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Chapter 20 : With Bells On
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by seraphine. @ tda
I’d never thought Rose capable of such a simple thing, but I supposed that, if she’d been able to forgive me for stealing her first love, she’d surely be able to forgive call-me-Mary-Sue for stealing the only chance she’d had at getting a ring on her finger. But for a few minutes after Rose went up and threw her skinny, pale arms around call-me-Mary-Sue’s neck, I honestly thought she was going to break away only to punch her in her perfect little face.
Call-me-Mary-Sue had reminded me of Rose a couple of times, though. And it took me a while to realise that they’d both been duped by some nutcase in the Auror office they’d both fancied, the one that’d kept Rose’s flat and hung call-me-Mary-Sue’s paintings on the walls there, even though she’d apparently moved to New New Elgin with every intention of cutting him completely out of her life - and with every intention of putting as much distance as possible between her and Rose. She was just as terrified of her as I’d been, although, after all, it turned out there was nothing all tha much to be scared of.
Rose was flipping livid, though, don’t get me wrong. But after everything that had been chucked her way, she’d run out of energy completely. So after all the apologising and the hugging (and the held breath, on mine and Scorpius’ part) was over and call-me-Mary-Sue had scampered off somewhere, presumably to cry, Rose came marching back over to us and I wasn’t surprised to see how both her fists and her teeth were clenched.
‘I want to hit someone,’ she said in an undertone.
‘Don’t,’ Scorpius said. ‘Not a good idea.’
But there wasn’t really much time to react to anything. No sooner had Rose reeled off the whole Rose/Alexander/call-me-Mary-Sue saga than the lights began to dim and there was a general gravitation of New New Elginers towards the stage. Scorpius gripped my hand tighter than ever, as if I was an anchor, but I shoved him in the direction of the stage.
‘Come on,’ I said to Rose, nodding towards the wings. We hurried over and stood, hidden, behind a fold of curtain; Scorpius hurried down the steps and took his seat at the piano in the far-left corner of the hall.
‘Are they any good?’ Rose asked.
I thought about it for a second. ‘No…not in the slightest.’
The curtain inched open. A spotlight hovered half-heartedly on centre stage. Someone with a thick accent announced that this was the New New Elgin band, the noo. And then they were there. Surly Kevin, sulking with a bass guitar, the teenaged Morag McLumpherty dwarfed by her drumkit. Jock Macpherson on bagpipes. Jean Cumbernauld with a microphone at the front, and the four remaining Jeans arranged behind her, youngest to oldest, as a backing band.
There was an expectant hush. A cough from the second row. I noticed Rose was holding her breath. Then it started; a piteous wail shuddered from Jock’s bagpipes and droned through the air like an unwelcome swarm of wasps upon a picnic. A single, almost inaudible bass note sounded from Surly Kevin, a teasingly quiet flicker of snare drum came from Morag. Scorpius raised his visibly shaking hands over the keyboard, waited for his cue, and then-
CLANGGG. His fingers threw themselves desperately upon any old note, hitting a number of others at the same time. He flinched as the chord rang around the room and, for a second, the incessant, waspish drone of the bagpipes faltered – but then Jean C launched herself forwards, grabbed the microphone with both hands, and yelled:
‘Love is tea and toast!’
There isn’t really a word that adequately describes what the New New Elgin band sounded like, so I’ve compiled a list of words that almost come close. Baffling, horrifying, perplexing, rambunctious, imponderable, OTT, and, at times, a bit more punk rock than originally planned. My heart went out to Scorpius and his lonely, shivering existence tinkling the ivories down by the front row but, honestly, I was too busy laughing to send many positive thoughts his way.
Rose was gripping onto my arm for support. ‘This is music?’ she choked.
‘What?’ I grinned back. ‘Bagpipes not doing anything for you?’
I whipped my head back around to watch the unfolding catastrophe. ‘I wrote some of these words!’ I hissed to Rose. ‘Scorpius helped! Love is tea and toast, love is a Sunday roast!’
I expected Rose to pfft and laugh at the utter stupidity and mundanity of our lyrics, or even to get sad about the ideas behind them, but she actually raised her eyebrows and nodded, looking a tad philosophical. ‘You know…’ she said. ‘I think…just before Alexander ended it, I realised he didn’t know how I took my tea. And it’s weird how much it got to me…’
‘Not weird at all,’ I said.
