and tossed it over my shoulder. A moment later I’d pulled on a white blouse and buttoned it up, only to turn around and see that the navy blouse had landed on his head. Ever the doormat, I noticed that he’d carried on doing up his shirt without complaint.
‘Oh, you,’ I said, plodding over in my stocking feet and sitting next to him (the bed creaked alarmingly and we both flinched). I took the blouse off his head and smoothed down his ruffled hair with my hands, only for it to spring back into chaos a moment later.
‘Are you permanently static?’ I said, combing my fingers through his hair and willing his fringe to move by telekenisis.
‘Nope,’ he said. ‘Just an artist.’
I managed to sculpt it back into a sort of quiff, only for it to ping back into its usual librarian-in-an-electrically-charged-sauna look.
‘And your glasses are filthy!’ I changed tack, snatching the offending spectacles off his face and giving them a clean on the hem of my blouse. ‘And there’s paint on your face and in your hair and you smell like a bonfire-’
‘Lucy,’ he pushed my hand away as I brandished a licked finger at the paint splodge below his eye. ‘Stop…cleaning me.’
‘I’m just looking out for you and you need to look smart.’
‘It’s…it’s an artistic statement?’
I gave him my best disapproving look. ‘Where would you be without me?’
‘I’d be a destitute artist, festering in a gutter…’
‘Exactly,’ I said, scuttling back over to the mirror, plonking myself down on the floor before it and zipping open my makeup bag. My routine was so well-practised that I barely had to think about it – not always a good thing, because when Scorpius came and sat cross-legged beside me, I lost my concentration and nearly poked myself in the eye with my eyeliner pencil.
‘All set,’ he said, doing up the last button of his maroon cardigan. ‘Here, let me-’
And then, abruptly, he pawed at my hair. I inched away, giving him what was probably a pretty scary look given that I’d only put eyeliner on one of my eyes.
‘See?’ he said. ‘Now you know how it feels.’
‘I just want you to look semi-presentable…’
‘But I’m an artist.’
‘I know,’ I grinned, turning back to the mirror. Then, a moment later, the doorbell rang. Scorpius swooped in to kiss me on the cheek, and then departed to let Tarquin and Gwen back in. I hastily finished pencilling a wobbly black line around my eye, smudged it a bit for that sultry/smoky/grubby look, then shoved my feet into my cleanest pair of trainers and scuffed my way into the kitchen.
The kettle was whistling away in a corner, Scorpius was sorting out mugs and teaspoons, Tarquin and Gwen were perched on the sofa and Mr Andrew Socks was perched on Tarquin’s lap. I took the armchair opposite them, noticed the makeshift plate ashtray, then snatched it up before either of them could notice and carried it over to the sink. I mean, I know it was useless because I was pretty sure they had noticed, but I was a bit mortified in case they thought we just happened to leave dirty ash-covered plates lying around all the time. Which we actually did, but, you know, I sometimes like to keep up appearances.
I dumped the plate in the sink just as the kettle clicked off the boil and Scorpius began to fill mugs. ‘After the rehearsal,’ I said. ‘What’re we going to do about tea?’
‘We could come back here,’ he said. ‘I could make something.’
‘Yeah, I could make…um, Le Plate Mystique.’
‘Recipe my Dad passed down to me.’
‘And what recipe is that?’
‘Pierce film lid, tap twice with wand, leave to stand for ten seconds, repeat,’ he said. ‘It’s probably best we go to the Duck for tea instead.’
We took the cups of tea back over to the sofa. Scorpius let me have the armchair whilst he balanced on the arm, which had the effect of making him a couple of feet taller than the rest of us. We sat, mugs in hand, peering up at him.
‘Someone say something,’ he said. ‘I feel like a statue.’
‘Nah,’ Tarquin said, staring reverentially up at him. ‘You’re good at this awkward lark.’
About half an hour later we were ready to go, tea drunk and mugs abandoned on the coffee table. Anoraks zipped up, shoes laced and scarves around necks, we set off for the town hall.
It wasn’t exactly freezing outside, but the blast of warm air that greeted us inside the town hall door was the atmospheric equivalent of a warm, cuddly duvet. It was probably an excellent idea to bring Tarquin and Gwen out of the small, crummy flat and into the bright, warm town hall and its free supply of shortbread and butterbeer. Okay, hardly the dingy little boozers we’d spent so many happy and surreal hours in during our art school days but, you know, cozy nonetheless.
Instruments were nowhere to be seen during this rehearsal, though. More importantly, neither was music. It was an evening of lyrics; we were all compelled, Tarquin and Gwen included, to draw up wobbly plastic chairs and sit around a few fold-down tables in the centre of the room, sharing scraps of parchment and paper and even napkins to scribble upon.
‘I think we need a love song,’ Jock said. ‘Seriously, I do. If you listen to the charts, it’s all about love, isn’t it?’
We all nodded in agreement.
‘Love,’ Surly Kevin said absently and surly…ly. ‘Lovey-dovey love. Pfft.’
‘Just saying, it might improve our chance if, you know…’ Jock smiled around at us. ‘If we pander to the masses.’
‘We can pander alright,’ Jean C said. ‘We can pander and we can do it in tartan.’
‘So we need some lyrics,’ Jock said, flattening his hands on the table.
A few heads turned to look at me.
‘Lucy, can you come up with anything? You’re our resident writer…’
‘Oh, yeah, you’ve got a real way with words!’
‘Yeah,’ Scorpius said in an undertone. ‘Lucy’s good with her mouth.’
‘I can’t do lyrics,’ I said. ‘Not at all.’
‘Look, it’s easy,’ Jean C said. ‘We just need to find things that rhyme.’
Everyone contemplated the tabletop or their navels for a few minutes.
‘Okay, why don’t you start us off, Jock?’ Jean C said.
Jock looked up towards the stage as if seeking spiritual guidance. ‘Well…’ he said. ‘Why don’t we start with…love is…’
To my surprise, Scorpius answered first. ‘Tea and toast,’ he said, almost without thinking.
I felt like giving him a high five, pat on the back and also possibly a kiss all at once, but I’m not sure that’s entirely possible what with the laws of physics getting in the way and all.
Jock raised an eyebrow, but continued. ‘Love is…’
Sticking to the rhyming theme and also the theme of home comforts (for there are no more comfortable comforts on this planet than tea and toast), I jumped in with ‘a Sunday roast!’ before I’d even realised it.
‘Er, okay,’ Jock said. ‘Love is tea and toast and love is a Sunday roast.’
Jean C, evidently in the midst of some profound moment, chipped in with ‘love is forlorn hope.’
‘Love is soap on a rope,’ Tarquin said.
‘Love is wanting to elope…’
‘To the…cape of good hope.’
‘It’ll do,’ Jock said, but the assembled New New Elginers and hangers-on had evidently been gripped by rhyme frenzy.
‘Love is a walk in the park,’ Jean P piped up.
‘Love is not getting eaten by sharks!’
‘Love is a witty remark…’
‘Love is a bit of a lark.’
‘Love is never a question mark.’
‘Love is Northumberland National Park-’
‘Okay, bit obscure,’ Jock said.
‘Love is a duck,’ I said, kicking Scorpius under the table.
‘Love is bloody good luck.’
‘Love is a bloody good f-’
Jock let out a rather loud and forced cough that interrupted Tarquin mid-speech.
‘So we’ve got…some lyrics,’ he frowned, once the giggling had died down and the room had got back to normal (as normal as we ever really could be, which was about as far removed from normal as the Earth’s nearest star). ‘Good…rhyming scheme.’
‘I like the first couplet,’ Knitting Prentice chipped in. ‘All those food comparisons.’
‘Well…’ Jock looked disparagingly down at the piece of parchment he’d been scribbling lyrics on. ‘It’s very…New New Elgin.’
‘Would we want anything else?’ Knitting Prentice said. ‘Love is Loch Ness.’
‘Love is a hot mess-’
‘I think we’ve got enough to be going on,’ Jock raised his voice. ‘Thistle do.’
The mass rhyming died down. We then sat in rapt silence as Jock read our lyrics aloud, start to finish. Okay, it was hardly chart material, but I think it summed up quite neatly how weird and ultimately pretty naff we all were. And how tea and toast were the most important things to us. I know that, if I had to be stranded on a desert island and could only pick three things to come with me, I’d take Scorpius, tea, and toast. I don’t even know how that word work logistically seeing as I’d need a constant supply of teabags and fresh bread and maybe even a kettle and a toaster, but this is all very hypothetical and technically it’s my fantasy and I could take our whole flat if I wanted. But Scorpius would definitely be a priority.
Lyrics written, the rehearsal petered out and eventually came to an end. We declined an offer of tea and biscuits (I know, that’s the craziest form of crazy) to take Tarquin and Gwen over to The Drookit Duck for a proper tea; Knitting Prentice and Surly Kevin accompanied us, although the latter was mostly obliged to come because his shift there started at half past eight.
Inside the Duck (and yes, that is a phrase that doesn’t read well out of context) it wasn’t particularly busy; not a patch on the regular Wednesday evening pub crowd, anyway (which, in Scotland, seemed to be a fairly large one. Tales of a national fixation with drink are not altogether exaggerated, which made me fit in quite nicely.) A few of the older New New Elginers were huddled around a table in a corner and, by the window, call-me-Mary-Sue was sitting with a sketchbook open on the table in front of her, looking completely lost and alone.
I mean, as much as I was hating on her for being a suspected spy/having fluttery eyelashes, my heart really went out to her. In the strangest way, she reminded me of Rose. Not for cruel reasons – I was trying as hard as I could to think of Rose in purely positive ways for sake of karma – but I heard Rose in her cut-glass accent, saw Rose in her neat flat, recognised Rose with the vague feeling that there was something not quite right about her, like she was hiding something beneath her pretty pre-Raphaelite exterior. So, when Tarquin and Scorpius went up to the bar to have a shot at acting like manly men and order a round of drinks, I took Gwen over to call-me-Mary-Sue’s table, asked if she minded us joining her, and then took the seat directly opposite.
She snapped the sketchbook shut as soon as I sat down, but she needn’t have bothered; I could see that it was totally blank.
‘Gwen, this is Mary-Susannah,’ I said. ‘Mary-Susannah, this is Gwen.’
‘Gwendolyn,’ Gwen said, with a vaguely alarming smile. I remembered talking about call-me-Mary-Sue in a couple of my letters to the two of them, but I couldn’t for the life of me guess what Gwen had up her sleeve. But, metaphorically speaking, Gwen had pretty big sleeves that were more than ample for hiding jokes and schemes in. Maybe not to the same level as Tarquin, who was a sort of unquestionable god of banter, but she definitely trumped him in the evil schemes sleeves stakes.
‘You’re from London too, right?’ Gwen said.
‘Kensington,’ call-me-Mary-Sue smiled. ‘I was brought up in Mayfair.’
‘Well, I’m from Wales,’ Gwen said, almost defiantly. ‘Raised on leeks, me.’
Call-me-Mary-Sue gave her a look that was somewhere between worry and confusion, but was stopped from asking anymore by the appearance of Tarquin and Scorpius and the drinks.
‘Name your poison,’ Tarquin said, as he put a glass (complete with duck on a cocktail stick) down in front of each of us. ‘And then drink the beer we bought you. Love the thing with the ducks, by the way.’
‘Uh, Tarquin, this is Mary-Susannah,’ I said, as he settled into the armchair beside Gwen.
‘Oh?’ his eyebrows arched up. ‘Hello, Mary-Susannah. You’re the one from London, aren’t you?’
Call-me-Mary-Sue looked politely puzzled, evidently unaware she’d been the subject of several letters. ‘Yes, that’s me-’
‘Oh, I’m from Birmingham,’ Tarquin said. ‘Well, Spain. Well, Peru, really, if you dig around in the family history a bit, but that’s stretching it.’
‘Peru?’ call-me-Mary-Sue said. ‘That’s…interesting.’
Scorpius gave me quite a knowing look. I returned it; this was one of the glorious moments where we could sit back and watch something unfold. And then possibly step in before it all got a bit too gnarly for comfort.
‘So what do you do for a living?’ Gwen said, leaning in. ‘Bet you’re a model.’
‘I work in the Auror Office, but I have done a bit of modelling in the past-’
‘The Auror Office?’ Tarquin cut in. ‘Wow, that’s exciting!’
‘I suppose it is…’
‘Are there a lot of explosions?’ Gwen said. ‘I’ve always wanted to work with explosions.’
‘What do you do, then?’ call-me-Mary-Sue asked, evidently keen to divert the attention away from herself.
‘Me?’ Gwen pointed at her own face, going a little cross-eyed as she stared down at her finger. ‘I’m a…magician. And Tarquin is my glamorous assistant.’
‘She’s very good at sawing me in half,’ Tarquin nodded emphatically. ‘And we do a fantastic act where she pulls me out of a top hat.’
‘I’m always finding him in strange places,’ Gwen tittered.
‘That’s…interesting,’ call-me-Mary-Sue said slowly. ‘Where did you meet?’
‘Same as Scorpius and Lucy,’ Tarquin said. ‘Art school.’
‘I just walked in and saw him there with paint on his face and knew he was the one,’ Gwen said.
‘We went paintballing a lot.’
‘Usually indoors, it’s more fun that way.’
‘Except we weren’t as boring as these two,’ Tarquin nodded to us.
‘So where did you two meet?’ call-me-Mary-Sue span to face us, now evidently very keen to divert the attention away from Tarquin and Gwen. ‘Art school too, yes?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Sort of.’
‘She grew on me,’ Scorpius said.
‘Like mould,’ Gwen said in a stage whisper.
‘I actually nicked him off my cousin Rose,’ I said.
‘It was dramatic,’ Scorpius added.
Call-me-Mary-Sue seemed to have gone white, probably out of fear. Tarquin and Gwen were doing a pretty good job of being, well, really creepy. Forget busking, hedge-hopping and paintballing, the two of them should have been hired to do tours of haunted houses or something.
‘So what’s your story?’ Tarquin said, and, get this: he fluttered his eyelashes at her.
She looked nothing short of terrified.
‘Um…my…my mother is Italian and my father is from Edinburgh,’ she said. ‘Nothing…nowhere as exciting as…Peru.’
‘Beats being from Manchester,’ Scorpius said, in an attempt to try and be nice to her. Given that Scorpius is almost chronically too nice, it actually went quite well; call-me-Mary-Sue did look a little placated.
‘Yes,’ she smiled. ‘Yes…indeed. Well,’ she snatched up the sketchbook and shoved it into her handbag. ‘I should be going.’
‘Don’t leave on our account!’ Tarquin beamed. ‘Stay for the chit-chat-’
‘No, really,’ she said firmly. ‘I really must go.’
She bade us all a good night and left the pub; Tarquin and Gwen burst out laughing almost the moment she’d gone.
‘Wow,’ Gwen said. ‘Did you find her in a kid’s toybox? She’s like a doll!’
‘It’s so weird,’ Tarquin furrowed his brow. ‘I get the weirdest, weirdest feeling I’ve seen her before-’
‘Probably in a Miss Magic ad,’ Gwen snorted. ‘I’ve done a bit of modelling in the past…did she strike you as a little up herself?’
