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Hopscotch by Ernie_the_Dino
Chapter 19 : Nineteen
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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 The afternoon of Christmas Day, Kelly Jones and Nick Croaker were holed up in the Hufflepuff common room, playing chess to pass the time now it was too dark to build snowmen or have a snowball fight (the former activity had soon diverged into the latter) with the other students remaining in the castle over Christmas. 

“Bishop to C3. Check.” Nick commanded his brand-new bishop to take the place of Kelly’s rook, in a rather violent manner.

“Queen to E3.” Kelly’s queen marked the bishop menacingly. “So,” she leaned her elbows on the table, scanning the board for hypothetical moves. “How come you haven’t gone home for Christmas?”

“Queen to A6, I want my other bishop back.” Nick told her.

Kelly obliged. 

Nick’s black bishop dragged itself back onto the board.

“My parents are representing the British Ministry of Magic at an International Confederation Conference in Beijing. And unlike Sylvia Carrow, I do not speak Chinese, therefore I opted to stay here for the Christmas holidays.”

Liar.” Kelly replied, not unkindly, not lifting her gaze from the pieces. “Knight to H7. Checkmate.”

Nick blinked. 

People, his parents in particular, tended to believe Nick when he lied. He’d learned how to say the words just right. He had a trusting sort of face that could fake any emotion he wanted, very well. And yet, here was someone, sitting right in front of him, who had just changed the rules of the game he’d been playing his whole life. 

She was right. He’d wanted to go to China for Christmas. He’d wanted to spend some time with the two people who had brought him into this world, to see if he actually had anything in common with them. He’d wanted to imagine for three weeks that he had a normal family; not politicians for parents who paid him lip service whenever they spoke.

However, his parents couldn’t possibly delay their departure another day for their only son to accompany them across Asia. They wouldn’t dream of pulling him out of school and away from his studies in his seventh-year, even if it meant that he could catch the portkey leaving London the evening before term time ceased. At least, that was what the letter he received from his father’s secretary had said. He’d also received a package wrapped in brown paper — the handwriting on the tag hadn’t belonged to either of his parents, though it was signed love, Maman and Dad xxx.

If that wasn’t a give away of how hands-off his parents really were, the three kisses was. His mother was from Monaco, she greeted everyone she ever met with an air kiss on each cheek, no more, no less. His father rarely expressed that kind of affection, preferring to prove how firm his handshake was to everyone he encountered on a personal level.

Nick was somewhat annoyed and unnerved both by Kelly’s prowess at picking up on his bluff, and her capability on the chessboard. As her knight trampled his king, he asked, disbelievingly, “Did I just get hustled by a Hufflepuff?”

“Suck it up, Slytherin.” Kelly smirked, shifting to sit on the squashy sofa rather than the floor, tucking her legs under her.

Nick packed the pieces away and stood up. He walked around the table and dropped onto the sofa next to her, “What about you? Why are you here for the holidays?” 

“Same reason you’re here. My guardians are abroad.”

“Oh,” Nick said. The use of the word ‘guardians’ sounded infinitely more tragic than anything about his hush-hush home life. So, in an attempt to lighten the mood, he slyly added, “You didn’t want to spend Christmas with your boyfriend?”

“Well, considering he doesn’t exist, it would be an impossible act.” 

“James seems pretty real to me.”

“James isn’t my boyfriend.” There was no emotion in her voice, although she blushed when she said it.

“So it wasn’t you kissing him in Hogsmeade?”

Kelly lifted her blue-grey eyes from the fire to meet his dark brown ones. “How do you know about what happened in Hogsmeade?”

“Spy.” He shrugged, and raised his eyebrows, “I take it that’s a yes, then?” 

“Why do you want to know, Nick?” She asked slowly.

“Because I’m a nosy bastard.” He replied, not missing a beat.

Kelly laughed. 

“It was me kissing him. But it wasn’t… a date or whatever.”

“But you wanted it to be?”

Kelly wrinkled her nose in frustration. “I don’t know. It’s James. I mean, he’s a great kisser, and he’s lovely, but I just— I don’t—” She sighed, unsure as to how to word what she was feeling. “He’s… different.”

“He’s a boy, Kelly.” Nick said. “I hate to break it to you, but we are fundamentally different.”

