"Wake up," I whispered to Matthew, who was snoring lightly. When he didn't stir, I shook his shoulder gently. "Wake up!"
He groaned, shifting over slightly and rubbing his eyes. "I was having a really good dream."
"There's someone in the flat," I hissed, sitting as still as I could whilst trying to listen out for the intruder. I was sure I'd heard the door down the hall open.
"You were in it," continued Matthew, apparently not even listening to me. He grinned sleepily, then made to turn over.
"That's nice," I said, feeling agitated. "But now can you pay attention to the real me. I think someone's broken in."
When Matthew didn't say anything, I sighed, reaching out for my wand on the bedside table and slipping out of bed. Clearly I would have to deal with this alone. I padded as quietly as I could down the corridor, stopping at Molly's door to listen, but I couldn't hear anything. I opened the door as silently as I could and crept over to her bed.
"Molly," I whispered, shaking her awake. "Molly, there's someone in the house." The lump in the bed turned to look at me, revealing that it wasn't in fact Molly, but Lorcan, who wasn't wearing anything as far as I could see. "Oops, sorry," I said hastily. "Lorcan, can you come with me a sec?"
Lorcan appeared to be much more helpful in the middle of the night than Matthew was. I obligingly turned away while he found some clothes and he followed me back into the corridor.
"Are you sure?" he murmured. "Why don't we just turn on the lights and see for ourselves?"
"No," I hissed. "Then they'll see us, won't they? Just keep quiet."
My hand found the door the kitchen, turning it as slowly and quietly as I could and pushing the door open. I was met with a sudden burst of light as the lights came on. I shielded my eyes, wincing.
"Bloody hell," Lorcan barked, before we were met with the sound of a fog horn.
"Scorpius!" I yelled. "What the actual fuck are you doing here?"
My eyes rested on Scorpius, who was holding a glass of wine in one hand and a fog horn in the other. "Surprise?" he said sheepishly, followed by streamers falling from the ceiling.
Lorcan and I were shortly joined by Matthew and Rose, the latter of which looked like a crow had taken roost in her hair. "What the hell?" Molly growled. "Scorpius, get out. It's half three in the morning."
I was still recovering from my near heart attack. "I told you there was someone here," I retorted, glaring at Matthew.
"Did you?" he responded mildly. "I was asleep."
"Unlike some of us," Molly snarled. "What the hell is your problem, Malfoy?"
Scorpius seemed to have only just realised the danger he had put himself in, for he was starting to back away slowly. "I'm sorry," he said. "Rose made me jump and set off the fog horn."
"What were you doing here in the first place?" I asked, massaging my forehead to try and alleviate my headache.
“I was going to surprise you for your birthday,” he explained, his voice very quiet.
I frowned. “My birthday isn’t until November.”
Scorpius nodded. “I know. I wanted you to be surprised.”
At this point, a furious looking Molly stormed past me and frogmarched Scorpius out of the flat, throwing his fog horn at him as he started to walk down the path.
“And don’t come back until the pubs are open!” she yelled.
After that, we all retreated to our respective beds. “I thought Molly was going to kill him,” Matthew commented as we tucked ourselves back under the duvet.
“I wish she had,” I muttered, curling up next to Matthew, leaning my head on his chest. “So, are you going to tell me about this dream you were having, then?”
Matthew flicked the tip of my nose. “That’s top secret, I’m afraid. You’ll need the password.”
I kissed the end his finger. “Is it “I love Rose” by any chance?”
Matthew laughed. “Not that that isn’t true, but that’s not the password. You’re out of luck tonight.”
He started settling into his pillow, though now I felt even more awake than before. Did he just say he loved me?
When I dragged myself up for work, it was with the heavy realisation that I hadn’t really slept properly after the Scorpius incident. I rubbed my eyes sleepily, searching in my wardrobe for clean robes.
“Aren’t you getting up?” I asked Matthew, who appeared not to have noticed either my alarm or me accidentally pulling my underwear drawer all the way out of my chest of drawers and dropping it on the floor. He could sleep through anything, that man. Including supposed sort of declarations of love.
“Yeah, in a minute,” he grumbled. He looked so sweet, his face squished up against his pillow, one leg stuck out of the duvet.