‘Just a tad,’ Scorpius smiled, although it was a little too taut to look sincere. I, too, had the uncomfortable feeling that call-me-Mary-Sue might just be the sequel to Rose: someone I’d been undeservedly cruel too. Even if she had possibly knocked me out so that the Coven could abduct me (how weird would that sentence sound to a casual observer?). There was just something about her that unsettled me.
‘You two in this little town,’ Tarquin said, suddenly changing the subject. ‘It’s very cute. Very weird. Very whimsical. Very you. Ducks in the pint, tartan in the everything. How’d you get on at the primary, Scorp?’
Scorpius indicated the smudge of paint on his face. ‘Only just survived.’
Gwen swilled the remnants of her pint around the glass. ‘I keep thinking I should get a proper job,’ she said. ‘As in, you know, something with sick leave and maybe even a salary.’
‘I just want a job where I don’t have to write zombie smut,’ I said. ‘You know, maybe something with a desk. And a kettle in the office. And a lot of juicy gossiping about colleagues. A water-cooler to gossip by. Christmas parties. A stationery cupboard. Biscuits.’
‘I just hope the kids don’t kill me,’ Scorpius said. ‘Well, I hope the chemicals don’t kill me either, but the kids seem like more of a threat.’
We all contemplated the table for a moment.
‘None of us are getting any younger,’ Tarquin said heavily. ‘But, really, Lucy, you shouldn’t commit to any job without checking if there are biscuits involved first.’
There were a couple more pub visits and one more band rehearsal before they left, the former being fairly raucous and cheerful and the latter being lacklustre and unproductive. Without me noticing, Gwen managed to steal and read my post-apocalyptic romance trash in a day, and spent an entire hour going over everything she knew about horror fiction because, in her words, my ‘zombie smut isn’t anywhere near gory enough’.
Euphemia Flitter’s idea of romance it wasn’t, but I decided to take Gwen’s advice anyway on the grounds that I trusted my mildly deranged goth friend over my mildly deranged intimidating Editor.
Once we’d waved them off at the train station, I felt pretty exhausted, as if drinking games and buffoonery had sapped up all my energy. I trundled home with Scorpius and, after a cuppa and a cursory game of filling-in-the-crossword-with-rude-words, we turned in early.
It was then that I had the weirdest dream. The two of us were back in the London flat, me hunched under the covers and Scorpius bleary-eyed and dishevelled again, the dartboard and map hanging on the wall in front of us. This time, he chucked the dart, and with an audible whizz-thunk it pierced a spot somewhere in the middle of the North Sea.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘Nothing for it. We’ll just have to be pirates.’
Then the dream shifted and suddenly we were standing on the deck of this immense galleon (and by that I mean the boat, not the coin, although my dreams are weird enough for us to have been standing on a giant piece of currency) in the middle of a storm. I was in full pirate garb, epaulettes and a feather on my magnificent hat and all – only the parrot on my shoulder was, in fact, Mr Andrew Socks. Scorpius was dressed a bit more humbly in ragged trousers and a striped top, but he had an eyepatch that even had a little skull and crossbones on it.
The rain poured down on us although, weirdly, I barely felt it. We were the only ones on deck, but I could see the blur of another ship on the horizon. My hand went to my cutlass.
‘Raise the jolly roger,’ I told Scorpius.
‘Aye aye, captain,’ he said, dashing off.
Then the dream cut straight to the moment we drew level with the other ship, which was entirely populated by call-me-Mary-Sues in ballgowns: I ordered Scorpius to fire the cannon and, without him even moving, a blast signified the moment that our ship sunk a ton of lead into the other.
I was at the very gunnels of the ship, leaning over to brandish my cutlass at call-me-Mary-Sue and her clones whilst Scorpius yelled something about starboard bows to my left. Then the scene shifted again and suddenly one of the call-me-Mary-Sues was standing on a plank whilst everyone I’d ever known stood on the ship behind her, shouting for her to walk it. And I was just about to tell her to get a bloody move on when her face changed and then it was Rose on the plank, and all of a sudden I was leaping up and down and waving my hands in the air and yelling at her to get off the blimmin’ plank and back onto the ship.
But Rose just gave me a sad little smile and walked forward. And the weirdest thing was that she didn’t fall, just floated gracefully down to the sea and vanished as soon as her toes touched the surface. Then the ship she’d turned up on was floating away with everyone on it, still screaming for someone, anyone to walk the plank – and no matter how much I shouted out to it and tried to say goodbye, none of them heard me.
It was gone in seconds, vanished into mist, but then Scorpius turned up at my side with a telescope in his hand. Mr Andrew Socks purred from my shoulder as Scorpius raised the telescope to his eyes and peered off in the direction the ship had come from.
There was just time for him to yell ‘land ahoy!’ before I woke up.
Mr Andrew Socks was sleeping on the pillow next to me; I guess that’d been how he’d figured in the dream. The window sparkled with raindrops, although it didn’t even look like the sun had come up yet. The bed was empty next to me, but still warm; I guessed it was only just past six.
Right on cue, Scorpius came back into the room at that moment, and I was strangely disappointed to see him without an eyepatch. He was holding a bit of parchment that he held aloft as soon as he noticed I was awake.
‘Letter from Tarquin and Gwen,’ he said. ‘Weird, they scrimped on the nicknames this time. Also, good morning.’
He gave me a few moments to wake up properly before he gave me the letter to read.
‘Curious letter,’ he said, and he actually looked a bit worried. ‘Curious, curious letter.’
I took it from him, smoothed it out on the duvet, and started to read.
Dearest Lucy and Scorpius,
Thanks for the marvy hospitality. Scotland is nice, but, you know, very Scottish. We’re heading back to London for a day, then we might take a wander oop North again, pay a visit to a certain Barry. We’ll bring you something nice for the next time we’re up. The ducks we got to keep from the pub were truly something wonderful, really. You know us and ducks. And frogs. And newts. It was nice to meet your Mary-Susannah and your Jock and your Jeans to the power of five. And the knitting boy, didn’t catch his name but he’s a devil with the needles.
This is just a little letter, though, really, because we don’t have much time until the next train turns up and the Post Office shuts in five minutes. First, thanks. Second, you need help. Both for your mental bits and your band. We love your band. But you’re missing something. You’re a bit half-hearted right now. You just need some sparkle. Some oomph. Maybe even a bit of cowbell. So we decided to do something about it.
Love always and then some,
Gwen and Tarquin.
p.s hope you don’t mind but we put Lettuce on the next train.
a/n: symbolic dreams? shambolic lyrics? tartan in the everything? this chapter was cobbled together from lots of little bits and pieces I had kicking around my notebook, so if it reads like a bunch of vignettes stapled together by a blind donkey, that's just me typing at 3am as per usual.
thankfully, that last line means that the actual plot is coming to the party soon. better late than never! I hate to use the word pumped, but I am pumped to write the last few chapters of this story. do you want dancing, cowbell, and enough drama to suit an episode of hollyoaks? well, tough if you don't, because that's what you're getting.
thank you to everyone who is still reading and putting up with this pile of angst and fluff and angsty fluff and fluffy angst. you are all magnificent ♥
chapter seventeen - Elektra and Felix
It was nine in the morning when the train rolled into the station, belching steam up towards a leaden grey sky that had the all-too-familiar look of an impending thunderstorm. I decided I couldn’t watch anymore and seized Scorpius by the hand, burying my face in his shoulder, letting my hair act as a blindfold.
‘Lucy?’ he cautioned.
‘Please don’t let there be sequins,’ I said. ‘Please, no sequins!’
The train drew to a definite stop, an electronic beeping rang through the station, and then there was a hiss as the doors slid neatly open. And there he was. Pushing six feet tall in his crepe shoes, his dress sense new romantic, his face the kind that only a mother could love, and his smile as creepy as a ghostly form at a darkened window. Felix Felicis, aka Lettuce Spebbington, dressed up to the nines with his head somewhere in cloud cuckoo land.
I let out an involuntary squeal and lifted my head from Scorpius’ shoulder; he gave my hand a reassuring squeeze as if to say don’t worry. You can use me as a human shield.
Lettuce pranced towards us like a baby giraffe on rollerskates and set his suitcase down on the concrete platform.
‘Scorpius,’ he said. ‘Lucy. How delightful to see you so happy.’
He plunged his hands into his coat pockets, thrust them into the air, and then two handfuls of silvery glitter drizzled down on our heads like snow.
‘Hello, Lettuce,’ Scorpius said wearily.
‘Such a marvellous place,’ Lettuce said. ‘I saw it from the train. Such marvellous…allotments.’
‘That was Elgin,’ Scorpius said bluntly. ‘This is New New Elgin.’
‘So good they named it twice!’ I chirped (well, someone had to diffuse the tension).
‘Are there allotments in this New New Elgin?’
‘Don’t think so.’
‘We booked you a room at the bed and breakfast in town,’ I blurted out. ‘Expect you’ll want to check in soon!’
‘Magnificent!’ Lettuce cried, clapping his hands together. A small mushroom cloud of glitter erupted into the air. ‘What is there to see, to do, to be?’
Scorpius lifted the suitcase and we started to walk back towards the town. I kept a firm grip on his free hand just in case.
‘There’s the rehearsal,’ Scorpius said. ‘And, well, the pub.’
I’m pretty sure both me and Scorpius had the simultaneous sensation of our hearts missing a panicky beat.
‘Uh…Tarquin and Gwen didn’t tell you?’
‘Nope!’ Lettuce said cheerfully.
Scorpius looked like he wanted to cry. ‘We’ve been dragged into a band,’ he said. ‘There’s a rehearsal tonight.’
‘A band!’ Lettuce said, his maniacal grin increasing twofold in mania levels. ‘When are you performing? Oh, I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay out of the game for long?’
‘The game,’ Scorpius repeated.
Lettuce flung his hands out either side of him as if to embrace Scorpius, who took a nonchalant step backwards and inadvertently crushed my toes.
‘You are a born music-maker,’ Lettuce purred.
‘Uh-huh,’ Scorpius looked mortified. ‘Actually, I think my true calling is selling cameras, you know?’
‘We’re performing at the weekend,’ I chipped in. ‘Saturday night.’
‘Marvellous,’ Lettuce clapped his hands together again, and another little glitter explosion went skywards. ‘I’m here until Monday.’
‘We’ll take you to the rehearsal if you want,’ I cut in. ‘And the show. Otherwise…plenty of sightseeing to do!’
‘Oh?’ Lettuce perked up.
‘You could…go to Loch Ness!’
‘Don’t fall in!’ Scorpius said.
‘There’s Urquhart castle…’
‘There’s a fantastic graphic design collective in Inverness you could visit. They love artists.’
‘Nah, I don’t deal with designers,’ Lettuce said dismissively. ‘I deal with free spirits.’
‘Oh,’ Scorpius looked slightly crestfallen.
The ten minutes it took us to walk Lettuce to the Thistle Inn were unsurprisingly awkward. I got the feeling that Scorpius would have dearly liked to kick Lettuce in the eye and, had there been a canal in the vicinity, he might have chucked Lettuce into it. I was recalling, with some embarrassment, the brief moment when, at the age of nineteen, I’d entertained the notion of shacking up with Lettuce and some cats. Which may have been the most dangerous and interesting flatshare in the history of the universe.
We unleashed Lettuce upon the unsuspecting mistress of the B&B, gave him directions to our flat in case he was chucked out of his room for being too sparkly, and then traipsed back home. I felt a lot more tired than I was when we left. Scorpius just looked as tired and browbeaten as ever.
‘I should be off to work,’ he shrugged off his ridiculous anorak and threw it over the back of the chair. ‘I’ll be back before, er, the madness.’
‘I don’t even want to think about tonight…’
‘Well, don’t,’ he said, swooped down and kissed me, and then was out the door and off to one of his many means of employment.
I was at a loss for things to do. I didn’t want to write – I was by no means a writer and was starting to question Euphemia Flitter’s already questionable sanity – nor did I want to do the chores, fix the spellotaped hinges, or even leave the flat. Really, I just wanted to flop down onto the sofa and have someone feed me hot, comforting things, but the only other being in the flat was Mr Andrew Socks and I doubt he could have cooked anything with his tiny wee paws.
So I decided to be proactive: zombie smut it was.
The back catalogue of Amortentia Publications took trashy to a whole new level. I was actually starting to come around to the idea that they were ironic satirical parodies, and the whole thing was a giant practical joke arranged by Euphemia Flitter, who was actually a second-wave feminist whose true passion was social realist novels or something. Generally, though, they were sold as legitimate tales of legitimate romances – To Tame a Dragon-Tamer had a ‘real stories for real women’ sticker on the front, as if every other book on the planet was aimed at false women – and they all contained a certain brand of romance I could barely identify.
It was passionate, to put it mildly. Angry. Charged. If two people argued, it was a helpful sign that they’d be shagging by the end of the book. They fought, they had implausible backstories, and, nine times out of ten, they transcended some unbelievable social barriers to be in troo wub with each other. In the case of Accio Love, punches were thrown and I had to put the book down; the idea of any girl or guy going for someone who thinks violence is romantic made me queasy.
Euphemia Flitter might have ordered me to write about romance, but she’d also ordered me to write about real life. Write what you know. Something for the readers to identify with. Yet I looked at the four books she’d sent me, all those toe-curlingly tense push-me-pull-me romances and I didn’t see a scrap or shred of my own life in them. My boyfriends had generally been pretty nice. Sure, I’d argued with each and every one of them, but we’d never had the dramatic sort of Quidditch pitch showdown seen at the climax of Quidditch Confessions. Nor the ensuing scenes in the changing rooms, if you catch my drift.
It didn’t stop me wandering, though, how legitimate my take on the romantic genre might look to any casual observer. We were far from passionate, far from trysts in broom cupboards and, ahem, DIY-related shenanigans. I loved him, no doubt about it, but we were hardly novel material. How were we supposed to stand the test of time if our finesse as a couple was knowing just when the other wanted a cup of tea?
I’m not entirely sure why I was so paranoid. After all, we had what was pretty much my own personal philosophy for a healthy relationship. Love is tea and toast and sofa hurdling and not caring when your significant other develops a spontaneous taste for nicotine because you love them enough not to care. Love is taking the piss out of their flaws instead of trying to ignore them. Love is a duck and love is picking them to be on your zombie apocalypse team even though you know they’d bring nowt but misfortune upon you.
Besides, those books weren’t, as the stickers on the front suggested, written by real women for other real women about real things. These were books written by singletons pining after that one lustful encounter and that one lost love they’d never been able to forget the taste of. So, after a while, it was easy to remind myself that I had what I wanted, that I had someone whose company I felt entirely comfortable in, someone with a sense of stoic happiness and a mutual love of tea and jangly guitar music. Not, you know, some dashing hunk with Quidditch-toned muscles and a radar for vacant broom cupboards. I mean, has anybody actually tried getting off with someone in a broom cupboard? I imagine the brooms would be a bit of a nuisance. Not to mention the Doxys.
Scorpius was by no means my textbook knight in shining armour, but he was certainly my Sir Luckless in tinfoil.
In a truly spontaneous fit of philosophy, I abandoned the writing notebook and the chores and instead found myself a scrap of parchment Scorpius had been doodling on. And with the parchment on the coffee table and me hunched over it with a cheap biro in my hand, I printed the words Lucy Weasley’s Manifesto for True Love. Then I decided that was a bit formal and replaced true love with troo wub.
