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Defying Gravity by momoe

Format: Novel
Chapters: 26
Word Count: 122,943
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Romance, Angst
Characters: Harry, Ginny, Teddy, Scorpius, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Victoire, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing, Harry/Ginny, Rose/Scorpius, Teddy/Victoire, James/OC

First Published: 04/26/2008
Last Chapter: 12/20/2009
Last Updated: 12/20/2009


Seventh year Gryffindor Prefect, Albus Potter, and his girlfriend, Nat, have found themselves in an unthinkable situation: expecting a baby.  Murphy's Law applied, the next nine months will be filled with hardships starting with a pretty major one: telling the parents.

Chapter 25: 24..Can it Get Any Worse?

A/N: In the Author's Note at the end of the last chapter I said "See you in 2009!"...even I did realize how far into 2009 it would be.  I'm soooo sorry it's taken so long to get this chapter out to you.  I hope I haven't lost any loyal readers because of it...

If you would like a full explanation of my whereabouts during the last month (because I'm posting this chapter exactly one month after Chapter 23...fitting, right?) please go to my livejournal account.  The address it on my Author's Page.  Just click 'momoe' anywhere you see a link and it'll take you right there.

Thanks and enjoy!

Defying Gravity
Chapter 24: Can it Get Any Worse?

For a moment Rose didn’t know what was happening. One minute she was ready to yell, kick, and scream at Scorpius for dragging her out in the middle of the fight of her life – because she was prepared to go down against that little bitch – and the next her lips were covered by the pressing of velvety softness and her eyesight was filled with pale skin and blonde eyebrows.


He was kissing her.

Her heart rate accelerated as she closed her eyes and responded to the kiss. Her mind was a whirl. She wanted to fully concentrate on the movement of his lips over hers, especially as he touched the crease where her lips met with the tip of his tongue, but she just couldn’t.

Her head was spinning.

Why was Scorpius kissing her? Did he want to get back together? He must with the way he was kissing her. She had a brief vision of the two of them walking down the corridors, holding hands and behind happy, the God parents of her cousin and best friend’s babies, everyone smiling and secretly envious because she got the boy…

But did she want that? Was all of the heart ache and, ahem, chocolate weight, really worth it in the end?

His lips trailed across her jaw to below her ear. She shivered when he suckled the exact spot he knew would make her go crazy.

The only thing she really knew, concretely, was that she’d never stopped loving Scorpius. If it was a possibility that they could get past this, this…misunderstanding, then maybe they could be together again.

He wouldn’t be kissing her if he didn’t want her. Right?

She felt his hands grip her waist, her hips, and then fall to the edge of her jumper. One hand slid up beneath the woven fabric and pressed warm and flat against her skin.

She should stop him. She knew that. But it felt good to be with him like that again. It felt right. Like they belonged together.

So she didn’t stop him. She didn’t have the power, the will, even if she’d wanted to. Her heart was still his; her body might as well be, too. So, instead of pushing him away like she ought to, she thrust her hands into his hair and pulled his face back up to hers.

Rose got lost in their kisses for a long moment, unable to feel anything but the heat their connection generated and the love that swelled in her heart. She came back to her senses when she felt Scorpius’s hand go for the catch on her bra, the other hand at the small of her back bringing her as close to him as she could get. She felt herself lean forward, pressing her chest against him and arching her back wantonly, needing to feel every bit of him that she could.

Then, just as suddenly as his lips were upon hers, they were gone, and she opened her eyes to find him leaning against a desk – where were they? – breathing heavily and staring at her with hooded, desire-filled eyes. His fingers clutched the desk like a vice, white from the strain.

Rose brought her hand to her lips, feeling the swollen, tender flesh beneath her fingertips. She stared him straight in the eye. He suddenly looked worried, afraid, and her hands dropped to her sides.

“What are we doing?” she whispered almost to herself, needing to know what he was thinking, what he wanted. He looked away from her for a moment, and that look said it all.

“Look…Rose…” he started, trying to grasp the right words to use. He shoved a hand through his messy hair – thanks to her – and let out a long, drawn out breath. “I don’t…know…how to say…”

“Spit it out, Malfoy!” she folded her arms across her chest almost defensively, as if she were shielding her heart from the inevitable ache that was about to come from the lips she’d just tasted. She could already feel tears welling in her eyes, and she prayed that he’d hurry up and leave so she could cry alone.

