Chapter 18 : Textbook Weasley Reaction
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For Ashley Lovegood.
The article came out the next day and for that day, I was able to forget about everything. Business in the store boomed as customers came in to see if I really had beat the crap out of Gregory Zonko and if it was really because he made a comment about Uncle Fred, who they’d heard was an absolute saint and how could a little boy say such a thing?
We sold out of the puffs. We sold out of the trick wands and snackboxes and toffey. We sold out of a lot and Dad made a few appearances and shook hands and smiled.
It didn’t change anything, but it lifted our spirits and when we closed up, Dad took me aside and hugged me.
“I’m sorry I didn’t trust you,” he said into my shoulder.
“I’m sorry I gave you a reason not to,” I said. “And I’m sorry I lied. We’re in this together.”
“Oy!” James shouted from nearby. “I’m in this too, you know.”
“Not until you tell your father you’re not,” Dad said, still hugging me.
“You’d miss me if I left.”
“Sometimes,” I replied.
James joined the man-hug anyway. “Didn’t know you knew how to sway the press, Freddo. Usually that’s me making the charming comments.”
“Still have no idea who either of you got that from,” Dad said, letting go and opening the cash drawer. He grinned. “Probably your mothers.” He paused. “Definitely your mothers.”
“I didn’t want that git to be the reason we weren’t open,” I said, shrugging. “He had already gotten to me. I wasn’t going to let him get to everyone. He’s my responsibility.”
“You’re sounding a little Gryffindor-y. I’ll tell Dad.” James wrinkled his nose. “In the meantime, I’ll make a milkshake and enjoy some tele.”
“Have you heard back?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Still no word. I’ll send it to you right when I get it.”
“What’re you after?” Dad asked, counting money.
“Don’t you think you should just let her be alone?”
I shook my head. “She just got publicly humiliated and left school. She’s independent, but I don’t want her to be alone. I’ve been hit by her… I’d hate to see what she’d do to someone else.”
James made a face. “At least Ollie will be back at the end of this week. She might know. Maybe I can get someone else to ask Ollie so she won’t think I knocked up Ryan…”
“This is a horrifying conversation,” Dad muttered, shutting the drawer and stuffing the money into his shirt pocket. “Just be careful. Both of you. We’re being watched.”
“Did you used to say that back in the old days?” James asked. “I try to pry Dad about it, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. I like the adventure parts.”
Dad chuckled. “It was definitely an adventure. I like now better, though. It’s like a happy ending.”
Except for our books. Our debt. Our shop. Our reputation.
Except for me, who was mucking everything up.
After Dad forced me out of the shop on Saturday because I’d been working all week without a lunch and he said that was illegal and I was getting irritable so it was annoying, I decided to have a walk around Diagon Alley. I needed some new Quidditch gloves anyway.
Business had been steady since the first few days of the surge. Not good, but steadier. Steadier than before, certainly. I hadn’t heard a retort from the Zonko family, which worried me. They were probably devising another way of discrediting my family.
That was why when I almost ran right into Annie I forced an apology immediately. She turned, gasping, and collected the shopping bags she’d dropped.
I hated how pretty she looked.
“Fred – sorry,” she said. “I’m being clumsy.” She piled the bags into her arms. “How are you?”
I wasn’t sure what that meant. Girls were tricky. “I’m great,” I said. “Working through some things, but I’m doing well. You look great.” I couldn’t help it.
“Thank you.” Annie was tanner than before. The Caribbean had done her well. “Ollie and I did a lot of lying in the sun.”
“It did you well,” I replied, nodding.
“You look great too,” she offered.
“Thanks.” Awkward. “I should get going. It was nice seeing you.”
“Fred,” she said as I turned away. “I’m sorry, you know. Can we talk?”
My jaw tightened. I wanted to yell and tell her no, we can’t talk. That I was still hurting by her rejection even though I should have moved past it by now. That I was too sensitive and foolish and guilt-ridden about being a horrible boyfriend. Instead, I turned. “Your boyfriend isn’t going to be there, is he?”
