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Chapter 26 : And What a Mess It's Been
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We appear with a crack outside Oliver’s house. The freezing air around us thickens, righting itself after the vacuum of magic. It stings my cheeks and flushes them red. Sparse snowflakes are falling, but we’ve missed a storm that’s blanketed the garden. We’re standing inches deep in snow. Oliver puts a steadying hand on my shoulder.
“You alright?” Apparating after drinks is never pleasant, but it’s nerves that have my head spinning now. “C’mon,” he says. I take his arm and we trudge through the damp cold.
For all of my Firewhiskey-induced bravery minutes ago, I’m trembling as we step inside. A welcoming fire already crackles in the hearth, but neither of us moves from the doorway. I’ve been here before, but things are always innocent in the daylight.
“Go sit by the fire. I’m sure you’re freezing.”
He ducks into the kitchen. I hear him opening and closing different containers, vessels, vials, searching for something. The pleasant sound of pewter and clay has always comforted me, or at least made Potions tolerable. I drop onto the sofa and exhale hugely, the tension disappearing from my shoulders. My eyes unfocus on the fire.
“What are you doing here?”
I jump out of my skin, but it’s only Ada. Of course she’s here; it’s still the holiday. What was I thinking? That Oliver and I would be having the Sex Olympics with a twelve year-old two rooms over? She’s looking at me expectantly in her pyjamas: pink flannels and an oversized Wicked Witch band shirt.
“Sorry if we—erm, I—woke you. I’m just over for some coffee.”
“We don’t drink coffee.”
I quickly change the subject, “So, you like Wicked Witch?”
“They’re okay. Have you brought Ginger?”
“Uh, no. Ginger’s at home. I’ve just popped over to borrow some coffee.”
“I’ve just told you, he doesn’t drink it.”
Oliver walks in, studying something in his hand, “Found some Astragalus. Keep in on your tongue for a few minutes and you should sober up. You’ll thank me in the morning.” He places the small (and very expensive, might I add) twig in my palm.
Oblivious to Ada, he bends to kiss me and I swoop out of the way, “Look who’s joined us!”
“Ada! Hey! You’re—you’re up.” He leans casually on the sofa. “Bit late for you, eh? Edie’s just come over for some—”
“Coffee,” I smile maniacally.
“You don’t drink coffee,” she says for the third time, exasperated.
He looks at me uncertainly, as if I could verify whether or not this is true. Ada gives us the disenchanted look that only a pre-teen can master. “Whatever.” She rolls her eyes and shuffles away. Neither of us moves until her door latches.
He heaves a breath, “I didn’t think she’d be awake.”
“It’s alright,” I’m feeling very stupid. “I can’t believe I thought we’d be alone.”
There. I’ve said it. The damage is done, and my face is as purple as the Astragalus in my hand. I place it on my tongue. It tastes like sour dirt. I must be making quite the face because he laughs, “Not the best, but it’s saved me from an awful hangover.”
To my amazement, my head stops spinning. I can practically feel the alcohol leaving my bloodstream. No wonder this stuff is so pricey. I remove the Astragalus and awkwardly hold it, spit-soaked, between two fingers.
“Much, thank you,” I smile but am unable to meet his eyes. Now that I’m sober, my persistent behaviour tonight is mortifying. “It’s quite late. I should go.”
His disappointment is visible. “Yeah, of course. Only… sometimes Apparating after that stuff will make you sick.”
“Oh. Well, what do you suggest?”
High above the London skyline, with the wind pulling my hair from its knot, I’m reminded of my fear of flying. Though we’ve cast every safety charm in the book, and I’m practically glued to the broom, my knuckles are still white. I maintain a steady course, trying not to notice how far below the city lights are. Oliver flies in circles around me, barrel-rolling and skyrocketing. Naturally he had an arsenal of broomsticks at his house, including this limited edition Firebolt, which I chose because of its gleaming white birch handle. The thing costs more than my parents’ house, I’m sure.
Speaking of my parents’ house…
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” I shout over the wind. He reaches my side in no time, rocketing from below and then seamlessly slowing to match my speed. He could do this with his eyes closed. “I’m back with my parents temporarily. So… we’ll be going a bit past London.”
