Chapter 16 : Have I Told You Lately
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Lady Asphodel @ TDA.
Like always, Lucy is in the call, giving her regular little speech about how my parents are more than welcome to come to the party. Every other year, they said no because I didn't go. This year they're saying no to give me that space they talked about. From what I heard, they've actually planned something now that they've got the house to themselves until 'whenever I come home tomorrow'
...And that's as far as I go with those thoughts.
For the first time since she started asking me in first year, I step though the floo and into her grandparents' house. Not just for this party, but ever. It's unfamiliar, was always too new for me, but I knew my home and Lucy accepted that. Tonight I cross 'Come to The Burrow' off my list (I still can't believe Louis laughed at me for that one).
Speaking of Louis, he's not there to catch me when I come through. Just in case. Or to see me. Lucy is. "Hey," she says excitedly, hugging me. "I'm so glad you came. Where's your cane?"
"I didn't want it," I shrug nonchalantly, hoping my 'looking around' is just as casual. I'm trying to pinpoint different voices, but I only want one specifically.
"Oh, Lou is outside, mingling," she answers my unspoken question, her voice sounding sorry for him as she says it. "He wanted to wait for you when you came, but Grandma found him before I did and told him to ask if anyone would like anything." She takes my hand and leads me elsewhere, outside probably. "I'll take you to him. Jack's already here, been here about five minutes and he's already hiding."
I laugh. "You know his family."
"You're right, I'd hide, too. Even with a family as big as mine, they're not that bad. Louis!"
The moment Lucy let's go of my hand, Louis crushes me with his own hug. "Thank God," he whispers.
I return it quickly, rubbing his upper back with my hand in soothing circles. It's works for me. He squeezes a little tighter. "Stop it," I mouth to my right when Lucy starts to laugh. "Did you think I wouldn't come?"
I feel his head shake against my neck. "I need you to keep me from going crazy." Oh. Louis let's go, but still keeps an arm around my waist. "I think I'm being punished for something."
"You're not being punished," Lucy scolds. Then she explains to me. "Every year Grandma picks someone new to be the 'official mingler'; walk around, chat with guests, be friendly, other them refreshments and always have a smile. I had to do it last year." That explains her sympathy before. "It feels like punishment, but it's not. As Grandma says 'we're her loving grandchildren, helping family; we want to do this'."
"I want to cry," Louis corrects.
"I'm mingling!" he yells to the voice. I rub my ear. "Sorry. Would you like a drink?"
"Refreshments are this way." We make our way to wherever said refreshments are. We go backwards, towards the house, so we must have gone past them. But we don't go back inside the house. Interesting. "We've got water, an assortment of juices, beers, wines, whiskey, everything really. My family really go all out to make sure everyone is happy. Take your pick."
"I'll have a beer."
"Bottle or plastic cup?"
"Excellent choice, sir," he praises me in a posh accent. I imagine a maitre†d' in a five star restaurant. I get my drink and take a healthy sip as he turns me around and gives me what they both consider most valuable information. "Got any valuables on you?" I tap my right pocket; an emergency mobile phone that has my dad on speed-dial. I didn't feel the need to bring any money since it's a house party and I wasn't going to use my player to listen to any books, so there was really no point bringing that either. "Check that pocket regularly; Hugo has light fingers, he's nosy and if he gets it he'll just shrug his shoulders and talk about how it's not his fault you're weren't quick enough and that you're not a worthy opponent. We've all got a pool going as to when he'll end up arrested or even in Azkaban."
"When do you think?" I ask, genuinely interested. It's one thing to hear rumors of the kid's extracurricular activities, but another altogether to have confirmation. No one ever believed the rumors, though. The Weasley poster boy can do no wrong.
"My bet's on never; Hugo's too smart and too quick for that to ever happen. Unfortunately, it's only us cousins who really know any of this. The parents refuse to believe it; Hugo's an angel. Devil in disguise more like."
"I sense the slightest bit of admiration," I tell them, taking another drink.
"He's useful," Lucy answers. "Apparently, you learnt that on Christmas Eve." Yeah, I remember; Dom and my number. I nod. "We've already got plans in place in case he is arrested one day; Dom's friend is a lawyer." I raise an eye-brow. "We never said we didn't love the future criminal mastermind."
