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Chapter 18 : It's All About Reading People
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Chapter Image by laylacitababy@TDA
The sky was a warm, streaky salmon colour that looked quite pretty, but only because it was the sky. If I saw a blouse in the same colour it would be hideous, but because you’re not used to seeing the sky that colour, people always comment that its pretty.
I thought about commenting on it but I didn’t.
I just watched as the passing trees and hillside flashed by, but the streaky pink sky remained; a constant.
Well, I say ‘flashed by’, that’s a bit optimistic of my running skills. Let’s be honest, they moved by at a medium pace.
I suppose the trees were pretty too. All that nature stuff really. I never really got that. I see the rolling hillside surrounding Hogsmeade. I see the mountain landscape. I see the cobbled stone streets. I appreciate that people think they’re pretty. But when you think about it, what’s so pretty?
I suppose it comes from being a city kid. Not that I find cities all that attractive either. I mean, who does?
People are prettier really. Much more attractive to look at, I reckon. Problem is, the person I still find the most beautiful in the world is someone I’ve sworn not to think about for as long as I live. Well, until the summer’s over anyway. I suppose I can’t exactly avoid him completely at school…
Eurgh. At the thought of returning to school and the huge enormous mess I’d abandoned my stomach felt all twisted. Not great when you’re running.
Don’t think about it.
Yes. I was running.
Of my own free will. It was crazy. Oz would weep with pride if he saw me.
So there were two ridiculous things I was doing by the end of summer, that I never for a moment even considered I’d be doing if you’d asked me before.
I was enjoying the countryside and I was running.
Who’d have known.
“What are you snorting at?”
Balls. I didn’t realise I’d expressed my disbelief aloud.
“Nothing,” I replied, between breaths, “Do you think the countryside is pretty?”
My companions face creased up in concern, “You hate nature.”
“No.” I protested. “No I don’t. I like… I like the sun. It‘s warm.”
Crikey, what an insight. I was oxygen-deprived, leave me alone.
“The sun doesn’t count as nature.”
“Yes it does.”
“Well that’s like me saying I like nature because I like the air. It helps me stay alive.”
Smart arse. Why was he not struggling for breath and managing to come out with retorts that left me stumped? This wasn’t particularly fair.
“You’re annoying.” I attempted to scowl between gasps, “Have I ever told you you’re annoying?”
“Once or twice.” He grinned.
I raised an eyebrow.
“A day.” He added.
“That’s more accurate.”
“I may be annoying but you’re wrong.”
“…You lost me.”
“I don’t remember what the question was.”
There was a pause. If I didn’t know that he had a freakishly overdeveloped cardiovascular system I’d say he were struggling for breath. Oh no, just me.
Ridiculous as it sounds, this sort of conversation wasn’t uncommon between us.
“Want to stop for a bit?” I asked hopefully. My lungs were hurting.
He increased his pace and another sly grin spread across his face. “Why… do you?”
“No.” I puffed in protest, in a completely transparent attempt to appear breezy, “Just… wondered if you’d want to. Maybe. You look hot. You’re… uh, red.”
“No I’m not.”
Bollocks. It was true, he was his usual peachy colour. Worth a try.
How did he even know that he wasn’t red? And while we‘re on the subject, why the sodding hell did he look like he was taking a stroll along the street rather than running up hills?
“So I’ve heard.” He grinned and increased pace again. This time I physically couldn’t follow. My legs felt like overcooked noodles and I was pretty sure steam was coming off my boiling head.
“Alright.” I came to a graceful (ha) stop and shouted after the tosser. “You win. I’m stopping.”
He whirled around on the spot and sauntered back to me with a smug smile.
“Don’t say a word.” I glared at him from waist height; I was bent over with my hands on my knees.
“I don’t know what you mean,” He replied, all innocence. “You need to relax, Debbie. It’s not always a competition, you know…” He swiftly moved out of slapping range without the innocent expression slipping.
I ground my teeth.
There were times when I was immensely grateful to have someone as immature and sarcastic as me in my life.