“Oh.” I can’t read his expression. “When did that happen?”
After your drunk Viktor Krum impression made me lose my job and I couldn’t make rent. Months ago, we would have been having this conversation as a screaming match. Now I don’t even want to mention it. But it’s a chance to unbraid the lies that I've been tangling together, like a particularly uncoordinated spider.
“I was sacked from the Poisoned Apple. And apparently landlords prefer it when you pay your rent.”
“Sacked.” Even in the darkness, I can see the calculation in his eyes. “Was it… It didn’t have anything to do with me, did it?”
I shrug, trying to smile.
“Oh my God, Edie, I’m so sorry.” He’s working himself into a proper panic. “I had no idea—How did this happen? On what grounds?”
“Please don’t feel guilty, it’s for the best. If anything I should be thanking you. That place really was such a festering—well you saw it,” I’m relieved when he returns my grin. “Besides, now I can focus on my other work.”
“Like the articles.”
My stomach drops as if the broomstick had suddenly plummeted. “The articles.” We ride in silence, because I can’t bring myself to ask: Have you really not read them? I don’t see how it’s possible. If I knew Oliver had written something about me, I wouldn’t rest until I’d found it.
“Let’s head down,” I say. “We should be getting close.”
We sink into the snow clouds, reemerging with our hair dampened. We’re flying over fields and pastures, until at last we reach Renwick. The town is silent at this hour—nearly two o’clock—and glows with streetlights and coloured Christmas bulbs. If it weren’t for my uneasy feeling, it would be quite picturesque. I lead us, flying low over the rooftops, to the wonky front gate of my family’s home. The lights are off and the house is still. We alight and I carefully step off the broom, as if it were made of glass.
“You’re not going to break it,” Oliver teases in a low voice.
“I have never held anything so expensive in my life. I’m not taking any chances.” It’s meant as a joke. But standing in front of my tiny house, with the knowledge that I was sacked hanging in the air, it isn’t funny. If anything, it’s only more obvious: Oliver and I live in two very different worlds.
I clear my throat, trying to undo the damage. “Thank you for the ride. That was fun.”
He sets to shrink-charming the brooms. I reckon he’ll Apparate back home. There’s no point in prolonging the horrible tension, so with a parting nod I fiddle with the gate latch. Why has this thing never been fixed?
“I want you to know that I read them. Your articles.”
Somehow I knew it was coming. The dread in the air between us was a giveaway; something had changed. I am frozen where I stand.
“I’m sorry I lied to you,” he says.
“I read them both, that day I lost the match—after you, erm, distracted me.”
“But the second story hadn’t been printed yet. How did you…?” I stop myself, “Rose.”
“It’s not her fault. I asked for them,” he says. “I went behind your back.”
We don’t look at each other. I’m staring at my knees and he’s facing the road, hands in his pockets. “Those things I wrote were terrible.”
“Yeah, I suppose they were.”
“Do you hate me?”
A peal of laughter echoes down the street. A group of kids staggers around the corner, one still with a bottle in hand. Oliver and I are unnoticed as they pass, chattering loudly, until they round the corner and it’s quiet once more.
“No, stop. Just listen. I did hate you, at first. But I can see why you did it, especially if I got you fired on top of my other horrible behaviour. I don’t think you’re innocent. You wrote some really cruel things, clearly all as means of getting back at me. I told myself to cut ties and not speak to you again. Not agree to a third article—I knew Katie would’ve gotten me out of it. You and I’d just go about our lives separately.”
The thought of never seeing him again makes my stomach twist. “The day you ran into Ada, I was furious. I thought you were trying to get information about our parents, or worse. Things that are no bloody business of strangers. I’ve worked very, very hard to keep my family out of the public eye, Edie.”
“I know you have,” I breathe. “And I completely understand.”
“Anyone else would have walked away from you. Maybe I’m an idiot. But every time I’m around you it’s there. The, erm, spark… or whatever you want to call it. I mean, for two people who should really hate each other, we get on amazingly.”
