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Chapter 14 : Burns Night
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As it happened, we never heard back from the muggle police – although it wasn’t like we had a telephone they could call up – and so I got used to the idea of having Mr Andrew Socks as a permanent household feature.
Unlike the surly ball of fur from my childhood that had been Weatherby the cat, Mr Andrew Socks was a pretty cheerful moggy. He was also very inquisitive, which led to a lot of cat hair turning up in odd places like the mug cupboard, Scorpius’ pencilcase, and the inside of the lampshade that hung from the kitchen ceiling.
With only a few days to go before Tarquin and Gwen’s visit, I spent most of Saturday and Sunday picking up aforementioned cat hair from about the flat and giving it the first proper tidy it’d had since we’d moved in. Seeing as I’m not that good at cleaning, this wasn’t exactly hard. I graduated from the Scorpius Malfoy School of Housewifery, which teaches such invaluable lessons as sweep it under a rug and it’s no longer a problem and economise and clean with spit on a tissue. Scorpius himself, who was the lord and master of this sort of half-assed housework, spent most of the weekend earning his salary by being voluntarily locked up in a small, dark cupboard.
He was around on Sunday evening, however, when I’d finished cleaning (or not cleaning) the flat and he was done with his multiple shifts for that week. I’m guessing that, most couples, when shut up in their house together alone, will end up playing silly games to pass the time. I’m also guessing, though, that most couples’ idea of a silly game to pass the time probably involves a lack of clothing. To me and Scorpius, though, it really is a case of silly games to pass the time. Such genius stuff as ‘fill in the Prophet crossword with rude words’, ‘howling along to jangly guitar music’ and, Scorpius’ favourite, ‘sofa hurdling’.
This came about from his evident dislike of the arduous trek around the coffee table. Instead, whenever he wants to sit down for a quiet cuppa and a read of the papers, he insists on doing a run-up from behind and vaulting over the top of the sofa. I give him a mark out of ten for how much of him lands on the cushions. Points are deducted if he knocks his tea over or falls on me instead.
It seemed that he was a little on the tired side that Sunday. He hurdled the sofa alright, but slumped onto the cushions straight away, resting his head on my shoulder.
‘Hmm, seven,’ I said. ‘You didn’t pull that off with your usual flair. You alright?’
‘Mmmtired,’ he mumbled.
‘D’you want to help me with the crossword?’
‘Does ‘bastard’ fit here?’
‘What about ‘twat’ for thirteen down?’
He stopped responding after that and, within five minutes, had fallen fast asleep. Half an hour later, I shrugged him off. He woke with a start.
‘Maybe we should tuck in early,’ I suggested.
‘Mmm?’ he said. ‘Mmm. Shift starts at seven.’
‘Thingy in…thingy,’ he yawned. ‘Y’know. Flim processing. Film, I mean.’
He seemed ready to drift away into the ether again but, as I stood and abandoned the newspaper, he stood, blinking benignly, looking as if his mind had gone for a wander up the road. I went to brush my teeth and thought he’d just gone to get changed, but when I went into the bedroom five minutes later he was flat out under the covers, still in his clothes. Mr Andrew Socks was perched on his chest like a furry, purring vest.
I decided not to wake him and crept into bed as quietly as possible. I wasn’t very successful, being a bit clumsy as I am, and he woke up briefly whilst I was trying to shimmy under the duvet beside him. Not that he was especially lucid; he just put an arm around me, mushed his face into my shoulder, then fell asleep again. Mr Andrew Socks, his curiosity piqued by my arrival, padded about on top of the duvet for a bit before finally curling up on my kneecaps.
As much as I loved them both, this made it bloody hard to get to sleep. What with Scorpius pinning down my arms and Mr Andrew Socks sat on my knees, I couldn’t exactly move about and get comfy.
‘Idiot,’ I whispered. Scorpius shifted a bit beside me, freeing up my arms – I finally managed to turn onto my side, Mr Andrew Socks jumping off my knees with an irritated meow.
I could have fallen asleep there and then, but for one last thing. Carefully, I reached over and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt, so he wouldn’t feel like it was strangling him in the night, and then settled back down under the covers and shutting my eyes.
I woke up to find Mr Andrew Sock’s face only a few inches away from my own, and a little sandpapery tongue lapping at the tip of my nose.
