“Stop going on about it, Rose,” Molly snapped, getting up from our cosy table in the corner of our local pub and walking towards the bar.
I scowled as I watched her flirt half-heartedly with the barman as she ordered us all another round of drinks. When I was sure she was out of earshot, I turned to my companions with a frown.
“Has she told you why she’s been acting so weirdly?” I demanded, glaring at my cousin Albus as if daring him to reveal the secret she’d been keeping from me.
He nervously fiddled with his glasses and shook his head. “You know I haven’t talked to her since Lucy’s birthday last weekend,” he muttered. “If she was going to tell anyone, it would be you.”
I huffed, not even bothering to ask Lorcan; we hadn’t seen him since before Christmas due to some family expedition he had been dragged on by his parents. He was decidedly out of the loop.
We lapsed into silence, each of us staring at Molly’s back as we tried to make sense of the situation. Molly had hardly spoken to anyone since Wednesday, when I had come to her rescue and whisked her away from a nightmare lunch with Jake with a convenient family issue that had just arisen. She didn’t even thank me; she just clammed up and refused to talk to me about the whole thing. What was the point in best friends if they didn’t even tell you their gossip?
Molly returned with our drinks and the steely glint in her eye softened as she looked from my post-work frizz to Lorcan’s trendy shirt (though I didn’t really call lime green trendy; maybe his insisting that it was made it fashionable).
“Where is everyone?” she asked curiously, noticing the obvious lack of cousins from our usual Friday get-together.
“Roxanne’s,” Lorcan said darkly, leaning forwards across the table. I couldn’t help but notice that the garishness of his shirt looked a little fluorescent in the dimly lit pub. I grimaced a bit; it was a shame that he had to ruin a reasonable face with a green glow. “She’s having a party of some sort.”
“We weren’t invited?” I asked indignantly.
Molly shook her head angrily, strands of red hair flying. “Of course we weren’t, that bitch. Roxanne’s never liked us. This is exactly the sort of thing she’d do.”
Albus coughed, brushing a stray lock of Molly’s hair out of his face. “Maybe the invitations got lost in the post?”
We all looked at him as though he’d announced he was offering to help Auntie Audrey with her family photo album.
“Lost in the post?” I let my jaw drop dramatically.
“Lost in the post?” Lorcan repeated, staring wide-eyed at Albus.
“Lost in the post?” Molly gasped.
“Yes,” Albus said with a pout. “It’s been known to happen.”
We ignored this declaration, giving each other sideways glances.
“I can’t believe you’re even trying to defend her,” Molly cried eventually, breaking the silence with an appalled look on her face. “Don’t you remember that time she cursed your Head Boy badge so that whenever you tried to pick it up you sprouted warts?”
“I’m sure that wasn’t intentional,” Albus mumbled with a frown. He looked over at me for support.
I shrugged. “What about when she sold your owl to pay for that dress she wanted?” The case seemed pretty closed to me. None of us had ever really understood how she’d turned out as such a spoiled brat, but nobody in the family really liked her (except for perhaps Uncle George, but then he was her father so he didn’t really have a choice).
“I can’t believe they all went to her party,” Lorcan fumed, ignoring Albus’ disapproving looks. He didn’t approve of bitching, which I guess was nice if you needed him to defend you; it just didn’t make him great in interesting conversations.
“It’ll be rubbish,” I declared, sipping my drink. “A part without us isn’t a party at all.”
I decided that ignoring their scathing expressions was the best way to go about the situation. Fine, so we weren’t exactly the heart and soul of every party we went to, but our relatives liked us. Surely someone would notice we weren’t there.
“Right,” Molly said, choosing to brush over the awkward pause that I had created. “There’s only one obvious thing to do.”
Lorcan nodded; Albus frowned yet again. I looked between them bewilderedly. “What’s that? Give Roxanne the Silent Treatment for the rest of the month?”
“No,” Lorcan said patronisingly. “We’re going to the party.”
I stared at him dumbly. “But we weren’t invited.”
“Yes, Rose,” Molly said with an eye-roll. I resisted the urge to hit her; she was so infuriatingly annoying! “That’s the idea.”
I narrowed my eyes and exchanged a glance with Albus. Lorcan grinned happily at us. “We’re going gate-crashing,” he whispered excitedly.
Groaning silently, I gave Molly a pleading glance. “No way.” I shook my head defiantly. “We can’t just turn up. It’ll be so embarrassing! She’ll throw us out in front of everyone!”
