So it turns out that some things can’t be pushed aside just by throwing yourself into work.
Some things ignore that fact that you’re deliberately blocking them out and rearranging the entire bar just so you don’t have to stand still.
Some things pounce on your defence mechanisms, tear them to shreds and sit reminding you of everything until you want to scream.
The day wasn’t going well.
“What are you doing?” Rosmerta was on the other side of the bar, just about to run some food over to her tables. It was extremely unfair. On today, of all days, it decided to be unusually quiet in the pub, and of the four tables Rosmerta had three. Unfair.
“Organising,” I replied, not standing up from where I was crouched on the floor.
She did a double take. “Excuse me?”
“I’m just taking all the bottles out - did you know how dusty it is under here? It’s disgusting. Anyway. I’m taking them all out, cleaning and then I’m going to rearrange them so that they’re on separate shelves according to the type of drink then alphabetised by brand and -”
Eventually Rosmerta’s tutting grew loud enough to make me stop.
“What?” I asked.
“Who are you? And what have you done with Debbie McKinnon?” Rosmerta demanded, plates of food still balanced on her forearms.
I was about to come back with a biting response but someone else beat me to it.
“She’s not here? Well that’s a waste of a bloody day, we could have made it to Venezuela like I said…”
I recognised the voice in an instant and sprang to my feet… only to crack my head on the underside of the bar. “Ow! Bloody fu -”
Another familiar voice cut off my wailing. “Now what have I told you about this situation, little sister? You behind a bar is not good, remember? And don’t think I don’t know exactly what was about to come out of your mouth just then -”
“Freddie!” I leapt up without injuring myself this time and threw my arms around my brother across the bar.
My brother. Here.
“And Ro!” In turn I reached for Ro but he beat me to it and stuck out a great paw to ruffle my hair.
“Little Deb,” He greeted in return, then addressed Freddie, “And here we were thinking we were going to get a frosty reception.”
Frosty was just the opposite of how I was feeling. I hadn’t been registering just how much I missed my brother - my brothers - until the two of them turned up just now. I was overwhelmed with affection for the two, considerably more suntanned than usual, faces and had the weird and completely irrational feeling that I was going cry.
I made my way around the bar and into Freddie’s arms properly. For a second he held me a little awkwardly, patting my back with one hand. I realised that I hadn’t hugged Freddie like this since… well. Before everything. But that didn’t matter, did it? It was all behind us now…
It only took a second for him to squeeze me back in the brotherly bear-hug that I hadn’t realised until now brought me so much comfort.
“I’ve missed you!” I told him. And I had. I’d never been away from him for so long.
“And I’ve missed you too, Deb.” He said, a smile in his voice. “Now, if I’d thought you’d have reacted this well I would have dropped by sooner…”
I remembered in a second what I’d asked him to do for me. To stay away for the summer. Right now I couldn’t really place why.
“I told you not to come,” I reminded him, a little sternly.
“You also told me you’d write.” He returned the look identically.
“Nope. I said I’d write if something happened. I said I’d tell you if I needed you to come back. And I haven’t,” I told him, a little proudly.
“What kind of brother would miss his own sister’s birthday?”
“Ok, for one thing, I specifically said you didn’t need to come back for my birthday. And for another, you seriously better be joking and not actually believe my birthday’s today Mister -”
“How could I forget?” Freddie’s eyes crinkled up into a smile, “Which is why we’re here today, instead. There were no rules saying we couldn’t come the day before your birthday. Is there a problem?”
For a second it felt like something was stuck in my throat. Of course Freddie had no idea what today was. Why would he?
Then I swallowed and it kind of went away.
“No problem,” I said, returning the smile, “It’s really good to see you.”
I took them up the hills where Ray and I ran. Madam Yates let me off for the day, not bothering to hide her relief that Freddie had come. She’d been getting all Mother Hen about that way I hadn’t been replying to his letters so she‘d practically trembled with delight and bustled around packing us up a picnic.
It was ok to begin with. The sun was warm on our backs as we sprawled around a basket full of warm baguettes and I truly appreciated them being here. But the joint-telling of their worldwide adventures so far was something that it was so easy to let wash over me, half-listening. And that left me half a brain to think with.
Think about things I didn’t want to think about.
So I shook myself and focused on whatever story they were telling. Peru, at that moment. Something about Peru. There seemed no logic in the route of their journey, it seemed to me like they’d thrown a load of names into a hat and drawn them out daily to see where to go next. But it was Freddie. No doubt there was some unfathomable logic to it all.
“And what was the day after Peru, Buddy?” Ro rolled onto his back and squinted into the bright sunlight. “Romania, was it? Or Belgium? I’m pretty sure it was Belgium because I made the joke about Brussels -”
“Venice.” Freddie answered, in a low voice, “It was Venice.”
The sudden change in tone of voice caught my attention. The boys stories so far had been told with great gusto and now… this? I turned from Ro to look at my brother, now hauled up into a sitting position leaning out on one arm. He was looking out across the hills. Idiot. Thought he could pull the casual ‘look away’ nonsense on me... I invented that.
