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Chapter 5 : Background Checks
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But Hugo Weasley? No, not him, not specifically. Only his mother came to McCarthy Advertising, if she ever needed anything for her campaigns. And though that was often, he had never seen either of them there. Hugo had no business wanting to talk to Connor all of a sudden, to disrupt his life and tell Connor he 'kind of liked him'.
Hugo was up to something. He was always up to something. And Connor had agreed to go out with him, to actually be seen in public with him.
People will definitely talk now.
When Connor got out of bed the morning of their 'non-date', he received comments about how crap he looked from lack of sleep from the two dorm mates he had little to do with, a demand to know where he was going from Shane and was asked to meet outside by his best friend Michael Cross. Connor dressed quickly, pulling on casual clothes that he'd picked the night before, clothes that certainly wouldn't be thought of was date material. He washed his face, brushed his teeth and left the common room, ignoring Shane the entire time - he'd spent days trying to reason with the boy, he wouldn't waste his breath anymore.
He found Michael waiting by the portrait door, in his usual jeans and t-shirt that always looked a size too big and his blond hair styled to stick up in short spikes like always; his friend waved him over and stepped outside the moment he saw Connor, somehow managing not to trip over his own pants. Taking a deep breath, Connor followed. He'd known Michael since before they started school; his parents owned a small apothecary and McCarthy Advertising had helped to promote their products. They'd met when Connor went with his father to see the shop and they had been friends ever since. He and Michael cared for each other, loved each other like brothers, and Connor knew that this talk would be about him and if he was okay, because he'd never said a word to Hugo before school started and now they were about to hang out in Hogsmeade. Michael was evidently worried, but though Connor appreciated his friendship and would be as polite as he could be, he didn't need or want a lecture.
Michael pulled him down a corridor, making sure to hold the sleeve of his jacket and not him.
"What's wrong with the common room?" Connor asked curiously.
"Shane Jordan is a nosy bastard," Michael answered with a raised eye-brow. "Why are you hanging out with Hugo Weasley? He's bad news."
"Because of rumors and stories," Connor countered with a shrug, but even he was surprised by how much sincerity came out of his voice. "We don't know him, we can't know for sure what he's like. He hasn't done a thing to make me think he has bad intentions, expect be annoyingly persistent in wanting to talk to me. If he's bad news, I'll figure it out for myself."
"But don't you think it's weird that he's suddenly deciding to talk to you?"
Connor smiled sympathetically at his friend's pleading tone and squeezed Michael's shoulder for a moment before letting go. "I do and I will find out why. I know he's up to something, Mick, I know that. But not every intention is a bad one and I won't accuse him of that unless I know for sure."
"But you... hate being near people?" Michael stammered out, his last attempt at trying to get through to him.
"I hate when people try to get close to me or hug me or touch me in general," Connor replied, a shiver involuntarily running down his back. "But I don't hate people. Okay, I hate some people," he conceded a little when Michael gave him a look. "But they usually did something to cause me to hate them. Hugo hasn't done a thing."
"So, you're going on a date with him," Michael summarized with a frown. "You're going on a date with a guy who has the biggest reputation for being a user, both in and outside of the bedroom, because he hasn't done anything to you yet?"
"No," he said, causing Michael to frown harder. "I said no to a date and Hugo insisted that it wasn't, that it was just us hanging out, probably with his cousin and friend as well. But if you're so worried, why don't you join us?"
Michael scoffed and pulled a face, as though he thought Hugo was something dirty or wrong and needed to be stayed away from. "You won't catch me anywhere near that asshole."
"That's up to you," Connor shrugged with a small smile. "But I'm going, I promised. Besides, I can't figure out what he wants if I'm not there," he smirked.
"Good luck!" his friend grinned, looking oddly proud of him. "I hope you loosen up on your hatred of human contact enough to break his nose once you realize he's after something. I'm thinking money, maybe power; your family has plenty of both."
"I'll bare that in mind," Connor murmured to himself, his head pushing the possibility he'd already come up with to the back of his mind with all of the others. He was honest with Michael; he couldn't figure out what Hugo wasn't doing if they weren't together. If that possibility happened to be the right one, what Hugo wanted, Connor would deal with it.