She couldn’t believe it. One minute she was watching Meghan bleed from the head, getting ready for the fight that would undoubtedly ensue, then he’d distracted her, and now here he was, about to break her heart again.

“I love you, Rose,” he said softly, a surprised look covering his face once the words escaped from him.

But,” Rose whispered, having heard the extension in his voice whether or not he actually said it aloud.

“But,” he repeated and then paused, trying to gather his thoughts.

He never was very eloquent when speaking about his feelings.

“Icantbewithyou.” He spoke quickly, wincing away from the fit he expected to follow, but she felt surprisingly calm. Perhaps shielding her heart beforehand had been like adding an impenetrable layer to the already shattered pieces. Maybe, since her heart was already broken, his words couldn’t hurt her anymore.

Either way, her lack of response confused him, and he stood up straighter, finally looking her in the eye. Rose felt surprisingly calm and lifted her chin, challenging him to speak first.

“Aren’t you going to say something?”

“What would you like me to say?” she heard herself ask without even thinking. She smiled inwardly at the look that crossed his face.

“Don’t you want me back?” he asked, confusion clouding his features.

Desperately, a small voice inside Rose broke through, but she squashed the optimistic noise. She squared her shoulders and flashed him the most dazzling smile she could muster.

“Regardless of how I feel, you’ve just made it very clear that you don’t want me back. What I want doesn’t matter.”

“Oh,” he still sounded confused, and a tad…disappointed? “Well, I guess that’s a good thing,” he amended quickly, smiling a crooked grin at her.

The shield over her heart wavered for a moment, and then it steadied. It wouldn’t fall because of some stupid smile, a bundle of perfect, pouty lips and straight, white teeth. Nope, she wouldn’t allow that to happen. She was stronger than that.

“Okay,” Rose nodded, starting to turn for the door. “Well, if that’s all you wanted…”

“Wanted?” his eyes scrunched in confusion and Rose was momentarily stunned speechless at the adorable, boyish look. She regained herself soon enough.

“You grabbed me…” she answered, watching the recognition play across his features.

“Right.” He let out a long sigh and ruffled the hair at the back of his head with one hand. Then he shrugged. “Old habits die hard, I guess. You really shouldn’t be picking fights with McGonagall so close to NEWTs.”

She rolled her eyes and blew out a puff of air before turning on her heel and leaving the room. She wasn’t necessarily surprised when he caught up with her just seconds later, but she was confused at the close proximity of which he was walking. She was gathering courage to shoo him away, when a piercing voice rang out through the corridor.

“Weasley! Malfoy!” Rose stopped dead at the sound of the Headmistress’s voice. “What were you doing in the caretaker’s office?” McGonagall demanded.

“Um…” Scorpius searched for an excuse. Rose just stood there, beginning to count to keep from wheeling around and giving the old coot a piece of her mind.

“Never mind,” McGonagall said with a wave of her hand. “Detention, both of you.”

Rose’s hands turned into fists and she started back at one.

Nat’s books fell onto the table in the Common Room just as they were toppling from her arms. It was difficult to carry around the thick, heavy books along with her massive, ever expanding body. She slumped tiredly into the chair and leaned her head against the stack of books.

It had been a week and a half. A whole week and a half. Ten days had gone by without Albus in her life. That was a true statement. He’d practically dropped off the face of the earth, only leaving his dorm for a lesson here and there. He wasn’t even eating, to her knowledge.

Rose had been quite distant since her now-infamous fight involving her and Meghan Longbottom – and a slew of teachers. She’d been quite, withdrawn. It was Emileigh’s opinion that Rose was depressed because she’d given up her Head Girl status.

It wasn’t publicly known, but Rose did manage to tell Nat that during detention with the Head Mistress – that’s right, detention! – McGonagall had offered her the badge, but Rose had blatantly refused.

The school seemed to be functioning well without the Head Girl, but it was only a matter of time before McGonagall handed over the reins to someone else. She wasn’t going to hold out for Rose forever.

On top of Rose only having limited vocal practices in the last week and a half, the rift and split between her and Albus had divided up the seventh year Gryffindors as well. It was causing problems between the lot of them, and relationships were strained because of it.