“Ah.” Ro’s voice got all of a sudden a little awkward. I could practically hear the cogs in his brain scrambling frantically for a cover story. “Italia. They know how to make a good pizza, the Italians. Hey Deb, ever had a -”
“Yes, Ro. I have eaten pizza before in my almost seventeen years. Shocking I know.”
He grinned, sheepishly. I couldn’t hold anything against Ro. I shook my head at him and took to looking accusingly at my brooding brother.
He looked round a little too slowly.
“Did something happen? You’re ok, right? Both of you? Tell me…”
It seemed to take him a moment to consider his words. There was a bit of a line between his eyebrows that I’d seen all to much of those last couple of months of school.
“We saw Marles. In Venice.”
“Oh.” I was not expecting that. I took a moment to take in how it made me feel. Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot of anger. Just shock. Maybe the anger would come. Or maybe I’d got it all out of my system when I gave her a piece of my mind.
Then came the concern.
“Oh God, Freddie I’m sorry. How did you… what… did you talk to her? Why is she -”
A small smile spread across his face that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “What am I answering? We ran into her waiting for a table at a restaurant. She was with a couple of her friends. We were sitting at tables next to each other. We talked. A little.”
“You talked to her? You really wanted… wait, why was she there?”
“It’s not that much of a coincidence, Deb. We were going to go together, remember. Then I went with Ro, she went with her friends. World might be a big place but we… well we always wanted to go to the same places. We planned it.” He shrugged. I couldn’t tell by his face how he felt.
“And was it… were you ok?”
“Fine. I was… it was fine.” Another shrug.
I stared at him for a second. Again, he was a little too ‘fine’ about it.
“Freddie. Did something happen? Did she say something? You shouldn’t have talked to her, you know. You knew it would be -”
He pulled that face again. The one where it looked like he was having difficulty phrasing something. “Look, Deb, I really didn’t want to talk about this today. We haven’t seen each other in forever, let’s just -”
Then I knew something was up. “You didn’t want to talk about it today? As in, you would have to talk about it eventually? What is it?”
Ro chuckled under his breath, “Still doesn’t miss a beat, does she?””
I directed my demanding stare at Ro for a few seconds and he held up his hands. “Hey, don’t look at me Little One.”
“You tell me or I’ll worry.” I said to Freddie, sternly.
“It’s really not… look. That just… that just wasn’t the only time we saw her, ok?” Our eyes met for a moment before he looked down at his hand in the grass. Then out at the hills. Then back at his hand.
“Ok. So you saw her again. What…” Then it hit me. “Oh God. Freddie you’re not. You’re not back together?”
His answer came a little too slowly. “No. No there‘s too much fresh… stuff… to do that. There‘s too many issues right now.”
“But…” Alright, there was considering your words and then there was just plain annoying your sister. Eventually he responded. “I wouldn’t entirely rule it out.”
I stared. At Freddie’s tentative expression, then at Ro’s carefully blank face and back at Freddie again. I didn’t know what to say.
“Look, I wasn’t going to tell you, Deb. It’s really nothing huge, but I just -”
“Freddie, you know what she did.”
“Yeah. I do. But -”
“You can’t. You can’t, she’s evil -”
“I love her.”
“No.” My voice was quiet now.
“I do. I don’t want to, right now. But I do. I can’t help it. The Marlene that did that… that’s not her. She’s not like that, she’s not -”
“Freddie.” I was shocked. But at the same time it kind of seemed inevitable. I’d been able to see it from the moment we found out. We’d reacted completely differently, Freddie and me. “I just don’t… you can’t just let her get away with it. She’ll hurt you again. I don’t want that to happen to you again.”
A shadow of a smile became evident on his face. “Now you know how I’ve been feeling for the past two years.”
That stopped me.
“That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling, don’t you see? I didn’t want you getting hurt by S -”
“No.” I interrupted. I couldn’t hear him say that name. I stood up. “No, it’s not like that. Don’t.” I wasn’t making much sense, just saying words so that he couldn’t finish the name. It wasn’t hearing the name as such, that only mildly stung, but it was the casual way he’d said it. Freddie had never been able to say Sirius’ name without a tone of extreme disgust and, in that last week of term, rage. And here he was, throwing it into conversation like it was a mate of his.
He couldn’t just be ok like that.
Freddie stood up too almost as if he thought I was about to run off. I did think about it. But what good would that do? Running away didn’t always help. It wouldn’t make Freddie see what a mistake he was making and it wouldn’t make me forget.
Ro announced into the silence that he was going back to the pub for a pint, his not so subtle way of giving us our space, and apparated on the spot. It seemed quieter without him there, even though he hadn’t really been contributing.
I realised that I had no idea why I was standing up and sank back down onto the grass, and with a relieved look, Freddie copied.
“I know you don’t agree,” He said, “But I’ve had time to think.”