Kelly rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“He sees you even when you’re invisible.” Nick said simply after a pause. “And that really scares you.”

“Something like that.” Kelly nodded. She looked up at him, “You seem pretty difficult to disturb, d’you ever get scared? Doing all those crazy dives to catch the snitch first? Lying to teachers like Charleston and Llewelyn without batting an eyelid…?”

“Yeah, but I’ve been doing those sort of things since I’ve had baby teeth. I just try to avoid being irrationally terrified.”

“That,” Kelly said, “sounds like a logical goal.”

They turned back to the fire, sitting in silence. It was a sound both of them were very familiar with. 

Kelly’s gaze lingered on Nick’s brand-new chess set and the Namibian Citrine bracelet from her brother. She thought about the sugar-quills and strawberry bonbons sitting in her room from Rachel. The bottles of colour-changing nail polish from Tara. The new  Curse Breaker books from Grace. 

But there had been nothing from her dad. No postcard, no present. It wasn’t that she was expecting anything big or important, but she had been expecting something to have appeared at the foot of her bed that morning from her father. No news might be good news to some people, but Kelly had had to do without her dad more often than most, and the ignorance to his current condition was far from bliss.

She looked to Nick and nudged his knee with her own, murmuring in the quiet of the common room, “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

Nick’s pokerface remained in place, but something in the depths of his dark eyes flickered. The little boy living inside the suave Slytherin shell had stirred. It took him several moments to speak. 

“When I was six-years-old, back before my father had become a Ministry bigwig and when my mother was making all the money in the fashion industry, they decided to travel Europe — her company — her parent’s company — had branches in Paris and Milan and Vienna. It was soirée season, so they were there on business to shake all the right hands and establish the connections that have made my father’s career… Six days after they left, my nanny resigned. My parents knew about this — obviously, they no longer had to afford a regular expense — but they still stayed away for three months, leaving me at home with a house-elf.” 

He sighed. “When my great-uncle Saul heard, he came to find me, packed up my things and took me back to his house in Westminster, where I stayed until my parents got back. He’s a Professor, and he’s got a library full of books on everything. And he’s read them all — twice… Most of my father’s family are politicians, so naturally I grew up thinking they were all evil — but he’s the only one I’ve ever really trusted… which is ironic considering he worked as an Unspeakable.”

“So how come you aren’t spending Christmas with him?”

“He… er… he had an accident in the Department of Mysteries a couple of years back — he was working with time-turners, and something went wrong and… well, he can’t remember much after the two-thousand-and-two Quidditch World Cup Final; which happened a year before I was born. I’ve visited him in St. Mungo’s, but he hasn’t got a clue who I am, and it makes him angry when he realises he should remember me but he can’t… So, I stay away, for both our sakes.” 

“Sorry.” Kelly said quietly.

“Don’t worry about it.” Nick brushed it off. Then he gave her a polite and professional smile, and it was so believable that Kelly couldn’t quite remember what his face had looked like when he was talking about his favourite uncle only moments ago. “What about you? What’s your secret sob story?”

Kelly’s mouth quirked momentarily, before she became solemn once more. 

“My mum, not a drop of magical blood in her veins… she died when I was seven. She had a brain tumour… She… er… used to write and illustrate children’s books, so being married to a wizard with two magical children was a lot of inspiration for her… She used to read them to me at bedtime to see if they were any good, before they got published — in both muggle and magical editions… And when she got sick, I used to read them to her…” 

Kelly took a deep breath, raising her eyebrows. “My dad’s an auror. He’s very good at his job — Mad-Eye Moody trained him. He’s put a lot of people in prison; so he gets all the really dangerous cases to deal with. He can be gone for months on end… I’ve got no idea where he is. I don’t know when I’ll see him again. If ever… And all I got this time was a coded message from the Auror Office telling me he is currently engaged in an operation and, like it or not, he can’t exactly come home for Christmas.” 

She didn’t sound like a whiny teenager wanting her parents to pay her attention and get her a gift better than any other girl in the world. She sounded tired. She sounded done. So done. 