Despite myself I smile, “Yes, we do.” I stare at him until he meets my eyes in the darkness. “I am so sorry, Oliver. For everything. You’re right; I was trying to get back at you. I knew that it was wrong, and that I liked being around you. But I was too stubborn and had some stupid point to prove.”
He shakes his head, “What a mess.”
“And then some.”
The toe of his shoe connects with a pebble, sending it skittering down the street. “What would’ve happened, if we’d met under different circumstances? If I hadn’t been such an idiot at the pub?”
“I dunno. I’d probably have thought you were attractive, and been too scared to talk to you.”
He scratches his cheek. “You think I’m attractive?”
“Oh, shut up,” I toss the closest object I can find, a bit of tree bark from the garden wall. “Of course you are.” I crane my neck back, looking into the dark cloudy sky, and laugh bitterly, “I don’t even like the kind of writing. It’s not real journalism.”
“So why are you wasting your time with them?”
“It’s a little more difficult than that.”
A single question hangs in the air, but neither of us wants to address it: What about the third article? It has to be written like the others, or I lose my job. It has to be kind, or I lose everything Oliver and I have fixed. It seems hopeless. Surely he has to see that. Even though we’re done lying to each other, nothing has worked itself out yet.
“I want a clean slate with you,” he surprises me. “I just want to stop all of the behind-the-back, lying bullshit.”
“Y-you want to start over?”
“Yes. Can we just… Can we just be normal now, please?” he laughs quietly, but there’s something sincere flickering his eyes. “Can I just, like, take you out for a beer sometime? And meet your friends, and go for walks with that absurd little dog, and argue with you about Quidditch? Maybe set you straight on your opinion of Kenmare? Hell, just talking to you normally would be a start.”
“It won’t be that easy.”
Searching in frustration, he shouts, “Am I the only idiot who feels like we have something?”
My hand shoots up of its own accord, grabbing his tightly. “No. Of course you’re not.” I take a deep breath. “It’s a long story, and I promise to tell you everything. But I wasn’t a journalist when I met you. I was writing the article illegally, and now I’ve finally landed a job, for real. And that job is publishing gossip about you.”
“So leave Witch Weekly. Work for someone you actually care about.”
He is incredibly stubborn. Perhaps it’s why we get on so well. I say evenly, “Look. You’re a brilliant Keeper. Even from the beginning, I’ve been able to see that. You’re one of the most talented professional players today. And you’re dedicated, and passionate, and borderline psychotic.”
He smiles, rolling his eyes, but he can’t disagree.
“Even then, you’re lucky. Do you know how rare it is to step out of Hogwarts and find your dream job? I’ve sent out dozens of resumes and portfolios, and the best thing I got was an unpaid internship. I’m not saying I’m the best at what I do, like you are, but I’m worth something. This job is the way I can get my foot in the door, to do what I really want someday. I don’t feel good about this job, and I’ve lost friends over everything leading up to it, and I almost lost you. But I signed a contract with Blakeslee, and if I break it I’ll probably never find work in the industry again—”
To my complete mortification, I burst into tears. Oliver drops to his knees and grabs both of my wrists as I hyperventilate. I wish I could make him see. I’ve wanted this job so badly, for so long. And now that I finally have it, I’m trapped.
I laugh embarrassedly, “Oh god, I’m so sorry. This crying thing hasn’t happened in, like, years.” I wipe at my face, which is now covered in a paste of snot and mascara.
“Here,” he uses the sleeve of his cloak to wipe away the smudges, just like he did back in the Muggle shop. That night I had resolved to ruin his career, and ended up almost kissing him. The crushing weight of everything comes back tenfold. I manage to control the overwhelming desire to dissolve again.
“I just don’t know what to do.”
“We’ll think of something,” he says resolutely, grabbing the sides of my face. But I don’t believe that he can see an answer, either. All the same he kisses my forehead, lips dusting over the bridge of my nose, my cheeks, the corner of my mouth. “We’ll work something out, Edie.”
And maybe it’s because we both know that this isn’t true; that there is no easy way out. If this is damned to self-combust before it’s taken off, then what’s the point in following the rules?
