I watched as Albus massaged his temples, a deep frown wrinkling his forehead.
“How bad is it?” I asked, looking unsurely at the piles of parchment littering my desk. Albus looked almost tiny in comparison to the towering paper that seemed to ooze from every inch of carpet.
“I think we can sort it,” he said slowly, putting aside one last piece of parchment. “Providing you can decipher some of this.” He jabbed his finger at a small pile to his left. “You really ought to work on your handwriting, you know.”
Offended, I reached for the first piece of parchment from the pile. “It’s not that bad.”
“It is,” he responded, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “You’ve accounted for everything, which is good.”
There was a reason I asked Albus to deal with all my accounting, mostly because my mathematical skills were appalling, but he got the job done a lot quicker than I could ever manage.
“You have to stop putting personal items through expenses, though. I’m not really sure we can justify the purchase of a ‘Weird Sisters Singing Kettle’.”
I frowned. “Of course we can. I bought it for the break room downstairs. It cheers the workers up when we get one of those snotty old ladies in here looking for home remedies for arthritis.”
“Whatever,” Albus said. “Other than that, everything is in order.”
I beamed, stepping aside so Albus could escape the parchment fortress. “Thank you, Al. I really appreciate it.”
Albus grimaced, sidling past me to exit my office, grumbling, “don’t call me Al.”
With that stress out of the way, I could safely shove all the parchment into box under my desk (which had an undetectable extension charm on it so I could just stick everything in there and no worry about space). I reached into my desk draw, drawing out the next task for the day; looking through the CVs of the potential new employees. Although Matthew and I had been thinking about taking on another shop assistant for months now, we’d never actually got round to it. We made a productive duo and we’d settled into our roles comfortably, but the time had come to think about the shop’s prospects and we needed the extra help.
I wasn’t exactly the best person at giving interviews, I knew that. Then again, I seemed to have found a gem in Matthew so I must have been doing something right. With a sigh, I skimmed the first document, hoping that I would be able to get through a fifteen minute interview with them without having to pull too many teeth.
I was dozing off in a bored stupour when I heard a knock on my office door, which awakened me from thoughts of chocolate covered digestive biscuits being dunked into a cup of tea. The person at the door didn’t even bother waiting for me to tell them to enter, because the person at the door was Scorpius and he never considered my personal space important.
“Hello,” I said, rolling my eyes slightly.
“Good morning, Rose,” he replied, grinning from gelled sideburns to gelled sideburns. “I have something for you.”
He handed me a pile of parchment, which I took reluctantly. It wasn’t as though I needed any more paperwork, was it?
“What’s this?” I asked, my eyes reading his name at the top of the parchment.
“It’s my CV,” he said happily, beaming. “Matthew told me you were going to interview some new employees later this week.”
I looked at him, and he looked back, whilst I tried to even form a polite way of saying my next sentence. “I’m not hiring you.”
He pouted. “Why not? I already quit my job.”
Hiding my head in my hands, I groaned quietly. “There is no way I can work with you, Scorpius. It’s not happening, so go back to work and get your real job back.”
“I thought we were friends,” he said in a pained voice.
“We are friends,” I conceded. “Which is why we can’t work together. It wouldn’t work.”
I tried to hand him back his CV, but he dodged my outstretched hand and started to scowl. “You’ll work with Matthew, but not with me.”
“That’s different,” I said, growing frustrated very easily. “I was working with Matthew before we were friends. Look, just trust me, okay? You can’t work for me.”
He huffed, sticking out his bottom lip in a most unattractive manner before heading towards the door. “Some friend you are,” he said sourly. He paused, his hand on the doorknob, before turning back towards me dourly. “Want to get lunch with me later?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” I said, dismissing him with a wave of my hand. He finally got the message and left me in peace to do what I had been trying to avoid doing anyway. With a sigh, I tucked the pile of CVs into the top drawer of my desk and made my way downstairs.
The shop was pleasantly quiet, with only an old man perusing the Adult section with a weird smile on his face. I poked my head around a few bookshelves and found Matthew grappling with the back window display.
“What’s cooking, good looking?” I asked, making him jump and knock over the ornate tower of books he had been arranging.
“Rose, I wish you wouldn’t sneak up on my like that,” he exhaled, looking at me in exasperation. “That took me an hour,” he added sadly.
