chapter fifteen - mandrakes and post owls
It felt strange to go to bed so early that Tuesday night, but we were promised by Tarquin and Gwen that it would do us all good. When we unfolded the sofa bed and bade them a good night, I felt like the worst friend ever. They’d travelled halfway across the country only to find me hungover and Scorpius practically undead out of exhaustion. I half-entertained the fantasy that we were just doing research for my work and inflicting a two-person zombie apocalypse upon New New Elgin.
Thinking I wouldn’t be awake in time to see Scorpius leave for work, I promised to pick him up from his first stint at New New Elgin’s primary school at about half past three. But I actually woke up just as he was leaving, so I had time to kiss him and tell him that his jumper was on inside-out before he Flooed off to some sunnier corner of the country.
I was surprised to find Tarquin and Gwen already up when I staggered into the kitchen.
‘Early worm catches the bird,’ Tarquin said brightly. ‘Where do you keep your toast?’
‘Uh…’ I made my bleary-eyed way over to the cupboards. ‘We might be out of bread. Bran flakes?’
Five minutes later, the three of us sat down to hot tea and half-filled bowls of bran flakes. The tea was taken up immediately (something I regretted when I burned my lips) but the bran flakes were a little unloved; I caught Tarquin’s eye and burst out laughing.
‘I’m sorry it’s so meagre!’ I giggled, shoving the cereal around with my spoon. ‘This is a really crappy breakfast, sorry.’
‘Bit more like being a student,’ Gwen smiled.
‘We were going to go out today, anyway,’ Tarquin said. ‘Have a poke around, see what this corner of Scotland has to offer.’
‘Kidnappers and deceit,’ I said, before taking a huge mouthful of the bran flakes. It was a pretty naff breakfast, but I was starving. With some difficulty, I swallowed, before looking up
again and meeting their worried eyes.
‘Uh,’ Gwen said. ‘Sounds like usual Lucy and Scorpius territory, then.’
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ I waved them away. ‘Just a little misunderstanding with the townspeople. And then some graphic designers from up the road. That’s where we got the kitten from! But it’s all good fun.’
Their worried frowns didn’t go away, so I set down my spoon and explained the whole drama of the talent show from start to finish.
‘Wow,’ Tarquin said, once I’d finished. ‘Was that a dream or did it really happen?’
‘I liked the bit with the watering can,’ Gwen chipped in. ‘About time Scorpius got violent.’
‘Yeah, I know. We’ve got another band rehearsal tonight, by the way. You can pop along and watch, if you’d like.’
‘Duh,’ Gwen said. ‘Even if only for the shortbread.’
I went to pick Scorpius up from New New Elgin’s answer to primary education at the promised time of half past three. The school was a grim little prefab building on the beachfront that someone had painted in eye-watering primary colours. A sign over the door read Robert Bruce Primary
and, beneath that, in small letters, the words if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again
had been picked out in a flamboyant shade of green.
It was a pretty small school compared to the one we’d had for magical children back in Liverpool. I’d gone to the boringly named Liverpool Magical Primary
until I was eleven so that I could pick up the four Rs (reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and responsible magical practice, of which we’d had an hour a week) and generally break things and get into fights. New New Elgin’s Robert Bruce Primary
was basically the size of me and Scorpius’ flat, with a concrete playground extending out into fields and another small, grim, prefab building that served as a gymnasium.
I pushed open the door and found myself in a classroom. Like most things in New New Elgin, it was visually overwhelming. The classroom had gone to a new level of wall displays – the posters and bright border paper extended all the way up to the ceiling, where they continued and met in the middle, forming a vibrant circle of orange paper around the lampshade. The furniture was all tiny, which made me feel a bit wobbly. It was like being a very very tall drunk. And being tall is not something I’ve had a lot of experience of in my short life. Pun intended.
At the other side of the room, a middle-aged brunette sat at the regular-sized teacher’s desk. I recognised her as the one who’d been in the pub on the night me and Scorpius had moved in. Trying my best to ignore miniature-furniture-induced wobbliness, I crossed over and said ‘good afternoon. I’m here to pick Scorpius up?’
She barely glanced up from the exercise book she was marking. ‘He’ll be out in five minutes. It’s afternoon break at the moment, he should be out on the playground.’
