: (sneaky author's note before the chapter) and so...I've come to the end. I'm posting all three chapters at once because chapters twenty and twenty-one have been written for months
- it was just this chapter that stood in the way, and it's definitely been the most difficult to write. I changed my mind on how to end this story several times, and the ending I am posting is not my original one, but the ending I think seems most natural. I'm really sorry if it sucks, I was a bit unsure of it for ages after I re-planned the story and...well. I'm still not sure I'm happy with it. but it's about time I finished...and this is me finishing. enjoy!
chapter nineteen - with bells on
I’d never thought Rose capable of such a simple thing, but I supposed that, if she’d been able to forgive me for stealing her first love, she’d surely be able to forgive call-me-Mary-Sue for stealing the only chance she’d had at getting a ring on her finger. But for a few minutes after Rose went up and threw her skinny, pale arms around call-me-Mary-Sue’s neck, I honestly thought she was going to break away only to punch her in her perfect little face.
Call-me-Mary-Sue had reminded me of Rose a couple of times, though. And it took me a while to realise that they’d both been duped by some nutcase in the Auror office they’d both fancied, the one that’d kept Rose’s flat and hung call-me-Mary-Sue’s paintings on the walls there, even though she’d apparently moved to New New Elgin with every intention of cutting him completely out of her life - and with every intention of putting as much distance as possible between her and Rose. She was just as terrified of her as I’d been. Even the perfect girls don’t get the perfect lives. Call-me-Mary-Sue and Rose were both textbook examples of how life can really, really screw you over if it wants to.
Rose was flipping livid, though, don’t get me wrong. I just think that, after everything that had been chucked her way, she’d run out of energy completely. So after all the apologising and the hugging (and the held breath, on mine and Scorpius’ part) was over and call-me-Mary-Sue had scampered off somewhere, presumably to cry, Rose came marching back over to us and I wasn’t surprised to see how both her fists and her teeth were clenched.
‘I want to hit someone,’ she said in an undertone.
‘Don’t,’ Scorpius said. ‘Not a good idea.’
But there wasn’t really much time to react to anything. No sooner had Rose reeled off the whole Rose/Alexander/call-me-Mary-Sue saga than the lights began to dim and there was a general gravitation of New New Elginers towards the stage. Scorpius gripped my hand tighter than ever, as if I was an anchor that’d keep him from playing the piano, but I shoved him in the direction of the stage.
‘Come on,’ I said to Rose, nodding towards the wings. We hurried over and stood, hidden, behind a fold of curtain; Scorpius hurried down the steps and took his seat at the piano in the far-left corner of the hall.
‘Are they any good?’ Rose asked.
I thought about it for a second. ‘No…not in the slightest.’
The curtain inched open. A spotlight hovered half-heartedly on centre stage. Someone with a thick accent announced that this was the New New Elgin band, the noo
. And then they were there. Surly Kevin, sulking with a bass guitar, the teenaged Morag McLumpherty dwarfed by her own drumkit. Jock Macpherson on bagpipes, Jean Cumbernauld with a microphone at the front, and the four remaining Jeans arranged behind her, youngest to oldest, as a backing band.
There was an expectant hush. A cough from the second row. I noticed Rose was holding her breath. Then it started; a piteous wail shuddered from Jock’s bagpipes and droned through the air like an unwelcome swarm of wasps upon a picnic. A single, almost inaudible bass note from Surly Kevin, a teasingly quiet flicker of snare drum from Morag. Scorpius raised his visibly shaking hands over the keyboard, waited for his cue, and then-
. His fingers threw themselves desperately upon any old note, hitting a number of others at the same time. He flinched as the chord rang around the room and, for a second, the incessant, waspish drone of the bagpipes faltered – but then Jean C launched herself forwards, grabbed the microphone with both hands, and yelled:
‘Love is tea and toast!’
There isn’t really a word that adequately describes what the New New Elgin band sounded like, so I’ve compiled a list of words that almost come close. Baffling, horrifying, perplexing, rambunctious, imponderable, OTT, and, at times, unnecessary. My heart went out to Scorpius and his lonely, shivering existence tinkling the ivories down by the front row but, honestly, I was too busy laughing to send many positive thoughts his way.
