For once in his life, Hugo felt good about himself.
“Way to go, Hugo!”
“Oh, darling! I'm so proud of you!”
“Hugo, that's great news!”
Yes, you could say that Hugo was feeling happy. After finally securing a promising job at the Ministry, he had rushed to the Burrow for the annual Christmas celebrations there and told the entire family the good news. Naturally, everyone was delighted, but there was something holding everyone back. Rose had a glint in her eye, James seemed unusually subdued, and Scorpius looked as if he were going to throw up. Illness, maybe?
Hugo was brought back down to earth with a clap on his back, sending his wine cascading out of the glass he was holding. "Well done, old chap! Oh, sorry about that - you can clean it up, can't you?" It was Granddad Weasley, wishing him congratulations.
"Thanks, Granddad. I'm really excited about this job because it has so much room to grow." he replied, a huge smile on his face. He quickly knelt down as the aged man shuffled off and muttered a quick "Scorgify!" to clean up the mess. Whilst under the table amidst the various pairs of legs, Hugo heard the gentle din of chatter lessen slightly as a chair scraped back. When he resurfaced, Rose had stood up as though to make an announcement.
"Everyone, I have an announcement to make!"
Oh, god, Rose. You couldn't let me just have my moment, could you?
"On the subject of jobs...” Rose paused and glanced at Hugo. Her eyes seemed alight with laughter at his pitiful celebration. “Well, the Minister of Magic told me just this afternoon that I've been promoted to the top of my job!"
The applause and admiration seemed to never end. Hugo watched his parents fawn over the better-loved as he nursed a new glass of wine, now feeling extremely sorry for himself. Any more of this and he was going to have a headache tomorrow.
Rose danced across the room as if she were floating, the whole family with stars in their eyes. Rose also worked at the Ministry, but her job was something to do with Aurors and new spells involving herbs (Hugo wasn't quite sure), and she had quite clearly excelled in this.
She was always great at Herbology. Actually, she got ten O's. I got .. two. At least it was obvious who was the golden child then.
It seemed that the announcements weren't over, to prolong Hugo's agony. The next was quite a shock, if Hugo was perfectly honest.
"Alright, I can't take it any more!" Scorpius yelled, leaping up from his chair and stunning the family into silence. Everyone watched with baited breath - Scorpius was known to have a temper - to see what the problem was. In fact, it was not a problem, but something far better.
Scorpius turned towards Dominique, who was looking at him with wide eyes. "Dom, sweetheart, we've been together for one year, and ... you're the greatest woman I've ever met and ever will meet. You are quite honestly my world." He got down on one knee and drew out a box from his pocket, opening it to reveal a whacking great big diamond engagement ring. "Will you marry me?"
It was like an episode of some dastardly Muggle television show that his Mum occasionally watched had come to life and Hugo was in it. Everyone watched Dominique's face in pure anticipation as her facial expressions changed from surprised to softened to excited.
"Yes! Yes of course I'll marry you!"
At least Hugo got a kick out of the cheer being louder for the happy couple than for Rose. He clapped heartily, but not from his heart, as the two shared a chaste kiss and let everyone watch Scorpius put on the ring. They would be happy together, Hugo was sure of it.
Now I need to get a girlfriend of some sort ... being socially inept around women doesn't help. A man, maybe? Oh get over yourself.
Grandma Weasley's eyes were swimming with tears. "We're going to have great-grandchildren!" she exclaimed, before bursting into tears of joy. James and his girlfriend, Alice shared a smirk and went to stand up the same time as Lily and her husband Andrew rose. Each looked at each other in suprise.
"Oh my god! Okay, you go first."
James took a deep breath and began. "Nana, I don't think you'll have to wait for Dom and Scorp to have kids. That's because Alice is expecting!"
"We'd like to add that Lily is pregnant, too!" Andrew added excitedly. Lily squeezed her husband's arm and smiled unabashedly. For the second time that night, the table was stunned into silence.
"Oh my goodness!" Nana cried, full out blubbing by this time. Everyone gave their immediate congratulations and the girls flocked to Lily and Alice, who were currently comparing morning sickness stories. The men in the room headed to James, Andrew and Scorpius, who were trying to be nonchalant but Hugo could see their excitement. He gulped down some wine before heading over.