Bryce was on Albus’s side, naturally. His opinion was that Albus was being incredibly romantic and any girl would be lucky to have such a softie for a boyfriend. Bryce didn’t see what the big deal was between Meghan and Nat, either, which made him biased in the girls’ eyes.

Emileigh sided with Nat and Rose, and shot evil glances at Albus whenever he decided to attend a lesson, which wasn’t often. The couple was on opposite sides, which caused problems in their relationship. Nat apologized profusely to Emileigh; she wanted her friend to be happy with her boyfriend. She didn’t see herself as a reason for another couple to break up.

Emileigh assured her that she and Bryce were fine, that they never even talked about the broken couple, and that Nat had no reason to worry. Nat knew, though, that when Emileigh would rather spend time studying with Kate and Rose than with her boyfriend during breaks, they were not as okay as Emileigh was letting on.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Arnie was giving the boys the cold shoulder. Whether it had to do with the actual situation or the shiner that he was sporting the day after the news of his relationship with Lily became public was anybody’s guess. Nat figured it was both.

Nat had taken to studying in the Common Room at night because she was sure that Albus was in his own dorm, ignoring her, and it was too much work to drag her school stuff up the stairs after class and before dinner, and then take it all the way down to the library and back afterwards.

While she sat with her girl friends (and Arnie) during meals and lessons, they found the Commons to be too distracting to study in at night, what with all the little people practice spells or worse, filling the room with mindless chatter because their skills weren’t advanced enough for the assigning of enough out-of-class work to keep them busy. These vast stretches of time, usually three hours a night, were filled by the presence of her new friend, Hugo.

The dreaded Kiss, which warrants a capitol letter because of the sheer magnitude of the event in question, had been put behind them in lieu of their newfound camaraderie. Nat found Hugo easy to talk to, a good listener, and probably one of the better friends she’d ever had.

And, he assured her, he was definitely no longer in love with her.

“In fact,” he’d confided, three nights ago, as he was helping her put her books into her bag, “I’m thinking about seeing Mattie when we’re home for Easter.”

Easter. That brought up images that she did not want to think about. Easter break started next week. The train would be leaving on Saturday, and she had yet to put her name on the list of students leaving. Of course, she hadn’t added her name to list of students staying, either.

She knew that Albus’s parents were expecting her to stay with them. Lily had told her that much, never mind the near daily letters that she received from Ginny asking about her health and the babies and decisions on the nursery and shopping plans over the two week holiday.

Truth be told, Nat was a little bit scared of Ginny, and especially Ginny with a ton of plans.

Rose tried to convince her to stay with her family, because, as Rose pointed out, she really shouldn’t be alone in case she needed something or someone. Nat had bitten back her reply that the entire staff of teachers would be there, along with probably half the fifth years from Gryffindor who were staying to study for their OWLs. A confrontation with Rose in her current state was the last thing anyone, much less a pregnant teen, needed.

Nat pulled her head away from her books and rubbed her temples with two fingers. One thing was for sure, she needed to figure it all out. The signup sheets were to be taken down at the end of the weekend with detentions following for anyone who did not comply with the rules. The last thing she needed was to be on her knees scrubbing the dungeon floors as Hubbly the Caretaker liked to assign.

She felt warm hands at the small of her back and nearly groaned when the hands pressed harder, and moved outward in a circular motion. She was nearly in heaven and bit back a moan. The backrub continued for a few moments, Nat’s head falling into her hands from sheer lack of the ability to hold her own head up, and the moan slipped from between her lips.

“How are you feeling?”

The chair next to hers scrapped against the hard stone floor as it was pulled out, and a warm body slid onto the wood beside her. She looked up into the bright blue eyes and smiling face of Hugo and sighed. He was too good to her.

“Exhausted,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes tiredly with one hand before turning back to the blue eyed boy. “And I’ve got two feet on Flobberworm shit and its agricultural potion abilities due tomorrow, which I totally forgot about until dinner when Rose told me she only did two and a half feet rather than her usual three.”

“Gimme,” he reached his hand out, palm upward, and at first Nat thought he was actually going to do her assignment for her. Her heart leapt. Then she realized what he meant and sighed, raising her foot as best she could. He grabbed her ankle, relieved her of her sock and trainer in one fluid motion, and pressed his thumb into the arch of her foot.