Rose was gripping onto my arm for support. ‘This is music?’ she choked.
‘What?’ I grinned back. ‘Bagpipes not doing anything for you?’
I whipped my head back around to watch the unfolding catastrophe. ‘I wrote some of these words!’ I hissed to Rose. ‘Scorpius helped! Love is tea and toast, love is a Sunday roast!’
I expected Rose to pfft
and laugh at the utter stupidity and mundanity of our lyrics, but she actually raised her eyebrows and nodded, looking a tad philosophical. ‘You know…’ she said. ‘I think…just before Alexander ended it, I realised he didn’t know how I took my tea. And it’s weird how much it got to me…’
‘Not weird at all,’ I said.
‘But isn’t that strange? All I ever wanted out of love was someone who’d know how to make a decent cup of tea.’
‘Not strange at all,’ I turned back to face the stage, and half-hoped she wouldn’t catch the next words. ‘It’s what I have. Or I like to think so anyway.’
‘You’re lucky,’ she said, and, like me, it was as if she hoped I could barely hear her, because I only just caught the words above the general racket coming from the stage. ‘You’re so happy.’
‘Nobody’s happy, Rose, not really-’
‘Only a bit. But that’s alright. I can live with that.’
‘I wish I could be more like that.’
A part of me wanted to say god, Rose, stop with the soul-searching and just enjoy the chaos
, but a better, more cousin-ly part of me wanted to turn around and pat her on the back and tell her it was alright, who needed cheating fiancés and nine-to-five jobs and expensive flats in London anyway?
I ended up indulging both parts. ‘You’re already halfway there,’ I said, patting her on the back. ‘Now, come on, let’s watch Scorpius suffer.’
She raised her eyebrows at me. ‘And I haven’t been doing that since I met him?’
It wasn’t the weirdest night of my life, not by a long shot, but it came somewhere in the top ten of weirdest nights. Sure, it wasn’t a patch on hedgehopping, drunken kisses of life or the other assorted shenanigans I’d got up to at art school, but it was definitely weird. And I had the advantage of being something of an outsider looking in. In a way, it actually felt like I was watching a fantastically abysmal piece of experimental theatre (and, thanks to Scorpius’ taste in nights out, I’d seen a lot
of fantastically abysmal experimental theatre in my time) with an audience of one: me.
I didn’t move from the wings of the stage for a good two hours solid. Me and Rose found ourselves a sturdy crate to perch on where, through the curtains, we could see a little of what was going on on the stage. After the New New Elgin shambles it was call-me-Mary-Sue’s turn to do her little piece – and she wasn’t half bad, truth be told – with her eyes all red-rimmed from crying and her fingers shaking over the piano keys. I found it a bit hard to pay attention to her sultry ballad, though, because I was too busy trying to cheer up/trying not to laugh at Scorpius.
He hadn’t coped very well with his failure at the keyboard. Once he was done sitting with his head in his hands, he sat up, leaned in close, and said in a hoarse voice –
‘I am never
playing the piano again.’
Rose howled with laughter beside me. If I’d known the sight of Scorpius failing cheered her up so much, I might have paid him to travel to London and throw himself down a staircase or something to save her all her crying.
By the evening’s standards, call-me-Mary-Sue’s smouldering ballad about lost love (which seemed all the more relevant in light of the evening’s events) was hideously normal. Inverness followed up with their music entry, which was less about smoulder and more about a choir of small children who couldn’t hold a tune for the life of them. And a cuddly Loch Ness monster, which sat in the middle of the stage, looking a bit forlorn on the bare boards.
The interval came next. An inviting array of shortbread and tea urns had been spread out at the back of the hall but, somehow, it didn’t seem all that tempting – Scorpius was busy falling to pieces like a soggy tissue beside me as, in a dingy corner, the poster competition was being judged, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted Rose consuming any more sugar; she was existing on thin air and hiccups alone. Said interval was also over pretty sharply, at which point the winner of the poster competition was announced – a certain psychotic graphic design collective unfortunately triumphed over poor wee Scorpius – and the dance round started.
