Chapter 1 : The Prime of Miss Gwendolyn Addwyfn Gordon
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the line 'quoth the raven: nevermore' is taken from Edgar Allen Poe's poem 'The Raven'. Also, the title is borrowed from the Muriel Spark novel 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie', and the story summary is inspired by a Bill Bailey joke.
It was Richard the Third that first called her Raven.
That, she thought, was the line that could have started an epic tome of historical fiction. That was the opening sentence of a bodice-ripping blockbuster, the hook of a scandalous novel practically dripping with chivalry, seduction, and fancy frocks. If she’d ever wanted to practise the craft of twisting history into steamy chick-lit, that’d be where she’d start.
In truth, it was nothing to do with chivalry, seduction, fancy frocks, bodice-ripping, history or…well, it had a little to do with fiction. It possibly also had a little to do with seduction, although that was a link so tenuous it barely merited a mention.
Dissapointingly, it was all to do with the following: a dim room smelling vaguely of incense and old socks, two cans of lukewarm cheap off-licence cider, and a scrawny teenage boy called Richard with acne and a big fringe (the fringe was possibly also called Richard). He was Richard the Third simply because his father and grandfather were Richards too. He didn’t like his surname, which was Bloomberg, so he adopted the moniker after the Yorkist tyrant because he was keen as mustard on history. Keen as mustard on history and the gothic, it transpired, if the unhealthy fixation with Edgar Allen Poe and black shirts told her anything.
It was there, on a drizzly Saturday evening in August, her clothes still slightly damp from the rain and her mind all fuzzy from pilfered cider – it was there that he first gave her the nickname that was to stick with her for the rest of her life.
Richard the Third sold himself as an awfully big fan of Edgar Allen Poe. And, that Saturday evening, he knelt before her on the floor and cracked the spine of a well-worn poetry book to his favourite poem, The Raven. In his eyes, she supposed this was a big romantic moment. The incense and candles were a bit of a giveaway. But Richard the Third barely made eye contact with her as he ran a finger along the lines of poetry and, in a halting, nasal sort of voice, read aloud – ‘Quoth the raven: nevermore.’
He said he picked the poem because he thought it would appeal to her. Her, with her black eyeliner, black nail polish, black shirt, black jeans, black boots, black jumper, black hair – the cutesy underwear with the kittens on it was a bit of a deviation from the general theme of black, but Richard the Third didn’t know that. He didn’t know much, really. It later turned out that the poetry book had come from a charity shop (that explained the dog-eared corners) and he’d only ever read The Raven anyway on account of wanting to impress her. Oh, and he was allergic to incense, something the two of them discovered when he ruined the big romantic moment with a fit of sneezing.
It didn’t matter. The sad little date in the sad little bedroom in a sad little Manchester suburb in the sad, sad summer holidays didn’t matter a bit. She liked the nickname, and it stuck. It was a good nickname. It was easy to say, and it had a lot of connotations. She liked connotations. Well, the gothic ones, anyway. People would look at her, a scarcely human willow of a girl with sun-starved skin and a totally black wardrobe, black hair (dyed), lip piercing (fake, with a habit of pinging off when she least suspected it), and then, probably a little scared, ask her name. She would glare at them and tell them it was Raven, and then they’d know. They’d know not to mess with her. Oh, they would not mess with her.
See, her real name…well, it was a little embarrassing. It didn’t really match the image. It didn’t match the glare. It was the sort of name that screamed out for teasing. ‘My name,’ she would glare. ‘Is Gwen.’ Not just Gwen – Gwen was an okay, name, really – But Gwendolyn. And not just Gwendolyn, but sodding Gwendolyn Addwyfn Gordon.
Being welsh really made her a bit of walking target for jokes. Gothic girls…goths generally didn’t come out with great big welsh accents and a name that meant New Moon Meek Large Fortification, if you wanted to get really picky about name meanings. She certainly wasn’t meek, she certainly wasn’t a large fortification (not the last time she checked, anyway) and was certainly not the full moon. She prided herself on having a nicely slim figure, so having a name that meant full moon…well…moons were big. And round. And lonely.
