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In the Distance of Bravery by Sunflower
Chapter 1: 1
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A/N: Just a warning: this is not going to be anything like what I've written previously - at all. The plot is teetering at clichéed, though I'm trying to make this my own. It's the first thing I've felt inspired to write for years, so I figured that must be a sign. It's my first ever attempt at writing a romantic comedy(ish), which is probably the most daunting writing challenge I’ve ever done. All I've ever written in my life has been angst and romance and seriousness. So bear with me. I’ll probably sneak some deeper stuff in, since I can’t really help myself, but this will be a fun, cheeky comedy - hopefully. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize.
IN THE DISTANCE OF BRAVERY
CHAPTER IMAGE CREDITS SophieScarlette@TDA
August swung in slowly that year, and I was beginning to lose it.
It was a queer, sultry summer, with the bay shivering in the withdrawal of its partner and the sunflowers blossoming marvellously in a gaudy remembrance. With the heat came a letter, one whose arrival I had dreaded for years.
I stare at the letter lying on my desk, half-expecting the jingle to begin playing again. The pink, heart-shaped confetti billows gently to the floor around me, as reality starts hauling its iron fist at me. I’m slightly at a loss for words as silence takes its place, chokingly stiff as it presses on my throat like water.
Five years of nothing and now this? I kind of preferred the silent treatment instead. Anything is better than this. I’ve heard of singing birthday-cards, but this is taking it just one step too far. The telegram morphs into a rose before my eyes, delicate and pink. I try to find him somewhere in the frilly ornament, but I’m forced to look away before the nostalgia burns me.
It was a surrender of sorts; it was my surrender to the workings of the universe. Because star-crossed lovers or not, him and I belonged only to each other in between the shadows of summer. Even in the distance, with the ocean reaching far out into the corners of our hearts, the quiet sonata of his voice still reached me across borders. It called to me, like wishes passing you in a kaleidoscope parade; it was a quiet whisper that my heart was still too young to make a mantra of but I recognized it with an ancient familiarity.
It’s quiet for too long. Their names still stretch out in extravagant letters on the flower, pompous and formal, stinging my eyes. I wish they had been erased; each letter cuts shards of glass off my heart.
You are cordially invited to –
“What was that?”
Scorpius, my best friend, co-worker and ally, is leaning in across my cubicle, eyeing the delicate rose in my hand.
“That -” I brush away the confetti hearts from my desk, willing my hands to stop shaking. “Was my invitation to hell.”
He glances at me over his dark rimmed glasses. “Sounds riveting.”
He’s wearing magenta robes and has his dirty blonde hair up in a ponytail that rivals every woman's hair-dos in the room. He looks like a fashionista who’s misguided his way into the journalists’ corner with his bulging arms and high-fashion clothes.
“It’s not. Trust me.”
I avoid his pale eyes, sweeping the paper rose into a drawer, shutting it quickly in a feeble attempt to keep the past from creeping out. When I look up, Scorpius is still eyeing me.
He’s one of the few people who has dealt with so many fucked up things in his life that he has now come to depend on drama instead of the other way around. It’s been this way ever since we met, in the middle of Mumbai’s dusty streets, eyeing tourist maps and dreaming big. We're still dreaming big, we're just not traveling the world anymore.
“Come on,” he says, thankfully not pushing it further. “Catchlove’s called an emergency meeting. Best not be late."
Miranda Catchlove’s conference room is pink enough to fulfil every six-year-old girl’s fluffiest fantasies. Toothpick smiles blind us from the thousands of celebrity pictures on the wall, each smile and pose more provocative than the next. They are all waving frantically at us when we enter the room. We take a seat at the corner of the wide oak-table, as far down the table from Miranda’s throne as possible.
Scorpius immediately pulls out quill and paper, scribbling across the paper in bold bulky letters, POSH JUICY ASSEMBLY like the overachiever he is.
Right across from us at the head of the table, stands Miranda’s chair. It’s still empty, but attention-seeking and outrageous even in its emptiness, much like its owner. Like all other of Catchlove's things, it’s pink and shaped like a beating heart. It’s an eerie tribute to my letter and life in general and I do not appreciate the reference.
“Love your nails,” Scorpius gushes, instantly making me feel better.
“Thanks.” I had them done yesterday with small sunflowers covering each long smooth surface. Now they’re nervously tapping against the smooth surface of the oak.
The room slowly fills as our crew takes their seat, each chattering loudly and carrying bucketful of coffee. Mostly women work here, delivering the juiciest gossip to the world. Scorpius is the only man working for Witch Weekly, an accomplishment he's sure to mention frequently.
At last, Miranda Catchlove enters the room, followed closely by her ever-faithful Quick-Quotes Quill. Immediately, the entire room of journalists falls silent at the telltale clickity-click of Miranda’s impossibly high shoes.
“Enchanted, enchanted as always,” Miranda peeps in her shrill voice, the door slamming closed behind her.
She is not big, nor loud, but there is something about a woman who’s both beautiful and ambitious, which beckons people to listen to her.
“So.” Miranda's smile is wide, her signature burgundy lips, puckering delicately. “I’ve called you here as an announcement was made this morning.”
Scorpius is practically jumping up and down in his seat with excitement, his Quick-Quote Quill skipping across the page along with him. “I knew it –“ he hisses in my ear. “It’s the wedding!”
Catchlove’s yellow eyes find mine across the wide stretch of the table. “Ted Lupin, Godson of Harry Potter, announced his upcoming wedding today.”
An excited murmur passes through the crowd, buzzing like a hive of bees. I shift in my seat. Miranda silences the room with one manicured hand.
“We all know how – ahem – secretive the Potters are. However, that does not mean that we will not deliver juicy details about this wedding.” Her smile stretches wickedly. “We are, after all, Witch Weekly, are we not?”
Every single head in the room is lifted in excitement. The Potters have always been considered front-news, and with a guy like Teddy, who’s practically Harry’s son, the profit of such news would be enough to pay our rent for a year.
“As an encouragement, I’ve decided to hold a teeny competition.” Miranda’s gaze sweeps the room, pausing for a second on me. “And with a competition, naturally, a prize must come.”
You can practically slice the tension in the room. Scorpius is leaning closer and closer to Miranda, practically lying across the table, his quill scribbling furiously behind him in jerky movements.
“The prize to whoever brings me the scoop, is a feature of your own choosing as well as a raise.”
There is a collective intake of air as the words leave her mouth. Like the word-hungry journalists that we are, we are all dreaming of larger paychecks and greater recognition. Even Scorpius, who’s practically running the largest and most popular column in Witch Weekly, is hanging by her every word, his eyes glinting.
“So.” Miranda’s lips curl as she straightens. “Before we begin, I’d like to hear if anyone’s got anything?”
All hell breaks loose.
People are yelling at the top of their lungs, competing for attention.
“I have the number of Ted Lupin’s old classmate…”
“His ex-girlfriend, Victoire…”
“… his Auror mentor…”
“Ted’s dog-sitter –“
I shrink further and further into my chair, watching with horror as my co-workers spit out name after name, one more useless than the next.
“Well, you certainly have ideas…” Miranda rubs her face with her hands. “Do we even know the bride’s name?”
Immediately, the room falls silent. Miranda’s gaze follows me, her mouth soft. She does not call my name, but I reach forward nonetheless, involuntarily holding my breath.
“So unprepared, so unprepared, really dreadful indeed… Disap-“
Every single head turns to look at me. I bite my lip, waiting. A smirk filters across Miranda’s mouth, so briefly that I almost think I’ve imagined it.
“Good.” She appraises me with the slightest nod. “It seems that at least Weasley has brought her a-game today.”
I can feel Scorpius’s gaze turned on me, gaping. I look straight ahead, meeting the hard stare of my boss.
“And how, may I ask, do you know this?” She presses her quill against the corner of her mouth, one perfectly shaped eyebrow raised quizzically. “Who are your sources?”
“A-anonymous – I don’t know – i-it’s hard to explain.“
I mumble the last bit, flustered and embarrassed as Miranda continues to study me.
“You’ll have to do better than that.” It comes off properly, stiff. “Journalists can’t just know –“
I nod, looking up for a bit of effort. “I – I –“
“She’s invited to the wedding,” Scorpius chimes in beside me. “I saw the invite.” I stare at him and we catch each other in a moment, my eyes narrowed at his betrayal. He looks away first.
Miranda sets her eyes on me. “Is this true, Weasley?”
I hesitate before nodding. Every single face in the room is now glaring at me.
“Just got the invite.” My ears feel about ready to pop off with the heat.
“Perfect.” A slow smile spreads across her lips. “You’ll be our eyes and ears on location. This wedding will not go uncovered. Not this time.”
The entire room is sizzling with envy at this point. I smile softly, ignoring the glares.
“She has a Plus One,” Scorpius pipes up. My smile stiffens and I begin to wonder how long he has been spying at me. I thought I had muffled the song quite splendidly. Obviously, I was wrong.
“Malfoy, you’ll be Weasley’s Plus One, then.” Miranda nods. “I expect great moving stuff, guys. That means tear-jerking fluffiness. You know our readers; housewives, housewives and more housewives.”
She nails me with her yellow eyes. I nod and try to push some sort of smile. I’ve never really liked Miranda. Beside me, I can feel Scorpius’s smile radiating.
“Always, Miranda love!”
The meeting is adjourned and everyone files out of the office in a symphony of clicking heels. I stay behind, pretending to look through some papers. Miranda is idly flipping through our latest edition, obvious to my presence. I dry my sweaty palms on my skirt, clearing my throat.
“Yes, Weasley?” She does not glance up from the magazine and I step forward, the soft patter of my heels urging me on.
“Well – um. I – I wasn’t really planning on going to that wedding, see?”
Finally, Miranda stops flipping through her magazine and looks at me, her cat-like eyes scrutinizing.
“And why would you do something as stupid as that?”
I shrink, reddening slightly. “I… personal reasons?”
Miranda stares at me in silence for a long time. Finally she packs away her stuff and gets to her feet. Standing, she barely reaches my shoulder, yet I feel like an ant being squashed slowly but surely underneath her feet.
“Weasley,” she sighs. “Do you want to rate the best dressed celebrities at the Snitches for the rest of your life?”
“Then go to the wedding.”
She squeezes my shoulder. “Write a beautiful piece about the blushing bride with all the juicy details of the drama inside the Wizarding World’s golden family. I’ll give you all you want afterwards.”
She walks to the door, pausing half-way out. “Oh, and Wesley?” She smiles sweetly. “Don't bother coming back without a story.”
She leaves me standing in the pink room with my scream still lodged in a silent surrender in my throat.
I stand there for some time, reeling at the development, trying to master the clock, the seconds, the soft ticker of my life rolling back into place. I feel like I’m on a train, slowly returning to a place I had deemed ended; considered concluded.
When I finally exit the room, Scorpius is waiting for me by my desk, excitement jumping in his eyes. I make my way slowly to the pathetic excuse of a cubicle, avoiding his eyes. I’m just… not in the fucking mood.
Scorpius wasn't always like this. Just like I wasn't always a journalist writing Do's and Don't's on page 9. But he's constant, just like I am - because really, who else do we have?
“So, everyone hates you,” he tells me with ill-disguised glee when I get close enough.
“That’s hardly a cause for excitement.”
He laughs then, softly and I can see my best friend in there again. The one who spent nights of crying in the bathrooms with me, trained me to become a proper capital woman and not the old Northerner I used to be, with my flat vowels, mumbled ‘ain’t’s and churned down nails.
“Luce –“ He grins. “we’re getting it! We’re getting the promotion. Us!”
He says it like we’re a team, the two of us, and I feel guilty about being such a twat. Because we are. A team, that is. The two runaways in London, writing shitty, mindless gossipy stuff to see it to the next day. In some way I guess we have always been running; running from expectations and our predetermined destiny.
“Um, Scorpius?” I reach forward and touch his arm, allowing a smile to play along my lips. “We need to actually write the damn thing –“
His smile is radiant as he senses the shift. He’s always been good at things like these. Silent understandings. Gentle touches that say more than a thousand words. It’s a trade taught through generations of Malfoy dinners spent wordlessly, much like being academically brilliant and ambitious is a trade from my family. But whereas Scorpius excels at his family trait, I have sadly never lived up to the legacy of my name. I remain the black sheep of the Weasley family, and now Scorpius is going to notice, too. It’s hard not to. With the Merlin’s Degrees and fame that resides in my hometown of overachievers.
“Details, details.” He waves me off with a hand. “Honey, I can find drama in a monastery.”
That’s actually true. I think about it and figure that he is the best man to help me with this, seeing as there’s no way I’m escaping this madness. Scorpius squeezes me tightly to his chest, his large form enveloping me completely.
“I’m going to be the best date ever, Lucy.”
5 years ago, Lucy aged 20
I press the button again, longer this time, tripping in my too large overcoat. In my hurry, I’ve grabbed the wrong one, so not only does the chill from the moist sea air inch itself closer to my body, burying me in the smell of fish and dirt, but I am also buried in the smell of him whenever I shrink closer into the folds.
It was his favourite jacket.
Now all I can grasp at is the smell of spearmint chewing gum and sweet cologne, and I begin to question my reasons for coming here. I’d never imagined that spearmint would be my undoing.
It’s beautiful here on the outskirts of town by the French lake, with the wide expands of French land, with the wind inking unuttered confessions onto my skin. Green stretches far out, further, until the edge between sky and ground is erased. People find themselves here; fall in love.
Finally, the door opens and reveals my beautiful cousin with her long hair flying everywhere around her head in a red-burnt halo of gold. She looks like an angel caught in the midst of a storm. My storm.
“Pardon pour le – Lucy -” Her cheery voice falters as she takes in my form. ”What are you doing here?”
”Hi Dom,” I sink.
We stand there on her porch for a while, eyeing each other. It’s been months since the last time we met, and I begin to doubt my choice of coming here. Dom is wearing a baby blue dress, girly like always and I feel completely inadequate in my jeans and hoodie. It seems that those differences between us will always stand out blaringly against the confines of our friendship. I can still see the ghost of her, filmy and hazy around the edges, as the memory of her past warnings run through my mind. The irony is cold and unforgiving like the wind pressing against my back.
Her eyes travel my form, ending at my face. ”What happened?”
Her voice is soft and it’s not even a real question. She already knows.
”Can I come in?” I ask instead. ”It’s a bit nippy outside, see,”
”Of course, sorry –“ Dom opens the door further and steps aside. “I’ve been living in France for too long – French manners are getting to me.”
Entering her house is like stepping into a foreigner’s life. It’s the first time I’ve been here, despite our lifelong friendship. A wall decorated with photographs of our family at the end of the hallway greets me upon entering. I run my fingertips along the gilded frames, circling faces, caressing the slippery planes of glass.
“Beautiful.” I breathe to them, drawing maps across our youthful memories.
”I’ve missed you.” Her voice calls out from behind me, gentle as the breeze in here.
I turn to look at her, fingers falling from our faces. It’s the first real thing I’ve heard all day. A smile spreads slowly across her face. It’s like rediscovering a long lost gift, finding her again. The joy doesn’t leave me right away and it’s the first emotion that has lingered inside my body for all I care to remember. Like a mirror, my smile must greet hers in a widespread grin, teeth upon teeth.
“Tea?” She hovers in the doorway to the kitchen.
I take a seat in the living room. Thankfully, there are no more photographs of family members in here. Only a large painting covers the wall, the harsh strokes and soft curves recognized immediately. It’s a lake with a house in the background.
“You kept it.” I smile at her when she returns with the tea.
“It’s a masterpiece,” is her only answer.
We are silent for a while. I tug into the couch, hands enveloping the mug in the hopes of robbing it of some of its heat. I feel cold to the core. It’s a coldness that won’t be erased no matter how much I try. I can feel her staring but I refuse to raise my gaze.
Dom sets down her cup, regarding me carefully. ”What happened?”
Her voice is still as soft as daisies on a field, a summer’s day and melted butter. It’s the voice that has conquered hundreds of men’s hearts, melted the frowns off professors’ faces and rendered even the toughest nuts speechless. It’s tantalizing and I feel myself sinking into the lull of her oceanic tenor.
The conclusion seems inevitable, even to her.
”So you ran?”
I finger a thread in my hoodie, refusing to meet those sky-blue eyes. ”It seemed -” I sigh. “It seemed like the least dramatic action.”
Her bell like laughter rings out into the room, spreading across the space between us. It’s deafening against the blanket of sadness that has enveloped us.
“Lucy Weasley.” Dom giggles, ”Since when have you been anything but dramatic?”
”Since now, hopefully.”
The mirth stiffens on her face. She casts a quick, searching glance at me, one that does not go unnoticed.
”Maman told me - ” she says finally in a much easier voice, a sadder one, seduction aborted. ”I’m so sorry, Luce.”
I stare at my painting for what seems like forever. I can see the brown of those eyes gleaming back at me in the depths of the whirling colours. It’s the same with all of my paintings. I could never rid myself of him and thus he followed me everywhere, even into the worlds I crafted upon white canvases. I can still recall the day I painted this one. All my paintings stick like glue to my fingers, forever merged to my skin from the first lick of paint until my very last breath. They are souls embedded into roaring shades, collecting dripping sorrow to form opuses.
”Could I stay here for a bit?”
”Here?” She arches one perfect eyebrow at me, her pink mouth puckering in worry, ”But Teddy –”
”Ted is where he should be.”
”Can I stay?”
She stares at me for a long time. Outside it has begun raining. The rain hits its raging fist against the windows as the ocean roars behind it. I eye the tears rolling down the mirror-surface, those teardrops gathering like waterfalls, poetic in their beauty. I could live here. Merge myself into the sea; reinvent myself in-between patters of rain.
Dom is still unleashing her all too blue eyes on me. I force myself to meet them. She sighs, the telltale sign that I am winning,
”Sure. Yes. Okay.” Her bell-laughter rings out again, the well-worn lines around her eyes familiar, almost comforting. “It gets so lonely here in the cottage, and Maman keeps on saying I should get myself a husband, and what’s the difference, really?”
I don’t answer since there isn’t really much to say. It’s not about being here.
It’s not about the painting that’s tearing into my heart, or the small cottage or the loneliness. I am back at staring at Dom again, waiting for something to step back into making sense. It doesn’t come, not here.
“I meant to, you know.” She looks down for a second, studies her hands, the mug clasped between them, silent for a beat. “I meant to find a man.”
There are words I could say, twenty years old, we have time, youth, beauty – but the words remain lodged in my throat because even I have trouble believing those inside this house with his eyes burning into my neck from the corner.
“Ever since – ever since Darren – ” Her voice falters. ”It’s just not the same.”
My hands find her face, pressing into the crevices there. Her breath shudders against the back of my hand and she feels fragile underneath my fingertips, ready to be washed away with the rain, one whimsical tale of beauty swallowed whole by the sea. I rest my cheek against hers. There is wetness gathering there and I press my fingertips harder against her softness, closing my eyes.
”Nothing is,” I tell her and the words end there.
“You really need to take that Apparation test.”
Scorpius eyes the cracked yellow paint dismally when I lead him to the car. I ignore him and unlock it swiftly. Inside, the air is hot and stale, with the smell of old lunchboxes and dirty socks. Scorpius rolls down his window immediately upon entering, huffing dramatically. I roll my eyes.
“It’s not that bad.”
“Oh no, it so is. I don’t even know why I let you drive me in this Muggle contraption.” He juts the miniature motorbike hanging from the rear-view mirror idly, watching as it jitters from its place. “This is just an accident waiting to happen.”
The car sputters to life, hiccoughing and screeching loudly as I reverse out. “Betty’s served me well,” I snap. “So shut up.”
“My, my,” he laughs. “We are in a mood today…”
During the fifteen-minute car-ride to my place, I tell Scorpius everything.
The sturdy stubbornness of my mother. Molly’s indifference. Inane talks over dinner. Hollow smiles. Ted, my best friend, soft and gentle like the wind. Gone. I tell him of ferries, of Grimsby and of the forest.
And for the first time in five years, I can still see Him lying in the middle of the field of sunflowers, his smile endless and ancient in its familiarity. Ready for me. Only that I’m not there, I’m back in London, stuck in-between traffic-jams and tall buildings that touch the sky.
Afterwards, Scorpius is silent for a while. I don’t try to break the silence and when we pass the Palace Theatre with its blinking lights and sea of people, signalling our arrival, it’s a relief. The chaos and blaring sounds fill some hole in me, comforting in their massiveness.
“It’ll be alright, Luce.”
Scorpius touch is gentle on my hand. I smile and focus on parking the car. Soon, the touchy moment is over, and he’s back at grumbling about Muggle-contraptions. That’s the great thing about Scorpius. He never dwells on emotions for long.
I follow him slowly to my front door on Gerrard Street. Like all houses in Soho, the front door is painted in a bright colour. Mine is purple, situated right next to the Indian Deli. Right now, the sweet aroma of onions and duck is carried through the air. Scorpius hums, sniffing the air.
“That smells so good… I could use some Indian right about now.”
“I’ll order some when we get up, yeah?”
Grumpily, he agrees and we make it the 176 steps (yes, I’ve counted) up to my apartment before getting in. My next-door neighbour, Mr Gupta, peeks through a small crack in the door as I unlock the door, breathing hard. I’ve never seen him actually leave the apartment. He lives alone. I think.
Amar Gupta’s eyes widen comically and the door closes with a snap. Scorpius huffs beside me. “Don’t know why you bother, eh.”
With that he marches straight in and throws himself on my couch with a moan. My one and only love; my cat, Mr Gobbles, whisks across the room immediately, rubbing itself against my leg. I lift him into my arms and he purrs loudly in my ear. At least someone’s happy to see me.
“I’m never drinking again,” Scorpius mutters into his hand from my sofa.
We were both out clubbing yesterday and both are feeling under the weather. Scorpius is still watching me closely. So closely that I know he's waiting for a breakdown; for a sign. He notices things about me. Just like I notice that he drinks a lot, and that he hasn't had a boyfriend all the time I've known him. And that sometimes, when he thinks I'm not looking, he'll browse the Famous Wizard Families column, searching out names. Sometimes he finds a familiar one. I'll watch him, holding my breath as every emotion thinkable crosses his face. He puts it down quickly after that. I always pretend not to notice, too afraid to approach the subject. Or maybe I'm too scared that we'll delve into my story, too.
“Yeah, that’s likely,” I snigger, dialing the number to our Indian takeout. "What happened with that bloke, anyways?"
"Which one?" he smirks.
"Funny." I shake my head at him, righting myself as the line clears on the phone. Mr Gobbles head-butts my face, purring loudly, as I place our order.
Soon, we are munching on onion rings, Chicken Tikka Masala and fajitas. It's our thing. Scorpius can't cook to save his life and he refuses to eat my organic cooking, so we order Indian every other night. Scorpius is moaning through every bite.
“This is so good, man.”
A silence passes. The words Miranda said are still echoing, sticky and heavy in my mind. Dread fills me, its weight so astute it fills my chest and I find it hard to breathe. I don’t know how I’ll manage this. The fear in the room feels corporeal to me, as human and real as me.
“I’m not going.”
Scorpius lifts his head and stares at me.
“Lucy,” he says with a gruffness belied by a certain amount of tenderness and exasperation.
6 years ago, Lucy aged 19
“Luce,” he murmurs with a tenderness only he has ever accomplished perfecting.
“Luce,” he says again, and then once more, for effort. “Lucy –“
“Huh?” I hum in between strokes of wonder. The paintbrush stretches across the white canvas, marring the innocence with swirls of colour. I can feel him watching me. His warm gaze envelopes me in a warmth I have yet to associate with someone new.
“You’re forgetting yourself.”
The bristly fibres prick and spiral rainbows upwards in endless stretches. My hand is no longer my own as I paint the dear chocolate of his eyes. My fingers are tinged with blues, crimsons and yellows, but most of all sweet chocolate brown.
He places a series of fluttery kisses on the back of my neck, murmuring my name, while my paintbrush continues to kiss pieces of love in acrylic caresses.
“I’m busy.” We stand together, a tangle of limbs. I can feel the firm stutter of his heart against my back. It’s almost as if we’re one, exhaling in beats of music.
“Busy doing what?”
“Painting.” The brush skitters across valleys and hills of green, encircling the russet colour. I stretch further, reaching into the corners to smear spins of dye, drawing rainbows in the crevices of his eyes.
“Painting who?” His mouth slides across the small stretch of my shoulder and my breath is caught in the back of my throat. I steal a glance at him. His eyes are a pale blue today, but I know better.
His lips brush the shell of my ear.
“Then paint me.”
He steals a kiss, woefully squeezing in underneath my outstretched arm. I gasp, smearing gold across the soft expand of his chin. His mouth gapes open in mock horror. His eyes are incredibly wide. He’s kind of precious like this.
His laugh rings out, full and heartfelt. I turn my brush on him instead. Laying brush strokes across limbs and smiles. He nibbles at my bottom lip and I gasp breathlessly into his mouth, smearing the side of his face in oceanic blue with my palm. This is us, stretching into forever with kaleidoscope bodies.
We sit cross-legged in our apartment, face to face. I run the bristly fibres across the smooth expand of his back and acres of skin, a loving caress to last a lifetime. At last, he coats his hand in burgundy, too. Smears it across the wide expand of my chest. He pushes away clothes, careful and gentle. Then he paints a sun on the corner of my hip.
We roll across paint, woven together in a mash. We fall onto the floor, tainting our bedroom a whirl of kaleidoscopic shades. We paint it with love.
Chocolate-brown tainted love.
“Please, I need you there – I can’t -”
Scorpius stares at me for a long time.
“This is a bad, bad idea,” I tell him.
“Mr Gobbles is coming too, though,” he tells me and lifts my beloved cat in the air. “Isn’t that right?” He meows softly as if to agree.
“I’ve trained her to go potty!” He says, “Look! Mr Gobbles, go potty in your tray, please.”
Mr Gobbles just blinks at him with his large grey eyes.
He begins licking his paw, ignoring Scorpius completely.
Finally, he lifts his fat bottom grudgingly and saunters to his tray before sitting down in it. Triumphantly Scorpius turns at me, grinning wickedly.
I don’t bother saying anything. We both know I’ll go. Scorpius is too much of a pushover to let me stay here and I need the money too much.
When night falls Scorpius leaves me, disapparating to his own place just down the street and I am left to my thoughts again. We’ll be leaving in the morning and Scorpius needs his sleep in order to be bearable during the ride to Grimsby. We're taking Betty, seeing as I don't apparate and it's way easier getting around this way.
I stand by the door after he leaves, my smile frozen in place as I stare blankly into the air. Mr Gobbles rubs his face against my leg in an attempt to get some loving, complaining loudly. I puff him aside, having not quite forgiven his betrayal from earlier.
The city lights can almost be mistaken for the moon out here. All the fog here in the city hides the moon, but I can still recall the exact shape and form of it from years of practice. The image has been drawn on the back of my skull, so familiar that I find it to be a piece missing from me. The tall buildings seem to reach up endlessly, stretching towards the skyline, much like the dreamers of this city, touching the stars. I find myself envious of their length. It’s like a stairwell to heaven, lighting the way to the clouds.
My feet carry me too easily forward until I’m at the window, resting a tired hand against the slippery surface of the window. The cold feels good against my palm. It’s the most real thing I’ve felt all day. The moon finally shows itself, slipping out of clouds, and my thoughts end up straying him like they’ve had a habit of doing these past five years. Wondering what he’s doing. If he’s happy. I do as always and push the thought down, reciting grocery lists in my mind until the soft sonata of his voice fades away to the beat of the city.
I sit there in the window sealing, staring at the city as it breathes. Mr Gobbles falls asleep draped across my feet, grumbling slightly as he tries to find a proper spot. I don’t sleep at night; instead I stare at the moon for hours, storing each curve and crater in my mind. London’s been my home for over half a decade, yet it still feels foreign at nights like these, like a shoe that’s a size too big. You’ll still be able to walk, but it never sits well with you. Not quite, anyways.
My mother told me London was too much of a city to me. That it would swallow me whole. It will kill her to know I am a journalist on a gossip magazine She believes in courage and in logistics. So does all of my family really. They believe in progress and in saving the world. My father fears it. Loathes it. He believes in solving crosswords and English breakfasts with nice sausages.
And then there's Ted.
Ted believed I could save the world all by myself. That I would stand a chance against the universe.
But sometimes, people are mistaken.
Chapter 2: 2
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
A/N: Small note: There are two years between Lucy and Ted. Vic started a year early together with Ted because she wanted to, and Daddy's girl got what she wanted. Oh, and give It's Time by Imagine Dragons a listen - trust me on this one. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize, not even the song It's Time by Imagine Dragons.
THIS CITY NEVER SLEEPS AT NIGHT
CHAPTER IMAGE CREDITS INSPECTOR.@TDA
"If I could wake up in a different place, a different time, could I wake up as a different person?"
- Chuck Palahniuk
”Well, fuck me.”
“Honest, Betty just needs a few minutes to collect herself… She’s had a long trip,” I tell Scorpius, but immediately regret my words. Bare land stretches out far in every direction. We’re stranded on a lonely road, far from civilization in Northern England. The road isn’t even a real road, just a track of dirt, leading far out into the horizon.
We’re stuck here.
“Luce.” Scorpius glares at me from his seat on the ground. “There’s steam coming out from everywhere. This car doesn’t need time, it needs a freaking miracle.”
I lean against my faithful car. “This is just… fuck.”
I try to adjust my pencil skirt, which has been twisted around my body uncomfortably. My designer blouse is no longer a sparkling white but a mucky brown, sticking to the back of my neck uncomfortably.
Scorpius takes off his shades and gives me a hard stare.
“What do you suppose we do now?”
Mr Gobbles is peeking through the window from the back seat, his white fur fuzzy in the heat, trying to gather why the car isn’t moving anymore. I glance at Scorpius, pushing around a stone on the ground.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, don’t just stand there,” he snaps. “Call someone! We can’t be that far off from your village.”
It is true. Grimsby is mere hours away. But what Scorpius does not realize is just how far from civilization we’ve come.
“Course you can. Just dial the number.”
“No. Scorpius,” I breathe. “Nobody’s got Muggle phones in Grimsby. That’s capital stuff.”
My best friend looks puzzled for a moment, it still baffles me how quickly he forgets how the rest of the Wizarding world lives.
“How do they contact each other then?”
“Owl?” He wrinkles his nose. “That’s so dull and messy.”
I shrug. “Works for them. I'd tell you to apparate there and ask for help, but you don't know where it is, so...”
Scorpius shakes his head and pulls out his quill. “Might as well get started on the article, then.” He leans back against Betty’s side. “Stranded on a desert road with a cat and a mad woman…”
I shoot him a dirty look and turn away from him, facing the never-ending road.
All around us fields of green line the road. The sight sends a pang through me. I could recognize those gangly plants anywhere. Sunflowers. They have yet to bloom and I thank Merlin that they aren’t sparkling with yellow everywhere. On the outskirts I can see the thick forest, dark and looming. It’s the beginning of the Irving woods, which stretches far across our entire land, ending well past Grimsby.
The proximity of home scares me a bit. This is the nearest we’ve been for five years. Each step I take, brings me closer and closer to home and a past I’ve had wrapped up in pretences for a very long time.
I step down the path, crossing into the green. The sunflowers reach my neck and soon enough the smell of the woods, flowers and dirt surrounds me. I spread my hands out and close my eyes, lulled by the smell of home.
I can almost see us here. Running through fields of sunflowers, playing hide and seek. The ghost of him flickers in and out of focus, a wide smile and the gap between his nine-year-old teeth. The image sticks, replaying again and again like a record gone awry, riding in the same tracks until they’re mere ridges in plastic, ceasing to hold any kind of meaning.
The memories are a bit like that. His smile becomes watery and the words that once meant so much become hollow. Then it all slips away and I’m left standing with a limp flower in my hand like a cheap skeleton imitation of happiness.
When I return to the road, Scorpius is eyeing me over the top of his notebook.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s the deal with you and this Ted, or am I just going to stick with my own version of the drama?” He drawls slowly. “You know my version’s always way juicier.”
He’s mocking me, but it’s covering over something graver, more serious. I recognize the smile playing in the corner of his lip as a dangerous one.
“Let’s hear it,” I sigh, stopping in my steps, the sunflower in my hand falling to the ground. One more broken promise of childhood innocence.
Scorpius leans back against the car. “You’re his dirty mistress. Pippa banished you. You were pregnant with his devil spawn and now the entire village knows what a scandalous whore you are.” His eyes challenge me. “Am I right?”
I force a weak smile. “You got me.”
Scorpius puts away his notebook and looks at me for a very long time. The silence is stifling and there’s a knot in my throat that won’t go away.
“Just –“ He gets up from the ground and walks towards me. “Be frank with me for a minute, yeah?”
I meet his eyes slowly. It’s a lot of work to feel nothing. For some reason, I remember it being more effortless for the past five years. Now, standing so close to where it all began, the feelings are slamming back into me like a punch in the gut.
“Who was he?”
“No one.” I sink and try to avoid his stare. Scorpius sees me and right now I just want to be invisible. A tremor runs through my lower lip traitorously. I bite it in an effort to stop the emotions.
“Right,” Scorpius says, drawing out the word like he really means it. “Because the screaming like a banshee and not talking to me during a five hour ride is totally normal Lucy behaviour. Usually you can't even get angry over a traffic jam.”
His hands smooth over mine, gently nudging the truth out of me.
“He’s my best friend.” I squeeze my eyes shut as my voice breaks. “Was – He was my best friend.”
There’s a long pause before he speaks again. When I open my eyes there’s an emotion mirrored in his that I can’t really place.
“Is there really no one you could contact?”
He’s offering me an out from the emotional turmoil and I grab it like a lifeline. An idea forms in my head, stupid and frankly a bit rash, but with the sun scorching my skin, just about any plan will do.
“There is someone…”
They arrive at sunset.
The soft pops of two people apparating break the silence of the meadow. They’re mere dots in the horizon, but before long two tall figures near us, one with dark wild hair and the other brown-haired and bulky.
“And so the infamous daughter returns.” The tallest form smiles when they’re close enough to make out our faces. “It’s good to see you, Lucy.”
“It’s good to see you too, Darren.” I smile widely as he wraps me up in his arms. My feet leave the ground and I bury my head in the crook of his neck, breathing in the scent of him. It’s sweat mixed with oil, and irrevocably him.
“Thought you’d forgotten about us. I’m glad I kept that old Muggle phone-line after all. Imagine my surprise when it rings for the first time in five years.” He nudges me playfully with a tanned arm. “I was working on a motorcycle, too, you should see her – a right down beauty she is.”
He’s still the same. It seems like nothing has changed with him, except for a single wrinkle that spreads across his forehead, and I begin to wonder what Darren Derby has to worry about. There’s a new tattoo added to the already large collection, spreading up the side of his neck. It’s been magically tampered with, pulsing in an intricate design to the beat of his teddy-bear heart.
It’s a relief, finding him again in the same place, still working as a mechanic in the Wizarding world, collecting motors. It’s more reassuring than any words he could ever say.
“I will,” I promise him, and mean it too. “Looks like I’m going to hang around for a bit.”
There’s a bit left unsaid there and I know Darren senses it too. His warm eyes are familiar, but it’s still like there’s something missing. I feel like asking about Ted, but I know it’s a bad idea attacking that hurdle only five minutes into our reencounter. So instead I squeeze his hand and gesture to Scorpius.
“This is my friend Scorpius.”
Darren greets him warmly, wrapping him up in a hug immediately. He’s always been like that. Warm. Forgiving. I laugh at Scorpius’s startled expression over Darren’s shoulder. He’s never been very affectionate or warm. Even his bulky form is nearly lost in Darren’s large arms.
Someone clears his throat behind me and I turn around, making an extra take as I recognize the face.
“You look different,” James Potter says gruffly.
He doesn’t. He doesn’t look a day older, still lean and athletic with white burnt scars on his knuckles from hitting the ground flying too often. And young. So foolishly young. I touch a hand self-consciously to my short boy-cut.
“I was trying something new. Do you like it?”
He makes a non-comment shrug, grunting slightly. “It’s different alright. I hardly recognized you in that skirt and those heels. Didn’t think I’d see the day Lucy Weasley grew into a woman.”
He smiles then and it’s like no time has passed between then and now. He’s still my starry-eyed cousin, no matter what.
"You didn't bring your flavour of the week?" I shake my head. "You disappoint me, Potter."
"I'm taking a break from beautiful supermodels." James winks. "They are so demanding -"
I make a retching sound. "Still the same, then."
