Chapter 2 : Likely to Offend
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“Oi,” she said, taking in the bowl in his hand. “Oh good, you're not busy. I need your help.”
Hugo managed to swallow the piping-hot curry in his mouth. “With what? Have you got something planned for Dommie as revenge?”
His sister scowled deeply, her red brows drawn together in a sharp line. “Heard about what she said about me, did you?”
Lily had Flooed him yesterday to tell him everything, and right behind her had been his cousin Roxanne, who'd been annoyed that Lily had beaten her to the gossip punch when she'd discovered that Hugo already knew the whole story. Roxanne hated to be scooped, especially by a cousin.
“Well, Dommie can go suck a knarl quill, I don't care what she says about me,” Rose went on, though from the look on her face, she cared more than she would like to admit.
Hugo smiled a bit at this. “Well, as your brother, I'd be happy to help you defend your honor. So if you need any help seeking vengeance, let me know.”
Rose's lips curved in a smile that was equal parts satisfaction and pure malice. “Oh, I've got that covered, don't you worry.”
He gave his sister a look, remembering many a scuffle with his sister during their childhood. “Don't hurt her, Rose.”
Rose puffed up in mock outrage. “I would never hurt her. I mean, she certainly deserves a good sock to the eye, it would do her a load of good really, bit of a public service to be honest, but I wouldn't do it. I'm her cousin. I love her. Besides, Dad said she'd probably file charges.”
Hugo didn't need to think this over to know their dad had a point. That sounded right up Dominique's obnoxious alley. “Well, as long as you don't actually sock her in the eye-”
“I thought of something much, much better than that,” she assured him. “But that's not why I'm here.”
“Why are you here?” he asked, feeling a bit bewildered. This was not an unusual feeling when Rose was around. He wondered if he could bolt down a few more bites of curry before she got to the point.
“I was picking up a skip this afternoon and he got me pretty good, and-”
Hugo shot to his feet, the half-eaten curry forgotten now. “Why didn't you say so? Where are you hurt? What spell did you get hit with?”
She turned, pulling up her shirt to display a large gash stretching from her shoulder halfway down her back. The skin around it was dirty, already beginning to bruise. “Well, he was trying to hide up a tree, you see, and one thing led to another, and when we fell out of the tree we landed on some ornamental brickwork-”
Shaking his head, Hugo examined the wound. The healing spells he could try were already spinning through his mind's eye. “Only you, Rose. Hang on a tick, let me get my wand.”
An hour later his sister was healed, the blood cleaned from her favourite pink unicorn t-shirt, and on her way back home. Hugo sat back down to his curry, now gone stone-cold, and stared around his empty flat. It seemed even quieter and more empty than usual now that Rose had gone. Rose swept along through life in a cloud of chaos, getting into and out of scrapes that would have knocked out even one of their dad's highly-trained underlings in the Auror Department.
It was not his first time healing his sister after a work-related injury. Rose liked to come see him rather than going to St. Mungo's, since any injuries healed there were likely to be relayed to one or both of their parents in short order – both their parents having networks of spies everywhere, which they both liked to think of as “contacts” or friends – whereas injuries healed by Hugo were not likely to see the light of day, since Hugo didn't generally tattle on his sister.
Partly this was because he felt they were too old for that type of thing, and partly this was because it would lead to their mother asking him constantly what his sister was up to.
He preferred to avoid those sorts of questions. Plausible deniability was key with Rose.
He thought back to what she'd said about vengeance against Dominique. Probably the whole family knew by now, thanks to Lily and Roxanne, what Dominique had said about Rose's mothering skills. It had been a low blow even for Dominique. Sure, Rose let her boyfriend do most of the child-rearing, because he had more of the caregiver type of personality than she did, but she was a fine mother. She certainly loved little Ramses to distraction.
Dominique really was deeply unpleasant, Hugo reflected. He didn't know what his sister had up her sleeve for revenge, but there was no reason he couldn't help out a bit. She might have it covered, but he could get one in for their side as well. She was his sister, after all.
He didn't have a girlfriend at the moment. He'd had a half-formed notion of going stag and trying to pick up a bridesmaid, but he was beginning to think that sort of thing was beneath his dignity as a Healer. Besides, with his cousin Louis present and on the prowl, none of the bridesmaids would give him a second glance.