So no matter how much she ended up disliking Richard the Third and his silly obsession with muggle history and his pseudo-obsession with Edgar Allen Poe – well, she had him to thank for the nickname.
Thankfully, her taste in boys went a little uphill after that. Then again, she thought she couldn’t really stoop any lower than Richard the Third. He was her first boyfriend and a bit of a loser. But at least he got her a good nickname – before that she’d been one-eyed Gwen on account of her fringe. Actually, most people just called her scary Gwen after that time she’d punched the very rich, very popular, and very blonde Chardonnay Price in her fifth year. That was what led her to Nicodemius Entwhistle.
Now, Nicodemius – he was a character. Firstly, there was the misfortune of having a name like Nicodemius, especially when he came from a family full of Kevins and Nigels and Roberts. Nicodemius Entwhistle was a bit of a lad, really liked his mates, his butterbeer, his Quidditch and, apparently, her. He called her Raven and didn’t try to make a joke out of it liked a lot of the others did – well, he agreed with her. Gwendolyn was a stupid name. Addwyfn was even more stupid. Nicodemius was a stupid name too. She called him Nick for short.
She went out with him for nearly a year. He was quite mature, quite grown-up for his age, good if she wanted to get into a pub. It was nice, she thought, how most people referred to them as Nick and Raven and not ‘Nick and that scary goth that punched Chardonnay Price in fifth year and used to date that Richard bloke. Yeah, her, the welsh bird’.
He was the one that encouraged the whole art school thing. That was what her mum called it – ‘the whole art school thing’, as if it wasn’t quite serious, as if it was a joke. Oh, Gwen – or Raven, rather – was deadly serious about it. She didn’t much like Potions, or Herbology, or Arithmancy, or Ancient Runes, or History of Magic, or…the list went on. She liked drawing and painting. This, most of her friends said, was a bit typical. You know, gothic type, bit of a romantic, bit Byronic, bit arty - bit pretentious, more like.
Nick…odemius encouraged the whole art thing. Well, most of his encouragement was making mildly inappropriate jokes about how she could draw him if she wanted life classes, but that was to be expected. But, of course, seventh year came to an end and they went their separate ways (‘It’s not me, it’s you. I’m an arteeste and I need to find myself.’) She went off to London and he went off to the Hebrides (she never found out exactly why), her knowing that Nicodemius ‘call me Nick’ Entwhistle would probably never appreciate the impact he’d had on her life.
Art school, for her, was a new start. Gwendolyn Addwyfn ‘call me Raven’ Gordon no more – she would just be Raven to her new friends. She had a chance to completely re-invent herself, to start afresh. No more teasing, no more Richards (she’d had a bad feeling about Richards ever since Richard the Third had taken her Beetle Eyes EP and never given it back). No more welsh jokes either – seven years of living away from home most of the year had all but wiped out her accent. Now, she spoke neutrally. It was cut-glass, it was Queen’s English. Nicodemius had given her that, although he’d left her with a smoking habit she was finding hard to quit.
That first day at art school was of the utmost importance. She rehearsed it in her head. She’d walk in – Hi. I’m Raven. – and everything would go very, very smoothly. They’d all assume that she’d always had black hair and had always had such a posh English accent. Gordon was a Scottish surname anyway – and what would they care about her heritage? They’d all be very mature and grown up. Art school would be full of Nicodemius Entwhistle types, not Richard the Thirds. There would be no familiar faces there. Just blank canvases, new people, a whole new start.
Well, that plan was buggered from the outset. It went like this. She walked in, tossed back her dyed hair in that not-arrogant-merely-cautious way she’d rehearsed, said, hi, I’m Raven to the group at large and then – enter stage left Tarquin Llewellyn. He extended a hand and said, in that half-cocky, half-amused voice – ‘Scary Gwen! We meet again.’
It shouldn’t really have mattered, but she felt a bit stroppy for the rest of the day. A familiar face was definitely not what she had wanted – especially not a Gryffindor like him. She was a Slytherin. She was practically genetically engineered to despise all Gryffindors. Gryffindors like him, as well, who’d moved in largely popular social circles and were notorious for casual chauvinism which they passed off as ‘banter’. Gryffindors like him who’d cut their hair in that tragically fashionable way – short at the sides, with a limp little quiff on the top – and boasted about how many people they’d managed to kiss in one night.