I try not to notice the way his smile wavers in the corners. I’m not completely forgiven, not yet.
“What’s with the car?” He nods at Betty.
Wind stirs the hair around my face. “Haven’t you heard? I’m Lucy Weasley, Muggle-extraordinaire, now.”
His head snaps up, and he observes me differently this time.
“Another project of yours, eh, Luce?”
“I do not have projects.”
James laughs. “Are you kidding? That’s all you do.” He begins listing off former projects randomly, “There was the Japanese garden, the cleaning of the attic, and the vegetarian phase, oh, and the playhouse out back, and the collection of recipes you never used…”
“Fine,” I admit. “I like projects.”
“You don’t just like them, you’re addicted.”
I roll my eyes at him, but don’t respond. The silence stretches for a while until James breaks it again.
“Your mum’s made a grand dinner for the entire village, you know. A pre-pre-marriage dinner. You know how she gets.”
He’s staring at me with this unreadable expression again, as if he’s testing me to see how I’ll react. I check his face for sincerity before staring pointedly at the ground.
“Yup. Gone all the way. Even caught and roasted a turkey in your honour. Gathered the entire family, she did.” His mouth twists. “It’s not often Lucy Weasley returns her obnoxious arse home and her childhood-sweetheart gets married.”
He's joking. The harshness of his words burn me, and I try to smile anyways. I recognize the anger but not the depth.
“I’m sorry, James,” I tell him finally. “For leaving.”
He shrugs angrily. “Not my problem. Was your mother’s problem, though. Worried sick, she was.” He glances up at me. “We all were.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again, quietly.
James stares hard at me for a long time. “Should hope so. Can’t wait to hear what was so important that you were incapable of flooing or owling just once for five years straight.”
He and I meet eyes and I cringe at the distance in them.
“It’s complicated.” I try and it’s an even shittier excuse than the previous one.
“Nothing’s that complicated.”
I ignore him and wordlessly set out to talk to Darren who’s begun working on Betty’s sorry arse. I’m just… not ready for him.
The sun is setting just behind the trees, painting Darren’s brown hair gold-streaked. He looks like his father, but I’m not telling him that. There are some things you don't tell Darren, like there are some things you don't ask me. Darren's father is one of them.
Scorpius's snores are loud and annoying in the chilling air. He's managed to fall asleep within five minutes and is now lying in the cramp space of the backseat with his feet sticking out the window. I poke his pale feet idly in passing and he emits a rather girlish giggle.
Sniggering, I continue to the back of the car. It smells like motor oil and home here, and I close my eyes briefly at the stench, delight making me breathy. We used to hang out at Darren's garage all the time back in the days. Those warm summer-days are some of the best memories I have.
“She’s a right mess, alright,” Darren tells me when I crouch beside him.
“But you’ll fix her, right?”
“Course. I’m amazing,” he says gruffly. “She’ll be running in ten.”
And sure enough, ten minutes later, we are driving down the road with two more passengers. Mr Gobbles is not in favour of the new additions but after some coaxing from Darren (and some biscuits), she finally settles in his lap. Scorpius is thrilled, barely containing his grin as James gingerly settles in the back seat with him. He's always been a sucker for Quidditch-stars.
We arrive at Grimsby with the rain.
As soon as the bay comes into view I stop the car and step out. James and Scorpius are both sleeping in the backseat, snoring loudly. It’s bitterly cold, the rain hitting mercilessly against my bare legs, but I walk to the edge nonetheless, watching my city. I can hear Darren grumble as he gets out into the down-pour. It reminds me of how Ted used to complain about the weather.
Lucy 14, Ted 16, 11 years ago.
“Don’t you just hate this place?” He presses a hand against the window. Outside the rain has been coming down for ages. “The bay will flood.”
“It always floods, Ted.” I shrug and he turns to face the view once again, seemingly mesmerized by the storm or just disappointed by my answer.
He turns to look at me again, gauging my reaction. As if it'll launch me into a fit or something. I don't know what he's expecting from me, but he's expecting something. I don't give him anything, my face impassive. Inside my heart is hammering against my chest, panic squeezing my lungs. I can't stay here without him, but I won't give him anything, not yet.
He’s frowning, his expression grim. “As soon as I graduate, I’m moving out of this dump. Gonna find a warm place. Travel the world.”
He presses a hand against the foggy window. "Only one more year, small stuff. One more year and I'm out of here."
He’s no longer watching me but staring past me, and I can’t help but watch him instead. He seems lost in thought, already miles away, draped in accents and mystery. My eyes travel his tall form, the bulging arms and the sharp jut of his jaw. The shadow of a beard is spreading from his lips. He looks older, like the father he never knew. Like the man I have always known he would become.
It’s like I’ve never seen him before this moment and I feel alienated. He’s standing at an arm’s length from me, yet he feels eons away. I try to imagine Grimsby without my best friend, but fail.
My whisper falls away with the rain. I can't even look him in the eyes as I say it, my voice weak and trembling.
I know I won't be able to change his mind. Vic - perfect, beautiful and manipulative Victoire couldn't even change his mind and she's his girlfriend. She holds a power over him that I won't ever hold. I'm just plain-old-Lucy, a nobody.
The room is lit in silver; it’s only the two of us here, standing inside the barn. It’s been our meeting point for seven years. Ted stares at me for a long time. I would do anything to know what he’s thinking. I want him here. He’s left once and that was enough. Now we’re finally at the same place again, at Hogwarts. But he’s only got a year left and I still have three more years left of this. It seems like whenever I start catching up, he does something that throws me off again.
Ted meets my eyes slowly. He’s serious.
“I have to.”
And that’s that.
I try to recall the exact look on his face but all I seem to recall is his full lips, smiling down at me. I discard the thought and look down beneath me. The Southern bank stretches out far into the dark horizon. The bridge is the only way off the island besides the ferry. Even in the darkness it lights up, leading the way like a stairwell to capitulation.
“It’s missed you.” Darren comes up behind me, his voice soft.
“You’re sweet.” I smile up at him. “But a liar.”
“It’s true.” He nudges me. “Grimsby hasn’t been the same since you left.”
“What, free of failures?”
“No." A slow smile spreads across his face. "Free of free lager.”
My laugh comes out sad and wrong. Darren furrows his brow at me. He looks off into the horizon.
“Have you spoken to him yet? To Ted?” He asks, not looking at me.
“Have you spoken to Dom?” My retort is icy and too harsh.
His eyes meet mine.
His smile is grim and I look away again, burnt by the sadness. We don’t say anything else for a long time.
“Okay, I get it.” Darren runs a large hand through his hair, glancing at me. “You got hurt. You ran. And now you don’t know what to tell him.”
“He’s getting married.”
The whisper is quiet, almost lost to the wind, but I know he’s heard the words.
“And it’s not you.“
My mistake is to look at his face. There’s a flash of emotions running across his face within seconds. Regret. Understanding. Hurt. The hurt is as ancient as our friendship and I feel like shrugging it off, laughing or running. Neither are options, really, so I decide for honesty.
“Everyone must hate me.”
Darren pauses, but shakes his head. “No one hates you, Luce. Mostly they’re just confused. And worried.”
He could be lying. I left in such a hurry that no one seemed to realize it before I was halfway across the globe. But I let his words calm my heart nonetheless.
“How would you feel?” I sneak a glance at his face, it’s in the dark and I can just make out the defiant jut of his jaw. “If it were –“
“I wouldn’t.” He cuts me off before I finish the sentence. “I just wouldn’t.”
“Just… don’t." He turns away from the bay. “It’s not the same. She didn’t love me. She wants a rich bloke, not a poor, fatherless mechanic.”
“Let’s just get your arse home, yeah?”
Darren’s fists are clenched. We stare at each other for a long minute.
“She did love you,” I tell him, my voice trembling traitorously. “She was just scared. We all were.”
He looks me in the eye. “I know.”
“And it is the same.”
Underneath us, the ferry makes its last trip of the day across the waters, its light casting a golden glow across the rippling water. I breathe the salty air in, almost feeling his touch sweep across my skin, carried by the breeze.
“He's missed you.” The way Darren says it lets me know that he’s been itching to tell me this ever since I called. “And he needs his best friend.”
“I’m not… his best friend any more.” I take a deep breath. ”I’m not sure I’m anything anymore.”
I avoid his eyes so that I won’t see the disappointment there. From here the ferry looks like a shooting star, inching its way across the sky slowly. I would make a wish, but they’ve never made a difference.
“He doesn’t need me,” I tell him again sternly, as if to prove a point.
Darren just looks at me sadly.
Lucy aged 9, Ted 11, 16 years ago
“What if I don’t get it?” My bottom lip tremors as I stare at his form.
Ted sighs, pulling hard at the oars. The small boat jitters gently in the water as it moves through it. The bridge is towering up in front of us, larger than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. Ted pauses for a moment, gauging its size, he glances back at me.
“You don’t know that.”
It’s been the same discussion for the past month, ever since three self-righteous owls arrived at the Weasley households in the early morning mist.
“You don’t! You got the letter, Molly got it, Vicky got the letter –“ I try and let the discontent out of my voice but find it to be of no avail. “It’s not fair –“
“And you’ll get it! Stop being a baby.”
There’s something different to his voice. I eye him carefully, almost too afraid to look too closely. Ted has been quiet lately, he’s always been quiet, but this feels different. I‘ve been having trouble following ever since that letter. Something inside it changed him. I had only time to chance a look at the sinewy writing before Ted had pulled me out the door to play. But I know there is something fishy about it. It has stolen my best friend and I’m not about to be forgiving about that any time soon.
“Stop saying I’m a baby.”
“You so are. I heard what Vicky said behind the shed.” I look away from him, letting my eyes run the wide expand of blue. “I wish…”
“Two years, Luce. They’ll pass right by you.” He reaches over to squeeze my arm, but I look away.
Two years. Two years is a lot. Baby Roxanne is two years old. That’s her entire life I'll have to wait. The number keeps beating around my head, again and again. It never used to make a difference and now it’s all that seems to matter.
“What if I’m a Squib? James is already teasing me for not having shown magic yet, I don’t need anything more to make me a freak.”
“You’re not a squib.”
Around us, August is bleeding out, eroding into the skyline as the sea swallows the sun. It lights a halo around his purple hair, shadowing me in a warm glow. Shadowing me in Ted’s glow. We’ve run off, taking the old boat out onto the river. There’s a hole in the bottom of it and I cover it closely with my foot, afraid to move even the slightest. I'm careful like that. Mum calls it thoughtful, James calls it being a wussy. I focus my stare on the hole, not meeting Ted's stare.
“When have I ever lied to you?”
Ted regards me for a long time, his mouth set in a straight line. I recognize the stare as determination and realize with another pang to my chest that this will be one of the last times I’ll see my best friend for months.
“You lied to me about the ghoul in the basement – there isn’t one!”
“That was just for laughs, Short Stuff.”
“It wasn’t funny.”
Ted stops rowing and leans over until his face is inches away from mine. I stare at my hand gripping the railing to avoid his gaze.
“Hey,” he says, reaching over and nudging my chin so that I meet his eyes. They’re his own colour today, something that hardly happens. It soothes me somehow, knowing this. “When have I lied to you about something important?”
I aim for a smile, but it turns into a grimace instead. He hasn’t begun rowing again and we’re lying still in the middle of the bay, swaying softly in the water.
“You’ll get in. You’re filled to the brim with magic.”
I look up. “Really?”
“Yes, Lucy.” Ted smiles. “Really.”
“And you’re not just saying this because you’re my best friend?”
“I’m not, honest.”
“Okay.” I nod finally.
“Okay.” He smiles and begins rowing again. "And if they say otherwise, I'll just make them let you in anyways."
My eyes are wide. "You can do that?"
"Of course. You can do anything once you're in."
My shoulders relax and I smile at him. "I can't wait to go there with you."
"It's going to be wicked."
I frown, "But you'll be above me in years."
"James says that the older students don't talk to first years."
"Nah." Ted shakes his head. "You're my best friend. 'Course I'm going to talk to you. I'll teach you tricks in the holidays, so you'll be the best in your year."
Above us, the moon has finally emerged, dim with clouds as it bathes us in a soft silver light. Ted is still smiling at me, his eyes distant. He’s already dreaming of Hogwarts and I feel the envy curling in my stomach.
“Do it again?” I ask him. He shifts in his seat.
I fidget with my hair, pouting slightly. “Come on, Ted, please?”
“Fine.” He sighs. I beam at him and watch in awe as he squeezes his eyes shut. Before long, his ears start squeaking loudly, dotted by purple polka dots.
I giggle madly and soon enough, Ted joins in, guffawing. He begins rowing again, long strides, as he returns us to shore. A silence settles between us, heavy with something I’m not sure I understand.
We arrive at the harbour, gliding soundlessly into a free spot. Ted leans back against the boat, his eyes move across the expand of my face. His expression softens for a moment.
“I’m going to miss you, Short Stuff.”
The seriousness in his eyes lets me know that it’s all going to change now. I eye the distance between us in the boat. Even though it’s only about a feet, it feels larger, stretching far out.
“Do you think we’ll grow apart like Mum told me?” I blurt out, voicing the doubt left in me since the conversation my mother had with me this morning over breakfast.
“Course we won’t.” He sounds so sure. I swallow, and nod the smallest nod in the world.
“Because she’s nearly always right, you know.”
He looks down between us. “I know.” His voice is barely a whisper, ”But not… not this time.”
This is how I know he’ll be fine. He’ll end up in Gryffindor like his parents, because he’s the bravest person I know. Even braver than Uncle Harry, and he’s a hero. I don’t exactly know what it was he did. Ted knows. I haven’t quite forgiven him for not telling me. We usually share all our secrets, but not lately. Lately, he's been eyeing me differently. He knows things now. Grown-up things.
“She didn’t have to say that to you.” I fidget with my jacket.
Ted lifts an oar out of the water, not meeting my eyes. “There are many things your mother says that she doesn’t have to say.”
“Like when she told Aunt Hermione her new glasses were ugly?”
Ted looks up for a moment, smiling wryly. “A bit like that, yeah.”
"Come on." Darren rests a gentle hand on my arm. "It's getting late."
With a last withering look at the slumbering city below our feet, we walk back to the car and set for home.
In the back seat, Mr Gobbles purrs loudly as Betty scrambles to life with a tired roar. James's head is now resting awkwardly against Scorpius's shoulder. There's a wet patch of drool right underneath his mouth. Smiling, I turn to face my city.
My fingertips press against the steering wheel gently, but persistently. Ahead, the city seems to reach out in the darkness, stretching its arms outwards.
I can feel Darren staring at me silently. I push down the speeder, my shoulders giving as the car sets into motion.
“Let’s go home.”
Chapter 3: 3
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
A/N: This one was really hard to finish. It’s one of those chapters that you just want to feel right. Scenes have been cut out, added, mixed around and here it is. From now on the flashbacks will come chronologically, starting from when they’re 15 and 17 and Ted is about to start his last year at Hogwarts. And there will come answers, eventually. Be patient. All shall be revealed.
Give 9 Crimes by Damian Rice a listen. It’s sad, but so perfect.
JUST A WEE SCOTTISH GIRL
CHAPTER IMAGE CREDITS INSPECTOR.@TDA
Audrey Weasley barely reaches my shoulder and yet she still scares the crap out of me.
“Mum…” I trudge down to the door nervously, eyeing the broken face of my mother. It’s like watching a fuse burning down, watching her mood brew. Easy to predict and terrifying.
She seems baffled for a long time, just staring at us. Scorpius trips nervously beside me. The fame of my dear mother has preceded her to London and Scorpius now awaits the wrath of Audrey like a fallen soldier awaiting death.
“Lucy Weasley.” Colour is quickly replacing the whiteness of her neck and soon she resembles an odd coloured tomato with wispy hair curling everywhere. I really do hope I don’t resemble her in my late life. That is, if I ever live to see that day.
“Listen – “
“You’re not sleeping here, I can tell you that,” she informs me briskly, glancing at Scorpius once before turning to march inside my childhood home, mumbling something about “shady, capital hairstyles”.
Scorpius places my pink suitcase by the baby blue wood panelling on the side of the house and when he catches my eyes he shrugs, his smile never failing.
My eyes move across the wide expands of land, watching the sheep cover in the humid morning air. The sky is a taut canvas, smeared thick and heavy with oils. Burgundy, charcoal and lead. Releasing a sigh, I step further up towards the door.
The house looks the same with the high ceilings and the large deck with my granddad’s old midnight blue swinging chair gently swaying back and forth in an offbeat tune. Each of Mum’s tulips stand like matte coloured buttons sewn into the garden, each tip seemingly facing the same direction.
James has already escaped into the house with a peck on my mother’s cheek and a wink in my direction and Darren’s safe in his own home, having apparated the exact moment the defiant silhouette of my mother appeared in the distance. Their support is minimal, but then again, Audrey has always reserved the right to scold every time she sees fit, no matter the person.
“So, what do you suppose we do now?” Scorpius asks, walking past me and getting into the swinging chair with a soft huff. He throws a leg across the armrest, looking down his nose at me. “Can’t well stay out here, now can we?”
He looks so at ease it nearly kills me and I find myself wishing we were back in London at our local Soho-pub, drinking to bad days and evil hag-editors. Tequila shots I can handle, raging mothers I cannot.
Scorpius stares at me expectantly, one pale eyebrow quirked. My head hurts and I sigh deeply, taking another step toward the entrance.
“Mum – “
If my life were a movie the reunion with my family would go something like this:
My mother and father would tearfully embrace my form and my sister would want to know everything about London and my job and Scorpius. My cousins would all hug and embrace and gossip and Ted would sit in his favourite chair and appease me with his crooked smile.
My life is not a movie.
When we enter the living room complete silence falls. James wasn’t kidding when he said the entire village was invited. What probably used to be a turkey is standing in the centre of the grand table, the empty skeleton of the bird shivering in the tense air.
Every single one of my uncles and aunts are here. My mother’s nowhere to be seen and Molly is purposely staring into her plate. Dad and James are the only ones to meet my gaze, the rest are staring at Scorpius’s long ponytail. I know I should have explained to Scorpius how my family works. That here, I am plain-old-boring-Lucy. Nothing special. Modest. Wearing knee-long grey shirts and pullovers that cover my neck. If there was a tapestry, I'd blend right in. Everywhere I look around, wide eyes are eyeing us, eyeing my short skirt, my red lipstick, Scorpius's magenta robes.
Ted’s missing. His absence sends a pang through my chest as the finality of my new life begins to settle in. This is what I wanted to avoid.
Scorpius nudges me. I clear my throat and make a small wave. “Um, h-hi?”
With a snap everyone’s attention is on me. I shrink into Scorpius’s form under the watchful eyes. Nobody says anything.
James is snickering into his pumpkin juice. I throw him a dirty look.
Scorpius nudges me again and I take a step forward. James finally sobers up and scoots over, patting the empty spot. “Come sit here, sweet cheeks.”
With quivering legs I take a seat beside him, wanting nothing more than to sink into the floor. Scorpius follows closely and squeezes in next to me. He’s oddly quiet. I chance a glance at him and see a small flush creeping up around his neck. He’s studying something every interesting on his hands.
Everyone’s still completely silent. I try to search out Molly’s eyes, but she’s refusing to look at me, a muscle in her jaw twitching. Her youngest, Lucas, is staring at me with wide blue eyes. I smile at him with a quavering heart. It’s the first time I’ve seen my smallest nephew in real life and not portrayed through stolen photographs. The joy is slow but certain and I can’t quite make the smile slide off my face after that. Lucas’s hesitant smile in return makes it a full-on grin.
When I look away I find my dad’s steady gaze on me. He’s sitting right in front of me and is wearing some unreadable expression.
“So.” My father glances at Scorpius’s ponytail. “Guess you’ve been busy, huh, Luce?”
Lucy 15, Ted 17, 10 year ago.
“You know this is serious stuff, right?”
“So you can’t just go off telling anyone.”
“Not even Molly?”
“Definitely not Molly.”
“Fine?” Ted leans forward, eyes unblinking. “I’m serious, Luce. You can’t tell a soul.”
I roll my eyes at his antics and push around the damp sand with a foot.
“So theoretically I could tell a ghost if I wanted to, couldn’t I?” I grin.
“Luce, I’m serious –“
“Sheesh so am I. Calm down professor.” I shove his shoulder annoyed. ”Merlin, you’d think you didn’t trust me or something.”
The silence settles like falling snow and I watch as Ted’s face blanches before the slightest red tinge creeps into his cheeks.
There’s no air in my lungs. “You don’t trust me?”
He looks sheepish. “Listen, Luce, it’s got nothing to do with you, per say – “
I try to fight the rage inside me, but suddenly find myself overcome by the wave of hurt and indignancy that has been building over the pass of summer. I feel like I’m losing my best friend again. I watch Ted’s furrowed brows and frantic eyes and can’t help but feel there’s a stranger standing in front of me, masked in the adolescent body of my best friend.
“Nothing to do with me my arse,” I snort, the hurt coiling tightly in my stomach. “It’s got everything to do with me. It’s me we’re talking about!”
Ted cringes. “Mind lowering your voice? Your screech sounds like a cat dying –“
“Great, so now I’m a tattletale and a fur ball-retching mammal –“
“Luce – Jesus –“
“I’m so over this, Ted. I thought – shit – I thought you were different. That we were best friends.” I’m annoyed when a tinge of emotions creeps into my voice, making it quiver. “But you’re obviously not, so yeah. I’m done. Just. Eff you.”
Angry, I march off, rushing along the shore side. He’d thought going to the beach would be the safest place for this “secret” thing. Not that we were going to do it now.
My footsteps make great sloppy slurping noises in the sand as I hurry away from Ted’s tall form, the sand screeching at my fury. The bay is calm, its waters gently rushing towards me, never quite reaching me, before retreating. I stare pointedly at the thicket of trees, which is slowly nearing me.
“Luce, wait. Don’t be like that.” I can hear Ted's exasperated huff behind me. I continue on, not even chancing a glance back.
“No, Ted. I’m obviously much too frigid to be included.”
He finally catches up with me and I can sense his eyes in the back of my neck. It’s always been like this. Me sensing him before he’s even there. Ted grabs my elbow.
“Come on, mate, you know how it is.”
I whirl around. Ted nearly collides with me but stops just in time. We’re face to face and I’m seething. He’s never called me mate before. I’ve officially been defeminized.
“No, I don’t know how it is, mate -” I hiss, air quoting as I imitate his deep voice. “Please do enlighten me, since I’m so terribly ignorant.”
Ted seems to hesitate for the beat of a second. “You know, Vic was just saying that –“
“Oh, what did dear Vicky have to say?” I spit, trying to wrestle my arm out of his hand but he seems adamant at keeping me lodged in a death-grip. He looks annoyed.
“Jeesh Lucy, what has she ever done to you?”
“Besides being a wrecked witch? I swear if she wasn’t part Veela you wouldn’t be able to see her beauty for all that blackness inside her soul.“
I step on his foot, hard.
Ted barely winces, shaking my arm for effort as he hisses my name.
“Lucy,” he snaps, his voice low and hard. “She’s my girlfriend and you’re my best friend. I’d like for you to be friends. She’s your own cousin for Christ’s sake –“
That is exactly the problem. Why couldn’t he date someone who wasn’t my family? Me, plain-old Lucy and beautiful Victoire, good friends? She likes boys, quidditch and make-up. I like books and chess, rather spending my time inside with a canvas and paint sticking to my fingers. Now I have to live through family dinners with Ted and Vicky re-enacting the human centipede –
“Oh, please that means nothing.” I stomp my way all up to him, sticking my face right in his just to spite him. “My family tree resembles Peter the rabbit’s. It’s like saying you have to like Muggle-studies because you’re Muggleborn or that everyone likes cake. It’s double standard and frankly discriminating.”
His jaw clenches. “You grew up together! We grew up together. We were practically the Bradley Bunch of our generation! You adore Dom, why’s Vic so different?”
I stare at him but he refuses to meet my eyes, keeping his stare locked on the beginning of the forest ahead of us. I lose my patience.
“Case in point. Vic is nothing like her sister.”
He looks at me for the first time since we’ve stepped onto the beach. His eyes are soft. “Lucy –“
I try to ignore the softness of his voice and break the stare I’ve wanted so adamantly.
“What, you’ve been taking her on moon rides? Candlelit dinners and mushy dates with awkward hand-holding?”
He pauses, “That’s totally beside the point.”
His ears are red.
“Oh you have?” I raise an eyebrow. ”What, did you cite poems and talk about your itty bitty feelings?”
He picks at the grass, shuffling his feet. “Shut it, Luce. You know how it is.”
Again with the you know how it is.
“I don’t actually.“
My tone is clipped and Ted raises his head to look at me abruptly.
“What? What about that Dylan guy?”
“Dylan was just that, a guy. Just -” I rub my eyes, pushing away the memory of the nerdy chess-partner's advances. “Can we talk about something else, please?”
His face softens. “Okay.”
“I do trust you,” He adds then, squeezing my hand. “You’re my best friend. Been it for as long as I remember.”
It calms me somehow yet it’s not enough to quench the hot worry collecting in the pit of my stomach.
“Then why are you saying all this stuff? I’d never do that.”
“I know.” He rubs his face. “But Molly does. And well, she’s your sister and that kinda says a lot.”
“What, so I can’t keep a secret because of my sister’s big mouth?” I ask, a furrow lining my brows.
He stays silent.
I turn away from him, eyeing the edge between sea and sky in the horizon.
“That’s bullshit, Ted. I’m not my sister and Molly isn’t me.”
“Sorry. I know.” He steps closer to me, I can feel his breath on the back of my neck. He exhales deeply. “I know you. Just - sometimes Vic gets into my head, she’s so damn manipulative and untrusting.”
I know that too well. Victoire is many things but dumb is definitely not one of them.
“Then stop letting her into your head.”
Ted laughs. “She’s my girlfriend, she’s bound to get in there some time. Besides, I want her to get inside my head.”
In a moment of weakness, I turn around to face him. He’s closer to me than I think and I’m annoyed when I have to look up.
“Victoire Weasley isn’t one to get inside your mind.”
Ted stares at me for a long time.
“She’s actually really nice, Luce. I know you and her have never seen eye to eye, but she’s clever, witty and genuine.” He clears his throat lightly. “Reminds me a bit of you, actually.”
His words are quiet and he seems to have trouble looking me in the eyes. I nudge him, unable to conceal my grin.
“Now I know you’re lying. I’ve never been genuine or clever, smarty-pants, stop with the charm. I said I’d do it already.”
His grin is sheepish.
“Let’s get going.” I nod towards the hill.
Ted throws an arm around me. “Prepare yourself, short stuff, I’m going to blow your mind.”
“Been out finding yourself, have you?”
Scorpius’s knee jiggles in a rapid staccato and I place a gentle hand on it in order to still him. I glance up at my uncle Harry.
“That’s one way of putting it, I suppose.”
“She likes to call rating dresses in the country’s worst gossip-magazine soul searching.” Molly is pale and drawn with a tremor to her hands but she has a stubborn tilt to her chin. “Just a fancy way of saying that you were too lazy to get a proper career, if you ask me.”
It’s the first thing she’s said all night and even if the words are biting, they warm me nonetheless. I send a small smile to Lucas who’s hiding behind his mother’s legs. We’re sitting in the living room, surrounding a coffee table that’s flooded by sweets.
“Now, Molly -” my father begins, but is cut off by another voice.
“It’s true, though, isn’t it?”
Victoire Weasley hasn’t changed one bit throughout the years. Her beauty is just as startling as it was five years ago.
She leans against the doorway to the kitchen. “I mean, you had all these –“
“Shut up, Vic,” a rather large and pregnant Lily snaps. She’s leaning back against her husband’s legs, her enormous stomach nearly obscuring her from view. “It’s good to have yeh back, Luce,” she smiles.
“Yes, it’s quite the tragedy,” James drawls from his seat on the sofa. He’s drinking a cup of hot chocolate and has a milk-moustache. “The fallen daughter of Senior Minister Weasley, who could have had it all. Not that she wasn’t already disowned or anything – “
“James!” I look up to see that my mother has returned. “At least she’s doing something useful. It’s a right sight better than that painting-business; luckily that was only a phase –“
“It wasn’t a phase, Mum.”
“I told her right off, did I. Told her she didn’t have no business doodling on paper; there’s no future in artsy stuff –“
I groan, “Mum –“
“She listened, they eventually do, don’t they. She was a right mess. Mind you, they like to test boundaries, s’pose it’s only natural –“
“Oh, shush now, Lucille.” My mother looks at me sternly. “You’re quite right to feel embarrassed. I've campaigned about this for the past five years.”
Scorpius’s arm curves around me and gratefully I lean into his warmth, eyeing the wood panelling of the floor. I lift my eyes to meet James’s, and the look on his face is one that concerns me. He seems to be debating internally, his frown hard.
Their brother left, too. I hadn’t been the only one to run, only the only black sheep.
It’s the only excuse that’s been battering around my head all evening. Quidditch-mad Albus got signed in the US and left for good four years ago. He, too, escaped the tight confines of little wee Grimsby and its population of one hundred people. To this day he’s the only one who still sends me cards at Christmas and provides stolen family photographs of all things missed.
"It wasn't a phase," I repeat to no one.
Lucy 15, Ted 17, 10 years ago.
“Alright, mount it.”
“Mount it?” I eye the thing doubtfully. “It’s not a horse. You can’t just mount it.”
“That’s what you do.” Ted shrugs. “You mount motorbikes.”
“Fine,” I huff. The corners of Ted’s mouth twitches and I glare at him, daring him to laugh. He loves this bike. Uncle Harry gave it to him as a birthday-present on his seventeenth, letting him collect it himself. It's been his pride and joy ever since, as he and Darren take time off to nurse it, polishing it to no end. Mum still hasn't forgiven Uncle Harry for it.
Finally, I swing my leg up but halfway I stumble and nearly squat down on the damn thing. Hands grab me, lifting me off the metal-beast. A small whimper escapes my lips as his fingers curve around my body.
The closeness of his body sends a pang of heat coiling in my stomach and annoyed, I try to fight the blush in my cheeks. I've never been this close to a boy before. He smells of cinnamon and freshly cut grass.
“Easy there,” Ted chuckles. “Try again. Slower this time.”
“If I’d known you were teaching me how to ride motorbikes, I’m not sure I’d gone through all this trouble.”
I look up at his face again. He should know that I'm no good at this. I'm Lucy; I can't even hit a bludger five meters in front of me.
“Because this, Ted Lupin, is totally not worth the bother.”
“Try again, short stuff.”
It takes me five more tries before I can mount the motorbike properly without his help. His hands hover around me for a few more tries, but when he sees that I do not need his help anymore, he steps back. I try to ignore the disappointment that burns in my stomach.
“Great, now hold both handlebar grips firmly.” Ted’s voice is husky in my ear and I make a double take at his proximity.
“Firmer.” His hands squeeze my hands tightly. His fingers linger a moment longer than necessary. I glance up only to find his eyes lodged on our joined hands.
“Place your feet securely on the ground, Luce.”
“Geesh, I’m supposed to drive this darn thing, aren’t I?”
He finally meets my eyes, swiftly, his smile genuine.
“That’s the plan, yes.”
“Then let’s get going!” I raise an eyebrow and turn to face him, carefully balancing the heavy motorcycle between my legs.
The Saint Christopher medal that he never takes off hangs down his chest, skidding against his pale skin. It was his grandfather's, passed down by Andromeda and he wears it proudly, like a war wound. I suppose that’s what it is: his scar to showcase to the world. I fight the urge to let fingers trail down the golden chain that lies against his skin. Instead, I drag my eyes up to his face.
He swallows. “Okay.”
He straightens up suddenly and steps closer, leaning in against my form.
“W-what are you doing?”
“Relax.” His breath is hot against the side of my neck. “There’s no way I’m letting you ride this alone. You’ll break your neck for sure.”
I sit, jitter legged, as Ted slides into the spot behind me. His chest presses up against my back as he straddles me. He’s hot and warm and just a man. I try to block out the flutter in my chest, but succumb to simply breathing slowly. I’m not sure when he turned from being an awkward teenager to this adult who wears cologne and shaves.
“You smell nice.” His voice is soft in my ear as he reaches forward, folding his hands over mine on the handlebars. So does he, God, so does he. I breathe heavily, my chest rising and falling.
“Mum’s latest shopping-spree. Apparently Vanilla Essence is her new favourite?”
I can feel the small stubbles stretched across his jaw rubbing against my cheek and I close my eyes against the heat that coils in my chest.
Ted chuckles. “Tell her thanks for me; at least if we do crash and die I’ll smell nice.”
I roll my eyes. “Let’s just get going, dumbass.”
“Alright, lift your feet.”
Obediently, I lift my feet, reeling slightly as Ted pushes the machine forward. It wobbles violently before stabilizing once more.
“Hold on tight, small stuff,” his voice whispers.
I squeeze the handlebars tightly and Ted’s body shakes behind me with laughter. “Not that tight.”
“Sorry,” I mumble but it’s lost to a gasp as the motorcycle roars to life beneath me. And suddenly we’re off.
We pummel past the ocean, trees and bushes. Everything becomes blurry as we race with the wind. Behind me, Ted laughs loudly. He sounds happier than he’s done in a long time. Freer. A smile creeps onto my face, mirrored by his enthusiasm. The motorbike roars louder again, picking up speed. Tethering between terror and thrill, I cling to the handlebars, my knuckles turning white.
Fingers caress my knuckles. “Easy there, Tiger. Relax.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” I grumble. “You’re the one controlling this damn creature.”
Ted scoots even closer to me, his lips caressing my ear as he whispers, “Close your eyes.”
“What?” I stiffen. “No way.”
“No freaking way.”
“Lucy.” His voice turns low and it becomes impossible to refuse him. “Close your eyes.”
My throat tight, I squeeze my eyes closed.
“Lean back,” Ted orders softly.
Hesitantly, I ease back until I’m resting against his body, Ted’s arms encircling me. He rests his head on top of mine with a sigh.
“Now open your eyes. Trust me on this one.”
I do so and I don’t regret trusting him.
His mouth is millimetres from my ear and I squeeze his hand. Around us, the air is a whirl of silvered trunks and spear ferns, the colours bleeding together like one of my paintings.
It’s the view that steals my heart.
We have driven past the woods a long time ago and now bare land stretches out in front of us. Watching, as the wind pushes against my cheek, I am mesmerized as every emotion imaginable blasts through me. The sky is a war of colours, bleeding into the ocean as night falls. In front of us, a large cliff rises in the distance, backlit by the petal pink sky.
My lungs have no air. Ted reaches his fingers to my cheekbones, wiping away the tears that he somehow knew were coming.
And suddenly I know why he's brought me here.
“God Luce, give me some of your clothes –“
“What ‘appened to you? You are well fit.”
“Um, thanks Fred?”
“Cor, did you buy all this yourself?”
I walk away from the crowd of people to the table with biscuits. In minutes the crowd of accusers has been replaced with my younger cousins, all starry-eyed and fascinated with the City. I don't know what's worse. Being the black sheep of the family, or the Daughter Who Returned. A trembling hand pours tea into a flowery cup, the hot liquid scolds my tongue but I continue drinking, thirsting for something to calm my rigid stomach.
“I wish I could fit into your clothes, but as it is this little one isn’t making it easy.” Lily leans against the wall next to me with a tired sigh, one hand stroking her bulging stomach.
“You look well.” It’s a question, one to which the answer will have to be a lie.
“I am well.” I clear my throat.
“I envy you.”
“Don’t,” I smile, eyeing her from. “You’re glowing.” I press a hand against her stomach. It’s hard and hot and I stroke the skin there gently. I can’t quite fit Lily into the role of a mother. In my head she’s still James’s annoying little sister who likes to play with dolls and pick her nose. She looks beautiful, though. Wearing a summer dress and her auburn hair loose. She's inherited the Weasley charm, all delicate wrists and pouty lips, unlike me. I inherited the wide hips and the long noses.
“Thanks.” She places a hand over mine, the cold metal on her ring finger jarring against my skin. “I’m sorry you missed the wedding.”
I look away. “I think I missed a lot of things.”
“How – how are you doing with it all?” Lily’s voice is tentative.
“How do you think, Sherlock? Her bloke’s getting married to someone who’s not her and we kind of all thought those two were the only people in this world bound to have their happily ever after.” Vic slips past me, grabbing a biscuit. “That’s kind of a sucky situation.”
I want to say something witty and sarcastic but only one word passes my lips.
