Chapter 84 : A Lonely Husband
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Twenty-six minutes and eleven seconds after Scarlett had left, Regulus began to wonder where she had gone off to.
He had been occupying himself while she had gone with the other company, but once he had made his rounds and she had still not come back he began to wonder. He trusted her judgment, yes, but he only trusted it for approximately twenty-six minutes. After that he couldn't help but wonder.
And as he began to wonder, he began to worry. Scarlett knew what she was doing, but hadn't she been acting suspicious when she had left in the first place?
Merlin, should he have not let her leave? Should he have been more careful? Why had it taken him twenty-six minutes before he had considered how she had been acting, how formal and polite she had been when her immediate reaction had been so drastic?
Regulus, who tended towards calmness, tried to compose the feeling that swelled in his stomach as he walked towards the inside of the house. He only had to see if she was all right; that was all. He didn't want to be overbearing, didn't want to bring up the same conversation that they had had before about his nosiness.
He just couldn't imagine what could have happened within twenty six minutes that were good, especially considering all that he knew about Scarlett... all that he remembered...
That moment, when she had been sobbing into his shoulder helplessly, resounded in Regulus with a power that was haunting. It sometimes appeared in his mind in the middle of classes or when about to go to sleep; it now always appeared when he saw her, as much as he didn't want it to.
It was a true statement to the strength Scarlett had exuded throughout their friendship that, when he saw her sobbing, he knew that whoever knew of her situation had to be torturing her very soul. She had been tired before—refused to talk to him for an entire night when things seemed really bad—but when he had seen her crying, shaking uncontrollably in his arms, she had shown him whether she intended to or not just how dire her situation had become.
So when Regulus Black recognized after twenty-six minutes and eleven seconds that Scarlett had not yet returned, it was impossible for him not to wonder how dire the situation was, now, as he stood amidst a group of people too self-absorbed to recognize that she had not been in their company for about a half hour. Was she all right? Was he jumping to conclusions?
No matter if he was or wasn't, he had to figure out where she had gone. He walked through the hallways towards the washroom, and exhaled in relief when he saw that the light that peeked underneath the washroom door was on.
Good. She was safe.
"Scarlett?" Regulus called out, and the relief that he had felt extinguished when she didn't respond. "Scarlett?" he repeated again, in case he hadn't heard her, but there was no response.
He took a deep breath, pointing his wand towards the door and muttering an incantation to unlock the door. As the lock responded and the door opened slowly, Regulus began, "Look, I'm sorry, I just had to see if you were all right—"
But then he noticed that, when the door had opened fully, Scarlett was nowhere to be found, even though the washroom had been locked from the inside.
Which meant... she wasn't here. Regulus had no idea where she was.
He also had no idea if twenty-six minutes had been twenty-six minutes too late.
Theodore was having a pretty good time at the wedding.
Well, he guessed, anyway. He didn't really put a lot of faith into the institution of marriage, but had to value the beautiful decorations that Georgiana had chosen for the wedding. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and, as he was no longer the groom, Theodore could fully appreciate every aspect of the wedding instead of wasting his energies on a certain someone.
Who, by the way, he hadn't seen. He hadn't really been looking for her—she tended towards Regulus and he had no interest in striking a conversation with her—but it still struck him as odd that he didn't know where she was whatsoever.
He shrugged. It could have had something to do with Ambrose.
Ambrose had taken the wedding extremely seriously; while she didn't really care that Scarlett technically was Theodore's escort, she did care that Theodore took steps to be romantic. He had spent the last few hours with her, from the end of the ceremony to the near end of the reception, never once daring to leave her sight.
To be truthful, it was perhaps a bit much. Theodore supposed that Ambrose deserved to have what she wanted, considering she had done so much for him, but he wasn't really in the mood for her games or for her distractions tonight.
Maybe it was bitterness. He couldn't help it; here he was, at the same place where he had so foolishly promised that Scarlett would be his forever and always, with a different girl than he had married. It was so stupidly funny and ironic that he would be asked to be here again, now, watching his sister marry someone he was confident she didn't have feelings for.
How could he not be bitter, really?
