Chapter 4 : Obscurity
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"My wit is more polished than your mustache. The truth which I speak strikes more sparks from men's hearts than your spurs do from the cobblestones."
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 1
The grass was itchy, and it needed to be cut. Her father clearly hadn't bothered with it in well over a week. Lucy stretched out in it anyway, at the top of the small rise behind her parents' house. The clouds overhead drifted past slowly, almost not moving at all. It was a sunny day, for once. Lucy had come for Sunday dinner with her mum and dad, and decided to have some pre-dinner thinking time.
She'd always liked coming out here, to the little hill that had seemed a bit bigger when she'd been a bit smaller, to lay still and feel the world spin around her, along with her thoughts.
It was peaceful. She could do with a bit of that peace right now, wanted it to sink into her heart and soul, to calm her and blow her troubles away on the faint breeze.
She'd had lunch with Hilarion Winston-Fisher two days ago and had not stopped thinking about him since. It was no reason to feel guilty – not the lunch anyway, but the constant thinking about him was giving her conscience some trouble.
Because she liked him. More than just as a nice man who was allegedly/maybe the future husband of her cousin. She liked him. He was sweet, and gentle, and rather placid. But Roxanne was high-strung, loud, and (though Lucy would never say it to her face) maybe a little selfish. They just didn't go. If they were music, Hilarion would be a slow, simple folk song and Roxanne would be a frenetic swing number full of brass horns and drums.
She didn't understand why he didn't see it.
Opposites attract, they said, and she'd seen it – hell, her cousin Rose was living with a Malfoy who was as even-tempered as she was chaotic – but there had to be something underneath that held them together after the attraction. Lucy didn't know what would hold Roxanne and Hilarion. Besides... she liked him herself.
Maybe she was the selfish one. Maybe it was just petty jealousy. Maybe she shouldn't see him any more. But they could just be friends, couldn't they? She didn't know.
Soft footsteps broke her from her reverie, and she turned her head to see her sister approaching.
Molly's hair was gently curled today and swept to one side, de-emphasizing her mohawk cut in deference to their parent' more conservative sensibilities. Percy Weasley was willing to forgive his firstborn almost anything for her success at school and Quidditch (a family talent he'd always regretted not inheriting), but he did look a bit pained sometimes at Molly's edgy look. She stretched out next to Lucy, smoothing down her short black skirt as she crossed her dragonhide-booted feet.
They stared at the sky for a time in easy silence, comfortable together, and then Molly, still watching the clouds, said calmly, “All right, spill.”
Lucy closed her eyes to make the confession easier. “I fancy Hilarion. But he's with Roxanne. Now you.”
“Mum set me up with some bloke she works with, and I have to tell her he's actually a complete tosser.”
They watched the clouds a bit longer, then Lucy said, “Don't tell Roxanne.”
“No,” Molly agreed. “I won't.”
“Girls,” came the sound of their mother's voice, calling from the house. “It's dinnertime!”
After a quick tidying up in the washroom (“You'd think we were still children, the way she acts,” Molly grumbled), and fetching their father from his office, they arranged themselves around the table in the same spots they'd been sitting in all their lives. Audrey had to pluck the report out of her husband's hand to get him to pay attention, but once he did, he smiled benevolently at his daughters.
“Hello girls,” he said as if he hadn't greeted each of them when they'd arrived. He probably didn't remember it; he'd been that involved with his report. “How is work going for each of you? Oh thanks, dear, this looks delicious,” he added as his wife slid a loaded plate in front of him.
“Well enough,” Lucy said, picking at her cottage pie with her fork. She didn't particularly like cottage pie. Neither did her sister, actually – and their dad had privately admitted he didn't care for it either – but no one had the heart to tell Audrey Weasley.
Molly was already digging in. She had always been better about eating what was in front of her. Lucy had to psych herself up to it.
“We're playing Puddlemere next week,” Molly told them between bites. “They're putting me as the starting Keeper, since Lyra Brownyard is still recovering from that rotator cuff injury last month. She can't play a full game yet.”