She touched the bracelet on her wrist, “Rhys is usually back in the country for the school holidays, even if it’s just long enough to pick me up from Kings Cross, pack a rucksack of clothes and get the next portkey out of the UK. But he’s stuck in Africa for a while, so I’m staying at school for the whole sodding season to be jolly.” 

They lapsed back into silence, both feeling a little too depressed to be occupying a room full of so many festive decorations. Some of the logs shifted in the stove as the heat disintegrated the wood into embers. Snow had built up against the windows enough that one could barely see above ground, and the bleak winter sky pressed in above it. 

Nick frowned, a thought occurring to him, “Do you think the house-elves have any eggnog?” 

“I don’t know,” Kelly sighed. “A lot of them go back to their family homes over the holidays.”
 
“It can’t be that hard to make. There should be enough sugar in the bottom of a box of crystallised pineapple to make a decent batch.”

“The house elves have plenty of milk and cream,” Kelly nodded. “And eggs, obviously.” 

“Slughorn should have some vanilla pods and nutmeg seeds in stock, shouldn’t he? All we need is… rum.” 

That was going to be a lot harder for them to get their hands on. Nick sighed hard enough that he visibly deflated, feeling stumped. All the hard liquor Hufflepuff had hidden away had been drunk in celebrations of the quidditch match and Professor Underwood had come and confiscated any remaining alcohol after every student (in all four houses) from fourth year and above had turned up to their classes still hungover on Monday, or in some cases, they had not turned up at all.

Admittedly, the party had gone a little overboard, lasting until dawn and then rebooting at lunch time after a consolidation nap, and ending late Sunday afternoon. However, Hufflepuff hadn’t had a win like that in quite a few years, and nobody had suffered alcohol poisoning (which had resulted from last year’s Gryffindor party after they had won the House Cup), so the alcohol ban felt like a little much, even if Professor Underwood had enough reason to enforce one. 

“Well, I don’t know about rum,” Kelly said slowly. “But I’m pretty sure Professor Underwood keeps a bottle of brandy in her desk.”

And that was all it took for the two teenagers to smile once again.

 
***


Professor Underwood taught Defence Against The Dark Arts. She was a former Auror, retired at forty-seven after taking a curse to the left leg that resulted in above-knee-amputation, to pursue a career in teaching. She was Head of Hufflepuff House, but she rarely used the office that promotion had come with, preferring to operate out of the office adjoining the Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom, which had a better view over the quidditch stadium, and didn’t allow as many teachers to drop in without good reason. Small talk was stifling to someone trained to operate on a need-to-know basis. The office was defended with complex charms on the office door and windows, and the classroom doors were bewitched after five o’clock as well. One charm of which Kelly knew to be a Stealth Sensoring Spell on the door into the corridor.

However, Kelly had found the secret passageway into the classroom store cupboard in second year during a rather heavy snowstorm keeping her confined to the castle walls. She had also gotten stuck in that store cupboard for several hours and had learned to bring a jumper on all of her excursions from then on.  

Since Professor Underwood had opted to remain on campus for the christmas holidays, Kelly and Nick took the extra precaution of a set of Extendable Ears to listen to the sounds emanating from the office before they attempted their break in. 

Nick had overheard the staff members talking about a nightcap during dinner, and he had done a fly-by of the staffroom window to check all of them were there, before joining Kelly in the classroom. 

“All clear.” He whispered through the gloom.

Kelly waved to him absently as she stood, hands on hips, shoulders rolled back, three feet from Professor Underwood’s office door, staring at the grains of the wood as if they were hieroglyphs to decipher. They were both decked out in their typical breaking-and-entering-get-up-winter-edition: all black, including leather jackets, gloves and boots. He looked like a hit man out for an evening stroll. Kelly — with her hair was in a high ponytail, tied with a ribbon, and in her favourite leather gloves (both accessories being bubble-gum pink) — decidedly did not. 

Ironically enough, the gum in her mouth was blue. 

“No way…” 

Nick looked between the door and the girl.

“‘No way’, what?”

“She wouldn’t…”

The door and the girl. The door and the girl.

 “‘She wouldn’t—’ what?”

"That’s absurd…”

What’s absurd?” Nick threw his hands out at her, “What is absurd? You’re a lot better at occlumency than you know, Kelly Jones. You have to clue me in when you’re having an epiphany in the middle of a mission.”

