“I have a sort of rough and ready soldier’s tongue. But with any woman – paralyzed, speechless, dumb. I can only look at them.”
-Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 2
The name Hilarion Winston-Fisher hadn't always inspired fervent devotion from ladies age 15 to 45 (and sometimes older) across Britain. Once, several years in the past, he'd been a shy, skinny, and rather spotty teenager plagued by bad hair, and his one true friend was Perry Chilcott. From their early days at Hogwarts on, Perry had supported Hilarion in his tryouts for the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, the start of Hilarion's popularity, and even though Perry had no particular Quidditch talent of his own, he'd never seemed jealous of his friend. Hilarion appreciated that.
People usually wanted to be his friend because he was good at Quidditch, and these days because he was famous, but not Perry. Perry had been there since age eleven, with an easy smile and a witty quip, making Hilarion laugh when things were bad and keeping him grounded when things were good. It hadn't changed now they were in their twenties. Perry was sitting at Hilarion's kitchen table, eating crisps straight from the bag and drinking butterbeer, making jokes that both took the mickey out of Hilarion and put him at ease.
“I can't believe you wrote a book.” Perry grinned at his friend. “You didn't even like writing essays at school, and you haven't written a word since then. Now you've a book?”
“I didn't write anything,” Hilarion replied, reaching into Perry's bag of crisps for a handful. “It's just a load of photos of me that my manager had arranged into a book and now I have to promote it. I don't know why anyone cares.”
“They care because women think you're good-looking, you bloody twit,” Perry told him.
“Thanks very much.” Hilarion rolled his eyes and popped a crisp into his mouth. He was well aware that part of his popularity was based solely on his appearance, rather than his talent or personality. He'd figured out the right hair potions at sixteen, filled out a bit and sprouted almost six inches by the time he was eighteen, and ever since, women had been throwing themselves at him. He didn't really know how to talk to them, but most of them didn't seem interested in talking to him anyway. It was a little discouraging at times, knowing whatever woman he took to dinner or a party was only interested in having him as arm candy. He knew he wasn't even remotely any kind of genius, but it would have been nice for a woman to want a conversation with him.
One of his teammates had suggested dating models, so he wouldn't be the prettiest one in the relationship, but Hilarion didn't get along any better with models than with any other woman. He was rubbish at talking to them as well. Besides, the models didn't eat. Hilarion felt very concerned for anyone who didn't like eating.
He grabbed another handful of crisps. “Want to come along? The only thing I can think of to make six hours of book-signing a little bit less horrible is to have you along to take the mickey every five minutes.”
Perry gave a jaunty salute. “I live to serve. Shall I smuggle a flask along?”
“If you don't, I will.”
The bookstore was smaller than Hilarion remembered. He hadn't been to Flourish and Blotts since he'd last bought textbooks for school, since his preferred reading material tended to be sports magazines and Auror novels of the summer-reading genre rather than dry old tomes on magical theory. Or maybe the store just looked smaller because of the crowd. Women were lined up out the door and down the block. Hilarion took this in with disbelief.
He wasn't completely thick, he knew he was one of the more popular players in the league (his manager assured him of it regularly, having been led to believe that all athletes needed continual ego propping), but somehow he hadn't really thought that many people were really going to bother buying a book he hadn't even written, just to look at him.
Apparently they really were going to do just that. It was a little unnerving.
“Remember in fifth year when that Gryffindor girl turned you down and you worried you'd never be able to get a girlfriend?” Perry said cheerfully, surveying the line of women. “I think you can stop worrying, mate.”
As usual, Perry's jokes put Hilarion at ease again. “Shut up,” he told his friend. “Let's go around back. I think the publisher is supposed to be waiting.”
“Excellent plan. If this lot notices you're here, they're likely to riot.”
No one was there when they reached the back of the bookstore, only a rather clean alley and a rubbish skip. Hilarion glanced around uncertainly, then turned to his friend. “What do we do?”
Perry nodded at the back door of the bookshop. “Go in the door marked 'employees only', I'd say. Better than waiting around out here.”
“Right.” Hilarion smiled at him. “I'm glad you came.”
Perry pulled a flask out of his pocket and proffered it to his friend. “Fortifying sip before you face the lions?”