But at times like these I cursed the day that Ray Quinn walked into the Three Broomsticks.
“Before you opened your mouth I was peacefully enjoying the countryside,” I told him, “And you had to go and ruin it. I could have had an epiphany - I’ve always wanted one of those. But no. Ruin my chances why don’t you -”
“That was it!” He rudely interrupted. “You hate nature.”
“That was what you were wrong about. You said you didn’t hate nature. Which you do. So you were wrong. And then you said you liked the sun so it was alright. Which was also wrong.”
Ok, I think you established that I was wrong.
“Wrong.” He added again for good measure with an impish grin.
I repeat, there are times when I regret this boy being in my life. He didn’t have a clue about anything academic, I had no idea how he’d progressed past the first year exams (“that’s what cramming’s for, Deb,”) but he had a genius ability to understand exactly what made a person tick and use it for his own amusement.
To begin with I’d thought he was just not the sort of person I could get along with. I’d kind of thought if someone can annoy you that much surely you can never get along with them, right?
But the more I saw him, and it was a lot - he adopted a habit of dropping into the Three Broomsticks most nights soon after our initial meeting - I started to realise just how clever he really was with it. I started to see that while he never ceased to irritate me, he always stopped just before the line.
It was sort of the optimum amount of annoying, in a strange way. Not too little to be something that might have been an accident, something I wouldn’t be able to comment on in case he didn’t realise he was doing it. And not too much as to make me hate him and think him a foul human being not worth spending time with. It was just enough for me to inform him that he was annoying and that I didn’t like him, and maybe even believe it on a superficial level. But then on the nights where he didn’t come in I kind of… wished he would.
Maybe immature, annoying, distracting… maybe that was just the sort of friend I needed right now.
“How the hell do you know I hate nature anyway?” I grumbled, making my way over to a gnarled old tree overhanging a small creek. I needed shade. It was bloody nine o‘clock in the evening and it was making me sweat, how did that work? “I never told you that. Did I?”
“You didn’t need to, sweetness.” He followed me over to the creek, kicked off his trainers and waded in a few yards. I settled myself beneath the tree and watched. Bloody hell, I felt like his grandmother. Any minute now I was going to shrilly warn him not to go to deep and tell him off for getting his shorts wet. “Now what was all this rubbish about the countryside being pretty?”
Oh yeah. The thing had initiated the useless dispute in the first place.
“I was just thinking. Do you think the countryside’s pretty?”
He was wading deeper, pulling the hems of his shorts up and looking through the clear water of the brook at his feet or something. I realised I was smiling to myself at the simple, child-like image. Boys just seemed to have some strange ability to be incredibly cute when they dropped their guard and weren’t concentrating on their reputation or annoying the crap out of you.
Then he wrinkled up his nose in response to my question, “I dunno.”
And the image was gone. I rolled my eyes.
“Why’d you ask?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged lazily, “I just don’t really get the whole thing with it being so supposedly beautiful. I mean I like being outdoors and everything but not to like, look at stuff.”
“Yeah. I can think of stuff I’d rather look at.” He looked up, grinned wickedly and struck a self-mockingly macho pose, “Like this.” He gestured down at his bare chest.
I scooped up some loose pebbles and tossed them haphazardly in his direction, trying not to smirk. That would just encourage him. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a good body; I suppose he did in his own way. Well he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him from our habitual running, that was for sure. I just didn’t see it like that… I mean… Oh, who was I kidding. I was biased. Well, compared to…
I wasn’t going to think about him.
I was here. With my friend. I was… I was pretty sure I was happy.
Laughing, Ray dropped the pose and slung some pebbles back at my feet, before becoming distracted by how far he could throw them upstream.
I pulled off my own trainers and settled back against the tree, letting my feet dangle in the cool water. It was so easy to lie back in the late evening sun and watch Ray becoming absorbed in his tasks. It was just so simple and comfortable - our pointless conversations, petty squabbling and competitions; even the silence was comfortable.
