Chapter 4 : Beards, Closets, and Pine Tales.
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Feeling slightly vindictive, Rory yanked the curtains to her living room open wide and grinned when a groan was emitted from the couch behind her. Following the first sound of life from the bumbling idiots who were camping out in her flat, several curses were unleashed as the pain from a regrowing toe hit home to the larger of the two idiots.
Easton’s whimpering cry turned into a hushed sob as his own tears of pain awoke the thumping hangover in his head.
“Jesus Christ,” Glancing over her shoulder, Rory found her older cousin clutching his temples as he pushed his head into the cushion, effectively rubbing the dry vomit he had on his face into the material.
“Great, now I’ve got to burn that as well. Thanks East,” Grumbling to herself as she stormed from the window to the kitchen that flowed in an 'open plan' style into the living room, Rory smacked her cousin on the back of the head.
“Fuck, Ro, what was that for?” Lifting his head up, he squinted at her through bleary eyes.
“Oh, I don’t know,” She drawled sarcastically, “Maybe for vomiting all over my bathroom floor last night, or for almost setting my kitchen on fire when you and dick-face over there tried to make toast at four am, or perhaps it was the fact that you attempted disapparating while incredibly inebriated and splinched your pinkie toe off? Huh?”
“Right,” Easton cringed and sat up, and though he turned an unattractive shade of green, he did manage to look somewhat apologetic as he faced her. “I’m sorry Rory.”
“Yeah, you say that every time.” Rory pursed her lips before sighing, knowing that she could never stay mad at him for too long. “Go have a shower, I’ll make you something to eat.”
“You’re the best, cuz.” Struggling to his feet, Easton blew her a kiss before wobbling his way to the bathroom. The door slammed shut behind him, and she smirked as she heard his cursing at the loud noise.
There was a thump to her left and she looked down to find that Easton’s partner in crime had rolled off the armchair he’d been awkwardly curled up on after being startled by the slamming door. Atticus Huntly hugged the floor whilst groaning dramatically, and she snickered when she caught sight of the attractive artwork Easton had drawn onto the boy’s right cheek with permanent marker earlier that morning.
Rory’s nickname for the poor boy truly suited him perfectly.
“Mornin’,” He slurred, drool staining the rug he lay on.
“Morning Att,” Chuckling to herself, Rory left the hung-over young man to his own devices in her living room and started making her and the boys something to eat.
Several rashes of bacon, a carton of eggs and an entire loaf of bread later, Easton and Atticus were leaving her apartment somewhat more put together than they were when they had woken up.
Even though she’d fought till she was red in the face to get Easton to tidy up his and Atticus’ mess (he’d disapparated the moment she’d pulled out her wand), Rory was left alone with the disaster that tended to follow her cousin like a bad smell. Muttering dark threats and empty promises that this would be the last time she helped him out, Rory was more grateful than ever that magic existed. She didn’t even want to think about what a nightmare her bathroom would have been if she didn’t have those trusty cleaning spells up her sleeves – she’d probably have had to burn the flat to the ground if she was a muggle. It would’ve been the only way to ensure that the biohazard Easton had created didn’t infect anybody.
“Stupid little fucker, if he wasn’t family I swear to Merlin I’d – WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? OH MY GOD! EASTON WENDELL PINE YOU ARE DEAD!”
It was not a good start to the day.
Sitting up in his bed, Teddy clutched his head in between his hands as the full extent of his night out hit home.
“Merlin, I’m never touching firewhisky again.” Keeping his eyes shut against the rising sunlight that flickered in through his thin curtains, Teddy blindly made his way to his bathroom.
After several hangover cure potions, a heavy breakfast and multiple promises to himself in the mirror that he would never drink that much again, Teddy disapparated from his flat barely in time for work.
“Merlin Ted, you look like shite.” The laughing voice of his partner, Terrence Reed, greeted him the moment he walked through the doors of the Auror Department and made it to his desk. Glaring across the space that connected their desks together, Teddy placed his things down and headed towards the common room to make himself a dark coffee.
Once the God given liquid had entered his system, he found himself more capable of dealing with the snide remarks he knew would be thrown his way that morning and sat back down at his desk.
“Big night out, huh?”