See, dance isn’t really my thing. Actual dance, that is – I’m always game for drunken conga lines/twisting/twirling/falling over – you know, proper
dance. So I must confess that I spent most of the Inverness dance entry trying to cheer Scorpius up after the combined failings in the music and poster rounds. I barely even noticed when the stage cleared and the New New Elginers went up instead. Or even when Rose got dragged up to dance with them and stood at the side of the stage, self-consciously twirling her hands around. Not that anyone noticed her; I rather think Lettuce and his prancing thing with the cowbell kind of stole the show.
Scorpius, bleary-eyed and missing half an eyebrow, suggesting we go outside to get some fresh air. I took this to mean fag break
but agreed and followed him out the side door: there’s only so much madness you can take. Especially when you’ve spent half your time writing about zombies with added sex
. And we’d both seen the prancing thing with the cowbell far too many times before.
The stage door was open and it was freezing outside. We slipped out into the darkness, the music and cowbell fading behind us, our breath catching on the air and materialising in little clouds that were stained slightly blue by the light from indoors.
‘You alright?’ he said, as we walked hand-in-hand along the side alleyway, towards the town square.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Blimey, it’s dark…’
‘Pfft, I can see in the dark,’ Scorpius said. ‘I eat tons of carrots – ooft
His hand vanished from mine as he lurched forwards, having blundered into a strategically placed bin.
‘Right,’ I took my wand from my anorak pocket. ‘Lumos
Weak, watery light spilled into the alleyway, revealing Scorpius, wincing and clutching at his knees.
‘Okay, didn’t see that coming,’ he said.
I offered a hand. ‘Eat more carrots.’
‘Sure,’ he said, grasping my hand so suddenly that my concentration faltered and the light snapped out. In darkness again, I kept hold of his hand, listening to the distant ringing of a cowbell from within the hall.
‘Maybe we should have stayed to dance,’ I said, thinking of Rose’s lonely arm-twiddling at the corner of the stage. ‘We kind of took off without an explanation.’
‘Lucy…’ his disembodied voice came through the darkness. ‘You know how crap we are at dancing.’
‘Somehow I don’t think that would have hurt their chances…’
We picked our way past the dustbins and out to the front of the Town Hall. There were no streetlights here, no stars in the overcast sky – the only light was the pale gold falling from the windows and illuminating the pavements in little patches. We stood there for a few minutes, not talking, faint music colouring the quiet.
‘Weird place,’ he said. ‘But worth the move.’
I was cold, so I put my arms around him and my head on his shoulder, bringing us together for warmth and wondering, vaguely, if we were going to apparate home any time soon.
‘Good song?’ he said, sounding uncertain.
‘Not too shabby,’ I said, and he held me closer.
‘Scorpius, have you got a roll of film in your pocket?’
‘Oh, right,’ he released me for a second, extracted the offending film from his top pocket, then resumed the hug, although this time it didn’t feel like my collarbone was being crushed against a lemon squeezer.
A few years ago, I might have listened to the music coming from the hall – music with added cowbell, at that – and suggested something crazy, like, shall we dance?
But, at that moment, I just felt tired and fed up
, even, and I was mostly in the mood to go home and stick the kettle on, no matter what Scorpius and his imploring please-dance-with-me-pretty-please eyes were hinting at.
– I thought to myself. I’m getting a bit middle-aged
. Early to bed with a cuppa and a biscuit, maybe work my way through a chapter or two of smut before turning in. Forget the fact that I have this moment to stand underneath a starry sky with my boyfriend and listen to a freeform jazz-funk cowbell solo
, I want to be boring.
It was a weird feeling, that. Wanting to be boring.
‘You alright?’ he said, evidently sensing my budding mid-life crisis.
‘M’fine,’ I mumbled into his jacket. ‘Ta.’
‘I dunno what it is,’ he said. ‘But…if you’re injured, um, we’ve got plasters back at the flat? And if you’re angry at someone, well, you’re best talking to them about it, if it’s Rose, well, Rose is Rose, and if it’s your family I’m steering well clear of that in case I call your dad Mr Percy again, and if it’s something I’ve done then, well, sorry and stuff.’
The boy should have become an agony aunt, I swear.
‘It’s nothing,’ I said. ‘But thank you for the life advice. Can we go home now?’
He dipped his head towards the hall. ‘What, already? It’s only nine…’
‘I want to go home.’
He shrugged. ‘Alright…if you say so.’