“That's wonderful,” their father exclaimed, then seemed to check himself. “Well, it's wonderful that you're playing, not that Brownyard is still out, of course. I wish her a speedy recovery.”
“No you don't,” Molly said with a grin. “You wish she'd never get better so I'd have her spot on the team instead of being the reserve Keeper, then you could lord it over your brothers.”
He harrumphed loudly, cheeks red, and turned to Lucy. “How did that book signing go, with the Arrows Seeker?”
Lucy felt her cheeks turn as red as her father's. “It was fine, Dad. It was nothing, really.”
“But you met him, didn't you? Did you get his autograph? He's quite famous.”
Molly sniggered into her cottage pie. Lucy shot her a glare. Their father had never heard about Roxanne's ridiculous crush on Hilarion, and Lucy had no intention of explaining the entire complicated story behind Roxanne and Hilarion and her own lunch date with him. “No, Dad, I didn't get his autograph.”
“Well that's a shame.”
“Can we stop talking about Quidditch at the table?” their mother requested, looking mildly harassed. She was not a fan of the sport.
“We're not talking about Quidditch, we're talking about the girls' work,” Percy objected.
Audrey gave him a look, and that was the end of Quidditch talk at the table.
When one worked for the Daily Prophet, one was never really off work, but nominally at least, Roxanne had the afternoon free. She had turned in her column early, after feeling particularly inspired by the fine day, and had left work at lunchtime. She kept her eyes peeled for possible news stories, though, as she wandered through Diagon Alley. Once a reporter, always a reporter, as her aunt Ginny sometimes said.
It was too fine a day to go home and do the housework she probably ought to do. Window-shopping was far more fun, anyway. She avoided her dad's shop, because he was sure to find her some work if she told him her job was out early today. She ducked her head as she passed the shop windows of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, then resumed her stroll down the shopping street of wizarding London.
A trio of buskers had amassed a small crowd on one corner near the entrance to Knockturn Alley, and Roxanne paused to listen to the mournful, haunting melody that the violinist was playing. The magical folk who'd stopped to listen were silent in respectful appreciation, watching the violinist. Roxanne stepped a bit closer to join them, feeling the music envelop her. The tune was lovely, and the musician was quite talented. He was playing it as a solo, with his companions silent beside him, holding their own instruments and looking quite as entranced by the music as their audience was.
Roxanne glanced around the crowd, and one face jumped out at her, familiar somehow. She frowned at him a moment, trying to place him, and he looked over at her just as she remembered who he was.
Hilarion's friend. Perry, or Percy, or something like that.
He smiled at her and gave a little wave, and she smiled back. She tried to recall his name as he threaded his way through the audience to her.
“Hi there,” he said when he reached her side, grinning at her.
“Hi yourself. Perry, right?”
He nodded, and she felt relieved she'd gotten it right on her first guess. “It's nice to see you again,” she said gamely, not entirely certain what to say to him. He was Hilarion's best friend, but she really didn't know him. She didn't really know Hilarion yet, come to that.
“You as well. Roxanne, right?” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.
She stuck out her tongue at him for mocking her, and he grinned. “Shut it, you.”
“Couldn't help it. Had to be done. Not working this afternoon?”
“No, I finished early. Thought I'd do some window-shopping, but then I heard the music. Don't you have to work?”
“I work for myself,” he said easily. The violinist was drawing out the final crescendo of the song.
“That was so beautiful,” Roxanne said on a sigh as the last notes died away and the crowd began to applaud.
“Thanks.” Perry was looking round the crowd as if taking the measure of their appreciation. “I wrote it.”
Roxanne blinked. “You what?”
He nodded, turning back to her. “I wrote it. I thought it needed lyrics, but it seems to carry well enough on its own. Cyril said he'd play it today, give it a bit of a test-run.”
“Are you friends with the violinist, then?”
“Yeah. And the others as well. That's Cornish Dan on accordion and Lina, she sings.”
“Cornish Dan?” Roxanne echoed.
“As opposed to Welsh Dan and Irish Dan,” Perry told her. “We have too many friends named Dan, clearly.”