Time to think. And I hadn’t? It wasn’t like he’d had more time than me, we’d both had exactly the same amount of time to think. But he was the one who’d reached an absurd conclusion. I should never have made him go.
“Being away, it’s so different,” Freddie carried on, fiddling with delicate little pieces of grass with his big hands, “It gives you a whole new perception on things. What things are important and what aren’t. The decisions you’ve made, the good and the bad.”
“And you count breaking up with her as a bad decision?” I asked, incredulously.
“No. Not at all. It was the right thing to do at the time. But now…”
“It’s not even been two months,” I pointed out, “I should know. You said you’ve had time to think, you’ve had exactly the same time as me. You said you’ve been away, and so have I. I don’t see why you -”
“You’ve had time to think, but have you? Thought about it, I mean.” Freddie asked, with all his stupid knowing me thing.
“Of course I have. I try not to. But I can’t help it.”
“But I mean really thought about it. About how important it is. Or have you just been storing up all the bad feelings and not giving it a chance?”
“Giving it a chance?” I repeated, in a slightly less composed voice, “Now you’re on his side? Freddie, you hate him -”
“I don’t. I never liked him, that’s true. Still don’t. And the thing with Marles…um, didn’t… help things…”
I just stared. This couldn’t be Freddie talking. He didn’t even look like Freddie anymore, with this tan I wasn’t used to seeing and his hair long enough to curl like it used to. And this weird… calmness. Peace.
“But that’s not the point,” He continued, “The point is that you were… happy. With him. And now you’re not.”
“I am.” I retorted.
“No, you’re not.”
“I am. I don’t think about him anymore. I’ve got Rosmerta and I’ve got Ray and… wait. How do you even know I’m not ok? You’ve only been here a few hours…”
Freddie shrugged innocently. It fell into place.
“Oh. Rosmerta. She wrote to you, didn’t she?”
“Well she knew you weren’t going to. And she assumed that any brother would worry if they hadn’t heard from their sister.”
“So she told you I’m unhappy?” I felt a little betrayed, but at the same time bad for Rosmerta that I must have been so withdrawn to her that she thought it was necessary to tell Freddie.
“She told me you haven’t cried.”
That shocked me.
“How would she even know that?” I exclaimed, defensively.
“Does it matter?”
“No it doesn’t.”
“So you haven’t.”
I got that feeling again. The one where my chest felt tight, the lump in my throat, the prickling in my eyes. But, as usual, no tears.
Freddie pulled me into his side and held me there. I sat stiffly.
“Deb, I know what you’re doing. You’re pretending it’s alright. You’re ignoring it and convincing yourself that because you can forget it for a while, you’re alright. I know. You’ve been doing it for years.”
What? I looked up at him.
“Come on. How long did it take for you to talk about home to anyone? Six years? All that time and you didn’t even talk to me. You’re good at hiding things. Running away from things. But you can’t really get away from them.”
I swallowed hard. The lump wouldn’t go away.
“And you’re doing it again now. You think you can get away from it on your own. But all you’re really doing is pushing people away, so then you have no choice but to be alone. Look. Me, Lily, S -”
Pushing them away. Was that what I was doing? I didn’t mean to. All I wanted to do was have the space to think.
But you’re not thinking.
No. I wasn’t.
I let myself loosen, falling into Freddie’s side and his arms went around me properly.
“It’s just hard.” I could hear my voice crack when I said it. But still dry eyes.
“I know,” Freddie said, not just comforting me. He did know. “I know it’s hard and I know you don’t want people to see you upset. You don’t want pity. But it’s not just yourself you hurt when you do that. Think how worried everyone else gets. Think about Lily, she’s probably out of her mind right now, but so determined to do what you want she‘s probably chained herself to the house.”
That sounded like Lily. Always sacrificing herself for everybody else. I let out a small laugh that was mixed with a sob.
“And me.” He added, as an afterthought. “I’ve had an amazing time this summer, but it just… it’d be a lot easier if I knew you were happy.”
I don’t know why it happened then.
I don’t know why his words worked on me.
Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen him in so long that his big brother wisdom really hit home. Maybe it was because I’d never thought about how closing myself off hurt other people before. Other people cared about me. It was selfish. They cared.
I don’t know why it worked.
But it did.
“Is that a tear?” Freddie asked, with a wry smile.
It was more than a tear. I was just short of howling.
We sat in the grass for a long time.
Until my rib-wrenching sobs settled down into a pathetic whimpering and down to the occasional sniff, and eventually silence.
It was a long time.
As the sun was setting, Freddie spoke. “Ok?”
I took one last sniff. “Yeah.” I almost let out a feeble, watery laugh. I did feel a lot better. I tried to think a little. “I can’t even remember why I was crying.” I rubbed my eyes and smile ruefully. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” He said, and wiped tears from my cheeks with his t-shirt. It was a simple gesture that made me feel like we were kids again. Apart from now we didn’t have so much to cry about.
We sat together for a little longer before I spoke again.
“Want to know the worst thing?” I asked, my voice no longer wobbly or weak. Just honest.
