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Chapter 3 : Tumbling, Suddenly
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Tucking his hands in his pockets, Lysander ducked his head and began to jog through the torrential water, pausing only slightly every time he was forced to run through a growing puddle. He was already damp from his earlier escapade through the weather - an act he then realized was stupid and impulsive - and so his soaking shoulders, acting as a bastion against what he could only describe as a vehement downpour, only grew wetter.
There was a shrill singing of metal on metal, a sound that was almost familiar and yet strangely unsettling, as he rounded the corner and slowed to a stop. A weathered sign rocked on its hinges above him, its wood warped and splitting, squeaking with each backward motion as the wind and rain blew at it relentlessly. Painted with a small, ivory magnolia, the placard bore slanting script that the herbologist could see was written in a hurry. Magnolia Street, it read, the letters curving off the beaten surface, Where Friends Meet.
He had never, in fact, met any friends in this particular establishment, which was exactly why he chose to frequent it. It was small, out of the way, with nothing to make it noticeable except the petite magnolia that was inked on the sign.
Lysander stepped out of the rain and into the hazy pub, letting the acrid cigar smoke that looped around the room and ceiling saturate his clothing as he closed the door behind him. There was something unusual about the atmosphere here, something that allowed him to disappear for a few hours and waste away the minutes by staring aimlessly into Muggle liquor. The bartender refused to acknowledge his name even though the Scamander twin had sat at the counter more times than he would have liked to recount, and the only words spoken to him by a fellow patron occurred after he had almost left one of his shoes behind during a late December night.
He approached the bar, shrugging off the raindrops that continued to cling to his shoulder blades, his soaking clothing weighing him down. Engaged, his brother had said. Find a nice woman.
Lysander started, his mind rapidly trying to decipher which of his introverted colleagues could have possibly found him in a place like this.
Not Rolanda; she was sworn off alcohol.
Not Milton; he was still in Switzerland.
But there was a hand on his shoulder, tugging him around with heavy fingers, and his list was interrupted. There, standing in front of him, was the beaming Mr. Malfoy.
In a single “oh,” the air remaining in Lysander's lungs vanished completely, and he was left to appraise the man without a word to say to him.
Malfoy almost looked flushed, small tinges of pink creeping into his cheeks as his mouth curved into a crescent moon smile. Been drinking, the herbologist cataloged to himself. “Mr. Malfoy,” he said lamely, reaching up to brush the stubborn raindrops off his neck.
“Scorpius,” the blonde corrected. “Please, call me Scorpius.” He gestured to a tiny table in the corner, lit only by a lantern clouded with black soot and looking crowded by the handful of individuals that had their backs curved away from it. “I have a table, if you'd like to sit. I've been by myself all evening.”
“I don't normally see anyone here,” Lysander said. “I thought you were one of my coworkers.”
“Oh,” Scorpius laughed, and the scientist was once again reminded of the sincerity, the infectious warmth of his chuckle. “Doctor Salamander, right. I thought it would be, you know, funny.” He pointed again toward the neglected table. “Shall we?”
Lysander shrugged, feeling the subtle tug of a smile as he followed to the small, dim corner of the pub. The cigar smoke seemed to have gathered there, twisting around chair legs and framing the windowpanes, creating a cloud of ephemeral grey that hovered over the table and clung to the walls.
Scorpius took the seat closest to the bar, waiting before his companion was equally comfortable before he leaned across the tabletop and whispered, “What brings you here?”
Lysander considered this for a moment, leaning back in his chair and fighting a sudden, intense urge to stop talking and start drinking. He could tell the man across from him about his brother, about Lorcan's impetuous engagement, about his own lack of stable relationship. Instead, he settled for the simple answer, the one most likely to warm the outgoing and slightly tipsy Scorpius Malfoy.
“The drink, obviously,” the herbologist answered stiffly. He was tired, considerably morose, and his social skills were rusty. Lysander didn't have his plants to hide behind, and his motivation was lacking.
Scorpius laughed again, deep and mirthful, and stood swiftly. “I second that,” he said, and strode in the direction of the bar.
The Scamander was left alone, hands fitted under his armpits to coax warmth into his fingertips after suffering through the bitter rain, and he watched his companion order with his thumbs drumming on the wood of the counter.
Engaged, his brother had said. Find a nice woman.
The Ministry man returned with two brimming glasses in his hand, and they barely sloshed as he plunked them back on the table. “That's more like it,” he said, finding his seat again. He considered the scientist across from him for a moment, resting his wrists next to his beverage. “You look dissatisfied,” Scorpius noted, his jubilant manner starting to drift along with the caustic smoke.
Lysander looked up, suddenly aware that he was studying the grooves in the wood of the table. “Sorry,” he replied, “do I? I didn't mean to sour the mood.”
“No souring,” Malfoy said. “I wasn't particularly elated myself, to be honest.” He picked up whatever he had brought back from the bar, eying it for a few seconds before downing half.
The scientist was abruptly hit with the notion that maybe, if he could wade his way through the evening gracefully, he wouldn't have to attend the oh-so-dreaded wedding alone. He glanced at the blonde, skimming over his features. Scorpius hadn't had too much to drink, he discerned, but his cheeks were tinged with a tell-tale cardinal and he had just halved whatever was in his glass.
46 percent chance of acceptance. (Wedding attended with attractive guest. Success.)
54 percent chance of rejection. (Wedding attended alone. Sadness to ensue.)
“Not elated?” Lysander asked. “Do tell.”
“Work,” Scorpius said, almost laughing for a third time. There was humor in his voice, but it was subtly bitter. “I love it, you know? I really do. But sometimes...” He trailed off, brightening. “How are those figs coming along?”
