Author's Note: As this was for a "Style Exchange Challenge", this story isn't my usual thing at all. For this challenge, I was paired up with Inti, who often writes next-generation humour stories, sometimes with romance of an awkward sort. Sorry, Jack, for butchering your style.
There is a close connection to my Rose story "Winner Takes All" here, but it's not necessary to read that story to understand this one.
Thanks to ForgottenFace and LucyLovegood for their help with theatre-related terminology. The title and lyrics are from the ABBA song of the same name.
Take A Chance On Me
Picture the scene.
A pub on March seventeenth, almost eighteenth (if you are still conscious enough to keep track of the time). Every table is full, every seat occupied by a being, often in green or wearing a shamrock somewhere on his or her person. Some shamrocks are flashing, glittering, or otherwise catching the eye (and inducing headaches).
Beings? Is that too confusing?
This is the Leaky Cauldron, after all, and some of the beings here are not human. We do live in politically correct times, yes?
This is after the war, long after. Leprechaun (hired for the occasion) dances on a table in the middle of the room, tossing fake galleons into the air. Hag sings out-of-tune ballads, changing words as she forgets them. Half-giant (known by all as Hagrid) sleeps at the bar, arms around empty tankard. In corner table sits ominous-looking group, no longer fresh out of Hogwarts, but still too young to be accepted as anything but. They are Gryffindors and Slytherins, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, distinctions that no longer hold meaning.
That is the set: the place, the time, all in place.
Now a close up of the actors, specifically two. The others just aren't important to this story. They sink into the background, menial roles with minor parts and lines not at all difficult to remember (you hope). They laugh and talk and drink, needing nothing else in the world because they are comfortable in their own skins.
Not that the other two aren’t. They’re just uncomfortable with– well, each other.
Let me rephrase that.
One of them is not comfortable with the other.
Zoom in on a male character, face not unknown to the masses. Looking just like famous father (who has own Chocolate Frog card) is not always– no, never a welcome thing. Said male character, herewith referred to as myself, lives in father’s shadow, aspiring to rip to pieces all fifty-six of Dad’s Chocolate Frog cards in my collection or crossing out “Harry” and replacing it with “A. S.”, initials much preferred to full name.
Those initials now appear on shiny brass nameplate in Auror office. First life goal achieved.
“Not that again!” The co-star of this production rolls her eyes with a dramatic sigh. “You weren’t this excited when you got the job!”
No script, no matter how perfectly written, can contain the wonder that is Virginia Westmorland. She prefers the name Vinny, claiming that she pawned it off some American film about lawyers and mafia and other odd Muggle things. Something about a cousin named Vinny, odd considering that she is my cousin’s best friend.
However, name is not my style, particularly as it rhymes with Mum’s name. Never a good sign. Vinny would make jokes about Freud, another Muggle. Must avoid that Muggle’s name when possible.
She turns to the others. “He’s hopelessly obsessed with becoming his father. Imagine what Freud would say about that!”
Being the only Muggleborn among us, she’s the only one who laughs. Muggle psychology is still not offered at Hogwarts, one of her most frequent complaints. Other most frequent: me.
She punches my arm. “Come on, Al. Where did you leave your sense of humour?”
This is different. Usually, she claims I never had one to begin with.
But I’ve fallen behind with the script. Must reign in actors and call a time out, the director taking his proper place of authority.
“Hey guys, I think–”
“I got a letter from Rose today.” Vinny’s voice overpowers mine, and the others turn to her, half-smiling at the thought of Rose, halfway around the world. She’s far more interesting than whatever dull old me has to say.
Cue yawn. Am so dull I bore myself.
“She’s going off on an expedition to the Himalayas for six months.” Vinny makes a face. “Ugh. I don’t think I could do that, wouldn’t you agree, Reenie? It can’t be healthy.”
“Rose was never the healthy type,” I say, finger tracing the rim of my empty glass.
“You can say that again.” Good man, that Nate. Always knew I liked him for a reason. “Going around with Malfoy. Now that’s unhealthy.”
Vinny threw up her hands. “Let’s just avoid that topic completely.”
“You’re the one who brought up Rose.” I cross my arms, feeling somewhat confident that I’ve at last cornered her.
Her head whips around to stare at me, black hair, darker than mine, never dyed, never curled, never touched with anything remotely cosmetic, swinging around, threatening me with violence. They’re long enough that she could strangle herself if she wanted to. Not that she would. Note to self: still need to work on my description. Imagery is all wrong.
