Chapter 7 : All Along
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- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 5
The captain of the Appleby Arrows was lecturing them about what he perceived as their continued poor performance during practices. Hilarion didn't think they'd been that bad today. Certainly they had won more games so far this season than last year. It was hard to pay attention to Barry Wilford's ranting when their scores were up.
The team was clustered around Wilford in the middle of the pitch, catching their breath after practice and listening to Wilford with varying degrees of concentration. Hilarion, who had been consistent about catching the Snitch at every practice, tuned the captain out completely.
“Hilarion.” One of the Beaters, Gavril Groundsell, nudged him sharply in the ribs.
“You have a visitor.” Gavril was grinning obnoxiously and tilted his head to indicate the main ground entrance to the pitch.
Hilarion turned, expecting to see Lucy behind him, and then felt his stomach contract with fear. It was Roxanne, coming toward him across the pitch, walking slowly in her high heels so as not to sink into the grass.
He wasn't ready for her. He couldn't talk to her without Perry's help.
“Is that who you've been dating?” Gavril asked. “She's hot.”
She was hot, he knew, but now he was nervous as all hell. He was going to have to talk to her without Perry today, ready or not. And after several dates with the scheme working, she was going to expect far more from him than he could possibly manage. This was a disaster.
Suddenly Hilarion found himself wishing that he'd never met Roxanne Weasley, because then he never would have come up with this stupid scheme and set himself up for embarrassment and failure. He had clearly not thought the scheme out fully, since it hadn't occurred to him that he'd eventually have to deal with Roxanne without Perry feeding him lines.
This was very bad.
Wilford left off lecturing them and the team began to disperse, leaving Hilarion alone on the pitch with Roxanne. He took a deep breath and walked over to her.
She smiled at him brightly. “Hi! I had the day free, so I thought I'd come by and surprise you.”
“Oh.” He had no idea what to say. This was even worse than when he'd tried to talk to her before, because now he felt he had to work even harder to keep up and say something interesting after she'd been, in essence, talking to Perry for hours on dates. “Um, hi.”
Mentally he kicked himself for being the thickest swot on the face of the planet.
“I haven't been to the Arrows pitch in about two years,” Roxanne was saying, looking around. “Looks like they did some renovating.”
“They painted the stands,” Hilarion volunteered lamely. He knew there'd been more done to freshen up the ageing stadium, but he hadn't paid much attention.
She looked back at him expectantly, and struck by sudden panic, he blurted out, “Do you want to go walk round the lake?”
Her smile lit up her face, but for some reason it didn't seem as attractive as it had done when they first met. She was still pretty, but it didn't make his stomach flip or his blood race.
“Sounds great,” she agreed.
Relieved, Hilarion started for the exit, and Roxanne took his hand. The walk to the lake felt longer than usual, and his mind completely blanked on conversation. Roxanne was silent the entire way. Hilarion was sure he was breaking out into a cold sweat.
He was starting to forget why he'd wanted to be with her so badly in the first place.
Not that she wasn't pretty and smart and funny, it was just that aside from both of them being good-looking, he knew they had nothing in common. He didn't understand her humor, or the things she was interested in, and quite frankly, she terrified him. Trying to talk to her left him feeling stupid and awkward.
How was he supposed to explain all that to her without looking even more like an idiot than he already felt?
He didn't know how to get out of all this though. She was walking beside him as if she hadn't noticed anything wrong, when Hilarion was starting to feel that everything was wrong.
Keep calm and fly on. He could almost hear his manager's voice in his head. Bergie Marwick was full of little peppy sayings like that whenever one of his players needed a boost. Hilarion knew Bergie actually couldn't care less except for how it affected his bottom line, but sometimes it was nice to pretend.
Keep calm. That was easy for Bergie to say, he never did anything but sit in his office. They stopped beside the lake, and Roxanne let go of his hand to bend down and examine one of the little turtles that spent all their time at lakeside.
“Aren't they sweet,” she said, and an image of Lucy smiling at the turtles flashed in his mind.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Roxanne stood, dismissing the turtles, and turned back to Hilarion. He was watching her almost warily, and she wondered what was wrong with him. He was acting really weird, and she had no idea why. She'd surprised him at practice, yeah, but he couldn't be annoyed about that, could he?