Lily shrugs. “Six months ago Ted shows up with this wee Scottish girl, says she’s great and all. Next thing you know they’re engaged to be married.”
“Just… like that?”
“Just like that.”
“Pippa Montjoy,” I taste the name.
I snort, “What kind of name is that anyways?”
“She’s very, um, chipper?” Lily shrugs.
“She’s right annoying, is what she is,” Vic grumbles. “She likes horoscopes and fluffy teddy bears.”
It warms me a bit to hear her say this and a small smile plays around the edges.
“I was never that chipper.”
A pregnant pause follows in which the girls refuse to meet my eyes.
“What?” I snap defensively. “I wasn’t!”
“Um, yes you were?” Vic shrugs. “With him, anyways. Without him you were a moping mess. You both were. Kind of like a train wreck.”
“Still, it wasn't that bad.” I argue, searching out Lily's assurance. “Right? Right?”
Lily shifts uncomfortably, “Hate to tell you so, but you were. I swear, it could be pissing down in fat streams or the toilet could be flooded and you could still find a silver lining.”
“Oh.” Is all I manage.
“It was endearing,” Lily offers, squeezing my arm.
“It was damn obnoxious, is what it was,” Vic grumbles.
“Stop being so mean,” Lily tuts at her. Vic rolls her eyes.
“I’m being honest, there’s a difference.”
“Not with you there ain’t.”
“Honest, who hasn’t caught those two having sex somewhere?”
“Just putting it out there.”
“Shut it, Vic, it’s not like you and Roger aren’t exactly the same.” Dom walks up to the group in her usual swagger, her lips red and her eyes black. It’s the first time I’ve seen her in five years. “Is this the new gossip corner? Thought you'd grown out of your girliness, Vic?”
She acts like this isn’t the first time in five years that we’re here. Two suitcases are standing in the doorway. She probably just arrived from France, too.
“We're catching up,” I tell her, stepping closer. She turns to look at me, a small smile on her lips. A green beret is quirked cheekily on the side of her head and she’s in ballerinas and a black dress; a French reincarnation of her grandfathers.
She presses a hand against my bob. “So short.” Her murmur is gentle.
I catch her hand, bringing it down. “À la mode.”
“Au contraire, ma petite.” Her blue eyes crinkle.
"Shush, let me live in the illusion a bit more."
I pull her into my arms, blinking rapidly as I squeeze her tightly to me. She’s all skin and bones, her shoulder blades hard underneath my fingers. I press my face into the crook of her neck and let go of a hollow breath.
I’ve missed her.
“You smell the same,” Dom sighs as she pulls back. She’s looking at me smiling, but there’s worry behind that. “Even if you’ve changed and become this femme fatale. It’s nice.”
“The years did you good,” I grin, despite myself. I would give anything to have changed our relationship if anything.
Dom peers at me, her expression softer. “Are you okay now, though? Because in France –“
“I’m fine.” Despite my efforts, my voice has a sharp edge to it. Her stare is intense and I look away, trying to stop my eyes burning.
We chitchat for a while over the coffee table, trying to bridge the rift of five years. Vic’s married and has two boys, Lily’s first is still refusing to pop out and Dom is single, still living by her French lake. They all ask about London and my job and I try to make it interesting, but fail. They don't seem to mind, though, gushing about my new look and wild life. Who would have thought plain-old Lucy would be the one to lead an interesting life?
I keep glancing at Scorpius, checking to see if he’s all right. He’s talking to James and Fred, charming his way through all the males, probably trying to gather intel. I don’t know why I ever worried about him.
Of course Vic’s the one to pose the question on everyone’s lips.
“So, do you have a plan?”
“A plan?” Lily looks confused. I’m not. I stare into Victoire’s eyes silently.
“That’s my girl.” I can tell she’s pleased but I don’t answer.
“You’re sabotaging the wedding?” Dom looks scandalized. Vic looks smug.
“Hallelujah.” She leans back against the wall gleefully. “About time something exciting happened around here. Things were getting boring.”
“But- but sabotaging?” Lily’s eyes are wide. “That’s so… extreme?”
“Sabotaging is such an ugly word… I prefer gently nudging or lovably altering… events.”
All three stare at me.
“Sabotaging,” Vic concedes.
“Can I talk with you for a second?”
I'm on my knees, searching through the kitchen cupboards while holding my Beetle the Bart cup between by teeth when he finds me. The cup's a bit tattered, but it will do well for hiding what I'm planning to put in there.
I may have been drooling a bit. James raises an eyebrow at me.
"Do you need me to get you anything?"
"A new mother, a bottle of the Captain's finest and a barrel full of self-confidence."
"Um. Pretty sure if I get you the bottle, the rest will take care of itself."
"Scorpius has been telling you stories about me, hasn't he?"
"Well. Yes. I'm impressed."
"Should hope so. I learnt from the best."
James smiles. It's small and slow, but it's something.
"The - the thing." James shifts nervously, his eyes flickering towards the door every few seconds. "It's kind of important, see."
“Oh? Sure.” I rummage through dusty bottles of vinegar in the search of something to quench my thirst. It's here somewhere.
“Did you –“ He clears his throat. “Did you tell anyone about the you know what?” At this his voice becomes less than a whisper.
I finally find the golden bottle hidden behind dusty flasks, and pull it out, "Aha!"
“Lucy?” James hisses.
“Huh?” I look up from the bottle. “Oh, no I haven’t.”
I pour myself a healthy portion and put away the bottle, hiding it behind bottles of vinegar as before.
“Seriously, this is important.”
So is getting drunk, but to each his own, James.
I glance at him before I throw back the glass of liquid gold and immediately feel relief at the burn. Somehow the old village-dramas hold little importance to me now.
“Could you just stop getting hammered for a moment and focus on me, please?” James takes away the glass with a forceful shove.
“Oi!” I protest. “I was drinking that!”
James just stares at me.
I sigh, leaning against the table. My fingers automatically find the small dent on the corner of it that I made at age ten. It's one of the few things around here that has stayed the same and I caress it with a love no one else seems to miss from me.
“Chillax, James. I’m not going to tell anyone. Now can I have my Beetle the Bart-glass back, please?”
His face seems to be a mixture of panic and shame. I squeeze his hand, trying to calm him with my brandy-breath.
“I pro-“ I pause immediately at the sound of a door slamming and then the sound of a man’s voice next door, perhaps greeting a guest. It’s unmistakably his; the cadence of his voice is as familiar as the sound of my own heart.
“Would you look at that,” James smiles, seemingly cheered on by my misery. “Would you look at that…”
Panic blisters my stomach and his name pants faster and faster in my head. I straighten my skirt, shivering fingers toying with the hemline. It's too short. It's much, much too short. My hand is resting on the door, pale and weak in the fluorescent light.
James shifts behind me but I pay him no mind. Instead, I eye the ridges in the tree underneath my fingers, breathing to the silence.
Laughter rings out, the sound muffled through the door. A light woman’s voice rivets through, the sound harsh to my ears. I clench my hand, the skin spread taut against weak knuckles as my breath catches in the back of my throat where I can still taste the bitterness of the Brandy.
“That door’s not gonna open by itself, you know.” James’s voice is soft.
“Shut up.” I don’t look up.
James chuckles but doesn’t say anything more.
Slowly, I nudge the door open.
I thought I’d seen all there was to him. That he wouldn’t be able to numb me with his eyes.
I was wrong.
He’s twice the size I remember, his eyes are the same but there are new crinkles around them. Tales of laughter without me. It sends an ache through me. He’s become the man I knew he’d be. He looks so much like his father it makes my knees weak.
My boy is beautiful.
There’s a blonde standing beside him, holding onto his arm with long red nails. Her smile is radiant and her boobs are big. I look away.
“Lucy –“ Lily’s voice rings out from the corner, warning. But it's too late.
In a flash he’s turned around to face me and I'm frozen in place.
His face is a mixture of all kinds of emotions. It’s like he has sucked the air from the room, burning like he always does. I have no air left in my lungs. All I can do is stare into his brown eyes.
Lucy 15, Ted 17, 10 years ago.
I raise my head to look at him. He has his eyes closed, head in my lap, twirling a strand of my hair between his fingers. I don’t feel like disturbing the peace that’s fallen here on the outskirts of town where the ocean eats into the land. He looks so peaceful here. But with the distance a sense of bravery has settled, making my blood liquid courage. He’s touchable here, underneath the giant cliff.
“Were you serious when you said you were going to leave?”
His hand stops caressing my hair. A silence presses into the air between us. It takes him a long time to answer me, so long that I almost think he isn't going to. When he does answer it's not the answer I want to hear.
I push away from him, angry at myself for getting upset. There’s a rumble of thunder as the skies open up and the downpour wets the earth around the cliff. The sky is grieving with me.
It takes a long while before I'm able to string another sentence together. Ted is silent behind me, the only sound that echoes is the sound of our heaving chests.
“What about Vic?”
Ted sits up, his hair flat on one side of his head and sticking up on the other.
“What about her?” His voice is thick with sleep. "She'll be fine. Vic's always fine. It's one of the great things about her."
I turn away to face the rain, my voice weak. “I mean – what – “ What about me, my heart stutters out. I can’t finish the sentence after that and it’s left echoing in the distance between us.
“I just – “ He steps closer to me. “Do you ever question it? All those expectations and visions of your future.“
His voice is quiet but his tone desperate. I look away from the rain to glance at his face. He looks heartbroken.
“Here.” He closes his hand around mine, pressing a cool metal into my palm.
I look into my hand and then look up. “Wow. Head boy? Congratulations.”
Ted exhales, looking off to the side, and it comes out in a disjointed stream. “Like father, like son.”
His tone is bitter and involuntarily I take a step forward, closing the space between us. I press the badge against his chest.
“Nobody thinks that. To them, you’re just a smart kid.”
“Am I?” He looks at me, and I have to fight to keep my composure. His stare is excruciatingly passionate and raw, but soon he looks away again. I never thought it would be hard to be on the other end. To have greatness thrust upon you instead of being the disappointment. I take a few steps closer, and wait.
“I have this dream where I’m standing in the middle of a room, being stuffed into suits and clothes that are too big." He takes a breath and looks up at me, the dark line of his brows and the wild twists of his hair gilded by the auburn burn of the sunset. "They never fit.”
“What’s your plan, then?”
The shadow of a smile passes his lips and he stuffs his hands into his trousers, “Nepal, India, France, Cambodia, Vietnam – anywhere and everywhere. I’ll travel the world and live off pot noodles.”
His eyes are wide and happy with a blush coating his cheeks. It's really cute.
“A mighty great plan that is. Mind some company?”
He presses a finger against my cheek, the touch feather light. “Finish school, then I’ll come get you.”
“You’re no fun,” I pout.
“Your mother would kill me if I took you out of school.”
“Exactly, it’s time she got some challenge. She’s been nagging me about grades all year, saying how much of a disappointment I am.”
We stare at each other for some time. I can feel my face slowly breaking. It’s inevitable and Ted’s face doesn’t change when the first tear comes.
“Don’t listen to them, Luce. Don’t listen to Molly or your mother. Don’t listen to any of them.”
“I know, sorry,” I smile, but it’s shaky and I have to bite the inside of my lip to stop the crying. “And I don’t expect you to be anything. Just you.”
It only takes him three steps to get to me. He picks me up so I can wrap my legs around him and we stay like that for a long time, wrapped around each other. I rest my head against his chest, feeling the rich thud of his heart in my palm.
He presses his lips against my forehead. “I know.”
The pictures did not do Pippa Montjoy justice.
They showed a stellar Scotsmen with wavy blond hair and a fetish for pink and glitter.
Pippa Montjoy is anything but stellar.
I try not to let my eyes linger on the cleavage, which James is so obviously still caught up in. She’s wearing a snug fit green dress and her head barely reaches Ted’s shoulder. She’s tiny. Her legs are impossibly skinny, accentuated by a pair of deadly heels, and her lips are plumb, coated with gloss. And she squeals. Squeals.
In a blur of green and white she claws me to her chest with a remarkable force, seeing as she’s half my size. I go rigid as James steps to a side.
“So excited!” She exclaims, squeezing me closer. She smells like cake and fucking sugarcanes. Sugarcanes. “I’ve been waiting ages for you to arrive!”
“You have?” I manage weakly, my arms smashed between our bodies.
She nods vigorously, finally stepping a bit back. She’s still way too close in my personal space. Even her teeth are shiny. Dammit.
“Ted’s told me all about you,” she gushes in a sing song voice, reaching forward to squeeze my arm. “This is just jolly.”
I can hear the Scottish lilt in her voice and I force a smile onto my face. “Funny.”
“Oh, you,” Pippa giggles. “You can call me Pip – I reserve that right for my special people.” At this, she winks at me.
This does not bode well for my plans.
“Um, wow,” I smile as panic slowly cripples me.
“Don’t I get to say hello to my friend, baby?”
“Silly me,” Pippa giggles. “Of course, Teddy bear, you know me – I just get so excited! Can’t help myself.”
She steps aside and in charges Ted Lupin. I involuntarily take a step back.
“Come here, you.” His voice is overly cheerful and I think about running. Fast.
I watch helplessly as I am lodged into another awkward hugging session. I grimace, holding my breath as Ted lifts me off my feet, laughing heartily to the silent crowd. His hands are all stiff and hard against my body as if I were a box he was lifting and not a human. I catch Lily’s eyes behind his back. She looks mortified. Vic is sniggering into her hands. Mum looks thrilled, talking animatedly to Auntie Mildred.
“Um, hi,” I force out when he finally puts me down.
He pats me on the shoulder, as if I were a dog, still not meeting my eyes. I stare at the hand silently. I've never regretted a decision like I have now.
Pippa squeezes underneath his arm and curls around his body, beaming at me.
“The wedding is officially ready to start off now!” she squeals. “The next two weeks are going to be the best of our lives. Aren’t they, sugar muffin?”
Ted smiles, “They sure are, baby.”
Fourteen days. That’s all I have to change this – or write the article. I don’t know anymore. I plaster on a smile as Pippa reaches up to kiss Ted on the lips, smudging gloss all over his lips. They giggle as she licks it off again, her pink tongue tasting him.
I want to vomit.
Suddenly Ted turns to me again, his smile wide and false. “Oh, I’m sorry, Luce! I should properly introduce you -”
He rubs his nose against Pippa’s, his eyes holding her. “This is Pippa Montjoy. My fiancée.”
“You’re being silly, baby,” Voldemort reincarnated giggles against his lips. “Lucille and I are going to be the bestest of buddies. I know it!”
I must not curse wrenched girls... I must not cur-
A hand slips into mine, its warmth comforting.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me, Luce?”
Scorpius’s smile is encouraging and I’m so grateful for his presence. Ted looks up, suddenly, stepping forward. He holds out his hand, the other still linked with Pippa’s.
“Who’s this?” He asks me. It’s strange to see Scorpius beside him. Ted actually looks small compared to him. I had somehow always thought Ted to be a giant, but he’s not.
“This is Scorpius.”
Scorpius shakes his hand. “Hi.”
Ted smiles, “Pleasure to mee-“
“ -- my boyfriend.”
Ted and Scorpius’s hands freeze mid-air.
A/N: Remember to review! xxx
Chapter 4: 4
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
A/N: Hi there! I’m in the North, attending a wedding and trying to convince myself that wearing a hat isn’t the worst thing ever… Yeah. The weather’s bollocks, I’m staying at my grandad’s, who hasn’t got internet or anything, so I’m basically going to Nero’s, ordering coffee and writing there. I’m here dealing with my slightly erratic family who seems to believe that everything can be solved with a cup of tea. Can’t argue with that theory, now can you?
Various things have happened since last update. First of all I won Runner Up as Best Underground Author at the Golden Snitches, which is such an honour. So thank you so much to anyone who’s voted for me. Secondly, I’ve reached 70 favourites as an author. Quite a milestone. I can still remember when I only had 40, so this means so much to me.
Thanks for being awesome and supporting this story – you are awesome.
Give Just Be by Paloma Faith a listen – it’s gorge.
WE WERE HERE
CHAPTER IMAGE CREDITS SJOEKS@TDA
“With you, intimacy colours my voice. Even ‘hello’ sounds like ‘come here’.” - Warsan Shire
The entire room is silent.
The first thing I notice is Pippa's squeal. It sounds a bit like that sound the little piglets make just before they're slaughtered.
"I knew it!" She sings. "Oh, I had a feeling abou' you two!"
The second thing I notice is Ted's burning stare. It's imploring and confused, his eyes a soft grey. I look away from him. Scorpius and him are still holding hands. Scorpius seems to still be in shock. Finally, their hands break loose and I breathe a sigh of relief. It seems that the entire room relaxes somewhat after this and I begin to wonder how much people know.
"Really?" Ted runs a hand through his hair, a tiny tremor of tension giving some shape to his shoulders. "That's - that's -"
"PERFECT!" Pippa launches herself at me again.
A snigger escapes Scorpius's lips by my right and the tension falls from my shoulders. He can't be that angry.
"SHOPPING!" Pippa yells into my ear. "Shopping! We'll have to go shopping, sweetie. I'll help you with a dress for the wedding."
"It's brilliant!" Pippa beams at me, her bony fingers gripping my shoulders.
"Listen, babe, I think Lucy might be a bit busy with settling in here." Ted steps forward, his fists knotted tight.
"Nonsense," she puffs. "Everyone's got time for shopping..."
"Amen, sister." Scorpius guffaws.
I send him a heated look.
"OH, WAIT I GOT IT!" Suddenly, Pippa's got me in a tight grip again. I don't know how she does it. I stare at her hot-pink nails, slightly amazed.
And then she really does me in.
"I don't -" I stammer uselessly.
"Nonsense!" Pippa giggles. "You'll be perfect - won't she, Teddybear?"
"Whatever my princess wants." Teddy smiles. I try to ignore the hurt that coils in my stomach at the dismissal of me. This sucks.
"That's such an amazing idea," Scorpius gushes at her.
I snarl at him. Traitor.
Pippa jumps up and down excitedly. Her boobs are nearly concaving. "I know, right?"
"Best idea, EVER!"
I. Am. Going. To. Kill. Scorpius.
He meets my eyes and arches an eyebrow as if to say, you got me in this mess, deal with it.
Pippa squeezes me into a tight embrace again. She pulls back and looks at me with those wide blue eyes.
"We're going to be the bestest of buddies, Lucille."
Oh, don't I know it, Hon.
“What the hell, Lucy?” Scorpius has cornered me by the bathroom as I’ve escaped the now silent living room.
"This. Was. Not. Part. Of. The. Plan!" He gestures wildly between us.
I stare up at him, goldfish-mouthing, “I… um… panicked?”
“Uh you could say that again! Boyfriend? You’re missing one viable organ for me, sugar.”
I cringe. “I know. Trust me, I know. I just – do this for me? Please –“
Scorpius eyes me for a very long time. I force myself to meet his gaze and keep eye contact. Finally, he sighs deeply.
“If I’m doing this, you’re telling me all of this –“ He pauses for a second, “mess.”
"And I'll have complete say over the article."
“And I ain’t going nowhere near your muffin, eh.”
I finally break a smile. “Even better.”
He stares at me for a while, as if he is seriously contemplating my sanity.
“I’ll do it.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Thank you -”
“You’re welcome,” Scorpius says. “But you’re spilling the beans when we get home, sweetheart.”
I nod silently, dreading our departure more and more. I feel like I’m slowly driving towards the end of a cliff, readying for the free-fall.
"Alright." Scorpius straightens. “I’m off to flirt with that yummy cousin of yours. Laters, babe!"
And with that he leaves me, blowing a kiss in my direction, which I grab...
Scorpius’s alliance calms me somehow, yet there’s nothing that will put my mind at ease. Flashbacks of myself five years ago keep on playing around in my mind and I feel like I’m slowly, but surely stepping into the shadow of my former self. I help Mum with the dishes, trying to escape Pippa and Ted’s fluffy bubble of love. I'm as mousy as ever.
"Man, you've really done it good this time, eh. Nailing a Malfoy and a Southerner?"
I glance up to find Rose leaning against the door to the living room, her smile smug. I turn away, busying myself with the plates.
"What do you want, Rose?"
"Want?" Rose tuts, "why does it always have to be business with you, Lucy?"
"When isn't it business with you? What. Do. You. Want?"
"Your help." Rose pushes against the door and walks up to me. She's standing so close that I can smell the sickly sweet odor of her perfume. "And by the looks of it, so do you."
I go rigid. "What are you talking about?"
"Ted," she offers simply. "You've been ogling him all night. Somebody’s yet to get over their childhood crush."
I'm relieved that she hasn't picked up on the article. Rose has always been too clever and too nosy for her own good, meddling in other people's businesses. She doesn't get the whole privacy-deal. Another Weasley-trait I haven't inherited. I turn to the plates again.
"I have a boyfriend."
She rolls her eyes. "Yeah and I bet that his hand just accidentally happened to end up on James's lap because every other place was occupied..."
"Fine," I snap. "What do you suggest?"
"A deal," Rose answers evenly. "I'll help you with Pippa and Ted."
"What's in it for you?" I ask, but in that second Scorpius walks past the door and a pathetic look of love crosses Rose's face before she's had time to conceal it.
A slow smile spreads across my face. "Oh, I see."
"No, you totally don't see," Rose hisses, her cheeks flushed a bright pink.
"So let me guess. Same year, both meant for greatness. The forbidden blond headed Slytherin caught your eye, yeah? He is gay, you know. Mind you, the son of your father's arch nemesis."
"Just mind your own business -"
"Rose, Rose, Rose," I sigh. "I thought we were coming to an agreement here."
Rose's eyebrow arches. "We are. Just don't go around criticizing my preferences."
I ignore her biting comment, Rose has always had a mad temper, something you should always fear when she lashes out.
"Alright, alright... No need to get your knickers in a twist, sugar."
Rose crosses her arms petulantly. She probably expected less fight from me, the nobody of the family. But the capital's taught me well.
"Deal or no deal?"
I watch her for a second. It's dangerous waters, but I need all the help I can get. And Scorpius... Well there's no way Scorpius will ever agree to date that bushy haired spawn. Plus, if Rose is busy with this, maybe she won't notice my Quick-Spell Quill and the articles...
I sigh dramatically, with no intention to ever complete this deal. "Alright then. Deal."
"Good." Rose smiles for perhaps the first time and I almost feel bad for her and her five year unresolved crush. If... it wasn't for the fact that she's such a pushover.
Mum sweeps in through the door, muttering about cookies, tea and tension. Rose escapes the madness, slipping into the shadows once again as I step into help my frantic mother.
"Oh Lucy, they hated the cookies..."
Oh, the wonders of a village-drama.
"It'll be fine, Mum..."
She looks up at me for a long time, her eyes large and wet. She touches me in a warm gesture that doesn't sit right me.
"I'm happy for you."
Her voice is teary and I try to push down the anger and hurt bubbling in my throat. I fight the urge to shrug her off, my skin crawling uncomfortably. I haven't been loved for almost a decade and it's difficult to start now. Her fingers squeeze tightly and I come to think of disapproving stares and being disowned and of that anger, which is festering, lodged beneath my chest in a decaying chamber of despair.
I pull my wrist from her hands. She stares up at me with large eyes, anger twitching in the corner of her frown. I don't know how she does it; how she expects something from me when she has so little to give in return.
She's more than a head shorter than me, her hair wild and curly whereas mine is straight as an arrow, her eyes small and narrow, mine large and wide. She's my opposite. Her form seems small in my shadow, fragile even. I've outgrown her in more ways than one and it seems that our shadows don't match anymore - if they ever really have. It's a metaphor for our entire fucking relationship and I don't appreciate the imagery.
"Sorry," I say, and she looks away. I see Dad staring at us from the living room but it's too late for talks and those weak words. Sometimes words are just that. Words. It won't change the look in her eyes or the past, nor will it dislodge my anger. It won't change anything.
Just as quickly as she swept into the kitchen, Mum's out again, carrying trays of “home-cooked” muffins and beaming in a cheery voice. She pretends they’re her creation, but in reality Waitrose has quite the delivery service. Another pretense for the village. The door swings back and forth after her exit and I watch the people as she serves them tea. She doesn't look back and I turn away after a while.
It's not a life I've ever wanted, but something aches inside me anyways.
I busy myself by cleaning the dishes Muggle-style, soaking my hands in the warm water until they’re wrinkly raisins, trying not to think of summers and promises we never kept.
“You’re quite the house-wife, aren’t you? Or have you barricaded yourself in the kitchen in an attempt to escape me? In that case, it's failed.”
His presence in the room is unmistakable and I freeze in my spot. He doesn't call out my name anymore. I don't think I've heard my name fall from his lips for years. But I know it's him.
“You and I both know that I haven’t got a maternal bone in my body, Ted.”
His laughter rings out, slow and heartfelt and I watch the window, the pink light of twilight, spreading across the darkness. I can see the faintest outline of him in the reflection and my breath becomes uneven.
It’s not fair.
I thought we could overcome all this crap. I thought love meant that no matter the obstacles we would survive it. I thought being in love meant that we accepted each other, even if we didn’t always understand each other. Now he's standing by the door, squared shouldered, with the eyes of a foreigner. They're grey today.
“Do you still ride your bike?” I ask, the burning desire to get to know him again ever present.
“Yeah.” He’s stepped further into the room and closed the door behind him. “Your mum hates it still, says I’ll break my neck for sure.”
“Nothing’s changed, then.”
I pour out the water and dry my hands slowly before I turn to face him. I try to tune out Vic's voice telling me of how he's the daredevil now, overtaking my spot as the village-loner, running with wolves. He smiles that slow smile again, the one he’s always known how to tweak in his favour. Its effect hasn’t changed at all over the course of the years and I can see the ghost of my Ted playing in the crevice of his smile. My mouth goes dry.
“You know that’s not true, Lucy.”
I just shrug in response, silently, my shoulders heavy against the moonlit sky. I don’t want to look at him. I’m so afraid of what I might find. I’m scared that he’ll be all right and that it’s just me who’s the broken girl. Ted clears his throat.
“Did you figure out the world?”
I look up at him involuntarily, his expression seems forcibly casual. I try to remember the last time I saw him. I can still recall the dark shadow of his form underneath the covers in the dark room as I packed my bags, the taste of regret ever present. He hadn't seen it then, but I'd known that he'd be okay without me. I've always known.
I slowly shake my head no. “But I like to kid myself and say that I did.”
His eyes are steady. “Don’t worry. You will.”
I look away again, trying to swallow the suffocating squeeze that fills my lungs and throat by the burn of his stare.
“I need to… go.”
I leave him standing in my childhood kitchen, his eyes wide as they follow me. He remains passively standing in the room, his face revealing nothing of his thoughts and I begin to wonder if he thinks about me as much as I think about him.
Ted 18, Lucy 16, 9 years ago
It rained that year. The rain marred the ground with great big lashes of wetness, the cold seeping into the ground and numbing everything with its frigid wetness. It numbed me, too. The weather seemed to quietly appraise my mood, settling in to being the epic drumroll to my dismal revelation.
Summer came, like a piece finally falling into place. Inevitable as it was just like our aging, the day of Ted’s graduation arrived quickly, slipping in the door when we weren’t looking. With it, it brought a sadness that seemed to seep into my very core, and the coldness could simply not be repressed. That night was particularly beautiful – one of the few good days in an otherwise pathetic excuse of a summer.
The round moon stands high on the night sky, almost shining as brightly as the sun. It is a subtle tribute to his parents, something which has not escaped Ted’s notice either.
I try and recall his huge smile and summon one onto my pale face. It’s to no use; the reflection’s smile slips off quickly, washed out with the sunlight as night falls and people begin arriving.
I can hear people getting ready downstairs, laughter ringing out occasionally. Outside the window, candles are hovering in the air, illuminating the huge banner that has been stretched across the midnight blue horizon.
Congratulations Molly, Ted and Vic! it reads in bold letters. I sink down the tears rising in my throat, brushing my hair once again with numb hands to no use. It remains the same dull brown, framing my face limply.
“You ready, pet?”
My mother shifts uncomfortably in the doorway. Her eyes flicker across the room, she’s never been great with feelings or anything that may differ from her picture perfect family. She stutters out the words, tripping over them as she refuses to meet my eyes. She’s always been better at grand speeches and winging the words just right. Small words are harder; the lies don’t snake around them quite as easily.
Molly's easier for her; she's lighter and fits into the family quite like a puzzle to the piece with her red hair and bright mind.
“Yeah.” I put down the hairbrush and smile up at my mother’s face as I tell the lie, “I’m coming down now.”
A while later, I walk briskly down the narrow path in the pale light. Colourful furled leaves and dazzling sunshine scourge my vision, but I walk on, eyeing the grey pale sea in the horizon. The sky is arsenic.
I catch Molly’s eyes when I step into the yard. She’s sitting in a corner, surrounded by her friends, her hand lodged in a tight hold with her boyfriend, Paul. Her hair is plaited in an intricate design and there are flowers in her hair. She looks like Mum. Beautiful.
She tilts her head silently in acknowledgement when our eyes meet, nodding her approval of the dress she picked out for me. I patter past Dad and his barbeque-adventure, weaving past relatives only to squeeze in next to the one Weasley-head I’d like to talk to.
“Here’s to two more years of school.” James knocks a glass against my empty hand, seemingly not sensing that I do, in fact, not have a glass yet. He's hammered, sitting in a corner by himself. I don't know why he prefers the soleness of my company to the others; he isn't unpopular or a failure by any means. He's a good quidditch player with a decent aim, social enough and clever - though, nothing in comparison to Rose or Molly.
The amber liquid sloshes all over my hand and shoes, showering me in a stale smell of a harsh beverage that’s definitely not Pumpkin Juice.
“Let’s hope that this year Lushhhie will shhtop pining after Te –“
“I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink there, buddy.” I snatch the cup out of his hands, cutting him off before he finishes the sentence.
“Oh, don’t worry, Lushh.” James nudges me, winking so rapidly it looks like he’s got a twitch. “I think you’re a hottie with a body.”
This would have been a lot more convincing if he hadn’t walked off to chat up a hedge, thinking it is one of our distant veela relatives.
“Stop it,” James hisses at me out of the corner of his mouth. “I’m in the zone –“
I roll my eyes at him, pulling him away from the bush and into yet another warzone. I stop in my tracks when I meet her eyes.
Dammit, dammit, dammit –
“Oh look, it’s your best friend!” James yells before resolving into a serious of inappropriate giggles.
Victoire is a Greek Goddess, wearing a white flowery dress with lilies in her hair. Her golden hair is curling all around her, giving the illusion of virginity still. It’s her last day as a little girl as today marks the finish to a chapter of her life, though she hasn't looked like a child for years with her slim waist and large breasts. Everyone's noticed that. Ted noticed it four years ago and our relationship hasn't been the same ever since.
“Did you know?” James leans forward and says in a stage whisper, “Lucy has a nickname for you. She calls you Vicky-dic-“
“That is quite enough,” I hiss, clamping a hand over his mouth.
Thankfully, Vic merely raises a perfect eyebrow at us before billowing past us in a swirl of chiffon, not even offering a hello. Of course, she scored top of her class. A true Gryffindor to my weak Hufflepuff.
James giggles again, “Guess Vicky-Dicky really is a bit of a b-riched girl, isn’t she?”
“That she is, James, that she is…”
I try to not look after her, but my eyes keep searching her out, the envy sizzling hot in my stomach. I want to walk right up and rip her perfect hair off her head. I want to rip down the banner and stomp on it and scream to the entire party, Wake up! Dammit, wake up! James has to drink in order to get through this day, Mum is frantic with her cookies and Molly's gripping Paul's hand like it's a lifeline. We're all scared shitless, even Ted. His eyes are wild with panic as he forces laughs to inane old-man-jokes, his body stiff in suited clothes.
I don't do anything, though. I couldn't possibly do anything, not me, quiet Hufflepuff Lucy with the mousy hair. Instead, I drink. I throw down champagne flute after champagne flute in a vain attempt to escape this day; this future.
The two lovebirds of the house have been talking about buying houses. Vic catches my eye while she recounts all their plans to our aunt Hermione. And after that to Aunt Ginny. And my mother. And my uncles. Even the old cat-lady from across the street, Vilma, gets the story.
The ever-consistent Rose is telling anyone who’d like to listen of her grand plans. She has a time table over the next decade, scheming her overtaking of the world. Dom’s going to France for an internship the year after this. James is planning on Quidditch and I’m as lost as I've ever been. No great grades, no great talent, no great escape. Nobody asks me about it either. They all seem to sense that there's no possible chance that Practical-Lucy could ever plan anything spectacular in her life. It’s unsettling, watching as everyone moves away me, their gazes already set on the slowly rising horizon years before it is to set.
I avoid Ted’s stare all night, refusing to see the goodbye that’s waiting for me there. I hate that he’s leaving me, more so than when he’s coming around. He tells everyone of his upcoming travels, praising multicultural experiences and seeing the world. I don’t care about seeing the world. I just want to see him.
“Could you come here for a sec, Luce?"
I look down into my lap. James is absolutely no help, snoring loudly into my ear, his mouth lying wide open against my shoulder as he sleeps away his high. I clench my hands.
“Luce, come on. It’s my last night here.”
“I’m not coming just so you can have some 'Great Goodbye'," I answer, air-quoting. "Not in the mood, mister.”
Ted opens his mouth to say something more, but in that exact moment Vic decides to make an appearance, resting her chin on his shoulder, her red lipstick staining the collar of his white shirt.
“Leave her alone, Teddy. If Lucy wants to sulk on your last day, let her sulk. I, for one, am going to celebrate you with style tonight, darling.”
She says darling the way they do in those old black and white movies Aunt Hermione loves to watch on rainy days. Daaahhh-ling. There's a slight twang to it. I suppose it sounds elegant.
I wouldn't know. I haven't got an elegant bone in my body.
And with that she whisks them both away in a swirl of white and Chanel no. 5. I’m alone again, taking care of James who’s oblivious to all the drama around him in his drunk haze. Nothing new about this scenario, really.
I catch Dom’s eyes across the yard from us, her hands intertwined with Darren’s as always. There’s pity in the depth of her blue eyes and I look away before it catches up with me. Vic is feeding Ted cake, giggling girlishly as she misses his mouth. I catch his eyes in a moment when she isn’t looking. He looks sad, but I am the one to look away first.
“I see someone’s had a bit too much of your dad’s homebred whiskey.”
I look up to see Andromeda standing in front of me, her smile kind. She's always been good to me. I can remember eating cookies at her house with Ted when Mum and Dad would fight, and helping her water her plants. I smile back at her, but the smile’s sad and pathetic and it slips off after a few seconds.
Andromeda steps closer after that and I realize a second too late that I’m not ready for the intensity of the look between us when I meet her eyes. My eyes burn and I clench my teeth tightly.
“He must be getting heavy.” Her voice is soft.
I don’t answer right away and I can feel her stare on me for longer than I can bear. I wish she'd stop. I bite my lip when the first tear slips down my cheek, its travel quick and unhindered.
“I’m getting used to it," I sniffle. "For the record, Auntie, James Potter does not know how to hold his liquor. The idiot never learns.”
“They never do,” she says and I get the feeling that we're no longer talking about James.
The silence settles once more, only broken by James’s soft snores. I can still feel Andromeda’s eyes on me and I look away, watching Lily bicker with her mum about her curfew. Andromeda’s always been as much of an aunt to me than anything. She’s getting on, her grey-streaked hair a telltale sign of times passed. She has got an air around her that both intrigues and intimidates me. She’s seen both of the Wars and lived through them, knows how to make a mean rhubarb-pie and raised Ted by herself – with the help of Uncle Harry, of course. She's one of the kindest and most frightening people I've ever met.
“Ted’s been looking for you.”
“So it seems.”
She furrows her brows, and looks at me closely, her eyes searching my face.
“I get that you’re mad, Lucy.”
I stare straight ahead. “I’m not mad. Who said I was mad? I didn’t say I was mad.”
“It’s perfectly alright to be upset.”
Her face tells me that she knows what’s going on. I look down, fingering at the soft fabric of the dress. I’ve always hated mothers’ intuitions. Made it a lot more difficult hiding stuff. Not from my mum, though. She's never looked close enough to see anything out of the ordinary with me.
“I just got him back.” My voice is barely above a whisper, yet she seems to have no trouble making out the words. Her expression softens and she takes a seat beside me.
“You know, it’s not about leaving people, it’s about finding yourself. He’s not abandoning you, Luce. He just needs to become the person he’s going to be.”