I thought she might have mistaken me for a mother coming to pick up her child, but when I leaned ever so slightly to my left and looked out of the window, I saw the love of my life running in circles and flapping his arms like a bird whilst a horde of small children copied him.
‘Yeah,’ I said, turning away. ‘That’s him alright.’
‘You must be Lucy,’ the woman extended a hand. ‘I’m Jean. Jean Auchinairn.’
‘Aye, that’s what they all say. He did very well, you know. Considering it was his first day. I mean, a lot of the bairns who come in here are a wee bit wild. I’m not sure they quite understood what I meant when I asked them to paint him, but he seemed to get on fine.’
I glanced around at the classroom. Paintbrushes, pots and scraps of parchment were piled neatly on the centre of each table. The paint, however, had been thrown around with reckless abandon, and there were splodges of it on every available surface. Even the ceiling had paint on it.
I somehow dreaded to think that Scorpius would look like up close.
‘Er…I can see that,’ I said.
The words had barely left my mouth when a bell rang overhead. Outside, a whistle blew, then there was the vaguely familiar sound of a lot of little feet running at once. For a full minute, it sounded as if the great migration of wildebeest was taking place on the playground of Robert Bruce Primary, but when I looked out of the window again I saw the crowd of children disappear off into the gym and the thundering stopped.
A lot of girls my age talk about hearing the pitter-pattering of tiny feet. I heard the stampeding of midget wildebeest.
A moment after the mass exodus of children, the door flew open and Scorpius tumbled in, doing his best to smile whilst he was evidently in a good deal of pain. His suit was covered in paint – even his face
had paint on it. A bright blue smudge underlined one eye; he had khaki-green freckles.
‘Alan and Toby were fighting but it’s all cool now,’ he said, sounding a little breathless. ‘And…and I think I’ll be off.’
He reached into his pockets, pulled out several paintbrushes, and dumped them onto one of the little tables.
‘See you next week,’ he told Jean Auchninairn, before turning to leave. I followed him out into the mild (well, mild for January) air.
‘How was your day?’ I asked, offering him an elbow as we strolled along the beachfront. He slid his arm through mine.
‘Can we sit down soon?’ he said, sounding very weary.
‘Good grief, what were you up to this afternoon?’
‘Playing Post Owls,’ he said.
‘Post Owls? You never played it?’
‘Oh. Kids’ game. Used to play it all the time when I was little. Anyway…the point is that everyone is a post owl, and then there’s a letter, which is usually a leaf or a stick or something and…well, if you’re the owl with the letter, you have to run around with it so nobody else takes it off you, and the point is that you win by keeping hold of the letter for as long as possible.’
‘Oh. Never played that.’
‘Yeah, I played Mandrakes.’
‘Ah. I see.’
We spent the rest of the walk home swapping stories about childhood games we’d played; I got the feeling Scorpius was trying to pick up ideas for his next visit to Robert Bruce Primary. Especially when we got onto talking about survival techniques. Eventually, though, despite the plodding pace, we got safely back into the flat and within reach of a kettle and toaster.
‘I’m exhausted,’ he said. ‘And starving.’
‘We’ve got the band rehearsal tonight,’ I reminded him. ‘Tarks and Gwen said they’d come.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ he frowned. But then a smile flickered onto his weary face. ‘More late nights! We’re hellraisers again!’
‘I wouldn’t call hanging out at the town hall hellraising
‘If we’re drunk enough…’ he started.
‘I’m not repeating Burns Night.’
‘It was pretty funny when you punched Prentice.’
A short silence passed. I felt pretty chipper; I could only imagine the eyelid-drooping tiredness he was putting up with. He did his usual hurdling routine to get onto the sofa (I gave him a nine for effort) and I joined him a moment or two later, having taken the long route round the coffee table.
Maybe it was the blue paint beneath his eye, but I could have sworn that, in the clear, neutral light of the afternoon, he looked a bit ill.