Men were bizarre.
Normally by this point, he should be cracking jokes and making clever remarks. But he was strangely silent. The day felt wrong suddenly, as if she was somewhere she wasn't supposed to be. She didn't like the feeling.
“How was practice?” she asked, not entirely sure what to do.
“Fine,” Hilarion mumbled.
Something was going on, and she didn't know what. Normally at times like that, Roxanne would dig in and get to the bottom of things. She wasn't a reporter for nothing, after all. But nothing about today felt normal, and for once she held back.
“D'you want to go grab something to eat?”
For a moment, she almost thought he looked mildly panicked, but he said, “Um. I can't, we've still got more to do. With the team.”
“Oh. Well then, I suppose I should go, if you're busy.”
He didn't argue. In fact, he looked relieved. Roxanne really did not understand what was going on. She decided to take the bull by the horns, though. She leaned up on tiptoe, put a hand on his shoulder, and pressed her lips against his, gently at first and then more firmly. And she waited for the fireworks.
She kissed him with more art than passion, trying to force the fireworks to appear, but still they stayed away. She didn't understand. If he was the one, if they were in love, why didn't she feel anything when he kissed her?
It was pleasant enough, sure, but there was no fire. It was no different than kissing any other man. A bit of panic fluttered in her belly.
This wasn't right.
Hilarion pulled away, and she saw a flash of confusion in his eyes for a moment, but then he glanced over at the lake, and she started second-guessing herself. What if he'd felt something and she hadn't? What if neither of them felt anything? Should she pretend, manufacture a passion that wasn't there? Or tell him the truth right now? She hadn't expected this.
What the hell, honestly?
“Hilarion!” Gavril Groundsell, the taller of the team's Beaters (Roxanne could identify every player in the league on sight), was jogging toward them. “Wilford wants us in the locker rooms.”
The relief showed on Hilarion's face again, and he turned to his teammate. “I'm coming.”
“I'll just go,” Roxanne volunteered, gesturing vaguely over her shoulder.
“See you later, Roxanne,” he told her, and then they both moved at the same time, so that he left a rather awkward kiss on her cheek.
Roxanne watched the two Quidditch players walk off back to the blue-painted stands around the pitch, and crossed her arms over her chest.
Honestly, the entire day made no sense. Men who acted weird and then ran off, kisses that turned out dull and indifferent... This was not the day she'd thought to have.
She went to Disapparate, heading for her cousin and best friend's flat as she always did when she wanted to talk, but something stopped her just as she started to turn over her shoulder, and she paused.
Something told her going to Molly's wasn't going to help – she couldn't talk to Molly about it. Molly, a professional Quidditch player herself who had met Hilarion any number of times, thought he was a twit and would tell Roxanne to chuck him. Molly wouldn't understand. Who the bloody hell was going to listen to her?
Inspiration struck immediately. Rose. This had all started with Rose, when she had suggested that Roxanne ought to try for more time with Hilarion than just an autograph in a book. Rose would listen. And sometimes Rose was struck with surprisingly brilliant ideas, considering she was the sort of person who wore pink unicorn t-shirts regularly.
Roxanne turned over her shoulder and Disapparated for London.
Rose's boyfriend, Scorpius Malfoy, opened the door a few minutes after Roxanne knocked. He looked a bit surprised to see her, and a little guilty. She wondered if she'd caught him and Rose at what her mother might have called an 'inopportune time'. Rose was nowhere to be seen though.
Scorpius waved her in. “I just woke Rose, so she'll probably need a minute before she makes it out here. Tea?”
Rose's sleeping habits were notorious in the family. It was well known that she didn't wake up until noon. Roxanne realized she'd come over quite early, not even ten in the morning. “Tea would be great.”
He made tea quickly, and Roxanne watched him bustling around the kitchen. He was very efficient with the tea, probably because he did all the cookery and other household duties, since Rose was completely inept at that sort of thing. The tea, when he brought it to her, was in a pink floral printed teacup, and as he returned to the kitchen to put away the tea leaves, she noted his hair was tied back in a ponytail with a pink elastic band.