I found myself lost for words.
What was my philosophy? What was my manifesto for troo wub? I didn’t believe in lust. I didn’t believe in rose petals and candlelit dinners and ambient music. I believed in bacon sandwiches and dandelions and lying in on Sundays. Companionship over passion, a friend over a lover; well, that was positively archaic.
I made a note on the paper. One: fall in love with your best friend.
And then it really hit me. On the sliding scale of relationships, there’s a particular stage between friend and lover that has always made me squirm. Friends with benefits, the well-worn excuse I’d heard from boys at school countless times over as a bargaining chip for a snog. I’d never bought into it. At least never consciously.
I added another few words, the minute anxiety that had been brewing in my mind for the past year or so fully taking form and becoming legible.
And hope he loves you just as much.
And that was my philosophy exhausted for the day.
I replaced the cap on the pen, set the pen down on the table, and stared at the wall opposite. It was only quarter to ten. Blast. I considered my options: write, clean, fix. But hadn’t I already gone through it all and decided not to do a bit of it?
I twiddled my thumbs. The clock didn’t get any closer to ten. Then the doorbell rang.
I actually jumped a bit out of my seat – it wasn’t like I was expecting anyone. I hurriedly shoved my manifesto for troo wub into the back of my notebook, tossed the notebook under the sofa where it usually lived, then let myself out of the flat and down to the building’s front door, where it was considerably chillier.
Disappointingly, Lettuce was on the doorstep.
‘Lucy!’ he said, doing his flinging-arms-asunder-as-if-going-in-for-a-hug thing again. Luckily, there was a handy doorframe in the way so, instead, his hands ended up smacking the brick walls either side of the door. He didn’t seem to notice. ‘Thought I’d pop round and see your flat!’
Why did he always have to sound so excited when he spoke? Grudgingly, I stepped back to let him in – I mean, I may have been doing naff all, but doing naff all was a favoured hobby and talent of mine and I had plans to continue it well into the afternoon. Lettuce had popped that little lazy bubble with his exclamation marks and general razzmatazz.
He seemed to find a lot to comment on, from the umbrella stand in the hallway to the colour of our front door (blue). When he was finally inside the proper flat, he craned his neck to inspect every nook and cranny of it from the doorway before – as he had done earlier – clapping his hands together with glee.
‘So much character!’
I glanced over at the spellotaped hinges on the cupboard. ‘Yeah…character.’
‘Is Scorpius not home?’
‘He went to work.’
‘Oh, a shame.’
‘I’m kind of working too…’
‘I work from home,’ I said, gesticulating to the sofa. ‘I, er, write things.’
‘Ah-ha!’ another clap of the hands; the boy was like a portable rhythm section. ‘What do you write?’
I decided that it was best to tell the truth: Lettuce was the sort of person who wouldn’t blink twice at weirdness. ‘It’s…well. I suppose, in a nutshell, it’s zombie apocalypse smut.’
‘It’s a smutty romance novel,’ I said clearly. ‘Set in a zombie apocalypse. For Amortentia Publications. It’s complete crap.’
Lettuce took a while to process it, but then his face lit up. ‘Salacious!’ he said.
I felt my face go red. ‘Yeah, it’s hard to develop characters when they’re undead…’
Thankfully, Mr Andrew Socks chose to interrupt at that moment, strutting in from the bedroom and winding himself around Lettuce’s ankles. Lettuce let out a high-pitched sound like a boiling kettle, then swooped down, scooped Mr Andrew Socks up into his arms, and buried his nose in his fur.
‘Aaaaaaaa-’ Lettuce squealed. ‘He’s so cute!’
Prrrr, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Yeah, we inherited him,’ I said, as Lettuce whirled on the spot, giving Mr Andrew Socks what looked like a thoroughly good cuddle. ‘He’s good fun.’
I couldn’t quite make out what Lettuce said next, but it sounded something like eeeeee I love cats.
Fifteen minutes of cat adoration later, I’d made tea for us both and settled back down on the sofa. Lettuce took the armchair, still cuddling a purring Mr Andrew Socks.
‘So,’ I said, then realised that I didn’t actually have anything to say and trailed off into silence.
Meow? Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Your book. When will it be published?’ Lettuce asked.
I shrugged. ‘I don’t even think it will be published.’
‘Do you have a draft?’
‘I used to write a bit, you know, I might be able to give you some advice.’
I scrutinised him over the top of my mug.
‘Yeah, but, weren’t you a poet?’
‘My dear Lucy,’ he said, with a meaningful raise of his eyebrows. ‘Have you not heard of the concept of a double life?’
I got the feeling that we were straying into weird territory.
‘Of course, Witch Weekly owns the Amortentia Publications imprint, but have you heard of Accio?’
‘What, the men’s mag with the topless ladies in it?’
‘Yes. They own the Jinx imprint, which publishes pulp crime novels. I wrote for them for four years.’
My jaw had gone a little slack. ‘What? So-’
‘I wrote under a pseudonym. I did the Joe Dagger series. It was terrible. But the Galleons-’
‘Oh! Was Felix Felicis-’
‘My pseudonym, yes.’
‘Isn’t it a bit…showy?’
He gave me a disparaging look. ‘Darling, is anybody going to read a crime novel with the name Lettuce Spebbington on the front?’
Meow, Mr Andrew Socks said, and for a brief moment I was convinced that he was nodding.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘I’m supposed to come up with a fake name too…’
‘Yeah, well…Lucy Weasley isn’t exactly racy, is it?’
‘I was thinking, um…Elektra Lovelace.’
Lettuce’s eyes brightened. Which was some feat considering that he was basically a human sequin already. ‘I like it! Whimsical…but with a touch of bite.’
‘Yeah, shame the only biting in the book is done by zombies. And, er, that bit in chapter four.’
‘Oh?’ he raised an eyebrow.
‘You don’t want to know.’
There was a brief, poignant pause.
‘You know,’ I said. ‘We have a lot more in common than I thought we did.’
There was another poignant pause as we regarded each other over our mugs.
‘Right,’ I said, sliding my notebook out from under the sofa. ‘We’re going to be proactive. You’re going to read this thing, and you’re going to help me make it trashier.’
I’m amazed by how deceptively stoic Scorpius can really be. That evening, when he came home from work, he barely batted an eyelid at the sight of me and Lettuce taking on an imaginary zombie apocalypse in the kitchen.
It had been a day of amateur dramatics with bells on. Quite literally – most of our imagined zombie-fighting was soundtracked by an elusive tinkling that turned out to be an elaborate anklet of Lettuce’s festooned with miniature jingle bells. In his words, there was no point writing about a character unless you really understand what they’re going through, hence the resulting play-pretend kitchen apocalypse.
He decided to subvert the norm: I was Buck and he was Eugene. This was a bit of a relief, as I could only imagine how awkward it would be if one of us was pretending to be Fauna and we reached one of the passages devoted to, ahem, shelf-related manoeuvres. Instead, I got to step into the expensive shoes of the vanguard of the revolution, the enigmatic, the burly, the elusive private detective with the Quidditch-toned abs and the orbs in place of eyes, and Lettuce took up the mantle of Eugene the baker with his floppy blonde hair and habit of clumsily lurching about and tripping over his own feet (blatantly not based on Scorpius).
Essentially, we role-played the vast majority of my typewritten trash. And it was probably the maddest thing I’d ever done since I’d decided I fancied Scorpius and tried to make a move on him through the medium of dance. Or since I’d been kidnapped by psychotic graphic designers or maybe even since I’d made the radical decision to dye my hair the colour of Drooble’s gum; take your pick.
Jealousy is a green-eyed monster, hence my decision to give Buck the most startling pair of emerald orbs that Fauna had ever seen – green as cucumbers, green as grass, green as toxic waste, green as algae and such – and I was a bad choice for the role with my blue eyes. But I’m pretty sure I pulled off Buck and Eugene’s showdown in chapter nine with aplomb, or as much aplomb as a blonde twenty-two year old with the figure of an ironing board can possess.
I didn’t even notice Scorpius had got in until he dumped his satchel on the table and several canisters of film clattered out onto the floor. I looked up from where I’d pinned Lettuce to the floor, my foot resting on his throat.
‘Oh, hello,’ I said. ‘I’m just taking revenge on him for kissing my girlfriend.’
‘It was an accident,’ Lettuce croaked. ‘She saved me from the zombies.’
‘Seems reasonable,’ Scorpius said, with admirable calmness. ‘Where are the zombies now?’
There was a faint meowing as Mr Andrew Socks came plodding through from the bedroom.
‘There,’ I said. ‘There’s your zombies.’
I released Lettuce, who sat up and massaged his throat; I noticed that his fingernails were painted a vivid, electric purple.
‘He was being Eugene,’ I explained. ‘I was Buck. But we didn’t have a Fauna. Fauna was imaginary.’
‘Maybe I can be Fauna later,’ Scorpius said, deadpan.
‘Undoubtedly, it is a story of magnificence,’ Lettuce said. ‘It just needs a bit of sexing up.’
‘Honestly, I think I’ve sexed it up enough already-’
‘Sex sells,’ Lettuce said, waggling a finger at me (I was entranced by how his nail varnish seemed to shimmer in the light). ‘Less is not more. More is more. More more is more. Nothing is ever too over the top. There is no such thing as hyperbole.’
I felt like that little snippet summed up his entire life philosophy perfectly.
‘Less is definitely more,’ Scorpius muttered, flicking the kettle on. ‘The rehearsal’s in half an hour, you know…’
‘I should retire,’ Lettuce said, with an elaborate mock-bow in Scorpius’ direction. ‘I must change and gather my items.’
‘Items…?’ Scorpius frowned.
‘Musical items,’ Lettuce said, winking. ‘Buenos noches…we meet at the clock tower at dawn.’
‘Actually, it’s the Town Hall at five-’
‘Adios!’ Lettuce cried, and a moment later the door banged open and he’d charged away down the stairs.
‘How odd,’ Scorpius sounded like he’d been hit by a mild stunning spell.
‘What did you expect, normal?’
Once the kettle had boiled and teabags had been allowed to steep, he came to sit beside me on the sofa with a mug in each hand. I took one sip of my tea and then grimaced at him.
‘Hey, you forgot the sugar…’
‘Sod,’ he said. ‘Hang on.’
And it was when he actually returned with the crumpled paper bag of sugar and a teaspoon that I realised he looked extraordinarily down in the dumps.
‘Something wrong?’ I said, spooning sugar into my tea.
‘No. Yeah. Nah. Nahh…yeah. Magazine’s closing down.’
‘I am…redundant,’ he said, with a heartbreakingly miserable set of jazz hands accompanying the final word.
‘Oh, that’s terrible…’
‘Current economic climate,’ he said, parodying the tone of the snooty guy who read the news on the wireless every day. ‘Just can’t afford to run it anymore. Just…it’s going till the end of the month but they told me not to come back. And I have to return their tripod.’
‘Oh, that’s sad.’
‘Yeah, it was a good tripod, that.’
‘So…’ I felt I had to ask a burning question. ‘Are you going to find a new job, or…?’
‘Nah,’ he shook his head. ‘Nothing going. And it was a bit too much anyway.’
Hallelujah! I thought, but said: ‘well, we can drown our sorrows in sequins and alcohol tonight. Cheer up, we can go for a pint in the duck and a duck in the pint.’
And so we did, but not until after the band rehearsal. And wow, gadzooks, crikey, blimey guv’nor and such – what a band rehearsal it truly was. It wasn’t so much a rehearsal, more like a brilliant and terrifying piece of avant-garde performance art with a dose of audience participation and extra shortbread.
Good evenings, like all good salads, start with a foundation of Lettuce. That’s totally a lie, but it’s hard to think about Lettuce without thinking about salad. But you can’t just have a salad that’s pure Lettuce. You need to spice it up a bit, and so you chuck in tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, garden peas, celery, even beetroot if you’re so inclined. Then you might dress it and serve it in a pretty wooden bowl with salad servers or, if you’re degenerate faux-arteestes like me and Scorpius, serve it on a chipped plate with a tarnished fork thrown on top.
The Town Hall was the pretty wooden bowl, the New New Elginers were the hardy carrots, the shortbread was the tasty garden peas and Lettuce’s musical items were the beetroots of questionable taste. Lettuce was, shockingly, the lettuce, although I think that, if he were a vegetable, he would probably be an artichoke. Not that I think of my friends as vegetables, mind.
And cowbell was on the menu.
I’d never really figured out what musical genre Lettuce belonged to, although Scorpius had once referred to it as psychedelic garage grunge rock. The boy generally fitted into his own genre, and that genre was probably called something like I have no idea what this is but it is sparkly and it makes me want to cry. And I’m not sure what the New New Elginers, who were quite attached to their jigs and reels and stripped willows, really made of Lettuce and his nebula-print sequinned catsuit. Especially when he was doing the prancing thing with the cowbells, because nobody should ever have to speak of the prancing thing with the cowbells.
Suffice to say that, as soon as Scorpius nudged me and announced he was off for a fag break ten minutes into the ordeal, I followed him outside and we carried on walking all the way to the Drookit Duck so we could fall about laughing and drink ourselves silly in peace.
I was mightily glad we’d booked the creature into a B&B so we didn’t have any nasty surprises waiting for us in the flat although, too be fair, there was a curious surprise waiting for us in Lettuce’s place.
A neat Eagle owl perched upon the windowsill, a tight scroll tied to its leg; I let it in and it hopped into the flat, chirping merrily atop the toaster, whilst Mr Andrew Socks crept around on the floor below and hissed at it.
It was a letter from Rose, and an odd one at that. In recent years she’d become somewhat laconic and only really wrote when it was absolutely necessary. This was a scroll that went on for feet and feet of writing and was mostly meaningless. She talked about the weather, about distant family, about the economy, about this new place in Diagon Alley that sold the most amazing macaroons.
But I knew Rose’s tactics. There was a lot of hidden meaning, a lot to be inferred, a lot of casual concealment – a rambling paragraph about recent austerity measures cushioned the blow of the phrase I’ve lost my job, by the way, looking for a new one! She’d hidden things all over the letter, to the point where I actually re-read it to try and figure out what was going on in her life and what she was actually writing to us about.
‘What’s she saying?’ Scorpius said, slurring his words slightly. The letter had really sobered me up.
‘Well…she’s lost her job, she can’t afford to keep her flat, she’s still single, she’s worried about money, she’s got an interview at a place way up North and needs a place to stay for a couple of nights, and she’s fallen in love with the new macaroon shop in Diagon Alley.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Oh. Bad luck. Not the macaroons, I mean…Rose, unemployed?’
‘Too bad to be true, right? And why does everyone want to stay with us all of a sudden?’
‘Because we’re chuffing marvellous.’
I wasn’t sure what to write in return, so I put out some water and treats for the owl and retreated to the bedroom with Mr Andrew Socks and Scorpius, planning to reply in the morning. I mulled it over in my mind all the way through getting ready for bed and, by all accounts, I should have nodded off to sleep instantly: after all the drama of the day, I was knackered, and the room was nicely cosy, the bed and the boy I was using as a pillow pretty comfortable. But while my body felt tired, my mind was doing backflips, cartwheels, and then some. It kept leaping from one thing to another - Lettuce, the contest, the book, Rose, the imminent zombie apocalypse…
'I can't sleep,' I said to the general darkness, sometime around one in the morning. Surprisingly, Scorpius answered in an instant.
