Chapter 6 : Gesture of Love
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- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 3
Hilarion found himself once again at Flourish and Blotts on his day off from team practice. This time, however, Lucy didn't seem to be there. He looked around the bookstore with a sting of disappointment.
He'd had a half-formed notion of speaking to Lucy about her cousin. His plan with Perry had worked perfectly, but left him feeling rather ill at ease and vaguely dissatisfied. Lucy was the first person that had come to his mind to talk to. He couldn't explain everything to her, of course – though she could probably keep a secret, it seemed somehow wrong to ask her to keep this one – but talking to Lucy made him feel better, in any case.
He caught sight of her co-worker, Colwyn, among the stacks and went over to question the man. Lucy had said she got along famously with him, unlike her somewhat antagonistic relationship with the store manager.
Colwyn looked rather impressed to see him. “Bloody hell. Hilarion Winston-Fisher!”
“Uh, yeah, that's me,” he said uncomfortably. “Is Lucy working today?”
Colwyn shook his head. “No, it's her day off. Just me and Mr. Furmage here today.”
Hilarion's face fell. He didn't know where Lucy lived to owl her. This probably made him a bad friend, he realized guiltily. He'd got used to her being in the bookstore whenever he went to look for her, it hadn't occurred to him to get her home address. “Would you, uh, mind giving me her address?” he asked, hoping for once his celebrity might work in his favor. Probably giving out employees' home addresses was against the rules.
Colwyn gave him a knowing look, which Hilarion didn't entirely understand. “Yeah, sure. Anything you need, mate.”
Hilarion took the address Colwyn scrawled on a scrap of parchment, and went outside to Disapparate. He glanced over his shoulder as he left, and found Colwyn giving him a thumbs up and a big grin.
Nonplussed, Hilarion turned over his shoulder and headed for Lucy's.
She lived on the outskirts of London in a small and ancient-looking building that had been divided into six flats with a courtyard in the center. The wrought-iron gate stood open, overgrown with ivy that crawled up the old stone facade of the building. It was a rather enchanting place, and he thought it suited Lucy quite well.
Lucy's flat was on the ground level, with a small table set out front next to a lawn chair, both of white wicker, the chair covered with a fluffy sand-colored cushion. Plants flowered in pots of various size all around. The scene reminded Hilarion of holidays spent at the beach. Smiling to himself, he knocked at the door.
Lucy, wearing a set of purple, well-worn robes, opened the door a moment later, only to go wide-eyed and squeak, “Hilarion?”
He realized, somewhat belatedly, that it probably wasn't very polite to stop by unannounced to a home one had never been invited to before. “Um, hi Lucy. Hope you don't mind me coming over...”
She recovered quickly and gave him a smile, smoothing back her unruly curls. “Of course not. Come in.”
He stepped past her and into the little flat, noting the floral scent of her as he passed. Her hair was damp and her face clean of any make-up; he must have caught her just after a shower. The thought made his body heat up, and he tried to ignore it. This was Roxanne's cousin. He had no business thinking of her naked and wet.
“Do you want some tea?” Lucy asked as she closed the door. She ran a hand over her hair again, and he wondered if she was nervous.
“Tea would be great,” he said firmly.
She smiled and went to the kitchen, aiming her wand at a kettle on the stove. It began to boil immediately, whistling cheerfully as Lucy pulled down teacups and a box of tea from the shelves above the sink.
Hilarion nodded. “My favorite, actually.”
“Mine too.” She seemed more at ease as she went through the familiar ritual of preparing the tea.
Lucy tried to hide the trembling in her fingers as she made tea. He was here, in her flat, smiling at her in that sweet way he had, and she felt she could hardly breathe, hardly think. She looked away from him, down at the steeping tea, and told herself to calm down.
He couldn't be here for her, not really. He probably wanted to talk about Roxanne. But she hadn't told him where she lived, so he must have gone out of his way to find out. Her heart skipped a beat.
“How did you find out where I live?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
“I stopped by Flourish and Blotts, and when you weren't there, I asked Colwyn for your address. I hope that's all right.”