Roxanne smiled at that. Somehow she wasn't surprised that he was friends with street buskers. She gave him a sidelong glance, taking in the purple tie he wore loosely around the neck of his plaid shirt, and the day or two's worth of beard growth he was sporting, as if he couldn't be bothered to shave every day. He had an artistic, bohemian sort of look about him. It was intriguing – she'd always thought of herself as rather bohemian as well, despite her best friend being the post-modern punk type, and wished now that she had some friends who did interesting things like play original music on street corners.
Cornish Dan was currently warming up his accordion a bit while Cyril the violinist aimed his wand at the pegs, which began to turn slightly, adjusting the tuning. They launched into a much peppier song than the violin solo.
“Did you write this as well?” Roxanne asked, giving Perry a poke in the ribs.
He laughed. “No, this is a Baltic folk song.”
Lina had began to sing, her voice warm and slightly raspy, in a language Roxanne didn't understand. Roxanne listened to the song a bit, swaying to the music without really being aware of what she was doing. The song had a driving beat behind the melody that Roxanne could feel even without a drummer. It was a shame they didn't have a drummer.
“Normally there's Angus as well, on the darbuka,” Perry told her. “But he broke his arm last week, broom racing in the Yorkshire Wolds, and the Healers told him to take it easy for a while after they fixed him up.”
“What's a darbuka?” she asked.
“A drum,” he told her, and Roxanne thought it was rather funny that he'd felt the absence of the drumbeat as she had. He held out a hand to her then, with that grin he had that was somehow eager and confident and a bit sly. “Dance?”
She stepped into his arms, and was immediately surprised by how good a dancer he was. For some reason, she hadn't expected it of him, although when she thought about it, it wasn't entirely surprising that a man who could write such a beautiful melody could also have a good sense of music in his body and feet. He was a lot of fun to dance with.
The buskers reacted well to the dancing, probably because their friend had started it, but Lina was grinning and clapping the rhythm out as she watched them, and Cornish Dan with his accordion slid Roxanne a wink as he sang along with the chorus. Soon another couple began to dance on the edge of the crowd, and then another. Perry noticed them at the same time that Roxanne did.
“Sometimes people just need someone to lead the way,” he told her as he twirled her around and back into his arms.
Perry was enjoying the dance far too much, considering he was dancing with his best friend's girl. He couldn't seem to stop himself, though. She'd been swaying to the music, tapping a rhythm against the strap of her shoulder bag, and he had immediately known that she would dance with him if he asked. It was a huge mistake, he realized, as soon as his arm had settled into place around her waist.
He should not be holding Hilarion's girl this close.
But he finished the dance anyway, enjoyed making her giggle when he twirled and dipped her, enjoyed the feel of her in his arms, moving in perfect synch together.
They danced the next song too, and he caught Cornish Dan's eye as they passed. This had better be the last dance, he realized, or his friends were going to think something was up between him and Roxanne. Fortunately, Lina announced the end of their performance after that, and Perry drew Roxanne to a halt as Cyril invited the crowd to tip generously, drawing a few appreciative laughs and a small shower of coins into the houndstooth bowler hat that Lina held as she walked through the crowd.
Roxanne was still smiling, and Perry was still thinking what a fantastic bad idea the dancing had been as the crowd began to disperse, and Lina came over to them with a grin, still holding the hat.
“That went well,” she said, her Lithuanian accent giving her a more exotic air than her dark blonde hair and hazel eyes lent her. “Coffee is on us today.”
“Thanks for letting us use your song,” Cyril added. He was crouched on the pavement, packing his violin lovingly away into its velvet-lined case. “Who's your friend, Perry?”
“This is Roxanne Weasley,” Perry told them. “She's dating Hilarion.”
Lina gave him a rather startled look, but Roxanne was smiling at Cornish Dan and didn't notice.
“Nice to meet you,” Cyril said.
“Poor old Hilarion,” Cornish Dan put in as he latched his accordion into its case. “How is your jock friend? He never wants to come out with us.”
