Chapter 9 : (9)
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Also, many thanks to Sian (always) and to Paula, who left an adorable impromptu review that made my day and convinced me to get this thing done (sorry it took so long) c:
"Midgeon," McLaggen acknowledged stiffly. He immediately waltzed her away but there was more distance than was comfortable to even be waltzing in the first place, and Eloise frowned in confusion.
"Is everything alright?"
"Quite, although I fail to see how it's any of your business."
At that, Eloise stopped short, causing a near-collision with another pair. "Excuse me?"
"I said, I don't see how it's any of your business. Did you not hear properly the first time, or are you as stupid as you're ugly?"
"Wow," Eloise managed, too stunned to express anything else. "You really are an asshole. Let me go, please."
"What was this, a test? I can – and will, if you don't let go – slap you, make no mistake, but I prefer not to air out my dirty laundry in public. Have a nice evening."
With as much self-assurance as she could muster, Eloise pulled away and stalked over to the buffet where her friends had congregated. Susan was ranting passionately, if the aggressive whirling of her arms was anything to go by, but both Ernie and Wayne were doing their best to contain their laughter which meant she wasn't saying anything that'd get her arrested. Upon seeing Eloise approach, however, Susan broke off, her brow furrowing.
"Uh oh, I know that face. Who did what and should I kill them?"
"McLaggen was rude, please don't kill him, it's taken care of."
"What'd you do?"
"Called him an asshole then defaulted to my good manners, of course – my name's not Jesus, I wasn't born in a barn."
"That's my girl. Wine?"
Two days later, over Christmas leftovers and booze, Eloise found herself sprawled across the Bones' sofa during the traditional holiday sleepover at Susan's house, recounting the entire story to her friends. Susan, less than pleased, wished for a number of anatomically impossible things to happen to McLaggen, the boys wincing at her suggestions but overall agreeable to the thought of something terrible happening to him. It was only much later in the evening, with all five of them (Zach and Justin had declined the invitation) well into their cups, that Susan came up with another idea.
" – 'm serious, Eloise, what you need to get over your McLaggen situation is a good shag."
"Sex is your solution to everything, Susan," Wayne reminded her, "but for once I think you may have a point. Now give the scotch to Ernie if you want him to continue listening in on this conversation, you're making him uncomfortable."
Ernie's cheeks were stained a vivid scarlet. "I'm not uncomfortable with sex itself, I'm uncomfortable with how cavalierly you talk about it."
"Aw, Ern, have you still not dipped your wand in any cauldron?"
"Leave him be, Sue, not wanting to sleep with anyone before marriage is his decision and you should respect that. Also, that was a very poor analogy, no more alcohol for you." Considerably more sober than the brunette, Eloise had no trouble wrestling the bottle out of her hands.
"I don't hear you arguing my point," her friend sing-songed.
"That would be because your point is valid. However, as I have zero intentions of throwing myself at the first passerby's head, we appear to have reached an impasse."
"You should jus' ask Wayne. Or Justin or Henry. Not Zach, he'll be insuff – insurfable about it."
"I cannot believe we're having this conversation," Henry groaned. "El, I love you dearly, but Susan attempting to sell you like cattle on the market place goes way beyond my feelings for you. Talking about Shakespeare, yes, sex no, no offense."
"None taken. Please, for the love of God, someone change the subject now?"
But the damage was done and Eloise found herself shying away from the boys when they all started nodding off to sleep one after the other. Susan, curled up in front of the fireplace, had given in to tiredness and alcohol well before anyone, head in Ernie's lap. The latter, sitting on the floor and propped up against a chair, had his head lolling to the side and would probably wake up with a horrid crick in his neck, but Eloise didn't have the heart to move either of them, especially when Ernie had a tendency to flail when abruptly awoken, which in turn would wake Henry. Pulling a blanket over her legs, she rolled onto her side and was watching the embers of the fireplace flicker red and gold while waiting for sleep to claim her too when Wayne dropped himself on the other end of the sofa.
"I can hear you think from the other side of the room."
"Yes, well. Sue sure as shit knows how to make a situation awkward, doesn't she?"
Wayne let out a soft exhale of a laugh. "Yes, she does." A pause. "I also think she has a point."
Eloise took a minute to process that. "Is this mutual itch-scratching or are there feelings involved?"
"Oh, thank god," she breathed, and Wayne laughed again. "We're going to need ground rules, but we're not discussing this here when any of the other three can wake up. Susan is going to be so smug."