As much as she decided that she was predestined to hate him, though, it turned out that he was actually rather alright. The haircut was a bit of a faux pas, of course, but he was generally fairly nice. No casual chauvinism (well, not by that November, anyway), no boasting, no arrogant swagger, no drunken buffoonery either. He also appeared to possess more sanity than any of their fellow art students put together. Art, unfortunately, has a habit of breeding casual absurdity.
There were twenty-two of them in that first year. Ten veteran third-year students who seemed to have founded their own religion and moved in a pack, blessing anything that moved and wearing flat caps on a daily basis. Then, in the year above, a shouty girl called Barbara, a not-so-shouty girl called Laura, and then three boys with a penchant for performance art. It was best not to speak of the performance art.
In her year there were seven students: a whispery girl called Frances, a dithery girl called Ellen, a boy in a dandy highwayman garb called Felix and another boy with a big frown and a lot of black clothes (she took to him instantly). Then there was Tarquin, then her – the sane ones. No, really. The gothic welsh girl and the boy with the funny quiff were the sane ones.
That was where it all began.
Actually, that was a lie – it began here.
It was a Tuesday. Tuesday, for starters, was never a good day. Tuesday was too far from Friday and much too close to Monday for her liking. Tuesday reminded her of double Arithmancy, named the ‘infinite lesson’ for its mind-numbing dullness. Tuesday, along with Richard the Third, rich blonde girls and her real name, had been shoved into the ‘hate’ subdivision of her ‘things I dislike’ mental filing cabinet. So this Tuesday wasn’t really any different; she didn’t just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, but on the wrong side of the galaxy.
It was obvious. Her day at art school was spent pouting, sulking, moping, and generally in a bad temper – she was etching that day, which was a bonus. Turning the handle of the giant, rusty mangle gave her something to take out her anger on. The whole etching process was a great stress relief. She spent an hour or so scratching away at plastic panels (vaguely satisfying), then laboriously applying and removing ink on said panels (a workout for the upper arms if there ever was one). Then, after the boring bits (wetting paper, sorting out the mangle, which people had a habit of dumping their mugs on), she could stick plastic and paper before the roller and spin the handle – another workout for the arms. She did at least eight prints before her arms got too tired and she had to concede defeat; a shame, because with each spin of that mangle she’d felt her mood lifting somewhat.
At three in the afternoon, she had a neat pile of prints and a stack of plastic and tattered, inky rags to be washes. The prints she was pleased with. The cleaning up was another matter. What she actually really, really wanted was a cigarette. It was about that time of day. A cigarette and a cup of tea. Well, it was always time for a cup of tea, but three o’clock was a particularly good time for a teabreak, sitting snugly between lunch and dinner.
This was the time she suspected Tarquin Llewellyn of being an occlumens, for, at that moment, he popped up from behind the mangle, a mug in hand, with a cry of ‘tea!’
He gave her quite the fright. She glowered at him, then, when his broad smile didn’t waver, glowered at the tea instead.
‘One sugar, milk, right?’
She glowered in the affirmative.
‘Er…you going to take the tea any time soon?’
She glowered a bit more and took the tea.
‘Also…there’s a delegation going down to The Lantern tonight.’
Her glower was replaced momentarily by confusion. ‘A what to the what?’
‘Well…Felix, Barry, Ellen, Frances, Barbara, Laura, Derek, Lancelot and Lucifer are all going to The Lantern, which is a pub, for a drink, and they’ve invited you too.’
She didn’t really know any of these people all that well (and many of them were unapproachable and a bit deranged in that way only arty folk can be), but nodded. Drinks were drinks.
This was a decision she regretted within ten minutes of arriving at aforementioned pub. For starters, it was a little eclectic. Tarted up in black makeup and tough boots she may have been, but her dress sense was conservative compared to a lot of the punters at The Lantern that night. There seemed to be a trend for wearing jumpers as skirts…something she didn’t really have a hope of understanding. There was also the small issue of the performance artists – Derek, Lancelot and Lucifer (for there were people called Lancelot and Lucifer at art school) – who were busily performing on a dingy stage opposite the bar.