So it had been a long day, a long week, a long month, a long lifetime
– and by the time we got home I felt well and truly worn out. We’d just made it in in time to beat the rain, which thrummed its fingertips on the windows like an unwelcome guest. When the two of us blundered into the kitchen I’m almost certain that Scorpius, being a muppet, wanted to try and get me to dance with him, even though there was no more music. I couldn’t be bothered for the life of me. I ended up shrugging him off when, as I was stirring two cups of tea, he crept up behind me and kissed the back of my neck.
Too worn out for that. Or talking. Or thinking much, really. We sat at opposite ends of the table and drank our tea in silence. The rain did enough talking for both of us.
Getting ready for bed was just another routine I had to follow. My mind was elsewhere. I turfed Mr Andrew Socks out of the bed without the slightest feeling of guilt, even as he yowled and clawed his way down the magazine furniture. I even felt ready to turf Scorpius out too when he cracked open a book and settled down to read. I wanted darkness and a warm duvet. I wanted to be alone in my head for a while.
But it was only ten minutes before he put the book aside and snapped out the light, sinking under the duvet to join me. I leaned over to give him a goodnight kiss that, well, lasted a little longer than usual. You know, maybe I felt a little
bit guilty for not indulging in silly dancing to cowbell music outside the town hall earlier, maybe I felt guilty about something else. Maybe I wasn’t entirely sure what I was feeling because, yes, while I wanted to be alone with my own mind and, yes, whilst I was tired and worn out and it felt like I had been awake for centuries
and I wanted to be boring – I didn’t think I wanted to be anywhere else that wasn’t there;
legs tangled up in the duvet, lips pressed to his, one hand curled over his and just
touching the spine of the book he’d left on the mattress.
And it’s a weird feeling, that – wanting to be antisocial and lie there with your own thoughts, and, at the same time, wanting nothing more to be with
I tried to console myself by thinking it was just one of those
Anyway, it was getting late on one of those
nights – although not as late as it could have got – nearly eleven, maybe, and I was beginning to think that neither of us would get to sleep that night. I was worrying about the smut and Rose and the fact that we’d abandoned Lettuce in a town hall and that we didn’t have the heating on, and I bet he was worrying about money and work as per usual. And for a little bit, it felt better to lie there all jumbled up like a collection of spare parts and, every so often, look up to see the raindrops glittering on the window. So I thought to myself that it could be alright, it could be better. It’s the way things go; they have to be naff before they’re good.
And then, probably when the clock had just ticked over to eleven (and it’s something so inconsequential it shouldn’t have even mattered, until it did) his hand slipped from my shoulder to the small of my back, just under my top – and it was so cold I actually flinched away.
I sat up, yanking the duvet up with me.
‘Hey-’ he protested, grabbing at the edge of the covers as they were whisked away from him.
The air between us suddenly seemed frozen solid and I wished we had
put the heating on. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I just…I can’t sit still for worrying
He looked a bit put-out, but dragged himself upwards, shivering slightly.
‘Money,’ I said. ‘Money and – Rose, too. I’m worried about Rose, is that weird? And Molly. Molly’s too young to marry Desmond, but I think I’m the only one who thinks that way. The smut. The zombie apocalypse!
Mary-Susannah – New New Elgin generally
. You lost the poster competition! But mostly the book, oh, god, the book – I can’t get it off my mind! I can’t write it, I just – all this romance, all this love
stuff. I mean, scary editor lady told me to write from experience, pfft
, what experience?’
It took me a moment to realise what I’d said.
‘I didn’t mean that,’ I blurted out.
‘No. I know what you mean.’
The worst thing was that he didn’t even look upset or angry, just…blank. And illegible.
‘We’re just friends,’ I said. ‘We’re just…I don’t know;
we’re just…not like the others. We’re nothing like the people in books or like Molly or Desmond or anything, we’re still the same two losers who met at a dead-end art school and-’
‘Yeah, I know,’ he said.
I drew the duvet closer to my chin, realising that, if there was a bad time for this, it was probably whilst we were both sharing a bed, in various states of undress, approaching the small hours of Sunday morning.
‘I dunno,’ I sounded very small and pathetic. ‘I can’t even figure out what it’s supposed to be like and, and, well, it’s really stupid but-’
‘Yeah, it is really stupid,’ he sounded weary. ‘It was just a book.’