“Maybe we could think about Rose without having to think about her poor choice of an ex-boyfriend, what do you think?”
She speaks as though I’m a very young and (most likely) stupid child. This is the sort of thing I have to put up with whenever we’re in the same room. Strike that. Same universe. Will try to think of a time when she hasn’t insulted me.
Continue. Must let myself be consumed with angst for some moments.
“Right, then,” she says, flicking another strand of hair over her shoulder. It is tied back in a ponytail, but it’s just so damn long. “What was I saying?” She knew very well what. “Anyway, Rose writes that....”
Off she goes, summarising the main points of Rose’s usual short letter and making it sound ten times as long, drawing out each detail as though it was the most important thing in the world to discuss. And yes, while I may regard Rose as more of a sister than my own sister, I do have my limits when it comes to these public recitations of her letters.
Focus on your drink, Albus. Eventually, she’ll stop and we can have some nice conversation again. Nice word, “nice”. It’s so easy to use in any situation to describe anything at all. What could I use it with now, hmm? This drink is nice. The weather outside is nice. Vinny has a nice–
Uh oh. No. That’s not nice.
Whatever would Grandmum say?
“Last call!” comes Mrs. Longbottom’s voice echoing down the bar.
Ah. My curtain call. Perfect.
“Bloody hell.” Vinny flops back in her chair with a heavy sigh. “That time already.”
Reenie leaps from her seat, turning pale. “Bloody hell is right. I promised I’d be home by now.” With a lazy wave, she weaves her way through the milieu and vanished.
One gone, more to go.
Austin is the stubborn type, glaring across at Mrs. Longbottom, knowing she wouldn’t see him past the still-sleeping half-giant, while he takes a long, slow drink from his glass. Nate nabs Austin by the arm and drags him off. Where doesn’t matter. Away is enough.
After a torturous period of witty goodbyes and drunken winks, only one extraneous companion remains. Another cousin of mine (have too many of these hanging about) makes eyes at me to get a move on home as though Mum and Dad are waiting up for me like old times.
“Sorry, Fred. Not going that way tonight.”
He gives the most suggestive raising of the eyebrows I’d ever see.
“If you say so, mate.”
And so I’m left with Vinny, just as planned. You see, it was my idea all along to get her and me alone. Strange, you say? You wouldn't be wrong. It’s very much a one-sided thing, I can assure you. Nothing's going to come out of this, I'm sure, so if you want to bail out now, take your refund and run. There’s bound to be a better show playing elsewhere.
Vinny turns her empty glass around and around and around. Eyes getting dizzy watching her. She must have a plan of her own, hypnotising me so she can get away. Yes, that must be it, her way of escape.
“So you’re walking me home, then?”
She’s very good at getting down to business.
“Looks like it.”
There’s this look on her face. You know that look. The one that means eminent disaster is approaching.
“If you’d rather–”
“No. I want to walk.”
“It won’t make a difference, Albus. Just come along, for God’s sake.”
No pleading for me to accompany her. No sorrowful glances at the thought of having to walk home alone. A total lack of anything remotely complimentary. It reminds me why I never try. With her. With any girl, for that matter. It takes too much work to understand them.
Will now just throw script out of window. No longer necessary. No longer has a rational purpose. She will ignore it. I will blunder it.
Start improv scene here. Hope for perfection. Expect bedlam.
Characters exit pub onto Muggle street. Being walking down street. It has rained, but since stopped. No umbrella needed. Lights are hazy in a slight fog. They reflect off the wet pavement. Characters go to cross street. I step in deeper-than-expected puddle. She laughs.
Yes, this is going fantastically.
Use spell to dry feet. Might catch cold otherwise. Would not want to miss any day of work for a bloody cold.
“You’re so fastidious, Albus. Some would call you obsessive compulsive.”
How to respond to that? Thank you?
“I like things to be a certain way.”
Limp as a rag, man. Limp. As. A. Rag.
She shakes her head, in disgust, I’m sure, at my inability to banter.
We continue silently. There is a measured distance of seven inches between us. It remains consistent, which either reveals that we’re exceptionally good at holding our drink or that we we’re both aware of the theatricality of the moment.
To say that there isn’t a script for this would be a lie. There is. Most definitely. It’d be hard to miss. How many witches and wizards have travelled this same path? Even Muggles do this sort of thing. If a guy walks a girl home, certain things are meant to happen. That was a plan, my initial one. A plan doomed for failure, but all the same, it had some material value.