He found Hugo by the entrance, scanning his surroundings every few seconds to check when he was coming. Connor stayed around the corner, just hidden from view from his new nuisance's wondering eyes, and watched him for a moment. He didn't seem all that interested in their day out, in fact Connor was sure that Hugo looked annoyed by the thought of leaving the castle, which he thought was odd considering he was the one who asked. Connor would have been perfectly content to stay in, maybe start some homework or finish his book. The thought of telling him crossed his mind for a second before Connor dismissed it; maybe if their day out was so bad, Hugo would give up. His cousin came then, Connor knew it was her because she seemed to be one of the only people willing to put up with the guy. She looked disapproving, obviously scolding him, but she kept her voice down and Connor was too far away to hear. Whatever she said didn't affect Hugo; he just rolled his eyes, kept his mouth shut and scanned the hall again.
Now or never.
Connor stepped out and made his way over, watching as Hugo's smug look fell and changed to one of relief.
"I was beginning to think you'd changed your mind," he said, his eyes narrowed almost playfully.
"And risk the wrath of Hugo Weasley? I'm not crazy," Connor played along, putting emphasis on his words whenever he could to make his accent seem stronger. The responding glare was definitely a warning. "You'd only come looking for me."
"True," Hugo replied, slowly letting his glare drop and his face relax. "This is my cousin, Lily Potter, and the guy making his way over is Skander Dolohov."
Connor looked conflicted when Lily held out her hand and said hello, shaking it for less than a second before letting go and wiping his hand on his jeans. He feared he had offended her when she looked at her own hand, but she only looked confused or a moment then shrugged it off. He was thankful that Skander only responded with a half-hearted wave, then shoved his own hands into his pockets.
"Are we going or not?" Skander asked impatiently, an accent of his own all but gone. It took Connor a minute to remember that Skander Dolohov was Russian; he and his younger sister only came to England for school. But they had learnt English from a young age.
"Lead the way, Sir," Hugo replied sarcastically. Skander gave him the finger, gestured for them to follow and walked off. "He's extra grouchy today."
"Katerina made him help her with her homework last night, you know how he hates helping people," Lily chuckled. "Katerina is his sister," she explained before Connor could ask who that was.
"Do you have a germ phobia?" she asked suddenly, causing Skander to scoff, Hugo to sigh into his hands and Connor to frown. "You pulled away very quickly and wiped your hand after you shook mine. My brother Albus does the same thing; he was a germ phobia. It stemmed from his constant worrying - once when James was sick, he sneezed on Albus. Al wouldn't let anyone touch him for days because he became obsessively worried about germs. I actually think James broke him that day. He was a very traumatized seven year old."
"I'm sorry, Connor, I forgot to mention that she doesn't have an off button," Hugo whispered to him, but loud enough her to hear him. Lily nudged him in the ribs and repeated her question.
"Something like that," he answered her vaguely. She seemed to contemplate his answer, then she shrugged and looked like she accepted that he did have a germ phobia, which was okay by Connor. Only Hugo seemed to be thinking of other suggestions and Skander gave him a look that Connor didn't like. He just seemed to know.
That Lily didn't have an off switch was the first thing Connor agreed with without question; he was used to denying things and saying no before agreeing with Hugo, but he just couldn't bring himself to think like that with Lily still talking. He switched off by the time they reached the village and he was suddenly thankful to be around people; the noise helped to cancel her out. Connor felt guilty for thinking that because Lily seemed like a genuinely nice, if very nosy, person, but he wasn't used to so much chatter and her ability to not breath for large amounts of time had started to freak him out.
They only stayed together as a group until they reached a clothes shop; Lily tried to get them all to follow her, but she settled for just Skander, who was pulled in. Without thinking, Connor let out a relieved breath once she was gone, making Hugo laugh.
"I'm sorry, but wow. She really doesn't stop," he muttered, more to himself than to Hugo, and he couldn't tell if he sounded awed or just bewildered.
"When you have a family as big as ours, with each person extremely competitive in their own way, you kind of do whatever it takes to be heard," Hugo explained briefly, but as accurately as he could. "Lily doesn't stop talking because of the high chance that someone will hear something, Roxanne is the loud and rebellious one and I think Al's attempts to hide actually helps him get noticed; when they're not listening to him being obsessive and worrying, they worry."
"And what about you?" Connor asked, surprised to find himself genuinely interested in what Hugo would say, why he said 'they' instead of 'we'.
"Oh, I'm not like them, I don't want them to notice me," he muttered, stopping before he could add 'anymore'. People expected too much from him as it was, but he preferred doing things his own way. He was sure that only his cousins and some people in school knew what he was actually like, the adults seemed to think he was an angel - he liked it that way, it was necessary, but it didn't mean he wanted to hear it.
"I wish they took the hints and left me alone sometimes, but it's alright this way," he finished with a shrug.