I literally didn’t have time to list all the reasons why this was a terrible idea. I could picture the scene in my head; we turned up uninvited, allowing Roxanne to humiliate us all by revealing that we weren’t cool enough for her parties and we would be shunned and outcast and left outside on the wrong side of the door. There wouldn’t even be time to help ourselves to nibbles. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
“Do you think she’s told people that we weren’t invited?” Molly said shrewdly. “She won’t want people to know she’s a bitch. They probably just think we didn’t want to go.”
I gritted my teeth and tried to keep my cool. “I’m not going.”
Albus sighed, cleaning the lens of his glasses on his shirt. “I’m with Rose on this. It’d be rude to barge in.”
“That’s the idea, Al!” Lorcan repeated.
“Don’t call me Al,” Albus growled. He looked a bit like a bedraggled panther trying to scare us. Needless to say, Lorcan took no notice of him.
He was clearly getting frustrated with how boring Albus and I were, but I didn’t really care. I liked being boring; it was safe and easy and much less embarrassing than being crazy and outgoing. Lorcan and Molly could go off and have a jolly time intruding on Roxanne’s lame party and they could bear the humiliation and the laughing faces and the shame. “We don’t even like Roxanne,” Lorcan muttered. “Why do you care if it’s rude or not?”
In the corner of my eye I saw Molly smile smugly and turn towards me. “It’d be nice to see everyone, don’t you think, Rose?” she said sweetly. “I’m sure James and Lysander will be there - Dominique and Louis too. Oh,” she added as a (clearly fake) afterthought. “I should think Teddy and Victoire will be there too.”
Damn; she had me and she knew it. I was another step closer to hitting her. How could she stoop so low? I glared at her as she happily munched on a custard cream. Neither Lorcan nor Albus had registered this ‘subtle’ emotional blackmail, but I eventually I had to admit defeat. Sighing, I held up a hand in surrender.
“Fine,” I grumbled. “I’ll come with you. But only on the condition that Molly takes the blame if this goes sour.”
“Great,” said Lorcan as he downed his ale. “What about you, Al? Are in or out?”
Albus returned his glasses to his scowling face. “It’s not as though I have a choice, is it? I’m not going to sit here like a loner all evening.”
“Let’s go then,” Lorcan announced, waiting for us all to drain our glasses.
We left the pub and with every step we took a deeper feeling of dread washed over me. Luckily, we had a fairly long walk ahead of us; all of us were over the limit and so couldn’t Disapparate. I doubted that even when we’d sobered up I’d be able to act normally. We were going to crash a party! When had we become such rebellious young men and women? Part of me felt extremely cool for doing something so socially incorrect, but the rest of me felt an overwhelming sense of doom. This really couldn’t end well for any of us; especially not me. We hadn’t yet had dinner and I was so hungry I couldn’t see straight. I just wanted to bash my head repeatedly against a wall whilst scoffing chips. Then I’d be happy.
It was a little too chilly outside for me and I shivered as we strolled down the street. I’d definitely chosen the wrong shoes for such an occasion; I had spent hours deliberating over which pair of heels to wear and as usual I’d gone for the wrong ones. They were rather beautiful to look at, though, but damn painful to walk on an uneven pavement. Molly called me a shoe whore, though I’d tried to discourage her from using that term in public; imagine if Scorpius overheard that nickname. I shuddered at that thought, self-consciously looking over my shoulder in case he was standing nearby. That probably made me a bit paranoid, but it wasn’t completely irrational.
Albus and I hung back from Molly and Lorcan as I hobbled up the street. Albus was a good bloke, a very excellent cousin indeed, unlike stupid Molly and green Lorcan. They might want to have some fun but I was completely against it; all fun ended in tears (usually mine) or broken limbs (again, usually mine). Tonight I was going to end up with a broken heart or something equally poetically pathetic. I’d get the same teary effect after reading the Agony Aunt section of Witch Weekly.
“Stop slacking,” Molly called over her shoulder as Albus and I began to walk slower.
Albus glared at Molly’s back and sighed. “Do you reckon they’d notice if we hid somewhere?”
I considered this option seriously as we trotted along the street. Hiding down an alleyway or behind a skip would mean that any future embarrassment was averted; however, then I’d not get to show Teddy how cool I was when I gate-crashed a party. It was a very tricky dilemma.
“It’ll be fine,” I lied. “We’ll just let them do the talking.”
He didn’t see me shaking, so maybe he believed me. He just pushed his glasses back up his nose nervously as we picked up the pace.