‘They’re performing as brick walls,’ Tarquin explained, when she took her seat at a table near the back and tried to look everywhere but the stage. She did have to admit that they were very good brick walls, insomuch as they stood perfectly still and silent.
‘How d’you know they’re brick walls? They could be wooden fences.’
She was given an admiring look by most of the table, including Tarquin, who pondered the stage at great length, saying ‘profound…most definitely. You question…you raise the very issue of the existentialist nature of the…thing.’
(Their inability to take things seriously later became a trademark of their friendship, like tea breaks, hedge-hopping and the word ‘existentialism’. More of that later.)
A few drinks later and much to her chagrin, the conversation turned to her. It wasn’t much of a conversation, more a volleying of barely comprehensible slurs across a wasteland of empty bottles, with Felix on one side, her on the other, and Tarquin in the middle, happily sober and taking in the scene with a broad smile.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I do remember you being different at school.’
‘Different!’ she remembered saying. ‘Pfft. I was just…being myself.’
‘No you weren’t,’ he raised an eyebrow at her. ‘You went by – and still go by, I might add – a fake name!’
Felix turned around with such speed that he nearly fell out of his chair.
‘Ravens nuh real name?’ he said, shaping the words with some difficulty.
‘No,’ she admitted (and only admitted because she’d had a bit to drink, and regretted it in the months to come). ‘It’s not.’
‘Wossname?’ Felix slurred.
‘It’s embarrassing,’ she said, truthfully. ‘It’s…it’s Gwen.’
‘Gwendolyn,’ Tarquin piped up.
‘Hate it,’ she said. ‘And Addwyfn in the middle…nobody can spell it!’
‘Gwendolyn Addwyfn Gordon,’ Tarquin cut in.
‘Gwen!’ Felix exclaimed. ‘I…I ident-identi- know what you mean.’
She gave him an inquisitive look. It wasn’t the first time it had occurred to her that ‘Felix Felicis’ might not be a real name.
‘Yeah,’ he nodded emphatically. ‘M’name…Lettuce Spebbington.’
But, then again, that didn’t really sound like a real name either.
‘Lettuce Spebbington?’ she repeated.
‘Gwendolyn Addwyfn Gordon?’ he said.
‘Tarquin Llewellyn!’ Tarquin chimed in.
The fact she was actually Welsh and called Gwendolyn got out quite quickly after that. Somehow, people looked at her with a lot less fear and a lot more amusement. Tarquin teased her something awful.
‘Remember when you punched Chardonnay Price?’ he would say. ‘Remember when you wrote all that graffiti in the toilets with eyeliner and got hauled up in front of everyone at breakfast? Remember when you went out with that Richard bloke? Remember when you…’
He said this an awful lot, so she got to practise her jelly-legs jinx an awful lot too in retaliation. Well, it was good practise. He seemed to get used to it after the while, and it became a bit of a joke in the end. It was a little amusing to walk into the common room and see Tarquin wobble past you, mug in hand and tea slopping everywhere, saying ‘good day…’
She did end up confiding in him in the end. Confiding in him about how tough it was to be Welsh, to be one of these so-called ‘goths’ (she rejected the label vehemently), to be an art student and therefore deranged/a degenerate/pretentious/penniless, to have a name that sodding well meant ‘New Moon Meek Large Fortification’.
‘You’re lucky your name even has a meaning,’ he shrugged. ‘Tarquin means nothing. Look at me, I’m meaningless, purposeless, an ephemeral, wandering speck on this tiny, insignificant planet orbiting an insignificant sun in an insignificant galaxy and-’
‘This isn’t the time for existentialism! I’m having a crisis!’
‘Over your name? Get a grip!’
‘Yeah, but if I wanted existentialism, I’d go to Barry.’
‘Don’t call me Gwen!’
‘Why the hell not?’
‘Because Gwen sucks and my name is Raven!’