"It sounds lonely," Connor said softly, honestly, his own thoughts reminding him of his life and his wish to go unnoticed. People could notice the business, the family's reputation, even his talents in his work, but he didn't want them noticing him.
He kept his mouth shut, not wanting to acknowledge that he and Hugo were similar, let alone tell the man.
"Not really. I have a family who love and support me, who I can turn to if I need them, even if they annoy me sometimes. I have a few close friends I can trust, rather than many friends willing to stab me in the back the moment I turn around. But I also have room to grow, to think," he said, rather enjoying that they were having an actual conversation for the first time, even if it required him to be completely honest. "Sometimes it can be nice to enjoy and appreciate the silence, especially in a big family like mine. How about you?"
"Same. My family isn't big, but they're there for me. I only need my close friends because I know I can trust them. And the silence is most appreciated after having your employees constantly come to you with designs and your clients constantly want updates," Connor added with a small grin. He knew it was somewhat because he loved his job, his work with his dad, but he'd also planted the seed, led the conversation to a topic that might tell him about Hugo's intentions.
"That sounds... long," Hugo said eventually, his face betraying nothing but his eyes were a little brighter.
That could be for any reason.
"But you love it," Hugo stated, smiling. "I can tell by your face. You wouldn't change what you do."
"No, I wouldn't," he agreed. "You sound like you understand."
They stopped outside of Honeydukes and Hugo spun around, leaning against the shop's window. "When I was a kid, when they couldn't find a babysitter, my mum would take me to work with her. She works with law enforcement, she's a human and beings rights lawyer; a big part of her job is changing and amending laws and she makes campaigns to get sponsors and sign petitions to take to the Wizengamot and allow that to happen. She also runs charities. So, she works with your company often to help advertise her work. I used to help with that, I was actually a part of that - I was the poster boy, they've been using my picture since I was six."
"Hugo Weasley: Society's Angel."
Hugo scoffed, rolling his eyes in amusement. Of course, Connor would know the tag line that became his nickname from the world; McCarthy Advertising came up with it.
"Yeah, it kind of stuck; now it's all people see me as, especially the older generations, which is very weird because I'm really not an angel," he chuckled. "But it keeps me out of trouble; I'll have to find the person who came up with that and thank them."
Connor's grin grew wider and he shook his head in amusement, but he said nothing and waited for Hugo to continue.
"I grew to love advertising, I wouldn't change it no matter how hard it was, so I understand," he said. He pointed to the shop, suddenly interested in changing the subject. "Sweets?"
"No, thank you," Connor frowned, not wanting to think about hands touching the food and the germs being spread. "I'll wait out here for you."
With a nod, Hugo went inside and it looked like it would be a while from the queue, but Connor worked quickly anyway, just in case. He pulled his phone out of his front pocket, a present from his Muggle grandparents, and found the number he needed. The reception was bad in the village, but magic wasn't used so much outside and the phone could be used if he could get reception. It took three times before he got through.
"McCarthy Advertising, Human Resources," a pleasant but boring female voice just about came through.
"Becka, it's Connor McCarthy."
"Hello, Mr. McCarthy," Becka said, suddenly sounding less robotic, but too pleasant. "Can I help you?"
Connor took a deep breath, following his gut. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be right or wrong, but he had to ask anyway. "I need you to go through the internship applications for September and find a name. I don't know if it's there or not."
"Sure, what's the name?"
Connor waited impatiently as the line went silent, bar the sounds of Becka going through papers on the other end. The names of the applicants would already be on the computer by now, with the deadline for applying over, but he was always thorough, always wanting to know everything about everyone in his father's business, and he knew Becka was looking for the paper applications they all had to send in to apply because they had to add a sort of portfolio, mock designs to show that they were capable. It helped to narrow down the hundreds of applicants they'd received. He pressed his phone closer to his ear every so often to make sure that Becka wasn't speaking, that the phone signal hadn't disappeared.
"Yes, Sir, there's an applicant named Hugo Weasley; he was at the bottom, one of the first to hand his application in," Becka answered him at last. "He'll be eighteen by the time the internship starts, making him eligible, and is hoping to study advertising in university while he works. His portfolio is quite impressive. Do you want a copy?"
"No, leave his application out; I'll look at it when I next come in," Connor said quietly, his mind reeling. He still couldn't decide if knowing was good or bad, if Hugo talking to him was planned or a just a really strange coincidence. But he didn't believe in coincidences.
I'll have to confront him.
"Anything else, Mr. McCarthy?"
