Chapter One: London
She didn’t know how she’d missed it.
If there was one thing she would pride herself on above everything else, it would be how much she could see, just by simply looking. Other people, other more ordinary people, would have looked past the build-up to something as big as this but not her, not Lucy. She saw everything. She understood everything.
But not this.
“I’m sorry,” he said and she shook her head as though it might, somehow, wake her up. She had never wished anything to be a dream before; she had never had reason to. She was lucky. For her, everything had gone to plan. None of her dreams had ever been bigger than reality. Dreams were for fools, for romantics like her sister who could not leave love alone to be what it was meant to be. “Luce, please.”
Say something. Say anything. Leave. Stay. Break something. Hold something. Cry, beg, kiss, scream.
She knew what he wanted. He wanted to be the bigger person, the better person. He wanted her to lose it and plant the foundations for the stories at his wedding, of the manic ex who had smashed a flowerpot over his head in fury. He wanted sympathy. She smiled; he should have known she’d never give him the satisfaction.
“It’s fine,” she said, picking a string of loose cotton off her jeans and looking sideways at him. His face was dark, sombre, as though he were telling her of her father’s death. A stab of anger coursed through her: he actually thought he was important enough to her to cause her something akin to heartbreak. Perhaps he was; she couldn’t be sure what this numbness swarming through her belonged to, not yet. “Honestly, I’m fine.”
He didn’t change his gaze but had at least the courtesy to avert it. Pushing the palms of his hands – tanned though the scars across the back still stood out – against his thighs, he stood up. His eyes roamed around the flat that he had become accustomed to over the last year and however many months, almost as though he might miss it in days to come. Lucy didn’t budge and when he decided that he’d most certainly absorbed every last detail of the room, turned back towards her. She stared back defiantly, eyebrows raised, and he clapped his hands together, flexing his fingers back and forth awkwardly.
For a moment, he looked like he was considering opening his arms for a final embrace but Lucy merely gave a small, incredulous laugh and her eyes flickered none too subtly towards the door. He nodded, unclasping his hands and pushing them deep into his pockets.
“See you around, Luce.”
She said nothing and he gave her one final smile before turning and walking back out of her front door as though this had been nothing more than a routine visit by some old acquaintance or distant relative. Her eyes followed him and when it clicked shut and his footsteps started to fade, she grabbed the mug he’d been drinking from before he’d plucked up the courage to break it off, and with all the force she could muster, threw it at the door.
She didn’t watch it shatter into pieces. In three steps, she’d grabbed her bag from the chair, taken a heap of Floo powder from the mantelpiece and thrown it into the fire. Taking her wand off the top, she stepped inside and called out her parents’ address, her voice cracking before she reached the end.
The living room was empty when she fell out of the grate but even before she’d stepped into the room properly, she could hear the raised voices floating from the kitchen. Throwing her bag down on the settee and tucking her wand away inside it, she rolled her eyes and kicked her shoes off. Padding down the hall, the shrieks of her mother made Lucy wince and she pushed the kitchen door open as her sister called, “I love him.”
“Oh please, you don’t know the meaning of the word,” Audrey replied, her back to the door that her youngest daughter was peering around. Molly couldn’t repress a distinctly unimpressed ‘ha’ and stood up, eye-level with her mother.
“And you do, I suppose?”
“This isn’t about me and your father,” the older woman said, though her voice had lost some of its confidence. “It’s about you not thinking about other people.”
Lucy felt her own heart skip a beat as Molly gaped, open-mouthed like some kind of frozen fish, at their mother as though she didn’t know her at all. It was a fair reaction. Molly was perhaps the only one of all the Weasleys of their age who would put somebody else above herself. Lucy had always thought it rather foolish of her, disadvantageous in the extreme for the most part, but it was still a part of her sister that remained mostly unchanged.
“I think that’s unfair,” Molly said softly, looking hurt and unable to meet her mother’s eye. She seemed equally as oblivious to Lucy’s presence and so the younger girl stepped out from behind the door.
Both her mother and sister started, looking to the door as though a ghost had appeared. Molly gave her a grateful smile but Audrey frowned, gesturing at Molly as she said, “Have you heard her latest idea?”
“Er, no. No, I haven’t.”
She took a seat beside Molly at the breakfast bar, picking a handful of grapes out of the fruit bowl and popping one in her mouth with a shaking hand. From the corner of her eye, Lucy could see Molly watching her and she tucked her hands under the counter. Of late, her sister had been more observant, more aware.
“They think they’re going to get married.” Audrey stared down at her youngest daughter as though expecting a reaction greater than a steady chewing and a shrug. “Is that all the comment you have to offer?”
Lucy sighed, tucking her hair behind her ear and sniffing. Outside, the sun was high, streaming through the window and illuminating the dust in the air. Her eyes followed the gentle spin of it through the tunnel of light and she swallowed her grape before looking back to her mother.
“Molly loves Teddy. He loves her. Victoire’s moved on. I don’t see the issue.”
“They barely know each other.”
“We’re not going through this again,” Molly said with a groan, running her hands softly over her face, which was slowly reddening from the frustration of the circular nature of this oft-debated issue. She glanced to her sister who smiled apologetically, then back to their mother. “I don’t think I’m the important one today.”
“Don’t try and change the subject,” Audrey snapped, glancing to Lucy who dusted her hands across her jeans and chewed slowly on the last grape, purposely avoiding her mother’s eye. Molly slipped a hand under the table, twisting her little finger around her sister’s for a second before retrieving it. A moment of comfort, a sign that she knew, or at least had an inkling that something wasn’t right, before the older sister stood up and shrugged.