‘But isn’t that strange? All I ever wanted out of love was someone who’d know how to make a decent cup of tea.’
‘Not strange at all,’ I turned back to face the stage, and half-hoped she wouldn’t catch the next words. ‘It’s what I have. Or I like to think so anyway.’
‘You’re lucky,’ she said, and, like me, it was as if she hoped I could barely hear her, because I only just caught the words above the general racket coming from the stage. ‘You’re so happy.’
‘Nobody’s happy, Rose, not really-’
‘Only a bit. But that’s alright. I can live with that.’
‘I wish I could be more like that.’
A part of me wanted to say god, Rose, stop with the soul-searching and just enjoy the chaos, but a better, more family-friendly part of me wanted to turn around and pat her on the back and tell her it was alright, who needed cheating fiancés and nine-to-five jobs and expensive flats in London anyway?
I ended up indulging both parts. ‘You’re already halfway there,’ I said, patting her on the back. ‘Now, come on, let’s watch Scorpius suffer.’
She raised her eyebrows at me. ‘And I haven’t been doing that since I met him?’
It wasn’t the weirdest night of my life, not by a long shot, but it came somewhere in the top ten of weirdest nights. Sure, it wasn’t a patch on hedgehopping, drunken kisses of life or the other assorted shenanigans I’d got up to at art school, but it was definitely weird. And I had the advantage of being something of an outsider looking in. In a way, it actually felt like I was watching a fantastically abysmal piece of experimental theatre (and, thanks to Scorpius’ taste in culture, I’d seen a lot of fantastically abysmal experimental theatre in my time) with an audience of one: me.
I didn’t move from the wings of the stage for a good two hours solid. Me and Rose found ourselves a sturdy crate to perch on where, through the curtains, we could see a little of what was going on on the stage. After the New New Elgin shambles it was call-me-Mary-Sue’s turn to do her little piece – and she wasn’t half bad, truth be told – with her eyes all red-rimmed from crying and her fingers shaking over the piano keys. I found it a bit hard to pay attention to her sultry ballad, though, because I was too busy trying to cheer up/trying not to laugh at Scorpius.
He hadn’t coped very well with his failure at the keyboard. Once he was done sitting with his head in his hands, he sat up, leaned in close, and said in a hoarse voice –
‘I am never playing the piano again.’
Rose howled with laughter beside me. If I’d known the sight of Scorpius failing cheered her up so much, I might have paid him to travel to London and throw himself down a staircase to save her all her crying.
By the evening’s standards, call-me-Mary-Sue’s smouldering ballad about lost love (which seemed all the more relevant in light of the evening’s events) was hideously normal. Inverness followed up with their music entry, which was less about smoulder and more about a choir of small children who couldn’t hold a tune for the life of them. And a cuddly Loch Ness monster, which sat in the middle of the stage, looking a bit forlorn on the bare boards.
The interval came next. An inviting array of shortbread and tea urns had been spread out at the back of the hall but, somehow, it didn’t seem all that tempting – Scorpius was busy falling to pieces like a soggy tissue beside me as, in a dingy corner, the poster competition was being judged, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted Rose consuming any more sugar; she was existing on thin air and hiccups alone. Said interval was also over pretty sharply, at which point the winner of the poster competition was announced – a certain psychotic graphic design collective unfortunately triumphed over poor wee Scorpius – and the dance round started.
See, dance isn’t really my thing. Actual dance, that is – I’m always game for drunken conga lines/twisting/twirling/falling over – you know, proper dance. So I must confess that I spent most of the Inverness dance entry trying to cheer Scorpius up after the combined failings in the music and poster rounds. I barely even noticed when the stage cleared and the New New Elginers went up instead. Or even when Rose got dragged up to dance with them and stood at the side of the stage, self-consciously twirling her hands around. Not that anyone noticed her; I rather think Lettuce and his prancing thing with the cowbell kind of stole the show.
Scorpius, bleary-eyed and missing half an eyebrow, suggesting we go outside to get some fresh air. I took this to mean fag break but agreed and followed him out the side door: there’s only so much madness you can take. Especially when you’ve spent half your time writing about zombies with added sex. And we’d both seen the prancing thing with the cowbell far too many times before.
The stage door was open and it was freezing outside. We slipped out into the darkness, the music and cowbell fading behind us, our breath catching on the air and materialising in little clouds that were stained slightly blue by the light from indoors.