'Me neither,' he said. 'Every time I close my eyes, I see sequins.'
I sighed and shifted around, trying to find an equally comfy position that it'd still be easy to talk to him from.
'I'm still not sure what they made of Lettuce,' I ventured.
'No, me neither.’
I was actually quite glad to be awake. It was nice, lying here with his arm around my shoulders, tucked up in bed with the February rain pattering against the curtained windows. With a jolt, I realised that, four years ago, my ideal night would have involved lots of alcohol, a bit of casual hedge-hopping and probably a killer hangover the morning after. But now - well, it was only eleven at night, and already I was cosied up in bed. I felt positively middle-aged. Then I remembered Burns Night, with the whole drinking game and ensuing carnage, and a giggle escaped my lips before I could help myself.
He seemed amused. 'What're you laughing about?'
'Oh, just,' I tried to block out the memory of the aforementioned drinking game/carnage. 'I just remembered Burns night...that's all.'
Clearing my mind of drunken, poetry-fuelled escapades proved somewhat difficult. My hand rested on the curve between his neck and his shoulder; instead, I ran my fingers along his collarbone, trying to come up with something else to think about - and then my fingers passed over a dent in the bone.
'You've gone quiet,' he said, as I backtracked my fingers. Nope, definitely a dent. Right in the bone.
'What's this?' I asked, prodding at the dent, mystified.
'Oh...' he said. 'I...I fell off a swing when I was seven. Broke the bone.'
'Yeah...it was a bit daft, really,' he winced, as if the memory of the pain was still fresh in his mind. 'It was only because all the other kids...you know, they'd swing and jump off and land really neatly? Well, it looked really cool, but when I tried it...'
'Well...splat.' he said. 'I kind of crashed onto my face. My mum cried for ages, she thought I was a squib.'
'Lucky you weren't me,' I propped myself up on my elbow. 'My magic was all over the shop. I kept blowing things up.’
'But breaking your bones...'
'There's nothing more scarring than seeing teddy blow up in your face,' I said. 'Especially when it happens seven times a week. They used to make a joke of it, like, oh, hide your ornaments, Percy’s bringing the kids.’
‘You’re still a bit like that.’
‘Oh, thanks a lot.’
‘When’s Rose wanting to come up?’ he said.
‘She didn’t say. As soon as possible, I guess.’
‘We can’t stick her in a bed and breakfast.’
‘Oh, of course. I think it’d actually be good to have her here…she might tidy for us.’
‘Poor girl,’ I said. ‘I mean…I used to kind of be a bit jealous of her. She always had her life in order. But now it’s sort of…well, it’s sort of gone tits up.’
‘I think that’s just generally what life does. No idea how she’ll cope here. Probably a bit weird for her.’
‘Oh, she’ll cope,’ I said. ‘Rose…Rose was always very stressy, but, well, she bounces back. She can cope with things.’
‘I know,’ he said.
We pretty much fell into silence after that, probably both turning Rose’s letter over in our minds. And when I settled down to sleep again and my hand sort of rested on his collarbone, it found that dent again and I couldn’t stop thinking about how he’d nearly been a squib and we possibly might never have met.
a/n: arghh I am a bad bad updater. (and I update with COLLARBONE FLUFF? wuut) it's been a horrifically busy month and I had to write this in teeny weeny bits at a time inbetween exams and stuff (although my twelve hour art exam was ripe time for plotting). the good news is that I have a place at art school for next year, the bad news is that I actually have to pass my exams to go there. so I have no idea when I'll find the time to write this story, although it's definitely on the home stretch. plot to come includes: the talent show, Rose and her feelings, Lucy being an idiot, Lucy deconstructing the romantic genre a bit more, Lucy the spontaneous feminist, and the end of the world as we know it. except I lied about that last one.
anyway - thank you for sticking with this story! it's kind of typical of me to spend umpteen chapters on boring exposition and puns and fluff and then smash all the plot into the last few chapters (I did it with starving artists, I can do it again!). I hope you enjoyed it and thank you for reading ♥
and for reasons of tos...
buenos noches = goodnight
adios = farewell
chapter eighteen - tea, custard creams, and a cat
Rose looked thoroughly put-out when I picked her up from the bus stop. I mean, she was never the most cheerful of girls and she hadn’t had the happiest of times before coming to visit us, but this was teenage Scorpius levels of put-outness, from the absent frown, to the hunched shoulders, right down to the scuffed shoes. And Rose had never been the sort of person to leave shoes unpolished before.
Caught up in her thoughts, she didn’t seem to notice me for ages, and when I grinned and said, brightly, ‘hello, Rosie! How are you?’ she flinched, gave me a taut smile, and told me that she was absolutely fine, thank you. Which, of course, in girlspeak, meant that she felt awful.
Somehow, I judged that a fifteen minute walk through New New Elgin back to the flat would not be a good idea. So I offered her my elbow, gripped onto her tiny suitcase as tight as possible, and tried my best to apparate back into the flat as neatly as possible and with a minimal amount of splinching. We missed the coffee table by inches, and, after a moment or two of Rose coughing and wibbling about by way of side-effects, her shoulders hunched over again so that, once more, she looked like a poor, wilted copy of her usual self.
‘What’s the job interview for?’ I asked, as she stood miserably in the middle of the room and I filled the kettle.
‘Some tax work,’ she said. ‘One of the northerly Ministry outposts.’
‘Oh. How northerly?’
‘Wick,’ she said gloomily. ‘Only thing that was going.’
I smiled. ‘At least it isn’t John O’Groats?’
‘I’ll have to do some flat-hunting too. London,’ she added, with a humourless laugh, and I could see her eyes were welling up. ‘So expensive.’
‘Tea?’ I offered.
‘Yes please. No milk, no sugar,’ she said, and it sounded like she was just reeling off rehearsed phrases from memory.
‘Go on, take a seat,’ I motioned to the sofa, but then the lock clicked, the door swung open, and Scorpius blundered in back from Robert Bruce Primary, as bleary and paint-besplattered as usual.
‘Oh, hi Rose,’ he said, shutting the door with his foot and dumping the two hefty carrier bags he was holding.
As the kettle hissed up to a crescendo and we all stood about looking helplessly at each other, I realised that it was possibly only the second time all three of us had been in a room together since the fiasco that was the Devon holiday.
‘I picked up some groceries,’ Scorpius nodded to the bags on the floor.
I checked the closest one. ‘This is full of pipecleaners.’
‘Yeah, but the other one-’
‘It’s full of cider.’
‘I did say I got some groceries. The pipecleaners are for school, sorry.’
‘Are you teaching now?’ Rose said, her voice a little hoarse.
‘Not really,’ he said.
‘I’m…I’m going to put these away. I was in the middle of changing my typewriter ribbon too, better finish that,’ I said, lifting up the bag of pipecleaners. I figured it was best to disappear into the bedroom because I was only making it awkward; ignoring the fact that they’d once actually been a couple, and despite the fact that me and Rose were actually related, Scorpius had always known her better than I had and I got the feeling she’d rather have her impending hysterical sobbing fit in front of him than me.
My typewriter was totally fine – I hadn’t used it in a month, and was being kept temporarily under the bed, but I knelt on the floor and reached in to rub my fingers on the ribbon to get the full, inkstained appearance of actually having changed it. Through the half-shut door, I could hear Rose and Scorpius exchanging all sorts of stilted small talk about work and the economy.
It all felt a bit ridiculous. I’d abandoned my highly-strung cousin who was probably on the verge of a breakdown in the kitchen with my boyfriend who was, coincidentally, her ex-boyfriend; it felt like a plot for Amortentia Publications if there ever was some (could have used some zombies, though). And I was crawling about on the floor of the bedroom with ink on my fingers.
‘I’m really sorry to intrude on you like this,’ Rose said, her voice considerably higher than usual. ‘Just…too expensive to book a hotel and-’
‘It’s no problem.’
At that moment, Mr Andrew Socks leapt down from the bed and crouched in front of me.
Meow? He said. I translated it as: oh dim-witted mistress that feeds me, why are you here?
‘I don’t know, Andy,’ I whispered.
Meow, he said, as if telling me to get up, you coward. Your cousin is falling apart at the seams and you’ve left her in there with your equally dim-witted mate who feeds me more and is more deserving of my felines.
You know the zombie smut is probably getting to you when you start talking to your pet cat.
Scorpius must have crossed the room at that point, because I heard the kettle click off the boil and the sound of three mugs being filled. Then Rose said-
‘Is that cigarette smoke?’
Meow, Mr Andrew Socks said, or: yikes, he’s in for it now.
There was a pause from outside.
‘Yeah,’ Scorpius said, with an air of forced calm. ‘It is.’
A flash of the old Rose came back. ‘That’s foul! You shouldn’t! What about Lucy?’
‘I don’t think she minds-’
‘Have you ever asked?’
‘It’s a disgusting habit! Do you know what it does to you?’
‘You can’t throw away your life like that!’
‘I wasn’t really-’
‘Yeah, I know, hark who’s talking,’ Rose said bitterly. ‘Like I’m the best person to take life advice from.’
Meow, Mr Andrew Socks said. I took it as: she has a point there.
There was another strained silence.
‘Rose…?’ Scorpius cautioned. Then there was the clatter of a teaspoon falling on the worktop. I swept up Mr Andrew Socks into my arms – despite being a cat, he seemed like the most sensible being in the flat – and went back into the kitchen. Scorpius had Rose in an awkward sort of hug, patting her on the back whilst she cried and cried and cried into the lapels of his jacket. He met my eye and gave me a grim smile.
‘Hi,’ he mouthed.
‘I’ll do the tea,’ I mouthed back, setting Mr Andrew Socks down onto the tiled floor. At once, he darted forward and came to a screeching halt next to Rose, sniffing inquisitively at her scuffed shoes.
I finished making the tea and carted the mugs over to the coffee table one by one as Rose sniffed and coughed herself into silence. Then I took a plate from the cupboard, put a handful of biscuits on it and, after a moment’s deliberation, emptied the entire packet out. Meanwhile, Scorpius tried to steer Rose over to an armchair; a bit tricky considering Mr Andrew Socks had taken a liking to her and was twining himself around her ankles, purring like an articulated lorry.
‘Biscuit?’ I shoved the plate of custard creams into Rose’s face once she was safely sat on an armchair, Mr Andrew Socks perched on her lap.
‘Thanks,’ Rose sniffed, taking three biscuits at once.
Meow, Mr Andrew Socks said, which was probably directed at Rose and probably meant cuddle me, you snivelling human fool.
Tea, custard creams and a cat: probably the best things you can give someone to cheer them up. Scorpius gave me the thumbs up before the two of us settled into the sofa opposite Rose.
‘I’m really sorry,’ she said, shakily, before hiccupping.
‘S’alright,’ Scorpius said, subtly pushing the plate of biscuits forward a bit.
‘I – hic – came up on the Knight Bus,’ she said. ‘Really busy. Had to stand to – hic – Manchester. Did you say you were teaching?’
For a split second, I wondered why Rose was so interested in what Scorpius was doing for a living, but then I remembered how she’d never particularly approved of his artsy inclinations and was probably both surprised and overjoyed at the thought that he might have a real job.
‘Er,’ Scorpius glanced down at a splodge of yellow paint on the sleeve of his suit jacket. ‘Just part-time. Wednesdays and Fridays now.’
‘Oh,’ she said. Then she started talking very fast. ‘I hear it’s a really good profession to get into, pay isn’t amazing but apparently it’s very fulfilling and it’s not like they’re ever not going to want teachers, and I was thinking of going into it myself but I’m hardly the – hic – right person for the job.’
‘I’m not exactly – hic – friendly, am I?’ she said.
‘Well, neither am I-’ Scorpius began.
‘Oh, you’re just shy,’ she said. ‘You should keep it up.’
‘Yeah,’ I chipped in. ‘Did you ever think about it?’
‘What, being a teacher?’ he said.
Me and Rose both nodded.
‘Look, I think you’re both missing something,’ he said, looking between us. ‘Art isn’t on the curriculum at Hogwarts…’
‘Oh,’ I said, feeling a bit deflated, but Rose sat up a bit straighter.
‘You could teach in a muggle school,’ she said, suddenly brusque and purposeful, her swollen red eyes the only remainder of her fit of sobbing. ‘It isn’t as hard as you’d think, I researched it for a bit. There’s just a few extra qualifications you need and, sure, you have to be good at acting and remember not to whip your wand out, but…’
She trailed off; Scorpius was shaking his head.
‘There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I’d ever be able to control a class,’ he said. ‘And you might want to rephrase that last bit,’ he added, a smirk twitching at the corners of his mouth.
‘Huh?’ Rose frowned.
‘Whip your wand out,’ I mouthed. ‘Genius.’
It was really me who started off the hysterical giggling, although I guess, given the whole ridiculous scenario of Rose breaking down in the kitchen and me talking to a cat, we all needed a good laugh about something. But it took us about five minutes to calm down again and probably repaired all the little splinters that existed between us; now it felt like we were just friends, hanging out, having a cuppa and some biscuits together. No-one would even have to know what’d gone on between us in the past because we’d all started to forget it ourselves.
‘Guess who else is up for a visit,’ I said, once we were all done laughing and had had a biscuit apiece. ‘Lettuce.’
‘Oh, I’ve heard about him,’ Rose grimaced. ‘Why?’
‘Somehow we managed to join a band and, somehow, we’re performing this tomorrow night. Lettuce is just…helping.’
‘Helping with cowbell duties,’ I said. ‘Really, it’s terrifying. Don’t worry, we stuck him in a B&B.’
‘Yeah, about that,’ Scorpius said. ‘You’ll have to have the sofa tonight, sorry, we don’t have a lot of room.’
‘Unless you want to sleep in the bath,’ I volunteered. ‘Or Mr Andrew Socks might let you share a radiator.’
‘I think I’ll pass,’ she smiled. ‘Sofa’s fine.’
We ended up taking Rose to the pub that evening. Hardly a surprise, given how small New New Elgin was and how the pub was pretty much the only thing open after five o’clock. As far as I knew, Rose had never been much of a drinker; the sort to indulge in a tequila and lemonade now and again, but I knew for certain that she’d never been drunk in her life. When we sat down, though, and I offered to go up and get drinks, she asked for whisky, neat, ‘just to start off with’.
‘Well, I’m just taking advantage of the fact I’m in Scotland,’ she said, when I raised my eyebrows at her. So I toddled off to the bar to get two pints and Rose’s whisky, where I found knitting Prentice, knitting on his own, a Butterbeer before him.
‘Hiya,’ I said. ‘Come and sit with us, my cousin’s up from London. I’m sure she’d like to meet a real Scottish person.’
He smiled. ‘Sure.’
He tucked his knitting under one arm and helped me carry the drinks back over to the table, where he took the spare seat next to Scorpius.
‘This is Rose,’ I said. ‘Rose, this is Prentice.’
‘Nice to meet you,’ she said, leaning in to shake his hand. ‘Are you…knitting?’
‘Aye,’ he said, holding up the half-finished scarf for her to see.
She laughed. ‘That’s odd,’ she said. ‘But good.’
We fell silent and drank. I was relieved to see Rose sipping at the whisky instead of knocking it back in one; I didn’t want to be the cause of Rose’s first drunk experience.
