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Chapter 2 : 2
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THIS CITY NEVER SLEEPS AT NIGHT
CHAPTER IMAGE CREDITS INSPECTOR.@TDA
"If I could wake up in a different place, a different time, could I wake up as a different person?"
- Chuck Palahniuk
”Well, fuck me.”
“Honest, Betty just needs a few minutes to collect herself… She’s had a long trip,” I tell Scorpius, but immediately regret my words. Bare land stretches out far in every direction. We’re stranded on a lonely road, far from civilization in Northern England. The road isn’t even a real road, just a track of dirt, leading far out into the horizon.
We’re stuck here.
“Luce.” Scorpius glares at me from his seat on the ground. “There’s steam coming out from everywhere. This car doesn’t need time, it needs a freaking miracle.”
I lean against my faithful car. “This is just… fuck.”
I try to adjust my pencil skirt, which has been twisted around my body uncomfortably. My designer blouse is no longer a sparkling white but a mucky brown, sticking to the back of my neck uncomfortably.
Scorpius takes off his shades and gives me a hard stare.
“What do you suppose we do now?”
Mr Gobbles is peeking through the window from the back seat, his white fur fuzzy in the heat, trying to gather why the car isn’t moving anymore. I glance at Scorpius, pushing around a stone on the ground.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, don’t just stand there,” he snaps. “Call someone! We can’t be that far off from your village.”
It is true. Grimsby is mere hours away. But what Scorpius does not realize is just how far from civilization we’ve come.
“Course you can. Just dial the number.”
“No. Scorpius,” I breathe. “Nobody’s got Muggle phones in Grimsby. That’s capital stuff.”
My best friend looks puzzled for a moment, it still baffles me how quickly he forgets how the rest of the Wizarding world lives.
“How do they contact each other then?”
“Owl?” He wrinkles his nose. “That’s so dull and messy.”
I shrug. “Works for them. I'd tell you to apparate there and ask for help, but you don't know where it is, so...”
Scorpius shakes his head and pulls out his quill. “Might as well get started on the article, then.” He leans back against Betty’s side. “Stranded on a desert road with a cat and a mad woman…”
I shoot him a dirty look and turn away from him, facing the never-ending road.
All around us fields of green line the road. The sight sends a pang through me. I could recognize those gangly plants anywhere. Sunflowers. They have yet to bloom and I thank Merlin that they aren’t sparkling with yellow everywhere. On the outskirts I can see the thick forest, dark and looming. It’s the beginning of the Irving woods, which stretches far across our entire land, ending well past Grimsby.
The proximity of home scares me a bit. This is the nearest we’ve been for five years. Each step I take, brings me closer and closer to home and a past I’ve had wrapped up in pretences for a very long time.
I step down the path, crossing into the green. The sunflowers reach my neck and soon enough the smell of the woods, flowers and dirt surrounds me. I spread my hands out and close my eyes, lulled by the smell of home.
I can almost see us here. Running through fields of sunflowers, playing hide and seek. The ghost of him flickers in and out of focus, a wide smile and the gap between his nine-year-old teeth. The image sticks, replaying again and again like a record gone awry, riding in the same tracks until they’re mere ridges in plastic, ceasing to hold any kind of meaning.
The memories are a bit like that. His smile becomes watery and the words that once meant so much become hollow. Then it all slips away and I’m left standing with a limp flower in my hand like a cheap skeleton imitation of happiness.
When I return to the road, Scorpius is eyeing me over the top of his notebook.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s the deal with you and this Ted, or am I just going to stick with my own version of the drama?” He drawls slowly. “You know my version’s always way juicier.”
He’s mocking me, but it’s covering over something graver, more serious. I recognize the smile playing in the corner of his lip as a dangerous one.
“Let’s hear it,” I sigh, stopping in my steps, the sunflower in my hand falling to the ground. One more broken promise of childhood innocence.