“What if that person is someone who doesn’t have me as a friend?” I ask, uncertainty present in the tremor of my voice.
“You just have to trust him. He needs his best friend right now.” The wind stirs her grey hair gently as she looks at me, her eyes crinkling. “He's so afraid, Lucy. He needs to know that you’ll always be there whenever he comes back. No matter what. No matter who he becomes.”
In my heart I know I’ll always be here to wait for him, but I don’t tell her that. Instead, I let out a sigh that seems to come from my bones. “I think I need some time.”
“I’ll take this guy home.” Andromeda steps forward, grabbing James’s arm. His head lolls forward as she lifts him off his feet with a surprising strength of such a small woman.
"I'm getting too old for this," she huffs.
Thanking her, I get to my feet after rousing James. I quietly slip out the garden door, stepping down the cobblestone steps that lead into the forest. The noise of the party is slowly muffled as I thread down the moonlit path. I need time and there’s only one place where the distance will prove enough.
“Only you would insist on cycling across town with 40 kilos of baggage, I mean honestly.”
Scorpius hauls the suitcase higher, pushing his hair off his sweaty forehead. “Just because you’re afraid of apparating – you’re lucky I love you or I’d have transfiguered you into a teapot and brought you in my pocket.”
“I’m not… afraid - I just… get sick.” I thread carefully on the muddy ground, wincing as my expensive heels sink into the soft earth. “Besides, the car doesn’t enter through the woods – the shrubbery is too dense. And the trip is nice - fresh air and all, you know.”
Scorpius rolls his eyes at me, pulling the blue bicycle along him. He’s sweaty and his hair is all over his face. It’s the first time he’s been anything but perfect and I can’t keep the grin off my face as we circle the small lake, which leads to the house.
"Come on, it's not that baaa- crap-"
With a quick snap, my heel cuts clean off the rest of my shoe, and unprepared, my shoe slides further into the mud, now covered completely in rotten leaves and dirt.
"My Manolos -" I moan.
Scorpius sniggers at me. "Serves you right for forcing me into the wild..."
"Tsk! You ain't seen nothing yet, sweet cheeks."
I wince slightly as I pull the shoe free of the mud, opting for barefoot instead. The earth feels nice against my feet and I breathe the fresh air in deeply.
It's been too long.
We make our way slowly across the forest-ground, mud squelching at our shoes as a lonely house appears behind the thicket of trees. The roof has holes in it and the wild seems to slowly be overgrowing its boundaries, slipping across the borders. A chubby older woman is jumping up and down in front of the yellow house, her grin large and inviting as it’s ever been. There’s something off about her face, with the large lips and small eyes and I see Scorpius stiffen beside me as he takes her in.
Clem has always been the black sheep of the Black family, and was never mentioned anywhere in journals. Illnesses such as Downs have never been gazed upon lightly and Andromeda took care of her sister ever since she was old enough to do so. And when the end came, Clem took care of Andromeda in return. When Ted’s parents died, he came to live with Clem, Ted and Andromeda and when his grandfather died, the trio stuck together like glue. Clem lives alone now, but Ted’s old room is still there, marked by the window facing the sea.
I glance at it ruefully.
When I walk up, I can almost see his old motorcycle resting against the gable of the wooden house. The spot on the wall seems oddly bare in its absence, but I discard the thought expertly, focusing my attention on Clementine’s smiling face.
“Lucy!” She squeals and wraps me up in her large form. I sink into her embrace, breathing a sigh of relief as I feel everything drift slightly into place again.
“I’ve missed you, Clem.”
“Clem’s missed you more,” the old woman croons, her wispy curls stirring in the wind. Over her shoulder I see Scorpius placing the bike gingerly in Ted’s old spot and I look away. I turn to face Clem, winking at Scorpius when he walks up to us.
“This is Scorpius.”
All the joy on Clem’s face seems to disappear with the beat of a wand. I watch her carefully as she takes his large form in, together with the sunshine yellow robes and the long ponytail. He smiles largely, holding out a hand.
“Hi there, gorgeous.”
Clem ignores his hand, instead turning to face me, her eyes glittering in the light. Her full mouth twists, her eyebrows knotted together in a deep frown. I already know the words before they leave her mouth, but the shaky tremor to her saddened voice makes me close my eyes and bite the inside of my mouth hard enough to draw blood. The stale metallic taste fills my mouth, its sting nailing me to the ground as the word spreads across the silence.
Clementine Black’s house is the closest I ever got to home.
It’s not a fact shared with many people, in fact, it’s a fact hardly anyone knows. That doesn't make it any less true, though. I press a hand against the weathered door, entering with trepidation. I can feel his presence here even more so than anywhere. Funny how a place can be heaven and hell all in one.
As I step into the house, one thing becomes frighteningly apparent:
It's not the same.
It would have been easier if the house had remained the same, but the passage of time has changed this place. The wallpaper is yellowing, curling at its edges and the floorboard is paler, worn away by the shuffling of shoes. My feet can feel each dent and curve in the tree as I thread barefoot towards the living room.
There is a clear smell of decay and neglect pushing against my throat, nearly clogging it as I walk around. I try desperately to swallow the guilt that lies thick in my throat as I eye the state of things. We’ve been so busy with our own problems that we’ve forgotten Clem.
There are small things I notice. I notice the white larkspur struggling up out of the moss, the cracks on the walls, cutting over heartstrings and beheading flowers. I notice the empty fridge and Clem’s wrinkled hands. I notice the missing pictures and the ones that have remained. I also notice the absence of someone else.
“Who’s that?” Scorpius, having followed closely behind me, nods towards the large photograph above the fireplace as we enter the living room. It's much too large, covering nearly the entire wall. The image is a painted portrait of an elderly lady with large grey eyes and a small smile playing at her full lips. I eye the smiling lady before quickly looking away again.
“Andromeda,” I answer, “Clem’s sister. Ted’s... grandmother.”
I stumble over his name and curse myself. Scorpius nods but does not ask any more questions, thankfully. I see him look at a picture of a five year old Ted, taking in his toothy grin and the gap between his front teeth. There are many things I don’t tell him. I can tell he senses it, but he doesn’t turn to confront me, nor does he seem upset by it. I guess it’s a give and take. He has his secrets and thus he lets me have mine.
The trouble is, this place is a landmine of secrets.
It’s as if wherever I turn there’s another anecdote, another twist to our story. On one wall hangs Ted’s graduation letter, on another a picture of Ted and I on his graduation day, limbs intertwined and big smiles. At the kitchen table sit Remus and Dora Lupin in a silver frame, a small toddler swaddled between them. A beautiful metal figure resembling a sunflower is standing right beside them on the table, delicate and beautiful.
I sink down my fear and take the stairs slowly. A painted flower covers the wall beside my hand, its stem circling lamps and frames, reminding me where I am. There are leaves stretching out towards the ceiling. I trace the outline of a tulip, caught fleetingly by a lost thought.
“What’s the deal with all the flowers?” Scorpius asks behind me, “They’re painted all over the house.”
I don’t answer, unsure of my voice and of the situation. I’d never imagined Scorpius would be here. Now my two worlds are merging and I'm unable to stop them from spiraling outwards, out of control.
“Lucy.” Clem beams from the top of the stairs. I meet her eyes briefly. The joy in there hurts my eyes and my stomach clenches painfully. I know I’m going to be the one who’ll put out that fire in her eyes. I always am.
“You painted all of this?” Scorpius sounds incredulous.
I shrug. “I paint.”
“I’ve never seen you paint.”
“That’s because I've stopped.”
Clem shakes her head disapproving, tapping her hand against her heart. “Painting good for heart. Instead heart breaks.”
I don’t answer her and merely offer her a weak smile in response before stepping into my designated room. I catch sight of Scorpius’s surprised face before I turn my back on him, trusting Clem to show him to his room.
The room is as familiar as the inside of my eyelids, so I don’t need to look at the ceiling in order to see the large tree spreading outwards. It’s the only room where I haven’t painted roses. Instead it’s a nightscape, the moon winking at me from the left-hand corner.
I stand there, beneath the starlit sky and spoiled clouds, the silence of the house almost ringing in my ears. I don’t know how it got to this. I have no idea how to retrace my steps. I don’t know when this place became a stranger and turned on me.
I assess the place slowly, vacillating between technicolor nightmares and dulcet dreams. Snapshots of his hair on the pillow keep on flickering behind my eyelids, festering.
Nothing’s changed, yet everything has.
I sink down onto the bed, my eyes running over every furniture. His scent is burnt into the very core of this room and as soon as I lay down, I’m engulfed in his scent. I wonder if he ever returned to this place, if he’s pressed his skin against these white pressed sheets that caress my skin.
The memory is easy.
It comes ignited in the far back corner of my mind before spreading like a fire, inching along my subconscious. The feelings are harder and difficult to swallow down with the bitter taste of regret. It still burns when I recall the sting of his lips and the way he used to smile.
I cross the room, pressing open the closet. I find it stuffed between a worn Weird Sisters t-shirt and an old pair of overalls. The dust hangs suspended in the stale air, backlit by the dirty window behind me as I peer into the tattered book.
I search through the pages of the old album, passing faded photographs of people I have never known. I go on. Searching. Looking. Checking to see, to know.
We were here.
Remus and Nymphadora Lupin are smiling up at me, leaning together to kiss gently every few seconds. And on the other page, just as it has been for the past eighteen years it lies, held together by the small piece of plastic and a small note saying forever in clumsy lettering. I swallow down the choking bubble of anguish, running a finger along the delicate flower. The yellow petals are faded, but the sunflower remains, pressed between memories Ted Lupin never wanted to forget. I’ve been filed under past.
Maybe this is what forgetting looks like.
It gets harder and harder to look at the book the longer I sit on the cold floor. It’s a bit too much as I feel Ted’s presence so palpably in this room, yet he feels eons away; a distant tale of a fabled prince and his honours. Finally, I snap the book closed with a sigh. Reminiscing will do me no good.
My feet are heavy as I walk to the desk by the window. A soft fluttering of wings announces the arrival of Baltimore, Miranda’s Barn Owl. He eyes me with large, solemn eyes, perched on the window sealing. Beneath him lie a fresh piece of parchment and a small quill.
“Hi there, Balti.”
The owl hoots softly in greeting, shifting his legs.
“I know why you’re here,” I assure him. “And I said I’d do it, so I’ll do it.”
Balti says nothing but merely stares at me with his big eyes.
I shift. “Okay. Yeah. I’ll do it now. It’s just… He’s my best - well... Former best friend, you know?”
Balti blinks slowly.
“Yeah.” I breathe out deeply. “You’re right. The job’s great. And he doesn’t care, right?”
At this, the owl hoots twice and that’s all the encouragement I need. I sit down at the table, quill poised.
“Now, let’s see what we can write…”
I write for hours until the sun is slowly rising in the horizon, bleeding into the sky as light seeps into the shadows. Beside me, Balti shifts impatiently, but remains otherwise silent as I scribble.
With a sharp nip to my fingers, he takes off as soon as I’ve secured the letter to his feet. I stand by the window and watch his small silhouette disappear in the horizon, unease churning in my stomach as I hope to Merlin I've made the right choice.
Ted 18, Lucy 16, 9 years ago
The heat hangs heavy in the air, dense with humidity. I hear him arrive before I see him, his ever-clumsy self ruining the so called “mystery”. It gives me enough time to panic but not enough time to make a plan. My breath catches in the back of my throat despite my best efforts as I keep my back turned, facing the still water.
“Kind of knew you’d be here.”
I open my mouth to say something snide, turning around to face him, but the look on his face stops me.
“So.” He steps further into the green, plucking a sunflower from the ground. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
I watch his face for a long moment, trying to judge in which direction this will go, whether this is the end of everything. I kind of feel like I’m losing no matter what.
I end up staying quiet. It’s not a choice as much as it’s the inability to string a single sentence together. I have no idea of what to say.
“Fuck, Luce.” Ted throws the flower away in a sudden jerky motion of his hand, spitting out the words with distaste.
“Are we seriously playing this game again? Just – How can you just…” His words fade out and he steps closer. “It’s my last day. I’m leaving and man, I love you, but it’s not fair that I always have to keep up with your fucking mood swings. It’s my last day and I’d like for us to just be us for a moment.”
It’s dark by the lake, so dark that I can barely see more than the outline of his face. I don't have the heart to tell him that we haven't been us for years now. I've been in love with him for way too long for that. Ted steps even closer to me, the warmth of his body radiating at me. He runs a hand along my jaw, toying with a strand of hair.
“I’ve always loved this place.” I look down, watching my hands, trying not to look at him. He's always had the power. It's so unfair.
The lake house has always been our haven. Ted presses a hand underneath my jaw, lifting my face to meet his again.
“Don’t shut me out.” He says it quietly and it’s all the pretend I can muster.
“I just want you to know that I’ll –“ I bite my lip as I try to keep my eyes on his steady ones. “I’ll still be your friend, even if you become a fancy old bugger and start wearing crocks or something. You know. You’re a good guy. One of the few.”
He’s smiling slightly, probably enjoying this. I wonder if Vic loves his eyes as much as I do. If she appreciates this.
Ted grins, his smile large. “I’m going to miss you, short stuff.”
“Not as much as you’ll miss Vic – what with all of your plans –“ I mutter, remembering our talk by the cliffs not long ago. He had looked so lost then, now he just looks excited, with the future in his eyes.
One hand slides up my back, pressing me forward into his arms. I let him embrace me, his strong arms wrapping around my torso. Involuntarily, I shiver as a tremor runs through my body. His chest is hard and hot underneath my hands and despite my better judgement I clutch his shirt in a tight grip.
“I don’t want you to forget me.”
The admission is hard, the words clinging to my tongue as I murmur them against his neck.
Ted stops breathing. There’s a flash of seven years ago, his eyes warm and comforting in a boat on a cold night, and I can’t help but feel that this is so much different than the last time. He’s not a little kid anymore.
He’s a young man now.
His other hand comes up and now he’s gripping my face and bringing me in closer to him. He presses his lips hard against my forehead, still cradling my face. I close my eyes. I can feel the warmth of his body, pressing into mine. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
“I broke up with her.”
“Pardon?” I ask distractedly as his fingers continue to draw imaginary maps on the small of my back. I can’t really think with him standing this close. I can’t really do anything. He presses his cheek against mine, his skin warm and soft.
“I broke up with Vic. We were never... We'd lost what we once had and we were just together for comfort. I’m so tired of pleasing everyone, trying to be what they want me to do. I'm tired of being scared. I just want to do what I want for once.”
“And what’s that?” I ask, my breath catching in my throat.
He pulls back suddenly, watching my face.
There's something in his eyes, which I haven't seen before. The expression says things that I think we’ve needed to say for a long time now and I come to think how twelve months doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I miss his touch for a second before his hands are back on my skin, cupping my face.
He presses his forehead against mine as his breath washes over me in a sharp gust of wind. He seems nervous, his eyes brown and never-ending as they search mine for whatever it is he's looking so hard for.
“This,” he whispers tightly before closing the distance and touching his lips to mine breathlessly.
I thought life would never change, that the seasons and our small place by the lake would forever withhold the passing of time. But as always time makes fools of illusioned dreamers. And then one day, one beautiful, crisp Easter day, it all came crashing down.
A/N: Don't forget to reviewww... :)
Chapter 5: 5
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
A/N: There's only one thing I'll say before I leave you to read: I’m sorry. It’s been way too long. I've been backpacking across Africa with no internet...
I don’t know it anybody reads this anymore, but if you do, thank you.
INTO THE LION'S DEN
IMAGE CREDITS inspector.@tda
And in the middle of the night I may watch you go
There'll be no value in the strength of walls that I'll have grown
There'll be no comfort in the shade of the shadows thrown.
- Mumford and Sons, Lover of the Light
Lucy aged 17, Ted 20.
The blank metal jiggles against the hardwood floor, spinning wildly in circles. My hand remains outstretched for a few seconds more, helplessly grasping at thin air like a fish on land, gasping for air. I stare at the badge, my throat bobbing up and down, off beat. The panic is slow but certain as I listen to the sounds of the garden, of my mother mingling among the guests, making inane chitchat over shortbread and coffee. My fingers tremble.
I pick up the badge. The skirt of my dress ruffles loudly as I bend over, the layers sliding against each other. Those simple words seem to glare out at me from this small, old scrap of metal, swaddling me in expectations. I never imagined that a piece of metal would be what I’d be held accounted to. It's Molly's. Not mine. The owls arrived today, none bearing the ever-important scrap of metal.
I let it drop to the floor again.
It rolls away from me and under the desk in the far corner of my room. I’ll pick it up later. Because right now I can barely look at it for contempt.
Across the room there’s a kaleidoscope patchwork of postcards from all over the world. I try not to stare, but my eyes are inevitably drawn to his bulky scrawl. I scan the pictures of scenic landscapes with banana trees and tall buildings, dodging his smile with well-practiced ease.
Twelve months is nothing.
I repeat the sentence again and again, willing myself to believe it. Now, with the months standing on end behind me, it seems quite plausible, yet I can barely remember what his voice sounds like anymore. It’s summer again and I haven’t seen Ted for a year.
He told me he’d come back for me.
I try not to, but my eyes are already burning with tears.
There are moments when I hate how unconditionally I trust him. How I trust him to fix everything in my life. I wish I’d be able to erase his words from my mind and never look back. But as it is, I’m waiting for a guy who’ll probably never return.
I wouldn’t return.
I can barely remember his voice, but the image of his face two centimeters from mine is still burnt into my mind. I can remember the soft push of his lips against mine, that tiny sliver of space he leaves between us. That tightening in his eyes when he looks at me. It makes me brave. It makes me believe that there is a future in this for us, after all.
The gleam of silver flickers in the mirror as I pass it. I let a hand rest on the oval medallion resting between my breasts. The Saint Christopher looks out of place on my body. He'd asked me to watch it for him. It hasn't left my neck since he left.
The small chain slips easily over my head. He presses it tightly against the curve of my chest, his eyes tight. I place a hand over his.
"Ted -" I start but he cuts me off, his voice gruff.
"Keep it safe, will you? It'll get lost otherwise."
He intertwines our fingers as they rest there on my chest. I meet his soft eyes. There are words here that I could say but he just kissed me last night and now, with the sun rising, it's time for him to leave.
He's spent the entire night telling me everything. Vic, his feelings for me, what he wants for the future. Out of all the things that's real simple.
"I keep regretting not having done this before. I should have done this ages ago. We could have had years -"
Somehow I've missed this part of him. The soft pucker of his lips and the tinted rose along his cheeks. My chest constricts painfully as I start to understand the significance of this. His eyes soften and he brushes a finger across my lower lip.
"Don't look at me like that."
"Like this is the end - it's not the end."
He presses his lips against my forehead, hard. As if he wants to leave a piece of him here, with me. I close my eyes and press my toes tightly to the ground, willing myself to remember everything. His skin, his hands and lips on mine, the dawn rising over us and the smell of the woods in the air.
I taste salty tears when I kiss him again, one last time.
He kisses the inside of my wrist, one last touch at the medallion.
The door opens and closes behind me as I stare into the mirror.
The sheer relief in seeing him doesn’t hit me right away. Instead, I’m just left to stand and stare at him through the reflection. He’s taller than I remember.
And he’s bald.
“Your hair –“
My voice breaks and I whip around, facing him, unable to bear this; to bear the change in him. It’s even worse looking straight at him.
Ted runs a hand across the smooth surface.
“A bet,” he explains, grinning.
I don’t smile, my stomach churning. His skin is brown and there are freckles spattered across his nose, arms and legs.
He is gut-wrenching beautiful.
We stare at each other from across the room for a very long time. He’s grinning largely at me. After a while I can’t take the silence anymore and I turn back around to meddle with some stray bottles and jars. I shift them around on the cupboard, my trembling fingers slipping on the blank surfaces. Their clutter is the only sound in the room.
This wasn’t how I envisioned our meeting would go. Not at all.
“What are you doing here?”
I chance a glance up at his face, my heart in my throat. Finally, his grin seems to falter.
“I said I’d come back for you.”
My fingers hover on the bottles for a moment, nervous. “That you did.”
“I’m here now.”
He shifts behind me and suddenly he’s stepping closer. Just like always in his presence my heart picks up again, its beat stronger than it’s been for a year. Badum badadum. I swallow thickly, turning around again to face him.
I’m surprised to find him centimetres from me. I involuntarily shrink back against the table, my lips parted without air. His face still looks the same this close from me, I find, and it’s impossible to breathe now.
“Did… Did something happen while I was gone?” Ted asks slowly, looking down.
I stare at him. “Did what happen?”
And suddenly, he won’t meet my eyes. He looks abashed, a small red blush tinting his cheeks and neck.
“Did you… DidyoufindablokewhileIwasaway?”
He says it in one breath; I barely catch a word.
He refuses to meet my eyes. “Did you… find… someone else?”
My smile is slow, timid. “No.”
The joy in his face is unmistakable and I watch as he smiles wide, wide, all teeth and dimples. He’s radiating. My heart stutters.
Without thinking, my hand reaches up to touch his cheek. He's quite real. He leans into my touch, his eyes fluttering closed.
My boy is beautiful.
“You came back.” My fingers tremble. He catches my hand, clasping it tightly in his grasp.
“Told you I’d come back for you.” His voice is gruff with emotions, I recognize the sadness as well as the urgency lacing his tone, feeling it reverberate in myself.
I nod speechless, watching his face, mesmerized. He smiles that soft smile, his mouth dips and he steals a taste, lost against the arch of my shoulder and pulls me closer. The thrill tingles along my spine and I press my chin against the curve of his neck, breathing. He smells of the woods, spice and just Ted.
He leans in for the briefest moment, staring at my lips. I have just enough time to remember how he’s the first and last person to kiss me before his lips are on mine again.
We walk downstairs hand-in-hand. I catch Andromeda's smile amidst the gaping crowd. Ted brushes his lips across the back of my hand. We catch each other's eyes.
Oh, what a story we’ll have.
“Just about fried, yeah? But with that soft centre of yummy goodness.”
“Jeeesh, Scorpius. You’d think you were ordering a steak and not eggs the sunny side up.”
I empty my cup of coffee in a single drag, questioning idly why I thought this was a good idea.
“I see someone’s having a crappy morning. Who drank your magic potion, Cinderella?”
I bury my head in my arms. “Just. Shut up. You know I’m not a morning-person.”
He tried to talk to me about Ted yesterday, even sat on my bed and tried to braid my hair. I managed to curveball him, but only barely. Now he’s eyeing me like a prey stalking its victim.
“Fine.” Scorpius raises an eyebrow at me, placing his hands on the flowery apron he’s put on. “Eat your porridge and I swear you’ll start hearing the birds chirp.” He pauses for a second, cupping his ear. “Yup. It’s started. Today is going to be epic. ”
I bury my head further.
“There you go.” With a flourish, Scorpius sets a steaming plate in front of me. “Porridge straight from the stove, filled with yummy love. And look,” he sprinkled something over it. “We even added cinnamon! Now that’s a great breakfast. Nutritious, too.”
I pull the plate towards me silently and begin shovelling in.
The oil sizzles on the pan and the egg skirts about from side to side. Clementine’s mouth is crooked, a small hum escaping her even in her current state-of-mind. She never could resist cooking.
“That’s brilliant,” Scorpius gushes, receiving a somewhat well-earned scowl from Clem, stating that this, is all for me.
“Thank you, Clem.” I raise my head from food.
Clem smiles somewhat strained at me before sliding the eggs onto Scorpius’s plate. The eggs have barely touched the porcelain before it’s out of her hands.
“Thanks.” Scorpius sits down at the table, picking up knife and fork for eggs on toast.
I roll my eyes.
“Just. You. Eating eggs and toast with a knife and fork.”
He rolls his eyes but says nothing more. I return to my porridge. It’s soggy and just… yuck.
“It’s alright, you know.”
I glance up. “What’s alright?”
“It’s okay to not be okay about this.” He wiggles a forkful of eggs at me. “Nobody wants to be forgotten.”
“S’fine.” I return to dig into my porridge. “Besides, it’s not like…”
“Not like what?”
I glance at him, swallowing, suddenly finding it hard to look at him.
“I haven’t been forgotten.”
We eat in silence from then on. The tablecloth hasn’t been set so I watch the marks on the ancient table. There is the spot from Ted and mine attempts at making potion when I was nine, which I cannot quite look away from. Another one teases me from the corner of my eye, this time from trying to cook spaghetti. I dig my nails into the wood and it is as if I can feel it breathe, remember, remember.
I can hear Clem bustling with her plants in the other room, murmuring soothing words under her breath. It’s funny how something once familiar can feel so alien. I wish she’d walk right in and hug me and never let go, I wish she’d leave and never return, I want to seek shelter in the soft cocoon of her embrace and wait until there is nothing left but me, her and this house.
The doorbell rings.
I get up to answer the door, seeing as Scorpius is still nurturing his love affair with his eggs.
Oh, sweet lord in heaven.
“Er. Pippa –“
Pippa Montjoy is standing outside my haven looking way too chipper for nine o'clock in the morning. And she’s wearing mint-green spandex. And pink legwarmers.
“Oh, jolly good.” Pippa claps her hands together. “I know it’s early, but I was just too excited to sleep, so I thought I’d pop in after meh morning-jog –“
I stop listening after "morning jog", because really, who is this woman?
“Morning-jog?” I eye her flawless makeup and hair doubtfully.
“Haha! Funny! Oh, I can’t wait for us to become best friends.” Pippa laughs like I said something witty, slapping a hand on her way too skinny thigh. I swear, there's not an inch of fat there. Dammit.
“Can I come in?” She asks, trying to peek behind me. I block the doorway, unsuccessfully.
“We – um. Ahem. Well. We’re a bit busy, you see? Clem wanted us to fix the boiler…? Painting needs to be done… Plants… Weed…”
I begin listing things off the top of my head, which apparently seems to work - that is until Scorpius appears behind me like a dementor sneaks up on you, wearing his flowery apron and a pan with eggs and bacon.
Pippa smile widens, if possible, even further.
Which is how I find myself sandwiched between Chip and Chap, who have now commenced on another fascinating topic... Colour schemed.
“So I was thinking coral, but then I thought who would want coral when they could have fuchsia! But then I saw this article in Witch Weekly about how Razzmatazz is the new Gamboge –“
“I wrote that article!” Scorpius squeals, “and I so agree. You can never go wrong with razzmatazz…”
I stare perturbed at the pair through the thick steams of coffee emerging from the mug under my nose, not quite recognizing my friend anymore. They’ve been going on and on about the wedding ever since Pippa sat down at the table and frankly, it sounds like Troll to me.
“It’s such a hard decision, though. They’re just so different.” Pippa shakes her little blonde head, distraught.
Scorpius nods sympathetically. “It’s crucial to choose the right colour-schemes early on, honey, and frankly you have a lot to figure out.”
I roll my eyes. Scorpius doesn't know a thing about decorating. His apartment consists of a bed, a raggy old couch and a painting his mother bought for him for his birthday.
Pippa nods solemnly, put out for the tenth of a second before she rights herself.
“Anyways,” She turns to face me. “Since you’ve got the special honour of being one of my special little helpers -” she laughs, the sound tinkling and sugar sweet. “I am hereby inviting you to the dress fitting and of course, my last night as a single lady! Most of my friends are still in Scotland, so it really means a lot to me that you’ll come. Ted’s best friend, gosh. Here -”
She flips through a large pink planner furiously before pulling out a large pink envelope and pushing it towards me. There are lilies on it.
“This is the invite to the hen night. The dress fitting is the day after tomorrow at ten. I’ve already called the dress fitter and she’ll have your dress ready by then. Tomorrow, we’re going to the salon and you’re so very much invited. It’ll be just jolly.”
Oh, Sugar Muffin, I’d rather get my nails ripped out one by one.
Pippa reaches over and takes my hand in hers like it’s nothing. Her hand is tiny in my large one and she’s got a pink manicure and long, feminine nails. I eye them enviously, thinking of my own chapped baby nails. I bet they’re her natural ones, too.
“Oh, Lucille, I just know we’ll just be great pals – I know it! Don’t you feel it?”
Yes, dear, I feel a sudden urge to throttle you and shave off your blonde wig. But sure.
I nod reluctantly. Pippa beams even larger and begins eating her breakfast. I turn to Scorpius.
“Scorpius –“ I wheeze through my teeth, elbowing him in the side.
“What?” He looks up from the magazines, seemingly for the first time noticing my face. I gesture wildly towards Pippa who is happily munching on her bacon and eggs.
“Oh.” He shrugs and smiles wickedly, “The girl better look presentable. It’s not often a fellow Scotsman gets married off to an English bloke.”
“You’re. Not. Scottish! You’re from Southampton, you idiot.“
He waves me off. “Potato, Potaato. My great-grandfather was a Scot, so that makes me a Scot, too!”
I glare at him. This is his revenge for me not telling him anything. I just know it. I lift the envelope up, running a hand across the thick floral design. Lucille is written in swirly letters across the front with a small heart dotted above the i.
I look up. “Pippa, I…”
“I’ll see you at ten tomorrow, then.” She smiles warmly, getting up from the table. “Thanks for the breakfast, it was divine.”
So swiftly that I have no time to react, she bends down to kiss me on each cheek, before disapparating with a small pop.
I stare at the spot from where she disappeared for a long time, the invitation clutched tightly in my grip. My previous anger at her has disappeared and in its wake it’s left nothing but numbness. I count my breaths one by one, letting it pass my lips slowly.
Scorpius leaves the table to clean up and I see that Pippa’s left something behind after all.
She’s forgotten her planner.
We dress in silence.
I’m still bitter about the Pippa-incident, and Scorpius is still furious that I won’t reveal the details of Ted and I.
I pull on a tight business skirt and flatten my hair. I smile at my reflection when I put eyeliner on. I look like myself. There’s a comfort in wearing this while so far away from home. It’s as if they can’t quite touch me when I’m wearing this. I feel invincible.
“I am a strong, independent woman,” I tell my reflection. She smiles back at me, comforting.
That feeling lasts about all of five minutes until we arrive at my childhood home.
Scorpius refuses to take the bikes, so we have to floo instead. He’s in one of his moods today, and I’m more than just a bit nervous about going back to the hornet’s nest. I’m taking him on a tour around town and he’s insisted on seeing my home.
“I don’t get why you still won’t take that damn apparition-test. Can’t see why I even bother…”
He's not very appreciative about it, either.
“I’ll go first,” I tell him briskly, stepping into the flames before he has a chance to utter another word. Of course, I catch our fireplace just a second too late and stumble out of the mantelpiece, spluttering ashes and dirt.
“Easy there.” Hands steady me as I wobble out of the ashes.
“I see the capital hasn’t changed your clumsiness, then.”
My heart stops at the sound of his voice.
“You’re one to talk,” I force out, disentangling myself from his hands. “We can always hear you coming for miles. Good thing you passed the Auror Test with flying colours in everything else but Stealth and Tackle or they’d have chucked you out a long time ago, Ted.”
I dust myself off and finally meet his penetrating gaze. His face still shatters my heart, even when I thought there weren’t any more pieces for him to shatter.
“You always knew how to make an entrance.” He smiles and eyes my skirt, touching a hand to my short locks briefly.
“You look… different,” he says it like it’s a bad thing, distaste clear in the curve of his frown.
“Is that bad?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.”
I look into his eyes. They’re blue today. I wonder what that means. Maybe he’s sad? Or maybe he just wants to match Pippa. He reaches out to touch my arm.
“Lucy, there's something I've got to –“
And in true Scorpius-fashion, Scorpius chooses this exact moment to floo in and emerge from the fire with a flourish. “No need to miss me already, hon. I’m here! Oh - ”
Scorpius looks back and forth between the two of us, clearly taking measure of the situation.
- Aaand the moment’s over. Ted’s hand falls limply from my arm.
“Teddy!” Scorpius beams in an overzealous voice. Slightly late.
I cringe. Only Scorpius can manage to go from grumpy to flat-out creepy in two seconds-flat.
“Um. Hi.” Ted waves awkwardly. He turns to me again. “I’ve gotta get going. There’s work to be done.”
He smiles apologetically. I nod silently as we stare at each other for a moment. He’s gone the next, storming out the door.
Scorpius turns to look at me. “What was that about? Angst much?”
I ignore him. “Let’s just get on with this and get the damn information and interviews.”
Lucy aged 17, Ted 20.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
No. I stare at my reflection, refusing her eyes. “Yeah. I’m… I’m good.”
Mum stands in the doorway for some time, watching me but I ignore her. She’s worried. As she should be. If I were her I’d be worried, too, yet I don’t know what to tell her or say. There doesn’t seem anything worth saying anymore.
The black dress stands in stark contrast to my white skin and it seems to glow in the morning sun. It’s my mother’s old dress. I didn’t realize until now that not owning a black dress could somehow prove problematic. I can hear the church-bells ringing in the distance, the sound clear through the open window.
It still feels unreal.
I slip on the Turkish necklace Ted gave me for my seventeenth birthday. It’s a small blue eye crafted by hand. Somehow it brings me comfort, and I clutch it tightly, hoping it’ll anchor me today. I’ll need it.
The church-bells take on another tone, louder this time, forcing me to leave.
The first thing I notice when I step downstairs is Clem.
She’s tucked into the curve of Darren’s neck, sobbing loudly. Her sobs are the only sound in the otherwise crowded room. I didn’t think it was possible for an entire assemble to be this quiet before. Now I know better.
It’s heart-breaking to watch the old woman shred to pieces between our arms. Darren strokes her back, murmuring soothingly as tears stream down her face, but to no avail. I meet his tired eyes across her head as a silent conversation passes between us.
A hand slips into mine. I look up to see Dom smile at me reassuringly, her eyes sad. Her face is bare, no traces of make-up and her beautiful hair's been scraped back in a tight knot. She doesn’t say anything and we don’t talk, nor do we need to. I avoid her eyes, refusing to meet her sadness with my own – it’ll be my breaking point.
“Ted?” I ask her quietly. She just shakes her head.
All around us a black mass of stony faces face us. I only recognize about half and it angers me. Why should they come now if they never even had the time to see her when she was still living?
Dom slips her other hand into Darren’s when we press into the corner. I don’t say anything and divert my eyes from their clasped hands. I know, and have been suspecting it for a while, but like many things now is not the time.
I meet Darren’s steel gaze. He’s calm, a polar opposite to the heaving woman in his arms. Someone braided her hair and put her in a simple long-sleeved black dress. It’s probably Darren. His dad died when he was eight and he’s the oldest of a bunch of brothers, so he’s used to this. Used to sadness. Used to fixing things.
I scan the crowd again, unease churning in my stomach. Where is he?
Trying to swallow the anxiety, I crouch down to meet Clem’s red-rimmed eyes.
“Hey Clemsie-baby,” I hum, wiping a thumb across her cheeks to catch the tears. Instantly, fresh tears roll down. Clem blinks at me, sniffling, but says nothing more.
I try to push the pain away from my mind as I look into Clem’s eyes. It doesn’t matter how I feel right now, all there is left are Clem and Ted. That’s all there is to this day. My heart clenches brutally as I remind myself of this repeatedly, staring into Clem’s broken eyes. Andromeda took care of her sister before, and now there’s no one left to take care of the disabled sister. Except for Ted.
“Clem, baby, we need to be strong today, yeah?” I stroke a soothing finger across her cheekbone. “I need you to come with me to the service, can you do that?”
Clem shakes her head, burying her head further in Darren’s shirt. I meet Darren’s eyes. He shakes his head.
“I’ve been trying all morning.”
I stroke a few loose strands away from her face, trying to coax her out with sweet words. Clem doesn’t budge. People are beginning to file into the garden where the service is to be hold, the soft melody of a hymn spreading through the air.
“Where is he?” I hiss.
“He’s coming,” Darren says, a false conviction lacing his tone. “He has to. It’s Andy’s funeral.”
We’re all silent, quietly thinking of the consequences if he doesn’t show. What we’ll do. How we’ll do it. It’s never struck me until now how much we need Ted.
“Clem…” I breathe, blinking back tears. “I know it’s hard, honey, but we really need to go to the service now.”
Andromeda’s sister shakes her head viciously, her sobs rising in volume. I inch closer, a sob breaking my own voice despite my efforts. I blink rapidly, my hand wedging under hers.
Clem’s head whips up at the sound of his voice, her sobs halting momentarily. Ted’s standing in the doorway, looking rough for wear.
“Ted,” I breathe, the relief hot in my stomach. My legs give out for a second, and I topple onto the ground.
