Chapter 5 : The Coven
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by shudder @ tda
It only took us two days to unpack. Considering we didn’t own all that much, this wasn’t a huge surprise – the biggest effort was probably spent transferring our collection of books from suitcase to shelves. By Saturday evening, we were moved in for good, and I just about had time to fire off letters to Mum and to Gwen and Tarquin before I succumbed to exhaustion and crashed into bed.
The letter to our favourite partners in crime ran thus:
Hope your jollies ‘round the country are going nicely. We’ve moved in now and we’re so far north that I think we can be considered far more adventurous and jet-setting than you so, ha ha, we win. Bloody freezing here. Locals are well weird. Went to pub (which is basically called the wet duck and isn’t that daft because ducks are wet by default?) and they were hiding behind a fake wall, which isn’t suspicious or anything, I don’t think they’re spying on us in the slightest. Feel I should teach Scorpius self-defence just in case – you know what he’s like. Limbs and glasses akimbo! Hope you can come and visit soon and join the weirdness.
See you in the next life and all that, you pair of losers.
Love and hugs and haggis, Lucy.
The letter to my Mum essentially said the same thing, but with a lot less of the in-jokes and the name-calling and a lot more of the formal niceties of communicating with family that you really, really like, but don’t really want visiting. Look, as much as I wanted my Mum to see the new flat, me and Scorpius’ chaotic methods of organisation and her doily OCD pretty much made a recipe for disasters. And I really, really hate doilies.
Having just moved in, though, that flat was strangely tidy and neat. I wasn’t sure we could call it home yet. For starters, the place was weird (and we had bad feelings about it). It was also quiet. Living in London and having been an erstwhile nocturnal art student, I was used to constant noise – sirens, traffic, occasional outbursts of raucous drunken singing. New New Elgin was as loud as it was normal, by which I mean that it was almost totally silence. Not even a distant motorway to hum me to sleep. I missed the feeling of a place being alive.
After the debacle of the false wall episode on Thursday night, I hadn’t had much contact with the inhabitants of New New Elgin. Unpacking had kept us busy most of the weekend and, truth be told, I wasn’t keen to turn a rubbish first impression into a second.
Call me mad, but, on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but feel a little homesick. Londonsick.
It’s not like my week was a total downer, though. Look, if there’s an equation for a perfect life, it probably looks a little like this: tea plus toast multiplied by warm duvet to the power of Scorpius Malfoy equals ace. I’m not sure how you’d write that out as an actual formula. Anything involving any sort of number is beyond me, unless it’s part of a percentage that denotes how alcoholic a drink is.
Sunday morning happened to apply this equation rather well. I woke up a little earlier than usual, and it was still dark when I opened my eyes. Condensation ringed the bottom of the windowpanes, and frost glimmered through a crack in the curtain, but I was deliciously, indulgently cosy, snug as a bug in a rug. Apart from my feet, which were poking out of the end of the duvet and had turned to ice.
I yanked them back into the bed and snuggled under the covers a bit more. This brought me a little closer to Scorpius, which was fine until I accidentally planted my icy feet on his ankles and he physically flinched.
‘Lucy, gerroff,’ he mumbled into the pillow.
I kept my feet there, though, and he didn’t say anything. I must have fallen asleep after that, because the next time I opened my eyes sunlight was streaming into the room and I seemed to have conquered vast swathes of the bed. Guessing that Scorpius had got up to make tea, I fidgeted about a bit, yawned, then stretched, plunging my weary limbs into the four corners of the duvet.
Much to my surprise, Scorpius still inhabited two of these corners. Evidently he’d been too polite to fight back when I’d claimed most of the bed earlier. This meant that, upon stretching, I pretty much shoved him straight out. A dull, vaguely painful thud signalled his landing on the floorboards.
I peered over the edge of the mattress. A single hand flailed up into my line of vision.
‘Ow, that hurt,’ he whined, grabbing onto the edge of the mattress and hoisting himself up. I huddled deeper into the duvet.
‘I regret nothing…’
‘Sure,’ he shuffled out of the room, clutching his elbow (which may have been the cause of the thud). ‘I’m going to make tea.’