A flush of pleasure went through her that he'd sought her out, and she tried to ignore it. He fancied Roxanne, she told herself firmly. “It's fine. You can come over any time.”
Hilarion's face relaxed into a smile. “Did you have plans for today?”
A romance novel and a cup of hot chocolate probably didn't count as plans, Lucy reckoned. “Not really.”
“Want to have lunch with me?”
Lucy bit her lip as she poured a bit of milk in her tea, giving herself a moment before answering. She did want to have lunch with him, because she wished she could spend every spare minute with him, but she didn't want to torment herself with his friendship and her unrequited infatuation with him. What she really needed was a chance for some distance. Every time she thought she was getting a bit, Hilarion turned up unexpectedly and reminded her of why she was falling for him. Lunch probably wasn't a good idea, but she couldn't bring herself to say no.
“We can make it a picnic. There's a little lake by the Arrows training pitch,” Hilarion added gamely, seeing her hesitation. “There are turtles and dragonflies, and sometimes you see knarls in the rushes.”
She'd really never stood a chance, she realized. “All right, that sounds fun.”
After Lucy had ducked into the bathroom briefly to make herself more presentable (Hilarion had already seen her without make-up, but she didn't like the thought of being out in public with him without doing something with her hair and face), they headed into Lincolnshire. The village of Appleby wasn't large enough to boast much in the way of markets, so Hilarion took her to the usual places the team preferred for their shopping in the nearby, larger town of Scunthorpe.
Hilarion had always preferred this area, as it was almost entirely populated by Muggles, so his fame was meaningless here. The Scunthorpe markets teemed with people on a sunny weekend morning, but none of them were interested in him as he and Lucy bought Cornish pasties so hot he could hardly touch the wrappers, apple tarts baked crisp and golden, and Stilton cheese with crusty bread. Hilarion grabbed a bottle of wine as well after seeing Lucy examining the Cotes Du Rhone wines.
He found he was enjoying himself far more than he'd expected, just doing a simple domestic chore like shopping for a picnic. Lucy was relaxing company; she was easy to talk to, she listened to everything he said – something he had not often experienced, particularly from women – and she smiled frequently. He felt easy in her company, almost as if they'd known each other for years.
It was funny how quickly they'd slipped into that sort of friendship, he thought cheerfully as they made their way from Scunthorpe to the outskirts, such as they were, of Appleby. The Arrows team pitch stood tall above the rolling fields, protected by Muggle-repelling charms and painted in the pale blue of the team. Silver arrows festooned the building anywhere they could be fastened to. Hilarion was quite loyal to his team, but he did think the effect was a bit garish.
Lucy seemed impressed, however, by the small lake on the team's grounds. Hilarion was pleased to see the turtles were sunning themselves. Lucy smiled when she saw them.
“As promised,” she noted, and then conjured a bright yellow blanket for their picnic.
“Did you have to choose yellow?” Hilarion asked, setting the parcel of food in the center of the basket. “The Wasps are the enemy team for us, you know.”
She rolled her eyes. “I'd forgotten. I don't watch much Quidditch,” she admitted then, sitting down quite gracefully on the blanket, her robes swirling around her. “The yellow just happens. Most of what I conjure is yellow. I'm not sure why.”
“Probably because you've a sunny nature or some such,” Hilarion remarked, sitting cross-legged beside her. “I didn't get very high marks in that sort of thing, though, so I really don't know why either.”
Lucy investigated the contents of the bag. “Those pasties should be edible by now. I don't know why they serve them so hot, no one could possibly eat them.”
“Cooling charm,” Hilarion suggested.
“It was a Muggle shop, they couldn't possibly expect customers to use a charm.” She smiled. “But we can use one if we need to.”
They ate in companionable silence for a while, watching the turtles nap and the dragonflies dance, drinking the ruby wine from conjured glasses which did, upon closer inspection, appear rather yellow.
Eventually Lucy brushed the crumbs from her hands and leaned back, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Thank you for lunch. This was definitely a lovely idea.”
“Thanks. I'm glad you came.”