There was just something infectious about his cheerful, content demeanour that relaxed me. A month ago I’d have gone to pieces at the merest thought or memory of him. Of Sirius. But with Ray…
It just became clearer how ridiculous I was being. It was absurd how much I was letting the whole thing affect me. I was here to get away, wasn’t I? So there was no reason for me to fall apart at the mention of my ex’s name.
Now that was going to take some getting used to. It sounded completely alien, even in my head. It would be a long time before I could say it aloud in a normal voice.
Because I’d have to sooner or later. I had to face it. He was my ex. Things were over between us now.
And so they should be. Of course they should. Our whole relationship had been based on trust, and he’d lied. Well, he’d lied to me originally, anyway. And then he’d kept something from me, for his own benefit. That was the rational reason for the break-up, anyway.
The more personal reasons… like how he’d slept with my brother’s girlfriend. Who was a complete bitch. And then completely belittled my right to be disgusted. And then… This was both the most hurtful part and the most pathetic part…. It was pathetic because it hurt me so much.
It was ridiculous, but the worst part was how he’d… well, how he’d yelled at me.
I told you it was pathetic.
I was furious with myself for being so hurt by it, but it was true. Well, it wasn’t the yelling so much. I’d been yelled at before.
It was that it was Sirius doing the yelling. The things he was saying. The cutting way he said them.
He’d never been so mean to me before.
I couldn’t stop going over it; the things he’d said, worrying that they were true, the hateful tone of his voice. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I wanted to hate him right back. Maybe that would have been easier. But I wasn’t stupid. If it was getting to me that much, I obviously didn’t hate him.
But I didn’t… I couldn’t still like him. Not like that anymore. Not after what he said.
Before Ray had come into the pub that day, I hadn’t been able to put it far from my mind. But with the little tosser annoying the crap out of me or talking his insane nonsense that occasionally (scarily) made sense, I didn’t have to go over it in my head anymore.
Where the issues with Sirius had made everything else fade into the background, with Ray around I could pack it all away and leave it behind.
It was still there. I hadn’t forgotten or anything.
It was just easier than before to brush away whenever it did cross my mind.
“Did you see that one, Deb?” He spun around, his face lit up with accomplishment, seeking my confirmation that his last throw had gone a zillion meters. Of course it had. He was male, wasn’t he?
“Yes, yes. Well done. You’re amazing,”
“Oh thanks for the genuine enthusiasm,”
“No problem. On weekdays I also dole out fake smiles and a phoney interest in the affairs of visiting shoppers.”
He pulled a face, “You’re doing that look again. The one that says, ‘Oh god, he really is a year younger than me. Or mentally deficient’.”
“I’m not.” I straightened my face.
“You w… you know, this conversation isn’t really backing up the point I was making about my sophistication and maturity beyond my years.”
“You started it.”
“Did… Oh God. I’m going to go back to throwing stones now.” He stooped to scrape a handful of stones from the creek-bed. Now, I noted, his shorts were thoroughly soaked, so I could safely bet that I’d be subjected to a moaning walk home when we made our way back in the dark in a few hours.
“You do that,” I called, idly tracing patterns in the sandy dirt around me and closing my eyes to the setting sun.
I hadn’t believed Ray when I’d found out he was actually a year younger than me. Or, well, more accurately he was in the year below me. At school anyway. In reality he was only a month or so younger, but still.
I’d been prattling on about how I hadn’t ever seen him in any of my lessons, and trying to recall the ones Gryffindor had with Hufflepuff, when he’d laughed in my face.
“What?” I’d asked, suspiciously. It wasn’t that I was unused to his seemingly indiscriminately-placed bouts of laugher. A lot of the time he’d be smiling or chuckling at some sort of secret joke; I’d given up asking what the hell was so amusing. But here I really couldn’t see any reason to laugh.
“You’re asking me what NEWT classes I take?” He’d asked, amused.
“Why is that funny?”
He’d laughed for quite some time again, during which I got impatient.
“Why is it funny?” I repeated, “Tell me what you take!”
“I will when I decide,” He grinned.