‘You alright?’ he said, as we walked hand-in-hand along the side alleyway, towards the town square.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Blimey, it’s dark…’
‘Pfft, I can see in the dark,’ Scorpius said. ‘I eat tons of carrots – ooft.’
His hand vanished from mine as he lurched forwards, having blundered into a strategically placed bin.
‘Right,’ I took my wand from my anorak pocket. ‘Lumos.’
Weak, watery light spilled into the alleyway, revealing Scorpius, wincing and clutching at his knees.
‘Okay, didn’t see that coming,’ he said.
I offered a hand. ‘Eat more carrots.’
‘Sure,’ he said, grasping my hand so suddenly that my concentration faltered and the light snapped out. In darkness again, I kept hold of his hand, listening to the distant ringing of a cowbell from within the hall.
‘Maybe we should have stayed to dance,’ I said, thinking of Rose’s lonely arm-twiddling at the corner of the stage. ‘We kind of took off without an explanation.’
‘Lucy…’ his disembodied voice came through the darkness. ‘You know how crap we are at dancing.’
‘Somehow I don’t think that would have hurt their chances…’
We picked our way past the dustbins and out to the front of the Town Hall. There were no streetlights here, no stars in the overcast sky – the only light was the pale gold falling from the windows and illuminating the pavements in little patches. We stood there for a few minutes, not talking, faint music colouring the quiet.
‘Weird place,’ he said. ‘But worth the move.’
I was cold, so I put my arms around him and my head on his shoulder, bringing us together for warmth and wondering, vaguely, if we were going to apparate home any time soon.
‘Good song?’ he said, sounding uncertain.
‘Not too shabby,’ I said, and he held me closer. Something hard collided with the hollow of my neck.
‘Scorpius, have you got a roll of film in your pocket?’
‘Oh, right,’ he released me for a second, extracted the offending film from his top pocket, then resumed the hug, although this time it didn’t feel like I was being throttled with a lemon squeezer.
A few years ago, I might have listened to the music coming from the hall – music with added cowbell, at that – and suggested something crazy, like, shall we dance? But, at that moment, I just felt tired and fed up, even – Rose’s woe had rubbed off on me - and I was mostly in the mood to go home and stick the kettle on, no matter what Scorpius and his imploring please-dance-with-me-pretty-please eyes were hinting at.
Egads – I thought to myself. I’m getting a bit middle-aged. Early to bed with a cuppa and a biscuit, maybe work my way through a chapter or two of smut before turning in. Forget the fact that I have this moment to stand underneath a starry sky with my boyfriend and listen to a freeform jazz-funk cowbell solo, I want to be boring.
It was a weird feeling, that. Wanting to be boring.
‘You alright?’ he said, evidently sensing my budding mid-life crisis.
‘M’fine,’ I mumbled into his jacket. ‘Ta.’
‘I dunno what it is,’ he said. ‘But…if you’re injured, um, we’ve got plasters back at the flat? And if you’re angry at someone, well, you’re best talking to them about it, if it’s Rose, well, Rose is Rose, and if it’s your family I’m steering well clear of that in case I call your dad Mr Percy again, and if it’s something I’ve done then, well, sorry and stuff.’
The boy should have become an agony aunt, I swear.
‘It’s nothing,’ I said. ‘But thank you for the life advice.’
I became aware, just then, of footsteps behind us. Surly Kevin had emerged from the door of the town hall, sporting his trademark scowl and an all-black ensemble.
‘Got a light?’ he said.
‘Sure,’ Scorpius said, taking his wand from his pocket. I let go of him so he could touch the tip of it to the cigarette Surly Kevin had jammed between his thin lips. Moments later, Scorpius was lighting up himself; I stood to the side patiently and waited to be offered one myself, but with one fluid movement both wand and cigarettes had disappeared into an inside pocket.
‘Shame about the piano, pal,’ Surly Kevin said.
Scorpius stayed silent for a moment.
‘It’s alright,’ he finally said, exhaling a jet of aqua-coloured smoke. The index and middle finger that held the cigarette were both shaking.
‘Good lyrics though, hen,’ Surly Kevin dipped his head to me. ‘Folk liked it.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, but I wasn’t really concentrating on the two of them anymore. I was looking over my shoulder at the war memorial, reminded of the curiosity we’d looked at it with all those months ago. All those names on the stone…I turned back to Surly Kevin, estimated his age in my mind, compared that to the average age of a New New Elginer, and then posed the question: ‘Kevin, why are there so many names on the war memorial?’