Hilarion took it gratefully.
Perry waited until his old friend had knocked back at least two shots' worth of firewhiskey before taking the flask back and having a drink himself. He watched his oldest friend steeling himself, one hand on the door, with a mix of long-suffering patience and amusement. Decisiveness was not one of Hilarion's strengths, and the man was surprisingly humble about his current fame. They'd been mates too long for Perry to be bothered by any of Hilarion's quirks, any more than Hilarion was by his, of course. And in truth, Hilarion was more self-confident than he'd been at school, but he did still have a habit of expecting Perry to be in charge whenever they were together. Perry was used to being the dominant personality in the friendship.
Perry wondered if Hilarion's erstwhile manager was actually going to turn up to the book signing he and the publishers had arranged, or if Hilarion was on his own today. Perry supposed it was up to him to get Hilarion through the day. Hilarion didn't care for crowds. He was fine on the field, but off the field he didn't do so well. He was actually rather a quiet sort. He particularly didn't do well in interviews, and there were bound to be a few reporters here. If Bergie Marwick, Hilarion's manager, had any brains at all, he wouldn't leave Hilarion to his own devices at the signing.
There was no sign of Bergie, though, so Perry gave Hilarion a bracing smile and asked “Ready to go in?”
“Too bad.” Perry opened the door and gave his friend a shove inside.
Roxanne had spent the morning shuffling crowds around into an orderly queue and giving the patented Watchful Eye to possible shoplifters. She'd learned that one at her dad's shop at an early age. It wasn't the sort of work she liked, but it was certainly engaging. It did serve to remind her of why she wanted her brother to take over the running of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes someday by himself, rather than sharing it with her. She didn't fancy being a shopkeeper.
Lucy seemed a little frazzled by the crowds, and her Watchful Eye was bordering on an Evil Eye by the time the sixth shoplifter was evicted from the store. Lucy and her precious books, Roxanne thought fondly. There wasn't much else in Lucy's life, but she seemed content. Roxanne rather envied her that contentment. She hadn't felt content in years.
But it was going to happen today.
Hilarion was due any moment. Lucy popped up between two customers and gave her a nod and an eyebrow lift that Roxanne took to mean she wanted a private word.
“Watch the customers,” she said as they drew aside. “Mr. Furmage wants me in the back with him to make sure Hilarion is welcomed properly. He always says the wrong thing to authors, the poor man. Not that Hilarion's really an author.”
“It's still true.” Lucy darted off, and Roxanne looked around at the line for a moment, debating.
She could abandon her post and follow Lucy to greet Hilarion, or she could continue to keep an eye on the crowd and make sure there were no more shoplifters.
Hell, who cared? She didn't even want this job. And if Mr. Furmage didn't like greeting authors, she could just take his place and let him babysit the unruly crowd. Problem solved.
Roxanne went after her cousin.
The back of the shop was a tiny little room in need of serious dusting, filled with boxes of unshelved books and damaged or outdated books and magazines stacked on every available surface. The only space that had been cleared was the small, rickety dinette where employees ate their lunches.
Lucy turned and saw her cousin, and looked daggers at her. Mr. Furmage didn't seem to understand.
“Is something wrong?” he asked blankly, looking a little alarmed.
Roxanne only had time to shake her head when the back door suddenly opened, and there he was.
She didn't blink, didn't dare breathe, until he saw her. Hilarion was accompanied by a tall, wiry man with reddish-brown hair and a saucy sort of a face, as if he might make a dry remark at any moment. Roxanne didn't know who he was, a manager maybe, but then she promptly forgot him, because Hilarion looked around the room and caught sight of her.
Their eyes met – not across a crowded Quidditch field as she'd always imagined, but across the dirty storeroom table overflowing with back issues of Witch Weekly that ought to have been discarded ages ago. And Roxanne could see, with growing delight, that look in his eyes that she'd always dreamed of seeing when she met him.
This was it. This was love at first sight.
“Hello,” she said breathlessly.
“Hello,” Hilarion said, looking rather as if he'd just been hit over the head with a Bludger.