“It's for the best.” Cyril put a hand to his heart, pulling a sad face. “It's hard to be an obscure musician when you hang around with Quidditch celebrities.”
“You're too mean for Hilarion's gentle soul,” Lina scolded them. She had recovered quickly from her surprise, though her eyes still looked too sharply at Perry. He avoided her gaze and smiled vaguely.
Cyril slung his violin case over his shoulder, the strap running across his chest. “It's for the best, I reckon. It's dangerous enough to our obscurity to hang out with Perry. Keep going mainstream and you'll not be allowed to have coffee with us anymore.”
“No one remembers who writes the songs,” Perry told him. “Only who sings them. I'll always be more obscure than you lot even are.”
The coffeehouse was one they frequented rather often, and the waitress waved to them as they took over a table in the front corner of the shop. It was the spot Cyril always chose, where they could watch the street traffic outside. The shop was in a Muggle section of the city, not far from Diagon Alley, and was filled with young people in eclectic sort of clothing, so no one even noticed the addition of a couple of wizarding musicians. Roxanne sat next to Perry, and he tried not to read anything into this. She didn't know any of them, but she didn't know him rather less than she didn't know the others. That was all there was to it.
Her hand brushed his as they sat down, and he thought his skin tingled where it had touched hers.
The conversation wandered widely, and soon Roxanne had relaxed and was laughing and teasing the others like she'd been around them for years. Perry watched her, trying not to look like he was staring. She practically sparkled with life and wit, her face animated as she leaned forward to tease Cornish Dan about the paint job on his accordion.
“The polka dots are a bit much, aren't they? And purple and green? Hell of a colour combo.”
“Subtlety is not my forte,” Cornish Dan informed her.
“What did it say on the bellows?” Roxanne asked. “I couldn't make it out with all those pink and orange swirls.”
Perry grinned. Cornish Dan did like his accordions painted rather spectacularly. “It says Morveren. It's the accordion's name.”
Roxanne quirked an eyebrow, grinning. “What kind of name is that, then?”
“The mermaid of Zennor,” Lina said grandly. “It's a Cornish legend. The mermaid Morveren is drawn to the village of Zennor when she hears the music of a young man who sits by the oceanside, playing the pipes. Morveren falls in love with the piper, and has her father the king of the merpeople give her legs. They meet as people, they fall in love, but she can't stay human, so the piper joins her in the sea. The legend says you can still hear the love songs he plays for her under the waves.”
Roxanne smiled, her expression rather romantic, then she turned to Cornish Dan. “You named your accordion for a mermaid who falls in love with a piper? Do you even play the pipes?”
Cornish Dan shrugged. “No. Mermaids probably don't discriminate when it comes to good music. Maybe one will fall in love with the sound of my accordion and whisk me away to a palace under the sea.”
“Well, it would certainly be obscure,” Roxanne said.
“Morveren is a terrible name,” Cyril told his friend. “I told you it's bad luck to name an instrument after a species with such terrible taste in music. Have you ever heard a mermaid's song above the water?”
“It's a good name,” Cornish Dan protested.
“You should re-christen it Cyrilla,” Cyril announced, and was met by a round of laughter.
“You made that up,” Perry accused him. “Just now. That's not even a name!”
“Oh shut it, you have a made-up name as well. Besides, Cyrilla's a real name, probably, somewhere.”
Roxanne turned to Perry speculatively. “What is your real name? You wouldn't say before.”
“He never does,” Lina said. “Cyril knows it because he was at school with Perry, but he won't tell the rest of us his full name.”
“Disgraceful,” Cornish Dan intoned, looking down his nose at Perry.
Roxanne laughed, and the conversation moved on. Perry wondered briefly what she would think of his full name before being swept up into the new topic of discussion.
Hilarion was a bundle of nerves as he left Quality Quidditch Supplies with a new set of gloves. He had a game next week against the Kenmare Kestrels, who had beaten the Arrows quite soundly the last time the two teams had gone up against each other, but that wasn't what was making Hilarion anxious. He could handle Quidditch, that was fine. It was just a job.
