Chapter 15 : Destination: Gretna Green
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The next morning, I awoke to find Tarquin’s face hovering a few inches from my own, wearing such a smug and self-satisfied grin that I momentarily panicked.
‘Morning,’ he said, in a tone I didn’t like. ‘Would Madame care for breakfast in bed?’
‘Bed?’ I whispered, craning my neck – hard when you’re horizontal – and trying to get my bearings. ‘Oh, piss off, Tarquin, this is a sofa.’
‘Sofabed,’ he said, in that same tone. ‘Using our Scorp for a pillow. I see-’
I jerked my head back and forth, doing my best not to disturb Scorpius, who was fast asleep with his arms around my waist.
It was like a ton of bricks had fallen on my head…except in a good way.
‘So,’ Tarquin’s grin had taken on a malicious edge. ‘How much do you remember?’
‘Er, not very much,’ I lied. ‘Care to fill me in?’
‘Well, I’m surprised to find you here,’ Tarquin’s voice had taken on a lofty tone. ‘I honestly thought you’d be…you know,’ he jerked his head in the direction of Scorpius’ room. ‘Off the sofa for a change.’
‘Tarquin, that’s…that’s disgusting,’ I grimaced, although that little voice in my head was going ooh, wouldn’t mind that.
‘You two were hilarious last night,’ he snorted. ‘Like this.’
He brought up both of his hands, wriggled his fingers about for a bit, and then abruptly brought them together, tangling his fingers into a wild knot.
‘Me and Raven thought you’d have eloped to Gretna Green by now,’ he added.
‘Shh, you’ll wake him up!’ I hissed, trying to connect the party in my memory to Tarquin’s illustrative hand gestures. Given that I’d been pretty lucid and sober for just about all of it (for a change), those hand gestures were somewhat...worrying. They smacked of drunken buffoonery and loss of control. And, well…they also smacked a tiny bit of desperation.
Or perhaps I was reading into them a wee bit too much.
‘So, what actually happened?’ Tarquin said, in a voice that reminded me of Molly fishing for juicy gossip. ‘Poetry? Please tell me there was poetry-’
‘No!’ I cut across. ‘Well, we danced, and-’
I stopped short at that moment, realising just how quiet it was when I wasn’t talking. I somehow got the feeling that Scorpius wasn’t sleeping anymore.
I panicked. Slightly.
‘And we danced,’ I added hurriedly. ‘We danced and we danced.’
An explanation for my panic: I was still convinced that Scorpius had been a tad tipsy the night before, and I didn’t fancy blurting out to Tarquin ‘we snogged!’ and having Scorpius, memory empty, freaking out – especially when he realised he was, well, holding me. Not that Scorpius would ever get violent or anything, mind, it’s just I knew that his first reaction would be to flap his arms around, and my face was dangerously close to his hands. I’m not particularly fond of being poked in the eye.
Tarquin gave me a look that showed he didn’t believe me in the slightest. However, Scorpius finally seemed to wake up at that moment, letting go of me to rub his tired eyes.
‘Oh,’ he said, when he saw me. ‘Erm, hello.’
‘Good morning,’ I said, trying to keep my voice calm. Tarquin looked between the two of us, evidently amused.
‘How are you?’ he asked Scorpius, with a slight waggle of the eyebrows.
(Like his tone, his expression and his hand gestures, I didn’t particularly like that eyebrow waggle.)
‘Fine,’ Scorpius mumbled.
‘Had a good night?’
‘Er, yeah, s’pose. Bit…hungover, actually. My head is killing me…’
With the benefit of hindsight, this was a lie. But, at the time, I was far too busy staring gooey-eyed at his stupid face, very comfortable indeed.
‘Can I get you anything?’ Tarquin asked, shooting upright. ‘Food, drink, a vicar…’
‘Nothing,’ Tarquin grinned, ambling over to the sink.
My face had gone bright red at Tarquin’s last comment (although the Gretna Green idea did sound pretty nifty to me), but Scorpius, who apparently hadn’t heard, was staring up at the ceiling with a slight frown, one hand on the back of his head.
‘I hit my head last night, didn’t I,’ he said, deadpan. ‘I’ve got a bruise.’
‘You did,’ I told him. ‘You, er, jumped up at the light fitting and, uh, fell over.’
‘Right. Okay. That’s bizarre.’
‘Ain’t half,’ Tarquin called from the other side of the room.
‘Ouch,’ he said, in that same deadpan voice. More than a little concerned, I finally pushed myself up and gave him room to move, having never seen this poker-faced version of Scorpius before – but then a little trace of his usual woe-is-me puppy eyes thing kicked in and I felt reassured once more.