"Just keep a listen out for him," Louis makes me promise as he takes my hand and leads me away. We're just walking while he talks, going no where in particular. "It's better to use your ears than your eyes with Hugo; he's fast, so if you don't listen, you'll lose him and that's a very bad thing."
"My hearing is perfect." I hold onto my earlobe and wiggle it between my thumb and forefinger. "Had a lot of practice."
He stops mid-laugh and sounds as though he's about to cry. My arm instinctively goes around his shoulders. "I'm coming," he calls, then he kisses the top of my head. "Look after him for me, Luce. If I'm not back soon, bring the lawyer."
Louis leaves us and Lucy loops her arm around mine as we continue to walk and drink. Well, I'm drinking. I know Lucy's not; she's got one hand held onto my arm and one holding my own hand. She can't hold a drink. "Who's the lawyer friend?"
"Kieron Nott." I turn to her. This is interesting news and not just because I know the name. "I like to call him Kieron with a K. You'd think that with that information Louis would figure out I know someone with the same name spelt with a C," I raise my free hand to point out a useful fact, "Yeah, I know. Similar name then. Anyway, you'd think that he'd know I know someone called Ciaran and remember that you are the only friend I have with a name beginning with a C that he doesn't know and realize it's your name."
That reminds me; I need to talk to him about his game. I hope he comes back soon and without the need for the lawyer. I play along. "You'd think."
Lucy left me. Okay, she's gone to the bathroom, but I'm still alone, sitting on top of a table, and it's making me feel like the loner in the corner. But it's not all bad; I have chocolates on a plate by my side and they are yummy. Lucy's mum, Audrey, gave them to me about ten minutes ago, stopping for a few minutes to say hello and asking how I was before looking for her husband, and after she left Lucy followed.
I stuff another chocolate into my mouth and wait; she'll be back soon. Until then... Where is Jack?
Never mind that, I'm being watched. I swear it, there are eyes to my right and they are watching me. It is unnerving. The unnerving eyes become a heartbeat, slow and even and very close. Then there's a hand on my pocket. I reach out. "Nice try, kid." He laughs as I push his hand back. "You must be Hugo."
"I know you're Ciaran. Hi." He climbs up onto the table besides me. "It's nice to meet you. I take it Lou and Lucy have talked about me."
"A little bit."
"Don't listen to them; I don't intend on being a criminal mastermind. I like to snoop and I like to find things. But I don't want to use it for that or to write about people like Lily; she wants to be an investigative journalist. Maybe I'll go into the business world." He taps me on the arm, excited. "Or I could be a spy."
"Part of being a spy is to not let people know you're a spy. You've failed." I grin and offer him a chocolate. "So, why were you going in my pocket?"
"I wanted to know if I could. Well done, by the way; you are second person to be able to stop me." I ask who the first person was, intrigued. "Uncle Harry. I figured he would; if he can stop a dark wizard at seventeen, he can stop me from pickpocketing him. But I had to know."
"Yeah, because that makes sense," I say slowly.
"I also find that since I like to know people, pockets can useful sources of information. Like your phone, for example." I put my hand in my now empty pocket. That sneaky, quick bastard. "You shouldn't let me talk. Do you want to know what your phone tells me?"
He continues to tell me anyway. It's like I didn't say anything at all. I hate being ignored. "There's no happy, smiling pictures of family or friends as a wallpaper and only one contact, which is your dad. It tells me you only use this for emergencies."
"Nothing." He hands it back. "I was just interested. I like you. I want to say Louis is very lucky, but you're still not together from what I hear. Why is that?"
I jump down, only to turn to lean against the table, a little closer to him. "If I let you in on a little secret, will you leave?"
"We might get together tonight if I manage to see him for more than five minutes," I whisper, then in a big dramatic gesture I put my finger to my lips and shush him.
"Oh, you need Nana to stop watching and calling him, so he can get away and be with you instead of mingling." I nod. Sorry, Mrs. Weasley, who I haven't had the pleasure of meeting yet, but that is exactly what I need. "On it."
"Huh?" He's already disappearing when I turn around. Why is he like that? What the hell makes him think he can help me and that it'll be so easy? Help. Ah, phone number. "Oi! How did you get my house number?"