I climbed onto the bed next to him, leaning over and pecking him on the lips. “Don’t be late,” I instructed him. My skirt had ridden up in this process, so I tugged it down quickly before hopping off the bed.
The depressing thing about winter was that even once you got up, it was still horribly dark outside. As I made myself some breakfast, I stared out of the window into the darkness with a frown on my face. Had Matthew even meant to say he loved me? Perhaps he was only being polite… but it wasn’t as though I’d forced him to say it, not really. I was overthinking the issue, I knew, but I couldn’t just un-hear what he had said. It was going to play on my mind all day. Oh, good.
I set off to work before Matthew – it was my turn to open up the shop today, meaning he’d be coming in later than me anyway. Diagon Alley was showing the first signs of morning life, the dark streets bustling with people going to work. I let myself into the shop and went about my morning duties: making tea and chatting to Boris.
“What do you think it means?” I asked Boris, sitting down on a box I had dragged through from the store room and sipping at my tea.
Boris, who had pulled his portrait’s armchair closer to the front of the frame, peered down at me. “Maybe he didn’t mean he was in love with you. I love this armchair,” he explained. “But I’m not in love with it.”
I frowned. “So you don’t think he’s in love with me?”
“I don’t know!” Boris exhaled. “Why don’t you just ask him, instead of me? What do I know?”
I sighed. “I thought you might have the answers to things like this, now that… you know.”
Boris scowled. “I’m a portrait, not a ghost. I’ve never died.” When I looked a bit abashed by his tone, he ran his hands through his hair and relaxed back into his chair. “Look, I don’t know. Do you love him?”
“You mean, do I love him like an armchair?” I asked.
“Do you love him like a human being?” Boris corrected. “You’ll know if and when you do.”
Boris, clearly considering the matter closed, walked straight out of his portrait. I sighed, poking my head round the corner and examining Lockhart’s poster. “There’s no use avoiding me,” I told him. “There aren’t that many portraits in this place that you can hide in.”
Scowling once more, Boris returned to his original portrait, leaving me standing at the front desk alone.
“You should do something special,” a smarmy voice said behind me. I turned around to find Lockhart was weighing in on my relationship as well. “You know, doll yourself up or something. Show him how you really feel.” He was grinning at me in a most suggestive manner, which I found quite alarming. I turned my back on him again.
The bell above the door rang as Alan walked in, skinny frame and handlebar moustache in tow. I’d been reasonably impressed with him so far. He liked to check that all the books were in the correct order at least three times a day, which whilst wasn’t in his job description, let me off the hook. He also made a superb cup of tea.
“Where’s Matthew?” Alan asked. He looked around the corner into the break room as if he’d find him hiding in there.
“He’ll be in later,” I told him. That was the other thing about Alan – he and Matthew seemed to get on extremely well, which I wouldn’t have guessed; Matthew wasn’t much of an alphabetiser.
Once I was satisfied that Alan was settled and ready to start the day, I headed upstairs to lock myself away in my quiet office. When I had first moved in here, a week after Boris's funeral, I had struggled to know where to begin. Apart from the fact that it had contained a lot of Boris's personal items, I had to struggle with the task of choosing whether to remove or keep various files, folders and trinkets that Boris had collected over the years. Tackling that job with a fair amount of grief had not been easy. Now, however, most traces of Boris had been erased and replaced with my mess. Admittedly, Boris had never kept the office very tidy, but I wasn't really known for my outstanding organisational skills.
I picked my way through the piles of incomplete paperwork and slumped into my desk chair, sighing. I had a whole number of undesirable jobs to do today, one of which included my least favourite task; checking the stock invoices. I had to compare the invoices with the number of boxes we'd actually received and then account for any discrepancies. Even the thought of it made me want to reach for the biscuits.
In the end, I didn't do any of the things I was supposed to do. Instead, I had been trying to work out what Matthew had meant last night (or rather, early this morning) whilst I made origami owls. After I'd unsuccessfully given up on my sixth origami owl, I saw a real one tapping at the tiny skylight in the roof. I ducked under a wooden beam and let the poor thing in. It shook itself dry, spraying rainwater all over my face. I took the letter from its leg and unfolded the letter. It was from Molly, her curly handwriting unmistakable.