‘So,’ knitting Prentice said. ‘What brings you to this corner of Scotland?’
‘I’ve got a job interview in Wick,’ she said. ‘Some tax work at the northernmost Ministry outpost.’
‘Wick?’ he said. ‘My ma and pa live there – I’m actually going up on Sunday.’
‘Oh? My interview’s on Monday.’
‘I can give you a lift, if you want,’ he offered. ‘I’ve got enough room in my car.’
‘You can drive?’
‘Aye…I’m leaving right after the show on Saturday, that’s the only thing.’
‘No, that’s fine,’ Rose said. ‘A lift would be very much appreciated. The fares for the Knight Bus have gone up recently, you see, and I don’t know the area well at all…’
‘Nae bother,’ knitting Prentice said.
At that moment, the door to the pub burst open and Lettuce strode in – I say strode, but it was something like a cross between an average, cocky stride and a hop, skip and jump all rolled into one. It was like he’d fitted springs to the balls of his feet. Knowing Lettuce, he probably had. I surreptitiously glanced at the floor to see if he actually had doctored his shoes in some way to achieve that bouncy strut.
His eyes scanned the pub and finally locked on us in the corner. Scorpius, to my left, was visibly cowering.
‘Helloooo!’ Lettuce crooned, throwing out his arms and galloping over to us. ‘I went to Urquhart castle today, it was fab!’
‘That’s nice,’ Scorpius said.
‘This town is fab!’ Lettuce continued, arms windmilling madly. ‘Fab-u-lous!’
‘Great,’ Scorpius smiled weakly. ‘Good to hear it.’
‘I met a friend,’ Lettuce beamed. ‘She’s called Mary and, look,’ he waggled his fingers at us; the nails were painted luminous pink. ‘She did my nails for me!’
At first, I had a strange moment of déjà vu – my chair was shaking a little bit, and it felt like I was in London again where, every so often, you could feel the distant rumble of the Underground in your bones. But this was New New Elgin, not London, and when I turned to find out where the shaking was coming from, I saw that Rose was laughing so hard that she’d had to grip onto the armrest of my chair to stop her face from smacking into the table.
Laughter really is the best medicine. So, when Lettuce waved his arms about a bit more and declared his shrill intention to get himself a drink and join us at our table, I thought: good. Rose needs all the laughter she can get.
At six o’clock on Saturday night, Scorpius was visibly nervous. Given that the two towns competing in the all magical all Scottish talent and variety show contest, region D, section A, fifth division, first round were Inverness and Elgin, the judging panel of aforementioned all magical all Scottish talent and variety show contest, region D, section A, fifth division, first round had decided that the contest itself could not be held in either town, and so we had to apparate to nearby Forres in pairs and threes, Prentice and Jock following with all the equipment stashed in Prentice’s car.
Me and Scorpius have never been especially good at apparition, so I was a bit worried about the two of us having to take Lettuce and Rose apiece by side-along apparition. Miraculously, there were no casualties, splinching or otherwise, although Scorpius lost half an eyebrow out of sheer nerves.
‘Nobody will notice,’ I said, as he dithered back in forth in front of me outside Forres’ Town Hall, fretting about how only having one and a half eyebrows would apparently ruin his chances of successfully playing the piano that evening.
‘But I look weird,’ he whined. ‘I look so weird-’
I nodded pointedly in the direction of Lettuce, who’d decided to reprise his nebula-print catsuit for the evening.
‘Point taken,’ he said. ‘But-’
‘You’ll be fine,’ I grinned, knowing that his trembling hands probably indicated otherwise. ‘You’ve played in front of a crowd before, should be a breeze.’
‘Yes, but,’ he said. ‘I was a different person then. And drunk.’
‘You had no problem reading your poetry-’
‘Drunk,’ he said. ‘Drunk, drunk, drunk...maybe I should’ve had something before we came out-’
‘Absolutely not,’ Rose chipped in; she was getting some of her old cut-glass accent back, and it sounded more like ebsolutely. ‘You’ll be fine. Don’t panic.’
‘But I’m a panicky person,’ he panicked.
‘Come on,’ I sighed, and steered him into the Town Hall.
A small audience had assembled. A very small audience. Which was unsurprising, given that, after all, it was only region D, section A, fifth division, first round. I guess most of the crowd had come from Inverness or Forres itself anyway; the vast majority of New New Elginers had been roped into the band, the dance act, or were blagging their way backstage to sabotage Inverness’ kit. New New Elgin wasn’t really a big enough town to provide a proper audience. In fact, as far as I was aware, New New Elgin’s contribution to the audience was an elderly man with an ear trumpet on the first row and his snoozing pet dog.
Scorpius, Rose and I were let through backstage without hesitation, even though Scorpius was the only one involved in any sort of performance whatsoever. Lettuce was nowhere to be seen; I kept my eye out for sparkles and hot pink nail polish, but it seemed he’d wandered off somewhere on a whim.
Backstage, it was chaos. For a concert/talent show, I guessed it was an ordinary sort of chaos – people fixing outfits and costumes, knitting Prentice lugging a bass drum in the direction of the stage, the five Jeans practising harmony together in a corner, Jock lovingly hugging a set of bagpipes to his chest. Except there was so much tartan – tartan in the everything, as Tarquin had put it – that the scene was eye-searingly painful to look at. Except for a tiny blot of monochrome in the centre, where call-me-Mary-Sue, dressed demurely in a white shirt and black skirt, stood, looking quite helpless and alone.
‘Oh, fuck,’ Rose said, and it occurred to me that I’d never heard Rose swear before in my whole life.
‘What?’ I asked.
The colour had gone out of Rose’s face. ‘I know who she is.’
It was a moment where time seemed to slow, to stretch, to expand and fold out like a concertina and burst out of the front doors, a moment where I was far too busy thinking to register, even in the chaos of tartan, anything more than the three people within my line of vision. There was Rose, her face indecipherable but pale. Call-me-Mary-Sue, with her perfect blood-red lips slack in a little zero and her doe eyes wide as if they’d been caught in headlights. And then Scorpius, who was evidently putting two and two together in his head and looked like he’d just had a glass of cold water thrown in his face.
It took me a while to figure it out, the rusty cogs of deduction grinding into action in my mind. Kensington, the high-flying Ministry work, the move halfway across the country, the enigmatic letter from the enigmatic Alexander. And what was the name of Rose’s fiancé again?
I certainly remembered it now. And I think Rose was looking at the girl who’d run off with her fiancé for the first time in months.
I was already cowering in preparation for the meltdown. Surely, Rose would go bonkers. Scream, stamp her feet, start throwing unforgiveable curses willy-nilly. She’d probably murder both me and Scorpius for the sheer cheek of breathing in the same air as her. At the very least, she would punch call-me-Mary-Sue in the face.
Rose stayed perfectly still, white as an exceptionally clean white sheet. Then she clenched and unclenched her fists.
‘I’m trying this new thing,’ she said. ‘It’s called forgiveness.’
And then, quite unexpectedly, she walked up to call-me-Mary-Sue and hugged her.
a/n: just a wee short chapter, probably about four left to go in total (yikes, being so close to the end is a scary thought). hope you liked it regardless! also, when I was browsing old ministry of sound compliations on spotify in the wee hours of the morning the other day, I happened across a song called 'nice weather for ducks' by lemon jelly...so, I played it on a whim and...I can't even describe to you how vomit-inducingly cheerful that tune is. and the video, oh, wow, I can't even. the video is apparently about karl marx on an acid trip. whilst watching it, I couldn't help but think, oh, I'm in that corner of the internet again...
anyway, thank you for reading ♥
a/n: (sneaky author's note before the chapter) and so...I've come to the end. I'm posting all three chapters at once because chapters twenty and twenty-one have been written for months - it was just this chapter that stood in the way, and it's definitely been the most difficult to write. I changed my mind on how to end this story several times, and the ending I am posting is not my original one, but the ending I think seems most natural. I'm really sorry if it sucks, I was a bit unsure of it for ages after I re-planned the story and...well. I'm still not sure I'm happy with it. but it's about time I finished...and this is me finishing. enjoy!
chapter nineteen - with bells on
I’d never thought Rose capable of such a simple thing, but I supposed that, if she’d been able to forgive me for stealing her first love, she’d surely be able to forgive call-me-Mary-Sue for stealing the only chance she’d had at getting a ring on her finger. But for a few minutes after Rose went up and threw her skinny, pale arms around call-me-Mary-Sue’s neck, I honestly thought she was going to break away only to punch her in her perfect little face.
Call-me-Mary-Sue had reminded me of Rose a couple of times, though. And it took me a while to realise that they’d both been duped by some nutcase in the Auror office they’d both fancied, the one that’d kept Rose’s flat and hung call-me-Mary-Sue’s paintings on the walls there, even though she’d apparently moved to New New Elgin with every intention of cutting him completely out of her life - and with every intention of putting as much distance as possible between her and Rose. She was just as terrified of her as I’d been. Even the perfect girls don’t get the perfect lives. Call-me-Mary-Sue and Rose were both textbook examples of how life can really, really screw you over if it wants to.
Rose was flipping livid, though, don’t get me wrong. I just think that, after everything that had been chucked her way, she’d run out of energy completely. So after all the apologising and the hugging (and the held breath, on mine and Scorpius’ part) was over and call-me-Mary-Sue had scampered off somewhere, presumably to cry, Rose came marching back over to us and I wasn’t surprised to see how both her fists and her teeth were clenched.
‘I want to hit someone,’ she said in an undertone.
‘Don’t,’ Scorpius said. ‘Not a good idea.’
But there wasn’t really much time to react to anything. No sooner had Rose reeled off the whole Rose/Alexander/call-me-Mary-Sue saga than the lights began to dim and there was a general gravitation of New New Elginers towards the stage. Scorpius gripped my hand tighter than ever, as if I was an anchor that’d keep him from playing the piano, but I shoved him in the direction of the stage.
‘Come on,’ I said to Rose, nodding towards the wings. We hurried over and stood, hidden, behind a fold of curtain; Scorpius hurried down the steps and took his seat at the piano in the far-left corner of the hall.
‘Are they any good?’ Rose asked.
I thought about it for a second. ‘No…not in the slightest.’
The curtain inched open. A spotlight hovered half-heartedly on centre stage. Someone with a thick accent announced that this was the New New Elgin band, the noo. And then they were there. Surly Kevin, sulking with a bass guitar, the teenaged Morag McLumpherty dwarfed by her own drumkit. Jock Macpherson on bagpipes, Jean Cumbernauld with a microphone at the front, and the four remaining Jeans arranged behind her, youngest to oldest, as a backing band.
There was an expectant hush. A cough from the second row. I noticed Rose was holding her breath. Then it started; a piteous wail shuddered from Jock’s bagpipes and droned through the air like an unwelcome swarm of wasps upon a picnic. A single, almost inaudible bass note from Surly Kevin, a teasingly quiet flicker of snare drum from Morag. Scorpius raised his visibly shaking hands over the keyboard, waited for his cue, and then-
CLANGGG. His fingers threw themselves desperately upon any old note, hitting a number of others at the same time. He flinched as the chord rang around the room and, for a second, the incessant, waspish drone of the bagpipes faltered – but then Jean C launched herself forwards, grabbed the microphone with both hands, and yelled:
‘Love is tea and toast!’
There isn’t really a word that adequately describes what the New New Elgin band sounded like, so I’ve compiled a list of words that almost come close. Baffling, horrifying, perplexing, rambunctious, imponderable, OTT, and, at times, unnecessary. My heart went out to Scorpius and his lonely, shivering existence tinkling the ivories down by the front row but, honestly, I was too busy laughing to send many positive thoughts his way.
Rose was gripping onto my arm for support. ‘This is music?’ she choked.
‘What?’ I grinned back. ‘Bagpipes not doing anything for you?’
I whipped my head back around to watch the unfolding catastrophe. ‘I wrote some of these words!’ I hissed to Rose. ‘Scorpius helped! Love is tea and toast, love is a Sunday roast!’
I expected Rose to pfft and laugh at the utter stupidity and mundanity of our lyrics, but she actually raised her eyebrows and nodded, looking a tad philosophical. ‘You know…’ she said. ‘I think…just before Alexander ended it, I realised he didn’t know how I took my tea. And it’s weird how much it got to me…’
‘Not weird at all,’ I said.
‘But isn’t that strange? All I ever wanted out of love was someone who’d know how to make a decent cup of tea.’
‘Not strange at all,’ I turned back to face the stage, and half-hoped she wouldn’t catch the next words. ‘It’s what I have. Or I like to think so anyway.’
‘You’re lucky,’ she said, and, like me, it was as if she hoped I could barely hear her, because I only just caught the words above the general racket coming from the stage. ‘You’re so happy.’
‘Nobody’s happy, Rose, not really-’
‘Only a bit. But that’s alright. I can live with that.’
‘I wish I could be more like that.’
A part of me wanted to say god, Rose, stop with the soul-searching and just enjoy the chaos, but a better, more cousin-ly part of me wanted to turn around and pat her on the back and tell her it was alright, who needed cheating fiancés and nine-to-five jobs and expensive flats in London anyway?
I ended up indulging both parts. ‘You’re already halfway there,’ I said, patting her on the back. ‘Now, come on, let’s watch Scorpius suffer.’
She raised her eyebrows at me. ‘And I haven’t been doing that since I met him?’
It wasn’t the weirdest night of my life, not by a long shot, but it came somewhere in the top ten of weirdest nights. Sure, it wasn’t a patch on hedgehopping, drunken kisses of life or the other assorted shenanigans I’d got up to at art school, but it was definitely weird. And I had the advantage of being something of an outsider looking in. In a way, it actually felt like I was watching a fantastically abysmal piece of experimental theatre (and, thanks to Scorpius’ taste in nights out, I’d seen a lot of fantastically abysmal experimental theatre in my time) with an audience of one: me.
I didn’t move from the wings of the stage for a good two hours solid. Me and Rose found ourselves a sturdy crate to perch on where, through the curtains, we could see a little of what was going on on the stage. After the New New Elgin shambles it was call-me-Mary-Sue’s turn to do her little piece – and she wasn’t half bad, truth be told – with her eyes all red-rimmed from crying and her fingers shaking over the piano keys. I found it a bit hard to pay attention to her sultry ballad, though, because I was too busy trying to cheer up/trying not to laugh at Scorpius.
He hadn’t coped very well with his failure at the keyboard. Once he was done sitting with his head in his hands, he sat up, leaned in close, and said in a hoarse voice –
‘I am never playing the piano again.’
Rose howled with laughter beside me. If I’d known the sight of Scorpius failing cheered her up so much, I might have paid him to travel to London and throw himself down a staircase or something to save her all her crying.
By the evening’s standards, call-me-Mary-Sue’s smouldering ballad about lost love (which seemed all the more relevant in light of the evening’s events) was hideously normal. Inverness followed up with their music entry, which was less about smoulder and more about a choir of small children who couldn’t hold a tune for the life of them. And a cuddly Loch Ness monster, which sat in the middle of the stage, looking a bit forlorn on the bare boards.