“I only thought you’d want to hear it from me,” she said, picking up her bag and swinging it onto her shoulder. As she passed Lucy, she put a soft hand on her back and as she turned to shut the door, lifted a hand to hear ear and mouthed, ‘Call me’.
“She’s your father’s girl,” Audrey said, once Molly was out of earshot. Wiping down the counter with the dishcloth abandoned at the side, she sighed. “What are you after, then? I’ve got people coming to look around the house at two.”
“Charming, Mother.” Lucy grabbed another grape and nibbled at it. Audrey peered over the top of her glasses, swooping a piece of greying hair behind her ear, and frowned. Lucy glanced nervously up at her and sighed. “Owen split up with me.” There was no big gesture, no movement whatsoever from her mother except wide eyes, as though enticing her to go on. “Said he thought it was getting too serious.”
“Well, I’d rather have seen you two married than those two, I’ll admit,” Audrey said, throwing the cloth in the sink and pulling open the fridge. She pulled out a half-empty bottle of white wine and Summoned two glasses from the draining rack, the cork popping out with a neat flick of her wand. “Don’t give me that look, Lucy.”
“The ‘it’s the middle of the day, mother’ look,” she said, pouring out the drinks and sliding Lucy’s glass towards her. She looked down at it and obediently lifted it to her lips. “We need it.” Audrey paused before she took her first sip. “A damn sight more than we need men, anyway.”
“He’s still my dad,” Lucy said pointedly, but Audrey didn’t hear, or at least pretended not to. She took another sip, the wine bitter in the back of her throat, and watched her mother pull herself onto the stool Molly had vacated. She stretched out a hand to tuck a piece of her daughter’s dark brown hair away from her face but Lucy moved her head away before she got there, leaving her pale hand hovering in mid-air. “Mum, I’m really okay.”
“So that’s why you came to see me, is it?” Audrey asked, her tone clipped, sceptical. “To tell me you’re okay?” They sat in silence for a moment, Lucy sipping gingerly at her drink and keeping her eyes focused on the clock as it drew closer to two. “Thought not.”
Audrey put her glass down, covering one of Lucy’s hands with her own. There was something awkward to it, something that didn’t quite fit. They had never been an overly touchy family. Problems were resolved by talking, by sitting it out and adding two and two. Hugs came more from their father than their mother and Lucy realised for the first time since they announced their separation exactly how much things had changed. “Did you love him?”
“It hurts,” Lucy said softly, as though it might answer the question. The truth was, she didn’t know.
She saw love every day but she had never really believed in it. She saw what it could do, what it could break. Her sister had turned away from it time and time again for fear of the retribution she might face for giving in. Victoire had given it up for her cousin’s happiness, unable to hang on to a love that only came from one side. Her parents had become so deluded by it that they couldn’t bear to be near each other anymore.
But then there were her aunts and uncles, her grandparents, her friends; they knew love. Love had saved them all when they had come by it in the right form, at the right time. They were so sure it was there that it almost made her start believing in it too. Almost.
“It always hurts,” Audrey said, swirling her glass and staring at nothing but the ripples the wine made against the edge. “You shouldn’t kid yourself, though. If you don’t know if it’s there, don’t go looking for it.”
Lucy drained her glass, wincing at the clink as she set it back down. The words twisted on her tongue but she forced them out, “Why not?” Her mum looked back across at her, her smile dull yet edged in wisdom.
“Because when you look back twenty-five years down the line and realise it was nothing more than a wicked imagination, it hurts twice as many people twice as much.”
The silence was like a blanket, smothering and warm, and with another glance at her watch, Lucy stood up. She gave her mother a fleeting kiss on the cheek and a small-voiced goodbye before hurrying back to the living room. She gathered her bag and threw the Floo powder into the grate so violently that half of it spread across the carpet. As she called out her address, she could hear her mother starting to attack the oven with her wand, occasional clanks and bangs booming through into the living room, before the flames shrouded her and she disappeared from sight.
As she lay in bed that night, the emptiness at her side even more pronounced than it had been in previous ones spent alone, her mother’s words swam through her head on a loop. There was something haunting in them, a regret that made her want to erase herself. Lucy knew that her mother’s smile, the empty, knowing smile, was the one that she so often pulled onto her own face, a simple defence mechanism that she hid behind to show an intelligence so beyond everybody else’s. When she saw things – when she figured out Molly and Teddy, when she realised her parents were growing further and further apart – it gave her a feeling of individuality, of pride.
That was why it hurt. Perhaps there was an element of love to it – she would never really have known, having nothing but the occasional kiss at Hogsmeade to compare it to – but it was the confusion, the incomprehension of why she had not seen it coming that stung. She had never missed a trick before, not when Archie Lockyear had tried to lure her into a broom cupboard with him nor when Fred and James had decided her hair was a far too boring brown and tried to sneak into her bedroom in the dead of night to dye it a healthy shade of green, nor the countless other times that she had noticed the unusual behaviour of those around her.
So why hadn’t she seen this?
Rolling over, she glanced at the clock. 3.02 a.m. She groaned and buried her head in the pillow. Outside, the rain was bouncing down in the way it was prone to during June, and the prospect of the pile of work waiting for her in the living room for the morning was looming ever closer.
She was sick of love. She was sick of couples and break-ups and marriages and watching people change because of one man or one woman. She wanted to get away. She wanted to forget that she was caught up in all this and leave.
She wanted to run and so she would.
A/N: This is a spin-off, of sorts, from ‘One and Only’. It’s really not necessary to read that beforehand, though it might help with a little of the backstory with Molly and Teddy, and Molly and Lucy’s relationship.
I’m not entirely sure how long this is going to be. We’ll see how long my muse sticks around!