"I'm so proud of you lads. Two babies at once! Excellent! You just wait, Molly'll be knitting away in a matter of days," Granddad Weasley said, winking at the boys. "And Scorpius! Excellent job! Gave us all a fright there, though. I thought you were going to end it more than propose."
Scorpius grinned apologetically. "Sorry Arthur. I was just extremely nervous. I wanted it to be perfect."
"Always the perfectionist!" James cried, and the men laughed. Hugo simply smiled and took another sip of his wine, catching James' eye. "Oh Hugo, I'm sorry mate. We've kind of overshadowed your new job a little."
A little? Try a lot.
"Don't worry, a baby beats a new job hands down." Hugo replied, faking a smile. In all honesty, he felt rather crushed and that he should be owed an apology from everyone in the room. Such is life.
"Nonsense, Hugo. I'm so proud of you, son! You're finally making your own way in the world." his father, Ron, added. No matter what he said to Hugo, he always felt belittled after. Now was a perfect example.
"No problem mate. Now, more wine anyone? This is a night for celebrating!"
Everyone came alive at the mention of more wine and the crowds dispersed as Grandma Weasley mentioned the promise of various desserts in five minutes. Alice wormed her way over to Hugo, who was still feeling pretty deflated.
"Sorry, Hugo. It just couldn't wait any longer before I started showing. To be honest, we weren't sure how everyone would take it, but it seemed to go pretty well, didn't it?" her face was glowing, and Hugo couldn't help but smile at her excitement and relief. Alice had had a hard time being accepted into the family because she seemed too 'opposite' to James and the first time the family met Alice, her and James were having the mother of all arguments. Her love of leather jackets probably didn't help. It had taken a long time, but Harry and Ginny had finally relaxed around her, especially when she made the effort to wear a floral dress at one gathering, and she was welcomed into the hub of the Weasley family.
"Yeah, I think you did pretty well there. What were you thinking, "smile and look pretty"?" Hugo asked, a small grin playing at his lips. Alice hit his arm lightly and smirked.
"Exactly what I was thinking, actually."
Hugo laughed. He had admitted to himself many months ago that he had harboured a crush on Alice for ... well, since he first met her. Her laid back attitude and beautiful brown eyes sealed the deal. Alas, James was a top Quidditch player and an expert at women, plus Hugo was younger than Alice, which he had calculated in his mind to equate as never having a chance.
I wouldn't do that to James, anyway. No way.
"C'mon Hugo, let's go and get some pie. Or ice cream. Or treacle. Or ... hey, what's that?" Alice was already gone. Hugo chuckled to himself as she eyed the exotic looking cheesecake and sat himself back down. Less than a minute later, Rose was seated next to him.
"Hey Hugo! Congratulations on your new job!" she exclaimed, grinning. It was all a façade, Hugo could see the one-upmanship coming through already with the glint in her eye. "What does it entail?"
"It involves lots of hard maths, my favourite." Hugo wasn't lying there. One of his O's was in Arithmancy. He found comfort in the fact that with maths there was no middle ground, just a right or wrong answer.
If only life was the same ...
"Oh, how dull! I'd hate to do that." Rose replied whilst managing to sound upbeat. She was bloody immature at the best of times. "What do you think about my news?"
"It's great! Well done, sis. I'm not surprised by it either."
"No, I'm not either, if I tell you the truth. The promotion was between me and this hopeless girl called Eleanor ... Something-flower. Fitting name for the job, but I don't know how she even got so high up in the first place!"
"Well, clearly the Ministry saw something in her that you didn't, Rose." Hugo replied, suppressing a sigh. Rose could also be bitchy. No wonder they never got on as children. Pouring tea on his head when he was two and blaming it on his teddy was the first sign of evil.
"They couldn't have though, because I got the job! I'm so pleased with myself." Rose exclaimed, eyes wandering round the room for her next victim.
"Yes, I can tell." Rose ignored this comment.
"Anyway, I'm going to go and congratulate Lily. Shame the kid's with that husband of hers, the dolt. Bye!" In a cloud of perfume and malice, she was gone. Hugo released the breath he didn't realise he'd been holding. Alice caught his eye and smirked, rolling her eyes. Hugo mimed an exaggerated wipe of the brow in return.
The night went on with many celebratory glasses of wine. but Hugo had only had two. Any more and he'd be having a headache tomorrow - wine went straight to his head. As usual, the night progressed with games and general chat, with the piqued interest of wedding and babies this year round. Hugo was beginning to feel a little sick of it, and so decided to take his leave at around eleven.