‘How are you?’ he asked.
‘Oh, fine, good, fine,’ I dithered, smoothing down my hair (and almost smacking him in the face in the process). ‘You know, bit hungover and stuff.’
Which was a total lie. But, again, with the benefit of hindsight, we were both liars and therefore even stevens.
‘Your hair is a bit…’ he flapped his arms around, obviously taking a leaf from Tarquin’s book of illustrative hand gestures.
Which wasn’t a lie, for a change. I kind of wanted to add well, what do you expect if you do some manic dancing, nearly knock yourself out and then roll around on the floor snogging your flatmate/friend/local fool?
But, at that moment, I wasn’t sure he remembered.
‘It was a good party, though,’ I continued, putting as much emphasis on the good as possible. Scorpius didn’t seem to get the hint. Where was Tarquin with his illustrative hand gestures and violently waggling eyebrows when you needed him?
‘I promised Dean I’d go and help him clean up today,’ he said. ‘I suspect it’s a mess.’
This was true. The minimalism theme didn’t really stick for long.
‘Oh,’ I said, although I meant to say but you have to stay here so we can elope to Gretna Green and be wed. Don’t even bother brushing your hair, we can just apparate…
Although, somehow, apparating to your own wedding doesn’t really sound all that romantic.
Tarquin ambled over with two mugs, handing one each to me and Scorpius. I noted a distinct eyebrow waggle aimed at both of us – but, once again, Captain Oblivious Malfoy didn’t get the message.
‘I haven’t slept,’ Tarquin said conversationally.
‘Great,’ Scorpius’ voice was muffled by his mug. ‘What time did you get in?’
‘Four. Me and Raven had to drop Barry home. We got lost.’
Unable to think of a response, Scorpius and I sat in silence whilst Tarquin beamed at us, his red-rimmed eyes screwed up a little against the light.
‘You were asleep by the time I got in,’ he said, adding comedy arched eyebrows for effect. For a second, Scorpius’ eyes narrowed, as if he was finally resigning from his post as Captain Oblivious and remembered, but then-
‘What’s the time now?’ he asked.
‘Twelve,’ Tarquin’s voice was cheerful. ‘Quarter past, in fact.’
‘Bugger!’ Scorpius threw down his mug. ‘I was supposed to be there three hours ago!’
‘Where?’ Tarquin called, as Scorpius leapt up from the sofa, stumbled over the rug and ended up sitting on the piano stool, looking as cool as if he’d intended to sit there all along.
‘In the common room,’ he said, jumping up again and grabbing his jacket from the hook in the wall and his glasses from his top pocket at the same time. ‘Helping to clear up!’
He didn’t actually trip over on his way to the door, but instead turned as if he’d forgotten to say something, his gaze falling on me. Tarquin shot up out of his chair as if he’d been electrocuted, dashing over to the sink, because that’s how Tarquin gives people personal space.
‘I’ll see you later,’ Scorpius told me. ‘When are we going?’
‘Going to what?’ I said, slightly numb.
‘Al’s party thing. Tonight, isn’t it?’
‘Oh, yes, that,’ I dithered. ‘We’re supposed to be there for nine. Nine? I think?’
‘Yeah, cool,’ he said. ‘I, er, should be back around…seven? I promised I’d drop in to see my mum but I’ll be back in plenty of time.’
‘Great,’ I said. ‘Splendid.’
He cracked out a lopsided smile at this point. Not quite the mind-blowing foxy smile of the early hours of the morning, but close. He looked a bit confused, though.
I was too wibbly at this point to even notice Tarquin staring at us with his mouth agape.
Then, without another word, Scorpius raised a hand in farewell, keeping that almost-foxy-but-not-quite-and-mostly-baffled smile in place – and then dissaparated.
At once, Tarquin threw himself onto the sofa next to me.
‘You lair!’ he accused. ‘You danced and you danced? Didn’t look like it when I got in-’
‘I know,’ I pressed my hands over my eyes, still on a comedown from the general wibbliness I’d been caught up in. I had a vague recollection of Tarquin getting in that morning, although I wasn’t even sure if I was dreaming it at the time. Or dreaming the fact that, you know, I’d somehow managed to doze off in Scorpius’ arms. Which kind of seemed too good to be true, especially now I was awake and felt a bit lonely.
‘About time,’ Tarquin snorted. ‘When you first turned up last year, Raven was all, ooh, let’s set them up and I was all nah, it’ll just-’
‘No, it’s fine, we didn’t try to set you up, we just…nudged you.’