Sunday, Sunday, the perfect lazy day. The day off, the sluggish, scheduled lie-in, reading the newspaper in bed with tea, not getting out of your pyjamas until three – or never getting out of your pyjamas at all. Sunday was a pyjama day. Sunday was the sort of day I could kick Scorpius out of the bed and then lie on the remaining areas of the mattress like a starfish, waiting for a cuppa.
Scorpius came back in from the kitchen five minutes later with a cup of tea in hand and yesterday’s newspaper tucked under one arm. I propped myself up, the duvet still swaddling my legs, smoothed down my hair, and fixed my face in a huge grin.
‘Good morning,’ I said.
‘Afternoon,’ he said, leaning nonchalantly in the doorframe and flicking the newspaper open. He scanned the front page with a raised eyebrow.
‘House prices rising? Falling? Someone famous falling over outside a nightclub? A nightclub falling over outside-’
‘It’s actually a very interesting report on the plight of the self-inking quill manufacturing trade in Essex which, apparently, has gone into a decline in recent years and-’
‘Just get back into bed.’
He came back over, plonked the tea on the stack of arty magazines we were using as a bedside table, and flopped down onto the mattress, newspaper still in hand. This made the paper open up like an accordion and scattered half the weekend supplement across the duvet – a catalogue of vouchers for Diagon Alley landed on my knees.
‘Maybe this is a sign,’ I said, lifting it. ‘That I should seize the day and…er…get fifteen percent off the sum of my total purchase when I buy a pound of beetle eyes at the Apothecary. Well, that’s a blast from the past.’
‘You do that,’ Scorpius said, flicking through the newspaper. ‘Carpe diem.’
‘I think I’m far better at seizing the night,’ I said, trying to hold back a yawn.
‘Carpe noctem,’ he nodded. ‘Oh, they’ve reviewed that exhibition I wanted to go to…’
I’d already started to tune out. ‘Cool. Pass the tea, then.’
‘Get your own.’
‘Hey – I worked really hard yesterday-’
‘You made a sofa out of packing paper. And I tidied it away.’
‘I’m a budding furniture designer…’
‘Well, before this descends any further – this came last night-’ he extracted a letter from the scattered supplements. ‘After you’d gone to bed.’
‘A letter! We’re popular!’
As I’d hoped, it was the reply from Gwen and Tarquin – remarkably fast, although my faith in the Owl Post system had never once failed before. (In my opinion, if they replaced every Ministry official with post owls, I bet the country would run about fifty times more efficiently. Or, you know, everything would collapse and there would be mass hysteria. Most likely the latter.)
We will travel to the Orkneys and you shall no longer be the most northern northerners. Besides, our jetsetting has been far more cultural and enlightening than yours. Yesterday we went to a puppetry museum in Wales. Tarks, as you call him, wants to take me to France for a bit. He says he wants to ‘seduce me under the bright lights of gay Paree.’ Knowing us, we’ll be in Moscow by next week. Glad to hear the locals are weird, you’ll fit in great. And what if the duck is on land?
We’re free in January. We’ll be there and be a dodecahedron. Lucy, if you’re reading this, ruffle Scorpius’ hair on our behalf. Scorpius, if you’re reading this, pat Lucy on the head because she’s short. Maybe snog her too.
We await your reply with trembling knees.
Love and hugs and surreal performance art, Gwendotron: Dark Lady of All.
‘If someone ever found our letters, I bet they’d get so confused…oh, and,’ I reached up and ruffled his hair. ‘That’s from the two of them.’
‘Actually, I read it first,’ he patted me vaguely on the head and almost poked me in the eye. ‘You’re incredibly small, you know?’
A few minutes’ silence passed while he continued to peruse the newspaper and I re-read the letter a couple of times.
‘So. Carpe diem,’ I said. ‘It’s a Sunday. Are you gonna snog me or what?’
‘Saving it for later.’
‘Oh, okay. Well, you know, I feel like we should be doing something. Seizing the day, y’know?’
‘Please don’t build another sofa out of paper…’
‘No, I mean…’ I folded my arms and settled back into the pillows, thinking intently. ‘I never do anything on a Sunday. It’d be nice to…you know…go out somewhere.’