Ted doesn’t acknowledge us at all, but crouches in front of Clem’s face, taking my spot. She is no longer crying, but watching his face intently, her eyes calmer already. The shadow of a beard covers his jaw and neck and there are near-purple shadows underneath his eyes. It looks like he’s been up all night. His eyes are a deep-set, never-ending brown. As he leans closer, a distinct stale smell billows through the air.
Dom wrinkles her nose. “Have you been drinking?”
He ignores her, caressing Clem’s face.
“Clementine, we need to go now.”
The two stare each other down for what seems like ages in a silent conversation. Slowly, Clem lifts her head from Darren’s chest. She sits up, wiping her nose with her sleeve despite Dom’s reprimands, (“Urgh, Clem – no, not the sleeve…”), and takes his hand,
Together, they walk to the garden, leaving the three of us behind. I try not to think of it, but a selfish thought enters my mind. He didn’t even look at me once.
I blink back the tears, finally able to let my own feelings out. They come rushing over me, nearly swallowing me whole. It’s Dom’s tugging that forces me to get up and move, my head suddenly empty and heavy. Dom and Darren say nothing as we walk in silence to Andromeda Tonk’s funeral service. Dom’s hold on my hand tightens for a fraction of a second as the first tear slips down my chin, her chin held high.
I’ve never realized how strong Dominique is, until now.
Molly’s in the living room with her youngest. She eyes us warily as we enter the room, but does not greet us. She doesn’t look surprised to see us, though.
Lucas sees me and zooms out between his mother’s legs to run at me. I pick him up, smiling. “Hi there, little guy.”
“You just missed Dominique,” Molly tells me indifferently.
I look up sharply. “What, were you holding a meeting here or what?”
Her eyes don’t waver. “That’s really none of your business, Lucy. You quit this family a long time ago.”
Anger surges through me, hot and boiling. I put Lucas down again in an effort to calm myself. “Whatever. I just came here to get some clothes from my room.”
“Then go. You know where it is.”
We stare each other down for a long time before I look away. “Fine. Scorpius, meet Molly. Molly, Scorpius. You’re both obnoxious, self-righteous people, you should get along fine. Enjoy.”
I leave the room swiftly, trusting Scorpius to snoop around. I just... can't.
The yellow of my room is sharp on my eyes when I first enter it. There are flowers everywhere, stretching far up to the ceiling. They curl around windows and photographs, morphing into one as they reach towards the inked sky.
I close the door behind me. Pictures of Dom, James and Ted adorn every wall. I brace myself against the door, breathing in deeply. The ghosts of us are running wild in here. Their voices are a dull hum in my ears as I step into the room, breathing.
I sift through clothes, trying to find something that can fit this new person. On my mirror, a small ring dangles in a chain. I stuff it between two jerseys, slamming the drawer shut. I’ve just closed it when Scorpius enters the room.
“Oh, thank Merlin, it’s you.” He sighs as he sees me.
“Was it bad?”
He falls onto my bed, groaning.
“Your family is such a joyful bunch,” he says into a pillow. “I met your mum… Came after me with a pair of scissors. Thought I’d look tons better without my ponytail. Your sister threatened to blind me with a spell when I spoke to Lucas, and your dad showed me his arsenal of weapons from the war. Told me about the number of great-cousins and relatives your family's killed... Lovely impressions, really.”
I barely look up. “Told you they were a mad bunch.”
“Ah, suddenly it all makes sense!”
I throw a pillow at him.
The silence settles as I continue searching my closet for clothes and shoes. Like the nosy guy he is, Scorpius goes hunting in my room.
“So what was it?” Scorpius breaks the silence. “You had a fling and then he left? Or you left? I’m so confused.”
“It wasn’t a fling. And he was the first to leave. But then... Then I left.” After a while, I add as an afterthought, “ I guess we’ve always been leaving each other. Walking away in each our directions.”
Lucy aged 17, Ted 20.
You don’t realize how strong people are until you see them at their worst.
I watch Ted silently, as he holds a speech in front of the many people, his voice rough with emotions. With the sun rising slowly behind him, he looks older and wiser than the boy I grew up with. He looks nothing like the boy I saw yesterday morning, plucking strawberries with me in the garden, stealing kisses in the shadows of the oak-trees.
My boy is growing up.
And I’m not sure I’m following.
Dom holds my hand throughout the entire service and I try to memorize each word that’s said, but find myself sinking into grief more often than not. Her thumb rubbing circles on my hand is the only thing steadying me. I focus on that, counting the patterns. One, two, three, one, two, three -
When Ted sits down again, his eyes meet mine for the sliver of a second. The pain in his eyes makes the bottom of my stomach drop out. For the entire service it feels like my lungs have collapsed, wheezing out air through a puncture wound.
After the ceremony, Ted leaves without looking left or right. I try not to, but my eyes follow him as he makes his way through the crowd, smiling deceptively at the mourners.
I stand up. I feel my mother’s eyes on me, bidding me to stay and pay my respects. But I’ve already paid my respects and I don’t need to do any more. Ted’s disappeared but I know where he’s at.
I’d follow my boy anywhere.
He’s in the middle of the sunflower field when I find him. Andromeda’s house peeks behind the trees, but he’s facing away from it, gripping a tree-bunk like it's the only thing holding him up. His shoulders are heaving in shuddering breaths and I spot his motorbike against the tree.
I recognize the tree, it's where we carved our names the summer he left for Hogwarts. It’s right by the lake where we always hang out.
I walk towards him quietly, my mind reeling. I’ve never dealt with death before. The last time someone died, it was Ted’s turtle, Tim. Ted was ten. We buried him right by this tree and ate a bucket-full of pumpkin-pies by his gravestone as a tribute. To Tim the turtle. Somehow I doubt it’ll work this time around.
I watch his fingers twitch on the bark. He looks fragile in the shadow of the tree. There’s nothing but silence here.
I come to stand by his side, my fingers slowly intertwining with his. He doesn’t look at me, his breaths loud and desperate in our silence. We just stare out at the lake, both silent in grief. After a while, his breathing calms, I rub my thumb on the back of his hand soothingly, my heart in my throat.
I didn’t know love would mean this too. That I’d feel his pain as were it my own. A week ago he wasn't even here. A week ago, I didn't feel tied to another person like I do now. A week ago, Andromeda was still alive.
“Let’s go for a ride,” he says it without facing me, his voice tight.
Scorpius has pulled an old, black and tattered shoebox out. He lifts it to his ear, shaking it. “Looks interesting.”
Something flickers in the back of my mind. My eyes widen.
“NO!” I jump across the bed and tear it from his hands.
“That –“ I heave, “is nothing.”
“Well, darling. Clearly, it’s not "nothing" when it caused you to pull a ninja-move like that,” Scorpius drawls, air-quoting. He flutters his eyelashes exaggeratedly at me.
“Mind demonstrating it again? You’re so flexible –“
“Stuff it –“ I hit him with the back of my hand. I get up from the bed, discreetly pushing the box under the bed with my foot. “Let’s go to Daisy’s pub. It’s my favourite place here.”
Second-favourite, a voice whispers softly in the back of my mind.
Lucy aged 17, Ted 20.
We drive in silence.
He doesn’t say where we’re going and I don’t ask.
It doesn’t matter as long as we’re driving somewhere, anywhere. The silence is no longer tense, replaced by a quiet understanding. He still hasn’t let go of my hands and I refuse to be the one to break the hold. Enough people have done that.
The wind whips harshly against my face as we rumble down the highway, spraying the air with pebbles and dust. I clutch his sides tightly, burying my face in the warmth of him. His breathing’s calmed and I listen to the soft drumming of his heart, timing my own breathing to match his.
I look up as we come to a halt. We’re at the cliffs again.
Ted gets off as soon as the bike comes to a halt, striding to stand by the water’s edge. I follow, my steps muffled in the wet sand. The tide is low, leaving the bay shivering in the dawn air. I can see the first ferry of the day make its way across the waters, steam rising slowly from it.
It’s such a beautiful day.
“She wouldn’t have wanted that,” Ted says finally, his voice weaker than anything I’ve ever heard before. “She wouldn’t have wanted to be buried like that… in a cramped – in a cramped space like that.”
He spits the words out harshly, looking away from me. I slide my hand into his, silently. He doesn’t need my words right now.
I wish I could grab his face and press my forehead against his, just breathing in his air, telling him fix this. Because that’s what Ted does. He fixes things. But maybe for once, he needs me to fix this instead. And I don’t know how.
My boy is broken. Damaged beyond repair.
I turn to face him and he looks at me, wide-eyed and so lost. Tears sprinkle my eyes. My fingers find their way to his face, memorizing his features. His eyes don’t waver from mine for one second. They are endless.
“I’m so sorry, Ted,” I choke, lips brushing against the corner of his mouth.
His fingers press into my side as his breath juts out, hot against my neck. “I’m starting auror-training next month.”
He says it slowly, testing out the words, as if he’s trying to see if they fit him.
I look up at him. “Good.”
He traces a finger around the edges of my mouth, his eyes flickering up to meet my eyes. “I’ll come visit you at the school all the time. I’m getting a place in London by the academy.” He sinks, ”and then, when you finish – I was thinking that you could move in with me.”
There’s a question in his eyes, his mouth soft and vulnerable. The joy of his request overwhelms me at first, but then something else inches itself closer. We’re not even a couple yet. We haven’t even been on a date. This is all so new.
He used to be unable to plan further than the next day and now his head is full of plans. Plans with me.
And now I’m the scared one.
I’m only seventeen, I have plans. Plans that don’t involve him or this town. I have things I want to do, places I need to go.
The fear is chokingly thick in my stomach, burning. But then I see the sweet chocolate of his eyes, and I can remember when I fell off that swing and scraped my knee when I was six.
He put a Band-Aid on it and kissed it better. I thought he had the prettiest eyes in the world. I still do.
I remember my first day of school, his first day of school, my first kiss, his first girlfriend, the first time I saw him cry. Sitting outside, listening to my parents argue with his hand in mine. He’s my best friend.
And that’s all there is to it, really.
I need him.
I need him just as much as he needs me. So it doesn’t matter that he’s damaged-goods or that we’re young. Ted presses a hand to the back of my neck, his thumb stroking the curve of my jaw, his eyes a vulnerable hazel.
“So, what do you say, short stuff?”
All I need is him.
It doesn’t matter that we’re just starting out, or that all of this is so new. Because in some sense, all of this is ancient and the most familiar thing in the world.
His smile is the most familiar thing in my world.
So I smile, wide, wide, tears for joy, my lips meeting his roughly, clawing his closer, closer still.
“Yes,” I say breathlessly. “Yes, yes, yes, yes -”
His laughter is the best thing I’ve heard all day, loud and right into my ear. A thrill shoots through me and I press my body against his, tight, tight.
“You’re brilliant,” my boy murmurs in-between kisses. “Absolutely brilliant.”
Daisy’s pub hasn’t changed one bit throughout the course of years.
Originally, the pub had been named Heaven’s Inn, but ever since its opening there has been absolutely nothing heavenly about it. The place reeks of old beer and failed accomplishments, housing all the village-fights. Which amounts to about once a year. Grimsby is wild.
Instead it's been named after the barmaid, Daisy, a busty and loud blonde woman, who started the place after her second husband left. Now she’s on her fifth, and somehow she believes this one is the One. Sweet Daisy’s always been a romantic.
We step into the noisy bar, looking around for a table.
“Must say, you were slumming it, babes.” Scorpius looks around at the greasy tables and wooden chairs. “This place gives a whole new meaning to the word filthy.”
I shrug. “It’s got heart – a real sight better than most places in London.”
Suddenly, a familiar voice cuts through the air.
“What would you like to eat, sugar muffin?”
Oh, no. No, no, no.
“Pippa,” I breathe.
Scorpius whips around, and right in front of us are Ted and Pippa sitting, gazing at a menu-card. At the sound of her name, Pippa looks up.
“Lucille! Scorpius!” She beams largely and waves us over. “Come, come! Join us, please!”
Reluctantly, we make our way over to their table. Ted’s got an arm slung over the back of Pippa’s chair and her hand is on his thigh. I eye the hand murderously, wishing I knew a wandless spell that could remove it. Or better yet, chop it off.
“Scorpius.” Ted extends a hand towards Scorpius.
Scorpius smiles. “We meet again.”
They have this masculine stare down.
Obviously, they're still not over the who's-the-biggest-man-stage.
“We were trying to find a dish without meat, but it’s a bit difficult. They’ve got so limited options for vegetarians.” Pippa explains, frowning. I stare at her face; I didn't even know her face could frown.
Vegetarian? But Pippa ate bacon this morning?
“Who’s a vegetarian?” Scorpius asks.
“My cuddle-bug here.” Pippa squeezes Ted’s thigh.
“Ted?” I splutter, laughing. “You’re running with wolves and not eating meat? Funny combination, huh?”
Ted looks up. Who told you that?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yeah, it does.”
We stare each other down. Finally, Pippa talks again, diffusing the tension.
“Teddy-bear’s my little daredevil.” She kisses his cheek. “When he's finished at the blacksmith's, it's his wee hobby in the spare-time. We go together all the time. You should come!”
“I’ll pass,” I say dryly.
Scorpius on the other hand, seems interested. "You're the blacksmith in the village?"
"I am," Ted replies gruffly. "What of it?"
"You quit being an auror?" I ask, dumb-strucked. "But -"
“Now there’s a sight for sore eyes, Lucy Weasley!”
We're cut off by Daisy, who trots up to the table, a pad in her hands. “That’s one dear face I haven’t seen for a while! How have you been? Got to say, yeh been missing here, lovely.”
“Good, Daisy.” I smile distracted at the older woman. “Busy, but good.”
“You here with Lupin? No wonder, the two of you never could keep away from here. Oh, the times I had to kick you two and Darren and Dom out in order to stop you drinking all my firewhisky…”
“Really?” Pippa’s voice is tense. “Teddy doesn’t drink, do you, honey?”
Ted clears his throat, his cheeks pinking. “Um, actually…”
“Drink?” Daisy laughs, “that wee lad used to empty barrels upon barrels. The only real competition he’s ever had is that birdie sitting over there.” She nods at me with a wink. I feel the flush fill my cheeks as Pippa glares at me, her bottom lip quivering.
“I see,” Pippa says in a clipped voice. “Well, luckily meh snuggles don’t poison his body anymore…”
She kisses his lips softly, nibbling them gently. I look away as Ted smiles down at her crookedly with my favourite smile. “That’s right, Pip. You’ve made an honest man out of me. “
Ted’s statement ends the discussion and Daisy takes our orders without further comment after that, the air tense once more. Scorpius squeezes my thigh under the table, comforting.
“Well, it was good seeing you, Lucy,” she says it with an apologetic smile before walking away.
We begin chit-chatting again -- Well, Pippa continues while we listen. Ted begins kissing her behind her ears. I clutch the chair tightly.
That was my spot.
Pippa reaches over and grabs my hand. I really want to pull it back again, but her eyes are very blue and clear as they stare at me. I can’t really be a bitch, so I meet her eyes reluctantly.
“I’m sorry about Ted,” she tells me softly. For a second I freeze, thinking she knows about us, but then she continues. “He’s in one o' his moods, see. The papers were a bit harsh on him this morning.”
Scorpius leans forward suddenly, joining the conversation. “What did the papers say?”
“Same old lies.” Ted’s voice is sharp. When I look up, he’s watching me. “Just a bunch of crap with no foundation whatsoever.”
Pippa places a comforting hand on his arm, and for once I appreciate her presence.
“They started this God-awful rumour about Ted, saying he’s a framer, that our marriage is a scam, and that he is a… a divorcé. And that he had, you know,” She hesitates before adding in a whisper, “lady-friends on his travels in Europe. Said that he liked his fights...”
“And that comes as a surprise, does it?” Scorpius looks non-puzzled.
I step on his foot, hard.
Pippa nods solemnly. “Awful, i'n’t it? And then to Ted who’s such a kind soul… My teddy-bear couldn’t hurt a fly.”
“You do realize he worked as an auror for living, right?” Scorpius is dry.
Pippa ignores him, whispering nothings at Ted’s sullen face. I stab my fork into my sausage, sourly.
“Bunch of money-gripping pricks…” Ted grumbles.
“Ay,” Scorpius nods solemnly. I shoot him a dirty look.
“Not really your place to talk, now is it?”
Scorpius pushes a strand of hair behind my ear, shushing me softly. “Hush now, tweetums.”
“Where did the two of you meet each other?” Pippa suddenly asks. We both turn to stare at her, Scorpius’s hand still on my ear.
“M-Mumbai,” I answer slowly, turning to face her. “It was during my gap-year.”
Scorpius comes to my aid. “I was going to a friend’s wedding and there she was, shining like the sun in Mumbai’s dirty streets. Couldn’t find the Dhobi Ghat, poor thing. So I helped her. Been in love ever since.”
He then gazes at me wearing a sappy face that’s supposed to resemble love. He caresses my ear and I smile widely at Pippa, suppressing the urge to wave his hand away.
“You went to India in your gap-year?” Pippa asks, surprised.
“Yeah,” I nod distractedly. “And France, Belgium, Greece and Turkey.”
“Did you find yourself?” Pippa giggles. Ted goes rigid.
I shrug, avoiding his eyes. “I learnt a lot. Spent too much money. Forgot about everyone. I think finding yourself is a constant search, one you do not finish until your own ending.”
Nobody seems to acknowledge the shift in atmosphere except me. I shift nervously, trying to divert the topic in another direction. “India’s amazing. You should go there, someday.”
“I’d love to,” Pippa beams, “But Ted’s already been. Next stop is the Bahamas.”
She squeezes Ted’s hands and look up at him adoringly. “It’s going to be the best honeymoon, ever.”
“That it will.” Ted kisses her gently on the lips. My stomach revolts.
Pippa gets up. “Well, excuse me, but I need to use the ladies’. Toddles.”
We watch her leave, an uncomfortable silence settling as our socialite leaves. A few minutes later Ted also excuses himself and heads towards the loo.
Lucy aged 17, Ted 20.
“Lucy.” A harsh whisper cuts through the darkness of my bedroom. I groan, opening my eyes. Lips slip across mine, nibbling at my lower lip.
“Lucy,” the dark shadow breathes against my lips. “Wake up, baby girl.”
I groggily open my eyes. Ted is leaning over me, his hot breath against the curve of my neck. I can just make out his silhouette against the window. I sit up, confused.
“What are you doing here?”
“Shh.” He presses a finger against my lips, kissing my temple. “I’ve packed your bag. Let’s go.”
He grasps my hand and makes to pull me out, but I resist. It's been a week since Andromeda's funeral and Ted has yet to sleep. His eyes are haunted and he has a full-grown beard now, the edges of him flayed.
“Bags?” I ask confused, “What bags? Ted, where are we going?”
“Anywhere, everywhere.” Ted’s voice is excited, his hands cold. “Tell me where you want to go, and we’ll go, princess.”
He lets go of my hand and begins finding clothes for me in my drawers, throwing them onto the bed next to me.
“We haven’t got that much time,” he whispers. “We need to leave soon.”
He looks up at me for a second, his eyes wild. “So that they don’t see us. I doubt your mum will be pleased about you dropping out of school.”
I must be dreaming. I pinch my skin, hard. It throbs painfully in time with my heart. Panic sets in now, making my heartbeat deafening in my ears. I get up.
“The clothes are on your bed.” He doesn’t even glance up, zipping my suitcase.
I slowly walk closer to him, watchful for the outburst. “Ted.”
“Lucy, baby, we need to get a move on.” Hus eyes flash to the short nightshirt I wear, running along my naked legs, distracted for a second only.
He looks up at me. “You said you’d come.”
I place a hand on his shoulders, pulling him closer to me. He leans on me, heavily, his hands skimming the bottom of my shirt. A shiver washes through my body at his touch and I press my forehead against his shoulder.
“You said you’d come with me.” His whisper is broken and it breaks my heart. “I need you to come.”
I can feel his body trembling underneath my fingers. I close my eyes tightly, tears clogging my throat.
His body stiffens.
“No?” He pushes away from me, his eyes wide. “You said – we – We’re leaving, Luce. Put on your clothes.”
My heart is in my throat. “No.”
His face crumbles. “But –“
“We can’t leave, Ted.” I step closer, my voice soft. “I can’t leave. I need to finish school first. You need to start at the academy. We have responsibilities -”
“I don’t care,” he spits harshly. “I don’t care! We’ll just leave and be us and no one can say anything about that. I don’t care!”
I realize that it’s not the fact that death is so final that is cruel, but it's what it does to others. Because I swear, that look in Ted’s eyes right now, it didn’t exist a week ago
He’s heaving, his hands clutched tightly. I step closer again, cautiously.
“NO!” Ted roars, disapparating with a pop that's much too low for its significance.
I stare at the now-vacant spot where he stood for what seems like forever. Tears roll down my cheeks silently. An owl hoots in the distance, jarring me from my thoughts.
I follow him again.
He’s by the lake once more, but this time he’s crouched low, his head between his knees, rocking back and forth. His feet are bare. I can see his body trembling with sobs. He isn't quiet about it this time, either. The sound of this broken man parts me in half, breaking me slowly.
I’m at his side in seconds.
He collapses into my arms, heaving sobs loud in the night-air. I clutch his body to me tightly, trying to hold him together – to hold us together.
“Shh…” I press my lips against his skin, humming softly. “You’re okay, you’re okay…”
It takes hours before he’s calm enough to apparate home with me. Inside my room, I strip him of his clothes silently. My fingers tremble as they unzip his trouser, pushing them off his legs. He stands silently before me in his underwear, his sobs having turned into sniffles. Were it another time the sight of him half naked inside my room, would have mesmerized me. As it is, I hardly notice it.
I slip my hand into his again and slide into bed with him. The duvet covers us both easily as I intertwine our legs, pulling his body flush against mine. His breathing calms as I press a palm against his chest.
He looks at me silently as I wipe away the tears on his face. His thumb brushes under my eyes, removing tears I did not know were there.
That look in his eyes. It’s something fragile. I clutch the collar of his shirt as a piercing sadness washes through me. His lips are inches from mine, parted for the sound of my name. I press my lips against his, hard.
“I’m scared,” I confess into the darkness. His grip tightens on me, his fingers splayed across my back, feeling my chest expand with every breath I take. I suppose he needs the reassurance.
“I know,” he swallows shakily. “So am I.”
I press my lips against his, pulling his body against mine in an attempt to put the pieces of him back together again. His shoulders shudder beneath my hands and he feels breakable in my arms. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it, but it doesn’t matter right now. I’ll try, and more importantly, he’ll let me.
And in the darkest hour when he feared loneliness more than death I told him the greatest lie.
“I’m not leaving you.”
As soon as Ted’s turned the corner, Scorpius leans back in his chair, his hand falling from my hair. “Well, that was awkward.”
“You think?” I snap, lifting my coffee-cup to my lips with shaking hands.
“Well, it could have gone much worse.”
“How could it possibly have been worse?”
“Well, you could have been bawling your eyes out, for instance. You looked close for a moment, but you made it though. Gotta say, I’m proud of ya,” Scorpius pads me on the back like I’m a dog.
“I’m going to the toilet,” I mutter, getting up angrily.
“Say hello to Pippa from me!” Scorpius yells at me from the table.
I flick him off over my shoulder.
I stand in the ladies’ sniffling at my own reflection. My hair is mussed up and my eyes are red-rimmed. After a while, I begin to notice the sounds in here.
That there are grunts coming from one of the bathroom-stalls. And that one of the doors is vibrating and someone’s moaning quietly. Baby, baby, yeah, yeah. I don’t recognize the signs until it’s too late.
Dread fills my stomach as I look down and my heart stutters to a halt.
There is only one pair of shoes visible.
And I already know whose shoes they are right away. One, I’d recognize them anywhere. But two, stuff like this only happens to me.
But I have to see, so I step closer to the stall. It’s as if I’m drawn to this, like a car in motion, already heading for wreckage. I can’t stop.
Those shoes belong nowhere inside the ladies’ loo, yet here they are, spread slightly too far apart, squeaking rhythmically.
I stare at them, but I don’t see them. I just can’t look away. I didn’t think it was possible for me to shatter even more. My hands stretch across my chest, grasping at nothing to keep my chest from splitting wide open. I can hear my own rapid breathing mixing with theirs, coming in beats and beats, echoing against the white tiles.
They really do need washing; those battered, ten-year-old, greyish-white tennis shoes with the laces forever untied. Or maybe they just need to be thrown out. I’d like for them to be erased from my mind right away. I’d like that very much.
I don’t need to look into the cubicle to see what they’re doing in there.
It’s all quite clear.
Ted Lupin is screwing Pippa Montjoy’s brains out in the ladies’ at Daisy’s.
A/N: Ouch? Now, who wants to rip off Pippa and/or Ted's head? FYI: razzmatazz is pink and gamboge is orange.
Chapter 6: 6
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
A/N: My eyes are going cross with the strain of finishing this and it’s late. But here it is, finally. I was getting tired of looking at a half finished chapter lying around. Alysia Harris carried me through this, like she’s done so many times before. Here’s the latest of her, which has been bugging my mind ever since I hit play. It’s my favourite writer together with one of my favourite artists. Pure magic.
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize. The title is from the wonderful Ben Howard and his song by the very same title.
DEPTH OVER DISTANCE
Just, just think about the depth when you remember the distance.
How 3000 miles is not longer than the moments spent between us.
Alysia Harris – Depth Over Distance
It was safe to say that things went downhill after that.
“Are you okay? You look kinda green,” Scorpius asks when I return to the table, my heart somewhere near my navel.
“I’m fine. Let’s just get this over with,” I retort tight-lipped, ordering a whisky on the rocks off a wide-eyed Daisy.
Scorpius eyes the drink in my hand. “Sweetheart, it’s three in the afternoon.”
“Oh, I know.”
I chuck the drink back and order another straight away. He places a hand on my arm and leans closer, his voice low.
“Okay, I get it. You’re upset, doll. You wanna mush your brains out. Mind telling me what’s wrong, instead of making a bigger fool of yourself?”
I meet his soft eyes slowly. I can’t believe he’s become the one source of comfort in my world. I used to have so many people close to me. Did I do that? Was it I who pushed them all away? I open my mouth, tugging at the cuff of my sleeve, suddenly wishing myself anywhere else than here.
“What did we miss?”
Pippa slides breathlessly into the cubicle, bright-eyed with her hair rumbled. Ted’s top-button is still unbuttoned. I stare at it sullenly, forcing the remains of the drink down.
Scorpius looks back and forth between us, his eyes narrowed. I meet his questioning gaze slowly, nodding once in a slight acknowledgement. His eyes widen and his hand squeezes mine for a second only.
He’s good like that. Kind. In a silent fashion that leaves me wondering how he ever came to learn how to cope with such situations so quietly, so effortlessly. I swallow the rise of bile, staring at the tablecloth, unseeingly.
“Oh, nothing exciting,” Scorpius replies, his hand grasping mine. “Just the same old relationship-stuff. Lucy being the love of my life and all that, you know, nothing new.”
“Good.” Pippa beams breathlessly. “Didn’t want to miss nothing, now did we, love?”
I just nod silently, my mind slightly hazy from the whisky. I can still taste its remains on my tongue, a bitter sting that nails me to reality.
“Oh, I can’t wait to get married!” Pippa breathes happily, staining Ted’s cheek with her lips. “I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.”
“Yeah, me, too.” Ted meets my eyes across the table.
I order another one, on the rocks.
Scorpius’s hand closes over mine underneath the table. “I think it’s time we go home now,” he says in a soft voice. “Let’s go, sweetheart.”
He gets up, turning to Ted and Pippa. “Thank you for a lovely dinner. You’re both such a joy.”
He smiles and pulls me out of the cubicle on wobbly feet. A silent tear slips past, sliding down my cheek as I follow him unseeingly out the pub.
“Oh, okay!” Pippa smiles, her hand on Ted’s. “Don’t forget about the beauty-salon tomorrow!”
“Oh, we won’t,” Scorpius mutters darkly.
Lucy aged 17, Ted 20.
I move beneath from him, twisting, turning and darting away from his nimble fingers, giggling. The dorm room is silent, most of the students having left for Hogsmeade, and Ted’s sneaked in, huddled underneath my covers from the cold.
My grin nearly splits my face.
“I’ve already told you.”
His lips stencil aquatic love in a burning arch across my neck. “Again. Tell me again.”
“No?” His smile is impossibly wide.
“No. It’s your turn.”
“Fine.” He rolls onto the floor, bending to one knee next to the bed. I lift myself up, leaning on an elbow. His brown eyes are sparkling and I press my lips to the place where his smirk usually is.
“I love you, Lucy Weasley.”
We make it past the first row of houses before I break down. Scorpius stands silently by my side, his hand rubbing soothing circles on my back as I stand bent over, hiccoughing through sobs.
“He’s over me.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
“They were going at it right next to me.”
The sun shades his face and I stare at the burnt edges of his silhouette, blinking rapidly.
“I didn’t know it would feel like this.”
“Like my heart’s missing completely. I really… I really thought he’d stopped having this – this power over me.”
Scorpius’s face is too soft, too understanding. I look away. I can see our shadows on the pavement, intertwined in the sun.
After a while, my breathing calms, their moans fading from my head. The incessant pounding in my head, fades too, leaving me with the silence of this town, this morbid, morbid town where I’ve lost all I’ve ever cared about.
I straighten, drying my cheeks. I lick my lips, the taste of whisky a bitter contrast against the saltiness of my tears.
“We’re going to Mum’s. We’re fixing this. At least just this one thing.”
Sometimes I think things remain the same just to remind us, to comfort us in their constancy.
I never would have guessed that Mum’s tulips would bring me comfort, their sway an uncompromising tilt in this wicked world. I run my hands through the tight scrubs, fingertips traipsing along their curve as we enter the garden. The mist is settling like a cloak, enveloping us. As if sheltering me like old childhood dreams.
Scorpius keeps on glancing my way, hostility in his stare. I think I’ve taken him by surprise. I suppose it’s a constant lesson: to acknowledge the fact that people are turning coats – even I, Sweet Lucy.
Inside, it’s a tight bustle, the soft patter of home greeting us in the hallway as the only thing. It’s funny how there can still be things like these that scream home to me, even after all this time. I expected it to have disappeared, leaving a hostile shell in its wake.
There’s humming coming from the kitchen and lead us there, half-heartedly. My mother is standing in front of the window with her back to us, swaying to the music on the radio. She must have seen us come in. Her shoulders are wound tightly, her posture stiff.
She doesn’t look up as we enter the kitchen.
“Your father is getting the turkey ready outside.”
My mother has flour on her sleeves, her eyes trained on the sizzling pan in her hand. She barely glances up at us as we stand in the kitchen, traipsing uncertainly.
“Do you need help?” I ask, trying to keep the uncertainty out of my voice.
Audrey shakes her head. “I’ve got it all under control. People should start arriving soon, too.”
People. Not family. I gulp, that could mean Ted, too. Mum’s always loved hosting dinners.
“Your father might need help, though.”
“I’ll help,” Scorpius volunteers. I turn on him.
“Uhu, no, you won’t.”
“Why not?” He looks defiant. “I could be a wiz in the kitchen for all you know.”
I stare at him. "Scorpius, you burn pasta."
Scorpius looks defiant. "I can do it."
“It’s not such a good idea, really.”
I shrug, walking him out the door.
“Best put on an apron, dear,” my mother calls over her shoulder. “These things tend to get a wee bit messy.”
Lucy aged 17, Ted 20
“Lucille.” Brittle fingers stroke through my hair, tucking away curls. Her breath stutters out, unevenly, against the side of my neck. “Lucille, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy.”
Quiet descends for a minute here, she’s somewhat expecting something from me, I can feel it. I lay down my paintbrush slowly, readying myself.
“What are you doing, my sweet Lucille?” Her whisper is tender-soft, a cooed murmur inside my heart. Her nimble fingers press into my shoulders, turning me around gently. She’s always been gentle at heart, easy smiles and small nods escaping her like the very air inside her lungs.
I match her smile, allowing her hand to come to rest upon my cheek, lingering for a moment there.
She looks past me, out the window. Ted’s carving wood, the sun bakes down on his shirtless form and I feel a smile bloom on my face, involuntarily.
“Are you… sure this is a good idea?”
I look back at her. “What? Ted?”
The smallest nod is my confirmation. I sigh. “I love him, Mum. I really do. And he, he loves me.”
“He’s not right for you.” She says suddenly, violently as if it’s bursting out of her with the force of it. “He’s a troubled kid, he’s dark and twisted and broken in so many ways, that poor boy…”
I think of his brown eyes a hairbreadth from me, of his dark days and then the light days when he’ll shine brighter than the sun. I think of his laughter and how there are days I question whether he’ll ever be okay.
“He is. But he’s also the love of my life.”
Her shoulders slump, a little, and her arms fall to her side.
I study her.
“You think I’m delusional.”
“I… I think you’re young. And in love. And that makes you inexperienced.” She looks away, fingering with a fleck of paint. “You think it’ll last forever at seventeen. But… you’ll have other loves.”
The sun is baring down on Ted and for a moment there, he looks up at the window where I’m standing and smiles so brightly it looks like his face will split whole. My matching smile hurts my face.
“I won’t have other loves.”
It comes out strong, more certain than anything else I’ve ever uttered. And as the word spread out, I recognize their truths. I hadn’t meant for them to sound so final, yet they do. And that’s okay, too.
She swallows hard. It can’t be in surprise, she had to have expected at least this.
“He’s damaged goods.”
I look away from Ted’s bright face and brush a hand against hers, squeezing it momentarily.
“Aren’t we all, Mother?”
“Ever prepared a turkey before, son?”
The expression on Scorpius’s face is tight, a tremor on his lip as he stares into my father’s eyes.
“Oh, yes, Sir.”
“Good.” Dad nods his head once, digging through the garage.
“Here you go.”
He places an axe in Scorpius’s hands, its blade rusty and dirt cracked on the dented surface.
Scorpius stares at the weapon. “I – I – “
“Go on, lad.” Percy nudges him forward. “The bird isna goin’ to die by itself, ye know. Chop, chop.”
“Literally,” Scorpius mutters.
“Look, I’ll hold it fer ye.” Percy places the screeching animal across the board. The poor bird screeches feebly, its wings flapping. Scorpius’s eyes seem glued to that delicate bend in its neck where its blood pulses.
Determinately, Scorpius takes aim, pale-faced and with wobbly knees. Just before hitting, he closes his eyes. The axe swings, his muscles flexing.
The axe settles into the wood, right next to the wobbling bird’s head, missing it by mere inches.
“Close, but not close enough.” Percy shakes his head. “Try again, lad.”
Taking a deep breath, muttering a few choice words to whatever force above, Scorpius takes aim again. Raising it high above his head, his arms tremble with its weight, Scorpius lets it drop to the board again. This time it hits it target straight on.
“I did it! I did it!” He jumps up and down excitedly, looking at Percy with wide eyes.
“Good job.” Percy pats him on his back approvingly.
“Thanks, I – uh, where – where’s the turkey?”
The head is lying on the block, a pink smear of blood covering the axe’s blade, but the turkey is nowhere to be seen.
“Where is it?” Scorpius whimpers, lifting the bloody weapon as if hoping the bird will be hiding underneath it.
“Oh, Merlin, oh Merlin. It’s disappeared –“
“Er, guys…” I begin, pointing at the turkey, which is still running around the garden, batting its wings. Only now, it’s headless.
Scorpius goes white.
“Oh, dear.” He breathes out, his eyes rolling as he topples over.
“It’s quite normal, really. They always batter around like that.” My dad shrugs.
“Yeah, but not post beheading –“ Scorpius grumbles weakly from his position on the couch. He’s still ashen in his face, but colour is slowly returning to his face again.
“Dad, Scorpius lives in Soho,” I sigh, pressing a wet cloth against his forehead. “The closest we get to living turkeys is the grill down on the corner where the hygiene’s a bit dodgy.”
My dad shifts, grumbling. “But he said –“
“It was quite fine, really.” Scorpius assures from his position on the couch. “That is, until it started flapping around, spurting blood everywhere.” He finishes with a shudder, paling again.
I press the cloth against his forehead, shushing him.
“Dead things should never move on their own,” he mutters darkly from beneath the cloth.
“What happened to him?”
I look up to find Ted standing over us, a smirk playing on his lips. I look down. “Scorpius tried to behead Dad’s turkey.”
“Can be quite a task, too.”