‘We did our best.’
‘I didn’t realise.’
‘No you’re not.’
‘True,’ he said, looking pensive. ‘True.’
‘It’s no big deal,’ I told him. ‘We were both a bit…you know. Hammered. Doubt he even knows what went on.’
‘No you weren’t,’ his tone switched to incredulous. ‘You were a bit silly, maybe, but drunk? No. I know what you're like when you're drunk. You jump in skips and do the hurdles over garden hedges-’
‘Okay, maybe not me, but he was-’
Tarquin raised his eyebrows. ‘What actually happened? I mean, I was going to pop over to Raven’s later and tell her-’
‘N-not much!’ I stammered, holding up my hands to stop him. ‘I don’t think he remembers! You can’t tell Raven! She’ll…she’ll tell him!’
‘Isn’t that what you want?’
‘Maybe,’ I said, after a minute or so of dithering. ‘Maybe. I don’t know. But I think I should be the one to, you know, break the news.’
‘But you have to tell him before tonight,’ Tarquin pressed. ‘Otherwise crazy Rose will snap him up.’
At the mention of Rose, my fists involuntarily clenched on my lap. Tarquin looked alarmed.
‘I know,’ I admitted. ‘I’ll talk to him when he gets back.’
‘You better,’ Tarquin waggled a finger at my nose. ‘You really better better.’
‘He’s a good kisser-’
‘I didn’t need to know that, really…’
‘You’re like my sister!’ I shoved his arm away. ‘You big gossip! It’ll all be cool. Trust me. Everything will be cool.’
‘I’ll just have to take your word for it,’ he leaned back, folding his arms over his chest. ‘But then what will you do about the holiday?’
‘Fiddlesticks. I don’t know.’
‘I mean,’ he frowned. ‘Crazy Rose is going. And Al.’
‘Al can deal with it,’ I said. ‘He wouldn’t flip out. He’d be fine with it. And Rose might not even care! They split up about two years ago, that’s ages for her to get over him! They might just want to be friends!’
‘I’m just saying,’ Tarquin held up his hands. ‘She might not be too peachy about spending a week in the close company of her ex-boyfriend if he’s going out with her cousin.’
‘And if she’s being mardy and you two are being gooey, Al’s going to feel like a right prat.’
‘Maybe…’ I screwed up my tired eyes, thinking hard. ‘Maybe I can just kick her off the holiday. Or maybe me and Scorpius can just cancel. We could go to Gretna Green after all.’
‘In principle, that’s fine,’ Tarquin said. Perhaps he’d read my mind – I was already imagining him and Gwendolyn/Raven in matching maid of honour/best man suits. ‘But know this: Crazy Rose will hunt you down and Crazy Rose will kill you. And Al might be a bit upset too.’
‘Yeah, I know, I saw how his eye looked after Rose had finished with him, I’m not daft.’
‘So I’d recommend you just roll with the plan for now,’ Tarquin concluded. ‘And if you come back from Devon in a matchbox, I’ll know it hasn’t gone to plan.’
‘We’re leaving at midday tomorrow, though,’ I said. ‘That doesn’t give me much time.’
Silence fell over the two of us. Steam still curled from Scorpius’ abandoned mug of tea. Tarquin picked it up and took a long, thoughtful sip, eyes narrowed.
‘Good luck, then,’ he said, once he’d finished. ‘That’s all. Good luck.’
I ended up spending the rest of the day alone. At the time, it was kind of a bonus, being on my own; it gave me time to clear my head and get rid of all symptoms of wibbliness before the party. In retrospect, though, it was truly my finest hour as a loser. It actually took me two hours to get dressed.
So, of the seven hours I had until Scorpius was due to return, five were spent moping around and killing time, and two were spent putting on every single item of clothing I owned and then throwing it off into a large pile outside the bathroom door.
Getting dressed had never been so hard. Literally.
I had no idea what I was supposed to wear. I wasn’t exactly a girly-girl; I lived in jeans and only owned two skirts which were rotated for special occasions. I didn’t have anything in the way of fancy shoes, and the only remotely smart top I owned was covered in battered sequins. I couldn’t even bear to look at this for fear of a Lettuce flashback and, besides, it had been bought as a joke in the first place. After that, I just had baggy shirts and a mountain of old t-shirts to pick from.