‘Why shouldn’t there be?’ he said gruffly. ‘Heroic sacrifices.’
‘Yeah, but the one in Liverpool wasn’t even that big, and this place is tiny in comparison.’
Scorpius had turned away and was staring at the town hall now, seemingly lost in thought, almost half an inch of ash clinging to the end of his cigarette.
‘And,’ I pressed on. ‘It’s all the second war.’
‘Aye,’ Surly Kevin said.
He looked affronted. ‘Why? Why? We used to be part of Elgin, you know. All the magic folk in the town that were left got cut out, dumped over here – just over twenty years ago, it was. Figured it was safer.’
He’d evidently relished the last word. I wasn’t willing to give up, no matter how much space Scorpius was putting between the two of us in an evident bid to disassociate himself from me.
‘Safer? From what?’
Surly Kevin took a long pull on his cigarette, eyes shut. For a moment I thought he wasn’t going to answer me, but then, in a plume of smoke, a single word came out.
‘Aye! There’s some of them in the Highlands, aren’t there? Right on You-Know-Who’s side. Flattened the place. And their skin’s impervious to most spells, isn’t it?’
I nodded, pretending I knew exactly what he was talking about.
‘And when we sent patronuses to Inverness, there was no answer. Nor from Ellon, or Stirling, or Montrose – a few kids came up from Bishopbriggs to help. Long way to come. Their names are at the bottom.’
He jabbed his cigarette in the direction of the memorial, before returning it to his mouth for a last, long drag on what was left of it.
In another plume of smoke came the words ‘And you’ll find my brother there, too. Fifth from the top.’
He dropped the cigarette butt to the ground. It smouldered on the concrete like a small, orange gem, a few final trails of smoke heading skywards.
‘So maybe you’ll forgive us if we’re a touch uncivil to newcomers,’ he said.
I watched him walk back into the Town Hall with something akin to a sneer. But in my head, the horror was budding. I sneered because I was bristling from the encounter and, inwardly, I cried.
Scorpius shuffled beside me, crushing the butt of his cigarette with the heel of his shoe.
‘Horrible,’ he said.
I imagined him referring to at least three different things. ‘Yes, it is,’ I said.
He dipped his head towards the Town Hall. ‘Are we going back in?’
I folded my arms over my chest and shrugged. ‘I don’t really feel like it. You can, if you want.’
‘I don’t mind,’ he said.
‘Can we go home, then?’
‘What, already? It’s only nine…’
‘Well, I’m going home. You stay if you want.’
He looked at the doors for a moment, but then turned back to me.
‘Okay. If you want.’
Side by side – but with a good foot or so between us – we started for home.
So it had been a long day, a long week, a long month, a long lifetime – and by the time we got home I felt worn-out, hollowed out, a little dumbstruck. We’d just made it in in time to beat the rain, which thrummed its fingertips on the windows like an unwelcome guest. When the two of us blundered into the kitchen I’m almost certain that Scorpius was on the verge of suggesting we have that dance, but I barged right past him to the kettle and only got a sigh instead.
I was stirring sugar into my cup of tea when more sighing came from behind, coupled with a series of clunks and thumps as Scorpius combed through the airing cupboard.
'We don’t have a clean bedspread for Rose,’ he said.
‘Well, you were meant to do the laundry,’ I said.
‘Lucy,’ he whined, emerging from the cupboard. ‘I’m at work half the time, don’t you think you could have done it?’
‘We’ve got a rota, Scorpius.’
‘Well, would you mind letting me off now and again? You’re the one sitting around in here all day.’
This scathing remark coincided with me lifting my mug off the counter. It was swiftly slammed back down again, scalding hot tea splashing onto my fingers.
‘I do not sit around here all day.’
He spluttered for the right words. ‘I didn’t – I meant-’
‘For your information my job is actually quite demanding!’
He couldn’t help it, I realise. He tried very, very hard to keep a straight face, but he just wasn’t quite strong enough. He stared at the floor, bit his lip, and even adjusted his glasses several times in an attempt to hide his face, but nothing could stop the giggles from bubbling out between his clamped lips.
I might have laughed too on a normal day, but Surly Kevin’s explanation for the war memorial had left me sour, a little scared. ‘Stop it,’ I snapped. ‘It’s not funny.’