“I’ll tell you what NEWT’s I’m taking when I decide.” He said, “But for that I’m afraid you’ll have to wait till I get my OWL results. Don’t worry, they’re expected any day now.”
“Oh.” I suddenly understood everything. “You’re… oh. You’re fifth year.”
“Uh-huh,” His eyes crinkled up in a smile, “You didn’t know?”
“But Lily said…” I racked my brains for anything Lily had said about Ray. All I could come up with was ‘prefect with the gorgeous eyes’. That girl was so shallow, sometimes. “Never mind.”
He’d gotten his OWL results two days later. Two weeks ago, now. Though he’d barely scraped a pass in most he seemed happy enough with them, and I’d been invited round for a celebratory dinner with his family; along with, to his great embarrassment, the majority of the village.
“What did you get, then?” He’d asked as he’d met me from work to walk the whole twenty yards or so to his house; his parents own the Honeydukes sweetshop just across the road.
“For my OWL’s?”
“I’m not telling you.” I shook my head.
I shook my head again.
“Well that’s unfair. My Mum’s broadcasted mine to the entire village and quite possibly the majority of east coast. And you won’t tell me yours?”
“It doesn’t matter,”
“If it doesn’t matter then tell me,” He suggested with his secret-smile.
I sighed. The reason I didn’t want to tell him was because, arrogant though it sounds, I didn’t want his to seem poor in comparison. This was his day, his celebration. I wasn’t about to misappropriate anyone’s thunder.
“Look it’s fine. It doesn’t matter. This is your day -” I began to tell him.
“Oh I get it,” Of course he did. This was abnormally-socially-intelligent-though-not-so-much-academically-intelligent boy we were talking about. “Yours were crazy good, right? Ravenclaw; I forgot. You don’t have to worry about mine seeming shitty, Deb, I’m fully aware that if a Ravenclaw got them they’d probably drop out of school and enrol in a school for intellectually challenged dumb-arses.”
“It’s fine. Alright, I hadn’t anticipated that I’d have a huge amount of free time next year with the number of free periods I’ll be getting. Or that, based on my grades, my career is going to be something centred around ‘foreseeing the future‘…” He put on a mystical voice reminiscent of the divination teacher, Professor Bonamy, whose air of mysticism was at best forced and at times aggressive.
I laughed. He’d managed to achieve an Exceeds Expectations in Divination, the highest of his handful of pass grades, which he’d read aloud in delight and amusement.
“How the sodding hell did you manage that anyway?” I demanded, “Wait, you’re not actually some sort of seer are you…?” Somehow I couldn’t picture it. Ray was very down-to-earth, straight-forward and just… there. I couldn’t quite imagine him peering off into the future with some sort of inner eye whatsit.
“Hell yeah. In fact for you… I predict….” He stopped dead in the road, grabbed my arm and a creepy blank expression crept across his face.
“Stop it.” I scolded, tugging on his hand. Mr Reeves from the grocery store was staring. I smiled airily and hissed through my teeth, “Ray. Stop it! Come on. People are looking…”
“I see great discomfort,” He made his voice go all dead and monotone, “You will endure a great embarrassment… a middle-aged woman pestering you with questions and hugs…” He grinned and snapped out of it. “That’ll be my Mum. She’s horrendously over-friendly. My mates all reckon she fancies them.”
“Wonderful,” We all know how adept I am in social situations.
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” He assured me, waving at the still-staring Mr Reeves.
“You avoided the question,” I realised. “How in the name of Merlin did you manage to pass Divination. Pass it well?”
“Easy, sweetness,” He darted across the road out of the way of the last tram of the day. I was dragged with him, still for some reason hanging onto his hand, “It’s all about reading people.”
“No,” I corrected, “It’s about reading the future.”
We went around the side of the shop to the entrance to the flat above it. He opened the door with his free hand and gestured me inside.
“Or,” He pulled the door shut behind us, “It’s about reading what the examiner wants.”
I understood. “Cheat. You can’t just use your…”
“My what?” He grinned and let go of my hand, nudging me forward, “Come on, up the stairs.”