Alright, he’d been a workaholic for a while, and he’d always held down a disproportionate number of jobs at any given time, and I completely
understand that we were on the wrong side of humble when it came to money and that we were never exactly destined to make it big in the great scheme of things but – weren’t those all just excuses, sometimes? I loved him, and I was the tiniest bit scared. I’d kidded myself for a moment that the smudge of blue paint was just a really horrific sign of sleep deprivation, and that
was easy to explain away, but it was obvious just by looking
at him that the boy needed at least one less job.
‘I want to work more,’ I said, speaking so fast that the words ended up all tumbled together and it sounded more like Iwannaworkmore
. ‘It’s not fair on you. I feel awful. Something’s wrong, isn’t it?’
This was the talk
we’d never had. I was sure of it.
A strange, confused silence passed. He reached into his pocket again and, after a moment’s digging about, produced a little cardboard box with a diagonal red stripe and the words Salamander Lights
on it. And, beneath that, in a far less jauntier font, the words smoking kills
It felt like my stomach had done a triple somersault, jumped up my windpipe, and was now watching the proceedings through my gaping mouth. Which felt pretty horrible.
‘I’m really sorry,’ he said. ‘I was going to tell you soon, I swear.’
‘What?’ I felt certain that this was something I might have noticed before; I think I was more angry at myself for not keeping so close an eye on him. ‘Since when?’
He shrugged, almost apologetically. ‘I don’t get much of a lunch break at work. Doesn’t make me feel so hungry. Takes the edge off the tiredness. A lot of the other guys do it. I’ve got a lot of excuses, but I’m afraid they’re all equally rubbish.’
‘That’s not a substitute for a lunch break. And if the other guys
at work told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that too?’
‘You know I’m a pushover. It’s cheaper, you know.’
‘It bloody well isn’t!’
‘In the long term…’
‘It’s not good for you.’
‘Yeah, I know, but I don’t know what else to do.’
‘Just give up one of your bloody jobs!’
He looked a little defeated. ‘What, so then we can’t afford to put the heating on?’ he protested. ‘I knew
you’d be angry.’
Truth be told, I wasn’t really
that angry. It didn’t really bother me. I kind of knew what he meant and, besides, it wasn’t entirely my place to govern the way he lived, no matter how much of a pushover he was. Merlin knows I hadn’t exactly been the angel in the house or anything.
‘We all have our vices,’ I said, and smiled, hoping he didn’t feel as tortuously miserable as he looked. ‘I’m twice the drinker you are. Guess this is even stevens, right?’
‘Oh…’ he looked incredibly uncertain, the little box of cigarettes still held aloft, as if inviting me to grab them off him. ‘Cool?’
‘Cool,’ I said. ‘If it keeps you going. Look…’
And I grabbed it out of his hand, fumbled it open, took out one of the cigarettes and stuck it between my lips, searching up my sleeve for my wand.
I snatched it back out of my mouth again to talk. ‘Only human,’ I said. ‘I used to…you know, when I was sixteen. And I’m a bad influence.’
He looked a little stunned. ‘Really?’
‘I did a lot of things before I met you,’ I said, and it was the truth, although not the most comfortable or delicate of truths. Then I stuck the cigarette back between my teeth, jabbed my wand at the end of it, and hoped I remembered the non-verbal incantation for fire. A second later, a huge flame shot up and singed the ends of my fringe; I stared cross-eyed at the smouldering hair whilst Scorpius nearly fell off the sofa in a fit of laughter.
‘Okay, bad influence,’ I said, feeling a little bit shaky as I handed the lit cigarette back to him. ‘And if it makes you happy, it’s fine.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ he repeated, before taking a drag on it. ‘Hang on, are you sure…in the flat…’
‘Eh, we’ll open a window,’ I waved him away. ‘At least Gwen’ll have company whenever she has to pop out for a fag break now!’
He gave me a look that was somewhere between a disapproving frown and a smile – the frown bein a bit rich, coming from him.
‘And it makes the hellraising all the more authentic, no?’ I said.
He ended up laughing and coughing at this, sending a little stream of abstract smoke signals to the ceiling.
‘I’d love you even if you had a seventy-cigar-a-day habit,’ I said. ‘Just promise me one thing.’
He looked up inquiringly.
‘Quit when you find a better job,’ I said. ‘And by better job, I mean one where you work a normal shift, get a decent lunch break, get a decent wage, and only have to work that one job
He let out a short, derisive laugh. ‘That job doesn’t exist!’