‘Morning,’ I said, pushing him off.
Mr Andrew Socks purred by way of response, curling up instead on the empty bit of mattress Scorpius usually inhabited.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Has he gone to work?’
Meow? Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘He did say his shift started at seven…’
Prr, prrr, prrr.
‘Ah well,’ I threw back the duvet, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. ‘Spose I better crack on with my day.’
Prrr, prrr, prrr, meow?
‘Not that I’ve got anything planned.’
‘No, you’re right. I should…’ I found myself staring at the calendar and the little scribble Scorpius had added which indicated that it was Burns Night. ‘Sorry, Andy Socks, what were you saying?’
Prrrrrrr, Mr Andrew Socks said, although a little snide voice in my head translated this into why are you talking to a cat you madwoman, get up and do something useful.
Mr Andrew Socks was right; I should have been doing something useful. I got up, showered, put on an outfit of questionable cleanliness, and then sat at the kitchen table, my wet hair soaking up all the cold in the room and making me shiver. I probably looked like the dictionary definition of down in the dumps, what with my drowned-rat appearance and vague misery at not having been awake to say goodbye to Scorpius.
What could I really do with my day, though? I’d tidied and cleaned the flat to the point where it no longer looked like the sort of flat me and Scorpius would live in, although it still had the same rubbish magazine furniture and the hinges on the cupboard were held together by Spellotape. I had no desire or inclination to pick up the story of Buck, Eugene and Fauna again, and I certainly didn’t just want to spend the day lazing around on my backside.
I decided that what I needed was fresh air, and, once my hair had dried into a frizzy mess, I donned my anorak and grubby trainers and set off down the High Street. Fresh snow had fallen in the night, but the whole place had had a sad look since the Christmas lights had been taken down, and there was a raw edge to the air that made me pull my scarf up over my chin.
Despite this, the beachfront seemed like a nice place to go for a walk; the wind was blowing in off the sea, but the little shops and cafes down by the shore gave me a bit of shelter if I stuck to the back lanes.
I was just passing Thyme & Plaice when something in the window caught my eye. Aside from the tartan and trays of shortbread, I mean, which always caught my eye. It was call-me-Mary-Sue, sitting at a little table in the corner, a letter in her hands, and a very pained look on her face.
Still convinced that she was the spy who’d hit me with a stunning spell not one week earlier, this only seemed to make me happier.
I wasn’t sure whether it was down to our early night or a vast intake of caffeinated drinks, but Scorpius seemed pretty awake when we were finally ready to go to the Burns Supper at the Town Hall that night. We had been promised an evening of haggis, poetry and ceilidh dancing, although I really had no idea what the last one entailed except that it was supposedly violent, especially after large quantities of drink.
It wasn’t like either of us owned especially smart clothes, but we did our best to dress nicely. I even wore a skirt (although there were a few suspect splodges of blue paint on the hem) and Scorpius even tied a little strip of tartan into a makeshift cravat. I mirrored him by tying the tartan scarf he’d got me for Christmas into a little sash across my chest. Then it was on with the anoraks and out into the snowy night, feeling a little more native than we had done ten minutes previously.
We were a little late, the Town Hall already buzzing when we arrived – everyone had been seated at a multitude of little circular tables, and the amount of tartan on show was a wee bit overwhelming. We were hurried over to the table in the corner where we’d been put with Knitting Prentice, Jean C and call-me-Mary-Sue (it seemed we were instrumental in wheedling information out of her) and took our seats.
‘Are you ready for the game?’ Knitting Prentice asked, tipping his empty glass at us.
‘What game?’ call-me-Mary-Sue said.
‘The Burns Night drinking game,’ Knitting Prentice cocked an eyebrow. ‘We always play it.’
‘How do you play?’ call-me-Mary-Sue said.
‘Drink every time someone says the word ‘Burns’,’ he said, casting a hand out at the collection of bottles in the middle of the table. ‘What’s your poison?’
‘Oh, pour me some whiskey,’ she said, with a coquettish giggle. ‘I’m here to celebrate, after all.’
‘Whiskey for me too,’ I said, throwing her an encouraging smile that was as false as her eyelashes.
‘Are you sure?’ Scorpius said, as Knitting Prentice poured the two of us a dram of whiskey each.