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll fix it,” I told him. “You go and make us some tea - you look like you need a break.”
Matthew stepped back from the window display, running his hands through his hair. “You look like you do too,” he admitted, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear fondly. “You know, I always thought Boris overworked us, but that’s nothing in comparison to the new boss. She’s an absolute tyrant.”
“Don’t be cheeky,” I scolded, batting his hand away. “And don’t sexually harass me in the workplace.”
Matthew smiled ruefully. We both fell silent, having been reminded of our dearly departed Boris. The shop was definitely a different place without him. We had hung a portrait of him in the break room, so that he could tell us off every time I tried to sneak off for an extra biscuit or took too much time away from my office. I often wiled away a good twenty minutes listening to Boris rant about the lack of safety precautions taken at magic carpet races these days, or if not moaning about his untimely departure he was talking about how unprofessional Matthew and I were for ‘shacking up’, as he put it, and working together.
It wasn’t as if Matthew and I actually were that unprofessional. I shuddered at the thought of what Scorpius would be like if he did get a job here. He would probably follow customers around the shop until they bought something or were frightened off. No, Matthew and I were still the same as ever at work, smirking at our more unusual customers and trying to sneak off for pumpkin pasties before our lunch break officially started.
I went to wait behind the till as the old man placed a couple of books on the counter. I tried to give him a warm smile, but he wasn’t really interested in looking at me; his eyes remained fixed on the giant poster of Gilderoy Lockhart behind the counter. I was definitely going to have to take it down soon; I didn’t care if he was releasing a “tell-all” new autobiography, confessing some of his misadventures, it was bloody distracting. If it threw confetti at me one more time I was going to cut its hand off.
“Here,” Matthew said after the man had left, untouched by confetti. He placed two mugs of tea onto the surface, handing me a biscuit soon after. “Boris was just telling me about that time he went camping in the Himalayas.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Does he know where the Himalayas are?” I asked sceptically.
Matthew laughed. “Probably not. I think he was making it up so that I wouldn’t leave.”
“Hey, I heard that!”
Matthew and I turned to find the source of the voice, finding it somewhere around Gilderoy Lockhart’s knees. The thing was, Lockhart’s poster was larger than life size, whereas Boris’s portrait was considerably smaller. It didn’t look like he’d figured out how to scale himself up when wandering into other portraits.
“Sorry,” Matthew apologised hastily, looking a bit sheepish. Boris looked up at him sternly from Lockhart’s knees and glared.
“I did go camping in the Himalayas,” he insisted. “I went on a French exchange.”
I looked sideways at Matthew, who was starting to snigger. “Boris,” I said calmly. “The Himalayas are in India. You went to the Alps.”
Boris shrugged, leaning nonchalantly up against Lockhart’s leg. Lockhart had finally seemed to notice he was sharing portrait space with someone else and looked down at the intruder, his nose wrinkling in disgust. He tried to move his leg away from Boris, who ended up falling sideways. “They’re all mountains,” he said after brushing himself off. “All I know was it was cold and a cow tried to trample my tent.”
Matthew grinned at me briefly, causing Boris to stamp his foot indignantly and disappear off out of the frame. Honestly, some people could die and not change one bit. It was quite nice really, to have his reassuring presence in the shop in case I ever needed him. It wasn't quite the same as having the real Boris, but it was the next best thing and it didn't make the reality of his absence feel quite so harsh. He seemed pretty cool with just letting me get on with what I wanted to do with the business, but his seal of approval helped me sleep a lot easier at night. Besides, he was helping me stop eating too many biscuits.
When lunch time rolled around, I handed Matthew the shop keys and headed for the Leaky Cauldron where I knew Scorpius would be waiting. He regularly joined Molly and me for lunch these days, perhaps because we'd actually acknowledged the fact that he was an all right bloke, really. True to his word, he was perched on the edge of a wooden bench tucked behind our usual table. Molly had her head buried in her arms, presumably bored to sleep by one of Scorpius's anecdotes.
"Oi," I said as I joined them. Molly lifted her head up groggily, saw that it was me and resumed her previous position. "What's the matter with you?"
"I'm tired," she mumbled into her sleeves.