‘Alright, fine, Raven,’ he looked rather serious at this point, putting his hands on her shoulders, holding her at arm’s length and staring her straight in the eye. ‘Raven…Addwyfn Gordon. You have nothing to worry about. You are a brillopads art student, you are young and you are welsh and in the prime of your life, and let’s have some tea now. Pity the Irish and the Scottish, not the Welsh. Their travel costs are considerably higher as they’re so far away and whatnot. No complaining,’ he said, as she glowered. ‘Tea, tea, and thrice times tea. Look, at least your name isn’t Lettuce Spebbington.’
So the two of them went for tea at the café across the road. On the way, she reflected that, yes, she was very glad her name wasn’t Lettuce Spebbington (word was going round that his sister was a militant vegetarian called Carrot), but arrived at the café with an important question.
‘You said I was in the prime of my life. Isn’t that a middle-aged thing? I’m not middle-aged, I’m only nineteen.’
‘It’s your hipster prime. You’ve got your prime before getting your prime gets all mainstream.’
It wasn’t the most satisfying of answers, but she was unlikely to get anything more out of him.
Over the next couple of years, he made continuing references to her ‘prime’. She disregarded a lot of these until she actually looked up what a prime was (and this wasn’t until she was twenty-one, by which time she’d made a friend who owned a dictionary). One such reference came at about three in the morning on a warm day in June, somewhere in the middle of Central London, where they were wandering aimlessly, lost.
Ordinarily, being lost at three in the morning in Central London wouldn’t have necessarily been a good thing. And it wasn’t, really. But, all in all, it didn’t really matter. The further they walked, the more and more of the surroundings she recognised, and she was sure they were probably pretty close to home. It didn’t occur to her once that they could simply have apparated, nor did it seem to occur to him. Later, she tried to come up with excuses for this: they had both had a bit to drink and were probably over the limit, it was more healthy to walk, it wasn’t like they were in a hurry…
Besides, they needed to talk, and neither of their flats would have done. Hers (cramped, on the other side of town, broken light fittings, no teabags) was out of the question, and his – well.
‘Did you see them leave?’
‘Yes,’ Tarquin said. ‘They left the party about half one, and they made it pretty clear they didn’t want me to join them-’
‘You know, I didn’t believe you at first when you were all ooh, let’s set them up – but I think you were right!’
They were discussing two friends: one was Scorpius (the friend in possession of a dictionary), the other Lucy, the youngest and perhaps most sensible of their little group of four. The party in question was the art school end-of-year party, Tarquin’s flat the destination of the two friends who were also in question – and, well, simply put, the discussion centred on what seemed to be the blooming relationship of the two friends in question.
‘Yeah, but, hang on,’ she said. ‘Just because they went home together – they do share the flat, you know, it doesn’t necessarily suggest anything…’
‘There were other things,’ he said impatiently. ‘Did you not see them?’
‘Like…the way that – did you not see them slow dancing?’
‘I was too busy doing the twist with you. You’re a rubbish dancer, by the way.’
‘Yeah, right. Well, anyway – there was this little moment…’
He paused for dramatic emphasis. She raised an eyebrow.
‘Yeah, well, he kissed her on the forehead.’
‘Well, doesn’t that mean something?’
‘Not necessarily,’ she said. ‘It’s a bit…I dunno, tiny.’
‘It’s a bloody kiss! That’s something.’
‘Not really. Doesn’t really mean much.’
‘Are you mad?’ it was his turn to raise an eyebrow at her.
‘Of course not. I’m just saying, a little kiss on the forehead…well, I just don’t think it means anything. Kisses generally. Everyone gets worked up about them,’ (she was remembering Richard the Third and the allergic-to-incense moment). ‘But they really don’t mean anything at all.’
‘No? Explain yourself.’
‘Must I?’ It’s just…utterly unromantic,’ she grimaced. ‘Like, mashing lips and teeth together and getting someone else’s lunch breathed all over your face and…bleurgh.’
‘So you think a kiss means nothing, right?’
‘Then you wouldn’t be averse to kissing me?’
She stopped dead in her tracks.