The staircase was narrow and wooden, covered by a thin, worn carpet. At the top were a jumble of shoes - trainers, boots, flip flops and an enormous number of heels.
“Your…” I trailed off, waiting on the landing at the top of the stairs for him to take the lead. There were a number of wooden doors leading from it, some ajar, some closed, but all with peeling pant. I considered my words. I had no idea what title to give his weird interpersonal understanding. “Whatever. Never mind. How did your Mum react to your future career, then?”
“She found it pretty much hilarious. Highlight of my life, I reckon, according to her.” He kicked through the mountain of shoes just as a high chorus of female cackles rang out from the closest door. “Oh great, Kat and Kaz are here. You can meet them.”
“Your sisters?” I followed in the cleared pathway he’d formed.
“Yep. Oh, that means that my earlier prediction was incorrect,” He grinned, “You’ll now have a middle-aged woman and two twenty-year-olds putting you at great discomfort.”
He swung open the door before I could answer and ushered me in ahead of him. I’d always hated it when people do that, leaving you to stand awkwardly while they follow you. Ray probably knew that and did it on purpose. Git.
“My baby brother is a genius!”
Fortunately the attention wasn’t on me.
The three females seated around the table burst into another bout of raucous laughter while the one guy, Ray’s Dad, shook his head apologetically at his son.
“Go on,” One of the identical girls demanded, “Predict me something then.”
“No, me!” The other, they must have been twins, which Ray had neglected to tell me. “Come on, I want something good. None of this ‘peace and love’ rubbish you normally get.”
“You got peace and love?” Ray, in his typical unruffled manner, wasn’t at all overwhelmed by the shrieking of his sisters. He was obviously used to it. And, to be honest, not much seemed to shock him. After all, he still spoke to me after I’d screamed at him twice this past year. “All I got all year was forewarnings of great suffering, and occasionally my bloody death. Bonamy loved it, you know. Positively squealed with delight whenever I walked in.”
“That’s just because you’ve turned into such a stud this year, baby brother,”
They all cackled again.
“I’m serious! Hasn’t he, Kat?”
I hid a smile at one of the only things that ever got to Ray. That was the one thing he was awful at - taking compliments. No matter how jokey and light-hearted, as with his sisters. One time Rosmerta told him she thought his hair looked nice and he got so shifty I was sure someone had attacked him with Bullobox powder. It was the only way the unrufflable Ray Quinn could be ruffled. Obvious his sisters loved this fact.
He pulled a mocking half sulky and half embarrassed face and appealed to his mother. “Mum!”
“Oh, baby,” She wasn’t remotely sympathetic, just dragged him over an flung an arm around his waist. “Don’t listen to the Ugly Sisters. You know I’ve always thought you were beautiful…”
More shrieks of laughter at the annoyed discomfort on his face.
His father shrugged helplessly, folded up his newspaper and moved to the far side of the kitchen with the pretext of stirring an enormous vat of chilli, which smelt divine.
“Great. Thanks.” Ray squirmed out of his mothers hold and caught my eye. “I may have been wrong. It might have to be you protecting me from them rather than the other way round.”
Immediately the focus shifted from embarrassing their brother/son, to me. I instantly panicked that I’d be dragged into the boisterous debate about Ray’s ’stud’ qualities. Situations like these weren’t my forte. I wasn’t exactly going to sit there and agree that he was a ’stud’ (I could just imagine the shrieks that would be greeted with) but I couldn’t disagree, because anyone could see that in a family this close-knit it was alright for them to mock one another, but I was an outside. I suspected that if they sensed that I would in anyway insult or hurt their ’baby’ then I’d be torn to shreds.
“Who’s this then?” Kat or Kaz asked, eyes bright with interest.
“Katherine!” Ray’s mum reprimanded, “Manners, please.”
“She’s hanging around with Ray, Mum. She couldn’t have an issue with manners.”
“Hey, I have manners,” Ray protested.