Lucy tried not to watch him as he poured another glass of wine for each of them. She was quite suddenly very aware that they were alone and having what had turned out to be a romantic picnic lunch. Hilarion looked very handsome in the midday light, the sun shining on his golden hair. He only thinks of you as a friend, she told herself firmly. There was no use daydreaming.
He was probably thinking of Roxanne.
Unable to resist, she slid a look his way. He was watching the turtles plop into the water with a slight, almost absent-minded smile. Her heart lurched a bit; he was so different than she ever would have guessed a professional Quidditch player might be. Gentle, sweet, and slow to speak, he was very soothing to be around. It was hard to worry about anything when Hilarion was next to her, smiling and being thoughtful. He'd bought a bottle of her favorite wine without any hinting on her part. She'd never had a boyfriend manage that before.
But he was Roxanne's boyfriend, not hers. Lucy mentally consigned her cousin straight to hell for being better-looking than she was, then promptly felt guilty because Roxanne was, after all, her cousin. It was just that it was hard not to despair a bit about one's self when the perfect man sat at one's side, feeding one rich foods and expensive wines and yet being in love with one's cousin.
She put all thought of that firmly to the back of her mind. Today she wouldn't think of that. Today she would only enjoy his company.
Hilarion stretched out flat on his back on the yellow blanket, his hands resting on his stomach and eyes on the clouds overhead. Lucy only hesitated a moment before following suit, though she kept a bit of distance between them as they lay side by side.
She closed her eyes for a few heartbeats, then turned her face to see Hilarion had also turned to look at her. They smiled at each other when their eyes met, without conscious thought.
Lucy wanted very badly for him to lean forward and kiss her, but she knew he wasn't even thinking of it. He liked Roxanne, who was prettier, smarter, thinner, taller – just everything Lucy wasn't.
Pushing her feelings to the back of her mind, she tried to fill the silence. “Sometimes my sister and I lay like this on the hill behind my parents' house. And we talk, about everything. We've done it since we were children.”
Hilarion smiled again. “Sounds nice.”
“It is.” Lucy turned her face back to the sky, smiling. “She's the best. We've always been very close. It's just the two of us, me and Molly.”
“Your sister scares me,” he admitted, and Lucy let out a chuckle.
“I won't tell you what she said about you, then.”
“No, don't.” He closed his eyes. “Okay, tell me.”
She laughed again. “It wasn't very nice. Molly has a mean streak sometimes. Dad says she gets it from Uncle George.”
Hilarion wasn't distracted by this aside. “She said I was thick, didn't she.” He sighed. “She's not the first. I've heard it before.”
“I'm sorry,” said Lucy, although she wasn't certain if she was apologizing for bringing it up or for what Molly had said.
“It's all right. I know it's true,” he told her quite calmly, and she sat up abruptly and poked him in the ribs with two fingers.
“Don't say that. It isn't true.”
“I'm not a genius, Luce-”
“That doesn't mean you're stupid. Just... Don't say that about yourself.”
He grabbed her hand before she could jab him in the ribs again, and the feel of his warm, callused hand around hers unnerved her. It wasn't fair. Bloody Roxanne. She took a deep breath and then pulled her hand free, patted his hand gently, and told him, “I'm no genius either, Hilarion. But I'm not stupid. And you're not either.”
“I never did well in school,” he pointed out, as if defending his thickness. “I don't know about history and politics and literature and all that.”
“Only because you're not interested in that kind of thing,” Lucy said firmly. “I'm not either. So if that makes you stupid, then I suppose I am as well. Simple isn't the same thing as stupid, so stop saying it is. Simple isn't anything to be ashamed of. Most people wish they could live simple lives, and be able to take pleasure just in sitting quietly and watching the turtles in the pond. I think it's nice. I like simple.”
She was saying too much. Shut up, she told herself, and closed her mouth before she could give herself away entirely.
Hilarion stared at her so long she thought she might squirm, and then he said quietly, “Thanks, Lucy.”
She didn't know how the conversation had gotten to this point, but the strength of her feelings threatened to get the better of her, so she laid back down on the blanket beside him in silence.