‘I can hold my drink,’ I laughed him off. ‘I’ll only take sips.’
‘Suit yourself,’ Scorpius reached for a bottle of butterbeer.
Just then, the hubbub died down, and Jock MacPherson took to the front of the hall, wand held to his neck to amplify his voice.
‘Welcome!’ he called. ‘To the annual New New Elgin Burns Supper! Now, you’ll have had your tea-’
A ripple of laughter passed through the crowd, and everyone at our table took a sip of drink. Not entirely prepared for the strength of the whiskey in my glass, despite only taking the tiniest of sips, I nearly choked, and ended up spluttering through most of Jock’s welcoming speech. I recovered in time for him to ask us all to welcome the haggis in and, as he took up the bagpipes, I shared a quizzical look with Scorpius.
‘What, are they going to sacrifice it in front of us or-’
‘It’s not a real animal, Lucy,’ he said heavily, but was drowned out a moment later as Jock started playing the bagpipes, giving it a somewhat large quantity of welly. Then, from a side door, Surly Kevin emerged, bearing something that looked like a small, steaming brown Quaffle on a plate. Almost at once, the New New Elginers began to clap in time to the music. The ritual was so bizarre that I had to take an extra sip of the whiskey just so I was doing something and didn’t start laughing out loud.
Then began another bizarre ritual as Surly Kevin read out a poem in some strange, unintelligible dialect I could only understand half of; I sat in stupefied silence, clutching my whiskey, until Scorpius nudged me and offered a hurried explanation. The poem was the address to the haggis and, yes, Surly Kevin was talking to the haggis.
I was all ready to judge him until I remembered that I’d talked to my cat that morning – no, I’d held a conversation with my cat that morning.
After the poem had ended, there were five more mentions of the word ‘Burns’ and I had to have my glass refilled before we could all stand and toast Jock and Surly Kevin for their excellent haggis relations skills, although I’d barely understood a moment of it.
As the haggis was plated up with mashed potatoes and turnips (and Scorpius was presented with just the mashed potatoes and turnips, being the token vegetarian), talk at our table turned exclusively to Burns. This was knitting Prentice being a canny lad as per; he had to refill both mine and call-me-Mary-Sue’s glasses three times during the meal, and by the end of it the two of us were giggling away like little girls and Scorpius kept shooting me amused looks over the top of his remarkably non-alcoholic butterbeer.
What with me being a bit tipsy and all, the meal seemed to pass in a matter of minutes – I hardly paid attention to what I was eating, although apparently I liked it. Sadly, I have no recollection of the taste of haggis, which is most unfortunate as I could have drawn on the whole night as inspiration for my post-apocalyptic smut (it’d be a useful way of using up a word count if I made the three points of my love triangle go to a Burns Supper, I thought). Scorpius said I’d enjoyed it and that I'd actually made a point of asking if we could have it at home, but, seeing as he’s a vegetarian and all, I don’t entirely trust him on that matter.
The meal was followed by a speech, and that speech was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Or, continuing the Scottish theme, that speech was the caber that broke the Highland Coo’s back. Jock tapped a wine glass with his pudding spoon, pointed his wand to his neck again, and then stood before us all, beaming as we fell silent. Call-me-Mary-Sue’s giggling took a while to stop, but he ploughed on regardless.
‘Robert Burns was born on the-’
I turned my attention away from Jock to clink glasses with call-me-Mary-Sue as we drank.
‘-twenty-fifth of January in seventeen-fifty nine, only forty-four years after the battle of Culloden and the fall of the Stuarts. Scotland was a rural country then, and the primary occupation was being miserable.’
A smattering of applause went round the room, and Surly Kevin even called out ‘hear, hear!’
‘Poverty was widespread and life was short and hard,’ Jock continued. ‘And the government was pursuing a programme of oppressing the poor and young in support of the rich. Aren’t we lucky things have changed?’
Another burst of applause and laughter went round the room, whilst Jean C leaned in to say ‘he makes the same joke every year. Never gets old.’
‘Governments never change,’ Knitting Prentice said sagely.
‘Burns’ father cared a great deal about the education of his seven children, just as we Scots have always placed great importance in bringing culture and learning to the less developed nations of the world, especially England.’
More applause and laughter, whilst Scorpius, call-me-Mary-Sue and me all sat around and pretended to look offended when the heads swivelled in our direction.