Kelly smirked at him. “You are such a control freak, Croaker.”

Nick tried to look blasé.  

“I- I am not.”

“Yes, you are.”  

“Alright, fine, I am. It’s just… I usually work alone. You don’t have to collaborate with anyone when you work alone. You don’t have to discuss things when you work alone.”

“You don’t have to trust anyone when you work alone.”

“Shut up. Stop psychoanalysing me and do your job.”

“You wanted to discuss my job a minute ago — which, lately, seems to be your part time therapist.” She rolled her eyes and pulled out her wand. “Honestly, do you and Zen talk about anything other than quidditch?” 

“Yes.” Nick’s nostrils flared slightly, but nothing else in his demeanour shifted a hair.

Kelly muttered something in latin that Nick didn’t quite catch, causing the tip of her wand to glow violet. She ran her wand around the seal of the door frame, which in turn glowed a pale pink colour.  

She cocked her hip, “Care to elaborate on that?” 

“No.” 

Kelly took hold of the door knob, but instead of turning it, she pulled it upwards, which caused the pale pink glow to emanate not just from the door frame, but from the intricate maze outlined across the wood panels. 

“Because you can’t? Or because you don’t want to?”

Nick was still staring at the maze on the door, which Kelly was expertly navigating the door knob through.  

“What the actual fuck did you just do?”

“It’s a Trick Handle. Anastasia Petrovich patented the magic behind them. They’re basically immune to Alohomora charms, because the lock is on the other side of the door to where the person trying to break in is casting it. You can twist the knob for ever and ever but it’s never going to open the door when it’s on the wrong side. Also, only one kind of charm will light the maze: The Petrovich Charm — which in turn only works on a certain type of wood — Siberian Spruce.” 

“You got all that from the type of wood the door was made from? You don’t even take Herbology.”

“I got an Outstanding at OWL level, though.” Kelly replied. “And it was a coin flip between that and Potions. I don’t technically need either for Curse Breaking, but for some reason, Potions looks more impressive on a CV, and I had a gap in my timetable.”

“Potions is one of the Pure Physical Sciences, along with Transfiguration. Herbology is a Natural Life Science, and that field doesn’t get as much respect because less of it has been discovered and developed.” Nick quoted his Great-Uncle. “It’s nothing personal to the plants.”  

“Hmm.” Kelly slotted the door knob into position and screwed it into place. “Nice deflection, Nicholas, now I know why you and Zen never get to have a proper conversation.”

Nick shook his head, grinning.  

“Maybe you should consider social care as a career option, Kelly, you’ve had me talking a lot more than the therapist my parents paid for ever did.” 

Kelly cocked her head to the side, “Yeah… but that’s because my Dad’s an Auror. I was raised by a professional interrogator, I know what I’m doing.” 

She tested the doorknob. Still locked. As her father had told her and had been told himself on many an occasion, Constant Vigilance. Aurors could be tediously pragmatic. She crouched down, pulled out her lock-picking-pocket-manicure-kit and inserted her Extendable Ear, and set to work. 

“What is it your parents do again?”

“They’re Bond Villains.” 

Nick.”

“My dad’s a diplomat. He works in the British Embassy in Milan, where my Mother designs dress robes. They’re deceptively happy — but they have a big enough house that they don’t actually care. My mother likes the high society circles my father is a part of, for her business. My father likes my mother for her looks and her charm, she’s great fun at parties,” He raised his dusty eyebrows,“Or so I’m told…” 

Kelly was quiet for a moment, listening to the tumblers. 

“My mum liked going to parties — the ones the Ministry threw, anyway. She liked going with my dad. She liked being a part of this world, part of the magic, part of the norm that wasn’t her norm… That’s part of the reason she died, I suppose… She decided to stop the treatment after a while, after it started to do more harm than good. She stopped having chemotherapy and just took pain-relief potions from our healers. She said if she was going to die she wanted to feel happy… she wanted to feel like she could dance again… And she was happy. She was… She was happy… And then she died.” 

Something heavy settled over Nick’s chest. He hadn’t realised how easy he could breath before she had spoken. He could hardly imagine how his friend felt. He reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, “Kel…” 

The lock clicked. She pushed the door open.