Scorpius leans back against the car. “You’re his dirty mistress. Pippa banished you. You were pregnant with his devil spawn and now the entire village knows what a scandalous whore you are.” His eyes challenge me. “Am I right?”
I force a weak smile. “You got me.”
Scorpius puts away his notebook and looks at me for a very long time. The silence is stifling and there’s a knot in my throat that won’t go away.
“Just –“ He gets up from the ground and walks towards me. “Be frank with me for a minute, yeah?”
I meet his eyes slowly. It’s a lot of work to feel nothing. For some reason, I remember it being more effortless for the past five years. Now, standing so close to where it all began, the feelings are slamming back into me like a punch in the gut.
“Who was he?”
“No one.” I sink and try to avoid his stare. Scorpius sees me and right now I just want to be invisible. A tremor runs through my lower lip traitorously. I bite it in an effort to stop the emotions.
“Right,” Scorpius says, drawing out the word like he really means it. “Because the screaming like a banshee and not talking to me during a five hour ride is totally normal Lucy behaviour. Usually you can't even get angry over a traffic jam.”
His hands smooth over mine, gently nudging the truth out of me.
“He’s my best friend.” I squeeze my eyes shut as my voice breaks. “Was – He was my best friend.”
There’s a long pause before he speaks again. When I open my eyes there’s an emotion mirrored in his that I can’t really place.
“Is there really no one you could contact?”
He’s offering me an out from the emotional turmoil and I grab it like a lifeline. An idea forms in my head, stupid and frankly a bit rash, but with the sun scorching my skin, just about any plan will do.
“There is someone…”
They arrive at sunset.
The soft pops of two people apparating break the silence of the meadow. They’re mere dots in the horizon, but before long two tall figures near us, one with dark wild hair and the other brown-haired and bulky.
“And so the infamous daughter returns.” The tallest form smiles when they’re close enough to make out our faces. “It’s good to see you, Lucy.”
“It’s good to see you too, Darren.” I smile widely as he wraps me up in his arms. My feet leave the ground and I bury my head in the crook of his neck, breathing in the scent of him. It’s sweat mixed with oil, and irrevocably him.
“Thought you’d forgotten about us. I’m glad I kept that old Muggle phone-line after all. Imagine my surprise when it rings for the first time in five years.” He nudges me playfully with a tanned arm. “I was working on a motorcycle, too, you should see her – a right down beauty she is.”
He’s still the same. It seems like nothing has changed with him, except for a single wrinkle that spreads across his forehead, and I begin to wonder what Darren Derby has to worry about. There’s a new tattoo added to the already large collection, spreading up the side of his neck. It’s been magically tampered with, pulsing in an intricate design to the beat of his teddy-bear heart.
It’s a relief, finding him again in the same place, still working as a mechanic in the Wizarding world, collecting motors. It’s more reassuring than any words he could ever say.
“I will,” I promise him, and mean it too. “Looks like I’m going to hang around for a bit.”
There’s a bit left unsaid there and I know Darren senses it too. His warm eyes are familiar, but it’s still like there’s something missing. I feel like asking about Ted, but I know it’s a bad idea attacking that hurdle only five minutes into our reencounter. So instead I squeeze his hand and gesture to Scorpius.
“This is my friend Scorpius.”
Darren greets him warmly, wrapping him up in a hug immediately. He’s always been like that. Warm. Forgiving. I laugh at Scorpius’s startled expression over Darren’s shoulder. He’s never been very affectionate or warm. Even his bulky form is nearly lost in Darren’s large arms.
Someone clears his throat behind me and I turn around, making an extra take as I recognize the face.
“You look different,” James Potter says gruffly.
He doesn’t. He doesn’t look a day older, still lean and athletic with white burnt scars on his knuckles from hitting the ground flying too often. And young. So foolishly young. I touch a hand self-consciously to my short boy-cut.
“I was trying something new. Do you like it?”
