Chapter 3 : Rude Boys
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“Oh, just get it over with,” he muttered to himself, and reached up to bang on the door.
A few moments later, it popped open an inch and a familiar-looking beady brown eye appeared in the crack.
“What d'you want, then?”
Hugo smiled gamely and waved. “Hi Gwen.”
The door didn't budge. “I hate being called that. What d'you want, Weasley?”
“I wanted to ask if you'd like to come to my cousin's wedding with me, Gwyneira.”
The door closed sharply, and the sound of several locks sliding open could be heard. Hugo wished there was time to bang his head against a wall, but of course there wasn't. A moment later, the door opened fully and his least-favorite coworker, Gwyneira Griffiths, appeared, dressed in ratty purple robes with yellow trim nearly the same shade as the horrible paint on her front door. She looked utterly gobsmacked. It was not really a good look on her, but it made a nice change from her usual scowl of general disapproval of the world and everything in it.
“What the bloody hell for?” she demanded. “I don't even like you. Why would I want to go to a wedding with you? Why would you want to go to a wedding with me, for that matter? You don't like me either.”
Hugo had already considered these questions and had his answer ready. “You should go with me cause you'll get a free weekend in Amsterdam. And I want to bring you because you're sure to piss off my cousin who's getting married.”
Gwyneira blinked. “You want to piss her off?”
“Yes,” Hugo said decisively.
“Oh. Well, in that case, I'll come along. Do I have to be on my best behavior?” She didn't look as if she had any desire to be on her best behavior. He wasn't sure she actually had any best behavior, for that matter. He'd certainly never seen any evidence of it.
Gwyneira had been in front of their supervisor any number of times for being nasty to patients. Even when she wasn't intentionally being mean, nobody liked her and she clearly didn't like them. Being offensive in general seemed to come naturally to her. Hugo honestly had no idea why she wanted to work in Healing to begin with, since she always seemed to be wishing death on everyone she met. She seemed entirely aware that she was unpleasant and unlikable and lacked any desire to stop being that way.
“Definitely not. The worse, the better.”
She considered him. “Can I wear what I like? Do I have to be nice to you?”
“Yes, and no. So do you want to come?”
“Okay,” she said slowly, still looking suspicious. “I suppose I wouldn't mind going to Amsterdam.”
“It's in a fortnight. I'll owl you the details,” Hugo told her. “See you at the game this weeken-”
The door was already closing in his face.
Hugo rocked back on his heels. That had been rather less painful than he'd expected. Gwen Griffiths was sure to annoy Dominique within minutes, and he could pat himself on the back for being a good brother and getting one in for Rose.
Whistling cheerfully, Hugo trotted off to the pub to meet his cousins.
James and Fred had taken over a table that was conspicuously located in the middle of the room and were loudly discussing women and Fred's need for a pretty one, because neither one of them would spot subtlety if it bit them on the arse. Fred was scanning the room eagerly, surveying the available prey for the evening. James, now an engaged man, was looking round as well but with rather less interest than Fred.
“What about her?” he asked, pointing at a blonde witch at the bar.
Fred craned his neck for a better look. “She seems all right.”
“I thought you already had a date for Dominique's wedding?” Hugo asked as he sat down at their table.
James took a sip of his beer and gestured with the mug at the room in general. “He does. What he doesn't have is a date for tonight.”
“Ah.” Hugo noted the extra seat at the table. “Is Albus joining us, or is that in case Fred finds a date?”
“Albus is here. Somewhere. Getting a drink or having a piss, who knows.” Fred's attention drew back to his cousin. “You have a date for the wedding, Hugo?”
“Yep,” he said, satisfied. “Remember my co-worker that said she'd cut off your hand if you touched her?”
They both goggled at him.
“Why the hell are you bringing her?” James demanded.
“Because of what Dommie said about Rose.”
“Oh, that.” Fred dismissed this with a wave. “If we all got upset about every horrible thing Dominique said, nobody would get anything done.”