“Andrew broke up with me,” Annie said, shrugging. “So no. He won’t be there.”
My heart sank. I wanted to say I was right, and that he just wanted to split is up to make me crazy, but the hurt in her eyes told me not to. “Yeah. All right. Let’s go get a cup of tea.”
“How about tequila?” Annie teased.
“I don’t do tequila. I make poor decisions with tequila.”
We found our way to a small café with an outdoor patio and I helped place her bags on the empty chair. We ordered tea and some cakes and my hands were sweaty again.
“I owe you an apology and an explanation,” Annie said seriously.
“You don’t,” I said.
“Just let me.” She moved some hair from her forehead sheepishly. “Things were never great with us. I think we offered each other a well-deserved distraction, which we can’t deny was nice.”
I nodded. It was true.
“But when Andrew started spending more time with Ollie and me… it was different. And you said such horrible things about him, but he wasn’t like that with me. Or her. And of course they were already mates, so I didn’t have a reason to think anything bad of him.” Annie laughed a little to herself. “He was sweet. He asked me questions about myself. He listened for hours. He laughed at my jokes and offered to help with homework and flying and troubles with friends. So when he asked me to be his girlfriend, I said yes. Stupidly. Things were just so rough with us, I thought we’d never climb out of it. I got jealous of the other girls you talked to and you seemed to know more about all of them than me.”
I nodded. “I did,” I admitted. “I realized after you broke up with me I knew all of nothing about you other than what was in front of my face.”
To my surprise, she laughed. “Isn’t that funny? How that worked?”
“Funny isn’t exactly the word I would pick,” I replied.
“He went with us to the Caribbean,” Annie continued.
“He did?” I said.
“Ollie didn’t tell James. She knew he’d have a fit about it.”
“He would have.”
Annie moved her hair again. “Anyway. We had a romantic evening on the beach and he told me how he just saw me as a friend and thanks anyway for inviting him. Then he left me sitting there, crying, as he went back to the hotel to make eyes at Ollie. He didn’t even tell her what he’d done until I came back upstairs hours later with red eyes. She sent him home, but I know he went to see her when we got back.”
I considered how James would react to this news. Poorly. Perhaps violently.
“I thought since I felt so hurt during our relationship, that it would feel good to hurt you,” Annie said softly. “It didn’t, though. You’re so kind, but it just doesn’t work. We’re not meant to be together and we both know it. Apparently Andrew and I aren’t meant to be together either.”
I still felt hurt and angry about what Annie did, but I knew as well as anyone else that she wasn’t a bad person. She was not a Gregory Zonko and her own revenge just resulted in her emotions and hurt. It didn’t make it right, but it made it honest.
Andrew Parise, though. Using people to get on the Quidditch team. To get his leg up in the student body. He would have to be stopped. But how could he be stopped when I had other things to worry about – the shop. My father. Ryan.
“I accept your apology,” I said, placing my hand on hers. “And you’re right. I just wish you didn’t have to get hurt to see Parise is a tool. He was using you to drive me mad.”
“Did it work a little?” Her eyes were watery.
“Yes,” I said honestly. “It did.”
Annie smiled. “Can we be okay again? I mean, I don’t expect to hang out or tell secrets, but I’ve missed you. Your jokes and your smiles. I liked making you feel better, even just a little.”
I nodded. “Yeah. We’ll be okay again.” I squeezed her hand. “And I hope you realize I have to tell James. I’ll give Ollie a chance to do it first, but if she doesn’t…I have to tell him.”
“If he goes after Andrew, owl me because I want to see it.”
I chuckled. “Deal.” I took a sip of my tea and leaned back in the chair. I felt a little better already. “Thanks. For all those times you really did make me feel better.”
“So you were in the hall during the feast. Do you really think Ryan Davies is pregnant?” Annie leaned forward. It was clear she’d been dying to ask someone.
The hair on the back of my neck stood. “No idea,” I said. “She didn’t really talk much during the walks we did together. She’s not exactly kind. Can’t imagine who’d fall for her enough to shag her.”