‘Keep looking,’ was all I could say.
He took another drag and gave me a very pensive look for good measure.
‘You’re unhappy,’ he said.
Forget a trio of metaphorical double-decker buses; that was a runaway steamroller
‘Everyone is, Scor.’
‘No, I just…’ he shook his head, transferring his gaze onto the little curls of smoke that were twisting through the air before him. ‘Sometimes I can’t help but think it’s something I’ve done. Actually I think it is something I’ve done.’
I had to think carefully about my answer. He’d hit me with a runaway steamroller, I didn’t exactly want to buy into the whole eye-for-an-eye theory when picking my response, especially when he had a lit cigarette in his mouth. ‘I’m…I’m unhappy because I’ve got a crap flat and a crap job and I’m generally a pretty crap person but, if anything, it’s the somethings you do that cheer me up.’
‘Thank you for saying so,’ he said. ‘And if I might suggest a better bargain, how about I quit
find yourself a better job?’
I narrowed my eyes at him. ‘Both. I’ll only keep my half of the bargain if you keep yours. I’ll drink less if you find a better job, you quit if I get a better job.’
There was a moment of pained, intense silence before the two of us fell about laughing.
‘It’ll never happen!’ Scorpius cried and, in the chaos of laughing, I noticed him stub out the cigarette on a plate that had been sitting on the coffee table since yesterday’s dinner. ‘We’ve both got really terrible willpower-’
‘And we’re like magnets for crappy flats-’
‘-magnets for crappiness generally-’
‘If anything, we’re good at bad habits!’
‘Yeah, let’s not quit while we’re doing so well,’ he grinned.
I ended up throwing my arms around his neck, half-relieved that we hadn’t actually argued, half-happy that we’d finally acknowledged just how generally crap
we were as people (no, really, it made me happy. It’s the simple things in life. Like…tea. And the two of us being so bad that we were good
‘We’re rubbish!’ I said, hugging him as tightly as the muscles in my arm would allow (he made a faint erk
noise which I supposed was a clear indication I’d got his windpipe by accident). Then I pulled away so I could look him in the eye, give him a silly sort of congratulatory punch on the arm. ‘We’re rubbish and we always will be! So light up! No, not like that,’ I added, as he jokingly reached over for the abandoned packet of Salamander Lights
But then I kind of cocked up the whole cheerful, yay-let’s-celebrate-how-abysmally-crap-we-are
mood by saying ‘and we’ll be rubbish forever, especially when we get married for the sake of our finances and become Mr and Mrs Rubbish.’
An insincere, taut smile replaced his broad grin. ‘I didn’t really mean it like that-’
‘No, no, you’re right,’ I said, desperately wishing that I hadn’t brought it up. So I kissed him, a little unused to the strange yet familiar smokiness that hung about him – hey, it was a valid distraction, wasn’t it? ‘But, you know, what’d really cheer me up is getting to snog you senseless, and then maybe there’s some shelf-related DIY we could be getting on with.’
See, this is why Euphemia Flitter picked me to work for her. I, Lucy Weasley, am the queen of talking sexily. I’m sure the awkward laugh I always stick at the end of my phrases is a complete killer
for the menfolk of this planet. And maybe some other planets too. Or maybe she picked me for my ability to go off on a tangent like nothing else?
I pushed his fringe back from his face, took off his glasses, and then smudged the blue paint underneath his eye even more. I’d meant to try and get the paint off but…well, paint is about as stubborn as stubborn gets.
‘You’ve got paint on your face,’ I said.
‘I know,’ he said.
It was probably not one of the more romantic things I could have said at that moment. On a scale of one to ten, one being about as romantic as a dead sea slug and ten being about as romantic as the entire literary canon of Amortentia Publications
, it was probably about a two. But, as I have said, I am the Mrs Rubbish to Scorpius’ Mr Rubbish.
Ignoring the paint and the glasses that were still in my hand, I leaned in and kissed him again. I wasn’t even sure I cared that he smelled like a bonfire with faint top notes of orange squash, and, I mean, the scratchiness of a five o’clock shadow has never been especially enticing to me, but somehow I didn’t really care about anything except for the fact that I just wanted him, tired and scruffy and smoky and covered in paint or whatever. And I know I wasn’t in great shape either. Never really have been.