I could hear the smile in his voice. I knew he was pleased he’d got me talking. But it didn’t matter. I wanted to talk to him.
“He yelled at me.” I told him, still with a little disbelief. That was still the worst thing to me.
“He did?” Freddie sounded kind of angry for me, but I don’t think he could stop smiling. He was too preoccupied by the way I was willingly telling him. He cared.
“Uh-huh.” I nodded and sprawled out on my front to look out towards the hills, I folded my arms in front of me and rested my chin on them. After a moments pause Freddie followed suit.
“Tell me about it.”
We were both staring ahead at the view. It was surprisingly easy.
Freddie and Ro left that evening, before the clock struck twelve.
“You could stay, you know.” I’d said. “If you want.”
They were ready to apparate on to their next destination. Ro was talking about the rainforests.
“If you need me to.” Freddie answered with a smile. He knew. He knew that I was asking just to let him know that I was ok. That I wasn’t pushing anyone away anymore. Just like I knew that he wasn’t going to stay. He was giving me the space I wanted. Without me pushing him.
“Fine,” I returned the smile. “Go.”
“Will do. Nice to know we had the option though.”
I hugged him. “Make sure you write though.” I said, “And this time I promise I’ll read them. And come back and see me, maybe next Hogsmeade weekend? If you’re not too busy in the, uh… rainforests. Or whatever.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Ro grabbed me for a hug with a wicked grin. I’d seen him staring at Rosmerta.
“Take care of yourself,” Freddie said, going into serious brother mode. “I mean it. I’ve already told your boy Ray to keep an eye on you at school…”
I groaned. “Really?”
We’d had dinner at the Quinn’s, Sharon had been beside herself with excitement at the prospect of two extra mouths to feed and had immediately demanded to know why they weren’t going to be here for my birthday. I’d made up an excuse. It was easier.
I’d been strangely anxious about Freddie meeting Ray, knowing how my brother had been with the other two major boy mates I’d had (Sirius and James). But I needn’t have worried. Ray knew - I should really never have doubted him - exactly how to act in Freddie’s presence to keep him at ease. He was laid-back and the right balance between friendly and respectful. But I remembered how it hadn’t taken long for Ray’s effortless politeness to irritate me and decided I was glad that Freddie wasn’t staying long.
“Don’t worry, I’ve told Oz too. And Blakely. Someone needs to stop you and Londy getting attacked by the Slytherins.”
“I’ll be fine,” I humoured him. He knew it.
“I’ll miss you Deb.”
“Miss you too. And you.” I told Ro.
He answered with a cheerful grin, “Well there I was just starting to get left out. I’ll send you a poisonous toad from Venezuela.”
Freddie elbowed him good-naturedly in the ribs.
“Ow. Ok. Maybe a non-poisonous one then.”
They went out of the front door to the street to apparate and I followed, waiting in the doorway to wave them off.
“Remember I’ve got my eyes in the school,” Freddie reprimanded, preferring to leave on a jokey note than a serious one. To be fair, we’d both had enough serious for the time being.
“I won’t do anything where they can see me.” I assured him, as he and Ro turned on the spot.
“Love you Deb,”
“Love you -” They were gone. “- Freddie.” It was quiet.
For the first time in a long, long time, quiet didn’t scare me.
And for the first time in a long, long time, I slept well.
“Happy Birthday Debbie!”
“Oh… er, wow. What a surprise…” I reacted in the exact same way Ray had informed me to. Apparently this birthday ‘lunch’ was a supposed to be a surprise thing.
To be honest, not all the surprise was fake. I was mostly surprised that the Quinn’s kitchen wasn’t crammed wall-to-wall with villagers and over-the-top décor. I’d thought that when Sharon and Rosmerta were let loose on a birthday there’d be no stopping them.
Instead what I saw were a select few people seated around a tastefully set, though not too overdone, table with the mouth-watering smell of -
“Is that chilli?” I asked, sniffing appreciatively.
“I hear my top-secret recipe was a favourite,” Ray’s usually quiet father grinned from what seemed his permanent position by the stove, “That ok for lunch?”
I turned back to the people sitting around the table. Not the whole village, but the few people I’d have chosen to invite. Namely, the Quinn family and Rosmerta. And the décor… not a Mylar balloon or birthday banner in sight. It was almost as if…
“I reigned them in.” Ray muttered in my ear as he pulled out my chair.
Of course he did.
“Birthday Girl,” He gestured with a flourish.
“Why thank you,” I meant for the chair and the reigning in.
“So Debbie,” Kat or Kaz - I still was unsure when I first saw them - dropped a bundle of serving spoons into the middle of the table haphazardly, leant forward onto her elbows and asked in the typical blunt way of the twins, “Baby Brother says you don’t like parties. What’s with that?”
“I did not say that, Karina,” Ray called from where he was helping his Dad move the steaming vat of chilli from the stove onto the table. I’d once asked why his Dad never used magic when he was cooking, and Ray had replied with a grin that if I thought his OWLs were bad, I ought to see his Dads. I didn’t ask. Let it lie that Mr Quinn wasn’t so great with the magic. But I’ll tell you what, he was a bloody good cook.