Annie laughed and it stung. “Yeah, she’s always been a piece of work to me. Probably just rumors anyway. I mean, her putting on weight could just be because she doesn’t have any friends.”
“She has French, though.”
“What kind of a friend is she, really?” Annie asked. “She’s just as sour and ill-tempered. Who knows, though. Maybe they just want attention.”
I shrugged. That was all I could do. I had a feeling everything would come out eventually and this conversation would come back to haunt Annie for a long time.
Christmas was a huge thing with the Weasley extended family. It was a time for everyone to descend on the Burrow and drink too much, talk too loud, and discuss which cousin was the best cousin. James usually won because he put someone in a headlock, but Albus swore this year was his year.
We did an enormous White Elephant for both the kids and the adults, which ended with some hilarious gifts (once Aunt Andrey ended up with a book on children’s toy collectables and Uncle Charlie got a poster of a shirtless actor). Each family member contributed to an absurd amount of food, especially Grandmum, who felt it was her duty to fatten all of us up. Albus constantly told her off for this, saying he was the Captain of a Quidditch team and he could not eat seven éclairs. She told him to shut up and stuffed one more in his face.
This year was no different. We readied at home, gathering gifts and straightening our clothes. I wore another bowtie since I favored them and they made me look cool. Dad wore one too. Rox settled on a nice red holiday dress with fringe trim and Mum had on a nice black dress with stockings and black shoes. She had on a giant piece of costume jewelry that Dad kept staring at.
The party was just as crazy as usual. Most of our parents were already drunk when we arrived and Uncle Harry was snogging Aunt Ginny in the kitchen. Louis walked out looking horrified.
It was an unwritten rule to never invite significant others to these celebrations, as they would be humiliated and questioned repeatedly. Uncle Ron was a big contributor to this. Apparently, Molly had not received the memo and invited Rune. Rune and Uncle Ron were deep in conversation on the sofa. Rune looked terrified out of his mind and I saw Molly sneak a shot of liquor.
I found James in the backyard, which was covered by a vast white tent and (thankfully) heated. He was at the buffet eating a lot of shrimp.
“Been here long?” I asked, grabbing a plate and filling it.
“Too long,” he said, adjusting his tie. “Thought you’d never show up. Lily’s just told me she has a boyfriend and she won’t tell me who. Albus told me he’s the best cousin and he’s going to beat me this year, but my heart just isn’t in it.”
“Maybe we’ll get a good White Elephant,” I said.
“Last year I got a strand of tangled Christmas lights,” James replied. “I’d like to start drinking immediately.”
James hated the Christmas party more and more every year because it brought him closer to his father finding out about the shop. He was terrified my dad was going to get drunk and blab about it. Or Roxanne would say something and it would come out. Or even he would say something. I’d told him about what Uncle Harry said to me in regards to the tutoring, which had him even more on edge.
“We need to talk,” I said, motioning to an empty table by the back of the tent. Lily and Dominique were playing chess toward the front.
“About what?” James asked. “Are you going to fire me because don’t forget I’m better at Quidditch than you and I will replace you with Parise.” He laughed.
“Which leads in to what I wanted to talk about.”
“I was joking. Can we lead out and talk about something else?”
“Parise was with Annie and Ollie in the Caribbean,” I said slowly. I’d hoped he would tell me he knew already and that he discussed it with Ollie, but who was I kidding? Everyone had too many secrets.
“Parise. Was with them?”
I explained what Annie told me in Diagon Alley all while rubbing away the wrinkles in my gray pants. I tried to meet his eyes, but James looked about to panic. “Look,” I said after I finished, “I’m sure she just didn’t want to worry you. But I felt I should tell you.”
“What am I supposed to say to her?” James said.
“Ask her why she didn’t tell you.”
“And then what? Ask her what happened? What they did? WHY he was there and I wasn’t bothered to be invited?”
I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed. “I don’t know, James. But I wouldn’t think too much on it.”
That went in one ear and out the other.