‘Not after last time. And you know I’d never start drinking this early, what do you think I am, an alcoholic?’
‘Well, we could just go for a walk or something,’ he shrugged. ‘You know, explore the town and stuff.’
I considered it. ‘Good idea. I’ve kind of been wanting to…um…check it out. See if we can find any normal people.'
‘We’re not exactly good at normal ourselves. We’re like…butterbeer for wasps. If you imagine that odd folk are wasps.’
‘Makes sense. Come on, let’s get going.’
An hour later, we were up, dressed, groomed and breakfasted. Or as dressed and groomed as we could ever be, although I guess that by normal standards we probably looked like the ex-art students we were. Something like a year or two previously, Scorpius had acquired this ancient mackintosh jacket that was undeniably waterproof and wind-resident, but also a bit massive and a bit grubby. It had these gaping, voluminous pockets, which were capable of storing a small sketchbook and a miniature palette of watercolour paints or, perhaps, a telephoto lens or two. As much as this jacket was practical, it was also a little bit ridiculous and made him look like he was wearing a navy tent. Stubborn as he was, though, he wore it pretty much everywhere. Including on our first merry little jaunt to the outer reaches of New New Elgin.
As expected, the town was deserted.
‘Look, either we’ve moved to pensioner land,’ Scorpius said, throwing his hands out at the empty shops as we walked along the High Street, ‘or there really is a conspiracy afoot.’
‘I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy.’
‘Yeah, well, I think that’s a bit daft. I mean, it’s basically winter, maybe this place is just popular in the summer when it’s warm.’
‘What’re you on about? There’s no such thing as warm in Scotland.’
In a way, I sort of envied Scorpius and his massive, wind/rain/snow/hail/sleet/lightning/plague of locustsproof jacket. I was freezing, even with my multiple woolly layers and thermal socks and whatnot. I drew a little closer, almost toppling him off balance.
‘Where are we headed?’ he asked.
I peered at the horizon, where a thin strip of sea could just be seen over the roofs of the distant houses.
‘We’re closer to the sea than I thought,’ I frowned. ‘Maybe...maybe we moved to the wrong place.’
‘Wouldn’t put it past us. The lady from the shop did say we were further North.’
We decided to hobble down to the beach anyway, Scorpius saying something vague about looking for flotsam and jetsam. I balled the cuffs of my jumper into my fists and shoved them into my pockets, trying to get the feeling back into my fingers.
The beach in itself was a bit of a disappointment. As we stood on the sand dunes and stared out at the brooding sky, I reflected that, in my life, I hadn’t exactly experienced many nice beaches. This one was…very flat. And very grey. Although I supposed that was mostly down to the weather.
‘I think it might rain,’ Scorpius nodded to the sky.
Above us, the clouds had formed the weather equivalent of a giant frowning face. An enormous black cloud hung over the scene like a furrowed brow, and the still sea reflected it in a steely grey expanse. It all kind of smacked of the worst bits of the Mordenton-on-Sea fiasco of a holiday and the worst bits of London rolled into one big beachy mass.
‘Will we ever go to a real beach?’ I said. ‘Like, with parasols and people in bikinis and melting ice cream everywhere?’
‘Ice cream,’ Scorpius said, with a determined look at the horizon. 'Ice cream in a cone, all proper like. I know it’s winter, but I’m craving it…'
True to Scorpius’ predictions, it began to rain.
‘And this is why I own a sensible jacket,’ he said, turning up the collar of the offending ancient anorak. ‘And before you ask, I’m not giving it to you.’
‘There you go,’ he pulled up the hood of my own jacket. ‘Do you need me to zip it up too?’
‘Only lame people zip up their jackets-’
He promptly zipped his anorak all the way to the top, giving him the appearance of an inflated circus tent.
‘No,’ he admitted, after a second or two had passed. ‘I look stupid.’
We battled on along the beach a bit more, hopping that the rain would ease off after a bit, but it only seemed to get worse. Even with my hood up, the rain drove into my face and made my nose go numb. Scorpius, on the other hand, could barely see through his soaking fringe. After a while, though, the blur of a building showed up in the distance and, as the rain got heavier and heavier and the wind started to howl in my ears, I suggested that it’d probably be wise to seek some sort of shelter in whatever shack, hovel or shed it was we were approaching.