The interval came next. An inviting array of shortbread and tea urns had been spread out at the back of the hall but, somehow, it didn’t seem all that tempting – Scorpius was busy falling to pieces like a soggy tissue beside me as, in a dingy corner, the poster competition was being judged, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted Rose consuming any more sugar; she was existing on thin air and hiccups alone. Said interval was also over pretty sharply, at which point the winner of the poster competition was announced – a certain psychotic graphic design collective unfortunately triumphed over poor wee Scorpius – and the dance round started.
See, dance isn’t really my thing. Actual dance, that is – I’m always game for drunken conga lines/twisting/twirling/falling over – you know, proper dance. So I must confess that I spent most of the Inverness dance entry trying to cheer Scorpius up after the combined failings in the music and poster rounds. I barely even noticed when the stage cleared and the New New Elginers went up instead. Or even when Rose got dragged up to dance with them and stood at the side of the stage, self-consciously twirling her hands around. Not that anyone noticed her; I rather think Lettuce and his prancing thing with the cowbell kind of stole the show.
Scorpius, bleary-eyed and missing half an eyebrow, suggesting we go outside to get some fresh air. I took this to mean fag break but agreed and followed him out the side door: there’s only so much madness you can take. Especially when you’ve spent half your time writing about zombies with added sex. And we’d both seen the prancing thing with the cowbell far too many times before.
The stage door was open and it was freezing outside. We slipped out into the darkness, the music and cowbell fading behind us, our breath catching on the air and materialising in little clouds that were stained slightly blue by the light from indoors.
‘You alright?’ he said, as we walked hand-in-hand along the side alleyway, towards the town square.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Blimey, it’s dark…’
‘Pfft, I can see in the dark,’ Scorpius said. ‘I eat tons of carrots – ooft.’
His hand vanished from mine as he lurched forwards, having blundered into a strategically placed bin.
‘Right,’ I took my wand from my anorak pocket. ‘Lumos.’
Weak, watery light spilled into the alleyway, revealing Scorpius, wincing and clutching at his knees.
‘Okay, didn’t see that coming,’ he said.
I offered a hand. ‘Eat more carrots.’
‘Sure,’ he said, grasping my hand so suddenly that my concentration faltered and the light snapped out. In darkness again, I kept hold of his hand, listening to the distant ringing of a cowbell from within the hall.
‘Maybe we should have stayed to dance,’ I said, thinking of Rose’s lonely arm-twiddling at the corner of the stage. ‘We kind of took off without an explanation.’
‘Lucy…’ his disembodied voice came through the darkness. ‘You know how crap we are at dancing.’
‘Somehow I don’t think that would have hurt their chances…’
We picked our way past the dustbins and out to the front of the Town Hall. There were no streetlights here, no stars in the overcast sky – the only light was the pale gold falling from the windows and illuminating the pavements in little patches. We stood there for a few minutes, not talking, faint music colouring the quiet.
‘Weird place,’ he said. ‘But worth the move.’
I was cold, so I put my arms around him and my head on his shoulder, bringing us together for warmth and wondering, vaguely, if we were going to apparate home any time soon.
‘Good song?’ he said, sounding uncertain.
‘Not too shabby,’ I said, and he held me closer.
‘Scorpius, have you got a roll of film in your pocket?’
‘Oh, right,’ he released me for a second, extracted the offending film from his top pocket, then resumed the hug, although this time it didn’t feel like my collarbone was being crushed against a lemon squeezer.
A few years ago, I might have listened to the music coming from the hall – music with added cowbell, at that – and suggested something crazy, like, shall we dance? But, at that moment, I just felt tired and fed up, even, and I was mostly in the mood to go home and stick the kettle on, no matter what Scorpius and his imploring please-dance-with-me-pretty-please eyes were hinting at.
Egads – I thought to myself. I’m getting a bit middle-aged. Early to bed with a cuppa and a biscuit, maybe work my way through a chapter or two of smut before turning in. Forget the fact that I have this moment to stand underneath a starry sky with my boyfriend and listen to a freeform jazz-funk cowbell solo, I want to be boring.
It was a weird feeling, that. Wanting to be boring.
‘You alright?’ he said, evidently sensing my budding mid-life crisis.
‘M’fine,’ I mumbled into his jacket. ‘Ta.’
‘I dunno what it is,’ he said. ‘But…if you’re injured, um, we’ve got plasters back at the flat? And if you’re angry at someone, well, you’re best talking to them about it, if it’s Rose, well, Rose is Rose, and if it’s your family I’m steering well clear of that in case I call your dad Mr Percy again, and if it’s something I’ve done then, well, sorry and stuff.’
The boy should have become an agony aunt, I swear.
‘It’s nothing,’ I said. ‘But thank you for the life advice. Can we go home now?’
He dipped his head towards the hall. ‘What, already? It’s only nine…’
‘I want to go home.’
He shrugged. ‘Alright…if you say so.’
So it had been a long day, a long week, a long month, a long lifetime – and by the time we got home I felt well and truly worn out. We’d just made it in in time to beat the rain, which thrummed its fingertips on the windows like an unwelcome guest. When the two of us blundered into the kitchen I’m almost certain that Scorpius, being a muppet, wanted to try and get me to dance with him, even though there was no more music. I couldn’t be bothered for the life of me. I ended up shrugging him off when, as I was stirring two cups of tea, he crept up behind me and kissed the back of my neck.
Too worn out for that. Or talking. Or thinking much, really. We sat at opposite ends of the table and drank our tea in silence. The rain did enough talking for both of us.
Getting ready for bed was just another routine I had to follow. My mind was elsewhere. I turfed Mr Andrew Socks out of the bed without the slightest feeling of guilt, even as he yowled and clawed his way down the magazine furniture. I even felt ready to turf Scorpius out too when he cracked open a book and settled down to read. I wanted darkness and a warm duvet. I wanted to be alone in my head for a while.
But it was only ten minutes before he put the book aside and snapped out the light, sinking under the duvet to join me. I leaned over to give him a goodnight kiss that, well, lasted a little longer than usual. You know, maybe I felt a little bit guilty for not indulging in silly dancing to cowbell music outside the town hall earlier, maybe I felt guilty about something else. Maybe I wasn’t entirely sure what I was feeling because, yes, while I wanted to be alone with my own mind and, yes, whilst I was tired and worn out and it felt like I had been awake for centuries and I wanted to be boring – I didn’t think I wanted to be anywhere else that wasn’t there; legs tangled up in the duvet, lips pressed to his, one hand curled over his and just touching the spine of the book he’d left on the mattress.
And it’s a weird feeling, that – wanting to be antisocial and lie there with your own thoughts, and, at the same time, wanting nothing more to be with someone.
I tried to console myself by thinking it was just one of those nights.
Anyway, it was getting late on one of those nights – although not as late as it could have got – nearly eleven, maybe, and I was beginning to think that neither of us would get to sleep that night. I was worrying about the smut and Rose and the fact that we’d abandoned Lettuce in a town hall and that we didn’t have the heating on, and I bet he was worrying about money and work as per usual. And for a little bit, it felt better to lie there all jumbled up like a collection of spare parts and, every so often, look up to see the raindrops glittering on the window. So I thought to myself that it could be alright, it could be better. It’s the way things go; they have to be naff before they’re good.
And then, probably when the clock had just ticked over to eleven (and it’s something so inconsequential it shouldn’t have even mattered, until it did) his hand slipped from my shoulder to the small of my back, just under my top – and it was so cold I actually flinched away.
I sat up, yanking the duvet up with me.
‘Hey-’ he protested, grabbing at the edge of the covers as they were whisked away from him.
The air between us suddenly seemed frozen solid and I wished we had put the heating on. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I just…I can’t sit still for worrying.’
He looked a bit put-out, but dragged himself upwards, shivering slightly.
‘Money,’ I said. ‘Money and – Rose, too. I’m worried about Rose, is that weird? And Molly. Molly’s too young to marry Desmond, but I think I’m the only one who thinks that way. The smut. The zombie apocalypse! Mary-Susannah – New New Elgin generally. You lost the poster competition! But mostly the book, oh, god, the book – I can’t get it off my mind! I can’t write it, I just – all this romance, all this love stuff. I mean, scary editor lady told me to write from experience, pfft, what experience?’
It took me a moment to realise what I’d said.
‘I didn’t mean that,’ I blurted out.
‘No. I know what you mean.’
The worst thing was that he didn’t even look upset or angry, just…blank. And illegible.
‘We’re just friends,’ I said. ‘We’re just…I don’t know; we’re just…not like the others. We’re nothing like the people in books or like Molly or Desmond or anything, we’re still the same two losers who met at a dead-end art school and-’
‘Yeah, I know,’ he said.
I drew the duvet closer to my chin, realising that, if there was a bad time for this, it was probably whilst we were both sharing a bed, in various states of undress, approaching the small hours of Sunday morning.
‘I dunno,’ I sounded very small and pathetic. ‘I can’t even figure out what it’s supposed to be like and, and, well, it’s really stupid but-’
‘Yeah, it is really stupid,’ he sounded weary. ‘It was just a book.’
‘It’s more than the books, like I said, it’s Molly and Desmond and then Jean and Jock and it was even Rose and Alexander, whatisface, for a bit, and it’s everyone in the sodding world who seems to…know what they’re doing!’
‘It’s really not.’
‘I just – I feel like we’re still just best friends, only…with bells on!’
The second worst thing was that he actually laughed at this.
‘I think…I think the phrase you’re looking for is…er, friends with benefits? Friends with bells on,’ he muttered. ‘Bells.’
‘Yeah, it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!’
‘Honestly, would you move four hundred and forty miles across the country just to be with your friend with bells on? I don’t think so!’
‘I dunno, maybe-’
‘It’s not the same for everyone.’
‘I know that.’
‘Just because we’re not beating each other up or eloping or anything-’
‘I didn’t mean that.’
‘Seems like you do!’
‘No, I just – I mean – I feel like I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I don’t…I don’t know whether we’re just friends. I don’t know whether I…love you. Or not.’
There was another long, cold, empty pause.
‘Lucy…this…this will sound lame, but…I mean, I never felt like anyone wanted me around until I met you. I mean…er…I was an accident, my dad kind of…told me that. To my face. A lot. And I never really did great at school. Never even got close to doing what people expected. Couldn’t – still can’t, really – even hold a wand without blowing something up. And…I’m still convinced my parents split up because of all the stress of thinking I was a squib – I mean, how horrible was I as a kid? Nearly a squib, had to wear an eyepatch half the time for this stupid squint I had, didn’t even break things like other kids, just didn’t have magic for ages – drove my mum mad, didn’t it? I just keep letting people down. I was meant to do an apprenticeship at the Ministry, you know, or at least get some sort of training in law, I don’t know, but I kind of went, fuck you, I’m an artist and – you know? I only got on the Quidditch team at school because Al was my friend and, well, barely anybody turned up for tryouts. People used to call me scum in the corridors. And it wasn’t even like I got beaten up once, I mean…but you’ve never done anything like that, never said I was a mistake or a failure or anything even if I am – you’ve been nothing but nice to me. Even after, you know, all the rubbish things I do. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather grow stupidly old and wrinkly with. And even if you don’t think you love me, well…I love you. And stuff. More than you think I do. Because sometimes if feel like if it wasn’t for you nobody would notice if I just…vanished. You…you keep me on earth.’
And with those final words his shoulders slumped back and it was like he’d just finished telling me some huge secret he’d been bottling away for ages. I couldn’t think of a decent response, even an apology – nothing came to me.
‘Fuck this, I’m going to sleep,’ he said. ‘I have work in the morning.’
Then he fell back onto the pillows and turned away from me, wrenching the duvet back over his shoulders and lying there, perfectly still.
I lay back down again and tried to get warm in what felt like a very cold room. It was bloody hard, especially with miserable little tears stuck to my face; after a few minutes, I started to shiver. There were a horrible few minutes whilst I was lying there, trying to keep as still as possible, that I convinced myself I’d never stop shivering and that my lips had been frozen together, for not one of the words that came to my mind – god, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry – ever quite materialised in my mouth.
I kept willing him to look at me so I could apologise, but he never did, and I must have fallen asleep with the words in my mind because I dreamed about saying sorry – whatever line the dream version of me had come up with to justify what I’d said was lost when I woke up, though. Woke up in an empty bed because, of course, he had the early shift as per usual, although a niggling voice in the back of my mind told me I shouldn’t assume that so easily.
It wasn’t quite an empty bed, though. His dent in the mattress had been filled by Mr Andrew Socks and a little stack of paper tied together with a piece of string. On top there was a small card that said, simply, in a scrawl of handwriting: suggest you should read.
The paper was, in fact, all eleven volumes of the little comic book project, each about ten pages long, on crinkled brown paper – and it was all tied to a slim, blank sketchbook.
On the cover, it said ‘volume twelve’ and, below, you could just make out the faint traces of pencilled letters that had been clumsily erased – the future.
I blinked down at Mr Andrew Socks.
‘Is it blank to be filled, or is it blank to represent our lack of future? Or am I reading into it too much?’
Meow, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘You’re right,’ I said, and turned to volume one.
epilogue: part one
There is a popular saying that, if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade.
It’s total bollocks.
In all seriousness, it makes no sense. You can’t just make lemonade with lemons. Lemonade’s got sugar and carbonated water and, most likely, a ton of chemicals in it (if we’re going to be basic about this). So, really, if the saying were to make sense, it would run something like if life gives you lemons, carbonated water, sugar and a crap load of weird chemicals, make lemonade.
It still makes little sense, but it’s a bit more accurate. Because that’s kind of what life is like. You get bitter, lemon-shaped bits, you get sweet, sugary bits, you get a crap load of weird bits, and then you get this neutral, flowing stuff that holds it all together. And, like carbonated water, life tends to start out fizzy and get progressively flatter as it goes on.
Let’s put it this way: I’d had enough lemons, sugar, weird chemicals and carbonated water chucked at me in the past five months to maintain a moderately successful lemonade business. No matter how bitter the lemons, there was always a nice balance to the madness – there was always just enough sugar to keep it sweet, just enough in the way of odd chemicals to keep me strange, and just enough time to hold it all together.
The last meeting I had with Euphemia Flitter was kind of the giant, sour lemon that upset the whole lot though. Nevermind the several smaller sundry lemons that accompanied it.
Not that the day had started out well. I don’t generally believe in fate, but it was surely fate that I was so overwhelmed by lemons. I mean, you can blithely ignore the facts all you like, but when mother nature forgets her monthly gift a couple of time and you start throwing up at the most inconvenient times, well, you don’t exactly have to see a Healer to know what’s going on.
I’ll suggest another revision to the phrase. When life gives you lemons, have them with salt and tequila. Or not.
Depends on the lemons, really.
No matter how much sugar comes with them, five months of lemons does not a happy Lucy make.
After the argument – me and Scorpius could really, really never stay mad at each other for long – I’d read my way through the little comic books, cover to cover. For some reason, it had touched me more than anything to read a couple of pages about the art school and see that, in an entire book of black and white, there was a little drawing of me with my hair coloured bright blue. So I found it in me to apologise the moment he walked in the front door. And I think he took it.