“I need to talk to her,” he said, looking wildly around as if Ollie might appear out of nowhere. “I can’t believe he broke up with Annie. I mean, I can, but I can’t. What a jerk. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. It involves knife-throwing lessons. You in?”
“What about archery? That’s big right now.”
“How about you talk to Ollie?”
“I was really leaning toward the knife-throwing. What about ninja stars?”
“James. Just enjoy tonight and talk to Ollie tomorrow. Then we’ll try to get Dad to stock those puff hybrids.”
“He’s never going to go for it.” James placed his face to the table. “What if she’s in love with him? With Parise? What if that’s why he broke up with Annie – because Ollie finally told him she fancies him?”
“That’s stupid. Stop being stupid.”
“But what if it’s true?”
“Then I’ll go to knife-throwing lessons with you.”
“Really?” James’ head flew up off the table.
“Really. Now let’s go see how properly humiliated Rune is and join the fun.”
“Uncle Ron at it again?” James threw our garbage in the bin.
“Oh yes. Let’s give him some help.” I tossed my arm around his shoulder and we made our way back inside, each pondering what we could ask him without getting killed.
Interrogating Rune and the White Elephant exchange was a success, due to the fact that Uncle Percy had one too many to drink and asked to dance with Aunt Fleur and Dad recorded the entire thing. Including when Uncle Percy spit while asking her what sort of perfume she used so he could buy some for Aunt Audrey. Just awkwardness all around.
“Want to trade?” James looked down at his Muggle VHS copy of some 1980s teen movie. I shook my head. “Come on. You got a picnic basket. I’ve always wanted a picnic basket.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever been on a picnic.”
“Because I don’t have a proper basket,” James argued, opening the dark wicker basket and sliding the movie inside. “You’ve stolen my gift. Dad! Fred’s stolen my gift!”
“Fred, have you stolen James’ gift?”
“He put it in my basket.”
Uncle Harry looked over. “I really wish you kids would stop dragging me into this. Why don’t you knick a bottle of liquor like you usually do?”
“Was waiting for you lot to have a bit more so you didn’t notice,” James said honestly.
Uncle Harry sighed. “Have you seen Ron? He’s a mess.”
Uncle Ron was singing off-key while twirling his wife around the room. Rose was looking like she’d rather be dead. Hugo seemed to be enjoying himself. I watched Albus come over and offer Rose a hand, motioning to the Quidditch tactics book in his hand. She breathed a sigh of relief and disappeared, holding a small bottle of vodka in her right hand.
What a mess this family could be.
“Point taken,” James said, nodding as he dragged me toward the kitchen. We avoided Grandmum, who was distributing cookies, and went back outside where the tent was empty save for Uncle Bill having a cigarette by the buffet. He quickly stubbed it out.
“No worries,” James said, waving his hand. “I’ve smoked once. It was to look cool.”
Bill raised a brow. “It doesn’t look cool,” he said. He was right. It really didn’t.
“I know,” James answered, sinking into one of the chairs and uncapping the cheap bottle of rum. “That’s why I said once. Davies tricked me. I think she makes everything look cool.”
“What?” James said. “She could make Rune look cool. Seriously. I’m giving Ollie her owl information and telling her to set up classes. I look far less cool than I should.”
Uncle Bill ignored us and lit another cigarette. He looked stressed.
I took a swig from the bottle. It tasted like cleaning solution. “Think you’ll get anything good for Christmas?”
“Probably some clothes,” James said, taking the bottle. “Ties for work. At the Ministry.” He grimaced. “Maybe those knew Beating gloves I wanted. The really expensive pair the Tornados endorse. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll give Lily and Albus a trip to India or something so I won’t have to see them for a week. That would be a real Christmas miracle.”
“You shouldn’t be so hard on them.”
“Why not? Have you spoken to them? Bloody nightmares, they are.”
“At least your siblings speak to you,” I noted.
“I’ll hand them over if you’d like. Al thinks he can do no wrong since he is the best Quidditch Captain that’s ever lived and Lily thinks I’m an idiot and I’m up to something and wastes no time telling me every time we’re in the same room together. They’re a disaster. You want them? You think Malfoy would accept any more siblings?”
