Chapter 15 : Smarmy Smiles
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I let myself into the shop an hour early, well aware that this was going to be a very busy Tuesday. Chucking my coat over a chair in the storeroom, I looked around in order to assess the damage. Pink, floral patterned boxes covered almost every inch of the shop floor, stacked higher than I could reach (not that that was saying much; I wasn’t particularly tall). How many bloody books did Lockhart expect to sell? He wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, was he? As he beamed up at me from an open box, I stuck my tongue out at him. My love for him was waning with every passing day.
I took out the invoice from the publishers and began the daunting task of counting the boxes. I managed to count thirty-six boxes before the doorbell tinkled behind me, distracting my counting. Sighing, I turned to see who had interrupted me. It was Matthew, who stood nervously in the doorway, wrapped up in a heavy grey coat and dark green scarf.
“Hello,” I said, trying to sound as normal as possible this time. I’d been worrying about meeting him again after the disastrous interview last Friday. “I’ll show you around, shall I?”
He nodded, a stray lock of hair falling over his eyes, which he brushed aside hastily. “That would be good, thanks.”
I threw a stern look at the boxes, as if they were about to sprout legs and run around in order to confuse my counting even more. Nothing moved. I showed Matthew the backroom (for tea and biscuits) and the storeroom (for actually doing something productive), then gestured to mountain of boxes.
“Do you mind helping me count and unpack these?” I asked, running a hand through my hair, which was already frazzled from the thought. “I have no idea where we’re going to put them yet, but the main thing is that they’re all there.”
Together, we set up an efficient chain of me counting and him unpacking. I couldn’t tell you how sick I was of Gilderoy Lockhart’s smarmy face by midmorning, his overly white teeth now bright and offensive.
“How does he get his teeth so white?” I grumbled, chucking another box in Matthew’s direction. “I reckon it must be dark magic, there’s no other explanation.”
“I’m sure he’ll tell us all about it in the book,” Matthew mused. “‘Chapter Five: Whitening with Wizards’. It’ll be a revolutionary piece of writing that will change the lives of millions. Just you wait and see; magical folk will be knocking down your hideous window display to see his sparkly gnashers.”
My eyes fell on Boris’s precious display. “It is hideous, isn’t it?” I agreed. “I sort of hope they do trash it so we don’t have to look at that every day for the next month. Having him in the shop once is going to be unbearable, but we’ll have to put up with his face for as long as he pays us to.”
I was so pleased that Matthew hadn’t turned into some horrendously pompous lad who aspired to be as ‘handsome’ as Lockhart. Although there hadn’t really been much of a choice (Roxanne didn’t count as a candidate and the other candidate, the older lady, turned up with some false teeth for me as a present, which I found completely offensive), we weren’t doing too badly. Boris would be pleased, if he actually bothered to turn up to the shop at any point this week. I was starting to worry he’d actually run away with the circus, or that he’d decided that as I was now the manager, he didn’t need to show his face at all. I hoped it was the former.
After we’d checked all the boxes were there and emptied them, Matthew and I turned to the sea of books at our feet with heavy hearts. “What are supposed to do with all of these?” he asked doubtfully.
“I have a plan, don’t worry,” I said, eyeing the books with a smile.
Boris didn’t arrive until after noon, looking exhausted and bearing the marks of post-clown make-up. “Good afternoon,” he said wearily, heading straight for the back room to make himself some coffee.
Matthew looked at me, and I shook my head; I’d introduce them later, when Boris had perked up a bit. For now, I gave him the task of re-alphabetising the joke section. I watched him disappear between the shelves with something like pride, unable to believe I’d actually made a good decision for once. We’d been extremely productive all morning, and he seemed to be a charmer with the customers. I was feeling rather charmed myself.
Boris started grumbling inaudibly as he made his way upstairs to the office, cup of coffee in his hand. I braced myself, wincing before I heard him start yelling.
“Rose Weasley!” he thundered, followed by the sound of china smashing. Matthew stuck his head out from behind a bookshelf, looking alarmed.
“I think it’s time for lunch,” I said hastily, grabbing our coats from the back room and scarpering for the door. Matthew caught up with me outside, looking thoroughly bewildered.
“Is he always like that?” he asked concernedly.
“Nah,” I placated, strolling up the street in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron. “He’s just had a weekend with the wife, it doesn’t happen very often.”
“I see,” he muttered grimly. “What’s he like as a boss?”
I scrunched my face, trying to find the best way to describe Boris; nothing I could think of summed him up well enough. “Strange, I suppose. He says the weirdest things. I wouldn’t take anything he says to heart if I were you; he means well, but doesn’t really express it in the best of ways.”
Matthew didn’t say anything in response to that, he merely nodded. When we reached the pub, he held the door open for me and I ducked inside. I never really understood why the Leaky Cauldron had to be so gloomy. Sometimes, I suspected it was because they didn’t want Muggles to see what was inside if they ever got in by accident. We found a table in the least gloomy corner we could find and ordered lunch.