‘It’s more than the books, like I said, it’s Molly and Desmond and then Jean and Jock and it was even
Rose and Alexander, whatisface, for a bit, and it’s everyone in the sodding world who seems to…know
what they’re doing!’
‘It’s really not.’
‘I just – I feel like we’re still just best friends, only…with bells on!’
worst thing was that he actually laughed at this.
‘I think…I think the phrase you’re looking for is…er, friends with benefits? Friends with bells on,’ he muttered. ‘Bells.
‘Yeah, it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!’
‘Honestly, would you move four hundred and forty miles across the country just to be with your friend with bells on?
I don’t think
‘I dunno, maybe-’
‘It’s not the same for everyone.’
‘Just because we’re not beating each other up or eloping or anything-’
‘I didn’t mean that
‘Seems like you do!’
‘No, I just – I mean – I feel like I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I don’t…I don’t know whether we’re just friends. I don’t know whether I…love you. Or not.’
There was another long, cold, empty pause.
‘Lucy…this…this will sound lame, but…I mean, I never felt like anyone wanted
me around until I met you. I mean…er…I was an accident
, my dad kind of…told me that. To my face. A lot. And I never really did great at school. Never even got close to doing what people expected. Couldn’t – still can’t, really – even hold a wand without blowing something up. And…I’m still convinced my parents split up because of all the stress of thinking I was a squib – I mean, how horrible was I as a kid? Nearly a squib, had to wear an eyepatch half the time for this stupid squint I had, didn’t even break things like other kids, just didn’t
have magic for ages – drove my mum mad, didn’t it? I just keep letting people down. I was meant to do an apprenticeship at the Ministry, you know, or at least get some sort of training in law, I don’t know, but I kind of went, fuck you, I’m an artist
and – you know? I only got on the Quidditch team at school because Al was my friend and, well, barely anybody turned up for tryouts. People used to call me scum
in the corridors. And it wasn’t even like I got beaten up once, I mean…but you’ve never done anything like that, never said I was a mistake or a failure or anything even if I am – you’ve been nothing but nice to me. Even after, you know, all the rubbish things I do. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather grow stupidly old and wrinkly with. And even if you don’t think you love me, well…I love you. And stuff. More than you think I do. Because sometimes if feel like if it wasn’t for you nobody would notice if I just…vanished. You…you keep me on earth.’
And with those final words his shoulders slumped back and it was like he’d just finished telling me some huge secret he’d been bottling away for ages. I couldn’t think of a decent response, even an apology – nothing came to me.
‘Fuck this, I’m going to sleep,’ he said. ‘I have work in the morning.’
Then he fell back onto the pillows and turned away from me, wrenching the duvet back over his shoulders and lying there, perfectly still.
I lay back down again and tried to get warm in what felt like a very cold room. It was bloody hard, especially with miserable little tears stuck to my face; after a few minutes, I started to shiver. There were a horrible few minutes whilst I was lying there, trying to keep as still as possible, that I convinced myself I’d never stop shivering and that my lips had been frozen together, for not one of the words that came to my mind – god, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry
– ever quite materialised in my mouth.
I kept willing him to look at me so I could apologise, but he never did, and I must have fallen asleep with the words in my mind because I dreamed
about saying sorry – whatever line the dream version of me had come up with to justify what I’d said was lost when I woke up, though. Woke up in an empty bed because, of course, he had the early shift as per usual, although a niggling voice in the back of my mind told me I shouldn’t assume that so easily.
It wasn’t quite
an empty bed, though. His dent in the mattress had been filled by Mr Andrew Socks and a little stack of paper tied together with a piece of string. On top there was a small card that said, simply, in a scrawl of handwriting: suggest you should read
The paper was, in fact, all eleven volumes of the little comic book project, each about ten pages long, on crinkled brown paper – and it was all tied to a slim, blank sketchbook.
On the cover, it said ‘volume twelve’ and, below, you could just make out the faint traces of pencilled letters that had been clumsily erased – the future
I blinked down at Mr Andrew Socks.
‘Is it blank to be filled, or is it blank to represent our lack
of future? Or am I reading into it too much?’
, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘You’re right,’ I said, and turned to volume one.