"I'm having a great time," Ambrose said suddenly, interrupting the sullen silence that he had brought upon the couple. She smiled as she moved closer to him, inappropriately close considering he was married. "Aren't you?"
"Yeah, yeah," he said; he couldn't think of anything more enthusiastic to say. "I'm happy to be here with you."
"I'm happy to be with you too..." she said, giggling. Theodore had to respect how plastic the laugh sounded, how Ambrose could afford to be so mechanical when he was emotionally ruined. "You know..." she said, whispering in his ear, "I think we could afford to find an empty room, if you wanted to..."
Although Ambrose had said suggestions like that before, although he had always willingly accepted her offers to distract him, there was something in the manner she said it that caused him to unconsciously cringe and pull away from her slightly. "Um," he said, trying to recompose himself, but by the time he had thought of a clever enough excuse she had also pulled away, the moment ruined.
"Is everything all right, Theodore?" Ambrose asked; was Theodore imagining a lack of concern in her voice? "You've been acting oddly all night. I just wanted to cheer you up a bit."
Theodore rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly as he inhaled the Amortentia scent that now smelled cheap. Despite how badly it hurt her wrists in doing so, she made a point of wearing it every day; it was as if she hadn't understood that he was trying to escape the girl she was trying to emulate. "I'm okay, Ambrose," he said, but he didn't sound very truthful either. "It's just a lot to take in for a night. My sister being married, I mean."
"She'll be fine," Ambrose soothed. "Georgie's a smart girl. Always has been. And she could do a lot worse than Avery... he's relatively rich... reasonably successful...young. I wonder when they're going to snag the other Black boy, though," she wondered aloud. "He's coming of age soon, isn't he?"
Theodore nodded. "I think he's sixteen," he said. "But I don't really pay attention to those sort of things."
"Fair enough," Ambrose responded, and Theodore nodded again, the two falling into silence.
Merlin, had he really not spent a night just talking to her? Ambrose was a great girl; Theodore was confident on that. Her motives were a little slimy, and her manners a little manipulative, but he knew what she was doing just as she knew he was aware of it. She wasn't trying to hide anything.
Despite that, he felt that something had grown... stale. Had he become bored of her? She was just as beautiful as when they had started dating. He figured that he would never tire of her physical presence. As for what she was saying, it was simple conversation and nothing more, a gentle pattern of exchanges that Theodore had fallen into, never once venturing to delve deeper.
It was not much a change in her as it was a change in him. For some reason, coming to this wedding, seeing the same reality unfold for Georgiana as it had unfolded for him... it bothered him. It bothered him and he didn't really have a reason why.
All he knew was that Ambrose was becoming a bit much.
Ambrose cleared her throat. "Are you sure you don't want to...Do you want to just go on a walk?" she asked, and Theodore shrugged, allowing her to lead.
She tried to put her hand in his, but again he resisted. "Theodore?" Ambrose asked, and though Ambrose was known for being mechanical Theodore could've sworn he heard an edge in her voice. "What's wrong?"
"We're in public," he responded. "At a socialite event. Ambrose, we can't do that."
There was a pause, an uncomfortable beat. "Fine," Ambrose finally said; she sounded irritated.
They walked around in silence for a little bit as Theodore tried to recompose himself. He knew he was taking whatever bitterness still resided in him out on Ambrose, and he took a deep breath as he gently put his hand on the small of her back. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "It's just a bad situation."
Ambrose didn't immediately respond. "Okay."
Her anger grated at him uncomfortably as they took their walk in silence. She couldn't leave. He didn't know what he would do if Ambrose left him. Yes, their relationship didn't have substance, but Theodore wasn't looking for substance. He was looking for company, no matter how stale he felt it was.
He didn't trust himself, being alone.
Just as he was contemplating Ambrose leaving him another person joined them: Regulus Black, whom they had just talked about. "Hello, Regulus," Ambrose said coolly. "How are you?"
Regulus Black looked frazzled. "Theodore," he said, ignoring Ambrose rudely, "have you seen Scarlett?"
Theodore blinked; he really didn't like the sound of her name. "No," he responded, although his answer sounded more like a question. "Haven't you been with her all night?"