“I’ll be glad when next week’s over,” I said over a pumpkin pasty. “The novelty’s worn off a bit, I have to admit.”
Matthew grinned. “Are you a Lockhart fan?”
I took a sip of my drink. “I’m not anymore, that’s for bloody sure. I’m sick of seeing his face on every wall or door everywhere I go. Fame really brings out the worst in some people.”
“It does,” Matthew agreed, looking at me curiously. “But you didn’t seem to do too badly, considering your family and stuff.”
I shrugged. “My Mum bought out the Daily Prophet before I was born, and on top of that she’s a pretty powerful and, quite frankly, scary woman. It could have been so much worse if she hadn’t been vetting everything printed about my family.”
Mum had basically saved my life, actually, now I thought about it. Without her, I’d have snoopy reporters going through my rubbish, looking for discarded tissues. I’d already had enough problems with Scorpius, let alone people who were paid to do things like that.
“That’s fortunate,” he said, nodding.
“To be quite honest,” I added thoughtfully. “I don’t think the public are that interested in us, and definitely not me. We hardly do anything front page news-worthy.”
“I don’t know about that.” Matthew poured some more juice into his glass. “I think it’s good to remember how much your family did to help the wizarding world. People are interested in all of your stories.”
I really couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in things like what washing powder my Mum used, but I chose not to quibble. He was being complementary after all; there was no need for me to discourage that.
“I suppose,” I said quietly, finishing my lunch. “I never really thought about it like that.”
Our conversation reminded me of a story my Mum had told me years ago, about some journalist that had caused her a load of problems by publishing false stories and being a general shit-stirrer. As far as I could gather, Mum had turned her into a beetle and then eventually bought the newspaper company she used to work for. I definitely would never want to piss my Mum off, that was for sure. The idea of people writing about her daily life for all to see disturbed me, mostly because I had enough problems with having to share her with Hugo, let alone the rest of the nation. It was tough enough that I got recognised everywhere I went; if people were hounding me for gossip, I think I'd have moved to another country years before now.
After we paid for our lunch, we meandered back up the high street to the shop. I hoped Boris's coffee had taken effect and he'd forgive me for hiding hundreds of copies of Gilderoy Lockhart's face in his office. The bell tinkled above the door as we entered the shop, causing a customer to start and look up as we approached the till.
I rolled my eyes. "How can I help, Scorpius?"
He looked between Matthew and me with a hurt look. His hair was almost curly today, his silvery locks gelled into a wavy helmet. "I was going to surprise you," he said thickly. "But I see you've already had lunch."
I tried not to look guilty, because I really didn't have anything to be sorry for. "Yes," I said gently. "I took Matthew to the Leaky Cauldron - he's our new shop assistant." Matthew shot a smile at Scorpius, who looked cynical. I dearly hoped he wasn’t about to draw a pistol and challenge Matthew to a duel. That would be so embarrassing. "Matthew, this is my - err - Scorpius."
Sensing the tension between Scorpius and me, Matthew went and hid in the back room. I heard him boil the kettle, humming loudly to himself. "I'm sorry," I said after a pause. "I didn't realise you were going to stop by. We could go for lunch another time?" I wasn't averse to having two lunches in one day, but no one else needed to know that.
"I still owe you dinner," Scorpius said more cheerfully. "Are you free on Friday?"
I pretended to rifle through my diary, because I was just that popular that I might have had something else on. "I'm free."
"Good." He seemed much happier now. "I'll come to yours for eight, then."
He walked out without even saying goodbye, which I thought was a bit rude but it saved on any awkward 'hug/no hug' or 'kiss/no kiss' scenarios. I wished he wouldn’t be so vague sometimes, it was extremely infuriating. I’d end up spending at least three hours deciding what I should wear, made difficult by the fact that he hadn’t told me where we were going. He clearly didn’t understand half the troubles I had with daily life.
I looked over my shoulder, where Matthew was standing with two cups of tea in the doorway. Seeing that I'd caught him eavesdropping, he scuttled over and handed me a mug. I thanked him, reaching under the counter for my biscuit tin.
"Biscuit?" I asked, offering him the tin.
He shook his head apologetically. "No thanks," he said. "I don't really like them."
Did he actually just say what I thought he just said? Maybe I’d gone deaf sometime this morning, or he’d actually meant to say “I don’t really like them, I love them”. He was still staring at me sadly, as though he was a little lost puppy. Dear me, I'd made a colossal error in hiring this man. Who didn't like biscuits? That was that, it was settled; we could never be friends.
He probably noticed my disgust, avoiding eye contact until we'd both finished our tea (and I'd stopped munching sadly on a bourbon) and he'd washed up. Luckily, Boris chose that moment to trundle down the stairs, looking slightly grey in colour.