Red-faced and a little out of breath, he made eye contact with me again. ‘Zombie smut? Okay…’
‘It’s not zombie smut!’ I said. I’d snatched up a grotty tea towel and was wringing it for imaginary water between my hands, trying to deflect my stress onto something that couldn’t feel pain and wouldn’t shout back.
‘You bloody call it zombie smut!’
‘It’s romantic fiction and it’s incredibly hard to write!’
He managed to hold back the worst of the giggles this time. ‘What, writing about sex all the time is hard?’
‘Shut up!’ I said, and that was when it seemed to occur to him that he might be hurting my feelings. He stood there, mouth alternating between gaping open and forming mute words; you could almost see the cogs whirring in his brain, working overtime.
‘It’s really hard to write!’ I protested, still wringing the tea towel beneath my hands. ‘What we’ve got is nothing like the books, so I can hardly draw on real life, so I’m just turning out trash-’
‘You said yourself that the books were shite!’
‘Yeah, but it’s a very specific type of shite that I don’t have experience of to write about-’
‘What, and you want your life to be like one of those books? Like – like – like-’ he stuttered over the word several times, going even redder in the face. ‘Do you want me to treat you like shite?’
‘For god’s sake, no, I just-’
But he hadn’t finished. ‘Do you want me to hate you?’
It all came to me in an instant – all those bitter thoughts, the ones I’d stewed in my mind and kept secret and fumed about in quiet – it all flooded to my tongue in such a rush that I ended up shouting it.
‘It’d be better than just being friends with bells on!’
‘Just – friends with bells on? Friends with bells on?’
We went silent. The rain, pattering on the windowpane, did enough talking for both of us.
‘She told me to write from experience,’ I started up. ‘And I can’t write from experience because it’s just like we’re still friends-’
‘Friends with bells on?’ he shouted, and from the look on his face I really believed that he was capable of hating me.
‘Fine! Too whimsical? Friends who fuck!’
It was like I’d punched him in the gut. ‘Friends who…is that how you see me?’
I felt sick, shivery, on the verge of tearing the tea towel in my hands into two parts. ‘Not entirely-’
‘As a friend?’
‘Well, I mean…’ I started, but then realised that I didn’t know what I meant at all and threw the tea towel on the floor instead.
‘If I’m just your friend, why are you living with me?’
‘You’re not just a friend!’
‘Fine!’ he shouted. ‘A friend who – a friend with bells on!’
It was like trying to climb back up a helter skelter. ‘We’re not going anywhere, are we? One day you’re going to realise I’m not right, I’m not the right decision-’
‘Can you let me be the fucking judge of that?’ he said, before turning dramatically on the spot, evidently to storm off in a huff. Unfortunately, he collided with the still-open door of the airing cupboard. The door itself seemed to be fine, closing with a neat click, but Scorpius stumbled backwards, a hand over his face.
And normally, this would have been hilarious, but at that point, it irritated me – as he turned back round to face me, I said ‘God, don’t be such a wimp, it can’t hurt that much!’
He kept his palm to his forehead and the tears stuck to his eyes. ‘Can’t hurt?’ he echoed.
I kept quiet.
‘Can’t – Lucy, for god’s sake, life had gone to shit before I met you…’
‘It’s gone to shit now, what’s the difference?’
‘Yeah, ‘cause you had such a hard time before!’
He scowled at me, still clutching his forehead. ‘The other day – all that I did things before I met you stuff you were coming out with – why are you so obsessed with reminding me that?’
‘I’m not obsessed!’
‘Why do you keep doing it, then? Why do you keep going on about how crazy you used to be and how you used to smoke and drink and whatever-’
‘I never do that!’
‘You’re always going on about it! How great it was when you had blue hair - how mental art school was – for crying out loud, you’re always moaning about how the old days were better!’
I like these days a lot too, I thought, but I was far too vindictive to say it.
His free arm pinwheeled violently. ‘Look, fine, I was a spotty virgin idiot when I met you, I had the most boring life ever and can you stop rubbing that in? Where did this constant desire for one-upmanship come from?’
‘I don’t give a shit about what you used to be like, as long as you’re okay now-’
‘I’m happy now!’ he near-bellowed, arms flailing.
In a blind rage, I said the worst thing I could think of. ‘Well I’m not!’