After a few minutes, Hilarion held up a hand, and Lucy slid hers into his grasp.
They passed another hour at the lake, and when Hilarion left Lucy at her flat, both of them were relaxed and happy. Hilarion whistled as he left the courtyard of Lucy's building, thinking of how much fun she was to talk to. She'd looked so fierce telling him not to call himself thick. He wondered what her sister had said about him exactly, but found that for once he didn't even mind that it hadn't been anything good. Molly Weasley and all the Harpies could call him an idiot all they wanted, because apparently Lucy would tell them off for doing so. He was grinning as he Disapparated.
It wasn't until he got home that he realized he'd forgotten entirely about Roxanne while he was with Lucy.
Roxanne slid into the seat next to Perry and nudged him in the ribs. “Thanks for the invite,” she said as Perry held his coffee cup away, having nearly spilled it in his own lap at her arrival.
“I won't be doing it again if you make me spill hot coffee in my lap,” he told her.
She peered down into his lap. “You seem fine to me. High and dry.” She tossed her purse onto the table and waved to the waitress.
Perry checked her out as surreptitiously as possible while she was distracted getting the waitress's attention. Her hair was pulled up into a knot of curls on top of her head, a few escaping the updo to trail down her slender neck. She looked flushed and happy, as if she'd recently been laughing quite hard. It was a good look on her.
He drew his attention back to his coffee as she turned back to him. Unwinding the houndstooth scarf from around her neck, she plopped it on the table next to her purse and sat back in her seat, giving him a merry smile.
“You look well. I see you shaved.”
Perry rubbed a hand over his jaw. “I do that now and then, just to screw with people. How's everything going with you, Roxanne?”
“Oh fine,” she said in blasé tones, then turned at the arrival of the waitress to place an order for a pot of tea. After the waitress had bustled off, Roxanne went on, “I submitted an article to Transfiguration Today, and the editor says it'll be published next month.”
“That's great,” Perry exclaimed.
“Don't sound so surprised, I do write other things than fluff pieces, you know,” she shot back at him.
“I thought you wanted to write about Quidditch.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Is Transfiguration Today adding a sports column?”
“I wish,” Roxanne said with feeling. “No, I like to branch out. Someday I'll get in writing for the Prophet about Quidditch, it's just that they don't feel like they need another sports writer, and my aunt Ginny doesn't seem to want to retire any time soon, so I've got to do something.”
“I'd almost forgot your aunt Ginny was a writer too,” said Perry. “She's the one married to Harry Potter, isn't she?”
Roxanne nodded. “Having a famous uncle is hell on one's obscurity,” she remarked, winking at him.
Perry grinned. She was adorable when she winked and joked around. Her dad owned a joke shop, so probably having a great sense of humor was genetic. She was damned appealing, or possibly Perry just found sarcasm in a beautiful woman damned appealing.
Same difference, really.
The tea arrived, and Roxanne busied herself preparing a cup. The steam wafted over to Perry, and though he loved coffee, he thought her fragrant tea smelled better today.
“How's your song coming along?” she asked, taking a sip gingerly.
He shrugged. The song had started out a simple, folksy melody that would have been great for Cornish Dan and his band, but it had turned into a mournful love song for Roxanne. Perry didn't always write lyrics, but lyrics to this song had come easily, and if anyone saw those lyrics it would be very obvious who the song was for. But he couldn't tell her any of that. She was Hilarion's girl.
You didn't hit on your mate's girl. And you damn well didn't write her love songs.
“It's not finished yet,” he hedged.
“I want to hear it when you finish it,” she told him sternly. “I'm sure it's wonderful.”
Perry shrugged and picked up her teacup, taking a sip. He didn't want to talk about the song. “This is excellent tea.”
She rolled her eyes and took the cup back. “You should have ordered some for yourself, then. This is my bloody tea. Lord, you're as bad as my brother. He always steals my food.”
Perry tried to stifle his irritation at her implicitly relegating him to brotherly status. “I met your brother, actually,” he said. “I rather liked him.”
“Did you? Weren't you at Hogwarts with him? You must've seen him around then.”