“Yeah, but you know Rose. She won't just let it go. I'm only being a good brother. Defending her honor and all that.” He absolutely did not want to tell them about his earlier epiphany about being sick of simply finding the next Ms. Right Now. Despite being in love himself, James was still encouraging his single cousins to play the field, just as he always had.
“You're wasting a perfectly good opportunity to get laid,” James said sternly, true to form. “You want to bring someone hot, or go stag and pick up a bridesmaid. Women love weddings, makes them all soft and gooey. It's a sure bet.”
“Who are you bringing, then?” Hugo asked Fred, ignoring James.
“Rosina Ogden,” Fred said promptly. “She works down the street from Dad's shop, at that posh dress shop.”
Hugo nodded. “Right. And is she a sure bet?”
Fred and James both nodded. Hugo didn't ask further.
Albus turned up, pint of beer in hand, and slid into his seat. “Oi,” he said, nodding at Hugo. “Where've you been? We're two pints up on you.”
That explained rather a lot, Hugo reflected.
“He was getting his date for the wedding,” Fred advised him. “Remember his co-worker that said she'd cut off my hand?”
“Nice one, Hugo,” Albus said approvingly. “Dominique will hate her.”
“Are you bringing a date, Albus?” asked Hugo, more out of habit than actually expecting his cousin to have a date.
“Yes,” Albus said firmly.
The other three stared at him in shock. Albus looked smug and sipped his beer demurely.
“What, you?” his elder brother said incredulously.
“You're joking,” said Fred.
Albus nodded. “I have a date for the wedding.”
They stared at him again, and Albus, ignoring them with aplomb, signaled a passing waiter to order a pint of beer for Hugo. When the waiter had left again, Hugo pounced on his cousin.
“Who's your date?”
“It's a surprise,” Albus said, attempting to look mysterious.
“Do you really have a date or are you pulling our wands?” James demanded.
“I'm not pulling your wand.”
“I don't believe it,” Fred announced. “You don't really have a date. Who is it, though?”
“No one you've met,” Albus shot back.
Hugo narrowed his eyes at his cousin while Fred and James continued to rib him. To his knowledge, Albus had gone on approximately three dates in his entire life, and all of those at school. Albus simply wasn't interested. He was perfectly willing to play wingman to any cousin who needed him, whether they were picking up women or men, but he never cared to pick up anyone for himself.
“Do you really have a date?” he asked eventually, when Fred and James had shut up long enough to squeeze a word in around them.
“I really do. And I'm really not going to tell you who it is.”
“Loser,” said James.
“Twat,” said Albus.
“I'm telling Mum.”
“I'm telling Navya.”
“Shite,” said James. “You win. Firewhisky, anyone?” He slid out of his seat and dashed over to the bar.
“I'm surprise Navya's not here, actually,” Hugo said, glancing around. “I don't think I've seen James without her attached to his side in a solid month.”
“No women allowed tonight,” Fred informed him. “Blokes only. I did ask Hob if he'd come out, cause I'm going to set him up with Lily for the wedding and I wanted to make sure he wasn't going to back out.”
Albus's black eyebrows drew together. “Wait, you're setting my sister up for the wedding?”
“Fred's doing what?” said James behind him, dropping several glasses of firewhisky on the table. He scowled at Fred, strongly resembling his younger brother. “Who?”
“Hob?” James echoed, looking horrified. “He's a filthy bastard! He can't go near Lily! I'll gut him, the tosspot, who does he think he is-”
“Isn't Hob one of your best friends?” Hugo asked mildly.
Fred nodded. “Since we were all in second year.”
James shook a finger threateningly at him. “That's how I know he oughtn't date my sister.”
Albus was still frowning as well. “He's not wrong, Hob's got no business touching a hair on Lily's head. He's a dirty sod.”
Fred heaved a long-suffering sigh and flung himself back in his chair. “Spare me! I've got a sister too, you know, and so has Hugo, but you don't see us getting our wands in a knot just because they want to have a date-”
“Yeah well, your sister wouldn't touch one of your friends with a ten-foot pole,” Albus pointed out. “She's got more sense than Lily.”