I murmur, “Come inside. Please.”
His lips part in surprise. But at his wordless nod I grab the sleeve of his cloak, Apparating.
My room hasn’t changed much since I was seventeen, including the fairy lights strung across the ceiling. When we reappear in the soft glow, I hold a finger to my lips, listening. “I don’t think they heard—”
In one swift motion Oliver pulls my hand away, his lips crashing into mine. My body has gone limp under him, and I would have toppled over had he not been holding my waist so fiercely. After a small struggle he pulls the elastic band from my hair and digs his fingers into the mess that falls past my shoulders. When his tongue parts my lips I regain myself, snaking my arms around his neck, bending into him.
Oliver stumbles forward, slamming me loudly into the wall. I grin against his heavy kisses, “Shhh!”
“I don’t care,” he mutters into my neck, biting, licking. He presses his body against mine, pinning me. “I don’t care.”
This is different from earlier. The caution and sweetness have left. Some kind of hunger is gnawing in the cavern of my chest, weakening my knees and boiling my blood.
What was that I said, about things being innocent only in the daylight?
My hands move of their own accord, overcome by some carnal place that I hadn’t known existed. Oliver pulls on the tie of my cloak. Before it’s even fallen to the ground his hungry mouth is on my collarbone, and now the dip in my throat. My grip on his waist tightens, fingers turning to claws.
Capturing his mouth I push against his bulk, driving back until he topples onto the bed. How many times have I thought of this? Wanted it, while I pretended not to? He leans on his elbows, watching. I unzip my dress. The blue silk pools at my feet and I fight the urge to cover my breasts. Oliver has gone still, eyes traveling over my skin.
When the layers of dress- and undershirts are peeled away, he pushes the fringe from my eyes, thumb briefly slipping between my lips. The hands that run over his chest pause over the scar on his shoulder. “Does it hurt?”
“No.” He pulls me against him, the contact of our flesh like hot iron melding. “This most certainly does not hurt.”
I laugh but his hand pushes my hips down, rolling them against his, and when a quiet moan escapes him I have to bury my face in his neck. I don’t want him to see my stupid smile. His fingers wind around the waistband of my knickers, tugging them down before traveling back up my inner thigh. When I cry out he says in my ear, “Shhh, remember?”
Biting my lip in a smile, I pull the last piece of clothing from his hips. His eyelids flutter hazily at my touch, a tremble shooting through him. I watch through my lashes as, with a quiet breath, I lower my weight onto his hips.
Oliver jerks forward, silencing his groan within my mouth. When I begin to move, gasping, his fingers dig into my thighs. He slowly lays back, stomach muscles tensing, my name a murmur on his lips and I watch his eyes burn.
When I return with a glass of water, Oliver is sitting up in bed. His enormous frame barely fit earlier. After we’d—erm—finished, I realized his feet had been hanging far over the edge the whole time. Now he’s studying the photographs spell-o-taped to the wall. Lisa and I in our Seventh Year uniforms, sneaking Chocolate Frogs in the library; my Mum, moving unfinished pottery into her firing kiln; twelve year-old me herding my mud-covered brothers.
“So this is where Edie Lennox grew up,” he says. I’ve soundproofed the room, ironically after all of the questionable noises were done, so we can speak normally.
“The very same room,” I close the door quietly and lean against it, wondering if he knows how much I’m staring. “I’ve never had a boy in here, though.”
“Really! How old were you when you left?”
I sit, the kimono robe I’ve never had the opportunity to wear fluttering nicely. (I doubt he’d still be interested if he saw me in the grubby t-shirt that usually serves as pyjamas.) “Oh, I’ve had a boy in my bedroom—” I nudge him, “—metaphorically speaking, before I moved out. Just not actually in this room.”
He takes a long drink of water, “Where, then?”
“The park, when I was sixteen,” I say and he nearly spits it out. “We were caught, of course, by a police officer. Whole town knows the story. I’m sure they’d love to tell you about it. What about you?”
Drumming his fingers on the glass in thought, he says, “Uh, well. It was with Katie, as you’d imagine, in a bed like a normal person. And I was twenty.”