Scorpius was an odd guy. But then, only an odd guy would put up with Rose, who had bypassed odd in favor of completely mental.
Rose stumbled out from their bedroom then, her red curls wild, wearing – as expected – a pink unicorn t-shirt with her pajama pants, and sat down heavily in the chair opposite Roxanne, covering a yawn with one hand.
“I think I've made a huge mistake,” Roxanne told her cousin, setting down her teacup.
Rose blinked at her, her eyes still heavy with sleep. “What?”
“I...” Roxanne almost couldn't bring herself to say it after all this time thinking they were perfect for each other, but she had to tell someone, and Rose seemed to have landed in the position of someone today. “I don't think Hilarion is The One after all. He doesn't seem to be as smart as he pretends to be.”
“Most men aren't,” Rose said.
That was easy for her to say, she'd had the same boyfriend for over ten years. She even lived with him. They were quite settled, or at least as settled as Rose was ever likely to get.
Scorpius rolled his grey eyes at Rose, and then said to Roxanne, “Maybe he just doesn't think the way women do. Most men don't,” he added, obviously directing this last bit at his girlfriend.
Roxanne tried to explain it, to herself as much as to her cousin. “He's so wonderful sometimes, we just seem to click, and then other times it's like he's a completely different person. It doesn't make any sense. Last weekend he took me to this lovely restaurant in Appleby, and we had such a fantastic time, we talked for hours, but then when we left the restaurant, it was like the Hilarion I'd just eaten dinner with was gone.”
“Maybe there was something on his mind, that's all,” Scorpius suggested.
She turned to face him, ignoring Rose, who was yawning hugely and not making any contributions to the conversation. “Maybe he wasn't having a good time at dinner after all.”
“Maybe it had nothing do with you at all,” said Scorpius in a surprisingly gentle voice. “He might have just been a bit stressed.”
“Maybe,” Roxanne said. She chewed on her thumbnail, thinking of his behavior when she'd turned up to the team training session. “He was just so different on the way home, it was strange. I stopped by the Arrows' pitch this morning, and he was acting very odd. Nervous, too, when he saw me.”
“You ought to talk to him about it,” Scorpius told her. “Ask him what's going on. Men don't act like that unless something is up. We're not that complicated, really.”
This cheered Roxanne up considerably. It likely had nothing to do with her, as Scorpius had said. Maybe something was wrong at work – the Arrows had done poorly last season, maybe he was worrying about that. But he was fine at dinner, said a voice in the back of her head. He didn't act weird until afterwards. She brushed it off. “I'll talk to him. Thanks.”
Scorpius nodded as she stood up, and Rose got up as well, still looking half-asleep. “Sorry about Hilarion,” Rose managed, and Roxanne tried not to laugh at her cousin.
“Thanks, Rose. This really helped me, I think. Cleared my head a bit. Sorry to bother you so early, I know you never get up before noon.”
“That's all right,” Rose told her with a grin. “I'm going back to bed as soon as you leave.”
“Right.” Roxanne turned to give Scorpius a wink as she left. He smiled at her.
Roxanne banged on Hilarion's door. She'd sat at a pub in Appleby most of the afternoon, waiting for the Arrows to finish their training, and now she was as ready as she was ever going to get for a confrontation. Whatever he was up to, she was going to bloody well find out what it was. She wanted Hilarion back, the Hilarion she'd gotten to know on their dates, the one who laughed and understood her and said wonderful, clever things.
The team was done training for the day, and Roxanne had two shots of whiskey to fuel her on her way to Hilarion's flat, which fortunately was not far from the Arrows training pitch. Two shots of whiskey was enough to give her some liquid courage, but also enough to make her think twice about Apparating further than a mile or two.
He opened the door, and she could see on his face that he wasn't pleased to see her. He looked nervous again, like he had that morning by the lake. She barged past him into the flat without waiting for an invitation.
“We need to talk,” she told him.
“Um. Okay.” He followed her as she made her way into the living room and stopped in the center of the room. Neither of them sat down.