“Great night, worst hangover.” Teddy answered with a pained look earning him a commiserating grimace from Terrence.
“Tend to go hand in hand, unfortunately.” The dark-skinned Auror grimaced before picking up a folder from his side of their shared desks. “Finchley dropped this off just before you got here,”
“Joyful,” He tipped his head dryly and took the folder from Terrence’s outstretched hand. “More paperwork, just what I felt like doing.”
The sound of hooting owls awoke her that morning, the squawking doing wonders for the blistering headache that haunted her. Pushing away the blankets that cocooned her, Victoire sat up with a death-warmed over look on her face. Upon sensing her return to the living, the owls’ hooting reached a new octave as they all demanded to be tipped for their service. Recognising two of them as family owls and the third as the one that delivered her Witch Weekly magazine, Vic quickly paid the service owl before finding the right treats to tip her Mother’s and grandmother’s owls.
“Just what I need to start my week off with,” She sighed somewhat bitterly as she picked up the thick letters she’d received from Fleur and Molly senior. “A thumping headache and relatives concerned with what I’m doing with my life. Spectacular,”
Deciding that she would tackle the letters after she was relatively less hung-over, Vic picked up the magazine and sauntered through her bedroom door into the kitchen that doubled as her living space. Dropping the copy of Witch Weekly on the bench, she made herself a large pot of coffee and put some bread in the toaster before dragging a chair over to the pot so she wouldn’t have to make multiple trips back when she’d undoubtedly need a refill. Lifting her feet up onto the cushion of the seat, Vic hugged them to her chest as she opened her weekly source of derisive entertainment atop of her knees.
Thankfully, both for the safety of herself and her kitchen floor, the pot hadn’t finished brewing yet, for the front cover would have had Victoire spit-taking rather dramatically and violently. For front and centre, under a flashing and obnoxiously moving title was a picture of her and Teddy from last night.
Except from the angle, the innocent way he’d supported her home while they’d both been drunk off their asses looked a little less than innocent and a little more… intimate.
She thought she was going to vomit, and it wasn’t from the alcohol still floating around in her system. At least not entirely.
Just before he was scheduled for his lunch break, Teddy begun to notice the strange way in which his colleagues were looking at him and the way they seemed to whisper a little quieter whenever he walked past their desks. Frowning, he leaned across the divide and tapped the page Terrence was reading through.
“T, is there something I should know about?”
“What do you mean, Ted?” A little irritated at being interrupted, Terrence glanced up at Teddy.
“Just – maybe I’m imagining it, but… Is there something on my face?”
“Right, then why is everyone staring at me?”
“Nobody’s-,” Rolling his eyes, Terrence went to tell Teddy he was being dramatic when he noticed that Ted was in fact telling the truth. “What did you do?”
“Nothing!” He protested before pausing. “At least, nothing that I know of.”
“Must’ve been something pretty major,”
“Your speculating really isn’t helping, T.”
“You’re the one that pointed it out,” Terrence shrugged before moving Teddy’s finger from the file on his desk and went back to work.
“I know that, but-”
“Lupin!” Finchley, one of the senior Auror’s in the department, stood in the pathway at the end of the aisle where all the graduates were located. He quirked a brow when Teddy didn’t immediately leap to his feet at his presence. “Potter wants to see you in his office,”
“Right,” Confused but hoping his godfather could tell him what the hell was going on, Teddy picked his wand up from his desk and followed Finchley to the Head Auror’s private office.
Finchley shot him a smirk before disappearing, leaving Teddy a little unsettled as he cracked open the door to the office and slipped inside.
“Ted,” Harry greeted him with a warm smile, instantly putting the young man at ease. “Have a seat,”
“Ah, am I in trouble?”
“No, why – have you done something?”
“No! No, I’m just – I don’t know why you wanted to talk to me, and after noticing everybody in the Department staring at me, I figured I was in trouble when Finchley said you wanted to speak with me”
“Right, well you’re not in trouble.” Harry assuaged his worries. “As for all the stares, I can’t speak for everyone in the Department, but it may have something to do with the cover of the Witch Weekly magazine that went out this morning.”
“The Witch Weekly?” His confusion renewed, Teddy’s brows furrowed when Harry handed him over a copy of the magazine.