Small, strange events followed, like the news that two of Scorpius’ schoolfriends had got engaged. Or the day Albus wrote to tell us about the old Hogwarts’ Professor staying in his ward and how the two of them took tea together every morning – or the broadcast on the radio about one of Aunt Hermione’s equality reforms becoming reality and the ensuing family party where, for the first time, nobody treated Scorpius like a guest. The unprecedented series of events that befell Rose and Prentice on the road up to Wick; the way the car broke down at the side of a deserted road where the fog was too thick to see more than a metre in every direction, the way Rose’s patronus went unanswered and – well, there was nothing for it. The two of them had to wrap up and spend the night in the car, Rose curled up in the passenger seat and Prentice claiming the back, until the fog cleared enough for them to wander off in search of help. There’s really no better excuse for conversation than being locked in a car together for eight hours and, when they got back, she seemed to know everything about him.
Even though Rose had been my cousin all my life, it was only now that I was starting to think of her as – you know – a friend. It was as if the whole time I’d known her she’d been wound up like a spring, and it was only when her perfect life had started to unravel that she had too. Now her mechanism was winding down, she was a much more likable person. By embracing mundanity she had somehow become more, well, human.
And there was the time Tarquin and Gwen wrote to tell us that – no, really – they’d run off to the circus and would call in sometime in the next few months. The time call-me-Mary-Sue casually, ever so casually asked us how Lettuce was getting on and if she could possibly have his address, just to write him a wee note – or the time Scorpius took his comic book project to a small illustration fair and sold forty-seven copies, how we had an owl from someone a week later with an offer of a smaller illustration project, and how, finally, he gave up the camera shop job for good.
How the issue of the Coven of Graphic Designers was raised at a bi-annual annual general meeting and how, rather awkwardly, Jock had to confess that his Elgin Egrets were a little ham-fisted with their chaser practice and maybe, maybe that stunning spell to the back had been more like stray quaffle to the back of the head – just a maybe. Just a sneaking suspicion. And maybe there had never really been any reason to suspect call-me-Mary-Susannah beyond our own truly New New Elgin paranoia.
Small, strange events – it was funny, all of it, how this band of weirdoes I’d met at art school and beyond were slowly settling down, slowly finding sanity. Unless we were, all of us, only losing ourselves even more.
Which might have been accurate. I mean, I did kind of lose myself. Er, lost my temper, even. In Euphemia Flitter’s office. Never really good for your employment prospects, that.
I’d like to say I was provoked, but, in all honesty, I turned up to the office in a foul mood – hair a ratty mess, crumpled clothes, poor makeup, an empty stomach and a sort of dry, acidic burn in the back of my throat. A mess. I hadn’t been feeling fantastic. Given the circumstances, though, I hardly expected to be anything but a mess. Keeping my breakfast down hadn’t really been easy that morning. And so I hurried into the office of Britain’s biggest magical gossip magazine looking like one of the ghouls you saw printed on their pages under a caption like – she’s lost it at last…
I think it was the way people stared when I was sitting outside Euphemia Flitter’s office. Someone had made me a cup of tea and neglected to add sugar; I sat and sipped at it, stricken with a stony grimace, wondering if I really looked as bad as those stares seemed to suggest.
And then in the office – Euphemia Flitter barely batted an eyelid at the sight of me, perhaps far too preoccupied with the tatty manuscript for Elgin Regrets I was holding. She barely even looked at me when she took it and ran her fingers over the cover, iron-faced. The woman practically gave out her own ghostly draught. I could have sworn the air temperature physically dropped when she finally did look at me.
Then she opened it and began to skim-read. I saw her eyes flutter across pages as her fingers turned them faster and faster, until the point where she missed out an entire section and skipped straight to the end and sat there, silently, for a full three minutes, eyes fixed on the final sentence. Her right hand palmed out a loose scrap of parchment from between the final pages. Then she shut the book.
She gave me a single hmmm for my trouble.
My empty stomach groaned in the silence and I felt queasy again. A hmmm was very open to interpretation, but this was not a good sort of hmmm.
Her eyes scanned the scrap of parchment she’d lifted from the back. Her long fingers and their pointed pink nails folded the scrap in two and slid it across the desk towards me.
‘You might want to see that,’ she said.
I felt too sick to move, even to lift my arms from my sides. ‘And the book? What did you think?’
‘Oh?’ she said. ‘Perfectly adequate writing style, some interesting concepts – but not what we’re looking for, I’m afraid. And your protagonist is simply diabolical.’
My head had started to spin slightly. ‘I was just trying to stick to a formula…’
‘Stick to a formula all you like, but you simply won’t sell if your readers can’t connect with your central character. You need to make them feel for her. You need to put her through hell.’
Fists clenched, I bit my lip to stop myself retorting. Was I supposed to have felt something for the characters of Quidditch Confessions?
‘I have quite a few suggestions to make, so you might want to jot these down.’
‘Just…what sort of suggestions?’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘Oh, a lot. The main suggestion is – well, rewrite. I think you should start from the beginning again. Approach the story with fresh eyes.’
I looked down at the battered manuscript on the table, the thing she’d given me five hundred Galleons to get on with – and it probably wasn’t worth a single knut.
‘Rewrite it,’ she said. ‘Just start again. Think of it as a new book. A new story.’
‘In essence,’ her tight smile didn’t even aspire to reach her eyes. ‘Write another story.’
The sharp, raw feeling was back in my throat. I think I realised I’d had enough.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘No…absolutely not. I am not rewriting that, or starting again – whatever. I’m not writing anything. I’m not going to submit to this…to this stupid brand of romance. I’m not just going to sit and blindly type out a hundred thousand words about some girl being tossed between two men like a commodity – about red roses and this stupid – this stupid idea of weak girls who need to be saved, and being saved by some six-pack with cheekbones that could slice ham-’
‘You know, I wondered for a bit if this was just some massive joke! Pulling this huge prank on women everywhere – even men! Perpetuating these ideas of – of – but it’s all legitimate, right?’
My voice was getting louder and shriller, but I couldn’t stop myself.
‘Everyone here believes it, don’t they? Are they all just hanging about waiting for their one-armed Ivan? Are they all daft?’
‘It’s just – crap! The whole lot of it! Who cares if it’s Quidditch or dragon taming or a sodding zombie apocalypse, it’s just the same flimsy three people and flimsy dreams people have been peddling for centuries! Real stories for real women? Don’t make me laugh, you’re selling a bare-faced lie-’
It felt like my brain had decided to run the cold tap through my veins instead of the hot; I had the sudden sensation of my limbs turning to ice. Only too late, I realised just what a mess I was, how my hair was lank and dirty, how my breath was stale, how you could read every sleepless night of the last few months under my eyes, how my dress was borrowed and didn’t even fit right – and I realised just what the piece of paper on the table was.
To Euphemia Flitter, it probably looked like I’d just been dumped.
She gave me a cool, imperious look, but when she spoke, her voice was surprisingly soft.
‘Do you think any of us believe it, Lucy?’
‘You’re a writer. We’re all writers. First and foremost, a writer is a liar. A writer is a manipulator and a cheat. Fiction, it’s all fiction.’
‘Do you remember what I said at our first meeting? Escapism. All of it. It’s not supposed to be real. And, if we could, we would make it real – but would we be able to sell that? I think not. Who wants to read books about dead-end marriages, about doing the dishes? Escapism is an easy way out. We’re not here to tell the truth, Lucy, we’re here to make money, and we’re making people happy along the way. We’re giving them an escape.’
‘But – it’s the same Victorian clichés-’
‘And I wish I could publish a romance novel that promoted equality, Lucy, but that is neither sellable nor realistic.’
‘Not yet,’ I said stubbornly. ‘But it will be someday.’
‘Perhaps, but we have to write for the moment.’
‘You don’t honestly believe it…’
‘I appreciate you saying that…’ I said. ‘But I really…really don’t think I can do it. I’m sorry. I…I suppose you’ll be wanting the advance back.’
‘Nonsense,’ her voice was crisp again. ‘Ever heard of the Jinx imprint? Your zombie apocalypse idea and your morbid imagination – you’d be perfect for them. I’ll send an owl to their office right away.’
I’d arranged to meet Al for tea after my visit to the Witch Weekly offices, but Al being a trainee Healer and all, he was a wee bit late, and so I had time to sit at the corner table we’d been given to gather my thoughts.
The parchment Euphemia Flitter had recovered from the back of my manuscript was in my pocket, already creased and grubby from countless readings and re-readings, the words already memorised.
Lucy Weasley’s Manifesto for Troo Wub.
One: fall in love with your best friend.
And hope he loves you just as much.
And then, below, in a scribble so frantic it was almost unintelligible-
You’re a prat and he does.
I wanted to slap myself on the forehead, but it was a little hard when I was sitting at a table in one of London’s busier (and greasier) greasy spoon cafes. And, I tell you, I did a good job of pretending everything was hunky dory when Al actually turned up, fresh from his shift, and demolished an entire plate of food in just under ten minutes. When we were done, though, and had said our goodbyes, I made my excuses and went off to the loo whilst he settled the bill.
I had a little cry by myself. I couldn’t really help it. I locked myself in a cubicle, put my head in my hands, and thought about how much of a spare part I was since I’d kind of managed to lose a perfectly good job and get knocked up before I was even twenty-three-and-a-half years old.
On the plus side, I’d had a bacon sandwich, which had improved my outlook on life by roughly three percent. Except I still felt a bit too sick to really appreciate it.
I must have been moping in there for ages, because I got some proper funny looks when I came out, my eyes all red and puffy and little damp patches of tears on my dress. Thing is, it didn’t really bother me, because I'd assumed Al would have paid the bill in a matter of minutes and would already be halfway up the road, elbows and knees everywhere – but he was still standing by the counter, a sheepish look on his face.
‘Hello, tried to pay but you know what Gringott’s are like when you swap Galleons for quids, something always goes wrong,’ he said, talking a mile a minute. ‘Think it’s just about sorted, though, should be ready to head off in a second.’
He beamed at me. I stared at the floor.
‘Y’alright?’ he said, sounding as casual as if I’d just passed him in the street.
This was the Albus Potter way of dealing with emotion.
‘Not really,’ I said.
He looked stricken. ‘But you just had a bacon sandwich!’
For a moment, I wished I lived in a world as simple as Al’s, where food was a panacea and the only concern was a gangly elbow or two – but then I realised that I was making a few assumptions, that Al probably had his fair share of problems to cope with, and that, as a Healer, he was of much greater importance to the world than I was. And there was probably more than gangly elbows to worry about in his day job.
‘Where are you headed next?’ he said, as the waitress handed him a small mountain of change and we headed for the door.
‘Um…Diagon Alley,’ I said. ‘I told Scorpius I’d meet him after his…interview thingy.’
‘Cool,’ Al said. ‘I’m meant to be going to the pub but I don’t really feel it, hectic day on the wards…’
We ambled along for a bit in silence.
‘Seriously,’ he said, in a far quieter voice. ‘You alright?’
‘Not really,’ I repeated.
He dipped his head towards a small public park to our left. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
The grumpy, antisocial part of me wanted to say no, but I was in dire need of some advice. So I followed him into the park and the two of us slumped down on a bench.
‘I don’t know why I’m sad, it was a really good bacon sandwich,’ was the only thing I could think to say.
‘How did your book thing go?’
‘I have to write another book.’
‘And I sort of…threw a hissy fit. Had a bit of a rant.’
‘I guess I’m lucky I wasn’t fired.’
‘Always a bonus…’
‘You’re very pale,’ Al suddenly said. ‘I meant to say something over tea but, well, didn’t exactly seem like the right moment.’
‘I’m not too well,’ I said.
‘I am a Healer, you know.’
‘Well,’ I fidgeted. ‘Nothing much. Just…not been feeling great. Not sleeping well. Not eating well either. Just…not doing very well. Not very well.’
He peered into my face; I ducked out the way.
‘Are you kidding? You look like an inferius!’
‘I’ll be fine!’
‘Woah, your eyes – is it drugs? It’s drugs, isn’t it, you’ve finally cracked-’
‘Al, I am not on drugs!’
‘Well, what’s up with you?’
Several words floundered on the tip of my tongue before, all at once, they came tumbling out.
‘I…I have a bun in the oven. Up the duff. Knocked up. I am with child.’
His mouth drooped open. ‘Shit! Er…congratulations?’
My face crumpled. ‘Commiserations would be more appropriate.’
‘Al, just…be a Healer for a moment.’
‘Buh…buh…’ he stammered. ‘I’m not a midwife…midhusband?’
‘Try your best-’
‘Lucy, I’m not even a Healer, I’m a mental health nurse!’
‘Then I could still really use your help!’
He patted me awkwardly on the shoulder. ‘Er…put your head between your knees? And count to five. No, ten. Fifteen?’
I did as I was told.
‘Um…I presume I don’t have to ask who the father is-’
‘Have you told him?’
‘What do you think, you twerp?’
I lifted my head and stared out into the park. ‘Probably guessed, though. He’s smart. I think he saw through my line about having a stomach bug right from the beginning-’
‘Probably. Are you going to tell him?’
‘You’ll need to be a tad more specific than that-’
‘You better,’ he said, with a sad little smile. ‘It’s not good to keep things from people.’
‘I know, Al,’ I hissed, remembering Euphemia Flitter’s words about writers being liars.
When he left me at the Leaky Cauldron, he gave me a very stern, very pointed look.
Al knows best, I suppose.
From there it was just a short wait outside for Scorpius, who reappeared in his ill-fitting suit with his battered, second-hand briefcase, glasses filthy with finger-marks and slipping off the bridge of his nose, where they’d left a small red weal on either side. My stomach did a little backflip at the sight of him.
‘Ready?’ he said.
‘Ready,’ I said, and stuck out my right arm to hail down the Knight Bus.
epilogue: part two
When the bus shuddered to a halt and deposited us out into the night with an exhausted sigh of steam, it felt like arriving at New New Elgin for the first time all over again.
It hadn't been a good day, to say the very least and possibly also make the understatement of the century. I was almost too nervous to function correctly. Someone else - possibly someone with a vendetta against my centre of gravity - was controlling my legs, and my stomach was a hard knot of anxiety that kept twisting and twisting itself tighter with each new thought that hurtled through my mind. It felt like things had slipped from my grasp once more: once more, the world seemed to be completely out of my control.
But when we disembarked and I could breathe in the mild air and link my arm through his, it all felt a tiny bit better, even if I knew at the same time that it wasn't. Truth be told, I felt bewildered. (Technically) jobless and careless, but at least I had a place to live and a near-perfect boyfriend. And a kitten. I should have been happy enough. But I wasn't, really, and I was a little too scared to think about why. Except for the enormous feeling of failure; I couldn't even hack writing smut.
But being outdoors on that unseasonably warm night in New New Elgin - I felt relatively okay then. It was one of those little scenes that I wanted to bottle and keep hidden away forever where nobody else could have it, because it was one of those scenes that felt like it had been made for us and us only.
The sky - a dusky, navy velvet, with the stars like a pot of sequins that'd been knocked over and stitched where they'd fallen, little celestial haphazards. The road underfoot, glittering, varnished, the evening's coat of rain presenting the sky with its own reflection. The distant silhouettes of trees: cardboard cutouts propped against a painted wall. It was like walking in an enormous stage set once the curtain had gone down; I half expected Scorpius to pull a lever and for the whole thing to fall away and reveal our old flat in Ealing with him yelling 'Surprise! We never actually moved! New New Elgin was just a fictional universe created by your broody, delusional mind! Wow, I really do pick them, don't I?'. I mean, I wouldn't put it past him. He's got the artistic vision and the existentialism. And New New Elgin was just a bit too surreal for comfort.