My feet were aching by the time we reached Roxanne’s flat. Next time we went out, I’d remain sober just so that we could Apparate instead of trekking across half of London to visit someone none of us liked (okay, ‘half of London’ was a little bit of an exaggeration; it was probably only a mile).
From the other side of the road I could see people standing near the window, no doubt having a lovely time without us. Did we really want to ruin their evening with our presence? I wasn’t particularly selfless, but I thought in this situation it would be rude to interrupt what was clearly a good party. Music wafted on the breeze and I shivered from the cold. Okay, they might be having a wonderful time, but I was bloody freezing and my feet hurt. Sod being selfless.
“Go on, then,” I encouraged, giving Lorcan a poke in the back. He stumbled forward into the road, us following closely behind.
I had the sudden concern that the people near the kitchen window would spot us approaching and warn Roxanne; our whole plan would be destroyed and she’d probably see us off before I’d even manage to sneak a lustful glance at Teddy. “Maybe we should get down a bit,” I whispered dramatically. Albus nodded his approval. Molly shook her head in disbelief, giving me the usual eye-roll. I haughtily ignored her and crouched low, hiding behind a parked car. “Get down!”
I liked to think that they all thought it was a wonderful idea rather than they were just humouring me. With (imagined) enthusiasm, they all crouched down beside me behind the old Ford Fiesta.
“What now?” Molly asked scathingly.
“Um,” I pondered. “We wait?”
We didn’t have to wait long, however. There was a growly sound followed by a flood of light and the Fiesta slowly drifted away from us. I watched it in slow-motion as one by one we were revealed to the people by the window, crouching in the road. Why did cars have to be so bloody noisy? Muggles were useless! That stupid vehicle driving off had drawn even more attention to us and we looked like the worst stalkers imaginable. Bloody hell, all we needed was for Scorpius to join us and they’d take out a restraining order.
I closed my eyes in the hope that shutting out the world would make this all better. I also shiftily pulled my skirt down a bit; crouching wasn’t really that good for modesty. We froze in our positions for a few more moments until the front door opened, causing us to flinch from the light.
I still had my eyes closed, but I could hear footsteps coming closer as they approached us. Maybe I could safely Apparate now? I mean, if I splinched myself I could potentially leave a really embarrassing part of my body behind (like a breast) but at least most of me would be away from this horrific nightmare of an evening.
The footsteps stopped near where I imagined the edge of the pavement was. I squinted into the light, making out their silhouette.
“What the hell!” I cried indignantly. “She invited you?”
I got to my feet so that I could glare at my brother eye to eye. He was the most irritating git and Roxanne invited him over me? That was so unfair. I offered my hand to Lorcan, who took it and pulled himself up. The others followed suit.
“Yeah, she did,” Hugo said smugly. “Why do you sound so surprised?”
“No reason,” I growled, storming past him in a huff and climbing the steps to the front door. He didn’t need to know we were gate-crashing. We could do it sneakily, gradually becoming part of the party until even Roxanne thought we’d been invited.
“Stop glowering,” Molly muttered as we opened the front door. “It makes you look like a pug.”
I tried to relax my features whilst gritting my teeth. Molly was so good for my self-esteem. Lorcan had clearly had enough of my tantrum, slipping past me and opening the door himself. Once again, I admired his terrible taste in shirts (though I supposed this one was better than that one he had with the dirigible plum pattern on it).
As we wandered through the gaggles of relatives and friends, it occurred to me that no one had noticed our entrance. It was clear that Roxanne hadn’t told them we weren’t invited. It was a joke; here I was, doing the craziest thing in my whole life and nobody even noticed. Whose idea was this?
I spotted Teddy standing in the doorway to the living room, so I made my excuses to Molly and changed direction. She was probably only going to go have a bitch at Roxanne about not being invited – I didn’t need to be there for that. I quickly checked in a nearby mirror that my hair hadn’t re-frizzed and squeezed my way down the corridor. I ignored the cries of pain of people whose feet I stepped on (they probably needed sobering up a bit anyway).
“Hi,” I said as I reached him, happily admiring him up close. His cheeks were on the pink side from the body heat in the room, his hair a slightly dishevelled.
He looked down (I hated being short) and smiled. “Hey Rose! I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
“It was a last minute decision,” I muttered. It wasn’t exactly a lie. I looked around for Victoire; if anyone could sniff out obsessive love it was the other half. I needed to be extra careful when she was around. Obviously I wasn’t a threat, but people didn’t like other people perving on their boyfriends. “Where’s Victoire?”
“Dom’s ill, so she’s stayed at home to look after her,” Teddy explained, turning his back on whoever he was talking to before.