“Don’t,” I said, lifting my hand. “Just don’t. You may not have a good relationship with Al and Lily, but I used to have a good one with Rox. Used to.” I hated thinking about it, but it was impossible not to. We were at a family gathering, yet the only family not speaking were Rox and me. Even Louis and Dominique were talking after Louis pulled a prank on Dom last week. It included replacing her shampoo with something to force her bald for two days. Aunt Fleur had a fit.
James took another drink. A long one. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just different is all. You never know what you have until it’s gone. I get it.”
I knew that all too well.
“Let’s change the subject.” The bottle was already a third of the way gone and my cheeks were warm. I remembered how much I used to enjoy Christmas (yes, even during the winters Rox wasn’t speaking to me). The parties and the laughter. But this Christmas my mind was elsewhere. As it had been all year.
“Tell your mum yet?” James asked.
I jerked my head toward Uncle Bill. “No,” I said. “But she knows something is going on. Outright accused me.”
“What’d you do?”
“Ran away,” I said. “Texbook Weasley reaction.”
“I don’t know why you say that,” James said, swirling the bottle. A few fairy lights flickered around the tent. The wind picked up and carried his hair a little before settling.
“Because that’s what I always do. Run away.”
“You think so?”
James laughed a little, still focused on the bottle. “You didn’t run when you found out, did you? I mean, you did because she was chasing you like a bat out of hell, but not when you found out. You squeezed your way in there and refused to move. Which I think makes you even more batshit crazy than she is.”
“That doesn’t count. That’s the right thing to do.”
“Now that is the textbook Weasley reaction,” James said, taking another swig. “Doing the right thing. Even when it scares the shit out of you. Even when someone will hate you. Even when it means you’re losing something else, you still do the fucking right thing. Cheers to that, mate.”
Uncle Bill snubbed out his second cigarette and flicked it into the darkness. “I have no idea what the two of you are talking about,” he said, turning and walking toward us. “I, however, am skilled enough in context clues to figure out one thing.”
Great. Kept a secret long enough for Bill to overhear while drinking and out me.
“What’s that?” James said. “That I’m the better-looking of the pair of us. I keep telling him, but he just won’t believe me. Says he has better eyes. Fat chance.”
“I do so!” I said.
“That you’re exactly like your parents,” he said. “And that’s not such a bad thing, as you would expect.” He ruffled our hair.
“Yeah? Well, maybe they should trust us a bit more.” James tried to flatten his hair without success.
“Maybe they should,” Uncle Bill agreed, nodding. “Just give them the chance.”
James mumbled something darkly under his breath. He was sick of being told to do what was right instead of what was easy.
“True Gryffindors,” Uncle Bill said, laughing. He snickered all the way back to the house and closed the door behind him.
“He’s mental,” James said.
“He’s right. But of course you don’t want to hear that. You want to hear more about keeping secrets.”
“Pot. You’re currently calling the kettle.”
I rolled my eyes. “At least my dad knows.”
“I’d love to be there when you break the news to your mum.”
“I’d like you to be there too. Instead of me.”
James pondered this for a moment. “I’ll need a large metal shield on it. Put the Gryffindor lion on it. When she offs me, I’d like to go out fighting. Looking brave. Perhaps I’ll make a grand speech.”
“Start working on it now,” I said, staring off into the darkness. “I can’t keep it for much longer. Mum knows too much already. She’ll start connecting dots like Rox. I’m shocked Rox hasn’t accused me before now. She has to realize it.”
“What if she does and she’s waiting for a moment to hold it over your head?” James said. “That’s what Lily would do. Wait until she could use it as blackmail. Well, listen here Lily Potter, I rode a broom naked once and you can’t even prove I did that.”
I ignored him. Well, the second part.
Would Roxanne really do that? I knew I wasn’t her favorite person, but would she use that as blackmail?
My thoughts were interrupted by a large barn owl fluttering to a stop on the table before us. It almost knocked over the rum, but James dove gallantly and swiped the bottle into his lap. The bird stuck out its leg to him and shook off a letter before flying away, annoyed.