Returning to Hogwarts proved to be as complicated in 1997 as ever. So much for new years and new beginnings. Cormac was wrangling a wiggly Keegan into weather-appropriate gear, singing to the little boy in an attempt to block out the sounds of Siobhan and Aoibheann yelling at one another in the kitchen. The shouts increased in volume then receded once more as Finlay and Sean, holding hands the way the always did when an argument took place, slipped into the bedroom. Finlay's eyes were big and scared, brimming with tears and Cormac stopped trying to dress his youngest brother, hauling him onto his hip in only a baby jumper so that he could crouch down in front of the twins. Fin held back for half a second before barrelling against him with enough force to knock him on his ass. Cormac brought his free hand up to Finlay's head, stroking his fingers through the little boy's sandy short-cropped hair as he cried into his neck.
"We don' like it when mama and Ave fight," Sean explained, tucking himself as close to Cormac as he could without jostling Keegan. "Ave says mean things and then she cries and mama cries and Fin cries and ever'body cries. When you stay ever'body's happy. Can you stay some more?"
"Not this time, but this summer I'll be home for much longer, I promise."
"Can we go swimming and buy ice cream?"
"Yeah, bud, we can do that."
The noise down the hall increased abruptly – Aoibheann, if Cormac were to hazard a guess – then a door slammed and everything was abruptly silent. No one moved or said anything, the quiet broken only by Finlay's sobs slowly stuttering out as Cormac continued to rub his head.
"'M sad you have t' go already. I miss you when you're away."
"I miss you too, Sean; I miss all of you."
"Daddy says one day you'll go f'rever."
Cold dread crept up Cormac's back, rapidly replaced by a flare of white-hot anger. He forced himself to keep his voice even as he stated, "Never. I might live further away someday, and come back less often, but I'm never leaving forever."
"You bet your ass."
That got Finlay to giggle. "You said a bad word."
"I did. Don't tell mum?"
Somehow, it was the right thing to say: the twins unlatched from Cormac, identical proud grins of knowing a grown up's secret on their faces. Cormac only just managed to get Finlay to blow his nose before they dodged out of the room, back to being their mischievous selves now that the worst of the crisis had passed. Cormac looked down at Keegan, chewing on his sleeve, and sighed.
"C'mon, little rascal, time to face the women in this family." The baby broke into a giggle. "Yeah, yeah, you're laughing now, see if that's the case in a couple of years when you realise they're far more terrifying than the boys."
And terrifying they were, Cormac thought when his mother caught sight of him and Keegan, managed to get the latter ready and the entire family to King’s Cross in the space of ten minutes. Aoibheann, still sulking fiercely, was the first to stumble out of the fireplace into the station behind Cormac. He managed to drag both her and his trunk out of the way just as an angry-looking middle aged witch appeared in the hearth – the arrivals by Floo section of King’s Cross was always a place with a high trampling risk, even more so on days where Hogwarts students had to head back, and Cormac really did not fancy having to explain to his mother that his sister had died tragically squashed by some late-runner’s luggage.
Well out of the way of danger but within sight of the chimneys, he finally turned to his sister. "Are you planning on yelling at mum every time I go back to school?"
"Only two times left then," she replied petulantly. "Afterwards I'll have to find other opportunities."
"Do we need to have a conversation about genetics again? Woe is me, I thought you were learning that in class and it was out of my hands now."
That got him a smile. "I'm miles ahead of you on genetics, you couldn't keep up with me if you tried."
"Yeah, figures. It's why I've stopped trying. On a more serious note, Ave – please stop getting into arguments with mum about this, okay? You not having magic isn't her fault, which you should know if you're that good at genetics, and more importantly, it doesn't matter, because you're going to be great at whatever you do without it. Hell, you're already great and so smart it terrifies me sometimes, so please stop putting yourself down for being a Squib. Okay?"
"Also, if you really want to blame someone..."
"Blame Father," she completed.
"I've trained you so well, young one."
Aoibheann wrapped her arms around his middle tightly. "I'm going to miss you. Write often, okay?"
Cormac returned the hug. "I'll see what I can do."
"This is so weird," Zacharias complained as the Hogwarts Express pulled out of King's Cross. Across from him, Eloise had slung her legs over Wayne's lap; he was absentmindedly tapping out a pattern against her calves as they worked through the Prophet's crossword together. "You two are nauseating, it's like you're a proper couple and not just fuck buddies and I cannot believe I shared a dorm with you guys while you slept in the same bed."
Henry let out a long-suffering sigh. "Oh, Zach. You know, when a man and a woman love each other very much..."
"How are you not creeped out? It's as if Susan and I were together!"
That caused Susan to choke through her mouthful of Cauldron Cake. Ernie helpfully thumped her on the back. "Eloise and Wayne have always been friendly," she explained pointedly once she was able to breathe again (she was still rather purple in the face). "I barely tolerate you on my good days, plus you're a terrible snog."
"I was fourteen! I'll have you know my technique has considerably improved since then."
"Eh. I suppose I'll find out next time I mistake you for Roger Davies."
Eloise was still laughing at the expression on Zach's face when the trolley lady came by a second time.
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