"No, that's—that's the thing," Regulus said, and he put a hand through his hair distractedly. "I don't know what happened. We were over there and then all of a sudden she just—she felt really sick and then she started acting all strange and told me she was going to get some medicine from the washroom."
Theodore blinked again. "Well, there's no medicine in the washroom," he said, feeling guilty that he knew that. "They have a potions room on the second floor that holds all of their medicine."
"Maybe," suggested Ambrose, whose tone had changed drastically since Regulus had snubbed her, "you could try checking near the washroom. Just a thought."
Again, Regulus ignored her. "There's no medicine? That's rich, that's..." He put his hand through his hair. "I checked the washroom," he said. "It was locked from the inside. Those doors don't have an outside lock, I'm assuming, Theodore?"
"No," Theodore said; as much as he rejected all emotion, as much as he rejected Scarlett in her entirety, he felt panic begin to creep into his own demeanor as he considered what Regulus was saying. "No, they don't."
"So she Apparated," Regulus said, processing the information. "Is there anywhere that she would have gone? She couldn't have gotten into Hogwarts, they have wards all over the place—"
"Your guess is as good as ours, Regulus," Ambrose said; Theodore had never heard her sound so angry. "We wish you luck finding her, really."
And then, putting her hand on Theodore's back, she pushed him so that they were walking away from where Regulus stood, his demeanor confused and concerned.
"I don't want to talk about it," Ambrose said shortly.
He couldn't help himself. "What did you do that for?" he said. "That was pretty rude—"
"I don't want to talk about it," Ambrose said, her voice on the verge of being too loud. "Can we just drop it, all right?"
"No," he said; why was he pushing her buttons? "Ambrose, Scarlett is my wife. You can't be surprised when people ask me where she is—"
Ambrose took her hand off of Theodore's back and moved his hand off hers, turning so that she was face-to-face with him. "She's not just your wife, Theodore," she said angrily. "She is your everything."
The statement hit him forcefully. "Ambrose," he said, trying to keep his voice even, "it is just—difficult, all right? All right?"
Ambrose rolled her eyes. "Isn't everything so difficult for you, Theodore," she said mockingly. "Poor Theodore. I have dated so many people and a lot of them have had problems. But Merlin if I ever saw anyone else that seemed so willing to have problems. To burden others with their problems."
The statement was so offensive and painful to hear and Theodore couldn't help but become angry when she said it. "You don't understand," he said. "You go through people like they're your toys. You haven't ever loved anyone." He paused. "Bet you never loved me."
Ambrose said nothing; her eyes narrowed. "So you don't know what it's like," Theodore said, the words flustered and coming from his chest as if they were on fire. "I loved her, Ambrose. I'm her husband. Do you know what it's like to make a promise that's supposed to last forever and lasts maybe a week or two? Or never really lasted at all? Do you know what that's like?"
When she still didn't say anything, Theodore kept going as if a floodgate had been opened. "No, you don't. You don't know what it is like. So I am sorry if I have burdened you, Ambrose. Merlin if you didn't know what you were getting yourself into.
"I see the rubbish you put on your wrists, by the way," Theodore said. "It's grown old."
"How dare you!" she yelled; it only made him more angry that she didn't care if they were discovered. "Just because I take pride in my appearance—"
"Rubbish," Theodore said. "You always knew what that did to me. That it reminded me of her. And that lipstick you always wear—don't think I haven't noticed. You're all smoke and mirrors."
"How dare you," she repeated, but this time her tone was low and venomous. She took a deep breath before she spoke again. "You're pathetic," she said. "I will go back to that reception and I can guarantee that I will find someone. But you—" She shook her head. "You're completely hopeless. If you can't have her you can never be happy with anyone else. And eventually everyone will catch on and you will be all alone."
She stormed away from him; it was then that Theodore realized his hands were shaking, that his face was hot with embarrassment and anger, and that his throat had closed up so that it was hard to breathe.
Ambrose would never understand why Scarlett affected him the way she did. Theodore would probably never understand either.
In spite of her not knowing, though, Theodore could not help but notice that she had been right about one thing.
As he readjusted his tie and willed his hands to stop shaking... As he took a few moments to push Ambrose out of his head...as his stomach clenched when he realized he didn't even know where his wife was...
He became aware that he was completely and utterly alone.
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