“We’re in.” 


*** 

Kelly quickly determined which desk drawer contained the brandy; it being the only one that was locked; and set to work picking the lock. With one eye on the door, Nick did what every Slytherin with access to a teacher’s office would do. He pulled a tube of permanent sticking potion out of his pocket and glued her coffee mugs to her desk and coated the handles for good measure.

Kelly frowned at him. “Is this because you got an E on the essay last week?”

He didn’t reply, but he did opened her filing cabinet and took a look at the questions that were to come up on the start-of-term tests and the sample answers Professor Underwood had prepared.

“You are a terrible person.” Kelly muttered.

“You’re a terrible therapist.” He softly retorted. 

She glared at him. 

He rolled his eyes.  

“Oh, like you would have been able to,”—he consulted the file—“‘Recite the History of the Patronus Charm from memory.” 

However he still put the file back in its place.

Kelly went back to lock picking, Nick returned to prowling, watching the windows and the door for the arrival of anyone who could put them in detention or order a temporary suspension. He highly doubted they would get expelled at this stage of their education, but it was probably a good possibility if Charleston was the teacher to catch them. He seemed to be on the warpath at the moment, or fighting a head-cold, it was hard to tell with Charleston. 

A dull clanging sounded in the near distance. Nick lifted his head like a hound catching a scent on the wind. Someone had tripped the wire he had attached to the legs of two suits of armour situated on either side of the corridor leading towards the staff room, bringing the suits of armour down behind them. 

“I think someone’s coming.”

“Just a sec…” Kelly mumbled absently.

Nick hissed at her. 

“Kelly!?” 

“In a second!” She enunciated, luxuriously rolling her eyes, “Jesus.”


“Kelly Genevieve Isadora Jones! My booby-trap has just gone off down the corridor! We need to go, now!”
 
“I’ve almost got it…”

Almost being the key word, here. Almost being the difference between ‘getting caught’ and ‘almost getting caught’ because Nick was clever enough to get us out of there in the nick of time!”—he scowled to himself—“I am never using that expression again…”—he shook his head, focusing—“Kelly!” 

The door into the classroom slammed.

Before either of them could say anything else, the lock clicked open from the tools in Kelly’s fingers. But no sooner had she snatched up the bottle of brandy, Nick grabbed her by the ponytail and dragged her under the desk with him (which was a low blow considering how tender headed metamorphmaguses were known to be). She hissed at him like a cat. 

The cavity under the desk was impossibly small for two people to fit; both of them were regretting the second helpings of chocolate tort and strawberry trifle they’d eaten at dinner. Kelly’s back was against Nick’s broad chest, their legs mashed together in a tangle of dark denim and toughened leather. The brandy bottle was cradled to her chest. His neck was twisted at a sharp angle to accommodate his head and his tall frame under the desk. Kelly’s free hand was pressed between Nick’s thigh and the wood panelling. Nick’s hand that wasn’t clamped over Kelly’s mouth was hooked around her knee to keep her foot hidden. 

They held their breath as they listened to Professor Underwood swear softly over her keys and wrangle her way into the office in her semi-drunken state. The door creaked and a triangle of light pooled around the desk.

“Fucking Septima… Fucking Sybill!” 

Her footsteps moved away from the desk and towards the bookcase. She was still muttering to herself. 

“… last time I play pontoon with either of those two… both hold their sherry far to well for their age… Yes, good evening, Timothy…”  

There was a soft whirring noise, then the heavy click of a deadbolt sliding out of place. Nick and Kelly listened to the quiet chink-chink of full glass containers coming into contact with one another, and then the bolt and the whirring once more. 

“Goodnight, Timothy…” 

The door slammed on her way out, but neither of them moved until they heard the door into the corridor shut too, and even then, they waited. They waited until they heard the clanging of their Professor clambering over the suits of armour at the end of the corridor. Only then did Nick remove his palm from Kelly’s mouth.  

“All clear?” He breathed.

Kelly strained her ears in the gloom, listening… nothing. “I’d say so.” 

They cautiously untangled too many of their limbs and crawled out from under the desk, careful not to drop the bottle of brandy they had originally come in here for. 