I knit my brow together, rubbing his arm. “Aww, that’s really sweet, Oliver.”
He nods. A beat of silence and I quip, “Bit old though, loser.”
“Oh, you little—!” he hits me in the face with my pillow. Of course, doing so reveals the latest issue of Witch Weekly, left open to his photo shoot. Our eyes fall on it at the exact same moment, and when I scream he bursts into laughter. I’d forgotten I hid it under the pillow when Seamus popped in.
“It’s not what it looks like!” I’m standing on the mattress in an attempt to wrench it from his hands. Those soundproofing charms had better be doing their job.
“Oh really? Because it looks a lot like bookmarked photos of me in my skivvies!” He holds it at his (apparently enormous) arm’s length, laughing while I flail pathetically. An arm wraps around my waist, pulling me down to him. I bury my face in his armpit, “Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off, fuck off.”
“Karma at its finest,” he sighs, flipping through the pages, “Seriously though? These airbrushing charms are ridiculous! My abs don’t look like that!”
Wrangling himself into the same pose, he eyes me sultrily. He’s right. I will probably journal about real-life Oliver’s triceps for a week, but the photograph’s rippling abdominals are a bit much. Oliver pouts his lips, looking ridiculous, “Tell me I’m pretty.”
Despite my lingering embarrassment I laugh. I lie down beside him, squishing around until he realizes I’m trying to be annoying. It’s surprisingly easy to be this way with him, considering what we’ve been through. Nothing feels strained, at all. It’s natural. It’s… nice.
I yawn into my hand, “Hey Oliver.”
He doesn’t respond but I know that he’s smiling broadly. Draping an arm over my waist, he curls his body towards mine. I have no idea what time it is, but it has to be getting close to dawn. He should leave, soon, before my parents wake up. That much I’m sure we agree on. I should say something, but he makes a very good pillow and I don’t quite feel like moving yet. Soon, though.
The last thing I remember before falling asleep is his fingertips trailing up and down my arm.
When I wake, it’s to a shuffling noise coming from somewhere in my room. I assume it’s Ginger, who has taken to demanding breakfast by standing on my chest and drooling on my face. But when I roll over, I see my brother Liam fishing through my cupboard. My eyes widen in terror. Oh fuck. Oliver accidentally slept over. Normally, this wouldn’t be so terrible—he could Apparate and no one would be the wiser. Unfortunately, nobody in my family has any respect for personal space.
“Liam!” I stage whisper. “What are you doing!”
He looks at me like I’m the crazy one, Trying to find my Quidditch padding. Why are you whispering?”
As if on cue, Oliver releases a tremendous snore. If I weren’t so panicked I would be impressed. But Liam turns to the pile of blankets, eyes lighting up, “Who was that? Is somebody under there?”
“It was me,” I say quickly.
“No it wasn’t!” he jabs a gleeful finger at the bed. Oliver’s foot is sticking out from beneath the covers. “You’ve got somebody under there! Oi, Leo!”
“Liam, shut up!” I cry, now madly kicking Oliver in the shin. He has to Apparate, now.
From beneath the covers comes angry bear-like groaning, followed by, “Christ, what is your problem?” Apparently he’s not the friendliest in the morning. He throws the blankets away from him just as Leo and Luke appear at the doorway. I reach my wand and jab it at the door, which swings almost shut before Luke easily bounces it back open.
“Eyyy! Oliver! Great to see you, mate!”
“GET OUT OF MY ROOM!” I shriek.
They completely ignore me, coming to stand around us like a royal bedding ceremony. “Bit old for that teen angst stuff, eh Edie?” Leo ruffles my hair, “’Get out of my room so I can blast my death metal!’ This one, I tell you.”
“Alright, Oliver?” Luke says, as if bumping into him at brunch. “Hell of a match last week. Holyhead never saw it coming, did they?”
Liam actually sits on the foot of the bed. “That save you made? Towards the end, when Holyhead’s Beater ended up falling off her broom—that was truly amazing.”
“What’s all this?” comes a voice from the hallway.