That was so much better than doing a measly essay.

As Hugo was doing wonderful things to her foot, Nat opened her Potions book to the halfway point. Stuffed in there were a pile of letters, all of which were from Ginny Potter, and all happened to be dated within the past two weeks. The newest one, from this morning at breakfast (where there was also a letter addressed to Albus and one to Lily), begged Nat for a response on colour swatches, bedding pattern, wood stain, and that she would be joining the Potters for Easter.

“What do you think?” she asked Hugo, holding up two squares of fabric, one light blue and white chequered print, the other the same shades in stripes. The fabric had fallen out of one of the other letters and also came in pink.

Hugo looked up from her foot (she took the opportunity to withdraw her right foot and offer her left, plopping it down onto his jean-clad thigh) and contemplated for a moment. It wasn’t a hard decision. Squares or stripes.

She just didn’t feel right about making the decision on her own. Hugo was a poor substitute for Albus, but he was a guy and it worked.

Another reason she’d been putting off her response to Ginny, ignoring her being a better description, was because she was halfway positive that come babies time she wouldn’t even be living with the Potters.

In the few words that Rose had spoken to her, one comment she made was that she and Nat could afford a place of their own by the time the babies came if she got a loan from her parents and they did some odd jobs come Easter. No, it wouldn’t be a three-bedroom flat in the heart of London, but it wouldn’t be as if they were living in the Shrieking Shack, either.

Nat had a lot to think about.

“I like the chequered pattern,” Hugo finally answered after a moment’s contemplation, and then started working on her left foot.

Nat sighed. She liked the chequered pattern, too. Without another thought, she ripped off a piece of parchment from her pad, jotted a quick note to Ginny, folded the squares of fabric into the letter, quickly scribbled ‘Ginny Potter’ on the outside of the letter, and pushed it across the table at Hugo.

“Can you take this to the owlry for me? I’d do it, but stairs are hell on my back.”

“I’d think just moving would be hell on your back,” Hugo joked. He wasn’t far from the truth and even now, after a great backrub from the red head, her back muscles were screaming in pain from being in the same position, and have the same weight strain, for too long.

“Too true,” she muttered, taking her foot back and turning so she was facing the table. “I don’t think I can do this anymore, Hue.”

“You’re halfway there,” he mentioned, assuming she was talking about the pregnancy, and leaned towards her, rubbing soothing circles onto her back.

Tears filled Nat’s eyes. That should be Albus sitting there, rubbing her back and feet, reassuring her that everything would be alright. Albus should be the one helping her make decisions on patterns and colours and styles, not Hugo. It shouldn’t even be a question as to whether or not she would be spending Easter with the Potters.

But it was.

Everything in her life was going wrong.

“You’re on the downward climb. It’s all downhill from here. It’s like a Thursday and you’re almost at your weekend, that being the birth of your babies.”

She snorted at his silly analogy.

“Yeah, I suppose it can’t get any worse than it already is.”

James held the red tie from his left hand up to his white pressed button up shirt, dropped his arm, and brought the red and black stripped tie to his chest. Stripped or solid? It shouldn’t be that hard of a choice, and yet he’d been standing in front of the floor-length mirror on the back of the door to the bathroom for ten minutes trying to decide. There were other ties tossed carelessly over the toilet tank, seat, and one or two in the sink. Most of the ties he’d borrowed from his father and had to remember to put back into Harry’s walk-in closet before the older Potter noticed.

The two he held in his hands were his, gifts from his mother for one Ministry function or another, but he couldn’t decide. Red definitely brought out the golden flecks in his brown eyes, but black tied the whole suit together. He glanced down at his pressed black trousers and shiny black shoes and sighed.

He’d let his mother decide, he conceited, quickly finishing making himself presentable so that they had time for the debate. His hair was its fluffy, messiness, and he’d been playing Quidditch recently so he had a faint tan line around his neck from his tee shirts. He was a mess.

He and Kylie had been on a few dates since breakfast where he did all the talking and learned absolutely nothing about her. It had been a while since he’d actually been on a date seeing as it was hard to do proper courting at Hogwarts and afterwards he was so focused on his Quidditch career, but he wanted to do it right.