Nick straighten his jacket and cracked his shoulders, “Right, I say we give it another two minutes and then make our— What are you doing now?

Kelly had put the brandy bottle down on the desk, disinterested in their prize, and was scanning the shelving units and stonework for something. She was wearing her puzzle-solving-face, which was not to be confused with her did-you-actually-just-say-that-face, because one could earn you a slap if not responded to correctly. 

“Kelly? What are you looking for?”

But she was already striding forward, towards the painting of a thestral (Timothy the Thestral), and shining her wand around the edges to check for charmed-sensor-pads. She stepped back, swapped her cuticle-pusher and nail file lock-picks in her manicure-kit for the eyebrow tweezers (which she had last used to dissemble and reassemble a pocket watch she had been given when she came of age). She separated her gum into two pieces in her mouth, then used the tweezers to place each piece on the charmed-sensor-pads.
 
Nick knew better than to ask stupid questions, because he knew exactly what she was going to do, and he had more than a suspicion about what she was going to find, but he felt they were cutting it a little fine in the risk department.

He slid forwards, his hand landing on top of Kelly’s in the air, before her gloved hands made contact with the frame.  

She looked at him expectantly, her blue-grey eyes impatient.

He gave her a winning smile, “Just a quick one for you, Kel, won’t take long. Before we go any further, have you considered the consequences?” 

“Yeah, and we’re more likely to be caught for stealing that bottle,”—She jerked her chin over her shoulder at the bottle on the desk—“than we will be for taking back one of the bottles that were confiscated from the Quidditch Victory Party.”

Nick narrowed his eyes, “Another quick question for you… we’re only taking the one bottle?”

Kelly looked a little sheepish.

“Okay, fine, maybe…” She shrugged her shoulders, inclined her head, “Maybe two or three.”
 
Nick smirked, releasing her hand. “Now you’re talking sense.”



***

 
It took Kelly eleven-and-a-half-minutes to crack the safe combination. It took Nick sixteen and a half minutes to sneak into Slughorn’s store cupboard (using the key he’d filched from his Head of House’s robes two weeks ago, replicated and replaced for future access to the Potion Master’s Stores), find the vanilla pods and nutmeg seeds, and get back to the kitchens, where Kelly was waiting with the rest of the ingredients.

With a demonstration from the house elves, they made three batches of eggnog, one with brandy, one with rum, and one with firewhiskey, since they had stolen three different bottles from Professor Underwood’s hoard. Nick whisked th egg-whites whilst Kelly applied the chilling charms to the bottles with the eggnog mixtures in them.

Then they returned to the Hufflepuff Common Room, cranked the wireless up loud, and got drunk. It was a good thing they had the common room to themselves, the younger students staying on in Hufflepuff having elected to have a sleepover up in Gryffindor Tower. They were both dancing on the coffee table by the middle of the fifth song in the midnight broadcast.

“I am their only child! I am the sole inheritor to their multimillion galleon net-worth. The last of the Croaker bloodline. And the last time I had a conversation with them that lasted longer than five fucking minutes was when I was twelve and I told them: I. Had. Lupus!

“I am desirable! I look hot in jeans! Hell, I look hot in school robes! I can do hot in my sleep! I can do that! I can do a lot of things! I can read Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics! Fluently! I can hold my breath underwater for eight-minutes-and-thirty-four-seconds! I can change my appearance at will! At will, I tell you! I can even kiss him in the middle of Hogsmeade for forty-three seconds and still… nothing!”

“She wants me to be nice again! Nice? Again? I was never nice! Nice is boring, nice is tedious, I would never date nice! Not if you paid me. And it’s not like she’s nice… She’s kind, and she’s wonderful, and her hair smells like honey and cocoa butter and her eyes do that thing they do when she smiles… but that is not the point! The point… What is the point?… The point is that she is using the wrong definition, and expecting me to follow the rules of her language, when her translation is faulty!”

“Stuck in Malawi, my arse! He’s met a bird! I know he’s met a bird… possibly a bloke,  never been quite sure with Rhys… but there’s no way he’s stuck in Malawi over Christmas — its way too convenient to be true. And he sent jewellery! Jewellery! I’m lucky if he sends a postcard, let alone a present, and he sent jewellery?! Nice jewellery, too! He’s not stuck. He is out there having the time of his fucking life, he is.”
 
