Chapter 6 : The End of an Era
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Limbs in an awkward tangle and too much momentum between the pair meant that they were smashed together and then ripped apart rather viciously by the time they arrived at their destination. Heads spinning with vertigo, they were thrown bodily from each other to either side of the pavement.
Molly went careening into the bricks, throwing her hands out in front of her to brace from impact whilst Lucy fell backwards onto the sidewalk, wincing as her palm scraped along the pavement.
It took a moment for either of the sisters to fully regain their balance.
“You okay?” Molly asked as she pushed herself up, leaning heavily upon the bricks behind her.
“Y-yeah,” panted Lucy, who struggled to get her feet under her. After a few seconds of grunting and awkwardly rearranging her limbs, she managed, multi-coloured dots dancing before her eyes as her body adjusted to the sudden shift in gravity.
Molly’s eyes narrowed as she rounded on her sister. “I thought you said you were good at Apparating!”
“I never said I was good at it,” Lucy responded, bristling. Leave it to Molly to take her words out of context. Bloody typical. “All I said was that I passed on my first try. There’s a distinct difference.”
“Oh, well, forgive me for not knowing!” Molly exclaimed through gritted teeth. In any other situation she would have thrown her hands up in frustration but then she caught the look on her younger sister’s face and she forgot her irritation. “Luce?”
But Lucy wasn’t listening.
Head tilted back and bright red hair hanging limply over her shoulder, she stared at up at the building that loomed before her, mouth suddenly gone dry. It wasn’t even that tall of a building, only a few floors, five at most, but it was terrifying nonetheless.
“Luce?” Molly tried again, a furrow of concern appearing in her brow. “You okay?”
Lucy chewed the inside of her cheek nervously.
As much as she wanted to go inside of the building, march up what was probably a stupid amount of stairs, and finally find the answer to the stupidly puzzling and quite frankly ridiculous mystery she’d spent the better part of her day trying to crack, she was hesitant. What would this ‘T’ bloke think when she showed up on his doorstep, still dressed in his shirt, her hair in tangles and a bruise blooming on her forehead, and with absolutely no recollection of who the hell he was or what they’d done, save for some rather classless dancing in a nightclub? She blanched just thinking about it.
Lucy tore her eyes away from the building, shaking slightly.
“I need a minute,” she said, licking her lips. It did very little to help with the sudden bout of dry mouth.
Off to the side, Molly sighed and muttered, “For the love of Merlin.”
She had been waiting for this moment all day long - the moment when the pressure became too much and Lucy began to crack. It was one of Lucy’s many flaws. She was hardly delicate, but in the face of a huge, potentially life altering decision, she lost her nerve and that couldn’t happen today. Lucy would never forgive herself if Rose was the victor, and Molly would never forgive her either.
Which is why Molly did what she did. Perhaps she could have approached the situation differently, but they were running out of time and Lucy was dangerously close to entering full out Panic Mode.
It was time for drastic measures.
“Sorry, Luce,” Molly murmured under her breath as she raised her hand and slapped her sister across the face.
Lucy, who hadn’t been expecting such violence, went stumbling backwards. “Oi!” she shouted at the top of her voice, eyes wide and mouth falling open in shock. “What the bloody fuck was that for?”
Molly didn’t even waste her time rolling her eyes. “You don’t have a minute, Luce.” She levelled her sister with a pointed stare, trying not to wince at the angry red handprint she’d left on Lucy’s cheek. “In fact, you don’t even have thirty seconds which is why I need you to not focus on your anger with me and focus on what I’m trying to tell you.”
Lucy closed her mouth and glowered.
“You’re going to go up there and you’re going to beat Rose. Because otherwise I will have wasted a perfectly good day chasing some bloke I don’t even know and you probably have no interest in. And you know how much I hate wasting my time.”
“I do,” replied Lucy, feeling no more confident than she had a few moments ago, but her cheek stung and her irritation with her older sister was still very raw and real. “I’m going to get you back for this, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” Molly replied, smiling hugely. “But first you have to beat Rose. Why, I don’t know, but I do know that it’s important to you. So - go do this for yourself, okay? Besides,” she added, tilting her head. “It’s about time someone showed that swot who’s boss.”
