Chapter 4 : Four
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She remembers bits of a speech that someone recited out loud. She remembers her mother saying that if anyone other than the bride and the groom stood under the mistletoe, it would bring the newly married couple bad luck; and that her brothers dared her to go stand under one.
Nonetheless, she does not remember going back home or getting out of her dress; she has drained herself out of energy. Yet, the following morning, she wakes up and sees her miniature white dress casually lain out on the little chair next to her bed and her little sparkly shoes tossed carelessly on the ground. Then, the only thing that would occupy her mind for the rest of the day -or sometimes the rest of the week- is how her own wedding would go one day when she is old enough, how she would be proposed to, and who would propose to her.
Unfortunately –or maybe fortunately enough, those fanciful images we girls weave at the age of ten are never accurate or even remotely close to what actually would happen.
For instance, I was not proposed to in Rome next to the Trevi fountain although that was where I had imagined I would get proposed to. And I was not ten when I set my mind on that; I was fifteen. So supposedly, this had to hold some relevance to what would really happen.
I look down at my hand as my ring finger seems to feel heavier at that thought. I run my thumb over the little diamond ring that is lacing my finger and continue to think about the real-life plot twist I have just gone through.
I am supposed to be writing right now and I even had Alphard leave his laptop with me so I can continue working on the novel, but I cannot seem to focus. Although I do try to regain my concentration once more, I stop resisting my mind's urge to procrastinate and I replay my proposal in my head yet again. I still could not believe that it was something I was actually there for and that it was not a chapter from a book.
It was not necessarily what anyone would call a grand gesture; but considering the person who has done it and the manner in which he did it, I could not consider it as anything but grand.
I remember having to wait for him to say something, to do anything, and I remember being a little upset at him as well. After he went down on one knee, it took him a few moments to start talking and throughout that tiny fragment of time, I was speechless and suspecting that that was all a joke, a mean plot orchestrated by Lysander or Scorpius just to see how the scene would play out.
But then, he pulled out a box with a ring inside and started to talk, and all the doubt in my head seemed to diminish all of a sudden.
He said," Valeria Scamander, you may find this absurd and sudden, and it probably is. Still, I don't believe it's unwise because to me, somehow, this makes a lot of sense. I'm not even sure how it makes sense, but that's not the point. We may not have gone on a date together before or shared a romantic relationship of any sort, but I know you more than I know any other woman. And... and I know that I feel for you something I don't feel for any other woman. I love you, Valeria."
He paused for a moment and I don't even remember what was going on in my head back then. Everything was going hazy by then and it was starting to feel like a dream –it still does.
"You… you still like Victorian, right? That hasn't changed during the past few minutes?" he asked with a shy smile, apparently trying to lighten up the mood, to give us both a break from the overwhelming seriousness of it all. And when I was still too much in shock to give him any coherent response, he continued anyway, "This would be quite like a Victorian novel, except that we get to be more liberated with this. If you agree to… to this, we can go out on dates and do whatever we like. And, you know, we can count all those times we went out with Lysander and he ditched us as dates, right? Even if they were not romantic at all? And we could also wait and try to have a relationship if that's what you want, Valeria, but I feel as though I want to do this. I'm tired of waiting around; I don't want to do it anymore. And I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Valeria."
I saw him look at me and I could feel him study my face as though he was looking for any signs of approval or disapproval. Then, he smiled and asked steadily, briefly, "Valeria Scamander, will you marry me?"
By then, I still had not had enough time to get over my shock or Alphard's staggering speech, especially when I was taking into consideration how uncharacteristic it was for Alphard to jump into something such as marriage. Of course, I knew and understood his reasons behind it all, and I was not doubting how certain he was about this. Because, if he had managed to get this far, to make up a proposal speech, buy a ring, and actually get down before me on one knee, then he was beyond certain.
And that made me happy. To see him this brave, this persistent… it made me happy and proud. And I find it necessary that I tell you that because what happened next was quite surprising.