“We turn this way.”
Had lost place, following along beside her like a lost dog.
Walk some more.
Must say something. Was never good with improvisation. Better to come up with the right things to say beforehand, then can always be sure of success.
“So, Vinny, how’s work?”
This is the best I can manage? Fail, Albus. Fail.
“We’re drafting a new trading deal with Peru.”
We? She and who else? Not that pretty-faced Zambini.
“Do they still practice Mayan magic there?”
She gives withering look. Not good sign. Change subject.
“Did Rose mention anything interesting in her letter?”
“Didn’t she send you one?” An accusation. If said cousin does not send me letters, then I must be out of favour. If so, then I am not worthy of hearing said cousin’s letter to Vinny.
I shrug. Nonchalant appearance is ideal.
“Yes, but they’re never long. She knows I won’t read them if they are.”
“Because you’re so busy chasing after the bad guys.” No sarcastic voice needed here. The words speak for themselves.
Time for me to stand up straighter, try to look more dignified. Emphasis on try.
“I will be.”
She waves off the protest with a well-manicured hand. “If there are any left by the time your dad finishes with them.”
Another reason to not be pleased with status as a Potter. Am expected to do great things, just like parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. This does not include name-sakes, who were likewise overachievers on the heroic stage. Bar is set too high. Likely doomed for failure.
We turn another corner. Nearing her flat. She will not let me walk her in or even open the door for her. She will push past and shut it firmly behind her, perhaps with a “good night” (only spoken once door is shut). At Hogwarts, some called her a nun, a rumour beaten down by yours truly, who, having a cousin of the same persuasion, understood her simple desire for independence.
Would be damned pleased to have some independence myself.
Time passes. We speak of work a little more. Then of Rose, who is, apparently, going to lose herself in the Himalayas for half a year. Good for her. The more time she spends away from that bloody git Malfoy, the better.
“Yes, but you used to like him, Albus. Don’t deny it now.”
Which I do. Firmly and wholeheartedly.
“It was only for Rose’s sake that I didn’t curse him to the moon.”
She sighed again. Likely that she will throw me off now, ask to continue alone. The street where I live is coming up: go left to her flat and right to mine. Now, we are silent. I try to think up something to say that may impress her in some way.
No words come.
Awkward silence continues.
Until she stops dead between the streetlights. It is darker here. Cannot see her face, and thus distrust all her motives. Sincerity will be too hard to judge.
“So, Albus. Get on with it.”
She’s moving the script along herself, then. Should have known she’d snatch the director’s chair right out from under me.
I stare. Open-mouthed (how else?). She looks back with a disconcertingly blank expression, as though awaiting bad news from the healers, or worse, from the dentist (says me with the three fillings from consuming so many Chocolate Frogs in my quest to have a complete set). She nods her head once, then twice.
“Bloody hell, Albus. You’re a complete troll.”
She leans forward and kisses me.
Cut. Cut! Drop the curtain! Do something! Don’t just stand there gaping!
Am unable to properly respond at first. She must feel that her action goes unappreciated and so pulls away. Then she sees the expression on my face.
“If I thought that you looked like a fish before, now you just look like an idiot.”
Swallow. Think. Work jaw back into speaking-mode.
“Aren’t they the same thing?”
Now she stares.
“You just insulted a large population of the world’s wildlife.”
Feeling more confident now. Enjoyed that... moment. The kiss. The taste of the last thing she drank (what had it been, anyway?) lingering on her lips. Nice lips, too. Just as nice as her– Well. I mean. The rest of her.
“And you just insulted me.”
I lean forward.
She leans forward.
Yes, yes, now it’s following the script. Good thing I had it handy.
It happens again, but this time, not so abrupt. Not so unexpected. Not so clumsy.
Would like to exaggerate amount of time that it takes. Would like to say that it was one of those grossly passionate kisses of those grossly romantic stories. Or, maybe not. Those are too gross. This was not at all gross. It was... it was... well, you see, it was...
Nice. Very nice. Most certainly very nice.
She whispers something in my ear, and I smile. Her hand holds mine and maybe, just maybe, the door to her building won’t be closing in my face. Maybe even I’ll get a proper “good night”.
Fade to black.
Clear the seats.
We’ll be needing the place to ourselves.
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