"I need you to help me design the wedding invitations. Bunk off work and meet me at Fortescue's at 11."
I sighed. Molly really did not take my job seriously. How was it that she could just skip out of work with no consequence and expect me to do the same? All she had to do was lie to her boss, but I WAS my own boss so I could hardly lie to myself. Or could I? ... No, I definitely had to be the responsible one. Alan would get a very poor impression of me if I didn't uphold my own strict values on punctuality and attendance. Molly would have to come to me if she wanted to meet me so badly.
I scribbled a curt reply on the back of the letter and reattached it to the owl, which hooted impatiently and then flew off.
Shortly afterwards, I heard the bell above the door clang, followed by loud stomping up the back stairs.
"Excuse me, that's for staff only, you can't go up there!" I heard Alan cry as my door was flung wide open.
"I brought brownies," Molly announced, dumping a cardboard box on my desk and pulling up a chair. I raised my eyebrows at the amount of fuss she'd caused in aid of making bloody wedding invitations.
"I'm so sorry," Alan said, poking his head around my door. "I tried to stop her..."
I grinned. "It's okay, Alan. This is my cousin, Molly. She rarely does what anyone tells her."
Alan and Molly exchanged glances. "Oh," Alan said. "Sorry. I'll just go downstairs then."
I nodded, waiting for him to shut the door behind him before I opened up the box of brownies. "You know," I said as I tucked into a still-warm chocolate brownie. "I have lots of important things to be doing this morning."
Molly looked around the room and found my discarded origami owls. "Yeah, it does look like you're really busy," she commented.
I glared at her. "I'm only doing this because you brought brownies," I informed her.
"I know," she said with a grin. She reached inside of her bag and placed a stack of small cards on my desk. "Each one of these is a different design. I need you to help me pick your favourite."
Whatever I picked, I was sure it wouldn't be the one she had already decided on. All she was hoping from this exercise was that I'd choose the one she liked too so she could have a second opinion she approved of.
"What about this one?" I asked, showing her the fourth one down.
She inspected it, frowning a little. "No, no, that one is no good. I don't like the writing."
Sighing, I continued through the pile. "I like this one," I told her.
"Yeah, well, it'll match your hair."
That cheeky comment earned me a kick in the shins, so I decided I would not be making any more flippant remarks that day. If I thought normal Molly was scary, I was willing to bet that bride Molly was going to be a thousand times worse.
When we'd reached the end of her pile (and I'd failed to pick out the card she'd wanted), we shoved them aside and started finishing off the brownies.
"You don't look like you slept much," Molly commented, eyeing the dark circles under my eyes.
"Nor did you," I said. "Not after Scorpius's bloody surprise."
Molly laughed. "I think he may need psychiatric help," she mused. "But at least you got a surprise birthday party. I've never had one of those."
"Is that a hint?" I asked.
"No, no," she assured me. "I hate surprises."
She was never going to let me forget that fact, either. One year, for her seventeenth birthday, I organised a surprise trip to the pub with our small circle of school friends and any of our relatives who deigned to show up. Unfortunately, what I hadn't known was that Molly had already arranged a surprise birthday party for herself that night, which meant no one showed up to her carefully planned party and we all ended up waiting in the pub for Molly. She never arrived, having gone home to cry that no one, not even me, had shown up to her party.
"Yeah, I know," I told her.
Molly grimaced, presumably remembering that very same night I was. Sighing, she ate one last brownie before resuming her mission to pry into my life.
"Seriously though, are you okay?" she asked again.
I shrugged. "I'm fine," I insisted. "I'm just worrying over nothing, as usual."
"I'm sure it's not nothing," she said with a small frown. "Come on, tell me. Getting it off your chest will help."
"No, I'm fine," I said again, really hoping she'd drop it.
Molly huffed. "Well you're obviously not. Is this about my wedding again? I thought you were over that."
I looked at her, trying to suss out what to say to her. "Not exactly," were the words I settled for in the end.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I just... it doesn't matter. I'm being silly."
Molly glared. "Yes, you are. Now just tell me what's bothering you."
I sighed. "Fine. Well, Matthew and I were just talking about something... and I think he said he loved me."