I ended up just wearing the same old formula I did every day. Tired jeans, baggy shirt, bobbly cardigan knitted in the age of the dinosaurs. Also, Argyle patterned socks in a questionable blue and orange colour scheme, the left sock with a small hole at the heel. I’m an extraordinarily classy person, especially once you chuck in trainers caked with Hyde Park mud and a necklace with a plastic octopus hanging off it. I won’t even go into how I did my hair, mostly because I didn’t exactly do my hair as such. I let my hair do itself.
The pinnacle of the outfit was the rolled-up jeans, though. Jeans that were specifically rolled up at the ends as if to hint at the lovely June sun blazing down outside, but more to hint at the crumpled Argyle-patterned socks.
But seven passed, and then eight, and Scorpius still hadn’t come home yet.
I started to panic. I rolled down my jeans, then rolled them up again. I changed my shoes three times. I put on a pair of earrings shaped like golden snitches, then remembered they’d been a present from an ex-boyfriend and took them off. I even started talking to the plastic octopus dangling from around my neck.
At about ten to nine I was in the middle of a vast, meandering soliloquy to aforementioned octopus when there was a loud crack from the hallway and Scorpius stumbled into the living room, looking as exhausted as if he’d run to John O’Groats’ and back again.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ he said, flicking back a large segment of his fringe. ‘My mum’s got new shelves, I had to help her put them up, and then there was loads to clean up in the common room, I had to peel all of that duct tape off the wall and – you look nice.’
All of the work I’d spent that afternoon conquering my wibbliness went straight out of the window.
‘Thanks,’ I said, feeling my face turn the colour of a beetroot. ‘So do you.’
He gave his own grubby quilted jacket and frayed jeans a rather pointed look. He didn’t look neat or smart – he was far from it – but nice? To fools like me, yes.
‘Ready to go?’ he held out a hand. ‘I think I remember where Al’s parents’ live.’
I nodded, taking his hand.
‘I like your octopus,’ he said, prodding my necklace.
I was about to say something very foolish like the octopus likes you too, but luckily Scorpius chose that moment for us to apparate, and whatever idiotic drivel came out of my mouth was lost as it felt like I was being swallowed whole by thin air.
A second later, we stumbled into existence on a deserted suburban street, almost collapsing into a nearby row of shrubs.
‘I’m getting better at this!’ Scorpius beamed, holding up our conjoined hands in a sort of victory celebration. ‘But we’re still nowhere near the house, are we?’ he added, looking around.
Indeed, the surrounding street did look vaguely unfamiliar. In the distance, however, I could see a large house on a slight hill, lit up by the bright setting sun. If I squinted, I could just about make out a clutch of balloons by the front door.
‘That’s it,’ I pointed with my free hand. ‘Not too far.’
Scorpius adjusted his glasses, staring at the house.
‘Yeah, I recognise it,’ he said. ‘Wow, wish I could afford a place like that.’
He let go of my hand, instead plunging both of his hands into his pockets. We started to walk.
‘Feeling any better?’ I asked.
‘After your hangover. Over it yet?’
‘Hangover?’ he said. ‘Oh, right, yeah. Much better.’
If I hadn’t been so wibbly at that point in time, I would have been able to pick out the lie.
‘Me too,’ I said. ‘Peachy. I feel great.’
We continued to amble on in companionable silence, drawing closer to the Potters’ house atop the hill.
‘Listen,’ I said, seeing that my chance was fast slipping away from me. ‘I meant to talk to you this morning. Before you left.’
‘About what?’ he asked. The sun was in my eyes; I couldn’t properly judge his facial expression. I held up a hand to shield my eyes and slowed to a stop beside a phonebox, Scorpius doing the same a moment later.
‘Well, you know,’ I said, feeling my face go the colour of a beetroot again. ‘About last night.’
‘What about last night?’ he sounded nervy. Despite shielding my eyes, the sun’s glare still blocked his face from my view. Sighing, I grabbed his sleeve and pulled us both behind the phonebox into the shadows.
Of course, I’m a wise person who always thinks things through properly, which is why I picked a grimy, smelly scrap of concrete behind a phonebox for my ultimate moment of romantic confession. At least there were flowers; Scorpius moved his foot so he didn’t crush a fierce-looking dandelion pushing through a crack in the floor.
‘Last night,’ I repeated. ‘Or technically this morning. When we got home after the party. And stuff happened.’
‘Stuff?’ he echoed. ‘Stuff stuff?’
‘Not like that,’ I said, hurriedly. ‘But-’
‘Can we move?’ he interjected. ‘Sorry, it stinks here…’
Grudgingly, I stepped away from the phonebox. Scorpius swept down and plucked the dandelion from the floor, tucking it into his top pocket, before we moved on and carried walking. And, in my case, being completely blinded by the sun.