He makes a non-comment shrug, grunting slightly. “It’s different alright. I hardly recognized you in that skirt and those heels. Didn’t think I’d see the day Lucy Weasley grew into a woman.”
He smiles then and it’s like no time has passed between then and now. He’s still my starry-eyed cousin, no matter what.
"You didn't bring your flavour of the week?" I shake my head. "You disappoint me, Potter."
"I'm taking a break from beautiful supermodels." James winks. "They are so demanding -"
I make a retching sound. "Still the same, then."
I try not to notice the way his smile wavers in the corners. I’m not completely forgiven, not yet.
“What’s with the car?” He nods at Betty.
Wind stirs the hair around my face. “Haven’t you heard? I’m Lucy Weasley, Muggle-extraordinaire, now.”
His head snaps up, and he observes me differently this time.
“Another project of yours, eh, Luce?”
“I do not have projects.”
James laughs. “Are you kidding? That’s all you do.” He begins listing off former projects randomly, “There was the Japanese garden, the cleaning of the attic, and the vegetarian phase, oh, and the playhouse out back, and the collection of recipes you never used…”
“Fine,” I admit. “I like projects.”
“You don’t just like them, you’re addicted.”
I roll my eyes at him, but don’t respond. The silence stretches for a while until James breaks it again.
“Your mum’s made a grand dinner for the entire village, you know. A pre-pre-marriage dinner. You know how she gets.”
He’s staring at me with this unreadable expression again, as if he’s testing me to see how I’ll react. I check his face for sincerity before staring pointedly at the ground.
“Yup. Gone all the way. Even caught and roasted a turkey in your honour. Gathered the entire family, she did.” His mouth twists. “It’s not often Lucy Weasley returns her obnoxious arse home and her childhood-sweetheart gets married.”
He's joking. The harshness of his words burn me, and I try to smile anyways. I recognize the anger but not the depth.
“I’m sorry, James,” I tell him finally. “For leaving.”
He shrugs angrily. “Not my problem. Was your mother’s problem, though. Worried sick, she was.” He glances up at me. “We all were.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again, quietly.
James stares hard at me for a long time. “Should hope so. Can’t wait to hear what was so important that you were incapable of flooing or owling just once for five years straight.”
He and I meet eyes and I cringe at the distance in them.
“It’s complicated.” I try and it’s an even shittier excuse than the previous one.
“Nothing’s that complicated.”
I ignore him and wordlessly set out to talk to Darren who’s begun working on Betty’s sorry arse. I’m just… not ready for him.
The sun is setting just behind the trees, painting Darren’s brown hair gold-streaked. He looks like his father, but I’m not telling him that. There are some things you don't tell Darren, like there are some things you don't ask me. Darren's father is one of them.
Scorpius's snores are loud and annoying in the chilling air. He's managed to fall asleep within five minutes and is now lying in the cramp space of the backseat with his feet sticking out the window. I poke his pale feet idly in passing and he emits a rather girlish giggle.
Sniggering, I continue to the back of the car. It smells like motor oil and home here, and I close my eyes briefly at the stench, delight making me breathy. We used to hang out at Darren's garage all the time back in the days. Those warm summer-days are some of the best memories I have.
“She’s a right mess, alright,” Darren tells me when I crouch beside him.
“But you’ll fix her, right?”
“Course. I’m amazing,” he says gruffly. “She’ll be running in ten.”
And sure enough, ten minutes later, we are driving down the road with two more passengers. Mr Gobbles is not in favour of the new additions but after some coaxing from Darren (and some biscuits), she finally settles in his lap. Scorpius is thrilled, barely containing his grin as James gingerly settles in the back seat with him. He's always been a sucker for Quidditch-stars.
We arrive at Grimsby with the rain.