I sighed. "Maybe you should go to bed earlier," I quipped.
Molly lifted her heavy head and fixed a sleepy stare at me. "I did. Well, I mean, Lorcan and I did..."
It took me a moment to catch her meaning. "Oh, ew," I said, shaking my head and grimacing. "That is way too much information, and I do not want those mental images, thank you very much."
Now it was her turn to sigh. "Oh grow up," she grumbled. "It's not like our walls are made of stone. I know that you and Matthew aren't as innocent as you'd like to pretend."
I blushed, considering giving her a quick kick under the table. "Shut up," I muttered. Molly might have been all right discussing her love life in public, but I was definitely an extremely private person. Especially when Scorpius, with his pricked up ears, was around.
Scorpius appeared to be more interested in his stomach than either mine or Molly's bed time shenanigans, because he was rifling in his coat pocket for some change. He stood up, and headed towards the bar to place our order.
"Scorpius!" Molly called after him. "Grab us a bottle of champagne, would you?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Champagne?" I asked suspiciously. "Are we celebrating?"
"I think so," Molly said with a grin. "Just wait until Albus arrives and I'll tell you."
Okay, this was big news. Albus had told me earlier that he was going to be completely unavailable for the rest of the day because he had so much work to do. It must be an important announcement if he was dragging himself away from his accounts to join us for lunch.
Scorpius returned to the table with a bottle of the cheapest champagne on the wine list and three pots of stew, which he shared round. We dug in, eating our lunch without saying much, but I was trying to work out Molly's news through exchanging faces with her. She was pointedly ignoring my expressions though, leaving me with a twitching eyebrow and lip after a good five minutes of failed attempts.
Albus finally arrived, wrapped in a heavy wool cloak and a bobble hat. Honestly, you would have thought his thick mop of hair was enough to fight off the January chill. He plonked himself down next to Scorpius and eyed Molly eagerly. "Go on then, tell us all what's so important."
"Well," Molly said, flashing her teeth in a big grin. "Lorcan proposed to me last night."
"Holy crap," I said, stunned. That was all rather quick, wasn't it? They'd only been together a year. "Did you accept?" If I was being a teensy bit honest, I had to admit that I was annoyed she hadn't come round to Matthew's to tell me immediately, but we couldn't have everything. By the sound of it, she had been a bit preoccupied with other things anyway.
"Not yet," she said wickedly. "I'm obviously going to say yes, but it never hurts to build up some suspense, does it?"
Albus frowned. "You didn't say yes?"
"I told him I needed to think about it, but in the meantime he could have a go at convincing me," she explained. I shook my head; she could be so cruel sometimes, honestly.
"But you're going to say yes?" I prompted.
"Of course." She smiled coyly, reaching for the bottle of champagne and popping the cork with practiced expertise. She poured us all a glass. "I've slipped a note under one of the crates of milk bottles in his milk float. I thought I'd surprise him."
"Do you have a ring?" Scorpius asked, presumably excited by the prospect of seeing something shiny.
"Here," Molly said, reaching inside her coat pocked for a small red box. She pushed it across the table in Scorpius's direction, who promptly opened up the box and showed us the diamond inside. Scorpius handed it to her, instructing her to put it on and show us, which she did obligingly, her eyes lighting up as the ring sparkled in the low light.
"It's beautiful," I managed after we had all stared at the ring for a while. "Congratulations."
What was the matter with me? I should be a lot more thrilled than I was about the whole thing. Lorcan was a great guy, we'd been friends with him for a good ten years and there was really no fault I could find with him. I was feeling uneasy, though. Perhaps it was an age thing - Molly was growing up, about to have a family of her own. Where did that leave me? Did I have to move out? It's not as if I doubted Matthew would let me move in, but I wasn't sure I was ready for that level of commitment yet. Didn't she realise what choice this meant I had to make? As soon as I'd thought it, I felt slightly disgusted at myself. This wasn't about me, it was about my lovely cousin and best friend finding the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. I needed to be happy for her. And I was, but not overwhelmingly so just yet.
It was bound to happen at some point, anyway. Molly was older than me by two years, so it wasn't as if she was too young. She would be turning twenty-seven at the end of the year and I had to accept that we were all going to grow up at some point (some of us faster than others, I thought, thinking of Dominique).