“Ay.” Scorpius murmurs into the cloth. He looks up. “Where’s Pippa?”
“Resting,” Ted answers. “All the wedding planning is taking its toll.”
“I bet that’s not the only thing…” I murmur.
“What was that?” Ted looks at me.
I shake my head, leaving the two boys alone. I’m just… not in the fucking mood.
Inside the dining room, Grandma is standing by the mantelpiece. She draws me into one of her amazing hugs, squeezing me tightly to her chest.
“Lucille,” she beams. “Lovely to see you, darling.”
“You too, Granny.”
“And I gather this strapping man is your new friend?” Granny’s face lights up as she looks at the shadow behind me.
I uhu-and mumble through the introductions as Scorpius swoops in beside me, kissing her cheek.
“It’s lovely finally meeting Lucy’s grandmother, Mrs. Weasley. Lovely indeed.”
Granny’s face is tight. “Well, I wish I could say the same for your family…”
“Just... Stating facts, dear. We greet all our guests with the same: openness.”
She winks at Scorpius, entirely inappropriate. “That’s the difference, you know.”
“Heh.” I giggle nervously, pushing Scorpius forward. “Yeah... I’ll introduce you to my uncle Bill, now.”
It seems that Mum has indeed invited half the family.
I stand on the threshold to the dining room for a moment, taking it all in. Victoire’s little guys are zooming in and out between the legs of my grandparents, uncles and aunts. Lily is stuffing her face by the snack-table, wearing a red polka-dotted dress, the black polkadots stretched large across her bump. Darren and Ted are laughing at something James has said, tucked into the corner of the room. Ted’s uninhibited grin dashes me somewhat for a moment there.
The entire room seems to light up with something that’s always been missing in my apartment in London, I just didn’t realize it until now. Mr Gobbles squeezes past me, searching out Ted’s feet, rubbing his traitorous head against his legs.
A hand wraps around me, taking me across the threshold.
“Let the party begin.” Scorpius murmur is soft in my ear, his grip gentle but firm. We end up standing in front of the three guys, Ted’s shades of blue taunting me.
“Scorpius! Lucy!” Darren booms in greeting. “The lovebirds have arrived.”
I manage nothing but a feeble smile, wanting nothing but to sink into the ground. As if sensing my urge, Scorpius’s fingers dig into my shoulder, holding me steadfast with surprising strength.
“Ah, the Malfoy kid.” James sneers, tilting his cognac glass at us. "Feeling better, are you?"
I feel Scorpius’s shiver as I press into his body, hip to hip. It seems as though we’re holding each other up now, supporting.
James twirls the drink around his glass idly. As if summoned by some wicked curse, Rose slides in, her simpering smile sickly sweet. She places a hand on Scorpius arm.
“Scorpius! It's been too long. Tell me, how’s Daddy Malfoy?”
I'll tell you, that girl has some seriously weird flirting tactics.
“Excuse me,” Ted takes his cue and leaves us, striding out the door.
“Rose –“ Darren warns, but I cut him off, smiling sweetly.
“Now, lets ease off on my lover boy, yeah? Before we start turning on the pair of you.”
“That’s right, your lover boy.” Rose raises an eyebrow, her gaze wicked wrong. “Come to think of it, I don’t think we’ve seen you guys kiss?”
I don’t answer, too angry for words as I stare at her smug face. There’s an awkward beat, the two of us in a mad staring-contest, until Scorpius swoops in, fixing it all as always, his voice tender.
“No, I don’t suppose you have,” Scorpius takes a breath, stepping closer to me. A raised pair of eyebrows is all the warning I get, before he’s kissing me, mouth slanted hot over mine.
I gasp, shuddering unexpectedly. As if encouraged, Scorpius steps closer to me, his hand sliding along my shoulder, down to press me closer to him. It seems to go on forever, my eyes rolling in the velvety touch of his lips. Finally, he pulls back with a small peck to the side of my neck, smiling at me.
“There,” he says softly. “That should have everyone satisfied.”
The chatter in the room has stilled considerably. Rose's gaping face bears a mix of pure astonishment and jealousy. I don't think she expected her wickedness to play in that direction. Honestly, neither did I.
I wipe my mouth in my sleeve, looking around. Ted is standing in the doorway, a smile frozen on his face, his eyes wide. I smile gently at him, reeling from the moment. His answering smile is timid, somewhat strained.
I guess I’m not the only one finding it hard to see oneself discarded for a newer version.
Scorpius hand is still curled around my waist, his body pressed against me. A small tingle spreads up through my body at the feel of a male body, my body seemingly answering anything. Avoiding his gaze, I gently disentangle myself, stepping towards the table. I need to get away from all these people and emotions - especially my own.
“I’m famished," I sigh, my voice pitching terribly. "Let’s eat.”
Lucy aged 18, Ted 21.
Annoyed, I let the brush fall with a clatter, my fingers numb and unmoving.
“What is it?” I feel his stubble against my neck and a small giggle escapes me.
“Hey…” I turn around to kiss him, mindful to keep my dip-dyed fingers out of his clothes. “How was training?”
“Tough.” Ted presses a firm kiss against my lips, nibbling at my lower lip. “There’s no mercy with Potter as your mentor.”
“But it’ll be worth it in the end, right?. It’ll save your life.”
Ted makes a non-committable shrug, nodding at the smeared canvas. “Trouble with your muse?”
I follow his gaze to the cluster that is my canvas, shuddering. It looks more like a mud-paint, the colours bleeding together.
“It just won’t… Commit.”
He rubs his hands up and down my body. “There’s no forcing it. Just let it come to you.”
We stare at the whirl of colours for a moment, wrapped up in each other, my head tucked underneath his chin. I feel the soft expand of his chest as he breathes in and out, feeling the stress leave my body.
I pull back to look at him. “So, my handsome Auror-trainee, you ready to face the wrath of my mother?”
Ted smiles that slow smile he always uses when he needs to get his way. “Come off it, Audrey loves me.”
I laugh. “Not when you tell her we’re moving in together, she won’t.”
Ted pales considerably. I shove his shoulder, jolting him.
“Hey. We’ll do it together. It’ll be fine.”
“Fine?” He doesn’t look convinced. "You'll be absolutely no help. You wouldn't recognize a confrontation even if it stood right in front of you, wearing nothing but one of Longbottom's hideous ties."
"Stuff it." I roll my eyes, laughing.
His wide gaze doesn't waver and I sober, squeezing his shoulder.
“Stop worrying,” I murmur, kissing the side of his mouth. "It'll be fine."
"Mhmpf," Ted sighs. I nestle my head in the crook of his arm, sighing.
“Besides, it’s Christmas. Dad will at least have the courtesy to wait until after the holidays to maim you.”
“So, Ted, you must be excited.”
Scorpius snatching another carrot from the bowl, ignoring my glares.
He’s been pestering everyone for information and small stories. It may seem innocent, but I saw through him the moment he started pulling out a camera, blitzing portraits and selfies with every member of my family, making sure to include Ted, Uncle Bill and the dinner table in every other frame.
“I mean,” Scorpius takes an abnormally large bite of the carrot. “This being your first wedding and all?”
Ted freezes in the spot; his fork paused halfway to his mouth. I shift nervously. Nobody says anything for a long time.
“Um… Technically speaking, it’s Ted’s… second marriage?” James says, scratching the back of his head, avoiding my eyes.
“Second?” Scorpius slowly turns to look at me. I stare back, bread halfway to my mouth. Ted clears his throat.
Scorpius looks baffled for a sliver of a second before gaining a look of impatience. “Well. Who was the other girl?”
Silence. Everyone’s looking down into their plates, refusing to meet eyes. After a moment Ted answers in a monotone.
“Some small town girl. Nothing much. It ended rather quickly, anyways. Small dreams, small ambitions, you know.”
He laughs it off with a shrug, only no one else is laughing. No one else is saying anything. I dig my fingers into my thigh, breathing. He’s still watching me and I want to do something… anything, just to stop his staring. I think he blames me. I think half the town blames me and the guilt curls violently in my stomach.
“Er… Okay.” Scorpius’s voice is uncertain for the first time ever. I stare into my plate, digging my heels into my shin to stop the words.
And quite suddenly, the turkey begins to float.
“What the –“
Fascinated, we all watch as the turkey, which by now bears more resemblance to a football, bounces off the ceiling in the dining room. It bounces up and down for a few moments before settling somewhere underneath the chandelier.
“Well, that was that turkey…” James leans across the table and begins piling mushrooms and mash onto his plate, soaking it in gravy, seemingly wanting to secure not leaving the table hungry.
Vic turns to look at her twins. “Alright. Who was it?”
I swear, she bears a striking resemblance to Auntie Ginny whenever she does that.
The smallest of the two tries to look upset, “Mum! I –“
“Enough!” Victoire draws herself up to her full height. “Both of you are –“
“Er,” Scorpius looks around. “What’s that… sound?”
And suddenly everything seems to speed up and slow down at the same time. The Turkey suddenly starts expanding rapidly and before we know it, it’s exploded, bathing the entire living room in a spatter of bones and onions.
And amidst the chaos, Mum stands, her eyes wide and mouth gaping open and shut like a bad imitation of a fish on dry land. Quite and utterly going to pieces.
The night air is soothing against my skin, the prickled earthy smell greeting me more warmly than any relative inside that hostile house. I’ve brought a bottle of bourbon with me, the cork popping softly as I unscrew it.
I’m about to take a sip as the view before me somehow stops my arm from tilting. In front of me stretches our old fields long into the distance. Spots of yellow are beginning to emerge like dots of sunshine between the green. It’s beautiful.
The wind pushes against my bare legs, nudging me along, deeper into something that has been hidden far, far away.
I let the bottle drop into the soft grass, the promise of oblivion discarded in favour for remembrance.
The flowers stand tall beside me, all turned the same direction, and I get the feeling they’re watching something, waiting patiently before blooming at the perfect moment. Always waiting.
The large oak tree rises up before me, its roots gnarled and far reaching; a shadow of what used to birth the nightmares of my childhood dreams. Somehow my feet bring me to its base, my hand slipping across its rough surface.
Hello, old friend.
I slip around its large base to see if it’s still there, if it could possibly still remain, even after all this time, even after…
My feet sink slightly into the mud, the ground softer here than anywhere else. I press onwards, my heart beating irregularly in my throat as I push the lanky plants out of my way.
The greenery seems to grow denser before suddenly stopping completely. My breath held, I step into the small circle, my smile wider. A shaky laugh escapes me as I turn in the circle, somewhat not believing it. My secret place is still here.
From here, you can see the wooden house Dad built for Molly and I up in the oak tree, before Molly grew tired of it, and it became just mine. The edge of the roof of the house is barely visible, the stars shining like suns against the black opal canvas.
“I’d forgotten how bright the stars are out here.”
“Ted –“ I turn to face him, wide eyed. “You scared me.”
Ted steps out of the shadows, slowly coming into view of the moonlight. I feel his burning stare, shifting down my body, my skin blossoming into heat. His mouth spreads into an impossible smirk.
The garment in question is a size or two too small, stretched tightly across the curve of my bum. I tuck my hands beneath my armpits, self-conscious.
“How did you know where to find me?”
I look at him directly and clearly, annoyance colouring my cheeks.
“This was my hide-out, too, you know.”
I stare at him, wondering how much he remembers, how he could possibly –
How this could hold the same significance to him when the only obligation he’d ever felt was to send a half-hearted postcard from here, a neat little Hope you’re well, scribbled in slanted ink in between the stippled lines.
“Of course I remember, Luce. We spent most of our childhood here.” I watch his kaleidoscope eyes shift from blue to brown, like a light flickering on, urged by remembrance.
“You lost your-“
“We lost a lot of things here, Ted.” My voice is shaky. I look away, irritated with myself and this situation, feeling much too bare suddenly, shivering in the cotton blouse.
“I like you like this.” He smiles, gesturing to the pyjamas. “You look like Luce again.”
“I didn’t before?”
“Nah, you’ve changed a lot.” Ted steps closer, moving towards me, wearing a small smile. “The high heels and pretty dresses? You’re not Little Lucy anymore.”
I wonder if that means I’m no longer his Lucy, either then. The thought sends my stomach lurching. I watch his mouth flattening with disapproval, the ferocity in his stare.
“Your smell has changed. I think that’s the worst part.”
He’s very close now, his breath fanning over my cheeks. He raises a finger to my cheekbone, brushing back my hair, making my breath hitch.
“You used to smell like the fields here; like sunflowers and paint.”
He toys with a piece of my hair, seemingly lost in thought before he lets go, stepping away from my body in a rush.
“Now you smell like a perfume factory and too much hairspray.”
I watch his face, his twisted mouth, as if partway to another sarcastic comment. He still smells the same. Of the ocean and cinnamon. I want to tell him that he’s the same and that I want to be the same, but that look in his eyes halts me. I won’t ever be the same to him.
“Why’d you stop painting, Luce?”
I’m frozen. I’m not ready for this, but I know it’s too late to hide, too late to turn away from this conversation so I opt for half-truths.
“I didn’t have anything beautiful left to paint.”
His contrite blink isn’t lost to me as he’s a second too late at masking it.
“Now whose fault it that?”
I try to look away, masking the hurt by tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. Crossing and uncrossing my legs, my eyes always come back to him, hurt lodged somewhere deep in my throat.
I’m not sure how I do it, how I can possibly force myself to meet his gaze. It’s like looking at bright light, my eyes tender troubled.
“Don’t do that,” Ted says, his voice low and rough.
His fingers brush over my chin, then sweep across my temple, the slightest of touch. His hand drops and he sighs deeply.
“Don’t look at me like that. When you do that it’s like we’re six and nine again and I’m blowing on your boo-boo patch, trying to get you to stop crying by telling awful armless ghost-jokes.”
My smile is impossible. “They were quite bad.”
“Oh, shush, I was desperate. I would’ve done anything to stop you from being in pain.”
We both halt then, lost in a moment as the meaning of his words sink in. His wide-eyed gaze tells me, he knows the depth of them. And suddenly we’re no longer reminiscing about childhoods and scraped knees, but it’s something different, something important.
“I’ve really missed you.” I tell him finally, my voice is rough, my eyes stinging. I look away from him, looking out towards the ocean that’s barely visible in the distant horizon. I've had that sentence planned for a long time, I have thought it over and over in my head for four years, jotted it down on paper with regular intervals, only to bin it. Now, the words seem insignificant and are simply, not enough. Three words have echoed in my head for four years and yet they had already floated off into the air, like puffs of smoke, twirling away with a distant melancholy.
Ted stares at me for a long time, his face unreadable.
”I - I gave up on you, Luce.” He sighs, "You said you wanted to ’find yourself’ and then you were gone five years. Five years. That's a long time, Luce. Of course I've changed – of course everything's changed."
I want to stop him, to tell him that five years is nothing, that I have seen lives lived in five years, that you could spend a lifetime living what I have lived and it still won’t be enough – it still won’t calm my thirst for this life, this thing between us.
He looks so torn it hurts my heart, standing there with the garden between us. ”I gave up on you.”
Honestly, I couldn’t blame him. Scorpius told me that people would do what they thought best and that there was nothing we could do in this world to stop them; we could merely step aside and wait; wait for people to return to us. I was once a wide-eyed little girl, daunted by her first love, mesmerized by the depth of his eyes, by the tingling bell laughter. But I'm not anymore. And he's older, ready for things I have barely begun considering.
The knowledge of this soothes me somewhat. We come to sit, side by side, our shoulder pressed together at the base of the oak.
“Remember when you were afraid of the dark when we went camping and I used to lie with you until you fell asleep?”
There’s something in his voice. I can’t quite make it out, almost lonely, melancholic, too. I feel like turning to face him, saying Please, please, please. But the words die on my tongue, too bitter in hesitance and indecision.
“You were always gone when I woke up.”
His smile is wry. “I would’ve stayed if you’d asked, small stuff.”
I pad him on his knees. "Oh, well. No one ends up with their childhood sweetheart anyways, do they?"
"I thought we would." Ted says gently, his smile sad.
The years spin briefly in my head and my hear surges with longing to be home, really home. I can’t remember the last time I felt like belonging anywhere. I feel him exhale, his head falling back against the tree.
We sit in silence for a while then.
"You told her I was your best friend." I can't help but blurt it out at him, my lips trembling. I can't help about the tone, either. It sounds more accusing than it did in my head.
Ted eyes me for a moment. "I did," he says finally. "It's the truth, anyways."
"Does she know?"
I shrug. "Everything. The apartment, the vows, the disownment. Just. All of it."
He sighs. "She knows... parts of it. Other bits I've kept quiet about."
"Oh, like the fact that you were married before?"
"What did you tell her?"
I look away from him, sinking. "Nothing. But I'm pretty sure she wouldn't be crowning me as her new bestie if she knew."
He runs a hand through his hair, agitated. "She doesn't know. I'll tell her soon. Just... Give me time, yeah?"
I nod. "Just don't wait too long, Ted. You know this town: a secret doesn't stay secret for long, here."
"Don't I know it... Don't I know it."
His eyes meet mine and I swallow thickly. "Would you stop looking at me like that?"
"Like what?" His gaze doesn't waver.
"Like you've seen me naked."
His grin is devilish. "But I have seen you naked..."
"Stuff it, Lupin."
Silence settles for some time, before Ted breaks it again, his voice faint.
“Will you be my best man?”
I stare at him.
“You’re joking.” It comes out proper, stiff. "We've barely talked since I've been back - and -"
In a sudden jerky move, he reaches out, pulling me against his side and I am overcome by the smell of him, warm and homey.
“I’m not joking.” His murmur presses against my hair, his body too, too close. I shiver sigh into him, my heart bottoming out.
“You’ll still be wearing Pippa’s bridesmaids’ dress, only… Only you’d be on my side, my right hand. Supporting me.”
I blink. Words are singing underneath my skin, my tongue burning with them. I feel like screaming with the force of it. Instead, I’m silent with horror, my heart somewhat sensing that I will not – cannot, deny my boy anything - not even this.
His fingers brush against my wrist. “Don’t make me beg, Small Stuff.”
“I-y-I… Yes… Of course, Ted. Of course I’ll do it.”
“I knew you’d do it.” Ted is sparkling, brilliance bursting out of him. “Pippa was saying it isn’t proper. But you’re my best friend, you know. No matter what.”
No matter what. I sink. Ted hums softly, the sound muffled against my ear. In a silent act, we settle back against the tree trunk, in a fashion that can only be accomplished by two people who’ve know each other since forever, perfectly in tune, even after all this time.
We’re silent for so long, watching the swaying sunflowers that Ted’s voice startles me somewhat. He strokes a soothing hand down my arm, his voice soft.
“It’s good to have you back, Lucy.”
Lucy 18, Ted 21
"You're not supposed to stop."
My voice is soft, a murmur pressed against his collarbone.
Ted pulls back. I watch his eyelashes flutter, press against his furry eyebrows. There's something undefinable in his eyes right here, and I press my fingers down on the back of his neck, urging him to me, closer until I can't tell where I end and he begins. That's how I prefer it.
He presses a scorching kiss to the edge of my jaw. "I like this. There's no rush."
I roll my eyes. It's been the same discussion for months on no end.
"Lucy." He mock glares.
I push up against him, pressing my mouth against his, demanding at last. I won't let him back away. He's contrite with me for a moment, meeting my kisses with a ferocity of his own.
Before long, though, he pulls back, smiling softly.
"This isn't the place, Small Stuff."
"Why not?" I ask, looking around us. The sunflowers have bloomed, standing like butter across the arsenic sky. "It's beautiful here. It's where you blew on my boo boo patch."
He laughs then, a light sound that lifts the corners of my own mouth, a mirror twin of his perfect grin.
"You know, I knew it back then. That it'd be you It'd always be you."
"Liar, liar. Big, fat liar." I laugh, but pull him close nonetheless, rubbing my nose against his.
"You're going all cheesy on me, Mr Lupin..."
I grip his arm with unexpected force, pulling him close and touching my temple against his. He blinks at me slowly. I can feel the blood pulsating underneath my skin, his heart hammering against my hand pressed there.
"Please." I sink in a sudden urge of seriousness. "I don't know where else would be a better place than here."
Murmuring my name, Ted brings a hand up, caressing my face. And suddenly he's gripping my face, bringing me in closer to him. His eyes are squeezed shut, but he opens them and looks at me.
"I wanted it to be special. Not in a meadow."
"It is special," I whisper, curving a hand against the slope of his chin. "This is us. It'll always be us."
He nods tightly, his forehead still pressed to mine and I feel his breath across my lips. He cradles my face, turning it up to meet his, kissing me slow and thoroughly like he's memorizing me. He presses his body against me, a pleasant heaviness. I hold onto his wrists, trying to steady my erratic breathing.
"This okay?" His voice is gruff, breathless like I feel. I nod silently, pulling at him to close the gap again. A low groan rises in his throat, his hands squeezing at my waist.
"Lucy." His eyes are scorching as his thumb rubs across the top of my cheekbone.
And just like that, he owns me. It's in those little gasps of breath as he pulls back just a little bit before kissing me again, the low sighs that seem to origin from somewhere deep in his chest. It's in his murmured words and the way his lashes flutter against the beautiful slope of his freckled cheeks. The way my skin prickles and shivers in response to his. It's the way we stir things, move the universe on this meadow underneath our oak tree.
He owns me. Just like that.
Chapter 7: 7
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
A/N: Aubade (noun): Origin: French. – A poem about lovers separating at dawn.
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize.
Present all your pretty feelings
May they comfort you tonight
And I'm climbing over something
And I'm running through these walls
- Mumford & Sons, Believe
I wake up to the low buzzing of my cell phone. It’s located somewhere across my left buttock as it vibrates in a whirring pattern, before picking up again. Stirring, I find a huge wet patch the size of England stretched across my midriff. I look up to find Ted’s face inches from mine, and the mystery patch is explained. He’s drooling, his face peaceful for once. Young.
For a long time, I stare at him. All the while my buttock vibrates slowly to the break of dawn. Then I slowly sit up, disentangling myself from his arms. Murmuring, he turns over and continues sleeping.
I look around us. It’s pitch-black, except for the moon shining brightly above us. At the edge of the forest, I can see the rosy reds of dawn slowly creeping in on the lands.
We fell asleep.
I eye Ted’s hand, which is still resting on my thigh. I don’t think he knows that it’s there. I can feel the tingling sensation all across my legs, my flesh prickling into Goosebumps. This is bad, bad.
I pick his hand up slowly and place it back on the ground, grabbing my coat as I rise. I can’t help but sneak one last glance at his vacant face before I slip across the fields.
His face reminds me of a thousand other nights, spent together underneath the stars. His soft, regular breathing and shifts are like my own memory, as familiar as the pattern of my own sleep. Like you almost don’t notice the turns and breaths, because they’ve been with you forever, but when you do notice those shifts and turns, all it does is to bring you comfort.
The sunflowers part slowly as I press into the fields, redialling Miranda after five missed calls. Behind me, the old oak tree shelters Ted’s form completely from view. It’s out of sight, much like the past five years, but not far from my mind.
I slide off my coat as I enter the bedroom and switch on the light. The house is silent, like an old friend welcoming me home without words.
I stop abruptly when I turn to my bed. On it lays Scorpius, still in his clothes. He looks shrewdly at me. “Where have you been, missy?”
I halt in my steps. “Out. I mean, well… we fell asleep – I – Miranda called?”
He lifts his head, “Yeah?”
I nod. “She wanted to hear how it was going. The first article was well received, but she wants more juice. I’m thinking I’ll grab a few photos off the beauty-shop tomorrow? Then we can splash on where the bride gets ready for her day.”
“That sounds great.” Scorpius smiles. “I’ve been working on a few portraits as well that we might be able to use.”
I raise an eyebrow at him. “I’ve noticed.”
I climb into the bed and snuggle against his chest. Sighing he draws me closer.
I’m between his legs, resting on his stomach. I feel his breath and maybe it’s time, maybe it’s time for some kind of declaration. I’ve thought about it God knows how many times, but always backtrack. And now it’s not in me. Not anymore.
“I know, Scorp. Shit, I know.” This is getting way out of hand.
Scorpius doesn’t say anything else, but kisses the top of my head instead, squeezing my shoulders.
“He asked me to be his best man.” I don’t look up, but close my eyes instead, listening to the slow drum of his heart.
Scorpius sighs. “Well, that’s it, isn’t it? You’ll have to decide.”
“Decide on what.”
“Whether you’re stopping this wedding, or you’re supporting him.”
Ted 22, Lucy 19
“You know, this would get done a lot faster if you’d help me.”
I yell it loudly over the radio, as I dip the paint-roller in paint. It rolls lightly across the wall as I spread the paint evenly, the wall gaining colour slowly.
“It would get even faster if you’d let me do it by magic,” comes his answering yell from the next room.
I roll my eyes. “I want to do this by hand. It’s our first house, hand-painted by us. It’s cute and homey.”
“It’s a damn nuisance and a waste of time.”
“Seriously. Stop with the whole “time wasted”. I want to do this, Ted. I – wait, are you naked?”
“I sure am.” Ted prances into the room, wearing nothing but a spot of sunshine, his eyes bright.
I laugh. “Why are you naked? You’re supposed to help me.”
“I could still help you?”
“Um, no, you can’t – you’ve got all your… jingles wiggling about…”
“Prude.” Ted sniffs.
“Exhibitionist.” I shoot back.
“I could be one of your naked models,” he smirks, striking a ridiculous pose. “Then I’d be the only man you’d ever see naked.”
Giggling, I walk over and embrace him. “You’re the only one I ever want to see naked,” I murmur against the back of his neck.
I feel his smile break against my shoulder as he nuzzles closer.
“I think one of us has too many clothes on…”
We don’t have a lot of money, and the apartment is horrible. But it doesn’t matter, I muse as Ted peels off my clothes, pulling me down on the floor. Nothing matters. Our love is great enough to eat.
The next morning, Scorpius cheerily greets me from the dining-room table as I descend the stairs.
I stop in my tracks. “What are you wearing?”
“Oh this old thing? It’s nothing, found it in the cupboard.”
The garment in question is a pair of large mint-green overalls. Along with the overalls, Scorpius is wearing a large Icelandic sweater and a large hat that barely covers his ponytail. I eye him warily.
“You look ridiculous.”
“Ridiculously handsome, you mean.”
I take a seat at the table, grabbing a muffin. “Nah, just ridiculous. Where are you headed?”
“Fishing. With James and his dad.” Scorpius wiggles his brows at me.
Ice fills my stomach. I clear my throat, pushing aside the unease. “Out for gossip with Ted’s godfather, then?”
He taps two fingers against his head in acknowledgement. “You read my mind, love.”
“Have fun.” The words taste funny in my mouth as I head out the door, heading towards Lily’s. Behind me, Scorpius waves. “You too, honey.”
I wish it were easier. I wish I didn’t feel like I do. As if my two worlds have merged, and all it does, is to tear my guts out.
Lily is huge. Ginormous. The sheer size of her keeps on taking me by surprise. Whenever I see her, it’s like getting the news sprung on you once again. Like, I’ve forgotten it the moment I look away. Forgotten that all these years have passed and that she grew up. That we all grew up.
She pulls me in close when she opens the front door.
“So good you had time before the beauty-salon. I feel like we didn’t get a chance to talk last time.” Lily attempts to hug me despite the obvious obstacle between us, as her huge belly makes it a half-attempt at best.
The house is huge, with wide hallways and pretty paintings on the walls. I press a hand gently against the sharp curve of her, smiling despite myself. “How did all of this happen?”
She pauses, her smile big. “It was just one of those things. It felt right, you know? And now I’m the size of this house!”
Lily laughs but I don’t.
“Come on in,” she waves me inside, and I squeeze past her into the entrance.
“Dom's just arrived.”
There’s a huge teapot between us, its flowery shape seething steam into the silent room.
Lily’s in the kitchen, stirring something together. We’ve finished shuffling an obscene amount of furniture around the halls of this house in absolute silence. And now it’s time for tea and biscuits.
I’m finding it hard to look at her. And I don’t know what to do to change the sticky atmosphere. The room just grows more and more silent with the ticking of the clock.
“How are you, Luce?” She’s trying, she is. I stare at her, unable to form words, unable string together a sentence that describes adequately the series of emotions I battle.
“That’s such a bullshit question to ask, Dom.”
Dom’s eyes snap up to meet mine, blue and wide. She laughs then, tucking her hand under her chin. “Merlin, I know. That was a… ah, shitty question to a shitty friend.”
And it’s one of those moments when her face looks so much like her usual old expressions that it’s comforting. And frightening.
I pull back. “Can we… Can we just skip this part, and go back to being us again?”
Dom looks at me. ”It’s not that easy.”
My mouth wrinkles, my hand hovers over the air between us, contemplating reaching for her, but thinking better of it.
Dom raises her teacup in an armed defence, the porcelain clattering against the saucer as if the sound could drive away the years.
“I was… hurt, Lucy,” she says then. “You just upped and left and never contacted me again. I thought we were better friends than that. I thought we owed each other more than that.”
“We were.” I turn to her, my eyes watery, my chest heaves. “It wasn’t… It wasn’t about you or anything like that… I was just – “
“That night in the cottage, though. Something was wrong, wasn’t it?”
“I wish you would have told me. Confided in me. Trusted me.”
I bring the cup to my mouth. My lips press into the rim and I force myself to swallow. I cough. “It was very complicated… I’m not even sure I knew how to talk about it. I was just really hurt.”
“I know. They… told me. But running has never resolved anything.”
“I know.” I sink.
“How… how bad was it? No one will tell me the truth, they only hint at it. Tell me, please.” I ask, half-hoping she won’t answer, half-hoping that she will.
Dom looks at me sideways. “It was… bad. Real bad. I’m not sure… I’m not sure he’ll ever be quite alright.”
“I’m not sure that I’ll ever be alright.”
“He… He got kinda… wild… after you left. Slept around a bit. Dropped out of the Auror-academy and came here… got the job as a blacksmith, working with Darren. They… They both came back to Grimsby to work together. I don’t know. They… found peace here.”
There’s a pregnant pause in which I sense there’s more to this story. And in a way, we’ve both been left behind. Darren from Dom and Ted from me. I grab her hand, instinctively.
“I think I’ve made more harm than good, Dom. I… I think I might have caused too much damaged for it to ever be alright again.” The confession pours out of me, and I am somehow unable to contain myself any longer and all my insecurities come, bursting out of me.
There’s a hesitation and then she leans forward, her eyes warm. She brings me into her arms, reaching around me, attempting to hold me together. I blink into her shoulder, feeling her exhale.
“It’ll get easier, I promise.” Her promise breathes gently.
“It needs to. It needs to get easier.”
We sit there for a long while, holding each other. She pulls back again and I wipe my eyes, smiling. We sit cross-legged on the couch, facing each other. She asks questions and I shoot questions back.
France. Ted. Scorpius. My job. India. There are so many things we have left behind that need retelling. So many heartaches and pains. Troubles and storms.
And here, inside Lily’s living room, with our legs touching, it feels like I’ve come home, finally.
Ted 22, Lucy 19
“How’s the painting coming along?” Dom says it like it’s something else she’s asking about in that voice that makes it clear it’s not even a question. But I won’t bite.
I look up from the array of colours, to gaze at her. “It’s going well,” I answer carefully. I continue looking at the paint-supplies, picking out a few new brushes. “I’ve finished a few, begun on a couple of others. It’s going well.”
I like how ascertain I feel when I say this. It feels sturdy. Like the tube of red paint in my hand, I can feel the purpose lying in my right hand.
Dom nods slowly, picking up another tube of paint. She studies it with such vigour uncommon for her, and I wait, with bated breath for the assault. And sure enough, it comes,
“Does your mum know you didn’t apply to the Ministry, after all?”
“No.” I hesitate. “She… She thinks I’m taking a course in communication before applying.”
Dom nods silently and we continue browsing the shop in silence.
“I think I’ve got everything I need now.” I make my way to the till and pay. The lady there is nice, chattering about different pallets and brush-sizes. I nod absently as she bags the items, my mind sizzling.
Dom’s stands by the door, watching me with uneasy eyes as I make my way down the aisle.
I stop up, “Okay. Out with it. Now.”
Dom hesitates. “It’s just… it was bad enough when you and Ted moved in together. I… I mean, we both know how your mum is… and with Molly doing so well at the department of regulations…”
“And what should I do? Go into the Ministry and demand a job?” I laugh. “It’s not like I’ve got the grades or experience to show for it.”
“I know. Shit, I know, Luce.” She reaches out to squeeze my arm.
My throat is tight. “It’s not like I’d like it, either. I’d wither up there, Dom. It’ll kill what’s left of my spirit.”
I can feel the sharp hint of panic, this starchy grey threatening to pull me under. “And I need that spirit, Dom. I need it. I can’t remain plain Lucy. I need more. Something that’s mine. And Ted, he gives me more.”
Dom’s eyes are bright. She grips my arm, fingers digging deep with something akin to understanding. “I’m just saying… Don’t let the ambition burn out your priorities. You mustn’t lose yourself in this fight.”
My arms are loose, uncomprehending, at my sides. “I just want to paint, Dom. That’s all.”
Chin down, Dom’s eyes turn up to meet my gaze. “I know. I’m just saying… Maybe that’s not all you want.”
The thing is, you never get what you want straight away. And what I want is for Pippa to be a horrible person. But she’s not. She’s actually really nice.
I try and plaster a smile on my face as we lie on our backs getting a massage and a manicure at the same time. Lily’s passed out and is snoring beneath her face-mask, having had one cucumber slide off her eyes. Pippa is babbling on about wedding plans while Dom and I ooh and ahhh.
It’s hard to hate her, especially when she explains how all her friends are still in Scotland and how she hopes we’ll be good friends. It reminds me so much of how I’d felt when I’d first moved to London that I find it hard to not return her smiles and squeezes.
“So Ted finally asked you to be his best man?” Pippa turns attention to me suddenly.
I blink, panic blistering my stomach. “Uh. Yeah?”
“You did say yes, didn’t you?” Pippa asks, her eyes wide. “Because he’d be devastated if…”
“Yeah. Um, I said… yes. I said yes.” I nod, my voice an octave higher than usual, as I turn pink with embarrassment. This situation is outlandish even for my messed up life.
“You what?” Dom sits up on the bench stuttering, but recovers herself. “I mean. Seriously?”
“Yeah, Ted asked me yesterday.” I say, and I’m surprised at how even my voice sounds. Dom’s eyebrows disappear behind her fringe in surprise.
“It’s going to be such a joy!” Pippa just beams with her perfect smile and squeezes my arm. “This wedding is going to be the best wedding ever! I’m so glad that we get to share it with you, Lucille.”
“Me too,” I hear myself say, in a voice that doesn’t even sound like my own.
Behind Pippa’s beaming face, Dom rolls her eyes, her expression a mixture of amusement and exasperation.
"Hey, do you know where Ted went off to last night?" Pippa asks, "he never made it home."
I blink at her. "No. He left after we spoke. I - I have no idea where he went."
"Okay." She smiles genuinely at me. "Oh, well. Thought you might have an idea."
"Nope, sorry." I sink, lying down and remain silent for the remainder of the appointment.
We end up at Daisy’s, which shouldn’t surprise me, seeing as it’s just about the only decent bar in Grimsby. Pippa is her usual self, exclaiming “Shots!” and “Girls’ night!” within frequent intervals. Lily is just as enthusiastic, screaming along with her while downing shots of water.
“It’s just not fair.” I murmur at Dom. “Lily’s nearly half my age, yet she’s got everything. And I? I’ve got nothing. I’ve got a cat and a rubbish Muggle-car…”
“And a pony-tailed boyfriend…” Dom raises her glass at me with a meaningful glance.
“Well. You’ve got me, too.”
“Yay.” I stare into the bottom of my glass dismally.
Dom elbows me. “You could sound a bit more enthusiastic.”
I turn to face her. She’s wearing a mixture of sadness and humour on her face. I sigh. “How did we become the spinsters? We had so promising futures…”
“Lucy…” Dom leans back in her chair, slightly exasperated.
I brace an arm against the sticky table, tilting my head at her. “Let’s just have a good night, yeah?”
Dom hesitates before nodding. “We’ll have a great night and get smashed.”
Ted 22, Lucy 19
“I’m just saying that –“
“No, Mum, you’re just saying what you’d like me to do, not what I’ll be happy with.”
Mum puts down her coffee cup. “It’s not that simple, Lucille. You don’t just get to do whatever you want and be done with it. It needs to be practical, and –“
“Practical? How is being ruddy unhappy practical?” I ask pointedly.