“Welcome to Flourish and Blotts, Mr. Winston-Fisher,” Mr. Furmage said, giving Hilarion an ingratiating smile and sounding as if he'd rehearsed every word. “We're so pleased to welcome you here.”
“Yeah, cheers.” Hilarion hadn't taken his eyes off Roxanne. She thought she might explode with delight.
The man who'd come in with Hilarion turned to Lucy. “Hi. I'm Perry Chilcott.”
Lucy shook his hand. “Lucy Weasley. I'm the assistant manager here.”
“Oh, a Weasley. I went to school with Dominique Weasley,” Perry said cheerfully.
“That's my cousin,” Lucy told him, then pointed to Roxanne. “This is another of my cousins, Roxanne Weasley.”
Roxanne turned a smile on him, and Perry's eyes glazed for a moment with the same expression Hilarion had worn, but she barely noticed, because Hilarion was still staring at her.
“Roxanne,” Hilarion said in stunned, hushed tones. It sounded like a prayer on his lips.
“Are you Mr. Winston-Fisher's manager?” Lucy asked, and Perry shook his head.
“No, we're old friends. I'm here for moral support.”
“Moral what?” Mr. Furmage asked, bushy eyebrows shooting up.
Lucy gave him a pleasant smile that didn't reach her eyes. “Mr. Furmage, it's such a busy day, we don't want to keep you from running the shop. I'll manage back here if you can get the front ready for Mr. Winston-Fisher's arrival.”
“Right-o,” Mr. Furmage said without disguising his relief. “Cheers, Lucy. Give us about ten minutes, all right?”
Roxanne and Hilarion were still drinking in the sight of each other. It was making Lucy feel slightly uncomfortable, so she sought to redirect everyone a bit.
“Have you and Mr. Winston-Fisher been friends long?”
“You can call him Hilarion,” Perry told her. “Winston-Fisher is a bit of a mouthful.”
“He won't mind?” Lucy didn't think either her cousin or the Quidditch player was paying them any attention.
Hilarion glanced over at Lucy then, and favored her with a smile. She smiled back automatically – he had such a nice smile. She had to shake herself a bit. This was Roxanne's future husband, after all. And clearly he liked Roxanne.
“It's all right, you can call me Hilarion,” he told her.
“We've been friends since school,” Perry said, answering Lucy's question. “Years and years and years, he's been putting up with me.”
“I think it's more that you've been putting up with me,” Hilarion said with what Lucy considered rather charming self-deprecation.
Roxanne couldn't imagine anyone having to put up with Hilarion Winston-Fisher. He was so lovely, she couldn't stop staring at him.
“We shared a compartment on the Hogwarts Express first year and bonded over our horrible first names,” Hilarion said cheerfully.
Perry nodded. “It's a terrible thing to be given first names like ours. Really, our parents owe us compensation. And therapy. Lots of therapy.”
“At least yours has a reasonable nickname,” Hilarion told his friend. “There's nothing you can do with 'Hilarion'.”
“What's your full name?” Roxanne asked Perry curiously. She was grinning at their playful banter.
“You'll have to know me a lot better before I admit to that,” he said with a wink, then turned back to his friend. “Be fair, I did try calling you Hill in third year, but you didn't care for it.”
“It's a crap nickname,” Hilarion protested. “It's no better than Hilarion.”
“I don't know about that,” Lucy said under her breath. Perry winked at her. Lucy was discomfited for a moment; she hadn't meant him to hear her, so she said quickly to cover it up, “It could be worse. My father's full name is Percival Ignatius.”
“At least he had the sense to give his daughter a normal name, then,” Perry said with a grin. “My father was named Algernon, and yet he still gave me a crap name.”
“Some people never learn,” Roxanne quipped, and Perry turned a smile on her that was part wolfish and part impressed. A man who liked a dry wit, she thought, not entirely surprised. He looked the type for sarcasm and satire. She found that rather encouraging, as that was her preferred humour as well, and if Hilarion's best friend was a dry wit, Hilarion must be as well.
They all turned as Mr. Furmage poked his head in the door for a moment, waved urgently, then disappeared again.