I started to cry. I was not sure if they were sad tears or happy tears. They say that happy tears are warmer and I remember trying to tell through the warmth of the tears that were all of a sudden rushing down my cheeks if they're happy or sad but failing to identify them. By then, I was still unable to put words together, but I started to talk anyway.
"I thought you’d never see me. I thought you'd always see me as your comforter and as your best friend, but as a person you could be in love with…? I never thought… But you… now you are…"
I was overthrown by various emotions as I choked on my tears. Through my eyes that were quite blurred, I noticed Alphard get to his feet again then I felt him wrap his arms around my shoulders, pulling me closer to him.
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry it has taken me this long to tell you how I feel about you, how I have been feeling for years, but… You know… And I'm sorry that I have it come out like this… with a ring and… you know, an engagement. But I felt that I have wasted enough time around you, Valeria, and I couldn't dare waste anymore. We're… we're already close, and…I'm sorry. Truly," Alphard said quietly as he tried to soothe me even though I did not believe I needed soothing.
I needed to make peace with my tangled emotions before I could let sense return to my brain.
I remained silent for a while to do that, and he stayed the way he was, embracing me. Then, once I got a grip on my cascading emotions, took a deep breath and uttered out a single word –his name – he drew back and looked at me intently. When I caught his eyes, he looked at the ground and seemed slightly embarrassed. We were, apparently, back to classic Alphard mode.
"Would you consider me insane and stupid if I told you that I don't want to wait either and that I'm not even scared or intimidated by this? You shocked me because I wasn't expecting anything… anything at all. Not a hug or an invitation to join you on a date or even a confession of your care for me, so leave alone a proposal. But I… I love you too, Alphard. I love you, And I just feel like this is the thing to do, you know. Like it's something that I want to do. Is that insane, Alphard?"
He shrugged at me and went back to staring at the grass.
"Is it?" I asked him again as I wiped the traces of tears off my face with the back of my hand.
"I don't think it is. It may be, but I don't think it is," he responded calmly, the black box still in his hand, waiting to be claimed. "It worked out in Victorian novels, right? They loved each other, they did not date, and they got married in the end, right?"
"And I trust you… and the Victorian novels you've read," I said with a smile. Then, with confidence I never knew I had, I said, "So, yes. Yes, I will marry you, Alphard Malfoy."
Then, all of a sudden, my replay of the proposal gets interrupted by a loud knock on the door, and I'm pulled out of the memory. "Yes?" I say, wondering who it could possibly be. Astoria is, once again, cooking and Alphard and Draco are both at work. And I had not asked anything of the house elves.
"Open up, Vale, and guess who's here!" a man's voice said from behind the door and I slid off the bed to open it. "Or guess before you open; I think that's the sensible thing to do!"
Of course, there was one person in the world who has always called me 'Vale' and has promised to forever call me that.
"Well, Lysander, that certainly is quite a surprise. Aren't you supposed to be on the other side of the world with the rest of the family?" I ask as my brother takes a step closer to the now open door.
"Ah, look at you; still short and bitter..." is what he says in response, craning his neck to one side as though he's making some grand speculation.
I glare at him a little and notice how his skin looks rather bronze. It clashes quite horribly with his blond hair that he has –finally- cut short and there are patches of red skin all over his arms.
"Well, we've been waiting to come and see you for days now. That lousy fiancé of yours was supposed to propose over a week ago – or that's what he's told us back then anyway! You didn't think we would let you get engaged and not come celebrate it, now did you, Vale?" he says with a very wide smile, giving me a proper answer.
"You never miss a celebration, right." I walk out of the room to stand beside him and ask, "Wait… Do you mean that everyone is here?"
"Yes, I do. Even Lorcan is here." Lysander nods for the sake of emphasis and begins to walk ahead.
"Lorcan?" I ask in disbelief, still nailed to the ground by the information.