“Yeah,” Lucy said to herself, nodding. “And who better than me, right?”
“Exactly! Now go up there and get the bloke.” She lifted a hand to clap Lucy on the shoulder but refrained, having seen the warning look on Lucy’s face. Clearly physical contact, even of the affectionate sort, would be off the table for the time being.
Swallowing thickly, Lucy did her best to bolster her confidence by squaring her shoulders and tilting her chin. It did very little, but at least Molly would think that she was stepping up to the plate and taking charge of the situation for once. That had to count for something, right?
“Right,” Lucy muttered to herself as she approached the building. “You can do this, Luce. You can. You’re better than Rose, even if hardly anyone else recognises the fact.”
Just before she disappeared inside, Lucy looked back at her sister one last time. Molly flashed another smile and pounded her fist into the flat of her hand.
Unable to help herself, Lucy grinned and ducked into the building, hoping that she wasn’t already too late and that Rose had not, in fact, beat her to the punch.
There was a lift.
There was a bloody lift.
Lucy could have cried in happiness right then and there. After walking up all those flights of stairs, after all of that running round the park, her feet were aching and honestly? She didn’t know if she could face another flight of stairs without completely losing her mind.
Jabbing the up button, Lucy waited for the lift to return to the ground floor.
If she was being honest with herself, this entire thing was stupid. The only reason why she and Molly had even left her flat was because she, Lucy, was convinced that she had broken her sweet cousin Victoire’s heart by shagging her live-in boyfriend, Teddy Lupin. When that turned out not to be the case, Lucy was content with returning back to her bed and getting a few more hours of shut-eye, but Molly had convinced her that they needed to get to the bottom of everything by going to Louis.
And that’s where everything spiralled out of control, because that’s when Rose was introduced to the whole equation and whenever Rose was involved, Lucy couldn’t help herself.
It was childish, her need to prove that she was better than Rose. It was stupid, the fact that her own sense of self-worth depended on whether or not she was the first to get to the bottom of the mystery. It was ridiculous, as it was very likely that Lucy hadn’t even liked the elusive T, which is why Rose swooped in and collected her sloppy seconds like some vulture.
Lucy sighed, folding her arms over her chest. The lift still hadn’t arrived.
Mostly Lucy was doing this out of spite. It was a dumb reason, especially when the feelings of a potentially nice man were on the line. For all she knew, he might have liked her very much and was disappointed when she gave him the cold shoulder. But why would he have given her his number if they hadn’t hit it off?
Another sigh escaped her and she carded her fingers through her hair, which was growing lanker and lanker as the day went on. She didn’t even want to imagine what she looked like as she was sure it was nothing less than an absolute fright. Exhaustion was beginning to settle into her bones and quite frankly, all she wanted to do was go home, curl up with her cat, and drift back to sleep.
Or she would have, if Rose wasn’t involved.
In the end, it always came back to their stupid rivalry. It was probably the dumbest thing she had ever done, chasing down the mystery that was the elusive T, but she couldn’t let Rose win. Not again.
If Lucy won this time, though, that would be the end to all of this. If she won, Lucy would be able to put their stupid life-long competition behind her and her life would be a lot less complicated. And maybe, just maybe, she’d get over her own insecurities, for she had just as many as Rose did. Perhaps even more.
A soft ding announced the arrival of the lift. As the doors slid back, she was surprised to see that the lift wasn’t empty. Why she was surprised, she couldn’t say for certain, but Lucy found herself at a loss for words as she stared at the occupant, open-mouthed.
He wasn’t the most handsome man in the world, but there was something very attractive indeed in the straight slope of his nose, the deep set of his dark brown eyes, and the fullness in his mouth as his lips stretched into a smile. That changed everything completely. It illuminated his eyes, which were already a very pretty shade of brown, and lent him a very relaxed, very calm air.
Yes, perhaps not the most handsome man in the world, but she’d be damned if he wasn’t a close second.