"I'd best be off now. Bye, everyone." He did the rounds of saying good bye and wishing a merry Christmas to everyone in the room, with the promise of going to James' apartment for the New Year, and hastily departed.
Hugo left feeling more than a little dejected. As he quickly apparated to London and felt his feet land on the ground, he stumbled and fell. There had been some snow fall in his absence, and the hill which he had apparated to was strangely muted from the white. He lay there, slowly becoming more wet and frozen, before gathering his senses and picking himself up from the harsh floor.
Ah, a white Christmas. Lovely.
All his life, Hugo had been second best in every way. When he arrived at Hogwarts, there were at least five of his relatives already there. When he was the best in his year at Potions, Rose was too and she was top at Charms and Transfiguration to boot. When he made the prefect position for Ravenclaw, Rose was Head Girl. James was Quidditch Captain, followed by Albus. Lily was brilliant in general. The only person who was remotely like him in the family was Molly, a small, quiet girl who the others didn't like much. Hugo used to see her regularly and they would have conversations in various towers about life amongst other things, but as they grew older they grew more apart. Eventually, Molly got a boyfriend and that put paid to their friendship.
I've never had a girlfriend. Jesus.
Sadly for him, this fact was true. Even now, at the age of twenty, Hugo had only ever been kissed once as a dare by a group of Hufflepuff girls and even that had ended in disaster when the said girl proceeded to break his nose. It was enough to put him off the idea of girls for years and to consider asexuality.
At least life wouldn't be as complicated. Hey, who needs relationships?
Hugo realised that he had been walking furiously to the entire time and had ended up down a back alley. Two menacing figures appeared from the gloom.
"Oi, ponce!" one thug shouted at Hugo, slowly advancing. Both had their hoods up and were huge. Hugo had two options: to perform magic and stun the hell out of these idiots or to make a run for it.
Wand, wand, wand ...
It was too late. The bigger of the men lumbered towards Hugo and he hared away.
"Oi! We want your fuckin' mobile!"
What's a mobile? Hugo idly thought to himself amidst the panic of being chased, making a mental note to ask his mother later if he ever escaped alive. His heart was pounding as the two men gained speed, and the icy floor didn't help matters. On Hugo ran, as fast as his spindly legs would allow him, and the men eventually gave up and fell back, puffing and shouting abuse. Hugo sighed and stopped to catch his breath after he turned a few corners, before realising he wasn't anywhere near home.
Maybe I should apparate there.
Hugo prepared himself for the unpleasant journey and was about to go when a small sign with a cauldron caught his eye.
Aha! The Leaky Cauldron! I'll stay here a bit and warm up, I'm freezing.
However, his hopes grew less and less promising by the time he reached the door. He could make out a sign saying 'CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS' in block red capitals marked out over the door, slung on top of a Christmas wreath. In smaller writing it said, "Please use side entrance for Diagon Alley". Hugo made his way past the building and through to Diagon Alley, searching for a source of warmth.
Hugo had always liked Diagon Alley. His first visit there was when he was a small child and he had been inundated with mysterious magical objects and the latest broomstick of the time. As he grew older this fascination with the hustle and bustle of the street had not changed, but tonight it was different. There was a different feeling and Hugo felt slightly apprehensive of wandering any further.
"Oh come on, man up. Just because it's dark!" Hugo whispered to himself furiously, and walked forwards to the nearest window filled with gobstones and novelty wizard chess boards. Hugo felt like a child again, protected by his own little bubble of nostalgia and melancholy as he gazed wistfully at the various enticing shop displays.
I miss being a child. The not having to care part suited me well.
The Alley had been gifted with a blanket of snow, creating the same muted silence which Hugo slightly disliked, but he didn't care. He was sure he could hear something in the distance, laughing and something tumbling, but for now he concentrated on his memory of receiving his first wand. Hugo had actually gone through five, because he would always unwittingly breaking his, something which his mother said he had inherited from his father. A small smile crept onto his face at the thought of his mother. Hermione Weasley had always been a kind and loving parent, and tried to celebrate his successes, however small. His father, on the other hand, decided that Rose was the only child which was worth bothering about and it was needless to say that the two didn't get on very well. Hugo thought him a hypocrite, his father thought him a failure.
Thank you, Dad, for sending my self-esteem through the roof.