It is very rare that Lorcan ever leaves his apartment. The fact that he even has an apartment upsets everyone in the family because, according to Mum, sitting around the table with a missing family member brings about some curse that distances the family from said missing member. Unless you're married because that means you're taking care of family and that keeps away the curse.
Anyway, every Christmas and the other, we manage to convince Lorcan into coming to join us, but other than that, we hardly get to see much of him. Therefore, hearing from Lysander that they have managed to bring him here with them just to celebrate my engagement to Alphard was a little bit surprising.
"It took Mother hours to get him to agree; he kept saying that he was busy and that he was not in the mood and that he could just make it to the wedding when it happens and that that should be enough, but then Mother got so angry at him –yes, it was that bad– and he agreed to come along," Lysander explains, very entertained as he tells me the details of the story.
"Wow…" I breathe out.
"What? Don't be so surprised. You're mummy's and daddy's little and only girl; of course, they would find your engagement important," Lysander says as we continue to walk down the halls of the Manor, drawing nearer to the sitting room that we are able to hear faint laughs coming from its direction.
I snort out in sarcasm. "Yes, says the boy who had Mother and Father drive him to Hogwarts by car every beginning of the year until Third Year, and, in the process, ruined my Hogwarts experience!"
"That's different; I used to be phobic!" Lysander points his index finger at me. "And I didn't ruin anything!"
"Oh yes, I've heard that story multiple times," I respond with a faint chuckle in my voice. "But yes, you did make my first day at Hogwarts hardly special. Because, honestly, taking the boats down to the gates isn't as fun when you already know what's behind the gates because you've been there two times before thanks to your 'phobic' older brother."
We're already at the door by then so Lysander just rolls his eyes at me in a 'you're being way too dramatic' manner and doesn't say anything.
Before I'm even into the room, Mum's arms are around me and her soft voice is excited and proud. "Congratulations, sweet heart, I'm so happy for you!"
Mum's hand that's all covered up in pale scars touches my cheek for a fraction of a second before Dad is engulfing me in a hug and practically lifting me off the ground like I'm still four.
"Dad!" I whine, pretty much like a child.
You see, my dad is, most probably, the tallest person I have ever met. It also doesn't help that he's strongly built; it makes him look more intimidating than he actually is. Or maybe he really is intimidating; after all, his favourite creatures to work with are dragons and fire pythons.
"You're tiny and it's your Mum's fault; you can take it up with her later on if you want," he says as slowly puts me down again.
If anything, Dad is probably right. Next to him, Mum looks like a child, her face glowing with genuine innocence, her white-blonde hair that soon may start trailing behind her only intensifying what Dad calls 'dove-graceful' overall look. Seeing her in that light makes it hard to believe that her favourite thing to do is hike through forests and work with things that has claws. It makes it hard to believe that she's a person who's lived through the horrors of a war. Sometimes I wish I looked as approachable as she does or that I was as strong.
"Congratulations, Vale." Dad smiles that his wrinkles show on his now bronze skin and he gives me a pat on the shoulder that communicates feelings better than words ever could.
Because when I said that only one man had vowed to call me Vale, I wasn't talking about the one whose favourite hobby is emulation.
You know, I hate it when I'm travelling and I come back and everyone is waiting for me behind the door and just lunge forward and hug me and everyone starts talking at the same moment. Someone tries to help me with my trunks, another person is telling me to come see the new species of snapdragons that we have in our garden, and some third person is telling me to go sit at the table and have dinner since I'm probably underfed and exhausted.
I hate it. And I never really catch what every person is saying or who said what and I end up with a jumble of words and emotions and that just usually makes me want to walk out right through the door and travel back to wherever I had just come from.
Apparently, family welcoming when you are recently engaged is a lot louder, yet I don't think it bothered me as much as I thought it would.
Despite that, I am very glad when everyone decides to calm down and each person starts to find something to occupy themselves with, and just Mum and I remain in the sitting room.
I feel her watching me and I could tell she wants to talk now that we actually could without having Lysander butt in or Lorcan huff and puff in the background.