‘I don’t know how I can put it lightly,’ I said. ‘We, well…’
‘I think I remember,’ he said abruptly. ‘Being knocked out. Or actually not knocked out. And stuff.’
‘But after that-’
‘Yeah,’ he cut across. ‘That too. It kind of…’ he flapped his arms about a bit, looking for the right word. ‘Came trickling back.’
We were almost at the end of the Potters’ street by now. It was, so to speak, my final chance.
‘I just – I have to say it!’ I blurted out. ‘You’re a lovely person. Bit weird, but lovely,’ I could feel my face burning even more. ‘And you’re alright looking. I mean, you’ve got kind of googly eyes and you’re a bit gangly and, frankly, you’re strange, but I think you’re fab. You’ve got a nice smile and you’re fab. Really brillopads.’
‘Fab,’ he repeated, staring ahead. ‘Um…thanks.’
‘And I may as well admit it all now because I already feel like a prize twat – I just realised, really recently, at first I felt kind of sorry for you and then I liked you and now I think you’re really cool and fab and – well, I didn’t know how to say and I didn’t, but then after last night, I mean, neither of us really remember but…but….it was fab too.’
Scorpius raised his eyebrows at this, but didn’t speak.
‘But I’m not even sure if it was a, hey, let’s get drunk and make out thing, or if it was for real or what, I don’t even – whatever. I don’t mind either but I think I’d prefer the latter, and, well – I’m completely insane and now I wish I hadn’t said anything but you did ask for it.’
‘Did I?’ he sounded mildly amused. ‘And…what?’
‘I like you,’ I dithered. ‘Fancy you. Whatever.’
He didn’t respond. I could hardly blame him. I doubt I could have been any more awkward. He had actually gone that radioactive shade of pink he always turned when he was embarrassed, and looked like he didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or frown.
‘Please say something,’ I begged. ‘Don’t be so…just say something, please, I’m sorry, I just can’t – I had to say something, but now I bet it’s all screwed up and messy and awkward and I wouldn’t be allowed to be alone with you in the dark room ever again-’
‘No!’ he interrupted, sounding mildly alarmed. ‘No, it’s fine! It’s cool, I think you’re charming and cute and interesting and-’
Whatever else I was I never found out, because he chose that moment to walk headfirst into a lamppost. Concerned as I was for his safety, I was also quite flattered that he’d been too busy concentrating on me to look where he was going.
He seemed to recover quickly, regaining his balance and pressing a hand to his forehead. Thinking quick, I grasped for his free hand – hey, any excuse is a good one.
‘Ouch, bloody sodding…argh,’ he muttered, eyes watering with pain. I squeezed his hand, playing what I thought was the role of the sympathetic and doting girlfriend. Which I wasn’t.
‘Are you alright?’
‘Nah…I’ll be fine,’ he said.
‘I’ll kiss it better?’ I offered, with what I hoped was a passable imitation of his foxy smile. It didn’t seem to work – a momentary flicker of confusion passed over his face – but then he smiled, a little patiently, as if I was an overenthusiastic child.
‘You’re too short,’ he said. ‘You’d never be able to reach.’
‘I can try?’
‘At least you’re determined,’ he laughed me off. After a moment’s awkward pause, we carried on walking. He didn’t let go of my hand, but I felt the moment slipping away from me so quickly that I began to feel quite desperate.
Desperation, one must remember, is never a good thing. I should have stopped there and then.
‘So, I’ve told you everything,’ I said, trying not to sound as panicky as I felt. ‘I’m not sure what else there is to say…I k-kind of l-love you, because you’re mad and I’m mad and it makes sense.’
Saying the word love had never been so difficult in my life. So much for being a fearless Hufflepuff. Scorpius grimaced. I panicked even more.
‘You’re upset, aren’t you, I’ve upset you, I’ve made it all awkward and you actually hate me, and oh my days maybe it was just a drunk spur-of-the-moment thing and you don’t fancy me at all and I’ll have to move to Australia and be a spinster for life-’
‘No, no!’ Scorpius looked quite alarmed. ‘You’re just – argh - breaking my fingers!’
‘Oh, right,’ I relaxed my grip on his hand. ‘Well, what do you-’
‘I’m not sure,’ he said abruptly.
We had stopped walking again. This whole stop-start thing really unnerved me, and I felt even more jittery and wibbly than usual. I cursed myself for even dreaming up Operation Hippogriff. Scorpius was also being alarmingly indifferent. He hadn’t done any hand-flapping or fringe-flopping for a good five minutes. I should really have picked up on this at the time, but, standing there and gazing up at him, my mind had gone totally blank and I actually felt vaguely nauseous.