“Brilliantly,” the herbologist answered. “They should bloom in a few weeks. Maybe one, if we're lucky.”
“Good, good.” It was almost to himself, as if he had momentarily forgotten that another man sat across from him. “That's very good.”
57 percent chance of acceptance. (Will have to make sure tie is unwrinkled for event.)
43 percent chance of rejection. (Will frequent pub more often.)
“Have you seen their flowers before?”
“No, I haven't.”
“A bright violet. They're very pretty.”
“Well,” Scorpius said, grasping his drink once more, “it's not really the flowers that I'm after, if you know what I mean.”
“Of course, of course.”
There was silence again, similar to the one that had blanketed the office when the two first met, that mingled among the cigar smoke and hushed voices of the miscellaneous misanthropes and drunks. The door would open occasionally, letting cold sweep in with fragments of the downpour to accompany it, and the patrons would hush to glance at whatever newcomer had stumbled in. Chairs around them creaked, unhappy with the weight shifting above them, and floorboards groaned in protest whenever heavy footsteps fell.
Lysander was trying to think of something to say that would make him seem clever and good natured, humorous and witty. With his chance of acceptance stagnant at 57 percent - and the night growing colder and darker by the minute - it had to be soon.
“You’re dripping,” Scorpius noted, leaning forward and gesturing to the water that continued to slide down the Scamander’s arms. They gave the impression of snaking, translucent veins as they trailed toward his fingertips.
“And you’re not,” Lysander retorted. His fingers curled around the glass of his drink. “You must’ve been here a while, then.”
“Good catch, Mr. Scientist. I’ve been here an hour or so, as you’ve so astutely noticed.”
“Cheers to that,” the Scamander said, and he raised his glass.
Scorpius only smiled at him, watching as the twin took three tedious sips and set his drink back on the table. “Something bothering you, Lysander?” he asked, his voice just audible over the surrounding chatter. He leaned farther still. “This isn’t the type of establishment you’d come to if you were, you know, cheerful.”
Lysander reached up to brush the raindrops away from the skin behind his ears, shaking his head. “It’s a charming place, isn’t it?” Sorrow saturated his voice more than he had intended it to.
“Not really. Do you want to tell me what’s aggravating you? Or maybe you’d prefer me to leave you alone, and you can go back to looking at the edge of the table.”
“It’s my brother,” the Scamander started, even though he hadn’t entirely expected himself to. But there was something about this man, the way his questions prodded deeper and deeper until Lysander couldn't help himself. His drink sat foaming next to his palms, already beginning to make his thoughts less crisp and clear. “He’s getting married.”
“A joyous occasion,” Malfoy chuckled, though the glee and gaiety was gone. “Yet you don’t seem too pleased about it.”
“It’s not that I don’t love him, because I do. I just think that he rushes into things. He’s always been so rash and spontaneous, and I admire that about him becase they are qualities that I lack, but... a relationship like that is not something he should be charging into.” It came out in one long string of words, pushing their way to the surface and let loose into the air without Lysander stopping them as he normally would have.
“And you’re morose because you’re worried? Because you feel like the lovely lady in question isn’t good enough for him? Because -”
“Because I’m jealous,” Lysander cut in. He looked at his fingers, considering the wrinkles that creased the knuckles. “Unintentionally, of course. And not with... malice in mind.” He began chose his words with care, suddenly aware that he was sharing with an almost-stranger. “Lorcan has always been the loud one, the outgoing one, the... the one with the friends, the girlfriends.”
“Oh, you’re twins!” Malfoy said. “That’s right - the Scamander boys. You were a few years ahead of me, I think. I remember you.”
“You probably remember him,” Lysander corrected. “The only way you’d remember me would be if... if you were a member of the Potions Club or... or you helped out the groundskeeper that mowed the Quidditch pitch.” He laughed, lightly this time, not laced with acidity.
Scorpius grinned, folds dimpling his cheeks. “Maybe I don’t remember you exactly,” he amended, though his voice was gentle and soft. “Anyway, the famed and ever-so-talked-about Lorcan Scamander is getting married, and this bothers you.”
“What are you doing next month?” Lysander asked suddenly, looking up from his hands. His companion looked at him with a bemused smile.
“Next month? Probably nothing. If there aren’t any work projects, that is.” He paused for a moment. “Why?”
“That’s when the wedding is,” Lysander finished faintly, almost regretting his decision to inquire at all. “And... and I’m allowed to bring a guest. If you’d like to come with me.”
Scorpius laughed for the third time that evening, his head tilted forward as his eyes brightened, the cheer and levity returned. “What a kind offer for you to make, Mr. Scamander.”
“You get to dress up,” the herbologist said, his enthusiasm growing, “and there will apparently be copious amounts of drinking involved.”
“And,” Malfoy joined, “the illustrious Lysander Scamander will be there as my escort.”
“I don’t know about illustrious, but I’ll certainly be there.”
Scorpius regarded the man across from him silently, fingers playing around the rim of his glass. His smile was easy, relaxed, unassuming. “Of course,” he said, raising his drink to finish the last of it before rising from his seat. “We’ll make a day of it. Perhaps it won’t be so miserable after all, eh?”
Lysander rose to join him, nearly knocking his own drink over in the process. “I’ll owl you the dates, details, everything,” he replied. “And you’re right: it won’t be as melancholy if I bring a guest.”
“Not just any guest,” Scorpius chuckled, winking. He set his empty glass on the table, confident that a barmaid would pick it up without him having to bother further with it, and clapped his companion on the shoulder. “I’ll see you then, I guess. I’m glad you found this dingy place while I was still here.”
“I am too,” Lysander echoed, and watched as the Ministry man swept out the door and into the tempest on the other side.
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