“That's not true at all and you know it,” Fred retorted. “Well, it's true about Roxy not going anywhere near my friends, but not about her having more sense than Lily.”
“Of course she does,” Albus said. “If we ranked the girls from least to most mental, you know, on a scale from Lucy to Rose-”
“Oi,” interjected Hugo, “that's my sister you're talking about now-”
“-it would go Lucy, Victoire, Molly, Roxanne, Lily, Dominique, Rose.”
“He has a list?” Hugo asked James.
James affected surprise that Hugo didn't know this already. “He made a chart.”
Fred eyed his cousin owlishly. “I strongly disagree with the order on that list. Shouldn't Victoire be the least crazy?”
“Johnny Lupin,” chorused the Potter brothers.
“Oh.” Fred looked chagrined. “Right. I'll give you that one, then, but I think it should then go Molly, Lily, Roxanne, Dominique, then Rose.”
“Frankly, I don't think you can quantify that. Though I'd probably agree that Rose is leading the pack,” Hugo admitted, thinking of the framed picture of his sister covered in treacle that stood in a prized spot in his father's office.
“Where d'you think they'd rank us?” asked Albus.
There was silence as they contemplated this with varying degrees of horror, then Fred waved to someone in the doorway to the pub.
“Hob!” he called out loudly. “Come and join us!”
Hugo turned in his seat. He'd met Hob Nithercott before, and found him to be perfectly pleasant. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, and possessing a dark sense of humour, Hob was indeed one of Fred and James's oldest school chums. He and James normally got on like a house on fire, which rather told you all you needed to know about Hob.
Today, however, James and Albus scooted their chairs closer together to make room for Hob, then leaned back and regarded him with sharp disapproval. James folded his arms across his chest.
“What's this I hear about you going out with our sister?”
Hob looked nonplussed. “Yeah, I am. What do you care?”
Albus scowled deeply, crossing his own arms now. The two of them looked extremely menacing, even to Hugo's practiced eye. Having grown up with his cousins regularly visiting, he'd been in any number of scrapes with them and knew when James and Albus teamed up, someone was bound to wind up in the hospital. The double-team against a potential suitor was a routine Hugo had seen before, especially at school. Poor Lily hadn't had any dates at all until James had left school. Every boy who'd expressed interest in her had been cornered by her brothers and threatened within an inch of his life.
Lily had, in turn, scared off quite a few girls from her brothers' paths in revenge, and there were several witches who would still cross the street to avoid bumping into one of the Potters because of Lily's stories. Hugo wondered how many of their friends had likewise been scared off of showing interest in their sister by this particular act.
“That's our baby sister,” Albus said, his voice pitched deeper with annoyance. “If you even think about injuring her feelings, you're dead.”
“Yeah, don't forget our dad is Harry Potter,” James added. “You don't lay a hand on her, got it?”
“Pretty sure that's her decision if she wants me to lay a hand on her, you Neanderthals.” Hob frowned back at them. “We've been friends for how many years now and this is the thanks I get?”
“Thanks?” Albus repeated.
“Why should we thank you?” James put in. “We ought to stuff you down the privy.”
“No wonder Lily never has a boyfriend,” Fred said sotto voce to Hugo.
Hob shrugged. “Fred said Lily didn't have a date for the wedding. I agreed to go with her. Why are you acting like a couple of prats about it?”
The Potters considered him in mutual silence, then came to some sort of unspoken agreement, led as usual by James.
“Right, then,” he said, setting both hands on the tabletop. “You can take her to Dominique's wedding. But you keep your hands off her or they'll never find your body.”
“Don't think we can't do it, either,” Albus agreed.
Hob scratched the back of his neck. “Right, okay. It's just a set-up, it's not like I'm trying to elope with her.”
The scowls were immediately back across the table from him.
“Who said anything about eloping?” intoned James dangerously.