“He wasn't in my year. I don't remember him.”
“Well, Hilarion is four years older than me, so yeah, Fred would've been two years below you both.” Roxanne sipped her tea and then asked, “Where did you meet him?”
“Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Stopped in to look around and he popped right up behind me.” Perry wasn't about to tell her what he'd been looking for, but there was no reason not to tell her he'd been there. “He reminds me of you.”
“Then you didn't talk to him very long,” Roxanne said dryly.
“Oh no, don't tell me you're one of those jaded little sisters who think everything their brothers do is ridiculous?” He gave her a teasing grin.
“Fred is ridiculous. He's actually a big swot. Someday he'll take over running the shop for my dad and keep Weasley's Wizard Wheezes going through another generation of Weasleys.” Roxanne held up her teacup briefly in silent salute to her brother. “Dad is so pleased.”
Perry sensed something more underneath her flip comments. “Is that what he wanted to do, then? Run the joke shop?”
“Yes, of course. He loves it in there. Well,” Roxanne amended thoughtfully, “sometimes he does wish he could run off and work with our cousin Rose, but usually if Rose lets him tag along he runs straight back to the joke shop.”
“What does Rose do?” Perry asked, taking a sip of his coffee.
He choked a bit on his coffee. “You're joking. Your cousin is a bounty hunter?”
“Weasleys are full of surprises,” she told him wisely.
“But not your brother. He's going into the family business. Didn't you want to go into the family business?”
“I am,” she pointed out. “I want to write about Quidditch like my aunt Ginny. My parents both played Quidditch at school, too. Quidditch runs on both sides of the family.”
“So you come by it honestly,” Perry joked, and then turned serious, or as serious as he ever got. “And that's really what you want to do? Follow in your aunt's footsteps like your brother is following in your dad's?”
She looked thoughtful for a while, sipping her tea, and then said slowly, “Sometimes, when you're a Weasley, that's all you get to be. A Weasley. People forget there's more going on than the Weasley. We've got other genes, you know. My mum never wanted to write, and Dad only ever cared about his joke shop. So by becoming a writer, I'm striking out on my own, even if it's only toward where my aunt is. It's different for my Weasley family.” She grinned then. “I think, with how many Weasleys there are, you'd be hard-pressed to find a job no Weasley has ever done before. What about you? Is your family musical?”
Perry shook his head. “I'm striking out on my own, too. My mum owns a little bakery out in Sussex, and my dad is a potioneer who does bit parts in Shakespearean plays in the summer. They're only a little artistic and bohemian. I took it to the next level.”
Roxanne grinned. “Is that why your dad gave you a terrible name, because he does summer theatre?”
He shook a finger at her. “Don't think I'm going to slip up and reveal my full name to you. Sneakier people than you have tried that for years and years.”
“Maybe I'll do some research on you and find it out for myself,” she said smugly.
Perry wondered briefly if her being interested enough in him to dig up his real name meant that interest might extend into romance, and then squashed the hope immediately. Inviting her out for coffee probably hadn't been a good idea. He didn't know why he was torturing himself this way. She was beautiful, clever, and sharp-witted, and he wanted to haul her into his lap and kiss her until she looked flushed and happy again as she had done when she'd arrived. But he couldn't do that, because she was Hilarion's girl, and tonight Hilarion was taking her out and Perry would have to torture himself even more by helping his best friend make Roxanne fall in love with him.
This had definitely been a bad idea. But he couldn't really regret it.
“Do your worst,” he said, trying to hang on to their banter and not kiss her senseless. “If you find out my name, I'll have to stop spinning straw into gold, though.”
“I don't think Perry is short for Rumplestiltskin, so I am undeterred,” Roxanne said loftily.
“You never know, it might be.”
“Well, I could use the gold.”
“I'll spin you some after I finish the song,” he promised dryly, and she chuckled.
Roxanne drained the rest of her tea and gathered her scarf and purse off the table. “Thanks for the company. I've got to dash, though, I'm technically at work right now.”
“Are you? You looked so much like you were here.”