"It was an emergency contact in his Ministry file. And before you ask, no. I didn't snoop. I batted my eyes, gave a nice, big smile and asked the woman in charge very nicely. I told her it was important that I got in touch and she wrote it down. See you later."
Right. If were to get in on that bet, I'd be joining Louis with the 'never' vote. That kid is smart and quick and useful. If he manages to get Louis here I will be very impressed. Hugo Weasley might just be my new favourite person.
"Now I thought Louis would have warned you away from Hugo," a new voice calls out, amused.
"He did. And you are?"
"Dom, brother. Hello."
"Ciaran." I hold out a hand, which he takes. Then he swaps his hand for a new bottle, tells me he saw me with one before. I take it gratefully and have a drink.
"I know. Why are you all alone?"
"Lucy went to the bathroom, hasn't come back yet."
"I saw her on my way here, she was stopped by your friend, er, Jackson. It is Jackson, right? Jackson Ryder?"
"That's him. Have you seen the rest of his family?"
"His family are here, too?" When I tell Dom who they are, he can't seem to stop laughing. It's fun to hear. He has a nice laugh, similar to Louis' only a little deeper. I end up joining him. "Yes, I saw them," he finally gets out.
"So, Louis tells me you're interning at Witch Weekly, you want to be a journalist."
"Yeah. I've been writing forever, thought I'd make a living out of it," he jokes. "Do you know what you want to do?" I shake my head. I don't have a freaking clue, never have. I've never actually thought about it to be honest. "You'll figure it out. Louis says he doesn't know either, but I hope he'll go to school, continue his art."
"You know about his art? Have you seen any?"
"No, I haven't seen any of his pictures since he was a kid coloring at the table. He doesn't like to show and tell. It's just me and Vic and now you who really knows anything," Dom sounds kind of down about that. Not about me knowing, about Louis not showing. You can tell they're close, all three of them, so Louis not telling him about something must be rare.
"He's probably just shy," I reassure him. "I love playing the piano, but I stop once I know someone's watching, even if it's family."
"Maybe. You play piano?" I nod. "Our grandmother, on Mum's side, got us a tutor to learn. I can play; Vic and Louis are rubbish," he chuckles. "I have to go, I'm being summoned. You don't have to sit here alone, you know. You're welcome here, talk to people."
"I didn't think I'd be alone for so long," I admit, shrugging. "Lucy said she'd only be a couple of minutes. Besides, I'm hoping to find Louis."
"He's around, he'll find you. I hope," Dom pauses, like he's trying to find the right words. Is he about to say something he shouldn't? Or is he just a big brother uncomfortable talking about his little brother's potential relationships? "I hope he sorts himself out and doesn't screw up what he could have with you. And I hope you don't either."
What? "Is this about his first boyfriend?"
"You know about Ellis?"
I shake my head slowly. "Just that they were together for a summer then they moved one. I think he said it was a fling. But he told me he was never any good with relationships. The guy's name is Ellis?"
"Yeah," Dom replies very slowly. I think now I've come to an uncomfortable topic. Which is bad because now I really want to know what happened with the Ellis guy. "I'm not talking about Ellis. You have to ask Louis, but I wouldn't expect an answer if I were you." It's like he really can read my mind. "But I will say that, and if you tell Louis I said this I'll hurt you, Ellis was very bad for Lou, you are very good for him, and he tries to make sure what he has with you doesn't end as badly as the last two because he really likes you. So, help him."
"By not running away when you get scared." My eyes widen at his response. "He ran away from his relationships, you've never let yourself be in one. You're gonna fill your head with doubts when he acts funny and you're going to blame yourself and the fact that you're blind. Don't do that. Don't leave him."
"How do you know any of that?" I demand.
"You got too close."
Louis' words jump straight to the front of my mind: Don't get too close to Dom... It's true; I've only been near him for a few minutes and it's like he knows every fear I've got.
"Also, I talk to Lucy," he finishes before he leaves.
I frown, I didn't know Lucy ever talked about me so much, not about things she's obviously picked up on because I've never told her. She knows me more than I thought and to actually talk to someone about it means she worried about me. I've worried my best friend. No wonder she's been so excited about me and Louis; we haven't done anything to screw it up yet. She's hopeful.