He hadn’t slept with Kylie yet. Wasn’t even thinking about it. Okay, that was a lie. When he’d taken her to the cinema and she wore that low cut blouse and mini skirt – she has fabulous legs – he thought about it. A lot. Through almost the entire movie.

But he would concentrate tonight. He was taking her to a yummy Italian restaurant near her home and planned to ask her to be his girlfriend. The sex would come after that. And even if it didn’t, for the first time he was content to just sit and talk to her.

He may not have been able to shut up on his breakfast date with her, but the dinner date and movie date they’d been on, he’d become quite enthralled by her. James was kicking himself for not noticing her in school. It definitely would’ve saved him a lot of trouble.

“Mum,” he called as he clomped down the stairs. He heard his parent’s voices in the kitchen and turned that direction, standing outside the closed swinging door as they quietly spoke.

“She’s probably just busy, Gin,” his father said to his mum. “There’s homework, NEWTs, not to mention carrying two babies.”

“I just wish she’d respond to one of my owls,” his mum spoke again, worry evident in her voice. “She hasn’t even confirmed Easter. Why hasn’t she confirmed Easter? She’ll be here for Easter, right?”

“I’m sure she will, Gin. She probably doesn’t think she really has to. It’s kind of a given, you know?”

“Why isn’t Albus answering any of my letters either?”

“For the same reasons, Ginny,” his dad was getting annoyed. “Homework, NEWTs, taking care of his pregnant girlfriend.”

“I don’t like all of this secretiveness.”

“I know.”

“He better not have done anything to piss her off, Harry, because if your son did something to the mother of my grandchildren, so help me…”

My son?”

James let out the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding at his father’s playful tone. That exchange could easily have escalated into a full blown fight, but his dad was a quick study and knew when to pick his battles.

“I’m sure things are fine, mum,” James stepped into the room carrying his suit jacket and two ties.

“Going out again? That’s the second time this week.” His mother looked at him through her gold-framed reading glasses, her article for the Daily Prophet on the pre-season Quidditch plans for the national team spread out in front of her. He wanted to lean over her shoulder and check to see if he was mentioned, then felt the silkiness of the tie on his left and decided he’d rather read it in the newspaper…in the kitchen of Kylie’s flat in his boxers while she pranced around in nothing but his shirt…

He cleared his throat. “Yep. I’m going out again. Which tie?”

“I wish you would tell us about this girl,” she eyed him up and down before selecting the stripped tie. She stood, tossed the other tie at Harry, and began tying the tie around his neck.

“Mum, I can do this myself, you know.”

“I know,” she looped the tie through and pulled it tight. “You’re grown, married and on a date.”


“Just promise me you’re being safe.”

“As safe as one could possibly get.”

At his father’s raised eyebrows James knew at least he caught the meaning behind the statement.

“Where are you taking her?” Harry asked just as Ginny opened her mouth to undoubtedly give her opinion on pre-marital sex (or a replay of her infidelity speech, which had come before the last date).

“Luigie’s,” he answered simply. “Don’t wait up.”

Before he could hear his mother’s sharp replay he fled out the back door and disapparated. He appeared in the closet in the hallway of Kylie’s building and stepped out quickly. He didn’t want to have to explain why he was in the cupboard to any of Kylie’s neighbours, but he figured it would be a whole lot easier than explaining how he just appeared somewhere.

He knocked twice on Kylie’s door before it swung open. He sucked in a breath and let it out quickly.

“Come on in,” was the breathless reply and then the vision in black disappeared. He stepped inside to find the flat quiet despite the family that lived there. She lived with her sister and brother. She and her sister both had their own room and, judging by the pillow and folded blankets on the brown leather sofa, it seemed that her brother, Mark, had yet to find his own place.

“Where’s your brother and sister?” he called down the hall to where he could hear Kylie humming a song to herself in her yellow bedroom.

“It’s Jeanie’s birthday,” she called back as she extinguished the light in her room and smiled at him in the doorway. She was pushing a diamond stud through the hole in her ear as she walked toward him, the skirt of her black dress swishing around her thighs. “He’s taking her to dinner and a movie.”