The noise had grown louder since Hugo had wandered all the way down to the domineering building that held Gringotts, standing proud amongst the slightly ramshackle buildings in a vast array of gold and marble. The goblins had style.
Hugo sniggered to himself as he thought of several goblins dressed to the nines, and quickly banished the thought when he noticed two stone gargoyles leering down at him, muttering darkly. "Disturbin' the peace!" he thought he heard one mutter, and walked past quickly. The sounds grew louder. Hugo could make out the sound of a woman's tinkling giggle and the sound of something being poured as well as shouts of "You've made a killing!" and "Unlucky there..."
Hugo's curiosity was fully piqued now. As he turned the corner, the mysterious building started to come into view. The building looked extremely out of place in Diagon Alley, and was clearly very new. The shiny black brick was adorned with various Christmas decorations to celebrate the season, and every so often the ribbons would come alive and perform a beautiful display like a Nativity scene in celebration of the holiday. Under the decorations was a floating neon sign of a Martini glass and a roulette wheel, which in contrast to the building looked to have seen better days.
A casino! Bloody hell, what's that doing here?
Hugo could make out the figure of a blonde woman wearing a long red dress inside, serving drinks to a group of old wizards. There was a pianist in the corner, and various gambling games were laid out amongst the inside with people overseeing the events. Some looked dejected as they lost, others looked elated as they won, but all seemed to be having a good time. Hugo decided to have a quick peek inside. There was something about the place that he was drawn to; it seemed so alive.
As soon as he entered the small, intimate bar a young woman swished up to him. "Well hello, sweetie," she drawled, peering through her eyelashes. "Can I get you anything?"
"A small firewhisky, please." Hugo replied. He couldn't take his eyes off the beautiful woman before him. What was best was that all the waitresses were gorgeous.
"I'll make it a double." the waitress replied with a cheeky smile and a wink before wandering off to serve another customer, waving at an empty seat of which Hugo took as his cue to sit down. He made himself comfortable in a small booth and removed his jacket. A short wizard sidled up to him.
"You don't look like a gambling man," said the wizard in an upfront manner and a croaky voice, "But I'd like to take a guess that you wanna have a go." Hugo was so surprised that he blurted a small "Okay..." before being pulled rather quickly by the gentlemen to the nearest game. Hugo recognised it as Russian roulette. The host, a handsome young man wearing what seemed to be similar to a Regency period waistcoat, welcomed him generously.
"Hello there!" he cried, revealing an array of dazzling white teeth, and the other participants focused their gazes on Hugo intently. Hugo was sure that he could see a Veela waitress in the fray.
".. Hello." Hugo said in a small voice. He had lost his nerve now.
"What's your bet?"
"Hmm... one galleon on red thirty."
"One galleon!" the host sneered, and a few people sniggered. One woman looked over at him quizzically, as if she were not sure whether to take pity or whether to laugh. Hugo felt a little humiliated. "Is that it? I'm gonna set you a little dare, sir. I dare you to take a risk -" the host cried, and many cheers ensued, "- and bet five whole galleons. Do you think you can do that?"
Hmm. I've got around ten on me, and I reckon that I could spare a few for the end of the week. It's only a game, anyway. You'll lose it but that's part of the fun. You've just landed this new job anyway, so what's the problem?
"Of course I can!" Hugo replied slightly defensively, and the mob clapped and whooped. The rest placed their bets and the host flamboyantly spun the wheel. The ball took what seemed an agonisingly long time to finally land on a place: red thirty.
"We have a winner!" the host yelled, a huge grin across his face. Some looked disappointed, but others were happy for Hugo, who felt immensely pleased with himself.
"Beginner's luck," he announced to the crowd, but he could not help to have a small, triumphant smile on his face. His confidence had soared. A woman draped in black finery came up to him and shouted "Nonsense!" before taking a huge sip of her wine. Others started to agree with the woman.
"Too true! The boy's a natural!"
"I ain't ever seen a more confident bet placed."
"He's gonna storm the rankings tonight!"
All of this felt a little much to Hugo but he went with it. The warm feeling of success had not yet faded and he felt more confident in himself. "Let's go in with another round, shall we?" he asked the audience which seemed so enraptured with his win. The waitress which met him at the door came up behind him and kissed his cheek, handing him a massive glass of firewhisky. As he turned round, she was gone. Hugo shrugged, a silly grin plastered across his countenance.