‘This is hypothetical of course,’ he sounded amused. ‘I’m just saying, if a kiss means nothing – what stops you just, you know…kissing everyone?’
‘Because that’s weird.’
‘But if it means nothing, then you might as well treat it as a handshake. Like a greeting. Just give them out to people. Like business cards. You could trademark it as Raven's snog of approval.’
‘Yeah, but…I didn’t mean like that.’
‘What’s your problem with kissing me, then?’
She felt she was somehow familiar with this sort of conversation. It was very Nicodemius Entwhistle.
‘Because you’re my friend and it’d be weird.’
‘But if you argue that it means nothing-’
‘That’s different. I was just insinuating that people make a fuss out of it and-’
‘Nope – ‘they really don’t mean anything at all’. Your exact words.’
‘So if it means nothing, why the aversion to kissing me?’
‘This is…’ a nervous giggle escaped before she could finish the sentence.
‘Stupid,’ he grinned. ‘It’s just a ploy to get snogs, I know.’
‘You’re still a Gryffindor,’ she jabbed a finger at him; he ducked away, laughing.
‘I wouldn’t mind anyway,’ he said. ‘If you ever decide to give me one of your meaningless, silly, unromantic, tooth-mashing kisses. After all, you are in your prime.’
This was where the relevance to her dictionary-owning friend and her new-found knowledge of the definition of ‘prime’ came in.
‘If I am in my prime,’ she said. ‘Well, that means I’m at the peak of my physical health, my intellectual capacity and my emotional well-being, right?’
He didn’t seem to be listening, but nodded.
‘So does that mean I’m fit, intelligent, and completely sane?’
He gave her a piercing look.
‘Yes, yes and…no.’
All this talk of primes, meaningless kisses and relationships (it turned out that Scorpius, of dictionary owning fame, and Lucy, the youngest and most sensible, actually made a pretty good couple) continued for quite some time. She wasn’t sure whether she was comfortable with it or not. Yeah, strictly speaking, it was banter – he was pretty much going straight from the Nicodemius Entwhistle textbook of banter. And, well, banter – banter wasn’t usually something she liked too much. It was all too…all too chauvinistic for her, when she was reading into things. But it was Tarquin, so that made it slightly okay. And she knew he was joking. Everything was a joke.
So she supposed that, all in all, it was okay – even if every little comment made her a little bit uncomfortable, made her more self-aware of the stupid name, the stupid cut-glass accent (that was unravelling day by day), the stupid hair dye and especially the stupid pseudonym, which seemed just a tad pretentious after she’d left art school.
In short, she was having a bit of an identity crisis. He just helped to bring it out of her.
But while Richard the Third was the first to call her Raven, he was the last. (Perhaps she could end her steamy historical novel on that line?). The parallels astounded her – a drizzly Saturday night in August, the last drops of cider from a lukewarm can on her lips. This time, however, no Edgar Allen Poe, no incense, no awkward Richard the Third to screw things up. Instead, a dare.
Well, hedge-hopping anyway.
It had been something of a pastime of theirs. It possibly wasn’t the most legal pastime, but it was certainly fun. And, well…it wasn’t like they ever got caught. It was muggle suburbia at two in the morning, after all. It wasn’t like anyone was around.
It went a little like this. Find a muggle garden with a hedge in it. Throw oneself over hedge. See how far one can get over hedge. Stand up, assess cuts and bruises, and repeat.
Actually, it wasn’t just illegal – it was probably just weird. Oh, and it was probably the cause of all those ‘broken Britain’ letters that’d been turning up in the local newspaper. The muggles suspected ‘yobs’; little did they know that it was nothing more than two mildly tipsy art students with nothing better to do.
The hedge in question was taller than her.
It was also the beginning of the end.
‘That one’s hardcore,’ Tarquin said. ‘Hedgecore. Go on. I dare you.’
‘Only if you go after. And I don’t think I’ll make it.’
‘You will. You’re in the prime of your life and-’
She took a few steps back – then ran for it. She was a little wobbly on her feet, but it hardly mattered. Then, close to the hedge – she almost chickened out – jumped, landing ungainly about halfway up and then sliding to the pavement, a branch scratching at her cheek.