“He did,” Kaz assured me.
“No. I said she didn’t want a big deal made out of her birthday. And that she wouldn’t want a big deal being made out of the way she didn’t want a big deal made of her birthday. But you forgot that part.”
“It hurt my head,” Kaz explained.
“Too smart for his own good, sometimes,” Kat agreed.
“That’s why he ditches us for the Ravenclaw these days.” Kaz grinned.
I was used to the house-related abuse by now. After I’d been over a few weekends in a row Kat and Kaz had decided that I was enough a part of the family to occasionally direct their taunting away from Ray and on to me. I took it in my stride, though I was unsure what sort of abuse I was allowed to give them about the Hufflepuff thing. I was aware of the sort of insults James always used when he referred to their Quidditch team, but I wasn’t sure they were appropriate.
“One of the reasons,” Kat muttered under her breath, with a sneaky smile.
Ray hit her over the head with a ladle as he passed.
“Eew. I hope you’re going to wash that before serving with it,” Kaz commented.
“What are you implying about my hair?” Kat demanded.
“I am merely aware of the amount of product that went into so fine a style,” Kaz replied, sweetly, “Created by me, of course.”
“Probably highly flammable,” Sharon joined in, looking up from her conversation with Rosmerta.
“I’ll wash it,” Ray announced to no one in particular, and stuck the ladle under the tap as he passed the sink.
I’d never understand how they ever got round to eating in their family, ever. The way they all contributed in some way to the preparation of the meal made sense on a level of fairness, but no sense at all on an efficiency level. By the time we’d finished eating and cleared up it was mid-evening and everybody was in that warm, lazy mood that follows a good, filling meal. Even the Quinn-banter was more sluggish than usual as everybody settled on their squashy, worn sofas.
“I suppose you two are going to head off on one of your runs tonight?” Sharon shook her head, “Even on your birthday, Debbie…”
Ray looked at me enquiringly. He always left it up to me.
I thought about it.
“You know what? I don’t think we really need to,” I decided, with a small smile to myself.
Ray raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment.
“Need to?” Kat was draped over an armchair right next to the fire, the perfect picture of comfort and laziness, “Let me tell you, Debbie, there’s never any need for exercise,”
I smiled. Well, she was right. Now. There was no real need any more. I couldn’t believe I felt that way. I couldn’t believe I ever had felt that way, without realising it. It wasn’t like I’d consciously felt the need to go running. And I hadn’t, for a long time. With no Oz lecturing me, I hadn’t thought about it at the beginning of the summer.
Until the time I’d finished work early. I’d stepped outside for some fresh air and was wondering what I was going to do with myself, what tactic I was going to use that night to stop thinking about things I didn’t want to think about. And then Ray had come out. Told me he was going for a run. I told him I was going with him. It went from there.
“Not that we’re complaining that you kept him company,” Kaz assured me, “Convinced me to go with him once, bloody sadist,”
“Kaz. You were walking.” Ray was sat with his back against his sister’s chair, and received a slap around the back of the head.
“Power walking,” She corrected him.
She slapped him again. “Keep going, little bro, but you’re in a vulnerable seat.”
“Are you jealous? Do you want to come for a run with me again? I’m using the word ’run’ loosely, I’ll admit -”
Another slap. “Well obviously I would,” Kaz said, airily, “But, oh, what a shame you’re off back to school tomorrow.”
“Hogsmeade weekends come around all too soon, believe me…”
It wasn’t like I’d completely forgotten, I’d already gotten pretty much packed. It was just that today was so much like just another comfortable day at the Quinn’s that I’d forgotten that it was our last.
Last day here.
“Hey, maybe we should go,” I said.
“For a run… or a walk,” I swiftly changed mid-sentence at the looks of disgust on Kat and Kaz’s faces. “You know, as it’s the last night.”
“It would be a drastic change from tradition for the two of you not to go out exhaust yourselves,” Sharon commented, over a snort from Kat.
I just shrugged questioningly at Ray.
He, for once, looked bemused but accepted it in his usual casual way, “If that’s what you want. Birthday Girl.”
After thanking everyone for hosting my surprisingly understated dinner, we made it outside to the cool, late-summer evening. And I could pretend not to hear the wolf-whistles from the twins, who would never pass up an opportunity to try and make the two of us uncomfortable.
“You’re acting really weird,” Ray said, following me up the main road. It was the peaceful time of night where there weren’t many people around but lights were still on.
“How so?” I challenged, taking in a lungful of cool air. I was heading out to the hills, as this was sure to be the last night I’d get to enjoy the open countryside. That’s right, I said enjoy.
Ray didn’t answer right away, he just kept pace with me. “What was yesterday?” He asked, eventually.
Immediately that guarded feeling returned, and I answered, “Nothing,” Too quickly.