As soon as the bay comes into view I stop the car and step out. James and Scorpius are both sleeping in the backseat, snoring loudly. It’s bitterly cold, the rain hitting mercilessly against my bare legs, but I walk to the edge nonetheless, watching my city. I can hear Darren grumble as he gets out into the down-pour. It reminds me of how Ted used to complain about the weather.
Lucy 14, Ted 16, 11 years ago.
“Don’t you just hate this place?” He presses a hand against the window. Outside the rain has been coming down for ages. “The bay will flood.”
“It always floods, Ted.” I shrug and he turns to face the view once again, seemingly mesmerized by the storm or just disappointed by my answer.
He turns to look at me again, gauging my reaction. As if it'll launch me into a fit or something. I don't know what he's expecting from me, but he's expecting something. I don't give him anything, my face impassive. Inside my heart is hammering against my chest, panic squeezing my lungs. I can't stay here without him, but I won't give him anything, not yet.
He’s frowning, his expression grim. “As soon as I graduate, I’m moving out of this dump. Gonna find a warm place. Travel the world.”
He presses a hand against the foggy window. "Only one more year, small stuff. One more year and I'm out of here."
He’s no longer watching me but staring past me, and I can’t help but watch him instead. He seems lost in thought, already miles away, draped in accents and mystery. My eyes travel his tall form, the bulging arms and the sharp jut of his jaw. The shadow of a beard is spreading from his lips. He looks older, like the father he never knew. Like the man I have always known he would become.
It’s like I’ve never seen him before this moment and I feel alienated. He’s standing at an arm’s length from me, yet he feels eons away. I try to imagine Grimsby without my best friend, but fail.
My whisper falls away with the rain. I can't even look him in the eyes as I say it, my voice weak and trembling.
I know I won't be able to change his mind. Vic - perfect, beautiful and manipulative Victoire couldn't even change his mind and she's his girlfriend. She holds a power over him that I won't ever hold. I'm just plain-old-Lucy, a nobody.
The room is lit in silver; it’s only the two of us here, standing inside the barn. It’s been our meeting point for seven years. Ted stares at me for a long time. I would do anything to know what he’s thinking. I want him here. He’s left once and that was enough. Now we’re finally at the same place again, at Hogwarts. But he’s only got a year left and I still have three more years left of this. It seems like whenever I start catching up, he does something that throws me off again.
Ted meets my eyes slowly. He’s serious.
“I have to.”
And that’s that.
I try to recall the exact look on his face but all I seem to recall is his full lips, smiling down at me. I discard the thought and look down beneath me. The Southern bank stretches out far into the dark horizon. The bridge is the only way off the island besides the ferry. Even in the darkness it lights up, leading the way like a stairwell to capitulation.
“It’s missed you.” Darren comes up behind me, his voice soft.
“You’re sweet.” I smile up at him. “But a liar.”
“It’s true.” He nudges me. “Grimsby hasn’t been the same since you left.”
“What, free of failures?”
“No." A slow smile spreads across his face. "Free of free lager.”
My laugh comes out sad and wrong. Darren furrows his brow at me. He looks off into the horizon.
“Have you spoken to him yet? To Ted?” He asks, not looking at me.
“Have you spoken to Dom?” My retort is icy and too harsh.
His eyes meet mine.
His smile is grim and I look away again, burnt by the sadness. We don’t say anything else for a long time.
“Okay, I get it.” Darren runs a large hand through his hair, glancing at me. “You got hurt. You ran. And now you don’t know what to tell him.”
“He’s getting married.”
The whisper is quiet, almost lost to the wind, but I know he’s heard the words.
“And it’s not you.“
My mistake is to look at his face. There’s a flash of emotions running across his face within seconds. Regret. Understanding. Hurt. The hurt is as ancient as our friendship and I feel like shrugging it off, laughing or running. Neither are options, really, so I decide for honesty.
“Everyone must hate me.”
Darren pauses, but shakes his head. “No one hates you, Luce. Mostly they’re just confused. And worried.”