“You’re living on your own with Ted, you’ve barely passed your Hogwarts degree and you’re broke – Lucy, you need to start thinking longer than the next five seconds!”
I feel her gaze on me, choking in its sympathy. The people in the café around us are all happily chatting and laughing, while we stare daggers across the table.
My voice is surprisingly even. “I am, Mum. I’m painting. I’ve –“
“Painting?” Mum rolls her eyes dramatically. “That’s fine for a spare-time hobby, darling. But you’re not going to get paid for that. You can’t just expect Ted to provide for both of you. Molly’s providing for herself and Charles. They’ve got a plan.”
“Oh, and I suppose that if idle Molly’s got a plan, nothing can go wrong, eh?”
We stand, facing each other. She looks mad, madder than I thought she’d be. I had never guessed that my life would evoke such emotions in her. Outside cars zoom past us, passing in a blur of the city. I can feel the cleft between us. And it doesn’t feel as comforting as I thought it would. This secret may tear us apart.
Mum digs out money from her purse with immaculate precision, her voice rational in a off-hand version of herself. “No, I’m just saying that they’re prepared. Your father and I won’t stand by and be able to help you every time you trip over your own two left feet.”
“I’m not asking you to help us!” I nearly yell, her eyes burning in mine. “I’m not asking you for anything.”
“Oh, that’s what you’ve been doing all your life, Lucy.” Mum’s voice is soft, but her back is rigid. “You need to take responsibility. I was hoping that with the internship you’d upped your game, now that Hogwarts failed at making you present in the now.”
I feel the stab much too close to my heart as I try and control my emotions.
“I have taken responsibility. There’s a place down at Covent Garden who’ve contacted me. They want to do an exhibition with some of my pieces.”
“That’s lovely, dear. But I’m just saying that you can’t live off painting. You’ll need more.” She tells me in a tone similar to my Transfiguration teacher’s when she’d told me I’d never make it out of Hogwarts. Condescending and disapproving.
“I have more. I’ve got Ted. And all I want to do is paint. This is my more, Mum. Accept it.” My voice is thin as ice.
“Oh, grow up, Lucy. Start seeing the world for what it is. And the fact is that you need to find a job.”
Behind my back, I make a fist so tight that sharp pain begins shooting up my forearm. I bite the inside of my chin to stop the words, but they spill out anyways.
“Just… Just leave, Mum. Butt out of this. It’s my life. Just leave.”
And she does. Out the door, and down the street before the words have flown off into the air where I can’t catch them anymore. The cars keep on zooming past me outside as the chatter in the café continues. The world doesn’t feel one bit different, yet everything has shifted.
The half-mooned crescents in my palms, marked by my nails, don’t fade for a week.
The doorbell clings as Ted, Scorpius, Darren and Albus step into the foyer, and, to my despair, each turned towards our table. As they make their way to our table, my eyes catch Ted’s in a silent moment of recognition. I look away a second too late as he smiles at me.
“What are they doing here?” I turn to Dom. She shrugs, emptying her glass with an upturned mouth. “I don’t know, but I- I need to go, Luce. I’ve got… something.”
“You don’t have to leave just because he’s here,” I say, looking at Darren who’s right behind Scorpius. “You’ll need to get used to it at some point, like me.”
“It’s fine.” Dom smiles and gets up, kissing my cheek. “I’ll see you around.”
I give her a look, but she shrugs in a vain attempt at indifference. She hesitates, “I’m so glad we’re alright.”
It’s a slow moment as our eyes meet. My smile is slow with an unpractised clumsiness to its curve. Dom squeezes my hand gently and with that, she’s gone in a whir of perfume and smiles.
I only have a few seconds to process it, before Scorpius’s long fingers are pressed against mine, his smile big. “Hi snuggles! The fishing-trip was uuhhh-mazing.”
"Oh, it was? Learn anything exciting?" I ask with unease.
Scorpius looks smug. "You betcha. I'll tell you all about it when we get home."
"Great." My smile is weak.
And suddenly Ted is next to us, kissing Pippa’s cheeks, lips and forehead. And all I can think is about how that used to be my spot. And suddenly, all I can think about is his thighs between my legs, the wall at my back.
And I’m not quite sure what that says about me, other than that I miss him.
Like crazy. I miss him like crazy.
Ted 22, Lucy 19
Let’s play a game of truth or dare. I dare you to stay. I dare you to be right here, by my side. Stay here. Be here.
I gaze around the apartment. There are a million pictures and small anecdotes scattered about every corner of our little world. It’s too much to let go off. It’s too many sorrows we’ll have to wave goodbye to.
“Don’t leave. I know I’m horrible, but don’t leave.”
Ted sighs, his voice creaking as he turns to face me with sleepy sussed eyes. “This needs to get better, Luce. It needs to.”
“I know. I know.” It comes out like a breath.
“You can’t keep running away. I need to know what you want. How you feel.”
It’s a distant memory, what happened before. What the argument was about. How it began. Even the anger’s disappeared. All that remains is a blistering panic.
“I know.” I sink. “It just… It feels like the end every time we fight.”
He turns to face me. “It’s not. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, bickering about where the couch goes or how I leave wet towels on the floor.”
“You always leave them right in the middle of the bathroom, honestly –“
“Lucy Weasley.” His eyes are brown, wide with mirth, as he murmurs, brushing my ear with his lips. “I’d rather spend a thousands nights with screaming fights than wake up without you.”
Our breaths mix. My heart soars. “Likewise.”
“So, do you approve?”
Ted has inched over to me, his smile secretively sweet as he sips his beer, his gaze resting on Pippa. He’s got dirt across his jaw, still in his overalls and smelling like sweat and the ocean, and honestly, all I want to do is embrace him. He’s a stranger in a different world, but somehow he’s the same.
I look down, fumbling with the pink straw in my drink.
“She makes it hard to hate her,“ I answer finally, my voice unnaturally loud in the club. “And I truly, really wanted to hate her.”
Ted laughs. “I’m glad. I mean, I could say the same for Scorpius…. But, you know.”
“Heh,” I scratch the back of my neck, my reply trembling with my faltering breath “Yeah, I do know.”
We settle into an awkward silence, so uncommon for us that it rattles my bones. I sip my drink again. Ted is staring at Pippa from across the room, just like he used to look at me, and it hurts. It hurts like nothing I’ve experienced before, deep in my gut. It’s a chilling pain, as I stare at them, unable to look away.
“So, you’re the blacksmith of the village?” I ask in a frail attempt at conversation. I try not to, but my voice is blaming, the anger ill-masked. I am back at staring at him, waiting for that final sense of resolution, for something to step back into making sense.
All I can think about his hand on my thigh this morning and his peaceful face underneath the starry sky. How can he be so casual after last night?
Ted stares at me for a while, his blue eyes unreadable. “Yeah, I am. Got a problem with that?”
“Nope,” I say, popping the p.
I can’t help but stare at his silhouette. I don’t want to look at him, but it’s like an unstoppable urge to look closer. It’s odd, learning new things about him. It distances us further, reminding me that I haven’t known him forever. That there are these years, here in the space between us, that I’ll never have back.
I open my mouth to say something – what I don’t know, but then Pippa swirls in, her cheeks flushed prettily.
“We need tequila shots!”
“Uh, no we don’t.” James leans forward, shaking his head.
Pippa pouts. “Does no one want to take tequila shots with me?”
“Sorry, sweetheart.” Ted kisses her softly. I look away.
“Seriously?” Pippa looks bewildered. ”Everyone loves tequila! And everyone has a tequila story. Isn’t that right, Lucille?”
I sink. “Nope. Don’t have a tequila story.”
Pippa laughs. “Oh, come off it, everyone has a tequila story.”
“Not me. Nuh uh. I don’t have anything like a tequila story.”
“Oh, come off it, Luce,” James laughs. “I’ve seen you and Ted get hammered by those shots alone, and tequila’s one nasty motherfucker, you’ve got to have one.“
“Cut it out, James,” Ted says lowly and I turn away from the crowd, ordering another pink drink off Daisy. Pink is safe. Pink has never hurt anyone. Not like tequila and wicked lime.
Ted’s hands are going further and further up Pippa’s skirt as I order more and more pink drinks. I feel Scorpius’s hand on my thigh, a condescending tone, but ignore it for another blushing cocktail. They make me feel girly and pretty, which is the first time today.
In the early hours, the conversation turns predictive. Pippa is going on about weddings and planning, Ted is smiling at her and Scorpius is listening with rapt attention while Darren and James are playing Black Jack.
“So, you must have done a lot of planning, yeah?” Scorpius asks in a sad attempt at interest. I guffaw into my drink at his sad pathetic attempt, stirring my drink idly.
“Oh, yes. Me and Ted both.” Pippa nods enthusiastic. “A wedding needs to be planned properly. I mean, who runs off to get married somewhere scrummy without rings?” Pippa laughs. “That just won’t do.”
“Yeah, who does that?” James asks suddenly, looking up from the card game. I catch Darren’s widened gaze from across James.
Pippa laughs. “I honestly don’t know, but probably stupid drunks who get an annulment straight ahead afterwards. Those weddings never last.”
“You’d be surprised to know that a lot of those weddings are actually without any alcohol consumption.” Darren’s mouth twists.
Pippa laughs. “Yeah, I’d like to see proof of that.”
“What do you think, Lucy? Got any idea how many of those weddings are happening a year?” James looks to me. Ted shifts next to me.
“Nope. I haven’t got a clue, James.” I shrug, stirring my drink.
“Really?” James looks confused. “You must have done tons of news-reports on it.”
“I honestly don’t remember.”
The cocktail glass hits my teeth; a curse and there’s Scorpius patting me on my back while James stares at me. The pink drink spills on the bar and okay, admittedly, I may not be in the best shape to handle this. All I know is that I’m going to kill James Potter and his smirking face.
“Let’s go home.” Scorpius’s voice is soft.
I flash him the finger, old news.
Ted mocks me, even with his back turned. I know the feel of his chest expanding beneath my hand, of his smile curved into the hollow of my neck. I remember cheap whiskey and splitting smiles and I feel stuck between laughing and crying. I know him, and he just keeps on looking the other way. I watch them as they stare at each other with matching blue eyes, their fingers intertwined. There’s no choice anymore.
I slide off the chair. The ground feels wobbly, uncertain and hostile beneath my feet. And Scorpius is there in front of me, his hand large and cold. I tighten my grip on his shoulder, feeling his jumper bunch beneath my fingers.
It’s funny how snapshots of sensations keep on playing off and on, like a broken record. I glance at them again, but swing back to Scorpius’s wide eyes. “Lucy…”
Minutes seem to pass, maybe even hours?
Ted laughs loudly, grabbing Pippa’s thigh like it’s the most natural thing. And I still can’t look away. The memories are stacking high between us as the night blurs and I’ll hate him, I swear. I’ll hate him forever. It sounds frighteningly simple. But I should have stopped him. I should have told him.
Today, we fall in love –
My mouth is dry. “Let’s go.”
A/N: Hi there! Sorry for getting this out so late. This has been lying around, half-finished for ages before I managed to finish it. Thank you to all of you who’ve given this story so much attention. I am floored. I know this chapter is slow-paced – this is just before the build, so the story will start picking up pace now. I’ve got almost all my plots set up now, so this should it’s going down soon. Be prepared!
Chapter 8: 8
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Come on, come on
Put your hands into the fire
As I turn, I meet the power
- Into the Fire, by Erin McCarley
The night escapes me in a miserable slush of silent walks through dark forests that I used to know, and Scorpius’s sad, sad eyes. Before I know it, I’m lying in my bed, with smudged mascara haunting around my eyes and a pair of feet that are way too cold for comfort.
Morning comes quickly, the light arriving mercilessly as rays of sunshine peek through the blinds I drew so carelessly upon my return.
“Wake up ho, we’re going swimming.”
I sit up in my bed, looking around groggily. He’s standing by the door, gazing at me with a somewhat impatient look.
“Sweet mercy, you look horrible,” Scorpius notes in a cheery voice.
“Gee, thanks. Remind me to ask you to wake me up this way every morning, yeah?”
He ignores me, walking over to my closet and sifting through clothes. “It’s a new day, a new start, Sugar.”
He throws a pair of jeans and a pink t-shirt I’ve never worn on the bed. I eye the garment sourly.
“Oh, stop pouting.” Scorpius snaps, sitting down on the bed.
He looks around slowly, seemingly noticing that something is amiss in the room.
“Something’s different. What happened here?”
I pick at the linen. “I may or may not have thrown my paintings of Ted out the window last night.”
There is a silence in the room for a moment as we both stare out the window, then Scorpius sighs, “I must say, you have one fine throw, pumpkin.”
“Thanks,” I shrug, mulling. Scorpius eyes me sideways, before nudging me.
“No.” I grumble.
“Well, clearly everything’s peachy. Or should I say Pippa?”
That sets off the waterworks.
Scorpius seems a bit taken a back. I try smiling, but it ends up in a grimace anyways. And I suppose the whole bawling ruins it, too.
“Whoa, hon. No need to flood the house!” Scorpius laughs nervously, patting me on my back with a hesitant hand. He sits down on the edge of the bed, looking mildly uncomfortable.
“I knooow,” I wail through tears.
“E-e-everything-g-g! Nobody loo-oves me. T-T-Ted-d-d d-d-doesn’t l-love me!”
“Now, clearly that’s not true!”
I side-eye him. “H-h-how did you figure that out?”
“Well, Clem still loves you!”
I send him a death-glare through my tears.
“Oh. Well. Cookies?” He shoves a blue tinned box in my direction.
I stop him with another glare.
“Oh-kay… Honestly, woman, I don’t get you. Cookies solve everything. All the world’s problems can be answered by cookies.”
“T-they can’t, really.” I sniffle, drying my nose on my sleeve.
Scorpius wrinkles his nose at me. “No, I suppose diets can’t really be solved by cookies… But they do have these lightweight ones!”
“Oh, well.” He pats me gently on the back. “We’ll fix this right up, love. No worries. Uncle Scorpius will get that boy hot and bothered so that he’ll hop right into the… “
“Scorp, he’s not gay.”
“No, silly, we’ll just have to do a bit tit for tat… well. Perhaps a bit more tit than tat,” he adds, peeking down my blouse.
Scorpius shrugs, “Don’t act like it’s something I haven’t seen before. You’re not that innocent.“
I right myself, drying my eyes with my sleeves. “I’m not saying that! I’m just saying that Ted isn’t like that, he values what’s inside – “
“Oh purhlease, sugarbits, that Ted is a guy and any guy, and I mean any guy, is visual. Have you seen Pippa’s boobs?”
I pause. “Well –“
Scorpius rolls his eyes. “It’s not about the size, but the presentation. Even your b-cups –“
“C-cup –“ I interrupt quickly.
>Scorpius raises an eyebrow at me, “You keep telling yourself that…”
“Okay. Anyways, all I’m saying is that we need to make a neat little presentation of these babies here… To remind him what he’s been missing.” he murmurs grabbing at my boobies.
I look down, half at mind at reprimanding him, other half, up giving.
“I didn’t even pack a bathing suit, Scorp.”
“Oh, no worries, I’ve got it covered.”
It appears that Scorpius’s terms of ‘having it covered’ meant having absolutely nothing covered.
“Scorpius, I’m practically naked,” I hiss through the bathroom door. “I want my old bikini back”.
“Honey, that’s what normal people call a bikini. That thing you called a bikini was ancient.” Scorpius’s eyes blink slowly at me through the gap. “Besides, you can’t get it back. I threw it out.”
"Threw it out,” the idiot repeats as if nothing’s wrong. “It was a raggy old thing and frankly this is much better.”
I sigh, slightly panicky. “I’m not sure about this.”
“Sure you are, it’ll be amazing.”
“Scorpius –“ I begin, but stop, my throat tight. “I’m not like you, Scorpius, I feel – I feel like some sort of promiscuous, scarlet woman – “
“Promiscuous? Scarlet woman?” Scorpius laughs loudly, “Man, honey, you need to get a new vocabulary.”
There’s a long moment in which I stare at the mirror, listening to Scorpius’s breathing outside the door. I hear the sound of his forehead hitting the door. We exhale together. I close my eyes.
“On the other hand, enjoy this feeling of… I dunno, freedom? I doubt being Miranda’s darling is going to allow you to wander off to Grimsby and strut your stuff. You’ll do just fine without me – all you have to wear is pencilskirts and dress-shirts. Not like you’re going to have any fashion crisis.”
I am silent for a while. I had completely forgotten about the promotion. It means leaving Scorpius who’s been in the cubicle next to mine for the past four and a half years. He’s been my family. It means leaving Teddy again. My stomach drops.
Scorpius taps against the door, “Darling, I’m kidding. Of course I’ll come and visit you on the top floor. And I’ll bring clothes too! I don’t care what the cat-lady thinks – I’ll glam you right up.”
I open the door smiling. Scorpius is leaning against the doorway, wearing dark swimming trunks. He grins at me, his face splitting right open.
I side-eye him.
“What? No speedos?” I ask, pretending to be shocked.
Scorpius rolls his eyes, “I need to leave something up to the imagination.”
I pout, “What about me? Don’t I get to leave anything up for the imagination.”
“You, honey, are desperate. Desperate times call for whorish measures.”
“Gosh, you make me feel so special.”
Scorpius smacks my bottom, laughing devilishly. “Let’s get going, Miss scarlet woman.”
It’s just where the sky meets the ocean and I think it may be the best place in the world. It’s where we always used to row out into the bay, on that quiet corner where stray leaves and abandoned pieces of humanity come to find their resting place. We used to sit and stare at each other from across each our end of the boat. There had always been a mist surrounding us, guarding us from the world. Guarding my blue-eyed younger self.
The current had been strong, pulling us further into the bay. It had always been a game of dare, to see how long we’d be able to sit there, doing nothing, allowing the current to take us onwards. It had always been a game, and it still is.
“I swear, this monster is going to choke me before I get to the due date.” Lily moans from underneath a black sunhat. “Sweet Merlin, put me out of my misery soon.”
I smile gently, playing absently with a blade of grass at my feet. “When’s the due date?”
“Two more weeks of wobbling and then I’m spewing this one out,” she puffs. “Thank Merlin.”
“Should be well out of the wedding, then? That’s good, I suppose?”
Lily grimaces and glances upward towards the sun. “Meh. That doesn’t stop me from looking like a whale on all the photos.”
“You’re glowing,” I smile. “You’re absolutely gorgeous.”
I try to keep the reverence out of my voice, but fail. Lily smiles, but doesn’t say anything else, her sarcasm drying up. Dom squeezes my hand silently.
I don’t like the seriousness that settles between us; thick, uneasy and foreign.
I turn to face Dom. She’s reading Sense and Sensibility on a sunbed with her angel-hair fanned out, framing her face. I smile at her heart-shaped sunglasses.
“I’m so glad you came.”
“Me too.” Dom’s smile spreads slowly. She puts down the book slowly. “Hey, did you get my message? I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah, sorry about not haven’t had time to answer. There’s… there’s been a lot.”
Dom nods slowly, but her mouth puckers delicately into her usual disapproving smile. “I really need to talk with you. There’s so much that’s happened in five years. Gosh, Lucy. Five years is a long time.”
We’re broken off by Pippa’s squeal as Ted and her splash in the water. Pippa is in the tiniest bathing suit I have ever seen. My number has nothing on hers. And yes, Scorpius is right about those boobs. I eye them jealously as she bounces, grabbing Ted’s arms. Ted is laughing loudly, holding onto Pippa’s waist as he tugs her into the water. Behind them, the ferry is making its way across the bay.
Distracted, I hear myself say, “Yeah. Sure, okay.“
Ted’s swimming trunks are blue. The ripples of his muscles in his back send a shiver of a memory down my spine with a hollow familiarity.
I get up, determined. “I’ll set the fire.”
Ted 22, Lucy 19
His breathing is hard against my neck. I blink slowly, feeling his bare chest expand against mine. His skin is soft and cool against mine. We sink closer, inches or miles, tugging into each other. His fingers splay across the expand of my back. We can’t get close enough.
I shift and pull his face up to meet mine. He exhales deeply into my mouth, pulling me closer. I push him back, hovering over his face. He blinks slowly up at me, his deep, never-ending gentle eyes. I’ll drown in them.
“It’s too strong. It’ll never last.” My breathing’s low, my eyes shut closed. “It’s too strong. I love you too much.”
I write love-notes on his skin, bathing it in kisses. I trace his jaw, the small spatter of freckles along the curve of his cheek. I stare into his deep brown eyes. He only has one face when he’s here with me. The brown eyed boy. The one I’ll spend the rest of my life with. We don’t need the money, or the people. We’ve got it all here. Right in this room, right in the space between us.
I spend an extra long time just below his navel; rubbing kisses everywhere, listening to his sighs and shivers, to his deep hushed words of honesty. Inside these four walls, we’ll have eternity. He’ll take everything. I give it all.
I listen to his love, his merciful love, with his hands gripping the small of my back. His lips parted for the sound of my name.
He gives it all. I take everything.
I start setting up the fire at the outskirts of our camp, as far removed from everyone. Once it gets going, I slowly make my way back to the others. They’ve all gone into the lake now.
“Come join us, Luce!” Dom yells from the water, standing next to Scorpius’s tall frame.
“Coming,” I smile and turn around. No getting out of it now. I slowly shimmer out of my clothes, my stomach tight with nerves.
The wind is icy against my skin and goosebumps prickle up as I remove my clothes.
I hear catchcall from the water and Lily’s amused voice, “Damn girl!”
I slowly turn around, beet red in the face. The first thing I see is Ted’s fierce stare at me. At me. I gape at him, unable to look away. Pippa is talking animatedly to him, but he’s ignoring her. I feel his eyes everywhere again. And it feels good and wrong, all at the same time.
I feel the heat climbing my cheeks. I feel the lower part of my stomach tightening in response. And it feels way too real, way too close. I close my eyes. I can still see the shadow of his silhouette in a dark room at dawn. It still haunts me. Even now.
“Up we go!” Suddenly I’m upside-down as Scorpius picks me up, carrying me towards the lake.
“Scorpius!” I flail my arms uselessly against his back as he trots down to the water.
“Scorpius!” I yell again to no use. I bat my arms against his brick-back. I hear his laugh.
“Scorpius I’m pretty sure I’m flashing something,” I hiss.
“Oh, trust me sugarbits, you’re showing him just what he needs to see,” Scorpius says calmly, before dumping me in the ice-cold water.
Watching Scorpius cook is almost worth having to endure Pippa’s giggles. He’s all cheffy, attitude and biting commands. Dom joins in on his banter, yelling commands right along with him from her sunbed. She shines in a way she hasn’t since I got here. It kind of makes me sad, to see that. Somehow I hadn’t noticed it has been missing.
When Lily asks who wants to catch the fish, I immediately volunteer to go fishing. I need the space, the silence and the calm. I need time away from Pippa and her noisy love.
I walk through the shrubs, away from the camp. Soon, the woods embrace me in its soft greenery as I am isolated from the world. The only sound is my breathing and the soft crunches as I step over tree-trunks and shrubbery.
After a while I hear a familiar humming. I stop up, grinning largely despite myself.
“You always do that.”
“Huh?” Ted appears through the wilderness, holding an old battered fishing rod.
“You always hum. I always know it’s you when I hear your humming.”
Ted smiles, “I didn’t know that.”
The silence is much too large between us, his eyes way too soft. I look away and march to the water.
“I bet I can catch a bigger fish than yours,” I yell over my shoulder, half-panicked, half in love. Desperately in love.
Ted laughs loudly, following swiftly behind me. “Oh, you’re on, Weasley, you’re on.”
“Mine is definitely bigger than yours!”
“I can’t believe you even have to measure, Luce. Mine’s hugely bigger than yours.”
“Oh, sod it. You’re so wrong, Lupin. You’re so, so wrong,” I say gleefully, as I pull the fish towards shore. The line is heavy, as it slowly makes its way towards us.
“Come on, fishy. Come ooooon, fishy.”
Ted side-eyes me, “Seriously? Luce, it’s a fish.”
I ignore him. “Come on, big boy. Come to Momma.”
It comes to land, splash down in the mud between us. We’re silent for a while, staring. The fish stops flapping its tail, finally coming to lie lifeless on land.
Ted finally breaks the silence. “Yup. Mine’s definitely bigger.”
“Of course it isn’t,” I bite, irritated. Angry even. I feel it stir in my gut, scorching to my insides. The anger surfaces quickly, as if it’s been stirring underneath the surface for some time. Irrationally mad, I glare up at him through my stringy hair.
And he’s just staring at me kindly. It sets me off, and the anger disappears like the morning dew.
There’s a rustle from the bushes behind us, and Lily suddenly appears through the scrubs and thicket of threes. She eyes the pair of us with the lifeless fish lying on the ground, raising an eyebrow, “Did I just interrupt a game of who’s biggest?”
We both shrug sheepishly.
Lily laughs, “Honestly, you guys never grow up. Can I take them now? You know, so that we can eat?”
We nod mutely, watching as she snatches the two fairly large fish (with mine being the biggest, of course). She leaves with a knowing smirk thrown over her shoulder at us.
Ted turns to me. “You owe me 50, Luce. Mine was the biggest. Admit it.”
“I will not,” I smile evilly. “You still owe me from last time.”
Ted looks outraged. “The last time? That was six years ago!”
“So?” I shrug, “I should put interests on that shit.”
Ted quirks an eyebrow, “I don’t think you can put interests on sexual favours…”
“Oh,” I turn red. “I was thinking about the bet about who’d get children first of the Weasley/Potters.”
“Oh. Oh.” Ted turns beetred. It makes me giggle.
“What?” He asks annoyed, looking away.
“You’re still the worst blusher in the world.”
“Harh, harh, harh,” he laughs irritated, fanning his face. “Ted Lupin can’t blush without looking like a tomato.”
“It’s more like a radishy colour, me thinks.”
“Put a sock in it, will ya,” Ted hits my head.
I laugh even harder, gripping his hand instinctively. He squeezes back, holding on to it. Our eyes meet, my insides blooming at the ease between us. He smiles.
The sun has fled the skies quite suddenly. My mood soon follows suit as Ted and I near the campsite. I find the path with no trouble. I think I could have found it in my sleep. We move through the greenery in silence. I think I catch him glancing over at me, opening his mouth, but he never stops to say anything.
He probably doesn’t know what to say either. How he should make up for the many years between us. I had always imagined, that I would feel the moment that we passed each other by in the crowd. Now, we’re just two strangers standing miles apart, suddenly realizing that we lost it all.
When we return to the camp, chaos has broken out. Someone, it appears, has put honey in Pippa’s sun cream. The result being that Pippa now has been attacked by mosquitos and a harsh sunburn.
“Teddy, look at my skin!” She wails to him the moment we step into the camp.
I must admit that it looks kind of nasty. Her skin is all red and blotchy with huge bumps from mosquitos. Even Ted looks slightly revolted.
“No worries, Pippa! I know the perfect spell for this,” Lily waddles up to a distraught Pippa.
Pippa looks at her with manic eyes, “Really? Oh, please, please, please, I’ll love you forever…”
“I’ll just… yeah…” I mutter and step away, as the two girls begin on the spells.
As we move away from the girls, Ted mutters, “Honey in the sun cream! I wonder who did it…”
“Yeah,” I murmur, but say nothing more. Scorpius looking way too innocent for my liking, cleaning an frying pan with much too much attention.
Darkness quietly envelops the small clearing in the woods with its people. I watch a rabbit scramble away in the wet green foliage, chased away by Scorpius’s loud laughter. Everyone’s seated around the fire, the skinny carcases of fish shivering in the air behind them. I stand, watching them for some time, before Scorpius waves me over.
I see Pippa curled up against Ted, his arms around her. I can feel his gaze like a pair of razor beams, blinding me. Scorpius and James are sitting with their heads tugged together, laughing loudly. I sit down on a log and I do the exact opposite of what I had envisioned myself doing. I sit and stare silently at everyone.
Dom sits down beside me, her footsteps squelching heavily in the wet turf.
“I need to talk to you,” she says, glancing over at Ted who's staring at us from across the fire.
“Alright. Talk,” I shrug.
“No, not here,” Dom looks uneasy, “But I need to talk to you, like soon. Not here, but soon.”
I stare at her, confused. “Um, okay.”
She looks like she wants to say more, her lips parted with no sound. She looks tormented. I wonder, if she’s about to lecture me on all my wrongdoings. She would know. I block the last memory of her like this expertly, of the cabin, the sea and France. Expertly, I look away from her.
“Luce!” Scorpius calls, and I turn, desperately looking for saviour. He waves me over. I look at Dom again. Her eyes are wide, her expression solemn. I halt,
“I need to dash, but how about tomorrow?”
“It’s pretty urgent, Lucy.”
“Yeah, yeah. Everything alright, Dom?” I touch her hand gently without thinking. My touch seems to snap her out of it. She nods, twice.
“Yeah,” she sinks, “Yeah. But I really need to tell you… It’s been nagging me for so long, and I – “
“Everything alright?” Ted is standing just behind me, smiling down with sweet marshmallow-puff around his mouth. Even so, I find him bewilderingly beautiful.
“Yeah,” I smile. “Dom was just about to tell me –“
“Nothing,” Dom smiles brightly and very unnaturally. Her teeth blind me for a moment. Wow.
“Talk to you tomorrow, Luce,” she says, her fingers squeeze my shoulder for a moment too long, before she sits back down beside Lily.
“Lucy! Come on. You’d think you’d know your own name by now, eh?” Scorpius yells from his spot. He’s sitting together with Pippa, his arm around her.
“I’m telling ya, all this northern wind and fresh air is bad for my sugar muffin,” he says to Pippa in a carrying whisper. Pippa giggles loudly.
“Sugar muffin? Since when was I a –“ I begin, but stop.
Scorpius is sitting together with Pippa, who’s smiling widely, showing all her sharp, pointy teeth.
“Me and Pippa were just talking about how the two of us met, do you remember that, honey munchkin?” Scorpius gives me a pointed look.
“How I saved you from that awful bunch of self-cleaning utilities.”
I blink at Scorpius for a few moments, only Scorpius would think of something like that.
“Uhu, That’s right, darling.”
“That’s so romantic –“ gushes Pippa.
“Yep, that’s my man.” I cough, amazed at how normal my voice sounds. I sit down at the tip of the bench, before slowly inching closer to Scorpius. It feels awkward and forced. And Scorpius’s cologne is making me sneeze.
I try toying with his hair, but I felt ridiculous, so I soon stop. Seemingly sensing my complete incompetence at being coy, Scorpius grabs my hand and kisses it.
Ted is staring at me from across the fire. I thought it would feel good, like some sort of self-righteous justice. I thought evening the playing field would make all the difference, that watching him in pain, would make my own pain seem less immense. I thought sinking his boat, would make my own float. But as it turns out, now we’re both sinking, losing in this game.
I spend the next hour nodding or leaning my head against Scorpius’s shoulder. I don’t really hear what he entertains Pippa with, I only manage to smile and laugh at moments when Scorpius tugs at my elbow. I watch detachedly as his deft fingers find my little finger, merging fingers. His fingers are too smooth, to slender to my own and my own hand feels giant in his.
And somehow, I am standing again, heading towards the lake where everything begins and ends. With the distance between them and me, the trees hiding me from view, I feel like I can breathe again.
And then Ted is there, emerging from the woods.
Ted 21, Lucy 18
I press indigo into the curve of our smile. Blossom gold inches across miles of our love. I stroke sweet cotton love into our heartstrings. Somehow our house comes to stand quite easily between it all on canvas. On a blank opus life is mine to create. I draw easily with a light hand.
Hands inch around me, caressing my stomach. His lips flutter at the nape of my neck. I laugh involuntarily as he presses his back against me.
“You’re chipper,” I laugh in between strokes of happiness.
“Can’t a guy be a bit proud that he convinced his girlfriend to move in with him?”
I turn to face him, kissing him deeply. “I can’t believe I fell for such a smug and haughty Gryffindor.”
He wraps an arm around my waist, dragging me across his body. “Damn right, I’m smug,” he smiles. “And insanely happy.”
He kisses the side of my neck as I return to painting. “Darren and some friends are coming over. Are you okay here painting?”
Ted laughs at the tone in my voice. “I love you. Seriously, this stuff is good. You should do it as a profession.”
I look up at him. “Someone called about the paintings actually. They want to have a meeting.”
“Really?” Ted kisses me again, “That’s amazing, Luce!”
He pulls me closer, inside the space of happiness that always remains ours. “My girlfriend, the famous painter,” he says, testing it. “I like it!”
”He’s a nice bloke, your guy,” Ted says slowly.
I stare at him. It’s different than it was before. He’s still friendly, amicable. I still feel the world stir when our eyes meet and I still feel like he’s the beginning to my end.
Yet he’s closed off. Something has been shut down.
“Bullshit.” The words are out of my mouth before I have a chance to catch them.
Ted stares at me, the façade cracking. “Sorry?”
I lean back to see his face. I detect no trace of surprise, and yes, at least he must have expected this much.
“We all fucked up tonight,” I say instead. “You were looking out for the wrong girl. And I was staring at the wrong guy.”
Ted doesn’t answer, his face unreadable. The words seem to hang there for some time, so I continue on, in an effort at killing the silence.
“Oh, come on, Ted. Stop being so quiet and dark.”
He raises his eyebrows, the calmness evaporating. “I’m quiet and dark? Luce, you have been walking around like a big black cloud ever since you got here. So tell me, please, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I bite, the words echoing in my ears and making fresh tears prickle in the backs of my eyes.
The silence is just as glaring as the space between us. Ted steps closer, hesitantly at first before gaining momentum, certain as he steps in front of me.
“Stop thinking you’re so alienated from everyone. You’re so loved here.”
His voice is softer than soft, luring me into forgetting that I’m the wrong woman. He steps close, his arms finally wrapping around me. And it’s like a switch has been switched off and I melt against him.
“I want to meet the wolves you’ve been running around with.” I swallow, asking for more than I could possibly hope for.
Ted’s voice sounds happy. “Sure. I’ll invite you over some time. They’re great all of them.”
I nod silently against his stomach. I don’t know what to say anymore. I just want to stay here witt him.
“I… I’ve been trying to make amends, I think,” Ted says then.
“Not necessary,” I manage to murmur against his chest, his belt buckle pressing into my stomach. Ted’s fingers tighten against my own in return, but he remains quite silent. We stand there for an eternity in the dusk of night by the bay of Grimsby, wrapped together tightly like a present so that we can’t tell each other apart.
In front of us, the light from the slowly departing ferry keeps us company.
Chapter 9: 9
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
LIKE A FAT KID LOVES CAKE
you see, I take the parts that I remember and stitch them back
to make a creature that will do what I say
or love me back.
- Litany in Which Cartain Things Are Crossed Out by Richard Siken
Seven years ago, Lucy 18, Ted 21
The warm sprays from the faucet hit my back mercifully. I exhale deeply and dip my head under the water. Closing my eyes, I turn the faucet off.
The room is thick with steam as I step out of the shower and reach for a towel. I smile as I see the steamed-up mirror. Across its steamed-up surface I can see a hand-written note.
Love you like a fat kid loves cake.
I reach up and draw across the slippery surface.
I love you like a zombie loves brains.
“Thanks for the note,” I say, drying my hair with my towel.
Ted looks up as he ties his shoes, “Sure thing. Always a nice way to start the day.”
“Got any plans today?”
“Yup. Me and Jake, we’ve got the nightshift tonight. Think Potter’s testing me.”
“’kay.” I nod. “Perhaps it’ll be good practice.”
“Nah. Just hard,” Ted shrugs. “And boring as shit.”
He gets up from the bed and hugs me close, before coming to his knees, nuzzling his face into my stomach.
“What’s your plan today?”
“Hm… not much… Painting… eating chocolate… That sort of thing.”
“Sounds like a great day to me.” Ted laughs.
“Huh? Well… just like any other day, I suppose,” I shrug.
“Have you spoken to your mum?”
“Nope.” I say, popping the ‘p’.
Ted sighs. “She’ll come around, Luce.”
“I love you, you know that, right?” Ted straightens and lets me go with a gentle squeeze.
I pull at the edges of my shirt. “I know.”
“Good. I’ll see you later, yeah?” He kisses me on the cheek.
I arrive at the house alone. Clem has gone to bed and the house is cold, dark and feels foreign as I hang my coat. I can hear the winds press against the roof, pulling at the house, as I wait for the kettle to boil.
It knocks on the door.