He followed me all the way round the flat as I collected my things, repeating my name in this small, cracked voice that didn’t seem to belong to him at all – the way he kept bleating my name, a little like a sheep, but never tried to touch me, was unsettling at best, and it didn’t help that I could barely see for crying; I snatched up any shape that looked or felt vaguely familiar, and by the time I bundled it all to the door the tears had spilled and I could see the lock perfectly to let myself out.
Outside in the corridors, my ears were ringing. I wiped my streaming eyes and nose on the cuff of my shirt, looking at the mascara and snot stains with a detached interest, thinking that up until tonight it had been my favourite shirt. I took an inventory of what I was holding: a black suit jacket, two teaspoons, an issue of Artistic Review Monthly I’d mistaken for my notebook, a small green cat toy and a cheese grater. No wand, no wallet, no keys, but the small physical manifestations of a shared life; one teaspoon was from the plain silver set of cutlery that Scorpius had brought, and the other was blue-handled and had once been the family cutlery, my family cutlery. When I’d swanned off to art school I’d got a little hung up about the cutlery, thinking that I’d moved out for good and I’d never see it again – there was one fork that was slightly smaller than the others, and I always preferred to eat with that one, and no other one was quite right – only for Dad to buy in a new set and give the blue set to me.
And holding that teaspoon made me remember how silly I’d got about the cutlery, but it also reminded me that there was every chance that I might never see the owner of the silver cutlery again, and how that would make the junk I was holding priceless. The odds and ends of a life being built together; that’s what I’d taken. I hadn’t even thought to fetch my toothbrush.
I went back and knocked on the door, politely as I could. I got nothing, not a peep, so I tried again, louder this time, got nothing, got nothing again on the third – by the fourth try I was banging on the door with the heel of my shoe, so by the time Scorpius opened it for me I nearly kicked him in the face by proxy.
It was like someone had died. His face was expressionless; all he did was blink. It was like he’d detached himself from the world somehow. He let me push past him so I could dump the jacket, the teaspoons, the magazine, the cat toy and the cheese grater onto the sofa, but held the door open with a blank stare, as if expecting me to charge back out again.
‘I’ll leave if you want,’ he said, monotone.
I wrenched the door out of his grip and slammed it. ‘For god’s sake. Nobody’s leaving.’
He obediently went and sat down in the armchair, adopting a thousand-yard stare. I took the farthest seat away on the sofa.
‘Nobody’s leaving,’ I repeated, stupidly, as if there was a third person in the room who needed to be discouraged from doing so.
After a protracted silence, I decided to try a different tack.
‘I didn’t mean what I said,’ I mumbled, half-knowing that I had meant it.
‘I didn’t meant to suggest we were just friends-’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ he cut across. ‘I love you more than you love me. It’s always like that. I’m not important. I’m just background radiation.’
‘I didn’t say that…’
‘You’re so good at making people happy. You deserve better.’
The tears were coming back now; it wasn’t what I wanted in the slightest. I didn’t want the passive misery or the small, cracked voice. I felt I’d rather he had shouted, or even hit me. But instead he sat and stared at the floor and barely moved an inch.
I ended up putting my head between my knees as if I was about to throw up.
‘Sorry,’ he said.
‘You don’t need to apologise,’ I said.
‘Sorry,’ he said again.
‘If you say sorry again, I will leave.’
We went quiet again.
‘Lucy…this…this will probably sound a bit lame but…um…I never felt like anybody wanted me around until I met you.’
I tried to shake my head so he’d shut up, but that was a little difficult when it was jammed in between my knees. I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say – not for at least another ten minutes – but he ploughed on regardless.
‘I mean… I was an accident. Dad, um, told me that. Often. Never did amazing at school. Bit average. Didn’t even turn out evil like some people hoped. Couldn’t – um, well, still can’t – even hold a wand without something catching fire, or exploding, or vanishing…I mean, Mum and Dad thought I was a squib, and it….well, I was a horrible child, wasn’t I? Nearly a squib…and I had a squint, had to wear an eyepatch for a bit, didn’t do weird things like the other children did, didn’t get my magic for so long…I mean, I was a total disappointment, I let people down before I could even talk…’
‘Scorpius, stop it,’ I told the floor.