"Hey, sorry I took so long; Jackson is paranoid. He'll find you soon, he says. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I whisper, then I clear my throat and take a drink. "I spoke to Dom, he's nice."
"Yeah. His weird litte ability can be scary, but he's awesome. Dom's one of my favorite people in the world. You can just talk to him about anything and he knows exactly how to help."
I nod and agree; his ability to read people is scary and he does give good advice.
But I didn't want to get too close.
Whatever Hugo does, it doesn't take long and by the time Louis is by my side, I have mostly sorted myself out; my head is riddled with questions, about Louis, about his relationship, what Dom meant. But on the outside, I think look relatively normal and for now that will do. I don't want to ruin tonight, I meant what I said to Hugo.
We're talking and laughing, Louis stood behind me with his arms around my waist and swaying a little to the music when Jack finally finds us.
"I've finally escaped the devil incarnate," he whispers, panting slightly. "If you see the her lapdog, warn me so I may run. Hey, CJ."
I snicker. "He's finally escaped Hollie. If you see Jake, warn him so he may run," I translate. "Hey, Jack."
"Hollie and Jake? Louis mutters to himself. "Hollie and Jake Wood? Oliver Wood's kids?" I nod. "You know Hollie and Jake Wood?"
"They're his cousins," Lucy sounds very happy.
"Oh. Oh, Jack, I'm so sorry," Louis tries to be sincere, but even I can tell he's trying not to laugh. "I mean, they're crazy."
"It's like they eat nothing but sugar, just because they know it annoys people," Jack moans. "I can't believe Aunt Kat and Uncle Oliver actually admit to having those two."
"Kat?" Louis asks. "Katherine Wood, formally Katherine Ryder, the Harpies keeper? She's your aunt?"
"The one and only," Jack admits. "Her youngest brother, Bobby Ryder, is my dad."
"The footballer who married the Muggle actress?"
I crane my neck up, my head resting in Louis' shoulder. "You like football?"
I feel his shoulder move up and down against my neck. "Guys in shorts."
"Oh. I love how casually you say that," I mutter. I don't care if he notices or how he takes my sarcasm, it calms me.
"So, that makes you famous, Jack."
"No, it really doesn't. My parents are just well known. I went to a couple of my mum's premiers with them when they thought I was old enough to stay up so late, but stopped when I started Hogwarts. I have a crazy and well known family, can we change the subject now?" Jack pleads.
"Sure," Lucy says assuringly. "I can see Jake, how long before he sees you?"
"Show me where the bathroom is, Lucy," Jack says quickly, his voice getting further and further away. "I haven't been there yet, I might get lost."
"Why should I?"
"Jake wants to know if you're single," he shouts.
An arm pats my shoulder. "I gotta go."
I call out a good bye, but I don't think they hear me. Louis turns me around, his arms still around my waist. "I am very sober and I'm being very good and I have Hugo distracting my nan; now will you dance with me?"
I pull a face and step back. He starts to let go of me, but I grab his hands and stop him. I don't want him to leave, to misunderstand again. "I can't dance."
He relaxes into me, then takes my hand and pulls me away. Louis stops me and let's go, leaving me in what I now think is the middle of the garden or field or wherever this party is, guests' eyes on me. I think about calling out his name, but that would mean people hearing me and having more eyes on me. I don't want that. So, I just stand there, hopefully not like an idiot, and wait for him to come back.
The music changes and Louis has my hand again, pulling me closer to him, and swaying. Dancing. No, slow dancing. He's wrapped my arms around his neck and his around my waist and everything. "See, you're dancing."
"I noticed," I mutter, hoping people are no longer watching.
"They've gone back to dancing, CJ," he promises and I believe him.
"I know this song," I whisper. "I can play it. It's old."
"I know, it's one of your favorites." I agree, surprised. "I do listen to you, you know."
"I found that out when you got me my favorite books on audio for Christmas. Thank you, by the way. I loved it."
"And I loved mine. Those canvases and paints and the books, everything you've gotten me that week must have cost a helluva lot of money. You didn't have to," he says.
"Enjoy it. It's not often I spoil people," I wink. "Besides, you could always tell me about your art."
He spins me around, pulls me back and laughs. "Nice try, Mr. James."