For as long as I could, I try to not say anything and let Mum start the conversation whichever way she'd like to. I notice how, for the first time, the big red curtains that usually cover the wall-wide ornate window are drawn to the sides. Behind the gleaming black curls of iron, the sun is still illuminating the sky, casting shadows of grey vines that wrap themselves around the furniture in the room. Then, there's the fact that even with the sun streaming into the room, everything seems dull and haunting, and I wonder if Mum would say something about the Manor being cursed due to the deeds of the souls that once roamed these very same rooms.
"Are you judging me? You're judging me, right? You think that what I'm doing is insane and rash." I lose my ability to control my thoughts and just look down at my lap as I wait for Mum to talk.
"I don't recall saying anything as such," Mother responds in that soft voice of hers and you can almost hear amusement in her voice.
"Yes, but you want to say it," I retort and look in her direction with accusing eyes to face a pair that looks just like them, just less intense and more confident in gaze. I swear, sometimes I feel that Mum is seeing things that no one else could and that this, perhaps, is what fuels her self-assurance. And I'm not talking about Gremlins or Malfoy ghosts.
"I want to say it or you want me to say it?" she asks with a soft smile as she pushes back a lock of her blonde hair away from her face. Her hair looks a lot like mine, actually, with long blonde waves going way beyond the length of her back but apparently a little dry and worn out from the summer heat.
"No, I don't want you to say it," I tell her honestly.
No, of course I did not want to hear my mother disapprove one of the biggest and most important decisions I have ever made in my life. All the while, it really is surprising me how no one seems to be even mildly disapproving of what Alphard and I have decided to do or even questioning our readiness for something like that. This complete and peaceful acceptance of my engagement to Alphard was certainly not what I have expected to come when I agreed to have Alphard slip the engagement ring onto my finger.
"Do you believe that you're ready to do this, and that even if I, your father, and both your brothers disapprove, you would still insist to do it?" she asks me and I feel my eyes widen in horror.
Is this one of the 'be careful what you wish for 'cause you just might get it' moments that a person comes upon in life?
Despite how horrified I am by Mother's question, I take a moment to think then simply nod at her.
"Then you shouldn't care if I disapprove or not. I don't, by the way; just you don't stay the night awake wondering about it. I know you."
"Okay, you seriously scared me, Mother. For a moment there…" I shake my head and feel my heartbeat slow down again.
"I saw it coming – I think we all did. It was quite obvious, I believe. Perhaps it's just me, but I could tell how you felt about Alphard. No, I did not expect you to just up and get engaged, but still… At least now we know why you were a hatstall between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor," my Mother tells me calmly, still sounding amused.
I giggle in response and just wrap my arms around her and hug her as my eyes tear up. This time, I could totally and very easily tell that they were happy tears.
Ever since I started to write the story about the three brothers, the one that is still untitled, I have not faced any trouble. Yet, after an upbeat dinner with my family and the Malfoys, here I am, sitting outside in the garden with Alphard's laptop, unable to think of what should happen next.
There is some moisture in the air and I could feel my hair stand up thanks to the frizz. Or maybe the thanks are due to my fury over my inability to come up with anything.
Above me, dark clouds are making a puffy compilation and delivering a straightforward 'take your umbrella with you tomorrow if you're leaving the house' message to everyone. The temperature has dropped significantly since my family and the Malfoys were sitting here after dinner, and there's a breeze that keeps on making my hair get into my eyes. If anything though, this supposedly is the perfect inspirational atmosphere for writers. Not that I am actually one, but still... I need my inspiration if I want this story to get anywhere.
"I brought tea," a voice says gently from behind me and before I could turn to see its owner, I could tell it is Alphard. Momentarily, he is setting two cups of tea down on the table next to the laptop and looking at the computer screen over my shoulder.
"I can't write," I complain to him calmly as I continue to stare at the blank page.
"You're facing the famous writer's block, then? Well, don't worry; I've heard it is, most of the time, easy to overcome," he says and seats himself down on a chair next to mine.