And an additional and newly discovered besides: he found that he didn't much care for the thought of another girl who would last a fortnight and be gone, the way his relationships normally did. It had been years since he'd dated a girl longer than a month at a go.
Lately he'd been spending a lot of time around his cousin Molly, since he'd begun working for the Quidditch League as a Healer, and since she'd started seeing her coach. The chronic pain Riordan Fitzroy lived with after his injury meant he needed regular visits with a Healer. He and Hugo had fallen into a rapport when Hugo had started researching Muggle remedies to help him get on with life without full use of his arm, and since then Hugo had been privy to the full force of Molly and Fitz as a couple.
They really were a team together. Hugo had known it was a goal he ought to have, having seen up close and personal the happy marriages of his parents and aunts and uncles, even seeing it in his mad sister and her equally mad boyfriend, but somehow watching it on a near-daily basis with his extremely sane and put-together cousin had brought it home, crystallizing the realization. Molly and Fitz were his peers, not his parents' generation, and not his crazy sister. They were a team. And Hugo wanted what they had together.
He wanted someone to cheer him on when he overcame challenges, someone he could relax around and have a laugh with, someone to hold in the long nights. Someone to love, and to love him back.
Hugo looked round his empty flat. He didn't want to be alone.
Finding love in time for Dominique's wedding seemed unlikely, though. He'd have to settle for selecting a date that would offend her in some way, to get a dig in on behalf of his sister, and after the wedding he'd start looking for his soul mate.
And if offending Dominique was the only criteria needed, he knew just the person.
“What do you mean, you already have a date?” Lily scowled at her brother and gave him a shove. “No you don't. You never have a date.”
“I do this time.” Albus adjusted his glasses and gave her a frown. “Don't shove me. What are you, twelve?”
“Who's your date?” Lily demanded, ignoring this. “Anyone I know? Is this a girl date or a boy date?”
“It's no one you know, and you'll find out at the wedding.” Albus knocked back his shot. “Now drink up, you're falling behind, you nosy niffler.”
Lily pursed her lips at him for a moment and then picked up her own shot, downing the firewhisky in one swallow.
She'd counted on her perpetually single brother to help her out. They would keep each other company and mock Dominique behind her back. Albus was great fun that way, and unlike her single cousins, he wouldn't run off with a bridesmaid and leave her hanging at the reception.
“I can't be the only one without a date. What about Hugo?”
Albus shook his head. “He told me he's taking a coworker.”
“James has a girlfriend. Molly and Rose have boyfriends. Lucy and Roxanne and Victoire are all married. Everyone has a date.”
“Louis will be stag,” her brother pointed out.
Lily waved a hand, still holding the empty shot glass, in dismissal. “Louis is a whore. He'll have three horrible women by the time the night is over, and then we'll be picking him up from the nearest law enforcement officers.”
Her brother didn't dispute the truth of this. Instead he said optimistically, “Well, there's always Fred.”
Lily put her head on the bartop. This was an error, as it felt sticky and was probably contagious. She sat back up, wiping her forehead with a napkin. “I've reached the pinnacle of patheticness, haven't I. I'm on the same level as Fred.”
Albus's lips quirked in a small smile at this. “Fred's not so bad.”
Lily rolled her eyes dramatically. “Albus, go with me. You don't really have a date, do you?”
He patted her on the shoulder. “I'm sorry, Lily, but I really do have a date.”
Her brother trotted off to the restroom, and Lily slumped onto the bartop. She had truly counted on Albus as her companion in spinsterhood, so to speak. Albus never dated. As far as she could recall, Albus had had little to no interest in either gender. He simply didn't seem set up that way. Normally he would attend events like this proudly solo, and she had thought to do the same. Well, with him anyway.
But Albus had a date. Everyone had dates. Except Louis, but he hardly counted. And as she'd said, he'd have three dates before the night was up. Louis could always be counted on for that.
She could find a date, sure, but one she could bring on a family wedding out of town? Not on a moment's notice. She didn't even have any single male friends she could bring.
Lord, everyone was half of a pair except her.
The bartender swept past, refilling the two shot glasses in front of her without needing to be asked. No doubt she looked like she needed another drink. Albus was back a moment later, and picked up his glass.