Roxanne frowned as she wondered what to open with. My cousin's boyfriend said men don't act weird like you've been doing unless something is up. Somehow that didn't have the ring of authority. She settled for, “What is going on? Why were you acting so different today?”
His body tensed, and the instant alertness told Roxanne she'd been right. Something was up. “What d'you mean?”
She threw caution to the wind and just had out with it. “It's like you're two different people. One day we're talking for hours, and the next you can hardly get a word out to me. If you're messing me about, fair warning, my dad could probably make even someone as famous as you disappear forever.”
Looking alarmed, Hilarion blurted out, “I wasn't messing you about.”
“Then what are you doing? Because I don't understand you. You act so... so weird sometimes. I know something is up, so just tell me.”
He seemed to wilt immediately under her glare. “I never should've done this. I just... I wanted you to like me, and I knew you wouldn't if – but I didn't mean it to be a lie, it just came out that way, and I knew it was a mistake and I-”
Roxanne scowled. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“I, um, I had a friend who... helped me. To talk to you. I'm not good at talking to women,” he went on in a rush. “I say stupid things, and you're so smart, and I didn't know what you were talking about most of the time so-”
She put her hands to her temples. “A friend who helped you? Helped you what?”
Hilarion looked so worried now, he was nearly incoherent. “Told me what to say. To you. He listened in and I said what he told me to say, so that you'd, um, so you'd like me...”
“That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard,” she snapped. “You had a friend tell you what to say? None of that was really you?”
“Just the last four dates,” he explained. He hadn't even blinked at being called stupid, though he still looked worried. “Before that, it was just me.”
Now that she thought about it, he had seemed to grow wittier the longer they dated. But she'd thought he was just shy and was opening up to her. Those first dates, though, that had been the real man, Hilarion Winston-Fisher. Not the man she'd thought she'd gotten to know.
“Why would you do that?”
He shrugged helplessly. “I wanted you to like me, and to think I was smart like you are.”
She couldn't think of a response to that statement that wouldn't sound cruel, and only shook her head. It had worked – she had thought he was smart, and had liked him for it in ways she had never liked him before when she'd been stupidly infatuated with his good looks and his celebrity. But it seemed that it hadn't really been him. It had been someone else, and not knowing the identity of that faceless stranger she'd really been dating was intolerable.
Someone had talked to her for hours, someone wonderful, and she damned well wanted to know who that person was.
“Who was it?” she demanded. “Who helped you?”
He shook his head. “I promised I wouldn't tell. Just a friend.”
Roxanne stared at him, her arms crossed tightly in front of her, and she wanted very badly to kick him. It seemed, however, that she didn't know this man at all, and kicking him seemed wrong somehow now that he was someone else entirely from the Hilarion she'd thought she knew. “You tell me who it was right now, Hilarion.”
“I can't. I promised.”
She had to stop herself grinding her teeth, and turned away from him to stare around his flat, trying to control the urge to kick him or shout at him. There was evidence of Quidditch all around the room, trophies and plaques on the wall, and photos of his team. And beside one of the photos of the Appleby Arrows was another photo, older than the rest, framed and propped against a shelf among photos of Hilarion's parents: Hilarion and Perry, looking like they were fresh out of Hogwarts.
As soon as she saw the smiling faces in the photo, it hit her. The realization dawned in an instant, and all the frustration and anger drained out of her. She knew exactly who his anonymous friend was, and everything clicked into place. Who else would he possibly have turned to but his best friend?
“Weasleys are full of surprises,” she whispered, remembering Hilarion's voice parroting that phrase, something she'd said to Perry.
“What?” said Hilarion, obviously confused.
But she couldn't speak. Her mind was spinning. All those conversations over lovely dinners... It had been him all along, not Hilarion. It had been Hilarion's face, but it had been Perry she'd been talking to, Perry she'd been falling in love with.
She should have known. The way Hilarion had phrased things, he spoke the same way Perry did. She hadn't really thought of it aside from a passing notice that the two men were alike. But they weren't, really. It had all been Perry.
Perry's words, making her laugh and think and feel. She remembered coffee with him, dancing with him, the way she felt when she was with him. Oh, she was a complete idiot for not realizing it...