We sipped at our champagne, a strange silence falling over us. Albus looked deep in thought and Scorpius was still staring at Molly's ring. Eventually, when I realised there was not much more for us to say, I excused myself and ambled up the street back to the book shop. As much as I wanted to discuss this development with Matthew, who usually could make sense of my thoughts, I knew it wasn't something that I would feel comfortable admitting. I didn't want him to think that I was either trying to imply I wanted the same thing, or that I didn't ever want the same thing. I could only see that particular conversation ending badly for me. I was just going to avoid it altogether and hope that I would figure it out by myself.
"Rose!" Molly called up the street after me.
I turned, seeing her trot towards me. "Miss me already?" I joked.
"No," she denied. "I was actually going to ask you something."
I frowned. "No I won't marry you."
"Not that, idiot," she scolded. "I want to know if you'll be my Maid of Honour, once we actually get that far."
The hardness in my expression softened. It was a really sweet gesture. "You're lucky I've never been a bridesmaid before," I told her.
She looked at me like I'd sprouted a tail. "Why?"
"Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride," I informed her in a sing-song voice.
"Right," she said. "I don't really know what you're talking about."
I huffed. "It's a superstition. But anyway, yes, I'd love to be your Maid of Honour."
I managed a smile, a genuine one this time. She grabbed me and pulled me into a hug. "Oh Rosie, it's so exciting. This way you get to share it all with me too."
I nodded, feeling a bit more relaxed about the whole thing. How hard could it be, really? Molly let me go, disappearing back off to the pub and letting me return to work.
Matthew was still pretty much in the same place that I'd left him when I'd gone to lunch, except he had a sandwich in his hand and he was facing the portrait of Lockhart instead of the shop. Boris was sat cross-legged at the bottom of the poster and he was in the middle of telling what looked like a very long-winded anecdote.
"Nice lunch?" Matthew asked me, interrupting Boris as I approached him.
"Yeah," I said with a smile. "Molly had some news."
Matthew completely turned his back on Boris, who was still continuing to tell his story, and faced me. "Oh yes?"
"She and Lorcan are engaged."
Matthew nodded knowingly, a sandy lock of hair falling in front of his eyes briefly. Mirroring his earlier move on me, I tucked it back into the main body of his hair.
"I thought you said no sexual harassment," he said with a raise of his eyebrow.
I patted him on the head. "There's a difference between sexual harassment and making sure my employees are presentable."
"I see." He ducked his head out of reach of my hand and put his sandwich down. "Anyway, I'm not surprised. They're unbelievably soppy, and they're at that age..."
I felt indignant at that. "At what age? Molly's only two years older than me."
He shrugged. "Well, she's four years older than me. That's a big gap. My point is, I could just tell they were wanting to settle down soon."
I didn't know quite what he was getting at, but I let the matter drop. This was why I hadn't wanted to get into a conversation with him about it. Sometimes I was acutely aware that him being just that bit younger than me made a difference. We'd been together for a good six months now, and while I had no intention of settling down with anyone in the near future, I might want that one day. Would Matthew and I want the same things a couple of years down the line?
"Rose," Matthew said, interrupting my panicked thoughts. "She's freaked you out, hasn't she?"
"What?" I said, ready to deny anything that didn't make me seem normal or perfect girlfriend material. No man wanted their girlfriend over thinking commitment issues. Not that I had any, as such. Yet. "No, I'm fine with it."
"If you say so." He shrugged, picking up his sandwich again and resuming eating. What could I have said? While he wasn't a completely insensitive jerk like Scorpius could be sometimes, I doubted he and I needed to have a deep conversation about 'the future'. We were fine as we were, weren't we? I had nothing to worry about.
So why was I already feeling a twisting in my stomach? Bloody Molly, with her completely functional and happy relationship. I was going to have to sit through all those couple-y wedding-y things and pretend I was completely okay with it. Oh good.
AN: Sorry for the delay! I've been caught up with moving and adjusting to a new country and my new job, but I'm all settled now. I'll update again soon, I promise. Just a quick HUGE thank you to everyone who voted for me at the Dobbys - I am now the proud recipient of the award for Best Plot Twist for Just Rose. You guys are the best! Please don't forget to review!