I meant to reel off another awkward confession of love and longing, but something malfunctioned between my brain and my mouth, and all I could come up with was ‘Ummm.’
‘You alright?’ Scorpius asked.
I tried not to look into his (googly) eyes, nor think about how his glasses had slipped down the bridge of his nose and how I really wanted to just push them up again. Or, you know, take them off.
‘I’m fine,’ I told him. ‘I just feel a bit…dizzy.’
‘Right…so either you’re ill, or you really are…erm…’
Neither of us could quite finish the sentence. Guessing what he’d meant to say though, I nodded violently, doing my best to stop a herd of butterflies/more incoherent babbling/a fit of violent sneezing from escaping me.
‘Why?’ he asked.
I laughed, expecting it was a joke. In light of the nerves and general wibbliness, the laugh came out as more of a demented shriek. Then I realised he was actually serious. And we were kind of closer than we’d usually be, because we’d probably transcended that little boundary that required us to keep a respectable distance apart. Kind of become, well, more than best friends.
‘I’ve already said. We’re…we’re both mad, and it makes sense. To me,’ I added, quickly. ‘It’s also kind of handy because – oh, nevermind, I’ll shut up, you obviously think I’m off my face or something.’
‘You’re actually surprisingly lucid.’
I didn’t answer. I was having a staring contest with my shoes, my heart busily doing the pole vault somewhere in my chest. It was then that Scorpius did what only two other boys have done to me in my life and what must be step number one in the snogging handbook (if such a thing exists) – he lifted a hand to my chin and tilted my face up to his.
‘You’re really tall,’ was all I could think to say.
‘I know,’ he said. Then, he pulled the dandelion from his pocket with his free hand, and carefully tucked it into my hair, just over my left ear.
I didn’t even care if the dandelion had come from cracked concrete round the back of a phonebox stinking of piss; it was a flower nonetheless. Okay, a weed. But it was, essentially, appropriate. I’m a bit of a weed myself.
Thus followed a strange moment where we just seemed to be standing there staring at each other, both probably a little too nervy to say anything. Scorpius looked mildly confused, as if still trying to decide whether following snog rule number one and sticking a weed into my hair was a good idea.
Meanwhile, I was busily trying to fight off the urge to attach myself to his face.
I’m still not sure how the next bit happened, and even now I’m still fairly convinced it was a bit of a mistake on my part. Scorpius seemed to shrug, and then leaned in as if going for a gentlemanly little peck on the cheek, but I leaned in at the same time, taking a more of an I’m Lucy Weasley, a fearless Hufflepuff, and I do not do things by halves attitude to the situation. To be fair, I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. At that moment, I just wanted to instigate a snog that would last until the cows came home. And then some. And with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think this was the best idea. I think I gave Scorpius a bit of a fright.
When I finally released him, legs still wibbly and mind still made out of jelly, all he seemed to be able to say was ‘…whoa.’
Great. I’d used up my last chance with him pretending I was a barnacle.
I meant to talk to him again, perhaps apparate straight away to Gretna Green where we could successfully elope and be wed – but then there was a loud crack from further up the street and a familiar lanky, black-haired figure came loping towards us, beaming like smiles were going out of fashion.
‘Lucy! Scorp!’ Al cried as he reached us. He flung his arms around me on the pretext of a cousinly hug, nearly winding me in the process, and whispered into my ear the following:
‘Operation Hippogriff is go!’
‘Wait, Al-’ I started to say, but Al had already released me and gone in to give Scorpius a powerful pat on the back.
‘Scorpius!’ he cried. ‘It’s been so long!’
And then as Scorpius lurched forwards, looking equally confused and stunned-
‘-why are you wearing lipstick?’
‘It’s a dare,’ Scorpius said quickly.
Al looked between us, obviously noticing that both of us were sporting Miss Magic Supershine Lipstick in Salamander Red, free off the cover of Witch Weekly some three years previously. He also couldn’t have failed to notice that, in Scorpius’ case, it was more than a little smudged. But, oblivious and tactless as ever, Al simply roared with laughter and thwacked Scorpius on the back again, nearly knocking him to the floor.
‘Thought I’d come down from the house to escort you up!’ he said, cheerily. ‘Had a good day?’