"Do you know how hard it is to concentrate on anything with that buffoon leering at you?" he announced irritably, jabbing a finger into the chest of the cardboard Lockhart I'd made yesterday (yes, I went there). Cardboard Lockhart grinned back at us, winking at me as Boris turned his back. "I suggest you find somewhere else to keep the stock, Weasley."
I huffed, gesturing vaguely around the room. "Where else can we keep it?"
"You're a witch, think of something!" With that, Boris stormed out of the shop, leaving the bell tinkling and the glass rattling.
Sighing, I checked my watch. “I have to be somewhere,” I told Matthew apologetically. “I won’t be gone long.” I marched towards the door, leaving a terrified young man in my wake.
“But what about-” he spluttered.
“Try an Undetectable Extension Charm on one of the boxes,” I called over my shoulder, closing the door behind me.
I’d chosen this particular time because it was the one time of the day I’d be able to catch Lorcan at work. He rarely stuck around in one place for very long, what with him being a milkman, so it was important I was at the right place at the right time. I walked up the high street for a bit before ducking down one of the winding alleys that splintered off Diagon Alley. Following the winding street, I ended up in a small cul-de-sac. As I stood on the street corner, the archway I’d just walked through closed up behind me, squashed by the two houses either side of it. Then, I waited.
Four minutes later, I heard the drone of the milk float approach. As he parked up two houses away from me, I watched him place two pints of milk on someone’s doorstep and wander towards me.
“Lorcan?” I called, careful not to startle him when he was carrying a load of glass bottles.
“Rose?” He turned towards me, his white apron flapping in the wind. “What are you doing here?”
Considering the situation, I doubted he thought I was stalking him, but it was always a possibility. I didn’t know whether to assure him I hadn’t been following him all morning, hiding in bushes or stowing away on his van. No, of course he didn’t think that; no one else thought as idiotically as I did. I needed to pull myself together.
“I thought I’d catch you if I waited here,” I said cautiously. “Have you got time to talk?”
He set the crate of bottle down on the pavement, stepping closer. “Yeah.”
I tried not to look at him. He’d slept with Molly. It cheapened him somewhat in my eyes, or at least made him seem a little dirty and unclean. I frowned at him.
“Why did you do it?” I asked without thinking.
Lorcan looked abashed. “Why does anyone do it?”
I frowned deeper. What the hell was that supposed to mean? “Don’t try and put me off with stupid questions,” I barked. “You’ve probably ruined everything, and she won’t forgive you and you’ve made everything as awkward as hell. I hate awkward!”
This wasn’t exactly going the way I’d imagined it would. In my head, I was a rational and reasonable young woman who was completely comfortable with the idea of her friends shacking up. I was just supposed to be trying to get him to talk to her.
“I don’t really see how it’s any of your business what I do and who I do it with,” he said calmly. “But if you’re worried that I’m going to pretend like nothing happened, you’re mistaken. I really like Molly.”
I shut my mouth, which had somehow fallen open. “You like her?”
Lorcan nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“Oh,” I said. I looked down at my feet. “I see.”
“Good,” he said pointedly, daring me to say something else. I didn’t.
The most awkward silence I could remember for a long time hung heavily in the hair between us. What did this mean? Was he going to marry Molly and live happily ever after and a bag of chips? Or did he just mean that he liked her like we all liked her, as the crazy, bossy family member. I was so confused, but I didn’t want to admit that in case he realised how uncomfortable with this whole concept I was. He’d seen her naked! What was worse, Molly had seen him naked. It was too weird to imagine.
“If you hurt her, I’ll hurt you,” I threatened lamely, turning on my heel and walking towards where I thought the archway was.
I walked straight into the side of a house, my face smushed up against the bricks. I dearly hoped he hadn’t seen. I couldn’t exactly look round and check if he’d seen me walk into a wall, so I had to either pretend that I’d intended to do that or look like an idiot; I chose the former. I spread my arms out, caressing the cool brick. I patted the wall fondly, or at least what I hoped appeared to be fondly, and then set off down the street, prodding the bricks occasionally until the archway prised itself from between two houses and allowed me to escape.
Fucking wonderful; what had even been the point of me near-stalking Lorcan? Molly was not going to be happy with me sticking my nose into her business, especially not when I’d come across as a complete freak. Oh bugger, she was going to kill me. Unless, of course, she didn’t know that Lorcan was that serious about her; in fact, I’d done her a massive favour! She’d shower me with biscuits in gratitude and beat off Scorpius with a big stick and things could go back to how they’d always been, just me and her.
Except things couldn’t ever go back to the way they’d been; Teddy was gone, Lorcan was about to become a permanent piece of furniture in our flat and I was finding Scorpius tolerable. Things definitely were not going to be the same again, and that was actually quite a frightening prospect. Mind you, I only found Scorpius tolerable; he wasn’t quite attractive just yet.
AN: Once again, a massive thank you to everyone who reviewed the last chapter, I really do love you all!
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by Ellyn Rose