“Oh.” I tried not to sound sour at the fact that Victoire was more selfless than I was. “That’s a shame.” Yeah, right.
“Yeah,” he agreed, running a hand through his hair as he leant against the doorframe. “Listen, I was reading through that guide I bought the other day. There’s some great stuff near to where we’ll be living – you need to come and visit one day.”
Oh, Teddy. You could ask anything of me and I’d say yes. Well, I’d perhaps had a bit too much to drink already, but I was tipsy enough not to be my usual awkward self. There was also the hope that he’d had enough to drink to let any craziness on my part slide.
“Yeah,” I said breathily. “I’d love that. I want to learn a bit of French, actually.”
He nodded and I felt encouraged. “Why don’t you ask Fleur for some help? Or I’m sure Victoire would teach you some.”
Well, didn’t that just piss on my bonfire. “Oh, I wouldn’t want to be a nuisance.”
“I suppose the best place to learn is in the actual country,” he added thoughtfully. “We’ll sort something out.”
“Great,” I said, offering him what I hoped was a beautiful smile. It was probably a bit too much, no doubt verging on the creepy. I toned it down a bit.
I briefly recalled the conversation I’d had with Molly last weekend about asking Teddy for advice. Was now the time to breach the subject of Scorpius? He surely must have noticed my pet creeper. It was true what they said about pets; they definitely weren’t just for Christmas.
I looked over my shoulder briefly to check who was nearby and caught Hugo’s eye. He looked between Teddy and me and gave me a significant look. He even waggled his eyebrows a bit. I gave him my best evils and ignored the flush that was rising up my cheeks. If he came over to us I would hex him before he could even say a word. He was not allowed to ruin such a perfect moment.
“I need to ask your advice,” I said after a weighty pause.
I took a deep breath, gathering my courage. This was mortifying. “It’s about-”
Oh come on, as if! I groaned inwardly, turning on my heels. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” I asked waspishly.
I supposed Scorpius had tried to make an effort for the party; he was wearing his grey dress robes and his hair was almost indistinguishable from his scalp. He’d also combed his eyebrows.
“I was invited,” he responded sardonically, “which is more than I can say for you.”
I blushed a deeply; I now resembled a lobster in a wig. I really couldn’t figure him out – he spent half of his time trying to impress me and the rest trying to mock me. Did he think it was attractive?
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Teddy watching us with interest, so I turned away from him and hissed, “how could you possibly know that? Have you been reading my post again?”
“No," he said indignantly. "Molly and Roxanne are having a bit of a discussion about it. I was just passing by.”
I sighed. “Look, what do you want? I’m a bit busy.” In other words, please go away because I’m talking to the love of my life and you’re killing the romantic mood in my head.
“I came by to say ‘hi’,” he said defensively. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”
I tried not to clench my fists. “You saw me yesterday.”
“Today’s another day, Rose,” he said with a smile. I stuck my hand in my skirt pocket and held the handle of my wand. It gave me comfort to think that I was just a flick of my wand away from normality. I’d get him one day.
The chatter from the crowd died down gradually. I turned around to see why everyone had stopped talking and saw a circle of people around two women in the kitchen. Molly and Roxanne’s voices were slowly rising in volume as they shouted at each other.
“We didn’t want to be invited to your stupid party anyway,” Molly crowed. “We don’t even like you!”
Roxanne, her dark hair falling out of what was presumably once a rather elegant plait, laughed darkly. “Why did you turn up, then?”
There was a deep cough from the crowd and a voice called, “gate-crashers are cool!” That was undoubtedly Lorcan. I hid my face in my hands at the shame of it all. This was beyond desperate.
It seemed Molly couldn’t think up an adequate response to Roxanne’s comment. She threw her a filthy look and reached behind her onto the kitchen counter. She held a biscuit tin in her hands and for a terrifying moment I thought she was actually going to chuck it at our own cousin. Instead, she just called “come on, Rose, we’re going!” and barged past the circle of onlookers to the door, slamming it behind her.
There was an awkward silence, in which everyone turned to have a good look at me, the biscuit-stealer’s friend. I was quite aware that my face was hideously red but I presumed it was too late to try and act cool. Without really thinking what I was doing, I bade Teddy a goodbye with a quick kiss on the cheek and left the flat as fast as I could.
Bloody Molly. Her biscuits were going to be the death of me.
A/N: thank you so much to Rachel for her extremely wonderful help with this chapter. She’s the genius behind the car driving off and the post-checking. She’s also excellent with eliminating the typos!