He broke away after about five minutes to say ‘It’s weird. Sometimes I get really homesick for London and sometimes I don’t.’
Within a few seconds I was already bored of talking so I kissed him again, although a little voice in my head went oh, yes, Scorpius, I know exactly how you feel. Do continue this conversation later on; what you are saying is most interesting, although at the present moment it can possibly wait until after I have done things with you that will exhaust my entire back catalogue of euphemism and metaphor.
He seemed ready to push me off for a moment, but after I broke away for a couple of seconds to tell him in garbled whispering that he was an idiot but I really loved him and could I possibly put his glasses on the coffee table now, he gave up and pulled me closer. It wasn’t like it had been ages since we’d had time alone together or anything, but, you know, there’s not many times you find yourself getting horizontal on a sofa with the express aim of euphemistically putting up a shelf with only one arm, if you get the vague nub and gist of what I’m trying to say.
We’d been there for some time when he muttered something about how we should probably stop soon before Tarquin and Gwen got back from their travels, but when I told him that it was only half four by my watch and they weren’t due till six, he said excellent
and his hands, which had been tangled up in my hair, went onto my shoulders and then slid down my back and just under the hem of my shirt (which was, in fact, his).
It was then when I got the strangest feeling that we were being watched.
And that’s really not the feeling you want when you’re trying to snog your boyfriend in peace. On a scale of one to ten, one being about as romantic as a dead sea slug and ten being about as romantic as the entire literary canon of Amortentia Publications
, it was probably about a minus five hundred. Give or take a few.
I sat up, silencing Scorpius’ protest by pressing a finger to his lips. Then, my eyes met the tiny green cat’s eyes of…well, a cat. Mr Andrew Socks had climbed onto the little side table and was peering at us over the arm of the sofa.
, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Oh…crivens,’ my voice sounded very strangled. ‘Cat.’
Scorpius shoved my hand away and sat up too, twisting around to see Mr Andrew Socks.
, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Fuck me that’s off-putting,’ Scorpius said.
‘Oh, yes, of course,’ I said. ‘Yes to the second part too. And don’t swear in front of the cat,’ I added, elbowing him in the ribs.
Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘I bet that’s swearing in catspeak,’ Scorpius muttered, before reaching over and picking Mr Andrew Socks up. Then he held him at eye level and gave him a very stern look.
‘She’s mine, okay?’ Scorpius said.
, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘Scor, I doubt he has a crush on me or anything…’
‘How do you know?’ Scorpius set Mr Andrew Socks down at the other end of the sofa, where he curled up on a cushion and stared at us with his green eyes. ‘He might have felines
‘You know I like puns.’
‘Iced puns for breakfast in the morning, I know,’ I took his hand, turning away from the still-purring Mr Andrew Socks. ‘You know, there are at least two cat-free rooms in this flat with lockable doors.’
‘You mean the bathroom and the airing cupboard? And the bathroom lock is broken. And as much as I love you, I’m not sure putting up shelves in an airing cupboard is entirely advisable.’
‘Oh, screw it,’ I pulled him to his feet, and then delivered what was, in the circumstances, the most romantic line I could think of: 'we'll just need to invest in more locks.'
: this is the bit where I make a ton of catastrophic plot decisions and character developments and you all get mad and throw oranges at me, and I welcome those oranges because they're pretty good snacks and - er anyway. yes. I hope this chapter is alright. Not, like, bad or boring or anything. There was supposed to be a lot more to this chapter, but it got too long and I split it. Also, to those of you who were asking for a romantic scene...do you see, now, how awkward I get writing them? Srsly I don't even know where the whole lol it's a cat wat do
thing came from and I'm going to shut up now.
: hopefully less ~dialogue heavy~ chapters, more Tarks & Gwendibird, more ducks in the pint, Lucy's manifesto for troo wub and...perhaps a spot of lettuce in the side salad.
p.s the quote 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again' is, I believe, from the popular legend of Robert the Bruce, although I doubt that he ever said that and therefore I don't really have much of a concrete origin for the quote. but it's a good maxim to live by. trust me.