She laughed and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek briefly, slinging her purse over her shoulder as she stood. “Bye Perry, thanks for the tea.”
He waved to her as she left, then let out a deep sigh and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He was an idiot.
Hilarion was already at the restaurant when Roxanne arrived. He was quite punctual for a celebrity, she reflected, pleased by this evidence of his responsible nature. Molly had been dead wrong about him. Roxanne had always thought it was more likely that Molly just hadn't cared for Hilarion for some reason and so exaggerated his bad qualities. He wasn't nearly as thick as she'd always said, for starters.
He nearly jumped to his feet when he saw her. Ever the gentleman, she thought, feeling quite carefree as she took her seat across from him.
Hilarion was not as carefree. He could feel his palms sweating a bit, and his nerves felt stretched. Though the scheme with Perry feeding him lines had worked well last time, he was anxious about using it again, sure he'd be caught out at any second. But he didn't think he had any other options, unfortunately.
“Calm down,” Perry's voice said in his ear. “Seriously, you're beginning to make me nervous watching you sweat.”
Hilarion drew a slow breath while Roxanne ordered wine and a complicated dinner from the rather pretentious menu. He didn't actually like this restaurant, but it was one his previous dates had always been enthralled with. The menu contained a great deal of items he either couldn't identify or couldn't pronounce, and so he always wound up eating steak here, because at least that was one thing he could be certain what it was. He found himself thinking wistfully of the Cornish pasties he and Lucy had eaten yesterday.
Lucy would probably hate this place, he thought.
Roxanne, however, seemed to enjoy it immensely. When her dinner arrived, she tucked into her food – he had no idea what it was, but it was arranged very artistically on her plate – with gusto, and while he still felt relief at being out with a woman who actually ate, something about the evening nagged at him. It wasn't right, and he didn't know why.
But the conversation went smoothly, thanks to Perry, and Hilarion tried to ignore the voice at the back of his head telling him he ought not be here with this woman. She was so beautiful, and so smart, it had to be right.
The small band at the back of the restaurant was playing, and by the time they'd both finished eating, couples were beginning to get up and dance. Hilarion caught Roxanne watching them over his shoulder and recognized the look on her face. His stomach sank. He was nimble enough in the air, but he was not graceful on solid ground.
Perry evidently recognized Roxanne's expression as well, because his voice came again in Hilarion's ear, sounding both amused and exasperated. “Ask her to dance, you idiot.”
He nearly opened his mouth to argue with Perry, but remembered just in time and merely gave a tiny shake of his head, hoping his friend could see it.
Roxanne turned her full attention back to him as the band began a new song. “Want to dance, Hilarion?”
He hadn't thought his stomach could sink any lower, but it did. “Two left feet,” he mumbled, embarrassed.
She seemed mildly disappointed, but signalled the waiter for dessert instead of pushing him further, to Hilarion's relief.
“That's all right. Not everyone is a dancer,” Roxanne told him. He'd looked almost ashamed to admit he couldn't dance, she'd thought, and it seemed the kind thing to do to reassure him. Men, in her experience, required a great deal of reassurance on any number of topics. “My cousin Victoire, she never liked to dance. She did learn though, for her wedding, to surprise her husband. Teddy nearly fell over from shock when she knew how to waltz.”
“Weasleys are full of surprises,” Hilarion said, and she laughed.
They left the restaurant after Roxanne had finished her elaborately delicious but quite tiny slice of cake, and Hilarion walked her home, Disapparating at her side as she led the way to her flat. He seemed less at ease as they left the restaurant, and even more so after Apparition. Perhaps he didn't like the feeling, she thought. Plenty of witches and wizards didn't care to Apparate.
The walk to her door seemed shorter than usual. She unlocked her flat, waving her wand down the length of the door, and turned to Hilarion. It seemed too soon to ask him to come inside, but she was sure he was going to kiss her.
And sure enough, he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. It was shorter than she'd wanted, and more gentle than she'd expected. Before she had a chance to respond or even to think about how it felt, it was over, and he was leaving.
It hadn't been the sort of kiss she'd imagined.
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