It turned out to be a bit of a ruin – it looked like an old church, maybe, only one that’d been left derelict for quite a few decades. Given what I’d seen of New New Elgin so far, this was probably down to lack of population. Or maybe the village was embroiled in some weird pagan cult that would probably result in one of us being sacrificed on an altar made of tartan and shortbread. Ruin or not, though, it still had a roof in most places and, well, any shelter was good shelter, so we threw open the door and darted inside.
The door crashed shut with a shuddering echo – and, for the second time since we’d crossed the border, we seemed to discover most of the population of New New Elgin. They looked just as surprised as we were.
Worryingly, none of them looked especially happy to see us.
‘Oh…’ it was Jean Cumbernauld, standing at the front of the group with a dying smile. ‘What do we do?’
‘On one knee,’ the surly barman from The Drookit Duck pointed at the two of us.
‘No, that’s when you want to marry someone…’ knitting boy piped up.
‘Both knees,’ surly barman barked. ‘Both of them. Get on them. Hands behind your head. Where we can see them.’
‘Surely if they put their hands behind their heads then we won’t be able to see them-’
‘Oh, don’t be pedantic!’
I ended up grabbing for Scorpius’ hand, missed, and pinched his waist instead. He let out the tiniest of yelps as I scrambled for his hand instead.
‘Look,’ I said, trying to summon courage to my shivery voice. ‘We’re not…kneeling.’
I could feel my heartbeat in my fingertips. The air pocket between my hand and Scorpius’ was fast developing its own microclimate as our palms sweated like there was no tomorrow.
‘Look, we just went out for a walk,’ Scorpius spoke up beside me, his voice shaking even more than mine. ‘We’ll go away if you want-’
‘Did Inverness send you?’ surly barman demanded.
The crowd behind him seemed to bristle with expectation. Something like twenty pairs of eyes peered at us.
‘But they’d say that if Inverness had sent them,’ knitting boy said. ‘You’ve got to use reverse psychology, Kevin.’
Surly barman (who would henceforth be known as Kevin) took a moment to think about it.
‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Did Inverness…not send you?’
‘Er – yes?’ Scorpius said.
‘You absolute prune,’ knitting boy rolled his eyes. ‘Not you,’ he added, as the crowd’s gaze swivelled onto Scorpius. ‘Kev, that’s not how reverse psychology works.’
‘Look, I know how to settle this,’ Jean C stepped forward and crouched in front of us. ‘Tell me what you know of the coven.’
I gave her what I hoped was the most gormless look I could muster under such stressful circumstances. Scorpius probably did something similar beside me, because then Jean C sighed and shook her head.
‘Look, they’re blatantly not spies-’
‘Spies?’ Scorpius burst out. ‘We’re not spies!’
‘But they’re artsy,’ Kevin frowned. ‘And we all know what the coven is like.’
A collective grumble passed through the crowd.
‘What coven?’ Scorpius cried.
‘We can’t tell you,’ Kevin frowned. ‘But you must fear them-’
‘Oh, we can tell them,’ knitting boy said. ‘And besides, the coven isn’t the worst thing round these parts.’
‘What coven?’ I echoed Scorpius. ‘What’s going on?’
Jean C and knitting boy exchanged a knowing look.
‘Draw up a chair, everyone,’ knitting boy said. ‘Time for a story.’
Another collective grumble seemed to go round the crowd; a teenage girl clapped her hands and squealed ‘I love stories!’ Then there was an immense scraping sound as the rest of the village drew up a pew or two from the dark interior of the old church, arranging them into a loose semicircle around us. Jean C, surly Kevin and knitting boy motioned for us to sit with them, knitting boy extracting some knitting from a bag on the floor.
‘Perhaps we overreacted.’ Jean C smiled.
‘Perhaps?’ Scorpius exploded. ‘Perhaps you overreacted?’
‘I’d say this is a bloody overreaction and a half,’ I muttered.
‘Some might say we’re a little sceptical of newcomers-’
‘A little sceptical?’
‘Yes, some might say. And the less you interrupt, the quicker we can tell the story.’