‘I failed,’ her voice was muffled by leaves. ‘Didn’t make it – argh!’
Unfortunately, she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence. Without warning, he’d taken a run up at the hedge, jumped, and missed – and sort of landed on her on the process. Doubly unfortunately, the strangled scream she’d let out seemed to have woken up the muggles; suddenly, lights flicked on, voices rose into the air.
She panicked, trying to squirm away from Tarquin and leg it home – but there was no chance. Already, she could hear a door, footsteps, a sleepy voice bleeding into the drizzly night…
Then, a strange feeling – like an egg being broken on the crown of her head, the slow, creeping drip of a spell along her spine. Then she lifted her hand and realised she couldn’t see it.
‘Disillusionment charm,’ he muttered, but, evidently, he didn’t think it was enough, drawing his arm about her and pulling her close, and if she ignored the fact that they were hiding in a hedge in Central London and looked up at the moon, it felt like the most wonderfully absurd sort of cliché.
‘It’s those yobs again,’ the sleepy voice was saying. ‘It’s society these days…I’ll write to the Herald again, Martha, they’ve got to print my letter this time…’
The voice retreated, a door slammed, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
‘That was a close shave,’ he whispered.
‘Good thinking with that charm.’
‘Well, Raven, I think you beat me in the actual hopping of the hedge.’
‘Something I’ve been thinking about,’ she said. ‘The name…Raven. It’s not really working out.’
‘Are you serious?’
She was serious as she could be whilst crouched in a hedge and, theoretically, impersonating a chameleon.
‘Yeah. It’s just…it’s a bit pretentious.’
‘I’m kind of…sick of having a pseudonym. Kind of want to be normal again.’
‘Can this be?’ he sounded genuinely surprised. ‘’Don’t-call-me-Gwen wants to be called Gwen again? Or do you have another name in mind? Newt? I don’t mind calling you Newt-’
‘Just call me Gwen.’
‘I think I’ll keep Newt for special occasions…Gwen.’
It was bizarre to hear her real name again.
‘Not just Gwen,’ she added, with some difficulty. ‘G…Gwendolyn.’
‘I feel like giving you a round of applause-’
‘And I might start embracing my Welsh heritage.’
‘Well, crack out the leeks and the-’
‘And I’ve changed my philosophy. Fine, I agree, a kiss means something. Okay, I didn’t change my philosophy on my own, Lucy’s been kind of debating it with me too, but…yeah.’
There was a pause.
‘Maybe we should…y’know, go home,’ she said. ‘These branches are a nuisance-’
‘Sounds like you had an identity crisis and a half,’ he cut across.
‘Well, a hedge isn’t really the right place to have an identity crisis, so we should probably apparate home.’
‘One thing,’ he said. ‘I want to hear that confession again. Properly. And I’ll memorise it forever and bring it up every single time you snog an unsuitable person at a party. Every time.’
‘How often do I snog unsuitable people at parties?’
‘Every time. Say it.’
‘Fine,’ she said. ‘I’ve change my philosophy, I agree with you all, a kiss means something and it isn’t just a meaningless, silly, unromantic thing. Did I mention the tooth-mashing?’
‘If you keep your teeth out the way, they won’t get mashed.’
‘Yeah, but, what if the other person-’
‘You don’t seem to have changed your philosophy at all.’
‘How can I convince you?’ he sighed.
‘You…don’t have to convince me?’
‘You’ve obviously had some pretty awful experience.’
(Her mind inadvertently flickered back to Richard the Third and she grimaced.)
‘Look, I can try,’ he said. ‘I’ll try to convince you that it isn’t all meaningless mashing of teeth.’
She reminded him that they were crouched in a hedge and that it was also two in the morning.
‘No time like the present,’ was his defiant response.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘I took ‘just call me Gwen’ as something of an invitation.’
It was perhaps then that she realised what he was hinting at.
‘Right,’ was all she could say.
‘And – what better chance?’ the familiar grin had returned. ‘You’re Gwen again, and you’re in the prime of your life.’
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