But he was taking Roxanne out for drinks tonight. That was giving him terrible stage fright.
He didn't know what to talk about with her, didn't know how to talk with her. They'd already had one date where she'd done all the talking; surely she'd notice if he tried that again? And alcohol made him even quieter than he normally was. What the hell was he going to talk about over drinks? Why had he agreed to this?
Because she had suggested it, and he couldn't seem to say no. He still wanted to impress her.
He'd been wandering aimlessly down the street, buried in his thoughts, and when he looked around, he found himself in front of Flourish and Blott's. Peering through the window, Hilarion caught a flash of red hair whiz past.
He ducked into the shop, and when Lucy turned around from the books she'd been shelving, they smiled at each other automatically.
“Back again?” she remarked, more of an observation than a real question.
“No practice today for the team,” he told her. “Want to have lunch? It's on me again.”
Lucy shook her head. “I've already eaten, actually. I'm due for my break shortly, though, if you want to wait a bit.”
So he found himself sitting in an overstuffed tweed armchair in one of the bookstore's many nooks and crannies, reading a newly released Auror novel – his favourite author had written the cover endorsement – and waiting for Lucy Weasley. No one seemed to notice him, and reading the book in the quiet of the shop helped calm his nerves somewhat about his date with Roxanne. It took Lucy another three-quarters of an hour, but finally she bustled back over to him and smiled widely.
“Are you ready?”
He set the book down and followed her out the shop. They wound up in Hyde Park, wandering alongside the Serpentine side-by-side, walking in companionable silence for a while. Hilarion breathed in the scent of the trees, his hands in his pockets as he walked, and tried not to think about his date with Roxanne. His stomach fluttered every time he thought about it.
“It's nice to be out in the sunshine after being inside all day,” Lucy remarked conversationally. “I love the books, but things can get a little musty in there. Someday I'll own my own shop, and it will be bright and cheerful, with the windows open to every warm day.”
“You're going to open your own shop?”
“Someday I will,” she said determinedly, and he smiled. She would do it, too, he didn't doubt. Something about Lucy seemed so very competent that he thought she could probably accomplish just about anything. Roxanne had that sort of air to her as well. He wondered if it was a Weasley thing.
“What sort of books will you carry in your shop?”
“Oh, everything,” Lucy said immediately. She had clearly thought about this a lot. “Novels, and cookbooks, and books about magic. Anything you can think of. Lots of novels, though. I might even stock Muggle books as well. My grandfather has always loved reading them when he can get a hold of them.”
Hilarion smiled. “Do you have a name for your shop?”
“Not yet,” she admitted. “I'll have to think of something before I can open it, but any sort of grand opening is ages away. It's not like I have money for premises yet.”
“Invite me to your grand opening,” he said, half a question and half a demand. He wanted to see Lucy's shop in person one day. Whatever she named it, it would probably always be 'Lucy's shop' to him.
“I will.” Lucy's cheeks turned a bit pink. “And you'd better come buy your books from me, too. I'll keep your Auror novels in stock.”
“You open your shop, and I'll be there every day,” he promised. “I don't read very fast, but I won't buy books from anyone else.”
She smiled, and changed the topic, her cheeks still rather flushed. “What are you up to tonight? Anything fun planned?”
“I'm taking Roxanne for drinks,” Hilarion said, and felt the nervous feeling settle in his stomach again.
Lucy's smile didn't falter, but it seemed different now. He wasn't sure why. “Tell her I said hello when you see her. I'd better get back to work. I only have twenty minutes for my break.”
She gave him another smile and a wave as she walked off, back toward the trees where she could Apparate safely into Diagon Alley.
As soon as she turned away from him, his nerves returned to their stretched-taut state, but he waited until he heard the crack of Lucy Disapparating before heading home.
By the time 8 p.m. rolled around, Hilarion had (despite a half-hearted meditation session and two Floos to Perry) not calmed down a bit. His palms were sweating when he arrived at the tavern. Roxanne was already there, sitting at the bar, and he adjusted his tie as he approached. It felt like a noose closing around his neck.