“Oh, it’s like that is it? Only select people get this polite treatment? I’ve never received such sisterly affection, have you Kaz?”
“Not once,” The two girls ganged up on Ray with ease. This was obviously a regular occurrence. Kaz turned to me, “You ought to feel privileged, you know. You must be something special for this toe-rag to be on his best behaviour around you.”
Ray just grinned and rolled his eyes while I stood there, still a little stunned by the volume and speed of the teasing banter between the whole family.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘polite’, exactly.” I said, “More relentlessly annoying…”
“That’s our boy.”
“Debbie’s the one who set the example, actually.” Ray defended himself. “I just followed.”
Well, no. If he’d followed my original example our interactions would mainly involve hysterical, misplaced screaming. That was the extent of our first two interactions. I wondered again how he’d dared even come near me after that. If I thought back, he was actually polite. In fact, the initial reason I’d found him so annoying was because he was just so effortlessly friendly and polite to everyone. I obviously wasn’t that ‘special’. I wondered if it bothered me.
“Debbie,” One of the sisters - I’d forgotten which was which again - echoed, looking at me. Was I supposed to confirm? I settled with a smile. Awkwardly, of course.
“Debbie’s working over the road at the Three Broomsticks over the summer,” Ray’s Mum informed them. “She goes to school with Ray.”
I had no idea how she knew that. But for some reason it wasn’t surprising that she did. She seemed the sort of mother that would know and remember everything about her kid’s friends.
“Oh, I’m sorry Debbie,” She pulled Ray out of the way and patted the seat next to her. I sat obediently in the chair whilst Ray leant against the back of it.
“These are Ray’s sisters.” She carried on, “This is Katherine,” One of the girls held up a hand in acknowledgement. I had no idea how I was going to tell them apart. I thought maybe she had slightly lighter hair.
“And Karina.” The other one waved brightly.
Katherine and Karina. Kat and Kaz. Somehow their short, punchy nicknames suited them so much better than their more elegant full names.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, trying to resemble someone with manners. “It’s really nice of you to have me over tonight Mrs Quinn -”
“Oh, don’t let it get to your head,” Kat interrupted, airily, “She’s only invited the whole village.”
“She loves Ray more than us,” Kaz added, “We didn’t even nearly get this much attention.”
“That’s because Ray got more OWLs than the two of you put together,” Their mother said, good-naturedly, “And Debbie, sweetheart, don’t listen to a word they say. I’ve been nagging at him to ask you over anyway. I hate to think of you over there alone at all… you’re welcome any time. And call me Sharon.”
And that was pretty much how the whole evening had gone. Kat and Kaz took any opportunity they could to torment their little brother - which was a novelty for me, being usually at the receiving end of the Quinn-torture - while their mother alternated between half-heartedly sticking up for Ray and joining in the ribbing mercilessly. The likeness between the mother and daughters was uncanny; it kind of made me a little sad that I never got the chance to have that relationship with my mother. But in the Quinn household there’s very little time to reflect on thoughts like that; it’s impossible to stay sad for long.
While the sibling battle of the wits progressed, Ray giving as good as he got but failing still due to the seamless teamwork of his sisters, Ray’s Dad kept pretty quiet. It seemed that he was more the observer of the family. You’d expect someone that quiet to be overwhelmed by the sheer noise and energy in the house, but it became apparent to me just where Ray got his relaxed nature from. While the sisters were clearly younger versions of their hare-brained, vivacious mother; Ray seemed to have inherited aspects of both his parents. While he was clearly more mellow than his sisters and mother - hence the ‘unruffled’ nature I was sure he’d got from his father - his quick wit and, of course, the ability to wind people up beyond all measure, rivalled their own.
The house filled up as the evening grew longer, but no one could hold my attention like them. They just had a vigour and enthusiasm that made people gravitate to them. They were, I realised, just so happy. You couldn’t help but want to be near them and, in my case, watch their antics fondly.
I’d been back most days since then, even if I was only popping into the shop for a chat while I waited for Ray to change from his detested working attire of a violet smock (a uniform which I’m sure his mother implemented in the sweetshop for her personal amusement) into his running gear.