Yes, well, we weren’t expecting guests, bird. Didn’t have a silver platter of bird treats ready for you. Ugh. Only that pompous of a bird could come from French.
I watched nervously as James unfolded the parchment as he took another swig. “There you go then.” He slid it over to me.
It’s suspicious you’re interested. I know you said you feel bad for her, but as I have concluded you are free of any emotions, I don’t believe you. All the same, her address is enclosed. Let me know if you hear anything. Good luck.
I stared for a while and picked up the extra slip of paper with Ryan’s address scripted in Gemma’s perfect cursive. Why would she ask to be told if he heard anything? Why was she wishing him luck?
Unless Gemma had not heard from Ryan either. I wondered if anyone had. If she’d disappeared from society after the public humiliation.
But Ryan wasn’t one to go down like that. She wouldn’t just give up because some people were pointing fingers. She was strong and brave and sometimes more of a Gryffinor than I was. There had to be a reason for it and damn it, I was going to figure it out.
“Going on an adventure?” James asked.
“Cover for me?” I tucked both slips of paper in my jacket pocket.
“I don’t think I have a choice.” James downed the rest of the rum. His face was rosy. “I suppose I should go subject the family to a rendition of Hamlet, shouldn’t I?”
“Sounds like the Gryffindor thing to do.”
“Let’s be Hufflepuffs tomorrow, okay?” James said, steadying himself on the table as he rose. “I’ll be too hungover to be a proper Gryffindor.”
“Deal. Good luck.” I patted him on the back and took out my wand.
James’ eyes followed me as I left the tent and entered the darkness of the back garden. “You too, mate. I hope you find her. And Godric, I hope she doesn’t off you because finding a replacement Beater is going to be a nightmare.”
I waved and waited until he was inside before disapparating.
The neighborhood reminded me of what Mum called “up and coming.” Except it hadn’t arrived yet.
It was dark and industrial. Brick lined the narrow lane and the wash hung overtop me like a blanket. The road was hardly lit, but I could see reflections of puddles and bins lining the walkway. Curtains were illuminated in wide windows on either side of the lane. The smell reminded me of when Teddy decided it would be “cool” to move down the street from a meat packing plant.
A cat ran across the road some twenty meters ahead of me.
I shuffled down the street, one hand jammed in my pocket around my wand and the other holding out the address in the lamplight. This couldn’t be it. Where Ryan lived. This couldn’t be the correct address.
Her father used to be the star of the Arrows. He had two Cup rings. How was this possible?
I moved swiftly to 1257, which looked the same as the rest of the flats along the row. It had a tall dark wood door and the numbers were black against it. There was a gold mail slot. None of the windows were lit, but I knocked anyway. I checked my watch. Not far past seven. She couldn’t be asleep.
There was no response so I knocked again. But it was Christmas Eve, wasn’t it? She was probably with her family eating roast and doing poppers. Reliving Grant Davies’ glory days in the Arrows. I’d have to read up on his career when I had a moment.
Still, Gemma’s letter irked me. Good luck. Good luck with what? Navigating properly?
I knocked a few more times, but there wasn’t an answer. Something made the hair on my neck stand on end. Something wasn’t right and I hated standing out here trying to find out. I had the eerie feeling there was someone behind me, so I whispered into the wood, wand in my pocket, and heard the door click.
Not terribly good security, at any rate.
I pushed the door open, hurrying to lock it behind me. I fumbled and flipped the light switch, but nothing happened. Bulb must have been out. I lit the end of my wand.
“Blimey,” I mumbled.
The house was empty. Everything was completely empty. There was no furniture or coats or hats or cutlery or rotten fruit. There was nothing but carpet and painted walls and unused outlets.
Ryan Davies no longer lived here. She was gone.
A/N: Yes, the next chapter is where you hear about Ryan's backstory.
If you can't tell ... I'm super addicted to writing this story.
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UP NEXT: Ryan Davies' backstory. Someone else is predictable, unfortunately.
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