My arms shoot out, bracing myself. Oliver tosses me a frightened look, “Is that—?”
“Mum, NO!” I bellow. But she enters the room anyway, whisking something in a giant bowl. She notices Oliver, who has gone quite pale, “Ooh! Edie, do we have a visitor? Is this Oliver?”
Naturally, Andrew trails in behind her, engrossed in his newspaper. At the sight of my stepfather Oliver clutches the sheets to his chest, scooting back against the wall as if he hoped it would swallow him. This is the worst train wreck in the history of the world, and I’m helpless to stop it. I release a groan, “Maybe Granny would like to pop in from the afterlife?”
Oblivious, Andrew mutters, “We’ll need to trim the hedges this afternoon. Rain all week…” At the silence, he finally glances over the paper. His eyes meet Oliver’s, which are wide with fear, “’Morning.”
The seconds tick by, while my entire family stares at us. My mother breaks the silence, “Will Oliver be joining us for breakfast? It’s waffle day.”
I scoff, “No, Mum, he will not be staying for waffles,” and gesture at Oliver in Who Is She Kidding fashion. But he’s his head is tilted as he mulls over the idea. My jaw drops. He shrugs.
My Mum gives her most annoying, satisfied smirk yet. “They’ll be ready in fifteen! Come along everyone, let’s give them some privacy.”
“Oh, so you have heard that word before!” Being in this house truly makes me devolve into sixteen year-old Edie.
One by one they shuffle out, my brothers giving sly looks (Liam actually gives Oliver a thumbs-up before closing the door.) Ginger, who made her way in during the commotion, jumps laboriously onto the bed. I pet her with a little more force than necessary, “You really don’t have to do this.”
“It’d be a bit rude to leave after that, don’t you think?” He shrugs, “Wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”
“You want to stay!”
“I’m starving! I haven’t eaten anything since those lobster puffs Seamus force-fed me. Plus your parents seem nice enough.”
“Oh, they’re plenty nice. But you can be nice and mental at the same time, trust me.” Aren’t all men supposed to run far, far away at the sight of a parental figure? I certainly didn’t want them mingling yet. Or, ideally, ever.
Ginger flops onto her back with a “Hrmph,” her little legs splayed, waiting for belly rubs. Oliver snorts, “I still don’t believe that thing is a dog.”
“This is completely insane,” I say as I oblige Ginger. As if to prove his point, Oliver’s stomach growls tremendously. The seconds pass and I sigh, “All right. Get yourself dressed. Can’t have you looking like a harlot for dining with my parents.”
And that’s how we end up—all seven of us—crammed at our tiny table, my brothers and Oliver apparently competing to see who can eat more, while my mother not-so-subtly asks all kinds of questions. I am silent, willing everything to go by quickly and without incident. My forehead rests in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other. Occasionally I drop bits of sausage for Ginger. Things are going decently enough, considering. Then Oliver nearly chokes on his sixth waffle when my Mum announces, “Well I think you two would have lovely children.”
The burst of sound that follows (forks clattering, three brothers cackling, me screaming, Oliver coughing, Andrew indifferently scraping more jam onto his toast) is deafening.
I remember now why I don’t keep boyfriends.
Author's Note: WHEW. This is the longest chapter yet, and it took forever, and I wrote my first sex scene and all is well. Speaking of that, I want to be clear that I am not making any kind of comment about Oliver being "too old" when he lost his virginity, and that's all I'm going to say.
This chapter just spun out of control as I was writing it. Originally, Oliver wasn't going to have read the articles. Also they weren't going to have sex. The last scene with Edie's entire family was also unplanned. At this point I'm not sure what I had originally intended...
Thank you to Southpaw @ TDA for another gorgeous chapter image. This fic is undergoing a graphic revamp (Oliver was originally Sean Biggerstaff, if anyone can remember that far back) and I'm hopping on the Karen Gillan train. Kate Nash is about as Edie as it gets, but there are a limited number of HQ ginger pictures of her.
Also a big thank you to TooManyCurls for all of the TOS help :)
Please review! They're hard to come by these days but I'd love to know what you think.
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