Kat and Kaz were there at the weekends, but stayed in a flat in Diagon Alley during the week, where Kat assisted Madam Malkin’s robe tailoring and Kaz worked in a magical creature shop. It was obvious that Sharon missed the girls during the week, which made my heart warm to her even more.
“My Mum wants to do you a lunch on your birthday, by the way.” Ray’s voice snapped me out of my daydream. Ah, yeah. Running, hills, creek, shade.
He flopped onto the grass next to me, his wet short cold against my legs and water droplets even flicked onto my from his hair. What the hell had he been doing whilst I was daydreaming to get his hair wet?
Immediately the nagging feelings of dread, guilt and anticipation swarmed around me at the mention of 'birthday'.
I didn’t want to think about my birthday. Because for it to be my birthday, I first had to get through tomorrow. A day I really wasn’t too keen on thinking about.
“I don’t want a fuss,” I protested, feebly.
I’d already made this point to Sharon, who assured me she wouldn’t make a fuss. Unfortunately she likened this to the gathering they’d had when Ray had gotten his results. That’s where our opinions differed; she thought it was a quiet affair whilst, in my book, mandatory dancing on the kitchen table and a game of Truth or Dare between a group of 16-96 year-olds constitutes ‘making a fuss’.
“You’d deny my Mum the chance to throw a party?”
I narrowed my eyes. “You said lunch. Parties haven’t yet been mentioned.”
“Oh come on, it’s not like you didn’t see it coming. Mum and Rosmerta have been conspiring for weeks.”
“Maybe I’ll conveniently go missing that day.”
I was well aware that I now sounded incredibly moody. And that Ray would use his freakish intuition and probably guess with scary detail what I was thinking. But I couldn’t help it.
I’d never been all that great with parties.
If I recalled the parties I’d attended this year…
Well, there was New Years Eve. Lovely. She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named-But-Will-Hereon-Be-Referred-To-As-MegaBitch threw up on my feet. Ray spilt drinks on me. And after the party… Well, I suppose that’s where the lying began.
Then there was the Gryffindor win over Hufflepuff. That night I engaged in a little GBH with The Boyfriend before the first of many arguments where I was never quite sure what the point was or who was being serious.
Then there was the Ravenclaw win over Slytherin. A night spent in the Hospital Wing. Enough said.
Then there was the Gryffindor win over Slytherin. Fond memories of throwing up a fair majority of my body weight and, as I was many-a-time informed, falling in it.
Then, most recently, winning the Cup. A night many people found out many things that I’d rather pretend never happened at all.
So, yeah, my track record of parties wasn’t a glittering one.
I suppose a party would keep my mind off missing Freddie, Lily, James… everyone. ‘Lunch’ (as the party would be apparently masquerading as) with the Quinn’s would certainly distract me.
And I still needed something to keep my mind off tomorrow. That was the day I was dreading more than any other.
And no one knew.
Even Ray - Mr Intuition - had no idea. His undeserved Divination OWL didn’t provide him with the ability to accurately guess strangers birthdays.
“I won’t let you.” Ray answered, and for a moment I forgot what he was even commenting on.
We were quiet for a few more moments while I tried to repress the angst that was brewing in my stomach about the next two days, and Ray… who knew what was ever going on in his head.
I glanced sideways at him and realised with a sudden surprise that I couldn’t see him properly.
“It’s dark.” I commented, intelligently.
“How long have we been up here?” I asked.
“A few hours.”
“Bloody hell. I didn’t realise. Did you realise?”
Ray shrugged in a typical boyish way that clearly said ‘I don’t give a crap’.
“Shall we head back?” I asked.
Ray grinned wickedly. “Running?”
I stood up and stretched out my aching legs. Usually his challenging tone would provoke me but I didn’t even have the strength to argue. “Screw that. You can run if you want, Freak-Boy. I’ll follow at a leisurely pace.”
“Walking it is then.” He settled, springing to his feet after me.