Scorpius crossed his arms and stared down at the floor, somehow looking politely indignant and confused at the same time.
‘Well, there’s this thing called the All Magical All Scottish Talent and Variety Show Contest. And we’re very particular about it. See, we’ve won five years in a row. But…not the last two years.’
‘That’s…impressive,’ I said, although it was hard to rein in the sarcasm.
‘Well, it’s only the region D contest. Well, section A of region D. And the fifth division of section A. And it’s only the first round…but we always win. And we’re always up against Inverness.’
‘But Inverness have the coven,’ knitting boy piped up. ‘And a fantastic contemporary dance group. But we have the musicians.’
‘We’ve got Kevin on the bass, Morag on the drums, the five of us Jeans can do cracking harmony and then Jock plays the bagpipes. But we always lose out on the poster and the dance…we have to design our own poster, you see?’ Jean C explained. ‘To get people to come to the competition. But, well, we’re not good that that. Or the dance aspect. I mean, we can do a few ceilidh things and we can strip a willow any day, but otherwise-’
‘They’re English,’ knitting boy said archly. ‘They probably didn’t get a word of that last bit.’
‘A ceilidh is a big dance,’ Jean C explained hurriedly. ‘And there’s this one dance called strip the willow.’
‘It’s better when you’re drunk.’
‘Anyway,’ Jean C continued. ‘But Inverness are our main competitors, right? Well, our only competitors. But they’re dead tough. And we have the beat them. So we can’t risk a single bit of our plan getting out to them.’
‘We thought Inverness had sent you. You look like coven types, and we-’
‘Sorry, but,’ I cut in. ‘What on earth is the coven?’
A ripple seemed to pass through the assembled villagers.
‘Nobody quite knows,’ a voice piped up from the back.
‘But they’re artsy!’
‘They wear black turtlenecks.’
‘Someone told me they only meet on the second Thursday of every other month-’
‘-but never on a full moon!’
‘I heard that they could walk on water...’
‘They’re from Inverness and they’re arty types,’ knitting boy explained. ‘They always do Inverness’ poster, which is always better. And they’re very intimidating. Not that I’ve met them, but you hear things, you know?’
‘So we were concerned that you were spies from Inverness,’ Jean C summarised. ‘Because, well, nobody moves to New New Elgin.’
‘Plus we intercepted an owl you received-’
‘What?’ Scorpius bellowed. ’You read our post?’
‘Just the once, and it’s not like we hurt the owl or anything-’
‘It’s against the law! You can’t do that!’
‘Our postmaster is above the law,’ knitting boy said patiently.
‘Yeah, but – but - you can’t read our post! And what sort of postmaster is above the law!’
‘We’ve got our position in the talent show to consider!’
‘That’s…’ I felt an overwhelming desire to laugh, despite the extra bizarre situation and the hordes of villagers peering at us. ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.’
The villagers’ looks of polite interest swiftly changed to confusion mixed with anger.
‘You don’t understand how important this talent show is.’ Knitting boy said, in that same patient voice.
‘But you can’t - can’t just,’ I stammered. ‘When someone is new to a t-town, you can’t just – make them so unwelcome! And no, seriously, intercepting post is very illegal. My dad works at the Ministry and if he heard about this-’
‘Well, uh,’ Scorpius interrupted. ‘We’re not your enemies. We can…help…you?’
Everyone leaned in slightly.
‘Yes…?’ knitting boy said expectantly.
‘Well…we can help with your poster. We’re both art school graduates. Okay, photographers. But we get stuff about colour theory and we know how to draw,’ Scorpius said, glancing at me. ‘Okay, we can draw a bit.’
‘We’d love to help,’ I nodded fervently. ‘Anything that’ll convince you we’re not spies…’
‘And I…play piano!’ Scorpius flapped his arms about a bit, as if he was struggling to get his words out. ‘Maybe we can…help out. With the…the thing.’
The New New Elginers exchanged a look as one.
‘We’ll consider it,’ knitting boy said.
a/n: not my best again, I know, but I had to write this bit by bit inbetween mounds of coursework so I never really felt I got into the flow of writing, or something? Anyway. A fourth chapter of exposition, fluffy sunday mornings and people being incredulous and strange~ thank you for reading!
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