“Are you angry?” Hilarion's voice was still worried, and she turned around to see him frowning in concern, his expression both nervous and ashamed.
But her heart was too full of the dawning realization that she had fallen in love with Perry to have any room left for anger with anyone. “No,” she said blankly, feeling a bit dazed. “I don't think we should see each other any more, Hilarion.”
He nodded slowly, looking rather relieved to be chucked, probably because she wasn't shouting at him. “I figured you'd say that. I'm really sorry, Roxanne, I just-”
“Hilarion,” she interrupted sharply. She didn't want to waste time listening to him apologize. She didn't want to waste any more time on him at all. She wanted – no, she needed to see Perry.
His eyes widened at her tone. “Um. Yes?”
Perry's flat was larger than she'd expected, and in a better neighborhood. His lack of obscurity must have paid off, she thought a little wildly as she knocked on the door, her heart beating erratically.
It seemed to take forever before the door swung open, and there he was, dressed in another brightly colored tie and shirt, and a pair of striped trousers. He managed to make clashing look interesting. He must not have shaved since she'd last seen him, because his cheeks were covered in a rough, reddish stubble again. She decided she liked that look on him. His face seemed different to her now, though his features hadn't changed. It was as if she'd only seen him before without glasses and was now seeing him properly for the first time.
And he looked very handsome, in an interesting way that Hilarion's perfection didn't compare to suddenly.
He looked surprised but pleased to see her, smiling widely. “Roxanne?”
For once in her life, her voice failed her, and she just stood there for a moment staring at him, unable to speak or move.
His smile faded a bit, and something came into his eyes, a flash of longing that Roxanne recognized at once. It cemented everything she'd been feeling since Hilarion had confessed, and broke her out of her frozen speechlessness.
She took a step forward and put her hands up to his scruffy cheeks and kissed him.
He reacted immediately, his arms wrapping around her to pull her closer, and she swayed against him, relieved and elated that she'd found him. Here, finally, was a kiss with fire. He kissed her as if he'd been starving for her touch, and she couldn't breathe, couldn't think, could only feel a glorious euphoria at the feel of his lips on hers and his arms crushing her against him.
This was the way she'd always wanted to be kissed, and never had been.
When they finally broke apart, both of them panting a bit, Perry breathed out, “Hell's bells. Roxanne...” His hands slid to her waist, and he leaned down to rest his forehead against hers. “Roxanne, what are you doing?”
“I know what you did for Hilarion,” she told him without preamble.
His eyes grew wary, but he didn't pull away from her. “You know?”
She nodded and kissed him again. His response was less desperate this time, but no less passionate.
“Wait,” he said after a few moments. “Hilarion, you know – I was only trying to help out a friend.”
“I know,” she told him. She thought it was wonderful that he would do so much for his friend, but she couldn't find the words to tell him. Not yet. Not when he was holding her tightly.
“I didn't want to do it, I didn't like lying to you, but he's my best friend. I had to help him.”
“I know,” she said again.
Perry regarded her in silence, then said, “You don't seem mad about this.”
She was sure from the way he had just kissed her that he'd wanted her all along and set aside his own feelings for his friend's happiness. How could she be mad at a man who did something so selfless?
“I probably should be,” she said thoughtfully. “I might be later. But not with you.”
“I've loved you all along, Roxanne,” Perry said then, his face serious. His hands tightened on her waist. “I fell in love with you as soon as I met you.”
Roxanne's heart skipped a beat. “You should have told me.”
“You wouldn't have listened.” His lips curved into a wry half-smile. “You wanted Hilarion.”
“I was an idiot. I want you.” And she put a hand to the back of his neck to pull him down for another kiss.
He hauled her up against him, backing up a few steps into his flat, and kicked the door shut behind them.
A/N: It took me so long to get the last chapter posted, I figured I'd double up. :) Also, this chapter was totally emotionally satisfying to write so I wanted to share it. lol. And again, a scene we saw before from Rose's perspective in "A Weirder Shade of Midnight" - so if you've read that, you know Scorpius looks vaguely guilty because he just stashed Lenny (drug-addled accused murderer whom Rose is harboring) in the closet.
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