And yet that wasn’t the most surprising thing about him. Neither was the way his dark fringe settled just above his proud brow or the impressive strength in his broad shoulders.
No, the most surprising thing about the handsome stranger was the fact that as soon as the doors slid back and revealed her to him, recognition settled into his features and he said the one thing she didn’t ever expect to come from his lips.
She might as well have been a deer caught in the headlights of the Knight Bus. Her mouth, which was already wide open, fell even further, and her eyes, which were already wide, were roughly the size of saucers as she stared at him, unsure what to make of this new development, if she could even make anything of it at all. Her mind was still reeling from the shock, if that wasn’t obvious enough.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, stepping out of the lift and approaching her, an excited grin playing at his lips.
Involuntarily, she took a step backwards.
His smile faltered. “Are you okay, Lucy? I don’t want to sound rude, but you - well, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
She fumbled for a response, her mouth forming words that her voice couldn’t articulate.
The man frowned, the light leaving his eyes. “Lucy?” he said again, in that wonderfully rich baritone that soothed her nerves but did little to calm to her frantic mind.
Who was this man and how did he know her? She was quite sure she had never seen him before in her life, much less talked to him long enough to give him her name. Unless…
No, it couldn’t be.
Unless it could!
“No,” she gasped, hand flying to her mouth as she returned her gaze to his face, taking in the twinkle of his eyes and the light scruff shadowing his jaw. He was her type…
“You’re not…” Lucy shook her head, heat rushing to her cheeks. How could she put this without sounding like a complete dingbat? She put a hand to her forehead, embarrassment crashing over her in a deafening wave.
Quite surprisingly, the man began to laugh. Like his voice, his laugh was deep and very rich, the infectious kind that makes you feel warm all over and very comfortable. In any other scenario, Lucy would have been melting right about now, but her embarrassment was so much, her confusion too overwhelming, that she could hardly focus on anything other than the fact that she was a horrible person.
“What’s so funny?” Lucy asked, her stomach dropping out.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
The colour left her cheeks and she bit her lip. She could always lie to him and say that of course she remembered him, she was just pulling his leg, but the guilt was crushing as it was. So she swallowed thickly and shook her head.
“No,” she finally said, feeling like the massive idiot her family always accused of her being. “I don’t. I’m so sorry.” She picked up her head and tried to smile apologetically at him, but it wobbled on her lips. “You must think I’m a huge bitch -”
“Why would I think you’re a bitch?” he interrupted, eyeing her curiously. “Because you were drunk when we left last night and don’t remember me?”
Lucy stared at him, waiting for him to continue, but he didn’t. He didn’t rant about how rude and inconsiderate she was; he didn’t call her a slag or walk away from her. It was very strange.
“Well…yeah,” she said slowly. “I mean, we spent most of the night together, dancing and talking and Merlin only knows what else. You gave me the shirt right off your back, for crying out loud!,” she paused, pulling at the collar of her shirt - or his shirt, rather, “You even wrote your name and number on the back of my hand and how do I repay you? By not even remembering who you are.”
“Tom?” Lucy repeated.
“That’s who I am,” Tom said, grinning cheekily. “One box ticked. As for all of the other boxes, I might be able to help with those.” Before she could respond, he held up his hand, a few fingers raised. “I wasn’t there all night, so we didn’t actually spend the entire night together. I only arrived at my brother, Tony, rang me to give him a lift home because he was too drunk to Apparate. So really, it was only like thirty minutes.”
He lowered one of his fingers.
“Two, we did dance, but only once and only after my brother and the girl he was with - she had red hair like you and I think her name might have been Rose- insisted that we did. It was enjoyable, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have given you my number.”
Another one of his fingers lowered.
Vaguely, she recalled being pulled out of her seat and shoved into the strong arms of a stranger, who she promptly dragged to the dance floor as a familiar pop song blared on the speakers.