“I’m confused, Ted. I thought you liked Rory?”
“I do, I – this isn’t what it looks like, I was just helping Vic home after we had a few drinks last night, I swear.” Defensively, Teddy scrunched up the cover of the magazine in his hand, refusing to look down at the picture of him and Vic that adorned it. “Rumours like this have been going around ever since the 2014 World Cup, Vic and I are just friends, Uncle Harry.”
“It’s not me you have to convince, Ted.” Harry held his hands up in surrender, and Teddy flushed sheepishly. “Ginny sent me this copy earlier saying that Bill wanted to have a word with you.”
“Oh,” The blood drained from his face, and the turquoise hue of his hair darkened with his worry. “Do you mind if I take my lunch break a little earlier?”
Harry shook his head, and Ted grinned at him weakly before hurrying out of the office, the Witch Weekly magazine still clutched tightly in his fist.
Still shivering at the horror her cousin had left in her bathroom, Rory fluttered around the second floor of her store finishing up the muggle section she had dedicated the level to. There was a jingle from the floor below as someone entered the shop and she glanced over at the clock that was hanging on the wall in shock to find that it was midday.
“Huh,” She muttered, dropping the stack of comics back into their box as she made her way towards the spiral staircase. “I’ll be right down, Ted.”
He called back some reply to her but she didn’t catch it, the music she had blasting from the overhead speakers drowned him out. Waving her wand quickly, the few books she had lying about stacked themselves neatly in the corner and once satisfied that they would be stable, Rory slid down the banister to the bottom level.
“Sup Tedster,” Grinning as she hopped off the end, rather pleased that she hadn’t toppled backwards like her mother had told her she would, Rory took a bow when Teddy smirked at her.
“It’s looking great, Rora.”
“Thanks,” She beamed at him, taking pride in his compliment. He smiled softly back at her but it quickly became a grimace, and she felt her own slip away. “What’s wrong?”
“Vic really needs to stop kissing me.”
“What do you-?” Stepping forward, Rory accepted the magazine Teddy all but threw at her and her eyes widened when she saw the cover.
“More than friends at last?”
The flashing golden title faded in and out of focus a top of a dark photo of a couple on the London streets. The woman was leaning heavily on the man, her face tilted towards his as her lips brushed against what could’ve been his mouth or cheek – the angle of the photo made it impossible to tell. But, what could clearly be seen, was the bright turquoise of Teddy’s hair and the unmistakeable beauty mark on the strawberry blonde’s cheek that any who had ever met Victoire knew identified the woman as her.
“Blimey,” Speechless, Rory looked up from the cover to Teddy’s pleading expression. “Remind me to never leave the two of you alone together again,”
“Rory, this is serious!” Irritated with her laughter, Teddy all but stomped his way across the store as he began pacing. Rory quietened at his clearly distressed appearance, and she sighed, dropping the magazine on a stray shelf.
“So a reporter snapped the two of you looking a little cosy, I don’t get what the big deal is? People have been speculating about the two of you since you were old enough to talk. This,” She gestured at the bedraggled magazine, “Is nothing new, so why is it stressing you out so much?”
“Because this time it’s different!” He shouted before he could catch himself, and his chest heaved as his body finally caught up with his raging emotions. “It’s just… different.”
“It’s just… different,” He muttered at a softer volume, ducking his gaze from hers as she crossed the floor to stand in front of him.
“Why?” Her voice was gentle but searching, and he could tell she was trying to read the answer from his expression. “Ted?”
Teddy looked up, his shoulders sagging with the weight of the secret he’d been carrying for the last four years, and he swallowed thickly. Her head shook imploringly, her green eyes wide as she stared at him and the desire to tell her was there, the words were on the tip of his tongue –
The chime above the door jingled again as it was thrown open, and any intent he had to admit everything to Rory was thrown with it, for Victoire had just entered the store with trouble burning in her blue eyes.
“Have you seen this morning’s Witch Weekly?” Her foot slid on the magazine that was still on the ground. “I see that you have. Right, you see this blasted thing has caused me quite the trouble this morning. First,” She slams the door shut behind her as if to vent her frustration, and Rory visibly winces as the hinges creak in protest. “I wake up to the most killer hangover to find three owls shitting all over my bedroom; after sorting that mess out, and realising that I’ve got the longest and fattest letters in existence from Mama and Nana Molly, I’m waiting for my coffee to brew to find that Ted and I have made the front of the biggest gossip manufacturer in Great Britain. Just joyful, I tell you.”