It takes me a few seconds to gather my courage. In this town of foreigners, there are only so many people it can be.
My heart in my throat, I open the door to find James standing outside, his jaw set.
“James.” I say surprised.
There’s a long silence where he seems to be attempting to muster his wits.
“Ted wanted me to invite you to his bachelor party,” he says suddenly. I look up at him, surprised, opening my mouth to answer. James shakes his head.
“I said he was being stupid, but he insisted. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s his day. What Ted wants, he gets.”
I stare at him. “Are there going to be strippers?”
He rolls his eyes. “Of course there are.”
I straighten, suddenly finding my voice. “No thanks.”
I walk back to the kitchen, grabbing my tea on the way. “Bye, James!” I yell over my shoulder.
James blocks my path to the stairs. He looks tired, angry even. That takes me by surprise. I didn’t expect it would have been he who came for the intervention.
I expected angry fights, tears and empty promises. I didn’t expect this. James’s wide eyes, a tired stance as if he couldn’t even be bothered. I expected murder and disownment. I didn’t expect indifference.
“You owe him this much, Luce,” he says. “You left him to deal with all of this mess. You sent in the divorce papers. You owe it to him to support him and be happy. So go to that ruddy Bachelor party. And dammit, if Pippa makes him happy, you should be there and tell him that it’s all right to settle down and be happy. You’re all he’s ever cared about. Give him that, Luce. Give him that.”
I stare at him. “Fine.”
James nods. He looks wary and tired. “You know, Luce. If it weren’t for Ted, I would have clawed your eyes out that night. So this is me saying to saying to you, that you have better not make it worse. Or I will curse you all the way back to London myself. No joke. So you, know take this me taking a stand, if you’d like. That I’m with Ted on this whole ordeal. I’ve got his back. That guy is my family.”
“I know.” My voice is timid, fragile with all the words that I wish I could say. For five years worth of bruised lives and love. But I’m still stuck inside that French cabin by the sea, unable to see past the brownness of his eyes in my paintings.
Instead we stare at each other, my one foot on the steps of the stairs, the other on the floor, half-way in run, half-way in retreat.
“Something wrong?” Clem is standing in the doorway in her nightgown, staring back and forth between the two of us.
James smiles at her kindly, “Nah, just coming to say goodnight.”
Clem looks back at me, anxious.
“It’s fine, Clem. Go to bed,” I smile shakily at her. Reluctantly, she trudges back and closes the door with a sad smile. I feel a twinge in my gut at the lie.
“Finished?” I ask James.
I show him out, giving him a hug before he leaves. Somehow I cannot fault him for looking out for Ted. Not after all I’ve done.
5 years ago, Lucy aged 20
“Are you sure that this is what you want?”
Dom looks at me dubiously. “You can’t change this back. I..”
“It’s fine, Dom.” I nod grimly. “I won’t want to change this.”
Dom’s acceptance is quiet as she retrieves inside the cabin once more. In the horizon, the skies are angry, grim and full with the burden of rain. I gaze at them quietly for a moment as the wind rips heavily in my hair and coat.
I eye the collection of paintings on the ground. I’ve stacked them neatly on top of each other, but some of them have already been soaked in the mud, brownness seeping into the canvas, joining his brown eyes in the mess.
I light the match almost instinctively.
My hand feels robotic; the nerves numb and dull as I feel the dusk creep in from the seas, the wind salty and cold on my cheeks. Soon it’ll be night and all I will be able to see is the bright fire, lighting up the dark. I won’t be able to tell the paintings apart, or know which one was the first, the second, and the one where we found each other and the one from when we broke apart into fragments. All that they will be are a huge pile of burning wood in the middle of the darkness, lighting up my face, providing me with a warmth that I’ve sorely missed.
The first match takes time to ignite the stack. The paintings have been lying on the ground for too long, the moisture of the French weather has seeped into the canvasses. It gains momentum slowly, inching millimetres across parchment, banishing any resemblance to my former life.
The second match ignites faster, a small fire starting. The smoke oozes slowly from the paintings, wandering along the ground towards me. It snakes around my feet lazily as the flames eat into the paintings.
The third match barely flares before I throw it into the pile. By then the fire has grown larger, engulfing various canvasses. The heat starts to permeate towards me. Goosebumps rise on my skin.
The fourth match is unnecessary, the fire already spreading, eating more and more of my memories. I keep standing slightly too close, feeling the small hairs on my face and arm get singed by the heat. I watch his brown eyes get eaten whole by the flames. They seem to ignite for seconds before curling backwards on themselves, turning into charcoaled regret.
“Careful you don’t get burnt,” Dom calls from the doorway, her face lit up by the fire. She looks anxious, hugging her thin nightgown closer to her body. She inches away as I walk closer. I ignore her lengthy stare and keep standing close, my feet nearly touching the fire.
“I’m already burnt, Dom. Whole.”
The entire room resembles Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop with plush teddy bears and pink hearts and tacky and frilly decorations. The gaudy tables and chairs are claimed by fifteen girls, all dressed in pastels. Pink cherubs hover over each table, billowing confetti over the girls with frequent intervals.
Pippa is gilded laughter and bubble-gum pink smiles. It’s sticky toffee fingers and choirs of high-heeled stilettos. It’s always being happy, eggs the sunny side up and manicures. It’s Pippa’s best friends and gushing and silly, silly, simple things.
The entire room is engulfed in glitter. There are pink bows on every corner, a small tiny miniature Pippa, holding hands with a miniature Teddy. We sip from pretty pink punch-glasses. I almost choke on a small confetti heart as I empty my cocktailglass.
The glitter seems to stick to every surface. Within minutes of entering the room my hands, face and clothes have been coated in a fine sheen of pink glitter that never seems to rub off.
I sit impatiently in a chair by the door, watching the nightmarish show unfold. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells, unwelcome in this crowd, like a fish out of water. Yet somehow in a twist of politeness and properness I am forced to sit through this ordeal.
Thankfully, Pippa ignores me and enjoys her day. She is being catered for and looked after by all her giggling friends. She tells them stories of how they met downtown. How their gaze had locked over a sticky coffee table at Neil’s. How they’re trying for a baby. How her crystal ball’s been telling her that it was good to go through with Ted. I sit in my small chair in the corner, sipping my pink drink, twirling the small paper umbrella idly between my fingers as I listen to what Ted’s life is about to become. All that happiness feels unbearable to me.
“Well, Pippa. We’ve arranged for a small game for you. It’s called ‘How well do you know your future husband’,” A small blonde stands up suddenly, pulling a small chalkboard forward I hadn’t noticed.
“Oh, yay!” Pippa jumps up and down, clapping her hands. “This'll be jolly good.”
“Alright, the rules are as following: you must answer all the questions on your own.”
Pippa nods obediently, sitting on the edge of her chair. The alcohol in my drink is making my head fuzzy and heavy, yet I feel my interest spike.
This might feed the jealous monster roaming in my gut.
So I watch, gleeful, as they commence on a game I know that she can never win. I see Lily’s sharp glance at me and Dom’s quivering mouth. I look away and down my drink.<
“What’s Ted’s full name?”
“Um… Edward Lupin.”
“Nope. Edward Remus Lupin.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right.” Pippa laughs shrilly, taking a sip of her drink.
“What’s Ted’s eye colour?”
“Oh, that’s easy. Blue.”
“Correct. It’s blue.”
I stare at the midget blonde for a long time, my brows knotted. That can’t be right.
“Ted’s favourite dish?”
“Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s what we had for our first night.”
Wrong. So wrong.
“Uh, no. It’s actually Shepherd’s Pie.”
“Oh yeah, he likes that, too.” Pippa slaps her skinny thigh.
“Ted’s favourite colour?”
“Correct!” The blonde smiles. I give her a dirty look. She must have changed the answers. It has to be that. The other conclusion seems impossible.
"Who was Ted’s first best friend?”
“James,” Pippa answers, glancing quickly at me.
Rightly so. It’s me. It’s always been me.
I stare at the blonde and Pippa in shock. Dom grabs my hand. Squeezes it hard. I blink at her slowly. It’s like I’ve been erased. As if Ted’s been erased and this new person with new priorities and new fancies has taken his place. I watch as Pippa scores a near perfect score on her knowledge test of a man whom, it seems, I no longer know.
They pull out a mountain of gifts, which Pippa begins unpacking. She goes through the packages quickly and efficiently, holding up garments and presents to the crowd’s ohhhs and ahhhs.
“Oh, lovely!” Pippa exclaims, holding up a near non-existing piece of underwear. “Well, I won’t be needing that one. He’s got enough stamina without any encouragement,” she giggles to the crowd.
I down the nearest drink.
5 years ago, Lucy aged 20, Ted 23
The paintbrush strokes the canvas gently. I breathe out as I listen to the rain, twisting it idly in lukewarm water. Acrylic blue swirls and drips onto the floorboards. I hear them creak. The echo of laughter. I look up.
“Ted?” I ask, but there is no answer, just the echo of the empty apartment and rain hitting the window.
I put down my paintbrush slowly, carefully stepping between the scattered pieces of discarded paintings that line the floor. I tiptoe through the apartment, careful not to stir the silence.
I pass the bathroom’s open door. I can still see Ted’s handwritten note on the mirror.
We're tighter than a fat guy in spandex.
The smile spreads on my face, large and wide. I exhale/laugh. I hear a muffled sound, like shuffling shoes.
I find him on the bedside, laughing hysterically.
“Nice night?” I lean against the doorway, eyeing him.
“The best,” he sighs, stretching out on the bed. He pulls off his cap, belching loudly.
My breath stops. “Ted -”
He halts his movements, seeing my face. “Luce…”
“Wait. I mean, um. Well. The lads and I had a bet and well… I lost."
“I can see that!”
He takes himself to the head, running a hand over the coarse stubbles. “I think it looks refreshing? I look like a proper lad.”
“You look like a doorman. That’s what you look like. One of those who belch and slur and hit lads just for fun.”
"Belch and slur?” Ted laughs at me. “Love, that’s basically every bloke in London.”
The edges of my mouth quiver. “Besides, what did they cut it with? A lawnmower?”
Ted touches the occasional bald spot dotted across his scalp.
“Jake had an old barber’s knife.”
He has the decency to look a bit ashamed. “He said he’d done it before. Loads of experience.”
“Was this before or after the Sambuca shots?”
I sit down on the bed. “Honey? I think you’ve been played well and fair by your mates.”
Ted looks at me astounded.
“But… Tom said he works part-time at the barber’s shop…”
And then we burst out laughing.
I end up at Daisy’s pub again.
Everyone’s there and it almost seems like old times, except it’s not. Pippa’s there. Ted isn’t looking dotingly at me. I’m just the odd one out. My skirt is too short, my blouse too chesty and my make-up feels cakey. I’m sitting alone with no one to talk to while everyone laughs at something or to someone.
Whatever my life becomes, depends on something that happened five years ago. In my brain, in my limbs, in my dreams – the scenes are playing out on repeat.
But then Scorpius is there, his hand insistent on my sleeve. And somehow his eyes make me smile and I agree to yes, one more drink, on the house, thank you, Daisy. And down it goes, burn, burn. The blueness of the drink rubs my throat dry of resentment. It pillows my head, making the buzz last longer. And suddenly all I see is Scorpius and large bottles of wine on line. Just for me. For this moment.
He’s brought James with him, who is so obnoxious he makes me forget our encounter earlier today. It makes me forget everything that’s happened before the last drink. We laugh until my teeth hurt, until everything hurts and the heat rises behind my eyes, until I cannot think anymore. All I feel is my hand clutching James’s arm, his large eyes and my laughter, loud, loud.
Darren shows up. I hug him hard, screaming Darreeeeeeeeen! Sweetums! I feel his hands large on my back and it feels nice to have someone hold me tenderly. A man. And yes, okay, I might have even whisper/slurred it to him in a would-be-but-not-really intimate overshare. I feel his giggle and I laugh, amazed at hearing Darren, big boy and macho-man, giggling. It surprises me how happy such a small thing can make me. How it can drown out the pitiful black hole of hurt.
And then we start reminiscing. Walk up and down that memory-lane of good stories. We talk about Darren’s old bumper jacket, how he’d pull all the lassies with the stickers and the stories tied to them. We touch on the motorbike, how it rattled and rumbled until it broke one September afternoon out in a field. Of the old yellowed picket fence that Ted drove into on that first ride on his bike. We talk about the old backyard’s apple-tree we used to climb in. And Dad’s old garage that we burnt down by mistake. My head is spinning with liquor and memories, my eyes swimming in laughter. Ted is laughing, too. And so is James. He looks happy, looking at me like he used to. Like I’m a friend, not a foe.
We laugh and laugh, until we don’t.
“Hey, remember that time when the two of you ran off and eloped in Scotland? That was some fun shit.”
James’s eyes are large, the beer spilling onto the table top, making my hands wet and cold. The playing cards skirt around in lager towards me, beer crafting watermarks and bending the queen of spades.
And then comes the silence. The silence always surprises me. How an entire table can eat their words in joint symphony. It’s taciturn. Except for my hysterical giggle.
And then Pippa, so sober and sharp, her voice pitches above the hum of the bar.
My head swims. My hands are cold. I feel the table push unforgivingly into my abdomen as she pushes her chair back and gets up. An exhale. The doorbell clings shut after her. Ted is hot on her heels out the door. And I’m just sitting, breathing, listening to the silence. My face looking like a deck of falling cards.
And Scorpius. “Oh, dear.”
6 years ago, Lucy aged 19, Ted 22
Another morning. Another year. I allow the steam to rise above my body, my mind a different place, a different universe. The water is scolding and the humid air becomes hard to breathe in. I take a deep breath before twisting the tap closed.
The tiles are slippery and cold upon exiting the shower. I dry my hair slowly as I make my way to the sink. I look up at the foggy glass, my breath catching.
He’s right outside the door, on his knees, eyes swimming.
I think about a lot of things. My parents. My sister. How to get back home. How our lives will play out. Money. Painting. Becoming something. I think about a lot of things, but mostly I think about him. Ted.
Ted gets to his feet. He opens a small black velvet box.
“It’s small.” He speaks, his voice tripping over heartbeats, “Tiny, really – but it’s Mum's, and I –“
“It’s perfect.” I take his hand. “It’s beyond perfect.”
He takes the right hand. My fingers spread willingly. His wide gaze meets mine.
“So… Will you?”
The next morning, a new note greets me on the bathroom mirror.
Hello future wife.
Before I leave the bathroom, steam still swirling around me, I put my finger to the bathroom mirror and respond, for the first time.
Hello future husband.
A/N: Hello again. It's been a year, and I'm sorry for the lateness. Life happened - I have a teeny tiny baby, I've moved twice. In the midst of the chaos, this story was slightly forgotten. I haven't had the time or inspiration to write anything. I've never been this tired in my life. But. The energy is slowly returning and so is the need to write. I hope you enjoyed this - hopefully I'll update with a new chapter soon. xx
Chapter 10: 10
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"One day, you look at the person and see more than you did the day before, like a switch was flickered somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is suddenly the only person you can imagine yourself with." - Scully (Gillian Anderson,) X-Files
Lucy 19, Ted 22, Six years ago
My trembling fingers pull unstoppably on the edges of the dress, tugging it down. The silence is stifling as I slowly pull away the curtain and step out.
“That’s the one!” Dom claps her hands, jumping up and down.
“Are you sure?” I ask, twirling in front of the mirror. “It’s not too… much?”
The white dress swirls and billows around my thighs, like soft clouds pressing into my legs. It sits tightly around my midriff, before cascading outwards in a mesh of blondes and chiffon. It’s like cotton candyfloss and silken bedsheets against your skin. It’s Sunday mornings and his beautiful smile. It swooshes and swishes as I turn, making me feel light as a feather.
Vic stands in the doorway, her smile is huge, reaching far. She’s holding a large bouquet of sunflowers. They're bright yellow. Their colour makes me sweet-silly happy. I don’t know why.
She hands me the bouquet, pulling me to a nearby chair. “Come, let me do your hair.”
What feels like seconds later, we rush out the store, me in white, Dom in petal-pink and Vic in green. We’re giggling, nervous and excited, feeling the promise of tomorrow underneath our wings. The sunflowers bounce gently as we run, my converse-shoes peeking out from below the white dress.
My heart is bursting with the bubbling promise of the future.
Ted hauls her back inside. Something along the lines of an explanation and need to and love, but in my honest experience, the three have never gotten very well along. But she sits down primly, one leg crossed over the other, her beauty queen blonde hair tucked behind her ears.
“Scotland? Of all places to go, you chose Scotland?” Pippa grabs her drink again, her fingertips white-ended. It’s the only sign of anger and I come to wonder whether she’ll hit me once she knows.
“It seemed very romantic at the time,” I say, clutching my drink, too, a small call to arms.
“Couldn’t you have been a bit more modern? Gone to, I don’t know, Vegas?” Scorpius wrinkles his nose. “Scotland is so not sexy.”
“Scotland is sexy -” I say automatically.
“Scotland is famous for a big green gooey monster, honey, it is not sexy.“ He pats me on my back.
“Do you mean the Lockness?” Ted raises an eyebrow.
“It was a long time ago. We were young.” I flash back to the lake, that night. Trying on white dresses in a small shop up North.
“How old were you?”
“It’s not like it was planned – it was more of a – a – “ And I’m fucking nineteen again, feeling like I need to justify our decision to these people. As if I owe them anything.
“Spur of the moment? You know how these things are.” Ted straightens. He’s distant and I catch myself, before I say any more.
“No, actually I don’t. I’ve never done anything like that,” Pippa’s voice tremors, she keeps on scrutinizing Ted and I, watching for any hidden looks or messages. She needn’t bother, Ted’s as distant as the sea to me right now. We’re oceans apart. I watch her eyes go from frustrated to anger, back to despair. Ted notices her shipwrecked eyes.
I glance at Ted who’s refusing to look at me.
I let out a slow breath, letting these pieces go from my arms. “Gretna Green.”
“Gretna Green?” Pippa splutters, “that’s fifty minutes from where my parents live.”
“Of course, you’d do it the most cliché way possible,” Scorpius rolls his eyes. “Honestly, Gretna Green? Could you be more uninventive? You might as well have been quoting Shakespeare.”
He glances at me again. “You were probably quoting Shakespeare.”
“We weren’t. We’d written our vows ourselves.” Somehow, it escapes. There are all these pieces of me that I’ve kept to myself, but now, they’re escaping me. Now, everyone at this table has a little piece of me.
“On the back of a napkin, mind you.” James laughs, but no one else does.
I told him that Gretna Green would always be ours, but that was a lie. Now it’s theirs, too. It’s a barroom-story, smeared in cheap liquor and heavy laughs. I didn’t get to keep this either.
“Yup, true love,” Darren sighs, squeezing my shoulder, “They were even wed by a blacksmith.”
“One with a handlebar beard,” Ted nods.
“Oh, the irony,” breathes James.
“Wed by a blacksmith, over a Blacksmith’s avil. It is a wee bit funny.” Darren grins. He’s taken to sitting there beside me, his hands on my back. It feels like a comfort, but then again not. He must have known this would come up. He must have known –
I take a large gulp of my lager. It’s lukewarm, sticky at the back of my throat.
“You two, just shut your bleeding trap – you’ve done enough damage for an entire year – bleeding sod.” Ted points at Darren and James.
“Well, you Couldn’t have turned out anything other than a blacksmith after that, mate.” James claps him on the back.
“It was a nice wedding,” I can’t stop the words spilling. It doesn’t matter though, because the way Ted’s eyes snap up to meet mine makes it worth it.
“It was. It was perfect.” He looks away, but not before I see Pippa’s dark gaze at us.
Worth every fucking penny.
Ted 22, Lucy 19, Six years ago
It’s a campsite.
Made out of two brittle and worn-out tents, one of which is dedicated to the wedded couple. It is the closest thing to luxury we have, and to us, it’s a damn near Five Star Golden Retreat. It is yellow with two large red patches on it. The other tent is even scrawnier; a two-person tent in which five people are to sleep. It is slight crooked, sagging to one side and crisscrossed in patterned patches to stop the rain from coming in.
James stops dead when he sees them. “Nope. Uh Uh. No. Fricking. Way.”
Dom looks sheepish. “It was the only tents they had left on such short notice!”
"Stop being such a birdie, James," Vic rolls her eyes and marches up to the tents.
Ted laughs when he spots them, lifting me up with a roar. “Our humble abode awaits, my wife! Let’s consummate this matrimony.”
Guffawing, he carries me across the campsite, dumping me on the air mattress inside. It smells mouldy and cramped. I thought they may have altered the space inside to make it bigger, but no. There’s room for a mattress and that’s about it.
“Adieu!” he yells to the group, closing the tent swiftly on us. "See you in the next week!"
I can’t stop laughing, rolling around on the squishy bed. It's so soft that my elbows and knees keep sinking in, making me topple over.
He turns to face me. With a large grin, he rubs his hands.
“Now, sun of my moon, are yeh prepared to be ravished?”
Pippa’s face is like an open book with wet eyes, a quivering bottom lip and lithe form. She seems tiny, like a small bird you want to take care of. No wonder Ted couldn’t resist that insistent need. She won’t look at me while they say their goodbyes. Neither will Ted.
“We’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, looking down at her nails, like she’s ignoring me or some shit. Ted doesn’t say shit. He opens the door for her, something he’d never do for me. He doesn’t look back, not even in anger.
I feel a bubbling rage, crawling underneath my skin. The anger is difficult when it comes to Ted. So is loving him. I’ve lost touch with what it was that made us great. I can’t think of a single reason to stay here in Grimsby. I think I’m losing my fucking mind. I just stand there by the front door at Daisy’s, watching them walk away in the rain.
“Well, that went well…” Scorpius guffaws into his drink.
I throw him a dirty look. He raises an eyebrow.
“What’s up, little miss girl scout. Not so innocent after all, are you?”
“Shut the fuck up,” my voice is distant and strained. The silence stretches out between us. I see Scorpius glance at James, who is also silent. I wonder what he makes of all of this. I consider sitting down, telling him all, but then again, no fucking way.
“I’m heading home,” I spit, glaring at the floor. I don’t know what I’d hoped for. That they’d tell me fuck no, sit down. Drink., or some sort of sentiment. But the room remains quite silent, except for some slow nods and an of course.
The misty rain is cold on my burning face. Grimsby is empty tonight. The neighbourhood feels foreign. It used to feel like I was a part of it – knowing the kids that ran around there and the shops on the corners. Now, it’s a village worth of strange faces, the shops have closed or moved, been replaced. The sunflower fields remain, though. I palm the yellowing buds gently as I press through them. I walk along the ridge in the ground, my feet sinking into the soft mould.
The conversation with Scorpius sticks with me, but I’m not sure what to do anymore. For lack of anything to do, I check my messages on my phone. You get out of touch of these things, once you leave the capital.
Catchlove’s left three messages. She is nagging me for the big exposé on the wedding. I’ve yet to give the final blow. I text her back, promising yes and soon and you have no idea what I’ve uncovered.
Before, I had such difficulty parading the lies and masks we’d woven. But now, the lies slip through every word and action. Now, the lies are my turning-coat, a constant companion.
The house is quiet and empty when I come home. I leave my shoes at the bottom of the stairs and slip past the array of paintings. In the cupboard, I find a small linen canvas and three flayed brushes. I fill a small tea cup with water. It makes a small white burnt ring of water on the bedside table.
I place the canvas gently in the grey light, silent except for the scurrying of brushes. Bright stripes angle out, before returning, curling inwards on themselves. The watercolour blue billows across the peach, embracing the warm yellow of the sun. Acrylic green taints my 500-pound skirt.
It taps against the window, like small rocks hitting the glass. I ignore it, but it continues. And he’s there, standing underneath the window, his motorbike leaning against the gnarly apple tree.
I push open the window. Humid, cool air washes over my face, bringing the smell of the woods; an earthy smell of home.
He doesn’t have to say anything. I’m already halfway down the stairs.
He doesn’t say where we’re going, but just motions silently for me to sit behind him. The bike bumps up and down foreign and yet familiar at the same time, as we get on and I grab his shirt hard in my hand.
I hear Ted’s smile. “Easy there, tiger.”
The machine whirs to a start, quivering dangerously beneath my legs.
“My bum’s vibrating.” I state dumbly.
Ted laughs. My hands grip his sides. I can’t stop my smile and tug it into his back as he speeds up, the motor rumbling loudly, gargling in the woods.
We don’t talk as he helps me unmount, leading me through scrubs and low-hanging branches. We enter a small spot with the view over Grimsby and the lake. I’ve never been here before. A group of blokes are standing over in the corner, laughing and hitting each other. They spot us early on and greet Ted, smiling widely.
“Guys, meet Lucy.”
I shake hand with the five guys. I can’t read Ted’s face. They look at him and something unsaid seems to pass between them all.
“So this is Lucy,” one of them says after a while of silence. He’s giant with half a beard and fiery red hair.
“Bob,” he grins and shakes my hand, “I see what you meant when you said she’d gone all big city on ya. She’s right posh.”
I pull at the edges of my pencil skirt uncomfortably. I look around at Ted. “You’ve talked about me?”
“Let’s get goin’.” Ted is gruff, rubbing a hand over his face.
We walk in silence down a narrow path between the cliffs. I can hear water and smell the salty breeze of sea. Ted walks in front of me. I stare at his hunched shoulders, at the wide expand of his back and bare arms. He’s got a tan, something he’d never had in the years we’d lived together.
The path widens and opens up to the arsenic horizon. The lake is a blank canvas of unmoving water. My eyes search out every acre of it, familiarized with its crooks and corners.
“Who wants to go first?” The tall bloke asks.
“Me.” A blond flashes a wolfish grin. He’s got a large scar reaching from his left ear down to his chin, cutting his bottom lip in two. He pulls of his shirt quickly. I catch a flash of his torso, before he speeds up towards the cliff and jumps – right over the end. It’s marred in a pit patter of similar scars, spreading wide across his chest and back. He’s airborne for a second, his arms flailing, before plummeting towards the sea, a white flash down, down, down.
I rush to the edge instinctively, my scream lodged in my throat. He’s already hit the water, disappeared from view. I hold my breath the entire 47 seconds it takes for his head to reappear among the waves.
I turn back to tell Ted off, to tell them all off for this idiocy, another guy rushes past me in a blur of dark-tanned skin and a wide, wide grin. He hollers as his feet touch the air, twisting in it, before diving, head-first into the water.
I don’t look for him to reappear this time. Instead, my eyes are on Ted. My beautiful stranger Ted. He’s pulled off his shirt. The wide spread of bare skin makes me breathless for a second. Our eyes lock and he looks twenty again, young and so fucking mine. I want him closer, he’s bare-skinned beautiful and he should be closer to me. The look on his face makes me think he feels the same.
“My turn,” he says, his voice rough. His eyes on me. I can’t breathe.
Before I have a chance to think, he’s running towards me, passed me and is flying into the air. That second, before he falls, as he floats breathlessly in the air, gives me hope. I can’t help my smile, watching him laugh as he drops.
“It doesn’t get better than this, I’ll tell ya,” Bob smiles at me, before setting off towards the edge, too. It’s as if they’re pulled towards the skyline, heedlessly throwing themselves into the air, free falling towards the ground.
I think I’ve found what I thought I’d lost.
Dusk settles like an itching cloak of reality. The group disperses with hugs and laughter.
“Nice to meet you, Luce,” Bob flashes a set of sharp teeth at me, his hand large and warm.
I nod and smile, giving him a hug. I understand this part of Ted. These people surrounding him are so similar in stance and stature. Their faces all have something in common. Werewolves by night, daredevils by day. Their thrive for the impossible makes them quite human. And I get how he’s drawn towards it. Toward something that may or may not remind him of the father he can’t remember.
We wind up at the edge of the cliff, a free fall below us towards the water. I watch him out of the corner of my eye, seeing the sunrays and the mirror of the bay in his eyes. My skirt has ripped and is grey by red burnt dust from the cliffs surrounding us.
It takes a while for me to form the words.
“They’re a nice bunch.”
Ted glances at me. “Yeah.” He says, “outcasts, but great people.”
I nod silently. It doesn’t seem like he wants to discuss this further, yet the curiosity is a burning itch underneath my tongue. I want to ask him, shake him. But Merlin knows, I can’t go out like that. Why and take care of yourself are bubbling in my throat, the words limping backwards, rolling back inside before they reach the air.
I want to ask him, if he thinks of himself as an outcast, too. If it makes him feel alive, to feel the winds push against his body, concaving inwards on itself, before pummeling towards the ground, an honest death without the consequence. It scares me that he likes to feel the imitation of death, risking his limbs.
His hair is still wet, his cheeks flushed pink. He looks happy, and I feel my bravery collapse slowly, like a punctured balloon, hot air oozing out.
Instead, the conversation becomes this: “So, she knows about us now.”
He glances at me. “Not exactly the way I wanted to tell her.”
It’s not fair. My anger towards her isn’t fair. I try to muster some sort of compassion, but it only amounts to this:
“Is she upset?”
He exhales. “I… I don’t really think something that happened six years ago is something to be upset about.”
“Six years,” I muse. ”We got old didn’t we? Despite what we said. We got old.”
He focuses on me, finally. Smiles. “I got old, you’re still little, short stuff.”
It makes me smile, even though I wish it didn’t. Hearing him say it like that, it just makes my heart light.
Soberness sinks, heavy and tight in my throat. “Why her?”
I’m not sure I want to hear the answer. Yet I do want it, I burn for the answer. I don’t want to look at him at first. When I finally do, he’s looking at me with a soft look in his eyes.
“She needs me,” he answers, finally, ”she doesn’t want to be lonely and that’s very me. She’s simple. She lets me save her.”
I need to solve this one thing. If nothing else, I need to solve this.
“I suppose that’s legit,” I concede. Ted smiles, but doesn’t answer.
We’re silent for a while, he nudges me then.
“Why him?” It looks like it pains him to ask.
I contemplate it for a while. “He doesn’t think I’m fragile and that I’ll break from the slightest touch.”
Ted shakes his head. “He tells you what to do, that’s what he does.”
“Let’s… not talk about Pippa and Scorpius. It makes me sad.”
He looks at me. Purses his lips. The mask he had on from earlier is gone. Now, it’s just Ted. Ted and his sad eyes.
He puts his hand in mine. I rub my thumb on his finger, such small gestures of love. The feeling makes me lightheaded.
He raises my stained hand, eyeing the residues of paint on them. He squeezes my hand.
“You’ve been painting again,” he looks happy. “I’m glad. Your hands are different, though. Not as soft.”
I shrug, trying for indifference. “Paperwork does that to you.”
He ignores me.
“I’ve brought you something,” he says, reaching for something in his backpack.
“Here.” He puts a paintbrush in my hand, followed by parchment.
Lucy 19, Ted 22, Six years ago
“You have to lie still, oh, wait - I’ll go get some grapes,” I giggle as I frantically search the pantry for grapes.
“Hurry! Your muse is walking out the door as we speak!” He yells from the living room. “So, is this how married life is going to be like from now on? Posing for my beautiful wife on weekends?”
“Here!” I grab the grapes, rushing back to the canvas and Ted. Paint is flowing everywhere; three paintbrushes are swirling acrylic joy across the page in sheer excitement. The floor is dotted rainbow colours with dye. Amidst it all lies Ted outstretched on a dark blue divan.
He wiggles his toes at me and throws a handful grapes into his mouth.
“Should I pose nude, perhaps?” He guffaws through the grapes. “I could match the couch!”
“It’s a divan, hon.” I say, stealing a few grapes.
Ted snorts. “Divan, sofa, couch! The painting would improve by my sheer nakedness, I reckon.”
“Well, if you insist.”
“I do, love. I so do.”
Ted smirks, dropping his clothes to the floor with a whoosh. “You know, I always seek to honour the arts.”
The painting of him comes easily. He emerges through the colours, the sky falling into his eyes. His posture mirrors mine, when I reach forward, so does he. His eyes don’t waver. Whenever I look up from the paper, his eyes are there, burning into mine.
I get to his mouth, before I capitulate.
“I can’t. Sorry.”
“No. I just. I –“ I start, “I don’t paint… not anymore.”
I stare at him and it’s fucking useless. He looks doubtful, stubborn. The way he’s looking at me makes me feel uncomfortable.
I put down the brush, but his hands stop me.
It’s like he’s seeing something in me, no one has seen for the past six years. Nothing’s ever come close to that. If it wasn’t me, I’d cry. I feel the knot in my throat. Ted’s hand is still on my arm, steadfast but soft.
“Come on, Lucy. You’ve done it so many times before.”
He’s reaching for me, pulling me towards me.
I struggle. “No,” I push against him, standing. He stands, too.
“You know, you used to be the guy who made me feel like the most special girl in the world.” It happens so fast. The words are tumbling out of my mouth.
“Now, it doesn’t feel like that. Now, it just feels sad and over.”
He looks taken aback. He steps closer, though. Reaching.
And his eyes. They’re brown again.
I step forward, too. Apparently, I’m just as helpless in this as he is. “Your eyes -”
His hands find my face. It feels different, yet very much familiar. His fingers are rougher, yet his smell remains the same. I’m drowning in butterscotch brown. Ted steps closer, his face inches from mine. His mouth is parted. I lean forward.
My cell-phone rings.
His fingers are gone from my skin. I shiver.
I answer the phone, turning away. The sky is a myriad of colours. I stare at it unseeing while I jabber off conversation.
It’s Miranda. She wants the report. Now, not later.
I glance up at Ted. He’s turned his face to look at the bay.
“I have to get back,” I say, hanging up. He rubs his neck and glances at me. Nods.
We drive back in stifling silence. Once we hit the main road, I breathe out, taking in the salty humid air, which beats against my face. Ted’s back is a solid comfort here on the bike, unmoving, hot and stable. I rest my chin there, feeling his chest expand between my arms.
The driveway to Clem’s house looms, bringing back memories of many nights spent like this when we were young. Together.
I get off the motorbike, still unsure what to do with it all. Still not knowing how this will play out.
Ted is there again. Right in front of my face. He pushes back my hair, which is frizzy and curling around the edges of my face. He smiles.
“I’ve missed your old hair. You look better now. Less plastic, less perfect. It’s like a cracked painting, where bits of you are slowly peeking through.”
He reaches into his pocket. A black velvet box is pressed into the palm of my hand.
“Do the job of the best man.”
It’s the same ring.
My mouth is dry. “Your mother’s ring?”
“See, I’ve always been nagging you about recycling, knew you’d eventually catch on!” I joke, my eyes stinging. Ted doesn’t laugh at all. He’s just dead-silent.
“No, but seriously… Don’t you think, it’s… I don’t know, bad luck?”
He’s smiles. “Just because my first wife ran off, doesn’t mean my second wife will.”
“I didn’t run off – you didn’t come after me!”
What I don’t say: You gave up. I should have fought this. You should have fought for us.
“Oh, so going to France and seeing Dom isn’t running away?”
“How did you – how did you know I went to France?”
Ted sighs, “Never mind. I’ll see you later.”
He leaves without further ado. I’m too surprised to do anything other than to watch him go. He’s not a stranger, but he’s not familiar either. His shoulders greet me with the foreign hood of summer. I wish, it could have been different.
My fingers shake as I unlock the front door. As soon as I enter the office, I pull my skirt off and replace it with my old withered one from the cupboard – it still fits, albeit slightly tighter around my thighs.
The owl is already there, eyeing the quill and parchment on my table. I put the ring by the side. Its diamond sparkles up at me, taunting. I start dictating the quill, sending the expose quickly. It’s particularly morbid, delving into the ups and downs of Ted’s family. Of Clem. I don’t leave anything out. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.
I trod up to my bedroom, unseeing. The door swings open and Dom is there, lying on my bed, one leg crossed across the other.
“Well, hello there, stranger.”
Ted 23, Lucy 20, Five years ago
Time is not moving. The clock in our kitchen has stopped working. It is the breathless seconds in which I sit, perched at the edge of my seat, watching the potion brew on our counter, my morning porridge left forgotten.
I have never felt the seconds ticker and rest relentlessly as I wait for the time to be now, for this to –
A large cloud of blue smoke emerges from the small cauldron. My trembling fingers run down the page in the book, searching out the meaning.
The book drops to the kitchen floor, and as do I. Such little words can have such a defining and final say. One word, and my world has shifted. I’ve never attributed much to words until now. The book lies on the floor beside me where its fallen alongside me in kinship. Still open on the page. I can still make out its conclusion.
Such a small word. Such an irrefutable sentence.