"I don't think it's writer's block. I just don't know what should be happening next: what event, which conversation… And it's just so frustrating, especially that I'm only supposed to start the fourth chapter. Difficulties shouldn't come along so early; it's unfair! Also, I've written up this chapter about Cadmus, on a whim, and now I have an extra chapter that I don't know what to do with."
Silently, he pushes my cup of tea towards me as though trying to tell me that the cup is the answer to it all. How English.
Despite my bitter thoughts towards the cup, I grasp it and take a small sip before setting it back down on the table.
"Where have you stopped?" Alphard puts his cup down as well and looks at me, seeming determined to help me.
"Well, Ignotus has visited Anastasia in the care house and he's given her a birthday gift. But now that's the chapter I don't know where to put," I respond while staring at the small annoying vertical line that keeps on flashing on the screen endlessly, like a ticking bomb ready to explode if I do not start to write soon.
"The care house?" Alphard asks with a confused frown.
"You told me that the only time you've talked to her after that time while you were being registered in the school was when you met her in a hospital, right?"
I notice him frown again before he says, "Not exactly like that… Well, I had a gash on my head, and I went to get it patched up, and she was taking her daily dose of fluoride… in the school clinic."
"Yes, well, close enough. Modifications must be made so that I can make up a plot that is interesting. I just feel like I don't know enough about you and Jenny… all those little moments that could help me make up the plot, they're stories you've never told me and I was never there for. I feel stupid…" I say and rest my cheek on my fisted hand as I try to focus.
It probably has been a bad idea to start writing this to begin with. I had planned out all the major points in the story and the events that I actually witnessed and was able to 'modify' in order to fit it into the plot.
Nonetheless, I really had not thought about the little details with which I had to develop the friendship that existed between Alphard and Jenny at some point. I thought I knew enough and that I would be able to come up with things as I went ahead with the story, but apparently, this is not how things are truly playing out.
"You could always… ask. I still remember a lot of things and conversations; I suppose I could help… if you want," Alphard offers with a shrug, sounding a little hesitant.
I raise an uncertain eyebrow at him and ask, "Are you sure you want to do that?"
With a casual shrug, Alphard says, "Why not?"
Why not? Because we will be digging into your past, one that you have just recently started to get over, and I'm not sure how reflecting on all of those memories that you shared with Jenny would help you. That's why not.
I do not say that out loud though; if he felt as though he could manage telling me stories about the best friend he has lost without inflicting emotional damage upon himself, then I probably should not second guess him before he even gives it a shot.
Therefore, I just pick up my cup of tea again and say, "Alright then. How about you tell me something that happened after the 'school's clinic' conversation with Jenny? What happened next?"
"Erm… well… there's that time… I…" he starts to stumble over words and I could tell he is either struggling with a certain memory or just not sure how to arrange his words to tell the story.
"It's okay, you don't have to do it now," I say, quickly stopping him and gently putting a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm terrible at telling stories, Val, I…" he says and trails off then looks at the ground, as is his habit, and he stays quiet as though he's waiting for me to say something.
"Would it be easier for you to tell the stories if you write them instead of telling them to me like this? You could just write a conversation or just something that you've seen Jenny do or have done with her, her quirks, and things as such. Would that be better?" I suggest calmly and notice him look up.
He nods and says, "It'll be better if I could arrange in the words in my head, yes."
I smile widely in gratitude and exclaim, "Thank you! You're the best fiancé ever!"
I hear him chuckle and I find myself chuckling too at how easily the word fiancé just came out among the rest of the words. It's a nice word to use, I decide, as I slowly take my hand off his shoulder and bring it back to rest on my chair's armrest.
A/N: AND... yeah. He just proposed,I know, but I promise we'll get to understand Alphard... eventually. And yes, I actuallly now have an extra Ignotus/Anastasia chapter that I don't know where to put. ALSO,this chapter officially makes Progeros the longest story I have on here! So YAY! Feedback would be lovely and greatly appreciated!
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