But then I thought. It didn’t matter. I could tell him. I could tell him and not get upset by it. Because I could do that now. It was real now. And when it was real, I could see that it wasn’t anything to be stupid about, it was just a day.
Ok, I hadn’t been completely fine yesterday after Freddie left. I’d felt very alone and I’d gone to bed and thought about what - or whose - day it was.
It was natural. It was his birthday.
And I’d wondered what he was doing. How he felt. Whether he thought about me.
But it didn’t hurt anymore. I didn’t particularly like it; I didn’t particularly like him. I still couldn’t believe he would act like that. But it didn’t hurt. To think about, or to talk about.
“Sure.” Ray accepted right away that I didn’t want to talk about it.
But maybe I did. Maybe I wanted to hear what someone other than my biased and at the moment very much too-forgiving brother thought.
We’d made it all the way to the gate at the end of the lane when I spoke. Instead of carrying on up the footpath I stayed sat on the wooden gate. Ray didn’t comment, but followed my lead, standing next to me and leaning on his forearms against it.
“Do you know Sirius Black?” I asked. And my voice worked. Whilst saying his name. An achievement.
Ray raised his eyebrows. “Sure. The Non-Boyfriend. Right?”
I remembered that, the time in the Three Broomsticks. So long ago. Before anyone knew anything. Apart from Ray. He’d been right even then.
“Right,” I said, “Apart from…” Nope, I still didn’t really want to refer to him as my actual boyfriend. Ex now. “Right. Non-Boyfriend. Well it was his birthday. Yesterday.”
Another pause. Ray was silent so I carried on.
“And I kind of feel bad.” It was the first time I’d admitted that. To myself, let alone anyone else. It was kind of a surprise to realise it, but at the same time easy to explain, “Because he was my best friend. As well as… Non-Boyfriend. And I didn’t see him. Didn’t even write to him. I’m kind of pretending he doesn’t exist.”
I don’t know why I was telling him the bad things about me. It was as if I wanted someone to agree that I was an awful human-being rather than being reassuring, like Freddie.
“Well, to be fair, he’s not here today either.” Ray was apparently not going to do so. “So maybe he’s doing exactly that with you too.”
“Probably.” I gripped the gate tightly in my hands, “He said… he said some stuff to me. Before the summer. Made it pretty clear he hates me.”
“It’s alright. It was alright. Because I thought maybe I hated him too. I did hate him. I think. But now I… I thought I could just hate him and not care and then it would be ok. But now I start feeling bad about hating him? What’s that about?”
If Ray was at all bewildered, which a sane person most definitely would be, he didn‘t show it. “Well I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me what happened.”
I don’t know why I felt like I had to tell him. Maybe it was to get it all out before we went back to school to face reality. I wanted that second opinion. The honest opinion. I wanted to get it all out. I wanted to prove I could.
I asked the question that had been on my mind all summer. Every time I though about Sirius Black and his last words to me.
Because Ray would be honest.
“Do you think I’m selfish?”
It took a long time. It was a long story to tell, I suppose. It was the first time I’d ever told anyone the whole story. Not the edited version for Freddie. This was the version I would have told Lily if I’d been in any fit state to, and the version I would have told Sirius if he was, a, not the co-star of the little story, b, still my best friend and, c, not a total wanker.
We were walking back towards the pub at an unhurried pace. It hadn’t escaped my attention that Ray hadn’t answered my initial question. The most important question, I thought. To me.
Was I selfish?
“I… don’t really know.” He said, slowly.
It bothered me that he would have such difficult answering. If he’d thought I was completely selfless he would have just said ‘No’ right away. But that was a silly response. That was the reason I’d asked him; for the honest answer.
“I wouldn’t say selfish,” He decided. “Not like… that kind of puts the blame with you. And it’s not your fault.”
Well that was what I thought.
“I think… you were a little immature…”
“… and a bit of a coward…”
“… and you didn’t deal with it very well…”
I think he noticed my expression then. His expression was apologetic but his eyes gleamed mischievously. Then he just shrugged.
I narrowed mine. “And?”
“And… that’s it. But it wasn’t really your fault, any of it. You just did what you thought was right. That’s all anyone can do.”
“So you’d just never blame anyone? Because everyone’s doing what they think is right? What are you, Jesus?”
He grinned again. He’d understood the religion reference. Impressive. I wondered if one of his few OWLs was Muggle Studies.
“Well it’s true, isn’t it? Every one had their own values and beliefs. What’s to say they’re wrong if they believe in them?”
I stared. “Ok, now you’re a philosopher?”
“It’s just what I think,” He shrugged. “Ok, I’ll admit that maybe Black wasn’t exactly thinking shagging your brothers girlfriend was going to give him the best chance at getting you, but sometimes you don’t think as clearly as you should. Sometimes things get in the way. Some people are worse at seeing through these things to see clearly.”
“Oh great, so my ex-boyfriend is retarded. What exactly gave him the excuse to not see clearly? Lust?” It still made me feel ever so slightly nauseous to think about.