‘And I was meant to do something good with my life, go into law or a Ministry job or something but, well, I just went – I just went, fuck you, I’m an artist - and ran away. I mean, even at school, some people called me scum in the corridors because of Dad and Dad’s dad…got hit a couple of times, and I used to hope nobody would notice but they would just…stare…but, Lucy,’ his voice had grown in strength as he’d been talking. I sat up properly. ‘You’ve…you’ve never called me a failure or a mistake, you’re always nice to be, and maybe that’s a rubbish reason to fall in love with someone but I just…even if I…if you don’t feel exactly the same way, I just…I feel like if it wasn’t for you, nobody would notice if I just…vanished. You keep me on earth.’
And with those final words his shoulders slumped back and it was like he’d just finished telling me some huge secret he’d been bottling away for ages. I couldn’t think of a decent response, even an apology – nothing came to me.
The moment suspended, stretched, grew in size, and when it had all got too much and I was about to open my mouth and tell him I love him, there was a knock at the door.
I went to answer it – Scorpius was still staring at something a thousand miles in the distance – and it was Rose, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as per usual.
‘Hello! Impervious charm works a treat in the rain. I didn’t even need my umbrella!’
I let her in, avoiding eye contact as much as possible. But I could see her looking at the odd pile of objects on the sofa just before her eyes flickered towards Scorpius’ catatonic form in the armchair, and I think she put two and two together in an instant.
‘Would it be okay if I took an early night?’ she said. ‘Just got an early start tomorrow is all, lots to do, need to be well-rested…’
‘That’s fine,’ I said. ‘We just need to find you clean sheets.’
‘Oh, if you’ve got dirty ones, I know a spell that’ll get them clean in seconds – and keeps them fresh for two weeks.’
‘I’ll let Scorpius deal with that,’ I said, feeling that this was only fair, all in all – it had been his turn to do the washing.
Scorpius turned his head by a tiny amount, just enough to let me see the reproachful look on his face.
‘Well, night, then,’ I said.
‘Goodnight,’ Rose said. ‘Maybe I’ll catch you tomorrow morning?’
‘Maybe,’ I shrugged, and headed off to bed.
It was almost like a repeat of earlier. I hung back in the bedroom, skulking around by myself, whilst Rose and Scorpius made civil conversation in the main room. He was sitting with his back to me whilst she pottered about pulling things from her bag and making herself at home. I heard him offer her tea, and then the only noises were the kettle hissing and the rain on the windows.
I’d already got into bed by the time Scorpius came in. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, glasses askew.
‘Don’t start,’ he said.
So I took a vow of silence for the remainder of the night.
It was bloody hard getting to sleep that night, with miserable little tears stuck to my face, shivering in the cold bedroom with so much empty air between us. There were a horrible few minutes whilst I was lying there, trying to keep as still as possible, that I convinced myself I’d never stop shivering and that my lips had been frozen together, for not one of the words that came to my mind – god, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry – ever quite materialised in my mouth.
I kept willing him to wake up and look at me so I could apologise, but he never did, and I must have fallen asleep with the words in my mind because I dreamed about saying sorry – whatever line the dream version of me had come up with to justify what I’d said was lost when I woke up, though. Woke up in an empty bed because, presumably, he’d been sick of the sight of me; I could hear the clattering of plates and cutlery in the kitchen, and Rose talking nervously about what questions they might ask her at the job interview.
It wasn’t quite an empty bed, though. His dent in the mattress had been filled by Mr Andrew Socks and a little stack of paper and sketchbooks – it was very artfully arranged, very carefully designed to look as careless as possible, as if Scorpius had abandoned the lot there for a second and forgotten about it. But I knew he’d put them there for me to see, so I plumped up the pillows and sat myself upright to look at them properly.
The paper was, in fact, all eleven volumes of the little comic book project, each about ten pages long, on crinkled brown paper. At the bottom was a slim black sketchbook, one of the ones you used to be able to buy at the supply shop in Diagon Alley that everyone had at the art school. On the cover, it said ‘volume twelve’ and, below, you could just make out the faint traces of pencilled letters that had been clumsily erased, although I couldn’t tell whether it’d been done recently or some time ago –the future. Inside, it was blank. The spine wasn’t even bent.
I blinked down at Mr Andrew Socks.
‘Is it blank to be filled, or is it blank to represent our lack of future? Or am I reading into it too much?’
Meow, Mr Andrew Socks said.
‘You’re right,’ I said, and turned to volume one.
a/n: what can I say? I like my sads.
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