The evening did not improve from there. Eventually Fred and Hob buggered off to another pub, escaping the Potters, and Hugo went home alone, feeling grateful that his own sibling had never taken much interest in his romantic partners.
“Well then,” Lily said gamely, trying to hold a pleasant smile on her face. She cast about for a topic of conversation, and came up dry. The weather, that was it. There was always the weather. “Lots of rain this week, innit?”
Things were not going well.
Hob was good-looking enough, though not really her type, but he'd do. Unfortunately, it seemed she wouldn't do for him. She didn't know why, but he was a little skittish. Fred and James's friends weren't usually shy, so it was strange that Hob Nithercott was so quiet. She'd met him before, briefly, since he'd been friends with her brother for so long, and didn't remember him being this quiet. Of course, she hadn't been considering him as a potential romantic partner at the time, so maybe she hadn't noticed.
From the way this coffee date was going, it was clear he didn't consider her a potential romantic partner. They'd met in the Leaky Cauldron, as it seemed to be a decent sort of neutral ground when one wasn't sure whether one might need to drop one's date like a hot cake.
“Supposed to rain more this weekend,” Hob said. He seemed to be trying, she'd give him that.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, contemplating their coffees. Eventually Lily heaved a loud sigh and said, “Look, d'you really want to go to this wedding?”
Hob looked startled. “Dunno. Do you?”
“Of course not, but she's my cousin so I don't have a choice.”
He smiled at that, looking a little more relaxed. “You need a date, then. Just make sure your brothers don't kill me for it.”
“My brothers?” Lily frowned. “Why, what did they say to you?”
Hob shrugged. “They didn't scare me off. I'm here, aren't I?”
“Hmm.” Lily looked him over for a moment. He was here, true, but he didn't look entirely comfortable. James and Albus had probably threatened to have him drawn and quartered or something equally dramatic. Honestly, they were a complete embarrassment.
She probably should have expected it, though. They'd done that sort of thing all through school. It seemed they were never happy unless they were ruining her social life.
Hob's shaggy dark hair was hanging down over his eyes as he looked down at his coffee cup, slowly turning the cup around in his large hands. One wrist was tattooed, and Lily's eyes traced the angular design that wrapped around his tanned skin. He had nice hands, nice arms, but she wasn't really feeling a spark when she looked at him. She decided the urge to do anything naughty with him was completely lacking, which meant he wasn't going to last more than one date whether he was afraid of her brothers or not.
Well, they could go to the wedding, anyway. At least she wouldn't be alone.
“Have you actually met my cousin Dominique?” Lily asked then.
“No. I don't think so anyway. I sort of lose track of all of Fred and James's cousins, to be honest,” Hob admitted.
“Fair enough. Thanks for coming along with me. Are you the sort who hates weddings or the sort who loves weddings?”
“Hates,” he said easily. “Yourself?”
“Hates as well. They're so boring. Well, at least we can hate it together.” Lily smiled at him, and he smiled back, his eyes under the shaggy fringe sparkling.
“Yeah, we can do that. When do we leave?”
They made arrangements for the trip, and Lily made her way home. Her flat was a rather small two bedroom, but since she'd leased it purely to have the second bedroom as a wardrobe, she didn't particularly care that the second bedroom was tiny. As walk-in closets went, it was quite spacious. She kicked her shoes off in the wardrobe bedroom and sat down on the round cushioned bench in the center of the room.
She spent a few minutes looking around the room full of clothes, trying to picture what she could wear to Dominique's wedding. As usual, she was torn between the conflicting thoughts that she had nothing to wear and ought to go shopping at once, and that she had too many clothes to even know what she owned. No doubt somewhere in the depths of her closet was the perfect outfit for the occasion, if only she could find it.
Lily pursed her lips and went over to the section she mentally classified as 'Opera,' a selection of about a dozen semi-formal dresses and robes.
“Right,” she said to herself, pulling out a long purple gown and holding it up in front of herself in the mirror. “Which one best says 'Kiss my arse, I can get my own dates'?”
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