We dawdled along for a few metres before Scorpius pointed out the rather obvious fact that we weren't apparating.
'I know,' I said. 'I'm just...enjoying the ambience.'
He gave a derisive laugh. 'A dirt track is ambient?'
'It's a lovely night!' I protested. 'Look at all those stars!'
'Piles of them,' he looked skywards. 'Lettuce will be trying to wear the sky soon.'
Both too busy staring at the heavens to concentrate on the ground below our feet, we came to a halt.
'How did the book thing go, by the way?' he said, and I could hear a faint note of apprehension in his voice. I switched my gaze to the middle distance.
'Oh, you know. Well...I don't really know.'
'I guess...I guess you could say I resigned. I was fired. Or something. Scary Editor Lady said she'd forward the tripe I'd written on to a mate of hers though, says I've got a morbid imagination and a bloodlust the horror chart could benefit from.'
Now who was the one firing off the conversational double decker buses? Except not, because there was Bigger News to come with a capital B and N. But I felt like telling him both things at once would be a little harsh, so I shoved my hands into my pockets. My fingers closed around the scrap of parchment that served as the Manifesto for Troo Wub.
'Right,' he said. 'What are you going to do?'
'I dunno,' I said. 'Write zombie smut without the smut, maybe. Got to bring in the Galleons somehow.'
'Yeah…' he trailed off. 'You look bloody miserable, I didn't think you liked the smut that much-'
'I didn't like the smut. But I liked the money.'
I forced myself to meet his eye, although I still felt a bit too scared for the Bigger News. Not really scared of telling him so much, more the inevitability telling him would bring - how it'd mean I'd have to figure out what I was going to do. And how I was going to fund it. And I couldn't pussyfoot around the subject like I had done with Albus; there could be no melodramatic 'I am with child' moments here.
'There's...another thing,' I said. 'I'm pregnant.'
There was a split second of electrified silence before he emulated Al and said 'Shit!' - then threw his arms about me and lifted me off my feet, spinning me around whilst he laughed in my ear - a sort of ecstatic, surprised laugh I didn't understand at the time. But then he stopped and set me down once he realised I was crying onto the shoulder of his suit jacket.
'What's wrong?' he asked, almost sounding dizzy.
'I'm scared!' I blubbered, and I really mean it - this wasn't the dainty tears of Fauna Hewitt, but the ugly, wailing, bawling tears Rose had cried in our kitchen several months ago. The sort of crying you get when you accidentally put a lump of reality in your tea instead of sugar. Or get a metaphorical lemon chucked in your face.
'Why are you scared?' he said, but I was incapable of telling him, so instead he just hugged me again and let me sob onto his shoulders.
'Well, I'm happy,' he said. 'Delighted. Brill.'
I leaned away from him, held almost at arms' length. 'I'm - I'm not old enough! I'm not even old! I can't do it!'
'Of course you can!'
'What on earth makes you think that!'
'Well, you're pretty good at looking after Mr Andrew Socks-'
'A cat is not a child!'
‘It’s different! It’s…grown-up stuff!’
‘Well, that came out of nowhere!’
‘Buh – huh – how does growing up come out of nowhere?’
‘I didn’t expect it! I never thought about it!’
‘I – I – well,’ he floundered. ‘I kind of thought about it!’
‘In what way?’
‘I…’ he seemed a little lost for words. ‘I just think…we’re still a bit student-y, you know? Crummy flat and stuff. And…maybe we can try for something better. Maybe we can even have a place with a vegetable patch, you know? I could grow radishes, peas, stuff like that. Fresh garden peas. I dunno, it’s just been…going around my head. A bit.'
'Is that what you aspire to?' I said, wiping tears (and a lot of ruined make-up) off my face. 'Garden peas?'
'Maybe,' he shrugged. 'Why, what do you aspire to?'
'I don't know, just...being happy. And being with you.' Forever sounded too corny. 'For a really bloody long time. Until we're old and decrepit and wrinkly and don't want each other anymore.'
'A really bloody long time sounds alright to me.'
'But you want garden peas and...settling down.'
'Yeah. Although I'm easy on the peas, I could live without them.'
'You're growing up faster than me,' I said. 'I mean...next you'll be insisting on marrying me to preserve my honour, I bet my nan and grandad would love that.'
There was a tiny pause before he shrugged. 'Why not?'
'Well, they're kind of old and traditional and dig that whole thing-'
'Nah, not that,' he said. 'I mean, the whole...marrying you thing. Although not for your honour. Why not?'
I was a bit flummoxed and wasn't entirely sure of how to respond. 'You and your double decker buses,' I said.
'Sometimes you say things and...it's like being hit by a bus,' I said. 'Out of nowhere.'
'That was a bus?'
I didn't even know if he'd been joking or not. 'Marriage...not your thing,' I shrugged. 'An institution. The ball and chain. Whatever. Not for you.'
'It makes sense...financially, logically and the like. I just don't approve of the whole...I don't know, chucking money at ceremonies, empty vows…'
'Why the change of heart?'
'Well...when you've got half a share of the rent, a kitten and a sprog on the way, it's probably about time you tied the knot.'
'Garden peas,' he nodded.
'I'm not growing up faster than you,' he said. 'I'm twenty four. There isn't any growing up left to do.'
'For you, maybe, but me…'
'You do the dishes without me asking, Lucy, you must have grown up.'
'Doing the dishes,' I said. 'Garden peas. We're...old. So...should we…'
'Might be an idea.'
An unstoppable grin split my face. 'I can't take your name.'
'I wouldn't take my name either. Maybe I should take yours.'
It still felt a little like a dream.
'Do you mean it?' I said.
'I do,' he said.
'I dunno what you think but Scorpius Weasley doesn't quite sound right-'
'Nah, not that, I mean...why don't we just do it? Run off and get hitched and start looking for a new place?'
My mind flooded with all sorts of sensible comebacks (proof that I was, truly, getting old) about how first I needed to find a job, he needed to up his salary regardless, and it wasn't like either of us had the expertise or energy to cultivate a patch of garden peas from soil to plate and besides it's a bit impractical to think about upping sticks and leaving when you know you've got a 'sprog on the way, so to speak', but the first thing in my mental filing cabinet was also the first thing that sprang to my tongue.
'Gretna Green,' I said. 'When I first realised I fancied you, I...I had all these weird little fantasies of running off to Gretna Green. To, you know, tie the knot. Double knot it with a bow.'
He burst out laughing. 'A lot more sensible than me thinking about...er...gardening. And teaching. It’s kind of mad.'
'Times change, right?'
I wondered if the sky had hijacked my emotions; at that moment, it started to drizzle, just light enough to let us stay out in the open. The pressure had been building up all day though. I was pretty certain heavier rain was on the way, even though I felt like I'd got most of my crying out of my system. Sure, it's a cliché, but…perfect pathetic fallacy or what?
'So…you, me, Mr Andrew Socks, a...sprog…I'd be crap at it,' he said. 'The...family stuff. Awful.'
'What makes you think that?'
'I…' he faltered. 'The thing I remember most about growing up is having two sets of house keys. And never feeling like I had a family.'
'That won't make you a bad father.'
'Er…wait and see?'
'Nah. You'll be cool.'
The rain came down heavier. On a normal day, I might have pulled an umbrella from my bag (if I'd remembered one) or drawn my anorak tighter around myself, but this was August and I was still in my borrowed frock, still all bedraggled from London and barely waterproof - Scorpius, in his crumpled suit and tie, barely fared better. But we had shelter in way of a bus stop, and so we retreated into it and sat side-by-side, much like we had nearly four years before on a grey, miserable promenade hundreds of miles away. It gave me the feeling that my life was coming full circle somehow. Which would be wrong, because circles have no end and life - well, life is more like a bellowing concertina that occasionally glitches and repeats itself. Or carbonated water. You can really make metaphors for life out of everything.
'Nice weather,' I said.
'Yeah, if you're a duck.'
A pause, to let the conversation we'd been having sink into my mind.
'So do we have to go home and starting booking DJs or-'
'Oh, god, no,' I said. 'Ten minutes in a registry office would suit me. I should probably tell my dad. He'll weep.'
'Yeah. Just something simple. It's just a bit of paper, after all.'
'It's more than that-'
'Hark who's talking!'
'No, I mean...it means more than that. But really, it is just a bit of paper. A really symbolic bit of paper.'
'And a ring. It'd be nice to have a ring.'
He glanced at me; the streetlights sparked off his glasses. 'I should probably do this the proper way, then.'
'The proper way?'
He grinned at me, then slid off his seat and got down on one knee in front of me - yeah, that cliché - putting himself out into the pouring rain and right on the tarmac road.
'It'd be really naff if a bus came now,' I said.
'Really? I think it'd be a miracle if a bus came at all.'
'You're supposed to be proposing…'
'Then don't distract me.'
He started fiddling about in his pockets for something. I wondered if this would be the moment he'd pull the lever and the world would collapse about us, imagining that he'd have a stash of confetti in his pockets to chuck over my miserable little head - but eventually he pulled out a scrap of foil, which he twisted into a loop.
'Best I can do,' he said, turning a faintly luminous shade of red. 'I'm sorry this is so rubbish.'
'Mr and Mrs Rubbish,' I said. 'I like it better this way.'
Okay, fantastical visions of levers and stage sets aside, I wondered whether this would really be the moment Scorpius would pull a little mental lever and turn himself mute, because the moment was already so - well, spur of the moment - that it was almost ridiculous. Wondered if he was serious, and, if he was, if he'd even have the guts to do it - or if I'd kick him in the face out of sheer nerves first.
It was the weirdest thing to come to my mind, but the only thing I wanted to tell him at that point in time was how brill it would be if our unborn sprog had my looks and his brains. Because the other way around would be a bit of a disaster and a real kick in the teeth for natural selection.
He met my eye, holding up the makeshift foil ring so it caught the orange glint of streetlights; if I squinted, it was like battered, weathered precious metal, tarnished and charred and nobody would have to know it had actually once been the home of a wafer biscuit.
'Er...will you...please...be my wife?'
I actually felt like I was about to cry again - no big deal, just opening up another drawer in my mental filing cabinet to file Scorpius into - but did my best to crack a smile. 'You don't have to say please, Mr Rubbish. Yes.'
I stuck out my hand so he could slide the foil onto my finger.
'I promise I'll get you a real ring someday,' he said.
'Nah,' I said. 'I like my foil.'
The rain kept on coming down (if it really was a stage set and the whole thing was an illusion, it was incredibly waterproof) and I extended both hands to help Scorpius up: sodden, knees muddy with dirt, he took the seat next to me again.
'We may have to wait for a bit to plant the garden peas,' I said.
'Lucy, we don't even have a garden…'
'You can grow things indoors-'
'Oh, shut up!' he said, pulling me towards him to seal the proposal with a kiss.
Like when we'd beaten a hasty retreat to the bus shelter earlier to avoid the rain, our return to the flat felt like life had, once again, come full circle and we were back to square one - because on that last night in Mordenton-on-Sea, after the arguing and the drama and skip-full-of-lemons impersonations, when me and Scorpius had sat in that bus shelter and finally worked ourselves out, that last night had been a bit like having to introduce myself to him all over again. We'd gone back to the house in Mordenton-on-Sea and, truthfully, it had been a little awkward, because I wasn't sure whether to deck him by the front door or just say a chaste little goodnight and head back up to my single room in the eaves. But instead both of us had gone up there, first so I could point out the view from the attic window and how the rainwater on the glass broke up the streetlights, and then we'd lain there all night on the little bed, just talking. It had struck me some time before how little I knew about him compared to Rose, but that night was enough to fill in the gaps. By the time the sun came up and the distant rush of the motorway filtered through the window-glass I think we both felt like very different people. I did, anyway.
So life, in its glitchy, bellowing, concertina way, had evidently riffled through its back catalogues and reprised 'Mordenton-on-Sea: last night' for us, except played it a little differently. No room in the eaves, although the window was still streaked with rainwater and shot through with orange. No getting-to-know-you talk about the past or memories: this time, in New New Elgin, we ended up going without sleep just to talk about the future. And the future's a funny thing I'd never been able to visualise till that night, because it had always stopped short somewhere after my mid-twenties and never accounted for employment or flats or even the big, scary prospect of settling down. After I talked it over with Scorpius, though, and we wore the garden peas story out till it was threadbare, the future suddenly seemed to grow and stretch out before me until, yeah, I could actually see it. Tiny, distant, a washed-out blur just on the horizon - but...there.
For a long time I hadn't really wanted to grow up. But I think life was trying to make a point by chucking me lemons. Sometimes it really does take a lemon in the face to show you how far time's marched on underneath your nose.
And we wore the story out like this, until it was as soft and familiar as the sheets wound around us: Mr and Mrs Rubbish in their little townhouse with their cheap rent and their horror-writer pseudonyms and art-teacher grumpiness, with their inherited cat and missing cupboard gremlin, with their tiny vegetable patch in their tiny garden and tiny garden peas for pecking at, with their extended ginger family to pop in for visits and not-so-extended blonde family to slowly, surely repair, with their battered old Ford Granddad Weasley would surely sell them for Mr Rubbish's daily commute, with their sprog on the way who - naturally - would have to have a family name, but was a name like Abraxus really better than Arthur?
All in good time. Mr Rubbish at least must learn to drive first.
When the sun came up and dully lit the saturated skies we finally stopped pretending we were going to get some sleep and got up. But what to do with our day? No smut to write, no photography shop to toil away in. And a week until that Ministry teaching course he'd been interviewed for even started. He went downstairs for a smoke and I wrote a letter to my dad asking if they wouldn't mind having us to stay, because Mr and Mrs Rubbish had already had a coin toss-up to decide whose hometown to double-hitch the knot in and Liverpool had won out. No time like the present.
We would have been gone by midday but, of course, someone had to cat-sit and it was a bit of a hike over to Mary-Susannah's place. When would we be back to pick up Mr Andrew Socks? Oh...in good time.
The debate continued onto the Knight bus. Narcissa or Audrey? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
All in good time.
a/n: it's over, it's finally over! apart from the remaining chapters of the prequel, this is the last you'll see of this bunch of nutters...they outstayed their welcome a little in my writing notebook, and I'm happy to end it here. if you've got any questions, comments or theories about characters, plot etc beyond the end of this fic, feel free to type them into that wee box down there and I'll do my best to respond to them.
It's a pretty weird feeling to be sitting here, typing the end of the sequel to starving artists - a fic that I started way back in 2010, when I was muddling my way through school and dreaming of being a starving art student myself. times change. I made it. I'm delighted to report that I am, now, a bona fide art student, starving and all, and writing the end of this fic mostly took place late at night when I should have been working on my painting project. I suffer for my art, you know.
Some thanks are due. thanks to all the readers who stuck with me right from the start, from that clumsy first ever chapter about Lucy running off to art school that spawned a million chapters and launched a thousand ships. to everyone who reviewed, nominated and/or voted in the dobbies, to anyone who shipped or squeed or to those who requested, through other channels, a sex scene (the answer's still no). to the ones who proofread or merely listened to me rant about Mr-Andrew-Socks-this and Scorpius-that on skype in the small hours of the mornings. to the raving puffins, who know who they are. to you, yes, you, random reader. you're cool. and stuff.
okay, time for me to shut up.