He could be lying. I left in such a hurry that no one seemed to realize it before I was halfway across the globe. But I let his words calm my heart nonetheless.
“How would you feel?” I sneak a glance at his face, it’s in the dark and I can just make out the defiant jut of his jaw. “If it were –“
“I wouldn’t.” He cuts me off before I finish the sentence. “I just wouldn’t.”
“Just… don’t." He turns away from the bay. “It’s not the same. She didn’t love me. She wants a rich bloke, not a poor, fatherless mechanic.”
“Let’s just get your arse home, yeah?”
Darren’s fists are clenched. We stare at each other for a long minute.
“She did love you,” I tell him, my voice trembling traitorously. “She was just scared. We all were.”
He looks me in the eye. “I know.”
“And it is the same.”
Underneath us, the ferry makes its last trip of the day across the waters, its light casting a golden glow across the rippling water. I breathe the salty air in, almost feeling his touch sweep across my skin, carried by the breeze.
“He's missed you.” The way Darren says it lets me know that he’s been itching to tell me this ever since I called. “And he needs his best friend.”
“I’m not… his best friend any more.” I take a deep breath. ”I’m not sure I’m anything anymore.”
I avoid his eyes so that I won’t see the disappointment there. From here the ferry looks like a shooting star, inching its way across the sky slowly. I would make a wish, but they’ve never made a difference.
“He doesn’t need me,” I tell him again sternly, as if to prove a point.
Darren just looks at me sadly.
“What if I don’t get it?” My bottom lip tremors as I stare at his form.
Ted sighs, pulling hard at the oars. The small boat jitters gently in the water as it moves through it. The bridge is towering up in front of us, larger than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. Ted pauses for a moment, gauging its size, he glances back at me.
“You don’t know that.”
It’s been the same discussion for the past month, ever since three self-righteous owls arrived at the Weasley households in the early morning mist.
“You don’t! You got the letter, Molly got it, Vicky got the letter –“ I try and let the discontent out of my voice but find it to be of no avail. “It’s not fair –“
“And you’ll get it! Stop being a baby.”
There’s something different to his voice. I eye him carefully, almost too afraid to look too closely. Ted has been quiet lately, he’s always been quiet, but this feels different. I‘ve been having trouble following ever since that letter. Something inside it changed him. I had only time to chance a look at the sinewy writing before Ted had pulled me out the door to play. But I know there is something fishy about it. It has stolen my best friend and I’m not about to be forgiving about that any time soon.
“Stop saying I’m a baby.”
“You so are. I heard what Vicky said behind the shed.” I look away from him, letting my eyes run the wide expand of blue. “I wish…”
“Two years, Luce. They’ll pass right by you.” He reaches over to squeeze my arm, but I look away.
Two years. Two years is a lot. Baby Roxanne is two years old. That’s her entire life I'll have to wait. The number keeps beating around my head, again and again. It never used to make a difference and now it’s all that seems to matter.
“What if I’m a Squib? James is already teasing me for not having shown magic yet, I don’t need anything more to make me a freak.”
“You’re not a squib.”
Around us, August is bleeding out, eroding into the skyline as the sea swallows the sun. It lights a halo around his purple hair, shadowing me in a warm glow. Shadowing me in Ted’s glow. We’ve run off, taking the old boat out onto the river. There’s a hole in the bottom of it and I cover it closely with my foot, afraid to move even the slightest. I'm careful like that. Mum calls it thoughtful, James calls it being a wussy. I focus my stare on the hole, not meeting Ted's stare.
“When have I ever lied to you?”
Ted regards me for a long time, his mouth set in a straight line. I recognize the stare as determination and realize with another pang to my chest that this will be one of the last times I’ll see my best friend for months.
“You lied to me about the ghoul in the basement – there isn’t one!”
“That was just for laughs, Short Stuff.”
“It wasn’t funny.”
Ted stops rowing and leans over until his face is inches away from mine. I stare at my hand gripping the railing to avoid his gaze.