They exchanged a cheek-kiss, and Hilarion sat down on the barstool next to her. “Hi,” he said awkwardly, feeling rather stupid. Why was it so difficult? He wanted to impress her with his wit and style, but when he was around her, he felt even more lacking in either quality than he normally did.
Roxanne smiled brightly. “You're early.”
“So are you,” he pointed out, and she laughed, though he hadn't intended to be funny.
“I saw your friend Perry the other day in Diagon Alley,” Roxanne said then, and Hilarion was a bit startled.
She nodded, and her eyes lit up a bit with the memory. “He was with a few of his friends. Musicians. Do you know them? They mentioned you.”
Hilarion knew them only too well. They were some of Perry's sharp-witted mates, the ones he always felt uncomfortable around. So sharp, you'll cut yourself, his mum had always said. “The bloke with the accordion and that lot. Yes, I know them.”
“They're brilliant, aren't they? So talented. We had coffee, all of us. It was such a lovely time.”
Hilarion's heart sank. “You liked them, then?”
She blinked at him, confused. “Of course, how could you not like them? They're too silly for words. They did say you interfered with their obscurity, you being a celebrity and all.”
“I don't mean to. I wish I was obscure too,” he said, and she laughed again. He didn't understand why. He hadn't meant to be funny or witty.
He tried to change the subject, but he had no idea what else to talk about, so he ordered a butterbeer and subsided into silence next to her.
Roxanne sipped at her firewhiskey and eyed his butterbeer. “You don't drink whiskey?”
“I don't like the taste,” he admitted, wishing now he'd ordered a glass anyway. Perry's friends had always poked fun at him because he didn't drink hard liquors. He didn't even like mead.
They both turned to see a blonde witch in bright pink robes bustling up to them. Her hair curled prettily around her face, and she was smiling as she approached. Hilarion smiled gamely, feeling secretly relieved at the interruption. It had distracted Roxanne from what had sometimes been calling his 'unmanly' drinking tastes.
Roxanne was grinning at her friend, who came up and leaned an arm on the back of Roxanne's chair.
“Can't believe I ran into you,” the blonde witch said chattily. “D'you know, I was going to Floo you earlier today?”
“Hilarion, this is my friend Gertie Griffith,” Roxanne said, waving to introduce her friend. “This is Hilarion Winston-Fisher.”
“I know who he is, Roxy,” Gertie said, giving her a nudge in the ribs. “I haven't been living under a rock, you know.”
“Really? Here I've been digging them up every day looking for your new flat.”
“I saw your column this morning,” Gertie said then, ignoring Roxanne's jab, “about that witch in Inverness who'd been trying to transfigure herself into a selkie so she could live in Loch Duich – did you see the paper in last month's Transfiguration Today from Nigel Faramund? He mentioned her in passing. He used to be with the Ministry, you know, everyone thought he was an up and comer in the government and then he left suddenly to head up that policy institute on Human Transfiguration. He's brilliant.”
“I know, I saw him last year when he gave that speech at the Conjuration Conference in Edinburgh. I got the idea for that article from his paper, actually.”
They went on in this vein for another five minutes, discussing animagi and trans-species transformations, and Hilarion sat silently and listened in bewilderment.
He didn't know what they were talking about. It was just like going out with Perry and his friends: everyone talking at lightning speed about things he didn't understand. And they ribbed each other the way Perry's friends did as well. Hilarion had never liked it; he couldn't tell when they were joking, and tended to take all their remarks seriously, only to be poked fun at afterwards for not understanding the joke. It was part of why he didn't like hanging out with them.
His heart began to sink as Roxanne needled her friend again. She was more like Perry than he'd realized. He didn't know how to talk like she did, like Perry did. This was worse than their first date, somehow, this feeling of inadequacy he got around her. He rather felt he was expected to go on the field for a game whose rules he didn't know. She left him feeling tongue-tied and slow-witted. He had to do something to fix it.
A/N: The mermaid of Zennor really is a Cornish legend. Maybe in the Potterverse, it really happened, too ;)
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