“After we danced, you said you needed to sit down so we went over to the bar and started talking, but unfortunately our conversation was cut off when a bloke who claimed to be your cousin came stumbling over and spilled his drink all over your shirt by accident. And then someone else who claimed to be your cousin came over to help you out but she couldn’t get the spell right because she, too, was very drunk so I offered to take care of you by taking you to the loo and giving you my shirt so you wouldn’t have to wear a wet shirt for the rest of the evening.”
She remembered laughing hysterically as she stumbled into the loo and calling “no peeking!” at the top of her voice as she entered one of the cubicles.
The last of his fingers went down and he smiled apprehensively at her. “Do you remember any of that?”
“A little bit?” She flushed, closing her eyes and laughing at herself. “Merlin, I feel like such an idiot for being so drunk. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”
“It was my pleasure,” Tom replied.
Lucy doubted that very much as she had more experience that she’d like taking care of drunk people - and she knew just how obnoxious she could be whilst drunk. Louis had shown her in their grandfather’s Pensive a few Christmases ago.
“Well, thank you,” Lucy said, ducking her head. “I know that I can be quite - er - a handful when I’m intoxicated. Can’t imagine the conversation was very coherent.”
“No, no, quite the contrary. You were very charming,” he responded, chuckling softly. He shook his fringe out of his eyes, which caught the light. Lucy felt the butterflies stir in her stomach. “When you came out of the loo, you asked if you could see me again when you weren’t so drunk, so I gave you my number. I doubt you remember it, but you gave me your number and address as well.”
Lucy’s eyes widened. “I did?” That didn’t sound like something she would normally do - but she had always consumed an extraordinary amount of alcohol last night, too.
“Yeah,” Tom said, his cheeks turning the lightest shade of pink. “That’s actually where I was going. To your flat, to see if you wanted to go get a coffee or something.” He slipped his hand further into his pocket, looking very flustered indeed.
“You were?” Lucy bit her lip, barely able to hold back her smile. “I must have made a good impression.”
“Actually, I just wanted my shirt back.”
His lips split into a wide grin and Lucy laughed, feeling all of the tension leaving her body as her shoulders shook with mirth. Tom’s eyes brightened as she continued to laugh until he joined her.
“So,” Lucy found herself saying. “How about it then?”
Tom stared at her for a moment, as if he didn’t quite believe what he was suggesting. Again, he grinned, dimples appearing in his cheeks. The butterflies in Lucy’s stomach beat their wings frantically as he nodded.
“Yeah, okay,” he said, stepping towards her, holding out his elbow.
Smiling nervously, Lucy looped her arm through his. Her stomach felt fit to burst, what with all of the butterflies fluttering about, increasing her anxiety but also her excitement.
“As it happens, there’s this really good place just round the corner,” Tom was saying as he led her out of the building and past Molly, who was leaning against the building, chewing her fingernails anxiously. As they passed, she leapt to her feet, meaning to approach, but Lucy shook her head before fixing her attention back to Tom.
“…and their lattes are really good, too, if coffee’s not your thing.” He glanced down at her, worry in his eyes.
“No, I love coffee,” she assured him, settling her hand on his arm. “And after the day I’ve had, I could use some. You won’t believe what I’ve gone through today…”
Lucy began to tell him the tale of how she’d woken up that morning, with the worst hangover of her life and a seed of guilt growing in her stomach as she thought, horror of horrors, that she’d slept with her cousin’s boyfriend, and the hectic whirlwind of events that followed.
Tom laughed at all of the right parts, a great richly warm sound that struck her so deeply and captivated her so completely that she didn’t even notice Rose go streaking by her, red hair streaming behind her as she ran, full tilt, towards the finish line, completely unaware that not only was the race over, but there hadn’t even been one in the first place.
A/N: It’s been over two years since I started this story and I’ve finally finished! There might not have been a race but I feel like I’ve run a marathon with this one. I really hope that you enjoyed reading it because I know I enjoyed writing it. Did you like the twist at the end? I know I did!
Thanks to everyone who has supported me during the writing of this fic - Rachel, Georgia, Jack, and everyone else at TGS. You’ve been wonderful. And mostly, thanks to all of my readers. You’ve made this such an enjoyable experience.
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