“Hey,” he says, reaching over and nudging my chin so that I meet his eyes. They’re his own colour today, something that hardly happens. It soothes me somehow, knowing this. “When have I lied to you about something important?”
I aim for a smile, but it turns into a grimace instead. He hasn’t begun rowing again and we’re lying still in the middle of the bay, swaying softly in the water.
“You’ll get in. You’re filled to the brim with magic.”
I look up. “Really?”
“Yes, Lucy.” Ted smiles. “Really.”
“And you’re not just saying this because you’re my best friend?”
“I’m not, honest.”
“Okay.” I nod finally.
“Okay.” He smiles and begins rowing again. "And if they say otherwise, I'll just make them let you in anyways."
My eyes are wide. "You can do that?"
"Of course. You can do anything once you're in."
My shoulders relax and I smile at him. "I can't wait to go there with you."
"It's going to be wicked."
I frown, "But you'll be above me in years."
"James says that the older students don't talk to first years."
"Nah." Ted shakes his head. "You're my best friend. 'Course I'm going to talk to you. I'll teach you tricks in the holidays, so you'll be the best in your year."
Above us, the moon has finally emerged, dim with clouds as it bathes us in a soft silver light. Ted is still smiling at me, his eyes distant. He’s already dreaming of Hogwarts and I feel the envy curling in my stomach.
“Do it again?” I ask him. He shifts in his seat.
I fidget with my hair, pouting slightly. “Come on, Ted, please?”
“Fine.” He sighs. I beam at him and watch in awe as he squeezes his eyes shut. Before long, his ears start squeaking loudly, dotted by purple polka dots.
I giggle madly and soon enough, Ted joins in, guffawing. He begins rowing again, long strides, as he returns us to shore. A silence settles between us, heavy with something I’m not sure I understand.
We arrive at the harbour, gliding soundlessly into a free spot. Ted leans back against the boat, his eyes move across the expand of my face. His expression softens for a moment.
“I’m going to miss you, Short Stuff.”
The seriousness in his eyes lets me know that it’s all going to change now. I eye the distance between us in the boat. Even though it’s only about a feet, it feels larger, stretching far out.
“Do you think we’ll grow apart like Mum told me?” I blurt out, voicing the doubt left in me since the conversation my mother had with me this morning over breakfast.
“Course we won’t.” He sounds so sure. I swallow, and nod the smallest nod in the world.
“Because she’s nearly always right, you know.”
He looks down between us. “I know.” His voice is barely a whisper, ”But not… not this time.”
This is how I know he’ll be fine. He’ll end up in Gryffindor like his parents, because he’s the bravest person I know. Even braver than Uncle Harry, and he’s a hero. I don’t exactly know what it was he did. Ted knows. I haven’t quite forgiven him for not telling me. We usually share all our secrets, but not lately. Lately, he's been eyeing me differently. He knows things now. Grown-up things.
“She didn’t have to say that to you.” I fidget with my jacket.
Ted lifts an oar out of the water, not meeting my eyes. “There are many things your mother says that she doesn’t have to say.”
“Like when she told Aunt Hermione her new glasses were ugly?”
Ted looks up for a moment, smiling wryly. “A bit like that, yeah.”
"Come on." Darren rests a gentle hand on my arm. "It's getting late."
With a last withering look at the slumbering city below our feet, we walk back to the car and set for home.
In the back seat, Mr Gobbles purrs loudly as Betty scrambles to life with a tired roar. James's head is now resting awkwardly against Scorpius's shoulder. There's a wet patch of drool right underneath his mouth. Smiling, I turn to face my city.
My fingertips press against the steering wheel gently, but persistently. Ahead, the city seems to reach out in the darkness, stretching its arms outwards.
I can feel Darren staring at me silently. I push down the speeder, my shoulders giving as the car sets into motion.
“Let’s go home.”
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