That was a pretty useful thing that I hadn’t really appreciated before. Having… being friends with a boy. The way that they’d be protective, but in a subtle way. Ray would never have said ‘you can’t walk home on your own’, but he would never have left me. I realised I never fully appreciated that before; with Freddie, particularly, and Ro, James… Sirius…
Even if a select couple of the above did tend to go too far with their protectiveness.
The walk home didn’t take very long, even though the run up and across the hills always seemed to take forever. We made it to the gate at the end of the main road through the village in an comfortable, drowsy silence. I relished in the fact that I was worn out enough to sleep well tonight. It would have been hell otherwise. I was pleased that we’d had a simple, peaceful walk home. But then, at the gate, Ray spoke up.
I knew right away something was off with his voice. It was carefully casual. Ray was never ‘carefully’ anything. Everything was effortless for him.
“What’s tomorrow?” He asked, stopping with his hand on the latch of the gate.
I tensed a little, my guard automatically coming up. I imitated his carefully casual tone. “Um, I think it’s a Friday…” I said, dismissively.
Ray just looked at me for a second, still holding the latch. “What else is it?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
He clearly wasn’t about to open the gate so I climbed over. He caught my hand on the top bar before I could walk off down the lane.
I looked away from him, down the road. The lights of the pub and shops were off now, the only dim light coming from behind the curtains of the flats above them. He pulled my chin around and tipped my face up to look at him in a gesture that was so painfully familiar that my eyes prickled uncomfortably.
But there were no tears. Of course there weren’t. There hadn’t been any tears since… then.
He was studying my face with a little crease between his eyebrows. I didn’t say anything. He’d get it. He always got it.
“Ok, you don’t want to tell me. But will you be alright?”
My eyes prickled more painfully. Half at how annoyingly nice Ray was… Yes, there is such a thing. And half because, truthfully? I didn’t know if I’d be alright.
I’d be alright while I was working. I had to be. And I knew I could be. Once I threw myself into work I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. But for the rest of the time, I realised, pretty pathetically it depended on Ray.
“Will you be there?” I asked, after a long pause.
He was still scrutinising my face. It so obviously got to him that he didn’t know something for once. “Course.” He replied, without pausing for thought.
“Then yes.” I said, with a pretty poor version of my normal smile, which Ray returned uncertainly. “I will.” I squeezed his hand and started off down the road ahead of him.
He stayed behind at the gate, and when I glanced back up the road when I got to the pub I could still see him sitting there, silhouetted against the stars.
I could pretend that my words of assurance had reassured him. But I knew they hadn’t. It was Ray. He’d know.
He’d know that really, I was just as uncertain as him as to what tomorrow would bring.
We’d just have to wait and see.
A.N. Ohgosh. Please don't tell me you think I've ruined the story with this one chapter (which I fear a lot of people might). Well, Ok, do. I want to know if this is the case.
I apologise if the Ray friendship seemed really random,but Ray has been intended t be a big part of the story (and sequel) from the very beginning. He's important for Dee and Sirius' relationship... or non-relationship, as it is at the moment.
Ok, second apology is that there is no Sirius :( Sad! But you know he'll be back, how could he not?
Ok and last thing to say is that this is the PENULTIMATE CHAPTER (I have no idea if I've spelt that right). The next chapter IS the last one of Fall For Anything. But look out for the sequel, which shouldn't be long after that at all. The title will be Falling To Pieces, and it will begin with a prologue in Sirius' POV, and then after that I'm not sure whether people would prefer me to stick to the Dee that they know and love, or carry on alternating between the two of them. Please let me know what you think, preferably soon as I would love to get on with it :)
Right, enough from me but please leave a review and let me know what you think of...
The relationship between Dee and Ray - friendship or something else?
Good for Dee? Or is it going to be too much for when she goes back to school?
Ray's family, what do we think?
And what prospects do we think tomorrow (which is Sirius' birthday, if that wasn't clear) and the day after (Dee's birthday) have in store?
How do you think the first story's going to end?
Thanks for reading, as always!
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