“No…” From the sly smile on Ray’s face I already knew what he was going to say.
“If the next word out of your mouth is ‘love’ the next thing in it will be my foot.” I said, a tad viciously.
Ray found it incessantly amusing. It probably should have offended me how side-splittingly funny he found my threats when they were intended to intimidate.
When he’d finally stopped laughing I was still glaring.
“Sorry.” He wasn’t in the least bit sorry. “Alright, not love. He’s… I don’t know how to put it without implying that your boyfriend -”
“Ex boyfriend.” I felt the need to point out. The phrase ‘ex boyfriend’ still didn’t really seem to fit Sirius. But I needed to get used to it.
Ray ignored my input.
“- without implying he’s some kind of a sap. But well… he’s kind of more, uh… expressive than everyone else. Or… emotional maybe.”
“Definitely makes him sound like a sap.”
“I know. I mean… he’s got a temper, right?”
I nodded, thinking of Avery.
“Exactly. That’s what I mean. He can’t keep his temper under control, maybe he can’t keep his other feelings under control.”
I remembered the way Sirius had been so impatient to tell James, Lily and Freddie about us. The guilt and frustration had gotten to him so much more than it had gotten to me. The ways he’d struggled to mask his temper or anything he thought might be upsetting with Calm Voice. But it didn’t work. He wasn’t good at it.
Easy to see through.
“Maybe you’re right.” I conceded. Maybe. Who was I kidding? Ray was always right.
“So it’s not your fault.” He concluded.
“But it’s not his fault either.” I reminded him of his own words.
“Uh-huh. Just stuff that happened. You can dwell on it, you can fix it or you can leave it behind. Whatever you want.”
For a moment I liked that. The idea that it was my choice. But then, it wasn’t really. Sirius had made out that it had been my choice but it wasn’t. He hated me. He thought I was a ‘selfish, childish bitch’. That wasn’t the sort of thing that you could just fix.
And even if I could…
Eurgh. Feelings were sods to sort out.
“Ray.” I said suddenly, after a moment of quiet.
He looked up. I held out my hands for a hand down. “I need a favour.”
He rolled his eyes and stuck his arms out underneath my own to lift me off the gate by my waist. “Why does that sound like it’s going to be something kind of bigger than helping you down from a fence?” He dropped my to my feet in front of him.
For a brief moment my hands were still on his shoulder and his on my waist. I felt it the moment he was letting go. It wasn’t something he’d have noticed. It was just a natural movement for him - pick me up, put me down, let go. Logical.
But with the spontaneous and possibly definitely foolish plan in my mind, I noticed.
And so I made the most of that moment.
It wasn’t the wisest of things to do. It wasn’t the right time, place or person, and definitely not the right state of mind.
It wasn’t thought through.
But, whatever. I did it.
In the two seconds between Ray putting me on my feet and letting go of me with a tolerant, indulgent look that you’d give a little kid, I did it. Tilted my head up, stood slightly on my toes and kissed him.
It was strange. Unfamiliar. I had to reach up a little, but not nearly as much as with Sirius. His face was smoother than Sirius’. His hands were holding me loosely where Sirius would have been gripping me tightly. Different.
For a couple of seconds he didn’t move. It was probably the shock. His face was frozen and his body held stiffly. I felt completely and utterly foolish. As I’d known I would, if I’d have thought it through.
Then, just as I was about to pull away and leg it, he kissed me back. He was still only holding me lightly, not pulling me close the way I was used to. But it wasn’t just my lips working against his, it was both of us.
But that ended pretty much sooner than it had begun.
He snapped his head back abruptly. “What was that?”
Oh God. I had to explain myself.
“I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry,” I blurted, slightly stunned at myself, “It was stupid, I… I just wanted to see if -”
“Not that.” He was looking past me, I realised, back down the lane towards the pub. “Didn’t you hear that?”
I followed his gaze, but the street was dark. And empty.
“No?” I said, registering the embarrassment creeping over me. Oh God. Was he just saying that to get out of kissing me? Well, that was a first. Alright, I hadn’t kissed a whole lot of people but Sirius hadn’t ever faked hearing mysterious noises to get out of it…
“I thought I heard… Never mind.” He shook his head, then directed a bewildered and expectant stare at me. No doubt expecting answers. “Ok. And that was?”
“Sorry,” I said, meekly again. “I didn’t mean to attack you.”
He laughed, seemingly unaffected.
“Well, alright I kind of did. It was a spur of the moment plan. I just wanted to see whether I wanted to fix things or leave them behind like you said and -”
“And you thought that was the way to check?” He was grinning. It was ok. It was more of a ‘you need psychiatric help’ grin rather than an ‘I forgive you’ grin, but I’d take it.
“Kind of. I thought if I felt something…” I reasoned.
“Clever.” His voice was dripping with sarcasm but it was gentle. Definitely thought I was a crazy person.
“It made sense in my head.” I protested, still feeling humiliated.
“Yeah. On some, very strange, level I can see that. But you’re not going to feel something by kissing your best mate, Deb.”