The song ended and Nick hopped down from the table, spinning the volume dial down to background level as the broadcaster’s voice came back on for a few moments. He rolled over the back of the sofa and onto the floor, slouching back against the seat cushions. 

“I am supposed to be going into the Unspeakable’s program in July! I need six NEWTs at Outstanding or five at Outstanding and one at Exceeds Expectations or… a bloody good excuse… or I’m out. And then I’d have to be a Historian or a Wandmaker or a Banker… or heaven forbid, a Politician! How am I supposed to do that? How? It’s going to kill me…”

Kelly flopped down on the sofa, stretching out on her front with her head next to him. She cupped her chin in her palm and sighed.  

“It was a Kluger 1880. This is muggle technology we’re talking about. Victorian muggle technology. That safe wasn’t just strong… it was old school. I actually have a crush on our Defence Again—Against the Dark Arts Teacher, for her security prowess alone. And a Petrovich Door! I’ve wanted to work one of those since I was, like, seven and my Grandpa told me about them when he came back from the Israeli Diamond Exchange Summit with a garnet the size of a grape.”

“Was your Grandfather a Curse Breaker or a Thief?”

“Shut up…” Kelly reached for her goblet and took another swig of the rum eggnog. “He was a gemologist and had a degree in alchemy. He was part of the authentication team.”

Nick picked up his brandy eggnog. “How did he end up with the garnet, then?”

“My grandmother was the security detail for the girl wearing the necklace set with the stones in the Exchange, she took a curse for her, the garnet was to say thank-you.” 

“Sounds like she was a great woman.” Nick raised his goblet in toast.

“She’s still alive…”

“Even better.” 

They chinked goblets.

“Tell me I’m great.”

“You’re supercali— califragilisticexpiali— alido— docious.” Kelly told him. “Why?” 

Nick shrugged. “Nobody else does.”

Kelly put her goblet on the coffee table, shifted onto the floor, lifted Nick’s free arm, and tucked herself under it, curling into his side. Nick was very still for a moment, shocked by the sudden tactile nature of their friendship, especially since they weren’t hiding under a desk from a teacher. But then he relaxed as her warmth and strawberry shampoo scent registered in him as friendly and not hostile. 

“You’re brilliant. And you’re going to be out-of-this-world-amazing."

“You too, Kel.”

“I mean it, Nick. That’s not just a throwaway comment. Not from me. I really do mean it.”

Nick pushed her away just enough that he could look her in the eyes, “So do I. You’re a catch, Kelly Jones… Is this because James didn’t kiss you goodbye?”

She couldn’t hold his gaze. “I don’t know… maybe…”

“Kelly, he likes you, you have to know he likes you.”

“He is the most passive-aggressive person when it comes down to doing anything about it though.” 

“That’s because he’s a private person.”

Kelly shifted so she was sitting cross-legged next to him. “How do you mean?”

“I mean in his personal life, he’s private. Yeah, he pulls pranks and plays quidditch and can charm anyone of his choosing… but how much do you really know about him? He doesn’t talk about himself, at all. The only people who know anything about him are his family, and even then its just because they were there to see those things happen and most of those things only really include Fred. He gets that he’s got to be real with you, and he doesn’t really have any practice doing that, so he’s putting it off, because he’s a perfectionist and he doesn’t want to hurt you.” 

“Nice speech, Croaker.” Kelly raised her eyebrows and reached for her eggnog. “That almost seemed all tee-ed up and ready to go.”

Nick gave a breathy laugh and leaned his head back on the sofa cushions to look at the wooden beams that made up the ceiling. “Something like that. It was meant for somebody else… but… yeah.”

“You know she doesn’t really care, right? If you’re perfect or if you do everything right? She just wants to be around you. She wants to make you laugh, and laugh with you, and fight with you, and listen to your awful taste in music with you, and do absolutely nothing all day with you… She doesn’t care about the how, Nick. She cares about the who. That’s all that matters.”

Nick narrowed his eyes at her, “We are very drunk right now, aren’t we?”

Kelly clinked her goblet against his sarcastically and drained it. 

 “I wouldn’t be saying any of this if I wasn’t.”   


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