“I suppose it's time to go sign books,” Hilarion said, feeling rather worried at the thought of such a large crowd waiting for him. If they'd been waiting to watch him play Quidditch, he wouldn't have been concerned. He was good at Quidditch. He was not good at talking to strangers and sounding entertaining and witty. Good thing Perry had come along to fill in the gaps, as he was so good at doing. Hilarion had managed to hold his own with a pretty girl for once, although Perry had done most of the talking.
Roxanne walked with him out to the table set up for him to sign, with Perry and Lucy behind them, and for a moment bursts of flash went off in his face, blinding him, but the black spots in his eyes soon faded and Hilarion sat down and picked up a quill pen uncertainly. He wasn't entirely sure of the procedure.
Roxanne made as if to sit next to him, but her cousin grabbed her arm and whispered something in her ear. Hilarion watched her make a face and then flounce off, and Perry slid into the seat she'd nearly taken. Roxanne's cousin went to the line of customers and started moving them into a more orderly queue.
“So,” Perry drawled as the first woman, clutching a copy of Hilarion triumphantly, stepped forward for an autograph, “Roxanne is very pretty, isn't she?”
“She is,” Hilarion mumbled.
“Make it out to Estella,” the woman said.
Hilarion scrawled across the first page of the book, feeling self-conscious about his handwriting and stupid about signing a book he hadn't written, and handed the book back to the woman.
“She's a reporter, you know,” Perry said.
“How do you know?”
“I've read her column.”
“Oh.” Hilarion signed three more autographs, thinking what a twit he must look, and then said, “Is she any good?”
Perry nodded. “Yeah. Reminded me of some of my friends, actually.”
As always, Hilarion accepted his friend's opinion as fact. Perry was a better judge of these things than he was. Hilarion didn't really like newspapers. They mostly seemed to relate gossip and made-up facts, and only reported the truth by accident. He'd been misquoted by reporters too many times to entirely trust them, but he was sure Roxanne wasn't like those others. She was too beautiful for that.
But if Perry thought she was a good writer, it meant something. Perry was a writer himself, of lovely song lyrics and sometimes melodies as well, and his essays at Hogwarts had led him to earn eight Outstandings on his N.E.W.T.s, so anyone he acknowledged as good was likely of an intelligence that far exceeded Hilarion's.
Hilarion had been around Perry's friends before, the smart ones he hung around with when he wasn't hanging around Hilarion, and it hadn't been terribly pleasant. They knew things he didn't know, and treated him like a dumb jock, making witty remarks that Hilarion didn't understand. They weren't cruel, but it had been obvious that Hilarion couldn't keep up.
“She's probably too smart for me,” he said reluctantly. “What am I going to do?”
“You'll be fine,” Perry told him confidently. “You're a successful Quidditch player. She doesn't expect you to be a math genius on the side or something, I'm sure.”
“Thanks for that.” Hilarion signed a few more autographs.
Roxanne had been watching Hilarion like a hawk for two and a half hours of autographs. He was far more attractive up close and in person, she decided. His dark blonde hair waved softly across his brow, a little too long, as if he was overdue for a haircut. It made him look a bit boyish and very appealing. He looked up suddenly and caught her eye, and his teeth were white and even when he smiled at her. Roxanne sighed in bliss and tried to bring at least part of her attention back to the job she was ostensibly doing.
It had worked. Finally. He'd seen her, fallen for her (she could tell already, even though she hadn't yet had a conversation with him), and everything was finally going to sort itself out in her life. The perfect mirage of her future danced before her in Hilarion's smile, and the triumph was sweeter than she could have imagined. She wanted to dance down the street. It was working.
Take that, doubting family members.
She wondered if crowing in Molly and Rose's faces would be too much.
Lucy, for her part, was watching Hilarion a bit herself. A little pang went through her when he looked up and smiled at her cousin. She didn't really understand it, and brushed it aside. Roxanne looked so happy – she hadn't seen her cousin that happy since before Roxanne's fiancé had left her at the altar. Well, not quite at the altar, but certainly just before. Lucy wanted her cousin to be happy, and so as she often did, she put aside any thought of Hilarion Winston-Fisher's smile and got back to work.
Let love sort itself out for them. People like Lucy didn't catch gorgeous Quidditch stars in a bookshop. She wasn't vivacious and beautiful like Roxanne. Love at first sight wasn't for her.