“Why not?” I complained, “We get on, we can stand to be in each others company for a whole summer, we care about each other, we don’t find each other hideously unattractive…”
“There might be a little more to it than that. You don‘t just go round kissing everyone you vaguely get along with who‘s not freakishly disfigured.”
Of course there was. I knew that. But trust Ray to be able to put it in such blunt, straight-forward terms that I would feel an absolute mug.
“But your mum and your sisters think -”
“Not really,” Ray shook his head, “That’s just taking the piss… and a little bit of wishful thinking. Kat and Kaz are just both dysfunctional romantics and at the same time taking every opportunity to make life harder for me. And Mum, quite frankly would adopt you given the slightest chance.”
I smiled, then was overcome by another flood of embarrassment and buried my head in his shoulder. “Oh God.”
“What?” He rubbed my back, good-naturedly.
“I just had a flashback of it. I’m so sorry.”
His chest juddered with laughter. “Nothing ruined. Maybe next time don’t give your mate a heart attack and maybe be a bit choosy about your victim.”
“You’re the one that used the word ‘attacked’, not me.”
“Well that’s good for my self esteem,” I said, “Clearly traumatised by the whole event and pretending to hear mysterious noises to get out of it…”
“Well that’s good for my self esteem, being the object of an experiment,” He retorted with an eyebrow raised, then added, “I really did hear something. I wasn’t just trying to escape…”
“Escape? Really, how bad to you want to make it sound?” I demanded.
“I didn’t mean…” He shook his head, “I really did hear something. You thought I just…?”
“Was so disgusted you made it up? Pretty much.”
He laughed again, throwing an arm around my shoulders and steering us back down the lane. “I’m going to use that one in future. The old ‘oh, do you hear that?’ routine…”
“The next time a random girl throws herself at you, you mean?”
“It’s a curse,” He said, jauntily.
“What’s with that, anyway? I thought guys were supposed to take whatever they get when it comes to sex -”
Oh, wonderful wording there Deb.
“Oh God. I didn’t mean sex.”
“I should bloody hope not. Now that sort of attack would be a little more traumatising -”
“Shut up! But they are! You never hear of blokes refusing…”
“Some blokes do have some discrimination, Deb.” Ray said, a little more quietly, “Especially when it comes to those who are off limits. Mates generally fall in that category.”
Some blokes. Well, one bloke I know apparently didn’t acknowledge either of those limits. ‘Mates’ or ‘off limits’. Sirius’d broken both those rules in the last year.
We walked in silence back to the pub, the quiet a little bit more obvious than usual, filled as it was with my embarrassment, Ray’s probably shock and the enormous stupidity of what I’d done.
“Sorry.” I said again as we reached the side door.
“No worries.” Ray said again, with a smile. “It wasn’t an awful plan. Just, you know. Don’t go attacking every guy you don’t find hideous tomorrow when we get back to school.”
“I’ll try not to. Maybe refine the plan a little.”
“You’ll figure it out eventually.” He said, more seriously. We both knew what he meant this time. “Without pushing it. Maybe just give it a little time.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Debbie.”
He didn’t hug me goodnight as he would have most other nights. Maybe he wasn’t so sure I was out of my moment of madness and was worried I’d jump him again.
I looked once more down the lane, out towards the hills just beyond the gate. This summer had been my chance to work it all out. It felt like I’d come so far yet at the same time nowhere at all. I still didn’t know where I stood in my own feelings. I still didn’t know where he stood in my feelings. It was like I’d gone off on some sort of tangent trying to get over everything, and now I’d made my way back to where I was to begin with. I could think clearly about it all.
But I knew one thing. If it wasn’t for Ray Quinn I’d have carried on taking the wrong road, getting myself more and more lost with each day. He was the one to get me back on track, and for that I was indescribably grateful.
“You’ll figure it out eventually,”
Right. Like he said.
I could dwell on it, try to fix it, or leave it behind.
And I had time. Plenty of time. And I had friends. Good friends.
Piece of cake.
All starting tomorrow.
A.N. Oh GOSHH! All over! The END. Blimey.
Ok, it may not have been the big ending you were all expecting (that scared me a little). No cliffie, no huge dramatics, not Sirius...
That's one of the things I'm sure you'll all hate me for, the lack of Sirius... I'm sorry! But, to justify it, you'll all now appreciate the insight into his head and what he's been doing with his summer in the prologue of Falling To Pieces... yes?
Anyway please let me know wht you think, whether you liked or hated it. Again, I'm sorry there was no big finale or firewoks, but it kind of felt like the place to stop, and well the sequel will NOT be long!
A big thank you toeverybodythat has favourited and reviewed this story, I never thought when I started it over a year ago that it would get this sort of response EVER! You've all inspired me to keep writing and made me a very happy girly!
Please keep your eyes peeled for Falling to Pieces, hopefully out in the next couple of weeks!
A big final thank you,
Write a Review Fall For Anything: All Starting Tomorrow