“I didn’t know it was your sister’s birthday,” he mumbled, watching as she strapped a silver watch around her wrist. Her black heels made her taller, the top of her head reaching the tip of his nose, and her lips within kissing distance. He bent down and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.

“You could’ve gone out with your family.”

“That’s okay,” she shrugged, “Jean’s pissed because daddy didn’t cut his honeymoon short and come back from Australia early, and I didn’t feel like listening to her bitch through a two hour movie and an hour in a restaurant.”

“You’d much rather listen to me bitch?” James teased, only half serious. Her face suddenly became concerned.

“What happened?”

“We’ll miss our reservation. We’ll talk at the restaurant where I have to keep my temper in check.”

She conceded and they left the flat. She locked up behind her, tossing her keys (one key and three key chains: a duck, a monkey, and a bottle opener that said “yes, they’re real, and my eyes are up here”) into a small handbag. Kylie took his hand and he led her out of the building.

It was a cool night and she’d forgotten her jacket, so he placed his around her shoulders like a gentleman. The restaurant was close by, but she’d never been there before. They had to wait for their table to be ready, and they talked about Kylie’s job. She’d just gotten off of a twenty-four hour shift (“Ah, the life of an intern”) and was scheduled again the next night for another twenty-four hours.

“Where are you assigned?” He asked as the hostess motioned for them to follow her.

“Gynaecology,” she told him as he dragged her behind him. He nodded, and his lips fell into a grim line. They’d met while she was assigned to the ‘Gynae-squad’ as she liked to say, but he’d also been married and a potential father then.

They were seated at a table in the middle of the restaurant with absolutely no privacy. They sat next to each other at the four-person table and ordered a bottle of red wine. As soon as their wine arrived, they ordered a starter and their main dish, and the waiter, a tall red head who was not a Weasley, left them alone.

“So,” Kylie raised her glass to her lips and sipped her Merlot, “what do you want to bitch about?”

James sighed. “My parents are arguing again.”

Kylie didn’t seem too concerned about this and raised her eye brows. Her parents argued all the time. In fact, her father was working on his fifth marriage and her mother refused to be anywhere near the man because all they ever did was fight. Last Kylie’d hear, her mother was shacked up with a travelling gypsy and didn’t seem to remember she’d ever had kids.

“About Albus.”

“They still don’t know that he and Nat are having problems?” Having never met the people in question formally – although she’d seen the once-happy couple around at Hogwarts – she felt a little silly talking about them.

“No, the chicken shit hasn’t told them. He –”

They were interrupted by a little buzzing noise. It took James a moment to realize it was coming from their table and another couple of seconds to pinpoint the location: Kylie’s watch. She looked at it for a moment before turning back to him.

“He…” she gestured for him to continue.

He gave her a calculated look, but she seemed genuinely interested in where he was going, so he continued.

“I think he’s hoping that Nat’ll just come around and the ‘rents won’t ever have to know. What he isn’t banking on is Easter.”


“Mum’s expecting them both home and happy during Easter break, and I just don’t see that happening in a week.”

“Ah,” she nodded, looking distractedly at her watch again. Their food came and they dug in, eating in companionable silence for a few minutes. James had slurped down half of his linguini by then, wiped his face on his napkin, and turned his eyes towards Kylie.

She was busily eating her Eggplant Parmesan, but looked up when she felt his eyes on hers.

“Speaking of Easter…I had something I wanted to ask you.”

He was too nervous to wait until the end of the date. He wanted her to be his girlfriend and he couldn’t wait for her to say ‘yes’ as he knew she would. James reached for her hand just as the annoying buzzing went off again. He looked at her wrist and could literally see it vibrating, her whole arm moving from her force of it.

She looked down, her brown eyes widened, and then she was throwing her napkin on the table, standing, gathering her purse…

“I’m so sorry, I’ve got to go!” She leaned over to kiss his cheek and he caught a look at her watch. It wasn’t a normal watch with a minute and hour and second hand, displaying the time. The watch she wore was just a face with letters. Like a secret spy watch.

“Thank you for dinner. I’ll owl you!” she called as she nearly ran out of the restaurant.

James slumped into his seat, and shook his head. He drained his wine and hers, summoned the ginger waiter – who was smiling smugly – and asked for the bill.

He took the unfinished bottle of Merlot when he left.