"You think?" Molly asked quizzically.
"Well... he sort of said it in an indirect way."
She was frowning now. "Surely that's a good thing, if he did mean that?"
"Is it, though?" I asked, feeling dubious. "Isn't it a bit soon?"
Molly shrugged. "No really. It's been six months, and to be honest it doesn't really matter how long it's been. Sometimes you just know."
I bit my lip. "What if you don't 'just know'?"
Molly's eyes widened in realisation. "Oh, I see. So you're worried you don't love him?"
"Not exactly..." I stalled. "Well, kind of. I've never been in love before, how am I supposed to know if I am or not? And what if I do love him but he didn't mean what he said?"
Molly sighed. "You're over-thinking it, Rosie."
"How do you know you love Lorcan?" I pressed.
"Because," she began, "I just do. When he got down on one knee in the middle of the milk aisle in the supermarket, I don't think I could have been happier. And when I didn't give him my answer straight away, he waited, like I knew that he would."
"Right," I responded, not really getting what she was getting at. "But neither of those things have happened to me. What do I have to go on?"
Molly groaned in frustration. "I don't know, Rose. I can't tell you if you love him, if that's what you want me to say. You'll know."
Well, what a fat lot of help she was; I was left more confused than ever. Maybe I did love him, in that case. What I didn't love was the insecurity that came with this vague declaration of love at three in the morning that could mean everything or absolutely nothing.
Molly was watching me as I continued to have a half-hearted battle inside my head.
"Look, if you're really so bothered by it, you should just talk to him," she said. "Matthew's not a jerk, he'll understand."
I shrugged. "He might not be a jerk, but he's still a man. I don't want to freak him out."
Molly rolled her eyes. "Don't be so sexist," she scolded. "Lorcan's a man and he's okay with me talking about my feelings."
"You have feelings?" I asked, still focusing on the thoughts floating around in my mind.
"Yes, actually, I do," she snapped. "And I feel that you should talk to your boyfriend about your insecurities."
"Right," I said, deciding that it was time this conversation ended before she could convince me any of what she just said was a good idea. "Well I'll think about it. Perhaps you should go back to work."
Molly frowned. "Perhaps I should. Will I see you for lunch?"
I shook my head. "I said I'd take Alan out for lunch. Sorry."
She huffed, picking up her coat and shrugging it over her shoulders. "Bye," she said briskly, swiftly exciting my office and slamming the door behind her.
I lay my head down on my arms on my desk and groaned. I really could do without her random mood swings at the moment. I was having enough problems dealing with my life without hers as well. For once, I really didn't think her advice was that sound. Usually she had a good insight on things which I chose to ignore; this time, I really didn't think it would work out in my favour if I did what she suggested. What was I supposed to say to Matthew, "sorry I'm really worried that I don't know if I love you"? How harsh was that?
"Having a rough day?" Alan asked, popping his head around my door.
"You could say that," I said, sitting up. Alan popped a mug of tea on my desk and handed me a letter.
"What's this?" I asked, confused as to why he was giving me the letter instead of it being delivered by owl.
"Someone just delivered it by hand," he explained. "I promised to pass it on immediately."
"Right," I replied, opening up the envelope and scanning the handwriting. "Oh," I added with a frown. "It's from Henry."
"Henry?" Alan inquired, hovering uncertainly by the door.
"He's my sort of friend who's also my lawyer."
Alan watched me as I read the short letter, a frown developing very quickly.
Please drop by my office at your earliest convenience to discuss some very urgent business that has arisen this morning.
"What's the matter?" Alan asked as I read the letter a further three times.
"It doesn't say much," I replied. "But something's not right. I'm going to have to cancel our lunch plans, unfortunately. This can't wait."
I left a very confused looking Alan behind me as I grabbed my coat and bag and headed for the door. Henry rarely contacted me these days unless it was important, which this definitely seemed to be. What on Earth could be wrong? We'd settled all that Lockhart business months ago so I really couldn't imagine what the problem was this time. I supposed it wouldn't be long until I found out.
AN: Oops, sorry for the update delay! I've had this chapter (and many others) written for months but life got busy and I sort of got distracted. Hopefully the next update will be much quicker. Thanks for any reviews! Marina