"What is with your endless supply of names for me?" My arm rises with his shoulder. "I know that you're so set on me giving you my name, I know that you know what it is, but I don't know why."
"I have my own games to play. Only difference is I'll win mine."
"What makes you so sure I'll tell you before you tell me? I already know my name, I don't need to say it."
"I already know your name, I don't need to call it you, Baby," he counters. Must not make him pay just yet... "I'll make you want to tell me, after I've made everything so very special."
"Everything?" I repeat quietly. I know what that means.
"I haven't figured that last bit out yet. Give me time." I feel his lips curve against my cheek when he leans in.
"How long have you known?" I ask.
"That would be telling," he says then he whispers a line of the song in my ear. He's so quiet, I can't even tell if he's a good singer or not. "Fill my life with gladness, take away my sadness. Ease my troubles that's what you do."
"You just had to be cheesy at the end, didn't you?" I joke one the song ends. Well, I sound jokey, but he was.
"The moment called for it and I will not apologize." I move my arms from his neck to take a hand, shaking my head. "It may have taken me two whole months, but I've had my dance. We can go hide in a corner again." I dig my heels and wait for him to correct himself. He knows exactly what I want, it's not the first time this has happened. "You can go back to keeping me company while I hide in a corner."
Atta boy. The corner turns out to be an empty bit of field, he says. The music is not so loud here, so we can talk normally, and it's still within the wards and charms, so it's warm and dry. We sit on the grass and just enjoy the peace and quiet. Considering I've spent most of it hanging around in the corners with my friends, this party hasn't been so bad and I tell Louis that. Apparently it's far from over; the parents usually send the kids into the house soon after the fireworks and put them to bed, but they come back out and their party continues until they're ready to leave, then they floo home with their sleeping children. Louis, the other grandkids and maybe a few of their friends usually stay here for the night, while the parents go home. That was his not so subtle way of saying I can stay. And I not so subtly tell him I don't plan on going anywhere, then I tell him about my parents night alone. He understands.
"What time is it?"
I roll up my sleeve and press the button on my watch. "Eleven forty."
"It's handy. Where's Jack and Lucy?"
"They're probably wondering around somewhere, waiting for the fireworks." I raise an eye-brow; he's planned something. "I may have told them at the beginning of the party to clear off for the fireworks. There's a tradition I'd like to honor, if you'd let me."
I smirk. "I'll think about it."
Midnight tonight comes quicker than any I can ever remember. And with every minute that passes, my heart seems to beat that much faster. It's so fast, I swear Louis can hear it. If he does, he doesn't comment. On the last minute he taps my arm and we stand up. We can hear the others at the party count down, but we don't. Louis stands in front of me and leans his forehead against mine. "Nervous?"
"A little bit. I might suck," I whisper.
I barely acknowledge the fireworks when they start, everyone's cheers and shouts for a happy New Year all sound faint, even to my ears. Louis's hand finds its way to the back of my neck, his fingers in my hair, and, as soon as the fireworks die down, he leans in until his lips just touch my own...
We both turn to the voice and I know that he's just as disappointed as I am. And we both know who that voice belongs to: Roxanne.
"I'm gonna -"
"Hey," I interrupt, my hands cupping his face and turning his head so he's facing me again. My eyes are shut, but I can feel his breath against my mouth and I know he's watching me. "It'll be okay."
Her voice is distant this time and goes further away. She didn't see us, didn't know or stop it. Their grandmother is probably looking for Louis. "I should go see what they want."
He steps away, but I grab his arm on instinct and pull him back, but we both know the moment has passed and when he gets back to me I kiss his cheek instead, lingering for a few seconds longer. "Happy New Year."
I listen as he leaves to find his cousins, his footsteps seem to echo against the grass. Or is that still my heartbeat? Then I follow.
Hello again, universe. Believe it or not, I didn't miss you.
So, what's the score against me this time?
A/N: Fill my life with gladness, take away my sadness. Ease my troubles that's what you do and the title belong to the song Have I told you lately by Van Morrison.
To anyone who reads Silver Linings, you'll recognize Kieron Nott, only he and Dom are not together in this.
Now, because I know, well, everything that happens in this and knew the outcome of the hint, I'm going to follow Louis' example and hide in a corner... I'll make it up to you, I promise. :)
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