I was just on the verge of starting a long monologue about the epic snogathon he’d missed and how it was really about time we bailed out on Operation Hippogriff, but Scorpius gave me no chance to speak, immediately launching into an anecdote about how he’d seen his old Hogwarts friends at the party of the previous night. Al and Scorpius talked about this all the way up to the house, almost ignoring me all the way. This behaviour is a little strange and frankly quite alarming, I know, but at the time I felt like breaking into song. Snogging tends to have that effect on me.
The anniversary party seemed to already be in full swing by the time we arrived at the house. After several months of partying in dingy pubs with cheap cider and strange people, it was a bit of a shock to be somewhere so civilised and normal – I did a double take as my cousin James walked past, looking extraordinarily well-groomed, a respectable girlfriend at his side. And, well, I’d brought a grubby Malfoy with lipstick on his face.
‘I’ll take your jackets,’ Al said, ‘And then we can move into the parlour…’
‘Al, I have to tell you something,’ I hissed. ‘We’ve got to-’
‘Lucy!’ a voice called from behind. I wheeled around to see my parents standing behind me, both clutching sparkling glasses of white wine and wearing matching little smiles.
‘It’s been so long!’ my mum said, pulling me into a bone-crushing hug.
‘We popped in on your show,’ my dad beamed. ‘You weren’t there and we couldn’t find your work, but we did see some…interesting things.’
‘You must be Scorpius,’ my mum grasped Scorpius’ hand and shook it wildly, choosing to ignore the fact that he still had lipstick smudged on his face and looked nothing short of nervy. ‘We’ve heard so much about you.’
‘Er, yeah,’ was all Scorpius could say. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘Me and Scorpius will go and get drinks,’ Al said, winking at me. ‘Give you a chance to catch up.’
‘No, Al, wait-’ I protested, but it was too late – he’d already taken Scorpius by the shoulder and steered him through to the kitchen. Scorpius was still looking at me even as he was pulled through the door and, wow, you could almost see the cogs whirring in his brain.
‘Molly’s ever so excited to see you,’ my dad said. ‘She’s been waiting for you to arrive since six.’
‘Great, but I have to-’
‘How’s art school going? Are you enjoying it?’
‘It’s lovely, but-’
‘Your photography skills must really be coming along. Did you bring your camera? I expect Harry and Ginny will want a few pictures to commemorate the occasion.’
‘I didn’t, but-’
‘And we hear you’re going to Devon with Albus and Rose this week,’ mum beamed. ‘That’s very kind of you. We gather that Rose is rather excited.’
‘I know, mum, but-’
‘Which part of Devon? Will you send us a postcard?’
‘Sure!’ I blurted out. ‘And I don’t know! I’ll have to ask Al! Just let me-’
‘Wait, Lucy, we meant to introduce you to this gentleman we’ve met here – he’s an official wedding photographer, you see, and he might be able to get you some sort of work experience over the summer. Isn’t that exciting?’
Seething inside, I let my mum steer me through to the next room. Molly was there, slumped on a sofa with Lily and Dominique, the three of them looking about as cheery as a wet Monday morning in January. Molly stood and sloped over, brushing down her dress.
‘Hello,’ she said, sounding glum. ‘Nice to see you, Lucy.’
‘And you. Molly, I need help,’ I dropped my voice to a whisper as my parents started to look around the room for the wedding photographer. ‘Please, I need to find Albus and mum isn’t letting me go-’
‘I heard about your plan,’ she grinned. ‘He ordered Victoire to make sure she stays in the parlour, they’ve been there since seven, Vicky must be tearing her hair out by now-’
‘Molly, we have to stop it!’ I pleaded. ‘This is a horrible mistake!’
‘I know, it’s so horrible to Vicky-’
‘That’s not it!’ I cried. ‘It’s-’
‘Here he is!’ my mum beamed, pulling me away from Molly. An unkempt man with tired, drooping eyes and a rather colourful set of wizard’s robes stared down at me with some interest.
‘Oh dear,’ mum said. ‘You seem to have got a dandelion stuck in your hair, I’ll just get rid of that-’
I swatted her hand away impatiently, clutching onto the dandelion with my other.
‘I gather you’re looking for a work placement-’ the wizard started.
‘I’m sorry, I – I don’t feel too well!’ I babbled, thrusting my mum’s hand off of my shoulder and dashing out of the room. Molly followed, looking alarmed, as I strode into the kitchen – but Al and Scorpius weren’t there.
‘What’s wrong?’ Molly asked, grabbing my shoulders – a wise action, seeing as I probably looked rather deranged.
‘Molly, I –I can’t – this can’t happen!’
‘The thing!’ I babbled, throwing up my hands.
‘The thing! The Rose thing!’