“This is intolerable,” Lily remarked.
“Keep drinking, you'll feel better.” Her brother handed her the other shot.
The next day was even more intolerable, when she had to contemplate being alone at the wedding when even Albus had a bloody date, and she had a roaring hangover to complicate her contemplation. Lily laid on the floor of her living room, which was as far as she'd managed to get since getting out of bed, and stared at the ceiling.
Everyone had a date. Most of them were permanent dates, too, long-term relationships and marriages. Built-in dates. One didn't even have to ask.
Oh, it was so unfair. Lily hadn't had a permanent date in over two years, not since she'd broken things off with the drummer fellow she'd met through Roxanne's husband. All of her dates since then had been decidedly temporary.
And now she was going to go stag to Dominique's wedding and have to listen to Dommie clucking over how sad it was that Lily couldn't find a man, how Lily hadn't managed to get a proper date. It would be humiliating, especially coming from Dominique. And the worst thing was, because it would be Dominique's wedding, she wouldn't be allowed to make any jabs back at her cousin. Reminding Dommie of her first husband usually knocked her down a peg.
Normally Lily didn't use that sort of low blow against Dominique. But damn it, her cousin would try the patience of a saint.
Lily had never claimed to be a saint.
She dragged herself to her feet, moaning a bit. She managed to get dressed and slap on some makeup, hoping it looked like that Japanese trend of hangover makeup rather than an actual hangover, and then was out the door, hiding behind oversized Jackie O sunglasses.
When she arrived at her uncle's joke shop, her cousin Fred was sitting on the counter, cross-legged in his magenta shop robes. He waved and tossed aside the book he'd been reading when he saw her.
“All right there, Lily? You look terrible, were you drinking last night?”
She rolled her eyes, but because she was still wearing the dark sunglasses, he probably couldn't see this. “Is it obvious?”
“Well, I know you very well,” Fred said diplomatically. “But yes. Did you hear what Dominique said about Rose?”
“Yeah, I was there.” Lily slid onto the counter beside him and took off her sunglasses. “How'd you hear about it?”
His sister was a reporter, and while she never wrote anything bad about her family, she was certainly quick to spread the gossip to all their relatives, Lily thought with a sniff, ignoring the fact she'd been spreading it around herself.
Fred squinted at her. “Your eyes are the same red as your lipstick. Did you do that on purpose?”
“Do you have a date for the wedding?” Lily asked him, bald-faced.
“Yeah, I'm taking this girl I know- what?” he interrupted his own train of thought when Lily flung herself dramatically against him.
“Everyone has a date except me, Freddie. When did I become such a loser? I should have started finding a boyfriend months ago so I wouldn't have to go alone.”
“Just take any old person,” Fred suggested. “It's only Dominique's. She's bound to have another one, and you can bring someone special then.”
“I can't take just anyone, it's an out-of-town wedding. Any bloke I ask will get the wrong idea. Besides, have you any idea how my parents will act? How my brothers will act?”
Fred nodded then, understanding dawning. “Oh, yeah, I didn't think of that.”
“This is awful.” Lily rubbed her hands over her eyes, remembered she'd put on eyeliner, and groaned. “I'm a mess, Fred. Kill me now. Put me out of my misery.”
“I don't know why you're so bothered,” he said obliviously. “Just go alone.”
“Dominique will get snippy and make a remark about how I couldn't get a date.”
As much as Lily hated to admit it, she cared. She didn't want to go alone to the wedding. She didn't want to be the only one there without a date. Maybe she should just take any old person. Maybe Fred was right. That seemed to be working for the boys.
“Want me to set you up, then?” Fred asked. “I've got a friend who might do for you.”
It was a mark of Lily's increasing desperation to not look like a loser that she didn't laugh at this. Fred's friends were James's friends, and she knew exactly the type of blokes her brother was friends with.
Still… Anyone was better than no one at this point, and at least if she had a set-up, she'd know the man wasn't secretly an axe murderer. Fred and James's friends would at least be a laugh. And in all likelihood, the sort of blokes Fred and James were friends with were also likely to offend Dominique.
If she couldn't suddenly produce a soul mate to parade around in front of Dominique and wave their great love under her perfect nose, then Lily could at least find someone obnoxious to let loose on the proceedings.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
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