"No," he answered, thanked her and went to hang up when the line cut off and 'no signal' flashed on his screen. "Just in time."
"Just in time for what?" Hugo asked, making him jump. He apologized and held out his bag, offering some of the little 'Pick N Mix' he'd created.
Connor shook his head and they started walking again. "Nothing. I was just checking in on MA. There's a couple of big deals going on, so my dad has given me the smaller ones, and he's put me in charge of this internship for September."
"Really?" Hugo swallowed his sweet hard, his interest obvious; he was finding it hard to try to hide it.
"Yep. It's this thing we've been doing for a few years now," Connor explained, digging his hands into his pockets. "If you're at least eighteen before September and are either going to study advertising in further education or have studied advertising, then you're eligible to apply for an internship on my staff. You'll be working on deals, both large and small, and you're able to give input. It last three years; by the third year, you'll be working on your own, with your own team. We're looking for five and at the end, the best will get to stay. It's usually only one or two. Only once have we kept all five. That was two years ago."
"That sounds amazing," Hugo told him sincerely, aiming for nonchalance and failing in Connor's eyes. He wanted it.
"But you already know this." Hugo's eyes widened; he didn't bother pretending to be confused, he was just surprised that Connor knew anything. "I checked; your application was at the bottom, you were one of the first to apply. I was told your portfolio is impressive."
"Yeah, well, I've been waiting six years to apply; it had to be the best," Hugo murmured.
"The program only started six years ago."
"Yeah, and I've been waiting that long."
"Is this why you're talking to me now?" Connor demanded to know, quiet yet forceful. "Do you think being my friend will get you that internship? Because I'm telling you know, I don't care that I know you. You could be my brother and I'd still look at each application objectively and pick the best. So, if that's your plan, but I don't think you're good enough for my company, then you're fucked no matter how close we get. We can go back to normal; you'll have to hope I think you have what it takes either way."
"As all bosses should," Hugo said, his tone soft and his eyes glazed slightly, as though he was drifting away from Connor. His mind was definitely elsewhere and Connor's thoughts as to what Hugo could be planning unnerved him a little.
"Yes, I applied to work for you. Yes, we haven't so much as looked at each other before I applied. No, that is not why I'm talking to you now," he promised.
"Then why are you?" Connor pleaded, desperate to understand, to give something to Michael, to know whether Hugo was worth his time. Because he wouldn't be near someone who used him.
"Because I saw your magazine article and I thought you were hot. Because I was walking past when I saw Shane Jordan kiss you and you pushed him away in Diagon Alley and I thought you deserved better, that he must be rubbish if you couldn't stand to let him touch you. Because I like you," Hugo told him, getting louder and more frustrated by the minute. "Take your pick."
They stared each other down, neither angry or upset, just waiting. "If you'd thought I was hot last year, we would already be talking and we wouldn't be having this conversation," he grumbled.
"Maybe," Hugo shrugged, a playful smirk beginning to form. "But I was sleeping with a model, a first year healer intern, someone who is now a first year healer intern and a wannabe writer; I was very busy and you'd have just been a third wheel."
"You're such a romantic, Mr. Weasley," Connor laughed, trying to be sarcastic but finding the situation too funny. "I'm sorry if you thought I was accusing you of something, I just need to know that I can trust people. My friend Michael, he doesn't trust you, but I said I wouldn't assume, that I'd find out the truth, so I had to ask."
"I understand. Is there anything you want to look at or do you want to go back to school?" Hugo asked.
Feeling more confident around the man now that he knew more about their new situation, Connor was able to watch the crowds without caring. There had been people watching all morning, but none had spoken to him, they'd walked away whispering about them. He'd cared before, when he'd doubted Hugo being around him, but now he decided to trust the man, to give him the benefit of the doubt. The moment he had decided, it was like a weight had been lifted; Connor only cared about himself in that moment, which he knew sounded horrible, but he wouldn't stop - he'd grow to hate himself later if he didn't respect himself enough to care about what people did to him now.
His eyes stopped at the restaurant down the road that had been a tea shop until he and Hugo had started their first year, but quickly rejected that idea - it was too soon for that. Instead he went to the new bakery.
"Hungry for real food? I haven't eaten yet today."
"I'd love to," Hugo answered and his smile had Connor coming up with ways to tell him it still wasn't a date.
A/N: Hey, guys. I hope you enjoy this new chapter. Please let me know what you think. :)
(The 'dates' Hugo mentions; he was 16 - model: 16, healer 1: 18, healer 2 - 17, writer: 17/18 [Emmett] in case you want to know. :))
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