“Vic-” Rory tries to cut in but is out-shouted by the over-powering, on a roll Victoire Weasley.
“And then, after reading the blasted article that suggests that Ted and I have been having a surreptitious affair since the 2014 World Cup, because apparently Teddy fixing the binoculars for me was, hands-down, the most romantic thing a teenage boy could do for his secret lover. The photos they’d snapped, the second of which was taken after I’d tripped thanks to that blasted flashing light, which, coincidentally I now realise was a camera flash – most definitely that of that fucking papa-rat-zi who took these photos.” Vic paused to take a breath. “The photos, sure, are a little incriminating, but if you look at them without knowledge of those filthy rumours you wouldn’t see anything except for a mate helping another mate while they’re both piss-drunk. Of course neither Mama nor Nana Molly are willing to accept that, because they’re both desperate for me to be all loved up and shacked up with some guy by Christmas.”
“Does your rant have a point, Vic?” Rory asked, seizing the lull in Vic’s speech as a chance to get a word in edgeways.
“Yes, I’m getting there – be patient.” Rory pulled a face at the blonde, which, if Teddy wasn’t so strung out, would have made him laugh. “After I’d managed to calm down from reading that trash they call journalism, I thought, hey, you know what would really make my day? If I read those letters my loving relatives sent me.” She snorted.
“From start to finish both letters, all thirty pages – THIRTY PAGES – were about how hurt and betrayed they felt that I hadn’t told them something was going on between Teddy and I. They said they’d given me so many opportunities to come clean about the secret relationship ever since James – the dick head – had told them about our kiss at King’s Cross last year, but for me not to and for them to find out through an article was really upsetting. I mean, honestly, those two are such hypocrites, always harping on about how we shouldn’t trust anything the media says, and to not listen to whatever Rita Skeeter 2.0 writes about us, but the moment something related to my love life comes up they’re all over it like a rash. It’s a-”
“VIC THE POINT PLEASE!”
“Conspiracy,” Vic finished lamely, and she glanced sheepishly at the annoyed frown Rory was wearing. “My point is that I can’t exactly tell Mama and Nana Molly that they’re wrong, because (a) I did kiss Teddy last year, and (b) the photos are really incriminating. I mean, I could tell them but that would only make me look like a floozy for kissing guys I’m not remotely interested in- Don’t you dare agree with that statement Aurora Pine.”
Rory abruptly shut her mouth.
“And it would disappoint and embarrass them if I was to publicly come out and be all – “Sorry folks, that’s just a picture of me absolutely shit-faced” I can’t do that, I can’t knowingly hurt them.”
“Then what do you want to do, Vic?” Speaking up for the first time since she’d entered Pine Tales, Teddy looked away from the hole he’d been burning in the floor to stare at Victoire.
“The only way I can get them off my back about finding a nice guy to settle down with is whether I tell them I’m dating you, or I admit that I’m gay; and I’m not quite ready to come out yet. I mean, yeah sure I’ve accepted that I’m gay, but I still haven’t figured out who I am with that new identity. I just… I just need a bit more time to find my feet.” Licking her lips and wringing her hands together nervously, Vic glanced between her two best friends.
“If I’m understanding what you’re getting at correctly,” Teddy began, “You want to pretend that the article isn’t false? That everyone isn’t wrong in their assumptions?”
“So what, I’d be your fake boyfriend?”
“Technically you’d be my beard, but yeah.”
“Your what?” Scoffing, he risked a glance at Rory to find her looking entirely too amused by the goings on.
“My beard. You know, the person of the opposite sex gays use, to disguise the fact that they aren’t straight?”
“Right, yeah.” He drawled.
“Anyway, what do you say?” Her eyes wide with hope and a little desperation, Vic clasped her hands together in front of her chest pleadingly. “Will you be my beard?”
“Ah…” He looked at Rory, and as if she’d felt his eyes on her, she looked back at him with an encouraging smile. He took a deep breath and nodded. “Sure.”
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