‘And we all know Hogwarts is in Scotland,’ Jock said, approvingly. ‘But Burns was quite punk rock as poets went – one of his chief interests was what you might call, ahem, the company of women, and he was not the sort of man you’d introduce to your wives or daughters. But he was a poet in turbulent times – war, revolution, chaos. Much of the population was revolting, as it still is to this day.’
It was something like our fiftieth chance to sip at our drinks.
‘In Scotland, it was the eighteenth century, the age of Enlightenment. But Burns was a radical, and many of his poems had to be published anonymously.’
‘Bit like you,’ I nudged Scorpius. ‘Radical poet and whatnot.’
‘Drink up,’ he said, sounding amused.
‘These days, he is commemorated with statues and many public buildings, and his song Auld Lang Syne is sang the world over every New Year. Even St Mungo’s hospital has a ward named in his honour. It’s called the burns unit.’
It was a devilish drinking game indeed; as the hall broke out into laughter, our table took a simultaneous swig of our respective drinks.
‘He was a man of the people, with a lifetime antipathy towards the establishment. He wrote his poems in Lowland Scots, making them unintelligible to three of our number,’ Jock nodded in our direction. ‘It’s a pure shame, so it is. And, tonight, we celebrate Burns through the tradition of the Burns Supper, a tradition started not long after he died, still a young man at the age of thirty-seven. Who better for a national hero than a man who died young? A poet, a philosopher, a political radical and, above all, a lover and a friend.
‘So can I ask that you raise your glasses and drink to the immortal memory – the immortal memory.’
I clinked glasses with the table at large, before tipping my head back and draining my glass in one go.
I believe I made my way back to the flat mostly by skipping, with a brief detour to the edge of the pavement to skin my knees on an innocent bin. I’m told I kept moaning at Scorpius for not joining in, although in hindsight, it was probably wise of him to hang back and point out any obstacles in my way. Then again, this is all going by Scorpius’ own documentary evidence of the night, which I’m inclined to suspect might be a biased account.
I evidently decided I was having none of his apologetic fumbling for the keys, and tried to kick down the flat front door myself. Scorpius had to grab me by the collar of my shirt to stop me headbutting the letterbox instead. I distinctly remember him keeping hold of my collar until we were well inside the flat, only letting go of it to turn the kettle on. I parked myself on the sofa, limbs akimbo, hollering for Mr Andrew Socks, only to discover a few minutes later that he was getting comfy in my lap.
‘Got biscuits?’ I said, as Scorpius returned.
He winced. ‘I think you need this,’ he said, handing me a glass of water.
‘No,’ I moaned, shoving it back. A small tidal wave slopped over our clashing hands.
‘You’ll thank me in the morning,’ he said grumpily, putting it on the kitchen table instead.
I was apparently too Tired And Emotional to drink my water. At this point, it seems I deposited Mr Andrew Socks on the floor, stood shakily upright, tugged down my skirt, and charged for Scorpius.
Exhibit A, a small collection of bruises on my thigh, is proof of the moment I wildly overshot and ended up keeling over the kitchen units instead. Exhibit B, a small dent in a cupboard door, was made by my forehead.
Apparently Scorpius’ instant concern was for my wellbeing, although I somehow doubt this, and swapped the borrowed memory for one of him laughing.
My first concern was apparently this: ‘you still owe me a snog.’
‘I do?’ he might have said.
‘You do,’ I might have replied. ‘Gwen commands it.’
At this point, he turned from the sink, grabbed me by the collar again, marched me through to the bedroom, and…I fabricated that bit.
I honestly don’t remember a thing.
a/n: I've wanted to write a full legit Burns Supper/ceilidh chapter for ages but, the more I wrote, the more I realised how nonsensical we Scots really are. There really is no way of coherently explaining how one goes about stripping a willow or even addressing a Haggis. Ergo Lucy getting conveniently blind drunk.
The Burns Supper speech Jock gives is a massively abridged version of the one I gave last year. Sorry for the dig at England, but, of course, the rivalry is all in good spirit. I love you really, England. Sometimes.
Besides, everyone knows that Obi-Wan Kenobi was Scottish.
I'd heartily recommend that you all go and check out the works of Robert Burns, one of Scotland's greatest and most timeless exports. He really was a marvy lad.
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