‘You’re not making any sense!’ she cried, tightening her grip on my shoulders. But at that moment Al breezed in with an empty glass in hand, humming to himself. I wrenched Molly’s hands off of me and marched over to him.
‘Where did you leave Scorpius?’ I demanded. ‘What have you done with him?’
‘Chill out,’ Al grinned, holding up his hands. ‘I’ve sorted it. Rose didn’t blow up the house. She was surprisingly cool about the whole thing.’
‘You mean – you mean they’ve seen each other?’
‘Well, yeah,’ Al shrugged. ‘That’s the plan, right?’
‘And what did he do?’
‘They’re just having a chat,’ he said. ‘Look, it’s all going smoothly, you don’t need to worry-’
‘I do!’ I nearly shrieked, so desperate by this point that the power of ordinary speech was starting to escape me. ‘We have to stop it!’
Al stared at me in horror.
‘But – what? Why? It’s going so well! Look, I swear she hasn’t done anything yet-’
‘I can’t let her have him!’ I wailed. ‘I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry!’
‘You’re kidding, right?’ Al said. ‘This is a joke?’
‘No!’ I pressed my hands to my eyes, wishing the kitchen floor would just split open and swallow me whole. ‘I’m sorry!’
‘Lucy – I don’t know what to say-’
‘We have to stop them!’
‘But – Lucy – we’ve put so much work into this-’
I pushed past Al, nearly knocking his glass to the floor. Both he and Molly shouted after me, but I’d already stormed out of the kitchen and into the sitting room – alright, parlour – but the only familiar face in there was Victoire, who was filing her nails idly by the window.
‘Just left,’ she said, as if reading my mind. ‘She took it surprisingly well.’
I checked the dining room next, but they weren’t there either. Then the downstairs study, then the morning room, then the utility room, even the cupboard under the stairs – no Scorpius, not even Rose. I even dashed upstairs and nosed through a few bedrooms, but every room was empty, without a speck of mud on the carpet or door left ajar that might have signalled human presence.
I don’t even think I have to point out how utterly my life had gone the shape of the pear/fruitbowl/orchard.
So there I was, marching from room to room like a woman possessed, an ever increasing anchor of dread dragging in the pit of my stomach. Possibly an anchor from a ship with an incredibly pointy bow that was repeatedly sailing itself into my heart. And a foul-mouthed mermaid statue nailed to the front, flicking a few v signs at my internal organs. My plan was disintegrating like a tissue in the rain.
I felt miserable. Very miserable. That being an understatement. Possibly even miserable enough to merit a poem. A poem by Scorpius. And at the thought of my equally miserable floppy-haired partner in crime, the little metaphorical ship in my stomach manned the guns and promptly fired a couple of torpedoes at my heart.
'Louis!' I called, catching sight of one of my thousands of cousins chatting up a girl in the sitting room (I was on my third circuit of the house by this point). 'Have you seen Rose?'
'I have, actually,' he said. 'Came past about five minutes ago?'
'Was she with anyone?'
Louis shrugged. 'Blonde guy?' he said, holding up a hand. 'Funny cardigan. About so tall.’
‘Oh, no – which way?’
He pointed in the direction of the patio windows, which had been thrown open to let guests spill into the vast, well-pruned garden that the Potters kept.
‘Thanks,’ I told Louis, although I actually felt like throwing up all over his shoes.
I then wandered (alright, I kind of leapt nervously, frightening a few small children) into the garden, doing my best to look calm and collected (which I wasn’t entirely successful at). The little voice that sounded like my mum in my head was saying it’ll all be peachy. They’re probably just chatting. Or maybe Rose has stolen him so she can beat him up and then come back for seconds. Or maybe there’s been a bizarre twist of fate, and Scorpius is now trying to murder her instead.
The bushes around had been strung with a dazzling set of rather posh fairy lights, with little benches and garden chairs scattered beneath them. On these scattered benches and garden chairs sat several scattered groups of people or couples, all chattering away merrily, none of them paying any heed to the blonde, wibbly wreck clenching and unclenching her fists by the door.
None of those aforementioned groups or couples seemed to have Rose or Scorpius in it. But then there was a vague flash from the end of the garden by the compost heap, one that distracted my eyes – and I could have sworn I saw two people dissaparating.
My life was definitely going the shape of the orchard.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, lunging at a passing couple. ‘Have you seen two people go past? She’s short, has awful hair, is a complete bitch, he’s lanky and blonde with an aubergine cardigan-’
‘Er, yeah,’ the man nodded. He pointed his finger in the direction of the compost heap. ‘You just missed them.’
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